Siberian Baseball

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

AL Central Wrap Up

You know the rules - unless there's major upheaval, there's no reason to pick against the champs. Same rules apply here, even if I'd sooner play foosball with a self-severed testicle than watch another White Sox World Series victory.

However, the White Sox went out and got better this year, dropped one of the potential powderkegs in Crazy Carl Everett and got rid of Grandpa Frank Thomas, who hasn't had a productive season in Chicago since there's been a Republican in the White House. There's only room for one mascot per clubhouse and the Big Skirt didn't have a cool, foam suit.

The pitching is stacked. The lineup is stacked. The only question is center field, but the trading deadline isn't until August. If you are a White Sox fan, there is no one who can run you down in the AL Central. Chicago will need to trip or get off to a slow start for Cleveland to get the drop on them, it's that simple. Minnesota and the Indians quite simply lack the horses in a wide open race to catch Chicago.

Cleveland is closer than the Twins, however and brings plenty to the table to compete with. While Minnesota will hang in as in previous years, look for a repeat of 2005, where they are within single-digits of the lead most of the year, but never seriously contend. Look for Cleveland to play with a 2005-related chip on their shoulder.

Quite simply, the Indians are the most dangerous young team in the AL this season and with the White Sox already playing with a bullseye on their collective back, the showdowns versus Cleveland should be a lot of fun to watch.

When the dust settles, though, I see it like this:

American League Central
1.) Chicago White Sox
2.) Cleveland Indians
3.) Minnesota Twins
4.) Detroit Tigers
5.) Kansas City Royals


Kansas City Royals (56-106, .346, 5th in AL Central)


The Royals...

Should I start with the glut of first basemen or the eight (and a half) starting pitchers listed on the depth chart? Ooh! Maybe the fact that they have the most difficult to spell infield in the majors with Mienkiewicz and Grudzielanek! How about the man who followed, uh the last guy, from St. Louis, Reggie Sanders with his eighth team?

Kidding aside, Sanders keeps getting moved and every team is sorry to see him go, but at least he stuck around with the Cardinals long enough to get all his mail for a minimum of eight months. Good job, Reggie!

I'll admit, I had to track him down, but Bobby Madritsch is a personal favorite of mine. Born in Oak Lawn and a product of Reavis High School, he's a local boy. Honestly, he'd be a good fit for the White Sox, even as a pet project as he recovers from multiple arm injuries. He also holds one of my favorite career highlights blurbs on the team web site that I've come across.

And I quote, "Leads the franchise in body tattoos with 17." He's a real life Ricky Vaughn and I so dig that about him.

Angel Berroa is a few short years removed from a Rookie of the Year award and hasn't done much since (.270; 55 RBI; 108 Ks in 2005). Third baseman Mark Teahen is another Moneyball kid who does, you know, whatever in Kansas City.

The bright spot in the bullpen last year was Andy Sisco (3.11 ERA; in 67 games; 75.1 IP; 76 Ks) after Mike MacDougal blew out his arm and never came around after he returned. In the past three years, his save totals were 27, 1 and 21. The Royals need him back like Star Jones' husband needs a well-stocked spank bank.

Royals, here's the basement, we hope the accomodations are to your liking. And we even put out the little soaps you liked so much last time. Here's to hoping you keep your manager through the first month of the season this year.

Kansas City Royals

C: Buck; Bako; Phillips
1B: Mientkiewicz; Stairs; Sweeney
2B: Grudzielanek; German
SS: Berroa; Blanco
3B: Teahen; German
LF: Brown; Guiel; Ambres
CF: DeJesus; Ambres
RF: Sanders; Stairs
DH: Sweeney; Stairs
SP: Runelvys Hernandez; Elarton; Greinke; Redman; Addeldt; Mays; Howell; Bautista; *Madritsch
CP: MacDougal
RP: Burgos; Sisco; Dessens; Wood; Gobble; Nunez


Detroit Tigers (71-91, .438, 4th in AL Central)

Baby steps to the bat rack. Baby steps to the Gatorade. Baby steps to the bullpen.

If you're a Detroit Tiger, it's all about the baby steps. That's the price you pay when there are easily as many people wearing your hat because they're a fan of Magnum, P.I. as there are actual Tigers' fans.

In 2003, Detroit was 43-119. In 2004 they clawed their way to 72-90. Last year they backslid a game, but thanks in large part to the Royals' even greater ineptitude, they were second to last in the AL Central. Thank God for small miracles.

