Thursday, March 30, 2006

Fantasy Baseball : Where Steve Balboni Wouldn't Have Been So Bad

With the new season looming upon us but not already here, the majority of us will find ourselves in fantasy baseball meltdown with pre-draft rankings and all sorts of statistical analysis being undertaken on order to ensure that you finish atop the league and secure bragging rights over your friends. After all, isn’t that why we play? To get one over on our amigos?

Fantasy baseball is fun and while this is just my second year of playing, I am already hooked but I do worry about the dark underbelly of the fantasy game. The insidious and hidden beasty under the bed or in the closet just waiting to attack as soon as mummy has left the room and turned off the lights.

The thing that concerns me is when people don’t seem to be able to see the difference between fantasy and reality and all the obsessive stat crunching and forecasting starts to erode and warp the mind into making people think that fantasy rankings represent the breakdown of actual talent in the league. The guys who take the field and sweat in the sun get transformed from flesh and blood athletes into little more than numbers and countless people end up watching the game and seeing something akin to the code in The Matrix.

Can you believe there are actually think that Jeff Kent is the greatest 2-bagger of the last decade? Or that Mike Piazza is a great catcher who should not be confused, when in the field, with some sort of novelty garden gnome? Yes, this is the dark shadow of fantasy baseball. The big downer after the sugar rush.

A case in point is that of Victor Martinez. Now, I have joined two fantasy leagues and in both I made it a priority to draft Martinez and he was a second rounder for me in both. Martinez is a great hitter and should be streets ahead of any other catcher in baseball in terms of offensive production (hence the high fantasy value I place upon him) but if this were real life would I draft him so high? Not likely. In the real world give me a Molina (any of the three really) or a Mike Matheny any day of the week. I’m not saying Martinez isn’t a great player and he would easily be in my top 10 catchers (maybe even top 5) but a good catcher isn’t all about the bat.

Of course the likes of Albert Pujols and Johan Santana are great fantasy players as well as being great players in general so don’t think I feel there is no correlation between the real world and that of fantasy leagues but if you look at someone like Mo Rivera it might become clearer. Rivera is arguably the best closer in baseball but will he record the most saves this year? Again, not likely because his team will be such an offensive juggernaut that he won’t get as many save opportunities as someone like Joe Nathan or Brad Lidge. This all ends up being linked to the whole lies and statistics debate.

As much as I dislike all of Bill James statistical shenanigans I do understand what he is hoping to achieve as all his permutations are based on the fact that its not one or two stats that dictate a good player from bad but a combination of several variables and some are more important than others but all need to be weighed into the equation. Its like a physicists quest to discover dark matter, you try to find that hidden variable that brings all the other parts together to form something palpable that makes everything more complete, decisive and conclusive and you do your best to express those findings.

Of course we must also take account for the scoring system which is possibly the biggest factor in sculpting how we measure the value of players in the fantasy world. In standard 5x5 leagues our offensive players are generally ranked in terms of runs, homeruns, RBI, stolen bases and batting average. Now a good leadoff man might rack up a good average (although the greatest of all time only had a lifetime average of about .279 but the second most walks ever always helps pad your OBP), swipe a few bags and score runs and in doing so will be as valuable to his team in the real world as any of the guys batting behind him but those sluggers will be looking to hit homeruns (not the job of the guys ahead of them), drive in runs (those runs our table setters will be scoring), will also be looking to hit for average and will score runs by driving themselves in (homerun hitters will do that). So even though good leadoff men are rarer creatures in the modern game and are the sparkplugs that power hitters feed off, they will only likely be scoring in two or three categories whereas those big, greedy power hitters will be looking to rack up stats in four of the five statistical groups. In fact the homerun itself will boost your numbers in the runs scored and runs batted in so in essence it counts triple so how is that really fair?

Lets face it, fantasy baseball loves the long ball. In fact in standard 5x5 the triple doesn’t count at all and triples are harder to come by so that’s another dig at the fast guys and not just the fast guys. Remember the year Albert Belle had 50 HR and 52 doubles in just 143 games? Well as incredible a year as that was for Albert, those 50 doubles mean jack to a lot of fantasy owners. Shouldn’t this be a matter of judging offensive output? Isn’t that how fantasy baseball is supposed to work?

We could also go on about how its more impressive for a catcher to hit 30 homers than for a first baseman and how that really doesn’t factor into an extrapolations but that might be seen as being picky but imagine if there was a way to place value on defensive ability and you could have each position with different statistical weightings based on the position a player played. That would be a tough league!

But as much as fantasy ball loves the long ball, it is absolutely enamoured with the K. With the standard 5x5 categories of wins, saves, strikeouts, ERA and WHIP a good pitcher of any type will do well in most of those but only a power pitcher will get the strikeouts. So even though one guy can record three outs on three pitches which carries the same relative results as someone striking out three straight guys, the power guy will be of more use to a fantasy owner. So it becomes less about results or performance and more about stat accumulation.

The really funny thing is that you don’t even need to be a good pitcher to put up a fair few strikeouts. 153 K’s is not a bad total but Daniel Cabrera matched that with an ERA of 4.52 which isn’t so great. Similar story with Javier Vasquez (192, 4.42) and more relievers than you can shake a stick at. In fact every pitcher will strike out some guys over a year.

Of course the capital crime of fantasy baseball lies in the inherit inability to formulate a fair statistic to judge defensive ability and as a result it gets ignored. I get so fed up with people who just don’t seem to realise that baseball is really a team sport and if you carry a bat then you carry a glove. Then you realise that someone like Andruw Jones will take away as many runs as he will score but people don’t realise that not every outfielder can make the grabs he does but then those people have probably never seen Roger Cedeno in the field. Strong defence wins games in the real world but not in fantasy baseball.

Championship teams are built up the middle but fantasy teams are scrambled together from here there and everywhere. You don’t even need to mix up lefties and righties or put together platoons or play match-ups so if you don’t come on top of your league and your friend tries to convince you that he’s the man just remind them that if this were the real world your boys would have had the right blend of team chemistry and timely hits to carry you to the promised land and that fantasy baseball is just a bit of fun and nothing much else…at least that’ll be my excuse…not that I need one because my teams kick donkey. Always good to have an alibi though.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Toronto Blue Jays

No one made more noise in the off season than Toronto and they will be hopeful that the investment can help to improve last seasons 82-80 record and do the unthinkable and contend in the East.


As per usual last year Roy Halladay was one of the best pitchers in the AL and then injury hit. He truly is one of the very, very best and if he was playing for a higher profile team he might get more credit for it.

So much was made of AJ Burnett all the way through the off-season as Toronto won the race to sign him but he has never fully realised his potential thus far in his career. He possesses one of the very best fastballs in the game but he just doesn’t challenge hitters enough and walks far too many batters. I hope Jays fans don’t expect too much out of him. I also hope Jays fans don’t expect too much out of sophomore pitcher Gustavo Chacin who had a tremendous start to his rookie campaign but the ERA gradually climbed the longer the season wore on.

Competition for the spots in the rotation should be hot with Josh Towers coming off a solid season, Ted Lilly looking to reassert himself and Dustin McGowan lurking in the wings.

You don’t see too many hard throwing lefties and Toronto picked up one of the best to nail down the ninth for them. BJ Ryan struck out 100 in 70 1/3 innings whilst picking up 36 saves in Baltimore last year and there should be little doubt he can repeat that showing. The rest of the pen is an interesting bunch with a pair of solid veteran lefties in Scott Schoeneweis and Scott Downs and righty Justin Speier joined by youngsters Brandon League and Jason Fraser.


Between Greg Zaun, Guillermo Quiroz and Bengie Molina the Jays are as strong as anyone at catcher and Molina in particular is probably the best in the AL once he dons the armour.

The outfield also has one of the best in the business with Vernon Wells looking for his third straight Gold Glove in centre. Having him out there certainly helps out the left field platoon of Frank Catalanotto and Reed Johnson who are both unspectacular to say the least. Alexis Rios is blooming nicely in right.

The infield is the clubs biggest question mark after a major reshaping which sees Russ Adams as the only guy returning to the same position. There has long been a question of how the Jays would handle Adams and Aaron Hill and with Hill moving to second to replace Orlando Hudson we shall soon see if the club made the right decision. Both are athletic but have average range.
Troy Glaus has been slowed by injuries but still plays a good third base when he’s healthy.


The key to how successful this team is this year is the health of Glaus who is as fearsome a slugger as you will find. If he lasts a whole year he has enough power to register close to 50 HR. With him on board the likes of Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay should be more effective as pitchers will be more inclined to pitch to them to avoid the big bruiser.

Russ Adams had a hit and miss season but looked far more comfortable once inserted into the leadoff spot towards the end of the year. He will need to carry that over to this season.

Alexis Rios gets better and better but he still hasn’t discovered that power the club are convinced he has and at age 25 this is the time when he should be reaching his physical prime.
Shea Hillenbrand, Eric Hinske, John-Ford Griffin and Catalanotto give the team depth but if Glaus goes down there really isn’t another out and out power threat to replace him.

Rookie Watch

Its not been a smooth journey for Dustin McGowan but as soon as his elbow got healthy he started looking like a pitcher capable of dominating hitters. He’ll return to the minors to start the year with all the depth in starting pitching the Jays have, but should be first in line for a call up. He has a good assortment of power pitches including a nasty slider he can clock up to 88 mph.

