Celebrating Victories, Thumbs, and Catchers

Headlines:

Congratulations to Ron Gardenhire for winning his 1000th game as manager of the Minnesota Twins.  Only ten managers have done that with the same team. [FoxSports]

Not an MLB story, but interesting nonetheless.  Auburn pitcher Jay Wade was supposed to issue an intentional pass to Austin Anderson of Ole Miss.  He didn’t.  The video captures the rest of the story.  [FoxSports]

Hurry Back!

Will Middlebrooks heads to the DL with a calf strain.  An MRI is forthcoming.  Meanwhile, Brock Holt gets some time with the parent team.  Holt came through the Pirates chain and has had two previous trips to the bigs (Pittsburgh and Boston), hitting .250 in 124 at bats.  He’s a contact hitter, some speed but not a ton, and not a lot of power.  That makes him, what, a poor man’s Bill Mueller? [MLB]

Yankee first baseman Mark Teixeira heads to the DL with a right hamstring pullAustin Romine will get his spot on the roster.  [SI]

Scott Hairston heads to the DL with a left oblique strain, which means that backup outfielder Tyler Moore returns to the Nationals.  [MLB]

Yasiel Puig injured his thumb sliding into first base on an infield single.  He stayed in the game – even forgot how many outs there were on a late game fly ball…  Anyway – he expects to get an xray soon. [MLB]

Speaking injured thumbs – Ryan Braun has been struggling with a thumb injury for nearly a full year now, and even the rest he got while sitting out last year for steroid usage didn’t help.  [ESPN]

National third baseman Ryan Zimmerman may have reinjured his shoulder on an awkward throw in Saturday’s game against the Braves.  [MLB]

Welcome Back!

Jon Niese returns to the Mets after his turn on the DL.

More Rehab…

Cole Hamels, Chris Stewart, Dane De La Rosa, Brian Wilson, Craig Gentry, Jake Arrieta, and J.A. Happ head off to minor league rehab assignments.

Baseball 365

Arrivals:

(1903) Mickey Cochrane – Hall of Fame catcher – probably the greatest one prior to the arrival of Yogi Berra.

(1908) Ernie Lombardi – one of the best hitting catchers, a two-time batting champ, and another member of the Hall of Fame.

(1937) Phil Regan – earned nickname, “The Vulture”, because he would swoop in as a reliever and take wins at the end of the ballgame.

(1943) Marty Pattin – I’ve probably written this before.  The first time that I bought my own pack of baseball cards was when I was probably six years old.  I took a quarter down to a corner store near where my grandparents lived on Sacramento in Chicago and bought a pack of Topps baseball cards.  There were no Cubs in that pack, and no other stars that caught my attention.  The one guy who stood out, to me, was Marty Pattin.

Pattin was born in the western suburbs of Chicago.  When his career – a good one – wound down, he would become the manager of the Kansas Jayhawks baseball team – but he left one year before I started broadcasting their games.  I believe he still lives in the Lawrence area, and I wonder if he ever heard my call.

Anyway – whenever I see his name, I think back to that first pack of cards.

(1951) Bert Blyleven – Hall of Fame pitcher and, like Jack Morris, the topic of enormous debate as to whether or not he was actually good enough to get the nod.  Chris Berman gave too many players nicknames in the 1980s and 1990s – but of the Bermanisms, Bert “Be Home” Blyleven was the best.

(1964) Kenny Williams – outfielder turned GM.

(1969) Bret Boone – another cheater, had some very big seasons in the 1990s.

(1971) Lou Merloni – my memory of Lou is that he was the guy who said that the Red Sox trainers used to give lessons in proper steroid taking…

Departures:

(1909) Doggie Miller

George Frederick Miller was born 15 August 1864 and with just a year of minor league ball was playing for Pittsburgh.  Miller was an agile catcher, a good hitter, and decent baserunner – which should have been enough to endear him to a generation of fans.  However, he had something uniquely special – and that was a remarkably loud voice.  So, when given the opportunity to coach the baselines, Miller would be heard all throughout the grounds – if not outside the grounds and a few blocks away.

His coaching voice was so loud it earned him the nicknames of Foghorn and Calliope.  The other nickname – Doggie – had to do with his rather unique batting stance.  A short, thin player – he propped himself even lower, and then he would kick forward with his front leg – almost like a dog taking a leak – before he would lean forward and slash at the ball.  Having been teased, Miller actually tried to hit without kicking his leg out, but it was ingrained into his routine.  He couldn’t hit without the kick.

Like many of the players of the 1880s and 1890s, he endured regular changes in the rules and equipment.  One change he didn’t necessarily take to was the chest protector.  A good enough player early in his career, Miller was often playing other positions to stay in the lineup – as his career wound down, he would eventually become the first player (and still only player) to play at least 20 games at every non-pitching position.

When his major league career ended in 1896, he wound up playing and managing in the minors,  Sadly, Miller contracted Bright’s Disease, however, and left this world before his 45th birthday.

(Summary thanks to my new favorite book – Major League Player Profiles – 1871 – 1900.)

