Every dedicated baseball fan finds themselves on Baseball-Reference.com on a daily basis. If you're one of those fans, you may have noticed the website introduced a new feature today.

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As an April Fools' prank, Baseball-Reference.com is offering their Tonsorial Consulting Service for free. We'll let them explain.

This bespoke service starts at $1,000/hour, but as a special introduction we have made a limited package available on Baseball-Reference.com. For today only, our online tonsorial tools will appear below the player images on Baseball-Reference.com allowing you, our hirsute clientele, to try a tiny sample from our follicular library for free. So give "The Gamble", "The Rollie", or "The Wilson" a try today, and if you like what you see, our team of Brooklyn-based salespeople will be visiting your clubhouse soon to sign you up for the full TCS®.

In order to fully understand the service, I decided to take it for a test spin. I did this for you, the people, and I was not disappointed. 

(Baseball-Reference.com)

That's more like it. The feature really gives Alex Rodriguez the 1920s villain look for this season. It's a look he ought to embrace. The fun doesn't stop there. You can also add afros and beards to any player listed on the site.

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Is it a waste of time? Most certainly. Does it still receive our full professional endorsement? It does! 

Get last-minute Fantasy Baseball advice on the latest edition of the Grandstanding podcast, then sign up for a Yahoo Sports Fantasy Baseball league. It’s not too late to play!

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: April 1, 2015, 5:28 pm

You may have already heard, but we can already cancel the 2015 Major League Baseball season. That's because, according to "Back to the Future Part II," we already know the Chicago Cubs will win the World Series. 

"Wait a minute," you're probably saying. "I like watching baseball and don't want to cancel the season." Well, the Miami Marlins have a solution. It's time to rewrite the future, according to On Cloud Conine.

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That's right, the Marlins have announced a three-part promotion event that will attempt to rewrite the team's future loss to the Cubs in the World Series. The first promotion will be a turn back the clock-type event where the Marlins social media team pretends that it's 1993. That will take place on opening day.

The second event, and this is where it gets really good, is the "#RewritetheFuture" Series. This will take place during the team's series with the Cubs from June 1 through June 3. Fans who buy a special ticket package will receive this excellent shirt.

(On Cloud Conine)

That's pretty fantastic. Also, nice touch going with "American League Champions."

[Check out The Stew's 2015 MLB division previews: NL East | AL East | NL Central]

Finally, the team will celebrate "Back to the Future" Night on September 25. Fans are encouraged to wear their best futuristic 2015 costumes. The club will also give away a "Billy McFly" bobblehead. 

Proceeds from the "#RewritetheFuture" Series and "Back to the Future" Night will benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research

There you have it! That's the story of how the Marlins saved the 2015 baseball season before it even began. If their offseason moves were any indication, the team has wanted to rewrite the future for quite some time.

This is about to get heavy

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: April 1, 2015, 3:41 pm

We're getting close to opening day and you can probably feel the excitement — real, meaningful baseball is almost here. It seems so distant now, but before you know it, we'll be talking about this season's breakout players, playoffs and MVPs.

As we do every year about this time, the Yahoo Sports MLB crew is forecasting the season ahead. We predict the standings for each division, which teams will reach the postseason, who will eventually hoist the World Series trophy, which players will capture the annual awards and which breakout stars we'll be talking about come September. We're even predicting how many home runs A-Rod hits, which player is the first fined for pace-of-play violations and when Kris Bryant hits his first big-league homer.

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Our 2015 forecast is led by Yahoo's MLB experts Tim Brown and Jeff Passan, plus your Big League Stew bloggers, Chris Cwik, Mike Oz and Mark Townsend. There's a lot to be decided between now and October and by then we have no doubt you'll be telling us how right or wrong our predictions were.

[Get last-minute Fantasy Baseball advice on the Grandstanding podcast. ]

[Check out The Stew's division previews: NL East | AL East | NL Central | AL Central]

[Baseball is back! Check out Yahoo For Spring Training for great spring training pics.]

Special thanks to Yahoo Sports' photo editor Amber Matsumoto.

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

 

Author: Yahoo Sports Staff
Posted: April 1, 2015, 1:43 pm
No one in the majors will bank more cash than this guy in 2015. (Getty Images)

If you happen to be out for dinner with a big leaguer, there's a pretty good chance he's the one that will pick up the tab, especially if he plays for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

According to a study by The Associated Press, the average major league salary in 2015 projects to be around $4.25 million, the first time that figure has ever been above $4 million. The average salary was $3.95 million in 2014 and $3.65 million the season before that.

Just less than a week ago, Forbes reported that the value of major league teams had skyrocketed to an unprecedented level. There's never been more money in baseball and there's plenty to go around.

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Here's a tidy infographic from the AP detaling the rapidly rising salaries in baseball as well as this season's most and least expensive team payrolls:

(The Associated Press)

It's no surprise to see the Dodgers top the list of the league's big spenders, seeing as they have the highest-paid and third-highest paid players in the league in left-hander Clayton Kershaw ($31 million) and right-hander Zack Greinke ($27 million).

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That's right, the Dodgers are paying two starting pitchers over 85 percent of the Marlins' total payroll. Baseball's great, isn't it?

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Israel Fehr is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: April 1, 2015, 5:30 am

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It's a good thing the start of the regular season is less than a week away, because Lloyd McClendon's managerial tirade game is already in mid-season form.

In the fourth inning of Seattle's Cactus League game against Cleveland on Tuesday, Indians left-hander Bruce Chen threw back-to-back pitches behind Rickie Weeks. Earlier, Mariners ace Felix Hernandez had plunked Michael Brantley, and Chen's two wild throws could be seen as an attempt to retaliate.

Home plate umpire Alan Porter elected to warn both benches before the rift escalated further.

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Almost immediately, an animated McClendon emerged from the dugout and was promptly tossed by Porter, which spurred the Mariners manager's on-field rant. Once he was done, he had to jog all the way out to right field because the clubhouse at Goodyear Park is located beyond the outfield walls, not behind the dugout.

When he met with reporters, McClendon explained why he was so upset.

''[Chen] threw behind him twice,'' McClendon said. ''If you think he's throwing at him, you've got to eject him.''

While it was quite a fiery display, especially for spring training, this wasn't even close to McClendon's masterpiece.

[Baseball is back! Check out Yahoo For Spring Training for great spring training pics.]

He may never top the time he stole first base and took it back to the dugout with him after getting the boot when he was in charge of the Pirates back in 2001. It stands as one of the all-time best ejection meltdowns.

That Pittsburgh team lost 100 games that season, so it's understandable why McClendon would have been frustrated. Since this Mariners squad is poised to be one of the better teams in the AL, we don't expect to see anything at that level from McClendon this year.

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

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Israel Fehr is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: April 1, 2015, 3:30 am

(USA TODAY Sports)Take this with as many grains of salt as you take any kind of predictions this time of year: PredictionMachine.com has calculated that by sending down uber prospect Kris Bryant, the Chicago Cubs have hurt their playoff chances by 7.5 percent.

PredictionMachine.com runs something it calls The Predictalator, which simulates games 50,000 times to gather the most accurate predictions. 

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In the case of Bryant — who was demoted Monday, mostly because putting him in the minors to start the season will push back his free agency a year — The Predictalator says the Cubs have made a mistake that will cost them 1.4 wins this season. It lowers their playoff chances from 53.2 percent to 45.7 percent.

Writes PredictionMachine.com director of research and analysis John Ewing, who as far as we know is not Scott Boras in disguise:

If the Chicago Cubs truly care about winning then Kris Bryant should start the season in the majors.

Bryant hit nine homers in the Cactus League, the most of any player this spring. His bat is big-league ready, but he needs enough work defensively that the Cubs can justify starting him in the minors for the first couple weeks of the season.

[Check out The Stew's 2015 MLB division previews: NL East | AL East | NL Central]

The Stew's Chris Cwik already argued the Cubs should start Bryant in the big leagues, because one win could be the difference between making the playoffs. The Predictalator jibes with that, and here are its numbers:

(PredictionMachine.com)

One caveat to consider: There's no guarantee that even if Bryant were to start for the Cubs on opening day, that he'd play 162 games. In fact, he most likely wouldn't — either because of injuries or rest days. 

As we know all too well in this game, 50,000 simulations can't account for a weird injury or prolonged slump. But 50,000 simulations can keep the Kris Bryant debate going, that's for sure.

Get last-minute Fantasy Baseball advice on the latest edition of the Grandstanding podcast, then sign up for a Yahoo Sports Fantasy Baseball league. It’s not too late to play!

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: April 1, 2015, 12:08 am

R.A. Dickey, one of the oldest  and certainly wisest  players in MLB, could be on the verge of adding another special chapter to his already uncommon story.

This will be Dickey's 19th season in professional baseball, a journey with so many twists and turns its been compared over and over to the pitch that gave him a new lease on life on the mound, the knuckleball.

His rise to the top is well documented. He cracked 20-plus starts for the first time in 2010, a decade and a half after he was picked in the first round, and finally had his shining moment in 2012 at 37, winning the NL Cy Young with the New York Mets. After that season the rebuilding Mets cashed in, sending Dickey to Toronto for a package that included two premium prospects.

Dickey's two years with the Blue Jays have been respectable, but he hasn't come close to replicating his Cy Young dominance.

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Can 2015 be that year? A more relaxed approach this offseason has the 40-year-old right-hander in the right frame of mind and in strong physical shape heading into the regular season. In fact, he feels like he’s primed for his best season in Toronto.

"I have changed up [my routine] a little bit in the sense that I’m taking it a bit slower and trying to peak at the right time," Dickey told Big League Stew in an interview on behalf of Head and Shoulders' Season of the #Whiff campaign. "I feel like my innings have been built up, my pitch counts have been built up and I’m feeling confident that I’ll be ready when we break camp."

(AP Photo)There's a reason behind the adjustment. Dickey struggled early in each of the past two seasons before finding his groove as the calendar turned to summer.

He can't afford to get off to another slow start, because once again, just like when he was the star acquisition in 2013, optimism swirls around his Jays. There's the belief that putting catcher Russell Martin and third baseman Josh Donaldson in a lineup that already includes Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Reyes is enough to push the team into contention in the American League.

Count Dickey among those believing that general manager Alex Anthopoulos' hot stove moves will lift Toronto toward the playoffs.

"Not only are Russell Martin and Josh Donaldson fantastic players but they really bring a nice energy to the clubhouse," said Dickey. "It’s been a great spring training in the sense that everybody’s really getting along and we’re feeling good about where we are as a club."

[Check out The Stew's 2015 MLB division previews: AL East | NL East | NL Central]

(AP Photo)The infusion of talent should help Dickey on the field too. A below average defense held the Blue Jays back in 2014 and the front office made improving in that area a priority as it remodeled the roster over the last few months. Toronto's five new starters, Martin, Donaldson, left fielder Michael Saunders, first baseman Justin Smoak, and rookie center fielder Dalton Pompey, are all reputed to be strong defensive players at their positions.

Having gifted glovemen in the game is especially important for Dickey because his knuckleball forces fielders to stay alert.

"They see that the contact off the bat is a little bit different when I’m pitching, and I like to work quickly so guys really get accustomed to a rhythm when I’m out there," says Dickey. "When you play on AstroTurf you want a great defense behind you and we’re starting to really shore up some positions giving us the opportunity to be one of the best defensive teams in baseball."

Ultimately though, Dickey knows he personally needs to be better to ensure Toronto's postseason aspirations stay on track. More importantly, he knows what he needs to do to achieve it.

The biggest difference between his time with the Mets and the Blue Jays has been the huge spike in walks allowed since the trade. He's given up almost as many free passes (145) in 440 1/3 innings with Toronto as he did in 616 2/3 innings in New York (150).

Reducing the amount of walks he hands out is at the forefront of Dickey's goals for the season. So far, so good: in 12 spring training innings he's walked just one and struck out seven.

[Baseball is back! Check out Yahoo For Spring Training for great spring training pics.]

Soon, he'll have the opportunity to show that he can command his effectively wild pitch when the games matter. If all goes to plan, there's the distinct possibility Dickey will hit the October stage for the first time.

"I think if I can get ahead in counts, shave my walks down, throw strikes, and pitch deep into games that I’m going to have a pretty good season," says Dickey. "I would say a successful season for me would be 200 innings, 15 or more wins, keep my walks around 50 or 60, [while] going to the playoffs and hopefully to the World Series."

It appears the pieces are in place for Dickey, at age 40, to deliver one more charmed run. The way his career has unfolded, it shouldn't come as any surprise when he pulls it off.

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

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Israel Fehr is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: April 1, 2015, 12:00 am

(USA TODAY Sports)Colorado Rockies reliever John Axford left team camp last Wednesday after his 2-year-old son was bitten by a rattlesnake, according to the Denver Post. 

Following a game March 25, Axford received a call from a Phoenix-area hospital, explaining that his son had been bitten twice on the foot by a rattlesnake. Axford, 31, said he was in "sheer panic" upon hearing the news.

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Axford's son, Jameson, is currently in stable condition. Doctors believe they were able to save his foot, though it's possible he'll need to have one of his toes amputated. It's believed Jameson stepped on a baby rattlesnake while walking in the backyard of the family's house in Arizona. 

Axford returned to camp briefly Tuesday in order to throw a bullpen session, but said he doesn't know when he'll be able to come back to the club on a full-time basis. He's currently planning to stay with his family for as long as possible. 

"The last thing I want to do is think about baseball," Axford said. "We're not sure what is happening. We're trying to take things step by step."

For now, Axford is asking for positive thoughts. 

"Any positive thoughts people have for [Jameson] would definitely be well-received," he said.

While not technically official, it's been assumed that Axford would make the Rockies' bullpen coming out of camp. He signed a minor-league deal with the club during the offseason, but was added to the 40-man roster in March. Axford is still expected to make the club, but his son's current medical situation could keep him away from the team for an undetermined amount of time. 

We here at The Stew are sending our positive thoughts to the Axford family, especially Jameson. 

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 31, 2015, 11:14 pm
(Getty Images)

Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant eviscerated pitchers this spring. While his exceptional performance didn't lead to a major-league call-up, it was immortalized in another way.

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Hitting .425, with nine home runs, over 40 at-bats deserves recognition. And the people over at Strat-O-Matic Games were happy to oblige. 

Here’s a peek at what Kris Bryant’s monstrous Strat-O-Matic card would look like based on his 2015 spring stats. pic.twitter.com/pLh9OOqH0N

— Strat-O-Matic Games (@StratOMatic) March 31, 2015

As long as you don't roll a two, you're in great shape.

Let's clear one thing up, though. This is not Bryant's official card. This is what his card would look like if it were based solely on his spring stats.

Once Bryant is called up, the company will likely release Bryant's official game card. While that probably won't be as dominant, it should still be pretty darn useful. 

[Check out The Stew's 2015 MLB division previews: NL East | AL East | NL Central]

Strat-O-Matic Games may have revealed too much with their early card, though. You see that "4" defense rating? Perhaps that's a sign that Strat-O-Matic Games agrees Bryant needs to work on his defense in the minors for a few weeks.

Or maybe we're reading into this way too much, and just need the regular season to start.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 31, 2015, 9:03 pm

(USA TODAY Sports)The Philadelphia Phillies aren't going to be any good this season and everybody knows it. Fans are prepared for it. General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. admitted recently the team is going to have trouble scoring runs. Even Aramark, the Citizens Bank Park concessionaire, seems to be in agreement.

Or maybe that's just a keen inference on our part.

Aramark and the Phillies announced Tuesday that this season they'll be selling booze at Citizens Bank Park's general concessions areas for the first time. Beer they already sold, but liquor and wine were only available in the fancier parts of the ballpark, like the premium seats. Not any more.

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And while it might just be a coincidence this happens before a season in which the Phillies could lose 100 games, we think the concessions company is savvy enough to know fans in Philly will appreciate something stronger than beer when they see Sean O'Sullivan, he of the career 5.91 ERA, penciled on the roster as the team's fifth starter.

Philly.com's Michael Klein gives us the details on the cocktails and wine announcement:

... [I]n a first this season, the Phillies and Aramark will sell cocktails and wine on the main concourse's general concession areas at Citizens Bank Park. If you think that the idea of a "Phillies bar" is coming from somewhere out of left field - well, you're correct. It will be located behind Section 142, expanding an existing beer bar. Wine and cocktails cannot be brought out to seats. The cocktail list has not been finalized.

Hey, guys, you need help with that cocktail list? It seems like the Phillies roster offers plenty of inspiration, such as:

[Get last-minute Fantasy Baseball advice on the Grandstanding podcast. ]

(AP)The Ryan Howard Slammer — it's a big ol' drink that costs $25, but don't worry, it won't even get you drunk, because it's basically useless.

• The Papelbonbon — Jagermeister, tequila, absinthe and Fireball mixed with Red Bull and Mountain Dew, served with an Irish Car Bomb chaser. It'll probably make you grab your crotch. It may make you say dumb things. It might actually kill you.

