Free Agents as Early Christmas Presents for MLB Teams

It seems like the baseball season ended yesterday, but in fact, Christmas is just over a week away. As such, less than sixty days remain until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, leaving time as the enemy for free agent players not yet signed with a team for 2017.

However, we see it every year. No matter how talented of a player, there always wind up being a few above-average free agents each offseason who remain unsigned for quite some time. For one reason or another, the right team and contract simply hasn’t come along yet.

But eventually, a perfect match will be made. While it’s somewhat unlikely, it would certainly make for a great Christmas gift for both the given player as well as the team they sign with and its fan base moving into the new year if they can come to terms over the next few days.

With that in mind, I figured I’d go over the top free agents (in my mind) remaining at each individual position that would make for a great addition to any team.MLB: Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh Pirates

STARTING PITCHER: Jason Hammel

It came down to a few quality starters in this category, but I ended up choosing Jason Hammel as the top free agent starting pitcher remaining. Posting a 3.83 ERA over the course of 166.1 innings pitched, Hammel played a huge role in leading the Cubs to their first World Series since 1908. Though Jason Hammel isn’t in the category of ace, he’s still a great pitcher that would benefit any team that picks him up.

RELIEF PITCHER: Trevor Cahill

My original pick for best remaining free agent reliever was Brad Ziegler, but he was signed by the Marlins an hour before I was set to post this blog entry. Therefore, I went with my next choice, Trevor Cahill. But despite him not being my top pick, Cahill is certainly a top choice. With just better than a strikeout per inning last season, along with a 2.74 ERA, Trevor Cahill has more than proven his value in recent history.

CATCHER: Matt Wieters

Every good pitcher thrives off of a good catcher, and Matt Wieters has proven to be one of the best. After a couple of injury-plagued seasons, Wieters bounced back in 2016 to hit 17 homers for the Orioles. His time in Baltimore may be up, but his playing career certainly is not. With good hitting catchers somewhat of a rarity in today’s game, any team would instantly improve with Matt Wieters behind the dish.

MLB: Milwaukee Brewers at Cincinnati RedsFIRST BASE: Chris Carter

There were several good choices for top first baseman free agent remaining, but Chris Carter placed at the top of my list. He will never hit for average, possessing a career .218 mark, but Carter’s power is up there with the very best. Having blasted 41 homers in 2016, Chris Carter should be a very attractive piece to any team, despite him still remaining unsigned to this point in the offseason.

SECOND BASE: Chase Utley

Over the past few weeks, there have been a number of rumors stating that Chase Utley would prefer to head back to the Dodgers in 2017. However, with them looking into Brian Dozier, that may not occur. Regardless, Utley will land somewhere, and that team will be all the better for it. In addition to Chase Utley’s ability to still hit (recording 14 homers last year), his leadership role has proven to be invaluable over the years.

THIRD BASE: Aaron Hill

There weren’t a lot of players to choose from at the hot corner slot now that Justin Turner has been taken off the board, but I went with Aaron Hill. Much like Chase Utley, Hill isn’t going to hit you a mammoth number of homers any more (he still managed 10 last season), nor is he going to hit for a superbly high average. But Aaron Hill does have the ability to play a good defensive third base while stringing together solid at-bats.<> at Chase Field on April 29, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.

SHORTSTOP: Daniel Descalso

It’s hard to think of a player who had an under-the-radar season quite to the extent of Daniel Descalso. In fact, I was somewhat surprised to discover that he recorded career highs in both on-base-percentage and homers in 2016 — .349 and 8, respectively. With that in mind, Daniel Descalso places at the top of the admittedly weak free agent list for shortstops, and should be signed before 2017 rolls around.

LEFT FIELD: Michael Saunders

Playing in just nine games all of 2015, Michael Saunders exploded back onto the scene in 2016, hitting a career high 24 home runs. For that reason alone, I see him as the top available option yet to be signed to play left field. Michael Saunders doesn’t hit for a high average, but he has enough pop to be a big contributor to any club he’s on, and should be seen as very valuable despite still sitting without a contract.

