Dino DNA: How John Hammond’s Jurassic Dream Lives on in Major League Baseball Pitcher Craig Breslow.

“It’s in your blood!”

They should all be destroyed.”

Unfortunately for the members of InGen (and their shareholders), that guy who got eaten in the bathroom (ed. note: Martin Gennaro) and batters everywhere, those cautionary words of big game hunter Robert Muldoon were never heeded, and John Hammond’s dinosaurs were left free to roam on the islands of Costa Rica…and in Major League Baseball.

One of those creations who is tearing through his sport like a pack of raptors tears apart a dilophosaurus–a hybrid of man and dinosaur–is Boston Red Sox reliever Craig Breslow. At first glance everything about Breslow seems in order; he doesn’t have a tail or scales and he’s never tried to eat Sam Neill, but there is something distinctively Tyrannosaurus-esque (Tyrannosaurusian?) about him.

Take another look at the picture of Breslow and you’ll notice his arms are short…very short. A graduate of Yale who majored in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, Breslow (who is often referred to as the smartest player in baseball) realized in college that a little “dino DNA” could go a long way towards helping him achieve his dream of becoming a MLB player.

Why didn't we listen?!

Why didn’t we listen?!

While studying his mechanics on film, Breslow realized that a shorter arm and slightly modified delivery would allow him to be equally effective against left and right-handed hitters; something that would have been impossible for him with fully “human” arms. As luck would have it, Yale was home to one of the largest collections of fossilized amber in the world–just what Breslow needed to gain a leg (err, arm) up on his competition. A little gene-splicing was small potatoes for a man of his intelligence and resources, and the results speak for themselves.

Breslow has carved out a successful eight year career in baseball as a lefty out of the bullpen, posting a 2.82 ERA over 402 innings including a 1.81 mark in 2013. Unlike many left-handed relievers who struggle against right-handed batters, Breslow’s unusual release point and genetically-modified dinosaur arm have proven potent against all big league hitters (righties own a career .222 batting average against him while lefties check in at .230). This unique ability to cut down hitters from both sides of the plate has allowed Breslow to amass nearly $7 million dollars in career earnings, something that might not have been possible without the help of a long extinct creature and a little insect trapped in sap.

As Dr. Ian Black reiterated to anyone and everyone throughout his visit to Isla Nubar: “life finds a way”.

Now life just needs to find a way to work itself out of a bases loaded jam…

H to the Izzo…V to the izz-A, Robinson Canoizzo is Coming to the Emerald City: Mariners Land Star 2B In Stunning Coup

“If you’re having run scoring problems I feel bad for you son, I got 99 problems but a power hitting second baseman ain’t one.” – Jay Z  Jack Z

Seattle’s embattled general manager will have to drop more than just one fat beat to save his job and bring the Mariners back from the brink of irrelevance, but if Robinson Cano’s 10 year/$240 million dollar contract is any indication, Jack Z is just beginning to dust off the rhymes.

Let’s be clear about one thing — the contract is too much money for too long, but what choice did the Mariners have? Free agents aren’t going to come to Seattle for a chance to win a championship (not yet at least) or to improve their offensive numbers. Until the Mariners reverse 12 years of mediocrity, they’ll only come for the money.

Have the Mariners found their Holy Grail?

Have the Mariners found their Holy Grail?

This contract will probably look terrible in 5-6 years (although inflation will help offset this to a small degree) but signing Cano was about making the Mariners relevant NOW without worrying about what it would do to the franchise in the coming years. The only way Seattle made headlines the past few seasons was for utter chaos in its front office, and of course, that huge ass TV in centerfield. The time was right (as was the payroll) to make a splash, and in a limited free agent market, Cano was in a class by himself.

Power hitting second baseman who hold their own defensively don’t grow on trees (at least not in the northern hemisphere) and though he’s on the wrong side of 30, Cano is fresh off a 7.6 WAR season that included a triple slash of .314/.383/.516 (he would have led the 2013 Mariners in nearly every offensive category – shocking I know). In the last five seasons he’s never posted an OPS below .871, never failed to crack the 20 HR mark, and never played in less than 159 games — that’s consistency Seattle has been looking for since Russ Davis Edgar Martinez left town.

