All In: A Gutsy Trade for a Maligned Closer

The blockbuster trade between the Cubs and Yankees which landed controversial closer Aroldis Chapman in Chicago in exchange for a hefty load of quality prospects has created quite a stir to say the least.

I won’t get into the details, or offer any opinions on Chapman’s offseason situation which has created the moral and ethical disdain with which he is largely viewed, but rather try and interpret this trade objectively. First of all, this is a gutsy, “go for it” move by the Cubs, and it makes them better in the here and now. An elite, extremely talented reliever like Chapman not only fills a glaring need, it also solidifies the bullpen as a whole by slotting guys down. Furthermore, it prevents Chapman from ending up on another team’s, possibly a playoff competitor’s, roster. Would you rather face a guy like him with a game on the line, or have him pitching for you?

In exchange, the Cubs had to part with their top prospect Gleyber Torres, highly regarded minor league outfielders Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford, and big league swingman pitcher Adam Warren. This may sound like a lot to give up for a rental, but here we see one of the main benefits of the Cubs’ efforts to stockpile their farm system with capable, talented players: Trade chips. The Yankees made out extremely well in this deal, getting Warren back who was very effective for them both in starting and relief roles last year, and a slew of young talent which will be ready for the big club in the very near future as they reload. On the Cubs’ end, both Torres and McKinney were more or less blocked on the big league roster for the foreseeable future. That’s not to say they were expendable per se, just that their upward path was a little less clear with the young core in place on the big club. Warren, for his part, simply did not work out as the Cubs had hoped. In short, this is a win-win trade for both teams from a baseball perspective. Even if the Cubs overpaid for Chapman, well, so what? They overpaid for Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist too. But in today’s game with the incredibly high dollar figures attached to player value, it’s less about overpaying and more about fit. To that extent, Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have not missed on too many puzzle pieces to this point.

Not all fans are happy with this trade of course, almost exclusively due to the domestic violence accusation Chapman received last winter. Such a situation and the various amounts of circumstantial evidence paints a bleak picture and is counterintuitive to the type of positive character stipulations that the Cubs organization has sought to uphold in recent years. But if Cubs fans who are understandably upset from that perspective can temper their cognitive dissonance and realize that this move made the team better, on the field that is, then all parties should be satisfied. At least to some degree.

This trade is aggressive, it serves a need, and it shows that this is really it – the Cubs are all in and are legitimately going for it right now. If it works, it’s brilliant. If not, it’s bad. But the gamble ensures the rest of the 2016 season should be interesting ’til the living end.

Checking In At the Break

Well, here we are at the end of the All-Star break, with regular season play resuming tomorrow. With this pause in the daily action, let’s take a look at how things stack up now vs. where I predicted them at the end of Spring Training.  Some prognostications were spot on, while others turned out to be polar opposite. You just never know what is going to happen in a given baseball game, much less a whole season.

American League East 

  1. Baltimore: I dropped the ball here. Picked them fifth, but they are in first. Their offense has been as good as expected, and some surprising bullpen work has helped a lot.
  2. Boston: Picked them second, and here they sit. Solid team. Division title still possible.
  3. Toronto: Picked them third, they are in third. See Boston. Tight race here.
  4. New York: Thought they’d be much better. Picked them first, but they had a disastrous start that has been hard to recover from.
  5. Tampa Bay: Picked fourth, they will finish last. Bad start and little consistency.

American League Central (completely opposite of what I predicted! Knew this division would be a crapshoot.)

  1. Cleveland: Picked fifth, they sit in first. Great arms and potent offense.
  2. Detroit: Picked fourth, but this resilient bunch is squarely in the WC Race.
  3. Chicago: Picked third, and that’s where they are. Red hot start through April and May, but very streaky since. Still solidly in WC contention.
  4. Kansas City: Picked second, but injuries have decimated this group. Still, they sit above .500 and are in the WC hunt themselves.
  5. Minnesota: Picked first. What a disaster. Total 180 from 2015.

