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28/12/2003

Gone 

Well people, I'll be gone for the next week, so today's post is my New Year's present to everyone. For your enjoyment I typed up every lineup the way it currently stands. Enjoy, and maybe I'll get all the rotations and bullpens done on vacation. Have a Happy New Year!

Atlanta Braves
C- Estrada
1B- LaRoche/Franco
2B- Giles
SS- Furcal
3B- DeRosa
LF- C. Jones
CF- A. Jones
RF- Drew

Florida Marlins
C- Castro
1B- Choi
2B- Castillo
SS- Gonzalez
3B- Lowell
LF- Conine
CF- Pierre
RF- Cabrera

Philadelphia Phillies
C- Lieberthal
1B- Thome
2B- Utley
SS- Rollins
3B- Bell/Polanco
LF- Burrell
CF- Byrd
RF- Abreu

Montreal Expos
C- Schneider
1B- Johnson
2B- Vidro
SS- Cabrera
3B- Batista
LF- Wilkerson
CF- Chavez/Sledge
RF- Everett

New York Mets
C- Piazza
1B- Phillips
2B- Reyes
SS- Matsui
3B- Wigginton
LF- Floyd
CF- Cameron
RF- Perez

Chicago Cubs
C- Barrett
1B- Lee
2B- Walker/Grudzi
SS- Gonzalez
3B- Ramirez
LF- Alou
CF- Patterson
RF- Sosa

Houston Astros
C- Ausmus
1B- Bagwell
2B- Kent
SS- Everett
3B- Ensberg
LF- Berkman
CF- Biggio
RF- Hidalgo

St. Louis Cardinals
C- Matheny
1B- Gall
2B- Hart
SS- Renteria
3B- Rolen
LF- Pujols
CF- Edmonds
RF- Sanders

Cincy Reds
C- LaRue
1B- Casey
2B- Jimenez
SS- Larkin
3B- Larson
LF- Dunn
CF- Griffey
RF- Kearns

Pittsburgh Pirates
C- Kendall
1B- Wilson
2B- Sanchez
SS- Wilson
3B- Stynes
LF- Bay
CF- Redman
RF- Davis

Milwaukee Brewers
C- Moeller
1B- Overbay
2B- Spivey/Ginter
SS- Counsell
3B- Helms
LF- Grieve
CF- Sanchez
RF- Jenkins

San Francisco Giants
C- Pierzynski
1B- Snow
2B- Durham
SS- Perez
3B- Alfonzo
LF- Bonds
CF- Grissom
RF- Tucker/Mohr

Arizona Diamondbacks
C- Hammock
1B- Sexson
2B- Kata
SS- Cintron
3B- Hillenbrand
LF- Gonzalez
CF- Finley
RF- Bautista

Los Angeles Dodgers
C- Lo Duca
1B- Ventura
2B- Cora
SS- Izturis
3B- Beltre
LF- Encarnacion
CF- Roberts
RF- Green

Colorado Rockies
C- Johnson
1B- Helton
2B- Miles
SS- Barmes
3B- Castilla
LF- Burnitz
CF- Wilson
RF- Walker

San Diego Padres
C- Hernandez
1B- Nevin
2B- Loretta
SS- Greene/Vazquez
3B- Burroughs
LF- Klesko
CF- Giles
RF- Nady

Oakland Athletics
C- Miller
1B- Hatteberg
2B- Ellis
SS- Crosby
3B- Chavez
LF- Kielty
CF- Kotsay
RF- Dye
DH- Durazo

Seattle Mariners
C- Wilson/Davis
1B- Olerud
2B- Boone
SS- Guillen
3B- Spezio
LF- Ibanez
CF- Winn
RF- Ichiro
DH- Martinez

Anaheim Angels
C- Molina
1B- Quinlan
2B- Kennedy
SS- Eckstein
3B- Glaus
LF- Anderson
CF- Erstad
RF- Guillen
DH- Salmon

Texas Rangers
C- Diaz
1B- Teixeira
2B- Young
SS- Rodriguez
3B- Blalock
LF- Mench
CF- Nix/Nivar
RF- Jordan
DH- Fullmer

Minnesota Twins
C- Mauer
1B- Mientkiewicz
2B- Rivas
SS- Guzman
3B- Koskie
LF- Stewart
CF- Hunter
RF- Jones
DH- LeCroy

Chicago White Sox
C- Olivo
1B- Konerko
2B- Harris
SS- Valentin
3B- Crede
LF- Lee
CF- Rowand
RF- Ordonez
DH- Thomas

Kansas City Royals
C- Santiago
1B- Sweeney
2B- Relaford/Graffanino
SS- Berroa
3B- Randa
LF- DeJesus
CF- Beltran
RF- Guiel
DH- Stairs/Harvey

Cleveland Indians
C- Martinez
1B- Hafner
2B- Belliard
SS- Vizquel
3B- Blake
LF- Escobar
CF- Bradley
RF- Gerut
DH- Lawton

Detroit Tigers
C- Inge
1B- Pena/Shelton
2B- Vina
SS- Santiago
3B- Munson
LF- White
CF- Sanchez
RF- Higginson/Monroe
DH- Young

New York Yankees
C- Posada
1B- Giambi
2B- Soriano
SS- Jeter
3B- Boone
LF- Matsui
CF- Lofton
RF- Sheffield
DH- Williams

Boston Red Sox
C- Varitek
1B- Millar
2B- Bellhorn/Reese
SS- Garciaparra
3B- Mueller
LF- Ramirez
CF- Damon
RF- Nixon
DH- Ortiz

Toronto Blue Jays
C- Myers/Cash
1B- Delgado
2B- Hudson
SS- Woodward
3B- Hinske
LF- Catalanotto
CF- Wells
RF- R. Johnson
DH- Phelps

Baltimore Orioles
C- Lopez
1B- Gibbons
2B- Hairston
SS- Tejada
3B- Mora
LF- Bigbie
CF- Matos
RF- Cust
DH- Cordova/Segui

Tampa Bay Devil Rays
C- Hall
1B- Martinez
2B- Lugo
SS- Sanchez
3B- Blum
LF- Crawford
CF- Baldelli
RF- Cruz
DH- Huff

And my earliest 2004 predictions for divisional champions: Yankees, Royals, Angels, Phillies, Cubs, Padres

Breakout Stars: Brad Wilkerson and Jake Peavy

I'm out.

24/12/2003

The Night Before Christmas 

Not much is doing in baseball as GMs and agents tidy their stockings, but the fun never stops for us bloggers. In fact, a personal favorite blogger, Rich Lederer, wrote a whole post yesterday proving an inaccuracy in a statement I made in yesterday’s article. I wrote that Lopez is “far and away the 3rd best catcher in the last 20 years, and probably top 20 all-time.” He proves that Lopez is not the 3rd best at all, and actually argues for 5th.

First, Rich points out what I didn’t, that the top two are Mike Piazza and Pudge Rodriguez, then argues on the behalf of Jorge Posada and Jason Kendall. He uses the stat RCAP, or Runs Created Above Position, in showing that Javy stands 9th since 1984, and is 32nd on the all-time list. I used slugging percentage against league average for catchers to see that Lopez was ninth all-time, which led me to my drastic statement. I will concede the fact that Lopez might not be top twenty, and I’ll even say that Jorge Posada is better than Loez. But Jason Kendall?

Kendall Career: .304/.385/.422 64HR 526RBI 620R in 4032AB
Lopez Career: .287/.337/.502 214HR 694RBI 508R in 4002AB

In basically the same amount of at-bats, Lopez has hit 150 more home runs than Kendall, and brought in 168 more runners. His lead in slugging makes up for the gap in OBP, although some systems (Aaron Gleeman's GPA) would refute that point. Anyhow, I believe Kendall's recent dip in productivity gives Lopez the edge here. While I made an indefensible statement glorifying Lopez, I refuse to believe that Jason Kendall is a better catcher.

And while I wrote about the tough opponents in the AL East yesterday, reader John Geer gave me a list of some career splits for Javy and his new enemies:

Vs. Schilling: .300/.333/.425 1BB/10K in 40AB
Vs. Pedro: .318/.375/.455 in 22AB
Vs. Brown: .160/.160/.320 0BB/7K in 25AB
Vs. Vazquez: .233/.294/.267 3BB/12K in 30AB
Vs. Lieber: .227/.227/.409 0BB/6K in 22AB

So, in 139 at-bats against American League pitching, Lopez is hitting .252/.283/.374, and that doesn’t even include Mike Mussina, Roy Halladay, Jose Contreras, Derek Lowe, etc. Needless to say I’m not bullish on Javy in 2004, and now Rich has steered me into conceding Javy is the second best catcher in his division.

Moving in another direction, the Alex Rodriguez deal reached its deadline last night, and the Majors’ best player will not be moving to the Northeast. I’ve written sparingly on this trade due to my own skepticism, and now Yankees fans can rejoice. The backlash we’ll hear about from the Boston clubhouse should be harsh, and those who once yearned for Terry Francona’s position are likely content.

Boston is still far and away the second best team in their division, and barring any freak breakouts, should win the Wild Card in 2004. The main competition will come from the loser of the A’s v. Angels war, and I don’t think either offense can match the Sox firepower. I’m very disappointed with the Players’ Union now that this trade has been pronounced dead, and a friend pointed out to me that this more than violates the “free markets for free men” philosophy that free agency was argued for. Rodriguez will stay in Texas and remain an MVP candidate, but we’ll likely hear trade rumors in every winter until his contract ceases. Tom Hicks doesn’t show the enthusiasm for winning he once did, and only Kerry Wood will be able to transform this franchise into a .500 club. Unfortunately for A-Rod, that’s a battle that will be fought in a year, while Alex will be spending another year in purgatory.

Wood most likely will never leave Chicago though, as Jim Hendry is currently negotiating a long-term contract. The Cubs’ GM did have time to make another move yesterday, signing the best second basemen on the free agent market left, none other than postseason hero Todd Walker. Todd turned down better offers from different teams for the chance of winning, and signed a one-year, $1.75M deal. Here’s a look at Walker’s meaningful splits from 2003:

Overall: .283/.333/.428
Vs. RH: .301/.352/.448
Road: .243/.285/.355
2nd half: .271/.324/.434

Walker played inspired baseball in Fenway Park, but shouldn’t have a hard time adjusting to the dimensions at Wrigley Field. His role with the Cubs isn’t set in stone, although I would imagine something like Walker plays second against right-handers, and Alex Gonzalez will play shortstop against southpaws. Mark Grudzilanek will then shift through the middle infield positions accordingly. Walker will also give Derrek Lee the occasional day off as well.

Jim Hendry is doing a fantastic job giving Dusty Baker the team that Baker will thrive with, not giving a role to a young hitter. The Cubs may not have the money to sign Pudge Rodriguez anymore, possibly sending him to Los Angeles.

Finally, a few more transactions that deserve at least a moments time…

Phillies sign Shawn Wooten- Wooten will actually fill the Tyler Houston role with Philadelphia, hopefully without the drama with Larry Bowa. Wooten will probably let Thome have the day off against some southpaws, keep Todd Pratt to a pinch-hitting role, and might even fill in at third if necessary. His hitting has declined in each of his last three seasons, but his bat is one that easily deserves a bench role.

Diamondbacks sign Steve Sparks and Shane Reynolds- Not exactly the replacements I would have guessed for Curt Schilling and Miguel Batista, but Garigiola is trying, right? This Arizona team will not be very good next season, although their offense will be the best it’s been in years. Both these pitchers are terrible, but Sparks is the type that might have a five game run allowing only 3 runs or something.

Pirates sign Chris Stynes- Stynes isn’t a great hitter, although he does have the potential to put up Mark Loretta-type numbers and make Dave Littlefield look smart. The Pirate roster is beginning to take shape, although the team is still in need of one more outfielder.

Braves sign Antonio Alfonseca and Armando Almanza- Yikes! The Braves bullpen is going to be hideous after John Smoltz next season, what with Jaret Wright, Alfonseca, Almanza, Will Cunnane, and Jung Bong. Who would have guessed that Leo Mazzone would be missing Roberto Hernandez by the All-Star Break?

