2010 AL Second Basemen

Robinson Cano – NYY (118.3 Runs Created, 33.3 Runs Saved = 151.6 Total Runs Productivity)

Orlando Hudson is a very good second baseman.  Robinson Cano was nearly TWICE as productive as Hudson.  Power, range, doesn’t swing at bad pitches…  My pick for AL MVP, and he might get better.  Just entering his prime…

Orlando Hudson – MIN (65.9 Runs Created, 16.3 Runs Saved = 82.2 Total Runs Productivity)

Did exactly what you would expect – hits well and can bat first or second in the lineup (you’d rather have him hit second), fields the position as well as you could hope.  Not an all-star, but right below that line – and the kind of guy who can help you win championships.

Howie Kendrick – LAA (87.7 Runs Created, -10.4 Runs Saved = 77.3 Total Runs Productivity)

A very useful player who played every day, produced enough with the bat (5.1 runs per 27 outs), but needs a little work with the glove.  He’s NOT a top of the order hitter so long as his OBA is .316, but you could bat him from the seventh to the ninth spot and not do too badly with him.

Mike Aviles – KC (61.4 Runs Created, 15.8 Runs Saved = 77.2 Total Runs Productivity)

Came back from a disappointing 2009 to look like his superstar self from 2008.  Batted for average and mid-range power, fields his position extremely well, and remains one of the best players on the Royals.  Needs to stay healthy – if he does, the Royals have a top flight #2 hitter.

Ian Kinsler – TEX (62.4 Runs Created, 8.0 Runs Saved = 70.4 Total Runs Productivity)

The new Mark Ellis.  Hits, has power, gets on base, can run, fields the position really well, can’t stay in the lineup.

Mark Ellis – OAK (62.8 Runs Created, 3.5 Runs Saved = 66.3 Total Runs Productivity)

Turns 34 in June, Mark Ellis’s body may not help him make it to 2014.  Still a decent enough hitter, but his power is leaving him, and his range – once solid – is now a smidge above average.  The A’s are getting better and you’d like to see Ellis get one more shot at the post season.

Sean Rodriguez – TB (49.2 Runs Created, 15.2 Runs Saved = 64.4 Total Runs Productivity)

The kid came up, played all over the field as Ben Zobrist had before him, and proved himself to be a very valuable player.  Sean Rodriguez settled in at second base and was rock solid there, and with his decent power earned a chance to be the starter for all of 2011.  I like him.

Dustin Pedroia – BOS (55.4 Runs Created, -0.8 Runs Saved = 54.6 Total Runs Productivity)

Missed half the season after fouling a ball off his left foot and breaking it, requiring surgery.  On pace for 25 homers and 50 doubles, despite a brutal May, Pedroia is one of the best offensive forces in the league.  Bill Hall played a lot of second base after Pedroia went down, and not badly.  However, even with Hall’s power, he’s not the run producer that Pedroia is.  Jed Lowrie is a better fielder, but he can’t hit like DP either.  In the years Dustin plays 130+ games, the Sox make the playoffs – so you know what Boston is rooting for…

Reid Brignac – TB (40.3 Runs Created, 14.3 Runs Saved = 54.6 Total Runs Productivity)

A very good season defensively and a pretty good season offensively, he earned a chance to be the regular shortstop and allowed the Rays to trade a declining Jason Bartlett.  With Evan Longoria and Rodriguez throwing to a dependable first baseman, this could be the best defensive infield in baseball for 2011.

Gordon Beckham – CHI (51.0 Runs Created, 8.4 Runs Saved = 59.4 Total Runs Productivity)

Offensively, Beckham was off, barely creating four runs per 27 outs.  Defensively, having switched over from third base, he was fantastic.  For Beckham to really help the White Sox, he needs to create 75 or more runs, the way he seemed to be capable of in 2009.  Otherwise, he’s rather ordinary.  He is, however, better than Chris Getz.

Chone Figgins – SEA (78.4 Runs Created, -33.3 Runs Saved = 45.1 Total Runs Productivity)

Never really looked comfortable with the switch to second after spending much of the last few years at third base, and his batting stats predictably fell off after his remarkable 2009 season.  I think he’ll be better in 2011, but still isn’t one of the five best second base options in the AL.

Aaron Hill – TOR (55.2 Runs Created, -14.5 Runs Saved = 40.7 Total Runs Productivity)

Chone Figgins without the position change.  Fell to earth, crashed really, after an amazing 2009, and brought his struggles to the field with him.  I think he’ll bounce back, but looking at his baseball card, you’ll always do a double take comparing the two seasons.

