Monday, March 31, 2008

Division by Division Preview - NL East

To be a shock jock…On ESPN Radio this morning Colin Cowherd reported a study conducted by CBS that reported those with a college education and who make more then fifty thousand dollars are more likely to believe that Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds should not be allowed into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Although there are a lot of questions regarding the survey performed, the conclusions are interesting.

The reason why I opened this Division Preview with this is because I want to remind readers that an opinion and conclusion can be formed on any basis. While the ‘wealthy’ and ‘educated’ believe that Clemens and Bonds cheated so much that they should not be eligible for the HOF is laughable. However, this does not mean that those who entered this survey are wrong, although I would argue they are misinformed.

NL East

1. Philadelphia Phillies
I am a big fan of what the Phil’s are bringing to the table offensively. This club had an impressive turnaround in 2007 and surprised a lot of people following what was thought to be a rebuilding year after giving up Bobby Abreu for salary relief the previous season. The Phillies are improved from the team that was on the field for Opening Day 2007 and that team won the division.

The rotation is much improved over the starters they had at the end of the year last season. Bret Myers is back in the rotation after starting only three games in 2007. Hamels is one of the most promising youngsters in baseball and if he can find a way to be healthy this season, should give the Phillies one of the best one-two punches in all of baseball. One has to wonder what is going on with the rest of the rotation, but it appears as though they have just enough to let the bullpen and hitters to win the division.

The bullpen should be a strength from start to finish this season. Tom Gordon will get the ball in the ninth while Brad Lidge. Obviously the Phillies are banking on Lidge being the closer he has shown he is capable of being. It will be interesting to see if JC “free pass” Romero can repeat one of the most fortunate seasons in the league last year.

Even with the loss of Rowand, I believe that this club will be better offensively in 2008 then they were in 2007. Consider not only the injury to Chase Utley but the slow start of Ryan Howard last season. Consider that the Phil’s may have the best RF in all of baseball if the platoon works out the way the splits suggest. This team will put up crooked numbers with regularity. Their home ballpark will again aide this team and its new hitters.

Major Addition: Pedro Feliz – After getting fewer then 20 home runs from their third basemen in 2007, the Phillies finally have a player that can be a threat in this deep lineup. Feliz should hit 5th or 6th instead of 3rd or 4th which alone should improve his chances at breaking out. Moving to Citizens Bank Ballpark will only further improve his numbers and 30 home runs are very likely from this new acquisition. This signing may go down as one of the top 3 or 4 moves from the off season.

Major Subtraction: Jon Lieber – While his addition to the Cubs is essentially a non-factor, leaving the Phillies takes away depth and will force the club to utilize some terrible pitchers in spot start situations.

Breakout Candidate: Shane Victorino – Missing 30 games and having to play hurt in others definitely stunted the season Victorino was having. In fantasy drafts Carl Crawford is taken with one of the first 20 picks yet Victorino is being taken some 80 picks later. I’m not quite willing to suggest Victorino is the equivalent to Crawford, but if Shane can stay healthy this season, WATCH OUT!

2. Atlanta Braves
How many teams can lose a type B free agent and not even feel the effects of it? I am not entirely certain why the Braves went after Mark Kotsay, but possibly the hype of many years ago will finally prove to be valid. Give this team a weekend series against the Mets and it is tough to imagine many New Yorkers tuning in on Sunday to watch their Mets being run over by the Braves pitching.

Atlanta has a capable, old and talented rotation. The top two starters will provide outstanding production and can go head to head with the starting two of any team in the league. Jair Jurrjens has the potential to be an outstanding pitching in the National League. If he can maintain his control and keep allowing his fielders to do the work, he should have a career close to that of teammate Tim Hudson. And fifth starter Mike Hampton may be as good as it gets, if not in the league, then at least the division. Consider that the worst NRA Hampton owned in the 2.5 seasons prior to his injury (4.37) would have put him at #26 in the National League during the 2007 season.

The bullpen could be excellent or terrible. If Soriano can throw all season without issue, he should be one of the top 3 or 4 closers in the NL. Mike Gonzalez will be back around mid-season and should provide a solid boost to the bullpen. Outside of that, the Braves will hope for further development from the youngsters they are going with. Not bringing in a veteran, although a good decision in the long run may be the reason this team lags behind in 2008.

Offensively, I look for the Braves to be better in 2008 then they were in 2007 despite the subtraction of both Andruw Jones and Edgar Renteria. The development of Francouer, McCann, Johnson and a full season of Teixeira will more then make up for whatever the club had last season. However, this team is not without fault offensively, as similar to their bullpen, the club lacks reliable depth. An injury to oft-injured Chipper Jones could completely derail the Braves hopes in 2008.

Major Addition: Jair Jurrjens – I wrote about him above and will stick with my comments. Jurrjens has solid stuff which enabled him to cruise through the minor leagues. I cannot see a way that the Tigers do not regret trading him away, no matter how good their 2008 rotation is and no matter how much Renteria brings to the table. Interestingly, the Braves essentially acquired Jurrjens for failed prospect Andy Marte.

Major Subtraction: Octavio Dotel – This is the veteran presence I was referring to when I discussed the bullpen earlier. While the ChiSox overpaid for Dotel’s services and gave him far too many years, Dotel is still extremely valuable and would have proven to be a season long stabilizer for the Braves.

Breakout Candidate: Jeff Francouer – Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus did an outstanding article on Frenchy in the middle of January. Since that point I have been sold on the kid yet unable to pull the trigger on him in any fantasy drafts. 35 home runs are likely.

3. New York Mets
I’ve already discussed my displeasure for old teams with the Cubs, Yankees and Red Sox. The Mets are no different and if not for a devastatingly terrible bottom of the division, I would consider ranking the Mets lower. Offensively the club is going to struggle to remain healthy. Defensively the club is old and may end up being one of the worst in the league. Their pitching staff has a lot of talent, but pitching is never a sure thing and should rarely be counted on.

Adding Johan Santana gave the Mets a legitimate #1, truly legitimate; as in the best in baseball. Pitching at Shea in the National League should do for Santana what moving to Arizona did for Randy Johnson. Pedro Martinez looked great essentially rehabbing in 2007, but his velocity dropped for at least a third straight season and his reliance on a curveball all be disappeared (courtesy Fan Graphs). As much as I like the guy, he is the furthest thing from a guarantee this season. This leads to the Mets reliance on Perez and Maine, neither of whom should be relied on for much more then #5-type numbers in 2008. The loss of Glavine will be felt as well as the injury to 75 year old El Duqe. Expect the Mets to further weaken their minor league system in an attempt to buy the division in 2008.

The bullpen is one of my favorite in baseball. Wagner, Heilman, Feliciano and Schoeneweis make for an incredible deep top of the bullpen. Two of my favorites, Burgos and Sanchez will start their seasons on the disabled list. Although this is not a debilitating blow, although it is one that will need to be monitored throughout the system as the Mets will not be able to afford many other injuries. Joe Smith is a guy to watch out for this year as I believe the Mets will give him a larger and larger role as the season goes on.

