Milwaukee Bucks: That Genius Brandon Jennings Trade

The Milwaukee Bucks had been stuck somewhere between the end of the lottery and the middle of the league for the longest time. Up until last season weren’t truly bad enough to get into the upper echelons of the lottery where players like Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose get drafted.

The Bucks now have an extremely bright future thanks to a young core that consists of Jabari Parker (the draft pick they got in return for their awful season), Giannis Antetokounmpo, Michael Carter-Williams, John Henson, Khris Middleton, Miles Plumlee and Tyler Ennis.

What’s particularly amazing about the young core is that all of the aforementioned players, with the exception of Parker, Henson and Antetokounmpo, are the byproduct of one player—Brandon Jennings.

Bucks general manager John Hammond flipped Jennings to Detroit in a sign-and-trade in the summer following the 2012/2013 to Detroit for Middleton, Brandon Knight and Viacheslay Kraystov.

At the time, no one likely thought it was a massive, needle-moving trade for the Bucks They acquired a cheaper replacement for Jennings, a former second-round pick and a seldom-used center.

However, as time progressed, the Bucks began to reap the benefits of the trade. Middleton developed into a quality, starting small forward who has averaged 11.9 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists per game since making the move to Wisconsin. He’s made 41.5% of his three pointers during that span.

Knight bumped his scoring from 13.3 points per game in his final season in Detroit to 17.9 points per contest in his first season in Milwaukee. After a near All-Star first half where he scored over 17 points per game while dishing out 5.4 assists and pulling in 3.8 rebounds per game, he was dealt to Phoenix in a three-team deal that netted the Bucks Carter-Williams, Ennis and Plumlee (you can read about the Bucks and why they’re one of the NBA Trade Deadline’s winners here).

Carter-Williams may very well flourish under Jason Kidd in similar fashion to Knight. Ennis will also benefit from being coached by a future-Hall-of-Fame point guard. The team also acquired Plumlee in the deal. At worst, the Duke product is a dependable rotation big who can provide quality minutes at the five.

In the NBA, it’s uncommon for a team to turn one player into four quality players in a trades (or in this case, multiple trades). However, that’s what Bucks GM John Hammond did when he turned Brandon Jennings into four young players, all of whom could be key parts of the team moving forward.

All stats courtesy of http://www.basketball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

NBA Trade Deadline Winners: Milwaukee Bucks

The NBA Trade Deadline has come and gone. In Knowhitter’s continuing series on the winners and losers of the deadline, here’s the next winner—the Milwaukee Bucks

For the take on the first winner, the Philadelphia 76ers, click here.

Winner: Milwaukee Bucks

The Bucks are one of the great surprises of the NBA season. Coming off a dreadful season last year, they’ve rallied to post the sixth best record in the Eastern Conference. Yes that’s right, if the playoffs started today, Milwaukee would be the sixth seed. Even more impressive? They’ve done most of it without the injured Jabari Parker.

Before the deadline, this statement was true, “One of the main reasons why the Bucks are in the playoff hunt is because of the play of Brandon Knight”.

So why would the Bucks trade Brandon Knight? Well, because Knight’s contract runs out after the season. The Bucks probably didn’t want to overpay Knight to keep him even though he’s played at a borderline All-Star level this year, can hit the three with consistency and rebounds well for his position.

Instead of losing him for nothing, Milwaukee dealt him to Phoenix in a three-team trade to serve as Goran Dragic’s quasi replacement.

They received Miles Plumlee, Tyler Ennis and Michael Carter-Williams in return for Knight.

If you’re counting at home, that’s a young center, a borderline lottery pick mere months after he was drafted and a point guard who’s put up big numbers on an admittedly bad Philly team. If Jason Kidd can get the same kind of improvement out of MCW as he did out of Knight, the Bucks may have won this trade in a landslide. Adding two young players with the chance to contribute now and in the future doesn’t hurt either.

All stats courtesy of http://www.basketball-reference.com/ unless otherwise noted.