Carlos Guillen – DET (35.3 Runs Created, 4.3 Runs Saved = 39.6 Total Runs Productivity)

A stop gap option after Scott Sizemore skidded to Toledo, at least until his body broke down, Guillen used to be a good shortstop, a good left fielder, and could be a good second baseman.  On the other hand, he’s 35 and is really best suited to be a DH – and Detroit has DH options.  So, Guillen – assuming he has a good chiropractor and trainer – could be a utility guy, getting 450 productive at bats all over the field.  In the last year of his contract, so let’s see if he can keep it together and help the Tigers…

Jayson Nix – CLE (35.0 Runs Created, 1.8 Runs Saved = 36.8 Total Runs Productivity)

He could be a new Dan Uggla if the Indians wanted to go that way – he hits for power, doesn’t do badly at the position, and I’d let him play there if they found a good option at third base.

Will Rhymes – DET (28.0 Runs Created, 6.2 Runs Saved = 34.2 Total Runs Productivity)

The best of the Tigers three second baseman, Rhymes hit .304, had an acceptable slugging and fielding percentage, and played the position well – all the things Detroit thought that Scott Sizemore could do.  Should have first dibs at the position in 2011 – though he’s a bit old for a rookie, turning 28 on April Fool’s Day.

Luis Valbuena – CLE (20.2 Runs Created, 6.5 Runs Saved = 26.7 Total Runs Productivity)

A disappointing season with the bat, batting under the Mendoza line.  I think he’ll be a bit better, but he’ll never be much of a run producer, limiting him to a career as a utility infielder.

Julio Lugo – BAL (20.0 Runs Created, 5.6 Runs Saved = 25.6 Total Runs Productivity)

He’s still around, can help by playing four positions, but can’t hit enough to be more than a good utility guy.  Might have one more year left, but I wouldn’t bet on 2012.

Jason Donald – CLE (36.7 Runs Created, -11.9 Runs Saved = 24.8 Total Runs Productivity)

If he had a more discerning eye, he could be the new Brian Roberts.  Offensively, Donald doesn’t hurt you, but he didn’t show the type of range needed at either second or short.  Both could improve, however, and the Indians would be finding a way to move the team in the right direction.  I’d be surprised if he doesn’t get a better chance in 2011.  Working against him, he’s rather old for a rookie and will turn 27 when the season is over.

Brian Roberts – BAL (32.6 Runs Created, -17.1 Runs Saved = 15.5 Total Runs Productivity)

Injured at the beginning of the season, then perpetually on the trading block.  I know he’s not a very good defensive player, but how many really good leadoff hitters are out there?  I’d make him the new Paul Molitor.  If he can stay healthy, and at 33 his back is going to bother him from time to time, he’s got a shot at 100 runs scored – and that’s a valuable commodity.

Mark Grudzielanek – CLE (10.5 Runs Created, 3.3 Runs Saved = 13.8 Total Runs Productivity)

Had 30 hits and all were singles.  At 40, not sure if he’ll be back, but he can still play second base a little bit.  He MIGHT be your favorite team’s next manager one day.

Chris Getz – KC (21.1 Runs Created, -8.4 Runs Saved = 12.7 Total Runs Productivity)

An alleged glove man who hasn’t shown that at the major league level, and he can’t hit.  Will be a short term utility guy, but you’d rather have someone who does SOMETHING.  Maybe someone who plays four positions well defensively (Alfredo Amezaga), or someone who can play the positions poorly, but hits enough to let it slide from time to time and can pinch hit (Jeff Treadway).  Getz can’t do either.

Scott Sizemore – DET (14.4 Runs Created, -10.9 Runs Saved = 3.5 Total Runs Productivity)

This wasn’t what Detroit had in mind – the man chosen to replace Placido Polanco didn’t hit and didn’t field as well as had been hoped and wound up back in Toledo for 2010.  Compared to Rhymes, he has always been a bit better hitter with a better eye, comparable speed, and a bit more power. He’s also 26.  However, Rhymes did the job.  Sizemore will likely get another chance, but at this point, he can’t afford to blow it.

