Insiders expect Beltran to land in pinstripes

Joel Sherman

Joel Sherman

By Joel Sherman

November 30, 2013 | 4:29pm

The Yankees are viewed as the strong favorites to land Carlos Beltran. Multiple executives with whom I spoke said that was the expectation.

“I think at this point it would be an upset if he didn’t end up there,” one executive said.

The Yanks want to limit Beltran to a two-year contract, but an AL official said, “Beltran wants three years, so I think the Yankees will either go three years or give him a [bleep]-load more on a two-year deal. I think the feeling in the industry is if it comes down to a two-year deal because no one goes to three, then the Yanks will win.”

One reason is that Beltran has made it clear this could be his final contract, and he wants to make sure to be with a team with a chance to win it all. With all the Yankees’ problems, they are selling free agents on a vision of importing big players this offseason (Brian McCann already, maybe Beltran, perhaps keeping Robinson Cano, etc.) even while living under $189 million restrictions, and only enlarging their aggressiveness next offseason.

The Royals (with 86 victories) actually won one more game than the Yanks, but according to the AL official, “Because of the history, it will be hard for them to sell themselves as championship contenders.”

Nevertheless, the team that traded Beltran on June 24, 2004, “really, really wants him,” the AL official said. “Do they think they could get him? I see them taking every avenue possible, but I would be shocked if they went beyond two years.”

An NL executive said the Royals have prioritized Beltran because they believe they are ready to win and need to make the playoffs in 2014 and “because they want to move around the DH more rather than have it just for Billy Butler.” For example, if Beltran were signed, Kansas City could play Justin Maxwell in right field against lefty pitching and DH Beltran.

The Royals, though, were described by executives as nearing their payroll restrictions already after signing Jason Vargas to a four-year, $32 million contract while also facing arbitration cases for their key relievers and first baseman Eric Hosmer.

If it signed Beltran, Kansas City could attempt to balance some of the finances by trading Butler, who is owed $8 million in 2014 and has a 2015 club option for $12.5 million or a $1 million buyout. The Mariners, deep in pitching prospects, are desperate for righty power bats and have been linked to Butler. Kansas City also is willing to listen on relievers such as Aaron Crow and Luke Hochevar, both arbitration eligible.

The Royals are feeling pressure to field a contender. They finished above .500 last year for just the second time since 1994 and have gone the longest in the majors without reaching the playoffs (1985). Kansas City used one of the game’s best prospects, Wil Myers, last offseason to acquire James Shields, who can be a free agent after 2014, and Jeremy Guthrie and Alex Gordon could be free agents the year after, while Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are both Scott Boras clients, which means they are unlikely to sign long-term.

Thus, the window to win with this core is now, which is why manager Ned Yost goes into 2014 already on the hot seat.

Furcal falls off Mets’ radar for physical worries

The Mets had begun the offseason intrigued about enlisting Rafael Furcal to play shortstop next year. Furcal missed all of last season for the Cardinals after needing Tommy John surgery last March.

But the more the Mets researched the 36-year-old free agent, the greater their worry about his physical viability became, to the point that one executive said the switch-hitter no longer is a candidate for the Mets.

Perhaps that is why general manager Sandy Alderson last week revived the possibility of going with Ruben Tejada shortly after Jhonny Peralta enlisted with St. Louis. Peralta was the Mets’ main shortstop target, and Furcal was a lightning-in-a-bottle candidate.

Officials who do not work for the Mets but have received progress reports from Furcal’s workouts in Miami expressed the same physical concerns. The plan was for Furcal to begin throwing in a more aggressive way this week.

McCann arm a concern

One hiccup in Brian McCann’s game is his throwing, which one executive, whose team was interested in the catcher, said “wasn’t worth a [bleep] last year. His arm strength and accuracy were never great, but it was pretty bad last year.”

However, the same executive said he believes McCann “will throw a little better this season.”

McCann underwent surgery to repair a labrum tear in October 2012 and, the executive believes, prioritized getting back as soon as possible. Therefore, he did not get a long enough period to strengthen the shoulder post-surgery. McCann only missed April.

