The Crystal Ball

Since I am going on vacation tomorrow and won’t be back until after Opening Day Night, I thought I would post my annual predictions now.  As always, use them at your own risk- I picked Kansas to win the National Tourney this year.

 
AL East

1- Yankees- I have said it before and I will say it again, Javier Vazquez was a brilliant trade.  I think his addition to the rotation and the fact that the Yankees did indeed get younger keeps them on top in 2010.

2- Boston- I am fascinated by what the Red Sox have done going the defense/pitching route.  I just don’t think they have enough offense to win the AL East.  

3- Tampa- Probably the third-best team in the AL, if not all of baseball.

4- Baltimore- Getting better, but not there yet.  

5- Toronto- It’s a rebuild and they are going to lose a lot this year. 

AL Central

1-Chicago- Until Nathan blew out his elbow, I would have put the Twins here.  Now, I think the White Sox get it done.  In reality almost any team in the AL West could win it- yes even KC.

2- Minnesota- Shame about Nathan, but they should stay in the race until the end.

3- Detroit- I bet Damon has a great year with the bat, but is relegated to DH by the end of June.

4- Cleveland- Some very promising young players, but they are rebuilding.

5- KC- Yes, they could win the division, but chances are higher that they finish in last.

AL West

1- Seattle- Lee and Hernandez at the top of the rotation get them to the top of the division.

2- Oakland- Anyone else think Ben Sheets will have a big year for the A’s?

3- Anaheim- They lost a lot in the offseason and will have a lot of trouble staying in contention.

4- Texas- As usual, baseball season will be over when the Cowboys report to training camp.  

NL East

1- Philadelphia- Still think they should have held onto Lee, but they have plenty of talent to finish first in the Nl East.

2- Atlanta- They’re back and they will be dangerous.

3- Florida- Love the top of the rotation and they could definitely surprise, but I don’t think they have enough to overtake the top two teams in the division.

4- Mets- Hated their offseason, but I think they have more than enough talent to stay ahead of the Nats.

5- Nationals- When will they call up Strasburg and why are they waiting?

NL Central

1- St. Louis- The best team in the NL outside of Philly.

2- Chicago- That’s 102 years and counting on the North Side

3- Brewers- They will chase the Cubs for 2nd, but not the Cards

4- Cincinnati- When will Chapman come up?

5- Houston- One of the worst teams in the NL, but still better than…

6- Pittsburgh- I believe this will make it 18 years of sub-.500 baseball in Pittsburgh.  At least they have the Steelers and Penguins to ease their pain.

NL West

1- San Francisco- I am going against the grain, but they have wonderful pitching and some very nice young hitting.  

2- Colorado- Just a tad worse than the Giants, should be heavily involved in division and wild card races.

3- Arizona- Would any Yankees’ fan be shocked if Ian Kennedy won 10+?  I won’t and I think the rest of the team plays well too.  

4- LA- This will be the biggest test of Joe Torre since 1996

5- Padres- Will they trade Gonzalez and if they do, where will they?

Playoffs

Yankees win ALDS vs. Chicago

Seattle wins ALDS over Boston

Phillies win NLDS over Giants

Braves win NLDS over Cardinals

Yankees win ALCS over Seattle

Phillies win NLCS over Braves setting up a repeat World Series for the first time since 1978.  And just like 1978, I predict a Yankees’ victory.

Will I be right?  Almost certainly not, but feel free to chime in with your predictions and enjoy baseball on Sunday night.  I will from afar and be back next week.

 

 

 

Interesting Moves

Joel Sherman has two reports this morning.  First, Phil Hughes will win the fifth starter job and second, Curtis Granderson will play center and not left. 

I always expected Hughes to end up in the rotation, just not this year.  I figured Joba would get the call because of everything the Yankees went through to get him ready to start.  But, Hughes had pitched better and while it will be infuriating to go through another year with "rules" we have to remember that Hughes is only 23 and needs to be protected.  As Sherman says, he has a high ceiling and the Yankees want him to be around for a long time.

