Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Note to baseball writers:

It's not his teammates who hate Barry Bonds and think he's a surly jerk, it's you.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Another Washington Scandal

Alfonso Soriano doesn't want to play left field. Soriano, traded by the Rangers to the Nationals over the winter, wants to stay at second base, his position throughout his career.

The problem is that the Nationals already have a second baseman, Jose Vidro. Vidro was a pretty damned good player a few years ago, but injuries have diminished him considerably. That said, he still is the player that Washington management wants at the top of the second base depth chart.

Soriano, apparently, thinks that he deserves to stay where he wants to stay. Two problems with this. First, when I look at the Nationals coaching staff and front office staff, I don't see Soriano's name listed anywhere. Second, Soriano is a really, really crappy secondbaseman. I mean, really really bad.

Factor in the probable result of Soriano moving from an extreme hitters park in Texas to an extreme pitchers park in Washington, and what I expect to have is a .246 hitter with a .292 on base percentage, slugging somewhere around .424 and either whinning about his defensive position or playing badly at the one he wants to play. What a bargain.

The Nationals should try to find another sucker to take this guy off their hands quickly.

I Bet You'll Think This Is Funny

Pete Rose has a new supporter.


The Florida Marlins are more than likely doomed. We've been covering this topic ever since the old days at our previous web site and we can't see any light at the end of the tunnel that doesn't involve the Super Chief. For the second time since 1997, Marlins ownership conducted a fire sale over the winter, shearing the club of all but one regular from the 2005 club, as well as two of the top three starters and the closer.

The fire sale is not really the bad news for the franchise. Players like Jeff Conine, Mike Lowell, Paul LoDuca, and Todd Jones aren't anything all that special to begin with. Even Carlos Delgado, certainly one of the better hitters in the NL, isn't getting any younger at 34 and is of more value as a trade chit than as a regular on a team looking to build for the future.

The loss of veterans means opportunity for youngsters. The Marlins have a few good ones. They didn't just give away their players; they did a good job of getting back some real prospects, all the more remarkable considering that anyone dealing with the Fish knew that GM Larry Beinfest was under orders to make a deal, any deal.

Projected 2006 Lineup:

LF Chris Aguila
SS Hanley Ramirez
RF Jeremy Hermida
3B Miguel Cabrera
1B Mike Jacobs
C Josh Willingham
CF Eric Reed
2B Pokey Reese (sure, why not?)

Aguila is not the ideal leadoff man; he's shown decent walk rates in the minors but for two years has swung at every pitch he's seen in the Show. There isn't a better candidate, though. Reed hit .310 at Albuquerque but walked three times in 39 games there. Ramirez might lead off, but despite being highly regarded as a prospect I'm very skeptical of him. Reese is a joke at the plate.

The middle of the lineup is very good. Hermida will quickly join Cabrera as one of the best players in the NL. Jacobs can hit, and Willingham can really hit; the only question is whether he can catch. On this team, I say let him try, what is there to lose?

Projected 2006 Starting Rotation and Bullpen:

SP Dontrell Willis
SP Brian Moehler
SP Sergio Mitre
SP Jason Vargas
SP Scott Olson

CL Joe Borowski
RP Nate Bump
RP Travis Bowyer
RP Chris Resop
RP Kerry Ligtenberg or some other warm body

Anibel Sanchez and Yusmeiro Petit could make bids to join the rotation at some point. There is talent here, too, but young pitchers are risky investments. If I were running this team, I'd concentrate on just keeping them healthy and on the development track.

Most baseball pundits are down on the Marlins because of the exodus of the veterans. I think differently. If your bullpen has lost Todd Jones, Guillermo Mota, Jim Mecir, and Antonio Alfonseca, so what? The same for having to replace guys from your lineup like Lowell, Alex Gonzalez, and Juan Encarnacion. They aren't really quality players, so why cry that they've gone?

What makes me pessimistic about this franchise is that I believe that all the good player development work being done here is for naught. When the Basic Agreement expires, contraction is going to come up again, and this time I don't think that the Marlins will survive. MLB has run out of optional cities to move teams into, and the state of Florida is quite clear that they aren't going to be building a free home for the team any time soon. Of course, Montreal is available; I'm sure that Jeffrey Loira would be welcomed back there with open arms.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Your Media at Work

It’s another Adventure in Journamalism, led by our intrepid friend Paul Sullivan of the hopelessly biased Chicago Tribune...

A bout with pharyngitis in late December led Mark Prior to an emergency room and subsequently delayed his throwing program this spring.

Prior addressed concerns about his health Saturday, saying he had no problems with his elbow or shoulder. “I feel good throwing,” Prior said. “I’m just behind right now. That’s why I haven’t been able to throw [off a mound].”

Prior made only one Cactus League start last year, throwing mostly simulated games, but went 3-0 in April with an 0.95 earned run average. He doesn’t expect to take the same route this spring, but the Cubs are taking it slow with him and that led to speculation Prior is nursing an injury.

It’s a shame that in this day and age we have to rely on speculation and rumor. You know what would be neat? If there were people out there whose job it was to ask other people questions about what’s going on in the world.

And when these people were finished asking questions, wouldn’t it be great if they could tell other people about the answers they found (or didn’t find, for that matter). You know, like when you did a report for school. These people could maybe write a paper of some sort about what they learned. And the people who don’t feel comfortable writing could give an oral report, like on the radio or the TV.

That would be SO COOL! Because then people could learn all sorts of stuff. I mean, this idea would work with any topic, even something boring like politics. People ask other people questions, find out what’s happening, and then prepare a report on that subject so that we all can learn something new.

Boy, if we could come up with some kind of system like that, where reports on all sorts of subjects were readily accessible, then we might be able to make some sense out of what’s happening in this big ol’ goofy world of ours. I think that would be a whole lot better than our current system, which relies on speculation and rumors from a bunch of lazy people who either repeat whatever they’re told to say or just make crap up out of whole cloth.

*sigh* A man can dream. A man can dream.

Meanwhile, here’s a fun compare-and-contrast from that hopelessly biased Chicago Tribune. I offer it with no commentary for your reading pleasure:

Number One: Mark Gonzales, 17 February:

[Ozzie] Guillen insinuated that [Alex] Rodriguez was a hypocrite. “He’s full of it,” Guillen said. “The Dominican team doesn’t need him. It’s the same with [Nomar] Garciaparra playing for Mexico. Garciaparra knows Cancun because he went to visit it.”

This was merely the latest in a series of colorful pronouncements from Guillen. “People say ‘Ozzie Guillen is a big mouth, he’s so controversial,’” Guillen said. “No, people don’t like it when you tell the truth.”

Number Two, Sully, 20 February:
Dusty Baker is hoping for a drama-free season in 2006, which would be a big departure from his first three years in Chicago.

Whether he was inventing phrases like “steroid McCarthyism,” presenting theories on how minorities handle the heat, or revealing that he sprinkles holy water on his players, Baker often found himself involved in a controversy.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Tampa Bay Preview: Getting Better All the Time

I have to admit that I have a soft spot in my usually cold heart for the Devil Rays and their fans. Last summer, we spent our family vacation in beautiful Clearwater, and took in a Devil Rays game while we were there.

Tropicana Field is a dump, but the few thousand fans that were there cheered their heroes to victory. I was glad to see that Devil Ray Fan did exist. Having had some experience with fruitless fandom, I felt a sort of bond with them.

This year, Tampa is my last spring training preview. That alone is enough to make them one of my favorite teams.

1. Why should I pay attention to what the Devil Rays do this year?
The Rays have basically been a punch line for their entire existence. That's what finishing last seven out of eight years will get you.

But the times are changing down in St. Pete. Incompetent managing partner Vince Naimoli is out, and new owner Stuart Sternberg is in. Sternberg took the first step to prove that he is competent by immediately canning incompetent GM Chuck LaMar. Now running the show are GM Andrew Freidman (another one of those young guys the Moneyball-haters hate) and (in an advisory role) former Astro GM Gerry Hunsicker.

That in and of itself should be enough to give Devil Rays Fan hope. But this team boasts some of the best young talent around. And for that, we should give credit where it's due, because this talent was drafted or otherwise acquired under the old, incompetent regime.

Carl Crawford is already a star. Rocco Baldelli showed flashes of brilliance in 2004, and if he's healthy can only improve on that performance. Jorge Cantu was a surprise at second base (28 HR, .497 SLG). I'm not really sold on Jonny Gomes, but he put up a .906 OPS last year, and just turned 26 (coincidentally, we share a birthday, although I am a year or two older), and might be carve out a decent Major League career for himself. Aubrey Huff and Julio Lugo are old men in this lineup.

