Don’t adjust your calendars and put down that phone before you make an appointment with your in-network eye doctor. It is not Tuesday, but that doesn’t mean we can’t compile a special list of fantasy baseball headlines and newsworthy events on other days of the week. Please join me for a special edition of my featured lists. Because I know how much you and everyone else loves alliteration, this edition will be slightly truncated to due to the alphabet. So without further adieu, here is a Special Saturday Night Spectacular Six fantasy baseball headlines.
6. Hall of an Opportunity – The San Francisco Giants suffered another devastating injury to one of their starters. This time, second baseman Freddy Sanchez sustained a serious shoulder injury which created an immediate need. Enter veteran Bill Hall, who was released by the Astros earlier this season. Hall should not be mistaken for anything resembling the Hall of Fame, or even Mel Hall for that matter. But in terms of fantasy value, Hall could provide some power to a relatively weak and shallow position. He will get most of the at bats going forward, and the Giants do have a history of plucking discarded veterans off the waiver wire and rejuvenating their careers (see Pat Burrell and Cody Ross in 2010). If you have issues at 2B or MI and need a quick fix, Hall could be your man.
5. Colon Cleansing – The New York Yankees are dropping like flies. Just after it was announced that Joba Chamberlain is scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery next Thursday, Yankees’ starter Bartolo Colon had to be removed from Saturday’s game due to tightness in his left hamstring sustained when he was running to cover first base. He was pitching a shutout at the time and has been one of baseball’s great comeback stories of the year thus far. MRI results are forthcoming, but the Yankees will likely be cautious with the portly veteran. He could still be a valuable pickup in your fantasy league, so monitor the situation and his prognosis.
4. Final-Lee - After signing a huge contract to rejoin the Philadelphia Phillies, Cliff Lee was expected to be the 1A of the Phillies star-studded pitching staff. He was also considered a lock as a stud fantasy pitcher due to his contributions in all relevant categories. However, Lee has not produced the results that were anticipated thus far. Not all of it was his fault as the Phillies struggled to score runs due to several injuries to key offensive players. But he had failed to pitch in a manner that was commensurate with such a free agent contract – until this week. In a two start Week 10, Lee dominated the Nationals and Cubs allowing a total of one run in 15 innings while striking out 17. He is now above.500 at 6-5 and he leads the majors in total strikeouts with 107. If you can still manage to buy low on him, do it now because that train is about to leave the station.
3. Six Pence All the Richer – After being removed from Friday’s game for cautionary reasons, Astros’ outfielder Hunter Pence was back in the lineup on Saturday and extended his hitting streak to 22 games. In those 22 games, Pence is batting .391 with 3 homeruns and 15 RBI. He has literally carried Houston’s lineup by himself this year as he has emerged into one of the elite outfielders in baseball. His overall average is up to .318 which is unfamiliar territory for the free-swinger. With his ability to keep a good batting average, Pence now becomes even more valuable in roto leagues due to his contributions in all categories.
2. Happy Anniversary, Mike Stanton – Earlier this week, Marlins’ young stud outfielder Mike Stanton celebrated the one year anniversary of his call-up to the big leagues. In the 365 days since he arrived in Florida, Stanton has hit 37 homeruns which is the 7th most in the majors, and 97 RBI which is 25th overall in that time span. Stanton is emerging as a true power threat, which could likely affect his batting average and total strikeouts. But there is no denying his homerun and RBI output as he remains someone to actively target in all fantasy baseball formats. Just make sure you don’t mistaken him for the retired white, left-handed relief pitcher
1. Boston Tea Party – After a horrendous 0-6 and 2-8 start to the season, the Boston Red Sox have finally clicked and are the hottest team in all of baseball lately. They sit two games ahead of the Yankees in 1st place in the AL East thanks in part to their tremendous lineup and starting pitching. The recommendation at this point is to acquire anyone you can from the Red Sox’s lineup or roster because everyone is hitting. Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford have begun living up to expectations and proving why they were worth $148 million. Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz have been locked in for quite some time and should be targeted via trade in your fantasy league. As for the pitching, the top 3 of Lester, Beckett and Buccholz should have plenty of run support this year and will contribute in all categories except saves
The best way to depict the length of the baseball season has always been the phrase “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” Over the course of a 162 game schedule, it is virtually impossible to make final judgments about a team after a handful of games. For example, the Boston Red Sox will be 2-8 to start the season while the Baltimore Orioles are 6-3. Given their respective rosters, it is fairly safe to say that most baseball experts and the general public would not predict the Orioles to finish the season five games ahead of the Red Sox. The same type of analysis and reaction applies to fantasy baseball as well. After just one week (or two depending on the specific format of your league), it is way too early to gloat or panic.
