Posted on: December 13, 2011 11:08 am

Tectonic Shifting On West Coast:

         We are used to hearing reports of earthquakes around the San Andreas Fault. Breaking news from the sports world, no matter how titanic in spectrum, usually doesn’t register on the local seismographs. What the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim just accomplished at the annual baseball winter meetings might be the first. For seemingly ever, the Angels have been frustrated in their attempts to lure marquee free agents to LA’s AL franchise. Mark Teixeira didn’t want to re-up. CC Sabathia, even after claiming a desire to be on the West Coast, spurned them for Broadway’s bright lights. Adrien Beltre frustrated the Angels not once but twice, first by signing with Boston and then with division-rival Texas. The Angels have had a hole at the hot corner since Troy Glaus left and Brandon Wood never became the player they thought he would. Carl Crawford also chose Boston over the Angels.

                The Angels have been NYY-East for a while now. Since 2004, the Angels won 5 division titles and ruled the roost in MLB’s smallest division. The Rangers stole their crown with a deep and plentiful minor league system bearing fruit and spending new ownership’s money. Like most major-market teams with annual expectations to win, Arte Morales’ money always burns a hole in the organizations’ pocket. If they can’t sign Teixeira, Sabathia, Crawford, etc., then they spend that capital on Torii Hunter, Bobby Abreu, Hideki Matsui, Gary Matthews Jr., Vernon Wells, Brian Fuentes and the like. But by signing Pujols, the Angels in one fell swoop changed their free agency pattern and jumped into the elite super-group of spenders. Pujols’s length of contract will eventually become an albatross to the organization, and his full no-trade clause will hamper any and all attempts to move him when the time comes. This was the price, literally, of getting him to leave St. Louis and turn down sumptuous offers from the Marlins, Cubs, and whoever else thought they had a shot. The addition of Pujols creates a very interesting log jam at the games’ premier power position.

                Let’s take a closer look at the LAA first base depth chart. Former Cuban defector Kendrys Morales (no relation to Arte, that we know of) burst onto the scene in 2009 after Teixeira left for the Yankees. He played in 152 games, hit 34 homers while driving in 108 runs, averaging .306 over the season. But after injuring his leg during a home plate dinger celebration, he only saw action in 51 games in 2010. Mark Trumbo stepped in at first and had a great rookie year. He is still young at age 25 and in his rookie year hit .249 with 29 home runs and 86 RBI’s in 149 games. He could plausibly play third base but his defense isn’t great over there. Mike Scioscia is known as a defensive-minded manager but Trumbo’s thump is too great to leave out of the lineup. If Morales is healthy, he can DH with Pujols at first and Trumbo at third. That’s a scary middle of the order. The odd man out would seem to be Bobby Abreu. He could fetch a little on the trade market for an AL club looking for some solid OBP from the DH spot but can’t spend a bunch. The other option would be for the Angels to move Trumbo, who would bring in a much bigger bounty given his age and early production. Mind, the Angles still have wunderkind Mike Trout and solid prospect C.J. Cron coming up. The Angels are set in the outfield with Hunter, Wells and Peter Bourjos, and seem set up the middle with Howie Kendricks, Macier Izturis and Alberto Callaspo. The Angels certainly have some trade chips to play with.

                The list of teams lining up for Trumbo would be significant. Any team with a hole at first base in need of some pop, and a cabinet full of prospects to move to the Angels would be a good fit. Money wouldn’t be of great concern because Trumbo is so young still. He is eligible to be a free agent after 2011 which would hurt his bargaining a little, but he is slated to make only $414,000 this season, which is a steal for a guy with 30-100 potential. Any team trading for Trumbo would want to ink him to a healthy extension immediately. Let’s assume that teams view Trumbo as primarily a first baseman. Teams already set at first base for the long term at present include the Angles (Pujols), Yankees (Teixiera), Red Sox (Gonzalez), Phillies (Howard), Tigers (Cabrera), Twins (Morneau/Mauer), Reds (Votto) and whichever team signs Prince Fielder. We can also assume some teams that have committed to young players at the position would be out of the running for Trumbo. That list would include the Padres (Anthony Rizzo), Braves (Freddie Freeman), Royals (Moustakas/B. Butler), Seattle (Justin Smoak). Those are elite prospects and young players whose values are arguably as high or higher than that of Trumbo. Any of the teams not listed either need immediate help at first, or have players there currently who wouldn’t stand in the way of a trade for Trumbo. A good example would be teams like the Indians with Matt LaPorta, Giants with Brandon Belt/Pablo Sandoval, the Mets with Ike Davis or the Marlins with Gaby Sanchez.

