Organizational Meetings: Giants 

The Manny Ramirez news was unbelievable today, and I need some time to digest what happened. I’ll write about the situation Monday, pushing organizational meetings to Tuesday and Thursday next week. This weekend I may make a short post about rumors that are flying around as well.

Moving on, today I hit the San Francisco Giants with my organizational meetings. Matthew Durham, a.k.a. the Southpaw, agreed to answer a few questions about his team. And I answer the same questions as well...

1) On the offensive side, the Giants have free agents in right field, and at shortstop, first base, and catcher. Jose Cruz Jr. and J.T. Snow are out the door. Would you pursue Rich Aurilia and/or Benito Santiago? Can Todd Linden and Lance Niekro+Pedro Feliz handle the RF and 1B positions respectively. Are Neifi Perez and Yorvit Torrealba to be trusted at SS and C? If not, who do you pursue for these positions?

Southpaw- J.T. may not be as gone as many may think. He's made far too much money in the past for what he's done (field, but not hit), but I wouldn't at all be surprised to see him come back in the $2-3 million range. The question will be if he can get more than that on a team he'd want to play for (it'll be tough for him to get paid AND play for a contender).

I'd let Santiago go, and I think he's already gone. Aurilia would be a better choice for the Giants to go after, especially since they've got Neifi Perez penciled in without him.

I would be surprised if opening day came around and there wasn't at least a new starting OF in the Giants organization, but I think that Todd Linden and Lance Niekro will be serviceable off the bench. From what I understand, Pedro Felix has been all but given a starting job next year. I keep hearing 25-30 HRs, but I think that's a result of a smaller sample size. I'd be more than happy with 15-20 and a decent OBP.

And as for behind the dish, Torreabla will be the 2004 Opening Day starter, barring a surprise transaction (FA signing or trade). A decent backup will probably be signed on the cheap. Someone like Brent Mayne.

The position that the Giants will need to pursue the most will be in the OF, with either a power guy in RF or an upgrade in CF (moving Grissom to RF). Steve Shelby and I love the idea of a Mike Cameron signing, and it makes sense with this team and park (I'm still not used to "SBC" yet).

Other than that, everyone's going to talk about Vlad and Sheffield, and while I think that the Giants have an outside chance to land one, I don't expect it at all. Vlad played for Filipe, and Sheff almost went to Oakland with Bonds a while back, but the reality is that neither will likely be in Orange and Black next season (unless they're in Baltimore).

Wait ‘Til Next Year- An offense is hard to build in San Francisco, as it’s so easy to just rely on Bonds (which I address in another question). The most important move for Sabean is to re-sign Rich Aurilia, and to not trust Neifi Perez with a 500AB job. He’s a fantastic fielder and worthy of a bench spot, yet a wee bit overpriced, but his .600 OPS hitting is disgusting. Aurilia’s a little injury-prone, but it a top-five NL SS when healthy. With him, Durham, Alfonzo, Grissom, and Bonds, there is a start.

J.T. Snow is probably gone, unless he can be retained for about one million. I’m leaning towards making a competition between Pedro Feliz, Lance Niekro, and a minor league free agent like Calvin Pickering. Feliz has 20-25HR power, but he may never get an OBP over .320. Niekro will give you a high average, but less power than even Snow did. If the team had a manager that could effectively balance the two, that would be nice.

Give the catching job to Yorvit Torrealba. In his time with the Giants, it isn’t hard to predict his 2004 line, prorated to 400AB: .265/.330/.390. It isn’t horrible, and sadly wouldn’t put him in the lowest echelon of Major League catchers. Since the team has a pretty solid other five, don’t worry about the catching position.

And finally, give right field to Todd Linden. Baseball Prospectus loves the guy, and even after a bad 2003 season, he’s ready for a Major League job. Feliz could probably play a little there too, and Sabean would be smart to add a good defensive centerfielder (Goodwin again?), that could push Grissom to right occasionally. Again, Alou must do a good job of balancing to get the Giants back in the playoffs.

2) How much does the Jesse Foppert injury hurt the 2004 rotation? Does this put added pressure on Brian Sabean to re-sign Sidney Ponson or go after veteran Greg Maddux? Would you give Kevin Correia, Jim Brower, or Dustin Hermanson the 5th slot? If not, then who?

Southpaw- Jesse Foppert's injury will definitely hurt the Giants. With any luck, he could be back in the bullpen for the second half of '04, but that's probably a bit too optimistic. If he CAN get back in the ‘pen next year, he could be starting (effectively) by the second half of '05, and that would be huge. TJ patients almost always have one down year before returning to form (see: Matt Morris, John Smoltz, etc.).

I don't expect Ponson back, regardless of the rotation’s position. Schmidt's getting surgery and Woody appears to be on the decline (I still can't believe they chose to keep him over Ortiz, but alas), but I still don't see Ponson coming back.

I'd love to see Greg Maddux come to San Fran, but money will definitely be an issue. With the expected 2004 budget for the Giants, Maddux would need to take a slight paycut to join the team, and with Scott Boras as his agent, that may not be possible. With Maddux you not only get a quality starting pitcher, but also another pitching coach. He's going to help out some team more than they'll know.

As for the 5th spot, everything I've heard has Correia in the rotation, so he'll be there if they sign someone, and in the 4th spot if they don't.

WTNY- Foppert’s injury won’t hurt too much in 2004, as he didn’t quite perform like they needed in 2003. He’s a fantastic pitcher, but had a lot of us scratching our heads when the radar reading said 93 mph in the Majors, after 99 being typical in the minors.

I like Maddux a lot more than Ponson. Maddux, in a spacious SBC Park, could do some good damage, and would be a good teammate to Barry Bonds. Ponson is a giant question mark, and the team should let Kenny Williams jump all over him. Maddux is a much more sure thing, and would become the second starter on this team. If pushed, Maddux would hit 15 wins, have an ERA around 3.50, and pitch 150 innings.

I didn’t see a lot of Correia, so I have a hard time trusting him. I like competitions for the fifth spot, and bringing in a few minor league free agents (Justin Thompson?) isn’t a bad idea. Correia looked pretty good during the last two months, but make him prove it during the next six. Don’t roll over Sabean.

3) Robb Nen will be back next season, taking over the closing job that was Tim Worrell's. With a budget expected to decrease, can Worrell be brought back? Should the Giants trade Felix Rodriguez? Who and what can we expect from the bullpen in 2004?

Southpaw- Robb Nen's a great pitcher, but his contract has been a major burden on the Giants payroll for its final 2 seasons (04-05), both of which were Player Option years. Nen is definitely better than Worrell, but not better enough to make up for the salary difference.

Worrell's gone if he can get "closer" money somewhere else. If he wants to stay, I'm sure the Giants would want him back. It may just come down to numbers.

Felix may be gone, but if the bullpen is on the shallow end expect him to stay on as insurance in case Nen falls.

WTNY- Nen’s contract kills the Giants, and shows the dangers with good “show-up-in-the-ninth” pitchers. Worrell did fine with San Francisco, but should take big dollars somewhere else to return to middle relief. He’s always been a very good pitcher, but an ‘overbudgeted’ team can’t afford him.

Felix Rodriguez and Joe Nathan are important parts to the bullpen. I think both need to come back, and both need to never screw up. Nen should be a little shaky in his return, so the Giants need the seventh and eighth innings to be solid. I would also re-sign Matt Herges, whom played very well during his stay. That would give Nen three very good right-handed set-up men. Outside of that, there is Jason Christianson, Scott Eyre, and Jim Brower.

4) It seems the Giants philosophy has leaned on just putting average players on offense, and letting Barry Bonds do everything else. Does this put too much pressure on Bonds to stay healthy and active? Can we expect his level of play to decrease as he nears 40?

Southpaw- With a player like Bonds there isn't much else you CAN do, unless you've got very deep pockets. Bonds' salary is almost a quarter of the entire team payroll, so it's not easy to surround him with superstars, and his age prevents the team from rebuilding around him (see: A-Rod). The Giants window is as big as Bonds' time there, unless they pick up a masher like Vlad before Bonds retires.

The Giants success will likely always ride on the back of Bonds. If he stays healthy, they're an instant contender; if he's out, there isn't a large margin of error.

Bonds has been playing like a Superman for the last few seasons, despite being on the tail end of his career. I won't be surprised to see Bonds continue his dominance for a few more years, but age will eventually catch up with him if a random injury doesn't stop him first. Enjoy this while you can, because you never know when it will end.

WTNY- At some point the wonderful journey Bonds has taken us on will end. But in the meantime, it’s stupid to bet against him. He’s the smartest hitter in the Majors, and really changes a game. So in that sense, it’s fair to surround him with eight average players. But having good hitters in front of him is important, because they can see such good pitches as a result.

I’m torn on my thoughts of Bonds breaking Hank’s record. Does he have it in him? If he does, will Sosa and later A-Rod shatter the record? Is 700+ home runs as great a feat as it once was? Bonds likely will break the home run record, but won’t hang onto it long. He’ll never get to 800, but will one day end the argument of best baseball player ever. He may not be signing autographs during the weekends, but Barry Bonds is the best player from this, and any, generation.

5) Jerome Williams had a sensational rookie season, although he wasn't nearly as touted as Marlin Dontrelle Willis. What kind of numbers do you expect from Williams in 2004? What other young Giants should take a step forward?

Southpaw- I always expect a "sophomore slump" from rookies who do well, but I don't think that Williams will have too much trouble with his. He's been the guy the Giants have been big on for years, and that's one of the reasons he was brought up last season.

With a healthy staff next year he could start anywhere from 2-4, depending on how well Woody picthes, and if they sign another starter.

For info on who may be the next player up in the Giants orgainization, I'll forward you to Stephen Shelby (SS's SF Giants News). He's my reference point for all things Giants in the Minors.

WTNY- Williams is a stud. Although his 2002 was a little disappointing, Williams was the stud of the 2002 AFL, which led him into 2003 very nicely. He reminds many of Doc Gooden, but draw absolutely no press this season. If he pitches like a number two starter next season, don’t be surprised. His stuff borders on that of Schmidt.

Looking in the system, the Giants have a lot of good pitchers. Boof Bonser will be up soon ,and a host of pitchers follow. The best being Merkin Valdez, or “El Mago.” Valdez is really the only player who will justify the Ramon Ortiz for Damian Moss deal.

6) What was your opinion of Felipe Alou in his first season as manager? How do his styles contrast those of his predecessor Dusty Baker? And going to the front office, why do the Giants need to decrease payroll in they attract the best attendance numbers in the Majors?

Southpaw- Personally, I thought Felipe was good for the Giants. The Giants are big on former-Giants, and Felipe's a quality guy in general. It was a good fit. Dusty's a good manager too, but there was too much friction for him to stay.

Something I noticed in the playoffs was that Alou may have pulled some pitchers too soon, but then again, Baker's problem was usually letting them stay in too long, so maybe I'm just jaded.

