Kingdome Crossover- Seattle Mariners: Washington Nationals Players Serve as Reminder to What Could Have Been

As the Seattle Mariners watch yet another playoffs from their respective couches, they find themselves wondering what could have been. Or rather, how close they could have been had they acquired or retained certain players.

Nowhere is this more relevant than in Washington, where the Nationals employ four former Mariners and two extremely important pieces of their team that were this close to becoming Mariners. Here’s a look at those players.

Anthony Rendon

Widely panned as the best hitter in his draft class, Rendon was taken sixth overall in the 2011 MLB Draft. The Mariners had the second overall pick that year. They took left-handed pitcher Danny Hultzen, who has had his share of troubles thanks to a rash of injuries. Rendon, on the other hand, led the league in runs scored in 2014 (only his second season in the majors), hit 21 home runs, drove in 83 runs, swiped 17 bags and hit .287 with a .824 OPS.

Positional log jams aside, the Mariners are probably wishing they had Rendon’s bat in their lineup.

Stephen Strasburg

Strasburg is the one player on this list who Seattle didn’t have on their team, or could have drafted. Yet, he still represents one of the biggest, “what ifs?” in Mariners’ history.

Simply put, Seattle and Washington were both awful in 2008. Both had a legitimate shot at the number one overall pick in the upcoming draft – at the time, widely believed to be Strasburg. Seattle won four of its last six to finish 61-101 while Washington lost five of their last six to finish 59-102. The Mariners already have two of the best starters in the league in Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, plus talented youngsters James Paxton and Taijuan Walker. If Strasburg drafted by the M’s and in that rotation, the Mariners’ playoff drought would be a thing of the past.

Doug Fister

The first of many former M’s on this list, Fister was traded from the Emerald City to Detroit along with David Pauley for Charlie Furbush, Casper Wells, Chance Ruffin and minor league prospect Francisco Martinez.

Since then, Fister went on to pitch fantastically in his 2 ½ years in Detroit, posting 32 wins—20 more than his total in 2 ½ years in Seattle— and turning in an ERA under four in every season. He also posted some absurd strikeout-to-walk ratios. Down the stretch in 2011 he struck out 57 batters while walking five over 70 innings.

The players Seattle got in return?

Wells would post decent power numbers in his brief time in Seattle before getting pushed out of a crowded outfield and finding himself with three different organizations not named the Seattle Mariners in 2013. He drove in a singular run in 53 games. Martinez was eventually traded back to Detroit for a PTBNL while Ruffin recently retired. Furbush was the only solid player Seattle got back. He’s provided a dependable reliever, but is buried in a deep bullpen.

Detroit would later send Fister to Washington, but the current Nationals pitcher is just another reminder of what could have been for Seattle.

Matt Thornton and Rafael Soriano

Seattle isn’t short on relievers at the moment, but Thornton and Soriano are two more examples of players who got away. Thornton, a former first round pick of the Mariners, was dealt to Chicago in 2006 for outfielder Joe Borchard. He went on to enjoy a long stint in the Windy City before moving to Boston midway through last season. He won a ring with the Red Sox and split 2014 with the Yankees and Nationals, posting a cumulative 1.75 ERA over 64 innings. For his career, Thornton has a 3.43 ERA in 670 appearances and an All-Star appearance to his name.

Soriano is the more sorely missed of the two. While Fernando Rodney has been superb as the M’s closer, and the has gotten by with a string of quality closers, Soriano has been superb in his career.

Upon leaving Seattle he moved to Atlanta, in a trade that will be addressed later, and in two years posted ERAs of 3.00 and 2.57 before taking over the closer’s role in 2009 and turning in a 2.97 ERA with 27 saves. He was traded to Tampa Bay and promptly led the league with 45 saves. He pitched to a tremendous 1.73 ERA and finished in the top 12 in Cy Young and MVP voting. After a year in Tampa he moved to the Yankees where he had a slight down year with a 4.12 ERA in 42 games before bouncing back to save 42 games and post a 2.26 ERA in 2012. He placed 20th in MVP voting that year. He then signed with Washington where he has accumulated 75 saves over the past two seasons with a collective 3.15 ERA.