Brewers sign Ben Grieve- Milwaukee will have a very interesting lineup next year, and the Grieve move set it in stone. Barring any earth-shattering move, this will be the Brewers lineup on Opening Day…

1) Scott Podsednik- CF
2) Junior Spivey- 2B
3) Geoff Jenkins- RF
4) Ben Grieve- LF
5) Wes Helms- 3B
6) Lyle Overbay- 1B
7) Chad Moeller- C
8) Craig Counsell- SS

The bench will include Gary Bennett, Keith Ginter, Bill Hall, and Brady Clark. And yes, the Brewers will field the worst team in the National League next season.

And with that, I leave you. I won’t be posting on Christmas, although I am hoping to have a weekend post on Friday. My readership has grown in the past month, and I want to thank all of you, and wish you all a very Merry Christmas. God Bless all of you.

23/12/2003

The Newest O 

In the last ten years, one big name free agent has come to the Baltimore Orioles. Albert Belle. Unfortunately for Peter Angelos and Orioles' fans, that contract didn't go so well; Belle has made more money from Angelos since his retirement than he made in uniform. The Baltimore front office saw 2003 as their chance to try again, and have been quick on the attack thus far.

Last week, Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan inked 2002 AL MVP Miguel Tejada to a six-year contract. Given Tejada's age, defensive skills, and fantastic road numbers last year, it's hard to foresee Orioles' brass regretting that move. But yesterday the team went out on the limb more, risking $23M on a 33-year-old catcher. Laughable, right? Well, not exactly. See, this catcher set the record last year for home runs in a season at the catching position. Yes, at age 32, Javy Lopez gave his career a complete turnaround, throwing sabermatricians everywhere for a surprise.

During the course of his career, Javy Lopez has hit .287/.337/.502, giving the catcher an impressive 114 career OPS+. Compared to his league, Lopez ranks 11th of all catchers in slugging percentage. Lopez is far and away the 3rd best catcher in the last 20 years, and probably top 20 all-time. But given his age, new team, and new style of hitting, what can we expect next season?

First, let's take a look at the gaudy, insane splits Lopez had last season:

Overall: .328/.378/.687
Home: .376/.418/.834
Road: .290/.345/.567
Pre-ASB: .307/.352/.636
Post-ASB: .357/.411/.755

Lopez showed a huge preference to Turner Field, which played out to favor hitters slightly last season. In contrast, Camden Yards was a pitcher's park last year, very similar to National League fields Miller Park and Shea Stadium. Interestingly enough, Lopez hit only two extra-base hits in those stadiums a year ago, although 27 at-bats is a very small sample size. Turner Field will not see Javy at all in 2004, so expect him to be much more like the road version of himself next season.

To put Javy's 2003 into perspective, the slugger hit more home runs (by 6), and had a better slugging percentage (by .101) than any other catcher over 31 all-time. After tossing out Mike Piazza, these are the numbers for most home runs by a catcher after 31 years of age:

1. Lopez ('03)- 43
2. Carlton Fisk ('85)- 37
3. Terry Steinbach ('96)- 35
3. Walker Cooper ('47)- 35
5. Roy Campanella ('55)- 32

And those, besides Piazza's 2001 and 2002, are the only times a catcher after 31 has hit thirty home runs. Now here is the list using slugging percentage:

1. Lopez ('03)- .687
2. Walker Cooper ('47)- .586
3. Roy Campanella ('55)- .583
4. Mike Piazza ('01)- .573

Only four times in the history of Major League Baseball has a catcher above thirty-one years of age has slugged better than .550, and Lopez is the only one to slug .600. Here is a look at the five seasons mentioned above not including Piazza, whom I deem as a bad comp to any catcher...

Fisk '85: .238/.320/.488 115OPS+
Steinbach '96: .272/.342/.529 120OPS+
Cooper '47: .305/.339/.586 141OPS+
Campanella '55: .318/.395/.583 153OPS+

Lopez '03: .328/.378/.687 174OPS+

While Javy blows everyone out of the waters with his 2003, it's interestring that Campanella and Cooper came up as the two closest examples. Walker Cooper began his Major League career with 19AB in 1940, although he didn't reach 400AB with the St. Louis Browns until the 1942 season, when he was twenty-seven. Cooper was oft-injured during his career, but did have 1284AB during the 1942-1944 seasons, compiling an impressive .305/.341/.466 hitting line. He only had 298AB the next two seasons, and in 1947 exploded with 35 home runs, nearly 3 times his previous high of 13.

Campanella was similar to Cooper, not reaching 400AB until he was 27 years of age. In that 1949 season, Campanella hit .287/.385/.498 for the Brooklyn Dodgers, and then improved his slugging percentage in each of the next two seasons. Campanella's best season actually came as a 31-year-old, when he hit 41HR and hit .312/.395/.611 with the Dodgers. After an off year in 1954, Roy had his fateful 1955 season.

In contrast, Lopez started playing often in 1995 with the Braves, when he was only 25 years old. In that season, Lopez hit .315/.344/.498 with the Braves, similar to Campanella's first real season with Brooklyn. He was always very close to Cooper in terms of OBP, but closer to Campanella in SLG. As a 27-year-old in 1998, Lopez broke out, hitting .295/.328/.540 with 34 home runs, although his OPS had dropped from the year before (when he hit only 23HR). Javy was then hurt during the 1999 sason, only catching in 65 games. Coming back from injury was a disaster, as Javy got worse in AVE, OBP, and SLG in from 2000 to 2001, and 2001 to 2002. He looked finished in 2002 after hitting .233/.299/.372, but obviously bounced back with one of the greatest catching offensive seasons of all-time.

So how did Campanella and Cooper finish after these big seasons? Campanella struggled mightily the next two seasons, putting up .219/.333/.394 and .242/.316/.388 lines. He did manage to hit 33HR in those two seasons, which spanned 718AB, although only 15 doubles. While that doesn't bode well for Lopez, remember that Campanella's 1955 was his 33-year season, while Lopez was 32 last year. Cooper's career went until 1957, actually closing out the same year as Roy. But during those ten seasons after 1947, Cooper only amassed 300AB once, in 1949, when he hit .258/.308/.436. In the ten years after his fantastic 1947 season, Walker Cooper had 2386 at-bats, and hit a paltry .275/.327/.425.

Finally, let's consider the competition Javy will be facing next season. Moving to the AL East, this is a list of the pitcher's Javy will face in-division next year, ranked by their 2003 ERA:

1. Pedro Martinez -2.22
2. Kevin Brown- 2.35
3. Curt Schilling- 2.95
4. Javier Vazquez- 3.24
5. Roy Halladay- 3.25
6. Jose Contreras- 3.30
7. Mike Mussina- 3.40

Yes, there are seven pitchers in the AL East that had ERAs below 3.50 last year, and they rank as some of the best pitchers in baseball. This list also didn't include Derek Lowe, David Wells, Tim Wakefield, Miguel Batista, Pat Hentgen, and Jeremi Gonzalez. Lopez didn't face the best competition in the NL East last season, in which Kevin Millwood seemed to be his worst enemy.

When considering the change in ballparks, change in division, and change in age, it's unquestionable that Javy Lopez won't nearly match his 2003 statistics. My guess is .275/.330/.475, likely going from the most valuable fantasy catcher, to one that finds himself below the likes of Mike Lieberthal. But Baltimore fans can't complain. At least he's not Albert Belle.

(This article couldn't have been possible without the help of Rich Lederer, and his trusted Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia. So do yourself a favor and head over to Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT, then go buy an Encyclopedia from Lee Sinins)

22/12/2003

Examining the Non-Tenders 

Busy weekend, as teams sent 59 players to free agency as an early Christmas present. The list doesn’t include any big names, as players like Freddy Garcia and Carlos Lee were kept by their respective teams. Instead, the free agency market was clouded with players who even the average GM likely didn’t recognize (i.e. Geraldo Garcia).

Of the 58 players non-tendered, seven are expected or have re-signed with that team. Mark Redman and Michael Barrett re-upped with the Marlins and Cubs respectively, while Edwin Almonte, Gabe Kapler, Jason Shiell, Kris Wilson, and Scott Elarton are all expected to re-sign. Teams can re-sign players then non-tender until January 9th, making the arbitration situation the single most confusing in all of sports. This is what Michael Barrett has seen in the last week:

- Michael Barrett traded to Oakland for P2NL
- Barrett traded to the Cubs for P2NL (a.k.a. Damian Miller)
- Cubs non-tender Michael Barrett
- Barrett signs with Cubs for one-year, $1.05M

Whew. This is an area the next Commissioner (Alderson?!?!) must amend, but something Bud seems much too preoccupied to do. Also, by my count, eleven players were non-tendered with less than twenty games experience for pitchers, and 150AB for hitters. That list is...

- Andy Van Hekken
- Geraldo Garcia
- Scott Chiasson
- Matt Miller
- Kit Pellow
- Alfredo Gonzalez
- Derek Thompson
- Jeremy Hill
- Travis Chapman
- Miguel Ojeda
- Todd Sears

Of that list, I would say that Sears is the best bet to have a future. If you remember, Sears was fantastic in Spring Training last year, but flamed out after only 24G in the Bigs. He is a nice left-handed bat to have off the bench, but his inability to play the outfield well likely will keep him resigned to the 4-A mantra.

That leaves, by my count, 41 meaningful players that have now joined the free agent market. Seventeen of those players are hitters, and only four have earned a starting job over the last two seasons. Karim Garcia held a job well in the second half of 2002 with the Indians, actually leading the Majors in RBI during that span. Marlon Anderson has spent time starting with the Devil Rays and Phillies, occupying both the 2B and 3B roles. Randall Simon has held a starting 1B job at various times during his career, and he held up a platoon with the Cubs late last season. Finally, the best player on the market is Jay Payton, he of the .302/.354/.512 line.

Payton will be the most sought after of the non-tenders, although his numbers are seen as slightly inflated due to Coors Field. Payton is considered a league average centerfielder, although he primarily played in left last season. He’s an interesting Coors player, seeing as though his road numbers were still good at .281/.330/.483 in 2003. My gut tells me the Padres will be all over Jay, and that the rumor that Boston was interested is completely bogus.

After Jay, here is a ranking of the other 16 hitters, in terms of usefulness...

1. Karim Garcia
2. Marlon Anderson
3. David Delucci
4. Randall Simon
5. Rod Barajas- only real catcher
6. Damian Jackson
7. Russ Branyan
8. Shawn Wooten
9. Lou Merloni
10. Reggie Taylor
11. Frank Menechino
12. Ruben Mateo
13. Jason Sandberg
14. Ben Petrick
15. Augie Ojeda- if only for the name
16. Jason Tyner

As for the pitchers, I see the list as breakable into three categories, first the starters, then the right-handed relievers, and finally the southpaws. The starting list is limited to three, Jason Johnson, Damian Moss, and Orlando Hernandez. Personally, I find the Orioles actions here indefensible, seeing as Rodrigo Lopez (he of the 5.82ERA), is the only current Baltimore starter with more than 25 2003 starts. Next on that list? Omar Daal with 17 starts. Yikes. In fact, this is the current Oriole pitching staff, barring any changes...

1. Rodrigo Lopez
2. Omar Daal
3. Kurt Ainsworth
4. Matt Riley
5. Eric DuBose

Now surely the team will sign a starter, possibly Sidney Ponson, but how can they defend throwing so many millions into hitting without any pitchers? I mean, as I’m writing this, I hear Javy is close to a 3-year, $23M. My guess? Kelvim Escobar will be the better buy...

Jason Johnson and El Duque are a toss up, where Johnson has the edge in pitching, Hernandez is the bigger and better name. Johnson is fully capable of an ERA in the low 4.00s, although he struggled mightily after the break, and on the road last season. Hernandez was hurt all of last season, and may be getting to the point where middle relief is the better option. And Damian Moss? He sucks, but will undoubtedly have a job next year, if not only for the ‘burns.

Here’s my ranking of the top 10 right-handed relievers...

1. Braden Looper
2. Danys Baez
3. Cliff Pollitte
4. Jayson Durocher
5. Scott Strickland
6. Jeremy Fikac
7. Mike Lincoln
8. Britt Reames
9. Gene Stechschulte
10. Toby Borland

Looper is the most accomplished of the bunch, what with his new World Series ring and all. Teams with open closing positions will go after him, although I imagine the Devil Rays and White Sox to be the higher bidders. Baez could be very good in a middle relief role, and it will be interesting to see if the Phillies are interested, seeing as they almost acquired him a month ago. Jayson Durocher and Scott Stickland are coming off surgeries, but both had high upside beforehand.

Finally, my list of LOOGYs...

