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2016 MLB thread. THE CUBS HAVE BROKEN THE CURSE! Chicago Cubs are your 2016 World Series champions. - Page 13

post #361 of 77278
He has a good shot at a big year every year... Then his arm falls off.
post #362 of 77278
He has a good shot at a big year every year... Then his arm falls off.
post #363 of 77278
My guess is this will be Bedards last "big year." He'll probably get comeback player of the year, win 12-15 games hopefully, but then he won't be nothing more than a 10 win pitcher the rest of his injury riddled career.
VIKINGS | TIMBERWOLVES | TWINS | MARINERS | HUSKIES | SHARKS
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VIKINGS | TIMBERWOLVES | TWINS | MARINERS | HUSKIES | SHARKS
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post #364 of 77278
My guess is this will be Bedards last "big year." He'll probably get comeback player of the year, win 12-15 games hopefully, but then he won't be nothing more than a 10 win pitcher the rest of his injury riddled career.
VIKINGS | TIMBERWOLVES | TWINS | MARINERS | HUSKIES | SHARKS
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VIKINGS | TIMBERWOLVES | TWINS | MARINERS | HUSKIES | SHARKS
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post #365 of 77278
This year will be different though...I hope laugh.gif
You whole crew's ravishing, team's untouchable
In the jungle banging Nas, Mobb Deep and Wu
"My Ohhh My"
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You whole crew's ravishing, team's untouchable
In the jungle banging Nas, Mobb Deep and Wu
"My Ohhh My"
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post #366 of 77278
This year will be different though...I hope laugh.gif
You whole crew's ravishing, team's untouchable
In the jungle banging Nas, Mobb Deep and Wu
"My Ohhh My"
Reply
You whole crew's ravishing, team's untouchable
In the jungle banging Nas, Mobb Deep and Wu
"My Ohhh My"
Reply
post #367 of 77278
the Red Sox are moving their right field fence in 10 feet...insane...

Adrian Gonzalez is gonna go insane
post #368 of 77278
the Red Sox are moving their right field fence in 10 feet...insane...

Adrian Gonzalez is gonna go insane
post #369 of 77278
Quote:
Originally Posted by venom lyrix

the Red Sox are moving their right field fence in 10 feet...insane...

Adrian Gonzalez is gonna go insane


for what reason? that's retarded... Ortiz gonna add on 10 HRs lol
Twitter: @fenixconnexion
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Twitter: @fenixconnexion
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post #370 of 77278
Quote:
Originally Posted by venom lyrix

the Red Sox are moving their right field fence in 10 feet...insane...

Adrian Gonzalez is gonna go insane


for what reason? that's retarded... Ortiz gonna add on 10 HRs lol
Twitter: @fenixconnexion
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Twitter: @fenixconnexion
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post #371 of 77278
Well the Red Sox said they are doing it to add seats to Fenway...

but it's probably more to boost HR #s
post #372 of 77278
Well the Red Sox said they are doing it to add seats to Fenway...

but it's probably more to boost HR #s
post #373 of 77278
Photobucket

Indians at rockies

Masterson looked like garbage but pomeranz and chisenhall looked like studs out there pimp.gif
post #374 of 77278
Photobucket

Indians at rockies

Masterson looked like garbage but pomeranz and chisenhall looked like studs out there pimp.gif
post #375 of 77278
Quote:
Originally Posted by ElijahDukes

Quote:
Originally Posted by venom lyrix

the Red Sox are moving their right field fence in 10 feet...insane...

Adrian Gonzalez is gonna go insane


for what reason? that's retarded... Ortiz gonna add on 10 HRs lol

expanded the bull pens. added someting to it. forget what. and i think seats were added. is the wall the same height, like add a foot or 2
TEAM CHEESEHEADS ..... HoustonRockets
Jordy Nelson: Best WR in the game .................................. The Roc Boys in the building tonight
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TEAM CHEESEHEADS ..... HoustonRockets
Jordy Nelson: Best WR in the game .................................. The Roc Boys in the building tonight
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post #376 of 77278
Quote:
Originally Posted by ElijahDukes

Quote:
Originally Posted by venom lyrix

the Red Sox are moving their right field fence in 10 feet...insane...

Adrian Gonzalez is gonna go insane


for what reason? that's retarded... Ortiz gonna add on 10 HRs lol

expanded the bull pens. added someting to it. forget what. and i think seats were added. is the wall the same height, like add a foot or 2
TEAM CHEESEHEADS ..... HoustonRockets
Jordy Nelson: Best WR in the game .................................. The Roc Boys in the building tonight
Reply
TEAM CHEESEHEADS ..... HoustonRockets
Jordy Nelson: Best WR in the game .................................. The Roc Boys in the building tonight
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post #377 of 77278
Thread Starter 
Some prospect stuff for the M's/Oakland:

 

Some notes from Monday's Seattle-Oakland tilt in Phoenix...

• Seattle right-hander Michael Pineda showed a big fastball Monday, touching 96 MPH a few times and working mostly at 93-95 in his two innings. The pitch will probably play up because the ball appears quite late to hitters even though it's not a classic delivery. Pineda struggled with command and especially with his breaking ball on Monday and threw just one changeup, a pin-straight offering at 88 that would grade out at a 35 if we wanted to go off that one sample. The slider was just very inconsistent; he threw several with good tilt but didn't locate them, and got away with a few spinners including one brutal hanger at 81 that a big league hitter could have jerked out of most parks. He has a few more weeks to make his case to be in the Opening Day rotation, but the two innings he threw on Monday did not show him to be ready for the majors; he'll need more consistency on the slider and and to show a much better third pitch.

Joey Devine hasn't appeared in a big league game since the end of 2008, missing two years due to Tommy John surgery, and his appearance on Monday made it look like he's a long way from getting back. Devine walked the first hitter on four pitches, threw balls on 10 of his first 12 offerings, threw one pitch to the backstop, nearly hit right-handed batters with at least four others, and walked four of the five men he faced, all while failing to get over 91 MPH and sitting around 88. He had the surgery about 23 months ago, and his velocity isn't likely to improve from where it is today given the time since the operation.

Fautino de los Santos is another Tommy John surgery survivor, throwing just 82 innings over the last three years around the May 2008 operation, but his stuff has bounced back better than Devine's has. De los Santos sat 91-93 on Monday but hit 95 a few times and flashed a plus slider in the low 80s, hard and sharp with good tilt. He had zero command -- although to be fair command wasn't a big part of his game pre-knife -- and while he accelerates his arm very quickly, his arm path is long, making it hard for him to repeat it. I do think he has promise as a reliever, but he could easily be Jesus Colome, tantalizing with plus stuff but never commanding it enough to be an elite closer or setup guy.

Grant Green is becoming more and more frustrating to watch. He has athleticism, and has some instincts, but his throwing motion is totally inadequate for shortstop and his feet always seem to be going in the wrong direction. His at-bats were just as maddening, culminating in a strikeout against Josh Lueke, all on breaking balls. Shortstop can't be his long-term position, and I'd really like to see him in centerfield where his speed will play up while his inadequacies in the infield won't be such a problem.


 

 

The contract extension for Matt Thornton came in the middle of spring training, but it was everything that happened in the dead of winter that created this deal. The salary benchmarks haven't moved much for players at other positions in this offseason, most notably for the designated hitters and for the closers -- and even Albert Pujols was offered less per year than three other first basemen.

But for setup men, the prices exploded, as Joaquin Benoit (three years, $16.5 million), Scott Downs (three years), Matt Guerrier (three years, $12 million) and Rafael Soriano (three years, $35 million to be Mariano Rivera's pricey bullpen caddy) will testify. The history of these types of contracts for relievers is absolutely disastrous, but teams now are paying what they have to pay because they know they cannot win without bullpen help. "We really needed the guy," said one GM who dished out big dollars for a reliever in the past year.

Thornton is one of baseball's best-kept secrets: a durable lefty who has demonstrated total dominance over lefties at a time when right-handed power hitting is increasingly scarce. As noted in the ESPN.com story on the signing, the 34-year-old Thornton led all AL relievers in strikeouts per nine innings last season (12.02) and inherited runners scored percentage (12.9). He limited left-handed hitters to a .175 batting average with 44 strikeouts.

So the White Sox jumped the market, in a sense. Rather than allowing Thornton to hit the market and draw one of those inflation-driven three-year offers, they gave him a two-year deal extension along the lines of what Boston gave to Bobby Jenks (two years, $12 million), with a team option for $6 million in 2014 (and a $1 million buyout). There is the inherent risk in investing in an older reliever who has piled up a lot of appearances and has burned a lot of pitches in the bullpen, but the White Sox knew, from all the trade interest in Thornton through the years, that he would have no shortage of suitors if he ever became a free agent.

It wouldn't be a shocker if other relievers got similar deals in the next few months. Look, it might seem a little crazy to be paying $4.74 for a gallon for gas, but as anyone who drives through the Tampa area knows, the prices have climbed and you have to fill the tank. Similarly, no team succeeds these days -- in an era when innings thrown by starting pitchers continue to dissipate -- without having a strong core of relievers.

Thornton says he doesn't care whether he's the closer or not, as Daryl van Schouwen writes. The White Sox have committed about $30 million to six relievers this spring, as Dave van Dyck writes.

What will be interesting, going forward, is whether teams start to invest long-term multiyear deals in their young relievers the way that they have at other positions -- for someone like a Chris Sale or a Drew Storen or a Sergio Santos.

Notables


• The concern about Chase Utley within the Phillies' organization is much higher than the public posture has been, writes Paul Hagen, and he runs through the team's options in the event that Utley can't contribute much.

Justin Morneau says he can get ready in a hurry, once he's been cleared, as Sid Hartman writes. It's been 213 days since his most recent game.

• The Padres should get an upgrade in the leadoff spot, with Cameron Maybin. By the way: Colleague Bobby Valentine saw Maybin work out this winter and swing in a cage and came away very, very impressed and thinking that Maybin is going to be better than he's shown.

• The Yankees will be looking at Brett Myers, writes George King.

• By the way: The Red Sox and Adrian Gonzalez have not resumed contract talks since the weekend they traded for him, but since negotiating that weekend, Boston's front office has had an understanding of what it will take to sign him -- seven years, about $22 million a year -- and presumably, a deal will be completed. And no, Albert Pujols' looming free agency will not have a bearing on that, because in the end, Gonzalez is younger and he will probably be cheaper.

Dings and dents


1. Corey Hart injured an oblique. Not good. The Brewers are serious contenders in the NL Central, but they don't have a lot of lineup depth.

2. Jason Heyward created a scare in his first game back from a groin injury.

3. Carlos Beltran gave his manager a scare, writes Karen Crouse.

4. Justin Duchscherer will start Tuesday, as mentioned within this Jeff Zrebiec notebook.

5. The Rangers got a big scare with Neftali Feliz, but he's OK.

6. Chris Carpenter threw from a mound, a sign of progress for the veteran.

7. Miguel Olivo thinks he'll be ready for Opening Day.

8. James Loney is expected back by Wednesday.

9. Aaron Cook is feeling no pain, writes Troy Renck.

The Battle for Jobs


1. The Marlins are increasingly pleased with what they are seeing in Matt Dominguez.

2. Charlie Manuel is getting a look at some of his right-field candidates. Ben Francisco has looked good so far.

3. James McDonald of the Pirates is thankful for the role he has, as Ron Musselman writes.

4. Jeremy Accardo couldn't be happier as he works for a job with the Orioles.

5. Alexi Casilla seems wiser this spring, as he takes over.

6. Edgar Renteria is not in the mix at third base for the Reds.

7. Mike Aviles is answering any doubts about his defense.

8. Defense will be important as the Diamondbacks consider the starter at first base, writes Nick Piecoro.

Moves, deals and decisions


1. Brett Gardner could supplant Derek Jeter as the leadoff hitter, writes Mark Feinsand.

2. The Astros are looking at their options for catcher in the aftermath of the Jason Castro injury.

Sunday's games


1. Brian Wilson threw the heck out of the ball in his first outing.

2. Carlos Gonzalez hit a monster homer.

3. Every day, it seems, Brett Lawrie is doing something great.

4. Johnny Cueto was The Man for the Reds.

5. Buster Posey is hitting .643 this spring, as mentioned within this Andrew Baggarly notebook.

6. Bryce Harper hit the cutoff man.

7. Zack Greinke is not worried about his tough outing.

8. Russell Martin got a chance to catch Phil Hughes.

9. The Rays continue to lose, as Marc Topkin writes.

10. Justin Masterson had an interesting inning.

11. Heath Bell had a really good outing, writes Dan Hayes.

Other stuff


• A-Rod looks great this spring, writes John Harper.

• Adrian Gonzalez looks like a great fit for Fenway Park. He is making progress as he comes back from shoulder surgery.

• The Indians' Drew Pomeranz has looked good this spring, writes Bud Shaw.

Dan Haren continues to evolve.

• The Dodgers will let Matt Kemp run again this year.

• Dustin Ackley is making adjustments.

Adam Dunn is feeling better than his batting average indicates.

• Mike Maddux wants his pitchers to keep it down in the strike zone.

Willie Bloomquist is a role model.

• There are no signs that Ryan Franklin is slowing down, writes Derrick Goold.

Alex Avila is getting comfortable at the plate, writes Shawn Windsor.

Alfonso Soriano is off to a great start in spring training.

Dirk Hayhurst is no Jim Bouton, as far as how he treats sensitive clubhouse information.

Aramis Ramirez wants to steal bases. Hold on, big fella; I'm sure the Cubs would prefer he do everything he can do to stay in the lineup.

Chris Davis is having a good spring, writes Jennifer Floyd Engel.

• Fans got a look at a top Atlanta prospect.

• It will be difficult for the Marlins to make up for the power they lost with Dan Uggla's departure.

• Jemile Weeks got a chance to play against his brother, as John Shea writes.

Victor Martinez is the total package for the Tigers.

• Pat Hughes is collaborating on a book about Ron Santo. It should be a great read.

• A Padres coach who is fighting cancer is keeping his routine as normal as possible, writes Tyler Kepner.

• The Blue Jays are thrilled to have Brian Butterfield back.


 

 

The Milwaukee Brewers made two big acquisitions this winter, adding starting pitchers Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to their rotation in a bid to contend for the National League Central crown. Most analysis is focused on how well they're going to pitch, but another key question is this: Can they hit? These two should provide a significant upgrade on the mound, and having two quality arms behind Yovani Gallardo in the rotation may give the Brewers the lift they need to get over the hump. However, the chances of the Brewers' success hinges not just on how the new guys pitch, but how well they can adjust to life in the National League, where pitchers also have to bat.

Last season, the Brewers held a huge advantage over the rest of the league in offense produced by their pitchers. Led by Gallardo and his four home runs, the Brewers' pitching staff hit .207/.249/.280, or just a little bit worse than the worst-hitting regular position player in baseball last year, Cesar Izturis. Being less productive offensively than Izturis is rarely a compliment, but when compared to the futility of other pitchers, Milwaukee's performance looks positively Ruthian.

If you exclude the Brewers, the average line put up by an NL pitcher was just .137/.170/.167. Milwaukee trounced that, and its Weighted On Base Average of .239 was 83 points higher than the .156 wOBA of its competitors. With each team's pitchers accounting for about 350 trips to the plate, the differences can really begin to add up. Greinke and Marcum are coming over from the American League, so we don't know how they handle the stick. If they hit like typical pitchers, as opposed other Brewers pitchers, then Milwaukee stands to lose a decent amount of production on offense.

Below are the best and worst offensive performances from pitchers among NL teams in 2010. wRAA is Weighted Runs Above Average (or in this case, below average, since each team is in the negative compared to a league average hitting position player). Believe it or not, having a staff of good hitting pitchers can make an enormous difference.

The Good

1. Milwaukee Brewers: .239 wOBA, -23.9 wRAA
Gallardo was the second-best hitting pitcher in baseball last year (behind only Dan Haren), and his .363 wOBA was the same as Jay Bruce's. Chris Narveson also brought some offense to the table, hitting .327 and posting a .365 on base percentage. He didn't hit for any power, but he got on base enough to be a valuable offensive performer. Randy Wolf and Manny Parra didn't embarrass themselves either, giving the Brewers some legitimate offense from the No. 9 spot in the lineup nearly each day they came to the park.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks: .207 wOBA, -33.7 wRAA
As mentioned, Haren was the star here, putting up a .364/.375/.527 line that was on par with what Luke Scott did for the Orioles as a DH. The D-backs lost some punch when they dealt Haren to Anaheim, and although Ian Kennedy and Barry Enright were respectable at the plate, Arizona got some awful performances from Rodrigo Lopez and Joe Saunders.

3. New York Mets: .191 wOBA, -36.6 wRAA
While the Mets didn't get much offense from big bat acquisition Jason Bay, a couple of newcomers to the rotation managed to provide some offense from the bottom of the order. R.A. Dickey's breakout wasn't limited to his knuckleball, as he hit .255 and struck out only eight times. Perhaps more impressively, Jon Niese drew eight walks in 66 trips to the plate, getting halfway to A.J. Pierzynski's season total despite the catcher having 400 at-bats.

The Bad

1. Los Angeles Dodgers: .113 wOBA, -60.6 wRAA
Talk about a total team "effort" ... Vicente Padilla and Chad Billingsley were the best of the worst, but the entire staff failed to hit. Clayton Kershaw and Hiroki Kuroda combined for just five hits -- all singles -- between them, while Jon Ely and Ted Lilly weren't much better. Overall, the pitching staff managed just 24 hits, with only two of those going for doubles, and no home runs all season. It's no wonder the Dodgers led the league in sacrifice bunts from their pitchers.

2. San Francisco Giants: .127 wOBA, -58.2 wRAA
While the Giants' pitchers helped lead the team to a World Series title, they didn't help their own cause very often in the regular season. Madison Bumgarner was the only member of the rotation to beat the league average line for a pitcher, and as a group, Giants pitchers drew fewer walks than Niese did by himself.

3. Philadelphia - .136 wOBA, -56.5 wRAA
The Marlins and Pirates posted worse overall lines from their pitchers, but wRAA accounts for the fact that the Phillies' stadium is a pretty good place to hit -- unless, of course, you pitch for the Phillies. We shouldn't be surprised that AL escapees Roy Halladay and Joe Blanton aren't much with the bat, but Roy Oswalt is a lifelong NL pitcher and he was just as useless at the plate.

Given that a team can add one win to its expected total for every 10 runs, the gap between the Brewers and Dodgers was worth nearly four wins in the standings last year. With two AL pitchers joining the group in Milwaukee, don't expect a repeat performance. If Marcum and Greinke struggle as many pitchers do when switching leagues, they could give back a significant amount of their value at the plate. The Giants showed that you can win despite bad hitting pitchers, so this doesn't necessarily spell impending doom for Milwaukee, but it is something they will have to account for this year. For all the gains the Brewers will make in terms of run prevention, they're going to give some of that up on the other side of the ball.


 

Cause of concern with Beltran?

11:09AM ET
Carlos Beltran | Mets
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Carlos Beltran will have his second straight day off after making his Grapefruit League debut as a designated hitter on Sunday, manager Terry Collins told Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com.

Beltran was not in the starting lineup for a split squad game and won%u2019t participate in a simulated game either.

Beltran is making the move from center to right field, in part because of reduced mobility following knee surgery last January. Collins insists that nothing is wrong with Beltran outside of a little stiffness and tendinitis, but any ailment to the $18 million outfielder will draw plenty of attention.

Beltran will hit the free agent market again next winter and wants to eliminate any concerns regarding his health.

- Doug Mittler

Carpenter could miss Friday start

10:45AM ET
Chris Carpenter | Cardinals
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UPDATE: Carpenter's Friday start is now in doubt after the right-hander "felt a twinge" Sunday in the left hamstring that forced his removal from a spring start last week. If the former Cy Young winner doesn't get on the mound and build some arm strength fairly soon, his availability come Opening Day may be in jeopardy.

...

UPDATE: Carpenter left the game last Tuesday because he felt a twinge in his hamstring, tweets Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Carpenter left the game as a precaution, so it sounds like this is nothing serious at this time.

...

Right-hander Chris Carpenter, the St. Louis Cardinals other ace, left the game in the third inning Tuesday after throwing four wide ones. He was escorted off the field by the team's head trainer, according to Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

This could be, of course, a disaster for the Cardinals, and if Carpenter misses any extended period of time it could take the club out of the race in the National League Central.

There are no indications just yet on what the injury is, but without Carpenter the Cardinals rotation is wide open, not only to Kyle McLellan but for youngsters such as Lance Lynn, as well. Free agents Jeremy Bonderman and Kevin Millwood could also get calls from GM John Mozeliak, as could the Phillies who may be willing to move Joe Blanton.

Mitchell Boggs, another potential candidate to get a look as a starter, replaced Carpenter but was also removed from the game due to an injury. Strauss tweets that it appears Boggs' back is giving him problems.

- Jason A. Churchill

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Doug Mittler

Cardinals rotation options

"Kyle McClellan is the most viable candidate to make the transition to starter and will not be sorely missed in the bullpen because of the emergence of Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte. Veterans Ian Snell and Miguel Batista are in the mix, but there is no rush to promote top prospect Shelby Miller, even if that scenario is tempting.

Hunch: McClellan gets a good shot to hold down the job."


insider2_64x36.jpg
Dan Szymborski

ZiPS on the Cardinals rotation

"

ZiPS SAYS: If the Cardinals can't bring in Kevin Millwood as a free agent, Bryan Augenstein's 7-8, 4.35 projection and actual recent experience as a starter make him the best candidate available. DREAM SCENARIO: ZiPS gives Augenstein a 32 percent chance of being a league-average starting pitcher in 2011, Lance Lynn a 16 percent chance and even Adam Ottavino a 10 percent chance. Losing Wainwright isn't ideal, but the Cards at least get a chance to see if one of the youngish prospects can be a cheap, dependable starter for the next six years, something that's going to be needed if the team's going to find the dough to retain Albert Pujols."

King Felix won't be dealt

10:32AM ET
Felix Hernandez | Mariners
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Every few weeks, there is speculation as to whether any team could possibly figure out a way to pry Felix Hernandez away from the Seattle Mariners.

Jon Heyman of SI.com wrote Monday that teams may call asking about a trade, but the answer remains the same regarding the 24-year-old Cy Young Award winner with a reasonable five-year contract worth $78 million.

"He's not going anywhere," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "We've got him. We'll keep him. We're not going to move him."

Heyman says the Yankees called expressing interest over the winter, but it's been months since the two teams have talked.

- Doug Mittler

How many games for Rolen?

10:22AM ET
Scott Rolen | Reds
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Scott Rolen endured a series of nagging injuries last season and still managed to play in 133 games for the Cincinnati Reds. That was the highest total since 2006 for Rolen, and manager Dusty Baker has to be realistic with how many at-bats he can expect from a third baseman who turns 36 month.

Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes that while Baker has suggested a 120-game season for Rolen, club officials quietly think that total may be too optimistic.

Only now, the wonder is how much a 36-year-old Rolen can give the Reds. Dusty Baker has suggested 120 games. Quietly, the club is thinking 120 could be optimistic.

The Reds have Miguel Cairo listed as the backup third baseman and Juan Francisco could be spending more time in the majors than in Triple A.

- Doug Mittler

Reduced role for Pronk?

9:57AM ET
Travis Hafner | Indians
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American League managers are increasingly giving at least a share of the DH at-bats to regular position players needing a day off from fielding duties.

Bud Shaw of the Plain Dealer writes the trend will find its way to Cleveland, meaning a platoon or reduced role for Travis Hafner.

Hafner opened the door to a diminished role thanks to injuries as well as a decline in production. Hafner had 100-RBI seasons in 2006 and 2007, but has driven in no more than 50 RBI in any season since.

Manager Manny Acta listed Carlos Santana, Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo among the players who could get occasional duties as a DH. Hafner still has the chance to get the bulk of the at-bats, but his past production needs to return.

- Doug Mittler

Madson's future in Philly

9:33AM ET
Ryan Madson | Phillies
5382.jpg

Ryan Madson's ultimate goal is to be a closer. Whether that chance comes with the Philadelphia Phillies remains an open question.

Madson, the Phils' primary set-up man, will be a free agent after the season. He could be joined on the market by current teammate Brad Lidge, who, barring a spectacular season, will have his $12.5 million option declined by the Phillies.

Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes that the Phillies already have $107 million committed to just nine players in 2012, leaving it highly unlikely that both Madson and Lidge will be retained.

Assuming Lidge remains healthy, Madson, who wants to stay in Philly, will face another challenge. He could be asking for closer's money without having a large body of work in a closer's role.

- Doug Mittler

Dirks stays in roster mix

9:03AM ET
Detroit Tigers
det.gif

Andy Dirks still faces an uphill climb to win an Opening Day roster spot on the Detroit Tigers, but the 25-year-old outfielder is at least making it a tough choice for manager Jim Leyland, reports Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press.

An eighth-round draft pick in 2008, Dirks doubled and tripled Monday against the Mets and is 11-for-23 this spring. Dirks hit a combined .296 at Double-A and Triple-A last season.

Windsor warns that there are probably a half-dozen players in contention for the final two roster spots, so Dirks might have to beat out either Clete Thomas or Danny Worth.

- Doug Mittler

Zumaya's elbow

8:41AM ET
Joel Zumaya | Tigers
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Tigers manager Jim Leyland insists it is not a "red flag," but it can't be welcome news that injury-plagued reliever Joel Zumaya went for an independent exam on his elbow.

Zumaya, who missed the second half of last season with elbow trouble, has not pitched in more than a week since the team disclosed the right-hander felt some elbow soreness. A medical update is expected Tuesday.

The Tigers have plenty invested in Zumaya, who is part of a bullpen that has been reinforced with the signing of Joaquin Benoit. If Zumaya is out for an extended period, it would mean more pivotal innings for Ryan Perry, who got plenty of work at the end of last season.

- Doug Mittler

Ollie's final ride?

8:19AM ET
Oliver Perez | Mets
5192.jpg

Oliver Perez will make what is most likely his last Grapefruit League start for the Mets on Tuesday and manager Terry Collins will be along for the ride.

Collins promised Perez a chance to win a start in the rotation, so the skipper will make the two-hour bus ride for the left-hander?s start against the Astros. Andy Martino of the Daily News writes Tuesday that it is a mere formality since "the lost lefty will soon be nothing more than a memory."

Perez pitched two scoreless innings with no walks against the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday, but the lack of velocity on his fastball was striking.

Perez, scheduled to make $12 million this season, practiced a scorched earth policy last season in Queens, frustrating his teammates as well as Mets fans with an 0-5 record and a 6.80 ERA in 17 games.

- Doug Mittler

Molina still looking, says no to Padres

8:02AM ET
Bengie Molina | Rangers
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Reports of Bengie Molina's retirement are premature. The veteran catcher instead appears to be very picky on where he might work for one more season.

Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News reports Molina "remains close to his phone" in case a team loses a catcher and offers him enough cash to return.

The San Diego Padres seemed like a logical destination after Gregg Zaun surprisingly announced his retirement Monday. The Padres checked in with Molina, according to Marty Caswell, but Caswell tweets that Molina appears uninterested at this time.

Molina could be waiting for a job where he might get more playing time. In San Diego, his job would be primarily as a backup to Nick Hundley.

- Doug Mittler

Ng bolts Dodgers front office

7:39AM ET
Los Angeles Dodgers
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Kim Ng is leaving her job as vice president assistant general manager of the Dodgers to become an assistant VP for Major League Baseball, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.

Ng would be part of the major restructuring of baseball's front office that includes the hiring of former Dodgers manager Joe Torre as executive vice president of baseball operations.

Bill Madden of the New York Daily News reports that Ng wanted out of Los Angeles in order to escape a front office that is in turmoil over the McCourt divorce proceedings.

- Doug Mittler

Prospect putting up numbers

7:16AM ET
Los Angeles Angels
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While Mike Trout has virtually no chance to break camp with the big-league club this spring, first base prospect Mark Trumbo does, and he sparked some discussion Monday with four hits, including his third long ball of the Cactus League schedule. The Halos may have to find room for the slugger.

Trumbo, however, is a first baseman or occasional outfielder, and those positions are taken on the Angels roster by proven veterans.

One way Trumbo could make the club is if Kendry Morales is still less than 100 percent, but the Angels still expect their best hitter top be ready.

- Jason A. Churchill

Leake falling behind?

7:15AM ET
Cincinnati Reds
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Cincinnati Reds right-hander Mike Leake struggled mightily Monday allowing four runs on nine hits over just three innings of work. He's throwing strikes but has just one strikeout against one walk in five frames this spring, and could be falling behind the other candidates for the final two spots in the rotation.

With the first three spots locked in -- Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto and Bronson Arroyo -- Travis Wood and Homer Bailey are in a three-way fight, and Leake isn't winning that contest right now.

Wood has thrown two scoreless innings with two whiffs in his lone appearance so far but Bailey was torched in his last outing as well. Leake, however, has three options remaining and could start the season in Triple-A to solve the log jam.

Manager Dusty Baker said Leake has added some velocity, but it didn?t help in Monday's outing against the Brewers.

post #378 of 77278
Thread Starter 
Some prospect stuff for the M's/Oakland:

 

Some notes from Monday's Seattle-Oakland tilt in Phoenix...

• Seattle right-hander Michael Pineda showed a big fastball Monday, touching 96 MPH a few times and working mostly at 93-95 in his two innings. The pitch will probably play up because the ball appears quite late to hitters even though it's not a classic delivery. Pineda struggled with command and especially with his breaking ball on Monday and threw just one changeup, a pin-straight offering at 88 that would grade out at a 35 if we wanted to go off that one sample. The slider was just very inconsistent; he threw several with good tilt but didn't locate them, and got away with a few spinners including one brutal hanger at 81 that a big league hitter could have jerked out of most parks. He has a few more weeks to make his case to be in the Opening Day rotation, but the two innings he threw on Monday did not show him to be ready for the majors; he'll need more consistency on the slider and and to show a much better third pitch.

Joey Devine hasn't appeared in a big league game since the end of 2008, missing two years due to Tommy John surgery, and his appearance on Monday made it look like he's a long way from getting back. Devine walked the first hitter on four pitches, threw balls on 10 of his first 12 offerings, threw one pitch to the backstop, nearly hit right-handed batters with at least four others, and walked four of the five men he faced, all while failing to get over 91 MPH and sitting around 88. He had the surgery about 23 months ago, and his velocity isn't likely to improve from where it is today given the time since the operation.

Fautino de los Santos is another Tommy John surgery survivor, throwing just 82 innings over the last three years around the May 2008 operation, but his stuff has bounced back better than Devine's has. De los Santos sat 91-93 on Monday but hit 95 a few times and flashed a plus slider in the low 80s, hard and sharp with good tilt. He had zero command -- although to be fair command wasn't a big part of his game pre-knife -- and while he accelerates his arm very quickly, his arm path is long, making it hard for him to repeat it. I do think he has promise as a reliever, but he could easily be Jesus Colome, tantalizing with plus stuff but never commanding it enough to be an elite closer or setup guy.

Grant Green is becoming more and more frustrating to watch. He has athleticism, and has some instincts, but his throwing motion is totally inadequate for shortstop and his feet always seem to be going in the wrong direction. His at-bats were just as maddening, culminating in a strikeout against Josh Lueke, all on breaking balls. Shortstop can't be his long-term position, and I'd really like to see him in centerfield where his speed will play up while his inadequacies in the infield won't be such a problem.


 

 

The contract extension for Matt Thornton came in the middle of spring training, but it was everything that happened in the dead of winter that created this deal. The salary benchmarks haven't moved much for players at other positions in this offseason, most notably for the designated hitters and for the closers -- and even Albert Pujols was offered less per year than three other first basemen.

But for setup men, the prices exploded, as Joaquin Benoit (three years, $16.5 million), Scott Downs (three years), Matt Guerrier (three years, $12 million) and Rafael Soriano (three years, $35 million to be Mariano Rivera's pricey bullpen caddy) will testify. The history of these types of contracts for relievers is absolutely disastrous, but teams now are paying what they have to pay because they know they cannot win without bullpen help. "We really needed the guy," said one GM who dished out big dollars for a reliever in the past year.

Thornton is one of baseball's best-kept secrets: a durable lefty who has demonstrated total dominance over lefties at a time when right-handed power hitting is increasingly scarce. As noted in the ESPN.com story on the signing, the 34-year-old Thornton led all AL relievers in strikeouts per nine innings last season (12.02) and inherited runners scored percentage (12.9). He limited left-handed hitters to a .175 batting average with 44 strikeouts.

So the White Sox jumped the market, in a sense. Rather than allowing Thornton to hit the market and draw one of those inflation-driven three-year offers, they gave him a two-year deal extension along the lines of what Boston gave to Bobby Jenks (two years, $12 million), with a team option for $6 million in 2014 (and a $1 million buyout). There is the inherent risk in investing in an older reliever who has piled up a lot of appearances and has burned a lot of pitches in the bullpen, but the White Sox knew, from all the trade interest in Thornton through the years, that he would have no shortage of suitors if he ever became a free agent.

It wouldn't be a shocker if other relievers got similar deals in the next few months. Look, it might seem a little crazy to be paying $4.74 for a gallon for gas, but as anyone who drives through the Tampa area knows, the prices have climbed and you have to fill the tank. Similarly, no team succeeds these days -- in an era when innings thrown by starting pitchers continue to dissipate -- without having a strong core of relievers.

Thornton says he doesn't care whether he's the closer or not, as Daryl van Schouwen writes. The White Sox have committed about $30 million to six relievers this spring, as Dave van Dyck writes.

What will be interesting, going forward, is whether teams start to invest long-term multiyear deals in their young relievers the way that they have at other positions -- for someone like a Chris Sale or a Drew Storen or a Sergio Santos.

Notables


• The concern about Chase Utley within the Phillies' organization is much higher than the public posture has been, writes Paul Hagen, and he runs through the team's options in the event that Utley can't contribute much.

Justin Morneau says he can get ready in a hurry, once he's been cleared, as Sid Hartman writes. It's been 213 days since his most recent game.

• The Padres should get an upgrade in the leadoff spot, with Cameron Maybin. By the way: Colleague Bobby Valentine saw Maybin work out this winter and swing in a cage and came away very, very impressed and thinking that Maybin is going to be better than he's shown.

• The Yankees will be looking at Brett Myers, writes George King.

• By the way: The Red Sox and Adrian Gonzalez have not resumed contract talks since the weekend they traded for him, but since negotiating that weekend, Boston's front office has had an understanding of what it will take to sign him -- seven years, about $22 million a year -- and presumably, a deal will be completed. And no, Albert Pujols' looming free agency will not have a bearing on that, because in the end, Gonzalez is younger and he will probably be cheaper.

Dings and dents


1. Corey Hart injured an oblique. Not good. The Brewers are serious contenders in the NL Central, but they don't have a lot of lineup depth.

2. Jason Heyward created a scare in his first game back from a groin injury.

3. Carlos Beltran gave his manager a scare, writes Karen Crouse.

4. Justin Duchscherer will start Tuesday, as mentioned within this Jeff Zrebiec notebook.

5. The Rangers got a big scare with Neftali Feliz, but he's OK.

6. Chris Carpenter threw from a mound, a sign of progress for the veteran.

7. Miguel Olivo thinks he'll be ready for Opening Day.

8. James Loney is expected back by Wednesday.

9. Aaron Cook is feeling no pain, writes Troy Renck.

The Battle for Jobs


1. The Marlins are increasingly pleased with what they are seeing in Matt Dominguez.

2. Charlie Manuel is getting a look at some of his right-field candidates. Ben Francisco has looked good so far.

3. James McDonald of the Pirates is thankful for the role he has, as Ron Musselman writes.

4. Jeremy Accardo couldn't be happier as he works for a job with the Orioles.

5. Alexi Casilla seems wiser this spring, as he takes over.

6. Edgar Renteria is not in the mix at third base for the Reds.

7. Mike Aviles is answering any doubts about his defense.

8. Defense will be important as the Diamondbacks consider the starter at first base, writes Nick Piecoro.

Moves, deals and decisions


1. Brett Gardner could supplant Derek Jeter as the leadoff hitter, writes Mark Feinsand.

2. The Astros are looking at their options for catcher in the aftermath of the Jason Castro injury.

Sunday's games


1. Brian Wilson threw the heck out of the ball in his first outing.

2. Carlos Gonzalez hit a monster homer.

3. Every day, it seems, Brett Lawrie is doing something great.

4. Johnny Cueto was The Man for the Reds.

5. Buster Posey is hitting .643 this spring, as mentioned within this Andrew Baggarly notebook.

6. Bryce Harper hit the cutoff man.

7. Zack Greinke is not worried about his tough outing.

8. Russell Martin got a chance to catch Phil Hughes.

9. The Rays continue to lose, as Marc Topkin writes.

10. Justin Masterson had an interesting inning.

11. Heath Bell had a really good outing, writes Dan Hayes.

Other stuff


• A-Rod looks great this spring, writes John Harper.

• Adrian Gonzalez looks like a great fit for Fenway Park. He is making progress as he comes back from shoulder surgery.

• The Indians' Drew Pomeranz has looked good this spring, writes Bud Shaw.

Dan Haren continues to evolve.

• The Dodgers will let Matt Kemp run again this year.

• Dustin Ackley is making adjustments.

Adam Dunn is feeling better than his batting average indicates.

• Mike Maddux wants his pitchers to keep it down in the strike zone.

Willie Bloomquist is a role model.

• There are no signs that Ryan Franklin is slowing down, writes Derrick Goold.

Alex Avila is getting comfortable at the plate, writes Shawn Windsor.

Alfonso Soriano is off to a great start in spring training.

Dirk Hayhurst is no Jim Bouton, as far as how he treats sensitive clubhouse information.

Aramis Ramirez wants to steal bases. Hold on, big fella; I'm sure the Cubs would prefer he do everything he can do to stay in the lineup.

Chris Davis is having a good spring, writes Jennifer Floyd Engel.

• Fans got a look at a top Atlanta prospect.

• It will be difficult for the Marlins to make up for the power they lost with Dan Uggla's departure.

• Jemile Weeks got a chance to play against his brother, as John Shea writes.

Victor Martinez is the total package for the Tigers.

• Pat Hughes is collaborating on a book about Ron Santo. It should be a great read.

• A Padres coach who is fighting cancer is keeping his routine as normal as possible, writes Tyler Kepner.

• The Blue Jays are thrilled to have Brian Butterfield back.


 

 

The Milwaukee Brewers made two big acquisitions this winter, adding starting pitchers Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to their rotation in a bid to contend for the National League Central crown. Most analysis is focused on how well they're going to pitch, but another key question is this: Can they hit? These two should provide a significant upgrade on the mound, and having two quality arms behind Yovani Gallardo in the rotation may give the Brewers the lift they need to get over the hump. However, the chances of the Brewers' success hinges not just on how the new guys pitch, but how well they can adjust to life in the National League, where pitchers also have to bat.

Last season, the Brewers held a huge advantage over the rest of the league in offense produced by their pitchers. Led by Gallardo and his four home runs, the Brewers' pitching staff hit .207/.249/.280, or just a little bit worse than the worst-hitting regular position player in baseball last year, Cesar Izturis. Being less productive offensively than Izturis is rarely a compliment, but when compared to the futility of other pitchers, Milwaukee's performance looks positively Ruthian.

If you exclude the Brewers, the average line put up by an NL pitcher was just .137/.170/.167. Milwaukee trounced that, and its Weighted On Base Average of .239 was 83 points higher than the .156 wOBA of its competitors. With each team's pitchers accounting for about 350 trips to the plate, the differences can really begin to add up. Greinke and Marcum are coming over from the American League, so we don't know how they handle the stick. If they hit like typical pitchers, as opposed other Brewers pitchers, then Milwaukee stands to lose a decent amount of production on offense.

Below are the best and worst offensive performances from pitchers among NL teams in 2010. wRAA is Weighted Runs Above Average (or in this case, below average, since each team is in the negative compared to a league average hitting position player). Believe it or not, having a staff of good hitting pitchers can make an enormous difference.

The Good

1. Milwaukee Brewers: .239 wOBA, -23.9 wRAA
Gallardo was the second-best hitting pitcher in baseball last year (behind only Dan Haren), and his .363 wOBA was the same as Jay Bruce's. Chris Narveson also brought some offense to the table, hitting .327 and posting a .365 on base percentage. He didn't hit for any power, but he got on base enough to be a valuable offensive performer. Randy Wolf and Manny Parra didn't embarrass themselves either, giving the Brewers some legitimate offense from the No. 9 spot in the lineup nearly each day they came to the park.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks: .207 wOBA, -33.7 wRAA
As mentioned, Haren was the star here, putting up a .364/.375/.527 line that was on par with what Luke Scott did for the Orioles as a DH. The D-backs lost some punch when they dealt Haren to Anaheim, and although Ian Kennedy and Barry Enright were respectable at the plate, Arizona got some awful performances from Rodrigo Lopez and Joe Saunders.

3. New York Mets: .191 wOBA, -36.6 wRAA
While the Mets didn't get much offense from big bat acquisition Jason Bay, a couple of newcomers to the rotation managed to provide some offense from the bottom of the order. R.A. Dickey's breakout wasn't limited to his knuckleball, as he hit .255 and struck out only eight times. Perhaps more impressively, Jon Niese drew eight walks in 66 trips to the plate, getting halfway to A.J. Pierzynski's season total despite the catcher having 400 at-bats.

The Bad

1. Los Angeles Dodgers: .113 wOBA, -60.6 wRAA
Talk about a total team "effort" ... Vicente Padilla and Chad Billingsley were the best of the worst, but the entire staff failed to hit. Clayton Kershaw and Hiroki Kuroda combined for just five hits -- all singles -- between them, while Jon Ely and Ted Lilly weren't much better. Overall, the pitching staff managed just 24 hits, with only two of those going for doubles, and no home runs all season. It's no wonder the Dodgers led the league in sacrifice bunts from their pitchers.

2. San Francisco Giants: .127 wOBA, -58.2 wRAA
While the Giants' pitchers helped lead the team to a World Series title, they didn't help their own cause very often in the regular season. Madison Bumgarner was the only member of the rotation to beat the league average line for a pitcher, and as a group, Giants pitchers drew fewer walks than Niese did by himself.

3. Philadelphia - .136 wOBA, -56.5 wRAA
The Marlins and Pirates posted worse overall lines from their pitchers, but wRAA accounts for the fact that the Phillies' stadium is a pretty good place to hit -- unless, of course, you pitch for the Phillies. We shouldn't be surprised that AL escapees Roy Halladay and Joe Blanton aren't much with the bat, but Roy Oswalt is a lifelong NL pitcher and he was just as useless at the plate.

Given that a team can add one win to its expected total for every 10 runs, the gap between the Brewers and Dodgers was worth nearly four wins in the standings last year. With two AL pitchers joining the group in Milwaukee, don't expect a repeat performance. If Marcum and Greinke struggle as many pitchers do when switching leagues, they could give back a significant amount of their value at the plate. The Giants showed that you can win despite bad hitting pitchers, so this doesn't necessarily spell impending doom for Milwaukee, but it is something they will have to account for this year. For all the gains the Brewers will make in terms of run prevention, they're going to give some of that up on the other side of the ball.


 

Cause of concern with Beltran?

11:09AM ET
Carlos Beltran | Mets
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Carlos Beltran will have his second straight day off after making his Grapefruit League debut as a designated hitter on Sunday, manager Terry Collins told Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com.

Beltran was not in the starting lineup for a split squad game and won%u2019t participate in a simulated game either.

Beltran is making the move from center to right field, in part because of reduced mobility following knee surgery last January. Collins insists that nothing is wrong with Beltran outside of a little stiffness and tendinitis, but any ailment to the $18 million outfielder will draw plenty of attention.

Beltran will hit the free agent market again next winter and wants to eliminate any concerns regarding his health.

- Doug Mittler

Carpenter could miss Friday start

10:45AM ET
Chris Carpenter | Cardinals
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UPDATE: Carpenter's Friday start is now in doubt after the right-hander "felt a twinge" Sunday in the left hamstring that forced his removal from a spring start last week. If the former Cy Young winner doesn't get on the mound and build some arm strength fairly soon, his availability come Opening Day may be in jeopardy.

...

UPDATE: Carpenter left the game last Tuesday because he felt a twinge in his hamstring, tweets Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Carpenter left the game as a precaution, so it sounds like this is nothing serious at this time.

...

Right-hander Chris Carpenter, the St. Louis Cardinals other ace, left the game in the third inning Tuesday after throwing four wide ones. He was escorted off the field by the team's head trainer, according to Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

This could be, of course, a disaster for the Cardinals, and if Carpenter misses any extended period of time it could take the club out of the race in the National League Central.

There are no indications just yet on what the injury is, but without Carpenter the Cardinals rotation is wide open, not only to Kyle McLellan but for youngsters such as Lance Lynn, as well. Free agents Jeremy Bonderman and Kevin Millwood could also get calls from GM John Mozeliak, as could the Phillies who may be willing to move Joe Blanton.

Mitchell Boggs, another potential candidate to get a look as a starter, replaced Carpenter but was also removed from the game due to an injury. Strauss tweets that it appears Boggs' back is giving him problems.

- Jason A. Churchill

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Doug Mittler

Cardinals rotation options

"Kyle McClellan is the most viable candidate to make the transition to starter and will not be sorely missed in the bullpen because of the emergence of Mitchell Boggs and Jason Motte. Veterans Ian Snell and Miguel Batista are in the mix, but there is no rush to promote top prospect Shelby Miller, even if that scenario is tempting.