Detroit Tigers: Bullpen Names to Watch

It’s no secret that the Detroit Tigers have had bullpen issues. Detroit finished below league-average in numerous bullpen categories in 2014, including saves and holds.

Additionally, the team’s bullpen allowed 4.35 runs per game, easily the worst among playoff teams. Lastly, the team had an Inherited Score Percentage (which, per Baseball Reference, is “the percentage of runners on base when pitcher entered the game who subsequently scored) of 33% – fifth worst in the league. In other words, one of every three runners that Tigers relievers inherited scored. This stat is especially bad when you consider that Detroit inherited 244 runners, seventh worst of all teams.

While the bullpen will be largely improved thanks to expected bounce-back seasons from Joe Nathan and Joakim Soria, the return of Bruce Rondon and the consistent presence of Al Alburquerque, there are other names to track as we inch towards Opening Day.

Angel Nesbitt

None of these pitchers are locks to make the roster like a Nathan or a Soria, making them all dark horses to a degree. However, Nesbitt may be the biggest dark horse of the group. Unlike the relievers that follow, the flame-throwing 24-year-old doesn’t have any major league experience.

What he does have is stuff, including a fastball that approaches 100 MPH.

Nesbitt posted an impressive 1.48 ERA at two minor league stops in 2014 while striking out 9.7 batters per nine innings. He also compiled 20 saves.

It wouldn’t be a shock to see him start the year at Triple-A in order to obtain more experience, but if he doesn’t start the year with the big club, look for him to get a call up at some point in 2015.

Josh Zeid

Once upon a time, Hunter Pence was traded from Houston to Philadelphia. In exchange for parting with Pence, the Astros received a package that included Jarred Cosart, Jon Singleton, Domingo Santana… and Zeid.

Cosart has a cumulative 3.26 ERA in 40 career starts and was flipped at the last trade deadline to Houston for an additional haul of prospects, including two former top 100 prospects. Singleton is so highly thought of that the Astros signed him through 2021 despite having no big league experience. Santana made his major league debut last season.

Zeid debuted in 2013 with a solid season. In only 25 games, he posted a 3.90 ERA, recorded a save and struck out 24 batters in 27.2 innings. The former Astro has experience in the minors as a starter but has pitched exclusively out of the bullpen since 2012. Despite a 6.97 ERA in 2014, there are numerous positives to be had with Zeid.

He shows promise as a lefty specialist after holding left-handed batters to a .178 batting average and a .275 OBP in 2013. He struggled mightily with lefties in 2014, allowing a .455 batting average and a .500 OBP. Nonetheless, his performances in 2013 show that he has potential to be useful bullpen arm for Detroit.

Alex Wilson

Acquired as part of the Rick Porcello trade, Alex Wilson may start the season with Detroit. The Tigers clearly could use some new blood in the bullpen and Wilson provides that. He posted a 1.91 ERA in 18 appearances for Boston in 2014 and proved to particularly useful against right-handed batters, limiting them to a .151 batting average and a meager .476 OPS.

Another transitioned starter, Wilson will likely provide Brad Ausmus with another weapon to use out of the bullpen, along with Nathan, Soria, Bruce Rondon, Al Alburquerque and Tom Gorzelanny.

Ian Krol

Similar to Wilson, Krol came over as a secondary piece in a trade for a starting pitcher. Krol was acquired with the since departed duo of Robbie Ray and Steve Lombardozzi for Doug Fister.

It was hit and miss for Krol in his first go-around in Detroit. He came out of the gate strong with a 3.38 ERA in March/April and improved on that number in May with a 1.59 mark in 16 appearances. It went downhill soon after that. The former National’s ERA in June was 11.12. He only made 10 appearance the rest of the way, seven of which came in July. The reliever’s ERA in that month? 9.00.

Krol, along with Nathan and Soria, should have a bounce-back season. He showed promise early in Detroit and in Washington where he posted a 3.95 ERA in 32 appearances. Hopefully the adjustment period is over and Krol can go back to being a critical member of the Tigers bullpen.

