2012 Season Forecast: Chicago Cubs

2011 Record:  71 – 91 (5th, NL Central)
Runs Scored:  654 (8th, NL)
Runs Allowed:  756 (14th, NL)

Only Colorado and Houston allowed more runs…

2011 in Review:

The Cubs started losing early, and pretty much were consistent about it throughout the season.  Starlin Castro kept hitting all year long, but the team was lacking in production from the outfield and the catcher spot.  Carlos Zambrano was extremely frustrated and threatened to retire – but considering his history of blow ups, the Cubs shut him down anyway.  The Cubs really had little truly decent pitching, helped by a defense that had little range and made a lot of errors.  When it was over, Chicago was under new ownership.  That group finally let Jim Hendry go – Hendry was the GM who was responsible for this mess – and replaced him with the Boston Red Sox mastermind, Theo Epstein.  At least the Cubs have THAT going for them.

 

Starting Pitching:

Matt Garza was acquired from Tampa and battled things to a draw.  He finished 10 – 10, his ERA looks good here, but it’s masked somewhat by the 17 unearned runs he allowed.  In terms of runs allowed per nine, he was barely league average.  Ryan Dempster‘s season was particularly troublesome.  His strikeout rate was pretty good, but he walked more than in the past and he gave up too many homers.  Zambrano, Randy Wells, Casey Coleman, Rodrigo Lopez, and Doug Davis were all at least 10 runs worse than the average pitcher given the number of innings pitched.  Here’s the breakdown:

Runs Saved /Pitcher
1.81    Matt Garza (31 starts)
-10.71  Rodrigo Lopez (16 starts)
-12.45  Carlos Zambrano (24 starts)
-13.24  Randy Wells (24 starts)
-16.82  Doug Davis (9 starts – ouch)
-17.17  Ryan Dempster (34 starts)
-22.88  Casey Coleman (17 starts)

Essentially, the starters gave up 90 runs more than an average pitcher would have done in the same amount of innings.

For 2012, Dempster and Garza are back.  Zambrano was traded to the Marlins for starter Chris Volstad, but that’s not an improvement – Volstad pitched worse than Zambrano last year.  Jeff Samardzija is being moved to the rotation – he was one of the few Cubs pitchers to pitch on the good side of average.  If he can match that for 180 innings instead of 90 innings, that would be a huge improvement over, say, Casey Coleman and Rodrigo Lopez.  If Wells can stay healthy and get back, that would help, too.  One can see a 40 run improvement at this spot.

 

Relief Pitchers:

Carlos Marmol has been a closer for a few years now, and he isn’t getting any better.  A closer with an ERA over 4 is a problem – and he’s so wild that he’s allowing nearly six walks every nine innings.  The set up squad was actually pretty good – Samardzija was nearly six runs better than the average pitcher; Sean Marshall was even better – the best pitcher on the staff (14 runs saved).  Kerry Wood was tolerable, but is running out of innings in his arm.  After that, though, you run through some guys who struggled – John Grabow and James Russell.

Looking forward, I’m scared here.  The best pitcher, Sean Marshall, is gone.  Samardzija is in the rotation.  The Cubs could be relying on Coleman to take on a long relief role, or pulling in Rafael Dolis or Chris Carpenter.  I’m worried that this unit could easily be 10 – 15 runs worse than 2011.

 

Catching:

As a unit, Geovany Soto and Koyie Hill were fair against the run and mobile.  On the other hand, they were mistake prone and if they are to get some responsibility for the pitching staff, the team was 20 games under .500 with a lousy overall ERA.

Soto can hit a little, but he’s been inconsistent with his batting average and power.  Soto finished by hitting .228 with 17 homers, which really isn’t good enough – especially in Wrigley Field.  Hill was worse – .194 with sub .300 slugging and on base percentages.