Brandon League is reminiscent of former Jays prospect Billy Koch in that he has an incredible raw power arm capable of triple digits on the gun but somehow remains far too hittable. The club are hopeful that he can refine his mechanics and get a more consistent release point so that his location will improve and his electric stuff can become more effective.


JP Ricciardi took a sledgehammer to this team when he first came to the club and after knocking it down he has started to build shiny new things. He may have overspent to bring in guys like Burnett and Ryan but they are far from being bad pick ups and the Jays farm system is fast becoming one of the best in baseball.

John Gibbons has had good success throughout the years as a minor league coach in the Mets system and did quite well guiding the Jays to an 80-82 record in his first full year. In fact if not for injuries to key players (most notably Halladay) it could have been better.


The core of this team is still very young but all the pieces are there. Conceivably there aren’t any glaring holes in this unit and they will be especially confident with their pitching and if Glaus can provide the power all year then don’t be surprised to see the Jays in the post-season for the first time since they won it all in ‘93.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Tampa finished with a 67-95 record last year and once again finished dead last in the AL East. Only once in the teams eight year history have they avoided this 'honour'.


Lets kick things off with the good and that’s Scott Kazmir is back and will be heading the rotation and if he can cut down on the walks he could have a great year. The bad is Jeff Niemann and Edwin Jackson probably still need more time in the minors to fine tune their talents. If all three come out of Spring Training (that’s a huge ‘if’) then Tampa could have the best rotation in franchise history and it will get better as it matures with time.

The ugly is that Mark Hendrickson, Doug Waechter and Casey Fossum are likely going to be integral to any success the team might have and none has ever really done much.

The bullpen is also sketchy especially with Danys Baez and Lance Carter both gone in the off season. Dan Miceli has been brought in and long before he got hit with the injury bug he was a good closer in Arizona but the club hope he will be setting up rookie Chad Orvella and while he looked good after his call-up last year, it might be a bit much to expect him to close in his first full season.

Trever Miller is a solid lefty specialist but the rest of the pen looks unconvincing to say the least.


Take your pick of Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, Joey Gathright, Aubrey Huff and Delmon Young and you’ll have a good outfield shame the same thing can’t be said about the infield. Sean Burroughs and Travis Lee are solid citizens at the corners but Jorge Cantu is a prototypical “he’s there for his bat” type guy. Julio Lugo is a solid shortstop but the club will be hoping BJ Upton can finally lay claim to his spot in the bigs and he’s not so good. Round here we call him ‘E6’ Upton.

Kevin Cash could be a Gold Glover if he could hit and as a result he’ll be backing up Toby Hall who calls a good game but is straight average across the board.


The Rays have been very protective of their blue chip prospects (overly so to be honest) and this should be the first year when all those guys finally play together in Tropicana Field. Carl Crawford is stupid fast and with his maturing body and improved patience his power numbers should go up and he is not far from just exploding.

Jorge Cantu surprised everyone when he hit 28 homeruns and drove in a team high 117 RBI and he’ll be looking to prove it wasn’t a fluke and his double play partner could be equally productive. BJ Upton has been held back because of his defence but his bat has been ready for a couple of years. He has tremendous speed and great hands that should see him produce a truckload of offence when he gets the call.

Aubrey Huff is another guy who could have a strong year with all this added support this year and when you mix in Rocco Baldelli back from injury you have an offence with the potential to score a lot of runs both through power and with speed. Tampa won’t be a pushover this year.

Rookie Watch

Where to start? Delmon Young has started slowly at every level he has played at and then has soon made the adjustments and dominated. He has such a great approach to hitting for someone his age and he can still get better. He has a good eye and drives the ball to all fields with authority and is a good bet for Rookie of the Year honours when he finally gets his shot. There is nothing he is not capable of doing on a baseball field.

Chad Orvella has a lively fastball and a good changeup and the mentality to be an effective closer one day and that day might have to be opening day with all the personnel changes in the off-season.

Before Scott Kazmir was acquired Jeff Niemann was the future of the D-Rays rotation but injuries have slowed his progress considerably. He has all the stuff, including a nasty slide piece, but with all the time he’s missed he still needs fine tuning and you’re never sure how long it will be till the next injury. He likely will start the year in the minors but should see time in Tampa some time this year.


With the club under new ownership the whole front office was totally gutted and revamped and the clubs desire to finally start moving up in the world was most evident when the club announced that Gerry Hunsicker would be the new GM.

Hunsicker made the Astros perennial contenders on a budget and is one of the most savvy executives you will find. You can also be sure he won’t sit on his big time prospects like the previous regime did.

Sadly the club could not hold onto Lou Piniella’s services during the shake up. Rightly fed up with the way the club was run he got out of dodge and has been replaced by Joe Maddon who has been plying his trade as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach in Anaheim which is not a bad place to be learning.


Their pitching is still too thin right now but the pieces are starting to look like they are about to start falling into place. The offence (particluarly after the inevitable mid-season call ups) should see them up their win total from last year and don’t be surprised if they go through a spell here or there where they start beating a lot of good teams but they are still a side looking just to not finish last in the East.

Friday, March 24, 2006

New York Yankees

Despite injuries and underperforming players the Yankees managed to secure their 39th division crown and their 8th in a row but the biggest team in baseball still fell at the first hurdle to a similarly underperforming Angels side in the playoffs.

Before the start of last season the Yankees splashed a lot of cash on pitching and they really didn’t get anywhere near the kind of production they had hoped for. Jaret Wright spent most of the year on the DL and was poor when healthy. Carl Pavano also spent a lot of time out and was very average when he did play and Randy Johnson was good, especially down the stretch, but you don’t get a guy like Johnson just to be good. The Big Unit will be 42 next year and he needs show people that he’s not on the wane and that he can still be the fearsome and dominating pitcher who won four straight Cy’s not too long ago.

The most consistent starter was Chien-Ming Wang who emerged as an unlikely ace to the staff till shoulder problems hit him late on. He showed great poise and was totally un-phased by the bright lights and high scrutiny that comes with being a Yankee and he’ll be looking to build upon last seasons success and there’s no reason to think he won’t.

The bullpen is once again anchored by the amazing Mariano Rivera who had one of his best seasons to date last year. When he comes in the game is over and his cutter is as good a pitch as you’ll see.

The set-up staff behind Rivera is much improved from last year with righties Kyle Farnsworth and Octavio Dotel both possessing dominating, high velocity stuff that has seen them close at times in their careers (to varying levels of success) and lefties Mike Myers (I’m sure he wants to retire having played for every team in baseball) and Ron Villone both capable of logging innings and being tough in situational work. Tanyon Sturtz will likely once again be the swingman handling long duty and taking spot starts where needed.


The infield D should be an adventure with Robinson Cano carrying his iron glove to the right side with the mobility challenged Jason Giambi. Cano is one of those guys who will go through his whole career having people say he will be moving to a new position.

The left side of the infield has Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez who both have average range but secure hands and strong arms. All in all there will be holes on the infield for hitters to poke through.

Jorge Posada is showing his age behind the plate. He has a strong enough arm to keep runners honest but his footwork is often very laboured.

Bernie Williams has always had good range but has been heavily criticised due to his poor arm and now the Yankees have replaced him with Johnny Damon who has always had good range but has a very poor arm. If you put the two together you might get a passable Major League arm. In left field Hideki Matsui regressed a lot last and looked robotic in his movement. With all the ground to cover in left at Yankee Stadium he needs to up his game.


This line-up will probably lead the universe in runs scored this year.

Johnny Damon’s OBP is nowhere near as good as his high profile would suggest but he managed to be productive enough in Boston in front of some big bats and he has plenty of muscle backing him up in Yankee town too. With Jeter also helping to set the table this meaty line-up will have plenty to gobble up this season.

A-Rod will once again challenge for the homerun crown this year and Jason Giambi started to show the form that made him a league MVP before all the drugs furore. Robinson Cano had an impressive rookie year too and showed himself to be a smart hitter with occasional pop who uses the whole field.

The best hitter on the team remains Gary Sheffield who has the quickest hands in the game. He hits all pitches hard and on a line and the only thing that stops him hitting more homeruns is because he hit’s the ball so truly it doesn’t get elevated enough. There is no one out there who can get a fastball by him.

Rookie Watch

This is the Yankees. They only seem to produce home grown impact players by accident these days (they only turned to Wang and Cano last year only after they had tried everything else first). They tried to plug Melky Cabrera into the line-up to solve their centerfield problems and he was totally overwhelmed and not ready and now no one is sure what he’ll end up doing.

There is an outside shot we will see Eric Duncan some time this year but with the corner infield positions well covered at the big club we might not see him in a Yankee uniform. Duncan is an average third baseman who probably will end up at first or the outfield. He’s a smart hitter with a good left handed stroke that should get him homeruns at the big league level.


You cannot understate the job Joe Torre has done as manager of this team of superstar multi-millionaire egos. You very rarely hear his players complain about playing issues and fewer say anything bad about him. He’s pretty much done it all and is as good as they come but he still doesn’t seem to be able to wear his hat properly (have a look, its like he’s not so much wearing it but balancing it on his head).

GM Brian Cashman has long been seen as George Steinbrenners glove puppet or had his efforts dismissed due to the huge payroll he handles. The thing I would question is why he changed the team set-up from the one used when they were winning World Series? They didn’t really have any big sluggers on those teams but had a bunch of character guys, many developed within the system, who played strong defence and knew fundamental baseball and many of those qualities have been abandoned with a thin farm system, a bevy of immovable contracts and a lot of average glovemen and stoic sluggers. Why change a system that works so well?