Amaro Island Iced Tea — nobody likes this drink, but somehow it's still on the menu.

Hamels Sunrise — basically, you order this, babysit it and wait for someone to scoop you up and take you to Boston.

Cliff Lee's Last Call — inspired by Cliff Lee's possible last season because of a lingering elbow injury, this is a collection of whatever the bartender has left. If you're lucky, it might taste good, but probably not.

• Utley 2600 — the finest drink on the menu, if nothing else is worth a damn (and it probably isn't), there's always this.

We wish and your new in-stadium booze stand well, Philly baseball fans. Please don't go nuts and embarrass yourselves. And maybe send a drink down to the dugout for manager Ryne Sandberg every once in a while.It's going to be a long season for him too.

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: March 31, 2015, 8:17 pm
(@KCCougars)

Eating healthy has become a major agenda for restaurants and food companies over the past couple years. Thank goodness, minor-league baseball hasn't gotten the memo yet.

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The Kane County Cougars have introduced one food item for the 2015 season that is not shy about its number of calories. Based on its description, the Heart Attack Burger sounds like it could deliver what it promises

New in 2015, the Heart Attack Burger should cover any fan's breakfast, lunch and dinner palate. The half-pound beef patty is topped with grilled onions, a fried egg, slice of melted cheddar cheese, chipotle bacon mayo, two strips of bacon with a pair of grilled cheese sandwiches serving as its bun. The burger will be available for $12 at Ozzie's Grill, located on the concourse level behind home plate.

(@KCCougars)

Those of you who didn't immediately go into a food coma after reading that should be proud. Have you ever looked at a grilled cheese sandwich and thought, "this could be the perfect bun for a burger?" Whoever created this baby is some kind of genius. 

That's not the only new item being sold at the ballpark this season. The club also announced Oreo churros, though, as far as we know, no photographic evidence of this item exists. We at The Stew will pay dearly for that type of thing.

Update: Ask and you shall receive. Thanks, Cougars.

[Baseball is back! Check out Yahoo For Spring Training for great spring training pics.]

For now, we have the Heart Attack Burger, and that's enough. America might be trying to go more health conscious, but freedom will always prevail. If you want to eat a burger that might kill you, that's actually encouraged. 

U.S.A! U.S.A!

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 31, 2015, 6:43 pm

Star Wars jerseys have become quite the popular promotion among minor-league clubs. Last season, we saw at least four teams wear uniforms inspired by characters who existed a long time ago in a galaxy far away.

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With the usual suspects already getting their own jerseys, the Altoona Curve decided to take a different approach to Star Wars night. 

We told you it was different... #JabbatheHutt gets his own jersey for our @starwars night on 5/30. #StarWars (1/2) pic.twitter.com/XDG0LfGonD

— Altoona Curve (@AltoonaCurve) March 30, 2015

Jabba the Hutt is most certainly an evil character, and, yet, he's also one of the most iconic and beloved creatures among Star Wars fans. While Jabba's gross tongue isn't included on the jersey, the drool is a nice touch. 

[Baseball is back! Check out Yahoo For Spring Training for great spring training pics.]

Following the game, the uniforms will be auctioned off, with proceeds benefiting the St. Vincent De Paul Society Soup Kitchen. There will also be a lightsaber battle during the post-game fireworks show.

There's currently no word on whether Salacious Crumb will make an appearance to laugh at the losing team as they exit the field. 

Get last-minute Fantasy Baseball advice on the latest edition of the Grandstanding podcast, then sign up for a Yahoo Sports Fantasy Baseball league. It’s not too late to play!

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 31, 2015, 5:10 pm
(USA TODAY Sports)

As part of their special events this season, the Oakland Athletics recently introduced Pride Night. Pride Night will "celebrate the Bay Area's LGBTQ community." Partial proceeds from the event will benefit a non-profit charity supporting the LGBTQ media arts.

After hearing about the promotion, some fans decided they did not want to attend the game, and would rather sell their tickets. Enter Eireann Dolan, girlfriend of A's reliever Sean Doolittle. 

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Dolan put up a post on her website, telling Athletics' fans that she will buy their tickets if they don't want to go to Pride Night. 

A’s fans; if attending a baseball game on LGBT Pride Night makes you at all uncomfortable, it is probably a good idea to sell your tickets. And I have the perfect buyer. ME!

If you’d like to sell your tickets to June 17th’s LGBT Pride Night game, I will buy them from you at face value. As many as I can. No judgments. No questions asked.

From there, I will donate any tickets I purchase to the Bay Area Youth Center’s Our Space community for LGBTQ youth.

Dolan writes in the post that she was raised by two moms, both of who are die-hard A's fans, and that's why she's so passionate about the cause.

After an overwhelmingly positive response, Dolan decided to launch a GoFundMe page in order to continue raising money for the event. People can donate to the cause, and the money will go toward purchasing more tickets for Pride Night, and donating them to charity. 

[Check out The Stew's 2015 MLB division previews: NL East | AL East | NL Central]

Dolan and Doolittle promised to match up to $3,000, and hit their goal shortly after the page went live. The GoFundMe page is still open, so fans can continue to donate even though the initial goal has been reached. Again, all the proceeds will go to LGBTQ charities.

Pride Night will take place on June 17. The Athletics will take on the San Diego Padres during the game. Fans who purchase a special ticket will receive Oakland A's pride wristbands. 

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 31, 2015, 3:30 pm
(Getty Images)

A familiar face might be making a return to a major league mound near you in 2015.

Veteran right-hander Freddy Garcia signed a minor-league deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday according to MLB.com's Ken Gurnick.

Garcia, 38, was last seen in the big leagues in 2013 when he split time between Baltimore and Atlanta and even made a postseason start for the Braves. He spent all of 2014 pitching in Taiwan for the EDA Rhinos after he was released in spring training that year by Atlanta.

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With No. 3 starter Hyun-Jin Ryu currently sidelined due to discomfort in his throwing shoulder, the Dodgers were looking to add to their starting pitching depth. Since there are already a couple hurlers ahead of him in the rotation replacement queue, Garcia is expected to start the season at Triple-A Oklahoma City and be ready for action if called upon down the road.

Fun fact: Garcia made the first of his two All-Star game appearances in 2001. How many active major leaguers also played in that All-Star game? The answer is three: Garcia's former Seattle Mariners teammates, Alex Rodriguez and Ichiro, as well as an up-and-coming rookie slugger then with the St. Louis Cardinals, Albert Pujols. At the time Pujols had 21 career home runs. He now has 520.

[Baseball is back! Check out Yahoo For Spring Training for great spring training pics.]

If that doesn't make you feel old, I don't know what will, but good on Garcia for getting another shot to play at the game's highest level.

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

 

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Israel Fehr is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: March 31, 2015, 5:30 am

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There are two things that stand out about Mike Napoli: he's got a big beard and he's ridiculously strong.

The beard is always on display, so he showed off some of that stunning strength in the Red Sox's spring training game on Monday night against the Twins to remind us that he brings both style and substance.

Napoli hit a monster shot to left field in the fourth inning, which is impressive by itself, but what's even more spectacular is how he managed to muscle the ball over the wall given what happened to his bat. Check out the video: when Napoli finishes his swing, all that's left in his hand is the bat's handle.

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We've seen broken-bat homers before, though this one might have them all beat. The barrel of the bat broke clean off and ended up near third base and Napoli still powered the ball into the seats.

Boston's hulking first baseman is just one of the players expected to provide power in a new-look Red Sox lineup that already featured David Ortiz and added Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez in the offseason. Something tells us we're going to see a few more home runs from that crew this summer, but odds are none will be as physically remarkable as Napoli's Grapefuit League bash.

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Israel Fehr is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: March 31, 2015, 2:30 am
(Cincinnati Reds)

The Cincinnati Reds announced a new ballpark feature Monday that any mother will love: A nursing suite where breast-feeding moms can retreat during a game for a more comfortable, more private moment with their child.

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Phil Castellini, the Reds' chief operating officer, told ESPN that the club had an increasing number of women asking for a better place to nurse. Pro sports stadiums are loud, crowded and sometimes sticky — so finding a serene place is a bit of a challenge. As a father of five, Castellini knew this was a serious demand, so the Reds created something special at Great American Ball Park.

"It just didn't make sense that we would put a couple chairs in the women's bathrooms," Castellini told ESPN.

And so, the nursing suite came to be. A local homebuilder created it and the Reds got Pampers to sponsor it. The result is this straight-outta-HGTV suite that's probably better than most peoples' homes.

(Cincinnati Reds)

(Cincinnati Reds)
(Cincinnati Reds)
(Cincinnati Reds)

The Reds advertise the suites as: "A private area open to all moms for breast feeding, bottle feeding and other child care needs. This space features comfortable gliders, a kitchenette with a sink, ice and refrigeration, a private restroom, changing stations and lockers for storing your items during the game."

Castellini also notes that there are flat-screen TVs, so Mom (or Dad, if he there's for a diaper change or bottle feeding) won't miss the game. There are also toys for toddlers, should one tag along. 

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This isn't a first in MLB. The Seattle Mariners have a nursuing lounge, as CBS Sports blogger/friend of The Stew David Brown points out. But the Reds' nursuing suite has stepped things up, by a sizable margin. With as much effort and energy MLB teams put into creating things like Frankenstein stadium food or self-serve beer stations, it's nice to see them thinking about families too. 

Well done, Reds. Take note, rest of MLB — moms and babies matter too. 

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: March 31, 2015, 12:23 am

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The Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies nearly came to blows Monday. While no punches were thrown, two coaches were ejected after benches emptied during the fifth inning. All of this happened during a spring training game where the results don't matter.

The entire incident began during the previous inning. After a strikeout, infielder Sean Rodriguez began shouting at pitcher Kevin Slowey while walking toward the dugout. Rodriguez had called for time during the at-bat, but it was not granted by the home plate umpire. Slowey threw his pitch, and eventually wound up picking up a strikeout at the end of the at-bat. 

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Rodriguez continued yelling at Slowey at the start of the next inning, challenging him to a fight, according to MLB.com's Todd Zolecki. Slowey said he was surprised at the reaction. 

"It surprises me to be that upset, and challenging somebody to a physical altercation hardly seems like the best way to resolve your frustrations," Slowey said. "I was kind of taken by surprise at his animosity after his at-bat. I know the kind of guy that he purports to be. That surprised me that that would be his choice of words and reaction. I guess I understand the frustration of a singular failure. It's a game of failures. But to react that way to me was very surprising."

Phillies first base coach Juan Samuel and Pirates third base coach Rick Sofield were ejected for their involvement in the altercation, but both Slowey and Rodriguez remained in the game. According to Samuel, Rodriguez said something resembling "if you want to take it out back, meet me in the parking lot" to Slowey during the shouting. 

Even if you love a good brouhaha, there's something very elementary school-esque about "meet me in the parking lot." It's reminiscent of running to the flagpole at 3 p.m. to watch two of your friends duke it out after one stole the other's pudding cup at lunch. 

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In elementary school, cooler heads typically prevailed, and that appears to be the case here. Slowey didn't take any pot-shots at Rodriguez after the game. While Rodriguez didn't comment on the situation, manager Clint Hurdle indicated that the matter was already in the past. 

All in all, we learned a valuable lesson here. Fights are dumb, and we should all remain friends. Just like we did in school.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 30, 2015, 10:32 pm

The Chicago Cubs made their decision Monday, sending uber-prospect Kris Bryant down to the minors. Bryant's possible demotion had become a major controversy this spring. 

Members of the Cubs front office expressed that Bryant would likely need more seasoning in the minors. While Bryant's agent, Scott Boras, believed his performance, nine home runs over 40 spring at-bats, should have been enough to earn him a spot on the club.

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Boras accused the club of sending Bryant down in order to manipulate his service time. If Bryant spends about two weeks in the minors this season, the Cubs will gain an extra year of control on Bryant once he's eligible to reach free agency.

With the move now finalized, the Major League Baseball Players Association weighed in on the situation. 

Today is a bad day for baseball. We all know that if @KrisBryant_23 were a combination of the greatest Players to play our great game,(1/3)

— MLBPA (@MLB_PLAYERS) March 30, 2015

and perhaps he will be before it's all said and done, the @Cubs still would have made the decision they made today. (2/3)

— MLBPA (@MLB_PLAYERS) March 30, 2015

This decision, and other similar decisions made by clubs will be addressed in litigation, bargaining or both. (End)

— MLBPA (@MLB_PLAYERS) March 30, 2015

The MLBPA is not pleased.

Bryant is technically not a member of the union, since he hasn't been promoted, but he will be soon. What the MLBPA suggests here is that even if we knew Bryant was the next coming of Babe Ruth, the Cubs would still manipulate his service time in order to gain an extra year of control.

[Check out The Stew's 2015 MLB division previews: NL East | AL East | NL Central]

Whether they can do anything about it remains to be seen. The Association mentions the threat of litigation in the last tweet, but it also agreed to the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. With that in mind, it would be tough for them to present a strong argument to a judge. However, as FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal notes, the statement does show a growing tension between the union and the league

One person who has never been afraid of tension is Boras. In a string of tweets from FoxSports.com's Jon Morosi, Boras gave his thoughts on the decision. The entire statement read:

"Kris excelled at every level and earned the right of entry. The CBA is at the apogee of wrongs incentivizing clubs to create a product less than best. Bryant's situation is the badge for change to the CBA player service structure. Kris is a professional and persevering. His work ethic and commitment is constant wherever he plays. His talent is deserving now, but nonessential time awaits his arrival."

Boras has already expressed his displeasure with the Cubs this spring, so it's interesting to see him go after the CBA here. Boras ultimately has no say in what the league and the union discuss during the next round of negotiations, but it's clear the idea of service time manipulation will be a major point of contention during talks. The current CBA is set to expire following the 2016 season. 

There likely won't be a resolution until then. The Cubs are well within their rights to demote Bryant, even if they are doing it to deliberately manipulate his service time. The team can come up with an excuse explaining why Bryant isn't in the majors, and that will be enough to prevent the league from punishing them. 

Boras and the MLBPA can complain now, but it is unlikely things will get fixed until 2016. At that point, new commissioner Rob Manfred will be tasked with ensuring both sides can agree on a new CBA. Given what we've seen today, that might be tough task for the new commish. 

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 30, 2015, 8:50 pm

The Mets welcoming committee: Mr. Met and GM Sandy Alderson. (USA TODAY Sports)With a week between them and opening day, the New York Mets pulled off two trades Monday that should strengthen their bullpen.

The club acquired Alex Torres from the San Diego Padres earlier in the day, then swung a deal to get Jerry Blevins from the Washington Nationals on Monday afternoon.

Both are left-handed relievers, a scarce quantity on the Mets roster before this. Sean Gilmartin, a Rule 5 draft pick from the Minnesota Twins, was the only lefty reliever still with the club at this juncture of spring training. Gilmartin is 24 and has never pitched in the big leagues. He had a 5.19 ERA in 10 Grapefruit League appearances. 

The price for the Mets' late-March shopping spree? Matt dan Dekker, a backup outfielder, is going to the Nats, while pitching prospect Cory Mazzoni and a player to be named later are headed to the Padres. All in all, not too bad. 

Just like that, #Mets looking at carrying not one, not two, but THREE lefties in their Opening Day bullpen: Blevins, Alex Torres, Gilmartin.

— Anthony DiComo (@AnthonyDiComo) March 30, 2015
Jerry Blevins and Alex Torres (right) were acquired by the Mets on Monday in separate trades. (Getty Images)

Blevins will be the Mets' left-handed specialist — their LOOGY, as the Interneters like to say. (That's "Lefty One-Out Guy.") Left-handed hitters slash .212/.264/.330 against Blevins for his career. Torres, on the other hand, can pitch a little longer — he threw 54 innings in 70 games last season for the Padres, posting a 3.33 ERA and 51 strikeouts against 33 walks. In 2013, with the Tampa Bay Rays, Torres posted a 1.71 ERA in 53 innings.

While the Mets were relatively quiet this offseason after signing Michael Cuddyer early in free agency, you have to give GM Sandy Alderson credit for going out and addressing a glaring need on his team the week before the season starts. 

The Mets, armed with an excellent starting rotation, have a reasonable chance to contend for a wild-card spot in the National League this season. A dependable bullpen matters down the stretch. Just ask the Detroit Tigers.

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: March 30, 2015, 8:45 pm

With opening day approaching, the Big League Stew crew is here to get you up to speed on the season ahead. We're examining each division over the next two weeks, looking at the big questions, the important players and making our predictions. Our series continues with the AL Central.

So many unknowns in the AL Central this year: Are the Detroit Tigers, the four-year reigning champs, still the power of the division? Will the Kansas City Royals, the wild card Cinderellas of last year, make a postseason run again? Can the Chicago White Sox, big movers and shakers in the offseason, challenge for the crown?

And what about those Cleveland Indians? A lot of people are picking them as a surprise team this year. They have enough hype and expectations to land a Sports Illustrated cover. But will it be another jinx? As for the Minnesota Twins, two questions: How many of those weird bloody marys are they going to sell this year? And when is Miguel Sano going to arrive?

