Monday, August 17, 2009

Fare Thee Well...

Aubrey Huff and I got off on the wrong foot. When he arrived before the 2007 season hopes ran high in Baltimore that Mr. Huff would fit in nicely in the middle of a lineup that included Miguel Tejada, Melvin Mora, Brian Roberts, and the oh-so-promising Nick Markakis.

Huff turned out not to be anything special. A meager 15 homeruns and 72 RBIs was not what Baltimore had in mind. His OPS was a pedestrian .778. He looked stiff. Awkward. Nothing he did was graceful. Nothing he did was anything more than average big league production. Not what the Orioles signed up for.

Then the incident happened.

On a satellite radio show designed for, um, mature audiences, Huff, appearing as a guest alongside an adult entertainer, made some less-than-flattering comments about the City of Baltimore and revealed far too much detail about his unorthodox ways of passing the time on long road trips.

As 2008 dawned, I had already anointed Huff to be my official whipping boy for the upcoming season. Orioles Lose... Blame Huff. Daniel Cabrera can't throw strikes... Blame Huff. Its raining... Blame Huff.

Then something kind of cool happened. Huff spent a decent chunk of the 2008 season knocking the stuffing out of the ball. Homeruns, doubles, line drives to the gap. He hit like a man possessed. He still looked stiff. He still wasn't graceful. And I think I still shouted a bit too loud whenever he failed to reach base. But, as if by magic, Huff's performance at the plate was making him much less of a perfect scape goat for all of the Orioles ills. Its hard to blame a 9-4 loss on someone who has gone 3 for 4 with a double and a homerun. By seasons end I started to almost take it for granted that Huff would make solid contact whenever he stepped into the batters box.

2009 has been more like 2007 for Mr. Huff. He spent the months of June and July mired in a slump that dropped his average from close to .300 to well below .250 for a time. I saw him in person against Zach Greinke in late July and he looked simply awful at the plate. Swinging at balls in the dirt. And with his stiff manner, swings and misses at 57-foot curveballs look doubly awkward.

Huff's trade value plummeted. His potential free agent value to the Orioles vanished. (By way of explanation here, when someone who is a big star leaves via free agency their team gets compensatory draft picks at the end of the 1st round of the MLB Draft. If he had repeated his 2008 numbers this year, Huff would have been such a player) I confided in a friend one day in late July that in order for the Orioles to get anything of real value for Huff something absolutely catastrophic would have to happen to the 1st baseman of a contending team. When the July 31 non-waiver deadline passed with no such calamity befalling any pennant chasers, Huff remained an Oriole for a few more weeks.

Aubrey Huff is now a Tiger. The Orioles netted a Single-A pitcher with a 96-mph fastball in return for him. Not a terrible deal. Not a terribly inspiring one either.

But somehow thats a fitting end for Huff's tenure with the O's. He wasn't bad. He just wasn't great. At least not for longer than a few magical months in 2008.

No hard feelings Aubrey. He's far from the biggest mistake the Orioles have made in my lifetime. I wish him well. really. I wish him the best as he tries, stiffly and ungracefully, to help Detroit make it to another World Series.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sunday Evening Musings

Its been awhile.

The question on my mind since I last wrote in mid-April was "I wonder what will shake me out of this non-writing funk." Its not that my opinions on baseball had suddenly dried up. Or that I had stopped closely following the season, and the fading fortunes of the Orioles and Nationals. I just haven't sat in front of my laptop for long enough in the last few months to write a coherent post.

I took a train up to New York this weekend to make my first visit to Citi Field, the Mets new "Home of Amazin," as the stadium PA announcer said at least two dozen times during my visit. Fantastic park. More on that later.

We took the 7 train from Grand Central to Flushing. Walking down the boardwalk-ish ramp from the subway to the stadium I was impressed with the abundance of black, blue, orange, and white walking along with me. Even late in a nightmarish season in Queens (and it got worse on Saturday), Mets fans dress correctly for games. Moving from the ramp to the stadium entrance, i was told by a man with a megaphone and some big signs that I need to get my life right to avoid hellfire. Whats so wrong with my life that this dude is shouting at me with a megaphone? Maybe he was upset that I've been neglecting my blog. Do they read my blog in heaven? Do the postings on have some impact on my eternal standing? If so, I'd like to point out that I'm kind to my mother, I avoid littering, and I've never abused those "give a penny, take a penny" trays at fast food joints.

So, if megaphone man was trying to call me to repentence for lax blogging, it didn't work. What actually shook me out of my torper was a simple, humble question posed to me by a friend that I met up with at Citi Field. "So are you still doing your blog? I enjoyed reading it." Its not the first time that I've gotten that during this dry spell. But, given the setting (lower deck first base side seats, 8th inning, Mets rallying to tie the score against the Giants bullpen, perfect sunny july afternoon) I vowed to myself that a new entry for this site would soon appear.

And here it is.

Saturday was a rough day for baseball players' heads. Dodger righthander Hiroki Kuroda took a hot smash off of his noggin and headed straight for the hospital. Ian Kinsler was welcomed back from the disabled list with a heater on top of his helmet. And David Wright, two days after telling the New York Times that he would welcome the chance to wear new safer (if uglier) batting helmets, was on the receiving end of a 93mph Matt Cain fastball which, as of this writing, seems likely to have ended his season.

Mr. Wright's misfortune is of particular interest. I saw and heard it happen. From where i was perched in the 4th inning of yesterdays game ($72 seats in the second deck in left field. we didn't move to the lower deck until the 8th inning) Cain's wayward offering to Wright sounded like it had hit the Mets' last remaining healthy mega-star's bat. It made that crisp click. When Wright collapsed in a heap, not moving, and Cain immediately assumed a concerned crouch halfway between the mound and home plate, and 40,000+ New Yorkers instantly became deathly silent it was clear that the ball had hit something far more important than the All-Star's lumber.

The stunned crowd wasn't ever quite the same after Wright left the game with what we later learned is a humdinger of a concussion. The Mets grabbed a 1-0 lead soon after Wright left, but after a rough 6th inning, the Giants held a 3-1 lead. Citi Field started to take on a very funeral-esque feel. The only times the crowd became animated were when opportunities arose to boo Matt Cain during his at-bats. Met fans were headed for the exits in surprisingly large numbers before their team staged a dramatic 8th inning rally to tie the score.

Ordinarily, I would stand on my soapbox over such a display of poor form on the part of fans and i would quote an old beer commercial which declares "He who leaves early misses the miracle!" Those fans who bolted Citi Field before the Mets put up 3 in the 8th to tie the game did indeed miss some excitement. But, I'm inclined to give them a pass on this one. With Wright's injury, the Mets now have the single most star-studded disabled list in the history of disabled lists. Jose Reyes, Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, JJ Putz, Billy Wagner. Now, David Wright. Its quite a list. And that doesn't even mention all of the role players and pitchers who are ailing. I don't blame Mets fans for being a little quick to flee the premises on Saturday. After a season in which their promising star-filled team has been dropping like flies, seeing David Wright sprawled out in the dust of the batters box may have been too much to take.

I'm no Mets rooter, in fact, I cringed every time the Citi Field announcer made a reference to the 1969 World Series. But, even I hate to see the way 2009 has unfolded for the Amazins. No fan base deserves to watch their heroes fall one-by-one. No one deserves to have to watch each game with the sick feeling in their stomach of "Dear Lord, not another injury, PLEASE!!" Its sad.

And, insult to injury. As if this season wasn't rough enough for the team's fans already. Saturday's defeat provided a clear allusion to the excruciating manner in which the Mets lost the 2006 NLCS to a vastly-inferior St Louis Cardinals team. After rallying to tie the score on Saturday, the Mets lost 4-3 in 10 innings on a homerun by a catcher named Molina.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

R.I.P. Mr. Kalas

My parents wouldn't shell out for cable when I was a child. I was 19 years old and just about to depart for two years of missionary service in the Philippines before cable/satellite television arrived in the Quinn house. It has been a fixture ever since.

Throughout my childhood I heard tales of the magical world of ESPN and Nickelodeon. I scheduled visits to my grandparents house in Baltimore to coincide with cable-televised sporting events. I made periodic Ralph Parker-esque hints at craving cable TV, but, little progress was made on that front.

Sometime in the summer after 6th grade, my parents shelled out for a truly legendary roof antenna to expand the range of TV stations we could pull in. This was the queen mother of antennas. No station in the Baltimore, Western Maryland, DC, or southern PA viewing region was beyond our reach. Much to my mothers chagrin I could watch the Simpsons for two solid hours every weeknight thanks to its staggered airings on the various FOX stations we hauled in. Sundays brought 3 different markets worth of football games. If the game on the Baltimore stations was a blowout, no worries, there were always the PA and DC options. Not bad. Same deal for the FOX Saturday Baseball game of the week.

In addition to the perks mentioned above, our magnificent antenna empowered me to watch occasional Phillies broadcasts on Channel 15, a UPN station which broadcast from somewhere in the area of York/Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. It was then that I was introduced to the unforgettable voice of Phillies' play-by-play man Harry Kalas. His voice was unlike any i had ever heard. His style, his phrasing, and, most of all, his unique cadence, made those occasional games a great treat. I have a clear memory of rushing home from church one summer Sunday when I was about 13, bursting through the door and heading straight for our downstairs living room to check for a Phillies broadcast on Channel 15. The unmistakable voice describing the action, the quirks of National League games, and the players who prior to interleague play I had only seen on baseball cards turned a simple Phillies broadcast into a special occasion for my ESPN-deprived adolescent self. When inter-league play was introduced in 1997, I remember opting to watch an Orioles-Phillies contest on the Phillies network rather than on the Baltimore station because of my fascination with Harry Kalas' unique voice.

Sure. In the Baltimore of my boyhood I was blessed to enjoy the stylings of Jon Miller every night on the radio, the Hall-of-Fame voice of Chuck Thompson on Sundays, the memorable insights and hopeless pronunciation blunders of Brooks Robinson, and the competent narrations of Joe Angel and Fred Manfra. (No need to belabor the point about Manfra, he was an acquired taste. For his first two seasons a the mic, he used the term "bounding ball" to describe anything hit on the ground no matter how rapidly the ball was traveling). But, Harry Kalas left a distinct impression on my young mind. I must give him at least some of the credit for my sustained interest in watching baseball, even through the turbulent early teenage years.

