Results tagged ‘ 2014 ’

2015 Spring Training Autograph Requests

Spring Training has officially begun for the majority of teams around baseball. Over this past week, pitchers and catchers have made their way to either Florida or Arizona to start their training for the long 162-game 2015 season. Meaning, there are a mere ten days until Spring Training exhibition games get under way and just 43 days before Opening Night between the Cardinals and the Cubs on April 5th.Spring 2015

But I’m not quite ready to jump ahead to the start of the regular season just yet, as I still have a lot I want to talk about in the coming weeks on this blog. Therefore, for the time being, I’d like to take a minute to discuss something I love to do this time of year (besides watch Spring Training games on TV.)

Every Spring Training, for the past three or four years, I’ve sent out a handful of through the mail (TTM) autograph requests to different players around the league. This year, I’m going to be sending out several TTM’s, with the best player I’m sending to being the Astros’ 2013 number one pick, Mark Appel.

Other top prospects that I’m planning to send to throughout the spring include Sam Tuivailala (an under the radar, underrated flamethrower in the Cardinals’ farm system), Jacob Gatewood (41st overall pick in the 2014, known for his extreme power), Rob Kaminsky (a highly praised pitching prospect with St. Louis), and D.J. Peterson (a breakout slugger in the Mariners’ system who hit 31 homers in 2014).

As far as major leaguers are concerned, I’m sending to just a few of those this year. I got tired over the past few years of taking the time to put together an autograph request and wasting stamps to not receive anything back in return. So this time around, I’m only sending to big league players that I feel confident will return the cards signed, either because they have a good record of signing TTM or because they told me they would on Twitter.

Players who fall into that category include Patrick Corbin, Scooter Gennett, Joe Kelly and Dustin Ackley. They won’t wind up being the only MLB players I send to before Spring Training is over, but right now that’s all I’m sending out. Seattle Mariners v Kansas City RoyalsI’ll keep an eye on who’s signing very well over the coming weeks and if they’re a good enough player, I’ll likely send something out to them like I did with James Paxton last year and Mark McGwire a few years back. (Both were returned signed, just as had been advertised those springs.)

Last year I sent off fourteen total autograph requests to Spring Training and received back six of them, from Eddie Butler, Clayton Kershaw, Albert Almora, Kyle Zimmer, James Paxton and David Robertson. That’s pretty good as far as TTM’s go, but not getting back the other eight really made me think about who I sent to in 2015. So I’m sending off just nine to start off, with there being a good possibility I’ll add a few more to the list of autograph requests before Spring Training ends.

No matter what I decide to do, and no matter how many I successfully receive back signed, I’m planning to post a blog entry every time I receive back 2-3 autographs from the players I’m sending to, just as I did last year. Hopefully it won’t be all that terribly long before I start getting them back (maybe a few weeks?). So be sure to check back over the course of the next couple months to see how well I do this Spring Training.

Multiple 100-Game Winners In 2015?

When you think of a magic number for a pitcher in a season the first number that will likely will pop into your head is twenty wins. For a hitter, when you think of a solid season, it likely involves around a .300 average, 20-30 home runs and/or around 100 RBI’s. And when you think of a so called magic number for a team as a whole, the number 100 probably stands as the number that everyone pictures each team shooting for but very few teams hitting.

While a twenty win pitcher occurs seemingly every year, and a player (or several) always reaches the aforementioned magic numbers for a hitter, it is becoming more and more rare for a team to pick up 100 wins in a season. In fact, there hasn’t been a single 100-game winner in all of baseball since the 2011 Phillies. Taking things even deeper, two or more teams haven’t reached the 100-win mark in a single season since 2004, after a streak of multiple 100-game winner from 1998 through 2004 (with the exception of 2000).

It would appear, however, that both droughts could be broken in 2015.

With that in mind, I decided to take a look at the division winners from 2014 — the teams with the best shot at making a strong run in 2015 — and attempt to project how many, if any, of the teams could potentially obtain 100 wins in 2015:

2014 American League Division Winners

East – Orioles (96-66): The Baltimore Orioles completely blew away all of the competition in the American League EastOrioles last season, winning by a total of twelve games over the second place Yankees. But while they were a terrific ball club last season, things are likely going to take a bit of a downfall in the coming season.

The biggest reason for the fall being that they O’s lost a good chunk of their offense via trades and free agency throughout the past few months. No longer possessing slugger Nelson Cruz, veteran outfielder Nick Markakis or reliever Andrew Miller, things are sort of up in the air for how the Orioles will perform in 2015.

Therefore, even if they surprise some people, I don’t think they’ll be able to pull off the stunning feat of winning 100+ games.

Central – Tigers (90-72): For the Detroit Tigers, they are a particularly intruiging team. For the past couple of years, there’s no reason they shouldn’t have been able to pull off a 100-win season, playing in somewhat of a weaker division, however, the Tigers have disappointed to a degree.

Having a great lineup and pitching staff, the Tigers have recently been in the preseason World Series predictions by a number of people throughout the baseball world. But things just haven’t panned out.

Having lost Max Scherzer — their undeniable ace of the pitching staff — to the Nationals, and with certain players not performing up to their potential, I’d say it’s going to be tough for the Tigers to even hold off the Royals from taking the division crown. A 100-win season was doable over the past few seasons, but the opportunity for them has come and gone.

West – Angels (98-64): The Angels fall into a category much like the Tigers. The slightly more successful version of Detroit, many people saw the Angels winning it all in 2012 after the acquisition of Albert Pujols, but injuries and underperformance in general have caused the Angels to come up short.

AngelsBut falling just two wins shy of the coveted 100-win plateau in 2014, things look promising that the Angels could become the first team in four years to hit triple digits.

