Wednesday, March 16, 2011

AL Central Preview

2010 Standings

Minnesota 94-64 (.580)
Chicago 88-74 (.543)
Detroit 81-81 (.500)
Cleveland 69-93 (426)
Kansas City 67-95 (.414)

Season Recap

Despite facing some adversity in the form of injuries, the Minnesota Twins won the division by a comfortable margin of six games. They made the playoff but lost to the Rangers, who would later appear in the World Series. Their closest competitor all year was the Chicago White Sox and they didn’t go down without a fight. What else would you expect from a team led by Ozzie Guillen? The truth is, the Sox just didn’t have enough pitching down the stretch to get it done in 2010 while the Twins had a solid decent rotation and a surprisingly strong bullpen. Both teams slugged well and put runs on the board, but the Twins did a better job of keeping their opponents off the board. The Tigers looked good on paper but never seemed to really get it going in a serious way. Miguel Cabrera carried the team offensively and Verlander had another solid season, but the bullpen was rocky at times and the rest of the rotation was simply mediocre. Cleveland had another down year and was never really in the race. Kansas City is still rebuilding and breaking in their young talent.
Those two teams occupied the cellar all year long while the top three teams at least had some say over the division throughout the year.

Big News for 2011


Adam Dunn is likely to be the biggest addition to any club in this division. He was signed as a free agent by Kenny Williams and the White Sox to DH and occasionally see time in the field to give first
baseman Paul Konerko and left fielder Carlos Quentin some time off.
Victor Martinez signed with the Tigers and hopes to give them another quality bat in the lineup, which could prove to be critical if they face some of the injury problems they did last year. In a somewhat surprising move, the Royals traded away former Cy-Young winner Zack Greinke to the Brewers for prospects. It’s a long-term minded deal that will have some negative results in the short term. Minnesota brought over infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka from Japan to replace the departed Orlando Hudson. In other words, the rich got richer in this division while the lower-tiered teams continue to try to upgrade their talent level through developing their own talent.

Injury Notes

The Twins were without closer Joe Nathan all year after he had shoulder surgery and they were without all-star first baseman Justin Morneau for most of the season, too, after he had a couple concussions. The big question was weather or not the Twins could still compete without these two and they surprised some folks when they won the division without these stars. Several other regulars, including Joe Mauer, missed time throughout the year as well. Nathan,
Morneau and Mauer all appear to be in good shape to start the year.
Jake Peavy only started 17 games for the White Sox in 2010 after dealing with intermittent stints on the DL. Grady Sizemore struggled through another injury-plagued season and only played in 33 games for the Indians, which didn’t help their cause at all, while Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen were in and out of the Tigers lineup all season. All signs point to these guys being ready to give it another go this upcoming season.

Up and Comers

The division has some strong young talent that will be getting
considerable experience in 2011. Carlos Santana, the catching
prospect for the Indians, will be the opening day starter for the club this season and e everyone is buzzing about this young man. He can flat-out hit the baseball. Tigers outfielder Brennan Bosch had a breakout rookie season in 2010 by posting an all-star caliber first half of the season. He fell off big time in the second half, however, and it will be exciting to see if he can bring the level of play he showed back for a full season in 2011. Danny Valencia will start at third base for the Twins after showing that he can hit for a solid average in some late-season action last year. The question is whether or not he can develop some power along with his contact skills.

Prediction Time!!!

Not a lot was expected of the Royals and Indians in 2010 and that
should remain the same in 2011. Both teams are a long ways from
competing with the big guns in the division. Cleveland could be improved, especially if they get a solid season out of Sizemore and the rest of their rotation behind Fausto Carmona. The Royals shouldn’t see much of a rise in terms of win total, especially without Zack Greinke in the rotation. The top three are potentially interchangeable and are all talented. The Twins are probably in the best shape heading into the season but the Tigers and White Sox will certainly challenge.

Projected 2011 Standings
1. Minnesota
2. Chicago
3. Detroit
4. Cleveland
5. Kansas City

My money is still on the Twins to take the division over Chicago and Detroit. Since Minnesota is getting healthy again, and if they can stay that way, they have to be the favorite. Chicago will put a ton of runs on the board this season, especially with the addition of Dunn. The question will be their pitching and a solid year out of Peavy would do wonders for them. Detroit seems to underachieve every year and there are still questions on that team, but if they get it dialed in they are capable of winning the division, as well. I expect a bit of an improvement from the Indians but not by much. The Royals are in a worse position than last year, so I don’t expect them to sniff the top teams any time soon.

