Friday, March 31, 2017

2017 NL West Predictions

When you think about the National League West; you tend to think about the San Francisco Giants and their three World Series titles in the last seven years, or maybe even the Los Angeles Dodgers and their cavalcade of stars both on and off the field. But what you might not realize is that this division has a ton of talent in it and might not be as predictable as you think. Arizona and Colorado have made several improvements to both their clubs and their respective chances of making some noise in the division. But, have they done enough to unseat the champs? Let's go.

5. San Diego Padres
Though there are not many certainties in the NL West this season, one certainty is that the San Diego Padres simply stink. The last two seasons under GM A.J. Preller's watch have seen trades to acquire Wil Myers, the Upton brothers, Matt Kemp and the signing of then staff ace James Shields, only to see everyone of those players except Myers traded away shortly thereafter. And now; outside of Myers, who is a legitimate superstar with 40/40 potential, the Padres batting order looks like something out of a spring training program. There are a few youngsters, however, to keep an eye on as the season progresses: Travis Jankovski in centerfield. Ryan Schimpf at second base. and Ben Zobrist-like utilityman Christian Bethancourt. They did sign Eric Aybar to play shortstop, hoping to drain him of what little baseball life he has left. And speaking of hoping to get the most out of an aging player, San Diego brought in left-hander Clayton Richard and right handers Jared Weaver, Jholys Chacin and Trevor Cahill to go along with Collin Rea and Jared Cozart to fill out their rotation. Brandon Maurer and Carter Capps are the only two bright spots out in the San Diego bullpen, and if nothing else, could bring in sizable returns if moved by the trade deadline. All in all, it's going to be a very long year in San Diego in 2017.

4. Arizona Diamondbacks
Although I am picking them to finish fourth, there are some phenomenal pieces to this Arizona Diamondbacks ball club. For starters, they have one of the best players in baseball that no one talks about in Paul Goldschmidt. "Goldie" is an absolute model of consistency; with his ability to get on base, hit 30+ homeruns/drive in 100+ runs perennially and has even added a speed element to his game by recording double-digit steals in the last three seasons. Two other players that no one(outside of us fantasy nerds) really talks about are: centerfielder A.J. Pollock - a dynamic two-way player with a top third of the lineup bat and sweet-swinging third baseman Jake Lamb. These two, along with Goldie, would be monster-salary earning superstars if they played for a big market organization. The biggest strength of this club lies within the depth of their starting pitching. Former Cy Young Award winner Zack Grinke leads the staff, followed by 2016 disappointment Shelby Miller, Archie Bradley and Patrick Corbin. With Rubby De La Rosa having to be shut down to avoid Tommy John surgery, the D-backs added free-agent lefty Jorge De La Rosa(no relation) and then traded their second baseman Jean Segura to Seattle for the highly touted right-handed Taijuan Walker. And just as much as the starters are a strength, so too is the bullpen very much the weakness. With no real impressive ninth inning candidates, Arizona was forced to sign seasoned journeyman Fernando Rodney to play the role of closer in 2017... yikes. I believe the Diamondbacks will definitely take a step or two in the right direction this season, but not enough to put them in the playoff picture.

3. Colorado Rockies
This is absolutely going to be one of my favorite teams to watch during the 2017 season. Although little known, Colorado has a starting rotation full of youth and potential. Right handers John Gray, Chad Bettis and Eddie Butler pitched well enough in 2016 to convince Rockies management to release long time ace of the staff Jorge De La Rosa. Combine those three with the brothers Tyler (Anderson and Chatwood) and you have a starting staff ready to turn some heads the season. Though they lost Boone Logan to free agency this off-season, Colorado did acquire former Kansas City closer Greg Holland this off-season to go along with Jake McGee, forming a truly solid back end of the bullpen. As for the offense, which now includes the recent addition of the right-handed slugging utility stud Ian Desmond, may be the deepest lineup in the National League, and maybe even in all of baseball. At the top of the order, Gerardo Parra and D.J. LeMahieu are both on-base machines and the latter may just win a batting title someday.  Behind those two are four absolute bashers of the baseball, including Charlie Blackman, Nolan Aranado(my '17 NL MVP), Trevor Story and Carlos Gonzalez. And even with Desmond on the shelf to begin the season, the Rockies have the powerful Mark Reynolds to man first base in Desmond's absence, which is an absolutely perfect fit for a ballpark like Coors Field. They are called predictions for a reason, and I am predicting that the Colorado Rockies will be one of the two National League Wild Card teams in 2017.

