Jackie Bradley Jr. is back with the Red Sox and ought to play every inning of every game

First thing Red Sox manager John Farrell ought to do when Jackie Bradley Jr. arrives is summon him to his office and say the following: “You are playing today. You are playing tomorrow, too. And the day after that and the day after that. So just go out there and do what you do. We believe in you. You just need to believe in yourself.”

Bradley was baseball’s best defensive center fielder last season. Unfortunately, he hit just .198, and because there were offensive problems in other areas, Farrell couldn’t afford to keep running him out there. This spring, he got caught in a numbers squeeze and has spent most of the season at Pawtucket.

He has produced again, hitting .322 with an .867 OPS. He had 18 doubles, four homers, four stolen bases and a .398 OBP. Those numbers may not blow you away, and there’s no way of knowing how they’ll translate into the big leagues. So far, they haven’t translated very well.

That said, this kid is 25 years old and has every measurable tool. Young players develop at different speeds. Most of them don’t make it. But there’s only one way to find out. That is, he has to play. Tell him he’s playing and that there’s no need to look over his shoulder.

As bad as the Red Sox have been, they’re only 7.5 games out of first place in the AL East. As they look at the division landscape, they have every reason to think, “Why not us?”

Despite everything has happened, there are plenty of reasons for optimism. Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts are both 22. Both have played well. There’s a core of young pitching–Brian Johnson, Eduardo Rodriguez, Jonathan Aro–that offers more hope.

And there’s Clay Buchholz. Maybe he will end up being the ace the Red Sox thought he was. In his last eight starts, he has a 2.28 ERA along with 10 walks and 48 strikeouts in 55 innings.

Are there problems? Absolutely. It’s almost incomprehensible how poorly all those new starters have performed. Mike Napoli is hitting .197. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval have not been very good, and that’s being charitable.

But there are 89 games left, and things can change. Ramirez and Sandoval have good track records, at least as far as producing offensively. If one or two of those starters perform better, the Red Sox might just get on a roll.

Am I being overly optimistic? Sure, I am.

But I believe in Ben Cherington and John Farrell. I believe in a clubhouse led by Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. I believe the minor league system has significant quality depth. The Rays and Orioles probably are the best teams in the AL East, but they’re unlikely to run away with the thing, either.

This may end up being a classic kind of race in that there’s a case of some kind to be made for at least four teams, and perhaps the Red Sox can inch their way back into the conversation. Along the way, they should find out about some of the young guys who could figure prominently into their future, beginning with JBJ.

Springer, Correa and the way the Astros always hoped things would work out.

Springer and Correa. Correa and Springer.

For a couple of years, this is how the Astros hoped things would work out, that these two dynamic young players—George Springer and Carlos Correa—would someday be the cornerstones for all the good things that were going to happen.

Those good things have happened faster than almost anyone could have anticipated. The Astros (37-28) have been alone atop the AL West since April 13, and with Correa’s arrival last week, both these crazy good young players have been on display.

They were at the top of the lineup on Monday when the Astros beat the Rockies 6-3. That’s mostly symbolic. When Jose Altuve returns from a pulled hamstring, he’ll hit either first or second.

But on Monday night, Astros manager A.J. Hinch began his lineup card with Springer, Correa and Preston Tucker. Those three names speak volumes about this franchise.

Springer is playing his first full major league season. Correa and Tucker made their major league debuts after hot starts in the minor leagues.

And Hinch puts them right in there in the most important parts of the lineup. Whatever the Astros are going to be this season is going to be because of the young guys.

Springer and Correa had three hits apiece on Monday. Springer continued his torrid stretch with two home runs and a single. And the Astros lead their division by 2.5 games.

When Springer was hitting .185 in mid-May, he was still contributing. It wasn’t just his manager and teammates saying the things they’re supposed to say, either.

Everyone in the ballpark could see it. He made dazzling plays in right field and drew walks and ran the bases aggressively. He hit monstrous home runs.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch said there were other factors. There was the energy Springer brought to the dugout. There was his chatter, his laughter. In ways large and small, he impacted the team.