Up Next: NL West

Monday, March 14, 2011

NL Central Preview

2010 Standings
Cincinnati 91-71 (.562)
St. Louis 86-76 (.531)
Milwaukee 77-85 (.475)
Houston 76-86 (.469)
Chicago 75-87 (463)
Pittsburgh 57-105 (.352)

Season Recap
This division was relatively bottom-heavy in 2010. There was a healthy gap between the teams at the top and the ones at the bottom of the heap. In fact, only two teams in the league's only 6-team division finished with winning records. Pittsburgh finished right where most predicted, dead last and by a wide margin. They broke in several new players while some of their offseason additions didn't work out (Akinori Iwamura). Chicago was disappointing again and there was major turmoil mid-season as Lou Pinella stepped down in the second hald as he cited family issues. Houston wasn't great, but they actually finished the season no a high note. They were attrocious early in the season but had a strong second half under Brad Mills. Millwaukee didn't ever really pose a serious threat in the division despite the fact that they were thought to be a serious contender. Pitching was an issue with them and they had some major dry spells from the plate as well. St. Louis was a strong team but just couldn't seem to click when it mattered most. Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols had strong seasons again but the latter portion of the rotation was rocky at best. Add to the that a very mediocre bullpen and almost no offensive output from third base and you begin to see the wholes in this team in 2010. Cincinnati was far and away the most balanced club in the division and their record reflected that. Joey Votto had an all-star caliber season at first base, Scott Rolen, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce were solid and the Reds got better-than-expected performances from Orlando Cabrera, Drew Stubbs and Jonny Gomes. Their rotation was solid and the bullpen did a nice job as well, leading the Reds to the divison title and a postseason showdown with the Giants (which they eventually lost).

Big News for 2011

The biggest addition in the offseason was clearly Zack Greinke, who the Royals shipped away to the Brewers in a blockbuster trade. Matt Garza was traded to the Cubs in the winter as well, in return for some solid minor leaguers heading in the Rays' direction. The Cubs continued the Tampa Bay-connection when they signed first baseman Carlos Pena to a surprising free agent contract, despite Pena having the worst year of his career in 2010. Otherwise, there wasn't a whole lot of news out of this division in the winter.

Up and Comers
Pittsburgh continues to try to produce with homegrown talent. They have some solid position players who broke in last season and hope to continue to develop. Neil Walker, Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata join promising youngsters Evan Meek and Andrew McCutchen. Pittsburgh continues to build for the future but it's clear that the future is not now. Shortstop Starlin Castro had a sparkling debut season for the Cubs and everyone is excited to see how the Reds will continue to use 100mph+ lefty Aroldis Chapman. Houston will have to hope that Brett Wallace turns it around in 2011 as he looked lost at the plate in '10. Colby Rasmus blossomed for the Cards last season and rookie pitcher Jaime Garcia had a fantastic debut. There is some good young talent in this division and look for more of it as teams start to fall out of contention in the second half of 2011.

Injury Notes
The hands-down biggest news here was Adam Wainwright having to recieve Tommy John surgery after a few days of spring training. Its a devastating blow to the Cards as they move into their last season of control over Albert Pujols. Zack Greinke will miss the first month of the season with a rib injury, which diminishes his impact to a small degree, but the less innings he throws in the first month might mean he can carry more of the burden down the stretch. The Reds would like to see another season of healthy Scott Rolen but that's no guarantee. Otherwise the division seems pretty healthy at this point.

Prediction Time!!!
Cincinnati and Milwaukee have to the favorites at this point, with St. Louis only a small reach behind. After that, its a clear drop-off. The Astros should be better and they will battle the Cubs for the top spot amongst the also-rans. Pittsburgh just doesn't have the pitching at this point to really contend in the division.

