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14/02/2004

Moving on Up 

This blog has moved to www.all-baseball.com/nextyear. Thanks for reading, and please join me over at All-Baseball.

12/02/2004

Central Questions 

Sorry, can’t bring a whole lot of writing to the table today. I have the NL Central questions, but not the corresponding questions that the Easts got. And no, this is not East Coast bias, I’m a central boy born and bred. Kyle Farnsworth, Guillermo Mota, and B.J. Ryan all avoided salary arbitration yesterday...which was the largest story of February 11. I’ll be back tomorrow with more...

Chicago Cubs

Five Pressing Questions
1. How does Dusty organize the veteran middle of the infield?
2. Maddux or Cruz in the fifth spot?
3. Will Derrek Lee reach the potential he had with the Padres and Marlins?
4. Can Joe Borowski keep red-hot with Hawkins breathing down his back?
5. Will one of the Cubs’ starters have their arms fall off?

Houston Astros

Five Pressing Questions
1. Can the bullpen recuperate from losing their best reliever?
2. How do the veteran starters pitch?
3. Are Biggio and Bagwell really down the drain?
4. Is Richard Hidalgo as good as the 2004 version shows?
5. Will the lack of depth come back to haunt the team?

St. Louis Cardinals

Five Pressing Questions
1. How does the back end of the rotation do?
2. Does Jason Isringhausen have a genuine set-up man?
3. Is Jeff Suppan the Pirate or Red Sox version?
4. Who plays the 1B/LF spot that Pujols doesn’t use?
5. Who plays second base?

Pittsburgh Pirates

Five Pressing Questions
1. Will Jason Bay make noise in the Rookie of the Year talks?
2. Will Craig Wilson finally get some playing time?
3. Can Kris Benson bounce back from injury?
4. Is there a person in baseball who knows any reliever on this team?
5. Oliver Perez. Breakout or no?

Cincinnati Reds

Five Pressing Questions
1. Is Adam Dunn anything more than a present day Rob Deer?
2. Can Ken Griffey Jr. bounce back from injury?
3. Is there any way of avoiding having the worst rotation in baseball?
4. Will Ryan Wagner get the closer’s role?
5. Is Austin Kearns ready to become a superstar?

Milwaukee Brewers

1. Will Ned Yost realize Keith Ginter is a better choice than Junior Spivey?
2. What will Scott Podsednik do in year 2?
3. Is there a starter in the Milwaukee organization worth talking about?
4. Will Dan Kolb continue his end of the year success?
5. ETAs of J.J. Hardy, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart?

11/02/2004

AL East Questions 

More lull in the baseball world, as the news of the day consisted of Fred McGriff, Terry Mulholland, and Eric Owens. I’ll root for Fred McGriff, though it will take an injury or two for him to catch onto a Major League roster. I would bet on McGriff playing baseball in 2004, but against him hitting the nine home runs necessary for 500.

Today I’ll ask the preview questions for the AL East, as that was the first preview that Mr. Gammons unveiled in his rounds around the Majors. Here goes...

New York Yankees

Five Pressing Questions
1. “I don’t know is on third.”
2. Can a team succeed with a defense that bad?
3. Will Steve Karsay and Jon Lieber revert to old form?
4. Which pitcher (Vazquez, Brown, Contreras) really steps up?
5. Is Jason Giambi capable of his MVP numbers of 2000?

Aaron Boone threw this team for a curveball they didn’t see coming. George thought he had every base covered, and then in a blink of an eye, third became exposed. It didn’t take long for the team to realize their infield depth extended as far as Enrique Wilson and Miguel Cairo. One Tyler Houston and Mike Lamb later, and the situation is still nerve-wracking. After surviving a scare from the team’s rival in last year’s playoffs, George shouldn’t take anything for granted this year. If the Yanks are in second in July, who is managing?

Boston Red Sox
1. “What’s on second.”
2. Will Byung-Hyun Kim be a good starter, especially with numerous Yankee Stadium confrontations?
3. Can the lesser-known hitters (Ortiz, Nixon, Mueller, etc.) stay on fire?
4. How much of an impact will Keith Foulke make?
5. Will the unresolved contract/trade disputes with Pedro, Nomar, and Manny distract the team?