Robinson Cano is a superstar, and the Mariners didn’t have to give away any prospects to acquire him (although the superfluous Dustin Ackley or Nick Franklin may be on their way out). It’s obviously risky putting so many eggs ($$$) in one basket, but it’s better than piddling away your payroll on a bunch of Michael Morses and Jason Bays. There’s still plenty of work to be done with the roster if Seattle hopes to make a serious run at the postseason, but they have more cash to spend and three studs (Cano, Felix Hernandez and Kyle Seager) along with a bevy of potential stars (Mike Zunino, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, D.J. Peterson, etc.) to build around.

There’s something in the air in Seattle and it’s not rain…it’s excitement about the Mariners.

Better grab an umbrella…ella…ella…eh…eh.

Death from Above – Bird with a Gun – Condor Cannon

Ain’t It Grand: Saunders Slams Mariners Past Blue Jays 9-5

Here’s hoping this becomes a familiar sight for Seattle fans. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)

It’s difficult to describe the feeling of euphoria that followed tonight’s roller coaster win. Thrilling? Of course. Satisfying? Undoubtedly. Orgasmic? Hopefully not…

After looking like the ’27 Yankees in a three game sweep of the Detroit Tigers, the Mariners offense was stymied by Toronto lefty Ricky Romero, failing to record a hit through the game’s first five innings. Here we go again…

It was looking more and more like the last series was an aberration, and Seattle was back to hitting like the team that suffered a perfect game at the hands of the indomitable Philip Humber less than a week earlier. Philip. Humber.

Toronto went ahead 3-1 in the fourth on a double from the perpetually disappointing Colby Rasmus, and with Romero dealing, the game seemed all but over. Oh well…

Then the seventh inning rolled around and the Mariners managed to pull things even on a Jesus Montero home run and a Casper Wells RBI double; maybe Seattle wasn’t going to roll over after all. With top reliever Tom Wilhemsen entering the game in the eighth, the thought of victory crept back into the minds of Mariners fans.

Oh how quickly it would be snatched away. Eric Thames jumped on a Wilhelmsen fastball and deposited the go-ahead run over the centerfield wall. As if the indignity of losing the lead wasn’t enough, the Blue Jays tacked on an insurance run on a sac fly after Wilhelmsen’s throwing error allowed Brett Lawrie to advance to third. There’s always tomorrow

Heading to the ninth, the bottom of the Mariners order was due up, and expectations were understandably low. Seattle had already come back once in the game and this wasn’t exactly an offense built to do it again. Alex Liddi flied out to start the inning, bringing Michael Saunders, who was 0-2 in the game, to the plate. On the ninth pitch of his at-bat against Francisco Cordero, Saunders got a hanging fastball over the plate and tattooed it, sending a rocket off the facade in dead-center field (an estimated distance of 452 feet) for his second home run of the year. The Mariners might not win the game, but seeing one of the M’s young players hit one out is an encouraging sign, so it wasn’t a total loss. That’s life as a Mariners fan.

True to form, Miguel Olivo popped out to shortstop, leaving the Mariners just one out away from defeat. Pinch-hitter Kyle Seager swung at the first pitch he saw from Cordero, hitting a lazy ground ball to Lawrie at third base. Time to flip over to the NFL Draft…

Only the game didn’t end on that lazy ground ball. Lawrie’s throw to first skipped well short of the dirt, and first baseman Adam Lind wasn’t able to pick it; Seager was safe and the Mariners were given a second chance. Would they take advantage of it?

Pinch-runner Munenori Kawasaki got all the way to third on an errant and ill-advised pick off attempt from catcher J.P. Arencibia, and suddenly the tying run was only 90 feet away. Toronto intentionally walked Dustin Ackley to put runners and first and third, and pinch-hitter John Jaso came to the plate with the chance to play hero once again. He was this close.