Once again this team is built to roll through the regular season with a fearsome batting order that will bully the lesser teams in the league and with Jeter and Damon at the top of the order they might be able to sustain that into the post-season but the real question lies in the rotation where high priced players need to play like they can otherwise they will be disappointed again come October.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

2006 Predictions!

Just thought i'd interupt Pete's excellent previews for a minute (Sorry Pete!) to announce that the Spurious Blog Team's 2006 Predictions are now online. Just click on The Predictions in the right-hand menu to laugh at ..... erm, i mean to study them, of course!!!

Also, don't forget, we'd love to hear from more of you - so if you want to submit your own set of predictions, please do so via the Contact the Blog, and we will add them to the page!

Boston Red Sox

Even with the injuries last year, the Red Sox had plenty of opportunity to walk away with the East but never did. Their 95-67 record won them the Wild Card and a quick playoff exit at the hands of the eventual champs.


On paper the rotation should be as good as any with Curt Schilling, David Wells and Matt Clement joined by newly acquired Josh Beckett but Schilling and Beckett are serious health concerns (Wells too but in a different way) and while Clement was awesome in the first half of last season he was awful in the second and that might be an understatement. Elsewhere Tim Wakefield can log good innings but if Schilling and Beckett go down again then he and Jon Papelbon aren’t really capable of picking up the slack.

Whereas the bullpen imploded in on itself last year they have worked hard to patch it up but much still relies on the health of Keith Foulke who missed a large chunk of time due to injury and wasn’t that effective when he was healthy. The form of Mike Timlin helped the team cover for the loss of Foulke and he is one of the few who returns and with the likes of David Riske, Craig Hanson, Rudy Seanez and Jon Lester the club is now much better prepared if injuries hit.


The Red Sox infield defence hasn’t been good for a while and that includes their World Series winning team but that should change after a drastic makeover with Gold Glove winners Alex Gonzalez, JT Snow and Mike Lowell all coming in and along with Mark Loretta and Alex Cora there is no shortage of quality glove work on the roster. Throw in club general Jason Varitek behind the plate and you have more than enough to make any pitcher feel secure.

The addition of Coco Crisp to the outfield also improves the defence from last year and with Trot Nixon safely patrolling right he can more than cover for Manny Ramirez and his eccentric outfield play.


Manny will always be Manny and he came under a lot of scrutiny after saying he wanted to be traded but if it effected his performance then he is much better than I ever thought with his 45 homeruns and 144 RBI again proving he is as good a run producer as has played the game for decades and combined with David Ortiz and his 47 homeruns and 148 RBI and you have a problem if you’re the pitcher facing this team.

The team may have lost Johnny Damon at the top of the order but whereas Coco Crisp might not have Damon’s eccentricities and profile he doesn’t fall too far off in terms of talent and posted similar numbers to Damon despite a slow start and Crisp is coming into his prime. Mark Loretta is also adept at getting on base in the second spot and is a versatile bat handler who has lots of quality at bats.

There are fears that Boston’s offence has taken a hit over the off season but if there was one team in MLB who could afford to maybe loosen the belt it was Boston and they still have good hitters all the way down with Jason Varitek and Trot Nixon consistent performers and Mike Lowell will be eager to put last year behind him. Boston should once again score plenty of runs.

Wily Mo Pena seems to have walked out of one outfield logjam and into another but he will provide plenty of pop when he’s playing. He has been begging to be given more playing time and maybe he’ll get it in a league with the DH.

Rookie Watch

Boston sacrificed a lot of high ceiling prospects in the off season and most their better farmhands are a year or two away (not that they are a team who build from within). Craig Hansen has the best chance of cracking the line-up and having an impact. He will one day be the teams closer but will likely be used in set-up duty. He’s only had a year of professional ball but he already has one of the nastiest sliders in the minors and it complements his mid-90’s fastball well.


Does anyone really know what happened to Theo Epstein? He disappeared for a few months and the team started haemorrhaging talent left right and centre and since he decided to come back he has frantically tried to piece together guys to plug the holes in the side. There are few more aggressive GM’s in baseball and he usually finds a way to get what he wants but his sabbatical hasn’t helped his team.

Terry Francona has had great teams to put on the field in his time with Boston and he has done a good job of not interfering and keeping things simple and just allowing his players to do their jobs. He maye doesn’t have the depth of talent he might have gotten used to so we shall see how he fares if injuries start to hit his more brittle stars.


As goes the pitching so goes the Red Sox. Beckett, Schilling and Foulke need to be healthy for the majority of the year and producing for this team to be what the fans have come to expect. It won’t take much to get this team stumbling.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Baltimore Orioles

After a tremedous start last year Baltimore slumped big time in the second half and finished fourth in the East with a 74-88 record after some thought they might oust Boston or New York from a playoff spot.


Erik Bedard, Bruce Chen, Daniel Cabrera and Rodrigo Lopez can all be summed up as solid starters. Over the course of a season they’ll all end up with OK numbers but nothing special. Of course the addition of Leo Mazzone to the coaching staff could well have an impact on some of these guys, particularly Bedard.

There are a few wild cards in the mix for the rotation number one being Kris Benson who was acquired in a trade with the Mets after never really being as good as they hoped he would be in Pittsburgh. He locates his fastball well and has a very good curve which are exactly the sort of things that Mazzone knows how to utilise.

The other bonuses for the O’s could be youngsters Hayden Penn and Adam Loewen who might not quite be ready for the big time but should factor in at some point this year. Loewen in particular impressed during the recent WBC.

The pen is a bit of a mystery with the departure of BJ Ryan. LaTroy Hawkins and Todd Williams are the only guys who have logged serious time in the Majors but both have proven in that time that they are better suited to set-up roles. Chris Ray could assume the role in his first full year after a promising spell towards the end of last season.


Melvin Mora, Miguel Tajada and Brian Roberts are as good as it gets on the infield and should make people forget that its only Kevin Millar at first. I have been amazed how Tejada has been overlooked for the Gold Glove the last two seasons (well I don’t know how a few guys got overlooked in place of Jeter).

Corey Patterson has been much maligned in his Major League career up to this point but that has had nothing to do with his defence where he covers an impressive amount of ground similarly Luis Matos and whoever starts in centre gives the team plus defence.

Jay Gibbons is forgettable in the outfield which isn’t as bad as it might seem because we all remember the guys who make the mistakes as much as we do the ones on the highlight reels.
Ramon Hernandez and Javy Lopez are very similar defensively as both have strong arms and average to below average mechanics but Hernandez will likely get the majority of starts here due to his play calling and his general ability to handle pitchers.


Mora, Tejada and Roberts are guys you can build an order around. Roberts won the batting crown last year and he has emerged over the last two years as one of the best lead-off men in the AL.

I don’t know how anyone can dispute Tejada as the best shortstop in baseball and its testament to his ability that a .304, 26, 98 season could be construed as a sub-par season. Though there has been much said about how happy or unhappy he is in Baltimore he still will produce.

Melvin Mora continues to go unnoticed. He hits for good power whilst being a patient and disciplined hitter and has quintuplets waiting at home.

Javy Lopez is a very good hitting catcher with power and in fact there are plenty of guys who can take the ball out of the park up and down the roster with Gibbons, Matos, Nick Markakis and Millar all with good pop the only problem is there isn’t one guy who really stands out as the big bopper to anchor the group.

Rookie Watch

Nick Markakis is the clubs top farmhand and the lack of depth in the Orioles outfield could see him on the opening day roster. He’ll be 22 on opening day and hasn’t quite grown into his power yet but he’s hits to all fields and has good athleticism and speed which helps him both on the bases and in the field. He figures to develop into a true five tool player.

Chris Ray has every chance of being the clubs closer with his mid-90’s fastball, hard slider and the attitude that means he won’t back down from anyone. All the right ingredients to be a good closer.


New manager Sam Perlozzo’s best value might end up being his friendship with Leo Mazzone. Perolozzo showed great poise as the team did its customary melt down in the stretch and with Mazzone to sort out the pitchers this could conceivably be a step in the right direction.

Of course the big issue here is owner Peter Angelos who handcuffs his front office more than any other owner and it really inhibits the teams ability to develop any continuity and stability and even impacts how the club drafts its players. Basically the infrastructure of the team is a mess and that’s why they haven’t had much success over the last decade. They don’t even have an official GM right now with Mike Flanagan promoted to Vice President of Baseball Operations.

Who would want to be the GM of this club?


They have the ability to score runs consistently although maybe not in big bunches but even if Mazzone weaves his magic there might not be enough pitching talent here, especially in the pen, to truly be competitive in a tough division and it would take a lot of things to go right to make the playoffs.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

St Louis Cardinals

Despite injuries to key players, the Cards still finished the year with the best record in baseball (100-62) before a bizarre meltdown in the NLCS against Houston that cost them a deserved World Series berth.


Even though Chris Carpenter has had two great seasons back-to-back I still can’t help but feel its only a matter of time until injury hits again. You only have to look at last years numbers to see how good he can be when healthy and he was the best pitcher in MLB last year and will be integral to the Cards push this year.

Mark Mulder has come under some criticism in recent years for being a bit brittle but he still managed to put together 205 innings. He’s still got the ability to be one of the best in the league and when you look at how much the Cards got out of Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan you have to believe they can get more out of Mulder.

