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Yankees' bullpen could be best of all time

MLB.com @mike_petriello

The 2017 Yankees relievers were elite, by any metric you care to use. They had the third-lowest ERA (3.34); the lowest average against (.204); the highest strikeout rate (29.1 percent); the most Wins Above Replacement (9.2). They were good. They were so, so good.

Now realize they could possibly be better in 2018. Then, think about the fact that if they were, it might put them in the conversation for "the best bullpen of all time," an extremely unofficial title that's nonetheless fun to think about.

The 2017 Yankees relievers were elite, by any metric you care to use. They had the third-lowest ERA (3.34); the lowest average against (.204); the highest strikeout rate (29.1 percent); the most Wins Above Replacement (9.2). They were good. They were so, so good.

Now realize they could possibly be better in 2018. Then, think about the fact that if they were, it might put them in the conversation for "the best bullpen of all time," an extremely unofficial title that's nonetheless fun to think about.

How could those things happen? And what does "best bullpen" even mean? Let's dig in.

How to make a great bullpen even better

Part of the difficulty in evaluating a bullpen is that the members of that bullpen cycle through on a seemingly endless basis, with promotions, demotions and trips to the disabled list creating a different group nearly daily. There's not a constant group all year long; even the Yankees had 18 pitchers enter in relief at some point.

A good way to illustrate how much turnover can happen is to remind you who was actually in the New York bullpen on Opening Day, 2017.

LHP -- Aroldis Chapman, Chasen Shreve, Tommy Layne
RHP -- Dellin Betances, Adam Warren, Tyler Clippard, Bryan Mitchell, Jonathan Holder

Who don't you see there? You don't see Chad Green, who didn't join the bullpen full-time until May and ended up becoming one of baseball's breakout stars. You don't see David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle, acquired from the White Sox along with Todd Frazier in July. Those three pitchers combined for 130 2/3 dominant innings with the Yankees, pitching to a 1.79 ERA along with 190 strikeouts.

Looking at Expected wOBA, the Statcast™ metric that combines quality of contact (in terms of exit velocity and launch angle) along with amount of contact (in terms of strikeouts and walks), Green (8th), Kahnle (9th), and Robertson (11th) were three of the top dozen relievers in baseball in 2017, among those who faced 200 hitters. None of these guys were in the Opening Day bullpen.

What that means is that even with only partial seasons from three of the game's most dominant relievers, the Yankees' bullpen still reached those lofty statistical heights. For example, in April, the New York relievers who pitched the most innings were Warren and Mitchell. In May, it was Holder, Warren and Clippard. By September, the four relievers to pitch 10 or more innings were Robertson, Chapman, Green and Kahnle. The decent gave way to the elite.

The new trio took innings that had otherwise gone to Mitchell (5.79 ERA, now with San Diego) or Clippard (4.95 ERA, now a free agent) or Layne (7.62 ERA, now a free agent), and that's the point. The Yankees enter 2018 with far more talent atop the depth chart. If they started the season today, the bullpen could look something like this:

LHP -- Chapman, Shreve
RHP -- Betances, Robertson, Kahnle, Green, Warren, Giovanny Gallegos

That group, combined, put up a .258 Expected wOBA, a 2.63 ERA, and a 34.2 percent strikeout rate, in over 430 innings. Put another way, that's the same performance as Clayton Kershaw (.253 Expected wOBA), Stephen Strasburg (2.52 ERA), or Corey Kluber (34.1 percent strikeout rate), just in far more innings.

Video: ALCS Gm5: Kahnle tosses two shutout innings in relief

Five of those eight Yankees arms were in the top 16 in strikeout rate, while Shreve "only" struck out 58 in 45 1/3 innings, limiting lefties to a mere .161/.235/.262 line. Warren, serving as a multi-inning man, pitched to a 2.35 ERA and a 3.02 FIP. He may be this team's seventh-best reliever.

The little-known Gallegos, for what it's worth, just led the entire Triple-A International League with 40.8 percent strikeout rate. Don't like him? Ben Heller, who allowed one earned run in 11 innings for the Yankees in 2017, was third, at 36.8 percent. Or what about Holder, who struck out 40 against just eight walks in 39 1/3 Major League innings?

That's not to suggest that the Yankees' arms are without risk; every team has risk. Chapman missed a few weeks with an arm injury, then slumped in August before returning to dominate in September (17 whiffs across 12 scoreless innings). Betances' late-season command issues essentially sidelined him in the postseason, and make him something of a question into 2018 -- as much as anyone who struck out 100 in 59 2/3 innings can be "a question." There's no guarantees here. Just tons of elite strikeout talent.

Video: Kahnle, Robertson, Chapman dazzle in relief

How do you rank a historic bullpen?

We might have undersold, at the top, how good the 2017 bullpen already was. The well-known stat FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) takes the three things a pitcher has the most control over (strikeouts, walks, and home runs) and puts it on an ERA scale. So the Yankees relievers, for example, tied for No. 1 in FIP in 2017 with a 3.12 mark.

By itself, 3.12 doesn't rank highly in history, but you have to compare how that ranks against the league average for that season. In the same way that hitting 20 homers in 1968 was far more impressive than having done so in 2017, we have to add context for the way the game was played at the time. If we do that, to see how far above league average for that season their score was, we can see that what the Yankees just did stands out among history.

Best relief FIP compared to MLB average, 1920-2017

32 points above average -- 2003 Dodgers
32 points above average -- 1964 Reds
27 points above average -- 2017 Indians
26 points above average -- 2017 Yankees

(Yes, this could be an article about the 2017 Indians, too. But it's not -- and while the Yankees have full seasons of pitchers they added last year, Cleveland lost reliable Bryan Shaw to Colorado.)

Our group of eight in the assumed Opening Day bullpen, for what it's worth, would have been 40 points better than average in 2017 if you combine their 2017 MLB stats. If we add in Heller and Holder to get to a group that's 10 deep, it's still 38 points better than average. Even this ranking is missing an important factor, which is innings. Those 1964 Reds threw just 322 1/3 relief innings, while the 2017 Yankees threw 538 1/3. Being tied is hardly as impressive when you're throwing less than 60 percent of the number of innings. (And if you've forgotten about the 2003 Dodgers, that was the team that featured National League Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne closing games with a 337 ERA+.)

Ultimately, with the changing way that relievers are used, there's not an ideal way to compare present-day bullpens to those of years past. The sheer number and usage of relievers barely resembles the game of decades ago. That's to say there's no "right answer" as to what the best bullpen of all time could even be, which is fine: It's more fun to argue than to know.

What we do know for sure, however, is that the Yankees bullpen was great last year. We know that they look even better in 2018, projected to be the best group in baseball. And if everything goes right, they might just be the best group we've ever seen. As far as we know, anyway.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs.