The executive theorizes that an offseason of rest and full rehab will help McCann throw considerably better in 2014.

Regardless of how it looked, though, McCann threw out 24 percent of players attempting to steal on him — which is his career average.


The Padres have made a few runs at signing third baseman Chase Headley to a long-term contract to no avail, and now according to sources, San Diego is willing to listen to offers for the switch-hitter.

The Yankees have inquired before, but neither side thinks they match up for Headley, who will be entering his walk year.

He is not going to be easy to move for reasons beyond his proximity to free agency. The Padres will want to market him as the MVP candidate who hit 31 homers and drove in 115 runs in 2012, and suitors will be concerned about the 13 and 50 he generated last year. The general consensus is that he probably falls someplace in between as a player.

Righthander Hughes next up to join Twins

Righthander Hughes next up to join Twins

  • Article by:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      LA VELLE E. NEAL III                    , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 30, 2013 – 9:48 PM

Ex-Yankee Phil Hughes is expected to receive $24 million for three years from the Twins, who are also making progress to bring back A.J. Pierzynski.

New York Yankees starting pitcher Phil Hughes throws against the Oakland Athletics

Photo: Kathy Kmonicek, Associated Press

 

 

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The Twins are expected to announce the signing of free-agent righthander Phil Hughes to a three-year, $24 million deal this week, according to a person with knowledge of negotiations.

Hughes could be in the Twin Cities as early as this weekend for a physical, the person said. A physical usually is the final step before a deal is formally announced.

This came three days after it was learned that the club agreed to a four-year, $49 million contract for righthander Ricky Nolasco, pending a physical. That deal would be the Twins’ largest contract ever for an outside free agent; Hughes’ deal would be No. 2. Combined, they show that the club has gotten serious about significantly upgrading one of the worst starting rotations in baseball over the past few seasons.

The Twins might still try to re-sign righthander Mike Pelfrey as well. Pelfrey, 5-13 with a 5.19 ERA in his first season back from Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery, wants to return to the Twins, who recently offered a two-year deal for around $10 million. It’s not known if that deal remains on the table.

And, if that wasn’t enough, the Twins are making progress in their attempts to bring back free-agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski, the person with knowledge of the Hughes negotiations said. The Twins want to bring in players with winning backgrounds, and Pierzynski, who won a World Series in 2005 with the White Sox and played in 14 postseason games with the Twins, brings that as well as an edge in the clubhouse that the club believes is missing.

In all, this could shape up to be a busy week for the Twins as they try to address myriad issues on a team that has lost 291 games since 2011.

Hughes is only 27, but after going 16-13 with a 4.23 ERA in 2012 with the Yankees, he was 4-14 with a 5.19 ERA in 2013, giving up 170 hits in 145⅔ innings. But he was 1-10 with a 6.32 ERA at home, so some believe that Hughes could rediscover himself if he is out of Yankee Stadium.

The Twins were interested in Hughes after the 2007 season, when they were seeking suitors for two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana. Hughes at the time was considered the top prospect in the Yankees farm system, a former first-round draft pick who was 5-3 in 13 starts as a 21-year-old.

The Yankees at the time reportedly had Hughes on the table during the December winter meetings, then backed off as the meetings ended. The Twins ended up sending Santana to the Mets for a package of four players, including Carlos Gomez, a 2013 All-Star for Milwaukee.

Hughes, meanwhile, has had an up-and-down career. He was 18-8 with a 4.19 ERA in what appeared to be a breakthrough season in 2010. But he never evolved into the ace pitcher the Yankees — and the Twins for that matter — envisioned during those 2007 trade talks.

Injuries certainly have been a contributing factor. Hughes missed almost half of the 2011 season, making only 17 starts, because of shoulder inflammation, and he has also been bothered by back problems.

The Twins are hopeful the move to pitcher-friendly Target Field will benefit Hughes. He relies primarily on a fastball and curveball, and has been hurt by home runs, yielding 59 in 337 innings over the past two seasons.