1. Carl Sadler
2. Scott Sauerbeck
3. Trever Miller
4. Armando Almanza
5. Pedro Feliciano
6. Mike Matthews
7. Valerio de los Santos
8. Troy Brohawn

I like Sadler a lot, so I decided to put him above Sauerbeck and Miller. He did quite well in the Indians ‘pen last year, and will come very cheap. Miller was also very good in Toronto, but Sauerbeck has a bigger name. The Padres are in the market for a LOOGY, so expect them to land one of these names.

Whew, so that’s all the non-tenders. I wanted to close with comments on a few transactions. First, Jeremy Burnitz signed with the Rockies this weekend. I just don’t understand where O’Dowd is going this offseason, with millions being spent on the likes of Burnitz and Castilla, when Atkins and Rene Reyes were ready. Next they’ll spend on a shortstop, and in a year’s time they’ll regret not having Bellhorn there. O’Dowd needs to be spending this money in pitching! Imprison O’Dowd!

Secondly, the World Champions named their closer this week, signing Armando Benitez to a one-year deal. Benitez going back to Shea will be quite interesting, as will be his attempts at closing. I’ve said letting Armando just face right-handers would produce good results, but I wince everytime he faces a left-hander. So does he, as his BB/9 rate skyrockets. The Marlins won’t necessarily regret this, but Benitez and Fox isn’t the scariest 8-9 combo...

Finally, the Red Sox inked Pokey Reese this weekend, likely as a defensive replacement. He’ll be good to start during Lowe’s games, but I don’t find him completely useful other than that.

That’s it for today, have a good one...

19/12/2003

California Love 

While the East coast teams are always the more interesting and dramatic topic of discussion, this offseason has been quite tumultous for a foursome out West. Four California teams, the Padres, Angels, Dodgers, and A's, all have posed very interesting subplots during this offseason. In short, they read as follows:

San Diego: Back in the game, using surprise element to take NL West
Angels: New owner, more money, 2002 philosophy
Dodgers: No owner, no offense, no money
A's: Billy Beane's creativity, very different Oakland team in 2004

Now, for the more detailed versions...

San Diego Padres

After five years of being out of contention, Kevin Towers chose his time wisely. While each of the NL West teams have become worse during this offseason, the Padres began improving last July. Towers used money he received from Trevor Hoffman's insurance to trade for Brian Giles, one of the best OBP players in the Majors today.

Quickly during the offseason, Towers traded with Oakland, acquiring Ramon Hernandez (and T. Long) for Mark Kotsay, which would then open up a slot for Xavier Nady. He kept Mark Loretta, a player who broke out last season, Hoffman, and new fan favorite Rod Beck. He went after a Japanese relief ace, and has most recently finalized the rotation. Yesterday, the team announced it had struck deals with Sterling Hitchcock and Ismael Valdes. Here is a look at those two players...

Hitchcock: 6-4 4.72 91/87.2 68/32
As starter: 4-1 4.26 35/38 33/11

Valdes: 8-8 6.10 148/115 47/29
Road: 3-4 4.98 69/59.2 18/16

Neither of these are huge signings, but each has a little bit of upside. Hitchcock showed great improvement starting with the Cardinals down the stretch, showing very good H/9 and K/9 numbers. Valdes was terrible last season, but it was also because of pitching in the third worst stadium in baseball for starters, Arlington. His road numbers are likely indicative of where he stands, and by moving to the NL, and especially the spacious NL West ballparks (save Coors), Valdes should be right around 4.50. His contract is miniscule, and the team could still conceivably make an offer to Greg Maddux.

One problem this team faces is defense. Their starting outfield right now would be Ryan Klesko in left, Giles in center, and Xavier Nady in right. I've advocated trading Phil Nevin, but it appears that a centerfielder will be acquired and Nady will find himself on the bench. San Diego lost out on Mike Cameron and Kenny Lofton, and they are having a difficult time trading for centerfielders, because everyone asks for Peavy.

Jake Peavy had modest numbers last season (12-11, 4.11), but is one of the top ten pitchers in baseball primed for a breakout season. He had great H/9 numbers (173H/194.2IP), and also struck out a considerable number of batters (156). His second half ERA was just 3.46, and his BB/9 and HR/9 improved in that span. The team is refusing to trade Peavy at all costs, and same goes for Adam Eaton. Eaton is a very similar pitcher who made great strides coming back from arm surgery last season, and should improve even more in 2004. These two youngsters, along with Brian Lawrence, have provided a good foundation for the rotation.

All that's left on the to-do list for Towers is to acquire a CF, and sign a LOOGY. Jacque Jones appears to be a reasonable candidate, and the team will pursue Jay Payton if they believe he has the range for center. I am calling for Mike Myers to be picked up as a LOOGY, and that's reasonable given the dwindling resources Towers has. Regardless, I am already looking forward to the Padres v. Giants battle next year, one that will largely depend on the arms of Hitchcock, Valdes, Peavy and Eaton.

Anaheim Angels

Arte Moreno vowed to Angel fans when he bought their franchise that he would spend this offseason. So far, he has not let them down, forking over serious coinage for the likes of Kelvim Escobar, Bartolo Colon, and most recently, Jose Guillen. The team also surprised me Thursday by re-signing Adam Kennedy to a three-year contract, deciding against non-tendering him. This either means that David Eckstein is about to join the non-tender list, or that scrappy middle infield will be back in 2004.

Another difficult non-tender decision will be that of Jarrod Washburn. Escobar, Colon, and Guillen have limited Stonemann's money, and while Washburn would make this rotation fantastic, he would prove costly. Plus, the team now has six starters: Colon, Escobar, Washburn, Ortiz, Lackey, and Aaron Sele. Prospects Bobby Jenks and Ervin Santana will be up in September, if not earlier.

The bullpen won't be a worry, and the team may very well non-tender Ben Weber on Saturday as well. Troy Percival and Francisco Rodriguez are great at the end of games, and Brendan Donnelly is fantastic in middle relief. The club also loved what they saw from Derrick Turnbow, and Scot Sheilds remains their long man. The team has lacked a real LOOGY for years, indicating that Kevin Gregg or Greg Jones may gets spots as well.

Offensively, the addition of Guillen is questionable. Jose's OBP dropped to just .311 with the A's, and his OPS was .770 while in the American League. But, he struggled within the confines of Oakland, a problem he won't face so much next season. Guillen is also a standout defensively, almost enough so to justify the money spent in this acquisition. He also moves Tim Salmon to DH, a move that should helpfully increase Salmon's numbers, as well as the length of his career. The only thing left on the slate is a first basemen, as the team doesn't appear to be content with Shawn Wooten in the role. Both names that have been mentioned, Travis Lee and Rafael Palmiero, make sense, although I would think the former is more logical. Lee is Gold Glove-like at first, and his bat emerged in Tampa.

The Angel team will take a new shape this weekend, when the team is forced to make non-tender decisions on Jarrod Washburn, Ben Weber, David Eckstein, and Shawn Wooten. Moreno is trying to make Angel fans forget about Gene Autry, and they should start opening up to him next year, when the Angels are submerged in battle with Oakland.

Los Angeles Dodgers

I can only write so much without getting sick here. The ownership situation of the Dodgers isn't the publicized topic I thought it would be, but it's definitely a problem for Major League Baseball. First, FOX supposedly reached a deal with Tampa Bay Buccaneer owner Malcolm Glazer, and now with Frank McCourt. Either way, FOX is cutting its losses, and Dan Evans hasn't had the money he's used to and help baseball's worst offense in 2003.

It all started with Juan Encarnacion, a move made during the Winter Meetings. I don't think Encarnacion will play well in Dodger Stadium, and Evans should end up looking like a fool for that. He's also saved money to spend in other places, although as I said yesterday, the big names are all gone. The team will probably look at Javy Lopez and Pudge Rodriguez, then either trading Lo Duca or moving him to first. The team saw Tejada and Kaz Matsui drive by at shortstop, all while the Dodgers were busy holding their breath for Nomar Garciaparra. Now it's time to move on, as Nomar appears locked in the cages of Fenway Park for one more season.

The Dodgers will make an interesting decision in the coming days as well, regarding the tendering of Odalis Perez. Odalis has appeared in every trade rumor possible the last few seasons, but now no one is calling. And, the team has been left with seven starters. Wilson Alvarez signed a contract to stay yesterday, and he'll surely have a rotation slot. As will Hideo Nomo. So does Odalis, if he stays. And Jeff Weaver. And Kaz Ishii. In that scenario, Darren Dreifort would move to the bullpen, and Edwin Jackson to AAA. That likely is the best option, and it gives the team one helluva bullpen, again.

Eric Gagne will be back in 2004, probably pitching as good as ever. His set-up man, Guillermo Mota, is likely to return as well. Paul Shuey, ace middle relief pitcher, is back, as is friend and LOOGY Tom Martin. Dreifort is set to join the bullpen, and assuming he doesn't hurt himself, his fastball/slider combination should be effective down there. Steve Colyer should be the second leftie, and the team will probably use one more player, maybe Duaner Sanchez, from the right side.

Dan Evans has very little wiggle room, as he doesn't know how long his job will last when Frank McCourt takes over. The team currently would have an infield of Ventura, Cora, Izturis, and Beltre, assembling possibly the worst infield in the game. Evans must get rolling, and he must do so fast. He must investigate Vladimir Guerrero thoroughly, and should lack Rafael Palmiero up at any cost. Rich Aurilia wouldn't be terrible at short, and Todd Walker could be used at second. It's probably too little, too late for the Dodgers, and they will soon be asking fans to wait for the likes of Jackson, Greg Miller, and James Loney.

Oakland A's

It hasn't been long since I last wrote about Billy Beane's team, but they've already changed so much since. Beane has now found his closer, signing Arthur Rhodes to a three-year contract (worth $9.2M) late yesterday. He also acquired left-hander Chris Hammond from the Yankees, whom will join Ricardo Rincon from the left side. And, the team is high on Rule V pick Frank Brooks, also a leftie. But, it's these different philosophies that have worked before, so I'll wait to see the results this bullpen has before I criticize.

Tuesday, Beane added soft-throwing leftie Mark Redman to a star-strapped rotation. This pushed Justin Duchscherer out of the picture, and makes top youngster Rich Harden the best fifth starter in the league. It also gives Beane a valuable bargaining chip midseason, when Joe Blanton or Duchscherer prove ready for rotation slots. Redman should succeed in Oakland, although the ERA should be slightly up from 3.59 next season.

To clarify, I think Beane has a plan with this bullpen. Rhodes will close, and Moneyball hero Chad Bradford will pitch in relief. Chris Hammond will also be used as a reliever, as he actually showed a reverse platoon split last year. Expect Mike Remlinger and Hammond to follow similar path lines the rest of their careers. Anyway, Ricardo Rincon will be used to get tough lefties out, and Jim Mecir will be called on in groundball-needed situations. Duchscherer will make the team as a long reliever, possibly leaving a seventh spot open for Rule V pick Brooks. It ain't pretty, but I don't doubt that it will work.

Same applies to the A's offensively, where Beane is putting everything on the line for this team. The team lacks a real catcher, although Damian Miller could be named an A within days. That would give the team a defensive leader, as well as an effective bottom of the order hitter. Beane is looking for more from personal choices like Erubiel Durazo, Bobby Kielty, and Mark Kotsay next year. He is praying for improvement from Eric Chavez and Jermaine Dye, and for development for Mark Ellis and Bobby Crosby.

But while this A team is no lock to win the division next year, I wouldn't advise anyone to bet against Zito-Hudson-Mulder-Harden-Redman.

Have a good weekend, and I'll probably make a quick post before Monday concerning the non-tenders...

18/12/2003

Previewing the Non-Tenders 

Yesterday was a really boring day for baseball. The everlasting A-Rod trade has more drama, as the player's union has stepped in to veto the deal. Bud Selig may override that decision, forcing an arbitrator to decide. I guess this is what happens when the best player in the Majors gets traded, huh? This weekend, teams will non-tender players, putting a whole new spin on the free agent market. So I figured since tomorrow might be dedicated to Rodriguez becoming a Red Sox player, that today would become a day to look over what's left on the free agent market, and what might be added when I check back on Monday.

So, first, what is left on the current free agent market?

