Monday, January 31, 2011

2011 AL West Preview

In 2010, the American League West division was filled with surprises.  The Mariners, whom many picked to win the division, tanked.  The Angels season was finished the minute Kendry Morales touched home plate on a walk-off home run.  And Texas, not the Yankees, snagged Cliff Lee en route to its first World Series ever. 

If 2011 is anything like 2010, these predictions will prove to be worthless.  But, this is for fun, isn't it?

  1.  Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (2011 World Series odds: 30/1)6th best farm system, four top prospects*
    OF Hideki Matsui, OF Juan Rivera, C/1B Mike Napoli, RHP Scot Shields
    OF Vernon Wells, LHP Scott Downs, LHP Hisanori Takahashi

    Positional Breakdown:
    Outfield:  One of the biggest headlines of the off season was the Angels acquiring former All Star Vernon Wells and his albatross of a contract.  Prior to getting traded, even Wells admitted he wasn't worth his massive contract.  Wells joins another former All Star, former Gold Glove winner, high-priced, and slightly declining centerfielder Torii Hunter.  Wells, Hunter, Bobby Abreu and the contract for Gary Matthews creates one of the heftiest outfield payrolls in history.  The one man flying under the radar throughout the hype, and payroll, is centerfielder Peter Bourjos.  He will most likely start in CF with his highly-touted skills and speed.  Hunter goes to right and Wells is placed in left.  If Bourjos hits, the Angels' outfield can be very formidable with two middle-order hitters and a top-of-the-order type.  Reggie Willets and Chis Petit are servicable fourth and fifth outfielders, respectively.  Mike Trout, recently named the best prospect in baseball, is a year away. 

    Infield: Morales should be fully healthy and back in the cleanup spot.  Wells should provide enough production to give Morales better pitches to hit.  Maicer Izturis, Erick Aybar, and Howie Kendrick return to man 3B, SS, and 2B, respectively.  Each put up lesser statistics than the year before but all players possess strong gloves, contact bats, and speed.  If they put up stronger seasons like they should, the middle of the lineup will have plenty of men on base to try and drive in.  Alberto Callaspo provides versatility and not-so-top-anymore prospect Brandon Wood. 

    Catcher: The subtraction of Napoli will hurt production at this position, although he played a lot of DH as well.  Jeff Mathis is the starter and will probably finish in the top 10 hitting catchers.  His defense is servicable and his attitude fits Mike Scioscia's style.  Bobby Wilson is a very capable backup.  Both Mathis and Wilson are just keeping the backstop position warm until top prospect Hank Conger is ready (anticipated 2011-2012).

    Designated Hitter:  Bobby Abreu should get the most at bats at DH this season.  He just isn't as good as Hunter or Wells in the field.  Barring injury, he should be the daily DH.  After that, it is pretty limited.  Brandon Wood or Reggie Willets would pick up playing time if an injury occurred to Abreu or another outfielder.

    Starting Pitching:  The Angels snagged Dan Haren at the trade deadline last summer.  For the most part, he had a disappointing year compared to past statistics but should rebound nicely.  Coupled with Jered Weaver, who broke out last year, the Angels have a formidable 1-2 punch on the top of the rotation.  When healthy, Ervin Santana can shut opponents down.  Joel Pineiro will provide innings at the back end of the rotation.  Scott Kazmir is the question mark.  The Angels are lacking in pitching depth behind their starting five.  Any injury to Kazmir, or any starter for that matter, will seriously hamper their efforts to win the West.

    Relief Pitching:  LA signed two lefties for the top-end of their bullpen.  Hisanori Takahashi and Scott Downs replace Brian Fuentes.  Fernando Rodney remains the closer after failing to sign Rafael Soriano. Kevin Jepsen and Jason Bulger will handle the right-handed duties prior to the ninth.  Matt Palmer and Trevor Bell will provide long relief innings.  Top prospect Jordan Walden is expected to crack the bullpen at some point this season.

