The 2017 Warriors are Not Going to Ruin Basketball

If you listen to the press outside of the Bay Area, there are a good number of people who believe that the Warriors would be better served building their new arena on Alcatraz Island rather than in San Francisco. Terms like “competitive imbalance”, “the easy way out”, and “ruining basketball” are tossed around carelessly without any rational thought behind them as the Warriors unopposed romp through the Western Conference has vilified them in the eyes of a jealous nation.

As flawed as these statements are, it makes sense that they are so prevalent. After all, takes like these are born of emotion-in particular, frustration-not clear headed thought. After all, it’s frustrating when your team stinks and the Warriors have such an unbelievable collection of talent concentrated on one team. Some fanbases have suffered years without success, watching dynasty after dynasty pass them by while they were thrilled to be competing for the eighth seed. And now, a team with three All-Stars, a team in contention to be among the greatest teams of All-Time, went out and signed Kevin Durant in free agency. It would be like if the ’96 Bulls went out and signed Gary Payton. Except Kevin Durant is a more dominant player than The Glove, for all his greatness, ever was.

But this line of thinking is incorrect, for multiple reasons. If there’s any team who embodies this “competitive balance” it’s the Warriors. It would be one thing if the Lakers or Celtics signed Durant and created a superteam-then, people might have some grounds on which the complain that their team could never win. But the Warriors should be an inspiration that event the worst of teams can one day become dominant.

The 1997 Warriors had one All-Star: the talented but unstable Latrell Sprewell, who was traded after choking out his own coach. He later turned down a 21 million dollar contract, claiming that it wasn’t enough to feed his children. Moving on. It wasn’t until 2013, when David Lee was selected to play in the All-Star game, that a Warrior once again made the All-Star team. In between, the Warriors had their magical “We Believe” season and…not much else. Some notable draft picks since the Run TMC era, the last instance of sustained success for the Warriors, include Joe Smith, Todd Fuller, Andris Biendris, Patrick O’Bryant, and Epke Udoh-a litany of busts that prevented the team from ever acquiring a player to build around.

That all changed with the selection of Steph Curry with the 7th overall pick in the 2009 draft. But success wasn’t instantaneous. Curry struggled with ankle injuries and at one point it was a real debate if he would sign with Charlotte to be closer to home once he hit free agency. It was just three years ago that the Warriors were bounced in the first round against the Clippers in the last year of the Mark Jackson era.

Up until the 1990’s, the Lakers and the Celtics dominated the NBA so thoroughly it was comical. From 1950 (the first year of the NBA finals) to 1990, the Lakers or Celtics won 27 out of 40 NBA Finals. That’s two teams winning the Finals 68% of the time. That’s absurd. The teams that have dominated in the last thirty years had virtually zero success prior to that-the Bulls, Spurs, Heat, Cavaliers, and Warriors were all afterthoughts in NBA lore before securing their place as All-Time great teams.

It should not be forgotten that the current iteration of these Warriors has just one championship to their name. Dominant teams come in cycles-which is why Jordan’s two three-peats are so impressive, and why the question of whether or not he could have won eight straight titles had he not decided to play baseball will forever remain as one of the most entertaining hypothetical situations in NBA lore. LeBron’s Cavaliers couldn’t break through the first time and the current group can also claim just one championship. The “Boston Three Party”-one of the finest pieces of trade engineering ever-was supposed to unbalance the league and it too produced just a singular title. LeBron’s “Heatles”-a crime far more egregious than the signing of Kevin Durant because it involved three star free agents instead of just one-was one lucky missed call on a Ray Allen travel from also managing just one title as well.

The dynasties with staying power involve home grown players-buying wins sacrifices long term success for moderate short term improvement-and this is evident in the teams and players with the most rings. MJ and Pippen. Magic, James Worthy, Kobe. Duncan and Robinson, with a little help from Tony Parker and Manu Ginobli.

That’s the number one reason why the Warriors scare people so much. It’s not just that the Knicks or the Nuggets or the Kings or any other number of irrelevant NBA teams have no chance to win a title.

The issue is that nobody else in the entire league, save for perhaps the Cavaliers, has a chance to win a title. A perfect storm-and a herculean effort by LeBron triggered an improbably comeback last season, on the back of superb play by LeBron but also injuries and recklessness by the Warriors. Yes, the Cavaliers beat the Warriors, but the Warriors also beat themselves. The number one seed Boston Celtics, winner of 60 plus games-not just beaten, but embarrassed in the conference finals. The Houston Rockets, the modern iteration of Mike D’Antoni’s “Seven seconds or less” offense? An afterthought. The Spurs held a commanding lead before losing Kawhi Leonard to an injury, but the successive blowouts proved that one man couldn’t have rescued even the Spurs, who haven’t been bad in twenty years.

If you’re not from the Bay Area, it’s a depressing outlook for an NBA fan. LeBron has been to the last seven NBA Finals, with no indication that anybody is line to slow him down. Out west, the Warriors are unbeatable with a healthy Curry.

