Can you make a competitive team with your pick of the remaining free agents?

I was flipping through the list of remaining free agents (as of 1/16/2012) and tried to field the best team possible with those players still available.  Here’s what you can do…

Catcher:

The best hitting catcher is probably Ramon Castro, who I see as a DH but can catch some.  You have a couple of receivers with good defensive skills but a limited offensive outlook (Ivan Rodriguez, Jason Varitek) and a couple of catchers who have recently been regulars (Chris Snyder, Ronny Paulino).  If you took Castro and Rodriguez, at least you’d have someone who could work with the pitchers and throw, and you’d have a decent enough backup who could help put a few runs on the board.

First Baseman:

With Prince Fielder still available, you have the centerpiece of an offense – but you still have some competent backups.  Casey Kotchman seems to have found his hitting stroke, and Carlos Pena could help in a platoon role (can’t hit lefties, though).  If you weren’t willing to pony up $20 million per year for Fielder, a platoon of Pena and Derrek Lee might give you depth and a solid platoon.

Second Baseman:

Not a lot to choose from here…  The best player is probably Carlos Guillen, but he’s only going to play 40 games (not to be mean here, but his injury history is becoming problematic).  That leaves you with someone who can, at best, not embarrass you with the glove – Jeff Keppinger, for example – and even play a couple of positions since you may need some flexibility.

Third Baseman:

If you thought the pickings were thin at second, it’s even thinner at third base now.  Casey Blake has had a couple of good years, and Wilson Betemit can swing the bat.  After that, it’s guys who used to be able to play some (Eric Chavez, Alex Cora, Omar Vizquel).

Shortstop:

Three guys who can’t really cover the position anymore – Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, and Miguel Tejada.  The best overall option is probably Cabrera – or letting him play second and moving Keppinger over to play short.

Outfielders:

There are still a few players here who could contribute, but most of these guys are past prime players and few have the wheels to cover center.  However, Johnny Damon could still play left, Cody Ross can play right or center (though he’s running out of years he’ll be able to cover center).  Kosuke Fukudome is a fantastic right fielder and can still bat leadoff.  Behind that you have a couple of guys who could be good fourth outfielders and pinch hitting types – Jonny Gomes, Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre.  If you needed a defensive guy, Joey Gathright is there.  And, if you want to take a real chance, you could go for Yoenis Cespedes.

A lineup as listed below would score some runs, and probably fight the defense to a draw.

Fukudome – RF
Damon – LF
Guillen – 2B
Fielder – 1B
Castro – C
Ross – CF
Blake – 3B
Keppinger – SS
(Pitcher – assuming a National League team)

Starting Pitchers:

A couple recent signings has killed off much of the top remaining pitchers, but you still have a few guys who can win games.  I see a rotation that includes the following as having some potential:

Roy Oswalt
Edwin Jackson
Jon Garland
Joe Saunders
Livan Hernandez

And I’d give a sixth spot to Rich Harden – pitch him until something breaks (which it will).  Or, you could take Harden’s stuff and make a closer out of him.  Your emergency arm might be Kevin Millwood – I just don’t know if he has one more year left.  I’d stash him in AAA until Rich Harden breaks down…  The staff is really missing an ace, but you have two guys who can win at the top and three guys who can give you 650 innings at the bottom, which helps the bullpen.

Relievers:

The signing of Ryan Madson takes away the best available closer, but you can do a bullpen by committee and hope someone takes charge.  I see the top six arms as follows:

Michael Gonzalez
Danys Baez
Francisco Cordero
Juan Cruz
Brad Lidge
Arthur Rhodes

Out of that list, you can give Lidge the last inning (if he’s healthy) and mix and match the rest to be reasonably effective.

I haven’t done the math on this, but a team with this roster could possibly make a run at 85 wins.

2010 Season Forecast: Kansas City Royals

Last Five Seasons:

2009:  65 –  97 (Tied for last in AL Central)
2008:  75 –  87
2007:  69 –  93
2006:  62 – 100
2005:  56 – 106

Runs Scored: 686 – 13th in the AL
Runs Allowed: 842 – 12th in the AL

The pitching of Cleveland meets the offense of Seattle.

2009 Season in Review:

Trey Hillman was able to ride the success of Zach Greinke only so far – and the lack of production at too many offensive positions combined with some poor starting pitching meant that Greinke’s success meant avoiding 100 losses (again).

