Saturday, February 27, 2010

Is Luis Castillo the most despised man in queens?

Besides Omar and Jeff that is?

Wow, I’ll tell you, to listen to the fans who call sports talk radio and write into sports websites, Luis Castillo must have beaten up a lot of guys’ grandmothers… because it seems EVERYONE hates him.

What is this a product of really? Well, to me I think it’s a matter of perception, because in reality Castillo has a pretty good 2009.

He batted .302, scored 77 runs, stole 20 bases, had an on-base percentage of .387 and only struck out 58 times.

But ask any Mets fan about 2009 (hell, ask any YANKEE fans about Castillo’s 2009) and what you will get is “He dropped that damn pop up.”

It’s the kind of thing even the best fielders (and at this point Castillo cannot be counted among the “best” fielders) do on some occasions. He went to make a one handed catch on an easy pop up and dropped that damn ball. Of course it was in the bottom of the 9th with two out and a one run lead in Yankee Stadium, which means it might as well have been in game seven of the world series.

It’s a crime he’ll likely never be forgiven for.

Castillo came to camp in 2008 (after signing a ridiculous four year, $25 million contract in the offseason) looking a little out of shape and basically had a lousy season. The fans were unhappy with him already and wanted him traded in the offseason and replaced with Orlando Hudson. That didn’t happen. Then in 2009, with him facing the wrath of the fans for his bad 2008, he made the ultimate error… being the focal part and the considered main reason they lost a game they should have won against the mighty Yankees.

The thing is, at what point do you take a step back and look objectively at the situation? Castillo isn’t the ideal second baseman right now, I agree, but considering he had a fairly good year last season despite the entire team looking like the inside of a M.A.S.H. unit, maybe the guy deserves the benefit of the doubt? He’s what the Mets have right now. They tried again (in vain) to trade him in the offseason and couldn’t make it work… and going into the season he’s likely looking at a lot of boos from a lot of frustrated fans who seem to think poor Luis is worthy of their wrath. However, it’s really something Mets fans should be reconsidering. If Reyes is back and being Reyes, and Castillo can put up the numbers he did last year, The tables should be properly set for Wright, Bay and (eventually) Beltran. At this point, unless he starts playing poorly, maybe the guy shouldn’t be considered such a target .

Yeah, he had a lousy 2008 after signing a contract that made even Castillo fans scratch their heads. Yeah, he dropped a ball that would have given the Mets a nice win over the hated Yankees. But is he REALLY deserving of such animosity? Think about it.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Shocking news for Yankee Fans

Hold on to your seats Yankee fans… Derek Jeter called forth the media yesterday to address (for the one and only time) his contact situation and the possibility of him becoming a free agent at the end of the season.

As much of you should know, the Yankees do not hold new contract talks with its players, managers or even their GMs until their contracts run out. No exceptions. With Jeter at the end of his 10 year contract, the media swarmed around him to hear his views.

And SHOCKINGLY Jeter pretty much stated he had no desire to go or play anwhere else and pretty much refused to even state that he’d like to be the highest paid Yankee.

Crazy huh? A guy who has spent his entire career with one organization refusing to create negotiation leverage for himself. How quaint.

Listen, anyone who thinks that Jeter will start the 2011 season wearing anything but Yankee pinstripes (or Yankee grey) really needs to have his or her head checked. Jeter will turn 36 in June, and might be looking at a position change somewhere in the next two years but a location change? There’s more of a chance of Red Sox Nation and The Bleacher Creatures of Yankee Stadium joining together in mutual respect and admiration.

The Yankees might LOOK like they are playing hardball right now by refusing to talk contact with Jeter, but all they are doing is holding fast to their regular policy. It’s a company wide mandate that budges for no one.

However, the Yankees have no intention of letting Jeter go else hwere. It’s widely understood that he is not just one of the more storied Yankees… he is the FACE of the Yankees.

Jeter is a player who gives it his all. Sometimes he’s a little standoffish with the media, sometimes he’s a little aloof, and sometimes he comes across as a little too rigid, but the guy plays 110% for every play in every inning or every game. He’s been called over-rated and under-rated in the same breath. No matter what his numbers though, he’s on the short list of players that have nothing but respect from every single major league baseball player/manager/GM/scout there is.

Whether you agree with it or not, his name will be remembered as other Yankee greats like Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, Berra and Jackson. Let the season end without a contract… because Jeter will never reach free agency.

He says he doesn’t care about the money… and you know what? I believe him. At this point, his legacy is more important. Finishing with the team that drafted him is more important. Oh, and the fact the guy is rich as hell and has a crapload of endorcement deals doesn’t hurt.

The Yankees will likely give Jeter a four year deal (in my estimation). After that? I don’t know the man’s aspirations, but I don't think an eventual role as Yankee manager would be out of the question.