However, as the examples above of superteams demonstrates, expected or planned brilliance (“Not 1, not 2, not 3, not 4..”-LeBron James, all the way up to seven, on the number of championships he expected the Heat to win) rarely pans out in the fashion expected. The disastrous results expected of an unstoppable superpower failed to materialize, and it was that much more significant and exciting when the veteran Mavericks, led by Dirk Nowitzki and his own version of the flu game, knocked off the heavily favored Heat.

The success of the Mavericks and Spurs against the Heat indicates why the Warriors shouldn’t be cause for distress. The 1927 Yankees, “Murderer’s Row”, was among the most dominant teams ever and certainly didn’t ruin baseball. In fact, it drew more fans because people want to see greatness. Casual observers had their interest piqued by a team that was so talented at their craft it was a sight to behold.

Competitive balance? How about the Yankees from 1949-1953, when they won five straight World Series. Baseball was not ruined.

Or the New England Patriots, owners of three Superbowl Rings, adding the best receiver in football in Randy Moss?

But sports can be fickle. Those 2007 Patriots are a perfect example. Eighteen victories, zero losses, facing a deeply flawed 10-6 New York Giants team led by an erratic Eli Manning (at that point in his career). Yet they failed to take home the trophy.

Greatness needs to be appreciated. People may complain bitterly at the time, but when it’s gone people wish they had it back. Just look at the reception Derek Jeter got at the end of his career-even the most bitter of rivals paid him their respects. The Warriors aren’t just a collection of uber-talented players. They are the next generation in the evolution of basketball. The pieces fit perfectly, with Curry, Klay, Durant, and Draymond each having the ability to stretch the floor and slash inside. Klay can guard 1-4 and KD and Draymond can guard anyone on the court. The seamless flow and positionless basketball is a sight to behold, and a far more advanced concept than the bully-ball that Wade, LeBron, and Bosh employed in their heyday. Bosh, the best shooter of the three, was forced into a perimeter role in the same way Kevin Love is today, which made no sense as he is 6’11 and should have been a dominating post presence, his value diminished as a floor spacer. Wade and LeBron were essentially the same player in their first year together, and there wasn’t enough space to go around. The “there’s only one ball” argument had far more validity hear than it does with the ball movement and spacing oriented offense of the Warriors.

That’s not to say that LeBron’s Heat wasn’t a great team. They were, as evidenced by their 27 game win streak. But they didn’t break the league, and their era of dominance ended more abruptly than expected. These Warriors are a team you will tell your grandchildren about. Appreciate their greatness, built in the right way.

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5 Stories From the First Two Months of the 2017 MLB Season

May is winding down, and it’s the time of year when hot streaks need to start being taken seriously and you  can no longer ignore that Ervin Santana is the best pitcher in the AL or the fact that Aaron Judge appears to be the reincarnation of Frank Thomas. Here are five of the most notable stories from the first two months of the 2017 MLB season.

Aaron Judge Electrifies the Bronx

The Yankees rookie phenom has a been a shot in the arm for a previously moribund (by Yankees standards) franchise. Judge’s dynamic personality and the thrill of his tape measure home runs has not only make the Yankees fun again, but has planted him as a front runner for AL Rookie of the Year and squarely in the thick of the MVP race. In limited action last year, Judge was plagued by the typical flaws of big, tall hitters. A large strike zone and poor plate discipline made him susceptible to a high strike out rate and a batting average that even Mario Mendoza would have turned up his nose at.

This season, with improved plate discipline and a more patient approach, Judge has terrorized pitchers across the American League and made the Yankees into the most exciting team in baseball, spurring the Bronx Bombers to first place in the AL East. Time will tell if the pitching will hold up for an October run, but the villains of baseball are officially back, and much earlier than expected to boot. The heaps of young talent in both the Yankees and the Red Sox organizations indicate a bright future for one of the most storied and bitter rivalries in all of sports.

Houston Reaps the Fruits of their Labor

To be completely honest, I’m not sure exactly why Houston owns the best record in the American League. Jose Altuve is playing fantastic, to be sure, and the defense certainly runs a tight ship, but there are a concerning number of red flags for a team that has the best record in baseball.

Carlos Correa, rookie phenom of 2015, looked poised to take the league by storm and lead the next generation of great shortstops. Correa certainly hasn’t been bad by any stretch of the imagination-we’re not looking at Bobby Crosby here-but his performance and potential has been relegated from transcendent to slightly above average.

I would be remiss not to mention the terrific season that Marwin Gonzalez is enjoying. Josh Reddick, too, is playing great. But Cuban import Yulieski Gurriel has been average, Alex Bregman has yet to live up the the hype, and Carlos Beltran is showing his age.

Dallas Keuchel won the Cy Young Award in 2015, then pitched like your average fifth starter in 2016. He’s back to the Cy Young level this year, and thank goodness for it, because their rotation is thinner than a papercut behind him and Lance McCullers. The best thing you can say about Charlie Morton is “he’s not the worst”, and he can thank the Joe Musgrove and Mike Fiers for that, both of whom have been dreadful.

The key to their success has been their lockdown bullpen, which has been performing at a historic rate. Houston has suffered for many years following the era of the Killer B’s-they are finally getting the chance to cash in on all those high draft picks.

