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2016 MLB thread. THE CUBS HAVE BROKEN THE CURSE! Chicago Cubs are your 2016 World Series champions. - Page 93

post #2761 of 77305
IPK at 20 wins smiley: eek.
post #2762 of 77305
IPK at 20 wins smiley: eek.
post #2763 of 77305
Current Favorites for Fielder

PLEASE LET THIS HAPPEN!!!!
post #2764 of 77305
Current Favorites for Fielder

PLEASE LET THIS HAPPEN!!!!
post #2765 of 77305
Papelbon came in during the 8th for a 5 out save (protecting a 5-4 lead with one man on). He ends up loading the bases in the process. This dummy thought it would be a good idea to throw 19 straight fastballs. My favorite-marginal player, Robert Andino, smokes a bases-clearing double to put the O's up 7-5. The crew is trying to gift-wrap this one for the Sox too. Real questionable calls/strike zone all night. Hopefully, the o's can hang on.
post #2766 of 77305
Papelbon came in during the 8th for a 5 out save (protecting a 5-4 lead with one man on). He ends up loading the bases in the process. This dummy thought it would be a good idea to throw 19 straight fastballs. My favorite-marginal player, Robert Andino, smokes a bases-clearing double to put the O's up 7-5. The crew is trying to gift-wrap this one for the Sox too. Real questionable calls/strike zone all night. Hopefully, the o's can hang on.
post #2767 of 77305
Prince to the Mariners is exactly what that franchise needs. I don't know if that's a place he'd want to go though.
VIKINGS | TIMBERWOLVES | TWINS | MARINERS | HUSKIES | SHARKS
Reply
VIKINGS | TIMBERWOLVES | TWINS | MARINERS | HUSKIES | SHARKS
Reply
post #2768 of 77305
Prince to the Mariners is exactly what that franchise needs. I don't know if that's a place he'd want to go though.
VIKINGS | TIMBERWOLVES | TWINS | MARINERS | HUSKIES | SHARKS
Reply
VIKINGS | TIMBERWOLVES | TWINS | MARINERS | HUSKIES | SHARKS
Reply
post #2769 of 77305
Thread Starter 
A Staff For the Ages.

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In December, the Philadelphia Phillies were revealed to be the notorious "mystery team" in the hunt for Cliff Lee, eventually signing the 2008 AL Cy Young winner to a five-year, $120 million contract. With Philly's rotation already containing Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, the hype surrounding the team's quartet of starting pitchers reached epic proportions. The hypemakers were wrong -- the Phillies' starters went on to exceed expectations.

After the inking of Lee, we took a look at the Philly front four using the ZiPS projection system. For the Fab Four, we came up with a projection of 19.8 WAR (wins above replacement), which would have given the Phillies the 13th-best top four starters in a rotation since the start of the divisional era in 1969.

As good as Philly's projections were going into the season, there appeared to be one weakness in the rotation: the fifth starter. Joe Blanton's 4.82 ERA in 2010 didn't match up to the standards of his rotation-mates, and Kyle Kendrick was serviceable but generally inconsistent. With Blanton sidelined in June, Philadelphia turned to Vance Worley, recalling the 2008 third-round pick from Lehigh Valley. (Worley had received a few spot starts and relief appearances earlier in the season.)

Worley proceeded to only allow two runs in 25 innings over his first four starts after being recalled, cementing his spot in the rotation. Generally believed to be a second-tier prospect and a future No. 4 starter in the majors, Worley has defied expectations, going 11-2, 2.85.

The initial reaction is to compare Worley to J.A. Happ, another Phillies starter who burst onto the scene with a 12-4, 2.93 record, good enough to finish second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2009. Happ's gone 12-19, 4.76 since then and now isn't even guaranteed a spot in Houston's woeful rotation.

But while Worley's repertoire won't stun scouts or fans, he'd doing one thing Happ did not -- he's actually pitching like a pitcher with a microscopic ERA. In Happ's rookie year, his K/9 rate was just above 6.0 and he walked too many batters, resulting in a FIP of 4.33, suggesting that he was way over his head. Worley, on the other hand, has a FIP of 3.15, just slightly above his 2.85 ERA, a strong indication that his performance this season is more indicative of how he'll pitch in the future.

So with a solid No. 5 starter in tow, the Phillies' top five starting pitchers have now combined for a 23.3 WAR. How does this stack up to other rotations in recent history? Once again, looking at rotations over the divisional era -- the modern rotation bears little resemblance to rotations from baseball's early days -- we can put Philadelphia's rotation into historical context. Looking at all teams' five most-frequent starters, the Phillies rank fourth since 1969, behind only the 1985 Mets, the 1969 Cardinals and the 1969 Cubs. With 10 games to go, if the rotation keeps up the pace, they'll make up the half-win needed to be the best rotation of the divisional era (see table).

That leaves the question: Can they do it again? To answer this question, I used the ZiPS projection system to generate preliminary projections for the 2012 season. After factoring in regression to the mean, injury risk and aging, ZiPS says a resounding "yes." While the Phils' big five are not projected to equal 2011's combined WAR, the 20.2 WAR combined projection would give the 2011-12 Phillies the best two-year rotation of the divisional era, edging out the 1969-70 Cubs rotation that featured Ferguson Jenkins and Ken Holtzman. Roy Oswalt's $16 million option and sore back are the biggest obstacles standing in Philly's way for next season.

The Phillies have dominated the National League East for the last few seasons. And if these projections are even remotely accurate, they're poised to do it again for at least one more year.



Playoff Rotations.

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FOR MONTHS NOW, New York Yankees fans have been buzzing about October. With the postseason clearly in reach, the team's clubhouse conversation has turned to the biggest decision left to be made: determining the playoff pitching rotation. Who is in it, and in what order, can make or break a World Series run and undo 162 games of stellar play.

You don't have to remind Yankees manager Joe Girardi about the importance of aligning his arms. Before the team won it all in 2009, he arranged his rotation so he had to use only three starters -- CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett -- the entire playoffs. His club's lack of pitching depth was never exposed.

This year, Girardi has a different challenge. Sabathia will get the ball in Game 1 of the opening series. Beyond that, the manager will have to choose among five options. Veteran reclamation projects Bartolo Colon (3.81 ERA) and Freddy Garcia (3.77 ERA) have been pleasant surprises, but they have been outpitched down the stretch by rookie Ivan Nova, who is 15-4. Phil Hughes dominated in 2010 and might have the most upside of the group when healthy, but he's battled shoulder woes and has a WHIP of almost 1.5.

Burnett (4.0 walks per nine) has become a punch line in the Bronx, but it was in that 2009 Fall Classic that he struck out nine to give the Yanks a series-tying Game 2 win against the Phillies. So does Girardi go with youth and recent regular-season success or playoff experience? "Nova is going to get Game 2," says one Yankees source, "and I can't see Burnett getting a start."

With the dearth of playoff races this year, the Yankees are joined by the Philadelphia Phillies, Detroit Tigers and Atlanta Braves as October-bound clubs who have had all of September to fret about their postseason rotations. "It's a delicate situation," says Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee. "Feelings are going to get hurt."

In Philly, everyone knows that Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are the top three, but if the team needs to go four deep, things get complicated. Rookie Vance Worley has a 2.85 ERA and recently completed a stretch during which the team won 14 straight games that he started. He seems like an obvious choice over vet Roy Oswalt, who has struggled with his changeup and has the lowest strikeout rate (6.1 per nine) of his career. But consider: Oswalt has the highest career winning percentage of any active pitcher after the All-Star break (.741); he won the clinching game in the 2005 NLCS, as well as series MVP; and he gave his team two stellar starts in last year's NLCS. If the Phillies end up siding with Oswalt, many inside the game would certainly understand why. "You pitch in Florida against the Marlins and there are 500 people in the stands," says Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell, "but when you play the Phillies, the park is packed an hour before game time. You have to figure out which pitcher is able to handle that environment."

McDowell and the Braves could be forced to rely on some inexperience if Tommy Hanson (sore shoulder) or Jair Jurrjens (bone bruise in right knee) can't return from the disabled list for the playoffs. While Atlanta would still have the October-tested Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe at the top of its rotation, rookies Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor would be next in line. Both have promising futures, but Chipper Jones knows that expecting them to come up big in October might be a bit much. "When in doubt, you err on the side of experience," says the Braves third baseman. "There are exceptions, but it doesn't matter how much poise you show through 162 games, the playoffs are a different animal. The game is really amped up then, and it can be overwhelming for guys who haven't been there." The Braves have shared Jones' philosophy during the course of his career: Not once in his 92 postseason games has a rookie hurler gotten the start.

Jones should know full well that experience can take you only so far. He spent much of his career on the same team as Hall of Fame-bound hurlers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine but has only one World Series ring to show for his 12 postseasons. Why? Curt Schilling has a theory. "You win in the playoffs with power stuff," says the 2001 World Series MVP. "That's why Maddux and Glavine weren't as great in the postseason as they were during the regular season."

A lack of power pitching could be the problem in Detroit. Cy Young favorite Justin Verlander is the clear No. 1, but while Doug Fister has the next-best ERA, his career strikeout rate of 5.4 per nine suggests he's hittable. "I wouldn't even start Fister in the playoffs," says Schilling. The other choice to pair with Verlander at the top is Max Scherzer, who, while inconsistent, has fanned almost a man an inning in his career.

But Scherzer has a 7.80 ERA this year against the Yankees and Red Sox, two possible playoff opponents. The lesson? There's no easy answer.



Rangers putting it all together.

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There are loud baseball headlines these days. RED SOX FLIRTING WITH GREATEST SEPTEMBER COLLAPSE EVER. MARIANO RIVERA SETS SAVES RECORD. CLAYTON KERSHAW DOMINATES, AGAIN.

Buried somewhere deep below all of that conversation, there is a team finding a lot of solutions, gaining momentum, with almost everything falling into place as they prepare for the playoffs.

Soon the baseball world will be re-introduced to the Texas Rangers, who have steadily separated themselves from the Angels this month in the AL West, bolstered by the marked improvement of some of their young pitchers. Some of the solutions that are falling into place:

[+] EnlargeDerek Holland
Jim Cowsert/US PresswireDerek Holland has been pitching well as of late.

Derek Holland. The left-hander who is best known to casual baseball fans for his inability to throw strikes in a World Series game last year seems to be taking long strides toward dominance in the second half of this season. Over his last five starts, Holland has allowed six earned runs in 34.1 innings, with 34 strikeouts and 11 walks and just three homers -- and the first three of those outings were against the Angels, Red Sox and Rays. "In the minor leagues, Derek had plus fastball command -- he had gotten away from that at times -- but has really improved lately," Texas GM Jon Daniels wrote in an e-mail.

Holland was in command on Tuesday, in shutting down the Athletics.

Matt Harrison. He got a rest earlier this month from manager Ron Washington, and bounced back and threw a couple of nice outings against the Indians and Mariners. The Rangers have C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando in their rotation, and it's unclear who would make up the Texas rotation in the postseason -- but either way, Harrison would be a weapon in October, a left-hander to throw against the Yankees or the Red Sox. Harrison's "breaking ball has really started to come on," wrote Daniels. "His curveball was at its best this weekend in Seattle."

Adrian Beltre. He's been killing the ball since returning from the disabled list, hitting .357 with 11 extra-base hits in 70 at-bats, for an OPS of 1.116. In 458 at-bats this season, he's racked up 28 homers and 97 RBI, and he appears to be ready for October.

Michael Young. He's not going to win the MVP Award, but he should be listed somewhere in the Top 10 of the ballots, after his incredibly consistent season of 201 hits and 57 extra-base hits.

C.J. Wilson. He's got a 2.59 ERA in the second half of the season, while holding opposing hitters to a .217 batting average.

Mike Adams. Acquired from the Padres before the trade deadline, he's been good for the Rangers, posting an 0.92 WHIP, with 22 strikeouts in 20.2, in his 20 games for the Rangers.

Neftali Feliz. He had problems before the trade deadline, but the addition of Adams and Koji Uehara seemed to take pressure off of him, and he's allowed runs in just one of his last 17 outings.

And Mike Napoli has been one of the best values in the majors this year, thriving with the Rangers, who are tied with Detroit for the second-best record in the American League. It's possible they will host the Red Sox or Rays in the first round of the playoffs.

Nelson Cruz has been struggling at DH, but the Rangers will stick with him.

Brad Penny got hammered, as Tom Gage writes.

The Angels are running out of time, now that they are five games behind the Rangers.

Notables

Clayton Kershaw beat the Giants, again, and became the Dodgers' first 20-game winner since Ramon Martinez. Tim Lincecum says one of his goals going forward is to beat the Dodgers' left-hander, who has had a second half that has you wondering just how high his ceiling is, going forward -- he's had a 1.23 ERA, while going 11-1.

From ESPN Stats and Info, how Kershaw won:

A) Kershaw relied on his off-speed pitches on Tuesday. While he has normally thrown his changeup 5 percent of the time this season, 25 percent of Kershaw's pitches were changeups on Tuesday. Furthermore, 11 percent of his pitches were curveballs, compared to normally throwing 7 percent of curveballs in games this season.

B) Kershaw's 42 changeups and curveballs thrown was his highest total this season and he was able to be effective with it because he enticed Giants hitters to swing. When throwing the two pitches this season, Kershaw's swing percent has been 41 percent, but on Tuesday the percentage was 52 percent.

C) The change worked on Tuesday as four of his six strikeouts came using the two pitches. In addition, only one of Kershaw's six surrendered hits came off of either his curveball or changeup.

Kershaw has a very good chance to win the Cy Young Award. Over the last 40 years, there have been eight National League pitchers to finish the season in the top two in wins, ERA and strikeouts. Seven of them went on to win the Cy Young with the exception of Curt Schilling in 2001. The Cy Young went to his teammate Randy Johnson who topped the NL in strikeouts and ERA while finishing third in wins (one behind Schilling and Matt Morris).

On Tuesday, Kershaw became just the fifth NL lefty over the last 100 years to record 20 wins and 240 strikeouts in the same season. The others to do it are Randy Johnson, Fernando Valenzuela, Steve Carlton and Sandy Koufax.

From Elias: Lowest ERA vs. a single opponent, among active pitchers (min. 70 IP):
Mariano Rivera vs. White Sox -- 1.21
Clayton Kershaw vs. Giants -- 1.25
Chris Carpenter vs. Dodgers -- 1.52
Adam Wainwright vs. Astros -- 1.56

Imagine how different the Giants' season might have been if not for Kershaw's success against them. Arizona has full control of the NL West, with the D-Backs' magic number down to three, as Nick Piecoro writes. The Cy Young trophy for Kershaw could have an engraving of Kershaw with his foot on the neck of the Giants, writes Henry Schulman.

Top seed in AL: With an impressive win from Ivan Nova, the Yankees have all but clinched this spot. From ESPN Stats and Info, how Nova won:

A) Nova threw his fastball less often than he normally does. Fifty-three of his 103 pitches (51.5 percent) were fastballs, below his season average of 61.3 percent. Rays hitters were 3-for-14 in at-bats ending with Nova's fastball. Overall, hitters are hitting .196 in at-bats ending with Nova's fastball in September; they hit .297 against it before that.

B) Left-handed hitters were 2-for-11 against Nova, and he had success keeping the ball away from those hitters. Thirty-one of his 52 pitches to lefties (59.6 percent) were outside, above his season average of 50.9 percent entering Tuesday. Rays lefties were 0-for-5 in at-bats ending with an outside pitch from Nova.

C) Rays hitters were 1-for-15 against Nova with men on base, including two double plays.

D) Nova stayed out of hitters' counts. Fourteen of his 103 pitches (13.6 percent) came when he was behind in the count, his second-lowest percentage in a start this season.

Ivan Nova's win on Tuesday was his 12th straight win and all have come as a starter. That is the longest winning streak by a rookie starter since Larry Jansen of the 1947 Giants won 12 straight decisions.

Joe Girardi won't guarantee anything for A.J. Burnett.

AL wild card: The Red Sox suffered another wrenching loss, after trying to get three innings from Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon, but their magic number was reduced because of Tampa Bay's loss. Wade Davis and the Rays suffered a disappointing defeat. David Price is sore but will start on Friday, as scheduled.

Erik Bedard may get shifted in the rotation after his ugly performance on Tuesday, which taxed an already exhausted Red Sox bullpen.

From Elias: Erik Bedard's 51 pitches in third inning tied the MLB season-high for pitches in an inning this season. On April 22, Casey Coleman had 51 against the Dodgers in the third inning and on May 29, John Danks had 51 against the Blue Jays in the first inning.

Jonathan Papelbon blew his second save this season on Tuesday. Before that, he'd converted 25 straight save chances. Before Andino's hit, opponents were 0-for-7 vs. Jonathan Papelbon with the bases loaded this season, 4-for-47 against him for his career.

From Elias: The Red Sox used seven pitchers in their Tuesday loss to the Orioles. Since rosters expanded on September 1, the Red Sox have used at least five pitchers in a game nine times. So they have used at least five pitchers in 45 percent of their 20 games this month.

Clay Buchholz took another step in his comeback, throwing a simulated game, as Tim Britton writes.

NL wild card: The Braves bounced back from their wrenching loss, behind rookie Randall Delgado, and they were able to get a rest for their three primary relievers. Delgado's win was his first in the big leagues, as David O'Brien writes. Tommy Hanson is making progress, but time is working against him.

The Cardinals continue to roll, rallying to crush the Mets, as Andrew Keh writes. St. Louis got a big pinch-hit.

Matt Holliday isn't talking about his injury, which is keeping him out of the lineup.

No. 2 seed in NL: Shaun Marcum had another strong outing to tame the Cubs, and Milwaukee's magic number is down to three. Francisco Rodriguez did his job again, as Todd Rosiak writes.

No. 1 seed in NL: The Phillies have wrapped up a playoff spot, but they continue to deal with nagging injuries, the latest to Hunter Pence, who is dealing with some patellar tendinitis.

• Ozzie Guillen wants a decision soon on whether he'll get a contract extension. He seems to be working to create leverage when he really doesn't have any, given the fact he's under contract with the White Sox for another year. If Jerry Reinsdorf simply declines to give him an extension and refuses to allow Guillen to leave for the Marlins or some other team, then Ozzie would have two choices he could make on his own:

1. Return to manage another season.
2. Quit and leave baseball for a year.

There are only two gods that the manager knows, Guillen says: Jerry Reinsdorf, and God.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Bob Melvin got a three-year extension.

2. Dan O'Dowd is disappointed by what the Rockies did this season, but he is hoping to give Jim Tracy an extension. It's time for O'Dowd to take responsibility, writes Mark Kiszla.

3. Pedro Alvarez will not play at the outset of winter ball, Neal Huntington says.

4. Aramis Ramirez says he's ready to move on from the Cubs, as Paul Sullivan writes.

5. Every year is harder for Mariano Rivera to stay active as a player, as Tyler Kepner writes. One note about Rivera's talk of retirement: He's been musing about walking away for more than a decade, declaring a couple of times that his next contract would be his last. So, we'll see.

6. Gary Hughes is leaving the Cubs, and within the industry, there is an expectation he could resurface with the Marlins.

7. Jonathan Broxton's career with the Dodgers might be coming to an end, writes Elliott Teaford.

8. Javier Vazquez continues to indicate that he will retire, and take the Mike Mussina route.

9. It appears that Stephen Strasburg will make one more start, writes Adam Kilgore.

10. Lorenzo Cain was called up by the Royals.

11. The Mariners could open next season in Japan, writes Larry Stone.

12. Mike Hegan is leaving the broadcast booth.

Dings and dents

1. Pablo Sandoval might need surgery after the season.

2. Denard Span could be back in the Twins' lineup today.

Tuesday's games

1. Eric Hosmer did what he's been doing.

2. Anibal Sanchez got very little run support.

3. The Athletics were beaten up again, as Joe Stiglich writes.

4. The Rockies lost again, and are falling toward last place, writes Jim Armstrong.

5. The Nationals shut down the Phillies, twice.

6. Mat Latos was terrific.

7. Robert Andino was The Man for the Orioles, as Dan Connolly writes.

8. The Twins blew a lead, and their losing streak continues, as Joe Christensen writes.

9. The Pirates rode an early lead, as Michael Sanserino writes.

10. That's 101 losses and counting for the Astros.

11. The Indians split a doubleheader.



Kevin Towers should share credit for D'Backs.

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The Arizona Diamondbacks have to be the surprise team of the season; in a year when we kept hearing how Cleveland was "for real," or how Pittsburgh was in first place (for five minutes), or about the "JuggerNats," the Diamondbacks didn't get the national press but will be the only one of those teams to head to the postseason. Plaudits and awards will follow for manager Kirk Gibson and general manager Kevin Towers, but the players who are about to douse each other with champagne were largely in the organization before Towers even walked in the door.

Jerry Dipoto
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireThe mark Jerry DiPoto made in a short time is pretty significant.

To try to make this somewhat objective, I broke down the Diamondbacks' roster using FanGraphs' version of Wins Above Replacement, called fWAR for short. It's a single statistic that rolls up measures of offensive performance, defensive runs saved, runs created through baserunning, and an adjustment up or down depending on the player's position. I'm not arguing here that fWAR is any kind of exact measurement, but I believe it is directionally correct, and it's a useful metric for this type of superficial analysis.

Four of the biggest contributors to the Diamondbacks' success this year entered the organization prior to the hiring of Josh Byrnes as GM in November 2005. Justin Upton (6.8 fWAR, highest on the team) was the first overall selection in the 2005 Rule 4 draft, when Joe Garagiola Jr. was the GM and Mike Rizzo (now GM of Washington) was the scouting director. Stephen Drew (1.9 fWAR) was the 15th overall pick the year before. Miguel Montero (4.2) and Gerardo Parra (3.5, nearly half of which is from his defense) were signed as amateur free agents out of Venezuela in 2001 and 2004, respectively; Junior Noboa and Marlon Urdoneta were instrumental in both signings, as well as the signing of current Colorado Rockie Carlos Gonzalez. That's over 16 wins from four players who were in the system before July 2005 and would have still been there regardless of whom the Diamondbacks chose as GM last offseason.

Towers' acquisitions, individually or in total, haven't added up to that many wins. His biggest area of impact has, of course, been in the bullpen, where the Diamondbacks led the major leagues last year in kicking their fans in the groin. J.J. Putz (1.4) and David Hernandez (1.2) have led that turnaround; Hernandez's season has been particularly odd, with three horrendous outings accounting for 14 of the 24 runs he's allowed this season, and with 14 of the 16 batters he faced in those appearances reaching base safely and, obviously, scoring. Micah Owings, Zach Duke, Kam Mickolio and Rule 5 pick Joe Paterson have added up to just about a win and a half of value, although fWAR's adjustment to batting average on balls in play probably overstates the value of a below-average stuff guy like Duke.

Elsewhere, Aaron Hill turned into Rogers Hornsby after his trade from Toronto, adding 0.8 fWAR, along with the replacement-level John McDonald. But those gains have been largely offset by losses from free agents or minor trade targets who were terrible for Arizona: Russell Branyan, Sean Burroughs, Xavier Nady, Armando Galarraga, Melvin Mora, Jason Marquis and Aaron Heilman have been so bad that fWAR grades them out at below replacement level -- 2½ wins below it in aggregate. After adding in a few other minor acquisitions, we get a total of 4.5 net wins generated by Towers' signings and most of his trades at a cost of over $26 million in salary and option buyouts. That is, over 40 percent of the team's payroll went to add, if you're generous, just 5 percent more wins on the season.

A replacement-level team would typically win about 40 games over a full season, so where did all of Arizona's extra wins above replacement level come from? Most of them were already on the roster when Towers walked in the door last winter. Some of the credit goes to former GM Josh Byrnes, but the one constant for all of those other signings and acquisitions was Byrnes' second-in-command, Jerry DiPoto.