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As you can see, the AL Central is a particularly stacked division that should be one of the best races to watch this year. We don’t have all the answers, because it’s March and nobody does. But The Stew’s Chris Cwik, Mike Oz and Mark Townsend are here to delve deeper into what's happening in the AL Central.

(AP)WILL RICK HAHN'S AGGRESSIVE OFFSEASON PAY OFF FOR WHITE SOX?
For the first time in a long time, there's reason for optimism on both sides of Chicago. While the Cubs built mostly through the draft and international signings, Rick Hahn has exhausted every avenue to reshape the foundation of his roster, and it looks pretty solid. Cuban star Jose Abreu and newly-signed free agents Adam LaRoche and Melky Cabrera will anchor an improved offense. Returning ace Chris Sale now has a right-handed compliment in Jeff Samardzija. And the bullpen figures to be much better with David Robertson and Zach Duke on board. Assuming Detroit, Cleveland and Kansas City come back to the pack even a little, the window looks to be wide open.

WHEN WILL WE SEE FRANCISCO LINDOR?
The Cleveland Indians' No. 1 overall draft pick in 2011 is ticketed for the big leagues this season. It's just a matter of when that promotion call will come. It's a situation not unlike the one the Chicago Cubs have with Kris Bryant. Lindor is a major league-ready talent with few weaknesses in his game, but the Indians will want to delay starting the service-time clock in order to push back his free agency and perhaps avoid a fourth year of arbitration. It's mostly a business decision, though the team does feel confident going with Jose Ramirez following his impressive second half in 2014. With that said, the Indians are a team that's expected to contend again in the AL Central. It will be interesting to see if a slow start in the standings tempts them or forces their hand with Lindor.

[Check out The Stew's other 2015 MLB division previews: NL East | AL East | NL Central]

WILL THE TIGERS GET IMPROVEMENT FROM THEIR BULLPEN?
The Tigers are suddenly a team with more questions than answers, and the biggest questions surround a bullpen that may have been the leading cause for heartburn in the state of Michigan last year. In particular, veteran closer Joe Nathan failed to endear himself after inking a two-year, $20 million deal. But it wasn't just Nathan that contributed to their fourth worst bullpen ERA (4.29). There were widespread issues, and general manager Dave Dombrowski didn't really go out of his way to address them. The hope, it would appear, is that several bounce-back seasons are in order, and that Bruce Rondon and other young arms get healthy and provide that needed boost.

(USA TODAY Sports)

CAN THE ROYALS REPEAT HISTORY IN 2015?
The 2014 Royals embarked on a wildly entertaining run, and in the process put 29 years of misery behind them. Now they have to prove they can do it again with all eyes watching them, and with No. 1 starter James Shields, designated hitter Billy Butler and right fielder Nori Aoki all gone in free agency. It will be a tall task for Ned Yost and company, but they're still really fast, they're still going to play excellent defense and the dominant bullpen trio of Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera is back as well. Those factors give them a fighting chance.

WHAT DOES JOE MAUER HAVE LEFT IN THE TANK?
With a new manager in Paul Molitor and an influx of talented young prospects around the corner, the Minnesota Twins are a team in obvious transition. So where does Joe Mauer fit in that equation? That's a question they hope Mauer will answer himself with a bounce back season. The former AL MVP saw his batting average dip to a career low .277 last season after making the switch to first base. A switch that was designed to keep him fresher and healthier, but may have messed with his focus. Mauer, 31, should be more comfortable there this season though, so the Twins will hope that leads to a rediscovery of past success and cements him again as an offensive anchor.

(Getty Images)CARLOS CARRASCO: Over the second half, you'd be hard pressed to find a pitcher who posted better numbers than Carrasco. The 28-year-old Indians pitcher put up a league-leading 1.72 ERA over 78 2/3 innings, and his 1.98 FIP suggests that wasn't a fluke. After a midseason demotion to the bullpen, Carrasco decided to alter his approach on the mound. Once he returned to the rotation, Carrasco saw his slider usage jump from 17.60 percent to 25.95 percent. He also opted to pitch out of the windup, regardless of whether anyone was on base. Both changes led to him posting dominant numbers, and Carrasco has said he plans to utilize the same strategy in 2015. If he can retain some of the gains from his monstrous second half, it's easy to view the Indians as contenders. If not, the team suddenly has a lot of questions in the rotation behind Corey Kluber.

JUSTIN VERLANDER: Was Verlander's decline last season due to injuries, or has his workload finally caught up to him? Since 2009, Verlander has seen his average fastball velocity drop from 96.34 mph to 93.30 mph. While other pitchers, such as Felix Hernandez, have shown the ability to adapt to diminished velocity, Verlander hasn't done that just yet. It would also help if he could rediscover his curveball. By pitch values, it was easily his worst offering last year. In the past, it's been much more effective. Verlander has said all the right things this spring, and he's optimistic about a bounce back. The Tigers need it, as he's owed $140 million over the next five years.

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ERIC HOSMER: Four years into his career, it's tough to know exactly what Hosmer is at this point. He's posted two strong seasons for the Royals with one awful year in the middle. Last season was about league average, but that's not exciting for a first baseman. After missing time with a hand injury, Hosmer returned and looked like a new man. Much of his success was attributed to hitting coach Dale Sveum, who worked with Hosmer to fix his swing. Hosmer's hot bat carried the Royals in October, nearly leading to a World Series victory. Overall, his late-season streak came in a small sample, so it's tough to really know if his improvements are legitimate. At 25, there's still room for growth in his bat. This is the year he's going to have to prove himself.

(Getty Images)

OSWALDO ARCIA: The 23-year-old Arcia very quietly popped 20 home runs in just 410 plate appearances last year for the Twins. The power is no joke, and there's potential for more so long as Arcia can remain in the lineup. With that said, his approach at the plate is pretty raw. Arcia struck out in more than 30 percent of his plate appearances last year, and that's going to keep him from hitting for a high average. At the same time, Arcia has always been pretty young for his leagues, so there's a chance that he improves as he gets more chances in the majors. Even in his current iteration, Arcia should provide value at the plate. If he can cut down on the strikeouts and raise his average, he could be another nice, young asset in Minnesota's rebuild. 

AVISAIL GARCIA: A shoulder injury ruined any chance at a breakout from Garcia in 2014. He showed some promise in his return to the White Sox outfield, but still remains a big question mark. Garcia is expected to be a middle-of-the-order hitter this season, yet it's unclear if he has the skills to hack it in the majors. In order to stay on the field, Garcia reportedly dropped about 15 pounds during the offseason, and has looked a bit more spry during spring training. While that won't guarantee success, it seems like Garcia is taking better care of his body, and that's a good thing. While the White Sox would love a breakout, merely staying healthy this season would go a long way in determining whether Garcia is part of the team's long-term future. 

(AP)TIGERS
• Best case: Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez prove ain't no injuries stopping them, while rising star J.D. Martinez and new slugger Yoenis Cespedes make Detroit's offense one of the best in baseball.
• Worst case: Miggy and V-Mart struggle with injuries, the Tigers free fall in the division and they end up trading free-agent-to-be David Price in July.

WHITE SOX
• Best case: Sale and Samardzija become the best 1-2 punch in baseball, and Abreu has an MVP-type season as the Sox return to the postseason.
• Worst case: Like so many other quick rebuilds, this one falls flat: Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche are mediocre, Samardzija doesn't live up to the potential, all while Abreu hits a sophomore slump.

TWINS
• Best case: Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton provide enough excitement and highlights in the minors to keep Twins fans happy until "the future" arrives. The big-league team? Eh, whatever.
• Worst case: Joe Mauer struggles, the Phil Hughes/Ricky Nolasco/Ervin Santana pitching staff gets bombed in this tough division and the Twins join the 100-loss club.

ROYALS
• Best case: Yordano Ventura becomes the ace the Royals expect, and everybody's like, "Who's James Shields?" Meanwhile, the young position players find their groove at the plate, and Ned Yost looks like a genius again.
• Worst case: Year one of 29 more years.

INDIANS
• Best case: The young and deep Indians live up to the hype, and we praise the genius of Terry Francona in October.
• Worst case: The jinx is real.

CHRIS CWIK
Order of finish: Indians, Tigers, White Sox, Royals, Twins
AL Central top hitter: Michael Brantley
AL Central top pitcher: Corey Kluber
AL Central top rookie: Carlos Rodon

MIKE OZ
Order of finish: Tigers, White Sox, Indians, Royals, Twins
AL Central top hitter: Jose Abreu
AL Central top pitcher: Chris Sale
AL Central top rookie: Carlos Rodon

MARK TOWNSEND
Order of finish: Indians, White Sox, Tigers, Royals, Twins
AL Central top hitter: Jose Abreu
AL Central top pitcher: David Price
AL Central top rookie: Carlos Rodon

PREVIOUSLY: NL East | AL East | NL Central | COMING WEDNESDAY: NL West

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Author: Mike Oz
Posted: March 30, 2015, 6:28 pm

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After weeks of speculation, the Chicago Cubs have made their decision. The club sent down promising youngsters Kris Bryant and Javier Baez on Monday.

The 23-year-old Bryant wasn't expected to open the year in the majors, but put the Cubs in a difficult place by lighting up pitchers in the Cactus League. In 40 at-bats, he hit .425, with an astounding nine home runs, the most of any player this spring.

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That led to a nasty back-and-forth between Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and Bryant's agent, Scott Boras. Epstein argued that few players are ready for the majors this early in their careers, while Boras said Bryant's performance proves he's one of the best 25 players in the organization. While Boras might be right, Esptein was the one who got to make the call.

Bryant's demotion shouldn't come as a major surprise. The Cubs can delay Bryant's free agency by keeping him in the minors for roughly the first two weeks of the season. Bryant will miss about 12 major-league games, and the Cubs will get an extra year of control of him during his prime. While that could impact the team this season — if, say, they miss out on the playoffs by one game — it's a risk most teams are willing to take. In fact, it's a common one. The Astros, for example, did the same thing last season with George Springer. 

It's a loophole in the system that teams will exploit as long as they can. That doesn't necessarily sell opening-day tickets or satisfy the hopeful fans on the North Side of Chicago, but it makes for a good business decision, as our own Jeff Passan notes:

The Cubs sending Kris Bryant to AAA to start the season was an inevitability borne of a flawed system that pits the future against today.

— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 30, 2015

I can't think of any other rule in baseball that exists in non-punitive form and still harms both the player the team. Neither side wins.

— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 30, 2015

Make no mistake: The Cubs did the right thing in sending Kris Bryant to AAA -- under the terms of the CBA. And that is a vital caveat.

— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) March 30, 2015

The Baez decision comes as a bit more of a shock. The 22-year-old came into camp as the favorite to open the season at second base, but seemed to lose his grasp on that spot as spring went on. A week and a half ago, manager Joe Maddon told reporters Baez was "no lock" to make the opening day roster. 

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While more surprising, the Baez move comes with less criticism. Baez displayed a poor approach at the plate, and an abysmal 41.5 percent strikeout rate in his brief major-league debut last year, even though he did hit a few monster homers for the Cubs. Those contact issues remained in the spring, and the team felt he could use more seasoning in the minors. Meanwhile, the Cubs can play utility man Arismendy Alcantara at second or Tommy La Stella, who they traded for in November.

It's far too early to write off Baez, but it's clear he has more work to do in the minors. Bryant, though technically less experienced, is probably closer to a finished product right now. He'll likely be up shortly after the Cubs gain that extra year of control, while Baez will have to show actual signs of improvement before he's back on the major-league roster.

Either way, the Cubs are still in pretty good shape. As long as the team isn't a total disaster during the first two weeks, few will be able to criticize the Bryant decision from an on-the-field perspective. The club can also survive while Baez works out the kinks in the minors.

Despite the demotions, both players remain a huge part of the Cubs' future. For now, that future has been delayed at least two weeks. 

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 30, 2015, 5:30 pm
(USA TODAY Sports)

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson probably isn't going to quit his day job. The 26-year-old already has a Super Bowl ring, and is set to receive a massive pay raise this offseason.

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But, if he ever wanted a change, Wilson could turn to baseball. Wilson was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in 2010, but was acquired by the Texas Rangers in 2013. He's attended Rangers spring training in each of the past two seasons. Tim Brown profiled Wilson's most recent appearance at Rangers camp.

Turns out, Wilson has some skills on the diamond. 

This is video of Russell Wilson's first homer in BP. pic.twitter.com/Z1VI31qdDE

— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) March 28, 2015

Hey, that's not a bad swing!

While Wilson told Brown he would "never say never" when it came to giving baseball another shot, it appears he's more focused on his football career at the moment. 

[Check out The Stew's 2015 MLB division previews: NL East | AL East | NL Central]

That decision is probably for the best. Wilson has experienced a ton of success on the football field, and the Rangers already have a promising, young second baseman in Roughned Odor. 

That's not to say it wouldn't be entertaining. It's been quite some time since Deion Sanders suited up for both leagues. 

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 30, 2015, 4:27 pm

Due to social media, we live in a world where communicating with athletes and celebrities is nothing more than a click away. This can have mixed results. For every positive message a public figure receives, there's sure to be five more from internet trolls.

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Jimmy Kimmel touched on this phenomenon with a series he calls "Mean Tweets." In these videos, celebrities will read the awful things people send to them on Twitter. 

Not surprisingly, baseball players are an easy target for this type of thing. That led to the Indians posting their own version of "Mean Tweets."

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Kudos to the team for going all out here. You not only have current players poking fun at themselves, but the front office, coaching staff and production crew all get in on the act. 

Scott Atchison's dad glasses are a clear highlight here. And the tweet about Nick Swisher getting a second opinion was actually pretty funny. 

[Check out The Stew's 2015 MLB division previews: NL East | AL East | NL Central]

The Indians are heading into 2015 with lofty expectations, but it's tough to tell based on the team's loose atmosphere this spring. While that doesn't lead to wins in the regular season, the Indians are a whole lot of fun to watch right now. 

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

Get last-minute Fantasy Baseball advice on the latest edition of the Grandstanding podcast, then sign up for a Yahoo Sports Fantasy Baseball league. It’s not too late to play!

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 30, 2015, 3:38 pm

Hoping to bring awareness to the conditions under which minor-league players work, and more specifically the wages they earn, which often falls below minimum wage, the United Food and Commercial Workers’ union and its allies are gathering at four different spring training games this weekend to show support and provide information to questioning fans.  

According to Ted Berg of USA Today Sports, the union had scheduled rallies at games in Tampa and Lakeland, Fla. on Saturday and will be in Scottsdale and Surprise, Ariz. on Sunday.

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Here are more details of the mission, courtesy of UFCW:

United Food and Commercial Workers’ union and allies will leaflet at four major league spring training games to raise awareness among fans about the plight of minor league players who often make less than minimum wage, are often not paid at all and are not paid federal overtime wages….

“We are leafletting at these games to support minor league ball players,” said Ed Chambers the president of UFCW Local 1625. “We support all workers, irrespective of industry, looking for fair wages and benefits and improved working conditions. Minor league players are no exception.”

According to research done by sports-law expert Michael McCann last February, most minor league players earn between $3,000 and $7,500 for a five-month season. By comparison, fast food workers average between $15,000 and $18,000 a year. It's not enough for many of these young players to live on, especially those with families, so they're forced to supplement their income with offseason jobs. In fact, some even need side jobs during the season to make ends meet.

Unfortunately for minor league players, they don't have a union behind them like the MLBPA, but 34 former minor leaguers have come together to fight for their cause. The group filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball, former commissioner Bud Selig, and all 30 big-league teams last March that seeks to apply the terms of the Fair Labor Standards Act to minor league players despite MLB’s antitrust exemption.

[Check out The Stew's 2015 MLB division previews: NL East | AL East | NL Central]

According to USA Today Sports, attorney Garrett Broshuis, who spent six years in the San Francisco Giants minor league system is representing the players. Here's more from their report, including a comment from Broshuis. 

Endeavoring a career in professional baseball, as it currently stands, requires a trade-off: Players accept low wages in the short term for the chance, however small, that they will earn millions as Major Leaguers down the road. But Broshuis maintains that, in a $9 billion industry, the lowest-level employees deserve more than just an outside chance at a big-league salary.

“In almost any industry, there are entry-level jobs,” Broshuis said. “If you want to be a carpenter, for instance, you might start as an apprentice, or if you want to be a plumber you might start as an apprentice. But those entry-level jobs are still at minimum wage or above. That’s why we have the minimum wage laws. Major League Baseball has allowed these salaries to stay stagnant for so long that guys are below the poverty line now.”

In the multi-billion dollar business Major League Baseball has become, it's clear they have the means with which to better take care of the future. But until a change is forced, it seems they'll be content running business as usual. By the same token, forces on the other side are seemingly becoming more determined to force those changes, so movements like this weekend's could just be scratching the surface of what lies ahead. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: March 29, 2015, 7:44 pm

At some point in the very near future every MLB and Minor League Baseball team preview that's published will feature more food and drink scouting reports than actual player scouting reports.