    The Angels certainly had a down year last year compared to their average annual finish.  Injuries and under-performance contributed to a losing season and third place finish in the AL West.  They tried for Cliff Lee, Soriano, Carl Crawford, and Adrian Beltre among others before finally trading for Wells.  Their pitching is top heavy but lacks depth.  Their offense is not going to scare anyone.  They may not have the best talent in the division but they have enough for Scioscia to motivate.  Angels fans are not happy right now considering their offseason but they will be satisfied when the season is over and the Angels are on top.  Los Angeles barely wins a weak division.  Trout being named the number one prospect in baseball certainly is something to look forward to. 

  2. Texas Rangers (2011 World Series odds: 20/1)
    Twelfth best farm system, two top prospects*

    Departures:LHP Cliff Lee, RHP Frank Francisco, OF Jeff Francoeur, OF Vladimir Guerrero, C Benjie Molina, INF Christian Guzman

    Additions:3B Adrian Beltre, C Yorvit Torrealba, RHP Brandon Webb, LHP Arthur Rhodes, C/1B Mike Napoli, RHP Yoshinori Tateyama

    Positional Breakdown:Outfield: When healthy, the Rangers have two of the greatest outfielders in the game currently.  Josh Hamilton, the reigning MVP even though he missed the final month of the season, and Nelson Cruz put on shows with their raw talent.  Both have a potent bat, tremendous power, and very strong arms.  Ironically, both also were hit by injuries throughout the 2010 season.  Cruz hit the disabled list multiple times with the same hamstring injury.  Hamilton came back just in the time for the playoffs.  He will most likely play in left to try and prolong his health.  At least, this is what Texas wants.  This hinges on Julio Borbon keeping his starting CF job, something he could not do last year.  He has great speed and a good glove but hasn't been able to translate it into a full-time job.  David Murphy is serviceable but is not a starter in the American League.  Craig Gentry should snag the fifth outfielder's job.  When top prospect, Engel Beltre, is ready, he'll man centerfield in the future.  For now, Bourbon's production directly affects the team's outfield positioning and lineup. 

    Infield:  Any manager would love to have Michael Young as his backup infielder/designated hitter.  With his contract, I'm sure most general managers would not.  According to the team, he will be with the Rangers when the season begins.  Signing Adrian Beltre for third base was a spectacular move.  He certainly won't hit as well as he did last year, but his gold glove defense will boost a suspect pitching staff.  Coupled with Elvis Andrus at short, the Rangers have a phenomenal left side of the infield.  The right, is where the question marks begin.  Mitch Mooreland, Chris Davis, and Mike Napoli should all grab at bats at first base.  Mooreland showed he could handle major league pitching on a consistent basis last year.  Napoli is the high priced veteran acquisition.  And Davis is the talented, power hitting corner infield prospect who just can't seem to hit the ball.  None of them should have a breakout year individually but combined may put up very complementary statistics in this lineup. If only Ian Kinsler could remain healthy... Is he the next Grady Sizemore?  Craig Gentry should make the team but won't see much playing time unless a major injury.

    Catcher:  Torrealba is a good defensive catcher and should get most of the playing time behind the plate this year.  Napoli will also catch but most of his at bats should come from first base or DH.  Matt Treanor will back them up and should get in some games.  Texas likes what he does behind the plate.  Former top prospect Taylor Teagarden is still on the roster but won't see much time.  This could be an important year for him if he doesn't prove the organization that he is still the catcher of the future. 

    Designated Hitter:  Young will get most of the at bats at DH barring injury to an infielder.  Texas personnel are stating he will not play first.  When Young is spotting an infielder, Napoli will get the rest of the at bats. 

    Starting Pitching:  Three years ago, if you heard the Rangers signed Brandon Webb and not Cliff Lee, Ranger fans would be overjoyed.  But it's 2011.  Cliff Lee spurned the Rangers and Webb is on an incentive-laden contract.  If healthy, he can solidify a mostly young and unproven rotation.  C.J. Wilson proved he can transition from reliever to starter.  Can he do it again in his walk year?  Colby Lewis, straight out of Japan, provided Texas with quality innings last year. Again, can he repeat?  Scott Feldman, Tommy Hunter, Derek Holland, and Michael Kirkman should round out the final three  rotation spots.  All have talent but not overpowering stuff.  The Rangers' starting pitching are due for a setback this year. 

