Handing out grades to baseball's elite
A few weeks before the preseason starts, former Oakland Raiders executive turned pro football television analyst, Mike Lombardi, writes one of the few columns I look forward to reading all year long. In the column, Lombardi takes a look at every NFL team and grades out the best players at each position, branding the elite talent as "blue chips" and near-elite talent as "red chips."
The kicker is that Lombardi assigns each blue-chip and red-chip player a certain amount of points depending on the importance of his position (i.e., blue-chip quarterbacks are worth 12.5 points while blue-chip kickers are worth 7.5 points). After grading out each player, Lombardi tallies up all of the blue-chip and red-chip points and players each team has and uses that formula as a harbinger for the upcoming season.
With Spring Training only a few fortnights away, and since I'm a sucker for any creative rankings scale, I couldn't resist trying this same method for the nation's past time. I suppose one minor difference is that Lombardi has about three decades worth of invaluable experience evaluating talent, and my biggest accomplishment is winning my 12-team National League-only fantasy league last season.
As far as the points scale goes, I'm keeping things simple. Each blue-chip position player is worth 10 points with each red-chip position player worth seven.
Since great pitching almost always beats great hitting, I'll up the ante a little bit when it comes to starting pitchers, handing out 12.5 points for each blue-chip starter and 8.5 points for each red-chip starter.
And finally, due to their limitations, I'll hand out only red-chip grades for closers and designated hitters, giving each a value of seven points.
Blue chips: 2B Dan Uggla (10), C Brian McCann (10), RF Jason Heyward (10)
Red chips: 2B/3B Martin Prado (7), Tommy Hanson (8.5), Tim Hudson (8.5)
Total points: 54
Rundown: Hanson and Heyward were both right on the border of blue-chipness and both could have gone either way. Mike Minor and Jair Jurrjens each have obvious red-chip potential for next year.
Blue chips: OF Justin Upton (10)
Red chips: 2B Kelly Johnson (7), OF Chris Young (7), SS Stephen Drew (7), C Miguel Montero (7), SP Dan Hudson (8.5)
Total points: 46.5
Rundown: It pains me not to give Hudson a blue-chip grade after going 7-1 with a 1.69 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP over 11 starts with the D-backs last year, but I just need to see the 23-year-old do it over a full season.
Blue chips: None.
Red chips: 2B Brian Roberts (7), C Matt Wieters (7), OF Nick Markakis (7), 3B Mark Reynolds (7), OF Adam Jones (7), DH Luke Scott (7), Brian Matusz (8.5)
Total points: 50.5
Rundown: Wieters, Jones and Matusz have obvious blue-chip potential while Roberts and Reynolds need to prove that their disappointing '10 campaigns were aberrations.
Blue chips: OF Carl Crawford (10), 1B Adrian Gonzalez (10), 3B Kevin Youkilis (10), 2B Dustin Pedroia (10), SP Jon Lester (12.5),
Red chips: OF Jacoby Ellsbury (7), DH David Ortiz (7), RP Jonathan Papelbon (7), RP Daniel Bard (7) Clay Buchholz (8.5), Josh Beckett (8.5)
Total points: 97.5
Rundown: No shortage in talent in Beantown, as each of Boston's blue-chippers were clear-cut choices. Beckett gets a red-chip grade based on name and previous performance but will obviously have flash improvements in '11.
Blue chips: C Geovany Soto (10)
Red chips: SS Starlin Castro (7), 3B Aramis Ramirez (7), SP Ryan Dempster (8.5), SP Matt Garza (8.5), RP Carlos Marmol (7)
Total points: 48
Rundown: I expect Castro to make a leap to a blue-chip rank this year, as his glove is already there and his bat isn't far behind. It feels strange to give A-Ram only a red-chip grade and leave off Alfonso Soriano entirely.
Blue chips: 1B Paul Konerko (10), SS Alexei Ramirez (10)
Red chips: DH Adam Dunn (7), OF Alex Rios (7), SP John Danks (8.5), SP Jake Peavy (8.5), SP Mark Buehrle (8.5), RP Matt Thornton (7)
Total points: 66.5
Rundown: Peavy is a total wild card. When he's on and healthy, he's an obvious blue-chipper, but injuries and uncertainty right now give him red-chip status. Gordon Beckham and Carlos Quentin each have the talent to earn their "chips" and I expect Beckham to do so this upcoming season.