American League West

  1. Texas: Picked them first and that’s where they are. Very solid club.
  2. Houston: Awful April, bounced back strong since. Picked second.
  3. Seattle: Good start, dangerous team. WC still possible? Picked fourth.
  4. Oakland. Picked fifth, but they’ll finish better. Mediocre overall.
  5. Los Angeles: Colossal trainwreck despite talent. Worse yet, they still have to pay Albert Pujols for five more years, and Josh Hamilton another year to play elsewhere.

National League East

  1. Washington: The Baker Effect has worked and it looks like they’re headed for a division title. Picked second.
  2. New York: Picked first, but some key injuries have hindered them. Still in WC race.
  3. Miami: Picked third, they are in third. Solid team in the WC race and headed for a strong finish.
  4. Philadelphia: Picked fourth. Real good start, improvement across the board but the Phils are still a year or two away from contending.
  5. Atlanta: Picked fifth. They’re bad.

National League Central

  1. Chicago: Picked second. Historical start, but some injuries plus a rough stretch in the last few weeks before the break brought the northsiders back to earth. Still a sizeable lead in the division.
  2. St. Louis: Picked first. Squarely in the WC race, but overall not as strong as they were in 2015.
  3. Pittsburgh: Picked third. Solid overall club, another WC contender.
  4. Milwaukee: Picked fourth. Below average team, will avoid the cellar.
  5. Cincinnati: Picked fifth. They waived the white flag over the winter.

National League West

  1. San Francisco: Picked first. Even better than expected, impressive having the best record in baseball at the break considering the run the Cubs had been on.
  2. Los Angeles: Still in the hunt for the WC, strong team, but having Kershaw on the DL doesn’t help. Picked second.
  3. Colorado: Picked fifth. Potent offense is giving this club a shot at a .500 season.
  4. San Diego: Picked fourth. They are a fourth place team, not sure what else to say.
  5. Arizona: Picked third. Was expecting more from this club. Injuries have not helped at all.

There you have it, folks. Once again, baseball proves to be the craziest sport to predict. The second half of the season is set to get underway and who knows what’ll happen…

24 in 24 Has Been a Rough Ride

Beginning back on June 17, the Cubs entered a brutal stretch of 24 games in 24 days, with the bulk of those on the road. With six games remaining in that block, it’s been a far from enjoyable marathon.

The 24-game batch got off to a roaring start with a three-game sweep of Pittsburgh. But then St. Louis rolled into town on June 20, sweeping the Cubs in three, and triggering the first four-game losing streak for the Northsiders, capped off by a loss at Miami. After dropping two out of three to the Marlins, the Cubs rebounded with a road sweep of the hapless Reds, only to then be decimated in four straight by the Mets. The Reds came into Wrigley and extracted a little revenge, grabbing two out of three, bringing us up to the current date, a day after the Atlanta Braves steal a win at Wrigley in a makeup game from April.

In all, the Cubs have managed just a 5-13 record in their last 18 games, including two separate four-game losing streaks. What is happening here?

In short, they look tired. It’s no excuse, but over the last few weeks, certain things are very noticeable. First and foremost, the starting pitching, which has been the bread and butter all season, is not nearly as sharp. One through five in the rotation have become prone to ineffectiveness, high pitch counts, walks, and giving up home runs. A lot of home runs in fact. In various times during this stretch the Cardinals, Marlins, Reds and Mets have all bashed Cubs pitchers to 7+ runs in a game. Much of the defense hasn’t looked as sleek-footed either, adding to the struggles. Part of this conundrum can be traced to who’s behind the plate. While rookie phenom Willson Contreras has performed very well in his limited time, it’s a still a small sample size to this point. Miguel Montero has struggled mightily all season both in the field and behind the plate, and with a long stint on the DL one may wonder if he’s been really hurt all season. That leaves 39-year-old David Ross, who has been highly touted this year, and for good reason. The simple fact is the best version of this Cubs team, at least defensively, is when Ross is on the field. The snag there is you just can’t play Ross daily, and now he’s on the 7-day DL for concussion protocol. With a history of concussions in his career, there’s no telling how another bell-ringing could affect ‘ol Gramps.

