2010 Season Forecast: Atlanta Braves

Last Five Seasons:

2009: 86 – 76 (3rd NL East)
2008: 72 – 90
2007: 84 – 78
2006: 79 – 83
2005: 90 – 72

Runs Scored: 735 (6th NL)
Runs Allowed: 641 (4th NL)

When a team outscores its opponents by 100 runs, the team can expect to win more than 90 games.  The Braves should have finished about 92 – 70.

Season Recap:

The Braves spent three months figuring things out – playing indifferent baseball and hanging within a few games of .500 through June.

In June, however, the pitching came together.  Javier Vazquez started pitching like an ace, Tommy Hanson joined the rotation and started winning like Brave starters of the previous decade.  Jair Jurrjens acted like a Cy Young candidate, and Derek Lowe ate innings.  After manager Bobby Cox flipped closers, replacing Mike Gonzalez with Rafael Soriano.

When the offense started gelling in July (Matt Diaz replacing Jeff Francouer and Martin Prado replacing Kelly Johnson), the Braves started making ground on the rest of the league.  Falling to 34 – 40, the Braves would win most series down the stretch – and then going on tear in September, winning 16 of 19 games to get into the fringe of the wild card race.  Unfortunately, they faced an equally talented Marlins squad, and lost the last six games – including four straight to Washington and four one-run games in the mix.

Pitching:

Javier Vazquez, new Yankee fourth starter, won 15 and finished with a 2.87 ERA – saving the Braves more than 36 runs.  And with that, he was the SECOND best starter on the staff.  Jair Jurrjens didn’t flash the same K/W numbers, but had a 2.60 ERA and saved the Braves 38 runs over what one might expect from average pitching.

Derek Lowe was a 15 game winner in a slightly off season – his ERA was 4.67, which might have been bad luck with balls in play followed by feeling the pressure of struggling.  Still – Lowe made 34 starts and remains a dependable arm.

Tommy Hanson joined the rotation to make 21 starts, winning 11, and finishing with a sub 3 ERA – and it’s not easy to find teams in recent years to have three pitchers with at least 120 innings and ERAs under 3.00.  (Houston, 2005 – Boston, 2002).  Finally, Kenshin Kawakami made 25 starts and pitched well enough to deserve a better record than 7 – 12.

The good news is that Tim Hudson returned from 2008’s season ending surgery to make seven solid starts and ready himself for a rotation slot in 2010.  The Braves even tested two other options – JoJo Reyes made five forgettable starts (7.00 ERA) while Kris Medlin worked four starts into mostly bullpen work and would be a nice fifth option or reliever.

In the bullpen, Rafael Soriano smoked 102 batters in 75.2 innings, and only allowed 80 baserunners saving 28 games.  Mike Gonzalez accepted his demotion with a vengeance and finished with 90Ks in 74.1 innings – providing the Braves with a devastating one-two punch to close games.  Medlin, Eric O’Flaherty, Jeff Bennett, Peter Moylan, and Manny Acosto also pitched better than average innings – one of the deeper bullpens in the National League.

Looking ahead, Vazquez is gone – but it might not matter.  Tim Hudson is back and looks great (he did in the spring), Jurrjens returns after two straight solid seasons, and Tommy Hanson gets to make 33 starts instead of 21.  Derek Lowe is still around, and the fifth spot could be handled by either Kawakami or Medlin without feeling any loss in skill.  That’s FIVE sold starters with a dependable sixth option.

The bullpen got a makeover when both Soriano and Gonzalez took free agent options in Tampa Bay and Baltimore (respectively).  Still – the Braves have options, signing a newly healthy Billy Wagner and bringing in Takashi Saito from Boston.  These two are old (38 and 40) but have been dependable for years.  Moylan, Medlen, O’Flaherty, and Jesse Chavez are able backups and Jo-Jo Reyes isn’t a lousy 12th arm in the pen.  He’ll be better this year.

Catching:

Brian McCann is the best hitting catcher in the NL right now – power, average, and despite troublesome issues with his eyes gets a few walks from time to time…  His backup, David Ross, isn’t chopped liver either – slugging .508 and getting on base to a .380 clip.  This is the best catching in the NL – offensively anyway.

Infield:

The Braves shifted from Casey Kotchman to Adam LaRoche at the trading deadline and got better production from LaRoche offensively and defensively – despite Kotchman’s reputation.  It certainly helped the Braves finish strongly.  For 2010, the Braves are giving veteran third baseman Troy Glaus a chance.  I’m not sure this will be an improvement, to be honest.  Glaus has had troubles staying healthy and hasn’t been a regular first baseman before, so this would be a question mark going forward.

Kelly Johnson had the job at the beginning of the year, but Martin Prado will carry it forward.  Prado can hit, he’s a tolerable fielder (no different than Johnson), so this should be a benefit in 2010.

Yunel Escobar remains a potent offensively player, and is improving equally as a defensive player.  He’s a good shortstop to own in fantasy leagues for 2010.

Chipper Jones is running out of years – injured more frequently and his batting numbers slopped, though he still has enough patience to help score runs.  Defensively, he’s not much – costing his team nearly 20 runs a year.  It’s time to find a replacement by 2012, wouldn’t you think?