                Like the list for Fielder, potential suitors will be limited by current 1<sup>st</sup> basemen and money. The list of teams vying for Prince’s services looks like a race between the Nationals, Orioles, Cubs, Blue Jays and we could add the Cardinals now that they lost out of La Machina. I believe that money earmarked for Albert would only have gone to Albert, and the Cardinals would not be willing to go nearly as high for Prince. The Nationals/Orioles/Cubs/Blue Jays list is all teams that could plug Prince in immediately without uprooting anyone of substance. The Nats could slide Michael Morse to the outfield, and their lineup could then have Zimmerman/Fielder/Werth/Morse. Not too shabby. The Orioles have had Aubrey Huff at first and Prince would be a big upgrade there. Toronto had been using Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion, and just signed Mark Teahan. Prince brings more to the table than those three combined. And the Cubs would love to scoop Prince from a division rival but Theo Epstein and Co. might want to invest that money into a barren farm system and get that “player development machine” rolling instead of giving one player 8-10 years to the tune of 200+ million dollars. We will know a lot more about the future of Mark Trumbo based on the future home of Prince Fielder and the health of Kendrys Morales.

                If Morales in healthy, Bobby Abreu would likely be on the move. He must remain in the AL because he is only a DH at this point. Let’s make a new list. Teams with DH’s already in the fold include NY (Posada/A-Rod/Jeter/Swisher/etc.), Boston (Ortiz/Youkilis), Toronto (Lind), Chicago (Adam Dunn) Detroit (V-Mart, Carlos Guillen, Magglio) and K.C. (Butler, Kila Ka’aiuhe). Also Minnesota has the Mauer/Morneau/Kubel triumvirate. Tampa Bay, Oakland and Cleveland probably wouldn’t want to spend the money necessary for Abreu (9 million in 2011 and 2012). It’s apparent that Abreu would have trouble finding a home as a full-time DH anywhere, and no one would likely pay a platoon DH 9-million annually. The Angels might be forced to eat some contract in order to move Abreu (assuming Morales is healthy). They won’t allow any AB’s go to Abreu that should be going to Trumbo, Trout, Wells, Hunter, Pujols, Morales, etc. The Mariners are the only team I can think of where Abreu may fit. The Mariners have absolutely no pop outside Justin Smoak, and they need all the offensive help they can get. The Angels couldn’t ask for a whole hell of a lot in return when it comes time to trade Abreu so Seattle could hold on to all their top prospects.

                If C.J. Wilson had stayed with Rangers, Albert Pujols going to the Angels wouldn’t have bumped the Angels ahead of Texas in my mind. The Angels rotation would have been better up top (Haren, Weaver) but the Rangers would have had more solid depth with Wilson, Ogando, Lewis, Feldman, Holland, etc. The Rangers lineup with Hamilton, Beltre, Andrus, Kinsler, Cruz, Napoli, Young, etc. would be the equal of Pujols, Morales, Trumbo, Wells, Hunter. But now that the Angels hauled in Pujols AND Wilson, they add at the Rangers’ direct expense. The Rangers are another team, like the Angels, who have the trade chips to make themselves better either before spring training or at the trade deadline. Michael Young seemingly lives on the permanent trade block, and pieces like David Murphy and Mitch Moreland could be valuable if the Rangers wanted to grab a guy like say, Francisco Liriano, Edison Volquez or Jair Jurrjens. The AL West looks like a two-horse race for years to come, and Houston joining the fray in 2013 won’t pose a threat to this new two-team hegemony.