Did you know that after beating Seattle 3 – 1 on May 7th, the Royals were 18 – 11 and leading the AL Central?  A losing streak kicked off and by May 25th, the Royals fell under .500 at 22 – 23.  That means that Kansas City went 47 – 86 after that hot start…

Fun stat: Royals cleanup hitters hit .211, slugged .315, and had a .280 OBP.  There are players who slug .600 – but the Royals clean up hitters didn’t ADD UP to that number.  Ouch.

Starting Pitching:

Zack Greinke had the best season for a starter in a LONG time…  Gil Meche isn’t a horrible second starter, despite the big paycheck, though he is showing signs of being more frail than first thought.  Kyle Davies can’t be a long term pitcher unless he learns to strike people out.  And he’s not even as good as another no-K pitcher, Brian Bannister.  Luke Hochevar occasionally shows signs of being a really good AAA starter and will be in the rotation.  Guys like Davies and Bannister need air-tight defenses to be successful but do you see any really good fielders below?  The Royals need to stop trying things like giving chances to Sidney Ponson…

Relief Pitching:

Closer Joakim Soria is the real deal – gets outs, keeps people off the bases.  They had one guy who was surprisingly good (Robinson Tejada) and another who was surprisingly bad (Yasuhiko Yabuta), and a bunch of guys who didn’t matter (Kyle Farnsworth, Juan Cruz, John Bale, Roman Colon, Bruce Chen).

Catching:

Replacing Miguel Olivo and John Buck with Jason Kendall, who comes over after signing a two-year deal.  I get that Olivo is rather error prone and Buck isn’t a budding all-star.  But they put 80 runs on the board (combined) and are far, far younger than Jason Kendall, who is better defensively but only puts 50 runs on the board in a season.  And that’s giving Kendall the benefit of the doubt, because if you went by handling the staff, nobody wants the lack of production found in the Milwaukee pitching staff.

Infield:

Billy Butler is a very good hitter who may one day become comfortable playing first base.  Chris Getz comes over to play second base from the White Sox where he proved nothing as a hitter but is about 15 runs better defensively than Alberto Callaspo.  Callaspo can hit, though, so he will likely play somewhere.  You’d love for Mike Aviles to come back – working through back injuries (among other problems), Aviles went from Rookie of the Year to Mario Mendoza and that won’t help managers.  At short, the Royals are trying Yuniesky Betancourt, who isn’t going to help the Royals offensively or defensively.  He’s just sort of there.  Alex Gordon was once projected to be a star isn’t, and Mark Teahen – who can and did play everywhere and contributed a little bit offensively – is now with the White Sox.  Another former Royal?  Mike Jacobs played himself out of a job at first.  Does anyone other than me think that Kila Ka’aihue isn’t given a real chance, rather than spending good money on Mike Jacobs?

Outfield:

Signing Coco Crisp for the 2009 season was a bit of a nightmare, especially watching his salary get spent on the DL and his on-field production falling off.  Mitch Maier got a few innings and plays hard if not productively.  He’s Dave Martinez (some old Cub fans might remember him) at this point, and not quite that good.  David DeJesus is a pretty good outfielder and a pretty good hitter – a poor man’s Carl Crawford.  Jose Guillen not only underperformed at the plate but is a liability defensively in right field.  Looking forward, the team paid good money for a fading and ineffective (and now add injury prone) Rick Ankiel, and added White Sox outfielder Scott Podsednik, who is Juan Pierre with a bit better arm.  Willie Bloomquist returns as a fourth/fifth outfielder.

Down on the Farm:

Kila Ka’aihue could be a prospect – but another year at AAA wasn’t as good.  He’s 25 and wasted in this organization.  Brayan Pena is close to being ready as a catcher, hitting .307 in limited time at Omaha – and he’s also getting old for a prospect (28 in 2010).  The best pitcher, Luke Hochevar, isn’t ready for the big leagues yet but the Royals don’t have better options right now.

The best pitchers at AA Northwest Arkansas are relivers Chris Nicoll (7 – 0, but a bit wild and his ERA was 3.50) or either Greg Holland or Aaron Hartsock.  Former 2nd round pick, Jeff Bianchi, showed signs of putting his career together, hitting .300 at A+ Wilmington and .315 with a little power and speed at AA.  I like David Lough even more – and he’s just 23.  More power, better batting average, fewer years in the system.  He’ll be in the outfield soon enough.

Danny Duffy, a twenty-year-old fire baller, had a solid run at A+ Wilmington, and teen Mike Montgomery will be on the Royals staff by the end of 2010 if not 2011’s Opening Day roster.  Both have control, good K/9 ratios, and winning records.  They’re just too young right now.