In three months in the big chair, Jerry DiPoto added more value than Kevin Towers has in 12 months, including a full offseason, and nearly as much value as we could ascribe to Byrnes among players on the current roster.

In DiPoto's brief time as interim GM last summer, he swung two big trades that will affect the franchise for the better for years to come. He traded Dan Haren for Joe Saunders (a mildly shocking 1.4 fWAR this year) and three prospects, one of whom, Tyler Skaggs, is among the top 50 prospects in baseball, while another, Pat Corbin, looks like he'll be a solid fourth or fifth starter down the road. He traded Edwin Jackson for Dan Hudson, a move that saved Arizona over $11 million but also netted a player who's been worth 6.0 full wins above replacement this year, in part because he's faced a soft slate of opponents but also because he's hitting .279/.313/.377, adding over a win of value above what he's generated in 210 above league-average innings of pitching. In three months in the big chair, DiPoto added more value than Towers has in 12 months, including a full offseason, and nearly as much value as we could ascribe to Byrnes among players on the current roster.

Under Byrnes, the Diamondbacks brought in Ian Kennedy (4.5) in the three-way trade that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, and added outfielder Chris Young in his first offseason as GM in a trade for Javier Vazquez. The team also added Ryan Roberts (3.5) as a minor league free agent and Kelly Johnson (1.4 before the trade) after he was non-tendered by Atlanta. And Arizona added Josh Collmenter, a 15th-round draft pick in 2007 by area scout Matt Haas (now with Florida) who was cross-checked only by Chad McDonald (now the Mets' scouting director) and selected by then-scouting director Tom Allison (now with Boston) in the same draft that landed top prospect Jarrod Parker.

None of this is to argue that praise for Towers lacks any merit; Towers did move to overhaul the bullpen, and whether Aaron Hill's resurgence is real or just a sample-size fluke, the added value goes on Towers' side of the ledger. But the credit he's going to receive should be spread around among other sources. The same is true for Byrnes, who made decisions with the help of DiPoto, Allison and other members of his inner circle, just as DiPoto did in his brief tenure as GM. Byrnes' name comes up for GM openings, although the "organizational advocacy" fiasco should serve as a cautionary tale to any owner considering him. On the other hand, I've written before that I believe Jerry DiPoto would make an excellent GM given the opportunity. He's been the runner-up twice in GM interview processes, in Seattle and Arizona, but it's rare that we can put any kind of tangible evidence behind anyone's advocacy of any particular GM candidate. DiPoto has a proven track record, including two major trades that look strong already from financial and baseball points of view, to go with his strong reputation as an analytical thinker, comfortable with traditional and modern schools of evaluation. This likely playoff appearance is as much a feather in DiPoto's cap as it is in Towers'.



Kiss Em Goodbye: Houston Astros.

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First up: the Houston Astros, who were the first team mathematically eliminated this year. It's time to kiss 'em goodbye.


Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: Top starting prospect Jordan Lyles held his own in Houston at age 20, Yankees offcast Mark Melancon earned saves despite a conspicuous lack of closer experience, second baseman Jose Altuve flirted with .400 in the minors and quickly became a fan favorite after his promotion, left fielder J.D. Martinez slugged at Double-A and didn't crater after bypassing Triple-A, and third baseman Jimmy Paredes impressively (though perhaps unsustainably) outperformed his Corpus Chrisi showing after relieving Chris Johnson of his duties. One benefit of having few sure things is that the Astros aren't burdened by many financial commitments beyond 2012, and with only one season remaining on his six-year, $100 million contract, it's finally safe to start the Carlos Lee free agency countdown clock. Finally, the Astros have underperformed their third-order record by almost eight wins, the largest margin of any team, which suggests that they could have some better luck in store even without much immediate help on the way.

Signs of disaster: The Astros weren't remotely good at anything this year, ranking in the bottom five in baseball in offense (.248 True Average), defense (.697 Defensive Efficiency), Fielding Independent Pitching (4.31), and Base Running Runs (-8.4 BRR). That's not surprising given that the team was almost entirely devoid of above-average players, let alone stars. Houston's most productive player, Hunter Pence, was worth just 2.7 WARP to them, among the 20 worst team-topping performances since 1950 -- and now he's playing right field for the Phillies. Off the field, owner Drayton McLane called a news conference to announce the sale of the team to Jim Crane on May 16, but doubts about Crane surfaced and the deal is still awaiting MLB approval. Hands-off ownership can aid a rebuilding movement, but ownership uncertainty rarely makes anything easier.

Signs you can ignore: Almost any stats accrued by a player with more than a few years of major-league experience. After years of pretending they could continue to compete with an aging nucleus, the Astros committed to a full remodeling by selling high on Pence, Michael Bourn and Jeff Keppinger this season. Unloading Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez would have made trading season even sweeter, and both players could be moved in the coming months. -- Ben Lindbergh, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

The Astros' decision to be sellers for the second consecutive summer turned out well for them, as they got some promising prospects for Pence and Bourn. Houston shouldn't stop there. GM Ed Wade should continue trade discussions regarding Rodriguez, his best starting pitcher, and stick with his long-term plan that is geared toward success in 2014 or 2015. Rodriguez, 32, has won at least 10 games for three straight years while averaging 8 strikeouts per 9. His ERA has never been above 3.60 during that span. Rodriguez has $10 million due in 2012, $13 million in 2013 and another club option for $13 million in 2014 that can be bought out for $2.5 million.

The Astros will have to wait this market out until C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle, the best lefties on the free agent market, have signed. Once that happens, the Astros can shop Rodriguez to the teams that missed the boat on Wilson and Buehrle. Here are some clubs that could have interest: Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Royals, Nationals, Marlins, Mets, Reds and Rockies.

The Astros' offseason bold move should be to continue the trading spree that started last July with Oswalt and Berkman and continued this summer with Pence and Bourn. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

Carlos Lee
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireAt long last, Carlos Lee's massive contract is almost finished.

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 80-82
The Astros are simply too light on major league talent to be a serious competitor. Altuve, one of the few things to go right, doesn't have a great deal of offensive upside, and none of Lee, Brett Wallace, or Martinez have good odds of being the solid middle-of-the order hitter they need to have a competent offense. There's a decent chance the team can cobble together a good bullpen, but only Rodriguez and Bud Norris have good odds of being league-average starters in 2011. Lyles still has a bright future, but to expect to see it in 2012 is speculative.

Worst-case scenario: 54-108
The Astros this year can claim a little bad luck, playing well under their Pythagorean record, but the 2011 Astros had the benefit of 205 games from Pence and Bourn. This situation is more likely to get worse than better given that the team is unlikely to make significant additions in the offseason and these projections assume the Astros keep Rodriguez. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

The Astros entered the year as one of the worst systems in baseball, despite dumping Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt at last year's trade deadline as they got little in return. Despite the pleasant surprises of Altuve and Martinez, the system was still well toward the bottom at midseason when the Astros dumped again, only this time they added some real prospects. In the Pence deal alone, right-hander Jarred Cosart and first baseman Jonathan Singleton became the top pitching and offensive prospect in the system, while pitchers Paul Clemens and Brett Oberholtzer, acquired from Atlanta as part of the Bourn deal, provide some much-needed depth. There is still plenty of work to be done in the Astros system, but those fresh faces, as well as a solid 2011 draft headed by first-round pick George Springer, finally has things moving in the right direction. -- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

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A Staff For the Ages.

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In December, the Philadelphia Phillies were revealed to be the notorious "mystery team" in the hunt for Cliff Lee, eventually signing the 2008 AL Cy Young winner to a five-year, $120 million contract. With Philly's rotation already containing Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels, the hype surrounding the team's quartet of starting pitchers reached epic proportions. The hypemakers were wrong -- the Phillies' starters went on to exceed expectations.

After the inking of Lee, we took a look at the Philly front four using the ZiPS projection system. For the Fab Four, we came up with a projection of 19.8 WAR (wins above replacement), which would have given the Phillies the 13th-best top four starters in a rotation since the start of the divisional era in 1969.

As good as Philly's projections were going into the season, there appeared to be one weakness in the rotation: the fifth starter. Joe Blanton's 4.82 ERA in 2010 didn't match up to the standards of his rotation-mates, and Kyle Kendrick was serviceable but generally inconsistent. With Blanton sidelined in June, Philadelphia turned to Vance Worley, recalling the 2008 third-round pick from Lehigh Valley. (Worley had received a few spot starts and relief appearances earlier in the season.)

Worley proceeded to only allow two runs in 25 innings over his first four starts after being recalled, cementing his spot in the rotation. Generally believed to be a second-tier prospect and a future No. 4 starter in the majors, Worley has defied expectations, going 11-2, 2.85.

The initial reaction is to compare Worley to J.A. Happ, another Phillies starter who burst onto the scene with a 12-4, 2.93 record, good enough to finish second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2009. Happ's gone 12-19, 4.76 since then and now isn't even guaranteed a spot in Houston's woeful rotation.

But while Worley's repertoire won't stun scouts or fans, he'd doing one thing Happ did not -- he's actually pitching like a pitcher with a microscopic ERA. In Happ's rookie year, his K/9 rate was just above 6.0 and he walked too many batters, resulting in a FIP of 4.33, suggesting that he was way over his head. Worley, on the other hand, has a FIP of 3.15, just slightly above his 2.85 ERA, a strong indication that his performance this season is more indicative of how he'll pitch in the future.

So with a solid No. 5 starter in tow, the Phillies' top five starting pitchers have now combined for a 23.3 WAR. How does this stack up to other rotations in recent history? Once again, looking at rotations over the divisional era -- the modern rotation bears little resemblance to rotations from baseball's early days -- we can put Philadelphia's rotation into historical context. Looking at all teams' five most-frequent starters, the Phillies rank fourth since 1969, behind only the 1985 Mets, the 1969 Cardinals and the 1969 Cubs. With 10 games to go, if the rotation keeps up the pace, they'll make up the half-win needed to be the best rotation of the divisional era (see table).

That leaves the question: Can they do it again? To answer this question, I used the ZiPS projection system to generate preliminary projections for the 2012 season. After factoring in regression to the mean, injury risk and aging, ZiPS says a resounding "yes." While the Phils' big five are not projected to equal 2011's combined WAR, the 20.2 WAR combined projection would give the 2011-12 Phillies the best two-year rotation of the divisional era, edging out the 1969-70 Cubs rotation that featured Ferguson Jenkins and Ken Holtzman. Roy Oswalt's $16 million option and sore back are the biggest obstacles standing in Philly's way for next season.

The Phillies have dominated the National League East for the last few seasons. And if these projections are even remotely accurate, they're poised to do it again for at least one more year.



Playoff Rotations.

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FOR MONTHS NOW, New York Yankees fans have been buzzing about October. With the postseason clearly in reach, the team's clubhouse conversation has turned to the biggest decision left to be made: determining the playoff pitching rotation. Who is in it, and in what order, can make or break a World Series run and undo 162 games of stellar play.

You don't have to remind Yankees manager Joe Girardi about the importance of aligning his arms. Before the team won it all in 2009, he arranged his rotation so he had to use only three starters -- CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte and A.J. Burnett -- the entire playoffs. His club's lack of pitching depth was never exposed.

This year, Girardi has a different challenge. Sabathia will get the ball in Game 1 of the opening series. Beyond that, the manager will have to choose among five options. Veteran reclamation projects Bartolo Colon (3.81 ERA) and Freddy Garcia (3.77 ERA) have been pleasant surprises, but they have been outpitched down the stretch by rookie Ivan Nova, who is 15-4. Phil Hughes dominated in 2010 and might have the most upside of the group when healthy, but he's battled shoulder woes and has a WHIP of almost 1.5.

Burnett (4.0 walks per nine) has become a punch line in the Bronx, but it was in that 2009 Fall Classic that he struck out nine to give the Yanks a series-tying Game 2 win against the Phillies. So does Girardi go with youth and recent regular-season success or playoff experience? "Nova is going to get Game 2," says one Yankees source, "and I can't see Burnett getting a start."

With the dearth of playoff races this year, the Yankees are joined by the Philadelphia Phillies, Detroit Tigers and Atlanta Braves as October-bound clubs who have had all of September to fret about their postseason rotations. "It's a delicate situation," says Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee. "Feelings are going to get hurt."

In Philly, everyone knows that Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels are the top three, but if the team needs to go four deep, things get complicated. Rookie Vance Worley has a 2.85 ERA and recently completed a stretch during which the team won 14 straight games that he started. He seems like an obvious choice over vet Roy Oswalt, who has struggled with his changeup and has the lowest strikeout rate (6.1 per nine) of his career. But consider: Oswalt has the highest career winning percentage of any active pitcher after the All-Star break (.741); he won the clinching game in the 2005 NLCS, as well as series MVP; and he gave his team two stellar starts in last year's NLCS. If the Phillies end up siding with Oswalt, many inside the game would certainly understand why. "You pitch in Florida against the Marlins and there are 500 people in the stands," says Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell, "but when you play the Phillies, the park is packed an hour before game time. You have to figure out which pitcher is able to handle that environment."

McDowell and the Braves could be forced to rely on some inexperience if Tommy Hanson (sore shoulder) or Jair Jurrjens (bone bruise in right knee) can't return from the disabled list for the playoffs. While Atlanta would still have the October-tested Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe at the top of its rotation, rookies Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor would be next in line. Both have promising futures, but Chipper Jones knows that expecting them to come up big in October might be a bit much. "When in doubt, you err on the side of experience," says the Braves third baseman. "There are exceptions, but it doesn't matter how much poise you show through 162 games, the playoffs are a different animal. The game is really amped up then, and it can be overwhelming for guys who haven't been there." The Braves have shared Jones' philosophy during the course of his career: Not once in his 92 postseason games has a rookie hurler gotten the start.

Jones should know full well that experience can take you only so far. He spent much of his career on the same team as Hall of Fame-bound hurlers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine but has only one World Series ring to show for his 12 postseasons. Why? Curt Schilling has a theory. "You win in the playoffs with power stuff," says the 2001 World Series MVP. "That's why Maddux and Glavine weren't as great in the postseason as they were during the regular season."

A lack of power pitching could be the problem in Detroit. Cy Young favorite Justin Verlander is the clear No. 1, but while Doug Fister has the next-best ERA, his career strikeout rate of 5.4 per nine suggests he's hittable. "I wouldn't even start Fister in the playoffs," says Schilling. The other choice to pair with Verlander at the top is Max Scherzer, who, while inconsistent, has fanned almost a man an inning in his career.

But Scherzer has a 7.80 ERA this year against the Yankees and Red Sox, two possible playoff opponents. The lesson? There's no easy answer.



Rangers putting it all together.

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There are loud baseball headlines these days. RED SOX FLIRTING WITH GREATEST SEPTEMBER COLLAPSE EVER. MARIANO RIVERA SETS SAVES RECORD. CLAYTON KERSHAW DOMINATES, AGAIN.

Buried somewhere deep below all of that conversation, there is a team finding a lot of solutions, gaining momentum, with almost everything falling into place as they prepare for the playoffs.

Soon the baseball world will be re-introduced to the Texas Rangers, who have steadily separated themselves from the Angels this month in the AL West, bolstered by the marked improvement of some of their young pitchers. Some of the solutions that are falling into place:

[+] EnlargeDerek Holland
Jim Cowsert/US PresswireDerek Holland has been pitching well as of late.

Derek Holland. The left-hander who is best known to casual baseball fans for his inability to throw strikes in a World Series game last year seems to be taking long strides toward dominance in the second half of this season. Over his last five starts, Holland has allowed six earned runs in 34.1 innings, with 34 strikeouts and 11 walks and just three homers -- and the first three of those outings were against the Angels, Red Sox and Rays. "In the minor leagues, Derek had plus fastball command -- he had gotten away from that at times -- but has really improved lately," Texas GM Jon Daniels wrote in an e-mail.

Holland was in command on Tuesday, in shutting down the Athletics.

Matt Harrison. He got a rest earlier this month from manager Ron Washington, and bounced back and threw a couple of nice outings against the Indians and Mariners. The Rangers have C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando in their rotation, and it's unclear who would make up the Texas rotation in the postseason -- but either way, Harrison would be a weapon in October, a left-hander to throw against the Yankees or the Red Sox. Harrison's "breaking ball has really started to come on," wrote Daniels. "His curveball was at its best this weekend in Seattle."

Adrian Beltre. He's been killing the ball since returning from the disabled list, hitting .357 with 11 extra-base hits in 70 at-bats, for an OPS of 1.116. In 458 at-bats this season, he's racked up 28 homers and 97 RBI, and he appears to be ready for October.

Michael Young. He's not going to win the MVP Award, but he should be listed somewhere in the Top 10 of the ballots, after his incredibly consistent season of 201 hits and 57 extra-base hits.

C.J. Wilson. He's got a 2.59 ERA in the second half of the season, while holding opposing hitters to a .217 batting average.

Mike Adams. Acquired from the Padres before the trade deadline, he's been good for the Rangers, posting an 0.92 WHIP, with 22 strikeouts in 20.2, in his 20 games for the Rangers.

Neftali Feliz. He had problems before the trade deadline, but the addition of Adams and Koji Uehara seemed to take pressure off of him, and he's allowed runs in just one of his last 17 outings.

And Mike Napoli has been one of the best values in the majors this year, thriving with the Rangers, who are tied with Detroit for the second-best record in the American League. It's possible they will host the Red Sox or Rays in the first round of the playoffs.

Nelson Cruz has been struggling at DH, but the Rangers will stick with him.

Brad Penny got hammered, as Tom Gage writes.

The Angels are running out of time, now that they are five games behind the Rangers.

Notables

Clayton Kershaw beat the Giants, again, and became the Dodgers' first 20-game winner since Ramon Martinez. Tim Lincecum says one of his goals going forward is to beat the Dodgers' left-hander, who has had a second half that has you wondering just how high his ceiling is, going forward -- he's had a 1.23 ERA, while going 11-1.

From ESPN Stats and Info, how Kershaw won:

A) Kershaw relied on his off-speed pitches on Tuesday. While he has normally thrown his changeup 5 percent of the time this season, 25 percent of Kershaw's pitches were changeups on Tuesday. Furthermore, 11 percent of his pitches were curveballs, compared to normally throwing 7 percent of curveballs in games this season.

B) Kershaw's 42 changeups and curveballs thrown was his highest total this season and he was able to be effective with it because he enticed Giants hitters to swing. When throwing the two pitches this season, Kershaw's swing percent has been 41 percent, but on Tuesday the percentage was 52 percent.

C) The change worked on Tuesday as four of his six strikeouts came using the two pitches. In addition, only one of Kershaw's six surrendered hits came off of either his curveball or changeup.

Kershaw has a very good chance to win the Cy Young Award. Over the last 40 years, there have been eight National League pitchers to finish the season in the top two in wins, ERA and strikeouts. Seven of them went on to win the Cy Young with the exception of Curt Schilling in 2001. The Cy Young went to his teammate Randy Johnson who topped the NL in strikeouts and ERA while finishing third in wins (one behind Schilling and Matt Morris).

On Tuesday, Kershaw became just the fifth NL lefty over the last 100 years to record 20 wins and 240 strikeouts in the same season. The others to do it are Randy Johnson, Fernando Valenzuela, Steve Carlton and Sandy Koufax.

From Elias: Lowest ERA vs. a single opponent, among active pitchers (min. 70 IP):
Mariano Rivera vs. White Sox -- 1.21
Clayton Kershaw vs. Giants -- 1.25
Chris Carpenter vs. Dodgers -- 1.52
Adam Wainwright vs. Astros -- 1.56

Imagine how different the Giants' season might have been if not for Kershaw's success against them. Arizona has full control of the NL West, with the D-Backs' magic number down to three, as Nick Piecoro writes. The Cy Young trophy for Kershaw could have an engraving of Kershaw with his foot on the neck of the Giants, writes Henry Schulman.

Top seed in AL: With an impressive win from Ivan Nova, the Yankees have all but clinched this spot. From ESPN Stats and Info, how Nova won:

A) Nova threw his fastball less often than he normally does. Fifty-three of his 103 pitches (51.5 percent) were fastballs, below his season average of 61.3 percent. Rays hitters were 3-for-14 in at-bats ending with Nova's fastball. Overall, hitters are hitting .196 in at-bats ending with Nova's fastball in September; they hit .297 against it before that.

B) Left-handed hitters were 2-for-11 against Nova, and he had success keeping the ball away from those hitters. Thirty-one of his 52 pitches to lefties (59.6 percent) were outside, above his season average of 50.9 percent entering Tuesday. Rays lefties were 0-for-5 in at-bats ending with an outside pitch from Nova.

C) Rays hitters were 1-for-15 against Nova with men on base, including two double plays.

D) Nova stayed out of hitters' counts. Fourteen of his 103 pitches (13.6 percent) came when he was behind in the count, his second-lowest percentage in a start this season.

Ivan Nova's win on Tuesday was his 12th straight win and all have come as a starter. That is the longest winning streak by a rookie starter since Larry Jansen of the 1947 Giants won 12 straight decisions.

Joe Girardi won't guarantee anything for A.J. Burnett.

AL wild card: The Red Sox suffered another wrenching loss, after trying to get three innings from Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon, but their magic number was reduced because of Tampa Bay's loss. Wade Davis and the Rays suffered a disappointing defeat. David Price is sore but will start on Friday, as scheduled.

Erik Bedard may get shifted in the rotation after his ugly performance on Tuesday, which taxed an already exhausted Red Sox bullpen.

From Elias: Erik Bedard's 51 pitches in third inning tied the MLB season-high for pitches in an inning this season. On April 22, Casey Coleman had 51 against the Dodgers in the third inning and on May 29, John Danks had 51 against the Blue Jays in the first inning.

Jonathan Papelbon blew his second save this season on Tuesday. Before that, he'd converted 25 straight save chances. Before Andino's hit, opponents were 0-for-7 vs. Jonathan Papelbon with the bases loaded this season, 4-for-47 against him for his career.

From Elias: The Red Sox used seven pitchers in their Tuesday loss to the Orioles. Since rosters expanded on September 1, the Red Sox have used at least five pitchers in a game nine times. So they have used at least five pitchers in 45 percent of their 20 games this month.

Clay Buchholz took another step in his comeback, throwing a simulated game, as Tim Britton writes.

NL wild card: The Braves bounced back from their wrenching loss, behind rookie Randall Delgado, and they were able to get a rest for their three primary relievers. Delgado's win was his first in the big leagues, as David O'Brien writes. Tommy Hanson is making progress, but time is working against him.

The Cardinals continue to roll, rallying to crush the Mets, as Andrew Keh writes. St. Louis got a big pinch-hit.

Matt Holliday isn't talking about his injury, which is keeping him out of the lineup.

No. 2 seed in NL: Shaun Marcum had another strong outing to tame the Cubs, and Milwaukee's magic number is down to three. Francisco Rodriguez did his job again, as Todd Rosiak writes.

No. 1 seed in NL: The Phillies have wrapped up a playoff spot, but they continue to deal with nagging injuries, the latest to Hunter Pence, who is dealing with some patellar tendinitis.

• Ozzie Guillen wants a decision soon on whether he'll get a contract extension. He seems to be working to create leverage when he really doesn't have any, given the fact he's under contract with the White Sox for another year. If Jerry Reinsdorf simply declines to give him an extension and refuses to allow Guillen to leave for the Marlins or some other team, then Ozzie would have two choices he could make on his own:

1. Return to manage another season.
2. Quit and leave baseball for a year.

There are only two gods that the manager knows, Guillen says: Jerry Reinsdorf, and God.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. Bob Melvin got a three-year extension.

2. Dan O'Dowd is disappointed by what the Rockies did this season, but he is hoping to give Jim Tracy an extension. It's time for O'Dowd to take responsibility, writes Mark Kiszla.