Top NL Third Basemen in 2009

Ryan Zimmerman (WAS):  The Evan Longoria of the National League – hits for a decent average, has solid power, gets on base, and flashes the leather.  As a hitter, I show Zimmerman as actually creating three more runs than Longoria, but Longoria had the better season defensively.  The best player the Nationals have ever had.  (117.9 Runs Created, 15.0 Runs Saved = 132.82 Total Run Production)

Casey Blake (LAD):  Had a decent season with the bat and an unbelievable year with the glove.  Kemp, Loney, and Ethier get all the pub, but Casey Blake was second on the team in total production.  I went back and checked – he hadn’t played that well at third defensively before, so I won’t be surprised if he falls back in 2010, but his offensive numbers were in line with previous seasons.  Another guy the Indians couldn’t use…  (91.1 Runs Created, 25.23 Runs Saved = 116.35 Total Run Production)

Pablo Sandoval (SF):  Kung Fu Panda is a first baseman in waiting, but wow can he hit.  He wasn’t AWFUL at third base, just below average defensively, but you can live with it if he hits .330 with 25 homers.  The new Kirby Puckett.  (122.4 Runs Created, -6.4 Runs Saved = 115.94 Total Run Production)

Mark Reynolds (ARI):  As long as we’re comparing people, Reynolds is an upgrade over Adam Dunn, right?  He strikes out a LOT – but 44 homers and a .351 OBP is really good production.  However just 102 RBI suggests that he’d be even more productive for his teammates if he would just make more contact.  Not a horrible fielder either – slightly better than the Panda.  (104.6 Runs Created, -4.4 Runs Saved = 100.26 Total Run Production)

Andy LaRoche (PIT):  Did you know he had that good a glove?  Just an ordinary hitter – .260 with .400 SLG and a few walks throw in for good – but his defense moved him well up the list.  You can’t sneeze at 34 double plays to just 14 errors.  (69.0 Runs Created, 30.3 Runs Saved = 99.29 Total Run Production)

Jorge Cantu (FLA):  If a third baseman and not a first baseman, Cantu would rank about here.  Maybe a slot or two lower.

Pedro Feliz (PHI):  Had Andy LaRoche’s season with more RBI because of who he bats behind.  Polanco has a better batting average, but I don’t think he’ll match Feliz with the leather.  Feliz’s problem, if he has one, is that he makes too many outs.  You want guys who average at least 5 runs for every 27 outs, and Feliz is consistently around 4.2.  However, there aren’t many guys who save you 20 runs a year with the leather – and he’s been there three of the last four years (only an injury riddled 2008 didn’t add up).  So, you might concede 20 runs of offense for that.  I like Polanco, but Feliz was a big part of the Phillies’ success.  (68.6 Runs Created, 24.5 Runs Saved = 93.15 Total Run Production)

David Wright (NYM):  Not his best effort, but then again I think the park worked against him, and the injuries around him worked against him, and eventually he was dragged down by the entirety of it all.  He still produced runs – he batted .307 and got on base nearly 40% of the time.  However, his home run numbers dashed (the Mets are lowering the left field wall for 2010) and he took his frustration to the field – only 19 double plays against 18 errors.  I like his chances to bounce back some, but he’s never going to be as good as Ryan Zimmerman.  I just hope the Mets appreciate what he does and doesn’t focus on that gap between Wright and the top guys.  (102.9 Runs Created, -13.3 Runs Saved = 89.61 Total Run Production)

Scott Rolen (TOR/CIN):  Add it all up and he ranks about here.  I don’t think he’s a .320 hitter, as he was in Toronto for the first 100 days, but he still has skills.  He is NOT a glove man anymore, and while he’s more dependable than Edwin Encarnacion, he may not be healtier every month.  Still a good player, though.  (84.1 Runs Created, -5.6 Runs Saved = 78.5 Total Run Production)

Juan Uribe (SF):  If rated as a third baseman would fall about here.  He’s a solid player.

Chipper Jones (ATL):  His OBP is still strong, but the end is nearing for this future Hall of Famer.  Hasn’t really measured up with the glove in years, and his offensive numbers – while still pretty good – are heading in the wrong direction.  (87.7 Runs Created, -18.1 Runs Saved = 69.56 Total Run Production)

Kevin Kouzmanoff (SD):  Only three errors last year – one of the best fielding percentages of all time.  Of course, he doesn’t have much range – so that makes him Ron Cey with longer legs.  He’ll help the A’s, though.  (78.0 Runs Created, -8.9 Runs Saved = 69.05 Total Run Production)