Mike Trout Toils in Obscurity

The best baseball player in the world plays in the second biggest market in the United States. He has been compared to Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, two of the greatest baseball players who have ever graced this earth.

And nobody ever talks about him.

Oh sure, ESPN throws him a bone every once in a while and he wins the MVP award once every couple seasons. Most of Mike Trout news consists of “Yep, he’s still really good. Probably still better than Bryce Harper, too.” Yet for all of his immeasurable talent-the power and grace that makes a very hard game seems very easy-Mike Trout has little to no impact on the general state of baseball or the outcome of each MLB season.

It’s a constant battle in the sports world to stay relevant-the NFL, the top dog for a long time, must fight off the increasing pressure mounting as a result of the danger of concussions. Warriors-Cavs III in a rubber match makes for the most compelling NBA rivalry since Bird-Magic. Baseball has been seeking to make itself more entertaining and fast paced, with the implementation of pitch clocks. The MLB’s biggest ace in the hole right now is Trout, who should be front and center of all things baseball. Trout is the the absolute prime of his career and his exploits should be regaled with the same level of attention that Brady or LeBron receive. Perhaps more, because, have we mentioned he’s only 25?

But Trout is stuck on a team playing second fiddle in the LA market, the Angels being just bad enough to be totally irrelevant for the foreseeable future and recent memory, and not bad enough to land another star player in the draft to help Trout. In baseball, it’s much tougher for one player to mask a team’s flaws, not to mention that the rebuilding process takes longer because draft picks take longer to develop. The man hits with zero protection in the lineup and still mashes. The best player in the world has absolutely no impact on the results of every MLB season.

I hope he likes pinstripes.

The Brewers and Twins are Good Now, Everybody

Hooray for the upper Midwest!

Safe to say no one saw this coming. The Eric Thames experiment in Milwaukee has been an unequivocal success, and Ervin Santana is pitching as well as he ever has in Minnesota, and I was surprised to find out he’s been quietly excellent ever since his last awful season in the City of Angels. Former Number 1 prospect Byron Buxton is playing like Aaron Hicks, and by that I mean “couldn’t hit water if he fell off a boat but will catch anything in the ballpark and probably hose them at third too” Twins version of Aaron Hicks and not “suspiciously really good really fast” Yankees version of Aaron Hicks. He’s already valuable due to his defense, and if his bat ever catches up like many have long predicted it will, he’ll be an All Star. Miguel Sano has been straight up abusing baseballs this year in the box and just about adequate at third, which any baseball team will take ten times out of ten.

Travis Shaw is good now for the Brewers, and catchers Manny Pina and Jeff Bandy have combined to hit .292 with seven homers, excellent production from behind the dish. The pitching is uh, suspect, for the Brewers, especially because apparently Matt Garza is not bad now/the best pitcher they’ve got, recent history suggest that’s an untenable position. He was a good-to-very-good pitcher before the past two seasons, so it’s possible he has rediscovered his mojo, but his age makes that a risky assumption, especially with his recent injury concerns.

Both teams have been feel-good stories for 2017, but the Indians and Cardinals, two teams with established track records and pennant race experience, are hot on their respective tails. Even if the fast starts fizzle, the rapid rise of both these franchises has reignited baseball fever up North.

The Blue Jays are Not Good, and Probably Won’t be For a While

Speaking of up north, the Blue Jays went to the ALCS in back to back years on the power of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion each of the previous two years, and are now mired in the depths of mediocrity.

Similarily, the Giants were one bullpen collapse away from pushing the Cubs to Game 7 (and about 30 bullpen collapses-I wish I was joking-from being among the best teams of the past five years) and are now attempting to claw their way back into contention after a Murphy’s Law start to the season.

The Blue Jays cashed out in 2015-adding Josh Donaldson, David Price, and Troy Tulowitzki, at no small cost. Now, with Encarnacion and Price gone, Bautista in decline, and Tulowitzki injured (what else is new), the Jays are staring at a rebuilding era a little quicker than they’d hoped, and with a dearth of prospects to do it with.

The Giants outlook was equally as bleak before a recent hot stretch, having emptied their cupboards for Matt Moore, Will Smith, and Mike Leake in recent seasons and failing to refurbish them in quite some time. Christian Arroyo, the system’s top prospect, has been called up and has shown a knack for timely hitting, though he’s struggling overall, his batting average narrowly eclipsing .200.

Two of the best teams in recent memory are suddenly afterthoughts, an important reminder to the rest of the league to savor success while it lasts.

 

MLB All-Time Team-A long overdue sequel

The title says it all.

Third Base-George Brett

Brett’s balance outweighs Mike Schmidt’s power (548 home runs) and Brooks Robinson’s defense (16 Gold Gloves.)

Image result for george brett

Shortstop-Derek Jeter

Sixth all time in hits, 35 ahead of Honus Wagner and countless ahead of Ernie Banks. That spot among the all time greats, plus the five rings, nets him this spot.

Image result for derek jeter jump throw

Second Base-Rogers Hornsby

It was a different era, but a .358 career average (second only to Ty Cobb), plus 301 home runs (surprising), and the historically weak offense that has accompanied second basemen throughout history makes this a fairly easy selection.

