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MLB 2011 Preview/Predictions

March 1, 2011 in Uncategorized

A Guest Blog By Fanspeak contributing writer Kyle Howard:

Just about a month away from the offical start of the MLB 2011 season. Many offseason publicity and free agency moves make this year in the MLB very interesting. Crawford to the Red Sox, Cliff Lee back to the Phillies, Werth to the Nationals, and Rafeal Soriano are only some of the new faces, in new places from this years offseason transactions. Here is my run through on my projections for this year:

AL East:

1) Red Sox; It kills me to put the Soxs as my division winners being a diehard Yankees fan but the Red Sox really beefed up their line up with the acquisitions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. Their line up is as good as any in baseball and their pitching staff when healthy is top 5 in the league. Look for the Sox to make it back to October with either a division title or a wild card spot.

2) Yankees; Many Yankee fans look at this offseason as a failure. Not being able to convince Cliff Lee or Zach Greinke to come to New York was a tough pill to swallow. Their line up is still as lethal as any in the game and with the acquisition of Rafeal Soriano to help set up Rivera in the 9th really helped the needs of the bullpen. The starting pitching is going to be the real question mark throughout the season. If Burnett can turn his season around, Nova can turn into an every 5 day starter and the Mark Prior project can make strides, the Yankees will be pushing for yet another division title. Look for them to contend with the Sox until the last month of the season and either walking away with a wild card spot or best case scenario a division title.

3) Orioles; The Orioles are my surprise team of the league this year. They have done a great job of loading up on young talent and I feel that 2011 is the year they start making some noise. With Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Matt Wieters being the focal points of this team, the pitching talent needs to step up and you may be looking at a very dangerous team in the next few years. Look for the Orioles to have an above average year and finishing 3rd in the AL East.

4) Tampa Bay; Tampa Bay is in a transitioning period. They lost Crawford, Garza, and Soriano to free agentcy/trades and that leaves some big holes to fill for some young talented players in their farm system. With the acquistion of Manny and Damon, the Rays bring in some experience to their club with a more risk/reward mentality. The Rays staff is still a dangerous one lead by David Price and Evan Longoria will only improve and maybe a darkhorse candidate for MVP this year. Give the Rays some time to develop and they will be back in the postseason within the next couple of weeks.

5) Toronto; With still lingering questions on what Toronto’s next move is going to be, look for them to have a down year this year. Jose Bautista coming off a 54 home run year campaign and getting an extention I could see having a downer year. With some young potential pitching talent, look for the Blue Jays to use those as trade bait especially strikeout specialist Brandon Morrow.

AL Central:

1) Twins; It is difficult for me to pick a winner in this division being as the parity is so well distributed, so I will take experience and choose the Twinkees as the division winner. With Morneau coming back and the ability to resign Pavano, who is an innings machine, the Twins are poised to be the front runners of this jam packed division. If Nathan comes back healthy from his season ending surgury last year look for the Twins to be the winners of this division.

2) White Sox; Last year was a disappointment for the White Sox. With much publicity hovering over Ozzie Guillen, the White Sox struggled for most of the season. With the key offseason acquistion of Adam Dunn and resigning Paul Konerko this team will have quite a powerful 4 and 5 spots in their line up. Also, Buerhle leading the staff followed by Floyd and Danks, look for this team to contend with the Twins for the division title and the loser will be in the wild card hunt.

3) Tigers; The Tigers 2011 season is on the shoulders of how healthy/sober Miguel Cabrera can be. The man has as much talent as their is in the MLB but, off field troubles have put the Tigers in a spin. Offseason acquistion Victor Martinez adds some power to a line up that was in desperate need for help around Cabrera.  Verlander leads this young staff, and when he is on is one of the most powerful pitchers in the league. A sophmore slump from promising young star Rick Porcello was a key difference maker in the Tigers 2010 season. If Porcello can get over his 2nd year struggles, look for the Tigers to contend for a majority of the season, but I feel the off the field publicity and inexperience in pitching will lead them to a 3rd place finish.

4) Royals; Its been a bad decade for the Royals but, this year,  I can see them making some strides to becoming a better squad. Alex Gordon needs to become the player we all thought he would become when he was drafted 4th overall in 2005. Luke Hochevar splashed onto the scene last year with a decent season and showing signs he could become a decent starter at the Major league level. The Royals still have a long way to go but, if their draft picks start stepping up the next 5 years could look promising for this squad.

5) Indians; The Indians are in the rebuilding stage as an organization. With many young prospects gained from the Cliff Lee trade and Victor Martinez trade, look for this team to show a lot of new faces this year. Shin soo Choo is a rising star in the outfield showing signs of power and batting average and a good piece to build around. This will be a struggling year for the Indians and will stay that way unless they make some noise at the trade deadline.

AL West:

1) Angels; Coming off a very disappointing season last year look for the Angels to make it back to the postseason this year. With a star studed staff lead by Jared Weaver, Scott Kazmir, and Ervin Santana look for the pitching to help carry this team into October. Kendry Morales maybe the biggest difference maker on this team this season. If he comes back as healthy as he was before his ACL accident, look for him to be another darkhorse MVP candidate.

2) Texas; Losing Cliff Lee to free agency crippled this teams potential for years to come. Coming off of the organizations first World Series experience the sky was the limit for this team. Led by MVP Josh Hamilton and power slugging OF Nelson Cruz, this team will go as far as these 2 stars can stay healthy. With questions surrounding the starting staff, look for the Rangers to pick up an arm at the trade deadline in hopes of making another push into October.

3) Athletics; The Athletics have one of the best young pitching staffs in baseball and they live and die on how well these young guns can do. Grant Balfour, Dallas Braden, Trevor Cahill,  Brett Anderson, and Andrew Bailey are the cornerstones of this young franchise. Dont be surprised if they A’s make a push at the deadline by moving one of these players for a bat in an often weak line up with an aging Eric Chavez. Look for the Athletics to continue rebuilding and continue improvement for years to come.

4) Mariners; The Mariners need power and they need it fast. The Mariners were last in almost every statistical batting category last year and they need to add some power to that line up. With much promise in former 2nd overall pick Dustin Ackley from UNC, it wont be a surprise to see him starting by mid season. Felix Hernandez is just a decent offensive team away from being arguably the best pitcher and baseball and look for him to continue his dominence in 2011.