With Nolasco and Hughes in the fold, the Twins rotation definitely looks better than last season. Kevin Correia, 9-13 with a 4.18 ERA last season, settles into more of a midrotation stabilizer. Lefthander Scott Diamond and righthander Samuel Deduno — the latter recovering from shoulder surgery — could round out the back end.

Also in the mix is Vance Worley, the 2012 Opening Day starter who was sent to the minors after 1-5 start, then broke down with shoulder problems late in the season. But the real key to the Twins’ long-term rotation renovation will be the development of righthander Kyle Gibson, who took his lumps as a rookie in 2013, and the arrival of top starting prospect Alex Meyer, a hard thrower who most resembles a staff ace.

 

Yankees Tap a Surprising Starter for Their Ticket Campaign

Yankees Tap a Surprising Starter for Their Ticket Campaign

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

C.C. Sabathia’s numbers were less than stellar in 2013, but he is free of the problems associated with other Yankees.

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By 
Published: November 30, 2013

Say hello to C. C. Sabathia, the Yankees’ newest ticket salesman. He’s a nice, philanthropic fellow with a dandy résumé if you don’t dwell on his numbers from 2013, when he won the fewest games in his five seasons as a Yankee and had the highest earned run average of his career.

So would you buy tickets from him?

The Yankees had a big-time clunker of their own in 2013, daring to do the most unthinkable thing any Yankees team can do, which is to fail to make it to the postseason. Yes, the Yankees played admirably amid an onslaught of injuries, but they won only 85 games and finished in third place. The Red Sox won the World Series. Oh, the humanity.

Yankees fans responded as if their team had turned overnight into the Houston Astros. Attendance fell 7 percent, and YES Network viewership tumbled an unnerving 31 percent.

So here, in hot stove weather, is Sabathia, in a starring role in newspaper ads that were published last week in The New York Times and The Daily News, and in a similar pitch at Yankees.com.

He is a starting pitcher by trade but is now being asked to be a sales closer. In the ads, he is pictured midway through a motion that, in 2013, did not deliver fastballs with their familiar Sabathia vim and vigor. His image accompanies a headline in the ad (“Yankees Holiday Ticket On-Sale”) that reads as awkwardly as “starting in left field for the Yankees: Zoilo Almonte” sounded last season, when the public-address announcer Paul Olden had to keep fans at Yankee Stadium up to date on all the anonymous players putting on pinstripes.

But before we digress further, perhaps into our Ben Francisco riff, let’s return to Sabathia. He is still a consequential Yankee, the team’s ace. Maybe he has a great sales patter, like Ron Popeil’s or Frank Perdue’s. He is relatively young, at 33. He is not rehabilitating a twice-fractured ankle, as is Derek Jeter, the Colossus of the franchise. He is not recovering from wrist surgery, as Mark Teixeira is. He is not newly retired, as are Mariano Rivera and Andy Pettitte. He is not fighting a 211-game suspension imposed by Commissioner Bud Selig or, for that matter, suing Selig, both of which Alex Rodriguez is doing.

And Sabathia is not trying to convince teams, including the Yankees, that he deserves $300 million in a new contract, as Robinson Cano is.

Nope, C. C. is durable, jumbo-size (but down to a sveltish 285 pounds!) and hard-working. As far as we know, he has nothing against ol’ Milwaukee Bud. He will get $23 million in 2014 from a contract that runs through 2016, with an option year in 2017. His left arm has a lot of mileage on it, 2,7751/3 innings’ worth, but who’s to say he can’t keep going?

Sabathia will not be the only Yankees personality featured in these ticket-selling promotions. But how many of his teammates, given the uncertainty of the Yankees’ roster, will actually come after him?

Jason Zillo, the Yankees’ media relations director, said Jeter would ultimately show up in plenty of ticket promotions, even if Sabathia is the new leadoff man. And Zillo defended using the pitcher first despite his subpar 2013 credentials.

“C. C. has been the first to admit that he didn’t have the type of year he expects of himself,” Zillo said, “but he’s still one of the big names in baseball.”