CENTER FIELD: Rajai Davis

Rajai Davis isn’t the biggest power hitter in baseball by any stretch. He also won’t be found among the top few in batting average year after year. But where Davis truly stands out is his running ability. In 2016 alone, Davis stole 43 bases, making it his fifth career 40+ stolen base season. With that speed, in addition to his bat being no slouch (he popped 12 homers in 2016), Rajai Davis is quite the free agent pickup.trumbo

RIGHT FIELD: Mark Trumbo

Always known for his power, Mark Trumbo took things up a notch last season. After never having hit more than 34 homers in a single season, Trumbo blasted 47 big flies in 2016. Though you never know if any given player’s success can be carried over from one season to the next, Mark Trumbo is definitely worth taking a chance on. Worst case scenario, he hits 30 homers. But the ability for 50 home runs is certainly there.

DESIGNATED HITTER: Edwin Encarnacion

Another player with crazy-stupid power is Edwin Encarnacion. After turning town a sizeable contract offer from the Blue Jays, it’s looking likely that Encarnacion will take his talents elsewhere in 2017 and beyond. In addition to his fifth straight 34+ home run season, Encarnacion recorded a career high in RBI’s as well last season. Whoever gets Edwin Encarnacion, they will have an absolute superstar to add to their lineup.

Sandoval to Start Opening Day . . . On the Bench

When the Boston Red Sox signed Pablo Sandoval to a five-year, 95 million dollar contract heading into the 2015 season, all signs pointed towards him continuing to add to his historically good career statistics that he had posted over the previous six seasons in San Francisco.Sandoval

With the Giants, Sandoval hit twelve or more homers, recorded at least 63 RBI’s and notched a batting average in the mid to upper .200’s from 2009 to 2014, before signing with the Red Sox in November of 2014. With that kind of track record, things were looking bright at third base in Boston.

But it all completely fell apart for ‘The Panda’ last season, when he really struggled offensively, hitting just .245 on the year, with career lows of just ten homers and 47 RBI’s. However, it was his poor defense at third, leading to fifteen errors, that really stood out; and that is ultimately going to keep him on the bench to begin 2016.

After two All-Star game selections and three World Series rings with the Giants, Sandoval will be on the outside looking in to begin his eighth full season in the bigs. Instead, it’s standout 2015 rookie, Travis Shaw, who received the nod from manager John Farrell to start Opening Day at the hot corner.

Following a debut season of thirteen home runs over the course of just 65 games, Shaw hit the ground running in Florida’s Grapefruit League this year, recording an average well above .300, and playing a great defense at third — much better Shawthan that of Sandoval.

However, Sandoval seems at peace with the decision for him to not start game one of the year, and fully believes he can turn things around, saying, “It was the right decision to help the team win. I’m going to be ready during the season to do my job out there.”

Nonetheless, there are many people around the baseball world who don’t hold the same level of hope for Sandoval. Showing up at Spring Training around a month ago extremely out of shape, and with rumors flying that Sandoval may wind up being traded in the near future, there is no guarantee that things will ever be the same for Sandoval, at least with the Red Sox.

Now that Shaw has been given the opportunity to play everyday at third base, I see him thriving there and keeping Sandoval from regaining his role there much at all. It will certainly be interesting to see how it all pans out.

Opening Day for the Red Sox is now less than 100 hours away, set for Monday, April 4th, up in Cleveland against the Indians. But for Pablo Sandoval, the season will begin with him serving a role similar to the 38,000 fans expected to pack the ballpark: a mere spectator.

2014 Silver Slugger Awards

The 2014 Silver Slugger award winners were announced Thursday night on MLB Network. While the Gold Glove awards given out on Tuesday focused on the defensive side of baseball, the Silver Slugger awards are given annually to the best offensive player at each position in both theimages1 American League and the National League.

Marking the 34th annual Silver Slugger awards, which began in 1980, the awards are voted on by the coaches and managers of Major League Baseball (managers can not vote for their own players), with voters considering several offensive categories in selecting the winners, including batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage, in addition to coaches’ and managers’ general impressions of a player’s overall offensive value.

Barry Bonds’ 12 career Silver Slugger awards stand as the most all-time by a single player at any position, and no one from this season’s winners are even close. Here are the list of winners with my thoughts on each:

OUTFIELD

Most Silver Slugger Awards: Barry Bonds holds the record for the most Silver Slugger Awards as an outfielder, with twelve.

