When is a suspension not a suspension – and injuries by the dozen…

Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels plunked Washington Nationals rookie outfielder Bryce Harper to “welcome him to the big leagues.”  Major League Baseball decided to give Hamels a five game suspension – which really is a slap on the wrist for a guy who usually only plays once every five days anyway.  [SI]

Bryce Harper will move from left field to right field for the next three months…  Jayson Werth‘s attempt to snare a sinking liner resulted in Werth’s breaking his left wrist.  Surgery means a three month healing and recovery period.  [SI]

In the span of three pitches, the Angels lost two relievers…  Scott Downs left with a bruise in the back of his knee, the victim of a liner back up the middle.  His replacement, Latroy Hawkins took a liner that broke his pinkie finger and could be out between three and six weeks.

Another team dealing with a slew of injuries is the Milwaukee Brewers.  Last week, Mat Gamel tore his ACL chasing a foul pop up.  Centerfielder Carlos Gomez strained a hammy, and now Alex Gonzalez, starting shortsop, heads to the DL with a season ending ACL injury suffered when sliding into second base.  [SI]

Javy Guerra‘s blown save against the Cubs, the third of the season, cost him his closer gig.  Manager Don Mattingly handed the gig to Kenley Jansen.  [ESPN]

Hurry Back!

  • Justin Morneau, Twins first baseman, is on the DL with an injury to his left wrist.
  • Rockies pitcher Jhoulys Chacin went on the DL with shoulder inflammation.
  • The Mets placed infielder Ruben Tejada on the 15 day DL with a strained quad.
  • Aaron Cook heads to the DL with a lacerated knee.  Boston replaced him with pitcher Andrew Miller.
  • Brewers centerfielder Carlos Gomez heads to the DL with a strained left hamstring.
  • It’s a bad time to be a closer – the Padres placed Huston Street on the DL with a lat strain.

Welcome Back!

  • The Tigers activated Doug Fister from the DL.
  • The Giants welcome back Aubrey Huff from the Dl – anxiety treatments.
  • The Reds activated Miguel Cairo from the DL, which cost Willie Harris a major league gig.
  • The Mets welcomed back reliever D. J. Carrasco.

Good Riddance!

Guillermo Mota heads to the restricted list following a second positive drug test for performance enhancing drugs.  Mota’s agent said that Mota tested positive for Clenbuterol, which he described as having been a trace amount found in a children’s cough medicine, and he plans to appeal the decision.  What are they putting in Vicks 44 these days?  [SI]

Happy Birthday!

Those celebrating with cards, cake, or remembrances include:

(1896) Tom Zachary – he served up Babe’s 60th homer in 1927.
(1929) Dick Williams – Hall of Fame manager.
(1970) Brook Fordyce – one time Mets prospect
(1982) Conor Jackson
(1984) James Loney

I haven’t been daily in my writings…  Here’s a few birthdays we missed.

May 6

(1940) Bill Hands – great fastball and member of the 1969 Cubs.
(1953) Larry Anderson – former Astros and Phillies pitcher
(1968) Phil Clark – one time Padres slugger Phil Clark
(1990) Jose Altuve – Baseball Prospectus Podcast favorite…

May 5

(1857) Lee Richmond – he threw baseball’s first perfect game.
(1871) Jimmy Bannon (see below)
(1884) Chief Bender – Rube’s teammate on the early 1900 Philadelphia As
(1935) Jose Pagan
(1941) Tommy Helms – Reds infielder traded to Houston for Joe Morgan
(1947) Larry Hisle
(1956) Ron Oester
(1967) Charles Nagy
(1971) Mike Redmond – one of my favorite backup catchers…

Jimmy Bannon

I never got done, which kept me from making a full blown post on the topic…  Jimmy Bannon was one of about ten Bannon brothers who all played baseball between, say, 1890 and 1910.  Jimmy and Tommy made it to the big leagues, at least four others played in the minors, and the others were on some very good semi-pro teams.

Jimmy went to Holy Cross and in 1893 was signed to be the right fielder for the St. Louis Browns where he hit .336.  However, for some reason he fell on the wrong side of owner Chris Von der Ahe.  Forced into being the starting pitcher during a double header, he gave up double-digit runs in four innings and along the way injured his leg.  A few days later, Von der Ahe released him.

Bannon signed with the Boston Braves, where he became the third outfielder alongside the heavenly twins – Hugh Duffy and Tommy McCarthy.  Bannon cleared .300 in back to back seasons, even hitting .350 in 1895.  Though rather popular, he got involved between Duffy and Billy Nash – Duffy wanted Nash’s captaincy.  When Bannon slumped to .251 in 1896, he was released into a life of an eastern seaboard minor leaguer.

Bannon was still a very good player and eventually a player-manager.  When his career was over, he ran hotels and restaurants and even served a couple of years in the New Hampshire state legislature.  In the 1920s and 1930s, he was an active leader in the minors, even selected as president at one point.