2. San Francisco Giants
From the top of their rotation to the back end of their bullpen, the San Francisco Giants have one of, if not the best assembled pitching staffs in our great game. 2015 World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner is not only the ace of the staff, but might be the best hitter on the team as well. And it's only because of MadBum that Johnny Cueto is a number two starter, because he would definitely be the ace of 90% of all other teams in the National League. Once you're done dealing with those two, all you have to do is face the nasty repertoires of Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore. In the bullpen to go along with George Kontos and Will Smith, San Fran added the services of All-Star closer Mark Melancon to shut the door in the ninth inning. Offensively, it's pretty much the case of "same team, different year". After acquiring former Yankee Eduardo Nunez from the Minnesota Twins at last year's trade deadline to play third, the Giants have as good a hitting infield as they have ever had: including Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Joe Panik and Brandon Crawford. San Francisco can even do a little lefty/righty mix and matching when need be, thanks to adding sluggers Mike Morse and Nick Hunley to their bench. And though they have Denard Span and Hunter Pence in the outfield, I believe the one move the Giants could make to improve their roster is to add a power-hitting outfielder. Though it is not an even year, look for San Francisco to be around in October this season.

1. Los Angeles Dodgers
When you have the best pitcher on the planet, a top three closer and a lineup that goes on for days, you make it pretty easy for me to pick you to take first. Even if you can somehow best Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill proved in last year's playoffs that he is a more than capable number two and doesn't need 95+mph on his fastball to do so. Rotation spots 3–5 will be filled from a deep pool of starting pitchers: Hyun-Jin Ryu, Julio Urias, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kasmier and Kenta Maeda. And, not only did LA re-sign they're phenomenal All-Star closer Kenley Jansen, but they also added the wipeout slider of long time foe Sergio Romo to deepen the pen. As for the other side of the ball, the addition of second baseman Logan Forsythe by way of trade with the Tampa Bay Rays, has given the Dodgers the slick hitting leadoff second baseman they have long been searching for. Add Forsyth to a top of the order that already includes 2016 rookie of the year Corey Seager, and the proverbial table will be set more often than not for the rest of that incredible lineup: including Yasiel Puig, Justin Turner, Adrian Gonzales, Joc Pederson and Yasmani Grandal.  Could we see another National League championship series involving the Dodgers and the Cubs? Could be, and if so, round one was pretty damn good.

Ready... FIGHT

Game Thread: New York Yankees @ Atlanta Braves 3/31

Uh oh ladies and gentleman but I think we just had the return of the game thread here on the blog. These are exciting times as we finish off the exhibition season and begin the real season on Sunday. Tonight the Atlanta Braves break in their newly built SunTrust Park with an exhibition game against the New York Yankees. This should be fun, these games always are. The Yankees will send Michael Pineda to the mound for his final spring tune-up before the regular season while the Braves will counter with the ageless one Bartolo Colon.

Pineda has not faced this group of Braves much as the Atlanta offense has a whopping 11 at-bats against the right-hander combined during his career. Pineda is entering a contract season though in 2017 and we as Yankees fans may be in for a treat as we watch him throw this season for no other reason than that. Players tend to do better in their contract seasons, period, so maybe this will be the season Pineda finally puts it all together. Only time will tell.

Colon on the other hand has seen this Yankees offense quite a bit as he has bounced around the league during his career to varying degrees of results. Starlin Castro, Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Holliday and Gary Sanchez have all hit above .300 against Colon albeit in small sample sizes, especially the sample size for the Yankees catcher. Like Pineda though none of these stats matter once the bright lights go on and the game gets started so let’s get to it.