 

Infield:

I made a comment that the team defense wasn’t very good in 2011 – that doesn’t apply to the middle infielders here.  Shortstop Starlin Castro saved the team 18 runs – which breaks down to 24 runs because of his range, but he gives back nearly six runs because of his errors.  Darwin Barney was also mobile and slightly error prone, but the net result was another 14 runs saved.  The play on the corners, though, featured two older guys who no longer have the range to help out.  Carlos Pena was once a fine fielder – not anymore.  He cost the team 19 runs.  Aramis Ramirez was even worse – he cost the Cubs 36 runs.  Granted, the offense here isn’t half bad.  Barney has room to improve – he needs to be more selective at the plate and get his batting average up to the .290 range.  Castro had 207 hits and generated 108 runs of offense, but he makes a lot of outs.  Ramirez had a nice season – 109 runs created, and Pena added 85 more, despite hitting just .225 (he drew 101 walks and hit 28 homers).  That kind of production will be hard to replace.

The Cubs will try Bryan Lahair, the minor league home run champ, at first base.  His fielding isn’t sterling, but his bat can help.  Ian Stewart was acquired from Colorado and he’s going to hit better than the .156 he hit in 2011, but he’s NOT going to be the run producer that Ramirez was.  Castro may still have more growth in him, as will Barney, but this unit could easily be down 50 runs from last year.

 

Outfield:

The Cubs featured an outfield of Alfonso Soriano, who has below average range, Marlon Byrd, who is surprisingly mobile for an older guy – but still below average in terms of range, and, for three months, Kosuke Fukudome.  Fukodome has great range for a right fielder.  Tyler Colvin replaced him, but he fell off the map in terms of his offensive output.

Offensively, Soriano still has power – 26 homers – but he doesn’t run and he still is too much of a free swinger.  Byrd seems to have lost all of his power and he, too, stopped getting on base after getting hit in the face with a pitch in Boston last May.  Colvin hit .150 – ouch!  The Cubs never seemed satisfied with Fukudome, yet he was actually the most productive hitter in the outfield.

Colvin is gone – he’s in Colorado – but Soriano isn’t going anywhere soon, and Byrd needs to get out of center and move to right so that the young legs of Tony Campana can take over in center.  Reed Johnson (he’s still around?) played well – he needed to play more.  The problem is that the Cubs don’t have someone who can help immediately.

 

Prospects:

The AAA Iowa Cubs were devoid of young prospects who can help soon…  The aforementioned Bryan Lahair hit 38 – 109 – .331, but was 28 last year.  The best player to roll through here that was younger might be catcher Wellington Castillo , a 24-year-old who looks no better or worse than Geovany Soto, and Tony Campana, who was here for just 30 games and hit .342 – a burner with little or no power.  Casey Coleman was the best pitcher, but even he had holes – he doesn’t have a big strikeout pitch and he gave up 11 homers in 70 innings.

There may be help in AA, though – the Tennessee Smokies were a top flight minor league team.  Josh Vitters, a former #1 pick (2007) and Rebel Ridling – a great name – hit enough and with some power to suggest that they might get a shot by the end of 2012.  2008 #1 pick Ryan Flaherty hit pretty well, but he’s a shortstop and middle infielders are pretty set in Chicago.  He might get used in a deal soon – him or his fellow middle infielder D.J. LeMahieu…  The pitcher who had results was reliever Jeff Beliveau – who sounds like he should be a hockey player – 57 innings, 69 Ks and just 13 walks.  Kevin Rhoderick has a stunning arm but needs to refine his control.  Jeff Stevens had good numbers here, but he’s already turning 28 soon and has had a cup of coffee…

A+ Daytona finished second in the Florida State League and first baseman Justin Bour led the team in homers and RBIs – hitting 23 homers in the FSL is legit power.  Undrafted Junior Lake continued to play well – is turning 22 and hit over .300 with some power and great speed.  One thing you notice when looking over the pitching staff is a lack of high draft picks – the best pitcher was undrafted Jeff Antiqua, who logged 83.1 innings, fanned 81, and walked just 18.

