2012 Season Forecast: Miami Marlins

2011: 72 – 90, Last NL East
Runs Scored: 625 (11th, NL)
Runs Allowed: 702 (10th, NL)

Season Recap:

In late May, the Marlins were near the top of the NL East.  Josh Johnson seemed to be taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning or later in each start, the offense was starting to show signs of life.  When Scott Cousins derailed Buster Posey in San Franscisco by running the all-star catcher over to score a run, the bad karma hit.  Johnson went down with shoulder soreness and never pitched again.  Hanley Ramirez, having survived a very slow start, separated a shoulder and missed most of three months.  Gaby Sanchez, who hit enough to make the all-star team, stopped hitting – and Logan Morrison tweeted his way into the dog house.  When it was over, one of the best teams in the NL suddenly was in last place.

Starting Pitching:

The rotation of Johnson, Ricky Nolasco, Javier Vasquez, Anibel Sanchez, and Chris Volstad seemed good enough in April, but once Johnson went down, having two other starters (Nolasco and Volstad) struggle along with anyone who tried to replace Johnson – the Marlins didn’t have a chance.  Brad Hand went 1- 8 in 12 starts because he gave up ten homers and 35 walks in just 60 innings.  Clay Hensley was asked to start and he couldn’t handle that kind of load.  Nolasco was 23 runs worse than an average pitcher, Volstad was 20 runs worse – and they logged more than 370 innings of well below average pitching.

Looking forward, the Marlins have thickened up the staff.  Johnson is back and healthy.  If he makes 30 starts, he could save the team 40 unnecessary runs.  Vasquez was miserable for six weeks, then finished like an ace over the last six weeks.  He will be replaced by former Chicago White Sox horse, Mark Buehrle.  Buehrle was 15 runs better than Vasquez last year – and he becomes the first lefty starter on the Marlins – which will help against the lefty hitting loaded teams in the NL East.  Nolasco needs to bounce back – he’s a durable thrower, but hasn’t been spectacular since 2009.  Sanchez continues to throw well – he could use a little offensive support.  And then you have another former Chicago pitcher to provide additional fireworks – Carlos Zambrano.

Zambrano came to the Marlins in a trade with the Cubs because (a) the Cubs didn’t want him and (b) new manager Ozzie Guillen thinks he can handle the ex-Chicago fireballer.  Zambrano was marginally better than Volstad, but at the end of his contract and pitching for his baseball life, he could be 15 or 20 runs better – and provide a little extra offense.  What you are looking at is a reasonable gain of about 60 runs in the runs allowed column, and possily 70 – 75 fewer runs allowed…

Relief Pitching:

The Marlins spent a small fortune to pick up Heath Bell to be the new closer because Leo Nunez wasn’t cutting it.  And, of course, because Leo Nunez isn’t who we thought he was – his name is actually Juan Carlos Oviedo, and he’s two years older, too.  The pitcher formerly known as Nunez may not be back for a while, and if he does come back it won’t be as a closer.  Bell was just a bit better in terms of runs saved, but he might be better in the clubhouse, where a big personality can keep the rest of the team in check.  The rest of the bullpen isn’t bad – Steve Cishek, Randy Choate, Michael Dunn, Eduard Mujica, Brian Sanches, and Ryan Webb are all decent, but none of them wow you.  Dunn has closer stuff, but needs time.

Another former Padre, Wade LeBlanc, and rookie Tom Koehler are looking to pick up swingman roles on the club.

Catching:

John Buck looked like he was figuring things out as a newcomer to the Marlins and the National League.  His batting average fell, he struggled in the running game (83 of 100 baserunners were succesful stealing), and he needed to learn his own staff.  I like Buck to bounce back some.  Brett Hayes was a bit better against the run and is a dependable backstop.

Infield:

The Marlins will have a slightly new look in 2011.  Gaby Sanchez returns at first, a decent enough fielder (helped statistically by the lack of a left handed starter last year), and a slightly above average hitter.  He’s not shown himself to be a banger, but he makes decent contact, has a bit of power, and a good eye at the plate.  Omar Infante is a solid second baseman and an average hitter.  In 2012, he’ll no longer bat at the top of the lineup, which should help some.  Taking over at short is former Met, Jose Reyes.  Reyes is coming off a career year, but hasn’t dependably played 140 games at his position.  He’s still a step up over having Greg Dobbs regularly in the lineup, so the Marlins could score more runs with Reyes at the top of the order.  And moving to third is former shortstop Hanley Ramirez.  Ramirez has something to prove this year – that he can be a team player and a real leader.  Personally, I don’t think he should be in the infield.  He’s never been a good shortstop – Ramirez cost the team 23 runs.  (Reyes is better, but even he is a below average shortstop.)  But he could be a league average third baseman – and make 35 – 50 throwing errors.