Blue chips: OF Shin-Soo Choo (10)
Red chips: C Carlos Santana (7), OF Grady Sizemore (7), RP Chris Perez (7)
Total points: 31
Rundown: I'm giving Sizemore the benefit of the doubt here, as he clearly has "blue" potential but the guy just can't stay on the field. He also can't hit lefties, but since he was a Top 10 fantasy pick as recently as 2009, he stays on -- that's always the rule. There's a non-zero chance Carlos Santana isn't a blue-chipper this time next year.
Blue chips: 1B Joey Votto (10), 2B Brandon Phillips (10)
Red chips: OF Jay Bruce (7), RP Aroldis Chapman (7), RP Francisco Cordero (7)
Total points: 41
Rundown: The Reds might lead the Majors in "Almost Red-Chippers". Drew Stubbs, Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto were each on the border, while Travis Wood and Homer Bailey each have the talent to get there. The good news for the Reds is that they get two red chips out of their bullpen. That has to at least make Nick Lachey smile. For what it's worth, Scott Rolen would have been a blue-chipper if I only counted last season's first half, or if this were 1998.
Blue chips: SS Troy Tulowitzki (10), OF Carlos Gonzalez (10), SP Ubaldo Jimenez (12.5)
Red chips: RP Huston Street (7)
Total points: 39.5
Rundown: A startlingly low point total for the Rockies, but I just don't see how this works out any other way. Do you feel comfortable giving red-chip status to Jorge De La Rosa, Ian Stewart or Jhoulys Chacin? Me neither and it's my make-believe list!
Blue chips: 1B Miguel Cabrera (10), SP Justin Verlander (12.5), C Victor Martinez (10)
Red chips: OF Austin Jackson (7), SP Max Scherzer (8.5), RP Jose Valverde (7), RP Joaquin Benoit (7)
Total points: 62
Rundown: First things first -- I'm a Tigers fan. So, Austin Jackson a red-chipper? Why not? You're lucky I didn't include Bobby Higginson. Secondly, I'd say only three percent of me actually thinks Benoit deserves to be on this list, but my sports psychiatrist says including him will help the healing process of a three-year, $16.5 million contract. Thanks for letting me share that with you.
Blue chips: SS Hanley Ramirez (10), OF Mike Stanton (10), SP Josh Johnson (12.5)
Red chips: None.
Total points: 32.5
Rundown: Clearly, I love everything about Mike Stanton. Blue-chip status for a guy who hit .259 last year might seem a bit ambitious, but I don't really care. If I were starting a team tomorrow, I'd want Stanton on my team before any outfielder who got a red-chip grade. I'd also want to offer spinach artichoke dip as part of my all-you-can-eat nacho bar at my new stadium. How has this not happened yet?
Blue chips: OF Hunter Pence (10), SP Wandy Rodriguez (12.5)
Red chips: OF Carlos Lee (7)
Total points: 29.5
Rundown: It might surprise some folks that Pence got the blue chip but he's hit .282 with 25 homers in back-to-back seasons, had 18 steals last year and is only going to be 28-years-old on Opening Day. As for Lee, I'm clearly expecting a big rebound from his .246 average this year. Also, he's pretty much reached Pablo Sandoval status in that you can't even look at him without just thinking "he's just so adorable!" So that's a big plus.
Blue chips: None.
Red chips: 1B Billy Butler (7), RP Joakim Soria (7)
Total points: 14
Rundown: Alright, 14 points is the Major League low but it's really not a bad time to be a Royals fan with Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Mike Moustakas, Wil Myers and Eric Hosmer on the way. This list will look completely different in 2013. It has to, right?
Blue chips: 1B Kendry Morales (10), OF Torii Hunter (10), Jered Weaver (12.5), Dan Haren (12.5)
Red chips: OF Vernon Wells (7), SP Ervin Santana (8.5)
Total points: 60.5
Rundown: The good news is that the Angels' 60.5 points puts them squarely in contention for a run at the AL West crown and a shot at the Wild Card. The bad news is that trying to figure out the Vernon Wells trade from Anaheim's perspective makes me feel like I just ate a gigantic bowl of beef stew.