Under Theo Epstein, the Red Sox have a vision that hadn’t existed in years. In fact, if you already haven’t, go to Baseball Prospectus and read his interviews immediately. Theo and his staff know baseball so well, that they’ve transformed the Red Sox from a team chasing the Wild Card into a team determined to end such talk of a streak. It’s very smart to not expect the offense the 2003 team generated, but with Schilling and Foulke, scores won’t need to be so high. Terry Francona’s first worry should be making Nomar, Manny, and the contract-disputing Pedro feel right at home.

Toronto Blue Jays

Five Pressing Questions
1. Who closes?
2. Will Josh Towers continue his success?
3. Which hitters breakout, and which regress?
4. Ted Lilly: 2003 season repeated or breakout candidate?
5. Can prospects make their presence felt on this team?

Speaking of good GMs, J.P. Ricciardi had a sensational offseason. He got Miguel Batista at a fraction of the cost that the Angels paid Kelvin Escobar, and also added Ted Lilly and Pat Hentgen to the pitching staff. It’s imperative for the team that Eric Hinske or Josh Phelps (or both?) breaks out this year, as the team needs a #5 hitter after the likes of Delgado and Wells. While Theo may have attempted a bullpen by committee last year, check Toronto for how it really works.

Baltimore Orioles
1. Will Miguel Tejada’s road numbers (.303/.377/.497) become his 2004 overall stats?
2. Can Melvin Mora stay in the .300s?
3. Will an opponent ever be fooled by that staff?
4. Is Omar Daal completely worthless?
5. How will Jorge Julio do with high-pressure situations now that the team is competing?

Let’s just say I’m not high on the Baltimore Orioles. Sure, Peter Angelos can spend his Expos to D.C. lawsuit money on offense all he wants, but you can’t win without pitching. I mean, Rodrigo Lopez? Omar Daal? Eric DuBose? Are they serious? I’ll sell anyone 85 wins, and I’m happy with making the bold prediction that they won’t finish .500. I love Camden Yards as much as the next guy, but Baltimore fans will have to endure bad baseball just a little longer.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Five Pressing Questions
1. Which pitchers will Lou Piniella pick to start?
2. What is Rocco Baldelli, v. 2?
3. Can a Tino, Lugo, Rey, Blum infield come close to replacement level?
4. Will Jose Cruz be one of the offseason’s best additions?
5. Who closes?

If I mention GMs, how can I not spend time bashing Chuck LaMar? I mean, how many years under 75 wins can you have before getting fired? I know that Piniella runs the team anyway, but Vince Namoli really should consider firing his GM. The team shouldn’t be expecting much out of Rocco Baldelli, but I’m a big believer in Aubrey Huff and Victor Zambrano. The team has brought in a lot of veteran pitching, hoping to find that one diamond in the rough. It won’t work, and the Devil Rays will stare last place in the face again.

We’ll head to the Centrals tomorrow, starting with my Cubbies.

10/02/2004

The NL East Questions 

Not much going on in the baseball world...hell, I mean a Ron Villone signing is the biggest news. Bill Bavasi is such a terrible GM, one million dollars? Bavasi, have you ever heard of peripheral numbers? No, ERA doesn’t tell the whole story. Yikes.

Anyway, as I did last week with a few articles, today’s piece is based off a ESPN article that I read over the weekend. Peter Gammons has started his divisional breakdowns, already accomplishing the Easts. Gammons is my favorite baseball writer in the world, and I wanted to further develop the questions he asked in each team’s preview.

Below you will find the five most pressing questions for an NL East team, as well as a quick synopsis of the team going into Spring Training. I’ll write much more in-depth previews next month, but a Spring Training preview ain’t bad either. Granted, some of the questions might overlap with Gammons, so Peter, please don’t sue me.

Atlanta Braves

Five Pressing Questions
1. Can J.D. Drew ever top the 425AB mark in a season?
2. Will the horrendous bullpen surrounding Smoltz ever get the ball to him?
3. Does John Thomson have the stuff the team hopes?
4. Are rookies Johnny Estrada and Adam LaRoche ready for the Big Show?
5. Who pitches in the fifth slot?

Much ado will be made on the Braves not being able to continue their divisional streak, but they are used to it. But this is top to bottom the worst team Bobby Cox has been handed in the last ten seasons. While I am not going to start questioning Cox and Mazzone, they are going to need to work magic this season. Filling holes left by Javy, Sheff, and Maddux look daunting, and the bullpen is pitiful. But this team has a will to win, and Bobby Cox knows how to manage...during the regular season.