As for the payroll, from how I understand it the Giants were actually OVER budget this season, which would explain the decrease. It's easy to look at attendance (which I thought was second to NYY) and say that they should maintain or increase the budget, but without having all the information it's tough to know for sure. In general I think that a majority of the owners make too much money while not improving their teams, but I don't think that's the case in San Francisco. It seems that Magowan really does care about the fans, but I could just be naive.

In the end it doesn't matter why they need to cut payroll, it just matters that the Giants (especially Brian Sabean) do what they can within their power to get better and go for that elusive San Francisco Championship.

WTNY- After having a year of Dusty in Chicago, I can’t complain about another manager. Dusty is vastly overrated, a product of good GMs and big markets. He’s been handed talent, and actually hasn’t gone as far as he should have.

Felipe did well in 2003, but he was holding everything together at the end. The Bonds’ death midseason was a distraction, mainly because Bonds’ absence hurts the team so much. Jason Schmidt was a little overworked during the season, but probably had to be really babied.

7) Ray Durham and Edgardo Alfonzo had disastrous first seasons as Giants. Do you expect performance to increase from both of them in 2004, and to what degree?

Southpaw- I expect both to improve their numbers from 2004. With Edgardo, expect second half Alfonzo, not Playoff Alfonzo.

WTNY- Ray Durham will be my second basemen during fantasy baseball next year. He’s a really good second basemen and leadoff hitter, but really didn’t get the chance to prove himself in 2003. He will in 2004, when the Giants have him touch home 120 times.

8) Create a step-by-step offseason to-do list for Brian Sabean.

Southpaw- If I REALLY knew what to do, I'd probably be a GM, but here goes:

1. Sign an OF bat. Do it soon, get it out of the way. Protect Bonds in the lineup. Build from there.

2. Sign another SP, get Maddux if he'll come cheap (ditto for Pettite) otherwise get a second tier guy that won't hurt the budget.

3. Give Feliz his shot playing every day or put him in a package for a Sexon (likely) or Beltran (not likely).

4. Sign Hasagawa if you can afford him, trade Felix Rodriguez (J.D. Drew?).

5. Get us back to the World Series . . . Bonds won't lose twice.

WTNY- First of all, let me say I’m not a buyer on the Giants for 2004. They simply have too much money allocated towards Barry Bonds and Robb Nen, and likely can’t succeed because of that. If Bonds gets hurt, this team becomes one of the worst teams in the division. I think signing Maddux is a good move, but I don’t think Sabean should test McGowan’s limits. The San Diego Padres are primed to win next season. But anyway, here is a recap of my moves:

1. Re-sign Rich Aurilia
2. Give Torrealba the catching job, Todd Linden right field, and a platoon of Felix and Niekro at first
3. Sign Greg Maddux, and bring in minor league free agents to battle with Correia.
4. Let Worrell go, but keep F-Rod.
5. Wait for the days when Williams, Foppert, Bonser, and Valdez make up a damn good rotation.

That’s it for now, have a good weekend and watch the Manny situation.


More Damn Yankees 

Yesterday, Alex Belth and Larry Mahnken answered questions about the Yankees future. There is perhaps no media subject more chronicled than Yankee offseasons. While most everone (me included) hates the Bronx Bombers come October, we love them in December. No other pro sports team floods as much money into their team, and with Steinbrenner, no player is ever out of reach.

Today, I'll take my stab at the Yankees, more specifically, my answer to question 8 from yesterday. Question 8 read: Create an Offseason To-Do List for the Yankees. Again, here is Alex Belth's answers:

a. Making pitching decisions. Sign Pettitte, trade Weaver for another front line starter.
b. Figure out the outfield. Move Bernie to left, and then either Sori to center and Matsui to right, or Matsui to center and Vlad or Sheff to right. Or Maybe get another center fielder and move Matsui to right.
c. Sign Hasegawa.
d. Figure out third base and second base. Move Aaron Boone.
d. Figure out if you want to trade Nick Johnson.
e. Get a left-hander in the pen.
f. Sign coaches.

And Larry Mahnken's answer:

1. Re-sign Andy Pettitte
2. Sign Vladimir Guerrero, Gary Sheffield, or Mike Cameron (in that order)
3. Sign Kevin Millwood or Bartolo Colon (in that order)
4. If step two fails, try to trade for Carlos Beltran, but without giving up Johnson
5. Re-sign Gabe White, pick up the option on Heredia
6. Improve the bench: get a backup catcher who can hit some, a backup infielder who can field some, a good defensive replacement center fielder, and a real pinch hitter (NOT Ruben Sierra)

Before I move on to my attempt, let me note two things I've come to realize about the Yankees...

1) They are the smartest team in baseball. While Aaron Gleeman may be onto something that Jeter's clutchness is a wee bit overrated, there's no questioning this team's intelligence. They run the bases intelligently, bunt well, and move runners over. They take walks and work counts.
2) New York has very bad defense. There aren't many things holding the Yankees back more than defense anymore. This must be resolved.

Now, for a brief overview of my answer:

1) Re-sign Andy Pettite and Felix Heredia
2) Name coaches
3) Trade Soriano
4) Trade for Vazquez
5) Reboost right side
6) Go cheap on bench and bullpen

Now, to go more in depth, here goes...

1) Re-sign Pettite and Heredia- While these two may seem like an odd couple, both fit in New York. Andy was raised in the Yankee system, and all his success has come in pinstripes. It's a good argument that without Pettite the Yankees wouldn't have advanced to the World Series, so in other words, the team must re-sign him. The man is loved in New York, and has more postseason wins than anybody...ever. He'll never see $11M associated with his name again, but three years at $21M sounds good.

Heredia pitched well after an August claim, earning Torre's trust and respect. He can retire lefties, and is a good second southpaw in the bullpen. He should be low on the priority list, as should the rest of the bullpen. All the AL rivals (Boston, Oakland, Minnesota) should have worse bullpens in 2004, so Steinbrenner and Co. should leave that on the backburner. If need be, trade for a player during midseason.

2. Zimmer is gone, Down is gone. Mazzilli and Stottlemyre are out the door. That leaves Joe Torre and Willie Randolph to pick up the mess. So, I had a revelation. Why not go with younger, more popular coaches in this situation. Sign Don Mattingly as hitting coach, David Cone to be pitching coach, and Luis Sojo for 1st base. Then find another funny-looking bench coach (Lasorda?) to give Fox great images of Torre and his funny-looking sidekick. God...I miss Zim.

3. Trade Alfonso Soriano to the Royals for Carlos Beltran- Let's see. The Yankees want to move Soriano to center, have him become more selective, and be an ideal middle-of-the-order hitter? Well, by trading Soriano you can have that player without all the development needed. Beltran is the player the Yankees want Soriano to be: he has one of the best SB success rates in baseall, has power from both sides, and plays good defense. He is a much smarter player than Soriano, thus he would fit better with the team. Beltran would allow the team to pass on Guerrero and Sheffield, and the Yankees would move Bernie to left and Hideki to right. That would result in a vastly improved outfield.

The Royals would do this deal, as it would give them three more years before free agency, at a position they need more. David DeJesus is ready to replace Beltran in center, but the Royals have no long-term option at second base. They can afford for him to be a hit or miss player, with potential greater than that of Beltran.

4. Trade Nick Johnson, Juan Rivera, and whatever prospects necessary (save Navarro), to acquire Javier Vazquez- Again, this would only give the Yankees a player for one season, but it would be worth it. Vazquez had a sensational second half, and would immedietly become in upper-tier of AL pitchers. He's a strikeout pitcher that wouldn't put a lot of stress on the players behind him.

And while Larry Mahnken is so sure about Johnson, I'm not sold. He's very injury-caliber, and hasn't produced well enough for me to be convinced he'll be a superstar. His baserunning mistakes were deadly in the playoffs, and like Soriano, his stupid antics don't belong with this team. But in Montreal they would be welcomed.

5. Revamp right side with Luis Castillo and Doug Mientkiewicz- Whew, talk about a defensive upgrade! Castillo is a switch-hitting second basemen that would add 50SB speed to the lineup immedietly. He seems to be a good guy to hae in the clubhouse, and don't let his playoff numbers confuse you: Luis Castillo is a great player.

Is there a more perfect player for the Yankees than Doug Mientkiewicz? He defends well, and would make Jeter and the rest of the infielders much better. Doug is a clutch hitter, and has a very sweet swing. He wouldn't be asked a lot of offensively, other than to hit 30-40 doubles in Yankee stadium. But, for a 2-year, $5M contract, the Yankees would be stupid not to sign.

6. Go cheap in bullpen and bench- First, the bullpen. Decline the options of Osuna and White. Make Karsay healthy. And then sign Mike Williams. He would come cheap, probably about $1M, and was a 40-save closer not that long ago. Williams would be a good set-up man to Rivera, and take the pressure off Karsay. Then, the rest of the bullpen is Chris Hammond, Heredia, and the loser of the Jeff Weaver v. Jon Lieber rotation battle.

The bench is easy to construct. No Ruben Sierra. In fact, the Yankees have a rich man's Sierra within their farm system: Fernando Seguignol. The 2003 IL MVP had a great season, is a switch-hitter with pop, and can play first and the outfield corners. David Delucci is a good fit here, and Enrique Wilson should be kept around. Either Erick Almonte or Andy Phillips should be considered for the backup infield bench spot. The backup catcher? Why not Todd Greene? His defense wouldn't effect the Yankees in the 30 games they ask of him, but his hitting skills (including pinch hitting) would really benefit the team. Plus, he comes cheap, to the tune of the minimum.

That's it. That gives me a 2004 Yankee lineup of:

Castillo- 2B- S
Jeter- SS- R
Giambi- DH- L
Beltran- CF- S
Posada- C- S
Matsui- RF- L
Williams- LF- S
Mientkiewicz- 1B- L
Boone- 3B- R

A rotation of:

Mussina- R
Vazquez- R
Pettite- L
Contreras- R
Lieber/Weaver- R

A bullpen of:

Rivera- closer
Karsay- main set-up
Mike Williams- secondary set-up
Chris Hammond- Main southpaw
Heredia- 2nd LOOGY
Weaver/Lieber- Long relief

Finally, a bench of:

1. Seguignol- 1B/OF- S
2. Delucci- OF- L
3. Wilson- IF- R
4. Almonte- MI- R
5. Greene- C- R

Now, tell me that's not a good team. Tomorrow the Giants will be taking place in my organizational meetings, so be sure to check that. Plus, this weekend I'll throw some mad rumors I'm hearing onto the site, so keep visiting!


Organizational Meeting: Yankees 

Today I’ll move along in my organizational rankings, going to the New York Yankees. The format has changed for today, as two Yankee bloggers (Larry Mahnken from the Replacement Level Yankee Blog and Alex Belth from Bronx Banter) take their swings at my questions. My answers won’t appear until tomorrow, so, no great loss for the reader. Enjoy...

1) It's no secret the Yankees will target right field in the offseason, as a Delucci/Rivera platoon isn't Yankeesque. Instead, the Boss is left to decide between Vladimir Guerrero and Gary Sheffield. Some reports say Steinbrenner prefers Sheffield, do you agree and why?