If it’s me, I let Bonifacio (just about a league average shortstop) play short, move Reyes to third, and put Hanley in center field or left field.  Even with the new alignment, the Marlins could save 10 runs defensively, but it SHOULD be 20 runs better if Hanley were in the outfield.

Offensively, a healthy Ramirez and Reyes could be worth 100 extra runs themselves to the team.

Outfield:

Giancarlo Stanton returns (nicked up this spring) and seems to want to use his tremendous power to all fields.  You hope that by broadening his approach he doesn’t dilute his strength – which is his strength, but he’s SO strong that if he makes contact, he hits the ball harder than anyone else in baseball.  If he steps up a little bit, he’s going to put 125 runs on the board.  And Logan Morrison can hit better than he did in 2011.  He really isn’t an outfielder, but he has a great approach to hitting and should be worth 100 runs, which is 30 more than last year.  Then you have the void that is centerfield.  Emilio Bonifacio is tolerable there (I’d just rather see him at short).  Chris Coghlan, Aaron Rowand, Bryan Peterson and possibly Austin Kearns will be battling for innings as a defensive replacement for Morrison in late innings and pinch hitting at bats.

Bench:

A bench of Dobbs, Coghlan, Peterson and Rowand give the Marlins plenty of options.  Hayes is a capable backup catcher, and with Bonifacio able to play six positions, you can mix and match to give people time off.

Prospects:

At AAA New Orleans, Matt Dominguez and Ozvaldo Martinez showed they have major league gloves but not yet major league bats.  They are still young – Dominguez will be 22 this year; Martinez 24.  Jose Ceda was unhittable in AAA, but hasn’t turned it into a regular MLB job.

2008 #1 pick Kyle Skipworth made his way to AA Jacksonville, but didn’t impress with the stick – just .207 in nearly 400 at bats.  He’s still got time.  The best hitter was Jim Negrych, but he’ll be 27 this season and has people ahead of him on the depth chart.  Pitcher Jhan Marinez needs to gain command, but fanned 74 in 58 innings.  Undrafted Omar Poveda is figuring things out, finishing 8 – 6 last year, but with a 4.32 ERA.  He needs to find a better strikeout pitch.

Kyle Jensen showed great power while hitting .309 at A+ Jupiter, but he’s a bit of a free swinger.  I saw him – I’d like to think he can make a step forward and challenge Gaby Sanchez in 2014.  2009 First Round pick Chad James struggled a little – 5 – 15, with a 3.80 ERA, but he’s just 20.  Let’s see what he can do in 2012.  Down at A- Greensboro, 2010 #1 pick Christian Yelich showed he is a player with promise by hitting .312 with 15 homers and 32 stolen bases.

2012 Forecast:  

You have a new stadium and management finally spending some money to give the fans checking out the new stadium an exciting product.  The question, of course, is can the Miami Marlins break through what looks to be a competitive NL East.  I think the answer is yes.  The Marlins could easily score 150 runs more than last year with healthy and improving performances from the outfielders as well as a healthy Reyes and rebounding Hanley Ramirez.  If Josh Johnson makes 30 starts and the rotation holds steady, the team will likely allow 75 fewer runs.  That puts the Marlins at about 775 runs scored and 625 runs allowed –  a combination good for 93 wins.  The question is whether or not 93 wins will be enough…  The Phillies, Braves, and even Washington will be in the hunt – so every win will matter.

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2010 Season Forecast: Florida Marlins

Last Five Seasons:

2009: 87 – 75 (2nd, NL East)
2008: 84 – 77
2007: 71 – 91
2006: 78 – 84
2005: 83 – 79

Finally people started seeing the Marlins for what they are – a talented team despite the low payroll who, when healthy and getting a modicum of pitching, can hang with anybody.

Runs Scored: 772 (5th, NL)
Runs Allowed: 766 (11th, NL)

Like in 2008, the Marlins edged opponents on the scoreboard but came ahead on the deal in terms of wins and losses.  The reason for this is because the bottom of their pitching is ATROCIOUS, and when they lose they tend to get pounded.

Season Recap:

The Marlins won 11 of 12 to open the season because six games were against the Nationals when the Nationals really stunk up the joint.  I remember sitting in the office talking about this with Jose Gomez – the Marlins were about to play the Pirates and we were talking about how they could be 14 – 1 and heading home.