In any case, the Yankees knew they could not assign the ticket-marketing job to the virtually unmarketable Rodriguez. But you can imagine him as the television pitchman for his vast legal team. You can hear Rodriguez say, facing the camera as he recently did with WFAN’s Mike Francesa: “Do you know me? I’m A-Rod. If you feel you’ve been unfairly suspended from work, vilified by your boss, or if you’ve got a structured settlement and you want cash now, I’ve got a law firm for you!”

Sabathia, in contrast, has single-game tickets for you (but only if you have your MasterCard ready). He probably knows, or he should, that 2014 tickets will cost the same as or less than they did in 2013, with the exception of 2,000 seats. And, who knows? If his presence in the ads does not sell tickets, the Yankees can always do what they did in the past: Summon Rivera. Who, after all, can say no to Mariano?

The Screwball: Royals, Yankees pursuing divergent paths to success

The Screwball: Royals, Yankees pursuing divergent paths to success

            Published                                                          Monday, Nov 25, 2013 at 5:17 pm EST
Jesse  Spector                                 Sporting News

The Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees had the same issue in 2013, a season in which both teams stayed in the American League wild card race deep into September before coming up short. Finishing 86-76, the Royals scored 648 runs, while the 85-75 Yankees scored 650—the fifth-lowest and sixth-lowest totals in the Junior Circuit.

The only American League teams scoring fewer runs than the Royals and Yankees were the Mariners (624), Twins (614), Astros (610) and White Sox (598)—the four worst overall teams in the league. Kansas City and New York contended for the playoffs but did not quite have the firepower to get there.

Safeco Field scoreboard (AP Photo)

The difference between the teams is visible in their early work in free agency, with the Royals signing left-hander Jason Vargas to a four-year, $32 million contract, while the Yankees plan to pay slugging catcher Brian McCann a sum of $85 million over the next five years—a round $100 million if his sixth-year option vests.

MORE: SN ranks best 25 free-agents of 2014 class

Even though the Royals have more than doubled their payroll since 2011, they still are operating with a budget of less than half of what the Yankees will spend. That requires a choice to be made, and the strategy in play is clear. Kansas City will pay $36.8 million to four starting pitchers in 2014: Vargas, James Shields, Jeremy Guthrie and Wade Davis.

Vargas, who has thrown 761 innings with a 3.97 ERA over the past four seasons, twice topping the 200-inning mark, fits well with a strategy of relying on workhorse starters to both lessen the load on the bullpen and allow a low-budget offense a chance to scratch out enough runs to win. The flip side of Kansas City catenaccio is visible in the Royals’ offensive performance: the team with the fewest home runs in the American League had the most stolen bases in 2013, and the third-most sacrifice bunts.

What this means is that while the Royals are not built to pound away with big innings like the Red Sox, they squeeze individual runs out of innings wherever they can. Of the teams with the bottom 10 slugging percentages in Major League Baseball in 2013, the Royals were the only one to outscore their opponents for the season, in part because of their reliance on speed to exploit a developing market inefficiency.

For the Royals, scoring runs is an issue—but an expected one. Vargas has 75 quality starts over the past four seasons, five fewer than the man he ostensibly is replacing in Kansas City, Ervin Santana. Tim Hudson, who signed for two years and $23 million with the San Francisco Giants, had 76 quality starts over the same span. As a team, the Royals had 95 quality starts in 2013—tied with the Red Sox and behind only the Tigers (108) and Braves (102), all playoff teams. The Royals scored four runs per game, had a 3.87 rotation ERA, and gave a four-year deal to a pitcher with a 3.97 ERA over the past four years. That’s not a team that is addressing a problem, it’s a team that is trying to work around its limitations.

Vargas will make $8 million a year, while the Royals paid Santana $12 million for his one year in Kansas City. Those kind of savings are what allow the Royals to be active on the Carlos Beltran market, but even if that pursuit ends successfully, it will represent an upgrade, rather than the overhaul that they appear to be undertaking to address something that very much is a problem for them.