Jaso lashed a line drive into centerfield that landed just in front of a diving Rasmus. Normally a ball hitting the artificial turf would have ricocheted past Rasmus and gone all the way to the wall allowing the Mariners to take the lead, but the Blue Jays outfielder caught a break when the ball hit his non-gloved hand and stayed within reach. Kawasaki had already scored and the speedy Ackley was close behind, but not close enough, as a strong relay throw from Kelly Johnson cut down Ackley at the plate and kept the game tied. The Mariners had caught their break and come within a few inches of taking the lead. At least they made things interesting…

Seattle held Toronto off the board in the bottom of the 9th, and with the heart of the order due up in the 10th,  the Mariners had another chance to grab control of a game that had so many times felt out of reach. Ichiro lead off the inning with a ground out, but Smoak, Montero, and Liddi singled to load the bases with one out for Saunders (who came into the game 0-11 in his career with the bases loaded). Standing on the mound for the Blue Jays was reliever Luis Perez, who had yet to allow a run on the season and had struck out nearly 50% of the left-handed hitters he had faced. The odds were not stacked in Saunders favor. All we need is a flyball…

Perez quickly ran the count to 1-2, and M’s fans braced themselves for the impending check swing strike three from Saunders that had left them shaking their heads in disgust and pity so many times before. Perez, sensing blood in the water, went with a breaking ball on the inner third of the plate, a pitch that had flummoxed Saunders countless times in the past. The ball seemed destined to find the catchers glove just as Seager’s ground ball in the ninth seemed destined to end the game…only it didn’t.

This happened instead.

It certainly wasn’t the longest or most impressive home run of Saunders career, but is there any doubt that it was the most important? A go-ahead grand slam off a lefty in his native country? Was such an occurrence even fathomable a year ago?  Two months ago? A week ago?

With a baseball season stretching over 162 games, tonight’s game accounted for a mere 0.006 percent of the Mariners year. But you can’t tell me this game didn’t matter more than that to Mariners fans, or especially to Saunders, who went through so much on and off the field last year.

Don’t lose this game in the shuffle of the next 140 games. This was truly something special. Remember it. Treasure it. Mark it as the day Saunders silenced his critics and finally blossomed into the ballplayer who we all imagined he would be.

My Oh My!

Maligned Mariners Management Makes Move for Montero: Can Jesus Save Seattle’s Season?

Hopefully this card wasn't part of your retirement plan, because you know, he's a Mariner now.

Seattle Mariners fan(s) complained all winter long (with good reason–did you see the summer blockbuster, “2011: A Baseball Tragedy“?) about the lack of activity from the team’s front office, and now that a substantial and largely unexpected move (though Rob Lowe did tweet about it a few weeks ago) has been made, well, nobody knows quite how to feel.

On one hand, Seattle acquired a power-hitting catcher/DH in Jesus Montero who has long been considered one of the best power prospects in the minor leagues. On the flip side, the Mariners had to give up Michael Pineda, a towering right-hander who made the All-Star game in his first season and become a fan favorite for his sizzling fastball and gregarious personality.

So how does the trade rate on paper, and where does the move leave Seattle heading into the 2012 season?

If the Mariners organization has any strength (try to stifle your laughter), it’s their depth of pitching talent at both the major and minor league levels. Even with Pineda (and the second piece of the trade–Jose Campos) off to the Bronx, Seattle still boasts a farm system loaded with talented arms like Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Erasmo Ramirez and Taijuan Walker who aren’t that far away from contributing for the Mariners. So while it was difficult to give up Pineda and his 1.099 WHIP and 9.1 K/9, Seattle has a much better chance of replacing him from within than it did of acquiring a free-agent hitter at a palatable rate.

What the Mariners boast in pitching however, is negated by a lineup (Seattle scored 299 fewer runs than Texas in 2011) often described as “more unwatchable than Norbit“. Enter Jesus Montero, a burly slugger who has elicited comparisons to Miguel Cabrera and Paul Konerko while posting a career .308/.366/.501 slash line in the minor leagues, and hitting .328 with four HR’s in 61 AB’s for the Yankees in September. There are legitimate concerns that Montero won’t be able to stay at catcher, but even so, it’s hard to imagine him hitting worse than the combination of Jack Cust/Adam Kennedy at DH.

Though Safeco is a tough environment for right-handed hitters (somewhere, in a dark room, Richie Sexson quietly weeps), scouts have raved about Montero’s ability to drive the ball to the opposite field, something that allowed Brett Boone to set a major-league record for HR’s by a second baseman in 2001. If Montero lives up to his sizable potential, it’s easy to get excited about a heart of the lineup that also features Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak and Mike Carp. It’s not exactly the 1927 Yankees, but it sure is better than anything Mariners fans have seen lately.