Offensively there has been a lot of inconsistency as well. Whether that’s partially due to injuries (Dexter Fowler’s absence has been extremely impactful) or virtually a new lineup every day,  it’s hard to tell. There have been some bright spots: Rookies Albert Almora Jr, and Willson Contreras have begun their MLB careers with distinction, and Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant continue to slug well.

The good news: The Cubs still hold an 8 game lead in the NL Central, and are 19 games over .500 for the season. As we’re seeing, it’s great they got off to such a roaring start and built that cushion, because things change faster than people think in the game of baseball. More good news: All the above is correctable. Players will get healthy, pitching and defense can get sharper, and the bats can find consistency. It’s not a question of if.

There’s a whole half of baseball left to be played. Besides, I’m sure most Cubs fans would rather they struggle in June-July than September-October, right?

Heyward Injury Another Chance For Master Mixologist Maddon

If the St. Louis Cardinals ever did write some mythical book on how to play baseball, Chapter One would be titled “How To Win With Injuries.” Cubs skipper Joe Maddon may need to take a page from that chapter, right now.

First, Kyle Schwarber is lost for the season in a horrific collision in Arizona in early April. Now, Jason Heyward suffers an injury while making an absolutely incredible catch in San Francisco. The nature of Heyward’s injury, or the time he may be out, has yet to be determined at the time of this writing.

The catch itself, was nothing short of amazing. According to StatCast, the ball hit by Denard Span traveled 385 feet with an exit velocity of 103mph. It sailed out to the deepest part of AT&T Park, nicknamed “Triple’s Alley” for good reason. Heyward somehow tracked it down before crashing, in a torso-twisting fashion, into the wall, suffering an apparent oblique/midsection injury. Very, very few players could have made that catch.

To throw salt in the wound, the kneejerk reactions were brutal. One may expect some jabs from Cardinals fans over this, but oddly enough some of the most idiotic viewpoints came from Cubs fans and even local radio personalities who ran the gamut in social media commentary from being glad he got hurt “because he wasn’t producing anyway,” to criticizing his effort on the play because it was “meaningless.” Seriously. Maybe it’s just me, but there are two principles I’ve always stuck by, in any sport, or really any situation in life itself:

  1. Never, EVER, celebrate or be glad when someone gets hurt.
  2. Never, EVER, criticize, judge, or blame someone for giving 100%.

How long Heyward may be out remains to be seen, and (most) Cubs fans are hoping for the best case scenario. For while his bat was just slowly heating up, his defense has been incendiary from day one, and proof that run prevention can be equally as important as run creation. It’s a shame that some fans forget that fact. In the meantime, this gives Crazy Joe Maddon another chance to play toy soldiers, something he loves doing. Matt Szczur coming off the DL will be a much needed element, in addition to extended outfield time for Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler. For the latter, let’s face it, his table is ready. In a perhaps ironic twist, Soler was a star in last night’s game, with two hits including a home run and several excellent defensive plays. He will need to continue that production as he has quickly gone from a useful piece to a key cog.

Read that chapter, Crazy Joe.

Those Baseball Gods, They’re Funny Guys

Baseball is the weirdest of all games, that much we know. It also provokes intense amounts of superstition, sometimes to ridiculous levels, in players, coaches and fans alike. At times like these, or when any sort of streak is apparent, it’s difficult for some of us not to stop and wonder, “hmm…”

With the red hot starts for both the White Sox (15-6 and the best record in the AL) and the Cubs (15-5 and the best record in the NL), naturally much “what if” chatter, often of the absurd variety, has begun. But certain situations have arisen during the course of this otherwise normal business day, however, that are likely pure coincidence, but peculiar nonetheless. For me personally, those who know me understand that my superstitions and awkward OCD routines are borderline lunacy. I may reach far in connecting my illogical-logical dots, but when sequences like this happen, I skypoint to the Baseball Gods with a knowing “I hear ya, fellas!” Take today for example:

