Time To Break Out The Bats and Balls!

Pitchers and catchers ready to get spring rolling

 By Doug Miller / MLB.com

The Mariners already set up camp over the weekend. This week, everyone else joins them, with their tent stakes, sleeping bags and World Series dreams in tow.

On the sun-dappled diamonds of Arizona and Florida, Spring Training has arrived, with pitchers and catchers on their way to fill the complexes of the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues for the next six weeks prior to every baseball fan’s favorite two-word event: Opening Day.

Albert Pujols

For Seattle, this week’s jump on things was a necessity. The team will travel to Japan on March 22 for the regular-season Opening Series against the Oakland A’s on March 28-29, and with almost another week in between those games and their first regular-season game back in the U.S., it will give them the chance to start their ace, Felix Hernandez, in the first game on both continents, which means Games 1 and 3 of the 2012 campaign.

“Obviously that’s why we’re here early,” Mariners pitching coach Carl Willis said on Saturday from the team’s spring complex in Peoria, Ariz. “I don’t think it’s a secret we’re expecting Felix to start the first day, and I don’t want to leave here and have a game that counts on the 28th of March and not have him able to throw 75 pitches. We need to get him stretched out. So coming early kind of eliminates any pressure.”

As for the rest of the teams in the Major Leagues, the road to a championship starts this week, and there are plenty of questions to answer.

One of the big ones is whether last year’s World Series winners, the St. Louis Cardinals, can forge a new, victorious identity without their best player — Albert Pujols, who signed with the Angels in early December — and legendary manager, Tony La Russa.

The Redbirds will, however, see their staff ace, Adam Wainwright, return when pitchers and catchers report to Jupiter, Fla., on Saturday. Wainwright spent last year on the shelf thanks to Tommy John surgery. They’ll also have to see how they jell under the watch of new manager and former player Mike Matheny. Plus, veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran, fresh off a rejuvenated 2011 season, joins the effort to replace Pujols’ bat in what became a very potent lineup by last October.

The runners-up in last year’s big dance, the Texas Rangers, face a similar spring of change. Gone is C.J. Wilson, who, like Pujols, jumped ship to the loaded-on-paper Angels. Now with the club is Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish, a gamble for Texas of well over $100 million. When the Rangers’ pitchers and catchers show up in Surprise, Ariz., on Feb. 22, they’ll do so with Darvish and another new starter, who happens to be their former closer — Neftali Feliz. They’ll also have veteran Joe Nathan to pitch the ninth inning.

About an hour from Surprise, the Angels will carry that glittering new roster and some weighty expectations into their digs at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Pujols, Wilson, LaTroy Hawkins, Chris Iannetta and a core of younger players, including top prospect Mike Trout, plus an on-the-mend Kendrys Morales, will take the first steps, along with new general manager Jerry Dipoto, toward re-annexing the American League West for the first time 2009. Their pitchers and catchers will first filter in Sunday.

Spring training - A Cactus League game between...

Meanwhile, across the country, the annual high-intensity battle for the AL East will begin in earnest, with the Red Sox and Yankees doing their best to forget about how their 2011 seasons ended. The Red Sox will file into their new complex in Fort Myers, Fla., on Sunday with a new manager (Bobby Valentine), a new general manager (Ben Cherington) and new players (Andrew Bailey, Mark Melancon, Cody Ross and others). The Yankees, meanwhile, will check into Tampa on Sunday with a beefed-up pitching staff, having added Hiroki Kuroda via free agency and Michael Pineda via trade.

The Tampa Bay Rays — playoff participants in each of the past two seasons and three of the past four — have seen some turnover, too. They’ll hit their spring camp Feb. 20 with Carlos Pena, Luke Scott and Jose Molina in the fold, and they’ll see what their top pitching prospect, Matt Moore, can do after stunning the world with his Game 1 gem in last year’s AL Division Series.

The Detroit Tigers won’t be far away, either. Reigning AL Most Valuable Player and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander will headline the defending AL Central champion Tigers’ pitchers and catchers, who will arrive in Lakeland, Fla., on Sunday, and the Tigers’ new $200 million man, Prince Fielder, will check in soon after to buoy an already-imposing lineup featuring Miguel Cabrera, who has slimmed down and will take on the challenge of switching back to third base.

In Clearwater, the Phillies will be back at it, boasting their fantastic rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels (plus Joe Blanton and Vance Worley) and their veteran lineup. They’ll be hoping for a quick recovery for first baseman Ryan Howard and a return to a full season of health for second baseman Chase Utley, and they’ll be hoping that an influx of new veterans — Ty Wigginton, Jim Thome and Laynce Nix on the offensive end, Chad Qualls in the bullpen — will make the puzzle pieces fit alongside the club’s huge offseason prize, closer Jonathan Papelbon.