Alex Belth- Sheffield is definitely George's kind of guy and vice versa. Sheff is high maintenance but a borderline Hall of Famer. He would fit with the Yankees for three seasons I think. If he stays healthy, there is no reason to believe that he wouldn't be very helpful for a winning team. If he plays in a losing situation, he could be an issue.

But if you want the better player--his back injury this past season notwithstanding---Vlad is the way to go. He's so young, and so strong and so good. People talk about how shy Guerrero is and how that wouldn't fit in here in New York. But again, if he stayed healthy, he would be a monster, because the guy doesn't have a conscience and he's just too good to suck.

I don't know if you can go wrong with either guy, except I worry about Sheffield staying healthy. Because if he gets hurt, it's like a super charged version of Danny Tartabull all over again. Personally, Vlad is my favorite player in the National League--I own a Vladi jersey and t-shirt--so I would be ecstatic if he came to play in New York. But as a baseball fan, I feel like it would be too much for the Yanks to have him. Let a weird guy like Vlad go to the Padres, or stay with the Expos.

Larry Mahnken- If the Yankees are going to target right field instead of moving Matsui to right, Bernie to left and getting a centerfielder, I'd prefer Guerrero over Sheffield. Sheffield is a better hitter than Guerrero right now, but Vlad is a better fielder and is seven years younger. They'll likely only lock up Sheffield for three or four seasons, and he shouldn't decline much in that time--but then, he might collapse. Vlad is a safer bet over the next few years, fits the Yankees' needs better, and will be productive longer. I'd go with Vlad.

2) The Yankees largest problems lie in defense and lineup construction. Can anything be done in the next six months to amend defensive defiencies? Will Torre ever realize Soriano isn't a leadoff hitter? What would you do with the defense and the lineup?

LM- First of all, let's specify where the Yankees' defensive problems are: up the middle. Aaron Boone is a pretty good third baseman, Nick Johnson is a good first baseman, Hideki Matsui is a pretty good left fielder, and whomever they stick in right is going to be okay. The weaknesses they have, unfortunately, are with the guys who have to cover the most ground: Bernie Williams, Alfonso Soriano and Derek Jeter. Bernie was never a great defensive player, he never took good routes to the ball or got a good jump, but he was very fast, and could make up for his mistakes with his speed, and was a good fielder. Now that he's slowed down, his defense is terrible, and any balls hit in the gaps are likely to fall in. Outs become hits, and singles become doubles.

When he filled in for Bernie Williams, Hideki Matsui did an adequate job. He's not a very good center fielder, but he's at least as good getting to balls as Bernie Williams, and he has a stronger arm, making him a better choice for center. If the Yankees sign a right fielder, swapping Bernie and Godzilla would be an improvement in the outfield, though it still wouldn't make them good, or even average. If they were to move Matsui to right, Bernie to left, and bring in a ballhawk center fielder like Mike Cameron or Carlos Beltran, they would probably have at least an average defense.

Derek Jeter is a horrid shortstop, everyone in the sabermetric community has long acknowledged that, watching him play shortstop would make you think that he had already retired and they had put his monument at shortstop. Problem is, either the Yankees don't know that, or they have no intention of ever doing anything about it. He's gonna be a shortstop until he decides that he's not going to be a shortstop.

If the Yankees had a good defensive second baseman, it wouldn't be so much a problem. Unfortunately, Alfonso Soriano is not a good defensive second baseman. He's not horrible, nowhere near as bad as Jeter--he's pretty decent going to his left. Unfortunately, he doesn't have much range to his right, and he's horrible at fielding the ball backhanded. So the Yankees have two middle infielders who can't go up the middle--you can see the problem here. Probably the most oft repeated phrase on Yankees' broadcasts is "ground ball up the middle, through to centerfield for a base hit."

So, what can the Yankees do about this? Well, they could move Soriano out to centerfield, something that the New York media is talking about. There are several problems with this strategy: it makes Soriano a less valuable player, he might be a terrible defensive outfielder, and the player who replaces him will be a lesser offensive player than Soriano, too. Another option is to trade Soriano, but the decrease in the Yankees' offense at second base would probably be far more than the increase in defense. And, of course, the Yankees aren't going to get equal value in a trade for Soriano anymore, now that he's about to become expensive through arbitration. Basically, the Yankees' options are either to become a worse team overall, or accept that they have a massive hole in the middle of their infield. The defense will cost them a few games, and might cost them a postseason series, but over the course of the season, the offense will win more games than the defense loses. Considering that Boston will likely be better, and Toronto is on the rise, I don't think that the Yankees can afford to drop any games in the standings, and so while they can make a move to improve the outfield defense, I think they'll just have to accept their crappy infield defense for a few years.

The best thing they can do is stay away from pitchers like David Wells and Jeff Weaver, and build a pitching staff around High-K pitchers like Mussina, Contreras and Pettitte--to keep the ball away from the defense.
As for the lineup, I doubt that Torre will ever accept that Soriano is the worst choice he has for batting leadoff. He believes that the first run of the game is more important than the second or third run, and that speed is a vital asset at the top of the lineup, neither of which are true. Speed is a good thing to have at the top of the lineup, to avoid double plays, but it can be utilized better at the bottom of the lineup, where the batters behind you are less likely to hit HRs and doubles, so stealing a base can create more runs for you. Using some of the rationale put forward by Joe Sheehan in a recent article, here's my ideal lineup, using the 2003 World Series roster:

R - Jeter (gets on base, has good speed, a little power but not enough to bat third, and hits too many ground balls to hit second)
S - Williams (Again, gets on base, doesn't have the power any more to bat cleanup, hits fly balls, which avoids DPs, switch hitter makes LOOGYs less effective)
L - Giambi (The best hitter on the team)
S - Posada (Good OBP, good power, but not as good as Giambi, switch hitter between lefties)
L - Johnson (Best OBP on team, fifth spot in order leads off innings second most on team after leadoff, good power to take care of first four batters' leavings)
R - Soriano (Good power to clear bases after high-OBP guys have batted, good speed avoids DPs with Johnson ahead of him and ground-ball hitting Matsui behind him, can steal bases to increase scoring chances with weaker hitters at bottom of lineup)
L - Matsui (Hits a lot of ground balls, so you'd want to bat him behind someone with good speed so you can execute a lot of hit and runs. Posada is about the worst guy to bat him behind)
R - Boone (Possibly the weakest hitting player on the team, but righty bat gets LOOGYs out after one batter)
L - Garcia (Adequate hitter against righties, useless against lefties, platoon partner Rivera is opposite)

AB- I agree with the majority of observers who think that Soriano is ill-suited for the lead off spot. I think hitting him somewhere 6-9 would be a place to start. I don't know what will make the kid a better fielder. I don't know if it's just a matter of concentration, effort and dedication on his part. He hasn't improved enough defensively. But there is no telling that he'd be a better out fielder than he is at second. Sure, he'd be able to use his speed, but who knows if he's got any instinct for it.

I think the idea of moving Soriano is an attractive one. Even though he had a miserable playoff, he is still young and dazzlingly talented. Most importantly, he isn't making tons of money, so he is movable. He certainly could be traded for a pitcher or a stellar infielder.

I would move Boone anyway you could, and personally, I would consider trying Jeter out at third. I know this would never happen with Torre around, but it would be interesting to see what would happen. I've heard people say that Jeter wouldn't be right for the hot corner, and other people who just think he should play anywhere but short. I would like to think of him in the mold of Robin Yount. Actually, with all the talk of Sori moving to center, wouldn't Jeter make a decent left fielder?

But then his numbers would be left fielder's numbers. And without much pop. Still, Chipper made the move. We'll sure see how much of a team guy Mr. Jeter is the day he's faced with moving from short. I would give it three to four seasons, depending on how quickly his skills decline.

3) Roger Clemens and David Wells won't be Yankees for much longer The team has Mussina, Contreras, and Jon Lieber penciled in for the rotation. How important is it to re-sign homegrown Andy Pettite? Can you give Jeff Weaver the 5th spot? If no, who are you targeting to round out the rotation, and what would you do with Weaver?

AB- I think they are in a position where they have to sign Pettitte. The beauty part for Andy is he's got the team by the balls. Sometimes players get lucky, and Pettitte---like Pudge Rodriguez---are the Grand Prize Winners this year. Last season Pettitte was terrific but sidelines with injuries. He went into the final year of his contract earning a whopping $11.5 million with a lot to prove. So he goes out and wins 20 games and is stellar in the playoffs and now the Yankees have to sign him or they look like schmucks. Pettitte has actually earned himself a bloated, handsome deal. I see the Yanks over paying to keep him. I don't know if that would be wise---to wildly over pay for Andy Pettitte--but with no other left-hander on the staff, it appears a likely scenario. And after all, this is the Yankees. They can afford it. I'm interested to see how much of Pettitte's decision is based on Mel Stottlemyre's future. Pettitte sure is in the driver's seat here. The bottom line is, unless he goes to a winning situation, Andy will regret ever leaving the Yankees.

LM- Well, I think Wells might be back next year, although his back injury might have cost them the World Series. They won't pick up his option, but I think Steinbrenner might sign him again, if only to annoy Torre. It is vital to re-sign Andy Pettitte. A rotation of Mussina, Contreras, Lieber, Weaver and DePaula would be great for most teams, and was pretty similar to what Boston threw out there this year, but the Yankees are a team that is focused solely on postseason success, and while the playoffs are largely luck, one of the things you can do to increase your chances of winning is to have three or four strong starters, the stronger the better. Pettitte is a pitcher who isn't hurt tremendously by the Yankees' defense, and the Yankees also can't afford to let him go to Boston.
I think the Yankees should take another chance with Weaver--though he shouldn't have been on the postseason roster, or even pitching at all in September. He's a good pitcher, although one who is exceptionally susceptible to getting hurt by the Yankees' defense. Early in the season, he was let down by the bullpen, defense, and just plain bad luck, but as he grew more frustrated, he made more bad pitches and started getting genuinely hammered. I think he can be a good pitcher for the Yankees, though never an ace. They would have been better off with Lilly in the rotation. Keep Weaver, unless you get a really good offer, and keep him the 5th starter.

I think that the Yankees should also be looking for another starters, I expect nothing out of Lieber. Colon and Millwood might seem excessive, but they really are replacing Roger Clemens. Both appear similar to me, Millwood is about a year and a half younger, but then, Will Carroll is reporting that Millwood is going back to Atlanta (What a steal! They get Millwood AND Estrada, and all they have to give up is a first round draft pick! WOW!)
So, saying they re-sign Pettitte and sign Colon (which, if Millwood goes to Atlanta, leaves Boston with nobody, which would be HUGE), the Yankees have this rotation:


If the Yankees re-sign Wells and move Weaver, then stick him in the fourth spot, because Torre won't realize what he's got in Contreras until June or July. That's a damn good rotaton. If the Yankees don't bring in a free agent pitcher, or let Pettitte walk, then I think that DePaula will get a shot at the rotation in March, though I don't think he'll make the cut, or stick very long if he does.

4) Alfonso Soriano is one of the hottest/coldest players in the Majors today. In April and September he hit .370 and .348 respectively, while in May and July he hit .229 and .240. 18 of his 38 home runs came in the first and last months of the season. Does this concern you, and do you believe the team should lock him up now, or let him go to arbitration the next few years?