NL East:

1) Phillies; Many analyst have it already penciled in that the Phillies will be holding up another World Series Title come October in 2011. With possibly the best 4 starters ever to be assembled on a single team, look for them to dominate most of the teams in the NL. Additions such as Cliff Lee only make this team even stronger and a star studded line up to back him up it will be quite a challenge to take this team in a 7 game series. With Werth gone that opens up the spot for top prospect Dominic Brown to take the rains of right field. The Phillies will walk away with this division and by July be focusing on the Playoffs.

2) Braves; The Braves suprised many of us last year and this year are a team not to mess with. With Hudson, Hanson, and Lowe leading the staff and the emergence of Jason Heyward becoming a star in the MLB, and the acquisition of Dan Uggla,  look for the Braves to win a wild card and being on an upset alert come playoff time.

3) Marlins; The Marlins have been trying to develop young talent for most of the past couple of years in hopes of turning into a legit playoff squad. Lead by MVP candidate Hanley Rameriz and pitching stud Josh Johnson, the Marlins are looking for an additional bat and arm to help make a charge at a competitive East division.

4) Mets; I really do not know where to start with Los Mets. They have as much talent as a team would need to make an apperance in the postseason but, for some reason they never seem to all click at the same time. Look for this years Mets team to be centered around David Wright and a healthy Jose Reyes. Pitching is very suspect due to Johan having elbow surgery. Look for the Mets to try and compete but come up short in the East race.

5) Nationals; Being from Northern Virginia and having been to multiple Nats games its difficult for me to put them in this position. Strasburg is what brought this team alive and made them play with passion and pride but, with Tommy John Surgery dont look for Strasburg to be throwing until September, if they even decide to let him throw at all. With key acquistion of Jayson Werth, the Nats will be along the same lines of production as last year. The future looks bright in Washington and if Strasburg can come back as good as he left, and Harper doesn’t disappoint down in the minors, this team will be fun to watch in the coming years.

NL Central:

1) Cubs; I know its as shocking to you as it is to me that the Cubs are going to finish first in the division. The Cubs made a key move in acquiring Garza this winter, and if their young talent continues to produce look for them to be a sneaky good team come playoff time. This pick is definitely a stretch and my upset of the year.

2) Reds; The surprise team of the year in 2010, the Reds will be looking to capitalize on thier run last year and continue it into this year. Joey Votto is the leader of this squad and looks to duplicate is MVP year last year and transition it to this year. Pitching was a strong point for the Reds last year but, I feel that they will struggle this year with to much inconsistentcy. Look for the Reds to make it back to the post season and be a contender as a wild card.

3) Cardinals; The Cardinals would be first in the Central if it werent for the staggering news on Adam Wainwright out for the season. The loss of Wainwright equals trouble for this club. With the huge injury to the staff and an unhappy Albert Pujols, look for this club to have a difficult time with all the distractions and end up chasing a wild card spot.

4) Brewers; The Brewers have 2 young stars in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, arguably 1 of the best tandems in the league. With the line up set up to produce runs the Brewers made a huge trade in aquiring Zack Greinke to help with the staff. Look for the Brewers to improve and possibly take the Cardinals spot and fighting for a spot in the post season.

5) Astros; It is easy to say that the Astros are in a rebuilding year. Losing Roy Oswalt to a trade pretty much sums it up. With young talent in the minors and an aging outfield minus Hunter Pence, look for the Astros to struggle most the year and look to being sellers at the deadline

6) Pirates; This team is the only team that manages to get great prospects and trade them away. The Pirates have not had a well established club since the 80′s and I don't see that happening this year. Their one true star Andrew McCutchen is a lead-off hitter and you can’t build a team around that. Zack Duke will finish with a sub .500 win record and they will use many new arms from their farm system this year. Sorry so called “City of Champions” but you may want to concentrate on NFL happening in the fall and Crosby recovering over watching this squad this year.

NL West:

1) Giants; The defending World Series Champions have to be the favorites to come out of this jam packed West division. Offseason loss of World Series MVP, Edgar Renteria, leaves a big hole at shortstop and Juan Uribe’s departure to division rival LA leaves a big spot open at the utility role. With the young guns on the pitching staff such as Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner leading the way and crazy Wilson closing out games, look for this team to make it back to the Postseason in a coinflip of a division.

2) Rockies; the Rockies struggled last year despite the fact they are known as being a second half team only 2 years removed from their prolific playoff run. With flame thrower Ubaldo Jimenez leading the staff and Troy Tulowitzki the captain of the team. Look for the Rockies to make some noise and be a strong challenger for being the wild card team come October.

3) Padres; the Padres had a banner of a year last season coming down to the wire last season with the Giants going into the last game of the season. The Padres have an underrated pitching staff lead by rising star Mat Latos, with verterans such as Jon Garland to help mentor the fire baller. Free Agency hit the Padres hard by losing their superstar first basemen Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox. I can see the Padres relying on their arms to keep them in the race but with no one significant to replace Gonzalez, runs are going to be hard to come by for this club.

4) Diamondbacks; This team is tricky to pick. One day their hot the next day their not. After giving up Dan Haren to the Angels in return for some prospects, the diamondbacks are clearly a process in the making. Relying heavily on star outfielder Justin Upton is going to be too much for this team to overcome.

Playoff Predition:

AL                                           NL                                         World Series

Red Sox                              Giants                               Phillies vs. Red Sox

Yankees                            Cubs                                         Phillies win 4-2

Angels                               Phillies

Twins                                 Rockies

Monday's Morning Links:

December 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

Miami Taps Golden To Be Their Next Head Coach: The Miami Hurricanes named Al Golden to be their next head football coach yesterday. While I realize that some Miami fans might be wondering why they chose Temple's coach to rebuild their program, I think they made a fine choice. Yes Miami and Temple have basically nothing in common when it comes to football and recruiting, but I think Golden will do well there. He is a young passionate coach who demands excellence in the classroom and on the football field. With his level of accountability the Hurricanes should have any collapses like they have in the past. Golden's biggest challenge will be convincing all of Miami's recruits (and any players that want to transfer) that this 'no-named' coach can lead the Hurricanes back to glory.

