Friday, August 27, 2010

Who Are The Dodgers Kidding?

With the N.L. West race coming down to really a two team battle, the Los Angeles Dodgers are clearly on the outside looking in. But don't tell that to their front office. While San Diego is running away with things and the Giants being the only team with a realistic chance to compete with them, the Dodgers could make a handful of moves that would benefit them for years to come. Unfortunately it doesn't look like Ned Colleti will be able to swallow his pride to get it done.

First and foremost, the Mannywood days in L.A. are done and everybody knows it. Manny has worn out his welcome in Dodger Blue. He's raking in a ton of cash and giving back very little on the field (sound familiar, Matt Kemp?) since he's spent so much time on the DL once again this year. Colleti had the cajones to put the slugger on waivers and, as anticipated, the White Sox have won the waiver claim on Man-Ram but its unclear at this point whether or not a deal will get done. Trading Manny would save the Dodgers a very nice chunk of change and also net them some prospects or possibly a MLB-ready guy right now. Its silly to think that this may not get done since the benefits are so obvious. You'd have to think the Dodgers would be very aggressive sellers of Ramirez but that may not be the case.

The acquisition of Ted Lilly was a smart move approaching the trade deadline. If the Dodgers were to contend this season then Lilly would be an important piece. Things haven't worked out for the team but Lilly has been excellent. Despite his success and modest price tag, the Dodgers have place Lilly on waivers. The only reason to trade Lilly would be if the Dodgers were truly rebuilding but with their talent and reluctance to trade the aging and injured Ramirez, rebuilding doesn't appear to be the case. Lilly is affordable and effective but he is made available while Ramirez is expensive and ineffective (yet somehow in demand) and they won't make the deal with the White Sox. Is anyone else confused here?

The Los Angeles Dodgers need to recognize the situation that their currently in. They are out of the playoff picture and should be focussing their efforts on 2011. Getting something in return for Manny Ramirez (aside from salary relief) would be a plus. Retaining Ted Lilly to help Clayton Kershaw hold down the rotation for an affordable price would set them up for next season. Will the front office see the writing on the wall in time to get things squared away and swallow their pride to ensure that it happens? We'll have to wait and see.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Who's got next?

Living in the Northwest, its been a tough baseball season. The Mariners were many people's sneaky pick to win the AL West but, in case you haven't noticed, that hasn't exactly worked out. A fired manager and possibly 100 losses later, the Mariners will find themselves in a precarious position. Jack Z will have to ask himself whether or not to try to win in 2011 or begin to rebuild completely. Since the Mariners were largely inactive come the trade deadline and haven't completely shelved their veterans to give experience to their young guns, signs point to the M's attempting to be competitive once again in 2011. They have reason to give it a try, though, as they've been quite competitive over the last month, winning several series along the way. Looking ahead, there are clearly some question marks for the M's in 2011 but there's no reason to think they won't be competitive. Here's a position-by-position breakdown of what to look for next season.

Behind the plate, Adam Moore will continue to get a chance to develop. Josh Bard didn't provide much for the Mariners and what you see is what you get with Rob Johnson (poor catching and worse offense). Moore is the catcher of the future for Seattle but they will definitely need a reliable backup. Don't expect them to spend much on acquiring another big-league catcher and while they shouldn't even consider it, Johnson could be a cheap option. Unless Jack decides to overpay for a veteran backstop, pencil in Adam Moore as the 2011 starter.

At first base, Justin Smoak should be the Opening Day starter. As the centerpiece of the Cliff Lee deal, Smoak didn't transition well to Seattle and was sent down to AAA after about a month or so with the big club. His AAA numbers are relatively good as he's posted an .897 OPS and 6 HRs in 33 games. He still manages to walk a ton and get on base at an impressive clip so he'll likely get another chance to start the season in the bigs, especially if he has a decent Spring Training next April. Current first baseman Casey Kotchman will like be non-tendered in the offseason given that he has a .632 OPS in 97 games. Gold-Glove caliber defense or not, Kotchman hasn't done nearly enough with the bat to be re-signed by the club.

Second base is maned by Chone Figgins and although there have been some rumors of him being traded (notably to the Braves), I expect the Mariners to keep him after giving him a four year deal in the offseason. He started the season tremendously slow but has been impressive since the All-Star break. A strong second half in 2010 could likely carry over into a solid 2011. Figgins is all but a lock at second.

