Sho-Time: Ohtani becoming must-see TV

Yes, we’re only 10 games into the season. So far, though, Los Angeles Angels’ star two-way player Shohei Ohtani is living up to the hype.

Many were skeptical of his abilities after a spring training performance that left much to be desired. He started two games, and lasted just 2.2 total innings. He gave up nine runs, eight of them earned, on nine hits and three home runs. He also walked two hitters and hit one. On the other side of the ball, he earned just four hits in 32 at-bats, good for a .125 batting average. He walked three times and drove in one run.

Ohtani’s slow start fed fans’ worries about his ability to successfully make the transition from Japan to the United States. Some even thought he should start the season in Triple A Salt Lake.

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Enter the regular season.

Ohtani made the Angels’ Opening Day roster despite his underwhelming spring, and has since performed like a completely different player. Most recently, he dazzled in his first home start Sunday afternoon against the Oakland Athletics. He pitched seven shutout innings, allowing just one hit and one walk, and struck out 12 hitters. Not to mention the fact that he retired the first 19 hitters he faced. Through the first 10 games of the season, Ohtani made two starts. He gave up three earned runs on four hits in 13 innings, against 18 strikeouts. He trails only Cole Hamels, Gerrit Cole, Patrick Corbin, and Clayton Kershaw for the league lead in punchouts.

He has a nasty splitter to thank for his early success.

He’s keeping hitters off-balance with exceptional command of his offspeed pitches after getting ahead in the count with his borderline-100 mph fastball.

Don’t forget, Ohtani can hit too.

He earned 7 hits in his first 18 regular season at-bats, including three home runs and seven RBIs. Through 10 games, he’s slashing .389/.421/.889 with a 1.310 OPS.

Yes, it’s early. But so far, Ohtani is proving the critics wrong. He’s playing as well as anyone in baseball right now, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.

 

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When will Greg Holland be signed?

It is March 26, less than a week before Opening Day 2018.

Free agent closer Greg Holland remains unsigned.

Holland enjoyed a mostly successful 2017 campaign with the Colorado Rockies, his first season since undergoing Tommy John surgery. He converted 41 out of 45 save opportunities, which left him tied with Los Angeles Dodgers’ closer Kenley Jansen for the National League lead. He finished with a 3.61 ERA in 57.1 IP, which skyrocketed after an atrocious 13.50 August ERA. He also struck out 70 hitters while allowing 27 walks.

Holland’s 41 saves were a huge factor in the Rockies’ first postseason berth since 2009, and, with the exception of his three blown saves in August, he was solid all season long.

So why hasn’t he found a new home yet?

When teams look at Greg Holland’s 2017 season, there are good and bad aspects alike.

The Good: His 41 saves, sub-4.00 ERA, and 70 strikeouts.

The Bad: Overall, the second half of his season.

Holland was dominant during the first half of the season, and earned a spot on the NL All-Star team. He was an entirely different pitcher after the Mid-Summer Classic, though, and that’s what’s most likely scaring front offices away.

In 33.1 innings before the All-Star Break, he gave up six earned runs on 18 hits, good for a 1.62 ERA, and struck out 43 hitters. After the All-Star Break, he gave up 17 earned runs on 22 hits in nine less innings. His ERA was 6.38.

My worry when it comes to Greg Holland is that his arm could be shot. The Rockies had to rely on him a lot during the first half of his first season back from Tommy John surgery, giving him 29 save opportunities, and I think the workload caught up with him after the All-Star Break. He lost velocity on his fastball, which in turn made his fastball and slider more alike, and made him easier to hit. Unfortunately for Holland, I think teams would be wise to stay away from him.

 

Broncos expected to sign Case Keenum

It may not be who everyone was expecting, but the Denver Broncos found their QB in free agency.

Despite being linked to former Washington QB Kirk Cousins even before the regular season ended, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Monday night that when free agency starts on Wednesday, the Broncos are expected to sign the man who engineered the Minnesota Miracle to stun the New Orleans Saints in January. Denver landed Case Keenum.

Benjamin Allbright reported the details early Tuesday morning:

The signing may come as a surprise to many, seeing as the Broncos were a favorite to land Cousins. This could also end the possibility of the Broncos drafting a quarterback with the fifth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, considering how much money the team will be committed to paying Keenum.

Keenum, who will be joining his fifth different team since 2014, has never been one of the game’s elite quarterbacks.