Omar Infante and Brooks Conrad back up this unit – Infante has some skills as a hitter, but wasn’t very mobile defensively in 2009.  Conrad is getting his feet wet, but nears 30.

Outfield:

Garrett Anderson was a free agent signee and test drive who hit a little but couldn’t cover enough ground in left.  He’s gone in 2010, with his replacement, Matt Diaz, likely getting a full time job as a fourth outfielder and left fielder.

Nate McClouth came over from Pittsburgh when rookie Jordan Schafer‘s injuries interrupted his development.  McClouth can hit and isn’t an awful fielder, but he won’t make anyone forget Andruw Jones in his prime.  Melky Cabrera was added and may move McClouth to left and/or picking up defensive innings as required.

With Jeff Francoeur now a Met, the Braves are turning to rookie Jason Heyward, who is rated by many as the top prospect in all of baseball.  He may not have Francoeur’s arm, but he can hit and he has young legs.  It should be a fun season for jersey sales.

Omar Infante can cover the remaining innings in the outfield, and Eric Hinske arrives able to play corner outfield and infield positions as well as pinch hit.

Prospects:

AAA Gwinnett featured a lot of veteran hitters and a few pitching prospects – some of whom aren’t around because they were sent out in trades (Charlie Morton), or because they are on the team (Hanson, Medlin).  Boone Logan and Luis Valdez are good pitchers – might be prospects on other teams.

The best prospect at AA was Jason Heyward – after that it’s slim pickings.  Pitcher Jose Ortegano has control and is just 22.  He might make the bullpen in two years.

A+ Myrtle Beach features reliever Cory Gearrin, who walked just three and fanned 32 in 29.1 innings, earning 17 saves.  Gearrin was still good in 20 outings at AA Mississippi – and appears to have reigned in the wildness that marked his first two years in the minors.

J.J. Hoover, Dimaster Delgado, and Randall Delgado looked solid at A Rome, and are just getting their careers started.  Same with 2008 draft pick Adam Milligan, who showed flashes of power and a sweet bat at three levels. Too bad he’s not a third baseman…

Forecast:

Defensively, the team will probably stay the same.  The rotation is solid and can withstand an injury or two.  The bullpen is deep, but not necessarily capable of stellar performances.  However, the defense should be better in the outfield and middle infield.

Offensively, I’m not so sure, but I don’t see many reasons to think it’s going to be WORSE.  I don’t see how it’s going to be BETTER.  I think the positives and negatives will offset each other and the team will still score runs.  There are a lot of good hitters in their prime, and a couple of veteran bats and a deep bench.

As such, I wouldn’t be surprised if the team is still 100 runs better than their opponents, and win 90 – 92 games.  And, if the bad luck in decisions that seemed to follow them last year goes away, it could be more.  Will it be enough to beat the Phillies?  I don’t know.  But they should be a playoff contender for sure.  The system calls for 92 – 70, so I’ll go with that.

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2010 Season Forecast: Boston Red Sox

Last Five Seasons:
2009: 95 – 67 (2nd AL East)
2008: 95 – 67
2007: 96 – 66
2006: 86 – 76
2005: 95 – 67

Runs Scored: 872 (3rd AL)
Runs Allowed: 736 (3rd AL)

Season Recap:

Most people figured that the Red Sox would finish first or second in the AL East and, as they have done four times in the last five years, the finished with at least 95 wins.

The Sox actually stumbled out of the gate, losing their first three series to Tampa, Los Angeles, and then Oakland.  An eleven game winning streak got things going, however, putting the Red Sox out front in the first month of the season.  Jason Bay‘s April made up for the struggles of David Ortiz, but already there were problems.

As the calendar turned to May, the Sox were dealing with a hole at shortstop, the lack of offensive production behind the plate, and still David Ortiz hitting like a middle aged AAA infielder.  Brad Penny wasn’t pitching well as a fourth starter, and the team leader in wins was a 40 something knuckeballer.  Daisuke Matsuzaka was rehabbing a sore back – and dealing with his lack of fitness.

In June, things started to look up.  Ortiz started hitting.  Jon Lester hit his stride, and the Sox went 20 – 8 to regain control of the AL East.  Unfortunately, the Yankees were becoming more complete as the season went on while the Red Sox were just coping.  Mike Lowell‘s hip became problematic.  Jed Lowrie was out and Julio Lugo couldn’t stay in the lineup.  Nick Green, who had taken over for both, began hitting the way Nick Green usually hit – which is .240 with no power or patience.  J.D. Drew missed a month of games, and Jason Bay took a month off with poor production in July.

When August began, the Yankees were in control and the Red Sox were an afterthought.  The Sox didn’t have enough bats to make up for a pitching staff that had 4.86 ERA for the last two months of the year.  In fact, if you consider May, July, August, and September, the Red Sox were just eight games over .500 (59 – 51) and had no business being considered among the elite teams in baseball.  A decent April and a very good June gave them the gaudy record they had.

Pitching:

At the top of the rotation, the Red Sox were solid.  Jon Lester went 15 – 8 and saved his team 33 runs over 203.1 innings.  Josh Beckett delivered a healthy season, 17 wins, and saved his team 20 runs in 212.1 innings.  Tim Wakefield wasn’t bad, but with his bad back, he couldn’t pitch much after the all-star break, making just 21 starts.  After that, however, nobody else was really that impressive.

