March 30, 2007

AL Central Preview

Man, I've been lazier than I thought I would be on these things.

Kansas City (74-88)
The astounding Gil Meche contract notwithstanding, at least this team is finally getting to the point where there might actually be some light at the end of the tunnel. New GM Drayton Moore has really cleaned house, with his masterstroke being the demotion of the awful (and awfully high-paid) Angel Berroa. Their farm system is starting to look good again, and they have the top prospect in baseball breaking into the big leagues this year. And, whaddya know, he's a local kid ans actually LIKES playing in KC. We'll see if he still feels that way after 5 years.

On offense, they'll have a good core of Alex Gordon, Billy Butler (when he eventually makes the team), Ryan Shealy, and Mark Teahen. Teahen was the only good story on an awful Royals team last year. Of course, with Gordon in his natural position it would probably be best for the Royals to trade him for a commodity they more clearly need (i.e. Pitching). The rest of their offense are mainly stopgaps that don't really have any long term future with the team or, really, baseball.

Pitching-wise, they might at least bring themselves up to league average in the near future. Meche clearly isn't their long-term ace, but he would be a quality 3rd starter in a good staff. Now that Grienke has gotten over his anxiety-related problems, he should become a quality pitcher, as should Luke Hudson. Odalis Perez was a great pickup from LA, he probably just needed a change in scenery.

Conclusion on the Royals: will be in the basement again, but they will likely be a great spoiler team in the second half for what should be a great playoff race in this division. Watch out in 2008-2009.

Minnesota (80-82)
Just like last year, their fate will depend on how soon their management wises up and starts playing its best players rather than its highest paid players. Case in point - Matt Garza is being sent to AAA while the highly paid and highly erratic Carlos Silva is sticking around in the rotation. This has shades of the Francisco Liriano situation from last year, because he can only contribute to the team if he plays. Of course, Garza is not nearly in the same class as Liriano...but Silva is not nearly in the same class as Garza either. Changes need to be made.

Aside from that, this is still a pretty solid team. I'm still surprised by last season's surge, though having Liriano and Santana as your top two starters for a stretch means you're pretty much guarunteed to win 40% of your games. This year it's again Santana and the also-rans, though some of the also-rans have some good upside. Boof Bonser, aside from having one of the most hilarious names ever, has a good chance to grow into a solid 3rd starter for any team. He'll probably experience some more growing pains this year though. Garza also has lots of upside, if he ever pitches. The rest of the rotation though...well...let's just say that the Twins's quality bullpen will definitely prove its worth if the team gets anywhere this year. If this team played all its home games at Wrigley or Coors then I think the combo of Ponson, Silva, and "Gopherball" Ortiz would set a new MLB record for number of homers coughed up in a season. The Twins desperately need to upgrade in those three spots if they ever expect to contend again.

As far as position players go, they're looking pretty good. Mauer, Cuddyer, and Morneau, who got the MVP award that Mauer or Santana deserved more just own his own team, are a solid core to a decent offense. Kubel should do a decent job in the DH role if the Twins stick with him. Torii Hunter is going to swidnlle a lot of money from someone next offseason - he's clearly overrated with his bat and his defensive skills are slipping too. Their non-Morneau infield is meh, though they have a cool nickname (The Pirhanas) they're all light hitting infielders who had a bit too much luck last season. Clearly though, the Twins cuold do better than Rondell White in LF. He's a decent enough bat when he is healthy...but he's never healthy. His backup isn't much of an upgrade either.

Unless there's a major ovarhaul in the pitching staff, I think this team might be lucky to be at .500, especially given the division they are in.

White Sox (82-80)
On offense, the Sox are fielding nearly the exact same lineup as last season. Only in center field has the name been changed to protect the terrible production out of the position. They should still to a decent job of scoring runs, though I would expect declines from Crede, Pierzynski, and especially Podsednik. The real issue here is pitching.

This offseason GM Kenny Williams planned to ensure that his team could contend for a few more years. There are a few problems with his plan and the reasons behind it though.

1. The AL central is the toughest division in baseball, and probably will remain so for the next few years.

2. He traded both one of his blue chip starters and his highly touted (though probably overrated) starters away. In return, he got a few more prospects but failed to move the pitchers he should have moved (i.e. Jon Garland). They ended up with a 5th starter with upside (Danks) a 5th starter with downside (Gavin Floyd), and a quality prospect in Gio Gonzalez.

3. Given the quality of the division they play in they needed to go for the jugular while their championship window was still open. How many quality teams manage to keep together so many pleayers after as good a 2 years as the Sox have had? They're mortgaging their present for a shot at the postseason in teh future...but the odds are about the same either way. Why mess with what is working?