The reaction most people might have after getting off to a bad start in a fantasy baseball league is to make a drastic maneuver. Whether it is trading away a superstar or overbidding on the highest rated free agent, a knee-jerk reaction is not uncommon. But those who can remain calm and not do something impulsive will be better off in the long run. Barring a catastrophic injury to a key player, getting off to a slow start in a fantasy baseball league is nothing to get overly concerned with. It just means that you have a little catching up to do from the start, but nothing that is insurmountable (yet).
It doesn’t matter whether your league is roto or H2H points, getting off to a slow start is frustrating. Even if you think you drafted well, watching your players put up goose eggs will drive anyone crazy. But remember, it is a marathon and not a sprint. The numbers that you projected for your players are for the entire season, not just the first week. Chances are that the players you drafted and are relying will indeed achieve those numbers throughout the course of the season because that is the nature of the law of averages. In the words of Yoda, “patient, you must be.”
You can expect aggressive fantasy baseball players whose teams start off strong to come and prey on those who may be vulnerable from starting off slow. Do not allow yourself to fall into that trap and let someone else convince you that your team sucks. Don’t let someone else convince you that your players are overrated and not living up to expectation. Don’t let someone else convince you that his players who overachieved so early are worth more than your players. This is where willpower, patience and common sense must take over. Do not start second-guessing yourself just because someone else is telling you to. You must remain confident and only deal from a position of strength. When discussing trades, you never want to seem desperate or negotiate from a position of weakness. Don’t let someone else dictate the terms of a trade and use his own subjective and jaded evaluation of your players.
Baseball is a game centered on numbers and statistics. Most times, those numbers are pretty accurate in determining and predicting how a player will perform. Every now and then there is an aberration such as David Wright in 2009 or Jose Bautista in 2010. Generally speaking, you know what you are getting when you draft a team. That is why you must remain calm and not overreact if your team starts out slow. If after several weeks your players still are not living up to expectations and you are slipping in the standings, then you may need to re-evaluate things. But after one week, cooler heads must prevail. The Boston Red Sox should not be panicking just yet, and neither should you.
The great thing about spring training and Opening Day is that every major league baseball team starts off on equal footing and thinks they have a chance at making the playoffs. Everyone has a clean slate, so the past is forgotten and the future is is pursued. Coming into the 2011 season, most “experts” predicted that the Boston Red Sox would win the American League East and likely represent the AL in the World Series. These same “experts” also likely prognosticated that the Baltimore Orioles would finish in the basement of the American League East and be a stepping stone for the contenders. And come October, they may be right. But as we sit here on April 4, 2011, just a few days into the season, what was up is down, and what was in is out.
The Red Sox just got swept out of Texas by the defending American League champions and did not look good in the process. Boston’s starting pitching did not live up to the hype over the first three games. Additionally, Carl Crawford, one of the prized free agent acquisitions, didn’t show much to justify his enormous contract either. It is only three games, but everything the Red Sox do is viewed under a very narrow microscope. On the flip side, the Orioles are now 4-0 after sweeping the defending AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays and the defeating Detroit in their home opener in Baltimore. This is the first time since 1977 that the Orioles started 4-0. They didn’t make the playoffs that year, but the point is driven home that this is not a common occurrence for this once proud franchise. The thing is that, on paper, Baltimore has one of the more explosive lineups in baseball. With the additions of Vladimir Guerrero, Derrek Lee, Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy, the Orioles have provided solid depth to complement Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters. The problem is that the O’s pitching is young, inexperienced, and very shallow.