Ryan Howard (left) and Albert Pujols

The Phillies, however, have an intriguing competitor right in their own division. The Miami Marlins have a new name, sort of, plus a new ballpark, new uniforms, and a new attitude, proven by their stunning winter haul of shortstop Jose Reyes, starter Mark Buehrle and closer Heath Bell to the tune of almost $200 million. They also traded for starter Carlos Zambrano, will be counting on a healthy season for ace Josh Johnson, and will hope that Hanley Ramirez’s transition to third base not only goes smoothly but results in a better season for their star infielder. It all begins Feb. 22 in Jupiter for the Marlins and their new skipper, Ozzie Guillen.

Out West, the D-backs will settle into their second spring at Salt River Fields (pitchers and catchers show up on Feb. 20) with an unexpected NL West crown under their belts and what they hope will be improvements in the form of starter Trevor Cahill, slugger Jason Kubel, and a full season of first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.

The Giants, winners of the World Series in 2010 and victims of injuries last year, hit Scottsdale Stadium on Saturday with the comforting knowledge that catcher Buster Posey should be ready to go soon, along with closer Brian Wilson, and that new additions in the outfield (Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan) provide offensive spark to a lineup that needs plenty of it.

Other stories waiting to be written abound. Which teams that came this close last year have the goods to turn it around this spring? Will it be the Atlanta Braves, who need better health and production from the youthful trio of Jason Heyward, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson? The Brewers, who lost Fielder but gained Aramis Ramirez? Or will it be the Dodgers, who added veteran tweaks (including Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano, Mark Ellis, Jerry Hairston and Adam Kennedy) to a roster that played impressive baseball in the final month of 2011?

And which teams will the real shockers of the season, possibly poised for greatness on the back fields and in the hitting cages of the quiet spring mornings to come?

Will it be the Kansas City Royals, with Eric Hosmer leading a corps of young, exciting players? Will it be the Washington Nationals, who boast a pitching rotation led by phenom Stephen Strasburg and new acquisition Gio Gonzalez and also have Jayson Werth, Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman in their lineup? And how about the Cleveland Indians, who got off to such a hot start last year, fell victim to a lack of depth, but worked all winter — adding Casey Kotchman and Derek Lowe to a large group of newcomers — to shore up their deficiencies?

And what about the guys who haven’t signed yet or might be traded in the days to come? The names Roy Oswalt, Yoenis Cespedes, Johnny Damon, Vladimir Guerrero, Magglio Ordonez, Kosuke Fukudome, Jon Garland, Mike Gonzalez, Michael Wuertz, Raul Ibanez, Hideki Matsui, Derrek Lee, Miguel Tejada, Jason Varitek, Javier Vazquez, and, yes, Manny Ramirez are still out there, waiting to figure out where they’ll spend the spring … or at least part of it. And they’re not the only ones still on the board.

But as the week kicks off and the Mariners pitchers run through their fielding drills and pop gloves in early bullpen sessions in Peoria, it’s clear that baseball has arrived once again.

The answers to all these questions should, too.

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB and read his MLBlog,Youneverknow. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Brady, Manning or Madonna Super Bowl MVP? Sox or Pats?

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Photo credit: sinosplice

Betting on the Super Bowl vs. the 2012 Red Sox

Written by: A. T. Blighton

Super Bowl Sunday is almost upon us. Glory will come for either the Patriots or the New York football Giants. Just about everyone you and I know will tune in for some, if not all, of the contest.

Over the years, we’ve seen everything from beer bottles carrying footballs (how I miss you Bud Bowl) to wardrobe malfunctions. To one particular group of viewers, its like Christmas, 4th of July and Thanksgiving all rolled into one.

Yes, I’m talking about you prop bettors. Sports betting reaches a peak on Super Bowl Sunday. You can bet on anything and everything, all day long.

Purely for education’s sake, I took a peak at some of this year’s options and was not disappointed.

Sunday is a day of crazy betting: Madonna in fishnets or the Red Sox winning the World Series? Place your bets!

Heads or Tails. Odds on MVP candidates. Alternate point spreads. The color of the Gatorade used to douse the winning coach. What will be higher, rushing yards for BenJarvus Green-Ellis or Mitt Romney’s vote share in the Nevada Primary? I’m not kidding.

This got me thinking (scary to picture, I know). How would the Boston Red Sox stack up against the Pats on Sunday? Here are a few betting lines I came up with.

Sox wins or the highest jersey number of a Patriot to score a TD: The Sox should prevail in this one. Even after last year’s collapse, the club still won 91 games. The least amount of wins the Sox have had since 2007 is 89. This could be close if Rob Gronkowski (87) scores and Ben Cherington doesn’t address the back end of the rotation.

Tom Brady

Tom Brady’s passing yards or Carl Crawford’s average: Unfortunately for John Henry’s purse strings, this has to go to Brady. Oddsmakers seem to have Brady at right about 320 for Sunday. Crawford is a career .298 hitter, so even in good years, he probably couldn’t stack up to Tommy Terrific. As a matter of fact, Brady could make a viable run at beating last year’s .258 in the first half.