Jets Trip A Dolphins Player, But End Up Flat On Their Face: This was one of the most despicable things we have seen in the NFL in quite sometime. A member of the Jets coaching staff tripped a Dolphins player on his way down the sideline to cover a punt. Really?? I mean what are you thinking? Do you really think none of the cameras will be able to see what happened? Or that it is 'part of the game'? I mean cheap shots are bad enough when it is player on player, but when coaches are doing stuff like that it is inexcusable. That trip could have seriously injured the player, and there is just no place in the game for that. If players get fined $40K for a helmet to helmet hit or hitting a defenseless receiver, I think a similar discipline should occur here. If he isn't out right suspended or fired, he should face a hefty fine. The only good thing to come out of it is the Dolphins ended up to hold on to win the game, in a bit of Karma.

Cliff Lee To Make A Decision This Week: While the rumors are swirling in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes I do believe the reports that a decision is coming. It makes sense for Lee to finalize his deal before Christmas, and it wouldn't shock me if we know within 72 hours. It looks to be down to the Rangers and Yankees, although there is a 'mystery team' in the mix. Also, while the Nationals appear to be out of it, you never know how quickly a team can come back into the race in one of these situations. In the end though I think it comes down to the Yankees or Rangers. While all along I've assumed it to be the Yankees, it does seem like the Rangers are gaining significant ground where it could go either way. Right now I'll stick with saying the Yankees get it done, but my confidence level in that statement is pretty low.

How The Nationals Can Afford Cliff Lee & Potential Back-up Plans

December 10, 2010 in Uncategorized

I know the Nationals chances for landing Cliff Lee look dim after both the Yankees and the Rangers increased their offer yesterday, but I wouldn't count them out just yet. The Nationals have the money to spend and if they want to, they can match any offer to Lee. Also, as the Jayson Werth deal showed, they are willing to offer a contract that goes above the consensus of what a player is worth.

Many people were surprised that the Nationals were able to offer Werth that kind of contract, as well as be in on Cliff Lee, but I think it is time we stop thinking of the Nationals as a small market team. They are in a top 10 television market and share in owning a television deal with the Baltimore Orioles which gives them even more expansive coverage. While the Orioles own the lion-share of MASN still, the Nationals own a significant percentage (that continues to grow each year), as well as a price guarantee for their broadcast rights. Despite having the lowest viewership in the country, the Nationals have been making quite a profit for their broadcast rights. Washington D.C. is also surrounded with many of the richest counties in the country throughout Northern Virginia and Maryland, as well as a number of companies. Both of which should make selling their luxury boxes and premium seats fairly easy when there is a quality product on the field. Combine that with one of the richest owners in the country, and the Nationals should have no trouble affording Werth and Lee.

In addition to their various revenue streams, the Nationals have two other things going for them to be big spenders in free agency. The first is the fact that their payroll has been pretty low since they've moved to Washington. Meaning they have some money saved up to afford to splurge on some big name free agents. The second is that even if they sign Cliff Lee for $25 million a year, their payroll will be just around $90 million. Which isn't bad when you consider they added two of the top free agents for a combined $43 million year. (*Note I assumed they signed a 1B like LaRoche or Lee for roughly the same money that Willingham will make. Which will make it a wash when they trade him). The Nationals will also have another $11 million coming off the books after this season, giving them more financial freedom in the future.

The Nationals should have no problem maintaining a payroll north of $100 million if they are competitive, given the added benefits of a rich owner and previous savings it can be even higher. Washington is also blessed in the fact that they don't have a single significant free agent for the next three years (again assuming Willingham is traded). Everyone of their key contributors or stars are locked up for at least that long (and most aren't eligible for 5 or more years). This gives the Nationals a window to spend big on the open market before they need to extend R. Zimmerman, J. Zimmermann, Strasburg, Harper and anyone else. Also by spending now, they can build the fan base to support them giving even more lucrative deals to their own stars in the future. In addition, if the Nationals become a contender, guys like Zimmerman, Strasburg and Harper might be interested in staying around awhile longer.

So what does all of this mean, and what kind of contract can they offer Cliff Lee? If I'm the Nationals, I offer Cliff Lee a 6-year $168 million contract. I would have the first five years average $26 million, with $25 million in the 6th year. I would add both a 7th and 8th option year at $20 million a piece, with a $13 million buyout for the first option and a $5 million buyout for the 2nd option year. The high buyout in year 7 would be almost like a guarantee that it would be picked up, but protect the Nationals if he can't pitch effectively any longer. With the 7th year almost guaranteed, Lee's 7 year total will be $180 million (when you count the 2nd buyout at $5 million). That would give Lee a 7 year average of $25.7 million, but the Nationals would have their ace.

Now it is possible that Lee could still choose the Yankees or Rangers, but it would be mighty hard for Lee to turn down between $168-180 million, plus a few nice perks, if the Nationals offer it to him. If Lee doesn't come to Washington, the Nationals need to have a Plan B. Unfortunately the pitching market is pretty bare after Lee, with Carl Pavano being the next best option. Pavano is a nice pitcher, but far from an ace. The Nationals might not want to get into a bidding war for a mid-rotation starter like Pavano.

It is likely the Nationals will turn to the trade market, but top targets like Zack Greinke and Matt Garza aren't great fits for the Nationals because of how much they cost. Now their salaries aren't the problem, but what they cost in terms of prospects is. Both the Royals and the Rays want to be blown away in a deal (as they rightly should), and the Nats don't have the farm system depth to 'blow them away' and not significantly hurt their future. Geinke may be worth Jordan Zimmermann, Ian Desmond, Derek Norris and a few other prospects, but that would leave more holes than it is filling. The Nationals need an ace in front of Zimmermann, not a pitcher replacing him.

