Saturday, March 21, 2009


I'm not kidding when I say this, I have spent the past hour or so writhing in pain from laughter over this next clip:

Friday, March 20, 2009

Part 3 of Ben's Uber Baseball Preview 2009

Taking a quick look at the 2009 AL Central makes one think, "Does anybody want to win this division?" There isn't really a dominant team out there and every team has major issues. Still, every team has some strengths and the division is completely wide open.

Should be fun.

All AL Central Team:
C- Joe Mauer, MIN
1B- Justin Morneau, MIN
2B- Placido Polanco, DET
3B- Mark DeRosa, CLE
SS- Alexi Ramirez, CWS
OF- Grady Sizemore, CLE
OF- Carlos Quiten, CWS
OF- Magglio Ordonez, DET
DH- Billy Butler, KC
SP- Francisco Liriano, DET
SP- Cliff Lee, CLE
SP- Gil Meche, KC
SP- Zack Greinke, KC
SP- Mark Buehrle, CWS
CP- Joakim Soria, KC

Team previews? I think so.

Detroit Tigers:
What happened to the Tigers? Just a few years ago they were the darlings of baseball with their worst to first, multi-year turnaround playing the World Series. Then last year, they stunk up everything. The culprit? The three headed monster of injuries, aging, and pitching. There were efforts made to remedy all three. A number of bounce back years will be necessary though to have a successful season.

The lineup wasn't the issue last year as it was sixth in the majors in runs scored. The team could be even more potent this year. The team acquired catcher Gerald Laird via trade from Texas. Laird is a slightly above average catcher. He plays a little defense and can hit a little, though not with much power. His backup, Matt Treanor, is a lesser version. There isn't much organizational depth, as the only prospect of note would be Dusty Ryan, who doesn't project much higher than Laird if at all. Brandon Inge could potentially catch in a pinch, but is better utilized at third. Inge had a miserable season last year but suffered from injuries as well as inconsistent playing time early in the year. He should bounce back, but not much. Inge has a very long swing, often swinging for the fences when he should be looking for solid contact. This causes a lot of strikeouts and a lot of weak contact for a guy who isn't that big and who has only once hit more than 16 HRs. On the other side of the diamond is the Tigers' best player, Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera is an absolute monster with the bat, having only once hit fewer than 33 HRs in a full season. His OBP and batting average took dips last year, but every other number stayed steady as he clubbed 36 doubles, 37 HRs, and had a .537 SLG. He's also getting more comfortable at first and should continue to be one of the league's best players for at least another decade. The middle infield includes the veteran tandem of Placido Polanco and Adam Everett. Polanco has, for a few years, been one of the steadiest performers in the league at second base. You can pretty much expect very solid defense, a .300 BA, a .350 OBP, and 10 or so home runs. Everett, signed away from the Twins this offseason, replaces the disaster that was Edgar Renteria from last year. Everett is the quintessential no-hit, all-glove field. He's one of the best fielders in baseball at the position, but to expect anything above the bare minimum with the stick is unreasonable. Still, Renteria wasn't great last year, he was old and slow with the glove, and the rest of the lineup is good enough to cover for Everett's shortcomings. The outfield should again be a team strength. In right, Magglio Ordonez continues to plug away as one of the more dangerous hitters in baseball while his hair only gets longer and greasier. He didn't repeat the MVP-caliber 2007 numbers he had in 2008, but he was still effective when he was healthy. If he can stay healthy, the Tigers can expect 25 or so HRs and a .500+ SLG. In centerfield, Curtis Granderson's production fell way off after a spectacular 2007. His 2008 was still very good, but almost every category was down. He should be close to his 2007 levels though, so expect good numbers in all 5 tools. Left field is inhabited by Carlos Guillen. Guillen can play left, right, first, third, and even some short and second, and he's probably best suited in a sort of super-sub role, giving whoever needs a rest a day off here and there. Numbers-wise, you can expect 12-15 HRs with a .375 OBP, 30 or so doubles and 10-12 steals. The man who probably should be starting in left is former Yankee prospect Marcus Thames. Thames has impressive power, hitting 25 home runs in just 316 ABs last season. He's never been a regular for any team, which is puzzling considering his career .498 SLG. Thames does strike out a lot (95 in the aforementioned 316 ABs) and has a pitiful career .302 OBP, but his power and decent fielding ability are tough to ignore, so at worst, he'll get a lot of playing time as a 4th outfielder and part-time DH. The full-time DH will be Gary Sheffield. Sheffield is nearing the end of his impressive career and his knees and bum elbow won't let him play full time anymore, but he's still a valuable hitter. Sheffield's once legendary bat speed (second only to Barry Bonds earlier this decade) has deteriorated and prevents him from hitting more good pitches, instead relying on mistakes for most of his production. If Sheffield is healthy, you can expect 20-25 HRs with a patient eye at the plate. The bench is versatile but not particularly talented with players like Treanor, Ramon Santiago, Thames, and Ryan Rayburn.

If the Tigers are to even pretend to contend, the pitching staff needs to resemble something closer to a major league crew than in recent years. The rotation will be anchored by Justin Verlander. Verlander has top grade stuff including a fastball that consistently sits in the high 90s even deep into the game. Verlander didn't seem to be right all season as his ERA increase over a full run per game. It can be attributed to his strikeouts decreasing by 20 and his walks increasing by 20. His pitches flattened out and he seemed tired most of the season. There is no reason to think he won't revert to his 2007 form where he won 18 games and threw a no-hitter. Even if he gets only a little closer to that 2007 form, it will be a huge asset to Detroit. The number two this year will be Armando Galarraga. Galarraga was the lone bright spot of the staff last year in his first full MLB season. He uses his big frame to get a very good downward action on his pitches, keeping the ball down in the zone. He sported a 1.18 WHIP last season and did a good job of not walking guys. He should continue to develop into one of the better starters in the AL. The rest of the rotation should include Jeremy Bonderman, Edwin Jackson, and Dontrelle Willis. Bonderman was hurt last season, starting only 12 games. He has good stuff, with 5 solid pitches. But Bonderman has never put it all together and realized the potential that made him a wildly sought-after high school phenom. Edwin Jackson, acquired from the Rays for Matt Joyce, is another former super-prospect who only just seems to be coming into his own. Jackson was at one point the biggest prospect in the Dodgers system but seemed unable to find any sort of consistency, stemming from poor mechanics. The Rays' staff seems to have fixed him at least some. He probably will never live up to his prior ceiling, but if he maintains what he did last year, the Tigers will have acquired a very good number three starter for essentially a backup outfielder. Willis, as I predicted last year, struggled in 2008. He eventually was shut down for the year with an injury, but looked terrible before that walking 35 in just 24 innings for an other-worldly bad WHIP of 2.5. Willis doesn't have great stuff, instead relying on his funky delivery and control. Problem is, his control has deteriorated. If he can regain it, he can be a solid 4th or 5th starter, but if he doesn't, he could soon be relegated to the bullpen or worse. The bullpen can only get better. Brandon Lyon appears to be the closer. He throws a lot of strikes, which keeps his walks low but also means a lot of his pitches are put into play. Lyon can also suffer is he is overexposed. Setting up for him will be a collection of pitchers including lefty Bobby Seay, veteran Nate Robertson, and hard throwers Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya. Zumaya is, as always it seems, the wild card. He wasn't fully healthy from a major arm injury suffered in 2007 until late 2008. He pitched well when he was able to though. Zumaya has a very impressive slider, but his main pitch is the high heat. In 2006, Zumaya's last healthy season, he threw almost 200 more 100 mph+ pitches than the next closest, Kyle Farnsworth. If he can regain that form and is healthy, Zumaya is damn near unhittable. A healthy Zumaya would be a huge asset to the team. One pitcher to keep an eye on is Rick Porcello. Barely 20 years old, Porcello was thought of as the best pitching prospect available in the 2007 draft, but fell to the Tigers due to his high signing bonus demands. The Tigers gave in, giving him nearly $4 million and so far he hasn't disappointed. If he continues to progress and anyone on the big club falters, don't be surprised to see Porcello tossing at Comerica.