What should be interesting to watch is how the Yankees spin this news in regards to Joba.  Personally, I think that this move should put an end to the Joba as a starter argument.  The Yankees can’t keep yanking him around and I can’t see how they could productively put him in the bullpen and then move him back into the rotation in 2011.  Part of me wonders if this move has more sinister undertones.  After all, Rivera will be 41 in the offseason and a free agent.  Having Joba return to his previous greatness in the bullpen would take a lot of pressure off Brian Cashman in those negotiations come November.  Hmmmm…

One decision that I think nobody will disagree with is the one to put Granderson in center.  Even if Garder is a better centerfielder, Granderson can play the position well.  He is more valuable to the Yankees in center and remember that Carl Crawford, a leftfielder is going to be a free agent next year.  Obviously, it isn’t a permanent change, if Granderson struggles they can always switch them, but it is the right call for now.

LoHud also took a guess at the final roster and it makes sense based on what we know now.   A bullpen of Mo, Joba, Marte, Aceves, Robertson, Mitre and Park means only one lefty for now, but Logan has options so he can go to AAA.  Thames and Pena win the backup spots, though I think Thames is going to need to wake up his bat quickly if he is going to keep that spot during the season. 

 

 

Hoffmann Sent Back To LA

The Yankees returned Jamie Hoffmann to the Dodgers today.  Not really a shock since he hit .130 this spring and the Yankees would have had to put him on the 25-man roster to keep him.  The disappointing thing is that the Yankees could have used their Rule 5 pick to take anyone so Hoffmann represents a missed chance.

The question is, who is going to win the last spot in the outfield?  Marcus Thames is 3-for-28 with one walk this spring.  Randy Winn has hit .167.  Jon Weber has destroyed the ball, but he is a lefty hitter so it’s hard to see him making the roster.

One guy who could get the call is Greg Golson.  Golson is already on the 40-man and he is hitting .316 this spring.  He was a first round pick of the Phillies, but has never hit in the minors.  Would the Yankees give the job to a guy who has a grand total of 7 AB’s in the majors?  We have 13 days to find out.

A Clue?

With today’s rain out, the Yankees had to shuffle their pitching plans and the way they did is very interesting.  What they have decided to do is have an intrasquad game tomorrow while also playing their regularly scheduled game against the Phillies.  That will allow all the pitchers who need work to get it in some form or the other.  And, Jack Curry is reporting that Phil Hughes will go and face the Phillies tomorrow while Joba will pitch against the Yankees’ intrasquad team.  

Does this mean that Hughes has the inside track on the rotation spot?  I would think so, but I guess we will find out a lot more tomorrow after he pitches. 

Now We Have A Horse Race

"Brilliant" is the word I keep reading about Joba’s performance. Add in the fact that Phil Hughes pitched very well yesterday and it is fair to say the two favorites for the fifth spot have stepped up.  Now, it’s only one performance for each of them and it will be very interesting to see what Aceves does, but it is a good sign.

Another good sign is to see Brett Gardner 2-for-3 with a steal.  Apart from Nick Swisher, none of the guys you would expect to make the final roster have done much with the bat this spring, but it is still early.  I maintain that Gardner is the guy to give the bulk of the AB’s to this season in left/center.  His speed is an element that fits in well with the overall lineup and if he can get on base he will be dangerous.

One other competition to keep an eye on.  Kevin Russo is hitting well, Ramiro Pena is not.  Could Russo get the utility job?  I think it depends on how much the Yankees like his glove around the infield, but I think he is gaining ground.

Who Wants To Be The 5th Starter?

When you look at the fifth starter competition in 2010, you also have to look back and look ahead.  Look back to 2009 and all the Yankees went through to get Joba stretched out and ready to pitch without innings limits.  Look ahead to 2011 and realize that the only two definite starters the Yankees have on the roster are Sabathia and Burnett.

That means it is vital that the Yankees develop a starter in 2010 who can slot into the 2011 rotation.  It makes it much more likely that Joba and Hughes (two guys who aren’t going anywhere) beat out guys like Gaudin and Mitre (who knows where they will be).  I suppose you could put Aceves in the former group, but I think the Yankees value the flexibility he gives them in the bullpen.  Now, a small disclaimer.  I fully believe the Yankees would go in a different direction than Hughes or Joba if they continue to stink in spring training, but assuming they improve a little bit, this is a two-horse race.

