According to two of my sources, here is the projected 25-man roster for the Reds as they break camp and head east:
Lineup CF Drew Stubbs SS Orlando Cabrera 1B Joey Votto 2B Brandon Phillips 3B Scott Rolen RF Jay Bruce LF Jonny Gomes/Chris Dickerson C Ramon Hernandez
Bench C Ryan Hanigan INF Paul Janish INF Aaron Miles OF Wladimir Balentien
Rotation RHP Aaron Harang RHP Johnny Cueto RHP Bronson Arroyo RHP Homer Bailey LHP Travis Wood
Bullpen RHP Francisco Cordero (closer) LHP Arthur Rhodes (set-up) RHP Nick Masset (set-up) LHP Daniel Ray Herrera (middle) RHP Mike Lincoln (middle) RHP Jared Burton (middle) RHP Micah Owings (long)
Disabled List RHP Edinson Volquez LHP Bill Bray
I was listening to the Reds/Mariners game on Friday and Marty flat-out said (his favorite phrase) that the fifth starter job was down to Travis Wood and Mike Leake. I was surprised by this but that might only be because I hadn't seen any announcement. I assumed Justin Lehr, Matt Maloney, and Kip Wells were still in the hunt. Of course, this was before Wells gave up a grand slam to Jr. to lose the game in the ninth. On Friday, Leake started and went four innings, giving up only one run. Wood came in and immediately got into trouble with hits and walks, but worked out of trouble and also ended up with four innings and one run (which might have been unearned). According to both sources, Wood will be the starter. This makes sense. He had a great season last year and has more professional experience than Leake. Plus, he's left handed; something the Reds sorely need. With the edge in professional experience, he seems the most likely (of those two) to make a couple of decent starts while the Reds wait for Aroldis Chapman to heal.
I know most fans would rather see a promising rookie over a re-tread like Justin Lehr or Kip Wells, but if it were me, I would give the spot to one of those guys with the idea that it's Chapman's spot as soon as he's healthy. But that decision assumes the Reds are ready to move with Chapman when healthy. It would also let Leake and Wood pitch more at AAA and be ready for next year or to fill-in for injuries or trades of Harang and Arroyo.
The Chapman injury gives the Reds a chance to put him in the minors (when he's healthy) and let him get some professional starts and delay his arbitration clock. But the Reds clearly are trying to make a run at the division. Otherwise, they don't sign O-Cab, etc. So I expect to see Chapman at PGASP when he's able.
I don't have any issue with the proposed starting eight, but I do have an issue with the line-up. I like the righty/lefty balance, but I hate BP in the clean-up spot. I would have him lead off. I know lead off men are supposed to get on base and BP hasn't been the best on base guy. But in the clean up spot, he spends way too much time trying to hit home runs. Put in the lead off hole I think he would be a good on base guy and I think efforts to see more pitches and get on base will make him a better hitter. And the upside is you put Stubbs in the 8th hole which takes pressure off of him and gives you more speed at the end of the line-up and a good base stealer/runner in front of the pitcher. Ramon Hernandez is not a good eighth hitter. He's a run producer and should move up the line-up a bit. Here is my proposed line-up (with how they hit):
BP (R) O-Cab (R) Joey Votto (L) Rolen (R) Bruce (L) Hernandez (R) CD/Gomes (L)/(R) Stubbs (R)
I would not make CD/Gomes a strict platton. I would play the guy that's playing well and, in fact, would have Balentien in that mix. The hot hand, regardless of handedness, would be playing.
No surprises in the bullpen. I would rather see Carlos Fisher than Mike Lincoln, but Lincoln's contract probably made the difference here.
Regarding the bench, I have a real problem with carrying Janish on the bench. The Reds' biggest offensive weakness will be left-handed power. They need some power from the left side off of the bench and right now, they have none. Even if CD doesn't start, he's not really a power guy. I think they have to keep Nix instead of Janish. Miles (if he's healthy) can fill-in at short, but O-Cab is a guy that plays all of the time. He doesn't need more than an emergency back up. Heck, BP could play short on an emergency basis. Put Janish in AAA and bring him up if O-Cab (or Rolen) goes on the D/L. Otherwise, they don't need him and can't afford his lack of stick on the bench.
