Things are finally beginning to pick up for the Chicago Cubs.
July 2015 saw the New York Mets acquire outfielder Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers and it appeared to be a marriage made in heaven. In 57 games with the Mets in 2015, Cespedes batted .287 with 17 home runs and 44 runs batted in to help New York win the National League Pennant for the first time since 2000. Following the season Cespedes would become a free agent, but he would remain with the Mets after the two sides agreed on a three-year deal for $75 million. Cespedes appeared in 132 games for the Mets in 2016 as he batted .280 with 31 home runs and 86 runs batted in to help New York reach the postseason in consecutive years for only the second time franchise history.
Upon initially re-signing with the Mets, Cespedes had a clause in his contract which allowed him to opt out after one year. Cespedes exercised this clause to become a free agent last winter. Cespedes would once again agree to remain with the Mets as both sides agreed to a four-year deal for $110 million, while he was also given a full no-trade clause.
This season Cespedes has been limited to just 46 games as knee and quad injuries have slowed him down. Cespedes is batting .272 with 9 homers and 20 runs batted in as the guy who was supposed to be the Mets cleanup hitter has been reduced to being one of Major League Baseball’s most expensive cheerleaders. And as the Mets who are 41-50 are set to unofficially throw in the towel on a season to forget for them, Cespedes has become the poster boy of their problems.
Cespedes made his Major League Baseball debut in 2012, but the Mets are the fourth different team that he has played for. There have not been any stories in regards to Cespedes being a bad locker room guy with any team that he has played for, but the 365 games that he played for the Oakland Athletics marks the longest stretch that he has had with any team.
Cespedes has the talent to be one of the best players in baseball, but he plays when he wants to. In 2012, Cespedes finished second in the American League’s Rookie of the Year voting as he batted .292 with 23 home runs and 82 runs batted in for the A’s. Cespedes also racked up 18 outfield assists as he simply dared runners to advance on his strong right arm. But inconsistency was the name of the game for the remainder of Cespedes’ time in Oakland which led him to being traded to the Boston Red Sox in 2014.
Cespedes appeared as if he was going to be a centerpiece in the Red Sox rebuilding until he was traded to the Tigers. In 102 games with the Tigers, Cespedes batted .293 with 18 home runs and 61 runs batted in. However when the Tigers fell out of contention, they wanted to make sure that they received something for Cespedes as he was set to become a free agent.
Upon arriving to Queens, Cespedes was greeted with a hero’s welcome as he appeared to be the final piece that would make the Mets a contender. Cespedes held up his end of the bargain by helping to give a dormant offense life as the Mets went from possessing one of the worst offenses in the National League to having one of the best. Cespedes exemplified this by putting the Mets offense on his back as he was the difference in them overtaking the Washington Nationals to win the National League East. And in Game 3 of the National League Divisional Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Cespedes provided a 440-foot three-run homer that put the game out of reach.
However that would be the last highlight for Cespedes in the playoffs as he only batted .250 in the National League Championship Series win over the Chicago Cubs, and just a paltry .200 in the World Series as the Mets lost in five games to the Kansas City Royals. The Mets would make the playoffs last season as a wild card, but in the single-elimination game, Cespedes would go 0-for-4 with a pair of strikeouts as the Mets were eliminated at home by the San Francisco Giants.
Cespedes is the prototypical power-hitter in the aspect that he can hit home runs in bunches, and when he’s hot, a team can simply get on his back. However Cespedes also falls into the category of players whose numbers tank when they sign a big contract in free agency which is evident by his 2017 campaign.
Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon were under a ton of pressure to re-sign Cespedes after the 2015 season from a fan base that wanted to see the team keep the momentum going after their trip to the World Series. The Wilpons obliged and they did it once more last winter, but now it appears that the Mets are stuck with a player who only shows up when it is convenient for him.