He, and his unforgettable voice, will be missed.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Highly Paid Professionals

Lets assume for a second that the front offices of the Baltimore Orioles and of the Tampa By Rays are rational happiness-maximizing individuals. Lets assume that they are reasonably intelligent and are truly trying to lead their ball clubs to the greatest degree of success possible. in other words, lets assume they are competent and that they are not trying to bring their franchises down from the inside.

That's the first thing Baltimore and Tampa have in common. They are both being run by competent people.

The second thing they have in common is that they both play in the talent-laden and very wealthy American League East. We cannot stress enough just how much talent rests in this one division alone.

Third, both teams have a stud prospect who is ranked either Number 1 or Number 2 in most publications' roster of future superstars. For Tampa, its lefty David Price, who in a few late season innings showed enough talent to land a spot on the Rays' postseason roster. In a few postseason appearances, the kid showed both incredible testicular fortitude as well as an above average ability to get great hitters out in big situations. For Baltimore, all eyes are on catching prospect Matt Wieters. The writers of Baseball Prospectus began a steamy "bro-mance" with Wieters in this season's edition of their book. Wieters is expected to hit for average and power in a way rarely, if ever, seen before from a backstop.

Here's the fourth and, for our purposes, the most important similarity. Each team is keeping their prized possession in AAA for the foreseeable future. Baltimore is content to have Gregg Zaun hold down the fort behind the plate at Camden Yards for the time being. Tampa is plugging Jeff Niemann into the 5th starters slot for now.

In so doing, each team is forcing a real doozie of a conundrum upon Fantasy Baseball Owners across this great land. What to do about Price and Wieters. Because they are not on the Disabled List of their respective clubs, and why would they be, they're healthy and thriving in the minors, Price and Wieters are blank stat lines, placeholders for now, on any fantasy roster. I should know. David Price is proudly sitting on my fantasy bench in 2 of my 3 fantasy leagues. Wieters is chillin on rival benches in 2 leagues. But he is a free agent, ripe for the plucking in one of the leagues in which I already own the rights to Price.

So my dilemma: To give a roster spot to Wieters and hope he arrives in Charm City ready to rock sooner rather than later? Or to hope that I am the first to my computer on the day that Wieters gets the fabled phone call to join the parent club? Is the long term impact of having Price and Wieters, two promising by wholly unknown commodities, worth being out two roster spots for an indefinite period of time?

The people in said league probably will read this. Someone may put an end to my suffering by the time i wake up tomorrow by nabbing Wieters. If so, thanks for putting my mind at ease, AND A POX UPON YOUR HOUSE AND YOUR TEAM.

Keeping Wieters and Price in the minors may make long term sense for both franchises in terms of both baseball and finances. But its an unholy tease to us fantasy owners who believe that both players may be superstars in the not-so-distant future.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Bye Bye Birdies?

I am going to do something that I never in my weirdest nightmare dreamed I would do. I am going to use the musical "Bye Bye Birdie" as the foundation for a blog post. I am doing this of my own free will and choice, fully cognizant of the possible ramifications for myself. You may all commence teasing me when you see fit.

"-It won't last!
-Not at all!
-He's too thin!
-She's too tall!"

The Orioles are 6-2. Regardless of today's outcome against the Rangers, the Birds have won their first 3 series of the year. From a wins and losses perspective, the young season is exceeding expectations in a big way. The Orioles have a nice perch atop the talent-laden AL East.

Theres 1 serious problem: The Orioles cannot possibly continue to win games at this clip if salient trends from their first 8 games continue.

Baltimore has run up its 6-2 record despite surrendering 50 runs in those 8 games. Thats more than 6 runs allowed per contest. A run every inning and a half. That simply will not do. no offense, not the 1927 Yankees or the 1995 Indians and not the 2009 Orioles can be expected to pound out more than 6 runs a game to keep the team afloat. A tip of the cap to Brian Roberts, Adam Jones, and nick Markakis for absolutely murdering the ball through the first week and a half of the season.

The modus operandi of the 09 Orioles has been to jump out to a sizable lead and then hold on for dear life as the games final outs are recorded. Each night, one or more members of the bullpen have felt it their duty to turn a blowout into a hotly contested struggle. Geroge Sherrill has been particularly good at raising Birdland's blood pressure through 8 games. But, Chris Ray, Danys Baez, Jamie Walker, Dennis Sarfate, and Jim Johnson have each had a "make things far more interesting than necessary" moments.

(That being said, credit where credit is due, Sarfate was fantastic in emergency long relief in last night's 7-5 win. Called upon to pitch in the top of the 2nd, Sarfate dazzled for 3 1/3 scoreless innings. Exactly what the doctor ordered for the team.)

The high-wire acts of the starters and relievers could have resulted in disaster several times this year if not for some find glove work by a number of oriole regulars. Nick Markakis saved Monday night's game with a great running catch in right-center. Brian Roberts has made some spectacular plays around second base. Gregg Zaun discovered last night that throwing out base stealers is cool. And already, the outfielders (and their cutoff men) have gunned down a handful of runners on the basepaths. Improved defense is a nice surprise in 2009 for the Birds but, defensive gems cannot be the only thing standing between the Orioles pitchers and Three Mile Island style meltdowns.

Until the pitching starts allowing fewer runs (try about 2 less per contest) the Orioles won't be able to stay in first place "for good!"

Random Observation of the Week:

After JP Howell whiffed Nick Swisher on a 3-2 offspeed pitch today, A Nelson Muntz (the bully from the Simpsons) "Ha Ha" played over the Tropicana Field PA system. Thats excellent work by the Rays' stadium staff.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Things that I think that I think

A week is in the books.

A few big names have already headed for the DL. A few no-names are looking like Aaron, Spahn, and DiMaggio. A few playoff teams have stumbled out of the gate. A couple of trade deadline firesalers are playing like contenders.

After the very small sample size of a half dozen games for each team, there are alot of rash judgements that one might make (The Orioles and Blue Jays are going to rule the AL East, CC Sabathia sucks, and Cristian Guzman is going to win the NL batting title, etc.) but there are also a few intelligent observations that I think are screaming to be made after 2 series are in the books...

... Evan Longoria's rookie season was not a fluke. The Tampa 3rd baseman had a scorching hot opening week. He single handedly kept the Rays in a couple of games in Baltimore over the weekend. He his hitting for power and hitting for average. Every week this season certainly won't be this statistically lucrative for Longoria, but, Longoria is showing with a hot start at the plate that his suffering through a sophomore slump is not inevitable.

... Braves rookie outfielder Jordan Schafer is batting a cool .348 with 2 homeruns through his first week of big league action. He arrived in a big way with a homerun on opening night on national television. He's the early frontrunner for NL Rookie of the Year

... Long simmering frustration on the part of the LA Angels with their inability to beat the Red Sox in the post-season may have manifest itself in today's bench clearing between the two clubs. It was a rough week for the Angels off the field but their performance on the field has thus far been what one would expect from the best team in the AL West.

... If the Arizona Diamondbacks are to contend this year they will need strong seasons from their pitchers. Dan Haren's 0-2 start and Brandon Webb's early season trip to the DL with shoulder issues do not bode well for Arizona's fortunes this season. Webb, normally a 220-inning guy, has shoulder stiffness. Glass half full: Webb will be fine. Glass half empty: 2009 will be a wash for Webb.

... The Kansas City Royals have assembled a core group of young-ish starting pitchers that may be ready to allow the team to contend in 2009. Zach Greinke, predicted by the NY Times to win the AL Cy Young, looked good in his first mound stint, 6IP 7K 0R!

... That the Washington Nationals are headed for another losing, last place season is not an earth-shattering revelation. After 1 week of action however, the Nationals are pitching, fielding, and generally playing like they are itching to give the 2003 Tigers (43-119) a run for their money as the worst team in recent memory. The Nationals have already been bitten by the injury bug (Ronnie Belliard) and their maddening motley crew of moundsmen has been simply awful through 6 games. The unbalanced schedule will not be their friend this season, the NL East is loaded. Not promising for the Nationals.

156 more game for the Orioles. 160-2 is still very much an option.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A Cloud on an Otherwise Sunny Day

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the marketplace
Man and boy stood cheering by
And home we brought you, shoulder high

Today, the road all runners come
And shoulder high we bring you home
And set you at your threshold down
Townsmen of a stiller town

Smart lad to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears

Now you will not swell the route
Of lads who wore their honors out
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died, before the man

So set before its echoes fade
The fleet foot on its sill of shade
And hold to the low lintel up
The still defended challenge cup

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl's

A.E. Housman, "To An Athlete Dying Young"

Surely someone, somewhere, has recited this poem in the past few days. The tragic death of Angels' rookie Nick Adenhart puts a damper on an otherwise joyous time of year. Spring is supposed to be the season of rebirth. The season of hope for nature and for baseball fans. 22 year old athletes are supposed to be invincible. Thats why we idolize them.

Nick Adenhart's death, his falling victim to an intoxicated driver, is a tragedy of epic proportions. Throughout the imagined community of Angels' fans, the community of their team and management, and the larger human family, there is a sense of loss whenever something so senseless happens.

It says something about our society that upon hearing the words "baseball player" and "fatal auto accident" a third term instantly came into my head "Drunk Driving." In this case, it was not the crash victims who had erred in judgment by getting behind the wheel of a car after consuming too much alcohol. Rather, they feel victim to someone else's irresponsibility. Nick Adenhart, consider yourself exempt from the paragraph which follows. May you rest in peace.