I would think his life in baseball was pretty cool – so I’ll try to lock down a better biography later.  I do have one piece of trivia –  Bannon was the first player to hit grand slams in consecutive days in 1894.

Advertisements

A Tale of Two Mouths…

I am writing as the Cubs and Marlins prepare to open a three-game series here in Miami…  Ozzie Guillen, he of the multiple footspace mouth, aims to start earning the respect of Little Havana and the thousands of Cubans who are more than irked at Guillen’s callous and thoughtless statement about Fidel Castro.  I’ll be honest – I’d rather be at the park tonight…

By the way, Kerry Wood is not here, though.  He’s taking care of a sore right shoulder by getting a cortisone shot.  [ESPN]

A lot of press about Bobby Valentine lately – and with good reason.  In the middle of saying something positive about Kevin Youkilis, Valentine let side a note that Youk didn’t seem “…as physically or emotionally into the game as he had been in the past.”  That led Youk to wonder what, exactly, he had done to deserve it and for his teammate, Dustin Pedroia, to call out Valentine for making that comment in the first place.  You have to love when Pedroia pulled out a comment about how Valentine was successful in Japan – certainly a pointed comment.  It also didn’t help that Valentine left Daniel Bard in Monday night’s game too long, enough to walk in the lone run in a 1 – 0 loss to the Rays on Patriot Day.

I’ll be honest – I’m not a huge Valentine fan, or for that matter a fan of most of the more “too happy to tell you his opinion” managers, because it’s too easy to say something stupid.  The more you say about people, the more likely you will say something – even unintentionally – that doesn’t sit well with someone else.  (I run that risk as a writer.)  The Red Sox needed to focus on winning; now the press can start sharpening their pencils and wit on other things.

Other people with thoughts on the subject:

Peter Gammons

Richard Justice

Jason Turbow

Back to real baseball stuff…

Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubel Cabrera is on the bereavement list as he has headed home to Venezuela following a death in the family.  Pitcher Nick Hagadone joins the Indians in the meantime.  [ESPN]

Some good news…  The San Francisco Giants wrapped up starter Madison Bumgarner to a six-year deal worth at least $35 million, with opportunities to make a few more dollars based on two potential option years and bonuses if he makes a run at a Cy Young award.  I like the deal – I like any deal that keeps a homegrown talent around for a while.  Bumgarner has shown good command and surprisingly solid maturity in his first seasons with the Giants.  [FoxSports]

Reds utility infielder Miguel Cairo heads to the 15-Day DL with a strained left hamstring.  Joining Cincinnati will be infielder Todd Frazier.  Frazier isn’t a bad option – a little power, a good eye, a bit of speed, but a bit of a free swinger.  He can help out at three positions.  [MLB]

Transaction Wire:

The Brewers activated shortstop Alex Gonzalez.  He can still play – but his bat is starting to slow down.

Colorado swapped AAA pitcher Edgmer Escalona for Tyler Chatwood.  And I just got Chatwood’s 2011 Topps Update card…  Bummer!  Chatwood was a starter for the Angels last year, but doesn’t have much of a strike out pitch and his control had been suspect.  Moving to Colorado, Chatwood looked to have a shot at a rotation spot, but hasn’t made it and didn’t look great in relief.  Escalona has had a good run through the minors and has looked good in two short stints with the Rockies since 2010.

Tampa Bay recalled Brandon Gomes from AAA Durham, and dispatched Alex Cobb back to the minors.  Gomes is another of those great young arms in the Rays system, just killing it in the minors.  He has future closer stuff.

Baltimore designated infielder Josh Bell for assignment – he could be claimed by any other team, or could accept a AAA assignment.  The Orioles just claimed a player themselves, catcher Luis Exposito.

Happy Birthday!!!

(1820) Alexander Cartwright, a founding father!
(1852) Adrian “Cap” Anson
(1923) Solly Hemus
(1954) Denny Walling
(1967) Marquis Grissom
(1984) Jed Lowrie

2010 Season Forecast: Cincinnati Reds

Last Five Seasons:
2009: 78 – 84 (4th NL Central)
2008: 74 – 88
2007: 72 – 90
2006: 80 – 82
2005: 73 – 89

The Reds haven’t had a winning season since going 85 – 77 in 2000.  It’s time to fix this problem, don’t you think?

Runs Scored: 673 (10th in the NL)
Runs Allowed: 723 (8th in the NL)

Season Recap:

Most observers were mixed, but one could see hope on the horizon in guys like Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and what looked like four potentially good starters.  I’m sure the Reds fans thought they should have finished better than .500.