You can expect Mets general manager Sandy Alderson to begin wheeling and dealing soon in order to send veteran players to contending teams, while dumping salary and getting prospects in return. All of the Mets struggles do not fall at the feet of Cespedes as this team has been hit hard by the injury bug as the likes of starting pitchers Matt Harvey and Noah Synderggard, along with relief pitcher Jeurys Familia are currently on the disabled list. But with Cespedes being the Mets highest paid player this season at $22.5 million, he is going to receive the brunt of the criticism. And in the process this is just another example of “buyer beware” in Major League Baseball free agency.
2007-2011 was arguably the most successful span in the franchise history of the Philadelphia Phillies. The Philles made five consecutive trips to the playoffs which included them winning it all in 2008. However as all good things have to come to an end, the core players that helped the Phiilies win the World Series have either retired or been traded. Since 2012, the Phillies have not had another winning season, and since Andy MacPhail was named as the team’s president of baseball operations in 2015, the team has been in full rebuilding mode.
2016 would see Philadelphia give a spirited effort in spite of the fact that they were 71-91. But whereas the Philies somewhat overachieved last year, that is not the case this time around as their record of 30-60 has them on track to lose 100 games for the first time since 1961. The Phillies also have the worst record in Major League Baseball this year as MacPhail and his staff are attempting to get things turned around.
Philadelphia has not been above .500 since April 28, and you have to go back to the beginning of June to find the last time in which they were able to win a series. Offensively the Phillies are near the bottom of the National League in all of the major statistical categories which includes them being 14th in runs scored (345), and the same can be said about their pitching staff whose team’s earned run average of 4.65 is 12th. And for Phillies manager Pete Mackanin and his young team, they are definitely taking their lumps this season.
However all is not lost for the Phillies as players such as first baseman Tommy Joseph, starting pitcher Aaron Nola, and outfielder Aaron Altherr are giving the folks in Philadelphia some hope for the future. Joseph who just turned 26-years of age this past Sunday is in his second season with the Phillies and he’s on the cusp of hitting 20 home runs for the second consecutive year. Nola was the Phillies first-round pick in 2014 and he made his Major League Baseball debut in 2015. Nola has yet to make at least 30 starts in a season, but he is putting together the best year of his brief career. Nola is 6-6 with an earned run average 3.54. But in Nola’s last eight seven starts, he has given the Phillies at least six innings in seven of those outings which included him going eight innings while only surrendering a pair of runs versus the San Diego Padres on July 8 as he was the hard luck loser. After appearing sparingly for the Phillies over the past three seasons, Altherr is finally getting an opportunity to be an everyday player. Altherr is leading the Phillies in batting average (.288) and on-base percentage (.359) as he along with Joseph each have the potential to go yard 20 times.
But in spite of the fact of the potential of players such as Joseph, Nola, and Altherr, the name of the game in Major League Baseball is winning and the Phillies have not done much of that. When you were on top like the Phillies were, sometimes the reset button must be pushed. After the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, Ruben Amaro Jr. would replace Pat Gillick as the team’s general manager. Amaro attempted to keep the Phillies machine rolling as he mortgaged the future by trading prospects in order to acquire established veterans. However being that the Phillies would remain in contention, they would never win the World Series again. And even though that the title window had closed on the Phillies, Amaro held onto his aging players too long which decreased their value on the trade front which has made MacPhail’s job that much more difficult.
However MacPhail knows how to build a winner as he has previously worked as a front office executive for the Minnesota Twins, Chicago Cubs, and Baltimore Orioles. MacPhail’s time with all three clubs led to playoff berths for each organization with the Twins winning their only two World Series Titles in franchise history which gives the Phillies optimism that he can do the same for their club.
2017 might be a wash in Philadelphia, but I do expect MacPhail and his staff to use this time to evaluate the roster as they are getting a jump start on 2018.
It’s hard to believe, but it has been nearly 12 years since the Chicago White Sox won their last World Series Championship. The White Sox came out of nowhere in 2005 to win 99 games in the regular season before they only lost once in the playoffs to win it all. But since then the White Sox have had a tough go at it as they’ve only made the postseason once since then, while failing to record a winning season since 2012. The White Sox struggles have been further compounded by the emergence of the Chicago Cubs who won the World Series last year for the first time since 1908. And since the Cubs became the champs, they have owned the City of Chicago, while the team that calls the South Side home in the Sox have been the wicked stepchild.