Kansas City Royals:
How could the Royals possibly be in contention this year? Well when you lose for so long, you're bound to collect at least a few solid prospects. Unfortunately, that hasn't really been the case for the team. However, a weak division and enough solid play plus some shrewd vet signings and the Royals could potentially sneak into the conversation as a legitimate team.

The Royals are surprisingly deep at catcher. Miguel Olivo is the nominal starter. As evidenced by his strong showing at the World Baseball Classic, Olivo has good pop for a catcher, also evidenced by last year's .444 SLG. Olivo has a pretty good glove and can swing it a bit, but has always had a comically low OBP and thus doesn't warrant a full-time starter position. Luckily for the Royals, backup John Buck doesn't represent a huge dropoff. Buck hit 9 HRs last year, only half of what he had in 2007. But that seems to be more of the norm for Buck and the team can expect more of the same from him. Thirdbaseman Alex Gordon was supposed to be the second coming of George Brett, but so far has be wildly underwhelming. Still, he is a legitimate 4-tool prospect who can steal a few bases if need be and he showed marked improvement in his second season particularly in the patience department where his walks went up by 25 in 17 fewer games. He should continue to develop into a very good player. George Brett good? Probably not, but even an All-Star would be an improvement for the Royals. On the other side of the field at first, Mike Jacobs takes over after being acquired from Florida this offseason. Jacobs clearly possesses impressive power, hitting 32 HRs last season with an impressive .514 SLG. Unfortunately his .299 OBP is completely unacceptable for a first baseman. If Jacobs is going to be a solid regular, he has to start taking more pitches and working the count better. Perhaps getting out of Florida's notoriously aggressive program will help him. The middle infield is young and relatively untested but provides a lot of hope. Second base is manned by Albert Callaspo, a slick-fielder who, until last season couldn't hit. In limited duty, Callaspo hit .305 with a .361 OBP. The key seems to be he started putting more balls into play, as his strike outs stayed the same despite taking 69 more at bats in 2008 than 2009. By putting the ball in play on the ground, Callaspo is able to use his speed to put pressure on fielders, instead of either striking out or flying out, relatively easy plays. Shortstop Mike Aviles was a revelation in his rookie season, providing 27 doubles, 10 home runs, and 8 steals while having a .354 OBP and a .480 SLG in only 102 games, essentially 2/3rds of a season. Aviles ceiling probably isn't much higher than his performance last season, but just duplicating that would put him in the second tier of shortstops in terms of production in the bigs. The outfield is manned by the athletic trio of David DeJesus, Coco Crisp, and Jose Guillen. DeJesus has been the Royals' all-around player since joining the team in full-time in 2004. A poor man's 5-tool player, DeJesus can do a little bit of everything but doesn't do anything greatly. He was banged up last year but still had arguably his best season with the stick and should continue to contribute at a high level. Crisp was acquired from the Red Sox during the offseason. He's a very good fielder and can fly around the bases. He doesn't walk much, certainly not enough for a player of his speed, but otherwise is a quite solid player and the defensive upgrade he presents should be substantial. Guillen has been pretty much the same player his entire career; a low OBP guy with decent power and a pretty good glove. He has always had the talent to be a better player, but his lack of patience at the plate has robbed him of some offensive effectiveness and he's unlikely to get any better at this point. Still, he hits with enough power to warrant solid playing time as a decent regular option. DH should be filled by Billy Butler. Just 22 years old, Butler is a big guy who can't field worth a lick but has good power and doesn't strike out that much. His batting eye is improving as well and if he can stay healthy, he should be a solid player for the Royals for many years. Should any player falter, the first guy off the bench will be the versatile Mark Teahen. Teahen can play every outfield position as well as first and third and maybe some second but doesn't play any of them well and he strikes out too much for a player who doesn't have great power. Still, as a plug-in, you could do worse. The rest of the bench will be filled out with versatile guys like Shane Costa, Willie Bloomquist, Ryan Shealy, Ross Gload, and Tony Pena.

The pitching staff has slowly improved over the past few years for the Royals and has turned into a team strength. The ace of the rotation is Gil Meche. Many balked when Meche was given big-money despite a less-than-stellar track record in free agency a few years back, but since joining the Royals he's had the two best seasons of his career and has lived up to expectations. Meche has always had pretty good stuff and has a lot of pitches to work with. He has always given up his fair share of hits but has been successful the past few years by limiting his walks and keeping the ball in the ballpark. More of the same can be expected from him this year and if the Royals improve as I predict they will, people will be talking about Meche as one of the more consistent and quality starters in the AL. The number two is the very talented Zack Greinke. After a difficult battle with depression, Greinke has finally figured out how to pitch and has had two straight years of being an above to very above average pitcher. Greinke has 3 plus pitches including a great changeup. He, too, succeeds by keeping his walk totals low and scattering hits. Like Meche, he will gain a lot of acclaim if the Royals improve as I predict. Brian Bannister, the number 3, was up and down last year, occasionally having great starts where he was nearly untouchable and then having miserable starts where similar results could have been achieved by throwing me out there. He pitched significantly better at home than on the road (3.96 ERA vs. 8.43 ERA) which suggests that his issues are simply a mental block. Bannister doesn't walk many and generally keeps the ball around the strike zone but he clearly needs to work on having a short memory and not letting mistakes compound. Kyle Davies and Luke Hochevar fill out the rest of the rotation. Davies had the best season of his career last year. The former Braves prospect doesn't have great stuff and his career 1.65 WHIP is less than desirable, but he gets by through toughness and working each batter hard. Hochevar took his lumps as a rookie last year but also showed some flashes of future success. He doesn't strike out a lot of guys but his 6'5" frame gives him solid downward action on his pitches and suggests room for improvement. Should either Davies or Hochevar falter, former Brave Horacio Ramirez or, dare I say, Sidney Ponson will be waiting in the wings. The bullpen will likely be the true strength of the team. Their leader is closer Joakim Soria. Soria is the best pitcher that you've never heard of, compiling 42 saves for a team that only won 75 in 2008. In two seasons, he's struck out 141 in 136.1 innings and compiled a fantastic 0.90 WHIP. Soria should continue to be one of the 5 or so best closers in baseball (I'd rank him ahead of everyone except for Papelbon, Rivera, and Lidge). The rest of the bullpen will be filled with effective pitchers such as hard-throwing, offseason acquisitions Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth, Ron Mahay, Robinson Tejada, and Doug Waechter.

Minnesota Twins:
Every year, people forget about the Twins and every year they're right in the hunt until the very end of the season. 2008 was no different as the Twins lost a heartbreaking 1-0 tie-breaker game to the White Sox that kept them out of the playoffs on the last day of the season. I would expect them to be in the hunt once again thanks to the combination of pitching, defense, and Justin Morneau that has become the team's trademark.

