Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Offensive and Defensive Contributions of the 2007 Seattle Mariners

UPDATE 1/29/08: A commentator sent me this link regarding catcher defense. I'm not sure I believe Johjima is one of the elite defensive backstops in baseball. However, the numbers strengthen my claim that Kenji's value to the Mariners is huge.

Originally posted on 1/28/08

The first number quantifies offense as Runs Created, a statistic created by Bill James that quantifies the number of runs a batter is responsible for producing. The simplest formula for RC is On Base Percentage * Total Bases.

The second number is an average of defensive values compiled by Tiger Tales that indicates how many runs a player is better or worse compared to a theoretical average defender at the position.

Without further adieu, from first to worst:

CF Ichiro Suzuki: 133 + (13) = 147
In the American League only two players were responsible for more runs: Alex Rodriguez (161) and Magglio Ordonez (156). Simply put he's a legitimate MVP candidate with tremendous international appeal. There is perhaps no player more important to his team than Ichiro is to the Mariners.

3B Adrian Beltre: 81 + (7) = 88
Another very good (and underrated) campaign by Adrian. Primarily lauded for his defensive skills Adrian won his first Gold Glove last year. However the defensive numbers suggest he merely good -- and not great -- manning the hot corner. If Beltre played in a bandbox his offensive stats would wow the casual fan. Instead, Safeco Field saps some of his power.

DH Jose Vidro: 85 + 0 = 85
Was Jose Vidro really the third most valuable member of the Mariners roster? Technically yes. But since he rarely played defense Jose's value was almost purely as a DH. If Vidro were a regular infielder he would likely be -20 runs. Even as a hitter Jose wasn't particularly effective. Out of 11 designated hitters with more than 300 plate appearances Vidro's PA/RC ratio was third worst, only ahead of Jason Giambi and Aubrey Huff.

LF Raul Ibanez: 104 + (-21) = 83
Ibanez was, believe it or not, the most productive offensive AL left fielder in 2007. As a DH or 1B he would be immensely valuable. As things currently stand Raul is a great hitter and horrid defender. His lack of range severely curtains his overall production to the team.

RF Jose Guillen: 93 + (-17) = 76
Good bat, bad glove. At times Guillen's sweet swing was the only consistent offense from the right side for the M's. Most people assumed Jose would be a detriment in the outfield. Lo and behold he was terrible -- and then some. Also Guillen's much-lauded arm didn't do much to prevent runners from advancing.

SS Yuniesky Betancourt: 75 + (-9) = 66
To summarize Betancourt in a nutshell: a slap hitter with a perchance for foolish mistakes on the field. Some have declared Yuni the best fielding Mariner shortstop since Omar Vizquel. He has all the physical tools but mental mistakes continue to plague him. Seattle fans complain about Jose Lopez's lack of production but perhaps they should also scrutinize his double play partner.

2B Jose Lopez: 53 + (6) = 59
It's difficult to believe 18 months ago Jose was an All-Star. For the second year in a row Lopez struggled in the second half. His brother was killed in an auto accident during the spring, so his terrible play this time around was somewhat understandable. Still, a poor approach at the plate and lapses in judgment on the basepaths and in the field define Lopez.

C Kenji Johjima: 57 (defensive numbers not available)
Not surprising the man who often hit in the 7-hole for Seattle was the seventh most productive hitter. It's difficult to quantity a catcher's defensive numbers as well as his contributions to the pitching staff. All things considered it wouldn't be going out on a limb to suggest Seattle is fine at the catcher position.

1B Richie Sexson: 48 + (-14) = 34
Astoundingly awful. Even if Sexson regains some power in his swing deficiencies on defense make him a huge liability. The Mariners would be wise to send back this $14 million albatross.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Michael Wilbon Suffers Heart Attack

I've been feverishly keeping up with the increasingly bizarre Mariners-Orioles trade talks but there's a much more serious story going on in the world of sports.

Washington Post columnist and ESPN personality Michael Wilbon suffered a heart attack today. Doctors performed an angioplasty and fortunately the PTI co-host is said to be recovering comfortably.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Don't Give the Bird What It Wants

Originally posted 1/7/08

I hate to interrupt the franchise gradings but there's some potential bad news coming from Seattle Marinerland (is there ever any good news from this team??).

It's common knowledge Seattle's main goal during the offseason is to significantly upgrade the starting rotation. Its first priority, Hiroki Kuroda, signed with the LA Dodgers. The Mariners then panicked and quickly secured free agent Carlos Silva with a lucrative contract.

Seattle has been interested in several lower-tier options for additional help but GM Bill Bavasi wants to acquire a true frontline stater. During this offseason that means Johan Santana or Erik Bedard. Santana isn't a viable option because he has a full no-trade clause and does not want to play in the Emerald City.

