Phillies Clinch; Braves and Twins Likely Done – and what to do with Joba Chamberlain?

With a pounding of the Astros, the Philadelphia Phillies clinched a third straight NL East title.  And, while the champaign was freely flowing, one player won’t get to participate in the post season, and that’s Jamie Moyer, who needs surgery to repair tendon tears in his abdomen and left groin.  [ESPN/SI]

Detroit got the magic number down to two with a 7 – 2 win over the Twins and Carl Pavano.  The Twins needed to take three of four to have a legitimate shot – and now the Tigers can win tonight and end the race without any additional help.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves were handled by Ricky Nolasco and the Florida Marlins, 5 – 4, pretty much ending Atlanta’s shot at a post season bid.  Nolasco fanned nine in a row at one point, finishing with a league high 16 strikeouts.  The Rockies keep winning – and with the Dodgers unable to win a game in San Diego, the Rockies still have a shot at catching the Dodgers for the NL West crown.

Speaking of the Marlins, the Miami Herald discussed a number of potential roster changes for Florida based on the usual need to dump salary (which makes it hard to be a Marlins fan).  Among those who could be tossed or traded:  Jeremy Hermida, Dan Uggla, Jorge Cantu, Nick Johnson, and Brendan Donnelly.  Hermida, a former first round draft pick, has been sidelined with a strained oblique and rarely plays anymore – plus he’s never lived up to the hype.  (Heck, his first ever plate appearance, he hit a grand slam, so there was no room to go up…)

It’s Over! Cleveland Manager Eric Wedge was fired effective at the end of the season.  When a season is disappointing, and the best players are traded to other contenders at the trading deadline, and THEN you lose 20 of 25 – your fate is pretty obvious.  [SI]

Is it over? Anybody see how poorly John Smoltz pitched (again) last night?  And he blamed it on the baseballs, saying he could never get a grip or feel comfortable throwing.

Is it over? I know that Ken Griffey’s not saying “retirement”, but hitting .218 isn’t what he probably had in mind for 2009.

Is it over, too? Joba Chamberlain’s poor August and September may end his days as a starter for the Yankees (I was touting him as a starter a few months ago, but he’s be lousy lately), and may keep him from the post season roster altogether.  I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure this is all Joba’s fault.  He was ROLLING in July – and when he has a couple of tough outings in early August, the next thing you know, the Yankees management starts limiting his pitch count, which couldn’t have been good for his head.  Now, he’s probably pressing – trying to get back his rotation slot as the Yankees have decided to go back to letting him throw 100 pitch outings again.  I compared Pitch FX data (not too closely, but looked at stuff) and it doesn’t look like he’s lost velocity – but he has lost the strike zone.  He was throwing strikes 61.5% of the time in July, but less than 59.5% of the time in September.  The Yankee’s lack of commitment to Chamberlain in a given role is, to me, as problematic as it gets.

Hurry Back! Freddy Sanchez had successful surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, but should be back for spring training.

Welcome Back! Chris Dickerson (Reds) and Russell Branyan (Mariners) came off the DL.

Your Weekend Baseball Update: Comings and Goings of the Stars

Already covered the Scott Kazmir trade – so here’s the rest of what was a pretty interesting weekend of baseball, even if the only races worth watching are the Wild Card races.

Jake Peavy was pushing it – trying to use an elbow that had just been nailed by a liner five days back.  Saturday, he left his start early and now he’s going to have an MRI.  Sheesh – if he’d just waited it out, maybe there’s nothing wrong.  If he misses more than just a turn in the rotation, it’s a much bigger problem.  [ESPN]

Randy Johnson hopes to begin throwing again, but if he returns to the Giants he’s coming back to the bullpen.  I’d love to see him one more time, as even Johnson has no idea if he’s got a 2010 season in him.  [ESPN]

Boston’s Tim Wakefield took a cortisone shot to relieve pain in his back, but it will be a few days before it will be known if he’s going to be able to pitch down the stretch.  Wakefield has been out nearly six weeks now.  Meanwhile, somebody finally signed Paul Byrd; it was Boston and he pitched well enough this weekend to offer hope as a fifth starter option.  [ESPN]

Houston’s Mike Hamption is done for 2009, another season ending in injury.  Hampton is scheduled to have surgery on both knees and his throwing shoulder – knocking off three at once rather than pushing out his career DL trip record with two more trips next year.  Manager Cecil Cooper says Hampton should come back as a pinch hitter.  [SI]