Florida Marlins

Five Pressing Questions
1. How will Sophomore year treat Hee Seop Choi and Miguel Cabrera?
2. Can A.J. Burnett be effective in 20-25 starts?
3. Does Armando Benitez have the stuff to close outside of the spotlights of New York?
4. Will Beckett, Penny, and Pavano ride the success they had in the playoffs?
5. Can the team replace it’s heart and soul, Ivan Rodriguez, with an accused felon like Ramon Castro?

Going back to back is damn hard, just ask the Angels, the Diamondbacks, and well, the 1997 Marlins. While Florida had a great playoff run, Jack McKeon likely will not be able to build the motivation that made Florida the best team from mid-May on. They don’t promise to be as strong up the middle as they were a year ago, but have a ton of players that could breakout at once. If Choi, Cabrera, Castro, Beckett, Penny and Pavano all have big years, they should win the division.

Philadelphia Phillies

Five Pressing Questions
1. Can Pat the Bat bounce back from an ugly 2003?
2. Will Marlon Byrd build off the success he had in the leadoff role?
3. Will Rheal Cormier stay that good, and will Roberto Hernandez stay that bad?
4. Should Brett Myers and Eric Milton be counted at the back end of the rotation?
5. Can star and leader Jim Thome stay healthy again?

Everyone, including myself, is calling the Phillies the 2000s version of the Cleveland Indians of a decade ago. The Phils are moving into a new stadium with a lot of pressure, and Larry Bowa is under a lot of stress. The spotlight will be shined brightly on the manager the first two months, who needs to be in first place by the end of April to keep his job. If not, Joe Kerrigan may receive another shot at managing, and the Phillie chemistry would be much improved. Billy Wagner was a sensational addition, plus Burrell and Bell can’t be THAT bad again...can they?

Montreal Expos

Five Pressing Questions
1. First and foremost, will Nick Johnson and Brad Wilkerson breakout like some, including myself, are predicting?
2. Surely Frank Robinson doesn’t let Rocky Biddle close games again, does he?
3. Will Wilkerson or Everett hold up in center, or does Endy Chavez need to play out of necessity?
4. If Zach Day stays healthy, can he be a stud?
5. Will Livan Hernandez continue pitching masterfully, as he did a year ago?

I hate to say it, but there are actually things to like about this team. Vidro, Cabrera, Johnson, Wilkerson, Everett...oh, they have the offense. And with Hernandez plus a barrage of young, high-ceiling pitchers, this team could make some noise. Eventually they’ll finish fourth, again, but don’t be surprised if they are in first place in mid-May. Chad Cordero is the right choice for closer, not Rocky Biddle. And here’s to hoping that the Day for Milton Bradley trade ends up working for both teams.

New York Mets
1. How does Kaz Matsui do in year one, and can Jose Reyes really play short?
2. Will the Mike Piazza position dilemma become a distraction?
3. Can Braden Looper hope to fare any better than Armando Benitez did as Mets closer?
4. How do the host of veteran starters pitch this year?
5. Can the team avoid the health problems that plagued them in 2004?

From the beginning, I said that Art Howe moving to the National League was a bad idea. Throwing someone with a learned school of thought into that environment will not work. I think getting Rick Peterson back will help this organization that appears headed in the right direction. Mixing David Wright, Scott Kazmir, Justin Huber, and other prospects will be key in determining if this team will smell the playoffs during Jim Duquette’s tenure. They might not have the right man for the job, but they sure do have the system.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a look at Gammons’ favorite division...the AL East.

09/02/2004

Maddux 

As a Cubs fan, to me there is only one free agent left on the market. I don’t care what happens to Travis Lee, Ugueth Urbina, or even Randall Simon. My hot stove interest has dwindled to cool, but I still check my Internet hourly for word on this generation’s #2 pitcher. Sure, I’ll concede that the hated Astros got the best pitcher in the last fifteen years, but no one has come close to Greg Maddux in the National League.

While I would love for Greg Maddux to join my team, am I overestimating his ability? Do I simply want Maddux because what he’s done in his 571 starts prior to 2004 rather than his possible contributions this season? Does 1994-1998 cloud my thoughts of Maddux so much that I don’t clearly see 1999-2003?