Posted on: December 13, 2011 11:06 am

The Miami Ascendency:

      After joining the Major Leagues as an expansion franchise in 1993, the Florida Marlins were the quickest expansion team to ever win a world title, accomplishing this impressive feat in only 4 years existence. The 1997 championship team was dismantled as quickly as it had been assembled, stars shipped out to save money. In 2003, the Marlins struck again, upsetting the juggernaut Yankees in the Fall Classic with a mix of homegrown youngsters and veteran free agent pickups. This franchise has won two world titles without ever winning a division title, and lately has been a lot more “potential” than results. Marlins fans have watched a bevy of All-Stars come and go. The 1997 team had Antonio Alfonseca, Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, Robb Nen, Livan Hernandez, Charles Johnson, Bobby Bonilla, Luis Castillo, Jeff Conine, Craig Counsell, Darren Daulton, Edgar Rentaria, Moises Alou, Cliff Floyd, Mark Kotsay, Devon White and Gary Sheffield. When the Marlins won again in 2003, only Castillo and Conine were still there. In 1998 the Marlins became the first team ever to lose 100 games the year after winning the World Series. When Wayne Huizenga sold the team to John Henry and his group, a new era was ushered in, but the principle remained the same. Watch the bottom line. Despite Florida’s reputation as a breeding ground for youth athletic talent, fan bases in the Miami and Tampa areas just can’t seem to get behind their teams.

                The 2003 squad featured Josh Beckett, Brad Penny, Carl Pavano, A.J. Burnett, Ugeth Urbina, Dontrelle Willis, Ivan Rodriguez, Castillo, Alex Gonzalez, Derrek Lee, Mike Lowell, Miguel Cabrera, Juan Encarnacion, Juan Pierre, etc. Marlins fans watched that team win and then be disemboweled as quickly, as Jeffrey Loria, Larry Beinfest and Co. (who had purchased the franchise from Henry in 2002) sold off parts to save money. The Marlins once again became irrelevant, playing in a decrepit stadium and facing an annual uphill climb in the rugged NL East. The Marlins did manage to stockpile good young talent through their drafts and trades. Guys have still come and gone (Matt Lindstrom, Kevin Gregg, Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, Dan Uggla, Pavano, etc.) but they have been readily replaced by new crops. Young guns like Logan Morrison, Chris Coghlan, Josh Johnson, Leo Nunez, Mike Stanton, Ricky Nolasco, Anibel Sanchez and Gaby Sanchez have made the Marlins a respectable team. The biggest gem is Hanley Ramirez, pried from the Red Sox in a deal that sent Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota to Beantown .

                Now that the Marlins of Florida have become the Marlins of Miami and have secured a brand new stadium, the ante has been upped in South Florida. But will Hanley Ramirez be around to enjoy the new dawn? The Marlins are for real now, signing Mark Buerhle, Heath Bell and speedster Jose Reyes all in a matter of days. According to reports, they were also serious players for the services of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson who both ended up with the Angels. Hanley is openly campaigning for a trade because the arrival of Reyes pushes Hanley to third base, a move he is obstinately refusing thus far. The game is to create possible and plausible landing spots for HanRam.

