Sox, Rays Fall to 0 – 6; Twins Rookie 2B Out Indefinitely

The Red Sox lost, 1 – 0, to Cleveland yesterday – the winning run scored on a suicide squeeze play in the eighth, and the Red Sox had the tying run on in the ninth, only to have him picked off.  That means Boston hits today’s home opener against the rival New York Yankees at 0 – 6.

For my friend Amy Travis, here’s a link to a FoxSports article by Jon Paul Morosi saying that the Red Sox stink.

My other pick to make the playoffs from the AL East, the Tampa Rays, also lost to the White Sox and – like the Sox – are still winless and 0 – 6.  After the game, veteran outfielder Johnny Damon told the team to stick together.  [FoxSports/MESN/YardBarker]

Houston got it’s first win, finally, by sneaking one past the Reds – who finally lost a game.

OUCH!!!

Tsuyoshi Nishioka, rookie infielder for the Twins and recent Japanese import, stood his ground near second base and took a hard slide from Yankees outfielder Nick Swisher. Because Nish had just planted his foot on a throw (slightly striding toward Swisher instead of hopping over him), the end result was nasty – Swisher accidentally breaking Nishioka’s left leg.  Everyone is on record as saying that, while the slide was hard, it wasn’t dirty and there is plenty of remorse to go around.

Jerry White, a coach for the Twins with some Japanese experience, said that one of the differences between MLB and Japanese baseball is that you rarely, if ever, see a hard slide into a fielder to break up a double play – not that everyone does it here either.  (Unless you were a Royals fan in the Hal McRae era, that is…)  So, Nishioka would not have naturally felt the urgency to avoid the slide.  [MLB]

Coming up from AAA Rochester is Luke Hughes, a seven-year minor league veteran in the Twins chain.  An undrafted free agent in 2002, Hughes can play second or third, has a little pop in his bat, but really is just organizational depth and not a prospect.  Matt Tolbert will likely get the bulk of the starts, though.

Toronto shortstop Yunel Escobar will miss a week under the new MLB concussion policy after he was diagnosed with a mild concussion after sliding into third base and banging his head into the knee of Andy LaRoche.  MLB has to clear Escobar to play at the end of the seven day period.  [ESPN]

Phillies closer Brad Lidge’s shoulder problems should leave him not throwing until the all-star break.  Lidge told reporters that his posterior rotator cuff strain requires him to not throw for up to six weeks, after which he can resume a rehabilitation process.

The Next Great Washington National…

Bryce Harper had two hits, including an RBI single in his first at bat, and a stolen base in his first professional game.  The Hagerstown Suns beat the Rome Braves, 3 – 2, in the opening game of the South Atlantic League season.   Apparently, MLB was there to capture a number of the artifacts (bases, balls, jerseys, bats, hot dog wrappers…) for use in auctions later in the season.  [MLB]

Who Knew?

First – which among us knew that Brad Penny was engaged to Dancing With the Stars dancer Karina Smirnoff?  He is – just another reason for him to be among my favorite pitchers in baseball.  Now comes word, straight from Hugh Hefner’s Twitter account, that Smirnoff will appear nude in the May Playboy.  No WONDER Penny is off to such a rough start… [FoxSports]

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cake, cards, and remembrances include:

John Hiller (1943) – Tigers reliever
Jim (Catfish) Hunter (1946) – I miss that guy – dependable pitcher for a decade…
Carlos Santana (1986) – Indians backstop
Felix Hernandez (1986) – the King of Seattle
Jeremy Hellickson (1987) – Rays rookie starter

2011 Season Forecast: Detroit Tigers

Last Five Seasons:

2010:  81 – 81
2009:  86 – 77
2008:  74 – 88
2007:  88 – 74
2006:  95 – 67

Has it been that long since Kenny Rogers was doctoring baseballs in the World Series?

More to the current team – last year the Tigers were 52 – 29 at home, and 29 – 52 on the road, with comparable splits in terms of runs scored/allowed.  The Tigers were +82 in runs at home, and – 74 in runs on the road.

Runs Scored: 751  (8th in the AL)
Runs Allowed: 743  (10th in the AL)

You’d think that a team that was below average in offense and defense would have a record slightly below .500, but the Tigers held on for dear life to stay at .500.

Season Recap:

The Tigers were picked by many to compete for the AL Central crown, but most people had them second or third.  After a reasonably good April, the Tigers gave back games in May, won a few more than they lost in June, and then just kind of stayed just off the fringe of the race until August.  By then, they had lost Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen.  The Scott Sizemore experiment was a disaster, which didn’t help, and despite the best efforts of Miguel Cabrera, the offense couldn’t deliver down the stretch.

The Tigers were a team that got on rolls – good and bad.  They would win a bunch of games and make a run to the top.  Five of six off the start, six in a row in early May, eight of nine against Pittsburgh, Washington and Arizona (I mean – WOW – Detroit had an easy interleague schedule) to move to 37 – 29.  The fourth streak, in early July, put the Tigers at 48 – 37 one day before the All-Star break.  Unfortunately, the Tigers lost all momentum – losing seven in a row and 20 of 25 to fall out of the race by early August.  Toward the end of the season, Detroit rattled off eight wins in nine games to get to 80 – 75, but lost six in a row and had to win the last game of the season to get to .500.

Starters:

Justin Verlander is a legitimate ace, saving his team 20 runs over league average pitching and winning 67% of his decisions.  Max Scherzer, acquired from Arizona, is a solid #2 starter and was a start away from 200 innings, which he should make in 2011.  Rick Porcello wasn’t as good as hoped, but there are things to build on.  Armando Galarraga, he of the perfect game that wasn’t, was a moderately below average pitcher in part because he, like Porcello, pitches too much to contact and doesn’t miss bats with pitches.  Jeremy Bonderman made a comeback season, but in a painful way – an ERA of 5.53 pitching in a decent pitcher’s park and with a reasonably good defense behind him – he was 32 runs worse than an average starter of his 171 innings.  An extra run a start.  Ouch.  Two others made a few starts, Dontrelle Willis – who is gone – and Andrew Oliver, who should be back in AAA.