So after all the moves were made in the off-season and then analyzed to death, look where we are after just four days. The Orioles are already three and a half games ahead of Boston in the standings. I don’t think anyone would have predicted that and not been committed to an insane asylum. But that is what is so great about baseball. In the end, the law of averages will likely prevail and the Red Sox will hit their stride, likely leaving the Orioles well behind in their rear-view mirror. But for now, it is fun to see the standings look upside down. Props to Buck Showalter who once again proves that he knows how to change the culture of a young, losing team. Hopefully he’ll have the chance to see it through if Baltimore can somehow maintain this pace.
On February 21, 2011, I participated in another fantasy baseball expert mock draft hosted by Charlie Saponara of FantasyBaseball365.com. This was a standard 5 x 5 mixed Roto league format (you know, the format where Carl Crawford is revered as the next messiah). The other expert participants included Andrew Holm of MillionDollarSleeper.com, Matt Dewoskin of FantasyPros911.com, Tyler Becker of TheFantasyFix.com, Bryan Curley of BaseballProf.com, Ivar Anderson of FGD.net, Justin Occhionero of TheFantasyGeek.com, Josh Shepardson of HardballTimes.com, Eric Yeomans of mister52pickup.wordpress.com, Dave Gawron of RotoExperts.com, and a representative of FantasyBaseballHotStove.com. The results of this mock draft will be published in the FantasyBaseball365 draft guide, so be sure to look out for that.
The draft started with Andrew Holm selecting Hanley Ramirez as the first overall pick. This was the first mock draft I have seen in a couple years where Albert Pujols was not the first overall pick. I do understand the rationale behind this. If you are concerned about position scarcity, then this makes a lot of sense because shortstop is very thin and Ramirez produces significantly in all five categories. Plus, first base is extremely deep in talent so Andrew could easily find a suitable fit later on. Personally, I would take Pujols first under any circumstances. That being said, he was selected second overall. I had the third pick, and for a split second I thought Pujols might fall to me if Matt Dewoskin joined the shortstop bandwagon and selected Troy Tulowitzki. But it wasn’t to be as Pujols went off the board. I then selected Miguel Cabrera third overall. Despite his alcohol problems (I will not be hitching any rides home from him after my team meetings), Cabrera is arguably the second best hitter in baseball behind Pujols. He hits for a very high average, is reaching his peak years in terms of power, and is always a lock for 115-120 RBI’s. Assuming he is sober and not in rehab, I expect another big year from Cabrera. Next went Tulowitzki, Evan Longoria, and Carlos Gonzalez. None of these picks were surprising as Tulowitzki is clearly the next best available shortstop and the only other with elite status going into 2011 (meaning he is as good as a lock for a monster season, not that he is a member of Continental Airlines One Pass program). Longoria is a step above David Wright as the top third baseman, which is a position that uncharacteristically lacks depth and star power. CarGo is coming off a monster break-out season and fresh off of a new long-term contract extension. He is not even in his prime yet and is already established as one of the best fantasy options in the game. Next went Ryan Braun, David Wright and Adrian Gonzalez. Braun has officially commanded the respect of being considered a lock for achieving certain statistics every season. He is entering his prime years and should have no problems once again reaching .300, 30 HR, and 110 RBI. He also scores runs and can steal bases, so he is arguably one of the top two or three outfield options. Wright is just below Longoria at third base and is coming off a season that saw his power return. He should put up good numbers despite having problems hitting the ball out of Citi Field. Remember, he does play 81 games on the road. A-Gone was a little surprising here ahead of Joey Votto and Mark Teixeira. He put up great numbers in a pitchers’ park in San Diego and without any protection in the lineup. Now he is in the haven of Fenway Park and surrounded by stars, so it is logical to translate his historical numbers into a tremendous season. However, I think there are safer options with more upside that should have been considered before A-Gone. Finishing up the first round were Joey Votto, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixeira. These three went pretty much where they should have gone. Votto is coming off an MVP season, and Cano has emerged as the prominent choice at second base in fantasy baseball. Teixeira is coming back from a relatively disappointing 2010 that saw his season end with an ugly hamstring injury in the playoffs. Despite his likely usual slow start, he should be back to where his career numbers are with a .290 batting average, 35 HR, and 120 RBI.
