Yadier Molina may now be the best all-around player in the game. That’s the sentiment expressed by the 30 baseball people we talked to (a combination of owners, general managers, scouts, players, and coaches) who were posed this question: “Which player would you build your team around, regardless of age or experience?”
Molina was the choice, though he got competition from Giants catcher Buster Posey.
A point made by one scout pretty much spoke for the 14 who gave Molina the nod, and the others who had Molina in their top three.
“What’s important about this player is that he has complete control of the pitching staff, which in St. Louis has excelled, and he’s not only the premier defensive player at his position, but his offense is also of premier quality. He leads the league in hitting,” said the scout. “I don’t think there’s a player who combined all of that in one package.”
It speaks to the value of catching, and when you have that all-around guy what a difference he can make to a team. The Cardinals may be the best team in baseball. Why? Well, Molina has impacted the pitching staff. He takes charge, implements the plan, and also has had time to become the best hitter in baseball.
Posey is a little bit younger, which is why he received five votes. But same idea. He’s a catcher who takes charge and hits and produces runs. Posey doesn’t quite have the defensive reputation of Molina, but that also seems to be rising.
What was interesting in the poll was the moving away from phenoms such as Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado, and even Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera. Also, upstart hitter Chris Davis.
One scout who voted for Molina pointed out, “Normally, I would go for the power-hitting shortstop. [Alex Rodriguez] was always my choice years ago. Troy Tulowitzki is another guy right up on my list, except that Tulo can’t seem to stay healthy. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have Trout and Machado on my team, and they’re in my top five, but when you have a catcher who can do what Molina can do and how he impacts that team, I think he’s the guy right now.”
Tulowitzki did get two votes, as did Trout and Cabrera. Dustin Pedroia, Matt Harvey, Justin Verlander, Machado, and Felix Hernandez each received one vote.
“A rare combination of power, defense, and leadership,” one scout said about Tulowitzki. The only downer is durability. Tulowitzki has had problems staying healthy.
We compiled an all-impact team based on some of the other feedback we received. 1B — Davis; 2B — Pedroia; SS — Tulowitzki; 3B — Cabrera; DH — David Ortiz; LF — Yasiel Puig; CF — Trout; RF — Giancarlo Stanton; C — Molina. Starting rotation — Harvey, Verlander, Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Clay Buchholz; Closer — Mariano Rivera; Bench — Machado, Harper, Robinson Cano, Posey.
But Molina is the center of attention. He is undoubtedly the leading candidate for National League MVP. Last week, teammate Matt Carpenter told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “We use the term ‘joke’ around here. He’s a joke. He is that good. It’s like you just know that he’s going to do something great every night. That’s the kind of player he is — just irreplaceable. He’s a joke.”
Molina, 30, was hitting league-best .364 with five homers, 41 RBIs, and a .926 OPS entering Saturday. He’s always been a decent hitter, but over the last two years he’s really started to figure it out. Last season, he hit .315 with 22 homers, but this season he’s been extremely difficult for pitchers to conquer.
Those who picked Posey had no qualms about Molina. As one GM said, “Posey is younger, can probably hit for more power. He’s not as accomplished as Molina defensively, but you get the feeling with his makeup that he’ll get there.”
Harvey intrigues everyone. We may be seeing the next Roger Clemens, Dwight Gooden or Verlander. Dominating stuff. Pitchers didn’t get as much notice in this poll simply because of the value placed on strong positional players. Everybody wants Machado, who at 20 has probably only skimmed the surface of what he’ll do as a major leaguer. Trout remains consistent both offensively and defensively, with upside galore. The one guy not mentioned as much was Harper, who has lost some luster because of injuries, but as one GM pointed out, “Nobody is going to throw him back in the pool. Any team would love to have that talent.”
And while the sample size is not as big for Dodgers outfielder Puig, jaws are dropping.
He’s already drawn comparisons to Roberto Clemente and a young Al Kaline. He runs fluidly. Very athletic with power.
“If you do this poll a year from now, I’ll bet you Puig will be one of the top vote-getters,” said one of the scouts.
