Normative Narratives

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Monday Morning QB: Can the NFL Stop Domestic Violence Among Its Players?

Long answer short–it can reduce it, but not definitively stop it.

The NFL has come under fire from fans, politicians, and sponsors over the past two weeks. Since the infamous Ray Rice elevator video was released (which the NFL claims it never saw, a claim I strongly doubt), a parade of disturbing and embarrassing stories have come to the forefront.

Notably, news of Adrian Peterson’s multiple child abuse episodes has (rightfully) resulted in public outcry. As if not to be outdone, soon-to-be-former Arizona RB Jonathan Dwyer was arrested for both beating his wife and throwing a shoe at his 17 month old son. The Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald domestic violence cases have also come under closer scrutiny.

These incidents have led to an independent investigation into the NFL’s conduct during the Ray Rice investigation. Commissioner Roger Goodell has promised that “all options are on the table” in revamping NFL processes and rules. Perhaps most notably, their has been a decisive shift in the balance between legal due process and NFL / team punishment. These are all important steps; in behavioral economics terms, the NFL has increased the “cost” of domestic violence.

Furthermore, the NFL should pursue a preventative campaign against domestic violence through education. The NFL should educate its incoming and current players, as well as league personnel, on domestic violence issues on a regular basis. The NFL should also focus its efforts towards the youth within its influence, utilizing it’s NFL Play60 and Youth Football programs as an already-in-place infrastructure for reaching young people during a period in life when lifelong values are formed. The NFL can also team up with the NCAA to educate young adults at the college level. At all levels, the NFL should partner with experts in the domestic violence, substance abuse, and the behavioral sciences fields to create curricula which effectively address domestic violence and related issues.

I believe the question on many peoples minds is, “Why the sudden increase in domestic violence?” The answer is there has not been an increase in domestic violence, but rather it’s reporting. The 24 hour news cycle and muckraking news outlets like TMZ (I can’t believe I am using such a noble term to describe TMZ, but it has truly evolved into an important news source) have brought previously unreported issues to light. Social media has given fans a direct outlet to voice their displeasure; overwhelming shifts in public opinion can catalyze change in ways that “the facts” alone historically have not. These are positive evolutions–ignorance is not bliss, it is ignorance.

Having said this, we must remember that the court of public opinion often makes up its mind based on imperfect / incomplete information, and demands disproportionate penalties. I am not advocating for relying solely on the legal process–which when popular figures and high-priced lawyers are involved often delivers incomplete justice–but a reasonable middle ground. While players should certainly be held accountable for their actions, they should not suffer enhanced punishments because of their public status; a mistake should not cost someone their career (most of the time).

There is a limit to what the NFL, or any organization, can do to stop domestic violence. Ultimately, the issue of domestic violence comes down to one of personal accountability. The NFL is not beating women or abusing young children, individuals are. The NFL can make counseling, mental healthcare, and anger management services available or even mandatory, but it cannot police it’s almost 1,700 players 24/7.

Players bring their own personal baggage into the NFL. Players drink, do drugs, and make bad decisions; players are people, and will inevitably make mistakes. Even if the NFL was willing to institute a vigorous vetting process, turning away talented players on the grounds of character concerns, it would be impossible to completely stop such occurrences. Everybody make mistakes, and with player’s lives under the microscope, these mistakes will come to light. This fact, in-and-of-itself, should provide a powerful deterrent to would-be offenders.

The NFL has to revamp it’s policies, but it should not have to defend itself every time one of its players makes a poor decision. You don’t see the POTUS apologizing for every personal scandal involving a Congressman, or a CEO addressing the personal issues of their employees; this is an unfair burden that no other organization faces. The NFL probably does not deserve tax-exempt status, but this issue should not be connected to some mystical air of infallibility which never existed in the first place.

Professional sports leagues champion positive values such perseverance, teamwork, and community service, in addition to providing enjoyment to millions of people on a regular basis. No matter what the NFL does, these stories will continue to pop up–they are symptoms of advances in communication technologies, not a signal of deteriorating values.


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Monday Morning QB: The Tanaka Effect

The subject of this blog is Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. The MLB pitching market this off-season has been non-existent, as teams looking for top-notch pitching wait to see if Tanaka is an available option. The issue surrounding Tanaka’s potential availability is a proposed rule change for the “posting fee” a MLB team has to pay its Japanese counterpart for the rights to negotiate with a player (original article):

Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka’s baseball future was thrown into flux Thursday when the president of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles told a newspaper that the team might not make the prized starter available to major league teams as a free agent this winter.

Yozo Tachibana told Sponichi that the Golden Eagles might refrain from making Tanaka available through the posting process. Under a proposed system, major league teams would submit maximum bids of $20 million for rights to negotiate with Tanaka, and Tanaka would be free to sign with the club of his choosing among those that meet the threshold.

Previously, major league teams would submit bids and the club with the highest offer would receive exclusive rights to negotiate with the player.

The proposed rules would result in a significantly lower payout to the posting club — in this case, Rakuten — while giving Tanaka a wider range of teams in the bidding. According to reports out of Japan, 11 of Nippon Baseball’s 12 teams agreed to the $20 million maximum fee and the proposed system, while Rakuten was the dissenter.

Officials from MLB and its players’ association are hoping to get Tanaka’s situation resolved as quickly as possible, because his status could have an impact on Matt GarzaErvin SantanaUbaldo Jimenez and other top free agents who might have to wait in line to see how the market for their services shakes out.

Lets consider how this rule change might affect all parties involved:

The Nippon (Japanese) Baseball Team:

As the article clearly states, under proposed rule changes, the posting fee would be capped at $20 million dollars. While multiple teams could post this $20 million dollar fee, only the team which successfully signs the player pays the fee.

$20 million would be a substantial decrease in revenue for the Japanese ball club. Comparable free agents Daisuke Matsuzaka ($51.1 million) and Yu Darvish ($51.7 million) commanded much higher posting fees. The lower posting fee may make the Japanese club reconsider letting their best player go; for $50 million they will likely give up our best player, for $20 million they may not.

The Free Agent:

The financial benefits go to the player in question. The player will command a bigger contract under the proposed system for two reasons:

1) Competition: Under the old system, there was no competition from other clubs once a posting fee was accepted by the Japanese club. The only two options for the Japanese pitcher would be to either sign with the MLB team or reject the offer and return to the Japanese team. Under proposed rule changes, multiple teams will have the right to make offers, and the player can negotiate with any team that makes the posting fee.

