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What's market value for center-field star Cain?

Free agent turns 32 in April, linked to multiple teams this offseason
MLB.com @feinsand

When the Giants signed Austin Jackson to a two-year contract on Monday, it appeared to squash any chance of Lorenzo Cain signing with San Francisco. Or did it?

There is still a belief within the industry that Cain could wind up with the Giants, who currently have Jackson, Hunter Pence and Andrew McCutchen penciled in as their starting outfield.

When the Giants signed Austin Jackson to a two-year contract on Monday, it appeared to squash any chance of Lorenzo Cain signing with San Francisco. Or did it?

There is still a belief within the industry that Cain could wind up with the Giants, who currently have Jackson, Hunter Pence and Andrew McCutchen penciled in as their starting outfield.

"San Francisco still feels like a strong fit," one general manager said. "Jackson could serve as a very valuable fourth outfielder with two veteran corner outfielders."

Cain has been attached to several teams besides the Giants this winter. The Rangers and Brewers have been viewed as potential suitors, while other teams, including the Mets and Blue Jays, have also been linked to the center fielder.

Cain has been an above-average defender and a solid, steady presence in the Royals' lineup, averaging 11 home runs, 58 RBIs, 74 runs scored, 24 stolen bases and a .300/.352/.437 slash line in his four seasons as a full-time starter, playing an average of 133 games per season.

He hit 15 home runs with 49 RBIs, 86 runs scored, 26 steals and a .300/.363/.440 slash line in 155 games last season, posting an OPS above .800 for the second time in three years.

But with his 32nd birthday approaching in April, industry insiders believe he's looking at no more than a three-year contract with the possibility of an option year tacked on.

"The way we interpret the aging curve now, his position, his swing mechanics, they all factor into the eventual length of a contractual commitment," an industry source said.

Nomar Mazara, Delino DeShields and Shin-Soo Choo currently make up the Texas outfield, though Choo could shift to designated hitter if Cain were to join the Rangers. The primary question appears to be whether Texas could fit Cain into its payroll budget, though the longer he stays on the market, the chances of him taking less money get better and better.

"I wonder if Texas waits it out and gets him," another industry source said.

Could the Cubs -- who have Albert Almora Jr. atop the depth chart in center field -- jump into the fray?

"He would be a great fit for the Cubs," a third industry source said. "But I don't see Chicago giving up two picks for him, especially since they've dealt a lot of prospects away the last couple of seasons."

Cain, by virtue of receiving a qualifying offer from the Royals, will cost any team that signs him (other than Kansas City) up to two Draft picks. The Cubs, by virtue of exceeding the luxury tax threshold in 2017, would be among the clubs that would surrender two picks if they sign Cain.

Qualifying offer rules explained

As noted, Milwaukee has been connected to Cain, though a rumor emerged Tuesday that the Brewers are pursuing Miami's Christian Yelich via a trade, and an acquisition like that would likely take them out of the Cain sweepstakes.

Then there's the prospect of Cain taking a one-year deal with an eye on testing the market again next offseason without Draft-pick compensation attached to him, as he can't be extended a qualifying offer next year regardless of where he plays.

"My guess is he winds up back with Kansas City," the third source said. "I could see [Mike] Moustakas doing the same thing, putting up another big season and hitting the market again next year. By next season, more teams will reset their tax situations, so they can manipulate things even more."

Should Cain opt for a deal that allows him to test the market next winter (either a one-year pact or a longer contract with an opt-out clause), he wouldn't be subject to a qualifying offer as players can only receive it once in their careers. However, he would be competing with fellow center fielders Charlie Blackmon, Adam Jones, A.J. Pollock and McCutchen, all of whom are slated to become free agents at the end of the 2018 campaign.

The best news for Cain? He's hands-down the best center-field option on the market, so any team looking to fill that spot should have some level of interest. Other available center fielders include Jarrod Dyson, Carlos Gomez, Jon Jay, Rajai Davis and Cameron Maybin.

Mark Feinsand, an executive reporter, originally joined MLB.com as a reporter in 2001.

 

Lorenzo Cain

The best hitter you know nothing about

Cardinals' Martinez hit .309/.379/.518 as rookie in 2017
MLB.com @mike_petriello

As every St. Louis fan knows, the Cardinals had an unexpected breakout season from a power-hitting righty outfielder in 2017. This is a player who was born in 1988, entered the professional ranks in 2006 and put up impressive stats at several levels of the Minors around a variety of injuries, finally managing to stick in the bigs in the year he turned 29.

You're probably thinking of Tommy Pham, because every word of that applies to St. Louis' starting center fielder. But it also applies to Jose Martinez, who very quietly put up a .309/.379/.518 line in 307 plate appearances last year. Like Pham, a big question entering 2018 will be whether Martinez can repeat his performance, whether '17 was a small-sample-size fluke. Unlike Pham, Martinez doesn't have a clear path to playing time.

As every St. Louis fan knows, the Cardinals had an unexpected breakout season from a power-hitting righty outfielder in 2017. This is a player who was born in 1988, entered the professional ranks in 2006 and put up impressive stats at several levels of the Minors around a variety of injuries, finally managing to stick in the bigs in the year he turned 29.

You're probably thinking of Tommy Pham, because every word of that applies to St. Louis' starting center fielder. But it also applies to Jose Martinez, who very quietly put up a .309/.379/.518 line in 307 plate appearances last year. Like Pham, a big question entering 2018 will be whether Martinez can repeat his performance, whether '17 was a small-sample-size fluke. Unlike Pham, Martinez doesn't have a clear path to playing time.

Let's start with the important part, about whether a few hundred good plate appearances from a guy who turns 30 in July should be written off as a fluke or a beginning. After all, the Cards have seen a few hitters have splashy first impressions in recent years only to find that long-term success didn't follow, like with Aledmys Diaz and Jeremy Hazelbaker. Pham falls into that category in 2018; so does shortstop Paul DeJong.

So, of course, does Martinez. But while 2017 may have been his first taste of big league success, there's plenty of reason to consider him a reasonable bet to produce again in '18. For example, let's start with the fact that the numbers he put up in '17 didn't come by accident or good fortune. They were earned, and then some. In a partial season, Martinez's command of the plate ranked with the elite hitters in the game.

Video: MIL@STL: Jose Martinez crushes two solo home runs

Here around the Statcast™ lab, we have an extremely powerful metric with a funny-sounding name. It's called Expected wOBA, or xwOBA, and it's intended to show total command of what the batter can do at the plate. It accounts for quality of contact, in terms of exit velocity and launch angle, and amount of contact, in terms of strikeouts and walks. It doesn't look at play outcomes, because the point is that a hitter ought to be credited for the skill shown in crushing a ball, regardless of whether a good defender catches it or a poor defender does not.