Brad Penny had a 6.08 ERA in his 24 starts.  John Smoltz returned from surgery to make eight ugly start (8.33 ERA).  Daisuke Matsuzaka went 4 – 6 with a 5.76 ERA.  The Sox gave four starts to Junichi Tazawa that they wish hadn’t happened.  Boston finally gave 16 starts to Clay Buchholz, and he went 7 – 4 with a 4.21 ERA – but you have to wonder what took so long.  Same goes with Justin Masterson, who was left in the bullpen but should have had more than six starts.

In the bullpen, the Red Sox remained solid with Jonathan Papelbon‘s  38 saves and 1.85 ERA.  Hideki Okajima, Takashi Saito, and Ramon Ramirez were capable and competent middle and short relievers.  Even Billy Wagner and Daniel Bard contributed when asked to pitch.

Looking to 2010, if the Sox want to keep up with the Yankees, they need to have more starting pitching.  John Lackey was signed away from the Angels to give the Sox a big three to go along with Beckett and Lester.  Matsuzaka has to find his way back to 2007 – 2008 form.  If so, that’s four solid starters.  Look for Matsuzaka to fight with Buchholz and Wakefield for the last two spots in the rotation.  Justin Masterson, as you might remember, is with Cleveland after the Sox traded for catcher Victor Martinez.

The bullpen includes Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima, and Ramon Ramirez, and is supported by Manny Delcarmen, Daniel Bard, and possibly prospect Michael Bowden.  I think the Sox will miss having Saito, but if Lackey can stay healthy for 30 starts (he’s been nicked up the last couple of years), they might not need the bullpen as often.

That being said, this unit is more potential than actual at the back end – and that tempers my opinion just a little bit.  There is every good reason for this group to be 30 runs better than last season, but in all likelihood, I see it more like 15 runs better.

Catching:

Victor Martinez joined the Sox in the late summer and helped sustain the offense (.336 BA, 507 Slugging).  I think he’ll do just fine in a full season – which will be about 15 runs better than having more Jason Varitek playing full time.  At the same time, Martinez isn’t in Varitek’s league as a catcher (though neither is any good against the run anymore), so it might cost the team about five runs defensively.

Infield:

Kevin Youkilis is a mobile and dependable first and third baseman who, with the addition of Adrian Beltre, will find most of his playing time at first base.  He hits for some power, gets on base a lot – one of the best first basemen in baseball.  Mike Lowell, if he remains, could be a competent backup at both corners.

Dustin Pedroia wasn’t as good in 2009 as he had been in 2008 – but he dropped off both offensively and defensively.  I think he’ll bounce back some defensively, but we’ve probably seen his best offensive season already.

After a year trying Julio Lugo, Jed Lowrie, Nick Green, and Alex Gonzalez at short – failures abounding here – the Sox went out and signed free agent Marco Scutaro from Toronto.  As mentioned in my comments about the shortstops, Scutaro is NOT a top flight defender, but he’ll be a step up.  He’s also coming off a career year and is closer to 35 than 25.

At third, the Sox went defensive – signing Mariner Adrian Beltre to replace Mike Lowell (only Lowell couldn’t leave).  Beltre remains as good a fielder at the position as you will find, and if he can return to good health will have offensive numbers not too different than what Lowell produced.  Lowell was supposedly traded to Texas for catcher Max Ramirez, but hand injuries prevented that trade from happening.  So, for now the Sox have a really good (and expensive) insurance policy.

Bill Hall arrives from Milwaukee to join Jed Lowrie and Lowell in providing bench support.

As a group, this is going to be a bit better than last year – maybe 20 runs better defensively and 15 runs better offensively.

Outfield:

Jason Bay, an all-star left fielder, is gone – and his replacement is Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Mike Cameron.  Cameron is still a solid defensive player so he’ll get the nod in center and move speedster (but not nearly as good defensively) Jacoby Ellsbury to left.  Bay was surprisingly good in left, so Ellsbury will hopefully just maintain the good numbers.  Cameron will be an improvement over Ellsbury in center – assuming that he doesn’t suddenly age in Boston.  In right, J.D. Drew returns – just as likely he’ll be missing time and we’ll get to see more of former Marlin Jeremy HermidaBill Hall could play some out here as well.

I don’t see this as an offensive improvement – it’s probably a loss of 40 runs from 2009.  Defensively, however, it should be fifteen runs better.

DH/Bench:

David Ortiz struggled and you all read about it.  What is lost is how well he played in the last four months, nearly making it to 100 RBI.  I don’t think he’s going back to his old days – he doesn’t have the bat speed and needs to lose about 30 pounds.  But, he can be productive and guys like Hermida and Martinez will do fine as his occasional replacement.

The rest of the bench is pretty good – Hermida can play two positions in the outfield, Hall can play four or five positions.  Jed Lowrie covers the other two, and Varitek is a tolerable back up catcher.  I just don’t think that the offense off the bench will be that good.

Prospects:

Most of the AAA hitters are getting long in the tooth, and the one player who stood out was outfielder Chris Carter, a former Diamondback farmhand who is 27 and should have made it by now.  He must have defensive issues – because he can surely hit.  Of course, he’s with the Mets now.  Let’s hope he catches a break there.  The best pitchers, Daniel Bard, Michael Bowden, Hunter Jones, and Clay Buchholz are already with the big club.  (Hunter Jones is with the Marlins.)