Which leaves Bedard. The M's have pursued Baltimore's ace for awhile. Talks have been on again and off again, mostly due to the Orioles' exorbitant asking price. Perhaps until now. With spring training less than two months Seattle has reportedly sweetened the pot. Prospect Insider says a potential deal may include Adam Jones and Carlos Triunfel.

If Jones were eligible to be a rookie entering 2008 (he's nine career at-bats over the limit) he would be considered a top-five prospect. He's a five-tool outfielder who could develop into a Torii Hunter kind of talent. Triunfel, meanwhile, is a 17-year-old SS who some scouts project to be similar to Miguel Cabrera down the line. Yes, he's that (potentially) good.

Bavasi has rightfully hesitated to include Jones in any deal over the past year. Now it looks like he might cave in -- and include another stud prospect to boot! While Bedard would vastly improve the Mariners' starting pitching the trade would leave an enormous crater in the outfield, an area where Seattle desperately needs help since RF Jose Guillen signed with Kansas City and LF Raul Ibanez is really a DH.

I'm really hoping Bavasi has enough composure to walk away and keep his farmhands. Stay strong Bill.

UPDATE 1/27/08: Failure.

Friday, January 25, 2008

ESPN The Magazine Plays It Safe

Fixed the picture.

UPDATE 1/26/08: For some reason the cover image is no longer showing. I suspect either an international conspiracy or technical error. Regardless, here's another picture.

UPDATE 1/26/08: Big thanks to Deadspin for the plug.

Last week Golf Channel anchor Kelly Tilghman jokingly remarked aspiring golfers should "lynch Tiger Woods in a back alley." Reaction was harsh and swift. A few days later Golfweek Magazine downplayed the controversy by putting a noose on its cover.

In light of Golfweek's success ESPN appears to be following suit. Recently Dana Jacobson blurted some drunken statements that might be perceived as less than complimentary to Notre Dame and Jesus. Christian groups are already mobilizing a protest against the World Wide Leader.

To minimize further uproar next week's issue of ESPN The Magazine comes with a special cover.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Willie Bloomquist, Dragon Rider

In response to a mildly controversial picture and the ensuing hubbub:

As for the dragon here's the original artwork.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Saturday, January 19, 2008

What I Hope Will be the Mariner Outfield in 2008

Expounding upon what I wrote earlier...
...an enormous crater in the outfield, an area where Seattle desperately needs help since RF Jose Guillen signed with Kansas City and LF Raul Ibanez is really a DH.
Thanks to the fine work of Tiger Tales there exists an easy way to quantify how valuable a player was at fielding his position in 2007. While no single statistic can conclusively prove whether Player X is a good or bad defender, Lee Panas does a great job of explaining and incorporating a wide variety of metrics to measure defensive (in)competence.

Anyway, back to Seattle. The 2007 Mariners were one of the worst defensive outfields in baseball, though that was no fault of Ichiro Suzuki. According to the various fielding statistics Ichiro was the third-best center fielder in baseball. Furthermore The Hardball Times pegged his arm fourth best. Numbers aside, it should be obvious to even a casual fan who watches a handful of Mariner games that Suzuki has tremendous speed to complement an outstanding and accurate arm. The M's are lucky to have him.

Meanwhile Raul Ibanez and Jose Guillen were sinkholes in left and right, rating fourth worst at their respective positions. Both were horrible roaming the outfield, which should be no surprise to those who witnessed these plodders in action. However Ibanez and Guillen were slightly above average at throwing out and holding runners. For Jose that comes as no surprise. Guillen is considered to have one of the strongest cannons in the league. Ibanez, on the other hand, has a noodle arm. My best guess is Raul tended to be extremely accurate with his throws in 2007, thereby eliminating more baserunners than someone with his skill set would in a typical year.

Still the fact remains the small gains made by Guillen and Ibanez via airmail did little to dent the negative losses caused by delays on the ground. For the season they gave away 37.8 runs, effectively negating Ichiro's contributions and then some. In 2007 the Ibanez/Suzuki/Guillen trio was 23.8 runs worse than what a theoretical group of average defenders would have been. Yikes.

Looking at the upcoming year Ibanez will likely stay in left while Guillen's awful glove (and solid bat) will be playing in Kansas City. Adam Jones is currently slated to replace him in RF. By all accounts Jones projects to be a plus defender in center. At a corner outfield spot his fielding duties decrease, which makes his defensive value increase. The converted pitcher and shortstop also has a very strong arm. What was once a liability in right field now becomes an asset.

But Adam Jones might not make it on the roster for Opening Day. His name has constantly come up in trade talks as the Mariners attempt to acquire Orioles LHP Erik Bedard. The front office believes a top-tier pitcher will keep the Mariners competitive in '08. The issue on whether to include Jones in a trade for Bedard has split the M's community. Many in favor of a trade argue that Jones will not be productive this year. But is that a foregone conclusion?