For a player in high demand (such as Tanaka), this will bid-up the price of the player as teams compete for their services.

2) Total Cost: Teams generally have an amount (or range) they are willing to spend in order to sign a player. When it comes to Japanese players, this total included both the posting fee paid to the team and the contract signed by the player. With less money now going to the Japanese club, this frees up more money for the clubs to offer the player.

MLB Teams:

As stated before, MLB teams will likely have to offer a larger contract to highly desired Japanese free agents, as they will have to bid against one another. There is another small caveat that should be mentioned here, regarding teams that are trying to get below the luxury tax threshold.

As it currently stands, the posting fee is not factored into the teams payroll and therefore is not counted against the luxury tax threshold. Therefore, a Japanese player is even more attractive to a team that is near the threshold, as it can theoretically sign a higher caliber player while taking less of a payroll hit. This is part of the reason why a team like the New York Yankees is very interested in signing a player like Tanaka.

If the rules are changed, more of the cost of the player will be reflected in his contract, and therefore count as part of a teams payroll / luxury tax burden.

Other Free Agents: 

Often times, players must wait until the most sought-after free agent at a specific position is signed before they start to receive offers. This top free agent “sets the market”, and once they are signed, other players at that position receive offers from teams that could not sign that most sought-after player.

This is likely what we are seeing with the market for pitching this off-season. While many big name players like Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Brian McCann have signed lucrative contracts, big name pitchers such as Matt Garza and Ubaldo Jimenez have not. Once the Tanaka situation is resolved (one way or another), expect teams to more aggressively pursue the other available free agent pitchers.

MLB Fans:

Fans may bear the greatest cost of the proposed rule change, if they are deprived of the opportunity to see Tanaka pitch in MLB games.

I do not see this as a likely scenario, but it is something the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles are threatening if the new rule is passed.

Update: Tanaka-claus is coming to town!

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Transparency Thursday: Is There Anything More American Than Baseball?

Baseball is America’s pastime. Despite the NFLs meteoric rise as America’s most popular sport, and the global expansion of basketball, baseball remains uniquely American in more ways than most people generally realize.

For one, baseball is “Americas Pastime” because it has been around longer than football. The exact origins of baseball are debated, but historians agree that it has existed since the early-mid 19th century. In a way, American and Baseball grew up together, and will be forever intertwined. The dog days of summer, hot dogs and cold beer, and watching a baseball game have become an enduring image of American culture. The image of the hard working American also has parallels to baseball players, whose 162 game schedule is unrivaled by any other major sport.

The following analysis is much less nostalgic and much more economical. It is inspired by the fast-approaching beginning of the 2013 MLB season, and a recent report by Forbes which states that the average value of MLB baseball teams rose by 23% last year, the “biggest year-over-year change in valuation ever calculated by Forbes magazine”.

“In its report, Forbes, which has been tracking the league’s finances since 1998, revealed that the money that all teams made from the $450 million sale of the Montreal Expos in 2006 was invested in hedge funds that are now worth more than $1 billion.

“The value of a team used to be about a team itself,” Forbes executive editor Michael Ozanian said in a phone interview with “Then it shifted to the stadium value and then to the television deals, and now it’s more about what’s not on the field at all.”

Is there any other sport that parallels the U.S. economy so? I think not. Both represent capitalism in their purest forms. America is one of the strongest pro-market advocates of all the world powers. MLB has the most free market-driven amongst major sports.

In baseball, there is no salary cap, and competition is protected through a redistributive luxury tax system. In the U.S., as in baseball, the open market determines someone’s wages, and poorer parties are compensated by redistribution of wealth to help ensure equality (who does this better, the U.S. or MLB, is open to debate). Other major sport’s wages are also determined by market forces, but are influenced in general by salary caps, which distort market values.

The MLBPA is the strongest of all the players unions. Strong unions, believe it or not, used to be a bastion of American wealth. The MLBPA was perhaps too strong, to the point where regular steroid threatened the integrity of the game. Just like in America, vested interests continue to hold sway until the system is “brought to its knees”, and only then is real reform discussed (in baseball it is PED testing, in the American economy financial and tax reform).

Baseball as a sport exemplifies American ideals, and as a business mirrors the U.S. economy. Teams increased value represents not an increase in popularity of the sport, but savvy off field investments by teams.

How would you feel if your team lost lots of money in the financial market and it affected the on-the-field product? We already saw this to a certain extent with the Wilpon-Madoff debacle, but most people assumed this was an isolated issue—the recent Forbes report suggests perhaps all teams are more vulnerable to financial market shocks than we may realize.

But restricting team’s investment opportunities would be decidedly un-American. Perhaps MLB should put a limit on the amount a team can cut it’s payroll from year to year, ensuring that off-the-field investments do not affect the product a team puts on the field?

Most people will not care about this issue unless it affects them directly—out of sight out of mind. Mets fans were outraged that their team’s payroll took a hit when the Wilpon’s lost money in the financial market. I would also not be surprised if eventually we find out the Marlins salary-dump was somehow linked to losses not directly related to baseball activities.

Perhaps investment in financial markets is an unstoppable force, and that any entity that has a large amount of capital—including major sports organizations—will naturally be drawn to it. I do not know if the commissioner’s office has the power to regulate how owners invest their profits even if it wanted to.

Banks have to have a certain amount of reserve cash to back up their assets, known as a reserve requirement. Perhaps the commissioner’s office should institute a similar policy to ensure that financial market fluctuations do not affect the integrity of the game. Or should the system stay as it is, and address teams financial woes on a case-by-case basis as it currently does ?(such as the Dodgers MLB managed bankruptcy)

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Monday Morning QB: March Madness Starts Early This Year (link to a video of the brawl between Mexico and Canada in the WBC)

The World Baseball Classic has been about as exciting as anyone could ask for up until this point. The Italian team has been the surprise story of the tournament, emerging from a tough division along with Team USA to make it to the single elimination games. The remaining 8 teams are:

USA, Italy, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Chinese Taipei, Netherlands, Cuba, and Japan.

This list includes some surprises and some obvious names. It was nice to see team USA advance past group play for the first time. The Netherlands may come as a surprise, but players from Curacao (a small island state near Venezuela) help bolster the team’s roster. The Dominican Republic boasts a powerhouse lineup and are many peoples’ favorite to win the whole tournament. Two-time defending champion Japan, whose roster includes a whopping ZERO MLB players, have no intention of letting that happen. There is lots of talent in this WBC, and it has been fun to see some of the non-MLB players getting a chance to shine on a global stage.