Casey McGehee (MIL):  Had a solid season at the plate (.301 AVG, .499 SLG), taking over for Bill Hall (who didn’t) and was tolerable with the glove.  If he plays 150 games, he might move up two or three slots in the rankings for 2010.  (68.3 Runs Created, -4.1 Runs Saved = 64.27 Total Run Production)

Aramis Ramirez (CHC):  I don’t know if he’ll ever play 120 games again – his body just breaks down constantly now.  Still a formidable offensive force, his glove is merely average these days.  Makes the Cubs better when he’s in there, though.  (58.1 Runs Created, -1.0 Runs Saved = 57.02 Total Run Production)

Mark DeRosa (CLE/STL):  Struggled upon arriving in STL, but his defense had been off all season.  Reaching the age at which a comeback isn’t in the Cards – but the Cards will be counting on one.  (77.6 Runs Created, -26.8 Runs Saved – 50.80 Total Run Production)

Emilio Bonifacio (FLA):  Really fast.  Had an awesome first week of the season and then reverted to where I thought he’d be – which is not much of a hitter and slightly out of position at third base.  In Florida, though, he’s the new Alfredo Amezaga.  (44.0 Runs Created, -7.7 Runs Saved = 36.22 Total Run Production)

Ian Stewart (COL):  A Garrett Atkins clone.  Hits for some power, his batting average should scare you, and he can’t field the position.  New Rockie Melvin Mora is a significant step up, even at this point in Mora’s career.  (58.1 Runs Created, -23.4 Runs Saved = 34.68 Total Run Production).

Edwin Encarnacion (CIN/TOR):  I don’t know why Toronto would want him.  Indifferent fielder and not a dependable hitter.  Probably one more year of 100 games in his career, and the rest of the time he’ll be a back up or playing in AAA as an insurance policy for somebody.  Maybe he needs to go to Japan.  (39.8 Runs Created, -7.2 Runs Saved = 32.6 Total Run Production)

Wes Helms (FLA):  Back up third baseman and professional pinch hitter – but ranked nearly as high as Stewart in far less time.  (30.19 Total Run Productiom)

Garrett Atkins (COL):  See Ian Stewart.  (33.4 Runs Created, -7.4 Runs Saved = 25.98 Total Run Production)

Geoff Blum (HOU):  See Ian Stewart – but with less power.  If Houston wants to be serious about fixing the problems on the team, it should start with replacing Blum.  (46.2 Runs Created, -23.6 Runs Saved = 22.62 Total Run Production)

A Weekend of Wheeling and Dealing…

After a weekend of work and play, it’s time to see what all happened while we went Christmas and Hanukkah shopping…

Who Signed?

Rafael Soriano was signed to a $7 million contract – and then traded by the Braves to Tampa for reliever Jesse Chavez.  Soriano immediately upgrades the closer role in Tampa, a problem all of 2009.  [FanHouse/SI]

Houston inked reliever Brandon Lyon to a three year, $15 million deal.  Lyon isn’t bad – he’s dependable, but is he really better than Grant Balfour?  $3 million better for the next three years?  (See his deal below.)  [SI]

The new third baseman in Houston is former Phillie Pedro Feliz – one year, $4.5 million.  [SI]

Scott Olsen got an incentive-filled deal with the Nationals – coming off a disappointing season and shoulder surgery.  [ESPN]

Jason Kendall – who looked like he aged four years at the plate last year – signed a two year deal with the Royals.  (See John Buck, below.)  By the way – Miguel Olivo might not return.  The Royals confuse me.  [SI]

Meanwhile, the Royals signed Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies to one-year deals.  [SI]

The Royals non-tendered catcher John Buck, but he signed with Toronto for $2 million pending a physical.  [ESPN]

Two years ago, he was a closer – now, J.J. Putz is an eighth inning guy in Chicago for one year at $3 million.  There are a lot of incentives, too.  [SI]

Kevin Correia will stay in San Diego, signing a one-year, $3.6 million deal.  [ESPN]

Arizona signed Augie Ojeda and Blaine Boyer to one-year deals.  [SI]

The Braves signed outfielder Matt Diaz for one year at $2.55 million. [ESPN]

Grant Balfour signed with Tampa – one year, $2.05 million.  [SI]

Milwaukee gets one more year with Craig Counsell – who remains a valuable utility player at 39.  [MLB]

Esteban German remains in Texas for 2010.  [MLB]

The Cubs tendered offers to eight players, (Jeff Baker, Mike Fontenot, Koyie Hill, Ryan Theriot, Tom Gorzelanny, Angel Guzman, Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall) with Neil Cotts likely heading to arbitration.  [MLB]

The Dodgers tendered offers to nine players (go read the article), including Chad Billingsley, Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton and Russell Martin.  Everybody gets a raise in LA!!!  [MLB]

Who Got Let Go…

The Braves non-tendered outfielder Ryan Church and second baseman Kelly Johnson.  [MLB]

Boston non-tendered outfielder Brian Anderson.