Blaine Hardy

Plucked from free agency in 2013, Blaine Hardy had a solid first season in Motown. In 39 innings, he posted a 2.54 ERA, providing one of the few bright spots in an otherwise frustrating year for the bullpen.

Hardy will look to continue his success in 2015. Although a roster spot isn’t a 100% guarantee thanks to a rough spot down the stretch (5.40 ERA over his last nine appearances), expect him to be with the Tigers at some point in 2015—regardless of if he makes the team out of Spring Training.

Joel Hanrahan

At the height of his prime, Joel Hanrahan was a two-time All-Star closer for the Pittsburgh Pirates, converting 76 save in a two year span while turning in a sparkling 2.24 ERA. In four years with the Pirates he posted an ERA of 2.59 as a reliever.

It’s easy to forget those years he spent in Pittsburgh were from 2009 to 2012.

Hanrahan has had trouble recovering from injury as of late, but should he be healthy come the regular season, he’ll be a massive part of the Tigers’ success. Along with Nathan and Soria he would give Detroit three pitchers who have saved 40 games in a season, a rarity in today’s game. If all three pitch like they’re capable of, the Tigers could have a lockdown bullpen—something that hasn’t been muttered in Detroit for a long time.

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

The Pau Gasol Trade Machine Edition

The Lakers are struggling. If I had a dollar for every time I said or heard that then the local McDonald’s Dollar menu would be non-existent, or I’d save the boatload of money (thinks about it…) yep, definitely saving the money.

The blame game is one that has taken Los Angeles by storm in the same magnitude Lob City did. So, the blame game turned into musical chairs, and Mike Brown was left standing.

But now Mike D’Antoni is in town, and Steve Nash will be back at some point. In other Lakers firings, the team canned their entire training staff and has brought in Phoenix’s in exchange for whichever first-round pick the Lakers still hold the rights to in this Millennium. (2058, I think?)

(Ok, you got me.  I may have fibbed a little bit there.)

The point is that the Lakers are looking to change things up, and a synonym for “changing things up” is “trading.” This happens to be one of my favorite things to write about, the least favorite being draft picks, just for future reference.

With that, let’s go to the trade machine: Continue reading

What’s Left of Josh Beckett: The Bountiful Haul That the Marlins Have Thanks to Their Former Ace

Not everything went exactly as planned for Miami. They pumped up their ridiculously low payroll to accommodate the contracts and talents of shortstop Jose Reyes, closer Heath Bell, starting pitchers Carlos Zambrano and Mark Buehrle and outspoken skipper Ozzie Guillen. They also moved into a flashy new stadium, compared to their previous venue and otherwise.  So, that, coupled with the previous All-Star stalwarts such as Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson, and you seem to have the recipe for a sneaky-division-contender/ wild-card-contender.

But as stated, things didn’t necessarily go as planned. So, when the trading deadline rolled around and with the Marlin’s collective brass neck’s hurting from looking up at other teams in the standings, they decided to make some moves.

Continue reading

Can the Pittsburgh Pirates Keep It Up?

The Pittsburgh Pirates are 11 games over .500. When was the last time you were able to say that?

Not only are they a game ahead of the Reds for first in the NL Central, but they had more All-Star representatives than perennial contenders Boston and Milwaukee.

The Pirates’ pitching has been their strength. They have given up the second fewest runs in the entire National League and hold hitters to the third lowest batting average in the same league. So we know their pitching staff has been fantastic. AJ Burnett and Erik Bedard have meshed in well with a good group of starters as well as an excellent bullpen.

Like I said, we know their pitching is good and is going to be there, but what about the offense?

I mean, no offense, but… Sorry, had to throw that in there.

The point is that the Pirates need more help at the plate. Pittsburgh isn’t getting a ton of help coming back from injury. Alex Presley is the only notable position player on the DL. So help is probably going to have to come from outside the organization.

