National League

Rumors Flying As Winter Meetings Approach

Headley

You would be fired up too if someone offered you more than $16MM a year.

Baseball’s Winter meetings will convene in San Diego this weekend…SoCal in December vs Northeast in December…sigh…’nuff said. A number of rumors concerning free agents and possible trades have been floated out there as the weekend approaches.

The latest is a reported (by Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan) four-year, $65MM offer for free agent third baseman Chase Headley. No matter how much the owners complain, they still make ridiculous offers and this is certainly one. Headley, who has a fabulous glove, has not been productive at the plate since his one huge year that made baseball stand up and take notice.

Maybe it was fear that the Mayans would be right, but Headley hit in 2012 like his life depended on it. The Padres third baseman hit 31 home runs, had 115 RBI, and an .875 OPS. Numbers that Headley has not approached before or after 2012. Prior to his trade to the Yankees at this past season’s deadline, Headley had a .651 OPS in 77 games with San Diego. In 58 games for the Bronx Bombers, Headley had a respectable .768 OPS, but he was a non-factor in August before a hot streak in September gave him decent numbers, in a small sample (58 games), in pinstripes.

The Yankees made the mistake of giving Ichiro Suzuki a two year deal after one hot month in 2012. While Headley is much younger than the Ichiro, he has nowhere near the Hall of Fame career the Yankees gambled on when they gave Ichiro a new contract prior to the 2013 season. Headley seems like a good guy and flashes the leather with the best of them, but I would not be happy if that four-year, $65M deal was offered by a team I was a fan of.

Lester nearing a decision?

CSNNE.com’s Sean McAdam reported on Wednesday that free agent pitcher Jon Lester was “likely” to make a decision on his future by the end of the week. Why McAdam felt that way remains to be seen – is this from a source or sources, or a hunch? – but there are reportedly four teams in on the bidding.

FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal stated Wednesday evening that the Los Angeles Dodgers were making a late, hard push for Lester’s services. The Chicago Cubs had reportedly made Lester a six-year, $138MM offer on Tuesday. The Boston Red Sox, who Lester played for in parts of nine seasons before his deadline deal to Oakland, and the San Francisco Giants are the other two teams trying to sign the lefty. (It’s still a mystery how the New York Yankees have not been involved since a relatively young left-handed pitcher is always a need in the Bronx.)

Speaking of the A’s, they are reportedly shopping Brandon Moss, who had offseason hip surgery. Moss, once touted as a prospect, floundered in the Major Leagues until he arrived in Oakland. He had 21 HR and 52 RBI in a little more than half a season in 2012 and followed that up with 30-87 and 25-81 the last two seasons as a first baseman and outfielder. He was selected to his first All-Star team in 2014.

In his second year of arbitration eligibility Moss would get a bump from the $4.1MM he earned last season. The kind of money that does not fits into GM Billy Beane’s budget.

Jays and Mariners Swap Players

The deal that took place Wednesday night between the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners flew under the radar, but could have a fairly significant impact on both teams. Seattle sent outfielder Michael Saunders to Toronto for left-handed starter J.A. Happ.

Saunders missed 1-1/2 months of baseball due to a strained oblique, which was unfortunate since he was arguably having his best season in the Majors. He finished with a career-best .791 OPS and had 8 HR and 34 RBI in 78 games. With Jose Bautista entrenched in right field, Saunders will slide over to left field to replace Melky Cabrera. GM Alex Anthopoulos made the move knowing that the Melkman preferred not to return to Toronto.

It’s the third time that Happ has been traded, with his value diminished in each deal. He was part of a package that the Philadelphia Phillies sent to the Houston Astros for Roy Oswalt at the 2010 trade deadline. He was part of a deadline deal again two years later, when Houston sent him, and pitchers Brandon Lyon and Dan Carpenter to Toronto for outfielder Ben Francisco, reliever Francisco Cordero, and five minor leaguers.

Happ made 26 starts and four relief appearances for the Blue Jays last season and finished with an 11-11, 4.22 record. He struck out 7.6 batters per nine innings, which was down nearly 1.5 strikeouts since 2012. Happ made just 18 starts in 2013 after being struck in the head by a comebacker off the bat of Tampa’s Desmond Jennings.

So if Happ is to start, who does he replace? Seattle’s rotation, prior to the deal, consisted of Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker, and Roenis Elias. Paxton was limited to 17 starts – 13 with the Mariners, four in the minors – after undergoing left shoulder surgery in October, 2013, but he’s still highly thought of. There have been rumors that Seattle was shopping Iwakuma, but GM Jack Zduriencik flatly denied that was the case.