The other pieces of the trade, Hector Noesi to Seattle and Jose Campos to New York, benefit the M’s in the short term as Noesi can slide in as a fourth or fifth starter in 2012. Noesi has proven he can handle major league hitters in the treacherous AL East, but he doesn’t have the upside of Campos, who dominated the Northwest League in 2011 to the tune of a 2.32 ERA, 0.971 WHIP, and a ridiculous 6.54 K/BB ratio. Campos looks like another Pineda in the making, but is years away from contributing at the major league level, and when it comes to pitching prospects, there’s no such thing as a guarantee (remember Ryan Anderson).

The Mariners aren’t going to compete for the AL West crown in 2012, but if nothing else, this move makes them infinitely more watchable. A full season of Montero, Ackley, Carp, and the possible return to form of Justin Smoak gives M’s fans reasons to believe that the worst of times are behind. Heck, Seattle might even flirt with .500 in 2012 (although they’re far too shy to ask it on a date). It’s not the end of the long climb back to respectability, but it’s a start.

Go Mariners.

Deal With the Devil: Will Seattle Regret Not Trading Cliff Lee to the Yankees and What Is Josh Lueke’s Future in Seattle?

Will Josh Lueke ever be allowed to pitch for the Mariners? Should he be?

If you haven’t been paying attention to the Mariners lately (instead choosing to enjoy life and not indulge in masochistic urges) it’s likely that you missed the latest controversy surrounding the team–and it has nothing to do with play on the field.        

Flashback to July, when the Mariners had a deal in place to trade Cliff Lee to the New York Yankees for a package of prospects including top-hitting catcher Jesus Montero, only to nix the trade at the last-minute in order to take a “better” offer from division rival Texas. At the time it seemed like a major coup for the Seattle front office, as they acquired powerful switch-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak and a former first round pick in pitcher Blake Beaven. However, after the initial euphoria lifted, things quickly began to unravel.        

One of the lesser known players in the trade, reliever Josh Lueke, had been convicted of a horrific crime–one that the front office was apparently clueless about (despite the fact that a simple Google search would bring up the information from Lueke’s case). Team president Chuck Armstrong and general manager Jack Zduriencik both claimed not to know the extent of Lueke’s criminal record, even though former pitching coach Rick Adair said he told the front office everything he knew about Lueke on and off the field. This set off a back and forth between the Seattle front office (who claimed to have been misled by the Rangers) and Texas (who stated that Lueke’s background was common knowledge and that they had offered to take him back) and eventually led to the firing of professional scouting director Carmen Fusco, a personal hire of Zdurinciek and a 35-year baseball veteran. Selling Fusco as the scapegoat didn’t quell the controversy though, and serious questions continue to linger about the M’s front office and the future of Jack Zdurienciek in Seattle.   

There’s no denying that Lueke is a talented pitcher (5-2, 1.86 ERA and 94 K’s in 63 innings at three minor league stops in 2010) but there are plenty of questions surrounding the Mariners’ decisions making in the process and what Lueke’s role with the organization will be moving forward. Seattle certainly needs help in the bullpen (apologies to Chris Seddon and Jamey Wright) but is bringing aboard a pitcher with Lueke’s history worth the potential damage to the organization’s reputation–especially an organization that has been so outspoken about domestic violence? The team had a chance to call-up Lueke when rosters expanded but balked at the opportunity, likely due to the outrage surrounding the “discovery” of his crimes. Will the response of fans be any different if the Mariners wait until next season to promote Lueke?  

Despite the fact that Lueke has paid his debt to society (spending 40 days in jail), it doesn’t change what he’s done and it won’t change how he’s viewed by fans and the community. If the organization knew about his past and still completed the trade with Texas it’s clear that the Mariners puts winning above all else, and if that’s the case,  they had better start winning (maybe we could become the baseball version of the Cincinnati Bengals). If Seattle truly didn’t know about Lueke’s criminal record (highly, highly unlikely) then the organization still has a responsibility to be upfront with their fan base about the situation and act accordingly, even if that means trading away or cutting Lueke. The Mariners made a colossal P.R. mistake by bringing aboard Lueke and the organization needs to act fast in order to save face–this isn’t an issue that will just go away if it’s ignored. 

No matter how this issue plays out, it’s clear that the Seattle front office isn’t the model of perfection we though it was, and that Jack Zduriencik might not be the man to lead the Mariners back to the playoffs. This whole firestorm could have been avoided if Seattle had just followed through on their trade with New York, but it appears that by trying to burn the Yankees, the Mariners torched themselves. 