LM- I know that you should look at what a player can do instead of what he can't do, so here goes:

Alfonso Soriano can steal bases with a high rate of success.
Alfonso Soriano can hit a lot of Home Runs.
Alfonso Soriano can get a hit on a high percentage of the balls he puts in play.
What he can't do is look for a good pitch to hit, lay off breaking pitches off the plate or high fastballs, or play defense. Those first two are what concern me most, and are the reason for his streakiness.

Maybe Soriano will develop some plate discipline--I doubt it. Maybe he'll sustain this current level his entire career, which would make him worth having on the team. But he's also a huge risk to drop off suddenly, so I'd let him go to arbitration, which takes the risk that if he improves, you'll have to pay a lot more money to lock him up, but if he falls off, you're not stuck with him.

The player I think they should lock up through arbitration and well beyond is Nick Johnson. The only concern with Johnson is injuries, if he stays healthy, I think he'll be one of the top five hitters in baseball in three years. Thing is, few people appreciate how good he is right now, and you can probably lock him up long-term cheaply, and have an elite hitter on your team for years to come for less than ten million dollars a year.

AB- I like Soriano a lot. He is an exciting kid to watch. But I also believe in getting rid of guys too early rather than too late. And I'd like to see some of Jeter's persistence and drive in Soriano. I'm happy either way, but if he stays, I expect more out of the guy. And I don’t mean homers either. I mean he should stop trying to be Dave Kingman.

5) One achilles heel for the Yankees in 2003 was middle relief. The team will have Steve Karsay and Chris Hammond back next year. Would you pick up the options on Antonio Osuna and Gabe White? And whom else would you target on the market?

AB- Osuna is gone. And whatever. He wasn't great. I don't know about Gabe White. I wouldn't be terribly upset to see him back, but I'm not wed to him by any means. I think the guy Hasegawa is the most attractive reliever on the market for the Yankees, even if LaTroy Hawkins is getting more press. Hawkins is another kind of guy that George would wildly over pay. Much as he did with Steve Karsay, even though that was a different market.

The Yanks have to develop or acquire a nasty left hander for the pen too I think. Nellie won't be back. No great loss.

LM- Well, a large part of the Yankees' middle relief problems last season was Juan Acevedo, who made their bullpen look far worse than it was. It wasn't a good 'pen, but after the trade deadline, it started to come together, and regardless what the media said, they had a good bullpen going into the playoffs--just not a great one.

Hammond pitched well this season, but Torre stopped using him in September, and didn't use him in the playoffs until Game 5 of the World Series, where he was not sharp. If Torre actually uses him in 2004, he'll be an asset.
I don't know if I'd pick up White's option, that is pretty hefty for a setup man, but I would try very hard to bring him back. He's a good relief pitcher, a lefty who can get out righties, and he's probably the only good thing to come out of the Boone trade.

Heredia pitched well, and he's picked up his half of the mutual option. I think I'd probably pick up the team half, too. It's pricy for a LOOGY, but Torre seemed to trust him, and that's an important asset for a Yankees' releiver.
I'd let Nelson go, and I'd bring up Colter Bean, who it would seem is capable of being a Chad Bradford type pitcher. I wouldn't really look to the free agent market to get relief help. Rivera, Karsay, White and Hammond looks pretty good to me.

6) Who from the coaching staff do you expect back next year? Is there any coach, other than Torre, that would really be a significant loss for this franchise? Would Brian Cashman be a loss?

LM- Well, Zimmer is already gone, no loss there. Mel Stottlemyre is deciding whether or not to come back. He's good with veteran pitchers, but he didn't do much to help Jeff Weaver this season. If he wants to come back, I'd bring him back. Rick Down is gone, likely as the scapegoat for the Yankees' postseason offensive struggles, but he should be the scapegoat for Alfonso Soriano. Willie Randolph and Lee Mazzilli are likely staying, unless they get managerial offers somewhere.

Brian Cashman is, I think, a good GM, but he's not running to show by himself. Steinbrenner also seeks input from Randy Levine (who I think knows nothing about baseball) and Gene Michael (who knows a lot), as well as a bunch of other advisors, then makes the decisions himself, and has Cashman implement them. It's very much corporate, and it prevents the Yankees from doing anything "new". They'll always settle for the mediocre player who they at least know is going to be mediocre rather than the unknown player who might be great, but hasn't proven himself either way.

Would he be a loss? Yeah, but not a huge one. He doesn't have enough control as it is, and if he were moved out, it wouldn't change the direction of the team much.

AB- I think Willie will be back and Torre will be back. Maz is probably gone, Down is gone, Zim is gone. Stot will be back I think. Maybe not. If George gets his way, he'll lure Mattingly back to be the hitting coach, and that would be boffo for him. I would love to see the Yankees make a run at Rick Peterson, even though they may be too late--and ultimately too conservative---to appreciate what Peterson could do for their staff.

Peterson is the kind of guy I'd like to see get a hold of Jeff Weaver. I would assume Weaver will be moved at some point. He's still a qualtity arm. Probably destined to pitch well at some point in his career. It doesn't look like that can happen for him in New York. He's obstinant. The guy just doesn't listen. But he can turn it around if he wants to---but it'll take having an work ethic like Roy Halladay to do it. I wouldn't bank on his "make up" that's for sure.

Cashman will stay and get older and more bent. George will be all over him, but he'll also give Cash the resources to figure it all out too. The Yankees could learn from the aquisitions that Boston made last year---picking up second tier players like Millar, Ortiz, Mueller, and Walker, and making them all part of the puzzle. Boston's offense was more like the Yankees O of '96-2000 than the current Yankee team was. (Of course you'd have to add the mid-90s Indians to those Yankee clubs to equal Boston's 2003 team.)

I think Cashman is great, and have complete faith in his ability to build a winning team. The only question is, can George keep from meddling and making moves like Mondesi and Aaron Boone?

7) What kind of numbers do you expect from Jose Contreras, Jon Lieber, and Nick Johnson in 2004?

AB- If Contreras is healthy and can give the Yankees 200+ innings, that would be fantastic. I think he'd be good too. ERA in the high 3,s-to mid 4s. Lots of strikeouts. Some dominating games mixed in there. 15 game winner easily if he gets the run support.

LM- I think Contreras will win 15 games, have an ERA around 3.50, strike out 200 men, and make the All-Star team. I expect nothing out of Lieber. I expect Nick Johnson to hit .300, hit 25 HRs, have a .450 OBP, and cure cancer.

8) Create a step-by-step offseason to-do list.

LM- What I would do is:
1. Re-sign Andy Pettitte
2. Sign Vladimir Guerrero, Gary Sheffield, or Mike Cameron (in that order)
3. Sign Kevin Millwood or Bartolo Colon (in that order)
4. If step two fails, try to trade for Carlos Beltran, but without giving up Johnson
5. Re-sign Gabe White, pick up the option on Heredia
6. Improve the bench: get a backup catcher who can hit some, a backup infielder who can field some, a good defensive replacement center fielder, and a real pinch hitter (NOT Ruben Sierra)

AB- a. Making pitching decisions. Sign Pettitte, trade Weaver for another front line starter.
b. Figure out the outfield. Move Bernie to left, and then either Sori to center and Matsui to right, or Matsui to center and Vlad or Sheff to right. Or Maybe get another center fielder and move Matsui to right.
c. Sign Hasegawa.
d. Figure out third base and second base. Move Aaron Boone.
d. Figure out if you want to trade Nick Johnson.
e. Get a left-hander in the pen.
f. Sign coaches. (This one might have to be earlier, but whatever.)

Tomorrow I will answer all of the questions, and look at how the media is dealing with this situation. New York is always the most fun to analyze, because every beat reporter, every columnist, every writer in the world has an opinion on this issue. Damn Yankees.


Free Agents like crazy 

Busy day in the Major Leagues, as rumors are flying and free agents are filing. Bartolo Colon rejected a 3-year, $36M offer from the White Sox, obviously delusional on what the current market will provide him. And staying in Chicago, Frank Thomas and Sammy Sosa have a week to decide on their futures, after that, their respective club will decide instead.

If you're yet to find a source with all the Major League free agents, ESPN has provided the best I've found. In today's article I'll write about my top all-free agent teams, at the Major and minor league level. So, if you need a minor league free agent list, head over to Baseball America. And over the next few months my site should be a transactional analysis haven, and that begins today with Grady Little's hiring and some more odds and ends.

Now to the free agents, beginning with my first all-free agent team at the Major League level:

C- Pudge Rodriguez- Marlin for sure in 2004
1B- Scott Spiezio- Weakest 1B class in recent memory
2B- Luis Castillo- Plenty of options available
SS- Miguel Tejada- Great road numbers, not getting enough press
3B- Robin Ventura- Talk about a weak class
LF- Carl Everett- Good left-handed bat, can also play center
CF- Mike Cameron- Another player with great road numbers
RF- Vladimir Guerrero- Trails only A-Rod and Prior in best young player rank
DH- Frank Thomas- Still a .400 OBP and 40HR threat
SP- Kevin Millwood- Consistent pitcher with ace-like performance
SP- Bartolo Colon- Eats innings like he does food
SP- Greg Maddux- Valuable in more ways than his pitching
MR- Shigetoshi Hasegawa- Can fill every role imaginable in 'pen
SU- Tom Gordon- Stuff finally came back, after long hiatus
CL- Keith Foulke- Oakland just waiting to get draft compensation

That obviously proves this isn't a strong year, especially on the infield corners. But, I would say it's a much deeper class than past seasons, which makes an honorable mention team worth noting:

C- Javy Lopez- Who woulda thought?
1B- Eric Karros- Will slug left-handers in platoon, provides good D
2B- Todd Walker- Postseason heroics will increase interest
SS- Kaz Matsui- And you thought Hideki has doubles power?
3B- Joe Randa- Consistent player that will hardly ever hurt you
LF- Royals LF Rondell White and Raul Ibanez
CF- Kenny Lofton- Wins wherever he goes
RF- Gary Sheffield- Second-best free agent
DH- Rafeal Palmiero- Nearing his end
SP- Andy Pettite- Yankees must re-sign homegrown stud
SP- Sidney Ponson- 2003 breakout star will get huge interest
SP- Miguel Batista- Gives manager so many options
MR- Tim Worrell- Still in middle relief, even after 38 saves
SU- LaTroy Hawkins- Yankees likely already calling
CL- Eddie Guardado- Who wouldn't want Everyday Eddie?

Players have 15 days following the World Series to file, and on that date I will give a much more detailed analysis of the free agent class, full o' predictions. So, keep coming back.

