Tag:Juan Pierre
Posted on: July 2, 2011 10:55 am
Edited on: July 3, 2011 11:08 am
 

Guillen's Pierre-colored glasses harming team

Pierre

By Evan Brunell


Dayan Viciedo is creaming the ball in Triple-A, but is blocked from a promotion because he has nowhere to play.

It's not Adam Dunn, Carlos Quentin or even Alex Rios that's blocking Viciedo, all of which would make sense. Nope, it's Juan Pierre.

"I wish I had 25 Juan Pierres, with all due respect to [Paul] Konerko, [Alex] Rios, [Adam] Dunn," skipper Ozzie Guillen said, displaying his irrationality for all to see. "If you ever manage Juan Pierre, you appreciate the way this kid goes about his business."

That's all well and good, but however well Pierre prepares for the game and reminds Guillen so much of himself (which is really what's going on here), he's still hitting .262/.321/.312 in 363 plate appearances. Yeah, yeah, he's stolen 11 bases. He's also been caught 10 times, pushing his career caught-stealing to 183, which leads all active teams. Pierre has led baseball or the NL seven times, including this season.

Pierre has been so bad, he has a negative WAR on the season. That's right, Pierre has been worth one win less than a replacement player; any average Joe currently plying their trade in Triple-A. And yet, Guillen insists on playing Pierre as much as possible because he has a fantastic work ethic and is the only person in baseball (according to Guillen) to work on his leadoffs from bases regularly, also practicing bunts and extra fly balls in the outfield. That hasn't stopped Pierre from getting caught 48 percent of the time on the bases or being brutal defensively, but hey, work ethic!

(To give Pierre some credit, over his last five games he is 10-for-23 with three extra-base hits, driving in six runs on a .435/.462/.609 line. But: six games.)

Using Baseball Musings' lineup tool, we see that nine Juan Pierres in a lineup would give the team 3.487 runs a game. Compare that to the usual lineup sent out by the White Sox with an average of 4.352. That lineup has six players with slugging percentages under .400 -- Pierre (.312), Dunn (.312), Rios (.325), A.J. Pierzynski (.395), Gordon Beckham (.357) and Brent Morel (.306) and still outproduces all nine Pierres by a full run.

Put simply, Guillen's Pierre-colored glasses are harming the team dramatically, and there doesn't seem to be any way for GM Kenny Williams to excise Pierre from the lineup. Commanding Guillen to bench Pierre won't work given the two's frosty history. If Pierre is on the team, Guillen will play him.

‘‘I might lose some respect from the players,’’ Guillen said on benching Pierre. ‘‘People believe in Juan; they know he’s our leader. I’m not afraid to bench a guy that’s not producing, as long as I have something else better or equal. But I think he plays the game right. He works. A lot of people look up to him. Our players love him.

‘‘I always say it’s about winning; I don’t care about feelings. But you have to be careful. You have to be careful how you treat your players, how your players are going to respond. If I do that to Juan, well, I never did it to anybody else. A lot of people have struggled, and I say, ‘I’m not going to bench you.’  ’’

That same frosty history between Williams and Guillen also has to be affecting the chance of a Pierre release, as Williams has continually said he doesn't want to step on Guillen's toes. This is a passive power struggle, as the Sun-Times reports. Instead of one or both sides trying to seize power, both are trying to stay out of it.

At this point, the only way Pierre will stop playing for the White Sox is for Kenny Williams to show him the door after the season, as Pierre is an impending free agent.

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Posted on: June 30, 2011 11:44 pm
Edited on: June 30, 2011 11:54 pm
 

3 Up, 3 Down: Pierre comes through in clutch



By Matt Snyder


Juan Pierre, White Sox. It's been a rough season for Pierre thus far, but he came through in a big way Thursday. In the top of the eighth, Pierre hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game. Then, in the top of the tenth, Pierre stepped to bat with the bases loaded and came just a few feet from hitting a grand slam. Mind you, this is a guy with 15 career home runs in over 7,000 plate appearances. He laced a Clayton Mortensen pitch off the high right field wall in Coors Field that was probably about three feet from landing in the seats. Since Paul Konerko was holding on first, Pierre only managed a single, but he did drive in two runs, which proved to be the game-winners. On the day, Pierre went 3-5 with three RBI and a stolen base as the White Sox hung within four games in the AL Central.

Jason Varitek, Red Sox. The venerable backstop used to have pretty good power for a catcher, but he's 39 now and on his last legs. Still, there's a little tread left on those old tires, as Varitek proved with a two-homer game Thursday. He entered the game with only three home runs in 130 plate appearances this season and hasn't hit two in a game since April 10 of last season. It was the 10th two-home run game of his career. Varitek also handled the Red Sox pitching staff from behind the plate to a shutout of the best team in baseball. All in all, well done for the venerable captain.

The Florida Marlins. Let us congratulate the Marlins. For the first time since May 25-26, they have won back-to-back games. In two days, they nearly doubled their win total in the nightmarish month, too. Before the modest winning streak -- can we say two games is a streak? Whatever, I'm doing it here -- the Marlins were 3-23 in June. They close it 5-23. Oh, and don't look now, but here's Hanley Ramirez's line in the past eight games: .355 average, two doubles, a home run, seven RBI, six runs and a .910 OPS. Maybe it was Jack McKeon's tough love, maybe it's hitting cleanup or maybe he was just bound to come out of the season-long slump eventually (probably a combination of the three). Regardless of the reason, it would appear Hanley is coming around.