Athletes racking up DUI arrests is a long and lamentable tradition in professional sports. Charles Barkley recently did a 3 day stint in the slammer for a DUI. NFL Wide Receiver Donte Stallworth stands charged with killing a pedestrian whom he struck with his car while driving with an illegally high BAC. Yankee hurler Joba Chamberlin was arrested not too long ago for exceeding the legal limit for blood-alcohol. LA Clippers forward Zach Randolph was picked up and detained for DUI on April 6. Half of the Cincinnati Bengals have at least one DUI arrest. Lets keep going here, in baseball alone off the top of my head I can think of Rafael Furcal, Tony LaRussa, Dontrelle Willis, Hunter Pence, Sidney Ponson, Esteban Loiza, Jim Leyritz, Jim Hickey, Gustavo Chacin, Ryan Freel, Scott Spezio, the list goes on and on.

In April 2007, Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock died in a car crash. Testing showed that Hancock's BAC was well over the legal limit. The Cardinals responded by taking alcohol out of their clubhouse. Nice gesture, but it doesn't get to the heart of the problem.

Major League Baseball has a golden opportunity here. Take a stand and take the lead in the fight against drunken driving. I'm not proposing harsher penalties for DUI arrests for players nor am I proposing any kind of draconian measures be taken against offenders at large. I am not proposing that alcohol be banned from big league parks or that MLB get out of bed with the major beer companies. But baseball can take proactive steps in advocacy for safer decision making. Get players out in the community to educate teens about the risks of drinking before getting behind the wheel. Have players do public service ads. Get those players and coaches with DUIs in their pasts to become the poster boys of safe, sane and sober behavior. Expand the Designated Driver program at parks. Do more to make taxi and public transport services available for ballpark patrons. Give M.A.D.D. free airtime every once in awhile during broadcasts. Partner with Alcoholics Anonymous to help encourage folks who have lost control to fight back. Fund rehab programs and education programs. Do anything and everything which screams to the world "MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL STANDS FOR RESPONSIBILITY!"

Dead players have an impact on us all, cause tears to flow across the country, and capture the media's attention. Lets see what a few living players could do if unleashed by MLB for the greater good.

The way to remember Nick Adenhart is to take positive steps towards eliminating the need to recite Mr. Housman's poem so tragically often.

Monday, April 6, 2009

This is Birdland

Its opening day. In a perfectly just and fair society, this would be a national holiday.

We begin the baseball season with a preview of the team that I will be paying closest attention to for the next few months, the Baltimore Orioles.

The Orioles have been in something of a rough stretch for the past, well, decade. But, the best part of Opening Day is hope can spring eternal. If we can't at least be naively optimistic on this day then we're in trouble.

Mark Murphy offered to share his thoughts on the Orioles in blog post format. As this season will mean plenty of commentary from me on the state of the Orioles, I am very excited to begin the season with commentary from someone else whose views on the team I respect. What follows is an excellent read.


For the first time since the 1972 season, the Orioles’ road gray uniforms will feature “Baltimore” emblazoned across the chest, and all jerseys will have a patch displaying the Maryland state flag, similar to the patch found on Ravens’ jerseys. Unofficially considered somewhat of a standard on road uniforms, it was widely believed (though never confirmed) that the absence of the city name was an attempt to avoid alienating the fan base in nearby Washington, DC, as the Senators had vacated the Capital in 1971.

With the Nationals firmly established in Washington, the Orioles now hope to placate their original fan base in Baltimore. The refusal to place the city name on road uniforms was often a controversial subject among Orioles fans, convinced that the team’s ownership, most recently Peter Angelos, was out of touch and unable to connect with fans or develop a winning product. The O’s, who recently ranked dead last among major league franchises (and 114th out of 122 in the major sports) in fan satisfaction according to ESPN The Magazine, could certainly afford to improve fan relations, though an assertion of hometown pride on the uniform will be insufficient to that end.

That being said, expect the “hometown” theme to be a recurrent one in this season and ones to follow. Thanks to team president Andy MacPhail, the Orioles have placed an emphasis on the farm system, and the keys to the team’s success will lie with “homegrown” players rather than pricey free agents past their prime. Two of these homegrown talents, RF Nick Markakis and 2B Brian Roberts, signed long-term contracts this offseason, and waiting in the minor leagues for promotions will be highly-prized prospects Matt Wieters (C), Brian Matusz (LHP), Jake Arrieta (RHP), and Chris Tillman (RHP). Wieters, Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year for 2008 after batting a combined .355/.454/.600 in Single-A Frederick and Double-A Bowie, will begin the season at Triple-A Norfolk and is not expected to remain there for long. His call to the majors is likely to coincide with the ability to extend arbitration and free agency an extra season and the insistence from officials at the Norfolk Naval Yard that his home runs are interfering with their satellite and radar systems.

Despite the strides made on the “homegrown” front, all discussions of the Orioles’ offseason must include some mention of missing out on a player who was literally homegrown, now-Yankee Mark Teixeira. Baltimore’s front office made its bid for the former Mount St. Joseph standout public with an offer in the ballpark of $150 million for seven years, but it is unlikely that Teixeira seriously considered the offer or even that the Orioles were doing any more than trying to be seen going after a seemingly obvious fit. Few can blame Angelos/MacPhail for not offering more money; as MacPhail put it: “The model we have to follow just doesn’t allow us to devote that much of our resources to one player, at least not at the current time.” And few can blame Teixeira for choosing more money to play on a perennial contender over a team with eleven straight losing seasons. Well, maybe you can: (

Typically, the best part of the offseason is checking baseball news websites, knowing that the teams will be listed in alphabetical order so that Baltimore is guaranteed some time atop the AL East. While the re-signing of Roberts and Markakis and the bid for Teixeira dominated the headlines, MacPhail made other smart moves that, though partially unnoticed, provided offseason hope. Former All-Star Cesar Izturis will end the carousel at shortstop, and his solid defensive skills should compensate for his comparably weak bat. Acquired from the Cubs, Felix Pie will most likely be the everyday starting left fielder, if for no other reason than he is out of options. A speedy player that dominated the minor leagues, the Orioles hope that Pie lives up to his billing and can justify his placement in the outfield both with two potential All-Stars in Markakis and Adam Jones (CF) and in place of other qualified candidates. Most recently from the Toronto Blue Jays and nephew of 1983 World Series MVP (but more importantly, rain delay Hall of Famer) Rick Dempsey, Gregg Zaun will replace Ramon Hernandez as the starting catcher in his second tour with the O’s. Zaun, 38 in mid-April, will be keeping the plate umpire company until the promotion of Wieters, at which point he will assume a backup/mentorship role. Do not be surprised to see Zaun in an Orioles uniform in the coming years as an assistant coach. Rounding out the offseason position player acquisitions are utilitymen Ty Wigginton from Houston and Ryan Freel from Cincinnati. During the writing of this preview, Baltimore acquired Roberto Andino from the Florida Marlins as a backup shortstop.

Let’s take a look at how the Orioles will look on the field.

Projected Lineup/Offense (with 2008 statistics courtesy of

1. 2B Brian Roberts .296/.378/.450

2. 3B Melvin Mora .285/.342/.483

3. RF Nick Markakis .306/.406/.491

4. 1B Aubrey Huff .304/.360/.552

5. DH Luke Scott .257/.336/.472

6. CF Adam Jones .270/.311/.400

7. C Gregg Zaun .237/.340/.359

8. LF Felix Pie .241/.312/.325 (93 plate appearances)

9. SS Cesar Izturis .263/.319/.309

With respect to the lineup, there is some flexibility. In addition to Mora, Markakis will get plenty of starts in the 2-spot, and, if Jones has the breakout season many are expecting, he could compete for it as well. There will likely be a platoon system worked out between Pie and Freel in left field, and it is uncertain where exactly Freel would fit into the lineup. Other uncertainties may arise when Scott starts in left (his original and desired position), Wigginton starts at first base, or Wieters starts behind the plate, but the regular starting lineup is relatively stable.

Offensively, the team is strong. Roberts hopes to solidify his claim as a top leadoff hitter, a claim he already supported with a strong World Baseball Classic (albeit only four games). Markakis has the kind of offensive game that traditional and sabermetrically-inclined fans both love: he hits for average and OPS, he spreads the ball to all fields, and his power is likely to increase in the coming seasons. If Jones improves his plate discipline and baserunning as he develops, he will be a formidable hitter and, combined with his defense, likely make several runs at the All-Star game in his career. With the exception of Zaun, each player that does not have constitute a power threat possesses moderate speed, with several players capable of 20+ stolen bases.

Mora and Huff surprised everyone with their 2008 production. Though neither is getting any younger (37 and 33 respectively), both are entering contract years and will be feeling pressure to perform at a high level. One can expect significant contributions from numbers 1 through 6 in the lineup, and Izturis might be the only offensive liability. In 2008, Baltimore finished 11th in the majors in total runs, and there is little reason to believe that cannot be repeated. All of these analyses do not even take into account the fact that Matt Wieters is projected to be one of the top offensive catchers (if not the best) in all of baseball upon entering the league. Even if that is overly optimistic, it underscores the deep offensive weapons the team possesses.


When Baltimore pitchers keep the ball in play in Camden Yards, fans can expect to be treated to a defense with the potential to save runs and provide frequent highlights. The biggest strength is definitely the outfield, which makes a solid case for the best defensive outfield in all of professional baseball. Last season, Markakis had a .925 Revised Zone Rating (RZR), led AL corner outfielders in both Balls In Zone (295) and Out-Of-Zone plays (56), and led all AL outfielders in outfield assists, with 17. He would have been a near-lock for his first of many Gold Gloves if the award were actually based on performance and not solely reputation. Jones, though playing fewer innings due to injury, led AL centerfielders in RZR, and can expect to bring in some defensive hardware over his career. The addition of Pie, a speedster who can also play center, means that the Oriole outfield can cover a lot of ground, a necessity considering how many opportunities opponents will have to roam the basepaths. Freel and Scott will see significant time in left field and, though not as solid as the others, are experienced enough to be assets as backups. (Defensive statistics courtesy of

The infield is older and not quite as strong, but the upgrade at shortstop is significant. In 2008, five players got significant time at a position that demands stability (at least in Charm City). In Izturis and Roberts, the Orioles have an above-average middle infield capable of producing a decent share of double plays. In Andino, Izturis has a solid backup, freeing manager Dave Trembley from having to play someone out of position should a substitution be necessary. The infield corners might present a defensive weakness. Despite Mora’s increased production at the plate, he has steadily declined in his performance at third base, ranking near the bottom of the American League in most defensive statistics. Huff at first base is more of a mystery, though he is fortunately in a position that can hide defensive deficiencies better. He was the everyday DH the past two seasons but logged nearly 1800 innings. According to his Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), which attempts to measure the number of runs saved or cost relative to the league average, Huff was slightly below average, costing the team about 2.6 runs (meaning his UZR was -2.6). With more practice in spring training and more innings under his belt, an optimistic Orioles fan (there are still some) can reasonably hope for an adequate glove at first base. Wigginton will provide quality innings at the corners (and also at second), but is not a viable long-term option if Mora and Huff really struggle. Behind the plate, Zaun’s age is certainly a concern, though his experience calling a game should benefit a pitching staff that might not even realize it is supposed to aim for his glove.