If there is help on the way, it might be catcher Richard Jones, who hit 24 homers and batted .309 for low A Peoria.  It doesn’t look like it will be #1 pick Hayden Simpson, who fell off to 1 – 6 – 5.32.  The best arm might belong to 11th round pick Eric Jokisch, who went 9 – 3 with a good K/W ratio in 118.2 innings.

 

2012 Forecast:

The Cubs will probably allow 30 fewer runs this year – it can’t really get worse than 2011 – but the offense looks worse.  If the team falls back another 50 runs, which is entirely possible, you’re looking at a 66 – 96 team.  If Stewart doesn’t come back and Soriano falls off, and LeHair doesn’t hit in the majors, the Cubs are looking at 100 losses.  Theo Epstein has a lot of work to do.

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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.

NL’s Best and Worst Pitchers in 2009 – Hot Stove News…

Quick news hits first before we take a quick look back at pitchers in 2009…

Tim Lincecum asked for $13 million when filing for arbitration – if he wins, it would be the highest amount paid to an arbitration eligible pitcher.  Of course, Lincecum is a bit of a party animal off the field, but between the lines he’s one of the five best pitchers in the National League.  He’s certainly one of the most valuable commodities – a pretty durable arm (so far) who gets a lot of batters out and wins games.  [ESPN/SI]

There’s a rather long list of players and teams avoiding arbitration or signing deals – you can get the list on SI or MLB – but the ones that caught my attention were (a) Jonathon Papelbon getting $9.35 million from Boston – about two million more than the going rate and (b) Bengie Molina likely returning to the Giants.  The Mets pursued Molina but apparently not hard enough, and are now stuck with playing backup catchers every day for another year (unless you consider Omir Santos a budding starter).  [FoxSports/ESPN]

FUN WITH DATA!

Having purchased my copy of the Lahman database, which is invaluable for doing quick queries so that I can plug data into my spreadsheets very easily, I can finally start doing the type of statistical analysis that I like…  I’ve already assembled the NL data and will be doing the AL data later this week.  And, after having knocked out the NL sheets, we get to have some fun with the lists it generates.  Today, we’ll start with the pitchers.

Top NL Starting Pitchers

The first rating system I have looks at how many runs a pitcher cost or saved his team over the course of the year above or below what the average pitcher allowed.  ERA is a pretty simple way to note this, mind you.  Someone with an ERA of 2.00 is two runs per nine innings better than someone with an ERA of 4.00.  However, it’s easier to have a low ERA when you pitch in San Diego, so I modify the runs allowed (not earned runs, but runs allowed) by removing the park effect.  Then, I also try to isolate the advantage a pitcher has in being on a team with a good defense vs. one with a bad defense.  For example, a pitcher on the Giants gets help from having a very solid defense – Randy Winn and Fred Lewis in the outfield are plus defenders at their position, the infielders were rather good as well.  Meanwhile, the Cardinals staff had behind them an injured Rick Ankiel or Chris Duncan or Ryan Ludwick in the outfield not catching as many flies as most teams and were playing an injured (and less mobile) Mark DeRosa at third and, perhaps more importantly, an outfielder at second base all year in Skip Schumaker.  Once I figure out how many runs the seven guys in the field affected the team’s ability to prevent runs, you can make a second modification to a pitcher’s runs allowed numbers and compare it with the league average.

The league average pitcher allowed about 4.53 runs per nine innings.  The total number of runs saved is not just dependent on runs allowed per nine, but the number of innings pitched.  The best pitchers in saving runs will usually be starters.  Sometimes, a reliever can sneak in there, but not very often.  Let’s get to the list.