That's the direction we're trending, folks. Might as well jump on board now. Kind of like the Minnesota Twins did this week when they introduced the $19 "College Daze Bloody Mary," which comes garnished with a cold slice of pepperoni pizza in addition to many of the usual fixings one might be accustomed to.

The new item will be available at Hrbeks' restaurant, which is named after former Twins' first baseman and Bloomington, Minn., native Kent Hrbek. Here's a peek courtesy of Jeanie Hrbek, Kent's wife.

College Daze bloody mary at #Hrbeks. Comes w slice of cold pizza! 🍕 pic.twitter.com/AohJtCJHpm

— Jeanie Hrbek (@JeanieHrbek) March 26, 2015

And here's the full description, courtesy of Hrbeks'.

This Bloody Mary will bring back the memories (or not)! This cool Bloody Mary gets a cold slice of Pepperoni Pizza which is just what you need with a Bloody Mary! If that wasn’t enough you also get all the other fixings! Beef Stick, Pepper Jack and Cheddar Cheese Cubes, Pepperoncini, Olive, Celery, & a Pickle Spear. Served with a Bud Light Beer Back.

Apparently this is the logical progression from last season's "Better Burger Bloody Mary," which came adorned with a full bacon cheeseburger.

Not a typical cocktail, the Bigger, Better Burger Bloody Mary at Hrbek's has a bacon cheeseburger! #TalkAboutAHomeYum pic.twitter.com/nDiWkklRcs

— Minnesota Twins (@Twins) April 1, 2014

Between these items, the Astros' Chicken and Waffle Cone, and the Krispy Creme Donut Dog offered by the Wilmington BlueRocks, we've officially reached the point of no return. All that's left to wonder is how these items can literally and figuratively be topped in the years ahead. 

BLS H/N: Fox Sports

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: March 29, 2015, 6:41 pm

While Yankee Stadium awaits the return of its summer long tenants, it will occasionally play host to football, hockey and even professional soccer. On Saturday, the schedule called for a Major League Soccer matchup between the home-standing NYCFC squad — which is actually co-owned by the New York Yankees  and Sporting Kansas City. 

The game itself was exciting we're sure — Sporting Kansas City won it 1-0 on a 12th-minute goal — but we're actually far more interested in the video that surfaced on the winning team's Youtube page following the game.

With the stadium clear of fans and presumably only a few stadium workers on hand, three players from the Kansas City team took the field to reenact one of baseball's most famous — or infamous — scenes: the George Brett pine tar incident from July 24, 1983.

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For those unfamiliar, after George Brett hit a two-run homer to give the Kansas City Royals a 5-4 lead in the ninth inning, Yankees manager Billy Martin complained there was too much pine tar on Brett’s bat. Umpire Tim McClelland investigated and determined Martin's claims to be accurate, so he called Brett out, which led to Brett's memorable explosion. 

Here's the original moment in all its glory.

First of all, this would only be appropriate for another Kansas City sports franchise to recreate.

Second, all things considered, we'd say the Sporting Kansas City crew did a fair job. Of course, they did have a few disadvantages with the old stadium being gone, Billy Martin being gone, those glorious Royals jerseys not being available and the darn advertising signage being in the way. But if you can just look past those minor issues, it's applaudable.

[Baseball is back! Check out Yahoo For Spring Training for great spring training pics.]

Also, this reenactment might require a sequel, because Tim McClelland’s decision was later overturned after the Royals filed a protest. The game was restarted from the point after Brett's home run, and Kansas City held on to win the game 5-4. Even if we just get a handshake line scene, it would give us the necessary closure.

BLS H/N: Cut 4 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: March 29, 2015, 4:58 pm

You can walk or drive past any major league stadium and figure out pretty quickly which players the corresponding team views as faces of the franchise.

The Los Angeles Angels are no exception to that rule. At the main entrance to Angel Stadium, six large banners each featuring the likeness of an Angels player welcome fans to the ballpark every day, and the message is simply: "These are our guys. Take'em or leave'em."

With that in mind, MLB.com points out that this season's Angels banners have undergone some major changes despite the team making few significant changes during the offseason. Of the six banners, only Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Jered Weaver remain from last season. Basic math tells us that means three banners were removed and three new banners were put up in their place.

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Here's a look at the new banners. . 

Say Halo to the new entrance #AtTheBigA! 6 #Angels, 6 winners. RT to win a pair of tix to our 1st exhibition game! pic.twitter.com/8nwagRsFd9

— Angels (@Angels) March 26, 2015

It's difficult to tell, but that's Erick Aybar on the bottom left, Garrett Richards top middle, and Huston Street top right. They're the new arrivals. 

As for those removed, according to MLB.com, those would be Josh Hamilton, C.J. Wilson and Howie Kendrick.

Kendrick goes without explanation. He was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers in exchange for left-handed pitcher Andrew Heaney back on Dec. 11. What the Angels are likely to learn here though is that replacing Kendrick's banner will be far easier than replacing his production from the second base position. But sometimes those are the decisions teams must make.

With Hamilton it's understandable as well. After coming forward in February and admitting a relapse reportedly involving cocaine, he could face a year-long suspension, which takes him out of the team's plans. As cold-hearted as it might seem, they're better off distancing themselves from a marketing standpoint while maintaining their support on a personal level.

As for Wilson, well, the message is a little stiffer considering he's still on the team and isn't mired in any controversy. It's simply the Angels acknowledging he's no longer one of the team's best players four years into a five-year, $77.5 million contract, and perhaps on a deeper level they're acknowledging his days are numbered.

[Check out The Stew's 2015 MLB division previews: NL East | AL East | NL Central]

Both potential realities are not lost on Wilson, who briefly addressed the banner removal on Friday.

"It's the big leagues," Wilson said. "You lose 10 or 11 games, you're not going to be the face of a franchise. It's fine."

He's taking it in stride, but his pride has to be a little bit sore. Especially considering he was born and raised in Orange County and grew up wanting to pitch for the hometown team. With that said though, it wasn't just the "10 or 11 losses" that have the Angels souring, it's the 4.81 ERA he posted last season and especially the league-high 85 walks he issued in 175.2 innings.

Those are the areas Wilson has to improve on to change their mind, and he should have a chance to do so. The Angels can send all the symbolic messages they want, but it will always come down to results. If Wilson can somehow use this as motivation as opposed to the beginning of the end, then maybe he can leave the relationship on his own terms.

BLS H/N: Larry Brown Sports 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: March 29, 2015, 7:29 am

(Everett Aquasox)Seattle Mariners pitching prospect Victor Sanchez died on Saturday, six weeks after sustaining serious head injuries in a boating accident in his home country of Venezuela. He was only 20. 

According to the initial reports, Sanchez was swimming off the beach in Carapao, Venezuela on Feb. 13 when he was struck in the head by a boat propeller. Sanchez sustained a double skull fracture and a hematoma upon impact and later suffered a stroke as a result of his injuries. After undergoing emergency surgery, Sanchez went into a coma and was never able to regain consciousness. 

According to Greg Johns of MLB.com, Sanchez's agent, Rafa Nieves, confirmed the news on Saturday night. 

A short time later, Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik released the following statement.

"The Seattle Mariners are saddened to learn of the passing of Victor Sanchez. Victor was a tremendous young man and a wonderful teammate. He was a very talented player who was close to fulfilling his promise as a Major Leaguer. He will be missed by his teammates, and the coaches and staff at the Mariners.
"The entire Mariners organization sends our deepest condolences to his family during this difficult time."

At 6-foot and 255 pounds, Sanchez was just starting to work his way into the Mariners long term plans. He finished the 2014 season ranked as their 11th best prospect according to MLB.com, a position he cemented by posting a 4.19 ERA in 23 starts for Double-A Jackson.

Overall, Sanchez had been steadily progressing since signing as a 16-year-old in 2011. In 2012, he posted a 6-2 record with a 3.18 ERA at Class A Everett. The following season, Sanchez pitched a no-hitter for Class A Clinton in only his 27th professional start.

Tragic news about Victor Sanchez. A sad day for the Mariners family. He left many great memories. RIP 2013 No-No https://t.co/1r7QeLD3tT

— Clinton LumberKings (@LumberKings) March 29, 2015

Not many pitchers can boast a no-hitter at the major or minor league level. Sanchez recorded his at only 18. A truly remarkable accomplishment that suggests poise and precision well beyond his years.

Among those grieving tonight are the men who spent those formative years with Sanchez as his teammate in the Mariners organization and as his friend. Many of them took to Twitter late Saturday to extend their condolences and share memories. .  

Prayers for Victor Sanchez family and friends. Was a real good player and a great friend. Going to be missed #RIP

— Taijuan Walker (@tai_walker) March 29, 2015

Wow what a sad day for Victor Sanchez family and the Mariners family. Can't believe my boy is gone. Will be missed but never forgotten #RIP

— Jabari Henry (@bari14) March 29, 2015

We lost a teammate but lost an even better person with the passing of Victor Sanchez tonight. Your memory will live on forever in my heart

— Patrick Kivlehan (@PatrickKivlehan) March 29, 2015

Everyone who watched or knew Sanchez agreed his future looked very promising. Unfortunately, tonight, there's only sadness and confusion over a life cut way too short.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: March 29, 2015, 4:09 am

If you were keeping score at home back on March 12, you can probably rattle off the exact order of events and appearances made by actor Will Ferrell during his five-stadium Cactus League tour. In one day, Ferrell achieved his goal of playing 10 different positions for 10 major league teams, and in the process raised an estimated $1 million for Cancer for College and Stand Up to Cancer.  

The stunt was created for the right reasons. It didn't interfere with any meaningful games or take away opportunities from upcoming players. And overall, it made for a unique baseball experience and a fun break from the usually mundane routines of spring training. It was pretty much impossible to find a reason to hate the idea or its execution, even if you might be growing tired of Ferrell's comedic stylings.

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Unless, of course, you're Hall of Fame football coach and retired television analyst John Madden. Then you hated it

"I hate it," Madden told KCBS 740 in San Francisco. "That's a lack of respect, that's a lack of respect for the game, I think, and a respect for what players have to do to get where they are."

Bah, humbug!

Those comments were actually made the day of the event, so they've been out there for a couple weeks. But it wasn't until Ferrell's appearance on "Conan" on Friday night that we finally got a response.  

“First of all, he’s right. Look at me. I’m all about lack of respect. I don’t think the interviewer told him it was all for charity, number one, but I do love that in his mind he just thought I was just like ‘Major League Baseball, I want to play in 10 different games for 10 different teams. I want to do it Thursday! Because I’m a big shot, and make it happen now!’ Like I’m Veruca Salt. So he’s like ‘this Will Ferrell thinks he can just insert himself into big league games.”

(USA TODAY Sports)
As Ferrell indicates, Madden probably hated it because he just didn't get it. Nobody bothered explaining what the mission was, so he'd just assumed Ferrell and Major League Baseball were conspiring to sell out the game in order to promote a movie or an HBO special or whatever else Ferrell had going on.  

[Baseball is back! Check out Yahoo For Spring Training for great spring training pics.]

Honestly, it's quite a reach to find that conclusion even without all the facts, but if Ferrell's giving Madden the benefit of the doubt we should too. 

By the way, just so there's no confusion here, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon absolutely loved the idea. Otherwise, how could we explain this?

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BLS H/N: For The Win

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Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: March 29, 2015, 2:08 am

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There's midseason form and then there's Mike Trout's advanced version of midseason form that only the man himself can achieve. On Saturday, we were fortunate enough to experience the latter during the Angels 5-4 loss to the Dodgers. 

In one afternoon at his Arizona office in Tempe, Trout took an apparent Dodgers' home run off the board with a leaping catch at the fence, and then a few short innings he put a home run on the board with an absolute rocket to left-center field. 

First, let's dicuss the robbery. 

In the very first inning, Trout glided back to the deepest part of the ballpark at Tempe Diablo Stadium and then timed his leap beautifully to take away what we're fairly certain would have been a home run from Alex Guerrero. Sometimes it's difficult to tell where exactly the ball was caught in relation to the wall from the front and side camera angles, but at worst he robbed a triple because that's a long way from home plate and Guerrero has some decent speed. 

It wouldn't rank all that close to the top of his all-time greatest catches, many of which have been home run robberies. But it definitely stands out from the pack in March.

As for the home run. 

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That was a no doubter off Dodgers starter Dustin McGowan.

One can safely assume we'll see plenty more just like that this season, and perhaps a few more hugs as well.

Your browser does not support iframes. Great catches, home runs and hugs. All in a day's work for Mike Trout.

And he even had time left to tweet about basketball. 

Wisconsin can shoot !!!! #MarchMadness

— Mike Trout (@Trouty20) March 28, 2015

BLS H/N: Cut 4

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: March 28, 2015, 11:56 pm

Saturday was a bad day to be a baseball in Florida

In particular, the baseball that met the bat of New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez had a rough ride out of George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, but at least it had a good view. 

The home run was Rodriguez's third of the spring and it was easily his most impressive. 

Rodriguez was sitting first-pitch baseball and got a first-pitch fastball from Baltimore Orioles left-hander Brian Matusz, and then confirmed he still has the bat speed to square up a fastball and hit it a long ways.

As many people have described it, it was a vintage A-Rod home run that absolutely exploded off his bat, which has to be viewed as an encouraging sign for anybody with a vested interest in the Yankees. 

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Overall, Rodriguez is hitting .306 on the spring with the three homers and a double. He's shown excellent plate discipline as well, and with each passing day he seems more comfortable at the plate. He's making a strong case to be Joe Girardi's full-time designated hitter.

At this point, the main concerns with A-Rod might come down to durability and versatility. With that in mind, Girardi plans on giving A-Rod his first look at first base on Sunday. He's tentatively scheduled to play five innings, and it's hoped he'll eventually prove to be a realistic emergency option behind Mark Teixeira and Garrett Jones. A-Rod has been receptive to the idea as well, because it could give him another path to Girardi's lineup aside from DH and third base. 

Our suggestion: Just keep hitting titanic home runs, A-Rod. That is your surest ticket to 140 games. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: March 28, 2015, 10:14 pm

As a baseball player, Ichiro Suzuki is simply one of the best we've seen in the past 20 years. No one could possibly deny that. As a provider of memorable quotes, however, he just might be the most underrated athlete in the entire professional sports landscape.

Lines like “If I'm in a slump, I ask myself for advice” and “I'll walk on my hands before I use crutches,” rank pretty closely with baseball's most quirky and quotable legends, such as Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel. He's a really clever guy whose sense of humor and undeniable charm translate well in any language or walk of life. He's just Ichiro, and that's always good enough for us.

Perhaps that was good enough for the Miami Marlins as well. Back on Jan. 23, they reached a one-year agreement with the 41-year-old outfielder that will allow him to continue his career in the United States and continue his quest for 3,000 hits in Major League Baseball. 

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The deal came at a time when Ichiro was seriously wondering if a market would ever develop for his services. He was working out back in Japan, waiting and waiting and waiting for nearly three months for the phone to ring with a major league offer. It was an experience unlike any other he'd had in baseball, because after all, this is Ichiro, a sure-fire Hall of Famer whenever he decides to hang it up. And as only Ichiro can, he was able to sum up his experience with a most unique comparison. 

From the Wall Street Journal: 

“That must be what it feels like to be a puppy at a pet shop,” Ichiro explained in his unique style. “Amongst all the cute little puppies jumping and tumbling for prospective owners, there’s one who’s a little older, a little more mature, who keeps getting passed over for the more adorable ones. When someone finally comes along and points a finger at him, an undying loyalty is born.”

We never thought of it that way, but that's about as good and adorable a description as one could possibly come up with.

Marlins: "How much is that doggy in the window?"

Ichiro's agent: "Oh, let's say $2 million for one year."

Marlins: "We'll take him!" 

Of course, the Marlins already feature an impressive group of young pups, particularly in their outfield. In fact, Giancarlo Statnon, Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich make up perhaps the most talented young outfield in the entire National League, which means Ichiro will be relegated to the experienced backup role. 

[Check out The Stew's 2015 MLB division previews: NL East | AL East | NL Central]

Really, it's not a bad gig for Ichiro to have at this stage in his career. For the Marlins, though, it's an exceptional deal because he'll be a great source of knowledge for those young guys in terms of not only playing the game, but also preparing for the game day in and day out. That's perhaps the most impressive thing about Ichiro. No one has ever outworked him, and helping to instill that mindset on those blooming talents could make his impact on the Marlins last far beyond the one year. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: March 28, 2015, 6:50 pm

If you had March 28 as the first day we'd truly question something Alex Rodriguez did on or off the field this spring, you'd be rolling in a lot of money.

Things have been going very smoothly for A-Rod on basically every level, and they've gone especially well for him on the field. Well enough, in fact, that he may have the inside track to become the Yankees full-time designated hitter.

