Thursday, March 30

Oakland A's: Moneyball's in its What Year Now?

(Disclaimer: I know the regular season has begun. Told you I've been late on these; all of these are valid for the start of the season, but lack updates. You've been warned.)

Head back to the home discussion

Starting Pitching:

Barry Zito is the stated ace. Rich Harden, however, is the practical ace. Why the difference? Well, maybe they're trying to remove pressure on Harden - or at least keep it temporarily at bay. I'm not sure. Still, though, that's how things break down - give Zito the pressure and Harden the glory. The biggest question is if Zito can rebound from a disappointing 2005 campaign.

As for the rest of the rotation, it's surprisingly deep. Esteban Loaiza was - shockingly - overpaid to come to Oakland. $7 mil a year for a third starter? All right. Maybe Billy Beane just went nuts from having money for the first time. Still, he's a solid presence in the middle of the rotation. The fourth and fifth starters are members of the all-upside pitching staff, Dan Haren and Joe Blanton.

The fun part about this staff? It kinda goes 7 deep; Kirk Saarloos and Brad Halsey are still around in case of injury. Neither is great, but they'd be 5 guys on a lot of staffs out there. Food for thought. Useful if (or when) Harden goes down.

Rough Rotation Guess:
Ace: Barry Zito
2nd: Rich Harden
3rd: Esteban Loaiza
4th: Dan Haren
5th: Joe Blanton

More information:
Barry Zito
Rich Harden
Dan Haren

Closer / Bullpen:

Huston Street was a surprise ....okay, let me clarify. Huston Street was a surprise if you've been living under a rock. Poor Kiko Calero just got toasted. That being said, Calero wasn't bad at all in a MR role, either. Heck, this bullpen in general is one of the best you'll find. Jay Witasick had a sick K/9 rate, and Justin Duscherer(erererererer) is on the totem pole of MRs just below Linebrink and Shields. This bullpen is nothing short of scary if you're the opposition.

Rough Bullpen Guess:
Closer: Huston Street
8th: Justin Duscherer
7th: Kiko Calero
Sit. Right: Jay Witasick
Sit. Lefty: uh-oh.
Mop-up: Brad Halsey


Perenially injured (but perpetually talented) Bobby Crosby will play short when healthy. He's already injured - and already delayed on his return. Exciting. Marco Scutaro gets the job when he's gone. That being said, when healthy, Crosby has at least 20-HR potential - it's just that as of now, he's unlikely to reach it. Sad.

The corner positions are quite exciting; Eric Chavez has a history of starting slowly but turning it on late; he's quietly one of the best third basemen in the league. A platoon of Dan Johnson and Nick Swisher will take first base; except Johnson to get the vast majority of the starts, as Swisher has a steady job in the outfield.

Surprisingly-good Mark Ellis starts at second base; he provides a solid average (and as a result a good OBP), more power than you'd think, and solid periphials, without any of the hype - or at least a fraction of the hype he should receive. I could be missing something there, but from what I can tell, he's certainly good stuff. His anti-stealing partner, Jason Kendall, can't possibly suck at the plate as much as he did last year.

As for the DH, this is an interesting little position; Billy Beane actually had money last year, and with that, he signed Frank Thomas. Yes, that Frank Thomas. I'm not sure what to expect from him, but when he was healthy, he could still rake it. That's all he has to do now.

Projected Infield:
C: Jason Kendall
1B: Dan Johnson
2B: Mark Ellis
SS / DL: Bobby Crosby
3B: Eric Chavez
DH(L): Frank Thomas

More information:
Jason Kendall
Dan Johnson
Mark Ellis
Bobby Crosby
Eric Chavez
Frank Thomas


Nick Swisher gets the starts in left. That is, when he's not at first. Jay Payton is the outfielder super-sub - it's odd seeing someone relatively injury-prone as a super-sub, but there you go. Mark Kotsay opens up the season as the starting center fielder.

As for right field, this is the only remotely interesting thing that changed here. Milton Bradley was signed to start there. Seems odd having him in right - especially given his injury risks -but he's there, so we'll deal.

Projected Outfield:
RF: Milton Bradley
CF: Mark Kotsay
LF: Nick Swisher

More information:
Milton Bradley
Nick Swisher

Extra Stuff:

Typical Beane team - great rotation, will suck early on then go 18-2 in August or something similar. Still, though, their rotation is excellent and their bullpen is fantastic. Their offense puts them just above the Angels, even though everything else looks similar. Good stuff. Fun times.

Tuesday, March 28

Anaheim Angels: Just Above Average Pretty Much Everywhere

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Starting Pitching:

These guys' depth is staggering. While the quality per pitcher isn't fantastic, the dropoff between the ace (Bartolo Colon) and the 5th starter (Jeff Weaver) is much less than what you'll see on most teams. Surprisingly, the weak link might be the third starter, Ervin Santana. Granted, he's only up there because 1) Kelvim Escobar is injury-prone and 2) Jeff Weaver was signed late, which means he's functionally the 5th starter, but even given that, he's good stuff. At least for a fifth starter.

As for Escobar, he's one of the maddeningly annoying injury-prone-but-with-great-stuff guys. After a good 2004, 2005 was vicious for him in terms of innings; however, he's been above 100 in ERA+ (ERA above league average) in every season except for 1999 and 2000 (whoohoo). When healthy, he's one of the best 4th/3rd starters out there. Same goes for Weaver, except 1) he wasn't injured, he was in New York and 2) his ceiling isn't as high. Good innings eater, better than what you'd expect from a 4/5 guy.

As for the top 2 guys, Bartolo Colon was quite effective as an ace last year, and John Lackey is simply a strikeout machine. While these guys certainly aren't as glamorous as what you'd expect from a 1-2 combination, there's a lot there. Way more than you'd think, and a lot better than you'd expect.

Rough Rotation Guess:
Ace: Bartolo Colon
2nd: John Lackey
3rd: Ervin Santana
4th: Kelvim Escobar
5th: Jeff Weaver

More information:
John Lackey
Kelvim Escobar
Jeff Weaver

Closer / Bullpen:

This is another one of Anaheim's major strengths. Closer Francisco Rodriguez is one of the more elite closers in the game - if he's not already in the top 5 closers in the league (I see it that way), then he'd certainly be no worse than 6th. His K-rate is already up there with the elite closers, and his WHIP and ERA aren't any worse off. In other words, if you don't think he's one of the top 5 closers, you're crazy.

As for the rest of the bullpen, it's surprisingly deep, although not as deep as it would appear on first glance. Hector Carrasco enjoyed a mini-career revivial last year in Washington, so of course he was promptly relocated. However, he's the new guy; the guys they already had were damn talented in their own right. Scot Shields is one of the best middle relievers out there, and along with Brendan Donnelly, they form the core of the bullpen. Donnelly, however, struggled last year.

Rough Bullpen Guess:
Closer: Francisco Rodriguez
8th: Scot Shields
7th: Hector Carrasco
Sit. Right: Brendan Donnelly
Sit. Lefty: J.C. Romero
Mop-up: ???? (Probably unnecessary)

More information:
Francisco Rodriguez


So where does this team go wrong? Well, it begins here. Granted, "wrong" is all relative at this point, as the Angels' definition of wrong is simply young. Adam Kennedy and Orlando Cabrera are the stalwarts of the middle infield. Okay, that's a boldface lie - Chone Figgins is expected to steal (get it? he's fast, har har) time from Kennedy at second, although he's starting every day at third. He's quite good, and will play most every day between third, second, and the outfield. Edgardo Alfonzo - remember him? - will take over when Figgons moves around, since Dallas McPherson is still playing on the all-ineffective team.

As for first, this the the first real sign of the youth movement; Casey Kotchman will take the lion's share of the starts at first. Granted, this is partially due to the decision of the team to move Darin Erstad to the outfield again (and not to, say, the bench, but I digress), so make of that what you will. One of the flying Molina brothers - Jose - will be the main catcher, and perenially underplayed and underrated Juan Rivera (former Nat! I hate Jim Bowden) will finally get a chance to play at DH. It's a start.

Projected Infield:
C: Jose Molina
1B: Casey Kotchman
2B: Adam Kennedy
SS: Orlando Cabrera
3B: Chone Figgins
DH: Juan Rivera

More information:
Casey Kotchman
Juan Rivera
Dallas McPherson


So there's this guy - Vladmir Guerrero - in right field. Maybe you've heard of him. He's pretty good. Just sayin'.

The rest of the outfield, though, ....uh.... isn't. They're old, though - they've got that one locked down. The aforementioned Darin Erstad takes over in center - I have no clue why, but look for Figgins to sub for him. Garret Anderson, who's sadly sorely declined due to age, is still the daily left fielder. Not bad, I say. Well, not bad for his age, perhaps - or that he has a job. He's not good, though.

Projected Outfield:
RF: Vladmir Guerrero
CF: Darin Erstad
LF: Garret Anderson

More information:
Vladmir Guerrero
Garret Anderson

Extra Stuff:

So here's what the Angels boil down to, in my book. They're basically a slightly-less-good version of the Oakland A's. Granted, if you're going to imitate teams, you could do worse, but the inherent problem with an imitation is that by its very definition, it can't be as good as the original. That being said, they're still a good team, don't get me wrong. It's just there's a better, slightly deeper team in the division.

Watch for odd breaks, though - the Angels have a fantastic farm system, and might actually end up with a net gain if some of their old guys get injured. They'll be exciting to watch, if only for Vlad.

Thursday, March 23

Texas Rangers: Pitchers Apply Within

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Starting Pitching:

What does it mean when your top two starters are transplants from other teams? Well, if your previous ace was knocked down to the three hole, then that either means you've got a loaded rotation or you had an incredibly weak one last year. In Texas' case, it means the latter. Kevin Millwood was brought over from the Indians, and while he had a surprisingly good season back in 2005, there are question marks as to his performance level in what amounts to the AL's version of Coors Field. As an ace on a league-wide level, he's a little weak - although certainly above the lowest tier of aces. The second starter is Adam Eaton, who came over from the Padres in the Chris Young deal. Eaton struggled somewhat last year, although he produced some fairly decent PETCO-aided numbers. However, going from PETCO to Ameriquest Field is going to do him no favors whatsoever, and look for his numbers to be below your typical #2 starter.