Offensively the Mets have three of the best weapons in the Majors. Wright, Reyes and Beltran give the Mets and their opponents a very difficult top of the order. However that is essentially where it stops. Age, injuries and inefficiency will derail any substantial runs the team may go on in an inning. While Alou, Delgado and Church are all capable hitters, expecting any one of them to be at 100% for 120-130 games is irrational. Thus, Moises Alou for 110 games plus Angel Pagan for 52 is essentially as bad of a left field as the Giant have.

Major Addition: Johan Santana – I probably don’t even need to waste my time with this. And despite my belief that the Mets overpaid (both in dollars and prospects) for his services, but for the 2008 season, he should make Met fans forget about the cost.

Major Subtraction: Tom Glavine – Essentially a wash with Santana’s arrival, losing Glavine weakens the rotation. A close runner up could be the loss of Paul LoDuca, whom despite his attitude; LoDuca is still at least league average offensively. His replacement, Brian Schneider may be just as well served not swinging at all. If the Mets are worried about defensive production, they should have started elsewhere.

Breakout Candidate: Joe Smith – Having had an extremely successful rookie campaign, expect Smith to breakout with additional responsibilities placed upon him. Look for Smith to vulture some saves and even be a consistent reliever in the 7th and possibly even the 8th inning.

4. Washington Nationals
Unfortunately the Nationals are without much of a farm system and worse yet, haven’t any reliable arms with the big club. However, the club is stacked with high ceiling hitters and has an ample amount of potential trade chips. Felipe Lopez, Dmitri Young and Wily Mo Pena are three such players whom are going to have to put in a lot of work in order to earn full time roles with the club in 2008. Either that, or luck out with injuries to their teammates. Expect at least one of the three to be moved for minor league pitching.

If I sat down with Nats GM Jim Bowden, before I even introduced myself I would ask him why he released John Patterson. I can accept that he may not have fit into the teams plans for 2008, but how Bowden did not make a trade, just get something for Patterson is beyond me, especially for this ball club. Outside of that, the Nationals haven’t any pitchers that a Major League team would fear meeting in any game of a series-in fact, the Nationals currently have only 4 pitchers listed on their depth chart. The signing of Perez was a good one and he had a nice Opening Day start which could prove a sign for things to come.

There is not a whole lot of excitement in the bullpen, but when you have a rotation like the Nationals do, expecting to have many 7th, 8th or 9th inning leads is senseless. However, between Rivera, Rauch, Colume, Cordero and Ayala, the Nats have a decent bunch that should allow the club to squeak out wins on the rare occasion their starters have a quality start.

Offensively, the club has as much potential as anyone in the Majors. That is not to say that the club is going to go on to lead the league in runs, but the Nats are well on their way to building a winning club. Ryan Zimmerman, Lasting Milledge, and Elijah Dukes are some of the most talented youngsters in the league, watch for each of them to make considerable strides in 2008. Austin Kearns and Nick Johnson are de facto veterans who put up tough at bats and have some solid offensive potential. Watch out for Kearns as his home/road splits were ridiculous in 2007.

Major Addition: Elijah Dukes – While Milledge will probably be the better major leaguer in the short and long term, the Nats acquired Dukes for NOTHING. Agreed, the cost of Milledge was not a whole lot, Dukes was brought aboard for nothing. In 2007, Dukes, the then 23 year old, hit 10 home runs in 182 at bats, which prorates out to 33 home runs over the course of 600 at bats. In an easier league, no longer as a rookie, 30 home runs is definitely achievable for Dukes with full playing time. His strikeout to walk ratio was incredible for a 23 year old rookie, which is evidence enough for me that Dukes is capable of being an excellent everyday hitter.

Major Subtraction: John Patterson – When a team drops their best pitcher one has to wonder what is going on. Although Patterson did not add much in 2007, he is still young enough to offer up some solid potential.

Breakout Candidate: Austin Kearns – It feels as if Kearns has been around forever and put his potential on display year after year. This year, Kearns gets to leave RFK where he is a career .727 slugging outfielder or 100 points lower then he hit on the road in 2007. If the new ballpark is about an average hitter’s park, expect Kearns to return as a .300 hitter with 25-30 home runs as his ceiling.

5. Florida Marlins
The Marlins are going to be dreadful in 2008. However, even if they did not move Willis or Cabrera the Marlins would have been dreadful while profiting a lot less money this coming season. That said, the amount of players and potential they received from the Tigers is tremendous. The Marlins GM also did well to bring aboard youngsters whom other teams had given up on, namely Jorge Cantu.

The rotation has a lot of upside despite a heck of a lot of injuries. 2008 isn’t going to matter for the Marlins anyways, so there is no need to rush back Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, etc. Really, there isn’t much to write here. Mark Hendrickson is said to be the Opening Day starter and I would be wasting my time and yours by going into detail about that. Andrew Miller shouldn’t be with the big league club this year, but the Marlins don’t have many other healthy options and his service clock is already going.

I like this bullpen. Although, like the Nationals, how much value does a good bullpen do this club? Kevin Gregg is a nice, yet unspectacular closer. Miller, Tankersley, Lindstrom and Kensing are all nice, young and cheap relievers, but if there isn’t a lead to hold what is the difference between me and one of those three taking the hill?

Offensively the Marlins do not have much. Hanley Ramirez will not see a strike, even on a 3-0 count, Dan Uggla isn’t that good to begin with and Jeremy Hermida prefers the disabled list over stardom. Beyond that, the Marlins have a core of role players whom are receiving full time jobs. I like Jorge Cantu, but he hasn’t been good since launching a rocket in the World Baseball Classic.

Major Addition: Jorge Cantu – He is no Miguel Cabrera, but for a team that had no intentions of spending money or prospects to acquire a replacement, Cantu will provide close wins per dollars spent that Cabrera would have.

Major Subtraction: Miguel Cabrera – One of the top 4 or 5 players in the majors, any time you lose a player of this talent you are going to feel it. Despite the fact that the Marlins were not drawing any fans and had not much of a chance at competing in 2008, they will still miss Cabrera.

Breakout Candidate: Jeremy Hermida – The youngster was touted as a ‘can’t miss’ prospect coming through the ranks. He hasn’t been able to stay healthy for an entire season, but despite that, Hermida put up outstanding numbers in the second half of 2007. With relatively sustainable batted ball data, look for Hermida to surprise the league if healthy!

Fantasy Baseball Generals Speculator Part Three - Preseason Picks

"I started a joke, That started the whole world laughing. If I'd only seen, That the joke was on me."
- James William Hindle, 2001

In this week's Speculator I go out on a limb with far too many of my pre-season predictions. I will not try to defend my ration for doing so, rather I will let the season play out. Well, here they are:

I am traditionally terrible at doing long term picks for things like this, but here goes...

American League
Rookie of the Year - Philip Humber - I see this years crew of Rookie eligible players to be quite weak in the American League.

Most Valuable Player - Grady Sizemore - I think this is the year he goes for 40 home runs and the Indians give him a long look at the cleanup slot.

Cy Young - Felix Hernandez - I think this is the year the kid breaks outs and finally learns how to pitch. The Mariners should win a lot of games.

National League
Rookie of the Year - Jay Bruce - It’s only a matter of time before he is given the full time job in Cincinnati.

Most Valuable Player - Albert Pujols - The elbow issue is more media then reality. Having Glaus behind him will be incredible.

