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The first full week of baseball of the 2012 season is in the books.  Injuries, bad breaks, unlikely comebacks, and parity were among the dominating themes. In other words, it was business as usual.

Parity and Sweeps

The five teams in the AL East are separated by one game.  Although the season is only a week and a half old, it’s probably a foreshadowing of things to come.

The gap between the elite in this division and the chronic also ran’s has narrowed substantially.  Don’t expect much separation in this division anytime soon. All of these teams have great strengths and Achilles heels.  Baltimore looks to have solid young pitching and a good middle of the order but lacks a bullpen and depth. Toronto has solid starting pitching and a solid lineup but lacks a bullpen.  The Yankees have great depth and a great bullpen but lack consistent hitting.  The Red Sox have a good lineup and a strong 1-2-3 in the rotation but lack a bullpen and depth.  Tampa has a great starting staff but is inconsistent offensively.  This could be the most entertaining top to bottom duel in the AL East in decades.

Injuries and Maladies

Closer Brian Wilson of the San Francisco Giants has been lost for the year after an MRI revealed structural damage to his elbow that may require Tommy John surgery. Also in San Francisco Buster Posey, lost for most of last year in a home plate collision, missed a start due to the Shingles. I have to agree with ESPN writer Jerry Crasnick who tweeted: “What’s next for Posey? The plague?”

After losing free agent signing closer Andrew Bailey until at least July the Red Sox were dealt another blow when CF Jacoby Ellsbury was injured in a collision at second base and is expected to be out 6-8 weeks.

After struggling with pain in his elbow for over a year, Twins pitcher Scott Baker will undergo surgery and is lost for the season.  Baker will have surgery to repair the flexor pronator tendon in his right elbow.

Closer Drew Storen of the Nationals underwent elbow surgery that is expected to keep him sidelined until mid July.  Also in Washington, cleanup hitter Michael Morse will be shut down for at least six weeks after aggravating an injured back muscle that already had him on the DL.

Who Are You Calling Old?

In the last few years I’ve read too many predictions that “this will be the year that Derek Jeter and David Ortiz are finally done” to count.  Jeter and Ortiz continue to make those predictions look foolish.  Jeter, who turns 38 in June, is off to a scorching start in 2012. Jeter is batting .366 with an OBP of .395.  Jeter also has two home runs and 6 RBI’s to go along with an OPS of 1.005.

Ortiz, who turns 37 later this year, is off to an incredible start this season. Ortiz is batting .444 with an OBP of .475 with 10 RBI’s and 1 home run.

Extensions

The trend of teams locking up valuable players on long term contract extensions continues in MLB.   Catcher Carlos Santana received a five year contract extension worth twenty-one million dollars that includes a club option for the year 2017.  Having now locked up Santana as well as shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who was extended earlier this spring, the Indians have two valuable cornerstones locked up and can look to build around them.

The Texas Rangers extended second baseman Ian Kinsler this past week.  Kinsler received a five year extension worth seventy-five million dollars.  The Rangers can now focus on Josh Hamilton, who is a free agent at the end of the 2012 season.

The days of building a team through free agency are over and done with.  Fewer and fewer impact players are making it to free agency and those who do are receiving obscene 7-10 year deals that cripple payroll towards the end stages when production from these players declines in their late 30’s and early 40’s.  The free agent class of 2013, which once looked so promising, is looking less appealing by the week.

Are You Serious?

Justin Verlander has pitched shutout ball in the first eight innings of consecutive starts and received credit for a win in neither game.  In his first start against the Red Sox, Verlander pitched eight innings of shutout ball allowing only two hits, before being lifted before the ninth inning for closer Velaverde who surrendered two runs and lost the lead. The Tigers would go on to win the game.  In his last start against Tampa Bay, Verlander took a one hit shutout into the ninth inning.  Manager Jim Leyland, probably mindful of what happened against the Red Sox, allowed Verlander to attempt to finish what he had started.  Verlander was charged with four earned runs as Tampa Bay rallied to win.

Verlander looks scary good again so far in 2012 and will receive credit for plenty of wins before the year is over. His domination of hitters on both sides of the plate and his incredible velocity late into games is truly a marvel to witness. There may be more accomplished pitchers in MLB than Verlander but right now there isn’t anyone close to his level.

Top Of The Heap

To no one’s surprise, The Texas Rangers lead the way in the AL with an 8-2 record.  Their lineup’s blend of power/speed/avg/obp is the main reason they’ve won consecutive AL pennants and nothing about that lineup has changed.  The scariest part of Texas’s early success? Nelson Cruz(.211), Elvis Andrus(.194), Mitch Moreland(.150) and Mike Napoli(.125) haven’t even gotten going yet.  If anyone was expecting the Rangers to “bounce” off their consecutive World Series losses they were dreaming.  As much as everyone screams these days about pitching being everything, the bottom line is that a team with a lineup as deep as Texas’ doesn’t need an all star pitching staff.  Runs win games, and Texas will continue to score many of them this season.