It has not been so much fun for everyone; some teams suffered frustrating eliminations. Team Venezuela was expected to go far in this tournament, but could not make it out of a difficult division featuring the D.R. and P.R. Teams Canada and Mexico showed their frustration in the form of a bench clearing brawl (although Canada was not yet eliminated at that point). The Canadian team, up 9-3 in the 9th inning, bunted to get a runner on base (aggregate score is a tie-breaker for group play in the WBC). This prompted Mexican 3B Luis Cruz to tell his pitcher to intentionally hit the next Canadian batter. After several failed attempts, the batter (Rene Tosoni) was hit, and a bench clearing brawl ensued.

It is unfortunate that tempers had to boil over, as the WBC is supposed to be about different countries coming together under the umbrella of Baseball, but it just goes to show you how seriously players take this tournament. The action will only get more intense, as games are now single elimination (although I wouldn’t expect anymore brawls; you want that, go watch any Hockey game).

Congrats to Tiger Woods, whose dominant performance at Doral earned him his 17th World Golf Championship Title. Tiger has paid enough for his transgressions; it is good for him and the game of golf to see him return to championship form.

Congrats to Bernard Hopkins, who over the weekend broke his own record to become the oldest Boxing title holder at 48 years old. “On Saturday, Hopkins beat 30-year-old Tavoris Cloud for the IBF light heavyweight championship.”

Joe Flacco backed Anquan Boldin’s assertion that he will not take a pay cut to stay on the Ravens next year. Joe should really use some of that money he got to hire himself a math tutor, or at least have someone explain how the salary cap works. There was arguably no other player who was more important to Joe Flacco’s playoff success than Boldin, who “in the playoffs, caught 22 passes for 380 yards receiving (95 yards per game) and four touchdowns.” Flacco should put his money where his mouth is, and agree to shave a few million dollars of his record-setting contract in order to bring back the guy who most helped him win the Super Bowl and secure said contract. Boldin has been the Raven’s leading receiver since he came to the team from Arizona three years ago.

Flacco owes much of his success to Boldin, and a small restructure would allow Boldin to stay on the team (Boldin has stated he does not want a pay raise, but he will not take a pay cut either):

“Boldin told USA Today on Saturday he’s unwilling to slash his salary in order to stay with the team, citing “principles.”

“At no point, no matter how well I played, would I come back to the table and say, ‘I need more money.’ The contract that I signed was the contract that I intended to play out,” he told USA Today.”

I believe Boldin is right here, but Flacco “backing him” is a bit of a joke unless he is willing to structure his deal in a way that will allow the Ravens to keep Boldin. In a salary cap league, one man’s record contract is (potentially) coming out of his teammate’s pocket. A great WR can make a QB better, and Boldin’s ability to go up and get the ball has undoubtedly made Flacco better.

Two weeks ago I said that Flacco’s legacy may be determined by how flexible he is with his contract. Signing such a large deal puts a considerable amount of responsibility on Flacco to allow the Ravens the salary cap flexibility needed to ensure they can continue to surround him with championship caliber talent. I never would’ve thought such an opportunity would present itself so soon, but this is an opportunity for Flacco to prove to the city of Baltimore that money is not everything, and that winning is what is most important to Flacco (just to be clear, this would be a very small portion of Flacco’s 6 year 120.9 million dollar contract, as Boldin was only set to make $6 million next year before he was asked to restructure his deal).  

Talk is cheap Flacco. While it is nice to back your WR, it’s time to put your money (which we all know you now have more of than you could ever need) where your mouth is.

Update: It appears that Boldin has been traded to the 49ers for a 6th round pick (once he passes a physical). It’s amazing to me that the team couldn’t figure out a way to keep it’s most consistent weapon following it’s Super Bowl victory and record-setting contract for Joe Flacco, but there you have it. As former teammate and now undisputed No. 1 Ravens WR Torrey Smith put it upon learning of the trade, “This business is BS at times,”Enhanced by Zemanta.

The Ravens lost a big piece in Boldin. Boldin was not the most physically gifted WR at this point in his career, but he was a strong No. 2 WR with exceptional hands who always played bigger than he actually was. The Ravens have a True No. 1 WR in Torrey Smith, but nothing certain after that. Will they draft someone or sign a free agent? Do they believe the explosive Jacoby Jones is ready to make the next step as an every-down WR?

This could end up being a big mistake by the Ravens (I think it is), time will tell.

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Monday Morning QB: The Joe Flacco Contract Edition

First and foremost, congratulations to The New Rochelle Huguenots basketball team on their section 1 class AA New York State championship win yesterday. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past 24 hours, the Huguenots won on a 60 foot shoot with 0.1 seconds left in the game by Khalil Edney (who is also led New Rochelle to a state title in football as the QB last November). After the initial inbounds pass was stolen by Mt. Vernon, Edney rushed into action, picking up the loose ball and chucking a beautiful arching 60 foot shot all in one motion. This highlight has been on ESPN and news outlets nationwide, and I would not be surprised if it ultimately wins a 2013 ESPY. (Edney is currently undeclared as far as college goes, it will be interesting to see how this recent success affects how heavily he is recruited).

Ray Rice was happy for Edney and the city of New Rochelle for continuing its championship ways, as evidenced by his tweet following the game: “CITY OF CHAMPIONS NEW RO STAND UP WE RULE WESTCHESTER #914”

Rice is also presumably happy that his Quarterback, Joe Flacco, just signed a record-setting 6 year $120.9 million contract. Rice’s foreseeable future is with the Ravens, having signed a 5 year $40 million contract last summer. Certainly neither man will ever have to worry about personal finances again.

But is Flacco’s deal, which is the largest in NFL history, the right move for the Ravens? Certainly after coming off a dominant playoff run, capped off by a Super Bowl victory, everyone knew Flacco was in for a huge pay day. But did the Ravens give him too much money? For comparison’s sake, here’s how Flacco’s deal compares to other big deals for star QBs:

Tom Brady: 5 years $33 million

Ben Roethlesberger: $11 million next season (base $2.6 million + bonuses)

Aaron Rodgers: $9.25 million next season

Drew Brees: 5 years $100 million (2013 salary, $9.75 million)

Matt Ryan: $10 million next season

Tony Romo: $11.5 million (plus another $5.3 million against the cap)

Phillip Rivers: $12 million next season

Eli Manning: “He will make $13 million in base salary and his salary cap hit, including signing bonus tops the league: $20.85 million”

Peyton Manning: $20 million base salary next season

Joe Flacco: 6 years $120.9 million, base salary next season unknown as details of the deal remain uncertain.