Instead, they lost a lot – losing 24 of the next 32 games.  This was because only Josh Johnson was winning any starts and Ricky Nolasco, who SHOULD be an ace, needed a trip to the minors to find himself.

When Nolasco returned, that gave the Marlins two decent arms the rest of the way.  Then, Hanley Ramirez and Chris Coghlan started getting two hits every night (or so it seemed) and the Marlins climbed back into the race by the end of August and made a run at a wild card slot before running out of time.

All along, it seemed like the Marlins were just two players away from being as good as anybody in the NL.  They needed one more starter and one more really good reliever.  No – they don’t have ALL the firepower of the Phillies, but with a core of Ramirez, Cantu, Uggla, and Coghlan setting the table, that’s a lot of runs to work with.  The helpers – Cody Ross, both catchers – Ronny Paulino and John Baker, Cameron Maybin, and bench hitters like Wes Helms and Ross Gload – all contribute.

Two more pitchers.

I digress.

Pitchers:

A completely healthy Josh Johnson pitched 209 impressive innings, winning 75% of his decisions and saving his team 33.7 runs.  Ricky Nolasco, as mentioned earlier, found his mojo after a trip to the minors and finished the season by striking out 16 batters and nine in a row in his final start.  If you look at his numbers, you’d never know he had a 5.06 ERA – winning record, solid K/BB numbers, and not hit TOO badly.  He did give up hits in bunches, though, and that was his problem.

After that, Chris Volstad gave up 29 homers in 159 innings, pushing his ERA over 5.00.  Sean West was tolerable but a little green in his 20 starts.  Anibal Sanchez pitched half a season of okay ball – an ERA under 4, but watching him start is excrutiating because he always seems to be pitching his way out of trouble.  Andrew Miller made 14 starts and got worse as the season progressed, eventually hitting the bullpen and then AAA.  Rick VandenHurk made the Netherlands WBC team, and had eleven okay starts.

Looking forward, that’s the problem the Marlins face with the rotation.  Nolasco will be better, but can Sanchez make 30 starts?  Will West improve?  The Marlins made a late acquisition, picking up Nate Robertson from Detroit – and he HAS to be better than Andrew Miller (also, formerly of Detroit).  If Robertson can make 30 reasonably good starts, this is a step up.  I like the potential of improvement here – but they still require a lot of bullpen help.

Let’s look at that bullpen.  The Marlins tried Matt Lindstrom as a closer, but he got hurt during the WBC and his 100 MPH fastball seemed very flat and hittable.  Leo Nunez, a decent 8th inning guy, became the closer and was okay because he doesn’t really have the control needed.  They combined for 41 saves, but a lot of chewed nails.

The Marlins did find their usual surprise and cheap help in the middle relief corps…  Kiko Calero allowed just 36 hits in 60 innings, but 13 were homers (must have all be solo shots), which led to a very surprising 1.95 ERA.  Renyal (1972 Ford) Pinto is a wild lefty who had more good innings than bad ones.  Florida even has a legitimate long reliever in Burke Badenhop – a guy who looks good the first time through the lineup but gets killed in the fourth and fifth innings – so he becomes a reliever who frequently makes multiple inning runs when the team needs it.  Brian Sanches and Dan Meyer were solid most of the season.  Even Brendan Donnelly came over and gave the team 25.1 good innings.  So, there was a lot of depth in the pen – there just wasn’t a shut down closer and a lot of relievers always seemed like they were living on the edge.

Looking ahead, Calero is gone – in his place will be Clay Hensley.  I’m not sure I get it – he has little control and couldn’t keep his ERA under 5.00 in the spacious confines of Petco Park in San Diego.  The rest of the pitching staff returns with just those two additions (Hensley, Robertson) and two subtractions (Lindstrom and Calero).  So, while the rotation should be 30 or 40 runs better, the bullpen could give half of that back.

Catchers:

John Baker and Ronny Paulino shared the job in 2009 and will do so again – at least until Brett Hayes is ready for a test drive.  Both hit enough and are natural platoon partners; Paulino was tolerable against the run – but otherwise are rather bland catchers.  Neither is known for handling the staff (and who would take credit for last year’s pitching) or avoiding mistakes.

Infielders:

Defensively, not very good.  Offensively, as good as you might want.