The other option (besides Nix) is Drew Sutton. This guy, who bats left handed, can really hit and can hit with power. The only down side to keeping him is the Reds probably want him playing everyday and he can't do that in the bigs right now. But if the Reds are making a run, they need some more left handed pop on the bench.
If Miles isn't healthy, the Reds can carry Janish until he is, but I think he'll be fine by opening day and should be the utility guy. Again, the contract impacts the roster decision.
Last Sunday was the bgal draft, which is the A.L. only keeper league that I participate in. My team is the Blue Sox. Going in, here were my keepers:
1B: Russell Branyan .10 2B: Ian Kinsler 7.40 3B: Evan Longoria 2.00 SS: Cesar Izturus .10 CI: Alex Gordon 1.00 OF: Shin-Soo Choo 1.00 OF: Franklin Gutierez 1.00
P: Josh Beckett 7.50 P: Brian Matusz 1.00 P: Phil Hughes 1.00 P: Ryan Rowland-Smith 1.00 P: Jason Frasor 1.00
Budget: $50.00 Spent: $23.20 for twelve players Left: $26.80 for eleven players
So right away a couple of things pop out. For instance, should I have kept Gordon with his broken finger? I was really hoping he'd break out this year. The injury is a set-back, but if he has a good year, I still get him next year at $1.00. And I wasn't sure he'd go that cheap in this year's draft, although he probably would have. Also, I'm keeping Frasor on the chance that he wins the closer role with Toronto. That's still up in the air. If he's traded to the Twins to close, that's fine, too, as you'll see later.
I usually plan on about $30 of my $50 for hitting and $20 for pitching, but I don't make that a rule; it's just a guideline. So I had about $17.50 for hitting and $9.50 for pitching. I planned on targeting power/speed combo guys, and allotted $12.20 for three outfielders and my DH. I threw Brian Roberts back (because of his injury) at $6.20 and budgeted $5.00 to try and get him back. I put in .20 for my two catchers, hoping to land Brayan Pena and Adam Moore. Those two guys may not play this year, but I like their chances if they do, and I expect both could be starters next year.
My main target was Grady Sizemore (I threw him back at $9.00) and set aside $7.00 for him. He was the top position player available according to my draft prep. That would leave $3.00 and $2.00 for my last two outfield spots and only .20 for my DH.
Sizemore was called up early and went for $7.90, over my budget. In retrospect, I should have gone to $8.00 but I'm not sure that would have gotten the job done anyway. I couldn't afford to go over $8.00 at that point in the draft.
Roberts came up pretty early, too, and I stuck to my $5.00, letting him go for $5.10. I'm sure he'll play this year, but slowed by a back injury (and lacking steals) would kill his value. I thought $5.10 was too high.
So I ended up with Orlando Hudson for $2.20 in my MI spot. I also ended up with both of my catchers (late in the draft) paying .40 instead of .20. So far so good.
That left me with about $15.00 for my other four guys, three outfielders and a DH. I had already missed out on DH (for me) candidates Miguel Cabrerra ($10.00), Justin Morneau ($8.10), and Billy Butler ($6.00), and speed guys Juan Pierre ($4.30) and Chone Figgins ($7.30) I decided I needed to get four out of these remaining guys: Bobby Abreu, Alex Rios, Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Tejada, and Vernon Wells. Abreu went for $5.50, which seemed just a tad high and Wells went for $4.70 which seemed very high. I ended up with Rios at $4.90, a little high, but I was running out of options, Ordonez for $2.80, which seemed about right, and Tejada for my DH spot for $3.80. His shortstop eligibility and clean up spot in the line-up probably make this a decent buy. I wrapped it up by taking Milton Bradley for $2.10. This could be a bust (for obvious reasons) but could be great if the '08 Bradley shows up and he's able to stay healthy.
That's a total of $28.80 for hitting, leaving me a little pitching leeway, but I wouldn't use it very well.