In 2007 Guillen created 93 offensive runs according to The Hardball Times. Combining that with his defense (-17), let's say Guillen produced 76 runs in 2007. Now that number doesn't tell the whole story but bear with me. Last year Shane Victorino was the worst hitting right fielder with over 500 plate appearances. He created 63 runs on offense. That being said let us assume Adam Jones in 2008 will equal the offensive output of the worst hitting right fielder for an entire season. So purely from an offensive standpoint Jones will create 63 runs.

Even if Adam Jones is the worst hitting right fielder in baseball and completely average on defense he will be 83% as productive as Jose Guillen was in 2007.

But Jones will likely be above average on defense. A rough guess would be between 0 to 10 runs.

Pitching is a huge concern for Seattle entering 2008. But so is outfield defense. And with Ibanez set to return in left the Mariners already have one crater. No need to create another.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Grading the MLB Franchises: AL West

The following series will evaluate the outlook of each MLB franchise entering 2008. Every team has been given a grade based on team success, fiscal responsibility, organizational stability and future outlook. Big market teams and historically successful ballclubs are held to a higher standard.

NL East
NL Central
NL West
AL East
AL Central
AL West

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (B-)
The class of the AL West remains in the driver's seat. GM Bill Stoneman stepped down after the end of the season. New general manager Tony Reagins has yet to prove he can run a big market ballclub. Overpaying for OF Torii Hunter in 2007 wasn't as egregious as when the Angels overpaid for Gary Matthews Jr. last year but still was a bad signing. Trading Orlando Cabrera netted the Angels a quality starter in Jon Garland but leaves a gaping hole at SS. Despite these lateral moves LA still possesses superior talent (Vladimir Guerrero and great pitchers) and coaching (Mike Scioscia) compared to its division rivals. The Angels farm system has thinned since the promotions of RHP Jered Weaver, 2B Howie Kendrick and OF Reggie Willits. Top prospects 3B Brandon Wood and RHP Nick Adenhart are promising but have performance and injury questions.

Oakland Athletics (C)
GM Billy Beane is considered one of the shrewdest if not smartest general managers in baseball.
He lived up to the reputation by receiving kings' ransoms for RHP Dan Haren and OF Nick Swisher. Beane also signed OF Emil Brown for peanuts. Oakland is undergoing a full-blown reconstruction due to payroll constraints and lackluster fan support. The A's hope to be competing by the time a new ballpark opens, perhaps as early as 2010. Until then Oakland's offense will be anemic. Jack Cust is the only home run threat in the lineup. The pitching situation will be marginally better -- barring any more trades. Joe Blanton and Rich Harden are very good starters and Huston Street is a reliable closer. While the major league ballclub will likely be awful the minor league system has been replenished by the likes of 1B Daric Barton, OF Carlos Gonzales, RHP Fautino de los Santos and LHP Gio Gonzalez.

Seattle Mariners (D+)
Despite playing in a market that receives near-zero national attention, GM Bill Bavasi can play with lots of money thanks to ownership's deep pockets. However mismanagement ranging from mediocre (signing Jose Vidro) to disastrous (trading Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez) has plagued the organization. The Mariners should be grateful their international scouts excel at identifying and signing Latin talent. RHP Felix Hernandez was identified early on and despite more lucrative offers from other teams he signed with Seattle because the franchise made an early impression.
Felix was occasionally dominant but otherwise inconsistent last season. Although he's still young Hernandez will be asked to step up and carry a weak rotation that includes Miguel Batista, Carlos Silva and Jarrod Washburn. C Kenji Johjima is a reliable albeit overworked backstop. 1B Richie Sexson was astoundingly awful in 2007 -- especially for "earning" $14 million. 2B Jose Lopez and SS Yuniesky Betancourt were below average. Lopez in particular needs to show mental toughness. 3B Adrian Beltre won his first Gold Glove last season and remains one of the best at the hot corner. "OF" Raul Ibanez was red-hot for the final two months after a disastrous start. He needs to move to first or DH to mask his defensive deficiencies. Resigning CF Ichiro Suzuki was the number one priority for this team last season. His return assures the M's will field a MVP-caliber star with international appeal. RF Jose Guillen signed with Kansas City. Adam Jones is currently penciled in at the position but he may be dealt for a starting pitcher. The bullpen was one of the few bright spots for Seattle. J.J. Putz and George Sherrill established themselves as elite relievers. John McLaren, a career bench coach prior to 2007, is simply in over his head when it comes to baseball strategy. After years of despair the M's minor league is brimming with promise. OF Wladimir Balentien and C Jeff Clement showed flashes of brilliance during their brief September call-ups. SS Carlos Triunfel is as promising as a 17-year old can be. The Mariners front office wants to believe it will contend in '08 but the team is better off working toward the future -- preferably by retaining their prospects.