Patriots points or Andrew Bailey saves: Barring a trip the DL, Bailey prevails here. The Pats should score between 24 and 28 points. Actually, hold on a minute here. In his first three seasons, Bailey has notched 26, 25 and 24 saves respectively. Track record be damned, let’s say Bailey manages about 60 appearances and earns about 30 to 35 saves. Hoping that’s a safe prediction, but you never know, as the Pats can score in bunches when you least expect it. Substitute Jonathan Papelbon here and he runs away with it; no bitterness, just saying.

Longest Stephen Gostkowski made FG or David Ortiz HR: Total toss up here. Gostkowski could boot a 50-yarder to win the game; Ortiz will be lucky to sniff 45 round trippers at this stage. Had you made this bet six or seven years ago, Ortiz could have even given the steady leg of Adam Vinatieri a run for his money. Maybe he’ll luck out and the Pats won’t score outside of the red zone.

Alfredo Aceves

Pats first downs or combined big-league starts by Alfredo Aceves and Daniel Bard: As things are lining up, Aceves and Bard could eclipse this one. For better or worse, both could start the season in the rotation. This may end up being a lot closer if either fails to make the rotation. In my mind, the Sox should pull to lose this one. Fifteen or 20 starts from Bard, if he pans out, and Aceves safely in the bullpen. Maybe Wandy Rodriguez get about 12 starts after a deadline deal.

Tom Brady interceptions or teams to finish in front of Boston in the AL East: Best-case scenario for New England fans is Tom throws zero picks and this one ends up as a push. Are you following me? That means the Sox finish first. Too bad that isn’t likely. With the addition of Michael Pineda, the Yanks should end up winning the division, there’s one. David Price & Co. are showing no signs of regression, and Matt Moore should be posed to shine, there’s two. And don’t look now, Toronto (gulp) won’t be the perennial pushovers they have been, there’s a possible third. It’s going to take a banner day from the Giants secondary for Brady to win this one.

Green-Ellis rushing attempts or Josh Beckett W’s: Another crapshoot. Green-Ellis could have anywhere between 5 and 20 carries. In six years with the Sox, Beckett has averaged 14 victories a year. This one could really come down to the wire. If the Pats get out to an early lead and Bill Belichick calls plays completely out of character, giving Green-Ellis 19 or 20 touches, forget it. Green-Ellis wins handily.

Wes Welker receiving yards or games started by Cody Ross: The way the roster stands today, Ross could see 100+ starts. Sox fans will no longer be subject to JD Drew’s annual disappointing play. Last year’s starter,Josh Reddick, was shipped to Oakland. One of the pieces Cherington got in return, Ryan Sweeney, may replace some of that time. Don’t be surprised to see Darnell McDonald end up with 50 or 60 starts either. Especially with Crawford starting the season on the DL. Due to Ross’s versatility, I’ll give him the nod, even if Welker is able to break off another 99-yard TD.

Robert Kraft TV appearance or number of different players to start at SS this season: Okay, this should have a line of -2 right off the bat. With the somewhat unexplainable trade of Marco Scutaro, we know Nick Punto and Mike Aviles will get appearances. Prospect Jose Iglesias is bound to get the call on occasion, as well. He has the glove to become the regular starter, but can he handle himself against big-league pitching? Does he even need it? The Sox have given a SS with mediocre offense the job in the past, think Pokey Reese andRey Sanchez. Oh, if Kraft is wearing one of those power shirts with the white collar and a pink paisley tie, forget about it. Looking at about five or six for either option here.

English: David Ortiz Boston Red Sox player.

More likely? Seeing Madonna in fishnets at halftime or the Sox win the WS: Fine you got me. I ran out of Pats-related analogies. This one is a no-brainer. I don’t have a doubt in the world that Madonna will be showing off those thighs under a pair of black fishnets come half time. Yes, you can bet on that, too. At a money line of -120, Vegas thinks that’s much more likely than the Sox winning it all. Currently 11-1. To put that in perspective, it’s about the same odds as Brady’s very first pass getting picked. For my money, take the INT chance over the Sox winning it all; at least you’ll know the outcome after one play. You won’t have to sit through 162 grueling games wondering if there’s still a chance.

A. T. Blighton

A. T. Blighton

Received a BS in HIstory with a minor in Journalism from Northeastern University. I’ve been a Red Sox partial season ticket holder since 2004 (great year to start off). Currenlty live and work right in the city. Highlight of being a fan was attending game 7 of the 2004 ALCS in the Bronx. Playing days are long over but still hit the diamond every monday in the summer as a member of a beer league softball squad.

Playing The Field- Where Will Fielder Land?

Fielder leads list of players in limbo

The Sports Xchange

By now, Prince Fielder surely expected his own celebratory press conference, when he would join the flurry of activity for baseball’s offseason elite players. He would flash a big grin, don a jersey and cap, and prepare for a season as a poster child for his franchise, the way Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Jose Reyes had before him.