Not until 2017, that is.

After going 4-5 with the Los Angeles Rams in 2016, Keenum joined the Minnesota Vikings last season and led them to an 11-3 record, and into the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles. He threw for 3547 yards and 22 touchdowns against only 7 interceptions, and had a 67.6 completion percentage.

Keenum obviously did enough in 2017 to raise his stock, but there are always question marks surrounding big signings such as this one.

Keenum was helped by a defense that ranked first overall in the NFL, according to ESPN.com. The Broncos, on the other hand, came in at third overall in those rankings. With the loss of veteran cornerback Aqib Talib, though, the Denver defense will only get younger this year, and could regress.

There is still hope for Broncos fans, though. Keenum presents a significant upgrade over the quarterback carousel made up of Brock Osweiler, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch that Denver had to utilize last season.

Keenum brings proven postseason experience and success to a young and relatively inexperienced corps. He could be a valuable mentor to the younger players, as well as serving as a rock at an unsteady position for the Broncos since Peyton Manning retired.

Broncos’ No-Fly Zone takes hit as Talib traded to Rams

Another crucial piece of the Denver Broncos’ dominant defense that won the team its third Super Bowl is on its way out of the Mile High City.

NFL Network’s James Palmer reported Thursday evening that the Broncos traded cornerback Aqib Talib to the Los Angeles Rams. The return to Denver is a fifth-round pick in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.

Talib will now join a good, young Los Angeles team coming off of a 2017 postseason appearance. The Rams have also already acquired former Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters earlier this offseason.

Last season, Talib picked off one pass in 15 games, a pass that he returned 103 yards for a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2. The pick-6 capped off a 42-17 beatdown in front of the Broncos’ home crowd. He also forced one fumble, recorded one sack and deflected seven passes.

The trade shouldn’t come as a surprise, as Denver was rumored to have been shopping Talib, according to a piece published by 9News’ Mike Klis, and Talib reportedly wanted to sign with the New England Patriots if he were released. Now that Talib is out of the picture, more opportunities should arise for younger members of the Broncos secondary, like Justin Simmons and Bradley Roby.

The Rams appear to be following in the footsteps of recent title-winners, such as the Broncos in Super Bowl 50 and the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, by assembling a dominant defense to complement a powerful Jared Goff-led offense that ranked 7th in the NFL last season, according to NFL.com. Their current defensive coordinator, Wade Phillips, occupied a pivotal role in Denver’s success in 2015.

MLB Preview: Colorado Rockies

The Colorado Rockies are an interesting team to watch as we progress through spring training and into the start of the regular season, with multiple positions still up for grabs and rookies trying to make the Opening Day Roster.

There was a cloud of uncertainty at first base throughout the offseason for the Rockies. Mark Reynolds still has not been re-signed, so it would appear that the club is comfortable moving forward with a combination of No. 3 prospect Ryan McMahon and prized 2016 free-agent signee Ian Desmond to man first base.

McMahon served an abbreviated stint in the big leagues last season, earning three hits in 19 at-bats with one double and one RBI. After three spring games, McMahon is 3-for-6 with three RBIs two runs scored, a good sign early on. Desmond spent his first season in a Rockies uniform getting used to the transition from the outfield to first base, although he did spend most of his injury-shorted season playing left field. Desmond still needs work at first to become a reliable option, but a bounce-back 2018 season from him can certainly go a long way in helping the Rockies get back to the playoffs in 2018. Depending on how the two perform during the next month, expect to see Desmond spend most of his time back in the outfield and McMahon take over most of the time at first base.

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Ryan McMahon

Rockies GM Jeff Bridich made revamping the bullpen his top priority this offseason after free agency left some pretty big holes. The team re-signed Jake McGee and landed former Indians reliever Bryan Shaw, both on three year/$27 million deals. The biggest move came after the Winter Meetings, though, when Bridich inked 3-time All-Star closer Wade Davis to a three year, $52M contract to fill the hole at closer left by Greg Holland. If you add the new guys the Rockies landed this offseason to the already existing corps of reliable relievers the club already had, like Swiss Army Knife Chris Rusin and flamethrower Scott Oberg, this bullpen has the potential to be even better than what the Rockies had in 2017.