  • Several callers, texters and tweeters to AM 670 The Score this morning were posing questions like “Are these Sox for real?,” “What if the Cubs and Sox were to meet in the World Series? Would the city survive?,” “Could we have a repeat of 1906?” and so on. Nothing unusual there, but keep reading…
  • At a routine meeting, it became known that my client is the great-niece of former White Sox catcher Billy Sullivan, who played in the 1906 World Series as part of the infamous “Hitless Wonders” against the Cubs. I’ve known this client for years and never knew this amazing fact. Billy’s son, Bill Jr., also had a long MLB career and played in the 1940 World Series, becoming the first father/son duo to play in the Fall Classic. The rest of her family are Cubs fans and recently posed the question, “what if they play each other in the…” oh stop me, you get the idea.
  • At a quick glance, there are downright eerie comparisons between Sullivan’s career and that of current Cubs veteran catcher David Ross. Eerie as in, they’re virtually the same player. (More on this in an upcoming article.)
  • After my meeting, the managing editor in my office (and a huge Mets fan), asked me if I think the Sox are for real and would the city survive if there ever was a Cubs/Sox World Series? He did not pay attention to the radio station chatter that I did this morning, or knew of my meeting. It was a random conversation. By this time I was literally laughing.
  • The Cubs currently are on pace to match or exceed the 1906 Cubs .763 winning percentage, while the White Sox current team batting average is right on pace with their 1906 counterparts, hence the nickname “Hitless Wonders.” Neither of these is likely to happen, but it’s a fun comparison nonetheless.

Am I suggesting that the stars are aligned, that “this is the year” (a battle cry that this Cubs fan has grown to completely despise), or that both teams are destined for a 1906 rematch in the 2016 World Series? Of course not. It’s only April after all. But in the here and now, both teams are playing strong, inspired baseball and winning, at the same time, and at a pace not seen in decades.

Granted, these little situations are hardly connected, except for their coincidental nature amid much excitement for both teams. But with my acknowledgement of the sheer bizarre, and belief that some driving, external, ethereal force contributes to the strangeness of our pastime, I wonder, a little bit, if the Baseball Powers-That-Be are smirking.

Just a little.

Rivalry Renewed

Strap in, folks.

Tonight marks the first Cubs/Cardinals series of the season, and the first time these two foes will square off since the Cubs eliminated the Cardinals from the 2015 NLDS.

What’s different this time?

The blood. It’s gotten even more bad between these two teams. Fueled not only by the Cubs’ much heralded playoff series win, but it was then compounded when Cardinals free agents John Lackey and Jason Heyward signed with the Cubs during the offseason. The latter player has drawn particular ire from Cardinals fans, as he accepted less money than what the Cardinals offered to play for the rival Cubs.

What to expect?

Good, old-fashioned, hard-nosed baseball, that’s what. In a twist of irony, it also just happens to be John Lackey’s turn in the rotation tonight. He will take the bump against his former team, in his former home ballpark. Heyward too, makes his return to the ‘Lou, and if various online publications and social media posts are any indication, he could receive a less-than-welcome reception from the Cardinals faithful. Misdirected though such disdain may be, considering Heyward played in St. Louis for just one season, it’s still going to be a situation worth keeping an eye on.

Baseball’s best rivalry begins an exciting new chapter tonight.

A Monumental Date In Baseball History

“Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.”

– Jackie Robinson

Today we celebrate Jackie Robinson Day across the country. On this day in 1947, Robinson made his MLB debut on Opening Day at Ebbets Field, helping the Dodgers to a 5-3 win over the visiting Braves. And history was made.

Baseball’s Sacrificial Lamb Deserves Resurrection

“Regardless of the verdict of juries, no player who throws a ballgame, no player that undertakes or promises to throw a ballgame, no player that sits in conference with a bunch of crooked players and gamblers where the ways and means of throwing a game are discussed and does not promptly tell his club about it, will ever play professional baseball.”

Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, first Commissioner of Baseball, 1921

So goes the decree that banned eight ballplayers from the Chicago White Sox for their involvement in conspiring with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series to the Cincinnati Reds. But upon close examination of the statement, the last line draws special attention, as it was written for, and directed toward, one player: George “Buck” Weaver.