If anyone wants a copy of the whole draft board, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rather than go through each pick of every round, I will now give a review and analysis of my picks. If you have questions about a specific player that was either drafted by me or not, you can email me about that as well.
1st Round: Miguel Cabrera-1B-DET. What is not to like about the Pujols-esque Cabrera? Assuming he works out his drinking problem and is healthy, he is a lock for his normal numbers, which seem to be increasing over the years as he enters his prime. Cabrera is one of those rare hitters, like Pujols, who can hit for tremendous power and also maintain a prolific batting average. He now has Victor Martinez hitting in the lineup, so hopefully he sees more pitches to hit. Regardless, I don’t think there is any pitch that Cabrera can’t find a way to hit.
2nd Round: Jose Reyes-SS-NYM. Being a Mets’ fan, I have mixed emotions about this. Reyes is clearly loaded with talent and natural ability that could make him a top 3 pick like he was a couple years ago. But a myriad of injuries have kept him off the field for significant time since 2009. Now he is entering a contract year and appears to be fully recovered from his leg maladies and thyroid issues. But there is something about Reyes that seems to hold him back from being elevated to the next level of greatness. He is worth a second round pick here, especially with the lack of depth at the position and his potential for significant contribution in batting average, runs and stolen bases.
3rd Round: Tim Lincecum-SP-SF. When an ace pitcher of this caliber falls in my lap in the third round, I will jump at the opportunity to grab him. Lincecum had a sub-par year in comparison to his previous Cy Young seasons, but he clearly became a better pitcher as he helped lead the Giants to the World Series championship. He has thrown a lot of innings in his short career, so there is some risk involved with taking a pitcher of his slight build and all of that mileage. But he has proven to be a durable workhorse and there is no reason to think he won’t put up 18 wins with a 3.00 ERA and 200+ strikeouts.
4th Round: Brandon Phillips-2B-CIN. I really like Phillips this year as a top candidate to bounce back after a mediocre 2010 season. He has 30-30 capabilities in a high octane Cincinnati offense and plays a premium position where the drop-off after him is significant. He has shown some maturity and will be looked upon to help lead the Reds and their young offensive stars. Phillips will likely bat cleanup or somewhere in the middle of the order to break up Votto and Bruce, so look for lots of run scoring and RBI chances this season. He also plays in a bandbox so returning to 30+ homeruns is realistic.
5th Round: Justin Morneau-1B-MIN. The former AL MVP is coming back after a concussion ended his season last July. His slow recovery which lingered into February has caused many people to question his ability to return to his old self. I am a believer because Morneau possesses all of the tools necessary to ascend into the elite category at first base. While I already have Cabrera, it was too hard to pass on Morneau to fill my utility spot and offer significant production in batting average, homeruns and RBI’s.
6th Round: Jayson Werth-OF-WAS. While the Washington Nationals were the laughingstock of baseball for giving Werth a ridiculous contract (see my article about this at http://fantasyjudgment.wordpress.com/2010/12/06/nationals-will-not-get-their-moneys-werth/), he should still provide good value as a sixth round pick here and as my first outfielder. Werth will be the focal point of the Nationals’ lineup, and barring injury, he should still be good for .275, 25 HR, and 85 RBI. His impact will seem minimized because he is on a terrible team, but those are essentially his career averages over the last three years when he has stayed healthy.
7th Round: Cole Hamels-SP-PHI. Despite my hatred for the Phillies, there is no denying the ridiculous starting rotation they have which includes Hamels as their #4. He has grown into a very good pitcher after maturing from his 2009 World Series debacle. Coming into a contract year, Hamels will have the benefit of pitching against other teams’ back end of the rotation starters which should increase his win total. He should easily keep his ERA in the low 3.00′s and reaching 200 strikeouts is not beyond the realm of possibility. I like him a lot as my #2 pitcher behind Lincecum.
