With Donaldson, Blue Jays Can Win AL East

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Blue Jays made big news on Friday evening, executing a blockbuster trade with the Oakland A’s, receiving Josh Donaldson in exchange for Brett Lawrie and three prospects.

This comes after the Jays shelled out $82 million for free agent catcher Russell Martin on November 20.

Continuing the philosophy that general manager Alex Anthopoulos and the rest of the front office have implemented recently, the Blue Jays want to win now. The Yankees, Red Sox and Rays all struggled last year, but Toronto wasn’t able to capitalize, finishing 83-79 and third in the AL East.

However, they were without one of their best hitters for most of 2014. Edwin Encarnacion played in only 128 games because of a quad injury he suffered in Baltimore in July, and Brett Lawrie missed over half the season. Those two injuries caused the Jays to have to shuffle a variety of mediocre players at the corner infield positions.

But with Donaldson, who is one of the most consistent players in the game over the past two seasons, the Blue Jays offense has the potential to be among the most productive in the league.

Shortstop Jose Reyes starts it off at the top of the order, giving them a steady leadoff hitter when healthy. Even though he has lost a step at age 31, he still stole 30-of-32 attempts in 2014 and got on base at a solid .328 clip. If he can find a way to stay on the field for 140-150 games, he has the skills to be one of the best leadoff hitters in the MLB.

If Reyes can get on base on a regular basis, he will have no trouble scoring an abundance of runs. Jose Bautista, Encarnacion and Donaldson comprise one of the scariest 3-4-5 hearts of the order in the game. Manager John Gibbons has not yet announced where he plans to place Donaldson in the lineup, but I assume it will be either third, in front of Bautista and Encarnacion, or fifth, behind the two power studs.

And, if the Jays choose to re-sign Melky Cabrera, CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman tweeted that they were interested, he would occupy the second spot and Toronto would have arguably the best top of the order in all of baseball.

Bautista and Encarnacion are monsters. Bautista has averaged better than 37 home runs and 93 RBIs in the past five years, and Encarnacion has averaged the same number of homers and 104 RBIs. Even when Encarnacion missed more than 30 games last year, he still managed to record 34 dingers.

Donaldson thinks along the same lines. He was very optimistic about his new opportunity in Toronto.

“You start looking at the capability of this lineup and the potential that it brings,” Donaldson told the Associated Press via ESPN.com. “I’m going to venture to say there’s probably not going to be another lineup as potent as this in major league baseball.”

Not only will the team be more potent with the addition of the All-Star third baseman, but Donaldson’s power numbers should rise significantly playing in his home park.

In a recent article in the New York Daily News, Bill Madden quoted a veteran scout saying this about Josh Donaldson:

“Donaldson, with his right handed power, could be a monster in the AL East. Just think about it – he’s trading home games in Oakland for home games in Toronto, as well as 19 games in Seattle for 19 games in Boston and Baltimore, each. It’s a great pickup for them and you’ve got to love their lineup now.”

Madden is talking about the reputation of the AL East ballparks being more hitter-friendly than AL West ballparks. Toronto, Boston and Baltimore are known for dramatically raising power numbers, while Seattle and Oakland are where power hitters go to die.

The Blue Jays are a team on the rise, a talented roster that has not yet been able to put anything together. They have not played in a postseason game in 21 years, the longest active streak in the MLB.

So it is pretty safe to assume that the Toronto offense is going to be very good, but they could use some help in the pitching department. They have a decent starting rotation consisting of R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchinson, but they need to add an arm or two to the back end of the bullpen.

Even though they let Casey Janssen, the Jays’ closer the past three seasons, walk in free agency, they are back in contention for his services according to Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star.

They hope top prospect Daniel Norris can contribute at the big-league level in 2015, but it’s nearly impossible to project how he would perform out of the bullpen.

As they are now, the Blue Jays have added enough hitting help to improve their record by at least a handful of victories. But if they can add a pitcher via trade or free agency, or find a hidden gem in their farm system, the Jays have what it takes to end their playoff drought.

And, who knows, maybe they can be 2015’s version of the Kansas City Royals.

Don't Blame Harbaugh, Shouldn't Be Fired

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It has been a rough season for Jim Harbuagh and the San Francisco 49ers. Way back on September 7th, the day of the 49ers' first game, NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported that Harbaugh was beginning to lose the locker room.