Cy Young - Johan Santana - Sometimes things are just obvious.

Division Winners:
American League
East - Tampa Bay Rays
- They have a team of breakout candidates, a deep rotation and a deep bullpen. Not to mention loads of trade options.

Central - Cleveland Indians - Division got tougher, but the Indians had a lot of poor luck.

West - Seattle Mariners - The Angels are beat up and the rest of the division stinks.

Wild Card - Toronto Blue Jays - This is dependent on an unhealthy team getting healthy.

National League
East - Philadelphia Phillies - Offensively, it’s tough to match what they've got.

Central - St. Louis Cardinals - I like their pitching depth and feel as though they will be greatly underrated offensively. Watch for the breakout candidates.

West - Arizona Diamondbacks - I think Haren and a healthy RJ has them coasting. If the kids improve they will be unstoppable.

Wild Card - Los Angeles Dodgers - A solid rotation with a deep lineup featuring a good amount of youth. I really just want to see Kershaw pitch.

Head to The Fantasy Baseball Generals to see the entire staff's picks for the 2008 season.

I was supposed to make my World Series prediction but forgot and kind of didn't have time to take care of sending it to Patrick. My WS prediction will have the Los Angeles Dodgers facing off against the Cleveland Indians. In one of the best World Series' in recent memory, the Dodgers take care of the Indians in 6 games.

Opening Day! Part 3 of 5 - It Doesn't Get Any Better

This is officially the best day in all of professional sports. Major League Baseball's Opening Day represents the beginning of professional sports in North America. The only sport to truly exist during a single calendar year. And despite MLB's best marketing attempts, the Monday that the season begins, is and will always be the real Opening Day.

Consider a day in the baseball season where every teams top pitcher is on the bump. Where one can flip between Sabathia and Buehrle to Webb and Harang or Halladay and Wang to Sheets and Zambrano. Even the minor bumps and bruises are not felt on Opening Day as the players themselves are as excited as the fans are.

I do, have one issue with Opening Day. Why is it that teams such as the Tigers and Indians are hosting games on March 31st? While weather is not likely to drastically turn around by the end of the week, is the probability not greater that Mother Nature will be nicer a week further into spring?

Sit back and enjoy the day. With 183 days remaining in the season you do have plenty of time to take it all in. But there is no other day in sports, let alone baseball, that is like Opening Day.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Return of...Chatter from the Bleachers

There's a new trilogy, a new best trilogy.

Over at Baseball Digest Daily, "Team 1" was asked the following questions:

Question 1: BP's PECOTA system has projected the Yankees to win 97 games without any moves. And it's projected Boston to win 90. Yet, most people believe the Red Sox are the clear favorite, to the point that one writer this winter suggested that the 2008 Boston Red Sox may go down as the best team in history. What's really going to happen in the AL East in 2008, and why?
Question 2: What is your opinion on costly closers and relievers? Is it worth it? How would you, as a GM, handle your pitching staff when it comes to signing them? Would you invest elsewhere and rely on your farm system? Explain.

For further details on Question 1, take a look at my Division by Division Preview of the AL East. I make some bold predictions with each of my predictions, but I truly will be surprised if Tampa Bay doesn't really challenge for first in the division. A lot of people are saying it won't happen until Davis and Price are full timers with the club, but I see a team that is currently good enough, combined with enough top notch prospects to make a lot of noise.

Swing over to BDD to check out my responses.

Opening Night! Part 2 of 5 - Go Davidson

We're under six hours from Baseball officially returning for the 2008 season. All the cliche's from baseball beat writers will be in full force.

I'm confused about one thing though. Why is it that the Nationals are playing a one game series against the Braves for Opening Night? Did the schedule makers look at the numbers and realize that they had only scheduled both teams for 161 games?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Division by Division Preview - AL East

Onto the final third of the league, the most potent division and the one in which I will probably receive the greatest amount of disdain for my predictions. In fact, I may lose my badge as baseball writer/blogger altogether. This is a division that in my opinion is in a state of drastic change. With the Orioles all but written off for the year, this is still a deep and strong division that has, in my opinion, four teams that could win any of baseballs other five divisions.

AL East

1. Tampa Bay Rays

I hope I haven’t already lost my readers, but hear me out. There is not another team in the division, let alone the league that has as much potential as the Rays have. Top to bottom, the team has breakout candidates and can match up player for player with any team in the league. With a little bit of luck, this team should be the best team in baseball. Furthermore, consider that the Rays used BJ Upton at second base for 48 games in 2007 which essentially single handedly led to the Devil Rays having the worst defensive efficiency in the Majors.

Also, consider the depth of the Rays farm system. With youngsters at essentially every spot in the lineup, the club can afford to make a major trade this season to fill a team need. In fact, if a CC Sabathia becomes available on the open market, is there another team with more trading chips then the Rays?

The pitching rotation is young but extraordinarily talented. Kazmir, Shields and Garza make up as good of a trio as anyone in the majors owns. If a club has to run into these three for a series, watch out! The bottom of the rotation is more uncertain due to their rawness. As is, I am uncertain how things will shake out, but either way, the pitchers taking up the last two spots in the rotation should be at least league average-when compared to other pitchers at their places in the rotation. Sonnanstine and Howell would be my picks, although both would be on a short leash.

The bullpen should be much stronger in 2007 with the addition of Percival. I also feel that given Edwin Jackson an extended look in the 7th inning and have Percival be his mentor. The kid has the stuff; he is just erratic and could probably use a positive role model. This is not the Rays strongest area, but as I mentioned, they have the depth in the minor league system to make moves, I wonder how long the Rocks hang on to Fuentes?

Offensively the Rays have enormous potential. Navarro is on the cusp of great things in my opinion and should really help the team develop. It is only a matter of time before Evan Longoria is the everyday guy at the hot corner and while he may be a year or two from being David Wright, he’s infinitely better then what the Rays had at the position in 2007. In fact, Longoria’s presence and the addition of Bartlett will make the Rays infield solid both defensively and offensively. Also look for Crawford and Upton to be among the best outfielders (again both defensively and offensively) in the American League.

Breakout Candidate: Dioner Navarro – I wrote about him at length at Baseball Digest Daily, and my opinion still stands. Navarro is having an excellent Spring and looks to be ready to build off of a solid 2007 second half.

Major Addition: Matt Garza – The Rays haven’t had the best luck developing starting pitchers and Garza has the ability to be an ace. He will be the number three guy in Tampa and won’t be relied on heavily to contribute what he is capable of doing.

Major Subtraction: Rocco Baldelli/Elijah Dukes – It sounds as if Rocco’s career is over, and he wasn’t that much assistance in 2007, but the team was counting on him to help in the outfield in 2008. In fact, I ascertain that much of the reason the Rays were willing to let Dukes go (personality issues aside) was the thinking that the outfield would be too crowded in 2008.

2. Toronto Blue Jays

Hopefully my analysis of the Rays saved me to this point, but hears me out. The Jays suffered a lot of major injuries and underperformance in 2007 yet only finished 13 games out of first in the league. Comparatively, the Red Sox had an essentially perfect season and only tied the Indians. Furthermore, the Jays were 9 and 9 against the Sox, and 6 and 10 against the Yankees. Give them a winning record against either team and they are a 90 win team. Take away a few victories from the Yanks and Sox and the Jays are in the playoffs. I am predicting that the Jays will be the 2008 AL Wild Card team.

