Roy Halladay, Perfect In Retirement

Former Blue Jays and Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay, who retired after the 2013 season, showed why he’s so adored by baseball fans everywhere on Monday

Philadelphia Phillies v San Diego Padres

Roy Halladay, who turns 38 in May, won 203 games and 2 Cy Young Awards from 1998-2013 (Getty Images)

Written by Jake Elman

After having watched the good doctor for so many years, especially when he pitched in Toronto as the ace of the Blue Jays, it’s still odd to think about the fact that two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay is in the midst of his second year of retirement.

Halladay, who retired in December 2013 due to back issues, has remained quiet and out of the public eye since ending his career, but that was to be expected; after all, this is the same pitcher who would go into complete isolation mode when he’d be pitching. Sure, Halladay is learning how to fly and working as a guest instructor with both the Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays, but we haven’t heard his name much since he called it quits.

But, Halladay, whether he intended to or not, made a slight appearance back in the limelight on Monday with this tweet on his verified Twitter account.

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DAMN1

DAMN2

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Alex, do you need some ice for that burn? Let’s see the reaction from Mr. Rodriguez, all the way from Yankees camp.

DarylCry

I know I’ve been somewhat outspoken about people just letting Alex Rodriguez play and all, but I’m also someone that can acknowledge a good joke when I see one. This had perfect execution — like a Roy Halladay pitch, I might add — and wasn’t too far over the line for it not to be funny.

Besides, Rodriguez was actually pretty solid against Halladay, hitting .299/.349/.429 in 77 at-bats against the Doc. Now, Halladay, who has over 43,000 followers, actually made light of this fact in a follow up tweet.

Now, I’m actually somewhat interested to see if more athletes, especially baseball players, follow in Halladay’s footsteps when it comes to making Alex Rodriguez jokes. They’re overdone, yes, but in this day and age with social media, I can’t say I’d be too surprised if another baseball player or two made an A-Rod joke on Twitter. At this point, it’s become almost second nature to mock the almost 40 year old Yankees slugger.

Knowing that, Halladay, who pitched both a perfect game and a no-hitter in 2010, took advantage and made it work. Now, because Halladay’s retired (most likely for good, seeing as he’s having so much fun in retirement), some have already begun discussing his Hall of Fame credentials and if he’ll end up in Cooperstown. Personally, I’m unsure at this moment about him being a Hall of Famer, but he’s earned a spot in the Joke Hall of Fame for 2015 with this tweet.

Do you think Roy Halladay is a Hall of Famer? How funny did you find his joke? If you want to chime in on the conversation further, you can tweet me at @JakeElman.

MLB Introduces ‘Sudden Death Day’

After exciting playoff races on the season’s final day in years past, Major League Baseball is capitalizing on the idea

With Major League Baseball's decision to make all games on the season's final day the same time, playoff races similar to the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals' will be much more interesting (Getty Images)

With Major League Baseball’s decision to make all games on the season’s final day the same time, playoff races similar to the 2014 St. Louis Cardinals’ will be much more interesting (Getty Images)

Written by Jake Elman

Rob Manfred has only officially held the commissioner’s title for about two months, but the New York native just keeps coming up with ways to improve the game. First, Manfred added the pace of play rules, and now, Manfred is adding some excitement to September baseball.

As first reported by Bill Shakin of the Los Angeles Times, Major League Baseball has decided to schedule all of the games on October 4th, the season’s final day, at the same exact time: 3 P.M. Eastern. This idea, according to Major League Baseball, will add excitement and intensity on a day that was otherwise normally forgettable:

“If a game impacts another game, they’re all occurring at the same time, so no team would be put into a lame-duck situation because their fate already had been decided by an earlier result,” said Tony Pettiti, first year MLB chief operating officer and former head of MLB Network. “If we do have games coming down to the wire, we want to make sure we maximize that day.”

This is an excellent idea, and as a big fan of the baseball playoff race, I’m excited to see how it works out. I’ve been wanting a concept like this for a few years now, probably since we saw the excitement of the final day of the 2011 season, and to see it become a reality is something that I think all baseball fans will appreciate.

As I’ve pointed out in the past, Major League Baseball has needed to hype some of the game’s bigger events, whether it be the season’s final day or the World Series. Putting all of the games at the same time is a way to get people excited about not just the playoff races, but also the postseason as a whole. You have this day, followed by the Wild Card games, and then the division series starting all in the same week? That’s as exciting as it gets in the world of baseball.

With all games starting at the same time on the last day, this increases pressure and also factors into how a team might approach the postseason. In previous years, a team who had a 4:15 start compared to a team that started play at 1:30 might have changed around the lineup or scratched the starter because of how the early game turned out, but having them all at the same time means that the star player who you really wanted to rest might need to be in that starting lineup; the pitcher who might have opened up the postseason for you is instead starting for you in game 162, with that prospect who was originally your starter hanging out in the bullpen.

That same situation is what happened to the St. Louis Cardinals a year ago; when the Pittsburgh Pirates lost on the season’s final day last year, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny rested several players, including starting pitcher Adam Wainwright, who would then start the first game of the NLDS against the St. Louis Cardinals. If both teams had played at the same time last year, Matheny likely would have started Wainwright instead of midseason trade acquisition Justin Masterson.

Also, think of how this helps with ratings. As it stands right now, the only game we know that is going to be played in NFL week four, which is October 4th, is Jets-Dolphins in London, and that’s at 9:30 AM ET in the morning. By scheduling all of these games at 3 PM ET, Major League Baseball is going to have legitimate contention with the NFL on a weekend that, most likely knowing the NFL, will feature some damn good games.

Now, all Major League Baseball needs is a creative name for the season’s final day. Now, because I’m not creative, I like the name of ‘Sudden Death Day’ as the title; it’s short, to the point, and there’s a slight alliteration in it. I’m interested in hearing other names for this, so make sure to either leave them in a comment or send them to me on Twitter.