3. Pedro Alvarez will not play at the outset of winter ball, Neal Huntington says.

4. Aramis Ramirez says he's ready to move on from the Cubs, as Paul Sullivan writes.

5. Every year is harder for Mariano Rivera to stay active as a player, as Tyler Kepner writes. One note about Rivera's talk of retirement: He's been musing about walking away for more than a decade, declaring a couple of times that his next contract would be his last. So, we'll see.

6. Gary Hughes is leaving the Cubs, and within the industry, there is an expectation he could resurface with the Marlins.

7. Jonathan Broxton's career with the Dodgers might be coming to an end, writes Elliott Teaford.

8. Javier Vazquez continues to indicate that he will retire, and take the Mike Mussina route.

9. It appears that Stephen Strasburg will make one more start, writes Adam Kilgore.

10. Lorenzo Cain was called up by the Royals.

11. The Mariners could open next season in Japan, writes Larry Stone.

12. Mike Hegan is leaving the broadcast booth.

Dings and dents

1. Pablo Sandoval might need surgery after the season.

2. Denard Span could be back in the Twins' lineup today.

Tuesday's games

1. Eric Hosmer did what he's been doing.

2. Anibal Sanchez got very little run support.

3. The Athletics were beaten up again, as Joe Stiglich writes.

4. The Rockies lost again, and are falling toward last place, writes Jim Armstrong.

5. The Nationals shut down the Phillies, twice.

6. Mat Latos was terrific.

7. Robert Andino was The Man for the Orioles, as Dan Connolly writes.

8. The Twins blew a lead, and their losing streak continues, as Joe Christensen writes.

9. The Pirates rode an early lead, as Michael Sanserino writes.

10. That's 101 losses and counting for the Astros.

11. The Indians split a doubleheader.



Kevin Towers should share credit for D'Backs.

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The Arizona Diamondbacks have to be the surprise team of the season; in a year when we kept hearing how Cleveland was "for real," or how Pittsburgh was in first place (for five minutes), or about the "JuggerNats," the Diamondbacks didn't get the national press but will be the only one of those teams to head to the postseason. Plaudits and awards will follow for manager Kirk Gibson and general manager Kevin Towers, but the players who are about to douse each other with champagne were largely in the organization before Towers even walked in the door.

Jerry Dipoto
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireThe mark Jerry DiPoto made in a short time is pretty significant.

To try to make this somewhat objective, I broke down the Diamondbacks' roster using FanGraphs' version of Wins Above Replacement, called fWAR for short. It's a single statistic that rolls up measures of offensive performance, defensive runs saved, runs created through baserunning, and an adjustment up or down depending on the player's position. I'm not arguing here that fWAR is any kind of exact measurement, but I believe it is directionally correct, and it's a useful metric for this type of superficial analysis.

Four of the biggest contributors to the Diamondbacks' success this year entered the organization prior to the hiring of Josh Byrnes as GM in November 2005. Justin Upton (6.8 fWAR, highest on the team) was the first overall selection in the 2005 Rule 4 draft, when Joe Garagiola Jr. was the GM and Mike Rizzo (now GM of Washington) was the scouting director. Stephen Drew (1.9 fWAR) was the 15th overall pick the year before. Miguel Montero (4.2) and Gerardo Parra (3.5, nearly half of which is from his defense) were signed as amateur free agents out of Venezuela in 2001 and 2004, respectively; Junior Noboa and Marlon Urdoneta were instrumental in both signings, as well as the signing of current Colorado Rockie Carlos Gonzalez. That's over 16 wins from four players who were in the system before July 2005 and would have still been there regardless of whom the Diamondbacks chose as GM last offseason.

Towers' acquisitions, individually or in total, haven't added up to that many wins. His biggest area of impact has, of course, been in the bullpen, where the Diamondbacks led the major leagues last year in kicking their fans in the groin. J.J. Putz (1.4) and David Hernandez (1.2) have led that turnaround; Hernandez's season has been particularly odd, with three horrendous outings accounting for 14 of the 24 runs he's allowed this season, and with 14 of the 16 batters he faced in those appearances reaching base safely and, obviously, scoring. Micah Owings, Zach Duke, Kam Mickolio and Rule 5 pick Joe Paterson have added up to just about a win and a half of value, although fWAR's adjustment to batting average on balls in play probably overstates the value of a below-average stuff guy like Duke.

Elsewhere, Aaron Hill turned into Rogers Hornsby after his trade from Toronto, adding 0.8 fWAR, along with the replacement-level John McDonald. But those gains have been largely offset by losses from free agents or minor trade targets who were terrible for Arizona: Russell Branyan, Sean Burroughs, Xavier Nady, Armando Galarraga, Melvin Mora, Jason Marquis and Aaron Heilman have been so bad that fWAR grades them out at below replacement level -- 2½ wins below it in aggregate. After adding in a few other minor acquisitions, we get a total of 4.5 net wins generated by Towers' signings and most of his trades at a cost of over $26 million in salary and option buyouts. That is, over 40 percent of the team's payroll went to add, if you're generous, just 5 percent more wins on the season.

A replacement-level team would typically win about 40 games over a full season, so where did all of Arizona's extra wins above replacement level come from? Most of them were already on the roster when Towers walked in the door last winter. Some of the credit goes to former GM Josh Byrnes, but the one constant for all of those other signings and acquisitions was Byrnes' second-in-command, Jerry DiPoto.

In three months in the big chair, Jerry DiPoto added more value than Kevin Towers has in 12 months, including a full offseason, and nearly as much value as we could ascribe to Byrnes among players on the current roster.

In DiPoto's brief time as interim GM last summer, he swung two big trades that will affect the franchise for the better for years to come. He traded Dan Haren for Joe Saunders (a mildly shocking 1.4 fWAR this year) and three prospects, one of whom, Tyler Skaggs, is among the top 50 prospects in baseball, while another, Pat Corbin, looks like he'll be a solid fourth or fifth starter down the road. He traded Edwin Jackson for Dan Hudson, a move that saved Arizona over $11 million but also netted a player who's been worth 6.0 full wins above replacement this year, in part because he's faced a soft slate of opponents but also because he's hitting .279/.313/.377, adding over a win of value above what he's generated in 210 above league-average innings of pitching. In three months in the big chair, DiPoto added more value than Towers has in 12 months, including a full offseason, and nearly as much value as we could ascribe to Byrnes among players on the current roster.

Under Byrnes, the Diamondbacks brought in Ian Kennedy (4.5) in the three-way trade that sent Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, and added outfielder Chris Young in his first offseason as GM in a trade for Javier Vazquez. The team also added Ryan Roberts (3.5) as a minor league free agent and Kelly Johnson (1.4 before the trade) after he was non-tendered by Atlanta. And Arizona added Josh Collmenter, a 15th-round draft pick in 2007 by area scout Matt Haas (now with Florida) who was cross-checked only by Chad McDonald (now the Mets' scouting director) and selected by then-scouting director Tom Allison (now with Boston) in the same draft that landed top prospect Jarrod Parker.

None of this is to argue that praise for Towers lacks any merit; Towers did move to overhaul the bullpen, and whether Aaron Hill's resurgence is real or just a sample-size fluke, the added value goes on Towers' side of the ledger. But the credit he's going to receive should be spread around among other sources. The same is true for Byrnes, who made decisions with the help of DiPoto, Allison and other members of his inner circle, just as DiPoto did in his brief tenure as GM. Byrnes' name comes up for GM openings, although the "organizational advocacy" fiasco should serve as a cautionary tale to any owner considering him. On the other hand, I've written before that I believe Jerry DiPoto would make an excellent GM given the opportunity. He's been the runner-up twice in GM interview processes, in Seattle and Arizona, but it's rare that we can put any kind of tangible evidence behind anyone's advocacy of any particular GM candidate. DiPoto has a proven track record, including two major trades that look strong already from financial and baseball points of view, to go with his strong reputation as an analytical thinker, comfortable with traditional and modern schools of evaluation. This likely playoff appearance is as much a feather in DiPoto's cap as it is in Towers'.



Kiss Em Goodbye: Houston Astros.

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First up: the Houston Astros, who were the first team mathematically eliminated this year. It's time to kiss 'em goodbye.


Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: Top starting prospect Jordan Lyles held his own in Houston at age 20, Yankees offcast Mark Melancon earned saves despite a conspicuous lack of closer experience, second baseman Jose Altuve flirted with .400 in the minors and quickly became a fan favorite after his promotion, left fielder J.D. Martinez slugged at Double-A and didn't crater after bypassing Triple-A, and third baseman Jimmy Paredes impressively (though perhaps unsustainably) outperformed his Corpus Chrisi showing after relieving Chris Johnson of his duties. One benefit of having few sure things is that the Astros aren't burdened by many financial commitments beyond 2012, and with only one season remaining on his six-year, $100 million contract, it's finally safe to start the Carlos Lee free agency countdown clock. Finally, the Astros have underperformed their third-order record by almost eight wins, the largest margin of any team, which suggests that they could have some better luck in store even without much immediate help on the way.

Signs of disaster: The Astros weren't remotely good at anything this year, ranking in the bottom five in baseball in offense (.248 True Average), defense (.697 Defensive Efficiency), Fielding Independent Pitching (4.31), and Base Running Runs (-8.4 BRR). That's not surprising given that the team was almost entirely devoid of above-average players, let alone stars. Houston's most productive player, Hunter Pence, was worth just 2.7 WARP to them, among the 20 worst team-topping performances since 1950 -- and now he's playing right field for the Phillies. Off the field, owner Drayton McLane called a news conference to announce the sale of the team to Jim Crane on May 16, but doubts about Crane surfaced and the deal is still awaiting MLB approval. Hands-off ownership can aid a rebuilding movement, but ownership uncertainty rarely makes anything easier.

Signs you can ignore: Almost any stats accrued by a player with more than a few years of major-league experience. After years of pretending they could continue to compete with an aging nucleus, the Astros committed to a full remodeling by selling high on Pence, Michael Bourn and Jeff Keppinger this season. Unloading Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez would have made trading season even sweeter, and both players could be moved in the coming months. -- Ben Lindbergh, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

The Astros' decision to be sellers for the second consecutive summer turned out well for them, as they got some promising prospects for Pence and Bourn. Houston shouldn't stop there. GM Ed Wade should continue trade discussions regarding Rodriguez, his best starting pitcher, and stick with his long-term plan that is geared toward success in 2014 or 2015. Rodriguez, 32, has won at least 10 games for three straight years while averaging 8 strikeouts per 9. His ERA has never been above 3.60 during that span. Rodriguez has $10 million due in 2012, $13 million in 2013 and another club option for $13 million in 2014 that can be bought out for $2.5 million.

The Astros will have to wait this market out until C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle, the best lefties on the free agent market, have signed. Once that happens, the Astros can shop Rodriguez to the teams that missed the boat on Wilson and Buehrle. Here are some clubs that could have interest: Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Royals, Nationals, Marlins, Mets, Reds and Rockies.

The Astros' offseason bold move should be to continue the trading spree that started last July with Oswalt and Berkman and continued this summer with Pence and Bourn. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

Carlos Lee
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireAt long last, Carlos Lee's massive contract is almost finished.

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 80-82
The Astros are simply too light on major league talent to be a serious competitor. Altuve, one of the few things to go right, doesn't have a great deal of offensive upside, and none of Lee, Brett Wallace, or Martinez have good odds of being the solid middle-of-the order hitter they need to have a competent offense. There's a decent chance the team can cobble together a good bullpen, but only Rodriguez and Bud Norris have good odds of being league-average starters in 2011. Lyles still has a bright future, but to expect to see it in 2012 is speculative.

Worst-case scenario: 54-108
The Astros this year can claim a little bad luck, playing well under their Pythagorean record, but the 2011 Astros had the benefit of 205 games from Pence and Bourn. This situation is more likely to get worse than better given that the team is unlikely to make significant additions in the offseason and these projections assume the Astros keep Rodriguez. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

The Astros entered the year as one of the worst systems in baseball, despite dumping Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt at last year's trade deadline as they got little in return. Despite the pleasant surprises of Altuve and Martinez, the system was still well toward the bottom at midseason when the Astros dumped again, only this time they added some real prospects. In the Pence deal alone, right-hander Jarred Cosart and first baseman Jonathan Singleton became the top pitching and offensive prospect in the system, while pitchers Paul Clemens and Brett Oberholtzer, acquired from Atlanta as part of the Bourn deal, provide some much-needed depth. There is still plenty of work to be done in the Astros system, but those fresh faces, as well as a solid 2011 draft headed by first-round pick George Springer, finally has things moving in the right direction. -- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

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Kiss Em Goodbye: Florida Marlins.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: At long last, the Marlins will move into their new ballpark next season. Theoretically, that should mean more revenue and a larger payroll, though with owner Jeffrey Loria's reputation as the majors' No. 1 skinflint, that's not quite the given it might otherwise be. At the very least, the Fish will be playing in a dedicated baseball stadium instead of a repurposed football stadium; the new park features only a few more seats -- 36,000 -- than the current one ropes off for non-football events, and the team can't do any worse than its current last-place ranking in attendance. Florida might even have Ozzie Guillen as manager, which will make for more entertaining quotes, not to mention inevitable friction with the higher-ups. And who doesn't love a little Ozzie-flavored drama?

Signs of disaster: Buster Olney reports word of Loria and team president/Loria stepson David Samson playing a bigger role in personnel decisions, which certainly sounds ominous. Given that the Marlins are headed for their fourth manager in three seasons, how much more meddlesome can they get? As if that's not bad enough, there is concern about Hanley Ramirez's availability to start next season. The three-time All-Star set career lows in all three slash stats by hitting .243/.333/.379 while battling lower-back and left-shoulder woes, and he took a considerable PR hit via a hatchet job by former Marlin and current special assistant Jeff Conine, who questioned his on-field efforts. Ramirez will undergo surgery next week to stabilize his shoulder, and there's a chance it could be open surgery instead of arthroscopic, with a rehab that extends into next season. If he's unavailable, that's a good amount of star power -- not to mention a potent middle-of-the-order bat -- missing.

Signs you can ignore: As dire as it may look with ace Josh Johnson having made just nine starts this season due to shoulder inflammation, the Marlins' distance from any playoff race provided less incentive to return. He doesn't have a long history of shoulder problems, and it's probably best to think of this in terms of him being ready for 2012 with an additional winter of rest. -- Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

Next year, the Marlins will move into a sparkling new ballpark. But they have some work to do in the dugout and on the field if they want to make their debut season in the new park one to remember.

Marlins manager Jack McKeon is expected to return to his role as special assistant, and the Marlins should try and convince Bobby Valentine to leave his prominent role with ESPN and help lead the young Marlins team into their new park. Valentine, 61, has won in both the United States and Japan, and his experience and leadership capabilities with young talent should allow the Marlins to continue their development of so many good young players like Mike Stanton, Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison. Just like McKeon, he'll get instant respect from the few important veterans that matter, like Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez, which will be critical as they try to climb out of the cellar.

The boldest move the Marlins should make is to go against their history of not pursuing top free agents and enter the market with an overwhelming, record-breaking offer to free agent left-hander C.J. Wilson. He would give them a top-notch left-handed starter at the front of the rotation to put between Johnson and Ricky Nolasco. The Marlins have less than $50 million currently committed to their 2012 payroll, and they should get a revenue boost from their new park. If Florida wants to become competitive in the tough National League East, this type of move is a necessity, especially because of the rotations in Philadelphia and Atlanta, and the one that's emerging in Washington. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

Josh Johnson
Jeff Curry/US PresswireJosh Johnson has proven to be both dominant and prone to injury.

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 86-76
Neither the offense nor the pitching was very good in 2011, but without many players overperforming, the Marlins should be significantly better in 2012 but not at the level of the Philadelphia Phillies or Atlanta Braves. Hanley Ramirez is a good bet to rebound at least into the .850 OPS range, and Mike Stanton should be able to repeat his 2011 season for a decade. The Marlins need Josh Johnson to be on the mound more often to make this projection a reality, but with Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad all having lower FIPs than ERAs this season, at least one of them will blossom into the much-needed No. 2 starter. ZiPS gives Sanchez in particular high odds of a breakout 2012.

Worst-case scenario: 68-94
The team doesn't have a great deal of depth at the major league level, so a few untimely injuries or down seasons by the front-line talent would be very difficult to make up for elsewhere. Florida has enough players to always field a team that will put up a fight, but if Johnson isn't healthy and Ramirez doesn't have an expected rebound in 2012, it will find itself right where it is this year: struggling to win 70 games. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

The Marlins have long been able to stay somewhat competitive in the NL East despite some thrifty (OK, downright cheap) ways. That's come to an end with a potential last-place finish in the division, and also coming to an end is the constant pipeline of talent that kept the team dangerous. The upper levels of the system are a who's who of what's not, other than glove-first -- or more accurately, glove-only -- third baseman Matt Dominguez, who is spending September auditioning for the big league job in 2012. Still, patient Marlins fans might get rewarded, as scouts finished the year raving about 2010 first-round pick Christian Yelich, an outfielder with power, patience and surprising speed who hit .354/.423/.568 after the All-Star break for Low Class A Greensboro. -- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus



Kiss Em Goodbye: Baltimore Orioles.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: Three position players established themselves as the foundation of a better team. Matt Wieters displayed exceptional defense while becoming more of an offensive presence than he had been in his first two seasons. J.J. Hardy not only stayed healthy but found the power stroke he had left in the pocket of his last Brewers uniform and was rewarded with a contract extension that will keep him on Chesapeake Bay until 2014. Adam Jones, still just 25 years old, had his third straight season of offensive growth. Building strength up the middle is one of the best ways to become competitive; the corner pieces should be easier to find, at least in theory.

Signs of disaster: The Buck Showalter Autumn of 2010 did not turn into the Showalter Spring of 2011. What seemed like a promising young starting rotation disintegrated right from the outset. Brian Matusz was emblematic. Having guided the team to a 10-1 record in his last 11 starts of 2010 and posting a 2.18 ERA along the way, he opened 2011 on the disabled list and was relentlessly hammered when he returned. Matusz wasn't any better after a demotion to the minors, ultimately failing to make a single quality start in 10 tries before Showalter pulled him from the rotation for his own safety. Other than Zach Britton and reliever Jim Johnson, no major league pitcher still in the organization made a strong case to be part of next year's staff. The best of the rest was probably Jake Arrieta, who missed much of the second half due to surgery for bone spurs in his elbow. Overall, the staff was last in the majors in ERA. As for the offense, its prowess with the home run was blunted by its finishing second to last in the league in walks.

Signs you can ignore: Britton's 4.33 ERA doesn't scream dominance, but he's a ground-ball pitcher performing in front of the worst defense in the league. In all of baseball, only the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs allowed a higher batting average on balls in play than the Orioles. When Showalter arrived in 2010, the O's went from last to first in defensive efficiency, but they were back at the bottom this year. A big part of the problem was third baseman Mark Reynolds, who was mercifully shifted over to first base after the Derrek Lee trade. The Orioles still need to find stability at the hot corner (neither Josh Bell, Robert Andino nor Chris Davis is an heir to Brooks Robinson) as well as at second base, where Brian Roberts' concussion has put his career in doubt. If they can give their young pitchers the defensive support they deserve, they can recapture some of the magic of last September. -- Steve Goldman, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

The Baltimore Orioles are prepared for the resignation of team president Andy MacPhail and should hire former Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes to replace him as the head of baseball operations. Byrnes grew up in the Washington, D.C./Baltimore area and understands the marketplace. And, despite some failed trades and some poorly assembled bullpens, he deserves a lot of the credit for the Diamondbacks team that will soon clinch the National League West title. With Byrnes at the helm in '08, the D-backs also spent a franchise-best 136 days in first place before relinquishing it in early September, and in 2007 his club went 90-72.

Byrnes is intelligent and understands all aspects of new- and old-school evaluating and roster structuring. He was the runner-up for the Mets job last year when New York hired Sandy Alderson. He also has the experience of working in a big market and the winning culture of the American League East. Byrnes was the assistant GM of the Red Sox under Theo Epstein during a time when the Red Sox never won fewer than 95 games and won a World Series in 2004. He played a role in the drafting of current Red Sox Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, and continuing to build homegrown talent is crucial in Baltimore.

After hiring Byrnes, the Orioles then need to delve into free agency like they did during the brief Pat Gillick years and make the highest bid for Prince Fielder. Baltimore has been reluctant to make the highest offer in years and dollars for recent free agents -- two things that Scott Boras, Fielder's agent, would surely want -- but Fielder would be the perfect sign for the Orioles with his power and personality.

Baltimore could also upgrade the starting rotation with Edwin Jackson as it finds ways to straighten out Brian Matusz and Zach Britton. Dylan Bundy, their first-round pick this year, figures to play a large role in the future, but he is at least a couple of years away in his development. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

[+] EnlargeBrian Matusz
Jeff Moffett/Icon SMIThe Orioles must figure out what has happened to Brian Matusz.

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 82-80
The O's 2011 plan to be successful, or at least get above .500, necessitated two or three of their young starting pitchers taking a huge step forward. Most of their young starters had terrible seasons and have at least slightly worse outlooks for 2012. Wieters and Jones are both players in their early prime years who retain some significant upside, and ZiPS gives them odds of joining the elite players at their position (top 20 percent of starters) at 28 and 32 percent, respectively.

Worst-case scenario: 60-102
With the Orioles looking like they will have the worst pitching staff in baseball unless they spend big on the free-agent market this offseason, adding in some bad luck could easily result in Baltimore once again fighting to avoid a 100-loss season. ZiPS pegs Baltimore's chances of possessing not even one league average or better starting pitcher at 33 percent, a frighteningly high number. While the Orioles quietly had a league-average offense this year, the depth is wafer-thin, leaving the team with a substantial downside. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

With rumors swirling that Andy MacPhail will step down, a potential new general manager for the Orioles will step into a difficult situation to say the least. Not only is the big league team the worst in the American League East by a wide margin, but so is the strength of the minor league system. After 2010 first-round pick Manny Machado, a young shortstop who had an outstanding full-season debut in 2010, there's not a position prospect in the system to get excited about, and while 2011 first-rounder Dylan Bundy oozes potential, the overall strength of the pitching isn't much better. There are no quick fixes in Baltimore, and any sort of turnaround is going to take a long, long time.-- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus



Kiss Em Goodbye: Chicago Cubs.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: Starlin Castro has progressed at the plate and held his own on the field (when he's remembered to face the right way), pacing Cubs position players with 2.8 wins above replacement at age 21. Setup man Jeff Samardzija has looked more like a reliever than a receiver for the first time since 2008. The Cubs have gotten 212 1/3 innings and a 6.23 ERA out of a fifth-starter slot that has rotated between Rodrigo Lopez, Casey Coleman, Doug Davis, James Russell and Ramon Ortiz. A healthy Andrew Cashner could fill that role in 2012 if he makes it out of the Arizona Fall League intact. With former GM Jim Hendry out of the picture, the Cubs will conduct an exhaustive search for his successor, who likely will come with a remarkable résumé and a blueprint for sustained success. Despite the team's struggles, fans have continued to flock to Wrigley Field, enabling the Cubs to place fourth in NL attendance for the third straight season.

Signs of disaster: The Cubs are among baseball's least efficient spenders, converting the National League's third-highest payroll into its third-worst winning percentage. Among the major culprits is an inability to catch the ball. Led by the Senior Circuit's worst-fielding third baseman (Aramis Ramirez, minus-12.6 fielding runs above average) and pitcher (Carlos Zambrano, minus-3.6 FRAA), the North Siders have turned just 69.6 percent of balls in play into outs, the lowest success rate in baseball. Thanks in part to their faulty fielding, the Cubs can claim only a single starter (Matt Garza) with an ERA below league average, and closer Carlos Marmol leads the league in blown saves while dealing with dramatically reduced velocity. Unfortunately, the Cubs' miscues can't be chalked up to inexperience; with an average age of 29.6, they've fielded the majors' fifth-oldest club, and one of the youthful bright spots on the 2010 team, Tyler Colvin, hit .147 in his sophomore season. Although Hendry has been relieved of his duties, the largesse that led to large contracts during his tenure continues to cripple the Cubs, who have $38 million committed to Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano -- fresh off a replacement-level performance -- for 2012.

