Top 100 Baseball Blog

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Boston Red Sox and 2018 MLB Free Agents

The 2017 Major League Baseball season has just kicked off but it’s never too early to look ahead to next year. There is an interesting crop of potential free agents, and the Boston Red Sox, who are annual players in the market, may look to go shopping once again. Let’s take a look at what players might be good fits.

No matter what happens this season the Red Sox won’t be heading into 2018 sweating out how to retain any of their major stars. To the contrary, first baseman Mitch Moreland and outfielder Chris Young are the biggest names on the team playing in the final year of their contract. On a positive note, Allen Craig, who has hit a combined .139 in 65 games with Boston since 2014, is scheduled to have his $11 million 2017 salary come off the books. While the team may not have many obvious holes, they are always in the process of trying to get better. Here are some of the anticipated free agents that may help them do that.

Jonathan Lucroy- Catcher/First Baseman: Barring a breakout season from Moreland (which is happening in the early going), the team could be looking for an upgrade at first base for next year. Now that Hanley Ramirez has transitioned to designated hitter, it seems unlikely he would return to the field. Finding a more traditional first baseman could be costly given the premium at the position but Lucroy represents an intriguing option. A catcher throughout his career, he has also played 46 games at first since the 2013 season.

The 30-year-old right-handed hitter would be a welcome addition to the team’s middle of the order. Coming  off a career year in 2016 where he hit a combined .292 with 24 home runs and 81 RBIs with the Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers, he is a proven hitter who would be a great fit playing half his games at Fenway Park (he has three doubles and a home run in six career games at the venue).

The team struck gold in the past with a former catcher shifting to first base (Mike Napoli), so rolling the dice again makes sense. Lucroy is making $5.25 million this year, so a big raise is in line. However, he won’t break the bank and could provide the offensive production of an above average first baseman at a lower cost than some of the premium names. Now in his 30s and rating as one of the worst catchers in baseball at framing pitches in 2016, a position switch may be desirable for Lucroy as well as to maximize his offseason value.

Jarrod Dyson- Outfielder: Now in his second season with Boston, Young has done everything that could possibly be expected as the team’s fourth outfielder. That means his return is possible. However, if he chooses to go elsewhere, Dyson is an intriguing replacement option.

A completely different player than Young (who relies on beating up on left-handed pitching), the 32-year-old Dyson’s game is built on speed and defense. Able to play all three outfield positions, he hit .278 with one home run and 30 stolen bases last year in 107 games with the Kansas City Royals. He is just a .258 career hitter with seven home runs and 177 stolen bases over seven-plus seasons in the majors, and is slated to become a free agent at the end of this year with the Seattle Mariners.

A downside to Dyson, who bats from the left side, is that he is fairly useless against left-handed pitching, as suggested by his career .583 career OPS against southpaws. On the other hand, Young has struggled mightily against righties in the past.

Dyson’s true value is his glove. His 4.9 dWar over the past three seasons is even better than defensive stalwarts like Jackie Bradley Jr. (4.4 over the same period). Adding that to his speed should make him a strong consideration for Boston’s 2018 fourth outfielder role.

Clayton Richard- Pitcher: The Red Sox have plenty of horse power at the front of their rotation but lack a tried and true swing-man who can shift easily between starting and relieving. This is where the 33-year-old left-hander could come into play.

Richard is currently holding down the fort as the “ace” of the moribund San Diego Padres. His career has already seen various iterations, as he has shifted from starting to relieving and back to starting again (missing most of 2014 due to injury in between). He began last season pitching in relief with the Chicago Cubs; posting mediocre results. He ended up with the Padres and returned to the rotation. His 2.41 ERA in nine late season starts suggested he still has something left in the tank.

Relying on a low-90s fastball, slider and changeup, Richard doesn’t have overwhelming stuff but is a example of a hurler who truly “knows how to pitch.” This is knowledge and ability that has come with age and experience. FanGraphs’ Jeff Sullivan recently pointed out how he has cleaned up his delivery in recent times and become an extreme ground-ball pitcher.

The Red Sox would likely not be interested in Richard if he has suitors trying to lock him up in their rotation for multiple years, as the salary he would command in that role could be prohibitive. Barring a Rich Hill-esque surge in 2017, all options are still on the table as to what his future holds. Boston ended up having a decent swing man last year in Clay Buchholz but it remains to be seen if anyone will fill that void this season. Going in strong on the lefty would be a good step in addressing that need and seeing what value they might find in the veteran.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Catching Up With Former Detroit Tigers Pitcher Steve Searcy

In the mid-1980s the Detroit Tigers were one of the most feared teams in baseball. Winning the World Series in 1984, they had an iconic manager in Sparky Anderson, and a roster full of talent, including the likes of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. Hoping to keep their momentum going, they also focused on stocking their farm system with young talent to sustain their future. Unfortunately, the team slipped as they moved towards the end of the decade and into the 1990s; unable to develop the prospects to build a dynasty. One of those home grown players was left-handed pitcher Steve Searcy, who never became a star but did make it to the majors in Motown.