Well, there is still a very recognizable front tier left. Vladimir Guerrero, the league's best free agent, is still technically a free agent, although anyone but the Orioles is a surprise at this point. The two catchers, Javy Lopez and Pudge Rodriguez, are also two big names left available. One of the two will join Guerrero in Baltimore, while the left out catcher will look to offers from the Cubs and the Dodgers. Greg Maddux is left over, and probably will be when the New Year hits. If the Padres really do sign Sterling Hitchcock and Ismael Valdes, the main suitor for Maddux's services will be thrown out the window. After that, only the Giants, Cubs, and possibly the Cardinals could make serious offers.

The second tier is led by Sidney Ponson, too much of a questionable pitcher to be in the top foursome. Rumors of a torn labrum have brought down his market, and currently the right-hander is entertaining offers from the White Sox and Orioles. Both teams have him down on their priority list, so Ponson will be left as an open box on a to-do list for quite some time. Rafael Palmiero is a nice name for anyone to pick up, but like Ponson, he's not a high priority for any team. The Angels, Dodgers, and Orioles have all given consideration, and I would gamble on one of the West Coast teams landing the powerful Viagra sponsor. Next on my list is Arthur Rhodes, a player good enough to be given a whole column over at Aaron's Baseball Blog. Rhodes' agent says a three-year deal with the A's is imminent, but both sides are yet to close the door on that move. Until then, Rhodes will also be sought after by the Twins, White Sox, Braves, and Devil Rays.

Ugueth Urbina, World Series hero, has likely been wowed by the lack of interest he's drawn. Many people just assume he will become a Met, a rumor I've been reporting since November. Juan Gonzalez is an interesting choice, but when he narrowed teams he'd like to play for at the trade deadline (AL team on grass), he also narrowed his offseason market. If the Royals manage this signing I'll be greatly impressed, or Juan Gone may consider trying right field in Shea Stadium for a season or two.

Infield veterans Robbie Alomar and Rich Aurilia are big names, with Aurilia likely to be signed in the next week or so. My guess is the Blue Jays will sign Aurilia, leaving Alomar a spot that is still open with the Cardinals. As a Cubs fan, I promote that move will all my heart. Eric Karros had nice numbers last season, and absolutely destroys left-handed pitching. I mentioned him in yesterday's column associated with the Yankees, although I'm yet to hear those rumors. Todd Walker is considered to be one of the better hitters left, and he will be a Ranger is the A-Rod trade gets completed.

On the pitching side, Wilson Alvarez is a great name that no one is considering. The Padres toyed with the notion of picking up the left-hander for awhile, but apparently have decided on Sterling Hitchcock instead. After Alvarez the next most interesting starter would be Pedro Astacio, whom I read will give a tryout in January to tempt teams. As will Maels Rodriguez, the Cuban star, whom has defected. He will get a signficant amount of money, no doubt, but where? There are still interesting relief options like Jeff Nelson, who was given a bad rap, almost undeservadly.

10 other remaining free agents that have caught my eye:

- Travis Lee (1B)- Gives Gold Glove-caliber defense, and bounced back last year from an offensive standpoint. Might be a good fit for the Angels, assuming they lose out on Palmiero.
- Raul Mondesi (OF)- Jerk in the clubhouse, underachiever on the field. But, one helluva arm, a powerful bat, and a little bit of speed. And this guy hasn't been jumped on by the Mets?
- Ellis Burks (DH)- Will hit wherever he ends up, although health is always a risk. Any team looking for a DH should consider Burks, who will probably just end up with some platoon job somewhere.
- Eric Young (2B/CF)- Added power dimension to his game last year, although speed calling card has slightly diminished. Good clubhouse guy, should get a job somewhere.
- Jeromy Burnitz (OF)- Waiting for a starting job offer somewhere, and Colorado may be interested. Would be an interesting option off the bench if he goes in that direction.

- Armando Benitez (RH)- Has been given lots of bad press in the past, but Benetiz is an asset if used primarily against right-handers.
- Terry Adams (RH)- Had arm surgery over the winter, but was one of the most effective middle relievers in baseball last season.
- Kent Mercker (LH)- My sleeper choice a year ago panned out, but seems to once again find himself under the radar.
- Antoino Osuna (RH)- When New York fans turn on you, it's hard to find a job. Will get one eventually, and should maintain fairly solid stats.
- Julian Tavarez (RH)- Psycho, but really thrived when given the Pittsburgh closer job last season. A team like the Devil Rays couldn't lose with this guy.

Now, who will become a free agent on December 20? Using rumors I've heard, along with a list of arbitration-eligibles available at CBS Sportsline, here's some names I've come up with.

First, here is a list of players I'm pretty confident will get non-tendered, unless their respective team can sign them before the deadline hits (listed alphabetically)...

Marlon Anderson- IF
Rod Barajas- C
Freddy Garcia- RHP
Luther Hackman- RHP
Jerry Hairston- 2B
Orlando Hernandez- RHP
Adam Kennedy- 2B
Frank Menechino- IF
Damian Moss- LHP
Tomo Ohka- RHP
Jay Payton- OF
Ruben Quevado- RHP
Dennys Reyes- LHP
Scott Sauerbeck- LHP
Randall Simon- 1B
Scott Stewart- LHP
Luis Vizcaino- RHP
Shawn Wooten- DH

No huge names, although I believe that Garcia and Payton will command some attention. There are also a group of questions I have, that could add to that list considerably...

Doug Mientkiewicz?
Scott Williamson?
Jason Johnson?
Carlos Lee?
Darrell May?
Carl Pavano or Brad Penny?
WIll it be Bako or Barrett?
Will it be Delucci or Karim Garcia?

All those names are interesting to consider, and given some set of happenings, could become non-tenders this year. There will also be some players you could care less about, but I think I landed most of the people correctly. We'll double check my work on Monday. A few news and notes:

- You have to agree with Rob Neyer in his piece about Omar Vizquel. As hard as Bill Bavasi tried to further worsen the Mariners, Vizquel's knees just wouldn't let it happen. Mark Shapiro almost got a fast one by the new GM.

- I didn't get to the Mark Redman for Mike Neu trade yesterday. It's always nice when you can turn a Rule V pick into a good piece of trade bait, as Beane has done with Neu. Redman's numbers shouldn't change much moving from Pro Player to the Coliseum, and he's very similar to Ted Lilly. Interestingly enough, it pushes Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year Justin Duchscherer to the bullpen, or back to Sacramento.

- The Tigers signed Al Levine, meaning that Danny Patterson, Matt Anderson, and Al Levine will all be in the Tiger bullpen next season. This is going to be one ugly team, but Levine should break through as one of the bright spots.

- One of the main reasons Shawn Chacon is being moved to closer in Colorado is his shoulder. The Rockies are concerned about injury there, although I do question the motives of losing your best starter to the bullpen. Aaron Cook would have made just as much sense. If they are trying to follow the Dodgers model with Gagne, they are going to be rudely awakened.

- The Raindrops, one of my favorite blogs on the Internet, has moved from Blogger to weblogs.us. Head over to his brand new address, http://theraindrops.weblogs.us, and send him a hello. Also, Christian Ruzich has a nice interview of Dave Kaval, the man behind the scenes of the Golden Baseball League, an independent league similar to the Atlantic League of the Northwest. Some interesting stuff.

That's all for today, but if the A-Rod deal goes through, check back for very thorough analysis tomorrow.

17/12/2003

Repeat? 

As promised, today I am going to be looking at the progress that last season's division winners have made during this offseason. I will likely step over a lot of the same ground that Ben Jacobs did in this post, and I apologize for that. The 2004 offseason has defnitely been East-heavy, although I think it's more important to keep things relative to their division than to break it up by League. So, here are my breakdowns of six Major League teams, where they've been, and where they're headed...

San Francisco Giants

The Giants have been active this offseason, as Brian Sabean has needed creativity to reconstruct a team with minimal resources. He started that at catcher, virtually replacing Benito Santiago with A.J. Pierzynski. Here are the stats of those two last season:

Santiago: .279/.329/.424 56 RBI in 401AB
Pierzynski: .312/.360/.464 74RBI in 487AB

That is a significant upgrade, and should help make up the loss the team is going to suffer at shortstop. Arbitration was not offered to Rich Aurilia, whose .277/.325/.410 is less than exciting. But those numbers look like Barry Bonds' when you put them up against Aurilia's likely replacement, Neifi Perez (.256/.285/.348). It's hard to say that those two positions come out a wash, but Sabean didn't stop looking for improvements. Although Gold Glove winner Jose Cruz Jr. is gone, consider the production of Giants' RF last season:

RF: .244/.344/.395 in 582AB

So, Sabean re-signed Jeffrey Hammonds, picked up Michael Tucker, and most recently traded to newfound friend Terry Ryan for Dustan Mohr. Let's look at the numbers from those three:

Tucker: .262/.331/.440 in 389AB
Hammonds: .242/.329/.424 in 132AB
Mohr: .250/.314/.399 in 348AB

My guess is that Tucker will play the position against right-handers (.274/.342/.474), Mohr will play vs. southpaws (.265/.348/.453), and Hammonds will be used as a fourth outfield/defensive replacement type. That should produce a rough outcome of .270/.345/.460 in right field, far surpassing the mark that Jose Cruz and company set last year.

Sabean is also banking that 2003 disappointments Ray Durham and Edgardo Alfonzo bounce back and have healthy and consistent 2004s. Durham bounced back from a lack of an August to have a nice final month (.297/.350/.514), and Alfonzo showed nice improvements in the second half (.296/.372/.474). Also, can surprises Barry Bonds (.341/.529/.749), J.T. Snow (.273/.387/.418), and Marquis Grissom (.300/.322/.468)

Here's an overview of a Giant offense that should be equal to the 2003 version:

C- A.J. Pierzynski
1B- J.T. Snow
2B- Ray Durham
SS- Neifi Perez
3B- Edgardo Alfonzo
LF- Barry Bonds
CF- Marquis Grissom
RF- Michael Tucker

Bench: Yorvit Torrealba (C), Pedro Feliz (1B/3B), Cody Ransom (SS), Jeffrey Hammonds (OF), Dustan Mohr (OF)

While the offense doesn't need much work (maybe replacing Ransom?), Sabean does have an open hole in his pitching staff. Currently, the team has Jason Schmidt, Kirk Rueter, and Jerome Williams to start their rotation. The team is looking to depend on those three horses for more than the 77 starts they posted last year, to help bridge the gap for the losses of Damian Moss, Kurt Ainsworth, and Sidney Ponson.

Sabean brought back Dustin Hermanson to fill the fifth slot, but the team is looking to fill the fourth spot in their rotation currently. Shane Reynolds has been a hot rumor this week, and as I suggested in their offseason preview, the Giants will pursue Greg Maddux if he drops into the $5-7M range. Jesse Foppert will be lost for the season with an arm injury, and Kevin Correia is going to have to pitch very well at AAA to unseat Hermanson. For now, it looks like Jim Brower and Ryan Jensen will be lost to the bullpen.

Speaking of, the bullpen has seen its top two workhorses, Tim Worrell and Joe Nathan, leave San Francisco this offseason. The two pitched in a combined 154 games last season, and only one other reliever appeared in seventy games (Scott Eyre). To replace Worrell will be a healthy Robb Nen, whom will return to his closing role with questions surrounding him. Felix Rodriguez will continue to close, and Matt Herges, along with Brower and Jensen, should complete the right-handed side of the bullpen. Eyre will be the top leftie, and I imagine the expensive Jason Christenson will make the team as well. With Worrell and Nathan, the team is losing more than one hundred and fifty innings of under 3.00 pitching. Can Nen and Herges make up for the losses?

The Giants pitching staff:

Rotation: Jason Schmidt, Kirk Rueter, Jerome Williams, Dustin Hermanson
Bullpen: Robb Nen, Felix Rodriguez, Scott Eyre, Matt Herges, Jason Christenson, Jim Brower, Ryan Jensen

In conclusion, the Giants have taken a miniscule step back this offseason, but it could have been a lot worse considering the substantial drop in payroll. The team will be in the hunt again next season, but this time don't expect the division to be locked up by the All-Star Break.

Chicago Cubs

Five outs. The number still hurts for Cubs fans to think about, but it also breeds optimism for the 2004 season. They were so close last year, an Alex Gonzalez grounder away, but lost. Redemption will be in the minds of players, a trait Jim Hendry has used so far this offseason. Hendry has been quick and efficient to amend the Cubs' issues, making bold, sometimes questioned moves. But no one questions Hendry's motives: to bring a World Series to the north side for the first time in 95 years.