Much has been written about and endlessly speculated over the Black Sox, as they (perhaps erroneously, since they were called this before 1919 as a joke about their always dirty uniforms) are forever known, but therein lies the problem: Nobody really knew what was happening. Not then, and certainly not nearly a century later. It was for this uncertainty that players like Weaver kept their mouth shut during the Series. It was clear that there was some sort of problem on the field, but nobody was certain who was participating and who was playing honest. To make matters worse, virtually everyone within the White Sox organization had knowledge of it, but one man was crucified to take the fall. Let’s examine why.

During the 1921 criminal trial of the eight players, sparked after sportswriter Hugh Fullerton and others exposed the scandal, testimony from some of the gamblers as well as scorecards of the games generated enough evidence of foul play to indicate that something wasn’t right. Questionable plays in each game showed the Series was not on the level, and this was backed up by the aforementioned testimonies. However, the trial itself quickly became a bigger scandal than the Series. Signed confessions to the Grand Jury by three of the accused players mysteriously disappeared. (The accepted theory is that Charles Comiskey, along with perhaps some gambling bigwigs, paid to have them stolen in order to make the trial a wash and thus protect the business of baseball.) This lack of official admission led to the eventual aquittal of the players in court. However, behind the scenes, American League President Ban Johnson, and National League President John Heydler along with several owners, appointed Kenesaw Mountain Landis, a former federal judge, as baseball’s first Commissioner. The very first ruling he made in this role was to ban the eight players forever, a decision he was within his right to make, as he was given absolute ruling power over the game of baseball.

Individually, there was little question about the involvement of six of the eight players. The other two, the gritty and ever-smiling Weaver and the legendary “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, have generated decades of sympathy and pleas for reinstatement, largely due to the sparking performance each turned in during the ’19 Series. Jackson hit .375 and the Series’ only home run, while Weaver hit .324 and played flawless defense. Jackson however, despite having Hall of Fame-worthy career statistics, has one red thumb: He accepted money for his participation in the fix. Even though he did nothing on the field to indicate he was not playing on the level, he was illegally paid. That, sadly, is enough to keep him out. Weaver on the other hand, did not take a dime, and had no participation other than simply being aware that the nefarious plan was hatched. But by Game 3 of the Series, it was completely unclear who was trying and who wasn’t. Buck tried to tell manager Kid Gleason and others, but it fell on deaf ears. Moreover, he didn’t know who to rat out or what to say! Had he made what was considered a false accusation, he could’ve implicated himself in a serious matter, so he was literally unable to resolve the situation! Landis’ statement had a special section at the end for Weaver. Why? He needed to set a precedent.

There simply was no rule in place at the time about punishing those with guilty knowledge of something, so he made one. The problem was, Weaver was by far not the only one who knew of the fix. The rest of the team, manager Kid Gleason, even owner Charles Comiskey himself had caught wind of the fix before the Series even began. But knowing Weaver was part of the “in” crowd on the clique-ridden Sox, the likes of which had orchestrated the fix to begin with, he declared Weaver guilty by association and banned him with the others. Precedent set. ‘Ol Buck was the fall guy.

Weaver’s sacrifice has not been in vain however, as through the years many gambling incidents were avoided or saved by Buck’s banishment. It became a well-known and understood fact that you could indeed face banishment for knowledge of throwing games, and thus, in an indirect and perhaps ironic way, Weaver has helped preserve the game’s integrity. All things considered, that could and should weigh heavily in his favor and be more than a bullet point in his case for reinstatement.

What happens now? For nearly a century, there has been an outpouring of support for both Jackson and Weaver’s reinstatement. This will likely never happen for Jackson, as although he had a stellar career, he did accept money for the ’19 Series. Intangibly speaking, to reinstate Shoeless Joe would be the equivalent of removing a huge chunk of baseball folklore from the world and giving a new identity to one of the games most tragic heroes. Baseball likely will not do this. Weaver by comparison, was nothing more than a bystander who was made an example of. He was ripped away from the game he adored during the prime of his career. The only third baseman that Ty Cobb would never bunt against, was cast out unjustly for the sake of establishing a rule. Now that that precedent has been set, I’d say his punishment is long, long over. It’s now up to Commissioner Rob Manfred, or any future commissioners to soften their hearts a bit, and right a wrong.