The rest of this staff is pretty much end-of-rotation fodder. Padilla actually came over from the Phillies last year (making that the top 3 pitchers are all transfers); oops. In a better ballpark, he'd be okay as a 3, but he's going to hurt here. Kameron Loe and Juan Dominguez are both young guys with at least fair futures; Loe probably won't progress past a 3-spot in any rotation, though.

This rotation can go either way, since so much of it is transplanted. It's probably a safe bet to assume it's going to err on the side of underperforming.

Rough Rotation Guess:
Ace: Kevin Millwood
2nd: Adam Eaton
3rd: Vincente Padilla
4th: Kameron Loe
5th: Juan Dominguez

Closer / Bullpen:

Francisco Cordero is on the second level of closers; he's not the Rivera, Gagne, Lidge type that pretty much signify game over whenever they enter (unless it's the NLCS, but I digress), but he'll put up good numbers - and remember, an 8-7 save is the same stat-wise as a 3-2 save. The 8-7 save might be more likely with these guys.

As for the rest of the bullpen, Akinori Otsuka is the guy you've heard of (from the Padre killer bullpen last year), but he shockingly (at least to me) wasn't as good as I thought - decent ERA, but a WHIP of 1.42 indictates that he got a little lucky at times to me. A high K rate helps to alleviate that, though. The other best guy in the 'pen is the mop-up kid, Joaquin Benoit. There's not a lot to be proud of here.

Rough Bullpen Guess:
Closer: Francisco Cordero
8th: Akinori Otsuka
7th: John Wasdin
Sit. Right: R.A. Dickey
Sit. Lefty: Erasmo Ramirez
Mop-up: Joaquin Benoit


Best offensive infield in baseball, and it's not even closer. When you consider that second base might be their weakest offensive position simply because rookie Ian Kinsler looks to get the lion's share of at-bats, but he still has 10/15 potential as a rookie, then you're pretty much set. Nobody here is terribly fast, but between Mark Teixeira at first, Hank Blalock at third, and Michael Young at short, they'll put up at least 90 HR, and I wouldn't be surprised if they topped 100 as a group. Tons of power, good average, pretty much the works. Blalock might be the weakest offensive link, and he's still better than what 60% of teams are putting out at third, if not 75%.

As for the DH, this is probably the most umimpressive spot on the offensive roster. Phil Nevin will get the lion's share of the at-bats (further enhancing the Padres Transplants moniker these guys have been riding the last few years). Whoohoo.

Projected Infield:
C: Rod Barajas
1B: Mark Teixeira
2B: Ian Kinsler
SS: Michael Young
3B: Hank Blalock
DH: Phil Nevin

More information:
Mark Teixeira
Ian Kinsler
Michael Young
Hank Blalock


This was the "weak point" of the offense last year. That being said, the offensive production was no worse than average last year (even if their average suffered, har har), and they landed a massive upgrade in center as Brad Wilkerson came over in the Soriano deal. Wilky is a little bit hurt to open the season, but when healthy, he's a great power/speed combination that will get on base consistently. Kevin Mench is a classic power hitter with decent-but-not-great power in right, and David Dellucci is another power/speed threat with not quite the same upside as Wilkerson.

Projected Outfield:
RF: Kevin Mench
CF: Brad Wilkerson
LF: David Dellucci

More information:
Brad Wilkerson

Extra Stuff:

Here's the problem with the Rangers - and good on them that they addressed it this offseason, but it's still there - they lack quality pitching, both in the rotation and the bullpen. This rotation will be a step up from previous years, but not as much as you'd think. Eaton won't be anything to call home about whatsoever, but again, I talked about that up there.

Bottom line, if they were in a division where everyone else had subpar pitching, their offense is so clearly well above everyone else that they'd win their fair share - maybe more - of ugly 8-7 games. However, it's going to be strength vs. strength all season for these guys, and as baseball is really a game of failure, well, the outlook doesn't look great.

Wednesday, March 22

Seattle Mariners: Hail to the King

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Starting Pitching:

So I'll go ahead and blow through the top 4 starters real fast, since all the interest here lies with King Felix. Jamie Moyer is still around, still a junkballer, and one of these days, he's going to get real old real fast. Until that point, however, he'll have a spot in a rotation - since, after all, he's a left-hander who can get the ball over the plate. He's actually not that spectacular in terms of sheer numbers, but right now Seattle's pitching depth is such that they need warm bodies out there, and he satisfies that requirement. Not a true ace, though.

Joel Pineiro and Jarrod Washburn are the 2-3 guys (and the only other rotation guys whos first name begins with J), and while Pineiro isn't that great - honestly, I'm not sure why he's the #2 - Washburn is pretty good, although he was injured for a time last year. My best guess is they're putting him at a 3 to protect his arm / body. As for Gil Meche, he had an awesome season back in 2000, then fell off the face of the planet for a couple of years. After he came back to the majors, he hasn't been the same pitcher. Right now, the staff is decent, but not spectacular; it's mainly filled with a 2 and some middle-back of the rotation types. They could use some depth.

*phew* Glad we got that out of our system. Anyway, on to Felix Hernandez. If you haven't heard of King Felix, here's the lowdown on him. He strikes out a ton of batters (to the tune of about 8 K/9, which is more or less obscene for a starter). He's got a good defense behind him - more on that later. He doesn't walk a whole lot of batters (about 3.3 K/BB) - which, granted, given that ratio, means he's still walking about 2 a game, which isn't earth-shattering amazing. Still, that ratio's fantastic. So is his groundball-flyball ratio (3.3 GB/FB). What does all this mean? Practically, he's got a pretty good shot of striking you out, and if/when you do hit it, it's probably going to be on the ground, where one of Seattle's excellent defenders will get it. In other words - wow. The only thing preventing him from being the Seattle ace right now is that he's 19. Anyone remember Gooden back in '84? We might get the answer to what Gooden might've become now.

Rough Rotation Guess:
Ace: Jamie Moyer
2nd: Joel Pineiro
3rd: Jarrod Washburn
4th: Gil Meche
5th: Felix Hernandez

More information:
Felix Hernandez

Closer / Bullpen:

Eddie Guardado's back again as closer after yet another season with some random injuries and a whole heck of a lot of trade talk. If and/or when that happens, either Rafael Soriano or J.J. Putz will take over closer duties. Soriano is supposed to have the inside track on that, but a rough offseason and some velocity issues in winter league could put the Mariners a little gunshy on him. Putz isn't too bad.

As for the rest of the bullpen, it's certainly passable, and probably a little above average given the dreck in a lot of other bullpens. Julio Mateo is the workhorse.

Rough Bullpen Guess:
Closer: Eddie Guardado
8th: J.J. Putz
7th: Julio Mateo
Sit. Right: Rafael Soriano
Sit. Lefty: George Sherrill
Mop-up: Jesse Foppert?

More information:
Rafael Soriano


Seattle's All-Japan connection continues. In addition to Ichiro, they also brought over Kenji Johjima, who was quite the power hitter over in Japan. However, as we've seen with Ichiro, Hideki Matsui, and a few other people, Japanese power hitters take a hit over here with either the increased pitching influence or some other factors I don't know. Just my guess, though.

DINOMITE! Carl Everett is the DH. Not a whole lot else to report here, other than he's a fucking nutcase that can swing a bat. And not Randall Simon nuts, either. He's also a backup for some of the outfield spots.

As for the corner spots, Richie Sexson somehow managed to not have a bad power season in Safeco, which is impressive given how the park historically affects hitters. Heck, he hit 21 of his 39 HR at home. His corner opposite is Adrian Beltre, who's an interesting character. He had a career season with the Dodgers back in 2004, parlayed that into a big contract with Seattle, then promptly sucked last year. Granted, by sucked, I mean returned to his 2003/2002 numbers. There's always been a lot of hype around him - was 2005 an aberration, or he is just not harnessing his talent?

The middle infield spots are the oddest to predict. Jose Lopez and Willie Bloomquist are in the running for the second-base spot, and Yuniesky Betancourt, Mike Morse, and Bloomquist are in the shortstop competition. What a mess. Betancourt and Lopez have the most upside, especially defensively (and remember the Felix corollary here), so expect them to start.

Projected Infield:
C: Kenji Johjima
1B: Richie Sexson
2B: Jose Lopez
SS: Yuniesky Betancourt
3B: Adrian Beltre
DH: Carl Everett

More information:
Kenji Johjima
Jose Lopez
Yuniesky Betancourt
Adrian Beltre


Raul Ibanez is nothing if not fairly consistent; he's had fairly predictable speed and power over the last 4 years, so it'll make some sense to expect a decline due to age, but any kind of serious decline might just be a little bit nuts at this point. Jeremy Reed is in center, and he's supposed to turn out pretty good. However, he hasn't quite lived up to potential yet, although last season was predominantly filled with growing pains. It's up to the reader to determine if last season was a fluke or a sign of things to come.

Oh yeah - Ichiro's all world in right. Next.

Projected Outfield:
RF: Ichiro Suzuki
CF: Jeremy Reed
LF: Raul Ibanez

More information:
Ichiro Suzuki
Jeremy Reed
Raul Ibanez

Extra Stuff:

For now, this is still Ichiro's team. By the end of the year, it'll be Ichiro's and Felix's team. Look for the team to tailor itself around both of them in the next couple of years.

That being said, the AL West is pretty tough; the Mariners will probably struggle in a division which has at least two teams with better staffs (Oakland, Anaheim), two teams with better bullpens (Oakland, Anaheim), and two teams with better offenses (Texas, Oakland).

Tuesday, March 21

Reds Theoretically Get Better: Right.