Another Astro who won’t be coming back soon – Chad Qualls.  Qualls was twisting out of the way of a liner hit back up the middle when his left leg buckled, dislocating his knee cap.  He got the save (it was the last pitch of the game), but Qualls called for help immediately after he went down.  [MLB]

The Dodgers got a utility infielder, Ronnie Belliard, from the Nationals for a minor leaguer and a PTNL.  Belliard needs playing time to stay sharp because (if you haven’t seen him lately) he’s not the fittest looking guy and if he doesn’t play his timing goes off quickly.  The Nationals get Luis Garcia, who (if I am correct in guessing WHICH Luis Garcia he is) is a pretty good, albeit very young, reliever throwing for the Great Lakes Loons in the Midwest League.  This Luis Garcia has 55 ks and 15 bbs in 71 innings, is just 22, and hails from the Dominican Republic.   [MLB]

The Twins signed two relievers, acquiring Jon Rauch for a PTNL from Arizona, and signing the waived Ron Mahay away from Kansas City.  These guys may be experienced, but I’m not certain they are going to be players who change the course of the AL Central race.  [MLB]

My old Hoffman High School friend Robb Tavill is worried that Rich Harden may be on his way out of Chicago, and according to FoxSports, he could be a Twin if a deal can be reached.   St. Louis did a lot of damage in July – the Twins are loading up in August.  [FoxSports]

On the other hand, Twins third baseman Joe Crede is back on the DL with a sore back – a back that is so bad that it’s now considered career threatening.  Crede’s had epidural shots to help relieve pain, but at some point he’s going to have to deal with the pain that has linked to his last operation.  [MLB]

Back to the Cubs… Alfonso Soriano is hoping that the MRI done on his ailing knee gives him hope, else the Cubs could be shutting him down for the rest of 2009.  After a rather disappointing 2009, those six remaining years on his contract seem like such a LONG time…  [FoxSports]

Mets third baseman David Wright wants to play in September and is scheduled to come off the DL soon, a stint caused by a beaning two weeks ago.  One gets the impression from the news stories that Jerry Manual likes that Wright isn’t around and I’m not sure why that is.  But then again, I don’t understand those guys running the Mets.  [FoxSports]

Seattle’s Ian Snell was drilled in the right wrist by a liner on Saturday, but he’ll be fine – didn’t even leave the game.  Snell thanks milk for his bone not breaking – he put up his right arm in self-defense.  [MLB]

Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce is finally able to swing with his injured wrist – he hopes to get back to the Reds before the season is out.  Bruce broke his wrist diving for a ball in right field on July 11th and has been out since then.  [MLB]

Padres outfielder Kyle Blanks injured his foot rounding the bases on a home run trot and had to leave Saturday’s game – so the plantar fasciitis that he’s been suffering from (similar to the injury that hobbled Carlos Quentin and my running partner Mike Coe) is rearing its ugly foot.  Now, Blanks is on the DL.  [MLB]

Toronto’s Marco Scutaro was drilled in the head by a Josh Beckett fastball on Friday night, suffering a mild concussion, and remains day-to-day.  Scutaro and Aaron Hill have carried the Jays offense this season.  [MLB]

FoxSports reporter Chris Ballard wonders why teams are hooked on the five man rotation.  I think Ballard is even missing a more important point – and that’s why do teams use a five man rotation and not a five DAY rotation?  A baseball season is essentially 183 days, so if your ace started every fifth DAY rather than every fifth GAME, you’d get 36 or 37 starts out of him, rather than 33.  Why wouldn’t you take 16 starts away from your fifth starter and give them to the first four slots in the rotation?  I am also in favor of having rookie starters work on six days rest rather than five.  One year in long relief, one year as a fifth starter – getting 16 starts and maybe 10 – 15 relief appearances in between those starts – and then moving into the rotation.

There are teams that have a ton of young pitching that could just go with a six man rotation, too.   We digress.

Hurry Back! Chris Snyder, D-Backs catcher, heads to the DL with inflammation in his lower back.  Seattle’s Russell Branyan is having his best season, and now goes to the DL with a herniated disk in his back.  Florida sent Chris Volstad to AAA New Orleans – he needs to find his command.

Welcome Back! The Rays brought back Akinori Iwamura, who had injured his knee in a collision with Marlin outfielder Chris Coghlan in May.