Giants' offense. It's pretty bad to only get five hits in 13 innings. It's pretty bad to only score one earned run in 13 innings. It's really bad when you look deeper at the circumstances behind the offensive ineptitude, though. Cubs' starter Carlos Zambrano left the game during the second inning with an injury. In came Marcos Mateo and his 5.09 ERA. He was recently recalled from Triple-A. And he dominated the Giants. Mateo needed only 56 pitches to carve through the Giants in five scoreless innings. He only gave up two hits and struck out six. If you can believe it, things got even worse for the Giants' bats. In one stretch, they went 10 1/3 innings without a hit. Oh, and the Cubs came into Thursday with the worst ERA in the NL. Amazingly, the Giants would have won the game if the bullpen didn't blow two saves.

Brewers against Yankees/Red Sox. The Brewers have World Series aspirations this season, so it's a good thing for them it's only the halfway point of the season. In two series against the two best teams in the AL, the Brewers were pretty thoroughly embarrassed. Thursday, former teammate CC Sabathia owned them, as the Yankees cruised to a 5-0 win. The Brewers were outscored 22-4 by the Yankees during the three-game sweep. When the Brewers visited Boston, they lost two of three and were outscored 24-11. Add it up, and you have the Brewers going 1-5 and being outscored by an average of five runs per game. Meanwhile they've fallen back into a first-place tie with the Cardinals, and the Reds and Pirates are only two back.

Brad Mills, Astros. Yes, we're putting a manager from a team that won 7-0 here. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth and no one on base, Mills made a pitching change ... and brought in his closer, Mark Melancon. The only earthly explanation for this would be to "get him work," as he'd only pitched once since June 22. Why not the whole ninth, then? Melancon ended up needing only two pitches to end the game. He can get that kind of "work" in the bullpen. The mid-inning pitching change was a waste of time and no good could have possibly come from it.

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Posted on: June 14, 2011 11:38 am
Edited on: June 14, 2011 12:02 pm
 

Next ChiSox slugger Viciedo biding time in minors

Viciedo

By Evan Brunell

The next big White Sox slugger, GM Kenny Williams believes, is currently plying his trade in Triple-A. Unfortunately for Dayan Viciedo, he hasn't received the call to the majors yet in 2011.

"I'm not going to bring him here to sit," Williams told MLB.com. "[Manager] Ozzie [Guillen] is not ready to change the mix he has right now, and that has to be respected."

Viciedo is currently hitting .318/.365/.518 down in Triple-A with 10 home runs in 266 plate appearances. Factor in the 22-year-old's .308/.321/.519 mark in the majors last season over 106 PA, and it certainly seems as if Viciedo is ready.

"It would be awfully interesting to have him in this lineup," said Williams. "He's ready. He's obviously got some things he still needs to work on, but I would have no qualms about bringing him here.

Nicknamed "The Cuban Tank," the main blocking of Viciedo is due to left fielder Juan Pierre. After coming up as a third baseman, Viciedo has shifted to right field, which the team believes has allowed him to focus on offense. But Viciedo won't be supplanting DH Adam Dunn, center fielder Alex Rios nor corner outfielder Carlos Quentin anytime soon. That leaves Pierre, but Guillen believes that speed at the top of the lineup is valuable.

Still, even to Guillen speed only goes so far.

"If you have speed and you can't hit, then we don't need your speed," said Guillen. "Speed is good when you get on base and you can hit, and that's what Juan has been doing lately. You always like to have some speed at the top to make things happen. This guy can run, but you can't steal first."

Pierre hasn't exactly been getting on base lately, counter to Guillen's belief. He did have a .286 average and .365 OBP in May, but his OBP was .286 in April and .311 in June, which gives him an overall line of .259/.324/.304. In addition, the 33-year-old has stolen 10 bases -- and been caught nine times, which leads all of baseball. Players need to steal bags at a minimum rate of 75 percent to break even and cause stealing bases to be of value to a team, so Pierre is actively harming the White Sox with his decisions. Also, Pierre has been uncharacteristically poor in the field, which creates an all-around lousy player.

Viciedo is expected to supplant Pierre in the outfield, whether that's this month or after the season as Pierre is an impending free agent. And Viciedo himself expects big things.

"That's going to be the trio of Chicago," Viciedo mentioned of himself, Carlos Quentin and Alex Rios.

"There are some pretty good hitters in the lineup just mentioned," Williams said. "Someone else will have to figure out the leadoff spot, if that were something to think about."

Viciedo hasn't come up even as a bench player yet because both Williams and Guillen are in agreement that Viciedo needs to play every day. Guillen says if Viciedo is called up, he needs to play at least five times a week, good for about 20-30 plate appearances.

"He is slowly acquiring a little bit more plate discipline, and the ball comes off of his bat harder than anyone we have," Williams added. "And the sky is the limit to where his potential can take him."

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Posted on: May 10, 2011 1:12 pm
 

White Sox starting to 'put it on the board'



By Matt Snyder


The Chicago White Sox were a popular pick to the win the AL Central prior to the 2011 season. I can't speak for everyone, but I can tell you why I picked them. The starting rotation is strong and the offense looked to be powerful.