Jorge Cantu was solid at first – but then looked out of practice playing third base when Nick Johnson arrived last year.  Johnson has NO range as a first baseman – so he was allowed to play DH for the Yankees.  Cantu will move to third base to give Gaby Sanchez a shot.  Sanchez hits like Pete O’Brien in a good year, about .280 with mid range power.  I just don’t know that Sanchez will be that much better defensively.  He will be better than Johnson, though.

Dan Uggla rips homers, got on base despite a dip in his batting average, and started to look slow defensively.  A late bloomer, Uggla makes more good plays than bad ones, but a slipping range means that he’s a candidate to be moved if the Marlins start to fall out of the race.

Hanley Ramirez is one of the two best players in the NL right now – the best hitting shortstop (heck, as good as anyone except, perhaps Pujols or Braun) in baseball and a tolerable fielder.  He’s very deliberate as a fielder, as if trying not to make throwing mistakes, but he doesn’t have the acrobatic range of the really good ones.  Hitting .340 with power, though, nobody seems to care.  Except, perhaps, the pitching staff.

Last year, Emilio Bonifacio played a lot of third, but he’s really better suited as a bench player.  Wes Helms is a solid bat off the bench and plays third and first well enough.  Mike Lamb comes over to replace Ross Gload as a veteran lefty bat off the bench.  Gload was impressive last year – so he’ll be a challenge to replace (and will be missed).  Brian Barden also made the club, but I don’t know where he’ll play with this lineup.  Perhaps he’ll be a late inning defensive replacement for any of these guys…

Looking forward, I see the defense slipping another ten runs but the offense holding steady.

Outfield:

Chris Coghlan is a hitter, an amazing collection of line drives – patient at the plate and has good enough speed to sneak 30 steals.  He’s just not much of a left fielder.  Eventually, he’ll have to move – but he’ll bat leadoff until he’s 40.

Cameron Maybin earned the starting nod last year, got off to a slow start with the bat, and needed a trip to AAA to get his swing back.  He’ll get a second shot – and hopefully he’ll stick.  I see him as the new Preston Wilson, and if he ever puts it together, that’ll be just fine.

Cody Ross is a shaved head bundle of energy and smiles – and can play a decent right field and back up Maybin in center.  He has decent power but you wish his batting average was closer to .280 than .250.  You need guys like Ross on the team…  Fan friendly, contributes in many different ways, and compliments the stars on the field.

Brett Carroll and Emilio Bonifacio will provide bench support.  Carroll is actually a pretty good fielder, but doesn’t appear to have MLB hitting skills.

I like this unit to be much better than last year – possibly 30 – 50 runs better offensively and 20 runs better defensively because (a) Maybin is an AMAZING fielder and will be here every day and (b) Coghlan will be more comfortable out there than last year.

Prospects:

The best hitters at AAA are already on the Marlins – Sanchez, Coghlan, and Maybin.  And, there weren’t a lot of pitching prospects in New Orleans to write home about.

Sean West came out of AA Jacksonville, as did Chris Leroux.  West may stick for a while, but Leroux will probably not be a future star.  He has decent enough control, gets a few strikeouts, but at 25 is not really a young prospect.  Jacksonville must be a tough place to hit.  The top average was Bryan Petersen‘s .297, a 4th round pick in 2007 out of Cal-Irvine.  Look for him to get a shot at AAA, and be a fourth outfielder before too long.

The big prospect at AA was Mike Stanton, whose batting average stunk, but has SERIOUS power and is only 20.  He’ll be among the first guys to get a shot at right field if Cody Ross gets hurt.  Logan Morrison is another first base prospect who has Mark Grace-like skills – good OBP and a little power.

A+ Jupiter featured Stanton (for a while) and another teen – Matt Dominguez who will be a future third baseman on this team by 2012.  Looks like a young Mike Lowell right now, but it’s still early.  Check him out in Jacksonville in 2010.  All of the really good Hammerhead pitchers throw strikes, but few better than Elih Villanueva, who walked just 18 in 158 innings, striking out 110.  He’ll be moved up to AA as well.

Forecast:

For two years, the Marlins played better than the ratio of runs scored to runs allowed would have suggested, and that’s a problem.  It means they could be unlucky this year.  On the other hand, there is room for improvement.  The team should allow 40 fewer runs and possibly score 30 more.  Marlins ownership EXPECTS a playoff team, and I see them on the fringe of that – 89 wins.  My HUNCH is that they’ll be over .500, but closer to 84 wins – but the Marlins fan in me hopes my system is right.