Hard Heads in the News: Wright, Kuroda Suffer Concussions; Boros Clients Holding Out for More Cash

One of the last members of the opening day roster to have survived the Mets season relatively intact, David Wright, got hit in the head by a Matt Cain fastball and suffered a concussion.  Wright is day to day but will be monitored for post-concussion symptons.  A CT scan showed no other injuries to his skull.  [ESPN]

Another player was even more lucky to have been hit in the head and survived – and that’s Dodger starter Hideki Kuroda.  Kuroda was struck in the head by a line drive off the bat of D-Back Rusty Ryal – the ball bouncing all the way back behind the catcher and one hopping into the stands.  Kuroda never lost consciousness and a CT scan says no damage, but he was kept overnight as a precaution.  [MLB/ESPN]

Scott Boros inspired greed is interfering with the Nationals’ efforts to sign Stephen Strasburg.  Nationals President Stan Kasten says he has offered a record contract to Strasburg – more than the amount offered to Mark Teixeira and Mark Prior – but Boros is trying to index the number based on the amount of revenue collected by MLB (which, by the way, has doubled since the Cubs signed Prior).  The Nationals have until Monday to sign him, else lose that pick and Strasburg will go into the draft again next  year.  By the way, the top three picks haven’t signed and they are all Scott Boros clients.  [ESPN]

If you hadn’t noticed – most of the problems with just about anything starts with greed.  Greed in the oil industry, greed in the medical and drug industry, greed in sports.  How else to explain $7 beers and $2000 seats, much less bankers and mortgage brokers giving out billions in loans to people who didn’t deserve them (and couldn’t pay them back) and the invention of the derivitives markets because people with too much money to invest and not enough tricks needed something else, and Lord knows what created the ponzi schemes that destroyed our trust in those managing our investments.  Scott Boros embraces that greed and shares it with others, further removing whatever sense of normalcy or decency might remain in the game.

Is Strasburg the most interesting prospect in baseball?  Maybe.  But he still hasn’t done diddly yet as a major leaguer, and Mark Prior’s elbow and shoulder didn’t survive the rigors of the majors (sadly).  The Nationals need all the help they can get – and couldn’t sign Aaron Crow last year.  So Boros is holding the Nationals hostage.  The Nationals can’t even trade the rights to Strasburg to someone else to try and get SOMETHING out of this pick.

How about some good news?  For the Angels, that is…  Torii Hunter will come off the DL today (Sunday) and make his first appearance against the Baltimore Orioles.  Hunter has been out over a month with a strained groin.  [MLB]

The White Sox desperately need a start this weekend, and will be giving a shot to former Sox pitcher Freddy Garcia.  Garcia has been fighting injuries which killed his run in Philadelphia.  Poor results in AAA caused the Mets to release him earlier this season, and it’s not like Garcia has been tearing it up for Charlotte (AAA).  Fortunately, Garcia faces the punchless Kansas City Royals.  On the other hand, I guess Adam Eaton wasn’t available…  [MLB]

It could be that the White Sox aren’t yet ready to give a first MLB start to prospect Daniel Hudson, a fifth round pick in 2008 out of Old Dominion, who has been TEARING up four minor league levels.  [SI]

I like my minor leaguers to have had success in the minors – winning records, great K/9 rates (at least 1:1), fewer than three walks per nine, and preferably low H/9 rates)…  To me, good stuff isn’t enough, he has to win with that good stuff.  Anyway – Hudson has done that.  In 37 minor league starts, he’s 18 – 9, with 240Ks in 204 innings, just 50 walks, and 146 hits allowed.  Now – being tossed through four levels in a season isn’t my favorite thing – and he didn’t DOMINATE AAA in his two starts, but he can’t be that far off.  I’d let him finish August in AAA and maybe give him a cup of coffee in September.  Or, give Hudson that start against KC – just to see what he can do.  Still – the White Sox have Peavy coming back and still have three solid starters on the current roster.  Right now, I’d pick them to blow away the AL Central next year.

Hurry Back!  A sore throwing arm has Ranger catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia on the DL…

Welcome Back!  Tampa recalled Reid Brignac, an infielder who frequently lands on the top prospects lists.  He’s blocked by others – namely Evan Longoria and Jason Bartlett – and another prospect (Tim Beckham) is a few years away, so I would imagine that Brignac will likely be traded away one day.  His positives include power – his negatives include a free swinging attitude, including strikeouts and few walks.  If he turns into Dan Uggla, nobody would complain…  If he turns into Russell Branyan, begging for a job over the next decade, that would be sad.  I could be wrong, but to me he looks a little like Dallas McPherson or Brandon Wood, and neither one has stuck on a big league roster.

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.