There were a lot of good starters available this year. Last year, it was basically Beckett and CC. Beckett was called up first and I spent most of my budget on him. That made for a pretty boring draft. This year, we had Cliff Lee, CC, Max Scherzer, Javier Vazquez, Rich Harden, Jered Weaver, A.J. Burnett, Mark Buerle, Dice-K, and even Ben Sheets. I had targeted Vazquez and Scherzer, thinking those guys would be underrated. I budgeted $7.00 to get those two guys and another $2.40 for my closer (I wanted Rafael Soriano, the top guy on my board, who I thought would be underrated) and a final starter or cheap reliever.
The draft started with a run on starting pitching. Lee went for $7.90, Javier Vazquez went for $7.90 (too rich for my blood), CC went for $8.50, Burnett went for $5.70, Sheets went for $3.90. When Rich Harden was called up, I started to panic. I still wanted Scherzer, but I needed a top guy, and Harden was next on my list (after Scherzer) so I stayed in on Harden and got him for $4.30. Some other middle guys went, including Dice-K for $3.50, Trevor Cahill for $2.60, Jered Weaver for $3.40, and Mark Buehrle for $3.10.
Then came the run on closers. Soriano was my top guy going in and was still left. Having lost out on most of the guys I targeted, I stayed in on Soriano and paid $5.30. In a 4x4 league, closers are very important. I know the conventional wisdom is don't pay for saves, but in our league closers are hot. Plus, there were no great pitchers left (accept Scherzer) and I didn't want to not spend my money. Scherzer came up pretty late (I brought him up. I had waited a long time, but needed to know if I could get him to fill out my last couple of spots, so I took a chance by bringing him up.) He went for $4.00, which is a great buy, but more than I could afford at that point.
Rounding out my staff, I picked up Jeremy Guthrie for .30. This was a decent buy, but the guy I really wanted as my sleeper was Colby Lewis. He went undrafted.
Finally, I got Kevin Gregg for .10. I guess this is why you don't pay for closers at the draft. I have very little faith in Gregg, but he could get the Blue Jays closer role and will no doubt rack up some saves if he does. And I got him uncontested for the minimum salary. With Frasor at $1, I now either almost certainly have the Blue Jays' saves at a minimum. And maybe the Twins will trade for Frasor (as has been rumored) and give him first shot at the closer role. Then I would have two closers for $1.10. At that point, of course, a trade would be in order, because I also have Soriano at $5.30.
In the minor league draft, I got Kyle Drabek with my first pick and Alex Colome (who will be the next Neftali Feliz) with my second pick. I had no third pick (because of a trade last season) and took a flyer on Leslie Anderson with my fourth and final pick. Overall, not bad for my draft position.
I'm a little disappointed with my team. If I'd known Gregg could have been had for .10, I would have tried harder for Scherzer instead of Soriano, and thrown a little more money at an upgrade on Harden. Harden could be good, but he's a huge injury risk. And I would rather have Lewis than Guthrie, but not enough to make a free agent move on Lewis. Right now, I'm hoping for a Frasor to the Twins trade (but not the Cubs), and then I can try and trade a closer.
My offense is okay. I got basically the guys I wanted, but did not get Sizemore. With Tejada at DH, and SS eligible, I should probably cut Izturus and get a better DH, but there really aren't that many guys left with good projected offense. Do I really want to make a move just to get Jose Guillen?
I did some quick standings projections based on projected stats, both the ones I used and the ones on our site (we use CBS), and I finish anywhere from tied for second to fifth. Keeping an eye on the waiver wire and making some trades, I might be able to upgrade but, with the exception of unloading a closer if I end up with three, I'm going to try and be more patient with my roster this year.
Here are my top need:
I mentioned the Frasor to the Twins trade. That would be great.
I need Hughes to win the fifth starter role.
I need Harden and Bradley to stay healthy, both huge injury risks.
I need Branyan to hit 25 home runs and bat at least .250. The former seems more likely.
I need Gordon to not miss too much time and I need him to finally break out.
I need Rios to bounce back, which I think is very likely.
I need the Tigers to play Ordonez and not worry about his vesting option. (Who knows?)
I need Rowland-Smith and Matusz to continue their developement and be solid starters.
I need the South Korean Army to not call on Choo and ruin my season.