Expected wOBA leaders in 2017 (minimum 250 plate appearances)
.446 -- Aaron Judge
.424 -- Joey Votto
.423 -- Mike Trout
.423 -- J.D. Martinez
.411 -- Jose Martinez
.403 -- Freddie Freeman
(Major League average xwOBA is .314. Last season, 301 hitters had 250 plate appearances.)

What should stand out to you there is that the other names on the list are indisputably among the greatest slugging superstars in the game today. (More names in the Top 15: Giancarlo Stanton, Justin Turner, Carlos Correa and Bryce Harper.) If you look at the 2016 leaders, you'll see Miguel Cabrera, David Ortiz, Trout, Votto and Josh Donaldson. In '15, it was again Cabrera, Votto, Ortiz, Trout, Harper and Freeman.

The quality of the names alone should infer that being at the top of this list is a good thing. But just to be sure, let's take the Top 25 leaders (minimum 250 plate appearances) from each season in expected wOBA, and see how they did the next season in actual wOBA.

In 2015, of the Top 25 hitters in Expected wOBA, 22 went on to have above-average seasons in '16. Two who didn't, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, were in their late 30s and playing their final season. One, Lucas Duda, got into only 47 games due to injury. Not everyone repeated their '15 success, but they were all better than league average.

In 2016, of the Top 25 hitters in Expected wOBA, 18 of the 23 who played went on to have above-average seasons the next year. (Two didn't play the next season.) Three of the five who didn't have good years were injured and in their mid-to-late 30s -- Cabrera, Albert Pujols and Victor Martinez.

It's fair to say that this guarantees nothing, and that Martinez didn't play a full season like most of these guys, but the point is that it is difficult to get there even in a partial season. Even if you just compare him to others who raked in less than a full year, Martinez (.411 xwOBA in 307 plate appearances) is right there with Rhys Hoskins (.399 in 212 plate appearances) and Matt Olson (.380 in 216 plate appearances).

So let's say this is "real." How did no one notice before now? Did the White Sox, Braves and Royals all whiff on Martinez for more than a decade before the Cardinals gave him a shot?

No. Mostly.

As usual, the story begins with health. By 2011, Martinez had been through three right knee surgeries, one costing him the entire '09 season. He was reportedly becoming the first player to make it back from a meniscus transplant. In addition, despite his 6-foot-6 height, Martinez had never hit for power, never once hitting double-digit homers until '15.

Video: ARI@STL: Martinez belts a two-run shot to right

But that year, Martinez hit .384/.461/.563 in Triple-A, setting a Pacific Coast League record for batting average and leading the league in total value, per a Minor League version of WAR. When his 2016 season didn't live up to the same standard, he did something plenty of recent sluggers did before him: He studied the best hitters in the game and resolved to stop hitting ground balls.

"We started watching some swings from Donaldson and Cabrera, and we noticed that they don't hit ground balls," Martinez told local media during Spring Training. "They eliminate them."

It's a familiar story. Martinez showed elite exit velocity (his 90.6 mph average was in the top 20 in the Majors in 2017), and after years of hitting the ball on the ground over 50 percent of the time in the Minors, he cut his grounder rate to only 42 percent last season.

So if the question is whether there's something real behind the breakout, there absolutely seems to be. The underlying data is real. The change in approach is real. The remaining question is whether Martinez will get the playing time to prove it.

That's because even with Stephen Piscotty off to Oakland and Magneuris Sierra to Miami and Randal Grichuk to Toronto, the Cards have plenty of competition. Pham is set in center, with Marcell Ozuna and Dexter Fowler as the clear starters in the corners. Prospects Harrison Bader and Tyler O'Neill are ready now, and Jose Adolis Garcia may not be far behind. Rookie first baseman Luke Voit has been taking some outfield reps this offseason, too.

At first base, where Martinez is working to gain experience, there is, of course, still Matt Carpenter and Voit -- and never-ending rumors about Eric Hosmer.

Having too much talent is never a serious problem to have. These things tend to sort themselves out. Yet despite his winding path to the big leagues and his impending 30th birthday, it certainly looks like the skills behind Martinez's partial-season breakout were real. It's up to the Cardinals to give him a path to prove they were.

Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast.

 

St. Louis Cardinals, Jose Martinez

How MLB.com writers voted in HOF balloting

Election results to be revealed 6 p.m. ET Wednesday
MLB.com

Thirteen MLB.com writers were among those eligible to cast ballots in the 2018 Hall of Fame vote conducted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

The results of the 74th BBWAA Hall of Fame election will be revealed Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET live on MLB Network, and simulcast live on MLB.com beginning at 5 p.m.

Thirteen MLB.com writers were among those eligible to cast ballots in the 2018 Hall of Fame vote conducted by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

The results of the 74th BBWAA Hall of Fame election will be revealed Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET live on MLB Network, and simulcast live on MLB.com beginning at 5 p.m.

Complete Hall of Fame coverage

As many as five candidates -- and possibly more -- could be elected, according to the public ballots amassed online. Here's a look at how the 13 voted, and at the bottom you can see what the totals look like among this group:

Barry M. Bloom
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Trevor Hoffman, Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Larry Walker

I've been voting since 1992, and this was my easiest and least controversial ballot. I knew this was going to be my group of 10 immediately after the 2017 election. Bonds and Clemens are gaining. Jones and Thome are first-ballot no-brainers. And I'm confident enough that Guerrero and Hoffman will make up the scant amount of votes they needed last year to get in. Martinez may make it as well. If not, he'll be right on the cusp for '19, his 10th and final year on the ballot. If we elect a record-tying five this year, it will go a long way to empty the ballot. It means that we will have elected 17 very worthy players to the Hall since '14. I'm very good with that.

Video: Lifetime Mariner Martinez deserving of HOF nod in '18

Mark Feinsand
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Manny Ramirez, Gary Sheffield, Curt Schilling, Jim Thome

I returned Bonds, Clemens, Guerrero, Mussina, Ramirez and Sheffield from last year's ballot, while Jones and Thome got my vote in their first year of eligibility. I voted for Martinez after leaving him off last year, not because I didn't feel he was worthy, but because of the 10-vote limit.

Video: Feinsand explains his 2018 Hall of Fame votes

Jeffrey Flanagan
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Edgar Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Larry Walker

I pledged last year that I would revisit the Walker debate, and even with some concerns about his road splits and the Colorado effect, I think as an all-around player (defense, baserunning, etc.), he is a worthy candidate. I also continue to vote for Martinez, which may seem like a contradiction because he was mostly a specialist (as a DH). But he was a dominant specialist, as was closer Hoffman, whose 601 saves are second only to Mariano Rivera. If I had a Pro Football Hall of Fame vote, I'd vote for kickers, too.