He dismissed those reports as "a bunch of crap" to Linsay H. Jones of USA Today Sports, but the 49ers are playing their worst football of the Harbaugh era. Their record sits at 7-5, putting them at only 3rd in the NFC West.

To make matters worse, the 49ers hit rock bottom on Thanksgiving Day against the Seahawks, getting dominated in every facet of the game en route to a 19-3 defeat.

The offense was the worst part of the performance, as Colin Kaepernick recorded his lowest passing output of the season with only 121 yards. The offense as a whole gained only 164 yards of total offense, its season low.

They are probably not going to make the playoffs, and speculation is rampant that Harbaugh will be fired after this season.

But is it really fair to blame Harbaugh, to the point of firing him, for the 49ers struggles?

On the surface, it is absolutely crazy. Every team has rough seasons, and there is no way that Harbaugh should be on the brink of losing his job just because he has had one bad season.

Obviously, it’s not all about Harbaugh’s production on the field. There has been much talk about his sour relationship with ownership and the front office, and that stems only from clashing egos.

Harbaugh took the 49ers to the NFC Championship game in each of his first three seasons in San Francisco, making it all the way to the Super Bowl in his second season, where they lost a nail biter to the Baltimore Ravens.

Sure, it’s been a disappointing season, but it has not been as bad as the 49ers management is making it out to be. They have a winning record, and even though it hasn’t been pretty even when they have won, it doesn’t really matter.

NFL coaches are paid to win games, not to look good, and winning by a wide margin is just a bonus.

The 49ers front office is so worried that Harbaugh is stealing its thunder that it can’t see how successful Harbaugh has been. He is the only coach in NFL history to reach the conference championship game in each of the first three years, but the 49ers are acting like he has underperformed.

There are questions about the playcalling, with running back Frank Gore not getting as many carries as in the past, but it makes sense that they don’t want to overwork their horse.

The front office is taking Harbaugh for granted, and they need to realize how hard it truly is to make it to three consecutive conference championship games. It is only natural in the sports world for a team to regress a little every so often, and that needs to be taken into account.

Kaepernick is still very young and relatively inexperienced, and he hasn’t been terrible in 2014. His passer rating of 87.8 is unimpressive, but he ranks ahead of some pretty solid signal callers, including Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton and Nick Foles.

San Francisco needs to chalk 2014 up as a bad year and move on to next season. Firing Harbaugh would be an egregious error. They need to appreciate what Harbaugh has done, how difficult it is to sustain success after setting the bar so incredibly high, and try to make a Super Bowl run in 2015.

Hiring Morris a Gutsy Move For SMU, But A Good One

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Southern Methodist football is in shambles. After June Jones elected to resign from his post as head coach only two games into the 2014 season, the Mustangs were left with an interim coach and a roster with a paucity of real talent.

They have not won a game this year, and their average margin of defeat is more than 34 points. The offense has been pitiful and the defense has been porous—there is really no nice way to put it.

However, the team made a bold move on Thursday evening, hiring former Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris to rebuild the struggling program. The news was first reported by Clint Brewster of 247Sports, and Chip Brown of HornsDigest.com reported that Morris will make approximately $3 million per year.

In six years and two games at SMU, Jones’ record was 36-43—pretty impressive considering the Mustangs have still not recovered from the death penalty ruling they got in 1987 for breaking NCAA rules.

The Mustangs went to a bowl game in four straight years under Jones, an amazing feat considering they hadn’t been to one in 25 years before 2009.

But it will be an uphill battle for Morris—there is no question about it. He is known for his innovative offensive schemes, and he is going to need every bit of deception to get the SMU offense to produce in his first few years on the job.

The thing that Morris has going for him that has made him an enticing candidate is his rich Texas roots. He assembled a staunch resume at the high school level, winning a state championship at Bay City and then grooming Jevan Snead into a Division I quarterback at Stephenville before moving on to Austin Lake Travis, one of the most decorated football programs in the state.

He coached there for two seasons, going 16-0 and winning the state championship in both 2008 and 2009. He helped Garrett Gilbert set the state records for passing yards in a season and career passing yards, both records previously held by former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell.

Then Morris moved to the college level, where he was the offensive coordinator at Tulsa for one season before moving to Clemson in 2011.

At Clemson, his offenses experienced phenomenal success. He molded Tajh Boyd into a record-setting college quarterback and sent wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins to the NFL.

SMU is obviously not afraid of the 45-year-old Morris’ inexperience. He has never been a collegiate head coach and has only been at the college level for five seasons.