First Base-Lou Gehrig

Disease robbed us of one of baseball’s greatest players of all time. It’s a testament to his ability that his numbers stand up with the all time greats despite being forced to retire early due to ALS.

Catcher-Johnny Bench

Mike Piazza’s steroid suspicions and uninspiring defense assure Johnny Bench this spot.

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(Doug McWilliams/National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)

The Rotation

Nolan Ryan, RHP-ESPN’s biggest error of their list in my opinion. The All-Time strikeouts leader didn’t crack their top ten right handed pitchers of all time, but he’ll be the Opening Day starter here.

Randy Johnson, LHP-Mixing righties and lefties is strategically sound, not to mention Johnson’s impressive numbers of his own. At 6’10, he would have made a fine power forward but was unhittable as a pitcher. During the mid to late 90’s and early 2000’s, where he still possessed the ridiculous stuff of his youth yet had also learned to control it, there was simply no one better. He once averaged 13.4 strikeouts per nine innings. As a starter, that’s unfathomable.

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(Ronald C. Modra, Sports Illustrated)

Cy Young, RHP-Weird ball, different era. Wins are vastly overrated as a statistic and an inaccurate measure of a pitcher’s success. Still, 511 wins and the namesake of the award given to the best pitcher in each league can’t be ignored.

Sandy Koufax, LHP-Tempting to go with Steve Carlton due to longevity, but I firmly believe that in his prime, Sandy Koufax was the best left handed pitcher ever. Injuries forced him out of the game at age 30, yet he left twice the impression in half the time of most Hall of Famers.

Tom Seaver, RHP-Tom Terrific rounds out the back end of this rotation. Numbers, longevity, and a wicked fastball.

Bullpen

Were this team to ever need to get a clutch save, there’s only one man for the job-Mariano Rivera.

Image result for mariano rivera

How many rings do you have, Mo?

The MLB All Time Team-Outfielders

ESPN recently did a series where they ranked the top 10 players of all time at each respective position. Now, it’s normal for there to be some dissension between fans and writers-it’s simply in the nature of the game. It’s also difficult to compare players from different eras. Rod Carew once won the batting title hitting under .300, and it’s difficult to judge anything from the dead ball era, because baseball was just funky back then. Players did things you just don’t see now, and I find it hard to believe that the records set back in 1898 were set because the players were so much better.

All of that being said, ESPN’s choices were…interesting. Maybe it’s just me, but not ranking Nolan Ryan as one of the top 10 right handed pitchers and making A-Rod the number three shortstop of all time? Roger Clemens as the 5th best righthander, PED’s and all?

When disagreeing about something, often times a person will defend their point with a “Well then, who else?” argument. If I’m going to criticize, ESPN, I have to back it up. However, to make it interesting, here is my all time 25 man roster. If I had access to every MLB player in their prime to add to my roster, this is how I would play it out. A slightly different take on the greatest of all time mantra. Today, we’re starting with the 80’s pop band, The Outfield.

Left Field

Hank Aaron spent the majority of his days in right field, but he had the speed, range, and arm to play anywhere in the outfield. Left field is typically occupied by the weakest fielder of the trio of outfielders, so anyone who can man center or right can usually handle left.

Aaron is synonymous with the term “Home Run King”, even after Barry Bonds passed him almost ten years ago now. That’s because Aaron conquered the seemingly unreachable Ruthian total of 714, a record that many felt would never fall, and surpassed it by 41, unaided by steroids or anything other than the power of a flick of his wrists.

Yet Henry Aaron is so much more than that. You might know that Pete Rose is the all time hits leader, and the more savvy baseball fans are aware that Ty Cobb, the only other man besides Rose to reach 4,000 hits, resides in second place. (A fact that surely would have rankled him.) Yet few know that it is Aaron, not Honus Wagner or Stan Musial (though Musial is just 140 hits behind him), nor George Brett that occupies the number three spot on the list: It is none other than Hank Aaron. Aaron’s greatness lies in his remarkable consistency: He never once hit even 50 home runs in a season, yet he hit 40 or more 8 times and 30 or more 14 times. 50 home runs was a regular occurrence in the steroid era: players such as Brady Anderson, Luis Gonzalez, Ryan Howard, and Greg Vaughn all reached that plateau, and none of them are anywhere close to the Hall of Fame. Yet the only player from this inflated offensive era in baseball history who even approached Aaron was the man who eventually passed him.

Aaron also spend much of his prime in the high mound era of the sixties than was so dominant for pitchers that the mound had lowered to keep competitive balance-but Aaron still managed to win two batting titles before the mound was lowered. He also collected three Gold Glove Awards-the pinnacle of most players’ careers, but a mere footnote in his.

There are a great number of terrific outfielders-perhaps more so than there are at any other position. Picking three is no easy task, but Aaron was perhaps the easiest selection of them all.

Center Field

William Howard Mays, Junior is considered by many to be the most complete baseball player of all time. Not only could Mays hit for average, hit for power, run the bases, field, and throw, he could do it better than anyone else.