Third base is currently manned by Jose Lopez but I don't expect that to last much longer. While he made the switch from second to third successfully in terms of defense, Jose is experiencing his worst season offensively. His on-base percentage is a disgusting .270 and all of his other offensive numbers are down as well. His plate discipline continues to be poor and his power has disappeared which makes him another non-tender candidate. This is the one area where the Mariners could look to make a splash. While there won't be many options to sign in terms of free agents, the M's could explore trade opportunities. Matt Mangini has been successful in AAA this season but won't likely be a strong candidate to begin the season in Seattle. Jack will have some work to do to fill the void at third base for 2011. The outcome at the hot-corner is unclear at this point in time.

Shortstop was supposed to be manned by Jack Wilson in 2010 but it comes as no surprise that Jack has had trouble staying healthy, at one point even considering a mid-season retirement. Josh Wilson, however, has filled in admirably. Although not as good as the elder Wilson, his defense is solid and he can hit some but not a lot. Wilson is really best suited to be a utility guy but has been forced into the everyday lineup for the bulk of 2010. In 2011, however, the management could look to add a piece or simply give Josh Wilson another shot. Like third base, the free agent field is pretty thin so any significant upgrade would have to come through a trade. I would look for them to stick with Wilson but also explore what's out there.

Left field is an area where things start to get interesting. There are a host of players that could be fits for the club, including the developing Michael Saunders who probably should get the nod in 2011 as he was one of the clubs top prospects coming into 2010 and has had some success at the plate this season while playing terrific defense. Seattle hasn't given up on Matt Tuiasosopo either and he's gotten some time in left this season as well. While some Seattle fans would like to do it, they can't forget about Milton Bradley, either. Depending on what happens at the DH position, Bradley and his sub-par defense could wind up in left field, relegating Saunders to a backup role. The Mariners are committed to Bradley so he's not going away, they just have to figure out how to use him. Saunders should be the left fielder but that doesn't mean he will be.

Franklin Gutierrez is having another fantastic season defensively in center field. After a red-hot start to the season, however, Guti has struggled to keep his average over .250 but has been a consistent contributer with the stick. He signed a four-year extension this winter and will be the Opening Day center fielder in 2011.

While he's in jeopardy of not reaching 200 hits for the first time in his 10-year career this season, Ichiro Suzuki will still be the M's right fielder in 2011. The perennial All-Star and outstanding leadoff hitter will surely take the first at-bat for the Mariners again in 2011. He and Gutierrez are the surest things in the Mariners lineup.

At DH, the Mariners have a few options. Since re-acquiring Russell "The Muscle" Branyan this summer, he's been again dinged up but very potent when in the lineup. The Mariners could keep him as he'd clearly be the hitter with the most power in the lineup but he is going to be a free agent in 2011 so they'd have to pay a good little bit to keep him a Mariner. He is also a first base candidate but that blocks the path of top prospect and first baseman of the future, Justin Smoak. Given Russell's injury history, he's best suited to be a big-bopping DH. Milton Bradley will be in the final year of his deal and could also be the designated hitter if he isn't in left field. He's been super-disappointing in 2010 and if he doesn't get it together early on in 2011, he could be DFA'd. The Mariners will surely be happy to get out from under that contract (or essentially the contract of Carlos Silva) once 2011 is over. Heading into the season, however, the Mariners have options at DH and the first piece of the puzzle will be shown when they decide whether or not to re-sign Branyan.

The rotation is in relatively good shape looking ahead. Felix Hernandez has been solid yet again for the Mariners and will likely make another run at the Cy Young in 2011. Despite never making it into a game with Seattle in 2010, Erik Bedard will probably be healthy come next year and could be an $8 million gamble as he has a mutual option for 2011. Provided he can attain some level of success, he would make a great number two pitcher behind King Felix, especially since he's a lefty. But at $8 million I wouldn't bet on it. Jason Vargas has been the surprise of 2010 and will have the opportunity to prove it wasn't a fluke. The lefty could fill the third or fourth slot in the rotation in 2011. Doug Fister started the year on fire but came back to earth after a DL stint. Look for him to take over the forth or fifth spot in the rotation and continue to mature. Youngsters Luke French and David Pauley could get looks in Spring Training while one would have to figure that Ryan Rowland-Smith is all but done as a big-league starter after having one of the worst season in recent memory by any full-time starting pitcher (1-10, 6.96 ERA, 40 BB, 38K in 98 IP).