Their lineup is there — with the exception of Josh Hamilton, who is a huge question mark — and their pitching is good as well.

The only thing standing in their way are the other teams in the West. The Athletics — despite an offseason deconstruction — always seem to be in the mix, and the Mariners are very good as well. It will be exciting to see what happens.

2014 National League Division Winners

East – Nationals (96-66): Without question, the number one team to watch throughout the 2015 season is the Washington Nationals. After Natsputting together a 96-win season last year — winning the National League East division by a major league best 17 games over the Braves — the Nationals could likely make a run at 100 wins if they put out the exact same roster from 2014. But their roster is better than last season — much better.

Picking up Max Scherzer who has gone 39-8 with a 3.02 ERA over the past two seasons, their pitching staff is the top one or two in all of baseball. If Scherzer can continue to pitch as he has over the recent history of his career, and if supposed phenoms Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg can finally put up super star caliber numbers, the sky is truly the limit for what appears to be an extremely dominant Nationals team.

Central – Cardinals (90-72): I am a strong believer that the National League Central Cubs will make a run at the postseason as soon as 2015, but they by no means will win 100 games. The Cardinals, though, stand a chance, however slight it may be. Given, it would have to be a ten win jump from their record in 2014, the Cardinals are one of those teams that could surprise some people.

With a decent rotation that includes the always reliable Adam Wainwright, and a lineup that possesses All-Star catcher Yadier Molina, who can make any pitcher look like a former Cy Young winner, the Red Birds will win a lot of games moving forward. The division isn’t extremely strong, and their track record has proven that the Cardinals can go on a run with the best of them. Still, it won’t likely add up to a 100-win year for them.

West – Dodgers (94-68): A pitching rotation that includes Clayton Kershaw is always sure to be a terrific one. But Dodgersthe Dodgers’ staff doesn’t begin and end with Kershaw. He’s their best pitcher, no doubt, but the addition of Brandon McCarthy to go along with Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu will go a long way in a 2015 quest for 100+ wins.

But the Dodgers will be without on and off superstar Matt Kemp in the outfield — the hope is that Joc Pederson will fill the role there — and the loss of Dee Gordon and Dan Haren will certainly have an impact. The lack of those players could be enough to keep them from winning the division like they were able to do in 2014.

Nonetheless, despite all of the losses, the pickup of veteran infielder Jimmy Rollins in addition to promising backstop Yasmani Grandal should lead to a decent enough lineup. If I had to guess, though, the Giants will be riding them too closely for the Dodgers to break 100 wins.

In conclusion, while every season is unpredictable, this year could see a 100-game winner (or two) for the first time in four seasons. But even if that doesn’t happen, there are teams such as the Cubs, White Sox and Padres who will make legitimate playoff runs after failing to do so in quite some time. That alone is enough to cause any baseball fan to continue counting down the days until Opening Day.

Oakland Athletics Continue Their Offseason Overhaul

It may be a brand new year, but it’s proving to be the same old Athletics.

A team known in recent history for their offseason trades and signings that leave them with a completely different looking ball club from one year to the next, the A’s have once again used the offseason to this point to make a EscobarZobristlot of moves (some good, some bad) to change up the overall structure of their team.

The most recent case coming on Saturday with the trading away of John Jaso and a couple of top prospects, in Daniel Robertson and Boog Powell, to the Rays in exchange for Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar, who will both help what has the potential to be a good A’s team in 2015.

Despite losing John Jaso, who was a solid player for the Athletics in 2014, as well as Robertson and Powell, the A’s got back a fairly good package in return.

After an extended period of trade rumors surrounding Ben Zobrist, a transaction for him finally occurred, sending Zobrist off to the A’s. Two years removed from back-to-back 20 homer seasons, Zobrist hit a mere 10 bombs in 2014, but is still more than capable of impacting any team he’s on, as he has over the course of his All-Star career with the Rays.

Other moves the A’s have made so far to go along with the Zobrist and Escobar trade that could turn out to have major impacts began with the pickup of Billy Butler on a three-year, thirty million dollar contract. The Athletics then proceeded to swap their All-Star third baseman, Josh Donaldson, for fellow hot corner defender, Brett Lawrie, from the Brett LawrieBlue Jays.

While the Butler deal was applauded by many, the Donaldson move was one that left many people scratching their heads. However, they weren’t done there.

Following the initial offseason additions of Butler and Lawrie, the Athletics kicked off the 2014 Winter Meetings, trading slugger Brandon Moss to the Indians, and almost immediately after departed ways with Jeff Samardzija for a few potential valuable but unproven players from the White Sox.

Even though there are some things the Athletics have done that I don’t agree with, for the most part I like where the A’s are headed.

Losing Yoenis Cespedes to the Red Sox via a trade for Jon Lester, and knowing they wouldn’t likely retain Lester upon the end of the season, the moves the A’s are making should help them in their attempt to make up for those losses.

Even after losing Lester, the Athletics’ rotation will still be decent, with Sonny Gray leading the way, along with Jarrod Parker who is set to return to health, and their lineup always seems to find a way to produce runs. Having finished with a win-loss record above .500 for each of the past three seasons, things are seemingly lining up to make it four.

Blogging Resolutions for 2015

Happy New Year, everyone!

As I’ve done for the past few years, I wanted to take the time to go over the main things I’m hoping to accomplish, blogging wise, throughout the coming year. Some of them are the same as my 2014 goals, but a few of them have been altered a bit.