The rotation is in tact and should provide the same, if not better numbers as 2007 (when they finished tied for 7th in starter ERA). Consider now that McGowan and Marcum have room to improve. Additionally Halladay and Burnett have better seasons in them then they displayed last year. Could this be the American Leagues best division? Maybe with a trade for an expiring starter the Jays could stabilize the final spot in the rotation. Let us also remember the awful Ohka, Zambrano and Kennedy trials from 2007, at worst, the number 5 spot this year will equal last years.

The bullpen finished 3rd in the Majors in ERA. BJ Ryan is returning and looks strong in Spring. His injury in 2007 ended up being a blessing in disguise as it allowed young pitchers such as Downs and Accardo to show their dependability. While the loss of Jansen will definitely be felt, it is softened by the fact that Ryan has returned.

Look for the Jays to be a vastly superior team in 2008 then they were in 2007. Vernon Wells should be more determined then ever to prove that the big contract he received last winter was not a waste. Frank Thomas and Lyle Overbay both vastly underperformed last year, so one can look forward to bounce back seasons from that duo. Rios is a player who is still coming into his own and the left field platoon, while terrible in the field, should provide the same if not superior offensive punch as 2007. I also anticipate that Adam Lind will be moved at some point this season to help fill whatever void the Jays may have.

Breakout Candidate: Dustin McGowan – The hard throwing righty really turned things on in the second half of last season. He helped himself out by shaving off some walks in the second half as well as adding a substantial amount to his strikeouts. If he can maintain the batted ball data from a year ago, he will be a real surprise in 2008.

Major Addition: Scott Rolen – Despite fracturing a finger that will keep him out of the Jays lineup for the first month and a bit of the season, Rolen’s presence will greatly improve the infield defense. Although…

Major Subtraction: Troy Glaus – The Jays are going to take a big hit offensively here as Rolen is not the powerful hitter that Glaus is. Taking that kind of power out of the lineup may hurt the Jays as they will have to rely on a lot of singles and doubles to score runs.

3. New York Yankees

I am ranking the Yanks as my third best team in the American League East with not much of a chance at making the playoffs. Their rotation is in shambles as it is yet another year older at the top. Their hitting is as good as the Tigers, but substantially older and thus likely to collapse. Unfortunately, I am expecting a major regression for the Yankees.

As I mentioned, the rotation is in shambles. While I am a huge fan of Phil Hughes, I honestly don’t see him as being much more then a third starter this year. With that in mind, I also see him as far and away the best starter the Yankees have this year and for Yankee fans who thought last year was tough going to their 12th, 13th and 14th starters, 2008 will prove to be as painful. Neither Mussina nor Pettitte have what it takes to be a top of the rotation starter for 30+ starts and if the Yankees expect to compete, they are going to have to tap back into their farm system. I’m also not a fan of Wang, unless his new pitches are all that.

The bullpen will be strong with Chamberlain and Rivera, and Edwar Ramirez is a guy I really like-despite the fact that he is surprisingly old! But how much more can the Yankees expect LaTroy Hawkins or Kyle Farnsworth to have left? That said, the Yankees are going to have a lot of ‘white knuckle’ games as the rotation is not capable of going deep into games and the bullpen is not stocked with players to get the game into the 8th for Chamberlain. Look out for Yankees fans to scream for bullpen help.

Offensively this team is stacked. One can make an argument that they still have a Hall of Famer at every position. The bench is relatively deep with extraordinarily flexible hitters. However, how much more does Giambi, Abreu, Matsui, Posada, Jeter and Damon have left? My assumption is that 2 or 3 of these players either suffers a major injury, or regresses beyond recognition. In fact, I also question what kind of attitude Alex Rodriguez will bring to the table now that he is no longer playing for an extension. The team will be alright, but don’t expect any one of the aforementioned seven to accomplish what they did in 2007.

Breakout Candidate: Edwar Ramirez – Despite the fact that he doesn’t really bring it, Edwar has an outstanding strikeout rate of 13.29 per 9 innings (good for the best strikeout rate among pitchers with at least 20 innings). If Edwar could find a way to more consistently be in the strike zone, there is no way he wouldn’t solidify the Yankees bullpen and make a Joba to starter move much easier to swallow.

Major Addition: NONE! They brought aboard ex-Astros Ensberg and Lane, but I would be shocked to see either one have more then 300 at bats this season.

Major Subtraction: Roger Clemens – While his stint with the Yanks was not as successful as he would have liked (or as the Yankees were paying him), he still pushes pitchers up the pecking order and takes away some of the team depth.

4. Boston Red Sox

While this may come as a huge slap in the face, the Red Sox scream ‘injury trouble’ to me from top to bottom. Even the areas where they appear safe the club has player’s who so overachieved that regression is actually too obvious of a conclusion. I feel as though too many things fell in place for the Red Sox that this season, everything is simply going to collapse. However, I am still expecting 80+ wins out of the club this season.

The rotation owns the #1 and #22 most abused pitchers from 2007 in Matsuzaka and Beckett respectively. Beckett already had a tendency of being brittle and is struggling to be healthy to this point in Spring Training and Matsuzaka is in an entirely new world in North American baseball. Whether or not Dice-Ks second half was a sign of things to come, or simply a small sample size and an aberration to the bigger picture is yet to be determined. But his walk rate and drop in strikeouts over the second half has got to be alarming for any fan of the Sox. The rotation will also count on a pair of youngsters in the place of Curt Schilling. While Schilling did not have the greatest season in 2007, it is tough to imagine a rookie performing better then he did at Fenway.

Hideki Okajima is not a quality relief pitcher. While many may argue with this assertion due to how Hideki performed in 2007, I am willing to go out and state that his numbers were directly related to a unique delivery which confused American League hitters for the first half of the season. David Aardsma is a guy that I anticipate will take over a meaningful role within the bullpen and be a name Red Sox Nation remembers.

The Red Sox hitters are efficient and play their required roles to perfection. The club though, is extremely thin and cannot afford an injury to anyone of its key players. I don’t imagine the Red Sox can go another season without suffering a major injury to either of their aging sluggers, Ortiz or Ramirez. As is, both Lugo and Drew are hurt and their backups are less than stellar. Outside of that, the youth and potential is far and few between.

Breakout Candidate: Manny Delcarmen – Everyone expects that it is only a matter of time before Jonathan Papelbon’s arm falls off. Delcarmen is the best choice and will be a major factor in the Sox bullpen longterm.

Major Addition: NONE! This roster is essentially the same one as 2007’s.

Major Subtraction: NONE! See above.

5. Baltimore Orioles

Just because I have the Orioles ranked as the fifth best team in the division, does not mean I do not like this team. The club finally has a direction and it is a fairly strong one. The minor league system is developing and the core of young players is impressive. The Tejada and Bedard trades have supplied the team with a surplus of arms and a future superstar. Moving Brian Roberts is next on the agenda and presumably is only a matter of time away.