Best Starters:

In terms of runs saved, the best starting pitchers in the National League were…

48.57 – Chris Carpenter (STL)
43.19 – Adam Wainwright (STL)
40.25 – Danny Haren (ARZ)
38.80 – Tim Lincecum (SF)
38.30 – Ubaldo Jimenez (COL)
38.16 – Jair Jurrjens (ATL)
36.39 – Javier Vasquez (ATL)
33.68 – Josh Johnson (FLA)
30.62 – Matt Cain (SF)
28.51 – Wandy Rodriguez (HOU)
28.09 – J.A. Happ (PHI)
26.14 – Ted Lilly (CHC)
23.33 – Jason Marquis (COL)
22.81 – Tommy Hanson (ATL)
21.32 – Clayton Kershaw (LA)

No other starters saved at least 20 runs more than an average pitcher would have allowed given the number of innings pitched by that player.  The top two guys were Cardinals – two pitchers who were wonderful despite having several players not necessarily having good years with the glove.  Those pitchers DO benefit from having the best catching in baseball (Yadier Molina) – but Carpenter’s 48+ runs saved over the average pitcher might be the largest number I have seen in the five years I have done this.  Based on this criteria, Carpenter deserved his Cy Young consideration.  Among the surprises on this list was Clayton Kershaw who couldn’t get any support from his team but really did pitch very, very well and I think could be a sleeper ace for 2010.  And, seeing how well Jason Marquis pitched for the first four months of the season, one assumes that Colorado will miss that kind of production.

Top Relievers:

18.13 – Kiko Calero (FLA)
17.86 – Ryan Franklin (STL)
16.29 – LaTroy Hawkins (HOU)
16.23 – Jeremy Affeldt (SF)
15.49 – Trevor Hoffman (MIL)
13.89 – Nick Massett (CIN)
13.42 – Rafael Soriano (ATL)
12.98 – Huston Street (COL)
12.57 – Jose Valverde (HOU)
12.36 – Todd Coffey (MIL)
12.15 – Tyler Clippard (WAS)

As has been the case for many years, the top relievers are frequently NOT closers but middle relievers who have really good seasons in less demanding roles.  Kiko Calero, who has never had a season anywhere NEAR what he did in 2009 is the surprise winner here.  That being said, the top closer was Ryan Franklin, followed closely by Trevor Hoffman.  More than any other list, this group will change a lot from year to year.  Any number close to 10 is a great year for a reliever.

Worst NL Pitchers…

-44.28 – Manny Parra (MIL)
-33.36 – Josh Geer (SD)
-32.70 – Braden Looper (MIL)
-31.70 – David Bush (MIL)
-31.25 – Jeff Suppan (MIL)
-27.36 – Chad Gaudin (SD)
-25.35 – Todd Wellemeyer (STL)
-22.83 – Micah Owings (CIN)
-21.95 – Felipe Paulino (HOU)
-21.90 – Brad Lidge (PHI)
-20.53 – Brian Moehler (HOU)
-20.20 – Walter Silva (SD)

-21.31 – Kevin Hart (PIT) – but positive 6.30 in CHC

These are the starters for teams who felt like they had no other option than to give 150 innings to someone with a 5+ ERA.  Or, in the case of Brad Lidge, a manager who kept feeding his closer the ball despite the fact that he was getting hammered all too often.  Rarely does a reliever make this list.

One thing that is immediately noticeable is the fact that four of the five worst pitchers in terms of their relation to the average pitcher were Brewers.  Look – they aren’t the worst pitchers.  There were guys with 8+ ERAs who got just 20 innings and were sent packing to AAA, too.  Or were hurt or something.  But the Brewers were hanging in there with four guys who are no better than long relievers.  Three of them had seen better days (Looper, Suppan, Bush), but wow.  One sees immediately where the Brewers should spend their money.  Go find three guys who can pitch.  If that means giving Ben Sheets a deal, do it.  Finding three guys who can give you a 4.20 ERA in 180 innings would move the Brewers up 10 games in the standings.  Is it that hard to find three of those guys?  I can’t wait to do my team overview for the Brewers…

Lincecum Takes Second Cy in Close Vote; Free Agency Bidding Starts Today!

Tim Lincecum won the NL Cy Young in one of the closest votes yet, just seven points over Chris Carpenter – and the guy with the most first place votes, Adam Wainwright, finished third.