Looking ahead, Verlander, Scherzer, and Porcello return, to be joined by reliever Phil Coke – a decent middle reliever – and former quality starter, Brad Penny.  I’ve always been a fan of Penny’s (works very fast, throws strikes), but I don’t know if his body can handle the load.  He’s turning into Rick Reuschel, which can’t be good either.  However, he’s a better bet to be successful than Jeremy Bonderman.  The problem may be finding a sixth starter option.

Relievers:

The bullpen is led by closer Jose Valverde, a very good finisher, and imported setup man, Joaquin Benoit – a shut down 8th inning option.  After that, Joel Zumaya is still around (albeit a chance to get injured), and a few others are there to mop up, including Daniel Schlereth (a decent enough lefty with gobs of upside), Ryan Perry, and Brad Thomas or Eddie Bonine.

Catching:

Alex Avila earned the job full time, and his backup will be DH Victor Martinez.  Avila has tolerable defensive skills, but needs to step up some with the batting average – which would start with striking out less.

Infield:

Miguel Cabrera is arguably the best hitter in baseball, and last year seemed to have beaten whatever demons befell him at the end of 2009.  Of course, he blew that heading to spring training, but he should still be able to hit the ball in 2011.  The Tigers missed Placido Polanco, a solid defensive player who chipped in by hitting around .300.  Last year, Scott Sizemore earned a shot, but gave it away by showing less than acceptable range and hitting .224 and striking out about 28% of the time.  Carlos Guillen played a little at second before his body gave way and Will Rhymes took over.  In the minors, Rhymes was never Sizemore’s equal in terms of being a prospect, but at the majors, Rhymes was a better fielder and hitter. Looking ahead, the same three guys are back – and someone will have to back up Guillen when he breaks down in June or July.  (Look, I like Guillen, but this is what happens when you get old.  If he plays 140 games, the Tigers will benefit greatly, but I don’t know that he can do it.)  Jhonny Peralta returns to play short for the full year – not a solid defender anymore but can still put some runs on the board.  Brandon Inge returns to play third base – fielding well, hitting a few homers, but otherwise being an ordinary player.

Looking at this, the problem is that the front four are (a) on the down side of their career, or (b) trying to age faster than he has to by adding weight and drinking heavily.  This can’t be a good sign if you are a Tigers fan.

Outfield:

Austin Jackson was fantastic last year – a lot of hits, decent defense, and flashes of brilliant speed (10 triples, 27 stolen bases).  He is among the best centerfielders in the AL.  Right fielder Magglio Ordonez is getting long in the tooth, still can hit, but his defense is problematic.  And he can’t DH as much as you’d want because Victor Martinez was brought in to be the DH.  In left, either Ryan Raburn or Brennan Boesch, who are essentially the same player, will get to play.  Raburn is marginally better – higher average, slightly better glove – but you wouldn’t complain (as a pitcher) if your outfield were Raburn, Jackson, and Boesch.

DH:

Did I mention that Victor Martinez was brought in to be the DH?  He replaces Johnny Damon, who heads to Tampa because everyone from the east heads to Florida to retire.  Martinez should contribute more than Damon, but not a TON more.  Martinez played in Boston and generated about 83.4 runs of offense, while Damon played in Detroit and generated 79.7 runs.

Down on the Farm:

Alfredo Figaro looked like the best pitching prospect at AAA Toledo, but even with a decent W/L record and K/W data, his ERA was the same as the team average and when he got a cup of coffee with the big club, he was treated rudely by batters.  The best hitters are on the Tigers – Scott Sizemore and Will Rhymes.  Not a lot of immediate help here…

Heading to AA Erie, the most interesting person there might be outfielder Brandon Douglas.  He has NO power.  None.  What he has is amazing contact skills and has hit .331 in his several stops in the minors.  I can’t tell how good a fielder he is – he’s bounced around between second and short, which means he’s a second baseman in the bigs.  If he’s ANY good at all, in a year or two he could be the next Placido Polanco.

Another guy who could be interesting is pitcher Adam Wilk.  Wilk made 14 starts in low A ball after coming out of Long Beach State and struck out 67 and walked just seven batters.  He had comparable numbers at A+ Lakeland (100Ks, 19 walks in 24 starts), and then slid into AA for three starts – and all were successful.  He’s not making the Tigers in 2011, but he COULD make the team in 2012 and be a good fourth or third starter.

Last year’s #1 pick Jacob Turner did what you wanted to see in his first year of professional ball, and will likely start 2011 in A+ Lakeland before moving to Erie mid-season.  Second round pick Andrew Oliver is moving quickly through the system and was given a cup of coffee in 2010 with the parent club.

Season Forecast:

I’m not convinced that Detroit will compete.  Inge, Guillen, Peralta, and even Cabrera are candidates to regress from 2010.  That could be 20 runs defensively and 40 runs offensively.  The outfield will stay the same – the gains in center field and possibly left are offset by the potential losses in right field.  Then you get to the pitching staff, and I don’t see how Coke is better than Galarraga and even though Penny is better than Bonderman – how many starts will that be?  10?  20?  30?  The sixth starter option doesn’t appeal to me – so if it’s 10, the pitching won’t be much better in 2011 than it was last year.

Given this, I think the Tigers will score about 720 runs and allow about 760, which is about 77 wins.  It’s not too unreasonable to think it could be worse, especially if Cabrera misses a significant amount of time or plays below the level we are used to seeing.  This team could injure it’s way out and suffer through six months that were as bad as the Tigers were in July and August.  That’s a 70 – 90 team.