The rotation is youthful and has a nice amount of potential. Watching the kids warm up and one would want this starting five over any one else’s. Jeremy Guthrie throws hard and he keeps it in the strike zone. I do not believe last year scratched the surface on the once top prospects potential. Additionally, how long is it before Daniel Cabrera figures things out? When he is on, good contact is nearly impossible to make. The problem is, he is rarely on and his time with the Orioles has to be running out. Cross your fingers Orioles fans. Watch out for Adam Loewen!

My boy Fernando Cabrera seems to have the Cabrera bug; outstanding stuff, terrible pitcher. Once upon a time, he had the biggest swing and miss ratio in the league. The rest of the bullpen is pieced together, some expensive parts, other youngsters with that p word. James Hoey is one of those guys with potential. After a spectacular minor league career, he has become extremely hittable and less capable of striking hitters out. In other words, this isn’t a terrible bullpen; rather, it’s one that is perfectly suited for a club like this.

Offensively the Orioles have all but given up for 2008. If and when Brian Roberts gets traded, this will be an outstanding team to match up with in fantasy leagues. There is hope for the future though. Between Nick Markakis and Adam Jones the Orioles have the highest potential outfield in the majors. Luke Scott should also turn some heads and allow people to realize that the Tejada trade was more then just a salary dump.

Breakout Candidate: Adam Loewen – I am confident the Orioles teach their minor leaguers to MISS the broadside of the barn. In fact, I would love to see some Pitch FX data to see exactly how far out of the zone Loewen works. That said, I expect the 24 year old to begin making strides towards stardom in 2008.

Major Addition: Adam Jones – PECOTA projects Jones to be nearly as good in 2008 as in 2014. He has all the tools in the world and the Mariners will regret trading him away as soon as the 2009 season. All that being said, Jones is already better then what the Orioles had in 2007, so that is a step in the right direction.

Major Subtraction: Not getting rid of Kevin Millar – There is no reason Millar is still with the club. There were ample options available in the free agent market, young hitters with decent potential.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Division by Division Preview - AL West

“What does the future of sports look like? This magazine has spent its whole short life trying to figure that out. But as we learned long ago, forecasting the future is futile. Predictions are a reflection of a single perspective: the present’s.”

-Luke Cyphers in ESPN The Mag, March 24, 2008, Page 48.

I couldn’t have said it better. Forecasting what humans will do in the future is impossible. In Fantasy Land, by Sam Walker he decided that his fantasy draft would take into account each and every variable when ‘scouting’ players. From what that players diet includes to spousal relations or as Sam and Nando referred to throughout the book as “The Hunchmaster”. Attempting to quantify what an uncontrollable object will accomplish is nearly impossible and is the reason why Tom Tango created the MARCELs projection system-as in Marcel the Monkey from Friends. In short, the projection system is the most simplistic of all player forecasters out there yet has a comically close reliability.

AL West

Consider the AL West, a top heavy division where last year’s bride’s maid sold its future in an attempt to take control of the division for the upcoming season. The class of the division is being butchered by injuries to their pitching staff. While the two basement dwellers of the division are working out their individual rebuilding plans. And I have always wondered why there are only four teams in this division while there are six in the NL Central which could easily loan the Houston Astros.

1. Seattle Mariners

This was actually my pick for the division in 2007 and even if they hadn’t gone out and spent a fortune acquiring Erik Bedard I still would have picked the forgotten coastal team. I like a lot of the players they have to improve on their 2007 seasons and I think Bedard-Felix will prove to be the best 1-2 combination in the majors.

With Bedard I like this rotation as every player now appropriately can slide into their specific slots. Even though Felix has had an outstanding xFIP the last two seasons he is not yet a number one so the number two spot is perfect for him. Then not one of Washburn, Silva or Batista is any better then the third spot they will occupy and thus are better suited to match up with their competition. The issue with the rotation then, lies in the fact that outside of the Opening Day five, the club is not well suited to handle injuries. While there are arms that are capable of handling some spot starts, this clubs is going to have to hope the injury bug does not bite them.

The Mariners bullpen is an interesting collection of talent and quite different from the rotation, can afford an injury or two. However, with the value of JJ Putz (he was the #1 win share creating reliever in the majors) the Mariners bullpen is appropriately top heavy. For a team looking to win the division, I wonder what it would have taken to keep Sherrill around and thus cushioning the blow of any of their top relievers. This bullpen is not outstanding, but it is solid nonetheless.

Offensively one has to worry if the Mariners can be good enough to make the playoffs. The team replaced Guillen and his steroid allegations with Brad Wilkerson and his hospital bill. However, keep in mind that Wilkerson was the centerpiece of the Rangers trading away of Alfonso Soriano, so much so, that many considered the Rangers the winner of that trade. Richie Sexson is the key to the Mariners offense as no one is quite sure what to expect from the once feared slugger. Two youngsters to watch out for are Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement. Both have gross amounts of potential, but are blocked by veterans. More often then not I am against blocking young players with potential, but in this case, it does not appear as if Balentien or Clement could out produce those ahead of them.

Breakout Candidate: Brandon Morrow – The wild 23 year old is more about stuff then location. If he is able to develop some control, he and Putz could make for one of the most dominant 8th/9th inning combinations in the league. If he is more second half then first, Morrow may be on track to turning things around. Given the sample size it is difficult to trust.

Major Addition: Erik Bedard – The trickle down effect in the rotation alone will make this one of the biggest acquisitions of the year. This also provides the Mariners with superior pitching depth. The cost, however, no matter how long Bedard signs for, will probably be a negative affect long term, but the Mariners have a legitimate shot this season, so why not?

Major Subtraction: George Sherrill – While the Bedard trade deepens the rotation, it provided a thinning effect for the bullpen. The Mariners will definitely miss Sherrill’s reliable innings, but the team is better in 2008 despite this loss.

2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

This club is the reason why I waited until the week before (/of) the season to begin writing the division by division previews. A lot can happen and it is too difficult to project things in the beginning of March. Consider that as recently as March 7th the Angels were still considering John Lackey as their Opening Day starter. Ten days later, Lackey is now being considered as out until at least mid-May.

With Kelvim Escobar already ruled out for an undetermined amount of time, the Lackey injury is that much more devastating. Fortunately, the Angels created a back up plan when they traded for Jon Garland, whom is leaving hitter friendly US Cellular for pitcher friendly Angel Stadium. Young ‘veterans’ Weaver, Santana and Saunders will be relied on to come up with big innings while Escobar and Lackey attempt to get healthy. Each has the potential to be a valuable starter, but need to prove themselves before anyone can write them down as legitimate. It will be interesting to see how Adenhart performs in triple A and whether or not the Angels need him in the case of an emergency.

The bullpen is finally beginning to show its age, however one can never rule out this group. Like the Twins, the Angels defy logic by continually pumping out stellar bullpens. Scot Shields, an annual anchor of the pen is hurt and it is questionable whether or not he will start the season on the disabled list. While the club has a ready (and possibly even superior) substitute in Justin Speier, two quality arms is always better than one. The rest of last years bullpen remains in tact, although this is not entirely good news as that were the worst group the Angels had put together since at least 2001.