Instead, the offense was abominable through last Friday. The White Sox had dropped eight of nine games and sat in last place in a pretty bad division at 11-22. While the back-end of the bullpen has been a serious concern, the most head-scratching problem with the team was the lack of offense. From April 15 through May 6, the White Sox scored more than three runs four times -- two of those were four-run games. They scored either zero or one run seven times. This was a 20-game stretch.

If you look at the currrent seasonal totals for American League ballclubs, the White Sox rank 10th in runs, 10th in batting average, ninth in on-base percentage and 10th in OPS. The problems were evident all over the place. Adam Dunn had an awful transition to the AL, possibly affected by his appendectomy (though Matt Holliday seems to be just fine). A.J. Pierzynski can't hit anymore. Juan Pierre hasn't been getting hits like he usually does and has gotten caught stealing (eight) more times than he's stolen a base (six). Alex Rios got off to a pitiful start while Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez have scuffled more times than not as well.

You can say what you want about that collection of players, but you cannot dispute there is lots of talent there. I've seen many fans complaining about having a bunch of strikeout machines, but only three AL teams have struck out less than the White Sox. There is lots of power, but there is also speed and it's not an overly old bunch. The oldest one is Paul Konerko and he's been raking.

Now, with a three-game winning streak, it appears the lineup is waking up from its collective funk. Konerko has been consistent and hitting well all season. Carlos Quentin has had some insane hot streaks. He's up and down, but still has a .944 OPS with eight home runs and 23 RBI. They just needed everyone else to wake up and it could very well be happening.

In the past three games, the White Sox have scored 19 runs. Two of those came in the pitcher's paradise known as Safeco Field, too.

Some of the individuals who had been struggling are waking up, which only alleviates the collective pressure on the entire lineup.

Beckham went 6-15 (.400) in the series with two doubles, a home run, three RBI and three runs. Ramirez went 3-8 with a double and a home run in the past two games. Dunn went 5-13 (.385) with three doubles and four runs in the last three. Rios has gone 11 for his past 28 with a 1.036 in the past seven games. Even Brent Morel went 5-8 over the weekend.

The White Sox are still just 14-22 and a whopping 9 1/2 games out on May 10. That's an uphill climb. But the bats are starting to wake up, the bullpen hasn't been near as bad in recent weeks and Jake Peavy is coming back to bolster the rotation. There are five games left on a west-coast trip against some pretty good pitching. If the White Sox win two of those games, the 5-4 trip would be considered a success and they'd be coming home to a seven-game homestand in one of the best hitter's parks in the majors.

If you still don't buy the Indians -- and note that the rest of the division is flawed -- don't count the White Sox out. Remember, baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint.

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Posted on: April 14, 2011 1:58 am
 

3 up, 3 down for 4/13: Johnson's no-no bid

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Josh Johnson3UP

Josh Johnson, Marlins -- It's no surprise when Florida's Josh Johnson flirts with a no-hitter. He's the type of pitcher it seems like he'll throw one one of these days, maybe even in his next start. On opening day he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and Wednesday night he took one into the eighth inning before Freddie Freeman doubled with one out in the eighth.

Lance Berkman, Cardinals -- Berkman homered for his third consecutive game and made it count, launching a grand slam in the second inning of the Cardinals' 15-5 victory over the Diamondbacks.  He also had an RBI ground-out in the two-run first. Over the last three games he's 6 for 13 with four homers and 10 RBI. He had just six hits in the first eight games of his Cardinals tenure.

Brian Wilson, Giants -- Before Wednesday night's game against the Dodgers, manager Bruce Bochy said closer Brian Wilson was cleared to pitch back-to-back nights. Tuesday he picked up his first save of the season, Wednesday it was his second. After starting the season on the disabled list and then two bad outings, Wilson looks like his old self again, working perfect innings for the save each of the last two nights.

3DOWN

Nick Masset, Reds -- With Ozzie Guillen picking on the White Sox bullpen, we'll avoid doing so. But we'll still point out a former White Sox reliever, Masset, who blew a save for the third straight game on Wednesday. He had some help from an error by catcher Ryan Hanigan and came in with a runner on in the eighth inning, but he then gave up the winning run in the ninth. The Reds rebounded from his blown save on Tuesday to win in extras. Masset now has an ERA of 9.95 in five appearances (his ERA actually went down with Wednesday's performance). Masset had an ERA of 11.32 after April last season before finishing at 3.40 and as one of the Reds' top performers in the bullpen.

Juan Pierre, White Sox -- Pierre's not having a good week. On Monday, Pierre dropped a fly ball, leading to a White Sox loss. On Wednesday, he was 3 for 4 and reached base five times, but was picked off twice and picked up his third error of the season. Pierre had made just one error in each of the last two seasons.

Attendance -- If Johnson had thrown a no-hitter in Atlanta on Wednesday, he would have done it in front of the second-smallest crowd in Turner Field history. Only Tuesday's crowd of 13,865 was less than the 14,351 for Wednesday's game. The Pirates played in front of the seventh-smallest crowd in PNC Park history, 8,755.