Transactions:

(1975) The Astros purchased Joe Niekro from the Braves.

Events:

(1973) Ron Blomberg becomes the first designated hitter, drawing a walk off of Luis Tiant.  The second DH was Orlando Cepeda, who batted in the second inning of the same game.

2012 Season Forecast: New York Mets

2011 Record: 77 – 85  (4th, NL East)
Runs Scored: 718  (6th, NL)
Runs Allowed: 742  (13th, NL)

For all the grief given to the stadium regarding how the deep fences kill home run totals, the problem wasn’t with the offense.  Rather, it was the pitching staff…

2011 Season Recap:

Mets ownership’s ties to the Madoff ponzi scheme created the backdrop for a team that started the process of unloading salaries and rebuilding the team.  The Mets weren’t an awful team, really.  They just didn’t have enough arms and the gloves in the field weren’t helping out any.

The Mets had a slow April, but actually had winning months until July and were two games over .500 at the trading deadline.  They were, too, out of it and decided to sell off players, starting with Francisco Rodriguez (who had gotten in hot water over a fight with his potential in-laws) and then moving outfielder Carlos Beltran to San Francisco for prospect Zack WheelerDavid Wright had his first truly off season, and missed two months with a stress fracture in his lower back, which didn’t help either.  Ike Davis sprained an ankle, getting a bone bruise, and missed most of the season.  Anyway – before it was over the pitching left them.  The Mets, who had only allowed ten runs or more in a game four times in the first four months, did so five times in the last two.  Mike Pelfrey looked like he was pitching through an injury,  Dillon Gee ran out of gas,  Jon Niese went on the DL, and both Jose Reyes and Daniel Murphy missed three weeks with various injuries.

Starting Pitchers:

In 2011, the Mets featured Mike Pelfrey, R.A. Dickey, Dillon Gee, Chris Capuano, and Jonathan Niese.  Once Dickey got out of April, he was the most dependable of the starters and the only one who pitched better than a league average arm (16 runs saved).  Pelfrey gave back 16 runs, Niese (who just got an extenstion) cost them 11, Capuano was -8, and Gee was -6.

Heading into 2012, the Mets have to hope Pelfrey returns to form (he has alternated between decent and poor seasons for the last four years – a poor man’s Bret Saberhagen?) and that Gee and Niese can make steps forward.  One advantage, however, may be the return of Johan Santana, who made his first start  (in nearly 600 days) on opening day.  If Santana can pitch 160 – 180 innings at about 80% of his former self, he’d improve the team by about 25 runs himself.  My fear is that Pelfrey could use a different approach and may not improve – and that leaves a big hole in the rotation.

Relief Pitchers:

Gone are the 2011 closer tandem of Francisco Rodriguez and Jason Isringhausen.  For 2012, the Mets imported the Toronto back end – Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, which should help improve the bullpen.  Another addition, Ramon Ramirez, arrives from San Francisco and will help, too.  The rest are holdovers from last season:  Bobby Parnell, Tim Byrdak, Pedro Beato, and Miguel Batista – and this group has room to improve.  On the whole, this unit should be 15 to 20 runs better than last year.

Catchers:

Josh Thole is young and has room to improve.  The Mets catchers were not a very good lot – poor against the run, with a losing record, poor ERA, and (in part, thanks to Dickey) a bit mistake prone.  Ronny Paulino, a decent enough catcher, is gone now leaving Mike Nickeas as the #2.  Nickeas can’t hit as well, but his defensive skills may be better.

Infield:

Most of the infield remains intact from last year, with Jose Reyes leaving for Miami for $100+ million and a multi-year contract.  In his stead, Ruben Tejada gets the nod.  Tejada isn’t too bad – a slightly above average hitter, a better glove – but even saying that, it’s a 50 run hit from what Reyes delivered last year.

Daniel Murphy hit .320 and can play everywhere.  He’s earned a shot at being the regular second baseman.  Ike Davis will be back – a full season would help make up for some of the loss of Reyes.  And, a full season of David Wright could also pick up some slack.  Backing them up, Justin Turner is a useful player and Ronny Cedeno brings a glove to the middle infield slots.

Even if Davis and Wright come all the way back, it’d be hard to make up all 50 runs lost by losing Reyes.  I see this unit being down at least 25 runs from 2011.

Outfield:

Rightfielder Lucas Duda showed he has a bat and should be more mobile in the outfield than Beltran at this point.  Angel Pagan, who wasn’t horrible but appeared to struggle down the stretch, is gone – his replacement is former Giant Andres Torres, who is about the same level player but is coming off a down season.  In left you have Jason Bay, who might have a bounce back in him – Lord knows the Mets could use it.  Scott Hairston is a competent backup and Mike Baxter will get a shot as a fifth outfielder.