However, Morris’ most valuable asset might be his recruiting potential in Texas, arguably the most talent-rich state in the country. He knows the state of Texas and should be able to lure talented athletes to Dallas.

Morris has been in the conversation for several jobs, most notably Texas Tech (per ESPN.com) after Tommy Tuberville’s departure, but it has always been hard to lure him away from his gig as the highest-paid assistant in all of college football.

Finally, though, he found a match he liked.

Expectations shouldn’t be too high. If he can somehow manage to get the Mustangs to be a .500 team, it would be a miracle. He won’t have much to work with in his first year on the job, but he does have Matt Davis, a heralded dual-threat quarterback coming out of high school back in 2012.

Davis, the third-ranked dual-threat quarterback in his class according to Rivals.com, originally committed to Texas A&M. But he transferred to Tyler Junior College after he redshirted his first year at A&M, and after one year of JUCO action, he arrived at SMU. He will be a junior in 2015, and his athleticism projects well in Morris’ offense.

The Mustangs’ recruiting haul is unimpressive, but they do have commits from Kyle Kearns, the 12th-best pocket passer according to 247Sports, as well as 4-star receiver James Proche II.

Chip Brown of HornsDigest.com tweeted that his sources tell him that SMU will let Morris begin recruiting very soon, in hopes of swaying some of the uncommitted prep players interested in SMU.

This move benefits both parties involved. SMU gets a young, passionate coach full of potential, and Morris gets his first opportunity as a college head coach in the same state where he built his reputation.

It will be interesting to see if Morris’ offense will be effective with mediocre players and if Morris can recruit as a head coach. Sure, he coaxed plenty of offensive players to Clemson, but he had Dabo Swinney there to help out.

Now, Morris is the main man. It is his responsibility not only to recruit players to fit his offense but to recruit defensive players as well.

Also, he will not be able to spend all his time in practice working with the offense. He will have to learn to delegate some of those duties to trusted assistants.

There is definitely going to be a learning curve, but Morris and SMU is a good match and one that could reap rewards down the road.

Braxton Miller & Oregon Would Be Terrific Match

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Coming into the 2014 season, Braxton Miller was a legitimate Heisman contender and had hopes of leading his Ohio State Buckeyes to the inaugural College Football Playoff.  Unfortunately for him, he suffered a season-ending injury to his throwing shoulder in fall practice just days prior to the start of the season.

He said from the beginning that he was going to come back to college for his final season of eligibility.  However, J.T Barrett has filled in admirably at quarterback and has the offense running as good, if not better, than last year’s 12-2 squad.

This leaves Urban Meyer with a tough decision and there is an abundance of uncertainty if Miller would even be the starter should he return to Columbus as a fifth-year senior.

Not surprisingly, there have been rumors about where Miller might end up.  The one that is most intriguing to me is Oregon.  A user at Reddit, a website where its users submit content about a variety of topics, posted that the Ducks are a top contender for Miller’s services.

Here is what that Reddit user wrote:

“I have multiple sources telling me that Urban [Meyer] has told [Miller] that they will be going forward with Barrett next year.  They wanted to give him time to make a decision.  Braxton called to engage with Mark Helfrich and Scott Frost.  Frost went to Ohio during our bye week (week before last).  Nothing is done or imminent with Oregon.”

Now there have been several reports denying this rumor, but it is very interesting nonetheless.  Would Braxton Miller be a good fit in Oregon?

Assuming that Marcus Mariota foregoes his senior season of college and declares for the NFL Draft, it seems like it would be prudent for Miller to transfer to Oregon for his final collegiate season.

He would be able to do it without having to sit out a season, as it is a NCAA Rule that graduate students can transfer to another school and play immediately.  Several players, most notably Russell Wilson, have taken advantage of this rule.

Oregon and Ohio State don’t run the same type of offense, but the quarterback characteristics are very similar.  The perfect quarterback in both offenses is an athletic dual-threat guy, someone who can eat up yards effectively as a runner and passer.

Miller thrived in the Buckeyes’ spread option attack for two years, but it was never because of his throwing.  He threw the ball decently last year, but he never once topped the 300-yard plateau in a game and completed only 63.5% of his passes.  He was mostly a runner, rushing for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns.

His stellar running ability is what would make him an instant hit in Eugene.  Sure, the coaching staff would have to revise the playbook a bit to fit Miller’s strengths, but they would undoubtedly be willing to do it.