Taijuan Walker was the 43rd overall pick in the 2010 draft and is one of the top prospects in baseball. That leaves Elias, who was a surprise rookie success in 2014. In 29 starts, the Cuban-born right-hander struck out 7.6 hitters per nine innings pitched, gave up less than a hit per inning and put together a respectable 3.85 ERA. He finished 10-12 three years after the Mariners signed him as a free agent.

Lester Scratched as MLB Deadline Nears

Will Lester get the ball back in Boston?

Will Lester get the ball back in Boston?

by Drew Sarver

We’re less than two days away from the Major League Baseball trade deadline and the number of rumors is starting to add up. The biggest name among them is Boston Red Sox ace Jon Lester. The veteran left-hander has been scratched from his Wednesday start, which means Boston will be making a heavy push to trade him for a boatload of prospects and/or Major Leaguers prior to Thursday’s 4 pm EDT deadline.

With the team and Lester unable to agree on a new contract to keep the left-hander in Boston beyond this year – he becomes a free agent after this season – a trade is now very likely.

Lester’s a grade ‘A’ player; a top performer, team leader, and whose departure would leave a major vacancy in the Red Sox rotation. The 30-year old, who beat anaplastic large cell lymphoma eight years ago, holds a 110-63 (.636) record as of this writing and is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career. His K’s per nine innings (9.4) is the highest in four years and he has career bests in ERA (2.52) and WHIP (1.119).

He’s also been solid in the post-season. Last year he helped lead the Red Sox to their third World Series title in 10 years. He won four games, including two in the World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. It will be difficult to cut the cord, but if the Red Sox truly feel they cannot resign him, they might as well try to deal him. Needless to say, they’ve getting calls from many teams. That includes the Pittsburgh Pirates, who last night emerged as a “dark horse favorite”.

Lester could be part of a Boston fire sale now that the Red Sox have dropped 12 games out in the AL East and 9.5 games out of the second wild card position. The team, which dealt starter Jake Peavy to San Francisco on July 26, has been fielding calls on John Lackey, Koji Uehara, Andrew Miller, and Jonny Gomes.

The Red Sox are also rumored to be interested in Matt Kemp, which makes no sense whatsoever. The injury-plagued LA Dodgers outfielder is owed $107MM over the next five seasons. The Red Sox would be better off spending money on starting pitcher. They don’t have to look that far back to see how injured and/or overpaid players (Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez) failed in Boston.

The next best pitcher available is Cole Hamels. After not being able to pull off a Cliff Lee deal so far, the Phillies have reportedly either been shopping Hamels or steadfastly refusing to trade him. Even if Hamels is dealt, the Phillies would like to deal Lee and the minimum $37.5MM he stands to make the next two years. He’s also owed the remainder of $25MM this season. Lee will not command the return of players he once was able to unless Philly eats the majority of the salary.

Hamels stands to make $90MM through 2018, with a possibility of making an addition $20MM-$24MM in 2019. Like Lester, Hamels is 30-years old and is having a very good season. Tuesday night he tossed eight shutout innings in a win against the New York Mets. It lowered his career-best ERA to 2.55 and a very good ratio to 1.128 His 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings is his highest total since 2006. The Phillies certainly won’t give him away and are probably going to hold on to him.

Like the Red Sox, the Phillies could move several players. Outfielder Marlon Byrd is in high demand and inquiries have been made about A.J. Burnett. The Phillies would love to rid themselves of Ryan Howard’s remaining $60MM over the next three years (the last year is an option with a $10MM buyout.), but that’s not likely to happen.

Other pitchers that could move today are the Mets’ Bartolo Colon, who has one year and $11MM remaining on his contract. The Minnesota Twins would part with Kevin Correia, though there isn’t much demand for a pitcher who leads the AL in losses and whose ERA is over 5. The Twins have also been fielding calls for catcher Kurt Suzuki and outfielder Josh Willingham.

The Kansas City Royals will likely lose James Shields to free agency after the season, but with the team five games behind Detroit in the AL Central and 3.5 games behind Toronto for the second wild card, how could they not keep him?