To do so, Hendry first realized he must fix an offense that ranked among the worst in baseball last season. Consider the following:

Choice A: .276/.349/.469 in 608AB
Choice B: .271/.379/.508 in 539AB

You would take the second option, right? Well Hendry did, already having acquired choice B, and lose the A players (Karros, Choi, Simon). Lee will bring speed, defense, and even more power to an offense in desperate need of it. Also, consider this:

Choice A: .272/.324/.465 in 607AB
Choice B: .230/.302/.377 in 592AB

The first one is the obvious choice, and the numbers that Aramis Ramirez would bring in a fullseason. Second was what Cubs third basemen actually did, although the numbers were boosted with Ramirez having 232 .259/.311/.491 at-bats. And while I won't get into the catching situation, it's hard to imagine any situation where the combination of Damian Miller, Paul Bako, and Michael Barrett couldn't best the .229/.309/.351 that Miller and Bako combined for last season.

So, I think what my demonstration has proven is that the Cub offense should be a much larger threat next season, not costing the team victories and lapses of confidence. Here, again, is the Cub team:

C- Barrett
1B- Lee
2B- Grudzilanek
SS- Gonzalez
3B- Ramirez
LF- Alou
CF- Patterson
RF- Sosa

Bench: Miller/Bako (C), Martinez (IF), Goodwin (OF)

The Cub pitching staff was sensational in 2003, as the starters combined for a 3.69ERA despite the ugly numbers that Shawn Estes (5.70) put up. Estes is gone, and the team is looking for Matt Clement to regress to his 2003 numbers and become one of the league's premier pitchers once again. Whether it is Juan Cruz or another pitcher in the fifth slot remains to be seen, but it's common thought around Cub fans that it can't possibly get worse than Estes in 2004, and we all expect that starter ERA to drop below 3.50 next year.

Another important flaw of the 2003 version was middle relief. While Borowski, Farnsworth, and Remlinger were quite sufficient to end games, the problem was bridging the starters and those three. And what about when Farns or Rem need a day off. Look at the numbers of a trio of Cub relievers last season:

7-5 4.64ERA 152H/141.2IP 101K/54BB

While these aren't Estes-horrific, the combination of Mark Guthrie, Antonio Alfonseca, and Dave Veres was pretty bad last season. The team has already got LaTroy Hawkins to fill one of those spots, and Hawkins is one of the best right-handed set-up men in the game today. And while the team hasn't named the other two quite yet, it won't be hard to find a pair of relievers that bad, at any cost.

Chicago's offseason is hardly over, as Hendry must fill a bench, rotation, and bullpen still. But the thought is that he can't do any worse than last year, and when paired with the core of players this team already has, Chicago becomes the National League favorites in 2004.

Atlanta Braves

Never say die. I've learned to not question John Scheurholtz's motives until the season starts the last few years, but every offseason I end up doubting if the run of divisional championships can continue. Will that thought corrupt my mind the rest of this offseason? Yes. It will be difficult for me to choose any other team than the Phillies in March, but I will at least give Schuerholtz and Cox until then to sway my opinion.

Here is the cumulative output of four players last season on the Atlanta Braves roster:

600H/1984AB (.302BA) 115HR 397RBI 332R 183BB 278K

Those are the combined numbers for the four free agents the Braves have lost from their starting lineup last season, Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez, Vinny Castilla, and Rob Fick. What do those numbers prove? Well, this should help put it into context, the following numbers are the percentage that these four made for the Atlanta offense last year:

H: 37.3%
R: 36.6%
HR: 48.9%
RBI: 45.5%
BB: 33.6%

These four players made up for more than a third of the Braves hits, runs and walks last season, and nearly accounted for HALF of the total homers and runs batted in. Who replaces them? How does Johnny Estrada, Adam LaRoche, Mark DeRosa, and J.D. Drew sound? Less than enthusiastic? You should be.

My thought was well, if the offense is going to worsen so much, surely the team will combat that with improvements in pitching, right? Not so fast.

Player A: 16-11 3.96 225/218.1 124/33
Player B: 13-14 4.85 234/217 136/49

Player A is the choice, although a large part of that decision is ERA. Greg Maddux has been a mainstay in the Atlanta rotation for a long time, but Scheurholtz chose the more economical choice B, John Thomson. While Thomson has room to grow into a solid third starter, we're hardly talking about Maddux Jr. I think Brave optimism should breed from Mike Hampton's second half, one that saw the leftie go 9-3, with a 2.91ERA. Could Hampton be back to the New York Met version of himself? Tune into TBS next season to find out.

John Smoltz saw a lack of support in the bullpen last season, especially from highly esteemed veterans Roberto Hernandez and Darren Holmes. Ray King had a decent season, although he was included in part of the package to acquire J.D. Drew. The team will replace Hernandez and Holmes with Jaret Wright and Will Cunnane next season, an inexpensive gamble that Scheurholtz is gambling a lot on. He's yet to name the left-hander, but rumors are surfacing that Arthur Rhodes will become Bobby Cox' favorite southpaw.

Atlanta's run is in more than jeopardy for next season, it's in doubt. Regardless, Scheurholtz is best managing his assets to build a good ballclub, and Atlanta fans should just bath in the fact that they aren't the Mets next season...that should be enough.

Oakland A's

While Billy Beane is still a favorite among most of my readers, it's time to accept the man is hardly a perfect General Manager. In fact, he was one of the major losers of the Winter Meetings, although even Sean McAdam was afraid to admit so in an ESPN article yesterday. Beane lost out on top two choices Keith Foulke and Mike Cameron, left to search for other options.

When your team begins with Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, and Rich Harden, you're going to be good. Damn good. Harden's arm wore down a little last season, but if you sit and wonder what the 2004 season will bring him, a 3.50 ERA sounds pretty nice. Especially as a fourth starter. Hell, you'd think we were talking about my Cubbies here. And whether the fifth starter is Justin Duchscherer or the hot rumor of Mark Redman, the rotation is the strength to this team.

Next, is the bullpen. While Moneyball describes just how fungible relievers truely are, this offseason will truly be a test to that theory. With the best closer off the market, with few available on the block, can Beane create another forty save player? I don't know. Keith Foulke was the most valuable non-big 3 player the A's had last season, arguably the most important of all. He added 87 innings of 2.08 ball, and closed the door on 43 games. Here is a good description of Foulke's importance:

A's Bullpen in '03: 29-14 3.65 381/423.2 308/177
W/o Foulke in '03: 20-13 4.06 324/337 220/157

With Foulke, the A's bullpen is very good last season, but without him, they're merely adequate. Look at the K/BB rates after he leaves, along with the signficant rise in ERA. If he turns the 2004 bullpen to the '03 version, than I'll stop giving Beane so much flak. Right now, we know the 2004 bullpen has Chad Bradford, Jim Mecir, Mike Neu, Ricardo Rincon, and Rule V pick Frank Brooks. The club will sign someone to fill the closer spot, and expect Chad Harville, Jeremy Fikac, and Mike Wood to all battle out that last spot. No, there won't be any 3.65ERA this year.

Also, isn't it ironic that a Billy Beane team could only manage to post a .327OBP in a season. Well, that's what happened in 2003, when Beane's team struggled offensively, only scoring a total of 768 runs, or 4.74 runs a game. Granted, this offseason we've seen the loss of some of Beane's least favorite players, the group of Miguel Tejada, Terrence Long, Ramon Hernandez, Chris Singleton, and Jose Guillen.

Last year those five had 2081 at-bats with the A's, roughly 37.9% of the team's at-bats. In that time, these five players, including a former MVP, posted a .313OBP. Meaning, in nearly 40% of the A's at-bats, their on-base clip was depressing. Then, throw in the .261 figure posted by Jermaine Dye, that has to go up, and there is some optimism. To replace the aforementioned five, Billy Beane will likely use Adam Melhuse (.372), Bobby Crosby (.395 in AAA), Mark Kotsay (.343) , and Bobby Kielty (.358). Yes, I believe the offense will improve next year.

Here, should be the Opening Day lineup of the 2004 Oakland A's:

1. Mark Kotsay- CF
2. Scott Hatteberg- 1B
3. Eric Chavez- 3B
4. Erubiel Durazo- DH
5. Jermaine Dye- RF
6. Bobby Kielty- LF
7. Bobby Crosby- SS
8. Adam Melhuse- C
9. Mark Ellis- 2B

While that ain't top five, it's an improvement from last year. Given the right choice at closer, Billy Beane's intellect will end up battling Arte Moreno's pocketbook for the AL West title. And Mariner fans? I'm really sorry about that Bavasi choice.

Minnesota Twins

I'm really starting to get discouraged with Terry Ryan, and I'm not even a Twins fan. The man promises changes, vows to go after Hawkins, Eddie Guardado, and Shannon Stewart. To do so, he needs to trade Pierzynski and Eric Milton. Uh-oh, only Shannon Stewart re-signs. Now, the team has been left with a depleted rotation, bullpen, and a lineup that Earl Weaver couldn't decide among.

The Twins have two questions to answer in the coming weeks: do we trade/non-tender Doug Mientkiewicz? And, what should we ask for Jacque Jones? Me? I would trade both. I would have, and would, attempt to talk the Expos into taking Christian Guzman, and maybe a prospect or two, for Orlando Cabrera. I would send Mientkiewicz to Atlanta, trade Jones to San Diego. In exchange, ask for pitching, pitching, and some more pitching.

In the end, I fully expect the Twins to hold onto Mientkiewicz, and trade Jones. That will be Justin Morneau somewhere, although I'm not quite sure where. If my gut feeling is right, this is the Twins lineup:

1. Shannon Stewart- LF
2. Luis Rivas- 2B
3. Corey Koskie- 3B
4. Matt LeCroy- DH
5. Doug Mientkiewicz- 1B
6. Torii Hunter- CF
7. Cuddyer/Restovich- RF
8. Joe Mauer- C
9. Christian Guzman- SS

Hardly a bad lineup, in fact, it's a pretty good one. Does it beat Santiago, Sweeney, Graffanino, Berrora, Randa, Stairs, Beltran, Guiel, and Harvey? Probably not.

Last season, the foursome of Kenny Rogers, Rick Reed, Joe Mays, and Eric Milton combined to make 76 starts for the Twins. Roughly half of the time, those four pitchers were being used by the Twins. Now, their combined ERA was above 5.00, so inotherwords, the Twins have suffered from addition by subtraction this offseason. They will use Grant Balfour in one of these rotation spots, and Ryan should really find someone to fill the final slot behind Santana, Radke, Lohse, and Balfour.

While the bullpen lost horses Guardado and Hawkins, they got back Hawkins' replacement in Joe Nathan. Nathan was the best reliever in baseball against right-handers last season, so him and J.C. Romero could make a mean tandem in set-up for someone. The question though, is who? Aaron Gleeman supports Arthur Rhodes, and the Twins have placed a call into Rhodes' agent. The rest of the bullpen shoud include Juan Rincon, Carlos Pulido, and Mike Nakamura.

In a perfect world, Twins fans would have read this during the Winter Meetings:

- Twins trade Boof Bonser and Christian Guzman to Expos for Orlando Cabrera
- Twins trade Jacque Jones, Doug Mientkiewicz to Angels for Troy Percival
- Twins sign Ismael Valdes

No, no, no. It's all part of Terry Ryan's plan to become the next Stand Pat Gillick.

New York Yankees

A look into the 2003 Yankees:

Yankees '03 3B: .242/.316/.386 in 591AB
Yankees '03 RF: .256/.317/.465 in 589AB
Nick Johnson: .284/.422/.472 in 324AB

Clemens+Pettite: 38-17 3.96 426/420 370/108
Weaver+Contreras: 13-10 4.78 230/205.1 140/62

Osuna: 48G 3.73 58/50.2 47/20
Acevedo+Nelson+Anderson: 71G 5.91 74/64 49/34
Non-Hammond/Hitchcock LH: 51G 4.28 36/40 15/17
Hitchcock/Weaver/Conteras: 43G 6.55 85/68.2 58/43

To clarify, the Weaver+Contreras is how they did in the rotation, the "non-Hammond/Hitchcock LH" division is the LOOGYs the team used that weren't Chris Hammond (there were 5), and the "Hitchcock/Weaver/Contreras" was those three's combined numbers being used in long relief. Now, here will be the men that fill those roles this coming season:

Aaron Boone
Gary Sheffield
Kenny Lofton/?