Detroit (85-79)
What a great year these guys had last year. They should do well again this year but fall short of the playoffs...too many offensive players had career years, and their pitching will likely backslide a bit too. Sheffield should be a fantastic addition to their lineup, and will make quality starters like Guillen + Pudge better players. The rest of their team should be pretty good as well...but they clearly need to limit the damage done by Sean Casey at 1B. If they can get Marcus Thames to get some ABs there they will be a much better team.

On the pitching side, Bonderman is a bona fide ace. Verlander, however, is due to have a disappointing sophomore slump largely from the number of innings he pitched last season. The back end of the rotation features Robertson and Maroth, who are spectacularly okay. With Rogers out of the picture as well this team had better hope that they can score some more runs this season, though their quality bullpen will make sure this won't hurt them as much as it might other teams.

Cleveland (89-73)
I think this team is going to be great, but I don't forsee multiple 90 game winners from this division again this year. Their lineup is incredibly stacked from top to bottom...the only real question are whether Jhonny Peralta will bounce back from last year's awful season (yes), and whether Andy Marte will live up to all the prospect hype he's had the past few years or just be merely okay (answer: okay).

The big question mark here is the pitching, followed by an even bigger question mark next to the bullpen. Sabathia is a money pitcher and is the well-deserved ace of this staff, and Westbrook is a quality number 2. Cliff Lee (now injured) is good when he's good, as Yogi Berra would say. He's maddeningly inconsistent though. Sowers has tons of upside however, and will probably be the team's 3rd best starter after the season plays out. Byrd is an innings-eater at best, and if his control falters at all hopefully he will be outta there in favor fo Fausto Carmona, who is another great youngster with upside.

The bullpen will be this team's Achilles Heel. No one really stands out at all in this group, so the Tribe should swing a deal later this season to shore up this part of their team. With that offense though...the bullpen might not need to be better than merely average.

CLE 89-73
DET 85-79
ChW 82-90
MIN 80-82
KC 74-88

March 22, 2007

Papelbon, continued

Jim Caple summarized my rambling point best by this statement in today's ESPN chat:

...the closer is the most overvalued position in baseball. Think of how many guys came out of nowhere to be effective closers (Eddie Guardado, JJ Putz, etc.) and you realize how replaceable that role is. A good pitcher is always more valuable than a closer. And don't give me how devastating it can be to lose a game in the ninth inning. Sure it hurts. But you remember the loss because it happened at the end of the game. No one remembers how many games you lose earlier because a mediocre starter dug you into an early hole in the second inning, then forced you burn out the bullpen for the next game.

Trifecta is in play

2 breaking news items for today that made me say "what?!"

1. The Red Sox confirmed that Papelbon is shifting back into the closer's role. I am shocked that any organization that employs Bill James would do this - Paps is clearly more valuable as a starter than a reliever, and while he is a fantastic relief ace, clearly he would be of more value to the team as a starter. The only way this would work out in their favor would be if whoever was option 2 was so awful that Papelbon's value as a starter would be less than the difference between him and this phantom reliever. Their relievers would certainly be good enough...certainly the difference between closer Papelbon and any of the Boston relivers is far, far less than the difference between starter Papelbon and Julian Tavarez (who is taking his place). With Papelbon in the rotation I had the Sox winning the I'm not so sure.

2. Tubby Smith leaves Kentucky after 10 years to take a job at....Minnesota?!. I understand that things must have sucked for him at Kentucky, due to the racist tradition there left by the infamous Adolph Rupp. Still though, you figure he could have moved to a better job than perpetually mediocre Minnesota. Seriously, what the hell?

3. Third bit of news makes me happy instead of confused. Prior pitched today against major leaguers and had this stat line:

4IP 4H 1R 1ER 2BB 3SO 0HR and no extra base hits.

Maybe he will be an option for the 5th rotation spot after all. This improvment certainly shows he has more upside than the junk-balling Miller. I'm still not sure if Prior's injury risk is enough to say that he has more upside than Guzman at this point though. Still Prior/Guzman > Miller.

March 21, 2007

AL West Preview

I'm finally getting around to writing down my preseason thoughts...I meant to do each team but I'll be lucky to do each division. I'll start with the AL West, going from worst to first

4. Seattle Mariners (70-92)

Good lord, is Bill Bavasi trying to get himself fired? Let's recap the worst offseason moves:

1. Traded Fruto and Snelling for Vidro - an electric reliever prospect and a glass-man outfielder for a fading second baseman (who can't play 2B anymore) owed $12m over the next two years. Snelling may be a big injury risk, but he still would have made a better DH (and for much less money) than Vidro, who can't play 2b anymore. Vidro gets lots of credit as a player due to his position - a second baseman who hits 15 HRs is much more valuable than a DH that does the same. You know you're in trouble when your number 3 hitter is a punchless contact hitter.