Predicted Standings
1. Milwaukee
2. Cincinnati
3. Houston
4. St. Louis
5. Chicago
6. Pittsburgh

On paper, I love the Brewers despite the early season set-back to Greinke. Add to this the fact that Prince Fielder is in a contract year and I think you get the idea that Milwaukee could have something special. This where the Brewers are tricky, however, as they often don't live up to expectations. Cincinnati will be right there if the Brewers faulter at all and the race should be a tight one. Barring injury, this should be a great pennant race. Houston will be in good shape if their pitching continues to make strides and they get a bounce-back year from Carlos Lee. I think they could make a push to finish third, especially based on how they played down the stretch last year. The Cardinals have been disappointing of late and don't show me the signs of positively turning things around any time soon. The bullpen is questionable and there are holes in the lineup once you get past Pujols, Holliday and Rasmus. Chicago is still meddling in mediocrity. There's some talent there, but its just not going to be enough in this division. Pittsburgh will give the young guys another go in 2011, which is the right play for them. Keep an eye on their young pitching and see how much of it gets called up before the season's over. This will be a strong division at the top, but irrelevant in the bottom two-thirds. It could likely produce the wildcard team in the Nationl League.

Next Up: AL Central

Thursday, March 10, 2011

AL East Preview

2010 Standings
Tampa Bay 96-66 (.593)
New York 95-67 (.586)
Boston 89-73 (.549)
Toronto 85-77 (.525)
Baltimore 66-96 (.407)

Season Recap
The Rays started hot and held on to win what is regarded as the premier division in baseball. Though a few players underachieved for them in 2010 (Carlos Pena, Ben Zobrist, Jason Bartlett), they were surprisingly solid, especially their pitching staff. The Yankees made a nice run late in the season to track down the Rays, but ultimately came one game short. CC Sabathia got off to a slow start, Mark Texiera never got truly hot and everyone is still wondering what the heck happened to AJ Burnet. Not to fret, however, as the Yankees still pulled the American League Wild Card. Boston suffered a series of injuries to key players, notably Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Josh Becket and others. It was a down year in Beantown to say the least, as they were never really in the thick of the divisional race. Toronto was much improved, thanks to some good starting pitching, Jose Bautista's breakout and Vernon Wells becoming relevant again. Once again, they seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, playing with a limited budget in a division of big spenders. Baltimore was, well, Baltimore. They never really got it going all year and most of the young players they were counting on (Brian Matusz, Matt Weiters) didn't seem to get it figured out in 2010.

Big News for 2011

There was some major movement within the division in the offseason. The biggest deals were clearly made by the Red Sox. They signed free agent outfielder Carl Crawford away from the Rays and traded for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez who was with the Padres. These additions make the Red Sox the hands-down winner of the offseason in the division. The Yankees biggest addition was relief pitcher Rafael Soriano, who will likely set up Mariano Rivera. The Jays have revamped their bullpen, a department that hurt them a little bit last season. The Orioles made some surprising moves, inking Vladamir Gurrero to DH for them, Derek Lee to play first base and also bringing aboard the high-strikeout, homerun hitting third baseman Mark Reynolds. Tampa Bay has added some veteran pieces to make up for other departures. Manny Ramirez and Jhonny Damon will try to pick up the slack for the Rays who will once again count on their pitching in a division full of sluggers.

Up and Comers
This is a division that has the money to spend on top-notch free agents and doesn't develop as much homegrown talent as others across baseball. Perhaps one of the most interesting prospects that could see is time is former first rounder Desmond Jennings with the Rays. He could start the season in AAA, but will likely get some time in the Rays outfield. The Orioles will continue to develop young pitcher like Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Jake Arrieta and Brad Bergesen in addition to trying to get something out of Matt Weiters. The Yankees will run Ivan Nova out in their rotation, likely in the four-spot, and he was impressive at times in 2010. J.P. Arencibia will get the starting catching job for the Blue Jays and he will be catching a bunch of young starters, including Kyle Drabek, Ricky Romero, Brett Cecil and Brandon Morrow.

Injury Notes
The division is relatively healthy heading into the season. Josh Becket suffered a mild concussion but is already pitching again while Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury appear totally healthy for the Red Sox. The Yankees appear to be in good shape as do the Rays, Orioles and Blue Jays.

Prediction Time!
This will be a competitive division again in 2011. The Red Sox should be much better, especially if they can stay healthy and get a bounce-back season from Becket. The Yankees will be loaded as always while the Jays and Rays are capable teams. I see this boiling down to a two team race between the Yankees and Red Sox. I think the Rays and Jays will be on the outside looking in while the Orioles will still be in the cellar simply because their pitching is so undeveloped.

