Sunday, March 30, 2008



I've been traveling and not so able to get the gusto up for posting, but I think it's fair to get the last editions of previews out there during the first week of play, right?

So we go now to the venerated AL East, home of the great rivalry that's gotten so high up on the ladder of national awareness you'd forget there were three other teams that had combined for 5 world titles, two of whom could make some noise this year, or not.

Boston Red Sox
Prediction: 1st Place, 94-68
The champs are the champs, and while they haven't added much, they haven't lost much, nor have their foes 200 miles south added much. What they will lose in half a year of Schilling will presumably be made up for with a full year of contributions from youngsters Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Plus, the major adjustments demanded of Daisuke Matsuzaka last season cannot be understated, from the actual ball itself, to the strike zone,to the media environment in Boston. He was pretty successful last year, and his raw stuff combined with an increased comfortability in his surroundings would suggest a real breakout. And who knows what could come from Bartolo Colon?
The Bullpen is anchored still by arguably the best current closer in the game in Jonathan Papelbon, and he is backed up by lights out setup man Hideki Okajima, and a nice collection of arms after that.
The lineup is exactly the same, save for Ellsbury's inheritance of CF from the much maligned Coco Crisp. Everyone gets a little older, but the core of the lineup is made up of great, professional hitters, and no one gets on base the way they do, which wears opposing pitchers down and racks up the runs.
What else is scary about Boston? Depth. Their system is loaded with ML-ready talent in case of injury either to come up to the bigs, or to deal off for replacements and filling holes.
I don't see the Red Sox being challenged in the East.
Fantasy Pick: Manny Ramirez. No this is no sleeper, but the way he came on in October combined with an early spring appearance and a contract season just gives me a feeling about #24 being worth more than a 3rd or 4th rounder, which is where he's been going.

New York Yankees
Prediction: 2nd Place, 89-73
I just don't think the Yankees are that good. Look, I'm biased here; I'm a Met fan and a Red Sox fan, let's be clear, but every year for the last decade or so, I've gone into the season with a healthy fear of the Yankees, wanting to pick against them, sometimes doing so, but doing so with great apprehension. This year, I just don't feel that way. They finished in 2nd last year and were knocked out of the playoffs in round 1. The Red Sox are just as good as they were, the Blue Jays may be better, the Rays are certainly on their way, and the rest of the AL is stronger. The Yankees can no longer sit atop a mountainand cruise through.
The rotation appears to be highly suspect. Wang is a nice pitcher, but he's no shutdown ace, and Boston kills him. Pettitte is now 35, and coming off a hectic winter, what with the Mitchell report (who knows, maybe he won't pitch so well without the help...). Mussina has shown all the signs of a pitcher that is flirting with "done", and Hughes and Kennedy remain still simply unproven. Hughes has a lot of hype behind him, but so did Greg Miller, and Kennedy is, to me, unimpressive. Don't get me wrong here, either could prove to be a fine pitcher, but a lot rests on them considering the iffy state of the top of the rotation.
The bullpen is dicey as well; obviously Mariano Rivera will go down as the best there ever was at what he does, and he well should, and though every year we see small signs of wear on him, there's no reason to expect him to be anything but very effective. Joba behind him should excel in the role he shined in last season, but let's not forget that before we crown him king, he only has 24 major league innings on his resume. The problems come after those two: Kyle Farnsworth is just an angry dope with a hard fastball that gets hit very long distances, and LaTroy Hawkins could experience a good deal of adversity jumping from the NL West to the AL East. Joba is probably the key here. If he does what he did last year, this will be a very good 'pen, but if not, or if he has to jump to the rotation, there are issues.
The Yankee lineup is the Yankee lineup. They will score boatloads of runs a lot of the time; that's hardly worth delving into. The only issues arises at 1B, where Giambi is about as mobile as my grandfather, so you're left with Shelley Duncan, Morgan Ensberg and Wilson Betemit, not traditional Yankee lineup material. In my mind it hardly matters, and they should put the best glove out there.
I just can't trust that pitching staff against the other loaded staffs in this division, and I'm not convinced that Joe Girardi isn't a major tool that could drown himself in the NY media. Yanks miss the playoffs.
Fantasy Pick: I'm going unconventional here, and telling you who NOT to pick. Joba Chamberlain. He may be an amazing pitcher, but for now, he's a setup man that's getting drafted in the middle rounds. That's just silly.