To the surprise of many, the Dodgers lead the way in the NL with a gaudy 9-1 record.  Matt Kemp is playing like a beast.  Kemp is hitting .487 with an OBP of .523 and an OPS of 1.548.  Kemp also has 6 home runs and 16 RBI’s.  Watching Kemp so far this year has been like a watching a human highlight reel.

Chad Billingsley has allowed only 1 earned run in 14 1/3 IP to lead the Dodger’s staff.

The Natural

No, I’m not talking about Roy Hobbs. I’m talking about Terry Francona. Across the country people have been thrilled to listen to Francona in the broadcast booth since his debut during the 2011 postseason.  His work so far this season confirms that last year’s entertaining broadcasts were no fluke.  As good of a manager as Francona was and could be again, there are plenty of us who hope he decides to stay in the booth.  Listening to Francona speak is entertaining as well as informative. His insights into what a manager is really thinking in a situation, as well as his candid views of current players and managers in the games he is covering are fantastic.  His honesty and self deprecating humor combined with his sharp insights and experience are the same traits that another World Champion coach in another sport brought to the booth with him in the 1980’s. Francona could be the John Madden of baseball broadcasting if he sticks to his current position.  I personally can’t recall a single broadcast booth personality in a lifetime of watching baseball that I ever enjoyed listening to as much as Francona.  If he’s doing a game, I’m watching it.

Gee, What a Shock

Well that certainly didn’t take long. Bobby Valentine’s comments and motivating tactics have always been controversial and questionable.  I once wondered if his success in Japan was due to many of his players not being able to understand what he was saying.  His comments about Kevin Youkilis’ lack of effort this weekend were bizarre and greeted with an immediate reply by Dustin Pedroia that made it clear that the inmates are still running the asylum in Boston

“I don’t think he’s as physically or emotionally into the game as he has been in the past for some reason,” Valentine said on WHDH’s SportsXtra.

“I know that Youk plays as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen in my life,” Pedroia said (also via WEEI). “I have his back, and his teammates have his back. We know how hard he plays. I don’t really understand what Bobby’s trying to do. But that’s really not the way we go about our stuff here. I’m sure he’ll figure that out soon.”

That’s about as strong of an admonishment by a player to a manager that you’ll ever see. He’ll figure that out soon?

Valentine has to respond to Pedroia’s comments with either words or actions or will risk a failure of players taking him seriously.  I don’t think we’ve heard the last about this matter and expect a “Valentinian Response” sooner than later.

Tweet Of The Week

“Maybe Andino is mad because he found out his girlfriend has one of Derek Jeter’s gift baskets”

Eric from NY after a screaming Robert Andino had to be held back by his manager Buck Showalter following a loss to the Yankees this past week.

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Comparing the AL East Outfielders Defensively

The American League East is one of the toughest and fastest paced divisions in Baseball. Almost all of these teams have the potential to be American League East Champions in order to advance to the newly complicated playoffs. But just like it is fast paced and complicated for the offense, it is also fast paced and complicated for the defense, mostly the outfield. As an outfielder, you can’t second guess yourself when taking a direct route to the ball. Chances are if you second guess yourself, the chances are that the ball will drop in the outfield. When it comes to the American League East, there are a lot of Gold Glove worthy contenders, but who has the best Outfield in the AL East?

Boston Red Sox

Carl Crawford, LF: Carl Crawford is a very talented left fielder for sure, but his fielding isn’t used to the fullest of his potential because of one little flaw in Fenway Park; The Green Monster. What would normally be a HR in Yankee Stadium for example would go off the high wall and end up a double, and because of the angle the Green Monster makes, it makes fielding more difficult for Crawford. In 2010 with the Rays he had 7 assists and 2 errors. In 2011 with the Red Sox, he had 1 assist and 3 errors. Different ballparks make a difference, don’t they?

Jacoby Ellsbury, CF: I don’t usually offer much praise to the Red Sox, but when Jacoby Ellsbury is in CF it is a complete delight to watch what he’s going to do next. Ellsbury is a Gold Glove contender for sure, after all in 2011 he had 6 assists, 3 Double Plays and no errors. Ellsbury is what makes the Red Sox have a good outfield. Without him, there wouldn’t even be consideration as to who would have the best outfield in the AL East.

Darnell McDonald, RF: Typically a center fielder, McDonald played everywhere in the 2011 season but he mostly played right field. While he was a right fielder, he only had 1 assist and 1 error which isn’t a bad number at all. McDonald for the Red Sox would have been more of a utility outfielder. He was good at fielding, but with Cody Ross now in the picture, McDonald’s playing time might soon be lessened.

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MoneyBall: Comparing Granderson’s Contract

In 2012, Curtis Granderson is scheduled to make $10,000,000 for doing what he does best; playing baseball. As a matter of fact, Granderson is banking some big bucks. Granderson may have good offensive power and may field the ball well, but there are other players that make less than Granderson and still have the skills that Granderson possesses. Is it really possible to find someone who has similar heart, determination and skill as Granderson for less money? Yes. Yes it is. I’ve compiled a list of outfielders who have a similar skill level as Granderson but for a more economical price (something that the Yankees are interested in all of a sudden).

1. Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston Red Sox ($2.4 Million, 2nd Year Arbitration):

I am probably going to get booed for this, but I chose Jacoby Ellsbury as

Jacoby Ellsbury doesn't make a lot; but he provides a lot

another player who has skill (and a small contract) to compare to Curtis Granderson.  Ellsbury is the center-fielder for the Boston Red Sox and even though the Yankees and Red Sox rivalry gets to the best of us, you have to admit that Ellsbury has *cough* Talent *cough.* Ellsbury was exactly what Granderson was in the beginning of 2011, a player that no one would expect to shine and do well. Here are the comparisons of Curtis Granderson & Jacoby Ellsbury’s offensive numbers, and yes Ellsbury’s numbers will surprisingly shock you:

Curtis Granderson: .262 AVG, .364 OBP, .552 SLG, .394 wOBA, 41 HR, 119 RBI, 146 wRC+

Jacoby Ellsbury: .321 AVG, .376 OBP, .552 SLG, .402 wOBA, 32 HR, 105 RBI, 150 wRC+

Looking at the numbers, Ellsbury is a big offensive force for his team and for a small cost. Now let’s take a look at Ellsbury’s and Granderson’s value and defense numbers:

Curtis Granderson: 7.0 WAR, -5.3 UZR

Jacoby Ellsbury: 9.4 WAR, 15.6 UZR

Ellsbury made $2.4 Million in 2011, but his 2012 pay has not been released yet as he is entering his second year of arbitration. It’s actually unfortunate that Ellsbury is a Red Sox. He’s very good at what he does (but seriously, Ellsbury consider changing uniforms…maybe preferably pinstripes?)

2. Jeff Francouer, Kansas City Royals ($6 Million)

We all remember Jeff Francouer as that outfielder that was on the Mets but left to go to Kansas City right? Well, Francouer…isn’t bad at his game. He has less talent as Granderson, but hey, he’s going to make $4 Million less. Here are Granderson and Francouer’s offensive numbers in comparison:

Curtis Granderson: .262 AVG, .364 OBP, .552 SLG, .394 wOBA, 41 HR, 119 RBI, 146 wRC+

Jeff Francouer: .285 AVG, .329 OBP, .476 SLG, .346 wOBA, 20 HR, 87 RBI, 117 wRC+

Now, let’s compare Granderson & Francouer some more, shall we?

Curtis Granderson: 7.0 WAR, -5.3 UZR

Jeff Francouer: 2.9 WAR, 0.6 UZR

In 2012, Francouer is scheduled to make $6 Millon. Not bad for a player who played well in 2011. Francouer is not the greatest fielder, but offensively he is fairly legit. Now, if I were the Yankees offering this to Francouer, would he like to sign now or later?

3. Logan Morrison, Miami Marlins ($414,000, 1st Year Arbitration)

Not sure why, but Logan Morrison is my favorite subject. For his first full year in the majors he has shown 2 things. One, he has power and two with a little help he can become an RBI machine. Comparing him to Granderson wouldn’t be exactly fair since he only has one year, but just for the fun of it, I would say why not. So here are their compared offensive stats.

Curtis Granderson: .262 AVG, .364 OBP, .552 SLG, .394 wOBA, 41 HR, 119 RBI, 146 wRC+

Logan Morrison: .247 AVG, .330 OBP, .468, .344 wOBA, 23 HR, 72 RBI, 115 wRC+

Now, let’s move on to comparing their value and defense:

Curtis Granderson: 7.0 WAR, -5.3 UZR

Logan Morrison: 1.0 WAR, -13.1 UZR

Logan Morrison made $414,000 in 2011 and he as well has entered his first year of arbitration. With Morrsion’s numbers looking pretty good in 2011, can we say an outburst in 2012?

4. Hunter Pence, Philadelphia Phillies ($6.9 Million, 1st Year Arbitration)

Hunter Pence has the bat and the skills, but his price range is slightly lower than Granderson

Okay, so Hunter Pence isn’t all that cheap but what he did with the Phillies in 2011 was pretty sweet right? Coming from the last place Houston Astros to the 1st place Philadelphia Phillies was a big transition for him but he adjusted well.  When comparing Curtis Granderson to Hunter Pence, Pence’s numbers are a little lower than Granderson but he’s still a dynamic force. Here are Granderson & Pence’s numbers compared.

Curtis Granderson: .262 AVG, .364 OBP, .552 SLG, .394 wOBA, 41 HR, 119 RBI, 146 wRC+

Hunter Pence: .314 AVG, .370 OBP, .502 SLG, .378 wOBA, 22 HR, 97 RBI, 141 wRC+

Now let’s compare Hunter Pence’s value & defense to that of Curtis Granderson.

Curtis Granderson: 7.0 WAR, -5.3 UZR

Hunter Pence: 4.1 WAR, -4.8 UZR

When comparing Granderson’s contract to the other contracts out there in the league he makes quite a bit for doing what he does best, but we can all be fortunate that he doesn’t make an absurd amount of money.

I’ve only included just a few outfielders that are comparable in skill and money to Curtis Granderson. Feel free to discuss other comparisons in the below comments section!

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