NL Winners – Andrew McCutchen (3rd career), Giancarlo Stanton (1st career) and Justin Upton (2nd career)

AL Winners – Mike Trout (3rd career), Jose Bautista (3rd career) and Michael Brantley (1st career)

All six winners of the Silver Slugger award for the outfield position between the American League and National League were very deserving. Michael Brantley picks up his first award after the great season he put together, as does Giancarlo Stanton, who surprisingly has never won one before. Justin Upton and Jose Bautista take home their second and third career Silver Slugger awards, respectively, for their good offensive numbers posted this year, and could win several more between them in the years to come. Both Andrew McCutchen and Mike Trout each picked up their third career and third consecutive Silver Slugger, with Trout having won one each of his full seasons in the majors.

FIRST BASE

Most Silver Slugger Awards: Todd Helton is tied with Albert Pujols for the most Silver Slugger Awards as a first baseman, with four.

NL Winner – Adrian Gonzalez (2nd career)

AL Winner – Jose Abreu (1st career)

Shockingly, this is just Adrian Gonzalez’s second career Silver Slugger award, despite having some great seasons over the course of his time in the majors. However, Jose Abreu winning the award in his rookie season came as no shock. He was absolutely terrific for the White Sox this year, and should also add the Rookie of the Year award to his list of accomplishments.

SECOND BASE

Most Silver Slugger Awards: Ryne Sandberg holds the record for the most Silver Slugger Awards as a second baseman, with seven.

NL Winner – Neil Walker (1st career)

AL Winner – Jose Altuve (1st career)

Both winners of the Silver Slugger award for second base received the honor for the first time in their careers. Neil Walker had a breakout offensive year, as did Jose Altuve, who led all of baseball in hits and set a new franchise record for hits in a season for the Astros. Anytime you do something like that, a Silver Slugger award is almost a sure thing.

THIRD BASE

Most Silver Slugger Awards: Wade Boggs holds the record for the most Silver Slugger Awards as a third baseman, with eight.

NL Winner – Anthony Rendon (1st career)

AL Winner – Adrian Beltre (4th career)

Anthony Rendon showed signs this season of just how good of a player he can become, and was rewarded with a Silver Slugger for his efforts. One of the best players on the Nationals all year long, Rendon will be a big part of their team for seasons to come. The Rangers’ Adrian Beltre takes home his fourth career award, putting together a solid offensive year of his own at third base.

SHORTSTOP

Most Silver Slugger Awards: Barry Larkin holds the record for the most Silver Slugger Awards as a shortstop, with nine.

NL Winner – Ian Desmond (3rd career)

AL Winner – Alexei Ramirez (2nd career)

For the most part, shortstops aren’t known for terrific offensive productivity. However, there always seem to be a few each season that put together great numbers. This season, those two players were Ian Desmond and Alexei Ramirez. Picking up his third straight Silver Slugger award, Desmond has quietly become one of the best hitting shortstops in baseball. As has Alexei Ramirez, who picks up his second career award.

CATCHER

Most Silver Slugger Awards: Mike Piazza holds the record for the most Silver Slugger Awards as a catcher, with ten.

NL Winner – Buster Posey (2nd career)

AL Winner – Yan Gomes (1st career)

Buster Posey won the third World Series Championship of his short career this season when the Giants beat the Royals in the Fall Classic, being a big reason the Giants made it there. One of the best hitting catchers in baseball, Posey adds a second Silver Slugger to his extensive list of career awards. Yan Gomes picks up his first Silver Slugger, slowly showing all of baseball that he has the potential to become a star catcher.

PITCHER

Most Silver Slugger Awards: Mike Hampton holds the record for the most Silver Slugger Awards as a pitcher, with five.

Winner – Madison Bumgarner (1st career)

Pitchers are terrible hitters; everyone knows that, right? Well, surprisingly, some of them aren’t. In fact, a few pitchers around Major League Baseball can hit fairly well. But no other pitcher was as good at the plate in 2014 as Madison Bumgarner, who hit two grand slams during the season, and therefore picks up the first Silver Slugger award of his career.