The consensus rumor around the media is that Greg Maddux has been offered a contract by one team, but has received calls from four. The Cubs admit to making an offer believed to be worth between $14-16M over two seasons. The Cardinals’ pitching staff is offering to defer money so that ownership will sign the right-hander. Frank McCourt’s Dodgers placed a phone call days within the ownership change. The fourth team is a bit of a mystery. Jeffrey Loria of the Marlins announced his team will not make a formal offer to Maddux, leaving many to believe the mystery team is the Baltimore Orioles.

Greg Maddux is a wanted individual, until cost comes into play. Is Maddux worth between seven and nine million dollars a season at age 37?

Mad-dog won sixteen games last season, meaning the last time he failed to win fifteen games was during the Reagan presidency (1987). His 1994 and 1995 seasons were both in the top 5 for WHIP and ERA against league average since 1900. His 1997 season had the best BB/9 against league average ever. He’s renowned for being a student of the game, as well as for teaching his art to young pitchers. A true class act, Maddux was one of the Braves best additions ever, and along with Lou Brock for one of the Cub’s worst.

Along with all the great numbers, Maddux has some negative indicators. His H/9 has gotten worse each of the last four seasons, topping the 9.00 mark for the first time since 1998. The K/9 also is on the decline, 5.11, which he hasn’t had since 1989. His 3.96ERA was the highest since 1987, his rookie season in the Major Leagues.

Many people accuse Maddux of being a five-inning pitcher, but his IP/GS last year was 6.06. That was better than the 5.86 in 2002, but hardly close to the years that he bested seven. Maddux was actually significantly better in innings 4-6 than 1-3 last year, giving up a .625OPS against a .779. His largest struggles came in the first fifteen pitches, the only group that his SLG allowed was greater than .500. Maddux gives six good innings on most outings, and surviving the first is his biggest key.

Turner Field has been very good to Maddux, as his ERA has been 0.76 less at home than on the road the last three seasons. It was 1.20 better last year at home, as his road ERA was an ugly 4.61. But as some consolation, Maddux had only a 3.03ERA after the All-Star Break last year, after a 4.63 before the break. After June he warmed up, and finished in top form including a hard 3-1 loss in Game 3 of the NLDS when Mark Prior outpitched the veteran.

Could Maddux be joining the team that beat him in the playoffs, or will he go for their largest rivals? Will Frank McCourt start his term out with a boom, or will Peter Angelos throw another curveball into this offseason? First of all, let me eliiminate the Orioles. Maddux thrives against the 7-9 spots in the order, a spot much weaker in NL lineups than in the AL. Greg would not do well in the American League, and I think he would recognize that.

You can’t blame Frank McCourt: in order to get the Los Angeles fans to like him, the new owner wanted to surprise the city. The team showed interest in Greg Maddux, implying that McCourt’s regime would be filled with the free agent signings that this offseason so desperately lacked. While this is a good symbol to send out, it also will come with a bad message. The Dodgers don’t need pitching at all, and should be spending all available resources on offense. They know this, and have given a town hope that will surely be left unfulfilled.

St. Louis Cardinal pitchers want Greg Maddux. Matt Morris, along with a few other players, have asked to defer money in order to sign the right-hander. If the Cardinals get creative, they might be able to have Maddux sign a deal that defers money as well. But there is one problem: the team has no money to offer. Scott Rolen is signed to a huge contract, and the team is working on long-term deals for Albert Pujols and Matt Morris. Throw in the large amount of money that Jim Edmonds and Edgar Renteria are owed, and the numbers just don’t work out. This is a good thought by the Cardinal pitching staff, but one that won’t be followed by ownership.

That leaves one team, my Cubs. I’ve thought for awhile the team would scoop Maddux up, and it is likely that I will be right. Maddux should be a good change of pace from the hard-throwing group that makes up the rest of the rotation, and will renew the thought that the Cubs have the best rotation in baseball...not the Astros. Bringing back one of their largest mistakes would be a good move by the Tribune Company, though it will come at a cost.

Scott Boras is tough. He’ll milk every dollar an organization has left for his client, and appears to be doing that with Maddux. In response to the offer the Cubs made, it’s believed that the Maddux side sent back a counteroffer of two years and $18M. This would put the Cubs well over the $90M mark, a barrier they have never topped before.