So, breathe people… feel secure. Your Captain will be in his normal sport for quite some time to come.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ok, enough already

Dear Mets Fans,

A lot has been made about the Mets offseason and their inability to land a #2 starting pitcher.

I’m not happy about it either… I would have LOVED to see John Lackey here, but Boston gave him a great contract.

After that I wanted Ben Sheets, because I feel he was worth the risk. However, the normally cash-strapped Oakland A’s gave Sheets a crazy $10 Million Dollar contract. As much as I wanted Sheets… I wouldn’t have done that. Six? Yes. Ten? No way.

Aside from that, what was really out there? Joel Pineiro? Randy Wolf? Did you REALLY want to see then Mets give either of those guys a larger 3 year contract just for them to basically be a #3 or #4? It’s one thing to need a #2… it’s another to assume that ANY pitcher available is a good fit for that role.

Would I have signed Jason Marquis for the same cash that Washington gave him? Absolutely. That, in the end, is really the ONLY starting pitcher that I will blame the Mets for by not getting him, but even Marquis isn’t a “no brainer” #2 starter.

If the Mets had given Joel Pineiro three years and $24 million dollars and he went 9-12 with a 4.76 ERA in 2010, the screams would have been loud and angry. “Look at Omar wasting money on a #4 starter!”

Listen people… I’m not too keen on the Mets offseason moves either. I openly question their process and have to really wonder what in God’s name they are doing, but I refuse to slam this team for not overspending on middle of the road players. They felt what they had was just as good as the Wolfs, Pineiros and Washburns and you know… I have to agree.

Next year (and even in this season) there will be more pitchers available who are much better suited for the #2 starter role. Best to wait to pay someone who is worth it, then spend it on a guy who you really don’t know about.

The team you see is what you’ve got. Instead of continuing to scream about what WASN’T done, sit back and see what happens. Give the team a month or two before declaring them a total bust and the season a wash.

Funny thing… in 2006, I remember all the bitching that we had Pedro and no one else in the pitching rotation…. yet that team won the NL East.

You’ve made your displeasure known. It’s so noted. Now support your team and get over it.

I only scold because I care.
Love Pat

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Spring Ahead: Who’s hitting 2nd for the Yankees?

Among the (very) few debates for the Yankees in spring training will be who is going to hit 2nd in the batting order. So far there haven’t been any hints from skipper Joe Girardi (which considering that most of the every day players haven’t even reported yet is not surprising) but I also don’t know if there are a lot of good choices.

I would say that odds are you are going to see Derek Jeter batting leadoff… which then brings you to wonder who would hit 2nd, which is normally Jeter’s position in the order. Looking at the roster, I would say that the best idea would be to put Nick Johnson and his fantastic .400 on-base-percentage at the number 2 spot. Yes, Johnson is slow as molasses, but he’ll be on base a lot for the power bats of Alex Rodriguiez and Mark Teixeira which means more runs. I don’t think Brett Gardner has the stick to bat leadoff, but as a young and speedy player it’s not out of the question to see if he could handle that spot.

The issue here for the Yankees realy comes to this… Johnson could very well follow his normal MO and spend a large chunk of the season on the DL and Jeter could very well see his .334 batting average from last year come down to anywhere from .325 to .300 (which would still be pretty darn good) which means you really could see a serious reduction in production from the table setting spots in the Yankee line-up, meaning less opportunity for A-Rod and Teixeria to drive in runs. Just something to consider for the Yanks who don’t really have a hell of a lot to worry about in spring training this year.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Top Ten Things You Don’t Want to hear in Spring Training withThe Mets

10. Omar just signed another back-up catcher!

9. And our 1st base platoon is: Mike Jacobs and Fernando Tatis!

8. Oh Crap… did Perez just run over Sandy Koufax with the bullpen cart?

7. Whattya mean Bay was just “kidding”? He’s going where?

6. Omar, did you hear the Royals just traded Zach Greinke? Hey… why is he wearing a Phillies hat?

5. And our 1st base platoon is: Mike Jacobs and Butch Huskey!

4. Hey! Omar was just able to get Zambrano!… umm… Victor Zambrano.

3. I was just reading about this other ponzie scheme that cost people millions… hey, why is Jeff and Fred crying?

2. Omar, Beltran is on the phone… something about another surgery?

1. Hey… is it me or is Reyes limping?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Life is Just a Fantasy: The Early Rankings

So it’s February which is, for most hardcore baseball fans, the worst month of the year. Most or all of the free agents that can make even a small impact on a team is signed, Pitchers and catchers are still a few weeks away and no real baseball activity is going on. However that does make it the perfect time to start thinking about your Fantasy Baseball draft. It’s never too early!