Let the Ginger Kid smile again.

2016 MLB Predictions

Alright folks. As Spring Training comes to a close, it’s time to unveil this year’s 2016 regular season predictions. Note that last word, because that’s only what they are: Predictions. Prognostications. Educated guesses. Only one pick below is based on my favorite intangible: Reverse Karma. (Hey, it works in hockey.) So without further adieu…

AL EAST

This division is shaping up to be one of the most exciting in baseball this year. It may appear front loaded with New York and Boston, but Toronto and Baltimore are packing some firepower, and Tampa Bay is the proverbial thorn.

  1. New York Yankees: Nice offseason additions, and the best bullpen in baseball lead the way here. If the Yanks have the lead in the 6th inning, they really shouldn’t relinquish it.
  2. Boston: Huge moves aquiring David Price and Craig Kimbrel, along with a solid lineup. But will it be enough?
  3. Toronto: Offense, offense, offense.
  4. Tampa Bay: Good enough to be in the picture, could turn some heads with a fast start.
  5. Baltimore: Strong offense top to bottom, but not much else, especially on the mound.

AL CENTRAL

Muck. Logjam. Crapshoot. Look at five different publications and you’ll probably see five different orders of finish predicted here. This will be fun to watch as it’s all up for grabs.

  1. Minnesota: 2015 was a big jolt of confidence for the returnees, and there is balance throughout the roster.
  2. Kansas City: A winning culture has been bred for the defending WS champs, and it’s bound to continue.
  3. Chicago White Sox: A very good offseason with key additions in Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie to backup a solid front of the rotation. If they get off to a good start, the Sox will be a factor in this division.
  4. Detroit: Some good power in the lineup and Jordan Zimmerman is a nice pickup to bolster a decent pitching staff.
  5. Cleveland: Their arms may keep them in the discussion early on, but without an extra bat or two, it could be a long second half.

AL WEST

A pretty top-heavy division with Texas and Houston, but Los Angeles and Seattle look to surprise.

  1. Texas: Cole Hamels in a full season, and a healthy Yu Darvish lead the way for this well-balanced team looking to win another division title.
  2. Houston: Last year was no fluke, but they’ll need another hot start to keep pace with the Rangers.
  3. Los Angeles Angels: Could contend for this division, but they’ll need health and consistency out of their rotation.
  4. Seattle: Lots of turnover again, but they’ll be better.
  5. Oakland: Billy Beane is in heavy rebuild mode right now.

NL EAST

In 2015, it was Washington’s division to lose…and they did. Now it’s all on the Mets.

  1. New York Mets: Pitching wins, and the Mets have tons of it. Throw in a nice player in Neil Walker to replace Daniel Murphy, and re-signing Yoenis Cespedes, and the Mets look to repeat as NL East champs.
  2. Washington: A nice team who fell short in 2015, but a lot of that can be contributed to a disagreeable clubhouse. New skipper Dusty Baker will surely fix that, and it will help the Nats slug it out for the top spot with the Mets.
  3. Miami: Some underrated talent led by manager Don Mattingly and coach Barry Bonds and this team could open a few eyes.
  4. Philadelphia: Nowhere to go but up. They’ll be better, but not by much.
  5. Atlanta: A good pipeline is waiting to be mined, but it’ll take some time.

NL CENTRAL

This division was the talk of baseball last year, with the omnipresent Cardinals, scrappy Pirates and explosive young Cubs at the top. Look for those three to juggle the division torch again, but how will they finish?