The big challenge will be what can the club get out of Sidney Ponson who has shown that he can be a good starter but doesn’t seem to have the dedication to his conditioning to make the most of his ability and add to that a series of off the field incidents you have to wonder what Walt Jockety had in mind when he signed him?

The key to much of the success of St Louis in recent years has been down to the bullpen where Tony La Russa goes to often. It is anchored by Jason Isringhausen who never seems to be given the credit he deserves. He is easily amongst the top three closers in the National League and the lefty righty combo of Ricardo Rincon and Braden Looper should get him the lead safely. Looper is a classic Jocketty pick up, a maligned player who was asked by one team to do one thing and then signed by St Louis to do what he is more suited to. He dominates right handers.


Scott Rolen is the best defensive third baseman since Mike Schmidt and as much as people want to criticise David Eckstein he is still a good shortstop and the left side of the infield will continue to be strong…that is unless Rolen gets injured again.

The right side of the infield will see a fight to play second during Spring Training between Aaron Miles and Junior Spivey and both are capable glovemen. There is an outside shot that Travis Hanson might break the line-up but he is still learning how to play second. Albert Pujols at first is the best player in the game and his D could earn him a Gold Glove in the not too distant future.

Jim Edmonds plays for the cameras but somehow manages to get away with it. He patrols centerfield with the best of them and he’s flanked to his right by the superb glove work of Juan Encarnacion. It is unsure who will play left but there are good options in So Taguchi and Larry Bigbie

The mid-west branch of the Molina catching group is the youngest and has every chance to be the best. He threw out base runners at a frightening rate last year and you can be sure less people will be trying their luck this year. As with all those Molinas (I wonder if Alfred has considered a career move?) he just does everything well back there.


Albert Pujols is the best player in baseball and his approach to hitting is simply incredible. He makes quick adjustments, his hands are as good as it gets, I could go on for hours on all the things that make this guy special. He even stole 16 bases last year. Best player in baseball.

David Eckstein will set the table and is a very smart ball player who knows all the tricks to get on base and make a nuisance of himself and once he’s on its not just Pujols the opposition needs to worry about. Ideally they’d have an extra left handed bat but when you have to go through Pujols, Edmonds, Rolen and Encarnacion that’s a tough ask for anyone.

Rookie Watch

Anthony Reyes had one start for St Louis last year after his call up and went 6 1/3 and allowed two hits…which isn’t bad I suppose. In fact he only allowed 6 hits in the full 13 innings he was up and struck out 12 and should have an inside track to the fifth spot in the rotation. He attacks hitters and has great control of some lively stuff and should give the Cards even more depth to an already deep staff.


Tony La Russa has a reputation for being one of the best in the game and while I might dispute that I do have to admit he has had a great deal of success everywhere he goes. He plays the situational game as much as anyone and it always amazes me how well the Cards bullpen has been in recent years because he goes there so often that you’d think he’d burn them out. He did a great job with a bunch of bit players last year when injuries hit key players.

If there’s a move to be made then Walt Jocketty will make it. There are few other GM’s who seem to have the knack of picking up exactly the right player at exactly the right time but it has often come at the expense of the farm system where depth is a serious issue. They have managed to produce a few impact players (that Pujols guy is pretty good) but they have mishandled guys like Bud Smith and Rick Ankiel and very few role players seem to ever come from within.


They are still the team to beat in the Central but competition will continue to be tougher than it has been. If they continue to make the most of their pitching and nothing happens to MVP-until-someone-does-something-about-it Pujols then they could again be on the path to the World Series.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Pittsburgh Pirates

The last time this team had a .500 record was when Bonds was in town and they have a lot of work to do if they are going to hit that mark this year after a 67-95 year that saw them rock bottom of the Central.


Lets say this right of the bat so there’s no confusion or misunderstanding, Zach Duke will not be as good this year as he was last, its just not possible that he can keep his ERA under 2.00. The real question is what sort of standard can he maintain over a full year? The first month of the season will probably give us an idea if the league has figured him out over the off-season and if he really will be an ace for years to come.

There is so much promise in the Pirates rotation with Duke being accompanied by Paul Maholm, who looked very good in a late season cameo and John Van Benschoten who was slated to be the impact rookie in the rotation last year before three arthroscopic shoulder surgeries ruled him out for the year. Perhaps the biggest question Pirates fans will be asking is which Oliver Perez will show up this season? The one who dominated hitters in ‘04 or the one who showed up out of shape for ‘05? Word has it the Pirates had him on a strict regimen over the winter in order to ensure the former turns up.

Much was expected of Kip Wells last year and while he showed spells of being the pitcher we know he can be, there were longer stints of ordinariness and 182 innings isn’t a good return for someone you were looking to build a staff around, especially when you walk 99 guys during those 182 innings.

Jose Mesa has jumped ship which will mean there will be a quick rethink of the bullpen. Roberto Hernandez and Damaso Marte have both been brought in and have experience closing games and either could be the stopgap until the club feels Matt Capps is ready. The rest of the pen is relatively young and inexperienced with lefties Mike Gonzalez and John Grabow coming off solid seasons but its all a matter of wait and see.


Jose Castillo and Jack Wilson give the infield a strong anchor and Joe Randa at third is a plus defender but may have to share time with Jose Bautista if the offence is struggling. Brad Eldred is solid first baseman and gives a big target for his team mates to hit.

The likes of Jason Bay, Jeromy Burnitz, Nate McLouth and Jody Gerut are all solid outfielders but none is really a true centre fielder. The likely result will be that the team will select the best three bats for the line-up and then plug them into defensive positions which means Craig Wilson will be plugged in somewhere and he’s really a first baseman/DH.

The likes of Humberto Cota and Ryan Doumit are solid and passable at catcher. They really are just holding down the fort till Neil Walker is ready.


Jason Bay is an excellent hitter combining discipline (95 BB) and good power (32 HR) but he’s not really the power bat that can strike fear into a pitcher when you look at an order and for much of last season Bay was it. However this year he has monster masher Brad Eldred behind him and he can send the ball a long, long way. Jeromy Burnitz has been brought in to give even more added muscle, and Craig Wilson gets very hot from time to time but this is still a lightweight line-up. They will be hoping that Jose Bautista develops quickly and can contribute.

If this team is to score enough runs to move on in this league they will need consistency at the top but who will do that? Nate McLouth and Rajaj Davis maybe are the best options and maybe Jose Castillo but its all a bit uncertain.

Rookie Watch

Brad Eldred has a lot of Jim Thome about him in that he’s big, swings hard and when he makes contact he can send them into orbit. He’s also a solid defender and the club will be hoping he can be an impact player this year in a side desperate for power bats.

Paul Maholm posted a 2.18 ERA in six starts last year which might be a tad crappy considering what Duke was able to do but I’m sure the Pirates feel confident he can produce for the team this year. He’s not the hardest thrower around but he does have a good assortment of pitches and excellent control.

He may be a long shot to crack the roster to start the year but Jose Bautista is the clubs third baseman of the future. He needs to work on his D but his bat is what will carry him where he wants to go.


GM David Littlefield inherited a mess when he took over but Pittsburgh are working hard to build a strong foundation and this commitment to youth is well illustrated by a very young big league unit built primarily around guys who have played less than three years. The thing that has impressed me over the off-season is the way Littlefield has brought in a handful of savvy veterans with strong leadership skills with the likes of Roberto Hernandez who has done it all in his day and ‘The Mayor’ Sean Casey who will be a tremendous influence on the youngsters.

Casey is one of baseballs great characters who has built a career on doing the things people said he couldn’t do and will be a tremendous asset for Jim Tracy whose small ball tendencies will be invaluable for this team. Tracy preaches fundamentals and did well in LA with a team built on pitching and defence and not a lot of fire power.


The NL Central will be tough this year and if the Pirates are going to stick around they need their pitching staff to carry the load and that’s a lot of pressure to put on a young group. Their offence needs a lot of things to click.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Milwaukee Brewers

The Brewers made large strides last year. After three consecutive last place finishes (four straight 90+ loss years) they finished third in the division with an 81-81 record. With their youngsters gaining experience all the time, they could be in line for further gains.


2005 was a breakout year for Chris Capuano that saw him gaining votes on the Cy Young ballot. If he can keep up that level then that will give the Brewers three great pitchers to build a rotation upon with southpaw Doug Davis and ace Ben Sheets who has as good stuff as anyone in the league and he knows it. He will pour it on, throwing strikes and forces hitters to beat him and with that curveball of his few do.

The back end should be solid with Tomo Okha and David Bush able starters and rookie Dana Eveland looking like the fifth starter. The club hope Jose Capellan can lay claim to a starting role with his power stuff but it looks increasingly like he is destined for a career in the bullpen.

Derrick Turnbow came out of nowhere to emerge as a tough closer posting 39 saves and a 1.74 ERA and he’ll want to prove those numbers weren’t a fluke. If he can’t repeat then Capellan has the stuff to be effective in that role and Dan Kolb has proved before that he can close for the Brewers and will be wanting to prove himself after a disappointing season in Atlanta. Justin Lehr and lefties Jorge De La Rosa and Manny Parra give an impressive amount of depth to go to.


Bill Hall and J.J. Hardy give the left side of the infield a sturdy look but questions will be asked on the right side where Prince Fielder is not that much more mobile than his father was (remember BIG Cecil?) and Rickie Weeks, although athletic and speedy, can make simple plays look hard but he is working hard to improve.

Geoff Jenkins and Brady Clark are both good fielding outfielders capable of playing centre although their arms may be a little shorter than ideal in right but with Carlos Lee in the line-up neither are going to play left. Lee works hard but bless him, he’s just not that great a fielder.