So, we started off with this guy, right? Since then, Wily Mo Pena was traded from the Reds for Bronson Arroyo (or, if you're Tim McCarver, Brandon Arojo). While on the surface this means that we won't have to hear McCarver butcher his name any more - 'cause let's be honest, the Reds aren't sniffing Saturday games on FOX - what does this mean practically?

Well, the Reds have said that Arroyo won't be the #1 guy, which is smart of them. Seriously. He doesn't have the stuff to really project as more than a back-end rotation guy, certainly serviceable, and in some cases good, in the 4 or 5 spot, depending on the ballpark. So where's the problem? He's a fly ball pitcher. He averages 1.15 fly balls per grounder, and remember how bad that outfield defense was? Yup, this is exciting. On top of that, he gave up about 1 HR a game back in Boston, and Great American Ballpark isn't exactly the best place for pitchers to begin with; we could be looking at a regular Joe Meatballer down the line (worst case scenario) He doesn't strike out a lot of people (4.5 K/9), but hey, he's pretty cheap, right? Still, it's always nice to trade away young talent for a 5.00 ERA.

As for Wily Mo ... yikes. Good hitter, again, but horrid fielder, which could very well be painful in Boston, as you need to be good with the glove to get any time in right. I thought that the Red Sox could use a little more power in their lineup beyond Manny and Ortiz, and this'll do it some days. They'll find ways to get his bat in the lineup, and most importantly for them, they have a cheap option if they want to get rid of Trot Nixon and/or let him walk after this season.

My favorite part of this, though, has been the quotes from the Reds on this. Check Wayne Krivitsy:

He said Pena, long considered a talent that was ready to blossom, would fit in nicely to hitter-friendly Fenway Park, where he'll probably play a platoon role.

So you knew you had a guy ready to break out, and yet you trade him right before this is going to happen on your team? Nice! He's not done yet, though:
Adding the 29-year-old Arroyo makes the Reds stronger, because a Major League team never has too much pitching, Krivsky said.
Does he think he's the Oakland A's or something? By my count, he has 1 1/2 pitchers now (Harang is 3/4, Arroyo is 3/4, Claussen is 1/2, Milton is -1/2), so if he wants a 5-deep rotation, he's only 3 clones of Johan Santana away at this point.

So you'd think the only good part of this would be that Freel finally gets a chance to play, right?

In trading Pena, Narron will get a more settled situation in left field and at first base. He said Adam Dunn will move to left, and Scott Hatteberg will pick up at-bats at first base.

Maybe Freel and Chris Burke can join the All-Screwed-Over-By-Management All-Stars. Oh yeah, and Womack still has the inside track on second base, no matter what was the case this time last week. But it's not all bad - you got Dave "I hit .217" Ross!

San Diego Padres: Product of the Environment

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Starting Pitching:

Jake Peavy is all-world at this point (WBC notwithstanding), and he's certainly one of the best pitchers in the NL, if not the best with Clemens...well, doing whatever it is that Clemens does. (Yes, Chris Carpenter's up there.) He's certainly the best pitcher in the divison hands-down. Jason Schmidt fans can re-apply for this status after the upcoming season, please.

The lower half of the rotation isn't spectacular; Chan Ho Park still sucked after coming over from Texas. He wasn't a bad pitcher in Los Angeles, actually, so maybe he'll turn it around this year, who knows. Don't count on it, though. Woody Williams has been heading downhill ever since 2002. I'd be surprised if that trend reverses now, although he might just hang on enough to not get actively worse this season. As for Shawn Estes... uh, yeah, not so much with the good pitching.

This brings us to the second starter this season, Chris Young. An interesting case - a flyball pitcher with a K/9 of over 7. Not surprisingly, he struggled last season in offense-friendly Texas, but PETCO utterly destroys fly balls. He's the inside favorite for the 1st annual John Patterson Way Better Than You Expected Award.

Rough Rotation Guess:
Ace: Jake Peavy
2nd: Chris Young
3rd: Woody Williams
4th: Shawn Estes
5th: Chan Ho Park

More information:
Jake Peavy
Chris Young

Closer / Bullpen:

Well, Trevor Hoffman's still around. That takes care of the closer role until he retires.

Aside from him, the bullpen isn't quite as awe-inducing as the Otsuka/Seanez/Linebrink combo of doom last year, but Linebrink's still around. He's one of the best MRs in the game, so you could do a lot worse for an 8th inning option. Doug Brocail will move up to take the 7th, although he's not that great. Clay Hensley is the best of what's left (and he's pretty good scraps to be picking over - better than Brocail. Don't be surprised if his role increases throughout the season.)

Rough Bullpen Guess:
Closer: Trevor Hoffman
8th: Scott Linebrink
7th: Clay Hensley
Sit. Right: Scott Cassidy
Sit. Lefty: Alan Embree
Mop-up: Clay Hensley


Well, Mike Piazza came over from the Mets (along with Mike Cameron - more on him later). Combine aging with the previously mentioned cavernous ballpark and this is not going to be a recipe for success. He still can't throw anyone out, either. Yikes. Good move, guys.

Ryan Klesko returns to first base yet again - he showed a bit of power in the second half last year, although again, park numbers and his overall mediocrity mean don't expect anything specatcular from him this season. As for corner partner Vinny, he's just old. Still wields the glove well, though.

The major storylines for the season lie in the middle infield. Khalil Greene has always been good with the glove, but his hitting has always been in question. Strides he made back in 2004 were shot down this past year as he regressed back to where he was previously. This could be an important year for him. On the other side of the diamond, Josh Barfield will make his full-season ML debut. He could be a candidate for Rookie of the Year - he's quality stuff. Mark Bellhorn will give him the occasional day off.

Projected Infield:
C: Mike Piazza
1B: Ryan Klesko
2B: Josh Barfield
SS: Khalil Greene
3B: Vinny Castilla

More Information:
Josh Barfield


Brian Giles was great .... a few years ago with the Pirates. He's not bad now, but age and the park have taken a lot out of him; what could've been a 25/20 guy is now a 15/15 plus guy. It's kind of a shame, really. On the other side of the outfield, perenially injured Dave Roberts will start the season there. Termel Sledge will take over for him when (not if) he gets injured.

In center, Mike Cameron also came over from the Mets this offseason. He brings a great glove with him, and a fairly unique combination of speed, power, and not much else. He's a power hitter that doesn't get on base a whole lot (horrid averages these last few years), but when he does, he'll run. Interesting case, but his main asset to the team isn't that as much as it is his glove.

Projected Outfield:
RF: Brian Giles
CF: Mike Cameron
LF: Dave Roberts

More information:
Brian Giles

Extra Stuff:

This season might answer the eternal question of just how far two pitchers can bring one team. I figure that Peavy and Young will allow them to win 50-55 games, which means that if the team can coax 30 wins out of the other 90 starts, then that'll at least be enough to be competitive in this division. The back end of the bullpen is solid enough to win them a couple of games average bullpens might lose.

Remember, this division sucks. Good defense, passable pitching, great pitching ballpark ... don't expect many 10-9 games, but count on quite a few 4-3 and 3-2 games.

Arizona Diamondbacks: At Least the Rockies Can Blame the Altitude

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Starting Pitching:

Brandon Webb is their ace, and rightfully so; he's better than people think (he was the up-and-comer when it was the Schilling & RJ show back in 2001), and after a horrible season in 2004, look for him to bounce back. However, the biggest problem with him isn't his own fault; he might lack for wins and not because of the way he pitches. It's just that the rest of the team is that bad. If you're comfortable accepting that fact, then we're okay. If not, then you're probably not going to like the rest of this entry. Consider that your warning to bail out now.

Moving right along, the rest of this rotation approaches abysmal. When your best potential pitcher was a closer in another country last year, that's a problem. Granted, that country was Canada, so it's not like Miguel Batista was facing Little Leaguers in Italy, but it could still be a recipe for disaster. However, Diamondbacks management was at least smart enough to realize this wouldn't be your ideal second-pitcher candidate, so they put him behind the personification of the 5-run rally himself, Russ Ortiz. At least if he has an ERA below 6 it's a good year for him.

Orlando Hernandez holds a distinction few have: they actually got worse once they left the Yankees. Normally it's the other way around, but his ERA jumped by a run and a half while pitching for the (World Champion) White Sox. I wouldn't trust the D-Backs to win a series with South Africa, so there you go.

Halsey, at least, should be a decent 5th starter - at least compared to the rest of these guys. Shockingly (or not), he's got the lowest ERA out of any of them, not counting Batista. Not that 4.61 is really low, but you get the idea.

Rough Rotation Guess:
Ace: Brandon Webb
2nd: Russ Ortiz
3rd: Miguel Batista
4th: Orlando Hernandez
5th: Brad Halsey

More information:
Brandon Webb

Closer / Bullpen:

Their ideal closer is the third starter. Failing that, they'll fall back on Jose Valverde, who seems to keep on coming down with injuries. Seriously, the closer situation has been up in the air in Arizona for the last 3 years due to injury and ineffectiveness; it's where closers go to die. However, Brandon Lyon is the only real challenger to his throne at the moment (as their best reliever, Brandon Medders, is down due to injury), which means Valverde should be safe through the end of April at least. That's a start.

As for the rest of the bullpen, it's a shame that Medders went down, as he was the best they had to offer. Everyone else is more or less horrible. Lyon at least doesn't habitually allow people on base.

Rough Bullpen Guess:
Closer: Jose Valverde
8th: Brandon Lyon
7th: Luis Vizcaino
Sit. Right: Jason Grimsley
Sit. Lefty: hmmmm... this could be a problem....
Mop-up: Claudio Vargas


At least some of these guys are young. They should provide some good defense, too. Tony Clark will siphon at-bats from Conor Jackson until Jackson is ready to handle day-to-day duties. Clark was a pleasant surprise last year; it remains to be seen if he can duplicate that success this year, although don't be surprised if he still manages to hit 15-20 HR.

Chad Tracy was the closest thing the D-Backs had to a true everyday offensive stalwart; he's been developing power at the major league level over the last few years (8 HR in 2004, 27 in 2005), so don't look for a jump of 19 HR again this year, but 30's not out of the question.