There are a number of things a team can do to soften the salary-cap blow of signing such a large deal. The team could provide a large signing bonus, or make the contract “front or back loaded” (and then restructure the deal if the team needs salary cap flexibility in the future, assuming the player is willing to play ball). As I am not an expert on NFL contracts and what does and doesn’t count against the salary cap, we’ll just assume for now that Flacco will allow the Raven’s to be flexible with his contracts salary cap impact.

The issue with such a large contract is amplified in a sport with a salary cap. No one will fault Joe Flacco for cashing in on this opportunity; he is a young star QB coming off a Super Bowl MVP performance, whose value will never be higher. The issue here is are the Ravens putting too many eggs in this basket—will they be able to afford to keep the talent around Flacco needed for the Ravens to continue to be perennial Super Bowl contenders?

The best way I can think to pose this question is as a hypothetical. Had Flacco not resigned with the Ravens, would you have wanted your team to sign him to this contract? Is the contract too large, or did Flacco play up to it? When you look at that list of QBs, Flacco is set to make a lot more than some guys who have had considerably more success in the NFL than he has. Flacco’s career Passer Rating of 86.3 is impressive, but only 10th best among active QBs. On the other hand, he does have the record for road playoff wins (6), and is only now entering the prime of his NFL career.

(The road playoff record is a fickle stat; if you’ve had Super Bowl success, it becomes a defining number for “road-warriors” such as Flacco (6-4) and Eli Manning (5-1). If on the other hand you’ve struggled and never won a SB, it will become a forgotten stat, as it has been for Mark Sanchez (4-2).)

In salary cap sports we sometimes see guys take less money so there is more available to sign other guys (think of the Miami Heat’s big 3 or Tom Brady’s recent contract extension). With Ray Lewis retiring, and Ed Reed possibly following him, the Raven’s will have big holes to fill in their defense, which has historically been their strong point. Will the Ravens be able to afford All-Pro caliber replacements on defense after giving the big bucks to their offensive play-makers (Rice and Flacco)?

At the end of the day, Joe Flacco worked hard and earned this record-setting contract. How he continues to mature into an elite QB going forward, and the flexibility he allows the Ravens in restructuring his contract down the road, will go a long way in determining his NFL legacy. The Raven’s did the right thing by signing Flacco to a big deal. It is now up to him to live up this contract not only on the field but off the field as well.

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Monday Morning QB: The World Baseball Classic and Professional Sports as a Development Tool

It seems that 200 MLB players will be participating in the World Baseball Classic this March. For those of you who do not know, the WBC is a global baseball tournament held every 3 years in March–this March will be the third such tournament. You may expect the Americans to dominate on the global stage, as baseball is the “American Pastime”, but you would be wrong. Japan has won both of the two World Baseball Classics so far, the U.S. has never even made it to the finals (and only made it to the semi-finals once).

There are a number of reasons for the lack of dominance by the U.S. For one, lots of the best MLB players come from Latin America (the Dominican Republic specifically), so the MLB talent does not favor the U.S. as much as it may have in the past (when baseball was dominated by white Americans). This map from 2011 is a pretty recent visualization of how baseball has become more global in recent years, if we had an updated map for 2013 you would expect to see even more international players.

There is also the argument that “Team America does not take the WBC seriously”. Many players from MLB rosters are barred from playing in the WBC by their team (older guys, pitchers, players coming off injury traditionally do not play in the WBC). This affects the rosters for all the clubs, but disproportionately the American team as it has the vast majority of MLB players. Also, the WBC runs parallel to spring training in America; many MLB players are just getting into playing shape and use the WBC as an opportunity to shake the rust off, as opposed to some international players whose seasons may be in “full swing” (no pun intended).

There is also the argument that MLB players will not help you win this competition. Japan, the only team to win the WBC, has never had many MLB players on their roster. This year, Japan will look to defend its WBC title with zero MLB players, that should be fun to watch. With MLB players just getting warmed up, other teams have a much better chance at competing in the WBC then one may expect.

Sports can be a powerful development tool for undeveloped countries.Professional sports bring to the table billion dollar profit margins that can go an even longer way in a poor developing country than they could in the U.S. These programs are a true win-win for professional sports leagues and developing nations. The professional sports leagues can expand their markets to new regions, and the process of discovering talented new players is essential for the future profitability of any sport.

The benefits to the developing country are not what one may think. It is natural to think of the sport star who signed a big contract giving back to his home country, and for this most part this does happen. However, these benefits are small compared to the more “organic” process of economic development. By linking sports programs to educational and nutritional programs, even those who do not go on to become professional sports stars will be helped in achieving their potential. The social capital and camaraderie learned in sports is a more abstract advantage than schooling and nutritional guidance (human capital), but are nonetheless important skills for young people to learn.

Participating in these sports development programs are not only fun for kids, but they teach them valuable life skills. Instead of selling drugs, joining militias, or working as poor child laborers, these children learn marketable skills and are given the opportunity to realize their full potential (something we in the developed world often take for granted). The next great MLB player could come from one of these programs, but so could the next Nobel Prize Laureate. The benefits from these “investments” will take time to pay dividends, but the return on these investments could be absurdly large for both professional sports leagues and developing countries. These programs are a true example of a win-win relationship, and there is a strong argument for “scaling-up” these programs.
Baseballs development initiatives tend to be in Latin America and Asia, where baseball is popular. Comparable programs exist for other major sports as well. Any NBA fan could tell you about “NBA Cares“, where star players help out in poorer communities around the U.S.. Less well known is the SEEDS program, which supports similar programs in developing countries (currently operations are based in Senegal, but the organization has an ambitious goal to expand to other countries in the future).

Certain sports naturally fit better in different countries. Asia and Latin America have a history of baseball. Also due to the fact that these regions are generally more developed than Sub-Saharan Africa, the cost of playing baseball is a bit more achievable (and is subsidized in certain cases by MLB). In Africa, basketball and soccer are more popular, as all you need to play these sports is a ball and an arena. Different sports for different folks, but they all have the same potential for spurring economic development and raising the standard of living.

Baseball seems to be making inroads in the African market as well. Uganda became the first African team to play in and win a Little League World Series game last year after missionaries brought baseball to Uganda in the 1990s. Some of the best athletes in the world are born in Africa, I would not be surprised to see MLB take further steps in promoting it’s sport in Africa in the coming years / decades.  South America is another potential untapped growth region for MLB to consider.