If you’re interested in seeing what games will take place on the season’s final day, take a look below.

FinalBaseballDay2015

Out of fifteen games on the final day, twelve of them are divisional games, which only helps to make ‘Sudden Death Day’ more exciting. Of those games, I’d have to think that Yankees-Orioles, Tigers-White Sox, Athletics-Mariners, Padres-Dodgers, and Reds-Pirates could all be games that help factor into their respective divisions, while Red Sox-Indians and Cardinals-Braves immediately stand out as interesting games on paper.

How excited are you for ‘Sudden Death Day’? What name would you even call the season’s final day if you don’t like my suggestion of ‘Sudden Death Day’? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at @JakeElman

Welcome Back, Ron Gardenhire

After being fired by the Twins following last season, Ron Gardenhire made a surprise visit at Minnesota camp today

Cigar and all, Ron Gardenhire made his return to the Twins organization today...as a visitor (Star Tribune Sports)

Cigar and all, Ron Gardenhire made his return to the Twins organization today…as a visitor, complete with cigars (Star Tribune Sports)

Written by Jake Elman

In the footsteps of Bon Jovi, Kanye West, and Puff Daddy/P. Diddy/Diddy/Sergio Roma/whatever he’s calling himself today, former Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire made a return home on Tuesday. But, by home, we’re not talking about Germany.

This is the first spring since 2001 that Gardenhire isn’t managing the Minnesota Twins, as the one-time Mets shortstop was let go following his fourth straight sub .500 season in 2011; now, former Twins star Paul Molitor is in charge in Minnesota, trying to bring the team back to the postseason for the first time since 2010. Things were stressful and rough in Gardenhire’s last few seasons, but if today was anything to go by, then things between him and the Twins organization are still good.

Dressed in a W-Stout Blue Devils Dad shirt, golf hat, sunglasses, the watch and what look like cargo shorts with a water bottle in his pocket, the 2010 AL Manager of the Year made a visit to Twins camp in Fort Myers, Florida on Tuesday. Complete with a cigar in his mouth and another cigar in a ziploc bag, Gardenhire was actually down in Florida watching his son, Toby, coach the University of Wisconsin-Stout against the Twins Gulf Coast League team, and then decided to make the short journey over to Twins camp.

“I’ve missed a lot of these guys,” Gardenhire, who managed thirteen years with the Twins from 2002-2014, told the Star Tribune on Tuesday. “It’s great to say hello and see how everyone is doing.”

Spring training visits by former players and coaches are routine, tradition even, but it’s interesting to see the manager who was fired not even six full months ago return to his former team’s camp. There’s often feelings of awkwardness, maybe even a bit of resentment or anger, that can last for years between both the manager and the former employer.

Gardenhire, who has admitted to staying in the background as to not be a distraction for Molitor and the Twins, seems not to have gotten that memo…and all is good. In fact, all’s been good since Gardenhire was fired following the season, as he even attended the press conference that announced his dismissal.

Twins general manager Terry Ryan, a longtime friend of Gardenhire, said at the start of camp that he had a wide range of positions for his former manager would he be interested.

“If he wanted to do something, I’m in. What do you want to do, Gardy? You want to talk to the minor league players? You want to visit the [minor league] affiliates? You want to go out and teach some infield? You want to help this guy with his hitting? He can do a lot of things,” Ryan said a month ago, and it’s hard to find any problem with that. This is one of the most successful managers in franchise history, and they want to keep him in the fold any way that they can.

Good on the Minnesota Twins for maintaining such a good relationship with their former manager, and the same goes for Gardenhire and his former organization. Even if the Twins struggle this year in what appears to be yet another rebuilding year, they can pat themselves on the back for a job well done when it comes to their relationship with the man who managed them for nearly a decade and a half.

If you want to talk baseball, you can tweet me at @JakeElman.

The 2015 All-MLB Underrated Team

Plenty of MLB players fall under the radar, but who are the most underrated players in the whole league?

White Sox lefty Jose Quintana, a former New York Yankees farmhand, has quietly become one of the team's most valuable players (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

White Sox lefty Jose Quintana, a former New York Yankees farmhand, has quietly become one of the team’s most valuable players (Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

Written by Jake Elman

When you talk about underrated, it’s exactly what it sounds like – underrated means something is either not properly rated or not rated high enough, which, depending on your own interpretation, might mean the same thing. Meals are underrated at a certain restaurant, musicians are underrated because they’re not ‘mainstream enough’, and, of course, we use underrated when talking about athletes.

It seems like every day, someone’s always talking about a player being underrated. “I think *so and so* is truly underrated by the media,” a broadcaster might say, while a fantasy guru could suggest, “I feel, even though he’s underrated, this guy might be a great pick up this week.” Major League Baseball has plenty of players that would say that they’re underrated, but who are the best players that fall under that trope?

Well, that’s what we’re here to find out today. I’ve compiled a list of players who are among the most underrated players in the league. There was no special requirements or anything — though, you won’t see too many guys with big-time contracts on this list — aside from the player being, well, underrated. Without further waiting, let’s dive right into this.

C: Yan Gomes, Cleveland Indians

When you talk about a player having a breakout 2014 season, Cleveland’s catcher, Yan Gomes, has to come into the discussion. Gomes, a former tenth-round pick of the Blue Jays from the University of Tennessee, hit .278/.313/.472 with 21 long bombs and 74 home runs for Cleveland a season ago; Gomes’ FanGraphs-calculated WAR of 8.2 trailed only San Francisco’s Buster Posey (10.5), Miluwakee’s Jonathan Lucroy (9.8), Pittsburgh’s Russell Martin (9.4) and St. Louis’ Yadier Molina (8.6) among catchers. Though the Indians finished out of the playoffs yet again, they look to have solved the franchise’s catching problems that have plagued them since the 2009 trade of Victor Martinez.
 Gomes earns a spot on this list because I feel like the Indians underrated him just a bit, giving him a six year contract extention that’s only worth 23 million dollars. I may not be the best at math, but even I know that’s underrating a good player at a position where good players are rare to come by. I don’t want to make it sound like Gomes is the best catcher in the game, though, because there’s a lot of things he needs to improve on. Gomes’ patience at the plate, for example is awful, as he nearly had more home runs (21) than walks (24). When you think of players that had more home runs than walks in a single season, dreaded power hitters like Juan Gonzalez, Sammy Sosa, and Andre Dawson come to mind, not a 26 year old catcher on a third place team. But, that doesn’t mean that Gomes shouldn’t be on our list, and I look forward to seeing what he can do in the future.