Since leaving the Mariners, Soriano has appeared in 469 games, posted a 2.84 ERA and recorded 203 saves.

Now we get to the trade that was mentioned earlier.

The Mariners traded Soriano to the Atlanta Braves for Horacio Ramirez.

Yes, that Horacio Ramirez who’s ERA over 20 starts and 98 innings was 7.16. You heard me correctly, 7.16! Yes, that Horacio Ramirez who let righties hit .340 off of him. Yes, that Horacio Ramirez who allowed lefties to hit .330 against him. Yes, that Horacio Ramirez.

The Mariners traded away a reliever who would become one of the game’s finest at his position for a back-of-the-rotation starter who posted an ERA over seven in nearly 100 innings.

Yikes.

Asdrubal Cabrera

Another Mariner traded away for relatively nothing, Cabrera was lost to Cleveland in “The Great Highway Robbery/Fleecing of 2006.” Cleveland traded Ben Broussard and Eduardo Perez to Seattle in two different trades. Seattle gave up Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera respectively.

Cabrera would go on to establish himself as a premium two-way shortstop, culminating with a 2011 season in which he hit .273 with 25 home runs, 92 runs driven in, 17 stolen bases and a .792 OPS. Cabrera would make two All-Star appearances in Cleveland before moving to Washington at this past trade deadline. While he isn’t a threat to hit anywhere near 25 homers, he still provides pop and solid defense for a middle infielder.

In Conclusion

It’s easy to sit and think, “what if this?” or, “what if that?”, especially with the Mariners. But the reality is that Seattle has a history of letting players go too early, as well has just missing acquiring players who could turn into important cogs. Those players go on to become impact players elsewhere. There are quite a few former Mariners and almost-Mariners in various MLB cities playing vital roles to their teams. The Washington Nationals just happen to have more than most. For the Mariners, it’s a reminder of what could have been.

 

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

You can see the piece in it’s entirety on Kingdome of Seattle Sports here.

Detroit Tigers: Could the Team Reacquire Doug Fister?

The Detroit Tigers will likely lose Max Scherzer to free agency. While the team will receive a draft pick as compensation for once after losing picks to sign various free agents in years past, Detroit will still have to replace one of its Cy Young winners.

I looked at some options the team has, internal and external, yesterday.

However, the best option may be somewhere in between the two. Granted the pitcher plays for another team, but he is a former Tiger. That pitcher would be Doug Fister.

Coming off a phenomenal season in the nation’s capital in which Fister posted a 16-6 record, a 2.41 ERA and a 98/24 strikeout to walk ratio in only 25 starts, the Nationals could look to move him. Not only could they capitalize on the superb numbers the former Tiger and Mariner posted, but they also have numerous players heading for free agency that would take prominence over Fister in terms of needing to be signed.

The good news for Detroit, as well as other teams in the market for a starter, is that Washington probably won’t re-sign Fister when his contract expires after next season. He’ll be close to 32 and likely commanding somewhere north of $10 million a year. That and the need to re-sign Jordan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond will push Fister out of D.C.

The other good news is that Fister is historically undervalued in trades. Detroit acquired him from Seattle for Charlie Furbush, Casper Wells and minor leaguer Francisco Martinez. In turn, Washington acquired him for Ian Krol, Robbie Ray and Steve Lombardozzi.

With the exception of Furbush and Krol’s April to June performances, none of those six made any serious contributions to a Major League team last season.

Re-acquiring Fister won’t be easy. Washington might actually do something crazy and ask for a return that befits a pitcher of Fister’s status. Should the Nationals go that route, it would make it difficult to accomplish.