Here is my final roster:
C: Brayan Pena .10 C: Adam Moore .30 1B: Russell Branyan .10 2B: Ian Kinsler 7.40 3B: Evan Longoria 2.00 SS: Cesar Izturus .10 MI: Orlando Hudson 2.20 CI: Alex Gordon 1.00 OF: Shin-Soo Choo 1.00 OF: Franklin Gutierez 1.00 OF: Alex Rios 4.90 OF: Magglio Ordonez 2.80 OF: Milton Bradley 2.10 DH: Miguel Tejada 3.80 P: Josh Beckett 7.50 P: Brian Matusz 1.00 P: Phil Hughes 1.00 P: Ryan Rowland-Smith 1.00 P: Jason Frasor 1.00 P: Rich Harden 4.30 P: Jeremy Guthrie .30 P: Rafael Soriano 5.30 P: Kevin Gregg .10
The good folks over at MLBTradeRumors.com have their Reds off-season recap posted. I agree that the Chapman and Arredondo signings were great. I disagree that O-Cab and Hernandez are not upgrades over Janish and Hanigan. I think they are serious upgrades. I also agree that the Reds will go only as far as their run prevention takes them. And that starts with the rotation. But a solid defense will help those pitchers hit their projections.
I've been on hiatus while I prepare for the bgal draft. It was moved up from March 28 to tomorrow, so I've been pretty busy getting my keepers in and then making my cheat sheets for the draft. I would appreciate any tips for sleepers (A.L. only) in the comments section, but I'll need them before noon, Sunday.
In the meantime, here's a link to the new Bloomberg Sports fantasy baseball blog. This is a great site for any fantasy player and can give good insight to all baseball fans. The post makes a pretty good argument for Drew Sutton to make the Reds' 25-man roster as a super utility type. Don't forget, he bats left handed and can play shortstop in a pinch. We've touted him here on this blog, arguing that as a back-up shortstop he's a better option for the Reds than Paul Janish.
Wish me luck tomorrow. I'll have a full re-cap of the draft up as soon as I can.
Tomorrow night my favorite comedian will be co-hosting the Oscars, Steve Martin. I've been a fan forever. I like Alec Baldwin, too, so I'm really looking forward to the telecast. Here is how I rank the movies up for best picture, all of which I've seen:
1. Inglourious Basterds 2. Up in the Air 3. The Hurt Locker 4. An Education 5. Precious 6. District 9 7. Avatar 8. Up 9. The Blind Side 10. A Serious Man
Of course, I love Tarantino. What was so great about this movie was that it was classic Tarantino, but at the same time completely different from what I expected.
The Hurt Locker kept me right on the edge of my seat the entire movie. You talk about real suspense. I've heard some call it the best war movie ever. Hard to argue.
Up in the Air is my kind of movie. A real-life drama, with plenty of humor and a great story. And a great cast. SPOILER ALERT! I was convinced that Natalie would be tasked to fire Ryan from his now obsolete job. Instead, the movie left the ending a little up in the air.
I moved District 9 down a notch because of the extended shoot em up stuff near the end.
Avatar is the second best sci fi movie on this list. The plot fell into a very typical ending, with extended action scenes that were neither interesting nor particularly believable. The fact that the King of the World actually invented technology to make the movie, however, makes it an important film and moved it up a notch. We saw it in I-Max 3D, so it looked great. Without that, I'm afraid it would have been mediocre, at best.
The scene with the mom and the social worker in Precious was the most powerful scene I saw in any movie this year. Mo'Nique is as close to a certainty as you can get for the best supporting actress.
Up and The Blind Side were both great movies, but not best picture candidates. And I didn't get A Serious Man. I love the Coen brothers, but this was not an enjoyable or particularly good film. A Single Man, on the other hand, should have gotten this spot.
I'll be rooting for Carey Mulligan for best actress and Colin Firth for best actor. I won't cry if George Clooney wins, but Jeff Bridges will. Sandra Bullock or Meryl Streep will win for the actress award, probably Bullock.
Christoph Waltz will (and should) win for best supporting actor unless the academy goes sentimental and gives it to Christopher Plummer.
Best director will go to James Cameron or his ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow. She would be the first woman to win the award, so I'll predict she does just that.