This year’s total of 650 runs represented New York’s lowest scoring total since a 603-run season in 1990. The Yankees scored 20 fewer runs in 2013 than they did during the strike-shortened 1994 season. The most glaring weakness in the Bronx was behind the plate, as the Yankees’ catchers combined for a .298 slugging percentage, the lowest in the American League. Enter McCann, the owner of a .473 career slugging percentage, six consecutive 20-home run seasons and a lefty pull swing that should play brilliantly at Yankee Stadium.

McCann does not end the Yankees’ quest to quash their offensive woes. The Yankees had 89 games this year in which Joe Girardi wrote the name of Travis Hafner, Lyle Overbay or Vernon Wells into the cleanup spot in his starting lineup. That will not be happening again in 2014. The Yankees will try to upgrade their pitching staff this winter, too, because being the richest team in baseball—even while trying to apply some level of fiscal responsibility—provides the ability to put together a roster very differently.

SCREWBALL IDEA

The Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings played to a 26-26 tie Sunday, the first draw in the NFL in a little more than a year. It is a good reminder that it is okay for two teams of professional athletes to compete against each other and for the end result to be that they are equals on the day.

Ties probably will never come to baseball because one of the hallmarks of the game, to be upheld at all times, is that there is no clock, and games theoretically can go on forever. In fact, after 12 innings of the All-Star Game were not enough to determine the winner of that exhibition in 2002, there was such a resultant outrage that the game was changed in order to determine home-field advantage in the World Series—no more ties.

For the regular season, in which 162 games are played, would there really be such shame attached to recognizing that, sometimes, two teams have played to a stalemate?

Say that a standard of 12 innings was applied—not only the length of that 2002 All-Star Game, but also a rational amount of overtime for a regular season game at one-third of regulation. In 2013, there would have been 51 games that ended in ties—2.1 percent of all contests, although there is no telling whether more of those games would have had a result had teams known that they were working against a clock.

Would it be so bad for teams to have three or four ties, on average, per season? It is a lot of fun to tune into a game on MLB.tv and never know when it is going to end, but extending regular-season games into infinity can have an effect on teams’ bullpens for days afterward, and in situations where a game goes long in the final meeting of a series, there would be the upside of not arriving to the next city at a ridiculous hour. Marathon games tend to be sloppy—capping them would enhance the quality of play not only in those games but in subsequent ones, while also giving fans some certainty on when they will be able to go home, without missing the ending. As another possible benefit in a playoff system where dead heats for spots have become more common, introducing ties would add a bit of variance to the schedule, lessening the logistical nightmare of a three-way tie that necessitates multiple one-game playoffs.

The drawback is in breaking with tradition, going against the grain in a world where even the NHL no longer has ties, and embracing what is felt to be an un-American concept that matching numbers on the scoreboard at the end of a game is an acceptable result. Ties are often described as “kissing your sister,” because competition without a decisive result is somehow thought to be gross and unnatural. On the contrary, there are few things more sportsmanlike than being able to walk off the field knowing that two sides have been weighed, measured, and found equal.

◾Yankees Rumors & Hot Stove

Yankees Offseason: Starting pitching available at a bargain

By                                 on Nov 29 2013, 3:10p

Maholm would be a nice fit in Yankee Stadium. – Kevin C. Cox
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The Yankees have a lot of holes, and starting pitching is one of them. Who could the Yankees plug in from free agency that won’t break the bank?

Even if the Yankees back off the pursuit of a $189 million payroll, there are players on the open market that might be had at a reasonable price. As of now, only CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova are locks for the rotation, with other internal options like David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno, and Brett Marshall in the mix. Obviously, it would be ideal if only one of that group makes the rotation. For that to happen, the Yankees will need to add two starters via free agency or trade. Japanese hurlers Hiroki Kuroda and Masahiro Tanaka could be that pair, but the Yankees are certainly perusing what else is on the shelf.

For this look at some potentially affordable rotation options, I used Fangraphs’  free agent crowdsourcing and Steamer 2014 projections. Last year, the crowd was able to predict contract length and annual salary within 10% of the actual results. In addition to being the lone 2014 projection system out at the moment, Steamer has been the most accurate of its counterparts in ERA forecasts. Using these two resources gave me a decent idea of who to target in relation to their affordability.