So while you’re enjoying the WBC, or the Olympics or World Cup in the future, know that you are not only enjoying sports, that you are not only displaying national pride, but that you are also (indirectly) advocating the use of sports as a poverty reduction tool. All that socially constructive behavior by sitting on your couch at home, not too shabby!!

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Monday Morning QB: Smoking Aces, Ranking the top 10 MLB Pitching Rotations

Happy President’s Day everyone! There’s nothing more American than taking a day off to honor past Presidents’ and talk baseball!

Today I will be ranking the top 10 rotations in MLB. This list was admittedly a bit harder for me than the last two. It seems like there’s no shortage of stacked pitching staffs going into this season. One thing I’ve learned about pitching over the years is you can never have enough of it; someone is bound to have a down year / get injured, and a “no-name” pitcher will step-up at some point and have a big year. Nonetheless, it is still fun (and useful) to rank teams rotations going into the season to get an idea of what different clubs are bringing to the table:

(For comparison’s sake, here’s how the “pros” ranked em)

1) San Fransisco Giants:

1.    Matt Cain
2.    Madison Bumgarner
3.    Tim Lincecum
4.    Ryan Vogelsong
5.    Barry Zito

Last years World Series champs get the number 1 spot on this list, and for good reason. It is difficult to win a World Series without a powerhouse offense, but great pitching can help  make up for that. Matt Cain has evolved into a true ace, and Bumgarner is a young pitcher with all the tools to be a great MLB pitcher. “Big-Time-Timmy-Jim” Lincecum will have a bounce back year this year, and while he may never regain his Cy-Young form, he doesn’t have to as the number 3 pitcher on the staff. Vogelsong and Zito are solid bank end starters; the Giants will look to make another deep playoff run on the wings of their dominant pitching.

2) Washington Nationals
1.    Stephen Strasburg
2.    Gio Gonzalez
3.    Jordan Zimmermann
4.    Dan Haren
5.    Ross Detwiler

Strasburg is ready to be the Nat’s “work-horse” this year, and is the best pitcher in the league not named Justin Verlander. Gio Gonzalez was great last year for the Nat’s, and it doesn’t appear MLB will suspend him for being on Anthony Bosch’s PED list. Jordan Zimmerman is a good young pitcher who should continue to develop. I like the acquisition of Dan Haren and think he will benefit from a return to the NL.

3) Detriot Tigers
1.    Justin Verlander
2.    Max Scherzer
3.    Doug Fister
4.    Anibal Sanchez
5.    Rick Porcello

Verlander and Scherzer are just plain scary as a 1-2 punch. Both are flamethrowers and while Verlander is undoubtedly the ace, this is no knock on Scherzer’s ability. We’ve been hearing about Doug Fister’s potential for a while now, its time for him to prove it with a full season of solid pitching. While I think the Tigers overpaid Sanchez, that has nothing to do with this list and he (along with Porcello) are more than solid back-end-of-the-rotation type of guys.

4) Los Angeles Dodgers

1.    Clayton Kershaw
2.    Zack Greinke
3.    Josh Beckett
4.    Hyun-Jin Ryu
5.    Chad Billingsley

The Dodger’s didn’t forget about pitching when they opened up their checkbook this offseason; it will be interesting to see how well Greinke performs this year as the talent is obviously there. Kershaw is one of the best young pitchers in the game and a true ace. Josh Beckett was effective last year with the Dodgers, and should have a solid year pitching in the NL. Ryu is a big Korean pitcher who has the stuff to succeed in the MLB, and Billingsley would be a front to middle of the rotation pitcher for many teams. Like their line-up, this pitchign staff is  stacked going into the season.

5) Toronto Blue Jays

1.    R.A. Dickey
2.    Brandon Morrow
3.    Mark Buehrle
4.    Josh Johnson
5.    Ricky Romero

Perhaps no other staff has as much potential to either be dominant or pedestrian as these Blue Jays. How will Cy-Young winner R.A. Dickey’s game translate to the AL East? Can Brandon Morrow stay healthy, and will his dominant stuff ever come together to make him an elite pitcher? Can Buehrle be effective in the AL at this point in his career? Will Josh Johnson be the guy who almost set the record for most consecutive outings giving up 2 or fewer earned runs, or have injuries taken a toll on his once bright career? And Ricky Romero, the Jays 2012 opening day starter, has gotta be on paper the best number 5 pitcher in baseball. The talent is certainly there, but how the Jay’s rotation will shape up is anybody’s guess.

6) New York Yankees

1.   CC Sabathia
2.    Hiroki Kuroda
3.    Andy Pettitte
4.    Phil Hughes
5.    Ivan Nova / Phelps / Pineda

CC is an ace, and Kuroda was better than anybody could’ve guessed last year earning him another season with the Yanks. Andy Pettitte was great last season until he injured himself, it will be interesting to see what he can contribute to this club for a full season (and probably the post-season, these are the Yankees after all). Phil Hughes has had flashes of brilliance, but all-in-all has not lived up to his potential; this is a make-or-break year for the no longer young Hughes. Nova and Phelps are both young pitchers with lots of potential that any team would like to have fighting for the 5th spot in their rotation. If Pineda can get healthy that would be great for the Yanks, he was one of the most dominant pitchers in the league 2 years ago in his rookie campaign. The Yankees have a good deep staff going into this season, and that margin for error than provides is very important in a 162 game season.

7) Tampa Bay Rays

1.    David Price
2.    Jeremy Hellickson
3.    Matt Moore
4.    Jeff Niemann
5.    Alex Cobb

David Price is an elite pitcher, and Jeremy Hellickson is a young stud who is right there knocking on elite’s door. Matt Moore is a very young very talented  pitcher who will be looking to perform better after a disappointing (for him) 2012 season. Niemann and Cobb are both question marks as starters, but have shown the ability to be effective as back end of the rotation guys (Cobb is still young and will continue to develop). Losing James Shields would hurt any pitching staff, but if there’s any team that can make it work with what they got you have to believe the Joe Maddon led Rays are that team.

8) Philadelphia Phillies

1.    Roy Halladay
2.    Cliff Lee
3.    Cole Hamels
4.    Kyle Kendrick
5.    John Lannan

Down years in 2012 for Halladay and Lee cost the Phillies a few spots on this list, and although Hamels is number 3 on the depth chart he is the true ace of this staff. Still these 3 guys are arguably still the best 1-2-3 in baseball (I wouldn’t argue it, but someone could). Kyle Kendrick was solid in 2012 for the Phills, and John Lannan is good enough to be a number 5 starter in the NL.