8th Round: Heath Bell-RP-SD. While Bell doesn’t have as a cool a beard as Brian Wilson, he is arguably the best closer in baseball right now. All indications are that the Padres want to lock him up to a contract extension, so he is pitching with extra motivation to justify that. Because the Padres have surprisingly good pitching and no offense, they are in close games all the time which bodes well for Bell getting save opportunities. He strikes out batters at a tremendous rate and should keep his WHIP at or below 1.00.
9th Round: Curtis Granderson-OF-NYY. The Grandy Man is entering his second season in the Bronx and is set to take his game to another level. You could see at the end of 2010 and in the playoffs that he finally figured it out. He will likely hit down at the bottom of the Yankees’ potent batting lineup which means he could see lots of RBI chances. But with the deep order they have, he will also score a fair share of runs, especially if they let him steal bases like he used to. He won’t hit for a high average, but he will produce in every other category.
10th Round: Tim Hudson-SP-ATL. I have always been a Tim Hudson fan, so I didn’t hesitate to take the ace of the Braves staff. He proved last year that he is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery as he won 17 games and had an ERA well under 3.00. I would look for much of the same this season from Hudson, who doesn’t have the ability to strike many hitters out, but knows how to win games and not give up runs.
11th Round: Carlos Lee-OF-HOU. I was accused of taking El Caballo too early in another mock draft, so I tested out that theory and it paid off here. Lee is coming off of a very poor 2010 season that saw his batting average and power numbers decrease significantly. However, I think he is a prime candidate to have a huge bounceback season. He is only 34 and has always hovered around .300 with 30+ homeruns and close to 100 RBI. The Astros don’t have a great offense so he will have to carry the load, which I think he will be able to do.
12th Round: Scott Rolen-3B-CIN. As I said before, third base is not a very deep position in terms of fantasy options. That being said, I decided to hold off on drafting a third baseman until later because none of the available options warranted such a pick at the time. I felt the time was right to take Rolen here despite his injury risks. He had one of his best and healthiest seasons last year, so maybe he can replicate that again this year. He is the other right-handed bat in the middle of the Reds’ order, so hopefully his pairing with Brandon Phillips could lead to some magic for me.
13th Round: Carlos Beltran-OF-NYM. Keep in mind, this is my fourth outfielder before making any judgments. Beltran is in the last year of his contract with the Mets, and is also trying to prove he is completely healthy so he can secure another long-term contract next winter. The rumor is that Terry Collins may move Beltran to right field to decrease the running he would have to do. This bodes well for Beltran who is no longer much of a contributor in terms of stolen bases, but he can still hit a ton when healthy. He is playing for dollars, and we all remember how he did the last time he was playing for a contract in 2004.
14th Round: Brett Myers-SP-HOU. Myers was a pleasant surprise for Houston in 2010 as he led the Astros rotation all year. His performance earned him a contract extension and now he is out to prove last year was no fluke. Myers has always been a talented pitcher who could never put it all together. Now he seems like a pitcher who can win 15 games and strike out 200+ people every year. Plus he can play mind games with opponents, much like he did when he stuck his tongue out at Jayson Werth leading off second base and then Werth got picked off during an intentional walk.
15th Round: Brad Lidge-RP-PHI. In sticking with my Phillies and ex-Phillies players, I grabbed Lidge as my second closer. I am a believer in Lidge that he is more of the second half of 2010 version as opposed to the first half. Lidge was lights out at the end of 2010 and should be in great position to save 40 games this year with the quality of Philadelphia’s starting rotation and the propensity for the offense to keep them in close games.
16th Round: Jorge Posada-C-NYY. My strategy with catchers has always been to wait until the end to take one, except for Mike Piazza in his prime. Here, Posada fell off of everyone’s radar because he is going to be a full-time DH this season. Without the rigors of catching, Posada will be able to stay healthy and in the lineup everyday with his still productive bat. Barring injuries, Posada can still be counted on for .275, 15 homeruns and 70 RBI. Those are fine numbers for a catcher, especially one taken in the 16th round.
17th Round: Javier Vazquez-SP-FLA. After proving for a second time that he cannot pitch for the Yankees, Vazquez signed as a free agent with the Marlins to provide a solid duo with Josh Johnson. Vazquez has always been a better National League pitcher, and now back in the NL East, he will get to face some lineups that swing at everything. He may not win 15 games because the Marlins’ offense looks anemic and the bullpen is questionable. But he should have no problem striking out 200 batters and keeping his ERA under 4.00.