Brown+Vazquez
Contreras

Gordon
Quantrill
Heredia
Lieber

There is little question left, and the team still needs to sign a right-handed corner infielder to play first against southpaws, during which Bernie will play center, and Giambi will DH. An example of that player is Eric Karros, a good clubhouse guy that kills lefties (.366/.441/.545 last year). So, all those players represent significant improvements in my mind, meaning the Yankees will be a helluva lot better next year than they were this year.

Even with Boston completiting the Alex Rodriguez trade, ESPN says it will become official today, I don't think they can be in the Yankees league next season. This team is too good, and while they appeared to be lacking direction at times, it will all come together to form a solid group. The only things left on this team's agenda are re-signing David Wells, and picking up a guy like Karros.

I'll be back tomorrow, and the A-Rod deal will probably be the topic of discussion. Until next time...

16/12/2003

Ruling on the Rule V 

Sadly, we saw the very end of the Winter Meetings yesterday, which finished with one of my favorite yearly events, the Rule V draft. Johan Santana is probably the best player to come through the draft, and there were numerous pitchers who made a difference last season. Here is a look at every player drafted, their stats, and whether they will stick with their brand new team.

Detroit- Chris Shelton (C/1B)
2001: .305-2-33 in 174 SS AB
2002: .340-17-65 in 332 A- AB
2003: .359-21-69 in 315 A+ AB
.279-0-14 in 122 AA AB

Info: Shelton is a former 33rd-round pick of the Pirates, an example of the 'bad body, big bat' type player that some teams love. Shelton supposedly plays catcher, but he doesn't do it very well. The obvious comparison is Matt LeCroy, although LeCroy didn't even approach those numbers in the minor leagues.

Chance of Staying: The Tigers will give every chance for Shelton to make their team as a 3rd catcher, right-handed bat off the bench, and likely the 13th or 14th hitter Alan Trammell picks. His staying will largely depend on how well he can his left-handers, which will allow Trammell to bench Carlos Pena on those days. Shelton may not be Major League-caliber quite yet, but a year learning Major League southpaws likely wouldn't deter his career.

Kansas City- Rich Thompson (OF)- TRADE
2001: .311-1-60 in 454 A+ AB.
2002: .280-2-44 in 554 AA AB (45/58 SB)
2003: 276-0-18 in 221 AAA AB
.313-0-9 in 182 AA AB (48/55 SB)

Info: Kansas City traded cash to move up and choose Thompson, a high-OBP, high speed outfielder whom is very good defensively. Thompson relies on speed, and has nearly stolen 100 bases the last two seasons. His walk numbers and very close to his strikeout rates, and he's nearly ready for the Majors.

Chance of Staying: Thompson has a relatively good chance of staying as prospects David DeJesus and Alexis Gomez need more refining at AAA. If so, Thompson will be the 5th outfielder, and come into games for defensive purposes, as well as for pinch running. If used effectively, Thomspon could be better than Jason Tyner, although I see them heading down the same path.

Tampa Bay- Alec Zumwalt (RHP)
2002: 4.31 39/39.2 34/16 in A-
8.63 33/24 21/13 in A+
2003: 2.22 29/44.2 43/16 in A+
1.42 13/19 19/12 in AA

Info: While Zumwalt's career started with a bat, he is learning the art of pitching very well, and his Arizona Fall League performance impressed Tampa Bay scouts. Zumwalt throws in the low-90s, and isn't considered to have a 2nd real pitch. I don't think he's the best Atlanta choice, but he does have the highest upside.

Chance of Staying: With the Devil Rays, Zumwalt will try to become the 5th right-handed reliever, a job he may be handed by Lou Pinella. I don't think he's ready for the Majors quite yet, so I fully expect the Braves to get his arm back at some point during the season. But, there is an outside chance that Zumwalt produces, and has a season a la Aquilino Lopez in Toronto.

Oakland- Frank Brooks (LHP)- TRADE
2001: 4.71 113/112.2 92/58 in A+
2002: 3.46 34/39 33/27 in A+
3.10 29/29 23/12 in AA
2003: 2.30 40/58.2 71/13 in AA
2.54 22/28.1 22/11 in AAA

Info: Probably the safest choice in the draft, Brooks was traded to the Pirates last trade deadline, as the Phillies acquired Mike Williams from the Bucs. Brooks was the first southpaw drafted, and his claim to fame is a slurvy breaking ball that is a killer on lefties. He won't be the first to break 90 mph, but he'll change speeds, and has been more effective in each season.

Chance of Staying: As good as anyone in the draft. Brooks has proven himself at every level, and is ready to be a LOOGY, and second leftie in a bullpen. The A's are working to sign Ricardo Rincon, but they will then use Brooks as their second southpaw out of the bullpen. Brooks should succeed more than anyone else next season, and Billy Beane scores two points on this trade.

Milwaukee- Jeff Bennett (RHP)
2001: 11-10 3.42 171/166 98K in A+
2002: 10-3 3.62 137/124.1 90/30 in A+
2003: 2.72 45/59.2 62/23 in AA
6.56 26/23.1 16/12 in AAA

Info: I really question this pick, but it was supposedly made under the notion that Bennett's newly found 95 mph heater wouldn't desert him anytime soon. Baseball America says there are rumors about a sore shoulder, leading explanations of a significant drop off at the AAA level.

Chance of Staying: He won't. Milwaukee really wasted this pick, and was a lot better off giving the money to me. What do they have to gain from choosing this player that they won't from a Buddy Hernandez or Ty Howington? Doug Melvin has done some nice work in the minor league department this offseason, landing gems like Travis Phelps and Trent Durrington, but I'm less than impressed with this pick.

Baltimore- Jose Bautista (3B)
2001: .286-5-30 in 220 SS AB
2002: .301-14-57 in 438 A- AB
2003: .242-4-20 in 165 A+ AB

Info: High upside, but hardly ready for the Major Leagues. Baustista was a top-ten prospect a year ago, but after breaking his hand in frustration, was limited to 165 AB this year.

Chance of Staying: There is no way that Bautista stays. He should be getting pushed back to high-A next season, but definitely not back to Lynchburg. The Orioles may try at acquiring the rights for Bautista, but otherwise, this is a wasted pick. Next...

Cincinnati- David Mattox (RHP)
2001: 5-1 2.41 48/56 58/19 in AZL
2002: 8-2 3.55 78/91.1 92/42 in A-
4-4 2.82 46/51 34/24 in A+
2003: 8-7 3.49 103/113.1 86/40 in AA

Info: Could end up being special, as Mattox is still learning the art to his trade after converting from the infield during college. He was the first starter taken, which makes a lot of sense when considering how bad the Reds' staff is. Josh Boyd of Baseball America says that he "operates with four quality pitches," the best of which is a change up.

Chance of Staying: I think the Reds will keep onto Mattox, likely handing him a long relief job out of Spring Training. This choice could really prove to pay off, and my guess is that Mattox is being tried in the rotation as early as Matt Ford and Wil Ledezma were a year ago.

Texas- Chris Mabeus (RHP)
2001: 2-5 4.80 75/62 28/18 in NWL
2002: 4.04 97/84.2 69/32 in A+
2003: 1.52 19/23.2 30/6 in A+
3.52 37/38.1 40/9 in AA

Info: Grady Fuson once again looked back into his old franchise for this pick, Mabeus helped his case showcasing a good fastball in the AFL. He may not be ready for the Major Leagues, but the Rangers are banking that a mid-90s fastball supercedes that.

Chance of Staying: Little, but when considering how bad the Rangers bullpen is, possible. Mabeus must really pitch well in Spring Training to make the team, but my guess is that Texas gives Oakland a player or money for his rights.

Colorado- Matt White (LHP)
2001: 8-10 4.81 151/144 72/60 in AA
2002: 3.93 97/89.1 63/39 in AA
2003: 1.97 37/45.2 39/16 in AAA

Info: The Red Sox chose White in the Rule V draft a year ago, and actually preferred him to fellow choice Javier Lopez, whom they shipped to Colorado. Lopez went on to have a great season with the Rockies, while injuries seriously hampered White's development, who gave up 14 earned runs in about five innings. He was then traded to the Mariners, and finally given back to the Indians. A nice fastball/curveball combo makes him an attractive option.

Chance of Staying: Doubtful. White will either have to outperform Brian Fuentes and/or Javy Lopez (again) to stay, or convince Clint Hurdle to keep three southpaws. He may be a player, but I don't think the Rockies were the right team to make this choice.

San Diego- Jason Szuminski (RHP)
2001: 6.44 56/36.1 22/17 in A-
2002: 5.12 95/91.1 53/41 in A+
2003: 3.65 29/24.2 23/9 in A+
2.26 51/59.2 45/19 in AA

Info: A former MIT graduate, Szuminski finally saw the light after years of struggling in the Cubs' organization. Szuminski flew through three levels last season, and is arguably ready for the Major Leagues. A high-90s sinking fastball makes him a groundball pitcher, and the Padres traded the rights of Rich Thompson for Szuminski.

Chance of Staying: Very possible. The Padres will surely give Hoffman, Beck, Otsuka, and Linebrink jobs in the bullpen, but Szuminski will likely battle with Brandon Villafuerte for the team's 25th slot. Szuminski is a very likely choice to be the next Luis Ayala, but he'll need to have a very good March.

Montreal- Andy Fox (IF)
2001: .185/.327/.321 3HR in 81 FLA AB
2002: .251/.338/.333 4HR 31SB in 435 FLA AB
2003: .194/.269/.259 0HR in 108 FLA AB

Info: Fox has a long Major League career, mostly used as a utility infielder with the Rangers and Marlins. He re-signed a minor league contract, but the Expos found a way to get a cheap infielder, finding a nice loophole. Andy had a full-time job in 2002 when Alex Gonzalez got hurt, and didn't disappoint stealing 31 bases during the season.

Chance of Staying: Almost 100%. The Expos have found their middle infield bench option, and Fox isn't the worst choice they could have come up with. His veteran influence will surely be appreciated.

Toronto- Talley Haines (RHP)
2001: 3.63 73/72 73/29 in AA
2002: 4.52 84/75.2 62/24 in AAA
2003: 2.53 57/67.2 64/11 in AAA

Info: Haines name will never come up in prospect lists, and he wasn't mentioned in possible Rule V choices. He's always had good control, but other than a good splitter, he lacks great pitch selections.

Chance of Staying: Plausible. The team likes Rule V choices, but Haines doesn't bring much to the table. If his splitter proves to be great and his fastball improves, he's a lock. If not, Carlos Tosca will look in another direction.

Chicago (AL)- Jason Grilli (RHP)
2001: 1-2 4.02 46/47 35/20 in AAA
2-2 6.07 30/26.2 17/11 in MLB
2002: 5.2 AAA IP
2003: 4-2 2.53 38/42.2 30/6 in A+
6-2 3.37 64/66.2 38/30 in AAA

Info: Grilli was the 4th overall selection in the 1997 Amateur Draft, but a trade and arm injuries have led to a downfall. Last year was his first season back from injury, and reports have it that his stuff is back. If so, why such low K ratings?

Chance of Staying: Ozzie Guillen likely saw Grilli in Florida, and he'll give him a long look in Spring Training this season. He won't win the 5th starting spot for sure, but I see him as an equal option to Matt Ginter, with a considerable amount of upside. Spending the year as a long reliever really couldn't hurt.

St. Louis- Hector Luna (SS)
2001: .266-6-23 15SB in 241 A- AB
2002: .276-11-51 32SB in 468 A+ AB
2003: .297-2-38 17SB in 462 AA AB

Info: This is the second straight year Luna gets drafted, but he failed to make the Devil Rays a year ago. He lacks skills defensively, but has speed and a little bit of power in his bat. He really isn't Major League caliber, but has just enough skills to tempt the guys that make these decisions.

Chance of Staying: Luna will battle with Brent Butler for the middle infield bench spot next Spring Training, and he probably isn't ready for another Major League job.

Boston- Lenny Dinardo (LHP)
2001: 1-2 2.00 26/36 40/17 in SS
2002: 5-5 4.35 106/101.1 103/56 in A-
2003: 3-8 2.01 64/85 93/14 in A+
1-3 3.60 35/40 36/13 in AA

Info: Dinardo throws as slow as anyone in this draft, but he still manages to show nice strikeout rates during his career. He's yet to relieve consistently, but the Red Sox think his cutter might be good enough to handle the role.

