Warren looks like NYY’s temporary No. 5 man

New York Yankees pitcher Adam Warren throws during the fifth inning of a spring training exhibition baseball game against the Detroit Tigers in Lakeland, Fla., Friday, March 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

With spring training winding down, it looks like the Yankees are starting to shape the 25-man roster they’ll take north for opening day.

As for the No. 5 starter, general manager Brian Cashman strongly indicated on Wednesday that it is Adam Warren‘s job to lose.

Warren, who has appeared in 104 games over the past three seasons, is 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA over four spring starts. He’s allowed 13 hits over 13 innings, including six strikeouts, no walks and four runs. A very small sample size indeed, but still some pretty impressive numbers for the 27-year-old right-hander.

Warren made 69 relief appearances in 2014 and pitched 78 2/3 effective innings. With Chris Capuano and Ivan Nova on the disabled list at season’s opening, the Yankees will need a No. 5 starter for at least a few weeks. If Warren really pitches well in the role, he could force Capuano to the bullpen when he returns. Of course, Warren could shift back to the bullpen himself.

Over four seasons in the Yankees’ minor league system, Warren was 28-25 with a 3.11 ERA in 90 starts.

Esmil Rogers, Chase Whitley and Bryan Mitchell are also in the running, but Warren’s strong spring has made him the front-runner at this stage.

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Colon to start opening day, deGrom gets home opener

Matt Harvey might still be the Mets’ top starting pitcher, but he’ll begin the season in the No. 3 spot in the rotation.

Bartolo Colon will get the opening day nod on April 6 in Washington. Jacob deGrom, who will follow Colon in the second game of the year, will get the home opener at Citi Field on April 13.

Harvey will make his home debut the next night, a 7 p.m. start against the Phillies.

It’s really not that big of a deal. As long as the Mets’ starters can stay healthy and make their 30 starts apiece, it doesn’t matter what order they’ll pitch. Rainouts, travel, days off, all of this throws off the schedules during the season, so we’ll still see Harvey matching up against other aces as the months go on.

Of course, there’s a notion that it’s a sign of disrespect to slot your top pitcher in the No. 3 spot, but that certainly isn’t the Mets’ intention here.

The real intent might be even shadier than that.

In a roundabout way, Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said on Tuesday that ticket sales were a consideration. With the home opener a slam dunk for a huge crowd, having Harvey pitch the second game of that series might well draw some extra fans for a chilly weeknight game in mid-April. And that means some extra cash for the club.

If there’s anything to complain about here, it’s that the organization is taking things that should be in Terry Collins’ control alone – namely, who pitches on a given day – and making those decisions based on other factors. It’s a sign that Mets brass may have lost some faith in Collins and are willing to veto him on certain matters. That’s never an encouraging indicator for any team, especially one like the Mets on the verge of contending.

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Rockland Boulders to host open tryout

The Rockland Boulders, a Can-Am League team that plays at Provident Bank Park in Pomona, is hosting open tryouts on May 6. Registration begins at 9 a.m., with the tryout to follow at 10 a.m. A $100 cash fee is required.

Anyone interested must contact Rockland Boulders head scout Kevin Tuve at kevintuve@yahoo.com. Space is limited, so it’s recommended to sign up as early as possible.

The Boulders began play in 2011 and were Can-Am League champions in 2014.  Rockland opens the 2015 season at home against the Trois-Rivieres Aigles on May 21 at 7 p.m.

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Five questions for the Mets in 2015

Some thoughts on the upcoming season for the Mets as I watch them beat up on the Braves in a daytime spring training game…

1) Are the jobs of Terry Collins and Sandy Alderson on the line this year?

After all the years of sub-.500 records and baseball-free Octobers, the heat is cranking up on Mets management. If the Mets fail to make the playoffs this year, there’s reason to believe that Collins – and perhaps ever Alderson, the general manager – won’t get another chance.