It's time to take on baseball's most competitive division. Same format; I'll cover each team alphabetically, and then give my predictions.
The O's are finally relevant again, but don't look to crack the top three in the division this year. They have a great core of young players with Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, Nolan Reimold, and Matt Weiters, lead by a quality veteran in Brian Roberts. Their big move in the off-season was to add some veterans rather than continuing to rebuild. They added Garrett Atkins and Miguel Tejada in the line-up (to play first and third, respectively), Kevin Millwood to the rotation, and Mike Gonzalez as the closer. Adding the closer was a no-brainer; a young pitcher needs confidence that if he can get the game to the bullpen, the bullpen won't blow it.
I think they hope Millwood will help mentor the young guys. I guess we'll see. I always thought that was why you had a pitching coach. I don't see Millwood having a big year, but he may throw 200 innings which is certainly valuable. But counting on three young guys, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, and Brad Bergesen in the rotation is not a winning recipe in the A.L. East. It doesn't matter how good they might be, they won't be good enough this year for the team to seriously compete.
Look for the offense to score and the team to be exciting, but don't start thinking seriously about the O's until next year.
Boston Red Sox:
As usual, the Red Sox (no relation) look good. The big story this off-season was the team's new emphasis on run prevention. They signed Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro, and Adrian Beltre to improve the defense and John Lackey to fill-out the rotation. With Lester, Beckett, and Lackey, they have the best top-three rotation in the league. (The Yanks are a close second, but we'll get to them.) If Dice-K bounces back and Clay Buchholz flashes some more of that no-hitter stuff he's shown in the past, the rotation will be scary good. Wakefield is also a candidate if either of those two guys stumbles.
The new defense can only help the solid rotation. Cameron, Scutaro, and Beltre will all play good defense. And, as usual, the Red Sox line-up shouldn't have any trouble scoring runs. I look for Beltre to have a great year, getting away from power-sapping Seattle, and playing for a new contract (he signed a one-year deal).
The big question is whether the Red Sox will have the guts to platoon Big Papi at DH. They still have Mike Lowell, who's lost a step in the field but can still hit, because a trade to the Rangers fell through. If he's healthy, he should platoon with Big Papi. (A Lowell/Ortiz platoon might be the most expensive DH in history.)
The bullpen should be very solid with Johnathan Papelbon closing and Hideki Okajima and flame thrower Daniel Bard setting him up.
The word here is solid. The Sox are solid at every position with very few question marks. You know what you're going to get from home-grown guys like Pedroia, Youkilis, and Ellsbury, and a full year out of V-Mart (also playing for a contract) can't hurt. Getting an injury-free season from Drew would help, too, but they have Jeremy Hermida just in case they don't.
New York Yankees:
The Yankees have to be considered the favorite because of the year they had and coming off of their 27th championship. But they still had an eventful off-season, mostly revolving around the Johnny Damon soap opera. They first traded for Curtis Granderson, giving up prospects Ian Kennedy and Austin Jackson and bullpen arm (turned starter?) Phil Coke. They also traded the Melk Man (much to the chagrin of the Blue Sox) for Javier Vazquez. They won't miss Melky, however, because they signed every other outfielder on the market (accept for Damon). Finally, they signed Nick Johnson to DH (after not re-signing world series MVP Hideki Matsui), who is already injured.
Of course, the rotation is solid with CC leading the way and adding Vazquez to accompany A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte. The big question for them, and maybe for all of spring training (maybe a close second to whether or not Jason Heyward makes the Braves), is who will be the Yankees number 5 starter. Joba was lousy yesterday. He'll compete with Phil Hughes for the spot with the loser in the bullpen. If I were the Yankees, I'd put them both in the bullpen this year and give the rotation spot to Chad Gaudin. If you're the Yankees, you have to do everything you can to win again this year. That's their best use of personnel for this year. I'd put Hughes and Joba back in the rotation next year when Pettitte probably won't be back and Gaudin will be expendable.