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Posted on: April 12, 2011 1:21 am
Edited on: April 12, 2011 2:03 am
 

3 up, 3 down for 4/11: Pitching driving Tribe

By Matt Snyder

3UP

Mitch Talbot, Indians. Actually, we could put the entire Tribe starting rotation here. It's been incredible during the eight-game Cleveland winning streak. During that span, Talbot, Justin Masterson, Fausto Carmona, Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin have combined for a 1.55 ERA (hat-tip to Jordan Bastian ). Monday it was Talbot's turn, and he went eight shutout innings, allowing the Angels only five hits and two walks while striking out four. He was given four runs by his offense in the first two innings and cruised to victory.

Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies. The shortstop got his team on the scoreboard with an RBI single in the third, kept the Mets off the board with an incredible defensive play to end the seventh and then hit a two-run shot in the eighth that would prove to be the eventual difference in a 7-6 Rockies win.

Lance Berkman, Cardinals. When he came to bat in the seventh, he was still without his first home run as a Cardinal. Before the game was over, he had two.

3DOWN

Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox. I tweeted during the game that the difference in Josh Beckett's stuff from Sunday night to Dice-K's stuff Monday was like going from varsity to junior high. Allow me to alter that sentiment. It was more like varsity to little league. There's just no bite on any of his pitches and he doesn't even seem to command anything well. He somehow made it through two innings, giving up eight hits, seven earned runs, two home runs and two walks.

Juan Pierre, White Sox. Yes, Pierre had to run a long way. Yes, Matt Thornton has now blown three saves without converting any. Still, Pierre needs to make that catch on the warning track. If it happens, maybe Thornton finally gets off the schneid with his first save. Instead, the White Sox lose in extra innings. And, by the way, that was the second time Pierre's dropped a fly with Thornton on the hill this season.

Felix Hernandez, Mariners. It was a rare off-night for the King. He was battered by the Blue Jays to the tune of seven earned runs on 12 hits in six innings. Of course ...

Special bonus entry: The Blue Jays' bullpen. It was 7-0 after six innings. A Milton Bradley solo homer in the seventh made it a seemingly innocent 7-1 tally. Then the eighth inning happened. David Purcey allowed two singles and a walk. Octavio Dotel walked two -- both forcing runs home. Marc Rzepczynski came in and walked in another before allowing a single. All of a sudden, it was 7-6. Shawn Camp did get out of the inning, but lost it in the ninth -- eventually on a two-RBI knock by Luis Rodriguez. The simple math? After the eighth inning began, the Mariners scored seven runs before the Blue Jays could record a sixth out. Four pitchers failed to varying degrees.

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Posted on: April 6, 2011 11:51 am
Edited on: April 6, 2011 12:19 pm
 

Pierre replaces Dunn as Chicago's DH

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Juan PierreWith Adam Dunn out of the White Sox's lineup due to an emergency appendectomy, Ozzie Guillen's replaced him in the lineup with… Juan Pierre?

Pierre is in Chicago's lineup as the team's designated hitter, leading off for Wednesday afternoon's series finale against the Royals and left-hander Jeff Francis.

Pierre has 14 career home runs, while Dunn has 355 homers in 733 fewer career plate appearances. Pierre does have 469 more stolen bases in his career than Dunn.

Pierre had started every game this season in left field, so it's probably more accurate that Lastings Milledge is in the lineup because of Dunn's absence. Milledge is in left, batting seventh.

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Posted on: March 29, 2011 5:02 pm
Edited on: April 18, 2011 11:51 am
 

Top 20 things to expect from 2011 season

Jeter

By Evan Brunell

The 2011 season is slated to start Thursday, and with it comes no shortage of storylines to watch. Last year brought the advent of Stephen Strasburg, yet another Cliff Lee trade, and of course, the Giants being crowned champions. What's on deck?

1. East Coast hype

An all-too easy criticism of mainstream media or any sports journalist is the dreaded "East Coast bias" label. However, this season, most of the intriguing teams and races will come from both the AL and NL East.

In the senior circuit, the Phillies have a vaunted rotation, but injuries to Domonic Brown and Chase Utley have left the door ajar for the Braves to sneak in. Many seem to be overlooking Atlanta, but the club won 91 games and will add Dan Uggla to the lineup while improving production out of left field. The Marlins, meanwhile, have a strong rotation and enough offensive potential loaded in their young players that they can't be discounted. Add in the mess that is the Mets along with some nice storylines in Washington (Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Jayson Werth to name three), and there's plenty of topics to go around.

Likewise, in the league with the DH, the Red Sox were the darlings of the offseason after importing Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, while adding Bobby Jenks to the bullpen, and appear to be the team to beat, as Yankees GM Brian Cashman has admitted. But you can't count out New York, and Cashman has a quality club ready to push for the division. Tampa Bay, meanwhile, underwent quite a remake but can't be counted out, as this is a club that could crack 90 wins with only a smidgen of luck. The Jays are fresh off a surprising year and have Jose Bautista to draw national interest, while the Orioles are hopeful the middling veterans imported will push the team toward the .500 barrier.

That's not to say that other teams don't have compelling storylines, but the concentration of quality and ease of finding compelling storylines for each team means that the East Coast will dominate the news.

2. Breaking records

It will be a banner year for three players set to hit significant milestones, and there are plenty of other players nearing milestones that, while not Hall of Fame caliber, will put emphasis on the productive careers they have had.