Where can you find optimism?  Brad Penny making 30 starts, Rick Porcello getting a bit better, Guillen and Ordonez not only maintaining batting skills but playing 130 games each, and Ryan Raburn bouncing up in his numbers.  If ALL those things happened, the Tigers could win 85 games.  I just think that’s a lot to ask for.

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.

2010 Season Forecast: St. Louis Cardinals

Last Five Years:

2009:  91 – 71 (1st NL Central)
2008:  86 – 76
2007:  78 – 84
2006:  83 – 78
2005: 100 – 62

Runs Scored: 730
Runs Allowed: 640

Season Recap:

With two aces and the world’s greatest offensive force, the Cardinals held their own throughout the 2009 season.  And just when it looked like someone might catch them, the Cards added Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa, and John Smoltz to bury the rest of the division.

The Cardinals got off to a hot start, winning 17 of the first 24 games.  However, like the Cubs, a couple of ill-timed losing streaks returned the team back to the pack and in fact St. Louis trailed Milwaukee for parts of June.  In fact, all three teams played indifferently for much of the summer until the front office got involved.

Adding Holliday to the offense and giving a few starts to someone other than Todd Wellemeyer helped get a winning stretch going.  From July 27th through the end of the year, the Cardinals played great – going 38 – 23 before losing in the playoffs.

Injuries claimed Ryan Ludwick and Rick Ankiel at times, and LaRussa had to work around a defense that wasn’t functional at many positions.  Skip Schumaker was an outfielder impersonating a second baseman – badly.  He was replaced by Julio Lugo near the end of the season, and the ball wasn’t hit close enough to him either – not that Lugo had been a regular second baseman recently.  Chris Duncan is a poor outfielder – replaced by Matt Holliday who actually played even worse.  Ryan Ludwick played at a below average pace in right and the ball wasn’t hit to his occasional replacements (Ankiel, Nick Stavinoha) either.

Despite this, the pitchers allowed the third fewest runs in the NL – which shows you how good Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter were.  And they were simply amazing.  Put this staff in front of the middle 80’s team that featured Ozzie and Willie McGee and company, and they might have allowed only 500 runs all year.

Starting Pitching:

Adam Wainwright pitched 233 innings, fanned 212, and had a 3:1 K/W ratio.  He saved his team some 43 runs over using a league average starter.  Chris Carpenter was even better.  Returning from elbow surgery, Carpenter nearly tossed 200 innings in just 28 starts, winning 17 and finishing with an ERA of just 2.24.  He saved his squad 48 runs.  The third starter, Joel Pineiro won 15 himself, hardly walking anyone and keeping batted balls on the ground all season.

With 51 wins in the top three spots, the Cardinals countered with Todd Wellemeyer and Kyle Lohse at the bottom of the rotation; two who were below average pitchers.  Wellemeyer was so bad, he cancelled out half an ace with his 5.89 ERA.

Three starters are back, starting with the aces and adding Kyle Lohse.  Pineiro is gone, replaced by Brad Penny – and my take on it that Penny should be close to as good as Pineiro was.  They have comparable strikeout rates, and if Penny keeps the ball over the plate, should fare well here.  Wellemeyer is also history, but it’s hard to tell who might get that fifth slot.  It could be Mitchell Boggs, who got nine starts and while his ERA was tolerable (4.19), he sure got lucky.  Boggs allowed 71 hits in 58 innings and walked 33 more.  Some time back, I suggested that you could figure how lucky a pitcher was by comparing his actual runs allowed data against his “reverse runs created” data.  Essentially, I was treating his pitching stats like I would an offensive player.  Given the combination of hits and walks that Boggs allowed, he would expect to have allowed 40 runs, not 28, and his ERA would have been about 6.05.

I digress.  The fifth starter could also be non-roster invitee Rich Hill, who is just the type of pitcher that seems to get his career healed by the coaching of Dave Duncan.  Look for Hill to make the roster and possibly make the rotation.

The bullpen returns virtually intact – Ryan Franklin was about the best closer in the National League, but he’s NOT a power guy and I don’t believe that he’s going to be as successful in 2010.  Trever Miller had a great season, but he only pitched 43.2 innings in his 70 games, which means that LaRussa spotted him well.  He and Dennys Reyes will be the designated lefties, while Kyle McClellan, Brad Thompson, and Jason Motte pick up the other innings.  Rookie Jess Todd might be a nice set up man for part of the season.

My view of this is that the pitching can’t possibly be this good next year.  Not that Wainwright and Carpenter won’t be good – they could be 25 runs better than the average pitchers, which is very good, but that would be 40 runs off from last year’s production.  Ryan Franklin could be good, but lose five runs from a peak season last year.  Not having to pitch Todd Wellemeyer will help some, however I’d be nervous about the current options.  I see the pitching being off by about 50 runs.

Catching:

Yadier Molina remains the best defensive catcher in baseball and seems to be adding some offensive tools.  His backup is Jason LaRue – who will get to catch four times a month.

Infield:

Albert Pujols is the best offensive player in the game, and the best defensive player at his position.  His quickness means that he plays farther off the bag than most people – which gives him a serious range advantage over just about anybody.

After a year of Skip Schumaker, who stays to provide depth, the Cardinals will be using Felipe Lopez at second base.  This is an immediate 20 run upgrade defensively, and if Lopez continues to hit, a match to the production Schumaker provided (80 runs created, and 5.7 runs per 27 outs – which is solid).

Brendan Ryan was a stopper defensively, but starts the season coming back from wrist surgery.  I’m not sure he’ll be able to replicate last year’s production defensively and it’s hard to come back and hit right away after a hand or wrist injury.  His backup will be Julio Lugo or Tyler Greene.