DESIGNATED HITTER

Most Silver Slugger Awards: David Ortiz holds the record for the most Silver Slugger Awards as a Designated Hitter, with six.

Winner – Victor Martinez (2nd career)

Breaking out to have one of the best offensive years of anyone in all of baseball this past season, Victor Martinez surprised many with his great production as the Tigers’ designated hitter. For his efforts, Martinez was awarded his second career Silver Slugger award, truly having a marvelous offensive season that put him back on everyone’s radar.

2014 SILVER SLUGGER AWARDS FAST FACTS

  • There were eight first time Silver Slugger award winners.
  • There were three Silver Slugger award winners that also won last year.
  • Five different teams had two players receive Silver Slugger awards.
  • Adrian Gonzalez was the only Silver Slugger winner that won a 2014 Gold Glove.

2014 Gold Glove Awards; BBWAA Award Finalists

The 2014 Major League Baseball Gold Glove award winners were announced Tuesday night on ESPN2. Given out each year to the players that gold-gloveare judged to have exhibited superior individual fielding performances at each fielding position in both the National League and the American League, the award is voted on by the managers and coaches in each league (managers can not vote for their own players), with sabermetrics now making up around 25 percent of the vote.

Marking the 57th annual Gold Glove Awards, which began back in 1957, there have been some terrific players to receive the honor. However, no other player has won more Gold Gloves in their career or in a row than Greg Maddux, who took home 18 and 13, respectively.

While Maddux’s records seem fairly safe for now, there were some winners for 2014 who could win quite a few Gold Gloves as the years go on. Here’s a recap of the winners, with my thoughts on each:

CATCHER

AL Nominees – Alex Avila, Yan Gomes and Salvador Perez

AL Winner – Salvador Perez (2nd career)

NL Nominees – Jonathan Lucroy, Russell Martin and Yadier Molina

NL Winner – Yadier Molina (7th career)

Picking up his second straight career Gold Glove award, Salvador Perez was by far the best catcher in all of the American League in 2014. On the National League side of things, Yadier Molina takes home his seventh straight Gold Glove award. One of the best at controlling a pitching staff in all of baseball, it’s no surprise that Molina won yet again.

PITCHER

AL Nominees Mark Buehrle, Felix Hernandez and Dallas Keuchel

AL Winner – Dallas Keuchel (1st career)

NL Nominees – Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright

NL Winner – Zack Greinke (1st career)

Although Mark Buehrle has won his fair share of Gold Glove awards, this season the award went to Dallas Keuchel. Having a great season with the Astros, Keuchel isn’t that well known around baseball, but he’s one of the best defenders on the mound. Zack Greinke, surprisingly, picks up just his first career Gold Glove award for the National League, after years of great performances on the mound.

LEFT FIELDER

AL Nominees – Michael Brantley, Yoenis Cespedes and Alex Gordon

AL Winner – Alex Gordon (4th career)

NL Nominees – Starling Marte, Justin Upton and Christian Yelich

NL Winner – Christian Yelich (1st career)

Alex Gordon ended up taking home his fourth straight Gold Glove award. Always very consistent as a defender in left field, Gordon isn’t at all a shocking winner of the award. Christian Yelich on the other hand did come as somewhat of a surprise. But even so, he’s still deserving, becoming the first Marlins outfielder to ever pick up a Gold Glove.

CENTER FIELDER

AL Nominees – Jackie Bradley Jr., Adam Eaton and Adam Jones

AL Winner – Adam Jones (4th career)

NL Nominees – Billy Hamilton, Juan Lagares and Denard Span

NL Winner – Juan Lagares (1st career)

Adam Jones has established himself as one of the best outfielders in baseball today, and he extended his argument by picking up his fourth career Gold Glove award — his third straight. On the NL half of the Center Field Gold Glove awards, Juan Lagares ended up receiving the award. While he’s not well known as of yet, he could easily pick up several more Gold Gloves in his career.

RIGHT FIELDER

AL Nominees – Kole Calhoun, Kevin Kiermaier and Nick Markakis

AL Winner – Nick Markakis (2nd career)

NL Nominees – Jason Heyward, Gerardo Parra and Giancarlo Stanton

NL Winner – Jason Heyward (2nd career)

Nick Markakis of the American League and Jason Heyward of the National League each picked up their second career Gold Glove awards on Tuesday night for their terrific defense in the outfield. Despite the fact that Heyward and Markakis are two very different types of players, they were undeniably the most deserving right fielders of the 2014 season.