The five main resolutions/goals I have for this blog in 2015 are as follows:

1. Blog at least once every 5 days:

Last year my goal was to blog at least once every four days. I was able to accomplish that goal, but not without a great deal of work. There were a few times that there was simply nothing to write about, and I had to basically make things up as I went along due to it being the fourth day and not wanting to break my goal. It was very stressful at times. And therefore, while I’m not saying I won’t be able to get a post up every four days or less in 2015, I’m adding one more day to my maximum gap in entries to give myself a little slack — just in case.

2. Post 100+ blog entries:

Because I’m adding a day to my goal of number of days between entries, naturally the number of blog posts I publish this year will decrease. In 2014, while blogging at a breakneck pace at times, I was able to put together 128 blog posts — the most in a single year in the history of this blog. I’m going to be a lot busier this year for several reasons, and thus I had to keep close to my 2014 goal of blogging 100 times. My only other option was to give up blogging altogether. But I didn’t want to do that; at least not yet.

3. Get more views than 2014:

Every year of this blogs existence, I’ve recorded more views in each year following the previous one. With that said, I’d love to keep that going in 2015. While I’ll be blogging a little less than I did in 2014, I really hope to get more views than I did last year. Even one more total blog visit would make me happy. Having accumulated just over 80,000 views in 2014 — around 3,000 more than 2014 — I would really be astounded if I could get to a nice round number of 100,000 blog views for 2015. But if I could get to even 81,000 visits between now and December 31st, I would consider this blogging year a success.

4. Go on a 3-post-blogging-streak:

In 2014, this goal was a five-post-blogging-streak. But just like some of the previous goals, I’m changing this one a bit to go a little more conservative for 2015. Last year I was able to get up five blog posts on five consecutive days, but it was difficult. It started with my post on the MLB award frontrunners at the All-Star break, on July 14, and continued through the entry I posted on the second half of the MLB season setting up to be exciting, on July 18th. Even though I did that five post run, I’m only shooting for three this year. Easier, but still not extremely easy.

5. Reply to every comment that is left:

This is one of the two goals from 2014 that stayed exactly the same. The reason for that is it’s very easy to accomplish, as it takes less than a minute (usually) to answer a comment. I don’t get too many comments left on my blog, but when I do I want to always make sure I reply to them. Whether the comment is a question, about something I’m up to or the post itself, or a general comment or statement, I feel the obligation to reply back. Without the readers this blog wouldn’t be what it is. Replying is my way of saying that the reader is appreciated.

So, there you have it. My top five blogging resolutions/goals for 2015.

As I stated last year — a recurring theme in this blog post — I hope to make this my best year of blogging yet. If I can accomplish what I want to (and plan to), I feel it truly will be. That’s always the overall goal, to get better and better. I think 2015 is going to be an exciting year.

Last Blog Post Until 2015

Back on January 1st of this year, when I posted my blogging New Year’s Resolutions/Goals, I stated that I was going to attempt to blog at least once every four days in 2014. I tried doing so in 2013, and with the exception of the month long vacation I took, I was able to accomplish that goal. But this year, I took it a step further, and successfully blogged at least once every four days, achieving that goal along with every other blogging goal I set.Christmas

After such a successful year of blogging, this will be my final post until 2015 rolls around. It’s Christmas time, and therefore I don’t want to spend it working multiple hours on putting any blog posts together. I’ll save that for January. Meaning, if any major baseball news stories break, no matter how big they are, I won’t be writing about it. At least not until 2015.

My first post of the new year will be my blogging resolutions/goals for 2015, followed by my Hall of Fame ballot a few days after. Then I’ll take the time to recap the elected members after they’re announced, and write a four year blog anniversary post on the 20th. Along the way I’ll hopefully post an interview or two, in addition to providing my thoughts from time to time on the latest baseball news. After that, heading into February, things are up in the air.

Lastly, I just wanted to take the time to thank everyone who’s read my blog throughout the past year, and throughout its nearly four year existence. Whether you’re a regular or just check in from time to time, if it weren’t for you all I’d have no reason to blog. So thank you. I’m going to do my best to make 2015 the best year yet — even better than 2014, if that’s possible — and hopefully you will all continue to come back every so often to read what I have to say.

Merry Christmas, and best wishes for a Happy New Year.

I’ll be back in 2015.

Padres Going All In for Next Season

When the dust settles a couple months from now, and spring training begins to kick off, the Padres could turn out to be the winners of the entire offseason. While the Red Sox are arguably the most improved team, with their pickups of both offensive presence and starting pitching, it’s the Padres that have done the most to improve their club in a very short amount of time.

Finishing with a record under .500 for the fourth straight season in 2014, not a lot of people likely had the Padres doing much of anything impactful this offseason that would give them any chance against the division dominant Dodgers and Giants moving forward. However, the Padres are seemingly putting together a competitive ball club, and are losing very little in the process, all thanks to their new general manager, A.J. Preller, who was given the daunting task of turning around one of the worst offenses from the previous year.Kemp-Myers

News of the Padres’ team revamp first arose during the Winter Meetings, when a trade for Matt Kemp was first reported. Although it took them over a week to finalize the deal due to a concerning physical of Kemp that showed arthritis in his hips, the Padres landed their man, getting Matt Kemp (along with 32 million dollars) and Tim Federowicz from the Dodgers, in exchange for Yasmani Grandal, Joe Wieland and Zach Eflin.

Following that initial announcement of the Kemp deal, the Padres proceeded to further improve their outfield for next season, acquiring Wil Myers as part of a three team, 11-player deal with the Rays and Nationals.

In the large swap, the Padres received Myers, Ryan Hanigan, Jose Castillo and Gerardo Reyes from the Rays, and sent Rene Rivera, Joe Ross, Burch Smith, Trea Turner, and Jake Bauers back to Tampa. The Rays then flipped Turner and Ross to the Nationals for Steven Souza and Travis Ott. (Follow all that?) In short, the Padres acquired promising young outfielder Wil Myers without giving up too much in return — just as they did with the Matt Kemp trade.