The real good news comes from the other young guys on the roster. Delmon Young won the Southern League MVP last year, and topped a lot of prospects lists this winter. He should win the right field job this spring, and might just be the best player in D-Ray history.

B.J. Upton is the other uber-prospect right now. He's blocked at short by Lugo, but Lugo is a guy that Freidman should be looking to flip for some prospects sometime this year. Upton might not be ready this instant, but it won't be too long.

And then there's other guys like Elijah Dukes Wes Bankston, Jeff Neimann, Jason Hammel and John Jaso. They're pretty much unknown right now, but they are among the best prospects in the system and reason for Devil Ray Fan to hope.

2. OK, there's lots of prospects. So what's the downside?
The lineup will feature some terrific young players. Unfortunately, the pitching staff is very much a work in progress.

Scott Kazmir is the ace, but he needs to improve his command a little before he becomes an Ace. The rest of the rotation is iffy at best -- Casey Fossum, Seth McClung, Mark Hendrickson, and Doug Waechter won't make anyone tremble in fear.

There is no such thing as a pitching prospect, but the Rays system has a few who might make something of themselves. Besides the aforementioned Neimann and Hammel, there's Andrew Sonnanstine and Jacob McGee. Picking up Edwin Jackson from the Dodgers was a worthwhile gamble, too.

3. What's Tampa's best-case this year?
With the questions surrounding the pitching, fourth is about as good as gets this year. But take heart, Rays Fan -- better times are coming.

That game I mentioned before? It was an exciting Brewer-Devil Ray interleague matchup (Prince Fielder's Major League debut, to be exact). Jim told me that it could be a preview of the 2008 World Series.

I believe it. The Devil Rays are still "Under Construction" (as their marketing slogan says), but they have a bright future. Hop on the bandwagon now.

Baltimore Preview: Birds Fly Into My Windshield

If you had told someone after the 2002 that the Baltimore Orioles would, in three years, boast a lineup featuring Miguel Tejada, Rafael Palmeiro, and Sammy Sosa, chances are pretty good that your buddy would say something along the lines of, "Dang! That team's gonna be challenging the Yankees!"

Alas, the Birds found themselves on the wrong side of Fortune's wheel last year, as any chance of contention collapsed into something akin to a Greek tragedy, only not as much fun. Sammy was hurt and ineffective. Raffy scored his 3000th hit, but that joy was quashed by his failed drug test. Miggy had another stellar year, but he repeatedly told reporters he wanted out before recanting. Two of those guys are gone, and there is a fair chance that Tejada will be elsewhere before the waiver deadline.

1. Can Leo Mazzone work his magic north of the Mason-Dixon Line?
It's not often that a team's biggest signing is a new pitching coach, but that's what happened in Baltimore this year. Leo Mazzone left years and years of success with Atlanta to join his pal Sam Perlozzo and rebuild the Orioles' staff.

When I've tried to draw any conclusions about Mazzone's phenomenal track record in Atlanta, it always comes down to a chicken-or-egg question: did the Braves have good pitching because Mazzone was a great coach, or because the pitchers on his staff were good to begin with? I'm willing to concede that there's probably some truth on both sides of that equation. But I can't concede that Mazzone lucked into great pitching staffs fifteen years in a row; nobody could be that successful for that long without doing something right.

Mazzone will have some interesting raw material to work with. Erik Bedard could be the best starter in the rotation (his name was linked to many of the hypothetical Tejada trade rumors). Bruce Chen (who worked with Mazzone back in the day) looks like he might be getting his act together. Rodrigo Lopez isn't anything special, but he has some value as an innings-eater. And Kris Benson (and his wife) was brought in to take Sidney Ponson's place as veteran anchor and pain in the butt.

Mazzone will also need to find a closer among the bullpen crew. Good luck with that, Leo.

The pitching is a pretty ordinary bunch (excepting Bedard). I guess this will be a test of just how golden the Mazzone touch is.

2. Will Perlozzo find a golden touch as he rebuilds the lineup?
If you're looking for proof that last year was messed up in Baltimore, look no further than these fun facts to know and share:

The Orioles team OPS was 14 points higher than the White Sox'. The O's knocked out 42 more hits (good for sixty more total bases) than the World Champs. They also drew 12 more walks. Despite these advantages, the Orioles managed to score 12 fewer runs, and win 25 fewer games.

On paper, it's unlikely that things can get any worse. Tejada is still the best shortstop in the league. Brian Roberts is a terrific leadoff hitter. Even though some thought he had an off-year, Melvin More still put up an .822 OPS.

As for the new guys...well, Jeromy Burnitz will better Sosa's stat line from 2005 (that bar's set pretty low). Kevin Millar will probably be a wash compared to Palmeiro. Corey Patterson might push Luis Matos (who had some issues of his own last year).

But outside the top three (Roberts, Mora, and Tejada), this is a rather ordinary group. Unless Patterson, Kevin Millar, Jeff Conine, and the catching tandem of Javy Lopez and Ramon Hernandez kick their production up a notch, the O's will find themselves mired in the lower third of the offensive standings.

3. Lower third of the standings? Is that going to be some lame segue to close this piece?
Yeah, pretty much.

The Orioles finished 74-88 last year. With Perlozzo and Mazzone running the show, and without the distraction of the Palmeiro circus, it's conceivable that the team could enjoy some improvement this year.

Unfortunately, the Orioles play in the AL East. A steady diet of New York, Boston, and Toronto hitters will test Mazzone's staff, especially since the offense will be hard-pressed to keep pace with those three teams.

Barring a catastrophic collapse from the division front-runners, a .500 finish seems to be the best-case scenario for the O's. We'll see if that improvement will be enough to appease Tejada for another year...


Let’s say you’re talking with someone about the WBC. And let’s say that this someone drops this into the conversation:

Alex [Rodriguez] was kissing Latino people’s [rears]. He knew he wasn’t going to play for the Dominicans. He’s not a Dominican. I hate hypocrites. He’s full of [ahem]…The Dominican team doesn’t need him. It’s the same with [Nomar] Garciaparra playing for Mexico. Garciaparra knows Cancun because he went to visit it.

How would you react? I don’t know about you, but I’d wonder why that guy was being such a jackass.

However, if you’re Mark Gonzales of the hopelessly biased Chicago Tribune, and the guy doing the talking is White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen, your reaction is “This was merely the latest in a series of colorful pronouncements from Guillen.”

Thank you, Mark Gonzales, for showing me a new definition of “colorful:” a completely gratuitous slam.

To be fair, Guillen realized that he had come off looking like a jackass, because he quickly backtracked and apologized to A-Rod, “his family, his fans, the New York Yankee organization, [and] the White Sox organization.”

Guillen also added:

I learned a lesson. I never took a first shot at anybody in my life and now I feel like I took the first shot.

So I guess Buck Showalter must have taken the first shot when Ozzie referred to him as “the best manager in the history of baseball” and “Mr. Baseball.” And Wrigley Field must have taken the first shot when he said there were twenty thousand rats in the batting cages under the stands, and the day he complained that he had to park at the McDonald’s across the street.

If Ozzie would have just apologized and left it at that…well, he’d still be a jackass, but at least he wouldn’t be sticking his foot further down his throat. Trying to explain away his cracks, Guillen said, “I don’t call him a hypocrite in that way.” Uh…what other way could there be?

“I was just trying to say he doesn’t have to please people,” the further explanation went. So a hypocrite is someone who tries to please people? Now I’m really confused…

Fortunate, Gonzales went into full spin-control mode to defend his man, explaining in the hopelessly biased Tribune that “the word [hypocrite] isn’t perceived as harshly in Latin America as it is in the United States.”

Ah, cultural differences! It’s all so clear now. But Guillen said himself that Rodriguez isn’t a Dominican. Shouldn’t he have realized that A-Rod wouldn’t be receptive to such linguistic nuances?

Notably absent in the apologies was Garciaparra. Guillen did say that he was just joking about Nomar. “I think it was funny,” the manager said. If you’re into that kind of thing, I guess…

And before you get on my case, White Sox Fan, when I say Ozzie’s a jackass in love with the sound of his own voice, I don’t mean it in that way. Among white people in beautiful south-central Wisconsin, calling someone a jackass in love with the sound of his own voice isn’t perceived as harshly as it is in Chicago.

Phrustration, Inc.

It was another disappointing season in 2005 for the Philadelphia Phillies. Picked by many to unseat the Atlanta Braves at the top of the NL East, the Phillies came close, but fell two games short. In the end, even the Wild Card slipped from their hands, with the Houston Astros surging past in the season's final days.

Injuries certainly played a part, at least according to conventional wisdom. Jim Thome, productive in his first two seasons with the club after signing a huge free agent deal in the winter of 2002-2003, had a disasterous season, although probably not so bad as Brownie's. Brought down by injuries, Thome batted just .207 with seven homers. Randy Wolf, the Phils best starter, blew out his elbow after starting just 13 games and missed the rest of the season.