Not a whole lot of difference between the three (and even Danny Haren, who deserved consideration).  I’ll be honest, I don’t know how I would have voted if given a shot.  Lincecum is awesome, really, so it’s hard to vote against him.  From what I have read, Carpenter’s finishing second had to do with his missing time during the season.  Even Lincecum missed two starts, but he was there pretty much all year.

SI’s Ted Keith argues that Lincecum is worthy of Hall of Fame consideration.  He makes a valid point.

Quick Hits…

The last two players to file for free agency, with bidding on players starting today, were Andy Pettitte and Fernando Tatis.  In case you were keeping score, the number of major leaguers eligible who filed for free agency is 171.  [ESPN]

Stephen Strasburg will miss the championship game of the Arizona Fall League to nurse a twisted knee.  No way the Nationals will jeopardize his future, huh?  [ESPN]

The Royals have reached terms with free agent pitcher Brad Thompson, formerly in the St. Louis Cardinals chain.  Thompson isn’t close to being a long term fix – he doesn’t strike people out (180Ks in 385 innings), though he has decent control.  With a team that struggles defensively, Thompson will give up a lot of hits.  Though his career record is 21 – 17, most of that is being fortunate to be on the Cardinals.  At best he is a long reliever who can eat up innings in losing causes.  [FoxSports]

The Arizona Diamondbacks acquired Aaron Heilman from the Cubs for two prospects.  Heilman isn’t a bad seventh inning, long reliever type, but he’s never really taken that next step forward.  The Cubs get first baseman Ryne White.  (He’s a Chicago native, born in 1986 – hence that familiar first name…)  White is a Purdue grad, a little power and a good eye, but his batting average needs to get north of .300 to be a serious prospect.  We’ll see if he can take a step forward at A+ Daytona or AA next year.  The other prospect is a pitcher, Scott Maine.  Maine went to the University of Miami and was moved quickly up the ladder in the D-Backs chain because he strikes people out and has decent control.  He pitched well at AA and AAA in 2009,  but my guess is that he’ll start 2010 in Iowa and wait for a chance.  He’ll be on the roster soon, though – and could be a potential eighth inning guy.

Torii Hunter will have surgery to repair a sports hernia, but should be ready for Angels spring training in February.  [MLB]

Could Kansas City host the 2012 All-Star Game?  We down here in Florida, would prefer it to be at our new stadium (if it’s done by then), but we can wait until 2013 and let the good people of Kansas City enjoy a party at the refurbished “K”…  [MLB]

Happy Birthday!

Kenesaw Mountain Landis was born on this date in 1866.  He either saved the game or held it back, depending on the issue…  Landis helped get gambling out of the game following the scandals of the 1910s, but he helped prevent blacks from integrating the sport at the same time.

Others celebrating with cake, cards or rememberances:  Andy Coakley (1882), whose shove injured Rube Waddell’s shoulder prior to the 1905 World Series, Rick Monday (1945) – my brother’s first favorite ballplayer – and his teammate Jay Johnstone (1945), Alex Arias (1967), Gabe White (1971), J.D. Drew (1975), and Cub outfielder Sam Fuld (1981).

Phils, Dodgers, and Yanks Cruise – and Other News…

Cliff Lee dominated the Rockies to give the Phillies the early lead in their NLDS tilt.  I like watching Cliff Lee because (a) he throws strikes and (b) he works fast.  A Cliff Lee/Brad Penny game could easily get done in 75 minutes were it not for commercial breaks.  I absolutely believe the Phillies can repeat, but they need long outings from the starters.  And they aren’t happy about being the afternoon game, either.  [SI]

The Yankees got big hits from Derek Jeter and A-Rod, and a decent start from C.C. Sabathia to rout a tired Twins team.  If they survive whatever comes of Jorge Posada’s being miffed about letting Jose Molina catch A.J. Burnett – and Posada didn’t look comfortable catching yesterday – they’ll easily move on.  It won’t be easy, but I know why many (including Vegas) has the Yankees in the World Series.