Chris Haft
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel

Guerrero confounded pitching staffs by hitting any pitch in any location. Thome and Jones were formidable as rookies and never changed. Covering Vizquel during his National League stint with the Giants prompted my vote for him. I still can't fathom Kent's lack of support, and I jumped to supporting Bonds and Clemens last year; their conviction in the court of public opinion isn't enough.

Video: MLB Now: Kenny's Cooperstown justice for Jeff Kent

Paul Hagen
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling, Jim Thome, Larry Walker, Billy Wagner

There were some tough decisions filling out the last four spots on this ballot. And I hope Vizquel gets at least the 5 percent he needs to remain under consideration in 2019. But for me, the two first-time eligibles (Thome and Jones) and the two near-misses from last year (Hoffman and Guerrero) were no-brainers. And as I've said before, since nobody knows for sure who did or didn't use PEDs, that can't be used as a factor in voting.

Richard Justice
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Jim Thome, Billy Wagner

These 10 were an easy call, but there are at least four other deserving players on the ballot. Bonds and Clemens were the best of their generation. Mussina and Schilling were dominant at a time when ballparks and strike zones got smaller and hitters got bigger. Guerrero, Martinez, Jones and Thome were good enough to be above the usual debate. Do closers belong in the Hall? That's the question with Hoffman and Wagner. If they belong, then these two should be in. My struggle was submitting a ballot without Walker, Rolen, Andruw Jones and Ramirez.

Jon Paul Morosi
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Jim Thome, Larry Walker

The Hall ought to honor the greatest players of every generation, judged within the unique context of each era. And so I voted for Bonds and Clemens, just as I did in each of the previous two years. Walker vs. Vizquel was my major dilemma. Vizquel is a Hall of Famer, especially if one compares his career to that of Ozzie Smith, but he's early enough in his eligibility timeline that I wanted to prioritize Walker. Walker's seven Gold Glove Awards and 141 OPS+ (tied with Jones, ahead of Guerrero) show that there is little doubt as to his Cooperstown worthiness. And while the right-handers have different career profiles, Mussina and Schilling are Hall of Famers by virtue of their consistent excellence in a hitter-friendly era.

Morosi explains his 10 picks for Hall of Fame

Carrie Muskat
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel

Jones, Thome and Vizquel were easy selections. I didn't want to miss Jones' or Thome's at-bats. Vizquel was so gifted athletically, he was someone I never wanted to miss playing shortstop. Guerrero is an add to my ballot after re-evaluating his numbers, while Bonds and Clemens are carryovers. To those who object, I feel my responsibility is to judge players in the context of their era and vote for the best players. Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game in May 1998 is my favorite of all time, but that wasn't enough for me to check his name.

Video: MLB Network debates if Vizquel will make Hall of Fame

Mark Newman
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Scott Rolen, Jim Thome, Curt Schilling, Larry Walker

Rolen ranks 10th all-time among third basemen with 70.0 career WAR. Walker ranks 12th in WAR (72.6) among all-time right fielders. Those two candidates had to be on my ballot, and for the first time I omitted Hoffman, who is No. 11 on my top 20. His case is not heavily supported by newer analytics -- in stark contrast to next year's newly eligible candidate, Rivera. Saves mean less today, although they mattered when Hoffman closed. I would expand the ballot beyond the maximum 10 votes, and I also would tweak the 5 percent rule to prevent mistaken one-and-dones like Kenny Lofton, Jorge Posada and likely, Johan Santana. 

Joe Posnanski
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Scott Rolen, Curt Schilling, Jim Thome, Larry Walker

I voted for first-timers Jones and Thome without hesitation. I voted for Bonds and Clemens because I believe that they're two of the 25 greatest players in the game's history. I voted for Mussina and Schilling; their careers are massively underappreciated, and they both should have been first-ballot picks. Martinez is an all-time great hitter, Walker is one of the best all-around players and Guerrero was obviously great and might have been the most fun player of my lifetime. That left one spot, and numerous good choices for it. I went with Rolen, who is one of the 10 best third basemen ever, in large part because I believe strongly he should stay on the ballot.

Video: Joe Posnanski reveals his 2018 HOF ballot

Tracy Ringolsby
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Jim Thome, Larry Walker

Walker won't make it into the Hall of Fame, but he should. Too much is made about Coors Field, but he only had 31 percent of his career plate appearances at Coors Field, and his career road average is higher than 233 players in the Hall of Fame. He was the most complete player of his generation. I can't ignore Bonds and Clemens. They were dominant even before the suspected steroid era.

Video: Will Larry Walker make it into the Hall of Fame?

Phil Rogers
Vladimir Guerrero, Chipper Jones, Mike Mussina, Curt Schilling, Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Larry Walker

Voting for Thome was a pleasure, as was covering him. I did it long enough to remember him as the Indians' third baseman. He wasn't bad, either, and was really good at first base when he moved across the diamond. He hit a Major League-record 13 walk-off home runs in his career and delivered an eighth-inning shot that allowed the White Sox to beat the Twins, 1-0, in the 2008 division tiebreaker. Thome and Jones may have been the least discussed candidates over the last couple of months, but we'll have plenty of time to dissect their legacies between now and the induction ceremony.

T.R. Sullivan
Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Chipper Jones, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Scott Rolen, Jim Thome, Larry Walker

This is going to be a big class, but it is more troubling who won't get in. Mussina belongs in the Hall of Fame, Fred McGriff deserved more consideration and Wagner was Hoffman's equal as a closer.

Vote totals of the 13 MLB.com writers
With 75 percent of the vote needed for entry to the Hall, Bonds, Clemens, Guerrero, Jones, Thome, Martinez and Mussina received enough support -- appearing on a minimum of 10 of the 13 ballots -- from MLB.com writers, with Walker and Hoffman knocking at the door.

1. (tie) Vladimir Guerrero: 13
1. (tie) Chipper Jones: 13
1. (tie) Jim Thome: 13
4. (tie) Barry Bonds: 12
4. (tie) Roger Clemens: 12
6. (tie) Edgar Martinez: 10
6. (tie) Mike Mussina: 10
8. Larry Walker: 9
9. Trevor Hoffman: 8
10. Curt Schilling: 7
11. (tie) Scott Rolen: 4
11. (tie) Omar Vizquel: 4
13. (tie) Manny Ramirez: 2
13. (tie) Billy Wagner: 2
15. (tie) Jeff Kent: 1
15. (tie) Gary Sheffield: 1

 

Report: Brewers make trade offer for Yelich

Milwaukee is one of at least 15 teams to enter market for Miami outfielder
MLB.com @AdamMcCalvy

MILWAUKEE -- If Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich is the next Miami player on the move, count the Brewers among the teams interested in reeling him in.