The game will be played at 7:35 pm ET inside SunTrust Park in Atlanta and can be seen on the YES Network locally in New York, Fox Sports South in the Atlanta area and MLB Network if you’re out of either market. Enjoy and Go Yankees!

I’m Hungry: The Texas Rangers Two-Foot Long Tamale Dog

You guys know how the start of every year goes. New Years Resolutions are thrown out there, although I never participate myself, diets are gone on and people try to change. By around March or April they are back in their stretchy pants and they are back to being the person that they always were and were always meant to be, and that’s not an insult or meant as a bad thing. I just truly believe you are who you are and you shouldn’t fight that or want to change that for anyone. Anyway, before I get too off topic and ramble on I’ll digress and agree to disagree. What also comes around on the blog right around this time of the year are these amazing new dishes and foods that you can get at the ballpark that make you want to take that new, healthy and dieting you and throw them off a cliff. The Texas Rangers two-foot long tamale dog is just that.

At Globe Life Park this season the Texas Rangers will be selling a 24-inchg tamale filled hot dog. The tamale filled hot dog will be covered in chili and nacho cheese and will set you back a whopping $27, but really that’s going to feed like a family of four if we are being honest or two really REALLY hungry people.

Texas will also be selling “Texas Snowballs” this season which are essentially shredded brisket covered in funnel cake batter that is fried and topped with powdered sugar. I love brisket and who doesn’t love a funnel cake? Road trip anyone?

And now that you’re drooling and hungry again just a few hours after your lunch break my job here is done. Have a great day everyone and stay strong to those who are serious about getting healthy and losing weight and/or changing their lives for the better. I know I joked about it earlier but I truly think people can do whatever they set their mind to as long as they are doing it for all the right reasons. Go you!

SunTrust Park Could Change the League

The New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves play an exhibition game tonight in Atlanta down at the newly built SunTrust Park. While I tried my best to get tickets to the game they kept their tickets, which were only made available to season ticket holders, tight to their chests this time around. Since I can’t be there tonight in person I figured I would talk about all the things I’ve read about SunTrust Park as I think it could change the way stadiums are built for the foreseeable future in the league. Or maybe I’m just looking too far into things as I tend to do sometimes. Either way come with me.

The Braves purchased “The Battery Atlanta” which is a 60-acre complex that will house the $622 million ballpark but that’s not all that will be there. There are restaurants, retail shops, residential areas, a concert hall and even a four-star hotel in the development as the Braves look to be a one-stop shop for all your needs when you come out to the ballpark. That I thought was interesting maybe more so than the green seats, the brick walls and the throwback feel the stadium brings to metro-Atlanta.

Now while the Braves aren’t the first organization to bring shops, eateries and living quarters in and around the ballpark they may have been the ones to do it the best. St. Louis, Boston and the Los Angeles based teams also have these accommodations but, and maybe I am just bias as a metro-Atlanta resident, it just feels like the Braves did it better. The Braves fans have always said that they absolutely loved Turner Field as there was an absolute ton to see and do inside the Stadium, and I would agree as I have been there more times than I can count now, but the outside of the stadium just always seemed… I don’t know… blah? Borderline dangerous maybe? I’ve seen one fan call the outside of Atlanta’s Turner Field “Bosnia, Georgia” before if that tells you anything but this new stadium just seems… I’m at a loss for a fancy vocabulary word here so I’ll just keep it simple and say “better.”

So I look forward to seeing the new stadium tonight on television and I truly look forward to seeing it live and in person with my children and that special someone in my life. As always. Enjoy the game tonight everyone.

Is Joe Girardi the right manager?...

As we enter the last year of Joe Girardi’s current contract, the question begs to be asked if Girardi is the right guy to lead the Baby Bombers into their new era.  I have to preface this by saying that I have never been a big fan of Joe Girardi.  When Joe Torre left, I wanted Don Mattingly as the manager despite my dislike for guys with no prior managerial experience.  I am a Donnie Baseball fan so it is what it is.  He’ll always be my favorite for the job even if you can give me countless reasons for why he would not make a good Yankees manager.  So, let’s set aside my Mattingly homer-ism.  I am still not a fan of Girardi’s. 