But the little loss, big return trade pattern didn’t stop there for the Padres. Shortly after announcing the Wil Myers acquisition, the Padres made yet another trade, once again for an impactful outfielder, bringing over Justin Upton and Upton1a low level prospect to be named later from the Braves. In return for Upton, San Diego didn’t have to part with too much, sending away just Max Fried, Jace Peterson, Dustin Peterson and Mallex Smith. Although three of those four players were in the Padres top twenty prospects list, the Padres were still able to maintain their top two prospects in Austin Hedges and Matt Wisler, which is truly remarkable when you think about it.

Not all of the moves the Padres have made have been large, though. Some of the smaller changes the Padres have completed that could turn out to have major impacts have also taken place over the past day or so.

As replacement for the slot lost when they traded away Yasmani Grandal, the Padres traded Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez to acquire former All-Star catcher, Derek Norris, along with Seth Streich and an international signing slot from the Athletics. In addition, the Padres made a smart small move on Friday, flipping Ryan Hanigan, who they just acquired in the Wil Myers trade, to the Red Sox in return for Will Middlebrooks, who will now man the hot corner in 2015.

All of these moves for a brand new outfield, as well as an improved infield, will go a long way in improving the Padres next season. Their lineup is undeniably better, and one that will be a force to reckon with for sure. But what about their pitching? As has been proven time and time again, you don’t win games with just hitting, you have to have pitching as well. But surprisingly, despite the Padres’ dismal win-loss record from 2014, they did in fact have a good, under the radar pitching staff made up of solid players.

Due to the bad offensive production, which saw the Padres finish the season last in batting average, last in RBI’s and 28th in home runs, it was overlooked that the Padres had the fourth best team ERA in all of baseball on the season, coming out to a mere 3.27. With their big name pitchers from 2014 — Tyson Ross (2.81 ERA), Andrew Cashner (2.55 ERA), and Ian Kennedy (3.63 ERA) — still on the roster, to go along with newly acquired Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson, who is reportedly close to returning, the Padres truly have a solid team for 2015.

But they still aren’t likely done.Winnings

After obtaining Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton via trades, San Diego now has a surplus of outfielders — Seth Smith, Will Venable, Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin — whose spots have been filled. That assuredly means that at least one of them will be on the move, and that could end up bringing the Padres yet another piece of the puzzle.

But while the Padres are no doubt headed in the right direction and will show drastic improvement as soon as next season, I don’t think it will be enough to win the National League West division. The Dodgers and Giants are still too good, and will likely make moves of their own to get a little better before April. After finishing 17 games back of the division winning Dodgers last season, that’s too far of a jump for the Padres to make in a single season, in my mind.

However, despite that, I applaud the San Diego Padres. Following a season in which they were at the bottom of the pack in nearly every offensive category, the Padres look to have solved that in a matter of a couple weeks. If the new additions of Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, etc., can play to their full potential, and if the down seasons by former standouts Jedd Gyorko and Yonder Alonso can be turned around, things look to be bright for the Friars.

Even if they don’t make a run at the division title, the Padres are in line to compete for at least the second Wild Card spot in 2015. Having not made the postseason since 2006, fans in San Diego have been waiting for quite awhile to see a team with this talent level be presented on the field, long wishing that some major changes would be made.

It would appear Padres fans have finally received their wish.

Yankees Setting Up for Contention In 2015?

As everyone is aware, the New York Yankees failed to make the playoffs in Derek Jeter’s farewell 2014 season, which was very disappointing to a great number of people. One of the few times in their storied franchise history that the Yankees went consecutive seasons without making the playoffs, things are currently in somewhat of a lull for the Bronx Bombers.

Now that Jeter is officially retired, and with the loss of their 2014 closer, David Robertson, to the White Sox via free agency, many are beginning to wonder just how much of a competitive team the Yankees will be in 2015. After finishing twelve games back of first in the American League East last season, they have a lot of ground to make up, but a division title Tanakaisn’t seemingly as far out of reach as it would appear.

Some of the Yankees offseason pickups last year failed to produce in 2014, due to either injury or a down statistical season. From Masahiro Tanaka to Jacoby Ellsbury to Carlos Beltran to Brian McCann — if those players can get back to their normal selves next season, combined with the already good bullpen of Dellin Betances and recently signed Andrew Miller, things should be better in 2015 for the Yankees.

But that’s without any changes whatsoever.

The Yankees, however, have in fact made a few tweaks to their roster that could have a big impact on their season success throughout the 162 game stretch.

Beginning with a trade that saw promising young shortstop Didi Gregorius coming to New York to take over the vacant spot left by Jeter, the Yankees would appear to have a long term “replacement” for the long time Captain.

Though Gregorius won’t be able fill the enormous legacy of Derek Jeter — no one could ever do that — he will give them a little added thump in their lineup and defense at the position. Another such player being Chase Headley, who the Yankees signed to a 4-year, 52 million dollar contract on Monday.

There’s a slight issue in the signing that everyone is pointing out, however: Headley plays third base. With the Yankees still owing third baseman Alex Rodriguez — who was out all last season due to a PED suspension — over 20 million a season for the next few years, it would be hard to envision them filling A-Rod’s place at the hot corner with a bargain priced third baseman. But it appears that the Yankees are doing just that.

Although the Yankees could move Headley around from time to time as the season progresses, it lines up that A-Rod is headed for merely a designated hitter role in 2015. After hitting 31 home runs to go along with 115 RBI’s back in 2012, chase-headleyHeadley hasn’t been that MPV-type of player since, but really impressed the Yankees after coming over from the Padres last season, hitting .262 in the 58 games with them to finish out the year.