Signs you can ignore: Second baseman Darwin Barney became a fan favorite for his scrappy style and hot start to the season (.326/.351/.449 batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage in April), but he's hit .263/.303/.326 thereafter, showing himself to be utility material. The Cubs will continue to court second-division status unless they disregard that initial success and reduce his role (or at least hit him lower in the lineup). Overall, Cubs batters have struggled in the clutch, hitting .232/.314/.373 with runners in scoring position compared to a .259/.315/.404 overall line, a pattern that has made the offense appear slightly worse than it is and isn't likely to be repeated. -- Ben Lindbergh, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

It's more like bold moves. The Cubs should start their offseason by hiring Hall of Famer Pat Gillick as senior VP of baseball operations and Red Sox assistant general manager Ben Cherington as GM. Then, they should let Carlos Pena leave via free agency, release Zambrano, decline the $16 million option on Ramirez, trade Marlon Byrd and talk Ryan Dempster into accepting a trade to a contending team. Chicago should reinvest all of its potential savings into player development and scouting, and that includes staffing in addition to players. The Cubs should pursue the game's top evaluators from other teams and be willing to pay them at the top dollar. Then Chicago should go to MIT, Harvard, Stanford and every other top college in the country and hire some of the best computer science and statistical minds available and start building an analytical and research department to start catching up with the times and break new ground.

There shouldn't be an amateur player available internationally that the Cubs don't scout and at least attempt to outbid -- even the Yankees -- for their services. Every top-round talent who falls on the board because of signability in next June's draft should be selected and signed. The Cubs should sign some Type B free agents to one-year contracts with hopes that these stopgap-type players get traded at the deadline or bring them a sandwich pick in the following year's draft. The hirings of Gillick and Cherington would put them on that path for both short- and long-term success. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

Best-case-scenario ZiPS projection: 85-77
The Cubs have had one of the worst performing rotations in baseball this year, with Dempster, Zambrano and Randy Wells all having poor seasons. There's a reasonable expectation for a rebound to at least adequacy for all three, assuming that Zambrano does in fact return -- no guarantee after the sparks last month that led to his season ending prematurely. The team doesn't have a lot of offensive upside with several players well into their decline phase and some pretty big unknowns. Castro is the exception but not enough to put the Cubs in the hunt without some serious luck. I assumed a 50 percent chance of the Cubs picking up Ramirez's option.

Worst-case scenario: 69-93
Although this team knows how to underperform, there are too many talented players for the Cubs to threaten 100 losses. Even this year, with very little going right, they will fall short of the century mark. It's unlikely that the rotation gets even worse next season, and Marmol is also a good bet to have a much better season, which makes it very difficult for the team to be Astros-level bad. This could change depending on what direction a new GM takes, but after 2011, the team would have to eat most of Zambrano's or Dempster's contract, so it may hang on to them for a final season if the organization chooses a rebuilding route. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

The Cubs have a strange minor league system. It's more deep than star-studded, with plenty of potential big leaguers but few who can actually help turn around a moribund franchise. The most likely player to help in 2012 is center fielder Brett Jackson, the club's 2009 first-round pick who hit .274 with 20 home runs in 23 stolen bases in 115 games split between Double- and Triple-A. He'll fight for a job next spring and likely have one by midseason, and although he's an outstanding athlete with above-average power and speed, his alarming strikeout rate (138 in 431 at-bats this year) prevents scouts from seeing him as a true impact player in the big leagues. -- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus



Kiss Em Goodbye: Seattle Mariners.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: The Mariners debuted two blue-chip prospects who have quickly lived up to their billing. Michael Pineda, a 22-year-old right-hander, broke camp with the big club and has been one of the better starters in the league. He's taken 27 turns and posted a 3.72 ERA while ranking second in the league in strikeout rate at 9.2 per nine. Thanks to his ability to miss bats and some outstanding defensive support (.256 BABIP), he has surrendered fewer hits per nine than any American League starter other than Justin Verlander and Josh Beckett. In mid-June, 2009 first-round pick Dustin Ackley came up and provided some immediate offensive punch; his .290/.367/.453 line -- good for a .323 true average -- leads Mariner regulars in all three slash categories.

Signs of disaster: The Mariners' offense is far and away the league's worst; their 3.42 runs per game is a full run lower than the rest of the league. They've gotten lousy work from youngsters (Justin Smoak is hitting .232/.318/.397), once-promising building blocks (Franklin Gutierrez is hitting .224/.261/.273 after battling more stomach woes, while Michael Saunders is at .162/.221/.239), pricey free agents (Chone Figgins has sunk to .188/.241/.243) and superstars (Ichiro Suzuki's at a career-worst .275/.313/.339). When Mike Carp (.274/.333/.465) is your second-best hitter, you need to go back to the drawing board -- and burn it down.

Signs you can ignore: Unless Ichiro collects 32 hits over his final 16 games, his string of 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons will come to an end. As impressive as that streak has been -- it's a key component of his Hall of Fame case -- it seems clear that there's a link between the increasingly slappy 37-year-old's poor season and the fact he has played in all but one game. The team needs to rest him more often so as to deploy him more judiciously, instead of letting him chase individual milestones. -- Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

The Mariners began the offseason by extending the contract of general manager Jack Zduriencik through the 2013 season. Zduriencik, 60, has been on the job three years and when he arrived his plan was to build the organization through player development and scouting, and that's exactly what he's done. This year's first-round draft choice, Danny Hultzen, could join Hernandez and Pineda in the third spot in their rotation as early as 2012. Brandon League, acquired in the Brandon Morrow deal, has developed into a dominant closer. Second baseman Dustin Ackley, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 draft, has quickly shown he's as good as advertised with the bat and someday could be as impactful as Chase Utley has been in his career with the Phillies.

Despite Ackley's emergence, the Mariners' offseason needs are clear: they need some offense. After the 2010 trade deadline deal in which they acquired Justin Smoak from the Rangers for Cliff Lee and this year's emergence of Mike Carp, most baseball people don't think the M's will be chasing an impact free-agent bat like Prince Fielder. Not so fast. Zduriencik drafted Fielder in Milwaukee and would love for him to be the Mariners' new cleanup hitter for years to come. Zduriencik also has a good relationship with Fielder's agent, Scott Boras. Realistically, Smoak is a five-hole hitter and Carp a six-hole hitter in a championship lineup. If you get a chance to get Fielder, you get him. The M's can trade Smoak in a package to the Indians for right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, who originally was signed by the Mariners in 2000. The Indians are convinced Carlos Santana will end up at catcher and Matt LaPorta is no longer their answer at first. Smoak would solve first base for the Indians for the long term, while reducing financial exposure. This would give the Mariners a middle-of-the-order lineup consisting of Ackley, Fielder and Choo, which would be a huge offensive upgrade and give their top-flight young starting rotation the run support needed to compete in 2012. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

[+] EnlargeDustin Ackley
Steven Bisig/US PresswireThe 23-year-old Ackley might be the Mariners' only above-average hitter in 2012.

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 84-78
The Mariners have a good starting rotation headed by King Felix, Michael Pineda and an adequate supporting cast, but there's just not enough offense in the organization to move the M's to even the middle of the pack in scoring. Even assuming Justin Smoak improves, Dustin Ackley continues to play at 2011 levels and Ichiro bounces back a little bit, the Mariners aren't going to even get their scoring to league average. Pineda's got enough talent to become a true ace very soon, but even a dominant one-two punch in the rotation won't be able to paper over enough offensive holes to have much of a shot at the playoffs.

Worst-case scenario: 63-99
With the Mariners' offense destined to be below average no matter what, a little bad luck with the pitching -- the 2011 Mariners have actually been very fortunate with the health of their staff -- will leave the Mariners a lock to get a top-five pick in the 2013 draft. The Mariners got 237 innings of solid pitching from Doug Fister and Erik Bedard in 37 starts, which they now have to replace just to stay where they are. Charlie Furbush, Blake Beavan and James Paxton all have futures in Seattle, but they're not ready to make up for the losses of Fister and Bedard in 2012.-- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

There isn't much immediate help on the way in Seattle, but that should be understandable considering the team "graduated" one of the best young hitters and young pitchers this year in Ackley and Pineda. Throw in young, developing sluggers Smoak and Carp, and a still very young King Felix, and this is a team on the rise, but there is going to be a gap before the next wave of talent arrives. The most intriguing part of the system comes from high-ceiling pitchers, as 2010 draftees Taijuan Walker and James Paxton had some of the best stuff in the Midwest League this year. Southpaw Paxton accelerated his timetable with a strong showing at Double-A at the end of the year.-- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus



Kiss Em Goodbye: Washington Nationals.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: The foundations of a starting rotation were in place by the end of the season, with Jordan Zimmermann and John Lannan pitching well and Stephen Strasburg back from Tommy John surgery with his stuff intact. Tyler Clippard had another fine year in the bullpen, and former first-rounder Drew Storen established himself as the closer. Catcher Wilson Ramos supplanted the superannuated Ivan Rodriguez and combined solid-if-unspectacular hitting with an above-average 34 percent of attempted base stealers thrown out. The jury is still out on young double-play combination Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond. The former was hot in the first half and cold in the second, the latter the opposite. If the duo can find consistency, the Nationals will have their own lesser Whitaker-Trammell to build around. If not, the team brought up second-base prospect Stephen Lombardozzi for a fall cup of coffee.

Signs of disaster: The seven-year, $126 million contract given to the 32-year-old Jayson Werth seemed like a bad idea at the outset given his age and his dependence on the favorable hitting environment at Citizens Bank Park. Werth was undoubtedly pressing in the first half; his second-half line (.255 AVG/.354 OBP/.446 SLG) is likely more in line with what they can expect over the next few years. The problem is that's not a lot of production for a yearly salary that will rise from $13 million next year to $20 million by 2014, and there is no guarantee that Werth will continue to hit even that well as he ages from his mid- to late-30s on the Nationals' dime.

Signs you can ignore: Any turbulence in Strasburg's results between now and the end of the season. The return from Tommy John surgery is not always a linear path from healing to dominance; command, in particular, may wander, as it did for Strasburg in his three-inning start on Sunday. As a strikeout pitcher, Strasburg is under an additional burden because his style of pitching inevitably leads to high pitch counts. A pitch-to-contact hurler might get a batter to ground out on, say, a 1-1 count, but strikeouts require a minimum of three pitches. As such, Strasburg is going to struggle to stay in games with his current restrictive pitch count, but that is a transient problem. -- Steve Goldman, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

The Nationals have finally started to make progress, and the 2012 season could be their breakout year. The team's most glaring need is in center field, and GM Mike Rizzo has been aggressive in trade talks to solve the problem. At the trade deadline, the Nationals came close to dealing for the Twins' Denard Span, and they have had conversations with the Rays regarding B.J. Upton for more than a year.

The starting rotation could be completely homegrown in 2012, with the likes of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Brad Peacock and John Lannan. A healthy Strasburg is a top-of-the-rotation ace, while Zimmermann has quietly put himself into the pool of emerging young starting pitchers in the National League. Detwiler is improving, Lannan has been solid and Peacock has the potential to be a Zimmermann-type starter but is probably a year away. The Nationals could use a solid third starter to slot behind Strasburg and Zimmermann, while letting the others provide much-needed depth.

The Nationals would also love to be able to chase down a free-agent shortstop like Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins to combine them in the middle of the diamond with Espinosa. That would allow them to include Desmond or Lombardozzi as part of a package to trade for Span, Upton or a starting pitcher.

To fill the center field and starting pitching gaps, the Nationals should make a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays and acquire center fielder Upton and right-handed starter Wade Davis in exchange for prospects. The Rays will always have financial problems playing at Tropicana Field, and Upton will be really expensive in arbitration this offseason. Davis is in the midst of a multiyear contract through 2014 with club options for 2015-2017, and he should develop into at least a solid No. 3 starter. The Nationals have a deep farm system and the pieces to get this deal done. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

[+] EnlargeJayson Werth
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesFor $126 million, Washington needs more from Jayson Werth.

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 87-75
The Nats haven't finished above .500 since they were the Expos, but there are enough pluses in the organization to give them a favorable upside. The offense ranks only 12th in the NL in runs scored this season, and even the mean expectation sees the offense improving considerably. Michael Morse became a .900 OPS slugger, which was fortunate, but not much else went right with the lineup. A full season of Ryan Zimmerman, a rebound from Jayson Werth and continued improvement by Ramos, Espinosa and Desmond could push the Nats toward real relevance in 2012. There's also that starting pitcher, Stras-something, who has a lot of upside if the Tommy John fairies are kind.

Worst-case scenario: 69-93
Washington has a solid potential for a team likely to finish the year below .500, but the team's depth remains thin enough that a few key injuries could be devastating. While ZiPS expects Morse to retain enough improvements from the last two years to be an .850-.875 OPS contributor, there's not much offensive depth behind him. Werth could simply be showing his age and rebound only slightly or not at all. With Strasburg and Zimmermann both having recently repaired elbows, the Nats simply don't have the spare pitchers to handle more bad luck. While most teams don't have the rotation depth of the Braves, who could lose a few starters without it destroying the team, the Nats can't afford to lose any for practically any period of time. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

By most accounts, the future of the Nationals franchise still revolves around Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, arguably the two most well-known prospects in the history of the game. Strasburg's successful rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery has him on pace for a successful 170-175 innings in 2012, while Harper reached Double-A as a teenager and has a shot at landing in Washington by next September. While those two drew the spotlight this year, the real story was a step forward by the rest of the system, as two players -- no matter how good -- cannot turn around a franchise alone. This year the Nationals found another potential quality starter in Peacock, who had a 2.39 ERA in 146 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Washington had three of the first 34 picks in the draft and added the best college hitter in Anthony Rendon, one of the best college athletes in Brian Goodwin, a high ceiling arm in Alex Meyer, and then took a chance on lefty Matt Purke in the third round and signed him. GM Mike Rizzo's scouting acumen was the perfect fit for the Nationals, and it's getting closer to paying dividends at the big league level. -- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

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Kiss Em Goodbye: Florida Marlins.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: At long last, the Marlins will move into their new ballpark next season. Theoretically, that should mean more revenue and a larger payroll, though with owner Jeffrey Loria's reputation as the majors' No. 1 skinflint, that's not quite the given it might otherwise be. At the very least, the Fish will be playing in a dedicated baseball stadium instead of a repurposed football stadium; the new park features only a few more seats -- 36,000 -- than the current one ropes off for non-football events, and the team can't do any worse than its current last-place ranking in attendance. Florida might even have Ozzie Guillen as manager, which will make for more entertaining quotes, not to mention inevitable friction with the higher-ups. And who doesn't love a little Ozzie-flavored drama?

Signs of disaster: Buster Olney reports word of Loria and team president/Loria stepson David Samson playing a bigger role in personnel decisions, which certainly sounds ominous. Given that the Marlins are headed for their fourth manager in three seasons, how much more meddlesome can they get? As if that's not bad enough, there is concern about Hanley Ramirez's availability to start next season. The three-time All-Star set career lows in all three slash stats by hitting .243/.333/.379 while battling lower-back and left-shoulder woes, and he took a considerable PR hit via a hatchet job by former Marlin and current special assistant Jeff Conine, who questioned his on-field efforts. Ramirez will undergo surgery next week to stabilize his shoulder, and there's a chance it could be open surgery instead of arthroscopic, with a rehab that extends into next season. If he's unavailable, that's a good amount of star power -- not to mention a potent middle-of-the-order bat -- missing.

Signs you can ignore: As dire as it may look with ace Josh Johnson having made just nine starts this season due to shoulder inflammation, the Marlins' distance from any playoff race provided less incentive to return. He doesn't have a long history of shoulder problems, and it's probably best to think of this in terms of him being ready for 2012 with an additional winter of rest. -- Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

Next year, the Marlins will move into a sparkling new ballpark. But they have some work to do in the dugout and on the field if they want to make their debut season in the new park one to remember.

Marlins manager Jack McKeon is expected to return to his role as special assistant, and the Marlins should try and convince Bobby Valentine to leave his prominent role with ESPN and help lead the young Marlins team into their new park. Valentine, 61, has won in both the United States and Japan, and his experience and leadership capabilities with young talent should allow the Marlins to continue their development of so many good young players like Mike Stanton, Gaby Sanchez and Logan Morrison. Just like McKeon, he'll get instant respect from the few important veterans that matter, like Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez, which will be critical as they try to climb out of the cellar.

The boldest move the Marlins should make is to go against their history of not pursuing top free agents and enter the market with an overwhelming, record-breaking offer to free agent left-hander C.J. Wilson. He would give them a top-notch left-handed starter at the front of the rotation to put between Johnson and Ricky Nolasco. The Marlins have less than $50 million currently committed to their 2012 payroll, and they should get a revenue boost from their new park. If Florida wants to become competitive in the tough National League East, this type of move is a necessity, especially because of the rotations in Philadelphia and Atlanta, and the one that's emerging in Washington. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

Josh Johnson
Jeff Curry/US PresswireJosh Johnson has proven to be both dominant and prone to injury.

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 86-76
Neither the offense nor the pitching was very good in 2011, but without many players overperforming, the Marlins should be significantly better in 2012 but not at the level of the Philadelphia Phillies or Atlanta Braves. Hanley Ramirez is a good bet to rebound at least into the .850 OPS range, and Mike Stanton should be able to repeat his 2011 season for a decade. The Marlins need Josh Johnson to be on the mound more often to make this projection a reality, but with Ricky Nolasco, Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad all having lower FIPs than ERAs this season, at least one of them will blossom into the much-needed No. 2 starter. ZiPS gives Sanchez in particular high odds of a breakout 2012.

Worst-case scenario: 68-94
The team doesn't have a great deal of depth at the major league level, so a few untimely injuries or down seasons by the front-line talent would be very difficult to make up for elsewhere. Florida has enough players to always field a team that will put up a fight, but if Johnson isn't healthy and Ramirez doesn't have an expected rebound in 2012, it will find itself right where it is this year: struggling to win 70 games. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

The Marlins have long been able to stay somewhat competitive in the NL East despite some thrifty (OK, downright cheap) ways. That's come to an end with a potential last-place finish in the division, and also coming to an end is the constant pipeline of talent that kept the team dangerous. The upper levels of the system are a who's who of what's not, other than glove-first -- or more accurately, glove-only -- third baseman Matt Dominguez, who is spending September auditioning for the big league job in 2012. Still, patient Marlins fans might get rewarded, as scouts finished the year raving about 2010 first-round pick Christian Yelich, an outfielder with power, patience and surprising speed who hit .354/.423/.568 after the All-Star break for Low Class A Greensboro. -- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus



Kiss Em Goodbye: Baltimore Orioles.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: Three position players established themselves as the foundation of a better team. Matt Wieters displayed exceptional defense while becoming more of an offensive presence than he had been in his first two seasons. J.J. Hardy not only stayed healthy but found the power stroke he had left in the pocket of his last Brewers uniform and was rewarded with a contract extension that will keep him on Chesapeake Bay until 2014. Adam Jones, still just 25 years old, had his third straight season of offensive growth. Building strength up the middle is one of the best ways to become competitive; the corner pieces should be easier to find, at least in theory.

Signs of disaster: The Buck Showalter Autumn of 2010 did not turn into the Showalter Spring of 2011. What seemed like a promising young starting rotation disintegrated right from the outset. Brian Matusz was emblematic. Having guided the team to a 10-1 record in his last 11 starts of 2010 and posting a 2.18 ERA along the way, he opened 2011 on the disabled list and was relentlessly hammered when he returned. Matusz wasn't any better after a demotion to the minors, ultimately failing to make a single quality start in 10 tries before Showalter pulled him from the rotation for his own safety. Other than Zach Britton and reliever Jim Johnson, no major league pitcher still in the organization made a strong case to be part of next year's staff. The best of the rest was probably Jake Arrieta, who missed much of the second half due to surgery for bone spurs in his elbow. Overall, the staff was last in the majors in ERA. As for the offense, its prowess with the home run was blunted by its finishing second to last in the league in walks.

Signs you can ignore: Britton's 4.33 ERA doesn't scream dominance, but he's a ground-ball pitcher performing in front of the worst defense in the league. In all of baseball, only the Houston Astros and Chicago Cubs allowed a higher batting average on balls in play than the Orioles. When Showalter arrived in 2010, the O's went from last to first in defensive efficiency, but they were back at the bottom this year. A big part of the problem was third baseman Mark Reynolds, who was mercifully shifted over to first base after the Derrek Lee trade. The Orioles still need to find stability at the hot corner (neither Josh Bell, Robert Andino nor Chris Davis is an heir to Brooks Robinson) as well as at second base, where Brian Roberts' concussion has put his career in doubt. If they can give their young pitchers the defensive support they deserve, they can recapture some of the magic of last September. -- Steve Goldman, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

The Baltimore Orioles are prepared for the resignation of team president Andy MacPhail and should hire former Diamondbacks general manager Josh Byrnes to replace him as the head of baseball operations. Byrnes grew up in the Washington, D.C./Baltimore area and understands the marketplace. And, despite some failed trades and some poorly assembled bullpens, he deserves a lot of the credit for the Diamondbacks team that will soon clinch the National League West title. With Byrnes at the helm in '08, the D-backs also spent a franchise-best 136 days in first place before relinquishing it in early September, and in 2007 his club went 90-72.

Byrnes is intelligent and understands all aspects of new- and old-school evaluating and roster structuring. He was the runner-up for the Mets job last year when New York hired Sandy Alderson. He also has the experience of working in a big market and the winning culture of the American League East. Byrnes was the assistant GM of the Red Sox under Theo Epstein during a time when the Red Sox never won fewer than 95 games and won a World Series in 2004. He played a role in the drafting of current Red Sox Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, and continuing to build homegrown talent is crucial in Baltimore.

After hiring Byrnes, the Orioles then need to delve into free agency like they did during the brief Pat Gillick years and make the highest bid for Prince Fielder. Baltimore has been reluctant to make the highest offer in years and dollars for recent free agents -- two things that Scott Boras, Fielder's agent, would surely want -- but Fielder would be the perfect sign for the Orioles with his power and personality.

Baltimore could also upgrade the starting rotation with Edwin Jackson as it finds ways to straighten out Brian Matusz and Zach Britton. Dylan Bundy, their first-round pick this year, figures to play a large role in the future, but he is at least a couple of years away in his development. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

[+] EnlargeBrian Matusz
Jeff Moffett/Icon SMIThe Orioles must figure out what has happened to Brian Matusz.

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 82-80
The O's 2011 plan to be successful, or at least get above .500, necessitated two or three of their young starting pitchers taking a huge step forward. Most of their young starters had terrible seasons and have at least slightly worse outlooks for 2012. Wieters and Jones are both players in their early prime years who retain some significant upside, and ZiPS gives them odds of joining the elite players at their position (top 20 percent of starters) at 28 and 32 percent, respectively.

Worst-case scenario: 60-102
With the Orioles looking like they will have the worst pitching staff in baseball unless they spend big on the free-agent market this offseason, adding in some bad luck could easily result in Baltimore once again fighting to avoid a 100-loss season. ZiPS pegs Baltimore's chances of possessing not even one league average or better starting pitcher at 33 percent, a frighteningly high number. While the Orioles quietly had a league-average offense this year, the depth is wafer-thin, leaving the team with a substantial downside. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

With rumors swirling that Andy MacPhail will step down, a potential new general manager for the Orioles will step into a difficult situation to say the least. Not only is the big league team the worst in the American League East by a wide margin, but so is the strength of the minor league system. After 2010 first-round pick Manny Machado, a young shortstop who had an outstanding full-season debut in 2010, there's not a position prospect in the system to get excited about, and while 2011 first-rounder Dylan Bundy oozes potential, the overall strength of the pitching isn't much better. There are no quick fixes in Baltimore, and any sort of turnaround is going to take a long, long time.-- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus



Kiss Em Goodbye: Chicago Cubs.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: Starlin Castro has progressed at the plate and held his own on the field (when he's remembered to face the right way), pacing Cubs position players with 2.8 wins above replacement at age 21. Setup man Jeff Samardzija has looked more like a reliever than a receiver for the first time since 2008. The Cubs have gotten 212 1/3 innings and a 6.23 ERA out of a fifth-starter slot that has rotated between Rodrigo Lopez, Casey Coleman, Doug Davis, James Russell and Ramon Ortiz. A healthy Andrew Cashner could fill that role in 2012 if he makes it out of the Arizona Fall League intact. With former GM Jim Hendry out of the picture, the Cubs will conduct an exhaustive search for his successor, who likely will come with a remarkable résumé and a blueprint for sustained success. Despite the team's struggles, fans have continued to flock to Wrigley Field, enabling the Cubs to place fourth in NL attendance for the third straight season.