Case in point is the number two man in the rotation, Jeremy Bonderman. After going 6-19 in 2003, he rebounded to 11-13 in 2004 and 14-13 last year. In that span his ERA went from 5.56 to 4.89 to 4.57. An improvement of one run in your ERA doesn't matter to anyone save Billy Beane and fantasy baseball managers, but it really shouldn't account for 8 more wins a season.

While the addition of Ivan Rodriguez was a shocking signing in 2004, the quick start last year was a fluke that got a lot of people on the bandwagon for a few weeks. They can put themselves in the 70-win category again this year, but won't do much better.

Troy Percival has thrown in the towel, leaving Todd Jones (and his 1850s-era facial hair... seriously he could be an extra on Disc One of Ken Burns' Baseball series) as the only option. Umm, waiter, I order the filet mignon, and you gave me a shit sandwich. Oh, and Ugeth Urbina did something illegal in Central America and isn't allowed back in the country right now. Oh, Oogie...

Nothing much else here. They aren't winning. They aren't competing this year, but enjoy the fight with the Royals to stay out of the cellar.

Detroit Tigers

C: Ivan Rodriguez; Vance Wilson; Chris Shelton
1B: Shelton; Carlos Pena; Young
2B: Polanco; Infante
SS: Guillen; Infante
3B: Inge; Infante
LF: Monroe; Young; Thames
CF: Ganderson; Logan; Monroe
RF: Ordonez; Monroe; Young
DH: Young; Pena; Thames
SP: Rogers; Bonderman; Maroth; Robertson; Verlander
CP: Todd Jones


Minnesota Twins (83-79, .512, 3rd in AL Central)

The new hometown guys for me are the Twins and as the newest season ticket holder, I'm pretty excited to see these guys more often. At the least, I have a one-in-five chance of seeing Johan Santana (16-7; 2.87 ERA; 231.2 IP; 238 Ks) any time I go to the Metrodome, which almost makes up for the fact that I have to go to the Metrodome.


Joe Mauer has switched his name (a'la Michael Vick looking to go by Mike to avoid Googling stories about his STDs in the future with his fresh start) however, if Mauer doesn't start hitting like everyone in the Twin Cities expected him to do, it could get ugly. Then again, it is Minnesota, so they'd probably just stop clapping for him and hold up signs that politely asked him to request a trade.

Mauer hit .294 last year in 131 games, with 9 HRs and 55 RBi, which isn't awful for your everyday catcher, just not what you'd hope from the hometown kid you drafted ahead of Mark Prior. After injuries killed his rookie year, it's safe to say last year counted as his first season in the bigs and now it's up to him to start plating runs consistiently. I could really nerd out with some of the stats here (ie. his hitting .225 against lefties and .323 against righties and ending the season hitting .171) but when it comes down to it, he needs to start hitting and becoming more of a team leader. Is that asking a lot of someone who'll be turning 23 this spring? Yep, but that's what comes with the territory of being the franchise catcher.

The Twins cleaned up their outfield by cutting Jacque Jones loose to sign with the Cubs and freeing up a spot for fan-favorite Lew Ford. I have no idea what it is with these fans, but they love slew-footed outfielders like Tara Reid loves double bubble night at Senor Frog's in Cancun. Anyways, that leaves Shannon Stewart, Torii Hunter and Ford for the Twins and all joking aside, Ford is at least the same defensive player as Jones (slower, but gets a better jump) and with one less at bat, Ford hit 15 points higher than Jones (while being outgunned 23-7 in homers and 73-53 in RBI, which we'll chalk up to lineup positioning). The point is for less money, the Twins get roughly the same production while sacrificing some power. I'd take that if I were in the front office.

Here's where things get really iffy for the Twinkies - Jason Bartlett at short is being pencilled in as a starter with a whopping 8 games under his belt. Luis Castillo is the other half of the double play combo, who began in 1996 with the Marlins. Castillo had a career year in OBP last season and kept his average above .300 making him a solid addition. Defensively, Castillo had only 7 errors in 604 chances for a FPCT of .988, second-best in his career.

Tony Batista was brought in with fellow scrap heap refugee Rondell White and will start the season at third. If he struggles, look to Michael Cuddyer to bookend with fellow youngster Justin Morneau at first in the Twins' infield. Morneau found his stride last year after missing games following a beaning.

The Twins will need a bit of help from either of those two to replace the (minimal) power lost with the loss of Matthew LeCroy. OK, I just laughed as I wrote that.

Ending where we began, the pitching staff seems like a modern version of "Spahn and Sain and two days of rain" strategy used by the Braves. The only problem is the dome. Damn.

After Santana is Brad Radke, who is still holding up pretty well and a few passable arms. The Twins are watching Francisco Liriano and hoping he develops, but he's been slotted for bullpen duty for now. Kyle Lohse has seen declining numbers since cracking the bigs in 2001, but is still serviceable.