That being said, the current offense isn’t too bad, that’s saying if you add a piece or two. The Bucos probably need corner outfield help as well as help at first base. The team, though, isn’t short of good bats. Neil Walker, Clint Barmes, Rod Barajas and Garret Jones aren’t bad hitters. It’s just that they don’t belong in the middle of the order. Put those guys in the top two spots, or perhaps the six through eight spots, in the order and you’ll be fine. It’s finding bats for the middle of the order to pair with Andrew McCutchen that’s the dilemma.

Justin Upton. Just going to throw that out there.  Go ahead, be taken aback by it. It’s surprising to me too that the Diamondbacks, on the heels of a playoff season, would consider moving the 24 year-old slugger. Yep, they really would consider moving a player that has nearly 100 career home runs, steals, driven in north of 300 runs and has won Silver Slugger and a Fielding Bible honors by the age of 24. Crazy, I know. But supposedly, the Snakes want to contend next year and are willing to move Upton for Major-League-ready prospects. The Pirates could dangle prized pitching prospects Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon or even perhaps AAA outfielder Sterling Marte, who has shown good potential.

Now, all three aren’t going to Pittsburgh in any deal unless maybe Arizona sells the rights to its entire farm system in the move, but one of the pitchers and some lower tear prospects as well as a controllable player like the recently demoted Jose Tabata could interest Arizona. I know it’s a lot, but Arizona might jump at a proposed deal of say Cole, Tabata and a lower-level prospect for Upton and maybe one of Arizona’s many starting pitchers.

But I don’t think Justin Upton solves it all for the Pirates. They need another bat. A PTBNL type bat to pair with Upton and McCutchen. By “PTBNL” type bat, I mean someone like a Delmon Young or a Ryan Ludwick. Somebody on a shorter contract who, if they play to their potential, can give you 20 homeruns and 80 runs batted in over the course of an entire season.

The Pirates need someone like that if they get Upton to add length to their lineup. As stated, the bats that the Pirates already have, like Neil Walker and Garret Jones, are better suited hitting towards the bottom of the order, not carrying the lineup in the thick of things.

So drink it all in baseball fans, the Pirates are winning, but they might need some offensive help to keep it up.

Game of Dominoes: NBA Free Agency

Let’s cut the flabber and get right to it. Steve Nash is heading to the Lakers in one of the more shocking moves of the offseason. The 38-year-old was shipped to LA in a sign-and-trade for two future first rounders and two future second rounders. The initial reaction isn’t a huge one. With Nash joining a proven playoff team, the picks figure to be at the end of their respective rounds. The thing is, though, that this was probably the best thing Phoenix was going to get. It surely beats letting him walk for nothing, and trumps out whatever sign-and-trade options Toronto, Dallas or New York would have offered.

It’s also somewhat genius for LA. Financial fodder aside, the Lakers got a top-tier player for relatively nothing. Los Angeles has a tendency to move their late first rounders for useful players in years past, so moving them for Nash isn’t surprising. Not to mention Steve Nash is much more than a useful player. No, the Lake Show didn’t get to unload Metta World Peace’s contract in the move, or any contract for that matter, but the Suns probably wouldn’t take it, or want it.

On the flip side of this, Phoenix seems to be throwing their new-found cap space at young, offensively-talented players. They have supposedly signed former Sun and Nash understudy, Goran Dragic, to a four-year deal and have also agreed to terms with former number two overall pick Michael Beasley on a multi-year pact. The third potential attacking prong is that of Eric Gordon. The Suns have signed him to a large offer sheet, and New Orleans could be hesitant to match given the fact that they are rebuilding and don’t want to tie down too much of their future money to one player, even one of Gordon’s talent. The Suns seem to be in less disarray than people would think after losing their face-of-the-franchise. A core of Dragic, Beasley, Kendall Marshall, Markieff Morris and potentially Gordon is pretty desirable, especially for a team that wants to score in drones like Phoenix does.