Damian Miller has a history of working well with good pitching staffs and he certainly has one here. He may not have the strongest arm or be the most mobile but he calls a good game.


For a good while last year you could have given Carlos Lee serious MVP considerations with the way he was raking the ball. Even though he tailed off towards the end he still ended up with 32 homers and 114 RBI and seemed to enjoy the added responsibility he’s been given since leaving the White Sox.

Lee will be given plenty of support in the line-up with Jenkins back again and Prince Fielder who should be an early favourite for Rookie of the Year honours. Fielder has good plate presence and power to all fields.

The most exciting player on the roster could be sophomore Rickie Weeks who was impressive after being called up last year with his combination of speed and power. His average plummeted during the final month but that had a lot to do with a badly injured thumb that needed surgery after the season. He has a lightning quick bat and watch out for him this year.

The top of the order will be looked after by Brady Clark who had a solid year in the leadoff spot that was rewarded recently with a contract extension.

Rookie Watch

Prince Fielder is a fearsome hitter and really looks like he could be every bit as good as his father was although he shouldn’t have to wait as long for a stolen base. There are fears that he could emulate his father in terms of weight gain too but maybe that is down to genetics.


Under the direction of GM Doug Melvin, the Milwaukee Brewers have emerged as one of the best run organisations in baseball with an absolute bevy of young talent bursting from every level and the plan of building a contender from within looks like its about to bare fruit in the not too distant future.

Manager Ned Yost has a reputation of standing by his players and working well with young players. He strongly believes that players learn by doing and working through problems. With the team starting to come together his game management skills will come under the microscope and if he fails there the team could look elsewhere in order to take them to the next level.


There is so much promise on this team and the rotation alone makes them a contender but if the players who emerged last year continue to develop and the guys promoted this year do well then this is a team that could surprise a lot of people.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Houston Astros

The Astros got hot at almost exactly the right time last year and rode a rich vein of form down the stretch to win a division crown (89-73) and get to the World Series.


I’m sure they’d love to have Clemens back (lets face it he’ll take a month off after the WBC and then he’ll have a big cheque placed in his hand and he’ll be back) but with or without him Roy Oswalt and Andy Pettitte will carry the load logging a tonne of quality innings.

Brandon Backe should provide solid innings behind the big two and then its down to two of three youngsters with Wandy Rodriguez and Ezequiel Astacio first in line after call ups last year but top prospect Jason Hirsh is waiting in the wings.

Middle relief was sometimes a question mark last year but Chad Qualls and Brad Lidge nailed anything that got to the 8th. Lidge might have hit a wall come the World Series and his workload might have to be watched but his combination of a hard fastball and a sharp breaking slider is intimidating and often un-hittable.


Its amazing how Brad Ausmus keeps coming and back and remains among the very best catchers around. He might not be able to play as many games as he used to but there are very, very few who have his nimbleness behind the dish.

The infield should be solid with Morgan Ensberg and Chris Burke both capable at third and second respectively. What was refreshing last year was that Chris Everett got to play regularly as he is an excellent shortstop but was usually the first victim when the team felt they needed more offence.

The arrival of Preston Wilson gives the team a lot of options in the outfield and most of them improve upon last years trio. Wilson can play both centre and right to a high standard and whether they are happy with Willy Taveras in centre or would like to move him to left they will have a natural set of outfielders for the first time in a long while.


Chris Burke has long been groomed as Craig Biggio’s heir in the leadoff spot but the team might be reluctant to put him there after posting a mere .309 OBP in his first full year. Taveras gives them another option and failing that Biggio is still around to take it off the elbow.

Preston Wilson was a good addition as he should provide additional power in support of Lance Berkman and Ensberg who were often asked to carry the offensive load last year but still the depth is questionable. Mike Lamb and Jason Lane can provide some pop but there’s not much else.

Rookie Watch

Jason Hirsh is 6-8 and 245 lbs i.e. a big lad, and he exploded up the charts last year. He has a good change to go with a hard slider and mid-90’s fastball that came on leaps and bounds last year as he started to focus more on location than velocity.

Its likely he’ll start the year in AAA but if Clemens doesn’t come back then a spot on the big league roster might be his.


Phil Garner had never really had any real success before last year but had developed a reputation as a players coach. He was brought in as a temporary measure and then stuck when he managed to get this team really playing well. If you take a team to the World Series you can’t be that bad.

Tim Purpura had a tough task following former GM Gerry Hunsicker and spent most of his first off-season handcuffed by trying to work a deal with Carlos Beltran and the team were left in a hole when Beltran signed with the Mets. Much of the top talent from the Astros farm is either with the big club or a few years away so there’s plenty of opportunity for Purpura to make his mark on the club but for now this is still Hunsicker’s team.


The Astros had a weak offence last year but still managed to ride career years from Clemens and Pettitte and the usual efforts from Oswalt and Lidge but they also had a lot of luck down the stretch by avoiding injuries and found ways to just stay ahead. Competition will be even tougher this year but while they don’t look that impressive on paper they still managed to get to The Series last year with a similar team so you can’t count them out.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Chicago Cubs

Even with an MVP calibre season from Derrek Lee and, on paper, one of the most gifted rotations in baseball, the Cubs struggled to a 79-83 record for fourth in the Central...maybe those pitchers can make it off the paper and onto the mound.


Every year it’s the same thing, if Kerry Wood and Mark Prior stay healthy then the team has a chance to win the division. They are both as good as anyone around and capable of dominating any line-up on any day. Of course the question is how will Dusty Baker use Wood as rumours are abound that he will work exclusively out of the pen and if that’s the case then it will be formidable with Scott Williamson, Glendon Rusch and Will Ohman helping to set up Ryan Dempster who looked excellent once placed in the closers role.

With Wood in the pen the Cubs rotation isn’t as great on paper as it has been in previous years but a healthy Prior and the oft forgotten Carlos Zambrano still gives them as good a one-two punch as anyone around. Zambrano has been a stabilising and consistent force over the last few years while all those around him seem to fall and expect another year of 15 wins, 200 K’s and an ERA below 3.50 but this time lets give him credit for it.

Greg Maddux is a first ballot Hall of Famer who has seen and done it all but he’s at the back end of his career now. You can still count on him to throw 200+ innings and he still won’t walk many but his amazing streak of 15 win seasons ended at seventeen last year (a truly incomprehensible record) and a 4.24 ERA is a long way from the sub-2.00 marks he used to hit in his prime. He’ll give you a chance to win but he can’t do it by himself any more.

Is Jerome Williams ready to be a full time starter? He showed glimpses that he is last year but he’s still young and you wonder if he has the endurance to stay around for 30 starts.


An outfield of Juan Pierre, Jacque Jones and Felix Pie won’t leave Chicago lacking in range. Jones is back in his favoured position in left where his average arm is less of an issue and Pierre is lucky he has serious gas because his reads and routes are not good and he needs that speed to recover. Pierre has no arm.

The infield boasts tremendous talent at the corners with the always improving Aramis Ramirez at third and some of the softest hands in the business at first with Derrek Lee. Neifi Perez has always been a quality fielding shortstop but could find himself at second if Ronny Cedeno earns a starting spot and Cedeno can certainly make the plays at short.

Todd Walker at second moves only enough to let us know he is still awake.

Henry Blanco is a strong defensive catcher with a great arm and surprising mobility behind the dish but Michael Barrett isn’t far off being a star in this league. He calls a great game, moves well in the armour and his footwork allows his above average arm to be a weapon.


Juan Pierre and Ronny Cedeno should give Chicago a presence at the top of the order they haven’t had for a good while. Both have great speed and plenty to prove.

Aramis Ramirez is emerging as one of the best RBI men in baseball and his 92 RBI in just 123 games is testament to the ability he has. If the guys get on ahead of him I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets close to 140 RBI this year but then that also has a lot to do with if Derrek Lee is taking away the RBI opportunities ahead of him with an encore performance to his monster 2005 season. I’m not convinced he can continue to hit 60 points above his career average but if he keeps hitting over .300 then the Cubs will be happy.

Walker, Pie, Jones and John Mabry give some depth to the offence.

Rookie Watch

Felix Pie is the very definition of a guy with tools and they have been sharpening those tools since he was 17. He has great range and a strong arm in the outfield and while he figures to end up in centre eventually, he can easily adjust to right field to accommodate Pierre.

Pie has a reputation for being a tad reckless at the plate because he has so much confidence in his ability to make consistent hard contact. He has nothing left to prove in the minors and there is plenty of room for him in the Cubs outfield.

Ronny Cedeno is a slick fielding shortstop with a cannon arm and great athleticism. It took him a while to find himself with the bat but so long as he doesn’t get too overeager he should do OK and help the ball club.

Keep an eye out for lefty Rich Hill, he has a great 12-6 hook that could land him in the rotation.


Dusty Baker is one of the most respected managers in the game but the lack of success in Chicago has lead many to question how good he is with younger players. He’s a steady presence who expects the best from his players and if he wants to make his point, he knows how to make sure you hear him.

General Manager Jim Hendry has put together a strong team and can’t be blamed for the injuries that have hampered the progress of the side. The collection of talent in their minor league system is also formidable with a lot of focus placed on scouting youngsters from all over and taking their time to develop them.