The Brewers have shown "strong interest" in Yelich and have made a trade offer, SiriusXM national sports radio host Craig Mish reported via Twitter. Milwaukee is just one of at least 15 teams to show interest in Yelich, and talks between the Brewers and Marlins were not believed to be in advanced stages as of Tuesday afternoon.

MILWAUKEE -- If Marlins outfielder Christian Yelich is the next Miami player on the move, count the Brewers among the teams interested in reeling him in.

The Brewers have shown "strong interest" in Yelich and have made a trade offer, SiriusXM national sports radio host Craig Mish reported via Twitter. Milwaukee is just one of at least 15 teams to show interest in Yelich, and talks between the Brewers and Marlins were not believed to be in advanced stages as of Tuesday afternoon.

The Yelich item was the latest in a flurry of rumors about the outwardly-quiet Brewers, whose general manager, David Stearns, has made a policy of not commenting on specific reports.

"We'll keep you guys guessing for a little while longer, but we're certainly working on things," Stearns told Milwaukee radio station 105.7 FM The Fan last week. "I'll say this: It would not surprise me if we make a substantive move between now and Spring Training."

Acquiring Yelich would certainly qualify. He turned 26 in December and is a .290/.369/.432 hitter in four-plus Major League seasons. He has already won a Rawlings Gold Glove Award and a Silver Slugger Award. And he is also locked into a contract that guarantees a reasonable $44.5 million for the next four seasons, with a $15 million club option for 2022.

Video: Rosenthal on Yelich requesting trade from Marlins

Presumably, the Marlins' ask in a trade with the Brewers would begin with outfielder Lewis Brinson, Milwaukee's consensus top prospect. He is a native of South Florida who ranks No. 13 on MLB Pipeline's list of the top prospects in baseball.

Given Yelich's age, ability and friendly contract, it is widely expected to take multiple premium prospects to entice the Marlins to trade him now.

MLB.com's Joe Frisaro reported that at least 15 teams have touched base with the Marlins on Yelich, whose relationship with the club has been strained in the wake of payroll-cutting trades that sent Miami starters Giancarlo Stanton, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon elsewhere. Yelich's agent, Joe Longo, told ESPN last week that Yelich would like to be traded to a contender.

Yelich is not the only Marlins player who could make sense for the Brewers. Miami has also fielded interest in catcher J.T. Realmuto and second baseman Starlin Castro, who play positions Milwaukee has examined upgrading. The Brewers also remain in the market for starting pitching and are familiar with Marlins right-hander Dan Straily, the former Reds player who is in his first offseason of arbitration.

Video: Castrovince on if Cain could make return to Brewers

Meanwhile, Yelich, who has manned left and center field in his career, plays positions at which the Brewers appear set. They have left fielder Ryan Braun locked into a big contract through 2020, right fielder Domingo Santana coming off his age-24 season and four years away from free agency, and prospects Brinson and Brett Phillips pushing Keon Broxton in center. But that has not stopped Stearns from positioning the Brewers to make an opportunistic play for an outfielder. Multiple reports, for example, have linked the Brewers to free agent Lorenzo Cain, who began his big league career in Milwaukee before being traded to Kansas City.

Acquiring an established outfielder could free Stearns to move someone from the Brewers' existing stable for another starting pitcher.

Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy and like him on Facebook.

 

Milwaukee Brewers, Christian Yelich

Watch Judge perfect a bat flip for 'The Show 18'

The "Top 50 Bat Flips of All Time" debuted on MLB Network this past Sunday and got us even more excited for the 2018 season. From past to present, we were able to relive the iconic bat flips that made us jump out of our seats.

Now that Spring Training is just a few weeks away, Aaron Judge added to the bat flip canon with his own rendition for MLB The Show 18:

Tender trio: Correa, Lindor, Seager paving way

MLB.com @RichardJustice

If we're really lucky, we'll be debating the greatness of this era of young shortstops for the next decade. Sometimes, we just get lucky that way.

Besides, what else are baseball fans supposed to feel when they channel surf through a baseball evening and catch glimpses of the Astros' Carlos Correa, the Indians' Francisco Lindor and the Dodgers' Corey Seager?

If we're really lucky, we'll be debating the greatness of this era of young shortstops for the next decade. Sometimes, we just get lucky that way.

Besides, what else are baseball fans supposed to feel when they channel surf through a baseball evening and catch glimpses of the Astros' Carlos Correa, the Indians' Francisco Lindor and the Dodgers' Corey Seager?

Surely, this was what it was like in New York to watch three future Hall of Famers -- Willie Mays of the Giants, Mickey Mantle of the Yankees and Duke Snider of the Dodgers -- play center field in the 1950s.

This is as good as it gets. If you watch just one of these shortstops for a stretch of games, you'll be convinced he's the best in the business. You're blown away by -- not just the things that can be weighed and measured, but by the energy and competitive fire.

Perhaps most of all, there's the sheer joy all of them bring to the park every single day.

"Why not?" Lindor asked one day last season. "We are doing the thing we love. This is a dream come true."

MLB Network's coverage of this offseason has included a Top 10 Right Now series ranking the best players at each position. Last week, they had the top three shortstops lined up in this order: Correa, Seager and Lindor. Programming note: This week, it'll be the left fielders and catching getting this treatment.

Video: Corey Seager is the No. 2 shortstop right now

Here's one of the cool things about the shortstops: These three are just getting started with their careers. Lindor is 24, Seager and Correa are 23. They were highly touted prospects, and so far, they have lived up to every expectation.

Correa and Lindor arrived six days apart in June 2015. Seager joined the Dodgers on Sept. 3. All have been fixtures ever since, and what's especially impressive -- what will fuel the debate -- is how similar their numbers are:

Games: Correa (361); Seager (329); Lindor (416)
Homers: Correa (66); Seager (52) Lindor (60)
OPS: Correa (.863); Seager (.876); Lindor (.823)
OPS+: Correa (138); Seager (133); Lindor (114)

Seager has made the playoffs three times, Correa and Lindor twice apiece. Between the three of them, they've made five All-Star appearances and won two Rookie of the Year Awards.

Correa won the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2015, with Lindor finishing second. Seager won the National League Rookie of the Year Award the following season.

Seager and Lindor's defensive metrics are slightly better than Correa's. But Correa's offensive numbers are better across the board, despite missing six weeks with a thumb injury in 2017. These are fine lines. Fans in Cleveland, Houston and Los Angeles are convinced their guy will define the position for the foreseeable future.