Whereas the White Sox could do no wrong in 2005, they have been a team that has been done in by bad personnel decisions ever since. Since 2000, starting pitcher Chris Sale has been the only first-round pick of the White Sox who has gone on the be an impact player with the team. And in the case of Sale, he was traded this past off-season to the Boston Red Sox as the losing along with front office issues had gotten to him. The White Sox have not fared any better better in trades or free agency. 2016 saw the Sox acquire third baseman Todd Frazier from the Cincinnati Reds and starting pitcher James Shields from the San Diego Padres. In nearly two seasons in Chicago, Frazier has hit 56 homers, but he is only batting .220, while he is also prone to striking out. And as the White Sox are currently 38-50 which has them in last place in the American League Central, Frazier could be on the move again to a contender. In 30 starts with the White Sox, Shields in 6-14 with an earned run average of 6.32 as he has been throwing batting practice on the mound. The struggles of the White Sox led to the team trading starting pitcher Jose Quintana to the Cubs earlier this week as they are once again waving the white flag. However there appears to be no end in sight in regards to the futility of the South Siders.
The White Sox issues fall into the respective laps of the team’s president of baseball operations in Kenny Williams and their general manager Rick Hahn. Williams was the White Sox general manager when they won the World Series in 2005 and he was promoted to his current position in 2012 and he would be succeeded by Hahn as the team’s general manager. But this combo has been unable to do right by the White Sox.
Offensively the White Sox are no higher than sixth in any of the major categories in the American League. Chicago’s pitching staff has not done much better as they are last in the A.L. in quality starts with only 29, 11th in team earned run average (4.55), and their 326 walks have been the second most allowed. The White Sox have not been above .500 since May 6, and as the trade of Quintana is a sign that they are waving the white flag, don’t expect better things for this organization any time soon.
After five seasons as the White Sox manager, Robin Ventura was let go following an 84-loss campaign last year. Ventura would be replaced by former Cubs manager Rick Renteria who just like his predecessor has not been given a good team to work with which is the result of the lack of production by Williams and Hahn.
So now as the White Sox are an afterthought, it is time for team owner Jerry Reinsdorf to start over, and pushing the reset button means parting with both Williams and Hahn. The White Sox need a new voice in their front office that not only has an eye for finding talent, but also the development of players. The Sox are going to have to build from within in order to once again become a contender and Williams as well as Hahn are no longer the guys who can be expected to do so.
2017 is a wash for the Sox as it now time for them to focus on next year. Frazier and relief pitcher David Robertson could be traded. But if it is prospects that Chicago is seeking, they need to find guys who will be difference makers or else they’ll continue to be Chicago’s other baseball team that is in the shadow of the Cubs.
With the Miami Marlins having hosted Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game earlier this week for the first time in franchise history, the Tampa Bay Rays are now the only MLB franchise to have never hosted the Midsummer Classic. In recently history, hosting the All-Star Game has come down teams getting a new stadium or undergoing heavy renovations to their current facility. And when Marlins Park opened in 2012, the debate began as to when the All-Star Game would be heading to South Florida. And now that the Marlins have had their opportunity to show off their stadium to the baseball world, who should be next in regards to hosting the Midsummer Classic.
Rogers Centre-Toronto, Canada
The first and only time that the Toronto Blue Jays hosted the All-Star Game was in 1991 and it came on the heels of the Rogers Centre (formerly the Toronto SkyDome) opening for business. The SkyDome was ahead of its time as the amenities there included Major League Baseball’s first retractable roof as well as a hotel. Since that time the Montreal Expos left Canada to become the Washington Nationals and being that the Blue Jays are MLB’s only team north of the border, it is time to bring the Midsummer Classic back there in order to further promote the game and keep fan interest intact.
Camden Yards-Baltimore, Maryland
When Oriole Part at Camden Yards opened in 1992, it was the gold standard of what a Major League ball park should be. It didn’t take MLB that long to award the Baltimore Orioles the All-Star Game as they hosted the Midsummer Classic in 1993. And as the park is still a crown jewel, it is high time for the All-Star Game to return to Baltimore.