Its all about the health of the rotation, if Prior can stay healthy all year and they can get some starts out of Wood down the stretch then they will be there or thereabouts come September. If the starters falter then the offence definately does not have the clout to carry them through.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds are a team that has gone nowhere in recent years and usually winds up hovering around the 70 win mark near the base of the division. Last year they were fifth in the Central with a 73-89 record.


Where to start? The rotation last year was pretty bad (I’m being kind there) and he only thing that has really changed from last year is that Ramon Ortiz is gone. The likes of Eric Milton, Luke Hudson and Brandon Claussen were basically serving up BP in the Cincinn bandbox giving up 100 long balls between them with supposed ace Milton hogging the limelight with an incredible 40 HR allowed.

The Reds can be thankful for Aaron Harang who had a strong season leading the team in innings pitched (211 2/3), wins (11), ERA (3.83) and strikeouts (163). If he can keep that up this year Cincinnati will have many GM’s calling come the trade deadline.

If your closer has 11 decisions to his name you know he’s not a permanent answer. Dave Weathers has been shoe horned into handling the few games where The Reds have had a lead going into the ninth and did alright but basically he was the best of a mediocre to poor bunch.

Kent Merker and Chris Hammond should provide solid set-up work from the left side but how the rest of the pen will fare is anyones guess.


To prove we’re not picking on the Reds I will say that their outfield is fairly good. Wily Mo Pena has a great arm and covers ground and while Junior Griffey might not have the speed he used to, he is still Junior Griffey and still takes those perfect routes and is always willing to sacrifice his body (which is sadly why he’s had so many injuries in recent years). Between the pair of them centre and right field are covered and if Austin Kearns is healthy and in left then anything that doesn’t go over the fence has a good chance of being fielded quickly and cleanly.

Jason Larue always seems to flatter to deceive as he gives glimpses of being a plus defender and then he’ll let a whole bunch of balls behind him or get in a mess with his feet and we start to reminisce about how Johnny Bench did actually used to play for this club. Miguel Perez and Dan Sardinha will get a look in Spring Training and the club have long raved about their defensive abilities.

The infield has potential with Felipe Lopez and Edwin Encarnacion both having all the tools to be great fielders and with their cannon arms they throw the ball into the stands as well as anyone.

Rich Aurilia is getting on in age but is a solid customer whereas youngster William Bergolla is a flashy and nimble fielder reminiscent of Pokey Reese and is capable of playing short or second.
Its Tony Womack everyone. He may not be Roger Cedeno but few are.


I think it was Frank Sinatra who sang ‘All Or Nothing At All’. Whoever it was I think the Reds front office like it because that’s how they seem to have built their team with Adam Dunn the very personification of this ethos. Its kinda sad when 168 strikeouts is a significant improvement (he does hold the single season record) but he does balance that off with good discipline (114 walks) which boosts his paltry .247 average to a very solid .387 OBP.

Only another injury to Griffey kept the team from having six players with over 100 K’s which isn’t all that bad as I had predicted before last year that they would have seven guys pass the century mark. They still could make it seven as Encarnacion is another slugger to go with Pena, Kearns, Lopez and LaRue who swings hard and swings often.

There isn’t an obvious table setter on the roster, although Womack and Freel should give them good speed in utility roles, but this is not a team built around scratching out runs.

Rookie Watch

Strictly speaking he’s not a rookie but Edwin Encarnacion could be a future All Star and this is his first full year. He has some rough edges but he handles the hot corner well and has great raw power. Still just 23 he is a hard worker with developing patience and expect his 16 HR in 69 games last year to be a sign of things to come.

Miguel Perez and Dan Sardinha are very similar in that they have well developed defensive tools but are lacking a little offensively. Perez is probably higher up the pecking order thanks to his rocket arm but both are likely to start the year in the minors but if either Valentin or LaRue get injured or fail to perform expect one or other to get a call some time this year.


Jerry Narron hasn’t really done much in management but after being named manager of the Reds halfway through last season he managed to get them playing .500 ball and kept them out of the bottom spot.

Wayne Krivsky is in his first year as a GM but has spent time working for the front office of both Texas and Minnesota where he was heavily involved in scouting and you can’t argue that the Twins have done a great job there over the years.


It’s a fact of life that you don’t win a lot of games unless you have good pitching and while you can expect a lot of fireworks from their offence they are likely to give up a lot of runs too. Should be interesting.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Texas Rangers

The Rangers took a step backwards after a breakout '04. They finished third in the West with a 79-83 record after many tipped them for a playoff birth.


The club tried to patch up the rotation by getting last years ERA king Kevin Millwood but he has struggled whenever he’s been asked to be an ace and you can be sure his numbers won’t get better in Arlington but the real question is how much has he matured since those days in Phillie?

The back end of the rotation looks like its waiting for the likes of John Danks, Edison Volquez and Thomas Diamond to mature and only Volquez really looks likely to see time in Texas this year.

None of the returning starters had an ERA of less than 5.50 last year.

The bullpen should be strong with top tier closer Francisco Cordero joined by Akinori Otsuka who could close if needed. The rest of the pen is less inspiring with the likes of lefty Brian Shouse and righty Kameron Loe who had a good first year.


In general the Rangers team D looks decidedly average. Rod Barajas is a good catcher but would usually be a reserve on a good team, Michael Young is a standout on the infield and needs to be playing alongside Hank Blalock who is probably the most immobile player in baseball today. The outfield will be lead by Brad Wilkerson in centre but he is middle of the road in terms of Major League centerfielders.


Mark Teixeira, Mark Teixeira, Mark Teixeira. That’s pretty much what you need to know when you face the Rangers. He really has stamped himself among the elite sluggers in baseball combining power (43 HR, 144 RBI) with average and a good approach (.301 avg, .379 OBP). Expect more punishment from his big bat this year too.

The top of the line-up should give Teixeira plenty of opportunity to rack up the RBI. Even though the leadoff spot was a bit of a revolving door last year it yielded good results and Michael Young won himself a batting crown batting second.

Hank Blalock may be slow but he can hit. He is plenty capable of hitting more than the 25 long balls he had last year and along with Phil Nevin will be the main support behind the big man, not that the likes of Kevin Mench, Gary Matthews, David Dellucci and Mark DeRosa can’t carry their fair share as well. I’m sure Nevin is chomping at the bit to strut his stuff away from Petco and he could hardly have gone somewhere more contrary to his former home field.

Rookie Watch

Ian Kinsler is a front runner to claim the second base job at the beginning of the year. He isn’t the most gifted of athletes but he has developed a reputation for having a strong work ethic and for making the most of what he’s got. He will likely only be a stopgap measure until Joaquin Arias is ready and he is a livewire with great speed and great defensive skills.

Thomas Diamond and John Danks might get a late season call up in view to trying to crack the rotation in ‘07 but Edison Volquez should get see time if there is an injury or if his form simply demands it. He has a good fastball with good sink that gets into the mid-90’s and he’ll pull the chord on a great change-up that baffles hitters. He struggles a little with his curveball but some people are already comparing his mix of stuff, personality and his slight build to none other than Pedro Martinez…that might be a bit of a stretch though.


Buck Showalter is one of the most respected managers in baseball and certainly has a keen baseball mind but the club took a bit of a backward step last year as the pitching staff failed to respond. Showalter knows how to motivate his players and if he gets the guns he knows how to fire them.

John Hart built a powerhouse in Cleveland and then came to Texas and he really hasn’t been able to get it right. He’s doled out big money to pitchers who haven’t performed as hoped (Chan Ho Park was always a fly ball pitcher so why sign him to play games in a homer friendly park?) and has seemed reluctant to deal from his dearth of hitting talent to help the rotation. You also have to wonder about the decision to lose assistant GM Grady Fuson who had implemented a strong farm system that was starting to produce a number of quality arms. Without Fuson controlling the farm a lot of their best pitchers looked like they might have been pushed too high too soon.


This team will score runs and not just in the launching pad that is Arlington but the rotation is still awaiting most of its key components and as it stands lacks the quality to carry them into the post-season. They have enough that they could beat up on lesser teams and play .500 ball.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Seattle Mariners

Seattle are coming off their second straight last place finish in the AL West but showed some signs of improvement with the additions of some late season call-ups, including arguably the hottest prospect in all of baseball. They should improve upon last years 69-93 record but can they catch the rest of the West?


Joel Pineiro took a big step backwards last year and Jamie Moyer started to show his age and that was the main reason Seattle struggled for much of the year. The club has made moves to solidify the rotation by adding Jarrod Washburn to the rotation and he should provide plenty of quality innings in Safeco when he’s healthy, but they will need Pineiro if they are to keep in touch in the West.

With Shiggy Hasegawa retired and Ron Villone a Yankee the pen took a big hit. Eddie Guardardo continued to be Steady Eddie and JJ Putz and Rafael Soriano are developing into formidable set-up men but if the rotation can’t log innings then the middle relief does look lightweight.


The infield has promise with Jose Lopez and the impressive Yuniesky Betancourt up the middle. Betancourt has already shown he can flash the leather in the Majors after a strong showing as a September call-up.

Ichiro Suzuki is a phenomenal outfielder whose mix of range and instincts are only comparable to Andruw Jones and as good as Jones’ arm is Ichiro’s is better. He throws harder and more accurately than anyone. No one runs on Ichiro.

Jeremy Reed is a good centerfielder who is probably better suited to left. It awaits to be seen if Sin-Soo Choo or Chris Snelling gets the call to play left or if the club will stick with Matt Lawton after his suspension for substance abuse.