One of the least publicized things in baseball are minor league free agents, likely because there are about 600 available every offseason. But players seep through the cracks, and every season more players make spending a quick buck on a minor leaguer worth every penny. Some of 2003's best:

1. Jeremi Gonzalez- Tampa Bay success story after 25IP in 1999-2002
2. Billy McMillon- Averages over .300 in AAA for four straight seasons before 2003
3. Luis Ayala- 10-game winner had thrown 7.2 innings in 2002, Mexico League vet
4. Ryan Freel- Good K/BB rates and versatility gave infielder 137AB
5. Amaury Telemaco- Once had a lot of promise, but nothing in 2002
6. Adam Melhuse- AAA vet will be Oakland back-up catcher next season

After seeing that, I have drawn two conclusions about what to look for in minor league free agents. First, a good indicator for success are pitchers who once had hype, but injuries had made them fall off the map. Hitters need a good track record of success, with walk rates as a key indicator. And, all players chosen should be entering their peak seasons.

So, here are 10 minor league free agents who bear watching in the offseason:

1. Justin Thompson- Former 15-game winner was in NWL this season
2. Ryan Kohlmeier- Ex-Oriole closer has been improving in AAA last two seasons
3. Donnie Bridges- Former Expo top prospect had good season in AA
4. Ed Yarnall- Once Yankee southpaw came back from Japan in 2003
5. Corey Thurman- Blue Jays Rule V pick with tons of potential
6. Trent Durrington- Utility player, .824OPS in AAA with 35 steals
7. Phil Hiatt- Utility infielder, proven AAA record, lacks plate discipline
8. Midre Cummings- No worse than any fourth outfielder in baseball
9. Edwards Guzman- Got time in Montreal, but could be '04 Melhuse
10. Olmedo Saenz- Gamble, but once was a good player for A's

Moving onto transaction analysis, where I have five moves to examine:

1- Red Sox fire Grady Little- I'm not supporting this move as much as Red Sox fans are. Little took this team far, and although his managing cost the Red Sox the World Series, let's not forget the World Series. And secondly, who else is there to replace Little next season? Don Zimmer would be my choice, just for the pure hilarity of it all. But whomever Theo Epstein comes up with will likely be an interesting choice.
2- Reds name Dave O'Brien GM- I'm a little skeptical, since O'Brien hasn't exactly been spending time in baseball's best organization, the Texas Rangers. I did predict he would be here, but I guarantee a long tenure. I see the Reds as a pretty bad team, with enough young studs to tempt the city for awhile. Losing Carl Lindner should be priority number one.
3- Greg Myers was re-signed to a one-year, 900K deal in Toronto- Well, there goes the 3rd best catcher available. Myers would have attracted numerous offers, since he is a veteran catcher who can hit right-handers and handle pitchers well. The Blue Jays will use him and Kevin Cash next season, as they prepare for the arrival of Guillermo Quiroz.
4- Brewers land first minor league free agent, Travis Phelps- Phelps comes out of the Braves system, and had a little success in AAA this season: 9-5, 3.47ERA, 77H/93.1IP, 91K/38BB. He has a chance of making the Brew middle relief corps next season, but won't find himself on a top minor league free agent acquisition list next year.
5- Rangers sign Billy Sylvester- Although Phelps won't be a big name, Sylvester has the stuff to do it. He has had amazing H/9 ratios as he's gone up the Atlanta pipeline, but has always walked too many guys. Have Orel Hershiser decrease his walk numbers, and the Rangers could have walked right into a solid set-up man for 2004.

Finally, let me mention I've added two new links to my left, Seth Speaks and Jeremy Heit's blog. Definitely go check those blogs out, as they give good output very regularly. I'll have my Yankees organizational meeting tomorrow, and if any of you missed the Atlanta one yesterday, the link is here.


Organizational Meetings: Atlanta Braves 

Today I will begin my "organizational meetings" with the Atlanta Braves. I asked Brad Dowdy of No Pepper 9 questions about the Braves. I also give shorter answers to the same questions. The rest of the week will also likely have the Yankees and Giants. Enjoy...

1) Greg Maddux is likely to leave the Braves this offseason, opening a big hole in the rotation. With a rotation of non-power pitchers, would you move John Smoltz back to the rotation, why or why not? And if not, which power pitcher would you target?

No Pepper- I'm of the opinion that John Smoltz should continue to serve as the Braves closer. With his past and present arm problems, I don't see how he could stay healthy for the 180-200 innings that would be required of him. In the closers role, he is an elite player, and I would rather see him throw 75-85 high leverage innings than risk losing him for the season - and possibly career - if he goes back to starting. There is one question that I do not know the answer to - is there more stress on Smoltz's arm as a reliever, as opposed to being a starter? Meaning, is it tougher for him to get up and down in the bullpen and make 3-4 appearances a week, as opposed to starting every 5th day? If he were to start, would he work in the 93-94 MPH range with the fastball, instead of 97-98 when he comes in to shut the door? The only way I would be for him starting again would be if it is actually less stressful on his arm, which I don't think will be the case. Another issue that may keep Smoltz from returning to the rotation is money. Contained in his contract is a provision which pays him an extra $100,000 per start. The now budget conscious Braves front office may have a thing or two to say about him starting if it is going to add another $3 million to the payroll.

As far as what pitchers I would target, I think bringing back Kevin Millwood would be the best bet. Javier Vazquez is clearly the superior pitcher to Millwood in my mind, but the Braves, and I imagine other teams, will have a tough time dealing with the MLB Expos. Not to mention the fact that Expos GM Omar Minaya is interviewing for other GM openings as we speak. There may not be anyone in the Montreal front office that will be allowed to swing a deal for the non-free agent Vazquez. Millwood is the next best fit, and he is available. He has a proven track record, knows the team and city, the organization is comfortable with him, and he still has a home in the Atlanta suburbs. Despite the early season no-hitter, Millwood had a rough second half, keeping him within the Braves price range, but I'm sure his agent, Scott Boras, will have something to say about that. After Millwood, there aren't too many starters that are worth shelling out for. Colon's name is rarely mentioned, and Pettitte would be nice but we already have two other left-handed starters. After that group, it's really a crap shoot. I want no part of Sidney Ponson, who I was against trying to trade for last season. Miguel Batista and Carl Pavano would be decent middle of the rotation fall back guys, but I really don't want to see it get down to that point. The Braves really need a #1 caliber pitcher, and I think Millwood is it.

WTNY- Smoltz has stated that going under the knife one more time will result in his retirement. Asking 150+ innings from him substantially increases the probability Smoltz doesn't pitch in 2005. As a leader and a closer, he is invaluable to the franchise. Furthermore, it would likely cost an equal amount to rebuild a bullpen after Smoltz than it would to sign starting pitching.

There aren't a lot of power pitchers available this offseason, so the Braves have limited options. Javier Vazquez could be acquired in a trade, but I'm not sure his price tag (both $ and players) will equal his output. Sidney Ponson is available, but he's no sure thing, and not the type of pitcher needed. Basically, I present the Braves with two options: Kevin Millwood and Bartolo Colon. Both will receive interest from their 2003 team, but Colon's White Sox have more interest than the Phillies. Millwood's return to Atlanta would present an interesting story, and end the bashing Scheurholtz got for his trade in the first place. I also don't think it's a horrible idea to go after cheaper options, most notably Carl Pavano.

2) Paul Byrd will be back next season, after missing 2003 with an arm injury. What can you expect from him in 2004? Can he be the 2004 version of Shane Reynolds, or would you rather go with a rookie like Andy Pratt or Bubba Nelson?

NP- Paul Byrd will be back next year, but maybe not until after the All-Star break. So, if the Braves don't add another starter in the offseason, we may be looking at possibly 2 young/rookie starters instead of the likely one. That one could come from a long list of players: Jason Marquis, Jung Bong, and Trey Hodges - all of who spent time in the Atlanta bullpen last season, or Andy Pratt, Bubba Nelson, Adam Wainwright, and Brett Evert - each of whom would come from the minors. Once Byrd makes it back, I imagine he will be better than Reynolds was in 2003, but that isn't saying much. Anything better than a 4.25 ERA will be a bonus.

As for who will fill the 5th (and possibly 4th) starter role until Byrd returns - I think it will go to one of the minor leaguers. Most Atlanta fans want to see Wainwright, but I'd like to see him spend most of the year in AAA Richmond, with a possible late season call up. He is currently getting shelled pitching for Team USA in the AFL, and has a tendency to wear down late in the season, so another year under his belt would serve him well. Pratt and Nelson are just about ready, with Evert having an outside shot. I've stated in a couple of places that I think Pratt might get the nod with a good spring, and he is performing well so far in the Team USA trials.

WTNY- I wouldn't expect a lot from Byrd in 2004, as his health will always be a risk. His upside might be as a middle reliever in the bullpen, or replacing one of the starters. I think it is a better option to go with either a rookie, or a very cheap pick-up. Hold a competition between Pratt, Bubba Nelson, and some veterans that you can find around. John Burkett, Scott Erickson, Jason Bere are all examples of starters whom will have a hard time finding a job, but would supply solid innings. Throw Shane into that same category.

3) A huge hole for the Braves in 2003 was set-up relief, getting the ball to Smoltz. What are your thoughts on the three that ended the year doing it, Jaret Wright, Will Cunnane, and Kent Mercker? Do you believe they should be retained next year? What about Roberto Hernandez and Ray King? Who else would fill your bullpen?

NP- From day 1 through the playoffs, the 2003 bullpen was a problem. I never had to worry about running out of material for my blog. Heck, Roberto Hernandez even had his own category! Jaret Wright impressed me enough that I would offer him a deal for 2004, and let him set up for Smoltz. Same thing goes for Will Cunnane. I think Mercker will look elsewhere, and possibly end up back in Cincinnati. Ray King wasn't terrible, except with runners on base (.319 OPP AVG with runners on, .131 AVG without), but I imagine the Braves will pick up his $1 million club option, which is a reasonable sum. The Roberto Hernandez era should come to a crashing halt, as there is no way he gets resigned. Hopefully Darren Holmes won't be either, and I could go either way on Kevin Gryboski. As long as he is used strictly in situations where the Braves need to induce a double play, I'm fine. Asking him to start - and complete - a full inning is asking for trouble. The remainder of the bullpen should consist of at least two of the following: Jason Marquis, Jung Bong, Trey Hodges, Brett Evert, Bubba Nelson. The rest will make up part of the starting staff in Richmond.

WTNY- Entrusting Mazzone with the 2004 bullpen would be an interesting option. That would mean giving him players like Wright and Cunnane before Smoltz, and letting him go to work. Wright was hitting 96 in the playoffs, which gives him a whole lot of upside. Cunnane threw 20 solid innings, so he has made his case to be a set-up man next season. I'm not a big fan of Hernandez, Darren Holmes, Ray King, or Kevin Gryboski, and could see all of them leaving. Mercker was a solid veteran influence that would compliment with Smoltz well. After years of Maddux and Glavine, the Braves must have good advice readily available from veteran players, Mercker would give that.

Jason Marquis, Troy Hodges, and Jung Bong all give the Braves options as well. Marquis has the most upside, but also the most trade value. I think Hodges and Bong could both improve given the chance in 2004, as long as Mazzone lowers those BB/9 ratios. Rookies Andy Pratt and Bubba Nelson could fill those holes if needed, as both have relief experience. Problem is, they both have potential as starters. I really like Buddy Hernandez, whom didn't make the A's after being a Rule V pick, but had these numbers at AAA: 65H/71IP 82K/31BB.