This is always an interesting exercise. Years ago, you’d want to build your team around Ken Griffey Jr., Rodriguez, Derek Jeter or Albert Pujols. What’s somewhat different about this one is that Molina is 30. Normally, respondents will go with the new, hot player. In this case it’s an oldie, but obviously his skill set is off the charts. How he can help a pitching staff seems to be the No. 1 reason for his selection.
“It’s pretty special,” said one National League GM. “He’s not only a player, he’s a system.”
WHAT A RELIEF
Pirates’ Melancon is mowing them down
Mark Melancon has been flourishing in Pittsburgh, where he and Jason Grilli have formed an outstanding 1-2 punch at the end of games. Melancon had a 0.99 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and 39 strikeouts in 36⅓ innings entering Saturday.
“Just been getting ahead of hitters and staying ahead,” Melancon said. “My location has been good, keeping the ball down, and just doing all the things a reliever is supposed to do.”
Melancon’s signature curveball has been more consistent, and his cutter has been effective. He said working with Grilli has been great. “It’s just been very smooth, no craziness,” he said. “I think part of it is knowing my role, and it’s a role that I’m used to and that I feel comfortable in. You know you need to do your job for your team to win. You don’t want to give it up.”
The moving around he’s done is “like changing schools when you were a kid. Every time you’re somewhere, you want to stay if it’s a good situation. I felt that way in New York, Houston, and Boston, but there’s always new challenges, and this is a good team with committed players.”
Melancon knows the Pirates haven’t had a winning season in 21 years.
“I can’t answer about the previous years,” he said, “but I do know from talking to the guys who were here they’d love to gain some revenge from what happened last year. They thought they were on the right track. I think we’ve had a fantastic bullpen here all year. The young guys really get it. There haven’t been any outside distractions, everyone just does their job.”
Melancon was the major piece going from Boston to Pittsburgh in the Joel Hanrahan deal, which has worked very well for the Pirates, who replaced Hanrahan with the cheaper Grilli, and moved Melancon into Grilli’s role.
“I told the guys the other day how proud I was of them and the way they’ve responded,” Melancon said. “We all know that bullpens always shift and there’s always restructuring going on. This one has worked really well here.”
Apropos of nothing
1. Chantal Marr, president of LSM Insurance in Toronto, said she pursued insurance for former steroid users (she didn’t specify what sport) and found a very difficult environment. Marr found that “current anabolic or other illegal performance-enhancing drug users will be disqualified for traditional insurance policies. Past steroid users can qualify for insurance, but generally they must have not used for at least one year. Steroid users who used steroids for over a year but quit less than 10 years ago are likely looking at a policy rating of up to 250 percent. This means someone who would have paid $1,000 a year in premiums would now pay $2,500. If the steroid user abused the substance for less than a year, and has not used for a minimum of 10 years, they may qualify for standard rates.”
2. The Yankees would deliver Joba Chamberlain to a team’s doorstop if it wants him.
3. The Phillies declared last week that Jonathan Papelbon was not available. Don’t believe it. Papelbon didn’t do himself any favors when he scolded teammates, saying, “To be able to win and be in the forefront of the playoff race, you have to play good fundamental baseball and do the little things, and the little things are before the pitches are thrown. There’s 150 pitches thrown by our pitchers, and before every one of those we have to make sure we’re putting ourselves in a position to be the best we can before each pitch. I’m seeing some of the same mistakes. I think for us we have to make the fundamental plays we’re supposed to make.”
4. Anyone bold enough to sign Manny Ramirez? One scout who saw him in Taiwan said, “He can still hit with the best of them.”
5. Jamie Evans’s “Velocity Program,” which uses a weighted ball, has helped Toronto pitchers Brett Cecil, Dustin McGowan, and Steve Delabar add arm strength. John Farrell wants the Red Sox to try it, at least as a pilot program in the minors. “I had my own son [Luke] do it,” he said. “I’m convinced that it strengthened his shoulder, added velocity. He was throwing 94 miles per hour, and I’m convinced that helped him get drafted in the sixth round [by Kansas City].”