But, with just a month to go before spring training, Fielder—despite his .299 average, 38 home runs and 120 RBI last season for the Milwaukee Brewers—remained a man with no cap or jersey to wear and no contract to celebrate Friday.

Instead, Yu Darvish, the Japanese pitching sensation, was expected to be feted by the Texas Rangers—his own lavish deal potentially damaging Fielder’s ability to sign with Texas.

Prince Fielder (left) and Derrek Lee

 

Fielder, who at 27 has 230 career home runs, topped the list of a few high-profile names who remained unsigned at that point, including Roy Oswalt, Edwin
Jackson, Johnny Damon and Cuban power hitter Yoennis Cespedes.

None were as surprising to see still listed as free agents as Fielder, who was the most talented slugger available this side of Pujols. He could become the first player to sign a $100 million or more contract this late in the offseason, according to SI.com.

Or he could continue to be surprised at his lack of activity.

While it made sense to think teams were initially waiting out the fellow first baseman Pujols before committing to Fielder, it’s now been more than a month since he signed with the Angels, leaving Fielder alone atop the free agent class.

But while there are reports of interest from the Rangers (even after the Darvish signing) and Washington Nationals and a few other rumors, Fielder has remained in limbo. Chicago Cubs manager Dale Sveum has already ruled out Fielder as a possibility because the club recently acquired young, power-hitting first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

The usual big-spending New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are set at first base.

So, Fielder’s choices have been limited.

“I think everybody thought he would have signed by now,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “In that regard, I’d have to say it’s a little surprising.”

Despite missing all but one game in the past three seasons, though, there have been reports that Fielder’s 5-foot-11, 275-pound frame have caused some suitors to fret over the prospect of a long-term deal.

Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks at Spring Trai...

With Fielder’s agent, Scott Boras, notorious for working out mega-contracts for his biggest clients, the Brewers never made a formal long-term offer to retain the first baseman who had not played for another team, according to the Journal Sentinel.

Instead, the team early in the offseason attempted to get Fielder to sign for one year and the chance to hit the free-agent market again next year, but he didn’t bite, according to the paper.

The Nationals could make a push, according to SI.com, as they have built a star-studded young rotation and would like to supplement it with Fielder’s bat.

The Rangers are not quite out of the running. Multiple reports have indicated Texas could still try to pull off their own version of the 1-2 punch the division rival Angels did in landing Pujols and Wilson, by pairing Fielder with Darvish. Rangers GM Jon Daniels told reporters signing Fielder was “very unlikely” after the huge financial commitment Texas made in acquiring Darvish from Japan—nearly $120 million in posting fees and a six-year contract.

But reports persisted that Texas, after reaching the World Series, but losing two years in a row, could still land Fielder.

Oswalt, 34, owns a 159-93 career record, but struggled with back pain last season for the Philadelphia Phillies. That has likely scared off teams. Reports indicated there could be some interest by the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox, but that neither team was likely to commit.

Damon has reportedly drawn the interest of his old team, the Yankees, who are looking for a cost-effective DH. With Carlos Pena re-signing with the Tampa Bay Rays, that gives the Yankees one less option, though they were also reportedly talking to another ex-DH, Hideki Matsui.

Jackson, another Boras client, went 12-9 with a 3.79 ERA last year, and reports have indicated his price tag has scared teams off. The Yankees had deemed him too expensive for their budget, and they added two big names to the rotation in Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda.

The Cubs, Chicago White Sox and Florida Marlins have reportedly been interested in Cespedes, with the Cubs reportedly leading the race for the slugging outfielder’s services.

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Comparing Every Current Philadelphia Phillie to a Former Player

By Greg Pinto (Featured Columnist)

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Rob Carr/Getty Images

We live in a very materialistic world where the focus of our daily lives is based on the here and now and very rarely on the future, and even more rarely, the past. The Philadelphia Phillies are certainly not exempt from this thought process. Over the last few seasons, the idea has been to “win now.”

Those guys are prospects for a reason, so we’ll trade them for a proven player. That pricey free agent would sure look nice in red pinstripes, but the depth on the bench is certainly going to suffer if we sign him.

That’s been the thought process for the last few seasons, and will be as long as the Phillies have a core of players intent on winning a World Series and calling any other result a failure. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. First and foremost, it means the Phillies are winning.

The dangerous situation is getting caught up in the here and now and turning a blind eye towards the future. We must look at the past for information and interpret it towards the future. I thought that comparing each player on the Phillies’ roster would be an interesting way to apply that idea.

This slide show will observe a player’s career to date, take his statistics, and compare them to a past player who followed a similar career path. Just for fun, maybe that player’s career can give us some insight into what the future holds for the Phillies.

Vance Worley Compares To…

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Luis Tiant and Roy Oswalt, through age 23.