Signs of disaster: The Cubs are among baseball's least efficient spenders, converting the National League's third-highest payroll into its third-worst winning percentage. Among the major culprits is an inability to catch the ball. Led by the Senior Circuit's worst-fielding third baseman (Aramis Ramirez, minus-12.6 fielding runs above average) and pitcher (Carlos Zambrano, minus-3.6 FRAA), the North Siders have turned just 69.6 percent of balls in play into outs, the lowest success rate in baseball. Thanks in part to their faulty fielding, the Cubs can claim only a single starter (Matt Garza) with an ERA below league average, and closer Carlos Marmol leads the league in blown saves while dealing with dramatically reduced velocity. Unfortunately, the Cubs' miscues can't be chalked up to inexperience; with an average age of 29.6, they've fielded the majors' fifth-oldest club, and one of the youthful bright spots on the 2010 team, Tyler Colvin, hit .147 in his sophomore season. Although Hendry has been relieved of his duties, the largesse that led to large contracts during his tenure continues to cripple the Cubs, who have $38 million committed to Zambrano and Alfonso Soriano -- fresh off a replacement-level performance -- for 2012.

Signs you can ignore: Second baseman Darwin Barney became a fan favorite for his scrappy style and hot start to the season (.326/.351/.449 batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage in April), but he's hit .263/.303/.326 thereafter, showing himself to be utility material. The Cubs will continue to court second-division status unless they disregard that initial success and reduce his role (or at least hit him lower in the lineup). Overall, Cubs batters have struggled in the clutch, hitting .232/.314/.373 with runners in scoring position compared to a .259/.315/.404 overall line, a pattern that has made the offense appear slightly worse than it is and isn't likely to be repeated. -- Ben Lindbergh, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

It's more like bold moves. The Cubs should start their offseason by hiring Hall of Famer Pat Gillick as senior VP of baseball operations and Red Sox assistant general manager Ben Cherington as GM. Then, they should let Carlos Pena leave via free agency, release Zambrano, decline the $16 million option on Ramirez, trade Marlon Byrd and talk Ryan Dempster into accepting a trade to a contending team. Chicago should reinvest all of its potential savings into player development and scouting, and that includes staffing in addition to players. The Cubs should pursue the game's top evaluators from other teams and be willing to pay them at the top dollar. Then Chicago should go to MIT, Harvard, Stanford and every other top college in the country and hire some of the best computer science and statistical minds available and start building an analytical and research department to start catching up with the times and break new ground.

There shouldn't be an amateur player available internationally that the Cubs don't scout and at least attempt to outbid -- even the Yankees -- for their services. Every top-round talent who falls on the board because of signability in next June's draft should be selected and signed. The Cubs should sign some Type B free agents to one-year contracts with hopes that these stopgap-type players get traded at the deadline or bring them a sandwich pick in the following year's draft. The hirings of Gillick and Cherington would put them on that path for both short- and long-term success. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

Best-case-scenario ZiPS projection: 85-77
The Cubs have had one of the worst performing rotations in baseball this year, with Dempster, Zambrano and Randy Wells all having poor seasons. There's a reasonable expectation for a rebound to at least adequacy for all three, assuming that Zambrano does in fact return -- no guarantee after the sparks last month that led to his season ending prematurely. The team doesn't have a lot of offensive upside with several players well into their decline phase and some pretty big unknowns. Castro is the exception but not enough to put the Cubs in the hunt without some serious luck. I assumed a 50 percent chance of the Cubs picking up Ramirez's option.

Worst-case scenario: 69-93
Although this team knows how to underperform, there are too many talented players for the Cubs to threaten 100 losses. Even this year, with very little going right, they will fall short of the century mark. It's unlikely that the rotation gets even worse next season, and Marmol is also a good bet to have a much better season, which makes it very difficult for the team to be Astros-level bad. This could change depending on what direction a new GM takes, but after 2011, the team would have to eat most of Zambrano's or Dempster's contract, so it may hang on to them for a final season if the organization chooses a rebuilding route. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

The Cubs have a strange minor league system. It's more deep than star-studded, with plenty of potential big leaguers but few who can actually help turn around a moribund franchise. The most likely player to help in 2012 is center fielder Brett Jackson, the club's 2009 first-round pick who hit .274 with 20 home runs in 23 stolen bases in 115 games split between Double- and Triple-A. He'll fight for a job next spring and likely have one by midseason, and although he's an outstanding athlete with above-average power and speed, his alarming strikeout rate (138 in 431 at-bats this year) prevents scouts from seeing him as a true impact player in the big leagues. -- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus



Kiss Em Goodbye: Seattle Mariners.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: The Mariners debuted two blue-chip prospects who have quickly lived up to their billing. Michael Pineda, a 22-year-old right-hander, broke camp with the big club and has been one of the better starters in the league. He's taken 27 turns and posted a 3.72 ERA while ranking second in the league in strikeout rate at 9.2 per nine. Thanks to his ability to miss bats and some outstanding defensive support (.256 BABIP), he has surrendered fewer hits per nine than any American League starter other than Justin Verlander and Josh Beckett. In mid-June, 2009 first-round pick Dustin Ackley came up and provided some immediate offensive punch; his .290/.367/.453 line -- good for a .323 true average -- leads Mariner regulars in all three slash categories.

Signs of disaster: The Mariners' offense is far and away the league's worst; their 3.42 runs per game is a full run lower than the rest of the league. They've gotten lousy work from youngsters (Justin Smoak is hitting .232/.318/.397), once-promising building blocks (Franklin Gutierrez is hitting .224/.261/.273 after battling more stomach woes, while Michael Saunders is at .162/.221/.239), pricey free agents (Chone Figgins has sunk to .188/.241/.243) and superstars (Ichiro Suzuki's at a career-worst .275/.313/.339). When Mike Carp (.274/.333/.465) is your second-best hitter, you need to go back to the drawing board -- and burn it down.

Signs you can ignore: Unless Ichiro collects 32 hits over his final 16 games, his string of 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons will come to an end. As impressive as that streak has been -- it's a key component of his Hall of Fame case -- it seems clear that there's a link between the increasingly slappy 37-year-old's poor season and the fact he has played in all but one game. The team needs to rest him more often so as to deploy him more judiciously, instead of letting him chase individual milestones. -- Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

The Mariners began the offseason by extending the contract of general manager Jack Zduriencik through the 2013 season. Zduriencik, 60, has been on the job three years and when he arrived his plan was to build the organization through player development and scouting, and that's exactly what he's done. This year's first-round draft choice, Danny Hultzen, could join Hernandez and Pineda in the third spot in their rotation as early as 2012. Brandon League, acquired in the Brandon Morrow deal, has developed into a dominant closer. Second baseman Dustin Ackley, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 draft, has quickly shown he's as good as advertised with the bat and someday could be as impactful as Chase Utley has been in his career with the Phillies.

Despite Ackley's emergence, the Mariners' offseason needs are clear: they need some offense. After the 2010 trade deadline deal in which they acquired Justin Smoak from the Rangers for Cliff Lee and this year's emergence of Mike Carp, most baseball people don't think the M's will be chasing an impact free-agent bat like Prince Fielder. Not so fast. Zduriencik drafted Fielder in Milwaukee and would love for him to be the Mariners' new cleanup hitter for years to come. Zduriencik also has a good relationship with Fielder's agent, Scott Boras. Realistically, Smoak is a five-hole hitter and Carp a six-hole hitter in a championship lineup. If you get a chance to get Fielder, you get him. The M's can trade Smoak in a package to the Indians for right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, who originally was signed by the Mariners in 2000. The Indians are convinced Carlos Santana will end up at catcher and Matt LaPorta is no longer their answer at first. Smoak would solve first base for the Indians for the long term, while reducing financial exposure. This would give the Mariners a middle-of-the-order lineup consisting of Ackley, Fielder and Choo, which would be a huge offensive upgrade and give their top-flight young starting rotation the run support needed to compete in 2012. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

[+] EnlargeDustin Ackley
Steven Bisig/US PresswireThe 23-year-old Ackley might be the Mariners' only above-average hitter in 2012.

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 84-78
The Mariners have a good starting rotation headed by King Felix, Michael Pineda and an adequate supporting cast, but there's just not enough offense in the organization to move the M's to even the middle of the pack in scoring. Even assuming Justin Smoak improves, Dustin Ackley continues to play at 2011 levels and Ichiro bounces back a little bit, the Mariners aren't going to even get their scoring to league average. Pineda's got enough talent to become a true ace very soon, but even a dominant one-two punch in the rotation won't be able to paper over enough offensive holes to have much of a shot at the playoffs.

Worst-case scenario: 63-99
With the Mariners' offense destined to be below average no matter what, a little bad luck with the pitching -- the 2011 Mariners have actually been very fortunate with the health of their staff -- will leave the Mariners a lock to get a top-five pick in the 2013 draft. The Mariners got 237 innings of solid pitching from Doug Fister and Erik Bedard in 37 starts, which they now have to replace just to stay where they are. Charlie Furbush, Blake Beavan and James Paxton all have futures in Seattle, but they're not ready to make up for the losses of Fister and Bedard in 2012.-- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

There isn't much immediate help on the way in Seattle, but that should be understandable considering the team "graduated" one of the best young hitters and young pitchers this year in Ackley and Pineda. Throw in young, developing sluggers Smoak and Carp, and a still very young King Felix, and this is a team on the rise, but there is going to be a gap before the next wave of talent arrives. The most intriguing part of the system comes from high-ceiling pitchers, as 2010 draftees Taijuan Walker and James Paxton had some of the best stuff in the Midwest League this year. Southpaw Paxton accelerated his timetable with a strong showing at Double-A at the end of the year.-- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus



Kiss Em Goodbye: Washington Nationals.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: The foundations of a starting rotation were in place by the end of the season, with Jordan Zimmermann and John Lannan pitching well and Stephen Strasburg back from Tommy John surgery with his stuff intact. Tyler Clippard had another fine year in the bullpen, and former first-rounder Drew Storen established himself as the closer. Catcher Wilson Ramos supplanted the superannuated Ivan Rodriguez and combined solid-if-unspectacular hitting with an above-average 34 percent of attempted base stealers thrown out. The jury is still out on young double-play combination Danny Espinosa and Ian Desmond. The former was hot in the first half and cold in the second, the latter the opposite. If the duo can find consistency, the Nationals will have their own lesser Whitaker-Trammell to build around. If not, the team brought up second-base prospect Stephen Lombardozzi for a fall cup of coffee.

Signs of disaster: The seven-year, $126 million contract given to the 32-year-old Jayson Werth seemed like a bad idea at the outset given his age and his dependence on the favorable hitting environment at Citizens Bank Park. Werth was undoubtedly pressing in the first half; his second-half line (.255 AVG/.354 OBP/.446 SLG) is likely more in line with what they can expect over the next few years. The problem is that's not a lot of production for a yearly salary that will rise from $13 million next year to $20 million by 2014, and there is no guarantee that Werth will continue to hit even that well as he ages from his mid- to late-30s on the Nationals' dime.

Signs you can ignore: Any turbulence in Strasburg's results between now and the end of the season. The return from Tommy John surgery is not always a linear path from healing to dominance; command, in particular, may wander, as it did for Strasburg in his three-inning start on Sunday. As a strikeout pitcher, Strasburg is under an additional burden because his style of pitching inevitably leads to high pitch counts. A pitch-to-contact hurler might get a batter to ground out on, say, a 1-1 count, but strikeouts require a minimum of three pitches. As such, Strasburg is going to struggle to stay in games with his current restrictive pitch count, but that is a transient problem. -- Steve Goldman, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

The Nationals have finally started to make progress, and the 2012 season could be their breakout year. The team's most glaring need is in center field, and GM Mike Rizzo has been aggressive in trade talks to solve the problem. At the trade deadline, the Nationals came close to dealing for the Twins' Denard Span, and they have had conversations with the Rays regarding B.J. Upton for more than a year.

The starting rotation could be completely homegrown in 2012, with the likes of Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Ross Detwiler, Brad Peacock and John Lannan. A healthy Strasburg is a top-of-the-rotation ace, while Zimmermann has quietly put himself into the pool of emerging young starting pitchers in the National League. Detwiler is improving, Lannan has been solid and Peacock has the potential to be a Zimmermann-type starter but is probably a year away. The Nationals could use a solid third starter to slot behind Strasburg and Zimmermann, while letting the others provide much-needed depth.

The Nationals would also love to be able to chase down a free-agent shortstop like Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins to combine them in the middle of the diamond with Espinosa. That would allow them to include Desmond or Lombardozzi as part of a package to trade for Span, Upton or a starting pitcher.

To fill the center field and starting pitching gaps, the Nationals should make a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays and acquire center fielder Upton and right-handed starter Wade Davis in exchange for prospects. The Rays will always have financial problems playing at Tropicana Field, and Upton will be really expensive in arbitration this offseason. Davis is in the midst of a multiyear contract through 2014 with club options for 2015-2017, and he should develop into at least a solid No. 3 starter. The Nationals have a deep farm system and the pieces to get this deal done. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

[+] EnlargeJayson Werth
Mitchell Layton/Getty ImagesFor $126 million, Washington needs more from Jayson Werth.

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 87-75
The Nats haven't finished above .500 since they were the Expos, but there are enough pluses in the organization to give them a favorable upside. The offense ranks only 12th in the NL in runs scored this season, and even the mean expectation sees the offense improving considerably. Michael Morse became a .900 OPS slugger, which was fortunate, but not much else went right with the lineup. A full season of Ryan Zimmerman, a rebound from Jayson Werth and continued improvement by Ramos, Espinosa and Desmond could push the Nats toward real relevance in 2012. There's also that starting pitcher, Stras-something, who has a lot of upside if the Tommy John fairies are kind.

Worst-case scenario: 69-93
Washington has a solid potential for a team likely to finish the year below .500, but the team's depth remains thin enough that a few key injuries could be devastating. While ZiPS expects Morse to retain enough improvements from the last two years to be an .850-.875 OPS contributor, there's not much offensive depth behind him. Werth could simply be showing his age and rebound only slightly or not at all. With Strasburg and Zimmermann both having recently repaired elbows, the Nats simply don't have the spare pitchers to handle more bad luck. While most teams don't have the rotation depth of the Braves, who could lose a few starters without it destroying the team, the Nats can't afford to lose any for practically any period of time. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

By most accounts, the future of the Nationals franchise still revolves around Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper, arguably the two most well-known prospects in the history of the game. Strasburg's successful rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery has him on pace for a successful 170-175 innings in 2012, while Harper reached Double-A as a teenager and has a shot at landing in Washington by next September. While those two drew the spotlight this year, the real story was a step forward by the rest of the system, as two players -- no matter how good -- cannot turn around a franchise alone. This year the Nationals found another potential quality starter in Peacock, who had a 2.39 ERA in 146 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. Washington had three of the first 34 picks in the draft and added the best college hitter in Anthony Rendon, one of the best college athletes in Brian Goodwin, a high ceiling arm in Alex Meyer, and then took a chance on lefty Matt Purke in the third round and signed him. GM Mike Rizzo's scouting acumen was the perfect fit for the Nationals, and it's getting closer to paying dividends at the big league level. -- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

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Kiss Em Goodbye: New York Mets.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: The dimensions of Citi Field have disguised the team's offensive talent, but the Mets have featured a potent lineup despite the extended absences of some of their best bats. They've posted the NL's second-best True Average (.266) thanks to a contact-oriented approach built on the league's second-highest batting average, third-highest walk rate and third-lowest strikeout rate. General manager Sandy Alderson managed to extract a top prospect from the Giants in return for fragile veteran Carlos Beltran. Lucky for Alderson, Beltran somehow stayed healthy just long enough to restore his trade value before breaking down again. Alderson also held on to Jose Reyes, giving the Mets the inside edge on retaining a fan favorite and one of the winter's most coveted free agents. Although a number of their high-profile players have lost time to injury, the Mets only ranked 11th-most in the majors in days surrendered to the disabled list (871). While hardly something to brag about, it constitutes a significant improvement over the Mets' showings in the 2008-10 seasons.

Signs of disaster: The Mets began the season with the second-highest payroll in the National League but played their way to the middle of the pack. Their highest-paid player, Johan Santana, failed to make a single appearance in the majors this season as he recovered from 2010 surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his throwing shoulder. He did make it back to the mound in time for a few rehab starts in Class A, but his absence was conspicuous given the $49.5 million still owed to him over the next two seasons (plus a $5.5 million buyout in the increasingly likely event that his 2014 option is declined). The Mets' prospects for offseason spending were dealt a blow when their deal to sell a minority share of the team to David Einhorn fell through, prolonging the Wilpons' attempts to bail themselves out of the legal and financial predicament they face as a result of their investments in Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

Signs you can ignore: First baseman Ike Davis was lost for the season May 10, but he made the most of his time on the active roster, exploding for a .302/.383/.543 line and seven home runs in 149 plate appearances. An ankle injury robbed him of the chance to sustain the outburst, but it also spared him the risk of regression, which would have been the more likely outcome had his season continued. Little in his unremarkable minor league and rookie records suggests that Davis is capable of performing at that elite level over the course of a full campaign, so Mets fans would be wise to treat his 2011 showing as the small-sample fluke that it was and temper their expectations accordingly.-- Ben Lindbergh, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

The Mets have a lot of work to do in the offseason if they want to contend for the divisional title or wild card in the next couple of years. First and foremost, they need to re-sign their best player -- shortstop Jose Reyes. His recent hamstring injury will be helpful in lowering his market value, but there will be many teams pursuing him. And unfortunately for the Mets, this will end up being a very difficult and expensive signing. The Mets' competition for Reyes' services could come from the Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox and maybe even the Los Angeles Angels. Regardless, this is a must-sign for the Mets, as Reyes is clearly one of the best players in the game when he's healthy.

The Mets also need to solidify the catcher's position, and the bold move they should make this winter besides re-signing Reyes is to try to dangle minor league infielder Wilmer Flores as the centerpiece in a trade for Reds catcher Yasmani Grandal. The Reds already have another promising young catcher in Devin Mesoraco, and Grandal, their 2010 first-round pick, doesn't really have a future in Cincy. Flores is a promising 19-year-old who held his own this year in the Class A Florida State league while being young for the level.

Grandal, 22, hit .305/.401/.510 with 31 doubles, 14 home runs while moving quickly from Class A to Triple-A this year. The Mets have had a revolving door behind the plate ever since Paul Lo Duca left, and although Josh Thole is a nice player, he's not a future All-Star like Grandal.

Sandy Alderson, the team's vice president and general manager, did a tremendous job in dealing Carlos Beltran at the trade deadline to San Francisco in exchange for the Giants' top pitching prospect, Zack Wheeler. It is this type of trade, as well as perhaps acquiring Grandal, that would make a successful offseason for the Mets and vault them back into contention rather than spending lavishly on free agents as they've done in the recent past. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 86-76

Even if the Mets lose Reyes, they still have enough talent to surprise and be relevant with a little bit of fortune. The rotation after R.A. Dickey was a problem this year, but Mike Pelfrey should have a better season, and both Jonathon Niese and Dillon Gee are young enough to take steps forward in 2012. Dickey turns 37 in a month, but that's about 27 in knuckleballer years. ZiPS is conservative with Johan Santana, expecting 20 league-average starts, but any good news about Santana would do a lot to shore up the staff. Bobby Parnell, like Heath Bell had when he was a Met, owns a FIP significantly better than his ERA, and is sorely underrated. Lucas Duda will start 2012 as a contributor, not an afterthought. And even Jason Bay could theoretically still contribute.

Worst-case scenario: 67-95
While there are lots of reasons to expect the Mets to improve a bit, the Mets without Reyes and Beltran are a couple of stars short. David Wright is still contributing offensively, but his power's gone missing again, and without a solid comeback from Wright or Bay, the only real serious power upside left on the team is in the form of Davis, who, as previously mentioned, missed most of the year due to an ankle injury and eventual surgery. If Santana's not ready, there's not a lot of depth in the Mets' rotation that's ready for 2012. Wheeler was a great pickup and Jennry Mejia will eventually be back in the mix once he recovers from elbow surgery, but they're not going to push the Mets toward a pennant. Yet. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

Has it been a fun September, Mets fans? With the team out of contention, it's time for fans to get a look at the young players who are part of the team's future, but instead you've been treated to a festival of mediocrity and no-future veterans with the likes of Chris Schwinden, Josh Stinson and Val Pascucci filling up your box scores. That's because there is not an exciting future for the Mets in anything but the rotation.

Right-hander Matt Harvey, the team's first-round pick in 2010, could be ready at some point in 2012, with Wheeler showing up shortly after. But that's all the Mets have to hang their hopes on right now, as nothing is coming to help the offense now that Lucas Duda is an established solid-but-unspectacular corner outfielder. When your best hitting prospect is 2011 first-round pick Brandon Nimmo, who is still eons away from the big leagues, you know it's going to be awhile.-- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus



Kiss Em Goodbye: Minnesota Twins.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: The Twins began the year with a $112.7 million payroll, the ninth highest in the majors and the highest in club history, about 15 percent higher than in 2010. They haven't come anywhere close to getting good value for their money, but the good news is that they have a lot of it coming off the books; between Joe Nathan ($11.25 million), Michael Cuddyer ($10.5 million), Matt Capps ($7.15 million), Delmon Young ($5.375 million), Jason Kubel ($5.25 million) and Jim Thome ($3 million), they're clearing $42.5 million worth of salary spent on six players who have been worth a collective 3.7 WARP this year. Thanks to their lovely new Target Field, they currently rank second in the league in attendance, but they'll need to reinvest some of those savings to convince fans that they can return to contention.

Signs of disaster: Nearly everything that could go wrong for the Twins did in 2011. Among American League teams, the Twins have scored more runs than only the Mariners, and allowed more than all but the Orioles. They're headed for their first last-place finish since 2000, and their lowest win total since 1999. They've gotten horrible work from newcomers such as Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.226/.278/.249) and once-promising youngsters such as Danny Valencia (.247/.295/.396).

But much more disconcerting is the decline of the team's most valuable commodities. Joe Mauer's health was misevaluated at the start of the season; he spent two months on the DL due to leg woes, and has hit a thin .290/.358/.372 with just three homers, an ominous showing for a player still owed $161 million over the next seven seasons. Justin Morneau has hit .227/.285/.333 with just four homers while struggling with wrist and neck injuries; he lost two months to surgery to repair a herniated disc. More troubling is the fact he's still battling post-concussion syndrome, and the Twins owe him another $28 million.

Carl Pavano regressed as feared; his strikeout rate tumbled to 4.0 per nine and his ERA ballooned from 3.75 to 4.52. He's due another $8.5 million next year. Francisco Liriano, coming off his strongest season since Tommy John surgery, wandered back into the wilderness and posted a 4.84 ERA while walking 5.0 per nine. Instead of being a candidate for a long-term deal he's a big question mark.