Rounding the Bases

Perhaps the most revered milestone for a hitter to reach, 3,000 hits will come into play for Derek Jeter, who is just 74 hits away. He will probably reach the mark in late May or early June, depending on if he's the .270 batting average Jeter of 2010 or the .314-average Jeter of his career.

Jeter isn't the only Yankee poised for a milestone, however. Mariano Rivera is closing in on 600 saves, as he currently has 559. Given that the major-league record for saves is 601 by Trevor Hoffman, Rivera could also make it to the top of the mountain. That said, Mo will need a good year to reach 600 saves as he has not cracked the 40-save barrier in four out of the past five years.

Ivan Rodriguez is also close to 3,000 hits, needing 183. However, given he has not reached that mark since 1999, you can bet I-Rod will need until at least 2012 to reach the milestone. Heck, depending on how much he plays and produces, he may need until 2013, even though that is quite unlikely.

Jim Thome is 11 home runs away from becoming the eighth member of the 600-club. Paul Konerko needs 35 homers to reach 400, while Adam Dunn (354) and David Ortiz (349) would need big seasons to hit the 400 mark.

Closing in on 2,000 hits are Carlos Lee (1,967), Orlando Cabrera (1,948), Scott Rolen (1,944), Jason Giambi (1,914), Albert Pujols (1,900), Adrian Beltre (1,889), Luis Castillo (1,889), Konerko (1,861), Michael Young (1,848), Derrek Lee (1,843), Juan Pierre (1,842), Andruw Jones (1,840) and Placido Polanco (1,836).

3. A new labor agreement

Baseball's collective bargaining agreement is due to expire after the season, but both baseball and the players union are already beginning work on coming to an accord. In a year where the NFL has locked out its players and the NBA appears headed down that path, it's important for baseball to work together with players and come to an agreement in short order.

Fortunately, after years of rancor, both sides have a harmonious working relationship and it should not be difficult to come to an arrangement even with sensitive topics such as revenue sharing and draft slotting among what will be discussed. The last agreement was finalized and announced on Oct. 25, 2006, so any announcement may not come until the conclusion of the playoffs.

However, recent word comes from the Boston Globe that any hint of a work stoppage would be a shocker, even with delicate issues such as revamping the revenue-sharing agreement. Also on deck is adding wild cards, an international draft and draft slotting.

4. Giants doing just fine

There are a lot of people wondering if the Giants can possibly repeat their World Series run of last year, doing so with a suboptimal offense and squeaking into the playoffs by the skin of their nose.

However, the offense should be much improved with Buster Posey behind the dish for a full year, Aaron Rowand squarely on the bench and Miguel Tejada replacing Edgar Renteria. While Tejada may have his issues, especially on defense, he should be able to improve on what Renteria gave the Giants last season. In addition, prospect Brandon Belt should be in the majors by June at the latest and will add another dimension to the club.

The rotation is one of concern, even if it's ridiculously deep given how young everyone is sans Barry Zito and the load they shouldered last year to win a ring. Fortunately, the Giants are cognizant of this and plan to give starters a lighter load to start the year. Plus, even if one or two starting pitchers fall flat on their face, there's still plenty of quality starters. One concern is the depth behind the front five, which is extremely thin.

5. Yankees trade for starting pitcher

There's simply no way the Yankees don't strike for a starting pitcher this season, but it may not be Francisco Liriano. The lefty is the hot name in trade circles and while Liriano still stands a good chance of being dealt, it probably won't be until after the year.

But the Yankees need help now. They had enough trouble filling the Nos. 4 and 5 spots in the rotation, so imagine what the depth behind them is like once injuries strike -- and they will. Fortunately for the Yankees, they have a solid farm system and a top prospect in Jesus Montero they can dangle for the right pitcher.

Even if the right pitcher doesn't come along to whisk Montero away, there will be no shortage of candidates as the year goes on for the Yankees to grab. What bears watching is who they grab. While acquiring a No. 4 starter would certainly deepen the rotation, it's more important for New York to get a frontline pitcher. Does anyone feel confident with A.J. Burnett following CC Sabathia in the playoffs? Didn't think so, and it would be presumptuous to project Phil Hughes' emergence into that pitcher even if the talent is there.

6. Strasburg recovering from Tommy John surgery

StrasburgStrasburg underwent Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow on September 9, and recovery from such surgeries these days tends to take 9-12 months. Edinson Volquez returned to the majors 11 months after such a surgery. While the Nationals may play it cautious, Strasburg is right on schedule, and given his tremendous work ethic and young age, should have no problem meeting the conservative 12-month estimate.

That means Strasmas could be back just in time to close the season out, where he'll certainly dominate headlines once more. Strasburg would certainly need minor-league rehab starts first, but his timeline should assure him of the ability to get into games before the minor-league regular season ends in early September. Given the club will have expanded to 40 players at that point and will likely be out of the division race, it won't be difficult to get Strasburg back on the roster and in a major-league game.

Could the Nationals play it conservative and hold him back until 2012? Sure, it all depends how Strasburg progresses. But even if they hold him back, Strasburg certainly would play Winterball to get his footing under him. Most pitchers returning from T.J. surgery tend to struggle with command upon return, and the only way to address that is to get on a mound and pitch.