The line-up should be great again with Jeter, A-Rod, and Big Tex leading the way. I think they'll miss Damon and Matsui, but their absence won't be fatal. Johnson should be fine at DH, and Gardner/Thames/Winn et al. should be able to fill-in for most of what Damon did. I guess the big question here is who plays left and who plays center and where (or if) Granderson bats against lefties. The Yanks are good everywhere, but they do have more questions to resolve than the Sox going into spring training.
Tampa Bay Rays:
The Rays surprised everyone in '08, and then came back to earth some last year. They had a lot of injuries and had down years from guys like B.J. Upton. If you're the Rays, you really can't afford anyone to have a down year. The year was not a waste, however, as they got career years from Jason Bartlett and Ben Zobrist, who broke out in a huge way. One of the big question marks is where Zobrist will play. Sean Rodriguez, obtained from the Angels in the Scott Kazmir deal, is a real sleeper and a middle infielder with power (he hit one yesterday). They also have Matt Joyce (from Detroit in the Edwin Jackson deal -- so you know they want to play him) in right. Whichever one of those guys sticks will decide where Zobrist plays. I like Rodriguez at second and Zobrist in right. But I could see Zobrist taking over at first base next year if the Rays can't re-sign Carlos Pena.
Which leads to the Rays' biggest question: what to do with Carl Crawford? If they're in it (and I think they will be) they can't trade him. But every indication is they can't sign him long-term, leaving them with only draft picks if he leaves next year. If they drop out of it, they will shop Crawford, but I don't think they will.
I look for a big year from Upton, continued greatness from Crawford and Longoria, a rock-solid year from Pena, a small to medium decline from Bartlett and Zobrist, and a rebound for DH Pat Burrell. Shoppach and Navarro will split the catching time. I also expect one more signing (like a Hank Blalock or Jermaine Dye) from the Rays.
The rotation is solid, led by James Shields and Matt Garza, but not as good as the Yankees and Red Sox. The Rays do have more depth if the injury bug hits, which is very valuable. David Price should finally break out this year.
Finally, the Rays signed Rafael Soriano to be the closer. Last year after Troy Percival went down it was closer by committee. Having Soriano, a very underrated guy, should help.
Toronto Blue Jays:
The big news here, of course, is the trade of Roy Halladay. They traded him because they weren't going to be competitive during his remaining time and, therefore, wouldn't be able to re-sign him in free agency. So they went for top prospects from the Phils now instead of this year with Halladay and two draft picks next year when he left for FA.
The Jays did bring in catchers John Buck and Jose Molina to compete for the starting job, and signed Alex Gonzalez to play short. With Encarnacion coming over last year, the Jays are the new Pinks (faded Reds) taking over from the Nats who dumped most of their former Reds.
They also got Brandon Morrow from the Mariners, hoping he's a change of scenery guy. Both he and the "staff ace" Ricky Romero are former top picks who have struggled. I expect both to be good this year and last year rookie phenom Mark Rzepczynski to continue his development. Shawn Marcum, coming off the D/L should also be good. But this is a young, rebuilding staff and cannot seriously compete in the A.L. Beast.
The pen is a three horse race for the closer role. Look for Jason Frasor to win out over free agent Kevin Gregg, who just isn't that good in spite of closer experience, with Scott Downs in the lefty set-up role that he's well-suited for. The Jays have a bunch of good arms in camp and picking the final 25 for them might be the most challenging of any team (or at least the 12 man staff). But I don't have to predict that, only that the Jays will struggle this year. (But I am watching them beat the Yanks 2-1 right now on the MLB Network, but it's early and the Yanks are rallying. I bet they have the lead by the time I hit "Publish Post.")
Look for Lind to continue to develop as one of the games best hitters. Whether or not Snider follows suit may be the most interesting aspect of the Jays season.
I really like the Rays in this division but I'm going to go with them for the wild card and the Red Sox to take the division. In a huge upset, the Yanks miss the playoffs. Baltimore will finish just shy of .500 and the Jays will bring up the rear.
Up next: the N.L. Central. (Jays lead 5-1 in the 5th. Lind just hit a three-run jack.)
The best part (only good part?) about the network is Rob Neyer's baseball blog. Some of the other guys are good reporters, but you have to be an insider to see any of their stuff. Rob recently put up this post about the Braves' Jason Heyward. I think the same reasoning applies to Aroldis Chapman, although it's not as clear right now that Chapman would be ready regardless of service time status.