The Twins have one of the finest catchers in baseball in Joe Mauer. Despite being one of the biggest catchers in the league at 6'5" and 225lbs, Mauer doesn't have great power, but he makes contact better and more often than any catcher in baseball and can run the bases pretty well. He also has a very disciplined batting eye, walking 34 more times than he struck out last year, and he plays stellar defense. Veteran Mike Redmond is his backup. Redmond has always been a pretty solid hitter for a catcher and has some skills behind the dish. He probably could be starting for a few teams and give the Twins a great option when the want to rest Mauer's valuable legs. Third baseman Joe Crede was released by the White Sox to make room for Josh Fields despite Crede routinely out-performing Fields in every category. The Twins were only too happy to sign him. Crede has battled back injuries most of his career but when healthy plays great defense and shows good pop in his bat, averaging 23 HRs in seasons where he's accumulated 400+ ABs and swatting 17 last year in 97 games. At first is the Twins' best position player, former AL MVP and Canada's favorite son, Justin Morneau. Morneau is arguably the most dangerous hitter in Twins' history after the great Harmon Killebrew and a force every time he steps to the plate. His homerun total dipped a bit last year, but his doubles increased by 16, indicating that he just missed a few extra homers. In addition, his eye at the plate is constantly improving as his walk totals have increased every year of his career. Morneau also plays very good defense at first with a career .995 fielding percentage. Up the middle, the duo of Nick Punto at short and Alexi Casilla at 2nd provides consistent play. Punto is a very good fielder who has almost no power. Punto doesn't get on base very well, but is a solid option in a good lineup, making him more suited as a backup. Casilla developed some power last season hitting 7 homeruns in 385 ABs and he also got on base at a higher rate than before. If he continues to develop he should become on of the better secondbasemen in baseball. If either falter, expect Brendan Harris, a Punto clone, or prospect Tervor Plouffe, a thirdbaseman usually, to step in. Centerfielder Carlos Gomez was the centerpiece of last offseason's Johan Santana trade and performed about as expected. Gomez can fly and is one of the fastest players in the big leagues and has developing power as he grows into his 6'4" frame. That being said, he needs to get on base more often (.296 OBP last season). Rightfielder Michael Cuddyer missed a lot of time last season due to injury (only 71 games played in 2008). When he's healthy, Cuddyer does provide good power and solid defense. Only twice has he had an OBP of more than .350 (.362 in 2006 and .356 in 2007), so clearly that's an issue for him but there are certainly worse options. Left field will probably be manned by Denard Span. Span's rookie year was the best of any Twins outfielder in 2008. Span is a speedy slap hitter who does a good job of working the count. He should continue to develop though his ceiling isn't much higher than where he already is. Jason Kubel will be the DH. Kubel brings a powerful bat but has never been able to stay healthy or put it all together. He can play the outfield if need be but is clearly the worst fielder of all on the Twins roster. The big mystery of the Twins is Delmon Young, the centerpiece of the Matt Garza trade last outfield. On potential alone, Young should be one of the best players in baseball right now. But he has never shown the ability to utilize his vast potential. If he can get his head on straight (an incredibly tall order), Young could be come a monster. Will that happen? Probably not. The rest of the Twins bench is deep with players such as Brian Buscher, Matt Tolbert, and Jason Pridie.

As seems to always be the case with the Twins, pitching should once again be a team strength. Francisco Liriano will be the team's ace. Liriano has absolutely dominating stuff, perhaps even better than his former teammate Johan Santana's. He missed all of 2007 and a good portion of 2008 thanks to Tommy John surgery, but his rehab has gone well and he should be back to full strength come Opening Day, a scary thought for all who oppose him. Keep in mind, his last healthy season, 2006, he struck out 144 in 121 innings and had a WHIP of exactly 1.00. Expect similar things this season. The other candidate for ace-dom is Scott Baker. Baker has gotten better every full year in the league and that should only continue. Baker is a big guy at 6'4" and 220 lbs who generates good downward action on 4 solid pitches. The rest of the rotation will be filled by the trio of Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, and Nick Blackburn. Slowey is developing much like Baker and one can expect a similar ceiling. Perkins is a left-handed junk-baller who doesn't strike out many but also doesn't walk many in the mold of Jamie Moyer (though not to that extreme). Blackburn is a right-handed version of Perkins. If all 5 starters can stay healthy, you'd be hard pressed to find a more effective quintet, top to bottom, as Perkins had the worst ERA of the lot at 4.41. The bullpen will be deep and effective. Closer Joe Nathan has continued to quietly be one of the best in baseball since coming over with Liriano and Boof Bonser from San Francisco for AJ Pierzynski (what a terrible trade...honestly, one of the worst ever). Nathan struck out 74 in just 67.2 innings and had the lowest ERA of his career. In front of him will be the squad of Jesse Crain (who can start if need be), Matt Guerrier, Craig Breslow, and Luis Ayala.

Cleveland Indians:
The Indians went from World Series contender, to last-place losers, to dangerous .500 team in a matter of months last season. The traded off their best player in CC Sabathia, but found a new ace in Cy Young winner Cliff Lee. They relied on young hitters to develop, but they woke up and the hitters weren't that young any more and hadn't developed as planned. This season will be a watershed moment: can this team compete, or is it back to the proverbial drawing board?

The Indians have an embarrasment of riches at catcher. Victor Martinez is the starter for now. He brings a potent bat to the equation but was injured for much of last season and was never fully right. When he is healthy, you can expect 20-25 HRs with a .375+ OBP and a .475+ SLG. He doesn't play great defense, which, combined with the depth at catcher, suggests a full-time move to first base is imminent. His backup is the very talented Kelly Shoppach, the former Red Sox and Diamonbacks' prospect, who could be starting for a number of teams. Shoppach never had the opportunity to be a full-time starter until last season when Martinez was injured and he didn't disappoint. 21 homeruns, a .517 SLG and a .348 OBP are great numbers as a catcher and would play out to most positions on the diamond. In addition, Shoppach provides better defense than Martinez. If Martinez does become the full-time 1st baseman or if somebody gets moved for another part (such as pitching) look for top prospect Carlos "Black Magic Woman" Santana to step in. Santana is one of the top catching prospects in all of baseball and was acquired for Casey Blake from the Dodgers around last year's trading deadline. At first base, assuming Martinez isn't moved there, Ryan Garko provides standard power with a moderately patient eye and a good glove. He can also play in the outfield, so even if he's out of the starting loop, he's a very useful player to have. At third, Mark DeRosa, an offseason acquisition from the Cubs, had probably his best season in 2008. Generally a super-sub-type player most of his career DeRosa played at least one inning at every position last year except for pitcher and catcher. That versatility should prove to be invaluable and his bat, which is improving its power, should only be an asset. Up the middle, the duo of Jhonny Peralta and Asdrubal Cabrera is humorously named. They also are pretty good. Peralta, the better of the two, has good power for a shortstop (21+ homeruns 3 of the past 4 seasons) and plays solid defense but has kinda low on-base numbers and he strikes out a ton. While it's unlikely that he'll change that at this stage in his career, he is certainly an asset to the team. Cabrera is a speedy slap hitter who seemed to be over-exposed as a regular last season. It doesn't appear as though he should be a starter, but there is still room for improvement. In the outfield, Grady Sizemore is a legitimate 5 tool star. Sizemore does everything well and although his OBP and batting average dipped a little in 2008, he should continue to be one of the game's premiere centerfielders. The rest of the outfield is a little less of a sure thing but shows a lot of promise. Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo played in 94 games last season, more than doubling his previous career total, and responded very well. He clubbed 14 homeruns sporting a very high .549 SLG and a more than respectable .397 OBP. He's a hitter who's very willing to work the count and he plays plus defense in right. While it's possible this was just a fluke, the Indians are certainly hoping that he'll continue to progress. In left, Ben Francisco is another player who got his first real shot at regular playing time and performed above expectations. He did hit 15 homeruns in 121 games, but his OBP was a bit on the low side at .332. Still, at worst he should be a very good 3rd outfielder option. Should either Choo or Francisco stumble the team has solid depth in the form of David Dellucci. Dellucci is the consummate 4th outfielder; has a little pop, plays solid defense at any of the positions, and hustles his ass off. However, at any moment, any of these players or any of the first basemen could be replaced by top prospect Matt LaPorta, acquired from the Brewers as the key to the Sabathia trade last season. LaPorta can't field. But the guy can straight rake. He's dominated every professional stop he's been too and that should only continue when he finally gets his shot at the bigs. The Indians' bench is solid with players like Shoppach, Dellucci, Jamey Carroll, and Josh Barfield.