The Cleveland Indians face a similar dilemma. They’re 6.5 behind Detroit and sit five games in back of Toronto. Do they think they can make a run and become buyers or do they go ahead and become sellers? The Indians are a team that might try to do a little of both. Rumor has it they are trying to move starting pitcher Justin Masterson, who is having a disastrous season. Another player having a bad year is Nick Swisher (.615 OPS as of this writing), though the two years and $30MM will make it harder to move him. Add on his failure in several post-seasons, and Swisher won’t bring much return at this point. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera could be in a new home by Friday, as he enters free agency after this season.

The Padres are reportedly shopping reliever Joaquin Benoit, who can either set up or close. Other players that could move on are pitcher John Danks, outfielder Dayan Viciedo, and 1B/DH Adam Dunn of the White Sox, pitcher Colby Lewis and outfielder Alex Rios of the Rangers, Cubs’ Pitcher Edwin Jackson, Rockies pitcher Jorge De La Rosa, and Diamondbacks outfielder Gerardo Parra.

Stay tuned!

Done Deals

Cleveland sent Justin Masterson to the St. Louis Cardinals for outfield prospect James Ramsey. Masterson has been having an off-year in a contract year, but the Cards are hoping he can be the second coming of Jake Westbrook. The Cardinals depth in the outfield allowed them to deal Ramsey, the 23rd overall pick in the 2012 draft.

The Red Sox have traded a left-handed pitcher, but it’s not Jon Lester..yet. They’ve sent Felix Doubront to the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named later.  A Cubs official told Peter Gammons that Doubront was getting “One more change to grow up.”

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Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

AL All-Stars take Midsummer Classic 5-3

jeter all-star

By Brandon Karsten

Baseball’s stars came out Tuesday night at Minneapolis’ Target Field for the 85th Major League Baseball All-Star Game between the American and National Leagues. The AL won 5-3, but one star outshone them all in the last Midsummer Classic appearance of his illustrious career.

New York Yankees’ shortstop Derek Jeter went 2-for-2 at the plate with a double, a single and a run scored. Before the start of the fourth inning with the A.L. ahead 3-2, Chicago White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez jogged out to take Jeter’s place. Then the stadium came to life with people standing and clapping, and flash bulbs twinkling randomly throughout the stadium in acknowledgement of the last time the American League All-Star Team will have a player named Jeter occupying shortstop.

A.L. starting pitcher Felix Hernandez gave up one hit, an infield single to Andrew McCutchen, and struck out two batters in the first inning. With the A.L. up to bat, and after Jeter received a standing ovation, he used his classic inside-out swing to slash a double down the right field line off starting St. Louis hurler Adam Wainwright. Mike Trout followed with a triple to right to score Jeter for the game’s first run. Detroit’s dangerous slugger Miguel Cabrera cranked a two-run homer over the left field fence to put the American League up 3-0.

Boston’s Jon Lester took the hill to start the top of the second frame and ran into trouble. The left-hander gave up a one-out single to Aramis Ramirez of Milwaukee. Chase Utley of the Phillies hit a double to centerfield to score Ramirez and the Brewers’ Jonathan Lucroy followed up with another two-bagger to score Utley.

After Ramirez replaced Jeter at shortstop in the fourth, the newly inserted pitcher Chris Sale, of the Chicago White Sox, hit Utley with a pitch and Dee Gordon of the L.A. Dodgers pinch ran in his place. Lucroy the former Twin, tied the ballgame for the Senior Circuit with his second double of the ballgame to score Gordon and tie the game at three.

Both squads were held scoreless until the bottom of the fifth inning when St. Louis reliever Pat Neshek, another form Twins player,  surrendered two straight singles to Oakland’s Derek Norris and Ramirez. Trout came through again, this time with a double down the left field line to score Norris and put the A.L. All-Stars ahead 4-3. With Ramirez at third, Houston’s Jose Altuve hit a sacrifice fly to left to plate Ramirez for a 5-3 AL lead.

Cabrera went 1-for-3 with two runs batted in, and his lone hit was the two-run dinger in the first, which was the first of his All-Star Game career. Trout’s two hits and a pair of RBI earned him the All-Star Game MVP Award.

On the N.L. side, Yasiel Puig struggled at the plate, going 0-for-3 with three strikeouts. Lucroy finished his first All-Star Game with a 2-for-2 performance at the plate with the two hits as doubles. Detroit’s Max Scherzer was the winning pitcher for the A.L. All-Stars while Neshek got the loss and Minnesota’s closer Glen Perkins hurled a perfect ninth inning to get the save to help the American League earn home field advantage for the World Series.

You can reach Brandon Karsten at bkarsten2009@hotmail.com or find him on Facebook.