Leading the bullpen is Joe Nathan and few too many retreads for my liking. That said, they have found ways to win in the past few years, winning the Central three years running into last season. The theme for the Twins this season seems to be waiting to see how many guys step up.

If they get solid starts from the bottom of the rotation and the young guys keep progressing, they can give the Indians and White Sox are run for their money in what is one of the the top two divisions in terms of competition. Their big name players will produce, barring injury, and it's up to the role players to make or break the season.

Just having the potential to be a solid team puts them head and shoulders above the bottom of the AL Central.

Minnesota Twins

C: Mauer; Redmond; Heintz
1B: Morneau
2B: Castillo; Punto; Luis Rodriguez
SS: Bartlett; Castro; Punto
3B: Batista; Cuddyer; Punto; Castro; Rodriguez
LF: Stewart; Rondell White; Ford
CF: Hunter
RF: Ford; White
DH: White; Ford
SP: Santana; Radke; Silva, Lohse; Baker
CP: Nathan
RP: Rinconl Crain; Mulholland; Guerrier; Liriano


Cleveland Indians (93-69, .574, 2nd in AL Central)

One game short.

One more bloop single. One more win in a game in late June when the legs start to get heavy. One more weird loss for the Red Sox or Yankees. One game is a bigger deal when you're sitting at home at the end of the season watching four other teams fight it out for the AL Pennant.

In discussions with The Tank this week, he's holding tight to the assertion that the Indians are going to fall back this year.

"The Indians were the best team in baseball for the second half of last season," said Tank. "The young talent on that team is incredible. I think they will take a step back this season without Crisp and Millwood, but they are set up to make a run in the long term similar to their success in the 90s. More than the division, I think the Indians are going to be fighting with the Red Sox, A's, and Blue Jays for the wild card down to the wire."

I tend to agree with that. Moreso than the Twins, the Indians will make a run at the White Sox this year. As I'd said in one of our discusssions, the White Sox will have the first and best chance to trip up the White Sox this year. Frank points to the pitching depth with Chicago as giving them flexibility and I agree, but in the division, the Indians have the second strongest rotation. The Twins have the best single pitcher in Johan Santana, the White Sox have the best single rotation, but Cleveland is second as a whole.

The Indians made a huge push last year and I was on the road for the last week of the season, catching bits and pieces of the final few games as I drove through the deserts out west. I couldn't get over how they kept hanging in and hanging on. Day after day, they brought it right down to the wire for one of the best races in years. When you consider that the Yankees, Red Sox and Indians were within one game of each other at the end, it was a good year.

Frank is right, the Indians are wildly talented for a young team, however I think that they are ready to contend now, as well as later. He's also right in the late 90s parallel, where the teams just kept plugging away and won year in and year out. I honestly don't think it's their year with the White Sox in the way, but as I asked Frank, was there any one team you would have been more afraid to see in the postseason last year? Exactly.

The depth chart, as always, is below and the standouts are Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta and Grady Sizemore in the field and Cliff Lee, C.C. (Cookie! Cookie!) Sabathia, Paul Byrd and Bob Wickman on the hill. No matter how you slice that, it ain't bad.

Buried in there are Rafael Betancourt (2.79 ERA in 67.2 IP); Ben Broussard (a .307 OBP, despite a .255 batting average); Ronnie Belliard at 2B (152 hits, 36 of which were doubles - that means that he's hustling on the basepaths or is barely missing on home runs in addition to the 17 he hit). Uber-prospect Andy Marte, who was at the center of two major trades this off-season is perhaps the player who has gotten the most ink without actually doing anything.

Marte has been consistiently ranked as one of the top major league prospects for several years now and was moved from Atlanta to Boston in a trade to dump Edgar Renteria. Then, the Red Sox turned around and dealt him to Cleveland for Coco Crisp (a legitimate loss, but they won't miss him with Sizemore there to pick up the pieces).

Was Marte a victim of circumstance, being stuck behind Chipper Jones and Wilson Betemit in the Braves system and the best chip the Sox had to trade with in their need to fill their hole in center field, or is there a bigger problem there? It makes me wonder why two teams with strong farm systems would be so willing to part with Marte. In any event, he has time to develop with Boone and Blake ahead of him on the depth chart in Cleveland. Still, if I were an Indians fan, I'd sleep a little better at night knowing he was there as a late season call-up.

Wickman rang up 45 saves with a 2.47 ERA last year and I'd take him over any other closer in the AL Central right now. Neither righties nor lefties could hit him any more than a quarter of the time and more than anything, his teammates think he's infallible.