Writers asked to do a Baltimore Orioles preview probably want to skip this section altogether. If baseball were a normal sport and consisted primarily of offense and defense, the Orioles would have an outside chance of competing in the AL East and a decent one in almost any other division in baseball. But, as the publisher makes known, baseball breaks your heart.

The O’s entered spring training with only two of the five spots in the starting rotation set: Jeremy Guthrie as the Opening Day starter and Koji Uehara as the #2. The bad news is not that these two likely would not be at the top of any other rotation; the bad news is that, heading north for the regular season, they still seem to be the only two spots set. Guthrie has been a rare bright spot in the past two seasons, seeming to live up to his potential as a top prospect when he was with the Cleveland Indians. MacPhail grabbed Uehara from the Yomiuri Giants of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan. Labeled by some as past his prime, he seems to have great control, the first step in curing the pitching staff’s horrendous walk rate. Though bright spots to be sure, their spring trainings have not been luminous. Guthrie pitched in the World Baseball Classic for the USA, getting knocked around for eight earned runs in less than four innings of work. In just over eleven innings on the mound in Florida, he has an ERA of 7.94 with 6 walks and 9 strikeouts. Uehara has performed better, striking out batters that lack a scouting report on him and walking few. However, a hamstring injury has sidelined him and limited his innings.

When those two are not starting, fans at Camden Yards will be petitioning to waive the two-beer limit at the concession stand (thankfully local favorites Clipper City and Backfin are featured on Eutaw Street and certain carts on the concourse). With the trade of Hayden Penn (the last of the latest crop of “can’t-miss” pitching prospects, which also included Adam Loewen and Daniel Cabrera) for Andino, it appears that the rotation will round out with Alfredo Simon (just five years ago he was Carlos Cabrera and younger than five years younger), Mark Hendrickson (formerly of the Philadelphia 76ers, Sacramento Kings, La Crosse Bobcats, and Cleveland Cavaliers), and Adam Eaton (picked up hitchhiking on Interstate 95 somewhere in Delaware). It is one thing to have disappointed scouts and be cast off from an organization. It is another thing altogether for those disappointments to result in the outing of a fake identity, the abandonment of a sport altogether, and a botched $24 million contract. The best-case scenario is that one of them is part of the rebuilding process beyond this year, though it is doubtful anyone legitimately expects that. Rich Hill, acquired from the Cubs in the offseason, will hopefully take the place of one of them once he returns from the disabled list. Hill, another prospect gone awry, is a southpaw hoping to live up to expectations he began to fulfill back in 2007, when he pitched 195 innings, striking out 183 and walking 63 with a WHIP of 1.19. In 2008, he seemed to forget how to find the strike zone, making him a perfect candidate for Baltimore. He was demoted first to Triple-A and then to Rookie Ball and has been likened, in several publications, to Rick Ankiel without the ability to switch positions. He claims that his problems were due to a back injury and not the mental blocks that have plagued many pressured pitchers. He will likely take the place of one of the Three Musketeers in late April, and, if he lives up to previous expectations, can make 60% of the rotation watchable. The clock is ticking on the arrival of Matusz, Tillman, and Arrieta.

The bullpen, however, is capable of quality innings. In Jim Johnson, Chris Ray, and George Sherrill, the O’s have three decent relievers, and, based on the state of the starting rotation, they will need them. Johnson figures to be the long reliever, hoping to repeat a 2008 campaign in which he pitched nearly 70 innings without giving up a single home run. Ray and Sherrill have both worked as Baltimore’s closers, though Ray has not pitched since 2007, having undergone Tommy John surgery last year. Sherrill, a part of the Erik Bedard trade to Seattle that also brought Jones and Tillman, even pitched in the All-Star game in 2008 (before metaphorically unraveling in the second half) and collected 31 saves. Ray has pitched very well in spring training and will likely work the seventh and/or eighth innings this season. Though strong, they are likely to get overworked. The addition of Andino also means that the Orioles will only have twelve pitchers on the roster, so starting pitchers must eat their share of innings, or the bullpen will lose effectiveness as a result of being called upon to save the day.


The Orioles will likely need to adjust the metrics by which they define success to be satisfied at the end of the year. Officially, the possibility remains that baseball will break others’ hearts to the extent that it has written the 11-year Dear John letter to the Orioles, and Brian Roberts will be leading a late-October parade around the Inner Harbor. However, the warehouse will need to hope for the continued development of Jones and Pie and the appointment (the opposite of disappointment?) of Wieters. Solid production from Mora, Huff, Sherrill, and Scott could result in July trades that bring in even more prospects. Trembley earned his way up the baseball ladder through the minor leagues, so he is a qualified captain for a ship sailing the waters of promotions, disappointments, and youth. Hopefully, he will be around to enjoy the success of which he will have been a crucial part in establishing.

Final 2009 record: 82-80

Baltimore will finish in fourth place and end the streak of losing seasons. The starting pitching will inevitably lose steam, but the promotions of Wieters and a couple of the arms will give the team momentum heading into 2010. Though MacPhail will continue to be patient, the next offseason will begin to shift the focus, and do not be surprised to see the Orioles making more than a token bid for a top-level free agent.


Special thanks to the following publications for statistics and guidance:

Sunday, April 5, 2009

It Keeps Happening

Remember when the Angels weren't an AL West regal dynasty?

Since winning the 2002 World Series, the Angels have finished on top of the Western Division standings in 4 out of 6 seasons. Sure, they haven't made it back to a World Series in that stretch. But, to quote the above mentioned movie, "It Could Happen."

The 2009 Angels

The Angels will begin the season with their potential top 3 of their rotation on the Disabled List. Staff ace John Lackey has had right forearm issues and will miss his first few starts of the season. Ervin Santana, fresh off of an optimistic 2008 will miss at least the first month of the season with a tender right elbow. Kelvim Escobar, returning from a torn labrum, is progressing ahead of schedule and could be back by the end of April. With three of their horses on the shelf for the early going, the Angels will rely heavily on Joe Saunders (17 wins last season) and Jered Weaver (11 wins and 4.33 ERA in 2008). Dustin Moseley, who has fallen on his face in every opportunity given him to shine in the majors, will have a rotation slot early in the year. What he does with it is up to him.

After setting a new single-season record for saves, Francisco Rodriguez took a great deal of money and ran to Queens. He will he responsible for finishing games for the Mets in 2009. Despite speculation that youngster Jose Arredondo might get the closer nod, the Angels reloaded the back end of their bullpen by bringing in veteran Brian Fuentes from Colorado. Arredondo and Scot Shields will return to primary setup duties. Ageless lefty Darren Oliver is back for more situational and long relief use this season.


With the departure of last season's rental slugger, Mark Teixeira, to New York, the Angels are left with a big bat power void. The loss of the slugging 1st baseman means that Kendry Morales will get a shot at the start of the season to win the 1st base job and show that his dazzling power numbers from the minor leagues were not a mere illusion. After hitting .306 last season in an injury shortened 2008, Howie Kendrick once again has a claim to the starting job at 2nd base, if he can stay healthy. Erick Aybar, who the Orioles repeatedly turned down trading Miguel Tejada for prior to the 2007 season, is back for another try at producing offensively from shortstop spot. 2008 wasn't anything special for Chone Figgins. All of his numbers, including stolen bases, went down. But, he will start the year playing 3rd base.

The outfield got a little less crowded with the departure of Garret Anderson to free agency. The front office inked former-All Star Bobby Abreu to a contract and have penciled him in as the team's new leftfielder. Torii Hunter, last seasons big free agent prize, returns to patrol centerfield and drive in runs. Vlad Guerrero just turned 33 and may ave begun to show some signs of wear last season. But, a .303 average and 27 homers are still nothing to shake a stick at. Gary Matthews Jr and Juan Rivera will be the 4th and 5th outfielders. Matthews' contract remains an albatross around the Angels' collective necks, but, he's a well-above-average defensive replacement, spot starter, and pinch-hitter.

The catching job should be a season-long tussle between Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli. Mathis hit a miserable .194 last season and Napoli had injury issues. Napoli's bat however, if healthy, makes him one of the game's finest backstops. He went deep 20 times last season in less than 300 plate appearances. Give him 450 to 550 plate appearances and he's an All Star.


There is no one in the NL West ready to challange the Angels. Especially if the three injured starting pitchers are able to pitch in near top form for most of the season, there is still loads more talent in Anaheim than in any other AL West town.

89-73. First Place AL West.

Its Such a Nice Park

At what point does the term "rebuilding" stop applying to a team? How long does a fallen mini-dynasty have to pull itself back up before we label the team moribund, inept, and not worth our time?

The scene was dramatic. 2 outs. Bottom of the 9th inning. 7th game of the National League Championship Series. The visiting Pirates lead the hometown Braves by a single run. The bases are loaded. Up to the plate strides the last hitter available on the Atlanta bench, Francisco Cabrera, to pinch hit for the pitcher's spot in the order. The Pirates are one solitary out away from a trip to the World Series...