                Hanley Ramirez is still only 27. He is a three-time All Star (2008,2009,2010), 2x Silver Slugger (’08 and ’09), was the NL ROY in 2006, won a batting title in 2009, joined the 30-30 club in 2008 and is a star at baseball’s thinnest position outside of catcher. In May 2008, he signed a six-year deal worth $70 million, a bargain for one of the game’s young stars. He has three years left on that deal. But Hanley’s image and reputation have been tarnished by instances of laziness, accusations of carelessness and run-ins with managers resulting in benching. Like in all sports, his talent will outweigh any potential baggage should the Marlins be forced into trading Ramirez, which is his stated desire. Who has the goods to trade for Hanley? It’s obvious he will only acquiesce to playing shortstop. What teams have shortstops that would preclude them from trading for Hanley? Not many. The Rockies (with Tulowitzki), Yankees (Jeter), Marlins (Reyes), and Cubs (Starlin Castro) are really the only teams that would be out of the running from the get-go. Other good quality starting shortstops are hard to find. Elvis Andrus, Alexei Ramirez, JJ Hardy, Jimmy Rollins, Yunel Escobar, none of these are Hanley Ramirez and their respective teams wouldn’t hesitate to move them if they felt they could bring Hanley in. If anyone could convince HanRam to move to third, his potential landing spots would increase. So who can trade for him? We should assume only certain teams meet the prerequisites: a hole at short, redeemable trade assets and the money to pay Ramirez through this contract and a possible extension.

                There are certain teams that we just know can’t or won’t pay Ramirez. That list would look like the Rays, Indians, Royals, A’s, Pirates, Reds, Diamondbacks, Brewers, and Padres. Other teams could probably afford him but have long-term commitments that might preclude their spending excess on Ramirez. Teams like the Mets, Dodgers and Astros are undergoing sales and might not be in position to sign marquee free agents for a while. We can safely assume no team within the NL East will be on the list. The Phillies, Braves, Mets and Nationals are out (although as the Dan Uggla deal illustrates, this is not a hard-and-fast rule). The Yankees have a commitment to Jeter at short and a logjam at DH, so DJ might be playing short until his range is even worse than statuesque. The Red Sox cupboard is pretty bare after trading for Adrian Gonzalez and promoting others to the big club, and they have long-term commits to Gonzalez, Crawford, Pedroia, Beckett, Lester, Buchholz and Lackey and need money set aside to sign guys like Bard, Ellsbury, and etc. to deals. Tampa Bay can’t afford Hanley. Baltimore and Toronto are both intriguing destinations. Both clubs could probably afford Hanley’s extension and have young talent to trade. Incumbent shortstops J.J. Hardy and Yunel Escobar are good but not in Ramirez’s class.

                Every team in the AL Central could use a SS upgrade. Alexei Ramirez and Asdrubal Cabrera are the runaway leaders at that position in this division. The Royals and Indians have the prospects but not the cash. The Tigers, Twins and White Sox have the cash but probably not the young players the Marlins would be looking for. White Sox G.M. Kenny Williams is a bold business man, and maybe a package like Gordon Beckham/John Danks plus a blue-chip prospect could get it done. That kind of move would precipitate Alexei moving to third base.

                The Rangers with Elvis Andrus are all set at short and the Angels are stretched to their budgetary limit one would imagine. The A’s pinch their pennies like a 13 year old sister pinches her little brother. Seattle again is hard to get a gauge on. The ownership has money, and not much committed to the current roster. Seattle’s farm system is currently ranked 16<sup>th</sup>, but that was with Dustin Ackley and Michael Pineda in the system. Now that those two are big leaguers, the system is pretty empty and the M’s probably don’t have the chips to swing back to Miami for a player like Hanley Ramirez. If the Mariners are smart, they will trade Ichiro while he still has some value to a contender. It’s either that or King Felix would have to be moved for a huge haul of prospects. The Mariners will most likely find themselves staring up at Texas and Anaheim all year in 2012, so moving veterans like Chone Figgins, Brandon League, Miguel Olivo and Jason Vargas will be imperative at the trade deadline. Ichiro is a public-relations goldmine both here and in Japan, so he may be in Seattle for good despite the sinking ship and the need to rebuild. Maybe the Mariners can sign Hideki Matsui and Yu Darvish and rake in enough cash in marketing/merchandise to in the future swing deals for free agents like Prince Fielder or Jose Reyes. Reyes in particular would have been a great fit in a big ballpark like Safeco.  