4) The Braves will have three holes due to free agency departures, at catcher, first base, and third. If needed, the team could go with youngsters Johnny Estrada, Adam LaRoche, and Mark DeRosa. Which of these players would you trust with 400-500 at-bats, and whom wouldn't you? Why or why not? Do you believe any of the veterans (Lopez, Castillo, Franco, Fick) should be retained?

NP- This is a big question, so let's start with the easiest decision first, and go from there. Give Adam LaRoche the 1B job, and let Robert Fick go. LaRoche has proven he is ready for his shot with a big 2003 split between AAA and AA (combined .290, 20 HR, 33 2B). LaRoche also provides Gold Glove caliber defense according to those who have seen him play. Worst case scenario, have LaRoche platoon with ageless wonder Julio Franco. I heaped on the praise of Robert Fick in the first half of the season (.296 AVG/.354 OBP/.481 SLG), but his second half slump (.229/.307/.325), and subsequent postseason hatchet job, have soured many Braves fans on Mr. Fick.

The third base job should go to Mark DeRosa, but this is one area where John Schuerholz may go out and overpay for a "proven veteran". Someone like Vinny Castilla or Tony Batista, neither of whom do I want anything to do with. Andy Marte, my #1 overall Braves prospect, and the #1 3B prospect in the minor leagues according to Baseball America, is two years away, or less, from taking over at the hot corner. If DeRosa hits .280 with 15 homers and keeps the spot warm for Marte, I would be very pleased. I'd rather allocate the money saved to other areas.

Javy Lopez, Johnny Estrada - what to do with the catching situation? I honestly do not have a good answer. I'm not a big Estrada fan, mostly from an offensive standpoint. In his age 27 year, he posted career numbers in AAA (.328 AVG/.393 OBP/.494 SLG), and that's what bothers me. I'm not a major league equivalent guru, but he looks like a .270, 10 HR major league hitter to me, which is BIG drop-off from Lopez (I know, master of the obvious). But Lopez, who put together one of the greatest hitting seasons ever by a catcher, may have priced himself right out of the Braves plans. I think retaining him is a 50/50 propositon at best right now for the front office, and is not a priority. A lot will depend on other offseason moves, since a backup plan is already in place. My gut tells me he is gone, and I'd rather him be gone than overpaid.

WTNY- Here's a look at 2 catchers in AAA:
Player 1: .335-19-72 28 2B 29BB/22K in 373AB
Player 2: .328-10-66 29 2B 30BB/30K in 354AB

The first player is Tampa Bay catcher Toby Hall, whom won the 2001 International League MVP with those numbers. The second player in Johnny Estrada, the switch-hitting catcher John Scheurholtz acquired for Kevin Millwood. Hall's 2003 numbers (.253/.295/.380) are likely indicative of what Estrada would produce in the Majors. Pursuing Javy Lopez is a good idea, but don't considering giving more than two years at $10M.

At first base, there is two options. The first is to five the job to Adam LaRoche, and bringing Julio Franco back to platoon. My second choice would be to trade for a stud first basemen, which would eliminate the idea of re-signing Sheffield. More on that in question six...

The hot corner is the most difficult decision. First of all, don't give Vinny Castilla the job. DeRosa would be a good choice, and seems like the kind of player that does well when playing a lot. When he got time this season he produced, but he's no guarantee. Go with him if you're ready for a .750OPS, or sign Robin Ventura, the kind of winner the Braves like, to platoon with him.

5) In the NLDS, Chipper Jones proved to be a major liability in left. With both infield positions open due to free agency, is it time to move Chipper back onto the diamond? Where should he be playing next year, and what can we expect from him?

NP- Chipper Jones needs to stay in left field. He's been there for two full seasons now, and wasn't a Gold Glove caliber 3B to begin with, but moving him back and forth every year or two can only be detrimental to his already poor fielding. In 8781.2 career innings at 3B, Jones made 123 errors in 2426 total chances, for a fielding % of .949. In 2825.1 career innings in LF, Jones has 14 errors in 539 chances, for a fielding % of .974. With 3B being a much tougher position to field than LF, I call that about a wash.

What can we expect from Chipper in 2004? Pretty much what you got from him for the past 8 seasons: somewhere around .300/.400/.550, with 30 HR, 100 RBI, and 100 runs, and, of course, spotty defense in left. I could envision a scenario where Chipper could move back to third for 2004, but it would be highly unlikely.

WTNY- Don't move Chipper again. After witnessing Carlos Lee go from one of the worst outfielders in the Majors to average, I think left field is the easiest position on the diamond. Chipper probably wouldn't be very good anywhere, and Ventura, DeRosa, LaRoche, and Franco would all be better defenders on the infield corners. The more time he has in left, the better his defense, and offensive productivity will rise. Chipper's one of the least respected players in the game (along with Magglio Ordonez), and may have already locked up a place in Cooperstown. But after the Cub killing he did in the NLDS, I'm not sure I'll ever like Chipper Jones.

6) Gary Sheffield will be a free agent, likely courted by Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and the Yankees. Would you throw a lot of money at Sheffield to keep him around, set your priorities on Vlad, or go after a second-tier right fielder like Jose Guillen? Defend your choice.

NP- Schuerholz has to re-sign Gary Sheffield. As a lead in to question number 9, I think this is offseason priority number one. Of course, Guererro would be great, but there is no way the Braves could afford him. I imagine he will command more than the 6 yr/$85 million deal that Jim Thome signed last winter. Sheffield should go for less money, and fewer years. He is a premiere outfielder and perennial MVP candidate, and there aren't many solid outfield options available after you get past him and Vlad. How this goes will set the tone for the entire offseason.

WTNY- Scheurholtz needs another big bat, so it's either Sheffield or acquiring someone through a trade. Sheffield would be pricy, likely landing the exact same deal Jim Thome got last year. If you could find another player whom would give similar results at a cheaper price, he'd be a good fit. Oh wait...you can? Yes, Richie Sexson.

Sexson is the perfect player for the Braves. Relatively speaking, he comes cheap at $8M. This would allow the team to bring Javy Lopez back, as well as a second-tier RF. It would give them extra dollars to attract Kevin Millwood as well. In the deal you could put the two youngsters that lose jobs, Estrada and LaRoche, along with the starter that won't get a spot, Bubba Nelson. That should do it, and the Brewers might eat a million or two also. The Braves then go after a cheaper player with upside, either Guillen, Juan Gonzalez, Raul Mondesi, or Jose Cruz Jr.

7) The Atlanta Journal-Constitution suggested the Braves trade Andruw Jones for Javier Vazquez. Do you agree or disagree? Why? How important is Jones for the Braves?

NP- As much as I like Vazquez, I would be against trading away Andruw Jones to get him. With the possibility of losing both Sheffield and Lopez, the Braves can't afford to lose any more offense. It also goes without saying that Andruw provides great defense in center - just ask Tom Glavine. There are other free agent pitchers out there that I would prefer to focus on, rather than trading Jones for Vazquez. All of that being said, there is clearly room for improvement in his game. His approach at the plate is borderline criminal in certain situations, and he could benefit by dropping a few lbs. also. But there are no suitable replacements for a guy who is an annual threat to hit 30 homers, drive in 100, score 100, and provide Gold Glove caliber defense in center field.

WTNY- That would be a horrible trade. Jones value to this team is immense, as he cuts the outfield into a much smaller place than it is. Without Andruw, Chipper's defense would get talked about a lot more, and Braves' pitchers wouldn't succeed as much. The team is loaded with flyballers, and needs Jones. Plus, his bat ain't bad either.

8) Which Brave players do you expect jumps from next season? Will Mike Hampton continue to improve away from Coors? Will Horacio Ramirez be another Braves great homegrown pitcher?

NP- So many Braves players had big jumps in 2003, this is a tough one to answer. The two that you mention, Mike Hampton and Horacio Ramirez, both should improve on solid 2003 seasons. Hampton found his old self in the second half of the season, and I was clamoring for him to be the Braves #1 starter in the postseason. Ramirez started out strong, hit a rough patch in the summer, then finished out September (3-0, 2.41 ERA, 33.2 IP) as strong, or stronger, than anyone else on the team. I look for both of these guys to continue to improve in 2004.

Rafael Furcal had arguably his best season to date in 2003, but he still seemed to fly under the radar, as Javy Lopez, Gary Sheffield, and Marcus Giles exploded all around him. He posted career highs in Hits (194), Runs (130), Doubles (35), Triples (10), Home Runs (15), RBI (61), and OPS (.795), and was successful in 25 of 27 stolen base attempts, but was rarely mentioned outside of Braves circles. His 130 runs were the most by a Brave since Dale Murphy scored 131 times in 1983. After all of that, I still think Furcal can improve further in 2004, placing him among the elite shortstops in the game.

Jason Marquis is another one who I will throw out as a long shot breakout candidate. He could really surprise some people if he could get his head screwed on straight. If the Braves pull of any big trades this offseason, Marquis will be one of the first included, but if he sticks around, I'd like to see him groomed into a dominant setup man. He has been a starter for most of his career, with decidedly mixed results, but I think he has the stuff to shut down the opponent for 1-2 innings at a time, despite a terrible 2003 in the bullpen (6.23 ERA, 30.1 IP). The one thing I am not sure of is his attitude.

WTNY- Mike Hampton will be this team's ace next season, write that down. He really showed his old stuff and attitude late in the season, and should have the kind of year Darryl Kile did in 2001 (16-11, 3.09ERA). While he's not a great fantasy baseball pitcher, don't be hesitant to make him your third or fourth selection next year. I also love Andy Pratt, whom had a great season in AAA. The last selection would be Jaret Wright, who can go nowhere but up after an abysmal 2003.

9) Create a step-by-step offseason to-do list for John Scheurholtz.

NP- Offseason To-Do List for John Schuerholz:
1. Re-sign Gary Sheffield- This will set the tone for the entire offseason. If Sheff signs, the offense is in good shape, and allows the Braves to insert LaRoche at 1B and DeRosa at 3B, and let Javy walk. This also allows Schuerholz to allocate most of the remaining funds to improving the pitching. If Sheff signs elsewhere, we will might make a play on Lopez (still not sure he would sign, or that it would be the right move), and look at the second tier of outfielders to fill in in RF. I don't see the Braves in the Vlad conversation at all.
2. Sign a top free agent pitcher - preferably Kevin Millwood. There is a lot to like about bringing him back and making him the Braves #1 starter for the next several years. Vazquez is also a possibility, but I don't see the Braves getting a deal done with the Expos this offseason.
3. Get the thoughts of starting out of John Smoltz's head. When he is healthy, he is one of the best, if not_the_best, closers in the game. That is irreplaceable. There is no need to go trading for a Billy Wagner, or signing an Eddie Guardado, or the like.
4. Do not spend $4 mil/yr on the LaTroy Hawkinses of the world for bullpen help. No offense to LaTroy, but the Braves pen will improve via addition by subtraction. Hernandez and Holmes should be gone, along with Mercker. Wright and Cunnane did a good job at the end of last season, and should be brought back. Ray King was decent, and the younger arms (Marquis, Bong, Hodges) are more experienced. Name the bullpen early on in the spring and assign roles: early inning replacement, LOOGY, 7th and 8th inning setup, and stick with it. Too many guys were used in too many different situations last season.
5. Stay away from overaged/overpriced veterans. There are going to be certain bench, and possibly starting, roles that are going to need to be filled via free agency. I am worried about Schuerholz filling the hole at third by resigning Castilla, or bringing in someone like Batista. Yuck. Give the job to DeRosa, and use the savings elsewhere.
6. Pull the 5th starter from the minors. We don't need any more Paul Byrd contracts, so let's fill the 5 slot with a guy like Andy Pratt. I think he is ready to make the jump. Ben Kozlowski who?