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…

A Long Weekend of Deals – Catching Up on Hot Stove News…

Kevin Kouzmanoff heads north, going from San Diego to Oakland in a four player deal.  San Diego acquires Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham for the veteran third baseman and minor leaguer Eric Sogard.  Kouzmanoff will get playing time and serves as an insurance policy lest Eric Chavez cannot recover from back problems. [SI]

And, with the chances pretty strong that Jerry Hairston will also sign with the Padres, it makes us long for Edgar Gonzalez, because San Diego would have had two pairs of brothers and the son of former Padre Tony Gwynn.  Nepotism?  [FoxSports]

Adam LaRoche chose to sign with Arizona, getting $6 million and a mutual option for 2011.  From the sounds of it, LaRoche chose Arizona and a one year deal over other places (like San Francisco) that had offered two year deals because (a) he’ll likely have better stats, and (b) if he does have a great season, he’ll have better options for a contract in the next offseason.  Once LaRoche signed his deal, the Diamondbacks designated Eric Byrnes for assignment – despite having one more expensive year left on a three-year deal. [MLB]

The Florida Marlins, possibly pressured by MLB and the MLBPA, signed pitcher Josh Johnson to a four-year, $39 million deal with other incentives – a slightly better deal than the one given Zack Greinke.  [MLB]

The White Sox signed reliever Bobby Jenks ($7.5 million) and outfielder Carlos Quentin ($3.2 million) to one-year deals.  [MLB]

The Pirates are filling out the bullpen, inking Brendan Donnelly to an incentive-laden deal, as well as D.J. Carrasco (minor league deal), and are chasing Octavio Dotel.  [MLB]

The Indians signed Mike Redmond to a one-year deal.  Redmond is an excellent veteran to back Lou Marson (and my favorite backup catcher, ever).  [MLB]

From the Hot Stove to the Law:

Legal Analyst Michael McCann says that we shouldn’t expect confessions from Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, or Rafael Palmeiro any time soon.  [SI]

Milton Bradley may be through with the Cubs, but not Chicago – as he is being sued by his Chicago-based landlord for rent and other obligations.  [FanHouse]

Jose Offerman punched an umpire in a Dominican Winter League game.  Offerman, who was managing in Licey, has now been permanently banned from the league.  This is Offerman’s second on-field assault.  [SI]

Happy Birthday! On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, those celebrating birthdays include Curt Flood – whose challenge of the reserve clause (he didn’t want to be traded) was kind of the first significant movement toward free agency – as the Boston Tea Party was to the American Revolution.  Flood was born in 1938.

Others celebrating include Bill McGowen (1896), pitcher Carl Morton (1944), Billy Grabarkewitz (1946), Scott McGregor (1954), Mike Lieberthal (1972), and Wandy Rodriguez (1979).

More on (Moron?) McGwire; Marlins Forced to Spend Money on Players?

From the story that won’t go away, no matter how often Bud Selig declares the era is over…

Steve Trachsel, who served up the 62nd homer hit by Mark McGwire in 1998, says that whole Sosa/McGwire hug was a sham – and irked him at the time, too.  [ESPN]

We weren’t the only ones who knew McGwire was a cheater.  The FBI was in on it.  [ESPN]

Goose Gossage still sounds ornery – but he’s on the money.  McGwire shouldn’t be in the Hall.  [FoxSports]

Joe Posnanski forgives him.  [SI]

Is anything else going on around here?

Aubrey Huff will be a Giant – a great signing if he doesn’t age quickly and lose his reflexes at first base.  He immediately helps the offense, but it might mean more time at third base for Pablo Sandoval and push Mark DeRosa into the outfield.  If nothing else, it gives the Giants some flexibility.  [MLB]

Aroldis Chapman signed a six year deal to pitch for the Cincinnati Reds worth $30.25 million.  Per Walt Jockety, (and I am paraphrasing) sometimes a small market team has to do something bold to build the franchise.  It will be interesting to watch his progress…  [ESPN]

Ryan Church joins the Pirates as a fourth outfielder – one year, $1.5 million plus incentives.  If healthy, Church can help these guys…  [ESPN]

The Cubs would be more interested in Ben Sheets – if he had a smaller price tag.  [MLB]

Let’s stay in Chicago.  Ryne Sandberg, thought by many to be the next manager when Lou Piniella finally hits the road, is the new manager of the Iowa (AAA) Cubs.  [MLB]

And, another member of the 1989 playoff team will be a special roving instructor – the professor, Greg Maddux.  [MLB]

Dan Johnson, former A’s and Rays slugger, is back from Japan, signing a one-year, $500K deal with Tampa.  [MLB]

Does Mark Grudzielanek have one more year left?  The Indians think so – he’s now a backup infielder with a minor league contract and a spring training invite.  [MLB]

Ramon Castro will stay with the White Sox, one year – $800 million, with a club option and buyout.  He’s not a horrible backup catcher and can hit a little.  [MLB]

FINALLY – The Marlins “promise” to spend more money.