Video: Francisco Lindor is excited for the 2018 season

Here's another cool thing: these three pay attention to one another. They are engaged with -- and motivated by -- one another.

One of the things veteran players advised Cal Ripken to do when he was moved from third base to shortstop by the Orioles in 1981 was to watch baseball's top shortstops. In his case, that was Ozzie Smith, Alan Trammell, Robin Yount, etc.

"You can pick up things they do that you might be able to incorporate in your own game," Ripken said. "But back then, the highlights weren't as available as they are now."

Now, when Seager makes a jaw-dropping play -- say, a sliding stop and a laser throw across the diamond -- Correa and Lindor will have it on their phones almost instantly.

"Absolutely, I'm paying attention," Correa said. "You can pick up a lot by watching great players like those guys."

Correa says it's not just these three. All appreciate that Andrelton Simmons of the Angels might be the best defensive shortstop of this generation. They admire how Zack Cozart played the position in Cincinnati before signing with the Halos this offseason and preparing to move to third base.

But in terms of youth and talent and bursting upon the scene with an immediate impact, Lindor, Correa and Seager are unique.

Oh, and they're keeping an eye on one other guy.

Manny Machado, who has won two Gold Gloves playing third for the Orioles in the past six seasons, would like to move back to his natural position. Yeah, you guessed it -- shortstop.

Machado has played third base at such a high level that it's tough to imagine him being any better at short. But the Orioles might accommodate him this season, and one of his priorities in free agency next offseason will be the opportunity to play shortstop full-time.

Machado is only 25. He'll have some competition.

Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.

 

Guerrero Jr. leads Top 10 3B Prospects list

MLB.com @JimCallisMLB

MLB Pipeline will unveil its 2018 Top 100 Prospects list on Saturday with a one-hour show on MLB Network at 8 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we look at baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.

Baseball features a wealth of young talent at third base. Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Jose Ramirez and Anthony Rendon were the four best players at the position in 2017, and Rendon was the old man of that group at age 27.

MLB Pipeline will unveil its 2018 Top 100 Prospects list on Saturday with a one-hour show on MLB Network at 8 p.m. ET. Leading up to the release, we look at baseball's top 10 prospects at each position.

Baseball features a wealth of young talent at third base. Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant, Jose Ramirez and Anthony Rendon were the four best players at the position in 2017, and Rendon was the old man of that group at age 27.

Alex Bregman, Joey Gallo, Jake Lamb, Manny Machado, Miguel Sano, Travis Shaw and Eugenio Suarez also had strong seasons, and none of them was older than Shaw at 27. Rookies Jeimer Candelario, Matt Chapman and Rafael Devers graduated from the Top 100 Prospects list to the Majors and fortified the American League even further at the hot corner.

:: Top 10 Prospects by Position ::

More exciting third basemen are on the way. Nick Senzel (Reds), Miguel Andujar (Yankees), Christian Arroyo (Rays) and Brian Anderson (Marlins) look ready to claim starting jobs in the Majors this year. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (Blue Jays), who can stake a claim to being the best prospect in baseball, is on course to arrive in 2019 -- unless he forces his way to Toronto this summer as a 19-year-old.

This is the sixth in the series of MLB Pipeline's Top 10 Prospects list and will be followed by shortstops on Wednesday and outfielders on Thursday. We'll unveil our overall Top 100 Prospects list on Saturday with an MLB Network special (simulcast on MLB.com) at 8 p.m. ET.

The Top 10
1. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays More »
2. Nick Senzel, Reds More »
3. Miguel Andujar, Yankees More »
4. Michael Chavis, Red Sox More »
5. Christian Arroyo, Rays More »
6. Austin Riley, Braves More »
7. Ryan Mountcastle, Orioles More »
8. Colton Welker, Rockies More »
9. Brian Anderson, Marlins More »
10. Jake Burger, White Sox More »

Top Tools

Best Hitter: Guerrero (80)
In his full-season debut, he hit .323/.425/.485 between two Class A stops at age 18, walking more than he struck out while finishing second in the Minor Leagues in on-base percentage. With his advanced feel for hitting, mature approach and exceptional hand-eye coordination, Guerrero should contend for batting titles on an annual basis. Senzel might be the second-best hitter in the Minors, but he takes a back seat to Guerrero.

Video: Top Prospects: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B, Blue Jays

Best Power: Guerrero (65)
Guerrero stroked 13 home runs and 43 extra-base hits as a teenager and his power will only continue to grow. He has a penchant for making hard contact, not to mention impressive bat speed and physical strength. His soon-to-be Hall of Famer father averaged 33 homers per full season in the big leagues, and Vladimir Jr. has the tools to do the same.

Fastest Runner: Senzel (55)
Third base isn't a position known for speed, and he's the lone above-average runner in our Top 10. Senzel has 32 steals in 187 pro games, and while he won't be that prolific in the Majors, he's an asset on the bases.

Video: Top Prospects: Nick Senzel, 3B, Reds

Best Arm: Andujar (70)
While he has the ability to hit for average and power, Andujar's best pure tool is clearly his cannon arm. He could stand to improve the accuracy of his throws, but scouts estimate that he'd immediately have a mid-90s fastball if he moved to the mound.

Video: Top Prospects: Miguel Andujar, 3B, Yankees

Best Defender: Anderson, Senzel (60)
Senzel edged Anderson for the third-base spot on our All-Defense Team. They both have plus arms, can make throws from different angles and cover a lot of ground at the hot corner.

Superlatives

Highest Ceiling: Guerrero
Guerrero has the highest offensive ceiling of any prospect in baseball. He could be his dad with more selectivity at the plate or the next Miguel Cabrera, and the Blue Jays will be thrilled with either outcome.

Highest Floor: Senzel
All five of his tools grade as solid or better, which is why Senzel ranks as one of the game's elite prospects. He's a safe bet to hit and get the job done defensively, and his ceiling ranks second only to Guerrero's on this Top 10.

Rookie of the Year Candidate: Arroyo
The headline prospect in the December trade that sent Evan Longoria from the Rays to the Giants, he offers the best combination of readiness and opportunity. Arroyo is a pure hitter with a career .300 average in the Minors, and his steady approach should help him adapt to big league pitching.

Video: Top Prospects: Christian Arroyo, 3B, Rays

Highest Riser: Chavis
The 26th overall pick in the 2014 Draft, he tried to do way too much at the plate in his first three pro seasons and wound up hitting .235/.301/.396 in his first three pro seasons. When Chavis stopped trying to yank every pitch out of the park in 2017, he batted .282/.347/.563 and ranked third in the Minors in extra-base hits (68) and fifth in homers (31).