Seattle could definitely stand to add a starter or two in the offseason. Bedard is a long-shot in my opinion since Seattle would have to pick up the $8 million mutual option on him and he hasn't really pitched at all in the last two years. Guys like Bronson Arroyo (if his $11 million club option isn't picked up), Jeremy Bonderman, Kevin Correia, Aaron Harrang, Ted Lilly, Carl Pavano, Brandon Webb and Todd Wellemeyer will all be options for the Mariners. Although these pitchers won't strike the average fan as all that exciting, Correia and Lilly are having strong second halves, Pavano has been surprisingly solid and would have to likely be overpaid to get away from Minnesota, Webb is a proven star coming off of a severe injury, Harrang and Arroyo are innings-eaters while Bonderman and Wellemeyer are coming off disappointing seasons after having success in the past. Best of all, these buys are affordable for Seattle and could help fill out the rotation in various capacities. Hernandez, Vargas and Fister are locks to make the rotation but the rest is unsettled. Look for the Mariners to add at least one starter via free agency in the offseason.

After the bullpen was stellar in 2009, it was a major let-down in 2010. This was not all that surprising after several members overachieved in 2009 and fell back to reality this season. David Aardsma will likely be the closer again and get a chance to redeem himself. If Mark Lowe can return from a back injury that shut him down in 2010, he will have a place in the 'pen and could be the set-up man once again. Brandon League will be returning after a decent season where he has served in nearly every bullpen capacity at one point or another this year. Aside from those three, the rest is up in the air. Garret Olson, Brian Sweeney, Sean White, David Pauley and Luke French could all be in the mix. There's a bevy of option on the free agent market as well so Seattle could add pieces if they wish. The bottom line is that the 'pen has to be better for the Mariners to have any kind of success in '11.

To recap, Seattle has some reasonable pieces in place for the future but they also have plenty of areas to shore up. They will almost certainly need to add a third baseman, could potentially add a shortstop, will need to make difficult decisions at first base, left field and DH, could definitely use at least one quality starter (if not two) and should explore adding a bullpen piece or two. The most crucial key to 2011 success, however, lies in the achievement of players that are currently on the roster and will be counted on again next season. Many players, such as Figgins, Bradley, Gutierrez and Aardsma have severely underachieved and will need to get closer to their 2010 forms if the M's want to make a legitimate run at things in 2011, which is not completely out of the question.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Why Chipper Jones and Brett Favre are more similar than you think...

At 38 years old, Chipper Jones is at a major crossroads. The notion of retirement has swirled around the Braves' third baseman for for the last few seasons. If you have ears and/or can read, you don't need a refresher on Brett Favre's retirement situation but there is an obvious similarity: aging superstar, one of the very best in the history of his sport at his position, facing a devastating injury and at risk of damaging his certainly Hall of Fame legacy. So why continue to play? Because both of these guys have earned the right to call it quits on their own terms, not the public's.

Chipper Jones is purely one of the best switch-hitters to ever swing a bat. He has taken every single at-bat with the Braves over his 17 year career, winning one World Series (1995) and an MVP Award (1999). Since he broke into the league, Chipper has been a steady producer for a team that has been incredibly successful, often leading the team in most or all major offensive categories. In the last few season, however, Chipper has incurred injuries that have becoming seemingly more and more difficult to recover from. His latest injury is nothing short of catastrophic: a torn ACL. Is Chipper's retirement imminent? Only he knows the answer at this point.

Critics are saying overwhelmingly that Chipper should retire. He may well have already made up his mind on the matter but the simple fact that some are overlooking here is that no one, and I mean no one, should tell Chipper Jones to retire unless that person is him. As someone who is destined to become a true legend of the game, Chipper has earned the right to go out on his own terms, regardless of what others have to say about it. Brett Favre is in the same boat. He gets to retire whenever he declares the time is right, as does Mr. Jones.

Am I saying that Chipper should retire, un-retire, retire, un-retire and then leave us all in limbo while ESPN spends hours a day covering all of the drama? Absolutely not. In fact, Chipper Jones will show the American public how a professional athlete should handle this difficult situation. He will do it with dignity and in a professional, adult manner. Oh yeah, and he'll do it when he's good and ready and not before.