The Cards-Dodgers tilt was a bit sloppier, but I’m sure the Cards weren’t expecting to lose with Carpenter on the hill in the opener.  If any series goes the distance, it will be this one as the teams are pretty darned even.

In Other News…

Nationals shorstop Christian Guzman’s shoulder will require arthroscopic surgery – but he hopes to be ready for the spring.  Guzman missed a lot of time in September – and Ian Desmond showed some spark – so if Guzman wants his job back, he’s got to get healthy.  [ESPN]

The Mets received outfielder Chris Carter and first baseman Eddie Lora from Boston to complete the Billy Wagner trade.  Lora’s first years haven’t been awesome, but he’s 20.  Carter, on the other hand, has some ability as a hitter.  At 26, he’s half the age of most Mets outfielders of the last four or five years…  Carter will probably play a lot next year (if he stays healthy).  [ESPN]

What do you think?  I thought I was the only one who was tired of Chip Caray.  Apparently not

Happy Birthday!  Johnny Lush, who was a 16 year old rookie for the Phillies back at the turn of the last century, was born on this date in 1885.  Also celebrating:  Donie Bush (1887), Wally Moses (1910), Danny Murtaugh (1917) , Ed Kirkpatrick (1944), Paul Splitorff (1946), Enos Cabell (1949), Mike Morgan (1959), and Olmedo Saenz (1970).  Saenz, Saenz…  Everywhere there’s Saenz…

Afterthoughts…  A Florida family sued on behalf of a twelve-year-old girl who caught Ryan Howard’s 200th homer and was immediately escorted to the Phillies clubhouse where she was given a signed ball as a replacement.  The Phillies returned the ball – but aren’t talking about it.  And what does the story of Jennifer Valdivia tell us?  That there is something seriously wrong with the legal system when it’s used this way and also makes me wonder what the parents were thinking – assuming, of course, that they went with Jennifer for the exchange – in agreeing to the exchange and then asking for it back.  Will it soon be sold on EBay?  If so, don’t bid on it.  [ESPN]

Twins-Tigers Tilt Tonight; Cabrera Disappoints Detroit When Needed Most

Tigers and Twins in Minnesota for the fifth most exciting day in sports in the last six days for Twin Cities residents…  First pitch is at 5:07 and, yes, I’ll be watching even if using my IPhone application to do it.

Meanwhile, the Tigers deal with the fact that Miguel Cabrera, in the last weekend of the season, went out with members of the Chicago White Sox on Friday night and got RIPPED – he blew .26 when finally forced to do a blood/alcohol test – and was fighting with his wife when she called the police.  At 26, the supposed star (and – until this weekend – one of my favorite players…  just not anymore) should have known better.  He let his team down, he let the city down.  If anyone needs a four hit, two homer breakout game, it’s this guy.  Otherwise, Cabrera may never be able to show his face in Detroit again.  [ESPN, SI, etc.]

Heading into the playoffs, the Cardinals decided to give a bench spot to Troy Glaus…  [SI]

Congratulations to Chris Carpenter and Aaron Hill for winning the NL and AL Comeback Players of the Year.  [ESPN/MLB]

First overall pick Stephen Strasburg pitched his first two professional innings for Viera in the instructional league yesterday, throwing mostly easy fastballs.  Still – it’s never too early to get excited about Washington Nationals baseball!!!  [SI]

A good rundown on possible coaching and GM moves can be found on SI.com.  John Heyman does a nice job with the article.  Meanwhile, the Mets are shaking up coaches when the team should be shaking up the front office and manager.  I mean, the coaches can only work with the players that Omar Minaya keeps around – and that team is getting older and older…  [SI/ESPN]