1B: Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays

Is it possible to be an underrated player when you’ve hit 112 home runs the past three seasons and made two All-Star Game appearances? Though you may think the answer is definitely no, Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion may disagree with you on that, as even after three straight seasons of at least 34 home runs and 98 RBI, the Dominican slugger is still flying well under the radar. How could that be? How is it possible that a player like Encarnacion can be on an all-underrated list when he puts up such fantastic numbers?

Well, part of the reason may have to do with the fact that Encarnacion plays in Toronto. Now, that’s nothing against Canada, but it’s moreso that the casual American baseball fan really doesn’t know players in their own country, let alone players in Canada. If Encarnacion played for an American team (a team in America, not just an AL team), maybe there’s a chance more people would recognize him, but I digress him. Anyways, Encarnacion has quietly become one of the game’s best sluggers, recording a WAR of 12.8 and keeping his K-BB ratio extremely close (228 walks to 238 strikeouts), an amazing feat in a time of hitters constantly recording 190+ strikeouts. Hopefully, Encarnacion can start becoming a household name sooner rather than later, because him and his parrot sure are fun to watch.

2B: Ben Zobrist, Oakland Athletics

I don’t know what it is about the utility guys who have become their team’s handyman, but there’s just something about them that’s always made me partial to those guys. Whether it was the before-my-time Luis Sojo on the New York Yankees or the more recent Miguel Cairo, I’ve just always really liked the guys that can play anywhere, give you a hit in a pinch, and are great for the team on and off the field. These days, the crown of ‘best super utility guy’ goes to Oakland Athletics utility man Ben Zobrist, a two-time American League All-Star with the Rays who has played everywhere from second base to outfield to even the hot corner.

It may seem silly to call the ‘best super utility guy’ underrated, but I think it’s more of Zobrist being under-appreciated than flat out underrated. Only once since the 2009 season began has Zobrist had a WAR less than 4.8, and he’s been durable too, with 2014 being the first season since 2008 that the former sixth round pick didn’t play in at least 150 games…he played in 146. If Zobrist doesn’t appear on a list about the most underrated MLB players, then the person who made the list is doing it wrong.

3B: Todd Fraizer, Cincinnati Reds

What is there to say about the Todd Father that hasn’t already been said? Not only does he hit for pop (the 29 year old third baseman had a career high 29 bombs last year), but Fraizer, originally from Toms River, New Jersey, has quietly become one of the NL Central’s most dangerous hitters since becoming a full-time player in 2012. Though Fraizer only hit .234/.314/.407 in 2013, the Jersey-born slugger rebounded with a .273/.336/.459 statline in 2014 and was awarded with his first All-Star Game appearance.

So, why does he get a spot on the All-MLB Underrated Team for 2015? Well, Fraizer is still making a name for himself, and last year’s Home Run Derby — where he made it to the Final Round before losing to then-Oakland left fielder Yoenis Cespedes — was the first time that many baseball fans were properly introduced to the Todd Father. With a big season in 2015, Fraizer might be able to cement himself as a top five third baseman in the game, and I’m sure the Reds would be thrilled if the Todd Father could put up numbers akin to last year’s breakout campaign.

SS: Erick Aybar, Los Angeles Angels

For an organization that’s tried to pride themselves on consistency, am I the only one surprised that the Los Angeles Angels only have two players remaining from the 2010 season? I’m sure that you immediately thought of the team’s All-Star starting pitcher Jered Weaver as one of the two players, but the fact that shortstop Erick Aybar, brother of former Rays utility man Willy Aybar, is the other player was an interesting finding on my part. Aybar, who turned 31 in January, has quietly grown into one of the American League’s better shortstops, hitting .280/41/313 while recording a WAR of 3.9 or more three times in the past four years.

Like others on this list, what makes Aybar underrated is that he plays on a team full of big-name stars; Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Jered Weaver, Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson, and so forth are the guys you think of when the Angels are brought up, not a shortstop who has only hit above .280 only once since the 2010 season began. Yet, Aybar might realistically be the third-most important player to the Angels’ success, behind only Trout and Pujols. What I really like about Aybar is his ability to hit for the extra base — Aybar’s averaged 32 doubles and six triples the past four seasons — and he was rewarded with his first All-Star appearance a year ago. With the way that Aybar plays, however, I definitely can see more All-Star Games in his future.

 

For a player that's been among the league's best power hitters the past few seasons, Blue Jays first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion doesn't get much recognition outside of Canada (Kim Klement-USA Today Sports)

For a player that’s been among the league’s best power hitters the past few seasons, Blue Jays first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion doesn’t get much recognition outside of Canada (Kim Klement-USA Today Sports)

 

OF: Brett Gardner, New York Yankees

To say that the New York Yankees have struggled the past two seasons would be an understatement, as the 26-time World Series champions have missed the playoffs for consecutive years; this is the first time that’s occurred, of course, since the drought from 1982-1993 (with 1994 not counting due to the playoff strike). Even with the team making both big-time acquisitions and small, the Yankees have found themselves home for October baseball the past couple of years due to a mix of injuries, inconsistency, and overall lack of production from big name players. With that said, however, part of why the Yankees have even found themselves with a winning record in both 2013 and 2014 is due to veteran left fielder Brett Gardner, a former third-round pick with a penchant for clutch hits and stolen bases.

