Takeaways from the 2016 MLB Winter Meetings

Aside from the mid-season trade deadline that sees numerous players changing squads with the hopes that they might be the final piece needed to push any given team into the postseason, the Winter Meetings are the busiest time of year for trades and signings to take place around Major League Baseball. mlb

In the past, some of baseball’s biggest deals have taken place during the Winter Meetings (it was the 2007 meetings when the Tigers picked up Miguel Cabrera). But while the 2016 Winter Meetings that took place in National Harbor, Maryland, didn’t have nearly as much action as some of the previous ones, there were still some huge transactions that will vastly affect teams when the 2017 season begins.

Following the signings of big-time free agents Yoenis Cespedes and Carlos Beltran over the past couple of weeks, the Winter Meetings began on Sunday evening, with many rumors swirling around as to what would take place over the course of the five day event. But over time, as always, fact was quickly distinguished from rumor.

Things kicked off with the signing of Matt Holliday by the New York Yankees on a one-year, 13 million dollar deal. While the acquisition doesn’t immediately jump off the page as all that great, it’s still an impactful one. The seven-time All-Star can play a variety of positions, and can still hit with the best of them, knocking 20 homers in 2016.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia PhilliesOn the opposite side of the spectrum is Mark Melancon, who is one of the best at limiting homers, giving up just three total over the course of 71.1 innings last season. For his efforts, Melancon was grabbed by the Giants for the next four years at a price tag of 62 million. After saving 88 games over the last two years, Melancon certainly earned it, and San Francisco appears to have found their closer.

It also appears that Melancon will come in handy for the Giants, as their long-time rivals, the Dodgers, were successful in resigning Rich Hill on a three-year, 48 million dollar deal. After being virtually on his way out of the sport at one point, Hill posted a 2.12 ERA last season, and would likely be the Dodgers’ ace if not for Clayton Kershaw. Still, he sits as one of the best pitchers in the game.

Offensively, it became apparent that the Blue Jays were looking into other options other than Edwin Encarnacion following their signing of Kendrys Morales a few weeks ago, but it became even more so with the addition of Steve Pearce for 12.5 over the next two years. Pearce doesn’t have nearly the power of some players, but his bat is still one that can impact any given game, despite not being a huge move.

However, just as it seemed that the Winter Meeting were going to be a bit slow, with just a few above average deals, the Red Sox decided to take things up a notch. Following a trade for reliever Tyler Thornburg from the Brewers in exchange for Travis Shaw, Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington, Boston made the biggest splash of the offseason to this point.

Reaching deep into their farm system, the Red Sox sent away highly coveted prospects saleYoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, along with Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz, in return for Chris Sale. If Sale can keep up his dominance that’s made him one of the best pitchers in baseball, the Red Sox could win the division with ease in 2017. But as has been seen in the past, baseball is extremely unpredictable.

Nearly as uncertain is a player’s health from any given season to the next, and Wilson Ramos is a prime example of that. After beginning 2016 on a tear, Ramos suffered a season-ending injury this past season, but hopes to be ready to go sometime around the middle of 2017. Whenever he arrives with the Rays, who signed him to a two-year, 12.5 million (18.5 with incentives) dollar deal, he’s sure to make his presence known.

Wade Davis is also sure to make a big difference for the Cubs, as if they needed any more help. After winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years this season, Chicago picked up lockdown reliever Wade Davis from the Royals in a trade that sent Jorge Soler to the Royals. With Aroldis Chapman winding up with a team away from Chicago as the Winter Meetings progressed, Davis could come up big in 2017.

But while teams such as the Red Sox and Cubs were focused on rebuilding their major league lineup, there were those like the White Sox who made huge improvements to their farm system. After receiving quite the hall from the Red Sox in the Chris Sale deal, the Sox proceeded to pick up Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning from the Nationals, losing just Adam Eaton in the swap.

Many see this as a vastly one-sided deal, with the Nationals getting the short end of the stick. But after losing out on Chris Sale and Mark Melancon, the Nationals were undoubtedly looking to add an impact piece and were all in to get Adam Eaton. They may regret it in the short term, but in the long term things may work out in their favor.

desmondOne player who didn’t have things work out quite the way he had been hoping was Ian Desmond, who agreed to a five-year, 70 million dollar contract to play in Denver. After struggling mightily in 2015, following a turndown of a 7-year, 102 million dollar offer from the Nationals in 2014, Demsond really broke out again in 2016 with the Rangers.

The Rockies could use some offense (among other things), and Desmond adds a big piece to their improving lineup, despite not getting the contract he could have received just a few seasons ago.