The pitching staff was a weakness for the team last year outside of Cliff Lee. If the Indians are looking to contend, the staff will have to step it up. The rotation will be anchored by Lee. Less than two years removed from being sent down to the minors, Lee was absolutely lights-out last season en route to winning the AL Cy Young award. Lee is a big lefty with a lot of different pitches who had always been about league average. Something clicked last season as he began to use his changeup more and stayed down in the zone more frequently and it showed as he posted his best numbers across the board. Is Lee really this good? Probably not, but if he sticks with these positive changes, he, at worst, would be a solid ace. The only other sure-thing for the rotation is righty Fausto Carmona. Carmona went from absolutely dominating in 2007, when he won 19 games and posted a 3.06 ERA, to pathetic in 2008 before being shut down with a hip injury. The Indians are hoping and assuming that his ineffectiveness can be attributed to the injury. In all likelihood, that is the case in addition to the added pressure of being that young stud for the team. If Carmona is healthy and has his head on straight, expect numbers similar to 2007. The rest of the rotation is a mystery. One strong candidate is Carl Pavano. Many forget that Pavano was once considered one of the best prospects in baseball (indeed, he was once the key piece in the trade that brought Pedro Martinez to Boston) and did once win 18 games in a season. But Pavano has almost never been healthy. When he has been healthy, he's been a pretty good pitcher, using his 6'5" and 240lbs frame to generate a lot of power and downward action on pitches. If he can be healthy for the Indians, he could be an offseason steal. But he probably won't. The other four top candidates for the rotation include Anthony Reyes, Aaron Laffey, David Huff, and Scott Lewis. Reyes is the most experienced of the four but also has the least amount of talent. Acquired mid-season from the Cardinals last year, Reyes was excellent in 6 starts, allowing only 7 runs in 34.1 innings. But his track record, does not bode well. Still, he may just have needed a change of scenery and at worst should be a solid swing man. Laffey was pretty good in 16 starts for the Tribe last season and fits the mold of a "crafty lefty" who has good control but doesn't strike out many. Lewis is another smaller lefty but he does strike out hitters more frequently. David Huff has the highest ceiling of the bunch. A big lefty, Huff has good power on his pitches and should make an immediate impact whenever he's given the ball. The bullpen was a disgrace last season but should be vastly improved this year. One such improvement can be found at closer where Kerry Wood was signed away from the Cubs to shut the door. Wood, a former starter with the Cubs, was a phenom if there ever was one, but Dusty Baker (secretly one of the worst managers in baseball) overworked his young arm (as well as Mark Prior's) and killed any hopes of sustained stardom. Still, Wood has battled back and found his niche in the bullpen. Wood has always had awesome stuff and he struck out 84 in just 66.1 innings last year. Assuming he can stay healthy, a big assumption, Wood should be one of the finer closers in baseball and would provide a huge boost for the Tribe. The rest of the bullpen will be filled with a few vets but mostly youngsters in a complete overhaul. One of the few veterans who'll get a shot is Rafael Betancourt. Betancourt was one of the better relievers in baseball from 2003-2007 and in 2007 was possibly the best non-closing reliever in baseball as he recorded 80 strike outs in 79.1 innings and having an other-worldly 0.76 WHIP, riding his very good cutter. But last season, he fell off a cliff as his ERA ballooned by more than 3.50, he allowed 50% more hits, and his walk and homeruns allowed totals almost tripled. If last season were an abberation, and statistically it would seem so, then Betancourt should be back among baseball's best relievers again. But if this a trend, then he could quite quickly be out of a job. Other key relievers this year should include former Japanese League star Masahide Kobayashi, and youngsters Jensen Lewis, Joe Smith, John Meloan, and fire-balling uber-prospect Adam Miller.

Chicago White Sox:
The White Sox had another successful season, winning the division in a one-game playoff versus the Twins giving GM Ken Williams his 3rd Central title in his 8 years at GM. While there was a lot to be praised about, the offseason hasn't been particularly promising and there seems to have been little in the way of improvement and there might even been some drop off this season. Still, with a very solid core, the team should at least hang around for a while.

Catcher AJ Pierzynski is a douchebag. Don't believe me? Ask, well, just about anybody. Pierzynski does have some good power for a catcher and is capable of hitting 15 homeruns with 25 or so doubles. But otherwise he doesn't bring much else to the table. His OBP is low and he doesn't play good defense. But he's a favorite of manager Ozzie Guillen because, like Guillen, he's a loud-mouthed asshole who "plays hard". The problem also is that the White Sox have absolutely no depth in the franchise at catcher. The only possibility seems to be big youngster Cole Armstrong, who does play very good defense but is a little bit of a liability with the stick. At third base, former-uber prospect Josh Fields finally gets a clean shot at starting. Fields, despite hitting 23 HRs as Joe Crede's injury replacement in 2007, was sent back down to the minors due to a near-impossible regression. Fields clearly has power but strikes out far too often (150 times in 125 career games at the big-league level) and his on-base totals are sub-par plus, unlike the very good Crede, he doesn't play good defense. Still, there was a reason he was a top prospect for so long and if he can get his act together he should be one of the better 3rd basemen in the AL. 1st baseman Paul Kornerko was abysmal for most of last season and only an incredibly strong August and September could save him from having arguably the worst season of any regular in baseball. While it's unlikely that he could have fallen off that much, Kornerko is clearly in decline as his homerun totals (historically his best asset) have dropped every year since 2004. For the sake of the White Sox, Kornerko needs to bounce back and play at least to his 1999-2002 days if the team is going to compete. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez was phenomenal last season. The 27-year old Cuban defector is a great athlete and provided in all 5 tool categories last season. If he's going to continue to develop into one of the better players in baseball, he will need to increase his OBP numbers, but even as is he is a solidly above average shortstop. His double play counterpart should be rookie Chris Getz. A disciplined slap-hitter, Getz should provide enough offense and some good defense in his first season. The outfield was a team strength and the core of the offense last year and that likely won't change. Left fielder Carlos Quentin was the steal of the offseason last year as he was acquired from the Diamondbacks for marginal prospect Chris Carter and turned into an MVP candidate before going down with a broken hand in early September. Quentin has great power (36 HRs, 26 doubles, .571 SLG in 2008) and a pretty good eye at the plate (66 walks vs. 80 strike outs and a .394 OBP in 2008). In addition, he is a plus left fielder who could be an average centerfielder if need be. Right fielder Jermaine Dye continues to be one of the quietest producers in baseball. Dye hit 34 HRs last season, the second highest total of his career and had a very impressive .541 SLG. Dye has always stuck out at high rates, but generally makes very strong contact thanks to his powerful lower body and very good bat speed. Center field is a little up in the air. As of now, Brian Anderson is the starter. Anderson is really suited better to be a 4th outfielder as he has some power and can field a little but doesn't get on base enough to warrant a full-time gig. His potential replacement is former super-prospect Jerry Owens, who can fly and has some power but, like Fields, has regressed mightily and can no longer be considered a prospect. If neither are the solution, look for defensive dynamo Jordan Danks to step in and be given a shot. At DH, Jim Thome plugs along as one of the finest power hitters of all time. The massive Thome is getting up there in years but can still mash, having only once hit fewer than 30 HRs in a season with more than 450 ABs (he hit 25 in 1995). Thome has always been extremely patient at the plate, but his OBP did dip a little last season and he doesn't hit breaking stuff like he once did. Still, you can expect another Jim Thome type season from him for at least a few more years. The bench has some solid players including Owens, Wilson Betemit, Jayson Nix, Brent Lillibridge, DeWayne Wise, and Ben Broussard.