Is Maddux worth that kind of money? Probably not. But, he’s a great addition, and would send a symbol of winning that Chicago needs. Not advocating a Maddux signing is impossible for me, no matter what the cost. He won’t be the pitcher he was in the mid-90s, but seeing him back in Cubbie Blue will be worth the cost of ticket for me.

06/02/2004

Pitching Battles 

Yesterday, I attacked a Tim Kurkjian article about Spring Training battles, detailing a dozen positional battles that the ESPN writer failed to recognize. In response to my column, Tom Gorman, one of the writers of a new Giants blog called Fogball, brought my attention to Brian Sabean comments saying that Pedro Feliz will get 300AB this year. I don’t think he presents any competition to any Giant, although he will be platooning at first base with J.T. Snow.

Today I will move on to the pitching battles, starting with the six teams (minus the Twins, who we talked about yesterday) that are undecided on their closer:

1. Montreal: Biddle v. Ayala v. Cordero: Rocky Biddle had 34 saves last season, despite keeping his ERA above 4.60. He’s very ineffective as a reliever, but had some great strokes of good luck last season. Ayala was a Rule V pick last year that made great progress in his rookie season, and is an extreme groundball specialist. I would leave him in roles when a double play is needed, as well as the set-up role. I would give the job to Chad Cordero, their top choice from a year ago that only allowed 4 hits in his first 11 innings in the Majors.

2. Cincinnati: Reitsma v. Wagner v. Graves: The Danny Graves starting expirament is over, so does the former closer get his job back? I would hope not, as Graves H/9 hasn’t been below 9.00 since the 2000 season. I like Reitsma a lot, but I think his versatility is better suited in the middle relief role. I would also pressure the Reds to use their first-round choice, Ryan Wagner, at the end of games. Wagner, who set the NCAA record in K/9 last year, could jump in the upper echelon of relievers right now.

3. Arizona: Valverde v. Mantei: Bob Brenly has a nice problem here, he can’t pick wrong. Mantei will likely win the job, as he makes a lot more money than Valverde will dream about this year. Valverde had a H/9 below 4.50, along with a 12.70 K/9. Mantei’s hit rate sits right around six, while his K/9 was 11.13. Mantei is the inferior pitcher, by a very small margin, but his giant paycheck will get him 30 saves.

4. Toronto: Speier v. Ligtenberg v. Lopez: The Blue Jays might even consider more than these three, but it should come down to this group. Ligtenberg was J.P. Riccardi’s worst offseason signing, just for the reason that he overpayed greatly. Kerry allowed more hits than innings pitched last year, with a K/9 of just 7.13. And between Speier and Aqulino Lopez, I don’t think there is a right answer. Speier has been great considering his surroundings the last few seasons, while Lopez had a great second half in his first year with the team. I’d go with Speier here, mostly because of a better strikeout rate.

5. Kansas City: MacDougal v. Leskanic: MacDougal is another example of a player who becomes immediately overrated as a result of more than twenty-five saves. His ERA was 6.85 after the All-Star Break last season, and his insane GB rate would be better before the ninth inning begins. I’d rather go with the veteran Leskanic, who was sensational in 27 games after coming to the Royals in July. Leskanic shuts down LH and RH alike, and hasn’t had a bad season since leaving Coors Field in 1999.

6. Cleveland: Wickman v. Riske v. Jimenez: I’ll rule out Jimenez off the bat, who either belongs in the rotation or in middle relief. I really like signing relievers that come from Colorado, especially someone with the sinker that Jimenez possesses. But he’s in no way a closer, and has the arm to throw two innings about fifty times this season. Wickman is coming off surgery, and throwing him into a high-stress situation like closing right off the bat wouldn’t be a good idea. Plus, you can’t go wrong with David Riske, who had a BAA below .200, a WHIP below 1.00, and a K/9 nearing 10.00. Riske is the best choice here, and a decision that Mark Shaprio should make for Eric Wedge.

Some would argue the Devil Rays have no set closer, but I can’t envision a situation in which Lou Pineilla doesn’t give the job to a veteran like Danys Baez over Lance Carter. Moving on to the rotations, I have counted at least seven teams that will have serious competition to decide slots in Spring Training.

1. Atlanta: All-Rookie competition: And by all rookie, I mean that Bubba Nelson, Andy Pratt, Brett Evert, and a host of other pitchers will try out for a spot. Nelson is the best pitching prospect of the group, and a player that Leo Mazzone could flock to. The Braves surprised with Horacio Ramirez last year, but I’m fairly sure that Nelson will be the choice in this scenario.