7. Bonds, Rocket dominate headlines

BondsThe trial of Barry Bonds has already started, but is still ongoing. It should be wrapped up before long, but that doesn't mean that Bonds will exit the headlines -- whatever the ruling on Bonds' perjury trial, it will have long-lasting ramifications on the game.

If Bonds is found guilty, many ink will be spilled on how this cements Bonds' exclusion from the Hall of Fame, plus articles on how Bonds is finally getting his comeuppance.

In addition, Roger Clemens will be put on high alert, given the Rocket will be undergoing his own perjury trial in the summer. If Bonds is found innocent, there will be a hot debate once more on whether to vote Bonds into the Hall. You will find those writers who believe that, despite the acquittal of Bonds, he knowingly abused steroids. There will be those who concede that while Bonds likely knew exactly what was going on, the law has deemed him innocent, and thus should be elected. And of course, a broad spectrum of opinions therein.

The Clemens trial, meanwhile, will dominate headlines even more than Bonds given the salacious details that have leaked out about Clemens' career, plus the off-putting way in how Clemens has fought the rumors he used steroids.

Much like the Bonds trial, the verdict will spark debate amid wide-ranging opinions. If both are convicted, there will be those who consider the steroid mess closed thanks to triumphing over perhaps the best hitter and pitcher of the steroid era. If both are innocent, it may open the door for those to wonder openly if they are not truly innocent, that the problem may lie with the system itself if it allows Bonds and Clemens to walk free.

Either way, the Bonds and Clemens trial will spark plenty of discussion that will last for years as they attempt to get into the Hall of Fame.

8. Questioning if Mets stay solvent

WilponsThe Mets are hoping to close a deal to bring in a new investor by the close of July. While it is not yet known what percentage of the team these investors will hold, it is expected to be in the 20-25 percent range, although the Wilpons are focused on acquiring a certain price over selling a certain percentage.

Why? 

They need the money. The Mets have debt to pay off, a $1 billion lawsuit staring them in the face (thanks, Irving Picard) and a ticking clock in which to stay solvent. If the Mets aren't able to bring in a new investor by that time, they will likely need a loan from MLB. At that point commissioner Bud Selig would likely have free rein to do what he wants with the Mets, including telling the Wilpons to sell the entire club.

That's incredibly unlikely, especially since the Wilpons (Jeff pictured on the left, Fred right) and Selig have a long, good relationship, but it bears mentioning.

Most investors are requesting majority control of the Mets -- which won't happen, unless the Wilpons' hands are forced -- or right of first refusal if the Wilpons eventually have to cough up the team. This should be an acceptable compromise to the Wilpons, who need to worry about money more than they do any possible future owner of the club.

9. New wave of prospects arriving

At the beginning of March, CBS Sports revealed its top 100 prospects, and along with the list came information on which prospects could make an impact this season.

Topping the list was No. 3 prospect Domonic Brown, who was expected to start in right field for the Phillies and attempt to replace Werth. Unfortunately, the team is now left scrambling after Brown fractured the hamate bone in his hand. He shouldn't be out terribly long, but may struggle with his power stroke upon returning. Philly may have to wait until 2012 to extract real value from the kid.

Meanwhile. No. 6's Jeremy Hellickson will open the season as a member of Tampa Bay's rotation and could easily replace the statistics Matt Garza tossed up. He's that good, that ready for the major leagues and has to be considered the front-runner for the AL Rookie of the Year award.

A fellow pitcher in Kyle Drabek (No. 16) appears on the verge of cracking Toronto's rotation after a successful late-season stint with the Blue Jays. Across the border in Ohio, Aroldis Chapman (No. 9) is readying for a full year in the bullpen and could wrest the closer's job away from Francisco Cordero by year's end.

The prospects keep on coming, as the Braves boast three in No. 19's Freddie Freeman, No. 29 Mike Minor and No. 85 Craig Kimbrel. Freeman should provide a steady presence at first base even if he lacks high-end ceiling. Minor figures to open the year in Triple-A, but should make an appearance before long and have a nice career in the middle of the rotation. Kimbrel is considered by many to be the Braves closer of the future.

There are plenty of other projected starters who will infuse baseball with youth, such as No. 33's Chris Sale, who will relieve for the White Sox; No. 66's Matt Dominguez who is on pace to play third for Florida -- ditto the same for No. 96's Brent Morel for the White Sox; No. 71's J.P. Arencibia is readying for a season as Toronto's backstop; No. 86's Danny Espinosa rocketing through two years of the minors to open the year as the starting second baseman for Washington; and No. 95 Jake McGee's apparent future as Tampa Bay's closer. You also can't discount No. 18 Brandon Belt, who could easily take home the NL Rookie of the Year honors provided he logs enough time for the Giants. Starting pitchers Zach Britton (No. 14, Orioles), Simon Castro (No. 52, Padres) and Kyle Gibson (No. 37, Twins) are on the verge of the bigs as well.

10. Philly thankful Blanton stayed

When the Phillies signed Cliff Lee, the consensus was that Philadelphia would trade Joe Blanton. After all, who needs a No. 5 starter due $17 miliion over the next two years when you have Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels?

Philly couldn't find a fit, however, and will now head into the season with Blanton on the roster. This is a good thing. Just because Blanton is the No. 5 starter doesn't mean he doesn't hold value, and being able to trot Blanton out against the back of the rotation for other teams will give Philadelphia an edge -- one it needs after losing Brown and Chase Utley.