Signs you can ignore: When injuries hit the Twins, Ben Revere was pressed into big league service after just 32 games at Triple-A. The 23-year-old rookie has hit just .249/.295/.283. He's shown off his speed and made some highlight-worthy defensive plays, but he could use more minor league seasoning and will need to develop more strength if he's ever going to reach his ceiling as a dynamic leadoff hitter. -- Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

The Twins have a myriad of problems to solve this offseason, and this winter will be the biggest challenge of general manager Bill Smith's career. The team obviously has some health issues, as it used the disabled list an astounding 24 times this year, but beyond injuries, Smith need to upgrade his roster.

Justin Morneau
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireA lingering concussion problem has hindered Justin Morneau, who has just four homers this year.

The Twins were trying to get more athletic and improve their range in the middle of the infield this year when they handed the shortstop job to Alexi Casilla and signed Tsuyoshi Nishioka to a three-year, $9 million deal to play second base. Casilla and Nishioka were both injured and inconsistent and the team really missed the defense and offensive energy that the former double-play combination of J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson brought each night.

The Twins were close to trading Denard Span to the Washington Nationals at the trade deadline for Drew Storen, one of the top young closers in the game. However, when the Twins got greedy and asked for second-base prospect Steve Lombardozzi to be part of the deal and Span hadn't yet recovered from his concussion, the deal collapsed. If Span is healthy, they should make the bold move and deal for Storen and Lombardozzi even if they have to put another prospect in the deal for the Nationals. Then they should let Revere become the full-time center fielder and use some of the money they have coming off of the books to re-sign Cuddyer because of his leadership, loyalty and what he means in the middle of their lineup.

A trade for Storen and Lombardozzi would solve their closer dilemma and upgrade second base while reducing the payroll considerably with the impending free-agent departures of Capps and Nathan. The Twins have a long way to go, but getting younger with payroll flexibility is the better way to go than patching up a team that has so many issues beyond health. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 87-75
It's hard to see it now in the midst of a disaster of a season, but the Twins still have a lot going for them, enough to make them a dangerous team in a good year. Joe Mauer's bat is coming around, and while neither the ZiPS projection system nor the most optimistic Twins fan sees another .365/.444/.587, 28-home run season like he put up in 2009, the odds of Mauer being a .320/.400/.430 hitter going forward are very good, and a major improvement for the offense for 2012. There's certainly still hope left for Justin Morneau and while ZiPS has been continuing projecting Morneau downward after his nightmare year, he's still young enough to recover from his injuries and snag a Comeback of the Year award. Four of the five pitchers in the rotation have better mean projections for next year and with a little bit of luck, the Twins can be in the thick of it 12 months from now.

Worst-case scenario: 66-96
The 10th percentile projection for the Twins isn't hard to imagine as that's how the Twins have played this season. To get the Twins playing as poorly next year as this year, you have to look way down in ZiPS' percentiles, around the 4th or 5th percentile for expectations. There's just realistically not a lot of ways for them to get worse at this point. It's hard to imagine Mauer or Morneau having worse years, the rotation and bullpen being more disappointing or Nishioka not improving significantly. He wasn't a scrub in Japan, but rather a .304/.379/.443 hitter, and while Japan isn't the majors, it's not the Carolina League, either. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

The bad news is that the Twins have an excellent chance to finish last in one of baseball's weakest divisions. The worse news is that help from the system is most definitely not on the way, at least anytime soon. Outfielder Joe Benson should provide some much needed muscle to the lineup in 2012, but with righty Kyle Gibson undergoing Tommy John surgery earlier in the month, the cupboard of prospects at the upper levels is bare.

Teenage sluggers like Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario provide upside but are still years away, so the future of the Twins consists of prospects that don't seem like much of an improvement over what's already on the roster, thanks to a consistent over-reliance on strike throwers when it comes to drafting pitchers, and a seeming favoritism toward fundamentals over athleticism when it comes to selecting position players. That's enough to create a productive system in terms of quantity, but what the club needs now is quality, and that's not coming in 2012 or the year after.-- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus



Kiss Em Goodbye: Kansas City Royals.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: The prospects are coming, the prospects are coming! Having stuffed their farm system with more potentially star-level players than any other team in baseball, the Royals began bringing them up to this year. First baseman Eric Hosmer established himself at the age of 21; third baseman Mike Moustakas got off to a painfully slow start but has begun to hit over the last month of the season (.304/.344/.400 in his last 30 games); catcher Salvador Perez has exceeded offensive expectations, albeit in a small sample; young relievers Aaron Crow and Tim Collins have performed well, the former making the All-Star team. Starting pitcher Danny Duffy and second baseman Johnny Giavotella remain works in progress but retain their status as prospects. Perhaps sweetest of all, five years into his major league career former first-round draft pick Alex Gordon emerged as a star with a season that ranks as per wins above replacement player (WARP) in the top five in baseball.

Signs of disaster: Live by the prospect, die by the prospect. Left-hander John Lamb, rated the organization's No. 2 prospect by Baseball Prospectus, underwent Tommy John surgery in June. Lefty Mike Montgomery, the No. 5 prospect, struggled to a 5.32 ERA at Triple-A Omaha. A third left-hander, No. 6 prospect Chris Dwyer, had finished at Double-A in 2010 but failed to rise another level in 2011, posting a 5.60 ERA. Young lefties often struggle with command and Tommy John surgery isn't as perilous as it used to be, so these disappointments are likely transient. Still, starting pitching remains the biggest hurdle for the rebuilding Royals -- their starters' ERA of 4.94 was second-worst in the league -- and the setbacks suggest just how difficult it will be to generate a contending team almost entirely from within.

Signs you can ignore: The shockingly robust season from Melky Cabrera, and perhaps that of Jeff Francoeur, as well. The Royals took a flier on these disappointing mid-20s veterans and were rewarded with seasons that were shockingly good given their résumés. Both remain impatient hitters who are dependent on putting the ball in play to just the right spot for a positive result. This approach hasn't worked for them in the past, and likely for at least one of them, it won't work again in the future. The most likely candidate for regression is Cabrera; Francoeur has been productive at times in the past. Cabrera also retains a couple of key weaknesses -- he is a switch-hitter who is a far weaker hitter from the right side of the plate, and he is badly miscast in center field, where his strong arm doesn't make up for his lack of range. The Royals missed an opportunity by not flipping one of the two at the trading deadline while they still had some value. Instead, they gave Francoeur a two-year extension. -- Steve Goldman, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

The Royals are staying the course with their young players. As is the case with most teams this offseason, they are going to try to upgrade their starting pitching. The hope is that their farm system, loaded with starting pitching prospects like Montgomery, Duffy and Jake Odorizzi, can fortify their rotation as early as 2012.

The Royals also should consider moving Crow to the starting rotation next year because of his three above-average pitches. He was drafted as a starter and good starters are harder to find than good relievers. They also shouldn't be afraid to promote young starting pitching prospects, even if a couple are no more than fringe big leaguers. Allow them to develop like position players Moustakas, Hosmer and Perez did this year.

If the Royals want to make a splash, they should dangle closer Joakim Soria to try to acquire a starting pitcher. Soria is signed at a reasonable rate through 2014, and could be a huge asset to a team trying to win now.

However, the Royals' boldest move this offseason -- if they can't make a Soria deal -- should be no move at all. They must have the strength to walk away from free agency emptyhanded and continue emphasizing player development and scouting. They are making great progress, and a bad free-agent acquisition like the Gil Meche signing in December 2006 or a bad trade that involves a top prospect like Myers or Montgomery would be a huge mistake. Unless they can make a deal to trade for young starting pitchers with upside, they should just let the kids develop. Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don't make. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 84-78
To hit this number, the Royals will need the younger players in the lineup such as Hosmer, Moustakas and Alcides Escobar to show enough improvement to counteract the possible regressions by Cabrera and Francoeur. Despite his poor major league debut, Moustakas still is projected to hit .264/.310/.418 in 2012, a big improvement over his sub-.600 OPS this year. Francoeur and Cabrera are both seen as good bets to decline from their career-best years, with just a 17 percent and 22 percent chance, respectively, of matching their 2011 seasons. However, the good news is that Gordon's mean projection still leaves him an above-average hitter. The pitching doesn't have as much of a projected upside for 2012 as the offense does, so if the Royals are relevant, the hitters need to pull their weight. Billy Butler's already a good player, and he still has a shot to get even better as he enters his prime. However, the notion of him as a regular 30-homer hitter is becoming a stretch.

Worst-case scenario: 66-96
To get to their current 64-86 record, the Royals still needed a lot to go right. If Francoeur and Cabrera return to being the .700 OPS players they were before 2011 without a corresponding bump in some of the other hitters, the Royals aren't likely to have enough pitching to stay out of last place in the AL Central. Bruce Chen, the team's most dependable starter -- and at some points this year, the only dependable one -- is a free agent this year. Felipe Paulino returns, but a rotation of Paulino, Luke Hochevar, Duffy, Crow, and either Vin Mazzaro or Sean O'Sullivan won't scare anybody in 2012, even if a few of those pitchers have bright futures down the road. Montgomery had a promising projection coming into 2011, but after posting an ERA over 5.00 at Triple-A Omaha, he isn't likely to be a savior. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

Entering the year, the Royals not only had the best system in baseball but one that was easy to see as potentially historic. While fans in Kansas City have been treated to the likes of Hosmer, Moustakas, Giavotella, Duffy, Collins and others, not everyone in the system lived up to expectations. A quick lesson was given in the unavoidable volatility of the prospect world. Lefty John Lamb lasted 35 innings before succumbing to Tommy John surgery, fellow southpaw Montgomery saw his command collapse and outfielder Wil Myers suffered through an injury-plagued campaign at Double-A that saw him limping (almost literally) through a .254/.353/.393 campaign.

That's a trio of five-star prospects who ended the season with a lot of questions about their future -- so much, in fact, that the Royals have already talked about trading prospects for established starting pitchers as opposed to being able to solely depend on what's in house. Best system is recent memory? Fantastic. Turning all those players into productive big leaguers? Impossible. -- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus



Kiss Em Goodbye: Pittsburgh Pirates.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: Andrew McCutchen has continued to mature into an up-the-middle star, finishing as the sixth-highest Wins Above Replacement Player (5.1 WARP) in the senior circuit, and 25-year-old outfielder Alex Presley made good on his 2010 breakout, tearing through Triple-A before putting up an .818 OPS in 180 plate appearances in Pittsburgh.

The Pirates still need to surround McCutchen with a more capable supporting cast, but a center fielder who excels in all aspects of the game is a player upon whom a team can build. While the club's 8-22 August ended any dreams of a respectable record in 2011, the Pirates did make a positive move for the future by spending big in the amateur draft. The organization set a major league record by dispensing $17 million to its picks, including $8 million to UCLA starter and first overall pick Gerrit Cole and $5 million to Josh Bell, a slugging high school outfielder who had slipped to the second round because he was believed to be destined for college.

While their payrolls at the major league level have lagged among the league's lowest, the Pirates have put their revenue-sharing funds to good use, spending a major league-leading $48 million in their first four drafts under GM Neil Huntington.

Signs of disaster: The Pirates' offense is tied with the Giants' for the lowest team TAv in the majors (.242), and their pitching staff has recorded the fourth-worst Fair Run Average (4.74) in the NL. The team clung to contention much longer than it has in most of its 19 consecutive losing seasons and remained two games over .500 through June, but that unanticipated success was built on a shaky foundation. To that point, the staff had posted a collective 3.50 ERA, but only an unsustainable .284 opposing BABIP had allowed its pitch-to-contact approach to succeed. Pirates pitchers have struck out 6.4 batters per nine innings, the lowest rate in a league that has fanned 7.3; since June, Pirates opponents have batted .320 on balls in play, and the team ERA has risen accordingly, to 4.35. The Pirates lack a single starter with the ability to miss many bats, which doesn't bode well for their future run prevention.

Signs you can ignore: The Pirates' youth movement appeared to be dealt a serious blow by the struggles of third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the 2008 second overall pick who burst onto the big league scene with 16 homers in 347 at-bats in 2010. In his sophomore season, Alvarez backslid to the tune of a .195/.262/.286 line and endured two Triple-A stints -- the first of them successful, the second much less so. Coupled with a quad strain that sent him to the DL, Alvarez's poor offensive showing has made this something of a lost season, but his prospect pedigree, minor league track record and early success in the majors suggest that 2011 will be a blip along the way to stardom, not the beginning of the end. Still, he'll have to show a significant improvement in his plate approach in his age-25 season to restore his cornerstone status. -- Ben Lindbergh, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

After 19 consecutive losing seasons the Pirates need a couple of shrewd trades to help break the streak in 2012. The first bold move they should make is to try to trade for first baseman Yonder Alonso of the Cincinnati Reds. Alonso, 24, was the Reds' first-round selection (seventh overall) in the June 2008 free-agent amateur draft. Alonso hit .296/.374/.486 with 12 home runs at Triple-A Louisville this year before the Reds called him to the major leagues; however, he is blocked by Joey Votto at first, so he doesn't really have a position place in Cincy.

The Pirates should start by offering a package centered around outfielder Starling Marte, who is not only one of the best athletes in the Pirates' system, but would give the Reds a much-needed leadoff hitter. Marte is not enough to get Alonso straight up, but the Pirates do have some prospect depth to somehow make a deal work with Cincinnati. Alonso would give the Pirates another middle-of-the-order bat to build around Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez.

The Pirates should also pull the trigger on a six-year, $47 million dollar deal with their centerfielder Andrew McCutchen to send an important message to Pirates fans, while securing one of the team's leaders and best players. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 84-78
The Pirates made a lot of noise at around the halfway mark, and while the team wilted in the summer, they showed real flashes of being a contender. Despite a season that was better than many expected, Pittsburgh still has significant room to realistically improve on its 2011 campaign. The Pirates actually had very little good luck on offense -- their best prospect, after all, has fought injuries and has an OPS around .550.

The team should get better offense out of catcher and third base, and would have to put in a lot of effort to not improve at first base. Andrew McCutchen has an MVP year lurking in his bat, and Jose Tabata just turned 23 and still has a great deal of upside left. Add a better offense and a pitching staff that should be adequate, if not spectacular, and the Bucs have the opportunity to be even noisier next year.

Worst-case scenario: 66-96
As poor as the 10th-percentile projection for the Pirates is, their fans have seen much worse than a 66-win team in recent years. A lot would have to go wrong for the team, but given that the organization still hasn't built up a ton of depth at several positions, a few ill-timed injuries or disappointing years can really test that depth. When the team lost expected starters this year, they ended up having to go out and find an emergency catcher from the Red Sox in Mike McKenry and rush guys like Josh Harrison and Chase d'Arnaud.

With the team's fortunes on a rare upswing, one quiet thing the organization can't overlook this winter to prevent that pessimistic projection is to stash a few more veterans at Triple-A and be willing to use them as role players, rather than pushing their second-tier prospects too far, too quickly. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

While the Pirates saw growth at the big league level this year, the same happened on the farm, but not enough to project anything more than a continued slow turnaround. While recent drafts have flooded the system with high-ceiling prospects, they're mostly of the young and inexperienced type, so 2012 will clearly be another year that falls firmly on the rebuilding side of the ledger. With recent first-round picks Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, the Pirates are the envy of baseball in terms of potential front-end starters, and with the surprising signing of Josh Bell they've added a potential impact hitter, so now the challenge of development is firmly in their hands. However, it's still going to be another two or three years before it translates to elite big league success. -- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus



Kiss Em Goodbye: San Diego Padres.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: While the Padres' offense ranks last in the league in batting average (.238) and slugging percentage (.349), second to last in on-base percentage (.306) and 14th with a .244 true average, they have gotten some promising performances from some of their younger and less expensive hitters. Catcher Nick Hundley (.296/.361/.486), first baseman Jesus Guzman (.316/.371/.485) and third baseman Chase Headley (.292/.380/.407) all have true averages of at least .291, while center fielder Cameron Maybin (.268/.326/.391) is at .268. All are in their age-27 seasons or younger, and only Headley has reached his arbitration years; he'll be eligible for the second time this winter, while Hundley will be eligible for the first time. For a team that has been shedding expensive players in recent years, that's a decent base from which to build.

Signs of disaster: Despite the advantages of pitching in Petco Park, Padres starters have managed just a 3.80 ERA this season; while that ranks sixth in the NL, in reality it's about three-tenths of a run worse than league average once park effects are accounted for. Starters Mat Latos, Tim Stauffer and Clayton Richard, all of whom played vital roles in helping the Padres contend in 2010, have posted ERAs worse than the park-adjusted league average this season, with Latos the only member of the trio to manage a FIP below 4.00 (he's at a respectable 3.34), or to strike out more than 6.1 per nine (he's at 8.4). Worse, Richard was forced to undergo surgery to repair fraying in his labrum, biceps and rotator cuff in late July. The injury bug also bit Dustin Moseley, who suffered a shoulder subluxation after posting a staff-best 3.30 ERA through his first 20 starts.

Signs you can ignore: First baseman Anthony Rizzo, one of the key acquisitions in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, has hit an impossibly awful .130/.275/.243 with one homer in 138 plate appearances with the big club. Rizzo mashed at a .331/.404/.652 clip at Triple-A Tucson, and while a stark contrast between the offensive levels of their Triple-A and major league clubs is something that affects the entire division, it's too early to dismiss the 22-year-old lefty as a bust. He'll have to make adjustments at the big league level, but time is on his side. Between Guzman and Kyle Blanks, the Padres have options to tide themselves over, but they'd be well-served by seeing if Rizzo can make the necessary adjustments. -- Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

The San Diego Padres have two main goals this offseason: Improve the lineup against right-handed pitchers and revamp the bullpen after the trade of Mike Adams to the Texas Rangers and the impending free agency of closer Heath Bell. The Padres won't have the dollars to chase the expensive free agents, however, they will try to pursue a midlevel left-handed hitting corner outfielder either through free agency or trade. The Padres are also going to focus on improving their bench, which was a strength in 2010 but turned into a weakness in 2011.

The Padres' payroll is at $45 million this year and the front office is expected to have the flexibility of about a 10 percent increase for 2012. The club's local broadcast contract is up at the end of this year, and the next one should allow payroll increases over the next five years that could get the Padres in the $70 million range by 2016.

The Padres should let Heath Bell leave via free agency this offseason and take the draft-pick compensation to continue their long-term plan of building the organization through player development and scouting. In terms of left-handed-hitting outfielders, San Diego should look into trades for guys like Nick Markakis, Josh Reddick, Matt Joyce, Brennan Boesch, Shin-Soo Choo, Denard Span, Logan Morrison and Tyler Colvin, or delve into free agency for a midlevel free agent like David DeJesus.

San Diego will have to invest in some experienced bullpen arms to not only help improve the bullpen but also give it important trade pieces next July when it'll be time to make another Adams-type trade for prospects. It'll be tough to let a guy like Bell leave this winter when he has expressed a desire to remain in San Diego, but the club must accumulate as many draft picks as possible to build for the future. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

[+] EnlargeMat Latos
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesMat Latos must be healthy for the Padres to contend in 2012.

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 87-75
Petco Park is a difficult place to hit, but even in San Diego in a low-offense season, a good bullpen and an average pitching staff can't make up for a lineup scoring safely under four runs a game. Guzman, finally getting a shot after beating up minor leaguers for the past couple of years, has made the most of his opportunity and the Padres would be nuts to not find a place to play him in 2012. Rizzo should also be a full-timer or nearly so in 2012, and is a good bet to improve on the poor start to his major league career. With a bit of an offensive boost, a rebound from Mat Latos and a bench not made up of guys fighting daily struggles to stay above the Mendoza Line, the Padres could make another run similar to 2010.

Worst-case scenario: 66-96
While none of the starting pitchers had standout seasons, San Diego also didn't really have any deep holes in the rotation and generally avoided serious injuries -- only one start this season was of the spot-start variety. It's not a good enough rotation, however, to make up for the lack of offense and without Rizzo and Guzman both being solid contributors next year, it's hard to expect Headley and Maybin to single-handedly bring the offense to respectability. Most pitching improvement will probably have to come from Latos, a lot to put on the shoulder of a pitcher who doesn't turn 24 for a few months. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

Under the Jed Hoyer regime, the Padres have put a strong focus into scouting and player development, trying to mimic Hoyer's previous employer, the Red Sox, only with budgetary constraints. The early results are encouraging but also quite imbalanced. With potential help in 2012 like first baseman Anthony Rizzo and outfielder James Darnell, the Padres have some nearly big league-ready bats in the mix, while Midwest League MVP Rymer Liriano has the potential to continue the flow of bats to one of baseball's worst offenses. The problem, like so many teams, is a lack of pitching, as the upper levels of the system lack anyone with the potential to invigorate a rotation that fails to miss bats. With Casey Kelly looking more and more like a back-end starter, the need for an impact arm will loom large.-- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus



Kiss Em Goodbye: Cincinnati Reds.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: Reigning MVP Joey Votto suffered little drop-off from his career season, once again ranking among the best hitters in the league, while Jay Bruce, still just 24, set a career high in home runs, mostly by dint of a torrid .342/.402/.739 May. Likely free agent Brandon Phillips, one of only two regulars over age 30 (the other being the catching tandem), had his best offensive season. Despite injuries that truncated his season at both ends, right-hander Johnny Cueto maintained an ERA below 2.00 into late August, and Mike Leake had a solid if unspectacular sophomore season. Despite instability at several positions, particularly shortstop, the Reds had one of the tightest defensive units in baseball.

Signs of disaster: The Reds are a team in transition, but it's not clear what their plan is or where they are heading. They lead the National League in runs scored, but that is more a function of generous Great American Ball Park than it is a measure of a great offense. Veteran-loving manager Dusty Baker did not seem to realize this and stuck with underperforming players for far too long before turning to some of his younger alternatives, including shortstop Zack Cozart, who was quickly lost to injury after finally making his debut in July. Similarly, catcher Devin Mesoraco could have come up far earlier if the Reds had dealt Ramon Hernandez, whose contract is up, at the trading deadline. Meanwhile, even though Cueto led the league in ERA for much of the season, the staff never came together. The rotation, exemplified by Bronson Arroyo's 44 home runs allowed, ranked last in the league with a 4.95 fair run average.

Signs you can ignore: Aroldis Chapman's 4.00 ERA. The Reds have turned the potential starter or closer into the world's hardest-throwing irrelevant spot. The potential is still there for him to dominate, if the Reds can get their heads around an expanded role. Yes, Chapman has walked 7.8 batters per nine innings, but fireballing young lefties almost inevitably struggle with command -- it's just something the Reds have to let Chapman work through. When batters haven't walked or struck out (he's K'd 13.2 per nine), they've found it darned near impossible to make hard contact, hitting just .151 with two home runs. The Reds are wasting Chapman's time and theirs by keeping him in a very limited relief role. -- Steven Goldman, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

The Reds should begin their offseason by not picking up the $12 million club option on Francisco Cordero, instead giving the closer job to Chapman. They should let catcher Ramon Hernandez and shortstop Edgar Renteria also leave via free agency, and hand those jobs to Mesoraco and Cozart, respectively.

Their minor league system is loaded with prospects and general manager Walt Jocketty is in a good position to upgrade his big league roster. The biggest trade piece he has is Yonder Alonso, the Reds' No. 1 draft choice in 2008 out of Miami. Alonso is blocked at first base by Votto, so his greatest value to Cincy is on the trade market.

The bold move the Reds should make is a blockbuster with the Oakland Athletics, giving up Alonso along with Brad Boxberger, Travis Wood and Dave Sappelt for Gio Gonzalez. The 25-year-old lefty has proved the past two years that he's not only a 15-game winner but also a 200-inning workhorse with one of the game's best curves.