At third, Mark DeRosa is gone and the Joe Thurston experiment is over.  David Freese will get the job.  Freese is a prospect, albeit a rather old prospect.  You may remember that Freese was acquired from San Diego for Jim Edmonds.  Well, Freese has been solid in the minors – hitting .306 with 26 homers in Memphis in 2008, and then batting .300 with 10 homers in just 200 at bats last season at AAA.  The Ballwin, MO native can hit at this level – he’ll be 27 in April.  I think he’ll hit like Todd Zeile – 18 homers, .270 batting average.  If he can field at all, he’ll be an upgrade over what the Cards got last year.

Pujols season was better than what he had done the previous couple of years, he could lose twenty runs of offense and STILL be the best hitter in the game.  With the wrist injury, Brendan Ryan will be off, but that will be made up by the play of Freese.  The net result, however, is probably 20 runs fewer offensively and probably ten runs off defensively.

Outfield:

This is going to be a very productive offense featuring Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus, and Ryan Ludwick.  Ludwick, if healthy, holds his own.  A full season of Holliday will be better than half a season of Chris Duncan.  And Colby Rasmus will hit better than what Rick Ankiel did last year.  Defensively, Rasmus should hold steady, Holliday will be a slight improvement over Duncan, and Ankiel won’t be better.

Backups include Skip Schumaker, Nick Stavinoha and maybe a rookie – Joe MatherShane Robinson?  It could be Allen Craig, who had a solid year at Memphis last year (see Prospects).

This team will score produce about 30 runs more than last year and hold steady defensively.

Bench:

Not a bad bunch, but some holes…  Skip Schumaker will get a lot of innings, Julio Lugo returns, as does Tyler Greene, and then you have Nick Stavinoha, and Jason LaRue.  Which of these guys, other than Schumaker, would you want as a pinch hitter?  It’s a bit weak.

Prospects:

AAA Memphis had a couple of guys who might be interesting.  David Freese will get a shot at the third base job after a year and a half of solid play with the Redbirds.  Allen Craig hit .322 with 26 homers, but he’s not really patient at the plate.  He’s a potential fourth outfielder with the Cardinals though, and could be Ryan Ludwick’s equal in right field.  (.280 – 20 homers)

Jess Todd was the closer in Memphis and was solid – 59 Ks, 13 walks, 24 saves to match his 2.20 ERA.  He’ll be on the Cardinals in 2010.  The best starter was likely P.J. Walters, who was tolerable – decent control, a good strikeout record, but a bit hittable.

The best pitchers at Springfield (AA) weren’t dominating, but had good records and avoided the long ball.  Trey Hearne and Lance Lynn combined for 23 wins and only 7 losses and have interchangeable stats.  Lynn was a 1A draft pick in 2008, so he’s moving up quickly and the Cardinals have high hopes for him.  Infielder Daniel Descalso hit well (.323, .396 OBP) at Springfield but hasn’t been consistent at that level in the minors.

Former first round picks, like Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Carpenter are gone.  Peter Kozma was a top pick in 2007 and struggled to hit .216 in AA – he’s going to run out of chances soon.  Another, 2007 pick David Kopp struggled to a 6.43 ERA at Springfield – he might get one more shot before being cast away.  Much of the 2006 draft is still around and getting close – Adam Ottavino, Chris Perez, Jon Jay, Shane Robinson, and Allen Craig are in Memphis but haven’t made it in (or to) the bigs yet.

There are a couple of players in the minors, but as a whole, the Cardinal organization is a little thin right now.

Outlook:

Having gone through the process, I think the Cardinals will be in the mix but might not easily repeat.  I think they’ll score about 740 runs, but allow more than last year – as many as 690 runs.  If that’s the combination, it works out to 87 wins.  With Milwaukee likely getting better and the Cubs in the mix, the NL Central could easily have the most exciting September in baseball.  The Cards MIGHT win the division, and they MIGHT get the wild card.  Or, they MIGHT fall a game or two short.  It’s too close to call.

2010 Season Forecast: San Francisco Giants

Last Five Years:

2009: 88-74 (3rd, NL Central)
2008: 72-90
2007: 71-91
2006: 76-85
2005: 75-87

Runs Scored: 657 (13th in NL)
Runs Allowed: 611 (Tied, 1st in NL)

Season Recap:

After a bit of a slow start (losing 8 of 11), the Giants rebounded behind solid pitching and defense to threaten the top of the division – but never quite reach the top.  The Giants won more than they lost each month until September, but never had that killer month – a twenty win month – that would drive the team past the Dodgers or Rockies.

As noted above, nobody allowed fewer runs than San Francisco (though LA matched them at 611) – so pitching was never a problem.  And, the pitchers were amply supported by a number of solid defensive performances all over the field.  Tim Lincecum was a legitimate ace, Matt Cain matched Lincecum win for win, Jonathan Sanchez threw a no-hitter, and even Barry Zito seemed to find new life.  Randy Johnson won his 300th game before his arm literally fell off.

The starters were supported by an able bullpen – Brian Wilson, Jeremy Affeldt, Brandon Medders, Bobby Howry, and Justin Miller all had solid years in key roles.  Even a late addition, Brad Penny, helped out in six late season starts.

The problem was in scoring runs.  Long and short, you want more players who can generate five runs of offense or more for every 27 outs made than those who cannot.  And yet, here’s your San Francisco Giants lineup:

8.3 Pablo Sandoval
6.8 Andres Torres
6.0 Juan Uribe
4.8 Fred Lewis
4.7 Aaron Rowand
4.5 Eugenio Velez
4.4 Nate Schierholtz
4.4 Bengie Molina
4.4 Travis Ishikawa
4.2 Randy Winn
3.5 Edgar Renteria
3.4 Ryan Garko
3.4 Freddy Sanchez
3.0 Eli Whiteside
2.9 Emmanuel Burriss
2.3 Rich Aurilia

These are just the guys who got at least 100 at bats.