As a teammate of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, CC Sabathia, Jorge Posada, Robinson Cano, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettite, Jacoby Ellsbury, and so on, Brett Gardner has never been the big-time attraction or even the team’s most popular player. What he has been, however, is a durable outfielder (2012 withstanding) that puts it all on the field and will beat you with his bat, his speed, his glove, or even just his ability to get a rally going. Not counting 2012, Gardner has racked up four straight seasons with a WAR of 4.0 or more, including a 7.3 WAR back in 2010 for the Bronx Bombers. He may not be the sexiest player in terms of name recognition, but without Gardner, the Yankees might be one of the league’s worst teams rather than one that’s middle of the pack.

OF: Dexter Fowler, Chicago Cubs

Speaking of outfielders who will beat you with their speed, Chicago’s Dexter Fowler has been a menace on the basepaths since making his debut with the Colorado Rockies in 2008. Fowler’s average stolen base numbers of 19 steals to 9 times caught stealing may not seem impressive, but Fowler averages 24 doubles and 10 triples a season, and that number jumps up to 30 and 12 per every 162 games. When you look at every player who is on this list, Fowler’s inclusion might be the most questionable, as he’s not a powerful home run hitter like Todd Fraizer or Edwin Encarnacion, or a super utility man like Ben Zobrist, but I don’t know if just the basic statistics can do him justice.

Out of every player in the big leagues, Fowler led the majors with a .451 on-base-percentage when there was no one out, and he also got on base 40 percent of the time when there was no one else on base; from your leadoff guy, and someone with speed, there’s not much else that you can really ask for. Fowler, who is entering his first year with the Chicago Cubs after a year in Houston, also has excellent plate discipline and has really become one of baseball’s best leadoff men. That’s the type of guy you want on your team, and that’s why Fowler lands a spot on this list.

OF: Lorenzo Cain, Kansas City Royals

First things first, here’s the mandatory video featuring Cain’s defense.

Alright, mandatory video featuring Cain’s defense out of the way, let’s talk about the Royals’ budding outfielder. Cain, a former seventeenth-round pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2004, broke out onto the scene last season with a .301/5/53 statline that also saw him record 28 stolen bases on the year. That’s all good and well, as is Cain’s 5.0 WAR, but what really put this kid on the map was his defense. Line drive hit to center that’s falling fast? Cain will dive for it. High fly ball to right-center field that looks like it’s gone? Cain jumps and its in his glove.

Putting Cain on this list is a bit of a cop out, because he’s already starting to become less of an underrated player solely from the Royals’ miracle 2014 season that saw them make the World Series. Once people start seeing more and more of his crazy catches and gritty play on the field, Cain’s popularity is likely going to skyrocket among baseball fans, both hardcore and casual. For the time being, though, Cain is an underrated player that, not unlike Gardner or Aybar, is instrumental to his team’s success and deserves a spot on our list.

SP: Jose Quintana, Chicago White Sox

In all honesty, I really have to hand it to Robin Ventura and the Chicago White Sox. Even though the team title of lefty ace was seamlessly transferred in-house from Mark Buehrle to Chris Sale following the 2011 season, Chicago was able to find a solid, middle-of-the-rotation starter not through trade or through a big contract, but off the waiver wire; former New York Yankees farmhand Jose Quintana, a lefty pitcher who had yet to make it past A level ball, intrigued the White Sox scouting department so much that the team signed him and immediately placed him in AA with the Binghamton Barons. After a decent first month in the minors, Quintana would reach the big leagues in May of that season, and the rest is history. Despite subpar numbers on paper (namely the 24-24 overall record), Quintana has posted a 3.50 ERA with a 423-150 K-BB ratio in 536 innings. Not bad for a guy who had never made it past high A ball with the Yankees, right?

I know White Sox manager Robin Ventura hasn’t had the best three seasons leading his former ball club — something I mentioned when previewing the American League Central division last month — but the find, and later success, of Quintana has to rank among the better things he’s done. We’re talking about a lefty pitcher that has excellent control and has been a savior for the White Sox, constantly keeping them in ball games and shutting down the opposition (opponents have hit .258 against him). The White Sox are in prime position to contend for the playoffs this year, and their stud lefty Quintana is a major reason why.

Manager: Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles

If this article was being written in March 2014 rather than March 2015, San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy would definitely have taken the managerial spot here. But, Bochy and the San Francisco Giants won a World Series in October, so I’m going with a different person here, and that’s Baltimore’s Buck Showalter. Since taking over the job in the summer of 2010 for interim manager Juan Samuel, Showalter has not only helped transform the Orioles into a perennial contender, but he’s also beginning to make a case as one of the best managers of this generation.

Rant Sports’ Brad Berreman talked about this in October, saying, “A lack of identification and long-term success with one franchise hurts Showalter in terms of outside recognition as one of the best managers of the past 20-25 years. But 2014 is his fourth full season as the Orioles’ manager, and barring something unforeseen he’ll be back next season and, at this point, he can probably have the job as long as he wants.” Showalter has helped change the chemistry and environment in Baltimore to one of winning and hard work, two things that were almost never seen in Charm City a decade ago. Even though the Orioles might not be a playoff team this season, you know that they’ll give one hundred and ten percent as long as Buck is their manager.

Who do you think are some of the league’s more underrated players? Make sure to tweet me at @JakeElman to chime in on the conversation.

Enough With The A-Rod Drama

It’s no secret that a lot of people are upset with Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, but the truth is that he’s not going away any time soon…

Rodriguez, 40 in July, made his spring training debut on Wednesday against the Phillies and went 1-2 with a walk (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Rodriguez, 40 in July, made his spring training debut on Wednesday against the Phillies and went 1-2 with a walk (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Written by Jake Elman

The prodigal son has returned, but things are still the same in Yankees camp. Then again, did you really expect anything else?

