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Fresh start for Ubaldo Jimenez in 2014

We’ve got almost 2 months left before the regular season begins, yet spring training can provide us with a great deal of useful information about the teams competing in 2014. Many of them have already signed the important concepts and all they need to do is to fine tune their starting rotation, based on the results recorded in February and March. Seattle, Baltimore, Cleveland and Toronto are still fighting for one last player, as all of them contemplate the opportunity of signing Ubaldo Jimenez.

The starting pitcher is hardly an avatar of consistency, but over the last couple of years he greatly improved his performance and 2013 was simply impressive. He returned to form after forgettable pitching in 2011 and 2012 and as a result everyone expected him to find a team with ease without making too many compromises. Unfortunately for Jimenez things took a turn for the worse and the competition is incredible these days, with pitchers such as Matt Garza and Ervin Santana being in the spotlight.

Not many teams are willing to surrender their draft picks and as a result Jimenez is still looking for a club to call home in 2014. Seattle is at the top of the list for the simple reason that the West Coast club spent a lot of money on players during season break to strengthen its rotation. Robinson Cano, Corey Hart, Logan Morrison and Fernando Rodney have all joined the Mariners but only time will tell whether they will continue the spending frenzy with this starting pitcher.

Baltimore Orioles are hardly a team with high expectations and over the last decade they rarely factored in the race for a playoff spot. It is incredibly difficult for them to compete with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, but in 2014 they seem to be willing to spend a bit more. They’ve purchased a couple of players that should improve their offensive performance, but they struggle heavily in 2013 with their starting pitchers and this is a section that needs to be strengthened.

Cleveland Indians are not credited with a great chance of signing Jimenez, even though they would definitely need his services. They’ve traded plenty of players over the last couple of months, with important ones leaving the club only to be replaced by some with tremendous potential. Overall, it looks like they only barely improved their team and with their current roster they have only theoretical chances of making the playoffs. As a result, spending a lot of money just to have Ubaldo in their courtyard is unlikely, as they simply can’t afford this kind of investment.

Toronto has the best chance of becoming Jimenez’s new home, as they are in dire need of starting pitchers, with only Dickey and Buehrle being truly reliable right now. They’re also willing to give up the draft pick, but they have their eyes locked on Ervin Santana while Jimenez represents the alternative. A decision needs to be made soon and if Santana signs with a different team, the Blue Jays will become the overwhelming favorites to acquire Ubaldo.

Cincinnati takes a leap of faith with Billy Hamilton

Billy HamiltonPlaying in the central division of National League can be extremely stressful for most teams as competition is tremendous and making the playoffs is an accomplishment itself. Cincinnati Reds are slowly but surely losing their patience as their bid of playing the World Series was crushed and they didn’t come a step closer to their objective.

The season break brought several changes and perhaps the most notable one was the sacking of manager Dusty Baker who failed to produce be results that the owners were waiting for. Cincinnati has ambitious plans for 2014 and some of them can be found at Basically, they are chasing any opportunity and are willing to take a leap of faith with a young and inexperienced player.

The Reds are not the best team in MLB but they have one of the best farming systems and many of their young prospects rise to stardom. Billy Hamilton could be such a player but many think that it is way too early for him to be given a place in the main rotation. They are trusting him to hit most of the balls thrown at him by starting pitchers and then steal bases at the same rate he does in the minor leagues, but this could be a tall order.

This is not the first time that Cincinnati tries to strengthen its lineup, as they paid $7.3 million to Choo, only to see him departing for Texas Rangers. General manager Walt Jocketty had his sights locked on Grady Sizemore and Brett Gardner but none of these players signed with Cincinnati. Instead they chose to play for the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, which means that the Reds have to pursue different avenues. With so many promising young players, it makes perfect sense to give them a chance, yet many think that it is a hasty decision that could backfire.

The truth is that despite their best efforts, the Reds failed to sign many gifted players in the season break and now they have to play everything on the Hamilton card. They will need him to put aside any emotions and make his debut season memorable by stealing triple digit bases and scoring just as many runs. Obviously, these are high expectations that could only amplify the pressure on the players shoulders, but the rest are hungry for a trophy and there is no other way.

Frank Thomas joins fellow Hall of Famers

Frank ThoomasBaseball Writers’ Association of America voted for the players to join the Hall of Fame in 2014 and they focused mostly on Greg Maddux. He was on the verge of being the first player ever to be inducted in the prestigious group by unanimous decision, with a single baseball writer refusing to add him on the list. He had his reasons and explained them briefly in a statement given after the game, but the vast majority of those who casted their votes were completely behind Maddux.

Tom Glavine was also inducted into the Hall of Fame but besides these two remarkable pitchers, the writers’ community also included a prolific slugger. Frank Thomas scored a total of 521 home runs over 19 years and won two MVP awards, so it makes perfect sense for him to be heading to Cooperstown. His admission marks a premier, because Thomas is the first player to have played in the Southeastern Conference to be voted for the award.