Prospects:

Many of the players at AAA Buffalo wound up getting a lot of time with the Mets, including Tejada, Nick Evans, and Lucas Duda.  Outfielder Fernando Martinez was lost to Houston in a roster shuffle – he looks like he might have been able to help, the Astros will find out for sure this year.  Pitcher Jenrry Mejia quickly made it to the bigs, but spent most of his 2011 AAA season on the DL.  Kirk Nieuwenhuis was noted for his overall approach to the game and will be the first callup for New York if someone gets hurt in the outfield.

AA Binghampton featured a familiar name – Allan Dykstra, who had a line that looked like something off the back of his dad’s baseball card:  19 – 77 – .267, but is more of a free swinger and not much of a threat on the basepaths.  Josh Satin bombarded AA pitching and wound up getting a look at the majors.  Juan Lagares arrived after hitting .338 in A+ ball and continued to hit .370 after arriving.  If he continues to hit over .300 in AA or AAA, the 23-year-old will get a shot to play left field.  The top AA pitcher was Collin McHugh, who went 8 – 2, fanned 100 in 93.1 innings, and allowed just two homers.  Reliever Joshua Stinson moved through AA and got a shot at the big club in 2011 – he will start 2012 in AAA.

A+ Port St. Lucie featured Matt Den Dekker, who hit a well rounded .296 and flashed baserunning prowess and moved up to AA by mid-season.  Wilmer Flores and Pedro Zapata will move up – let’s see if they continue to progress as hitters.  The best arm is 2010 first round pick Matt Harvey, who fanned 92 in 76 innings and finished in AA.  Zack Wheeler, who came over for Beltran, has a live arm and will start 2012 in AA.

2012 Forecast:

Somebody has to finish last in what will certainly be the toughest division in baseball.  With the change in the fences, the team’s offense will LOOK better, but without Reyes and Beltran, the likelihood is that the offense will be a touch worse than last year – maybe 25 – 30 runs worse.  The pitching staff will be better, though, probably 40 runs better (even allowing that they will have a tougher time with the shorter fences at home).

The statistical profile suggests 80 wins – 690 runs scored and about 700 runs allowed.  I’m not sure I buy the system on this one.  You have four really good teams in the division and the Mets will likely be sellers at the trade deadline – even considering that they shed more than $50 million in salary from last year already.  The Mets could certainly win 80 games, but my hunch is that will be closer to 75.

Marlins Open 2012 With Excitement, Ali, and a Loss

The Miami Marlins opened up the new stadium with fireworks, but couldn’t put together any hits off of Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse in a 4 – 1 loss on opening night.  Muhammad Ali delivered the game ball, which was pretty cool and very sad at the same time.  You could hear the cheers for Ali throughout the stadium, but the effects of Parkinson’s disease are painfully obvious – the tremors are very visible and Ali looked so much older (he’s 70) than the man I remember as a kid.

I met Ali when working for Sprint in Kansas City in 1992.  Even then, his voice was softened and he slurred, and there were small tremors in his hands.  I remember two or three things about that visit.  First, his hands were enormous.  When I shook his hand, his hand practically devoured mine.  Second, he still had a great sense of humor – he did this joke where he claimed he could move a briefcase with his mind.  When it didn’t move, he asked us, “Who do you think I am?  I’m a boxer, not a magician.”  Finally, what I really remember was thinking to myself that this was the closest thing to meeting God that I will likely ever experience.  I mean – it was HIM, Ali.  The Greatest.  Of all the people I have met, it was the only time I can remember being totally awed by someone’s presence.

Back to baseball…

If you are an Orioles fan, this can’t be good…  The Orioles lost a charity baseball game to the State College of Florida Manatees – a community college team – 2 – 1 in eight innings.  A couple of years ago, the Manatees beat Pittsburgh, a team that went on to lose nearly 100 games…  [Bradenton.com]

Andy Pettitte threw a scoreless inning against the Mets and hopes to get ready in time to join the Yankees in May.  If he makes it back, he’ll get a one-year, $2.5 million dollar contract.  [SI]

Torii Hunter accidentally set off the alarm in his house, leading to a visit from a couple of gun-wielding police officers.  The officers were merely following protocol and the guns were never pointed directly at Hunter.  However, Hunter’s identification was in an upstairs bedroom and he was tailed as he walked up to get his wallet.  [ESPN]

Vanderbilt pitching recruit and potential first round draft pick Stephen Gant was found dead near his Linden, TN home apparently having committed suicide by gunshot.  An investigation into Gant’s death continues.  [FoxSports]

Aches and Pains

Tampa closer Kyle Farnsworth will go on the DL with soreness in his elbow caused by a muscle strain.  He joins B.J. Upton (back) and Sam Fuld (surgery, right wrist) on the DL.  [ESPN]

Other players who found their way to the DL as the season started include:

Tim Hudson (back)
Ryan Madson (TJ Surgery)
Carl Crawford (wrist)
Grady Sizemore (back)
A.J. Burnett (eye socket)
Ted Lilly (neck)
Stephen Drew (ankle)
Charlie Morton (hip)
Andrew Bailey (thumb)
Jose Ceda (TJ Surgery)
Ryan Kalish (shoulder)
Joba Chamberlain (dislocated ankle)

and a number of players who will get 15 days after being nicked up in spring training.