Texas Rangers (C)
Constant cellar dwellers since the Ivan Rodriguez-Juan Gonzalez days, Texas remains a team with a great offense and terrible pitching. SS Michel Young and 3B Hank Blalock form a great left side of the infield.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, acquired as part of the Mark Texeira trade last year, might be the most promising catcher in baseball. Whether he stays at that position or shifts to first base will determine his value. CF Josh Hamilton comes from Cincinnati. He was a great comeback story in 2007, but more importantly he was incredibly productive. The pitching situation is a mess. The Rangers signed washed-up LHP Eddie Guardado to shore up a woeful bullpen. At least Texas is home to one of the best farm systems. There are good prospects playing in every level such as RHP Neftali Feliz, RHP Eric Hurley, SS Elvis Andrus, OF Engel Beltre, C Taylor Teagarden and RHP Blake Beavan.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Grading the MLB Franchises: AL Central

The following series will evaluate the outlook of each MLB franchise entering 2008. Every team has been given a grade based on team success, fiscal responsibility, organizational stability and future outlook. Big market teams and historically successful ballclubs are held to a higher standard.

NL East
NL Central
NL West
AL East
AL Central
AL West

Chicago White Sox (D)
This offseason GM Kenny Williams paid a high price for OF Nick Swisher. He also traded a good pitcher in Jon Garland for SS Orlando Cabrera. Williams acquired OF Carlos Quentin to boot. Major changes were expected. In 2007 the White Sox were barely better than the Royals. Manager Jose Guillen, only a few years removed from a championship, will be on the hot seat. Recent losing and a constant temper has made him vulnerable to a pink slip. Helping his cause will be 1B Paul Konerko and DH Jim Thome. They aren't getting any younger but they can still mash. LHP Mark Buerhle is a reliable workhorse, but John Danks and Jose Contreras are inconsistent. Bobby Jenks had a record-setting campaign as a closer last year. Unfortunately White Sox won't be competitive now or in the future. The farm system, like Kenny Williams, is desperate.

Cleveland Indians (A-)
Probably the most competent organization in MLB, led by its outstanding braintrust. Former executive Neal Huntington has left to run the Pirates, but GM Mark Shapiro and Assistant GM Chris Antonetti remain. They might be the best in the league at handling and evaluating talent, having built a perennial contender in a small market with a payroll around $65 million. Any team would love to build around homegrown superstars like OF Grady Sizemore, C Victor Martinez, LHP C.C. Sabathia and RHP Fausto Carmona. There's one weak link on this team -- and it's a big one. Last season closer Joe Borowski had a bad habit of imploding in the ninth inning. The Indians would be wise to find a reliable stopper for their bullpen. The minor league system is good but nothing spectacular since many promising prospects have already graduated to the big leagues.

Detroit Tigers (A-)
GM Dave Dombrowski made the biggest splash this offseason by acquiring 3B Miguel Cabrera and LHP Dontrelle Willis from Florida.
But they came at a high price as the mega-trade gutted the Tigers farm system. In 2008 manager Jim Leyland looks to lead the Tigers to their second World Series in three years. Check out Motown's projected lineup: Curtis Granderson, Placido Polanco, Gary Sheffield, Magglio Ordonez, Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Marcus Thames and Brandon Inge. There's not a more imposing offense in the majors. Detroit's pitching corps, on the other hand, needs help. Led by Justin Verlander the starters are solid but not overwhelming. They need another impact arm to match up against Anaheim, Boston and Cleveland. Willis might be that arm but he needs to prove he can pitch consistent in the superior AL. The thin bullpen will miss Joel Zumaya, who's out most of the 2008 season due to a shoulder injury. Todd Jones is almost 40 but still reliable in the ninth.

Kansas City Royals (D+)
Royals GM Dayton Moore is making progress. Kansas City once again finished in the division cellar, but the franchise is steadily heading toward respectability with a blend of productive veterans and toolsy prospects.
3B Alex Gordon, RF Mark Teahan and DH Billy Butler struggled mightily in 2007. With a year of experience under its belt the promising core expects to make huge strides this season. Moore overpaid for OF Jose Guillen, who'll sit out the start of the season to serve a suspension for steroid use. However, Guillen will be a key threat in a mostly punchless lineup. RHP Gil Meche anchors a subpar collection of arms. Joakim Soria proved last season he's capable of closing games, but the Royals don't have relief arms to consistently close the gap from the sixth inning to the ninth. KC has two elite players in the minors, SS Mike Moustakas and RHP Luke Hochevar.

Minnesota Twins (C+)
Johan Santana. Will he stay? If so the Twins get another year of the best pitcher in baseball. Will he go? Then Minnesota can focus on building a contender in time for the unveiling of its new ballpark.
In 2006 LHP Francisco Liriano appeared to be the next Johan. Then he suffered arm trouble and required reconstructive elbow surgery. His return will be critical for the Twins. Outside of Santana and Liriano Minnesota lacks a reliable starter. In fact it's conceivable the Twins will start the season with closer Joe Nathan as their best pitcher. Joe Mauer defines the term franchise center and 1B Justin Morneau is only two years removed from winning the MVP. CF Torii Hunter left for greener pastures in Anaheim. A revamped outfield will include Delmon Young and Craig Monroe. The Twins will to need stock up on prospects. CF Ben Revere and RHP Anthony Swarzak headline a diminishing system.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Oh the Irony

The Cleveland Indians will now play at Progressive Field.