... Cabrera rips the Stan Belinda offering into the hole between shortstop and third. David justice trots home from third uncontested to tie the score. Aging Sid Bream, running on two bad knees, rounds third and dashes for home like some sort of wounded chariot from Ben Hur. Pittsburgh leftfielder, and NL MVP, Barry Bonds unleashes a line drive throw towards home plate. The ball arrives. Bream slides. Portly backstop Mike LaValliere catches the throw and flails towards Bream. Powdery earth and white chalk scatter and flutter into the night air. Bream is safe. Atlanta goes to the World Series.

The Pirates walked off of the field that October night at Fulton County Stadium, descended into their clubhouse, and, with the departure via free agency of Bonds and Drabek, the Pirates have not been heard from since.

Or rephrased. The Pirates have not played a meaningful baseball game in 16 seasons.

Sure, Pittsburgh hosted the 1994 All-Star Game, and that was a fantastic baseball game. Sure, the bright new PNC Park was the scene of the All-Star game again in 2006.

And thats about it.

The shame of it all is that, for this writer's money, the Pirates play in baseball's best ballpark.

I took that picture on an overcast July day in 2005 when 4 friends and I wrapped up a 3-day ballpark road trip by watching a Pirates-Rockies contest at PNC Park. The day prior to arriving in Pittsburgh I enjoyed a sunny afternoon game at Jacobs Field in Cleveland. Two days before PNC I had been very impressed by Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers. But PNC was special. With the river beyond right field, the city skyline visible beyond the outfield, and a yellow suspension bridge (conveniently an official color of Pittsburgh's 3 major sports teams) a few thousand feet away in very very very deep centerfield, PNC Park is an unbelievable venue for a baseball game.

And the Pirates have failed to play a game of any significance since well before it opened its doors in 2001.

The odds aren't in their favor of changing that this season.


Paul Maholm, whose greatest claim to fame may end of being that he struck out Billy Crystal in Spring Training in 2008, is the Pirates' best pitcher. He brought his ERA under 4.00 last year and logged more than 200 innings. The 6'2 lefty is not a staff ace, but he's a good big league starter and can be counted on to pitch intelligently, if not dominantly, this season.

He is joined in the rotation by Ian Snell, who possesses a 95 MPH fastball but only 1 winning season at the big league level, and Zach Duke, who has yet to come within sight of repeating his promising 2005 campaign. The 4th and 5th slots will be filled by Russ Ohlendorf and Jeff Karstens. Both came over from the Yankees in last season's Xavier Nady trade. As of this writing, neither starter has been able to recreate in the big leagues the success they enjoyed while climbing through the minors.

Even with a two-month DL hiatus built into the middle of his 2008 season, closer Matt Capps still posted a sub-1.00 WHIP and tallied 21 saves. He could be the closer on just about any team. That is a claim that we can't honestly make about most of the other key member of the Pirates team. The relief corps features Hawaii-born Tyler Yates (he walked more than 1 hitter per every 2 innings pitched. Thats alot), lefty John Grabow (2.84 ERA in 2008) and youngsters Sean Burnett and Jesse Chavez, the later consistently struck out more than a hitter per inning in the minors. So he's got that going for him. Which is nice.

The Guys in Charge of Scoring Runs

The corner infielders for the 2009 Pirates could easily fit the classic line from Bang the Drum Slowly, they are "a million dollars worth of promise worth two cents upon delivery." Adam LaRoche and brother Andy each have shown teases of well-above-average talent but have yet to produce much for the Pirates. Adam's penchant for starting the season in miserable slumps, and Andy's horrific .152 BA effort in the second half of last season are not what the Pirates management has in mind.

The middle of the diamond is superb. Second sacker Freddy Sanchez took home the 2006 NL batting title and has hit over .300 in two of the last three seasons. Shortstop Jack Wilson is a good glove man who is beloved by Pittsburgh fans and not entirely inept with a bat in his hands. Centerfielder Nate McLouth is a bona fide star. He hit 26 homers, stole 23 bases and drove in 94 runs on a pitiful 2008 team. His upside is huge. Catcher Ryan Doumit hit .318 last year with 15 homeruns. His .858 OPS is just about a dream come true for a catcher who possesses decent defensive skills, which Doumit does.

Right and left field will feature a combination of Eric Hinske (signed away from the Rays), Brandon Moss (who came over in last season's Jason Bay trade), Craig Monroe, and the speedy Nyjer Morgan (53 stolen bases last year between AAA and the Big Leagues).


Worst Pirates team since Francisco Cabrera ripped out the teams heart and ate it? Certainly not. A team worthy of striking fear into the hearts of the Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, and Astros? Hardly.

77-85 5th Place NL Central

Friday, April 3, 2009

George Brett Doesn't Live Here Anymore

There was an article not too long ago in the New York Times which commented on the present state of the Kansas City Royals. The franchise which captured a World Series title in 1985 has spent more than a decade reduced to an AL West, and now an AL Central, footnote. Their most recent World Series is, we must point out, less distant than for some clubs (ie. My Orioles), but, the recent past has not been kind to Kansas City baseball.

The 2009 incarnation of the Royals is far from the most hopeless group of the past two decades. In fact, theres some cause for optimism that the recently refurbished Kauffman Stadium may once again play host to someting that vaguely resembles good baseball. To paraphrase Casey Stengal when he took over the Yankees, There is less wrong with the Royals this year than with many of their AL counterparts.

The Royals front office has fought, and fought smartly, towards pushing the club upwards in the standings. The 2007 signing of pitcher Gil Meche was initially treated by many commentators as a pathetic example of a losing team overpaying for a mediocre starting pitcher. Meche has turned out to be a quality starter. Not a Cy Young candidate, but a staff anchor nevertheless. Many teams have paid way more and gotten infinitely less productivity in return (see the experiences of the Dodgers with Jason Schmidt and the Carl Pavano ordeal in New York for particularly egregious examples)

Pre 2008-signee Jose Guillen, for his myriad of character flaws, is a power bat in the lineup. Mike Jacobs is potentially, a better-than-average bat at first base. Coco Crisp simply needed to get out of Boston. He has a world of talent and gives the Royals some name recognition appeal as well.

Additionally, the Royals have made great strides in forking out large wads of cash to young arms and power bats taken in the MLB amateur draft. A big signing bonus up front will look like a bargain if the royals end up with a staff ace or two or three on their hands in a couple of years. If not, then, well, at least they didn't waste all of that bonus money on Jason Schmidt.


After Gil Meche, the starting rotation becomes alot less certain. Zack Grienke seems to have his social anxiety disorder and depression under control at last. He won 13 games in 2008 with a 3.47 ERA. Despite having been in the bigs for several years, he is still only 25 and, if he c an keep it together emotionally, he will provide the Roayls with a reliable 2nd starter. No. 3 starter Kyle Davies also posted a winning record in 2008 and, for the first time in his career, he kept his ERA below 5.00. His 4.06 mark from last year would be nice to see again in 2009.

Then things get a little dicier. Sidney Ponson is in Royals camp this spring. Keep the Aruban judges as far away as is humanly possible. It must be remembered however that it was not so very long ago that Ponson was a serviceable front end of the rotation kind of pitcher. Horacio Ramirez, Brian Bannister, and 2006 top draft choice Luke Hochevar are also in the mix for rotation slots.

The bullpen has Joakim Soria. He is one of the top 7 or 8 closers in baseball. his miniscule 0.86 WHIP in 2008 means that he isn't one of those Joe Borowski-type heart attack inducers in late innings. Soria is a real deal lockdown game-ender. In a move that seems out of place with their other savvy signings, the Royals inked Kyle Fransworth to serve as the setup man and surrender homeruns. He joins with Joel Peralta (who gave up 15 homeruns in barely over 50 innings last year) to provide manager Trey Hillman with plenty to fret about in middle innings. Juan Cruz's arrival from Arizona means that, when Farnsworth and Peralta truly implode, Hillman has a much more polished set-up option. Veteran lefty Ron Mahay figures to see plenty of work as well.

The Lumber

The infield corners should hit and hit well in 2009. Third baseman Alex Gordon's offensive numbers inched upward in 2008, his second season in the big leagues. Mike Jacobs arrives from Florida with 32 homers from a season ago to his credit.

The double play combination or Alberto Callaspo and Mike Aviles each hit over .300 last season. The only problem with that pair is that in a June traffic stop, Callaspo's Blood Alcohol Content was approaching the level of his batting average. Drunk Driving is a traditional bad behavior among professional athletes (see Phelps, Michael and Barkley, Charles) but its cause for concern that Callaspo may not have the makeup to be a long term star.

Miguel Olivo wrested the catching job away from a slumping John Buck in 2008. He put up double digit homers but his miserable On-Base Percentage of .278 is such that Roylas fans may secretly hope that John Buck regains his form and steals the No. 1 job back by season's end.

Jose Guillen drove in 97 runs last season and did alot to alienate the KC fanbase as well as his Royals teammates. He's just not a nice guy. If he's batting in the middle of the order on a winning team, however, the soft-spoken angel on Guillen's right shoulder may become a bit more visible. If the 2005 version of Coco Crisp shows up in KC this season, then centerfield will be a non-issue. If something less shows up, then, well, we'll know why Theo Epstein was willing to let him go. Mark Teahan and David DeJesus will also see time in the outfield.

Designated Hitter Billy Butler led the American League in grounding into double plays in 2008. The eye-catching power numbers he put up in AAA have yet to fully show up against major league pitching, but the talent is certainly there.


The pitching staff has more than a couple good arms. The offense has more than a couple of good bats. They certainly wouldn't be totally coming out of nowhere if the Royals made a run at the AL Central this season. Everyone else has enough question marks that even a slightly better than .500 performance in KC could at least keep the season interesting until September.

Prediction 81-81 Third Place AL Central.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Fresh Fish

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Or for the Florida Marlins: Accumulate talent. Gut the Team. Repeat.

After their surprise World Series triumph in 1997, the Florida Marlins offended the sensibilities of most baseball purists (and offended most of their fans) by quickly dismantling their championship ball club. A few years of losing ensued.

After their 2003 upset of the favored Yankees in the World Series, the Marlins once again did heavy surgery on their squad and started over.