The Portland River Dogs (AA) featured a couple of pitchers that might make an impact in a couple of years – but likely somewhere else.  Junichi Tazawa smoked AA, pitched well enough at AAA and got a shot with the big club.  He’s not ready, but he’s close.  Good control, decent strikeout numbers…  Felix Doubrant, a 22-year-old, has great stuff but needs to work on his control.  I see him in AAA at the start of 2010.  And reliever Dustin Richardson has NASTY stuff, 80Ks in 63 innings, but walked 40 – and that’s going to be a problem.  He COULD be a future closer, but not yet.

First baseman Aaron Bates alternates between hitting .340 and .240 – the good guy would be great, but the former third round pick (2006) hasn’t been consistent at the top levels.  Outfielder Josh Reddick is 23, has great power, but needs another season before he makes the concert tour with the big boys.

At A+ Salem (where I was surprised to see former Royals infielder Carlos Febles is the batting instructor), the most interesting prospect is from Taiwan, Che-Hsuan Lin.  Lin can run, is 21, and shows some patience and the potential to find a little power.  If he has a big year in AA, look for someone to give him a MLB look.  Anthony Rizzo is even younger and hits a bit like Mark Grace – and plays first base, too.  Ryan Kalish was so good at Salem, he moved to Portland and still showed power.  He’s 22 and will start 2010 at AAA.

Two pitchers that caught my eye were Casey Kelly and Eammon Portice.  Portice has control, an out pitch, and the Ft. Lauderdale native who was a late round 2007 draft pick has been a pleasant surprise at every level.  Kelly is a rare find – the spot starter/shortstop.  He won’t hit enough to play in the big leagues, but has a live arm and might make it based on his great control and power strikeout numbers.  In 95 innings, he’s walked just 16 batters, allowed 65 hits, and fanned 74.

Forecast:

With the offense staying good but likely not great, the improvements defensively and in the rotation should be enough to push the Red Sox back to the top.  The system says 97 wins, but personally, I’d play the under.  If my hunches about both the Yankees and Red Sox are right, Boston and New York would finish in a dead heat – but the system picks the Sox.

O’s Have New Closer; Dodgers Pay ChiSox to Play Pierre

The Orioles added Braves reliever Mike Gonzalez to a two-year deal worth at least $12 million, and up to $16 million with incentives.  Gonzalez, who had lost his closer role to Rafael Soriano and then Billy Wagner in Atlanta, found success as the eighth inning guy for the Braves.  [FoxSports]

I was flipping through a couple of sites that made it seem like this was some kind of an upgrade for the Orioles – and in a small way it is but only by the standards of September.  George Sherrill was solid last year before being shipped to the Dodgers at the trade deadline.  Jim Johnson inherited the role for the rest of the season, and he proved he’s not bad – but he’s not a closer (at least not yet).  Gonzalez, if anyone remembers, struggled as a closer at the beginning of the season.  So, I’d be a little leery of proclaiming this a success.  It fills a void, but only if Gonzalez approximates a closer.  In the AL East, he’ll get a dose of heavy hitters half the season – so to my thinking, this isn’t any type of guarantee.

The Orioles also took a flier on former Rockie third baseman Garrett Atkins.  Atkins got a one year, $4.5 million deal with an option.  I don’t know about you, but I see Atkins as an expensive insurance policy and not an investment.  I’d rather play Ty Wigginton there.  [SI]

The Chicago White Sox acquired outfielder Juan Pierre from the Los Angeles Dodgers for two players to be named later.  Pierre, oft-cited as one of the bad investments made in LA (5 years, $45 million for a guy with no power and an average glove despite what appears to be good speed), has a chance to play left or center field every day in Chicago.  The Dodgers are also paying for more than half of Pierre’s remaining two contract years.  Pierre isn’t as good as the departed Scott (Studriffik) Podsednik, and if Carlos Quentin is healthy, the Sox might have to play Pierre in center – and he’s not a centerfielder.  He lacks the range and arm for that position.  [SI]

The Marlins locked up starter Ricky Nolasco for 2010, avoiding arbitration by signing Nolasco to a one year deal worth $3.8 million.  I like it – he’s going to be better than 2009, though probably not as good as 2008.  Nolasco strikes out batters, and after he went to the minors to work through his two strike pitch routine, was solid down the stretch.  [MLB]

The Mets signed a replacement to J.J. Putz – Japanese import Ryota Igarashi.  The 30 year old gets $3 million over two years – far less than was paid Putz.  How appropriate for the Mets that the team with a reputation for choking signed a member of the (Yakult) Swallows.  [SI]

Good News!

Alex Rodriguez’s surgically repaired hip has healed – meaning that the post-season surgery he feared will not be required.  [SI]

What do you think?