Toronto Blue Jays
Prediction: 3rd Place, 84-78
I've been hearing the "here come the Blue Jays" chatter before every season for about 3 years now, and it's translated to a mid-80's win team every time. They are a team with a very nice lineup and a very nice staff in a league that has teams rife with the same things of slightly higher grades.
On the rotation end, they have Halladay and Burnett on top, and collectively they should figure to miss about 3 months at least. When they're in they're fine pitchers, and if they were healthy all year the jays could make a lot of noise, but does anyone remember that mantra in years past, "the Cubs will be great if Wood and Prior can stay healthy!". How'd that go?
Dustin MacGowan is a very good young pitcher, and at times I expect he will be counted on to carry this rotation. He could very well be the Carlos Zambrano to Halladay and Burnett's Wood and Prior. Beyond him there is certainly some depth in Marcum, Litsch, Janssen and Chacin, so the Blue Jays will never have to trot any Brian Lawrences out there. It's a solis staff that can range from elite to average.
The lineup is mostly comprised of aging stars, from Vernon Wells to Frank Thomas, to Lyle Overbay, to Scott Rolen, to Matt stairs, and it goes on. The notable exceptions are Alex Rios, who has potential to be Carlos Beltran with a better average, and 26 year-old 2B Aaron Hill, who very quietly hit .291 with 17 bombs at a weak offensive position. Again, the lineup is similar to the rotation. When all the old guys are healthy and producing, it's a great lineup. When not, it's alright.
The bullpen remains a strong point for the Jays, solely due to the endless depth they have, especially if B.J. Ryan is back consistently this year. There are 9 RP on the Blue Jays 25-man roster, and they're all pitchers you could throw in to almost anyone's bullpen. You'll never get a junk inning from Toronto's staff.
The Jays are probably 2 years away from contention or implosion, depending on how the aging players are replaced. This ain't the year.
Fantasy Pick: Aaron Hill. See Above.

Tampa Bay Rays
Prediction: 4th Place, 75-87
I'm impressed with the team they're building in Tampa, and thus have already given them a 9-win improvement on last season, and think they could even prove us all wrong and finish ahead of Toronto.
At any rate, they'll at last be a fun team to watch, not only for their talent, but for the fact that you no longer have to look at those horrific old Devil Ray jerseys.
Matt Garza's arrival, coupled with a speedy recovery for Scott *ahem* K__mir and continued success form James Shields will give them a very nice 1-2-3, with Edwin Jackson and Andy Sonnanstine rounding out a 5-man unit in Tampa that can finally be called a rotation, probably for the first time in their history.
The lineup is very strong, and full of young upside in B.J. Upton, Carlos Pena, Dioner Navarro, and potentially national consensus #1 prospect Evan Longoria. Carl Crawford is a verifiable star now, if not the superstar he might have been, and good old Cliff Floyd adds some experience to the crowded RF/DH mix. Yes, Rocco Baldelli is already injured.
The bullpen isn't great, but it adds some depth and a new closer in Troy Percival, and should probably be better than last year's edition.
Things are looking up in Tampa, and within a few years they could be a perennial....3rd place team. Yeah, there's those two teams up north with about 500mil to spend between them.
Fantasy Pick: Carlos Pena. A lot of folks don't believe he can repeat what he did last season. I do.