Looking Ahead to 2010:

Can this really be a better team in 2010 than 2009?  Does the pitching look better this year?  It’s the same rotation hoping that Greinke is still this good.  If he comes down to earth to where he’s just ordinary good, that’s a loss of 35 runs on the defensive side.  The bullpen isn’t deeper.  The catching has gotten older and Kendall is going to lose his reputation for game management if he has another off year with a staff.

Then you look at the lineup.  They’ve gotten 30 runs worse at catcher.  They could be 20 runs better in the outfield (Podsednik instead of Crisp/Maier in the outfield), but the infield isn’t getting better because if Aviles comes back he’s just being as good as Teahen and Getz isn’t going to hit.  Defensively, this is a poor infield – nobody can field for them.

I have a hard time seeing the Royals as better – and they may be worse.  The staff will likely allow about 875 runs and the offense will be lucky to score 700 runs unless (a) the Royals let Brayan Pena catch and (b) Aviles hits like he did in 2008 and (c) Jose Guillen does SOMETHING.  You never know.  As such, I see the team winning about 63 games.  Another long season in KC – and another three to five year plan will likely have to start in 2011.

Lidge Blows Eleventh Save (!) – and Other News…

When the rain came, the Marlins trailed the Phillies 6 – 4.   Then, the Marlins brought the rain, with Jorge Cantu and Brett Carroll knocking in runs to beat Brad Lidge and the Phillies.  For Lidge, he’s blown 11 saves (and the Cubs complain about Kevin Gregg and his seven blown saves, though most of them came in about a two week period in August).  Ryan Madson was given a shot – and failed.  Brett Myers may not be healthy enough.  So, unless there’s a new call for Tyler Walker to be a closer, the Phillies have no choice but to let their starters go nine every night.  Can Jamie Moyer close?  [ESPN]

The Phillies got a small dose of good news…  Catcher Carlos Ruiz has just a sprain, and will return to the lineup soon.  Ruiz made a tag of Matt Diaz at the plate Friday night against the Braves and tweaked his wrist on the play.  [ESPN]

Atlanta manager Bobby Cox says 2010 will be his last year on the bench – nearly 2500 wins after starting his managerial career with the Braves back when Dale Murphy was still occasionally catching (1978).  [FoxSports]

ESPN reports that Milton Bradley will not challenge his suspension and awaits news of his Cubs career.   Bradley even apologized for the situation…   [ESPN/FoxSports]

Let’s Talk Yankees…

Jorge Posada fouled a ball off his toes, but x-rays revealed no breaks.  He’s probably out until the weekend.  Meanwhile, GM Brian Cashman said that the struggling Joba Chamberlain has to step up, else not make the Yankees playoff roster.  Finally, FanNation is allowing commentary on a New York Daily News comment that manager Joe Girardi has to win the World Series to keep his job for 2010.  [ESPN/SI/FanNation]

Moving on…

The Miami Herald is reporting that the Marlins might make a four-year, $50 million offer to pitcher Josh Johnson.  If that happens, Dan Uggla will complain any time Josh has to leave a start before the sixth inning and question his toughness.  [FanNation]

Chicago White Sox GM Ken Williams – Disappointed in 2009, Optimistic for 2010.  You decide if he’s a glass half full or empty type of guy.  [ESPN/MLB]

FanNation reports that Arizona pitcher Brandon Webb, who has spent most of 2009 on the DL, wants his full option and no pay cut to come back to the Diamondbacks for 2010.  I know a lot of teams that would invest in Webb if he were healthy next year…  [FanNation]

Nolan Reimold had successful surgery to repair a frayed Achilles tendon.  Here’s to a complete recovery for the Orioles rookie slugger.  [FoxSports]

Hurry Back! The Royals placed pitcher Bruce Chen on the DL with a strained oblique.  (Of course, he’ll be back in 2010, and not in 2009.)

Welcome Back! With Chen leaving, the Royals activated pitcher Juan Cruz, and the Indians brought back pitcher Joe Smith from the DL.

Afterthoughts… Tough day for umpire Marty Foster, who took three foul balls – one off the face mask – in last night’s Giants-D’Backs game…

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.

2009 Season Forecast: Kansas City Royals

KC Royals
75 – 87 (4th AL Central)
Scored 691 Allowed 781

Quick Season Summary:

The Royals got off to a slow start, but seemed to get things turned around in August, and built steam down the stretch. Along the way, they found a new ace in Zach Greinke, who pairs with Gil Meche to provide one of the best starting duos in baseball. The problem was that the offense was tolerable at times, but had too many holes.