If Headley can be solid at third base, and if Rodriguez can provide any sort of offensive production at the plate, the Yankees should be in good shape next year. But, where exactly would they fall if the season began tomorrow?

For me, I see them being like they were last season — a team that could potentially win a lot of games, but has to have a lot of things go right for them to post those type of collective numbers they’re capable of.

As stated earlier, if the Yankees can get full, healthy seasons out of Masahiro Tanaka, Brian McCann, etc., their overall production will increase naturally.

Another team in the division that should see their production increase due to several key moves is the Blue Jays. Signing veteran catcher Russell Martin, and trading for All-Star third baseman Josh Donaldson, the Blue Jays could be a very competitive team in 2015. Though I feel they still need another year or two to put everything together, you never know for sure how a team will fare.

Even so, I feel the Red Sox are the team that has done more than enough to put themselves in line to win the American League East division. Signing Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez a few weeks ago, and adding much needed starting pitching in Justin Masterson, Rick Porcello and Wade Miley, Boston has put together a very solid team after their disastrous 2014 season.

Just the opposite, the Orioles have seen their team taken apart. Losing breakout slugger Nelson Cruz, veteran outfielder Nick Markakis, and dominant reliever Andrew Miller (to the Yankees), Baltimore certainly has some work to do before the start of the season in April. (The Rays also fall into that category, in my opinion.)

So, with such a packed division, seeing that every one of the teams in the east could potentially make big runs towards the division title, it should be fun to see how things play out. If I had to predict things right now, though, I feel confident in saying that the Yankees are setting themselves up to break their postseason drought in the coming year.

Recap of the 2014 Baseball Winter Meetings

For the most part, I like to write about big time trades and/or signings within a day of when they occur. I feel that waiting too long to give my thoughts on a particular transaction causes it to become old news and therefore not really relevant to the everyday fast developing topics around baseball.Meetings

However, for the 113th annual baseball Winter Meetings that took place this past week in San Diego, things were happening so fast and at such a high volume that I would’ve been blogging multiple times a day to keep on top of the action. I didn’t have time to do that, nor did I want to do that. And thus, I decided to post this recap upon the conclusion of the Winter Meetings. (Keep in mind, not every single signing or trade is included in this post; just the major ones, in my mind.)

Ending on Thursday, this years meetings saw an unprecedented amount of teams signing or trading players. Practically every ten minutes news broke of a new deal or trade that was sure to shake things up in 2015 and beyond. Seeing more trades go down over the past week than the last three Winter Meetings combined, a lot of exciting things look to be in store for the 2015 season.

The Winter Meetings were kicked off with a trade of Brandon Moss by the Athletics on the very first day. Getting sent to the Indians in return for minor leaguer Joe Wendle, Moss will certainly add a bit of pop to Cleveland’s lineup, having hit 25 or more home runs each of the last two seasons.

But the A’s weren’t done parting with players. Following the departure of Moss, Oakland traded away pitching prospect Michael Ynoa to the White Sox along with breakout pitcher Jeff Samardzija, whom the A’s gave up a few of their extremely promising prospects for in a trade back in July. In return for Samardzija, the White Sox simply had to toss a few prospects to the Athletics, in SamardzijaRobertsonMarcus Semien, Chris Bassitt, Josh Phegley and Rangel Ravelo.

In my opinion, and the opinion of many others, the Athletics didn’t get back quite enough in that deal. All of this coming after the trade of Josh Donaldson to the Blue Jays, many are really questioning the A’s logic.

No one, however, is questioning the White Sox. After acquiring Samardzija, a lot of people began to talk about the White Sox’ playoff chances in 2015 with their improved pitching staff. But those talks only increased when the Sox announced a four-year, 46 million dollar signing of David Robertson. After the past few seasons Robertson has been able to put together, saving 39 games last year for the Yankees, he was near the top of available free agent relievers. The White Sox adding Robertson to their roster gives their fans hope for a promising upcoming year.

The White Sox aren’t the only Chicago based team that’s setting themselves up for a nice 2015 season, however. Across town, the Cubs are also in line to be much improved. Following the addition of veteran catcher Miguel Montero to their lineup in a trade that sent two minor leaguers, Jeferson Mejia and Zack Godley, to the Diamondbacks, the Cubs Lesterobtained one of the biggest free agents heading into the Winter Meetings.

While it took awhile for him to decide on the Cubs, Jon Lester made the choice to head to Chicago for the next six years, signing a contract worth 155 million dollars. Combined with a new manager in Joe Maddon, and a talented young roster of players, it should be fun to watch the Cubs moving forward.

But although there were large deals such as the one Jon Lester signed with the Cubs that went down over the course of the Winter Meetings, there were also multiple smaller deals that could end up having large impacts on the given team(s) involved.

Francisco Liriano resigned with the Pirates on a deal worth 39 million over the next three years; and the Twins picked up Ervin Santana for the next four years, set to pay him a total of 55 million over that span. But the smaller signings I like the most are the ones the Astros made by adding Pat Neshek and Luke Gregerson to their struggling bullpen, which had the worst ERA (4.80) in all of baseball in 2014. After not getting David Robertson or Andrew Miller, the Astros had to settle with these two relievers, but Neshek and Gregerson will go a long way in helping a bullpen that had 26 blown saves in 2014. Even so, the Astros aren’t likely to make the playoffs just yet.

Just the opposite, the Dodgers have been a playoff team for the past two years and seemingly would be so again in 2015 regardless of if they did anything to change their roster. But that didn’t at all stop them from making moves — big moves.