The Reds actually got off to a pretty good start.  At one point, Cincinnati was 20 – 14 with Johnny Cueto at 4 – 1, Bronson Arroyo at 5 – 2 and Edinson Volquez at 4 – 2.  And then the bad things started to happen.  Joey Votto got hurt – and his confidence was suddenly shaken, requiring extra time to come to grips with being out of the lineup and being without his father who had passed away.  Volquez went down with an arm injury, taking their ace out of the rotation.  After two months looking like a contender, the Reds fell off in June and then fell APART in July.

Cincinnati was 40 – 39 on the Fourth of July.  And then the roof caved in falling all the way to 45 – 61 after a loss to Chicago on August 3.  The team couldn’t hit – as a group, they batted .240 or less in June, July and August.  In July, Red pitchers had an ERA of 5.58 and while August was better, it was their second worst complete month.

To their credit, the Reds unloaded a few problems (Edwin Encarnacion was traded to Toronto for Scott Rolen, Alex Gonzalez was sent to Boston and Paul Janish played shortstop), and got Willy Taveras and his lousy bat out of the leadoff spot.  Homer Bailey finally started pitching like a winner.  Justin Lehr replaced Micah Owings in the rotation and won five of eight decisions.  The rest of the way, the Reds went 33 – 23, which was better than even St. Louis down the stretch.

Pitchers:

Having looked at the numbers, adjusting for the defense and the park, I noticed this odd fact.  Every pitcher who made a start allowed more runs per nine than the average NL pitcher – a combined 77 runs worse than average.  Bronson Arroyo was the closest to average at -0.95, and having pitched the most innings, he’s the ace.  Johnny Cueto had his second straight season of running out of gas – he needs to step up big time in 2010.  Aaron Harang should be better than this (6 – 14, 4.21)), and yet he’s constantly moving backwards.  Micah Owings is the best hitting pitcher ever, probably, but he would have fit in with the Brewers rotation as badly as he pitched.  Homer Bailey was on the way to positives, but he didn’t quite make it before the season ended.  Even Edinson Volquez didn’t fare exceedingly well in his nine starts.

So, that the Reds went out of the box and signed Aroldis Chapman – who may wind up the fifth starter (crazy, I know it) – was a HUGE step forward.  The 20 year old with a 102 mile an hour fastball might start the year in AA, but in a year or two, he could be a serious ace.

If the Reds want to win, their starters have to step up.  Arroyo has to hold steady, Harang has to find his mojo, Cueto has to become a REAL #2 starter, and Bailey has to make 25 good starts and not 10.  The guy who might make this interesting, but isn’t guaranteed a roster spot is Matt Maloney, who had seven tolerable starts but gave up nine homers.  Everything else looks good (28Ks against 8 walks, for example).

The bullpen was pretty good, though.  Francisco Cordero was great, Nick Massett was solid, and even Arthur Rhodes – who pitched in Baltimore when Mike Flanagan was still pitching – was really good.  If Maloney isn’t going to start, he’s a good long relief option.  After that, you have a few “ifs” in Danny Herrera, Carlos Fisher, and Jared Burton.  These are guys who aren’t bad and would help more IF they could also step forward.

I like Harang to come back some, Cueto and Bailey to improve some more, and Micah Owings to play right field before too long.  I see at least a 25 run net gain.  A streak of confidence might make it 50.  That’s optimistic, though.

Catchers:

It’s the same group as last year – Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan.  Combined, they provided slightly better than league average catching, and slightly below average hitting.  The hope, I guess, is that Hernandez stays healthy, but he’s turning 34 in May, so I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

Infielders:

Joey Votto is the real deal – like Ryan Braun, Votto is a threat to win a triple crown.  It would be nice if the Reds wouldn’t do goofy things like force Ramon Hernandez to first base, but when Votto went down, Dusty Baker decided that Hernandez was Victor Martinez.  He’s not.  (He’s actually a better fielder, but not a hitter.)

Brandon Phillips remains a great second baseman; durable, a defender, and one of the most productive players in the game.

After a year of letting Alex Gonzalez try to regain his youth, the Reds are going with veteran Orlando Cabrera.  This HAS to go better, wouldn’t you think?  Paul Janish played spectacularly with the glove, but hits like Mark Belanger, too.

Arriving in a trade, Scott Rolen takes over at third base and if he can fight father time will be a step up over Edwin Encarnacion.

The bench now includes Aaron Miles and Paul Janish, capable gloves even if the bats aren’t really strong.  Drew Sutton is also around, but likely will wind up at AAA.  And, the ancient Miguel Cairo got a Non-Roster Invite – he could sneak in there.

All told, I like this group to be 30 – 40 runs more productive offensively, and perhaps five runs better defensively.  Only Rolen’s health makes me nervous – but at .255 and some power, he’s an improvement.  And, Cabrera could get old this year – but he’ll be better than Gonzalez.