Of course, those two have only had a small part in the team’s lack of recent success. Ultimately, it comes down to the players performing on the field and the ownership giving Alderson enough money to work with. The Mets’ payroll is right around $100 million and really, that’s more to blame for the Mets’ failures than anything else.

New York Mets manager Terry Collins watches from a seat on the field during the fifth inning of a spring training baseball game against the Atlanta Braves Wednesday, March 4, 2015, in Kissimmee, Fla.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

Still, will Collins and Alderson feel the pressure and will that change the way they go about their jobs feeling that anything short of the postseason means their days with the Mets are over? It’s hard to exactly think of what that may mean. Will Alderson make some big moves at the deadline, shipping off some of the farm system’s surplus of prospects? Does Collins go deeper into games with his starters, wary of a shaky bullpen?

Whatever happens, the future of Collins and Alderson will be directly linked to the team’s play this year, however fair or unfair that is.

2) Where will the offense come from?

The Mets forfeited a first round draft pick in June to sign Michael Cuddyer, but that’s really the only big move the club made in the offseason. John Mayberry, Jr. will also get some time as a fourth outfielder type.

Cuddyer was a great hitter over the last three seasons in Colorado, hitting .307 with 46 homers and 173 RBI. But you can almost certainly expect those numbers to drop outside of Coors Field…as well as from a 36-year-old outfielder.

But if this team wants to make the playoffs, the offense will need to come from somewhere. That means David Wright, Curtis Granderson and Travis d’Arnaud have to improve from where they left off in 2014.

Lucas Duda had a fine year at first base following the departure of Ike Davis, as he hit 30 home runs and got on base at a .349 clip.

Perhaps Wilmer Flores emerges as an offensive weapon at shortstop, but the Mets simply have to score more runs if they hope to contend. It’s tough to put all of that pressure on Cuddyer, who’ll help, but not all that much just by himself.

3) How healthy are Matt Harvey and Bobby Parnell?

After a brilliant 2013 season which saw him start the All-Star game at Citi Field, Matt Harvey missed all of 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He’s back and has looked pretty sharp in a few spring training outings – whatever that’s worth – but just how many innings can we expect out of Harvey in 2015? Will he last the entire season or will he wind up on the disabled list at some point? Can the Mets find ways to give him some rest, either by using six starters or skipping his starts now and then?

New York Mets pitcher Bobby Parnell throws live batting practice during a spring training baseball workout Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, in Port St. Lucie, Fla. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

It would be a disaster for the franchise if Harvey helps the Mets get to October but then can’t pitch himself due to an innings cap or an injury.

Bobby Parnell blew up on opening day a year ago, costing the Mets a win when he blew the save against Washington. He also hurt his elbow, went for Tommy John and missed the rest of the season.

Parnell isn’t expected back until May at the earliest and he’s already suffered a hamstring injury in spring training. No one is calling Parnell the best closer in baseball, but he did pitch very capably in the role in 2013 and his return would solidify the back end of a bullpen that has a ton of question marks.

Can Parnell return in time to bolster the bullpen for the stretch run? Can he pitch as well as he did in 2013?

Getting Harvey and Parnell back at full strength will go a long way in helping the Mets in their push for a playoff berth.

4) Who’s the lefty in the bullpen?

With Josh Edgin quite possibly heading toward Tommy John surgery and Scott Rice pitching poorly this spring, the Mets could head into the regular season without a single left-handed reliever in the bullpen.

That might not be the worst scenario in the world, as the remaining candidates are Dario Alvarez, Jack Leathersich and Sean Gilmartin. The club would probably rather carry righties who can get people out than take a lefty for the sake of taking a lefty.

But with plenty of tough left-handed hitters in the NL East – Freddy Freeman, Bryce Harper and Christian Yelich come to mind – it would be nice if the Mets had a lefty specialist to deal with them late in close games.

Maybe Rice turns things around. Perhaps Edgin is able to go with some rest and rehabilitation.  Gilmartin and Alvarez, both long-time starters in the minors, can adapt to relief work. We’ll see. But there is a strong chance that the Mets won’t be able to mix-and-match out of the bullpen this year as well as they’d like. And that might cost the team some valuable wins in the playoff hunt.