The Tigers have an elite team, but not one with exceptional depth at any single position. By the same token, Washington doesn’t have too many glaring needs.

The Nationals may need a second baseman should Asdrubal Cabrera depart and therefore could be interested in Tigers’ prospect Devon Travis. The 23 year-old second baseman is Detroit’s fourth best prospect according to MLB.com and has a bright future, but is blocked in Detroit. Ian Kinsler will man second base for at least the next four years while shortstop will be Jose Iglesias’ job potentially for the next decade.

Even if Cabrera is retained, the Nationals will need a long-term solution. Acquiring Travis and keeping Cabrera would allow the former to develop while the letter holds the fort down as a stop-gap solution. The Tigers have recently shifted Travis to center field in an attempt to get him to the big leagues sooner and to avoid a log jam with the glut of middle infielders Detroit has, namely Kinsler, Iglesias, Hernan Perez, Eugenio Suarez and Andrew Romine. The center field experiment with Travis could end quickly if the team finds a more experienced center fielder who can make an immediate impact.

Regardless of how that situation would play out, Washington would likely need more than just one prospect to let Fister go. Detroit could offer one of their many young starting pitchers i.e. Kyle Lobstein, Robbie Ray, Kyle Ryan, Buck Farmer or Drew VerHagen, though I’m not sure how receptive Washington would be to that idea.  Ryan and VerHagen only have two Major League starts between them and of the remaining three, Lobstein was the only one to post passable numbers. One of the few young and expendable players left on the roster is Perez, a 23 year-old with the potential to be a solid two-way player. However, if Travis is included in the deal, it would seem overkill to ship out Perez as well. Unless, of course, Washington thinks he’s a suitable solution at second until Travis is ready should Cabrera leave.

The problem with any Tigers/Fister reunion is that Detroit doesn’t have a whole lot to offer. If Washington goes the historical route and seriously undervalues Fister in a trade, the Tigers are in business. If not… who really knows? Tigers’ General Manager Dave Dombrowski has pulled crazier stunts before.

 

 

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

 

MLB Trade Rumors: The Tigers and Matt Kemp

Matt Kemp at his best is a near flawless player. An athletic and talented center fielder, he combines that with the ability to hit for average, serious power and tremendous base running /speed to make for a potent threat. Put it this way, Kemp at his best would challenge Mike Trout for the “best five tool player” award.

Everyone is aware of what Kemp can do. He put in a wonderful season in 2011 when he posted a .324 batting average, 39 home runs, 126 RBI and 40 stolen bases. Kemp not only led the league in the two traditional run scoring stats, homers and RBI, but he also led the league in runs scored, OPS+ and total bases. Also on his resume that year? A Silver Slugger and a Gold Glove.

If you’re saying to yourself, “Wow this guy is excessively driving in the point of how good Matt Kemp is,” then we’re on the same page. Matt Kemp is good. Really good.

So why are the Dodgers considering trading someone who, when healthy, rivals Mike Trout?

This is why. Here’s a comparison of Kemp’s accolade-filled 2011 stat line compared to that of the last two years.

Matt Kemp 2011: 161 games played, 115 runs scored, 195 hits, 33 doubles, 39 homeruns, 126 RBI, 40 stolen bases, .324 batting average, 353 total bases.

Matt Kemp 2012 & 2013: 179 games played, 109 runs scored, 193 hits, 37 doubles, 29 homeruns, 102 RBI, 18 stolen bases, .290 batting average, 321 total bases.

The current Dodger’s injury form and the emergence of Yasiel Puig have doomed Kemp to expendability. Maybe not Puig by himself, but the general immovability of Carol Crawford’s contract means one or both Kemp and Andre Either must go. After all, you can’t play four outfielders in the National League.

The Dodgers, as with many contending teams, have very specific needs. Their only legitimate needs are at third base and possibly insurance at second base. The Tigers current third baseman is Nick Castellanos. Unless the Angels offer Mike Trout or Washington calls with an offer of Stephen Strasburg and/or Bryce Harper, you don’t trade the former top-prospect if you’re Detroit.