Finally, perhaps the most intriguing player to watch during camp is top prospect Brendan Rodgers. Through three spring games, Rodgers is 1-for-5 with a home run and two RBIs. He split the 2017 season in Class-A Advanced and Double-A. Overall, he hit .336/.373/.567 with 18 home runs and 64 RBIs, certainly meriting a call-up. Rodgers is knocking down the door, and while he will probably start the 2018 season in Double-A, it won’t take long for him to make the Triple-A roster. We could be seeing Rodgers’ first shot in the big leagues late this season, especially with incumbent second baseman DJ LeMahieu set to become a free agent after this year.

Expect the Rockies to finish this season with an 87-75 final record; the same as last season. While Bridich made some flashy moves in the bullpen, the rest of the team is largely the same, and second-year manager Bud Black will be relying on a lot of young players to carry the team back to Rocktober for the second year in a row.

Diamondbacks acquire Steven Souza Jr. in three-team trade

The Arizona Diamondbacks, New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays pulled off a big three-team trade Tuesday afternoon. FanRag Sports’ Robert Murray first reported a trade between the Rays and Yankees, and FRS’ Jon Heyman later reported the Diamondbacks were also a part of the deal.

The Rays acquired left-handed pitcher Anthony Banda from Arizona and second-base prospect Nick Solak from New York. Arizona landed Steven Souza Jr. from Tampa Bay and the Yankees acquired Brandon Drury from the Diamondbacks.

The trade is the latest in a theme of Florida fire sales, as it seems the Rays are following in the footsteps of the Miami Marlins.

Anthony Banda, Arizona’s No. 4 overall prospect last season according to MLB Pipeline, struggled in the time he spent in the minor and major leagues last year. With Triple-A Reno, he recorded a 8-7 record with a 5.39 ERA in 22 games. He struck out 116 batters and had a WHIP of 1.40. During his abbreviated stint with the Diamondbacks, Banda appeared in eight games, starting four, and had a 2-3 record with a 5.96 ERA. He will try to improve upon those numbers in Tampa Bay next season as he will join a rotation under the leadership of ace right-handed pitcher Chris Archer.

The acquisition of Souza Jr. appears to be the Diamondbacks’ backup plan after free-agent slugger J.D. Martinez signed a five-year/$110 million contract with the Boston Red Sox. Last season, he slashed .239/.351/.459 with 30 home runs and 78 RBIs. He will be a cheaper option for the Diamondbacks than Martinez, and Arizona can expect the same production from Souza Jr. as well. Martinez had a 4.1 WAR last season, compared to Souza Jr.’s 4.2.

Brandon Drury, just 24 years old, had a solid season in the desert last year. He slashed .267/.317/.447 with 13 home runs and 63 RBIs. He had a park-adjusted OPS+ of 89, below league average, and posted a 1.6 WAR. After the departure of Chase Headley and Todd Frazier, the trade gives the Yankees more flexibility and control at third base, as well as the middle of their infield. This move also means that Ketel Marte will likely assume a full-time position at second base in Drury’s absence.

Nick Solak, the Yankees’ No. 8 overall prospect according to MLB Pipeline, will give the Rays more infield depth after franchise cornerstone third baseman Evan Longoria signed with the San Francisco Giants earlier this offseason. Solak, a career second baseman, split the 2017 season in Class-A Advanced Tampa and Double-A Trenton. He hit .297/.384/.452 with 12 home runs and 53 RBIs in his second professional season.

Look for the Rays to continue their teardown throughout the rest of the offseason and into the start of spring training, as they still have valuable trade chips in center fielder Kevin Keirmeier and starting pitcher Chris Archer.

 

MLB releases pace-of-play changes for 2018 season

Major League Baseball released its new pace-of-play initiatives that will take effect in the upcoming 2018 season and, surprisingly, the addition of a pitch clock was not part of the changes.

Commissioner Rob Manfred was rumored to be considering unilaterally implementing a pitch clock, which would have been against the wishes of numerous players and fans. Many fans argue that introducing a clock to a game — which has been famous for being “timeless” — interferes with the integrity of the game.

“Players were involved in the pace-of-game discussion from Day One, and are committed to playing a crisp and exciting brand of baseball for the fans,” MLB Players’ Association executive director Tony Clark said in a statement. “But they remain concerned about rule changes that could alter the outcome of games and the fabric of the game itself — now or in the future.”

MLB will give the players a chance to decrease the time of games before forcing a pitch clock, according to MLB Network Insider Jon Morosi.