New York Mets shortstop Wilmer Flores throws to first during an exhibition spring training baseball game against the Detroit Tigers Friday, March 6, 2015, in Port St. Lucie, Fla. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

5) What happens at shortstop?

The Mets had plenty of options for upgrades at shortstop over the winter. Sure, some were crazier than others, including an oft-rumored trade for Rockies star Troy Tulowitzki that would have cost a handful of top prospects.

Stephen Drew, signed by the Yankees for $5 million to play second base, was one option.

Asdrubal Cabrera and Jed Lowrie signed elsewhere. Didi Gregorius went to the Yankees in a trade. Mariners prospects Brad Miller and Chris Taylor were reportedly on the block.

Yet the Mets passed on all of them, heading into the season with Wilmer Flores the most likely candidate to play short on a regular basis.

Who knows what Flores will become. He’s had cups of coffee with the big club in 2013 and 2014, hitting .240 with a .275 on-base percentage and seven home runs in 354 major league at-bats. Flores may well turn out to be a competent shortstop although there are some reasonable concerns about his defense.

The Mets do have a bunch of exciting shortstop prospects in the minors, including Amed Rosario, Gavin Cecchini, Milton Ramos and Matt Reynolds, but all of those guys are still some years away. So what will Flores do? Is he just a placeholder, does he become a consistent regular or do the Mets feel the need to trade for someone else by the end of July?

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Five questions for the Yankees in 2015

Some thoughts on the Yankees’ upcoming season as I watch a spring training game on YES with a rare night off from high school basketball…

1) Starting pitching health – how durable is this group?

The Yankees had a ton of injury problems with the starting rotation last season, with CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda all missing significant chunks of time. Really, only Hiroki Kuroda, who’s now pitching in Japan, was able to last the entire season.

And starting pitching was far from the team’s biggest issue last season!

But the Yankees simply can’t survive with 80 percent of the rotation on the disabled list this year, so the starters’ health is a huge concern in 2015. Sabathia is back and claims to be good to go. Tanaka, who opted to dodge Tommy John surgery, also looks sharp in a few spring training innings. Pineda is back. Nathan Eovaldi, acquired from Miami in a winter trade, has been durable in his years with the Marlins. Nova, rehabbing from Tommy John should be back at some point around the All-Star game. That’s not a bad group of pitchers…if they stay healthy, that is.

New York Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda throws before the first inning during a spring training baseball exhibition game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Monday, March 9, 2015, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

Chris Capuano suffered a right quad injury on Monday and it looks like he’ll be out until May. He had been penciled in to take Nova’s fifth spot in the rotation, but Esmil Rogers, Adam Warren and Chase Whitley probably compete for the job through the rest of spring training.

Still, if the Yankees have any hope of contending in 2015, they’ll need their top four – Sabathia, Tanaka, Pineda and Eovaldi – to pitch to their potential and also rack up about 200 innings apiece.

2) Will the big-money free agents from last year rebound at the plate?

The Yankees’ offense struggled for plenty of reasons in 2014. Derek Jeter limped to the finish line. Second base was a black hole following Robinson Cano’s free agency dash to Seattle. Alex Rodriguez missed the whole season on a PED suspension.

But the part that hurt the most was the free agents the club had spent so much money on – notably Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann – struggling mightily. Beltran hit .233 with 15 home runs in 109 games. McCann played in 140 games but hit .232 with a .286 on-base percentage.

Jacoby Ellsbury had a fine year, hitting .271 with 70 RBI and 39 steals, but he was often hitting out of position lower in the batting order with other players being injured and Jeter often locked into the No. 2 hole behind Brett Gardner.