18th Round: Lance Berkman-1B-STL. In keeping with the 2003 All-Stars, I took Berkman with the same belief that he was a big bounceback candidate as well. He was marred with injuries last year until Houston traded him to the Yankees before the trade deadline. While he struggled mightily down the stretch as the Yankees’ primary DH, he picked it up in the playoffs and was arguably the Yankees most consistent hitter in the postseason. Now he is in St. Louis with a starting job in the outfield and hitting behind Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. If he can stay healthy and regain his power stroke, Berkman could be a steal at this point in the draft.
19th Round: Angel Pagan-OF-NYM. With the rumors of Carlos Beltran moving to right field, that means that Angel Pagan would be shifting to center field. Pagan had a very solid 2010 season which marked the first time he has had an extended period of time playing everyday. Pagan showed he can hit any type of pitching and had some great extra base hit power using the caverous gaps at Citi Field to become Mr. Triple. He is also a big time stolen base threat and should continue running as he hits in between Jose Reyes and David Wright.
20th Round: Johnny Cueto-SP-CIN. I was surprised to see him down here so late, so I grabbed him while I could. Cueto is a solid pitcher who has loads of potential. He just needs to learn how to pitch first and the rest will fall into place. He has increased his win total and decreased his ERA in each of his first three seasons. I look for continued progress, especially with the Reds being able to provide consistent run support and having a solid back end of the bullpen with Francisco Cordero and Aroldis Chapman.
21st Round: John Lackey-SP-BOS. After shedding twenty pounds, Lackey enters camp this year in better shape with the hopes of living up to the enormous contract he signed last year. Lackey’s debut with Boston was underwhelming at best as he battled injuries and ineffectiveness. But Lackey is a proven workhorse who knows how to win games and strike people out. He should receive ample run support and will also have the benefit of facing opposing teams’ number 3 or 4 starter. I expect 15 wins with a 3.50 ERA and 175 strikeouts in Lackey’s sophomore season in Boston.
22nd Round: Reid Brignac-SS-TB. These next two picks were hunches and gambles on young Tampa Bay infielders. Brignac showed some pop last year with 8 homeruns and 45 RBI in limited playing time. He should have the chance to play more this season in a lineup that now features Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon to go along with Longoria and B.J. Upton. For a MI option, I could have done worse than this in the second to last round. I would not be surprised to see Brignac hit well and be used as trade bait later on.
23rd Round: Sean Rodriguez-2B-TB. Much of the same said about Brignac can be said about Rodriguez, who has more upside and potential than his teammate. Rodriguez should get the bulk of the playing time at second base, which could be a huge deal if he performs well at that thin position. Rodriguez also showed some pop in his bat in limited playing time. He needs to cut down on his strikeouts and learn to be more patient. There is no reason he can’t hit .280 if he matures. All in all, I was satsified to land such a player with upside and a starting job in the last round.
And there you have it. Please feel free to send your comments or questions to email@example.com, post them on Facebook at www.goo.gl/xF0pt, or find us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/FantasyJudgment. If you want a copy of the draft board, just let me know.
With Spring Training just days away, I thought I would make my official predictions for the 2011 season now without the benefit of seeing how things play out at camp in Florida and Arizona. I didn’t do too bad with my 2010 predictions in terms of picking playoff teams and actual records (http://fantasyjudgment.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/2010-mlb-preview/), but I hope to do better this year with my prognosticating. I will provide my predictions on every teams’ record, playoff matchups, World Series champion, and some individual awards. But first, some general commentary.
