2010 Season Forecast: Pittsburgh Pirates

Last Five Years:
2009: 62 – 99 (6th, NL Central)
2008: 67 – 95
2007: 68 – 94
2006: 67 – 95
2005: 67 – 95

The Pirates won 79 games in 1997, which is the closest they have come to a winning season since 1992.

Runs Scored: 636 (Last, NL)
Runs Allowed: 768 (12th, NL)

Season Recap:

While we could hope that the Pirates would finally break the streak of losing seasons, most people figured that getting past 70 wins for the first time since 2004 would be an improvement…

Actually, the Pirates got out in front with decent April pitching.  After sweeping Florida and taking two from San Diego, Pittsburgh stood at 11 – 7.  Unfortunately, such heady days ended quickly as the Pirates went on to lose 14 of 17 as the offense stopped scoring any runs.  To their credit, the Pirates came back and had a winning June and on the 27th, the Pirates had gotten to within four games of .500

At this point, the Pirates sold out.  Nate McLouth was traded to Atlanta for a couple of prospects.  Nyjer Morgan went to Washington for Lastings Milledge (not sure why, either), Jack Wilson was sent to Seattle with a struggling Ian Snell.  Freddy Sanchez was packaged to San Francisco, and even former ace Tom Gorzelanny was shipped to Chicago with reliever John Grabow.

So, a team that actually was playing pretty well collapsed while testing a bunch of new guys, mixing in a variety of losing streaks between four and nine games long until they were fighting off the possibility of losing 100 games.  The Pirates lost 60 of their last 87 games.  Personally, I don’t know why the Pirates would want to ruin their season that way, but that’s just me.

Pitching:

Unlike Cincinnati, who had a few guys log a lot of innings but not one who was even SLIGHTLY above league average, the Pirates had a couple of decent arms.  Ross Ohlendorf got rolling down the stretch to win 11 games and save his team about seven extra runs in his 177 innings.  Zach Duke, usually a disappointment, logged 213 decent innings, walking just 49 guys, and edging nearly four runs better than the average guy.  Teams need Zach Dukes.  The Pirates wanted him to be an ace, which he is not, but Duke isn’t a problem.  Charlie Morton came over from Atlanta and was tolerable in his 18 starts.  Paul Maholm logged nearly 195 innings and wasn’t death.  Sometimes he looked pretty good.

What strikes you, however, in looking at the Pirates staff is the lack of a POWER arm.  Who on the staff strikes out a batter per inning?  Heck – who strikes out six per nine?  Nobody.  The closest thing the Pirates have to a live arm is Evan Meek, who had 42 Ks in 47 innings out of the pen, but his control keeps him from being a real stopper.  If you look at the guys who logged at least, say, 60 innings, you have nobody that blows you away.  The leader in strikeouts was Maholm with just 119.

Anyway – let’s look at what the Pirate rotation is going forward.  Maholm is back, as is Ohlendorf and Duke.  A full year of Charlie Morton – assuming he stays near league average as he did last year and doesn’t take a step back – will be better than what Ian Snell did last year (2 – 8, 5.36).  That leaves the fifth spot up for grabs.  Kevin Hart, acquired from Chicago for John Grabow, was miserable in his ten starts last year (1 – 8, 6.92) but really isn’t that bad.  Personally, I’d like to see Daniel McCutchen get a shot.  He got six decent starts down the stretch after going 13 – 6 with a 3.47 ERA and just 29 walks in 142.2 innings at Indianapolis.  He HAS to be better than what Kevin Hart did last year.

The Pirates are auditioning a ton of castoffs with Non-Roster Invites – a scary list of guys like Brian Burres, Jeff Karstens, Tyler Yates, and Jeremy Powell.  I don’t see any of these guys getting jobs other than those available in, say, Indianapolis.

The bullpen will be different.  After a rough year of Matt Capps, the Pirates signed Octavio Dotel to be the new closer.  Dotel has been a premium set up man, but as a closer he’s never really been up to the task – and that scares me.  Brendan Donnelly was signed (turns 39 on July 4th) to join Joel Hanrahan (my pick as future closer), Evan Meek, and Donnie Veal in the pen.  This is an eclectic mix of arms that I think improves if Kevin Hart is added to long relief and McCutchen is put in the rotation.