The hitting is not going to be a problem unless the clubs age begins to catch up to them. Vlad, Torii and Matthews may make for the best fielding outfield in recent memory, but with each one getting up there in age, a drop off offensively can begin to be assumed. Fortunate for the Angels, however, is the fact that they have offensively ready hitters in Willits and Rivera that could step in and perform at a high level at any moment. Additionally, the club is young enough at enough positions where development is very likely.

Breakout Candidate: Mike Napoli – One of the many young hitters that I mentioned that can be relied on for improvement. Napoli is a catcher who in the low minors clubbed 60 home runs in 2004 and 2005 combined, so the power is there. What is missing for the 26 year old is the ability to remain healthy. If he does so one can expect 25+ home runs from the backstop.

Major Addition: Torii Hunter – Signing Matthews Jr. for the 2007 season was obviously a mistake. Hunter will come in and immediately provide quality protection for Vlad. Although the future does not look bright for the Angels outfield, for 2008, Hunter will provide a needed boost for the club. A close second, due to the injuries of Lackey and Escobar would be the addition of Garland, however the cost…

Major Subtraction: Orlando Cabrera – Despite being on his last legs offensively, Cabrera is still a reliable top of the order bat. The swap worked out for the Angels, but they will nevertheless miss Cabrera.

3. Oakland Athletics

Most are chalking the Athletics up for a disastrous season but I am actually thinking the 2008 club will not be much worse then the 2007 club if they can happen upon some luck. Consider the club was essentially without Harden last season; if he can remain healthy, his performance should actually be superior to the pitcher they lost (Haren). This exercise could essentially be done top to bottom with the 25 man roster, and although the club will need to be lucky, they could easily exceed their win total from 2007.

The rotation will be fine in 2008 as long as Harden can stay healthy (as I type this, he is absolutely dominating the Red Sox while using only his fastball, change up and sparingly the split finger dropping the slider altogether) and Blanton remains with the club. The injury to Gaudin may have a negative effect, but watch out for Dana Eveland to be a major contributor to the rotation.

I love this bullpen. It is deep, youthful and talented with one of my favorite all time relievers, Andrew Brown. I see Brown as a future closer, if, like Morrow, he can harness his control. Aside from Brown, everyone knows the current closer Houston Street, who missed about half the 2007 season due to injury. All signs are pointing to him being healthy, despite getting lit up by the Sox in his first outing of the year. Essentially, full seasons from Street and Brown will be like adding an entire reliever (both pitched half a season in 2007). The addition of Keith Foulke gives a veteran presence to the bullpen and the rest of the arms are talented enough to simply fit into the required spots.

The A’s hitting is not going to be that bad either. The team is young enough where improvements can be expected and Billy Beane did an excellent job acquiring cheap, talented veterans such as Mike Sweeny and Emil Brown. If both can come close to their career averages, they will come as two of the most efficient signings of last off season. In addition to the added veterans, youngsters such as Daric Barton and Kurt Suzuki will provide offensive improvements over what the club had for the majority of 2007. Thus, the loss of Nick Swisher will not be felt as much as one would expect.

Breakout Candidate: Kurt Suzuki – While I am enamored with Andrew Brown, I recognize he has a bunch of pitchers to hurdle in order to get there. I also expect Barton to be the superior long term player; however, Suzuki will have an incredible impact on the A’s in 2008 as he will handle the pitching staff far better then last year’s majority catcher, as well as improving the overall team defense. Suzuki was also terribly unlucky in 2007 and will definitely improve upon his numbers against left handed pitchers.

Major Addition: Ryan Sweeney – While Sweeney may have lost much of his prospect luster, keep in mind the outfielder is still only 23 years old. He won’t be pushed into fulltime action until he is entirely ready, watch out for this kid.

Major Subtraction: Dan Haren – I suppose with Haren the A’s have a shot at being a 90 win team. That still would not put them in the playoffs, so really, its tough to consider anything they could have lost as major.

4. Texas Rangers

Despite possibly having the best team top to bottom, the Rangers are the worst team in this division. The club still has no real starting pitching and adding more fire power wasn’t really the most pressing need. However, the future does look bright for the club as they are incredibly strong up the middle.

The rotation is terrible, but the additions of John Patterson (again, why I don’t do these things too early) and Jason Jennings will help the mess of a rotation the Rangers put together in 2007, but this is still far from an elite group. There is, however, hope for the future…An ongoing theme with this club.

The Rangers bullpen is another one that I like, young, talented and deep with Francisco and Benoit as two of my favorite relievers. The bullpen could be of a major assistance to a winning club, but will simply be used to prevent the Rangers from being blown out of the water with regularity.

Offensively the Rangers are assisted by a hitter friendly ballpark. But with some quality youngsters in Hamilton and Saltamacchia there is, like the rotation, hope for the future. Milton Bradley was brought in this off season and looks to be one of the best signings. Jason Botts is a player whom I think with enough at bats, could be a quality everyday designated hitter. And everyone, but me, has high hopes for Ian Kinsler, it must be because of how close his name is to Ray Kinsella.

Breakout Candidate: Jason Botts – I found it difficult to find a player whom truly fits the mold. Botts has some great power potential but it is questionable as to whether or not he gets the appropriate at bats. Keep an eye on him in the opening weeks of the season to see if the Rangers go with performance or pay.

Key Addition: John Patterson – For a team without any pitching, Patterson could be a legitimate ace. He may start the year in Oklahoma City, but once he is up with the club, there is little reason to believe he won’t be the team’s number 1 starter. Milton Bradley is a close second, but for a team not desperate for offensive help, he is on the outside looking in.

Key Subtraction: Edinson Volquez – This guy is going to be a future ace and shouldn’t have been dealt for anything outside of a sure thing 22 year old. Hart may have been thinking that his fly ball tendencies would not fit with ‘The Ballpark at Arlington’ while Hamilton’s would fit perfectly. Either way, the team would be better served with Volquez in the coming years then Hamilton (how long before Hamilton’s nick name is ‘Hammer’?).

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fantasy Baseball Generals Speculator Part Two - Rollins v. Utley

Another week another round table discussion at The Fantasy Baseball Generals. This week, a toss up between Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. While the two are of different positions, at this point in the draft you should simply be taking the best available player.

Here is what I wrote:
"I am, like everyone else, going to have to go with Rollins. For me, it has less to do with the statistics then the position scarcity. That is, I actually anticipate Rollins to regress more so then Utley. While Rollins has a substantially lower BABIP, it is in line with his career mark despite the drastic increase in fly balls.

That said, once Reyes, Rollins and Ramirez are drafted the pool of short stops becomes so incredibly shallow, that it is tough to get value by drafting anyone at the point required to get them. That is, in a recent draft (no MI position), instead of taking Bartlett, Lugo, Greene, etc in one of the final rounds, I decided to take Schilling whom I can slot in at the DL and pick up whoever is on the waiver wire.

Conversely, with Utley, one can make the argument that a Wigginton holds similar value despite being available some 200 picks later.

And that is why my money is on Rollins."

This is with the expectation that you are in a traditional 5x5 league. Obviously if you are in a league with on base percentage the debate may be slightly different, but for arguments sake, 5x5 it is. Then I considered position scarcity.