Anyway, since we all have to start thinking about who should be at the top of our fantasy wish lists, I thought I’d list my early top tweleve players per position. These ranks are subject to change once spring training comes around and performance, health and other issues come to light.

Let’s get to it.

1. Tim Lincecum – SF Giants
2. Roy Halladay - PHI Phillies
3. Felix Hernandez – SEA Mariners
4. Dan Haren – ARI Diamondbacks
5. Justin Verlander – DET Tigers
6. C. C. Sabathia – NY Yankees
7. Cliff Lee – SEA Mariners
8. Johan Santana – NY Mets
9. Zach Greinke – KC Royals
10. Chris Carpenter – STL Cardinals
11. Jon Lester – BOS Red Sox
12. Brandon Webb – ARI Diamondbacks

Ok, I know right off the bat these are gonna blow some people’s minds. I doubt anyone would argue the top four that much. Lincecum has proven himself to be flat out amazing and Halladay, who already was one of the best will only benefit from pitching in the NL and with that offense backing him up. In fact, if Halladay wasn’t a slight injury concern, I would have listed him as #1. I listed Verlander as high as I did because I just saw some serious domination from him in 2009 that I think will increase in 2010. I have Greinke listed as low as I do because the Royals are still terrible and I’d like to see him be as dominate two years in a row before I consider him to be a no brainer. Santana would have ranked higher if there wasn’t a little concern about him coming back from injury. Webb made the cut over names like Adam Wainwright and Josh Johnson mainly because if he is healthy (and Arizona is reporting he’ll be ready for spring training) he’s one of the best in baseball. In fact he would be six or seven spots higher if there was no injury he was returning from.

1. Albert Pujols – STL Cardinals
2. Miguel Cabrara – DET Tigers
3. Mark Teixeria – NY Yankees
4. Adrian Gonzales – SD Padres
5. Prince Fielder – MIL Brewers
6. Ryan Howard – PHI Phillies
7. Justin Morneau – MIN Twins
8. Joey Votto – CIN Reds
9. Kevin Youkilis – BOS Red Sox
10. Pablo Sandoval – SF Giants
11. Victor Martinez – BOS Red Sox
12. Mark Reynolds – ARI Diamondbacks

Anyone who would argue #1 shouldn’t be allowed to talk so I’ll skip that. I picked Cabrara over Teixeria mainly because I view him as a mini-Pujols and expect a hell of a year from him. Gonzales is a rising super-star who I think will not only rise above his 2009 production but will also be traded by the trade deadline to a contender and that will increase his value. I think Morneau isn’t given enough credit for being such a great hitter and his injury from 2009 will not linger. Sandoval and Martinez will also be avaialbale at the catcher position and will rank higher there but are still good choices at 1st. Reynolds strikes out a ton but it’s hard to argue with his HR, RBI and Run totals.

1. Chase Utley – PHI Phillies
2. Ian Kinsler – TEX Rangers
3. Brandon Phillips – CIN Reds
4. Dustin Pedroia – BOS Red Sox
5. Brian Roberts – BAL Orioles
6. Robinson Cano – NY Yankees
7. Ben Zorbist – TAM Rays
8. Aaron Hill – TOR Blue Jays
9. Jose Lopez – SEA Mariners
10. Dan Uggla – FLA Marlins
11. Ian Stewert – COL Rockies
12. Howie Kendrick – LA Angels

As with 1st base no one will argue with Chase at #1. Phillips is a very balanced player and Roberts’ average, OBP, speed and runs lift him over the at-times inconsistant Cano. Uggla’s stikeouts and poor fielding hurts but 30 HR and 95 RBI at the 2nd base positions is hard to pass up. This is either the year that Kendrick stays healthy and shows how important that sweet swing of his can be or the year the Angels give up on him altogether.

1. Hanley Ramirez – FLA Marlins
2. Jose Reyes – NY Mets
3. Troy Tulowitski – COL Rockies
4. Derek Jeter – NY Yankees
5. Jimmy Rollins – Phi Phillies
6. Jason Bartlett – TAM Rays
7. Yunel Escobar – ATL Braves
8. Elvis Andrus – TEX Rangers
9. Stephen Drew – ARI Diamondbacks
10. Alexi Ramirez – CHI White Sox
11. Asdrubal Cabrera – CLE Indians
12. Erick Aybar – LA Angels

Despite a year that was below expectations, Ramirez continues to be the cream of the crop. Reyes seems 100% healthy as seems determined to earn back the statis he held when being picked in the first round for a few years and I think he will return to that level. Tulowitski benefits from his home stadium but his overall numbers were prtty solid in 2009, showing that he was back to normal after prior struggles in 2008. Jeter is aging very well, and a high average and runs scored plus hitting in that Yankee lineup is wonderful. Rollins’ production has decreased every year for the last three years but he still puts up solid enough numbers in a weak position. Bartlett is the last of the better choices and the position gets thin from there.