He began his career as a first baseman for Auburn and it is virtually impossible to find another hitter that played for this team who can compete with Frank. In Major League Baseball, he made a significant contribution to the Chicago White Sox’s success, where he played for 16 years. He scored a total of 448 home runs and had a .427 on-base percentage, which led to the American League MVP Award being awarded to him in consecutive years 1993-1994.

While the number of pitchers admitted to the Hall of Fame recently greatly surpasses the number of sluggers who won this award, Thomas will be in select company. Pat Williams, Babe Ruth and Mel Ott are the other three players who belong to this elite group and have scored in excess of 500 home runs, more than 1000 runs and 1500 walks and the same number of runs batted in. The ceremony will take place on July 27 in Cooperstown and plenty of White Sox fans are expected to participate.

Jeff Samardzija extends his contract with the Cubs

Jeff Samardzija extends his contract with the CubsChicago Cubs have mixed feelings about the season that recently ended, as the club didn’t finish on the last place in their conference. On the other hand, the results are still disappointing and the fact that the playoffs remain a mirage, is frustrating to say the least. Resources are scarce, which means that the management needs to be extra careful when transferring new players and they frequently fight an uphill battle trying to re-sign players or keep their veterans in their rotation.

There are not many pitchers that are worth keeping in their backyard, but Jeff Samardzija is definitely one of them and it comes as no surprise that he’s among those expected to remain with the Cubs this winter. The club has already made a juicy deal for the starting pitcher, with Jeff expected to cash in $11 million per year until 2019. The amount itself is exciting, but we need to keep in mind that Samardzija will be a free agent two years from now and depending on his results in the next two years, his paycheck can rise.

There is no shortage of clubs interested in his services, which explains why Jeff is reluctant to sign an extension to his contract right away. There are some rumors regarding the prospect of Samardzija being loaned to another team, something that the Cubs did in the past but it is very unlikely for Chicago to take on superior opponents without a quality pitcher.

The club is trying to replace aging players but their plan is not to purchase new talents, instead they intend to promote those who play in the minor leagues. They’ve got a couple of names that have the potential of becoming the top hitters of tomorrow, but when it comes to pitching, their options are limited to a couple of players. Having said this, Samardzija is not the star pitcher and even though his numbers were superior to most of his colleagues in 2013, he shouldn’t push his luck by asking for a lot more money.

The prospects for Chicago in 2014 are not too great and the best case scenario for the Cubs is to finishing the first half of the standings. For the time being, reaching the playoffs remains a bridge too far and such an objective could only be reached to a three years from now. What the team needs is to constantly improve its pitching rotations, including the starters and relievers, until their young sluggers get to prove their worth in the majors.

Finally some good news for Chicago Cubs

sportsearchThe Cubs are used to finishing last or second to last in the National League, but there are a couple of reasons for why 2014 promises to be a better year. On one hand, Chicago will have to step up its game to avoid finishing last, now that Houston has been moved to the American League, on the other they’ve made certain progress in the season that concluded in October.–mlb.html makes some powerful observations for why Chicago is very likely to finish closer to the top, without being a playoff contender. It should all begin with a wrap-up of 2013 season, another year that saw them finishing below .500, a miserable performance, that is still a bit better than what happened one year ago.

Nobody expected the Cubs to achieve something remarkable in 2013 and Chicago met expectations to the letter, playing in a highly competitive division. St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati gave them a run for their money and with all of them making the playoffs, it is easy to understand why Chicago fans were not too happy this October.

The future doesn’t look bright but at least there are a couple of reasons to be optimistic, with Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo being the ones to boost their confidence. These young players have a lot to prove and both of them are promising, but the best thing is that they can reach their full potential without playing under a lot of pressure. Nobody expects Chicago to make the playoffs but if they do, Castro and Rizzo will be celebrated and probably head on to a better team at the end of 2014.

The Cubs have a new manager, now that Rick Renteria has fully recovered following a hip surgery and he has just enough experience to help the reeling Cubs. He didn’t lead them to many victories in the last two years, but his numbers are constantly improving and with plenty of new players under his guidance, he might achieve something in 2014. Chicago has a couple of top prospects in its sight and the drafting system should help them improve the strength of their rotation.

Perhaps the closest contenders for the title of the worst team in 2014, at least when it comes to the National League are the Milwaukee Brewers. They’ve got a lot of problems to deal with including the numerous scandals surrounding Ryan Braun who was accused of using performance enhancing drugs. Even though he will play for Milwaukee in 2014, he can’t single-handedly carry the Brewers, so they are very likely to finish behind Chicago.