We have had ten years of Joe Girardi at the helm if you count this year.  He has produced one world championship and he’s made five post-season appearances:
  • 2015:  Lost AL Wild Card game to the Houston Astros
  • 2012:  Lost ALCS to the Detroit Tigers, 4 games to none
  • 2011:  Lost ALDS to the Detroit Tigers, 3 games to 2
  • 2010:  Lost ALCS to the Texas Rangers, 4 games to 2
  • 2009:  Won World Series over the Philadelphia Phillies, 4 games to 2
The only championship year that Girardi has produced was the year the Yankees spent over $400 million to “buy” CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, and Mark Teixeira.

The only pro that I have for keeping Girardi is the lack of immediate recognizable and available talent to take over.  I am not really interested in managers that have been hired and fired multiple times although it did work out with Joe Torre.  Regardless, I am ready for a change.

If the Yankees choose not to re-sign Girardi at the end of the year, I would prefer they clear out the coaches too.  As a result, I am not in favor of naming Tony Pena or Rob Thomson as Girardi’s replacement. 

Due to today’s international flavor in Major League Baseball, I think a bilingual manager would be a very good idea.  During the WBC, it was floated that former Yankee Hensley “Bam Bam” Meulens is interested in becoming a major league manager.  Meulens is currently hitting coach for the San Francisco Giants and he was the head coach for Team Netherlands in the recent World Baseball Classic.  He doesn’t meet my criteria of prior managerial experience but I like the connection to the Yankees organization even if he never found success with the big league club. 

Sandy Alomar, Jr is another solid candidate.  Alomar doesn’t have a connection to the Yankees, but his dad was once the second baseman for the team.  He is currently first base coach for the Cleveland Indians and is one of the top current managerial candidates in Major League Baseball. 

Another guy I like is the bench coach for the Chicago Cubs, Dave Martinez.  I felt that Martinez should have gotten the Tampa Bay Rays job that went to Kevin Cash when Joe Maddon opted out of his contract and went to Chicago.  Martinez will be a major league manager in the not-so-distant future.

Not sure why I am rattling off guys with no managerial experience given my disdain but I guess I am too quick to dismiss re-treads too.  The lack of managerial experience can be allayed by a strong, experienced bench coach. 

Manny Acta, currently the third base coach for the Seattle Mariners, has the managerial experience but he’s already been hired and fired a couple of times.   I know, there I go again.  Still, he could fall into the ‘third time’s a charm’ category.

I have no idea who the Yankees would hire if Girardi is done but there are guys out there who deserve the opportunity and would be excellent in leading the Baby Bombers to the Promised Land. 

I am not really trying to identify who should take over for Girardi with this post but rather take the position that it is time for change.  Major League managers do not have a long shelf life.  After a certain amount of time, a new voice is needed.  The days of managing for 50 years like Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics no longer exist. 

Perhaps you are a lover of Joe Girardi.  That’s fine.  We can have differing opinions.  At the end of the day, all we really want is another World Series championship or rather championships.  Until it happens, we can debate who is the best guy to lead the team.  For me, it’s not the former catcher from Peoria, Illinois.

Girardi Will Unleash the Kraken Second This Season & Other Notes

Ladies and gentleman tonight the New York Yankees play their final exhibition game of the 2017 spring training and Grapefruit League season and on Sunday the team faces off with the Tampa Bay Rays on Opening Day. In a nutshell the regular season is here and the hard decisions facing the roster just have to be made and some of those decisions have already been made and announced by manager Joe Girardi. Here are a few of those as we try and get caught up here on the blog this morning. Oh and ladies and gentleman, it’s almost time to unleash the kraken for a 162-game schedule. Anyone else get chill bumps or was it just me?