That's a decision that will ultimately come down to manager Joe Girardi, with perhaps some influence from general manager Brian Cashman and others in the Yankees front office. Unfortunately, none of the above had any say over A-Rod's decision to challenge the cannon that long-time major league outfielder Jeff Francoeur possesses for a right arm during Friday's game in Clearwater.

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If only A-Rod was ten years younger and ten years healthier, that would have been far less embarrassing. He still would have been out, possibliy with a cringe-worthy and potentially injury-inducing slide, so it's probably a good thing he's actually not ten years younger. 

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A quick glance on the scouting report wouldn't have hurt either. This wasn't Francoeur's first major league assist, and he's working hard to make sure it's not his last for the Phillies.

At 31, Francoeur's looking to make Philadelphia's rebuilding roster as a reserve outfielder after spending two seasons in limbo, bouncing back and forth between the majors and minors with the Kansas City Royals, San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres. He even made a few relief appearances for San Diego's Triple-A affiliate last season looking to carve out a niche in that role.

No doubt, Francoeur brings an interesting skill set if he could put everything together at once. He hit 29 home runs for the Atlanta Braves in 2006. He posted a .311 batting average in 75 games for the New York Mets in 2010. He stole 22 bases for the Royals in 2011. He has perhaps the strongest outfield arm in the game. And he seems like a good guy to have around the clubhouse.

Hopefully we'll be seeing more of all those skills in the coming months. It could make for a fun story

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: March 28, 2015, 4:56 pm

The New York Yankees entered spring training with more questions than answers regarding the outlook of their roster. Fortunately, the answers they're receiving so far have been mostly encouraging, and that continued on Friday with Joe Griardi's announcement that right-hander Masahiro Tanaka will get the opening-day pitching assignment.

According to Girardi, Tanaka, who's pitching through a small tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, will be slightly limited when he takes the ball against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium. But he's in a better position than long-time ace CC Sabathia, who's coming back from July surgery on his right knee. 

“When we came into spring training, our main focus was to make sure they were both healthy,” Girardi said of Sabathia and Tanaka, who are both coming back from major injuries. “We took it slow because of things they dealt with the year before.

“If CC wouldn’t have had the (knee) problem and pitched all 30 starts, it probably would have been a non-issue who was going to go No. 1, but it didn’t happen that way and we had to make sure people were ready. I know it’s a big deal, and it might be somewhat of a deal to them, but when CC looks back, he’s going to worry about Octobers.”

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Sabathia started the last six season openers for New York and had nine straight overall dating back to his time in Cleveland, so this is certainly a notable development. It's also a remarkable achievement for Tanaka for a couple reasons. 

First and foremost, there was no guarantee he'd be healthy enough to pitch following last July's diagnosis. So far though, Tanaka has looked every bit as strong as he did early last season, posting a dominant 1.74 ERA and 12/1 K/BB ratio in 10 Grapefruit League innings.

Beyond Tanaka's health, which is obviously the foremost concern for fans, it's easy to forget that only 13 months ago he was entirely new to the United States and had limited experience pitching against major league talent. He was forced to make a quick transition, and he did so smoothly, going 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA and 141/21 K/BB ratio in 136 innings.

Those numbers made the decision a no-brainer once Tanaka proved healthy, and indicate New York's investment will be worthwhile as long as the elbow holds. 

"Absolutely it'll be a great honor for me to pitch on opening day," Tanaka said through an interpreter on Friday. "I think that being able to pitch on that very first day of the season, I think it says a lot about what the organization is expecting out of a pitcher. So in that sense I believe it would probably mean a lot to a lot of starting pitchers that are starting on opening day."

[Check out The Stew's 2015 MLB division previews: NL East | AL East | NL Central]

Girardi also confirmed that Michael Pineda will start game two against Toronto and Sabathia is lined up for game three, which takes place on April 9. Nathan Eovaldi, who was acquired from the Miami Marlins, will make his Yankees debut against the Boston Red Sox on April 10. The Yankees won't need a fifth starter until the second week of the season. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: March 28, 2015, 4:42 am

An unlucky and untimely setback on the baseball field is about to help Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman get one step ahead in the game of life.

After suffering a torn left ACL during a pitchers' fielding drill on March 10 and subsequently being ruled out for the season, Stroman has decided to return to Duke University this summer with the intention of completing his degree.   

I will be heading back to @DukeU this summer to finish my degree. Also, be able to rehab with some of the best doctors in the world! #HDMH

— Marcus Stroman (@MStrooo6) March 27, 2015

Beyond excited for this time in my life. Being a college graduate was also priority. Little hiatus from baseball while I prepare for 2016!

— Marcus Stroman (@MStrooo6) March 27, 2015

Don't think for a second that being in school will interfere with my baseball dreams. The motivation is at an all-time high. On a mission!

— Marcus Stroman (@MStrooo6) March 27, 2015

Good for you, Marcus Stroman.

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Considering the circumstances, it would have been easy for Stroman to mope around and feel sorry for himself in between rehab sessions. Instead, he's turning a negative into a positive. 

As he noted, now he can continue his education, and he won't have to sacrifice any part of his rehab because he'll be working with the highly-regarded medical staff at Duke. It's a win-win scenario that should better his future prospects both on and off the field. 

At 23, Stroman still has plenty to accomplish in both areas, but his baseball future is especially bright. In 2012, he became the first player from Duke to be selected in the first round of baseball's first year player draft when Toronto selected him No. 22 overall. He's since moved up the depth chart quickly, appearing in 26 games as a rookie in 2014. He posted an impressive 3.65 ERA over 130 2/3 innings.

Based on his performance, Stroman was expected to be a big part of Toronto's rotation this season. Internally, the Blue Jays were counting on a breakout season that would push him to the top of their rotation, and many scouts agreed Stroman was poised to do just that. Now, those expectations will be pushed back a year, and now they'll be underlined by concerns over the knee. 

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The injury itself is a reminder of just how quickly and easily a career can be thrown off track. Stroman's response is a reminder that life after baseball should always be foremost on players minds, and hopefully his decision will serve as inspiration to those who might not have those plans in place. 

BLS H/N: Cut 4

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: March 28, 2015, 1:45 am

To aptly describe the damage the Chicago Cubs did in their first-ever meeting against former ace Jeff Samardzija, the Associated Press may have to consider reinstating many of its banned home run terms.

During Friday's Cactus League tilt at Sloan Park in Mesa, four different Cubs launched home runs against Samardzija, beginning with Jorge Soler's titanic two-run shot to the left-field berm in the first inning.

Your browser does not support iframes. Talk about a rude welcome and powerful reminder of the future Samardzija won't be part of on the north side.

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But that was only the beginning. Starlin Castro added a solo home run in the fourth, and then Chris Coghlan and Anthony Rizzo went back-to-back against Samardzija in the fifth inning to punctuate the home run binge and help pace a Cubs 6-3 victory. Your browser does not support iframes. Obviously, these aren't the results Samardzija envisioned having against his former team. Especially considering the circumstances of his exit. The Cubs shipped Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A's last July when it became clear the two sides couldn't work out a contract extension. The Cubs received players in the deal, including shortstop Addison Russell, who's a consensus top five prospect. And then spent much of the money Samardzija was looking for to lure back Hammel and sign Jon Lester during the offseason. 

The deal couldn't have worked out any better for the Cubs. For Samardzija, another trade followed, this time to the south side of Chicago. But he still doesn't have that extension. 

According to Samardzija, none of that was on his mind on Friday, but human nature would suggest otherwise.  

“It was fun to pitch against them, but a little weird for sure,” Samardzija said. “Yeah, it felt good out there. As the game went on, I felt a lot better than the first inning. I have to keep the ball down in the zone. When the ball is flying out of the park, a lot of times that’s what it is. When you’re swinging that hard and it’s up in the zone, they’re going to get it.”

[Check out The Stew's 2015 MLB division previews: NL East | AL East | NL Central]

It wasn't all bad though for Samardzija. He added nine strikeouts in his five innings, so he obviously had some pitches working. He also noted that such performances could be a sign of things to come for the Cubs offense is built for such performance, which could become a source of frustration. 

Jeff Samardzija on giving up 4 HRs vs old teammates #Cubs: I think we will see the feast or famine out of the Cubbies." #Whitesox

— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) March 27, 2015

That comment agitated a few Cubs fans on social media, but chances are they will have several games just like it in 2015. That goes with the territory of having a young roster filled with developing power hitters. There will be growing pains along the way and some all-or-nothing plate appearances, but once they start putting it together, it will force every pitcher they face to be much sharper than Samardzija was on Friday.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: March 28, 2015, 12:34 am
Yuri Sucart admitted to recruiting customers for Anthony Bosch's Biogenesis of America clinic, above. (Getty Images)

Alex Rodriguez's cousin, Yuri Sucart, pleaded guilty Friday to a federal drug charge connected to the Biogensis scandal, according to the Associated Press.

Sucart, 52, admitted that he, along with others, conspired to distribute human growth hormone to athletes. He'll receive eight to 14 months in prison after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors. 

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In a statement read by U.S. District Judge Cecilia M. Altonaga, Sucart admitted to bringing players who were interested in obtaining steroids to former Biogensis of America owner Anthony Bosch.

"You actively recruited the players by telling them you had a 'doctor' who could help the players get bigger and recover from injuries faster,'' Altonaga read. ''The 'doctor' did not accept any checks, only cash, because cash did not leave behind any evidence."

"Correct," Sucart responded through a Spanish interpreter.

For his services, Sucart was paid as much as $13,500 a month by Bosch. He not only introduced professional players to Bosch, but also brought high school players to meet him. 

That statement also referred to Sucart as Rodriguez's "steroid mule" when Rodriguez played for the New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers. Sucart worked as Rodriguez's assistant for years before the two had a falling out in 2012. Due to Sucart's guilty plea, Rodriguez will not be forced to testify in court. 

Sucart becomes the eighth person involved with Biogensis to have entered a guilty plea.

The 39-year-old Rodriguez apologized for his involvement in the scandal with a hand-written note in February. After missing all of 2014, he's set to open the season as the Yankees' designated hitter. 

Get last-minute Fantasy Baseball advice on the latest edition of the Grandstanding podcast, then sign up for a Yahoo Sports Fantasy Baseball league. It’s not too late to play!

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 27, 2015, 8:55 pm

Anyone who has been up late at night has had the pleasure of experiencing a wacky infomercial. You know, the ones where some crazy salesman yells at you about how their product will make your life easier. 

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All of these infomercials follow the same blueprint. The salesman introduces the product, and uses some ridiculous clip to show how you've always been doing things the wrong way. The situations presented in those clips are often far-fetched, forcing viewers to wonder, "are there people out there who struggle this much." 

The answer is yes, and this Yankees' fan proves it. 

Your browser does not support iframes.

Close, yet so far away. After struggling to figure out why the poncho doesn't fit properly, he eventually gives up and accepts his fate.

Some of you at home are probably thinking, "how can I prevent this from happening to me?" Thankfully, I have just the right product to sell you. It will only cost $20, plus shipping and handling, and, if you buy now, I'll throw in another at no additional cost.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 27, 2015, 8:48 pm

With opening day approaching, the Big League Stew crew is here to get you up to speed on the season ahead. We're examining each division over the next two weeks, looking at the big questions, the important players and making our predictions. Our series continues with the NL Central.

Surprise, surprise, the NL Central is going to be competitive this year. That’s like saying Kentucky is going to be good at basketball or Drake is going to put out a hit song. Each of the past four seasons, the NL Central has sent two teams to the postseason. In 2013, it sent three teams. So we know it's a tough division.

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And guess what? This year the NL Central might be even tighter than ever. The Chicago Cubs, of course, made big strides, adding ace Jon Lester and manager Joe Maddon to a talented young core that will call up slugger Kris Bryant next. Don’t catch Cubbie fever too quickly, though, the St. Louis Cardinals made a good team even better by adding Jason Heyward. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers didn’t make earth-shattering improvements in the offseason, but both were good teams in 2014 and should be competitive again in 2015 — especially the Pirates, with Gerrit Cole, Gregory Polanco a year older and Andrew McCutchen killin’ it in his prime.

The Reds, even though they traded two starting pitchers, can’t be counted out completely with that potent lineup of theirs. While the Cards, Cubs and Pirates seem like the best bets in the NL Central, it’s really a division where anything’s possible.

(Getty Images)

CAN ADAM WAINWRIGHT STAY HEALTHY?
The Cardinals are a resilient group, but that would certainly be tested if they were to lose ace Adam Wainwright. The 33-year-old right-hander posted a career-best 2.38 ERA in 227 innings last season, but did so through a bulky elbow that required a minor operation in October. He's also three years removed from Tommy John surgery, which puts another red flag by his name. And before Wainwright could truly test the elbow early in spring training, he suffered an abdominal injury that sidelined him until March 20. Despite that setback, the Cardinals still expect him to be ready for opening day, but at what percent then and what potential expense down the road?

WHAT ARE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS FOR THE CUBS?
The Cubs are, at worst, going to be really fun this season, and should be really good really soon. If even one of Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler or Javier Baez has a breakout season, the Cubs' offense will be dangerous assuming Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro don't fall off the map. If more than one breaks out, look out, because the rotation already features Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. Plus GM Jed Hoyer could have the flexibility to add another elite starter soon. For now, there are far too many questions surrounding the young players to make a confident win-loss prediction, but we can safely predict you'll want to watch them often.

[Check out The Stew's previous 2015 division previews: NL East | AL East ]

CAN THE BREWERS PUT TOGETHER A FULL SEASON?
After coming out of the gate strong and sitting atop the NL Central standings for 159 days last season, the Brewers fell completely out of the postseason picture thanks to a 9-22 finish. To bounce back from that disappointment, Milwaukee almost certainly needs sustained health and consistent production from Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy and a rotation that's lost Yovani Gallardo. They would also benefit greatly from breakout seasons by young starters Mike Fiers and Jimmy Nelson to complete a formidable rotation. If all of those things come together, the Brewers will be difficult to shake, but that's a lot to ask in a quickly improving division.

(AP)

WHAT WILL JOHNNY CUETO'S FUTURE HOLD? 
It appears Reds ace Johnny Cueto will enter the season without a contract extension, and that's something that could quickly become a major storyline. A lot would have to go right for Cincinnati to make a postseason push. It's not impossible, but it would be difficult. Assuming the worst, Cincinnati would have to consider dealing Cueto. At that point, the questions will revolve around his health. Durability has been his biggest drawback, but his upside when healthy should appeal to every contender come July. There are many possibilities. All of which impact the Reds short- and long-term future, and all of which should be answered by July.

CAN THE PIRATES LEAPFROG ST. LOUIS?
The novelty of the Pirates making the playoffs is wearing off. Now it's time to see if they can take another step forward or if the wild card is their ceiling. Despite losing team leader Russell Martin in free agency, many believe this is the deepest and most talented roster manager Clint Hurdle has had to work with. With an outfield featuring Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco it's difficult to argue. Beyond that, Gerrit Cole, Francisco Liriano, Neil Walker, Josh Harrison are all potential All-Stars. If Pedro Alvarez and Jung Ho Kang manage to make any impact, the Pirates might be flying their first division championship flag next to the Jolly Roger since 1992.

(Getty Images)

RYAN BRAUN: It's easy to look at Braun's decline the past two seasons and link it to his 2013 steroid suspension, but that's not entirely the case. In fact, it's more likely that Braun's injured thumb has been the reason for his troubles at the plate. Braun put off surgery at the start of last season, and looked great early, hitting .320/.358/.573 through May. The thumb started bothering him again, and that's when his numbers plummeted. Braun wound up having surgery to correct the issue in September, but the procedure was quite rare, and it's unclear how he'll bounce back. If the Brewers have any hope at contention, they'll need Braun to return to his MVP numbers.

JASON HEYWARD: After an exceptional rookie season, there's a belief that Heyward has yet to reach his full potential at the plate. A shoulder injury, suffered during his sophomore season, may have something to do with that. Heyward altered his swing as a result, and it seemed to have a negative impact on his performance. The shoulder is healthy now, but Heyward still hasn't been able to replicate his rookie numbers. A change of scenery could do wonders for the 25-year-old Heyward — who joined the Cardinals in a swap with the Braves. If his new coaches can get him to rediscover his old swing, Heyward could be in for a monstrous season at the plate. He's already regarded as an elite defender, so any improvement offensively would make him an MVP candidate in the National League. 

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BILLY HAMILTON: The jury is still out on whether Hamilton is a good player. At the plate, his .250/.292/.355 slash line was underwhelming, especially for a leadoff hitter. While he stole 56 bases, he was also caught 23 times. What can't be denied is that Hamilton is easily one of the top-five most exciting players in the game. He's a must-watch any time he hits a ground ball, even if it results in an out. When he gets on base, watch out! Hamilton is not only a threat to steal, or force an errant pickoff throw, but he's also a candidate to score from third on nearly any sac fly. Hamilton is just 24, and it would be foolish to write him off after just one season in the majors. If he can show even a slight improvement in his overall numbers, the Reds will have one heck of player on their hands.