The Yankees addressed some of the offensive issues by resigning Chase Headley to play third base. Rodriguez returns, likely as a regular DH. Garrett Jones will add some left-handed pop and versatility in the corner outfield spots and as a backup first baseman. The club also hopes Stephen Drew, named the starting second baseman, and Didi Gregorius, acquired to play short, can hit just enough to justify their top-notch defending.

But the real key here will be McCann and Beltran. Can these guys get on base and drive in runs in important middle-of-the-order spots? If they don’t, it’s hard to see this Yankees’ offense being much better than last year’s team. But if they can rebound back to their career averages, more or less, they’ll be improved.

3) The middle infield situation – did the front office do enough?

It’s the second season for the Yankees post-Cano. It’s also the first full season without Derek Jeter since 1996. The new middle infield pairing is a bit lacking in superstardom.

New York Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius waits on the play during the fifth inning of a spring training exhibition baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles in Sarasota, Fla., Tuesday, March 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Didi Gregorius came over from Arizona in a winter trade. He has a reputation as a fine defender but he’ll have some work to do with the bat to justify his playing time, even if he hits in the No. 9 spot on most days.

Drew was a dud in 2014, thanks in large part to his missing spring training as he awaited a contract offer after rejecting the Red Sox’s qualifying offer following the 2013 World Series. Drew ultimately returned to Boston and hit .176 in 39 games. He was sent to the Yankees in a trade and hit .150 in 46 games. So was that just a lost season he can blame on not getting a full head start in the spring? Or is it a sign that his better days are behind him? Either way, he’ll also have a new position to learn at second base, where he’ll play on most days.

Brendan Ryan is also on the roster, another top-tier defender who struggles at the plate.

Jose Pirela and Rob Refsnyder are two of the Yankees’ top second base prospects, but the club opted to give Drew $5 million on a one year deal rather than go with a kid…at least for now. If Drew struggles, look for one of these youngsters to get the call pretty quickly.

Will this defensive-minded approach help the Yankees more than it hurts?

4) The bullpen should be pretty darn good, but who’s the closer?

Even with David Robertson bolting to the south side of Chicago in free agency, the bullpen will be the Yankees’ biggest strength in 2015.

Dellin Betances had an historic year in a set-up role and Adam Warren also returns after a solid year in relief.

The Yankees signed lefty Andrew Miller away from the Orioles and traded for another lefty in Justin Wilson. There are some competitions for the other spots as well, which leaves the Yankees relief crew in good shape for the season ahead.

The one question is: who closes the games? Manager Joe Girardi has played it pretty close to the vest so far, hinting that he may use both Miller and Betances in the ninth inning depending on the matchups and the schedule and things like that. That sounds fine in a vacuum…but the closer by committee approach rarely works.

I don’t know exactly why that is, but the theory has something to do with the fact that guys tend to like having established, defined roles. Perhaps the mix-and-match will work with these guys and their personalities, but it’s going to be a question that’s going to nag Girardi all season long. That’s half the reason why managers like assigning roles to relief pitchers as well. Put the seventh inning guy in during the seventh inning and if it goes wrong, it’s the pitcher’s fault. Pick the wrong guy in a closer-by-committee style and the blame falls on the manager.

So it shouldn’t be a big deal one way or the other, but expect this storyline to follow the team throughout the year unless Girardi makes those inning-related distinctions clear for his relievers.

New York Yankees pitcher Andrew Miller throws during a spring training baseball exhibition game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Wednesday, March 4, 2015, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

5) What’s the deal with Alex Rodriguez?

What is A-Rod going to bring to the table this year? It’s a fascinating question for a team that probably could do without him and likely would rather have him somewhere else in 2015.

Rodriguez turns 40 on July 27. He didn’t play at all in 2014, and that’s coming off a 2013 season that was marred by a hip injury. Really, the last time we saw peak A-Rod was 2010.

So there’s no guarantee that Rodriguez can provide much of anything for the Yankees offensively. He certainly won’t be needed in the field as long as Headley stays healthy, either.

Rodriguez is merely a part-time DH making $20 million a season.

