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Shohei Ohtani auction underway

                  Japanese superstar, Shohei Ohtani expected to sign in MLB prior to 2018 season

                  Japanese superstar, Shohei Ohtani expected to sign in MLB prior to 2018 season

Tyler Kelaher 

Be sure to tune in to the Pitch Talks with TK and Weiner podcast every Saturday on Homestand Sports!

In a sport that follows convention to a tee, Shohei Ohtani is blazing a new trail into the MLB. The 23-year old prodigy boasts a double-edged sword approach. A 2.52 ERA and 624 strikeouts in 543 innings during his five-year tenure in the Japanese Pacific League, along with a .286/.358/.500 stat line at the plate to compliment 48 homeruns, make him a blue chip commodity. The ability to reach speeds of 100-mph on the mound along with being an offensive threat at the plate brands Ohtani as the game’s true Swiss Army knife.

Once the clock struck midnight on December 1st, the Shohei Ohtani bidding war began. All 30 MLB owners ratified a posting agreement with Nippon Professional Baseball, freeing the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters to make Ohtani available. Opening the floodgates for every MLB franchise to make a run at signing the Japanese phenom.

Teams must pay a $20-million fee to the Nippon-Ham Fighters if they wish to negotiate with the prized asset. Because Ohtani is below the age of 25, he’s only subject to international bonus pool limits instead of true free agency. Clubs have their entire international bonus pool to their disposal in the hopes of signing him. The Texas Rangers currently have the most available finances to acquire international players with $3.535 million. The Yankees are second at $3.5 million, but are out of the running after Ohtani announced Sunday he won’t sign with the team. The reason yet to be determined (though I think I have an idea). Third are the Twins then Pirates, Giants and Mariners etc.

Most free agents determine their primary team of interest based on location, contractual preference and overall ability to contend. Because Ohtani plans to hit as well as pitch, there are other underlying factors in his decision. A primary one being which league is best suited for the two-way superstar.

The American League would allow Shohei to occupy the DH spot of the lineup on days he isn’t scheduled to pitch. Leading to a four game stretch where he would find regular at-bats and then a start on the mound every fifth game. Ohtani made it clear that he wants to do both and designated hitting might make the American League the best case scenario. But if his performance at the plate isn’t equivalent to the teams other DH options, he could be pushed to pitch exclusively.

On the flip side, the National League supplies a spot in the lineup for the pitcher currently in play. Ohtani would hit in every scheduled start and get consistent calls to pinch hit (or even play the field) on off-days. Not to mention the lighter load of pitching to National League lineups instead of hard hitting American League lineups that boast designated hitters.

Yet, there’s a reason we don’t see many two-way players in the MLB. First of all, it’s freaking hard to do. Second of all, it’s extremely taxing on the body. Throwing a baseball over-hand inverts the shoulder and is deemed an unnatural motion. Doing it 95-times in a three hour stretch causes wear and fatigue. That’s why we don’t witness many complete games anymore and that’s why starting pitchers normally get one start out of every five. Consistent at-bats during a 162 game season can only add to the risk of injury. Not to mention the possibility of Shohei playing the field in the National League where a DH spot isn’t supplied. Teams (like the Yankees) might not be willing to commit to a player who fully expects to do both.

But that’s what makes Ohtani an anomaly. He’s so damn good that teams are actually considering it, and since he’s going to get paid well below his market value, there’s sure to be plenty of suiters willing to lock down the Japanese superstar.

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Blue Jays at a crossroads after underwhelming 2017

                                                     Troy Tulowitzki helped off field after season-ending ankle injury

                                                     Troy Tulowitzki helped off field after season-ending ankle injury

Tyler Kelaher 

Be sure to listen to the Pitch Talks podcast with Tyler Kelaher and Josh Weinstein every Saturday on Homestand Sports.

                After taking the AL East title in 2015 along with back to back ALCS appearances, the Blue Jays occupied last place in the division for all but the final week of the 2017 season. Edwin Encarnacion is a Cleveland Indian and the greatness of Jose Bautista is all but a memory.

                Despite the message that the team would get younger, faster and more athletic, the Blue Jays took the oldest roster in baseball onto the field, and geez did it show. Toronto was plagued by injury. Big names such as Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Josh Donaldson, Devon Travis and Troy Tulowitzki hit the shelf, creating major shuffling in the lineup. Utility players: Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney, as well as minor league call-ups were asked to fill voids for outrageous stretches of time. Leading to the one word that best describes the Blue Jays’ season: inconsistency.