The Mets non-tendered four players, including pitchers Tim Redding and Lance Broadway, as well as outfielders Cory Sullivan and Jeremy Reed.  [ESPN]

Despite hitting 20 homers in little more than a half season, Johnny Gomes was non-tendered by the Reds.  He might still sign somewhere, but let’s face it – he’s a DH.  [ESPN]

Chien-Ming Wang is a free agent, and apparently disappointed that the Yankees didn’t stay with him…  Since injuring his ankle running the bases, Wang has REALLY struggled. [ESPN]

Matt Capps, closer for Pittsburgh, was caught off guard – he was non-tendered by the Pirates.  [MLB]

Jose Arredondo, about to have surgery, will not have an Angels contract for 2010.  [MLB]

Jack Cust (Oakland), Ryan Garko (San Francisco), Mike MacDougal (Washington), D.J. Carrasco (Chi Sox), Clay Condrey (Philadelphia), Alfredo Amezaga (Florida) join a LONG list of free agents.

Here’s a good summary of who is now available…  [SI]

For a complete list of transactions, you can always go here…  [MLB]

What’s the Hold Up?

Jason Bay may not return to Boston – the hold up appears to be the duration of the contract.  Bay wants five years; Boston is offering four.  [ESPN]

Mike Lowell’s injured thumb is stalling an agreement between Texas and Boston.  Boston would (a) get catcher Max Ramirez – a good prospect and (b) pretty much pay for Lowell to play in Texas where he would play first, DH, and backup Michael Young at third base.  [ESPN]

The Cards made a pitch to Matt Holliday and hope to have an answer this week.  [FoxSports]

Happy Birthday!

One of the more famous names in baseball history, Bill Buckner, turns 60.  Billy Buck was a hustler – played through injuries, used to complain about every called strike or close play at first base.  He was unfortunately humbled by that error in the 1986 World Series and his career degenerated quickly after that – though he was showing signs of age at the time.  He had a lot of hits – 2715 of them – and used to be fast.  Something tells me that he’s probably mellowed a lot over the last 20 years…  I’d love to buy him lunch.  Happy Birthday, Billy.

Others celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include: Honest John Anderson (1872), Maurice “The Comet” Archdeacon (1897), Toothpick Sam Jones (1925), Ken Hunt (1938), Ken Hill and future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio (1965) – I loved Biggio who was an amazingly versatile athlete, Dave Nilsson and Scott Hatteberg (1969), Angel Guzman (1981), and Josh Fields (1982).

Afterthoughts…

Peter Gammons thanks everyone for the memories at ESPN.

Peavy Stays a Padre – Sox Crushed Twice in Loss to Twins, Too.

Was it that big a story? I guess so – but three of the top twenty baseball headlines featured Jake Peavy… Peavy, as you all know, rejected a trade that would have sent the Padre ace to the White Sox for four propsects, and a huge reduction in salary expenses, citing a desire to stay home and in the National League.

So, the White Sox went out and lost to the Twins 20 – 1.  Jose Morales, who caught the game, was sent back to AAA when it was over so the Twins could bring back Delmon Young.

Games to watch? Randy Johnson faces the Mariners in search of win #299. ESPN’s Steve Phillips say watch the long ball in the Phillies – Yankees series this weekend. Buster Olney says that the new Yankee Stadium is on pace for more than 300 (!) homers this year. (Olney’s blog is pretty complete, by the way. He relies on a big staff, I guess. I’m a staff of one.)

Joba Chamberlain’s knee checked out after being hit by a liner last night.  The Yankee starter left the game in the first inning… He may miss a start, but I don’t think he will.

Tony Gwynn, JR. scored the winning run for the Padres against the Giants last night. C’mon – that’s cool. Gwynn arrived in San Diego yesterday after being traded by the Brewers (actually, the Nashville Sounds) for outfielder Jody Gerut.

MLB.com is reporting that Alfonso Soriano may move to second base in the future, according to Cubs manager Lou Piniella. They need a shortstop with range and for Derrek Lee and Geovany Soto to start hitting, and this is what he comes up with?