Hunch: McClellan gets a good shot to hold down the job."


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Dan Szymborski

ZiPS on the Cardinals rotation

"

ZiPS SAYS: If the Cardinals can't bring in Kevin Millwood as a free agent, Bryan Augenstein's 7-8, 4.35 projection and actual recent experience as a starter make him the best candidate available. DREAM SCENARIO: ZiPS gives Augenstein a 32 percent chance of being a league-average starting pitcher in 2011, Lance Lynn a 16 percent chance and even Adam Ottavino a 10 percent chance. Losing Wainwright isn't ideal, but the Cards at least get a chance to see if one of the youngish prospects can be a cheap, dependable starter for the next six years, something that's going to be needed if the team's going to find the dough to retain Albert Pujols."

King Felix won't be dealt

10:32AM ET
Felix Hernandez | Mariners
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Every few weeks, there is speculation as to whether any team could possibly figure out a way to pry Felix Hernandez away from the Seattle Mariners.

Jon Heyman of SI.com wrote Monday that teams may call asking about a trade, but the answer remains the same regarding the 24-year-old Cy Young Award winner with a reasonable five-year contract worth $78 million.

"He's not going anywhere," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "We've got him. We'll keep him. We're not going to move him."

Heyman says the Yankees called expressing interest over the winter, but it's been months since the two teams have talked.

- Doug Mittler

How many games for Rolen?

10:22AM ET
Scott Rolen | Reds
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Scott Rolen endured a series of nagging injuries last season and still managed to play in 133 games for the Cincinnati Reds. That was the highest total since 2006 for Rolen, and manager Dusty Baker has to be realistic with how many at-bats he can expect from a third baseman who turns 36 month.

Paul Daugherty of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes that while Baker has suggested a 120-game season for Rolen, club officials quietly think that total may be too optimistic.

Only now, the wonder is how much a 36-year-old Rolen can give the Reds. Dusty Baker has suggested 120 games. Quietly, the club is thinking 120 could be optimistic.

The Reds have Miguel Cairo listed as the backup third baseman and Juan Francisco could be spending more time in the majors than in Triple A.

- Doug Mittler

Reduced role for Pronk?

9:57AM ET
Travis Hafner | Indians
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American League managers are increasingly giving at least a share of the DH at-bats to regular position players needing a day off from fielding duties.

Bud Shaw of the Plain Dealer writes the trend will find its way to Cleveland, meaning a platoon or reduced role for Travis Hafner.

Hafner opened the door to a diminished role thanks to injuries as well as a decline in production. Hafner had 100-RBI seasons in 2006 and 2007, but has driven in no more than 50 RBI in any season since.

Manager Manny Acta listed Carlos Santana, Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo among the players who could get occasional duties as a DH. Hafner still has the chance to get the bulk of the at-bats, but his past production needs to return.

- Doug Mittler

Madson's future in Philly

9:33AM ET
Ryan Madson | Phillies
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Ryan Madson's ultimate goal is to be a closer. Whether that chance comes with the Philadelphia Phillies remains an open question.

Madson, the Phils' primary set-up man, will be a free agent after the season. He could be joined on the market by current teammate Brad Lidge, who, barring a spectacular season, will have his $12.5 million option declined by the Phillies.

Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes that the Phillies already have $107 million committed to just nine players in 2012, leaving it highly unlikely that both Madson and Lidge will be retained.

Assuming Lidge remains healthy, Madson, who wants to stay in Philly, will face another challenge. He could be asking for closer's money without having a large body of work in a closer's role.

- Doug Mittler

Dirks stays in roster mix

9:03AM ET
Detroit Tigers
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Andy Dirks still faces an uphill climb to win an Opening Day roster spot on the Detroit Tigers, but the 25-year-old outfielder is at least making it a tough choice for manager Jim Leyland, reports Shawn Windsor of the Detroit Free Press.

An eighth-round draft pick in 2008, Dirks doubled and tripled Monday against the Mets and is 11-for-23 this spring. Dirks hit a combined .296 at Double-A and Triple-A last season.

Windsor warns that there are probably a half-dozen players in contention for the final two roster spots, so Dirks might have to beat out either Clete Thomas or Danny Worth.

- Doug Mittler

Zumaya's elbow

8:41AM ET
Joel Zumaya | Tigers
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Tigers manager Jim Leyland insists it is not a "red flag," but it can't be welcome news that injury-plagued reliever Joel Zumaya went for an independent exam on his elbow.

Zumaya, who missed the second half of last season with elbow trouble, has not pitched in more than a week since the team disclosed the right-hander felt some elbow soreness. A medical update is expected Tuesday.

The Tigers have plenty invested in Zumaya, who is part of a bullpen that has been reinforced with the signing of Joaquin Benoit. If Zumaya is out for an extended period, it would mean more pivotal innings for Ryan Perry, who got plenty of work at the end of last season.

- Doug Mittler

Ollie's final ride?

8:19AM ET
Oliver Perez | Mets
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Oliver Perez will make what is most likely his last Grapefruit League start for the Mets on Tuesday and manager Terry Collins will be along for the ride.

Collins promised Perez a chance to win a start in the rotation, so the skipper will make the two-hour bus ride for the left-hander?s start against the Astros. Andy Martino of the Daily News writes Tuesday that it is a mere formality since "the lost lefty will soon be nothing more than a memory."

Perez pitched two scoreless innings with no walks against the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday, but the lack of velocity on his fastball was striking.

Perez, scheduled to make $12 million this season, practiced a scorched earth policy last season in Queens, frustrating his teammates as well as Mets fans with an 0-5 record and a 6.80 ERA in 17 games.

- Doug Mittler

Molina still looking, says no to Padres

8:02AM ET
Bengie Molina | Rangers
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Reports of Bengie Molina's retirement are premature. The veteran catcher instead appears to be very picky on where he might work for one more season.

Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News reports Molina "remains close to his phone" in case a team loses a catcher and offers him enough cash to return.

The San Diego Padres seemed like a logical destination after Gregg Zaun surprisingly announced his retirement Monday. The Padres checked in with Molina, according to Marty Caswell, but Caswell tweets that Molina appears uninterested at this time.

Molina could be waiting for a job where he might get more playing time. In San Diego, his job would be primarily as a backup to Nick Hundley.

- Doug Mittler

Ng bolts Dodgers front office

7:39AM ET
Los Angeles Dodgers
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Kim Ng is leaving her job as vice president assistant general manager of the Dodgers to become an assistant VP for Major League Baseball, reports Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.

Ng would be part of the major restructuring of baseball's front office that includes the hiring of former Dodgers manager Joe Torre as executive vice president of baseball operations.

Bill Madden of the New York Daily News reports that Ng wanted out of Los Angeles in order to escape a front office that is in turmoil over the McCourt divorce proceedings.

- Doug Mittler

Prospect putting up numbers

7:16AM ET
Los Angeles Angels
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While Mike Trout has virtually no chance to break camp with the big-league club this spring, first base prospect Mark Trumbo does, and he sparked some discussion Monday with four hits, including his third long ball of the Cactus League schedule. The Halos may have to find room for the slugger.

Trumbo, however, is a first baseman or occasional outfielder, and those positions are taken on the Angels roster by proven veterans.

One way Trumbo could make the club is if Kendry Morales is still less than 100 percent, but the Angels still expect their best hitter top be ready.

- Jason A. Churchill

Leake falling behind?

7:15AM ET
Cincinnati Reds
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Cincinnati Reds right-hander Mike Leake struggled mightily Monday allowing four runs on nine hits over just three innings of work. He's throwing strikes but has just one strikeout against one walk in five frames this spring, and could be falling behind the other candidates for the final two spots in the rotation.

With the first three spots locked in -- Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto and Bronson Arroyo -- Travis Wood and Homer Bailey are in a three-way fight, and Leake isn't winning that contest right now.

Wood has thrown two scoreless innings with two whiffs in his lone appearance so far but Bailey was torched in his last outing as well. Leake, however, has three options remaining and could start the season in Triple-A to solve the log jam.

Manager Dusty Baker said Leake has added some velocity, but it didn?t help in Monday's outing against the Brewers.

post #379 of 77278
Thread Starter 
Blue Jays preview:

Toronto really is the dark horse candidate in the vaunted American League East division. The club will face an uphill battle for division supremacy against the likes of Boston, New York and Tampa Bay. However, each club has its weaknesses so a fourth or fifth place finish for the Canadian club is not guaranteed. New manager John Farrell is a bit of a wild card. Fans of the team have no idea what to expect from the first-time manager. The strength of the team appears to be its pitching so the former big league hurler and pitching coach should be the right man for the job.

The Starting Nine
CF Rajai Davis
SS Yunel Escobar
3B Jose Bautista
1B Adam Lind
DH Edwin Encarnacion
2B Aaron Hill
LF Juan Rivera
RF Travis Snider
C J.P. Arencibia

This is not a lineup that will strike a lot of fear in its opponents. With any luck, though, the grip-and-rip approach of the 2010 Jays under now-deposed manager Cito Gaston is long gone. However, hitting coach Dwayne Murphy kept his job during the off-season so it remains to be seen how quickly the old approach will morph into a more balanced offensive attack. General manager Alex Anthopoulos has given the team flexibility on the base paths with the additions of Davis and (currently injured) Scott Podsednik. The club loses some pop with the surprising trade of former No. 1 draft pick Vernon Wells, who played parts of 12 seasons in Toronto. To help fill the power void, Rivera – obtained in the Wells trade – could see his power output increase with the move to the homer-happy home stadium, while rookie catcher Arencibia has the potential to produce a .200+ ISO rate (He might, though, hit just .220).

The club will look for big bounce-back seasons from Hill and Lind. The second baseman produced a Major-League-low BABIP of .196, which is unsustainably low to the extreme.

Aaron Hill BABIP

After slugging 36 homers in ’09, Hill spent the ’10 season trying to hit every ball out of the park but he saw his line-drive rate nosedive from 18.5% career to 10.6%. He’ll be a much more valuable player to Toronto if he once again focuses on simply hitting the ball hard. I’ll have more on Lind in a moment.

The new No. 1 go-to guy in the lineup will be Bautista, who is coming off of an unexpected season in which he just missed becoming a 7 win player. Although no one expects another 54-homer season (expect perhaps Bautista himself), there are signs that point to a true breakout, rather than a one-time blip. He posted a 14.6% walk rate and also saw his strikeout rate improve by 5.0% over the past two seasons. His BABIP in 2010 was only .233, which is hard to believe (His career rate is .270) despite the fact that he’s never hit for average. Bautista could be a very valuable player for Toronto if he can produce a 5.0 WAR season and help fill the void at the hot corner (after spending much of 2010 in right field).

Escobar is entering his first full season with Toronto after coming over in a surprise 2010 trade with Atlanta. The Cuban shortstop had overstayed his welcome in Atlanta’s conservative organization but he has the potential to be an impact player – both on defense and at the plate. Even with a so-so season in 2010, Escobar matches up favorably to the other shortstops in the league, and he possesses the most upside of the bunch.

Escobar vs AL shortstops

He also has a positive relationship with Bautista, who has been mentoring the younger player since his arrival in Toronto. Speaking of young players, Snider will look to have a fully healthy season (although he’s off to a bumpy start this spring with an intercostal muscle injury). With two part seasons at the MLB level already under his belt, it’s easy to forget that he’s still just 23 years old.

The Pitching Staff
LHP Ricky Romero
RHP Brandon Morrow
LHP Brett Cecil
RHP Jesse Litsch
RHP Kyle Drabek
LHP Marc Rzepczynski

RHP Frank Francisco
RHP Octavio Dotel
RHP Jon Rauch
RHP Jason Frasor
RHP Shawn Camp
RHP Carlos Villanueva
RHP Casey Janssen
RHP Josh Roenicke
LHP David Purcey
LHP Jesse Carlson

With the trade of veteran No. 3 hurler Shaun Marcum (to Milwaukee), the club’s depth in the starting rotation has been significantly impacted. There are a lot of arms in the picture but Major League experience is limited. No starting pitcher should be older than 26 years of age (Romero, Morrow, and Litsch). Only Romero has surpassed the 200.0 inning mark in a season, and he’s done that just once. Cecil has a good shot at hitting the 200.0 innings threshold in 2011 but Morrow would have to see an increase of 54.0 innings to hit that mark, which means he’s going to have to be a lot more efficient with his pitch counts.

Litsch has pitched just 55.0 innings over the past two seasons after undergoing significant surgeries on both his throwing elbow and hip; hoping for more than 130-150 innings might be a bit much. Rookie Drabek is penciled in for the fifth spot in the rotation but he could experience some growing pains with just 17.0 innings above the double-A level. Extra starters like Rzepczynski, Jo-Jo Reyes (although he’s out of options) and Brad Mills, all left-handers and all currently slated for triple-A work to begin the year, could become important depth players for the club.

The club went out and spent a fair bit of money on improving the bullpen depth after losing two key contributors from 2010′s relief corps (Scott Downs and Kevin Gregg), as well as long man Brian Tallet. The newcomers include three veteran pitchers with experience at closing games: Francisco, Dotel, and Rauch. Those three appear set to eat up the majority of the eighth- and ninth-inning duties.

Returnees Jason Frasor and Shawn Camp are also near-locks to make the club out of spring training. That leaves a number of bodies vying for another two spots: Villanueva (acquired from Milwaukee during the off-season), Janssen, Roenicke, as well as lefties Purcey and Carlson. Rzepczynski and Reyes also have outside shots at breaking camp as southpaw relievers.

Key Player

Prior to the 2010 season, Lind signed a lucrative contract extension with the Jays after a breakout ’09 season. As a result, he may have put too much pressure on himself and he produced a wOBA of .234 in May and .207 in June. After digging himself a hole that was difficult to climb out of, he still ended up with overall disappointing numbers on the season (.237/.287/.425) despite producing solid wOBAs in the final three months: .353, .368, and .336.

He was a 3.5 win player in ’09 and has a good shot at returning to that level in 2011. The 27-year-old player will also move from being a full-time DH to manning first base, and he’s reportedly displayed respectable work at the bag so far this spring. The club is hoping that his work in the field will help him avoid dwelling on his struggles at the plate. With Wells gone, someone is going to have to offer Bautista some protection and Lind needs to step up and be that player.


Summary
The 2011 Jays do not enter the season looking like a 90-win club but there is enough young talent on this team – and impact prospects on the cusp of the Majors like Drabek and Brett Lawrie – to make things interesting. Although the club many not be playing post-season ball, it’s definitely headed in the right direction and should be competitive in 2011, even against the likes of New York, Boston and Tampa Bay.


  National preview:

 

Last summer, Stephen Strasburg put the Nationals into the spotlight every time he took the hill, bringing attention to a franchise that has been forgettable since their move to Washington D.C. Strasburg’s injury took away their star attraction, however, so Mike Rizzo decided to make a big splash this winter in order to try and retain his franchises newfound relevancy. Will it work? Let’s start by evaluating the team’s everyday players.

The Starting Line-Up

1. Nyjer Morgan*, CF
2. Ian Desmond, SS
3. Jayson Werth, RF
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
5. Adam LaRoche*, 1B
6. Rick Ankiel*/Mike Morse, LF
7. Ivan Rodriguez, C
8. Danny Espinosa, 2B

Werth essentially replaces Adam Dunn in the line-up, and should give the Nationals similar offensive production while substantially upgrading the defense as well. When paired with Zimmerman, Washington now has two of the better all-around players in the game, but there are legitimate questions about their supporting cast.

The Nationals brought LaRoche in to add some power from the left side, but he’s the definition of an average player. While he’s an alright piece to have around, it’s tough to contend when that kind of guy is your third best position player. The middle infield tandem of Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa both have enough talent to potentially be above average regulars down the road, but neither are likely to hit that mark this year. Rick Ankiel and Ivan Rodriguez are essentially veteran stopgaps who will likely keep the job warm until the Nationals decide that a more talented youngster – Roger Bernadina and Wilson Ramos respectively – is ready for the gig. And last but not least, there’s Tony Plush out there in center field.

Morgan is the wild card here. He has shown the physical abilities to be an impact player, with top shelf speed and enough contact skills to make the slap-it-on-the-ground skillset work. However, Morgan was unable to turn his natural talents into actual production last year, and his game regressed across the board. Nowhere were the problems more apparent than in the field and on the bases, where Morgan took circular routes to the ball and got thrown out stealing far too often. A significant drop in his BABIP also reduced his ability to get on base, and the year ended up being a total flop for Morgan.

If Morgan can rebound and provide legitimate value in center field again, the offense could actually be decent and the defense might be among the top few in the league. If his struggles from last year carry over, however, the team will be searching for a new center fielder by the summer, and Werth and Zimmerman won’t have too many baserunners to drive in. Morgan is going to be the straw the stirs the drink for this year’s Nationals offense, which is probably not the situation they would choose if they had their druthers.

The Pitching Staff

RHP Livan Hernandez
RHP Jason Marquis
LHP John Lannan
RHP Jordan Zimmermann
LHP Tom Gorzelanny

CL Drew Storen
RHP Tyler Clippard
LHP Sean Burnett
RHP Craig Stammen
LHP Doug Slaten
RHP Henry Rodriguez
RHP Collin Balester

This is one of those odd rotations where the back-end starters might actually be better than the front. While Hernandez was a useful innings eater for Washington last year, it is fair to wonder when he will run out of magic pixi dust – his 4.76 xFIP wasn’t exactly the mark of a guy you want to be handing the ball to on Opening Day. Marquis is a bit of a wild card coming off elbow surgery, but he was durable and effective prior to the 2010 season, and if healthy, he should be a reasonable innings eater. Lannan is also a pitch-to-contact guy who doesn’t throw enough strikes to make it work that well, so the Nationals top three starters are all guys you’d rather have in the #5 spot.

However, with Zimmermann and Gorzelanny, there is legitimate upside. Zimmermann was the team’s best pitching prospect before Strasburg stole the show, and now that he’s working his way back from his own arm problems, he’s looking to regain the form that he showed in 2009, when he was one of the game’s most exciting young pitchers. His late success last year should inspire some confidence, and on a per-innings pitched basis, he’ll likely be the team’s best starter this year. The question is just how many innings the Nationals will ask Zimmermann to give them, and I wouldn’t be surprised if caution ruled the day in his situation.

I wrote about Gorzelanny when Washington picked him up, but for those not interested in clicking the link, he’s a difficult puzzle to figure out. If he can improve his strike-throwing capabilities while sustaining his strikeout rates from his tenure in Chicago, the Nationals might really have something. However, you could say that about nearly every pitcher in baseball – most of them could be great if they could keep all their good traits will losing their bad ones. The upside is interesting for a back-end starter, but he comes with quite a bit of uncertainty.

The bullpen is full of mostly nondescript relievers, but keep an eye on Stammen – his strikeout rate was much higher in relief than when he was working as a starter, and if they shift him to the bullpen on a full-time basis, he might put up some surprising numbers. Consider him the most super of all super sleepers for 2011.

The Key Player

While the variability in projecting either Nyjer Morgan or Tom Gorzelanny make them appear to be a natural pick for this spot, I have to go with Jayson Werth. Mike Rizzo made it clear that they signed him not just because he’s a good player, but because he’s trying to put the franchise on the map. If their new $126 million man fails to live up to expectations, this team is going to have a hard time finishing at .500, and they’ll end up as just another runner-up with a huge contract on the books that no one wants. If Werth flops, his presence could actually detract from the excitement surrounding Strasburg’s eventual return and the expected arrival of Bryce Harper at some point in the future.

The Nationals bet big on Werth in an effort to stay decent while waiting for their franchise pitcher and potentially franchise outfielder. If he maintains his +5 win level and keeps the team in relative contention into mid-summer, the organization should be able to have some legitimacy in selling a better future. There is value in building up the fan base and positioning the team to take the next step in 2012 or 2013, which appears to be the path that Rizzo is hoping for – but that plan relies on Werth continuing to play well into his mid-30s. If he pulls a Vernon Wells, then the future suddenly doesn’t look so bright.

At some point during his contract, Werth will no longer be able to justify the money he’s getting paid. The Nationals need that point to be somewhere in 2015 or beyond, and how he performs in 2011 will tell us quite a bit about how well he’ll be able to hold up over the length of the deal. Given that the Nationals have invested such a large percentage of their payroll in a player on the wrong side of 30, that makes Werth the Natinals key player not just this year, but probably for each of the next several seasons.

The Conclusion

It would take an army of minor miracles for the Nationals to contend this year, but they’ve invested in not being horrible this year, and if enough things go right, .500 is a legitimate goal. More importantly, however, is the development of guys like Desmond, Espinosa, and Zimmermann – if they can all take legitimate steps forward, than the 2012 Nationals team could be really interesting. This year, it’s all about being decent enough to get fans to keep caring, even without the Strasburg Sideshow around to draw interest.


Orioles preview:

After suffering through five straight seasons of 90+ losses, this off season was an exciting time to be an Orioles fan. While the O’s front office has remained relatively quiet over the past few winters, preferring to let their young talent develop, this year the Orioles starting making moves as if they were a contender. Derrek Lee and Vladamir Guerrero were added on one year deals for around $7-8M each.  Defensive wiz J.J. Hardy and masher Mark Reynolds were acquired in trades. Kevin Gregg, Jeremy Accardo, and Justin Duchscherer were signed to help shore up the pitching staff. It was an off season full of movement and action.

But the skeptic in me isn’t sure what to think. Sure, the Orioles have improved their team in the short term, but to what end? When competing in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox, does it matter if you win 79 games as opposed to 69? Did the Orioles improve their long-term competitiveness, or were these moves the product of a frustrated ownership that wants to win now?

The Projected Starting Nine

2B Brian Roberts
RF Nick Markakis
1B Derrek Lee
DH Vladimir Guerrero
LF Luke Scott
3B Mark Reynolds
CF Adam Jones
C Matt Wieters
SS J.J. Hardy

Make no mistake: this lineup is loads better than last year’s disaster. While the Orioles only posted around 9 WAR from their position players last season and had the fourth worst offense in the league (-72.3 wRAA), this team’s roster projects to post around 19 WAR instead. Derrek Lee and Vladamir Guerrero may be both past their primes (and are both large injury risks), but they both still have above-average bats. They provide much-needed middle-of-the-order punch, taking the pressure off Nick Markakis, Luke Scott, and Matt Wieters and allowing them to slide into lineup slots more fitting to their skills.

The problem is, though, that both Lee and Guerrero are only signed on one year deals. Both players make the Orioles better this season, but what happens next year? Along those same lines, J.J. Hardy is a fine defensive player and has some upside with his bat (having hit 20+ homeruns twice with the Brewers), but he’s entering his final year of arbitration and will be a free agent after the season. Luke Scott is under team control through the 2012 season, but then he hits free agency as well. This is a solid offense as it stands this year, but what happens in the future?

Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Mark Reynolds, Adam  Jones, and Matt Wieters are all under team control for at least the next three seasons, but there are reasons to be wary of this core. Roberts is entering his mid-30s and has has recent injury troubles, and Markakis has posted two sub-3 WAR seasons after his monster 2008 season. Reynolds is a fine power hitter if you can stomach the 40% strikeout rate, and Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are both valuable young players that have yet to live up to expectations.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Wieters, Jones, and Markakis. I think they form a valuable trio of young players for the Orioles, and all three of whom could explode and become stars within the next few years. At the same time, though, I see lots of question marks and a roster full of talent that won’t be around in two seasons. Are the Orioles going to make the necessary trades to bring in more young talent to complement their core? Or are they going to hold onto Guerrero, Lee, and Hardy all season, hoping for some short-term success instead of planning for the future?

The Pitching Staff

RHP Jeremy Guthrie
LHP Brian Matusz
RHP Justin Duchscherer
RHP Brad Bergesen
RHP Jake Arrieta / Chris Tillman

CL RHP Kevin Gregg
RHP Koji Uehara
LHP Mike Gonzalez
RHP Jim Johnson
RHP Jeremy Accardo
RHP Jason Berken
LHP Mark Hendrickson

The Orioles’ offense was bad last season, and their pitching wasn’t much better. The Orioles let up the second most runs per game in 2010 (4.85, trailing only the Royals), and their starting staff was the third-worst in the majors as measured by WAR. Jeremy Guthrie (3.83 ERA, 4.44 FIP) and Brian Matusz (4.30 ERA, 4.05 FIP) were both productive starters, but the rest of the pitching staff was a mess. High-priced closer Mike Gonzalez flamed out and got injured in the first week of the season, and top prospects Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman couldn’t get their K/BB ratios above 1.0. It was a disappointing year, to say the least.

While the starting pitching rotation isn’t too much different from last season, the group should improve due to natural progression from young players. Matusz and Arrieta have shown flashes of brilliance in their time in the majors, and either of them could break out and raise their stock considerably. Addition Justin Duchscherer has been quite effective when not on the disabled list (sub-3 ERA in 2008 and 2010), and is a perfect buy low candidate for a rebuilding team. And both Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman need to improve their strikeout rates in the majors (~4-5 K/9 currently), but they have youth and solid minor league track records on their side. Even if the Orioles are siding with veterans instead of young players on offense, they’re at least giving their young starting pitchers room to develop.

The bullpen looks to be a considerable strength this season, as GM Andy MacPhail spent liberally on bullpen arms this off season. Koji Uehara was very successful as the O’s closer last season (2.86 ERA, 11 K/9, 1 BB/9), but free agent acquisition Kevin Gregg seems to have the inside track to the closer role due to Koji’s arm issues this spring. Jim Johnson, Jeremy Accardo, and Mike Gonzalez are also above-average bullpen arms, and will make the Orioles a force in the late innings of games.

Key Player

I could highlight any number of players in this spot. Nick Markakis is a huge, long-term piece for the O’s and they need his bat. Matt Wieters is turning 25 this season, and to this point hasn’t developed into the hitter most people were projecting when they compared him to Chuck Norris. And on a team that’s starved for average starting pitchers, Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta are two young talents that the O’s almost need to develop into major league contributors.

But I’m going to go a different route and peg Josh Bell as a key player for the Orioles this season. Like I mentioned above, the Orioles have few young position players that are controlled long-term, and Josh Bell was ranked as the 37th best prospect in baseball last season. He’d flashed power and patience in Double-A, but then struggled slightly in Triple-A and flopped at the major league level. He displayed no patience in his limited major league time last season (1.2% walk rate), and his power simply didn’t show up (.088 ISO). Of course, that’s only 150 plate appearances so take those results with a grain of salt, but Bell didn’t look good at the plate.

Now that Mark Reynolds is ensconced at third base and Derrek Lee is at first, Bell will likely start the season in Triple-A, learning how to play first base and improving his plate discipline. If he manages to recapture his past success and turn into a slugger at one of the corner infield positions, it’d be a huge boost to the O’s core of long term talent. But if he doesn’t develop, Bell simply becomes the next in a line of top-rated Orioles prospects that didn’t develop as many people anticipated.

Summary

The Orioles might be stuck in one of the toughest positions of any team in baseball today. That might seem weird to say, as the O’s are currently far from a bad team. They’ve got some exciting young players in Matusz, Wieters, and Markakis, and their system still has some high-upside players in Josh Bell and Jake Arrieta. Their offense is much better this season with the addition of Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero, and their bullpen could be one of the best in the league. Most projection systems expect the Orioles to be much better this season, finishing slightly better than the Blue Jays with 81 wins. With some young players developing quicker than expected, they could easily finish with their first winning season since 1997.

While 81 wins would be light-years better than the 67 wins they’ve averaged over the last four seasons, the Orioles are still stuck in the same division as the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. These are three of the smartest, most well run organizations in the majors, and Alex Antholopous is also starting to flex his muscle up in Toronto. To reach a playoff spot, the Orioles need to have a long term plan and a commitment to their young talent. Maybe Andy MacPhail will surprise me and trade Vlad and Lee for prospects at the deadline, but right now, I’m not convinced they have either.

And yet, this is a fun team and one of the best the Orioles have fielded in a long time. They’ll be thorns in the side of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays this season, and there’s still more long-term hope for the franchise than there has been in the past. Boog’s Grill will be firing up soon, balls will be flying around Camden Yards – it’s baseball time in Birdland again.


Yankees preview:

 

They’re the only team in the league for which a mere ALCS appearance represents a disappointment. The Yankees fell six victories short of their goal, but went into the off-season with a bit of confidence. A bona fide ace, Cliff Lee, was on the market, and Yankee dollars would surely lure him to the South Bronx. When that plan backfired, the off-season was immediately deemed a disappointment. Yet the Yankees again return one of the strongest teams in the league for 2011.

The Starting Nine

Derek Jeter, SS
Nick Swisher, RF ^
Mark Teixeira, 1B ^
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B *
Jorge Posada, DH ^
Curtis Granderson, CF *
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF *
* lefty, ^ switch hitter

Despite disappointing seasons from three of their key veterans, the Yankees still boasted the league’s best offense in 2010. This year they return the same group, save for Russell Martin replacing Nick Johnson and the parade of DHs the Yankees employed. That could lead to another year atop the offensive leader boards, but there are certain roadblocks to that scenario.

Most importantly, the Yankees need their three big veterans — Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Derek Jeter — to rebound. With Teixeira that might not be a particularly tall order. At 31 he’s still in his prime, or, at the very least, not far out of it. For three straight seasons, from 2007 through 2009, he produced a wOBA of .400 or greater. Last year that dipped to .367 thanks to a abominably slow start and an injury riddled September. During July (.488 wOBA) and August (.411 wOBA) he produced as the Yankees might expect. He’ll need to do that all season long in 2011.

Jeter and Rodriguez are tougher cases because they’re a bit older. Both experienced their worst seasons in the bigs in 2011, which is always concerning for players in their mid-30s. Both have reportedly worked hard to regain form this off-season, with Jeter altering his mechanics at the plate and Rodriguez working out like a madman. As Joe Posnanski wrote last month, it’s not often we see these players recover. Age is an uncompromising factor for ballplayers, and they can only do so much to stave it off. Yet Jeter and Rodriguez, superstars of the first order, stand a chance if anyone does.

In addition to having three players who had down years in 2010, the Yankees also had two veterans with career seasons. Robinson Cano, always touted as a potential superstar, started his breakout in 2009 and finally came through in 2010. While his batting average remained identical to 2009′s, he raised his OBP by nearly 30 points and his ISO by 15 points. This was all the more valuable because it came during a year when offense as a whole was down. His 6.4 WAR season — which would have been over 7.0 if DRS, and not UZR, were used in WAR calculations — earned him MVP consideration. Cano is currently in his prime, and could certainly reproduce this type of season in 2011.

When the Yankees acquired Nick Swisher in November, 2008, he was coming off a career-worst season. A year later he was celebrating a World Series victory and his best season to date. In 2010 he managed to top that, at least relative to the league. His OBP actually dropped from .371 to .359, but his batting average rose to a career-high .288. That might appear to stem from an inflated BABIP, .335 against a career average of .286, but his xBABIP also rose thanks to a more aggressive approach at the plate. It resulted in a .377 wOBA and 133 wRC+. He might not reproduce those numbers, especially the batting average, but at age 30 Swisher appears in line for another big year.

Curtis Granderson is one of the more interesting cases heading into 2011. The Yankees acquired him after the 2009 season with hopes that he’d rebound to his 2008 — or, if they were lucky, 2007 — levels of production. What they got was essentially the same disappointing player that showed up in 2009. His defense helped him to a 3.6 WAR, but the Yankees were expecting more. Towards the end of the season he worked on his approach with hitting coach Kevin Long and his results improved dramatically: a .401 wOBA in his final 192 PA. That could just as easily be a hot streak, but it’s encouraging nonetheless.

In left field the Yankees have an odd fit with Brett Gardner. That is, it would be an odd fit with most teams, since left field is typically considered a power position. Gardner’s .103 ISO from 2009 was better than just four left fielders, and even then not by much. (That is, except in the case of Juan Pierre, which is just…) But since the Yankees get pop from up-the-middle positions, they can afford to have Gardner patrol left. His production dropped after Clayton Kershaw plunked him on the wrist in late June, but he still managed a .383 OBP for the season, which ranked fourth among MLB left fielders. He can also swipe plenty of bags and plays superb defense, especially when compared to his peers. Since Gardner doesn’t look like a left fielder — or, really, a ballplayer at all — he’ll always have doubters. But if he’s healthy there’s little reason to believe he can’t have another 2010-type season.

At catcher the Yankees have quite an abundance. Acquiring Russell Martin this winter provided them with even more flexibility at the position. They were able to move 39-year-old Jorge Posada off the only position he ever knew and into the DH spot, where his bat should profile well. If the move keeps him healthy and fresh he can certainly hit among the best DHs in the game. That’s a big if, though, considering his age. His wOBA dropped last year, but even that would have placed him fourth among DHs. As long as he doesn’t take another dive he’ll represent an improvement over what the Yankees got out of that spot in 2010.

Martin takes over as the everyday catcher, health permitting. The hip issue that cost him the last part of the 2010 season seems to be behind him, though surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee has led to a slow start this spring. He’s already catching in games, and is on track to be the Opening Day catcher. His bat certainly raises questions, as his production has dropped the past two seasons. That’s where Jesus Montero comes into play. There’s a good chance, now that Francisco Cervelli is out for at least a month, that Montero opens the season as the team’s backup catcher. If he hits and Martin doesn’t, the Yankees probably won’t hesitate to install their catcher of the future. That gives them plenty of room to maneuver with the position in 2011.

The bench this season will likely contain many familiar names who are trying to continue their careers in reduced roles. The Yankees signed Andruw Jones as the fourth outfielder, and he could get starts at DH and in the outfield corners — especially in left field when facing a tough lefty. It also appears that the team wants to bring Eric Chavez north as a lefty bat, third baseman, and first baseman. He hasn’t been able to stay healthy for about a half decade now, but the Yankees are hoping a reduced workload will allow him to perform when called upon.

The Pitching Staff

LHP CC Sabathia
RHP Phil Hughes
RHP A.J. Burnett
RHP Freddy Garcia
RHP Bartolo Colon / RHP Ivan Nova

CL RHP Mariano Rivera
RHP Rafael Soriano
RHP David Robertson
RHP Joba Chamberlain
LHP Boone Logan
LHP Pedro Feliciano
RHP Sergio Mitre

While the outlook for the Yankees offense appears positive, it isn’t so rosy for the starting pitching. After Lee signed in Philadelphia and Andy Pettitte retired the Yanks were left somewhat short changed on the rotation. They signed a few veterans to low-risk contracts and have a number of youngsters in camp, but chances are when they break for New York on March 30 they’ll be lacking a bit in the rotation.

That’s not to belittle the top of the rotation. CC Sabathia remains one of the league’s premier pitchers. His strikeouts dropped a bit last year and his walks rose, but he was still able to keep the ball on the ground and in the park. It amounted to a 3.18 ERA that put him in the Cy Young conversation for a fourth straight season. This season will essentially be a walk year for Sabathia, as he can opt out of his contract. Another fine showing will likely earn him more than the $92 million remaining on his contract from 2012 through 2015.

When the Yankees signed A.J. Burnett in the winter of 2008 they expected him to be Sabathia’s No. 2. In 2009 he played that role fairly well. In 2010, though, he imploded. Much has been made this off-season of his work with new pitching coach Larry Rothschild, including a mechanical change that eliminates his wild leg swing. But no one will believe that Burnett has changed until he gets on the mound and proves it. Until further notice, he’s a 34-year-old pitcher who showed marked signs of decline, including a career-low strikeout rate, in 2010.

Taking Burnett’s spot as the No. 2 in the rotation is Phil Hughes. After Baseball America named him the game’s No. 1 pitching prospect in 2007 Hughes has struggled to live up to the hype. He came close in 2010, though, especially early in the season when he was gassing hitters with his fastball. But as the season wore on he found he needed his secondary pitches, and when he reached back he didn’t have much of anything beyond a knuckle-curve. He emphasizes working on his changeup, but that has been the case since he turned pro. Without it he’s likely a No. 3 who will turn in a number of stellar starts. With it he can be that No. 2 to Sabathia’s No. 1.

After those three come a slew of veterans and rookies vying for two rotation spots. The favorite for the fourth spot is Freddy Garcia, whom the Yankees signed to a minor league deal during the winter. Last year he pitched 157 acceptable innings for the White Sox, recording a 4.64 ERA and 4.77 FIP. Those numbers aren’t the stuff of a championship caliber No. 4, but at this point the Yankees will take it as they let the trade market develop and their youngsters to get a bit more seasoning. If he can provide a 4.50 ERA, the Yanks will take a half season of that.

The Yankees might make the fifth starter spot sound like a competition among many, but it really comes down to veteran Bartolo Colon and rookie Ivan Nova. Colon signed a minor league deal this winter, and has looked fairly impressive in two spring training starts. There’s a chance that the Yankees could take him based on that, prepared to cut him at the first sign of trouble. That would allow Nova to be a depth option rather than a primary one. Nova pitched well enough last season, but had trouble getting through lineups a third time. Chances are he’ll be in the rotation by May if he doesn’t break camp with the team.

What the rotation lacks, the bullpen picks up. Led by immortal closer Mariano Rivera, the supporting cast this year is better than in years past. That’s not to say that the setup men were bad in 2009 and in 2010. In fact, since Joe Girardi took over in 2008 the Yankees bullpens have produced the third highest WAR in the league. It’s just that their bullpens have typically started off poorly before the team makes changes and gets everyone in line. This year they’re starting with a better crew than before.

Soriano heads the list of setup men, a role he was familiar with in Seattle and Atlanta. Health is his biggest concern, though he is coming off two injury free seasons. He represents the best full-season bridge to Mariano since Tom Gordon in 2004. Behind him is young reliever David Robertson, who has the fifth highest strikeout among relievers during the past two seasons. He tries to paint the corners with his fastball and get guys to chase his curveball, which leads to an above average walk rate, but that appears to be his only flaw. Joba Chamberlain will pitch in similar situations to Robertson. Last year he experienced poor results despite quality peripherals in the first half. Unsurprisingly, his results caught up in the second half. Chances are his results this year will come closer to his 2.98 FIP than his 4.40 ERA from 2010.

With Damaso Marte essentially out for the season the Yankees decided to pursue a lefty reliever on the free agent market. Not wanting to spend a first round pick on a relief pitcher, they went for Pedro Feliciano. He has been an effective reliever for the Mets since returning to the States in 2006. His walk rate might appear high, but many of those are intentional walks issued to a righty sandwiched between two lefties. If the Yankees keep him to a strict LOOGY role he could be an effective member of the 2011 bullpen. Boone Logan is the lefty who might have to take on more of an all-purpose role. He certainly took a step forward in 2010, keeping his strikeout rate high while limiting his home runs allowed. There’s no real indication he can handle the role, though, meaning that he, too, will likely be used in a LOOGY role. That will put a bit more pressure on the rest of the bullpen.

The final slot could change as the season marches along. Sergio Mitre, out of options for the second time, will likely break camp as the last man in the bullpen, but the Yankees have a few players, including a number of top prospects, who could take that spot later in the season. Nova could find himself there if the Yankees acquire a starter at the deadline. Andrew Brackman will certainly make his major league debut in 2011, and it could be in a bullpen role. Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances have both impressed in camp, but neither has significant professional experience and could end up in the bullpen later this season. Adam Warren, David Phelps, and Hector Noesi are other names to look for as bullpen, or even rotation, options later in the season.

The Key Guys

The Yankees will need a few of their veterans to bounce back on offense, but none of those is as important as the pitching staff. With a line of question marks following Sabathia, the Yankees will need someone to step up. Clearly, the best candidates for that are Hughes and Burnett. The Yankees’ hopes will ride on their arms this season.

For Hughes, it’s a matter of taking a step forward and figuring out what went wrong in the second half of 2010. Was it fatigue? Was it his lack of a third pitch? Was it the underwhelming nature of his curveball? An over-reliance on his heater in two-strike counts? Whatever the problem, he needs to fix it and step into that No. 2 spot if the Yankees are going to have a shot. He might have won 18 games last year, but he also received the most run support of any Yankees starter. Chances are that won’t happen for a second straight year.

Burnett’s recover will also be necessary if the Yankees are going to get through the first half on the pitchers currently with the team. He started off hot in 2010, with a 1.99 ERA on May 4 and a 3.28 ERA on May 30. But in June he completely broke down and while he recovered a bit in July, he was quite bad in August and September, a 6.61 ERA in 12 starts. If he repeats that the Yankees are going to be in serious trouble. But if he turns it around they can ride their offense to the trade deadline and perhaps improve the team then. But before that they need Hughes and Burnett to step up and pitch to their potentials.

Despite the perception that they had a poor off-season, the Yankees appear to be in decent shape for the 2011 season. The offense will again be a powerhouse, and there’s a solid bench to back it up. The rotation has considerably more question marks, but the Yankees have survived worse staffs in the past — and in those years they didn’t have a Sabathia on the club. The Red Sox might appear the favorites now, but the Yankees figure to hang around all season. With a pitching addition, they’ll certainly contend for the AL East crown.


Braves preview:

When you think of the Braves, you think of old guys. The Braves have had remarkable continuity over the past two decades: even the biggest departures, from John Smoltz to Tom Glavine to John Schuerholz to Bobby Cox, have remained or returned to the fold with the team. (Schuerholz is team president, Cox is a consultant, Glavine is a special assistant to the president, and Smoltz is a color commentator.) All four first joined the team more than 20 years ago — as did Chipper Jones, drafted in 1990 by GM Bobby Cox. And the new manager, Fredi Gonzalez, was hired precisely because he didn’t think too far outside the box. As Jones explained, “The way I see it, we just got a younger version of Bobby.

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Blue Jays preview:

Toronto really is the dark horse candidate in the vaunted American League East division. The club will face an uphill battle for division supremacy against the likes of Boston, New York and Tampa Bay. However, each club has its weaknesses so a fourth or fifth place finish for the Canadian club is not guaranteed. New manager John Farrell is a bit of a wild card. Fans of the team have no idea what to expect from the first-time manager. The strength of the team appears to be its pitching so the former big league hurler and pitching coach should be the right man for the job.

The Starting Nine
CF Rajai Davis
SS Yunel Escobar
3B Jose Bautista
1B Adam Lind
DH Edwin Encarnacion
2B Aaron Hill
LF Juan Rivera
RF Travis Snider
C J.P. Arencibia

This is not a lineup that will strike a lot of fear in its opponents. With any luck, though, the grip-and-rip approach of the 2010 Jays under now-deposed manager Cito Gaston is long gone. However, hitting coach Dwayne Murphy kept his job during the off-season so it remains to be seen how quickly the old approach will morph into a more balanced offensive attack. General manager Alex Anthopoulos has given the team flexibility on the base paths with the additions of Davis and (currently injured) Scott Podsednik. The club loses some pop with the surprising trade of former No. 1 draft pick Vernon Wells, who played parts of 12 seasons in Toronto. To help fill the power void, Rivera – obtained in the Wells trade – could see his power output increase with the move to the homer-happy home stadium, while rookie catcher Arencibia has the potential to produce a .200+ ISO rate (He might, though, hit just .220).

The club will look for big bounce-back seasons from Hill and Lind. The second baseman produced a Major-League-low BABIP of .196, which is unsustainably low to the extreme.

Aaron Hill BABIP

After slugging 36 homers in ’09, Hill spent the ’10 season trying to hit every ball out of the park but he saw his line-drive rate nosedive from 18.5% career to 10.6%. He’ll be a much more valuable player to Toronto if he once again focuses on simply hitting the ball hard. I’ll have more on Lind in a moment.

The new No. 1 go-to guy in the lineup will be Bautista, who is coming off of an unexpected season in which he just missed becoming a 7 win player. Although no one expects another 54-homer season (expect perhaps Bautista himself), there are signs that point to a true breakout, rather than a one-time blip. He posted a 14.6% walk rate and also saw his strikeout rate improve by 5.0% over the past two seasons. His BABIP in 2010 was only .233, which is hard to believe (His career rate is .270) despite the fact that he’s never hit for average. Bautista could be a very valuable player for Toronto if he can produce a 5.0 WAR season and help fill the void at the hot corner (after spending much of 2010 in right field).

Escobar is entering his first full season with Toronto after coming over in a surprise 2010 trade with Atlanta. The Cuban shortstop had overstayed his welcome in Atlanta’s conservative organization but he has the potential to be an impact player – both on defense and at the plate. Even with a so-so season in 2010, Escobar matches up favorably to the other shortstops in the league, and he possesses the most upside of the bunch.

Escobar vs AL shortstops

He also has a positive relationship with Bautista, who has been mentoring the younger player since his arrival in Toronto. Speaking of young players, Snider will look to have a fully healthy season (although he’s off to a bumpy start this spring with an intercostal muscle injury). With two part seasons at the MLB level already under his belt, it’s easy to forget that he’s still just 23 years old.

The Pitching Staff
LHP Ricky Romero
RHP Brandon Morrow
LHP Brett Cecil
RHP Jesse Litsch
RHP Kyle Drabek
LHP Marc Rzepczynski

RHP Frank Francisco
RHP Octavio Dotel
RHP Jon Rauch
RHP Jason Frasor
RHP Shawn Camp
RHP Carlos Villanueva
RHP Casey Janssen
RHP Josh Roenicke
LHP David Purcey
LHP Jesse Carlson

With the trade of veteran No. 3 hurler Shaun Marcum (to Milwaukee), the club’s depth in the starting rotation has been significantly impacted. There are a lot of arms in the picture but Major League experience is limited. No starting pitcher should be older than 26 years of age (Romero, Morrow, and Litsch). Only Romero has surpassed the 200.0 inning mark in a season, and he’s done that just once. Cecil has a good shot at hitting the 200.0 innings threshold in 2011 but Morrow would have to see an increase of 54.0 innings to hit that mark, which means he’s going to have to be a lot more efficient with his pitch counts.