                The honeymoon phase is over. Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins are officially on the clock and need to decide what direction the team will go in. It’s easy to point the finger and blame them for the Jays’ struggles, but you shouldn’t. They inherited a team with aging players on ridiculous contracts along with a farm system as thin as paper. Trying to appease a fan base who witnessed their first playoff berth in 22 years.

                We saw what the World Series Champion, Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros did on their road to supremacy. History proves that the teams who draft and develop their cornerstone pieces can consistently contend for years. Trading away future assets to build a foundation of players in the latter part of their prime creates short-term success that ultimately runs a team’s farm system dry. Trading for players such as R.A. Dickey, David Price and Troy Tulowitzki put the Blue Jays over the hump and made them a contending team through the 2015-16 seasons, while depleting their prospect pool into one of the worst in the league. A lackluster outfield, brittle middle infield and untrustworthy bullpen headline the Blue Jays’ needs. So if the team doesn’t look fit (on paper) to contend, why not use this time to rebuild? 

                Considering that J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada and (most importantly) Josh Donaldson become free agents by the end of next season, it’s highly plausible to see them shopped by the deadline if the team finds itself drastically out of contention.

                Many fans would cringe at the idea of losing their superstar third baseman, but the team didn’t dump money on Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion, and they shouldn’t on an aging Donaldson. Shapiro and Atkins can deal him at the peak of his trade value for future assets instead of signing him to an outrageous, long-term deal, or even watching him walk for free.

               Toronto’s top prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette aren’t expected to enter the league for a couple more years. The Blue Jays should acquire blue-chip, controllable talent to compliment the likes of Aaron Sanchez, Marcus Stroman and Roberto Osuna, who are still controllable through arbitration. Forecasting is the name of the game in the world of professional sports. The Blue Jays better kick it in high gear pretty soon or they’re going to be s*** outta luck.

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Judge's numbers speak for themselves

                       Aaron Judge watches a first inning homerun sail over the wall against the Orioles

                       Aaron Judge watches a first inning homerun sail over the wall against the Orioles

Tyler Kelaher

       By the end of the 2017 MLB season there were three guarantees in life: Death, taxes and Aaron Judge winning the AL Rookie of the Year.

      Judge displayed physicality at a level that baseball fans haven’t seen in a long time, hitting line drive shots out of the park at exit velocities that should only be seen in a video game. While there’s plenty to be said of a player whose physique is more reminiscent of a silverback gorilla than a 25-year-old man, I’ll let his season stats do the talking.

     Judge ended his year with 52 homeruns, breaking Mark McGwire’s 1987 rookie record of 49 in a single season. To put that in context, 2017 NL Rookie of the Year Cody Bellinger made waves by hitting 39 homeruns this season, the third most by a rookie in history, yet 13 less than Judge. 

     While homeruns are something to be admired, to the delight of Yankees management, Judge performed in the regular season when it mattered most. 30 of his 52 homeruns were against teams in the same division. He combined for a .350 batting average in 49 games against the Orioles and Blue Jays while driving-in 46 runs. Games at the Rogers Centre felt like home affairs as Judge demolished the Blue Birds with a .294/.467/.765 stat line. It begs the question whether or not MVP was also up for grabs for the Yankees’ right fielder. Judge hit .385/.521/1.115 with 11 home runs and 24 RBI in his last 16 games of the season. He finished behind only Mike Trout in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and OPS while leading the American League in wins above replacement.

     These numbers came in a season when Judge slumped after the All-Star break, where he won the Home Run Derby. There was a 55-game stretch in which he hit .185 and added to his season total of 208 strikeouts. That was the most in the major leagues and 124 more than the eventual AL MVP, Jose Altuve.

     Despite the massive amount of strikeouts, Judge’s on-base percentage never took much of a hit thanks to his 127 walks.  Judge reached base safely 286 times, the second most by a rookie behind only Kevin Seitzer, who did it 289 times with the 1987 Kansas City Royals (Elias Sports Bureau). In other words, he was a proven difference maker on even his worst of days. And that’s all you can ask for from a franchise player.

    Aaron Judge has all but cemented himself as the new face of the New York Yankees. Introducing a “swing for the fences” mentality in a year that saw 4,458 homeruns, the most in history. While he fell short of league MVP, Rookie of the Year was inevitable. And if he keeps playing at the pace he’s at now, there’s plenty more for the Bronx faithful to look forward to.

 

 

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