Girardi discussed the lineup for the season on Tuesday in an interview and revealed that he was leaning towards having Brett Gardner lead off followed in order by Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Matt Holliday and Jacoby Ellsbury. You know what Joe? You had me until you said Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury is not a fifth hitter in a lineup, he’s more like an eighth or ninth hitter at this point assuming he isn’t going to be leading off. Fifth? Really Joe? I see a whole lot of “Jacoby Ellsbury Sucks” and “Fire Joe Girardi” tweets in my future and on my twitter timeline. (Follow along all season long by following @GreedyStripes so this shameless plug will be worth it, please)

Also Joe announced that Ronald Torreyes will be the Yankees starting shortstop while Didi Gregorius misses the first month of the season or so with a right shoulder strain. I guess it just made too much sense to have the better hitter in Robert Refsnyder play second base while Starlin Castro slid over to shortstop. Whatever, what do I know?

The final major announcement was that Adam Warren will work out of the team’s bullpen, as expected, and is no longer in the mix for the team’s starting rotation spots they have open. That leaves just Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino and my pick Jordan Montgomery fighting for just two spots.

And now we’re all caught up. I think. I hope. Have a great Friday everyone. TGIF.

Friday’s Thoughts…

I am ready for the weekend!  I hope Masahiro Tanaka is too…

Stand before the Judge.

I was starting to get worried that Manager Joe Girardi was going to say that he had decided to go with Aaron Hicks for right field, but fortunately, he made the right decision in announcing that Aaron Judge had won the competition.  Aaron Hicks returns to his role as the team’s fourth outfielder. 

How about a starting win this year?

As expected, Luis Severino has been named as the fourth starter in the rotation.  I am really hoping that he puts up a “W” in his first appearance so that we don’t go into Year 2 as a starter trying to chase wins.  I am cautiously optimistic or pessimistically hopeful but I’d like to see Severino prove that he is the right choice.

The Eight Man Bullpen.

Congratulations to both Jonathan Holder and Chasen Shreve for making the Opening Day Pen.  As expected, Bryan Mitchell will join Adam Warren, Tommy Layne, Tyler Clippard, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman to round out the crew.  Unfortunately, this means that Ben Heller did not make it and will head to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to await his call. But like death and taxes, it’s inevitable that Heller will be part of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre-New York shuttle. 

The Starting Shortstop for the New York Yankees.

Sadly for me, it is “Mighty Mouse” (Ronald Torreyes).  Pete Kozma will be added to the 40-man and 25-man rosters to serve as the backup shortstop while Didi Gregorius is out.  Either way, there’s not going to be much offensive production from the position until Didi returns.  So hopefully Starlin Castro and Greg Bird are able to get out of the starting blocks very quickly this year. 

No word what move will occur to open the 40-man roster for Kozma but the most logical answer is the placement of Tyler Austin on the 60-day DL (foot).

At least he wasn't traded.

Rob Refsnyder didn't make the final cut and will be on his way to Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to start the season.  He left recognizing that his bat is his ticket back. 

Can we keep this winning going into next month?...

The Yankees keep steamrolling through the exhibition schedule. 

In the latest Grapefruit League action yesterday, they crushed the Philadelphia Phillies, 14-1.  The game was over after the first 1/2 inning when the Yankees put 9 runs on the scoreboard in the top half of the 1st frame. 

Newly named 4th starter Luis Severino cruised through five innings, allowing 5 hits, one run and one walk.  He struck out 4 Philly batters.  On the other side, Jerad Eickhoff, one of the Phillies' better young pitchers, only lasted two-thirds of an inning while giving up 6 runs to inflate his Spring ERA to 81.00.  Yikes! 

I should probably quit ragging on Mighty Mouse.  He homered and had 4 RBI's in the victory.  Gary Sanchez and Rashad Crawford also homered in the game for the Yankees, who are now 24-8-1 for the Spring with one game to go (opening the new stadium in Atlanta with the Braves later this evening).

Have a great Friday and a wonderful weekend! 

So it Seems the Yankees Came Down to Georgia

Good morning everyone and Happy Friday to you all. The weekends aren’t as amazing as they used to be in my world, because reasons, but one day they will be again. Life has a funny way of working things out and the world has a way of letting you figure things out when you’re ready so I just remain patient and hopeful. While I pass the time while the world and life takes their sweet time trying to jump start this s*** I think I’ll watch a Yankees game tonight because New York is coming down to Georgia tonight to take on the Atlanta Braves.