Searcy was not a natural southpaw. Born with osteomyelitis in his right shoulder, the bone inflammation forced him to do some things, including throwing a baseball, with his off-hand. Proving that the switch was not an impediment, he became such a skilled pitcher that he ended up at the University of Tennessee on scholarship. A stellar career as a Volunteer, including a 2.45 ERA in 95.1 innings in 1984, led to his selection in the third round in the 1985 draft by the Tigers.

Searcy quickly grew into one of the team’s top pitching prospects. In 1986 he was 11-6 with a 3.30 ERA in Double-A. A broken kneecap from a comebacker to the mound prematurely ended his 1987 season but he rebounded in 1988 to go 13-7 with a 2.59 ERA and 176 strikeouts in Triple-A. This earned him his call-up to the Tigers.

On August 29, 1988, Searcy toed the rubber for the first time in a major league game, facing off against Bill Long and the Chicago White Sox. The lefty went 7.2 strong innings but took the 3-2 loss in large part because of solo home runs he gave up to Carlton Fisk and Ken Williams.

Bouncing between the minor leagues and Majors for the next several seasons (1988-91 with the Tigers and 1991-92 with the Philadelphia Phillies) he pitched as both a starter and a reliever. He appeared in a total of 70 games (21 starts), accumulating a 6-13 record with a 5.68 ERA. Although he struck out 140 batters in 187 innings, the 119 walks and 25 home runs he allowed were indicators of things that prevented him from having greater success.

Searcy pitched in the minors for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the second half of 1992, and then for the Baltimore Orioles in 1993. Unfortunately, he struggled in both organizations and retired at the age of 29. Years after the end of his playing career he answered some questions about his baseball career. Keep reading for more on the former Tiger.

Steve Searcy Questionnaire:

If you could do anything differently about your playing career, what would that be?: Learn to study film. Just started when I was in the league.

What was the strangest play you ever saw?: Can’t say there is anything that sticks out, but I did have a player 0-and-2, and the umpire told me ‘anywhere close.’ I got strikeout on a ball inside.

Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Jeff Jones, pitching coach with Detroit.

How did you find out you were called up to the major leagues?: I was bumped back two starts, and told on the third day I was starting in the Bigs.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Friday, March 31, 2017

Norm Angelini's Journey through 1970's Professional Baseball

In the 1960’s left-handed pitchers ruled baseball, with the likes of Whitey Ford, Sandy Koufax and Warren Spahn patrolling the mound. Needless to say, teams were extremely interested in identifying the next southpaw to potentially take their place in the pantheon. One such prospect was Norm Angelini, who may not have become a star but did accomplish the impressive feat of reaching at pitching well at the major league level.

Growing up in San Mateo, California, Angelini played baseball like many of his peers. It just turned out that he was better than most of them. He went on to play collegiately for the College of San Mateo and then Washington State University. So tantalizing was his talent that he ended up being drafted three times—but he never signed with any of them. In 1966 he was selected by the Baltimore Orioles, and then by the Cincinnati Reds in the 1967 January draft. Finally, he was taken in the eighth round of the June phase of the draft by the New York Yankees.

Prior to the 1969 season, the 21-year-old signed with the Kansas City Royals as an amateur free agent. He began as a starter in their minor league system, but by 1971 had transitioned to primarily relieving and found his true success, including a 1.41 ERA in 51 Triple-A innings that year.
Angelini earned a call up to the Royals in 1972 and performed admirably, going 2-1 with a 2.25 ERA in 21 relief appearances. He earned a win in his first big league game on July 22 against the Baltimore Orioles, despite giving up a solo home run to slugger Boog Powell in 1.1 innings.

Despite his success, Angelini made just seven appearances for the Royals in 1973. Just like that, his big league career was over at the age of 25. In his 28 career games he was a combined 2-1 with a 2.75 ERA and three saves. He continued to play professionally for another eight years, working at the Triple-A level for the Royals, Atlanta Braves and Montreal Expos.

Keep reading for Angelini’s answers to a few questions about his baseball career.

Norm Angelini Questionnaire:

If you could do anything differently about your career, what would that be?: Nothing- I gave it everything I had every time I got the chance to play.