Right now the trade market isn't going to bring any stars to the Nationals unless they hurt their future. Instead I'd do a combination; and add a prospect (likely in a Willingham deal) who is nearly major league ready, a injury reclamation type (i.e.  Brandon Webb/Chien-Ming Wang), and a veteran starter on a one year deal (i.e. Kevin Millwood, Jeff Francis etc.). No that group won't come close to producing like Lee or Greinke, but they can make up for a Pavano/Garza type of pitcher, with the chance of being even better (depending on the prospect or reclamation project). It's not a perfect solution, but it prevents the likes of Craig Stammen, J.D. Martin etc. from making too many starts. It would also keep the Nationals young major league talent together, and allow them to use some of their relief/minor league depth to trade for a young center fielder, which is an area of need.

American League Teams' Christmas/Winter Meetings Wish List

December 3, 2010 in Uncategorized

With baseball's Winter Meetings starting next week and X-mas just around the corner, I thought it was a good time to look at what is on every team's wish list this December. If a team is expected to make any significant signings or trades I'll feature them. But if they are likely sitting on the sidelines this winter, then they only have three wishes: good health, development by their prospects, and bargain shopping in 2011 before the season starts.

First up American League:

AL East:

New York Yankees:

Cliff Lee: There is little surprise on what tops their wish list, as landing an ace starting pitcher is their top priority.Lee is really the only guy available who fits the bill. New York needs to hope their money and winning reputation sway Lee away from his other suitors.

Derek Jeter: The Yankees negotiations with their 'Captain' haven't been too pretty and have in fact served as more of a distraction than anything else. The Yankees need Jeter to come to his senses quickly and sign his deal, before it looks any worse than it already is.

A.J. Burnett: New York invested big money into Burnett two years ago and already they are regretting their decision. Burnett needs to figure out his issues quick, as he can't afford to start off the season badly. Not only will it hurt the Yankees playoff hopes, but a bad start will doom him in New York, meaning the Yankees may have to eat his contract just to appease the fans.

Boston Red Sox:

Crawford or Werth: Boston is in hot pursuit of the top two free agent outfielders and they need to land one if the Yankees make a big move (i.e. signing Lee). Either OF will fit in well in Boston and continue to make that lineup one of the best in the league.

Gonzalez or Fielder: While it is a bit quite of late, I still think the Red Sox will end up with either Adrian Gonzalez or Prince Fielder from the trade market this offseason. Both are impending free agents and likely to be dealt by their current team. Gonzalez is a better fit for Boston given his defense, and higher likelihood of negotiating a more team friendly extension. If Boston lands one of them, plus one of the top outfielders, they should pass the Yankees for the best lineup in baseball.

Tampa Bay Rays:

Trade Jason Bartlett: This could happen in the next few days, as Tampa does not want to pay Bartlett's arbitration salary this coming season. While Bartlett won't bring back a major haul, they should expect to get back a solid middle reliever, who is young and cost controlled.

Rebuild Their Bullpen: The Rays have a number of free agent defections from their bullpen and given their budget, they will likely have to build from within or through trades. In addition to the likelihood of  a Bartlett for middle reliever swap, I'd look for Tampa to make a bigger deal with their considerable prospect depth to add a back of the bullpen arm.

Add a Quality Bat: With holes at 1B, LF (could be filled by rookie Desmond Jennings) and DH, the Rays could use at least one bat to keep them on the cusp of contention. Since the free agent market is likely too expensive, the Rays will likely look for a bat on the trade market. I would count them out of the Gonzalez/Fielder markets given their salary price tags, and what it would cost in terms of prospects. Names like Billy Butler, Josh Willingham, Luke Scott could all be on their radar this offseason.

Toronto Blue Jays:

Make a Splash: The Blue Jays might be rebuilding, but this team was competitive without any of their top prospects making a significant impact. I think Toronto will make a bold move such as trading for Greinke or Justin Upton (Billy Butler could be on their wish list as well). Trading for a star caliber player could really make this team a threat in the East, though I don't think they should give up too much in the way of young talent.

Find a First Baseman: While Adam Lind is a distinct internal possibility, I would expect the Jays to find a new first baseman for next season. Trading for Billy Butler should be high on their list, but if they decide to move some of their young talent for a different star, the Blue Jays still have options on the free agent market (though they are dwindling fast). Adam LaRoche or Derek Lee would be good fits in Toronto, as could Carlos Pena if they expect a bounce back year.

Add a 3B/2B: Right now the Jays have a hole at 3B that they could fill by moving 2B Aaron Hill there, but that would only create an issue up the middle. The free agent market won't yield any great 3B (unless they buck up to sign Beltre), so a trade could be an option. They could also look to bring back Orlando Hudson to fill 2B and move Hill over. Hudson wouldn't be a long term fix, but he'd be a solid short term addition.

Add some relievers: The Jays are losing a couple quality relievers in the free agent market and will either need to add some arms via trade or from the market. Given their young staff, and the likely ascension of some young prospects, they could use a good bullpen to help protect their young arms.

Baltimore Orioles:

Add a 1B/DH bat: The O's have struck out with two of their top free agent options, Victor Martinez and Adam Dunn so far this offseason and they are likely to miss out on another one, as Paul Konerko is likely to resign with the White Sox. The 1B/DH market is drying up fast with Adam LaRoche, Carlos Pena, Derek Lee and Lance Berkman the only real options left. The O's need to land one of them, but at this point they need to make sure they aren't overpaying, since none of them are true stars. Baltimore should look to focus their money on their other needs such as 3B.

Go Hard After Adrian Beltre: At this point the O's are going to have to overpay to land a star, and Beltre is probably the best chance the O's have at landing one. Now they aren't alone in the market and it will cost quite a bit, but Beltre could be worth it. He is a very good defender at 3B, and at 32 should be productive for another couple of years. It still could be a pipe dream, but Baltimore needs to be aggressive.

Add Some Relief Pitching: The Orioles have a promising young staff, but their bullpen was a mess last year. They need to add a couple free agent arms to turn that into a strength and help protect their rotation.

Add a Shortstop: It is not a good year to be needing a shortstop, but the Orioles need to find someway to get better production out of that position. Jason Bartlett and J.J. Hardy head their list, but other options could become available. Who ever they find, Baltimore needs to ensure they offer some production from that area.

AL Central:

Chicago White Sox:

Bring Back Konerko: With the addition of Adam Dunn, the White Sox finally have the hitter who can help protect Paul Konerko in the middle of the lineup. Now they just need to ensure Konerko is in that lineup. I fully expect a deal to get done in the next couple of days, which will fully cover their DH/1B positions.