Video: Top Prospects: Michael Chavis, 3B, Red Sox

Humblest Beginning: Anderson
This Top 10 includes five first-round picks, a supplemental first-rounder, two international bonus babies and no truly humble beginnings. Anderson received the lowest bonus, $600,000 as a third-rounder out of Arkansas in 2014, when he played second base and there were questions about his power that he has answered in pro ball.

Video: Top Prospects: Brian Anderson, 3B, Marlins

Most To Prove: Mountcastle
After breaking out by hitting .314/.343/.542 in Class A Advanced and winning the Carolina League batting and slugging titles, Mountcastle dipped to .222/.239/.366 in Double-A during the final six weeks of last season. He's better suited for third base than his former position of shortstop, but concerns remain that his lack of arm strength could push him to left field.

Video: Top Prospects: Ryan Mountcastle, 3B, Orioles

Keep An Eye On: Ke'Bryan Hayes, Pirates
The son of 14-year big leaguer Charlie Hayes, Ke'Bryan has produced just eight homers in three pro seasons since the Pirates made him the 32nd overall choice in 2015. Nevertheless, he's an advanced hitter and defender with good athleticism, and he has some raw power but just hasn't tapped into it yet.

Jim Callis is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter. Listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.

 

A-Rod joining ESPN's 'Sunday Night Baseball'

MLB Network's Vasgersian named to play-by-play post
MLB.com @basebollie

Alex Rodriguez has joined ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" broadcast team as an analyst, replacing Aaron Boone, who left to become manager of the Yankees, the network announced on Tuesday.

In addition, MLB Network's Matt Vasgersian was named play-by-play broadcaster, succeeding Dan Shulman. Both Rodriguez and Vasgersian join ESPN on multiyear agreements. Rodriguez will continue to work as an analyst for FOX Sports during the postseason.

Alex Rodriguez has joined ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball" broadcast team as an analyst, replacing Aaron Boone, who left to become manager of the Yankees, the network announced on Tuesday.

In addition, MLB Network's Matt Vasgersian was named play-by-play broadcaster, succeeding Dan Shulman. Both Rodriguez and Vasgersian join ESPN on multiyear agreements. Rodriguez will continue to work as an analyst for FOX Sports during the postseason.

"I'm looking forward to this new chapter in my broadcasting career," Rodriguez said. "It's an exciting time in baseball and now I get that front-row seat to tell that story every Sunday night on ESPN as well as calling my fourth postseason on FOX where I started this journey."

A-Rod and Vasgersian will join Jessica Mendoza and Buster Olney on the broadcasts. A three-time Most Valuable Player and 14-time All-Star, Rodriguez has been with FOX since retiring as a player in 2016. Vasgersian is the third voice of "Sunday Night Baseball," following Jon Miller and Shulman. Vasgersian will continue in his role as a studio host and announcer for MLB Network.

"Jon and Dan set the bar super high for 'Sunday Night Baseball' play-by-play, so it's a real thrill for someone who still remembers his first Minor League bus trip in 1991 to have a chair like this one," Vasgersian said. "I know firsthand how passionate both Alex and Jessica are about baseball, and I can't wait to get started with them."

Oliver Macklin is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @basebollie.

 

A new way to think about Hall of Fame voting

MLB.com @JPosnanski

Let's try a quick thought experiment regarding that most intractable of topics: What are we supposed to do with suspected (and known) PED users in regard to the Hall of Fame?

There are two overpowering lines of thinking on the subject. We know those by heart.

Let's try a quick thought experiment regarding that most intractable of topics: What are we supposed to do with suspected (and known) PED users in regard to the Hall of Fame?

There are two overpowering lines of thinking on the subject. We know those by heart.

1. Performance-enhancing drug use makes a player ineligible for my Hall of Fame vote.

The view here is that these players knowingly cheated the game, cheated those players who were clean and cheated the fans. From this vantage point, there is absolutely nothing these players can do to earn Hall of Fame election. They are unworthy of the honor no matter how well they might have played the game.

There are many problems with this argument, ones that have been brought up countless times, so we are not going to bring these up now. Instead, we go to the second line of thinking.

Hall of Fame coverage

2. PED use -- particularly before testing began -- was an unfortunate part of the game, a game that has a long history of players who thrived via cheating (including those who took drugs to increase their energy and focus). The Hall of Fame is a place for the best players, regardless of their blemishes, and this includes those players who used PEDs.

There are many problems with this argument, too, but, again, there's no point in rehashing them now.

These two sides will never meet. There are those who might get worn down by the fight or simply give way to the realities of the time, but there seems to be no middle ground to find here.

Maybe there is, though. This is the thought experiment. What if you believe both that: a. PED use was cheating even before testing; and b. it is not an offense that should blot out everything the player did in the game nor make that player permanently unworthy of the Hall of Fame? Is there a way to balance both opinions?

Video: Posnanski discusses his ballot with Bonds, Clemens

Well, what about this: What if we simply knock 25 percent off the career numbers of those we strongly suspect of PED use?

I'm obviously just picking a number out of the air. You can make the number whatever you want. But think about the idea of using a penalty of some kind. If you think about this, we do this already with the Hall of Fame voting. Voters penalize Edgar Martinez for being a DH. They penalize Larry Walker for playing in Coors Field. 

Gaylord Perry was briefly penalized for using spitballs. Maybe you think that PED use is much worse than any of those things. Well, a 25 percent penalty is much higher, too.

The trouble with the 25 percent thought experiment, obviously, is that it doesn't quite get the two players who have become the poster players for the PED question -- Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

If you cut 25 percent of the production from Bonds, he'd still have 571 home runs and 450 doubles and 1,500 RBIs and 385 stolen bases and five MVP Awards and six Gold Gloves and 122 WAR and so on. Seventy-five percent of Bonds is still a slam-dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Same with Clemens. He'd have 266 wins, which might push some voters away, but his 3,500 strikeouts, five Cy Young Awards, five ERA crowns and 104 WAR would still carry the day.

But others who tested positive (like Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro) or are strongly suspected of using (such as Sammy Sosa and Gary Sheffield) would not make it. At 75 percent, just using Baseball Reference WAR, Ramirez would be at 51.9, Palmeiro 53.7, Sosa at 43.8 and Sheffield at 45.2. That, in general terms, puts them below the line.

Anyway, it's a slightly different way to think about all this. Think about what your penalty percentage would be. Maybe it's 100 percent. Maybe it's zero. In that case, you can forget I asked.

Joe Posnanski is a national columnist for MLB.com.

 

Souza Jr. wants his idol Edgar Martinez in HOF

Would you vote in favor of electing Edgar Martinez to the Baseball Hall of Fame? The vaunted Mariners slugger (who resides atop the franchise leaderboard in many offensive categories) and current hitting coach is up for possible election, and baseball scribes have some important decisions to make.