Updates on 9
1. Brett Cecil, LHP, Blue Jays — The Blue Jays’ surge is due in part to a very good bullpen and a very dependable Cecil, who for years has tried to live up to his billing. Cecil was a closer in college and then was asked to become a starter after the Jays drafted him. It never quite worked out. But lately he’s been lights-out. His velocity has gone from 86-87 miles per hour last season to 93.
2. Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins — You hear a lot of “I don’t knows” from Twins people when Morneau’s future is mentioned. People wonder where his power has gone, which could be a negative to a perspective suitor. The Twins are a very loyal organization, so moving Morneau, who will become a free agent after this season, would be an emotional decision. It doesn’t appear they’ll give him away, but if a deal for a prospect comes up, they would likely let him go.
3. Chris Perez, RHP, Indians — When Perez returns from the 15-day disabled list, and misdemeanor charges for accepting a marijuana shipment in the mail, he may be a piece the Indians would look to move. With a shortage of available closers, Perez will draw interest, even though he’s been an adventure. “If a team can get him and he’s amped up because of a change of scenery, that’s all they’re looking for,” said one special assistant to an American League GM. “It’s all about getting bang for your buck during those two months-plus after you acquire him, if you don’t have to give up a lot of inventory to get him.”
4. Steve Cishek, RHP, Marlins — He’s converted 11 of 13 save opportunities, and the Falmouth native is garnering attention. The Red Sox seem to have interest, but one factor for any contender is the market a pitcher would be leaving. How do you gauge whether Cishek could handle the microscope of Boston or Detroit? That will go into the thinking, for sure.
5. Roy Oswalt, RHP, Rockies — His 11-strikeout performance over five innings in a 5-1 loss to the Nationals Thursday showed the Rockies made a good move signing him. If the Rockies don’t get much over .500 and decide to sell off, Oswalt is going to be in demand. “And that was his first outing, but he had good stuff,” said an American League scout. “His command wasn’t quite there yet, but that will come in time. The big thing with Oswalt is does he still want to compete, and it looked as if he was competing pretty well.”
6. Daniel Bard, RHP, Red Sox — We asked Sox GM Ben Cherington last week whether a change of scenery would be the best thing for Bard. Cherington said his staff continues to do everything it can to get through to Bard, who is now dealing with an abdominal strain, but whose bigger issue seems to be mental, an inability to throw strikes. “If you’re the Red Sox, you just don’t want to give up because he’s such a talent, but there will come a point where you’ve exhausted everything and then for everyone’s sake you move on,” said a National League GM. “I can’t say if the Red Sox should be there right now, but I do know there’d be a lot of teams lined up to get an arm like that in hopes that a new beginning is what sparks a new outlook.”
7. Danny Espinosa, 2B, Nationals — Give GM Mike Rizzo credit for wasting no time in sending Espinoza back to Triple A to get his act together offensively. “We’re trying to tear down his approach and his swing and make some adjustments, and see if we can get back the Danny Espinosa that we saw such good progress in when he first got to the big leagues,” Rizzo said last week. Some baseball people wonder why the Red Sox haven’t done the same with Will Middlebrooks, who seems to need some adjusting, as well. In his first eight games in the minors, Espinosa was 3 for 25 with 17 strikeouts. And he struck out 12 of 13 times in one stretch.
8. Drew Storen, RHP, Nationals — He’s an interesting alternative for a team looking for a closer. Storen was the Nationals’ closer two years ago, saving 43 games. He had a good season last year, but has fallen off this year with a 1.433 WHIP. The feeling is he could get those juices flowing again. He’s done the job before, but has been replaced by Rafael Soriano.
9. Ricky Nolasco, RHP, Marlins — Nolasco could be the first pitcher dealt as we near the deadline, even ahead of Bud Norris. The Marlins are ready for it to happen. Don’t be shocked if teams like the Orioles or Giants take the plunge sooner rather than later.
From the Bill Chuck files: “When Baltimore’s Chris Davis hit his 26th homer, it gave him more than any member of the 2009, 2007, 2006, 2001, and 2000 Orioles.” And, “Over the last 35 seasons, only six Red Sox have had double figures in triples, led by Jim Rice’s 15 in 1978; Jacoby Ellsbury has seven this season.” . . . Happy birthday, Marty Barrett (55).Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.