The final big transaction made on the final day of the Winter Meetings saw Aroldis Chapman going back to the Yankees for five years and 86 million dollars. Coming off his help with the Cubs in their World Series title quest in this season, Chapman has long been known as a devastating pitcher, with his 102+ mile per hour fastball. It will be interesting to see how the Yankees fare in 2017 in what has become a competitive division, but with Chapman locking down the ninth, anything is truly possible.

But while some teams such as the Yankees, Red Sox and White Sox left the Winter Meetings with their teams very different from when things began, with others doing hardly anything at all to improve their club, it’s important to keep in mind that there are still over 16 weeks left until the 2017 season begins.

The shaking up of teams this offseason could possibly be far from over.

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Indians Head Back to Cleveland Still One Win Away

After witnessing the Indians dominating game one of the World Series and the Cubs coming back to take control of game two, you knew game three was bound to be exciting.

With the series tied at a game apiece, each team would kylecome out wanting to take control of the series and give them the advantage of heading into game four of the first World Series games to be played at Wrigley Field since 1945.

That was certainly the case from the first pitch on Friday night, as the two starters — Josh Tomlin for the Indians and Kyle Hendricks for the Cubs — were absolutely terrific the first time through the opposing team’s order, despite neither being power-pitchers and the disadvantage of having the wind blowing out.

While games one and two failed to live up to the billing of a pitcher’s dual, game three turned out to be the game everyone had been waiting for, as neither starting pitcher allowed a single run over the first four innings and essentially were breezing through every batter they faced.

The first struggles of the game for Hendricks came in the fifth inning, when the bases became loaded with just one out. Due to the situation, Hendricks was removed from the game, and was replaced by Justin Grimm, who promptly got Francisco Lindor to ground into a double play; despite having gone 5-9 previously in the postseason, and being the first player age 22 or younger to start a World Series 5-9 since Mickey Mantle.

Tomlin was replaced in the sixth inning by Andrew Miller, who once again was untouchable, doing his part in keeping the game scoreless through the seventh inning, and punching the new record for scoreless innings by a reliever in the postseason, with 15 straight. It was also in that inning when the Indians would finally put something together.

millerA pinch-hit single from Coco Crisp, who had previously gone 3-18 in the playoffs, scored pinch-runner Michael Martinez from third, giving the Indians a 1-0 lead in the late innings. With the way this game was going, you quickly got the feeling that it was going to be difficult for the Cubs to rally back.

Although Bill Murray attempted to get the Cubs motivated before their at-bats in the seventh with his Daffy-Duck-edition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, it wouldn’t do much good in the end, despite getting the crowd in a lightened mood late in the ballgame.

The Cubs would set themselves up nicely in that very inning, as well as several more times in the game — including the ninth inning, where they had runner on second and third with two outs — but they weren’t able to come through and ended up losing the close game and falling behind the Indians two games to one in the series.

With the win, the Indians marked their fifth shutout pitching performance of their postseason thus far (a new MLB record), and also secured just the 25th time in the 649-game history of the World Series that a game ended with a final score of 1-0. In addition, the last time the Cubs were shutout in the World Series 1-0 came way back in 1918, seeing Babe Ruth throw a shutout against Chicago, leaving little doubt that this series is something historic.

Although the game was thrilling for baseball fans, it was obviously a disappointing loss for the Cubs and their fan base, as it guaranteed they could no longer win the series at Wrigley Field in front of their home crowd. Furthermore, falling one game further away from finally breaking their 108-year World Series championship drought, the Cubs would have to come back the next night and even up the score if they wanted to avoid sitting just one loss away from elimination altogether. You began to get the feeling that game four was going to be another absolute battle.

Game four began just that way, with John Lackey going up against Corey Kluber, who had been terrific in game one. But this time around, it was Lackey who began strong, with Kluber giving up a run in the first, after allowing a drop-in double to Dexter Fowler, and a single up the middle from Anthony Rizzo, making the score 1-0 Cubs.santana

But before the Cubs fans were able to settle back into their seats, Lackey gave up a run of his own via a solo home run to Carlos Santana in the second, marking the first home run by a first baseman in the World Series at Wrigley Field since Lou Gehrig in 1932. Then, following an error by Bryant which allowed Lonnie Chisenhall to reach first — he was moved to second by Perez with two outs — the next batter, Tyler Naquin, was walked to get to the pitcher.