Litsch has pitched just 55.0 innings over the past two seasons after undergoing significant surgeries on both his throwing elbow and hip; hoping for more than 130-150 innings might be a bit much. Rookie Drabek is penciled in for the fifth spot in the rotation but he could experience some growing pains with just 17.0 innings above the double-A level. Extra starters like Rzepczynski, Jo-Jo Reyes (although he’s out of options) and Brad Mills, all left-handers and all currently slated for triple-A work to begin the year, could become important depth players for the club.

The club went out and spent a fair bit of money on improving the bullpen depth after losing two key contributors from 2010′s relief corps (Scott Downs and Kevin Gregg), as well as long man Brian Tallet. The newcomers include three veteran pitchers with experience at closing games: Francisco, Dotel, and Rauch. Those three appear set to eat up the majority of the eighth- and ninth-inning duties.

Returnees Jason Frasor and Shawn Camp are also near-locks to make the club out of spring training. That leaves a number of bodies vying for another two spots: Villanueva (acquired from Milwaukee during the off-season), Janssen, Roenicke, as well as lefties Purcey and Carlson. Rzepczynski and Reyes also have outside shots at breaking camp as southpaw relievers.

Key Player

Prior to the 2010 season, Lind signed a lucrative contract extension with the Jays after a breakout ’09 season. As a result, he may have put too much pressure on himself and he produced a wOBA of .234 in May and .207 in June. After digging himself a hole that was difficult to climb out of, he still ended up with overall disappointing numbers on the season (.237/.287/.425) despite producing solid wOBAs in the final three months: .353, .368, and .336.

He was a 3.5 win player in ’09 and has a good shot at returning to that level in 2011. The 27-year-old player will also move from being a full-time DH to manning first base, and he’s reportedly displayed respectable work at the bag so far this spring. The club is hoping that his work in the field will help him avoid dwelling on his struggles at the plate. With Wells gone, someone is going to have to offer Bautista some protection and Lind needs to step up and be that player.


Summary
The 2011 Jays do not enter the season looking like a 90-win club but there is enough young talent on this team – and impact prospects on the cusp of the Majors like Drabek and Brett Lawrie – to make things interesting. Although the club many not be playing post-season ball, it’s definitely headed in the right direction and should be competitive in 2011, even against the likes of New York, Boston and Tampa Bay.


  National preview:

 

Last summer, Stephen Strasburg put the Nationals into the spotlight every time he took the hill, bringing attention to a franchise that has been forgettable since their move to Washington D.C. Strasburg’s injury took away their star attraction, however, so Mike Rizzo decided to make a big splash this winter in order to try and retain his franchises newfound relevancy. Will it work? Let’s start by evaluating the team’s everyday players.

The Starting Line-Up

1. Nyjer Morgan*, CF
2. Ian Desmond, SS
3. Jayson Werth, RF
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
5. Adam LaRoche*, 1B
6. Rick Ankiel*/Mike Morse, LF
7. Ivan Rodriguez, C
8. Danny Espinosa, 2B

Werth essentially replaces Adam Dunn in the line-up, and should give the Nationals similar offensive production while substantially upgrading the defense as well. When paired with Zimmerman, Washington now has two of the better all-around players in the game, but there are legitimate questions about their supporting cast.

The Nationals brought LaRoche in to add some power from the left side, but he’s the definition of an average player. While he’s an alright piece to have around, it’s tough to contend when that kind of guy is your third best position player. The middle infield tandem of Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa both have enough talent to potentially be above average regulars down the road, but neither are likely to hit that mark this year. Rick Ankiel and Ivan Rodriguez are essentially veteran stopgaps who will likely keep the job warm until the Nationals decide that a more talented youngster – Roger Bernadina and Wilson Ramos respectively – is ready for the gig. And last but not least, there’s Tony Plush out there in center field.

Morgan is the wild card here. He has shown the physical abilities to be an impact player, with top shelf speed and enough contact skills to make the slap-it-on-the-ground skillset work. However, Morgan was unable to turn his natural talents into actual production last year, and his game regressed across the board. Nowhere were the problems more apparent than in the field and on the bases, where Morgan took circular routes to the ball and got thrown out stealing far too often. A significant drop in his BABIP also reduced his ability to get on base, and the year ended up being a total flop for Morgan.

If Morgan can rebound and provide legitimate value in center field again, the offense could actually be decent and the defense might be among the top few in the league. If his struggles from last year carry over, however, the team will be searching for a new center fielder by the summer, and Werth and Zimmerman won’t have too many baserunners to drive in. Morgan is going to be the straw the stirs the drink for this year’s Nationals offense, which is probably not the situation they would choose if they had their druthers.

The Pitching Staff

RHP Livan Hernandez
RHP Jason Marquis
LHP John Lannan
RHP Jordan Zimmermann
LHP Tom Gorzelanny

CL Drew Storen
RHP Tyler Clippard
LHP Sean Burnett
RHP Craig Stammen
LHP Doug Slaten
RHP Henry Rodriguez
RHP Collin Balester

This is one of those odd rotations where the back-end starters might actually be better than the front. While Hernandez was a useful innings eater for Washington last year, it is fair to wonder when he will run out of magic pixi dust – his 4.76 xFIP wasn’t exactly the mark of a guy you want to be handing the ball to on Opening Day. Marquis is a bit of a wild card coming off elbow surgery, but he was durable and effective prior to the 2010 season, and if healthy, he should be a reasonable innings eater. Lannan is also a pitch-to-contact guy who doesn’t throw enough strikes to make it work that well, so the Nationals top three starters are all guys you’d rather have in the #5 spot.

However, with Zimmermann and Gorzelanny, there is legitimate upside. Zimmermann was the team’s best pitching prospect before Strasburg stole the show, and now that he’s working his way back from his own arm problems, he’s looking to regain the form that he showed in 2009, when he was one of the game’s most exciting young pitchers. His late success last year should inspire some confidence, and on a per-innings pitched basis, he’ll likely be the team’s best starter this year. The question is just how many innings the Nationals will ask Zimmermann to give them, and I wouldn’t be surprised if caution ruled the day in his situation.

I wrote about Gorzelanny when Washington picked him up, but for those not interested in clicking the link, he’s a difficult puzzle to figure out. If he can improve his strike-throwing capabilities while sustaining his strikeout rates from his tenure in Chicago, the Nationals might really have something. However, you could say that about nearly every pitcher in baseball – most of them could be great if they could keep all their good traits will losing their bad ones. The upside is interesting for a back-end starter, but he comes with quite a bit of uncertainty.

The bullpen is full of mostly nondescript relievers, but keep an eye on Stammen – his strikeout rate was much higher in relief than when he was working as a starter, and if they shift him to the bullpen on a full-time basis, he might put up some surprising numbers. Consider him the most super of all super sleepers for 2011.

The Key Player

While the variability in projecting either Nyjer Morgan or Tom Gorzelanny make them appear to be a natural pick for this spot, I have to go with Jayson Werth. Mike Rizzo made it clear that they signed him not just because he’s a good player, but because he’s trying to put the franchise on the map. If their new $126 million man fails to live up to expectations, this team is going to have a hard time finishing at .500, and they’ll end up as just another runner-up with a huge contract on the books that no one wants. If Werth flops, his presence could actually detract from the excitement surrounding Strasburg’s eventual return and the expected arrival of Bryce Harper at some point in the future.

The Nationals bet big on Werth in an effort to stay decent while waiting for their franchise pitcher and potentially franchise outfielder. If he maintains his +5 win level and keeps the team in relative contention into mid-summer, the organization should be able to have some legitimacy in selling a better future. There is value in building up the fan base and positioning the team to take the next step in 2012 or 2013, which appears to be the path that Rizzo is hoping for – but that plan relies on Werth continuing to play well into his mid-30s. If he pulls a Vernon Wells, then the future suddenly doesn’t look so bright.

At some point during his contract, Werth will no longer be able to justify the money he’s getting paid. The Nationals need that point to be somewhere in 2015 or beyond, and how he performs in 2011 will tell us quite a bit about how well he’ll be able to hold up over the length of the deal. Given that the Nationals have invested such a large percentage of their payroll in a player on the wrong side of 30, that makes Werth the Natinals key player not just this year, but probably for each of the next several seasons.

The Conclusion

It would take an army of minor miracles for the Nationals to contend this year, but they’ve invested in not being horrible this year, and if enough things go right, .500 is a legitimate goal. More importantly, however, is the development of guys like Desmond, Espinosa, and Zimmermann – if they can all take legitimate steps forward, than the 2012 Nationals team could be really interesting. This year, it’s all about being decent enough to get fans to keep caring, even without the Strasburg Sideshow around to draw interest.


Orioles preview:

After suffering through five straight seasons of 90+ losses, this off season was an exciting time to be an Orioles fan. While the O’s front office has remained relatively quiet over the past few winters, preferring to let their young talent develop, this year the Orioles starting making moves as if they were a contender. Derrek Lee and Vladamir Guerrero were added on one year deals for around $7-8M each.  Defensive wiz J.J. Hardy and masher Mark Reynolds were acquired in trades. Kevin Gregg, Jeremy Accardo, and Justin Duchscherer were signed to help shore up the pitching staff. It was an off season full of movement and action.

But the skeptic in me isn’t sure what to think. Sure, the Orioles have improved their team in the short term, but to what end? When competing in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox, does it matter if you win 79 games as opposed to 69? Did the Orioles improve their long-term competitiveness, or were these moves the product of a frustrated ownership that wants to win now?

The Projected Starting Nine

2B Brian Roberts
RF Nick Markakis
1B Derrek Lee
DH Vladimir Guerrero
LF Luke Scott
3B Mark Reynolds
CF Adam Jones
C Matt Wieters
SS J.J. Hardy

Make no mistake: this lineup is loads better than last year’s disaster. While the Orioles only posted around 9 WAR from their position players last season and had the fourth worst offense in the league (-72.3 wRAA), this team’s roster projects to post around 19 WAR instead. Derrek Lee and Vladamir Guerrero may be both past their primes (and are both large injury risks), but they both still have above-average bats. They provide much-needed middle-of-the-order punch, taking the pressure off Nick Markakis, Luke Scott, and Matt Wieters and allowing them to slide into lineup slots more fitting to their skills.

The problem is, though, that both Lee and Guerrero are only signed on one year deals. Both players make the Orioles better this season, but what happens next year? Along those same lines, J.J. Hardy is a fine defensive player and has some upside with his bat (having hit 20+ homeruns twice with the Brewers), but he’s entering his final year of arbitration and will be a free agent after the season. Luke Scott is under team control through the 2012 season, but then he hits free agency as well. This is a solid offense as it stands this year, but what happens in the future?

Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Mark Reynolds, Adam  Jones, and Matt Wieters are all under team control for at least the next three seasons, but there are reasons to be wary of this core. Roberts is entering his mid-30s and has has recent injury troubles, and Markakis has posted two sub-3 WAR seasons after his monster 2008 season. Reynolds is a fine power hitter if you can stomach the 40% strikeout rate, and Adam Jones and Matt Wieters are both valuable young players that have yet to live up to expectations.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Wieters, Jones, and Markakis. I think they form a valuable trio of young players for the Orioles, and all three of whom could explode and become stars within the next few years. At the same time, though, I see lots of question marks and a roster full of talent that won’t be around in two seasons. Are the Orioles going to make the necessary trades to bring in more young talent to complement their core? Or are they going to hold onto Guerrero, Lee, and Hardy all season, hoping for some short-term success instead of planning for the future?

The Pitching Staff

RHP Jeremy Guthrie
LHP Brian Matusz
RHP Justin Duchscherer
RHP Brad Bergesen
RHP Jake Arrieta / Chris Tillman

CL RHP Kevin Gregg
RHP Koji Uehara
LHP Mike Gonzalez
RHP Jim Johnson
RHP Jeremy Accardo
RHP Jason Berken
LHP Mark Hendrickson

The Orioles’ offense was bad last season, and their pitching wasn’t much better. The Orioles let up the second most runs per game in 2010 (4.85, trailing only the Royals), and their starting staff was the third-worst in the majors as measured by WAR. Jeremy Guthrie (3.83 ERA, 4.44 FIP) and Brian Matusz (4.30 ERA, 4.05 FIP) were both productive starters, but the rest of the pitching staff was a mess. High-priced closer Mike Gonzalez flamed out and got injured in the first week of the season, and top prospects Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman couldn’t get their K/BB ratios above 1.0. It was a disappointing year, to say the least.

While the starting pitching rotation isn’t too much different from last season, the group should improve due to natural progression from young players. Matusz and Arrieta have shown flashes of brilliance in their time in the majors, and either of them could break out and raise their stock considerably. Addition Justin Duchscherer has been quite effective when not on the disabled list (sub-3 ERA in 2008 and 2010), and is a perfect buy low candidate for a rebuilding team. And both Brad Bergesen and Chris Tillman need to improve their strikeout rates in the majors (~4-5 K/9 currently), but they have youth and solid minor league track records on their side. Even if the Orioles are siding with veterans instead of young players on offense, they’re at least giving their young starting pitchers room to develop.

The bullpen looks to be a considerable strength this season, as GM Andy MacPhail spent liberally on bullpen arms this off season. Koji Uehara was very successful as the O’s closer last season (2.86 ERA, 11 K/9, 1 BB/9), but free agent acquisition Kevin Gregg seems to have the inside track to the closer role due to Koji’s arm issues this spring. Jim Johnson, Jeremy Accardo, and Mike Gonzalez are also above-average bullpen arms, and will make the Orioles a force in the late innings of games.

Key Player

I could highlight any number of players in this spot. Nick Markakis is a huge, long-term piece for the O’s and they need his bat. Matt Wieters is turning 25 this season, and to this point hasn’t developed into the hitter most people were projecting when they compared him to Chuck Norris. And on a team that’s starved for average starting pitchers, Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta are two young talents that the O’s almost need to develop into major league contributors.

But I’m going to go a different route and peg Josh Bell as a key player for the Orioles this season. Like I mentioned above, the Orioles have few young position players that are controlled long-term, and Josh Bell was ranked as the 37th best prospect in baseball last season. He’d flashed power and patience in Double-A, but then struggled slightly in Triple-A and flopped at the major league level. He displayed no patience in his limited major league time last season (1.2% walk rate), and his power simply didn’t show up (.088 ISO). Of course, that’s only 150 plate appearances so take those results with a grain of salt, but Bell didn’t look good at the plate.

Now that Mark Reynolds is ensconced at third base and Derrek Lee is at first, Bell will likely start the season in Triple-A, learning how to play first base and improving his plate discipline. If he manages to recapture his past success and turn into a slugger at one of the corner infield positions, it’d be a huge boost to the O’s core of long term talent. But if he doesn’t develop, Bell simply becomes the next in a line of top-rated Orioles prospects that didn’t develop as many people anticipated.

Summary

The Orioles might be stuck in one of the toughest positions of any team in baseball today. That might seem weird to say, as the O’s are currently far from a bad team. They’ve got some exciting young players in Matusz, Wieters, and Markakis, and their system still has some high-upside players in Josh Bell and Jake Arrieta. Their offense is much better this season with the addition of Derrek Lee and Vladimir Guerrero, and their bullpen could be one of the best in the league. Most projection systems expect the Orioles to be much better this season, finishing slightly better than the Blue Jays with 81 wins. With some young players developing quicker than expected, they could easily finish with their first winning season since 1997.

While 81 wins would be light-years better than the 67 wins they’ve averaged over the last four seasons, the Orioles are still stuck in the same division as the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. These are three of the smartest, most well run organizations in the majors, and Alex Antholopous is also starting to flex his muscle up in Toronto. To reach a playoff spot, the Orioles need to have a long term plan and a commitment to their young talent. Maybe Andy MacPhail will surprise me and trade Vlad and Lee for prospects at the deadline, but right now, I’m not convinced they have either.

And yet, this is a fun team and one of the best the Orioles have fielded in a long time. They’ll be thorns in the side of the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays this season, and there’s still more long-term hope for the franchise than there has been in the past. Boog’s Grill will be firing up soon, balls will be flying around Camden Yards – it’s baseball time in Birdland again.


Yankees preview:

 

They’re the only team in the league for which a mere ALCS appearance represents a disappointment. The Yankees fell six victories short of their goal, but went into the off-season with a bit of confidence. A bona fide ace, Cliff Lee, was on the market, and Yankee dollars would surely lure him to the South Bronx. When that plan backfired, the off-season was immediately deemed a disappointment. Yet the Yankees again return one of the strongest teams in the league for 2011.

The Starting Nine

Derek Jeter, SS
Nick Swisher, RF ^
Mark Teixeira, 1B ^
Alex Rodriguez, 3B
Robinson Cano, 2B *
Jorge Posada, DH ^
Curtis Granderson, CF *
Russell Martin, C
Brett Gardner, LF *
* lefty, ^ switch hitter

Despite disappointing seasons from three of their key veterans, the Yankees still boasted the league’s best offense in 2010. This year they return the same group, save for Russell Martin replacing Nick Johnson and the parade of DHs the Yankees employed. That could lead to another year atop the offensive leader boards, but there are certain roadblocks to that scenario.

Most importantly, the Yankees need their three big veterans — Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and Derek Jeter — to rebound. With Teixeira that might not be a particularly tall order. At 31 he’s still in his prime, or, at the very least, not far out of it. For three straight seasons, from 2007 through 2009, he produced a wOBA of .400 or greater. Last year that dipped to .367 thanks to a abominably slow start and an injury riddled September. During July (.488 wOBA) and August (.411 wOBA) he produced as the Yankees might expect. He’ll need to do that all season long in 2011.

Jeter and Rodriguez are tougher cases because they’re a bit older. Both experienced their worst seasons in the bigs in 2011, which is always concerning for players in their mid-30s. Both have reportedly worked hard to regain form this off-season, with Jeter altering his mechanics at the plate and Rodriguez working out like a madman. As Joe Posnanski wrote last month, it’s not often we see these players recover. Age is an uncompromising factor for ballplayers, and they can only do so much to stave it off. Yet Jeter and Rodriguez, superstars of the first order, stand a chance if anyone does.

In addition to having three players who had down years in 2010, the Yankees also had two veterans with career seasons. Robinson Cano, always touted as a potential superstar, started his breakout in 2009 and finally came through in 2010. While his batting average remained identical to 2009′s, he raised his OBP by nearly 30 points and his ISO by 15 points. This was all the more valuable because it came during a year when offense as a whole was down. His 6.4 WAR season — which would have been over 7.0 if DRS, and not UZR, were used in WAR calculations — earned him MVP consideration. Cano is currently in his prime, and could certainly reproduce this type of season in 2011.

When the Yankees acquired Nick Swisher in November, 2008, he was coming off a career-worst season. A year later he was celebrating a World Series victory and his best season to date. In 2010 he managed to top that, at least relative to the league. His OBP actually dropped from .371 to .359, but his batting average rose to a career-high .288. That might appear to stem from an inflated BABIP, .335 against a career average of .286, but his xBABIP also rose thanks to a more aggressive approach at the plate. It resulted in a .377 wOBA and 133 wRC+. He might not reproduce those numbers, especially the batting average, but at age 30 Swisher appears in line for another big year.

Curtis Granderson is one of the more interesting cases heading into 2011. The Yankees acquired him after the 2009 season with hopes that he’d rebound to his 2008 — or, if they were lucky, 2007 — levels of production. What they got was essentially the same disappointing player that showed up in 2009. His defense helped him to a 3.6 WAR, but the Yankees were expecting more. Towards the end of the season he worked on his approach with hitting coach Kevin Long and his results improved dramatically: a .401 wOBA in his final 192 PA. That could just as easily be a hot streak, but it’s encouraging nonetheless.

In left field the Yankees have an odd fit with Brett Gardner. That is, it would be an odd fit with most teams, since left field is typically considered a power position. Gardner’s .103 ISO from 2009 was better than just four left fielders, and even then not by much. (That is, except in the case of Juan Pierre, which is just…) But since the Yankees get pop from up-the-middle positions, they can afford to have Gardner patrol left. His production dropped after Clayton Kershaw plunked him on the wrist in late June, but he still managed a .383 OBP for the season, which ranked fourth among MLB left fielders. He can also swipe plenty of bags and plays superb defense, especially when compared to his peers. Since Gardner doesn’t look like a left fielder — or, really, a ballplayer at all — he’ll always have doubters. But if he’s healthy there’s little reason to believe he can’t have another 2010-type season.

At catcher the Yankees have quite an abundance. Acquiring Russell Martin this winter provided them with even more flexibility at the position. They were able to move 39-year-old Jorge Posada off the only position he ever knew and into the DH spot, where his bat should profile well. If the move keeps him healthy and fresh he can certainly hit among the best DHs in the game. That’s a big if, though, considering his age. His wOBA dropped last year, but even that would have placed him fourth among DHs. As long as he doesn’t take another dive he’ll represent an improvement over what the Yankees got out of that spot in 2010.

Martin takes over as the everyday catcher, health permitting. The hip issue that cost him the last part of the 2010 season seems to be behind him, though surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee has led to a slow start this spring. He’s already catching in games, and is on track to be the Opening Day catcher. His bat certainly raises questions, as his production has dropped the past two seasons. That’s where Jesus Montero comes into play. There’s a good chance, now that Francisco Cervelli is out for at least a month, that Montero opens the season as the team’s backup catcher. If he hits and Martin doesn’t, the Yankees probably won’t hesitate to install their catcher of the future. That gives them plenty of room to maneuver with the position in 2011.

The bench this season will likely contain many familiar names who are trying to continue their careers in reduced roles. The Yankees signed Andruw Jones as the fourth outfielder, and he could get starts at DH and in the outfield corners — especially in left field when facing a tough lefty. It also appears that the team wants to bring Eric Chavez north as a lefty bat, third baseman, and first baseman. He hasn’t been able to stay healthy for about a half decade now, but the Yankees are hoping a reduced workload will allow him to perform when called upon.

The Pitching Staff

LHP CC Sabathia
RHP Phil Hughes
RHP A.J. Burnett
RHP Freddy Garcia
RHP Bartolo Colon / RHP Ivan Nova

CL RHP Mariano Rivera
RHP Rafael Soriano
RHP David Robertson
RHP Joba Chamberlain
LHP Boone Logan
LHP Pedro Feliciano
RHP Sergio Mitre

While the outlook for the Yankees offense appears positive, it isn’t so rosy for the starting pitching. After Lee signed in Philadelphia and Andy Pettitte retired the Yanks were left somewhat short changed on the rotation. They signed a few veterans to low-risk contracts and have a number of youngsters in camp, but chances are when they break for New York on March 30 they’ll be lacking a bit in the rotation.