Edinson Volquez hits the DL with a strained back, and Homer Bailey – a prospect for most of this decade – returns to the Reds. If it’s gonna happen for Homer, it’s got to happen now or he’ll be done as a prospect soon. And it’s not like he was smoking AAA, either. As for Volquez, it’s muscular and not structural, according to Dusty Baker.

Texas starter Vincente Padilla, expected to be an ace this year, hasn’t been healthy – he goes to the DL with a strained shoulder. Coming back from the DL is closer Frank Francisco.

Day-to-day? Jose Reyes (still) with what has been diagnosed as tendonitis in his calf. Chipper Jones has a foot injury (Bunions?). He’s hurt a lot these days. Bobby Abreu sprained a toe and will likely miss the weekend.

On the mend? John Smoltz threw three scoreless last night. Brandon Webb is healing, progressing slowly. Rick Ankiel might be close, but not close enough for a call up.

The Marlins are keeping the transaction fax machine busy. Alfredo Amezega is on the DL with a bruised knee. So, they brought up onetime starter Alejandro De Aza – for a couple of days. He’s back in AAA now. David Davidson was called up, and Andy Gonzalez sent back down. Then, they activated Cristian Martinez from AAA. Martinez gave up a game-winning homer in the eighth inning last night and was immediately dispatched back to AAA.

Atlanta’s Jo-Jo Reyes went on the DL with a strained hamstring, so Tommy Hanson was bypassed for his roommate – Kris Medlen. Medlen was awesome in the minors and may be a long term prospect, but he was swatted around by Colorado yesterday. Medlin throws low 90s with a mean change up and a breaking ball that’s okay. The Braves also placed Omar Infante on the DL with a broken left hand.

Toronto’s Travis Snider will get time to get out of his funk in AAA, as will Brewer Hernan Iribarren. Welcome back to the majors, R.J. Swindle (still rooting for him). Another prospect deemed not ready? Bryan Augenstein. He’ll be back.

Frank Catalanotto signed a minor league deal with the Huntsville Stars. He can still play.

2009 Season Forecast: Florida Marlins

Florida Marlins
2008: 84-77 (3rd NL East, 7.5 games back)

At some point, the people who regularly pick the Marlins to finish 71 – 91 are going to finally understand that General Manager Larry Beinfest knows what he’s doing.  Florida has fielded a competitive team every year but one in the last six seasons.  This year, management feels like it has a young staff that rivals the team that won the World Series in 2003 (Burnett, Beckett, Willis, Penny), and returns the core of a batting order that features three players who might all hit 30 homers.  This year, the outfield will be more mobile, the infield will have more experience, and the young arms will have a chance to shine.

Looking Back on 2008

The Marlins were one of the surprise teams in baseball (again), getting off to a solid start in April and May, and finding themselves in first place for a good chunk of the spring.  A weak June, where the hitting slowed and the starting pitching struggled mightily, sent them back to third place.  However, the Marlins wouldn’t fall to the bottom.  Instead, they rifled through July to hang near the top of the division.  After the all-star break, the bats slowed – Dan Uggla, Josh Willingham, Jorge Cantu, Mike Jacobs, and Jeremy Hermida all tanked – just as the rotation was overhauled.  So, despite replacing Rich VandenHurk, Burke Badenhop, Mark Hendrickson, and Andrew Miller with Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad, and Anibel Sanchez (to go along with Ricky Nolasco and Scott Olsen), giving the Marlins a strong rotation and having the best single month ERA, the team struggled to win 11 games.  The bullpen didn’t help either – Kevin Gregg’s balky knee and Reynal Pinto’s return to earth appeared to end Florida’s chances.

Even then, the Marlins wouldn’t die.  In late September, the Marlins won nine in a row and looked like they might suddenly repeat the Rockies Run of 2007 only to lose to Philadelphia and finish in 3rd with 84 wins.  With the strong finish and the improved rotation, the Marlins looked forward to 2009.

Tell me about that offense

If nothing else, the Marlins hit a LOT of homers.  They have one or two guys who can run, they have one or two guys who might hit close to .300, but they have a lot of guys who put the ball in the seats.