Los Angeles was reported to be willing to eat money to facilitate a Kemp trade. Theoretically, a trade similar to that of the Prince Fielder trade could work. LA would acquire Ian Kinsler to provide insurance at second base as well as playing third. However, even if the Dodgers ate significant money, Detroit would likely be taking back major salary in the trade. Something that would go against the previous Fielder trade as well as the Doug Fister trade.

If you take salary out of the equation, a package centered around Austin Jackson could get the deal done, but who else would be in that package is beyond me. The Tigers don’t have the equivalent of a massive, expiring contract in the NBA that they can shop. They simply don’t have a big contract to shop.

Dave Dombrowski’s reshaping of the team has been extremely cost cutting. He’s expunged the hefty, collective contracts of players such as Fielder, Fister and Jhonny Peralta and has replaced them with younger, cheaper players that still make the team legitimate contenders. The cost-cutting has gone so far that somewhat-expensive role players such as Jose Veras, Ramon Santiago and Brayan Pena have been replaced with even cheaper options like Ian Krol, Steven Lombardozzi and Bryan Holaday.

Acquiring Kemp would undo almost all of the work he’s done to get the team to its current state.

Detroit has reportedly been in contact with the Dodgers about the two-time All-Star, which given everything that I just stated makes a potential move curious. It may have just been tire kicking at its best, but if the talks were serious the Tigers would probably ask for the Dodgers to eat a lot of money. Like a lot in italics a lot.

The Dodgers reportedly now plan to keep Kemp, but should the Tigers remain interested there could be trouble.

Unless Los Angeles nearly gives him away from a salary standpoint, Kemp is going to occupy a large portion of Detroit’s salary going forward. This is all and well if the Tigers are able to sign Miguel Cabrera and Max Scherzer to long-term contracts, but if Kemp’s salary stands in the way of that, then Dave Dombrowski should stay away.

Kemp is going to bounce back and be a fantastic player, but he isn’t worth the risk of losing Miguel Cabrera and or Max Scherzer.

 

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

Detroit Tigers: Breaking Down the Doug Fister Trade

When the Detroit Tigers acquired Doug Fister from the Seattle Mariners a few years ago, it was viewed as an under-the-radar trade. After a few months of Fister pitching, it was looked at as a straight-up train robbery.

The train robbery is over. The Tigers have cashed in their bounty from that robbery, dealing Fister to our nation’s Capitol for a package that included utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi, young, lefty reliever Ian Krol and starting pitching prospect Robbie Ray.

At the end of the day, someone was going to be supplanted by Drew Smyly in the Tigers’ rotation. Many thought the supplanted pitcher was going to Rick Porcello, some thought it would be Cy Young winner Max Scherzer.

It was Fister.

MLB Trade Rumors arbitration projections show Porcello earning more than Fister, so it wasn’t all about the money. But, Tigers did save some cash by comparison if you match up the former Mariners’ contract with the combined salary owed to the three players he was traded for.

Part of me thinks this has long term implications for the Tigers. They obviously get young players to help them contend in the future, namely Ray, but it also helps them get to that future.

People tend to forget that Rick Porcello is only 24 years of age. He’s already got five years in the big leagues, but is only 24. Fister is five years older. Keeping Porcello makes sense when looking ahead five years from now when Porcello will be in his prime at 29. At that time Fister will be making his way toward retirement.

Dave Dombrowski might be selling high on Fister. The team was determined to move Smyly into the rotation, meaning one of the incumbent starters had to go. Detroit isn’t moving Verlander or Sanchez, and would only take everything and the kitchen sink for Scherzer. This may have been a case of the Tigers getting more value out of Fister than Porcello.

Most people will say that it is a lost trade for the Tigers, but we shouldn’t doubt Dave Dombrowski’s trading prowess. He’s won every major trade he has made in recent memory.