Of course, injuries often lead to opportunity. Ryan Howard, previously trapped at AAA by Thome, took over the first base job and smashed 22 homers in just over half a season. Robinson Tejeda, inserted into the rotation to replace Wolf, frustrated Phillies management with control struggles, yet allowed only 67 hits in 85 2/3 innings, striking out 72 and posting a 3.57 ERA. It would be an oversimplification to pin the blame on losing Thome and Wolf.

Projected 2006 Lineup:

SS Jimmy Rollins
CF Aaron Rowand
RF Bobby Abreu
1B Ryan Howard
LF Pat Burrell
2B Chase Utley
C Mike Leiberthal
3B David Bell

The outfield of Burrell, Rowand, and Abreu is one of the best in the game. The Phils also have 3/4 of a very productive infield, with Howard, Utley, and Rollins. Third base, however, is an area badly needing an upgrade, as David Bell is long past the point of any usefulness on the field. Leiberthal is 34 and battling injuries constantly; I forsee much more Sal Fasano in the Phillies future than even a Fasano fan like me thinks is advisable. Outfielder Shane Victorio is the only bench player presenting a possible upside, and there is no other help coming from the farm system, one of the worst in the game.

Projected 2006 Starting Rotation and Bullpen:

SP Jon Leiber
SP Brett Myers
SP Cory Lidle
SP Ryan Franklin
SP Ryan Madsen/Robinson Tejeda

CL Tom Gordon
RP Arthur Rhodes
RP Aaron Fultz
RP Geoff Geary
RP Madsen or Tejeda

A decent group, but certainly not overwhelming. Myers emerged as the Phillies best starter in 2005, striking out 208 in 213 innings. Leiber is a good #2, and the rest are, at least, servicable. My real concern is Gordon. He's 38, his strikeout rate fell off dramatically in 2005, and he looked very, very tired by October.

I still believe that what is holding this franchise back is this line on the team's organizational chart:

Dallas Green.....Senior Advisor to the General Manager.

Like Tommy LaSorda in LA, Green represents the good old days to Phillies owner David Montgomery and chairman Bill Giles, himself a part of the old cabal. I'm not belittling Green or LaSorda's knowledge of the game; they know more nuts and bolts about the game on the field than I could ever hope to. What brings the team down is that both are inflexible, clinging to the old ways, good and bad, against the encroachment of new ideas. They are the type to prefer Bell to Scott Rolen, based on some vague idea of "leadership" and "guts." David Bell might have more guts than 100 plates of haggis, but a .671 OPS at third base is dragging the team down, no matter how much of a leader he is.

The ability of new General Manager Pat Gillick to cut through this kind of crap will be critical to the chances of the 2006 club. Gillick has his detractors, but built championship quality teams in three places, Toronto, Baltimore, and Seattle. He's earned the nickname "Stand Pat" for his refusal to make in-season deals that might have helped push the Mariners further in the postseason, but he has at least started his Phillies tenure with a very fine deal, acquiring a standout defensive centerfielder with some pop in his bat (Rowand) and two very strong pitching prospects from the White Sox for Thome. I'm less enamored of his solutions to the bullpen, tossing out a solid outfield reserve in Jason Michaels to pick up Rhodes, and tossing money at the very risky Gordon. Recognizing and fixing the problem at third needs to be a huge priority, as well as finding spare parts to stock the bench.

Although the 2005 season is considered a huge disappointment, the Phillies did win 88 games. Picking up just two or three more this yearcould very likely put them into the postseason. However, losing two or three will once again leave Phillie Phan and the city's media howling in outrage and calling for heads to roll. Sadly for them, my best guess at this time is on the latter.

Public Service Announcement

This is your brain.

This is your brain on drugs.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Ray's Gone Bye-Bye, Egon, What Do You Have Left?

Darren Daulton apparently took one too many foul balls off the mask.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Prognosticators Repeat Ourselves, Too

Bob pointed out recently how history doesn't repeat itself; historians merely repeat each other. Researching this preview for the Atlanta Braves, I can't help but realize that everything written on the subject for the past several years has been a rehash of the same theme: There is no way that the Braves can keep their title streak going this year. Look at what they lost over the winter!

The best known loss over this past winter, of course, was the legendary pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who left for Baltimore. In addition, shortstop Rafael Furcal and catcher Johnny Estrada have also moved on. Those are some significant losses, but I'm giving up on ever selling the Braves short again. GM John Schuerholz and manager Bobby Cox have shown over and over again that they can always find someone to plug the holes, often someone even better than the guy they replaced.

Projected 2006 Lineup:

LF Ryan Langerhans
2B Marcus Giles
CF Andruw Jones
3B Chipper Jones
RF Jeff Francoeur
1B Adam LaRoche
SS Edgar Rentaria
C Brian McCann

That's still as good a lineup as any in the NL East. McCann had essentially replaced Estrada by the end of 2005; he projects as a better hitter with more power. Rentaria is not the equal of Furcal, but he's not exactly Neifi Perez, either.

The critical components this year are Francoeur and LaRoche. Francouer made a big splash in 2005, batting .300 and slugging .549 in 70 games as a 21-year-old. That is indeed very impressive; what's troubling is his 11/58 BB/K ratio. While I don't expect him to turn into a Bonds-like walk machine, he will have to show improvement in strike zone judgement or pitchers will figure him out this time around. LaRoche is a decent player, but a good team needs more than a .775 OPS from a first baseman. LaRoche is also without a platoon partner as of this writing; last year he hit just .188 against lefties.

Projected 2006 Rotation and Bullpen:

SP John Smoltz
SP Tim Hudson
SP John Thomson
SP Jorge Sosa
SP Horacio Ramirez/Kyle Davies

CL Chris Reitsma
RP John Foster
RP Blaine Boyer
RP Lance Cormier
RP Chuck James

Health will again be a big factor at the top of the rotation; Hudson and Thomson both missed time in 2005 and Smoltz has his own injury history, although he held up well under the stress of the rotation last year. Ramirez and Davies had good moments in 2005, but neither showed consistant domination, with BB/K ratios of 67/80 and 49/62 respectively. If those don't improve, look for James and possibly Anthony (PePe) Lerew to move up quickly into rotation slots.

When you shoot at a king, you must kill him. Many teams and forcasters have taken shots at the Braves for years now, but they still wear the NL East crown. Until someone finally does knock them from their perch, I'm going to keep picking them to win.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Toronto Preview: If I Had a Million Dollars

Under GM J.P. Ricciardi's guidance, the Blue Jays have gone from a team that was going nowhere fast to a team, while still going nowhere because it played in the same division as the Yankees and Red Sox, was at least competitive and getting better.

Ricciardi accomplished this with the Moneyball tactics he learned during his time with A's. But even a stat geek like Ricciardi wouldn't pass up the opportunity to spend a little more cash. So when ownership offered him a substantial increase in payroll, he took the money and ran

After Ricciardi made his splash in the free agent pool, and pulled off a pair of fairly high-profile trades, the Jays look to improve on their 80-82 mark, and perhaps even contend for the playoff spot that has eluded them since 1993.

1. Enough with gab. Just tell me how good Burnett and Ryan are going to be.
The Blue Jays had the best ERA in the AL East (4.06) last year. But you know the old saying -- you can never have enough pitching. And what better way for Ricciardi to spend his boss' money than by picking up the two biggest pitching names on the market -- A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan. No word on whether or not the Jays were looking to sign C.J. Nitkowski and D.J. Dozier to round out their collection.

Despite the big bucks these two guys are getting, I'm not entirely sold on them. Burnett has a history of injuries and a history of not winning more than 12 games a year. He'll either be a bargain or an expensive albatross in the fifth year of his deal.

Ryan was the best closer available, which might be more an indictment on the available closer than an endorsement of his talent. But Ricciardi saw enough to sign him to a long-term deal, which has the same risks and rewards as Burnett's.

These signings did have a value-add. Adding these guys gave Ricciardi some excess pitching, which he was able to use in his trades. With Ryan on board, Miguel Batista became expendable, and was swapped for Troy Glaus. And Burnett pushed David Bush out of the rotation; Bush went to Milwaukee as part of the Lyle Overbay trade.

If Burnett can stay healthy, the Blue Jays might have the best rotation in the division (with Roy Halladay, Gustavo Chacin, Josh Towers, and Ted Lilly). While I'm not on the Ryan bandwagon, Batista isn't that hard to replace, and the rest of the bullpen is extremely capable.

2. Will Glaus and Overbay kick the offense up a notch?
The Jays ranked fifth in the AL in runs scored, which sounds pretty good. But they were also ninth in the league in OPS, which sounds pretty mediocre.