The infield offense was a single Jorge Cantu homer away from being the first to have all four starters hit 30 homers.  Hanley Ramirez is an offensive force, a 30/30 man who added 92 walks to his stat sheet, and scored 125 runs.  Dan Uggla had an unbelievable May that was so good (12 homers, .347 average) that it made up for two months of nothing (July, August).  The new Kansas City Royal, Mike Jacobs, hit for power but not much else.  Jorge Cantu looked like the hitter he was for Tampa Bay in 2005 and might be heading into his prime.  No other infield, including Philadelphia’s three MVP candidates, had such a broad impact on the offense.

The outfield, however, struggled to keep up.  Josh Willingham had only one good month.  Jeremy Hermida, coming off a 2007 where it looked like he might live up to his first round draft pick status, lost his way after the all-star break.  Cody Ross was a pleasant surprise and should have played more.  The usual centerfielder was the amazing Alfredo Amezega, who doesn’t do much other than hit a few singles.  The fifth outfielder, Luis Gonzalez, hit like a player who used to hit well.

Behind the plate, Matt Treanor struggled with injuries, Mike Rabelo played indifferently and was sent to AAA.  Part of the team’s success was finding John Baker, who hit .299 and reached base 40% of the time during the last two months of the season.

Defensively:

In 2007, the defense was the weakest part of the Marlins game.  In 2008, they battled it to a draw.

The catching was below average and mistake prone, and neither Baker, Rabelo, or Treanor could stop the running game.  Baker was the worst of the throwers, but his bat makes him the first choice to start in 2009.

The infield was slightly better than average.  Uggla and Ramirez were both slightly better than average in terms of range.  Uggla was especially good making many more good plays than bad, and helping turn two.  Ramirez cut down on his errors and made a few more plays.  If you watched both Jacobs and Cantu, you’d think they weren’t very mobile.  They’re not.  But the statistics show that they weren’t awful.  Cantu was dead even average in terms of range but makes a few too many errors, while Jacobs was just slightly below average at first and not helping in terms of being dependable.  Of the backups, only Andino (at second base) looks like a truly better defender, and since everybody who started hit, the defense provided was gravy.

Amezega is a surprisingly good outfielder; when you see him every day you realize just how skilled a fielder he is.  Cody Ross is mobile enough to play center, and solid in left or right.  Jeremy Hermida is mobile but awkward.  The primary backups, Luis Gonzales and Josh Willingham aren’t mobile, though Willingham gives good effort.  Putting Maybin in center, who looks truly amazing, and moving Ross to right will make what was a reasonably solid outfield even better.

Now Pitching…

The rotation featured only two guys who didn’t miss starts, Ricky Nolasco and Scott Olsen, and rotated out weaker starters once Josh Johnson and Anibel Sanchez got healthy and Chris Volstad was ready to go.

Nolasco started getting his curve over for strikes, becoming the staff ace and winning 15 games.  Scott Olsen kept the ball in the park, appeared to mature on the mound, and kept his team in games.  While Nolasco was 22 runs better than the average starter in his 212.1 innings, he gave up a few homers.  What helped was having stunning control (only 42 walks against 186 strikeouts).  Olsen, on the other hand, was just a good number four starter.  He wasn’t special but he was steady.

The rest of the rotation improved when the Marlins switched out Andrew Miller (-22) and Mark Hendrickson (-18), and no longer needed to use Burke Badenhop (-9) when Josh Johnson (+9) Chris Volstad (+14), and Sanchez joined the rotation.  Sanchez was not nearly as solid (-8), but was still a step up over Miller or Hendrickson.

The bullpen was tolerable.  Kevin Gregg was great for four months, and not so good down the stretch, but Matt Lindstrom picked up some of the slack in September.  For three months, Reynal Pinto avoided problems caused by his lack of control until it caught up to him in August and September.  As good as Joe Nelson and Doug Waechter were, they were negated by Ryan Tucker, Taylor Tankersley, and Eulogio De La Cruz, who were scary bad in major league tryouts.

Forecasting 2008:

There is a lot of optimism in Florida, and I would tend to agree.  Let’s start with the pitching.

Josh Johnson is great, but has never made it to 160 innings.  He potentially could be twenty runs better than average.  Realistically, he’ll be five runs better than average for every 50 innings he pitches.  Nolasco was amazing last year – let’s hope he stays equally solid, but he might fall back just a little from last year.  Volstad could be a pretty solid third starter.  If he keeps his quality for 180 innings, he would be solid and likely 15 runs better than average.  It’s the bottom slots featuring Sanchez and Miller that make me nervous.  Miller hasn’t been that good and seems to be off his game until the third inning.  Sanchez was good as a rookie and seems to have mound savvy, but before his injury wasn’t very good and at the end of last year, he wasn’t all that great either.  Either could improve, but I’m not confident both will.  If both pitch 180 innings, they’ll cancel each other out.  Granted, there will be no Hendrickson, which is a huge benefit, and if they only need to get 10 starts out of Badenhop or someone else, that’ll be good.  The optimist says an improvement of 30 runs over last year.