Only time will tell…

Redemption Song: Long Forgotten Prospects Find Niche in MLB.

Jose Bautista has hit more home runs by himself than the entire Seattle Mariners team.

One of the reasons I’m such a big baseball fan today is that I collected cards growing up  (and yes, I still do). There was nothing more exciting than pulling a rookie card of the next hot-shot prospect, sticking it in a hard case, and knowing that it would help put you through college. Well, the following players certainly didn’t help me through school while they struggled to live up to their top prospect status, but after years of anonymity, they might at least keep my knees safe from college loan sharks. Here are five long-awaited players finally marking their mark in Major League Baseball: 

Jose Bautista: While 29-year-old Jose Bautista is no spring chicken (and his defense at the hot corner makes Russ Davis look like a Gold Glover) the Pirates still have egg on their face for trading away this year’s most surprising slugger. After struggling to hold down in full-time gig in Pittsburgh, Bautista was traded to the Blue Jays in 2009 for prospect Robinson Diaz in the hopes that a change of scenery would allow the third baseman to tap into his batting potential. As luck would have it, that’s exactly what happened. Bautista was as ordinary as Drew Barrymore in his first year with the Jays, but he’s been a revelation this season, leading the American League with 43 HR’s and ranking second in walks and RBI’s (105) and third in OPS (.992) and slugging. It’s a testament to Bautista’s work ethic and skill set that he’s been able to achieve this level of success at such an advanced age, and also another sign that the Pirates just don’t get it. Like we needed another of those.    

Bryan Bullington: So Bryan Bullington hasn’t exactly been killing it since joining the Kansas City Royals (1-4, 6.11 ERA), but it’s still inspiring to see the number one overall pick from the 2002 draft (picked by, you guessed it, the Pirates) get his first Major League win at age 29. Bullington struggled for years with inconsistency and injuries after being drafted out of Ball State, but he put it all together in a start against the hated Yankees on August 15th, throwing eight innings of two-hit baseball in a 1-0 Royals victory. It’s not quite as inspiring as The Rookie, but it’s close.   

Neil Walker: It’s hard to believe that Neil Walker is just 24 because it seems like he’s been in the Pirates’ system forever. Drafted out of high school as a catcher, Walker was shifted to second base to accelerate his ascent to the bigs, and while it took longer than expected, he’s making the most of his opportunity this season. Since being called up in May, Walker has hit .310 with 10 HR’s and 51 RBI’s while posting an .842 OPS and playing adequate defense at second. If the Pirates plan on contending in the next decade or so, they’ll need Walker to keep showing that he was worthy of the number 11 overall pick in 2004. They’ll also need a first baseman, shortstop, right fielder and about twenty more pitchers…but that’s a story for another day.   

Aren't you glad you held on to that Colby Lewis rookie card for over a decade?

Colby Lewis: This time last year, Colby Lewis was playing for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in Japan’s Central League. Now, the burly right-hander is one of the major reasons why the Texas Rangers are on the verge of capturing the AL West title. First drafted by the Rangers way back in 1999, Lewis bounced around in the majors and minors before finally discovering the secret to pitching while playing in Japan (its Red Bull if you’re wondering). Lewis has been a mainstay of the revived Rangers pitching staff, posting a 10-12 record (a lack of run support is the main culprit of his 12 losses) with a 3.86 ERA and 173 K’s in 177 innings. Not too bad for a pitcher who came into the season with a career ERA on the wrong side of seven.

Andres Torres: Just like Nelly, I’m a sucker for cornrows and manicured toes (this portion of Viva La Vidro is brought to you by Nelly’s new hit single “Just a Dream”) and while Andres Torres has neither, I still can’t help but think over and over again how amazing it is that it took Torres until age 32 (he was drafted by the Tigers in 1998) to get his first chance at a starting role. Torres had just over 400 career at-bats before 2010 but he’s looked like a seasoned vet this season, posting a line of .273-14 HR’s-60 RBI’s-23 SB’s as the leadoff hitter for the San Francisco Giants. In addition to setting the table for Los Gigantes’ offense, Torres has also played stellar defense in centerfield, leading to a WAR (wins above replacement player) rating of 4.0 (nearly twice as good as any Mariners’ offensive player). Torres’ value to the Giants can’t be overstated–without him, the Padres would be running away with the division. Who ever said old people can’t contribute positively to society…and pennant races?