My projected 2004 Braves rotation: Kevin Millwood, Russ Ortiz, Mike Hampton, Horacio Ramirez, Andy Pratt
My projected 2004 Braves bullpen: John Smoltz (closer), Jaret Wright (main setup), Will Cunnane (secondary setup), Jason Marquis (secondary setup), Ray King (situational), Kevin Gryboski (situational), Jung Bong (situational/spot starter)

My projected 2004 Braves lineup: C Johnny Estrada, 1B Adam LaRoche, 2B Marcus Giles, 3B Mark DeRosa, SS Rafael Furcal, LF Chipper Jones, CF Andruw Jones, RF Gary Sheffield
Bench: 1B Julio Franco, 1B/3B Mike Hessman, IF Wilson Betemit/Jesse Garcia, OF Ryan Langerhans, C Free Agent

WTNY- Here's my list:
1. Trade Dave LaRoche, Johnny Estrada, and Bubba Nelson to the Milwaukee Brewers for Richie Sexson- Replaces Sheffield's bat in the lineup, and improves defense at first.
2. Re-sign Javy Lopez, sign Raul Mondesi, and Robin Ventura- Veteran influence is huge, and the lineup might be as potent as in 2003.
3. Grab Kevin Millwood- There are other options, but Millwood simply makes the most sense in this circumstance. While I believe it, don't count on Hampton to be an ace quite yet.
4. Keep Kent Mercker, make Andy Pratt 5th starter, then go with youngsters and minor league free agents in bullpen- Mercker is a great LOOGY, Pratt could be great, and bullpens are easy to find. Don't overpay for relievers!

2003 lineup: SS Rafeal Furcal, 2B Marcus Giles, LF Chipper Jones, 1B Richie Sexson, CF Andruw Jones, C Javy Lopez, RF Raul Mondesi, 3B Ventura/DeRosa
2003 rotation: Millwood, Hampton, Ortiz, Ramirez, Andy Pratt
2003 bullpen: Smoltz, Jaret Wright, Cunnane, Mercker, Buddy Hernandez, Jung Bong

Check back tomorrow for more, and the Yankees meeting should be on Wednesday.


Who's in Right? 

Not a lot to say today, other than a World Series note or two. I'll be beginning my organizatinal meetings next week, so definitely check back for that. Onto my thoughts...

Last night, for the first time in his Major League career, Alfonso Soriano played the outfield. After pinch-hitting in the eighth, Soriano stayed in, playing right field for one inning. Is this forshadowing for next season?

Bernie Williams had an oft-injured season, and Soriano moving to center is a very realistic possibility. For that to happen, these things would need to happen:
- Yankees sign a solid RF, either Sheffield or Vlad
- They trade Nick Johnson for a starter (possibly Vazquez?)
- Sign Luis Castillo to play second

The last note is interesting, as Castillo may draw more interest than most free agents. Both New York teams are extremely interested, as is Boston, Chicago, and the Florida Marlins. I've said time and time again the Marlins have to sign him, but can they win a signing battle with some of the highest spending teams in the industry? Probably not.

On a seperate note, I never mentioned Roger Clemens final start. Clemens may appear in Game 7 (if it gets that far), but after that his career is over. I won't be tuning in to see the 2004 Olympics, so seeing Clemens' last pitches was amazing. He was one of the top three pitchers of this generation, competing only with Greg Maddux, and to a lesser degree, Pedro Martinez.

The Red Sox should announce some time this week that Grady Little will not manage the team in 2004, which will come as a big surprise. I have no idea who Theo Epstein will target for the job, but my guess is that no manager will be off limits. Boston has a tough road ahead of them, but having Theo always makes them a Wild Card.


Free Agent Preview: Catchers 

I probably won't do all these at once, but it was something interesting to write about. At some point I'll preview each position, so you have the low-down on free agents, with another day of predictions.

One quick note: Jose Cruz Jr.'s option was declined by the Giants yesterday. Let me reiterate that Cruz's actions in the NLDS had a large part in this happening. He was very good for the G-Men in the first half, but literally fell apart. The team may go with prospects Todd Linden and Tony Torcato next season, or re-sign Jeffrey Hammonds.

World Series note: Ya think Carl Pavano's free agency stock is bullish? HELL YA!

2003-2004 Top 10 Free Agent Catchers
1. Pudge Rodriguez
2003- Pudge had a breakout season in 2003, putting himself into the top echelon of catchers once again. Runners still don't steal against him, and he still has that vicious throw to first. Questions of his bad handling of a pitching staff were answered. He's a little old, as well as a little fragile. But he's a doubles power hitter that is very clutch and can bat anywhere in the lineup. Irreplaceable.
Suitors- The Marlins are the favorite to sign Pudge, as he truly loved playing in his hometown. New York (Mets) say they are interested, which would indicate Piazza may start playing first base everyday. And if Pudge were to really hit the free agent market, he would get phone calls from Baltimore, the Cubs, and San Diego.

#2- Javy Lopez
2003- Javy had a fantastic 2003, setting the record for home runs hit by a catcher. But he hasn't strung two good years together in a long time, and he's one of the most fragile catchers on the list. Catchers are supposed to fall apart at his age, and a extreme drop in power could be foreseen.
Suitors- Unknown. The Braves will try to re-sign him at their price, but if he doesn't they'll use Johnny Estrada. The same group of teams, the Orioles, Cubs, Padres will call.

#3- Benito Santiago
2003- Didn't have quite the season he did in 2002, but is still remarkably resistant to old age. Remember, he'll be 38 next season, and probably will be catching another three years. He's a great leader, and will help with the bat a little bit. His success story won't hurt in bargaining either. This guy is made to go to a winner, so expect a contender to call his number.
Suitors- This could very well be the Cubs' top choice at catcher. Dusty loved him in San Francisco, and he could split time with Damian Miller well. His age and experience would be good for a still relatively young pitching staff.

#4- Greg Myers
2003- Myers is another old catcher whom is resilient, as Myers had one of the leagues' best first halfs this season. He proved he's still capable of being in a platoon role, and could very well be in that kind of situation in 2003.
Suitors- In the fourth spot, we're already into backups. Myers will either go to a bad team where he'll platoon for the starting spot, or a good team where he won't play that much. The Rangers seem like a good fit, as do the Cubs. I've also heard the Tigers mentioned with his name, although that doesn't make too much sense.

#5- Brad Ausmus
2003- While his production increased in the second half, Ausmus isn't one-fourth the offensive player he once was, which wasn't a lot in the first place. He is good behind the plate, a great leader, and gets huge press from how well he handles the pitching staff.
Suitors- The Astros want him back, to tutor their prospect John Buck, as well as to tutor their young pitchers like Wade Miller and co. The Padres are the only other team I've heard linked to his name. But write this down: Ausmus is an Astro in 2004.

#6- Brent Mayne
2003- Mayne started the heavier platoon half for the Royals this season, and held the job the whole year. He didn't embarass himself, but didn't drastically change his fate for 2004. He's a poor man's Greg Myers, and interest in him will show that.
Suitors- The Royals have already turned him down, so he could go anywhere. Landing on a team like the Giants, whom are going to play Yorvit Torrealba a lot would be a good idea.

#7- Todd Pratt
2003- With good catchers in his way (Piazza, Lieberthal), Pratt never gets too many at-bats. But he always produces. Todd is one of the best backup catchers in the league, as he doesn't disgrace himself behind the plate, and hits with power. I could easily argue him into the five spot, as long as he gets less than 200AB.
Suitors- Who knows. Pratt should find a team where he'll get his 150AB and 10HR. The Red Sox actually make a good fit, yet they seem enfatuated with Doug Mirabelli. I heard the Mets as a rumor, and the Dodgers would make sense.

#8- Sandy Alomar Jr.
2003- He's still a leader, although it's foolish to believe he can handle 50G behind the dish. Putting him on a young pitching staff with 100-150AB is the best way to use him, and he'll surprise you every once in awhile.
Suitors- The White Sox will re-sign him, or he'll start thinking about retirement. Sandy is probably going to coach one day, so it's not bad idea to keep him as a "player-coach" for one season. Miguel Olivo is ready for 400AB, so the ChiSox really do seem like a perfect fit.



What? Baseball is still being played? 

Those words in my titles are quotes of thousands of Americans today, not realizing that a very boring World Series is happening right now. Just sit back and imagine what a Cubs v. Red Sox series would have been like...sigh...

Not much to say today, as the days are getting pretty dull in the baseball world. But, here's what I see in the Yanks and Marlins, with some mixed in toughts about the next year.

The Yankees

New York may be the smartest team in baseball. Hideki Matsui has showed how much knowledge he has, which is also evident in his great average with RISP. Derek Jeter plays extremely smart, although defensive problems do exist. Ditto Bernie Williams and Jason Giambi. Aaron Boone was a perfect pick up, and Jorge Posada fits in the very smart trend. Soriano doesn't really fit in here, he's just very toolsy. I heard a Luis Castillo to the Yanks rumor somewhere, and it really would make sense. And I don't think dealing Soriano would be too much of a problem...

Is Mariano Rivera the best postseason player ever? Quite possibly. Rivera is a completely different pitcher in the playoffs, able to go two innings with relative ease. This team spends a year preparing for October, and Rivera shows that more than anyone else. And by the way, I love Jose Contreras. And Andy Pettite? He has to be re-signed. Don't think George will let homegrown Pettite leave, especially when he is nearing in on most postseason wins EVER. And with these Red Sox rumors, Steinbrenner won't let him leave Yankee stadium for the winter most likely.

Nick Johnson and Karim Garcia rub me the wrong way. They aren't Yankee caliber players, and probably should be gone next season. I've heard the Boss wants Javier Vazquez, and Johnson would definitely appeal to the Expos. Throw in Juan Rivera and another prospect, and it's a deal. Hell, get Adrian Hernandez and Drew Henson off your hands too. Then, sign Doug Mientkiewicz, whom seems perfect for the Yankees. He is a very timely hitter, and a smart player. He plays fantastic defense, and would save Jeter and Soriano daily. I mean, the Yankee infield might even be decent. In right field, go with Sheffield. Sit back and imagine this...

1. Jeter- SS- RH
2. Williams- CF- SH
3. Soriano- 2B- RH
4. Giambi- DH- LH
5. Sheffield- RF- RH
6. Matsui- LF- LH
7. Posada- C- SH
8. Mientkiewicz- 1B- LH
9. Boone- 3B- RH

1) Mussina
2) Vazquez
3) Contreras
4) Pettite
5) Lieber

Damn Yankees.