Harper and Strasburg the Keys to the Nationals Success

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This could be the year that Bryce Harper establishes himself among baseball’s elite

by Christopher Wenrich

Key acquisitions:  (P) Doug Fister, (P) Jerry Blevins, (C) Jose Lobaton, (INF) Kevin Frandsen, (OF) Scott Hairston, (OF) Nate McLouth

Key losses:  (P) Dan Haren, (P) Zack Duke, (OF) Roger Bernadina, (1B) Chris Marrero, (C) Kurt Suzuki, (1B/3B) Chad Tracy, (OF) David DeJesus

After the 2012 season, in which the Washington Nationals won the National League East with a 98-64 record, expectations soared among the fans.  The Nationals were eliminated in five games during the League Division Series and went on to disappoint in the 2013 season.  Although their 86-76 record was good enough for second place in the NL East, they missed the playoffs.  In 2012, the Nationals scored 731 runs and allowed 594; in 2013, they scored 656 runs and allowed 626.  Despite the disappointing 2013 season, the Nationals are expected to be one of the top teams in baseball in 2014.

THE LINEUP
C:  Jose Lobaton
1B:  Adam LaRoche
2B:  Anthony Rendon
3B:  Ryan Zimmerman
SS:  Ian Desmond
LF:  Bryce Harper
CF:  Denard Span
RF:  Jayson Werth

If they stay healthy, the Nationals should be among baseball’s highest-scoring teams this season.  Denard Span leads things off in the Nationals’ lineup and possesses great speed.  Ian Desmond is among the best hitting young shortstops in the game today and Ryan Zimmerman is still a serviceable hitter.  The key to the Nationals’ offensive potential this season is durability.  If Bryce Harper, Jayson Werth and Zimmerman stay healthy, the Nationals will pile on the runs.  (After having difficulty throwing, Zimmerman was diagnosed Sunday with inflammation in his right shoulder.)

From 2007-2013, Werth averaged only 129 games played per season; however, he was very productive with a .374 OBP and an .856 OPS.  With Span leading off, Werth will bat in the meat of the order this season.  Although Werth strikes out quite a bit, he is a disciplined hitter who draws many walks and has great power to the gaps.  Werth is capable of  a 25-plus home runs and a minimum of 40 doubles.

Harper got an injury scare in the opening series with the New York Mets.  While attempting to break up a double play at second base, a sliding Harper was struck by a fielder’s shin.  Harper remained in the game and passed a series of concussion tests.  Fans are excited about the prospects of an MVP-caliber season from Harper, who buffed up considerably in the past year.  At the young age of 19 in 2012, Harper hit 23 home runs, produced 59 RBI, stole 18 bases, registered a .340 OBP and .817 OPS in 533 at-bats.  The 2012 Rookie of the Year improved in his second season with 20 home runs, 58 RBI, a .368 OBP and .854 OPS in only 424 at-bats.

The high OBP numbers for such a young hitter shows great plate discipline.  The increase in Harper’s OPS indicates that more improvement is on the way.  Now 21 years old, Harper’s best years are still ahead of him.  Manager Matt Williams has shown great confidence in Harper by batting him fifth this season.

THE ROTATION
Stephen Strasburg
Gio Gonzalez
Jordan Zimmermann
Tanner Roark
Taylor Jordan

Much like Harper for the offense, the pitching staff needs Stephen Strasburg to stay healthy.  Strasburg’s electrifying talent for striking out hitters is not without worry.  His oft-criticized mechanics may have already been responsible for the Tommy John surgery he underwent in 2010.  Further adding to the concern over Strasburg’s arm, is his commitment to developing a slider this season.  A slider can place great strain and torque on the forearm and elbow, especially when thrown incorrectly.  Many pitchers with heavy slider usage have toiled with injuries over the years.  While a new pitch is a welcome weapon in any pitcher’s arsenal, it comes with great risk with a pitcher like Strasburg.  Although Strasburg does not have a reputation for pitching deep into games and his mechanics leave many fans crossing their fingers and biting their nails, he is one of the best pitchers in the game when he is in form.

Fellow starters Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann are also excellent pitchers.  Although Strasburg is more often talked about, Zimmermann is perhaps the best pitcher on the team.  He pitches deep into games, pounds the strike zone, and induces ground ball outs.  The acquisition of Doug Fister conceivably gives the Nationals the best pitching rotation in baseball this year.  However, Fister is currently on the disabled list with a strained lat.  Tanner Roark and Taylor Jordan round out the rotation, with one on the chopping block upon Fister’s return.