About all he wasn’t doing was getting bunches of hits. Some of that energy worked against him. He swung too hard and too early in the count.

Funny thing is, he did keep drawing walks. But he kept telling himself to “Slow the game down.” Regardless, there was never any thought of benching him or giving him a day or two to work on things.

He has been at the center of every amazing thing the Astros have done this season. He’s a huge part of maybe the best and most surprising story in the entire sport.

And now, we’re seeing the full George Springer.

The Astros have said for awhile now that they expected him to lead them for years to come. When he made his big league debut on April 16, 2014, it marked an important moment in the reconstruction of the franchise.

His season ended with a pull quad injury after just 78 games, but the Astros saw enough to know they were right about him. They knew if they stayed patient and put him in a good environment, they would have a special player.

At the moment, few players in baseball are playing better. In the last month, he was raised his batting average from .185 to .269 and with this emergence comes the arrival of a complete player.

He’s hitting .371 over the last 25 games with eight doubles, four home runs and a 1.013 OPS. This month, he’s hitting .407, third among all major league players with at least 42 plate appearances.

Only Dustin Pedroia has more hits, and Springer’s name is dotted across the leaderboard in OBP (5th), OPS (9th), homers (20th) and runs (11th).

He has continued to make those splashy plays in the outfield and to set a tone with how his first-place team approaches things. Lately, he has made the most difficult game on earth look easy.

He’s hitting .435 with four doubles and three home runs in his last 12 games, raising his average from .224 to .269. He’s ridiculously hot, so hot that his teammates doused him with cold water in the dugout on Monday night.

This is a great time to be a fan of this baseball team. General manager Jeff Luhnow’s reconstruction project has produced results far faster than anyone expected.

Dallas Keuchel is one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, and rookies Lance McCullers (3-1, 2.00) and Vincent Velasquez (5 shutout innings in only start) offer hope. Baseball’s worst bullpen in 2014 is now one of its best.

Five players have made their major league debut this season, and right-hander Mark Appel—the No. 1 pick of the 2013 Draft—has just had his two best starts of the season at Double-A Corpus Christi.

Luhnow’s off-season acquisitions—Evan Gattis, Colby Rasmus, Pat Neshek, Luke Gregerson—have all played important roles in this turnaround.

Hinch was exactly the right man to manage this club. His temperament and communication and game management have been critically important.

In short, it’s all working.

Buddy Black’s firing was inevitable and will end up being a good thing for both him and the Padres

This isn’t about the San Diego Padres hiring a better manager because that’s almost certainly not going to happen. This isn’t about getting rid of a guy who did a bad job, either, because Buddy Black didn’t.

In fact, Black will be the frontrunner for every job opening, whether it’s in the dugout or front office. Suddenly, every team growing disenchanted with its manager has an option. Yes, friends, it’s a cold world.

Black served the Padres with professionalism and distinction for 1,362 games. In that time, he established himself among the upper echelon of big league managers even though there were plenty of years when he didn’t have a competitive roster.

In terms of managing people and using a bullpen and getting a competitive, cohesive effort from his club, Black deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Bruce Bochy, Joe Maddon or any of the other top guys. Among baseball people, he’s as respected and as well liked as anyone on the planet.

To know Bud Black is to like him. I first met him when he won 17 games for the Royals in 1984, and in the 31 years since, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard anyone say a bad word about him, professionally or otherwise.

Having said all that, his firing was inevitable.

This is about a new ownership group and a new general manager going out and hiring their own guy. Black apparently came close to being fired last season around the time general manager Josh Byrnes was fired.

Instead, Byrnes got fired and was replaced on an interim basis by A.J. Hinch. During the off-season, Byrnes joined Andrew Friedman’s new front office with the Dodgers.

Hinch departed, too, joining the Astros as manager. At the moment, he’s the easy frontrunner to be the American League Manager of the Year.