Transaction Wire:

The details of the deal signed by the Reds and first baseman Joey Votto were released – 12 years and $251.5 million, the third largest contract in value and the longest in terms of years in baseball history.  The deal includes a club option in 2024 (!) when Votto would be 41 years old.  This more than doubles the contract given to Ken Griffey, Jr. – at one time the largest contract signing in Cincinnati history…  [ESPN]

The New York Mets signed Jonathan Niese to a five year extension worth more than $25 million.  Niese won 11 for the Mets in 2011.  [SI]

Washington pitcher John Lannan was optioned to AAA, and wasn’t happy about it.  Lannan was an opening day starter in 2009 and 2010, and has requested a trade.  [ESPN]

The Twins sent pitcher Scott Baker to the DL and optioned starting pitcher Jason Marquis to AA New Britain to get work since both missed time in Spring Training.  [SI]

In a late spring training trade, the New York Yankees sent pitcher George Kontos to San Francisco for catcher Chris Stewart.  Stewart was given the backup job, which meant that Francisco Cervelli was unhappily dispatched to AAA.  Kontos pitched well at AAA last season earning a cup of coffee in September.  The big right hander is a Northwestern Grad…  As for Chris Stewart, he’s a catch and throw guy – not much of a hitter even in the minors.  He must be pretty good – Cervelli has logged a lot of innings the last couple of years so it’s a bit of a surprise to see Cervelli moved to AAA.

This is the time when players are optioned to AAA or recalled to the majors having earned a spot on the roster – it’s a long list.  A couple of things caught my eye, though…

Nick Johnson made the Orioles roster
Felix Pie was released by Cleveland
Bill Hall was released by New York.

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cards, cake, or remembrances include:

(1876) Bill Dinneen – pitcher, later an umpire
(1907) Merritt (Sugar) Cain…  Today, he’d get the song Cocaine played when he came to the plate.  Shouldn’t Lorenzo Cain have the nickname “Sugar”?
(1938) Ron Hansen
(1951) Rennie Stennett – one of my favorite Pirates of the 1970s…
(1976) Ross Gload
(1985) Lastings Milledge

Youkilis in Left? God, Engineering Saves Friend

With Jason Bay out for most of the weekend and Rocco Baldelli nursing a sore ankle, the Red Sox moved Kevin Youkilis to left field for a game or two.  Youkilis was lifted for a defensive replacement, but managed an assist – throwing out Derek Jeter at second base.  [FoxSports]

Arizona placed outfielder Justin Upton on the DL with an oblique strain suffered, oddly, while running the bases.  (Well, it could have happened earlier, but he noticed it running the bases…)  Taking his roster spot is long time minor leaguer, Trent Oeltjen – an Aussie Olympian – who brings some speed, but not much power to the Snakes.  Hitting .300 in Reno, it translates to about .250 with a few walks, some steals and maybe a triple or two more than most players…  [ESPN]

The Mets have decided that Bobby Parnell will replace the injured Jonathan Niese in the rotation.  Parnell throws HARD – 98 MPH or so – so I might have to actually watch a Mets game (when they aren’t playing the Marlins or Cubs).  [ESPN]

The Yankees acquired Chad Gaudin from the Padres for either cash or a player to be named later…  With San Diego acquiring a number of prospects at the trading deadline, Gaudin became expendable.  He’ll be a long reliever or fifth starter option in the Bronx.   Let me ask you this…  How good is any pitcher with a 5.13 ERA pitching in the run scarce environment in San Diego? [SI]

Two Washington Nationals minor leaguers, both at AA Harrisburg, were suspended 50 games for testing positive for amphetamines.  Ofilio Castro and Edgardo Baez will miss most of the rest of the season.  [FoxSports]

Then, the Nationals set infielder Anderson Hernandez to the Mets for minor leaguer Greg Veloz.  Neither is a prospect, and I’ve watched Hernandez – he’s a glove in search of hitting skills.

Baseball card collectors wanting official MLB stuff will now have fewer options…  MLB signed an exclusive multi-year deal with Topps Trading Cards Co., which (if you didn’t know) is now run by Michael Eisner.  Yeah – that Michael Eisner.  Upper Deck still has a deal with the MLB Players Association, which means that they can make cards, but cannot use team logos and what not.  I’ve collected pretty much only Topps cards for years, but I will admit the last 15 years or so have been crazy with so many possible brands.  Now, it should be easier for kids to figure out what to buy.  [SI]

I mention this because my friend, Andy Finch, is a professor at Vanderbilt…  Mike Minor, Commodore grad and seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft, signed a contract with Atlanta yesterday.  This summer, we saw two other Vandy alums playing in Peoria – so maybe we can find this guy in a minor league game next summer.  [ESPN]

Speaking of friends…  One of the best people I know, Steve Dubin, walked away from a five car accident yesterday morning.  He was on the turnpike heading to the office when he had to stop for cars who had slowed for a flash rain.  He stopped, but the van behind him did not and plowed into him at about 65 MPH.  The impact threw Steve and his car across three lanes of traffic, where he bounced off of three other cars.  God and Hyundai engineering shined down on Steve – he got out of his car and, not knowing what to do, began taking pictures of the mess.  The interior – including two car seats, which thankfully were empty – was intact.  The exterior, however, was crushed like a discarded beer can.