That’s not to belittle the top of the rotation. CC Sabathia remains one of the league’s premier pitchers. His strikeouts dropped a bit last year and his walks rose, but he was still able to keep the ball on the ground and in the park. It amounted to a 3.18 ERA that put him in the Cy Young conversation for a fourth straight season. This season will essentially be a walk year for Sabathia, as he can opt out of his contract. Another fine showing will likely earn him more than the $92 million remaining on his contract from 2012 through 2015.

When the Yankees signed A.J. Burnett in the winter of 2008 they expected him to be Sabathia’s No. 2. In 2009 he played that role fairly well. In 2010, though, he imploded. Much has been made this off-season of his work with new pitching coach Larry Rothschild, including a mechanical change that eliminates his wild leg swing. But no one will believe that Burnett has changed until he gets on the mound and proves it. Until further notice, he’s a 34-year-old pitcher who showed marked signs of decline, including a career-low strikeout rate, in 2010.

Taking Burnett’s spot as the No. 2 in the rotation is Phil Hughes. After Baseball America named him the game’s No. 1 pitching prospect in 2007 Hughes has struggled to live up to the hype. He came close in 2010, though, especially early in the season when he was gassing hitters with his fastball. But as the season wore on he found he needed his secondary pitches, and when he reached back he didn’t have much of anything beyond a knuckle-curve. He emphasizes working on his changeup, but that has been the case since he turned pro. Without it he’s likely a No. 3 who will turn in a number of stellar starts. With it he can be that No. 2 to Sabathia’s No. 1.

After those three come a slew of veterans and rookies vying for two rotation spots. The favorite for the fourth spot is Freddy Garcia, whom the Yankees signed to a minor league deal during the winter. Last year he pitched 157 acceptable innings for the White Sox, recording a 4.64 ERA and 4.77 FIP. Those numbers aren’t the stuff of a championship caliber No. 4, but at this point the Yankees will take it as they let the trade market develop and their youngsters to get a bit more seasoning. If he can provide a 4.50 ERA, the Yanks will take a half season of that.

The Yankees might make the fifth starter spot sound like a competition among many, but it really comes down to veteran Bartolo Colon and rookie Ivan Nova. Colon signed a minor league deal this winter, and has looked fairly impressive in two spring training starts. There’s a chance that the Yankees could take him based on that, prepared to cut him at the first sign of trouble. That would allow Nova to be a depth option rather than a primary one. Nova pitched well enough last season, but had trouble getting through lineups a third time. Chances are he’ll be in the rotation by May if he doesn’t break camp with the team.

What the rotation lacks, the bullpen picks up. Led by immortal closer Mariano Rivera, the supporting cast this year is better than in years past. That’s not to say that the setup men were bad in 2009 and in 2010. In fact, since Joe Girardi took over in 2008 the Yankees bullpens have produced the third highest WAR in the league. It’s just that their bullpens have typically started off poorly before the team makes changes and gets everyone in line. This year they’re starting with a better crew than before.

Soriano heads the list of setup men, a role he was familiar with in Seattle and Atlanta. Health is his biggest concern, though he is coming off two injury free seasons. He represents the best full-season bridge to Mariano since Tom Gordon in 2004. Behind him is young reliever David Robertson, who has the fifth highest strikeout among relievers during the past two seasons. He tries to paint the corners with his fastball and get guys to chase his curveball, which leads to an above average walk rate, but that appears to be his only flaw. Joba Chamberlain will pitch in similar situations to Robertson. Last year he experienced poor results despite quality peripherals in the first half. Unsurprisingly, his results caught up in the second half. Chances are his results this year will come closer to his 2.98 FIP than his 4.40 ERA from 2010.

With Damaso Marte essentially out for the season the Yankees decided to pursue a lefty reliever on the free agent market. Not wanting to spend a first round pick on a relief pitcher, they went for Pedro Feliciano. He has been an effective reliever for the Mets since returning to the States in 2006. His walk rate might appear high, but many of those are intentional walks issued to a righty sandwiched between two lefties. If the Yankees keep him to a strict LOOGY role he could be an effective member of the 2011 bullpen. Boone Logan is the lefty who might have to take on more of an all-purpose role. He certainly took a step forward in 2010, keeping his strikeout rate high while limiting his home runs allowed. There’s no real indication he can handle the role, though, meaning that he, too, will likely be used in a LOOGY role. That will put a bit more pressure on the rest of the bullpen.

The final slot could change as the season marches along. Sergio Mitre, out of options for the second time, will likely break camp as the last man in the bullpen, but the Yankees have a few players, including a number of top prospects, who could take that spot later in the season. Nova could find himself there if the Yankees acquire a starter at the deadline. Andrew Brackman will certainly make his major league debut in 2011, and it could be in a bullpen role. Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances have both impressed in camp, but neither has significant professional experience and could end up in the bullpen later this season. Adam Warren, David Phelps, and Hector Noesi are other names to look for as bullpen, or even rotation, options later in the season.

The Key Guys

The Yankees will need a few of their veterans to bounce back on offense, but none of those is as important as the pitching staff. With a line of question marks following Sabathia, the Yankees will need someone to step up. Clearly, the best candidates for that are Hughes and Burnett. The Yankees’ hopes will ride on their arms this season.

For Hughes, it’s a matter of taking a step forward and figuring out what went wrong in the second half of 2010. Was it fatigue? Was it his lack of a third pitch? Was it the underwhelming nature of his curveball? An over-reliance on his heater in two-strike counts? Whatever the problem, he needs to fix it and step into that No. 2 spot if the Yankees are going to have a shot. He might have won 18 games last year, but he also received the most run support of any Yankees starter. Chances are that won’t happen for a second straight year.

Burnett’s recover will also be necessary if the Yankees are going to get through the first half on the pitchers currently with the team. He started off hot in 2010, with a 1.99 ERA on May 4 and a 3.28 ERA on May 30. But in June he completely broke down and while he recovered a bit in July, he was quite bad in August and September, a 6.61 ERA in 12 starts. If he repeats that the Yankees are going to be in serious trouble. But if he turns it around they can ride their offense to the trade deadline and perhaps improve the team then. But before that they need Hughes and Burnett to step up and pitch to their potentials.

Despite the perception that they had a poor off-season, the Yankees appear to be in decent shape for the 2011 season. The offense will again be a powerhouse, and there’s a solid bench to back it up. The rotation has considerably more question marks, but the Yankees have survived worse staffs in the past — and in those years they didn’t have a Sabathia on the club. The Red Sox might appear the favorites now, but the Yankees figure to hang around all season. With a pitching addition, they’ll certainly contend for the AL East crown.


Braves preview:

When you think of the Braves, you think of old guys. The Braves have had remarkable continuity over the past two decades: even the biggest departures, from John Smoltz to Tom Glavine to John Schuerholz to Bobby Cox, have remained or returned to the fold with the team. (Schuerholz is team president, Cox is a consultant, Glavine is a special assistant to the president, and Smoltz is a color commentator.) All four first joined the team more than 20 years ago — as did Chipper Jones, drafted in 1990 by GM Bobby Cox. And the new manager, Fredi Gonzalez, was hired precisely because he didn’t think too far outside the box. As Jones explained, “The way I see it, we just got a younger version of Bobby.

post #381 of 77278
I'm mad that article only talks about how bad some of our prospects are doing. Michael Choice and Jemile Weeks have looked superb.
post #382 of 77278
I'm mad that article only talks about how bad some of our prospects are doing. Michael Choice and Jemile Weeks have looked superb.
post #383 of 77278
Thread Starter 
Marlins preview:

 

The Phillies might have grabbed the most headlines this off-season, and the Braves might remain the stable contender in the NL East, but it’s the Marlins that are the most interesting team in the division. They have finished second or third in each of the last three years, and are slowly amassing a core of young talent that could soon bring them into serious contention. In 2011 we’ll get to see a number of these players try their hands against major league competition.

The Starting Eight

CF Chris Coghlan *
2B Omar Infante
SS Hanley Ramirez
RF Mike Stanton
1B Gaby Sanchez
LF Logan Morrison *
C John Buck
3B Matt Dominguez

After a disappointing sophomore season that ended with surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, Chris Coghlan returns in the Marlins leadoff spot. If his numbers fall between his 2009 and 2010 seasons — see the Bill James projection of .297/.369/.430 — he should be fine in that spot. The biggest question about him actually doesn’t center on his plate prowess, but rather on his fielding. The Marlins have him tapped as the center fielder, despite him never having played the position as a professional. All major defensive stats are down on his work in left field during the last two years, which leaves open many questions about his ability to handle center this season. If it gets bad, a change could be in order.

(What kind of change? Michael Jong of Marlin Maniac asks, why not Mike Stanton?)

With Coghlan potentially on base frequently, there should be plenty of opportunities for the heart of the order, Ramirez and Stanton, to produce runs. Ramirez will get first crack, and it’s easy to imagine him greatly improving on his disappointing 2010. Case in point: a .373 wOBA is considered a disappointing season. He produced a wOBA of .400 or greater in each of the three previous years, and we should expect more of the same in 2011. Still, he won’t clear the bases all the time. In those cases he’ll leave the job to Stanton, who enters 2011 as a 21-year-old with gargantuan power numbers. We’ll touch on him in a bit, but for now know this: Mike Stanton is one of six MLB players, age-20, with 350 or more PA, who have a .245 or greater ISO. The others: Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, Alex Rodriguez, Ted Williams, and Bob Horner.

After Coghlan the lineup features three relatively fresh players. Gaby Sanchez will be 27, but 2010 was his rookie season. His numbers look a lot better for a third baseman, but as a first sacker he’s adequate. Another year along the lines of 2010 will give the Marlins some flexibility in deciding what to do with their first baseman of the future, Logan Morrison. Slated to start the season in left field, Morrison features a discerning eye that leads to high OBPs. His power is a bit lacking, but with an OBP in the high .300s that shouldn’t matter much. Assuming he can handle left field full-time, he’ll be another middle of the order weapon for the Marlins, perhaps sliding into the No. 2 spot at some point during the season.

The most questionable youngster on the team is the presumptive staring third baseman, Matt Dominguez. His glove will carry him at he position, as his bat hasn’t yet come around in the minors. The Marlins reportedly made changes to his swing mid-season were pleased with the results, which might encourage them to be aggressive with him. Their confidence in him in the long term is evident. They could have moved Coghlan, who has played mostly second base in his pro career, to third and found a different center fielder, but they seem intent on handing the reins to Dominguez instead.

Rounding out the lineup is a pair of veterans acquired during the off-season. John Buck signed a three-year deal as a free agent and will take over as the team’s starting catcher. At the very least this gives them time to develop Kyle Skipworth, but Buck can provide value of his own. He displayed unprecedented power last year, and if he maintains some of those gains he’ll help at the bottom of the lineup. Infante came over in the Dan Uggla trade and will replace him in the field. That’s going to represent quite a downgrade on offense, especially since it’s unlikely that Infante repeats his .340 wOBA from 2010. Chances are he’s just keeping second base warm until the team determines that Osvaldo Martinez is ready.

The Pitching Staff

RHP Josh Johnson
RHP Ricky Nolasco
RHP Anibal Sanchez
RHP Javier Vazquez
RHP Chris Volstad

CL RHP Leo Nunez
RHP Clay Hensley
RHP Ryan Webb
LHP Mike Dunn
RHP Edward Mujica
LHP Randy Choate
RHP Burke Badenhop

It’s always nice to start the season with one of the league’s 10 best pitchers on the mound. The Marlins have that privilege this year, with Josh Johnson taking the ball on Opening Day. In the last two seasons only Tim Lincecum has a lower FIP. Despite a minor injury that kept him below the 200-inning mark, Johnson figures to be back full-strength and perplexing National League hitters.

Behind Johnson the Marline feature two potential No. 2 pitchers in Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco. Of these, Nolasco is the more interesting case if for no other reason than the discrepancy between his peripherals and his results. While he has a career 3.91 FIP in over 700 big league innings, his career ERA is 4.51 and he has had an ERA higher than that in three of his four full big league seasons. Last year he fell just short of qualifying for the ERA title, but if he had is K/BB ratio would have ranked third, behind only Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Nolasco’s peripherals catching up to his output stats will go a long way in propping up the Marlins rotation.

Sanchez, the other part of the Josh Beckett trade, has taken strong steps forward since undergoing shoulder labrum surgery in 2008. Despite aggravating his shoulder in 2009 he did pitch well in 86 innings, which he then topped with 195 innings and a 3.55 ERAl in 2010. His FIP matches up well, though he did have a 4.5% HR/FB ratio last season. A repeat performance will give the Marlins two solid backups to Johnson, and perhaps put them in the conversation for the best rotation in the NL behind the Phillies and Giants.

The last two spots are a bit less certain. Javier Vazqeuz had a poor year pitching in the AL East last year, so a move back to the NL could help. Unfortunately, a recovery, even in the NL, will require Vazquez to adjust the way he approaches batters. His velocity was down in 2010 and reports this spring indicate it hasn’t recovered. Since he is a four-pitch pitcher this transition might work for him.

For some reason it seems as though Chris Volstad has been in the league for a while and that he’s older than 24. Yet that’s his Opening Day age. He has had his share of struggles during his two and a half years in the bigs, but his stuff seems to be coming together. He’s going to have to keep his walk rate down, and perhaps get it lower than 3 per nine, because of his lack of ability to miss bats. He makes up for it with ground ball prowess, though. Another step forward in 2011 could move him up the pecking order, which further reduces the reliance on Vazquez’s reemergence.

In the bullpen the Marlins will again turn to Leo Nunez as the closer. He held that role last year, but after failing in a few high leverage spots he lost the job to Clay Hensley. Both of those players will play a large role in holding leads, but this year they’ll have some help. This winter the marlins acquired two reinforcements, Webb and Mujica, from the Padres, and then added lefty prospect Mike Dunn from the Braves. With Randy Choate as another option against lefties — and only against lefties — and Burke Badenhop holding down the long man spot, the Marlins should have an average bullpen.

Key Player

With a pitching staff with plenty of potential, the Marlins could find their toughest job scoring runs. They lost one of their top producers, Dan Uggla, and replaced him with a light-hitting utility player. That means the team needs another force on offense to keep the runs coring up. Mike Stanton can be that man. He already impressed during his rookie season, and now is tasked with stepping into Uggla’s lineup spot.

It won’t be an easy task for a 21-year-old to replicate Uggla’s production in his best years, but if anyone can accomplish it, it’s Stanton. In fact, his .355 wOBA during his partial 2010 season topped Uggla’s in three out of the former’s five years in the bigs. Stanton’s step forward will go a long way in reviving the Marlins offense and leading them towards contention.

It will take a few favorable breaks, but the Marlins should play a role in the NL playoff race this summer. They have a solid, young pitching staff that could rank in the NL’s top 5 and a young offense that could provide many pleasant surprises. Of course, the team’s youth can also play against it, which makes it tough to peg the 2011 Marlins. Another .500 finish would not surprise, but they have the tools to be better than that and play a factor in the NL Wild Card race.


Mets preview:

Revamping a flagging team doesn’t happen in one offseason, especially an offseason spent discovering new and unhappy things about the owners’ finances. The ‘Sandyball’ era in New York has started, as Sandy Alderson got the old gang together and made wholesale changes in how the Mets are run. The new question is, ‘how long will it take for the new organizational philosophy to take hold?’ And can a team that made no obvious fundamental changes to the roster will their way to a different fortune in a new season?

The Starting Nine
SS Jose Reyes ^
CF Angel Pagan ^
3B David Wright
RF Carlos Beltran ^
LF Jason Bay
1B Ike Davis *
2B Brad Emaus / Luis Castillo ^
C Josh Thole *

* denotes left-handed hitter; ^ denotes switch-hitter

A healthy year from Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan, Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay would transform this frog into a prince. But is that kiss from a princess likely? Reyes and Pagan, at least, recently showed the ability to fight off the ‘injury-prone’ label, and are in the right age range to show off their abilities without being ravaged by father time. Jason Bays’ major malfunction last year seemed to be a combination of pressing and a poorly-timed concussion. He’s pressed before, and he’s come back before.

But oh, Carlos Beltran. Already moved off of center to preserve his aching knees, can he re-find that winning combination of discerning eye and powerful swing that made him the premier slugging center fielder of the last decade? Even an 80% Voltron year, even at an inferior position, that might do the trick. If he’s above-average, then there’s a chance that eight of the nine positions produce above-average wOBAs and this offense goes from liability to strength.

As bad as this lineup has been at times, it still boasts a strong 1-3, plenty of switch-hitting, and a rookie first baseman on the rise. Josh Thole can be the Jason Kendall of New York – in that his defense is just enough and he can make contact, though he does walk a little more. Hopefully the team doesn’t offer the same post-arbitration contract offers that Kendall has enjoyed. The aforementioned veterans have a chance, at least, of recapturing some former glory.

Second base, though- that should be a hole no matter how they fill it and no matter how optimistic you’d like to be about the candidates. Daniel Murphy should make the team, but the move on the defensive spectrum makes it more likely that he’s labeled the backup corner infielder. Luis Castillo’s lone remaining skill is “not swinging,

post #384 of 77278
Thread Starter 
Marlins preview:

 

The Phillies might have grabbed the most headlines this off-season, and the Braves might remain the stable contender in the NL East, but it’s the Marlins that are the most interesting team in the division. They have finished second or third in each of the last three years, and are slowly amassing a core of young talent that could soon bring them into serious contention. In 2011 we’ll get to see a number of these players try their hands against major league competition.

The Starting Eight

CF Chris Coghlan *
2B Omar Infante
SS Hanley Ramirez
RF Mike Stanton
1B Gaby Sanchez
LF Logan Morrison *
C John Buck
3B Matt Dominguez

After a disappointing sophomore season that ended with surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, Chris Coghlan returns in the Marlins leadoff spot. If his numbers fall between his 2009 and 2010 seasons — see the Bill James projection of .297/.369/.430 — he should be fine in that spot. The biggest question about him actually doesn’t center on his plate prowess, but rather on his fielding. The Marlins have him tapped as the center fielder, despite him never having played the position as a professional. All major defensive stats are down on his work in left field during the last two years, which leaves open many questions about his ability to handle center this season. If it gets bad, a change could be in order.

(What kind of change? Michael Jong of Marlin Maniac asks, why not Mike Stanton?)

With Coghlan potentially on base frequently, there should be plenty of opportunities for the heart of the order, Ramirez and Stanton, to produce runs. Ramirez will get first crack, and it’s easy to imagine him greatly improving on his disappointing 2010. Case in point: a .373 wOBA is considered a disappointing season. He produced a wOBA of .400 or greater in each of the three previous years, and we should expect more of the same in 2011. Still, he won’t clear the bases all the time. In those cases he’ll leave the job to Stanton, who enters 2011 as a 21-year-old with gargantuan power numbers. We’ll touch on him in a bit, but for now know this: Mike Stanton is one of six MLB players, age-20, with 350 or more PA, who have a .245 or greater ISO. The others: Mel Ott, Frank Robinson, Alex Rodriguez, Ted Williams, and Bob Horner.

After Coghlan the lineup features three relatively fresh players. Gaby Sanchez will be 27, but 2010 was his rookie season. His numbers look a lot better for a third baseman, but as a first sacker he’s adequate. Another year along the lines of 2010 will give the Marlins some flexibility in deciding what to do with their first baseman of the future, Logan Morrison. Slated to start the season in left field, Morrison features a discerning eye that leads to high OBPs. His power is a bit lacking, but with an OBP in the high .300s that shouldn’t matter much. Assuming he can handle left field full-time, he’ll be another middle of the order weapon for the Marlins, perhaps sliding into the No. 2 spot at some point during the season.

The most questionable youngster on the team is the presumptive staring third baseman, Matt Dominguez. His glove will carry him at he position, as his bat hasn’t yet come around in the minors. The Marlins reportedly made changes to his swing mid-season were pleased with the results, which might encourage them to be aggressive with him. Their confidence in him in the long term is evident. They could have moved Coghlan, who has played mostly second base in his pro career, to third and found a different center fielder, but they seem intent on handing the reins to Dominguez instead.

Rounding out the lineup is a pair of veterans acquired during the off-season. John Buck signed a three-year deal as a free agent and will take over as the team’s starting catcher. At the very least this gives them time to develop Kyle Skipworth, but Buck can provide value of his own. He displayed unprecedented power last year, and if he maintains some of those gains he’ll help at the bottom of the lineup. Infante came over in the Dan Uggla trade and will replace him in the field. That’s going to represent quite a downgrade on offense, especially since it’s unlikely that Infante repeats his .340 wOBA from 2010. Chances are he’s just keeping second base warm until the team determines that Osvaldo Martinez is ready.

The Pitching Staff

RHP Josh Johnson
RHP Ricky Nolasco
RHP Anibal Sanchez
RHP Javier Vazquez
RHP Chris Volstad

CL RHP Leo Nunez
RHP Clay Hensley
RHP Ryan Webb
LHP Mike Dunn
RHP Edward Mujica
LHP Randy Choate
RHP Burke Badenhop

It’s always nice to start the season with one of the league’s 10 best pitchers on the mound. The Marlins have that privilege this year, with Josh Johnson taking the ball on Opening Day. In the last two seasons only Tim Lincecum has a lower FIP. Despite a minor injury that kept him below the 200-inning mark, Johnson figures to be back full-strength and perplexing National League hitters.

Behind Johnson the Marline feature two potential No. 2 pitchers in Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco. Of these, Nolasco is the more interesting case if for no other reason than the discrepancy between his peripherals and his results. While he has a career 3.91 FIP in over 700 big league innings, his career ERA is 4.51 and he has had an ERA higher than that in three of his four full big league seasons. Last year he fell just short of qualifying for the ERA title, but if he had is K/BB ratio would have ranked third, behind only Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Nolasco’s peripherals catching up to his output stats will go a long way in propping up the Marlins rotation.

Sanchez, the other part of the Josh Beckett trade, has taken strong steps forward since undergoing shoulder labrum surgery in 2008. Despite aggravating his shoulder in 2009 he did pitch well in 86 innings, which he then topped with 195 innings and a 3.55 ERAl in 2010. His FIP matches up well, though he did have a 4.5% HR/FB ratio last season. A repeat performance will give the Marlins two solid backups to Johnson, and perhaps put them in the conversation for the best rotation in the NL behind the Phillies and Giants.

The last two spots are a bit less certain. Javier Vazqeuz had a poor year pitching in the AL East last year, so a move back to the NL could help. Unfortunately, a recovery, even in the NL, will require Vazquez to adjust the way he approaches batters. His velocity was down in 2010 and reports this spring indicate it hasn’t recovered. Since he is a four-pitch pitcher this transition might work for him.