I hear the Washington Redskins are considering a move to Unprejudice Stadium.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Grading the MLB Franchises: AL East

The following series will evaluate the outlook of each MLB franchise entering 2008. Every team has been given a grade based on team success, fiscal responsibility, organizational stability and future outlook. Big market teams and historically successful ballclubs are held to a higher standard.

NL East
NL Central
NL West
AL East
AL Central
AL West

Baltimore Orioles (D-)
SS Miguel Tejada was sent off two years too late. Baltimore's best position player, 2B Brian Roberts, has been shipped to Chicago. The Orioles ace, Erik Berdard, is on the trading block. Owner Peter Angelos and GM Mike Flanagan have assembled the worst team $90 million can buy. RF Nick Markakis has a swing tailor-made for Camden Yard's short porch but he's the lone threat in an unremarkable lineup. Besides Berdard and
RHP Daniel Cabrera none of the arms are exceptional. Dave Trembely replaced ousted manager Sam Perlozzo midseason and will have his work cut out for him in '08. Prep C Matt Wieters was the selected with the fifth overall pick in the 2007 draft. He's got a ton of potential but catchers need several years to develop. The Orioles will likely struggle in the tough AL East Division this year and for the next several. Makes Baltimore fans pine for the Cal Ripken days.

Boston Red Sox (A-)
The world champions have all the ingredients needed to for a dynastic run. First and foremost the team is loaded with talent. 2007 Rookie of the Year 2B Dustin Pedroia sets the table for sluggers LF Manny Ramirez and DH David Ortiz. Starters Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling can dominate a lineup on any given night. Even if they don't finish the job closer Jonathon Papelbon is there to slam the door on opponents. Secondly the Red Sox have a tremendous fan base, which allows GM Theo Epstein to gamble often on roster moves. Sometimes those transactions backfire, such as pricey mistakes OF J.D. Drew and SS Julio Lugo. But Epstein has had more successes than failures -- $150 million in financial leeway tends to go a long way. RHP Clay Buccholz, OF Jacoby Ellsbury, SS Jed Lowrie and 1B Lars Anderson highlight one of the elite minor league systems in the game.

New York Yankees (B)
Regardless of how hard the tyrannical Steinbrenner brood (first George, now Hank) might huff and puff about a lack of recent championships the pinstripes remain a remarkable franchise. Now focused on a grassroots approach New York possesses an impressive trio of young arms in Joba Chamberlain, Philip Hughes and Ian Kennedy. They supplement an outstanding core which includes 2007 AL MVP Alex Rodriguez as well as perennial All-Stars Derek Jeter, Jose Posado and Mariano Rivera. Starting pitching remains the biggest weakness. Roger Clemens recently retired and the Mitchell report squashed any chances of yet another comeback by the Rocket. Andy Pettitte recently signed a one-year deal to return to New York. However, the recent steroid allegations against Pettitte may force him into retirement -- or to be scrutinized all year. First-year Yankee manager Joe Girardi has some mighty big shoes to fill considering Joe Torre won four championships in eleven years and never missed the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Rays (C)
A name change signifies a new start. Beginning with the most loaded minor league system Tampa Bay is improving from the bottom up. Top overall pick LHP David Price, 3B Evan Longoria, OF Desmond Jennings, LHP Jacob McGee and SS Reid Brignac will be coming through the pipeline, some even as early as this summer. Joe Maddon, entering his third year as manager, needs to win more than the usual 60 games a season.
1B Carlos Pena will be the biggest contributor for the Rays' offense. Pena went from well-traveled regular to superstar slugger by mashing 46 homers in 2007. RHP Matt Garza, brought in at the expense of OF Delmon Young, joins Scott Kazmir and James Shields as headliners of a great rotation. Although the Rays have no realistic chance of making the playoffs they will be a youthful squad with tons of talent. Question is, will anyone come to the awful stadium to watch?

Toronto Blue Jays (C+)
The Blue Jays seem to be stuck in competitive limbo: never good (or rich) enough to compete with the Yanks and Soxs but always better than the O's and Rays. Barring any drastic developments this team seems set on another 85-win campaign with no postseason in sight. Toronto's offense starts with a pair of great outfielders, Vernon Wells and Alex Rios. No one in the infield stands out, although SS John McDonald flashes a tremendous glove and 3B Troy Glaus' power may return once he's healthy. RHP Roy Halladay is one of the true aces in the game. He's followed in the rotation by the good but often-injured A.J. Burnett. LHP B.J. Ryan sat out nearly the entire season due to Tommy John surgery. Without a reliable closer the birds are toast. Down in the minors OF Travis Snider continues to develop as an excellent left-handed slugger.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Grading the MLB Franchises: NL West

The following series will evaluate the outlook of each MLB franchise entering 2008. Every team has been given a grade based on team success, fiscal responsibility, organizational stability and future outlook. Big market teams and historically successful ballclubs are held to a higher standard.