With Nash now out of the picture, Dallas has lost on one of their point guard options, scratch that, one of their options period. Lamar Odom is gone and the return is simply a trade exception. That we knew was probably coming, but what’s more is that the Mavs find themselves having gone down swinging on Nash, Jason Terry, Jason Kidd and Derron Williams. Yikes. What Mark Cuban and friends do next is beyond me.

Speaking of Williams, he’s staying a Net. One reason for that is the acquisition of one Joe Johnson. Johnson will join Williams along with recently signed Gerald Wallace in Brooklyn at the expense of Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar, DeShawn Stevenson (likely a sign-and-trade) as well as forwards Jordan Williams, Johan Petro and a draft pick. This move looks terrible for Atlanta when news trickles in that Jordan Farmar is likely being bought out. That likely leaves the Hawks with some three pointers by Morrow and some defensive stops from Stevenson. Not exactly what you envision when you trade a six-time All Star. But here is why it’s so wonderfully brilliant. All the contracts the Hawks received in return only run through next season. That’s right, all expiring contracts. Even more surprising is the fact that Danny Ferry also shed Marvin Williams oddly long contract by way of Utah, dealing another former number two overall pick to the Jazz for Devin Harris. Who, in sticking to theme, also has an expiring contract after this season.  So add that all up and the Hawks have thrown themselves into the much finagled running for Dwight Howard and All-Star Point Guard X, who might or might not end up being Chris Paul.

In other New York news, Jeremy Lin might be done playing for the Knicks. It’s reported that Jason Kidd has verbally, or whatever the official term is, reached an agreement with the Knicks. Because of the new CBA among other things, the Knicks do technically have the ability to match any offer that is made to Lin, but it could be costly as reports suggest that Houston is discussing an offer sheet in the neighborhood of 30 million dollars. Talk about “overnight” success.

Houston meanwhile is putting a lot of their eggs in that “Lin” basket. The team moved Kyle Lowry to Toronto for a first-round pick that takes a lawyer to decipher when Houston could actually get the pick. That and Goran Dragic’s aforementioned presumable departure leaves the point wide open for Kevin McHale’s club. It would be a bit funny if Lin stays in New York and the Rockets go after and sign Aaron Brooks. Brooks was traded to Phoenix for Dragic, and should he sign with Houston… well you get the point.

With no transition at all here, no really, none at all, the Clippers are getting better. In terms of success, the newer Los Angeles team strengthened a solid backcourt to the point of using the word ridiculous. Randy Foye and Nick Young are likely out the door, but in their place return the now-healthy Mr. Big Shot as well as Jamal Crawford. They join Chris Paul and Eric Bledsoe in a backcourt that now has four starting caliber guards. This move also merits the acquisition of Lamar Odom at the cost of Mo Williams. If you’re playing along at home, that’s a starting five of Chris Paul, Billups or Crawford at the two, Odom at the three (if not off the bench), Blake Griffin at power forward and DeAndre Jordan down low. Yikes.

In a slight towards the Oklahoma Raiders, what a crap deal to trade away Eric Bledsoe’s draft rights for a future first round pick, they could have definitely used him in the playoffs. Actually, good for Bledsoe: the Raiders don’t get a good player and Bledsoe doesn’t have to play for a terrible owner. Win-win.

In guards-who-can-score-at-all-times news, Jason Terry is going to Boston. Or he has “supposedly” agreed to a contract with the Celtics. Terry will get the full mid-level exception for three years and upwards of 15 million dollars. Jason Kidd supposedly signed with the Knicks because they had better pieces, and you can see why. Dirk’s supporting cast has shrunk to Shawn Marion and Vince Carter. Yikes.