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Paul Maholm, Jason Hammel, Bartolo Colon, and Scott Feldman appear to be feasible targets on a one or two year contract. None of these guys are spectacular, but any of them should be able to get the job done as a fifth starter.

Obviously, not all of these guys come with the same amount of risk. In my unscientific opinion, I would rank the group from least to most risky as follows: Feldman, Maholm, Hammel, and Colon. Weight and age make a reunion with Colon unlikely, despite him being the best of the bunch the past couple of seasons. Hammel’s propensity to allow the longball (1.42 HR/9 in 2013) brings bad memories of Phil Hughes, despite Steamer optimistically projecting a 0.87 HR/9 rate. Nonetheless, I would be pleased with either of Colon or Hammel as a fifth starter, but would prefer Maholm or Feldman.

Maholm posted his highest ERA since 2010 last year (4.41), after his BABIP jumped from the prior two seasons in which he posted a sub-4 ERA. He keeps the ball in the park, and as a lefty, profiles well for Yankee Stadium. Additionally, with a career 52.1% ground ball rate, he could benefit from having Brendan Ryan behind him at shortstop (Jeter would DH with Maholm pitching). Amazingly, that’s a defensive downgrade at the position from Andrelton Simmons, but Ryan is also one of the best in the business. One notable concern was a scare with Maholm’s elbow in September, causing him to miss a few starts, but he wound up returning at the end of the month to make two more appearances after an MRI cleared him of any structural damage.

Like Maholm, Feldman gets a lot of ground balls (47.1% career), and is best suited behind a good infield. With Ryan behind him, and hopefully Robinson Cano back in the fold, the middle of the infield’s defense would be rock solid. Steamer may be least optimistic about the right-hander, but I would argue him to be the safest bet of the bunch I’ve isolated. He’s posted solid peripherals and defense independent pitching numbers the past two seasons, and has a little bit of experience in the AL East after being dealt to the Orioles this past summer.

Should the Yankees splurge on Kuroda and Tanaka, it might not make sense to bring in any of the four mentioned above. Having depth wouldn’t hurt, but it might be worth taking a chance on Phelps, or another internal option, to be the fifth starter to save the $7 to $9 million that would have to be spent annually. For what it’s worth, Steamer thinks Phelps can post 2 WAR in around 180 innings while posting a 4.38 ERA/4.12 FIP. That seems somewhat optimistic (and on par with the four pitchers I shortlisted), but it would certainly cut it as a fifth starter. Nonetheless, bringing in depth from free agency wouldn’t hurt, but that depends on how much money ownership is willing to spend.

If something goes haywire with the posting system agreement, the Yankees’ lose the bidding on Tanaka, or Kuroda winds up declining to return, it’s in the Yankees’ best interest to explore some of the options illustrated above. None should be terribly expensive in terms of years and salary, and all have a decent shot at providing good value in the back end.

Yankees Rumors: Chris Stewart drawing trade interest

By                               on Nov 29 2013, 4:30p

Patrick Smith

Do it, Cashman!

Yankees catcher Chris Stewart is reportedly drawing trade interest for some unknown reason. He finished as one of the best pitch framers in the league, though his defense is about league-average and his bat is useless, so someone must be looking for a defensive-minded catcher to help their starting rotation steal some strikes.

The team is also looking to avoid arbitration with Stewart at the same time. He made $515,100 in 2013 and is projected to make $1 million this season, so the Yankees will be looking to avoid arbitration all together and agree to a deal, if they don’t end up trading him. A resolution is thought to be coming by the end of the weekend, where he will either re-sign, get traded, or get non-tendered.

The Twins, White Sox, Rangers, Mariners, and Cubs could all be looking at the 31-year-old backstop. Being able to trade him would be a godsend for the Yankees, especially if they’re able to get something remotely valuable back. The Yankees have Francisco Cervelli, J.R. Murphy, and Austin Romine to compete for a backup role behind new catcher Brian McCann. Ridding themselves of Stewart would make Cervelli the leading candidate for a major league job in 2014.