FIRST BASE

AL Nominees – Miguel Cabrera, Eric Hosmer and Albert Pujols

AL Winner – Eric Hosmer (2nd career)

NL Nominees – Adrian Gonzalez, Adam LaRoche and Justin Morneau

NL Winner – Adrian Gonzalez (4th career)

All of the nominees for first base have their ups and downs defensively, but Eric Hosmer winning the Gold Glove this season is the best choice, in my opinion. His second straight Gold Glove, Hosmer showed signs of breaking out into a superstar in 2014. Also picking up his multiple Gold Glove award was Adrian Gonzalez, who hadn’t won one since 2011.

SECOND BASE

AL Nominees Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia

AL Winner – Dustin Pedroia (4th career)

NL Nominees – DJ LeMahieu, Brandon Phillips and Chase Utley

NL Winner – DJ LeMahieu (1st career)

Dustin Pedroia is widely known as one of the best second baseman in baseball, and he was recognized for it this season. Winning his fourth career Gold Glove award and second in a row, Pedroia could easily pick up another Gold Glove or two before the end of his career. As could DJ LeMahieu, who isn’t well known in the baseball world, but received the first of what could be several Gold Glove awards.

SHORTSTOP

AL Nominees – Alcides Escobar, J.J. Hardy and Alexei Ramirez

AL Winner – J.J. Hardy (3rd career)

NL Nominees – Zack Cozart, Adeiny Hechavaria and Andrelton Simmons

NL Winner – Andrelton Simmons (2nd career)

J.J. Hardy receives his third straight Gold Glove award for American League shortstop. Known for his slick defense he shows off seemingly every night, Hardy is quietly one of the best fielding shortstops in baseball today. But many would argue that the best defensive shortstop at the moment has to be Andrelton Simmons, who won his second career Gold Glove on Tuesday and could be winning them for years to come.

THIRD BASE

AL Nominees – Josh Donaldson, Adrian Beltre and Kyle Seager

AL Winner – Kyle Seager (1st career)

NL Nominees – Nolan Arenado, Pablo Sandoval and Juan Uribe

NL Winner – Nolan Arenado (2nd career)

Kyle Seager picked up his first career Gold Glove award while Nolan Arenado received his second in a row. Both are terrific fielding third baseman, and both are early on in their careers. It is very likely that Seager and Arenado could continue to get better and better, picking up multiple Gold Glove awards in the process.

2014 GOLD GLOVE AWARDS FAST FACTS

  • There were six first-time Gold Glove winners.
  • The Royals and Orioles had the most Gold Glove winners, with three each.
  • There were nine Gold Glove winners who also won a Gold Glove in 2013.

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Also announced last night were the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) award finalists for 2014 Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and Most Valuable Player. For the most part, I agree with the finalists, but there are a few I’m surprised about.

Here are the finalists, with who I have winning (click their names to find out why):

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR FINALISTS

American League: Jose Abreu, Dellin Betances and Matt Shoemaker

National League: Jacob deGrom, Billy Hamilton and Kolten Wong

I have Jose Abreu and Jacob deGrom winning the Rookie of the Year award.

CY YOUNG FINALISTS

American League: Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber and Chris Sale

National League: Johnny Cueto, Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright

I have Felix Hernandez and Clayton Kershaw winning the Cy Young award.

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER FINALISTS

American League: Michael Brantley, Victor Martinez and Mike Trout

National League: Clayton Kershaw, Andrew McCutchen and Giancarlo Stanton

I have Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw winning the Most Valuable Player award.

The winner of each award will be announced next week on MLB Network.

Here’s the schedule:

AL & NL Rookie of the Year: November 10th

AL & NL Cy Young: November 12th

AL & NL Most Valuable Player: November 13th

As stated in a previous blog post, I plan on posting a recap of each winner, along with a look at how well I did with my predictions, in a blog entry after each award is officially announced. So be sure to check back for that at some point next week.