I’ve known Steve for about a decade, our kids will probably date in high school, and his wife is a sweetheart.  But I feel especially lucky to still have the big lug around.  He was hauled to a hospital, checked out okay, and given pain killers to deal with the ache of getting whalloped the way Albert Pujols hits belt-high fastballs.  That seems reason enough to think today will be a good day no matter what else happens.

Welcome Back!  Doug Waechter returns from the DL for the Royals, and they need him…  Royal reliever Juan Cruz was placed on the DL with a strained right shoulder.  The Yankees signeed Russ Ortiz to a minor league contract.  He’s Chad Gaudin, only older and used to be good.

Hurry Back!  Other than Cruz, Rocco Baldelli (mentioned above) is on the DL with his ankle contusion.

Think Twice Before Adding Pedro to Fantasy Roster; More Met Injuries…

Well – we got some good news and bad news…  Good News?  Pedro Martinez fanned nine of the first twelve batters he faced, finishing with eleven, in a start against AA Trenton.  Bad News?  He allowed a homer to one kid, and three runs on five hits in six innings.  So, it sounds like Pedro might be able to help in short spurts – two or three innings, maybe.  But, don’t think Pedro is ready to be a major league starter – much less PEDRO – when he gets to Philadelphia.  Will I root and cheer for him?  You bet.  Am I adding him to my fantasy roster?  I’d rather have Jess Todd or Brian Matusz.  [ESPN]

When you think of teams fighting injuries, you think M-E-T-S…  Mets!  Last night, Jonathan Niese, a promising young pitcher, was covering first on a double play grounder when he did the full splits taking the throw.  Trying his first warm up pitch in the next inning, Niese fell over – the results of completely tearing his upper hamstring from the bone of his right leg.  Later, Gary Sheffield aggrevated his hamstring running the bases (Sheff says it’s cramping and needs more electrolytes) – and the bad news for Jose Reyes is that he may not play this year owing to scar tissue and inflammation where his hamstring connects near the knee.  [ESPN/MLB]

The Yankees have opened up a slight lead over the Red Sox in the AL East, and now they open up a series at home against those same Sawks…  For Boston, they won’t have Jason Bay in left field for the first couple of games.   After missing a couple of games, Bay played last night and irritated a sore hammy running out a grounder.  He’s day-to-day for now – we’ll see how rest helps.  [ESPN]

Seattle’s Erik Bedard will undergo an MRI on his ailing shoulder – the same shoulder that has had the ace lefty shelved since late June.  [ESPN]

Washington’s Austin Kearns may undergo surgery on his right thumb – as it is, he’s on the DL.  Having hit .195, it’s any wonder why he’s not in AA rather than the major league roster…  Taking his roster spot is TWELVE YEAR minor leaguer, Jorge Padilla.  [SI]

Well, let’s give you the lowdown on Padilla…  He was in the Phillies chain but never strung together a really good hot streak – by the time he got to AAA, Padilla was rather ordinary – .256, with speed (32 sbs), but little power.  After injuries shelved him, Padilla moved around – AA for the Mets, AA/AAA for Kansas City, and now AA and AAA for Washington where he’s been hitting everything, drawing a few walks, and occasionally knocking the ball out of the park.  Like the story about Cubs infielder, Bobby Scales, it’s great to see Padilla (who turns 30 next week) get a shot after more than 1100 minor league games.   (And, he can probably outhit Kearns by 60 points or so – and is still mobile if not a burner.)

A couple of veteran pitchers inked minor league deals…  Paul Byrd signed with Boston (why hasn’t ANYBODY signed this guy until now?); Brett Tomko’s career has life – he’s got a deal with Oakland.  The mill has it that he’s there to eat up innings so the young A’s starting rotation doesn’t burn out in September.  Wow – that’s a sign you’ve given up on the season.  Wasn’t Randy Lerch available?

Few writers are as good as KC Star alum Joe Posnanski…  Pos writes about how small market teams have fallen on hard times in 2009.  Give it a look-see.  [SI]

Welcome Back!  Joe Martinez pitched for the Giants last night – the same guy who was nailed by a liner up the middle off the bat of Mike Cameron and suffered three skull fractures earlier in the year.  Glad to see he’s back – hope he sticks around.  Aaron Miles was brought off the DL by the Cubs.

Hurry Back!  Giants pitcher Henry Sosa tore a muscle in his shoulder and goes to the 60-day-DL.