For those of us who live in South Florida, we’re constantly harping about the team’s lack of willingness to spend any money on players.  We have one long term deal (Hanley Ramirez) and every year we guess which arbitration eligible players will be cut loose.  Now – we can’t argue with the efforts of Larry Beinfest, who has kept this team competitive since MLB helped the former owners of the Expos, Jeffrey Loria and friends, buy the Marlins.  But when you see the team getting millions of dollars from MLB (national TV contracts, shared revenues from MLB.com, etc., and the penalty bucks paid by the Yankees for actually spending money on players), we all wondered if Loria was just pocketing money to help contribute ANY money toward that new stadium.  Or just keep it for himself.

Well, now the Major League Players Association released a joint agreement with the Marlins and Major League Baseball where Florida management agreed to ramp up spending en route to the new stadium opening in 2012.  The agreement calls for further reviews of how the Marlins use shared revenue toward player salaries.  The reason?  Apparently the Marlins aren’t using revenue sharing money to “improve the team” – as per the basic agreement that binds all MLB owners.

Jon Paul Morosi agrees with me, saying the litmus test will likely be Dan Uggla – who has been shopped around this offseason – or even Josh Johnson, who wanted a four-year deal but couldn’t get more than a three-year offer from the Marlins.

I think it’s interesting that the union is involved – but there are two things that really should be in play here.  First – in a free market, the owners should be able to do what they want.  However, the second element has to do with shared revenue.  If the assumption is that revenue (including salary cap penalties) are shared to provide small market and small revenue teams have more money to spend on players, then the money should be spent on players.  The Marlins use the money to spend on scouting and minor league development – and, in my opinion, to line the pockets of owners who needed to raise capital to cover some costs tied with building the new stadium (not that they are paying the bulk of the expense).  In fact, if I were Boston or the Mets or the Phillies and I had to forfeit my own money to help put money in the pockets of the owners so they can either (a) buy nicer cars, or (b) get a new stadium, that doesn’t seem like a fair way to spend my money.  And, I wouldn’t be happy about giving that money to the Marlins.

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating on Tuesday included:  George “Admiral” Schlei (1878), Tim Hulett (1960) and Mike Marshall (1960) – I remember watching him as a kid in Buffalo Grove, Casey Candaele (1961), and two former Fish hurlers – Dontrelle Willis (1982) and Scott Olsen (1984).

Those celebrating on Wednesday include: Les Cain (1948), Bob Forsch and Mike Tyson (1950), Kevin Mitchell (1962), and Kevin Foster (1969).

Afterthoughts…

Derek Jeter engaged?  Possibly…  Minka Kelly is the lucky girl and the date is allegedly November 5th.  {FoxSports]

Post-Thanksgiving News Update…

Mighty Casey has been on a bit of a holiday – for that I politely ask for your forgiveness – but after a vacation in the Florida Keys, I return ready to write about baseball.

Belated Congrats to Albert Pujols…

The National League writers, knowing the right answer when they saw it, unanimously selected Albert Pujols as the best player in the league for 2009, and it’s the right choice.  Pujols has more power than anyone, really.  He’s a selective hitter who rarely strikes out; he can still run the bases, and his fielding skills are as good as they get.  The last few years, I have been assembling the most productive players in baseball – basically adding up the number of runs created by ones offensive numbers (a basic Bill James’ Runs Created formula) and adding (or subtracting) the number of runs saved on defense and NOBODY is close to Pujols.

As a Marlins fan, I root for Hanley Ramirez, but as good as he is – and he’s VERY good – he’s really not in Pujols’ league yet.  [FoxSports, et al]

Hot Stove News…

Baseball writers are actually covering the Marlins…  So far, the team and Josh Johnson have yet to come to terms for a long-term deal (Marlins offering three years and potential vesting for a fourth, while Johnson wants four guaranteed years), but it looks like they’ll head to arbitration for this year and see what happens.  Johnson would become a free agent after 2011, and the Marlins – who likely would not be players in that bidding war – want to maximize whatever they can get out of Johnson (time, prospects, cash) before he heads out of town.

Here’s Buster Olney’s take

Here’s Ken Rosenthal’s take...