1. Alex Rodriguez – NY Yankees
2. Evan Longoria – TAM Rays
3. David Wright – NY Mets
4. Ryan Zimmerman – WAS Nationals
5. Pablo Sandoval – SF Giants
6. Kevin Youkillis – BOS Red Sox
7. Aramis Ramierz – CHI Cubs
8. Mark Reynolds – ARI Diamondbacks
9. Chone Figgins – SEA Mariners
10. Michael Young – TEX Rangers
11. Chipper Jones – ATL Braves
12. Jorge Cantu – FLA Marlins

A-Rod’s 2009 was nothing short of incredible. Not his numbers, which were good, if unspectacular, but because of the way the year started with his steriod scandal but ended with him having a great postseason performance and a world series championship. Longoria had a fantastic start to 2009 but had a little bit of a rough 2nd half and is still one of the brightest players in all of MLB. Wright’s 2009 was an abberation and while I don’t expect 30+ home runs a .315, 24, 105, 25 SB season is more than within reason. Sandoval, Youkillis and Reynolds are eligable at multiple positions so that makes them even more valuable. Jones would have ranked higher if he could just stay healthy. His bat is still ultra dangerous.

1. Ryan Braun – MIL Brewers
2. Matt Kemp – LA Dodgers
3. Matt Holliday – STL Cardinals
4. Jacoby Ellsbury – BOS Red Sox
5. Carl Crawford – TAM Rays
6. Justin Upton – ARI Diamondbacks
7. Jason Werth – PHI Phillies
8. Grady Sizemore – CLE Indians
9. Jason Bay – NY Mets
10. Ichiro Suzuki – SEA Mariners
11. Adam Lind – TOR Blue Jays
12. Adam Dunn – WAS Nationals

This position was much harder than I would have thought. Braun was the no doubt #1. He’s a seriously scary hitter And his 1/2 punch with Fielder reminds me of the Manny/Big Papi duo of 2003/2004. Kemp’s star is rising and the SBs keep him just above Holliday, who will enjoy a full season in St. Louis with Pujlos. Carlos Beltran would have actually placed at either #2 or #3 before he went down for surgery, but I cannot put him in the top 15 until we see how fast he comes back and how well he recovers. Ellsbury ranks ahead of Crawford here because I think his power will increase and his SB output is higher, but they really are interchangeable. However NEITHER ONE is a first round pick so don’t waste it there. The next few spots are also interchangable to a point depending on your desire for speed or power. Suzuki’s high average isn’t enough to offset the decrease in SBs for him and Lind and Dunn’s high power numbers let them top off the rankings. Lind might break 40 HRs this year and Dunn’s numbers are so consistant you know what they will be. 40 home runs and 100 RBI with the occasional SB to help take the sting away from the likely .250 BA and high strike outs.

1. Joe Mauer – MIN Twins
2. Victor Martinez – BOS Red Sox
3. Brian McCann – ATL Braves
4. Matt Wieters – BAL Orioles
5. Miguel Montero – ARI Diamondbacks
6. Jorge Posada – NY Yankees
7. Ryan Doumit – PIT Pirates
8. Geovany Soto – CHI Cubs
9. Kurt Suzuki – OAK A’s
10. Mike Napoli – LA Angels
11. Bengie Molina – SF Giants
12. Russell Martin – LA Dodgers

Joe Mauer is the best pure hitter in baseball. Yes there is always a little injury risk with him but the guy can flat out HIT. Martinez will play a little 1st and DH on occasion to keep him fresh as possible and he is back to his normal production. McCann is still a solid plus at the plate. After him though, it gets a little more hazy. Wieters should improve and a .280, 22 HR season is not out of the question at all. Montero is decent but Posada, despite very good numbers will get less chances to DH then I would have expected since the Yanks have Nick Johnson logjamming that position. A DL stint is likely for Posada but his numbers should by similar enough to 2009 that he’s worth more than the rest of the position ranked after him. In fact, after Doumit and maybe Soto the rest are a total crapshoot. Soto needs to regain that power stroke that helped him so much in 2008 and Doumit needs a full season without injury. If you do not get one of the top five or six guys here, do not panic and draft someone too early for the sake or grabbing a catcher. After Posada the numbers will all be just about the same most likely. Wait until the much later rounds.