Tell Me About That Offense:

Mike Aviles was the best rookie hitter since 1987 (Seitzer), hitting .325 with some pop. He’s old for a rookie – 27 – and if you think he’s a long term answer, you’re probably wrong. He is, however, a nice short term solution. David DeJesus was solid. Jose Guillen was added, had 97 RBI, but was generally overrated because his batting average was just .264 and he drew 23 walks. The lineup features a lot of average to below average hitters; they still need a couple of good bats. Tony Pena couldn’t buy a hit. On the whole, too many holes. Only two teams scored fewer runs.

And the Defense:

David DeJesus was out of position in center, but better than Joey Gathright who is fast except when chasing fly balls. Tony Pena was atrocious in the field, his bad hitting going to the field with him. Alex Gordon wasn’t great, and Mark Grudzielanek was tolerable when healthy. Most of the first basemen couldn’t field. Mark Teahan fields well no matter where he plays.

Pitching:

Royals pitchers were either really good or really bad. Zack Greinke and Gil Meche were really good. Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar were really bad. Why did they try Brett Tomko, who we all know can’t pitch? Kyle Davies looked good as a rookie. In the pen, the Royals were better than expected. Joakim Soria is a stud, Leo Nunez was good, Ramon Ramirez was solid, and ancient veteran Ron Mahay was good, too. However, Jimmy Gobble, Joel Peralta, and Kip Wells (predictably for Wells) were awful.

What is Different for 2009?

Kansas City lost Ramirez to Boston (he’ll be missed), but got Coco Crisp to play center. They traded Leo Nunez for Marlin Mike Jacobs, like they needed another first baseman, but Jake can hit for power. Luke Hochever was sent back to AAA, and they will be trying Sidney Ponson (why?). Kyle Davies moved into rotation permanently. Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth were signed for bullpen – Cruz is an especially good acquisition. Brian Bannister has to improve or his career ends – he allows too many balls in play, many of which left the yard. The net result, though, is positive. Probably 25 runs better than last year.

Crisp in center is a step up from Gathright, which means a full season of DeJesus in left – another good idea. No Pena, more Aviles is a positive. I’m not happy with Gordon’s progression, but he’ll get better (he has to), and Jacobs won’t be worse than what they had. They’ll miss Grudz at second; Alberto Callaspo isn’t that good. The net result is positive if Crisp stays healthy, so that’s another 15 runs better than last year.

The offense might be better. Billy Butler showed improvement after he got back from AAA. Jacobs adds some run production, but he needs to hit better than last year in Florida – a few more walks wouldn’t hurt. Crisp COULD be really good, he’s going to be way better than Gathright. More Olivo and less Buck is good. Did I say that the Royals would miss Grudz – he hits better than Callaspo, too. I think they score 40 runs more than last year.

When you add it up, the numbers suggest about 730 runs scored, allow about 740. With the right breaks, they finish with 80 wins or even sneak over .500. However, they actually played a bit better than would have been expected last year, and I’m not convinced that Bannister will be that much better. So, I’ll go with 78 – 84, which will still be a slight improvement and in the AL Central, could be competitive.

On the Farm…

One look at AAA Omaha and you see that one of the Royals’ problems is the lack of depth in the organization. The best players got a shot – Ryan Shealy, Shane Costa, Angel Berroa (how sad, really). The only real prospect is Billy Butler and quite possibly the Hawaiian Volcano, Kilo Kaaihue (11 homers in 114 at bats at AAA, another 26 homers in AA, which makes you wonder why the Royals traded for Mike Jacobs…). Brett Bigler got moved up – he was 23 last year. The best pitcher was Kyle Davies – 6 – 2, 2.03 ERA, he’s already on the team. Jorge De La Rosa got four starts, but is 27 and too old to be called a prospect. Carlos Rosa might be good – 4 – 3 in 11 starts, 44 Ks and 12 BBs in Omaha, after going 4 – 2 with a 1.20 ERA in AA with an even better K/W ratio.

Dan Cortes won 10 games in AA Northwest Arkansas, but could stand to improve his control. Moving to A+ Wilmington, at least you see some youth and speed. Derrick Robinson is a burner but doesn’t hit for average or power. Joe Dickerson can run and hit some, shows plate discipline – probably the best prospect here. The best pitcher is either Greg Holland, a 22-year-old who fanned 96 in 84.1 innings, or 22-year-old Henry Barrera, a reliever with 78Ks in 57.2 innings.