Baltimore Orioles
Prediction: 5th Place, 62-100
Yep, I picked 'em to lose 100, and I'll be glad to see it happen. I don't really know why, but something about the Orioles has always bothered me. I just find them boring, and now no one will notice them enough for them to even qualify as such. Bedard is gone, Tejada is gone, Roberts may be next. Oh, and Steve Trachsel is a key component in their rotation. They added some nice building blocks in the Bedard and Tejada trades, which they needed to do, and consequently have an interesting young OF of Markakis, Adam Jones and Luke Scott, but Markakis is the only star left on this team. It'll be a long year of Yankee and Red Sox hats at Camden Yards.
Fantasy Pick: Markakis, just because he's really the only Oriole worth owning. Take a peek and see who else knows that George Sherrill is a closer in your league...

So that wraps up the AL Preview, leaving you with a predicted playoff bracket that looks like this:

Detroit Tigers, 95-67, Central Champs
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 91-71, West Champs
3 games to 1

Boston Red Sox, 94-68, East Champs
Cleveland Indians, 92-70, WC Champs
3 games to 2

Detroit Tigers defeat Boston Red Sox, 4 games to 3

Tigers represent the AL in the World Series against....?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Spring Training Mid-Term Report Card


I have elected not to go with the frequent spring updates so far, mostly due to other life obligations, although I fully intend to submit game by game posts come the regular season.

Spring Training is about halfway through, at least the part of Spring Training that I feel you can really put any kind of stock in, that being March. I've grouped all of the players invited to PS Lucie that are worth mentioning into categories according to grade.

HONOR ROLL: Angel Pagan--Hitting to a line of .377/.400/.528, Pagan has been the surprise star of spring so far, and has made an argument for consideration in the absence of Moises Alou.
John Maine--The Maine Man has struck out 14 batters in 13 1/3 innings pitched while only walking 3, and in the mean time dropped his spring ERA to 2.63 during a streak of 10 scoreless innings. Maine's continued growth could give the Mets a historically good 1-2-3 in the rotation. I am higher than high on him, and expect a fantastic year.
The Bullpen--There are a few notable exceptions, but for the most part expected core of the 2008 bullpen has been outstanding. Wagner, Heilman, Feliciano, Wise, Schoenweis, Sanchez, Register and Sosa have combined for 55 innings and only surrendered 9 total earned runs. Of the bunch, Sanchez remains the major question mark, with only 3 IP logged to date as he works towards getting his strength back. All in all, there's a lot of depth to this pen, and it could turn out to be a major point of strength on this team.

A: Fernando Martinez--The jewel of the farm system is hitting .357 in 39 spring AB's, and while plan A would have him tuning his skills in the minors, OF injuries could see him up at the big club this year. Lest I forget, he's racked up a few web gems in the OF.
Robinson Cancel--Though he is 32 years of age, the Puerto Rican catcher only has a small chunk of one season in the majors on his resume. With Castro and Schneider both battling injuries, Cancel's .286/.400/.524 line is encouraging for some insurance.
Raul Casanova--Casanova is another name in the mix for depth at catcher, and has had a solid spring as well, hitting .294 with a homer. Not sure how much stock you can give this, as the 36 year old has never performed well at the major league level.
Argenis Reyes--25 year old OF has spent his career in the Indians farm system to this point, and performed passably well as high as AA. Hitting .481/.481/.703 in 27 spring AB's.
Pedro Martinez--Granted, Pedro has only one start (today) under his belt this spring, but in that start he went 4 innings, striking out 4, only walking 1, and giving up no runs on 4 hits. One of those hits was a broken bat single, and another an infield single. This start coupled with all of the positive reports about the kind of shape he's in gives me a lot of confidence in the greatest pitcher who ever lived, in my eyes.