Outfielders:

This is a young group and I think will be better next year because Willy Taveras is gone.  Chris Dickerson isn’t a huge power threat, but he was an above average hitter at 5.4 runs per 27 outs.  Give him 500 at bats, and that’s a step up.  Jonny Gomes will get at bats (and not catch flies) after hitting 20 homers last season.  And I don’t believe that Jay Bruce will hit .223 again (but he might hit 30 homers).  Add to that Drew Stubbs, who hit .267 with some power after taking over for Taveras in center.  I’m not convinced he’s better than Chris Dickerson (in part because that power isn’t to be expected and he doesn’t have enough patience), but BOTH guys would be better than Taveras.

Arriving from Seattle is Wladimir Balentien, who played well after arriving in late July- but had been disappointing as a Mariner.  I like him as a fourth or fifth outfielder.  Can Micah Owings shag flies?  Put him in left field and let the man hit.  Put him at first base when Joey Votto needs a day off and let him hit.  Sheesh.

I see perhaps 50 more runs of offense in 2010 from the outfield, with the defense holding steady – and improving if Gomes is a pinch hitter and not a regular outfielder.

Prospects:

The best players in AAA already started getting playing time – Stubbs, Maloney, Lehr, Bailey.  Aroldis Chapman may not see any minor league time, and we already mentioned him.  So, if you are looking for prospects, we have to look to the lower levels.

Travis Wood is close.  At AA Carolina, he went 9 – 3 with a 1.21 ERA (!), in part because he allowed just two homers and had a 3:1 K/W ratio.  He earned a shot at AAA where he had eight decent starts.  His minor league career has been a bit uneven, so look for Wood to start the year in AAA, but get the first shot at the majors if someone falters.  Chris Heisey had an amazing half season at AA, hitting .347 with 13 homers, walking as often as he struck out, and earning a trip to AAA with Wood.  He didn’t quite keep up the same pace, but his four years in the minors have shown Heisey to be a hitter.  He’ll get another shot at AAA because the Reds have outfield options right now.

Another AA prospect is first baseman Yonder Alonso, the 2008 first round pick out of Miami, who smoked his way through rookie, A, and into AA last year.  He’s got some pop, patience, and a .300 average in the minors.  Alonso’s spot would seem to be blocked in the majors, though – so the question will be can he move to the outfield, or will he be moved for a pitcher.  I think he looks like a young Eddie Murray…  Todd Frazier, a 2007 top pick (1A), has hit well, with patience and power, but might not have the range at short and is blocked at second.  Frazier MIGHT get a shot, though, if someone gets injured.

Recent early picks aren’t making the same progress.  Catcher Devin Mesoraco (2007 – #1) hasn’t hit much in the minors.  Kyle Lotzkar walks a lot of batters (24 in 37.2 innings at A Dayton) but, more importantly, has to recover from a broken bone in his elbow that caused him to miss the 2009 season.

Forecast:

I like the Reds to make a splash in 2010.  I think the offense might be 80 runs better than last year, with improvement in the outfield and at two infield positions.  The defense may be a little better – and there is room for improvement on the staff.  I see Cincinnati scoring 750 runs and allowing perhaps 680 – and it could be less.  I have them at 89 wins, which isn’t out of the range of possibility.  If SOMEBODY can pitch like an ace, look out.

If asked to name a sleeper to make the World Series, it’s the Cincinnati Reds.

Let the Hot Stove Season Begin!

Okay – I got the prediction wrong…  (I know – I owe Stu Perlin a dollar…)  The Phillies were certainly good enough to win, but one bad relief appearance turned game four from what looked like a legitimate duel into the type of situation from which few teams ever escape – winning three in a row and the last two on the road.

So, the Yankees are the champions – lest Brian Cashman remind us that while New York has ample resources that no other team has access to, they still had the heart of champions and got the job done – and yet I can’t help but think that the Yankees are the best team that money can buy.  After a recent SABR meeting, a few of us were discussing the plight of small market teams like my neighborhood Florida Marlins and realized that if they can’t keep Dan Uggla, how would they have kept all the other players the Yankees have.  I mean – sure, Posada and Jeter and Rivera and Pettitte were developed by the Yankees, but had those same four come up with Florida at that time, would they still have teal jerseys?  I mean, Miguel Cabrera and AJ Burnett and Josh Beckett and Trevor Hoffman all came up with the Marlins (not to mention Brad Penny, Dontrelle Willis, and others), and none of them are still Phish.

Which means that if the Yankees come up with a star, they can keep him.  And, if the Yankees need a star (or four), they can buy them.  And while they may not win the World Series every year – and baseball has more different champions than most in recent years (eight different champs in nine years , compared to the NHL [7], NFL [6], and NBA [5]) – the Yankees and few others consistently make the playoffs every year.   That’s probably enough to write about for a separate blog entry…

I’ve been keeping up with baseball but not writing as much as I had during the season, so let’s get caught up with the managerial carousel, hot stove stories, and anything else that I should have mentioned in the last week or so – and then we can get back to more daily entries.