I don't know how much of an impact Glaus will have on that. He'll have to stay healthy and keep his power stroke going to be of any value this year, because as a third baseman he's a pretty good ottoman. Overbay won't threaten Bonds' home run record, but his OPS skills will be welcome in the middle of the lineup.

The Jays will have to shuffle around their lineup to accommodate these guys. Glaus and Overbay will take over the corner infield spots. Shea Hillenbrand will probably see some time at third if Glaus can't hack it there. Erstwhile Rookie of the Year Eric Hinske is now in the process of learning the outfield, his third position in three years. He might not get a chance at a fourth if he can't improve his .763 OPS.

With Orlando Hudson shuffled off to Phoenix as part of the Glaus deal, second base is open. Aaron Hill will probably get first, with Russ Adams at short.

The probable outfield of Frank Catalanotto, Vernon Wells, and Alex Rios is talented, but lacks the power expected of outfielders.

3. Can the new guys push the Blue Jays over the top?
On paper, the top teams in the AL East are New York, Boston, and Toronto. On paper, the Yankee and Red Sox offenses still look like they can hit rings around the Jays.

But on paper, the Jays have the best rotation, and you could make a decent argument that (on paper, at least) they have a better bullpen. And, on paper (birth certificates, to be exact), the Jays have and advantage.

Fairly or unfairly, the fate of this Blue Jays team will be tied into the performances of its four major acquisitions. Expect them to perform somewhere around their established levels.

But if the pitching can maintain its best-in-the-division status, that might be enough for them to take the Wild Card, or even (with a little more luck) the division title. And if that happens, no one will accuse Ricciardi of spending his money foolishly...

White Sox, White House

My turn to chime in on Ozzie Guillen's no-show at the White House.

Ozzie Guillen has every right, as an American citizen, to turn down an invitation to anywhere and anything that he wishes. There is nothing in the Constitution requiring him to show up on the White House lawn to give a sinking president a cheap, self-serving photo op, which is all that these congratulatory receptions are.

Lest you think that my complete and total contempt for the Bush Crime Family is tempering my feelings in any way, let me assure you that this is not the case. I find the entire idea of White House visits by champion sports figures to be a worthless, pointless exercise, no matter who sits in the Oval Office. Aren't there better things for a president, any president, to be doing with his (or her) time?

I'm not surprised by Chicago Mayor Richie Daley's criticism of Ozzie. They may be from opposing parties, but Daley and Bush have a lot in common. Both are the incompetent sons of famous party leaders, neither of whom would ever have made it very far under their own abilities. And both run sickening, corrupt administrations propped up by rigged elections.

Yeah, this is a baseball blog, but it's MY baseball blog (and Bob's). I'll say whatever I damned well want. Especially if it's true.

Springtime for Hitters

Pitchers and catchers began reporting to Spring Training camps today.

Even Shakespeare never wrote a more beautiful sentence than that.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Historians Merely Repeat Each Other

But that's too much money!" cry the owners. "Some of the new salaries are insane! Some owner will do anything to buy a pennant. Only the rich clubs can play this game now, and the rest of us are going broke. Help!" To this the players reply, "How much is 'too much,' anyway? Who started these big salaries? You did. Wouldn't you take all that loot if it was offered to you? Why should we punish our teammates who are going to be the next free agents by agreeing to solve your problems? Go talk to George Steinbrenner -- or throw a net over him.
** Roger Angell, writing for The New Yorker, April 1981, reprinted in Late Innings

I didn't realize until I re-read this piece yesterday that this June 12th will mark the 25th anniversary of the 1981 strike. And, as the clip from Angell above suggests, not a lot has changed between now and then.

The owners still wail about how player salaries make it impossible for small market teams to compete. The players still don't see why they have to solve the owner's problems for them. The fans still complain that the players are making too damned much money -- until their team doesn't sign a pet free agent, at which point they complain their team isn't Serious About Winning™.

Over the last twenty-five years, MLB has bee dead and buried for a variety of reasons. Free agency (several times), cocaine scandals, more strikes, collusion, expansion (twice), the Wild Card, and (finally) steroids. Despite all this, MLB is still kicking, and I honestly think that the game is better than it ever has been.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement is up for renewal soon. I can only hope that the owners, players, and the people in Baron Budhausen's office will look at everything that has happened over the last quarter of a century and try to learn from it.

You know what they say about those who don't learn from history. However, recent labor negotiations personify another adage: History doesn't repeat itself; historians merely repeat each other.

Boston Preview: I Want You Back

Boston's off-season has been punctuated by comings, goings, and stayings. GM Theo Epstein was gone after a much-publicized tiff, and then returned a few months later. Josh Beckett (and Mike Lowell) came aboard in a much-ballyhooed trade with the cost-cutting Marlins. And the ever-enigmatic Manny Ramirez stayed where he was, despite the much-hyped any-minute-now trade rumors he had been involved with.

Now that that's all sorted out, we can try to figure out where the Red Sox stand heading into training camp...

1. Will Red Sox Fan be happy with Josh Beckett?
The snarky answer to this question is no, because even if Beckett wins 30 games it won't be enough for Red Sox Fan. More seriously, I think the answer is still no, because Beckett was acquired to be at least a number two starter (perhaps number one if Red Light Curt is still hobbling around), and it remains to be seen if he can handle that.

Beckett's got a lot of talent. But he's also been hurt a lot, and he didn't exactly distinguish himself as the model of comportment last year in Miami. Factor in a move to a new league and the increased scrutiny of pitching for Boston...With his talent, you gotta figure he'll break out eventually. But maybe not this year.

A break out year from Beckett would solidify the Red Sox' playoff hopes. Last year's staff wasn't the worst in the league, but it wasn't all that good, either (11th in ERA, 12th in OPS). Outside of Beckett, Boo-hoolian Tavarez, and David Riske (who came over in the Coco Crisp deal), the pitching staff projects to be pretty much the same group from last year.

The Red Sox will be counting on healthy years from Schilling, David Wells, and Keith Foulke. Good luck to them.

2. How 'bout that new infield, huh?
Yikes. Talk about your fixer-uppers.

Going around the horn: Mike Lowell has to prove that he can still play after his 2005 train wreck. Edgar Renteria didn't do a lot last year, but he's a step up from Alex Gonzalez. Mark Loretta is a step up from Mark Bellhorn, but he's pushing 35 years old. Finally, Kevin Youkilis appears to be the new guy at first base; he’s been a big prospect since Moneyball, but will he be able to cut it? So there are a lot of questions.

Has a playoff team completely restructured their infield like this from one year to the next? There probably has been, but I'm not motivated enough to look it up.

But the infield purge seems to indicate that the Red Sox are a team in transition. This is a veteran team, but bringing in guys like Loretta, Lowell, J.T. Snow, and John Flaherty isn't making it any younger. I wonder what Theo's got planned for 2007...

3. Theo's back -- what does that mean for the team?
For starters, it means the quad-umverate that was running the team in the winter meetings is out of power. And it means that the Moneyball haters have got a favorite target back.

Outside of that, I can't really say. I will venture a guess that it's a good thing for Red Sox Fan, and that some guys on the 40-man roster won't be there come August. Coco Crisp might be just the start.

I will also venture a guess that the AL East will come down to Boston, New York, and Toronto. Barring a rash of injuries, we can look forward to lots of Red Sox and Yankees highlights leading off Baseball Tonight this September.


Baseball Weekly, 8 February:

[Johnny] Damon and new teammate Alex Rodriguez have patched up their differences. Damon even promised to rewrite a section of his autobiography that criticized Rodriguez. "I apologized to Alex last Opening Day," Damon said. "I told him it came out the wrong way. We were just trying to sell books.
Let me get this straight: it was OK for Damon to bash A-Rod when he was with Boston. But now that he's in New York, he'll rewrite the offending passages out of the book. Forgive me if I consider this a weaselly thing to do.

I might accept that the section "came out the wrong way." Even though one would think something that wrong would be caught in the editing process, one can imagine it being an honest mistake.

I might also accept that Damon was "just trying to sell books." And what better way to sell books than by taking potshots against a hated rival? Weaselly, but understandable.

But I can't accept both of these together. I mean, don't they contradict each other?

Either way, this little glimpse into Damon's mind shows that he really might be an Idiot...

Be Careful What You Wish For

The windup...White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen announces that he will not make the trip to the White House with the rest of his team.

The pitch...Chicago Mayor Richard Daley: "I don't know who you are. Maybe you think you're too important. I think Ozzie is on vacation or something. I mean, that is up to him. But you don't realize how precious that is, and very few Americans have ever been in the White House. To me, that is a privilege for anyone to be."

At bat...White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf: "The mayor said he was disappointed with Ozzie, and that's a legitimate opinion. But this is not that big a deal."