SI/KC Star writer Joe Posnanski thinks that Tim Raines is a better outfielder than Roberto Clemente.  Wow – talk about taking on a legend…  I loved Tim Raines as a player, and I think that in the 1980’s, Raines was as good as it got – a regular contender for the MVP award usually given to Mike Schmidt or Kirk Gibson or Dale Murphy.  [SI]

A Committee to Set Up a Committee…

Bud Selig created a committee of owners, GMs, managers, and George Will (no players, no umps) to review on-field things such as speeding up play, the post-season schedule, the DH, instant replay, and who knows what else.  Selig has said “there are no sacred cows” – so it could be fun.  On the other hand, getting anything done will require tinkering with contracts (players and umpire unions, as well as TV/Radio deals) so implementing some things might be harder than working out some of the initial details and rules.  [MLB]

Happy Birthday!

World Series slugger Chase Utley hits 31 today…  He’s on his way to the Hall of Fame, wouldn’t you think?

Others celebrating with cards, cake and remembrances include: Roy Patterson (1876) – a member of the Hitless Wonders and a stud pitcher in the AA for a few years as a teammate of Rube Waddell in Minneapolis, Cy Falkenberg (1880), Ray Jablonski (1926), Cal Ripken, Sr. (1935), Jerry Adair (1936), Rollie Sheldon (1936), Leo Cardenas (1938),  Bob Ojeda (1957), Marvelle Wynne (1959), Curtis Pride (1968), Alex Cintron (1968), and Josh Barfield (1982).

Philadelphia – Where You Can Always Go Home…

It’s not enough that the Philadelphia 76ers resigned Allen Iverson, the Philadelphia Phillies came to terms with a former infielder, Placido Polanco, a gold-glove winning second baseman for the Tigers.  Polanco will become Philadelphia’s new third baseman, as the Philles allowed Pedro Feliz to enjoy free agency…  [ESPN]

Polanco still makes a lot of contact – but his batting average (career .303) has dropped each year since 2007 when he hit .341 for Detroit.  Last year, Polanco hit .285 with 31 doubles and 10 homers – but only 36 walks, so he has a rather pedestrian OBP (.331).  Still, he’s not appreciably less productive than Feliz (12 homers, 30 doubles, 35 walks, and only a .266 average in a park that would appear to be better for hitting).  Polanco hasn’t played third much in a few years but when he did, Polanco was dependable (68 double plays, only 15 errors) and mobile.

And, he gives the Phillies a little extra versatility.  He can move to second to spell Chase Utley, or let Utley play first to spell Ryan Howard.

Look – Polanco can still play second.  I just spent a night putting together the defensive stats for the AL using my ranking system and it shows that Polanco had as much range as anyone at that position last year, almost a dead heat between Polanco, Ian Kinsler, Aaron Hill and Robinson Cano.  (I’ve only done this at a team level so far, so I’ll know a bit more once I break this down for individuals.)  And, he remains dependable and relatively error free.  So, to have spent $18 million for three years (and an option for a fourth year) is probably not so bad.

The other real concern is Polanco’s age.  He’s 34 and while he’s aging gracefully, he’s still aging.  He might look good for a year, but by the third year it might not be so pretty.  On the whole though, two good years make this a good deal for the Phillies – and if they get three good years, $18 million might look like a bargain.

So, with Iverson and Polanco back, who’s next?  Mark Recchi?

Pedroia Can Stay at Second…

The Red Sox signed former Toronto shortstop Marco Scutaro to a two-year deal.  Wow – now THAT’S taking advantage of one really good year…  Scutaro had never played the way he did in 2009 – .282, with a little power, a .379 OBA before, and seeing as he (like Polanco) turned 34 in October, one wonders if he can do that again.  [SI]

Okay – from a defensive standpoint, Toronto shortstops (mostly Marco) were below average in range.  Oddly, they were better than what Boston put out there last year (Jed Lowrie, Nick Green, Alex Gonzalez).

If you were curious, Boston with a range score of -7.89, had the 13th worst range at the shortstop position, while Scutaro and Toronto were 12th at -4.29, which means that for every 800 balls in play, Boston shortstops were involved in nearly 8 fewer plays than the average shortstop.  Since the average team puts about 4300 balls in play or so, Boston’s shortstops basically allowed about 40 more hits than the average shortstop over the course of the season.  The only team worse than Boston was New York, with their gold glove winning shortstop, Derek Jeter, who were at -8.49.  The best defensive shortstop was, by far, Elvis Andrus.  Texas shortstops scored at 13.28, which means they saved their pitchers about 55 hits over the course of the season – or at least 100 more than the guy who was supposedly the best fielding shortstop in the AL.

Anyway – this means that Boston is inheriting an aging infielder coming off a heel injury that shelved Scutaro for the last two weeks of the season, and coming off his best season as a regular ever, as he moves another year away from his supposed prime, and already has below average range.  Long and short, I’m not a fan of this deal.

Oh, and because Scutaro was a top tier free agent and had been offered arbitration, Toronto receives a first round draft pick from Boston and another sandwich pick in between the first and second rounds.

Other News…

The Braves continue to bolster the bullpen, signing one-time Dodger and Red Sox reliever Takashi  Saito.  Saito gets a one-year, $3.2 million deal with incentives.  Saito, now 40, was a closer in LA and a solid set up man in Boston – now he gives the Braves some flexibility when finishing games (Wagner is a lefty; Saito a righty).  [FoxSports]

Having lost Brian Schneider, the Mets signed two potential backup catchers, Chris Coste and Henry Blanco.  They still have Omir Santos, prospect Joshua Thole, and might still be shopping for a front line starter.  [SI]

The Oakland As acquired Jake Fox and Aaron Miles (and cash) from the Cubs for a few prospects.  I’m not totally sold on Aaron Miles, but Jake Fox is a Hitter (!) and should vastly improve the Oakland offense (though you might not notice it playing in the Colisseum).  Miles is probably looking at his last major league season unless he suddenly gets healthy and produces.  At least he can play a lot of positions and act like a coach to other infielders.