Rays outfielder Steven Souza Jr. hails from Everett, Wash., just 25 miles outside Seattle. He grew up a Mariners fan, and was enthralled (as we all were) watching Edgar swing the bat in the middle of the Mariners lineup for years.

Fly, Trout, Fly: Angels star/Eagles fan talks SB

MLB.com @mi_guardado

It's been quite the offseason for Angels superstar Mike Trout.

In December, Trout married his high school sweetheart, Jessica Cox, and watched the Angels emerge as the surprise winners of the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes -- all over the same weekend.

It's been quite the offseason for Angels superstar Mike Trout.

In December, Trout married his high school sweetheart, Jessica Cox, and watched the Angels emerge as the surprise winners of the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes -- all over the same weekend.

On Sunday, Trout added yet another highlight to his winter after seeing his beloved Philadelphia Eagles defeat the Minnesota Vikings to earn a berth in Super Bowl LII, where they will face the New England Patriots on Feb. 4.

Tweet from @MikeTrout: Super Bowl !!! Lets gooooooo!!!!!#FlyEaglesFly

"A lot of people doubted them, a lot of players from the Angels doubted them, giving me a lot of grief all the time that they're not going to go anywhere," Trout said Tuesday during a conference call with the media. "But they're all rooting for them now because they're going up against [Patriots quarterback] Tom Brady."

• Trout will wear lucky dog mask for Super Bowl

Trout, an Eagles season-ticket holder, was on hand for Sunday's NFC Championship Game at Lincoln Financial Field, watching the game with Angels left-hander Tyler Skaggs, a Vikings fan. As soon as the matchup was set, Trout said he texted Skaggs and invited him to fly to Philadelphia to attend the game. Skaggs accepted and had early bragging rights, as the Vikings scored on their opening drive, but the game soon became a blowout, with Philadelphia trouncing Minnesota, 38-7.

"The first drive of the game, when they scored a touchdown, I said, 'Man, I'm in trouble,'" Trout said. "We were just talking back and forth. I was rooting for the Eagles and he was rooting for the Vikings. After [Philadelphia] scored a couple touchdowns, he kind of got quiet. At the end of the game, it was so loud and electric, he started chanting the Eagles chant. I think I turned him into an Eagles fan."

Tweet from @TylerSkaggs37: Skol Vikes miketrout let���s goo!!! @ Lincoln Financial Field https://t.co/3BXHSOjkCz

Though Trout has been a mainstay at Eagles home games this season, he said he's unsure if he'll be making the trip to Minnesota next month to attend the Super Bowl.

"It's up in the air because I like spending it watching the commercials with my wife and family and friends," Trout said.

The Eagles, who lost their star quarterback, Carson Wentz, to a torn knee ligament in December, will enter the Super Bowl as heavy underdogs to the Patriots and five-time champion Brady, but Trout is sticking with his hometown team.

"I still think that the Eagles are going to pull it out," Trout said. "I think they're going to win, 31-24."

Video: Trout on Eagles in the Super Bowl, Ohtani addition

Trout, who grew up about an hour outside of Philadelphia in southern New Jersey and still resides there in the offseason, has remained a prominent fan of the region's sports teams, prompting a reporter to ask him if he'd want to come home to play for the Phillies once his contract with the Angels expires after the 2020 season.

"I'm an Eagles fan," Trout said. "I obviously grew up a Philly sports fan. I love playing in Anaheim. Obviously I've got a couple years left on my contract. I love the city of Anaheim and obviously the West Coast."

Maria Guardado covers the Angels for MLB.com.

 

Los Angeles Angels, Mike Trout

Bauer eager to unveil his offseason project

Tribe righty replaces slider with more comfortable version, compares it to Kluber slurve
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- The video quickly spread across social media earlier this month. It showed Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer, wearing black workout shorts and a dark navy top, racing forward, then doing a few quick stutter steps before unleashing a baseball into a net with a few onlookers nearby.

On the wall, a yellow radar gun reading flashed: 116.9.

CLEVELAND -- The video quickly spread across social media earlier this month. It showed Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer, wearing black workout shorts and a dark navy top, racing forward, then doing a few quick stutter steps before unleashing a baseball into a net with a few onlookers nearby.

On the wall, a yellow radar gun reading flashed: 116.9.

Yes, that is in miles per hour. Every offseason, Bauer heads to Driveline Baseball outside Seattle and works through a rigorous program, which includes this jaw-dropping pull-down drill. That throw, in particular, was a facility record for velocity with a 3-ounce training ball. The video was posted by @DrivelineBB and soon spread across the internet to news outlets and fans.

Bauer's Twitter account was soon flooded with messages.

"Mostly, just people telling me I'm going to injure myself," Bauer said with a smirk Friday, when he was in Cleveland for Tribe Fest. "[I heard from] all the guys online who know infinitely more about the subject than I do. That was fun. Always is."

Bauer is able to laugh off such criticism, because the right-hander knows there is a fine-tuned method behind what looks on the surface to be madness. That aggressive pull-down drill is actually a part of Bauer's warmup routine for live at-bat sessions. This winter, the pitcher estimates that he has already logged 30 innings of work to hitters with his primary objective being to hone a revamped slider.

Tweet from @DrivelineBB: In other news, here's @baueroutage pulling down a new facility record of 116.9mph with a 3oz 😳😳 pic.twitter.com/a21va55HyN

During his winter workouts against batters, Bauer has limited his repertoire to his fastball and the new slurve. Once he begins pitching in a Spring Training setting -- Cleveland's pitchers and catchers report to Arizona on Feb. 14 -- he will begin mixing in his curveball, cutter and changeup. This winter, Bauer restructured his lifting routine, brought more tech devices to Driveline to better analyze his pitches and continued to focus on velocity training and mechanics.

"I'm always trying to find an incremental way to get better," Bauer said.

Last season, Bauer pieced together his best overall campaign in the Majors, going 17-9 with a 4.19 ERA and 196 strikeouts against 60 walks in 176 1/3 innings. The right-hander was particularly impressive down the stretch, posting a 10-1 record with a 2.60 ERA and 91 strikeouts vs. 23 walks in 83 innings across his final 14 appearances. That sample begins with his July 21 start against the Blue Jays, and there is a reason for drawing a line at that point in his game log.

It was during that outing against Toronto that Bauer ditched his splitter -- an offering he worked on last winter -- and began throwing a modified slider. Using his cutter grip, the pitcher repositioned his thumb higher on the ball "to counteract inertial forces." Translation: Bauer wanted a breaking ball that had more depth and run than the cutter, but was more reliable for targeting the lower-third of the strike zone. That was the original plan for the splitter, but it did not work how Bauer hoped.