These days, the term 5-tool player is thrown around when a guy hits .300 with 25 homers and 25 stolen bases while being a good defender. Willie would hit .330 with 50 homers and steal 40 bases. Mays won 12 Gold Glove Awards, and he would have won more had the award been instated before 1957. He holds the record for the most putouts in baseball history-and the most iconic catch in the history of the game.

Mays was so good for so long, and his peak value was unlike anyone else. If he didn’t lose two years of his prime to the Korean War, he easily would have easily surpassed 700 and most likely would have passed Ruth himself. The statistics are staggering-but that’s only half the story. What makes Mays special is how he played the game. He was amazingly durable. He was the greatest defensive player ever by many metrics-and one of the best to ever swing the lumber, too.

Many believe that Mays is the greatest to ever step in between the lines. Even those who don’t must grudgingly admit that he was certainly the most complete player to lace them up.

Willie Mays could do it all-and he did.

Right Field

Three of the greatest baseball players of all time, men who defined an era of American history and were revered as household names across the land during baseball’s golden age-didn’t make the list. Ted  Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Stan Musial dominated the 1950’s, yet none of them cracked this list. They were left off in favor of three of baseball’s most hallowed names. The next man on this list is perhaps the most recognizable of them all.

Babe Ruth would probably make this list as a pitcher, had he stuck with his original position. Instead, he became the most revered slugger the game has ever known. (Madison Bumgarner, this could be you.)

Ruth’s untouchable 714 has now been passed twice, but that doesn’t make it any less special. It wasn’t just the ball that created the lack of home runs in the dead ball era-it was the approach. Everybody tried to hit like Ichiro because it was the most consistent way of garnering success at the plate. Anyone who tried to launch moonshots ended up with a can of corn instead. Ruth changed all of that.

After leading the league with 11 homers (seriously), Ruth shocked the baseball world when he swatted 29 the next year. That was more homers than entire teams hit back in those days. Those who figured that it was a once in a lifetime fluke were drastically mistaken when Ruth nearly doubled his total and smacked 54 the next year. That was nothing short of unheard of in those days. None of the great home run hitters who followed him would have done what they did without one George Herman Ruth.

As baseball and advanced statistics evolve, it becomes even more clear how dominant Ruth was. Sabermetrics love Ruth, grading him as the best ever with their sacred OPS statistic, which combines on base percentage with slugging percentage.

Just think of how many homers Ruth could have hit had he started his career in the outfield with the live ball they use today. 800 is not out of the question. Four years to hit 86 home runs when he was young would have been a piece of cake.

Ruth’s weight problem made him no great shakes in the outfield, but the other parts of his game are often overlooked. Would you believe me if I told you Ruth’s career batting average is well ahead of Tony Gwynn, Honus Wagner, and Wade Boggs? That it’s just .002 points behind Ted Williams and Ichiro is almost 30 points behind?

Something that seems impossible is seen as a “Ruthian Task.” For all of Mays and Aaron’s greatness, they never made it into common vernacular in the way Ruth did. He epitomized all the grandeur and success of the Roaring 20’s, and did his best to distract a nation from the desolation of the Great Depression.

Ruth was not without his numerous faults-but there were almost none when he stepped inside the batter’s box.

Giants Gamble on Even Year Magic and the Overvaluing of Elite Relievers

The Giants paid the market price for reliever Will Smith, which doesn’t mean they didn’t get ripped off. It just means they got no more ripped off than the Cubs or Indians or Nationals did when trading for Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller, or Mark Melacon. The amount of value given up for elite relievers in the 2016 market is unprecedented. The moves made by the Indians and Giants were incredibly short sighted. The Cubs get somewhat of a pass because Addison Russell has shortstop locked up for the foreseeable future and the Nationals should be credited for getting an actual closer. But the Giants and Indians mortgaged the farm and bet that 2016 would be their year, and paid a heavy price for it.

(CBS Sports)

It all comes back to the Yankees and their historically dominant bullpen, the likes of which hadn’t been seen…ever. All the Yankees needed was six solid innings from their starters in most games this year, a mark that at least the first three pitchers in a  MLB rotation should be able to hit consistently, and they would be sitting pretty as a Wild Card team. That didn’t happen, as the Yankees featured one of baseball’s worst starting fives and a mediocre record led to the availability of a trio of dominant relievers. Suddenly, every team with a halfway decent starting rotation and any semblance of playoff hopes pictured these guys on their team and dreamt of October dominance.

(Wikipedia)

I blame the Indians, perhaps drunk on the idea of Cleveland sports success following the Cavaliers NBA Finals victory. They dealt Clint Frazier, one of the best prospects in all of baseball, among others, and got in return maybe 130 innings over the rest of this year plus the next two seasons. Look, Miller is a great pitcher. A dominant pitcher, and has the potential to be a huge piece in a World Series team. But Frazier has the potential to be a franchise player for 10 years instead of two. Frazier gives you so much more than Miller can, just by the nature of their respective positions. Now, part of the value of Miller is that he is a known commodity and Frazier is not. It’s possible that Frazier gets hurt or never becomes the player most scouts and experts believe he has the potential to be. But the smart money is on him becoming an everyday player and a potential All-Star. That’s just too much to give up for a player whose role could be filled by most league average starters! When you add that to the fact that the Indians play in the weak AL Central and, even with Miller, less talented and less experienced than both Texas and Boston, the move makes even less sense. The move makes the Indians better in the short term, but not by enough to truly make them World Series contenders.