Citizens Bank Park-Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Citizens Bank Park opened for business in 2004 and it quickly became a huge home-field advantage for the Philadelphia Phillies. In 2007, the Phillies won the National League East, and by they 2008, they would win their first World Series Championship since 1980. But unlike many of the other new venues around Major League Baseball, Citizens Bank Park has yet to host the All-Star Game. The last time that the Phillies hosted the All-Star Game was in 1996 at Veterans Stadium. The fans in Philadelphia have a uniqueness about them and it would add a special twist to the All-Star Game to have Phillies fans jeering every single player as he is introduced.
Wrigley Field-Chicago, Illinois
Right next to Fenway Park, Wrigley Field is the most historic venue that it currently in use in Major League Baseball. The ivy that covers the outfield walls at Wrigley along with the throng of fans who hang out on Waveland and Sheffield Avenues to catch home run balls is always huge, and we cannot forget about the spectators in the bleachers as well. The Chicago Cubs last hosted the All-Star Game in 1990, and the timing is perfect now for MLB to have the Midsummer Classic return to the Windy City being that it is still buzzing there after the Cubs won the World Series last October. And if the wind is blowing out on a warm summer night at Wrigley, the All-Star Game could resemble the Home Run Derby.
Dodger Stadium-Los Angeles, California
It’s hard to believe but Chavez Ravine has not hosted the All-Star Game since 1980. The Los Angeles Dodgers are one of Major League Baseball’s most iconic franchises and their new ownership group has taken extreme pride in renovating Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers are more popular than ever in the City of Angels as they have won four consecutive National League West Titles, and it’s safe to say what the reaction would be when players from the San Francisco Giants would be introduced as there is no love lost between these two iconic franchises.
Since Jeffrey Loria has owned the Miami Marlins franchise, they have been an organization that is loaded with potential only to see it typically untapped. After the Marlins won the World Series in 2003, they were expected to remain in contention as they had a relatively young team. But after the Marlins went 83-79 in 2004 and 2005 respectively, Loria had a fire sale that was reminiscent of the one that the Marlins had after they won the World Series in 1997. Since 2005, the Marlins have only had two winning seasons which is a reflection of the poor leadership of Loria. And Instead of Loria being committed to the Marlins, his self-absorbed attitude is hurting both the Marlins as well as the people of South Florida who deserve more out of their Major League Baseball franchise.
Tonight the Marlins are set to host the Major League Baseball All-Star Game for the first time in franchise history. In recent years hosting the All-Star Game has been unofficially deemed as a reward for franchises that have either built brand new stadiums, or have had extensive renovations to their current venue. Marlins Park opened for business in 2012 amid controversy as the project to build the stadium in Miami barely had enough legislation to pass. In order to get his stadium plans approved, Loria promised to inject money into his franchise in regards to team payroll which is something that they typically haven’t done. The Marlins would actually be active in free agency as they signed the likes of shortstop Jose Reyes and starting pitcher Mark Buehrle, while also naming Ozzie Guillen as their new manager following the conclusion of the 2011 Major League Baseball season. However after the Marlins only won 69 games in 2012 to finish in last place in the National League East, Loria had another infamous fire sale which included trading longtime infielder Hanley Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers. And as Loria had a new stadium with a small payroll, the people of Miami had been duped into building a luxurious stadium for a billionaire.
It’s has not gotten better for the Marlins since then as they’ve never been a contender during this decade, while there was also the tragic death of starting pitcher Jose Fernandez last September. But now there are reports that Loria could be on the verge of selling the Marlins.
Loria not being involved with the Marlins would be a good thing for the franchise as well as the people of South Florida, but a sale of the franchise is scheduled to fetch more than $1 billion on the market which would be a huge return on investment for a man who purchased the franchise for $158.5 million 15 years ago. And to add insult to injury if Loria were to sell the Marlins, the folks in Miami will still be footing the bill for a stadium that most of them have never visited, while a billionaire gets wealthier on an investment that he never cared about in the first place.