                In the NL Central, the Astros are being sold and moving to the AL, so the new owners might want to make a splash. But the Astros system is notoriously weak right now. The Pirates can’t afford Hanley, the Cubs have Starlin Castro, and the Brewers have money tied up in their core of Braun/Weeks/Hart/Gallardo/Greinke/M
arcum/LuCroy, etc. They don’t have the prospects left after the Sabathia, Marcum and Greinke trades. They couldn’t swap Prince for prospects because they were in contention, so now they get nothing for him. But you have to give the BrewCrew credit for going for it when they knew they had a shot. The Cardinals could use a shortstop, and they apparently had the money to give to Pujols. They also might have the young players to swap to Miami. It’s something to keep an eye on. Hanley would have to readjust his poor attitude to satisfy the sanctimonious fan bases of the Midwest. 

                Out west, the Padres can’t afford him, Tulo and Drew man short for the Rockies and D’Backs respectively. The Dodgers just gave Matt Kemp a big deal and with Monster McCourt on the way out, there could be hope that the new owners flex the muscle of a market like Los Angeles (hey, the Angels just did it!). The Giants under Brian Sabean have to be hesitant to hand out big deals after getting burned by Barry Zito and Aaron Rowand. They will need the cash to keep Lincecum/Cain/Bumgarner together, keep Brian Wilson happy and Brandon Belt, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval in the infield.

                So there doesn’t seem to be any great fits for Hanley anywhere. With so much talent to be had, a lot of teams that don’t look like good fits might be willing to pony up and shuffle some pieces to accommodate Ramirez. As it stands now, Marlins fans hope Hanley accepts the prospect of winning games as more important to where on the field he plays. South Florida wants him, and they hope Hanley wants them back. We’ve seen players balk at position changes before (Michael Young comes to mind) but hopefully for the good of the game, this diva doesn’t force his way out of town. The new Miami Marlins will be a lot more fun to watch with both Hanley and Jose Reyes running around together. Can’t you just imagine all the fun Ozzie Guillen Spanglish new conferences to come!??!.

Posted on: March 30, 2010 9:36 am

Bye-Bye Bobby!

Before we kick off the National Pasttime this spring, I just wanted to post a farewell to the enigmatic ambassador Bobby Cox. We all know and respect this man (even Mets and Phillies fans) and I for one hope his last season goes well for him. The man is the model of grace, consistency, and reserve. We all know about the 14 consecutive division titles between 1991 and 2005, puncutated by the one World Series win in 1995 over the Indians. We all know the names associated with these teams; Maddux, Chipper, Smoltz, Glavine, Andruw Jones, etc. If the Braves had won more than just one title in the 14 straight playoff seasons, we would be talking about this team as one of baseball history's great dynasties. They went to the Series five times in the 1990's, a remarkable run. They ran into very good Twins and Blue Jays teams early in the decade, and then ran into the Yankees
 dynasty in the later 1990's.
But to truly appreciate Bobby Cox, you need to look not at the final numbers (although the team never won fewer than 88 games between 1991-2005) but rather at all the players that Bobby made better. An incredible 26 players made NL All-Star teams for the Bravos during this run, combining for 56 midsummer classics. That's an amazing statistic. I am not even a Braves fan, but I have a lot of respect for men like Bobby Cox and will be sad to see him go. Good luck Mr. Cox.
Category: MLB
Posted on: February 18, 2010 6:48 pm