I think the official blogger/journalist/news reporter/professional writer/displaced fan term for when your favorite team who only comes down to your new home town once every three or four years is “yay” but you guys can correct me if I’m wrong on that one. Until then, yay!!!!

This Day in New York Yankees History 3/31: Welcome to Coors Field

On this day in 1995 in front of a crowd of 47,536 the New York Yankees lost the first ever game at Coors Field, an exhibition game, 4-1 to the Colorado Rockies.

Also on this day in 1984 Roger Maris announced his #9 jersey retirement from the Yankees on an episode of ABC's Sports Beat with Howard Cosell. New York planned to retire the jersey number at Old Timer's Day that July. Maris showed much disbelief in learning the news and was very happy to be recognized for his seven years in pinstripes.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

2017 AL West Predictions

The American League West is one of the toughest divisions in all of baseball to predict because of how wide-open the top of the division is. The Texas Rangers have won the division the past two consecutive years and look poised to do so again in 2017. Seattle has made more trades since hiring Jerry DiPoto as their GM than any other team in the show, but has yet to make any truly meaningful moves to get themselves over the proverbial hump. And Houston, with one of the most talented rosters around, appears ready to bring home their first championship in team history. Who's going to "cowboy up" and rope in the West? Here we go.

5. Oakland Athletics
Unless you're a Golden State Warriors fan, sports life in Oakland is pretty grim these days. Just a few days ago, the Raiders were moved out of the big O for the second time in franchise history, this time to the bright lights of Las Vegas. Similarly, the A's cannot get any financial backing from city officials to break ground on a new ballpark, forcing them to play 81 games in what Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in Moneyball referred to as a "shit  hole". As for the on-field problems; Oakland is definitely looking for a bounce-back campaign from their ace Sonny Gray, who endured the toughest year of his young Major League career in 2016. The rest of their thin rotation is comprised of the works-in-progress Jesse Hahn, Kendal Graveman and Sean Manaea, and one of the three youngsters Chris Bassitt, Raul Alcantara or Jheral Cotton will fill the final spot. As for their offense, Oakland made a few lineup-lengthening additions this off-season: bringing in lefty-slugging right fielder Matt Joyce, reacquired a leadoff hitting speed threat in center fielder Rajai Davis and picked up the streaky-hitting Trevor Plouffe from the Twins to man the hot corner this year. Put those guys with Marcus Semien, Stephen Vogt, Yonder Alonso and Khris Davis and the green and gold should put some runs on the board. The best thing the A's have going for them is undoubtedly their bullpen; which includes four guys with closing experience in Jon Axford, Santiago Casilla, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle. Despite their best efforts though. I don't see how Oakland can finish anywhere other than last in the division

4, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
This is actually one of the best jobs Angels brass has done to surround once-in-a-generation superstar Mike Trout with some talented pieces to compete in 2017. For starters, the Halos picked up Cameron Maybin and Ben Revere to provide some speed atop their batting order. They also added Danny Espinoza to strengthen the defense up the middle while adding a sneaky-powerful switch-hitter to the lineup. Surprisingly, the Angels added left-handed slugging Luis Valbuena. who will at worst give them a formidable left-handed 3B/DH option against right-handed pitching. With Albert Pujolz, Kole Calhoun, Yunel Escobar and C.J. Cron, Trout may be in line to possibly set career-highs in both RBI and runs scored this season. But, it's going to come down to what it always comes down to in Anaheim; starting pitching. The Angels are hoping staff ace Garrett Richards can retake the form of the strikeout machine he once was. Tyler Skaggs and Michael Shoemaker had pretty good 2016 numbers, and hope to build off that success in 2017. And it looks like Ricky Nolasco and Jesse Chavez are competing with a few rookies for the final two spots in the rotation. In the bullpen, Cam Bedrosian made a big splash last season and looks to be a closer in the making. And like I said, it is definitely one of the most talented squads that the Angels have put around Trout. But, I still don't think it will be enough to make a serious playoff push.