The Padres hired A.J. Preller of the Rangers to be their new general manager, and even though he completely overhauled the roster, he didn’t change the manager.

And that was odd.

Some of us figured Preller understood how good a manager he already had. Or maybe he didn’t have a replacement in mind. Whether Preller made the decision to fire Black or if the change was forced upon him by ownership is beside the point. Now all the people in charge of the Padres will find out whether Black was the problem or if it was the roster Preller constructed.

Offensively, the Padres are plenty good enough. Only the Blue Jays, Yankees, Rangers and Diamondbacks have scored more runs.

Everything else is broken. The Padres’ rotation is 18th in ERA despite being first in quality starts (42). Neither Andrew Cashner (2-8, 4.16 ERA) nor Ian Kennedy (3-5, 5.84) have been as good as the Padres hoped they’d be. San Diego has been a poor defensive team as well.

The bottom line is that the Padres are 32-33 after a frantic off-season of change, and given that Black wasn’t hired by the people now in charge, he ultimately was going to pay the price for a slow start. If the Padres take off now with bench coach Dave Roberts in charge, they’ll Black was the problem. On the other hand, if they continue to flounder around .500, there’ll be a message in that, too.

Say this for the Padres. They’ve been consistent: 11-12 in April, 14-15 in May, 7-6 in June.

The NL West is winnable. The Dodgers have spent most of the season in first place despite injuries to the rotation. The Giants have had some very good stretches and some very mediocre ones. The Diamondbacks (30-32) have been better than almost anyone thought possible.

The Padres are six games in the NL West and four out in the NL Wild Card race after losing four of six. Maybe management could see a season slipping away. Maybe they’re hoping a different voice will do the trick. Meanwhile, Black can catch his breath and wait for the job offers to arrive.

About the only thing that’s certain out of all of this is that Buddy Black will manager again in the big leagues if that’s what he chooses to do. Some club will be lucky to get him.

The Atlanta Braves are better than almost anyone thought. Could they steal the NL East?

You keep waiting for the Atlanta Braves to fade away, don’t you? We all do. This is not their year. Don’t believe me? Go look it up.

Some of us declared them dead about the third day of Spring Training. They’d simply gotten rid of too much talent and too much payroll to compete with the Nationals, Mets and Marlins in the NL East.

And yet…

After 60 games, they’re flirting with .500.

And first place.

The Braves arrive at Citi Field tonight with a 29-31 record and a mere 2 1/2-game deficit in the NL East.

Sure, some of that 29-31 record can be explained by their division being not exactly the powerhouse it was expected to be. But the Braves shouldn’t be apologizing for any of that.

All they’ve done is play competitive baseball. And so, after 60 games, is it fair to ask: Why can’t the Braves win the NL East? Are the Nationals and Mets really that much better than Atlanta?

The Braves play the Mets and Nationals 12 times over the next three weeks, so we could get some clarity. Or not.

The Braves are seventh in the NL in runs and 11th in ERA. Their rotation is 19-17 with a 3.91 ERA. Those numbers put them in the upper half of the NL.

Meanwhile, their bullpen has been terrible. Its 4.75 ERA is the worst in the majors and possibly the only thing keeping the Braves from a serious postseason run.

But one of the things President of Baseball Operations John Hart did during his first months on the job was replenish the farm system. So he has young arms to either deal or to rotate through the roster in a search for answers.

The Braves are so close to first place that it’s reasonable to assume Hart is shopping for bullpen help even if it means surrendering a prospect or two.

Regardless, the Braves are in a good place. In a whirlwind few weeks, Hart unloaded payroll and acquired all kinds of young talent.

Even if the Braves were lousy in 2015, Hart could live with it because he had at least changed the larger direction of the franchise. In dealing Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis, Justin Upton, Melvin Upton Jr. and Craig Kimbrel, Hart gave the franchise a dramatically different look.

But the Braves never once said this was a total reconstruction project. Even as they shipped one player after another out of town, they emphasized that they still believed they could be competitive in 2015.