The full rule changes are included in MLB Network Radio’s tweet below, but one of the more notable changes will be limiting teams to six mound visits per nine innings.

If the game reaches extra innings, teams will be allowed one non-pitching-change mound visit per inning.

This will be the players’ last chance before a pitch clock is forced upon them. If the average time of game in 2018 does not fall close to or below three hours, look for Rob Manfred to implement the clocks for the 2019 season.

Eric Hosmer signs with Padres

It may have taken a little bit longer than most were expecting, but the Padres finally landed the star first baseman.

The unusual “Cold Stove” we’ve seen this offseason heated up late Saturday night, as Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the Padres signed longtime Royals’ first baseman Eric Hosmer to an eight-year contract.

It was later reported by Fan Rag Sports’ Jon Heyman that Hosmer will be paid $144 million, and his contract includes an opt-out after five years.

The move should surprise few, as the Padres were considered the favorite to sign Hosmer throughout the offseason. The next closest team in the hunt was Kansas City, but the Royals likely didn’t want to commit to that large of a contract with third baseman Mike Moustakas still available on the free agent market, according to Heyman.

The Padres are now expected to move first basman Wil Myers to the outfield to make room for Hosmer at first base.

Hosmer had a very good 2017 season, hitting .318/.385/.498 with 25 home runs and 94 RBIs. His park-adjusted OPS+ was 132, 32 percent better than league average, and he was worth 4 WAR. He also won his fourth Gold Glove award, as well as his first Silver Slugger.

The Padres already have a great farm system with seven players in the Top 100 according to MLB Pipeline, and with the addition of Hosmer to complement sluggers like Myers and Hunter Renfroe, this could be a dangerous team much sooner than many expect.

Breaking down the “Cold Stove”

The 2018 MLB offseason has been unlike anything we’ve seen in a quite some time. As of February 2, just under two weeks until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, household names such as Yu Darvish, Greg Holland, Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez remain unsigned.

The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reported that, through MLB Players’ Association Director Tony Clark, the MLB Players’ Association’s full focus is on the “100+ free agents still available.”

There have been many notable moves to discuss, though, despite the overall slow nature of the free agent market. The Milwaukee Brewers made headlines with a blockbuster trade for Miami Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich and gave free agent outfielder Lorenzo Cain the payday he was looking for, committing to pay him $80 million for the next five years.

Milwaukee’s outfield now ranks among the best in baseball, with Yelich and Cain joining veteran Brewers slugger Ryan Braun.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim made a lot of noise early in the offseason, winning the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes, signing free agents Justin Upton and Zack Cozart to five and three year deals, respectively, and landing Ian Kinsler from the Detroit Tigers.

The St. Louis Cardinals have also made strides to catch up to the NL Central champion Chicago Cubs, acquiring outfielder Marcell Ozuna from the Marlins. St. Louis also sent outfielder Stephen Piscotty to the Oakland Athletics for minor league shortstop Yairo Muñoz and minor league second baseman Max Schrock.

Muñoz will be looking to build off of a strong 2017 campaign in which he hit .300/.330/.464 with 13 home runs and 68 RBIs. Schrock is not much of a power hitter, but does have a career .324/.372/.439 slash line.

The Colorado Rockies have been an interesting team, in that the team made flashy signings early in the offseason, inking deals with Wade Davis (three years/$52 million), Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee (both three years/$27 million), but taking a look at the bigger picture shows that the team hasn’t improved that much from the 2017 season.

Outfielder Carlos Gonzalez remains a free agent, and it is unlikely he will be find a home until some of the bigger dominoes fall. That leaves Colorado with an outfield consisting of 2017 NL Batting Champion Charlie Blackmon and any combination of Gerardo Parra, Ian Desmond, David Dahl and Raimel Tapia.

If the Rockies want to make another legitimate push for Rocktober, they will need to sign an impact bat to help an offense that finished the 2017 season with a park-adjusted OPS+ of 91, good for 25th in MLB. Uncertainty at first base, coupled with the fact that the club will likely have to rely on a multitude of young players next season, will make this team an interesting one to watch as it heads into its second year of expected contention.

Overall, the Brewers appear to be the most improved team of the offseason so far. The Angels certainly contend with Milwaukee for that title, but there are too many question marks in their pitching staff. Milwaukee missed the playoffs by one game last season, so look for the Brew Crew to make a strong push for October in 2018.