The single best addition to the Reds right now would be a power lefty in the rotation. But if you're a Reds fan you should be rooting to see Chapman's debut in May, not April.
Continuing our series of previewing each division (we did the AL Central already) we take a look at the AL West. This is a small, but exciting division. Making the biggest splash this off-season had to be the Mariners, but when the PECOTA projections came out and the A's were on top, a firestorm was set off. Never mind that PECOTA currently (subscription required) has the A's finishing third, with the Rangers and Mariners in front. Again, we'll look at the teams in alphabetical order and then give our predictions at the end.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim:
The Angels' reign at the top of the division has been almost as long as their name. But they took some hits this off-season, losing John Lackey to the dreaded Red Sox (no relation) and Chone Figgins within the division to the Mariners. It looks like Brandon Wood will replace Figgins at third and Joel Piniero will replace Lackey in the rotation. But Wood won't bat lead-off, that will likely be Eric Aybar, and Piniero won't be the ace, that will be Jered Weaver. So both positions have been downgraded.
They also lost Vlady, their primary DH, within the division to the Rangers. They signed World Series MVP Hideki Matsui to take his spot with a club-favorable contract. Starting last year with Abreu and continuing this year with Vlad, Damon, and Matsui, it seems teams are letting aging stars go to other teams at a discount. I think the trend is that the stars are unwilling to give their current team a big break to sign them, holding out for a non pay cut. So the teams are simply saying no thank you. The stars are then willing to sign for less with another team. We should call this the home town premium, juxtaposed against the more prominent home town discount (see Pujols and Mauer). Anyway, I see Matsui as an upgrade over Vlad, partly because there is no temptation to put Matsui in right field. Vlad still wants to play the field, but his days as a quality outfielder are over.
They also spent big on Fernando Rodney, who saved a lot of games last year but hasn't really pitched that well. That makes the "who's going to close" battle interesting, but shouldn't impact the team too much. Either Rodney or Brian Fuentes will be the closer and the other will be the set-up guy with Scot Shields. Fuentes provided plenty of excitement last year, but did get the job done (like Rodney, I guess).
What the Angels need is a repeat from Kendry Morales, continued growth from guys like Aybar, super utility player Maicer Izturis, and Juan Rivera and it certainly wouldn't hurt if Wood and Howie Kendrick started reaching their potential. The rotation is solid, if not spectacular. Ervin Santana having a decent year and Joe Saunders continuing to defy the odds will be keys for the staff.
The A's have added a couple of guys to their anemic offense, with Kevin Kouzmanoff and Coco Crisp, but there big addition is in the rotation where they went all in for starter Ben Sheets. Sheets was having a solid '08 when he went down with an injury. He was a hot free agent before '09, but injury kept his suitors from committing. This year he got a $10 mil. deal from the A's. Curious, but the A's picked up Matt Holiday last year and flipped him at the deadline, so maybe that's what they'll do here if they aren't in the hunt.
The A's have a lot of good, young pitchers, but I just don't think they can score enough to win. They play in a pitchers park and don't have any boppers. I guess they'll have to rely on the stolen base; something no one would have believed two or three years ago.
Beyond Sheets, and adding Kouzmanoff, the A's will have to figure out their outfield. They have a lot of good, not great options. Those picking fantasy guys are on their own. Probably the most valuable fantasy players will be the guys that get the at bats. They're all about the same in value.
They also need a bounce back from Duchscherer who can't seem to stay healthy, although he pitches well when he is.
The Mariners had a great off-season and everyone has taken note. But was it enough to improve there chances to win the division? They traded three prospects for one year of Cliff Lee. In a vacuum, this looks like the trade of the year. But if it doesn't put them in a position to win, it's a waste of prospects. It's very unlikely Lee will opt to re-up with the Mariners without testing the free agent market. They could re-sign him, but they just inked King Felix to a large, long term deal. Could they afford both?