Predicted 2011 Standings
1. Boston
2. New York
3. Tampa Bay
4. Toronto
5. Baltimore

Boston is going to be way better than a year ago and they will go as their starting pitching goes. The Yankees will be right there the entire way and choosing between the two is like splitting hairs at this point, it could go either way. Toronto should be better again in 2011 as they develop their young starters who showed flashes of brilliance last year. Tampa Bay has lost too much in the offseason to continue to contend with teams like the Yankees and Red Sox, yet they are still good enough to steal games from anybody. They should be slightly better than the Blue Jays, though not by much. Baltimore is still in re-development mode. Their a long ways away from being a true contender but they should be putting runs on the board in 2011, it just depends on how they pitch.

Next Up: NL Central

Sunday, March 6, 2011

NL East Preview

In case you haven't been following the offseason much or you don't geek out over watching prospects get playing time in Spring Training, I plan to break down each division and give you a heads up on what to expect. To start with, let's take a peek at the National League East!

2010 Standings:
Philadelphia 97-65 (.599)
Atlanta 91-71 (.562)
Florida 80-82 (.494)
New York 79-83 (.488)
Washington 69-93 (.426)

Season Recap
In 2010, the Phillies took the NL East crown and made it out of the divisional round by defeating the Cincinnati Reds. In the LCS, the Phillies lost to the Giants who could seemingly do no wrong. While it was a disappointment for sure, Philadelphia once again went deep into the playoffs which is something we've come to expect from them. Atlanta actually took the NL Wildcard but lost in the first round to San Francisco. The Marlins were an up-and-down club that showed flashes at times or what could be, but also made the type of mistakes that are commonly found on clubs with many rookies getting crucial playing time. The Mets were a major disappointment, again, and things don't appear to be getting much better any time soon. While the Nationals had everyone's attention late last summer as Stephen Strasburg made his sparkling debut, they weren't a contender all season long.

Big News for 2011

Like every division in baseball, there have been a lot players changing locations in the NL East, particularly within the division, as well as one huge free agent signing. No one saw it coming, but Cliff Lee turned down more money from the Yankees and Rangers to take an offer from the Phillies that would put him back in Philadelphia. He claimed that Philadelphia is where he wanted to play and that superceded the amount of money he could command. In an age of Franchise Tags (NFL), Max Contracts (NBA) and $33 million dollar salaries (A-Rod), I have to admit that Cliff Lee is a breath of fresh air!
Although they added Lee, the Phillies lost one of their most dominant bats when Jayson Werth signed with the Nationals. His contract was huge (7/$126) but it just goes to show that the Nats mean business. They did lose slugger Adam Dunn but replaced him with solid but unspectacular Adam LaRoche. Along a similar line, the Marlins traded Dan Uggla, the power-hitting 2nd Basemen, to the Braves. It was clear that Uggla wasn't going to be able to get an extension done with Florida so the Marlins dealt him while they could still get something for Uggla in return. Trading top talent within the division can be potentially lethal so keep an eye on how that plays out. Replacing Uggla's pop in the Florida lineup will be recent free agent signee John Buck, who slugged 20 homeruns and 25 doubles for the Blue Jays last season. In an atypical move, the Marlins signed the catcher to a three year deal worth $18 million.

Up and Comers
Dominic Brown may take Werth's void in right field for the Phillies this season. Brown has been a top prospect for a few years now so it will be fun to see if he's ready to make the jump, although he clearly lacks Werth's power bat. Everyone will be watching Bryce Harper and the Nationals to see if he does what Strasburg did last year: come up late and tear it up. Considered a true phenom, Harper is very young but extremely talented. His playing time may be determined by how quickly he picks up right field in the minors because everyone knows he can hit. Keep an eye of rookie first baseman Freddy Freeman in Atlanta, he's thought to be a real good one. Rookies Logan Morrison, Mike Stanton and Gabby Sanchez had really nice seasons for the Marlins last year and the 2009 Rookie of the Year, Chris Coughlan, will be looking for a bounce-back season in '11. There are plenty of young guys to keep an eye on in Florida without a doubt. Ike Davis had a strong rookie year for the Mets as did relievers Johnny Venters and Craig Kimbrel for the Braves. These guys will be counted on in big situations for their clubs this year. But the biggest young star is clearly Braves outfielder Jason Heyward who took the NL by storm last season and took home ROY honors by hitting .277/.393/.456 in his first big league season with 18 homeruns, 29 doubles and 72 RBI.