Granted – they didn’t need many runs.  However, if the team could have found 50 to 75 more runs of offense somewhere, the Giants could have run away with this division.

2010 Goals:

As I am reading it, it’s a matter of holding the gains on the defensive side while finding some runs.  It would be nice to have a real bopper in the middle of the lineup – or at least three guys who can keep a rally going.  You have to fill out the bench, replace your shortstop, lock down the bullpen, and find a good fourth starter.

Pitchers:

Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain were two of the six or seven best pitchers in baseball, creating a one-two punch that nobody else in the National League could beat.  I show them as having saved nearly 70 runs over 240 innings than the average NL pitcher would have allowed.  Barry Zito had a decent year – not a great year, but one that was productive for his team.  Jonathan Sanchez was hit a lot harder than his ERA and record suggest, but there is hope that as someone capable of throwing a big game, he’ll make forward strides.

At issue is replacing Randy Johnson or Brad Penny – and that future ace is Madison Bumgarner.  He’s 20 – he needs to be babied.  I wouldn’t want to give him more than 20 starts (and if I made out the rotation, I’d pitch guys every fifth DAY rather than every fifth GAME – which gives 4 more starts to the front of the rotation and takes 15 or 16 away from the back end).  But this kid is the top prospect on the team, winning 27 of 33 decisions in two minor league seasons, with a 5:1 K/W ratio, and hardly getting hit at all.  If Bumgarner pans out – and the Giants, I believe, were wise in keeping him – this could be another 10 run swing in the defense’s favor.

In the bullpen, just about everyone in a key role is back and there are enough prospects – Waldis Joaquin and Joe Martinez among them – to keep it in check.

T W L G GS SV INN H HR BB SO ERA SAVED
Tim Lincecum R 15 7 32 32 0 225.33 168 10 68 261 2.48 38.8
Matt Cain R 14 8 33 33 0 217.67 184 22 73 171 2.89 30.6
Barry Zito L 10 13 33 33 0 192.00 179 21 81 154 4.03 0.4
Jonathan Sanchez L 8 12 32 29 0 163.33 135 19 88 177 4.24 -6.5
Randy Johnson L 8 6 22 17 0 96.00 97 19 31 86 4.88 -11.2
Brian Wilson R 5 6 68 0 38 72.33 60 3 27 83 2.74 7.2
Brandon Medders R 5 1 61 0 1 68.67 63 6 32 58 3.01 6.4
Bobby Howry R 2 6 63 0 0 63.67 50 5 23 46 3.39 3.9
Jeremy Affeldt L 2 2 74 0 0 62.33 42 3 31 55 1.73 16.2
Justin Miller R 3 3 44 0 0 56.67 47 7 27 36 3.18 6.9
Merkin Valdez R 2 1 48 0 0 49.33 57 5 28 38 5.66 -10.9
Brad Penny R 4 1 6 6 0 41.67 31 5 9 20 2.59 6.9
Sergio Romo R 5 2 45 0 2 34.00 30 1 11 41 3.97 0.9
Joe Martinez R 3 2 9 5 0 30.00 46 4 12 19 7.5 -14.1
Ryan Sadowski R 2 4 6 6 0 28.33 28 2 17 17 4.45 -2.0
Waldis Joaquin R 0 0 10 0 0 10.67 10 1 7 12 4.22 0.0
Madison Bumgarner L 0 0 4 1 0 10.00 8 2 3 10 1.8 2.9
Dan Runzler L 0 0 11 0 0 8.67 6 1 5 11 1.04 3.3
Osiris Matos R 0 0 5 0 0 6.00 11 2 1 5 9 -4.5
Alex Hinshaw L 0 0 9 0 0 6.00 10 2 7 2 12 -5.6
Patrick Misch L 0 0 4 0 0 3.33 6 0 3 0 10.8 -2.6

Catchers:

Bengie Molina is back – a power source, but a below average hitter because he doesn’t do much when he’s not swinging the bat.  13 walks, no speed, and a fair batting average means he’s no better than an average hitter.  Molina was easy to run on last year, but his backup, Eli Whiteside, was not.  Buster Posey, who looks like a real hitter but will need a little seasoning, could be ready in 2010, but will likely be held back to become the starter in 2011.  Jumping quickly from A+ San Jose to AAA Fresno, Posey still hit .321 with power.  I’d keep him around and would have just let him hit.

Batting:

First Last TM B HR RBI SB AVG SLG OBP RC-A RC/27
Jesus Guzman SFN R 0 0 0 .250 .250 .250 1.2 1.9
Steve Holm SFN R 0 0 0 .286 .286 .444 0.9 4.7
Bengie Molina SFN R 20 80 0 .265 .442 .291 61.7 4.4
Buster Posey SFN R 0 0 0 .118 .118 .118 0.2 0.4
Eli Whiteside SFN R 2 13 0 .228 .339 .269 11.3 3.0

Fielding:

First Last G GS INN PO A DP E PB SBA CS SB%
SFN Bengie Molina 123 120 1042 942 77 5 8 4 85 25 77.3%
SFN Eli Whiteside 47 33 314 286 25 5 2 5 20 13 60.6%
SFN Buster Posey 7 4 40 32 4 0 0 0 1 1 50.0%
SFN Pablo Sandoval 3 3 27 21 2 0 0 0 1 1 50.0%
SFN Steve Holm 4 2 23 14 1 0 0 0 0 2 0.0%
TOTALS 1446 1295 109 10 10 9 107 42 71.8%

Infielders:

Rich Aurilia is gone, after a long and productive career.  In fact, he’s about the only one who left.  Aurilia and Ryan Garko.  You’re going to see Pablo Sandoval, a remarkable hitter and tolerable defender, at third base even though he really should be playing first base.  He won’t though, because the Giants signed 34-year-old Aubrey Huff to play first base.  Huff is a professional hitter, capable of hitting 25 homers and batting at least .275 with some doubles and walks, too.  The problem is – he’s 34 and last year he showed signs of slipping.  Huff batted .241 with just 15 homers – the second time since 2007 that he’s had that few in 500+ at bats.  So, he is also capable of hitting .220 with 12 homers in 345 at bats.  I don’t think that will happen – I think he’ll bounce back some – but if he does, at least the Giants have options.