At short stop, once the top 3 are gone, Furcal and Bartlett are the only two where one is not forced to overpay for their services and thus will provide a quality return. However the different between Furcal/Bartlett and Reyes/Rollins/Ramirez is quite substantial. Also, one must keep in mind my draft strategy which involves focusing on speed at short stop.

For second base the pool appears quite similar. While Utley is the uncontested #1 second basemen, I do not consider his 5x5 skill set as that much more superior to that of the aforementioned Wigginton and Tim Dierkes old favorite, Mark Ellis (whom I will write about in this weeks TACOM).

Opening Day! Part 1 of 5 - Japan Issue

It's a brand new season and despite the games starting time being 6 AM EST my need for baseball outweighs what this is going to do to the rest of my day. In fact, at this point I don't even mind that there are going to be so many Opening Days.

So let's lose ourselves "in the comforting intricacies of baseball" (Gray, 2006, 5) and watch Baseball for Breakfast.

Update - 3/25/2008 - 10:07 AM
A couple notes of interest:
  1. Did anyone notice the advertisements on the right sleeve and helmet of the players today? I'm not sure if thisis going to be something that sticks for 2008 nor do I remember hearing anything about it. I wonder why playing games in Japan makes this acceptable?
  2. The Athletics may surprise some people in 2008. I am in the midst of my AL West Preview and despite having the A's ranking last I am wondering if this is simply too obvious of a pick. If Blanton, Ellis and the rest of the veterans are moved, then certainly, but this is a nice core.
  3. 95 pitches out of Matsuzaka a week before where he should have actually started. I think the Sox are going to pay for this down the line.
It was great to have baseball back on television. My dish is down so I was fortunate that the West Coast Roger's Sportsnet was carrying the game as for some reason, RSN East and Ontario felt as if people would rather see hockey high lights.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Division by Division Preview - NL West

Division by Division Preview

The real Opening Day is but a week away and I must admit I could not be more excited. Like most of my articles, I have been posting my Division Previews on The Bleacher Report. While I will continue to do so because the website provides an excellent outlet and resource to promote my writing, I have begun to grow tired explaining why I do not like player XYZ due to his terrible sabermetric measures. It also is tiring explaining to a fan my rationale for why I make the statements I do. That is, a fan of the Detroit Tigers does not want to hear that their team is not my favorite to win the World Series and consequently will disagree without any true logic or reason. Sadly, The Bleacher Report has turned into a website where fans can blog and complain about their teams without having an open mind.

But I digress; the National League West is the most wide open division in baseball. Aside from the San Francisco Giants, there is no clear cut winner in the division, nor does there appear to be one for the foreseeable future as each of the clubs own spectacular minor league systems-with the exception of the Giants of course.

National League West

1. Arizona Diamondbacks

Despite deserving to be the worst or second worst team in the division in 2007 the Diamondbacks, as you know, made it to the National League Championship Series. Although the measures are not entirely without flaws as they simply count total runs allowed and scored. Thus, a team loses 10-0 that is worse off then a team that loses 2-1. The thinking is that at the end of a 162 game season, the blowout loses and tight victories will even one another out. Hence, Pythagoras.

While not extraordinarily deep, the Diamondbacks have arguably the best rotation in the majors. With two legitimates National League aces whom are both young and durable, the Diamondbacks can match up with any team. Randy Johnson and Doug Davis are arguably the best 3rd and 4th starters in the National League although one has to wonder how many innings they can be depended on. Outside of that, I prefer Yusmeiro Petit, but feel as though Owings will be the one getting the ball every 5th day as the final arm in the rotation. The wild card is Max Scherzer whom should be called up at some point this season as either a dominant reliever or as a quality starter.

Josh Byrnes has got to be one of the most intelligent GMs in the Majors. He made an unpredictable and HUGE shakeup to his bullpen and came out no worse for the wear. Utilizing Valverde’s high save figures as trade bait was a stroke of pure genius and is one of many reasons why Byrnes is the best GM in baseball. The Diamondbacks have a nice bullpen that is strong at the top. Much of their Pythagorean problems of 2007 were related to having a weak set of mop up men, which is the same case today but who cares!

Offensively, the clubs in the National League West can only hope that the Diamondbacks suffer a plague of horrific injuries, otherwise, this team is going to be a powerhouse for years to come. That is because of youngsters such as Conor Jackson, Chris Young, Stephen Drew and Justin Upton whom should all begin to come into their own. Watch out, as this team is going to be something special.

Breakout Candidate: Stephen Drew – Drew was the darling of many fantasy owners entering the 2007 season as he was spectacular in his call up the previous season. I expect Drew to bounce back and build off of last year if he can avoid the bumps and bruises that slowed him at times last year.

Major Addition: Dan Haren – A high school writing teacher once told me to assume the reader knows nothing. I think I accomplished that here.

Major Subtraction: Tony Clark – Yes, I am going there. And no, I know what I am talking about here. Hear me out; in 2007 the Diamondbacks received around 30hr from their 1B “platoon”, if Conor Jackson reaches 25 this season that will be an impressive feat.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

A reader may have a difficult time swallowing this prediction based on what I said about the Cubs and Astros. However, the Dodgers have a stable enough core of youngsters that even though they will rely on the veterans to contribute a great deal in order for them to succeed (and consequently win the National League Wild Card). This though, is not being entirely fair to the Dodgers as top to bottom they have a better roster then both the Cubs and the Astros.

The rotation is filled nicely with veterans and youth but does lack the ever important depth quality. With the injured Jason Schmidt and the overly talented yet highly untested Clayton Kershaw trying to prove that he is ready, the Dodgers are crossing their fingers nothing goes wrong in the first month or two of the season. Nevertheless, the Dodgers have an interesting story to follow within their rotation as I am certain Kershaw will be pushing the envelope.

As far as bullpens are concerned, the Dodgers have as good of a pen as it gets. With outstanding pitchers in every slot, the Dodgers have a surplus of strong, talented and young arms that they could potentially use for trade bait if need be. Jonathan Broxton is an exciting arm that more and more people are beginning to discover, but my personal favorite Yhency Brazoban-whom I once tabbed “Better than Gagne”-will be back at full strength this season and should make an impact for the Dodgers.

Offensively, the club is deep without one true star; yet! While most are tabbing Matt Kemp as the future of the organization, I have a feeling Andre Ethier will be the bigger star in 2008. That is not to knock Kemp, I think he will turn heads this season, but I am of the belief that this will be Ethier’s year. Another player to watch out for is James Loney, whom experts and scouts were concerned may not develop the needed power to be an everyday first basemen. If 2007 was a display of what Loney is capable of doing, watch out in 2008 as he is given a full workload.

Breakout Candidate: There are truly so many but I am going to take a shot at Andre Ethier – As a 25 year old Ethier began to breakout in 2007 however was limited in his at bats. He is currently having an outstanding Spring and will hopefully beat out Juan Pierre for the final starting outfielders spot.

Major Addition: Hiroki Kuroda – With a nice, not spectacular Japanese League career under his belt, Kuroda comes to North America with moderate expectations. He was one of the most sought after free agents this winter and is struggling to adjust to North American baseball in the Spring. I’m willing to give him a bit more time before declaring this a done deal and would like to think the Dodgers weren’t just throwing money around.