2. San Francisco: Hermanson v. Correia: Sure, Jim Brower and Ryan Jensen will get looks in camp, but they won’t be thought about too heavily. It will come down to a pair that each pitched between 38 and 40 innings with the Giants in 2003. Hermanson was the better of the two, with a 2.97ERA in six starts while in San Fran. Correia appeared in the Baseball America Giants Top Ten Prospects list, so he has a higher ceiling. The team will likely go with Hermanson off the bat, and Correia could win the job if he pitches well enough in the PCL.

3. Los Angeles: Jackson v. Alvarez v. Dreifort v. Lima: Jim Tracy has said that Edwin Jackson has to pitch his way out of the fifth slot, but with this competition, he might just do that. My guess is that Edwin Jackson will be starting Opening Day, and if the Dodgers listen to my pleas to trade Odalis Perez, the latter three will fight for a slot as well. Alvarez earned the opportunity, and definitely stands second on the totem pole.

4. Arizona: Sparks v. Youth: Steve Sparks will need a very good camp to hold off the competition that is Casey Fossum, John Patterson, Edgar Gonzalez, Andrew Good, and maybe more. I think Fossum gets the job, but will prove in short time that he really does belong in the bullpen. By that time, the D-Backs are hoping that Gonzalez or Mike Gosling are polished enough to take over full-time.

5. Tampa Bay: Final two slots: At this point, I’m going to assume that Jeremi Gonzalez, Victor Zambrano and Mark Hendrickson all have slots. And that is precisely when this gets confusing. The Devil Rays could decide between veterans John Halama, Paul Abbott, Damian Moss or Todd Ritchie for the last two spots. There are also in-house options such as Jorge Sosa, Chad Gaudin, and Doug Waechtler. But then again, don’t forget about Dewon Brazelton, Jon Switzer, or Seth McClung. My guess is that Damian Moss and either Gaudin or Waechtler win the spot, with Moss out by June 1.

6. White Sox: Final two spots: Loaiza, Buerhle, and Garland need not try out. After that, Ozzie Guillen must sort through the mess that is Neal Cotts, Dan Wright, Scott Schoenweis, Jon Rauch, Josh Stewart, and Robert Person. Living in Chicago I have seen most of these people pitch, and let me say that Cotts and Rauch aren’t ready, and I’m not sure if Schoenweis or Stewart ever will be. That would leave Dan Wright and Robert Person to spots in the rotation, although I stand by my stance that Wright and his knuckle-curve belong in the bullpen. Person will be the yearly minor league signing that Ken Williams makes in attempts to duplicate Esteban Loaiza.

7. Seattle: Meche v. Soriano: In a perfect world, this wouldn’t even be talked about. Soriano was sensational after the All-Star Break, while Meche couldn’t keep his ERA below 6.00. Soriano has a ceiling higher than any young Mariner hurler since Randy Johnson, while Meche is the feel-good comeback story that lacks a happy ending. Rafael pitched great in Winter Ball, but I still have a feeling that Bob Melvin is going to drop the ball and put Soriano in the set-up role. What a waste!

Arguments can be made that I forgot Texas and Colorado. Those two circumstances are very detailed, and I’ll probably tackle those two teams at a later date. I also wanted to touch on a few things since it’s Friday...

- Fernando Seguignol was traded to the Nippon Ham Fighters yesterday, a move that angers me greatly. Seguignol is a better, younger, cheaper version of Ruben Sierra, and definitely wouldn’t give the attitude that Sierra has portrayed in the past. Seguignol won the International League MVP last season, and it’s disgraceful that 30 teams wouldn’t want his switch-hitting, powerful bat on their bench.

- Antonio Osuna to the Padres? Don’t they already have Hoffman, Wells, Otsuka, Linebrink, and Witasick all on the right side? I think Osuna is better than a $750,000 pitcher, and I would hardly be surprised if he outpitches overpayed relievers such as Ligtenberg and Julian Tavarez.

- Nice story with Ellis Burks coming back to Boston, but where does he fit in? I’ve always loved his bat, I just don’t understand what his role will be. Maybe a DH platoon with David Ortiz?