Spring Is In The Air: Part IV

Our fourth installment brings us an intriguing bunch. These teams, I believe, could have solid seasons or, if some things break the wrong way, well, it could be ugly. Ugly like three of these cities too.  
1. The Twins are always a punchy group. I mean, they do have America's most accessible superstar according to ESPN The Magazine (Joe Mauer), and the guy can play some baseball as well. Justin Morneau's health is always great, but with he, Cuddyer, Kubel and Denard Span, there is enough offense. The pitching staff, who knows? There is not a single strikeout pitcher in the bunch unless Liriano can find his marbles (spring reports are good so far). These guys are always around the strike zone and pitch to contact, but who was the last World Series team that didn't have that go-to guy, that lockdown ace? Someone from this group basically needs to become something their not. Joe Nathan heads an always good bullpen, and Ron Gardenhire is a very good manager. Just missing that ace. I guess Liriano can make or break this team.
2. Seattle has had the best offseason, so everyone says. Did they get better? Absolutely. Did they play over their heads last year? Absolutely. This team has a better lineup and better staff and still could win the same amount of games last year. Really. King Felix and Cliff Lee are the best 1-2 in the American League unless Josh Beckett has a 2007-type year. But who pitches after that? Ryan Rowland-Smith? Ian Snell? Come on, does anyone really think Erik Bedard will start 25-30 games or come close to 200 innings? Me neither. A speedy lineup, but no power whatsoever. Can Aardsma repeat last year? Nothing in his past suggests we should think so.
3. The Brewers, another scrappy team, are sort of like Seattle. Oh, except that Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun could combine for 11,000 homers, 17,500 RBI's and 8 stolen bases. Add to that Corey Hart, Rickie Weeks, etc., this team can slug. Yovanni Gallardo's name is so much fun to say isn't it? We could be saying it a lot if he has the type of year I think he will. Randy Wolf was a good signing. Trevor Hoffman, the ageless shutdown machine, back for another year. Anything could happen with these guys if they get some quality starts from somebody other than Gallardo/Wolf. 
4. The Motown Nine. Who plays here again? Rotation lead by the devastating Justin Verlander. Rick Porcello and Max Scherzer are a good young one-two. Danny Schlereth adds to Joel Zumaya in the pen. Miggy Cabrera, as long as he has a shot or two of the strong stuff before the games, is a lock for 30-100-100. Magglio, go away. What happens to this team? I know Mike Illich wants to win, but this team has some serious questions. Bonderman won't stay healthy, Inge won't either. Scott Sizemore, early ROY favorite. 
Category: MLB
Posted on: February 16, 2010 7:22 pm

Spring Is In The Air: Part III

Another grouping of teams that certainly inspire hope amongst their fans, and intrigue to analysts. 
1. Tampa Bay-A ridiculously talented roster. Speed, power, pitching, defense, a great manager, this team has it all. The real questions are not whether this team can compete, but whether the right guys will break out, and will the youth have enough maturity to put it together over the course of a long season in a tough division. Evan Longoria is an absolute stud at the hot corner. As is Carl Crawford in left field. Carlos Pena strikes out too much, but he brings an almost guaranteed 30 homers and 95-100 RBI's. Ben Zobrist is a star in the making, and this team is solid everywhere. If B.J. Upton ever reaches his potential, this team would be scary good. Shields, Garza, Price, Sonnastine, Wade Davis and Jeff Niemman are a solid group. Rafael Soriano is the key here, if he can solidify the bullpen, Tampa might be able to catch the Yanks and Sox.
2. That other team in the Sunshine State. A new stadium coming, and a bright baseball future as well? Hanley Ramirez might be the best all-around player in the game. Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco are a great young 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. Leo Nunez will be saving the games, which has to be better than Kevin Gregg. Guys like Cody Ross and Cameron Maybin bring potential, and Dan Uggla the power (assuming he isn't traded). A few holes, and the won't catch the Phillies, but maybe a wild card?
3. Atlanta Braves. Get those tomahawks ready folks. A solid outfield with Nate McClouth, Heyward if he wins the job, Melky Cabrera and Jordan Schaefer hanging around as the fourth outfielder. We all know Chipper's health woes, Yunel Escobar is a good one, can't say for Martin Prado or Troy Glaus. Brian McCann is the best catcher in the National League I'd say. The rotation is very good, with Hudson and Hanson being supported by Jurrjens (assuming his MRI was negative) and Kawakami and Derek Lowe. A wild card berth might be hard to come by if the injury bug sets in. 
4. The cuddly Cubbies. Yes, I know they were a disaster last year. Reports are that Carlos Zambrano and Geovany Soto have both lost some weight and are looking good. Derrek Lee had a resurgence last year, and if that continues and guys like Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano are healthy, this team could hit the ball. Marlon Byrd is a good signing. When Ted Lilly gets back, the rotation will be looking good. Carlos Marmol is a bit of a question mark, but if he is doing a good job then the Cubbies might win enough games to challenge St. Louis.  
Category: MLB
Tags: Braves, Cubs, Marlins, Rays
Posted on: February 13, 2010 3:41 pm