As I pointed out in my ten storylines from spring training piece, the return of New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez from a suspension that cost him all of last year was something that all baseball fans should definitely be keeping an eye on; it’s something that you should try to ignore, but it’s something that you can’t, just because of how interesting it is. How would Rodriguez adjust to seeing big league pitching again? Is he going to have a starting job this year? Will the Yankees consider cutting him loose, even with all of the money that he’s still owed?

Well, those questions and more have begun to be answered, as Rodriguez made his spring training debut in a 3-1 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies. Batting second and starting at the DH position, Rodriguez went 1-2, his lone hit being a single, and the three-time American League MVP also walked before being pinch run for in the fifth inning. All things considered, Rodriguez’s spring training debut was a success, and it’s the first step in his journey back to the Major Leagues.

Yet, some people aren’t in the mood to act optimistic, or even try to pretend like Rodriguez is any other player. Take the New York Post, for example:

Man, that’s rough. That’s some real hometown support from the New York Post, but I get it. Rodriguez has cheated, he’s become one of the most tainted players — if not the most tainted player in history — and helped the steroid era go on for far longer than it should have.

Rodriguez may have brought home a World Series title in 2009, but what about all of the times he couldn’t hit anything in the postseason? There’s a lot of words that can describe Alex Rodriguez, and after all he’s done over all these years, I think all of those words would be fair to describe him. At the same time, though, I think that it may be time to start forgiving Rodriguez and moving on from the past.

That may sound contradictory, but look at where we are in Rodriguez’s career. The man turns 40 in July, and might not even play after this year. Rodriguez has done a lot of bad in his career, yes, but I think at some point, you need to just let it all go, especially if A-Rod is actually clean this year. Is it good for yourself to harbor feelings of hatred towards someone, or something, that likely isn’t going away anytime soon.

I don’t want this to seem like a full, blind, defense of Alex Rodriguez, but I don’t see why it’s worth it for all of the drama at this point to keep going. Rodriguez has apologized, he has no playing time fully guaranteed, and he’s trying to come back from a suspension that can be viewed as excessive. Even Yankees manager Joe Girardi, one of Rodriguez’s biggest supporters over the years, said recently that Rodriguez has to earn his spot like any other player. It’s not like Rodriguez came to camp and immediately started talking big; this is someone who, from what I’ve seen so far, just wants to focus on the game of baseball.

Did Alex Rodriguez make mistakes? Yes, of course, but we all have made mistakes. Delia Enriquez of Bronx Baseball Daily seems to understand this, as she said last month, “After Rodriguez apologized, immediately there were mixed reactions. Some were willing to forgive Rodriguez right away. Some weren’t as willing considering this was the second (known to the public) offense. Some were indifferent, simply believing it was a PR stunt and some felt Rodriguez should save the apologies altogether. I’m quite the forgiving person, so I forgave A-Rod–but it doesn’t mean I’m ever going to forget or be okay with what he did.”

Enriquez would then add, “The fact is we’re all human. We’re bound to make a huge error in judgement at least once in our lifetime. The steroid scandal just happened to be Rodriguez’s error in judgement.”

It’s not even about forgiving, it’s more about letting it go; there’s a difference, and a big one at that. We’re not talking about a player who beat his girlfrend inside of an elevator, physically hurt his kid, sexually abused anyone, murdered someone…this is a player who made several mistakes relating to his own body, so the people putting him in the same class as Ray Rice or Aaron Hernandez are being silly. Rodriguez messed up big time, but is he really as bad as a murderer or a woman abuser?

Nothing is going to change the past: Alex Rodriguez cheated, he used performance-enhancing drugs, and he’s one of the most tainted players of all time. We can’t change that, he can’t change that, and the history books can’t change that, even if Major League Baseball were to wipe away all of his numbers. If you’re a fan of the game of baseball and you’re truly offended by what Alex Rodriguez did, then that’s fine, no one’s asking you to go online and buy an Alex Rodriguez t-shirt and signed picture. If you’re a fan and you want to boo him like you would any other player on the Yankees, that’s fine too.

All I’m asking for fans to do is think of Alex Rodriguez, right now, as just a baseball player, not a baseball player with a troubled past involving performance-enhancing drugs. That may be too much to ask for, and as someone who has begun to forgive Alex Rodriguez, it may sound like I’m preaching nonsense, but what’s the point in hating and wishing bad on someone when that person is ready to just focus on the task at hand? If Alex Rodriguez can focus solely on baseball, then I don’t see why us as fans can’t either. It may sound difficult, but how much longer is Rodriguez really going to be in the big leagues for?

This falls on the media too, especially the ones taking time out of their day to criticize Rodriguez for every single thing that he does. Alex Rodriguez came early to camp, probably as a way of telling the Yankees that he was serious about making things right and having a good season, and the Daily News’ Mike Lupica writes a scorching hot take about how Rodriguez is wrong and really hasn’t learned anything.

There are so many more interesting stories in baseball this year, and we want to focus all of it on A-Rod? You know what, maybe it’s not just Alex Rodriguez that needs to learn something. All of us need to learn something, and that’s learning to focus on the game of baseball. I don’t know about you guys, but I’d like to just move on from the Alex Rodriguez drama and think about more interesting things, like stirrup socks, throwback uniforms, and seeing if anyone can top Cito Culver’s play from yesterday.

Will you be able to move past the Alex Rodriguez drama this year? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by voting on the poll below, and you can also tweet me your thoughts at @JakeElman

Ten Interesting 2015 Spring Training Stories

Baseball’s spring training is set to have plenty of stories to watch this year, but which are the most interesting?

Rodriguez, 40 in July, is making his return to the Yankees after a one year suspension.

Alex Rodriguez, 40 in July, is making his return to the Yankees after a one year suspension. (USA Today)

Written by Jake Elman

For a baseball fan, the two magic words of “spring training” is enough to create hope, optimism, and if you’re a fan of the New York Mets, more demanding for a shortstop. Spring training is in session, the games ‘officially’ start this week, and baseball is back. As a fan of the game, I could not be more stoked for spring training, as it’s a great time to see not only if your team is a contender or a pretender, but who might be in line for a big season ahead.