W L ERA IP SO
Vance Worley 12 4 2.86 144 131
Luis Tiant 10 4 2.83 127 105
Roy Oswalt 14 3 2.73 141 144

2011 was the first season for Vance Worley spent primarily as a starting pitcher, and because there isn’t much of a track record here, I almost decided not to compare him to other pitchers in this regard. However, the similarities are almost too striking to Luis Tiant and Roy Oswalt to ignore.

All three of these pitchers started their careers at a young age, and all three were very underrated for their talent levels. So while most people expect to see some regression from Worley in the near future, he is certainly in some good company through age 23.

Dontrelle Willis Compares To…

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…Oliver Perez*, and Bruce Hurst through age 29.

W L ERA IP SO
Dontrelle Willis 72 69 4.17 1221 896
Bruce Hurst 70 67 4.33 1242 877

The addition of Oliver Perez to this group is more of an editorial than anything, simply because when I think of the career path Dontrelle Willis took, I can’t help but to compare him to the former Pittsburgh Pirates‘ ace.

Both players were highly touted to begin their careers. Both players had phenomenal seasons with one team (Willis with the Florida Marlins, Perez with the Pirates) before moving on to new teams. Willis would flame out with the Detroit Tigers, Perez with the New York Mets.

Now, both are trying to revitalize their careers as relief pitchers, but because Willis has dominated lefties in recent years, he still has an MLB job.

Numbers wise, Willis compared much more favorably to Bruce Hurst, former left handed pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, San Diego Padres, Colorado Rockies, and Texas Rangers.

Through most of his career, Hurst was a very solid, middle of the rotation starting pitcher, but he struggled mightily at the back end of his career, and after leaving the Padres, he had obviously left his best days behind him.

Ty Wigginton Compares To…

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Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Ed Sprague, through age 33.

H 2B HR RBI BA OBP SLG
Ty Wigginton 1087 232 158 548 .265 .325 .443
Ed Sprague 1010 225 152 558 .247 .318 .419

Ty Wigginton compares favorably to quite a few corner infielders who had a bit of a power strike but weren’t overly successful over the entire course of their careers, the most closely of whom is former first baseman / third baseman, Ed Sprague.

Sprague spent 11 seasons in the MLB as a member of the Toronto Blue Jays, Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox. Sprague was an every day player early in his career, but by the time he had joined the A’s, found himself playing much more of a bench role, very similar to Wigginton, who will become a reserve with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Shane Victorino Compares To…

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Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

…Coco Crisp, through age 30.

H 2B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
Shane Victorino 908 166 79 354 .279 .344 .438
Coco Crisp 941 180 67 365 .277 .332 .410

This comparison surprised me a little bit. With the Philadelphia Phillies, Shane Victorino has developed into one of the game’s most well rounded players, using his speed to his advantage, but also playing well above average defense, hitting for power, and hitting for average as well.

Though on a slightly smaller scale, Coco Crisp, who recently agree to a two-year deal with the Oakland A’s, has been a very similar player. Though Victorino may be heading in a different direction as he hits his prime, through age 30 the similarities are unavoidable.

What really caught my attention was each player’s respective number of stolen bases: 162 for Victorino and 169 for Crisp.

Wilson Valdez Compares To…

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…Johnny Hudson, through age 33.

H 2B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
Wilson Valdez 230 43 6 92 .243 .290 .330
Johnny Hudson 283 50 4 96 .242 .296 .314

As a reserve player, Wilson Valdez compares favorably to a lot of players who saw limited playing time, the most favorable of whom was former Brooklyn Dodgers infielder Johnny Hudson. “Mr. Chips,” as he was called, played for seven seasons in the MLB, also spending time with Chicago Cubs and New York Giants.

Interestingly enough, Hudson finished 25th in the league’s MVP voting in 1938, something that Valdez will likely never have the chance to do.

Chase Utley Compares To…

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Christian Petersen/Getty Images

…Jeff Kent, through age 32.

H 2B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
Chase Utley 1198 258 188 694 .290 .377 .505
Jeff Kent 1228 274 194 793 .284 .348 .493

When he announced his retirement in 2009, Jeff Kent was widely considered one of the best offensive second baseman to ever play the game, so to be in his company through your age 33 season is certainly a good sign.

Though his career numbers may have stalled a bit due to injury, Chase Utley got off the same kind of start to his career that Kent did, and both had tremendous power hitters in the order with them at various points during their careers.

Kent is a borderline Hall of Fame player, and if Utley can match his career, the Philadelphia Phillies would be in good shape.

Jim Thome Compares To…

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Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

…the careers of Sammy Sosa and Frank Thomas.