Oooooohhhh...swing and a miss!

OK, the Katzenjammer Kid is right when he says that it's not a big deal. But he whiffs when he complains that people are paying too much attention to this deal.

Reinsdorf and his staff want Chicago to be a White Sox Town. Winning the World Series has helped in that regard.

But part and parcel of being the number one team in town is having the bone-headed Chicago media focus on the stupidest...errr...stuff going on around your team. It's been going on for years on the other side of town -- recent examples include Sosa's boombox, Alou's bathroom habits, and Baker's theories on which players play best in warm weather and why.

For a more recent example, check out this snarky piece by hopelessly biased Dave Van Dyck about the new bleachers going up at Wrigley Field. Van Dyck seems amazed that Cubs haven't commissioned a wind tunnel study to determine what effect the additional seating will have on the yard. After all, the White Sox AND the Red Sox did wind tunnel studies, so it must be a smart thing to do!

This is an utterly pointless topic -- just as pointless as whether or not Ozzie goes to visit W. But that's SOP for the Chicago media's coverage of its favorite team. Reinsdorf might believe that becoming Chicago's number one team will be all sweetness and light. But he should know by now that every silver lining has a dark cloud...

Adventures in Journamalism, Pre-Training Camp Edition

A few doozies this week from the hopelessly biased Chicago Tribune...

1. Phil Rogers, 10 February:

Would [the White Sox] have made the playoffs without homegrown players Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Joe Crede, and Aaron Rowand?

Is there a great sign of hackery than a writer offering blatantly incorrect information?

Rogers and his editors know full well that Garland is not "homegrown." For the last eight years, they have indicated their knowledge of this fact every time they have published a piece ridiculing the Cubs for trading Garland away. But Garland and his superiors have never been shy about altering a story when they want to put a different spin on it...

2. Dave Van Dyck, 9 February:

Strange as it may sound, the Cubs could benefit from Sosa accepting the tryout[from Washington] and then playing well enough to make the team.

Van Dyck takes some time away from his wind tunnels to ponder the fate of Sammy Sosa. His logic goes like this: if Sosa sign with the Expos, and if he plays well enough to make the team, he may force Alfonso Soriano out of the left field spot. Therefore, the Expos would have no choice but to trade either Soriano or Vidro (in order to move Soriano back to second base).

That's two big ifs (Sosa signing with Washington and then making the team) followed by three big suppositions (that Sosa would get a starting job, that the Expos would move Soriano or Vidro to the Cubs, and that the Cubs would be interested in meeting the Expos' price for either of them). I think we can charitably consider this a long shot.

3. When I ponder the big questions facing my heroes this year, I wonder if Juan Pierre will be an adequate leadoff hitter. I wonder about the health of Aramis Ramirez and the pitching staff. I wonder if Matt and Ronnie can hack it everyday. I wonder if another botched game will be too much for Ron Santo's heart to take.

I don't wonder what Paul Sullivan thinks about:

Entering the final year of a four-year contract, the biggest question this season may be whether this is Baker's last stand in Chicago.

Baker's contract status is nearly as important as Ozzie not visiting the White House. I'm not a mind reader, so I don't pretend to know why it's so important to Sully. Perhaps it's because Dusty's impending departure will give Sully an easy topic to waste column inches on when he can't be bothered to find any real news to write about.

Jeebus help me. It hardly seems possible that the hopelessly biased Tribune's coverage can be any more facile, and training camp hasn't even opened yet. I fear what the coming season will bring.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Playing in the Sandbox

If there is a doldrums in the baseball world, this is it. The off-season flurry of player moves is over, and spring training hasn’t started. There’s almost nothing happening now.

When times are slow like this, I browse through the archives. Recently I pulled down the 1987 Baseball Abstract by Bill James and re-discovered a neat little toy to pass the time.

In that book, James lays out how to calculate Star Value, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Points are awarded on the following basis:
MVP award 5 points
Led league in Home Runs, Runs Scored, RBI, or Batting Average 3 points
Hit 40 Home Runs (not leading league) 3 points
Drove in or scored 100 runs (not leading league) 2 points
Had 200 hits 2 points
Hit 30-39 Home Runs (not leading league) 2 points
Led league in Doubles, Triples, Walks, Stolen Bases, or Hits with less than 200 1 point
For each 100 games played in excess of 1,000 1 point
For each 100 games played in excess of 900 at Catcher, Second Base, or Shortstop 1 point

MVP or Cy Young Award 5 points
Led league in Wins, Winning Percentage, Strikeouts, or ERA 3 points
Saved 30 or more games 3 points
Won 18 or more games (not leading league) 2 points
Had 200 Strikeouts 2 points
Saved 20-29 games 2 points
Led league in Games, Innings Pitched, Shutouts, Complete Games, or Saves with a total of 10-19 1 point
For each 10 wins over 80 and for each 10 saves over 130 1 point

Add up all the points, and the total gives you the following Star Value:
All-Time Great 76+
Major Star 46-75
Marginal Hall of Famer 26-45
Minor Star 11-25
Good Ballplayer 1-10

Because I’m a geek, and I had too much time on my hands, I figured the Star Values for some players who have been involved in recent Hall of Fame debates:

Albert Belle 53 points
Bert Blyleven 49 points
Ron Santo 30 points
Andre Dawson 42 points

The good folks at Baseball Reference make it easy to rate your favorite players. They also have some other fun toys there, too – like the Black Ink Test, the HoF Standards, and HoF Monitor. Check it out while you’re impatiently waiting for baseball to start again…

Home Sweet Home

It’s been a nutty week for the Washington Expos. I’ve read the reports, but I can’t tell you if they have a stadium deal or not. Instead of fumbling around trying to make heads or tails of it, visit Field of Schemes. They’ve got the rundown on all the happenings.

And do visit Ball-Wonk for this rather humorous take on the situation.

Consistency Is the Hobgoblin of Small Minds

Phil Rogers then (10 January 2006):
Should Patterson somehow turn in a good season – 25-30 homers isn’t out of the question if the Orioles hit him far below Miguel Tejada, who no longer appears to be available – it would be a huge indictment of Baker and his coaches. But he’s not turning into Lou Brock. He’s too soft for that to happen.

Phil Rogers now (from today’s Tribune):
Will Patterson hit .270 with 30-plus home runs and make Dusty Baker and the Cubs look silly for allowing him to flounder? The potential is there if he ever clears his head.

Which is it, Phil? In less than a month, Patterson has improved sop much that Rogers adds another ten homers to his projection. In less than a month, Patterson has gone from a guy who’s “too soft” to a guy who just needs to “clear his head” (of all the bad advice he’s gotten from Baker and his staff, no doubt).

A prime example of Rogers’ feeble logic (which I like to call “Rogic”). What’s wrong with Corey Patterson? It depends on who Rogers wants to rip that day.

Oh, and never, ever forget – the Chicago Tribune and all its writers are hopelessly biased. For proof, look no further than Phil Rogers.

What the Hell?

This winter the Cubs added some seats to the Wrigley Field bleachers. As part of the renovations, the plans called for an open section (or a “gaping hole,” as the hopelessly biased Paul Sullivan referred to it) in the right field wall, like the one Pac Bell Park. The idea, I thought, was that folks on Sheffield could look in and check out the game, like they do at Pac Bell Park.

I thought wrong. According to our old buddy Sully, that won’t be happening. The Cubs have decided against the idea, and apparently will put a screen over the chain-link fence. Cubs VP of Business Operations Mark McGuire said “the person on the sidewalk who hasn’t bought a ticket isn’t entitled” to poaching a view of the game. Why in God’s name put the “gaping hole” out there if you’re not gonna use it?

I have heard whispers about why this decision was made. One, the rooftop owners were concerned that people would be less inclined to drop a hundred bucks to sit on their rooftops if they could get a better view for free. Two, the anti-Cub residents got themselves in a titter about all the loiterers on their sidewalk during those game days, and threatened to go running to Mayor Richie if they weren’t appeased. Remember, these are the people who felt that support columns for the new bleachers would be a safety hazard, because innocent folks strolling on the sidewalk might walk into them.

Jeebus help us. Note to McGuire: the media is already well-armed. We don’t need to hand them any more ammunition…

Hey! Rockies! Time To Pull Some Ballplayers Out Of Your Hats!

This has not been a kind decade to the Colorado Rockies. Not since 2000 have they managed to reach the .500 level, and it doesn't look like that trend is going to break any time soon. Every year, it seems, the Rockies experiment with a new approach to winning under the extreme playing conditions that they face, and every year it fails.

My advice? Forget about the clever schemes to find the perfect players for a high altitude setting, and just concentrate on developing good ballplayers. Judging from the current roster and farm system, this is advice that has not yet been taken to heart.