1. Marino Rivera – NY Yankees
2. Joe Nathan – MIN Twins
3. Jonathan Papelbon – BOS Red Sox
4. Francisco Rodriquez – NY Mets
5. Jonathan Broxton – LA Dodgers
6. Joakim Soria – KC Royals
7. Heath Bell – SD Padres
8. Huston Street – COL Rockies
9. Jose Valverde – DET Tigers
10. Francisco Cordero – CIN Reds
11. Andrew Bailey – OAK A’s
12. Trevor Hoffman – MIL Brewers

Rivera is a machine. Don’t bother doubting him and he’ll have a lot of save oppertunities. Nathan and Papelbon are still as solid as they come despite their postseason struggles. K-Rod will have more leads to protect this year with 65% of the team back from injury and I expect a bounce back from his sub-par 2nd half. Broxton and Street also had postseason struggles but are a good source of saves. If Soria was on a better team he would be ranked higher, but still expect 30 from him anyway. Bell is way under valued and the Giants will be decent enough this year. Valverde will be good for the Tigers and I expect him to do fine in the AL. The best advice I can give for RPs is this: DO NOT DRAFT A CLOSER BEFORE THE 12th ROUND. Every year a few closers go down to injury or lose their jobs and cheap saves can ALWAYS be found. Do NOT overpay for saves people. There is always decent value in the late rounds.

Spring Ahead: Barajas, Perez and Escobar

Couple of quick notes from spring training in Port St. Lucie:

The Mets have come to a minor league agreement with Rod Barajas, who immediately becomes the frontrunner to be the starting catcher. Barajas has good power but is not an overall consistant hitter. He could hit 20 homeruns but also bat .230… however his strong defense, combined with Henry Blanco’s excellent defense suddenly gives the Mets a strong catching platoon. I would expect Barajas to get the majority of starts and play at least four times a week. I could see his numbers being roughly .240, 17, 70 which wouldn’t be that bad at all since I would have expected pretty much the same (with a better batting average but not a much better on-base-percentage) from Bengie Molina… just for $11 million less. Overall, I’m happy with this move, and it makes the catcher position better than it was yesterday.

The overall word on Ollie Perez so far is that he reported looking like he has lost a lot of weight and seems to be ahead of the rest of the starters when it comes to control. There are a lot of good reports coming out which is very good considering how out of shape and behind everyone else he was in spring training last year. The Mets MUST have two of the three of Perez, Maine and Pelfrey step up and have a solid year. Hopefully this is a sign Perez is ready to move forward and start earning that huge contract he got last year. Of course, there is always one guy who’s ready to give negative info and Steve Popper from the Bergen Record said that Perez has a “gut” and “grey hair” which is “not bringing thoughts of an elite athlete.” However, I haven’t heard anything like this from anyone else so who knows. The overall accounts I’m hearing is positive.

There were reports that Kelvim Escobar is hurting already and can’t even grip a baseball, but Johan Santana said he played catch with Escobar today and that was totally untrue. However I’m already concerned that we’re getting health issue reports about him after he’s only been in camp for a few days. This is something to watch.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Spring Ahead: Most important players

We are a few days away from four wonderful words: Pitchers and catchers report.

As we look forward to spring training getting into full bloom, there are a lot of questions for a lot of teams. However, for some teams to succeed, there are certain players that really need to step up. Let’s take a look at some players that are integral to the success of their teams.

RAFAEL SORIANO, TAMPA BAY RAYS: This is a young and talented team, with a line up that many MLB clubs will envy. However, more than anything else the Rays pitching needs to be good to be able to keep pace with the Yankees and Red Sox in the powerhouse AL East. Starters David Price and James Shields are extremely important pieces and the Rays MUST have a big time year from at least one of these guys, but for the Rays I feel that new Closer Rafael Soriano is the key. The Rays won the AL East in 2008 and competed last year without a real closer. This year they have a guy who has the stuff and the experiance… if he can just stay healthy. Soriano was fairly healthy last year playing just about the full season so there is reason to be optimistic. He has the talent to save 40 games… but does he have the stamina? If he does, the Rays will be that much more likely to be able to outlast the big guns in their division.

RICH HARDEN, TEXAS RANGERS: There is no doubt the Rangers are a hitting team. To play in their ballpark they have to be. I considered the idea that slugger Josh Hamilton, the feel-good-story of 2008, might be the guy the Rangers really need to return to prominace after an injury riddled 2009, but looking at the Rangers I see what they REALLy lack is a true Ace… a guy at the top of the rotation that can step it up every five days and make you say, “We’re winning today”. Scott Feldman’s excellent 2009 not-withstanding… the Rangers don’t have that. Or do they? They took a chance that Rich Harden can stay healthy for a full (or at least most of) season. They really isn’t too much doubt about Harden’s ability. If he can make 30/31 starts for the Rangers the teams chances to truly contend take a nice upswing.