Orlando Hudson is a better defensive option than they had previously; although his bat's nothing special, they don't need it to be. His basestealing (defensive) counterpart will be Johnny Estrada, who came over this offseason from the Braves to make room for Brian McCann (who might be replaced by Salty), even though Estrada isn't horrible; not a lot of power, but has a decent average.

Shortstop is quite intruiging with this team. As of now, Craig Counsell should open the season at short; however, how long can they keep Steven Drew down for? Quite possibly just as important, how long can Drew and Counsell keep Justin Upton down for? Worlds of possibilities right now for these guys.

Projected Infield:
C: Johnny Estrada
1B: Tony Clark / Conor Jackson
2B: Orlando Hudson
SS: Craig Counsell
3B: Chad Tracy


These guys are starting to get old - at least the corner outfielders are. Luis Gonzalez isn't the 50-HR guy he was a couple of seasons ago, and he's now closer to his performance level from before then, which isn't horrible, just not spectacular. Shawn Green is much the same way - expect in the mid-20 HR range from both of them and approximately similar averages and you'll be okay.

As for Eric Byrnes, he's a shade below both Luis and Shawn at this point; however, he has something that neither of them have, and that's speed. Not a whole lot of speed, but any speed is welcome in this lineup, as they're all pretty slow.

Projected Outfield:
RF: Shawn Green
CF: Eric Byrnes
LF: Luis Gonzalez

More information:
Eric Byrnes

Extra Stuff:

Okay, I was a little harsh on these guys - they have plenty of positional excitement coming up in the next couple of years; I didn't even mention Carlos Quentin or their Chris Young, and both of them are Top 25 prospects. However, this pitching is nothing short of hideous, and they're going to have to do something about that soon.

However, they probably can't address that until Gonzalez and Green are gone, so don't look for a marked improvement over the next few years. However, one important thing to keep in mind is that the NL West isn't exactly the toughest division in baseball, so as long as they don't horribly suck, they might still be in it come late August.

Colorado Rockies: Still Figuring Out the Winning Formula

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Starting Pitching:

The biggest problem with this staff isn't that they start 81 games in Coors. That's the second-biggest problem. The biggest problem is that these guys aren't that good. Sure, Byung-Hyun Kim had a pretty good WBC, but that doesn't excuse the fact that he's largely sucked as a starter for his entire stint in Coors. Still, though, he's their 4th starter, so it's not like he's expected to be decent; honestly, he'd probably be fine as a 5 in most places.

Aaron Cook and Jason Jennings are the front-end starters for the Rockies, and here's the absolute shocker about that. Aaron Cook's not half bad, really. His biggest problem is he's consistently injury-prone - well, that and from a fantasy baseball perspective, he doesn't strike anyone out. However, his ERA is certainly passable, and quite good given the Coorsian atmosphere. If he can pull 30 starts this season (given his past history, not terribly likely, but work with me), then he should be somewhere in the range of a decent-good 3 starter, and probably slightly below average in the 2 spot (which is where he'll be). As for Jason Jennings, he's closer to what you'd expect - high ERA, bad control, high number of hits, fair number of strikeouts. His home/away performance is relatively consistent, which means that he's probably not ace material. Oh well, not like anyone will notice anyway.

Jeff Francis is the third starter, and ...well, he's a slightly worse version of Jason Jennings who can actually stay healthy. Well, he's close to that - inexplicably, his road ERA is a run and a half above his home ERA, which makes no sense to me. However, it's right there, so there you go. Make of that what you will.

The back end of the rotation is filled with cast-off 4 and 5 starters from other teams. Zach Day (Nats castoff) probably is the best out of the entire lot, which doesn't really mean a whole lot, especially since he can't stay healthy. Steve Kim (Nats castoff... sense a trend?) is more than likely a slightly worse version of Day. Josh Fogg (Pirates castoff) is about what you'd expect from a guy #7 on the depth chart.

Rough Rotation Guess:
Ace: Jason Jennings
2nd: Aaron Cook
3rd: Jeff Francis
4th: Byung-Hyun Kim
5th: Zach Day

Closer / Bullpen:

Ready for a shock? Closer Brian Fuentes wasn't that bad last year - seriously. Now, it looks to me like the Rockies did the right thing with their bullpen: bring in guys who they could get cheap that weren't absolutely horrible last year, and complement them with some high-K guys that they could call on in times of need. Unfortunately, the decent guys give up a lot of hits (this is a bad idea, by the way, for those of you counting at home), and the high-K guys , shockingly, give up even more. David Cortes is probably the best option in middle relief.

Rough Bullpen Guess:
Closer: Brian Fuentes
8th: David Cortes
7th: Mike DeJean
Sit. Right: Scott Dohmann
Sit. Lefty: Ray King
Mop-up: Sunny Kim


Remember the days when the Rockies would just bring in whomever they could so long as they knew they could hit 40 HR in a season? Well, those days are pretty much gone at this point. Now they're opting to bring in youngsters and train them in Coors Field that way. This results in some rather nasty home/road splits, so make of that what you will. Todd Helton hopes to bounce back from a dismal first half - he showed signs of recovery in the second half, and actually was quite good. However, age is beginning to finally take its toll on him, and it's going to be interesting to see how he responds this year.

Superdupersub Luis Gonzalez (not the one in Arizona; the one who can play every postition save pitcher and catcher) will actually be starting at second base this season. He'll also be jumping around to give some people days off and what have you, and when that happens, it's more than likely Jamey Carroll (Nats castoff! I hate Jim Bowden) will fill in at second. (He's also backing up Clint "Vension" Barmes.)

Speaking of vension, Clint Barmes should be fully recovered from one of the best accidents ever now. He did pretty well last year up until the unfortunate deer-related incident, and will seem like a better offensive shortstop than what he really is due to the Coors effect. One important thing to keep in mind is that he's 27 (the Golden Age for hitters), so chances are this season might be as good as it gets.

Catcher has always been interesting for the Rockies; there's always some great new catching prospect coming up this year or the next year; last year was J.D. Closser (who bombed), this year it might be Danny Ardoin. Smart money, though, would be on Yorvit Torrealba ending up with the lion's share of starts behind the plate, as he's been the only guy to produce on some level beyond suck at the major league level.

As for Garrett Atkins (the starting 3B), he's another Coors product. Look for good counting numbers and a fair amount of HRs; however, in terms of third basemen, he's probably no more than average.

Projected Infield:
C: Yorvit Torrealba
1B: Todd Helton
2B: Luis Gonzalez
SS: Clint Barmes
3B: Garrett Atkins

More information:
Todd Helton
Clint Barmes


For a while, everyone was convinced that Brad Hawpe was going to be better than Matt Holliday, even though Holliday came up earlier. However, Holliday is a much better defender than Hawpe and has a better bat on top of that. Oops. Anyway, they're both starting this year (Hawpe in right, Holliday in left) so we'll have a chance to judge for ourselves.

As for center field, potential speedster Cory Sullivan will get the everyday job. Don't expect him to go out and steal 40+ bases - he's not that much of a speedster. However, he'll offer a decent power-speed combination if he can get on base enough.

It should be exciting to watch all these guys over the course of a season. They're young enough to where they can still improve noticably, and watching any team in Coors is exciting in its own right. Hopefully their offense will be enough to spell the defense from making any major mistakes (this might only be a problem with Hawpe).

Projected Outfield:
RF: Brad Hawpe
CF: Cory Sullivan
LF: Matt Holliday

More information:
Brad Hawpe
Cory Sullivan
Matt Holliday

Extra Stuff:

They've never quite figured out how to get a winning combination in Colorado - at least not a sustainable one. The park presents its own unique challenge, and it's tough to figure out what kind of mix will work. This year, they don't seem to be worrying as much about finding 1 or 2 big bats, but there are quite a few 15 HR+ threats in the lineup, even if only 1 might crack 30 HR (Helton).

As for the pitching ... well, maybe they've given up. I can't say I can blame them, really - it's shellshock. The biggest problem is if they can pitch at sea level and if the guys can swing the bat down there, then yeah, things could be interesting for this team. Not before then, though. Sadly.

Sunday, March 19

Los Angeles Dodgers: String, Duct Tape, and a Little Bit of Hope

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Starting Pitching:

Question marks abound here. If everyone can stay healthy, this rotation is actually deeper than San Fran's, even if the upper echelon of talent isn't quite there. Unlike the Giants, these guys are all proven (with a couple of pseudo-exceptions that I'll get into later). Derek Lowe steps in as the ace of the staff again this year - as aces go, he's probably somewhere slightly below average, in truth. However, pitching in Chavez Ravine can only mean good things for him, so he'll look better than you'd think at first glance.

However, the exciting glare of POTENTIAL comes from the 2nd and 3rd spots. If only Brad Penny and Odalis Perez (former Expo!) can stay healthy, who knows what the possibilities are? Both are certainly talented, but injury-prone is a nice way of saying "broken". I figure that combined they'll put up about 300-350 innings from the 2 and 3 slot, which should be good, winnable innings for the Dodgers. Anything above that is gravy. The biggest problem with that is that Human Firestick D.J. Houlton would move into the #5 role if/when that happens.

Speaking of human firesticks, Brett Tomko's back! The man scares me - I don't know why, but possibly the 4.52 ERA screams bad idea to me. Hopefully he'll make the transition from actively destructive to innings-eater this year. That'd be good news for the Dodgers, and anything below a 4.30 ERA should be viewed as happy times.

That brings us to Jae Seo - quietly one of the Mets' bright spots last year. He was the guy not named Aaron Heilman that was kicking ass and taking names last year. Fun times for all. In the 5 spot, with hopefully about half his starts in that ballpark, he should flourish. Seriously. Watch out. Good stuff on the horizon for this guy.