That’s not to say A-Rod can’t contribute this year. That diminished role and the focus solely on hitting might keep him healthy for the entire season. The lingering doubt here is whether Rodriguez will be healthy enough to survive an entire season, on top of wondering how much he’ll produce. By the way, he’s under contract through the end of 2017.

The Yankees can’t be counting on A-Rod for much, but his return to the big leagues will be an unending saga no matter what happens.

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Yankees to honor Williams, Pettitte, Posada and Randolph in 2015

Former New York Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams swings at a pitch in the All Star Legends & Celebrity Softball Game on Sunday, July 14, 2013 in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

What happens to the 2015 Yankees remains to be seen, much depends on how healthy the team stays, but one thing’s for sure. There are going to be plenty of celebrations in the Bronx.

The Yankees officially announced today that they’ll retire Nos. 20, 46 and 51 for Jorge Posada, Andy Pettitte and Bernie Williams, respectively.

Bernie Williams gets his day on May 24.

Jorge Posada day will be Aug. 22, followed by Andy Pettitte day on Aug. 23.

Willie Randolph, a standout second baseman and a longtime Yankees coach, will receive a plaque in Monument Park on June 20.

Some quick thoughts on each of these guys…

Bernie Williams

Williams was one of those great all-around players who always kind of got overshadowed by the more powerful personalities on his own teams and fairly similar players of his era, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Barry Bonds, who were just a class above.

Williams only had one league-leading performance, winning the 1998 AL batting title with a .339 average. He was named to five straight All-Star teams between 1997 and 2001 and won four Gold Glove awards.

He was also a consistent force in the middle of the lineup. Between 1993 and 2006, the final year of his career, excepting the strike year of 1994, Williams played in at least 119 games every year. He finished with 2,336 hits, 287 home runs and a .297 lifetime average.

The Bernie Williams era didn’t end on particularly good terms for either side. He started to slide in 2003, when his average dipped to .263.

When his contract ran out after the 2006 season, the Yankees weren’t ready to give him a guaranteed roster spot for spring training in 2007. He never came to spring training and never played in the majors again.

Williams was always sort of left out of that Core Four group of Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera and Jorge Posada, mostly because he was a little older and wasn’t around for the 2009 World Series. So the Yankees deciding to retire his number should mend a few of the bridges that were broken by the way Williams’ career in pinstripes ended.

Jorge Posada

Posada got his first shot in pinstripes in 1995, but he didn’t really start to see a lot of playing time until 1998. For the better part of the next 14 years, he was the Yankees’ No. 1 backstop.

Posada had a little bit of pop at the plate – he hit 275 home runs – but he was also a selective switch-hitting catcher, a rarity in the game. He finished with a career batting average of .273 and a career on-base percentage of .374, again, pretty good numbers for a catcher.

Aside from a right shoulder injury in 2008, Posada was incredibly durable, recording no less than 545 plate appearances during his peak from 2000 to 2007.

Like Williams, Posada had an ungraceful end to his playing career. During his final season in 2011, Yankees manager Joe Girardi moved him to ninth in the batting order prior to a May game against the Red Sox. Posada, upset that Girardi hadn’t asked him about the move first, took himself out of the lineup. By August, Posada was being benched by Girardi and the writing was on the wall that his playing days were nearing an end.

Still, Posada was named to the All-Star team five times, won five Silver Sluggers and twice finished in the top 6 of the AL MVP voting. He was a cornerstone of those great Yankees teams in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Andy Pettitte

Pettitte spent three years with the Houston Astros from 2004-06, but he came back in time to win a World Series, his fifth, with the Yankees in 2009. After retiring after the 2010 season, Pettitte returned in 2012, pitching well enough over 12 starts that he decided to come back in 2013. Pettitte’s final season was solid if unspectacular, as he went 11-11 with a 3.74 ERA in 30 starts, but to do that at 41 is pretty impressive.