JOSE REYES & JOHN MAINE, NEW YORK METS: Ok, yeah I’m cheating a little here. This is one of the few teams that I just couldn’t pick one guy. There is going to be a lot of debate about the Mets in this upcoming weeks. This is the exact same team (swapping out Carlos Delgado for Jason Bay) that was picked by many to win the World Series last year… so why does everyone seem to think they will be terrible in 2010? Mainly because of the large amount of players coming back from injury. However none are more important than Jose Reyes and John Maine. Reyes is the key to the Mets’ offense. When he gets on base and runs, the Mets score. A lot. Look it up, but a productive Reyes means a productive lineup. As for the pitching, the last time Maine had a fully healthy season was in 2007, when he won 15 games with a 3.91 ERA. The Mets would sign up this second for those numbers. Without a real #2, Maine seems the most likely to be able to fill that spot. I considered Mike Pelfrey instead, as he has the stuff (if not quite the fortitude) to be a top of the rotation starter, but Maine has already done it. The problem is, that he HASN’T been healthy the last two years and it’s a bit of a stretch to imagine he’ll be 100% all year. But if he is, and Reyes is healthy, the Mets are going to surprise a lot of people expecting them to come in fourth this year.

BILLY WAGNER & TROY GLAUS, ATLANTA BRAVES: The other “tie” in my list here. The Braves are a hard team to figure. Their rotation is a strength, but the strange trade of Javier Vasquez for 4th outfielder (Melkey Cabrara) weakened what could have been a killer rotation and made them into just a solid one. They have enough arms to start, but lost two excellent arms in the bullpen. One of the new arms is NL East leapfrogger Billy Wagner, with his 3rd NL East team (the Mets and Phillies being the other ones) in the last six years . Wagner looked pretty good in a limited role with the Mets and Red Sox late in the 2009 season after have Tommy John surgery in 2008, but is he ready and able to handle a full season workload as a closer again? He needs to be for the Braves to keep pace with the Phillies with that reworked bullpen they have. Also, offense isn’t quite the name of the game in Atlanta. All-Stars Chipper Jones and Brian McCann are the big bats for this team with Nate McLouth adding some firepower, but considering Jones’ age and injury history the Braves need someone else to step it up. Bringing in Veteran slugger Troy Glaus is a risk because of his injury history. Glaus barely played in 2009 hitting .179 with no home runs and 2 RBI. However in 2008, Glaus hit .270 with 27 hrs and 90 rbi for the Cardinals. If the Braves can get 515 st bats from him, a .265/24/85 season is not out of the question and would go a long way towards balancing out that lineup.

YOVANI GALLARDO, MILWAUKEE BREWERS: The Brewers are a team that are on the edge between contender and also-ran. They have a good club but with some holes and no more so than in their starting rotation. Like the Rangers, the Brewers need someone to step up and claim the Ace’s job and no one is in a better position to do it than Yovani Gallardo. Gallardo had a good 2009 winning 13 games with a 3.73 ERA and 204 strike outs. This year he needs to step it up more and strive for a 17/18 win season and extend the flashes of brillance he’s shown from time to time. Having a stopper in the rotation keeps teams from going into long losing streaks and Gallardo needs to be that stopper.

BRANDON WEBB, ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS: The NL West is going to be a divsion that is totally up for grabs and to me, the key for Arizona to be in that mnd erase memories of a lousy 2009 is the rreturn of Brandon Webb. Arizona is one of those rare teams that has basically two #1 pitchers. Dan Haren is an Ace himself, and having a 1/2 punch with Webb gives the Diamondbacks a serious pitching advantage over anyone in that division. If Webb is healthy, he is fantastic… a guy on par with Johan Santana and Roy Holliday. With him, Arizona goes from a decent team to a strong team. They need 35 starts from him to storm to the top of a strange, strange division.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Biggest question marks: Yankees

Unlike the Mets, the Yankees don’t enter 2010 with a busload of question marks. However, that is not to say that there aren’t a decent number of questions to ask.

1. Who’s the number 5 starter… Joba or Hughes?
With the 1 – 4 spots in the rotation already fixed with Sabathia, Burnett, Pettitte and Vazquez, the only spot up for grabs is the fifth spot. I fail to see why this is even a debate. To tell you the truth, if it was up to me, the one who would be in the rotation? Neither. Oh, calm down… hear me out beore you Yankee fans freak out. Hughes was a disaster in a starting role in 2008. Yes, I know there were some injuries but the kid hasn’t been the same in a starting role since coming out of that near no-hitter with a pulled hamstring. Joba hasn’t shown half the swagger or confidence in any of his starts that he shows when coming out of the bullpen. Hell, after last year there were question marks if he’d even be on the postseason roster. However Joba was quite decent in the bullpen in the playoffs and despite Hughes postseason struggles, he was lights out in the regular season. The idea of a hughes/joba/rivera 7th/8th/9th should give the Yankee fans a reason to drool and bring back the thoughts of Nelson/Stanton/Rivera. I’ve ALWAYS felt the key to success in baseball is a strong bullpen. The Yankees will score enough runs that the 5th starter could be my 12 year old (who actually has decent control… they should give him a shot) and he would have a chance to win 11 games. However odds are it will be Hughes as the 5th starter with Joba back in the bullpen as the setup man and heir apparent to Rivera as the eventual closer.