Rough Rotation Guess:
Ace: Derek Lowe
2nd: Brad Penny
3rd: Odalis Perez
4th: Brett Tomko
5th: Jae Seo

More information:
Brad Penny
Odalis Perez

Closer / Bullpen:

Eric Gagne's back - maybe you've heard of him. He was the guy who gave up the game-winning HR to Hank Blalock in the '04 All-Star Game, which obviously worked out for the Yankees in the Series. This Time It Counts. Maybe. We Mean It. Hey, Where Are You Going? Seriously though, the Dodgers bullpen need Gagne back, since they ...well, sucked without him. Pretty badly.

The walking 3-run inning Yhency Brazoban returns again (gotta love a 4-10 record). That's going to leave a mark. Danys Baez is the best of a mediocre lot, though - with Franquelis Osoria probably the only other guy who won't habitually start 2-run rallies. Edwin Jackson is gone now, though - he's over in the D-Rays camp. Maybe that's for the best.

Rough Bullpen Guess:
Closer: Eric Gagne
8th: Danys Baez
7th: Yhency Brazoban
Sit. Right: Franquelis Osoria
Sit. Lefty: Hong Chih-Kuo (and his 6.75 ERA) or Tim Hamulack (and his 23.48 ERA) - ouch.
Mop-up: D.J. Houlton

More information:
Eric Gagne


What's that you say? There's offense in Dodgerville? No way! Well, I guess signing Nomar Garciaparra, Rafael Furcal, and Bill Mueller can't be any worse, at least. In theory. What's odd is that Garciaparra was signed to play first, not short. Could be an interesting defensive experiment, although Hee Sop Choi wasn't doing much outside of a week and a half last season (and probably wouldn't do much outside of the WBC anyway this season), so the net can't be any worse, I'd think. Mueller replaces Olmedo Saenz - again, it's the > 0 thing going for him.

Furcal, on the other hand, actually replaces a good defender. Granted, his bat will more than make up for the defensive deficiency; however, he's been sick so far this year, so who knows what that means. Hopefully it doesn't mean a season more of Cesar Izturis' bat, but they've dealt with that before. Offensive stalwart Jeff Kent returns at second.

Behind the plate, Dioner Navarro certainly can't do any worse than the mess that was last season's Dodger catching. Fugly.

Projected Infield:
C: Dioner Navarro
1B: Nomar Garciaparra
2B: Jeff Kent
SS: Rafael Furcal
3B: Bill Mueller

More information:
Nomar Garciaparra
Jeff Kent


Holy cow, Kenny Lofton's still alive and kicking! And running, too - 22 SB last year. Good times. He'll bat and run as much as he can get away with when he plays center, but he won't be leading off this time around, certainly not when Furcal is in the lineup. Still, though, it's amazing to me that he's around - I thought he was done 2 years ago.

Speaking of "if he was only healthy", J.D. Drew is back and recovered. When healthy, he's good stuff. Maybe he can only get injured for 30 games this season - if that's the case, that can only mean good thing for the Dodger offense. If/when he gets injured, Jayson Werth will probably slot in for him in right, unless he's injured too. Then it's possibly Jason Repko, or if you really enjoy living dangerously, Joel Guzman. Don't hold your breath on that - he's more likely to be in left, or more likely, AAA.

Jose Cruz Jr. (current age: 32 - they should put a moratorium on Jr. after a certain age, I think) is the starting left fielder. Eh. Everyone that's backing up Drew is backing him up, too.

Projected Outfield:
RF: J.D. Drew
CF: Kenny Lofton
LF: Jose Cruz, Jr.

More information:
Kenny Lofton

Extra Stuff:

Great staff here, too. At least if they're healthy. Good closer, too - it's just the rest of the bullpen and a couple of injuries away from becoming a clusterfuck, though. If that doesn't help you sleep well at night, what will, really? Yikes. All things considered, I'd put more money on things not becoming a clusterfuck than everything blowing up.

The offense should be at least somewhat improved - maybe they can win the occasional 6-5 game this season. Or win over 71 games, whichever, really. They should given their talent and this division. The team has enough veteran presence to not underachieve, although injuries could take their toll. Remember, kids, the difference between veteran and old is only 5 years. Lofton is old, everyone else is veteran. That being said, I'll make fun of their age once everyone on the Giants retires. Have to keep both ends of the rivalry pissed off at me, right?

That being said, these guys, even though fundamentally different from the Giants, actually will probably perform somewhere around the Giants, I think. Cumulatively, there's not a lot of difference. I'd guess within 5 games of .500. This is the only team I'd do that with (with the exception of the last 2 years, that was the case 6 or 7 years running, so I think it's a decent gamble).

San Francisco Giants: AARP Certified

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Starting Pitching:

There are a couple of bright spots on this staff, although they might not perform at their total peak this year. Noah Lowry and Matt Cain are the #3 and #4 starters this year, respectively. Both of them are young with a good amount of talent - Lowry was lights-out in the second half, and it's expected that he'll capitalize on having "figured it out" this season. As for Cain, he's the brightest pitching prospect in the organization - think Francisco Liriano lite, and if that confuses you, take 2 rungs down from Johan Santana and there you go. He's not there right now, but that's what kind of potential he has. In short, there'll be growing pains, but there'll also be days he just kills opposing offenses.

What happened to Jason Schmidt? Fantastic in 2003 and 2004 - fell off the face of the planet in 2005. Rumor has it he's rebounded from that horrible season, but there's still plenty of reason for concern. As of now, he's the ace in name - and if he rebounds, then he'll certainly be the ace in form, too. Behind Jake Peavy, he's probably the second-best pitcher in the NL West (and among the Top 5 in the NL). However, if he's not healthy, it's anyone's guess as to how effective he'll be.

Matt Morris is a recent transplant from the Cards. As #2 starters go, you could certainly do a lot worse. He's about what you'd expect, solid and unspectacular. Let the guys in front of and behind him have all the questions surrounding their performance. He'll do a little better numbers-wise thanks to the new park, but that's about the only change. Great complement to the roster.

As of now, Brian Hennessey should take over the #5 role. Quite honestly, I don't know a whole lot about, but his numbers indicate that he's about what you'd expect from a 5 starter. Should probably keep you in the game, unless he's going up against an ace, and won't actively try to kill you. What else do you need, really?

Rough Rotation Guess:
Ace: Jason Schmidt
2nd: Matt Morris
3rd: Noah Lowry
4th: Matt Cain
5th: Brian Hennessey

More information:
Jason Schmidt
Matt Morris
Noah Lowry
Matt Cain

Closer / Bullpen:

Look who's back. Armando "Big Game" Benitez returns after losing all of last year to injury. What's he like? Great numbers, will close a lot of games - with the exception of about 5 games a year he'll just utterly blow up in. Unfortunately, those tend to be the big high-pressure situations. As a result, everyone seems to think he sucks, when in reality, he's a lot better than people give him credit for. What's so wrong with that? Besides the bad big games, of course.

As for the rest of the bullpen, There's not a whole lot to like here - only 1 ERA below 3 in the bunch (Scott Munter), and he doesn't strike anyone out. Okay, that's not true - lefty specialist Jack Taschner has pretty good numbers. Tyler Walker is probably the Guy You've Heard Of, along with Jeff Fassero - both more or less suck. Walker strikes guys out, though. Honestly, if there's a weak link in the pitching staff, it's somewhere between where the starters end and the closer begins. Could make for an interesting season.

Rough Bullpen Guess:
Closer: Armando Benitez
8th: Tyler Walker
7th: Scott Munter
Sit. Right: Steve Kline
Sit. Lefty: Jack Taschner
Mop-up: Jeff Fassero

More information:
Armando Benitez


The keystone combination here is ...well, old is a charitable understatement. Ray Durham and Omar Vizquel are both approaching decrepit. I kind of hope that no body parts fall off while they're in the field. That'd just be awkward. The biggest problem with this is that dual positional backup Jose Vizcaino (what, he's still in the league?) is actually OLDER than Durham. Great. Angel Chavez might get playing time. Maybe. He's a little young for them, though (read: 25).

Pedro Feliz is what qualifies as an "offensive threat" in this lineup. That's kind of sad, but he is playing a corner spot, so it's hard to deny him that. He can play pretty much anywhere that's not in the middle of the field, though, so it's not like he's a corner hog. As for youngsters - well, relatively speaking - he's over at first. Lance Niekro (yes, son of that Niekro) is at first, and he's the ripe young age of 27. On the plus side, 27 = major offensive year. He might hit 20 HR. I wouldn't be too optimistic, though. Not if I were you.

Behind the plate, notable offensive stalwart (read: .240 hitter) Mike Matheny assumes catching duties again. However, to be fair, they're not playing him for his offensive contributions - he's great with the glove and good with the staff. His benefits there will outweigh the drain on the lineup that he is (and really, with this lineup, it's hard to pinpoint one fault).

Projected Infield:
C: Mike Matheny
1B: Lance Niekro
2B: (the rotting corpse of) Ray Durham
SS: (a propped-up and reanimated) Omar Vizquel
3B: Pedro Feliz


I remember Moises Alou back in '94 - I was a big fan of his, and I loved the idea that he was playing for his dad. Were you to tell me that he was still doing that 12 years from then, I'm not sure I'd have believed you. Now that that's the case, the more impressive part to me is that he's still offensively productive (relatively speaking - 19 HR, .321(!)). Defense is what you'd expect from someone who's 40.

Resident rookie Randy Winn (ripe and young at 32) returns in center. Chances are that he won't reprise his fantastic second half, but he'll still be better than throwing out ANOTHER 40+ guy in Steve Finley. Maybe these guys can dig up the rotting corpse of Satchel Paige if someone on the staff goes down to injury...

...or get a reanimated Babe Ruth to play in the outfield. Or keep him around just so Barry Bonds can spit on him. Eh, I've said my piece on him already. Rumor has it he might be investigated for steroid abuse in the past (go figure, right?), but I'm not sure what effect it'll have on him in terms of performance. It'll probably enhance his performance - oops, bad choice of words.

Projected Outfield:
RF: Moises Alou
CF: Randy Winn
LF: Barry Bonds

More information:
Barry Bonds
Randy Winn

Extra Stuff:

I like old jokes. There, I said it, and this is the only team I get to go to town on like that. Fun stuff.