Blue chips: OF Matt Kemp (10), SS Rafael Furcal (10), SP Clayton Kershaw (12.5)
Red chips: OF Andre Ethier (7), SP Chad Billingsley (8.5), Jonathan Broxton/Hong-Chih Kuo (7)
Total points: 55
Rundown: All I know is this, whether Broxton reverts back to his '08-'09 form or Kuo pitches his way into the ninth-inning role, the Dodgers are getting elite production from whoever their closer is this year.
Blue chips: 1B Prince Fielder (10), OF Ryan Braun (10), 2B Rickie Weeks (10), SP Zack Greinke (12.5), SP Yovani Gallardo (12.5)
Red chips: 3B Casey McGehee (7), OF Corey Hart (7), SP Shaun Marcum (8.5), RP John Axford (7)
Total points: 84.5
Rundown: Wow, who had the Brewers finishing in the Top 5 in total points? Well, probably nobody since you didn't expect this column coming, but still, this is really impressive. While I could totally see each of Milwaukee's red-chippers seriously regressing into no-chip status this year, I think there's an equal chance of them repeating their stellar '10 numbers. I have no idea what that means. Glad I could help.
Blue chips: C Joe Mauer (10), 1B Justin Morneau (10), SP Francisco Liriano (12.5)
Red chips: OF Delmon Young (7), Denard Span (7), DH Jason Kubel (7), RP Joe Nathan/Matt Capps (7)
Total points: 60.5
Rundown: I give Nathan and Capps the Broxton/Kuo treatment because you know the Twins are set in the closing department regardless how this whole situation plays out. Span gets in mostly for his defensive ability, but also because he always slaps me with fear anytime he gets on base -- you just can't discount the fear factor.
Blue chips: 3B David Wright (10), SS Jose Reyes (10)
Red chips: OF Carlos Beltran (7), OF Jason Bay (7), SP Johan Santana (4), RP Francisco Rodriguez (7)
Total points: 45
Rundown: Santana gets half credit for being a red-chipper since he's slated to miss a good chunk of the year -- it only seems fair. Bay's resume is too distinguished to give up on him after one bad year. At least that's what all my friends who are Mets fans keep telling me.
Blue chips: 1B Mark Teixeira (10), 2B Robinson Cano (10), SS Derek Jeter (10), 3B Alex Rodriguez (10), SP CC Sabathia (12.5)
Red chips: CF Curtis Granderson (7), C/DH Jorge Posada (7), OF Nick Swisher (7), OF Brett Gardner (7), SP Phil Hughes (8.5), RP Mariano Rivera (7), RP Rafael Soriano (7)
Total points: 103
Rundown: I guess this goes to show that anyone who thinks the Yanks are in for a down year should start not thinking like that, as their 103 points is tops in the American League. Each of these selections were easy calls, and I was even tempted to add Jesus Montero into the mix. I'll have to come up with a new formula for next year that deducts 50 points for not having Nos. 4 or 5 starters.
Blue chips: None.
Red chips: SP Brett Anderson (8.5), SP Trevor Cahill (8.5), SP Gio Gonzalez (8.5), RP Andrew Bailey (7)
Total points: 32.5
Rundown: For what it's worth for A's fans, they are my pick to win the AL West this year despite the low point total. They have the best pitching in the division and as crazy as it might sound, I like their bullpen more than Texas.
Blue chips: 1B Ryan Howard (10), 2B Chase Utley (10), SS Jimmy Rollins (10), SP Roy Halladay (12.5), SP Cliff Lee (12.5), SP Cole Hamels (12.5), SP Roy Oswalt (12.5)
Red chips: OF Shane Victorino (7), C Carlos Ruiz (7), 2B Placido Polanco (7), RP Brad Lidge (7)
Total points: 108
Rundown: Crazy things happen to the point total when you have four blue-chip starters. Ruiz and Polanco get the red treatment with great defense, above-average offense, a great nickname (Chooch) and a sized 8 3/4 inch hat (Polanco).