Miller is a rare jewel and a player that any team in the country would be lucky to have.  Oregon is no exception.  Even on a roster as skilled as theirs, Miller would be a welcome addition.

NFL Analyst Bucky Brooks is one of the many scouts drooling over Miller’s talent.  Here is what he said in a past column about Miller.

As a runner, Miller posted back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, exhibiting a powerful running style that made him difficult to bring down on the perimeter. Miller was unquestionably the most explosive weapon on the field whenever he stepped between the lines; his ability to break off big runs as the triggerman in the Buckeyes' spread offense made the unit nearly impossible to slow down despite opponents' best efforts.”

That quote could not be truer.  Except for Michigan State, Miller was unstoppable in 2013.  If he were to transfer to Oregon, he would be an instant sensation. 

However, this whole situation hinges on Mariota leaving early for the NFL.  If he decides to return for his senior year, Miller would obviously not come to Oregon because Mariota is arguably the best quarterback in the country as well as an Oregon legend.

In a recent article by Mike Huguenin of NFL.com, he listed ten schools as potential landing spots for Miller if he wants to play quarterback and decides to transfer.  Oregon was on that list, and there were some other very interesting possibilities including Auburn, UCLA, Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

From Miller’s perspective, he cannot make a truly bad decision.  He would be a solid fit with any school that has an offensive system revolving around a dual-threat quarterback. 

Most professional scouts don’t see Miller as an NFL quarterback, but more as a running back or wide receiver.  If Miller decides to switch positions and remain at Ohio State, the Buckeye offense would be absolutely lethal.

Just imagine Barrett and Miller in the same backfield, executing the read option to perfection.  They would be nearly impossible to stop, and the thought of such a dynamic duo would make any defensive coordinator cringe.

But if he wants to transfer, Oregon would be the best fit.  Miller would instantly jump into a situation where he could easily be successful.  He would have a stable of ultra-athletic running backs and wide receivers to work with as well as a team with the necessary talent to contend for a national championship.

For the Ducks, they don’t have a quarterback with Miller’s ability on the roster.  He would be the perfect player to bridge the gap between Mariota and Travis Waller, one of the most highly touted dual-threat quarterbacks in the class of 2015 according to 247Sports.

Whether or not there have been discussions between Miller and the Oregon coaching staff is irrelevant at this point.  He would be an ideal fit for the Ducks, and the Oregon offense would be incredibly potent with Miller behind center.


Texas Tech Future Quarterback Battle Looming

Patrick Mahomes has played tremendously in his last two starts, but he could very easily be the third string quarterback next season.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Texas Tech has had a rough season this year.  They currently sit at 4-7 for the year with one game remaining, a showdown against Baylor at Jerry World in Dallas.  Kliff Kingsbury did not get the kind of production he expected from Davis Webb coming into the season, and the defense has been atrocious.

After Davis Webb shredded the Arizona State defense in last year’s Holiday Bowl, he looked like the quarterback of the future.  And Kingsbury was forced to put all his eggs in one basket when both Michael Brewer and Baker Mayfield chose to transfer to other schools.

The only scholarship quarterback on the roster was Patrick Mahomes, a true freshman from Whitehouse with zero college experience.  But the hope was that Webb would sustain the success he experienced in the bowl game and lead the Red Raiders to greener pastures.

Unfortunately, that is not exactly how things have played out so far in 2014.  Webb was an entirely different quarterback than he had been in his freshman season.  He was missing easy throws, making bad decisions and turning into a turnover machine.  And since he was ineffective, Mahomes was not able to get any experience because Tech played close games against both Central Arkansas and UTEP.

The quarterback situation culminated in Tech’s loss to Texas.  Webb was unable to play due to an ankle injury he suffered in a blowout loss to TCU, and Mahomes, making his first career start, was injured in the second quarter when he was hit hard trying to run.  Vincent Testaverde, a walk on and the son of former Miami star Vinny Testaverde, was forced to finish the game.

Even after a bye week in preparation for Oklahoma, Webb was still not ready to go.  Mahomes made his second start, and he looked awesome.  He was incredibly poised for a guy making only his second career start, finishing 27-of-50 with 393 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.  He spread the ball around admirably, completing passes to eleven different receivers, and the Red Raider offense played arguably its best game of the season to that point.

In the days leading up to Tech’s game against Iowa State, Kingsbury said he expected to have his full stable of quarterbacks healthy, but he refused to name a starter, saying he would decide “at kickoff.”