But Kluber proceeded to hit a weak tapper that was thrown wildly by Bryant for his second error of the game, allowing Chisenhall to score and give the Indians a one-run lead. Once again, the next inning, after a leadoff double by Kipnis, the Indians would score when Lindor singled him home, giving the Indians a 3-1 lead.

Neither team would score again for the next two innings, but the Indians were back at it again in the sixth. Mike Montgomery, the reliever for Lackey, gave up a leadoff walk to Lindor, a single to Santana, and a ground out that made it first and third with one out. The next batter Chisenhall then blasted a ball deep enough into the outfield to allow Lindor to score and make it 4-1.

The Cubs would attempt to answer back in the bottom half when a leadoff double from Rizzo got the crowd amped up, but yet again the Cubs couldn’t make it count, failing to get another hit in the inning.

kipnisThe Indians, however, couldn’t stop hitting all night long. Leading off the seventh with a double was Coco Crisp, who advanced to third on a wild pitch with no outs. Rajai Davis was then drilled with the next pitch, and Jason Kipnis ended up launching a three-run bomb to push the lead to six runs.

With that hit, the fans went absolutely silent, especially with Andrew Miller entering the game. But Miller proved that he was in fact human, giving up a homer to Fowler in the eighth inning. Still, the Cubs weren’t able to get anywhere close to threatening the Indians 7-2 lead, as Cleveland was victorious for the second straight night and moved just one win away from winning it all.

Down 3-1 in the series, Sunday night’s game was a win or go home game for the Cubs. If they had any shot at extending their season, they would quite simply have to start getting big hits in game five or they wouldn’t stand a chance against the Indians. Though the odds were against them, the majority of the baseball world was with them, hoping they could find a way to keep the season going just a little while longer.

Jon Lester certainly gave the Cubs’ fans plenty to cheer about in the very first inning, looking sharp and striking out the side to begin the game — the first National League pitcher to do so since John Smoltz in 1996. Equally sharp, however, was Trevor Bauer, who kept the Cubs off the board as well to begin the ballgame.

The second inning was deja vu for the Cubs, as it saw the Indians once again taking an early lead off of a Jose Ramirez solo shot — the youngest player to hit a World Series homer at Wrigley Field since Joe DiMaggio in 1938. Citing thebryant fact that the Indians had won their last fifteen games in which they had hit a home run, going back to the regular season, the odds were slowly falling away from a Cubs victory.

But then the fourth inning happened. Despite Bauer being terrific through the first three innings, his second time through the order proved troublesome. The Cubs bats absolutely came alive, as following a Kris Bryant leadoff home run, Anthony Rizzo proceeded to double off the outfield wall and later scored after a couple of well-placed singles. The bases would quickly become loaded after an out was recorded, and the veteran David Ross would deliver a sacrifice fly, scoring the Cubs’ third run of the inning, making it 3-1.

Despite Wrigley Field hopping following the breakout inning, the Indians would cool things down a bit, leading off the fifth inning with a double from Carlos Santana, who was moved to third with just one out. But a terrific job of pitching by Lester kept the Indians from scoring a single run.

That would only last through the sixth inning, however, when a two-out drop-in single by Francisco Lindor scored the second run of the contest for the Indians. After finishing out that inning, Lester’s night was done. His replacement, Carl Edwards Jr., was shaky to begin, giving up a single to Mike Napoli and allowing him to advance to second withchapman no outs on a passed ball. But Chapman was brought on, who kept things from getting out of hand.

Chapman would stay in for the eighth inning, and although he would allow a runner to make it all the way to third with two outs, a 102 mile-per-hour heater got the strikeout he needed to escape the inning untouched. After little getting through the eighth, Chapman was entrusted with the ninth inning as well, getting the job done in quick fashion, and securing the victory for Chicago with a lengthy eight-out save performance.

With the win, the Cubs move to 3-2 in the series. Although still at a disadvantage heading back into enemy territory down a game, you know the Cubs are at the very least going to be very competitive and not go down without a fight. History is still in the process of being made. After 108 years of disappointment, the Cubs are by no means done in their attempt at achieving baseball glory.

Impact Players Still Teamless As Spring 2016 Begins

Although games aren’t scheduled to be played until March 1st, for every baseball fan Spring Training officially begins when pitchers and catchers first report. Five clubs saw their pitchers and catchers report on Wednesday, with the remaining teams’ hurlers and backstops trickling in over the next few days, leaving every team with their respective pitchers and catchers in camp by Sunday. Print

Therefore, baseball is finally back.

But for a number of free agent players who have yet to find homes so far this offseason, Spring Training is going to have to wait — at least for now. Before they can report to a camp, every free agent needs to come to terms with a team that they’ll wind up calling home for the 2016 season.