The rotation should be strong at the top and questionable at the bottom for the 2009 season. Ace Mark Buehrle has consistently been one of the better pitchers in baseball. An incredibly fast worker who doesn't throw or waste many pitches, Buehrle has thrown over 200 innings every year since 2001 and only once has his ERA risen above 4.15 (4.99 in the abberation year of 2006). Buehrle doesn't really have great stuff, though it certainly is good, and he doesn't really strike out a ton of hitters. However, this seems to actually aid Buehrle as it keeps his pitch counts low and forces a bunch of weak ground balls to the waiting infielders. The number two and three slots will be occupied by the emerging John Danks and Gavin Floyd. The 24 year old Danks showed great improvement in his second big league season. He kept his walks down (only 3 more than in 2007 while pitching 46 more innings) and actually reduced his homeruns allowed total by 13 (again, in 46 more innings). Danks has good stuff and uses his arm slots well in deceiving hitters. Floyd, a former Phillies prospect, finally managed to straighten out his mechanics and put together his immense talent. At 6'5", Floyd is an imposing power pitcher who is prone to the big inning and giving up the long ball (30 allowed in 206.1 innings in 2008). Still, it appears as though he has learned to pitch and to keep his motion repeatable and that should make him a solid to very good starter in the AL for a long time. Jose Contreras is scheduled to be the number 4. Few pitchers have been more up and down than Contreras has in his career since defecting from Cuba. In six seasons, Contreras has been very good in two (2003 and 2005), abysmal in two (2004 and 2007) and slightly above average and slightly below average in the two others (2006 and 2008, respectively). If he's healthy, and he did miss some time last season, he should be an above average innings eater who can go the distance on any given start. Or he could be a Cy Young candidate. Or he could be the worst pitcher in baseball. The number 5 slot is currently in an competition between former University of Michigan quarterback Clatyon Richard and former Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon. Richard, currently a Mormon, was unimpressive in his big league debut last season but is clearly a superior athlete and does have good stuff. His powerful 6'5" 240lbs frame generates good power and downward action on pitches but his mechanics could use some cleaning up. Colon, currently a fatty, actually pitched pretty well in 7 starts for the Red Sox last season. But he didn't have the same zip on his pitches as earlier in his career and gave up a lot of homeruns, always a weakness for him. Still, Colon averaged 16.875 wins and over 200 inngings pitched per season from 1998-2005 and if he can get to about 75% of that, he could be one of the year's surprises. The bullpen should be deep this year, led by closer Bobby Jenks. Jenks can light up the radar gun with his fastball but his strikeouts have plummetted the past two years (80 in 69.2 innings in 2006, 56 in 65 innings in 2007, 38 in 61.2 innings in 2008). This is a troubling trend for a 6'3", 275lbs, power pitcher like Jenks. Still, he has been effective his entire career and his WHIP last season was an impressive 1.10. Setting him up will be the tandem of Octavio Dotel and Scott Linebrink. Dotel is a former closer who has battle arm injuries in the past. He strikes out hitters like it was his job (which it is) including 92 in just 67 innings last season. Linebrink is a little more finessed than Dotel but still is very effective. Both can close if called upon but neither has a great track record as Dotel has only a 69.7% save rate and Linebrink has a terribly horrendous 14.7% save rate in their careers. In front of them should be an effective group including former closer Mike MacDougal, lefty Matt Thornton, journeyman DJ Carrasco, and the 6'7", 260lbs Franklyn German.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Out of Context Clip of the Day

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Just a suggestion...

do the stanky leg...that's all I ask.

Part 2 of Ben's Uber Baseball Preview 2009

The AL East is the best division in baseball.

You can attempt to debate this, but if you do, you are a moron. There is no questioning this simple fact. 3 of the 5 best teams in the Majors reside in the AL East. A fourth team is the a threat to win 90 games and should win at least 85, and would run away with 3 other divisions and would likely win a 4th. And the Orioles. Yeah...

If any team other than an AL East team is the AL Wildcard, I will be at a loss for words in utter shock.

All AL East Team:
C- Dioner Navarro, TB (keeping this spot warm for Wieters)
1B- Mark Teixeira , NYY
2B- Dustin Pedroia, BOS
3B- Alex Rodriguez, NYY (go ahead, I dare you to justify anybody as better)
SS- Derek Jeter, NYY
OF- BJ Upton, TB
OF- JD Drew, BOS
OF- Nick Markakis, BAL
DH- David Ortiz, BOS
SP- Josh Beckett, BOS
SP- CC Sabathia, NYY
SP- Scott Kazmir, TB
SP- Roy Halladay, TOR
SP- Jon Lester, BOS
CP- Jonathan Papelbon, BOS

On to the team previews!

Boston Red Sox:
The Red Sox have entered the same zone as the Yankees were in during the late 1990s: build from within, purchase a few superstar free agents, and make some really smart mid-level free agent pickups. This was another offseason doing just that, as the BoSox didn't spend or make any splashes like their Bronx-based rivals, but improved just as much and made some very intelligent pickups. Once again, the Red Sox are loaded and anything less than a deep playoff run should be considered a disappointment.

There are All-Stars and former All-Stars (and maybe a future All-Star or two) all around the Boston field. Their weakest position is catcher, where Jason Varitek is a shell of his former self. Varitek has lost nearly all of his bat speed and doesn't move as well behind the plate as he used to. To make matters worse, there doesn't seem to be a suitable replacement on the horizon, as backup Josh Bard is nothing more than that, and top catching prospect Mark Wagner is an asset defensively but doesn't hit that well. Still, Varitek should be servicable along with Bard and Wagner and their bats can be hidden in that awesome lineup. The corner spots should be set even with Mike Lowell's health in question. Lowell missed 49 games and played in only 2 postseason games thanks to a hip injury. If Lowell's healthy, he's a good defensive 3rd baseman with a very solid bat whose skills are in decline. If Lowell can't go or his skills have dimished too much, Kevin Youkilis can play third. Youk is an above-average 1st bagger and an average 3rd baseman, but his bat plays out anywhere on the diamond. A legitimate MVP threat, Youkilis hits for power and average and has one of the most patient and discerning batting eyes in baseball. If Lowell can't go and Youkilis is forced over to third, expect top prospect Lars Anderson to step in. Anderson is a ideal Billy Beane/Theo Epstein player: big, powerful, and patient. Only 21 years old, Anderson is probably ready for the bigs this year, but may start the year at AAA. The middle infield is anchored by last year's MVP, Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia is a 5-tool player. He does a little bit of everything well and there should be no drop off from last year at all. At shortstop, with Julio Lugo hurt and likely to have major surgery, the job is Jed Lowrie's. Lowrie was pretty good in his first half-season in the bigs and showed himself to be a great fielder with a developing offensive game. The outfield should once again be a strong point for the team. JD Drew missed 53 games due to injury, but when he was healthy he was very effective. Hitting 19 homeruns with a .408 OBP and a .519 SLG in 109 games, Drew is a four and a half tool player who doesn't run as well as he used to, but does everything well. Jason Bay played very well down the stretch after coming over in the Manny Ramirez deal, and should continue to do so. Bay has hit at least 30 HRs, with a .370+ OBP and a .520+ SLG every year with 500+ ABs in his career except for 2007 to go with above average defense. Jacoby Ellsbury didn't live up to the hype created by his 2007 postseason but was still quite good. Ellsbury could become a legitimate star in the bigs if his power game continues to develop, but otherwise, his ceiling looks to be that of a very good player and maybe even an All-Star who fields well and steals a butt-load of bases. David Ortiz is the DH. A terrifying hitter when he's on and healthy, Ortiz has been banged up recently and some wonder if his bat is starting to slow down. Even if that is the case, he's too good a hitter to be kept out of the lineup and should once again hit 35+ homeruns and drive in over 100. The bench is very good with players like Bard, Rocco Baldelli (an All-Star if it weren't for his medical condition), and Mark Kotsay.