Overall, Pettitte went 256-153 with a 3.85 career ERA over his 18 major league seasons. He went to three All-Star games and earned Cy Young votes five times. He led the league in one of the major stats just four times, winning 21 games in 1996 and making the most starts in 1997, 2006 and 2007.

Like Williams, Pettitte is likely to miss out on induction to the Hall of Fame. His numbers overall are fantastic for the era, but he was never a strikeout machine like Randy Johnson or Pedro Martinez. He didn’t have Greg Maddux’s control. Pettitte may never have been considered the Yankees ace, overshadowed by David Cone, David Wells, Rogers Clemens, Mike Mussina and the like, but he was a very, very good pitcher for a very long time.

If there’s one stain on Pettitte’s career it’s his admission to using human growth hormone to recover from an elbow injury in 2002. Pettitte got in front of the story, apologized and said he never used the stuff again, and seemed to be forgiven by Yankees brass and fans alike.

Willie Randolph

Randolph played for 18 years in the major leagues and he played for six teams, but the bulk of his career was spent in the Bronx.

Acquired in a 1975 trade with Pittsburgh, the Yankees shipped Doc Medich for a package that included Randolph, Dock Ellis and Ken Brett, Randolph spent the next 13 years in pinstripes. He led the Yankees to World Series appearances in 1976, 1977 and 1981, earning a ring with the ’77 series win over the Dodgers.

Randolph was a career .276 hitter and finished with 2,210 hits. He was a six-time All-Star.

Once his playing career was over, Randolph spent 11 years as a Yankees coach, mostly during the team’s run of success in the late 90s’ and early 2000s. He went on to manage the Mets in 2005 only to be fired in the middle of the 2008 season following the Mets’ historic late-season collapse in 2007. Randolph held other coaching positions with the Brewers and Orioles in recent years.

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A note on Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth was born 120 years ago today, on Feb. 6, 1895 in Baltimore, Md.

There’s not much to say about Ruth’s offensive prowess that you don’t already know. But here’s one idea you may find interesting.

Ruth, of course, was also a pitcher, especially early in his career with the Red Sox.

His final career pitching line:

Record: 94-46

ERA: 2.28

Games: 163

Starts: 147

Innings pitched: 1,221 1/3

Hits allowed: 974

Earned runs allowed: 309

Walks: 441 walks

Strikeouts: 488

Here’s the career pitching line of David Price, through the end of the 2014 season.

Record: 86-51

ERA: 3.21

Games: 186

Starts: 181

Innings pitched: 1,221 1/3

Hits allowed: 1,071

Earned runs allowed: 435

Walks: 324

Strikeouts: 1,147

So in the exact amount of innings, Ruth and Price have had remarkably similar careers on the mound. Obviously, Price has far more strikeouts, but he’s also given up more runs. It’s a different game these days.

The point here being, Babe Ruth wasn’t just one of the greatest hitters of all time. He was also a pitcher as good as the first seven years of David Price’s career. Let that sink in for a second.

Price will surely have many more years left as an ace pitcher…but he’s never going to get anywhere near 714 home runs.

Ruth’s stat line, especially considering his pitching ability, is an incredible, incredible feat that will never be duplicated again. And it’s the reason why, even all these years later, Ruth will always be considered one of the best to ever play the game.

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Manfred looking to regulate the shift is not a sound idea

Commissioner-elect Rob Manfred speak with the media during a news conference at the Major League Baseball owners meeting, Thursday, Jan. 15, 2015, in Phoenix. Manfred succeeds Bud Selig when he retires later this month. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball’s new commissioner, sat down for an interview with ESPN on Sunday.

Without any prompting from interviewer Karl Ravech, Manfred shifted from talking about the pace of the game issue and using pitch clocks in the Arizona Fall League to a drastically different topic.

“The second set of changes that I would look at is related and that relates to injecting additional offense into the game,” Manfred said. “For example, things like eliminating shifts. I would be open to those sorts of ideas.”