Ballot Released for the 2014 MLB All-Star Game

On Friday, the ballot for the 2014 Major League Baseball All-Star game, set to take place up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at Target Field on July, 15th, was released, giving baseball fans all across the country the ability to pick which players they’d like to see in the starting lineups of Untitledthe midsummer classic.

With more and more attention being given to the All-Star game as years pass (a record 40.2 million ballots were cast in 2012), and with there being so many top quality candidates to choose from, the voting has become extremely intriguing.

To cast your vote, you can head down to your local ballpark and pick up a ballot, or, the easiest of ways, just head to MLB.com and fill out an online ballot with the player you feel most deserves the honor for each position. You have up to 25 votes (35 if you’re a registered member with MLB.com) that you can use.

Voting doesn’t end until July 3rd, but I’m not waiting (at least not completely).

I went ahead and cast half of my eligible 35 votes today for the players who I feel would deserve to make the All-Star team if it were being played tomorrow, with a plan for my remaining picks to be cast much closer to time. A lot of things can change, and therefore, my picks will subsequently change as well. However, for the sole purpose of this blog post, I figured I’d reveal the players I voted for, with the reasoning behind my picks:

FIRST BASE: Albert Pujols (AL), Paul Goldschmidt (NL)

With the great start he’s had so far this season, picking Albert Pujols was an easy choice. Though there are several other great candidates, including Miguel Cabrera, who just recently moved back over to first, and rookie phenom, Jose Abreu, who’s off to a fast start to his major league career, it was Pujols who had the overall package, posting a solid campaign for comeback player of the year.

For the National League side of the vote, it was a bit more difficult, with even more great candidates. From Brandon Belt’s fantastic, breakout start, to the always consistent Freddie Freeman, it was hard to settle with the decision I came to of picking Paul Goldschmidt. However, after the breakout season he had in 2013, and the fact that he isn’t letting up, he’s done enough to earn him my vote.

SECOND BASE: Robinson Cano (AL), Neil Walker (NL)

Though his power numbers have yet to show up so far this season, as many predicted with his move to the Mariners, I voted for Robinson Cano to start at second for the All-Star game. He’s still been fairly consistent at the plate this season, and his defensive skills are always fun to watch. While both Jason Kipnis and Dustin Pedroia were considered, Cano, in my mind, is the best choice at the moment.

I never thought I’d cast a vote for Neil Walker over the walking web gem that is Brandon Phillips, but that’s exactly what I did. Walker is off to a fantastic start to the year, and while Phillips hasn’t slowed down with his glove handiwork, he’s been a bit slow at the plate thus far. If he can pick it up offensively, he’ll likely earn the fan’s vote, but for now, I’m sticking with the Pirates’ Walker.

SHORTSTOP: Derek Jeter (AL), Troy Tulowitzki (NL)

Statistically, Alexei Ramirez probably deserves the starting shortstop role more than Derek Jeter, having one of the fastest starts of anyone in baseball, and the best kickoff to his career. However, with this being his final season (and Jeter being my favorite player), I had to vote for Jeter. The model of consistency, Jeter in all likelihood will be making his final All-Star start come July.

Troy Tulowitzki has always had the potential to be one of the top players in all of baseball, however, health has played a big role in hindering that caliber player from showing up. But with Tulo fully healthy, he’s begun to show signs of his full potential, and has been doing fantastic so far for the Rockies. While Andrelton Simmons and Hanley Ramirez would be great picks, mine goes to Tulowitzki.

THIRD BASE: Evan Longoria (AL), David Wright (NL)

In voting for the American League third baseman, though Josh Donaldson has, arguably, gotten off to the best start of any third baseman in baseball, I went with Evan Longoria. While Donaldson could definitely earn the All-Star spot should he continue his great play, Longoria has always been able to be consistent for the Rays. He should be able to do enough to earn the honor yet again.

Pedro Alvarez and Nolan Arenado have both begun the 2014 season on a high note, however, with David Wright having a good year as well so far, and factoring in his track record, my ballot saw Wright as the pick for third base. Wright always seems to have the numbers to warrant an All-Star selection, and I feel he’ll likely make the cut this time around as well.