Plus, you gotta love a 240-pound closer. Between him and Sabathia (And the departed Bartolo Colon) what the hell are they feeding those guys in the clubhouse? Lard?

Cleveland Indians
C: Victor Martinez; Shoppach; Garko; Laker
1B: Broussard; Perez; Blake; Garko
2B: Belliard; Vazquez; Inglett
SS: Peralta; Vazquez; Flores; Ochoa
3B: Aaron Boone; Casey Blake; Marte; Merloni; Kouzmanoff
LF: Jason Michaels; Blake; Inglett
CF: Sizemore; Franklin Gutierrez; Snyder
RF: Blake; Gutierrez; Jason Dubois
DH: Hafner; Broussard; Martinez
SP: Lee; Sabathia; Byrd; Westbrook; Jason Johnson
CP: Wickman
RP: Cabrera; Mota; Sauerbeck; Betancourt; Matt Miller; Andrew Brown; Danny Graves; Karsay


Chicago White Sox (99-63, .611, 1st in AL Central)

Oh, Christ does this peek-in suck.

It honestly took more self-control to call my buddy who is a rabid Sox fan to congratulate him after the World Series than it took to quit a pack a day cigarette habit after five years. No joke.

Just pulling up their web site and seeing the World Champions wallpaper makes me ill. But this isn't about me, it's about baseball and I'll find the inner strength to do this for the good of the game. (Even if there is a special place in hell for White Sox fans...)

The top addition to the White Sox is a simple lack of subtraction. While they did a great job of holding together a talented, young team, the biggest coup for the Sox was retaining Paul Konerko at first base. While the breaks continue to go Chicago's way, this one just makes me shake my head and hand it to them. I guess all the pre-draft analysis paid off here. While I'm not sure how Konerko ranked on the standardized tests, if anyone stood up in the draft war room and said, "Great bat and I think this kid is really loyal." he should be given a raise and an extra hot dog at every home game.

Despite all conventional wisdom, a stellar contract year and post-season and a position that even the most hard-core of White Sox fans would have failed to find fault with him bolting town for more cash, Konerko stayed and signed a five-year deal. How this happened, I will never know. The White Sox had the one man in all of pro sports who would choose team, city and loyalty over cash. Had they not won, it would probably been another story, but it is what it is and the Sox are stacked.

Take last year's team, drop no one of note (save for Aaron Rowland in center) and add Jim Thome, Javier Vazquez (for Orlando Hernandez, Luis Vizcaino and Chris Young), and Rob Mackowiak for Damaso Marte for a ball of batting practice balls (no bag) and a case of David sunflower seeds (salted, not BBQ).

Thome is the big splash, but look at Mackowiak as well. Hell, look at the depth chart and check how many times that human spelling error appears. Yeah, that helps plug holes when you have a utility man that versatile. The jury is out on Thome who hit .207 in an injury-shortened 2005. A Peoria boy, Thome will be 36 this season and I'll be curious to see how he adapts to his role as DH. Some guys have had a hard time making the switch without playing in the field and keeping that rhythm. The other thing worth nothing is that his numbers haven't exactly sparkled in the past three seasons, either.

Working backwards from 2004 to 2002, Thome has hit.274, .266 and .304 and struck out 144, 182 and 139 times in those seasons. The good news is that he drove in 105, 131 and 118 RBI in those years as well and had decent walk numbers, but it does show a decline.

Not to put him in the same category, but Sammy Sosa saw a similar slip before he fell off the table. Just worth noting - I think the Thome is a good guy and I like him on a personal level, but aging sluggers switching leagues aren't the safest bets, especially coming off a 59-game season last year.

I don't know enough Brian Anderson to form a solid opinion worth reading, so I won't throw out garbage from someone else's column, but I think putting a rookie in center with no real solid backup plan is risky. Granted, the Cell's center field isn't like Yankee Stadium's, but it's no bandbox like Houston, either. Not sure if this would have been the Sox first option, but guess they had to take the Thome deal, regardless.

The pitching staff is still solid, but the bullpen needs help. Hermanson is on borrowed time and Jenks needs to stay focused and adjust as teams get a read on him. Don't believe me? Go ask Hideo Nomo how things went in his sophomore season. In Jenks' favor, is the fact that relievers won't be seen as often by the hitters. While a sophomore starter sees batters 3 and 4 times a game, Jenks may see the individual batters that often in a season.

Starters are solid and safe in their contracts, so they should be happy and loose. Plenty of arms to go around, too, should someone get hurt.