Chance of Staying: Dinardo has a chance, but it appears to be a slim one. Theo Epstein appears content to giving the second leftie to some mix of Tim Hamulack, Dinardo, and recent waiver claim Mark Malaska. The latter is the favorite to win the job, and don't be shocked if Epstein throws another name into the list.

Houston- Willy Tavares (OF)
2001: .271-3-32 29SB in 395 A- AB
2002: .265-4-27 54SB in 313 A- AB
2003: .282-2-35 57SB in 397 A+ AB

Info: Tavares has as much potential as anyone in the draft, and these types of players usually flame out quickly in the Majors. He has speed and defense on his side, but riding the bench surely won't help him develop as a hitter.

Chance of Staying: I think that Tavares will make the team out of Spring Training, he won't spend the year with Houston. Expect Tavares to be spending time as an Akron Aero next year.

Detroit- Mike Bumatay (LHP)
2001: 2.73 20/26.1 31/8 in A-
7.27 55/43.1 40/26 in A+
2002: 3.24 50/66.2 79/31 in A+
2003: 2.60 42/55.1 69/29 in AA

Info: I thought the Tigers would pick Ty Howington with this choice, but they went with the more Major League-ready Bumatay. Left-handers hit a disastrous .136 off Bumatay last year, thanks to a three-quarters breaking ball.

Chance of Staying: Pretty good. With Jamie Walker and Bumatay, it's very possible the Tigers best asset next year will be their left-handed relief. With Shelton and Bumatay, Dambrowski hasn't done badly for himself.

Colorado- Luis Gonzalez (UT)
2003: .318-7-62 46BB/41K in 431 AA AB

Info: Couldn't get any info past this season about Gonzalez, a super-utility player that walks more than he strikes out. He will be a nice 14th man, but that's really the only choice.

Chance of Staying: As I said, it will probably between keeping Gonzalez, and carrying 7 pitchers. If you play in Coors, the choice usually tends to be to carry seven pitchers. We'll see what Hurdle does, but don't bank on Gonzalez.

Boston- Colter Bean (RHP)
2001: 1.46 27/49.1 77/18 in A+
2002: 1.98 34/54.2 78/21 in A+
2003: 2.87 53/69 70/27 in AAA

Info: Theo Epstein likely added insult to injury stealing the hefty Bean away from the Yankees in the second round. I wonder, do the Yankees even know a Rule V draft exists? Anyway, Bean is an effective right-handed reliever that uses a submarine type delivery to drive right-handers crazy.

Chance of Staying: Will get his chance to beat Ramiro Mendoza, and if he can't do that, he really doesn't deserve a spot. But it's not like these two teams will come together to get the Red Sox Bean's rights.

Detroit- Lino Urdaneta (RHP)
2001: 7.61 31/23.2 16/11 in A+
2002: 2.41 39/52.1 30/17 in A+
2003: 4.29 68/65 42/24 in AA

Info: This is really when the Tigers should have chosen Howington, the Reds 10th prospect, and very similar to last year's selection Wil Ledezma. Instead they go the fire-thrower Urdaneta that only relies on high-90s heat. Hell, the Tigers can have that with Matt Anderson and Franklyn German.

Chance of Staying: None.

Quickly, addressing 8 moves made today:

- Scott Spiezio signs with Mariners for 3 years, $9M: Wow, overpaid! Spiezio will likely be the team's third basemen next season, and also allowed Bavasi to do the following trade...

- Greg Colbrunn traded to Arizona for Quinton McCracken: McCracken will probably play left against southpaws, allowing Randy Winn to play everyday in centerfield.

- Carl Everett to Expos for two years, $7.5M: With Vidro, Cabrera, Everett, Wilkerson, and Nick Johnson, the Expos should have quite the offense next year.

- Roberto Hernandez to Phillies for nothing: Well, is he better than Turk?

- Jeff Suppan and Reggie Sanders to Cardinals: Really makes the Cardinals better, as J.D. Drew couldn't match the numbers of Sanders. Suppan might completely flunk out, or he may continue putting up the stats he did in Pittsburgh.

- Michael Barrett to A's for P2NL: The A's either get Barrett to play well, or try playing Adam Melhuse everyday. What Billy Beane sees as a can't lose situation, other GMs would cringe at.

- Dustan Mohr to Giants for P2NL: Nice move for the Giants, giving the team five very good outfielders.

Come back tomorrow for looks at last seasons division winners...

15/12/2003

An Even Dozen 

The Winter Meetings always bring a nice weekend, and while I wasn't there, Alex Belth helped me picture the scene in one of the best blog entries of the year. The meetings didn't really heat up until late Saturday, and Sunday must have been a madhouse. It concludes with the Rule V draft tomorrow, and I'm really excited to see how that turns out. Anyway, here's my look into the twelve transactions that occurred, from most important, to Brent Mayne...

Since the signing of Albert Belle, Oriole owner Peter Angelos has been unable to bring a big name free agent to Baltimore. So far, he's one for three this offseason. Angelos signed Miguel Tejada, the 2002 MVP, yesterday to a 6-year, $72M contract, finally finding a replacement for the empty shoes of Cal Ripken. First, a few Tejada splits:

Tejada= .278/.336/.472
Home= .253/.292/.446
Road= .303/.377/.496
Pre-ASB= .245/.298/.427
Post-ASB= .326/.388/.536
Vs. RH= .281/.326/.473
Vs. LH= .269/.361/.467

As you can see, Tejada was very good away from Oakland last year, a trend that has been evident for a few seasons now. He's also hit very well against AL East foes the last three seasons, so I'm predicting big things out of Miguel Tejada next season. Don't be surprised by a .300/.350/.500 season, possibly becoming the best shortstop in his division.

The Orioles are also close with Vladimir Guerrero, and will undoubtedly sign either Pudge Rodriguz or Javy Lopez this offseason. Assuming those things to be true, here's the Orioles lineup next season:

C- Javy/Pudge
1B- Gibbons
2B- Hairston/Roberts
SS- Tejada
3B- Mora
LF- Bigbie
CF- Matos
RF- Guerrero
DH- Cust/Cordova/Segui

Very good lineup, assuming Jack Cust gets the majority of at-bats in the designated hitter spot. In fact, they will almost have too many bats, leaving either Melvin Mora or Luis Matos to the ninth hole. This would be a good team, but they lack a rotation. Some reports have them as the leaders for ex-Oriole Sidney Ponson, joining Jason Johnson, Kurt Ainsworth, and Matt Riley as Oriole starters next season. The last spot will be a battle between Rodrigo Lopez and Omar Daal in a battle the O's just can't win.

But, no matter what, the Orioles are stepping forward. Angelos is keeping his end of the bargain to be true, and this team is really making some improvements. I like what they have done under the Jim Beattie/Mike Flanagan regime, both revitalizing the Major League and minor league departments. Hopefully the fans will follow in beautiful Camden Yards.

Next, the rumored trade between the Yankees and Dodgers was completed, sending Kevin Brown to the Yankees. In exchange, the team gave up hated Yankee Jeff Weaver, converted pitcher Yhency Borzoban, another minor leaguer, and $2.6M. The Yankees will virtually be paying Kevin Brown $16.3M the next two seasons, while the Dodgers will pay Weaver salaries of $4.95M and $7.95M. Here are the splits of Brown:

Brown= 14-9 2.39 184/211 185/56
Home= 10-8 2.40 125/139 123/32
Road= 4-1 2.38 59/72 62/24
Pre-ASB= 10-4 2.30 102/117.1 103/27
Post-ASB= 4-5 2.50 82/93.2 82/29

Surprisingly, Brown did not show an affinity for Dodger Stadium, one of the few Dodgers to do that. He actually threw 57 more innings in Dodger Stadium, which is my little known fact of the day. Brown is a good groundball pitcher that will suffer more from having Giambi, Soriano, and Jeter behind him than leaving Dodger Stadium. He's a health risk, and a rise in ERA seems to be in the cards. Overall, the Brown addition really matches that of Curt Schilling, leaving Javier Vazquez to compete with Derek Lowe.

The Yankees also have some addition by subtraction losing Weaver, who quickly became a fan target after posting these numbers:

Weaver= 7-9 5.99 211/159.1 93/47
Home= 4-4 5.47 99/75.2 41/21
Road= 3-5 6.45 112/83.2 52/26
Pre-ASB= 5-7 5.21 136/110.2 62/29
Post-ASB= 2-2 7.77 75/48.2 31/18
As REL= 9.26 19/11.2 10/4

Call me crazy, but I think Weaver is still a good pitcher, and should benefit from playing in Los Angeles. The team needs a better offense to bring Weaver into consideration for a fantasy draft, but expect the ERA to be in the fours next season. Los Angeles still has one too many pitchers when considering Odalis, Dreifort, and Edwin Jackson all in the equation. I would keep Odalis and Dreifort, send Jackson to AAA to work with Joel Hanrahan. Then, if and when a spot opens up, Jackson or Hanrahan are competing for the starts.

Here's a look at the player Evans brought in from the Yankees as an addition:

Brazoban (A+)= 2.83 27/28.2 34/12
Brazoban (AA)= 7.81 33/27.2 19/14

Not very promising. I am left to think the player to be named later is very good, someone in the Rudy Guillen, Robinson Cano department. I think this deal will ultimately hurt the Dodgers, since they've lost out on Tejada and all left fielders (thanks to transaction #9). Nice haul by the Yankees, but I'm still less than impressed with Dan Evans here.

When Steinbrenner stole Gary Sheffield from Atlanta, it left a sizeable hole that John Scheurholtz had little to spend for. But as usual, the Braves' GM has improved the team for 2004, acquiring J.D. Drew from the Cardinals, with Eli Marrero for Jason Marquis, Ray King, and #3 prospect Adam Wainwright.

Drew, the most important name in the deal, was thought to be the Cardinals primary tool for bringing in a very good pitcher for next season. Instead, it landed Wainwright, a pitcher Baseball America calls "an ideal combination of size, talent, and makeup." The oft-injured Drew was a pain in the neck for the Cardinals, but the Braves are willing to take on the risk. He's drawn every comparison in the book, but we need to see 500AB before a judgment can really be made. During his career, he's never even gotten half of that. Here's the splits from last season:

Drew= .289/.374/.512
Drew Home= .288/.401/.485
Away= .290/.349/.535
Pre-ASB= .305/.377/.567
Post-ASB= .268/.371/.439
Vs. RH= .306/.390/534
Vs. LH= .218/.306/.418

Turner Field won't really help Drew, although I doubt it will hurt him much either. The second half was due to injury, but I'm less than impressed with his numbers against southpaws. I'm left to wonder if Gary Mathews Jr. will play in those situations, since Eli Marrero actually hits better against right-handers. Marrero only had 107 at-bats due to injury last season, but he'll take on the ultra-utility role next season, as well as backing up Johnny Estrada at catcher. This is the Atlanta lineup next season

1) Rafael Furcal- SS
2) Mark DeRosa- 3B
3) Chipper Jones- LF
4) Andruw Jones- CF
5) J.D. Drew- RF
6) Marcus Giles- 2B
7) LaRoche/Franco- 1B
8) Johnny Estrada- C

I moved Giles to the sixth spot, where his bat will be more focused on replacing the large void left by Javy Lopez. Mark DeRosa will get his chance at third base, although I doubt he'll have the .800 OPS that Vinny Castilla did. Estrada isn't meant to do much, and I can't say his numbers will be any better than the last good International League catcher, Toby Hall.

As for the Cardinals, there seem to be mixed opinions for the trade. It's obvious they are worse for 2004, but I almost wonder if they are giving up on 2004 and waiting to jump back on the scene in 2005 and 2006. It would make sense, as that's when the likes of Wainwright and Blake Hawkesworth hit the bigtime, and Dan Haren should be much improved by then. The 2004 team will almost surely start either John Gall or Steve Cox at first next year, and are now left to sign a serviceable right fielder. They were on the trail of our #7 addition, but appear to be too late. I expect Reggie Sanders name to be thrown around often in the coming days.

As for the bullpen, Ray King will be the second leftie, and Jason Marquis will most likely battle for a long relief spot. The team currently has Matt Morris, Woody Williams, Dan Haren, and Cris Carpenter penciled in for spots, but they would really like to sign a #3 pitcher as well. That leaves a bullpen of Isringhausen, Eldred, Kline, King, Calero, and some mix of Josh Pearce, Jim Journell, Marquis, Stechschulte, and Simontacchi. Let me echo Jim Bowden in saying the 2004 NL Central race is really between the Cubs and the Astros.