Gonzalez would fit nicely at the top of the Reds' rotation behind Johnny Cueto, and the A's -- a team with plenty of pitching depth -- need to rebuild their lineup. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 92-70
The 2011 season will ultimately go down as a disappointment, but the Reds are going to finish near .500 with a team that has a lot of holes that shouldn't be present next season. Cueto isn't a 2.31 ERA pitcher, but the rest of the rotation drastically underperformed, especially relative to 2010. Bronson Arroyo doesn't have an ace season in him, but he should at least be a serviceable innings-eater in 2012 and ZiPS still sees the odds of Travis Wood bouncing back or even breaking out in 2012. The Reds still have Votto and Bruce and will almost certainly pick up Phillips' $12 million option. Add in Cozart, who is much better at short than either Paul Janish or Renteria, and the recipe for another divisional title does exist in Cincy.

Worst-case scenario: 73-89
The team has enough talent to make a truly terrible season unlikely in 2012, but there are still a lot of question marks to make another disappointing season very possible. After Cueto and Mike Leake in the rotation, there's a great deal of uncertainty. Players like Edinson Volquez, Wood and Bailey all have a great deal of talent, but injuries and ineffectiveness make it really hard to rely on any of them to get the rotation back to 2010 levels. Scott Rolen was a big part of the 2010 team, but at 37 next year there's a lot of downside risk with him. The Reds could reduce their floor by simply figuring out what to do with Alonso, using him on the team or trading him are a lot more helpful to the 2012 team than letting him start next season in Louisville.-- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

The Reds will find out a lot about their future in 2012. With two of the top catching prospects in the game, they'll learn if Devin Mesoraco is the answer at the big league level, and if so, learn what the trade market is for Yasmani Grandal. They'll learn if Yonder Alonso can be a full-time player in the big leagues, or if he'll always need a platoon partner because of his struggles against southpaws. Down on the farm they'll learn if first baseman Neftali Soto is for real, or just an all-power/no-approach player in the mold of Juan Francisco, and if shortstop Billy Hamilton's second-half adjustments with the bat this year can allow him to become the type of blinding-speed leadoff man we haven't seen since the 1980s. Next season will not be one in which the young talent brings the Reds back to the top of the National League Central, but that's when we'll figure out whether it can.-- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus



Kiss Em Goodbye: Toronto Blue Jays.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: The Jays haven't been bad at the plate, featuring the second-best offensive team that won't go to the playoffs. Jose Bautista has made his offseason extension seem like a steal by sustaining his offensive onslaught over a second campaign, and rookie Brett Lawrie, a British Columbia native whose exuberant style already has made him a Canadian cult hero, has a remarkable 3.1 WARP even though he didn't make his debut until early August. Despite their struggles on the mound, the Jays have established two strong young starters in Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, whose 4.98 ERA ignores that he has the highest strikeout rate among AL starters (10.1 K's per nine), which is a very promising sign.

Signs of disaster: The Blue Jays have had to rely on their bats because the team's pitching hasn't held up its end of the bargain. Among AL teams, just the Orioles and Twins have run up a higher fair run average than Toronto's 4.88. The Jays were again victimized by their unenviable division assignment and the unbalanced schedule, going 20-30 to date against the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays. The good news is they're 13 games over .500 against everyone else, but that doesn't change the unfortunate fact that the Jays are still stuck behind three seemingly immovable obstacles. They also endured disappointing seasons from Travis Snider and Adam Lind, two players who had been expected to be offensive stalwarts but haven't lived up to their billing lately. Plus, top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek made the team out of spring training only to lose his control and continue to struggle even after a demotion to Triple-A.

Signs you can ignore: a story published in ESPN The Magazine that showed evidence that the Jays were illicitly stealing signs. If in fact the Jays had been up to something sneaky and were forced to reform, it didn't affect their ability to hit balls a long way; the team has gone yard even more frequently at the Rogers Centre since the report's publication on Aug. 10 as a percentage of balls in play. Before Aug. 10, their home run on contact percentage measured 4.65 at home and 3.45 on the road. However, after Aug. 10, the Jays measured 5.47 percent at home and 5.31 on the road.

Further, the Jays have improved their home run hitting to an even greater degree on the road, where they've presumably been playing without any foreknowledge of upcoming pitches. That suggests that they derived a bigger benefit from the hot second halves of Lawrie and others than any illicit activities in which they might have engaged. -- Ben Lindbergh, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

The Blue Jays are 11th in the American League in ERA and WHIP, while their offense is one of just five teams in the league to have scored more than 700 runs. In other words, they need some help in their rotation.

The bold move the Blue Jays should make this offseason is to sign a proven veteran starting pitcher with leadership capabilities. Specifically, they should target starting pitchers C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle. Either one would bring a 15-win and 200-innings pedigree with veteran leadership to the top of the Jays' rotation. Romero remains the ace, but either veteran would help develop the young pitchers who follow.

The Jays also should take a chance and sign Jonathan Broxton of the Dodgers to a low-salary deal with incentives based on games pitched. Broxton, 27, recently had elbow surgery to clean out bone spurs. If he is healthy, he could bounce back to his 2009 form, when he saved 36 games with a 2.61 ERA and a WHIP of 0.961. His ineffectiveness the past two years had to do with command problems that were directly related to health.

Signing Wilson or Buehrle would give Toronto the pitching boost it needs to legitimately compete for a playoff spot in 2012. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 89-73

In most divisions, an 89-73 record makes you a serious contender. In the AL East, however, it gets you a third- or fourth-place finish. The Jays have pitching on the way, but it probably won't be enough in 2012. Still, if the Jays are to flirt with 90 wins and September relevance, they must get better pitching behind Romero and his unhittable changeup. And unless they are active in the Wilson or Buehrle market, Morrow will have to figure out how to pitch with runners on base (.847 OPS allowed with men on), and Drabek and Brett Cecil need to step forward and improve their inning-to-inning consistency. It's possible given the talent involved, but it's a lot to put together suddenly.

Worst-case scenario: 70-92

There are a lot of young players with upside on the team, so the Jays probably will be at least moderately respectable without some truly awful luck intervening. They could help their case by having role players who won't drag down the Bautista-and-Lawrie-fueled offense, like Corey Patterson or the now-departed 2010-11 version of Aaron Hill; the current pitching staff isn't good enough to prop up an offense getting .650 OPS or a worse performance from three offensive positions. Another season of Lind and Snider underperforming their potential would leave the Jays without the proper secondary cast to safely outpace the Orioles. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

The Blue Jays are trying to get out from under those looming AL East shadows, and everything is moving in the right direction under GM Alex Anthopoulos thanks to a series of excellent trades and remarkably aggressive drafts. The Blue Jays already have gotten big league production from Lawrie, but there is more to come if Jays fans can be patient, as the organization possesses arguably the most impressive collections of young arms in the game even after failing to sign 2011 first-round pick Tyler Beede. Although it's hard to see the team competing for a playoff spot in the next two years, there are plenty of scenarios to see them playing with the big boys by the middle of the decade. -- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

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Kiss Em Goodbye: New York Mets.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: The dimensions of Citi Field have disguised the team's offensive talent, but the Mets have featured a potent lineup despite the extended absences of some of their best bats. They've posted the NL's second-best True Average (.266) thanks to a contact-oriented approach built on the league's second-highest batting average, third-highest walk rate and third-lowest strikeout rate. General manager Sandy Alderson managed to extract a top prospect from the Giants in return for fragile veteran Carlos Beltran. Lucky for Alderson, Beltran somehow stayed healthy just long enough to restore his trade value before breaking down again. Alderson also held on to Jose Reyes, giving the Mets the inside edge on retaining a fan favorite and one of the winter's most coveted free agents. Although a number of their high-profile players have lost time to injury, the Mets only ranked 11th-most in the majors in days surrendered to the disabled list (871). While hardly something to brag about, it constitutes a significant improvement over the Mets' showings in the 2008-10 seasons.

Signs of disaster: The Mets began the season with the second-highest payroll in the National League but played their way to the middle of the pack. Their highest-paid player, Johan Santana, failed to make a single appearance in the majors this season as he recovered from 2010 surgery to repair a torn anterior capsule in his throwing shoulder. He did make it back to the mound in time for a few rehab starts in Class A, but his absence was conspicuous given the $49.5 million still owed to him over the next two seasons (plus a $5.5 million buyout in the increasingly likely event that his 2014 option is declined). The Mets' prospects for offseason spending were dealt a blow when their deal to sell a minority share of the team to David Einhorn fell through, prolonging the Wilpons' attempts to bail themselves out of the legal and financial predicament they face as a result of their investments in Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

Signs you can ignore: First baseman Ike Davis was lost for the season May 10, but he made the most of his time on the active roster, exploding for a .302/.383/.543 line and seven home runs in 149 plate appearances. An ankle injury robbed him of the chance to sustain the outburst, but it also spared him the risk of regression, which would have been the more likely outcome had his season continued. Little in his unremarkable minor league and rookie records suggests that Davis is capable of performing at that elite level over the course of a full campaign, so Mets fans would be wise to treat his 2011 showing as the small-sample fluke that it was and temper their expectations accordingly.-- Ben Lindbergh, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

The Mets have a lot of work to do in the offseason if they want to contend for the divisional title or wild card in the next couple of years. First and foremost, they need to re-sign their best player -- shortstop Jose Reyes. His recent hamstring injury will be helpful in lowering his market value, but there will be many teams pursuing him. And unfortunately for the Mets, this will end up being a very difficult and expensive signing. The Mets' competition for Reyes' services could come from the Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox and maybe even the Los Angeles Angels. Regardless, this is a must-sign for the Mets, as Reyes is clearly one of the best players in the game when he's healthy.

The Mets also need to solidify the catcher's position, and the bold move they should make this winter besides re-signing Reyes is to try to dangle minor league infielder Wilmer Flores as the centerpiece in a trade for Reds catcher Yasmani Grandal. The Reds already have another promising young catcher in Devin Mesoraco, and Grandal, their 2010 first-round pick, doesn't really have a future in Cincy. Flores is a promising 19-year-old who held his own this year in the Class A Florida State league while being young for the level.

Grandal, 22, hit .305/.401/.510 with 31 doubles, 14 home runs while moving quickly from Class A to Triple-A this year. The Mets have had a revolving door behind the plate ever since Paul Lo Duca left, and although Josh Thole is a nice player, he's not a future All-Star like Grandal.

Sandy Alderson, the team's vice president and general manager, did a tremendous job in dealing Carlos Beltran at the trade deadline to San Francisco in exchange for the Giants' top pitching prospect, Zack Wheeler. It is this type of trade, as well as perhaps acquiring Grandal, that would make a successful offseason for the Mets and vault them back into contention rather than spending lavishly on free agents as they've done in the recent past. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 86-76

Even if the Mets lose Reyes, they still have enough talent to surprise and be relevant with a little bit of fortune. The rotation after R.A. Dickey was a problem this year, but Mike Pelfrey should have a better season, and both Jonathon Niese and Dillon Gee are young enough to take steps forward in 2012. Dickey turns 37 in a month, but that's about 27 in knuckleballer years. ZiPS is conservative with Johan Santana, expecting 20 league-average starts, but any good news about Santana would do a lot to shore up the staff. Bobby Parnell, like Heath Bell had when he was a Met, owns a FIP significantly better than his ERA, and is sorely underrated. Lucas Duda will start 2012 as a contributor, not an afterthought. And even Jason Bay could theoretically still contribute.

Worst-case scenario: 67-95
While there are lots of reasons to expect the Mets to improve a bit, the Mets without Reyes and Beltran are a couple of stars short. David Wright is still contributing offensively, but his power's gone missing again, and without a solid comeback from Wright or Bay, the only real serious power upside left on the team is in the form of Davis, who, as previously mentioned, missed most of the year due to an ankle injury and eventual surgery. If Santana's not ready, there's not a lot of depth in the Mets' rotation that's ready for 2012. Wheeler was a great pickup and Jennry Mejia will eventually be back in the mix once he recovers from elbow surgery, but they're not going to push the Mets toward a pennant. Yet. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

Has it been a fun September, Mets fans? With the team out of contention, it's time for fans to get a look at the young players who are part of the team's future, but instead you've been treated to a festival of mediocrity and no-future veterans with the likes of Chris Schwinden, Josh Stinson and Val Pascucci filling up your box scores. That's because there is not an exciting future for the Mets in anything but the rotation.

Right-hander Matt Harvey, the team's first-round pick in 2010, could be ready at some point in 2012, with Wheeler showing up shortly after. But that's all the Mets have to hang their hopes on right now, as nothing is coming to help the offense now that Lucas Duda is an established solid-but-unspectacular corner outfielder. When your best hitting prospect is 2011 first-round pick Brandon Nimmo, who is still eons away from the big leagues, you know it's going to be awhile.-- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus



Kiss Em Goodbye: Minnesota Twins.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: The Twins began the year with a $112.7 million payroll, the ninth highest in the majors and the highest in club history, about 15 percent higher than in 2010. They haven't come anywhere close to getting good value for their money, but the good news is that they have a lot of it coming off the books; between Joe Nathan ($11.25 million), Michael Cuddyer ($10.5 million), Matt Capps ($7.15 million), Delmon Young ($5.375 million), Jason Kubel ($5.25 million) and Jim Thome ($3 million), they're clearing $42.5 million worth of salary spent on six players who have been worth a collective 3.7 WARP this year. Thanks to their lovely new Target Field, they currently rank second in the league in attendance, but they'll need to reinvest some of those savings to convince fans that they can return to contention.

Signs of disaster: Nearly everything that could go wrong for the Twins did in 2011. Among American League teams, the Twins have scored more runs than only the Mariners, and allowed more than all but the Orioles. They're headed for their first last-place finish since 2000, and their lowest win total since 1999. They've gotten horrible work from newcomers such as Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.226/.278/.249) and once-promising youngsters such as Danny Valencia (.247/.295/.396).

But much more disconcerting is the decline of the team's most valuable commodities. Joe Mauer's health was misevaluated at the start of the season; he spent two months on the DL due to leg woes, and has hit a thin .290/.358/.372 with just three homers, an ominous showing for a player still owed $161 million over the next seven seasons. Justin Morneau has hit .227/.285/.333 with just four homers while struggling with wrist and neck injuries; he lost two months to surgery to repair a herniated disc. More troubling is the fact he's still battling post-concussion syndrome, and the Twins owe him another $28 million.

Carl Pavano regressed as feared; his strikeout rate tumbled to 4.0 per nine and his ERA ballooned from 3.75 to 4.52. He's due another $8.5 million next year. Francisco Liriano, coming off his strongest season since Tommy John surgery, wandered back into the wilderness and posted a 4.84 ERA while walking 5.0 per nine. Instead of being a candidate for a long-term deal he's a big question mark.

Signs you can ignore: When injuries hit the Twins, Ben Revere was pressed into big league service after just 32 games at Triple-A. The 23-year-old rookie has hit just .249/.295/.283. He's shown off his speed and made some highlight-worthy defensive plays, but he could use more minor league seasoning and will need to develop more strength if he's ever going to reach his ceiling as a dynamic leadoff hitter. -- Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

The Twins have a myriad of problems to solve this offseason, and this winter will be the biggest challenge of general manager Bill Smith's career. The team obviously has some health issues, as it used the disabled list an astounding 24 times this year, but beyond injuries, Smith need to upgrade his roster.

Justin Morneau
Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireA lingering concussion problem has hindered Justin Morneau, who has just four homers this year.

The Twins were trying to get more athletic and improve their range in the middle of the infield this year when they handed the shortstop job to Alexi Casilla and signed Tsuyoshi Nishioka to a three-year, $9 million deal to play second base. Casilla and Nishioka were both injured and inconsistent and the team really missed the defense and offensive energy that the former double-play combination of J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson brought each night.

The Twins were close to trading Denard Span to the Washington Nationals at the trade deadline for Drew Storen, one of the top young closers in the game. However, when the Twins got greedy and asked for second-base prospect Steve Lombardozzi to be part of the deal and Span hadn't yet recovered from his concussion, the deal collapsed. If Span is healthy, they should make the bold move and deal for Storen and Lombardozzi even if they have to put another prospect in the deal for the Nationals. Then they should let Revere become the full-time center fielder and use some of the money they have coming off of the books to re-sign Cuddyer because of his leadership, loyalty and what he means in the middle of their lineup.

A trade for Storen and Lombardozzi would solve their closer dilemma and upgrade second base while reducing the payroll considerably with the impending free-agent departures of Capps and Nathan. The Twins have a long way to go, but getting younger with payroll flexibility is the better way to go than patching up a team that has so many issues beyond health. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 87-75
It's hard to see it now in the midst of a disaster of a season, but the Twins still have a lot going for them, enough to make them a dangerous team in a good year. Joe Mauer's bat is coming around, and while neither the ZiPS projection system nor the most optimistic Twins fan sees another .365/.444/.587, 28-home run season like he put up in 2009, the odds of Mauer being a .320/.400/.430 hitter going forward are very good, and a major improvement for the offense for 2012. There's certainly still hope left for Justin Morneau and while ZiPS has been continuing projecting Morneau downward after his nightmare year, he's still young enough to recover from his injuries and snag a Comeback of the Year award. Four of the five pitchers in the rotation have better mean projections for next year and with a little bit of luck, the Twins can be in the thick of it 12 months from now.

Worst-case scenario: 66-96
The 10th percentile projection for the Twins isn't hard to imagine as that's how the Twins have played this season. To get the Twins playing as poorly next year as this year, you have to look way down in ZiPS' percentiles, around the 4th or 5th percentile for expectations. There's just realistically not a lot of ways for them to get worse at this point. It's hard to imagine Mauer or Morneau having worse years, the rotation and bullpen being more disappointing or Nishioka not improving significantly. He wasn't a scrub in Japan, but rather a .304/.379/.443 hitter, and while Japan isn't the majors, it's not the Carolina League, either. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

The bad news is that the Twins have an excellent chance to finish last in one of baseball's weakest divisions. The worse news is that help from the system is most definitely not on the way, at least anytime soon. Outfielder Joe Benson should provide some much needed muscle to the lineup in 2012, but with righty Kyle Gibson undergoing Tommy John surgery earlier in the month, the cupboard of prospects at the upper levels is bare.

Teenage sluggers like Miguel Sano and Eddie Rosario provide upside but are still years away, so the future of the Twins consists of prospects that don't seem like much of an improvement over what's already on the roster, thanks to a consistent over-reliance on strike throwers when it comes to drafting pitchers, and a seeming favoritism toward fundamentals over athleticism when it comes to selecting position players. That's enough to create a productive system in terms of quantity, but what the club needs now is quality, and that's not coming in 2012 or the year after.-- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus



Kiss Em Goodbye: Kansas City Royals.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: The prospects are coming, the prospects are coming! Having stuffed their farm system with more potentially star-level players than any other team in baseball, the Royals began bringing them up to this year. First baseman Eric Hosmer established himself at the age of 21; third baseman Mike Moustakas got off to a painfully slow start but has begun to hit over the last month of the season (.304/.344/.400 in his last 30 games); catcher Salvador Perez has exceeded offensive expectations, albeit in a small sample; young relievers Aaron Crow and Tim Collins have performed well, the former making the All-Star team. Starting pitcher Danny Duffy and second baseman Johnny Giavotella remain works in progress but retain their status as prospects. Perhaps sweetest of all, five years into his major league career former first-round draft pick Alex Gordon emerged as a star with a season that ranks as per wins above replacement player (WARP) in the top five in baseball.

Signs of disaster: Live by the prospect, die by the prospect. Left-hander John Lamb, rated the organization's No. 2 prospect by Baseball Prospectus, underwent Tommy John surgery in June. Lefty Mike Montgomery, the No. 5 prospect, struggled to a 5.32 ERA at Triple-A Omaha. A third left-hander, No. 6 prospect Chris Dwyer, had finished at Double-A in 2010 but failed to rise another level in 2011, posting a 5.60 ERA. Young lefties often struggle with command and Tommy John surgery isn't as perilous as it used to be, so these disappointments are likely transient. Still, starting pitching remains the biggest hurdle for the rebuilding Royals -- their starters' ERA of 4.94 was second-worst in the league -- and the setbacks suggest just how difficult it will be to generate a contending team almost entirely from within.

Signs you can ignore: The shockingly robust season from Melky Cabrera, and perhaps that of Jeff Francoeur, as well. The Royals took a flier on these disappointing mid-20s veterans and were rewarded with seasons that were shockingly good given their résumés. Both remain impatient hitters who are dependent on putting the ball in play to just the right spot for a positive result. This approach hasn't worked for them in the past, and likely for at least one of them, it won't work again in the future. The most likely candidate for regression is Cabrera; Francoeur has been productive at times in the past. Cabrera also retains a couple of key weaknesses -- he is a switch-hitter who is a far weaker hitter from the right side of the plate, and he is badly miscast in center field, where his strong arm doesn't make up for his lack of range. The Royals missed an opportunity by not flipping one of the two at the trading deadline while they still had some value. Instead, they gave Francoeur a two-year extension. -- Steve Goldman, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

The Royals are staying the course with their young players. As is the case with most teams this offseason, they are going to try to upgrade their starting pitching. The hope is that their farm system, loaded with starting pitching prospects like Montgomery, Duffy and Jake Odorizzi, can fortify their rotation as early as 2012.

The Royals also should consider moving Crow to the starting rotation next year because of his three above-average pitches. He was drafted as a starter and good starters are harder to find than good relievers. They also shouldn't be afraid to promote young starting pitching prospects, even if a couple are no more than fringe big leaguers. Allow them to develop like position players Moustakas, Hosmer and Perez did this year.

If the Royals want to make a splash, they should dangle closer Joakim Soria to try to acquire a starting pitcher. Soria is signed at a reasonable rate through 2014, and could be a huge asset to a team trying to win now.

However, the Royals' boldest move this offseason -- if they can't make a Soria deal -- should be no move at all. They must have the strength to walk away from free agency emptyhanded and continue emphasizing player development and scouting. They are making great progress, and a bad free-agent acquisition like the Gil Meche signing in December 2006 or a bad trade that involves a top prospect like Myers or Montgomery would be a huge mistake. Unless they can make a deal to trade for young starting pitchers with upside, they should just let the kids develop. Sometimes the best moves are the ones you don't make. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 84-78
To hit this number, the Royals will need the younger players in the lineup such as Hosmer, Moustakas and Alcides Escobar to show enough improvement to counteract the possible regressions by Cabrera and Francoeur. Despite his poor major league debut, Moustakas still is projected to hit .264/.310/.418 in 2012, a big improvement over his sub-.600 OPS this year. Francoeur and Cabrera are both seen as good bets to decline from their career-best years, with just a 17 percent and 22 percent chance, respectively, of matching their 2011 seasons. However, the good news is that Gordon's mean projection still leaves him an above-average hitter. The pitching doesn't have as much of a projected upside for 2012 as the offense does, so if the Royals are relevant, the hitters need to pull their weight. Billy Butler's already a good player, and he still has a shot to get even better as he enters his prime. However, the notion of him as a regular 30-homer hitter is becoming a stretch.

Worst-case scenario: 66-96
To get to their current 64-86 record, the Royals still needed a lot to go right. If Francoeur and Cabrera return to being the .700 OPS players they were before 2011 without a corresponding bump in some of the other hitters, the Royals aren't likely to have enough pitching to stay out of last place in the AL Central. Bruce Chen, the team's most dependable starter -- and at some points this year, the only dependable one -- is a free agent this year. Felipe Paulino returns, but a rotation of Paulino, Luke Hochevar, Duffy, Crow, and either Vin Mazzaro or Sean O'Sullivan won't scare anybody in 2012, even if a few of those pitchers have bright futures down the road. Montgomery had a promising projection coming into 2011, but after posting an ERA over 5.00 at Triple-A Omaha, he isn't likely to be a savior. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

Entering the year, the Royals not only had the best system in baseball but one that was easy to see as potentially historic. While fans in Kansas City have been treated to the likes of Hosmer, Moustakas, Giavotella, Duffy, Collins and others, not everyone in the system lived up to expectations. A quick lesson was given in the unavoidable volatility of the prospect world. Lefty John Lamb lasted 35 innings before succumbing to Tommy John surgery, fellow southpaw Montgomery saw his command collapse and outfielder Wil Myers suffered through an injury-plagued campaign at Double-A that saw him limping (almost literally) through a .254/.353/.393 campaign.