I'm going to hold my tongue on a few other issues for the most part, but I honestly and without a degree of the animosity that is the hallmark of my relationship with the White Sox, feel that the Sox pulled it all together last year to win.

Do not take that the wrong way - they were a very talented team with solid pitching and a small-ball philosophy that fit perfectly in the year of the drug test when some moderate sluggers shrunk from the stat boxes. They played great baseball in the fall and refused to give up when Cleveland came roaring back into the race late in the summer. They held off the Indians and destroyed everyone in the post season and that is evident to anyone who watched any of the playoffs.

The White Sox got sterling performances when they needed them and unlikely heroes like Geoff Blum and Orlando Hernandez, but even so, their win wasn't a fluke.

However, in order to repeat they need to keep a tight leash on clubhouse chemistry and losing Carl Everett was a great step to that end. However, with Ozzie Guillen and AJ Pierzynski in the clubhouse it's still a threat. I can't get a read on Guillen, who has a cult-like following after the win, but he seems to walk a fine line between Forrest Gump and Machiavelli.

Is he running his mouth to take pressure off the team? Or is that a happy accident as a result of a manager who rips players like A-Rod and threatens former center fielders with gay sex? I honestly have no idea what is going on, but the more that he's the story, the less is written about his team and that can't hurt over a long season.

As for AJ, he's been bounced from Minneapolis and San Francisco for attitude problems that tore at the locker rooms. While Barry Bonds is probably a bigger problem, his bat makes all the apologies for him. Maybe AJ is on the Dennis Rodman track of coming to Chicago and learning to play a team game and shut up a bit more. Regardless, he's someone who should be watched this season just in case.

In all, it's a solid club that comes back more loaded than last year. Even if there are personal problems, this team still has the horses to repeat, and they have a scary rotation reporting right now. That said, Sox fans best pray for the same breaks this year as it'd be pretty hard to imagine a team staying that happy and healthy for two straight playoff runs.

Chicago White Sox

C: Pierzynski; Widger
1B: Konerko; Thome; Gload
2B: Iguchi; Ozuna; Mackowiak
SS: Uribe; Ozuna
3B: Crede; Mackowiak; Ozuna
LF: Podsednik; Borchard; Mackowiak
CF: Anderson; Owens; Borchard; Mackowiak
RF: Dye; Borchard; Mackowiak
DH: Thome
SP: Buehrle; Garcia; Vazquez; Contreras; Garland; McCarthy
CP: ?
RP: Cotts; Politte; Jenks; Sanders; Bajenaru; Hermanson


Monday, February 27, 2006

AL East Wrap-up

In the interest of putting my money where my mouth is, I should probably lay down how I think the whole ball of wax will end up.

The Yankees are the reigning champs, they added Damon and got Bernie Williams out of the way and "How Jason Giambi Got His Groove Back" became the feel-good hit of the summer. Their pitchers are starting to settle in and there are simply too many question marks in the rest of the division to hand it off to anyone else.

Boston could be strong and have addressed holes in the bullpen, in CF and in the infield while holding onto the engine that makes the offense go - Manny and Papi.

Toronto overspent, but should be in the hunt this year. If for no other reason, they may take Dumbo's feather past the All-Star break before they realize they are missing pieces. As a Moneyball team, they will win, but I think they're falling short (see the Mets last year).

Tampa and Baltimore... thanks for playing. We'll enjoy picking over your rosters for one or two fantasy players who hit well with no one on base in half-empty stadiums. Oh, and to the Rays - Keep up your newfound talent as Yankee-killers.

American League East
1.) New York Yankees
2.) Boston Red Sox
3.) Toronto Blue Jays
4.) Baltimore Orioles
5.) Tampa Bay Devil Rays


Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Baltimore Orioles (74-88, .457, 4th in AL East)

I really don't want to have to rip the Orioles, they were so nice to me when I lived in Virginia. Granted, I was there in a Red Sox jersey, but still, lovely park, lovely people and Boog Powell makes a mean beef brisket.

First the good: They gave Kevin Millar a good home after Boston turned their nose up at the aging slugger. Limited range, declining numbers, so of course the O's paid him $2.1 million (not a typo) for the year and moved him out to left field.

In terms of good for the team, they are solid around the horn with Jeff Conine, Brian Roberts and his X-ray specs, Miguel "Trade me right fucking now! (Now hang up)" Tejada and Melvin Mora. I'd take that infield over most in the majors, but the outfield gets sketchy.

Millar, Corey Patterson in center and Jay Gibbons in right.

Just let that sink in. Millar, Patterson and Gibbons. A guy who the Sox felt lacked the range at first base, a cast-off from the Cubs and Gibbons.