After posting a surprise winning record in 2008, the Marlins unloaded a great deal of their proven big-league talent. Mike Jacobs was shipped to Kansas City. Josh Willingham and Scott Olsen got moved to Washington. Kevin Gregg is now a Cub.

However, unlike the aftermath of previous player sell-offs, the reality facing the Marlins in 2009 is that they are still a team laden with talent in a National League which has proven to be very wide open. Despite their being in the most talent crowded division in their Legaue, the Marlins are in as good of a position to post a winning record as any Marlin squad in recent memory. Last year’s 84-77 mark is definitely within reach.

On the Field

Dan Uggla ain’t much with a glove on his left hand. The All-Star game debacle at second base should have driven that point home to most of America. But Uggla sure can hit the baseball. His 32 homers last season were a new career high. His double play partner, Hanley Ramirez, may be the next great MLB superstar. He joined the 30-30 club last season and if a tender left shoulder stays intact this season, a 40-40 season may not be entirely out of the question.

The infield corner slots are likely to go to Jorge Cantu, who resurrected his once prmiosing career last season. His 29 homer and 95 RBI performance will be enough to guarantee Cantu playing time at either 1st or 3rd this season. Gaby Sanchez, a 1st baseman with some pop and Emilio Bonifacio, acquired from the Nationals in the Willingham/Olsen deal, will vie for playing time in the infield as well.

The outfield will feature Cody Ross, Jeremy “I hit a Grand Slam in my first MLB at-bat” Hermida, and the extremely promising Cameron Maybin. Small sample sizes often lead to disappointment, but, Maybin gave a tantalizing preview of his abilities during a September call-up last season. He hit a cool .500 in his brief appearance in the majors. He’s fast. He hits for occasional power. And his outfield defense has very great potential.

John Baker will start the season at the Marlins’s everyday catcher. He has proven the ability to hit for a good average during his minor league career and hit an acceptable .299 in 233 plate appearances last season for the Fish. He won’t put up monster pwer numbers but he will provide above average batsmanship for a catcher.

Wes Helms and Alfredo Amezaga return as pinch hitters and all-around reserves.

On the Mound

Health permitting, 2009 will be the first full season in which Marlin fans get to see a 1-2 combo of Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco. Each has a staff ace level arsenal of pitches and each has had to deal with the injury bug since promising debuts in 2006. Nolasco posted a 1.10 WHIP in 2008 while throwing 212 innings. If he holds up for a second straight year, look for him at the All-Star game in July.

Youngster Chris Volstad will pitch behind Johnson and Nolasco. His 2.88 ERA in half a season in the bigs last year is way beyond promising. Anibal “No-Hitter” Sanchez has won the 4th spot in the rotation. This could be the year he finally delivers on the expectations created (for better or worse) from his 10 win effort as a 22 year old in 2006. Andrew Miller had a difficult first season in south Florida. He’s still only 24, 2009 may be his long-awaited coming out party.

Matt Lindstrom will take over for the departed Kevin Gregg as the Marlins’ late-inning stopper. His ERAs in the low 3.00s over the past two seasons are not cause for panic, but, he has yet to show the ability to be truly “lights out.” Ageless lefty Arthur Rhodes has departed for Cincinnati, leaving lefty set-up duty to Taylor Tankersley and Reynel Pinto. Youngster Logan Kensing. After 1 ½ stellar seasons in KC’s bullpen, Leo Nunez arrives in Miami in 2009 as Lindstrom’s primary setup man. His ERA was under 3.00 last year.

Say what you will about the way the Marlins do business. But when they start trading away talent, they tend to get loads (Nunez, Maybin, Ramirez)back in return.


If the top of the rotation stays healthy and the offense is able to come close to repeating its 5th in the NL runs per game effort of a season ago, the Marlins could be a nightmare for the rest of the NL East. They could easily be this year’s Tampa Bay Rays.

87-75 2nd Place NL East.


Baseball Prospectus predicts a 78-84 record for Jim Leyland's Detroit Tigers in 2009. Thats pretty weak for a team which won the AL in 2006. Thats pretty weak for a team with this much star power. But after last seasons 74-88 debacle, 78 wins would represent a step forward.

Flamethrowing bullpen arms incinerated and once top pitching prospects spent most of last season on the DL. Starting pitching was equally erratic and fragile. The offense, the "stuff of 1000 runs" according to pre-season bold claims of a year ago, finished a modest 4th in the American League. Far from the record-setting top billing that many prophesied for a lineup loaded with recognizable names.

And they released Gary Sheffield yesterday. Part of the terms of their government bailout perhaps? Did some of the Tiger brass manage to sneak onto one of those Auto Industry CEO's planes to Washington to cash in on the government's generosity?

The kind of season the Tigers had last year lends itself to joking. They flopped.

But, lets not write off the 2009 Tigers as more of the same just yet. Theres alot of talent here.

For Instance...

...After some early season woes at the plate and despite season-long ineptitude with the leather, Miguel Cabrera was very nearly as good as advertised in his first season in the Motor City. He tied for the AL lead in total bases, led the junior circuit in homeruns, and knocked in a more-than-acceptable 127 runs. At first base, his aversion to glove work will hopefully be less egregious and cost the Tigers starters fewer runs.

...Curtis Granderson's strikeout totals have plummeted in the past two seasons. His walk total jumped up significantly last year and his OBP was a full 30 points higher than in 2006. He has hit 36 triples in the past two seasons. Thats alot. He has hit more than 20 homers in each of the past two seasons. That ain't too shabby. He provides well-above-average defense in Centerfield. The Ghost of Ty Cobb and the Saints be praised!

... Magglio Ordonez didn't manage to repeat his breakout .363 batting average of 2007 but did eclipse the .300 mark yet again in 2008. His power numbers were down slightly but he once again topped 100 RBI. At age 35 he may be slowing down a bit but he is far from career-ending decline.

... Placido Polanco hit over .300 again while playing a solid second base. He hits line drives. He scores runs. He doesn't strike out much. He's in the upper tier of AL 2nd baseman.

... Marcus Thmaes hit 25 homeruns last year in 342 plate appearances. As the regular DH in 2009 after the release of Mr. Sheffield, Thames could see closer to 600 PAs. Mark him down for almost 40 dingers if he even approaches his 2008 long-ball pace.

... Gerlad Laird has arrived from Texas to work behind home plate. If the 2006 or 2008 version of Laird appears this season, the Tigers will get a decent batting average from their backstop. His average to slightly-better-than-average skills behind the plate won't lose games for Leyland's club.

There are a Few Issues to worry about Offensively...

... Brandon Inge is penciled in to start at 3rd base. He posted an anemic .205 BA in 2008 with a Rafael Belliard-esque .672 OPS (on-Base percentage plus Slugging Percentage). Thats the type of pop you expect from a late inning defensive replacement that on occasion might suffer the indignity of being pinch hit for by a pitcher. Inge will play every day.

...Carlos Guillen was an above average offensive shortstop. Now that he plays left field, he is a below average hitter for his position. Maybe staying injury free will help him put up better ratios than his 2008 effort. Optimism, right?

And then Theres the matter of the Pitching...

...Remember how you lusted after the young arms that the 2006 Tigers showcased all the way until the end of October? Remember how happy you felt when you dreamed that Joel Zumaya, Fernando Rodney, Jeremy Bonderman, and Justin Verlander would storm into your local stadium at night, slay your teams floundering pitching prospects, and declare their allegiance to your team? Did anyone else do that besides me?

... Zumaya and Bonderman will start the season on the Disabled List. They will be joined there by super-flop Dontrelle Willis. Partisanship aside, I think we're all rooting for all three of them to make full recoveries and return to the mound with the kind of jaw-dropping stuff which made us swoon 3 or 4 years ago.

... After two seasons in which he flirted with Cy Young contention, Justin Verlander lost 17 games in 2008. His ERA ballooned to almost 5.00. And his strikeouts dropped. Heres hoping that 2008 was a fluke and that Verlander of old returns in 2009. The rotation behind him is pretty thin.

...Edwin Jackson, fresh off his first decent season and a trip to the World Series with the Rays, arrives from Tampa to fill the No. 2 slot behind Verlander. He will be joined in the rotation by the Tigers best pitcher from 2008, Armando Galarraga (13 and 7 with a 3.73 ERA and 1.19 WHIP). Master of the mediocre Zach Miner and uber-prospect Rick Porcello are, as of this writing, penciled in as the 4th and 5th starters for Jim Leyland. Porcello led his A-Ball league in ERA last year and despite a spring training blister, Manager Leyland maintains that Porcello is a "legitimate candidate" to make the ball club as a starter. Failing that, Nate Robertson may be summoned from bullpen mop up duty to eat innings at the back end of the Tigers' rotation.

... The Tigers' closer, on paper at least, is recently acquired Brandon Lyon. He posted an un-closer-like 4.70 ERA last year in Arizona. OPPOSING HITTERS HIT .301 AGAINST HIM. Oh Joel Zumaya. Whence hast thy magnificent fled? The closer spot doth miss thee.

... Fernando Rodney's 4.91 ERA effort from a year ago does not make him a much better candidate than Lyon to save games in Motown. He will be a primary setup man along with Bobby Seay and former steroid suspendee Juan Rincon. If the season starts to go south, prospect Zach Simons put up excellent numbers in High-A ball last season. The urge to see if he can work his magic at higher levels may prove tempting if the Tigers find themselves mired at the bottom of the AL Central again.


What if the pitchers are somewhat healthy? What if the hitters improve their 2008 outputs slightly? What if Willis and Verlander regain their old forms?

Then this is possible: 86-76 Second Place AL Central.

In the names of the Padres...

Oh how quickly they fall.

One second the Padres are playing for a slot in the postseason, and are even 3 outs away from securing said berth. And the next, they’re wallowing in the cellar of the talent-depleted NL West, casting off veteran contracts, and looking depressingly far from being contenders.

2007 and 2008 could not have been more different in San Diego.

But what does 2009 have in store?

Among other salient changes, “Hell’s Bells” will not be playing over the Petco Park PA system this season. Longtime bullpen ace Trevor Hoffman has left for Milwaukee and will begin 2009 on the Brewers’ disabled list.