As with every spring training, there are some interesting storylines to watch, but which are going to be the most intriguing? Out of at least twenty five that I counted, I’ve decided to pick ten and talk about what makes them so interesting to watch. This list is not necessarily ranked in any order, and if you think I left a storyline off, you can leave a comment or tweet me.

Without further waiting, let’s dive right into the top ten storylines to watch in 2015’s spring training.

10. Welcome back

Though we’re welcomed back to baseball (thankfully), the first post on this list refers to players that we either haven’t seen since early last year or 2013. Other than he-who-shall-not-be-named-until-later-on-this-list, Major League Baseball is set to welcome back Athletics pitcher Jarrod Parker, Mets pitcher Matt Harvey, Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder, Athletics non-roster invitee Barry Zito, and so on.

With MLB Network airing daily spring training games, as well as the regional sports networks airing more and more of their team’s spring training games, you should be able to see these players making their returns; it’s a fairly obvious storyline, sure, but watching them bounce back and seeing how they fare against competition is one of the more interesting things to watch in the spring.

9. Old faces, new places

Baseball is a game of change, and this past offseason demonstrated that perfectly. The San Diego Padres, Oakland Athletics, and Atlanta Braves completely re-tooled their teams, while the Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, and Chicago White Sox all added pieces to help them contend for World Series championships. You have the obvious changes, like Pablo Sandoval, Rick Porcello, and Hanley Ramirez going to Beantown. Max Scherzer is now hanging out in our nation’s capitol, the White Sox brought in Melky Cabrera, Jeff Samardzija, Adam LaRoche, and David Robertson, Jon Lester is now a Chicago Cub, and then you have everything that the Padres did and more.

Even with that being the case, there were still some interesting, low-key signings and trades this offseason. Ichiro Suzuki takes his pursuit of 3,000 hits to Miami, Nathan Evoladi and Didi Grigorious look to be key members of the New York Yankees for years to come, Texas thinks they have a new ace in Yovani Gallardo, and there are plenty of other interesting moves made this past winter. Seeing how these guys do in their new homes will be fun to watch…unless they get injured, which leads me to…

8. Who else gets hit by the injury bug?

Well, we’ve done the obligatory first two ones on this list, so it’s time to get into some of the stuff you likely haven’t thought about…or, in the case of one on this list, you’ve tried not to think about. So, let’s talk injuries. Chris Sale, I hope your foot gets better. Ronald Belisario, I’m sorry about your swimming related injury. Michael Saunders, your Mickey Mantle imitation could have gone a bit better. Spring Training has been described by Deadspin as having the tradition of players suffering injuries in weird ways, and this spring has been no exception.

Already, a Cy Young candidate, a solid outfielder who was on the verge of a breakout season, and a middle reliever who isn’t bad in the bullpen have all suffered injuries, and fans all over are crossing their fingers to make sure that their star player isn’t next. Predicting player injuries is near impossible, but this is definitely an interesting storyline to watch as the spring goes on, especially if we see more of the crazy, unbelievable injuries. We’ve seen All-Star relievers fall down the steps moving boxes, position players miss time thanks to tattoo injuries, and even the occasional knee injury thanks to the dog.

Regardless of what team you root for, you just might want to pray to the baseball gods that no one on your team sustains a serious injury. Besides, even if you do that, a player or two is still likely to get hurt.

7. How will players, coaches adjust to pace of play?

I’ve always thought of spring training as a time to test things out, whether it be lineup order, certain shifts, or what flavor Gatorade there is in the dugout (blue, please), but this spring will be a time of testing the new pace of play rules. Those commercial breaks you loathe so much will be shorter, managers will be leaving the field for non-pitching change reasons much less, and the games will hopefully go at a faster pace. I’m someone who enjoys the three hour, 3-2 game, but I’m always up for change.

I’ve heard some people express concern about the early adjustment to pace of play, but that’s exactly what spring training is for: adjusting to new things. The preseason is a time to work the kinks out, and because Major League Baseball has promised that people won’t be fined for making mistakes relating to pace of play, I think everything will work itself out. You may have a veteran player like a David Ortiz be somewhat skeptical — or even slightly defiant — of the new rules, but it’s a learning experience for everyone.

6. Will Rob Manfred do anything noteworthy?

The short answer, no. The more in-depth answer is that because he’s done so much already, it may be best for Manfred to just sit back, relax, and watch his first spring training as commissioner. People will expect Manfred to do something, but think back to the NBA preseason this past fall. Did Adam Silver really do anything in the preseason other than conduct an interview or two and do his normal job? Besides, Manfred is entitled to a little bit of sunshine, baseball, and doing his best not to speak about he-who-shall-not-be-named.

 

Pablo Sandoval, after a successful ride with the San Francisco Giants that won him three championships, is now a member of the Boston Red Sox (Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

5. Hello there, international people

For the past decade or so, it feels like more and more teams are coming into spring training with a new player from the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Japan, China, etc; they’re the shiny, brand new toys that they hope will make them the most popular kid in the class…or the winners of the World Series. It all depends on which point of view you look at it from, though I’m choosing to look at the second because, well, this is baseball.

Anyways, let’s welcome Jung-Ho Kang, the Korean shortstop that smashed 40 home runs last year, to Pittsburgh’s camp and give a warm hello there to Cuban imports Yasmany Tomas and Yoan Moncada; Tomas is in Arizona with the Diamondbacks, while Moncada is hanging out with fellow Cuban import Rusney Castillo in Red Sox camp. There are also other minor league prospects who are attending their first spring training camps in America, but these three are the cream of the crop; they’re our Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Abreu of this year, so to speak.

How will they fare in the big leagues? Will they even play in the big leagues this season? Those are questions that will be answered throughout the season, and that’s why you should probably pay attention to this.