Patterson in the most recent Cub to be shipped off to Baltimore after wearing out his welcome in Chicago. Sammy Sosa was exiled last year where he injured his foot crapping the bed and got a hit every third Tuesday when he was healthy. Patterson has some sort of weird Napoleon complex where he refuses to use his speed or try to up his OBP by working counts.

The game we used to play for Patterson at bats was to chant "I'm a home run hitta! I'm a home run hitta!" and then the little shit went and jacked two in the same game when we were pulling that. Needless to say, that's the exception and not the rule.

The O's imported Kris Benson and the distraction he's married to (I liked when she called out the guy who is paralyzed after being struck by an assassin's bullet - you can take the girl out of the strip club...) to go with Rodrigo Lopez (who despite his top of the rotation status couldn't get his ERA under 4.50 in his last 10 starts in 2005) and others.

Cabrera showed promise and Bruce Chen is also looking good if he can work out some control issues...


Are you ready for this? Are you? Baltimore are you ready for the LaTroy Hawkins experience? And, there's no clear closer which means that they will at least look to the LaTroy-let's direction when they gather the pitchers and ask anyone with closer experience to raise their hands.

Hawkins made me physically ill when he was with Chicago. No lead too big to blow. No turn of events so ridiculous that he couldn't find a way to let in three runs with two out in the ninth. I'm not kidding. LaTroy in the ninth looks like a four-year-old trying to throw a game for gamblers without any tact or real idea about how to make things look like an accident.

In fact, were I ever to try and fix a game, I think game tapes of LaTroy would be an excellent resource. No one would be this blatant in their attempt to throw a game. I need to stop this before I black out. Let's just say when I traded Hawkins away in my Playstation league I felt better, but forgot he was on the real Cubs still. I got angry every time he went in and was part of the crowd that booed him when he took the mound at the home opener last year.

All told, I still think the Red Sox and Yankees are the cream of the crop out east. Like the Blue Jays, I think the Orioles will do better this year (remember their big start last year?) and keep Boston and New York honest, but how far can you go with that outfield and a spotty, young pitching staff?

Baltimore Orioles
C: Ramon Hernandez; Lopez; Gil
1B: Conine; Millar; Gibbons; Lopez
2B: Roberts; Gomez
SS: Tejada; Gomez
3B: Mora; Gomez
LF: Millar; Matos; Newhan; Conine
CF: Patterson; Matos; Newhan
RF: Gibbons; Millar
DH: Lopez; Millar; Conine; Newhan
SP: Lopez; Benson; Bedard; Cabrera; Chen
CP: ?
RP: Williams; Byrdak; Ray; DuBose; Hawkins; Gracesqui


Tampa Bay Devil Rays (67-95, .414, 5th in AL East)

Oh, sweet Jesus... not the Devil Rays... Not the Devil Rays!

OK, the plusses - Scott Kazmir, Aubrey Huff and Rocco Baldelli on a good day. That's about it. No, really, that's about it.

The team is comprised with a few guys who always pop up in fantasy leagues, usually when injuries kick in beginning in June. However, even the most die-hard Rays fan (heh... gotcha!) would be a first-class jackass to consider Julio Lugo and Jorge Cantu top-tier players. They re serviceable, but when that's the bright spots for your team, you've got prolems.

Kazmir was a lot of fun to watch last year and Baldelli is just funny in the way Forrest Gump and other fast white guys are funny. It was just a few seasons ago where Rocco was being groomed as a possible modern-day Joe DiMaggio. Now, I think even Rocco would settle for Dom.

Carl Crawford, Baldelli and Huff are all the outfielders right now, but with the Rays in on 60 percent of the late trade rumors any of them could move before spring training is over. I could write another 1,000 words ad not talk myself into backing the Rays, but let's face it - they were last in the East in 2005 and will be last again in 2006.

However, I'd be OK with them continuing their new tradition of 'Yankee-killing.'

Tampa Bay Devil Rays
C: Hall; Paul
1B: Lee; Huff; Wigginton
2B: Cantu; Green
SS: Lugo; Cantu
3B: Burroughs; Wigginton; Green
LF: Crawford; Hollins; Gathright; Gomes
CF: Baldelli; Hollins; Gathright
RF: Huff; Hollins; Gomes
DH: Gomes; Wigginton

SP: Kazmir; Hendrickson; Fossum; McClung; Waechter
CP: (?)


Toronto Blue Jays (80-82, .494, 3rd in AL East)

Where to start with the Blue Jays, the stars of the 2006 off-season?