And throughout all this, the name “Dwight Howard” seems to be flying under the radar. FOR ONCE. The constant-topical center has supposedly (if I only had a million dollars for every time I said that, I’d be a multi-millionaire! Grins cheesily and gives Borat-esque thumbs up) asked to be moved to New Jersey Brooklyn. Good luck Dwight. After Joe Johnson and his contract (which, by the way, is so big that he had to check it on the flight up to Brooklyn) were acquired, and along with the long-term buildup of Gerald Wallace’s shiny new deal, there isn’t a whole lot of cap room left for you. The Nets do have Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries and MarShon Brooks, who all together almost add up to Howard’s salary. However, I’m not so sure that the Magic should make that move.

 Let the financial finagling continue.

He Did What!?! A Look at the Genius of Billy Beane and Friends

Here are a couple names for you:  Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Sweeney, Fauntino De Los Santos, Brad Peacock, Tommy Milone, Derek Norris, AJ Cole, Josh Reddick, Miles Head and Raul Alcantara.

Now I’ll give you one other name, Nick Swisher.

With the addition of Andrew Bailey in a trade with Sweeney to Boston to get the last three, all of those players are the byproduct of one Nick Swisher. Now you’ve validated the title of this piece yourself. Most likely because that’s what just flashed through your head. (Minus the “Billy Beane and Friends” part obviously.)

The first trade has Mr. Beane moving Swisher, who didn’t have an amazing year, to Chicago for Sweeney, Gonzalez and De Los Santos. Swish wasn’t coming off a bad year, nor was there any statistical reasoning for Swisher being dealt. It was just tabbed as a “rebuilding effort”.

Sweeney contributed right away as a fourth outfielder/platoon type in Oakland. He provided fourth outfielder/platoon-guy production in most categories except batting average, posting BAs of at least .286 in three of his last four years in the Bay.

The wait with Gonzalez was a little longer. He struggled in a ten-game stint in ’08. He followed it up with a pedestrian 2009 in which he only won 6 games in 20 appearances. Also his ERA was a worse-than-a-pedestrian 5.75. Then we saw the transformation, or rather the revelation. Gio Gonzalez posted 31 wins in 2010-2011. His ERA in both years was under 3.25. That and an All-Star nod last season vaulted Gio into being one of the premier pitchers in the game.

With Oakland going nowhere fast, Beane took advantage of Gonzalez’s high-for-awhile stock and moved him to the Washington Nationals for near-Majors-ready-potential-frontline arms Brad Peacock, Tommy Milone and AJ Cole. They also received do-it-all-power-hitting catcher Derek Norris. It should be noted that all of them, with the exception of Milone, (with the big league club as we speak) are seated in the club’s top-seven prospects as well as top 100 in baseball overall, according to Jonathan Mayo.

If you’ll remember, Beane acquired Gonzalez and Sweeny along with De La Santos for Swisher. Which brings us to back to Sweeney. He was dealt, along with bullpen arm Andrew Bailey, to Beantown for Josh Reddick and two more minor leaguers, listed way above. Not only is Reddick a younger alternative to Sweeney, he leads the rebuilding A’s in a Shaq-sized handful of categories. I should point out that we haven’t heard the last of the minor league prospects either. Odds are they’ll contribute to the parent club at some point.

De Los Santos is still kicking around as well. The bullpen arm is currently with the A’s AAA squad in Sacramento. Just like the minor league prospects, you haven’t heard the last of him either.

Bottom line, here is the baffling thing. Over the course of five plus years, Billy Beane, albeit unintentionally, has turned one outfielder into three potential frontline starters, a potential All-Star catcher, a useful bullpen arm, a 25 year-old outfielder who currently leads the team in almost every offensive statistical category you can shake a stick at (pun completely intended), another potential starter as well as a possible third baseman.

Yes, he did that.

The Real Deal or Not So Real: Early Season Contenders and Pretenders

It’s early in the season. Perhaps too early to make assumptions and what not, but here goes anyway.

Every season some teams get off to fast starts, and somewhat slower ones. A fast start could propel you to a successful year (‘06 Tigers) or send you on your way to a horrendous one (‘08 Tigers).