 

New York Yankees, Dellin Betances, Aroldis Chapman, Giovanny Gallegos, Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Chasen Shreve, Adam Warren

'Respect the ranks': Yadi responds to Contreras

Cardinals' veteran catcher posts photo of All-Star trio from 2016
MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina appears to be taking exception to recent comments from Cubs catcher Willson Contreras about how he plans to be a better backstop than perennial All-Stars Molina and Buster Posey.

"In my mind, I want to be the best catcher in the game for a long time -- like it was with Yadier Molina, like it is with Buster Posey," Contreras told the Chicago Sun-Times at the Cubs Convention over the weekend. "I used to watch a lot of those guys, but now I'm watching myself because I know that I'm going to be better than them. That's my plan. That's my [mindset]."

ST. LOUIS -- Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina appears to be taking exception to recent comments from Cubs catcher Willson Contreras about how he plans to be a better backstop than perennial All-Stars Molina and Buster Posey.

"In my mind, I want to be the best catcher in the game for a long time -- like it was with Yadier Molina, like it is with Buster Posey," Contreras told the Chicago Sun-Times at the Cubs Convention over the weekend. "I used to watch a lot of those guys, but now I'm watching myself because I know that I'm going to be better than them. That's my plan. That's my [mindset]."

That sentiment made it back to Molina, who reacted on Instagram by posting a photo of himself alongside Posey and Salvador Perez from the 2016 All-Star Game. Below it, he wrote: "Respeten los rangos NOVATOS!! aqui con los q si han probao que son los duros!!"

That loosely translates to "respect the ranks" of those who have proven themselves.

Molina has not hesitated to use Instagram to express his displeasure before. Last summer, he took to the social media site to correct manager Mike Matheny's assertion that Molina was tired.

Contreras, who made his Major League debut in 2016, should have at least three more years to go head-to-head in the National League Central against Molina -- who plans to retire after the 2020 season. Contreras has yet to make an All-Star roster, while Molina has been on eight in his 14-year career.

The Cubs and Cardinals will meet for the first time this season on April 16 at Wrigley Field.

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

 

St. Louis Cardinals, Yadier Molina

MLB Buzz: Yelich to ATL? Marlins want Acuna

MLB.com

The Hot Stove is open for business. As the top free agents begin to ink new deals and clubs begin to make the moves they think will vault them into contention or put them over the top, MLB.com will have you covered with all the latest buzz right here.

Hot Stove Tracker

The Hot Stove is open for business. As the top free agents begin to ink new deals and clubs begin to make the moves they think will vault them into contention or put them over the top, MLB.com will have you covered with all the latest buzz right here.

Hot Stove Tracker

Marlins want Acuna in a Yelich deal with Braves
Christian Yelich's name has been in the trade rumor mill for much of the offseason, and the buzz has picked up again after the center fielder's agent said Tuesday that Yelich hopes to be traded before Spring Training starts. According to MLB Network insider Peter Gammons, any deal would have to bring a "huge return" for Miami.

Citing conversations with teams that have called the Marlins about Yelich, Gammons said Wednesday on MLB Tonight that the Marlins won't move the 26-year-old unless they get back "star-level talent." As one example, Gammons said Miami has told the Braves that uber-prospect Ronald Acuna would have to be included in any trade for Yelich.

"The Marlins told the Braves, 'Look, we'll do a three- or four- or five-for-one, but Ronald Acuna has to be in it or we don't go even to the second player,'" Gammons said on MLB Network.

Acuna is one of baseball's very top prospects. He currently ranks as MLB's No. 6 overall prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, and could move up even further on that list in the upcoming 2018 rankings. The 20-year-old outfielder seems likely to be promoted to the big league club early next season.

Gammons said Acuna is a player the Braves won't trade, and the fact that the Marlins would tell the Braves that he would have to be the minimum headliner of any Yelich deal indicates that they're "shooting very high."

Following Miami's trades of Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon to the Yankees, Cardinals and Mariners, respectively, Yelich and catcher J.T. Realmuto have been floated as the next players the team could potentially move as part of its rebuilding effort.

Gammons also mentioned Realmuto in the segment, saying that other teams' general managers think the Marlins might wait to trade Realmuto closer to the 2018 Trade Deadline.

Red Sox offer to Martinez reportedly $100 million
Negotiations between the Red Sox and free-agent slugger J.D. Martinez haven't yet culminated in a contract agreement, and his agent, Scott Boras, has refuted recent reports that Boston extended an offer of five years in the $100 million range.

Boras told MLB Network insider Jon Heyman the reports of the offer, which was said to be less than what Martinez was seeking, were "not accurate." Heyman reported last week that Martinez is looking for a six-year deal valued at $30 million per year.

Video: MLB Tonight: Red Sox offer Martinez five-year deal

The Red Sox have long been linked to Martinez since before he hit free agency, first as a speculative fit following his monster season and then after multiple reports this offseason indicated the two sides were talking. Boston has been seen as the favorite to land Martinez, though a snails-pace free agent market this winter has stalled potential agreements with nearly every high-profile free agent.

Heyman reported last week that Martinez is willing to hold out into Spring Training for a contract that he believes meets his market value, which indicates other clubs are also involved. Martinez was a remarkable catalyst for the D-backs last year in helping them reach their first postseason since 2011, and Arizona is reportedly still interested in bringing him back, per Heyman.

Video: J.D. willing to wait for contract of his liking

After he was acquired on July 18, Martinez hit 29 homers and 65 RBIs in just 62 games, trailing only National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton in each category in that span. On the season, Martinez hit 45 homers despite playing in just 119 games, becoming the first player in MLB history to do so.

Martinez, who will be 31 in August, would reportedly prefer to play outfield, and Boston already has established Gold Glove Award winner Mookie Betts to go with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi. Martinez's fit would likely be at designated hitter, which may give Arizona an edge, in addition to the fact that the club recently hired Martinez's personal hitting coach.

Castellanos on the trade block?
While the Tigers were ultimately able to avoid an arbitration hearing with Nicholas Castellanos, Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press reports that Detroit remains open to trading the rising slugger, citing multiple clubs that have engaged in discussions with the Tigers this offseason.

Video: Castellanos showed extra-base prowess in 2017

Castellanos, 25, agreed to a one-year, $6.05 million contract with the Tigers on Friday. Detroit's first-round Draft choice from 2010 is about to embark on his first full season in right field, but Fenech reports that the Tigers' uncertainty about his defensive ability could still lead to a trade before Opening Day. Castellanos has primarily manned third base during his first four full seasons in the Motor City, but he has rated below average in terms of Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) in each of those campaigns. He played 21 games in right last season.

Castellanos' prowess at the plate is much less in doubt. He broke out for a career-high 26 home runs and 101 RBIs for the Tigers in 2017 while recording a league-adjusted 110 OPS+ (where 100 is average) and pacing the American League with 10 triples. He was even more productive in some respects in '16, finishing with a 120 OPS+ over 110 games. While Castellanos will be eligible for arbitration again next winter, he will not test the free-agent market until 2020. That means Castellanos, for the moment, represents a controllable, relatively cheap hitter coming into his own -- regardless of his defensive ability.