Is it Over?  The Cubs released Jason Waddell; Cody Ransom (Yankeees), Ryan Freel (Kansas City) were designated for assignment.  Wow – this has been a tough year for Freel…

Schmidt Returns With Win; Wang Injury Bug Continues

Yankee starter Chien-Ming Wang’s 2009 disaster season continues…  He was playing catch when he felt soreness in his bicep.  He won’t throw again until Friday, and if I were him, I’d be looking to get in shape for 2010.  [ESPN]

Texas closer Frank Francisco heads to the DL with pneumonia – he’ll be back soon, but he needs his rest and fluids.  C.J. Wilson will close, and Willie Eyre gets the call from AAA.  [ESPN]

Mets starter Fernando Nieve’s injury was pretty severe – he tore a muscle in his quad.  He’s out six weeks.  Welcome back to the bigs, Cory Sullivan, who used to be an outfielder for Colorado.  Sullivan’s stay may be short-lived – the Mets will likely call up a starter (Jon Niese?) to take Nieve’s start in the rotation.  [SI]

Speaking of bad quads, A’s first baseman/DH Jason Giambi’s quad has been problematic, and now he’s on the DL.  Giambi’s been day-to-day for weeks with a variety of quad and hamstring injuries.  [SI]

Cincinatti catcher Ramon Hernandez’s knee now requires surgery – which means an extended DL stint.  Coming up to pick up some innings will be Craig Tatum.  Tatum is hard to read – the Mississippi State grad has some power and tools, but has had periods where he hit .320 (FSL, 2007) and .231 (Southern League – same year).  My take is a low average power guy – .220 with 12 homers in 250 at bats type.  Ryan Hannigan, who has been a nice surprise, will get most of the innings, though.  FYI – Hannigan went to Rollins College in Winter Park, FL, the same college that Rube Waddell attended and occasionally coached back in the winter of 1902/1903. [SI]

Welcome back Carlos Quentin – the White Sox slugger has been out two months suffering from plantar fasciitis.   He took over in his old stomping grounds, left field, and cost Brian Anderson a slot on the big league roster.  [SI]

I watched the Phillies and Cubs last night – and I saw two teams heading in different directions.  The Phillies are marching toward the NL East crown after winning their ninth straight, and the Cubs don’t look like they have any direction at all.  And so many of us picked them to win the NL Central, if not challenge for a World Series title.  And now, the Phillies found out Brett Myers may return in August and pitch out of the bullpen.  [MLB]

Welcome Back!  Jason Schmidt was recalled by the Dodgers and won his first start in over two years.  Andy Finch and I saw him in his last rehab start, and he doesn’t have the great fastball – but he has enough to fool people.  However, he was hit a little even by the Memphis Redbirds, so he’ll need to really be on top of his control to win in the bigs.  I’m rooting for him, but not putting him on my fantasy roster any time soon.

Colorado signed Matt Herges to a minor league deal.  He still has some gas in the tank.  Tommy Hanson returned to the Braves (and looked great), and J.D. Martin joined Washington for a start last night.  Cleveland fans might remember Martin – he was once hailed as a top prospect back in 2002, and was a 2001 first round pick out of high school.  Injuries cut into his development, but he’s never really pitched poorly.  He’s got good control, strikes guys out, and at times has looked dominating.

Hurry Back!  Houston’s Darin Erstad and San Diego’s Edgar Gonzalez were both put on the 15-day DL.  Florida’s Andrew Miller was sent to AAA to find his command.

2009 Season Forecast: New York Mets

New York Mets
2008: 89-73 (2nd NL East, three games back)
Runs Scored: 799
Runs Allowed: 715

On the heels of an extremely difficult September, the New York Mets added Johan Santana to the rotation and declared the team ready to win the 2008 division crown, if not more.  Unfortunately, while the core hitters performed admirably and Santana was up to the task, the team drifted aimlessly in the spring, fired manager Willie Randolph, got into the race in the summer, and suffered a milder version of the same September let down.  When it was over, the Mets again missed out on a playoff spot by a single game.

Compared to the Phillies, the Mets scored the same number of runs (799), despite playing in a more difficult home park for batters (Mets games away from home produced 52 more runs than games in the now departed Shea Stadium, while Phillies games had more scoring in Citizen’s Bank Park than on the road).  However, the Phillies allowed 35 fewer runs (680 to 715), which accounted for the three games difference in the standings. 

Perhaps the biggest difference between the two was injuries.  The Phillies had limited lost time to regulars, while the Mets lost several players, including closer Billy Wagner down the stretch, second basemen Luis Castillo and Damion Easley, and tried a dozen left and right fielders in part due to injuries to Moises Alou, Ryan Church and others.

Looking Back on 2008

The Mets got off to a decent start, winning ten of sixteen before drifting through May and June.  Two five game losing streaks put a sting to the team, the first in late May began serious calls for Randolph’s exit, a second in early June finished off his tenure.  When the Mets got to Anaheim, Randolph was sent packing – rather unfortunate in terms of timing – and Jerry Manuel was given a chance to manage a sinking ship.

Manuel’s biggest change was that he basically got the team to stop playing with their heads in a cloud.  In July, there was spark; there was hustle; there was teamwork – something that hadn’t existed in the first part of the season.  And, when the bats of Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran caught fire, the Mets got into the race by winning 18 games in both July and August.