That's a trio of five-star prospects who ended the season with a lot of questions about their future -- so much, in fact, that the Royals have already talked about trading prospects for established starting pitchers as opposed to being able to solely depend on what's in house. Best system is recent memory? Fantastic. Turning all those players into productive big leaguers? Impossible. -- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus



Kiss Em Goodbye: Pittsburgh Pirates.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]

Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: Andrew McCutchen has continued to mature into an up-the-middle star, finishing as the sixth-highest Wins Above Replacement Player (5.1 WARP) in the senior circuit, and 25-year-old outfielder Alex Presley made good on his 2010 breakout, tearing through Triple-A before putting up an .818 OPS in 180 plate appearances in Pittsburgh.

The Pirates still need to surround McCutchen with a more capable supporting cast, but a center fielder who excels in all aspects of the game is a player upon whom a team can build. While the club's 8-22 August ended any dreams of a respectable record in 2011, the Pirates did make a positive move for the future by spending big in the amateur draft. The organization set a major league record by dispensing $17 million to its picks, including $8 million to UCLA starter and first overall pick Gerrit Cole and $5 million to Josh Bell, a slugging high school outfielder who had slipped to the second round because he was believed to be destined for college.

While their payrolls at the major league level have lagged among the league's lowest, the Pirates have put their revenue-sharing funds to good use, spending a major league-leading $48 million in their first four drafts under GM Neil Huntington.

Signs of disaster: The Pirates' offense is tied with the Giants' for the lowest team TAv in the majors (.242), and their pitching staff has recorded the fourth-worst Fair Run Average (4.74) in the NL. The team clung to contention much longer than it has in most of its 19 consecutive losing seasons and remained two games over .500 through June, but that unanticipated success was built on a shaky foundation. To that point, the staff had posted a collective 3.50 ERA, but only an unsustainable .284 opposing BABIP had allowed its pitch-to-contact approach to succeed. Pirates pitchers have struck out 6.4 batters per nine innings, the lowest rate in a league that has fanned 7.3; since June, Pirates opponents have batted .320 on balls in play, and the team ERA has risen accordingly, to 4.35. The Pirates lack a single starter with the ability to miss many bats, which doesn't bode well for their future run prevention.

Signs you can ignore: The Pirates' youth movement appeared to be dealt a serious blow by the struggles of third baseman Pedro Alvarez, the 2008 second overall pick who burst onto the big league scene with 16 homers in 347 at-bats in 2010. In his sophomore season, Alvarez backslid to the tune of a .195/.262/.286 line and endured two Triple-A stints -- the first of them successful, the second much less so. Coupled with a quad strain that sent him to the DL, Alvarez's poor offensive showing has made this something of a lost season, but his prospect pedigree, minor league track record and early success in the majors suggest that 2011 will be a blip along the way to stardom, not the beginning of the end. Still, he'll have to show a significant improvement in his plate approach in his age-25 season to restore his cornerstone status. -- Ben Lindbergh, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

After 19 consecutive losing seasons the Pirates need a couple of shrewd trades to help break the streak in 2012. The first bold move they should make is to try to trade for first baseman Yonder Alonso of the Cincinnati Reds. Alonso, 24, was the Reds' first-round selection (seventh overall) in the June 2008 free-agent amateur draft. Alonso hit .296/.374/.486 with 12 home runs at Triple-A Louisville this year before the Reds called him to the major leagues; however, he is blocked by Joey Votto at first, so he doesn't really have a position place in Cincy.

The Pirates should start by offering a package centered around outfielder Starling Marte, who is not only one of the best athletes in the Pirates' system, but would give the Reds a much-needed leadoff hitter. Marte is not enough to get Alonso straight up, but the Pirates do have some prospect depth to somehow make a deal work with Cincinnati. Alonso would give the Pirates another middle-of-the-order bat to build around Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez.

The Pirates should also pull the trigger on a six-year, $47 million dollar deal with their centerfielder Andrew McCutchen to send an important message to Pirates fans, while securing one of the team's leaders and best players. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 84-78
The Pirates made a lot of noise at around the halfway mark, and while the team wilted in the summer, they showed real flashes of being a contender. Despite a season that was better than many expected, Pittsburgh still has significant room to realistically improve on its 2011 campaign. The Pirates actually had very little good luck on offense -- their best prospect, after all, has fought injuries and has an OPS around .550.

The team should get better offense out of catcher and third base, and would have to put in a lot of effort to not improve at first base. Andrew McCutchen has an MVP year lurking in his bat, and Jose Tabata just turned 23 and still has a great deal of upside left. Add a better offense and a pitching staff that should be adequate, if not spectacular, and the Bucs have the opportunity to be even noisier next year.

Worst-case scenario: 66-96
As poor as the 10th-percentile projection for the Pirates is, their fans have seen much worse than a 66-win team in recent years. A lot would have to go wrong for the team, but given that the organization still hasn't built up a ton of depth at several positions, a few ill-timed injuries or disappointing years can really test that depth. When the team lost expected starters this year, they ended up having to go out and find an emergency catcher from the Red Sox in Mike McKenry and rush guys like Josh Harrison and Chase d'Arnaud.

With the team's fortunes on a rare upswing, one quiet thing the organization can't overlook this winter to prevent that pessimistic projection is to stash a few more veterans at Triple-A and be willing to use them as role players, rather than pushing their second-tier prospects too far, too quickly. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

While the Pirates saw growth at the big league level this year, the same happened on the farm, but not enough to project anything more than a continued slow turnaround. While recent drafts have flooded the system with high-ceiling prospects, they're mostly of the young and inexperienced type, so 2012 will clearly be another year that falls firmly on the rebuilding side of the ledger. With recent first-round picks Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon, the Pirates are the envy of baseball in terms of potential front-end starters, and with the surprising signing of Josh Bell they've added a potential impact hitter, so now the challenge of development is firmly in their hands. However, it's still going to be another two or three years before it translates to elite big league success. -- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus



Kiss Em Goodbye: San Diego Padres.

Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Spoiler [+]

Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: While the Padres' offense ranks last in the league in batting average (.238) and slugging percentage (.349), second to last in on-base percentage (.306) and 14th with a .244 true average, they have gotten some promising performances from some of their younger and less expensive hitters. Catcher Nick Hundley (.296/.361/.486), first baseman Jesus Guzman (.316/.371/.485) and third baseman Chase Headley (.292/.380/.407) all have true averages of at least .291, while center fielder Cameron Maybin (.268/.326/.391) is at .268. All are in their age-27 seasons or younger, and only Headley has reached his arbitration years; he'll be eligible for the second time this winter, while Hundley will be eligible for the first time. For a team that has been shedding expensive players in recent years, that's a decent base from which to build.

Signs of disaster: Despite the advantages of pitching in Petco Park, Padres starters have managed just a 3.80 ERA this season; while that ranks sixth in the NL, in reality it's about three-tenths of a run worse than league average once park effects are accounted for. Starters Mat Latos, Tim Stauffer and Clayton Richard, all of whom played vital roles in helping the Padres contend in 2010, have posted ERAs worse than the park-adjusted league average this season, with Latos the only member of the trio to manage a FIP below 4.00 (he's at a respectable 3.34), or to strike out more than 6.1 per nine (he's at 8.4). Worse, Richard was forced to undergo surgery to repair fraying in his labrum, biceps and rotator cuff in late July. The injury bug also bit Dustin Moseley, who suffered a shoulder subluxation after posting a staff-best 3.30 ERA through his first 20 starts.

Signs you can ignore: First baseman Anthony Rizzo, one of the key acquisitions in the Adrian Gonzalez trade, has hit an impossibly awful .130/.275/.243 with one homer in 138 plate appearances with the big club. Rizzo mashed at a .331/.404/.652 clip at Triple-A Tucson, and while a stark contrast between the offensive levels of their Triple-A and major league clubs is something that affects the entire division, it's too early to dismiss the 22-year-old lefty as a bust. He'll have to make adjustments at the big league level, but time is on his side. Between Guzman and Kyle Blanks, the Padres have options to tide themselves over, but they'd be well-served by seeing if Rizzo can make the necessary adjustments. -- Jay Jaffe, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

The San Diego Padres have two main goals this offseason: Improve the lineup against right-handed pitchers and revamp the bullpen after the trade of Mike Adams to the Texas Rangers and the impending free agency of closer Heath Bell. The Padres won't have the dollars to chase the expensive free agents, however, they will try to pursue a midlevel left-handed hitting corner outfielder either through free agency or trade. The Padres are also going to focus on improving their bench, which was a strength in 2010 but turned into a weakness in 2011.

The Padres' payroll is at $45 million this year and the front office is expected to have the flexibility of about a 10 percent increase for 2012. The club's local broadcast contract is up at the end of this year, and the next one should allow payroll increases over the next five years that could get the Padres in the $70 million range by 2016.

The Padres should let Heath Bell leave via free agency this offseason and take the draft-pick compensation to continue their long-term plan of building the organization through player development and scouting. In terms of left-handed-hitting outfielders, San Diego should look into trades for guys like Nick Markakis, Josh Reddick, Matt Joyce, Brennan Boesch, Shin-Soo Choo, Denard Span, Logan Morrison and Tyler Colvin, or delve into free agency for a midlevel free agent like David DeJesus.

San Diego will have to invest in some experienced bullpen arms to not only help improve the bullpen but also give it important trade pieces next July when it'll be time to make another Adams-type trade for prospects. It'll be tough to let a guy like Bell leave this winter when he has expressed a desire to remain in San Diego, but the club must accumulate as many draft picks as possible to build for the future. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

[+] EnlargeMat Latos
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesMat Latos must be healthy for the Padres to contend in 2012.

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 87-75
Petco Park is a difficult place to hit, but even in San Diego in a low-offense season, a good bullpen and an average pitching staff can't make up for a lineup scoring safely under four runs a game. Guzman, finally getting a shot after beating up minor leaguers for the past couple of years, has made the most of his opportunity and the Padres would be nuts to not find a place to play him in 2012. Rizzo should also be a full-timer or nearly so in 2012, and is a good bet to improve on the poor start to his major league career. With a bit of an offensive boost, a rebound from Mat Latos and a bench not made up of guys fighting daily struggles to stay above the Mendoza Line, the Padres could make another run similar to 2010.

Worst-case scenario: 66-96
While none of the starting pitchers had standout seasons, San Diego also didn't really have any deep holes in the rotation and generally avoided serious injuries -- only one start this season was of the spot-start variety. It's not a good enough rotation, however, to make up for the lack of offense and without Rizzo and Guzman both being solid contributors next year, it's hard to expect Headley and Maybin to single-handedly bring the offense to respectability. Most pitching improvement will probably have to come from Latos, a lot to put on the shoulder of a pitcher who doesn't turn 24 for a few months. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

Under the Jed Hoyer regime, the Padres have put a strong focus into scouting and player development, trying to mimic Hoyer's previous employer, the Red Sox, only with budgetary constraints. The early results are encouraging but also quite imbalanced. With potential help in 2012 like first baseman Anthony Rizzo and outfielder James Darnell, the Padres have some nearly big league-ready bats in the mix, while Midwest League MVP Rymer Liriano has the potential to continue the flow of bats to one of baseball's worst offenses. The problem, like so many teams, is a lack of pitching, as the upper levels of the system lack anyone with the potential to invigorate a rotation that fails to miss bats. With Casey Kelly looking more and more like a back-end starter, the need for an impact arm will loom large.-- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus



Kiss Em Goodbye: Cincinnati Reds.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: Reigning MVP Joey Votto suffered little drop-off from his career season, once again ranking among the best hitters in the league, while Jay Bruce, still just 24, set a career high in home runs, mostly by dint of a torrid .342/.402/.739 May. Likely free agent Brandon Phillips, one of only two regulars over age 30 (the other being the catching tandem), had his best offensive season. Despite injuries that truncated his season at both ends, right-hander Johnny Cueto maintained an ERA below 2.00 into late August, and Mike Leake had a solid if unspectacular sophomore season. Despite instability at several positions, particularly shortstop, the Reds had one of the tightest defensive units in baseball.

Signs of disaster: The Reds are a team in transition, but it's not clear what their plan is or where they are heading. They lead the National League in runs scored, but that is more a function of generous Great American Ball Park than it is a measure of a great offense. Veteran-loving manager Dusty Baker did not seem to realize this and stuck with underperforming players for far too long before turning to some of his younger alternatives, including shortstop Zack Cozart, who was quickly lost to injury after finally making his debut in July. Similarly, catcher Devin Mesoraco could have come up far earlier if the Reds had dealt Ramon Hernandez, whose contract is up, at the trading deadline. Meanwhile, even though Cueto led the league in ERA for much of the season, the staff never came together. The rotation, exemplified by Bronson Arroyo's 44 home runs allowed, ranked last in the league with a 4.95 fair run average.

Signs you can ignore: Aroldis Chapman's 4.00 ERA. The Reds have turned the potential starter or closer into the world's hardest-throwing irrelevant spot. The potential is still there for him to dominate, if the Reds can get their heads around an expanded role. Yes, Chapman has walked 7.8 batters per nine innings, but fireballing young lefties almost inevitably struggle with command -- it's just something the Reds have to let Chapman work through. When batters haven't walked or struck out (he's K'd 13.2 per nine), they've found it darned near impossible to make hard contact, hitting just .151 with two home runs. The Reds are wasting Chapman's time and theirs by keeping him in a very limited relief role. -- Steven Goldman, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

The Reds should begin their offseason by not picking up the $12 million club option on Francisco Cordero, instead giving the closer job to Chapman. They should let catcher Ramon Hernandez and shortstop Edgar Renteria also leave via free agency, and hand those jobs to Mesoraco and Cozart, respectively.

Their minor league system is loaded with prospects and general manager Walt Jocketty is in a good position to upgrade his big league roster. The biggest trade piece he has is Yonder Alonso, the Reds' No. 1 draft choice in 2008 out of Miami. Alonso is blocked at first base by Votto, so his greatest value to Cincy is on the trade market.

The bold move the Reds should make is a blockbuster with the Oakland Athletics, giving up Alonso along with Brad Boxberger, Travis Wood and Dave Sappelt for Gio Gonzalez. The 25-year-old lefty has proved the past two years that he's not only a 15-game winner but also a 200-inning workhorse with one of the game's best curves.

Gonzalez would fit nicely at the top of the Reds' rotation behind Johnny Cueto, and the A's -- a team with plenty of pitching depth -- need to rebuild their lineup. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 92-70
The 2011 season will ultimately go down as a disappointment, but the Reds are going to finish near .500 with a team that has a lot of holes that shouldn't be present next season. Cueto isn't a 2.31 ERA pitcher, but the rest of the rotation drastically underperformed, especially relative to 2010. Bronson Arroyo doesn't have an ace season in him, but he should at least be a serviceable innings-eater in 2012 and ZiPS still sees the odds of Travis Wood bouncing back or even breaking out in 2012. The Reds still have Votto and Bruce and will almost certainly pick up Phillips' $12 million option. Add in Cozart, who is much better at short than either Paul Janish or Renteria, and the recipe for another divisional title does exist in Cincy.

Worst-case scenario: 73-89
The team has enough talent to make a truly terrible season unlikely in 2012, but there are still a lot of question marks to make another disappointing season very possible. After Cueto and Mike Leake in the rotation, there's a great deal of uncertainty. Players like Edinson Volquez, Wood and Bailey all have a great deal of talent, but injuries and ineffectiveness make it really hard to rely on any of them to get the rotation back to 2010 levels. Scott Rolen was a big part of the 2010 team, but at 37 next year there's a lot of downside risk with him. The Reds could reduce their floor by simply figuring out what to do with Alonso, using him on the team or trading him are a lot more helpful to the 2012 team than letting him start next season in Louisville.-- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

The Reds will find out a lot about their future in 2012. With two of the top catching prospects in the game, they'll learn if Devin Mesoraco is the answer at the big league level, and if so, learn what the trade market is for Yasmani Grandal. They'll learn if Yonder Alonso can be a full-time player in the big leagues, or if he'll always need a platoon partner because of his struggles against southpaws. Down on the farm they'll learn if first baseman Neftali Soto is for real, or just an all-power/no-approach player in the mold of Juan Francisco, and if shortstop Billy Hamilton's second-half adjustments with the bat this year can allow him to become the type of blinding-speed leadoff man we haven't seen since the 1980s. Next season will not be one in which the young talent brings the Reds back to the top of the National League Central, but that's when we'll figure out whether it can.-- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus



Kiss Em Goodbye: Toronto Blue Jays.

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Baseball Prospectus' take

Signs of hope: The Jays haven't been bad at the plate, featuring the second-best offensive team that won't go to the playoffs. Jose Bautista has made his offseason extension seem like a steal by sustaining his offensive onslaught over a second campaign, and rookie Brett Lawrie, a British Columbia native whose exuberant style already has made him a Canadian cult hero, has a remarkable 3.1 WARP even though he didn't make his debut until early August. Despite their struggles on the mound, the Jays have established two strong young starters in Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, whose 4.98 ERA ignores that he has the highest strikeout rate among AL starters (10.1 K's per nine), which is a very promising sign.

Signs of disaster: The Blue Jays have had to rely on their bats because the team's pitching hasn't held up its end of the bargain. Among AL teams, just the Orioles and Twins have run up a higher fair run average than Toronto's 4.88. The Jays were again victimized by their unenviable division assignment and the unbalanced schedule, going 20-30 to date against the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays. The good news is they're 13 games over .500 against everyone else, but that doesn't change the unfortunate fact that the Jays are still stuck behind three seemingly immovable obstacles. They also endured disappointing seasons from Travis Snider and Adam Lind, two players who had been expected to be offensive stalwarts but haven't lived up to their billing lately. Plus, top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek made the team out of spring training only to lose his control and continue to struggle even after a demotion to Triple-A.

Signs you can ignore: a story published in ESPN The Magazine that showed evidence that the Jays were illicitly stealing signs. If in fact the Jays had been up to something sneaky and were forced to reform, it didn't affect their ability to hit balls a long way; the team has gone yard even more frequently at the Rogers Centre since the report's publication on Aug. 10 as a percentage of balls in play. Before Aug. 10, their home run on contact percentage measured 4.65 at home and 3.45 on the road. However, after Aug. 10, the Jays measured 5.47 percent at home and 5.31 on the road.

Further, the Jays have improved their home run hitting to an even greater degree on the road, where they've presumably been playing without any foreknowledge of upcoming pitches. That suggests that they derived a bigger benefit from the hot second halves of Lawrie and others than any illicit activities in which they might have engaged. -- Ben Lindbergh, Baseball Prospectus


Bowden's bold move

The Blue Jays are 11th in the American League in ERA and WHIP, while their offense is one of just five teams in the league to have scored more than 700 runs. In other words, they need some help in their rotation.

The bold move the Blue Jays should make this offseason is to sign a proven veteran starting pitcher with leadership capabilities. Specifically, they should target starting pitchers C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle. Either one would bring a 15-win and 200-innings pedigree with veteran leadership to the top of the Jays' rotation. Romero remains the ace, but either veteran would help develop the young pitchers who follow.

The Jays also should take a chance and sign Jonathan Broxton of the Dodgers to a low-salary deal with incentives based on games pitched. Broxton, 27, recently had elbow surgery to clean out bone spurs. If he is healthy, he could bounce back to his 2009 form, when he saved 36 games with a 2.61 ERA and a WHIP of 0.961. His ineffectiveness the past two years had to do with command problems that were directly related to health.

Signing Wilson or Buehrle would give Toronto the pitching boost it needs to legitimately compete for a playoff spot in 2012. -- Jim Bowden


Hopes and fears

Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 89-73

In most divisions, an 89-73 record makes you a serious contender. In the AL East, however, it gets you a third- or fourth-place finish. The Jays have pitching on the way, but it probably won't be enough in 2012. Still, if the Jays are to flirt with 90 wins and September relevance, they must get better pitching behind Romero and his unhittable changeup. And unless they are active in the Wilson or Buehrle market, Morrow will have to figure out how to pitch with runners on base (.847 OPS allowed with men on), and Drabek and Brett Cecil need to step forward and improve their inning-to-inning consistency. It's possible given the talent involved, but it's a lot to put together suddenly.

Worst-case scenario: 70-92

There are a lot of young players with upside on the team, so the Jays probably will be at least moderately respectable without some truly awful luck intervening. They could help their case by having role players who won't drag down the Bautista-and-Lawrie-fueled offense, like Corey Patterson or the now-departed 2010-11 version of Aaron Hill; the current pitching staff isn't good enough to prop up an offense getting .650 OPS or a worse performance from three offensive positions. Another season of Lind and Snider underperforming their potential would leave the Jays without the proper secondary cast to safely outpace the Orioles. -- Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory


Organizational future

The Blue Jays are trying to get out from under those looming AL East shadows, and everything is moving in the right direction under GM Alex Anthopoulos thanks to a series of excellent trades and remarkably aggressive drafts. The Blue Jays already have gotten big league production from Lawrie, but there is more to come if Jays fans can be patient, as the organization possesses arguably the most impressive collections of young arms in the game even after failing to sign 2011 first-round pick Tyler Beede. Although it's hard to see the team competing for a playoff spot in the next two years, there are plenty of scenarios to see them playing with the big boys by the middle of the decade. -- Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

post #2775 of 77305
I wouldn't even put Derek Lowe on the postseason roster he's garbage. He's not worse than Lackey or AJ Burnett, but the Braves have young hurlers in Delgado, Beachy, Teheran that can take his spot.

Jurrjens won't make the playoffs still injured and Hanson will likely make a start before the regular season ends.

The new logo for the Marlins was leaked:

image
post #2776 of 77305
I wouldn't even put Derek Lowe on the postseason roster he's garbage. He's not worse than Lackey or AJ Burnett, but the Braves have young hurlers in Delgado, Beachy, Teheran that can take his spot.

Jurrjens won't make the playoffs still injured and Hanson will likely make a start before the regular season ends.

The new logo for the Marlins was leaked:

image
post #2777 of 77305
smiley: sick
post #2778 of 77305
smiley: sick
post #2779 of 77305
i dont want that logo in my division.
post #2780 of 77305
i dont want that logo in my division.
post #2781 of 77305
* WINNER OF THE 2011 NT YAHOO FANTASY BASEBALL LEAGUE *
Seriously?
post #2782 of 77305
* WINNER OF THE 2011 NT YAHOO FANTASY BASEBALL LEAGUE *
Seriously?
post #2783 of 77305
funny-celebrity-pictures-come-at-me-bro-but-the-hair-and-face-are-off-limits.jpg
post #2784 of 77305
funny-celebrity-pictures-come-at-me-bro-but-the-hair-and-face-are-off-limits.jpg
post #2785 of 77305
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin Cleveland

* WINNER OF THE 2011 NT YAHOO FANTASY BASEBALL LEAGUE *

Seriously?



   smiley: laugh Venom's league.  Beat me in the finals.
post #2786 of 77305
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kevin Cleveland

* WINNER OF THE 2011 NT YAHOO FANTASY BASEBALL LEAGUE *

Seriously?



   smiley: laugh Venom's league.  Beat me in the finals.
post #2787 of 77305
New Jays logo leaked:

6171663819_409d5d7739.jpg
post #2788 of 77305
New Jays logo leaked:

6171663819_409d5d7739.jpg
post #2789 of 77305
Love it.

Huge upgrade over their current look.
Team Otaku | Team AM FAM | Team Yankees
Team New York Knicks #18
Reply
Team Otaku | Team AM FAM | Team Yankees
Team New York Knicks #18
Reply
post #2790 of 77305
Love it.

Huge upgrade over their current look.
Team Otaku | Team AM FAM | Team Yankees
Team New York Knicks #18
Reply
Team Otaku | Team AM FAM | Team Yankees
Team New York Knicks #18
Reply
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