Think about it, he won the Miguel Cabrera trade by a landslide (that’s including the fact that he had to take back Dontrelle Willis’ contract). He won the Curtis Granderson/Edwin Jackson three-teamer by a decent margin. He acquired Fister in said train robbery. He got Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante for a backup catcher and two young starting pitchers who haven’t been able to fully establish themselves on one of baseball’s worst teams. The man wins trades.

No one should jump to conclusions on trades. You can only tell who won or lost a trade in four or five years. People have doubted Dombrowski’s deals in the past. (I, for one, thought they gave way too much for Sanchez. I was wrong.) We have to give the team a chance to play together, let alone get through an off-season. It’s premature and foolish, to jump to conclusions about Dombrowski’s trading. Give it time. It’ll all work out.

What We Learned From the Seahawks Win, Plus a Playoff Preview and the Great NFL Coaching Purge

Will the record holder for most touchdown passes in a rookie season please stand up?

Russell Wilson continued to scribble out portions of the Seahawks’ record book, and the NFL’s for that matter, and write himself in. Wilson now has tied Peyton Manning for the most touchdown passes thrown in a rookie season. Not something people would have expected for a Quarterback who was selected after five other QBs, one of whom isn’t even starting (Brock Oswiler is Manning’s backup.)

It Doesn’t Come Cheap

(That sounds nothing like any kind of title, it’s mainly there to make my other bolded title look better by default.)

The Seahawks demolished the Cardinals, Bills and 49ers in recent weeks. Maybe you heard. Point is that another blowout probably wasn’t going to be beneficial, at least for the playoffs. The Seahawks had to work for this win. That will be nice when the playoffs roll around and teams won’t be losing by astronomical amounts.

Playoffs

“Playoffs? Don’t talk about—playoffs?! You kidding me?! Playoffs?!”

That would be Jim Mora talking about, you guessed it, the playoffs. Yes, the glorious playoffs are here. We all get to wait and see who delivers the play of the postseason. Last season it might have been Kyle Williams’ muffed special-team handling, maybe Mario Manningham’s Super Bowl catch. The year before that, gave us Marshawn Lynch’s brilliant touchdown run against the Saints. Hopefully this year someone will provide us with a play that belongs in the same breath as the Lynch run or David Tyree’s catch. Because frankly, as much as I just amped up the Manningham catch and Williams’ trouble holding onto the ball, those plays are summed up in one word: anticlimactic.

The playoffs are a different animal this year in the NFC and almost the same relative animal in the AFC. The “National” Conference returns only Green Bay, Atlanta and San Francisco from last years’ playoffs with Seattle, Washington and Minnesota as the newcomers. The AFC meanwhile has the exact same lineup (Houston and Cincinnati played in the 3-6 game last year and will do the same this weekend, they must love playing each other) with the sole difference being Indianapolis taking Pittsburgh’s slot.

In the first round of the playoffs, I think Andrew Luck is going to win many a playoff game in his career, but I can’t see the Ravens losing this game. Not with it being a home game, not with it potentially being Ray Lewis’ last game, not with it being possibly Lewis’ last home game period, win or lose. The Ravens will beat the Colts 33-21.

The Bengals will definitely be more competitive than in last year’s 31-10 romp. That being said, I don’t think the Bengals can keep up with the Texans top-ten ranked offense and defense. Houston wins 24-14 over Cincinnati.

Over in the NFC I like the Vikings to beat the Packers. The Vikings won last week over Green Bay, and nothing says momentum like beating a team and then playing them again. Adrian Peterson could very well have another field day. It will be a surefire win if the Vikings’ 9th-ranked pass defense can bottle up Aaron Rodgers, Bahia Verde’s (that’s Spanish for “Green Bay” for all you folks at home) 20th-ranked run offense could stick out like Clay Bennett in Seattle. Minnesota wins 27-21.