Who was your favorite coach or manager?: Jack McKeon- He gave me the chance to get to the big leagues.

What was your favorite team you played on?: The 1980 Denver Bears. We won over 100 games that year.

What was the strangest play you ever saw?: A fly ball that hit our left fielder in the head and it went over the fence for a home run.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Chicago Cubs Looking Bad on Issues of Bullying and Hazing

As hazing and bullying continue to be significant issues in our society, professional sports, where such activity has often flourished, have started addressing it head on. This past offseason, Major League Baseball created an anti-hazing and anti-bullying policy that bans teams from "requiring, coercing or encouraging" activities such as "dressing up as women or wearing costumes that may be offensive to individuals based on their race, sex, nationality, age, sexual orientation, gender identity or other characteristic." Although such a stance is not only entirely appropriate but long overdue, it incredibly seems to have some teams like the Chicago Cubs struggling to figure out appropriate boundaries.

A recent ESPN article written by Jesse Rogers detailed the reaction of the Cubs to the new policy, because of their tradition of having rookies dress up in costumes that would now be considered off limits. Chicago manager Joe Maddon has come to rely on making his newer and younger players “uncomfortable” in what he believes to be an exercise that brings them deeper into the team fold. “The moment you get comfortable with your plight, then the threat is you’re not going to push yourself to the point where you need to again,” Maddon cryptically said.

Honestly, it’s really pathetic if that’s the best the Cubs can hit on to motivate their team and build camaraderie. In particular, with the number of children around the country subjected to bullying and hazing, it’s stupefying that the Cubs don’t see a connection between what they have traditionally done and the harassment and demeaning behavior suffered by so many. Any time those in a position of power use that influence to make others do something outside their comfort zone, that is the definition of bullying and not a dynamic motivational tool as some might have you believe.

Pitcher Rob Zastryzny, who was a rookie with Chicago last year and was made to dress up like a female cheer leader by the veterans on the team explained, “The Cubs guys did a really good job of it. I was a fan of it. It made me feel really close to the older guys.” That’s great that one player enjoyed it but what if some of their teammates went through the same exercise and didn’t feel the same way? I may not be an expert but it would seem that going out as a group to dinner, bowling or some other activity might serve a similar purpose. Just thinking outside of the box here.

The baseball dress-up culture is also strongly chauvinistic and homophobic, as costumes are often scanty cis-female clothing such as cheer leader outfits, skimpy dresses and other items meant to suggest lacking masculinity and/or heterosexuality in the wearer. For obvious reasons that don’t need to be elaborated on that is offensive on many levels and disappointing that the Cubs (or any other team) wouldn’t stop to think how that is perceived by fans and outsiders alike who claim similar identifies or simply have an ounce of respect or understanding in their bodies.

There are many out there who will lament that we live in “too PC of a world” and that we need to “toughen up” and not get bothered by such things. To them I ask they consider the following. Does that mean that when you go back to work next you’ll be fine if your supervisor forces you to wear an embarrassing costume around the workplace and out in public; knowing that if you don’t comply you will be on the outside looking in moving forward? Does that mean that if you have a child, friend or family member who identifies in a way that is frequently represented through MLB dress up that you are fine laughing at this “obvious joke” and don’t care how that child, friend or family member may feel about it?

Star pitcher Jake Arrieta tried to explain that what the Cubs have traditionally done is harmless. “No one is trying to offend any person or people that identify themselves as something else. It’s about making the younger teammates uncomfortable and seeing how they deal with the situation. It’s a team-building thing.” If only there were other ways to incorporate younger players into the team’s fold…

Ironically, the World Champion Cubs are also doing good work supporting the victims of bullying. However, I contend that you can’t condemn one form of bullying without condemning them all—especially given the many iterations it can take.

Showing how clueless some members of the Cubs are, Rogers reported that some alternative methods that will skirt the letter of the new law may include having the rookies wear Speedos or wrestling tights in 2017. One would think that a business like the Cubs that is valued at $2.2 billion could come up with more dynamic ways to motivate and team build. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case and the team is looking increasingly out of touch and foolish.

If baseball can change their rules on the field there’s no reason to think adjustments off the field are out of the question. It will just take a little awareness and thoughtfulness that realizes that professional athletes on a national stage exist on a stage that extends far beyond their locker rooms. Hopefully the Cubs organization will see how sophomoric and insulting the prevailing thoughts on the dress-up culture are and provide their players and coaching staff some tools that can help them come up with some positive alternatives.

You can check me out on Facebook or follow me on Twitter @historianandrew