NL East
NL Central
NL West
AL East
AL Central
AL West

Arizona Diamondbacks (B+)
The NL West champs fell to Colorado in the NLCS last year. Despite playing in the most competitive division in baseball the Dbacks should be favored to repeat.
1B Connor Jackson, SS Stephen Drew, OF Chris Young and OF Justin Upton form a young and talent-laden nucleus. Last season OF Eric Byrnes quickly established himself as a veteran presence in the clubhouse. Strangely the Dbacks gave away NL saves leader Jose Valverde in the offseason. GM Josh Byrnes also traded six youngsters to Oakland for RHP Dan Haren, who joins Brandon Webb and Randy Johnson (when healthy) in the rotation. While the transaction gutted Arizona's farm system the ballclub now has the most formidable trio of arms in the National League. The 1-2-3 tandem should go a long way in the regular season -- and perhaps even further in the playoffs.

Colorado Rockies (B-)
Was the September surge culminating in the franchise's only World Series appearance a lucky streak or a sign of things to come? Looking over this organization it certainly seems like the former. LF Matt Holliday and SS Troy Tulowitzki, runner-ups in the MVP and ROTY voting respectively in 2007, are a tremendous duo to build around. 1B Todd Helton's production has declined for several years but he's still a valuable player. Offense won't be a problem for a team that plays its home games at Coors Field. On the other hand one wonders how this average group of arms ever advanced to the Fall Classic. Any rotation that slots RHP Aaron Cook as the second starter is in serious disarray. The bullpen is in slightly better shape but LHP Brian Fuentes, who lost his closer's role, struggles with consistency. LHP Franklin Morales is considered by some experts as a top-25 prospect. Don't expect the Rockies to replicate last year's success. Still, fan support and awareness are as high as they were during the Blake Street Bomber days in the mid 90's.

Los Angeles Dodgers (B)
Joe Torre at the helm certainly brightens the outlook of this organization, as does the signing of CF Andruw Jones. At the end of last year a rift between overpaid veterans (Jeff Kent chief among them) and young players (Matt Kemp, James Loney, Andre Ethier) developed as LA fell short of the NL West crown. This divide still threatens the ballclub and needs to be addressed. On the bright side, the Dodgers have a wealth of promising in the minors such as LHP Clayton Kershaw, SS Chin-Lung Hu and 3B Andy LaRouche. With LA playing in a highly competitive division this may finally be the season GM Ned Colletti decides to parlay young commodities for a much-needed star pitcher to complement Brad Penny and Derek Lowe. RHP Hiroki Kuroda, the prize arm coming from Japan, may or may not be that person. Regardless of whether the Dodgers decide to keep the nucleus together for future runs for the pennant or go for broke, this proud and historic team is in good shape.

San Diego Padres (B)
San Diego appeared to have the NL West wrapped up until a disastrous series at Milwaukee. The Padres were subsequently swept by the Brewers and lost in a one-game playoff to the Rockies. 2008 will be another opportunity to contend for a division title thanks to pitching. Unlike most teams San Diego possesses a sterling starting rotation. Leading the pack is 2007 Cy Young winner Jake Peavy. The 20-game winner is followed by Chris Young, future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, Randy Wolf and Mark Prior. Of course Padre mainstay Trevor Hoffman is there to close the door in the ninth. Taking low-risk chances on Prior, 2B Tadahito Iguchi and CF Jim Edmonds epitomize the type of shrewdness GM Kevin Towers has demonstrated time and time again. 3B Chase Headley and 2B Matt Antonelli are good prospects but San Diego is not known for its farm system.

San Francisco Giants (D)
GM Brian Sabean finally parted ways with Barry Bonds. All it took was a federal indictment. With Bonds' departure not only will a gigantic distraction be lifted but the Giants can finally focus on rebuilding. However one way not to rebuild is to sign pricey free agents. CF Aaron Rowand certainly will improve a stagnant offense and atrocious defense, but someone like him should complement talent. Instead he headlines a roster that includes regulars like 2B Rich Aurilia, SS Omar Vizquel and LF Dave Roberts. Hardly worldbeaters. The pitching situation is slightly less abhorrent.
Workhorses Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are preceded by what will be Year Two of the ridiculously expensive Barry Zito experiment. This franchise will likely not improve upon last year's 71-win campaign and help isn't coming soon: teenager prospect 3B Angel Villalona is years away from The Show.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Grading the MLB Franchises: NL Central

The following series will evaluate the outlook of each MLB franchise entering 2008. Every team has been given a grade based on team success, fiscal responsibility, organizational stability and future outlook. Big market teams and historically successful ballclubs are held to a higher standard.