Surprisingly, Mahomes got the start, and he didn’t disappoint.  He put together another productive performance against the Cyclones, completing 23-of-35 attempts for 328 yards and four touchdowns.  He did turn the ball over twice, an interception and a fumble, but he adds a dynamic to the offense that is nonexistent with Webb; the quarterback run game.

Facing a pivotal third down late in the fourth quarter of the Iowa State game, Mahomes dashed nine yards for a first down, sealing the Red Raiders’ fourth victory of the season.  Webb is more of a pocket passer, and if Mahomes can continue to beat defenses with his arm and legs, he might be the signal-caller of the future.

In his Monday press conference, Kingsbury spoke highly of Mahomes to reporters.

“He’s doing a lot of good things for that age,” he said.  “You know there is going to be some spots that he’s gotta grow, but for a true freshman, pretty pleased with where he’s at.”

However, there will be an added wrench in the quarterback competition come next spring.  Jarrett Stidham, the top-rated dual threat quarterback according to 247Sports.com, will graduate from Stephenville High School early so he can participate in spring drills.

So as the start of next season comes around, Kingsbury will have a tough decision on his hands.  He will have three options to start at quarterback in the 2015 season opener against Sam Houston State; Webb, Mahomes and Stidham.

Webb is probably the best pure passer of the group and has the most experience, but his limited mobility doesn’t allow Kingsbury to open the playbook as much as he would like.

Mahomes is very athletic and a solid runner, and he will continue to grow as he gets more repetitions in practice and in games.

And Stidham is the wild card, he is pretty much unknown.  He has amassed gaudy high school stats, but keep in mind that he plays in the 4-A classification, meaning he is not exactly facing dominant defensive units.  However, he received exemplary grades at The Opening, so he is likely the real deal.  He will have plenty of time to learn the playbook and if you trust recruiting services, he has more talent than any other quarterback on the roster.

It is obvious that Kingsbury thinks very highly of the Texan prep star.  Kingsbury told Stidham that he can “change the program,” so don’t expect Stidham to stay on the bench for long.

The quarterback won’t be able to carry the team by himself, but a consistent athlete behind center is a heck of a place to start.  It’s not like the quarterback is not going to have help, either.  The offense is going to be loaded with weapons.

DeAndre Washington will be back for another season, and he should be able to build on his stellar 2014 breakout season.  Justin Stockton will serve as an excellent change-of-pace back and will also contribute catching passes.

Bradley Marquez will graduate, but the rest of the receiving corps will be back barring any unexpected events.  Jakeem Grant, Devin Lauderdale, and Reginald Davis should continue to get better during the offseason and serve as big play threats.  Dylan Cantrell will be back as a lethal red zone target, and Ian Sadler might develop into a possession receiver similar to others that have come through Lubbock; Wes Welker, Danny Amendola, Eric Morris, etc.

But those skill guys can only be as good as the guy throwing them the ball.  And if Kingsbury’s track record of grooming quarterbacks is any indication, he will make the correct decision. 

 


Boise State Thriving in Life After Petersen

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In the middle of the second quarter in Boise State’s game against Wyoming, any viewers still awake saw the Broncos pull off a perfectly executed Statue of Liberty play.  Quarterback Grant Hedrick dropped back and faked a pass to the right, but handed the ball with his off hand to Jay Ajayi, who was running to the left.  Ajayi dashed 20 yards to the end zone, and Boise State was able to extend their lead to 28-7.

That type of play brought back memories of what made Boise State famous.  Arguably the most memorable play in Boise State football history also came on that Statue-of-Liberty play.  It occurred in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl on the two-point conversion that finished off the incredible upset of Oklahoma.

When Chris Petersen accepted the Washington head coaching position, the Boise State program could have easily lost its edge.  However, with Bryan Harsin now at the helm, the opposite has happened. 

Harsin, who played quarterback at Boise State from 1995-1999 and was on the Bronco coaching staff from 2001-2010, has reinvigorated a team that seemed to digress toward the end of Petersen’s tenure.  The Broncos lost four games in 2013, which amounted to one-third of Petersen’s total losses in his eight seasons at Boise.

This year’s Boise State team looks very formidable, one that a power conference team would not like to face in a bowl game.  The Broncos are loaded with weapons on the offensive side of the ball, and Harsin has made sure that creativity and trickery remain BSU staples.