The Cubs get prospects.  Pitcher Jeff Gray is a 28-year-old reliever with okay control, but a little hittable.  He’s at best a long reliever…  Matt Spencer was once a pitcher but now is a bit of a free swinging outfielder.  24 in January, I don’t see how he’s going to be a long term prospect.  He has a little power (19 homers in two levels last year, finishing at AA Midland), but I’d rather have Spencer’s teammate Chris Carter.  He can’t hit the way Fox can hit, that’s for sure.  The third prospect is Ronny Morla, a string bean Domincan fireballer, just twenty, who seems to be finding his way in the low minors.  Morla is the one who gives the Cubs a chance to break even on this deal.  Otherwise, I like what Fox could do for Oakland.

Here’s SI’s take on the best and worst farm systems

Happy Birthday!

My brother, Michael, a pretty good ballplayer as a kid anyway, turns 42 today…  Happy Birthday, Bro!

Hall of Famer Jesse Burkett was born on this day back in 1868.  Burkett was the Ty Cobb of his day…  Others celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include:  Joe Corbett (1875) – brother of boxer Gentleman Jim Corbett and a pretty good pitcher, Shano Collins (1895), Bob Shawkey (1890) – a member of the 1920s Yankees, Harvey Kuenn (1930), Barbaro Garbey (1956), Pat Sheridan (1957), Lee Smith (1957), Tai Iguchi (1974), Kyle Lohse (1978).

As a young kid and adult, I remember Lee Smith pitching for the Cubs.  The first time I got to see a game in Fenway Park, he was then with the Red Sox and I amazed those sitting around me with my understanding of the Smith routine.  By then, he might make eight warm up tosses in the bullpen because he didn’t want to get tired before he dragged his huge carcass to the mound.  He smoked the first two hitters before blowing it – allowing a few hits and the lead runs to score in the top of the eighth or ninth inning.  All I could think about was that I finally got to see Fenway, and when I do, I get to see Lee Smith blow another game.  All that way for something I had seen dozens of times before!!!

That being said, Lee Smith was a great reliever for a long, long time, and probably deserves more consideration for the Hall of Fame.

Five “Chronically Uncompetitive Teams” are Among Most Profitable

Over the last couple of weeks, agent Scott Boras and various members of the MLBPA and MLB management have bantered back and forth over how much money various teams have to spend on players.  The Boston Globe asked Red Sox owner (and former Marlins owner) John Henry what he thought – and Henry had a very interesting take on it.

I’m paraphrasing here, you can read his quotes here.  Basically he says that taxing large market teams to help small market teams remain competitive works so long as the money being routed is spent on players and not pocketed by owners.  Long and short, Henry says that at least seven teams have been regularly losing games while pocketing revenue sharing money.  So, revenue sharing has had the unintended consequence of making five owners very profitable despite fielding lousy baseball teams.

Living in Florida, there are a bunch of us who have felt that Marlins ownership (Jeffrey Loria and his family and business partners) have pocketed a large amount of revenue sharing dollars while choosing not to spend money to keep players (Dan Uggla) or acquire one or two guys who might help put the Marlins over the top.  (We need a closer, and you let Billy Wagner sign with Atlanta?).  Now, the Marlins actually HAVE been competitive – a testament to Larry Beinfest, his scouting and player development staffs, and whomever else gets the mileage out of these guys…

Anyway – I happen to buy Henry’s argument.  He says that sports challenges our idea of capitalism and, at least in this case, is rewarding some owners for not making the same efforts as the guys in the bigger markets.  Read the article – it’s certainly a fresh take on revenue sharing.  [Boston Globe / http://www.boston.com]

Let’s Stay With Boston Themed Articles…

Dustin Pedroia is open to the idea of playing shortstop – which would seem like a pretty good idea if the Red Sox have a better option at second base than their current options at short (Jed Lowrie)…  The most immediate prospect is Jeff Natale, a 2005 draft pick out of Trinity College (32nd round) who appears to have a grasp of the strike zone and can hit a little.  He’s a bit old for a prospect (27), though, but he can play some.  The long term prospect is infielder Jose Iglesias, a Cuban import who just finished a tour in the Arizona Fall League and is projected to reach the majors around 2012.  Is Orlando Hudson thinking of playing second in Boston?  Brandon Phillips?  [ESPN]

And, Billy Wagner – who briefly played for Boston in 2009 – signed a one-year $7 million deal with Atlanta, with a vesting option for 2011.  Wagner needs to pass his physical – and if he does, because the Sox offered him arbitration, the Red Sox would receive a compensatory first or second round draft pick from the Braves.  [FoxSports]