The pitching staff may be more impressive than the lineup. The 1-2 punch of Josh Beckett and Jon Lester might be the best in the game. Beckett is an ace in every sense of the word. At 6'5", he gets excellent downward action on his pitches and works off his impressive heat to strike out a lot of hitters (172 in 174 innings last year). Lester blossomed into one of the game's top pitchers last year, even throwing a no-hitter. Lester doesn't strike out as many as Beckett, but he uses an arsenal of pitches to baffle hitters. Daisuke Matsuzaka is a lock in the third rotation spot. He had a fantastic season last year and would be the ace on many staffs. Dice-K has about a million and a half pitches and uses all of them to confuse hitters to no end. The back end of the rotation is a little unsettled, but in a good way. Clay Buchholz was long considered the better prospect than Lester and has excellent stuff, good enough to no-hit the Orioles in just his second career big-league start. If Buchholz has his head on straight, he should become, at absolute worst, a solid mid-of-the-rotation starter. Other candidates for the rotation include Ol' Rubber Arm Tim Wakefield, Brad Penny, Junichi Tazawa, John Smoltz, and Michael Bowden. Everybody knows exactly what to expect from Wakefield and his knuckleball. He can fill in anywhere he's needed. Tazawa and Bowden are young guns with high ceilings. Bowden has dominated every minor leage stop he's been and it shouldn't be long before he forces himself onto the roster as either a starter or reliever. Tazawa comes over from Japan but shouldn't be ready immediately despite having good stuff. Tazawa could be only a few months away or two years away, but whenever he does make the big club, he should be an impact pitcher. Penny and Smoltz are both coming off of injuries. Penny, just two years removed from starting the All-Star game has been bothered with shoulder problems but has had an excellent spring and at worst should provide some solid innings. Smoltz won't be ready until June because of his injuries, but when he is healthy, Smoltz is one of the gutsiest and prolific pitchers of the past 25 years. The kind of pitcher who can thrive in any situation, Smoltz should be a wonderful shot-in-the-arm for the team mid-season. The bullpen is loaded. Led by Jonathan Papelbon, the best closer in the game, pitchers like former closer Takashi Saito, Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima, Javier Lopez, Justin Masterson, and young flamer-thrower Daniel Bard should prove to be a tough code to crack for any hitters to create some late-inning drama.

Tampa Bay Rays:
The Rays had one of the biggest turns around in history last season. But it was no fluke. Years of smartly drafting and building from within finally paid off and the Rays should only continue to be exceedingly competive, especially as their market and fan base continues to grow.

The Rays have young talent every where on the diamond. Much like the Red Sox, their biggest weakness is probably at catcher. Dioner Navarro, a former top prospect in the Yankee and Dodger systems, plays good defense and has a slightly above-average bat for a backstop. While still fairly young at 25, Navarro's ceiling probably isn't much higher than where he is now, but given the team's strength elsewhere, that isn't really a huge issue. Backup Shawn Riggans is solid, if unspectacular. The corner tandem is probably the second best in the bigs (after the Yankees') with Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria. Pena is a force in the power department at 1st base. You can pretty much be assured of 30+ homeruns from the former Rangers' uber-prospect. Evan Longoria was last year's Rookie of the Year and is a legitimate superstar-in-the-making. He does everything well; a great fielder, he possesses a patient and powerful bat and, while he's not the fastest guy out there, is a smart baserunner. The middle infield lacks power but does everything else well. Jason Bartlett was somewhat of an afterthought in the Garza-Young trade of last offseason, but he turned out to be an invaluable piece of the puzzle, providing slick fielding, good speed on the bases, and just enough with the stick, including 25 doubles. His time as the starter may be up soon though as top prospect Reid Brignac is just on the horizon and last year's top draft pick, Tim Beckham, is just behind Brignac. Akinori Iwamura is like Bartlett on steroids (hmmm...nah). He does a little bit of everything and should continue to be solid though he too is a candidate to be replaced by Brignac or Beckham in the future. Should either Bartlett or Iwamura falter and neither Brignac nor Beckham are ready, look for super-sub Willy Aybar, a similar player, or former Angel and Cardinal Adam Kennedy to step in. The outfield/DH situation should be even better this year than last. BJ Upton has blossomed since moving to centerfield. He has a cannon for an arm, runs down tons of balls in the outfield, and can do absolutely everything on the offensive side. As his plate discipline improves, he should become even more dangerous, a scary thought. Carl Crawford is the greatest Ray of all-time. He's been a little banged up the last few years, but he's still a good outfield who can run and has good bat speed. Expect a return to form this season. The third outfield spot will be filled by a combination of the Gabes (Gross and Kapler) and Matt Joyce. Gross and Kapler are solid players with pretty good athleticism and decent skills. Joyce, acquired in the offseason for Edwin Jackson, has the potential to be quite a pickup. Joyce hit 12 HRs in what amounts to essentially half a season as a backup in Detroit. That power potential is enough that the Rays may give him a starting job out of spring training, hoping that a full-time job will allow him to improve. The DH spot should be filled by, arguably, the best acquisition for money of the offseason, Pat Burrell. Burrell, a key part of the Phillies' World Series team that defeated the Rays last season, is a big dude who just hacks away. He strikes out a lot and can't play a lick of defense, but he draws a lot of walks (106 last season) and has great power (33 doubles, 33 homeruns, .507 SLG last year). He was never fully appreciate in Philadelphia, but they'll find out very soon how big an asset he was. The bench is deep and a big asset with players like Riggans, Aybar, Kennedy, Gross, Kapler, Morgan Ensberg, and Ben Zobrist, another super-sub type.

The pitching staff was the biggest key to the team's turnaround last season, and their continued development will help cement the Rays atop baseball. The rotation was healthy and consistent last year, and the top four all return and should be just as good. Scott Kazmir, who has seemingly been 25 for 87 years, is perhaps a bit undersized at just 6', but few have better stuff. Kazmir is one of the best strike out artists in the game (783 in 723 career innings) and he continues to make the Mets look stupid for trading him for Victor Zambrano. James Shields had a second straight season as an All-Star caliber pitcher. Shields gives up his fair share of hits, but walks almost nobody (only 40 in 215 innings last year) and does a great job of stranding runners. Matt Garza, acquired last offseason for Delmon Young, lived up to the hype he'd faced as a Twins prospect. He has great stuff and is a threat to go the distance any time he takes the hill, he should only continue to develop in Tampa Bay. Andy Sonnanstine is the least talented of the four, but he's probably the most consistent. Sonnanstine doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he doesn't walk many and works the edges of the plate very well. His ceiling isn't much higher than his current level, but he should be a solid long-term option for the Rays. The 5th starter should be the supremely talented David Price, last season's postseason darling. Price, the top draft pick of 2007, is a big lefty who can really hum it in there with 3 strong pitches. He should be absolutely dynamic in his rookie season. Another potential starter, and certainly one for the future, is top prospect Wade Davis. Davis, like Price, has three plus pitches and only a little ways off from making an impact. The bullpen is loaded with talented arms. Veteran Troy Percival leads the group. His stuff isn't nearly what it used to be, but he's a good leader and gets by with pinpoint control and guile. Other arms include Lance Cormier, JP Howell, Dan Wheeler, submariner Chad "The Chadford" Bradford, and flame thrower Grant Balfour. Two arms worth watching are veteran Jason Isringhausen and youngster Jacob McGee. Isringhausen has dealt with arm issues the past few years but is a highly accomplished former closer who could be a big asset if he's healthy. McGee has been a highly touted prospect since day one. Not quite the level of Price and Davis, he still has good stuff and should make a solid impact.

New York Yankees:
The Bronx Bombers failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 1995 last season. Obviously, this was unacceptable for the most storied and proud franchise in baseball. So what did they do? Spent. And spent. And spent. In theory, it should work. By signing CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Mark Teixeira, the Yankees acquired the three best players available this offseason and spent over $400 million in the process. But with issues with age, pitching depth, and now Alex Rodriguez being injured, it may be tough for the team to keep up in the super-competitive AL East.