The following teams are off to scathing starts and could very well be contenders…or pretenders:

Candidate Numero Uno- The Texas Rangers

The Rangers are a very deep squad. They feature a rotation that has possibly five front-line starters, when their stuff permits. They also feature two more pitchers who would make most clubs rotations in their bullpen: Alexi Ogando and Scott Feldman.

To continue with the pitching, Texas’ ‘pen could be hit or miss (pun completely intended). Joe Nathan could be one of the better signings of the offseason, or one of the worst. If he doesn’t work out, the bullpen could go into a tailspin without a defined closer.

(Side note, the Rangers are 10-2 and Nathan has both losses.)

If you live under a lake or something, you’ll be surprised to know that the Rangers’ pitching rotation isn’t even their “strength”. That “strength” would be the offense. Yes, Texas’ offense is very good. Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Mike Napoli, Michael Young, Adrian Beltre and Mr. Eye Brows himself Nelson Cruz are all guys who could hit .300 with at least 20 bombs. To be fair, David Murphy, Elvis Andrus and Mitch Moreland aren’t terrible either.

So if you haven’t reached the conclusion, the Rangers are CONTENDERS.

 

Candidate Numero Dos- The Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers have Matt Kemp and Andre Etheir going for them. That’s almost it. Clayton Kershaw is the Cy Young winner, and rightfully so. But after that there isn’t a ton to be excited about.  Dee Gordon and James Loney are nice pieces. Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly are very good rotation options. There are some young, talented arms in the bullpen, but I’m running out of huge positives here.

Yes, the Dodgers are off to a hot start, but they beat up Pittsburgh and San Diego. There, go ahead, let that sink in a little. They crushed teams that they should be crushing, so to speak, which is what you’re supposed to do anyways.

The Dodgers might have shown their true colors against Milwaukee, who might not even get second in the NL Central. The Dodgers lost the first two games and, as I write this during the third game, it doesn’t look amazing.

Overall this might just be a fluke, or the Dodgers simply beat teams they should. Until they can start beating the big boys I’m labeling them PRETENDERS.

 

The Third Candidate is the Montreal Expos Washington Nationals

I write that because the Nationals haven’t been good in DC. Period. But that could change here soon. Right now as it is the Nationals look very good on paper. They have really good youth and talent at most positions in the field. They seem to have a strong bullpen with the likes of Henry Rodriguez, Brad Lidge and All-Star Tyler Clippard holding down the fort until Drew Storen comes back. Stephen Strasburg leads a rotation that includes, get this, Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson and Jordan Zimmerman. Granted Jackson is in town on a one-year deal, but regardless that’s an exciting first four.

Their offense is led by Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and a seething Adam LaRoche. That middle of the order is pretty good even without the currently injured Michael Morse and the long-awaited-and-still-waiting-for Bryce Harper.

Sounds pretty scary.

After all this I still think the Nationals are a year away. They will no doubt be playing meaningful games late, and it wouldn’t totally surprise me to see them sneak in. But with Strasburg’s innings cap and Harper’s late arrival… Next year they definitely will be a force. This year, second or third in the division is more likely.  Verdict: PRETENDERS (for now).

 

Saving the Best for Last- The Detroit Tigers

The Tigers are legit. The only possible questions of concern for Detroit entering the season were their infield defense and the back end of the rotation. Those questions aren’t really of concern much anymore. Miguel Cabrera has been turning in pretty good glove work at the hot corner and Prince Fielder isn’t a terrible fielder to begin with (again, pun completely intended). Jhonny Peralta should have won a Gold Glove last year and Brandon Inge is one of the better defensive players in the game wherever you put him.

The back end of the rotation has been quality as well. And when I say quality, I mean to use it as the worst transition known to mankind to get to the fact that Adam Wilk and Drew Smyly have posted quality starts. They have helped fill the short-term void of Doug Fister’s rotation spot as well as the fifth spot in the order.