(USA TODAY Sports)

JUNG-HO KANG: There are a lot of questions about Kang heading into the season. As the first position player from the Korean Baseball Organization to come play in the United States, there's no way to project whether his numbers will translate. Kang was undoubtedly excellent in Korea in 2014, hitting .356/.383/.503, with 40 home runs in 117 games. The KBO is known for being a hitter-friendly league, though, and some have compared the level of competition to Double-A. That might not matter. Dan Farnsworth of FanGraphs evaluated Kang's swing in February, and concluded that Kang will hit in the majors. The Pirates are willing to be patient, and seem willing to use him as a utility player to start the season. If he shows anything at the plate resembling his numbers in the KBO, he won't remain on the bench for long. 

JAKE ARRIETA: If the Cubs are going to contend this season, they'll need Arrieta to prove last year wasn't a fluke. A former top prospect, Arrieta nearly washed out of the big leagues before rediscovering himself with the Cubs. His numbers were ace-caliber, as he posted a 2.53 ERA (with a 2.26 FIP) over 156 2/3 innings. Arrieta thrived under the tutelage of pitching coach Chris Bosio. Bosio got Arrieta to throw his slider more, which led to a nice jump in the 29-year-old's strikeout rate. Arrieta also limited his walks, posting his lowest rate since he reached the majors. There's sure to be some skepticism any time a pitcher shows this much improvement in a single season, but all the pieces are there to suggest Arrieta can do it again. It will be tough to improve on last season's numbers, but his breakout looked legitimate. 

(USA TODAY Sports)

CUBS
• Best case: The genius, the ace and the young stud lead the Cubs back into the postseason — that’s Maddon, Lester and Bryant, if that wasn’t already clear.
• Worst case: The young Cubs’ bats need another year of seasoning, and the pitching after Lester and Jake Arrieta struggles. The Cubs can’t climb up in a tough division.

REDS
• Best case: Joey Votto reclaims his place as an MVP-like player and the Reds pitching is better than having Jason Marquis around might make us believe.
• Worst case: They start slow, deal free-agent-to-be ace Johnny Cueto and while the Reds sit in last place Brandon Phillips releases a rap song that goes, “You down with OBP? Oh no, not me.

PIRATES
• Best case: Andrew McCutchen is even better after cutting off his hair, Gregory Polanco finds his stroke and Gerrit Cole blossoms into an ace.
• Worst case: The pitching is shaky and even Cutch can’t prevent the Pirates from being an also-ran in a competitive division.

CARDINALS
• Best case: Michael Wacha establishes himself as the next great Cardinals pitcher, Jason Heyward thrives and the rest of the young Cardinals' lineup takes a step forward.
• Worst case: Adam Wainwright’s injuries from the past couple years get worse, and the Cards, who were 24th in runs scored last year, can’t mount much more offense.

BREWERS
• Best case: Carlos Gomez, Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Braun all play like MVP candidates and make sure last season’s collapse is forgotten in Milwaukee. 
• Worst case: The Brewers pitching isn’t good enough to withstand the tough division and they get lapped by the Cubs, Cards and the rest of ‘em.

CHRIS CWIK
Order of finish: Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs, Brewers, Reds 
NL Central top hitter: Anthony Rizzo
NL Central top pitcher: Johnny Cueto
NL Central top rookie: Jorge Soler

MIKE OZ
Order of finish: Cardinals, Cubs, Pirates, Brewers, Reds
NL Central top hitter: Andrew McCutchen
NL Central top pitcher: Michael Wacha
NL Central top rookie: Jorge Soler

MARK TOWNSEND
Order of finish: Cardinals, Pirates, Cubs, Brewers, Reds 
NL Central top hitter: Andrew McCutchen
NL Central top pitcher: Jake Arietta
NL Central top rookie: Kris Bryant

PREVIOUSLY: NL East | AL East | COMING MONDAY: AL Central

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Author: Yahoo Sports Staff
Posted: March 27, 2015, 8:35 pm

If you watch a lot of baseball, you know that not all home runs are created equal. While all are exciting, there's a difference between a ball that barely gets over the fence and the ball Albert Pujols hit off Brad Lidge in 2005.

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Describing the former as a "home run" is fine, but that Pujols play is something else entirely. In the past, you might have referred to that hit as a "jack," "bomb," or "dinger." You shouldn't do that anymore, according to the AP Stylebook, the authority on style and grammar guidelines for journalists.

Whoa. @APStylebook revamps sports, brings from 1950s to 2010s. #ACES2015 pic.twitter.com/W3jPZHneYv

— Teresa Schmedding (@tschmedding) March 27, 2015

We officially have a problem, AP Stylebook. Some plays induce more excitement than others. More nuance is needed when describing these situations.

You expect me to simply refer to this as a "home run?"

Your browser does not support iframes.

I won't do it! That's a "jack," a "bomb," a "dinger" and a "tater" right there. Let's fight the man, other sports bloggers. Let's tell them that "we will not go quietly into the night!"

Play us off, Bill Pullman.

That's more like it!

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 27, 2015, 6:11 pm

"Hey, kid, turn around!" 

It's hard to look at Justin Verlander's latest selfie and not immediately have that reaction. You see, Verlander snapped a pic with a kid in a Verlander shirsey inside a Starbucks. Only the kid was turned around looking at the barista and not the guy whose name was on his back.

"Kid, turn around, hurry!"

Roy Halladay did something similar at an amusement park in January, but that was with a fully grown fan. For the sake of the kid, we're happy to pass along that Verlander said the kid was surprised when he turned around. We hope Verlander signed the kid's coffee cup or something. (Wait, why is that kid in a Starbucks line, shouldn't he be in school?!)

Nonetheless, we've decided this could be a great scavenger-hunt type game for pro athletes — trying to find fans wearing their jerseys out in the wild. Like at a coffee shop. Or the mall. Or a grocery store. We'd definitely enjoy the pictures.

BLS H/N: Cut4

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: March 27, 2015, 5:57 pm

Chicken and waffles are already a brilliant, yet crazy, food creation. You might initially balk at the idea of combining the two, but you'll immediately understand the hype after your first bite. 

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The Houston Astros understand that sweet and salty, like Biggio and Bagwell, are one of the best combinations of all time. That's why they've decided to take crazy to a new level with the Chicken & Waffle Cone.

New at Astros games: Chicken & Waffle Cone w/mashed potatoes & honey mustard drizzle pic.twitter.com/y2vDEjjnjm

— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) March 27, 2015

Your eyes do not deceive you. That's chicken in a waffle cone, served with mashed potatoes and a honey mustard sauce. 

While it's tough to justify substituting a waffle with a waffle cone, it's important to note that one of the finest thinkers of our time has endorsed cones of meat.

We've already seen plenty of ridiculous foods introduced by other teams this spring, but this is the first to come with Ron Swanson's professional endorsement. 

The Astros ought to just go all the way and introduce the "meat tornado" next. If it's good enough for Ron Swanson, it's good enough for me.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 27, 2015, 5:05 pm

Fans are subject to a lot of hyperbole when watching baseball. Players don't actually hit the ball a mile, or get blown away by a pitch or swing a hot bat.

Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy may take issue with that last one. In a recent promotional shoot, Lucroy decided to take the phrase literally. 

#Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy re-defines swinging a hot bat. pic.twitter.com/vCsztwtb0n

— SideLeague (@SideLeague) March 25, 2015

That's pretty neat!

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While there's no reason to doubt whether the photo is real, the presence of both the fire extinguisher and the buckets of water suggests Lucroy did his own stunt here. 

Lucroy is certainly worthy of the honor. The 28-year-old hit .301/.373/.463, with 13 home runs, last season. His performance led to a fourth-place finish in the National League MVP voting. Even without the bat in his hands, Lucroy provides value. He's considered one of the best defensive catchers in the game. 

One might say he's capable of framing pitches like a criminal mastermind. Maybe that's the focus of Lucroy's next photo shoot.  

(H/T: For The Win)

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 27, 2015, 3:25 pm
(Getty Images)

David Ortiz has made a career blasting baseballs a long way in the batter's box. Thursday, he came out and blasted any link he has to performance enhancing drugs, peeling back the curtain on MLB's testing process and what it has been like to live under suspicion for all these years.

In a lengthy, at times profane, essay published on the Players' Tribune, Ortiz, 39, says he's been tested more than 80 times since 2004, hasn't failed one, and had sharp words for those still out there who doubt that he has played clean and doesn't deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame.

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It all goes back to 2009 when it was reported that he had failed a PED test in 2003:

"Some people still look at me like I’m a cheater because my name was on a list of players who got flagged for PEDs in 2003. Let me tell you something about that test. Most guys were taking over-the-counter supplements then. Now all of a sudden MLB comes out and says there’s some ingredient in GNC pills that have a form of steroid in them. I don’t know anything about it. To this day, nobody has any answers for me. Nobody can tell me what I supposedly tested positive for. They say they legally can’t, because the tests were never supposed to be public. In some people’s minds, I will always be considered a cheater. And that’s [expletive]. Mark my words: Nobody in MLB history has been tested for PEDs more than me. You know how many times I’ve been tested since 2004? More than 80. They say these tests are random. If it’s really random, I should start playing the damn lottery. Some people still think the testing is a joke. It’s no joke. Ten times a season these guys come into the clubhouse or my home with their briefcases. I have never failed a single one of those tests and I never will."

This isn't the first time Ortiz has come out and defended himself, though this is by far the strongest. He seemed particularly irked by a Boston columnist's accusation that he fit the profile of a PED user and also annoyed by the frequency at which he's tested. "Nobody in MLB history has been tested for PEDs more than me," said Ortiz.

The reaction to the Red Sox slugger's story has been strong on both sides. It's a raw first-person read that's worth your time, so check it out.

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Israel Fehr is a writer for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him at israelfehr@yahoo.ca or follow him on Twitter. Follow @israelfehr

Author: Israel Fehr
Posted: March 27, 2015, 3:30 am

(MLB.com)The wild story of prized pitching prospect Brady Aiken just got wilder: Aiken, 18, announced Thursday that he had Tommy John surgery this week, seven months after he failed to come to terms with the Houston Astros as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 amateur draft.

At the time, there was a dispute about the health of Aiken's elbow. The two sides had reportedly reached an agreement with a $6.5 million signing bonus. But after Aiken's physical, the Astros said they weren't happy with what they saw in his elbow. Believing he would need Tommy John surgery soon, the Astros reportedly lowered their offer to $5 million.

Aiken's camp scoffed, saying his arm was fine. The Astros never came back to their original offer, and Aiken went unsigned as the deadline to sign draft picks passed, the first No. 1 pick since 1983 to do so. Now we see who was right.

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Rather than enroll in college at UCLA (where he had a scholarship offer), Aiken opted to attend the IMG Academy, a private athletic training and education center in Florida, and prepare for the 2015 MLB draft. When he pitched in his first game with IMG last week, Aiken says he knew something was wrong.

Road to recovery starts now! @PlayersTribune http://t.co/cXcOUBVem4 pic.twitter.com/dCLkvDvkAq

— Brady Aiken (@bradyaiken10) March 26, 2015

Aiken announced all this in an essay for The Player's Tribune. Here's a passage in which he says he has no regrets about passing on the Astros' deal. One part even seems like a dig at the organization.

Since last summer, a lot of people have wondered how I could have turned down a multi-million-dollar signing bonus after being picked first in the Draft. Now, I know they’ll probably be wondering about it again. I can honestly say I don’t regret not signing. It was a very difficult decision, but it also was an informed decision based on circumstances only a few people know the truth about. My family and I planned for all the possible outcomes. We weighed the pros and cons, talked with friends and mentors and doctors whose opinions we value and discussed it over a number of family dinners. This wasn’t a decision we made lightly.

The money wasn’t the only factor to consider. I wanted to play somewhere I felt comfortable, with a support system I felt would lay the groundwork for a successful and long career. Making sure I had that in place was worth the frustration of not being able to get on with my career sooner.

My family was smart, and we accounted for all of the possible risks. Having gone through this process, I really encourage other players to take the time to be fully educated about what they are getting into and to plan for the unexpected. Having a solid plan helped me through the ups and downs. Even now, I know I made the decision that made the most sense for my future.

Rehabbing from Tommy John surgery is fairly common these days, so there's no reason to think Aiken won't get another chance to have an MLB career. Other teams drafted players last year who were in the middle of their Tommy John rehab, so it's hardly a Scarlet Letter that will end his career. But the last year certainly has delayed Aiken's big-league dreams.

Now, as watch Aiken try to comeback from this, we'll be left to wonder "what it?" — what if he had signed with the Astros and rehabbed his injury under their care, with their money?

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: March 26, 2015, 11:26 pm

Curt Ford circa 1988. (Beckett)Curt Ford, a St. Louis Cardinals outfielder from 1985-1988, was the victim in an alleged racially motivated attack Wednesday at a St. Louis-area gas station. Ford was punched in the face and, according to police, was told by his attacker: "Go back to Ferguson you (racial slur)."

The attack happened at a Petro Mart gas station in Fenton, Mo., about 28 miles from Ferguson, the St. Louis suburb that was the epicenter of protests and racial turmoil after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer there last August. 

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According to police, Ford was minding his business when his attacker — who was later arrested and identified as 37-year-old James Street — blind-sided him with a punch as they were both inside gas station's store. 

Here's more from the scene, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

The incident began at about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday as Street and Ford approached the same gas pump from different directions. Ford backed up and proceeded to another pump while the second vehicle continued through, past the pump and pulled into a parking spot directly in front of the store, police said.

James Street, Curt Ford's alleged attacker. (KMOV)When Ford exited his vehicle, Street got out of his car and began shouting racial slurs. Street then entered the store, and Ford tried to avoid a confrontation, police said. Ford then walked toward the front of the store to pay for his gas. Street was exiting the store when he approached Ford, and unprovoked, punched him in the face, and drove away, according to police.

Prosecutors charged Street with one count of assault motivated by discrimination in the third degree, a class D felony. His criminal history includes guilty pleas for possession of marijuana and assault. 

Ford was drafted by the Cardinals and played four seasons for them, including their run to the 1987 World Series. He played two more seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies and left MLB after the 1990 season. More recently, Ford managed the Springfield (Mo.) Sliders, a collegiate summer team, in 2010.

He told the Post-Dispatch that while he cares a lot about St. Louis and loves most of the people there, the incident has him thinking about moving.

"I'm going to let the authorities handle this situation, but I've had enough of St. Louis," Ford said in a phone interview Thursday. "You hear about this kind of stuff happening, and I always knew it existed because of my previous experience working here in St. Louis, but you try to keep away from it and there is just no way you can do that unless you stay inside like a hermit.

"I just want justice. It's all I want."

Street is being held on $15,000 bond, according to St. Louis' KMOV-TV.  Ford told the Post-Dispatch that he's been having trouble speaking because his face is so swollen.

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: March 26, 2015, 10:01 pm
(USA TODAY Sports)

Time Warner Cable is expected to lose $1 billion in its messy deal involving the Los Angeles Dodgers' television rights, according to the New York Post. 

The company acquired the right to air Dodgers' games on SportsNet LA in 2013. The reported contract was worth $8.35 billion over 25 years. Time Warner Cable believed providers such as DirecTV or Dish Network would pay to carry the channel, but that hasn't been the case thus far. 

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Time Warner Cable hasn't lowered its demands, which means roughly 70 percent of Southern California households will be unable to watch games for the second straight season. The company is reported asking for about $5 per subscriber in order for providers to carry the channel.

That would make SportNet LA the third most-expensive sports channel in the United States, according to a survey conducted by SNL Kagan, a consulting firm. And, according to the Post at least, Time Warner would rather take a $1 billion hit than bring down its price:

Sources told The Post that the market rate for the channel is more likely $3 per subscriber per month, meaning the charge will be almost $1 billion when adjusted over the life of the contract or in the region of $700 million in present-day terms.

“Comcast will be made whole,” said the source, suggesting this mess had to be cleaned up as a condition of Comcast’s proposed deal to acquire Time Warner Cable.

“Unless the deal closes, there will not be another [Dodgers] season shown outside of Time Warner Cable. I don’t believe they’ll get carriage,” a source told The Post.

Time Warner Cable has reportedly attempted to rectify the situation in recent weeks, but have not been successful, according to the Los Angeles Times. The company has also denied that it is facing such a massive loss. 

"Time Warner Cable has no plans to take a write-down in connection with its Dodgers contract," the company said late Tuesday in a statement.  "In fact, TWC does not carry an asset on its balance sheet related to the Dodgers and, therefore, there is no asset for it to write down now or in the future."

If Time Warner Cable were to "take a write-down" that would mean the company would have to admit that the rights to air Dodgers games is a declining asset. This would have a huge impact on their financial situation if the reported figures are true. 

Money aside, this presents an incredibly frustrating situation for Dodgers' fans. The team is expected to be competitive this season, yet the games won't be aired in most homes. On top of that, legendary broadcaster Vin Scully's career is winding down, and fans likely want to tune in to watch him. 