2. Traded Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez - again, a flamethrowing reliever for a mediocre pitcher with an injury history. At best, Ramirez is a 4th starter. At worst, he's a junk-baller who will have a hard time staying afloat in AAA.

Quality Players: Sexson, Johjima, Ichiro, Felix Hernandez
Holes: Lopez, Betancourt, the rest of the rotation
Concerns: Putz is injured and probably won't be nearly as effective as last season

3. Oakland A's (78-84)

I love the A's...but I think their window is closed (for now). Their only plus offensive force now is Nick Swisher, everyone else is average or below average (I don't think Piazza has much left in the tank, even as a DH). Similarly, their rotation is starting to run out of steam. If Harden can stay healthy for an entire season this win total can be notched up a few, but right now the only lights-out starter they have is Haren. I salute the A's for their years of success but their era has passed for now.

Quality Players: Swisher, Haren, Street, Bradley, Chavez (sort of)
Holes: Ellis, Kendall, Stewart
Concerns: Harden + Crosby are both glass men at this point. The back end of the rotation is pretty scary too.

2. Texas Rangers (83-79)

I have a hard time projecting this team...even without their bandbox ballpark they probably have the best offense outside of the Northeast Monetary Nexus. They have Mark Teixiera as the centerpiece of their offense and nearly everyone else is at least league average. Plus, for once they have *some* pitching. Padilla and Millwood will keep them in games and the rest of the staff has some upside...though I don't think McCarthy will pan out as well as Texas's staff will have hoped (look at that HR rate!)

Quality Players: Tex, Kinsler, Young, Lofton (underrated), Millwood, Padilla
Holes: Blalock
Concerns: McCarthy + Texas = lots of gopherballs.
Wild Card: Wilkerson and Sosa have Tremendous Upside Potential

1. Anaheim Angels (88-74)

In contrast to Texas, the Angels have the horses on the pitching side of the equation. Lackey is a bona fide ace, and Escobar and Santana are quality starters. When healthy, Colon and Weaver are also great. A (healthy) Anaheim rotation is easily the best in baseball. On the offensive side, they have lots of upside. Vlad is always solid, but the real keys to their season will be their amazing young middle infield of Stephen Drew and Howie Kendrick, along with breakout catcher Mike Napoli. If Colon and Weaver manage to make 75% of their starts, watch out.

Quality Players: Kendrick, Drew, Napoli, Cabrera, Vlad, Lackey, Escobar, Santana
Holes: Anderson, Kotchman/whoever is on 1b
Concerns: Gary Matthews Jr will regress to the fourth outfielder that he actually is.

March 08, 2007


3 baseball related items of note this week

1. I got this year's Baseball Prospectus, chock full of more baseball information than I can ever read. They're pretty down on the Cubs this year, though they expect them to improve. The gist of the Cubs article was that Dusty Baker leaving the team alone would account for several wins - it was pretty scathing towards Dusty. After reading their statistics, I'm not inclined to disagree. I do happily wave goodbye to lousy 'speed' players like Freddie Bynum, Neifi Perez, Hairston...though we still do have Cedeno and Izturis in the mix, at least they have some upside. They also project a big regression for Howry, Eyre, and Ohman so our bullpen might still end up imploding this year as well.

2. Prior made his first spring start last weekend, and, while I know it was only his first start (and his second one total in the past three years), it sure seems that he has a giant fork sticking out of his back. I've been hoping for a return from Prior, but at this point what I'm hoping is a strong spring from Angel Guzman (he's been great so far) leading him to beat out Prior AND Miller for the 5th roation spot. Though of course if Prior could put things together...that would be great too.

3. Jennie and I watched Pride of the Yankees earlier this week - it was a great flick. I looked up Gehrig's numbers and, good god, they weren't exaggerating the kind of power he had.

March 02, 2007

Chicago Cubs Baseball is on the Air!

I caught some of the first spring training game while walking around yesterday, though I was in class for most of it - I tuned in around the 2nd inning. I hadn't realized it, but I hadn't truly felt that baseball was officially underway. But then, when I turned on WGN, Pat and Ron were discussing Ron's lunch and Ron made sure to let everyone know that he does not like beans. After that, it sunk in that it's now baseball time.