Senior Grant Hedrick has blossomed into a lethal dual threat quarterback, passing for 20 touchdowns and rushing for six more so far this season.  He ranks tenth in the nation in passer rating, according to ESPN.com, and has improved throughout the year.

However, Hedrick has greatly benefited from the presence of Jay Ajayi.  Ajayi leads the nation with a whopping 276 carries and forces defenses to put more people in the box to stop the run, allowing Hedrick plenty of space to operate his aerial attack.  Ajayi has also been an integral part of the passing game, recording the third-most catches on the team and four touchdowns.

A receiving corps consisting of Shane Williams-Rhodes, Thomas Sperbeck and Chaz Anderson has responded admirably since star wide receiver Matt Miller was lost for the season with an ankle injury.  Williams-Rhodes leads the team in catches, Sperbeck leads the team in receiving yards and Anderson leads in yards per catch.

The defense has struggled mightily at times, but the offense has been good enough to bail them out in most games.  The Broncos sit at 9-2 on the season and are one win away from the Mountain West conference championship game.  Should they win out, the Broncos have a solid chance of sneaking into a top-tier bowl.

In ESPN.com’s most recent bowl projections, both Mark Schlabach and Brett McMurphy picked Boise State to play UCLA in the VIZIO Fiesta Bowl.  Also, the Broncos worked their way into the AP Top 25 for the first time in 2014.  It marks the 13th consecutive season that Boise State has been ranked in the AP or coaches pool at least once in a season.

This year’s team is not quite as dominant as the Broncos were in Petersen’s prime, when Kellen Moore was handing off to Doug Martin and throwing to Austin Pettis and Titus Young, but they are playing remarkably better than they did the past two seasons.

And Harsin deserves a ton of credit for the transformation.  He has made the offense more efficient and productive while at the same time keeping the Boise State edge that Petersen developed.

The Broncos have not cracked either of the first two of College Football Playoff rankings, but with their recent impressive play, that may change on Tuesday. 

BSU lost its season opener to an Ole Miss squad that was in the playoff conversation until this weekend, and then got outplayed by Air Force four weeks later.  In that game, the Broncos turned the ball over seven times, including four Hedrick interceptions.  Since then, though, they have averaged more than 50 points per game and Hedrick has thrown only four interceptions.

They are playing their best football in three years, peaking at just the right time, and if they are picked to play in a premier bowl, they will be a tough matchup for whomever they play.  They might not be as talented as their opponent, but that has never intimidated them before.

If it’s a close game at the end, the Broncos have shown they have a knack for an exciting finish.  Whether it’s the hook-and-ladder, Statue of Liberty or another trick play, Harsin will not be afraid to pull the trigger.

Watch out for the Broncos, not only this year but in the future, because Bryan Harsin has picked up right where Petersen left off.


Chicago Cubs Must Pursue Max Scherzer if They Miss Out on Lester

Max Scherzer is a terrific option for the Cubs to pursue if Lester signs with a different team.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

In only about three years, Theo Epstein has built the far Chicago Cubs farm system into one of the game’s best.  Kris Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler are four of the most exciting young prospects in the league, and 28-year-old right-hander Jake Arrieta emerged on the scene as a potential ace with a sterling year in 2014.

The Cubs also made national headlines recently with their hiring of Joe Maddon, one of the best managers in the league.  Maddon found a way to win with a Tampa Bay Rays team that was young and fairly talented.  Give him a loaded roster of perennial prospects, and the ceiling seems limitless.

However, they still need to add one more very important piece: a dominant starting pitcher who can pitch deep into games every fifth day and take the ball in the first game of the playoff series the Cubs hope to be in, possibly this year.

Jon Lester seems to fit the bill.  He is as durable as they come, recording at least 31 starts in each of the past seven years and pitching at least 200 innings in six of those years.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, it looks like their chances of signing Lester might be slipping away.  The Cubs made their pitch to the southpaw Tuesday, but Peter Gammons said on Dennis & Callahan, via WEEI.com, that his sources lead him to believe Lester will end up signing elsewhere.

"I think the one thing—obviously the Cubs are going to make every play—I get the feeling the Cubs think he’s going to go back to Boston," he said. "I think it’s very smart for Lester and his agents to hold for another week." 

However, it’s not like the Cubs need to put all their eggs in the Lester basket.  There is another superb starting pitcher on the free-agent market—a guy by the name of Max Scherzer.