Blue chips: OF Andrew McCutchen (10)
Red chips: 2B Neil Walker (7), 3B Pedro Alvarez (7), OF Jose Tabata (7)
Total points: 31
Rundown: Don't be fooled by the modest point total, as the Bucs have a shockingly nice little foundation with McCutchen, Walker, Alvarez and Tabata. Alvarez in particular has a huge ceiling and could hit 30 bombs as early as this season. Sure, he'll be overdrafted in every fantasy league, but at least it'll be fun overdrafting him.
Blue chips: SP Mat Latos (12.5)
Red chips: RP Heath Bell (7)
Total points: 19.5
Rundown: Alright, a few things before I receive 5,000 e-mails from Padres fans ready to throw down: I really like the Cameron Maybin move, acquiring post-hype sleepers who pay a premium position is always a good thing. Also, expect some more talent coming San Diego's way, as they can afford trading Bell with top setup men Luke Gregerson and Mike Adams ready to take over ninth-inning duties.
Blue chips: C Buster Posey (10), SP Tim Lincecum (12.5), SP Matt Cain (12.5)
Red chips: 3B Pablo Sandoval (7), SP Jonathan Sanchez (8.5), SP Madison Bumgarner (8.5), RP Brian Wilson (7)
Total points: 66
Rundown: Sixty-six points for the defending World Series champs seems a little low, but I felt I was giving in already by including Sandoval in the mix -- I just couldn't stomach adding in Aubrey Huff, too. I'm too shook up from the .189-2-13 line he posted with the Tigers after the '09 Trade Deadline.
Blue chips: OF Ichiro Suzuki (10), SP Felix Hernandez (12.5)
Red chips: OF Franklin Gutierrez (7), RP David Aardsma (7)
Total points: 36.5
Rundown: Maybe I'm being a little too lenient here, but Gutierrez gets the nod because the best defensive outfielder in baseball just has to be on this list, even if he hit .245 last year with minimal pop. The Aardsma ranking is under the supposition that he is healthy this year.
Blue chips: 1B Albert Pujols (10), OF Matt Holliday (10), SP Adam Wainwright (12.5), SP Chris Carpenter (12.5)
Red chips: OF Colby Rasmus (7), SP Jaime Garcia (8.5)
Total points: 60.5
Rundown: Tony La Russa might not have much love for Colby Rasmus but I most definitely do. He seems like the most likely former top prospect to receive the Cameron Maybin treatment next offseason. Anyway, for what it's worth I was tempted to give Pujols 15 points just for being Pujols, but just couldn't do it. Hey, it's the thought that counts.
Blue chips: 3B Evan Longoria (10), SP David Price (12.5)
Red chips: IF/OF Ben Zobrist (7), OF B.J. Upton (7), Jeremy Hellickson (8.5)
Total points: 45
Rundown: For those counting at home, the Orioles (50.5) have 5.5 more points than the Rays. Let's just say I don't expect big things out of Tampa this year.
Blue chips: 2B Ian Kinsler (10), SS Elvis Andrus (10), 3B Adrian Beltre (10), OF Josh Hamilton (10), OF Nelson Cruz (10)
Red chips: DH Michael Young (7), SP C.J. Wilson (8.5), RP Neftali Feliz (7)
Total points: 72.5
Rundown: The Rangers take down the highest point total in the American League West, but despite an awesome offense, they'll go as far as Brandon Webb will take them. And that's pretty scary.
Blue chips: 3B Jose Bautista (10)
Red chips: 2B Aaron Hill (7), SP Brandon Morrow (8.5), Ricky Romero (8.5), 1B/DH Adam Lind (7)
Total points: 41
Rundown: I'd like to take this time and say congratualtions to Brandon Morrow -- you are officially crowned as the No. 1 pitcher I will own in fantasy leagues this year. Please take your place on podium next to '10 Gio Gonzalez, '09 Ubaldo Jimenez and '08 Tim Lincecum.
Blue chips: 3B Ryan Zimmerman (10), OF Jayson Werth (10)
Red chips: SP Stephen Strasburg (8.5)
Total points: 28.5
Rundown: Even though he's out for the year, I had to include Strazzy for the sake of Nats fans, baseball fans and just all people who prefer good vs. evil.
Dave Feldman is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.