4. Will teams learn to beat the shift?

One of the hotter debates this offseason (besides if the dress was blue and black, or if it was gold and white) concerned the defensive shifts, or as I like to call it, the three-one shift. The whole idea of the ‘three-one shift’ is that the second baseman will move to shallow right field and the third baseman or shortstop will be on the right side of the infield; teams use it to combat pull hitters, and it’s worked to perfection, preventing players like Ryan Howard and Brian McCann from getting easy hits to right field in the process.

But, the fact that it’s worked so well is why many people are trying to make it illegal and cause Major League Baseball to rule the shift an illegal defense. Though I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon, I do think more and more teams are going to find ways to beat the shift. Whether it’s bunting to the third base side or finding ways to put the ball in a place that is not covered by the shift, there has to be something these teams can do; in a time of devoting your time to PFP and the cone drills, learning to hit the shift should be up there in the necessary spring training drills.

3. Will Hamels last whole spring with Phillies?

The relationship between Cole Hamels and the Philadelphia Phillies is deteriorating faster than you can say cheese steak, and the former World Series MVP has made it clear that he wants out of the City of Brotherly Love; with the Phillies stuck somewhere between rebuilding and trying to field a team that could’ve won the NL East five years, Hamels wants to pitch for a contender, and it’s hard to blame him. Now, spring training trades are rare (unless you’re a player on the waiver wire), but I’m interested to see if the Phillies might send Hamels packing before the season starts.

Realistically, Cole Hamels is going to start for the Philadelphia Phillies on opening day against the Boston Red Sox in a matchup of teams with rosters that could contend for the World Series four years ago. Logically, it makes sense for the Phillies to trade Hamels soon, but I don’t think it’s going to happen. I still think the earliest we’ll see a Cole Hamels trade is late June to early July, but with this team, you never know. At this point, I can’t say it’d be truly shocking to see Hamels and closer Jonathan Papelbon both dealt for a bag of magic beans, an egg that you cannot cook, and a Jar Jar Binks toy. Who knows, maybe Jar Jar Binks can help the Phillies be contenders once again.

2. The Alex Rodriguez circus

If you clicked on this article and weren’t expecting to see Alex Rodriguez on here, come on. Now to some, this may not be interesting because they just want Rodriguez to play (I’m in that crowd), but you have to admit that the circus that surrounds him and the Yankees — not to mention how he’ll play this spring after not playing since September 2013 — is pretty interesting. I’ve already talked about the Alex Rodriguez drama a lot on SportsMix, so I don’t really have much to say about it that hasn’t been said, but this is the storyline that you want to ignore, and you probably should ignore, but you just can’t ignore.

1. Who is this year’s Yangervis Solarte?

One of 2014’s biggest breakout players, former minor league lifer Yangervis Solarte won a spot with the Yankees out of spring training and parlayed that not only into a starting spot with the Yankees, but also was the main piece that the Padres acquired in last July’s Chase Headley trade. Though Solarte trailed off after a hot first two months that saw him hit .299/6/26 with 11 doubles, he still finished with a .260/10/48 statline and is slotted in as the Padres’ starting third baseman barring a hot spring by Will Middlebrooks; Solarte went from a fringe player on the verge of being cut to a starting third baseman in the pros thanks to a .429/.489/.571 statline in spring training, and it makes you wonder who will be this year’s player that benefits from a strong preseason showing.

Of course, part of this question is not knowing who the breakout player will be; it could be a young prospect, or a little-known guy who, like Solarte, is able to use spring training to avoid yet another year of rotting in the minor leagues. If I had to pick three players who I can see using spring training to break out and secure a spot in their team’s future, it’d be Detroit Tigers outfielder Anthony Gose, New York Mets infielder Gavin Cecchini, and Giants lefty Ty Blach. But, part of the fun is that you don’t know who will break out, so I could be one hundred percent wrong.

What do you think are the most interesting storylines surrounding Spring Training 2015? Make sure to chime in on the conversation by tweeting me at @JakeElman.

Getting The Youth Back Into Baseball

New MLB commissioner Rob Manfred entered office with the challenge of getting the youth back into baseball, but what are the best ways to do that?

MLB: World Series-Kansas City Royals at San Francisco Giants

Written by Jake Elman

The sun has set on the Major League Baseball offseason, and despite snow and cold still plaguing a good majority of the country, the fever for baseball’s return is warming up. 2015 will be the first big league season since 1992 that the league has a new commissioner, and Rob Manfred has made his presence heard already, especially with the recent changes to pace of play.

But, that’s not all that baseball’s new head man wants to fix. In fact, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has made it clear that he wants to get the youth back into America’s Game, but how exactly will he accomplish that? After evaluating what currently works fine and what needs a bit of improvement, not to mention desires that seem to be shared by many baseball fans, I think I’ve come up with some realistic additions that can help baseball improve on its popularity relating to our youth.

Keep in mind, these are based on realism, so as much as I’d like to see Rob Manfred implement certain things (more day games during the playoffs), I understand that some things are less likely to happen than others. So, without waiting any longer, let’s get into some things I think Rob Manfred can do to make the game of baseball a bit more interesting to the youth and casual fans.

1. More individuality/player recognition

I feel like in a time where everything one does is scrutinized under a massive microscope, a lot of players have shut themselves out and prevented (either purposely or indirectly) fans from getting to know them; that, believe it or not, is also hurting the recognition of these players from a fan’s point of view. If you handed someone who isn’t a hardcore baseball fan — or even a casual fan who really only roots for their team — a piece of paper that consisted of 30 player faces, each being arguably their team’s star player, and asked them to name all 30, I don’t know how many would even get half. There are the obvious ones like the C.C. Sabathias, the David Ortizs, the Andrew McCutchens, but what about guys like Buster Posey in San Francisco or Yadier Molina in St. Louis?