The Yankees’ best outfield prospect since Bernie Williams. (MLB.com)

The Miller and Chapman trades had huge ramifications throughout the league. Despite the Chapman trade being rational for both sides, it led to a series of irrational moves throughout the league. At the forefront of these is the San Francisco Giants trade for Will Smith. Smith is basically a poor man’s Miller, a left handed relief pitcher who can eat an inning and is effective against both lefties and righties. The Giants had a need for a left handed reliever after an injury to Josh Osich, and Osich was already inconsistent to begin with. It’s just that I’m not convinced that Steven Okert or Ty Blach would do that much worse than Smith, and effectively for free. The Giants gave up catcher Andrew Susac and pitching prospect Phil Bickford for Smith. Susac has real potential, but he has struggled coming off an injury and the Giants have found a backup catcher they really like in Trevor Brown. This allows Susac to get regular playing time and fulfill his potential. Fine. A solid player, but expendable. Bickford, however, is an astronomical price for a slightly better than average reliever. Bickford was the Giants’ first round pick a year ago and the consensus top rated prospect in their system. He had an electric debut in Single A and looked to follow in the footsteps of Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, and Madison Bumgarner as the next homegrown Giants starter. With Peavy and Cain aging and no guarantee that Johnny Cueto sticks around after 2017, Bickford and Tyler Beede, the Giants 2014 first round pick, looked to play a big role in the Giants future. Yet Bickford is gone now, at least six years of Major League control, most likely as a starter, and in return the Giants got a decent set-up man. I’m sure that Bobby Evans and Brian Sabean found the price to be high. But really, with the precedent set in the Miller and Chapman deals, there was no way the Brewers were going to make the deal without Bickford.

The Giants sold the farm for Will Smith. (MLB.com)

Now, Bickford is still fairly low in the minors and a lot can change between now and whenever he makes his MLB debut. There are concerns about the recent loss of fastball velocity and his effectiveness against Major League hitters. But still-every prospect has concerns until they prove they can be effective at the highest level, and this was the highest rated prospect in the system. Most of the time, guys like that work out to be at least average MLB starters. In my piece this morning, I pointed out how most elite relievers are just starters who couldn’t cut it. Now teams are trading away players who they don’t even know if they can cut it or not.

If they can’t, just turn them into a reliever and trade them for a guy that can cut in a few years.

Now, in all seriousness, not every failed starting pitcher can be a reliever at Miller’s level. But most relievers are players who weren’t effective enough as starters. That’s how Mariano Rivera and countless others started.

Will Smith is good. But there’s a low chance that he’s better than Bickford will ever be. A couple years ago, a Bickford and Susac type of package would net a No.2 starter in return. This crazy market has led to franchise altering trade that will affect the MLB for the next 15 to 20 years. Those who stay out of it on the sellers end will be deeply disappointed, and the buyers may find that the best trade is the one you don’t make.

The Smith deal has a greater chance of actually playing a part in delivering a World Series, but Miller is better than Smith by more than the difference in potential between Frazier and Bickford. When you consider that the Giants threw in an everyday MLB player, the Brewers got a better deal than the Yankees, but not by much. At first glance, the Giants got fleeced here.

There are players who can ignite a franchise and help a team win a World Series. Players that get hot with the bat and energize a clubhouse. Dominant starters whose value increases exponentially with the ability to go with a three man rotation in the playoffs. Closers who can anchor the back end of a bullpen. But middle relievers won’t be the centerpiece of a World Series Champions team. And it’s not worth giving up your top prospect for anything but a centerpiece.

How Brian Cashman Can Re-Ignite the Yankees Dynasty

Brian Cashman probably deserves the Executive of the Year Award just for convincing Yankees ownership that it was necessary to sell at the trade deadline. In dealing Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller, Cashman has infused the historically dominant franchise with the young talent necessary for a rebirth of the Bronx Bombers. However, there’s still work to do in order to make the Yankees championship contenders once more.

It’s important to maintain historical perspective to outline the future for the Yankees. In the early days of Major League Baseball, the Yankees (0r New York Highlanders, as they were previously called) were not considered to be one of the league’s preeminent franchises. It wasn’t until 1923-54 years into the history of organized professional baseball-that the Yankees won their first championship. It was 20 years after the first World Series, a gap that seems unthinkable now. Of course, this launched an era of dominance unprecedented up to that point and never duplicated by another franchise.

The Yankees latest dynasty culminated in 6 pennants in 8 years and 5 championships in 15 seasons. All five championships were made possibly by the “core four”, a quartet of Yankees legends that ushered in a new dynasty following an uncharacteristic 15 year drought without a World Series appearance. The Yankees need their next “core four”, and the current seller’s market gives them their best chance to do so.

Cashman picked Chapman up for cheap due to his off the field troubles, yet managed to flip him for arguably the best shortstop prospect in the game. Andrew Miller’s true value lies in October, so he was essentially wasted on the Yankees, and Cashman managed to acquire Clint Fraizer, who could be the Yankees’ best outfielder since Bernie Williams.