THE BULLPEN
Rafael Soriano
Tyler Clippard
Drew Storen
Craig Stammen
Jerry Blevins
Aaron Barrett
Ross Detwiler

The Nationals do not lack depth in the bullpen.  Rafael Soriano is the closer, but Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen are also capable of closing if Soriano struggles or is injured.  Clippard is an excellent strikeout pitcher and is capable of pitching more than one inning in a game.  With Clippard and Storen serving as the bridge to Soriano, there is less pressure on the starters to last seven or eight innings.

THE BENCH

Catcher Wilson Ramos is out for four to five weeks with a hand injury, so Jose Lobaton starts behind the plate for now.  Sandy Leon is the backup catcher.  Nate McLouth backs up Harper in left field and Scott Hairston backs up Werth in right field.  Danny Espinosa fills in for Anthony Rendon at second base.  Kevin Frandsen, released by the Phillies during spring training, is the utility infielder.  Frandsen will likely see starts at third base on days Zimmerman replaces Adam LaRoche at first base.

The NL East is seemingly a weak division and the Nationals should win it with ease.  If their key players stay healthy, the Nationals will contend with the St. Louis Cardinals for NL supremacy this season and possibly contend for the World Series.

Christopher Wenrich is a contributor for Designated For Assignment.  Follow him on Twitter (@DuggerSports).

Neanderthals of the Airwaves

Tori-Ahern-NY-Mets-Daniel-Murphy-wife-pic[1]

The Mets’ Daniel Murphy never could have expected the firestorm that started when he chose to take  days off to be with his wife, Tori, for the birth of their first child.

by Drew Sarver

In case you missed it, and it’s hard to believe you did since it was one of the biggest stories of the century, Mets’ second baseman Daniel Murphy committed treason against the government of the United States.

Wait, what? He didn’t commit treason? He robbed a bank? No? His wife had a baby and he left his team to be with her? That’s what all the hullabaloo is about?

Okay, that’s enough sarcasm. The amount of time spent on talk radio this week bashing, or simply debating, Murphy’s departure from the Mets’ start of the season, was ridiculous.

Old fashioned 50-somethings polluted sports radio,telling listeners how wrong Murphy was to leave the team to be with his wife. “Hey, the woman doesn’t need you there…”, to paraphrase WFAN’s Mike Francesa. At least Ron Darling admitted to ESPN radio’s Michael Kay that he was “…an old fashioned idiot.”

This is all began when Murphy received permission from the Mets to miss the first two games of the season to be with his wife, Victoria, for the birth of their first child.

Francesa not only criticized Murphy or anyone in his position, which according to Francesa is anyone who has the wherewithal to pay for help after the child is born.  “I have no probably with being there, but I don’t know why you need three days off.”1

“You see the birth and you get back. I mean what are you doing the first couple of days? Your wife doesn’t need your help the first couple of days. You know that.”

“I was at the two births of my kids (I had twins) and was back at work the next day.” Well aren’t you special Mikey. Notice that he doesn’t even say “we had kids” or ” when my wife went in labor”. It’s all about Francesa and how wonderful he is. And of course,  all of Francesa’s sycophant listeners drink his Kool-Aid and called in to agree.

Things went even farther back in the dark ages when WFAN’s morning drive co-host Boomer Esiason delivered his completely antiquated and demeaning comments.

“Bottom line is that’s not me, I wouldn’t do that. Quite frankly I would have said ‘C Section before the season starts.’ I need to be at Opening Day. I’m sorry, that is what makes our money, this is how we’re going to live our life, this is going to give my child every opportunity to be a success in life. I’ll be able to afford any college I want to send my kid to because I’m a baseball player. … Get your ass back to work.”2 (Pretty ironic criticism coming from a couple of conservatives, whose credo is “family values”. You couldn’t have a situation that is more of  a family value than childbirth.)

As if it wasn’t bad enough to say that the pregnant mother should have surgery, which is no picnic to recover from, Esiason’s “get your ass back to work” send-off was rude and uncalled for. A day later, of course, Esiason apologized, most likely at the behest of management and sponsors.

“I want to say again on this radio show that in no way, shape or form was I advocating anything for anybody to do. I was not telling women what to do with their bodies … I would never do that. That’s their decision,” said Esiason.

“And the other thing, too, that I really felt bad about is that Daniel Murphy and Tori Murphy were dragged into a conversation, and their whole life was exposed. And it shouldn’t have been. And that is my fault.