Juan Uribe is still around – and he can play three positions well and hit for power. Freddy Sanchez will be back soon enough, and he might contribute at the top of the order when he returns.  However, Sanchez is fair to middling in the field and he’s 33, too.  He’s younger than Edgar Renteria, who is 35 and looking like he’s older than that.  Kevin Frandsen is still around but is no longer a prospect.  At this point, the Giants are taking their chances with the two middle infield spots.  I’d just let Uribe take one of them, and either Renteria or Sanchez plays depending on who is healthy…

Batting Data

First Last TM B HR RBI SB AVG SLG OBP RC-A RC/27
Rich Aurilia SFN R 2 16 0 .213 .279 .262 8.7 2.3
Emmanuel Burriss SFN B 0 13 11 .238 .267 .294 17.2 2.9
Mark DeRosa CLE R 13 50 1 .270 .457 .345 47.9 6.2
Mark DeRosa SLN R 10 28 2 .228 .405 .293 29.7 4.2
Matt Downs SFN R 1 2 1 .170 .264 .254 3.6 2.1
Kevin Frandsen SFN R 0 1 0 .140 .180 .204 1.8 1.1
Ryan Garko SFN R 2 12 0 .235 .330 .307 11.4 3.4
Jesus Guzman SFN R 0 0 0 .250 .250 .250 1.2 1.9
Aubrey Huff BAL L 13 72 0 .253 .405 .324 55.4 4.4
Aubrey Huff DET L 2 13 0 .189 .302 .265 8.4 2.6
Travis Ishikawa SFN L 9 39 2 .261 .387 .331 41.1 4.4
Edgar Renteria SFN R 5 48 7 .250 .328 .310 46.9 3.5
Ryan Rohlinger SFN R 0 4 0 .158 .211 .200 0.8 1.2
Freddy Sanchez SFN R 1 7 0 .284 .324 .298 9.6 3.4
Pablo Sandoval SFN B 25 90 5 .330 .556 .390 122.4 8.3
Juan Uribe SFN R 16 55 3 .289 .495 .333 64.6 6.0
Eugenio Velez SFN B 5 31 11 .267 .400 .310 36.4 4.5

Fielding:

TM LAST FIRST POS GP INN PO A DP E RANGE DEF RUNS
SFN Travis Ishikawa 3 113 817.33 745 55 83 3 10.9 23.3
SFN Ryan Garko 3 33 230.67 219 14 17 1 20.2 9.1
SFN Pablo Sandoval 3 26 207.00 181 10 10 3 -2.4 -3.2
SFN Rich Aurilia 3 22 158.33 125 14 13 0 -19.7 -6.0
SFN John Bowker 3 4 18.67 15 0 0 0 -41.5 -1.5
SFN Jesus Guzman 3 3 14.00 10 0 1 0 -67.6 -1.8
BAL Huff Aubrey 3 93 826.00 822 59 82 4 -2.2 -5.1
CLE Garko Ryan 3 51 407.00 418 36 53 3 9.2 8.2
CLE DeRosa Mark 3 7 41.00 41 1 3 1 -9.6 -1.6
SLN Mark DeRosa 3 3 8.00 6 0 2 0 -96.1 -1.6
SFN Emmanuel Burriss 4 61 494.00 115 131 33 7 3.1 1.6
SFN Juan Uribe 4 38 299.67 59 82 20 1 -8.1 -2.8
SFN Eugenio Velez 4 31 215.67 55 68 8 6 33.1 8.4
SFN Freddy Sanchez 4 25 210.00 44 65 12 3 10.9 2.9
SFN Matt Downs 4 17 143.00 31 42 13 0 -1.3 1.4
SFN Kevin Frandsen 4 14 73.67 21 22 9 1 19.1 3.2
SFN Ryan Rohlinger 4 1 10.00 5 3 1 0 82.0 1.5
SLN Mark DeRosa 4 2 2.00 0 0 0 0 -136.0 -0.5
SFN Pablo Sandoval 5 120 1028.00 70 195 13 11 -1.3 -3.2
SFN Juan Uribe 5 44 323.33 28 67 8 4 9.7 6.7
SFN Rich Aurilia 5 13 65.67 3 11 2 0 -17.5 -1.7
SFN Ryan Rohlinger 5 8 29.00 2 7 0 0 10.9 0.7
CLE DeRosa Mark 5 42 355.00 25 74 12 8 -5.8 -6.1
SLN Mark DeRosa 5 63 519.00 41 99 9 0 -14.6 -13.1
SFN Edgar Renteria 6 123 1071.67 161 299 63 14 -3.7 -6.7
SFN Juan Uribe 6 41 318.67 61 94 20 4 12.3 7.1
SFN Kevin Frandsen 6 7 42.67 4 12 2 1 -15.0 -1.4
SFN Ryan Rohlinger 6 3 13.00 4 5 2 0 56.9 1.6

Outfielders:

Aaron Rowand is still in center, taking a slight step back in range and productivity, but doesn’t have an immediate replacement in site.  Randy Winn, a fantastic defensive right fielder but no longer a productive hitter, is gone and either Mark DeRosa or prospect John Bowker will take that spot.  DeRosa wasn’t fantastic in St. Louis, and he is – like many other new Giants – in his mid-30s (35 when he reports to Spring  Training).  Fred Lewis, like Winn a very good defender but not a plus hitter, may also be pressed to keep his job.  Nate Schierholtz, if he wants a role, needs to step up this year.