B:Brady Clark--Let's throw in as many hats as we can in this OF pot, can we? The veteran has played pretty well so far, hitting just over .270 and playing a solid OF.
Johan Santana--The superstar acquisition has 4 games behind him, 2 not so good, 2 very good, at times has looked shaky and at times has looked his dominant self. He's only just really starting to throw now, and until I see him trying to win a game that counts I ain't sweatin'. His K/BB is right where it should be, as is his velocity and stamina. Johan will be Johan.
Nelson Figueroa--We like him over here at the harbor, as he's a Brooklyn native. He's given up 5 ER over 13 1/3 IP and looked very good at times. He'll add some nice insurance for the pitching staff down in AAA.

Jose Reyes--Reyes has hit only slightly under .250 so far, but has scattered in a couple XBH and his approach has looked fine. Evaluating spring training for everyday players, especially stars, is pretty tough anyhow, but is hardly relevant in until late March.
David Wright--Ditto. Not hitting much, but he's David Wright.
Mike Pelfrey--Pelf has a not so nice 5.54 ERA this spring, but to be fair 7 of his 8 allowed runs came in one rough start. Otherwise he's looked very good. His role this year is entirely contingent on El Duque.

D/F:Anderson Hernandez--Continues to prove he just can't hit Major League pitching.
Oliver Perez--Looked good a couple days ago in his most recent start, but was knocked around hard in the two starts prior. Right now OP sits with a 7.27 ERA, but he is certainly the sort of pitcher who will go through March growing pains.
Endy Chavez--Only hitting .227 so far. As always, has played well defensively.

I (for Incomplete and Injured): Carlos Delgado--The latest twist in his injury saga came today, when after roping an RBI double the other way Delgado too a broken bat to the forearm and began gushing blood. One would assume this injury isn't too bad, and in the last couple games he's seemed to be rediscovering his stroke, with two opposite field XBH.
Carlos Beltran--If I was advanced enough as a programmer, I'd have a "Beltran's health %" meter on the blog. His legs are starting to get there, though he looked ugly in CF yesterday and hasn't hit much yet.
The Catchers--Schneider has been MIA all spring almost, but is reportedly almost ready and maybe will play Wednesday. Castro hasn't played very well, but has an ongoing hammy problem.
Ryan Church and Marlon Anderson--I put them together because they have both missed significant time due to the same collision. Church has looked up and down when he's been in there, and Marlon just doesn't have enough of a sample size to discuss.
Luis Castillo--Has looked pretty decent in only a couple of games.
Damion Easley--The Sleaze hasn't really hit anything, but only has 16 AB's behind him. Hopefully he's healthy, as the only real insurance to Jose Reyes, who figures to get some more rest this season.
Ruben Gotay--Big Fly Gotay is hitting .309 this spring, but has yet to fully recover from an ankle injury. He's day-to-day.
Moises Alou--Out at least 4-6 weeks, and with Alou, the assumption always leans toward the long side of things. How this OF question will be dealt with has been the subject for a lot of speculation. Internal or External? Trade or Free Agent? My guess is Omar, Willie and Co. wait out the rest of spring, and if no one emerges as a real passable option in LF, they try to make a move then. I'd love to see Nady back, but for what? This was the one caveat with the Santana trade: if any holes open up, there's not much left to deal.

The most telling weeks of spring are the two left to come. We'll see all the regulars play a lot more, the pitchers will go deeper and actually pitch, rather than throw, more, and, knock on wood, many of the injured players will be back in action. To me the biggest story this spring has been how great the bullpen has looked, and in today's game, that is HUGE.

Friday, March 7, 2008



The AL Central looks to be one of baseball's best, again, and, personal bias and northeast baseball chauvinism aside, it's probably the most intriguing division around. You have in it a team that went to the classic two seasons ago and added two big stars in the winter, a team that won 96 games last year, two teams stacked with youth, and a team managed by Ozzie Guillen. It'll be a nice ride in the American Midwest.