After making an impactful 4-year, 48 million dollar signing of free agent starting pitcher Bandon McCarthy, who was terrific in the second half of 2014 with the Yankees after an up and down career, the Dodgers proceeded to reshape a good portion of their team.

KempComing after weeks of rumors that the Padres were interested in Matt Kemp, the Dodgers complied with the Friars, sending Kemp and Tim Federowicz to San Diego for Yasmani Grandal, Joe Wieland and Zach Eflin.

The fact that this trade went through came as a shock to many, as Kemp is a superstar when healthy, and the Dodgers didn’t get much in return, but it needed to be done with the overcrowded Dodgers outfield.

Although the Dodgers were quoted as saying that their All-Star second baseman, Dee Gordon, was not being considered for a possible trade, the baseball world did in fact see Gordon, along with Dan Haren and Miguel Rojas, leaving the Dodgers. Unlike the Kemp trade, Gordon and company getting shipped off to the Marlins in a trade for Andrew Heaney, Chris Hatcher, Austin Barnes and Enrique Hernandez made sense, as this swap seemingly would help both sides.

Part of the trade, though, wouldn’t last even an hour. A brief time after obtaining promising pitching prospect Andrew Heaney, the Dodgers flipped him to the Angels in exchange for Howie Kendrick. In addition, the Dodgers also flipped Zach Eflin, whom they received for Matt Kemp, and another prospect to the Phillies, in a swap for Philadelphia’s franchise hits leader, Jimmy Rollins.

Doing so subsequently fills the holes left by the loss of Hanley Ramirez and Dee Gordon, and now gives the Dodgers a double play combo of Rollins and Kendrick. That’s certainly not bad at all, especially with Kendrick basically coming over for free with the trade of the newly acquired former Marlin Heaney.

But the Andrew Heaney deal with Los Angeles didn’t quiet the Marlins. After locking up Giancarlo Stanton to a 13-year, 325 million dollar deal last month, the Marlins made a promise that they would surround Stanton with talent capable of winning a lot of ballgames, and so far they’re keeping good on it.

Following the addition of Dee Gordon, Dan Haren and Miguel Rojas, Miami later made a trade for another key piece to place in their starting rotation — Reds’ solid pitcher, Mat Latos. Getting Latos for the price of Anthony DeSclafani and Chad Wallach, the Marlins could very well be setting themselves up to be a playoff contender as soon as 2015.

That’s what the Red Sox are attempting to do. Going from last to best to last over the past number of years, logic would tell you that the pattern indicates that 2015 would be another up year. Unfortunately, things don’t always follow CespedesPorcellopatterns. And thus, things have to be done to actually improve the Red Sox’ team and not leave them merely hoping for a miracle season.

The main need for Boston heading into the Winter Meetings was pitching. Signing Justin Masterson to a 9.5 million dollar contract for 2015; trading away Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and another prospect for Wade Miley; and acquiring Rick Porcello from the Tigers by trading off Yoenis Cespedes, Alex Wilson and Gabe Speier; the Red Sox quickly added three solid pitchers to their poor rotation in a matter of days. Those three should drastically help them next season, as they already own a great lineup following the signings of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.

So there you have it — a recap of the majority of the deals and trades that took place at the 2014 baseball Winter Meetings, and the possible impacts each move will have for each given team. As many have pointed out numerous times, this was one of the most active Winter Meetings in their long history. But nonetheless, there are still a number of valuable free agents that remain on the market.

From James Shield and Max Scherzer to Melky Cabrera and Chase Headley, there are multiple impact players that are available to any team that does what it takes to get them. With every free agent having to find a home somewhere, the exact ball club they wind up with could have a big effect on the outcome for teams in 2015.

Q and A With Billy McKinney

Billy McKinney was drafted by the Athletics in the 1st round of the 2013 draft, after batting .372 with 4 home runs and 17 RBI’s during his senior year of high school.Billy McKinney

Since the draft, McKinney has posted solid numbers between three different levels of professional baseball, hitting a combined .283, and truly showing why he was so highly thought of by the A’s in the 2013 draft.

However, despite seemingly being a big part of the Athletics’ future, McKinney was traded to the Cubs’ organization in July as part of the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija (now with the White Sox) to the Athletics.

But the trade turned out to be great for McKinney, who was batting just .241 through 75 games worth of at-bats before the swap.

Following the team change, McKinney hit .301 to finish out the season, bringing his combined average for 2014 up to .264 to go along with 11 home runs and 69 RBI’s. A great turnaround after the slow start McKinney had to begin 2014.

If McKinney can continue to develop into the player he’s expected to become, it won’t be long before he’s a part of the Cubs’ future at the major league level.

Billy McKinney — top prospect in the Cubs’ organization — took the time recently to answer some of my questions:

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

I started playing tee ball when I was 3 years old. My parents [were my biggest influences], as both of them helped me in different ways. My mother helped me keep a positive attitude regardless of the situation, and my father helped with my development.

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

Josh Hamilton, [for] two reasons. One: I admired his swing and power. Secondly: I respected him for the challenges he overcame to become an MLB player.

3.) You were drafted by the Athletics in the 1st round of the 2013 draft. What was that process like for you? Where were you when you first found out? Initial thoughts?

It was an exciting and enjoyable time, balancing all the scout home visits, hitting sessions for various teams, and playing my final high school season. My family was fortunate to be asked to attend the draft at the MLB Studio. It was an opportunity to be there with eight other players who were expected to be drafted. When Mr. Selig called my name as an Oakland Athletic I was ecstatic, as I had always admired them being a great baseball team. I was pumped being picked by such a strong baseball club that focused on solid fundamentals.