Tweet from @DrivelineBB: Relative height is important when attacking hitters as demonstrated here by @BauerOutage with this slurve/fastball combination pic.twitter.com/wix62XezW0

Consider that adjustment a bit of in-season survival on Bauer's part. The slider grip was not comfortable, making it hard to command, but the pitch helped balance the movement off his fastballs, curve and changeup. The pitch mix was close to what Bauer had spent the previous few years trying to find, and the results down the stretch were impressive.

"I needed something besides fastball-curveball that I could throw down in the zone," Bauer said. "That's what [the slider] was: An on-the-fly adjustment to patch a hole, and use the offseason to high-grade what I actually want that pitch to be."

So, Bauer spent this winter trying to improve upon that success by finding a more comfortable version of the pitch.

"The modified slider has been nixed," Bauer said. "I've replaced it with what hopefully will have a similar movement profile to a Marcus Stroman curveball or a Corey Kluber slurve. All the info that I have on it so far says that it profiles very similar to those two. Obviously, we'll see once I get up against a hitter in a game."

Until then, Bauer will continue facing batters in simulated settings, and warming up with those high-octane pull-down pitches.

"It's one of the more fun parts of training," Bauer said.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

 

Cleveland Indians, Trevor Bauer

Analysis: Is Scherzer Cooperstown bound?

Ace building convincing case despite changing expectations for starting pitchers
MLB.com @JamalCollier

WASHINGTON -- When Max Scherzer won the National League Cy Young Award in November, it marked a significant milestone in his career. Scherzer became a three-time winner of the award, which has historically been a lock for a player's Hall of Fame candidacy.

Scherzer became the 10th pitcher to win at least three Cy Young Awards, a decorated list that includes Roger Clemens (seven), Randy Johnson (five), Steve Carlton (four), Greg Maddux (four), Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver and Clayton Kershaw (all with three). That list reads like a who's who for all-time pitching greats, and all of them are in the Hall of Fame except Kershaw, who is still active, and Clemens, who would be a lock if not for his connections to performance-enhancing drugs.

WASHINGTON -- When Max Scherzer won the National League Cy Young Award in November, it marked a significant milestone in his career. Scherzer became a three-time winner of the award, which has historically been a lock for a player's Hall of Fame candidacy.

Scherzer became the 10th pitcher to win at least three Cy Young Awards, a decorated list that includes Roger Clemens (seven), Randy Johnson (five), Steve Carlton (four), Greg Maddux (four), Sandy Koufax, Pedro Martinez, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver and Clayton Kershaw (all with three). That list reads like a who's who for all-time pitching greats, and all of them are in the Hall of Fame except Kershaw, who is still active, and Clemens, who would be a lock if not for his connections to performance-enhancing drugs.

"When you start talking about winning it three times, I can't even comprehend it at this point in time," Scherzer said after winning the award in November. "It's such an unbelievable feeling and unbelievable moment, you really won't process it until years later."

Video: Scherzer setting himself up for Cooperstown

Scherzer may still be processing his latest accolade, but with the results of the 74th Baseball Writers' Association of America Hall of Fame election set to be revealed Wednesday at 6 p.m. ET live on MLB Network and simulcast live on MLB.com, this seemed like a good time to examine Scherzer's Hall of Fame candidacy. How close is the Nationals ace to one day having his name enshrined in Cooperstown?

Complete Hall of Fame coverage

The short answer: Scherzer is not a lock right now, but he certainly is on the right path.

Evaluating starting pitchers for the Hall of Fame has become somewhat of a more difficult task since starters stopped racking up high win totals in recent decades, even though that stat began carrying less importance. Since 1992, BBWAA voters have elected only 11 starting pitchers to the Hall of Fame, and the most recent inductees were the no-doubters like Maddux, Martinez and Johnson. Some pitchers with strong cases have lingered on the ballot, such as Mike Mussina and Curt Schilling.

Where recording 300 wins used to be a guaranteed ticket to Cooperstown, that number has become nearly out of reach in modern baseball. Scherzer currently has 141 wins, and he'lll likely finish with a little more than 200 wins. That should not hamper his status as an elite pitcher, but it is worth noting that determining the value of a starting pitcher has become harder in recent years, not easier.

Video: Must C Classic: Scherzer's second no-hitter of 2015

Using the JAWS metric to measure a Hall of Fame candidacy -- a number intended to compare a player to others at his position already enshrined -- Scherzer still has some work to do. The average JAWS score for a starting pitcher is 62.1 and Scherzer currently has a 43.7, which is 119th all time among starting pitchers.

Of course, Scherzer still has time to improve on that number. He is 33 years old, he's coming off winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards, so he has shown no signs of slowing down. He had a few nagging injuries during the 2017 season, which landed him on the DL for just the second time in his career, but he still managed to throw 200-plus innings for the fifth consecutive season. The Nationals have been so impressed by the care Scherzer puts into his body and how he maintains his arm health that they believe he will age gracefully and avoid a sharp decline.

Look at Scherzer's closest historical comparisons in terms of WAR over the past four years, and you'll see he's in good company. From his age 30-33 seasons, Scherzer most similarly compares to pitchers like Bob Gibson, Kevin Brown, Roy Halladay, Seaver, Cliff Lee, Palmer, Mussina and Mark Langston. During the next five seasons, the average WAR per season for those eight players went as follows: 5.4, 4.8, 1.8, 2.3 and 1.6. With a normal aging curve and a couple more years of his prime, Scherzer should be in great position to join the elite ranks.

Video: Statcast™ of the Day: Scherzer dominates the Mets

With his excellence in recent years, Scherzer has established himself as one of the most dominant pitchers of this generation. He threw a pair of no-hitters in 2015 and almost routinely flirts with throwing another one. In '16, he became one of three pitchers in MLB history (Clemens, Kerry Wood) to strike out 20 batters in a nine-inning game. His presence on the mound, stomping around and screaming to himself when he gets in a groove, makes him one of the most intimidating pitchers in baseball. Where other pitchers who were merely very good for an extended period of time might get penalized during Hall of Fame discussions, Scherzer's routine dominance should give him a boost in consideration.

Video: Must C Classic: Scherzer fans 20 Tigers, ties record

One limiting factor: Scherzer got off to a somewhat late start to get his career rolling. He made his first All-Star team and won his first Cy Young Award with Detroit in 2013 at age 28, but he has put together a dominant five-year run to build an already-strong Hall of Fame resume.

No player is currently in the Hall of Fame with a Nationals cap on his plaque, but perhaps if Scherzer continues on his current path, he could be destined to be the first.

Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.

 

Washington Nationals, Max Scherzer