Will Blanton stay with the team for the remainder of the year? Who can say, but even trading Blanton in July for pieces Philly knows it needs for a World Series run -- and to teams who will be increasingly desperate for pitchers once injuries and attrition hit -- is far more valuable than any deal of Blanton in January would have accomplished.

11. Firings

There's no question some managers and GMs will be shown the door in 2011. But who?

Skippers on the hot seat are covered here, so let's take a look at some GMs that could get the axe.

CollettiNed Colletti, Dodgers: Granted, Colletti has been hamstrung by the financial woes of owner Frank McCourt, but Colletti hasn't exactly done a good job with what he's been given. He appears to have learned from his mistakes in signing disasters like Jason Schmidt and Andruw Jones and giving away Carlos Santana, but he also hasn't improved the team significantly. This team is simply muddling along, and Colletti looks like the classic "change for change's sake" for McCourt to try to improve morale. Of course, nothing will improve morale more than McCourt taking a hike.

Jim Hendry, Cubs: Hendry has been an up-and-down GM with the Cubs. While he made a bold gamble in trading for Garza and the Cubs may be a mild sleeper, if the team missteps yet again it's difficult to fathom the Ricketts family holding still. Hendry is a holdover from the previous ownership regime and is signed through 2012, but that wouldn't give the ownership pause in firing him. If the Cubs slip, Hendry is highly likely to be given his walking papers, especially since he stuck his neck out by hiring Mike Quade.

Tony Reagins, Angels: Reagins has done nothing but take steps back since taking over for Bill Stoneman, all the more curious given Stoneman was promoted and oversees Reagins. But the moves Reagins has made, such as (obviously) Vernon Wells are head scratching. Similar moves for Scott Kazmir and insisting on playing Jeff Mathis have followed. Manager Mike Scioscia loves Mathis, but it's up to Reagins to tell Scioscia no and take Mathis away if need be. Unfortunately, this team looks lined up to disappoint again and hover around .500. Will that fly for a second consecutive year in L.A.? Doubt it, and Scioscia won't be the first candidate on the chopping block.

Ed Wade, Astros: It's possible Wade could be on the chopping block in his third season with Houston. The Astros are widely expected to slide back and simply aren't successful at the major- or minor-league level when it comes tom talent. That may speak more to the owner than GM, but the owner doesn't get fired. Also, McLane is thought to be interested in selling the team and is reportedly close to selling to Jim Crane, who previously attempted to buy Houston and lost out on the Rangers last season. Should that happen, new ownership would absolutely want to bring in its own leader.

Jack Zduriencik, Mariners: Jack Z's leash is likely long enough to give him at least one more year, but in Year 3, the Mariners simply don't seem to have improved from his tenure. Yes, they surprised many in 2009, and part of it was probably flukish, but Zduriencik took a historically anemic lineup from 2010 and added ... Jack Cust. If he can get a strong season from Justin Smoak and impressive debuts from Dustin Ackley and Michael Pineda, he should be safe.

12. Surprise teams

It happens every year. There's always that one team that takes a big step forward and contends for the postseason. Last year was especially notable in this regard, with the Reds, Padres, Giants and Blue Jays all performing better than expected. The one team to keep an eye on for 2011 is Colorado.

The Rockies finished with 83 wins last year, which is a surprise given the talent. Everyone knows the name Ubaldo Jimenez, Troy Tulowitzki (pictured) and Carlos Gonzalez, but the rest of the team aren't scrubs either. Colorado has been in the national consciousness the last few years given its Rocktober run in 2007 and another postseason appearance in 2009, but it hasn't been able to sustain that excellence.

TulowitzkiThat could be changing now that Gonzalez has fully matured into a middle-of-the-order hitter and have built out a rotation that should keep Colorado in the game. The Rockies are counting a bit on production from Ian Stewart at third and Chris Iannetta at catcher, but when you look at this team, it's a playoff-caliber club that should challenge the Giants in the NL West.

Unlike Colorado, however, there will also be those teams that crash and burn despite expectations. San Diego is widely expected to slide back, but expectations have also been adjusted due to trading Adrian Gonzalez. The one team that may not be able to live up to its billing is the Brewers.

Like Colorado, the star players are obvious -- Zack Greinke and Prince Fielder are the star names, but Ryan Braun and Shaun Marcum are no lightweights, either. The one area of concern in Milwaukee is the utter lack of depth which will end up a real problem if and when injuries strike. Look at what's happened to the rotation -- without Greinke to start the season, the club is going to have to trot out what will effectively be slop in the No. 5 spot. There's similar stories on offense with little help ready to step in and a complete punting of shortstop defense and center field offense.

The Brewers should finish .500, but they are a popular pick to win the World Series and it's difficult to envision them even making the playoffs unless everything goes right. The odds of that happening are as slim as Greinke accepting a trade back to the Royals.

13. Suffering in K.C ... plus optimism

"The day is darkest before dawn," or so goes the saying. That's certainly true in Kansas City, which will throw out a team capable of losing 100 games. But boasting the game's best farm system in a very long time is just the salve to ease the pain Royals fans will enjoy  watching Luke Hochevar function as the team's "ace."