Find a LF: I know a lot of people like Juan Pierre for his speed and defense, but he is a bit of a liability in LF. He just doesn't get on base enough or have any power to speak of to justify a corner outfield spot. While his defense was exceptional in LF, you have to get better than a .312 wOBA from your LF if you want to be a contender. There aren't any real free agent options available, but don't be shocked if the White Sox target someone like Josh Willingham or Luke Scott. Alex Gordon could also be an option if they go for a more unproven player.

Add Relief Pitching: In their pursuit for adding Dunn and Konerko, the White Sox made a tough choice by releasing long time closer Bobby Jenks to save some money. While fiscally it makes some sense, it leaves that bullpen a little short right now. A couple relievers should be acquired by trade or through free agency to help offset the loss.

Kansas City Royals:

Make the Best Deal(s) Possible: The Royals are in an enviable position with the best farm system in baseball, and a number of quality trade-able pieces. The Royals have the best SP (Greinke), Closer (Joakim Soria) and one of the top bats (Butler) on the trade market. In addition to their big names, the Royals have Alex Gordon and Robinson Tejada, who are both good 2nd tier trade targets. Now I wouldn't expect to see all 5 dealt before the start of the season, but at least 2 should be moved by then, and all of them could be gone by the start of 2012. The Royals need to make the best trades possible and should target middle infield help, outfielders (in particular center fielders), frontline starting pitching, and maybe a 3B. Kansas City can basically name their own price.

Detroit Tigers:

The Tigers have already done most of their heavy lifting this offseason, with Victor Martinez their top prize. I don't think they are done just yet, but they might not make any more major moves. If they do here is what they might target:

OF help: The Tigers are rumored to still be in the Werth and Crawford sweepstakes, but I'm not too sure they can swing a deal. My guess is they will look to the trade market for a quality OF bat (usual suspects, Willingham, Scott etc.) to fill their need.

Relief Pitching: They have already added Benoit, but my guess is they add another solid arm before the start of the season. I don't see them adding a starter, but I think their staff could use some help.

Minnesota Twins:

The Twins aren't supposed to be too active this offseason beyond resigning Jim Thome and agreeing to a deal with the Japanese middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who can play either SS or 2B. The Twins could be trading J.J. Hardy, though that is far from being set in stone. The one thing the Twins could be looking at is making a big trade:

Make a Splash: In back-to-back years the Twins have gotten swept out of the Playoffs by the New York Yankees, so they need to find a way to get better if they want to advance further in 2011. The Twins have a quality system, so they do have the pieces to swing a major deal or two. Given their depth across the board, they could target any number of positions. Starting pitching is a top priority, but I don't see them getting in the Greinke sweepstakes (more because I really don't see the Royals trading him in the division unless the Twins vastly overpay).

Cleveland Indians:

Cleveland falls into the category of teams who are really not expected to do anything significant this offseason, and they will be bargain shopping this year.

AL West:

Texas Rangers:

Sign Cliff Lee: The Rangers are the Yankees toughest competition in the Lee Sweepstakes and if the money is close enough he could prefer to stay in Texas. If the Rangers land Lee, then they won't have much additional money to spend, but they should be pretty well set for another World Series run.

Trade for Zack Greinke: If the Rangers fail to land Lee, they should be one of the favorites to land Greinke. It will cost quite a bit in prospects, but his team friendly contract will allow the Rangers to add another free agent or two.

Add A DH: Vlad is gone, so it is time for Texas to find another decent designated hitter to insert into their lineup. The usual 1B suspects could be options, though most likely could find an actual 1B job. Johnny Damon or Hideki Matsui could fit, but neither would have any impact in the field. The could go down the trade route for a Billy Butler (especially if they sign Lee) or a Luke Scott. Both are fairly cheap, while having the ability to help in the field as well.

Los Angeles Angels:

Carl Crawford: The Angels are expected to go all-in for Crawford and basically make him an offer he can't refuse. Crawford would be a huge free agent signing for the Angels and it would drastically improve their chances for reclaiming the AL West. If they miss out on Crawford, they will go hard after Werth, but he seems to be not nearly as high on their wish list.

Adrian Beltre: Whether they get Crawford or not, Beltre figures to be high on the Angels wish list. They need more power in their lineup and 3B is an issue for them. He won't come cheap and it is possible that he and Crawford would cost to much, but the Angels should be a serious suitor for him.

Add Bench and Relief Depth: The Angels have a good lineup and starting rotation, but they need to add better depth to ensure that injuries don't sink their season like last year. I'd look for them to have a couple known players on the bench/bullpen, as they look to build a playoff contender.

Oakland A's:

The A's have already done some of their hard work this offseason by adding David DeJesus to their outfield, but they still have a ways to go. For the most part I'd expect them to fill their needs from within, but they could make at least one significant move.

Add a DH: The A's seem poised to try power hitting 1B/DH prospect Chris Carter in the outfield (not too sure if that will work), and add a legitimate designated hitter this offseason. It is no shock that the A's need to generate power, but it might make more sense to play Carter at DH and add an OF. Right now I don't see that happening, so I'm guessing they end up signing one of the 1B/DH types on the market this year.

Outside of that 3B and RP could be an issue, but one that might not be fully addressed this offseason.

Seattle Mariners:

The Mariners are expected to sit quietly this offseason as they look to rebuild. One of two moderate signings may occur in January, but I think that is all you will see right now.

Check back later as I look at the NL's X-Mas/Winter Meetings Wish List!


Nats Shoot For The Stars (Or At Least 'A Star') In Free Agency

November 4, 2010 in Uncategorized

According to some reports, the Nationals are looking to land the biggest fish in the Free Agent Market this year, and could be a 'sleeper' for Rangers starter Cliff Lee. From a need standpoint it makes complete sense for the Nationals to be in the market for Cliff Lee. Their starting pitching was awful last year and desperately needs an ace. Even if Stephen Strasburg wasn't going to miss all of next season with an injury, this is a team that needed a starter, and on top of that a bona-fide star.