Tigers general manager Al Avila revealed at the Winter Meetings that the team approached Castellanos about a contract extension toward the end of last season, but that no progress has been made.

If Pirates aren't contending, J-Hay wants to be dealt
A day after Andrew McCutchen was traded to San Francisco, Josh Harrison effectively asked to be traded "if indeed the team does not expect to contend this year or next" in a statement released Tuesday to MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal. Harrison, 30, is under contract for $10.25 million this year, with club options for 2019 ($10.5 million) and '20 ($11.5 million). More >

Giants still looking for OF upgrades
Fresh off acquiring Andrew McCutchen from the Pirates on Monday, the Giants are trying to add even more talent to their outfield, with the former National League Most Valuable Player being told that he'll play a corner spot with the team this season, according to ESPN's Buster Olney.

San Francisco's main desire is to upgrade defensively in center field, and sources tell ESPN's Jerry Crasnick that the Giants rank Jarrod Dyson as their most coveted option behind Lorenzo Cain. The club is also interested in Jon Jay and Cameron Maybin, according to Crasnick, but values Dyson's "speed, defensive metrics and stolen-base ability."

The Giants, after bringing in McCutchen via a trade with the Pirates, do not have the space under the luxury-tax threshold to sign Cain at his projected salary, according to MLB.com's Jon Paul Morosi. Morosi reported that the club is looking to add a "defense-first player" in center field "who will be less expensive than Cain."

Dyson, Jay and Maybin will certainly all be less expensive than the former Royals center fielder, and Dyson led that group with seven Outs Above Average last season, according to Statcast™. Maybin was at plus-2 two while Jay was minus-3.

Dyson, 33, has stolen at least 25 bases in each of the past six seasons and would be a big boost to a Giants club that ranked 20th in the Majors with 76 steals last year. Jay has 51 steals in eight Major League seasons, but his .738 career on-base-plus-slugging percentage bests Dyson's .677 total.

Maybin owns a career .693 OPS and stole 33 bases during his time split between the Astros and Angels last season.

Brewers remain interested in Arrieta, Moustakas
The Brewers "continue to be in" on free-agent right-hander Jake Arrieta and third baseman Mike Moustakas, according to Jim Bowden of SiriusXM.

The Brewers have been known to be seeking starting pitching in free agency, and Arrieta would certainly be a boost to Milwaukee's rotation, especially with Jimmy Nelson's 2018 status unclear. Nelson, who underwent surgery on his right shoulder in September, went 12-6 with a team-best 3.49 ERA and 199 strikeouts in 175 1/3 innings last season.

It was reported earlier in January that the Cubs and Cardinals were the two clubs most interested in Arrieta's services, but the Brewers' desire to sign the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner could create a potential bidding war between the NL Central rivals.

Arrieta, 31, went 64-29 with a 2.67 ERA in 119 starts for the Cubs over the past four seasons.

According to Bowden, the Brewers' interest in Moustakas comes with the idea that the club "could trade Travis Shaw" to the Yankees, Braves or Mets.

Milwaukee does not necessarily have a need at third base with the incumbent Shaw being younger and cheaper than Moustakas. The 27-year-old Shaw, under team control through 2022, also excelled for the Brewers last season, batting .273/.349/.513 with 31 home runs and 101 RBIs in 144 games.

Yankees believe they can sign Darvish for 'reasonable price'
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman's interest in signing right-hander Yu Darvish is "very real" because he believes the slowly developing free-agent market may translate into a "reasonable price" for Darvish, according to the New York Daily News.

Darvish is a four-time All-Star in five Major League seasons, posting a 3.86 ERA in 31 starts between the Rangers and Dodgers last season. He pitched well down the stretch for Los Angeles after being acquired at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, and posted a 1.59 ERA between the National League Division Series and NL Championship Series. He was hit hard for nine runs (eight earned) in 3 1/3 innings over two World Series starts.

Overall, the 31-year-old Darvish owns a career 3.42 ERA and 11 strikeouts per nine innings. If the Yankees were to sign him, he would join a starting rotation that already features Luis Severino, who finished third in American League Cy Young Award voting last season, as well as former All-Stars Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray and CC Sabathia.

Cashman has stated the Yankees want to remain under the luxury tax threshold of $197 million for 2018, and signing Darvish would likely require the club to unload salary elsewhere via trade in order to keep payroll below that figure.

The Yankees, who also traded for NL Most Valuable Player Giancarlo Stanton earlier this offseason, came within a win of reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009 last October.

The Yankees, Rangers, Cubs, Astros and Twins previously had been reported as finalists for Darvish, but Darvish also said there is another team in the mix.

The first five teams come according to a report from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's Jeff Wilson -- and the mystery team from Darvish himself.

Darvish tweeted Wednesday night that he knows "one more team is in."

Tweet from @faridyu: I know one more team is in. https://t.co/exxubGP7Qo

Video: Rosenthal discusses Rangers' interest in Darvish

D-backs remain persistent in pursuit of Machado
It remains to be seen whether the Orioles will deal Manny Machado this winter, but the D-backs remain the most persistent among the potential trade suitors, according MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal.

The D-backs have been one of several teams in pursuit of Machado since Baltimore began fielding offers. The two sides aren't close to an agreement, Rosenthal said, but Arizona second baseman Brandon Drury is one of the players under discussion in a potential deal. The Yankees and Red Sox have also been recently linked to the 25-year-old infielder.

If a trade did come to fruition, the D-backs would bolster an already talented roster that made the National League Division Series last season. That core wouldn't be locked down long term, however; Machado, outfielder A.J. Pollock and left-hander Patrick Corbin are eligible for free agency after this season, while first baseman Paul Goldschmidt's contact is up after 2019 and third baseman Jake Lamb's deal expires after 2020.

Video: D-backs showing interest in trading for Machado

Machado is a .279/.329/.476 hitter with 138 home runs and 406 RBIs in 764 games over six Major League seasons, while also being regarded annually as one of the best defensive third basemen in the game.

A two-time Gold Glove Award winner, Machado has requested a move to shortstop, his natural position. It's a move that could increase his value even more as he looks to land a large contract next offseason.

Castro requests trade from Marlins
Starlin Castro, acquired in the December deal that sent slugger Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees, has requested a trade from Miami, sources told MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal.

Castro "does not want to be a part of another rebuilding process" as he was when he was with the Cubs from 2010-15.

Video: Starlin Castro reportedly requests trade from Marlins

The Marlins are in the midst of a full rebuild, and it's been expected that Miami would try to flip Castro to another team. MLB.com's Joe Frisaro reported last week that the Marlins might ultimately keep the 27-year-old infielder.

Castro is to make nearly $11 million in 2018 and almost $12 million in 2019. His contract comes with a $16 million club option for 2020.