4.) After finishing out 2013 with short-season Vermont, you were moved all the way up to High-A Stockton to begin 2014. Struggling at times with Stockton, what did you find most challenging about making the jump to that level of baseball so quickly?

Most definitely was adjusting to the quality of pitching in High-A. Some very, very good pitching in both the California League and the Florida League.

5.) In July, you were a part of a multi-player trade for Jeff Samardzija that sent you from the Athletics’ organization over to the Cubs’. How did you react when you first heard about the trade? What was it like making the switch in organizations mid-season?

I was shocked at first, although as time passed I quickly realized baseball is a business and the Cubs are a quality organization with great leadership. At first it was different, although my Daytona Cub teammates made it a very easy transition, welcoming me to the team.

6.) Upon your transition to the Cubs’ system, you were able to get a fresh start, recording solid numbers with their High-A club to finish out the year. What was it about your new team that made it easier for you to perform at a higher level than you did the first half of the season?

It was basically making adjustments in my approach to the quality of pitching in High-A and learning from previous experiences.

7.) Talk a little bit about life on the road: What’s the most difficult aspect of it? What do you do to pass the time?

Bus rides and downtime, although being together as a team helps ease the boredom. [We] hang out together and/or watch TV.

8.) What do you feel went well in 2014? What are your goals for 2015?

[In 2014, I] learned throughout the year and appreciated the opportunity to play for the Florida State League Championship with the Cubs. [Goals for 2015 are to] help the Cubs in anyway I can and to continue to develop as a player and person by being challenged.

9.) Favorite TV show? Favorite food?

‘Modern Family’. Steak.

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

Work hard and never give up, regardless of the situation. Also, embrace your teammates, as baseball is a team sport.

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Big thanks to Billy McKinney for taking the time to answer my questions.

You can follow him on Twitter: @billy_mckinney

2014 Greatness In Baseball Yearly Awards

The 2014 Greatness In Baseball Yearly (GIBBY) award winners were announced Saturday night on MLB Network. The GIBBY awards — which began in 2002, but were referred to as the ‘This Year In Baseball Awards’ until 2010 — are awarded annually for a number of different categories (25 this year), including Rookie of the Year, Play of the Year, MVP of the Year, etc.

These awards are voted on by the media, front office personnel, former players, fans and the fans society for American baseball research, and given to the winner seen as the best for each category. Below are the 2014 GIBBY award winners with my thoughts on each:

Most Valuable Major Leaguer

My pick: Clayton Kershaw

Winner: Clayton Kershaw

This was the year of Kershaw. After winning the Cy Young award and picking up the Most Valuable Player award as well for the season, Clayton Kershaw also takes home the Most Valuable Major Leaguer award. Leading all of baseball in wins (21) and ERA (1.77) despite missing the first month of the season, Kershaw was pretty remarkable.

Everyday Player of the Year

My pick: Jose Altuve

Winner: Mike Trout

This category was origninally refered to as the Hitter of the Year award, which is why I went with Jose Altuve. But Mike Trout was in fact the most deserving player of the honor. Having a career high in both home runs and RBI’s, with 36 and 111, respectively, Trout takes home this award with ease.

Staring Pitcher of the Year

My pick: Clayton Kershaw

Winner: Clayton Kershaw

As with the category of Most Valuable Major Leaguer, this was a no brainer. Having won so many awards this year, I’ve run out of things to say about Kershaw. So I’ll just say something everyone already knew: Kershaw was brilliant this season. It’s as simple as that.

Rookie of the Year

My pick: Jose Abreu

Winner: Jose Abreu

Although there were many good candidates for Rookie of the Year from the 2014 season, one player stood far above the rest. Slugging the sixth most home runs ever by a rookie, with 36, Jose Abreu takes home this GIBBY, after becoming the first rookie in history to finish the year in the top five of all three Triple Crown statistics.

Closer of the Year

My pick: Craig Kimbrel

Winner: Greg Holland

I had Craig Kimbrel winning this award after the great season he put together once again for the Braves, but instead it was Greg Holland receiving the hardware. I can’t argue too much. Holland had a season worth of recognition, posting a 1.44 ERA over the course of 62.1 regular season innings, and was a valuable asset of the Royals’ postseason run.

Setup Player of the Year

My pick: Dellin Betances

Winner: Wade Davis

This was a rather difficult award to pick a winner from, but although I had Dellin Betances winning the GIBBY, it ended up going to the Royals’ Wade Davis. Coming over from the Rays a couple of seasons ago, Davis used to be a starting pitcher, but after recording a 1.00 ERA on the season, it’s likely he’s going to stay put as a setup man.

Defensive Player of the Year

My pick: Andrelton Simmons

Winner: Andrelton Simmons

Although another tough choice, this award was made for guys like Andrelton Simmons. Seemingly making an unbelievable play every single night, Simmons is one of those players that makes even the most difficult of plays look routine. In addition to the GIBBY, Simmons also won his second career Gold Glove last month.

Breakout Everyday Player of the Year

My pick: J.D. Martinez

Winner: Jose Altuve

I chose J.D. Martinez, simply because of the amazing season he had after the Astros released him in March, but you can’t argue with Jose Altuve winning. Becoming the first player since Ichiro in 2001 to lead the league in average (.341), hits (225) and stolen bases (56), Altuve had a special season extremely worth of the GIBBY.

Breakout Pitcher of the Year

My pick: Corey Kluber

Winner: Corey Kluber

The Angels’ Garrett Richards likely would’ve been the recipient of this award had he not gotten injured towards the end of the season. But regardless, Corey Kluber more than did enough for the GIBBY. Kluber started with a decent season, posting a 3.01 ERA before the All-Star break, but finished strong, closing out the second half with a 1.73 ERA.