Batting:

First Last TM B HR RBI SB AVG SLG OBP RC-A RC/27
John Bowker SFN L 2 7 1 .194 .373 .250 6.2 3.1
Fred Lewis SFN L 4 20 8 .258 .390 .348 40.7 4.8
Aaron Rowand SFN R 15 64 4 .261 .419 .320 66.2 4.7
Nate Schierholtz SFN L 5 29 3 .267 .400 .308 34.8 4.4
Andres Torres SFN B 6 23 6 .270 .533 .343 28.3 6.8
Randy Winn SFN B 2 51 16 .262 .353 .323 62.7 4.2

Fielding:

TM LAST FIRST POS GP INN PO A DP E RANGE DEF RUNS
SFN Fred Lewis 7 83 589.67 127 3 1 3 4.8 5.7
SFN Randy Winn 7 54 319.67 72 1 0 0 5.6 4.4
SFN Eugenio Velez 7 42 288.67 49 2 0 2 -7.0 -4.9
SFN Andres Torres 7 33 163.33 33 1 1 0 -0.1 0.5
SFN John Bowker 7 13 84.67 20 1 0 0 11.1 2.2
CLE DeRosa Mark 7 16 130.00 22 1 0 0 -18.4 -5.6
SLN Mark DeRosa 7 2 10.00 5 0 0 0 83.0 2.0
CLE Garko Ryan 7 7 48.00 10 1 0 1 0.0 -0.5
SFN Aaron Rowand 8 137 1127.00 299 5 2 3 -1.7 -3.5
SFN Andres Torres 8 37 152.33 53 1 1 0 21.4 7.2
SFN Randy Winn 8 22 101.33 23 1 1 0 -11.6 -2.1
SFN Eugenio Velez 8 12 65.33 13 0 0 1 -18.0 -2.9
SFN Randy Winn 9 104 770.00 187 3 1 0 6.4 11.7
SFN Nate Schierholtz 9 86 597.67 135 10 2 2 6.2 8.0
SFN Andres Torres 9 5 35.33 7 0 0 0 -7.3 -0.5
SFN John Bowker 9 5 29.00 6 0 0 0 -4.8 -0.3
SFN Eugenio Velez 9 5 14.00 3 0 0 0 -2.7 -0.1
CLE DeRosa Mark 9 9 68.00 16 0 0 0 -4.2 -0.5
CLE Garko Ryan 9 5 28.00 6 0 0 0 -9.5 -0.6
SLN Mark DeRosa 9 1 8.00 2 0 0 0 7.9 0.2

Bench:

If nothing else, the team has a lot of versatility.  Uribe and DeRosa can play all but catcher and centerfield, and with four or five outfield options, there is depth.  Ishikawa can be the defensive replacement at first base.  Whiteside and Posey are as good a backup set of catchers in site.

Prospects:

We mentioned Posey and Bumgarner.  John Bowker hit well in Fresno (most everyone does) – hitting .342 with 21 homers and 74 walks in just 104 games.  It’s probably .275 with 15 homers in San Francisco, but that’s better than Randy Winn these days.  Osiris Matos might be okay as a reliever – he pitched well at Fresno out of the pen.  You know who pitched best there?  36 year old Ramon Ortiz.  Remember him?

Waldis Joaquin pitched great in Connecticut (AA).  He still needs to work on his control.  Brock Bond is the new David Eckstein – slapping his way to a .333 batting average and getting on base while playing a decent second base.  At A+ San Jose, Thomas Neal (.337, 22 – 90) and Roger Kieschnick (.296, 23 – 110) might be hitters, but it’s still early and everyone hits in San Jose.  I like Neal to get a job by 2012.

24-year old Craig Clark went 16 – 2 with great strikeout and walk numbers at San Jose, Clayton Tanner (21) was 12 – 6, and Scott Barnes (21) was 12 – 3 for the same San Jose team.  All three are solid prospects.  The good news is that the AA and A+ teams won their divisions last year – so the youth movement looks good for the Giants.

Outlook:

I’d like to think that the Giants are going to get better – and if they do, it’s because the young guys kick in.  There are just too many old guys on this roster – and all the hired guns are over 32.  This, to me, is a holding year and not a step forward year.  I don’t see how the Giants will score MORE runs or allow FEWER runs.  I see it staying the same.  The Giants will be competitive, but without getting that “last really good year” out of DeRosa, Huff, Sanchez, Renteria, Uribe, and Rowand, I don’t see them being any better than 86 – 76.

Herzog, Harvey Earn Hall of Fame Nods; Hot Stove Updates…

Whitey Herzog, who managed the Cardinals to three World Series and the Royals to three AL West Division crowns, received 14 of 16 votes and will join veteran umpire Doug Harvey at the podium in Cooperstown next July.  If you are a Bill James fan, you probably know a lot about Whitey – James would quote, praise, or refer to him constantly and with good reason.  Herzog was a bright guy who could manage teams with power, speed, and was the Marty Schottenheimer of MLB – you start by having good defense supporting pitchers who threw strikes.  Then, figure out the best way to score some runs and win the division…  Doug Harvey was a well respected umpire for 31 years and certainly deserves inclusion.  No pioneers or titans of business received enough votes – and Marvin Miller was dismissed, unfairly, again.  [SI et al]

Hot Stove Takes…

Ivan Rodriguez signed a two-year deal worth $6 million to help mold Washington National pitchers into championship form – and back up Jesus Flores, who could learn a thing or two from the former gold glover…  [ESPN]

Adam Everett resigned with the Tigers for $1.55 million next year – a $550,000 raise.  Everett isn’t a championship quality player anymore.  He’s a below average offensive performer and last year Detroit shortstops (as a team) were about three plays worse than the average shortstop for every 800 balls put in play.  Everett used to be a glove guy, but he’s now getting a little long in the tooth.  He’ll turn 33 before he shows up for spring training and he won’t be getting better.