Projected 2006 Lineup:

CF Corey Sullivan
SS Clint Barmes
LF Matt Holliday
1B Todd Helton
3B Garrett Atkins
RF Brad Hawpe
2B Luis Gonzalez
C Yorvit Torrealba

Playing in Fascist Brewery Field, the Rockies should always lead the league in runs scored. Last year's model finished fifth, scoring the lowest total in team history excepting the strike year of 1994. Todd Helton, slowed by some injuries in 2005, remains a first-rate threat at the plate. After Helton, the best two hitters that the franchise has are Ryan Shealy, blocked at first by Helton, and Ian Stewart, a third baseman who is about a year away. Shealy could conceivably play left field, but Holliday's big second half in 2005 will fool the Rockies into thinking that he's a quality hitter, which he really isn't.

Projected 2006 Rotation and Bullpen:

SP Jason Jennings
SP Jeff Francis
SP Aaron Cook
SP Zach Day
SP Byung-Hyun Kim or Sunny Kim or Kim Cattrall

CL Brian Fuentes
RP Ray King
RP Mike DeJean
RP Jose Mesa
RP Several other poor, damned souls

Francis is the best that they have; all they can do is hope that his development isn't completely warped by the atmosphere. The Rockies talk up Jennings and Cook as solid pitchers, but Jennings had a K/BB ratio last year of 75/62 in 125 innings and Cook fanned only 24 in 83 innings. Those aren't the kind of numbers I want to see on anyone I'm hanging my hopes on.

I can't wait to see the results of Jose Mesa pitching a full season in Coors Field.

This is a bad ballclub, and there isn't much on the horizon. Even in the weak field that is the NL West, the Rockies are far from contention.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

New York Preview: Rites of Spring

Over the last few years, the only thing trendier than picking the team that would finally overthrow the Atlanta Braves in the NL East is picking the team that would finally overthrow the New York Yankees in the AL East. Such prognostication became even trendier after the Red Sox won the World Series, when Boston looked like they might gain the upper hand over their long-time rivals.

Sadly, no. The Yankees, despite the best guesses of pundits everywhere (including here) did not collapse like an ice sculpture at Pismo Beach. Jason Giambi put together a season he didn’t have to apologize for, and Joe Torre kept his pitching staff together with chewing gum and baling wire. And when the dust settled, the Yankees won the division again.

1. Johnny Damon got a big contract and a trip to the barber’s. Can he lead the Yankees to a trip to the World Series?
Damon was arguably the biggest name free agent to sign this winter. Conventional wisdom had it that his leadoff skills would only enhance an already-formidable lineup. The lineup was formidable last year – the Yanks finished behind only the Red Sox in runs scored and OPS. But Damon’s .366 OBP would only rank him sixth on last year’s team.

That’s not to say that Damon won’t help matters. But New York’s offensive success will hinge more on Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, and (to a lesser extent) Bernie Williams than Damon. If those three elder statesmen can’t stay healthy and productive, the Bombers might bomb.

The Yankees enjoy the luxury of having Alex Rodriguez, Hideki Matsui, and Derek Jeter in the lineup, so even if the threesome mentioned above break down the offense won’t be utterly hopeless. But there’s not a lot of depth on this team, and a lengthy stint on the DL would hurt. Andy Phillips, Melky Cabrera, and Bubba Crosby just aren’t as intimidating as Giambi, Williams, and Sheffield…

2. Will Torre and Co. be able to chew enough gum to keep the staff together for another year?
Good question. The entire rotation is iffy in some form. Ace Randy Johnson is 43 years old with a history of back problems. Mike Mussina has had his share of aches and pains the last few years, too. Jaret Wright is…well, Jaret Wright. Chien-Ming Wang looked like a godsend until he got hurt, too. Carl Pavano was healthy enough to pitch only 17 times last year. Kevin Brown could only go 13 times, and might be done for good.

I guess that means the safest bets among the starters are Aaron Small and Shawn Chacon. Oy…

In the bullpen, Mariano Rivera is still among the elite. His supporting cast has changed, though. And it remains to be seen if it’s for the better.

Tom Gordon bolted for Philadelphia. To buttress the set up role, GM Brian Cashman signed Mike Myers and $17 million man Kyle Farnsworth. Myers will be the lefty specialist, good for 40 or so IP. Farnsworth will be fresh meat for the New York media, and the guy designated to beat the crap out of Paul Wilson during interleague games.

Rivera is great, and is close to a given as anything on the staff. Johnson, Mussina, and Pavano can give the Yankees a strong front of the rotation if they’re healthy. Outside of that, there’s not a lot to get excited about here. New pitching coach Ron Guidry might have a long season ahead of him.

3. So are you following the crowd and betting against the Yankees?
Well, like I said before, picking against New York is a rite of spring, much like the first robin, or first spring training game.

On the other hand, when I look at the competition I can’t really find anyone that is clearly better than the Yankees. The Red Sox spent the winter running in circles. The Blue Jays probably did the most to improve their team, but that doesn’t always translate into immediate success (just ask the 2003 Phillies).

Even though they’re old and hurt, the Yankees still have a lot of talent. If another team manages to pass them this year, I’d be willing to bet that age and injury would have something to do with it.

New Dodgers For The 21st Century

It was a busy winter for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Owner Frank McCourt cleaned his management house, firing manager Jim Tracey and GM Paul DePodesta. The firings had less to do with their records as they were cave-ins to Ghost of Dodgers past Tommy LaSorda and loudmouthed morons in the L.A. media, who had alergic reactions to DePodesta's evil Moneyball ways, and never forgave him for his trade of a popular and mediocre veteran leader in 2004.

To replace Tracy, the Dodgers hired one of the last people I ever expected to see back in a major league dugout, Grady (To Pull Pedro, Or Not to Pull Pedro) Little. They came back with another surprise when filling the GM's office, raiding arch-rival San Francisco for their assistant GM, Ned Colleti.

The Giants are infamous in recent years for an overreliance on veterans and wanting little to do with young players, so it shouldn't have been any surprise that once Colleti was settled into his chair, the gates were opened and the graybeards entered. The offseason has seen the signings or trade acquistions of the following: Rafael Furcal, Sandy Alomar Jr., Bill Mueller, Nomar Garciaparra, Kenny Lofton, Bret Tomko, Danys Baez, and Lance Carter. Sandy Alomar Jr.? Are you kidding me?

The win-with-veterans approach is justifiable this year, with the division up for grabs, but in about another year Colleti's openness to young players is going to be really challenged, because the Dodger farm system is loaded. I've been skeptical for years about the overhyped prospects the Dodgers and the media tout, but this new crop looks like the real deal. Will they be allowed to work into spots in the Dodger lineup, or will they be sent packing to other organizations to make way for more veterans? Time will tell.

Projected 2006 Lineup:

CF Kenny Lofton
SS Rafael Furcal
1B Nomar Garciaparra
2B Jeff Kent
RF J.D. Drew
3B Bill Mueller
LF Jose Cruz/Jason Werth
C Dioner Navarro

Hee Sop Choi, Rickey Ledee, Olmedo Saenz, and Cesar Izturis provide depth, which the Dodgers will need based on the age and injury history of the regulars. If and when this group is actually on the field together, it's not a bad lineup compared to the rest of the NL West. The key factors will be health and how Colleti fills the holes that will inevitably open up by players falling and not getting up.

Projected 2006 Starting Rotation and Bullpen

SP Derek Lowe
SP Odalis Perez
SP Brad Penny
SP Brett Tomko
SP Jae Seo

CL Eric Gagne
RP Danys Baez
RP Lance Carter
RP Yhency Brazoban
RP Kelly Wunsch

Gagne's status isa major issue here. Colleti did provide a fallback plan by picking up Baez and Carter from the Devil Rays; the cost being tarnished prospects Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany. Seo, obtained from the Mets for Duaner Sanchez, is a major steal for Colleti; he was actually the Mets' second-best starter last year and could move to the top of the rotation here.

Somewhat grudgingly, since I despise the franchise, I would make the Dodgers the favorites to capture the NL West title this year. More frighteningly, I can see them slugging it out with the Diamondbacks for the next decade, not only for supremacy in the West but for the entire National League.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Seattle Preview: Red Sails in the Sunset

We all know Safeco Field is a pitcher's park. But that doesn't fully explain the Mariner's awful offense -- the team managed a woeful .709 OPS last year, last in the league, and 25 points behind the West Division champion Angels. Not surprisingly, the M's finished 26 games out of first place.

1. GM Bill Bavasi brought in some more free agents. Any chance they'll help?
Well, there's always a chance. And with an offense as bad the '05 Mariners, things really can't get worse. (Maybe they can, as they outscored only Minnesota, out homered only Kansas City, and were dead last in OBP -- and that was with the much-ballyhooed arrivals of Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson).