2. Is the starting pitching as strong as it looks?
Well… if everyone stays healthy then… well, yeah. Of course, your number 2 and 3 pitchers are both injury risks (Pettitte because of his age and Burnett because of… well… he’s Burnett) and you have no idea if you are getting the Vazquez of last year or the one that pitched for the Yanks in 2004. Yeah, I heard all about Vazquez saying he was hurt the second half of the year when he was terrible, but doesn’t EVERYONE say that when they have a rough season? However Vazquez doesn’t have to be a number 1 or 2 or even 3 as long as no one gets hurt. Listen, Sabathia is amazing and he’s not an injury risk so there’s no issue there. The number five guy only becomes important if one of the other guys goes down with injury, so for the 2010 Yanks to have any real issues with their starting rotation it’ll likely come from a health issue from Burnett and/or Pettitte. If those two guys get though the season making about 64 starts between them then there’s no issue at all. If it gets down to about 58 or less then there could be an issue. If either one makes less than 25 starts I might worry a little. It’s all about those two.

3. Will they miss Damon and Matsui?
You know, I actually think they will. The thing about these two players is, not only did they both have a swing that was tailor made for Yankee Stadium, but both were positive presences in the clubhouse. Damon was much more than just what you saw on the field and Matsui was an ultimate professional. Of course, one of the guys replacing these two is Curtis Grandserson who is widely regarded as a good guy and positive clubhouse presence in his own right. Are the Yanks going to struggle for runs? No, I don’t think so. That doesn’t mean that the absence of these two won’t be felt in some ways.

4. Can Posada make it through a full season?
Here’s a legit issue I think the Yanks should be thinking about. Here’s where the signing of Nick Johnson become a puzzler. One of the biggest reasons to part ways with Matsui was because the Yanks felt he could not play the field and they wanted to clear up the DH position to make sure Posada could have a few games a week at DH to rest those knees. However, with Johnson on the roster, the only place he can play is 1st and you’re not sitting Teixeria much so he’s going to get a majority of his at-bats at DH. Johnson is a way-below average runner and Tex is way too good a glove to be swapped out for late inning defense, so it’s obvious Johnson is only on this team to DH. This means more catching time for Posada. This means the likely-hood for a few DL stints for Jorge is fairly high.

5. Is this the year Rivera finally shows his age?
I think I’ve heard at least four times in the last five years that Mariano Rivera is at the end of the road. At this point, I think everyone needs to accept that the man is a freak of nature that we really haven’t seen before and likely will never see again. I feel bad for Rivera because once he dies and the devil collects on the “I sold my soul to be the best relief pitcher ever” deal that he obviously made back in 1995 then the poor S.O.B. will spend eternity in Hell (or as a Mets fan… it’s really the same thing). Listen, Riveria is 40 years old and will be a free agent after the 2010 season and unless he decides the retire the Yankees would be crazy not to offer him another contract… maybe even a two year deal. As far as I’m concerned the guy could pitch until he’s 50 and still be effective. No, I cannot imagine this is the year he bottoms out.

BONUS QUESTION: So, will the Yankees contend?
Ok, yeah I know it’s a stupid question. There is no doubt that the team could lose any single one of their everyday position players and still be a hell of a team. I would actually go as far as to say there are only three players on the roster that the Yankees cannot afford to lose.
1. C. C. Sabathia
2. Mariano Rivera
3. Alex Rodriguez
I’m sure everyone would agree with the first two, but why A-Rod and number 3? You saw how an unprotected Mark Teixeria struggled last year until A-Rod came back? You could expect a simular situation. Tex is a great hitter but he needs pitchers to be forced to throw fastballs at him and challenge him to be as effective as he was once A-Rod was in the lineup.
The real issue the Yanks will have is age/injury to guys like Burnett, Pettitte, Posada, Jeter, etc. Not to say they are all going down, but to lose a few of those guys, plus the fact that both Tampa Bay and Boston are as strong as the Yankees for the most part it could be a cause for some concern. Barring major injury there is no reason the Yanks won’t be in the thick of the Division Race right up to the end and into the playoffs.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Biggest question marks: Mets

Yeah I know, the Mets have a LOT of question marks. However instead of this being a sixteen page post, let’s keep it to the largest ones, shall we?