But teams always say that even when their actions indicate otherwise. If you thought the Braves were working toward Opening Day 2017 in a new ballpark, that would have been reasonable.

Here’s what has gone right:

  • Shelby Miller (5-2, 1.84), who arrived in the Heyward deal with the Cardinals, has been a tremendous pickup. Along with Julio Teheran, Alex Wood and Williams Perez, Atlanta has a rotation that is playoff worthy.
  • CF Cameron Maybin has jump-started his career. Long a highly regarded prospect with the Marlins and Padres, Maybin has a .787 OPS, second-best among Atlanta regulars.
  • Hart’s signing of three veterans–Nick Markakis, Jonny Gomez and A.J. Pierzynski–has been smart both in timers of production and leadership.

Yes, it’s hard to imagine the Braves going to the postseason without that bullpen getting some major work. This isn’t a good time to be adding pieces via trade.

But the NL East looks dramatically different than it did on Opening Day, and contrary to what a lot of us thought, the Braves are very much in the conversation.

In praise of Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols had played one season of professional baseball when the St. Louis Cardinals invited him to Spring Training in 2001. One thing was certain: He was not going to make the team.

First, the Cardinals were loaded.

Second, Pujols had played three games above Class A ball.

While the Cardinals loved the kid, they simply didn’t believe it would be fair to throw him right to the wolves. At the time, teams believed that rushing a player through the minors could permanently harm his career.

And then Pujols began hitting line drives.

He sprayed them all over the field. His swing was disciplined, his strength and speed incredible. There was a seriousness about him that impressed everyone.

And the work ethic?

He was relentless in the batting cage and the weight room and on the field. Even now when you ask teammates about Pujols, they mention many of the same things:

  • They’ve never seen anyone work harder. If you show up in the Angels clubhouse around 5 p.m. or so, you might find Pujols covered in sweat, having just taken swing after swing in the indoor batting cage.
  • His swing is so precise that he almost never lunges or looks uncomfortable. It’s as if he controls at-bats the moment he steps into the box.

Back to that first spring with the Cardinals. Right in those first days, Tony La Russa realized he had a player who had both talent and a burning desire to maximize that talent.

At some point during spring training Mark McGwire told La Russa, “If you send him back to the minors, it’ll be one of the worst mistakes you’ve ever made.”

Still, until Bobby Bonilla got hurt, it looked like the Cardinals would send him back down. The Cardinals adamantly say this is not so, that Pujols made the club on his own.

I tend to trust the later. I remember standing behind a batting cage with La Russa that spring and watching Pujols hit. In perhaps the highest compliment one manager has ever paid one of his players, La Russa just stood there and watched.

When I asked a question or two, he just nodded toward the cage. We were both seeing one of those guys who comes along every generation or so.

Fourteen years later, Pujols, 35, is on his way to the Hall of Fame. He has slowed down some in recent years thanks to an assortment of leg injuries.

At times, it has been painful to watch him run the bases. But it has been a joy to watch him swing the bat. That swing may not be as feared as it once was, but it’s still a thing of beauty.

He’s now 16th on the all-time home run list with 537 and 30th on the all-time RBI list with 1,635. His .9878 OPS is the ninth-highest of all-time. Pujols is also a nine-time All-Star, a two-time World Series winner and a three-time MVP.

In his 15th season, Pujols has taken a backseat to Mike Trout in terms of numbers and awards. But his .852 OPS is his highest in three years and still commands respect from teammates and opponents alike. It remains a joy to watch him play.

When players and managers argue…

One of the many things I love about Phil Garner is how he handled tense times. For instance, there was one time when he went to the mound to remove a pitcher from the game. Only this pitcher wasn’t ready leave. And for a tense second or two, he refused to leave.

I’m not naming names. Okay, I am: Chris Bosio, who is now the Cubs pitching coach and also one of the real good guys in the game.

Bosio was a tenacious competitor as a pitcher. In other words, he could be a red ass. He’s also a tenacious competitor as a pitching coach.