In our fourth addition, the Red Sox have formally ditched the closer by committee option, and landed this year's best reliever, Keith Foulke. The deal is three years and $21M, which means that Boston's payroll will surely be between $120-130M next season. Here are Foulke's numbers:

Foulke= 2.08 57/86.2 88/20
Home= 2.27 37/51.2 44/13
Road= 1.80 20/35 44/7
Pre-ASB= 2.84 38/50.1 54/11
Post-ASB= 1.24 19/36.1 34/9
Vs. RH= .210/.254/.363
Vs. LH= .158/.243/.296

The road and 2nd half numbers really jump out at me, and scream success for Foulke in 2004. Fenway Park will not help, but Foulke has become a very good closer. Being in Chicago I've seen him pitch numerous times, and I stand by the fact that his change up is the best in the league. He'll be very good in Boston, who now lose both Scotts (Williamson and Sauerbeck) from their bullpen next year. That 'pen will likely include Foulke, Mike Timlin, Bronson Arroyo, Alan Embree, Mark Malaska, and painfully, Ramiro Mendoza. Don't be surprised if Williamson yields a middle reliever who will put Arroyo in long relief and Mendoza out of the equation.

While Foulke isn't the sexy name that Mariano Rivera is, he's even more dependable, pitching in 65 games each of the last five seasons. Foulke also has the endurance to start in the eighth, which means that Schilling and Foulke should be the only two names in the box score on every fifth day.

The fifth best addition at the Winter Meetings were made by the New York Mets, who signed one of the best outfielders still available in Mike Cameron. Mike will bring the best centerfield to Shea Stadium has seen in years, along with a promising, albeit sometimes frustrating bat. Cameron is fully capable of hitting four homeruns in a given night, then promptly not hitting a ball for 10 straight at-bats. Here are his splits:

Cameron= .253/.344/.433
Home= .235/.329/.429
Road= .268/.357/.432
Pre-ASB= .271/.361/.475
Post-ASB= .227/.319/.368
Vs. RH= .240/.336/.426
Vs. LH= .286/.365/.442

The road numbers breed some promise, although Shea Stadium was hardly built for hitters. He seems to be getting worse by the year, and judging by his 2nd half numbers, by the half. Cameron has improved his batting eye, and could very well hit the cover off the ball next season. But be rest assured, I will not pick him in any fantasy draft of mine. Cameron should hit sixth on the Mets, after whomever they get for right field, but before Jason Phillips. Here's the Mets most likely lineup next season:

1) Jose Reyes- 2B
2) Kaz Matsui- SS
3) Mike Piazza- C
4) Cliff Floyd- LF
5) Jose Guillen- RF
6) Mike Cameron- CF
7) Jason Phillips- 1B
8) Ty Wigginton

Hell, the Mets could make a run for third place next season with those numbers. Expect New York to best the Montreal Expos next year, but they'll likely finish fourth behind any given combination of the Phillies, Braves, and Marlins. I like Cameron a lot, and their overall defense is improving by leaps and bounds. This is an example of a player the Mets should sign, and I'll likely classify Jose Guillen as that too. Here's a look at the 2006 Mets team, which could be dazzling:

C- Justin Huber
1B- Mike Piazza
2B- Jose Reyes
SS- Kaz Matsui
3B- David Wright
LF- Cliff Floyd
CF- Mike Cameron
RF- Jose Guillen

Damn, that will be a very good lineup. Throw in Aaron Heilman, Matt Peterson, and Scott Kazmir, and you might have the division favorites. Jim Duquette has hardly been a good GM with the Mets, but it seems that the team is somehow heading in the right direction.

The sixth best acquisition was the first of the Winter Meetings to be announced, and that was the signing of Miguel Batista by the Toronto Blue Jays. J.P. Riccardi has added yet another pitcher, this time for the next three years, at $13M. Batista took awhile to get started, but he really blossomed pitching every fith day last year. Here are his splits:

Batista= 10-9 3.54 197/193.1 142/60
Home= 6-2 3.87 96/88.1 55/29
Road= 4-7 3.26 101/105 87/31
Pre-ASB= 6-4 3.00 106/108 76/31
Post-ASB= 4-5 4.22 91/85.1 66/29

Many have pointed to a very good career ERA on turf as well, predicting success for Batista in a Blue Jays uniform. I'm not so bold, and I'm hardly sold on him being the team's second starter next season. It's a very nice move, and he'll fit well with Ted Lilly and Pat Hentgen, but I don't think his ERA will get any better than 3.40.

Riccardi has done a lot to improve this team's staff, and their rotation should actually be very good next season. Part of the reason for Batista's breakdown could have been it was his first season starting every single game, so maybe that will change next year. Ted Lilly and Pat Hentgen had very good second halves, and this team really thinks they could make some noise as a Wild Card contender. Then they woke up and realized their division also included the Red Sox and the Yankees.

Seventh was a move, or three moves, made by yet another AL East team. In their quest for 70 wins, the Devil Rays added Jose Cruz, Geoff Blum, and Rey Sanchez yesterday, likely at a combined cost of $5M. Cruz signed a two-year, $6M contract, while Sanchez will stay for one million. Blum was acquired for Brandon Backe, a crappy AAA middle reliever. Here's a look at the splits of Cruz last season:

Overall: .250/.366/.414
Home: .267/.387/.421
Road: .234/.345/.407
Pre-ASB: .262/.378/.466
Post-ASB: .233/.348/.335
Vs. RH: .233/.353/.379
Vs. LH: .304/.405/.519

Cruz lost all his power in the second half, and if that continues, he isn't the best option. But, his plate discipline improved substantially, so I'm bullish on Cruz next season. He is a little platoonable, and it worries me that the AL East really does have a lack of left-handed pitching (Wells in NY, Lilly in TOR, Riley/Daal in BAL) in the division.

Here's a look at the Devil Rays lineup next year:

1) Crawford- LF
2) Lugo- 2B
3) Baldelli- CF
4) Huff- DH
5) Cruz- RF
6) Tino- 1B
7) Blum- 3B
8) Sanchez- SS

Not exactly the 1927 Yankees, but this is finally a ballclub that should eclipse the 70-win mark under the guidance of Lou Pinella. I think Crawford will improve next year, and I don't know what to think about Rocco Baldelli. He could very well be the Shea Hillenbrand type, a player that excites in April and then sucks the rest of the year. The team's future is basically non-existent, but they are putting a team that Bud Selig shouldn't contract next year.

Going from one bad team to worse, the Tigers signed another post-peak player to a 2-year, $6M contract, signing Rondell White to play left field. They missed out on Miguel Tejada, but I wouldn't be surprised if Rich Aurilia ends up signing here. If so, this will be the Tigers starting nine:

C- Brandon Inge
1B- Carlos Pena
2B- Fernando Vina
SS- Rich Aurilia
3B- Eric Munson
LF- Rondell White
CF- Alex Sanchez
RF- Higginson/Monroe
DH- Dmitri Young

That will be a better team, no doubt, but this club should really be focusing on free agents that aren't past their peak seasons. I mean, what's the best that team could do? Anyways, here's a look at White's splits last year:

White= .289/.341/.488
In AL= .347/.400/.613
In NL= .278/.330/.465
Vs. RH= .285/.337/.501
Vs. LH= .299/.351/.453

White's AL numbers were greatly influenced by Kauffman Stadium, and he's much more of the National League version. One good thing about White is that he isn't platoonable, a problem the Tigers really had last season. While there isn't a lot of upside when signing Vina, White, and Aurilia, it's going to be a waiting game for Tiger fans, and having the occasional recognizable name is a plus.

To end the string of outfield acquisitions is Juan Encarnacion, whom was acquired by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Encarnacion has always had the skills, but is yet to really put together an All-Star caliber season. Instead, he reminds me of Adrian Beltre. Here are his numbers:

Encarnacion= .270/.313/.446
Home= .253/.294/.435
Road= .285/.331/.456
Pre-ASB= .283/.324/.471
Post-ASB= .250/.299/.410
Vs. RH= .270/.309/.456
Vs. LH= .267/.331/.405

Dodger Stadium will do more to hinder his numbrs than Pro Player did, so this really wasn't a great offensive addition by the Dodgers. While Encarnacion should improve the .220/.291/352 numbers that Dodger LF hit last season, numbers of .260/.300/.425 really wouldn't shock me. Why wouldn't this team pay a like amount to Reggie Sanders, Rondell White, or Matt Stairs? I have no idea, and that doesn't even begin to talk about the player they had to give up. The Dodgers really do lack direction, and the sooner the Frank McCourt thing is passed, the better this organization will be.

Here's a look at the Marlins starting 8, as a result of the Encarnacion dump:

C- Ramon Castro
1B- Hee Seop Choi
2B- Luis Castillo
SS- Alex Gonzalez
3B- Mike Lowell
LF- Jeff Conine
CF- Juan Pierre
RF- Miguel Cabrera

Is it possible for Choi and Cabrera to match the 2003 production of Lee and Encarnacion? Very much so. Also, can Jeff Conine and Ramon Castro combine to match the production of Pudge and Todd Hollansworth last year? Probably. So, this lineup shouldn't be much worse next season, although they won't get any better midseason as they did last year with Conine and Cabrera. Mike Lowell really needs to stay healthy next year, and it would be a very good time for Choi to start 'getting it.'

The tenth move of the Winter Meetings was the only 3-team trade, one that sent 6-10 Mark Hendrickson to Tampa Bay, Joe Kennedy to Colorado, and Justin Speier to Toronto. I'll take this one team-by-team.

First, the Devil Rays don't seem to improve much with Hendrickson v. Kennedy, although they won't have to pay Hendrickson next year. Mark is two years removed from the NBA, so he actually does have room to improve. And it will be hard not to when considering the disastrous numbers he posted last year:

Hendrickson= 9-9 5.51 207/158.1 76/40
Road= 5-4 4.16 118/97.1 40/23
Post-ASB= 4-3 5.46 82/64.1 28/17

Well, the road numbers are a little more promising, possibly giving hope to Hendrickson pitching under 5.00 next season. He'll just fill the void left by Kennedy, and it all but assured a spot next year. He leaves behind the Blue Jays whom were most happy in this deal, acquiring an already proven reliever in Justin Speier. Here are Speier's splits from last season:

Speier= 4.05 73/73.1 66/23
Home= 4.57 43/41.1 41/12
Road= 3.38 30/32 25/11
Pre-ASB= 3.19 44/48 40/14
Post-ASB= 5.68 29/25.1 26/9
Vs. RH= .245/.313/.436
Vs. LH= .273/.336/.446

Pitchers after they leave Coors are always a good buy, and I think Speier's first half numbers are really what to expect out of him next year. He'll be given every chance to win the Toronto closing job next year, in stiff competition with the likes of Kerry Ligtenberg and Aquilino Lopez. He pitches well against both right-handers and left-handers, and his home run rate should decrease in the Skydome next season. I really like the Speier addition, and J.P. Riccardi is a real winner of the Winter Meetings.

As for Kennedy, I don't know if he was worth giving up Speier. It's very possible that Joe will never break 6.00 in Coors Field, after witnessing him give up a few jacks on more than one occasion this season. Rich Lederer pointed out that he actually had the best and worst AL game score last season, although there will be more of the latter in 2004. The Colorado rotation now looks to have Kennedy, Shawn Chacon, Jason Jennings, Aaron Cook, and Denny Neagle. And O'Dowd still has a job?

I really like the 11th move, mainly because I really like the player. Kansas City did a very nice job signing Tony Graffanino to a 2-year, $2.2M contract. Graffanino is a .370 career hitter in Kauffman Stadium, and overall one of my top five favorite players in baseball. Tony Pena says that Desi Relaford still has the 2B job, which deeply saddens me, yet predicts that The Boy (El Nino) will have 400AB next season. Given 500AB, I'd say we're talking about a .275/.350/.450 player in Kauffman. Free Tony Graffanino!

Finally, moving from an new Royal to an ex-Royal, the Diamondbacks announced their signing of Brent Mayne about an hour ago. It's for 800,000, and it means the team will non-tender Rod Barajas and use Robby Hammock as their main catcher in 2004. I'm way too tired to go in-depth on Mayne, so please just come back tomorrow for insight on the Rule V draft picks.

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