The Waiting Room

Three members of the Phillies will be taking medical leaves soon.  Brad Lidge (elbow evaluation and removal of debris), Scott Eyre (removal of debris from elbow), and Raul Ibanez (sports hernia) are headed to surgery. [ESPN]

Thanks for Playing!

Manny Ramirez knows that he won’t get a better deal, so he signed his one-year option for $20 million and will remain with the Dodgers.  Manny wasn’t bad last year – but he missed all that time from the steroid suspension and he was just pretty good the rest of the year.  Personally, I don’t know how many more years Manny will be a 150 game player with way above average production, but the Dodgers have to hope it’s one more year.  Which McCourt will get Manny in the divorce settlement?  [SI]

The Minnesota Twins rewarded Michael Cuddyer for his 32 homer season by picking up his 2011 option, worth $10.5 million.  Cuddyer was signed through 2010, when he is scheduled to make $8.5 million, but chose to keep him a second season rather than pay $1 million to let him go.  Cuddyer is a good player and turns just 30 in spring training, so this is a very reasonable move for the Twins.  [ESPN]

That’s more than two pitchers will get…  The Phillies agreed to pick up Cliff Lee’s option for 2010, which is just $9 million (truly a bargain considering how well he has pitched the last two seasons).  And, the Diamondbacks are going to keep Brandon Webb for a year, hoping to get something following a season in which Webb made just one start on opening day and spent the rest of the time nursing a sore shoulder.  Webb’s option was worth $8.5 million.

Trading Places

The White Sox moved infielders Josh Fields and Chris Getz to the Kansas City Royals for third baseman Mark Teahan.  Teahan had been more of a utility type the last two or three seasons in KC and is happy to move to third base.  This means that Gordon Beckham, the Sox rookie third baseman, will be moving to second base for 2010.  Teahan reminds me of Joe Randa with a bit more options in the field.  He’s not going to be a game changer, but he’s a good guy to have around.  But what the Royals getting?  Fields is another big swing, no patience guy who might be okay – but they have Alex Gordon at third anyway and it’s not like they need more free swingers in KC.  Chris Getz is a tolerable second baseman – some speed, but not much else.  The Royals fan in me hopes that Fields returns to his 2007 form, but I think that’s expecting a lot.

A couple of years ago, Chris Gomez came to the Twins in the Johan Santana trade – but with Gomez a fourth or fifth outfielder in Minnesota, he was expendable.  Milwaukee has a new young shortstop in Alcides Escobar and J.J. Hardy was expendable.  The Twins will need a new shortstop after Orlando Cabrera leaves town – so you had two teams who could help each other out.  The Twins sent Gomez to Milwaukee where he will likely replace outgoing Mike Cameron in centerfield and received Hardy, who is now two years away from being eligible for free agency.  [ESPN]

Among those rumored to be traded – Toronto ace Roy Halliday, who becomes a free agent after 2010, is likely to be moved.  I’m not sure I’d do that – unless you can get three regulars, or two regulars and two prospects.  The Jays are building for a future and hope Halliday is the right bargaining chip for that process.  [MLB]

Free Agent Filings

Among those filing for free agency…  Pedro Martinez, Brett Myers, and Miguel Cairo.  Myers was told by the Phillies that they would not pick up his option for 2010.  Coco Crisp and Miguel Olivo, both of Kansas City, are now free agents…  Mike Cameron and David Weathers will also be filing this year; Weathers was bought out by the Brewers for $400,000.  The White Sox bought out Jermaine Dye’s option – he’s now on the market.  The Nationals paid $1 million to buy out Austin Kearns, who now becomes a free agent.  The Mets paid $1 to buy out J.J. Putz, who becomes a free agent, and Carl Pavano also filed, bringing the list to 120 names.

Managerial Roller Coaster

Joe Torre might stay longer than 2010 – when his three year deal ends.  How much longer is Don Mattingly willing to wait???  [MLB]

Happy Birthday!

The original Met, Ed Kranepool, turns 65 today…  Others celebrating with cake and cards (or rememberances) include:  Bucky Harris (1896), Wally Westlake (1920), John Denny and Jerry Remy (1952), Gary Lucas (1954), a trio of Cubs – Dwight Smith (1963), Jeff Blauser (1965), and Henry Rodriguez (1967), Eric Anthony (1967), Jose Offerman (1968), and Nick Punto (1977).