Given, there’s still over a month until the regular season, and most if not all of the free agents will sign before too long. But time is slowly running out. With that in mind, I thought I’d go over the free agent players still on the market, position by position, who are more than capable of still helping out a big league club, but have yet to sign for one reason or another.

Beginning with the starting pitching role, the best remaining free agent starter who remains up for grabs is Yovani Gallardo. While Gallardo has been linked to talks with the Orioles, he is still technically in play for all thirty clubs. Although he isn’t going to be the ace of any team’s staff, Gallardo is still a really good pitcher who you can count on for numerous innings (180+ for each of the past seven seasons) and will give his team a chance to win each and every night.

Appropriately following the starting pitcher in this post is the relief pitcher, with there being several quality reliever options remaining. The one that stands out the most to me, however, is Casey Janssen. He didn’t have the best season in 2015, but a three year stretch from 2011-2013 saw him as one of the best relievers in the game. With him holding a career ERA of Morneau3.63, Janssen doesn’t immediately jump off the page, but he can be an asset to a number of teams.

Justin Morneau leads the pack of available free agent first basemen. After a 17-homer season back in 2014, Morneau only played in 49 games last season due to injuries which ultimately held his numbers down. But I look for Morneau to have a bounce back season in 2016, if he can be healthy. Although his days of dominating the first base position are likely over, the days of him being a solid player definitely aren’t.

At second base, the only free agent left is Dan Uggla, making him the only option to discuss. I’m not sure what the future holds for Uggla, who was once one of the best second baseman in baseball. Uggla blasted 30+ homers for five straight seasons early in his career and has been an impactful player, but he hasn’t had a very productive season since 2013. However, with all of that said, Uggla could surprise some people if given a chance.

David Freese manning the hot corner is something any team would want to see, but for some reason he has yet to be signed. Freese is a reliable third baseman who you can count on year in and year out to hit double digit homers and drive in runs in the majority of key situations. After all, Freese was the reason the Cardinals survived game six of the 2011 World Series and ultimately went on to win. He falls under the low risk, high reward type of player, and would be a nice pickup for any team.

The shortstop position is currently one of the weaker spots as far as free agents is concerned, but Ian Desmond is the big player of the group. Following a somewhat mixed departure from the Nationals, where Trea Turner looks ready to take over the shortstop role, Desmond has been linked to a number of teams this offseason but has yet to land anywhere. Even so, Desmond is still a valuable player, coming just one homer shy in 2015 of a fourth straight 20+ home run year.Fowler

As far as the outfield, there are a number of above average free agents still there for the taking. Looking merely at the position as a whole — not individually at right, left and center — the the top three free agent outfielders in my mind are Austin Jackson, Dexter Fowler and Marlon Byrd. They’re each mid-to-upper .200’s career hitters, and each had solid 2015 campaigns. For that reason, while they still remain without a team to call home, chances are they won’t be that way for long and will have some amount of impact this coming season.

Despite every position previously mentioned having players available to sign, if your favorite team is in need of a catcher, they’ll have to look for other options besides free agency. There are no remaining catchers on the market, making it the only position without a single player left. However, there are more than plenty of other positions to snag above average players from that can impact any roster.

As history has shown, the majority of free agents always wind up signing with a team, even if it takes until the very last second to do so. But now that Spring Training is upon us, they no longer have the luxury of sitting back and waiting for the right offer and the right time to arrive. With spring being the time teams find themselves and form chemistry each year, the time for free agents to begin their final pushes towards signing is now.

Cubs Could Be Better Than Many People Think

It’s been quite awhile since people have whole heartedly believed in the Cubs.

CubsBut let’s face it. They haven’t had a reason to believe for the past several years. With the Cubs having failed to even make the postseason since 2008, not having made a World Series appearance since 1945, and currently holding a 107-year World Championship drought, the Cubs’ fan base has been nothing but disappointed for a long time.

The Cubs, however, have finally put together what could prove to be a formidable team that fans could actually get behind. In fact, many Cubs fans are getting so behind this year’s roster that they have visions of a World Series title to round out the coming season. While I like their optimism, and wouldn’t be too stunned if it happened, I don’t think it will necessarily occur in 2015. I think it will be 2016 at the earliest before the World Series becomes a possibility.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t think the Cubs will have an amazing team this year. Although a lot of people are saying that the Cubs are extremely overhyped and stand little chance of doing much of anything this season, I actually believe in the club they have.