Injury Notes
On the injury front, Mets ace Johan Santana will be out until June by most accounts as he's coming off shoulder surgery. All signs appear to be good from Mets camp but he's still a long ways away. Jose Reyes appears to be over his lingering injuries from '10 and needs to prove his talent this season with his contract expiring at the end of the season. The aforementioned Strasburg will not pitch for the Nationals in 2011 as he's recovering from Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow. Chase Utley appears to still be battling some pain in his knees as he's needed periodic cortisone shots just to make some Spring Training starts for the Phillies. Carlos Beltran says he is 100% heading into the season but he will be making way in center field for the surging Angel Pagan by taking his game right field for the first time in his career. By having to cover less ground, the Mets are hoping that Beltran can stay healthy all season for the first time since 2008. Chipper Jones is back in the Braves lineup this spring and is going to receive more time off than usual this season in hopes of getting him through the whole year.

Prediction Time!
This division should remain competitive throughout much of the 2011 season. While I'm not expecting the Mets and Nationals to be true contenders, both teams should be much improved and can steal games from anybody. The issue with these two teams is that they are remarkably inconsistent and are still in the reloading phase of things. Chase Utley's knee and Domonic Brown's bat will have a lot to do with the Phillies' success in 2011. They have a ton of pitching but they won't be putting up as many runs per game as we're used to seeing. The Braves should be improved and if Chipper can (somehow) stay healthy this year, they may be able to supplant the Phillies atop the division. The Marlins are anybody's guess because they have a ton of talent but they are quite short on experience. They can play with anyone but are so young at so many positions, it wouldn't be surprising to see them collapse down the stretch.

Predicted 2011 Standings
1. Atlanta
2. Philadelphia
3. Florida
4. New York
5. Washington

I think the Phillies will face some injuries along the way and probably steal the NL Wildcard by finishing second in the division. The Braves are much improved and if their bullpen is anything like last season, they will be hard to beat. Add to the fact that they can seriously hit and you have a true power sitting atop the division and a team that could be seen as an early season favorite for the NL Pennant. Chipper staying healthy would be a huge plus, but they have enough organizational depth to weather the storm if he goes down again. Florida will likely be an above-.500 club this year but it won't be enough with the two juggernauts that lead the division. They could surprise, but if any of their stars should miss serious injury time, that might be enough to do the Fish in. New York will be up-and-down again and may play well early but they have a history of falling apart down the stretch with this group. If their pitching can step up they may have a shot at the wildcard, but I wouldn't bet on it. Washington will still be rebuilding and gearing up for a solid run in 2012 when Strasburg returns to the rotation. Look for them to give plenty of their young guys a shot to see who they need to replace and who keep developing. They'll be competitive, just not a contender.

Next up: AL East

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Pujols has a lot to learn from A-Rod

Albert Pujols' deal with the St. Louis Cardinals expires at the end of the upcoming season. He's played his entire career in the St. Louis system and Pujols is definitely a Cardinals icon. It would be absurd to see him go anywhere else, no? It'd be like Ichiro playing for the Mets or Mariano Rivera suiting up for the White Sox: it just doesn't seem right. With Albert setting February 18th as his negotiating deadline, getting a deal done to lock up the slugger for the remainder of his career is important for the Cardinals and Pujols. And although Albert is clearly the best player in baseball year in and year out, he needs to look at another player who was considered "the best" and what has happened with his contract. That man would be Alex Rodriguez.

Alex was once considered the best prospect and young player the game had ever seen. He's no doubt been a tremendous player despite his attitude and public persona. He inked a 10-year, $250 million contract with the Rangers, which nearly bankrupted the franchise and made them an uncompetitive team, then took his game to New York where he's still with the Yankees and has since signed an extension that pays him even more money, but at least its with a team that can actually afford to pay an aging third baseman $33 million a season. Fans around the game, from city to city, have long resented A-Rod for his salary. Pujols would be wise to recognize this and not alienate himself from fans around the world by asking for an Rodriguez-like contract, which has been reported by many news outlets.

Pujols is quite deserving of "A-Rod" money. Evaluating the players' WAR (wins above replacement), its clear that Pujols has outperformed A-Rod. From the ages of 21-25, Pujols racked up a cumulative war of 41.2 while A-Rod only put up a WAR total of 36.4. This trend continued between the players' season when they were/are 26-30 years of age. Albert's total WAR was 42.6 while Rodriguez only put up 34.7 total WAR.