    Relief Pitching:  Neftali Feliz is, and will remain, one of the top closers in the game.  Darren O'Day racked up holds last year and should continue to get opportunities.  Behind him, is a group of quality, ageless left-handers in Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes.  Matt Harrison, Mark Lowe and Alexi Ogando will get innings.  International free agent Yoshinori Yateyama may break camp with the big league club. 

    Analysis:Considering Texas reached its first ever World Series last year, it would be wide to pick them for a bit of a decline, right?  I think so.  The Rangers will barely lose a weak division.  Their lineup will mash but their pitching staff greatly over-performed last year.  Getting the ball to Feliz will be a problem this year.  If their pitching clicks again and their lineup remains healthy, they have a good chance of repeating as West champions.  There are a lot of "ifs". 

  3. Oakland Athletics    (2011 World Series odds: 50/1)

    Departures:RHP Ben Sheets, 3B Eric Chavez, RHP Henry Rodriguez, OF Travis Buck, OF Jack Cust,
    RHP Vin Mazzaro, OF Rajai Davis

    Additions:OF David DeJesus, OF Josh Willingham, OF Hideki Matsui, LHP Brian Fuentes, RHP Grant Balfour

    Positional Breakdown:Outfield: Coco Crisp is the lone outfielder returning to a weak 2010 corps.  He will remain as the lead off hitter and should provide a good bat at the top of the order.  Newly acquired DeJesus and Willingham will provide veteran presences in the middle of the order.  Both will not rake, but will offer upgrades to Ryan Sweeney and Rajai Davis.  Matsui will not see much time in the outfield.  Sweeney and Connor Jackson provide capable backups.  Prospect Chris Carter remains on the roster but may have will probably only crack the lineup barring injury or a bad year by Willingham.  Another top prospect, Michael Taylor, had a down year last year and is looking to rebound.

    Infield:  The A's infield returns for the 2011 season.  First basemen Danic Barton has patience and a great eye but lacks power for a corner infielder.  Kevin Kouzmanoff will continue to man third and hit in the middle of the order, but he has mostly been a disappointment in his career.  Cliff Pennington and Mark Ellis are capable starters at short stop and second base, respectively.  Jackson and Carter back up the corner infield spots.  Adam Rosales backs up the middle infielders.  Top middle infield prospects Jemile Weeks and Grant Green are a few years away.

    Catcher:  Kurt Suzuki batted cleanup for the A's last year during parts of the season.  He had a very good offensive year and has handled pitching staffs well.  He will continue to be one of the better catchers in the game. Landon Powell played well when filling in for Suzuki last year and will return.

    Designated Hitter:  Matsui is a clutch hitter and will provide a veteran power presence in the middle of a weak lineup.  If he falters or gets hurt, Sweeney or Willingham would most likely DH opening up the outfield for Jackson or Carter. 

    Starting Pitching:  The A's had one of the best rotations in baseball last year.  This was remarkable considering they did not have a true ace and yielded one of the youngest rotations in the league.  Gio Gonzalez, Brett Anderson, perfect game-throwing and A-Rod taunter Dallas Braden, and Trevor Cahill return to form one of the better top-4's in the league.  They're still young.  Can they repeat?  Brandon McCarthy and Rich Harden will compete with Josh Outman for the final spot.  Young pitchers always go through growing pains.  Once the A's staff is through them, they will be a difficult team to compete with in the future. 

    Relief Pitching:  To go along with their great starters, the A's had a very successful bullpen last year.  Andrew Bailey is one of the better closers in the league.  Michael Wuertz, Brad Ziegler, Craig Breslow, Jerry Blevins, and Joey Devine provided quality innings last year behind Bailey.  On top of their returns, the A's signed Fuentes and Balfour.  The Athletics have one of the best bullpen talents in the league.