On the whole, however, I do see an improvement.  My take on it is that the starting rotation should be 20 runs better than last year.  It’s not enough.  They need a real ace to step forward – and Ohlendorf may be that guy – someone who is 20 – 30 runs above the league.  And to be really competitive, they need two.  I don’t see two of them here.  I see five guys who are within ten runs of league average over 200 innings – a bunch of third and fourth starters.

The bullpen may be better if only some of the guys logging innings (Jeff Karstens, Virgil Vasquez, and Chris Bootcheck) won’t be there.  But I don’t have strong faith that the eighth and ninth innings will be solid.  Let’s call it a wash.

Catching:

A full season of Ryan Doumit would help.  Doumit missed half the season, forcing Jason Jaramillo, not an offensive force, into the lineup.  Doumit is a middle of the order guy and could add 20 runs by hanging around for 130 games this year.  Defensively, this isn’t a strong group, being below average in team numbers (ERA, W-L PCT), fielding percentage, and being slightly mistake prone.  I’m not sure that Doumit will improve these numbers, but he’s the best Pirate against the running game and makes fewer mistakes than Robinson Diaz – who is NOT ready for the big leagues.

Infield:

Adam LaRoche is also gone – forgot to mention him in the selloff comment.  In his place might be Garrett Jones, who showed his slugging skills and wasn’t embarrassing at first base.  I don’t know that he’s going to be a huge step forward from LaRoche defensively, but you never know.  Jones hit 21 homers in 82 games – and a full season of that would be a huge step forward.  If not Jones, the Pirates may try Seattle prospect Jeff Clement there.  Clement has, at times, looked like the real deal in the minors but hasn’t put it all together in the bigs.  The Pirates would make immediate and big improvements if they would just move 2008 first round pick Pedro Alvarez here and call it good.

After Freddy Sanchez left, Delwyn Young took over and was a step back offensively and defensively.  Sanchez was creating about 5.5 runs per 27 outs; Young about 4.3.  Sanchez has slightly below average range (-3.9 plays per 800 balls in play), but Young was brutal (-10.2 per 800 balls in play).  To solve this problem, the Pirates picked up former Tampa Ray Akinora Iwamura.  Iwamura should be more like Sanchez in terms of range and batting.  Not playing Young is worth ten runs of offense.

Jack Wilson is gone and Ronny Cedeno is now the new shortstop.  Cedeno is a better fielder than Wilson these days – which could be worth ten runs over the course of a season – and was pretty much the same hitter.  Bobby Crosby arrives looking for a chance to play, but he’ll likely be a bench player for now.

Andy LaRoche finally got a shot at third base in the big leagues and proved to be a fantastic glove, but a league average hitter.  I like his chances of improving at the plate, however, now that he has a full season under his belt.

Looking forward, I see this team being about twenty runs better offensively and perhaps another twenty better defensively.  Unless, of course, Jeff Clement gets more playing time.  My fear is, in looking at the current depth chart, that Clement is going to get every chance at making the starting lineup.  If this happens, I’d go with no offensive improvement and only ten runs better defensively.

Outfield:

Wouldn’t it have been fun to see an outfield of, say, Jason Bay in left, Andrew McCutchen in center, and Nate McLouth in right?

Instead, McCutchen arrives as the full-time centerfielder.  He was a bit rough in the outfield last year, but he’ll be better – and he showed power, patience, and speed as an offensive force.  I like him a LOT.  And the other two guys are gone.

Garrett Jones will likely start in right field, which will be better than Brandon Moss offensively – but likely ten runs worse (or more) defensively.  Ryan Church is around, as is Moss.  Church used to be good until two nasty concussions clipped his 2008 season and likely affected his 2009 season.

In left, expect Lastings Milledge to get one last shot to make things work.  Milledge, to me, is the new Delmon Young.  He SHOULD be better, but is really nothing special.  Moss and Nyjer Morgan were great defenders and will be missed with this outfield.