By basic metrics, Pujols has outperformed even Alex Rodriguez, so shouldn't his contract exceed A-Rod's historic deal? The answer is no. St. Louis, first of all, doesn't have nearly the payroll to give Albert $30+ million per season and remain competitive. They wouldn't be able to afford their other key players, like Matt Holliday, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Colby Rasmus. This would make the Cardinals completely uncompetitive and Albert wouldn't likely be happy making $35 million a season on a team that only won 70-75 games a year. St. Louis is also an entirely different place than New York. New York City is all about flash and money whereas St. Louis is a largely blue-collar city in America's heartland. The fanbase in St. Louis has a different set of values than those who religiously tune into the YES Network to watch the Yankees all around the globe. If Pujols were to sign that type of contract, he would be running the risk of separating himself from his fans and teammates.

Overall, a 10-year/$285 million contract would be a bad thing for Albert Pujols. He'd lose some popularity amongst fans would simply view that massive of a contract as a greedy, selfish money-grab. He'd render his team much less competitive in the long run and he'd be earning more than double the money of any of his teammates, making him an obvious target in the clubhouse. Pujols' popularity today is largely due to his likeable persona, friendly demeanor and play on the field. A mega-deal would potentially compromise two-thirds of that. A-Rod's historic deal has distorted the market and Albert Pujols needs to recognize the dangers of making so much money.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


While the mainstream media is playing up the fact that the Tampa Bay Rays have signed Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon to one-year deals, a much more important transaction is tearing up the analytical baseball sphere. Long considered an albatross, the contract of Vernon Wells has actually been moved. To where, you may ask? Anaheim, where Goofy roams, there's no debate about what Pluto is (he's a dog, right?), Mickey is still king and dreams come true. For the Angels, however, this offseason has been anything but a dreamland. On Friday they may have just created a nightmare, in fact.

Coming off of a stellar, out-of-this-world 2003 season, the Blue Jays knew they had something in Vernon Wells. After 2006, they knew they had to lock up the budding star long-term. The 2006/7 offseason was a rather tumultuous one, however, with Barry Zito signing his infamous 7/$126 deal with the Giants while the Cubs signed Alfonso Soriano for 8/$136. Given the inflated market of the era, the Blue Jays gave Wells a deal that blew a lot of people away, signing him for seven years and $126 million guaranteed. At that point, he really only had two "outstanding" seasons under his belt. Yes, he played solid defense in centerfield without question, but he had been somewhat up and down with the stick. So why the huge deal? Everyone else was doing it, so why not the Jays? At least that seemed to be the reasoning.

An injury shortened 2008, a disappointing 2009 and a slight bounce-back 2010 later, and the Blue Jays were willing do whatever it took to get out from under what many regarded as the worst contract in baseball. Making matters worse, the contract was severely back-loaded and Wells still has 4 years and $86 million coming his way. That's big money, especially for an aging centerfielder who can't run 'em down like he used to and is inconsistent at the dish. Who in their right mind would trade for this scenario? The Angels, that's who.

After getting spurned by this year's biggest free agents, the Angels were clearly desperate to bring a big name to town. Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre decided against Anaheim and they were never really in the heart of the Cliff Lee negotiations, leaving Anaheim in an unfamiliar position: they were in the middle of an offseason where they didn't make a splash. Instead of inking a big name free agent this time around, they decided to send off the left out Juan Rivera and slugging (and not much else) Mike Napoli in exchange for the completely over-priced Vernon Wells. Well Anaheim, you made your splash, now what?

While Vernon Wells isn't likely to be worth more than about $50 million of his $86 million dollars left on his deal, the Angels are one of the few teams who can actually afford to overpay for a player. This should give them a stellar outfield with Wells likely in left, Peter Bourjos in center and Tori Hunter in right. This also allows the aging and declining Bobby Abreau to fill the DH role for the Angels. Overall, the Angels are stacked and adding Wells only helped that cause, as long as he's productive.