Afterthoughts…

Tim Lincecum has an agreement with prosecutors to drop a marijuana possession charge while accepting responsibility for a civil arrest for possession of marijuana accessories (a pipe).  This happens to all first time offenders (first time getting caught, apparently), so the pitcher isn’t getting special treatment.  However, the Giants haven’t said what they plan to do…  [SI]

Your Baseball Weekend Update…

John Smoltz’s career has life after beating San Diego Sunday.  Smoltz threw five shutout innings and fanned nine batters.  Maybe the AL is tougher than the NL – but it certainly helps to face a punchless San Diego team, too.  [MLB/SI]

For the second time in history (according to STATS, Inc, that’s who), Eric Bruntlett ended a game by himself – recording an unassisted triple play to help Brad Lidge avoid another blown save and give Pedro Martinez a win over his former team, the Mets.  The score stood 9 – 7 after a run scoring single by Daniel Murphy.  Murphy and Luis Castillo, who was on second, attempted a double steal when Jeff Francouer launched a Lidge pitch back up the middle where Bruntlett was moving…  Bruntlett caught the liner, stepped on second, and tagged Murphy.  [MLB/SI]

Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez will be more careful next time – he stabbed himself in the left hand with a falling steak knife, requiring a single stitch but keeping him out of the lineup for the next couple of days.  [SI]

Meanwhile, the Rockies have come to terms with free agent Jason Giambi, most recently released by the Oakland As.  He’d be a nice bench option, that’s for certain.  [ESPN]

Moving to the Rockies rotation, the pitching staff took a big hit when Aaron Cook hit the DL with a sore shoulder.  Cook had to leave Friday’s start with a strain and an MRI is scheduled for Monday.  If the Rockies have to use Adam Eaton down the stretch, pencil in San Francisco or the Dodgers as the Wild Card team in the NL.   Josh Fogg is the other option (not appreciably better), and Matt Herges got the call from AAA Colorado Springs to join the roster. [FoxSports]

Reds starter Aaron Harang’s season came to an end thanks to emergency appendectomy surgery.  He’ll see restricted activity for about three weeks before he can do anything physical in nature.  According to SI, Harang is the ninth player to head to the DL for Cincinnati, and the seventh to require surgery – which is an amazing number, really.  Fortunately, Scott Rolen came off the DL – but he can’t pitch.  [SI]

Boston may have claimed Billy Wagner off the waiver wire (the Mets haven’t decided whether to allow the claim, work a deal, or pull him back), but apparently the bullpen wouldn’t have done it.  Both Jonathon Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen weren’t excited about it when asked by WEEI radio earlier this weekend.  [ESPN]

FoxSports reported that David Eckstein will remain in San Diego next year and signed a contract extension for 2010…  He’s not really a championship level producer anymore, but he’s an extra coach for a young team and Eckstein does have a history of being on winning teams.  [FoxSports]

Here’s a position that won’t get much of an argument… FoxSports Jon Paul Morosi makes his case that Ichiro Suzuki will one day enter the Hall of Fame.   His take on it is mostly “Well, he has more hits than anybody, and Ken Griffey says he’s a Hall of Famer…”  Let’s look at it more subjectively.  Assuming he finishes the season and gets 16 more hits in the last 40 games or so – meaning he won’t get injured or suddenly freeze at the plate – Ichiro will have nine straight seasons of 200 hits, more than 2000 in his career, and his fourth season batting at least .350.  Dusting off a 1986 Bill James Baseball Abstract, his Hall of Fame calculator shows that Ichiro has  collected nearly 200 points of accomplishments that Hall of Fame voters tend to consider when voting for someone – which makes him, well, overqualified (the gray area is from 70 – 130; beyond that is pretty much guaranteed in, unless you are Pete Rose or Barry Bonds).  Then, you add that he was the first Japanese position player and remains one of the most skilled outfielders and hitters – he certainly qualifies as both famous and great.   Ichiro may wind up with more professional hits than Pete Rose when it’s all over – he could have 4500 hits if you count his days in Japan.

Hurry Back! Alfonso Soriano continues to miss games with a sore knee.  Gee – I thought it was his poor batting.  (Sorry – Angry Cub Fan in me typing that one…)  Marlins reliever Brendan Donnelly hits the DL with a calf strain.  I watched the play – I’m not sure what he did, but if he can’t field a grounder without getting hurt, he needs to step aside.  Phillies infielder Greg Dobbs also has a strained calf.  Cardinal starter Kyle Lohse just came off the DL – he heads back with a strained groin (hopefully his own).

Welcome Back! Miguel Cairo was called up by the Phillies to take Dobbs’ spot.  Did you see that Armando Benitez was signed by Houston?  He heads to Round Rock to see if he can still pitch.    Jason Grilli returned to Texas from the DL.  Seattle is giving one more shot to former Marlin Randy Messenger.  I can answer this for you – this Messenger has already been shot.

Pennant Chances:  Now that the season has entered its final quarter, let’s pronounce some races over…

Nobody is catching the Phillies or Cards.  The Yankees would have a significant collapse if they were to lose now, as would the Angels.  Even though it’s closer than before, I have faith in the Dodgers – but give Colorado a 15% chance to win, and San Francisco 10%.  The NL Wild Card is too close to call, but it’s going to be one of the teams from the West.  If someone were to surprise, it’s going to be Atlanta because they suddenly have a healthy pitching staff – but it’s getting late to put up a fight.  I’d give them a 15% chance of pulling it off.  The closest race is Detroit and Chicago in the AL Central, and I am relatively confident it will be Detroit by a nose because Chicago plays too sloppily to win.  Minnesota doesn’t have a fight in them this season thanks to a failing rotation.  The AL Wild Card will be the best race because Texas is good enough to win and Boston is just crazy enough to blow it right now.  I know – I picked Boston to win it all, but the last three weeks have been disastrous and I don’t see how they will get out of it.  I give Tampa a 15% chance of surprising somebody.