Part of that, admittedly, does have to do with the lack of major commercial deals that MLB players have with companies; there are local commercials, yes, but how many players can you name that are in national commercials that aren’t for sports? The young faces of the game have a major endorsement or two — Mike Trout has Subway, while Bryce Harper is with Under Armour — but what about Miguel Cabrera or Clayton Kershaw? Wouldn’t you think that a player like Adam Jones or Jon Lester, two stars in their own right, would have some kind of big time deal?

Now, I can’t pin all of that on MLB, but I’d like to see them try to ‘brand their company’ a bit more through their players. This is the era of social media, and innovations like the #FaceOfMLB definitely help, but I don’t know if it’s enough. I get that not every baseball fan is a hardcore one, but there has to be a way to help brand players in a way that can make them more, for lack of a better term, more recognizable. If Major League Baseball can figure this out, then I think it would do wonders in getting young fans back into baseball, because it then means that they know more and more players besides the ones on their team.

2. Less primetime focus on the big-name teams

Now, this one may sound the most unrealistic because it does away with so much focus on teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers, etc; and for a company that is coming off a year in which they had a revenue of nine billion dollars, that means less money, but hear me out. As it stands right now, the first five Sunday Night Baseball games this year feature either the St. Louis Cardinals, the Boston Red Sox, or the New York Yankees, and two of those first five games actually are Yankees-Red Sox. Last season, the first eight Sunday Night Baseball games featured either the Yankees, Cardinals, Red Sox, or Los Angeles Dodgers, and it wasn’t until June 15th’s Angels-Braves game that we saw a game without one of the big four. Doesn’t that sound a little crazy?

Now, I get why those are the games that ESPN picks: they stand out the most, and those are the games that are going to draw the most fans in the ballpark or watching at home on ESPN, listening on ESPN radio, etc. The truth is, I’m going to be watching these games because I’m a fan of the game, but there are plenty of baseball fans who will see that it’s yet another big-market game and be turned off from it. This is also factoring that the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball telecast and its 8:00 ET prompt starting time (barring delays due to weather or ceremonies) are what works best for the casual fan; a Saturday game at 7:00 on Fox or MLB Network might not be the game that a college student who is out is going to be watching.

In recent years, MLB Network has occasionally traveled to a Cleveland or an Atlanta to broadcast the game, and I’d be all for ESPN doing something along those lines too. Over the past few seasons, The Worldwide Leader in Sports has been much more diverse with their primetime games on Wednesdays and Fridays, and instead of just seeing Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, etc, we’re seeing a lot more of Washington, New Orleans, Atlanta, Toronto, Memphis, and other teams that don’t play in the major markets. I know that the Yankees-Red Sox and Dodgers-Giants games are what will bring in the ratings, but fans get tired of those games rather quickly; if ESPN were to start doing more Sunday Night Games — or even Monday games — from the non-big market places like Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Detroit, and Seattle, I think the fans would really like that and it’d show in the ratings. There’s only so many games between the same teams that people can watch, after all.

3. Make the All-Star Break longer and with more events

I actually talked about this in an August article on SportsMix that was titled Rob Manfred’s Agenda, and the ideas I suggested then remain the same here. The Home Run Derby is fun, and I don’t mind watching the Celebrity Game, but there needs to be more. These players are so talented, and I feel like only having a contest that specializes in home runs — as sexy as they may be — does the rest of the league disservice. It’d be like if the NBA only had a three point contest; what about the guys who can’t really shoot a three, but have amazing dunking skills?

If there were two events in mind that I’d like to see, the first would be a skills challenge similar to how the NBA does the Skills Challenge that mixes hitting, speed, and arm strength. The other wouldn’t necessarily be an event, but I’d like to see Major League Baseball have some more players from the past involved in some way shape or form. How would that happen? I don’t know, but it would be a good idea because it allows younger fans — or not-as-hardcore-fans — to learn about the game’s past.

As for making the All-Star Break longer, this may not be too much of an issue just yet. The league has extended the break by an additional day, and that may be more than enough.

3B. Fix the All-Star Game itself

Now, believe it or not, I don’t mind the current format of the MLB All-Star Game. Since the players have something to play for (home field advantage in the World Series), they play hard and the games, more often than not, are entertaining and turn out to be good watches. However, if the past four years have been anything to go off of on social media, I seem to be in the minority, and I know that there are a lot of young baseball fans who really don’t like the idea of the All-Star Game meaning so much.

If I was going to fix the All-Star Game, I’d consider doing away with the American League team vs. the National League team, ergo the home-field advantage in the World Series. We are eventually going to get to a point where a team with 85 or 86 wins, who makes a miracle run to the World Series a la the 2006 Cardinals, ends up with home-field advantage and comes away victorious against a team with, say, 103 victories. That may sound interesting to some people, but for the casual fan, what happened in an exhibition three to four months prior should mean nothing as to who has home field in the World Series.

Honestly, with how diverse Major League Baseball is, I’d love to see an All-Star Game consisting of a U.S. team vs. the World team, similar to how the NBA did it with their Rising Stars Game. There are so many international stars, and I think a lineup that featured Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Robinson Cano, Edwin Encarnacion, Nelson Cruz, Yadier Molina, and a pitching rotation that included Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka, and Jose Fernandez would be pretty fun to see. Not only would this help on the national aspect (meaning more $$$), but I think fans would definitely be interested in seeing the uniqueness of a World vs. US game. Would it lose its luster after a few years? Maybe, but it’s still an idea I’d want to see MLB implement.

Sure, there are countless other ways that the game of baseball can be improved, but these are the ones that stand out most to me in terms of a realistic fix. If you’d like to see other fixes I came up with last summer, check out the linked post earlier in the article. That has some on there that Manfred has already done, like pace of game, but there are also others that might seem a bit unrealistic.

How would you fix the game of baseball to appeal to the youth? Make sure to comment with your suggestions, or you can chime in on the conversation on social media by tweeting me at @JakeElman.