Remember, there's a reason why the Jays didn't want to pay this guy. You never know if you're gonna get the .265/15/65 Vernon Wells or the .305/35/100 version. There's a big difference and as long as he gravitates towards his former all-star self, there won't be a problem. But if he continues to get hurt, fails to hit and doesn't age very well (he'll be 35 in the final year of his deal) then the Angels may be kicking themselves for years to come. They were obviously desperate to get something done, now let's just hope it doesn't come back to haunt them and become a nightmare deal.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Oakland's Offseason Grade: A Of Course!

Quietly, Oakland has done a nice job of building their roster this offseason. While other teams have stolen the headlines, the A's are making low risk moves to bolster a team that already has some solid, young pieces. Last season, Oakland was 81-81 last year, finishing nine games behind the Rangers and holding their own in the division. While they didn't light up the scoreboard and score a ton of runs, they were consistent on the mound with a good nucleus of young starters and a decent bullpen. Apparently Billy Beane isn't satisfied as he's added some pop and helped the pitching staff this winter.

Its been well documented that the A's made a hard run at Adrian Beltre, only to get spurned and see him go to a division rival in Texas. Since they didn't get their "big fish," Oakland has made several smaller additions. They added David Dejesus to play left field, Josh Willingham to play right field and Hideki Matsui to DH. Dejesus could hit second, behind Coco Crisp. A combination of Matsui and Willingham will likely hit fourth and fifth. Its not a "murderer's row" but in the AL West, it will be competitive. Expect Oakland to move up from 11th in the AL in runs scored in 2011.

The pitching staff has seen improvements as well. Brandon McCarthy was recently added and could serve as the fifth starter. While adding a fifth starter isn't exactly earth-shattering news, one has to remember that the A's have a solid core of young pitchers in Dallas Braden, Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson. Rich Harden will be in the mix, too, depending on his injury situation. The bullpen got help from free agent signee Grant Balfour who came over from the Rays where he's been very impressive. Recent reports are that the A's are moving agressively on lefty veteran Brian Fuentes, as well. They've got an established closer in Andrew Bailey and solid contributors in Craig Breslow and Brad Ziegler. Add Balfour and potentially Fuentes and Oakland may have one of the best bullpens in baseball.

The AL West will be a tougher division in 2011. The Rangers will be very strong again and offensively dangerous. Their pitching will suffer with the loss of Cliff Lee and it will be interesting if CJ Wilson can have a similar season in 2011. The Angels will have Kendry Morales back and should be better this season, too. The Mariners will be weak again but hope to bounce back somewhat and King Felix can shut anybody down. Oakland will have strong chance to contend in 2011 and they haven't had to overly inflate their budget to do it.

Oakland's offseason grade: an A!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Michael Young gets no love!

As the Rangers prepare to overspend on Adrian Beltre out of desperation, one player is taking yet another on for the team. Michael Young is a perennial player. You can count on his numbers like clockwork and he almost never gets seriously injured. Almost anybody would sign up for a .300/.347/.448 line over a ten year period from a middle infielder, yet Young remains one of the most underappreciated players in the league.

It started when Young moved from second base to shortstop when Alex Rodriguez was moved in 2004. Young performed relatively well there despite not having the greatest range in the world. When Elvis Andrus came up in 2009, Young moved from short to third base to make room for the prospect. Now that the Rangers are likely bringing in Beltre, Young will have to move from third base to designated hitter. Even though he's going to be 34 next season, Young has plenty of athleticism to continue at third and is probably moving to DH prematurely.

After losing out on the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, the Rangers seem desperate to make a splash. Beltre will hit with more power than Young and play better defense but isn't likely enough of an upgrade to offset the cost incurred in signing him and the lack of defensive help that the Rangers will experience by taking Young out of the field. While he isn't a magician with the glove, he still has fielding value.

Young is one of the "good guys" of Major League Baseball. He doesn't complain, he doesn't take at-bats off nor show up unready to play. He gets along with his teammates, is a leader in the clubhouse and has played the game with dignity for a decade. Once again he is taking one for the team by shifting to DH before his athleticism declines to the point where he is relinquished to that role. Some franchise players would complain about this and demand a trade or make a scene in the media. Unsurprisingly, Young has remained quiet on the situation and is handling it like a true pro because he thinks it may be the best thing for his team.