- Scott Erickson, as I presumed Wednesday, signed with the Mets yesterday, and will act as their fifth starter. I doubt his health will sustain any period of time, but the Mets have Aaron Heilman and Jeremy Griffiths waiting in reserve.

- The Pirates signed Mark Guthrie yesterday, but will go after Travis Lee rather than Randall Simon now. Good call by Dave Littlefield, who needed some sense knocked into him.

- Finally, let me point you over to a great new blog that has hit the Internet by storm...Dugout Dollars. Michael Srihari has done a great job compiling salary information about all 30 teams, and gives us lesser writers a sensational reference material.

Have a good weekend, and hopefully I’ll return Monday with an article about the newest Chicago Cub, Greg Maddux...

05/02/2004

The Real Battles 

Yesterday I detailed the problem I have with baseball magazines, and the despair that a poor rookie section gives me. Another annual I get excited about is the ESPN.com Hot Stove Heaters, which unfortunately has a new style this year. Rather than write about each team individually, in which they gave great previews in my opinion, they’ve gone to questions ranging from “What will Bud Selig’s legacy be?” to “When will there be an openly gay Major Leaguer?” I just can’t say this got my juices flowing.

But when reading the overview of questions when this system was presented, I circled the date January 30 in my head. On that day, the question “Where will there be position battles in 2004?” would be answered. I think the two single greatest things about Spring Training are the fights for starting roles and the chance to see youngsters against Major League talent. I thought ESPN would go all out on this article...I was wrong.

Tim Kurkjian, a vastly overrated baseball reporter, gave us EIGHT battles that will be fought out in Spring Training. Granted, they all are true (we’re not talkin’ about Phil Rogers here), but eight? That’s akin to buying first-row seats at Wrigley Field only to see the game rained out after five innings. But, just like yesterday, I decided to answer my own question. First, I’ll show the eight Kurkjian presented, and then add on to his list:

1. Yankees CF- Well, is this really a position battle? I think there’s no question that Kenny plays center except when southpaws are on the mound, in which Bernie moves back to his old position, Giambi hits in the DH slot and Tony Clark plays the infield. This could possibly change in Spring Training, but I don’t think there’s too much to be fought out.

2. Twins closer- This is a better battle. The favorite is Joe Nathan, the newest Twin, who held right-handers to a .136 average last season. Juan Rincon and J.C. Romero have done great things in bullpens in the past, and both could fill in. Top 100 prospect Jesse Crain will get a chance, although he’s likely to end up starting the year in Rochester. Finally, expect Ugueth Urbina’s name to be tied to this team, remember, they like signing players in February/March, a.k.a. Kenny Rogers?

3. Dodgers 1B- We’ll see how this plays out, but at this point, is anyone but Robin Ventura even logical? Sure, Jeremy Giambi could always have a great camp, but chances are that Ventura would get the job if the Dodgers opened the season February 6. But, they don’t, giving whomever becomes the GM a chance to fix this terribly weak hole.

4. Mets C/1B- Jason Phillips earned the right to play everyday last year, posting an OPS over .800. And, Mike Piazza is obviously guaranteed a slot. What’s the controversy? Sure Art Howe has to decide who catches who and when, but either way the Mets won’t have a Gold Glover behind the plate. Ask the pitchers, let them decide.

5. Orioles 2B- The battle between Jerry Hairston Jr. and Brian Roberts will be a good one. I think Hairston is the better player of the two, and chances are that he earns the job here. In that case, Roberts should be dealt to a team like the Cardinals or White Sox. The Orioles can’t make a bad decision here, but it is a tough one.

6. Cardinals 2B- Ahh, Bo Hart. If the kid wasn’t so lovable, would he even be in AAA this year? Kurkjian points out that Hart held hit own hitting .277 last year, but doesn’t point out a .317OBP, or the fact that he tailed out in the second half (226/267/332). Marlon Anderson, hands down.

7. Red Sox 2B- Theo Epstein might just be testing Terry Francona here, hoping he weeds out Tony Womack and Terry Shumpert before they really get a chance. I’ve heard the idea of putting Pokey, the defensive specialist, in the lineup when Derek Lowe and Byung-Hyun Kim are starting. With Wakefield or Schilling on the mound, go with Bellhorn. Then, go with the hot hand for Pedro.