There are two keys to the Giants success this year. Both, not surprisingly, are related to peopel getting older. The first is the maturation of the young pitchers - if Lowry and Cain can show significant progress, the odds that Bonds and company can string together enough offense to make this team at the worst competitive in the division is pretty high. What will help even more is if not everyone in the lineup falls apart - perhaps literally. If there was ever a team where hip replacement surgery was a potential concern, this is it right here.

All things equal, the NL West isn't really strong. Everything progresses as normal and these guys will be in it until the end.

Cincinnati Reds: an Oncoming Train.

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Starting Pitching:

So I'll start with the lone bright spot in the entire pitching universe that's the Reds. Aaron Harang really isn't that bad. Put Harang in a nicer ballpark to pitchers and a halfway decent defense behind him and he'd actually not be half bad. Toss him down to the third spot in the rotation and I think you'd have a breakout candidate. Unfortunately, he has none of those things and he's going up against the other team's ace. Yeouch.

Now, I'll be honest. I want all teams to have bright spots, I want all teams to have a good, surprising future. But part of me just loves to tear into bad management decisions. For example, who thought it was a brilliant idea to sign the #5 starter for the Pirates and put him in as a #2? As a #5 goes, Dave Williams wasn't too bad (4.41 ERA, actually under 4 as of late August), but as a #2, that's downright scary. What's scarier is that there are 3 pitchers evidently worse than him.

So you're Dan O'Brien. You just saw Eric Milton go 14-6 with a 4.75 ERA for the Phillies in 2004 - and give up 43 HR (43!). What do you do? You sign him to a 3-year deal! Not surprisingly, the Human Meatball Maker went 8-15 with a 6.47 ERA last year, lower than anyone else in MLB with over 45 K's that's not named Kevin Brown. Oh yeah - he also gave up 40 HR. Who saw that coming? Oh yeah - here's another number. .307 BA against righties last year. Light me up!

Compared to Milton, Brandon Claussen shines like a beacon in the night. Granted, his last season was virtually identical to Dave Williams' last season, but he's 1) younger and 2) not coming off a season as the #5 and moving to the #2. I really don't have much in the way of problems with him, truthfully. It's just that he's too close to the Giant Vortex of Suck for my liking.

Anyone else remember when Paul Wilson was supposed to become somebody? Jason Isringhausen, Bill Pulsipher, and Paul Wilson were supposed to be the Trifecta of dominance in New York. Never worked out - all of them flamed out to some degree, and Izzy is obviously the most successful. At least Wilson still has a job - although I'm unsure how much of a job that if you sport a 7.77 ERA for as long as he has. At least he's holy.

Rough Rotation Guess:
"Ace": Aaron Harang
2nd: Dave Williams
3rd: Eric Milton
4th: Brandon Claussen
5th: Paul Wilson

More information:
Aaron Harang

Bullpen / Closer:

The hit parade continues! Not surprisingly, these guys don't have a solidifed closer. David Weathers was the closer du jour last year, and he'll be in the mix along with Todd Coffey, Chris Hammond, Ryan Wagner, Kent Mercker, the hot dog guy, Bob Uecker, Eddie Gaedel, the cyrogenically frozen head of Ted Williams, Grover Cleveland (they've exhumed him), and that hot girl that lives down the street from you that you've been wanting to ask out for a while but haven't quite gotten up the nerve to ask yet. (She throws a mean slider.)

Weathers is probably their best option (read: the only guy who can strike people out consistently without having an ERA in the stratosphere), although rumor has it Coffey actually isn't half bad. I figure it'll be a tossup going into the year between those two, although I'm halfway tempted to suggest Brian Shackleford as well, since he was the only guy to approach unhittable as well as the only reliever with an ERA under 3.5. It was under 2.5, too!

I'll put it simply. Good bullpens look pretty simple. Bad bullpens have 13 guys in them right now. That make sense?

Rough Bullpen Guess:
Closer: Todd Coffey
8th: David Weathers
7th: Kent Mercker
Sit. Right: *throws dart* uh... Rick White
Sit. Lefty: Brian Shackleford
Mop-up: Matt Belisle


At last! Some semblance of a bright light! Jason LaRue and Javier Valentin were actually a pretty good catching tandem last year - I have no earthly idea if they'll be able to repeat it again, but since this lineup is more or less loaded, they'll certainly either see 1) absolute junk or 2) pitches to hit. Either way, they'll see 81 games worth of it in a bandbox, and that's got to count for something, right?

Adam Dunn not only is one hell of a power hitter, but he walks a lot, too. Strikes out a ton (that breeze you felt a minute ago is from him striking out again), but when he hits it, good things happen. Although I can't help but be slightly troubled that his KAvg is greater than his BAvg, but oh well.

Edwin Encarnacino is a poor man's David Wright - remember how Miguel Tejada was overlooked when Nomar, A-Rod, and Jeter came up? That's Edwin - the Tejada of the young 3B. I also can't claim originality for that argument, but it's a good one anyway, and I'll gleefully steal it since I linked it. Hah!

Felipe Lopez FINALLY had that breakout season last year, and it's about time. It was either him or Rich Aurilia - good thing for the Reds, no? He'll probably regress a little bit, but not too badly, I think.

Of course, it's the Reds. Tony Womack's got the lead - either him or Rich Aurilia - on the second base job. Who gets shafted? Speedster Ryan Freel, who's better than both of them. Go Reds!

Projected Infield:
C: Jason LaRue
1B: Adam Dunn
2B: Tony Womack
SS: Felipe Lopez
3B: Edwin Encarnacion

More information:
Adam Dunn
Edwin Encarnacion
Felipe Lopez


The outfield - in general - is a congregation of potential and questions. In right field, Austin Kearns - who's supposed to be an Adam Dunn-lite kind of player - hasn't played a season entirely healthy yet. If he can stay healthy, then that'll be great for the team. Unfortunately, his defensive work in right hovers around the area of "pretty bad". That being said, he's not the worst defender in the outfield.

That honor goes to Wily Mo Pena - who actually doesn't have anything major going against him, aside from his atrocious outfield defense. Great power, though, with a decent average. This'll be his first season that he has the entire season's worth of right to himself, though.

In center is probably one of the best stories of 2005. Ken Griffey, Jr. finally had a healthy season. He's not quite the same player he was back in the late '90s - injuries and age are starting have been eating at him for years now - but you could do a lot worse offensively. However, the saddest part about this is his world-class defense is now somewhere around bad, even though in this outfield, it's probably the best they have.

So what happens if either Kearns or Griffey go down to injury? Well, Dunn can switch to the outfield, and Freel can play out there too if needed. Scott Hatteberg would fill in at first if that happens.

Projected Outfield:
RF: Austin Kearns
CF: Ken Griffey, Jr.
LF: Wily Mo Pena

More information:
Austin Kearns
Wily Mo Pena

Extra Stuff:

Last verse, same as the first. Are they ever going to get a staff to go with this offense? They've evidently been involved in recent talks with the Red Sox for Brandon Arroyo, which is like bailing out a battleship with one bucket of water. I don't think Arroyo is that front-line starter they need; at best, he'll go somewhere in the middle of the rotation, but any scenario that involves Eric Milton out of the rotation can't be all bad, right? Of course, another thing that's not helping the pitching is the defense. Pretty bad all around.

They'll be exciting to watch on offense, though, that's for sure. I expect fun things when they're at the plate, and some pretty horrible things out in the field. In this division, it's tough to find 4 power hitters like these guys have, even if 3 of them are more or less in the same mold (and Griffey's getting there soon, too, sadly). That's assuming everyone stays healthy, though - it'd probably be best not to talk about what 2 or 3 key injuries would do to this team.

Even with this offense, it's tough to see these guys doing much more than being the division doormat. Their pitching is so bad that it's not even funny - when the Pirates are fielding an ace that's better than your guy, that's a sign of concern.

Monday, March 13

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Light at the End of the Tunnel.....

Head back to the home discussion

Starting Pitching:

So there's good news here and there's bad news. The good news is that the potential upside of the rotation is fairly high. The bad news is that the actual results probably aren't going to come close to the potential. Most of the potential rests in the 1 and 3 pitchers. Zack Duke should improve on what was already a surprisingly good 2005 campaign, and is one of the few bright spots that the team has at the moment. He doesn't strike out a lot, but he gets a lot of ground ball outs, and even if he's not fantastic this year, he'll be great in 2007. (Yup, that's the Pirates right now - what 2006 season?)

The other big question is if Oliver Perez can return to his 2004 form. If he can, the Pirates will have a pretty solid 1-2 combination, although there's certainly nothing to write home about. It'll at least help them stay afloat in a packed division. If Perez is in '05 form, though.. ouch. Careful.

Of course, having Ollie and Duke as 1-2 isn't going to happen. Why? 'cause it's the Pirates, and they seem to want to throw out the human fire himself, Kip Wells, as the second starter. I guess there is something to be said for having a 5.08 ERA going every 5th day - it gives your offense plenty of opportunity to work on playing from behind. They're paying $4.15 million this year for that, by the way.

I'll be honest - I initially expected Paul Maholm to be the 5th starter. However, he's evidently the 4th starter in this rotation, which knocks his worth down a bit. I figured that he'd be sneaky in the 5th role and take one of the "better than you think" awards from the mantle, but now he's hanging on an "open season" tag. You can pretty much apply that same mantra to Sean Burnett as well.

Rough Rotation Guess:
Ace: Oliver Perez
2nd: Kip Wells
3rd: Zack Duke
4th: Paul Maholm
5th: Sean Burnett

More information:
Oliver Perez
Zack Duke

Kip Wells

Closer / Bullpen:

So here's the news that might shock you a little bit. This bullpen - at least the upper level of it - isn't too bad. Mike Gonzalez is actually quite good - solid ERA, good K rate, decent WHIP - although this will be his first year as the pure closers. As for the rest of these guys, the best two relievers they have are both old, but surprisingly effective.