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Scherzer and Lester are both 30 years old, but Scherzer doesn’t have nearly the experience or the postseason pedigree Lester has.  Scherzer was a late bloomer, a former elite prospect who finally came into his own when he was traded to the Detroit Tigers from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Scherzer has actually been a better pitcher than Lester over the past three years:

 

W-L

ERA

IP

K

Max Scherzer

55-15

3.24

622.1

723

Jon Lester

40-33

3.65

638.1

563

While Lester has a few more innings pitched over that span, Scherzer has a much better win-loss record, a lower ERA and 160 more strikeouts.

I still think Lester would be a better fit due to his longer track record of success and his sterling postseason statistics, but if the Cubs cannot convince him, Scherzer is a terrific option.

He has put together a tremendous three-year run in the American League, so he should be even more dominant in the National League, where he would have the luxury of facing the pitcher's spot instead of a designated hitter.

However, Scherzer is going to demand a huge payday.  A Scott Boras client, the 2013 Cy Young Award winner turned down a six-year, $144 million extension from the Tigers before the 2013 season.  

The fact that he rejected such a lucrative offer means he is going to relish his time on the open market, with Boras viciously negotiating with as many teams as he can get in the ring plus the "mystery team" he can engender to raise the stakes.

The Cubs are hoping to win now, and they are not going to let money stand in the way of winning their first World Series ring since 1908.  

With Scherzer headlining a rotation that features Arrieta, Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood, the Cubs would have plenty of pitching to complement their potentially dominant offense. 

If they do sign Scherzer or Lester, the Cubs could be legitimate contenders to make the playoffs in 2015. Once they get in, anything could happen.  And a dominant ace would give them a much better chance of making a deep postseason run.

 


Marlins Are Going to Regret Giancarlo Stanton Megadeal

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The Marlins have been one of the most fickle and parsimonious front offices in all of baseball this century. When they were still called the Florida Marlins, they won the World Series in 1997 and 2003 only to trade away their high-priced players immediately after both of those World Series victories.

Then in the winter of 2011, immediately after changing their name to the Miami Marlins, building a brand new stadium and attempting to change the direction of the franchise, the Marlins spent $191 million to sign the trio of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell.

Unfortunately, the added payroll didn’t result in success, and the Marlins pulled off one of the most dramatic fire sales in MLB history. After finishing last in the NL East with a paltry 69-93 record, the Marlins changed course. They traded Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers at the trade deadline and then executed a monster 12-player trade with the Blue Jays that sent Reyes, Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck to Toronto in exchange for a slew of young prospects.

Since then, the Marlins have showed modest improvement. They won 17 more games last year than they did in 2013, navigated their way out of the NL East cellar and saw some of the prospects they got from the Blue Jays start tapping into their massive potential. Meanwhile, right fielder Giancarlo Stanton had by far the best season of his short career.

The 25-year-old California native hit .288 with 37 home runs and 105 RBIs in what was his fourth season in The Show.

The Marlins, not wanting to allow Stanton to hit the free agent market, decided to lock him up long term. On Friday, they signed Stanton to a 13-year, $325 million contract that will run well through his prime. The deal is the largest in North American sports history, easily surpassing the previous record, Alex Rodriguez’s $275 million contract with the Yankees in 2007.

While Stanton has lethal power and is truly one of the premier young players in the game, is it really a smart move to commit such an exorbitant sum of money to one player?

For starters, it is the epitome of risky. History is replete with examples of these ultra-lucrative deals resulting in duds. Rodriguez had a few good seasons under his megadeal, but for the most part it has been a disappointing signing for the Yankees. The Twins’ eight-year, $184 million deal with Joe Mauer has been bad to this point and Ryan Howard’s $125 million extension has been disastrous for the Phillies.

All three of the aforementioned players saw a considerable dip in production over the course of the contract as well as an increase in missed games due to various injuries.

So from a historical perspective, the deal was a stretch. But how does the deal look from the team’s point of view?

The Marlins have been one of the most frugal teams in the league recently, and they had the lowest payroll in 2014 ($42 million). The $325 million amounts to more than the Marlins have spent on their whole MLB roster in the past five seasons.

The Miami front office needs to decide whether they are a big-spending or a small market organization, and stick to it. Their ambiguity about the future of the franchise has been comical as well as counterproductive.

The Marlins ranked 27th in the MLB in attendance in 2014, and they are going to need more than one star player to increase that number to a respectable plateau.