“I apologize for putting him and his wife in the midst of a public discussion that I basically started by uttering insensitive comments that came off very insensitive. And for that I apologize.”2

Boomer, you left out the part about how asinine your comments were. This isn’t the 1950’s. Women aren’t expected to be barefoot and pregnant, and cooking their man a meal. And men aren’t expected to let their significant others due all of the child rearing.

Simply put, a person makes a deal with the devil when professional sports is their chosen profession. Birthdays, play dates, first steps, talking, learning to ride a bike, communions, graduations, black eyes and broken hearts are all major milestones in a young person’s life that the pro athlete in the family is likely to miss out on.

To his credit, Murphy took the high road. “My wife and I discussed it, and we felt the best thing for our family was for me to try to stay for an extra day (Wednesday),” said Murphy, who acknowledged he was aware of the comments.3 Mets’ manager Terry Collins stood up for his ball player (NY Daily News Andy Martino tweeted):

collinstwitter

The bottom line is that Daniel Murphy would have regretted not being at the birth of his first child for the rest of his life. He and his wife already know he’s going to miss many other significant days. Any media member that criticizes him for it, should give up their day job.

1 – cbsnews.com

2 –cnn.com

3 – newyork.cbslocal.com

Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at dsarver@d4assignment.com.

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MLB Preview: Injuries Could Haunt 2014 Braves

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Atlanta will need big production from the likes of Freddie Freeman to make up for a rash of injuries.

by Christopher Wenrich

Key acquisitions:  Ryan Doumit, Gavin Floyd, Mat Gamel

Key losses:  Tim Hudson, Brian McCann, Paul Maholm, Luis Ayala, Eric O’Flaherty

Since the 1990s, the Atlanta Braves have always fielded a competitive team and shown the ability to overcome adversity.  But with the rash of injuries already taking a toll on the squad, the adversity may prove to be too much.  Pitchers Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen are out for the year and will be undergoing Tommy John surgery (Beachy’s second in three years).  Tim Hudson – formerly of the Braves – signed with the San Francisco Giants.  Pitchers Mike Minor and Gavin Floyd are also injured and may not be back until late April or early May.

THE LINEUP
C:  Evan Gattis
1B:  Freddie Freeman
2B:  Dan Uggla
3B:  Chris Johnson
SS:  Andrelton Simmons
LF:  Justin Upton
CF:  B.J. Upton
RF:  Jason Heyward

Jason Heyward should lead off for the Braves, as he is the only hitter they have – aside from Freddie Freeman – who can get on base consistently.  B.J. Upton is not qualified for the role, as he registered a sub-.300 on-base percentage in back-to-back seasons.  In 2013, Upton hit a paltry .184 and struck out 151 times in only 391 at-bats.  Justin Upton (161 strikeouts in 558 at-bats) and Dan Uggla (171 strikeouts in 448 at-bats) round out the Braves’ swing-and-miss brigade.  The threesome provide the Braves with plenty of potential for home runs; however, they swing more violently than a screen door in a tornado.  Their penchant for strikeouts render their offense inconsistent and unpredictable.

Freeman will provide consistency and all-star numbers.  Chris Johnson is a steady contact hitter.  Although it is unlikely that Johnson will repeat last season’s breakout .321 average, it would not be entirely surprising (.289 career average).  Outside of Heyward, Freeman and Johnson, there is little consistency in the lineup.  Andrelton Simmons is perhaps the best defensive shortstop in baseball, but he is not a spectacular hitter.  Simmons does have the potential to grow as a hitter and has decent pop in his bat.  Hitting 15-20 home runs is not out of the question for Simmons, and his average may improve as he gains more experience.

Catcher Evan Gattis is another feast-or-famine hitter in the Braves lineup.  Should Gattis struggle mightily or suffer injuries, Ryan Doumit could replace him in the lineup.  Doumit was a shrewd signing for the Braves, as he can catch, play first base and the outfield.

THE ROTATION
Julio Teheran
Ervin Santana
Alex Wood
David Hale
Aaron Harang

With Beachy and Medlen out for the year, Julio Teheran gets the nod for opening day.  Teheran struggled in his few Major League starts in 2011 and 2012, but he followed with a strong 2013 season and has secured his spot in the Majors.  Teheran posted a 3.20 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 30 starts last season.  The youngster has tremendous potential and will continue to grow as a pitcher.  In the wake of the Beachy/Medlen injuries, the Braves signed Ervin Santana to provide some semblance of stability in their rotation.  Santana has displayed bouts of both brilliance and ineptitude in his inconsistent career.