3. Seattle Mariners
As mentioned in the opener, GM Jerry DiPoto had himself another busy off-season in Seattle. He began the winter by trading for Drew Smyly from the Tampa Bay Rays for a package of prospects. Next,  Dipoto shipped Nathan Karnes. whom he just acquired last off-season from Tampa, to Kansas City for speedy centerfielder Jarrod Dyson. The GM followed that up by moving left fielder Seth Smith to Baltimore for right-handed starting pitcher Yovanni Gallardo. The biggest surprise move came when Dipoto shipped the highly coveted Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte to Arizona for a package of players, highlighted by shortstop Jean Segura. And no Mariners off-season would be complete without the addition of a catcher, which is just what they did by adding seasoned veteran backstop Carlos Ruise. We know that the offense will be fine, especially when you consider adding Segura to a lineup that already includes Robinson CanĂ³, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager. But, it's the starting pitching that is the primary concern for this ball club. You know what you're going to get out of team ace King Felix Hernandez, and even out of number two starter Hisashi Iwakuma; quality stuff. And you'd figure that Smyly should command one of the top three rotation spots, but he appears to be starting the season on the DL. Which leaves James Paxton, Chris Heston and Gallardo to carry the weight of the rotation until Smyly returns. The M's even have some talent at the back end of the bullpen in Daniel Vogelbach and Steve Cishek, but not much else. Looks like they'll be scheduling October tee-times yet again in Seattle.

2. Texas Rangers
In order to take the division two years in a row, a team must have a solid core of players to build around. And that's exactly what they have going on in Arlington in 2017. The top of the Rangers rotation is the class of the division, with the three-headed monster of Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Martin Perez. And with Colby Lewis and A.J. Griffin to round out the staff, Texas went out this off-season and acquired the services of two former Padres, right-handers Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross to strengthen the back end of the rotation. Similarly, the back end of the bullpen has some quality pieces to work with, such as Matt Bush, Sam Dyson and Jeremy Jeffress, but are one really dominant reliever away from having a lights out pen. On the offensive side, the Rangers brought back fan favorite Mike Napoli, a guy that's been to the playoffs every season but two years in his big league career, to help bolster an already packed lineup. And when the weather heats up, and you have guys like Rougned Odor, Adrian Beltre, Jonathan Lucroy and Shin-Soo Choo, we should be in store for some seriously crooked numbers at the Ballpark in Arlington this summer and possibly even farther.

1. Houston Astros
After researching and evaluating every team in the AL, I believe that the Houston Astros may have the deepest roster in the entire league. The Astros have two power-hitting catchers, Evan Gattis and Brian McCann, when most teams don't even have one. They have two young quality first baseman in Tyler White and A.J. Reed to possibly platoon with the clutch-hitting infield utility man Marwin Gonzales. Rising star third baseman Alex Bregman was on Team USA as they took home the WBC championship in only his second year in the show. And the Astros middle infield just might be the best in all of baseball, featuring a top five shortstop in Carlos Correa and arguably the best second baseman in the game, Jose Altuve. In the outfield to go along with their sensational centerfielder George Springer, Houston added the services of three solid players on both sides of the ball; Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick and Norichika Aoki. On the mound, ace Dallas Kuechel looks poised to put a tough 2016 campaign behind him and regain his 2015 Cy Young Award winning form. The rest of the staff with Collin McHue, Lance McCullers, Mike Fiers and Charlie Morton all have the same goal in mind; pitch six quality innings and get the ball to the outstanding bullpen. If the Astros follow the model laid out by Terry Francona in the playoffs, we could see the nealy unhittable Ken Giles used as the relief ace and WBC Team USA closer Luke Gregerson as the guy who shuts the door in the ninth. It would not surprise me at all to see these Astros in the Fall Classic when it's all said and done.


The Tumultuous Final Days to Roster Cut-down…

As expected, this is proving to be a very active week.  As teams prepare for their final cut-downs, many players are temporarily (or in some cases, permanently) losing their Major League dreams.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to have spent your entire life in Baseball and at age 29 or 30, you can’t break out of the minor leagues.  At some point, you have to make the decision to move on with life.  Meanwhile, the kids they grew up who chose non-baseball related paths are deep into their lives and careers. 

This is clearly a game of sacrifice...