The Royals have pared payroll, knowing it's pointless to try to pretend they can contend, plus the necessity to keep certain positions open for prospects that are nearing the majors. While Alcides Escobar will start the season in the majors, that won't be enough to excite the masses until the first wave of prospects hit, with Mike Moustakas likely to join the club in June or July.

Fans are going to have to sit through Jeff Francoeur flailing at pitches, Alex Gordon trying desperately to reverse his "bust" label and Jason Kendall struggling to take corporeal form ... but the picture only gets rosier, starting with 2012 where it's possible three of the most heralded prospects could break the year with the club, then an additional three hitting the majors at some point over the summer.

While watching the Royals, at least in the outset, will be an exercise in futility, by September, they may become the hot team to watch for the baseball fanatic.

14. Pirates finish last -- or will they?

The Pirates are poised to register their 19th consecutive losing season, but there is some optimism in Pittsburgh. The first wave of position player prospects have hit, and the club can point to Andrew McCutchen in center field, Jose Tabata in left, Neil Walker at second and Pedro Alvarez at third as reasons to be optimistic with the offense. There are some other intriguing pieces down on the farm offensively that could make an impact such as catcher Tony Sanchez, and with a strong year, outfielder Starling Marte could be knocking on the door.

The club is also building solid pitching depth, with Rudy Owens and Bryan Morris perhaps making their big-league debuts this season, although the cream of the crop in Jameson Taillon (the No. 2 overall pick behind Harper in last season's draft) and Stetson Allie are further away. While the team waits for Taillon and Allie, however, it could pluck Gerrit Cole with the No. 1 pick in June. Cole has been called by some as the "next Stephen Strasburg." Lofty expectations to be sure, but if Cole is picked and advances quickly, the Pirates could start doing some damage in several years.

In 2011, finishing under .500 is a virtual certainty. But will the Bucs finish in last place? It's possible they could pull out a fourth-place finish. It all depends how well the rotation performs and Alvarez, Tabata and Walker all adjust to a full year in the majors. The Astros may just have enough solid major-league talent to grab a fourth-place finish, but that's in doubt. Hey, any type of progress will be welcome in Pittsburgh.

15. Wild (card) about the postseason?

There seems to be overwhelming momentum toward expanding the playoffs with another wild card likely being added to the fray to battle the other wild-card winner in a best-of-3 series. That means that for the first time since 1995, the postseason would take on an entirely different complexion.

In 2010, the Yankees would have taken on the Chicago White Sox, while the Braves would have had to stave off the San Diego Padres, who lost the division by one game to the Giants.

The year prior, the Red Sox would battle the Rangers, giving the national audience a hint of what was to come in Texas while the NL would have pitted Colorado against the division-rival Giants. Assuming two wild cards can't come out of the same division, the Marlins would have drawn the honor.

Sounds like fun, right? Except that there would be no Game 163s anymore, so knock out the epic Tigers/Twins battle for the division in 2009. Likewise, the Rockies and Padres would never have played Game 163 in 2007.

Should the second wild card be added to the game, an NFL-style tiebreaker will most likely be used to determine outcomes when two teams tie for the wild card or division. On one hand, that's a bit disappointing, because Game 163s are tremendous fun. But on the other hand, that fun would simply be extended to the new wild-card playoff format and happen every year instead of having to wait for the occasional Game 163 scenario to roll around.

Either way, it would be a shocker if there wasn't a new playoff system in place for 2012.

And here's five more things that could happen this season ... 

Ramirez1. In the first game between the Red Sox and Rays, Manny Ramirez forgets he's on the Tampa Bay squad and runs on the field with the Red Sox to begin the game. He asks Crawford what he's doing in left field and why they are wearing opposite uniforms. Crawford tries to explain the situation, but ManRam simply shrugs and heads into the Green Monster.

2. Ozzie Guillen surprisingly releases a book about Jenks (remember when he said he could "write a book on the kid" in the offseason?), full of salacious details about Jenks' time in Chicago, including the revelation that Jenks ate a middle reliever during one game. In his first game against the White Sox in 2011, an enraged Jenks throws at the head of the first two batters, hitting them before Guillen comes out on the field to complain. Jenks then beans Guillen and the two brawl on the field, which leads to a multi-million dollar match between the two in UFC in which Jenks, who hired Mike Tyson as trainer, attempts to bite Guillen's ear off.

3. During one particularly heated Cincinnati-St. Louis matchup, the benches clear, and Johnny Gomes comes face to face with Adam Wainwright. Without a word exchanged, Gomes promptly delivers a crane kick to Waino. "First learn stand, then learn fly," Dusty Baker sagely observes.

4. Joe Maddon, who is already known for using uncommon words, takes things to a whole new level. Witness this quote: "David Price can unequivocally bung. How dexterous is the swain? He's as recherché as Sandy Koufax in his diurnal course." Good luck deciphering that.

5. Pujols announces the team he has chosen to sign with during the last homestand of the season -- against the Cubs on Sept. 25. In the bottom of the ninth inning, with the bases loaded, down three runs with a full count and the division title in the balance for the Cardinals, Pujols watches strike three right down the middle. As the crowd groans, Pujols rips open his jersey, revealing a Cubs home jersey underneath and dropkicks Tony La Russa as the announcers scream "NOOOOOOO!" And fade to black.

OK, so these five things won't happen, but one can dream. The rest you can expect.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com