Spring Is In The Air: Part II

Thanks for the blog spotlight CBS. PECOTA projections be darned, say I. 
I previously covered the five teams I thought had the best chance of winning the whole thing. Vegas odds, I haven't checked out, but I would guess at least four of those teams (NYY, PHI, BOS and STL) would be the best odds. Those are my "contenders". The "pretenders" section isn't as bad as it sounds. It is more like teams that are good, and have a decent shot, but everything would have to break right.
1. The Angels-Even after a terrible offseason, there is enough in-house talent here to stay atop the AL West. Scott Kazmir, your typical erratic lefty, could possibly explode here with a full season under Mike Scioscia. Add to that Jered Weaver, Ervin Santana, Saunders and Joel Piniero, and thats a strong rotation. Juan Rivera and Kendry Morales are now full-time players, and Abreu and Torii Hunter provide steady production and veteran presence. Brandon Wood's time has finally arrived, let's see what he can do with it. Mike Napoli has emerged as one of the better catchers in the AL. Not as much star-power as in years past, but this team is solid and capable. 
2. Colorado Rockies-It all starts with Troy Tulowitzki. This guy is a half-step behind Hanley Ramirez in terms of all-around tools, but as a pure power threat at the position, he can't be topped. Barmes, Ian Stewart and the always under-appreciated Todd Helton comprise the rest of a very solid infield. Carlos Gonzalez is poised to break out as the key piece of the Matt Holliday deal. Brad Hawpe always chips in his stuff. Chris Ianetta should win the everyday backstop gig and could have a great year at Coors. Ubaldo, Jorge De La Rosa, Aaron Cook and the returning Jeff Francis make up a good stable of arms. Watch for the call-up of Jhoulys Chacin. Huston Street anchors the 'pen. The guy was gift-wrapped from the A's and has resurrected his career.
3. Dodgers-Probably the best young core in baseball with Billingsley, Broxton, Kershaw, Loney, Martin, Kemp, DeWitt, Ethier. Casey Blake and Manny Ramirez add the old dog touch. The rotation is certainly a question, but they just may be able to slug their way to keeping their NL West crown despite strong pushes by Colorado and maybe Arizona or San Fran,
4. Speaking of the DBacks. The return of Brandon Webb is the make-or-break. If he is the old Webb, this team is a force. If he isn't, forget it. The trade for Edwin Jackson and Ian Kennedy was perhaps a just in case scenario. Dan Haren is a very dependable ace. Justin Upton is a star in the making, as is Mark Reynolds. Stephen Drew, Miguel Montero, Chris B. Young, these guys all could have breakout years. A few questions, but a promising group. 
5. There is definite, palpable excitement around the Dallas/Ft. Worth area for baseball fans. New owners and a young, exciting team that could be a big story all season. We know about Michael Young, Ian Kinsler and Josh Hamilton. We know about the latter twos health issues as well. Nelson Cruz, Chris Davis and Jarrod Salty provide power everywhere. Neftali Perez and Elvis Andrus provide talented youth. Stockplied arms Tommy Hunter, Derek Holland, Scott Feldman etc. make a good group. Enough so the the team could afford to trade Kevin Millwood and his salary. Watch for the Rangers to make a real push in the West. 
A few others could easily be in this group, but have a few even more pressing issues than the ones plaguing these teams.  
Category: MLB
Posted on: February 11, 2010 6:24 pm