Bryce Harper’s contract issue still unresolved

Bryce Harper’s contract issue still unresolvedMajor League Baseball teams are very serious about those players that they consider to be essential for the franchise and Bryce Harper is such a player. The Washington Nationals are trying to make sure that their star outfielder remains in the nation’s capital, but until his contract issues get resolved, things could easily go sideways. His situation is uncertain and the case could be subject to arbitrage, unless the two parties involved to reach an agreement in the next couple of days.

He was drafted in 2010 and expected to receive $9.9 million, an amount that includes the signing bonus of more than $6 million. Things went according to the plan, until the star outfielder insisted to have a clause included in his contact, allowing him to opt out of the contract terms under certain conditions. Back then, Harper and his family decided to accept the Major League Baseball deal, counting on the fact that he will sign a major league contract earlier than expected.

This came to fruition and now that Bryce is one of the Super Twos, he is not happy with the prospect of receiving $900,000 in 2014 and $1 million the next year. As a result he and his agent are ready to fight the Washington Nationals over the contract terms and conditions, and the outcome will be ugly, to say the least. Nothing good can come out of the scandal, because regardless of what party wins, it will inevitably damage the relation between the Nationals and the outfielder.

Assuming the team gets its way and the tricky clause is excluded from the contract, they will pay less for his services while being sure that Bryce won’t be leaving the club anytime soon. On the other hand, it is only fair to assume that the player will lose interest and is unlikely to perform at 100%, which will in turn damage Washington’s chances of making the playoffs. If the opposite happens and Harper wins after a lengthy battle, he will look for the first chance to leave the franchise.

Impartial observers find it strange that the Nationals are willing to go through all this trouble, especially when it comes to one of their best assets. This is why, the most likely outcome is for the two parties to shake hands and Harper to be given a hefty payout over the next two years.

Oakland still want Bartolo Colon in their rotation

bartolo colonBartolo Colon is a celebrated starting pitcher, who helped Oakland Athletics make another playoff appearance, despite the fact that the team didn’t change much in the last couple of years. Billy Beane is still trying to make the most of his unimpressive roster and those who watched the movie “Moneyball” will find that very little has changed.

Young pitchers, equally inexperienced relievers and plenty of promising yet untested hitters are the team that the A’s are counting on every season. Somehow, the general manager found a way to motivate them and keep them playing their a-game, despite offering below average salaries. 2013 can be regarded as a successful year for Oakland, even though they failed to advance to the ALCS at the expense of Detroit Tigers. Such a performance would’ve been tremendous, given the fact that the central division winners invested hundreds of millions in acquiring new players or extending the contract of existing ones.

One of the few bright spots in their own rotation is Bartolo Colon, a starting pitcher with loads of experience but also one that spent some time in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Following his performance enhancement drugs scandal, he spent the entire season on the bench, yet returned in 2013 and exceeded expectations. Beane told the media that he was pleasantly surprised with his starting pitcher’s performance this season and that he intends to keep him in his rotation.

The veteran has started for 30 times and kept his earned run average at a remarkable 2.65, making a major contribution to his team success in the regular season. Hadn’t it been for Bartolo Colon, Oakland would’ve probably missed the playoffs so it makes perfect sense to re-sign him now when he becomes a free agent. The only problem about him is that he has recently set another milestone as he turned 40 this year, an age at which most starting pitchers retire.

Oakland paid him $2 million in 2012 and increased that amount to $3 million in 2013, but it is hard to believe that the starting pitcher will accept the same salary. On one hand, he was stellar this season and both his team and other clubs in Major League Baseball realize that, so he can afford to ask for a little extra. On the other, not many are willing to spend $4 million or more on a 40 years old starting pitcher knowing that he’s prone to injuries and could spend most of the time on the bench. makes a convincing case and the article suggests that Oakland general manager is going to re-sign Bartolo. On the off chance that the A’s will decide that his financial requests are unaffordable, the team will have to rely on its younger starting pitchers. Luckily for them, there is no shortage of talent in Oakland and names such as AJ Griffith, Dan Straley, Tommy Milone and Jarrod Parker sound promising enough, not to mention that Sonny Gray would also return in 2014.

Boston poised to take early lead over Tigers

Boston poised to take early lead over TigersThe Red Sox enjoyed a relatively smooth ride in the playoffs after winning the division and conference. This will guarantee them home pitch advantage all the way to the World Series and they will also host Los Angeles Dodgers or St. Louis Cardinals in the most important series of the season. Meanwhile, they need to outshine the Tigers, who were on the verge of elimination in a series against Oakland, before Justin Verlander pitched a gem in the decisive game.

Boston enjoyed a couple of days off after eliminating Tampa Bay in four games and were waiting for Detroit to finish its own series. They have for quality starting pitchers that can at least push the series into a decisive match and Jon Lester is their first selection. His earned run average stands at 3.71, with the numbers being just avearage when compared with the ones posted by his counterparts, yet he has 16 victories to his name in 2013.