Salt in the Wound: Blue Jays’ Brandon Morrow Loses No Hitter, But Raises Doubts About Mariners’ Front Office Decision Making.

Did the Mariners give up on Brandon Morrow too early? It looked that way on Sunday.

This time last season Seattle fans were wearing “In Jack We Trust” t-shirts, petitioning the organization to construct a statue of new GM Jack Zduriencik in front of Safeco Field and writing in his name for governor of Washington.

What a difference a year makes.

Though Brandon Morrow fell just short of a no-hitter on Sunday afternoon against the Rays, his sterling 17 strikeout, one-hit performance still took some of the sheen off Zduriencik’s head and Seattle’s shiny new Bill Bavasi-less front office. Morrow was shipped to Toronto during the offseason in return for power reliever Brandon League who was supposed to bridge the gap between Seattle’s starting pitchers and closer David Aardsma. League hasn’t been bad (8-6, 3.16 ERA) but has consistently faltered in high-leverage situations, and despite a reputation as a flamethrower, has only struck out 40 batters in 57 innings.

The number five overall pick in the 2006 draft, Morrow was flipped from the starting rotation to the bullpen to Triple-A and back again so many times, it’s a wonder he doesn’t have multiple personalities. While the current regime can’t be blamed for the mismanagement of Morrow early in his career, they certainly can be accused of giving up on the young ace too early.

The 26-year-old Morrow is 9-6 on the season, with a 4.45 ERA (a number which would almost certainly be lower if he was pitching at Safeco Field) and 151 strikeouts in 127 innings (a league leading 10.67 K’s/9 innings). A full season in the starting rotation has done wonders for Morrow’s confidence and he’s started to hit the strike zone with more consistency. If he can continue to cut down on the walks and pitch deep into games, Morrow has the potential to become a staff ace in the mold of Bert Blyleven.

With their pitching staff in shambles (Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas are Seattle’s only reliable starters) the Mariners can use all the arms that they can get. Who do you suppose they would rather have right now: an average middle reliever with a propensity for big innings, or an up-and-coming starter with the makings of a future star?

I’m not giving up on Zduriencik and Co., but a 42-70 record and scores of Mariners (Beltre, Silva, Thorton, etc.) finding success elsewhere don’t make it easy to believe things are going to chance anytime soon.

Is it football season yet?

David Ortiz, Seeking to Prove He’s More Insecure Than Most High School Girls, Lashes Out at Reporters Following Loss.

A meltdown following the second game of 2010 spells a long season for Ortiz.

Well that didn’t take long. 

Following a 6-4 loss to New York on Tuesday night the Boston Red Sox found themselves sitting at 1-1 and on pace for a .500 season; clearly it was time to hit the panic button. Former slugger and current decrepit designated hitter David Ortiz, who went hitless in the first two games of the season, was asked by reporters following the game whether he was concerned about his slow start after last year’s disastrous meltdown (Ortiz hit .185 with one HR and 18 RBI’s last April/May). Apparently the question struck a nerve, and Big Papi responded with Dickens-like eloquence: 

“Good…you guys wait ’til [expletive] happens, then you can talk [expletive]. Two [expletive] games, and already you [expletives] are going crazy. What’s up with that, man? [Expletive]. [Expletive] 160 games left. That’s a [expletive]. One of you [expletives] got to go ahead and hit for me.” 

Even if I can’t correctly identify all of the expletives listed above (s-word, s-word, f-ing, mother-effers, f-word, f-ing, s-word ton, mother-effers?) the gist of Ortiz’s comments is quite clear: don’t judge me by two games. 

He’s right of course. Seven at-bats is an extremely small sample size, and if Ortiz played in San Diego or Kansas City this minor slump would be a non-issue. Unfortunately Ortiz doesn’t play for the Royals, he plays for the Red Sox in one of the largest media markets in the sport. As a player in New York or Boston you’re under the microscope 24/7, which Ortiz should realize entering his 8th season with the Red Sox.

If Ortiz had just brushed off the questions, or laughed at his own expense, it’s unlikely we would still be talking about his slow start today. But by lashing out at reporters, Big Papi revealed what many in the media speculated last year…that the end is near. Ortiz is no longer the 40-50 home run threat he was when he first arrived in Boston and unless he rights the ship soon, both physically and mentally, Big Papi’s days in Beantown might be numbered with Mike Lowell waiting in the wings.