Detroit Tigers
Prediction: 1st Place, 95-67
This is who I expect to see in the World Series if our Mets were lucky enough to get there. I know, being high on the Tigers is the thing to do these days, but there's good reason for it. The Detroit offense has a chance to be simply prolific, 1-9, adding Miguel Cabrera and Edgar Renteria (who hit .332 last year) to an already explosive lineup. Granderson on top showed that he was the real thing last year, and has MVP-type potential in his future; he should only get better. Lineup aside, the rotation, at least on paper, is better than it was for last year's 88 win campaign. Dontrelle Willis may not be the ace we thought he might be a couple years back, but he definitely has talent and drive, and is a hell of a 3rd/4th starter. More importantly his presence leaves no questions in the rotation with K-Rog (ugh) allegedly healthy. Bonderman and Robertson are coming off down years and I would assume at least marginal improvement. Their bullpen is a question mark, with Joel Zumaya out until summer with another non-baseball-related injury, (Todd Jones has to lose that closer job someday) and the bench is less than spectacular, but this team had some bad luck last year, still won 88 games, and added a lot of talent. That to me pushes the to the next level.
Fantasy Pick: Willis, being drafted very low.

Cleveland Indians
Prediction: 2nd Place, 92-70
The Indians really didn't change much this winter other than losing Kenny Lofton again, and signing the former hot-dog eating champion out of Japan. They came within a game of the World Series, and had three shots at it, but this wasn't enough to make them go out and add talent. Sizemore is an elite young CF, though he strikes out too much, VMart is probably the best hitting catcher since Mikey P in his prime, and Pronk is Pronk. Ryan Garko emerged as a force last season, and Jhonny Peralta came back after a terrible '06. The rotation is anchored by a 1-2 that could possibly hang with the likes of Johan-Pedro with Sabathia and Carmona, and is solid through 5. I kinda wonder if Cliff Lee could reappear as a good pitcher? The bullpen is probably a little better with the Japanese reinforcement and a full year of Rafael Perez, and the bench suffers a bit with Nixon/Lofton gone, but this is essentially the same team as last year. So why would they finish worse? They might have played a few games over their head last year, and Detroit just got a lot better.
Fantasy Pick: Ryan Garko

Chicago White Sox
Prediction: 3rd Place, 76-86
This is the kind of team that could prove me horribly wrong and make this division even heavier, or it could win even less than 76 games. They are another AL central team with a fine lineup, although getting an base has been a problem. Enter Nick Swisher, who could break out and hit 40 bombs in US Cellular Field, or could have had his heyday and start having his OPS catch up with his AVG. I expect him to be a nice addition. Orlando Cabrera is the other major newcomer, displacing Juan Uribe, having come over in exchange for Jon Garland. Cabrera is a great glove at SS, and a nice enough bat, but his offense has shown some decline. The big guys stay in the heart of the order, Thome, Dye, Konerko, though none of them are getting any younger. Expect some decline for all three. Third base is a real controversy, with Josh Fields slated to start and Joe Crede likely to be traded, although there are rumblings of the two sharing the corners with Konerko being sent off in a larger deal. The rotation looks like a potential problem. Buehrle, despite the no-no, is not a true ace, and Contreras is about 77. I do like Javier Vasquez a lot; he has gone from being one of the most overrated SP's in the game to being one of the most underrated, having quietly won 15 games with a 3.74 ERA in a tough division while K'ing 213 batters. Trouble is, John Danks and Gavin Floyd also figure into the SP mix, and they would have trouble making many MLB rosters. Bullpen is just OK. Bobby Jenks is fairly solid in the 9th, but it's old and iffy after him. The big boys in the Central should beat up on them, so their additions equal only 4 more wins than last year: 76.
Fantasy Pick: Javier Vasquez

Kansas City Royals
Prediction: 4th Place, 74-88
Give Dayton Moore and the team with the nicest ballpark anywhere a couple more years, and you might finally have a good squad again. The Royals added the obligatory mediocre former pseudo-stars in Jose Guillen and Miguel Olivo, but also shedded the a bunch of the same sort, though KC should be sad to see longtime Royal masher Mike Sweeney, one of my favorite players, go. David DeJesus, Mark Teahan, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon are all very young and have very high ceilings on the offensive side, and the pitching staff houses promising starters Zach Greinke, Kyle Davies, *ahem* Brian Bannister *ahem*, and closer Joakim Soria. Without delving too far in to the rest of the team, that's a long, impressive list of prospects, and you'd expect some of them will turn in to big stars. I say more power to 'em. They got nice hats, too.
Fantasy Pick: Billy Butler, Brian Bannister