Gleyber Torres, the centerpiece of the Chapman deal, is crucial to the future of the Yankees. Didi Gregorious and Starlin Castro are actually a nice middle infield duo, especially when you consider the bargains that both players were. The great thing about natural shortstops, who all three players are, as well as fellow top prospect Jorge Mateo, is that they can really play anywhere on the diamond save for perhaps catcher, first base, or centerfield. This gives the Yankees a ton of lineup flexibility. Cashman should consider trading Gregorious right now. His value is peaking in his best professional season and the Yankees have a surplus of young shortstops. A middle infield of Castro and Rob Refsynder isn’t terrible, especially considering that the Yankees are headed nowhere in 2016.

The obvious candidate to be traded is Carlos Beltran, a borderline Hall of Fame player who continues to crush the ball in his age 39 season. While Beltran is a great player, he is vastly overrated due to the short porch in right field giving him several home runs he wouldn’t have otherwise. In fact, Beltran has hit zero home runs as a left handed hitter outside of Yankee Stadium. An interested suitor is the Texas Rangers, who can hide his defense by using the DH and are in win-now mode as they attempt to stockpile enough talent to beat the Red Sox in the playoffs. It’s really a two team race in the AL, as Cleveland doesn’t have enough postseason experience to get it done this year.

It’s critical that Cashman wrangles Luis Ortiz, Yohander Mendez, or Dillon Tate out of a deal with Texas. Giving up a prospect of their own-think Mateo or Wilkerman Garcia-in order to get two of those three would be a well worth it. It’s no secret that pitching wins championships. The Yankees did it with Clemens, Pettitte, and El Duque in the late 90’s and signed CC Sabathia to lead the way in 2009. With none of the current crop of starters who are young enough to still contribute the next time the Yankees are contending profiling above a No. 3 starter, it’s important that Luis Severino figures it out and capitalizes on his vast potential and that the Yankees grab a high profile pitching prospect in this current frenzy.

With Aaron Judge, Greg Bird, Fraizer, and Torres all looking like potential high end MLB players, the future is bright for the first time in quite a while for the Yankees. The best part of this is how comically overvalued relief pitchers are in this market. Most of the time an MLB starting pitcher-even a below average one-can get through the first inning without too much trouble. It’s once you get to the second and third time through the lineup that the hitters start figuring out tendencies and timing, and it becomes important to adjust and adapt to continue to throw off the hitter’s timing. So in reality a struggling starter can be an effective reliever most of the time. That’s what starters are so much more valuable than relievers and reliever are usually starters throughout their time in the minors. The best example of this is Miller himself, a former top prospect who owned a career 4.36 ERA as a starter. Not terrible, but nothing to write home about. Yet as a reliever he is the centerpiece of a deal that could revive the Yankees dynasty.

If Cashman gets an opportunity to trade Betances for a high end starting pitching prospect, he should pull the trigger. An elite bullpen does you no good if you’re not playing baseball in October.

This is all extremely necessary because of the recent rise of the Red Sox, who look like World Series favorites this year. Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. are all young and look to be All-Stars for a long time. Baseball isn’t the same without the Yankees as a contending force and the longstanding rivalry has lacked the energy and importance of previous years.

Credit to Cashman for getting prospects that will allow the Yankees to contend in less than five years, and doing it while maintaing a league average team. The team still needs to do more if they truly want to return to their glory days.

Living Legends

Last week, I wrote a piece criticizing the All-Star game for corrupting the World Series. But for all of its faults (of which there are numerous), the All-Star game still brings together the finest ballplayers on the earth once a year. In that spirit, here are a few of the players we’ll miss when they’re gone. Players who will illicit a smile when their name is mentioned and whose highlights will live on in YouTube immortality-these are the best that the current game has to offer.

Miguel Cabrera

(Photographer Not Given/Deadspin)

The sweetest right handed swing since Joe DiMaggio belongs to the Venezuelan slugger who brought a World Series title to Florida in his rookie season and has feasted upon American League Central pitching for nearly a decade. DiMaggio’s greatest rival, the immortal (I mean that figuratively, unless they get the frozen head thing figured out) Ted Williams, once said that the hardest thing to do in sports was hit a baseball-“…You’ve got a round bat and a round ball and you’ve got to hit it square.” Yet it has proven itself no mystery to Cabrera, who possesses that “flick of the wrists power” that enables him to crack towering home runs with the same repetitive motion as he would bounce a seeing-eye single up the middle. “Miggy”, as he is known, has mastered the physics of the swing, giving him an effortless stroke that encompasses all the beauty of America’s game.

If hitting is an art, as it is so often referenced, Luis Aparicio draws stick figures and Jose Canseco sloshes a bucket of paint against a wall. But Cabrera-his stroke is a masterpiece, worthy of a Rembrandt or Van Gogh, reminiscent of a DiMaggio or a Ken Griffey Junior. Because his swing is so balanced and he doesn’t have to swing out of his shoes to generate power, Cabrera is able to put bat on ball at an astonishing rate and a superb .320 career batting average, highest among active players by a solid margin. Cabrera’s suspect defense has led to him being moved from the hot corner to the less taxing first base position, and he has yet to steal double digit bases in a season, but the purity of his swing erases all other faults.