NL East
NL Central
NL West
AL East
AL Central
AL West

Chicago Cubs (B)
The ownership issue looms over the Cubbies as the Tribune Company prepares to cede its share of the team. Still, that hasn't stopped Chicago from spending and, more importantly, contending. The reigning NL Central Division winner snagged free agent OF Kosuke Fukudome to bolster an already formidable lineup that includes 1B Derrek Lee, OF Alfonso Soriano and 3B Aramis Ramirez. RHP Carlos Zambrano, who signed a contract extension during the season, leads one of the stronger rotations in the National League. Lou Piniella in his first season as Cubs skipper once again proved there's a method to his madness by leading his team to a second-half surge. CF Felix Pie, the best youngster in the organization, must hit consistently to set up the table for the sluggers. Other top prospects, most notably 3B Josh Vitters, are years away from producing in the big leagues.

Cincinnati Reds (C-)
The Reds have one of the most loaded minor league systems around. OF Jay Bruce, RHP Homer Bailey, RHP Johnny Cuerto and 1B Joey Votto are all top-20 prospects. The big league club, however, suffers from a lack of talent. Aaron Harang is an excellent starter, but after him the quality in pitching drops precipitously. GM Wayne Krivsky needed to shore up numerous positions but instead approved a series of head scratchers this offseason. First there was the hiring of Dusty Baker, a manager who's a winner and an underachiever. Next was the resigning of Adam Dunn, a DH disguised as a LF. Finally, Krivsky tried to shore up a woeful bullpen by signing Francisco Cordero. Cordero's a very good closer but he will be (over)paid elite reliever money for four years. Krivsky traded OF Josh Hamilton, last year's feel good story, to the Rangers for prospects. Cincinnati fans probably won't have much to feel good about this season. Even in this awful division the Reds will likely be left in the dust.

Houston Astros (F)
Owner Drayton McLane continues to run this franchise into the ground. The hiring of Ed Wade, one of the worst minds in baseball, further contributes to the mediocrity. The banishment of Brad Lidge, the much-maligned but rather effective closer, to the Phillies for meager returns is typical for this team. There's some interesting players on the ballclub (Hunter Pence, Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt), but there's an alarming number of mediocre players. The Astros lost 89 games in 2007; expect that number to rise. As if the major league ballclub wasn't bad enough Houston has the worst crop of prospects in baseball. Over the years the Astros have signed pricey free agents (i.e. Carlos Lee) while simultaneously refusing to offering arbitration to its own players. This has resulted in Houston giving away high draft picks as compensation while receiving nothing in return. In 2007 Houston had no first or second rounder while also failing to sign its third- and fourth-round selections. The recent acquisition of Miguel Tejada adds yet another washed-up veteran to the roster while further depleting an already weak farm system. At least the Dynamo won the MLS Cup.

Milwaukee Brewers (C+)
Big bopping 1B Prince Fielder and 3B Ryan Braun nearly led the Brewers to a surprisingly playoff birth in 2007. This season Milwaukee won't be sneaking up on any teams and will have to play well the entire year. Outside of Fielder, Braun and SS J.J. Hardy the lineup is inconsistent. Braun, who was horrible with the glove during his rookie campaign, may be moved to the outfield. The pitching fell apart down the stretch in 2007 and things haven't improved. The starting rotation consists of Ben Sheets, Yovani Gallardo and three average arms. The bullpen suffered a blow this winter when closer Francisco Cordero signed with Cincinnati. Free agent pickup Eric Gagne was excellent last season at closing games for the Rangers but the former Cy Young winner imploded while playing for the Red Sox. Furthermore he was implicated in the Mitchell Report this offseason. OF Matt LaPorta, the seventh pick of the 2007 draft, is the best prospect in an average farm system.

Pittsburgh Pirates
If your team finishes last in the NL Central you know something is terribly wrong. The Pirates, fortunately, got the note and cleaned house. In 2008 they will be led by a new GM and skipper, Neal Huntington and skipper John Russell respectively. Huntington comes via Cleveland where he was groomed by some of the sharpest minds in the game. With him leading the way Pittsburgh's definitely going in the right direction but it has a significant uphill battle on its hands. LF Jason Bay, an All-Star in 2006, struggled mightily last season. He will likely the main threat in a below average lineup. LHP Tom Gorzelanny and RHP Ian Snell are good starters but the other arms aren't much. This year won't be pretty but the next decade offers a promising future for the Pirates. They have a smart man running baseball operations, a beautiful stadium and OF Andrew McCutchen, 1B Steve Pearce and LHP Daniel Moskos waiting in the wings.