Castro, a four-time All-Star, batted .283/.317/.442 with 37 home runs and 133 RBIs in 263 games over two seasons with the Yankees after hitting .281/.321/.404 with 62 homers and 363 RBIs across six seasons with the Cubs.

 

Worst to first? It happens more than you think

2017 last-place teams will look to join 13 previous bounce-back division champs
MLB.com @philgrogers

Need a warm thought on a cold day?

One of the great things about baseball is history almost never repeats itself. You can finish last one season and win a division title the next.

Need a warm thought on a cold day?

One of the great things about baseball is history almost never repeats itself. You can finish last one season and win a division title the next.

That's happened 13 times since 1969, when Major League Baseball went to divisional play. The Red Sox did it in the American League East only two seasons ago, so it's clearly still part of the landscape. Maybe we can make it 14 next season.

And while we're dreaming, why not dream big? After the Red Sox went from last to first in 2013, they went on to finish the job, beating the Cardinals in the World Series. Five other last-to-first teams have reached the Series since '69, most notably when Jack Morris and Kirby Puckett carried the 1991 Twins to an out-of-nowhere championship.

You don't have to win a division title to celebrate, either. Coming close immediately after a dreadful season can bring its own delights.

Video: Must C Clinch: Twins clinch second AL Wild Card spot

The Twins went 59-103 and finished last in the AL Central in 2016,then jumped directly into the postseason as an AL Wild Card team last year. They were the fifth team to win a Wild Card after a last-place finish the season before.

As easy as it can be to pencil in teams like the Dodgers and Nationals to defend their titles, there could be magic to be made this year. The Giants are certainly thinking they can do something special, as they showed by adding Andrew McCutchen in his walk year.

It would be awfully fun to see Bruce Bochy back in the postseason with Madison Bumgarner healthy and dealing like he did in 2014. There's a long way between here and there, sure, but that distance can be covered in a hurry once the standings start changing daily.

In case you're wondering, here are the biggest year-over-year improvements in win totals:

1. 1903 N.Y. Giants: +36 (48 to 84 wins)
2. 1999 D-backs: +35 (65 to 100)
3. 1962 Phillies: +34 (47 to 81)
4 (tie). 1936 Boston Braves/Bees: +33 (38 to 71), '46 Red Sox: +33 (71 to 104), '89 Orioles: +33 (54 to 87)

Here's a look at the last-place teams in MLB's six divisions from a year ago:

NL West: Giants (64-98 in 2017)

If it could go wrong last season, it did. The Giants won 23 fewer games than in 2016, when they fell in a dramatic NL Division Series against the Cubs after winning the NL Wild Card Game. Look for an almost automatic trampoline effect if Bumgarner and Buster Posey avoid injury.

Video: McCutchen, Longoria will help defense and lineup

Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans filled gaping holes by trading for third baseman Evan Longoria and McCutchen, who will move from center field to right field. That switch allows Hunter Pence to move to left, where he joins Christian Yelich, Ryan Braun, Marcell Ozuna and Yoenis Cespedes among the NL elite.

The Giants are still shopping for a center fielder who excels at chasing down fly balls. Free agents Jarrod Dyson and Jon Jay (probably not Lorenzo Cain) are among the options, as is a possible trade. It makes sense that they'd pursue Jackie Bradley Jr. if the Red Sox sign J.D. Martinez, but it's not clear if they have the pieces to add Bradley or someone like Billy Hamilton.

NL East: Phillies (66-96 in 2017)

The Phillies haven't had a winning season since their five-year run of NL East titles ended in 2011, but ownership and the front office have signaled its time to kick it into gear. They changed managers, moving Pete Mackanin upstairs and rolling the dice on the out-of-the-box choice, Gabe Kapler -- a risky move, sort of like the Astros giving A.J.Hinch a second chance.

Video: Santana on being a part of a young Phillies team

Only the Padres were younger than the Phillies last season, and the experience gained by Aaron Nola and the other young starters could be a key for a step up. But the biggest addition is free-agent Carlos Santana. He'll play first base, shifting small-sample-size phenom Rhys Hoskins to left field. It's fair to say he'll be an All-Star there if he homers once every 9.4 at-bats, as he did in his 50-game debut (pretty sure the Phillies would take a 1/15 ratio, though).

Pat Neshek returns on a two-year deal as the primary set-up man for Hector Neris, and Tommy Hunter adds bullpen depth. Something to watch closely is how J.P. Crawford handles shortstop with Freddy Galvis being traded to the Padres. Galvis played all 162 games last season.

NL Central: Reds (68-94 in 2017)

Jared Hughes, the owner of one of the most dependable bullpen arms, is making the rounds of the NL Central. He signed a two-year deal in Cincinnati after stints with the Pirates and Brewers. He's a good addition to a bullpen that has power arms at the end (Raisel Iglesias , Wandy Peralta and Michael Lorenzen. The Reds are turning shortstop over to Jose Peraza and expect third baseman Nick Senzel, the second-overall pick in 2016, to come fast, giving them redundancy alongside Eugenio Suarez.

AL Central: Tigers (64-98 in 2017)

Still in the subtraction phase of the rebuilding project that started with the trades of Justin Verlander and Justin Upton, the Tigers dealt Ian Kinsler to the Angels. They signed Leonys Martin to chase down balls in center field for priority arms Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris and Matthew Boyd. Al Avila added some pitching depth by signing Mike Fiers and Ryan Carpenter, a 27-year-old lefty who could move to the bullpen if he doesn't win the fifth starter's job.

AL West: A's (75-87 in 2017)

There are so many good young hitters in this system that Ryon Healy was declared expendable. He was traded to the Mariners to make it clear that Matt Chapman is the third baseman and Matt Olson the first baseman. The rotation has major upside with Jharel Cotton, Sean Manaea and Kendall Graveman ready to break out.

Video: Manaea becoming a stable presence in the A's rotation

The A's are looking for a bounceback season from Stanford product Stephen Piscotty, whom the Cardinals dealt after adding Ozuna. Yusmeiro Petit, who is signed to a two-year deal, and Emilio Pagan, who was acquired in the Healy trade, add depth to a bullpen that needed help.

AL East: Orioles (75-87 in 2017)

It's looking like there was no fire to go along with the Manny Machado smoke, and otherwise it's been a very quiet offseason in Baltimore. Dan Duquette hasn't addressed the rotation void behind Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman. One thing he has done is accumulate intriguing arms to be sorted out in Spring Training: Michael Kelly, Nestor Cortes, Jose Mesa, Pedro Araujo and Konner Wade. Outfielder Jaycob Brugman, who made his debut with the A's last year, was added as a depth option in the outfield.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.

 

Moreno: Pujols ready to make room for Ohtani

Angels owner says veteran slugger is working at 1B to open up DH slot
MLB.com @boomskie

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Spring Training is less than a month away, and it's safe to say that a healthy share of the baseball world will descend upon Tempe Diablo Stadium on Feb. 14 for the unveiling of Shohei Ohtani, a two-way player from Japan who is preparing for his highly anticipated Major League debut in 2018.