Bounceback Player of the Year

My pick: Casey McGehee

Winner: Johnny Cueto

I found it hard to believe that Casey McGehee wasn’t even a finalist after the year he put together following a 2013 season in Japan. But I don’t disagree with the award winner. Johnny Cueto would’ve won the Cy Young award, had it not have been for Clayton Kershaw, as he went a great 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA over 34 starts this year.

Manager of the Year

My pick: Bruce Bochy

Winner: Bruce Bochy

Usuably the manager that leads their team to a Fall Classic victory is the winner of Manager of the Year. However, while Bruce Bochy takes home the GIBBY for this category, the official manager of the year for the N.L. went to Matt Williams. Still, what Bochy has been able to do over the course of his career is unbelievable.

Executive of the Year

My pick: Brian Sabean

Winner: Dayton More

Making the postseason for the first time since 1985, it’s little surprise that the Royals’ general manager won the GIBBY for Executive of the Year. He was very deserving, despite the fact that I had the Giants’ general manager, Brian Sabean, taking home the hardware.

Postseason Most Valuable Player

My pick: Madison Bumgarner

Winner: Madison Bumgarner

What Clayton Kershaw was to the regular season, Madison Bumgarner was to the postseason — and then some. Setting a new postseason innings record by throwing 52.2 innings over the span of the playoffs, there is little doubt that the Giants wouldn’t have won the Championship without Bumgarner, who now holds a career 0.25 World Series ERA.

Play of the Year

My pick: Souza saves no-hitter

Winner: Souza saves no-hitter

There were numerous terrific plays throughout the season, however, Steven Souza’s diving catch to save Jordan Zimmermann’s no-hitter was the one that everyone agreed was the best. Coming on as a defensive replacement, Souza’s catch, happening on the last day of the regular season, secured the first no-no in Nationals’ history.

Outfield Throw of the Year

My pick: Cespedes’ incredible throw

Winner: Cespedes’ incredible throw

I’ve seen a lot of great throws in my time as a baseball fan, but few top the one made by Yoenis Cespedes against the Angels in June. After bobbling the baseball, Cespedes turned a sure run into an amazing out. Just as “The Catch” made by Willie Mays is forever tied to him, “The Throw” made by Cespedes will forever be linked to him.

Moment of the Year

My pick: 2 good to be true

Winner: 2 good to be true

No moment this season topped the walk off hit by Derek Jeter in his last game of his career at Yankee stadium. Though Jeter has dozens of amazing moments to choose from, this may be the most incredible of them all. This becomes the seventh career GIBBY award for Jeter — a sure first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Storyline of the Year

My pick: Farewell, Captain

Winner: Instant Improvement

I had Derek Jeter’s final season being the storyline of 2014, but it didn’t end up winning. Instead, the topic of expanded instant replay takes home the GIBBY. Admittedly, it was interesting to see the great progress made by instant replay this season, but I still think Jeter should’ve won. However, even he can’t win them all.

Hitting Performance of the Year

My pick: Chisenhall’s career night

Winner: Chisenhall’s career night

There were several superb hitting performances this season, including Yasiel Puig recording three triples in a game (that’s something you may never see again). But in the end, none could overtake the night Lonnie Chisenhall had in June. By going 5-5 with 3 home runs and 9 RBI’s, Chisenhall earns this award without much argument.

Pitching Performance of the Year

My pick: Kerfection

Winner: Kerfection

Every time Clayton Kershaw takes the mound, I find myself tuning in to see him pitch. Every single time. Kershaw is one of those once in a generation players that is must see T.V. He sure was that way back in June when he tossed his first career no-hitter — a 15 strikeout gem in which he came a single error shy of a perfect game.

Oddity of the Year

My pick: Wild pitch scores three

Winner: Wild pitch scores three

Have you ever seen a single wild pitch score three runs? No? Me either. That is, until it happened to the Brewers against the Rockies in Denver earlier this season. While there were a few other “odd” moments from 2014, this was by far the most unusual of the entire season.

Walk-off of the Year

My pick: A night 2 remember

Winner: A night 2 remember

Already winning an award for ‘Moment of the Year’, this GIBBY once again honored Derek Jeter’s walk off single against the Orioles in one of the most memorable moments in recent baseball history.

Cut4 Topic of the Year

My pick: 50 cent throw

Winner: Boy Gifts Baseball

The first pitch made by 50 cent at Citi Field this season was hands down the worst I’ve ever seen in my life, but it wasn’t bad enough, apparently, to win the GIBBY for topic of the year. That honor went to the boy who gave a souvenir baseball to a girl sitting behind him. For me, I’ve seen that too many times. I don’t agree with this GIBBY.

Postseason Play

My pick: No Panik

Winner: No Panik

There were several great plays made throughout the postseason that could’ve won this GIBBY, but the double play started by Joe Panik during game seven of the World Series was the best. Given its importance, with the Giants going on to win the championship, the diving stop and flip throw by Panik was one of the best double plays you’ll ever see.

Postseason Walk-off

My pick: Wild ending spurs Royals

Winner: Walk-off Down Memory Lane

While I had Salvador Perez’s walk off hit to send the Royals to the American League Division Series being the winner, the home run by Travis Ishikawa was deserving too. The first walk off homer to send a team to the World Series since Bobby Thomson in 1951, Ishikawa put his name in the history books with his memorable blast.

Postseason Storyline

My pick: Wild win sparks Royals’ run

Winner: Wild win sparks Royals’ run

If it couldn’t win for the last category, I’m glad to see that the walk off single by Salvador Perez took home the GIBBY for postseason storyline. With the Royals making the playoffs for the first time since 1985, the hit by Perez started the amazing run by the Royals that saw them coming up a win shy of a World Series title.

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