The bullpen will feature some lively young arms.  Lindstrom hits 100 once in a while, but his fastball is flat.  If his slider stays strong, he’ll be okay.  Former Royal Leo Nunez might be okay here, and Kensing might help.  Badenhop should be better as a long relief option – his pitches moved so much he had a hard time finding the strike zone, something that hadn’t been a problem in the minors.  He may start the year in AAA.  Scott Proctor was signed to a one-year deal.  Last year with the Dodgers, Proctor suffered through elbow tendinitis, having his first off season as a professional, but it was after two strong seasons where he appeared in 83 games each year.  Still, Gregg wasn’t bad and a few othes were really good (Joe Nelson, Doug Waechter, and Arthur Rhodes, all of whom are gone).  Just like 2008, though, there will be a few undependable arms, so the net result will likely be no change.  Jose Ceda looks like Lee Smith, but he’s a year away.

Defensively, there is a chance for improvement just by getting Maybin in the lineup and Willingham or Gonzalez off the field.  Also, if Gaby Sanchez plays first instead of Jacobs, the infield could be even more airtight.  The gain could be an additional ten run improvement.

Offensively, the Marlins have a formidable lineup.  Ramirez, Hermida, Cantu, Ross, Uggla, and Baker will hit.  Sanchez looks like a Mark Grace type, but for all the power Jacobs provided, he hit .243 with a low On Base Percentage.  So, it will be a wash at that position.  The potential for Hermida to improve will probably wash out with any decline by another player (Cantu?  Uggla?), and if Maybin is slightlyover matched as a hitter, it’s not going to be a huge loss since Amezega isn’t a run producer anyway.  I’m not as convinced that the bench hitting will be as strong.  The 2008 Marlins had some depth, while the 2009 Marlins look a little thin offensively.  Emilio Bonafacio and Jay Gibbons are around (Gibbons got a Non-Roster Invite to spring training), Wes Helms is still here.  If the Marlins get someone else – perhaps Dallas McPherson – to contribute, it might be okay.  But I think the offense will lose ten runs from last year.

All things considered, though, it’s a team that should win 85 games and be in the hunt for a wild card spot, and that shouldn’t be a surprise anymore.  They have been in the hunt more often than not over the last six seasons.  (I see that Peter Gammons finally agrees with my assessment, telling a Baseball Tonight preview show audience that they will be in the hunt into the final week of the season as his long shot pick.  It’s a safe long shot pick.)

Down on the Farm…

The Marlins moved their AAA franchise a bit closer to home, leaving Albuquerque for New Orleans.  That means when a prospect hits .300, he’ll be a legitimate prospect.  In New Mexico, everyone hits about .320 with some power.  The best hitters there were guys who had failed in previous trips, including Brett Carroll, who is not an awful fifth outfielder.  Only Eulogio De La Cruz really pitched well there and earned a trip to the bigs.

The AA Carolina Mudcats provided the real home for prospects, such as Gaby Sanchez (17 – 92 – .314) and Cameron Maybin.  Chris Volstad made the roster after a strong start, but Ryan Tucker (5 – 3, 1.58) and William Glen (9 – 4, 2.01 87Ks in 94 innings) actually fared better.  One of these guys will replace somebody in the rotation if he gets a strong run in AAA.  Chris Mobley fanned 70 in 58 innings as the closer and will eventually make a roster in the future.  This year’s AA franchise will be a bit closer to home, moving to Jacksonville, FL.

Logan Morrison was the top hitter for the High A Jupiter Hammerheads (13 – 74 – .332).  Teen Michael Stanton (39 homers) and Bryan Peterson mashed the ball for the Low A Greensboro Grasshoppers, but so did a lot of guys (and the pitchers were equally mauled).  The best lower level pitcher may be Georgia Southern grad Andrew Battisto, who fanned 101 in 81 innings and walked only 11, winning eight and losing just one for the Grasshoppers.  What made that season especially impressive was a strong ground ball/fly ball ratio – so not only did he strikeout a lot of batters, but the batted balls were kept in the park.