That's the day Angels pitchers and catchers are slated to have their first workout, and the Angels are gearing up for the first high-profile two-way player since Babe Ruth and for the daily media crush.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Spring Training is less than a month away, and it's safe to say that a healthy share of the baseball world will descend upon Tempe Diablo Stadium on Feb. 14 for the unveiling of Shohei Ohtani, a two-way player from Japan who is preparing for his highly anticipated Major League debut in 2018.

That's the day Angels pitchers and catchers are slated to have their first workout, and the Angels are gearing up for the first high-profile two-way player since Babe Ruth and for the daily media crush.

In five seasons with the Nippon-Ham Fighters, the right-hander, whose fastball can reach 100 mph, was 42-15 with a 2.52 ERA and 624 strikeouts in 543 innings. As a left-handed hitter, Ohtani had 48 homers and hit .286.

In Japan, Ohtani was the designated hitter for three games between starts. He pitched every six days, but didn't hit on the days he pitched. His use in the Major Leagues is still to be determined by the Angels' baseball-operations staff headed by general manager Billy Eppler and veteran manager Mike Scioscia.

"He's 23, and we have six years to work him into it," Angels owner Arte Moreno told MLB.com. "It's not like he needs to go right in there and pull the wagon. We have a lot of flexibility."

Ohtani chose the Angels among seven finalists this offseason because of several factors: his relationship with Eppler, his status as the club's first high-profile Japanese player and the fact that the Angels are an American League club replete with the DH.

There are moving parts, however, and the most interesting is how Albert Pujols will adjust to playing a little more first base to make room for Ohtani as the DH. The 38-year-old Pujols has been limited in a defensive role by foot injuries in recent years.

Video: Ohtani's skill set broken down ahead of arrival

Last season, he started 149 games, 143 as the DH and only six at first base. He hit 23 homers and knocked in 101 runs.

The last time Pujols played with any sort of regularity at first base was in 2015, when he started 95 games there. He had surgery on his right foot after both the 2015 and '16 seasons.

GM: Angels' use of Ohtani will be 'pretty unique'

The latter surgery, to correct plantar fascia, caused him to miss the start of Spring Training in 2017. He returned in time to play in the season opener but got off to a slow start, with three homers and 22 RBIs in April.

Pujols heads into this season 32 hits short of 3,000, and with 614 home runs, he trails Ken Griffey Jr. by 16 for sixth on the all-time list.

The Angels have Pujols under guaranteed contract through 2021 and owe him $114 million. They had $2.32 million in international slot money to sign Ohtani.

What are the Angels to do? Pujols has been working out all winter in southern California.

"Albert's taking batting practice right now and has taken infield," Moreno said. "[Coach Dino Ebel] has been giving him infield [work] and said he looks strong. We won't know exactly what we're going to do until we see Albert play. But if we can get him into the field for 40-50 games, then Ohtani's going to have a lot of opportunity to bat."

Halos hope new pieces give lineup added punch

The last time any player regularly pitched and hit in the Major Leagues was 1919, when the left-handed Ruth made 17 starts for the Red Sox on the mound and 116 starts in the outfield and first base. He won nine games and led the Majors with 29 homers, 113 RBIs, 103 runs, a .456 on base percentage, .657 slugging percentage and 1.114 OPS.

Ruth was sold to the Yankees that offseason and was pretty much shut down as a pitcher thereafter. He made five more starts the rest of his career, winning all five and completing four.

The Yankees made the right move. He hit 714 home runs and is the all-time leader in slugging percentage (.690) and OPS (1.164). For those into newer metrics, Ruth is also the all-time leader with a 206 OPS+. One hundred is the mean in that statistic, and last season Pujols had an 81 OPS+.

Hitting and pitching in Nippon Professional Baseball is considered a similar level to Double- or Triple-A, so it will be interesting to see how Ohtani's skills translate to Major League Baseball. The prospect is exciting.

"We had a press conference at Angels Stadium about a month ago, and it was wild there," Moreno said. "You can only imagine how crazy it was. He was like a rock star."

But a regular DH? That remains to be seen.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.

 

Los Angeles Angels, Albert Pujols

Cole eager to learn, contribute with Astros

Former Bucs ace adds another elite arm to formidable Houston rotation
MLB.com @brianmctaggart

HOUSTON -- The Astros have made a habit of pushing pitchers to the next level -- Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Charlie Morton, for example -- and are hoping to do the same with Gerrit Cole. Much of the credit goes to pitching coach Brent Strom, and the team's forward-thinking analytics department has also proven to provide the pitchers with useful information.

Cole, acquired by the Astros from the Pirates on Saturday in exchange for pitchers Michael Feliz and Joe Musgrove, and prospects Colin Moran and Jason Martin, gives the Astros a hard-throwing 27-year-old who's looking to recapture the form of his 19-win season in 2015. He gives them top-of-the-rotation potential without having to carry that burden in a deep rotation.

HOUSTON -- The Astros have made a habit of pushing pitchers to the next level -- Dallas Keuchel, Collin McHugh and Charlie Morton, for example -- and are hoping to do the same with Gerrit Cole. Much of the credit goes to pitching coach Brent Strom, and the team's forward-thinking analytics department has also proven to provide the pitchers with useful information.

Cole, acquired by the Astros from the Pirates on Saturday in exchange for pitchers Michael Feliz and Joe Musgrove, and prospects Colin Moran and Jason Martin, gives the Astros a hard-throwing 27-year-old who's looking to recapture the form of his 19-win season in 2015. He gives them top-of-the-rotation potential without having to carry that burden in a deep rotation.

Video: Crane happy to acquire Cole from the Pirates

"I think it boils down to command, I think it boils down to executing pitches," Cole said Wednesday when introduced to the Houston media at Minute Maid Park. "There are a lot of contributing factors, but I'm just going to trust what I do and continue use the resources around me. I'm going to try to soak up as much as I can from the veterans on this team and some of the really good players."

Cole figures to benefit from working with veteran catcher Brian McCann, who has already reached out to him. He'll soak up as much as he can from veteran pitcher Justin Verlander, who is entering his first full season with the Astros after coming over in an Aug. 31 trade with the Tigers.

"His is somebody every right-handed power pitcher ever has looked up to," Cole said. "It's a really cool opportunity to be able to work with somebody that good."

Video: Cole greatly improves Astros' rotation

Expect the Astros to push Cole to use his breaking ball more, knowing his 96-mph fastball remains an important part of his arsenal. He threw 12.2 percent curveballs last year and 17.2 percent sliders, but the Astros love the weak contact and spin rates.

"I'm looking forward to a new approach," Cole said. "I know there are some things the Astros do that are different, and I'm looking forward to hearing those things and hopefully trying to get a lot better."