Brad Penny is close to signing a one-year deal with St. Louis worth $7.5 million and incentives, valid upon passing a physical.  I love Brad Penny – works fast, throws strikes, seems like a likeable guy.  Of course, he’s dangerous in an all-you-can-eat buffet, and that worries me.  No matter, I’d always want him on my team.  And, it’s nice when the professionals agree with me (thanks, Keith Law).  [ESPN]

The Nationals acquired reliever Brian Bruney from the Yankees for a player to be named later.  To make room on the roster, Washington released Saul Rivera and his 6.10 ERA in 2009.  This is an immediate improvement.  [SI]

The big buzz is a potential deal between Arizona, New York, and Detroit that would send Curtis Granderson to the Yankees, Edwin Jackson to Arizona, and Max Scherzer to Detroit (among other stuff).  If you want to read buzz recaps, click on the links below:

Sports Illustrated

FoxSports

MLB.com

Off the transaction wire, the Tigers traded Clay Rapada to Texas.  Rapada gives Texas lefty depth in the bullpen.  And, Colorado released Matt Murton – a player who deserved a bit better career.  He’s only 28 and can still hit some.

I Told You So…

Cliff Corcoran surmises that Seattle’s signing of Chone Figgins was to shore up the defense – but, if you read my post on this topic, you’ll get a different opinion.  Figgins is more dependable and a better offensive performer, but his range is not in the same league as Adrian Beltre.  [SI]

Managerial Moves…

Ryne Sandberg will manage the AAA Iowa Cubs, following a season in AA Tennessee, and two seasons managing in Peoria.  [SI]

Happy Birthday!

Glove men Tim Foli (1950) and Ed Brinkman (1941) were born on this day – so put on the mitt and field a couple of grounders…

Others celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include:  Jimmy Austin (1879), “The Rabbi of Swat” Mose Solomon (1900), Hank Thompson (1925), Mike Mussina (1968), Reed Johnson (1976), Vernon Wells (1978).

More Infielders on the Move: Figgins a Mariner?

Seattle looks to be adding third baseman Chone Figgins to the fold.  Figgins, who had his best season with the Angels in 2009 – a .395 OBP and .298 Batting Average with decent stolen base numbers – would likely bat on either side of Ichiro Suzuki at the the top of the Mariner lineup.  FoxSports and SI are reporting a 4-year, $36 million deal with a $9 million option for a fifth season.

This means, of course, that Adrian Beltre will become a free agent.  The Mariners offered Beltre arbitration, but it would appear that Beltre will decline it and test the market.  Beltre really slipped offensively last year ( 8 – 44 – .265 – 19 walks in 111 games), though he still has as much range as any third baseman in the AL.  If Beltre doesn’t hit for any power, Figgins will generate a lot more offense.  Defensively, however, I show Beltre (and his replacements) to have made about 11.26 plays more than the average third basemen per 800 balls in play – and Figgins is that average third baseman (.30 better than average).

So, let’s figure this out.  Last year, Figgins generated about 100 runs of offense to Beltre’s 53.  Of course, Figgins played the whole year while Beltre missed about 50 games (and his backups weren’t much better), so the net difference is probably closer to 30 runs improvement on offense.  By my defensive rating system, the Seattle’s third basemen likely prevented an additional 58 hits – equal to about 32 runs.  (My system says that for every eight hits saved, the fielder saves his team about 4.38 runs, which is how I get to that number…)  So – the net change, assuming Figgins plays a full season again is, well – no change.  For every extra run scored, the defense will give one back.  Figgins will make less money than Beltre (just finished a five year, $64 million deal) – so that has to be worth something, right?  The Mariners will see the same overall production and save about $3 or $4 million in salary.

I like that deal.

Other Hot Stove News…

The Dodgers signed reliever Justin Miller to a minor league deal.  Miller was successful with San Francisco last year, a 3.18 ERA in 44 games.  They also signed minor league outfielder Prentice Redman to a minor league deal.  Redman has a little power, but at best can be described as “organizational depth”.  [MLB]

Greg Zaun will be around another year – maybe two.  The Brewers inked the veteran backstop to a one-year $2.25 million deal with a club option for 2011.  [FoxSports]

Texas claimed Toronto infielder Joe Inglett off waivers, bringing in a younger utility infielder than last year’s option – Omar Vizquel.  [Fox Sports]

Two who didn’t sign were Brad Penny and Juan Uribe of the Giants.  Each were given one-year deal (Penny got incentives, Uribe a club option), but the players turned down the offers.  [SI]

What?  The Yankees are going to slash their salary budget?  That’s what ESPN reports…

Happy Birthday!

One of my favorite players – and someone who I think SHOULD have had a Hall of Fame career except that injuries continually derailed his career – is Cliff Floyd – and Floyd turns 37 today.

Others celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include:  Patsy Tebeau (1864) – a player and manager during the early days of baseball, Giants catcher Frank Bowerman (1868), Emerson “Pink” Hawley (1872), a Pittsburgh area pitcher who crosses Rube Waddell’s path a couple of times, Gus Mancuso (1905),David “Boo” Ferris (1921),  Bill Rodgers (1922), Chico Ruiz (1938), Gary Roenicke (1954), Sammy Khalifa (1963), and Gene Harris (1964).

Afterthoughts…

Sammy Sosa did not attend a hearing in a court case where he allegedly owes more than $200K in unpaid services. [ESPN]

Speaking of steroids, four minor leaguers were given suspensions for the abuse of substances – three were steroids, while the fourth was labeled “a drug of abuse” – which could be anything, really.  No need to name names, unless you want to read the article.  [MLB]