After picking up BJ Ryan from Baltimore, Troy Glaus and Bengie Molina from the Angels and Lyle Overbay from Milwaukee, the Blue Jays seem primed to enter the fray in the AL East. The funny thing is after enering the roster the other night, it didn't seem quite as impressive.

Following the wires on, one saw a lot of movement in Toronto the past three months and the Ryan pick-up made a big splash at the time but seriously, look at their depth chart and it doesn't seem so intimidating.

The most glaring problem is the hole up the middle. The keystone combo for the Jays is Russ Adams (139 games last year/123 hits/.256 BA/ 63 RBI) and Aaron Hill (105 games last year/99 hits/ .274 BA/ 40 RBI - all as a rookie). While Hill played well defensively, having these two anchoring your infield seems like a recipe for disaster.

In the outfield, Vernon Wells is the only name player in center. Reed Johnson, a career .277 hitter who is listed on the team web site as a right fielder will be starting in left. Alex Rios will be in right and while defensive stats are few and far between (especially on the site - Chicks dig the long ball!) I worry about the speed out in right when Rios stole 14 bases and was caught 9 times. Cheer up, Jays fans - maybe he just makes awful decisions!

Speaking of which, Ryan, who steps into the closer's role in Toronto, will be paid $47 million over the next 5 years. Speaking as someone who saw their share of O's games in Baltimore when I lived out east, Ryan never did it for me. Jore Julio had more raw stuff and Ryan seemed overwhelmed at times.

I realize he's an All-Star pitcher, but I think this was a bad move by a team looking to make any move and think they overpaid in a dry year for true closers. This warrants its own posting as I've had the 'What makes a good closer' arguement hundreds of times with Frank (including the White Sox's decision to start Bobby Jenks in the post-season last year) and think that numbers don't do a true closer justice.

Still, with a solid pitching rotation (Halliday, Burnett, Lilly, Chacin and Towers) and that Burnett addition, the pitchers should be able to carry the team this season. Will they be over .500? Yes. Will they push the rest of the divison? Yes. Will they make the playoffs this year? Nope.

All told the Jays are on the right path, but unless they become one of those 'better than the sum of its parts' teams, I don't see it happening this year.

Blue Jays
C: B Molina; G Zaun
1B: L Overbay; S Hillenbrand
2B: A Hill; J McDonald
SS: R Adams; J McDonald
3B: T Glaus; S Hillenbrand, A Hill
LF: R Johnson; F Catalanotto
CF: V Wells; R Johnson; A Rios
RF: A Rios; R Johnson
DH: S Hillenbrand; E Hinske

SP: Halladay; Burnett; Lilly; Chacin; Towers
CP: BJ Ryan


Boston Red Sox (95-67, .586, 2nd in AL East, AL Wild Card)

Asking me to be impartial here or with the Cubs is like asking a coyote to watch the steaks while you run inside to take a leak, but I'll give it a shot. Also, I'll try to keep it brief, as I already picked at the rotation on the main site.

Jason Varitek is back behind the plate and will help stabilize the team after losing clubhouse guys like Johnny Damon, Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar. Damon and Millar will be missed for their rodeo clown antics that kept the Boston media off of other teammates and topics and I think that bears mentioning in a town like Boston.

JT Snow, I forgot we picked you up. Welcome to the inflield with other new-to-the-team starters, Mark Loretta, Alex Gonzalez and Mike Lowell. While Kevin Youkilis is penciled in as the starter at 1B, I see them platooning all year.

Gonzalez should be an upgrade from Edgar Renteria (I don't even have the energy to rip him) and there are plenty of utility guys (Alex Cora and Tony Graffanino have their names all over the depth chart) to pick up the slack if need be. Dustin Pedroia is also on the list as the minor league guy who may see some time if need be.

The outfield looks better than it did a few weeks ago with Coco Crisp in center, Manny Ramirez in left and Trot Nixon in right. Adam Stern and presumably Gabe Kapler will round out the roster there. (Note: The Crisp Trade, Manny being Manny and other topics here will be explored later. It's too much to handle right now).

While the bullpen is nothing to write home about, I figure Julian Tavarez is good for shock value as the ugliest man on the team and the starters look solid with Curt Schilling reporting in great shape this year.

Saving the best for last, David Ortiz is serving as the official ambassador to Manny, watching out for him and serving as the good-natured buffer for the team and their left fielder. The two of them as a package deal are what make the Red Sox offense go. Ortiz is a great hitter with power for days and a thick clutch hitting streak, but he doesn't see half those numbers or a quarter of the pitches without Manny batting ahead of him.