Love ’em or hate ’em the Red Sox sure know how to make things interesting.

Baseball’s Top Five Breakout Stars for ’10

Gutierrez won't be able to hide out in the fog of Seattle much longer.

Besides “free Krispy Kremes” and “Ken Griffey Junior”, no three words in the English language are more exciting to me than “pitchers and catchers”. When I hear that magical combination of words I know that Spring Training has arrived and another season of baseball is on the horizon. With each new year a fresh crop of stars emerge and make their mark on the game, elevating themselves from good players to great players. Just like Jessica Simpson on the last stages of her “In This Skin” tour, the following players are poised for a major breakout.  

1) Franklin Gutierrez: In the eyes of most Mariners fans Gutierrez already had his breakout season—though no one outside of Seattle or the sabermetric community seemed to notice that in 2009. With a retooled roster that doesn’t include Carlos Silva (that’s one of my last shots at El Guapo, I promise) the M’s are a serious contender in the AL West and, if the team can stay in the playoff hunt late into the season, the best defensive centerfielder in baseball will finally receive the credit he deserves (or at least a Gold Glove). The affectionately named “Guti” made significant improvements at the plate last season, and if he continues to mature as a hitter, has the chance to become a legitimate 5-tool star. Don’t be surprised if Gutierrez goes for a line similar to .300-25 HR-90 RBI’s-20 SB’s in 2010…it is the Mariners year after all.  

2) Madison Bumgarner: You can laugh at his last name all you want (and his first name while you’re at it), but it won’t change the fact that Madison Bumgarner is one of the top pitching prospects in all of baseball. In two ridiculous minor league seasons, Bumgarner has posted a combined 27-5 record with a 1.65 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and a nearly five-to-one strike-to-walk ratio. I don’t care if you’re playing in the Soda Pop Valley League…those numbers are hard to ignore. If Bumgarner can replicate his success in the minors for a Giants’ pitching staff that already includes Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, San Francisco would become a very dangerous team in the wide open NL West.  

Will McCutchen become the best pirate since Captain Cook in 2010?

3) Andrew McCutchen: Hidden in the baseball wasteland that is Pittsburgh, McCutchen enjoyed a terrific rookie season, proving once and for all that the Pirates can occasionally do something right (although let’s be honest, A-Mac will be traded in two years). The former first-round draft pick finished fourth in the rookie of the year voting and put together a solid season at the plate (.286-12-54) and on the basepaths (22/27 in stolen bases). The young right-hander exhibited good patience at the dish and has the potential to become a 30-30 player for the next decade in Pittsburgh (or New York). It might seem like baby steps, but players like McCutchen are a step in the right direction for the Pirates…give ’em another 10 years and they’ll be right back in the thick of it (the middle of the NL Central that is). 

4) Matt Weiters: Sure “Orange Jesus” didn’t quite save the Orioles as they walked through the Valley of the Shadow of Death (aka the AL East) last year, but that just means he’s in no danger of a sophomore slump in 2010. One of the most hyped prospects in recent memory, Weiters got off to a slow start in 2009 (.259 pre-All Star batting average) but finished the year with a flourish (.301) and he will be counted on to lead a group of young talented Baltimore hurlers that includes Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz and David Hernandez (each of whom could have made this list themselves). Weiters should be one of the top three catchers in the AL in 2010, and it won’t be long before he’s challenging Joe Mauer for batting titles and MVP’s.  

Bailey and the Reds are looking to make some noise in the NL Central this season.

5) Homer Bailey: The number seven overall pick in the 2004 draft, Bailey has been anything but a homerun in his short major league career, though his finish to last season showed why the Reds thought so highly of him. The hard-throwing Bailey went 4-1 in September, with a 2.08 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 43 innings (numbers eerily similar to Zack Grienke’s last five starts of 2008–and we all know what he did the next year). Bailey will combine with Johnny Cueto, Edison Volquez and eventually Aroldis Chapman to form one of the best young rotations in baseball, and should turn quite a few heads in 2010. The Cincinnati Reds will be one of the biggest surprise teams in baseball next season due in no small part to the emergence of Bailey. Expect Homer to win 13-15 games with a sub-4.00 ERA and about 150 K’s.