H 2B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
Jim Thome 2287 444 604 1674 .277 .403 .556
Sammy Sosa 2408 379 609 1667 .273 .344 .534
Frank Thomas 2468 495 521 1704 .301 .419 .555

Though Jim Thome will play at least one more season with the Philadelphia Phillies, it isn’t hard to look back on his career and recognize that he is a Hall of Fame caliber player. A member of the 600 HR club, it is important to note that Thome hit all of his home runs steroid-free.

Can the same be said for former Chicago Cubs’ great Sammy Sosa, who was listed on the infamous “Mitchell Report?” Though his numbers are the closest to Thome’s, Sosa tested positive for performance enhancing drugs.

What about Frank Thomas? The “Big Hurt” never tested positive for PEDs, and his home run total does not come close to Thomes’s, though, Thomas was probably the more well-rounded hitter.

At the end of the day, the two closest comparisons to Thome’s career really put just how good the slugger has been throughout his career into perspective.

Mike Stutes Compares To…

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Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images

…former Philadelphia Phillies’ relief pitcher Toby Borland?

No statistical data here, but instead, a link to an article by fellow Bleacher Report contributor Mike Lacy, who wrote about the similarities between the Phillies’ careers of retired pitcher Toby Borland and current Phils’ reliever, Mike Stutes.

When injuries plagued the Phillies’ bullpen in 2011, it was Stutes who got the call to the MLB to step in and help out. Initially, he was assigned menial tasks pitching in the middle innings, but soon enough, manager Charlie Manuel was asking him to pitch big innings and get important outs in the later innings.

Borland was called up during the strike-shortened 1994 season, but didn’t last long. Control was his ultimate downfall, and the Phillies sent him packing. However, Borland would soon return to the MLB after working on his control, and in 1995, he became an effective reliever out of the bullpen. By 1996, he was the set-up man, but ultimately faltered.

Will Stutes follow a similar career path?

Brian Schneider Compares To…

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Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

…the career of Pat Borders.

H 2B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
Brian Schneider 761 162 65 380 .247 .321 .369
Pat Borders 831 168 69 346 .253 .288 .375

There are a few catchers in the history of the game that compare favorably to the career of Brian Schneider, but Pat Borders sticks out because of how similar their careers were.

Schneider was drafted by the Montreal Expos and stayed with the club when they moved to the nation’s capital to become the Washington Nationals. Following the 2007 season, he became a back-up catcher, bounding around between the New York Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Borders had a similar career. Drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays, Borders was the starting catcher for most of eight seasons, but following that stint, became a back-up catcher for a slew of different teams. The only clubs he spent more than one season with, however, were the Seattle Mariners and the Cleveland Indians, and all but two of his 17 seasons in the American League.

Carlos Ruiz Compares To…

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…Bo Diaz, through age 32.

H 2B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
Carlos Ruiz 495 121 36 231 .265 .357 393
Bo Diaz 475 99 51 271 .256 .303 .396

If Bo Diaz sounds familiar to most Phillies’ fans, he should. After all, the man was the club’s starting catcher in 1983, when the Phillies challenged the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, but ultimately came up short. Carlos Ruiz had a similar experience in 2009, when the Phillies failed to defeat the New York Yankees.

All in all, Diaz was a solid catcher. He also spent parts of his MLB career with the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, and Cincinnati Reds.

Pound for pound, Ruiz is probably the better catcher, but through their age 32 seasons, there are a few surprising similarities.

Jimmy Rollins Compares To…

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…Alan Trammell, through age 32.

H 2B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
Jimmy Rollins 1866 388 170 725 .272 .329 .432
Alan Trammell 1926 329 152 810 .288 .355 .420

Jimmy Rollins and Alan Trammell may not be the closest comparison on this list, but as far as the Philadelphia Phillies’ shortstop is concerned, the former Detroit Tigers’ great posted the numbers closest to his own, the next best being Craig Biggio.

Being in Trammell’s company is definitely a good thing, as he spent his entire 20-season career with the Tigers, building a fringe Hall of Fame career in the process.

Rollins follows a similar path. The Phillies’ shortstop is in an excellent position to spend his entire career in Philadelphia, and at the end of the day, he has something that Trammell’s Hall of Fame resume does not: An MVP Award.

Placido Polanco Compares To…

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Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

…Julio Franco and Tony Fernandez, through age 35.

H 2B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
Placido Polanco 1966 320 101 681 .301 .346 .406
Julio Franco 1922 299 120 861 .301 .363 .419
Tony Fernandez 1925 333 77 682 .282 .338 .392

Who would have thought that at some point in the future, we would be able to find a way to compare Placido Polanco to Julio Franco, former member of the Philadelphia Phillies traded to the Cleveland Indians as part of the infamous “five-for-one” deal that brought Von Hayes to Philadelphia? Well, here we go.

Franco, of course, will forever be known for the longevity of his career. He played for several different teams, his best years with the Texas Rangers, and when he retired after the 2008 season, Franco was 48-years-old.

Another player who had a similar approach at the plate to Polanco and Franco was Tony Fernandez. Fernandez spent most of his big league career with the Toronto Blue Jays, but like Franco, had a long career, jumping from team to team on one-year deals at the end.