Having witnessed his skills, I generally trust Larry Beinfest in these things and it’s easy to fall for Johnson who is the best pitcher on the staff.  He’s been a bit frail, though – and you want to see if he can keep going after his first really complete season.  Likely, Johnson will be expected to be an ace until, oh, the first sign that the Marlins aren’t going to win the division between now and July, 2011, at which point he will be dealt for the best available offer.  That’s what I think  is going to happen.

Let’s stick with the Marlins theme…  Former fish shortstop, Alex Gonzalez, signed a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays for 2010 ($2.75 million) and an option for 2011 ($2.5 million, or a buyout).  The deal could be worth $5.25 million – but only this coming season is guaranteed.  This is a sign that Marco Scutaro is out of town for next year.  Alex, when healthy, can still field his position – though not as well as he once did.  He can hit a little, but not much…  Some power, no control of the strike zone.  So, he’s really a league-average shortstop at best and not a sign that the Blue Jays think they can compete in 2010.  [ESPN]

And, Toronto signed their utility infielder, John McDonald, to a two-year deal worth $3.5 million.  McDonald is still a very dependable fielder in the middle of the infield and last year hit enough to keep his job (obviously).  [SI]

The Chicago White Sox, having lost Scott Podsednik and Dewayne Wise, signed Andruw Jones to a one year deal as a backup outfielder.  Personally, I’m not sure why they would do that – but what the heck…  Let’s look at what Jones did in 2009.

For a couple of months, Jones looked spry again.  He was 5 for 6 as a base stealer and lost a little weight which helped when he was playing the outfield.  He LOOKED smoother out there, but he’s lost more than a step.  As a hitter, he had a great April (.344 with some power and walks) but after that his best month was May (.245) and he was only over Mendoza one more time for the rest of the year (not counting his ten at bats in October).  So, aside from that one month, there was little sign that Jones can be a major league hitter.

And, while his season stats look nearly tolerable (17 – 43 – .214) because of the power numbers in just 281 at bats, he hit .214 in Texas – where everyone is a better hitter (in league average parks, that translates to (15 – 39 – .207).  So, why would you give $500K plus performance bonuses to a guy who obviously no longer has major league talent?  Because at $500K, he’s cheap – and he has a major league recognized name.  [ESPN]

Other News…

Bud Selig’s tenure as commissioner of MLB will likely end in 2012 when he contract is over.  Selig will be about 78 when that happens and when asked to stay longer, Selig reportedly declined.  [SI]

Hall of Fame Watch

The Hall of Fame ballot was released last week.  Here’s a pretty good list…  Of those on the ballot, here’s my picks:  Andre Dawson, Roberto Alomar, Barry Larkin, Fred McGriff, Jack Morris, and Alan Trammell.

I go back and forth on Bert Blyleven.  He was a great pitcher for a lot of years – and on a lot of teams that weren’t necessarily very good (Twins of the 1970s and later in the 1980s, Cleveland and Texas for a while), but he was on other teams that did win (1979 Pirates, 1987 Twins).  He lost the better part of three years to injuries, otherwise he might have easily clipped 300 wins…  He was a workhorse otherwise – a lot of innings, and a lot of other stuff.  He’s not appreciably different than Don Sutton, really, and if Sutton is in, you’d think Bert would get in there.  At the same time, I just never think of him as one of the dominant pitchers of his era – and that’s why I wonder if he’s being left out.  Who was better than Bert in the 1970s and 1980s?  Carlton, Niekro, Jenkins, Ryan to name four, and a lot of guys were better for short stints – Reuschel, Tanana, Richard, Tudor, Saberhagen, Guidry, Catfish Hunter…  Once you start doing that, you think that Blyleven might not be good enough.

Joe Posnanski (SI) lists players he thinks are already on the path to the Hall of Fame.  I buy about seven on that list…

And, Mike Bauman (MLB) thinks that Union Boss Marvin Miller deserves to be there, too…

Happy Birthday! Vincent Edward (Bo) Jackson, one of the most unique athletes of our time, turns 47 today.  Wow.

Others on the list include some of the more interesting names in baseball history…  Alamazoo Jennings (1850), Tacks Latimer (1877) who was one of Rube Waddell”s early catchers, Win Ballou (1897), Firpo Marberry (1898), Clyde Sukeforth (1901), Steve Hamilton (1935), Craig Swan (1950), Juan Berenguer (1954), Bob Tewksbury (1960), Matt Lawton (1971), Ray Durham (1971), Shane Victorino (1980), and Rich Harden (1981).