Now, in that race, I think Joba is the favorite.  He is the guy they tried to develop in 2009 and while it was bumpy at times, he certainly showed potential.  Through the end of July, Joba had a 3.58 ERA as a starter.  That was the point the Yankees started messing with his starts (and his head) and things went downhill from there.  What caused the fall off in performance in the final two months?  I’m not sure anyone knows for sure, but I think it’s another reason the Yankees will give him every chance to show it was his head and not his arm.

What will be interesting to watch is what the Yankees do with Hughes.  The smartest approach may be to put him in the minors as a starter for a couple of months.  This would achieve two things.  First, keeping Hughes in Scranton for part of the season would allow him to build up his innings which would put him in line to start in 2011 without an innings cap. More importantly, it would give the Yankees insurance if one of their starters got hurt.

That could be a huge factor in the decision.  Aceves will almost certainly make the team as a reliever.  Gaudin’s deal isn’t guaranteed and I would expect the Yankees to cut him loose if he didn’t make the club.  (Why pay him $3 million to relieve when you have guys like Melancon who can do it for much cheaper?)  I believe Mitre woudl have to agree to a minor league assignment, so he is probably gone.  Now look at Scranton’s roster.  There really isn’t anyone with major league experience.  Having Hughes in Scranton would give you a solid replacement if a pitcher got hurt. 

I can hear the argument against this and it is a good one.  Why keep one of the 12-best arms on your club in the minors for a situation that may never arise?  Well, if the paragraph above didn’t sway you how about we think about 2011 again?  Mariano is 40 and while I wouldn’t bet against him, it is fair to say that he might not have many years left.  If the Yankees are going to develop Hughes and Joba as starters, then they also need to develop some other guys as possible closers down the line.  If Hughes opens in Scranton, I would assume that gives Robertson a chance to be the 8th-inning guy (along with Marte).  Additionally, it might give a guy like Melancon a shot at making the team outright.  My opinion is that starting 2010 with Joba in the fifth spot, Hughes in Scranton and Robertson being the bridge to Rivera is the best way to handle the delicate balancing act of winning in 2010 and preparing for 2011.  If something doesn’t work, let’s say Joba blows up, then Hughes can jump into the rotation and Joba into the pen.  If Robertson blows up, Hughes can replace him in the bridge role.  And, if a starter gets hurt, Hughes is ready to jump into the rotation.

Is it perfect?  No, you waste Hughes’ talent for the part of the season he spends in the minors.  But, if people stay healthy you could end up with Joba as a rotation cog, Hughes ready to become one and Robertson (or Melancon) as a reliable bridge to Rivera.  That’s the best case for 2010 and 2011.  

Red Sox Sign Nomar Garciaparra

The Red Sox will hold a press conference today to announce the signing of Nomar Garciaparra to a minor league deal, at which point Garciaparra will announce his retirement according to Boston.com.

Garciaparra’s career has officially come full circle.  What started out as a magical, hall of fame type career, broke down amid rumors and constant injury.  Garciaparra had some amazing seasons, but he lacked any kind of durability and fell way short of any Hall of Fame bid.

As a Red Sox fan, it was so satisfying to see the them draft, groom and succeed with Nomar.  His rookie season (first full season) left me thinking he could do anything.  He followed up 1997 with 3 ridiculous seasons only to have injury strike.  He came back in 2002 and 2003 with 2 good seasons, but never approached his 1997 – 2000 levels.

Prior to the 2004 season, the Red Sox offered Nomar a 4 year, $60mm deal which he turned down.  A bad decision on his part as Nomar made a total of $32,283,394.00 the following 4 seasons.  And of course he was traded in the summer of 2004 amidst much animosity.

Garciaparra played his best baseball in Boston and I think this is why he is "coming home."  I think it is a fitting end to his career and I believe this will be the final step in winning back the fans, many of whom feel he let the Red Sox down in 2004.  Here was my take when the 2004 trade went down:  July 2004.

Welcome back Nomar.

An Interesting Idea

Tom Verducci at SI.com has an article about an idea to realign the divisions in MLB.  Basically, teams would be able to opt to pick which division they wish to compete in to based on geography and payroll.  The idea seems to be a way for a team like Tampa to escape the Boston-New York AL East and have a legitimate shot at competing for a division title. 