Spring Is In The Air: Part 1

Even though the Northeast just got battered by another snowstorm, spring is in the air. Even though the groundhog saw his shadow in Punxsutawney, Pa, pitchers and catchers are reporting in less than three weeks. So, with most difference-making free agents signed, it can be a safe time for contenders, pretenders, sleepers, and rebuilding,
The Contenders:1. Obviously, then Yankees. A very strong rotation with C.C.-Burnett-Vasquez-Pettite-Joba/P
hil Hughes. A HOF left side of the infield, a perennial All-Star at first, and a breakout candidate at second in Robinson Cano. A so-so outfield, but Curtis Granderson should fit in nicely at the new Yankee Stadim, and Swisher is steady if not spectacular. Throw in the best closer of all time, and all the money in the world to patch up weak spots at the trade deadline, and the recipe for success is there, per usual.
2. The two-time defending NL champ Phillies show no signs of resting on their laurels. Essentially swapping Roy Halladay for Cliff Lee keeps this team at the top of the National League. Add that to Hamels, J.A. Haap, Joe Blanton and Co., and there is a solid rotation. A power-laden lineup with speed and depth. Should represent the Senior Circuit again in the fall classic.
3. Red Sox Nation was disappointed when Jason Bay didn't resign, but Theo Epstein did not sit on his hands. A busy offseason hauled in Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro, Bill Hall, another Ramon Ramirez, Adrian Beltre, and the best free agent starter on the market, John Lackey. Lackey joins Josj Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Tim Wakefield and a healthy Daisuke Matsuzaka to shape baseball's best rotation. Superior defense and high OPS should make the Sox the wild card favorite if they fail to unseat the Yankees atop the AL Beast.
4. The two-headed monster of Carpenter and Wainwright should make the Redbirds the flavor of the NL Central, where 85-88 wins should do the trick. Keeping Matt Holliday was huge, as Albert Pujols has a partner in crime to scare the pitchers in the National League. Dave Duncan could coax soild years from the likes of Brad Penny and Kyle Loshe. An otherwise unspectacular lineup could see a serious upgrade is Colby Rasmus breaks out. Ryan Franklin needs to be as good as last year.
5. No one can accuse Ken Williams of inactivity. The White Sox GM is the quintessential wheeler-and-dealer. He traded young hurlers Clayton Richard and Aaron Poreda for Jake Peavy, hoping a return to health for the former NL Cy Young Award winner will put the ChiSox into the promised land for the second time in 5 years. Mark Buerhle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd back up the ace to make up a good rotation. Carlos Quentin and Alexei Ramirez need to give this team more than they did last year. Gordon Beckham should be even better. Alex Rios, who knows? Mark Teahen trade was a good one. 
I see these five as the primary threats to capture the World Series trophy.
Posted on: January 5, 2010 2:02 pm

Yay for Beltre

Not bad, not bad at all. I am not in love with Beltre as a player, and we all know what his 2004 season was about. That said, this is short money for a Gold Glove third baseman, and his numbers at Fenway will be much improved over his numbers at Safeco, which we all know is where power hitters go to die. This lineup, offensively, will be a contact lineup, everyone capable of double-digit home runs and there is a good lefty-right balance with some speed at both the top and bottom of the order. The defense will be among the league's best, and the pitching staff is looking to be ferocious. A bench with Kotchman, Varitek, Lowrie, Hermida, not bad. The bullpen, the usual suspects; Papelbon, Bard, Okajima, DelCarmen, etc. Also, a great farm system, lots of money, and great owners/front office. What's not to like? The trade deadline will fill any glaring needs. As Theo's theory goes, this team needs to win approx. 95 games to get in. Winning the division doesn't really matter, a good team should be able to win at home and on the road (which was Boston's problem last year). As long as you can get into the playoffs, home field advantage is a mere token. We all knew it was coming, but it will still be sad to see Mike Lowell go. Wherever he ends up, that team is getting a huge clubhouse asset, and if healthy, a good player. 
Category: MLB
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