Once again, the Yankees should score a lot of runs. And once again, the weakest position is arguably catcher. Jorge Posada suffered a shoulder injury, played in only 51 games, and left the Yanks scrambling for a suitable replacement. Posada is old and clearly starting to break down. A borderline Hall-of-Famer, it is unlikely he'll be able to replicate what he was in his prime, but he could probably be a decent option for a contending team such as the Yankees. Backup Jose Molina is terrible. There is some good news looking forward though, as two of the better prospects in the Yankee system are catchers, Jesus Montero and Austin Romine. However, both are likely 2 or more years away. On paper, you'd be hard pressed to find a better corner tandem in history than Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. Teixeira, the biggest signing of the offseason, is a true switch hitter who has great power. In addition, he is a great fielder, one of the best in the league. While he may start slowly and draw the ire of the Yankee faithful, he should prove to be one of the smarter investments the team has ever made. ARod, despite all the talk of PEDs, despite the pussy-footing, despite Cousin Yuri, despite the "playoff woes", despite the lip gloss, despite allegedly having an affair with Skeletor's uglier cousin, is one of the greatest players to ever step on a baseball field. He is still a 5 tool player. ARod's worst season ever was his second season where he had a line of .300, 23 HRs, .350 OBP, .496 SLG, 40 doubles, and 29 SBs, plus Gold Glove-caliber defense at shortstop. You're right, he's a douchebag who should be kept out of the Hall of Fame. I have nothing more to say on this subject except that the Yankees are royally screwed now that he's had hip surgery and won't be available until May. Candidates for a "replacement" include Angel Berroa, Cody Ransom, and Shelley Duncan. Let's put it this way, if you combine the best performances of those three players into one, you might have a guy who could take a big ol' whiff of ARod's jockstrap. This is like trying to replace Marlon Brando in the Godfather with a three man rotation of Steven Seagal, Hayden Christensen, and Paul Walker. Up the middle, the Yankees should be solid. Derek Jeter continues to be Derek Jeter: overrated in some places, underrated in others. He's still one of the top shortstops in the game and would be an asset to any team. Where did you go, Robinson Cano? Cano took a huge step backwards last season after receiving a hefty extension. Every single number got worse for Cano. If he can bounce back, he's one of the better 2nd basemen in baseball; if he can't, he'll just be another overpayed Yankee. The outfield/DH situation is old and rapidly becoming less productive. Hideki Matsui was hurt most of last year and, combined with his age, he's lost a step and some bat speed. Still, he could be productive in a slightly reduced role. Johnny Damon is another aging veteran who can't really play defense anymore and but is still pretty effective with the stick. However, his speed, one of his biggest assets, is in the decline. Xavier Nady is probably the most sure-thing of the OF/DH guys. Acquired at mid-season from the Pirates, Nady is a solid fielder with good power and patient eye. Certainly not a star, Nady is the kind of lunchpail player the Yankees used to gobble up. Nick Swisher could either be a steal or continue to suck. Swisher did hit 24 homeruns last year for the White Sox, but that was about it. Swisher's star was once bright out in Oakland, but it looks as though Billy Beane once again bought low and sold high. If (when?) any of these players falter or get hurt, the top replacements are youngsters Melky Cabrera and Brett Gardner. Cabrera was miserable last year, even been sent back to the minors for a time. Is he as bad as he was last year? Is he as good as he was in 2006? Probably not, he's probably at his 2007 level: a solid 4th outfielder. Gardner didn't play particularly well during his brief stint last year but he does project pretty well and as a player who could be a third outfielder on a contender. One to watch for is Austin Jackson, the Yankees' top prospect. A 5-tool stud, he could be ready by mid-season, which would be a boon for the Yankees.

The pitching staff was pretty miserable last year. So what to do? Sign big name free agents. There was no bigger name (or belly) than CC Sabathia. A true ace, Sabathia is a big (BIG) lefty who has thrown more innings than anyone the past few years. He almost single-handedly got the Brewers into the playoffs last year with a string of clutch performances down the stretch. While his contract may have been a bit excessive, if any pitcher has earned it over the past few years, it has been Sabathia. The other big signing was AJ Burnett. Probably not worth the sizeable contract he received, Burnett has been very erratic over his career. His stuff is undeniable and when he's on and focused, he's almost untouchable. But that doesn't always happen. If the Yankees can keep him focused and healthy, he'll be a huge asset to the team. If not, he could be the second coming of his former Florida teammate, Carl Pavano. The rest of the rotation should be filled by some of last year's suspects. Chien-Ming Wang was injured for much of last year and it really hurt the Yankees. Wang has been consistently near the top of league pitchers since his arrival from Taiwan. He has great sinking action on his pitches that produce a lot of ground ball outs. Fireballer Joba Chamberlain was pretty darn good as a starter and again damn-near-unhittable as a reliever. Manager Joe Girardi wants to keep Chamberlain in the rotation this season and while he probably won't be quite as dominant, he should provide a bunch of quality innings and assloads of strikeouts. Andy Pettitte will probably be the number 5. Pettitte has had a long and illustrious career but his stuff is starting to flatten out and he's losing some velocity. Still, he should be an effective pitcher for another year or so and isn't a bad option at all for a 5th starter. If any injuries should occur, youngsters Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy will be ready to step in. Both failed miserably last season and were routinely shelled. But both have a lot of talent and should at least become league-average, with Hughes projecting quite well in most circles. The bullpen is deep albeit a little mysterious. Closer Mariano Rivera continues to dazzle and will once again be one of the best in the business. Other arms include Damaso Marte, acquired from the Pirates along with Nady, Brian Bruney, Edwar Ramirez, Phil Coke, and perhaps Kei Igawa

Toronto Blue Jays:
What to do for the Jays? They had a season last year that most would consider successful but they missed the playoffs. They spent heavily but didn't get quite the intended results. It will continue to be difficult to succeed in the AL East, but the Blue Jays seem to have the lineup that could be a contender if enough piece fall into place.

Rod Barajas does the catching for the Jays. Barajas has some skills including some decent pop in his bat, but otherwise he's a pretty average catcher. His immediate backup should be veteran Michael Barrett, a fiery competitor who can start in a pinch. Both appear to be keeping the seat warm for top prospect JP Arencibia. Arencibia, a Tennessee product, has good power and is pretty good with the glove but he's probably still a year of season or two away from making an impact. At the corners, the tandem of Lyle Overbay and Scott Rolen is a solid veteran duo. Overbay had another Overbay-type season last year, providing 15-20 homeruns, a .275-.300 average, and solid defense. Expect more of the same. Rolen was hurt again last season, missing almost 50 games. Injuries have derailed what was once thought of as a Hall-of-Fame career path. Still, Rolen is a pretty good fielder and is still very capable at the plate, so if he's healthy, he should be an asset. Aaron Hill played in only 55 games last year after having played in no fewer than 155 the previous two. Predictably, his numbers were down across the board, but if he returns to his 2007 form, he should be one of the better 2nd basemen in baseball, providing good power and a solid glove. The Blue Jays quickly realized that David Eckstein sucks and sent him packing last year (I told you so!). So now they rely on the tandem of Marco Scutaro and John McDonald. Neither is particularly impressive but both can contribute. Scutaro has a decent bat while McDonald provides very good defense. The outfield and DH spots should once again be a strong point for the Jays. Alex Rios started off very slowly but caught fire toward the end of the season to reassure the Blue Jays of his immense talent. Rios is a very good fielder with an excellent arm who hits for good average and pretty good power. He's also very capable of stealing some bases (32 last year). But Rios is robbed by his lack of patience at the plate, walking only 44 times last season and garnering a paltry .337 OBP. His neighbor in center is Vernon Wells, who bounced back after a dismal 2007, surpassing all his numbers despite playing in 41 fewer games. If Wells is healthy, he's one of the better all-around outfielders in the AL. The new addition will be super-prospect Travis Snider. Snider isn't much with a glove and doesn't run all that well but the boy can mash. Only 20 years old when he debuted last season, Snider projects to be a mainstay of the Jays outfield for many years to come. Because of Snider's emergence, Adam Lind gets moved to DH. Lind is a solid hitter who spent time hurt last year. Should he be healthy, expect 20 or so homeruns and the ability to fill in for any outfielder. The bench, a strength for the team last year, should be solid again with players like Barrett, Jose Bautista, Joe Inglett, and Kevin Millar.