I’m going to limit this to five (with a bonus one!). I’ll do the Yankees next.

1. Can this team win with this starting rotation?
Well… yeah. It can. Is it likely? I guess that is a harder question. Listen, Mike Pelfrey, John Maine and Oliver Perez have ALL had good seasons in the last few years. If the Mets get the 2008 Pelfrey and the 2007 Perez and Maine then the Mets starting rotation suddenly looks pretty strong. However the odds of all three doing that aren’t the best. The one I have the most faith in is Pelfrey. I think he is a very legit starting pitcher and can rise to the top and be a solid #2… but the defense needs to improve behind him and he needs to have his head on a little straighter. Perez is an enigma. He’s been almost lights out against teams like the Braves, Phillies and Yankees for most of his Mets career and fairly terrible against the Pirates, Marlins, Nationals of the world. The guy makes no sense. Odds are, without an addition to the rotation via trade at some point in the season, the team’s starting pitching will be a weakness.

2. Will the offense be ok without Beltran for the first month of the season?
If we’re only talking a month into the season then I think the offense is ok, that is if everyone else is healthy. If we’re talking longer (like two to three months or more) then, no… the offense will need a more solid link in the chain than an Angel Pagan/Gary Matthews Jr. platoon. Listen, Pagan can hit. He’s not going to give you power, but the guy CAN get on base and create some extra base opportunities out there. A month of him would be ok (with the occasional Matthews afront I suppose) as long as the other players are pulling their weight. However, Pagan is a very solid and useful #4 outfielder overall at this point in his career. From what we have seen of him, he’s not going to be able to be a full time centerfielder for a full season. Too much time out there will expose him. In other words, Mets fans need to pray that Beltran is back in May.

3. Is Reyes healthy enough to become the force he needs to be?
Everything I have seen and read leads to to belive that YES, Reys will return and be REYES. This offense is dependant on Reyes being the MAN. He needs to get on base and cause total havoc on the basepaths. He can only do this if he is 100% healthy. I know many naysayers point to his early career injury history as a reason to feel he won’t get through the season healthy, but before last year’s debacle, Reyes had a number of healthy seasons in a row. He should be fine and with him the offense will greatly improve.

4. Who’s going to catch?
Well, from what it looks like it’s going to be a platoon of Omir Santos and Henry Blanco. Neither one will strike fear into opposing pitchers, with Santos being the better hitter of the two. Both are decent defensively, with Blanco being the better of the two. I myself would like to see them offer free agent Rod Barajas a one year $2 million dollar deal. The guy plays decent defense and has some real pop. However, suddenly it seems the Mets are done spending. Count on the Santos/Blanco platoon being it for the year making the position neither a plus or minus… just being about average.

5. Will Omar and Jerry make it through the season?
My first thought is to say no to both… but then upon reflection it really comes down to this: Will the Mets contend? If this teams starts off 13-25 then yeah I think both are gone and rather quickly. However, if the team fights to a record around 17-17, 18-16 or even a 16-18 start with Beltran on the way back and positive signs like close games and no little mistakes that drove us all crazy last year (not stepping on third base anyone?) then they’ll get to the all-star break. If the team is within five games of a playoff spot, then they’re likely ok for the year unless they fall completely apart in late July (like losing 13 out of 15). All in all, if the team contends it will be hard to dismiss the GM and manager. I do believe that short of a playoff spot they’re both likely gone at the end of the season however. The fear here is that the NL has a shaky year and the Mets manage to blunder their way into a wild card spot and both Omar and Jerry get three year extentions.

BONUS QUESTION: So, will they contend or what?
Questionable starting rotation spots #2-5, your best player on the DL for at least a month to start the season, a lot of important players returning from injury, your GM and manager on the hot seat before the season even starts, an organization seemingly in chaos… how in God’s name CAN this team contend? Well… believe it or not. They can. Consider this: They have one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, a top five player at three positions (that would be Wright, Reyes and Beltran… with a top ten player at a 4th positon in Bay), a pretty decent offense and a top notch closer. Plus, the Mets often seem to traditionally do better when they are NOT favorites. This team is NOT as good as the Phillies. They don’t pitch as well as the Braves. They don’t seem as brash or confident as the Marlins. But you know… who in the NL outside of the Phillies is really a powerhouse? The Cardinals? The Dodgers? Nope. There is going to be a lot of scrambling for that wildcard spot, mark my words. A playoff spot is not out of the question for the Mets, abeit it’s not likely either… but this is a team that should be able to fight to about 83 wins and a few bounces their way that 83 could be 86 or 87. With a trade for someone like Broson Arroyo that number might be close enough to put the wild card in their sights. Hey, you never know.