It remains to be seen if Roberto Hernandez can duplicate his success from last season, but if he can, the Pirates will have a pretty dependable option. On top of that, Salomon Torres - who logged a lot of innings last year, but had a good ERA and WHIP to go with it - will play around at the end of the game, whenever the Pirates need it. Damasco Marte brings the strikeouts - and the hits. Lots of hits.

Rough Bullpen Guess:
Closer: Mike Gonzalez
8th: Salomon Torres
7th: Roberto Hernandez
Sit. Right: Damasco Marte (even though he's a lefty)
Sit. Lefty: John Grabow
Mop-up: Ian Snell

More information:
Mike Gonzalez (with a little bit of everyone)


Sadly, this team just gets more depressing the further down the line you go (with one exception). In the middle of the infield, we've got a couple of defensive intangible guys (read: can't hit worth shit) in Jose Castillo and Jack Wilson. To be fair, Wilson had a surprisingly good offensive season back in 2004, but if you put faith in that being a repeat appearance, well, you're nuts. Sorry. Castillo can at least blame youth.

So there's got to be some power at the corner positions, right? Not so much. Sean Casey comes over from the Reds, but he was kind of the other guy for a while there - he's got average, that's for sure, so he'll be on base plenty for Jason Bay to drive in. That's not a bad position to be in, to be fair, but it's also not quite what was expected of him - just don't expect too much from him and you'll be okay. The problem is that in this lineup, he could hit third.

Joe "Serviceable" Randa forms the other end of the ex-Red continuum. His middle name pretty much describes it. On a more personal note, I did get a chance to see Randa when he came up through the minor leagues and the Royals still had a AA team in Memphis. Good times - he hit next to Joe Vittello in the lineup (although I have no clue if I'm spelling his name right). I'm kind of glad to see that he's done well for himself - he's never really been a superstar, but he's always hung around.

The only thing that might be construed as a "bright spot" in the infield is Ryan Doumit behind the plate, and that's just his bat. Boy can't field at the major league level, so they might pull a Craig Wilson with him. (I'll cover what a Craig Wilson is here in a minute.)

Projected Infield:
C: Ryan Doumit
1B: Sean Casey
2B: Jose Castillo
SS: Jack Wilson
3B: Joe Randa

More information:
Jack Wilson (warning: rose-colored glasses)


So what's a Craig Wilson? Well, he's a backup outfielder / first baseman. Why? 'cause he could hit decently, but couldn't hold the glove at all behind the plate, so they shipped him out where they could use his bat. Now, since he's playing for the Pirates, he's a dual backup.

Who's he behind in right? The old-school human fan, Jeromy Burnitz. You know what you're getting with him - power. A good amount of it, too. Accept the strikeouts and the .250ish average and you'll be okay. He's not bad to have, really, especially when you need power as badly as this team.

Chris Duffy makes his first real extended period of starting in the majors in center here. While that sounds exciting - prospects ahoy! - he's 26. Not so much, although you never know.

So here's the bright spot of the Pirates organization - Jason Bay. Buried somewhere among the mediocrity is one of the only 30/20 guys in the majors last year - and guess who just turned 27? Think of him as the Bobby Abreu you've never heard of (or interchangeable with him, if you have heard of him), and if that still confuses you, the younger, less speedy incantation of Bonds. Minus the juice. I think. I hope.

Projected Outfield:
RF: Jeromy Burnitz
CF: Chris Duffy
LF: Jason Bay

More information:
Jason Bay
Chris Duffy

Extra Stuff:

I really feel for these guys - seriously. Remember I'm a Nats / Expos fan, so I'm used to suffering. I empathize well with it, and these guys remind me of the late '90's with the Expos where you would tune in (relatively speaking) to watch Vladmir Guerrero, a healthy Jose Vidro, and the ace du jour and that was about it. That's these guys.

They're gonna get hammered by the rest of the division, except for maybe the Reds, and I'll cover why in that preview. They simply don't have the hitting or pitching to keep up with them, although if new manager Jim Tracy greenlights everyone, they could be fun to watch on offense, at least. Except for Sean Casey, who's slower than dirt.

Bottom line? Come back next year.

Saturday, March 11

Arbitrary Decisions

Okay, I'm cutting the "Fantasy Value" section from the rest of my team capsules. Why? Well, for one, most of the "more information" links talk about possible fantasy values in the first place. Beyond that, though, I don't like the way they flow. It just seems a little choppy to me, not to mention that - at least in my head, the way I see things, I'm basically rehashing what I've already said during the slightly more in-depth preview sections right above it anyway. If there's some major reason to keep that section in, let me know, but for now, I'm gonna toss it. There should be enough information on my thoughts in the regular section (and in writing all these down, I have yet to really make a new insight in the value section anyway).

On a slightly more interesting note, I've also decided to take on the project of evaluating the effectiveness of each team's middle relief corps. I figure that I don't know them very well to begin with, so by doing this, I get to understand them more. Plus, they're kind of neglected (and to boot, I don't know of anywhere that's doing this sort of thing). It won't slow me down that much from my original massive plan, actually - since I'm doing the research already, I just spend a few more minutes on that section - but I'll have to go back and do the other teams I've already finished at some point. Oh well, no big deal.

Milwaukee Brewers: Bright Lights, Small City

Head back to the home discussion

Starting Pitching:

Well, here's the first major problem that the Brewers have - and this is a situation that will get updated through the year. Anyway, as of now, Ben Sheets is injured again. This isn't good news for an organization that pretty much needs him at the front end of the rotation to stay competitive in this division. If he's healthy, he's at least on par with any of the other aces in the league.

After that, things don't tail off as much as you'd think. Chris Capuano had an amazing season last year, so while Brewers faithful obviously hope that he repeats that same magic (as does Brewers management, slotting him in the 2-hole this year), I personally find it a little bit silly to think he'll do that. Personally, I'd slot him in at 3 and move Doug Davis up to the second spot. As for Davis, he's got surprisingly good numbers - think of him like a better version of the current Greg Maddux. I know, it sounds odd, but he puts up good strikeout numbers, a fair amount of solid periphials, and all in all is a pretty average guy in the 2 spot, but above average in the 3.

The back end of the rotation isn't horrid, either. Tomo Okha was a Nationals castoff - but this doesn't mean that he sucks, oddly enough. The Nationals just really, really like casting off serviceable pitchers, it would seem. Not exactly something I'd want to hang my hat on as an organization, but there you go. The Okha / David Bush combination is certainly no worse than what you'll find at the tail end of most rotations, and actually might be slightly better than average - and is certainly in the top half of this division. Now, if Sheets is down and Rick Helling needs to step in, forget I said any of that.

Rough Rotation Guess:
Ace: Ben Sheets
2nd: Chris Capuano
3rd: Doug Davis
4th: Tomo Ohka
5th: David Bush

Fantasy Value:

Shockingly enough, I like all these guys (except for Capuano, who's going to be overrated). Granted, that only matters if Sheets is healthy, but you get the idea. If he's healthy, then he'll provide a solid front-of-the-rotation anchor. Davis, again, is better than average but also consistently forgotten. Ohka and Bush are better late / deep / NL only plays, but not too bad.

More information:
Chris Capuano
Doug Davis
Ben Sheets

Closer / Bullpen:

Again, the theme here seems to be way better than you think. Derrick Turnbow emerged out of relatively nowhere to be an incredibly solid closing option (probably the third best in the division behind Lidge and Izzy), and the guys leading up to him aren't bad, either. Dan Kolb returns after a rough year in Atlanta, but this time he'll be doing setup work. Matt Wise will also be doing setup work, and he's pretty solid stuff.

Rough Bullpen Guess:
Closer: Derrick Turnbow
8th: Matt Wise
7th: Dan Kolb
Sit. Right: Jose Capellan
Sit. Lefty: Lorge de la Rosa
Mop-up: Rick Helling

Fantasy Value:

Well, Turnbow's a closer. You do the math. Beyond that, Wise - again - is a MR that nobody's really heard of that'll put up some really good numbers for you; think a poor man's Scot Shields (and if you have no idea who that is, hang on, I'll get to him), although he's probably still a tick below the Wheelers of the universe. As for Kolb, he's a total wildcard. No idea - wait until the regular season.

More information:
Jose Capellan (!)
Derrick Turnbow
Matt Wise


The youth movement has arrived. This should be an exciting year to watch the offense develop. Prince Fielder - yes, he's related to Cecil, and if you saw him, you'd already know that - was handed the keys to the first base position after the offseason trade of Lyle Overbay. He'll have some growing pains, but on the whole, it should be a fun ride.

His partner on that side of the diamond is another highly touted hot prospect in Rickie Weeks. Granted, at this point giving Weeks the "prospect" label is kind of demeaning, but still - he's young and he's good. His average should improve from last year, as should the rest of his numbers. Great power/speed combination. J.J. Hardy is, shockingly enough, a shortstop who doesn't run. Quietly not that bad, either.

Third base will have some combination of supersub Bill Hall and Corey Koskie. Both guys are vets, so it's not like the Brewers are starting all rookies this year. Of course, Hall will sub in all over the diamond, except for first.

Another vet - Damian Miller - will spend the majority of the time behind the plate for the Brew Crew. He's pretty average, except for the fact his first name is Damian.

Projected Infield:
C: Damian Miller
1B: Prince Fielder
2B: Rickie Weeks
SS: J.J. Hardy
3B: Corey Koskie

Fantasy Value:

In a keeper league? Fielder or Weeks avaiable? Do what you need to do. If you're not in a keeper, they'll still be worthwhile. Hardy is a decent play in deeper leagues, and if you think Koskie will be worthwhile, go for it. Evidently Brew Crew Ball is on a Free Koskie campaign. Make of that what you will.

More information:
Prince Fielder
J.J. Hardy
Rickie Weeks


Carlos Lee is fantastic - great semi-veteran middle of the lineup RBI machine. He's the offensive anchor. Geoff Jenkins was above average (when he was healthy) back in the late '90's; however, age and the aforementioned injuries have taken a toll on his body. I figure that at this point, he's pretty much Joe Generic Outfielder. As for Brady Clark, he's 33, so he's on the decline, but should provide a decent power/speed combination. Corey Hart (not the '80's guy) will run around as backup for everyone.