The Great Coaching Purge: NFL

It’s being dubbed “Black Monday,” but the day that a good portion of the league lost coaches was mainly due to lack of quarterbacks. Arizona, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Kansas City, San Diego and Philadelphia all made changes. All of those teams, with the exception of Chicago (Lovie Smith probably got fired for not getting it done in the postseason, or even getting there) and maybe San Diego, have serious long-term questions at the quarterback position.

I’ll check in next week with the divisional round preview. See you then.

MLB Thanks: It’s Not Thanksgiving, But it Certainly Isn’t Too Early to Say Thanks to Baseball Part 3

Thanks to the Milwaukee Brewers and San Diego Padres for Ryan Braun and Chase Headley’s collective one-upping competition for the National League RBI crown. Outside of that there wasn’t anything outstanding from either of you.

(Prepares to write next part, stops–)

I take that back, thanks Milwaukee, for not signing Prince Fielder. Fiscal insanity or no, we needed him in Detroit. Continue reading

Wrapping Up the Tigers’ Regular Season: MVP Voting, Playoffs and More

While the much-hyped MVP discussion is heating up, the regular season is cooling down.

The Tigers joined the San Francisco Giants, Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds as the only teams in baseball to clinch their own divisions.  Also joining those clubs in October baseball are the Atlanta Braves,  New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers and Oakland A’s. The Tigers also became the first AL team to clinch their division. The second year in a row that they’ve done that.

But really, no one is reading too much into the playoffs. Yet. Now, the baseball-related discussions are about that AL MVP race and something you might have heard of called the Triple Crown.

Coincidentally or not, both of those discussions involve one Miguel Cabrera who also plays for the Tigers.

Triple Crown & MVP

I’ll start with the Triple Crown first, to get it out of the way.

Continue reading

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.

Kurt Suzuki’s Value

Kurt Suzuki is only 28. An age that most would think would be part of a player’s prime. So, despite an underwhelming offensive season last year, it’s safe to assume that Kurt Suzuki is in his prime.

There are a few things that are wrong with this. Perhaps not wrong, but they certainly work against Suzuki staying in Oakland.

One: He is a solid offensive option at a position that is mainly derived of offensive threats (catcher).

Two: As stated, he is in somewhat of his prime, meaning he still has prime years of his career. (Duh.)

Three: He plays for a rebuilding Oakland team.

Let’s start with one. Despite the aforementioned underwhelming seasons, Suzuki is still a very good option at catcher. In his breakout year in 2008 he posted a WAR of 3.3., which was the same WAR posted by Mark Teixeira and was a higher WAR than those of Miguel Cabrera (3.1) and Robinson Cano (1.2). Position-wise, his WAR blew those of Jason Varitek (0.2) and AJ Pierzynski (0.6) out of the water. (All according to baseballreference.com, mind you.)

Two, he’s in his prime. If I had a nickel for every time I said that in this piece, well let’s just say I’d be in the prestigious 15 cent club.

And now we get to the fact that he plays for…Oakland (buh, buh…. buh.) So now that you’ve taken in that Kurt Suzuki is not only in his prime (20 cents!) and is an offensive threat at an offensively depleted position, take into account that he plays for Oakland. The A’s are in the midst of another Billy Beane rebuilding phase and are currently siphoning out their current talent for younger, future talent. (Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey and Trevor Cahil were all quietly dealt for an intriguing hull of prospects.)

In one of those deals, Beane acquired former Nationals top-five prospect Derek Norris: a catcher who can do a lot of things. He hits for power and draws a lot of walks (now it’s starting to make sense as to why Beane acquired him) and is a good defensive catcher. Basically everything but hitting for average.

Norris is presently at AAA and should be with the A’s in the next season or two. Meaning Suzuki’s time in the Bay Area could be short.

Because of his offensive ability at a position where contenders might look to upgrade (Boston, Tampa Bay) or if an injury strikes, Kurt Suzuki might very well be a big draw on the trade market.

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.