    Analysis:On paper, the A's have put together a very competitive team for the upcoming 2011 season.  Their stout bullpen and young, talented rotation coupled with their semi-upgraded offense should make for a lot of low-scoring games.  They should be in it for most of the year and barely miss the playoffs.  Their lineup just can't hang with Texas or Los Angeles.  Poor attendance and a bad ballpark has this franchise thinking of moving.  One thing is to never count out Billy Beane.  This team could be a mid-season acquisition or two away from getting to the top.  That said, they're also an injury or two away from a losing record.  If they're out of it by the summer, expect Billy Beane to unload most of the team for prospects.  His surplus of relievers will provide a lot of opportunities.  Also, there are many hitters entering the final year of their contracts (Crisp, DeJesus, Matsui, Willingham, Ellis, and Jackson).  Each of them could be moved to a team on the cusp of the playoffs. 

  4. Seattle Mariners (2011 World Series odds: 125/1).

    Departures:C Rob Johnson, 1B Casey Kotchman, LHP Ryan Rowland-Smith, 2B Jose Lopez, 1B Russell Branyan

    Additions:OF Jack Cust, C Miguel Olivo, 2B Brendan Ryan, RHP Chaz Roe

    Positional Breakdown:Outfield: Seattle's outfield returns for 2011, although Seattle personnel probably wishes that wasn't the case.  Milton Bradley currently remains on the team despite his latest altercation.  The M's should just cut their ties with him and use the roster spot for a player who wants to be there.  Franklyn Gutierrez mans center again.  Anything he does at the plate is a plus considering the type of fielder he is.  Ichiro is Ichiro, even at his age.  Michael Saunders will continue to get playing time and the M's hope he turns the corner at some point this year.  Bradley and another disappointment Josh Fields will provide Saunders competition.  If that's what you want to call it.  Greg Halman can make the team if Bradley does not.  He is a marginal 5th outfielder.

    Infield:  Brendan Ryan is the new second baseman and should provide a quality glove and a gritty-type ball player.  Lopez lacked this demeanor.  Justin Smoak will be handed the first base job and will have time to grow.  And this year should seem like an eternity for him.  There isn't much protection in this lineup.  Mike Carp is his backup and seems like a lock to be traded.  Chone Figgins and his horrendous first season return to third base.  Reports showed the M's looking to deal him and these rumors may eventually persist until he is actually traded.  If Figgins returns to normal he can couple with Ichiro for the lineup M's personnel envision when they signed them.  Jack Wilson is in the final year of his contract and plays a capable short.  Top second base prospect Dustin Ackley is slated to hit the majors at some point this season.  When that happens, Ryan or Wilson will move to the bench.  Wilson mans the infield bench.  Matt Tuiasosopo has a shot to make the team but does not have much major league experience.

    Catcher:  The M's finally cut ties with Rob Johnson and his rally-killing ways.  Miguel Olivo provides a veteran presence behind the plate and should work well with the M's young pitching staff.  Olivo's hitting style coupled with Ryan's should improve Seattle's contact rate.  Adam Moore, who played capably last year, returns in his reserve role. 

    Designated Hitter:  Jack Cust should provide some pop this year but he probably won't even replace Branyan's stats.  All-or-nothing Cust will have a difficult time fitting in the M's lineup.  Seattle fans will have a lot of "deja vu all over again" when Cust consistently whiffs with Ichiro on third and two outs.  If Bradley remains on the team, he will also get a lot of DH at bats. 

    Starting Pitching:  Felix Hernandez, fresh off his first Cy Young, is an absolute stud of a pitcher.  The Mariners have an excellent chance of winning once every five days.  The other four days?  It will be a crapshoot.  Jason Vargas is a number four pitching as a number two.  Erik Bedard returns for his usual pitch-well-for-a-month-and-get-hurt act.  Doug Fister and David Pauley should be battling for the fifth spot but both will most likely be in the rotation.  Top prospects Luke French and Michael Pineda will have chances at making the rotation.  No matter what, the M's starting pitching will have problems competing because of their lineup's lack of punch.  Consistently playing behind can affect a young pitcher more than a veteran. 