Hunter Pence Compares To…

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…Aubrey Huff and Rondell White, through age 28.

H 2B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
Hunter Pence 835 157 114 412 .292 .343 .485
Aubrey Huff 805 157 120 421 .288 .342 .478
Rondell White 830 167 103 391 .294 .349 .479

For me personally, this was the most surprising comparison on the list.

Today, when we think of Hunter Pence, we think of one of the game’s best right fielders. With the ability to hit for average and power, play above average defense, and run, he is a legitimate five-tool player, and has proven so throughout his career.

When I think of Pence, Aubrey Huff isn’t exactly the first person that comes to mind. The current member of the San Francisco Giants was originally drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and had a few nice seasons before moving on to the Houston Astros, Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, and now, the Giants.

Rondell White was drafted by the Montreal Expos and spent most of his career there before bounding around on one-year deals, though he did spend two years with the Minnesota Twins, Chicago Cubs, and Detroit Tigers, respectively.

Needless to say, the numbers are the only things that tie these three players together, and while I would like to say that Pence has the most upside, this certainly makes you stop and wonder.

Jonathan Papelbon Compares To…

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…Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and Bryan Harvey, through age 30.

W L ERA SV GF SO
Jonathan Papelbon 23 19 2.33 219 334 509
Mariano Rivera 33 17 2.63 165 245 395
Trevor Hoffman 34 25 2.77 188 300 507
Bryan Harvey 17 25 2.34 171 268 438

If you want to know the real reason that the Philadelphia Phillies wanted Jonathan Papelbon to be their closer moving forward, this is it. Talk about elite company.

Papelbon closely compares to New York Yankees’ closer Mariano Rivera, who has more saves than any man in the history of the game. He also compares closely with the next man on that list, Trevor Hoffman, who dominated the ninth inning with the San Diego Padres.

The fourth name on this list belongs to a lesser known closer of the California Angels, Bryan Harvey. He led all of baseball in saves in 1991, and would eventually save 40 games for the Florida Marlins after joining them in the expansion draft.

Laynce Nix Compares To…

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…Scott Hairston, through age 30.

H 2B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
Laynce Nix 409 96 64 226 .244 .288 .430
Scott Hairston 204 413 68 198 .245 .303 .435

The Philadelphia Phillies brought Laynce Nix aboard this winter to help out at the plate against right handed pitching, and interestingly enough, they also had some interest (and may continue to pursue) free agent outfielder Scott Hairston.

With both players being bench players at this point in their careers, these two compare favorably to a number of different players, but this is certainly this closest match. Hairston spent four years with the Arizona Diamondbacks before bouncing around to a number of teams, most recently, the New York Mets.

John Mayberry Jr. Compares To…

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…John Mayberry Sr.

Why not?

After struggling to make a name for himself prior to 2011, John Mayberry Jr. struggled with the Philadelphia Phillies to the point that there just isn’t enough of a track record to compare his stats against MLB players.

Instead, let us compare him to his father, John Mayberry Sr., who 15 seasons in the MLB and gave his son those good baseball genes to get him to the show. Mayberry Sr. spent the bulk of his career with the Kansas City Royals, Toronto Blue Jays, and Houston Astros, also spend a year with the New York Yankees.

A big, powerful guy, he had a similar build to his son. Mayberry Sr. would go on to slug 255 home runs in his career—a number I’m sure the Phillies would like to see his son eclipse.

Cliff Lee Compares To…

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…Don Newcombe, through age 32.

W L ERA IP SO
Cliff Lee 119 69 3.65 1641 1323
Don Newcombe 130 73 3.54 1796 966

Any pitcher looking to succeed should be happy with the ability to compare himself to former Brooklyn Dodgers’ pitcher Don Newcombe at any point in his career. Cliff Lee can say that, as through age 32, he has posted similar numbers to the former Dodger.

Both lefties, the numbers aren’t the only similarities. Both Lee and Newcombe won a Cy Young Award, and both were traded for underwhelming hauls during their careers.

Kyle Kendrick Compares To…

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…Joe Blanton, through age 26.

W L ERA IP SO
Kyle Kendrick 43 30 4.41 598 275
Joe Blanton 42 34 4.10 633 369

I’m really not sure whether or not this is good news for Kyle Kendrick.

First and foremost, the obvious comparison here is that both Kendrick and Joe Blanton play for the Philadelphia Phillies (and yes, Blanton will still get his own slide.) Kendrick was acquired via the draft, Blanton via trade from the Oakland Athletics.

Outside of the numbers, however, the careers of these two players have been quite different. The Phillies thought enough of Blanton to move top prospects for him in 2008 to bolster their playoff run, but didn’t think enough of Kendrick to leave him in the starting rotation in 2011, opting to spend more than $100 million on Cliff Lee in free agency.