As usual, this was a very active and busy off-season. The clear winners of this off-season are the Boston Red Sox who added two superstars to their already impressive lineup in Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crwaford. After a season decimated by injuries, the Red Sox still were in the hunt for the AL Wild Card down to the final week of the 2010 season. They have now retooled and are healthy. A lineup consisting of Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford, Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz, and J.D. Drew should have no problems scoring runs. That, coupled with their talented starting rotation of Jon Lester, Clay Buccholz, John Lackey, Josh Beckett and Diasuke Matsuzaka, should propel the Red Sox back to the top of the American League East. The biggest question for the Sox, besides staying healthy, is the mental and physical status of Jonathan Papelbon. Paps clearly had a down year in 2010, and now in a contract year, he has been shopped around the league as potential trade bait. Look for Papelbon to be extra motivated to close out games effectively as he tries to impress potential suitors when he hits the open market next year. The additions of Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler should complement Daniel Bard as effective late inning relievers bridging the gap to Paplebon. And in a worst case scenario, those three all have experience closing games in the event Papelbon Irish Jigs himself out of his 9th inning responsibilities.
This offseason also saw the already deep and talented Philadelphia Phillies emerge as the clear favorites to represent the National League in the World Series. Despite losing Jayson Werth to a ridiculous contract in Washington, the Phillies signed Cliff Lee to join a rotation that already included Cy Young winner Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels. Lee, who had tremendous success in Philadelphia during the end of the 2009 season, gives the Phillies four aces and arguably the greatest pitching staff in many years.
Lee’s departure from Texas leaves the AL champions with a major void in their starting rotation. With former Cy Young winner Brandon Webb signed this winter, the Rangers are looking to catch lightning in their attempt to replace Lee at the top of the rotation. Also gone from Texas is designated hitter Vladimir Guerrero who departed for Baltimore. The Rangers did sign Adrian Beltre, who should make up for Vlad’s numbers, but this has left long-standing Ranger Michael Young in limbo. After moving from 2B to SS to 3B over the years, Young is now forced to be a super-utility/DH player which has not sat well with him (he has subsequently asked to be traded).
In a surprising development, the New York Yankees were actually shut out of the free agent market for marquis players as Cliff Lee went to Philadelphia and Carl Crawford went to Boston. In an effort to appease the fan base by spending money, the Yankees signed former Rays’ closer Rafael Soriano to serve as Mariano Rivera’s primary set up man. If Soriano can re-adjust to setting up, this could prove to be very beneficial for the Yankees by essentially shortening the game even more – especially if Joba Chamberlain regains his form for 7th inning duties (and doesn’t become Jabba the Hut). The biggest question mark for the Yankees is what they will get out of their 3-4-5 spots in the rotation. After C.C. Sabathia and Phil Hughes, there are major question marks. A.J. Burnett had a horrible 2010 season, but he has the talent and ability to be a top pitcher in the league if he can straighten himself out mentally. After that, there are several candidates that will audition for the last two rotation spots, including Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, Freddie Garcia, Bartolo Colon, and possibly Mark Prior. It is clear that the Yankees will have to depend on their offense and bullpen to pull them through many games this year.
The defending AL East champion Tampa Bay Rays saw several major pieces of their puzzle leave via free agency or trades. Gone are Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, Rafael Soriano, Matt Garza, and Grant Balfour. It is unlikely that the Rays will be much more than a .500 team this year, but they accumulated 12 first round draft picks for June and should be able to re-tool relatively quickly.
The defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants were not overly active this winter outside of signing veteran drug user Miguel Tejada to replace World Series MVP Edgar Renteria. They did re-sign a few spare parts, including Cody Ross and Pat Burrell. The Giants’ starting pitching is the cornerstone of the team, and that in itself will keep them competitive all season. Their magical run to the championship was a great story, hut it will not likely materialize again this year as they struggle to put runs on the board.
The Cincinnati Reds will continue their ascension to the upper eschalon of the league as they defend their NL Central crown. The development of young stars like MVP Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Drew Stubbs should have the Reds in the playoff mix for years to come. The pitching staff is also very talented with Edinson Volquez, Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey (yes, he will justify his billing as a top prospect). The wild card will be fireballer Aroldis Chapman and whether he makes his impact as a starter, set-up man, or closer.