First off, their new manager, Joe Maddon, has proven to be one of the best in baseball — not necessarily for his winning records but for his ability to get the most out of each and every one of his players. His addition to the club house will have an immeasurable impact on the Cubs in my mind.

As far as the players themselves are concerned, it’s a talented group of characters the Cubs are going to be putting on the field throughout the season.

The one weakness a lot of people foresee, however, is their pitching staff, consisting of guys like Travis Wood, Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks. While those players aren’t the worst pitchers in baseball, they aren’t Cy Young candidates either. But the Cubs do in fact have a Cy Young caliber pitcher they snatched up this offseason, set CubsRizzoto lead the staff every fifth day. Jon Lester, who came over to the Cubs on a 155 million dollar contract, is sure to instantly make the Cubs pitching staff relevant (with their bullpen being decent enough).

Beyond that, the Cubs’ lineup is fairly good as well. Admittedly, it consists of a lot of young, unproven talent, but it’s a good group, nonetheless. Having Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo and newly added catcher, Miguel Montero, slotted in the Cubs’ lineup is sure to lead to runs being scored. But it’s the youth of the Cubs that could ultimately lead to a lot of wins in 2015.

With Jorge Soler, Tommy La Stella, Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez looking to have breakout seasons — along with uber prospect Kris Bryant, who should be called up shortly into the year — the Cubs’ team is going to be one to reckon with.

However, it’s that very youth and inexperience in a great number of the players that has a lot of people remaining cautious from hopping aboard the Cubs’ bandwagon. After getting their hopes up in the past only to see things come crashing down, many people from around the baseball world refuse to believe that the Cubs stand a chance at making much ground in a division that includes the Cardinals, Reds, Pirates and Brewers.

But it’s not stopping me from predicting the Cubs to have success in 2015.

Maybe the 2015 Cubs aren’t the team that will break the “Curse of the Billy Goat”. Maybe they aren’t even the team that will dominate their division for the better part of the season. But I feel that the Cubs are in fact the team that will surprise the most people this season as they make a run toward the second wild card spot in the National League.

Top Prospects Ready to Make MLB Impact

There are numerous top prospects set to make an impact in the major leagues this season, as I wrote about a few months ago, but for this particular post, I’m only focusing on the players who are ready right now to get a callup to the big leagues, but are yet to for one reason or another. Keep in mind as you’re reading, the players (in no particular order) I’ve included are yet to play a single game in the majors:13067210

Archie Bradley is the first player on my list, as he nearly made the Diamondback’s rotation out of Spring Training. Going 14-5, with a 1.84 ERA last season, Bradley is one of those players who is sure to make an immediate impact upon his first callup to the majors. Though it could be awhile longer before Bradley gets his first big league start, he’s ready now, nonetheless, to show off his stuff on the highest level.

Another player who nearly made the majors out of Spring Training, and likely should have, is George Springer. Blasting the second-most home runs of any player in the minors last season, with a total of 37, Springer is sure to be one of the key pieces for the Astros moving forward, whenever his callup takes place. With the Astros’ outfield struggling, besides Dexter Fowler, bringing up Springer would be a smart thing to do.

Gregory Polanco could end up being as big of a difference maker for the Pirates as Andrew McCutchen. Though he’s yet to prove his ability on the major league level, there are a lot of people who feel Polanco is experienced enough to make the jump. Currently in Triple-A, it will likely be a bit of time before Polanco is called up, however, his combination of speed, power, and ability to hit for average should help him stick.

Joc Pederson is more than ready to make his major league debut, but there’s a big problem he faces: he’s an outfielder in the Dodgers’ organization. With a current outfield of Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford, Pederson simply has nowhere to go. While it could be a good bit of time before the Dodgers’ figure out a solution to the situation they have with Pederson, he should be up before too long.

Currently battling an injury, Addison Russell can’t technically be called up to the major leagues until he fully recovers, which likely means more minor league time, however, he is nearly ready. Russell is coined to be the next great all around shortstop, and many people feel he has the potential to win multiple Gold Glove awards. With the Athletics’ contract to their current shortstop, Jed Lowrie, almost up, Russell will be up fairly soon.

Some honorable mentions, of player who are getting close to being major league ready but aren’t quite, include Oscar Taveras, Javier Baez, Noah Syndergaard, Alex Meyer, Eddie Butler, Jonathan Singleton, Garin Cecchini and Stephen Piscotty.

All are showing tons of major league potential, and the majority of those players should see time in the major leagues at some point in the second half of this season. The remaining few will get their first glimpse of the majors in the early part of 2015.