There are too many new guys to call the AL East for the Sox this year, but I do think there's enough talent to take another run at October, espcially if the Yanks stumble out of the gate again. With a new infield, I worry about defense, but with a SS known as a glove man and a veteran at 2B, I feel better about that.

If need be, you can cross your fingers and wait for Big Papi to come to the plate. The one-man Earl Weaver Memorial Slugger single-handedly kept the Red Sox in games last year and there's no reason why he can't do it again this year as well.

Boston Red Sox
C: Varitek; Flaherty; Bard
1B: Youkilis; Snow
2B: Loretta; Cora; Pedroia; Graffanino
SS: Gonzalez; Cora; Graffanino
3B: Lowell; Cora; Graffanino
LF: Ramirez
CF: Crisp; Stern
RF: Nixon
DH: Ortiz
SP: Schilling; Beckett; Wells; Clement; Wakefield; Papelbon
CP: Foulke
RP: Timlin; Riske; Arroyo; DiNardo; Seanez; Tavarez


New York Yankees (95-67, .586, 1st in AL East)

This just kills me. While I'm a firm believer in the premise that you are the big dog until someone can knock you off, this year the Yankees are the defenders of the crown in the AL East and the White Sox are World Series champions.

Honestly, though I can't see why either team should relinquish their spots based on lineups alone. I have my theories and secret hater-flavored hopes in my tiny, freezing heart, but based on paper, there is no reason why those two squads shouldn't be heavy contenders in October.

The Yanks have upgraded to a point in center with Johnny Damon, thus getting the corpse of Bernie Williams out of the field and onto the bench where he'll serve as mascot. With Gary Sheffield showing no signs of slowing down and Hideki Matsui returning in left field (did he even know what free agency was, or did George slip his interpreter a few bucks to omit that part of the equation?) the outfield will be solid.

Assuming Jason Giambi continues to improve in his post-roids production (Comeback player of the year? Really?) they;ll have Giambi, Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez around the horn. Find one team in baseball who wouldn't take that infield, I dare you.

Starting pitching is stable, if not lights out, as the Yanks can't catch a break with free agents lately and the bullpen looks like a mess with Kyle Farnsworth, Tanyon Sturtze, Octavio Dotel (two seasons removed from "lights out" much like the path Brad Lidge is on) and Mike Myers, the lefty specialist who is physically incapable of getting right-handers out (2.17 ERA vs. lefties and 6.48 vs. righties; 29.0 IP vs. 8.1 left to right; 18 to 3 Ks... It goes on like that for a while).

Finally is Mr. Clutch, Mariano Rivera. I can type his name without soiling myself, so he must have lost a step. He's still a great closer, but now that he's shown cracks in the armor, he's not as terrifying anymore. Kinda weird for Red Sox fans - imagine if one day you woke up and your bathroom wasn't there. That's roughly how it felt to see Rivera giving up home runs last year, just disorienting to a degree that it became surreal.

Are they still the team to beat? Yep, they're still the Yankees and you know Cashman is good for one more free agent before the seasons starts and another couple before the mid-August push after the All-Star game. Are they better than the Sox or Blue Jays? Possibly, but not head and shoulders above. And that makes for a good spring in the AL East.

New York Yankees
C: Posada; Stinnett
1B: Giambi; Phillips
2B: Cano; Cairo
SS: Jeter; Escalona
3B: Rodriguez; Cairo
LF: Matsui
CF: Damon; Crosby; Williams
RF: Sheffield
DH: Williams
SP: Johnson; Mussina; Chacon; Wang; Pavano; Wright
CP: Rivera
RP: Farnsworth; Sturze; Dotel; Small; Myers; Villone; Proctor


Monday, February 13, 2006

An amicable separation

I tend to be pretty wordy. That's just a fact.

This gets out of hand at dinner parties and when the subject turns to baseball. Not so much baseball e-mails, but baseball on the blog. Jesus H. Christ in a chicken basket, does it get out of control there.

As I've been fighting with whether or not to post team-by-team previews with stats and rosters and all sorts of good stuff, I think I've found a happy medium.

This blog will catch all of the baseball posts from Siberia, Minn. as well as the baseball-related garbage that interests me and lets me nerd out with VORP and WHIP and other Bills James-related nonsense.

Whereas a good friend of mine strives for logical, fact-based analysis, I don't care about that as much. I believe in team chemistry and obscure players who keep clubhouses loose. I would like to write about all of that and more, without feeling guilty for clogging up the other blog with 32 team capsules that most people I know couldn't care less about.

So, for the nerds, statheads and other deviants, this page is for us. And everyone else can be left alone, safe in the knowledge that long essays about knuckleball catchers will be kept to a minimum on the other page.

At least until October.