8. White Sox closer- I’ve pointed out why Shingo Takatsu is a bad idea, citing the large statistical differences between him and Kaz Sasaki preceding their journey to America. Billy Koch could get the job back with a great camp, and even Cliff Politte might get a look. But I would go with Damaso Marte, who draws the inevitable “lacks closer mentality” crap.

Those are the ones that Kurkjian gave you, but I have more. I’ve accumulated twelve hitting battles (and there are a few others I missed probably) he didn’t talk about, and they go as follows:

1. Atlanta 3B (Branyan v. Derosa): Derosa will be better defensively, he’ll strike out less, he’ll be more consistent. And then there is Branyan, who will hit it to the steakhouse behind the centerfield bleachers at Turner Field. Derosa gets the job here, with the occasional break against ace right-handers.

2. Philadelphia 2B/3B (Utley v. Polanco v. Bell): Utley is full of potential, Polanco produces better than anyone else, and Bell has produced the most in the past and makes the largest paycheck. Will Carroll gave Bell a red-light yesterday in his THR of the Phillies, so this may be an easier decision than Larry Bowa had hoped for.

3. Montreal CF (Sledge v. Chavez): This comes down to the defensive versus offensvie argument. Should the Expos sacrifice defense to put sabermatric favorite Sledge in the lineup, or favor defense and go with Chavez. I think Frank Robinson will pick the latter, the Expos have a lot of offense as-is.

4. Cubs MI (Walker v. Grudzi v. Gonzalez): This also comes down to defense/offense. Gonzalez should have won the Gold Glove last year, while Walker computed for the Lead Foot award, given out to the worst defender at each position. A platoon of Walker/Grudzi and Grudzi/Gonzalez might be in order, depending on Grudzilanek’s ability to handle shortstop.

5. Cincinnati SS (Larkin v. Youth): To further define Larkin’s opponents, Ray Olmedo, Tim Hummell, and Ryan Freel will all be battling with the veteran for playing time. If Freel proves that he can play a good shortstop, give him the job. If not, I would let Larkin make one last tour around the Major League stadiums.

6. Milwaukee 2B (Ginter v. Spivey): We’ve all heard of Junior Spivey. He’s the fun, slashing 2B that the Diamondbacks had represent them in the All-Star game in 2002, after an amazing first half. But in the three halves since then, he’s sucked. Ginter is the better player, and displays a lot of the same attributes at Marcus Giles, who had to fight Keith Lockhart for a job once.

7. San Francisco RF (Mohr v. Hammonds v. Tucker): I would bet good money that Tucker and Mohr end up platooning this spot, as the Bay waits for Todd Linden to actually be ready for the Major Leagues. Tucker will struggle in Pac Bell (or what is it now?), and Felipe might be smarter to give the job to Mohr and have him run with it.

8. San Diego SS (Ordonez v. Greene v. Vazquez): Now the Padres have a justifiable response to sending Khalil Greene to AAA at season’s beginning, which they likely wanted to do in the first place. Ordonez will most likely win this job, though it won’t take long for Padre brass to realize last year was a fluke happening.

9. Colorado 2B (Miles v. Jackson): I’ve fought this battle 100 times on-line before, go with Miles. He was great in AA, great in AAA. The kid can hit, and he gives 100% on every single play. He could hit 10-20 jacks in Coors Field, and be a very important piece of a very threatening lineup.

10. Yankees 3B (???): The most talked about position battle on the Internet. I haven’t written a story on this because I feel I have little to add to what the general public does. It will come down to Tyler Houston, Mike Lamb, and Almonte, with the Houston likely the most deserving. The Yankees haven’t pursues a player for the hot corner as avidly as some predicted, but maybe George wants to build the suspense before releasing the clone he made of Mike Schmidt back in the day.

11. White Sox CF (Rowand v. Benard v. Reed): Jeremy Reed would have to prove a lot to me in camp before handing him an everyday job, but it seems like Reed is more than capable of leaving that impression. Benard can barely play centerfield at this point, so I think Rowand has the job until Reed makes a mockery of International League pitching.

12. Indians LF (Lawton v. Ludwick v. Crisp v. Escobar): Eric Wedge says that Lawton’s paycheck won’t affect his decision, which is a lie. Lawton will get the left field job, and hold it until Grady Sizemore is ready to handle Major League pitching full-time. That should be sometime in the summer months.

Tomorrow I’ll handle the pitchers. Drop me a line with any suggestions, as well as positions that I missed today.

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