CATCHER: Matt Wieters (AL), Yadier Molina (NL)

With Brian McCann heading from the NL to the AL this offseason, many felt he would be an immense impact as he has been over the years. But while he certainly has been great, he hasn’t had the fastest start to the season among catchers. Matt Wieters has had a career season so far, really producing well for the Orioles, and if he can keep it up, he very well could overtake McCann in the voting.

When it comes to picking the National League catcher, it truly is a tough choice. There are several great ones to pick from, many of which have been All-Stars before, and the great seasons so far by those players makes it nearly impossible to say which one player stands above the rest. With that said, however, I went with Yadier Molina, who does nearly everything well on the field, and deserves another selection.

DESIGNATED HITTER: Nelson Cruz

Being just an American League category, there weren’t too many players to pick from, so it came down to David Ortiz and Nelson Cruz for me. While David Ortiz is usually the obvious choice, Cruz is having a career season so far, and he might receive the All-Star votes needed if he can keep up his hot start. However, don’t count out Ortiz, as he could heat up as July continues to approach.

OUTFIELD

It’s never easy to narrow down 90 players to just six (three for each league), especially when you could make a strong case for a dozen of the outfield choices for each league, but it’s a requirement when casting a ballot. So, while I voted for the players who I felt were All-Star caliber players at the moment, there are a few more I would’ve liked to vote for, but couldn’t. Keep that in mind when reading the outfielders I selected for the American League and National League:

Mike Trout, Carlos Beltran, Jose Bautista (AL)

All three of these players are off to tremendous starts to the season, with all three standing a good shot at making the All-Star team this year. Mike Trout is, arguably, the best player in the game today, constantly making great plays and showing off his power at the plate, with Carlos Beltran and Jose Bautista possessing some of the best power baseball has to offer. Everything together, they all deserve consideration.

Ryan Braun, Giancarlo Stanton, Andrew McCutchen (NL)

As with most categories, the National League has more players overall that have an argument each season to be an All-Star. For this season, I voted for Ryan Braun (unfortunately), Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen, as while I’m against Braun for his PED use, he’s still a good player. But with that said, I felt a lot better about choosing Stanton and McCutchen than I did Braun.

Do you agree or disagree with my picks? Leave a comment below.

Q and A With Cody Asche

Cody Asche was drafted by the Phillies in the 4th round of the 2011 draft. Since the draft, Asche has had a good deal of success, flying through the minor leagues — never spending a full season at any one level — and making his Major League Baseball debut in July of 2013.Untitled

After somewhat of a disappointing professional baseball debut in 2011, where he batted .192 with 2 home runs and 19 RBI’s in 78 games, Asche began climbing through the ranks at the start of the 2012 season.

In 2012, Asche posted a batting average of .324 with 12 homers and 72 RBI’s, between High-A and Double-A, before finishing out the year in Arizona as a member of the annual Arizona Fall League.

Following the great season, Asche recorded 15 home runs and 68 RBI’s the next year, to go along with a .295 batting average, earning him a callup to the majors after the All-Star break. In 50 games with the Phillies, before the end of the 2013 season, Asche blasted 5 homers and drove in 22 runs, proving why he was able to make it there so quickly.

Heading into what’s going to be Asche’s first full season in the major leagues, Asche should continue to get better and better as he gains experience, and will likely be playing the hot corner in Philadelphia for years to come.

Cody Asche — third baseman for the Phillies — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

1.) At what age did you first become interested in baseball? Who was your biggest baseball influence growing up?

I would say really young, around five to six. I loved playing it in the backyard with my brother and my dad. So they have to be the two who influenced me the most.

2.) Who was your favorite baseball player growing up? Why?

Ken Griffey Jr. He was a superstar. He did it all and played the game the right way.

3.) You were drafted by the Phillies in the 4th round of the 2011 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

It was very stressful. Not knowing what lies ahead can be stressful, especially when you are trying to play a college season. I found out in my kitchen. We had the draft audio on and my mom and dad were with me when my name was called. Initially, thoughts were excitement, and happiness that the process was over.

4.) After getting drafted, you were assigned to Single-A and placed at second base. Having played third base up until that point, you didn’t have a very successful (half) season. However, in 2012, you were moved back to third, and did very well. Having excelled ever since, what is it about third base that makes you more comfortable?