Kudos to Michael Young for taking yet another one for the team and being a pro's pro. While he largely goes unnoticed, I appreciate Michael Young in an era of Tweets and Sportscenter. Stay classy, Michael Young.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

At Least The Nationals Are Trying

When baseball once again found a permanent home in the Nation's capitol, it was a great day for Major League Baseball. Then the Nationals showed up. Coming from Montreal where the Expos had been a perennial laughing stock, the franchise clearly had some rebuilding to do. While it's been ugly at times, the Washington Nationals are becoming relevant again and its definitely a good thing. America's game should be well represented in Washington D.C. and the Nationals may be just be pulling this off in the near future.

Potential is a word that is way overused in sports discussion. In it's purest form, potential simply means that a positive outcome may result from a particular situation. What isn't stated is that a negative outcome may also result from that same situation. This is why its important to note that the Nationals are trying to become relevant in baseball again, because of their potential, but refrain from making predictions about their win-loss totals in the near future. Washington is loaded with potential and could soon be a major player in the National League. Unfortunately, they could also squander it away, have players fail to perform or become perpetually injured and never show up on the radar. Potential is a dangerous word.

Focussing on what could go right, the Nationals are in good position to start contending. While they will be a player in the NL East in 2011, the team could be very dangerous in 2012. Phenom Stephen Strasburg will miss 2011 after undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow, but should be lighting up the radar gun in 2012. Top pick Bryce Harper could also be playing in the bigs by then, depending on how he performs in the minor in 2011. He's young but extremely talented and should move the system quickly. Young players like Nyjer Morgan (OF), Drew Storen (RP), Ian Desmond (SS), Danny Espinosa (2B) and Roger Bernadina (OF) should help bring up the talent level of the Nationals all over the field.

Adding to the infusion of talent are free agent acquisitions Jayson Werth (OF) and Adam LaRoche (1B). These two give the Nationals the power options they've been missing. When added to All-Star third basemen Ryan Zimmerman, these two high-profile free agents give Washington a solid core of proven players. This team is loaded with offensive talent and should score a ton of runs this season, especially if they can get the first two batters of the lineup, likely Morgan and Desmond, on base with regularity.

The problems lie within the pitching staff. Strasburgh won't be pitching this season so the rotation will be thin on talent. Livan Hernandez is an innings-eater but not a true ace by any means. Jason Marquis can be good if healthy but after signing with Washington before the 2010 season and then pitching to a 2-9 record with a 6+ ERA before being shut down for the season by injury, its safe to say he was a disappointment. If he doesn't bounce back this year, it will definitely hurt the Nationals ability to contend. Jordan Zimmerman has talent but is young and unproven while John Lannan is inconsistent. Washington is a still a contender for Carl Pavano and this would be a big help for the young Washington rotation.

The bullpen has gotten better for Washington with Drew Storen helping shore things up. Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett, who recently signed an extention, have also helped the Nationals hold onto late-game leads. Chien-Ming Wang is a reclamation project that could help if he resurrects his career with Washington, which is a long shot but worth the gamble. Doug Slaten helps round things out and solidify the bullpen. While they could definitely use a dominant late-inning arm, the Nationals are in decent shape.

If they land Pavano, which I would say is a 50/50 proposition at this point, the future lineup and rotation could look like this:

1. Nyjer Morgan (CF)
2. Ian Desmond (SS)
3. Jayson Werth (RF)
4. Ryan Zimmerman (3B)
5. Adam LaRoche (1B)
6. Roger Bernandina (LF)
7. Ivan Rodriguez (C)
8. Danny Espinosa (2B)
9. Pitcher

This lineup will definitely score runs. If and when Harper comes up, which is a risky thing to try to predict since he hasn't played much pro ball yet, I would expect Werth to move to left field and Harper to take over in right, replacing Bernadina in the lineup. With Pavano and Strasburg in the mix, the rotation should look like this:

1. Carl Pavano (R)
2. Stephen Strasburg (R)
3. Livan Hernandez (R)
4. John Lannan (L)
5. Jordan Zimmerman (R)

The thing that jumps out immediately is the lack of left-handed starting pitching. Jason Marquis' deal ends at the end of 2011 and I don't foresee him being brought back. Hernandez will also be a free agent after 2011 but the Nationals could try to retain him.

If the Nationals can land Pavano, get Strasburg healthy and not see dropoff from key producers (R. Zimmerman, Werth, Morgan and LaRoche), they will be a force to be reckoned with in 2012, if not sooner. For a while there, Washington was just plain terrible. Progress is being made and the Nationals are full of potential. While nothing is set in stone, at least the Nationals are trying.