Two of Bavasi's acquisitions will be expected to kick things up a notch: Carl Everett, and Kenji Johjima. Everett is a high-risk, high-reward pick up; if he remains healthy and (relatively) happy, he'll provide another power source for a lineup that didn't have much outside Sexson and Raul Ibanez last year.

Johjima is an automatic upgrade in the catching spot. He was an All-Star in Japan, and is the first catcher from Japan to break into MLB. But anything he can offer will be an improvement over any of the seven catchers the M's trotted out last year.

The rest of the new guys are extremely replacement level. Matt Lawton is a fourth outfielder. Who knows what Fernando Vina has left? Make your own jokes about Corky Miller and Cody Ransom.

2. Bavasi signed Jarrod Washburn. That has to help, too. Right?
Washburn was born just down the Interstate from me in beautiful LaCrosse, WI. He'll be good for 180-200 IP this year. And he'll probably win about ten games.

The Mariner's rotation lines up with Washburn, Jamie Moyer, Felix Hernandez, Gil Meche, and Joel Pineiro. If any of those guys falter, Kevin Appier and Clint Nageotte are next in line. Be honest, Mariners Fans -- outside of Hernandez, how many of those guys do you really feel confident about?

The bullpen is OK, but the biggest concern about this staff is that they don't miss too many bats. Their 5.62 K/9 IP ratio was lowest in the league. It's hard enough to succeed with a strikeout rate that low, even if they do improve on the 1,979 runners they allowed last year.

3. Can this ship be turned around?
Sure it can. But like most barges, it will take a slow, wide turn before it's headed in the right direction.

Mariners Fan might need to chug some of that famous coffee to stay alert this season. Another last-place finish is likely because the AL West isn't getting any softer.

On the brighter side, there are some rookies on the 40 man roster that the scouts seem to like. Jeremy Reed is still a good center field prospect, and Mike Morse might make a career for himself at short. The short-term may be bleak, but if Bavasi can hold the course he might enjoy some clear sailing in a few years.

Knowing Me, Knowing You

As a group of clean-cut Swedes taught us nearly thirty years ago, breaking up is never easy. The Astros and Jeff Bagwell are just the latest example.

I thought the messiest divorce of the off season would be Frank Thomas and the White Sox. Although Big Frank didn't disappoint, his swipes at his former bosses and Jim Thome were tame compared with the blast Bagwell leveled at his employers.

"It's just amazing how bad they don't want me to play. Anything else said, it's just not the truth. They just want to collect their money," Bagwell said.

Jim has ably discussed this dispute in his Astros preview. I quite agree that the Astros have no one but themselves to blame -- Bagwell is a perfect example of the risks inherent in long-term contracts.

While Drayton McLane may recoup the $17 million Bagwell will get this year, there is little chance this episode will end happily. "It probably will never be fixed between me and the Astros," Bagwell said.

And Bagwell is still with the team. So look for things to become even more uncomfortable. At this rate, Bagwell may tell the Hall of Fame to forget about putting a hat on his plaque...

At Least He's Focusing on What's Important

To me, the idea is to look professional. I understand it's important for players to have their own style, and I don't have a problem with that. But I want players to look neat and clean.
Joe Girardi, Florida Marlins manager

And so Joltless Joe becomes the latest manager to buy into the "if you look classy, you'll be classy" mindset. According to Baseball Weekly, the ban on facial hair was something he picked up during his time with the Yankees.

There are some folks who believe that such grooming standards are good for a team, because they enforce discipline or a sense of camaraderie or some other nonsense. As the resident curmudgeon about clubhouse chemistry and such, I must say "phooey kablooey" to this idea.

No team ever won a pennant because regular shaving habits inspired them to greatness. Neatness counts in a lot of things, but it won't help Girardi's young charges overtake the Braves.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Nine Old Men

The 2005 San Francisco Giants suffered from two things. The first, and most critical, were injuries to Barry Bonds which caused him to miss all but 14 games. Losing the most dominant hitter of this era pretty much erased all hope of competing even in the pitiful NL West, and the bad situation was made worse by the second problem, that the Giants were an old, old team with no ready help available from the farm system.

The solution for 2006? Hope Bonds is healthy (he says he will be), and get even older. The Giants brought in fresh blood for the new year; but most of it is past the expiration date.

Projected 2006 Lineup (ages in parenthesis):

CF Randy Winn (32)
SS Omar Vizquel (39)
LF Barry Bonds (41)
RF Moises Alou (39)
2B Ray Durham (34)
3B Pedro Feliz (31)
1B Lance Niekro (27)
C Mike Matheny (35)

If you're going to have a club this old, you'd better have a a healthy bench. Taking the age and experience thing to the limit, the top three reserves for the Giants will be Steve Finley (41), Mike Sweeney (36), and Jose Vizcaino (38). If the Giants can't outhit or outrun their opponents, they should at least have a huge advantage in the ability to stand around and tell long, boring, pointless stories.

Projected 2006 Rotation and Bullpen:

SP Jason Schmidt
SP Matt Morris
SP Noah Lowrey
SP Matt Cain
SP Kevin Correia

CL Armando Benitez
RP Scott Munter
RP Steve Kline
RP Jeff Fassero
RP Tim Worrell

Carl Everett probably won't believe that the Giants even have a bullpen, since they have as big a collection of dinosaurs as the Field Museum. Benitez is 33, Fassero 43, Kline 33, and Worrell 38. None of them were anything all that special in 2005, and frankly I expect at least two and probably more to fall off the edge of the earth this year.

Schmidt was not 100% in 2005; if he is healthy he remains one of the league's better starters, but he's 33 and has a somewhat checkered injury history. Lowrey pitched well in first full season, and Cain is one of the best upper level pitching prospects in the game. Morris, like the relievers, carries a big risk of flammability; his hits/inning ratio is going up, and his strikeouts/inning is going down.

Anything is possible in this division, where there are no strong teams. A healthy Bonds, even 85% of the Bonds of 2001-2004, can carry a team a long ways. While it's easy to criticize GM Brian Sabean for overloading the team with aging players and ignoring youth, it's a simple fact that any remaining championship hopes that the franchise has for the near future remain only as long as Bonds can perform. If (and it's a big if) enough of the oldies have one good season left in the tank, there is no reason that the Giants can't reach the postseason one last time.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Texas Preview: Hit Them with Their Best Shot

Remember how two years ago, the Rangers traded selfish old Alex Rodriguez for Alfonso Soriano, and then the Rangers didn’t completely stink, and it was because they got rid of selfish old A-Rod? And how last year, they weren’t really good (79 wins), but better than they had been during A-Rod’s selfish days, and that must have been because Soriano was a better player?

We wonder how the A-Rod haters will react this year, with Soriano gone, and the fruits of the A-Rod trade reduced to Brad Wilkerson and Termel Sledge.

Regardless, the Rangers nearly reached the break-even mark last year, and it wasn’t because Rodriguez was a bum or Soriano was the second coming of Eddie Collins. It was because they finally found pitching decent enough to keep the games close enough so the offense could bludgeon the other side.

1. So how ‘bout that offense, eh?
Great googaly moogaly, it was good last year. The Rangers led the league in homers, OPS, and total bases, and finished third in OPS and runs scored. They were a little lax in OBP (.329, 7th in the league), but that was offset by the power hitters.

The good news is that the best hitter in the lineup is back and should be entering his prime. Mark Teixeira is a wonder, and a guy all you fantasy geeks should have high on your draft list. Supporting him in the lineup are Michael Young (gotta love those power-hitting shortstops) and Hank Blalock. Blalock is justifiably taking some heat for his mercurial streaks and his inability to hit lefties, but he’s a serviceable sixth place hitter.

The outfield features three guys who surprised me last year – David Delucci, Kevin Mench, and Gary Matthews Jr. Delucci and Mench were two guys who never seemed to live up to their press clippings, and thus were labeled disappointments. Maybe the nurturing care of Buck Showalter helped, but these two were able to stay productive enough to open some eyes.

Little Sarge isn’t a great offensive force. But he gets on base enough to avoid being a complete void, and he’s still an above-average center-fielder. He’s another guy who has found a niche in Arlington.

2. Will the pitching be decent enough again?
Good question. They are certainly an interesting bunch.

The starting rotation has been gutted since the season ended. Right now, it looks like the only sure bets among the starters are Adam Eaton, Kevin Millwood, and Vincente Padilla, all newcomers.

Milwood is unlikely to repeat his 2005 season, but he should eat innings. Padilla has terrific stuff, but he needs to get it together after pitching himself out of Philadelphia. I like Eaton the best, but he has his own health issues to keep an eye on.