Scoring is significantly down in baseball over the last 15 years. MLB teams combined to score 19,761 regular season runs in 2014, a major drop from the 24,971 runs scored in 2000.

If we go back to 1968, the final season of a 15-inch mound, the 20 teams combined to score 11,109 times. The mound was lowered to 12 inches for the 1969 season, where its been ever since.

When the balance between hitting and pitching shifts too far to one side, baseball has changed the rules to reset that equation. There is a precedent. Banning or limiting defenses from shifting, however, is the wrong way to add more offense to the game.

What’s causing the drop of run-scoring in baseball?

Taking performance enhancing drugs out of the game, or at least limiting their role, could be one culprit. Still, pitchers were using steroids as well, so that doesn’t explain the lack of runs entirely.

Increasing use of video and scouting and advanced PITCHF/x data has made players and coaches more aware of trends. It betters prepares them for what to expect when they’re on the field. Again, the benefits of this extra data affects both hitters and pitchers, so it’s not the only reason offense has declined either.

Managers, of course, are using this wealth of information to their advantage. They have a better chance of calling for the right man out of the bullpen than ever before. With starting pitchers held to increasingly tighter pitch counts and clubs pouring resources into developing top-notch bullpens, it’s no surprise that offenses are finding it harder to score runs in the late innings.

The reason why runs are harder to come by in modern baseball might be the crop of excellent young pitchers in the game today. Clayton Kershaw, Corey Kluber, Felix Hernandez and Matt Harvey. Jose Fernandez, Chris Sale, Cole Hamels and Matt Moore. The list goes on and on.

Perhaps it’s just a cyclical thing. Maybe the next generation of great sluggers is currently working its way up through the minor leagues.

Front offices are also making defense a priority, figuring that the value of a run saved is worth as much as a run scored. And that leads us to the shift, which has exploded in recent years. Fangraphs, a statistics blog, says that there were 564 percent more shifts in 2014 than there were in 2011.

Why pick on the teams that have decided to implement defensive shifts?

First, it’ll be nearly impossible to regulate. What constitutes an illegal defense in baseball and how would it be enforced?

Second, do we really want to crack down on innovation in the game? No one cries foul when an NFL defensive coordinator comes up with a new blitz scheme or when a college basketball coach shifts from zone to man-to-man.

“We have really smart people working in the game and they’re going to figure out ways to get a competitive advantage,” Manfred said in response to a Ravech follow-up question. “I think it’s incumbent on us in the commissioner’s office to look at the advantages that are produced and say, “Is this what we want to happen in the game?”

I think Manfred answered his own question. The really smart people in baseball will figure out a competitive advantage in response to the shift by finding ways to beat it, whether it’s through bunting, teaching hitters to go the other way or aggressive baserunning.

Scoring is down in baseball, no question about it. But that doesn’t necessary mean there’s a problem. We haven’t given the game the time it needs to react and evolve naturally.

Yet what Manfred wants to happen in the game might be vastly different from what die-hard baseball fans want to happen in the game. Maybe he sees home runs and bloated ERAs as a means to attracting casual fans and keeping the money flowing. Remember those old Nike commercials, “Chicks dig the long ball?” Apparently so do MLB’s accountants.

For those of us who don’t see a correlation between run-scoring and the quality of baseball being played, Manfred has set up a dilemma on his first day of work. The new commissioner is willing to consider changing the rules to draw in casual fans.

And that just ain’t right.

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Renegades bring back Parenton for 2015

Tim Parenton of the Tampa Bay Rays poses during Minor League Photo Day on Thursday, March 6, 2014 at Charlotte Sports Park in Port Charlotte, Florida. (Photo by Skip Milos / Tampa Bay Rays)

The Hudson Valley Renegades announced its coaching staff for the 2015 season on Wednesday afternoon. Manager Tim Parenton will return for his second season after leading the team to a McNamara Division title and a 46-30 record in 2014.

It was a remarkable debut for Parenton, especially as 2014 was his first year in professional baseball. He had spent more than 20 years as a college and high school coach before taking the job offer in the Tampa Bay Rays organization.