I’m not sure it’s only third that made me feel comfortable. I think it was more just learning the ropes and getting comfortable in pro ball. Hitting wise, success is all about comfort. When you struggle it’s because something doesn’t feel right and you aren’t comfortable. So after the first year I worked on some things to help improve that, and I have been able to do well since.

5.) Your great 2012 season was capped off with an invitation to the Arizona Fall League, where you once again posted good numbers, earning you a spot on the Western Division roster of the Rising Stars game. What was that experience like? What did you take away from it?

The Arizona Fall League was awesome. I was fortunate enough to be a guy that got to play four days a week down there, so I could really work on my game. I definitely credit that time period for setting me up for a good 2013 campaign.

6.) Starting the 2013 season at Triple-A, you made your major league debut in July. What kind of emotions did you experience during your debut?

Emotions were crazy. Trying to hold back tears seeing your parents in the stands for the first time was tough, then playing on top of that made it a little crazy to start. But that is all part of it. I think the phone call I got to make to my parents the day I was called up was the most memorable part of making it up last year.

7.) What’s it like playing under Ryne Sandberg (a baseball Hall of Famer)?

He’s a great person. I think that stands out to me the most. It seems like he sincerely cares about the players, and especially myself. I think all managers have a way of showing that to their players.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2013? What are your goals for 2014?

I think in 2013 I was able to improve a ton. That’s what I really care about, just improving on a daily basis. As far as 2014 is concerned, I would like to be healthy and keep learning and finding my niche on the team so I can contribute to a winner in Philly.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

TV show: Parks and Recreation. Food: Chicken parm.

10.) Lastly, what advice would you give to kids who are just starting out that dream of playing professional baseball one day?

Don’t sell yourself short. No matter what position or level you are at, keep faith and confidence in yourself and keep improving. Never lose your own self confidence. ——————————————————————————————————————————————

Big thanks to Cody Asche for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @cody_smasche

Yankees Get Tanaka On 7-Year, 155 Million Dollar Deal

Although I felt the Yankees would be better off using their money to sign other free agents to fill their bullpen and positional needs, the Yankees have decided to lock up Masahiro Tanaka for seven years, giving him a contract worth 155 million dollars. As many people around the baseball world are discussing, this is truly a lot of money for a pitcher who’s never played in the Major Leagues. 201311030731270873836-p5

Despite reportedly wanting to remain under the 189 million dollar luxury tax threshold, this deal to Tanaka blows right past that. The Yankees have now spent nearly 500 million dollars this offseason, with the biggest additions being Tanaka (155 million), Jacoby Ellsbury (153 million), Brian McCann (85 million) and Carlos Beltran (45 million). But even with all the money spent, they still have holes in their overall team.

The Yankees need at least one more good bullpen pitcher, preferably a solid closer, and have an average, at best, infield. With it uncertain how Derek Jeter will perform this season — coming of an injury plagued 2013 season — there are still a lot of questions surrounding the deal. (Now that the Yankees have passed the threshold, I suppose spending more money to acquire their needs isn’t that big of a concern.)

It’s been reported that the Dodgers, Angels, Cubs, White Sox, Astros and Diamondbacks all made runs at Tanaka, with at least one team possibly outbidding the Yankees. But ultimately, Tanaka chose the bigger stage of New York City, where he will likely begin as the second or third man in their starting rotation.

Tanaka becomes the receiver of the fifth largest contract for a pitcher in MLB history, just behind Clayton Kershaw’s 215 million over 7 years, Justin Verlander’s 180 million for 7 years, Felix Hernandez’s 7-year, 175 million dollar contract, and C.C. Sabathia’s 160 million for 8 years. That says a lot for the type of pitcher Tanaka is, but it’s somewhat risky, even for a pitcher who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last year in Japan, since, as stated earlier, he has never pitched a single MLB inning.

If everything works out as the Yankees planned, and are certainly hoping for, then the signing of Masahiro Tanaka could go a long way to helping them return to the playoffs in 2014 (many people are predicting just that). But if there are any bumps in the road, you could be seeing a lot of regret in New York.

As things look now, however, the future looks to be bright.