For some reason it seems as though Chris Volstad has been in the league for a while and that he’s older than 24. Yet that’s his Opening Day age. He has had his share of struggles during his two and a half years in the bigs, but his stuff seems to be coming together. He’s going to have to keep his walk rate down, and perhaps get it lower than 3 per nine, because of his lack of ability to miss bats. He makes up for it with ground ball prowess, though. Another step forward in 2011 could move him up the pecking order, which further reduces the reliance on Vazquez’s reemergence.

In the bullpen the Marlins will again turn to Leo Nunez as the closer. He held that role last year, but after failing in a few high leverage spots he lost the job to Clay Hensley. Both of those players will play a large role in holding leads, but this year they’ll have some help. This winter the marlins acquired two reinforcements, Webb and Mujica, from the Padres, and then added lefty prospect Mike Dunn from the Braves. With Randy Choate as another option against lefties — and only against lefties — and Burke Badenhop holding down the long man spot, the Marlins should have an average bullpen.

Key Player

With a pitching staff with plenty of potential, the Marlins could find their toughest job scoring runs. They lost one of their top producers, Dan Uggla, and replaced him with a light-hitting utility player. That means the team needs another force on offense to keep the runs coring up. Mike Stanton can be that man. He already impressed during his rookie season, and now is tasked with stepping into Uggla’s lineup spot.

It won’t be an easy task for a 21-year-old to replicate Uggla’s production in his best years, but if anyone can accomplish it, it’s Stanton. In fact, his .355 wOBA during his partial 2010 season topped Uggla’s in three out of the former’s five years in the bigs. Stanton’s step forward will go a long way in reviving the Marlins offense and leading them towards contention.

It will take a few favorable breaks, but the Marlins should play a role in the NL playoff race this summer. They have a solid, young pitching staff that could rank in the NL’s top 5 and a young offense that could provide many pleasant surprises. Of course, the team’s youth can also play against it, which makes it tough to peg the 2011 Marlins. Another .500 finish would not surprise, but they have the tools to be better than that and play a factor in the NL Wild Card race.


Mets preview:

Revamping a flagging team doesn’t happen in one offseason, especially an offseason spent discovering new and unhappy things about the owners’ finances. The ‘Sandyball’ era in New York has started, as Sandy Alderson got the old gang together and made wholesale changes in how the Mets are run. The new question is, ‘how long will it take for the new organizational philosophy to take hold?’ And can a team that made no obvious fundamental changes to the roster will their way to a different fortune in a new season?

The Starting Nine
SS Jose Reyes ^
CF Angel Pagan ^
3B David Wright
RF Carlos Beltran ^
LF Jason Bay
1B Ike Davis *
2B Brad Emaus / Luis Castillo ^
C Josh Thole *

* denotes left-handed hitter; ^ denotes switch-hitter

A healthy year from Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan, Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay would transform this frog into a prince. But is that kiss from a princess likely? Reyes and Pagan, at least, recently showed the ability to fight off the ‘injury-prone’ label, and are in the right age range to show off their abilities without being ravaged by father time. Jason Bays’ major malfunction last year seemed to be a combination of pressing and a poorly-timed concussion. He’s pressed before, and he’s come back before.

But oh, Carlos Beltran. Already moved off of center to preserve his aching knees, can he re-find that winning combination of discerning eye and powerful swing that made him the premier slugging center fielder of the last decade? Even an 80% Voltron year, even at an inferior position, that might do the trick. If he’s above-average, then there’s a chance that eight of the nine positions produce above-average wOBAs and this offense goes from liability to strength.

As bad as this lineup has been at times, it still boasts a strong 1-3, plenty of switch-hitting, and a rookie first baseman on the rise. Josh Thole can be the Jason Kendall of New York – in that his defense is just enough and he can make contact, though he does walk a little more. Hopefully the team doesn’t offer the same post-arbitration contract offers that Kendall has enjoyed. The aforementioned veterans have a chance, at least, of recapturing some former glory.

Second base, though- that should be a hole no matter how they fill it and no matter how optimistic you’d like to be about the candidates. Daniel Murphy should make the team, but the move on the defensive spectrum makes it more likely that he’s labeled the backup corner infielder. Luis Castillo’s lone remaining skill is “not swinging,

post #385 of 77278
Thread Starter 

PHOENIX -- Zack Greinke, the offseason acquisition the Milwaukee Brewers hoped would put them over the top in their pursuit of an NL Central title, is expected to begin the season on the 15-day disabled list after suffering a hairline fracture in one of his ribs playing pickup basketball.

Greinke
Greinke

The Brewers previously had said only that Greinke suffered an injury a couple of weeks ago during an off-the-field activity, but Greinke didn't receive the diagnosis of a broken rib until Tuesday, just after the team's Cactus League game with the Los Angeles Dodgers. At that point, Greinke told reporters he suffered the injury going for a rebound during a basketball game, before he pitched in any spring-training games.

Greinke, not knowing how severe the injury was, made two spring training starts after being hurt, allowing a total of one run on six hits over 3 1/3 innings. Now that the hairline fracture, which is between the seventh and eighth ribs on his left side, has been diagnosed, Greinke is expected to miss four to six weeks, which means he likely will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list.

In a winter in which it was clear early on that the low-budget Kansas City Royals would trade Greinke, their longtime ace who won the AL Cy Young two years ago, the Brewers wound up winning the sweepstakes on Dec. 19. Milwaukee sent two promising major leaguers in center fielder Lorenzo Cain and infielder Alcides Escobar and two pitching prospects and former first-round draft picks in right-handers Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress to the Royals for Greinke and veteran shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt.

The move immediately put the Brewers among the favorites to win the NL Central.


post #386 of 77278
Thread Starter 

PHOENIX -- Zack Greinke, the offseason acquisition the Milwaukee Brewers hoped would put them over the top in their pursuit of an NL Central title, is expected to begin the season on the 15-day disabled list after suffering a hairline fracture in one of his ribs playing pickup basketball.

Greinke
Greinke

The Brewers previously had said only that Greinke suffered an injury a couple of weeks ago during an off-the-field activity, but Greinke didn't receive the diagnosis of a broken rib until Tuesday, just after the team's Cactus League game with the Los Angeles Dodgers. At that point, Greinke told reporters he suffered the injury going for a rebound during a basketball game, before he pitched in any spring-training games.

Greinke, not knowing how severe the injury was, made two spring training starts after being hurt, allowing a total of one run on six hits over 3 1/3 innings. Now that the hairline fracture, which is between the seventh and eighth ribs on his left side, has been diagnosed, Greinke is expected to miss four to six weeks, which means he likely will begin the season on the 15-day disabled list.

In a winter in which it was clear early on that the low-budget Kansas City Royals would trade Greinke, their longtime ace who won the AL Cy Young two years ago, the Brewers wound up winning the sweepstakes on Dec. 19. Milwaukee sent two promising major leaguers in center fielder Lorenzo Cain and infielder Alcides Escobar and two pitching prospects and former first-round draft picks in right-handers Jake Odorizzi and Jeremy Jeffress to the Royals for Greinke and veteran shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt.

The move immediately put the Brewers among the favorites to win the NL Central.


post #387 of 77278
Tough break for Milwaukee.

However, silver lining is that they detected this now and not closer to the regular season.

This is certainly not that awful. Yovani Gallardo and Shawn Marcum will be able to keep them afloat until the return of Greinke.
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post #388 of 77278
Tough break for Milwaukee.

However, silver lining is that they detected this now and not closer to the regular season.

This is certainly not that awful. Yovani Gallardo and Shawn Marcum will be able to keep them afloat until the return of Greinke.
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post #389 of 77278
Thread Starter 

Daniel Hudson started for Arizona in their evisceration of Cleveland on Tuesday in Goodyear, showing two above-average pitches but with the same delivery that led the White Sox to decide to trade him (a deal that I still like more for Arizona).

insider_ap_dhudson1_300.jpg
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelHudson showed two above-average pitches on Tuesday, which should be enough to succeed in the NL.

Hudson sat mostly 91-93, touching 94 twice and 95 once, sliding back down to mostly 90-92 in the third inning, and paired it with an above-average to plus changeup at 82-84 with good fade and tumble. He uses the changeup to left- and right-handed hitters and clearly has confidence in the pitch. He still doesn't have a breaking ball he trusts -- he threw one fringe-average slider, then went back to the changeup -- and it's a tough arm action, very long and hard to repeat with potential stress on his shoulder. The White Sox felt he'd probably end up a reliever or back-end starter, and in the American League that is probably true. In the National League, however, two above-average pitches and even an average breaking ball would probably play up to a mid-rotation spot; for the price of one (expensive) year of Edwin Jackson, that's a good get for Arizona.

• Cleveland threw a pair of relief prospects after Fausto Carmona worked himself out of the game. First up was Alex White, still working as a minor league starter but showing reliever stuff as usual. He sat 90-93, touching 94 once, mostly throwing four-seamers but flashing a two-seamer at 90-91 that had life that the four-seamer lacked. Hitters were all over the four-seamer because he worked almost exclusively with fastballs, flashing his mid-80s splitter and messing around with a below-average slider that breaks early out of his hand and that he doesn't command. He accelerates his arm quickly but cuts himself off when he lands, which could explain some of the command issues.

• The second Cleveland reliever was Bryce Stowell, who hit 100 mph in relief last summer and worked in the mid-90s consistently, was just 87-91 on Tuesday and the pitch was true, as Wily Mo Pena -- who deposited a 91 mph fastball over the fence after Stowell served it up on a tee -- can attest. Stowell is 6-foot-2 and comes from a very high slot, but threw a fringy slider instead of the curveball I expected to see given his arm slot.

• Indians third base prospect Lonnie Chisenhall continued his Tris Speaker impression at the plate with four hits, including a triple to right-center on a fastball on the outer half of the plate. The left-handed hitter's most impressive swing of the day came against Hudson, who threw him a changeup away only to have Chisenhall stay back on the ball and punch it to left for a single. I saw Chisenhall in a few big league games last spring and he struggled with pitchers changing speeds on him, so seeing him recognize and adjust to a pretty good changeup was a big positive.

• Two Arizona relievers acquired in trades were extremely unimpressive -- Kam Mickolio and Rafael Rodriguez. Rodriguez in particular showed a below-average fastball and nothing else to get hitters out, while Mickolio's stuff isn't much better and the way he cuts himself off in his delivery makes me think he'll never command the ball.


 

 

For some teams, the start of this spring training has been about finding answers to problems, about finding solutions. For other teams, the early signs are ominous.

Bad news: The Brewers. For Milwaukee to win, the team must function as designed, with dominant starting pitching overcoming the seeming flaws -- the defense, the lack of lineup depth. Well, right out of the gate, Milwaukee will not have its projected No. 1 starter, Zack Greinke, who cracked a rib playing pickup basketball near the outset of camp.

The Brewers of have bet a lot on this season, trading prospects for Greinke and Shaun Marcum, partly because this is probably Prince Fielder's last season with Milwaukee, after he turned down a $100 million offer. Fielder needs to get off to a good start, to stay clear of the pressure that prospective free agents often feel. The Brewers need to start well. And now they will not have their best pitcher at the start.

There is no contract violation in Greinke's situation, says GM Doug Melvin.

Good news: The Twins. Justin Morneau played in a game Tuesday for the first time in 214 days, after an hour-long conversation with his doctor about his concussion symptoms, as Joe Christensen writes. From the story:

Morneau, 29, spent the game smiling and giving fist bumps, clearly enjoying himself, but he warned afterward that this is still a process.

"I just don't want to get overly excited by [four] innings of one game," Morneau said. "It's great to be out there, but I've been through some setbacks along the way." He added: "[Wednesday], when I wake up, if everything feels good, I think the confidence will start to grow then."

Morneau is right to be cautious; undoubtedly he is aware of the history of others who have come back from concussion symptoms, only to be overtaken again. But this was the first step. There were no cheers, no standing ovations, but this was a big day, as Kelsie Smith, writes. Morneau's wife and child cheered him up during his time away from the game, as Patrick Reusse writes.

Joe Mauer still hasn't played, as he gets treatment on his knee.

Bad news: The Phillies. Chase Utley stood in the cage Tuesday, taking his turn in batting practice with other teammates, and looked he OK -- but his patellar tendinitis really isn't that much of a factor for him at the plate.

The injury manifests when he's in the field, when he moves side to side at second base, when he's running the bases, and the fact is that as of today, the Phillies really have no idea how much they'll get out of Utley in 2011 -- how many games he'll play, or how he'll perform. At the very least, the Phillies presumably are starting the process of considering possible Plan Bs that might evolve as other teams drift out of contention, such as (and what follows is 100 percent speculation) the Mariners' Chone Figgins or Houston's Jeff Keppinger.

Utley and the Phillies are not saying much about his condition, and no news is not good news, writes Phil Sheridan. The notion of shifting him to a different position isn't necessarily a solution, writes Paul Hagen.

Good news: The Yankees. In time, we'll know whether Ivan Nova or Bartolo Colon will be effective during the regular season, or whether A.J. Burnett can maintain the good command he has shown this spring. But so far, so good -- every pitcher vying for a spot in the rotation has generated good results in exhibition games, including Freddy Garcia, who threw three perfect innings on Tuesday.

Given their investment in Burnett, and given his spot in their rotation, the Yankees need a lot of production from him during the regular season. And keep in mind that the bar is set low for the No. 4 and No. 5 starters, given the structure of the team. If Nova and Garcia win the No. 4 and No. 5 spots and generate 320-350 innings of a 5.00 ERA, the Yankees would probably take that right now, considering how deep their bullpen is.

Joba Chamberlain also looks great to scouts. After Chamberlain showed up in spring training overweight, he was put through extra work and looks completely different than when he arrived.

Bad news: The Mets. Now Carlos Beltran is having trouble with both knees, and to see him run is painful, scouts say. The Mets have their same old problems with Beltran and Oliver Perez, writes John Harper. It'll be interesting to see if Perez is still with the Mets a week from today. The Mets need fewer bad days, writes Joel Sherman.

Bad news: The Orioles. There has been a new and better feel to this team since Buck Showalter took over, and the optimism felt by the fan base is greater now than at any point in a decade, because of the team's big-name offseason acquisitions. But injuries are nagging at Baltimore. Derrek Lee is not getting better and went to see a specialist Tuesday, and Brian Roberts continues to have problems, as Peter Schmuck writes. Lee is going to have an MRI.

Look, ultimately the Orioles will be as good as their pitching allows, in a division of extraordinary run production. The most important player on this team is probably Brian Matusz, not Roberts or Lee. But their chances for climbing into contention improve if their best every-day position players are on the field.

Notables


• The Phillies' acquisition of Cliff Lee flew so deeply under the radar during negotiations that not even manager Charlie Manuel was aware of how much progress the team was making. Right after the season, Manuel and GM Ruben Amaro discussed possible offseason targets, and when Manuel asked about Lee, Amaro indicated that this probably was not something that would happen, given the financial challenge of adding a player at that salary. And when Manuel heard at the winter meetings that the Yankees and Rangers had thrown big numbers at Lee, he assumed the left-hander would land with New York or Texas.

But at about 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 13, Manuel got a phone call from Amaro. "Are you sitting down or standing?" Amaro asked. "We signed Cliff Lee."

Manuel remembers joking about how this was a wonderful Christmas present -- which will presumably continue to keep giving in the summer.

• One rival talent evaluator on the opportunity of a career in front of the Phillies' Ben Francisco: "He's either going to be pumping gas by June, or he'll have 110 RBIs."

• The Baltimore Orioles are extremely impressed and intrigued with Zach Britton, a left-hander who threw against the Yankees on Monday night, and the question of whether to keep him at the outset of this season is open, at this point.

• By the way: In talking with rival talent evaluators who have seen teams in Florida, there is a growing consensus that Boston is easily -- easily -- the best team in the majors, on paper. "I don't think it's close," said one influential decision-maker Tuesday. "But you still have to play the games."

Dings and dents


1. Adrian Gonzalez is just about ready to play in games.

2. It was a good day for Chris Carpenter, as Rick Hummel writes.

3. Joel Zumaya will not be ready for the start of the season, writes Tom Gage.

4. Domonic Brown had surgery on his hamate bone.

Moves, deals and decisions


1. Kim Ng feels like her new job in the commissioner's office will help her in her pursuit of a GM job.

2. A former Mets officer is considering an investment in the team, writes Peter Lattman.

3. Ryan Madson, who is eligible for free agency this fall, looks forward to becoming a closer, writes Matt Gelb.

4. Edinson Volquez's first start was pushed back to Thursday.

The Battle for Jobs


1. Craig Kimbrel was The Man in his most recent exhibition outing, as David O'Brien writes.

2. A couple of candidates for the Atlanta rotation will do battle in a B game.

3. The Red Sox have a whole lot of outfielders, as Nick Cafardo writes.

4. Matt Diaz is ready to accept a platoon in right field.

5. J.R. Towles wants to be the Astros' starting catcher.

6. The competition for the No. 5 spot in the Rockies' rotation is wide open, after Felipe Paulino struggled.

7. One player might have his last shot with the Mariners.

8. Rob Johnson is refreshed by the opportunity he's getting with the Padres, writes Dan Hayes.

Tuesday's games


1. Carlos Zambrano was fantastic, writes Paul Sullivan.

2. John Ely had a nice outing.

3. Nyjer Morgan had a good day.

4. Justin Duchscherer threw two scoreless innings. The big question with Duchscherer always is how he feels the next day, before his next scheduled outing.

5. Jair Jurrjens walked away wondering if he was tipping pitches, after the Yankees stole some bases against him.

6. Tim Stauffer was sharp.

7. Max Scherzer had a rough day.

8. Lonnie Chisenhall keeps hammering the ball, writes Paul Hoynes.

9. The Brewers and Dodgers had a brief dust-up. Prince Fielder was in the middle of it -- something he should avoid in his free-agent year.

Other stuff


Benito Santiago was injected by Barry Bonds' trainer.

• A hot dog toss is now the subject of a lawsuit, writes Mark Morris.

• Last year was a learning experience for Brandon Morrow, writes Richard Griffin.

• Kirk Gibson doesn't like how the Diamondbacks are playing defense.

Troy Percival likes what he sees in the Angels' bullpen.

• So far, the Royals are running wild on the bases, writes Bob Dutton.

Alexei Ramirez is viewed as a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop by his teammates.

Seth Smith plans to hit his stride this year, writes Jim Armstrong.

Jeff Suppan is a newspaperman at heart, writes Andrew Baggarly.

• The big fear about the Mariners is that they still can't hit, writes Larry Stone.

Cody Ross has joined a club that includes Mark Lemke and Bucky Dent, as Henry Schulman writes.

Andy LaRoche is happy to get his shot with Oakland.

• The Cardinals' outfield is out to prove critics wrong.

• Dayan Viciedo is transitioning to the outfield, writes Dave van Dyck.

Burke Badenhop is trying to write a movie.

• The Pirates' Chris Snyder is trying to end his tendency toward all or nothing, as Ron Musselman writes.

Carl Crawford is eager to get his first game against the Rays out of the way.

• Danny Duffy needs to harness his fastball.

Chris Davis is having a great spring.

Alexi Ogando is a real sleeper in the Rangers' camp, writes Jennifer Floyd Engel.

• Matt Dominguez continues to be impressive.

Jonny Gomes has a unique story, as Paul Daugherty writes.

• Congrats to old friend Rick Byrd, who is taking Belmont back to the NCAA tournament.


 

 

The first week of spring training games can be frustrating for more casual fans, with few television broadcasts, only brief views of the veterans and lots of high uniform numbers. For prospect watchers, however, this is the golden hour, as young players are rewarded for their prospect status by playing with the big leaguers, while others take their first steps in legitimately competing for jobs. After just a handful of games, here are 10 players that are catching teams, scouts and even fans' eyes.

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Domonic Brown, OF, Philadelphia Phillies

To call Brown's brief spring training an up-and-down affair doesn't really do it justice. The departure of Jason Werth via free agency seemed to hand right-field duties to Brown, but Phillies officials were cautious in the offseason, insisting that Brown would battle Ben Francisco for the job. Charlie Manuel seemed more optimistic early in camp, but a 0-for-15 start to his spring with nine strikeouts moved the needle toward the negative once again.

It all became moot Saturday when Brown finally got a hit but also injured his hand, with initial examinations indicating hamate bone surgery is in his immediate future. That will leave him out until late April, at the earliest, and he'll likely have to prove himself fully healthy at Triple-A before getting another big league look. This is just a delay; he's still the long-term solution at the position and a potential All-Star.

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Manny Banuelos, LHP, New York Yankees

The Yankees are admittedly in a tough spot, with a who's who of washed-up veterans competing for a job in the back of the big league rotation and two elite-level pitching prospects in Dellin Betances and Banuelos opening plenty of eyes and forcing undue pressure to rush their timetables. Banuelos was in midseason form Friday, sitting at 92-94 mph, touching 96 and already showing the advanced changeup that earned so much praise last year.

But let's make it clear: He's still not ready and neither is Betances. No matter how good they are -- and they're both excellent -- if either is on the big league roster on Opening Day, they're not going to be around come September. The two combined for just 150 innings last year, and neither has topped 125 frames in any single season. The excitement is understandable, but go with the head over the heart here, as the focus is still on development, where pacing can be everything.

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Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, Cleveland Indians

One of the top offensive prospects in the Indians' system, Chisenhall hit .294/.364/.505 in the second half of the 2010 season at Double-A Akron and was lining himself up for a September look this year and a real shot at the third-base job in 2012. The Indians are hoping Jason Donald can hold down the gig in 2011, but Chisenhall is giving indications that he might be ready sooner than expected, as the 2008 first-round pick went 5-for-9 over the weekend with a pair of home runs. He'll still likely bring one of the prettiest swings in the minors to Triple-A to start the year, but there's not much in his way to the big leagues if he starts off hot.

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Zack Cozart, SS, Cincinnati Reds

The Reds shortstop job seems to revolve around slick fielding, with light-hitting Paul Janish and veterans Edgar Renteria and Miguel Cairo providing a pair of backup plans. The leaves Cozart set to repeat Triple-A for now, but he deserves a closer look.

A second-round pick in 2007, the 25-year-old will never hit for much of an average, but coming off a season that included 30 doubles, 17 home runs and 30 stolen bases, he more than makes up for it with secondary skills. While he's not as rangy as Janish, his defensive fundamentals are the best in the system. A home run Sunday left his spring mark at 5-for-11 with nine total bases, and he at least has a shot at forcing the Reds' hand at some point in the season.

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Chris Davis, 3B, Texas Rangers

The Rangers have given Davis plenty of chances and the results are just not there, with a .248/.300/.459 big league mark in 238 games while striking out once every 2.9 at-bats. At the same time, he certainly has nothing left to prove in the minors, with a career line of .311/.370/.569 and production at every level. Going 8-for-19 (.421) this spring with a pair of home runs, Davis seems like a good fit for a multi-purpose bench job that covers first base, third base and designated hitter duties, but that job is already spoken for with the Adrian Beltre signing moving Michael Young to the jack-of-all-trades role. Of course Young still technically wants a trade, which could open up the job for Davis, but based on the price tag, talent and the fact that he's potentially stuck at Triple-A, more teams are asking about Davis.