We can expect to see one of the largest crowds in the history of Marlins Park tonight when the National League takes on the American League, and it is also a shame that the largest crowd to this point in the history of the stadium had nothing to do with the franchise. An opening round game in the World Baseball Classic this past March saw 37,446 fans pack Marlins Park to watch the United States take on the Dominican Republic. But the team who calls Marlins Park home for the entire Major League Baseball season has only averaged roughly 21,000 fans per game since the park opened in 2012 which is a reflection of the team’s performance on the field as well as the leadership or lack thereof by Loria.
So now after tonight’s All-Star Game, Marlins Park will go back to being a ghost town. Loria will continue to count his stacks of cash which included price gouging for this week’s festivities at Marlins Park. And that pile will be even bigger if Loria is soon able to find someone to purchase the franchise that he never cared about in the first place.
Loria is not the first professional sports franchise owner to do what he has done, and he won’t be the last as there are only a select few professional sports franchise owners who actually care about winning, along with the fans instead of their bottom line which is making profit. And instead of becoming a beacon for baseball in South Florida, Marlins Park has become another luxury eye sore that was paid for by people who cannot afford to attend events there in order to benefit a man who has a vault like that of Scrooge McDuck: However the only thing is that this nightmare is an actual reality in Miami.
Just when it appeared that there was going to be a three-team race to decide the winner of the National League West, the Los Angeles Dodgers have begun to separate themselves from the pack. A recent surge by the Dodgers has seen them win 23 of their last 27 games to build a 4.5-game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks and a 7.5-game lead over the Colorado Rockies in the N.L. West. And the bad news for the Diamondbacks and the Rockies is that the Dodgers don’t appear ready to slow down anytime soon.
Since the Dodgers have gotten rolling it has been a total team effort. We know about starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw who is in the mix to win his fourth National League Cy Young Award, but behind him in the Dodgers rotation there is some depth. Starting pitcher Alex Wood has come out of nowhere to go 10-0 in 13 starts this season, while posting an earned run average of 1.67. And as good as Wood has been, it is darn near impossible to overlook Kershaw.
Kershaw is 13-2 with an earned run average of 2.19. Kershaw has recorded 41 strikeouts in his last four starts and he’s on pace for his seventh season in which he has recorded at least 200 strikeouts. Only once has Kershaw failed to give the Dodgers at least six innings of work this year. And although that Kershaw won’t be pitching in next week’s All-Star Game due to the fact that he is scheduled to pitch this Sunday, he could be set to enter some rare air as another Cy Young Award would put him alongside Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Steve Carlton, and Greg Maddux as the only pitchers in Major League Baseball history to win the award at least four times.
Offensively the Dodgers have been potent all season long as they are currently second in the National League in runs (444), as well as on-base percentage (.342), and fourth in home runs (120). The Dodgers have the reigning National League Rookie of the Year in shortstop Corey Seager who is batting .300 with 13 homers, and 42 runs batted in, and he has actually been overshadowed in the Los Angeles lineup by another youngster.
In 66 games this year, outfielder Cody Bellinger has belted 24 home runs which currently leads the National League. Eight of those long balls have come in the Dodgers last ten games as he become a power bat in the middle of the Dodgers lineup. And as Bellinger is scheduled to participate in next week’s All-Star Game, he is also well on his way to becoming the 18th player in Dodgers franchise history to be named as the N.L. Rookie of the Year.
Last year saw manager Dave Roberts push all of the right buttons in his first season with the Dodgers, and he is doing it once again as Los Angeles is arguably the most complete team in the National League. The Dodgers starting rotation has been solid and Roberts can give the baseball to relief pitcher Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning as his 20 saves this year are third in the N.L., while he is the most proficient closer in franchise history which is evident by his 209 career saves.
The Dodgers are getting healthier as third baseman Justin Turner recently returned to the lineup, while first baseman Adrian Gonzalez should be returning soon. The Dodgers are increasing their depth and prior to Major League Baseball’s trade deadline I expect their president of baseball operations in Andrew Friedman to be active in pursuing another arm for the starting rotation, another reliever, and potentially some more speed for the lineup in order to give Los Angeles the right combination in order to flourish come October.