Let’s Move Behind the Plate…

The Tampa Rays acquired Kelly Shoppach from the Indians for a player to be named later.  Shoppach hits for power, but his batting average slipped.  That being said, Dioner Navarro’s batting average also dipped last year and the Rays are concerned about Navarro’s eating habits.   For Cleveland, that means one of my favorite prospects, Lou Marson, will get a shot at being the opening day catcher for Cleveland.  [ESPN]

The Phillies signed Brian Schneider, most recently of the Mets, to a two-year $2.75 million deal.  Schneider will be Carlos Ruiz’s caddie…  [ESPN]

If you are interested in which free agents were offered arbitration by their teams, click here.  Those Type A players (skill, and not personality) if signed by someone else would mean that the team losing that player would get compensatory draft picks.  [FoxSports]

Former minor leaguer Dennis “Go-Go” Gilbert channeled his competitive spirit into a solid insurance company and then a baseball player agency.  Now, he’s in the running to buy the Texas Rangers.  [SI]

Melissa Segura tells the story about the myth of Aroldis Chapman – the Cuban defector who can’t legally drink in the US but owns a 100 MPH fast ball.  It’s a good read…  [SI]

Tommy Heinrich, nicknamed “Old Reliable” for his ability to come up with big hits to win big games, passed away at the age of 96.  A regular outfielder on a number of Yankee World Series games, Heinrich was at bat in the 1941 World Series when a third strike got by catcher Mickey Owen that would have ended game four and evened the series at two games.  Instead, Heinrich reached first and the Yankees rallied to beat the Dodgers that day and eventually claimed the title.  Heinrich was believed to be the oldest living Yankee; now that title belongs to pitcher Virgil Trucks (92).  [SI]

Happy Birthday!

Reds reliever Pedro Borbon (1946), whose pitching kept him around for the better part of a decade as a member of the Big Red Machine.  His son never could make it happen…

Others celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include: Mike Kelley (1875), Andre Rodgers (1935), Julio Cruz (1954), Darryl Kile (1968), Mark Kotsay (1975).

Wagner Retiring? That’s What He Told the NY Post…

I’ve always been a Billy Wagner fan.  He threw HARD – and gave great effort to do so.  Few left handed closers could match his career.  And now, according to the NY Post, that career might be over.  According to sources, he wants to close games near his home in Virginia, and Boston declined his option so that Wagner could pursue his own deal.  (Washington needs help, but it might be a few years before the Nationals are competitive, and Baltimore has a couple of options but none as good as Wagner if he’s healthy.).  Even after Tommy John surgery, Wagner had some success in 17 outings…  Sources say that Wagner is going to put his family first in making a decision about playing again.  [MLB]

Playoff Notes…

Joba Chamberlain will stay in the pen…  Manager Joe Girardi will stay with a three-man rotation for the foreseeable future.  C.C. Sabathia gets the opener (against Angel John Lackey), while A.J. Burnett and Andy Pettitte will get the other starts.  [SI]

Managerial Carousel…

Jose Cruz will no longer coach first base for the Astros.  However, he will get another position in the organization.  In fact, a lot of coaches are pursuing other options – though Sean Berry, the hitting coach keeps his gig.  Doesn’t the new manager (whomever it will be) get a say in this?  [MLB]

GM Brian Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy will be retained by San Francisco for 2010.  Now, if Sabean can find some offense to match the pitching staff, they could be playing next October, too.  [ESPN]

In fact, the entire Bay Area baseball coaching world can rest assured that a job remains next year.  Oakland announced that they will be retaining the manager and coaching staff.

Meanwhile, the Indians are saying WHO they are talking to (except in mentioning that Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell was contacted), but they are making like Houston and talking to a lot of people about replacing Eric Wedge as manager.  [ESPN]

Hot Stove League… Tim Hudson wants a “wow'” offer, or he might decline his 2010 option (worth $12 million) and become a free agent.  The Braves have a lot of pitching right now – if it were me, I might let him test the market.  [FoxSports]

But I wanted an autograph… Steiner Sports is suing Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina for not living up to obligations linked to marketing ventures.  Molina was supposed to signing autographs and attending events and what not, received an advance, but has refused to do any work.  [ESPN]

Hurry Back! Seattle catcher Rob Johnson will have operations on both hips and his left wrist – but plans on being ready for spring training…  And, Nationals reliever Mike MacDougal also had arthroscopic hip surgery, but should be ready for March.  [ESPN]

Happy Birthday! Yankee Manager Joe Girardi turns 45 today…  I know what he wants for a present.  Others on the birthday list include: Ivy Olson (1885), Oscar Charleston (1896), Harry (The Cat) Brecheen (1914), Tommy Harper (1940), Art Shamsky (1941), Al Oliver (1946), Ed Figueroa (1948), Willie Mays Aikens (1954), Ryan Church (1978), Boof Bonser (1981), and Carlos Marmol (1982).