Rafael Palmeiro is probably going to fall off the Hall of Fame ballot this year

Rafael Palmeiro is probably going to fall off the Hall of Fame ballot this year

Nov 29, 2013, 12:32 PM EST   images images

 
Palmeiro Orioles

Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun asks whether Rafael Palmeiro is going to fall off the Hall of Fame ballot. And he lands where I land: probably.

As Connolly notes, Palmeiro’s support in his three years on the ballot is not trending in a good direction for him. In his first year of eligibility he was named on 11 percent of the ballots. In his second he actually ticked up to 12.6 percent. Last year, however, he was down to 8.8 percent. And this year at least three likely inductees — Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas — join the ballot. Even those voters sympathetic to Mr. Palmeiro are going to run out of room on their ballots eventually, and my guess is that he’ll fall below the 5 percent requirement to stay on following this year’s vote.

Which will be kinda weird for a guy who finished above 500 homers and 3,000 hits while playing a nifty first base before switching to DH. But two forces are conspiring to, quite understandably, shove him off the ballot.

The first one is obvious. Palmeiro was the first famous flunker of a PED test. While that may not one day be the Hall of Fame Death sentence it is today, being a trailblazer in this department is not a good thing, and that would be the case even if he didn’t wag his finger at Congress while proclaiming he was clean just prior to failing the drug test.

But the second reason is just as significant: PEDs aside, Palmeiro doesn’t necessarily profile as a fantastic Hall of Fame candidate compared to his peers.

Yes, he has the big numbers, and I think absent the PED stuff no one would be arguing that they weren’t Hall of Fame worthy. But think about how stacked first base was during his career. Jeff Bagwell and Frank Thomas were clearly better. Mark McGwire was more famous and, in the minds of most, better. Palmeiro made just four All-Star teams and finished in the top 5 in MVP balloting just once. That’s still a heck of a career, but it speaks to a guy who wasn’t thought of as the best or even one of the handful of best players in the league most of his career. Add in his mostly hitter-friendly home ballparks and you could construct an argument that his numbers were more inflated by the era in which he played than a lot of guys.

I’m not saying it’s a strong argument. Looking at Palmeiro’s splits you see that he wasn’t as aided by those hitter-friendly parks in Texas and Baltimore as you might first suspect. And while he didn’t have the top-five finishes he had several top-10s. And while he wouldn’t be in the top half of all of the first basemen ever inducted into the Hall of Fame based on the numbers, he wouldn’t be the worst first basemen ever inducted either.

So, not a slam dunk no for Palmeiro, but it’s enough of an argument where, even if you don’t think that a positive PED test disqualifies someone from Hall of Fame consideration, you can say that in a tough balloting environment he’s one of the guys who don’t make your 10-player cut, 500 homers and 3,000 hits or not. In my Hall of Fame list he doesn’t make the top 10, even if I would have him in the Hall of Fame in an ideal world. And if we play the “this guy should go in before that guy” game Bagwell, Thomas and McGwire all seem like better first base choices than does Palmeiro.

Just a perfect storm blowing in Palmerio’s face, really. And because of it this will likely be the last year that Hall of Fame voters get a chance to consider his likely doomed candidacy.

Twins expected to make a run at Phil Hughes

Nov 28, 2013, 6:30 PM EST

Phil HughesAP

The Twins have reportedly agreed to a four-year, $49 million contract with Ricky Nolasco, but they aren’t done attempting to upgrade their starting rotation.

According to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, the Twins are now likely to turn their attention to free agent right-hander Phil Hughes. George A. King III of the New York Post hears that Hughes is looking for a two-year contract, with the Twins, Angels, Mariners, and Royals among the potential landing spots. The Mets have been mentioned as a possibility, but they aren’t comfortable going beyond one year.

Hughes, 27, is coming off a rough year in which he posted a 5.19 ERA and 121/42 K/BB ratio over 145 2/3 innings. He has been really hurt by the home run ball at Yankee Stadium, so a move to a more pitcher-friendly environment could prove beneficial. Or that’s the hope, anyway.