With so much talk about the possibility that Aaron Hicks unseats Aaron Judge for the right field job, why can’t the Yankees create room in left?  I know that GM Brian Cashman has put Brett Gardner on the table before but seemingly the return is never enough to justify the consummation of a deal.  I’ve not heard any of the names offered for Gardner, but as a 33-year-old outfielder whose primary attribute is speed (a declining resource with age), he will not be in the picture when the Yankees return to full prominence in the next couple of years.  Gardner has been a good Yankee and we know he’s not the worst starting outfielder on the team, but he’ll be 34 in August.  Get what you can and move on.  Open left field for Aaron Hicks and let Judge develop in right.  When Judge “gets it”, he’ll be a monster, strikeouts and all.  If Hicks fails, then it is time to see what we have with Mason Williams and later in the season perhaps even Clint Frazier.

I can think of 90 million reasons why Jacoby Ellsbury should not be the starting centerfielder for the New York Yankees but unfortunately, the Yankees have 89,571,428 reasons for why he should…

The composition of the Opening Day bullpen remains very much in doubt.  There’s no question the seventh inning on is set with Tyler Clippard, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman.  But it’s the other guys that remain questionable.  I really like the work that Ben Heller has done, and have been hopeful that he wins a job.  He’s faced competition from major league veterans like Jon Niese and Ernesto Frieri but seems to be winning the battle.  Another reliever that I really like is Jonathan Holder.  Holder is starting to get some love and there’s talk that he could break camp with the team.  Holder has pitched 12 innings this Spring, with a 3.00 ERA.  He has given up 7 hits and 4 runs, but he has struck out 9 and walked none.  To me, Holder is representative of the new era Yankees.  He’s a hard worker that is continually trying to get better.  He is one of the pieces that will bring a World Championship back to New York.

You have to figure that a bullpen spot will go to either Bryan Mitchell or Chad Green, depending upon who wins the final rotation spots.  With no need for a fifth starter until April 16th, they both could find themselves in the pen if Luis Severino takes the fourth spot in the rotation.  Chasen Shreve is another that should be considered for the bullpen if Frieri gets re-directed to minor league camp (as I suspect he will).

Earlier this week, Bryan Van Dusen was insistent that Ronald Torreyes will be the replacement shortstop.  While I admit that it appears Bryan is right, I just can’t seem to wrap my head around it.  I’ve never been that excited about Torreyes, despite the decent job that he did last year.  If he was ‘all that and a bag of chips’, he wouldn’t have bounced among five clubs before settling in the Bronx at age 24.  I am one of the many that feel Rob Refsnyder deserves stronger consideration than he’s been afforded, but I also recognize, begrudgingly, that Torreyes is the better defender.  The Yankees have not played Starlin Castro at short this Spring so I don’t think they’ll slide him over although the transition would not be that difficult for him.  So if it must be Torreyes, so be it.  But it does not mean that I have to like it.  I just hope that Didi Gregorius gets back soon.

And the winner of the fifth spot in the starting rotation be continued.  Manager Joe Girardi has indicated the rotation's 5th starter won't be named until later.  The starter won't be needed until the April 16th game at home against Matt Holliday's old buddies, the St Louis Cardinals.  The winner in my mind?  Jordan Montgomery, hands down.  In yesterday's Grapefruit League action, Montgomery, in his final Spring appearance, went 5 innings, allowing only one run while scattering six hats.  He walked one, and struck out four.  He finishes the exhibition season with a 3.20 ERA.  He's accomplished everything that he needs to.  He belongs.  He is ready.  I am sure that he'll be sent down to minor league camp for now, but when it's time for the April 16th starter, make room because he deserves a first class ticket to New York.  The Yankees won the game, 3-1 over the Detroit Tigers, and improved their Spring record to 23-8-1.

Getting their pink slips (re-assignment to minor league camp) on Wednesday were shortstop Tyler Wade and catcher Kyle Higashioka.  The moves solidify Ronald Torreyes as an interim replacement for Didi Gregorius (ugh) and Austin Romine as backup for Gary Sanchez.  

Have a great Thursday!