The Nats have taken a hit at the box office the last couple of seasons, and considering their performance on the field it is easy to see why. Making matters worse this year is the impending loss of Adam Dunn in Free Agency and the aforementioned loss of Strasburg. With Washington's next great box office smash, Bryce Harper at least a year away, the Nationals would do well to acquire a star. The problem is there is at most 3 stars on the free agent market this year (if you don't count Dunn), and the Nationals are considered long shots for all of them. Cliff Lee, Jayson Werth and Carl Crawford are all on their wish list, but they are on a number of teams wish lists. Outside of that, no one is really going to motivate the Nationals fan base to start buying their season ticket packages now. Even if Washington were to trade for a good starting pitcher like Matt Garza or James Shields, it wouldn't energize the base (though either would be a huge upgrade to their rotation). So that means Lee could be a National right?

Now there have also been legitimate questions about whether or not Washington can afford Lee given their low attendance and T.V. ratings, but I don't see that as a stumbling block. In this Field of Dreams scenario 'If you buy him, they will come' (also winning couldn't hurt either, and it is certainly something they haven't tried yet). Also outside of Ryan Zimmerman, most of the Nationals starters or significant contributors are at league minimum deals or entering their arbitration years. The three notable exceptions are Josh Willingham, Ivan Rodriguez, and Jason Marquis. But none are significant long term deals (though they could resign Willingham longterm), so they will have even more money when they become free agents next year. While it will eat up a significant amount of payroll, the Nationals can afford Lee if they want him.

Although the Nationals have the means and desire, I don't think I'm quite ready to say that 'Mr. Lee Goes to Washington' will be a headline this winter. The two front runners for Lee's services are the Rangers and the Yankees. Both teams present Lee a vastly better chance to win a title in 2011, as well as having the money to give Lee the $20 million a year that he wants. That seemed like a pipe dream for the Rangers when they acquired him as they were being bailed out by MLB. Since then they have a new committed ownership group in place and made quite a bit more in revenue down the stretch and into the playoffs than expected. Outside of those two teams though the suitors for Lee get a bit murky (everyone wants him, but not everyone can afford him) among the mid-large market teams (or those that can be):

Braves- Atlanta has plenty of pitching and needs bats more than another starter (also it would kill their budget)

Cubs- Chicago looks to cut payroll some this season. Any big free agent will likely be a bat (i.e. Dunn)

Phillies- Traded away Lee last year because they couldn't afford him, and went out and added Oswalt, not really an option.

Mets- A wild card team, they could be interested, but they probably need to dump at least one bad contract first.

Reds- Despite having a hole in their rotation and a little money to spend, Lee isn't an option as he is too expensive

Brewers- Milwaukee needs an ace, but they are likely going to be dealing Fielder this offseason, so they might look to rebuild

Cardinals- St. Louis needs to add another arm, but they are looking at more of a dependable starter than a $20 mil/yr guy. It would destroy their budget.

Dodgers- L.A. already locked up Ted Lilly to good money, I don't see them coming anywhere close to this market.

Giants- Not only would money be an issue, but let's be honest that rotation is not their problem going forward.

Red Sox- Could be another wild card, but their rotation isn't an issue, and they would need to move Dice-K first to make it happen.

Toronto- Blue Jays could look to buck their rebuilding trend, but don't know if they can afford him, would still put it at unlikely.

Orioles- O's could afford him, and they need him, but might focus on adding offense and going for a younger/cheaper pitcher for their rotation.

White Sox- Unless they make a couple of moves they don't have a real need for a pitcher and will also likely target bats this offseason.

Twins- Minnesota could be a wild card given their new stadium revenues, but still might shy away.

Tigers- Detroit always looks to make a splash in free agency, but their biggest needs (plural) are adding protection for Miguel Cabrera.

Angels- Anaheim wants Lee out of Texas, but with their trades for Scott Kasmir and Dan Haren these past two years, they will probably save their money for another hitter or two.

While some of those situations could change with a trade or two, it is easy to see how the Nationals get mentioned in the Lee sweepstakes. The reality of it is they still remain long shots to land the ace. The Nationals might have a solid corps of young players, but few are proven commodities going forward. Lee alone would not have made this team a contender last season, and the prospects are worse this year without Strasburg and Dunn. Lee might also be wary that Willingham, one of the Nats few proven pieces is also a free agent after next year (though it might not be in the best interest for the Nats to extend him). Unless Washington acquires a proven young hitter, whom Lee will know will be there in the future, it is hard to see him coming to Washington.

I won't fully count out Washington just yet, but Lee would have to really be sold that this is the right fit for him, and the Nationals will have to open up their checkbooks big time for this to happen. As a Nats fan, I will say seeing Lee on opening day would be a huge boost for morale, but I won't get my hopes up until he signs on the dotted line.

Morning Links

October 29, 2010 in Uncategorized

Giants Take A 2-0 Lead In The Series:  Wow… I thought this would be a close series, both in the box score and going down to a 6th or 7th game, but so far it has been anything but. The Giants have taken advantage of their home field, winning both of the first two games. Not only did the Giants win the games, but they are simply blowing out the Rangers. The Giants have a 20-7 run advantage in two games, and have had no issues against Cliff Lee, and the Rangers bullpen. The Giants did only manage 2 runs against C.J. Wilson last night, before he left with a blister, but that is two more runs than what the Rangers put up against Matt Cain. Cain pitched brilliantly last night, absolutely shutting down the Rangers mighty offense. Texas is supposed to have one of the best lineups in baseball, but they went quietly into the night yesterday. This series is far from over yet, but the Rangers need to turn it around if they want a chance. They should fair better at home, where they can have their DH back, but the Giants have the momentum now.

Wizards Hit A 'Wall': It was an ugly game on all counts (unless you are a Magic fan), as the Wizards and their rookie John Wall, got embarrassed in their 2010-2011 season debut. The Magic beat Washington by 29 points, and showed Washington that they are still a bit aways from playing with the big boys in the East. Now the Wizards are a young team so you expect growing pains, but OUCH did that hurt. Their young forwards and centers, did nothing as Al Thornton, Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee, Yi Jianlian, Hilton Armstrong, and rookies Trevor Booker and Hamady Ndiaye combined for just 35 points (or one point less than what Dwight Howard and Rashard Lewis combined for). With no inside help, it fell on Wall and the rest of the guards to keep the game close. While the Wizards got solid performances from Wall, Kirk Hinrich and backup Cartier Martin, they couldn't match up with the Magic's talent or defense.