Some might argue that Lester was lucky to benefit from the offensive prowess of the Red Sox and they would be partially right. His teammates delivered all the support he needed but when the starting pitcher had to rise to the occasion, he exceeded expectations. He was remarkable in the opening game of the series with Tampa Bay and made it unnecessary to pitch again in the fifth game. With four days between the two series, the entire Boston rotation got plenty of time to shake off injuries and sooth any soreness.

The same cannot be said about the Tigers who had everything on the line when Verlander was chosen to pitch in game five, after playing in the second match as well. Detroit chose to use him in this match and allow Max Scherzer the chance to play in the opening game, as a way of showing gratitude for his regular-season performance. He leads the American League with 21 victories and will feature in the second game of the series this time, with Anibal Sanchez playing the first game in Boston.

Last time he took to the mound things didn’t go according to the plan and Detroit lost to Oakland, but luckily for him he gets another chance to prove his worth. Overall, this promises to be a contested series, but due to the fact that the Red Sox have home pitch advantage in three games it is likely for Boston to advance to the World Series. Meanwhile pitchers should back them at full stakes in the opening game as they’re expected to win fairly easy and the odds are decently high.

Texas is one step away from securing a second wildcard

Texas is one step away from securing second wildcardThere were no lingering doubts about the teams that won the wild card in the National League, but things were very different in the AL. Cleveland extended its winning streak to 10 victories in a row and is now waiting for Texas and Tampa Bay to play the one-game playoffs this Tuesday. Whoever wins at Arlington Park will travel to Cleveland for another decisive game and the Indians are waiting.

At one point this season, Texas was leading the Western division and everyone thought that they won’t allow Oakland to come within striking distance. Analysts couldn’t be farther from the truth as the A’s closed the gap with blazing speed and then took the lead never to look back. While Oakland won the division with ease, the Rangers lost consecutive games and were on the verge of missing the playoffs.

Luckily, Texas rebounded in the final week of September by sweeping both the Astros and the Angels to clinch the second wildcard. Toronto gave them a helping hand by winning the series against Tampa, although the Rays pulled out a breathtaking victory in the final game. Now the two teams meet at Arlington Park in a game that will decide who gets another chance at a playoff spot and who watches baseball games from the stands this October.

The Rangers conceded an unacceptably high number of runs this month and their starting pitchers are largely responsible for the late-season meltdown. This time they have Martin Perez fit to play and he has a reputation of playing well under pressure, which makes him the obvious start for a critical game. If he keeps his earned run average at three per game and Texas’ hitting squad finally wakes up, they should have a fighting chance against the Rays.

Tampa proved to be a streaky team lately and alternated consecutive wins with winless streaks, pretty much like Texas. For some odd reason, the visitors are credited with the first chance by most bookmakers to prevail at Arlington Park, which should provide punters with the impetus to back the hosts. The visitors are not to be underestimated though, as they came back from behind and offset huge deficits in the past. Not having home pitch advantage in such an important game definitely hurts and this is one of the few intangibles that the Rangers have over their opponents.

Cardinals taken by surprise in Seattle

stlouisYou would expect a team like St. Louis to be ready for everything, as the Cardinals have one of the best rotations in MLB. They are generally happy with their performance so far as they are leading the competitive central division, but what happened in Seattle was deeply frustrating for the visitors. They split the two games played at Busch Stadium but they are yet to score a run against the Mariners’ starters.

What makes it so difficult to figure out what these opponents are all about is that Seattle is using a lineup of young and promising players. While they might be a real threat for the Cardinals in the future, the reason for why they are so effective right now is that their opponents don’t know anything about them. Some players even expressed their frustration about this awkward situation, saying that they have a harder mission now playing against these unknown players than they did when facing the Pirates or the Reds.

Tonight they will once again face a starting pitcher that hasn’t played against St. Louis so far, with Ramirez taking the mound for the hosts. He has a somewhat surprising record, with five victories in six starts and three on the road although he conceded almost 5 runs per game. There are plenty of other pitchers who have a similar percentage, but what makes this situation truly surprising is that Seattle is one of the worst scoring teams in MLB.

Ramirez can only hope that his luck won’t run out tonight because he will be opposed by Shelby Miller who won 13 decisions this season. One more victory would be enough for him to become the first rookie since Dick Hughes to hit 14 victories in his first season. He also has a solid earned run average of 3.05 and is expected to stay on the mound for six innings or more, unlike his counterpart who is a total enigma for the Cardinals.

Seattle played above expectations in both games of the series but they are clearly the underdog tonight and it is most unlikely for them to win the final game. As far as punters are concerned, the odds for a Cardinals victory are simply too low to be acceptable so the only way to extract value from them is by trusting the hosts to cover the -1.5 runs spread.