Astros manager A.J. Hinch loves the mindset that Cole wants to learn.

Video: Hinch knows addition of Cole improves Astros

"Gerrit's used to being a front-line pitcher in this league. He's used to even carrying a pitching staff," he said. "Coming over here, we want that mentality to stay the same, even though he's got some help in this rotation to be his best.

"Certainly, we'll talk a lot about how he's going to use his pitches, we're going to talk about command and the things he's talked about, maybe some mechanical things we feel can get the best out of him. He's open to any and all ideas. We've got a lot of people that are going to be working to maximize his potential and ways to get better."

Cole, the Pirates' first-round Draft pick in 2011 out of UCLA, went 19-22 with a 4.12 ERA during 54 starts in 2016-17 after winning 19 games in '15. He went 12-12 with a 4.26 ERA in 33 starts last year for the Pirates, allowing 55 walks and 31 homers while striking out 196 batters in 203 innings.

Video: Huntington on young players added via trades

He'll join an already-formidable rotation that includes Verlander, Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr. and Morton, who's a close friend of Cole from their Pittsburgh days. Brad Peacock, who had the best year of his career last year split between the rotation and bullpen, and steady veteran McHugh are also in the rotation conversation.

"I'm happy with the depth of this rotation," Hinch said. "It's hard to argue the quality we can throw out there every day if we're healthy and we continue to push forward."

Brian McTaggart has covered the Astros since 2004, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow @brianmctaggart on Twitter.

 

Houston Astros, Gerrit Cole

High heat helped Kimbrel rediscover his mojo

Red Sox closer embraced high fastballs with resounding success
MLB.com @mattkellyMLB

Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel threw the ball extremely hard last season, but that wasn't anything new. In seven full Major League seasons, Kimbrel has earned six trips to the All-Star Game by being a flamethrower, and by being one of the top closers in baseball.

Rather, it was where Kimbrel threw his fastball last year that helped both he and the Red Sox unlock a new pitcher; one who simply overwhelmed hitters and posted one of the most dominant relief seasons in recent memory.

Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel threw the ball extremely hard last season, but that wasn't anything new. In seven full Major League seasons, Kimbrel has earned six trips to the All-Star Game by being a flamethrower, and by being one of the top closers in baseball.

Rather, it was where Kimbrel threw his fastball last year that helped both he and the Red Sox unlock a new pitcher; one who simply overwhelmed hitters and posted one of the most dominant relief seasons in recent memory.

There were more than 320 Major League pitchers who threw at least 500 fastballs tracked by Statcast™ last season, and only four (Aroldis Chapman, Joe Kelly, Felipe Rivero and Trevor Rosenthal) threw harder than Kimbrel's 98.3 mph average. But Kimbrel threw almost exactly as hard in 2015, his lone season with the Padres, and in his '16 debut with the Red Sox. Boston paid more than its fair share for Kimbrel when it traded Manuel Margot, Carlos Asuaje, Logan Allen and Javier Guerra to San Diego, and the closer's '16 returns -- a career-high 3.40 ERA and 2.92 FIP to go with a career-low 31 saves -- were less than encouraging.

What a difference a year can make.

The Red Sox not only added Cy Young runner-up Chris Sale to head their rotation, they also got back the All-World version of Kimbrel from his days in Atlanta. The righty shaved nearly two runs off his ERA while recording a microscopic 0.681 WHIP that ranks as the eighth-lowest in any 50-plus inning season in modern history. Kimbrel's walk and strikeout rates improved dramatically, too. 

2016: 3.40 ERA, 53 IP, 37.7 strikeout percentage, 13.6 walk percentage

2017: 1.43 ERA, 69 IP, 49.6 strikeout percentage, 5.5 walk percentage

Video: MIN@BOS: Kimbrel fans Kepler to secure the save

Kimbrel threw as hard as he did the year before, and featured the same mix of pitches (69 percent fastballs, 31 percent curveballs) too. So, what changed? Statcast™ tracked 115 pitchers who threw at least 500 four-seam fastballs during both the 2016 and '17 campaigns. Only one reliever showed a bigger increase in his rate of four-seamers thrown up at the top of the strike zone.

Relievers with biggest increases in pct. of four-seam fastballs in "elevated" locations, 2016-17
Min. 500 four-seamers thrown in 2016 and '17

1. Tony Cingrani: +19.6 percent
2. Kimbrel: +15.9 percent
3. Archie Bradley: +15.0 percent
4. Addison Reed: +14.7 percent
5. Cody Allen: +14.2 percent

"Elevated" refers to the nine zones atop Statcast™'s detailed zone metric for pitch tracking, and that area turned out to be a sweet spot for Kimbrel. Boston's flamethrower went from boring his upper-90s heat in on the hands of right-handers to putting it up across the letters.

Tweet from @mattkellyMLB: Per #Statcast™, only 4 qualified pitchers posted a bigger increase in their usage of elevated 4-seam fastballs from 2016-17 than Craig Kimbrel. The #RedSox closer shaved nearly 100 points of SLG off his heater by climbing the ladder. pic.twitter.com/IFGvSCeb1o

If there's any pitcher best suited to throw the high four-seamer, it might be Kimbrel. The first three years of Statcast™ data show that four-seam fastballs with above-average spin tend to defy gravity longer on their way to home plate, thereby generating more whiffs and popups via the "ride" or "rise" effect that scouts have described for decades. Kimbrel's average spin rate of 2,428 rpm on his four-seamer last year was above the league average of 2,255 rpm and ranked 30th out of those nearly 200 pitchers who threw the pitch 500 times. But anecdotally, Kimbrel's heat has long been described differently than every other pitcher.

It started in high school when a piece of sheetrock fell on Kimbrel's left foot and broke it, forcing him to keep his arm fresh during the recovery period by throwing from his knees. Doing so helped Kimbrel, in his estimation, add velocity and torque, and it may have also lent him the now-mythical action on his fastball. Slugger Matt Holliday told Sports Illustrated last spring that the pitch "looks like it's coming out of his shirt and going up," while bullpen mate Joe Kelly has said he needs to re-lace his glove after playing catch with Kimbrel. Collectively, the stories from Kimbrel's teammates and opponents paint the truest picture of a "riseball" straight out of a video game.

"There's something about the way he throws it that makes it so difficult to track," said Holliday. "You swing at one place, and very rarely does the ball end up at that place."

The numbers suggest batters had a terrible time tracking Kimbrel's four-seamer last season. Kimbrel shaved 101 points off the weighted on-base average (wOBA) (a statistic that acts like OBP, except it awards increasingly more credit for doubles, triples and home runs) he allowed on his four-seamer, from .303 in 2016 to .202, for the fourth-biggest drop of any qualified pitcher. Kimbrel's four-seam wOBA ranked second-best among pitchers who ended at least 100 at-bats with that pitch, as did Kimbrel's 39.1 percent rate of whiffs generated per swing. When just isolating Kimbrel's 2017 performance on four-seamers in those nine elevated zones, his heat became even more stifling.