It’s a compelling idea, but I want to hear more about it before commenting.  For example, can any team opt to switch divisions?  If so, I assume the Yankees or Red Sox would gladly jump at the chance to escape the AL East.  Move one of them to the AL Central, and you probably have both teams winning 100+ games this year.  Obviously, that defeats the point of the plan, so how would that work?  Also, how long would each move last?  Could a team flop divisions year after year?

I hope that if MLB does something like this, they also change the playoff format.  I would like to see winning the division mean more than it does.  Right now the wild card team doesn’t really pay much of a penalty for finishing second.  How about adding another wild card team and having the two wild card teams play each other to advance to face a division winner?  Also, change the format of the LCS to match the World Series.  Why do you have extra days off in the semis that you don’t have in the finals?  And, most of all, get rid of the stupid All-Star Game winner getting homefield advantage, it should go to the team with the best overall record, just like in hockey and basketball. 

If you could take Bud Selig’s place, what changes would you make in the playoffs and divisions?

Speak Up A-Rod

There is a story building about A-Rod and Dr. Anthony Galea. Galea is being investigated by federal authorities after getting stopped at the border bringing HGH into the country.  So far, he has been tied to Carlos Beltran, Jose Reyes, Huston Street and Tiger Woods.  Now, Galea is saying he treated A-Rod last year after hip surgery, but only gave him anti-inflammatory drugs.

Now, on the surface that shouldn’t be a problem, but as with all things A-Rod there are some other details that need to be considered.  Start with this statement from the Yankees:

"The New York Yankees have not been contacted with regard to an investigation of Dr. Tony Galea. The Yankees never authorized Dr. Tony Galea to treat Alex Rodriguez, nor do we have any knowledge of any such treatment.

Assuming Galea is telling the truth, then A-Rod went behind that team’s back to get treatment.  Not exactly a great thing to learn.

But the bigger issue is obviously Galea’s involvement with HGH.  Assuming what Galea said is true, A-Rod’s only "crime" is not getting authorization from the team for treatment.  If that is indeed the case, A-Rod should apologize to the Yankees and get a statement out about this ASAP.  Otherwise, the speculation and distractions will start to build.  Neither Alex nor the Yankees need that right now.  

5th Starter

It seems like both the Red Sox and Yankees are trying to settle on a 5th starter.  I’ll let Peter handle the Yankees debate.  As for the Red Sox, it comes down to Tim Wakefield or Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Those of us who saw Wakefield towards the end of the 2009 season not only are shocked that he might win the 5th spot, but also that he is even still playing baseball.  Some of the most comedic, yet sad images of Wakefield last season showed a pot-bellied, middle-aged man trying to cover first base, only to have his right leg fail him.  When I say fail, it looked like he was running with his leg asleep.

No matter, off-season back surgery apparently has cured his pinched nerve issue and he is making a strong showing in camp, even if he still has the pot-belly.

Matsuzaka on the other hand has been sidelined with a back strain.  It seems likely that unless he can get in a game soon, he’ll start the season on the DL or in extended spring training.

It’s a shame to have Matsuzaka pitching out of the pen as his stuff can be electric, but he doesn’t have a clean health record and I’m sure the Red Sox would love to keep his innings pitched total at 160 or so this year.  This is the team that routinely shuts down pitchers for 2 weeks, more to give them a rest than any health related reason.

The 5th spot in really meaningless early on in the season, so I’m not worried about this issue and the likelihood of keeping 5 starters healthy throughout the season is slim, so both Wakefield and Matsuzaka will get their fair share of starts.  I like Wakefield in the rotation as his style is such a contrast to the other starters.  While I can’t quantify the impact his knuckleball has on opposing teams as far as how the opposition handles the conventional starter the next day, it does make sense.

Plus, Wakefield is a far more enjoyable starter to watch as he is quick between pitches while Matsuzaka is painfully slow.  A non-baseball related argument to be sure, but important to the fan.

All of this discussion bodes well for Clay Buchholz as he has apparently been penciled in the 4th spot.  Buchholz strong showing in September and his upside make him a logical choice.

With a rotation of: Lester, Beckett, Lackey, Buchholz and Wakefield and improved team defense, the Red Sox should be good at preventing runs this year but it remains to be seen if they can score enough runs.