Alex Wood – the Braves’ second-round draft choice in 2012 – will start the season in the rotation.  Wood has looked impressive this spring, as he currently sports a 0.45 ERA.  Wood may be moved to the bullpen when/if Floyd and Minor return.  If Wood continues to impress during the regular season, the Braves may opt to keep him in the rotation and could move Floyd to the bullpen.  The Braves recently released Freddy Garcia and signed veteran Aaron Harang.

THE BULLPEN
Craig Kimbrel
Jordan Walden
Luis Avalan
David Carpenter
Anthony Varvaro
Cory Gearrin

Craig Kimbrel – widely regarded as the best closer in baseball – will again serve as closer.  Jordan Walden will likely serve as the setup man.  The Braves had perhaps the best bullpen in baseball for years, but it looks like it may be a shadow of its former self now.  Jonny Venters will start the season on the disabled list and may be out until late May or early June.  Eric O’Flaherty is now with the Oakland Athletics.  An inconsistent lineup combined with a lack of proven depth in the bullpen may add up to many losses for the Braves this year.  The injuries to the starting pitchers  may also lead to the bullpen being overworked.

THE BENCH

Despite the injuries, the Braves will not be lacking catchers.  Doumit can catch, play first base and the outfield and Gerald Laird will serve as a backup catcher.  Ramiro Pena will back up Uggla at second base and may steal the job if Uggla has another challenging season.  Tyler Pastornicky – who tore his ACL last August – will back up Simmons at shortstop.  Mat Gamel provides a power bat on the bench and can play first base and the outfield.  Gamel was once a top prospect in the Milwaukee Brewers’ organization, but he struggled with injuries and was an underachiever.

Outfielder Jordan Schafer will likely start the season on the bench.  If B.J. Upton underperforms, he may lose his starting job to Schafer, who hit .247 last season but registered a respectable .331 on-base percentage.  Despite appearing in only 94 games and 234 at-bats as a part-time player last season, Schafer led the Braves with 22 stolen bases and was caught six times.

The Braves could finish second in the National League East if their offense shows more consistency and if they get another Herculean effort from Freeman, but a fourth place finish is more likely.  When top relief pitchers like Venters go down with an injury, O’Flaherty signs with another team, and Gamel is a key acquisition, all signs point to a troubled season.  Look for the Braves to be surpassed by the New York Mets this season and battle with the Philadelphia Phillies for third place.

Christopher Wenrich is a contributor for Designated For Assignment.  Follow him on Twitter (@DuggerSports).

MLB Preview: Marlins Fishing for Wins In ’14

The Marlins must prove they are committed to winning in order to strike a long-term deal with Giancarlo Stanton            The Marlins must prove they are committed to winning to keep star Giancarlo Stanton.

by Christopher Wenrich

Key Acquisitions:  Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Rafael Furcal, Garrett Jones, Casey McGehee, Carter Capps, Jeff Baker, Reed Johnson

Key Losses:  Logan Morrison, Justin Ruggiano, Placido Polanco, Juan Pierre, Ryan Webb, Chad Qualls

The Miami Marlins are a team in turmoil whose performance on the field, good or bad, is super-ceded by their reputation for hosting fire sales.  Since their inaugural 1993 season, the Marlins have had two post-season berths and won the World Series both times (1997 and 2003).  After each World Series title, the team was dismantled, first by owner Wayne Huizenga, and then by owner Jeffrey Loria.  The Marlins made dubious headlines again prior to the 2013 season when they traded away the likes of pitcher Josh Johnson and shortstop Jose Reyes.  The end result was a disastrous 62-100 record and animosity from fans whose money helped Loria build a new ballpark.

Despite the laughable record, the Marlins were not without their bright spots.  Rookie Jose Fernandez made the leap from Single-A to the majors as a 21-year old and pitched like a true ace (12-6, 2.19 ERA and 187 K in 172.2 IP).  Fans have high expectations for their 2013 Rookie of the Year award winner and the Marlins need him to deliver results.