Ryan Howard Compares To…

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…Richie Sexson, through age 31.

H 2B HR RBI AVG OBP SLG
Ryan Howard 1043 189 286 864 .275 .368 .560
Richie Sexson 1135 230 273 844 .269 .350 .526

As long as Ryan Howard’s career takes him nowhere near Safeco Field in Seattle, as Richie Sexson’s did, this may not even be a relevant comparison by the time Howard retires at some point in the future.

Outside of their handedness, there are obvious comparisons for these two first basemen. First and foremost is the raw power. By the time Sexson retired, he had hit 306 home runs, and Howard is on pace to shatter that milestone.

The real question is Howard’s health. Will that Achilles tendon be the bane of his career, in much of the same way that injuries slowed down Sexson?

Cole Hamels Compares To…

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…John Smiley, through age 27.

W L ERA IP SO
Cole Hamels 74 54 3.39 1161 1091
John Smiley 76 51 3.49 1095 697

This may not be the comparison that some people were expecting for Cole Hamels, but let’s not forget, before 2010, you would have fought tooth and nail for the right to call Hamels an “ace.”

Now that he has established himself as just that and his career is on a completely different track, comparing him to John Smiley seems a bit silly at first glance. After all, Smiley would only be in the MLB until age 32.

Through age 27, however, the two lefties had very similar careers. Smiley’s longest tenure was with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but he also spent five seasons with the Cincinnati Reds.

What uniform will Cole Hamels be wearing in 2013?

Roy Halladay Compares To…

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…Mike Mussina, through age 34.

W L ERA IP SO
Roy Halladay 188 92 3.23 2531 1934
Mike Mussina 199 110 3.53 2668 2126

There are a few surprising comparisons on this list, and this is one that caught me off guard. With the way he has pitched in recent seasons, I think that some Philadelphia Phillies’ fans would expect to see Roy Halladay’s name listed with an all-time great. Instead, he is listed with another workhorse: Mike Mussina. (I’ll leave whether or not Mussina is an “all-time great” or not up to your discretion.)

Mussina spent his career with the Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees, and though he never won a Cy Young Award, “Moose” was the model of consistency. The same could be said for Halladay, who throws up similar, outstanding numbers year in and year out, and owns two Cy Young Awards.

Jose Contreras Compares To…

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…the career of Cory Lidle.

W L ERA IP SO
Jose Contreras 77 67 4.54 1154 869
Cory Lidle 82 72 4.57 1322 838

With Jose Contreras’ days as a starting pitcher well in the rear-view mirror, I think it is safe to look at the 40-year-old’s career in hindsight. Before his days with the Philadelphia Phillies, Contreras was known for his work as a starting pitcher for the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox.

Oddly enough, his career was very similar to the one by another former Phillie and Yankee, Cory Lidle. When the Phillies were not a competitive team in the mid 2000s, the club acquired Lidle from the Cincinnati Reds for very little. He would later be sent to the Yankees in the same deal that sent Bobby Abreu to the Bronx Bombers.

Domonic Brown Compares To…

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…the build and skill-set of Darryl Strawberry.

Without much statistical evidence to go off of here, we’ll compare Domonic Brown to the player that scouts believe he can become, and then some: Former New York Mets’ outfielder Darryl Strawberry.

It is hard to ignore the similarities. Both are tall outfielders with great baseball talent. Both were left handed and both have incredible potential at the plate. Though Strawberry never had much of a batting average, he had surprising power and excellent on-base skills, including instinctive base running.

Joe Blanton Compares To…

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…Aaron Harang, through age 30.

W L ERA IP SO
Joe Blanton 73 62 4.32 1243 812
Aaron Harang 69 66 4.25 1177 981

Because Joe Blanton has never done anything overly spectacular in his career (well, on the mound anyway, because his home run in the World Series was pretty spectacular,) his career compares favorably to a number of middle of the road pitchers (including Oil Can Boyd, who has the best name of the group.)

One name that caught my eye is Aaron Harang, who signed a deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers this winter. Both are big right handed starters with similar repertoires. Neither relies on his fastball and neither has an excellent off-speed pitch.

Perhaps the greatest similarity is their proficiency for underwhelming results.

Antonio Bastardo Compares To…

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…Bill Bray, through age 25.

W L ERA IP SO
Antonio Bastardo 10 4 3.86 100 115
Bill Bray 8 7 3.86 112 107

This may be an outside the box comparison, but in the long run, the results speak for themselves. The greatest similarity between Antonio Bastardo and Bill Bray of the Cincinnati Reds is their handedness. Both operate as left handed specialists, though Bastardo has shown to be effective against right handed hitters as well.

It’s a small sample size, and if 2011 was any indication, Bastardo’s career may end up going in a completely different direction. The Phillies’ sure hope so. The success of their bullpen depends on it.

For up to the minute Phillies’ news, check out Greg’s blog: The Phillies Phactor.

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