While fans can listen to Scully on the radio, they won't get to see Yasiel Puig make an exciting defense play, or experience the beauty of a Clayton Kershaw curveball with their eyes. The whole situation stinks. 

We here at The Stew believe that no one should be unable to watch their favorite teams. Hopefully, the situation gets resolved soon, and Dodgers' fans can actually watch their team compete for the National League West title this season. 

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 26, 2015, 9:55 pm

Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton and St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Jason Heyward actually have a lot in common. Both players are former top prospects who play the same position, and both are considered to be rising stars in the game.

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The comparisons continue Thursday, as both players hit nearly identical shots, albeit to opposite fields, in the same game. 

Stanton struck first, taking one out to deep left in the top of the inning.

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Heyward then followed that up with a nearly identical homer in the bottom of the first.

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Both shots made it the balconies on the buildings behind the field. For what it's worth, both players also have face guards on their helmets. More comparisons! 

For Stanton, hitting bombs is nothing new. This was his second home of the spring, and he appears to be full-go for the regular season. Stanton will look to build off his MVP-caliber 2014 after signing a $325 million deal in the offseason.

Heyward, on the other hand, is hoping to see some offensive improvement this season. There's some hope that a change of scenery will help, as Heyward will be working with a new set of coaches this season. Heyward has put up solid numbers this spring, but this was his first home run of the month. 

The comparisons could extend into the season. If Heyward can regain his old swing, there's a good chance he'll join Stanton as a strong MVP candidate in the National League. 

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 26, 2015, 8:04 pm

Cleveland Indians shortstop has a habit of parking his car wherever he wants at the team's spring facility. That's fine when you're a 10-year veteran, but not when you've only received 249 career at-bats in the majors. 

Ramirez may have learned his lesson Thursday after finding his car in an unusual parking spot. 

It's a beautiful morning in Goodyear. The sun is out, birds are chirping... and Jose Ramirez's car is at shortstop. pic.twitter.com/hRLpI39t2i

— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 26, 2015

Though nothing is concrete, there are "whispers" at camp that veteran infielder Mike Aviles may have been behind the caper. Even the ground crew appreciated the prank, telling MLB.com's Jordan Bastian that they were thinking of "using [Ramirez's car] to drag the field!"

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 This isn't the first time we've seen some car-related hijinks this spring. It's also not the first time the Indians have pranked a teammate this spring. 

Cleveland may enter the season with enormous expectations, but manager Terry Francona seems to be running a pretty loose camp. Whether that leads to regular season wins remains to be seen, but at least it provides some entertaining stories during the lulls of March. 

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 26, 2015, 5:09 pm

(AP Photo)
The baseball season is nearly upon us, and that means previews, predictions and prognosticators are out in full force. We here at The Stew are already in the process of pushing out our division previews, and we'll have more preview content coming over the next week or so. 

Another place that pushes out projections is Vegas. There, you can legally place your hard-earned "gummy bears" on team over/unders. Gambling on sports is difficult, and the people setting these lines typically know what they are doing. With that in mind, let's see if we can find five teams whose over/unders might be a little off.

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A few disclaimers before we begin: All of these win totals come from the Bovada Sportsbook (Bovada.lv). Bovada is based in Canada, not Vegas, but their projections are similar to what you'll find in Nevada. Also, I'm an idiot, and you should definitely not take my advice. Here we go!

CLEVELAND INDIANS

Over/Under: 84 1/2 wins 

My pick: Over

The Indians won 85 games last season, and return essentially the same club. So, why do we think they'll improve? Well, Cleveland got nothing from Michael Bourn or Nick Swisher last season. While both of those players are in the decline phase of their careers, anything they contribute will be gravy. On top of that, Jason Kipnis should see somewhat of a bounce back after injuries kept him down in 2014. 

The starting rotation, however, is the real reason for optimism in Cleveland. Cy Young winner Corey Kluber should head the staff, but the team has a lot of promising players behind him. Carlos Carrasco broke out in a big way over the second half last year, posting a 1.72 ERA over his final 78 2/3 innings. Danny Salazar was also much better in the second half, and Trevor Bauer hasn't walked a batter this spring. Any improvement from either player would be huge. 

CINCINNATI REDS

Over/Under: 77 1/2 wins

My pick: Under

The simple fact that the Reds will have a healthy Joey Votto and Jay Bruce makes this a dangerous proposition. Still, some team needs to finish near the bottom in the National League Central, and it looks like it could be the Reds. The rotation, in particular, looks iffy. Johnny Cueto is fantastic, and Mike Leake is a known quantity, but the depth behind those guys is thin. Homer Bailey's return should help, but the team is slated to open the year with veteran Jason Marquis and rookies Anthony Desclafani and Rasiel Iglesias at the back end. That's worrisome.

Cueto and Leake are also entering the final year of their contracts, and could be used as trade bait if Cincinnati gets off to a bad start. Cueto has said he'll only negotiate a new deal until the start of the season, so we'll know by then whether the Reds will lock him up. He'll be one of the best assets on the market if he's made available, and could bring the Reds at least one useful part at the deadline. Leake could also be used to get something at the deadline if the team struggles. Trading either player is going to push down the team's win total, even if there are promising pitcher prospects in the minors.

(USA TODAY Sports)
TAMPA BAY RAYS

Over/Under: 78 1/2 wins

My pick: Over

Nobody believes in the Rays. Well, nobody except for Baseball Prospectus. The website's PECOTA projection system has the Rays slated for 87 wins this season. The projections at FanGraphs aren't as rosy, but still have the Rays averaging 81.3 wins, enough for them to reach the over. 

What exactly is the reason for optimism? Well, Tampa Bay potentially boasts one of the best pitching staffs in the game. Alex Cobb and Drew Smyly may be questionable for opening day, but both players have shown plenty of promise over their careers. Chris Archer is also improving, and Jake Odorizzi increased his value by learning a splitter last season. On top of that, the team should have Matt Moore back after roughly a month or so. Admittedly, the lineup doesn't look great. But if Evan Longoria can get back to his former level, things will look much better. There's no powerhouse in the American League East, so the Rays just have to be average in order to hit the over. They can probably do that.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

Over/Under: 82 1/2 wins

My pick: Over

If you think the Blue Jays are a playoff team, this is an easy bet. The Blue Jays loaded up during the offseason, bringing in both Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin. Donaldson gives them another middle-of-the-order slugger who could hit 30 bombs. Combine that with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, and you have a devastating trio. 

Martin is going to help on offense as well, but he should have a bigger impact on the team's pitching staff. Martin is regarded as one of the top defensive catchers in the game, and an excellent pitch framer. With Marcus Stroman out for the season, the Blue Jays are going with rookies Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris in the rotation. The hope is that Martin's contributions will help them make it through their first seasons unscathed. The last member of the rotation, Drew Hutchison, is getting some sleeper buzz, and could be in for a nice breakout. The offense should carry them, but the pitching will push them to the over.

(USA TODAY Sports)NEW YORK YANKEES

Over/Under 81 1/2 wins

My pick: Under

The Yankees lineup is old, and old players often get hurt. The team is counting on both Mark Teixeira and Carlos Beltran to fill full-time spots. Neither is a bastion of health. We haven't even talked about Alex Rodriguez yet. Who knows what the 39-year-old will do after a year away from the game. Jacoby Ellsbury is already dinged, though should be ready by opening day. There's just a lot of risk in the lineup.

That risk extends to the rotation. Masahiro Tanaka has the potential to finish the season as the American League Cy Young winner, but he'll be pitching on a partially torn UCL all season. If his elbow pops after 13 starts, this team is in big trouble. While both Nathan Eovaldi and Michael Pineda are promising, you can't count on the latter for a high amount of innings. Eovaldi could be in for a breakout, but he was fairly average with Miami last season. CC Sabathia may never return to his previous levels of performance, and, after last season, it's unclear whether he'll be able to handle a massive workload. 

There you have it. Five teams who could (should) beat their Vegas projections. Do you agree enough to put your hard-earned gummy bears on any of them?

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 26, 2015, 4:32 pm

(LIDucks)If you like your baseball short and to the point, the independent Atlantic League has a forthcoming experiment you might find very appealing. 

When the Long Island Ducks host the Bridgeport Bluefish on April 18, the most basic of baseball's rules will be rewritten with three-pitch walks and two-strike foul balls counting as outs.

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Basically, we're talking about the implementation of slow-pitch softball rules — or something close to them — at the professional baseball level, with the intention to speed up the game by limiting each plate appearance to a maximum of five pitches.

According to the Associated Press, the experimental rules were proposed to the league by Paul Auster, a 68-year-old baseball fan who's also an award-winning author. The league was receptive to the concept as a one-game exhibition, but president Rick White made it clear this week that they are not considering adopting such rules on a regular basis.

"While these rules are not under consideration by the Atlantic League, we continue to serve as an experimental laboratory for ways to improve the pace of games," White said. "The changes should spice things up for fans as the 2015 season approaches."

Last season, the Atlantic League experimented with other potential rule changes designed to speed up the game. Among them, a rule that limited each team to three 45-second defensive "timeouts" per game, which encompassed mound visits and other on-field conferences, but did not include pitching changes. One additional timeout was added for extra innings.

The league also utilized pinch runners for catchers as soon as they reached base, which allowed for greater speed on the bases, but more importantly allowed catchers to suit up quicker for the next half-inning.

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This year's experiment or "promotion," if you prefer, does not represent a realistic option in terms of pace of play measures. Major League Baseball is willing to go outside the box marked "tradition," but certainly not to this extent. Still, it will be very interesting to hear reports on how those differing rules impact not only the pace, but every phase of the game, including how batters and pitchers approach each plate appearance.

For one night anyway, the players involved will have to relearn the game from the bottom up, which should lead to a more aggressive approach from both sides and a most unique experience for everybody in attendance. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: March 26, 2015, 5:30 am

The following is a public service announcement from Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig.

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The message: Don't build your executive offices so close to home plate.

We didn't hear an exact estimate of the distance, but that had to be at least a 460-foot ride for one of the most soundly struck baseballs we've seen all spring. 

The two-run homer, which came complete with a signature Puig bat flip, happened during Wednesday's 9-5 victory against the San Diego Padres. And it came against a pitcher whose career has been notable for several unique reasons, including another chapter that was added in this same game. 

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The man who served it up was none other than outfielder-turned-pitcher Jason Lane, who's also famous for his unscripted role as the home run hitting Houston Astros player in the Oscar-nominated film Boyhood." Remarkably, Lane made it back to the big leagues after a seven-year absence in new role last season. It was a brief three-game stint, but he's hoping to make a longer lasting impression this season. 

Unfortunately, the home run was one of three Lane allowed in the ballgame, which will greatly damage his chances. But Lane ended his day on a high note when he turned back the clock and connected for his first big league home run since Aug. 13, 2007. 

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It's actually extremely rare that a relief pitcher would even get an at-bat during a spring game. Even starting pitchers chances are limited, though obviously that changes as the season grows closer. That means spring homers from pitchers almost never happen, but Lane made the most of his chance on Wednesday, hitting San Diego's first since Jake Peavy on March 26, 2006. 

Unfortunately, it probably couldn't wash away the anguish of the three home runs allowed, but it's still cool to see that Lane can still swing the bat. If need be, maybe there's even life after pitching, as an outfielder once more.  

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: March 26, 2015, 4:27 am

The only thing certain about Alex Rodriguez's future in baseball coming off his year-plus suspension for his connection to Biogenesis is that most people were going to root against him having a future in baseball. 

Present and long-time employer included.

At the very least, the New York Yankees made it clear they have no intention to pay separate $6 million bonuses should he pass Willie Mays, Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds on the all-time home run list, a condition that was agreed upon when he originally signed his 10-year, $272 million contract. And by re-signing Chase Headley to be their regular third baseman, they made it clear he'd have to earn every bit of the playing time needed to reach even one of those milestones, likely as a designated hitter.

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Well, guess what, sports fans? It would appear A-Rod is well on his way to doing just that. In fact, on Wednesday, general manager Brian Cashman acknowledged to MLB.com's Bryan Hoch that Rodriguez is making a strong push to be New York's full-time DH come April.

"So far, I think he's certainly taken a run at the full-time DH situation, for me," Cashman said. "We'll talk about all these things, but the way he's looked so far down here, I would say he's definitely pushing himself in the mix for full-time DH consideration."

Those comments echoed the sentiments of manager Joe Girardi, who told the New York Daily News on Tuesday that A-Rod has looked comfortable swinging the bat

“I definitely think he’s swung the bat pretty good,” Girardi said. “I just think his at-bats are more consistent; his timing is more consistent.”

Rodriguez, 39, strengthened his case on Wednesday by going 1-for-3 against the New York Mets. For the spring, he's hitting .290 (9-for-31) with two homers, a double and three RBIs in 13 games. Not exactly scorching numbers, but certainly good considering the long layoff.  

"He's done well," Cashman said. "I'm not looking at performance and statistics as much as just how he's been swinging the bat. He's got a lot of life in his body. If he continues to show athleticism, that means he's going to impact the baseball. That will be good for us."

Also in A-Rod's favor, Girardi says he's shown enough range in the field to consider using him at third base. An extensive role there seems like a long shot, but on the occasions when Headley needs a breather, there won't be much hesitation to use Rodriguez. They're also still looking at him as a potential fill-in for Mark Teixeira at first base. If he proves capable there, then A-Rod might be in the lineup as frequently as anyone else on the roster.

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With that said, these developments don't necessarily answer our big picture questions concerning how much A-Rod has left in the tank. Three weeks in March are a lot different than the six-month grind that lies ahead. He'll have to prove he can stay healthy, which considering his age and the fact he's had two hip surgeries in his career, could be the biggest hurdle he'll face this season. But if you'd told him these were going to be the circumstances even a month ago, we're sure he would have been overjoyed.  

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: March 26, 2015, 2:40 am

The loudest voice in the debate over whether the Chicago Cubs should start Kris Bryant in the minor leagues this season not surprisingly belongs to Bryant's agent, the infamous Scott Boras. Simply said, Boras has never been shy about expressing his opinions, particularly when they involve his clients and their potential future income, and the circumstances surrounding Bryant play right into his wheelhouse.

The situation is this: If the Cubs delay Bryant’s big league debut by two or three weeks, they will gain an extra year of control before he qualifies for free agency. The forward-thinking Boras understands that one year will delay what could very easily be a massive payday for his client, and all spring he's been aggressively pushing back against the decision he assumes the Cubs have already made. 

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In particular, Boras has been critical of Cubs ownership for what he sees as manipulation of the system to save money. He's also quick to point out how holding Bryant back would negatively impact the integrity of the league, even though league rules allow for such maneuvering. Understandably, such public criticisms are beginning to annoy Cubs brass, and on Wednesday team president Theo Epstein tailored a thoughtful response to Boras while speaking to Comcast SportsNet's David Kaplan

"I have a lot of respect for Scott and he, by and large, does a great job for his clients," Epstein said. "The only part about it that bothers me is that he certainly could have picked up the phone before going to the national media about this. He never once called me and asked me if Kris would make the team or anything about his situation. So just from a personal level and professional respect, that would have been something that I would have done if I was in his shoes."

Of course, Epstein himself could have picked up the phone in an attempt to smooth things over with Boras. But it seems like he understood the futily in those efforts once Boras started playing his cards.  

"Beyond that, Scott has a forum and obviously people are publishing what he says. He has a job to do and he has a great client who is a fantastic kid. The person who is handling this with the most professionalism and maturity is Kris Bryant. I couldn’t be more proud of how he is handling a very difficult situation. He is getting asked about it every day. He doesn’t get to just go focus on playing the game; he is asked about this from all corners and he is handling himself in a way that makes the Cubs proud.

Epstein is certainly right about that. Bryant has been remarkably unfazed by the drama, which probably further cements the belief he's ready to handle the job right away.

But the most interesting take away here might be what Epstein said in conclusion to his interview. 

"As far as when Kris makes his major league debut and whether it will be part of this Opening Day roster, we haven’t put that final roster together yet," Epstein said. "I can say this: This is my 13th time putting a team together at the end of spring training and I have never once put a young prospect on an opening day roster when he had to make his major league debut."

"I’ve never done it and it’s always been for baseball reasons. This is not a different situation than we’ve faced in the past, so let’s make the best decision for the Chicago Cubs and for Kris Bryant’s development."

Likely translation: Kris Bryant will begin the year in the minor leagues. Deal with it, Mr. Boras.

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Of course, Epstein cited baseball reasons for those past decisions, which included giving Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and even Jon Lester extra time in the minors. We all know better than that. It's business, and that's perfectly fine. Those guys all got paid, too, by the way, so perhaps the real message should be that talent always wins out in the end anyway.