You probably know guys like Chris Bosio. His teammates and coaches and managers loved him. Those guys in the other dugout probably didn’t.

Anyway after this one game, Garner, then the first-year manager of the Brewers in 1992, summoned Bosio into his office.

And they started to scream.

And scream.

And scream some more.

Here’s the best part of the story. After they’d gone back and forth awhile, and then some more and then some more, Garner sat back down in his chair.

“Bosio,” he said, “you’ve worn me out.”

And that was that.

But they reached an agreement.

“I know you didn’t want to come out of that game,” Garner said.

Bosio nodded.

“I’ll make you a deal,” Garner said. “I’ll leave you in games, but you have to promise to tell me when I need to come get you.”

Boise agreed.

As player-manager disagreements go, this had one of the great outcomes of all-time. Bosio was 10-2 with a 2.94 ERA after that confrontation.

Apart from that, the two men became lifelong friends.

I thought of Scrapiron and Bosio this week in the wake of two player-manager confrontations.

One of them had a very nice ending. The other is still unfolding.

First, the good one. When Rangers manager Jeff Banister approached outfielder Shin Soo-Choo after a loss to discuss a defensive play, the player bristled.

He said he didn’t appreciate being asked about the play. He didn’t like reporters asking about it, either.

And the next day, it was over. Banister and Choo met, discussed it and moved on.

“This is like a family here,” Choo said after the meeting. “We want to do everything the right way, but that doesn’t always happen. The important thing is that we are on the same page.”

And there’s Red Sox starter Wade Miley.

He blew up in the dugout when John Farrell removed him from the game. I would chalk that moment up to a heat-of-the-moment incident.

He has had a poor season and would have preferred to be left in the game to figure things out. His big mistake was that his tantrum was caught on cameras, thus making it a story.

His second–and bigger mistake–came after the game when he pretty clearly declined to admit he was wrong. Meanwhile, Farrell handled it perfectly. Like Banister, he mentioned the player’s competitive fires.

If Miley had admitted his mistake, it could have largely defused the situation. His refusal to do so means the incident will linger for a day or two around a team that is seven games under .500 and seven games out of first place.

Again, it’s easy to understand that he was angry at being taken out of the game. It’s not so easy to understand that even after having some time to think about it, he declined to admit he was wrong.

Hopefully, 24 hours later, he feels differently.

Regarding Troy Tulowitzki, we may not be asking the right question.

Troy Tulowitzki represents the exact kind of player that many teams either can’t or won’t consider. Don’t interpret this as a knock on the player. He’s one of baseball’s best shortstops and would make plenty of teams better. Problem is, the math changes dramatically when his age, injury history and contract are considered.

Here are some numbers:

  • He has approximately $115 million remaining on a contract that runs through the 2020 season. He’ll make $20 million a season between 2015 and 2019. He’s baseball’s 25th-highest player this season. Only one shortstop, Jose Reyes at $22 million, will make more.
  • Among all shortstops, he’s ninth in OPS, 10th in home runs and 13th in OBP. He’s first in doubles and 25th in Fangraphs.com’s defensive rating system.
  • He has played an average of 93 games the last six seasons and 74 the last four.

So is he worth it? He played just 91 games last season, but was tremendous with a 1.035 OPS. Yes, Coors Field factored into those numbers. He had a 1.246 OPS at home, .811 on the road.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Even if the contract wasn’t there, plenty of baseball people love Andrelton Simmons, Freddy Galvis, Erick Aybar and Jhonny Peralta, perhaps ranking all of them ahead of Tulowitzki. Marcus Semien and Addison Russell are highly regarded young guys. Starlin Castro would be much in demand if the Cubs wanted to move him.

Again, this is no knock on Tulowitzki. He’s a tremendous player and surely would be energized by moving to a winning environment. But it’s not just about the talent. It’s the age and money and injuries, too.