9) Chicago White Sox

1.    Chris Sale
2.    Jake Peavy
3.    John Danks
4.    Gavin Floyd
5.    Jose Quintana

Chris Sale was the surprise breakout pitcher of 2012, his stuff was unhittable at times and he will look to build on that success in 2013. Jake Peavy had a resurgence last year, does he have another dominant season in him? At only 31 years old, I think he does (doesn’t he seem like hes been around for a looooong time, I though he was in his mid 30s and had to double-check his age). John Danks and Gavin Floyd are solid middle of the rotation guys, but the real wild-card here is Jose Quintana. Quintana is only 24 years old and was very good for the White Sox last season. If he continues to get better, and Peavy has another good year, this staff will finish better than 9th best in the league.

10) Oakland Athletics

1.    Brett Anderson
2.    Jarrod Parker
3.    Tom Milone
4.    A. J. Griffin
5.    Daniel Straily

I may be greatly underestimating this staff, time will tell. The A’s were one of the pleasant surprises of the 2012 MLB season, and much of their success was due to their young pitching staff. The lack of a true ace cost them spots on this list, but everyone is young and everyone is good, and this staff could very well finish the season as one of the best in baseball. Straily is a bit of an unknown, but the A’s have given us no reason to question the ability of their young pitching.

So there you have it. This was the toughest list of the 3 I’ve done so far, and I’m sure many of you will disagree with my picks. Be sure to let me hear it in the comment section!

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Monday Morning QB: The Top 10 Infields in MLB

Continuing my pre-spring-training ranking of MLB teams, today we will be focusing on the best infields in MLB. This list primarily focuses on the best offensive infields in the league; every MLB player has at least a certain level of defensive skill, there is much more variation in player’s offensive abilities.

One notable exception here is catcher, whose main job is to successfully manage a pitching staff and stop other teams from stealing bases; a catcher’s defense is arguably more important than his offense. With this in mind, having a good offensive catcher can help boost you up this list, but having a more defensive catcher will not seriously penalize you.

I will write out each teams projected infield by last name in the following order: 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, Catcher.

For comparisons sake, here’s how ESPNs Buster Olney ranked em.

Note: It may appear that I snubbed the Angels from this list, but that is not the case. The Angels do not appear on this list only because Mark Trumbo is slated to be their DH and not their 3B this year. The Angels have a good IF, but other than Pujols most of their star power is in the OF / DH spots.

1)      Rangers (Moreland, Kinsler, Andrus, Beltre, Pierzynski):

These Rangers have one heck of an infield. Adrian Beltre was arguably the hottest hitter in MLB down the stretch last year. Ian Kinsler is an elite 2B, and a 5 tool player at a traditionally weak position offensively. Elvis Andrus is a great contact hitter with remarkable speed. A.J. Pierzynski is coming off a career year, and while he probably won’t repeat his 2012 success, he is an above average offensive catcher. Mitch Moreland is not the best offensive 1B, but he is a solid hitter, and there is a possibility Lance Berkman ends up being the regular 1B if he can get back to his 2011 resurgent form. One of the top prospects in MLB, Jurickson Profar, is ready to make an impact if anyone goes down to injury or is traded. This IF is talented and deep, and the best in baseball.

2)       Cardinals (Craig, Delasco, Furcal, Freese, Y. Molina):

I am a huge fan of the Cardinals offense, and it is amazing that just a year after losing Albert Pujols to free agency, this team ranks so high on this list. Allen Craig is a great hitter with prodigious power; it will be fun to see what he can do with a healthy full season as the everyday first baseman in St. Louis. Rafeal Furcal is a scrappy veteran who knows how to help a team win. David Freese is one of the best young 3B in the league, and has proven he can be a clutch hitter. Yadier Molina has developed into one of the best offensive and defensive catchers in the league. This talented and well rounded group is one of the best in MLB.


3)      Tigers (Fielder, Infante, Peralta, Cabrera, Avila):

Miguel Cabrera is coming off the first Triple Crown season in 45 years, and played a surprisingly strong 3B last season. Prince Fielder is a great power and contact hitter. Together they make up the most dangerous 3-4 combo in MLB, and along with any other players would be assured a spot on this list. But the rest of the Tigers IF is nothing to scoff  at. Omar Infante, Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila are all above average hitters at their positions. Add up all this talent, and you get the number 3 IF in the league.


4)      Yankees (Teixeira, Cano, Jeter, Youkilis, Stewart):

Lots of people are down on the Yankees this year, although I do not see why. True, the Yankees are a year older, and they have question marks at catcher as they wait for young talent to become MLB ready. But the Yankees have All-Stars around the horn. Mark Teixeira is a switch hitting power hitter and the best defensive 1B in MLB. Robby Cano is the best offensive 2B in the game, a player in the prime of his career whose potential seems limitless. Derek Jeter is a year older and coming off an injury, but he will be ready to play. Since Jeter slumped leading up to his 3,000th hit, he has hit well over .300. This was the only prolonged slump of his career, and while there will be people saying he can’t recover from an injury at his age, Jeter will once again silence his critics. A-rod will be missed (?), but I actually like having Youkilis at 3B, he will quietly contribute on offense while posting a .400+ OBP. The Yankees are underrated going into this year, it’s nice to be the underdog for once.

5)      Nationals (Laroche, Espinosa, Desmond, Zimmerman, K. Suzuki/ Ramos):

Adam Laroche finally lived up to his potential, and the Nationals rewarded him with a 2 year $24 million dollar contract. Despite past consistency / durability issues, I expect Laroche to play up to his contract. Danny Espinosa is a young player with power and speed, although his career .239 BA leaves much to be desired. Apparently he played with a torn rotator cuff last year, perhaps his average suffered because of that. Ian Desmond emerged last year as one of the best SS in MLB. Ryan Zimmerman is a stud third baseman and the leader of this young Nationals team. Whoever ends up being their catcher, this is a top 5 IF.

6)      Dodgers (A. Gonzalez, Ellis, Gordon, Ramirez, Ellis)

Although the Dodgers do not currently have Gordon starting at SS, I think sooner or later the Dodgers will move Hanley to 3B and play Dee at SS. Adrian Gonzalez is one of the best hitters in MLB, and Hanley Ramirez has shown the talent to be considered amongst the best hitters in the league as well. Dee Gordon is a speed demon who could develop into a star in the years to come. Mark and A.J. Ellis are both consistent hitters who should see lots of good pitches to hit this year with the Dodgers star-studded lineup. The Dodgers have spent a lot of money to win, now it’s time to see how well that money was spent.