Either way, it seems like we have a pretty good idea how this is going to play out. Now the question is: Can Boras actually deal with it? 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: March 26, 2015, 1:23 am

Star Wars night was become an annual tradition for some baseball teams. Fans can dress up as their favorite characters, watch Darth Vader throw out a first pitch and take home a cool baseball/Star Wars-related souvenir

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With so many teams participating in the event, it's tough to really stand out. Well, the Minnesota Twins may have found a way to do just that with their latest promotion for May 4. 

Your browser does not support iframes. It's almost as good as the real thing!

On top of the excellent parody, the Twins are giving away possibly the best bobblehead introduced thus far this season. The bobblehead will feature pitcher Phil Hughes dressed in jedi robes and holding a green lightsaber. Get this, the lightsaber even glows in the dark. The best part of the whole thing is that the team is using the hashtag #HughesTheForce to promote the event. 

So, grab your favorite padawan and head out to the ballpark for Star Wars night. No matter what, you're guaranteed the entertainment you see on the field will be better than the prequels. 

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 25, 2015, 9:13 pm

Asking someone to prom can be daunting. Not only is there a chance that person will say no, forever crushing your dreams, but there's so much pressure to do it in a spectacular manner these days. 

As one high-schooler is about the find out, it also helps to make sure you ask the right person. 

whoever asked me to prom a few nights ago, I think intended to ask the neighbor.Hopefully this wasnt your only effort pic.twitter.com/LiEbVK2Bg3

— Jason Castro (@J_Castro15) March 25, 2015

Good try, bad effort? Castro doesn't seem to believe he was the intended target of the gesture, but it definitely sounds like he would turn down this weak attempt. 

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Is this what passes for an acceptable invite to prom these days? Get it together, youth of America. In my day, we walked two miles in the snow with flowers in our hands in order to ask our best girl to prom. OK, that didn't actually happen. We all know sports bloggers are too nerdy to actually attend prom. 

Get it together, mystery high school student. Your message was lame and didn't receive the intended target. That's two strikes against you. As in baseball, the third strike will be the most painful if you don't step up your game. 

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 25, 2015, 8:16 pm
New commish Rob Manfred rules baseball at a time when the game has never been more profitable. (AP)

There's a common belief among some sports fans that baseball is a dying game, mostly because the NFL gets more attention year-round. But the numbers say otherwise. Baseball isn't dying. In fact, the values of MLB teams are growing at an astounding rate.

Forbes published its annual list of MLB team values and profits Wednesday, and here's the big headline: Baseball has never been so profitable and teams have never been so valuable.

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According to Forbes' study, the annual MLB team is worth $1.2 billion as we head into the 2015 season, which is 48 percent higher than last year's $811 million. Any business will take that sort of growth. The New York Yankees, of course, lead the way with a Forbes valuation of $3.2 billion, up from $2.5 billion last year. Even the least valuable team, the Tampa Bay Rays jumped from $485 million in 2014 to $625 million in 2015. That's not shabby at all.

In last year's study there were five teams valued at $1 billion or more. This year there are 15. As we well know by now, the rise of cable TV contracts have stacked the bank accounts of MLB teams, helping account for the rise in values and in revenues. Baseball's revenues topped $9 billion last year, Forbes reported in December, but we're learning a lot more now from their team-by-team breakdowns

(AP)

Among the interesting takeaways:

• The Yankees had the highest revenue last year, with $508 million, but only $8.1 million of that was profit, according to Forbes.

• The most profitable teams were: The St. Louis Cardinals ($73.6M), Chicago Cubs ($73.3M), San Francisco Giants ($68.4M), Boston Red Sox ($49.4M) and the Pittsburgh Pirates ($43.6M). Surprised to see the Pirates there? Well, the San Diego Padres were seventh with $35 million in profits.

• Four teams didn't turn a profit last year, according to Forbes, and they weren't necessarily the small-market teams you expect: The Philadelphia Phillies (-$39M), Detroit Tigers (-$20.7M), Toronto Blue Jays (-$17.9M) and Arizona Diamondbacks (-$2.2M).

• The top five most valuable teams? You might have been able to guess them: The Yankees ($3.2B), Los Angeles Dodgers ($2.4B), Red Sox ($2.1B), Giants ($2B) and Cubs ($1.8B).

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Mike Oz
Posted: March 25, 2015, 8:05 pm

With opening day approaching, the Big League Stew crew is here to get you up to speed on the season ahead. We're examining each division over the next two weeks, looking at the big questions, the important players and making our predictions. Our series continues in the AL East.

The American League East being a complete toss-up is nothing new. For the last few years, it’s been anyone’s division to win. Case in point: the Baltimore Orioles were the champs last year, the Boston Red Sox won in 2013 and the New York Yankees triumphed in 2012.

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After a busy offseason, the AL East is wide open again as we wait to see how the various subtractions and additions within the division shake out. The Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays were the biggest players, as Boston made over its pitching staff and added Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. The Blue Jays signed Russell Martin and traded for Josh Donaldson. The Tampa Bay Rays lost manager Joe Madden and GM Andrew Friedman, but spent the offseason maneuvering anyway. Over in Baltimore, the Orioles saw Nelson Cruz and Nick Markakis walk in free agency.

And, in case you missed the news, the Yankees got Alex Rodriguez back from a one-year suspension. Oh yeah, the AL East is going to be a lot of fun this year. Let’s delve deeper into the division with Big League Stew’s Chris Cwik, Mike Oz and Mark Townsend.

Manny Machado hopes both knees hold up in 2015. (USA TODAY Sports)CAN MANNY MACHADO AND MATT WIETERS STAY HEALTHY?
The Orioles completed an unlikely run to the AL East title last season despite losing Manny Machado and Matt Wieters to season-ending injuries. Now they'll have to rely on both to stay healthy and remain productive to ease the loss of Cruz and Markakis in free agency. It's a dicey situation considering that Machado, who's only 22, has already undergone surgery on both knees, and that Wieters likely won't be ready for opening day following last June's Tommy John surgery. If both ultimately prove healthy, the Orioles offense should be in good enough shape with the newly acquired Travis Snider, bounce-back candidate Chris Davis and the often overlooked Adam Jones. If one or both are set back, the lost production might be too much to overcome.

WILL THE RED SOX HAVE ENOUGH STARTING PITCHING?
The Red Sox spent plenty of money on offense this winter, adding Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez to the lineup on massive contracts and locking up 19-year-old Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada for many years to come. However, after failing to bring back Jon Lester in free agency, general manager Ben Cherington went for a surplus of mid-rotation arms by adding Rick Porcello, Justin Masterson and Wade Miley. Along with Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly, there's not a true ace in the projected starting five. In fact, it feels like all five are a coin flip in terms of which direction they'll go. Hey, three out of five wouldn't be bad, right?

WILL THE YANKEES BE BETTER OFF WITHOUT DEREK JETER?
It's a serious question, because once you strip away the pomp, circumstance and emotions surrounding Jeter's final season, you were left with an underwhelming .256/.304/.313 statline, four homers and very limited defense. In his chosen replacement, Didi Gregorius, the Yankees aren't likely to see a boost offensively — he was a .226/.290/.363 hitter last season with six homers — but they'll be able to bat him lower in the order, which helps. Gregorius is also a much better defender, so as long as he's saving hits and runs, the Yankees should come out ahead.

New Rays manager Kevin Cash. (USA TODAY Sports)

CAN KEVIN CASH KEEP THE RAYS ON TRACK? 
The Rays have managed to stay relevant in a difficult division due in large part to stability in the front office and in the manager's chair. Now we get to see how they'll react to major shake-ups in both areas. The changes probably won't impact their short-term outlook as much as the long-term, but just seeing how rookie manager Kevin Cash runs the show and adapts will be interesting. Joe Maddon had such a natural feel for his surroundings that he almost seems irreplaceable as a strategist and a clubhouse leader. Perhaps that's an overstatement, or perhaps the Rays hopes will hinge largely on Cash proving that theory incorrect.

CAN THE BLUE JAYS END BASEBALL'S LONGEST POSTSEASON DROUGHT?
While the Kansas City Royals were ending their 29-year postseason drought with a World Series appearance last season, the Toronto Blue Jays quietly moved into the unenviable position of owning baseball's longest active postseason layoff. The Blue Jays haven't reached the postseason since winning back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and 1993, but might be in a decent position to change that. By adding Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin, they've expanded a veteran core that already includes Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey. In a division that's not as strong as we're used to seeing, that might be enough to push for a wild-card position or better. Given that six of those core players are over 30, it also might be a now or never.

(USA TODAY Sports)ALEX RODRIGUEZ: A-Rod is back, baby! And after this much time off, it’s unclear whether there’s anything left in the tank. Rodriguez was, once upon a time, one of the best players on the planet, but started to show signs of decline even before his most recent suspension. While the time off was probably good for his hip, we never really got to see him perform following that surgery. At age 39, he’s reached a point where projections are essentially useless. If you’re still playing baseball at 39, it’s likely because you’re one of the best players of all-time. Love him or hate him, A-Rod certainly fits into that category statistically. Still, even the all-time greats succumb to age, and that’s what Rodriguez could be looking at this year. Early reports suggested his bat looked slow this spring. Is he just shaking the rust off, or has Father Time caught up with him?

CHRIS DAVIS: Last season was an absolute disaster for Davis. He hit just .196 over 525 plate appearances, and was popped with a 25-game suspension after testing positive for amphetamines. Davis has a medical exemption this season, and will be allowed to take medication to treat his ADHD. There’s some hope this will help Davis reach his previous levels of production. The Orioles will need it. With Nelson Cruz now in Seattle, and Matt Wieters coming off an injury, the spotlight will be on Davis to carry the team early. He’s also entering the final season of his contract, and could earn a ton of money on the market if he can re-establish himself. He may not return to MVP-form, but there’s no way he can possibly be as bad as he was in 2014.

MOOKIE BETTS: No one player has seen his stock rise more in the past year than Betts. After ranking 75th on Baseball America’s top prospect list, Betts tore up the minors, eventually reaching Boston at age 21. He did not disappoint, hitting .291/.368/.444 over 213 plate appearances. Betts came into the spring competing for a starting spot, but has played so well that he can’t really be denied a starting spot at this point. While it wasn’t a huge sample size, there was nothing in Betts’ major-league numbers that suggests regression is on its way. His walk rate was solid, he didn’t strike out a lot and he showed solid power and speed. He looks like a potential top-of-the-order hitter who can play in the outfield or at second base. The hype may have gone way too far, as he appears to be everyone’s favorite sleeper heading into the season. The skills are certainly there, though, it’s just a matter of Betts proving he’s the real deal.

New Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin. (USA TODAY Sports)

RUSSELL MARTIN: Martin is coming off arguably the best hitting season of his career, but a big reason he received a five-year, $82 million deal this offseason is due to his defense. Martin is regarded as one of the best pitch framers in the game, and is consistently able to steal strikes at a higher rate than most other catchers. While the concept of catcher framing among stat-heads is relatively new, there’s evidence that it can play a major role in a player’s value. Martin will need to show those skills immediately, as the Blue Jays are set to open the year with two rookies in the starting rotation. While his hitting should provide a nice offensive upgrade, what Martin does behind the plate will have a far greater impact on the Blue Jays this year.

JAKE ODORIZZI: Odorizzi appeared on the Baseball America Top 100 prospect list four times, but never placed higher than 67th. He’s always been a highly regarded player, but lacked an out pitch. That may have changed last season. Odorizzi learned how to throw a split-change after talking with Alex Cobb, and saw his strikeout numbers take a big leap forward. The pitch became his go-to in two-strike counts, and induced the highest whiff rate among all his offerings. Odorizzi was always considered a mid-rotation starter prior to adding the pitch, and could develop into something more now that he can effectively put people away. If the Rays hope to contend this season, they’ll likely have to depend on their strong pitching staff. Odorizzi taking a step forward would do wonders.

David Ortiz hugs new Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval. (Getty Images)BLUE JAYS
• Best case: Josh Donaldson gets ever better in 2015, and creates the most potent offense in baseball with new teammates Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. So good that they don't miss injured starter Marcus Stroman too much.
• Worst case: Their young pitching doesn’t materialize and they’re left depending on R.A. Dickey to be a Cy Young-type pitcher again. Which, eek.

RED SOX
• Best case: They prove that you don’t need an ace to win a division. Unless they get Cole Hamels, in which case, that’s a pretty good best-case scenario.
• Worst case: Pablo can’t hit, Hanley can’t play left, the pitchers can't move out of the middle of the road and Big Papi can’t stop stepping out of the batter’s box.

RAYS
• Best case: The Rays, without Joe Maddon and David Price and Wil Myers and Ben Zobrist, don’t miss a beat because of their smart, small-market ways. Oh, and their deep pitching.
• Worst case: New manager, new GM, injured No. 1 starter and a declining cornerstone in Evan Longoria.

YANKEES
• Best case: A-Rod hits 40 homers and the rest of the under-performing acquisitions from recent years step up as the Yankees shock us all.
• Worst case: Tanaka’s elbow pops for real and we’re left with a loooooong summer of The A-Rod Show.

ORIOLES
• Best case: Chris Davis rebounds, Matt Wieters is OK, Manny Machado plays like it's 2013 and they don’t miss Nelson Cruz much.
• Worst case: They pull off the Red Sox first-to-worst fall, 2015 style.

CHRIS CWIK
Order of finish: Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays, Yankees
AL East top hitter: Edwin Encarnacion
AL East top pitcher: Alex Cobb
AL East top rookie: Daniel Norris

MIKE OZ
Order of finish: Blue Jays, Red Sox, Yankees, Orioles, Rays
AL East top hitter: Josh Donaldson
AL East top pitcher: Masahiro Tanaka
AL East top rookie: Steven Souza

MARK TOWNSEND
Order of finish: Red Sox, Blue Jays, Rays, Orioles, Yankees
AL East top hitter:  Adam Jones
AL East top pitcher: Chris Archer
AL East top rookie: Dalton Pompey

PREVIOUSLY: NL East | COMING FRIDAY: NL Central

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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @MikeOz

Author: Yahoo Sports Staff
Posted: March 25, 2015, 6:59 pm

(Getty Images)
Pablo Sandoval's departure from the San Francisco Giants continues to get ugly. Sandoval has already made waves this spring, saying he felt disrespected by his former club, and never intended to re-sign with them.

Well, he's doubled down on those comments, telling USA Today's Jorge L. Ortiz that he changed his cell phone number and doesn't really communicate with his old teammates. He also revealed that the team's insistence that he remain on a weight regimen was one of the reasons he decided to leave San Francisco. 

"I'm a professional and I know what I have to do,'' said Sandoval, listed as 5-11 and 255. "I know where I've failed and how I've grown up. If I had signed (with the Giants), I knew I would be under a (weight) regimen for five years, and I'm not going to be happy someplace where I'm under that kind of regimen, where I can't be myself.''

Sandoval has been criticized for his weight a number of times over his career. That hasn't stopped in Boston, where an unflattering picture of Sandoval was released shortly after camp opened. 

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At this point, Sandoval has probably earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his weight. He's always been this size, but it hasn't stopped him from posting a career .294/.346/.465 slash line over seven years in the majors. Sandoval is also regarded as a pretty strong defender, so it's tough to argue that his weight has really impacted his numbers.

With that said, there's still some reason for concern moving forward. Sandoval is still relatively young, but his weight could become a bigger problem as he ages. Teammate David Ortiz says he's discussed that issue with Sandoval already.

"I've been getting after Pablo about that,'' Ortiz said. "Because Pablo is very agile, but he's 28 now. If he doesn't take care of himself, in a couple of years he could lose that agility overnight. So I'm talking to him about eating better, because if you want to stay in this game, you have to take care of yourself.''

Given Ortiz's body size, and late career success, Sandoval may want to pay heed to his new teammate's suggestion.

None of this will matter if Sandoval goes out and gets off to a good start this season. Notice that Sandoval's weight has only ever been a problem during the offseason or as camp opens. Once real games begin, those concerns seem to disappear. 

Bad-bodied players typically don't age well, and Sandoval may have to be more serious about his conditioning as he gets older. For now, though, he knows his body, and knows what he has to do in order to have a successful season. Until he fails, it's tough to doubt him.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 25, 2015, 6:17 pm

(USA TODAY)
Since he's joined the club, outfielder Andrew McCutchen has taken the Pittsburgh Pirates from David to a possible Goliath in the National League Central.

The Pirates will have to hope the biblical comparisons end there after McCutchen cut off his signature dreadlocks Wednesday.

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It was all for a good cause, as McCutchen will auction off his locks. The proceeds will be used to benefit Pirates charities. 

Following the haircut, the Pirates posted a picture of McCutchen's new look on Twitter. 

Ladies and gentlemen we present...@TheCUTCH22 & the new do. pic.twitter.com/il5Rh43LMF

— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) March 25, 2015

That's certainly a big change.

The bigger question will be whether McCutchen can perform up to his usual levels without his long hair. While McCutchen's performance in the majors has been super-human, much like Samson's, we have a feeling he'll be just fine with his new look. 

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Chris_Cwik

Author: Chris Cwik
Posted: March 25, 2015, 5:08 pm

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