In an attempt at another sweeping change, the Padres’ Front Office tried in the offseason to ship Jake Peavy elsewhere. But, not finding a buyer willing to part with enough prospects (word is that the Padres were trying to pull off an Erik Bedard-like heist) management has contended themselves with at least starting the year with Jake Peavy as the staff ace. How long he stays a Padre will be a constant source of rumor all season.

The Pitchers

It would be tempting to totally write off this bunch as “Jake Peavy and the Buschers.” But that’s not a wholly accurate description of the Padres pitching staff. As a front end starter, Peavy is a member of the elite group of genuine staff aces alive today. He usually eats innings, misses bats, and generally has electric stuff. With any offensive support (he got 3.7 runs per start last year, which is awful) Peavy should always be in the conversation for a Cy Young Award.

Behind Peavy is Chris Young. Young took an Albert Pujols line drive off of his face last summer, which severly lmited his 2008 innings. He is a solid starter but has yet to throw 200 innings in a big league season. As a middle of the rotation guy, Young is well above average. If the Padres think he is a top-of-staff talent, his track record would show that they are sorely mistaken. Korean import Cha Seung Baek (6-9 record with a 4.62 after coming to San Diego from Seattle in the middle of last season), Kevin Correia (3-8 last season with the Giants), and some combination of Walter Silva (on loan from a team in Mexico), and Nationals cast-off Shawn Hill should contend for the remaining slots in the Padres rotation. Baek will begin the season on the DL with a forearm strain.

Heath Bell earns the distinction of being the full-time closer who replaced Mr. Hoffman in San Diego. His ERA jumped a full 1 ½ points last season after a 2007 campaign that seems to have been a statistical aberration. He has 2 career major league saves to his credit but will be expected to rack up dozens more this season. Cla Meredith (will someone please have the decency to lend that poor boy a “Y” to tack onto the end of his first name) hopes to halt the trend of a rapidly rising ERA as he returns as San Diego’s primary setup man. Ed Mujica, recently acquired from Cleveland will handle middle inning duties with a combination of Duaner Sanchez (formerly of the Mets), left-hander Arturo Lopez, and rookie Edwin Moreno.

Will They Score Any Runs?

Well. Maybe.

Adrian Gonzalez returns as the anchor of the defense at 1st base and the power bat in the middle of the Padres lineup. He slugged 36 homers last season and his slugging percentage continued a slow but steady climb all the way up to .510. He is a star. Perhaps not in the MVP-strata yet. But Gonzalez is a bona fide star.

Other than Gonzalez, the offense features little about which to get exicted. Jody Gerut and Brian Giles will patrol center and right fields respectively. The former put up modest numbers in an injury shortened 2008 campaign. The latter just turned 38 and is coming off of a season in which his power numbers remained low but his batting average jumped 35 points to .306. He may have another good season in him.

2006 World Series MVP David Eckstein will handle second base for the Padres.

Seems like a long time ago.

Kevin Kouzmanoff saw both his positive offensive stats (HR, RBI, Runs) rise in his second season as a full-time 3rd baseman as well as his negative stats (Strikeouts). His walks decreased as did his battign average and OBP. His third season will be very telling as to his future career trajectory.

Scott Hairston and Cliff Floyd will both see at-bats in corner outfield spots. Hairston slugged 17 homeruns last season but only drove in 31 in the process. That’s unbelievably low.

Nick Hundley brings what Baseball Prospectus described as a “backup’s skill set” to his first season as a full-time catcher in the majors.

The Padres have embraced the youth movement. Or at least the inexperienced movement. Their bench will be a mix of low-experience players, a Rule V draftee, and Henry Blanco (whose spectacular mediocrity at the plate makes him the stereotypical backup catcher from hell. His .292 average last season was a full 130 points higher than his putrid 2007 effort)


Theres not a whole lot to get excited about here. Peavy is likely to be elsewhere by July 31. Giles and Cliff Floyd may make similar mid-season departures. There aren’t really even any top-tier prospects about whom to gush at the start of this season.

65-97. Last Place. NL West.

Until Next Time, Stay Classy, San Diego.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie

With a mix of aging star power, emerging talent, and timely contributions from big league filler, the White Sox earned a Division Title in 2008. It wasn’t always pretty. And winning the AL Central took 163 games, thanks, at least in part, to a late September schnide which nearly gifted the division to the rival Minnesota Twins.

Thus two things are certain this year on Chicago’s South Side:
1) There will be a new division title flag waiving (or tossing about) in the breeze
2) Ozzie Guillen will be back for at least a few more games as White Sox manager.

Beyond that, not much is certain. The 2009 White Sox may be a an injury or two, or a statistical regression or two away from a repeat of their putrid 72-win campaign of 2007. And Ozzie Guillen may be a tirade or a post-game meltdown away from prematurely terminating his tenure as manager (or from having it terminated on his behalf).

Anything, as Kevin Garnett likes to remind us, is possible.

The Manager

Why talk about the skipper? Ozzie Guillen wasn’t the one who slugged 36 homeruns, or won 17 games, or finished 2nd in Rookie of the Year balloting. Why bring Ozzie into this?

More so than any other manager, Ozzie Guillen has cursed, ranted, and raved his way into becoming the face of the White Sox franchise. Frank Thomas has long since left the south side, taking his recognizable image with him. Ken Griffey Junior was only a late-season rental for 2008, he has returned home to Seattle. Konerko, Dye and Thome are all good players but none has taken the leap to recognizable, marketable mega-star status.

The beloved skipper, on the other hand, lands on Sportscenter and makes headlines pretty much every week. Maybe it’s the language barrier. Maybe its that Ozzie had the misfortune of learning English in baseball clubhouses and therefore was given a somewhat skewed introduction to our national language. Maybe he just talks the same way in front of a microphone that he does in the dugout and deserves our praise for being so genuine.

Either way, Guillen’s colorful vocabulary and penchant for stirring up media controversies (Paging Mr. Mariotti) are, for better or for worse, a part of the White Sox and may impact the success or failure of the 2009 team.

The Hitters

The lineup isn’t quite a geriatric ward with a handful of youthful visitors. But its inching that way.

Jermaine Dye is back in right field after a stellar 2008 (34 HR .292 BA). This is the final guaranteed year of his contract. Now 35 years old, Dye knows that another productive and most important, another healthy season will earn him a great deal of money as he marches towards retirement. Any hope of a lucrative long-term contract to close out his 30s will depend on repeating last year’s performance. He is joined in the outfield by 2008 sensation Carlos Quentin and a 2-headed monster of mediocrity in centerfield, Brian Anderson and DeWayne Wise. Quentin put up eye-popping numbers in 2008 only to have his MVP-caliber season cut short by a fractured wrist suffered during a post-strikeout temper tantrum. Anderson and Wise will share time in centerfield until one of them completely flops, or until one establishes himself as a bona fide major league everyday-er.

The infield features a return to his natural position for last year’s Rookie of the Year runner-up Alexi Ramirez. Now the starting shortstop, Ramirez batted close to .300, showed power, and demonstrated an ability to steal a few bases. Theres no reason to doubt his ability to put up similar, or even better numbers, in 2009. Jumping to the now vacant slot at second base will likely be top prospect Chris Getz. He has seen his batting average rise each of the past two years as he repeated a year at AA and then jumped to AAA last season. He’s never had a big-league at bat. But, stands to win the job out of spring training this year. Third base will either go to slugging youngster (can you call someone who is 26 young?) Josh Fields or to Wilson Betemit who came over from Gotham City in the Nick Swisher trade. Fields has the huge upside of having mashed 23 homers in emergency major league duty in 2007 and a stellar track record of similar power at all levels of his minor league journey. Betemit is an above-average utility man.

No longer a viable defensive option, Jim Thome will be the DH yet again. He will turn 39 this year. Can he stay healthy? Paul Konerko is, injuries permitting, the 1st baseman. White Sox fans hope and pray that his DL stint last season was not a sign of frailty to come. Similarly, AJ Pierzynski has made a career out of being able to play almost everyday behind the plate. He’s now 32, however, and, it must be pointed out that he’s entering into those years in which catchers who have squatted behind the dish for a few too many innings over their careers start to show signs of rapid decline.

The Hurlers

Gavin Floyd exited the boulevard of broken dreams last season and finally lived up to the high billing which earned him a spot in the top 5 of the 2001 amateur draft. Most statheads prophesy doom for Floyd in 2009, calling last year an aberration. Sox fans, and anyone who was struck in the head by one of his errant pitches during their only Varsity high school at-bat, hope Gavin can repeat his 2008 success. Lefties John Danks and Mark Buehrle will be the top two arms in the Sox rotation. Buehrle has thrown 200 innings in 8 straight seasons. That’s refreshing to see in an era of frail pitchers. Danks is only 24 and proved last season that he has the stuff to retire big league hitters consistently. His 3.32 ERA in 2008 would be nice to see again this season on the south side.

The aging Jose Contreras and Bartolo Colon are, as of March 22, the frontrunners to fill the final two slots in the rotation. Remember when they were front of the rotation studs? Bullpen longmen Clayton Richard, DJ Carassco, and Jeff Marquez are also rotation options should the portly Colon and brittle Contreras collapse.

The bank end of the bullpen features dependable Bobby Jenks. Over the past two seasons, Jenks has run up a stat line which any sane manager would covet: 5 homers allowed and just 30 walks in almost 130 innings. That’s reliability at the end of the game. Sox fans hope to see a lot of Jenks in 2009. The oft-injured Octavio Dotel, Scott Linebrink, and World Baseball Classic alumnus Matt Thornton will be the middle innings links between the starting staff and Jenks.


At the start of last season, the White Sox were not anyone’s sexy pick to win the AL Central. They return, essentially, the same roster. Everyone is a year older and wiser. If the hitters avoid late-career swoons, the pitchers maintain their 2008 levels of efficiency, and Guillen doesn’t try to light a fire under the team by literally setting them all on fire, the Sox should be able to run with anyone in the AL Central in 2009.