7)      Blue Jays (Encarnacion, Izturis, Reyes, Lawrie, Arencebia)

I’m still high on the Jays, and for good reason. Edwin Encarnacion was the breakout player of the year last season, and should continue to post impressive power numbers for years to come. Brett Lawrie is a young player with exceptional speed and power, I expect him to develop greatly as a player this year, being surrounded with all that talent in Toronto. Jose Reyes will have a bounce-back year, and has the potential to be one of the most dynamic players in MLB if he stays  healthy. Maicer Izturis is slated to be the starting 2B, and while he is a decent player, I would not be surprised is Emilio Bonifacio takes over as the everyday 2B once the season is underway. J.P. Arencebia provides some pop behind the plate as well; this Blue Jays team sure has one stacked lineup.


8)      Phillies (Howard, Utley, Rollins, Young, Ruiz):

This group would’ve been number 1 on my list 5 years ago, but since then injuries and age have slowed this them down. Still, everybody seems poised to be healthy coming into the 2013 season, so I would not be surprised to see a resurgence of the Phillies this season. If Howard, Utley, and Rollins can stay healthy, this unit will probably perform better than 8th best in the league. This year, Michael Young takes over at 3B for the Phillies; one of the games best pure hitters and a possible 3,000 hit club candidate, Young should fit in well with the rest of the talented veterans on this club. Carlos Ruiz is one of the better offensive catchers in the game; the Phillies are a solid pick for a bounce back season after a disappointing 2012 campaign.

9)      Reds (Votto, Phillips, Cozart, Frazier, Hanigan):

Joey Votto is one of the best hitters in MLB. He hits for power, for average, and is always among the league leaders in OBP and OPS. Brandon Phillips is one of the best 2B in the game; his game features speed, power, and the ability to hit for contact. Zack Cozart and Brandon Frazier are not stars, but they are both solid young players who will continue to improve. When you have Votto and Phillips on your team, you don’t need much else to be considered a great IF.


10)   Mets (Davis, Murphy, Tejada, Wright, Buck)

The biggest surprise on this list, and I am very happy to give the Mets some credit where it is due. The Mets ownership did the right thing and  spent the big bucks on their franchise player, David Wright, and have a young talented team to build around him with. Ike David has the potential to be an Adam Dunn type offensive machine, and Wright has proven year in and year out that he is one of the premier hitters in MLB. Daniel Murphy is a solid hitter who should bat around .300 this year, as is Ruben Tejada. The Mets are probably a year or two away from being a legitimate contender, but I think they will be surprisingly successful this year.

Notable exceptions (“X-factor” player listed in parenthesis):

Orioles (Manny Machado), Rockies (Tyler Colvin), Giants (Pablo Sandoval), Royals (Eric Hosmer), Diamondbacks (Paul Goldschmidt)

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Monday Morning QB: After Super Bowl Sunday There is Miserable Monday

People often joke(?) that the day after the Super Bowl should be a national holiday. Considering most people at work today are probably nursing hangovers / talking about what they did for the game all day, I would say that’s not such a bad idea (but what do I know, I just blog and go to class, I really don’t have enough stake in this debate to have an opinion, what do you guys think?)

I would like to give a big shout out to the Baltimore Ravens, Super Bowl champions. I can’t believe I picked against the Ravens 3 times these playoffs. Out of the 5 playoff games I got wrong, 3 were picking against the Ravens.

I think I should defend my position with a little context, as I certainly do not hate the Ravens. The Ravens are actually one of my favorite teams in the league. I picked against them twice because I wanted to see specific matchups (first Luck v. Peyton, then Peyton v. Brady), but in the end Ravens wins produced arguably the best Super Bowl matchup possible (so long as the Giants weren’t in it of course; next year the Manning brothers will face off in the Super Bowl).

Not only did I go to high school with Ray Rice, I also went to college with Joe Flacco, there are only a handful of people who can say that! But the 49ers were my favorite team growing up, not root for them would be caving to peer pressure (Jerry Rice and Steve Young were my favorite players, Young was a lefty just like me and I was so fierce a 49ers fan I once accidentally broke my brothers arm for making fun of them losing).

I actually liked the Ravens to win the Super Bowl when the season started. They got off to that great start and looked unbeatable. Then they cooled off and so did my opinion of then. Ray Lewis got hurt and Suggs was out. But the team got healthy at the right time, and sometimes it’s better to be the “hot team” then the “better team” (just ask Giants and Patriots fans). I may have been rooting for the 49ers but I was playing with house money, as the Niners and Ravens are my second and third favorite teams respectively.

Again, congrats to the Ravens and Ray Rice specifically; Ray is a true American success story of a kid who came from nothing and worked his way to the top. Throughout all the fame and success he never forgot where he came from and continues to give back to the city of New Rochelle. Although I do not know Ray personally, I feel like I’ve gotten to know him a bit by following on Facebook. He regularly posts inspirational messages, is outspoken against bullying, and seems like a very socially conscious person. Every sports superstar has the opportunity to use their success as a platform for disseminating a positive message, but not every superstar takes that opportunity. The fact the Mr. Rice has stepped up to the plate in this way speaks volumes about who he is as a person and the environment he grew up in (NEW RO!!!!). If you do not already follow Ray on FB, I highly suggest you do.

So there you have it, the Ravens fairytale season concludes with a fairytale ending. Torrey Smith lost his little brother this season; hopefully this victory helps ease his pain in some small way. Ray Lewis put an exclamation point at the end of a first-ballot-H.O.F. career, and New Rochelle gets to bask in the reflective glory of the Lombardi trophy.

There you have it folks, it ended up being a great Super Bowl. The 49ers almost made the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history but fell a bit short. Football is over for now, which only makes the hangover from Super Bowl Sunday that much harder to stomach.

In other sports news, baseball is around the corner! Pitchers and Catchers will be reporting to spring training in about 2 weeks, and the World Baseball Classic starts in a little less than a month. I even got A glimpse of some Caribbean winter league action over the weekend. While nothing quite compares to football Sundays, at least we still have Basketball, Hockey, and {soon) Baseball (not to mention  NY teams with championship aspirations in all three sports!).

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Monday Morning QB: Baseballs Best Outfields

The Pro Bowl was less of a disaster than last year, although Peyton Manning’s speech to take the game seriously did not seem to work for the AFC, as they got trounced 62-35 by the NFC. I think the Pro Bowl can be saved by:

A) always having it in Hawaii (so guys want to come) B) making it the week after the Super Bowl so more guys can participate (how much fun would it be to have Ray Lewis play in one last Pro Bowl after the Super Bowl before he retires?) and C) add a skills competition of sorts (NFL players are among the most physically gifted athletes in the world, lets highlight those abilities for everyone to see!).