After those three, it’s wide open. Looking at the roster, I’m guessing that Joaquin Benoit, Juan Dominguez, Jon Leicester, R.A. Dickey, John Wasdin, Edison Volquez, and C.J. Wilson might have a chance of getting a rotation spot (some more than others, but a chance nonetheless). And there will probably be a few other non-roster invites getting a look, like Brian Anderson. I can’t even begin to handicap those races.

The bullpen is still a work in progress. Closer Francisco Cordero acquitted himself well in the role, but I wouldn’t count him among the elite just yet. After Cordero, things get a little more iffy.

Perhaps I’m a bit harsh, but when I look at the rest of the relievers I can’t really get excited about any of them. That’s not a knock on them. It’s not a terrible group, but I don’t think it’s a strength yet.

That could change, of course. It’s easy enough to find some guys to help shore up the pen. Two names I’ve heard bandied about are Akinori Otsuko and Fabio Castro, another pair of newbies, who (if they’re as good as the hype) can certainly help.

3. What about the guys the got for Soriano?
Sledge and Wilkerson will give Showalter some choices to make as he fills out the lineup card. Wilkerson can play first and the outfield, but I don’t know if he’s an improvement over Matthews in either defense or OBA. Sledge was a heralded young prospect in Montreal who struggled and fell out of favor (or maybe Frank Robinson just hates young players, too).

Richard Hidalgo’s timely departure opens up an outfield slot. But Laynce Nix says he’s healthy enough to play, too. Add in Mench and Delucci and that leave six players for the three outfield positions and DH. But that’s only if Sledge and Wilkerson can prove to Showalter they deserve the playing time.

Perhaps GM Jon Daniels will look to flip one or more of those guys to bolster another area (pitching, perhaps)? I’ll take the lazy way out again and wait for training camp to sort it all out.

One more new guy to mention – Ian Kinsler. With Soriano gone, the second base gig is his to lose. The team is paying lip service to the idea that he has to win the job. But there’s no one else who’s really any better coming to camp, and Kinsler’s been one of the team’s top prospects for a while now. If Kinsler can’t handle it, second base goes to Mark DeRosa or D’Angelo Jimenez, neither of which gives me a warm fuzzy feeling.

For the first time in a few years, I can see the Rangers making some noise in the AL West. And not just from the post-homer fireworks show.

Oh, the offensive pyrotechnics will still be there. But this year, they might be able to put together a respectable rotation. And if Showalter and his staff can find some arms to buttress the three new top-of-the-rotation starters, they could stay in contention all year.

A more likely scenario is another year around the .500 mark. But with that offense, even some incremental improvement in the pitching staff can give the Rangers a lift into the post-season.

Watch Out For Snakes

Like every other team in the 2005 NL West, the Arizona Diamondbacks were a team with some interesting individual performances undermined by gaping lineup holes. The Snakes got some fine performances from several veterans and showed off some talented young players, but too many inadequate performances pulled them down to a 77-85 record. Over this winter the Diamondbacks have shaken up the roster with several trades, making room for more good young players to break through.

Projected 2006 Lineup:

SS Craig Counsell
CF Eric Byrnes
LF Luis Gonzalez
RF Shawn Green
3B Chad Tracy
1B Connor Jackson/Tony Clark
C Johnny Estrada
2B Orlando Hudson

At least by the standards of the NL West, this is a pretty good lineup. They are old and overcompensated, but Gonzalez, Green, and Counsell are still effective players. What's more, they are now merely placeholders for Carlos Quentin, Carlos Gonzales, and Steven Drew, all of whom are among the best prospects in the game and all of whom will be in the Arizona lineup by next year if not sooner. Byrnes is also merely marking time until Chris Young, obtained from the White Sox system, takes over in center. With Quentin, Gonzalez, Drew, Young, and Connor Jackson, the Snakes are going to have a devastating offense by 2007. This year's team should easily exceed the poor total of 696 runs scored by the 2005 collection, which was held back by dismal production from the catching, shortstop, and centerfield spots. All three positions are now filled by better hitters.

Projected 2006 Starting Rotation and Bullpen:

SP Brandon Webb
SP Orlando Hernandez
SP Brad Halsey
SP Miguel Batista
SP Russ Ortiz/Dustin Nippert

CL Jose Valverde
RP Brandon Medders
RP Brandon Lyon
RP Luis Vizcaino
RP Brian Bruney

With Javier Vazquez gone to the White Sox, Brandon Webb takes over as the staff ace, and is one of the division's best starters, trailing only Jake Peavy and perhaps Jason Schmidt. Valverde had a breakthrough season in 2005, striking out 75 in 66 innings. The rest of the staff needs work. Batista, who is a better pitcher than his 2005 performance in Toronto, should help, and Hernandez will probably be fine in the 12-15 starts he makes in between DL stints. A lot more help is needed here before the Snakes actually become a good team.

Where does Russ Ortiz rank among the worst free agent signings ever? We knew he was going to be a disappointment; we didn't know that he was going to go off a cliff like Wile E. Coyote. In 115 innings, he allowed 147 hits with a BB/K ratio of 65/46. Damn, that's some bad pitching. Good luck dumping the remaining three years of his $33 million deal.

The NL West being what it is, the Diamondbacks will at least be on the fringes of contending. Until they can acquire or develop a few more pitchers, they will remain on the outside of the postseaon window looking in.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Piazza Delivery

The 2005 San Diego Padres were living proof that any team, no matter how mediocre, can get into the playoffs, if the other teams in their division are all even worse. The Pads had more ups and downs than a day at Great America, finished with an unimpressive 82-80 record, but took advantage of the Bonds-less Giants, the injury-riddled Dodgers, and the clueless Diamondback and Rockies to stumble to the NL West title. Loud was the horrified outcry of baseball pundits who feared that such a weak team might get lucky and win the World Series, but the Cardinals made short and predicatable work of the matter, crushing the Pads in three straight games.

Projected 2006 Lineup:

LF Dave Roberts
2B Josh Barfield
RF Brian Giles
C Mike Piazza
1B Ryan Klesko
CF Mike Cameron
3B Vinny Castilla
SS Khalil Greene

Among their many deficiencies, the 2005 Padres lacked power. The Pads home park doesn't help the situation; it's one of the toughest home runs parks in the majors. The Pads added Mike Piazza and Vinny Castilla in misguided attempts to improve the situation. Piazza, even at 70% of his former self, is still an above average hitter for a catcher, but probably won't provide any more offense than Ramon Hernandez, the man he's replacing. Castilla is a proven stiff any time he's not playing in a home park 5431 feet above sea level. The other major addition to the lineup, Cameron, is an exceptional defense centerfielder and should contribute 18-20 homers.

The infield is full of issues. Klesko is aging, and none too gracefully. Greene has some power, but hasn't shown command of the strike zone. Castilla, as mentioned, sucks, although he is a superior defensive third baseman, and at the very least he'll do better than the .299 slugging average posted by last year's third baseman. Barfield is a top prospect who should hit better than the average second baseman, although his glove work has been a question mark.

Projected 2006 Starting Rotation and Bullpen:

SP Jake Peavy
SP Chris Young
SP Woody Williams
SP Shawn Estes
SP Chan Ho Park

CL Trevor Hoffman
RP Scott Linebrink
RP Clay Hensley
RP Alan Embree
RP Doug Brocail

Peavy, assuming he'll be healthy, is one of the four or five best starting pitchers in the league. Chris Young is on my short list of breakout candidates for this year; he pitched very well in Texas as a rookie and is moving from an extreme hitters park to an extreme pitchers park. The rest of the rotation needs fresh blood, fast. Clay Hensley, who pitched very well in relief for the Pads last year, could take one of the spots, and watch out for Cesar Carillo, the Pads first pick in the 2005 draft, who reached the AA level last year quite successfully. Carillo could well be in the rotation by June.

Trevor Hoffman isn't still THE Trevor Hoffman who is one of the greatest closers ever, but he's still effective and could pass Lee Smith as the all-time leader in career saves this year. The Padres have done an exceptional job for the past several years of building very effective bullpens out of spare parts. Scott Linebrink has been exceptional for the past two years, a perfect example of the scrap-heap combing that the team has done so well. This year's front-runner to come out of nowhere is Steve Andrade, a refugee from the Angels' system.

An interesting sideshow on the Padres roster is the presence of three spectacular first round failures, all acquired over the winter as salvage projects, Seth Etherton, Dewon Brazelton, and Kenny Baugh. If the Pads get lucky with one in three, they've done something, not that I'd bet on it but it's kind of fun to watch.

The Padres probably haven't really improved much over last year. I can see them reaching 85 wins, but with the Dodgers getting their act together and the Giants having a healthy Bonds, the Pads will be facing real opposition. I can't see them returning to the postseason.