Prediction: 88-74 First Place AL Central.

Its Been Awhile

So, Its been about 2 weeks since anything new went up on this blog. Call it a combination of ample distractions in Hawaii combining with the NCAA Tournament combining with a term paper. Basically, a perfect storm of things that made blog writing a little less desirable.

The goal for this week is to pump as many previews out as I can before the season gets under way on Sunday. So check for updates early and often, 2 or 3 a day will be going up.

Right before I went into Hawaiian hibernation, Dmitriy Zakharov was kind enough to admit his Cincinnati Reds fandom in lyrical paragraph form. Its a good read.

Not many baseball movies centered around the Reds, but, a youtube search revealed this gem from the 1950s.

None of the guys in suits featured will be walking through the clubhouse doors this year.


In the eight seasons since the Cincinnati Reds last finished with a winning record, they have never finished last in their division. This fact, a product of the Reds sharing the NL Central with the even-more-star-crossed Pirates, is as good of an explanation as any for why a whole-scale house cleaning and rebuilding has not been attempted after any of the failed campaigns of the 2000s. That is, until now. For even though the Reds cannot be said to have hit rock bottom, the disappointment of the last few years has slowly but steadily amped up the pressure for massive organizational restructuring. As with the country as a whole, change came to Cincinnati in a big way during the past late fall and winter. Whether this change is to be accompanied by hope remains to be seen.

To be honest, in many ways I am a lapsed Reds fan, somewhat akin to the lapsed Catholics that inhabit Georgetown in considerable quantities. Sure, I go through the motions and pay my respects once in awhile, a handful of games on WGN or MASN taking the place of attendance at the occasional mass. However, what are supposed to be the central experiences of fandom instead take a backseat to other, seemingly tangential parts of the Cinci supporter identity. Where other team’s fans spent their time scouring lists of minor league prospects and performing salary cap computations that make Tim Geithner’s taxes look elementary, I simply laughed. Laughed, that is, at the demise of Jim Bowden, the former wunderkind GM of the Reds and a man who many followers of the Redlegs believe to be responsible for the plateauing and eventual decline of the franchise that took home the 1990 Commissioner’s Trophy. Call it Cincinnati Schadenfreude, a glum baseball fan’s inversion of Catholic guilt.

Perhaps it was a mistake to sleep through this offseason, though, for the usual Riverfront Rip van Winkle routine has been replaced with a march to the fountain of youth. In his first winter as Reds GM, Walt Jocketty has filled the team with fresh faces – in both senses of the word. Gone are Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey, Jr., the faces of the franchise for the past few seasons, along with fan favorite Ryan Freel. Instead, six of the projected starters for this season are 27 or younger, and three of the five spots in the presumptive rotation are manned by hurlers 26 and under. Bronson Arroyo, who brought his rock-star-cum-pitcher act to Cincinnati less than three years ago, has been with the franchise for longer than all but three of his teammates. Speed, borne of young legs, and effort, fueled by a desire to cement a place on the roster and in the big leagues, are not expected to be in short supply this season.

But what about wins? This is where things get dicier. To quote a recent account, “On the first day of camp, manager Dusty Baker threw down the gauntlet. Baker said he wanted to have the best fundamental team in the game with the fewest mental or physical mistakes.” Youth is good for plenty of things, but minimizing mistakes is not one of them. And while Wayne Krivsky, Jocketty’s predecessor, did a commendable job in restocking the Reds farm system, experience and polish remain indispensable ingredients that have yet to be added to the cupboard.

So what does all of this mean? For one, there is a renewed sense of optimism about the long-run future of the franchise. That in itself is a significant accomplishment by Jocketty, and it should help reanimate an increasingly resigned fanbase. In the short term, however, there is a general understanding that the flame-outs of seasons past could very well repeat themselves. Sure, there’s hope that Edinson Volquez might repeat and even improve upon his 17-win outing of a year ago; that sky-is-the-limit righty Homer Bailey realizes his potential and becomes the superstar he’s supposed to be; that Willy Taveras gives the Reds a long-absent threat on the basepaths while Jay Bruce comes into his own and Aaron Harang returns to his prior form. There’s hope, but there’s also realism. And the reality is that, after 8 consecutive seasons under .500, Reds fans are willing to endure another one or two, so long as they are seasons of rebuilding for the future, rather than a repeating of the past.

If you’re looking for predictions about how this season will go for the Redlegs, you would best be served by looking elsewhere – young teams are notoriously hard to predict, much less young teams with a coach like Dusty Baker at the helm. What I can say is this: for the first time in what feels like forever, it looks like the Reds will be playing with a purpose and with a destination in mind, rather than simply playing out the season with a “get your stats, get paid, don’t get hurt” mentality. And this fan, at least, plans on rejoining the flock of the faithful.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dodgers being the Dodgers

Well, they re-signed him.

After alot of huffing, puffing, and controversy, He will be back in Dodger Blue in 2009.

Certainly he will be one of the key pieces to the Dodger puzzle this season.

Yes, Rafael Furcal has a new contract in Los Angeles.

Who did you think I was talking about?

After an NLCS appearance in 2008, Joe Torre and the LA Dodgers (does that still seem like an odd combination to anyone, like saying "Gladys Knight and the Blowfish" or "Tom Petty and the Wailers") return as very heavy favorites to repeat as NL West Champions this season. The Dodgers have a roster filled with talent. Offensively they are probably peerless in the NL West. Their pitching stacks up well against pretty much all NL foes. Even if they under perform, does the talent exist in the NL West to overtake them at the top of the standings?

And, oh yeah, Manny Ramirez is back.


One of the benefits of living in Honolulu is that I often catch Dodger games on TV. Vin Scully is still a joy to listen to as he calls a game. For the past two seasons he has gushed about "big Jonathon Broxton." Theres a strong man crush there and its very very obvious. So, out of respect for Mr. Scully, we will begin our discussion of the Dodgers' pitching with a look at the man at the back of their bullpen. After assuming closer's duties mid-season Broxton posted mixed numbers. His 3.13 ERA is right in that ambiguous area between acceptable and not for a closer. As the Dodgers full-time closer to start 2009, we will see what Broxton brings to the table, other than, of course, an impressive physique.

The starting rotation boasts Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda in its top 2 spots. Billingsley had a stellar 2008 until a sloppy postseason. The jury is still out on Kuroda. His ERA and WHIP were both in range to make him a more successful pitcher than his 2008 win-loss record would suggest.

Randy Wolf pitched like a man possessed after Houston GM Ed Wade picked himself up off of the floor and brought Wolf in for an attempted pennant chase. The Dodgers hope he can replicate 2008 as their 3rd starter. Youngster Clayton Kershaw should see a full season in the Dodger rotation. His numbers last season (when he was a mere 20 years old) were not eye-popping but they suggest that the immense talent and huge upside that scouts have long prophesied for Kershaw were not misguided. A 4.26 ERA at the big leagues is a nice jumping-off point for a career.

The 5th spot in the rotation is the subject of a great deal of Cactus League gossip. The Dodgers still own the rights to Jason Schmidt. And Pedro Martinez's name has been appearing in recent days as an option. Remember the result the last time he and Manny Ramirez were teammates?

And Joe Torre could manage them this time.

The Infield

Russel Martin is one heck-of-a catcher. He saw time at 3rd base on would-be off days and saw his numbers fall off considerably in the final weeks of 2008. His .293 average is nothing to shake a stick at and an .816 OPS (slugging plus on-base percentage) from your backstop is a nice asset for Joe Torre.

James Loney had a rough first full season in 2008. He hit .289, which isn't bad but did not live up to lofty expectations. His .772 OPS is low for a 1st baseman on a winning team, but, he did manage to drive in 90 runs. Which is the real James Loney, the .331 hitter from 2007 with a .919 OPS or last year's more pedestrian effort? Can he really not hit lefties with any kind of consistency?

Orlando Hudson arrives to, likely, play second base. This leaves Blake DeWitt, the 3rd base prospect who filled in admirably at 2nd last season in an awkward 5th infielder position. He will likely be the primary backup to both Hudson and third-sacker Casey Blake.

After a Days of Our Lives-esque offseason in which Furcal was signed by the Braves but not really signed by the Braves and then returned to the Dodger fold. His sparkling play in the 2008 NLDS trouncing of Chicago and his gaudy numbers in an injury-limited season are enough to remind us all that Furcal is an incredible talent and always a potential firecracker near the top of any lineup.

Furcal is a nice illustration of the Dodgers' biggest reason to be optimistic about 2009: They won in 2008 without having a particularly good year. Injury and inconsistancey weren't enough to derail the 2008 Dodger offense. Can anything stop them from winning in 2009?

The Outfield

Say what you will about his antics, his appearance, or how he quit on the Red Sox last season, but, Manny Ramirez is without question among the 5 greatest hitters of our era. With braids flailing about and his baggy trousers drooping well over his shoes, Ramirez crashes line drives all over (and often out of) big league parks. I love watching him hit. When he faces a team i root for, I cringe, but I cannot deny taking a certain pleasure in seeing him swing the bat. Barring injury, he will hit and hit well in the middle of an already potent Dodger lineup in 2009.

Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier will fill center and right field respectively. In his first full season in the big leagues, Kemp posted a modest .799 OPS hit .290, swiped 35 bases and slugged 18 homers. Nothing eye-popping, but, baseball writers and baseball brass rave about his potential and the upsides presented by his power/speed combination. Ethier lost playing time in the middle of last season and did not handle the snide well. His .880 OPS is an encouraging figure. Right field is his job to lose. Juan Pierre will once again be the odd-man-out in the Dodger outfield. He will be an expensive 4th outfielder (3 years and $28.5 million are still owed to him), providing defensive breaks for Ramirez in left field. He stole 40 bases in 52 attempts last season. He can still fly, something that, when everything boils down, simply can't be taught.


This is a talented team in a talent-thin division. Barring revelations that Manny Ramirez's braids contain a rare nerve-agent that cripples anyone who comes within 20 feet, the Dodgers will win the West going away. There's just not anyone to stop them.

91-71. 1st Place NL West.