At that point, the Mets ran out of gas.  And arms.  John Maine had bone spurs in his right shoulder.  Carlos Beltran crashed into a wall; Wagner’s arm nearly came off – it had bothered him all year.  The bullpen, not necessarily very good, now lost its only dependable pitcher – when he was able to pitch.  Super sub Damion Easley injured his quadriceps muscle, and David Wright’s game seemed injured.  Despite Santana’s fantastic stretch run, the end of Shea Stadium’s life – at the time the third oldest stadium in the National League – came without one more playoff game.

Tell me about that offense

All things considered, the Mets offense was loaded – it just never seemed to have all the wheels moving at the same time.

The infield offense was solid at three positions, with David Wright continuing to pound the ball, Carlos Delgado finding his swing, and Jose Reyes getting 200 hits again.  The three combined to generate nearly 400 runs of offense.  Reyes’s final numbers look a lot like Jimmy Rollins from 2007 – high numbers of doubles, triples and homers, a lot of plate appearances, and a good stolen base total.  David Wright, by my count, was the second best offensive force in the National League behind Albert Pujols, and Reyes was right behind him.  Had Delgado hit the way he did before June 1 the way he did after it, the Mets would have had three of the five best hitters in the NL.  Only Luis Castillo, finally showing the signs of father time taking over his position, was below average.  His backup, Damion Easley was productive but his bat was slowed.  Easley is 39 but plays like he’s 34, Castillo is 34 but is starting to play like he’s 39 – in either case the Mets need a replacement soon.

In the outfield, Carlos Beltran was the only true regular and was solid.  The Mets used a dozen left fielders (not one played more than 300 innings there), and some could hit – like Endy Chavez or Moises Alou or David Murphy.  Ryan Church hit for two solid months between concussions suffered in collisions with second basemen.  After the second one, which caused him to miss the better part of six weeks, he didn’t fare well.  One hopes Church gets back to where he was last May.  Fernando Tatis – yes, that Fernando Tatis – came back and hit well until his body broke down in September as well.  So, while the corner outfields were generally shared, there usually were at least two outfielders hitting at a time.

Brian Schneider, whose back started bothering him in September, didn’t hit too well but backup Ramon Castro didn’t fare too badly.  Schneider was there to provide solid defensive catching and any offense he provided was gravy.

Defensively:

Schneider was pretty good behind the plate, making few mistakes and showing some mobility.  He was decent in preventing stolen bases, as only two other teams allowed fewer stolen bases than the Mets.  Castro isn’t great against the runners, but he’s decent enough for a backup catcher who can hit.

The infield was okay.  Wright didn’t have the unreal numbers he had in 2007, but it was still his third straight year with above average range.  Reyes continues to improve; he has a cannon for an arm but he’s slightly below average in terms of range.  Castillo was a bit more mobile than he was in 2007, but it was his third straight year as a below average infielder.  Damion Easley remains a solid second baseman and they nearly shared the role.  Delgado is not very mobile – he’s a former catcher playing first base – but he actually had a pretty decent year there.  Since he arrived in New York, his defensive numbers haven’t been as bad as what most people see when they watch him play.  He’s awkward but it’s working.

The outfield defense was as varied as there were players in left field.  Carlos Beltran is still a solid outfielder, and Endy Chavez – now in Seattle – could cover ground.  Ryan Church played well in right.  David Murphy, added in August, showed he could play and will likely start in leftfield next year, and if he is healthy will represent a significant improvement over playing Fernando Tatis, who looked out of place in left or right field.  Marlon Anderson still runs well enough to cover left in a pinch.

The net result was a defense that was likely 20 runs better than average, reflected by the fact that they turned 69.7 percent of the balls in play into outs – the league average was 68.7 percent.

Now Pitching…

Signed to a long term and expensive New York-eqsue contract, Johan Santana pitched magnificently, though he rarely got the support he needed until July.  He started 7 – 7, but didn’t lose a decision for the rest of the year (nine wins) and after a 5 run, two homer outing in Cincinnati, he went 14 starts without allowing more than three earned runs.  By my count, Santana was 43 runs better than the average starting pitcher.

After that, Mike Pelfrey was decent (13 – 11, 13 runs better than an average pitcher), but both John Maine and Oliver Perez were inconsistent.  Still they were better than Pedro Martinez, who may finally be at the end of the line.  He showed flashes of his old self, but the fastball isn’t as lively, the ball is more hittable, and instead of giving up a homer every other start, Pedro is giving up a homer every time he takes the mound.  As of the end of January he still wasn’t signed – and the Mets need starting pitching.  He may find a home for one more go – and he may not want to get his 100th career loss (he has 99, against 214 wins).

The bullpen, however, had problems.  Remember how good the Phillies ‘pen was?  Five guys who were at least 10 runs better than average?  Nobody was that good here – even Billy Wagner, who was great but pitched just 47 innings.  Pedro Feliciano, Scott Schoeneweis, and Duaner Sanchez were average at best (meaning that they gave up a run every other inning), and Aaron Heilman got worse as the season went on – he was 12 runs worse than average and part-timer Jorge Sosa was even worse in just 20+ innings.  So, the bullpen was no better than average, actually slightly below average, whereas the Phillies bullpen was at least 60 runs better than the average staff.