And since they overspent on Stanton, it is going to be very hard to go out and sign other complementary players. Sure, Stanton is their foundation that they are going to build on for the future, but now they don’t have much money left to lure any other players to Miami or re-sign the players they already have.

22-year-old outfielder Christian Yelich will be arbitration eligible after the 2017 season and is going to continue to improve after his impressive 2014 season. As he gets better, he is also going to get more expensive.

Also, the bulk of the starting rotation is going to need to be re-signed soon. Jose Fernandez, Henderson Alvarez, Jarred Cosart and Nathan Eovaldi are all deserving of extensions, according to Mike Axisa of CBSSports.com.

Signing Stanton gives them one supreme talent, but World Series contenders aren’t built on one player. It takes a cohesive unit of players who know their role to make deep postseason runs.

Also, there is the injury factor. Stanton seemed to be well on his way to winning the NL MVP award when he was hit in the face on September 11 against the Brewers. He still finished the season with the second most home runs in the MLB, but the injury risk for a guy who plays as hard as Stanton is always there. Furthermore, he is going to understandably be a bit hesitant after suffering such a gruesome injury, and it is impossible to tell how long it is going to take Stanton to feel comfortable digging into the batter’s box again.

Don’t get me wrong, if anyone in the league is worth this much money, Stanton must be in the conversation. His prodigious home run power is a positive and his age is very favorable. But I don’t think it is in the best interest of any team, especially one who can’t get fans in the stands, to devote such a large chunk of their payroll to a single player.

The Marlins made a bad decision by signing Stanton to such an astronomical amount of money. They failed to pay attention to history as well as take into account the plethora of risks that come with such a long contract. It would have been much more prudent to sign Stanton to a shorter contract, even if they had to add a few more million annually to reach a deal.

If history is any indication, the Marlins are going to regret this deal when they get to the last few years. But for their sake, hopefully Stanton hurts a little less than A-Rod or Mauer.  

Pablo Sandoval Would Fit Nicely Into Boston's Plans

Expect the Red Spx to aggressively pursue Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval.
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Red Sox are “all in” on signing free agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval, according to Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston. Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington even confirmed on Tuesday that the club recently met with Sandoval’s agent.

While Sandoval is a great player with a solid reputation, is he a good fit for the Boston lineup?

First of all, he would fill a glaring hole in the Red Sox lineup. Third base was a weak spot for the Red Sox in 2014, and Sandoval’s presence would allow Brock Holt to fill in at other positions wherever he is needed.

Sandoval exploded onto the scene in 2009, hitting .330 in his first full MLB season with 25 home runs and 44 doubles. Since then, he has become one of the league’s most consistent at manning the hot corner. In spite of whatever misperceptions one might have due to Sandoval’s body type, he is an above average defender.

According to Fangraphs’ UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), Sandoval (3.5) had a very similar UZR as Adrian Beltre (4.0), long revered as one of the best defenders in the league.

In the batter’s box, Sandoval is as consistent as they come. He has a career .294 average in his seven years in the MLB and has never had a season in which he struggled mightily. He is not a power hitter, averaging about 15 per season, but he is a solid all-around hitter.

In the age where hitters around the league, even players who are ostensibly contact hitters, are striking out at an alarming rate, Sandoval has not yet fallen into that trap. At a time where sluggers surpass 200 strikeouts on a regular basis, Sandoval has not struck out more than 85 times in a season in his career.

He also played in a career high 157 games in 2014, showing that he is getting more durable as the years go by.

Also, the Red Sox need someone with Sandoval’s brilliant postseason pedigree on their roster. Boston is expecting to make another playoff push this year, and an added bat like Sandoval could make them serious contenders in the AL East.

With the addition of Sandoval, the Red Sox lineup would be downright scary. With Dustin Pedroia getting on base for Sandoval, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli and Yoenis Cespedes to hit him in, the Red Sox would score runs in bunches.

And when David Ortiz finally calls it quits, Sandoval is the ideal candidate to replace him as the Designated Hitter in Boston.

The Red Sox have the necessary offensive firepower to make the playoffs in 2015, and the signing of Sandoval might push them over the hump. They will undoubtedly have to spend more money than they would like due to a wealth of other bidders, but Sandoval would be worth it.

The Giants are going to make a late push to retain Sandoval’s services, but the Red Sox would be smart to put most of their offseason chips in the Pablo Sandoval basket.