For some background on Parenton, check out this story I wrote from media day this past season.

Manny Castillo will return in his role as bench coach. Brian Newman returns as the team’s athletic trainer.

Brian Reith is the only newcomer on the staff, joining the Renegades as Hudson Valley’s pitching coach. Reith was a sixth round draft pick of the Yankees in 1996 and went to Cincinnati as part of the Denny Neagle trade in 2000. Reith, a right-hander, made 73 appearances for the Reds – including nine starts – over three seasons in the major leagues.

In other Rays organizational news, Jared Sandberg, who managed the Renegades to a New York-Penn League title in 2012, was named manager of the Triple-A Durham Bulls.

Sandberg, nephew of Chicago Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg, went on to manage Low-A Bowling Green in 2013 and High-A Port Charlotte (Fla.) last year. At 36 years old, Sandberg looks like a rising star on the managerial fast track. How long before he’s coaching in the big leagues? Could his uncle, now managing the Phillies, team up with his nephew in the future?

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Scherzer signs with Washington

Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer throws against the Kansas City Royals during the first inning of a baseball game Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

The top free agent pitcher on the market this winter, Max Scherzer, has finally made his decision as to where he’ll play in 2015. Scherzer joins an already loaded Washington Nationals squad.

Scherzer will play for Washington for the next seven seasons – at least that’s the length of the contract – and he’ll receive $210 million, although some of that money will be deferred for seven years after this contract ends. He’ll also get a $50 million signing bonus as part of the deal that will be paid out over time. So he’ll basically get $15 million a year for the next 14 years. There are some tax reasons for doing things this way since Washington, D.C. doesn’t charge income tax on out-of-city residents.

He’ll join a rotation that already boasts Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister and Tanner Roark. For now, it looks like Roark, who went 15-10 with a 2.85 ERA in 31 starts last season, would be moved to the bullpen. Of course, the Nationals could also trade one of their other starters in an effort to bolster the major league lineup or add some prospects to the farm system.

Scherzer rejected a $144 million offer from Detroit in the spring of 2014, so he certainly got a better deal on the open market. Washington does surrender its top pick in the June draft with the Scherzer signing.

This move gives the Nationals perhaps the best starting rotation in baseball, although the Dodgers aren’t far behind. The bookmakers have revised their World Series odds in light of this signing, making the Nationals the favorite to win it all this year.

Of course, there’s an entire season to play and poor performance and injuries could dash some of those chances. Still, with the Mets, Braves and Marlins all on the verge of contending but not quite looking like contenders and with Philadelphia bringing up the rear, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Nats run away with the NL East in 2015.

James Shields is now the last top-tier free agent available, with spring training set to begin in a matter of weeks. The latest team linked to Shields is Milwaukee, which just shed some salary by trading Yovanni Gallardo to Texas. San Francisco has been another team heavily linked to Shields, so expect his market to heat up in a hurry to grab the last remaining free agent starter of value.

In other transaction news today, the Astros traded Dexter Fowler to the Cubs for Luis Valbuena and Dan Straily. Chicago gets a bonafide everyday option in center field – and a first round draft pick in 2016 if he plays well enough to decline a qualifying offer. Houston gets a new third baseman in Valbuena, who’ll be an upgrade over defensive-minded Matt Dominguez. Straily, formerly of Oakland, adds another hard-thrower with strikeout potential to the Astros’ pitching staff.

It’s not a huge deal, but it looks like a trade that could help both sides in 2015. Don’t look for either of these teams to make the playoffs this year, but these are the kind of moves that make Houston and the Cubs look like they’re moving in the right direction.

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    Will Montgomery

    Will Montgomery covers boys' soccer, girls' basketball, boys' and girls' swimming and diving, boys' lacrosse and baseball (including the Hudson Valley Renegades) for Varsity845.com and the Times Herald-Record. Prior to joining the TH-R in November ... Read Full
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