Ichiro is still a great lead-off man despite his aggressiveness and will once again challenge for the batting title and swiping plenty of bags. They are still waiting for Reed to be the hitter he projected to be when he was a top prospect in the White Sox system. A .254 average with 15 steals and only 3 HR won’t keep him as a starter for long.

Richie Sexson was a huge presence in the Mariners line-up last year posting 39 HR and 121 RBI and that was without the help of fellow big money free agent Adrian Beltre who returned to the form he showed in his non-contract years with 19 HR, a .255 average, a lot of K’s and not many walks.

Rookie Watch

Ladies and gentlemen. Boys and girls I give you Felix Hernandez the next great pitcher. Aged just 19 he got his call up and dominated. He has a mid-to high-90’s fastball, a nasty curveball, an improving change and a devastating hard slider that can touch 90 mph. He’s already tough and as he gets older and fills out he could start throwing harder which is a really scary thought.

Chris Snelling is a true professional hitter with great hands and a great eye and would be a major leaguer now if not for numerous injuries, most notably injuries to his left knee which has sapped him of his speed. Some question if he can stay an everyday player playing the corner outfield positions with below average power but he needs to find his niche soon.

The club are waiting on Jeff Clement to be the catcher of the future but for now Kenji Johjima will fill the role. He has a reputation as a strong defender with a strong arm and he’s apparently eager to learn English so he can work more effectively with his pitchers. He also factors in to being a solid hitter in the Benji Molina/Mike Matheny mould.


Mike Hargrove’s success has unsurprisingly been heavily linked to the strength of the franchise he has managed for. In Cleveland he had a strong set-up around him and he developed a good young team into a powerhouse that won five straight division crowns. In Baltimore he had to endure the mess that is the Peter Angelos Orioles and the only thing that kept them from four straight last place finishes was the expansion Devil Rays.

Bavasi had an up and down time as GM of the Angels but was an integral part in putting the pieces together that won them the World Series in 2002 (although he was no longer a part of their front office at the time). Since leaving Anaheim he has been the Director of Player Development for the Dodgers and now they have one of the richest farm systems in the game. Time will tell if he is capable of being a GM or if he’s better suited to less high profile front office jobs.


Its not inconceivable that Seattle will contend this year with good talent in key places on the roster but there are a lot of youngsters looking to establish themselves and a few key veterans looking to rebound from poor years. The depth of the team could also be better so don’t expect them to do too great but just don’t be surprised if they bump off a big club from time to time. In Seattle he will inherit some good young talent and plenty of building blocks to make a winner. In fact the reason GM Bill Bavasi hired him was because of the similarities between Seattle now and Cleveland in the early 90’s.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Oakland A's

The A's have had a steady decline in wins in each of the last four seasons (not that an 88-74 record and second in the West is bad). There is a good crop of youngsters coming through who will be looking to end that trend.


Few teams can compare to Oakland in terms of young pitching talent with Danny Haren and Joe Blanton both looking like the finished product at just 25, but the real stud of the rotation is Rich Harden. Harden looks better every time you see him and every time you see him he looks awesome. He has a tremendous fastball that he can locate and dominate hitters with and set up his other pitches. As a 23 year old he went 10-5 with a 2.53 ERA, lets see what he does aged 24.

Barry Zito was once slated to be the ace of the staff but ever since winning the Cy Young award he has been up and down. His effectiveness always lies in how much he uses his great hook. As good a pitch as it is he does tend to go to it too often and no matter how good a pitch is it will always be hittable if you know it’s coming.

Huston Street was very worthy of his Rookie of the Year award but the real test will be to see if the 22 year old can repeat the trick.

Justin Duchscherer, Jay Witasick and Kiko Calero are solid relief pitchers but they will miss lefty Ricardo Rincon. Joe Kennedy is likely to be the one to pick up Rincon’s slack.


Jason Kendall is the starting catcher but despite his natural athleticism he is not a good receiver. His arm is average and his footwork is not good enough to compensate.

Things get better in the middle infield where Bobby Crosby and Mark Ellis make a solid combo. Crosby in particular works hard to improve all the time and is developing into one of the most dependable shortstops in baseball.

Mark Kotsay never gets the credit he deserves in the outfield. He has possibly the most accurate outfield arms around and it’s a strong one. Add to that tremendous reads which gives him great range and you have a complete outfielder. The only question is who will be in centre out of him and Milton Bradley? Both are great fielders capable of playing both positions to a high standard…at least until Bradley throws a strop.


Jason Kendall, Mark Kotsay and Mark Ellis all have a good enough approach to hitting and enough speed to be effective at the top of the order but none is a true lead-off hitter.

The team relied heavily on Bobby Crosby and Eric Chavez to generate their offence but both have had injury concerns in recent years and even though the addition of Frank Thomas should give the order more pop he too has become an injury concern in recent years. If those three miss significant time then more pressure will be put on the inconsistent bats of Nick Swisher and Bobby Kielty. Swisher’s 21 homers got him RoY consideration but his .236 average soon quashed that.

Rookie Watch

Santiago Casilla could be this years Huston Street. He has a few issues with re-obtaining a work visa after it turned out his name wasn’t Jairo Garcia and he was almost three years older than he said he was.

He already has awesome stuff including a high-90’s fastball with movement and a filthy slider with some serious tilt. If they can get him to the majors he will make Oakland an incredibly tough team to come back on.

The clubs top prospect is Daric Barton and he'll be looking for a mid to late season call-up. A prodigious hitter with a textbook approach at the plate, his bat might be Major League ready now. The only issue is will he provide enough power at first base? Oakland thinks he will but only time will tell.


Well we all know about Billy Beane and his theories about getting bang for the buck but what often gets overlooked is the incredible work of the farm system he has developed. Not only do they produce a bevy of great pitching talent but every hitter is drilled to be an Oakland A’s hitter and that singular ethos makes it very easy for guys to rise through the system and adapt quickly as they progress.

The clubs insistence upon playing a static non-running game seemed to diminish last year with Ken Macha at the helm and the team looked much more effective because of it. Macha recognised that there just isn’t enough power to keep up the ‘two walks and the three run homer’ mentality. Once he got his big players back the team played some great ball.


With their array of arms they will always be in contention but the litmus test will, as always, be how consistently they can score runs. If they can be at least middle of the pack in terms of runs scored in the league then they should be there or thereabouts come September.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Anaheim never really seemed to take off last year but still manged to win the West comfortably with a 95-67 record. They will hope more energy can be provided by an influx of supremely gifted youngsters can take them back to the promised land.


Some people seemed to question whether or not Bartolo Colon deserved to be the Cy Young winner last year (well lets face it Mo Rivera and Johan Santana were pretty damned good last year) but when you actually saw how his season evolved its easy to see why he won it. At the beginning of the year he was dominant and an absolute workhorse and it was only when he started picking up a few niggling injuries towards the end of the season that things started to plateau. He is an ace and will continue to be a rock for the Angels.

Colon’s main support will come from John Lackey who finished amongst the leaders in strikeouts and had a real come out season. Always known as a big game pitcher, he finally showed that he can be a good starter in all the ordinary games that actually get you to the big games in the first place.

The back end of the rotation could conceivably be a family affair with Jeff and Jered Weaver although Jered is likely to log a few innings in AAA before he gets called up. Jeff has had a tough time shaking off a reputation he built during some shaky years in The Big Apple but he regained his confidence in the vast expanses of Dodger Stadium and started looking like the guy we all expected when he was as a youngster in Detroit. It awaits to be seen if he can continue to be effective in a less pitcher friendly park but he still has the ability and the curveball to put in consistent starts.

Ever since Anaheim started their renaissance a few years back, their bullpen has been amongst the very best in baseball and Brendan Donnelly, Scott Shields, Hector Carrasco and JC Romero should have no problem holding leads for Francisco Rodriguez to close out. Rodriguez might have the most explosive stuff in baseball but he had troubles when he had to work a lot of games in succession. He’s still young and you’d expect his conditioning to improve but the club will need to keep an eye on his workload.


They lost possibly the best defensive catcher in baseball during the off season but then again they always had a spare Molina in their closet. Jose is your typical Molina in that he has the strong arm and great mechanics and he’ll be complemented by Jeff Mathis who is another of the endless line of great players that the Angels seem to be developing at the farm.

Anaheim seems to have an endless line of great middle infield talent too. Orlando Cabrera is a Gold Glove calibre fielder and Adam Kennedy at second also plays to a high standard. Next up is Erick Aybar who is a slick fielding shortstop with great range, athleticism and a strong arm and Brandon Wood behind him isn’t bad either. Howie Kendrick doesn’t really offer much defensively at second but if all else fails then they have Edgardo Alfonzo and Chone Figgins who have both played up the middle to good effect.

As things stand now Figgins will start at third unless Wood proves he is too good now not to be with the big club. This team is stacked on the infield in a major way.

Darin Erstad won Gold Gloves in the outfield then he went to first and won Gold Gloves there but now he’ll be asked to go back to the outfield. He’s a special player who brings maximum effort to everything he does and the supporting cast of Vlad Guerrero and Garret Anderson isn’t bad either. Guerrero seems to have toned things down in recent years and whereas he always wanted to show off his incredible arm in years past, nowadays those throws find his team mates more consistently. Few try to take the extra base on anything hit to right.


Vladimir Guerrero is a fearsome hitter. He will swing at anything he can reach and he swings hard and its truly testament to his incredible talents that even with that approach he never strikes out much (61 whiffs last year), he hits for a high average (.317) and he hits for power (32 HR). This guy is a freak who no one should try to emulate but everyone should marvel at.