St. Louis Cardinals (B-)
Two years ago the Cards opened a new stadium, won the World Series and were on top of the baseball world. 2007 started with the DUI arrest of manager Tony LaRussa and death of RHP Josh Hancock. Things only went downhill from there as St. Louis went from champions to sub-.500. Long-time GM Walt Jocketty retired as well. There's a lot of questions for the Cards, but also much to be content with. 1B Albert Pujols is well on his way to becoming one of the all-time greats but he can't solve all the problems on the field -- and off it. The ongoing spat between LaRussa and 3B Scott Rolen needs to be resolved before it distracts during spring training and the season. 2005 Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter threw only one game last season due to an elbow injury. Unless he returns to form the Cards lack the pitching necessary to make the playoffs. Rick Ankiel is expected to take over in center and stud prospect OF Colby Rasmus might join him in the outfield.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Grading the MLB Franchises: NL East

The following series will evaluate the outlook of each MLB franchise entering 2008. Every team has been given a grade based on team success, fiscal responsibility, organizational stability and future outlook. Big market teams and historically successful ballclubs are held to a higher standard.

NL East
NL Central
NL West
AL East
AL Central
AL West

Atlanta Braves (B)
Last season Atlanta realized it was no longer the top dog in the division. With New York and Philadelphia vying for first place in the NL East the Braves made a huge splash midway through the season. Although acquiring 1B Mark Teixeira from Texas cost premium prospects and failed to produce a playoff berth, he was worth it. Teixeira is a legitimate MVP candidate and the 2008 Braves will need a huge year from him to compensate for the loss of CF Andruw Jones. The rest of the returning lineup is competent. Bringing back Tom Glavine was more than a token gesture; he solidifies the rotation. GM John Schuerholz was responsible for Atlanta's remarkable run of division titles during the 90's. It'll be almost impossible for his successor, Frank Wren, to replicate that kind of excellence. A pair of outfielders, Jordan Schafer and Jason Heyward, are Atlanta's best minor leaguers.

Florida Marlins (D-)
One wonders how such a dysfunctional franchise could win two championships in a decade. Owner Jeff Loria insists the team needs a new stadium to stay competitive. Until that happens he and team president Dave Samson attempt to sabotage the franchise into submission. The results of their meddling? A terrible product on the field (91 losses), dwindling crowds (less than 17,000 per home game -- lowest in the majors) and an embarrassing low payroll (less than $25 million by Opening Day -- second lowest). During the offseason Florida traded away two of its best (and priciest) players, 3B Miguel Cabrera and LHP Dontrelle Willis. Suffice to say 2008 won't be pretty for the Fish. If Marlins fans can take solace in anything it's the bevy of young talent stockpiling their roster. Maybe in a few years Florida will make another World Series run with the likes of Dan Uggla, Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez, Jeremy Hermida, Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller.

New York Mets (C+)
One year ago Mets manager Willie Randolph was lauded for leading his team to within a game of the Wold Series. A few months back angry fans were demanding his dismissal after a historic September collapse left New York out of the postseason by a single game. Ups and downs aside this is a team probably somewhere in the middle; a good ballclub that will contend in an increasingly-competitive division David Wright, Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran are the cornerstones to a solid foundation. Starting pitching, however, remains a huge concern. Tom Glavine's departure didn't help matters and Pedro Martinez's health is still reason to worry. GM Omar Minaya needs to acquire a quality arm but trading prospects might not be the best route. The once-promising farm system has dimmed, evidenced by former can't-miss prospect OF Lastings Milledge's sendoff to Washington. 2008 will be a pivotal year for the Mets, but then again every year is life and death when it comes to New York sports.

Philadelphia Phillies (B-)
The fighting Phillies surged to a division title last season only to be felled by the red-hot Rockies in the NLDS. Three MVP-caliber infielders (Chase Utley, Jimmie Rollins, Ryan Howard) look to prove 2007 wasn't a fluke as they lead one of the fiercest lineups in baseball. Free agent acquisition OF Geoff Jenkins should provide even more punch. Jenkins will take over one of the corner outfield spots, moving Shane Victorino to center to replace departed CF Aaron Rowand. While the offense is set the pitching situation appears to be a mess. GM Pat Gillick brought in closer Brad Lidge to shore up the bullpen but it's the starting rotation that needs support. After Cole Hamels Philadelphia lacks a consistent starter. One name to remember for the future is RHP Carlos Carrasco. Whether he'll help the team this year remains to be seen.

Washington Nationals (C)
A new ballpark should spark interest in the nation's capitol for this country's pastime. Visitors to Nationals Park will witness the offensive prowess and defensive wizardry of 3B Ryan Zimmerman. Unfortunately for Nats fans he is surrounded by unproven youngsters, over-the-hill veterans and mediocre arms.
C Paul Lo Duca, acquired from the Mets, was named in the Mitchell Report as a steroid user shortly after he joined the team. Manny Acta won only 73 games in his first year as manager... and that was considered a success. The Nationals have one of the lowest payrolls in the majors (around $40 million) and 2008 will likely be a tough growing year for the organization. OF Chris Marrero and LHP Ross Detwiler should be ready to go in a couple years. By then residents in D.C. hope to be packing the stadium to enjoy the product on the field -- and not the pretty facilities.