The Yankees and Mets would seem to be the best fits, and the Mets are especially interesting because they clearly have the young prospects to pull off such a deal. But while Mets management has been looking at the shortstop market for at least a year, they don’t seem willing to take on the risks that would come with Tulo.

The Yankees seem much more cautious about spending money too and probably have bigger needs in the rotation. Perhaps the only other team that makes sense would be the Padres, who’ve been baseball’s most aggressive club since general manager A.J. Preller came on board.

The Nationals might consider Tulowitzki with Ian Desmond in his walk year. The Nats also have enough young players to make such a deal work if general manager Mike Rizzo decides to shake things up. But like others, Rizzo covets his prospects and won’t deal them unless he’s convinced the deal would vault the Nationals deep into October.

At this point, no deal seems imminent. Even though certain general managers are starting to look their clubs less by the day, they don’t seem inclined to make the kind of commitment (money and prospects) Tulowitzki would require. Things can change quickly, so stay tuned.

Most interesting team in baseball? The Tampa Bay Rays might fit that description. As usual.

No team should feel better about itself than the Tampa Bay Rays, who are 1 1/2 games out of first place despite a huge roster overhaul and a ridiculous number of injuries. At 20-16, they’re four games above .500 for the first time this season after three straight victories over the Yankees.

Their pitching staff is among the best in baseball despite losing starters Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly for the season and not yet getting an inning out of Matt Moore. Meanwhile, their offense is a work in progress, which is another way of saying it hasn’t been very good. Still, as they survey the AL East landscape, the Rays have to be thinking, “Why not us?”

All of this comes after a tumultuous off-season in which two franchise cornerstones departed. President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman, who’d been instrumental in making the Rays one of the smartest and most efficient franchises in the game, took the same job with the Dodgers. And then Joe Maddon left to manage the Cubs.

Rays President Matt Silverman took over for Friedman and sprinted into the job by largely taking apart the roster and then putting it back together. When he was done, he was absolutely convinced that the Rays would be good enough to contend again.

They’ve been so consistently good through the years that we’ve come to take their success for granted. That’s perhaps the ultimate tribute to the organization owner Stuart Sternberg constructed. Much like Billy Beane in Oakland, the Rays have given every franchise a blueprint to succeed without spending huge amounts of money. There’s less margin for error, but the Rays are a reminder that smarts and competent people can make up for a lack of resources.

Since the beginning of the 2008 season, only the Yankees and Cardinals have won more regular-season games than the Rays. But the Rays have done it with a payroll that ranks 25th on average. This season, only the Astros and Diamondbacks have smaller payrolls than Tampa Bay’s $75 million.

To focus on what the Rays don’t have is to miss the larger point. They have plenty. First, they’ve got brains. Friedman departed, but his baseball operations staff remained largely intact, and Silverman had been involved at every level. And when he hired a new manager, he went for 37-year-old Kevin Cash, a former backup catcher known throughout the sport for his intelligence and people skills. At this point, it’s hard to see Silverman making a better hire.

And these Rays are pretty much like a lot of those other Rays teams. In Chris Archer, Jake Odorizzi and rookie Nate Karns at the top of a nice rotation, the Rays have a front three among the best in baseball. The Rays have already used eight starting pitchers and four rookies. They’ve sent five starting pitchers to the Disabled List six times. Yet their rotation leads the AL with a 3.48 ERA.

Resilience? The Rays have used 38 players, including 13 rookies, tops in the majors, according to Elias Sports Bureau. They have eight rookies on the roster at the moment. Seven players have made their Rays debut, including five who make their major league debut.

Tampa Bay’s bullpen is loaded with power arms, including closer Jake McGee, who was just activated after missing the first six weeks of the season recovering from elbow surgery.

(The Rays have allowed two runs or less 19 times, which is four more than any other team.)

What makes the Rays intriguing is that their young guys–outfielders Steven Souza and Kevin Kiermaier and starter Alex Colome–have a chance to get better as they become more comfortable in the big leagues. Rookies have hit 13 of their 31 home runs and started 15 of their 36 games.