THE LINEUP
C:  Jarrod Saltalamacchia
1B:  Garret Jones/Jeff Baker
2B:  Rafael Furcal
3B:  Casey McGehee
SS:  Adeiny Hechavarria
LF:  Christian Yelich
CF:  Marcell Ozuna
RF:  Giancarlo Stanton

The Marlins scored an MLB-worst 513 runs in 2013, after being near the bottom of the pack the prior two years. Their offense will go as far as Giancarlo Stanton can carry it.  Stanton showed tremendous potential in 2012 when he produced 37 home runs and a .969 OPS, but injuries have played a significant part in his young career.  After playing 150 games in 2011, Stanton appeared in 123 in 2012 and 116 last year (He still managed to hit 24 home runs and compiled an .845 OPS).

If Stanton stays healthy enough to approach 155 or more games played, a 40-plus home run season would not be out of the question.  Although he does not boast a high batting average (.265 career), his .354 on-base percentage is respectable and will bat in an RBI spot.

Stanton isn’t arbitration-eligible until 2015 and won’t reach free agency until 2017, so the Marlins are paying him a mere $6.5 million this season.  If the front office was to approach Stanton about a long-term deal, they must show him a commitment to winning or else Stanton will likely leave in 2017.  Of course, based on their history, Loria could deal Stanton well before free agency.

Helping to set the table for Stanton this season will be veteran infielder Rafael Furcal.  During his prime years with the Atlanta Braves (2000-2005), Furcal had a spectacular throwing arm, great speed and swung a respectable bat.  If he’s healthy with Miami, Furcal will be the everyday second baseman after years at shortstop.

The 13-year veteran missed the entire 2013 season with an elbow injury, but he was productive with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012 (.264 AVG and .325 OBP in 121 games).  As of this writing, Furcal has been sidelined by a hamstring injury but is expected to be ready for opening day.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia was the Marlins’ big free agent signing this off-season.  The catcher has untapped potential as a home run threat (he’s topped 20 HR just once in his career), and should help the Marlins score more runs.  “Salty” caught 119 games last year for the Boston Red Sox and will see a heavy workload for the Marlins.  Given enough playing time and at-bats, he should approach 30 home runs in 2014.

Manager Mike Redmond hopes that left fielder Christian Yelich can be a breakout star in 2014.  Yelich’s lack of power (four home runs in 240 at-bats) as a rookie in 2013 may have disappointed some fans and scouts, but the 22-year old is still developing that part of his game.  More importantly, he recorded a .370 on-base percentage and stole 10 bases in 10 attempts.  Yelich’s ability to reach base safely is vital to help set up RBI opportunities for Stanton and Saltalamacchia.

The Marlins also picked up veteran infielders Garrett Jones (first base) and Casey McGehee (third base) to add some pop to the lineup.

THE ROTATION
Jose Fernandez
Jacob Turner
Nate Eovaldi
Henderson Alvarez
Tom Koehler

Joining Fernandez in the rotation are Jacob Turner, Nate Eovaldi and Henderson Alvarez.  The three are promising youngsters who should keep the Marlins competitive in their games.  Eovaldi is a hard-thrower who induces ground balls, and has the tools to be an All-Star.  He must become more consistent with his performance though, and gain better command of his pitches.

THE BULLPEN
Steve Cishek
Mike Dunn
A.J. Ramos
Carter Capps
Carlos Marmol
Dan Jennings
Arquimedes Caminero

Steve Cishek (34 saves, 2.33 ERA last year) will be the closer for Miami while Mike Dunn sets up.  Through 192.1 career innings, Cishek sports a 2.48 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and limited opposing hitters to a .217 batting average.  Cishek is eligible for arbitration after this season, so the Marlins may trade him at, or before, the deadline.

Carlos Marmol was a smart free agent signing for the Marlins.  While Marmol has struggled with his control the past few years, he does have tremendous upside as a strikeout pitcher (730 career strikeouts in 563.2 innings).  The Marlins were a last-place team before they signed Marmol and will likely be a last-place team again, so they have nothing to lose by giving Marmol a shot.

THE BENCH

Jeff Mathis will likely be the backup catcher.  Jeff Baker will serve as a utility infielder who can also play the corner outfield spots.  Greg Dobbs can play the infield corners and serve as a power bat on the bench.  Solano should have a spot and may be Furcal’s replacement in the event of an injury.  The final bench spot will likely go to outfielder Brian Bogusevic, second baseman Derek Dietrich or third baseman Ed Lucas.

The Marlins have more pop in their lineup this year and should score more runs.  Their pitching rotation shows promise and so does the bullpen, but they will struggle to win games.  Look for the Marlins to make a minor improvement in winning percentage and to again finish last in the NL East.

Christopher Wenrich is a contributor for Designated For Assignment.  Follow him on Twitter (@DuggerSports).