After tonight’s games with the Diamondbacks. Los Angeles will finish up at home with the Kansas City Royals before they head into the All-Star break. The second half of the season will see the Dodgers have their first nine games against teams that currently possess losing records. And with the current struggles of the Rockies, while the Dodgers are putting some distance between themselves and the Diamondbacks, they could soon be ready to wrap a bow around their fifth consecutive National League West Title which they are hopeful could the segue to their first World Series Championship since 1988.
At the end of the 2015 Major League Baseball season, starting pitcher David Price became an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career and he was prepared to be wined and dined as contending teams were lining up for his services. Price would ultimately decide to join the Boston Red Sox as the two sides agreed on a seven-year deal for $217 million. Signing Price was a huge boost for the Red Sox as they were coming off of consecutive losing seasons and were in need of a front line starting pitcher.
Price’s first year in Boston saw him go 17-9 with an earned run average of 3.99. Price would lead the American League in strikeouts for the second time in his career, but he would come up short in October.
The Red Sox were expected to make the World Series, but in the American League Divisional Series they were swept by the Cleveland Indians. In Price’s lone postseason start he surrendered 5 runs and only lasted 3.1 innings as the Red Sox would lose Game 2 by the score of 6-0. The loss would bring Price’s career postseason record to 2-8 with an earned run average of 5.54.
2017 would not get started on the right foot for Price after he suffered an elbow injury during spring training. Price would not make his season debut until May 29 when he allowed 3 runs in 5 innings of work in a loss to the Chicago White Sox. On the season Price is 3-2 with an earned run averaged of 4.61 as he is slowly, but steadily showing flashes of the player that won the American League Cy Young Award in 2012. However whereas the Red Sox should be primarily concerned about Price’s left arm, they must also now be weary of other actions on his part.
Price has cut down on his accessibility to the media as he has proclaimed that he will only speak to them on the days that he pitches. Last month at Yankee Stadium, Price got into it with a writer from Comcast SportsNet, while also refusing to do an interview with a reporter from the Boston Globe. This story appeared to be cooling down until Price got into a verbal spat this past Thursday night on a flight from Boston to Toronto with Red Sox color commentator Dennis Eckersley. It is still unclear what sparked the incident on the plane, but this is just a clear cut example of not everyone being equipped to deal with the media and pressure of being a professional athlete in Boston.
Price’s best years came with the Tampa Bay Rays which aside from him winning his only American League Cy Young Award there, he was also a three-time All-Star. Price has also pitched for the Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays as he helped each of them reach the playoffs. But only playing in New York City can rival the stress that comes with being a high paid athlete in Boston.
Price went from pitching with the Rays where there were 10,000 people in the seats at Tropicana Field, to pitching in Detroit where the fan base is passionate, but not overbearing. When the Tigers traded Price to the Blue Jays in 2015, he joined a team that had not made the playoffs since 1993, and they welcomed him with open arms. Price was welcomed with open arms by the Red Sox brass as well, however there is a huge burden to carry when you got paid in the fashion that he did.
Price will be 32-years of age next month and his career is at the crossroads. Price was compensated to be “the guy”, but he was overshadowed in the Red Sox starting rotation last year by Rick Porcello who would win the American League Cy Young Award after he won 22 games, and this year by Chris Sale who is 10-3 with an earned run average of 2.77 since Boston acquired him from the Chicago White Sox over the winter. Price must now figure out if taking the money from the Red Sox was worth it, or is it time to seek a trade and go someplace where he does not have to deal with the media or the fans in the same fashion.
But regardless of what happens with Price, he is fighting a losing battle with the media since they have the ability to twist a story around in any form of fashion to people who are gullible enough to believe it. As soon as Price signed his named on the dotted line, he also married himself to lofty expectations. And if Price wants his name to be remembered in Red Sox history with the likes of other pitchers such as Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez, and Curt Schilling, then it all comes down to him letting his performance on the mound do all of the talking as it will make everyone in Boston become his best friend.