It's a long season so I wouldn't write off Wall or the Wizards just yet, but I'm not sure if Washington has the inside game to go along with their perimeter play. Washington will need a couple of their big men to step up this season if they hope to win more than 25-30 games. Not only do they need to step up from an offensive stand point, but they need to play better defense as well. The Wizards were basically a non-factor in the paint last night, and that needs to change if they want to compete (not contend, but compete). Washington was without Gilbert Arenas last night, so that could be part of the blame, but at the same time Arenas has a history of injuries so you had to know you weren't going to get 82 games out of him. Also, lets be honest if the Wizards have their way Arenas will be traded by the time this season is out. Arenas or no Arenas, this team needs to step up to give Wall support, as he can't be shooting the ball as much as he did last night. Wall had 10 more shots than the next highest shooter, and that simply can't happen if the Wizards want to win.

Morning Links

October 28, 2010 in Uncategorized

Rangers Fall As Lee Looks Human: Last night was supposed to be a pitching duel to start the World Series, but ended up turning into a slug fest, as they combined for 18 runs on 25 hits. Both Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum got roughed up a bit, giving up at least 4 runs, but Lee got the worst of it. He gave up 6 earned runs (7 total) in 4 2/3 innings. Lee came into last night's game with an ERA under 1.00 for this postseason, but saw that balloon up fairly quickly. The Rangers had an early 2-0 lead, but were unable to capitalize, and were in an 8-2 hole after 5 innings. Texas, who was favored to win this series now will need to steal the next game in San Francisco, to tie it up as it heads back to Texas.

Heat Redeem Their Opening Night Loss: Miami evened their record to 1-1, but it wasn't the dominate performance we'd expect from the 'Eastern Conference All-Star' team. Wade led the way with 30 points, but neither James or Bosh finished 2nd on the team in scoring on the night. Instead that honor went to James Jones, as he adding 20 points, with lights out shooting (6-9) from behind the arc. James and Bosh finished with a respectable 31 combined points, and did some other good things, but this team didn't look built to contend for anything. It might be early, but they were also playing against the 76ers a team they have to be able to put away early. Instead Philly was in the game until the late 4th quarter, and nearly set the Big Three home without a win. Miami held on to win, but it wasn't pretty. They need to find their rhythm fast, if they are to compete with the other big boys in the league.

LeBron Who?: James couldn't overcome the Boston Celtics despite having Dewayne Wade, Chris Bosh and a host of other stars by his side on opening night. His former team had no issue knocking off the Celtics in game two despite having zero star power. Cleveland lost James, Big Z, Shaq and a host of other players this offseason, with their biggest acquisition being PG Ramon Sessions. On top of that, the lone remaining star player Antwan Jamison, scored just 4 points off the bench. Youngster J.J. Hickson led the way with 21, as the Cavs never gave up and knocked off Shaq and the Celtics, just one night after they beat James and his 'Dream Team'. In the end I think the Celtics put everything into beating James and company that they took Cleveland too lightly. The Cavs had a lot of fire to prove their veterans wrong for leaving, but in reality just can't compete with the top teams in the East. For one night though it didn't matter, as Cleveland showed that their young players can play and they will still try to be a factor in the East.

Congratulations Texas Rangers And Their Fans

October 23, 2010 in Uncategorized

Normally I don't care much that surrounds a team after a championship victory or a Super Bowl title. Maybe I don't care because it isn't my team, maybe because years of losing by the O's, Nats and Redskins have left me bitter, or maybe its just because they turn into Academy Award acceptance speeches and I'm just praying for the music to start playing to cut them off. For whatever reason I felt differently watching the Rangers celebrate their victory with their fans last night, that will send them to their first ever World Series. I was transfixed by proceedings before me, and it wasn't just on account of Craig Sager's outfit.

The Rangers won, the Rangers won. Even when that last pitch was thrown I couldn't believe it. I never in a million years, thought back in April the Rangers could win the American League. Sure they were a good team with, plenty of hitting. But their pitching didn't seem likely to hold up this year. Well pitchers like Colby Lewis, and C.J. Wilson had huge years, and when the Rangers needed to go out and acquire a front of the rotation starter, they dipped into their deep prospect well and landed a big fish, Cliff Lee. Lee was only a rental player, and the Rangers financial situation was so bad that they needed the Mariners to pick up part of the tab, but Texas went for the gusto anyways. And for every cautionary tale of why you don't trade away your prospects for an All-Star, Lee is the reason that you do. At the time it seemed crazy, Lee might help Texas get to the postseason (though the Angels collapse took care of that), but he wasn't going to be able to pitch every game of the playoffs. Even once they got to the postseason, I asked myself if the Rangers did the right thing, they had to face the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees. And since Lee had to close out the Rays series, he wouldn't be able to go until Game 3, but it didn't matter, and wouldn't pitch again until Game 7. But it didn't matter because Texas dominated this series. With the exception of Game 5, the Rangers were in control of every single game. They might have ended up losing Game 1, but they sent a message they were legit.

While their season is far from over (though for me knocking off the Yankees is like the World Series), but the Rangers and their fans should celebrate what they have accomplished. This was no small feat, as Texas heads to their first World Series. We might think in terms of World Series titles, but winning American League pennants are impressive in their own right. Texas and their fans know what it is like to lose and not even be a contender, so to know that you are no worse than the 2nd best team in baseball, is a phenomenal turn around. The road ahead could bring even greater victory or stunning defeat, but either way the Rangers are a true winner in my book. They give hope to all sports teams and their fan bases, that no matter what your history, if built right you can overcome that and become winners.

ALCS Preview

October 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

A Guest Blog By Fanspeak Contributing Writer Brian Murphy

ALCS Preview: New York Yankees vs. Texas Rangers

With a stunning 5-game series win by the Rangers last night, they will host the defending World Series Champions Yankees at home on Friday to kick off the American League Championship Series.  I had predicted the Rays to win the series, but noted that if Cliff Lee keeps his postseason success going, the Rangers have a chance.  That is what exactly he did, performing at a sensational level.  The Yankees do have the postseason experience over the Rangers, who won their first postseason series ever (Texas’ three previous playoff appearances ended with first-round losses to New York, in 1996, ’98 and ’99).  The Rangers and Yankees split the season series 4-4 with a couple of great one-run late-inning drama games, this series will be very tense and a lot of fun to watch!  Let’s break it down.