Kimbrel's results on "elevated" four-seam fastballs (MLB ranks), 2017

wOBA: .156 (second, min. 50 at-bats)
SLG: .204 (seventh, min. 50 AB)
Whiffs-per-swing: 47.9 percent (first, min. 100 swings induced)

Getting hitters to miss on nearly half their swings is fairly ridiculous, but the video evidence lends ample sympathy for Kimbrel's opponents. This 99-mph fastball pierced the top border of Mitch Haniger's strike zone:

Video: BOS@SEA: Kimbrel strikes out Haniger, side in 10th

Meanwhile, this 98-mph heater to Aaron Hicks might still be climbing somewhere above the city of Boston:

Video: NYY@BOS: Kimbrel fans Hicks to end the game

And then there was Kimbrel's final pitch of the regular season, a strikeout of George Springer that emphatically sealed the Red Sox's AL East title:

Video: HOU@BOS: Kimbrel whiffs Springer to clinch AL East

The only pitcher who allowed a lower overall wOBA and racked up a higher whiff rate than Kimbrel on the four-seamer was Yankees reliever Chad Green, whose fastball averaged roughly 2 1/2 less mph but actually featured higher spin. Whether Green pitches out of New York's rotation or from the bullpen, the Red Sox-Yankees matchups that feature both he and Kimbrel are something to look forward to. And, now that Kimbrel seems to have found his fastball sweet spot, his follow-up is definitely something to look forward to for fans in New England.

Matt Kelly is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @mattkellyMLB.

 

Boston Red Sox, Craig Kimbrel

Bellinger bulks up for sophomore season

NL Rookie of the Year gains 15 pounds as he hopes to avoid letdown
MLB.com @kengurnick

LOS ANGELES -- Opponents will see even more of Cody Bellinger in 2018.

The unanimous National League Rookie of the Year Award winner last season, Bellinger has added 15 pounds during the offseason with a stepped-up conditioning and nutrition program.

LOS ANGELES -- Opponents will see even more of Cody Bellinger in 2018.

The unanimous National League Rookie of the Year Award winner last season, Bellinger has added 15 pounds during the offseason with a stepped-up conditioning and nutrition program.

But not to worry, he hasn't given up his go-to food group.

"Ice cream? Oh, yeah," said the Dodgers first baseman and frozen-treat connoisseur.

The 22-year-old Bellinger's upper body shows the impressive results of his winter work.

"I know what a full season is like in the big leagues," he said. "It's not going to be a surprise anymore. I know what I need to do to keep my body in shape to last 162 games."

Video: Bellinger takes home NL ROY in historic season

Recalled from Triple-A in late April, Bellinger played a combined 150 games in 2017, with 39 of his 44 home runs coming as a Dodger, enough to set an NL rookie record. He seems determined to improve on that in 2018.

"I'm 100 percent taking it seriously," Bellinger said. "I think when you have some success, you're living the dream, and you want to have more success. For me, obviously the sophomore slump is going to be there, people will say it, and I just want to put my body and mind in the best position to succeed."

Bellinger said he's been able to look back on the 2017 season, both his accomplishments and those of the team.

"The World Series was a tough one to swallow," he said. "Two good teams get to the World Series. For us to go to Game 7, it is an accomplishment. Obviously, you want to win. But I've had an opportunity to go back and reflect on the kind of year it was.

"During the season you can enjoy it a little bit, but the next day you've got to go out and try to do the same thing. The year was full of ups and downs. I had a great time and look forward to this year."

A year ago, Adrian Gonzalez went into Spring Training as the Dodgers' starting first baseman. He's now a Met, his departure hastened by Bellinger's meteoric arrival. Despite missing most of April, Bellinger was an All-Star and finished sixth in the league with a .581 slugging percentage. He was ninth in NL MVP Award voting.

And as he mentioned, he's aware of those pesky sophomore slumps.

"If I were to start struggling, we have the right guys in the clubhouse to give me the right advice to get out of it," Bellinger said. "I'm not too worried about it. I'm going to go out and have fun like I did last year."

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.

 

Los Angeles Dodgers, Cody Bellinger

Morneau retires, starts new chapter with Twins

Former AL MVP to provide hitting advice, work in player development
MLB.com @RhettBollinger

MINNEAPOLIS -- For former Twins star Justin Morneau, Wednesday marked both the end of his playing career and the beginning of a new chapter as a special assistant to baseball operations for Minnesota.

Morneau, the 2006 American League MVP and a four-time All-Star, officially retired at a news conference at Target Field, but also announced details on his new role with the Twins. Morneau will help in several aspects, including dispensing hitting advice to both Minor League and Major League players, as well as working in player development, player acquisition and the MLB Draft.

MINNEAPOLIS -- For former Twins star Justin Morneau, Wednesday marked both the end of his playing career and the beginning of a new chapter as a special assistant to baseball operations for Minnesota.

Morneau, the 2006 American League MVP and a four-time All-Star, officially retired at a news conference at Target Field, but also announced details on his new role with the Twins. Morneau will help in several aspects, including dispensing hitting advice to both Minor League and Major League players, as well as working in player development, player acquisition and the MLB Draft.

• 5 things Morneau can teach as special assistant

"You could look at it as a sad day because I'm done playing baseball and it's something I loved, but coming back to the Twins family and being able to sit in on hitters' meetings and Draft meetings and pass on the things I've learned is something I'm really excited to do," the 36-year-old said. "Something is ending, but something new is about to begin."

Morneau, who was joined at the podium by Twins president Dave St. Peter and chief baseball officer Derek Falvey, also had his family in attendance as well as former teammates Joe Mauer and Corey Koskie. Morneau prepared notes for his retirement speech, but never looked at them during his uninterrupted 15-minute opener, thanking those who helped him along the way and expressing genuine excitement about his new role.

Video: Morneau on retiring, new role with Twins

"For so many years, baseball was the center of my universe," Morneau said. "From the time I was 10 years old, all I remember doing in the summer was playing baseball, and I really didn't want to do anything else. When I was 5 or 6, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. Sometimes you're fortunate to know your career path and achieve that dream. So I really want to say thank you."

Morneau, a New Westminster, British Columbia native, finished his career hitting .281/.348/.481 with 247 homers, 349 doubles and 985 RBIs in 1,545 games over 14 seasons with the Twins, Rockies, Pirates and White Sox. He won two Silver Sluggers, was the 2014 National League batting champ with the Rockies and memorably won the 2008 Home Run Derby over Josh Hamilton at Yankee Stadium.

"Justin Morneau is one of the most significant players in the history of our franchise," St. Peter said. "We're celebrating a glorious baseball career, but also a return for Justin, Krista and the family to be back into the Twins family."