Mauer Wins AL MVP; Other News

Getting all but one first place vote, Joe Mauer became the fifth Minnesota Twin to win the AL MVP.  Hitting .365, playing gold glove worthy defense behind the plate.  It’s hard to argue with the selection – I can’t, he was my pick, too – because there just aren’t that many players like this guy.  Mauer decided to take advantage of the count when he it was in his favor and added power, enough to lead the AL in batting, on base percentage, and slugging percentage.  Amazing, really…  [ESPN and others…]

Tom Verducci had a vote and explains it for Sports Illustrated

Ken Rosenthal discusses his vote for Fox Sports

The real challenge will be this offseason or next when the Twins have to try and keep Mauer around, especially since Mauer has to be worth about $20 million per season on the open market.

And in Other News…

Omar Vizquel signed a one -year deal with the Chicago White Sox.  Vizquel expects to be a mentor to infielders Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham.  [ESPN]

The Nationals say that Stephen Strasburg, who missed his last start in the Arizona Fall League, won’t need surgery on his twisted knee.  Dcctors say it’s a dislocation of the joint and he just needs some rest.  [SI]

The Associated Press released notes suggesting that Ken Griffey Jr. could earn as much as $3.9 million after incentives for the 2010 season.  [ESPN]

The Cubs signed lefty reliever John Grabow to a $7.5 million, two-year deal.  Grabow is a solid eighth-inning guy (though he can pitch in any inning from 5 through 9) who earned the contract after a year with 70 appearances for both Pittsburgh and Chicago.  However, personally I’d be leery of anyone coming off a career high in appearances and a career ERA over 4.00…  [SI]

Cuban Aroldis Chapman has fired his agent, signing with the Hendricks Brothers, agents who represent players such as Andy Pettitte.  Edwin Mejia, of Athletes Premier International, had helped Chapman escape from Cuba, setting up residency in Andorra so that Chapman couldn’t be drafted and would be signed as a free agent.  One expects a lawsuit for tampering in the very near future.  [ESPN]

Look for Roy Halliday to play out the string for Toronto, knowing that he will either be traded or become a free agent after the 2010 season.  Toronto brass fully expect Halliday to hit the road.  [ESPN]

The Marlins and pitcher Josh Johnson couldn’t iron out a deal, and per ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, it’s because Johnson wants a fourth year if he signs a long-term contract.  The Marlins are prepared to deal with arbitration, but tried to get Johnson to sign a three-year deal.  Johnson was trying to get a deal similar to the four-year, $38 million deal the Royals gave Zack Greinke.  [ESPN]

Speaking of Marlins named Johnson, the ESPN rumor mill has Nick Johnson getting plenty of interest in the free agency market.  Johnson had a .477 OBA after arriving in Florida in a late season trade with Washington.  Among the suitors?  Boston, Washington, the Mets, Giants and Orioles.  [ESPN]

Let’s stick with stories about my fish…  Former Angels prospect and Marlins minor leaguer, Dallas McPherson, signed a minor league deal with the Oakland A’s.  At 29, McPherson is past his prospect days and has missed two of three seasons with back problems.  [ESPN]

Finally, Peter Gammons compliments the management of the Marlins for winning with a payroll that, over four years, has spent less money – nearly a third less – than the Mets spent in 2009.  [ESPN]

Quick Hits…

Jermaine Dye says he is open to playing first base.  I’d be more worried about how his production fell apart after the all-star break, so this is just something to make him seem more valuable on the free agent market. [MLB]

After signing Chris Capuano and John Halama, two pitchers who have missed time due to injury and really haven’t been on the MLB radar in two or three years, the Milwaukee Brewers are showing interest in Carl Pavano.  There just aren’t enough 4.50 ERA guys with bad backs and shoulders to go around, I guess…  [MLB]

Happy Birthday!

Hall of Famer Joe Medwick was born on this day in 1911.  Joe never liked his nickname “Ducky”, which was shorted from “Ducky Wucky”, which might help explain his surliness…

Others celebrating with cards, cake, or rememberances include:  George Burns (1889) – a fine lead off hitter with the Tigers back in the day…, Billy Rogell (1904), Danny Ozark (1923), Jim Northrup (1939), Fred Beene (1942), Steve Yeager (1948), Randy Velarde (1962), Cal Eldred (1967), Ben McDonald (1967), Al Martin (1967), Dave Hansen (1968) – who could probably STILL lace a single pinch hitting for the Dodgers right now…, and Joel Guzman (1984).