What do I have to do to get this kind of marketing from MLB? Look for a new book about the 1912 World Series by Michael Vaccaro…

Can Improv Theater Save Matt Murton? Calling Todd Stashwick!!! And Other Baseball News…

The Phillies tried Ryan Madson as the closer last night (Lidge had pitched in four consecutive games and wasn’t available as it was) and blew the save anyway…  No worries – Lidge will keep his job until his arm or knee falls off.  [Multiple Sources]

A little good news earlier in the broadcast…  Hiroki Kuroda threw a successful bullpen session and is closer to returning to the Dodgers.  He is expected to throw a simulated game in a few days, then a rehab start.  Kuroda is healing quickly after suffering a concussion when nailed in the side of the head by a drive off the bat of Rusty Ryal a couple of weeks ago.  [MLB]

Brad Penny asked for, and received, his release from the Boston Red Sox – surrendering his roster spot to Billy Wagner.  Penny will start looking for a team that wants a healthy but disappointing pitcher.  I always liked him – works fast, threw strikes.  He needs Dave Duncan – but the Marlin fan in me wouldn’t mind letting him find his routine as a long reliever back home in Florida where it started for him  [ESPN]

With no fear that this was going to get any better for him, Milton Bradley says he feels “hatred” from Cub fans – fans who are disappointed that the usually dependable hitter (if undependable personality) had struggled through most of his first season in Chicago.  Bradley says the only place he feels any love is at home with his family, and apparently gets booed in more places than just Wrigley – like restaurants, bars, grocery stores, gas stations, and knitting clubs.  Do you think that many people recognize Milton Bradley at first glance?  Or is he just paranoid?  [ESPN]

Moving across town, newly acquired White Sox starter Jake Peavy’s start on Saturday will be postponed.  His elbow is still sore and swollen, the effects of being hit by a line drive in his last rehab start.  [ESPN]

Speaking of sore elbows, Detroit starter Armando Gallaraga goes to AAA for rest (and not the DL?), giving his sore throwing elbow a break.  To replace him, Nate Robertson gets the call.  Robertson has been on the DL with an elbow injury himself…  [ESPN]

Yankee catcher Jorge Posada will miss a few games after taking a foul ball squarely on his left ring finger Wednesday night; the finger is swollen but not broken.  [ESPN]

Another Mets pitcher is heading to surgery…  Oliver Perez’s sore knee requires a scalpel and sutures to repair his right patella tendon.  Look for Pat Misch or Lance Broadway to get his starts.  (I know – Broadway in New York…  Broadway was picked up in May for backup catcher Ramon Castro in a trade with the White Sox.)  If you were counting, this is 14 Met players on the DL.  [ESPN]

FoxSports is reporting that LaTroy Hawkins was placed on waivers, but claimed by someone.  So, Houston recalled Hawkins’ name from the list and now cannot be traded until after the season.  [FoxSports]

For the second time in five years, the Cleveland Indians bus was involved in an accident or incident on the way to Kaufman Stadium in Kansas City.  The driver of the car hitting the bus was injured, but the Indians won the game anyway…  [SI]

A Federal Appeals court ruled that federal investigators were wrong for seizing the list of players who had tested positive in the now infamous “sampling” tests done in 2003 to determine if baseball needed a stronger anti-PED policy.  Prosecutors wanted information about ten players involved in the BALCO investigation and wound up with 104 players instead…  The leaks are more famous than the list itself.  The Fed was asked to return the list, but one wonders if this means that the leaks will end.  [SI]

In an odd twist, three umpires worked home plate in last night’s Toronto/Tampa game.  Jerry Crawford left with back spasms.  His replacement, Tom Hallion, took a Scott Kazmir fastball in the chest (Travis Snider swung and missed, and Greg Zaun had no idea Kazmir was throwing a fastball and missed, too).  Hallion chose to stay out there – but moved to third base instead, meaning that Brian O’Nora had to finish the game.  I’m betting that hasn’t happened before.  [FoxSports]

Welcome Back! Justin Upton returned to Arizona, Juan Rincon returned to Colorado, Joe Saunders is back with the Angels, and Tim Wakefield is back with Boston – all four coming back from DL stints.  Brett Carroll is back with the Marlins with Nick Johnson heading to the DL.  Carroll is the best fifth outfielder they have…  Drew Macias made his seventeenth trip between Portland and San Diego this week…  I’ll root for him forever now.

Is it Over? I sure hope not.  Matt Murton was designated for assignment by Colorado.  The kid could hit, but never keep a job.  Murton isn’t Russell Branyan – a power hitter without a home because he never gets more than 100 at bats in a month to get his groove on.  He’s more of a .280 – .300 hitter with middling power type.  If he could pinch hit or tell jokes or dance during the seventh inning stretch, he’d be Jay Johnstone and hang around on benches forever.  Todd Stashwick (my favorite actor) – you probably don’t read my blog, but if you could teach him to be more clever and work on his impromtu humor so he could be a guest on pregame, postgame, and rain delay shows, Matt Murton could stay in the majors.

Hurry Back! Pirates pitcher Jeff Karstens heads to the DL with a strained back.  Shane Loux (Angels), Daniel Schlereth (D-Backs), and Collin Balester (Nationals) are heading back to AAA.

Afterthoughts… Is it me, or do ESPN Radio hosts get more vacation time than anyone?  Mike and Mike in the Morning should be renamed “Maybe Mike and Mike, but probably Erik Kuselius in for one of them, in the Morning”…  And nobody’s show is less frequently hosted by the named star than the afternoon drive show of Doug Gottlieb.  He is NEVER on his own show.  In fact, I’m used to the radio bump “You’re Listening to the Doug Gottlieb Show…  In for Doug, Ryan Racillo.”  Does somebody keep stats on this???