The NHL season continues, as the Rangers seem to be getting into form. The Knicks won a nail-biter versus the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday behind Melo’s 42 point performance (including 9 3-pointers, tying a NYK franchise record). Amar’e seems to be getting back into game shape, and the Knicks as a whole are getting healthier.

Without football to focus on this weekend, my mind started to wander to the upcoming MLB season. With the trade from the Diamondbacks to the Braves, the Upton brothers will be playing on the same team next season. The combination B.J Upton, Justin Upton, and Jason Heyward have people wondering how this Braves OF stacks up against the rest of the majors. Without further ado, a ranking of my top 10 outfields going into the 2013 MLB season (for shits-and-giggles, here’s how the analysts ranked-em’, obviously lots of similarities but also some differences):

1) LA Angels: Not much of an argument here, when your outfield consists of Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, and Mark Trumbo. This outfield has 3 legitimate MVP candidates, and should combine for 100+ HRs, 300+ RBIs and close to 300 runs. All three have above average arms, and Trout and Hamilton are both above average fielders. No other OF can compare to the Angels. (If they decide the go with Peter Bourjois for defense and put Trumbo at DH, they still have the best OF in MLB in my opinion).

2) Atlanta Braves: Wow, this outfield is currently number 2 and has a chance to be a top 3 outfield for the next 10 years if they can keep the talent they now have healthy. The Upton brothers are both 5 tool players, although Justin has showed a higher ceiling than B.J. thus far in their respective careers. Jason Heyward is another 5 tool player, who had a bounce back year last year after a prodigious sophomore slump. I look for Justin to get back to his MVP-caliber 2011 form, Jason to continue to progress into a perennial All-Star, and B.J. to have a career year as a part of this tandem. When I think of this groups potential (90+ HR, 300+ RBI, 300+ runs, 90+ SBs), I cannot think of any other OF ever to put 3 legitimate 5 tool outfielders together in the primes of their careers like this (doesn’t mean it’s never happened, I just can’t think of a comparable OF, can you?).

3) LA Dodgers: Oh boy, it’s an arms race in L.A., with the focus on big OF bats. The combination of Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford makes this a top 10 OF itself. Add in Andre Etheir, a career .290 hitter who will benefit from a stronger supporting cast this season, and you got the number 3 OF in the league.

4) St. Louis Cardinals: Matt Holiday is a stud OF, who can hit for power and average. Carlos Beltran had a comeback year last year which should carry over into the upcoming season. John Jay is not as much of a household name as the other two guys, but despite injuries this kid had a great 2012 campaign which he is sure to roll-over into 2013.

5) New York Yankees: I may be accused of being a homer ranking the Yanks this high, and that may be a fair accusation. Here’s why I am so high on the Yanks OF this year (and really their whole lineup); it features a great balance of power, speed, and contact hitting. Granderson will hit 40+ HRs and should steal 20+ bases (while probably hitting .230-.260, his “Achilles heel” as a hitter is strikeouts/batting average). Ichiro hit well over .300 after coming to the Yanks, while showing both power and speed. Brett Gardner is coming back from injury and should be healthy. If he play a full year he is a lock for 50+ steals, and I believe he will finally play up to his potential and hit over .300. The Yankees outfield may not have as much power as other years, but they can all play very well both offensively and defensively. If you doubt this prediction, just wait and see.

6) Toronto Blue Jays: It is well documented that I have been “High on [the] Jays” this whole offseason, and why not with the acquisitions they have made. Jose “Joey Bats” Bautista will be among the league leaders in HRs again this year. Rajai Davis provides a spark with his speed, which should work nicely with Reyes’ speed and ability to get on base as well. The wildcard in this group is Melky Cabrera; the guy almost had a batting title before testing positive for PEDs last season. While he may not be “batting title good”, Melky is still an above average hitter and fielder in the prime of his career. The Blue Jays are no joke this year, and neither is their outfield.

7) Oakland Athletics: A surprise team from last year, whose success I expect to carry over into the upcoming season. Josh Reddick matured into one of the premier power hitters in the game last season. Yoenis Cespedis, a Cuban defect, rewarded the A’s confidence in him by producing in a big way (particularly after the All-Star break). Coco Crisp was very good for the A’s down the stretch, although it remains to see how they juggle both Crisp and the newly acquired Chris Young. Having too many good OFs to start at once, however, will not cost you a spot on this list.

8) Baltimore Orioles: Another surprise team from last year that should be as good in the upcoming season. Adam Jones has developed into a top 10 OF (arguably top 5) with 5 tool talent. Nick Markakis and Nate McClouth are both similar players. Neither one will wow you with eye-popping offensive numbers, but both will hit for a high average, have respectable power numbers, display excellent base-running skills and play great defense. The overall talent of the Orioles OF earns them a spot on this list.

9) Cincinnati Reds: The Reds did their best “Big Red Machine” impression last year, and seem likely to make another playoff run this year. The addition of Shin-Soo-Choo will bolster an OF already featuring Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick. Bruce is a premiere power hitter (hitting 30+ hrs each of his last 2 years and 20+ each of his first 5 seasons, it is hard to believe this guy will only be 26 years old this season). Ludwick was a pleasant surprise for the Reds, clubbing 26 HRs in a nice bounce-back season for the vet. When your OF has 100 HR potential, (although anything over 90 would surprise me), your OF gets on this list.

10) Milwaukee Brewers: The Brew-Crew finish-out this top 10 list. First and foremost, Ryan Braun has established himself as one of the premiere OFs in the league. The guy can do it all, and is a perennial MVP candidate. The PED scandal did not seem to slow him down at all last season–Braun is primed for another huge year. Carlos Gomez is one of the fastest guys in the league, and last year showed some of the “pop” that was missing in his swing (hitting a career high 19 HR last season, with 14(!) coming in the second half). Norichika Aoki showed the ability to get on base and steal with regularity, and should have a full time gig given the ineffectiveness of Nyger Morgan last season.

Honorable Mention: Nationals, Marlins, Rangers, Tigers, Red Sox, Rockies

This is certainly a topic which is open for discussion / debate. If you disagree with my rankings, be sure to let me know how you would ranks these teams in the comment section. If anyone would like me to explain any of the “honorable mentions” in more detail, be sure to ask.