The rotation last year was decimated by injuries, but good organizational depth provide a bright future. Still, it will be tough to replace AJ Burnett and his 18 wins. Roy Halladay continues to toil away up north. Halladay has been one of the most consistently excellent pitchers in the majors since 2001 and he won 20 games for the second time in his career last season. At 6'6", Halladay gets a great downward plane on his pitches, but he doesn't strike out as many as one would expect, relying rather on groundballs to generate outs. He should be penciled in for yet another terrific season. Behind him are lots of question marks but a fair amount of talent. Top starters Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan, and Casey Janssen all went down with injuries last year. Marcum and McGowan are both expected to miss significant time this year as well. If Janssen is healthy, he's a junk-balling lefty who happens to be right-handed and quite effective. Jesse Litsch and David Purcey stepped up to fill the void last season. Litsch is a youngster who doesn't strike out many but has pretty good control and good breaking stuff to get hitters out. Purcey showed flashes last season and if he can properly utilize his big frame, he could be a solid starter. The rest of the rotation will be filled with a collection of journeymen and prospects, with youngster Brad Mills and former Cub Matt Clement having the inside track. Keep an eye out for former Maryland star Brett Cecil, a big, hard-throwing lefty with a great slider. The bullpen looks to be pretty deep. BJ Ryan made a very successful return from Tommy John surgery to reclaim his spot as one of the better closers in baseball. In addition to any players who miss out on the rotation, you can expect to see a medly of effective pitchers like Scott Downs, Brian Tallet, Jesse Carlson (who can also start if need be), Jason Frasor, and Brandon League.

Baltimore Orioles:
Well the Orioles are going to be bad again. But there is geniune hope. General Manager Andy McPhail has been quietly assembling a solid collection of young talent through the draft and trades. The team has little-to-no hope of competing this year, but if development goes according to plan, contention in 2011 and 2012 won't be that farfetched. That being said, it's the Orioles and, just to spite me, they'll mess it up somehow.

The Orioles look to be thin at catcher. Greg Zaun is fine as a backup but is stretched as a starter and will turn 38 this season. Behind him, backups like Guillermo Quiroz and Robby Hammock don't provide much beyond third catcher talent. There also seems to be nothing on the horizon. Nothing whatsoever. A complete wasteland for talent...oh wait...there is this one prospect...MATT FANCYSAUCE WIETERS! Seriously, I know I have a huge man crush on the dude and he has yet to play a game above AA, but have you seen him play? If you haven't, I'll help you out and do a quick survey of anybody who has ever seen him play. In a word: greatness. Still don't believe me, Clay Davenport of Baseball Prospectus used his EqA stat (which is an adjust value per out statistic, similar scale to batting average, but league-average changes per position, the average catcher, is somewhere just south of .270) on Wieters and all catchers in a projection for 2009. Brian McCann of Atlanta got a .299, a very excellent number, especially for a catcher. That was good for second in the league. Wieters was projected to have a .319 EqA. I'll let my love for Wieters subside for now, but just know that when he gets called up in late May or early June (so as to add an extra year of contractual control), the boy is going to tear things up. At the corners, the Orioles are old but steady. At first, Aubrey Huff had his best season in years and arguably the best season of his career, swatting 32 HRs with a .360 OBP and a .552 SLG. While that same production is unlikely this year, 25 HRs with a .350 OBP and a .490 SLG is perfectly reasonable and quite solid. Over at third, Melvin Mora has lost some bat speed and doesn't field as well as he once did, but he's still very useful and a good stopgap while some prospects, such as Billy Rowell, develop. Mora can realistically be expected to hit about 15-18 HRs with a .340-.350 OBP. Huff and Mora are currently just holding spots until top hitting prospects Brandon Snyder and Billy Rowell develop. Both are professional hitters who should be ready either next year or the year afterwards. At second base, Brian Roberts has been a mainstay in Baltimore and one of the better cornerstones in baseball since 2003, his first full season. Roberts is lightning fast and a great fielder who possess great doubles power (an astounding 51 doubles last year). His new double play partner is Cesar Izturis. After a revolving door/bottomless pit at short last year, Izturis should provide some stability. Izturis is a whiz with the glove but, predictibly, isn't much with the bat. Still, despite his abysmal .299 career OBP, he's a career .260 hitter capable of stealing 20+ bases and there's no way he could be worse than the shortstops of last year (or could he?). The outfield looks to be a team strength again this year. Nick Markakis has established himself as one of the best all-around players in the bigs. He is an excellent fielder with one of the best arms in baseball. He also has legitimate 20+ HRs power that will only develop and should routinely hit .300 with a .400 OBP and around a .500 SLG. In center, Adam Jones, the centerpiece of the Erik Bedard trade, had his growing pains but also showed flashes of his 5-tool potential. He looks to be a real keeper and should be a mainstay for years as he develops. Left should belong to Felix Pie, an offseason acquisition from the Cubs. Once Chicago's top prospect, Pie was buried by notorious rookie-hater Lou Pinella. Now in Baltimore, he should get the chance to play every day and have the opportunity to realize his immense potential. He should also give the Orioles by far the best defensive outfield in baseball. The DH should be Luke Scott, who also can play outfield and 1st in a pinch. Scott was a great pickup last year when he was acquired along with prospects for Miguel Tejada, hitting 23 HRs and slugging .472 while playing good defense. Scott has probably reached his ceiling as a player, but a lot worse could be done and he should be a good stop gap while Nolan Reimold, who projects as a rich man's Scott, develops. The bench should be very deep with players like Ty Wigginton, super-sub Ryan Freel, Lou Montanez, Chris Gomez, and Scott Moore providing great part-time abilities.

The pitching staff has long been Baltimore's bane and that likely won't change for now. There's a bevy of talented arms in the system, but not many are big-league ready. Pretty much the only sure thing in the rotation is Jeremy Guthrie, the Orioles' best pitcher the past two years. Guthrie is probably best suited to be a 4th or 5th starter, but is the de facto ace because of his consistency. Behind Guthrie, who knows? Rich Hill figures heavily into the equation. A former Cubs prospect, Hill started his career strongly, but has faltered recently. Hill has kind of soft stuff and relies on his control, which, if off, can betray him. Japanese import Koji Uehara is a potential starter. He was far superior as a reliever in Japan, however, and probably will end up there for Baltimore at some point. Other candidates include veteran Adam Eaton as purely an innings eater, the horrendous Dannys Baez who is returning from major surgery, the super-tall Mark Hendrickson, and prospects Hayden Penn, David Pauley, and super-awesome-nice-guy Radhames Liz. None have particularly high ceilings, but Liz has good stuff and could be a middle-of-the-rotation guy or a very good reliever. Again, these guys are all stop-gaps for the big four in the minors: Chris Tillman (acquired with Jones and George Sherrill for Bedard), Brian Matusz (last year's top draft pick), Jake Arrieta, and Brandon Erbe. All four project to be big league starters, with Tillman and Matusz projecting as aces, Arrieta projecting as a number 2 and Erbe as a back of the rotation guy. All four are at least a year away but do give hope to the Orioles faithful (aka me). The bullpen should be deep. George Sherrill was solid as the closer last year. He doesn't have great stuff, but works hitters well, not really giving them anything to hit. Sherrill's predecessor, Chris Ray, is back from Tommy John surgery. If he can return to form, he'll be a lights out late-inning pitcher. The rest of the bullpen will be filled by those who miss out on rotation spots amongst others such as veteran Jamie Walker and youngsters Jim Hoey, Jim Johnson, Troy Patton, Matt Albers, Dennis Sarfate, and Chorye Spoone.