  1. St. Louis: If the Cardinals wrote any mythical book on baseball, it’s how to win with injuries. They Redbirds must deal with more, again, to start this season, but until someone knocks them off their top perch, there they will remain.
  2. Chicago Cubs: A ton of free agency cash was spent bolstering a frighteningly talented young roster led by Crazy Uncle Joe Maddon, coming off a 97-win campaign and a trip to the NLCS. Can the Cubs take that long next step?
  3. Pittsburgh: They’ll be a player again. Solid lineup and pitching, and Clint Hurdle is an excellent manager. The Bucs aren’t going anywhere.
  4. Milwaukee: Some talented players in the midst of a rebuild. Still, this team could play spoiler to one of the top three teams in August and September.
  5. Cincinnati: They’ve unloaded, and waived the white flag it would seem.

NL WEST

Not unlike the AL West, this division would seem like a two-horse race if not for a couple potential surprises.

  1. San Francisco: Skipper Bruce Bochy is one of the best in baseball, and he welcomes in a very solid roster loaded with defense, speed and several good arms. It’s also an even year…
  2. Los Angeles Dodgers: A huge payroll keeps this team a factor, likely to be in step with the Giants. But time will tell if it will be enough.
  3. Arizona: Adding Zach Greinke and Shelby Miller to the front of your rotation are moves that show they aren’t messing around. With an offense that can score, the Dbacks could be THE sleeper team in MLB. Depth may be an issue, however.
  4. San Diego: They may have won the offseason last year, but it didn’t equate to much. They’re not there yet.
  5. Colorado: See Cincinnati.

Best (most competitive, that is) Division: AL East or AL Central

Sleeper Teams: Miami, Arizona

Team that could buck the FA Trend?: Chicago Cubs

Note: No playoff predictions at this time 😉

Player Spotlight: John “Honest Eddie” Murphy

In an era where old fashioned, blue collared, hardnosed ballplayers were virtually everywhere, one gentleman stands in distinction. He is John “Honest Eddie” Murphy (1891-1969), a veteran of 11 Major League seasons with the Philadelphia Athletics, Chicago White Sox, and Pittsburgh Pirates.

Getting his major league start in late 1912, Murphy would be a part of two of the best clubs in the Deadball Era: Connie Mack’s powerhouse Athletics, and the White Sox, where the nickname “Honest Eddie” was crowned him in the aftermath of the infamous Black Sox scandal of 1919.

Murphy made three World Series appearances in his career. In 1913 as the leadoff man on Mack’s A’s, and again in 1914, which would incidentally be his last season as an every day player. During those two years, Murphy would hit solidly (.295 and .274 respectively,) and score over 100 runs each, putting him among the league leaders. Following the disastrous 1914 World Series in which the A’s were swept by the notorious “Miracle Braves” from Boston, Connie Mack, in disgust, dismantled his pennant-winning club, which landed Murphy in Chicago with the White Sox. Although reunited there with his former A’s teammate and future Hall of Famer Eddie Collins, Murphy would see his playing time diminish rapidly over the next several years, as he struggled to see much action behind outfield thumpers Shoeless Joe Jackson, Happy Felsch, and the right field platoon of Nemo Liebold and John “Shano” Collins. During the infamous 1919 season, Murphy only appeared in 30 games, but hit .486 and was recognized and praised thereafter as one of the “Clean Sox.” Many years later, Murphy said of the scandal, “We might have started the dynasty that was the Yankees’ good fortune, but our best players…sold their honour and souls to the gamblers and a pennant purgutory came upon the White Sox.” (Pomrenke, 156.)

To his credit, Murphy embraced his role as a pinch hitter with the Sox from 1915-1921, hitting over .300 in four of those six years despite an inconsistent number of plate appearances and battling a couple injuries. Retiring from pro ball after 1921 before coming back for a handful of appearances with the Pirates in 1926, Murphy would tally up a strong .287 lifetime batting average and an OBP of .374. By all accounts, Murphy was a scrappy, tough ballplayer who never got the playing time he likely deserved. He was a team guy who flourished in the roles he was given throughout his career, although it’s hard not to wonder what could have been for this man if he was given the chance to play every day after 1914…

Farewell Honest Eddie. Baseball hasn’t forgotten you.

Source(s): Scandal On the South Side: The 1919 Chicago White Sox, Jacob Pomrenke (editor) 2015, a SABR publication