Staying in the NL Central, all eyes will be on the Albert Pujols – St. Louis Cardinals situation as it develops. With an upcoming deadline to get a deal done before Pujols halts negotiations, it is looking more and more like King Albert will hit the open market next winter. This is outrageous if it happens because there is no justification for the Cardinals not to give Pujols what he wants – a long contract that makes him the highest paid player in the league. For a decade now, Pujols has established himself as the best hitter in baseball and deserves to be paid accordingly. The Cardinals shelled out mega-bucks last year to re-sign Matt Holliday knowing full well that Pujols’ contract was coming up this year. It was reported that Holliday has even offered to defer some of his money to help the Cardinals afford Pujols. They do well attendance-wise and have an owner who is financially stable. If it is a matter of not wanting to give a 31-year old player a 10-year contract, then at least offer him 7 years/$210M which would make him the highest paid player in the game.
Now without further adieu, here are my official predictions for the 2011 Major League Baseball season.
American League East W L GB
Boston Red Sox 97 65 —
New York Yankees 93 69 4
Tampa Bay Rays 84 78 13
Toronto Blue Jays 80 82 17
Baltimore Orioles 77 85 20
American League Central W L GB
Chicago White Sox 93 69 —
Minnesota Twins 91 71 2
Detroit Tigers 86 76 7
Cleveland Indians 75 87 18
Kansas City Royals 68 94 25
American League West W L GB
Los Angeles Angels 94 68 —
Texas Rangers 90 72 4
Oakland Athletics 81 81 13
Seattle Mariners 77 85 17
National League East W L GB
Philadelphia Phillies 102 60 —
Atlanta Braves 86 76 16
Florida Marlins 82 80 20
New York Mets 70 92 32
Washington Nationals 69 93 33
National League Central W L GB
Cincinnati Reds 96 66 —
Milwaukee Brewers 93 69 3
St. Louis Cardinals 88 74 6
Chicago Cubs 85 77 9
Houston Astros 80 82 14
Pittsburgh Pirates 72 90 22
National League West W L GB
Colorado Rockies 93 69 —
Los Angeles Dodgers 90 72 3
San Francisco Giants 90 72 3
San Diego Padres 84 78 9
Arizona Diamondbacks 76 86 17
Wild Card Round
Boston Red Sox def. Chicago White Sox
New York Yankees def. Los Angeles Angels
Philadelphia Phillies def. Milwaukee Brewers
Cincinnati Reds def. Colorado Rockies
League Championship Series
Boston Red Sox def. New York Yankees
Philadelphia Phillies def. Cincinnati Reds
Philadelphia Phillies def. Boston Red Sox
AL MVP – Miguel Cabrera
NL MVP – Albert Pujols
AL Cy Young – Jon Lester
NL Cy Young – Adam Wainwright
I am in San Diego this week on business, and I have spoken to several local baseball fans who are legitimately depressed and shell-shocked that Adrian Gonzalez has been traded away. No one was surprised it happened, but it still had an extremely negative affect on Padres’ fans. I do not know Adrian Gonzalez personally, but everything I have read about him or heard from other players and the media was that he is truly a good guy. This couldn’t be more accurate after I saw a local news piece today on Gonzalez keeping his commitments to attend a charity drive for a local 1-year old baby who sustained severe injuries after being struck by a drunk driver while he was being pushed in his stroller by his grandfather. The overall message of the news piece was that despite Gonzalez being traded to Boston, he still planned on remaining active within the San Diego community. It is clear that the people of San Diego embraced Gonzalez, and the feeling seemed to be mutual. “As renowned as Gonzalez is for his smooth glove and powerful bat, he’s just as revered off the field for his warm heart and open wallet. During five seasons here, he was the Padres’ Most Valuable Philanthropist, raising money for dozens of good causes,” said Peter Rowe in his article from SignOnSanDiego.com.
Gonzalez is originally from the San Diego area, and if given the choice, he would probably have preferred to remain here had the team’s financial situation been different. But even though he will be playing his games across the country, his roots will always remain in Southern California. He has vowed to continue to do charity work in San Diego, as well as Mexico.
This may not seem like an overly exciting story, but I think it is an important one. It proves that some professional athletes who earn amounts of money that most people can only dream of are still good people at heart and go the extra mile to use their celebrity for a beneficial purpose. It was also heartwarming to see how beloved Gonzalez is here in San Diego and that there are absolutely no hard feelings for his departure. I guess the baseball fans here in San Diego heeded the advice of Ron Burgundy.