Major Subtraction: None that I can see. In fact, it appears as if the Dodgers added more thru what they lost.

3. San Diego Padres

One of the best run organizations in baseball, the Padres need to start making decisions with the future of the ball club in mind. Chase Headley should be starting the year in the outfield, Scott Hairston should be given ample at bats at some position on the field and Heath Bell needs to be given at least a handful of saves to see if he can be the closer of the future. All in all, the club needs to forget about the minor gains they will receive by throwing Giles and Edmonds out there and start to look to the future, the window in San Diego has, in my opinion, shut.

The rotation is as good as it gets featuring two legitimate aces in Peavy and Young. In addition to these two frontline starters are returnee Greg Maddux and my annual ‘tease of the year’ Randy Wolf. In addition to these four quality starters is the hope that this year will be the year that Mark Prior is able to come back healthy and be the pitcher everyone thought he was going to be. Worst case scenario is that the Padres are again boosted by playing at PETCO and boast one of the leagues top rotations.

Despite not having a terribly deep nor overpowering bullpen, the Padres seem to get by just fine. Bell and Hoffman are as good as it gets in the 8th/9th innings, and the rest of the bullpen is filled with quality complimentary arms. Like the rotation, the bullpen is aided by PETCO Park only needing to be great for 40 games or so when they are winning on the road.

Offensively this can be a nice youthful core. Between Bard, Gonzalez, Kouzmanoff, Greene and potentially Headley, they have a young core that in any other ball park would be feared while playing at home. Consider that this team slugged a fearsome .378 at PETCO in 2007 (good for second last in all of baseball) and .440 on the road (6th in the majors). Traditionally teams are supposed to hit worse on the road then at home, but when you are playing 81 games at PETCO, one can be excused for the giant discrepancy (without doing the calculations, it’s the largest in baseball!).

Breakout Candidate: Kevin Kouzmanoff – Simply put, what Kouz did in the second half of 2007 he is capable of doing for the entire season. He is a guy whom I would argue as one of the best pure hitters in all of baseball. I think his 2008 season will go a long way to backing my opinion of that.

Major Addition: Tadahito Iguchi – One of few hitters whom I think will not be incredibly hurt by hitting in PETCO given his line drive abilities. That said his biggest asset will be in the fact that he is filling one of the Padres biggest holes from a year ago.

Major Subtraction: Milton Bradley – I think Milton is one of the most underrated players in baseball. His fielding plus on base abilities are second to none in my opinion and he is a player who is essentially irreplaceable.

4. Colorado Rockies

While the Rockies hitting should remain the course from a year ago, it is doubtful they have the pitching and defensive success that allowed them to go on their late season tear. Additionally, consider what would have been had they simply lost one game down that stretch, or even a close one in April. Cutting it that close, despite their heroic march to the World Series does not sit well for me and is the reason I rank them at #4 for the division.

The rotation returns intact from what the club had down the stretch and into the playoffs. With youth on its side there is reason for optimism. However, similar to the Padres home hitting woes, the Rockies must suffer with hitting at Coors Field, which despite managements best efforts, is still a hitters park. Neither Francis nor Cook displaces fear in opponents despite each having their own special qualities (Francis’ hook and Cook’s “bowling ball fastball”). Outside of those two starters is a litany of high ceiling youngsters and never been journey men. Kip Wells is a guy to watch out for, as the once solid Pirate tries to resurrect his career in Colorado.

Interestingly the Rockies bullpen was a strong point in 2007 as they placed 12th in all of baseball with an ERA under 4 for the first time that can be researched. The bullpen is quite deep overall, featuring two capable closers in Corpas and Fuentes. Watch out for a big trade this season involving Fuentes that should help stockpile the Rockies with major league ready starters.

Offensively this team is boosted from Coors Field. However, when one considers that this club goes from being far and away the most powerful team at home (+.073 over the next closest opponent in 2007) to a middle of the road team away (-.144 compared to home slugging) I can see why the Rockies may be hesitant to lock up Holiday long term. That said, for 81 games the Rockies are still a wrecking ball of destruction.

Breakout Candidate: Willy Taveras – 33 steals in only 97 games, the highest ISO of the hitter’s career, 26 years old. Keep these numbers in mind as they will all be factors as to why I feel Taveras will breakout in 2008. Additionally, Phil Garner called Taveras ‘the most talented hitter he has ever been around’ claiming that he expected a power outbreak from him in the near future.

Major Addition: None – This team decided not to make any major moves this off season allowing last years NL champs to take another swing at things. I’m not impressed.

Major Subtraction: Kaz Matsui – I recognize it was a bad signing for the Astros but this was a tough loss for the Rockies. There does not seem to be an obvious nor quality choice to replace Kaz and unless Marcus Giles steps up, this is going to be a long and painful season up the middle for the Rocks.

5. San Francisco Giants

This is an embarrassing assembly of talent and a terrible job at managing the organization. I understood the Zito signing at the time and at this point the club simply needs to swallow its pride and take that hit. But to have the farm system this club has combined with brining in Aaron Rowand is simply an embarrassment. This team should be booted out of the division for not representing an understanding of how to rebuild.

The rotation is solid with Cain and Lincecum. Unfortunately, by the time these two are truly in their prime, SBC Park will be a ghost town and the Giants won’t be able to afford to keep either player around for the future. The other youngster (Noah Lowry) is hurt and it wouldn’t surprise me if he was shut down for the year. That leaves the door open for Jonathan Sanchez whom had an incredible minor league career; watch out for this kid as PECOTA projects him to be close to a strikeout an inning.

For a contender this would be a bad bullpen. In fact, it would be one that probably made a contender into a pretender, like the Tigers. For the Giants, this will be exactly what it should be, a bridge to the next game. Brian Wilson has closers stuff and should succeed when called upon, but to target him as a guy with more then 25 saves would be to make a mistake.

I simply cannot believe that an organization would go into a season with Rowand and Molina as the heart of their order. From a Fantasy perspective I like Molina, but that is simply because of the opportunity he is being handed. There is no way he truly deserves that. The club is also continuing to give old as dirt veterans Omar Vizquel and Ray Durham starting jobs. I can understand Vizquel as he may be able to put some butts in the seats because of his glove, but Durham should hardly be a major leaguer at this point in his career. With Velez having a terrific Spring, what would it hurt to give him full time at bats at second base?

Breakout Candidate: Jonathan Sanchez – Honestly, I don’t think anyone is capable of breaking out this year. Considering it does not matter how well any one player plays, they will be overshadowed by the pathetic performance of their teammates. Sanchez is a player who will be given the opportunity to shine and should take the ball and run with it-hopefully out of town.

Major Addition: NONE! This team should have stood pat with what it had, cut their loses and wait for the contracts of Roberts, Winn, Vizquel and Durham to expire and completely rebuilt. Instead, the club brought Aaron Rowand aboard in hopes of who knows. The only bright spot about Rowand is that he will be a nice clubhouse presence once this team is ready to contend, an expensive one, but a nice one.

Major Subtraction: I am actually going to say NONE! There isn’t a player that could have left this team that would have hurt their chances at competing in 2008 or in the future. Letting go of Bonds and Feliz was the right thing to do, unfortunately the club didn’t realize this in June or July of last year.

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