The only glaring question now is the back end of the bullpen. Jose Valverde has been shaky this season, but really, anything is shaky compared to his perfect campaign of 2011. He’ll get it together. Other than that the rest of the team is loaded. And with Austin Jackson finally raking at the top of the order, the Tigers will propel themselves to a deep October run. Verdict- (If you haven’t guessed yet) CONTENDERS.

What If?

Would you rather have Chone Figgins and Adrian Beltre for the last five years or have A-Rod for that span?

How about Jason Varetik over Guillermo Quiroz, Jeff Clement and Rene Rivera?

Or Derek Lowe over Jeff Weaver and Cha Seung Baek?

Maybe even Adam Jones over Franklin Gutierrez?

Ok, maybe take back a couple of those. Varetik was blocked by Dan Wilson, and Jones over a healthy Gutierrez is a small upgrade if that.

But Lowe over those two and the countless other starters the M’s have rolled out? A-Rod over Figgins and Beltre? Granted Beltre was decent on the Mariners, but A-Rod is one of the better third baseman in the league.

Think about all the talent lost. That’s the underlying theme here. A-Rod is gone. So is Raul Ibanez, Rafael Soriano and Michael Pineda. And that’s just the Yankees to start.

Pineda can be kind of in another category from the standpoint that the M’s got Jesus Montero back, but then there are the questionable deals that at the time look OK and then look bad-to-downright-terrible down the road.

We’re talking the Asdrubal Cabrera for Eduardo Perez swap and Shin-Soo Choo for Ben Broussard. Then there’s the revered Michael Morse for Ryan Langerhans deal.

To be clear, none of the three guys Seattle got back are with the team. Perez is the hitting coach in Miami, Broussard is a musician and Langerhans is in Anaheim.

So think about Cabrera instead of Brendan Ryan (not saying Ryan is bad, but Cabrera is an upgrade offensively), Morse at first and Choo in left? That’s maybe a 10 game improvement. Who knows? Maybe Montero stays in New York and you get to keep Pineda. You’re talking about an actual decent offensive team. Maybe the Montero thing goes down, that’s a lot of offensive firepower from a Mariners standpoint.

Then there is the travesty that is Erik Bedard. George Sherrill and Adam Jones headlined a package to Baltimore. Both have made All-Star teams as members of the Orioles. Bedard made this many with Seattle. (Cue hand signaling a big 0).

Jones would probably be the best outfielder in Seattle at this point (barring an Ichiro rejuvenation). Sherrill is actually back in Seattle’s bullpen though.

Bedard was moved to Boston for some prospects that probably won’t add up to Jones, Sherrill and the gang.

So here is the thing. And again, this is all hypothetical, what if Bedard stays an Oriole? Or what if those Indians trades don’t happen? Maybe Morse stays. Maybe even A-Rod stays.  Maybe the other guys aren’t traded. If all that happens then maybe they get some combination of Ichiro, Montero, Ackley, Jones, Cabrera, A-Rod, Choo, Morse and Varitek. That’s just the hitting.

Cliff Lee, Doug Fister, Freddy Garcia, Joel Pinero and Pineda are a possible rotation that might make the playoffs with a decent offense. And they are all former M’s. JJ Putz, Derek Lowe and Rafael Soriano are a possibly playoff-worthy back end of a bullpen.

The M’s got decent returns for Lee and Fister. Ditto Putz.

But Lowe and Soriano were the Morse-for-Langerhans equivalents of the pitchers here. Soriano went to Atlanta for Horacio Ramirez. Lowe went to Boston with Jason Varitek FOR HEATHCLIFF SLOCUMB.

It’s mind-boggling to see these trades. Obviously no one can see the future and see the end results. But Boston maybe doesn’t win as much without The Captain and Lowe.

So maybe these trades don’t happen and the M’s are not one of the answers to the trivia question-

“Which Major League Baseball Franchises have never been to the World Series?” (Alex Trebek voice).

So maybe the Mariners win a title at some point and we aren’t complaining about losing our only championship team in Seattle. (Ha, take that Stern! Even in an MLB piece I’m still after you.)