Forecasting 2008:

Last year, I thought the team might age quickly and struggle to meet .500.  Instead, the veterans and Santana held it together through the summer before landing a scant series behind the Phillies.  This year, the front office tried to rebuild what couldn’t be assembled at the all-star break last year – and that’s a bullpen, so let’s start with the pitching.

Santana is as good as it gets, Pelfrey might be able to provide a little more, but after that – John Maine is league average at best and he’s number three.  That the Mets couldn’t sign a starter in the off season (its January as I write this) and is trying hard to sign the inconsistent Oliver Perez – I’m not ready to proclaim the rotation as being improved.  The Mets did sign Tim Redding, most recently a 30 start pitcher for the Nationals, to a contract.  Redding was 10 – 11 with an ERA higher than the league average.  At best he’s an improvement on what Pedro Martinez did last year – but he hasn’t had a winning season in any year that he pitched more than 50 innings.  In late January, Omar Minaya visited Martinez to see if he might have one more year left, which I don’ t interpret as a good sign.  It might be time to see if Ben Sheets has two reasonably healthy seasons in him.  Freddy Garcia signed a contract – but he hasn’t pitched much due to injuries in a long, long time.  Even in 2006, he was no better than a middle of the rotation guy.  I don’t see the rotation as possibly being any better than last year.  I also don’t see them as being much worse.  Let’s call it a wash.

The bullpen was bolstered by the signings of saves record setter Francisco Rodriquez and J.J Putz, who will likely be the eighth inning guy.  Middle reliever Scott Schoeneweis is gone, while Duaner Sanchez and Pedro Feliciano are still here.  At least Aaron Heilman is gone…  Long relief will be manned by a rookie or two.  So, while the starters don’t look to be much better, the relievers might be 20 to 25 runs better than last year.
 
In terms of offense, the infield won’t be any better.  Reyes and Wright are at the age where one or the other might have a monster season, but Carlos Delgado is at the age where he might lose 25% of his production.  On May 25th last season, you might have thought it was already happening.  That leaves Castillo, who is below average offensively and not a guarantee to play 100 games.  His replacement now is Alex Cora, who is a decent backup.  At least he’s younger than the departed Easley.  He isn’t better, though, and Easley might still be a better fielder.  I think they score a few less runs, on the whole, and defensively, they might slip a little – especially on the right side.

The outfield, as a whole, was surprisingly productive considering how many different players played there.  You might see fewer people playing in left field in 2009, but if you added up the offense of the left and right fielders, it wasn’t a hole in the lineup.  Murphy, Beltran and Church make a good outfield when all three are playing.  Defensively, they will be slightly better if Tatis doesn’t play as many innings.  The only fear might be a decline from Beltran who has been less productive over the last two seasons from where he was in 2006.

The catchers are the same lot – only another year older.  There could be a decline of ten runs in production here just because all three catchers on the roster were born in 1976.

So, what you have is a potential gain on the defensive side of perhaps 20 – 25 runs, and what looks like a decline of about 40 runs on the offensive side unless (a) Beltran has one more big year at 32; (b) Delgado retains his swing one more year; and (c) Reyes or Wright turn it up one more notch.  I’ll call it 25 runs on both sides.  The system says 90 wins, which would be enough to win the division, but my gut is admittedly not in step with the system.  What makes me less confident is two bad Septembers and the fact that nobody knows how the new Citi Field (assuming it’s still called Citi Field) will affect the team.  The new stadium could help with attitude and fan support, but it might change the game dynamic in ways that this veteran squad can’t possibly know.

Down on the Farm…

The Mets are leaving New Orleans for Buffalo, and hopefully they will put a younger team there.  There were no position players who are threats to take jobs from the starters.  The best hitter was probably Chris Aguila, and he’s never stuck in the majors.  The best pitcher was Tony Armas, another 30-ish arm who never seems to make a significant contribution to pitching staffs.  Jon Niese and Bobby Parnell made it to AAA after success in AA.  Niese, a southpaw, throws ninety with a big breaking curveball – he had one good start (eight shutout innings against Atlanta) in a September call up.  He looks like a young Barry Zito.  Parnell throws mid to high 90’s – real hard – with a slider, but looks like he needs one more year in AAA.  Either would look good in long relief while learning his trade.

AA Binghamton featured Niese and Parnell as well as Jose Sanchez, who could be a useful long reliever, too.  There were a couple of hitters – some, like Murphy and Nick Evans have seen MLB action, while Mike Carp could be a potential replacement for Delgado in 2010.  He showed growth in terms of his batting average, power, and plate discipline.

At the lower levels, Lucas Duda and Joshua Thole were the best hitters but are far from ready.  Teammate Dylan Owen was 12 – 6 for St. Lucie, with good control and a fair number of strikeouts.