It awaits to be seen who lays claim to the lead-off spot this year with Chone Figgins emerging as a hitter and with the best speed on the club (62 steals) should have the inside track. But Erstad has long been very effective there and could easily fill the post. The real wild card is Erick Aybar who really flourished as a hitter once he was plugged into the top of the order and combined well with Howie Kendrick who would batted behind him.

Kendrick is a great contact hitter who has always been one of the top hitters at every level he’s played at.

Rookie Watch

The general rule is that if they play middle infield and have come up through the Angel farm system they’re pretty good. Kendrick plays second and could have batting titles in his future, Aybar is a probable Gold Glover and lead off man and then you have Brandon Wood.

It’s unlikely Wood will start the year with Anaheim especially with the great depth at short but if he continues to rip the cover off the ball like he did last year then he could find himself at third base very quickly. Wood has all the tools to be a shortstop but many see him getting too big to stay there but his bat is plenty good enough to play anywhere (a .672 slugging percentage at Hi-A Rancho Cucamonga including 43 HR).

Jered Weaver is a high energy guy with a good assortment of pitches and was at times dominant in his first pro season and he quickly moved to AA where it wasn’t all plain sailing. He has a propensity to give up a lot of fly balls and often they fly out of the ball park. If he can refine his mechanics and be more consistent with his slider that could all change and he could be in the majors too.


Mike Scioscia is one of the most aggressive managers in baseball. He loves to put runners in motion and forces opponents to make plays. He only cares about results and will go with what works rather than fussing over match-ups and statistical models.

Between Bud Black, Mickey Hatcher and Ron Roenicke the Angles have one of the best support staffs you will find.

The infrastructure of this team is the best in baseball. From rookie ball to the senior club this team is stacked with talent and not only do they draft well but they do a great job of making the most of that talent. Then Bill Stoneman goes out and gets Vlad Guerrero and he becomes an MVP and then Bartolo Colon who turns into a Cy Young winner. This is a franchise with the golden touch.


The rotation might not be as deep as some but there are no obvious weak spots but the pen is among the best and the depth of position players is unparalleled in baseball and its not even close. If the team has injuries it can easily cover them and if the club wants to strengthen a certain area it has the chips to deal.

This is how a club should be run and they should be amongst the big contenders in the league for years to come.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

San Francisco Giants

With Bonds and Schmidt firing on all cylinders in '04 the Giants won 91 games. Last year Schmidt was off form and Bonds was injured for much of the year and they posted a 75-87 record. Its easy to see where Giants fans hopes lie.


Last year Jason Schmidt was well off par for whatever reasons and as a result the team struggled to be consistent all season. It is so important that Schmidt gets back to his best if the Giants are going to go anywhere as he is the second most important part of the team behind Bonds.

As important as Schmidt is, don’t be fooled into thinking that the Giants lack depth in the rotation with Matt Morris being brought in to give some stability and youngsters Noah Lowry and Matt Cain figuring to play strong roles this year.

The bullpen also looks strong with Steve Kline among the best lefty relievers around and the return of Tim Worrell and emergency closer Tyler Walker in support of flame throwing closer Armando Benitez. Jeff Fassero will also be a key player in a swingman role.


I said it last year and I’ll say it again, if all these guys were in their prime then this group would be awesome in the field. Omar Vizquel is still one of the better shortstops around and it’s a shame he’ll likely be paired with the sporadic Ray Durham at second. Steve Finley is another who is still very good defensively but just not what he was and his range in centre will help greatly in support of Bonds and Moises Alou.

Mike Matheny is still an outstanding catcher who just does it all and is a joy to watch in the armour. He has the strong arm but its all the other things that mark him out that often get ignored. He calls as good a game as any catcher and he is just so nimble that you have to be extremely wild to get one to the backstop. His footwork is the best in baseball. Truly a special player.

The bench has good depth with Randy Wynn and Jose Vizacaino able to cover practically every position between the pair of them to a good standard.


You may have heard of Barry Bonds. He’s going after some record and is just the most terrifying hitter in baseball. Its simple, make quality pitches to him or he’ll take you over the fence, he just doesn’t miss. Watching him at times makes you think what it must have been like to watch Babe Ruth.

Ray Durham is a good lead-off hitter (not great but good) with speed and Vizquel has tremendous bat control hitting second that enables the team to run a lot of situational stuff. Vizquel is as good as it gets at hit and run.

Moises Alou, Lance Niekro and Pedro Feliz give good depth to the line-up and if Finley can regain his stroke then the Bonds support should be in good hands.

Rookie Watch

Matt Cain came up for his cup of coffee and looked like he owned Starbucks. He has a great fastball and good curveball and could be a dominant pitcher this year. As good as he is now and as good as the natural development of his body and experience will make him, he still works hard to be better and has already impressed with his attention to detail and his overall approach to each and every game.


Felipe Alou has a reputation of working well with veterans and knowing what buttons to push but that’s easy when you have guys like Schmidt and Bonds on top of their games. Since leaving the confines of Montreal he hasn’t really had to do much in the years the Giants have been good and hasn’t done much in the years the Giants have been bad.

Brian Sabean has done a lot of good over the years but he has been stuck in a quandary recently as he knows he’s only got so many more years with Bonds around and he has been trying to patch together a World Series winner around him when he knows he should be rebuilding the side.


Any team with Barry Bonds on board always has a chance to win and if Schmidt is back on form and the likes of Morris and Cain can play like they’re capable then this is a team that could coast into the post-season.

Friday, March 10, 2006

San Diego Padres

Many people picked San D to win the west last year but no one expected them to do it with an 82-80 record. In fact that was a drop from the 87 win season in '04 which only got them third in the west!


Last year the Pads won a poor division by a negligible margin and I am convinced the reason why they managed to stay in first was the fact they could send Jake Peavy onto the mound every fifth day. In 203 innings Peavy struck out 216, walked just 50, had a WHIP of 1.044 and an ERA of 2.88 which deserved better than the 13 wins he got but he turns 25 at the end of May and most pitchers hit their prime aged 27-29. Boy is he on the verge of being truly special.

Chan Ho Park had a nightmare spell in the homerun haven that is Arlington but he’s now in pitcher friendly Petco and if his confidence hasn’t been totally shot then he could be a good bet for a big comeback reminiscent of his days in LA.

The rest of the rotation has plenty of options with the club hopeful that Clay Hensley can make the leap into the rotation and Woody Williams can shake off a disappointing year and get back to being the stabilising presence he was before. Tim Stauffer, Seth Etherton and Shawn Estes will also battle it out at the back of the rotation.

The bullpen doesn’t look as strong with the loss of Akinori Otsuka but with the always dependable Trevor Hoffman closing and Scott Linebrink nailing it in the eighth they won’t be worried too much.


Mike Cameron would make almost any outfield a good one. He has great range and a great arm and makes spectacular plays routinely and should have plenty of opportunities to show that off in the expansive Petco Park. Brian Giles, Ryan Klesko, Dave Roberts and Freddy Guzman will give Cameron plenty of strong support.

The infield will be strong too with Vinny Castilla one of the best at the hot corner and Khalil Greene always good value at short. If Josh Barfield can beat out Mark Bellhorn the infield will be as good as any in the NL, if Bellhorn gets in then…well…it will be half good.

Mike Piazza will make George Kottaras look good when he makes it to the big club. Piazza’s struggles behind the plate have been well documented for a long time so you don’t need me to tell you he couldn’t throw out Long John Silver even if he left his peg leg at home and that factors in the fact that Long John Silver doesn’t actually exist.


Petco has driven Padres hitters mad since it opened its doors and guys like Giles and Klesko have seen their power numbers seriously hampered as they combined for 33 homeruns last year and they used to be the sort of hitters who could hit that many by themselves every year but don’t be fooled these two are still a strong presence in any line-up.

Josh Barfield and Mike Cameron instantly up the athleticism of the side and should bring some much needed speed into the offence. They have the power to get plenty of doubles too but while the club can bank on more speed from two of the fastest guys in MLB in Eric Young and Dave Roberts, it also can boast two of the slowest in Bellhorn and Piazza. Bellhorn can be relied on to work pitchers even if he’ll be amongst the top of the league in K’s if given the chance but Piazza is way beyond his best and doesn’t even hit too well anymore and will likely struggle in home games.

Rookie Watch

Josh Barfield comes from good baseball stock as the son of the great Jesse Barfield and can look unorthodox at times but he has a good combination of power (gap power at Petco) and speed and should do well. He will be joined in some fashion by Clay Hensley who did well in a late season call up (1.70 ERA in 23 relief appearances and one start) and has a good shot at claiming a spot in the middle of the rotation. He doesn’t have the greatest stuff but he seems to find ways to be successful.

Freddy Guzman could make the team although likely as a bench player. He has blazing speed but injury robbed him of last season and there are some questions about whether his arm is still good enough to play regularly.


He’s had an up and down time during his time but Bruce Bochy comes back for his twelfth year. He’s had his detractors but he has taken the team to a World Series and three division titles so its hard to really doubt him.

Kevin Towers continues as GM where he has been hit and miss with his free agent signings (honestly why has he picked up Piazza?) and has also been hamstrung by budgetary constraint when it comes to drafting prospects but you can’t deny that he has done well considering with Jake Peavy a product of the system.


They have built a team that should be very hard to play at home and there’s enough variety and depth of talent that they could be better than last year and last year they won the West.