Fry the Fish

Don't expect dismantling from the Marlins next year, but don't expect the same team either. I've said it numerous tiimes, but the Marlins first worry should be putting popular, Miami-type players on the field. Florida loves Jeff Conine, Ugueth Urbina, Pudge, Luis Castillo. Let 'em stay. Encarnacion? Out. Looper? Out. Ramon Castro? Out. Mike Lowell or Derrek Lee should be out too. Yes, throw Brad Penny in there too. I like the idea of signing Jong-Soo Shim, whom would add some Korean influence to a very hispanic team. Oh and in case I didn't mention it...non-tender Alex Gonzalez.

Josh Beckett and Dontrelle Willis have impressed me so much this postseason, not complaining about usage patterns. Beckett is one of the game's true gems, and should be sensational next season. The team will have A.J. Burnett in relief next year, another one of my favorite pitchers. But I don't like Penny, get rid of him.

The Lowell/Lee decision will be tough. Lowell will command more interest, and Lee has been in Florida a long time. But Lowell is extremely popular in Miami, and the trade would probably get a lot of bad press. But if you could find a cheap arm to replace Penny, along with restoring order to the farm system...do it.

That's enough for today...


News on the Horizon 

In yesterday's article I said today would be devoted to writing about the Mets, and the job Omar Minaya and Jim Duquette will have. Instead, I have an announcement that will allow me to postpone it. Next monday I will begin running a set of articles entitled "Organizational Meetings." In these, myself and one of the web's best team bloggers will be answering detailed questions about the upcoming months of their club. I will be putting the teams in order of regular season standings, so the Atlanta Braves will start, followed by the Yankees. Stay tuned, as Wait 'Til Next Year will be your central source for the offseason.

So instead of writing about the Mets, I thought I'd check into the Arizona Fall League. I'm still gathering data on my big AFL project, in which I'll make a generalization about whether or not the AFL helps a prospect, and whom it will help. This will be done after the Organizational Meetings, sometime around when the AFL season ends. I will also have predictions based on my research about which players will breakout in 2004. Whew.

AFL midseason hitting report

Last season big Ken Harvey dominated the AFL, to the tune of a 1.287 OPS. This year's Harvey is Jonny Gomes, an outfield prospect for the Devil Rays. But unlike Harvey did this season, Gomes will spend the majority of 2004 in the minors, further refining his skills. Early research suggests that players whom go from the AFL to the Majors aren't helped or hindered dramatically. Gomes is a very toolsy player, 5 tools to be exact, whom hasn't quite put it together yet. He started to at the end of the season, and seems to be carrying it into the AFL.

A pair of Oakland 1B are doing very well, both Dan Johnson and Graham Koonce. Johnson leads the AFL in hits, RBI, and is 2nd in OBP. He dominated the Texas League in 2003, and seems to be heading down a similar path that Justin Morneau did. Koonce isn't playing in the AFL, but plays for team USA, whom has played games vs. AFL teams. He is hitting over .500, and proving that the Oakland re-signing of Scott Hatteberg rivals the bad decisions of signing Terrence Long and Chris Singleton. Yes, I really do believe Beane is overrated.

A pair of Cubs hitters, Jason Dubois and Brendan Harris are having very good first halves. Dubois is looking to follow the Todd Linden or Terrmel Sledge path, while Harris is trying to be 2004's Chase Utley. Texas hitters Adrian Gonzalez and Ramon Nivar are also having good seasons. Gonzalez will also try to follow the Morneau model, although he may get throw into the mix like Hee Seop Choi did. Nivar is similar to Jermaine Clark, putting up good numbers but isn't ready for the Majors.

More predictions when the season ends...

AFL midseason pitching report

Jerome Williams led the AFL in WHIP in 2003, and subsequently had a very solid rookie season. The Devil Rays are very enthused by this, as former top-five overall draft pick Dewon Brazelton is dominating for the Mesa Solar Sox. His WHIP is well below 1.00 in 14 innings, and he looks very rejuvenated. The Devil Rays are looking more and more bullish everyday, as a Gonzalez, Zambrano, Gaudin, Switzer, Brazelton rotation is looking mighty fine. Interesting note that Devil Rays players would win both the MVP and Cy Young if the season ended today.

Not many pitchers are having success yet, which is common in the AFL. Another that is jumping out is Neal Cotts, whom had a bad first experience with the White Sox this season. He's rebounded well in the AFL, only walking two men so far, but the ChiSox would be smart to shut him down cery soon. A good comparison may be Horacio Ramirez, whom had a very good 2002 AFL.

Jason Frasor is a good example of why numbers tend to lie in pitching this time of the year. In 2002, the great triumvrate of Brent Hoard, Ryan Larson, and Phil Seibel were in the top 10 in WHIP. Bad pitchers can succeed here, and it doesn't necessarily translate to future success. But Frasor did strike out 50 in 38 AA innings while in relief, so he may be a good Rule V pick. Note: Dan Carrasco of the Royals had a sensational 2002 AFL.

The only other pitchers truly succeeding thus far are Chris Young and Ben Fritz. Young had a sensational 2003, after being dealt to Montreal for MATT HERGES. He's 6-6, and very projectable. He reminds me of Jeremy Griffiths, the Mets farmhand whom had a good AFL, and a solid 2003. Expect some of the same from Young next season.

I'm very excited to look more into the AFL and the mysteries behind it. If you don't check back for the Organizational Meetings, be sure to come back when the AFL closes.


GM jobs 

Hope everyone had a good weekend, no notes on the World Series because I’m not watching it. But let me just say that keeping Luis Castillo should be a huge priority for the Marlins. Today I’m going to be writing about team’s with job vacancies, the Reds, Mariners, and Mets. Each situation provides difficulties for the new general manager, with little economic resources to do so.

GM predictions
Reds- Dan O’Brien
Mariners- Mike Port
Mets- Omar Minaya/Jim Duquette

O’Brien’s Job
The Reds were a pitiful team during the second half, going only 26-43. The team had injuries in the entire outfield, along with the third base and shortstop positions. The end of season rotation was completely different than the one that began the year, and half the bullpen had been dealt away. The team sold out, trading Aaron Boone, Jose Guillen, Kent Mercker, Gabe White, and Scott Williamson. Dan O’Brien’s job will be the same as his predecessor, Jim Bowden: find pitching.

Offense is not something the Reds have a problem on. Their outfield of Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey, and Austin Kearns is one of the best in the game when healthy. Dunn should have a very good 2004, and Kearns should establish himself as one of baseball’s true threats. It’s anyone’s guess what to expect from Griffey, if anything. And for that reason, and his gaudy contract, it is virtually impossible to deal Junior away.

If the team is focused on deals, trading Sean Casey is the best option. Casey doesn’t hit like a first basemen should, and some of his antics (although he’s a fantastic leader) haven’t been great PR. It will be difficult to deal him unless the team takes on someone else’s bad contract, preferably that of a pitcher. One name that comes to mind is Livan Hernandez, whom the Expos might need to deal this winter. Outside of Montreal, there aren’t many other places Casey could go. The Giants might spend money if the price was cheap, or the Braves could swing a deal. But trading Casey is an easy way to land pitching, and save some money.

The infield remains a big question for the Reds. D’Angelo Jimenez played fantastic after being acquired from the White Sox, and he will be the second basemen and leadoff man. The team also found Ryan Freel from their AAA club, whom proved to have a bat capable of handling the shortstop position. So O’Brien must be able to push Juan Castro and Ray Olmedo aside, and give the job to Freel and occasionally Barry Larkin. At third, go with Brandon Larson. Sure the last two seasons Larson has been unable to put his minor league stats onto paper...he’s a great hitter. At first put Adam Dunn, whom would move in from left. And in his left field position, split time between Wily Mo Pena and Steve Smitherman.

One thing O’Brien won’t lose sleep over is his bullpen. First-Round pick Ryan Wagner looks to be a fantastic reliever, and I believe is the Majors’ next Troy Percival. The team went with Chris Reitsma in the closer role late, but he is better suited for middle relief. Failed starters Danny Graves and John Reidling will return to the bullpen, where they’ve had considerably more success. And Phil Norton, a southpaw acquired from the Cubs, played very well in September.

But it will be the rotation that holds the Reds back, not allowing the team to make a run at the division. Jimmy Haynes is under contract, and can be an ineffective innings-eater at the back end of the rotation. Hopefully the prize for Sean Casey will be a Major League starting pitcher, one that the team can thrust into action. Jose Acevedo pitched fantasically in four starts, and will be all but handed a starting role. Brandon Claussen and Aaron Harang, acquisitions from deadline deals, will have chances at jobs along with homegrown products John Bale and Josh Hall. I would also reccomend this team tries to find a diamond-in-the-rough, because an Esteban Loaiza would really help this club.

Port’s Job
Pat Gillick put great teams on the field the last two seasons in Seattle, yet couldn’t find a club capable of reaching the postseason. Call it his lack of deadline acquisitions or team’s without depth, there have been problems with the M’s. Gillick’s replacement must be ready to deal at all times, and provide Bob Melvin with a lot of options.

The Mariner offense will be hurting in 2004, as both Edgar Martinez and Mike Cameron are expected to walk away. This will leave Bret Boone as the only condierable power source, which provides a big need in left field. While the team always thought Chris Snelling would be their player, signing a Raul Ibanez-type player would be a good idea. This would push Randy Winn into centerfield, where he is better suited for.

Limiting Jeff Cirillo’s playing time is important, so grabbing a shortstop (so Guillen plays third) is a must. The team has Japanese owners and a huge Japanese following, so signing Kaz Matsui is very likely. He should be a doubles hitter in the Majors, also capable of stealing twenty or thirty bases. The DH position will have a huge hole, as Edgar Martinez has been so important for the team the last five seasons. Ellis Burks is an option, and he’s had an OPS over .900 three of the last five seasons.

Stud Rafeal Soriano will make his presence heard in the rotation next year, becoming the first of many starter prospects to reach the Majors. He will join Jamie Moyer, Joel Piniero, Gil Meche, and Ryan Franklin in a very formidable rotation. Freddy Garcia will either be traded or non-tendered, with emphasis on the latter. He proved to be way too inconsistent, and Bryan Price was unable to fix his problems. If Meche or Franklin struggles, Rett Johnson, Clint Nageotte, or Travis Blackley will be up immedietly.

Much of the Seattle bullpen may walk during this winter, including Armando Benitez, Arthur Rhodes, and the all-important Shigetoshi Hasegawa. It’s very important the team signs Hasegawa, although both Benitez and Rhodes won’t be huge losses. Julio Mateo pitched fantasically in the second half, and should replace Benitez in the set-up role. Sasaki will be healthy next season, and must pitch like the closer we saw during his rookie year. J.J. Putz, Aaron Looper, Aaron Taylor, and Brian Sweeney are all in-house options to fill the remaining spots. Signing a LOOGY somewhere off the market might be important too.

More on the Mets tomorrow...

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