Pitching

Since Cliff Lee pitched a complete game on Tuesday night, he will not be the starting pitcher in game 1, as the Rangers hand the ball over to C.J. Wilson.  His opposing pitcher will be Yankees ace, C.C. Sabathia.  Both pitchers got a win in the ALDS, however Wilson went 6.1 innings pitching shut-out ball.  C.C. struggled a little more than usual but got the win anyway.   Sabathia has been the Yankees’ horse in the postseason and he is one of the most consistent pitchers out there.  Add Pettitte, the all-time winningest pitcher in postseason history, to pitch game 2 and that’s a tough 1-2 starters to face to start the postseason.  The Rangers are looking at pitching at Lee in game 2 or 3.  Lee dominated the Yankees when he was on the Phillies in the World Series last year and I can’t imagine he will slow down this postseason.  Phil Hughes will look to stay hot after his first postseason performance in which he was great.  If Hughes doesn’t go up against Lee then he will most likely face Colby Lewis who actually shut out the Rays in 5 innings but the bullpen blew the game and gave him a loss.  I would give Lee the edge over any Yankees pitcher in this series, but I like what Pettitte and Hughes can do in games 2 and 3.  The wildcard for the Yankees in pitching is A.J. Burnett, who has been announced to pitch game 4.  The inconsistent, erratic Burnett had a successful postseason last year but did not even pitch in the ALDS due to a horrible year.  If Sabathia, Pettitte, and Hughes pitch the way they have been, I don’t think there will be too much pressure on Burnett if the Yankees get a comfortable lead in the series.  If not, Burnett will have a huge part in deciding a crucial game 4.  EDGE: Yankees (by a smidgen!)

Hitting

It’s no surprise that the Rangers slugging lineup won the ALDS for them.  Nelson Cruz was the stud of the ALDS, hitting .400 with 3 HR’s.  Hitters like Kinsler, Andrus, Young, and Guerrero also provide a lot of pop and make-up one scary lineup for opposing pitchers.  If there is one lineup that can possibly match-up with the Rangers, it is the Yankees.  The Yankees big guns (Teixeira, Rodriguez, Posada) were a little below par in their ALDS series to what is expected of them.  The role players of the Yankees were the ones that stepped up.  Granderson batted .455 and Swisher and Cano each batted .333 in the ALDS.  I think in order for the Yankees to keep up with the high-octane offense of the Rangers, players like Cano, Granderson, and Swisher need to continue hitting consistently well.  This is a tough call but I think the Rangers sport the advantage as of now because of the way they hit against the Rays in 5 games.  EDGE: Rangers (again, by a smidgen)

Prediciton

I did not include the bullpen in the above break-down but I would have to give the edge to the Yankees.  Kerry Wood looked the the 20-strikeout ace of the past in the two games he appeared in, and if Joba Chamberlain and David Robertson pitch well, there’s no need to worry about the 9th with Mariano Rivera coming in.  Darren Oliver looked great for the Rangers, however their closer Neftali Feliz didn’t look automatic versus the Rays as he gave up an earned run in one of his save opportunities and isn’t comparable to the best closer of all-time in Rivera.  Overall, this will be a long, grind-em-out series with pitching being the key because both teams have stellar lineups.  I just think with the Yankees postseason experience and the way they got their swagger back against the Twins in the ALDS after a shaky end of the regular season, they should be able to handle the Rangers.  Texas needs two victories when Lee starts to have a chance to win this series, and if they do watch out with that lineup!

YANKEES IN 6


Morning Roundup:

October 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

Rangers Finish off Rays Behind Cliff Lee: For the second straight postseason, Cliff Lee is proof of why you make midseason trades to help your ball club. Lee went just 4-6 with a 3.98 ERA after the Rangers acquired him, but is now 2-0 with a 1.13 ERA this postseason. Lee twice knocked off the Rays at home, and really is the reason why Texas is moving on to round two. In both games Lee out dueled fellow ace David Price, as the Rangers offense was too much for him to handle. While pitching and defense usually win playoff series, the Rangers offense is capable of disproving that theory. Now Texas has a quick turn around and starts their next series Friday at home against the Yankees. Unfortunately Cliff Lee won't be on the mound for their first game (and will have to start Game 2 on 3 day's rest). In a classy move the Rangers celebrated their postseason victory with Ginger Ale out of respect to Josh Hamilton, who has battled alcohol and drug addiction in his past.

Braves Waste No Time Replace Cox with Gonzalez: Gonzalez isn't much of a surprise as Cox's replacement, since speculation has been around since he was fired this season by the Marlins. Gonzalez has a long history with the Braves and was Cox's 3rd base coach earlier in the decade. Gonzalez not only got a raw deal in the way he was fired from the Marlins (basically for benching Hanley Ramirez one game for lack of hustle), but for his entire tenure there. The Marlins run on the league's lowest payroll, and continuously dump players to remain at that level. Even when they didn't move players, Gonzalez played every year wondering if the team would have a mid-season fire sale. Now Gonzalez will have big shoes to fill and a number of questions to answer, but he should have the resources to succeed in Atlanta.

Kraft Believes New CBA Possible This Year: It was a positive sign yesterday, even if it was a bit unbelievable, to hear that the owners think that they can reach a new deal this year. That is a lot of work to be done in the next 2 and a half months, but the owners sound like they don't want to risk a lockout. And in all honesty why would they? Both sides have a reason to come to the table, as a lockout would mean a major loss of money for both sides. The NHL may have needed a lockout earlier this decade, but it also hurt them. While it won't hurt the NFL as much, it will turn fans away. In this economic climate, the last thing the NFL can afford to do is turn fans away. By the same token the players don't want to lose a year of their earnings while the CBA is being worked out. While I'm still skeptical they can work out an agreement this year, I think they will have it done by the time the Super Bowl rolls around.