Free agent hitters are still wary of Citi Field

Free agent hitters are still wary of Citi Field

Nov 29, 2013, 2:19 PM EST

Apple Citi Field

They moved the fences in and David Wright — the guy considered to be most affected by Citi Field’s dimensions — signed a long term deal. But Kristie Ackert of the Daily News says that free agent hitters are still wary of signing with the Mets because of the ballpark:

Two agents representing players the Mets have talked to this offseason admitted privately that the ballpark’s reputation is something that their clients have had questions about this offseason.

“It’s something that is still in the (players’) heads out there, that it’s a tough park to hit in,” said one agent, who requested anonymity to protect his clients. “They see what David Wright went through there and it makes them a little nervous I think.”

Mets inquired about Braun if only for a second; Cruz and Grandy in mix

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Mets inquired about Braun if only for a second; Cruz and Grandy in mix

November 26, 2013 12:51 pm ET         
The Brewers are hoping Ryan Braun will be the same dominant hitter he was pre-2013. (USATSI)
The Brewers are hoping Ryan Braun will be the same dominant hitter he was pre-2013. (USATSI)

 

 

Not only did the Mets have internal discussions about embattled superstar Ryan Braun as previously reported, but they actually inquired about him with the Brewers as well — if ever so briefly — before their suggestion was summarily rebuffed at the GM Meetings.

Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, responding by phone to a question about whether the Mets had “checked in” on Braun with the Brewers, saying, “If you could count a four-word sentence as checking … ”

That might depend on what the actual sentence was I told him, so I asked.

“What’s up with Braun?” Alderson relayed.

That was it, the briefest of inquiries. But yes, that counts … at least here it does.

It was such a quick conversation topic, and so apparently lacking in meaning to the Mets that Alderson’s boss, Mets owner Jeff Wilpon, didn’t even appear to be aware of it, and he’s actively involved in baseball dealings. The Mets might not even be all that interested, though they are definitely seeking a power-hitting corner outfielder, and are continuing to pursue free agents Nelson Cruz and Curtis Granderson, among others.

That the Mets had internal talks about Braun first surfaced in Matt Cerrone’s Metsblog.com, though their actual inquiry had to this point remained unreported.

In any case, the Brewers clearly are not interested in moving their controversial superstar, who was suspended the final 65 games of 2013 in an agreement with MLB following the Biogenesis investigation.

Brewers GM Doug Melvin never revealed that the Mets were one of “four or five” teams to inquire about Braun. But Melvin did tell reporters after the Metsblog.com report appeared, “We have no intention of trading Ryan. There is absolutely no truth to that. We’ve never contacted any team about Ryan.”

Melvin was accurate in what he said, and possibly was a bit extra adamant because that Mets-oriented blog went on to speculate after correctly reporting the Mets’ interest in Braun that Milwaukee might well be more willing to surrender Braun than Norichika Aoki in a potential Ike Davis trade. Metsblog was right in its report about the Mets’ interest in Braun, but Brewers people got a chuckle out of the idea there was any chance they would trade a player who twice led the league in OPS for Davis, who hit .205 in 2013.

The Mets, who have received criticism in New York for a smallish payroll and continuing reluctance to chase big free agents who seek $100 million contracts, such as Shin-Soo Choo (who is being pursued much more aggressively by other teams), presumably would have had to take on $135.5 million over eight years with Braun. The Brewer hit nine home runs and batted .298 with an uncharacteristically low .859 OPS in an injury-plagued 2013 before taking the suspension.

Regarding the four or five teams who inquired, Melvin reported, “I told them no.”

Brewers people have talked to Braun this winter and seem comfortable he’s going to be fine coming back from his agreed-upon suspension following the Biogenesis investigation. They’ve gotten to the point of even discussing what might be expected, at least in an occasional casual conversation. They are hopeful the two-time N.L. leader in OPS will remain a star (just as the Cardinals apparently have faith Biogenesis-connected free-agent import Jhonny Peralta will continue to be productive).

As one Brewers-connected person put it about Braun, “Even a 20 percent dropoff from 41 home runs is still 32 homers.”