Clayton Kershaw

(Photographer not given)

Clayton Kershaw is arguably the greatest left handed pitcher of all time, and that’s not hyperbole.

Now, Sandy Koufax and Randy Johnson might have something to say about that, but the first nine years of Kershaw’s career are as impressive as any run any pitcher has ever had. Last year, his K/9 (strikeouts per 9 innings) was hide-the-children filthy, and he struck out over 300 hitters. And that was the year he didn’t win the MVP. Now that Marshawn Lynch and Calvin Johnson have retired, there is no singular more dominant force in sports. Kershaw has Nolan Ryan’s heater and Greg Maddux’s control. There are plenty of dominant pitchers who become All-Stars and even hall of famers with those two attributes. What separates Kershaw is the late, dramatic movement that his pitches-the nastiness that will slide the ball just a few inches from where it resided previously, turning home runs into pop flys and dribblers into strikeouts. Kershaw’s dominance is good for the game of baseball. Every era needs an iconic pitcher and a hallowed slugger, and Kershaw fills his role impeccably.

The only things missing from Kershaw’s resume is postseason success and a good nickname. Despite historical regular season dominance, Kershaw has stumbled thus far in the playoffs. Not all of it lies on his shoulders, as his teams have consistently imploded throughout the past decade, but as he ages, the burden will weigh heavier and heavier on his shoulders.

Buster Posey

(Photographer not given)

If Buster Posey continues to play the way he has through the first seven years of his career for the next five, he’ll be in the Hall of Fame.

If he does it for the next ten, he will be the greatest catcher of all time.

Buster Posey entered baseball lore as a rookie, when he was called up in mid May and proceeded to bat cleanup and lead the Giants to an unlikely World Series title. He was Rookie of the Year and looked to be a franchise centerpiece for years to come.

The fairytale took an unexpected plunge when Posey suffered a gruesome ankle injury in the following season. Posey didn’t have much trouble with his comeback attempt-he was only NL MVP and a World Series Champion (again) during his first campaign back.

Posey posses the same smooth swing as Cabrera. He has a remarkable tendency to follow the law of averages-a slump never lasts too long with Posey, and there’s always one month where he catches fire-usually July-and hits near or over .400. Posey’s defense, too, has been superb. He is the best pitch framer in baseball and consistently throws out over 50 percent of potential basestealers with a compact motion and a rifle behind the dish.

The statistics speak for themselves, and barring an abrupt drop off, he is well on his way to 300 homers and 3,000 hits. Johnny Bench is widely accepted as the incumbent in terms of the greatest catcher ever, and he hit 389 dingers-a number well within Posey’s reach. Rookie of the Year, All-Star, Silver Slugger, Comeback Player of the Year, MVP, and 3 time World Series Champion-the accolades continue to pile up.

Where Buster will really be remembered is in the postseason. Already claiming three World Series titles, the Giants look to be well on their way to contending for a fourth during their tenure in San Francisco. The name Buster Posey is synonymous with “Champion.”

Mike Trout

 

(Photographer not given)

For those who value advanced statistics, Mike Trout’s career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is already ahead of Darryl Strawberry’s.

That means that in his five and a half seasons in the Majors have already been more valuable to his team than Strawberry’s seventeen year career. Had Miguel Cabrera not won the Triple Crown for the first time since 1967, Trout most likely would have been the first player since Fred Lynn to win the MVP award in their rookie season.

Oh yeah, and he’s 25 years old-the age when most players are first breaking into the big leagues.

There’s a common mis-perception about the term “athleticism”. Usually it refers to a person that can run fast and jump high. When someone like Steph Curry succeeds despite lacking in those areas relative to their peers, there’s a media firestorm of how amazing it is that he is able to win the MVP without being “athletic.” Yet there’s another type of athleticism that people fail to recognize all too often-coordination. For as high as Dwight Howard can leap or as quick as Dennis Rodman could bound up the court, the two of them as well as a tremendous number of athletes lack the other half of athleticism, the coordination to glide around defenders, time a jump, or scale a wall. In rare instances, there are athletes that possess both types of athleticism-think Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson, Ken Griffey Jr.-immortals. There’s only one baseball player that can currently claim this combination-Mike Trout.

Only four players have ever stolen 40 bases and hit 40 home runs in the same season. Trout hasn’t done that yet, but he’s certainly proved himself capable. He’s completed each of the feats in separate seasons, indicating that the ability is there. Trout is probably the only player in the game today with even a slight chance at entering that hallowed club.

Think Mickey Mantle if he had never blown out his knee. That’s the type of player Trout is. The Angels’ star centerfielder possess the most complete array of the five tools of baseball since Willie Mays. These types don’t come around often.

Trout will most likely capture his second MVP award this season at an age where most of his baseball playing peers are hoping for a September call-up.

 

While the All-Star game certainly has it’s flaws, the game of baseball is in good hands. Four living legends that have shaped this decade of baseball-and will continue to in the years to come.