So the Mariners have to win this year. Do they have enough offense. They signed Chone Figgins to bat near the top of the order. Between Figgins and Ichiro, the Mariners will have no trouble setting the table. But who is going to knock them in? The '08 Milton Bradley could do it. They got him from the Cubs for Carlos Silva who, in the American League is an albatross (I actually like this deal for the Cubs, too, which I'll cover when we get to the N.L. Central) and the Mariners were fortunate to get rid of his terrible contract. So if they got the '08 Bradley, there in good shape, getting a guy who led the league in OPS on a reasonable contract. But if they got the "any other year but '08 Bradley, and particularly the '09 Bradley" they merely swapped one bad contract for another. But I like the risk. My post (rant!) on Junior's complete lack of leadership in Cincinnati is long over due, but he seems to be making an impact in the Seattle clubhouse, most notably last year with Ichiro. Everyone seems to think he'll have a positive impact on Bradley, so we'll see. And speaking of Jr. will he get enough at bats this year to make a difference. Penciled in as the everyday DH, and with Ichiro, Figgins, and Bradley batting in front of him, I could see him having a big year. But I could also see him on the D/L a lot. This is a big question mark for the Mariners.
The other big question mark is who will follow King Felix and Lee in the rotation? A bunch of mediocre options will be fighting it out for the 3-5 spots. A healthy Eric Bedard would be huge for this team.
The Marlins have great defense in a pitchers' park with perhaps the best 1-2 punch of any rotation in baseball. And the bullpen seems set with Aardsma breaking out last year as a closer. I also like the Brandon League trade. The big questions are the rest of the rotation and whether or not the team can score enough runs. Jr. could be the key to the whole division.
Like the A's, the Rangers are relying on an oft-injured but great when healthy pitcher to head their rotation. They signed Rich Harden to be their ace. Beyond that, they have a bunch of question marks in the rotation. Can Scott Feldman do what he did last year (doubtful), can Brandon McCarthy finally stay healthy and break-out (doubtful), can Colby Lewis translate his Japanese success to the big leagues (probably), and will the Rangers let top prospect Neftali Feliz start or will he spend another year dominating in the set-up role (probably)?
The bullpen seems set with C.J. Wilson setting up Frank Francisco (especially if Feliz stays put).
And the line-up should really be good. The Rangers are counting on Julio Borbon to play center and lead-off, replacing Kinsler in that role. He had a great 179 plate appearances at the end of last year, batting .312 with 4 home runs, 20 rbi's, and 19 steals in 23 attempts. This would move to Josh Hamilton to a corner outfield. The big question for Hamilton is whether he can stay healthy. He's already dealing with a bad shoulder.
The Rangers also added Vlad as their everyday DH. Historically, he's mashed in the Rangers' park, and without having to play the outfield, he should stay healthy most of the year. He's in the Jr. role this year for the Rangers. The Rangers have the best line up in the division. The big question is how far will their starting pitching take them.
Overall, I like the Mariners in this division. I look for Jr. to have a surprisingly productive year in the DH role and in the clubhouse. There is a positive vibe here. If Bedard comes back healthy and effective, they will win the division.
I like the Angels for second place. There's too much history there to take the Rangers over them with all of their question marks in the rotation. And Scoscia is tough to bet against. I think the A's bring up the rear. They just have too many question marks.
The good folks over at Baseball Prospectus (basically Kevin Goldstein) have there top 100 prospects list up. In my mind, Goldstein is the best prospects guy in the business. I use his rankings for my minor league drafts and have gotten some great players in the later rounds of the draft.
The good news: he's got Aroldis Chapman at number 10. That's as high as I've seen Chapman on any list, although his late signing has kept him off some lists all together.
The bad news: Yonder Alonso isn't even on the list. Here's what Kevin said, Alonso is off the list because of the, "fact that he showed little power and did utterly nothing against lefties. I've written many times my feelings on first base prospects. If you don't look like some kind of No. 3 or 4 hitter on a championship level team, just how good of a first base prospect are you?" Not very encouraging.
The other Reds that did make the list are Mike Leake at 59 and Todd Frazier at 67.
I'm a little disappointed with the Blue Sox rankings on the list. Although Montero came in at number 4, Smoak and Matusz are 17 and 18, and Lars Anderson didn't even make the list. Hicks came in at 26.