2009 Season Forecast: Seattle Mariners

Seattle Mariners
61 – 101 (Last, AL West 39 games back)
Runs Scored: 671
Runs Allowed: 811

2008 in Review:

Many, many teams saw the acquisition of Erik Bedard and thought the Mariners would be really, really good – a contender for the AL West crown.  Instead, they had a hard time scoring runs, a harder time preventing them, and even won fewer games than they should have considering that they had the largest gap in runs allowed to runs scored (opponents outscored the Mariners by 140 runs) than anyone in the AL.

In short, they were a team with odd splits, some bad decisions, and the worst record in the American League.

Actually, the Mariners should have been around .500 in April and June, but they underperformed.  An 8 – 20 May put them well out of the race in a hurry, and by the All-Star break, they were working to acquire some warm bodies.

Decisions that didn’t work out?  Erik Bedard was a good acquisition, but he missed more than half the season.  But someone should be held responsible for racing out and giving millions to Miguel Batista (4 – 14, 6.26).  Ouch.  And who’s idea was it to sign Carlos Silva?  (4 – 15, 6.46).  Yes – Silva doesn’t walk anybody, but he’s VERY hittable.  And, some prospects aren’t panning out…  Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement combined to hit about .212 in more than 440 at bats – a lot of outs.  Throw in two or three more off seasons, and you can see where this is headed.

The odd splits?  The Mariners won just one road game in both May and September, and just one home game in June.  Those three splits combined for a 3 – 38 record.  Oh, and lefties couldn’t get left handed hitters out.  In that situation, opponents hit .300, with a .371 on base percentage.

Tell Me About the Offense…

Lousy – and in need of a serious facelift.

The infield featured Richie Sexton, who was released after hitting .218 with 11 homers in half a season.  His replacement, Jeff Clement, hit .227 with only 5 homers.  Bryan LeHair didn’t hit much, either.  Mike Sweeney would have been an improvement if he could stay off the DL – but he can’t.  He’s usually only asked to DH – and his back won’t let him do that much any more.  Jose Lopez was surprisingly productive at second, with 41 doubles and 17 homers.  However Yuniesky Betancourt needed an amazing September to close with production that remains below league average.  At least Adrian Beltre hit well, 25 – 77 – .266, but has never hit anything like that 40+ homer season that got his big contract.  Miguel Cairo played a lot of positions and didn’t help the offense too much.

Ichiro Suzuki continues to slap hits all over the field, generating more than 100 runs of offense by getting on base, but he’s not one of the great offensive dynamos in right field.  He has no power at all, with a .386 slugging percentage.  And his OBA is .363, not .400.  Raul Ibanez is their best hitter – driving in 110 runs without missing a game (you’d never know he was closer to 40 than 30).  He’s in Philadelphia now, and will be very, very difficult to replace.  The third outfielder was a disappointment – Brad Wilkerson, Balentien, Jeremy Reed.  Willie Bloomquist got on base a little, but after that does little to help an offense score runs.

The catchers, led by Kenji Johjima and his power-free .227 batting average didn’t put any runs on the board.  And, the DHs – the retired Jose Vidro – were hopeless.  (Except the rare Mike Sweeney days.)

Defense:

Johjima and Jamie Burke weren’t horrible.  For all the baserunners allowed, few stole second.  Clement didn’t stop anybody from stealing, but his best shot is to find his swing and play first base.  Overall, they score poorly because the team record and ERA were awful, and they don’t score well in terms of mobility (assists per game that aren’t stolen bases).  Maybe teams didn’t need to bunt off of these guys (and they didn’t).

The infield wasn’t too bad, but they had holes.  Sexton is an awful fielder and the infield got better the minute he moved out of town.  Lopez has a bit of range, but is error prone.  Beltre appears to have lost a step, and Betancourt’s range is slightly below average – and his reputation for not hustling isn’t going to help his range.  He makes a lot of errors, too.

The outfield is okay – Suzuki’s range in center was pretty good, but his range in right (despite his speed) was actually below average.  Ibanez is league average – impressive for his age.  Balentien is okay in right, but neither he nor Jeremy Reed are really any good in center.  Bloomquist covers a lot of ground in center, but didn’t get too many innings there.