Meanwhile, the Rays fired hitting coach Steve Henderson, despite the fact that the Rays hit more homers, drew more walks, scored more runs, and had a higher on base percentage than any Rays team ever.  Apparently, they want more productive outs???  Better situational hitting???  This makes no sense.  I’m sure Henderson will be back somewhere.  [ESPN]

And, word on the street is that Matt Williams may get a coaching position with the Arizona Diamondbacks. [FoxSports]

Transaction Wire Notes… After a successful audition, including stopping the Tigers on Saturday night, the White Sox signed Freddy Garcia to a one year deal worth $1 million, plus up to $2 million more in incentives.  Garcia has struggled with injuries for most of this decade and has had limited success since about 2005 – but when healthy, he’s a winner.  [SI]

Hurry Back! Jose Reyes will need surgery to remove scar tissue behind his right knee, but the hamstring itself appears sound.  Reyes should be ready for spring training for the Mets.

Happy Birthday! Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd turns 50, as does former White Sox first baseman Greg Walker…  Has it been that long?  Others include Jerry Grote (67), Gene Clines (63), Steve Kline (62), Alfredo Griffen (52), Jay Baller (49), Ruben Sierra (44), Darren Oliver (39), Benji Gil (37), and Joel Hanrahan (28).

Afterthoughts… The Hall of Fame wants a game-used glove from Kevin Kouzmanoff, who committed just three errors and set a new mark for the highest fielding percentage by a third baseman (.990).  Kouz says he’s reluctant to give up a gamer, though – it helped him set the mark…  [ESPN]

Colorado Clinches; Twins Still Breathing – and Ted Williams has a Headache

Congratulations to the Colorado Rockies, who clinched at least a Wild Card spot and is a weekend sweep of the Dodgers away from stealing the NL West crown, too.  The Rockies were 18 – 28 and threatening to do worse than I could have predicted when they fired manager Clint Hurdle and replaced him with Jim Tracy.  A turnaround like this doesn’t happen often – arguably, this is more impressive than that long winning streak that launched the Rockies into the playoffs in 2007.  [FoxSports]

Minnesota topped Detroit yesterday to keep alive slim hopes of winning the AL Central.  In addition to having to sweep Kansas City at home, the Tigers would have to lose at least two games to the White Sox in Detroit to force a playoff in Minnesota or win the division outright.  [SI]

I was able to watch a little of yesterday’s San Francisco win over Arizona in the last home game of the year.  Manager Bruce Bochy gave curtain calls to Rich Aurilia (two standing ovations) and Randy Johnson, who pitched the ninth inning.  Johnson admitted that he’s running out of gas at 46, and will spend the offseason thinking about how he feels about pitching in 2010.  [ESPN]

Another player who hopes to stay in San Francisco is catcher Bengie Molina, whose three year contract expires.  His agent says Molina has earned the right to a good contract and Molina wants to remain with the Giants.  [SI]

Talk about a pitcher helping his own cause, Chris Carpenter doubled home a pair of runs and hit a grand slam in the second inning – six of the 13 runs scored were driven in by the Cy Young candidate.  [FoxSports]

Tony LaRussa thought that Reds pitcher Bronson Arroyo was helping his cause – by doctoring baseballs with pine tar.  Some photos show a thumb mark in the brim of his cap.  Arroyo says that his cap is that way from a full season of gripping mudded baseballs.  This makes me wonder why LaRussa is complaining now, when Kenny Rogers didn’t just have a stain, but had gunk all over his hand during the 2006 World Series – and yet Tony said nothing.  [SI]

Milestones…  Garrett Anderson got his 2,500th hit last night.  He’s seventh among active players.  (Name the other six for extra credit.)

More Milestones…  The oldest living former major leaguer turns 100 Monday.  Tom Malinosky played on the 1937 Dodgers, later fought in the battle of the bulge, and was a college classmate of Richard Nixon.

Afterthoughts…  In a forthcoming book about ALCOR, Larry Johnson, a former executive at the cryonics lab, says that at least one technician abused Ted Williams’ severed head – taking swats at the frozen noggin with a monkey wrench.