    Relief pitching:  David Aardsma took a step back last year and has been hearing rumblings of being traded.  If he pitches well to start the season, look for the M's to move him.  Brandon League is the veteran of this bullpen.  Brandon League.  Garret Olson will pitch to the lefties.  Jose Flores, Shawn Kelley, Daniel Cortes, and Chaz Roe should round out the bullpen.  There will be many veterans in camp on minor league deals.  Nate Robertson, Chris Ray, Royce Ring, Charlie Haegar, etc. could all grab a roster spot.  The hierarchy will work itself out throughout the season.  Top prospect Blake Beavan (acquired for Cliff Lee last year) could crack the roster this year.

    Analysis:Last year, the M's were predicted to finish near the top of the division and ended up losing 101 games.  They won't lose that many this year, but will probably still finish dead last.  In an other wise weak division, the Mariners are by far the worst team.  They have talent at positions but no true superstars other than King Felix.  Ichiro is entering his 38th year and bats at the top of the order.  They need a superstar slugger to really compete for a division title, let alone a pennant.  Smoak has largely been a disappointment since his initial stint in Texas.  Saunders has not impressed either.  He and Saunders have the potential to wow people or the potential to contribute further to a disgruntled fan base.  They need to do it this year and not next.  Carp and Cortes have been top prospects who have flamed out (as far as ceiling is concerned).  The hope is that they were the aberration and not the norm.  Ackley and Pineda need to justify their prospect rankings.  Although their reliance on being contributors to the team seems like it may not be this April.  Either way, Seattle has another long season to endure. 


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Open Letter to Brian Cashman

Mr. Cashman,

I had no idea you were an avid member of the ever-growing blogosphere. Is it coincidence you signed Bartolo Colon as a direct result of my blog about the Yanks' staff needing one more person to eat innings?

Just minutes after my blog surfaced on the net, news broke of the Yankees signing a former Cy Young award winner.  Just not the one we all wanted...

There is very little chance Colon cracks the major league roster unless a rash of injuries hit the Yankees pitching staff.  If this is the case, it will be very difficult to make the playoffs.

Mr. Cashman, is the public relations hit really worth the depth? 

Please come back Andy Pettitte, please...

The season hinges on you Mr. Pettitte.

CC Sabathia is the lone workhorse on the 2011 Yankees starting rotation.  A.J. Burnett is simply A.J. Burnett.  You may get seven innings of one-hit ball or you may get seven doubles in the first inning.  Phil Hughes made great strides last year but certainly wasn't considered a workhorse.  There is no guarantee he can be a full-time 7-inning pitcher this year.  Ivan Nova impressed early last season but rarely pitched late into games.  It would be wrong to expect such a young pitcher to contribute a considerable amount of innings per start.  Sergio Mitre is Sergio Mitre.  Five to six innings at the absolute maximum.  At times, they may be quality starts and at times, they may not.

The 2011 Yankees starting rotation consists of one workhorse, one incredibly inconsistent pitcher, and three somewhat inconsistent pitchers.  No one will confuse this Yanks squad with the Phillies staff.

Despite the strides made my Brian Cashman (and the Steinbrenners) to shore up the bullpen, there are no viable options to serve as a long man out of the bullpen.  It's conceivable that in one week this season, CC will have a bad start, the bad A.J. will come out, Hughes will labor through five innings, and Nova and Mitre will have their usual starts. Who will pick up the slack?

Yes, the Yankees have some quality arms in the bullpen. But none of them are going to be stretched out.  Recent stats have shown Rafael Soriano is not an inning-plus pitcher.  If Joba Chamberlain's stuff does not translate to a starter anymore, how can he pitch multiple innings?  Mariano Rivera is 41 years old.

The Yankees' bullpen will get burnt out if they do not address their starting rotation or add a quality long reliever.  Someone has to eat those innings.

I hope Dandy Andy still has enough of an appetite for one more year.