Now Pitching:

The rotation should have been better.  Felix Hernandez made 30 starts and was solid.  Bedard was okay for 15 starts, but missed the rest of the year with a bum shoulder.  Jarrod Washburn was disappointing and either needs to learn another pitch or accept that he’s fifth starter material.  His record was poor (5 – 14), but some of that was offense, too.  However, Batista was 27.5 runs worse than the average pitcher, and Silva was even worse – 32 runs below average.  Ryan Feierabend would have been in that league, but he only made eight scary starts.  R.A. Dickey looks like a young Miguel Batista, and that’s not going to help any.

The bullpen lost closer J.J. Putz, but Brandon Morrow was solid in his place.  Roy Corcoran had a solid season in middle relief, though his lack of strikeouts makes me think it was a fluke.  Mark Lowe isn’t long for the majors if he pitches like this, but Ryan Rowland-Smith was very good pitching as a starter or reliever.  I’d put him in the rotation.  Sean Green pitched a lot – but won’t be here as he was signed by the Mets.

Forecasting 2009:

We’re talking about a team that has to close the gap between runs scored and allowed by 140 runs to get to .500.  Let’s see what we got.

A full season of Erik Bedard would help, and Rowland-Smith instead of Silva means the potential for 30 or 40 runs of savings.  Clement instead of Sexton could be 10 runs of improvement in the defense.  Franklin Gutierrez is a great outfielder, he might be worth 10 runs, too.  I just don’t see any other defensive option – unless whomever takes over in left field (likely Balentien) is going to that much better than Ibanez.  Besides, with Putz gone, is Brandon Morrow a closer or starter?  Batista could become a closer (I wouldn’t, though he did it a few years ago for Toronto), or you could try Mark Lowe or somebody.  But I don’t know how it’s going to be better than last year’s bullpen – I don’t see the depth.

Offensively, Balentien is no Ibanez – that could be 30 runs less in offense.  Franklin Gutierrez arrives to play the outfield from Cleveland – I like what brings.  He’ll help out some – he’s 15 runs better than Bloomquist and Reed combined, it not more, and plays better in the field.  I know Ken Griffey, Jr. is back – and that’s great for ticket sales, but he’s not an offensive force anymore.  Still, as badly as Jose Vidro was, he’s probably worth 20 runs of improvement.  The one BIG improvement might be giving Russell Branyan, a free agent signing, a shot to play DH.  He might be so happy to have a full-time job, he’d improve the offense 50 or 60 runs by himself by playing first or DH.  Clement or Johjima might do better at the plate – 10 more runs from the catcher’s spot.

Let’s add it up.  Instead of giving up 811 runs, they might get it to 751.  Instead of scoring 671 runs, they might score 735.  That means a record of about 79 – 83, which would still be a pretty solid improvement.  The lineup is better than what they had last year, and the rotation could be better, while the bullpen is a question mark.  I’ll buy 79 wins.

The real question is this:  If they are any good in July, are they going to make a run at winning the division, or sell off Washburn and Lopez and Beltre?  I sure hope not.  One more starter and a legitimate extra hitter might make this team the division winner.

Down on the Farm:

AAA Tacoma has a few players who, on the surface, look like they might help – but remember to discount stats in the PCL…  The best prospect was Jeff Clement, who was hitting .335 with power, but hasn’t yet panned out in the majors.  That means the 23-year-old Wladimir Balentien (.266 with serious power) shouldn’t be expected to hit .280, but more like .220.  Matt Tuiasosopo, son of Manu, may have a future as a third baseman, but he’s not ready yet.  If he raises his numbers from 13 – 73 – .281 to, say, 20 – 90 – .320, I’d say he’s ready.  He’s a kid though – just 23.  Infielder Luis Valbuena might be okay – just 22, gets on base, can run – but not a really high batting average.  If he gets on base, though, he’s a potential upgrade over Betancourt.

In terms of pitchers, the Mariners gave a shot to anyone with good control already (R.A. Dickey, Feierabend, Chris Jakubauskas).  None are legitimate prospects.

AA West Tennessee (the Diamond Jaxx) have one pitcher I like – reliever Shawn Kelley, who has control, power, and a little record of success.  He’s a future bullpen guy.  Catcher Adam Moore hit .319 with some power; if he’s going to take Johjima’s spot, he needs a solid year in AAA in 2009.  Michael Saunders is a young speedy outfielder with a future – could be a centerfielder or left fielder if he picks it up in AAA next year. 

The guys at High Desert (A+) to look for?  I like teenaged infielder Carlos Triunfel, who has a little power and a lot of speed – and a whole lot of upside.  Gregory Halman is 20 and already has signs of being a power hitter.  In Wisconsin, Michael Pineda looks like a potential ace starter (8 – 6, 1.95 – good K/W numbers), and Nathan Adcock is a starter with a live arm – perhaps too live (13 WPs).  2007 first round pick Phillippe Aumont is roaring through the minors with killer stuff.  He’ll be in the bigs by the end of 2010 at this rate.