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Andy Dirks, OF, Detroit Tigers

Even in a weak Tigers system, Dirks doesn't get much attention. He's not going to sniff a Top 100 list, but that doesn't mean he's not worth keeping an eye on. A 2008 eighth-round pick who put up big numbers at Wichita State, Dirks is a bit on the small side, not much of a runner, has power a tick below average and a bit of a weak arm. That said, he can hit, and he's one of those max-effort grinders who gets the most from his limited tools. The Tigers don't mask the fact that he's one of their favorite players in the system, and with a 5-for-10 weekend that included two doubles and a triple, he's now 9-for-19 and could force his way onto the roster as the fourth outfielder.

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Matt Dominguez, 3B, Florida Marlins

Despite being only 21 years old and coming off a somewhat pedestrian .252/.333/.411 showing at Double-A last year, Dominguez is still in the lead for Florida's third-base job. Part of that is because there are no other good options, unless one wants to count Wes Helms and Emilio Bonifacio.

The good news is that Dominguez is ready with the glove, as he's seen by many as the best defensive third baseman in the minors. The bat is another question, but Dominguez is doing his best to assure the Marlins in that department as well, going 4-for-13 (.308) with a double and a home run so far this spring. He won't put up big numbers as a rookie, but he'll grab Web Gems with regularity, while learning to hit in a bit of a trial by fire.

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Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals

When the 2010 No. 1 overall pick showed up to camp, he said he wanted to make the big league squad. A cocky statement, to be sure, but do you really want him saying he wants to ride in a bus all year?

Harper has had his fair share of struggles so far, going 2-for-11 with three strikeouts, but there have been good at-bats with hard contact, and the talent is clear. The expectations he's facing are bordering on unfair, as he's as old as most high school seniors, meaning that even if he doesn't reach the big leagues until 2013 he'll still be just 20 years old. The hype is well-deserved based on Harper's talent, but the expectations might need some more management.

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Jose Iglesias, SS, Boston Red Sox

I was recently asked on Twitter who was the last prospect to match Iglesias defensively. My first reaction was Rey Ordonez, also a Cuban defector, whose defensive wizardry was matched only by his offensive impotence; he lasted nine years in the big leagues on glove work alone, finishing his career with averages of .246/.289/.310. Iglesias had similar questions about his bat when the Red Sox signed him to the biggest bonus in team history 18 months ago, but he was a pleasant surprise offensively in 2010, and has continued to impress this spring by tallying six hits in his first 14 at-bats. While much of the talk this spring in Boston revolves around the big league shortstop battle between Marcus Scutaro and Jed Lowrie, the winner will just be holding the fort for Iglesias in 2012.

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Brett Lawrie, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays

A first-round pick by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008, Lawrie was originally drafted as a catcher, but when he told the Brewers he didn't want to play behind the plate they acquiesced and moved him to second base. While he played at Double-A last year as a 20-year-old and hit well, Lawrie's defensive reviews were still poor, prompting the Blue Jays, who acquired him in the offseason for Shaun Marcum, to try him at the hot corner.

Lawrie has started like gangbusters at the plate this spring, going 6-for-11 with a double and his first home run Saturday, but he's surprised many with his glove as well. That said, he has always had the tools and athleticism to be a good defender, be it behind the plate, at second or his new position. But that has been the case for many players, including Ryan Braun, who had all the physical skills to play third base but in the end just wasn't good enough. For now, it's spring training and hope springs eternal. But don't be surprised if Lawrie ends up in right field.


post #390 of 77278
Thread Starter 

Daniel Hudson started for Arizona in their evisceration of Cleveland on Tuesday in Goodyear, showing two above-average pitches but with the same delivery that led the White Sox to decide to trade him (a deal that I still like more for Arizona).

insider_ap_dhudson1_300.jpg
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelHudson showed two above-average pitches on Tuesday, which should be enough to succeed in the NL.

Hudson sat mostly 91-93, touching 94 twice and 95 once, sliding back down to mostly 90-92 in the third inning, and paired it with an above-average to plus changeup at 82-84 with good fade and tumble. He uses the changeup to left- and right-handed hitters and clearly has confidence in the pitch. He still doesn't have a breaking ball he trusts -- he threw one fringe-average slider, then went back to the changeup -- and it's a tough arm action, very long and hard to repeat with potential stress on his shoulder. The White Sox felt he'd probably end up a reliever or back-end starter, and in the American League that is probably true. In the National League, however, two above-average pitches and even an average breaking ball would probably play up to a mid-rotation spot; for the price of one (expensive) year of Edwin Jackson, that's a good get for Arizona.

• Cleveland threw a pair of relief prospects after Fausto Carmona worked himself out of the game. First up was Alex White, still working as a minor league starter but showing reliever stuff as usual. He sat 90-93, touching 94 once, mostly throwing four-seamers but flashing a two-seamer at 90-91 that had life that the four-seamer lacked. Hitters were all over the four-seamer because he worked almost exclusively with fastballs, flashing his mid-80s splitter and messing around with a below-average slider that breaks early out of his hand and that he doesn't command. He accelerates his arm quickly but cuts himself off when he lands, which could explain some of the command issues.

• The second Cleveland reliever was Bryce Stowell, who hit 100 mph in relief last summer and worked in the mid-90s consistently, was just 87-91 on Tuesday and the pitch was true, as Wily Mo Pena -- who deposited a 91 mph fastball over the fence after Stowell served it up on a tee -- can attest. Stowell is 6-foot-2 and comes from a very high slot, but threw a fringy slider instead of the curveball I expected to see given his arm slot.

• Indians third base prospect Lonnie Chisenhall continued his Tris Speaker impression at the plate with four hits, including a triple to right-center on a fastball on the outer half of the plate. The left-handed hitter's most impressive swing of the day came against Hudson, who threw him a changeup away only to have Chisenhall stay back on the ball and punch it to left for a single. I saw Chisenhall in a few big league games last spring and he struggled with pitchers changing speeds on him, so seeing him recognize and adjust to a pretty good changeup was a big positive.

• Two Arizona relievers acquired in trades were extremely unimpressive -- Kam Mickolio and Rafael Rodriguez. Rodriguez in particular showed a below-average fastball and nothing else to get hitters out, while Mickolio's stuff isn't much better and the way he cuts himself off in his delivery makes me think he'll never command the ball.


 

 

For some teams, the start of this spring training has been about finding answers to problems, about finding solutions. For other teams, the early signs are ominous.

Bad news: The Brewers. For Milwaukee to win, the team must function as designed, with dominant starting pitching overcoming the seeming flaws -- the defense, the lack of lineup depth. Well, right out of the gate, Milwaukee will not have its projected No. 1 starter, Zack Greinke, who cracked a rib playing pickup basketball near the outset of camp.

The Brewers of have bet a lot on this season, trading prospects for Greinke and Shaun Marcum, partly because this is probably Prince Fielder's last season with Milwaukee, after he turned down a $100 million offer. Fielder needs to get off to a good start, to stay clear of the pressure that prospective free agents often feel. The Brewers need to start well. And now they will not have their best pitcher at the start.

There is no contract violation in Greinke's situation, says GM Doug Melvin.

Good news: The Twins. Justin Morneau played in a game Tuesday for the first time in 214 days, after an hour-long conversation with his doctor about his concussion symptoms, as Joe Christensen writes. From the story:

Morneau, 29, spent the game smiling and giving fist bumps, clearly enjoying himself, but he warned afterward that this is still a process.

"I just don't want to get overly excited by [four] innings of one game," Morneau said. "It's great to be out there, but I've been through some setbacks along the way." He added: "[Wednesday], when I wake up, if everything feels good, I think the confidence will start to grow then."

Morneau is right to be cautious; undoubtedly he is aware of the history of others who have come back from concussion symptoms, only to be overtaken again. But this was the first step. There were no cheers, no standing ovations, but this was a big day, as Kelsie Smith, writes. Morneau's wife and child cheered him up during his time away from the game, as Patrick Reusse writes.

Joe Mauer still hasn't played, as he gets treatment on his knee.

Bad news: The Phillies. Chase Utley stood in the cage Tuesday, taking his turn in batting practice with other teammates, and looked he OK -- but his patellar tendinitis really isn't that much of a factor for him at the plate.

The injury manifests when he's in the field, when he moves side to side at second base, when he's running the bases, and the fact is that as of today, the Phillies really have no idea how much they'll get out of Utley in 2011 -- how many games he'll play, or how he'll perform. At the very least, the Phillies presumably are starting the process of considering possible Plan Bs that might evolve as other teams drift out of contention, such as (and what follows is 100 percent speculation) the Mariners' Chone Figgins or Houston's Jeff Keppinger.

Utley and the Phillies are not saying much about his condition, and no news is not good news, writes Phil Sheridan. The notion of shifting him to a different position isn't necessarily a solution, writes Paul Hagen.

Good news: The Yankees. In time, we'll know whether Ivan Nova or Bartolo Colon will be effective during the regular season, or whether A.J. Burnett can maintain the good command he has shown this spring. But so far, so good -- every pitcher vying for a spot in the rotation has generated good results in exhibition games, including Freddy Garcia, who threw three perfect innings on Tuesday.

Given their investment in Burnett, and given his spot in their rotation, the Yankees need a lot of production from him during the regular season. And keep in mind that the bar is set low for the No. 4 and No. 5 starters, given the structure of the team. If Nova and Garcia win the No. 4 and No. 5 spots and generate 320-350 innings of a 5.00 ERA, the Yankees would probably take that right now, considering how deep their bullpen is.

Joba Chamberlain also looks great to scouts. After Chamberlain showed up in spring training overweight, he was put through extra work and looks completely different than when he arrived.

Bad news: The Mets. Now Carlos Beltran is having trouble with both knees, and to see him run is painful, scouts say. The Mets have their same old problems with Beltran and Oliver Perez, writes John Harper. It'll be interesting to see if Perez is still with the Mets a week from today. The Mets need fewer bad days, writes Joel Sherman.

Bad news: The Orioles. There has been a new and better feel to this team since Buck Showalter took over, and the optimism felt by the fan base is greater now than at any point in a decade, because of the team's big-name offseason acquisitions. But injuries are nagging at Baltimore. Derrek Lee is not getting better and went to see a specialist Tuesday, and Brian Roberts continues to have problems, as Peter Schmuck writes. Lee is going to have an MRI.

Look, ultimately the Orioles will be as good as their pitching allows, in a division of extraordinary run production. The most important player on this team is probably Brian Matusz, not Roberts or Lee. But their chances for climbing into contention improve if their best every-day position players are on the field.

Notables


• The Phillies' acquisition of Cliff Lee flew so deeply under the radar during negotiations that not even manager Charlie Manuel was aware of how much progress the team was making. Right after the season, Manuel and GM Ruben Amaro discussed possible offseason targets, and when Manuel asked about Lee, Amaro indicated that this probably was not something that would happen, given the financial challenge of adding a player at that salary. And when Manuel heard at the winter meetings that the Yankees and Rangers had thrown big numbers at Lee, he assumed the left-hander would land with New York or Texas.

But at about 10:30 p.m. on Dec. 13, Manuel got a phone call from Amaro. "Are you sitting down or standing?" Amaro asked. "We signed Cliff Lee."

Manuel remembers joking about how this was a wonderful Christmas present -- which will presumably continue to keep giving in the summer.

• One rival talent evaluator on the opportunity of a career in front of the Phillies' Ben Francisco: "He's either going to be pumping gas by June, or he'll have 110 RBIs."

• The Baltimore Orioles are extremely impressed and intrigued with Zach Britton, a left-hander who threw against the Yankees on Monday night, and the question of whether to keep him at the outset of this season is open, at this point.

• By the way: In talking with rival talent evaluators who have seen teams in Florida, there is a growing consensus that Boston is easily -- easily -- the best team in the majors, on paper. "I don't think it's close," said one influential decision-maker Tuesday. "But you still have to play the games."

Dings and dents


1. Adrian Gonzalez is just about ready to play in games.

2. It was a good day for Chris Carpenter, as Rick Hummel writes.

3. Joel Zumaya will not be ready for the start of the season, writes Tom Gage.

4. Domonic Brown had surgery on his hamate bone.

Moves, deals and decisions


1. Kim Ng feels like her new job in the commissioner's office will help her in her pursuit of a GM job.

2. A former Mets officer is considering an investment in the team, writes Peter Lattman.

3. Ryan Madson, who is eligible for free agency this fall, looks forward to becoming a closer, writes Matt Gelb.

4. Edinson Volquez's first start was pushed back to Thursday.

The Battle for Jobs


1. Craig Kimbrel was The Man in his most recent exhibition outing, as David O'Brien writes.

2. A couple of candidates for the Atlanta rotation will do battle in a B game.

3. The Red Sox have a whole lot of outfielders, as Nick Cafardo writes.

4. Matt Diaz is ready to accept a platoon in right field.

5. J.R. Towles wants to be the Astros' starting catcher.

6. The competition for the No. 5 spot in the Rockies' rotation is wide open, after Felipe Paulino struggled.

7. One player might have his last shot with the Mariners.

8. Rob Johnson is refreshed by the opportunity he's getting with the Padres, writes Dan Hayes.

Tuesday's games


1. Carlos Zambrano was fantastic, writes Paul Sullivan.

2. John Ely had a nice outing.

3. Nyjer Morgan had a good day.

4. Justin Duchscherer threw two scoreless innings. The big question with Duchscherer always is how he feels the next day, before his next scheduled outing.

5. Jair Jurrjens walked away wondering if he was tipping pitches, after the Yankees stole some bases against him.

6. Tim Stauffer was sharp.

7. Max Scherzer had a rough day.

8. Lonnie Chisenhall keeps hammering the ball, writes Paul Hoynes.

9. The Brewers and Dodgers had a brief dust-up. Prince Fielder was in the middle of it -- something he should avoid in his free-agent year.

Other stuff


Benito Santiago was injected by Barry Bonds' trainer.

• A hot dog toss is now the subject of a lawsuit, writes Mark Morris.

• Last year was a learning experience for Brandon Morrow, writes Richard Griffin.

• Kirk Gibson doesn't like how the Diamondbacks are playing defense.

Troy Percival likes what he sees in the Angels' bullpen.

• So far, the Royals are running wild on the bases, writes Bob Dutton.

Alexei Ramirez is viewed as a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop by his teammates.

Seth Smith plans to hit his stride this year, writes Jim Armstrong.

Jeff Suppan is a newspaperman at heart, writes Andrew Baggarly.

• The big fear about the Mariners is that they still can't hit, writes Larry Stone.

Cody Ross has joined a club that includes Mark Lemke and Bucky Dent, as Henry Schulman writes.

Andy LaRoche is happy to get his shot with Oakland.

• The Cardinals' outfield is out to prove critics wrong.

• Dayan Viciedo is transitioning to the outfield, writes Dave van Dyck.

Burke Badenhop is trying to write a movie.

• The Pirates' Chris Snyder is trying to end his tendency toward all or nothing, as Ron Musselman writes.

Carl Crawford is eager to get his first game against the Rays out of the way.

• Danny Duffy needs to harness his fastball.

Chris Davis is having a great spring.

Alexi Ogando is a real sleeper in the Rangers' camp, writes Jennifer Floyd Engel.

• Matt Dominguez continues to be impressive.

Jonny Gomes has a unique story, as Paul Daugherty writes.

• Congrats to old friend Rick Byrd, who is taking Belmont back to the NCAA tournament.


 

 

The first week of spring training games can be frustrating for more casual fans, with few television broadcasts, only brief views of the veterans and lots of high uniform numbers. For prospect watchers, however, this is the golden hour, as young players are rewarded for their prospect status by playing with the big leaguers, while others take their first steps in legitimately competing for jobs. After just a handful of games, here are 10 players that are catching teams, scouts and even fans' eyes.

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Domonic Brown, OF, Philadelphia Phillies

To call Brown's brief spring training an up-and-down affair doesn't really do it justice. The departure of Jason Werth via free agency seemed to hand right-field duties to Brown, but Phillies officials were cautious in the offseason, insisting that Brown would battle Ben Francisco for the job. Charlie Manuel seemed more optimistic early in camp, but a 0-for-15 start to his spring with nine strikeouts moved the needle toward the negative once again.

It all became moot Saturday when Brown finally got a hit but also injured his hand, with initial examinations indicating hamate bone surgery is in his immediate future. That will leave him out until late April, at the earliest, and he'll likely have to prove himself fully healthy at Triple-A before getting another big league look. This is just a delay; he's still the long-term solution at the position and a potential All-Star.

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Manny Banuelos, LHP, New York Yankees

The Yankees are admittedly in a tough spot, with a who's who of washed-up veterans competing for a job in the back of the big league rotation and two elite-level pitching prospects in Dellin Betances and Banuelos opening plenty of eyes and forcing undue pressure to rush their timetables. Banuelos was in midseason form Friday, sitting at 92-94 mph, touching 96 and already showing the advanced changeup that earned so much praise last year.

But let's make it clear: He's still not ready and neither is Betances. No matter how good they are -- and they're both excellent -- if either is on the big league roster on Opening Day, they're not going to be around come September. The two combined for just 150 innings last year, and neither has topped 125 frames in any single season. The excitement is understandable, but go with the head over the heart here, as the focus is still on development, where pacing can be everything.

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Lonnie Chisenhall, 3B, Cleveland Indians

One of the top offensive prospects in the Indians' system, Chisenhall hit .294/.364/.505 in the second half of the 2010 season at Double-A Akron and was lining himself up for a September look this year and a real shot at the third-base job in 2012. The Indians are hoping Jason Donald can hold down the gig in 2011, but Chisenhall is giving indications that he might be ready sooner than expected, as the 2008 first-round pick went 5-for-9 over the weekend with a pair of home runs. He'll still likely bring one of the prettiest swings in the minors to Triple-A to start the year, but there's not much in his way to the big leagues if he starts off hot.

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Zack Cozart, SS, Cincinnati Reds

The Reds shortstop job seems to revolve around slick fielding, with light-hitting Paul Janish and veterans Edgar Renteria and Miguel Cairo providing a pair of backup plans. The leaves Cozart set to repeat Triple-A for now, but he deserves a closer look.

A second-round pick in 2007, the 25-year-old will never hit for much of an average, but coming off a season that included 30 doubles, 17 home runs and 30 stolen bases, he more than makes up for it with secondary skills. While he's not as rangy as Janish, his defensive fundamentals are the best in the system. A home run Sunday left his spring mark at 5-for-11 with nine total bases, and he at least has a shot at forcing the Reds' hand at some point in the season.

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Chris Davis, 3B, Texas Rangers

The Rangers have given Davis plenty of chances and the results are just not there, with a .248/.300/.459 big league mark in 238 games while striking out once every 2.9 at-bats. At the same time, he certainly has nothing left to prove in the minors, with a career line of .311/.370/.569 and production at every level. Going 8-for-19 (.421) this spring with a pair of home runs, Davis seems like a good fit for a multi-purpose bench job that covers first base, third base and designated hitter duties, but that job is already spoken for with the Adrian Beltre signing moving Michael Young to the jack-of-all-trades role. Of course Young still technically wants a trade, which could open up the job for Davis, but based on the price tag, talent and the fact that he's potentially stuck at Triple-A, more teams are asking about Davis.

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Andy Dirks, OF, Detroit Tigers

Even in a weak Tigers system, Dirks doesn't get much attention. He's not going to sniff a Top 100 list, but that doesn't mean he's not worth keeping an eye on. A 2008 eighth-round pick who put up big numbers at Wichita State, Dirks is a bit on the small side, not much of a runner, has power a tick below average and a bit of a weak arm. That said, he can hit, and he's one of those max-effort grinders who gets the most from his limited tools. The Tigers don't mask the fact that he's one of their favorite players in the system, and with a 5-for-10 weekend that included two doubles and a triple, he's now 9-for-19 and could force his way onto the roster as the fourth outfielder.

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Matt Dominguez, 3B, Florida Marlins

Despite being only 21 years old and coming off a somewhat pedestrian .252/.333/.411 showing at Double-A last year, Dominguez is still in the lead for Florida's third-base job. Part of that is because there are no other good options, unless one wants to count Wes Helms and Emilio Bonifacio.

The good news is that Dominguez is ready with the glove, as he's seen by many as the best defensive third baseman in the minors. The bat is another question, but Dominguez is doing his best to assure the Marlins in that department as well, going 4-for-13 (.308) with a double and a home run so far this spring. He won't put up big numbers as a rookie, but he'll grab Web Gems with regularity, while learning to hit in a bit of a trial by fire.

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Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals

When the 2010 No. 1 overall pick showed up to camp, he said he wanted to make the big league squad. A cocky statement, to be sure, but do you really want him saying he wants to ride in a bus all year?

Harper has had his fair share of struggles so far, going 2-for-11 with three strikeouts, but there have been good at-bats with hard contact, and the talent is clear. The expectations he's facing are bordering on unfair, as he's as old as most high school seniors, meaning that even if he doesn't reach the big leagues until 2013 he'll still be just 20 years old. The hype is well-deserved based on Harper's talent, but the expectations might need some more management.

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Jose Iglesias, SS, Boston Red Sox

I was recently asked on Twitter who was the last prospect to match Iglesias defensively. My first reaction was Rey Ordonez, also a Cuban defector, whose defensive wizardry was matched only by his offensive impotence; he lasted nine years in the big leagues on glove work alone, finishing his career with averages of .246/.289/.310. Iglesias had similar questions about his bat when the Red Sox signed him to the biggest bonus in team history 18 months ago, but he was a pleasant surprise offensively in 2010, and has continued to impress this spring by tallying six hits in his first 14 at-bats. While much of the talk this spring in Boston revolves around the big league shortstop battle between Marcus Scutaro and Jed Lowrie, the winner will just be holding the fort for Iglesias in 2012.

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Brett Lawrie, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays

A first-round pick by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008, Lawrie was originally drafted as a catcher, but when he told the Brewers he didn't want to play behind the plate they acquiesced and moved him to second base. While he played at Double-A last year as a 20-year-old and hit well, Lawrie's defensive reviews were still poor, prompting the Blue Jays, who acquired him in the offseason for Shaun Marcum, to try him at the hot corner.

Lawrie has started like gangbusters at the plate this spring, going 6-for-11 with a double and his first home run Saturday, but he's surprised many with his glove as well. That said, he has always had the tools and athleticism to be a good defender, be it behind the plate, at second or his new position. But that has been the case for many players, including Ryan Braun, who had all the physical skills to play third base but in the end just wasn't good enough. For now, it's spring training and hope springs eternal. But don't be surprised if Lawrie ends up in right field.


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