While they may be far from a perfect team, there may not be one in the AL East. Like the Yankees, Tampa Bay’s strengths may more than offset its questionable areas. if they end up back in the playoffs, it would be the fifth time in eight seasons, which qualifies as sustained success. And if they do, it would be the sweetest one since 2008 when they shocked the baseball world by going from 96 losses to 97 victories and an American League pennant.

Mookie Betts is a rock star and other Opening Day takeaways

Opening Day delivered and so do I…

  •    Mookie Betts is a rock star in Boston, and what’s better than an Opening Day home run to emphasize that? He wasn’t even on the Red Sox radar a year ago. At one point, reporters asked John Farrell, “Why not bring this kid Betts up? He’s tearing it up at Pawtucket.” Soon after, he was up. He had to outplay Rusney Castillo to win a spot on the Opening Day roster, and he did that.
  • Clay Buchholz gave the Red Sox seven nice innings, and perhaps there’s no single piece of news that impacts a contender more than this one. If Clay Buchholz finally is the ace he has shown flashes of being when he’s healthy, the Red Sox are in a nice play.
  • Did you check out the times of games? Eight of the 14 games were played in well under 3 hours, six of them in 2:36 or faster. The basic commonsense changes may end up having a huge impact. Either that, or it was all those aces pitching on Opening Day.
  • Ben Zobrist played left field for the A’s, Eric Sogard moved back in at second and Sam Fuld played center. Sonny Gray pitched a great game, and the 2015 A’s start off on the right foot. This team may just hang with the Angels and Mariners all summer long. They’ve got 10 major league-ready starting pitchers, something no other team can say.
  • Orioles GM Dan Duquette makes an under-the-radar move to get Travis Snider to replace Nick Markakis in the right field. Snider gets three hits to help the O’s start with a win at Tampa Bay. This Duquette guy is good at his job.
  • Jimmy Rollins is not done.
  • Mike Moustakas is important to the Royals, both in production and in continuing the momentum of 2014. He’s off to a good start and so are the Royals.
  • David Price and Anibal Sanchez have to be great to keep the Tigers in the mix in the AL Central. Price started with a great performance.
  • Did you see Joey Votto and David Wright were hitting second? Someone is studying their analytics.

Parity? Competitive balance? I’m glad you ask.

Baseball’s competitive landscape has changed so much in recent years that it’s hard to grasp it all. It’s a new day, friends. Payroll no longer determines a team’s ability to compete. Smarts count, too. Big time.

So here’s to an Opening Day in which at least 25 of 30 teams believe they’re capable of going to the postseason. It has never been like this before.

Bud Selig had this crazy dream when he took over as commissioner 23 years ago. He believed the sport had to even the playing field and give more teams a chance to compete.

To that end, he commissioner a panel of economists and assorted other smart people to examine the sport. Selig laughs still when he remembers the day Paul Volcker, former Fed chairman, walked into his office.

“Big guy,” Selig said. “Cigar smoker. Brilliant. Intimidating.”


“He looks at me and says, `You have a problem,'” Selig remembered.

“Yeah, I know,” Selig told him. “That’s why you’re here.”

“You’ve got a system in which only about five teams are capable of winning,” Volcker said.

From this panel came change.

Revenue flowed from the larger-market teams to the smaller-market ones. A slotting system changed the draft. Also, about this time Billy Beane showed the world that there might be a better way of constructing a roster, one in which money wasn’t the deciding factor.

Little of this, little of that…

Here’s the bottom line:

  • 13 of 30 teams have played at least one postseason series the last two years.
  • 20 of 30 teams have played at least one the last five seasons.
  • Six different franchises have won the American League the last seven years.
  • Eight franchises have won the World Series the last 14 years.
  • The average payroll rank of the last 10 World Series winners is eighth.
  • In that time, the No. 1 payroll team has won just once–2009 Yankees
  • In 2014, 3 of the top 5 payroll teams and 6 of top 11 missed postseason.

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