Minnesota Twins
Prediction: 5th Place, 70-92
They lost this pitcher guy.
Fantasy Pick: Scott Baker

In Mets news, it's just more spring W's and more injuries. Maybe if the Mets sign 162 players and kill one of them every day from Apr-Oct, they'll go undefeated...

Let 'em Drop Now...


I have a lot of respect for Moises Alou. At times last year he was the lynchpin that held the Mets together, at times he was THE guy you wanted up at the end of the game. He is a uniquely experienced and remarkably proficient hitter, and also happens to be my wife's favorite Met, oddly enough, but in spite of all this, I'm not sobbing over his injury.

The timing of it is brilliant. One has to have accepted the inevitability that at some point this season, at least once, Alou would hit the DL, most likely for an extended vacation.

Imagine this happened in June, and in the motions of the season a serviceable replacement wasn't attainable. All of a sudden, after building up a small division lead in early June, a reliable bat in the lineup disappears, Endy Chavez just can't produce runs on an everyday basis, and Philly gets hot. Alou returns in late August, the Phillies have established a 6-game lead, and Alou is never quite back to form. We drop the NL east by a game, again.

Or if it happened after the trade deadline, and there were absolutely no question of outside help not named Sammy Sosa. Maybe F-Mart has had a hammy problem by this point and the team wants to shut him down so as not to risk a recurring injury.

Or maybe whenever he went on his DL trip it wouldn't make that much of a difference, who knows?

The point is that NOW, in Alou's case, there is a lot of room to maneuver. Rather than scrambling to deal midseason or ending up with Endy Chavez playing every day and hurting himself and our lineup in the process, or having to see the name Easley in the 7 spot on the lineup card on a consistent basis, now the F.O. has to face up to the fact that Moises Alou, while still a fine player when he's around, is not a very viable option in left field; not an option that can be counted on, anyhow. It's just not acceptable to me for a big-market contender to go in to a season with a guy saying "this is our left fielder, our #6 hitter" and not have any clue when he'll actually be there. Of course, any player comes with a certain risk of getting hurt, but most don't come with a guarantee. There are so-called "high-risk, high-reward" players, but they are never handed an assumed key role.

Now, management has to come up with some better options in the outfield, whether that means continuing to evaluate Pagan (who knew I'd be saying that, but he's just ripping it up so far in ST) and F-Mart, or acquiring one of the many names floating around, the Thameses and the Nadys and the Murtons of the world. It would seem that the best approach would be picking up one of these players that costs little to nothing to get, and letting them duke it out with whoever wins the F-Mart/Pagan March sweepstakes; give yourself some options. It seems unrealistic that Omar would be able to bring in a real impact OF, even a guy like Nady, via trade. This is the price we paid for Johan.

I just really believe that having a solid LF plan to start the year off that isn't at all contingent on Alou is a better way to operate, and this facilitates that.

Otherwise, the rest of the injuries seem like the sort that would heal in plenty of time, and we all know the deal with Beltran and his percentage points. The two that are somewhat troubling are Delgado and Church. It isn't so far from the realm of possibility that this hip thing could cause a season-long, if not rest of career-long issue for Carlos, and some rumblings from baseball folks has suggested as much. With Church, it's encouraging that he has spent his time still in PSL, and not in a hospital, but there has to remain some level of concern when a concussion is lingering...

Just gotta cross our fingers and hope all pans out at the end of the day, let the kinks be worked out in March, not September, right?

But I kinda hope I'm wrong about not getting Nady back.