Video: Morneau named baseball operations special assistant

In his new role, Morneau sat in during the club's annual organizational meetings two weeks ago to get a better feel and said the preliminary talks about joining the Twins started last June. He didn't play in 2017, but followed the Twins closely and said he's excited to work with young hitters, especially Max Kepler, who has a similar swing.

"I'll be doing a little bit of everything," Morneau said. "The first year will be a learning experience, and we can revisit what worked next winter."

Morneau, who has a similar title to fellow former Twins such as Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer and LaTroy Hawkins, will also head to Spring Training for two different stints as an instructor.

"It's clear Justin wants to pay something back to this organization and the people in it," Falvey said. "He wants to be part of this family and make an impact going forward. And not just at this level, but at the Minor League level."

Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.

 

Minnesota Twins

The Life of Bartolo Colon: A True or False Quiz

Big Sexy. Barty Bart. Cytolo.

Whatever nickname you prefer for baseball's elder statesman, we can all hopefully agree that Bartolo Colon is a legend. He's played 20 big league seasons -- spanning 10 teams, three decades and four different U.S. presidents. He's one of two '90s players left (Adrian Beltre is the other) and is the last remaining Expo.

While he's not currently with a team, the Cy Young Award winner is still an active MLB player ... and a living, breathing MLB relic with a life chock full of stories that blur the line between fact and fiction.

So, we ask you, impassioned Bartolo Colon fan, how well do you know your favorite 44-year-old? Test your knowledge with our True and False Quiz below:

Mets expect Conforto to return around May 1

No setbacks for outfielder in recovery from left shoulder surgery
MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

NEW YORK -- Although the Mets spoke briefly with Jay Bruce about playing some first base this season, it appears their need for him will be greatest in the outfield. The Mets do not expect Michael Conforto to return until around May 1, general manager Sandy Alderson said Wednesday, placing the most concrete timetable yet on the outfielder's return from left shoulder surgery.

"Conforto probably will not be ready," Alderson said. "Everything's going as planned. There have been no setbacks. But his schedule is such that I don't expect him back until the first of May."

NEW YORK -- Although the Mets spoke briefly with Jay Bruce about playing some first base this season, it appears their need for him will be greatest in the outfield. The Mets do not expect Michael Conforto to return until around May 1, general manager Sandy Alderson said Wednesday, placing the most concrete timetable yet on the outfielder's return from left shoulder surgery.

"Conforto probably will not be ready," Alderson said. "Everything's going as planned. There have been no setbacks. But his schedule is such that I don't expect him back until the first of May."

The Mets' lone All-Star last season, Conforto hit .279 with 27 homers in 109 games before dislocating his left shoulder and tearing a capsule in August. He subsequently underwent surgery, from which he is still recovering.

With Conforto sidelined, the Mets will proceed with a regular outfield alignment of Yoenis Cespedes in left, Juan Lagares in center and Bruce in right. Brandon Nimmo is also an option to split time with Lagares, though Nimmo's name has reportedly come up in recent trade talks.

Once Conforto does return, he will supplant Lagares in center -- provided everyone else is healthy.

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook.

 

New York Mets, Michael Conforto

Padres' Gore atop list of 10 best LHP prospects

A's Puk checks in at No. 2, followed by Yanks' Sheffield
MLB.com

Ranking season at MLB Pipeline began in earnest this week with the unveiling of our Top 10 right-handed pitching prospects for 2018. The list-dropping continues today with a look at the Top 10 left-handed hurlers, another immensely talented group, and it all leads up to the release of our Top 100 list, which goes live on Jan. 27, in conjunction with the MLB Network special at 8 p.m. ET (also streaming on MLB.com).

Sitting atop this year's LHP list is 19-year-old MacKenzie Gore, who turned in a stellar professional debut after the Padres drafted him third overall. He's one of four southpaws ages 20 or younger in a group that also features three newcomers as well as a pair of Braves big leaguers.

Ranking season at MLB Pipeline began in earnest this week with the unveiling of our Top 10 right-handed pitching prospects for 2018. The list-dropping continues today with a look at the Top 10 left-handed hurlers, another immensely talented group, and it all leads up to the release of our Top 100 list, which goes live on Jan. 27, in conjunction with the MLB Network special at 8 p.m. ET (also streaming on MLB.com).

Sitting atop this year's LHP list is 19-year-old MacKenzie Gore, who turned in a stellar professional debut after the Padres drafted him third overall. He's one of four southpaws ages 20 or younger in a group that also features three newcomers as well as a pair of Braves big leaguers.

:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::

1. MacKenzie Gore, Padres More »
2. A.J. Puk, Athletics More »
3. Justus Sheffield, Yankees More »
4. Luiz Gohara, Braves More »
5. Brendan McKay, Rays
6. Adrian Morejon, Padres More »
7. Kolby Allard, Braves More »
8. Jesus Luzardo, Athletics More »
9. Stephen Gonsalves, Twins More »
10. Max Fried, Braves More »

Top tools

Fastball: 70 - Puk, Gohara
No one in this group boasts an 80-grade heater like righties Shohei Ohtani, Michael Kopech or Hunter Greene do, though Puk and Gohara both generate plenty of velocity. Gohara averaged 96.4 mph and bumped triple digits with his fastball in his five starts with Atlanta in 2017, per Statcast™, while Puk, the No. 6 overall pick in 2016 Draft, spent the season operating at 93-97 mph across two Minor League levels.

Video: Top Prospects: A.J. Puk, LHP, Athletics

Curveball: 60 - Gore, McKay, Fried
Fried's curveball continues to be regarded as one of the best in the Minors, and he missed bats at better than a 35-percent clip with the pitch over 26 innings with the Braves in 2017. Gore's curveball is a legitimate plus offering, registering in the mid-70s with late biting action, and McKay's grades as plus as well.

Video: Top Prospects: Max Fried, LHP, Braves

Slider: 65 - Puk
Puk complements his impressive heater with a devastating slider in the mid- to upper-80s that nets him whiffs against right- and left-handed hitters alike. That pairing helped the big lefty pile up 184 strikeouts in just 125 innings in 2017, when he paced all qualified Minor League starters with 13.2 strikeouts-per-nine innings.

Changeup: 60 - Allard, Luzardo, Gonsalves
Luzardo's changeup was said to be among the best in the 2015 Draft class before he underwent Tommy John surgery, and scouts who saw him over the summer raved about the pitch's speed differential and overall effectiveness. Both Allard and Gonsalves demonstrate advanced feel for their respective changeups, though neither pitches with anything more than a slightly above-average fastball.

Video: Top Prospects: Kolby Allard, LHP, Braves

Control: 60 - Luzardo
In his first season removed from Tommy John surgery (also his professional debut), Luzardo showed a combination of stuff, pitchability and control en route to posting 48 strikeouts against five walks in 43 1/3 innings across two levels and three affiliates. Advanced control and command have been a key part of Luzardo's profile since high school and should enable him to move relatively quickly through the Minors.

Video: Top Prospects: Jesus Luzardo, LHP, Athletics