Projected Outfield:
RF: Geoff Jenkins
CF: Brady Clark
LF: Carlos Lee

Fantasy Value:

All of them, in some capacity. Lee if you need RBIs, Clark if you need a combination, Jenkins if you need a warm body on your bench. He could start in deeper leagues.

More information:
Brady Clark
Corey Hart
Carlos Lee

Extra Stuff:
If you haven't been able to tell yet, I really like this team going forward in this season. At the very least, they'll be a lot of fun to watch, but for the Brewers, the future is now. So the question then is what could derail it?

Well, injuries to your ace for one. They have depth in the rotation, but the depth isn't good depth - it's just a bunch of warm bodies. If Sheets is down for an extended period of time, the rotation will struggle, and while the bullpen can take care of any close games, they might not have that many winnable games if their pitchers are serving up a bunch of meatballs.

Still, though, they have what it takes to compete in this division - which is why it's the toughest one in baseball. Someone's going to get beaten up - and these guys came on hard at the end of last year. Impressive, if you ask me.

Thursday, March 9

Chicago Cubs: Wait 'til This Year?

Head back to the home discussion

Starting Pitching:

Well, it finally happened - about two years after I had mentally made the switch, but hey, it did happen. Carlos Zambrano (aka the only one of the Big Three who hasn't been injured the last few years) is finally the ace. Quite frankly, it's about time - he's done quite well these last few years, and with him as the ace, the staff shouldn't totally implode if injuries occur. That is, if he can stay healthy - always debatable under Dusty Baker.

Mark Prior, if healthy, will be the 2-hole starter. He's got better stuff, but the poor kid seems to be cursed somehow; he's gone down with some kind of weird injury for the last few seasons now. Maybe this year Baker will just work him to death - at least that's a rational, normal injury. Not that it's anything to be happy about, but it's a start.

Immortal / really old guy / still decent pitcher Greg Maddux will take the 3 spot. He's not what he used to be, but he's good for 6 innings of quality, keep-you-in-the-game ball whenever he takes the mound, and he'll win 15 for you. Besides, at this point, he's smart. Wise. Whatever you want to call it.

Now, the back end of the rotation is interesting. Jerome Williams has inexplicably been a favorite of mine, although there's no reason to think that he's substantially better than a lot of the other 5th starters out there. Maybe I just like the name. Glendon Rusch, on the other hand, from what I remember about him, sucks. He was above average last year, but ...yeah, far as I'm concerned, he sucks. Of course he's starting above Jerome.

Rough Rotation Guess:
Ace: Carlos Zambrano
2nd: Mark Prior
3rd: Greg Maddux
4th: Glendon Rusch
5th: Jerome Williams

Fantasy Value:

I have this nagging feeling that Zambrano's arm is going to fall off this year. It's just me, though. Maddux will provide good WHIP numbers but have an ERA way higher than the WHIP should indicate. It's odd - or he's just meatball-prone. Prior is anyone's guess at this point in time, but I'd sell. Jerome is a good deep league / NL only pick, and I wouldn't touch Rusch with a 20-foot pole.

More information:
Mark Prior
Jerome Williams

Closer / Bullpen:

Well, as of now, Ryan Dempster's still the closer. However, that elephant in the room over there is Kerry Wood rolling with the bullpen squad this season. Who knows what that means, other than he might make a transition to closer later on - and watch out if Dempster struggles out of the gate. This might not end well.

As for the rest of the bullpen, Michael Wuertz and Scott Williamson are the Guys You've Heard Of. Wuertz is solid, Williamson is not. Someone will snag the situational roles - and at least half these guys are not going to get as much work as you'd think. Just saying.

Rough Bullpen Guess:
Closer: Ryan Dempster
8th: Michael Wuertz
7th: Kerry Wood
Sit. Right: Todd Wellemeyer
Sit. Lefty: Will Ohman
Mop-up: Kerry Wood (why not?)

More information:
Ryan Dempster
Kerry Wood


The corner positions are, to put it mildly, stacked. Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez provide probably the best corner positions in the division (debatable depending on how well Rolen does, but if not the best, then the second best), and with the depth of this division, that's saying a lot. Best in the division also means best in the league.

Michael Barrett is pretty consistent - you'll get about what you expect from him, not a whole lot more, not a whole lot less. He won't be behind the plate when Maddux pitches (that's Henry Blanco's job), which also means he'll stay fresh most of the season.

As for the middle infield, Todd Walker is a good average, some random smattering of power, and that's about it right now. Ronny Cedeno didn't exactly get a whole lot of exposure in 2005, so he's a wildcard - and quite a young one at that. For now, i wouldn't expect the world of him.

Projected Infield:
C: Michael Barrett
1B: Derrek Lee
2B: Todd Walker
SS: Ronny Cedeno
3B: Aramis Ramirez

Fantasy Value:

Again, D-Lee's pretty much studly, and A-Ram's not far behind. Beyond that, Barrett is an above league-average catcher, basically meaning he'll be available late when everyone's filling up that spot. Walker is - at least in my eyes - a NL only / deep league pick. I wouldn't touch Cedeno unless I had to.

More information:
Michael Barrett


The outfield is entirely retooled this year... well, with the partial exception of Matt Murton. He's the homegrown guy in the outfield, and he should do better offensively, with a stronger lineup (at least on paper) around him.

Jacque Jones (I swear, his first name looks truncated to me) is the new right fielder. Good, solid power/speed combination that Corey Patterson was supposed to be, but failed miserably at. If you can't get it home-grown, guess you have to pay market value for it, huh?

Juan Pierre is the guy who's actually taking C-Pat's spot in the outfield. He's pretty much the same guy he's always been - plus average, high speed, the usual prototypical non-power center fielder.

Oh, and I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the possible presence of Felix Pie in the outfield in the near future. Not right now, though.

Projected Outfield:
RF: Jacque Jones
CF: Juan Pierre
LF: Matt Murton

Fantasy Value:

Well, Jones and Pierre are going to be a little more valuable than they were last year (since they'll have an offense around them now - can't underestimate the usefulness of that). Murton shouldn't be a bad option, but the true long-term benefit here lies in Pie.

More information:
Matt Murton

Extra Stuff:

If these guys stay healthy this year, watch out. They have just as much, if not more, pure talent than anyone else in the division, but health has always seemed to be a concern with these guys. I'm not entirely convinced they'll stay healthy (past performance / future results, that sort of thing), but if they do, you heard it here first.

One thing that will help is the offense is much more dynamic this year than in past years. This gives the Cubs a lot more room for pitching error and/or injury. Sounds goofy, but hey, it's Dusty. *cue theme music*

The Cubs' biggest problem (besides pitchers getting killed left and right), ironically enough, isn't their fault at all. They're in the deepest division in baseball, and as always seems to be the case, some team that's way more talented than they'd appear to be will suffer as a result of this. When you think of suffering, what team comes to mind? (No, not the Expos. I'm the only one who thinks that.) That's right, the Cubs. Then again, it's been 2 straight World Series droughts that have ended in the last two years, so anything could happen. Right?

Barry Bonds: Magnet

What if it came out that Tony Gwynn did steroids? That would blow a lot of people's minds. Here's this media darling, one of the most liked players to be around, by all accouncts great to around - and a juiceer. Mild shock and disapproval would probably be an understatement. It'd be like someone ran over your dog.

So then, if it comes out that Barry Bonbds is juicing, why is the general response, "I hope that prick burns"? Is it because for a long period of time (i.e., most of his career), he's been perceived as a jackass? Granted, it's not like he's helped his case witht he constant denials in the face of mounting evidence that's said yes, he has been juicing (and for a while now). When your HR/AB ratio doubles (or is halved, whatever - from16.1 to 8.5), that's going to raise some questions. He's pretty much screwed either way.

Seriously, if you're him, what would you do? Opening your mouth and saying that yes, these allegations are right kills any legacy you might have. Your critics get to jump on a soapbox and say that they knew all along. Shame abounds. Of course, you could deny the rumors and allegations again. Then your critics get to say you're denying and hiding the truth, and a few more of your supporters might start to wonder a little bit, too. Your critics not only call you a cheating jackass, but a lying, cheating jackass. That's a winning situation, too.

There's a third option, though. You can just outright refuse to comment and not allow your critics any more ammo. It sounds like the safest of the plans at first. Buy then your critics will say you're hiding from the issue because you know the truth - you juiced. Not only that, you liked those nasty things. Meanwhile, your supporters start to wonder if the critics are right - you are hiding something. Basically, it doesn't matter what you do; it's open season.

Here's the major issue with Bonds. He's such a polarizing figure that it's hard not to care one way or another. In other words, there pretty much are only two camps to pick from - and the critic camp is growing larger and more vocal. If he was some random decent to good player, nobody would care this strongly. However, it's precisely because he's so good that everyone cares so much. As his legend grows larger, so does the desire of those that want to see him either succeed or fail. It's how the game works. You don't play as long as he has without being aware of that on a daily basis.

So then the question becomes what happens if he's found guilty of this. If we're just going by the court of public opinion, then he's been found guilty (although some would argue the jury's still hung). The punishment for his crimes? The lightest is a commuted sentence (he did it along with everyone else). The harshest is an expunging from the record books entirely. Somewhere in the middle falls the dreaded asterisk crowd. It's tough not to fall into one of those 3 camps.

Here's the thing, though - regardless of where anyone stands on the issue, they'll follow him. They'll follow for one of two reasons - they want to see him fail, thus validating their beliefs, or they want success, as an elegant "screw you" to his critics. After all, it's hard not to get caught up in this Bondsian wake. It does cover everything related to baseball - drugs, hero worship, performance on and off the field, character, you name it. Not only is everyone attracted to the idea of Bonds, they're also on one side of the fence. Bonds is baseball's magnet.