I see the outfield being down this year – perhaps ten to twenty runs down offensively and twenty runs defensively.  If Milledge lives up to former top prospect expectations, it would help.  I just don’t buy it.

Prospects:

Well, the top pitchers in AAA (McCutchen, Morton, Vaszquez) are already in town.  Even Denny Bautista and Steven Jackson were given shots and didn’t take the world by storm.  The top AAA hitters are in Pittsburgh now, too.

Pedro Alvarez tore up AA playing for the Altoona Curve, hitting .333 with power.  He really needs to be on the Pirates now.  Gorkys Hernandez has great speed, and is 22 – but he needs to improve his OBP.  Jose Tabata, 21, is close to making it – he hit well enough at Altoona to get moved up to Indianapolis.  Not much power, better OBP than Hernandez with good contact skills, and decent speed.  Just not sure he’ll be better than a fourth outfielder at this point.  I think he can play some, though.  If Ryan Church doesn’t stay healthy, Tabata will get a shot.

The best pitchers at Altoona was probably Brad Lincoln (some power, good control) but it was the only time he looked solid since being drafted out of the University of Houston in the first round (2006).  He shares a birthday with the author, though, so he’s on my radar…  Former first round pick Daniel Moskos (2007) has control, but doesn’t blow people away – 77Ks in 149 innings.

Moving to Lynchburg, top picks Jordy Mercer (3rd Round, 2008) and Chase D’Arnaud (4th Round, 2008) started to show signs of progress.  Mercer might develop some power, while D’Arnaud seems to have a more well rounded game.  Both outhit Alvarez at A+ ball, but neither are REALLY better hitters…  You’ll see that when they get to AA.

On the whole, it’s hard to see who is going to help the Pirates, other than Alvarez, in the next year or two.

Outlook:

If the Pirates were serious about this, they’d get Jones in the outfield, move Alvarez to first base and play him now, and let both McCutchens play as often as possible.  This isn’t going to happen this spring, and as such, the Pirates have to hope for minor improvements.  I see the team scoring about 670 runs and allowing 740.  That gets them to 73 wins, which would look great compared to the last five years.  However, with the Reds and Brewers likely improving – it might not get to 73.  It might barely get to 70…

Advertisements

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]

A Weekend of Wheeling and Dealing…

After a weekend of work and play, it’s time to see what all happened while we went Christmas and Hanukkah shopping…

Who Signed?

Rafael Soriano was signed to a $7 million contract – and then traded by the Braves to Tampa for reliever Jesse Chavez.  Soriano immediately upgrades the closer role in Tampa, a problem all of 2009.  [FanHouse/SI]

Houston inked reliever Brandon Lyon to a three year, $15 million deal.  Lyon isn’t bad – he’s dependable, but is he really better than Grant Balfour?  $3 million better for the next three years?  (See his deal below.)  [SI]

The new third baseman in Houston is former Phillie Pedro Feliz – one year, $4.5 million.  [SI]

Scott Olsen got an incentive-filled deal with the Nationals – coming off a disappointing season and shoulder surgery.  [ESPN]

Jason Kendall – who looked like he aged four years at the plate last year – signed a two year deal with the Royals.  (See John Buck, below.)  By the way – Miguel Olivo might not return.  The Royals confuse me.  [SI]

Meanwhile, the Royals signed Brian Bannister and Kyle Davies to one-year deals.  [SI]

The Royals non-tendered catcher John Buck, but he signed with Toronto for $2 million pending a physical.  [ESPN]

Two years ago, he was a closer – now, J.J. Putz is an eighth inning guy in Chicago for one year at $3 million.  There are a lot of incentives, too.  [SI]

Kevin Correia will stay in San Diego, signing a one-year, $3.6 million deal.  [ESPN]

Arizona signed Augie Ojeda and Blaine Boyer to one-year deals.  [SI]

The Braves signed outfielder Matt Diaz for one year at $2.55 million. [ESPN]

Grant Balfour signed with Tampa – one year, $2.05 million.  [SI]

Milwaukee gets one more year with Craig Counsell – who remains a valuable utility player at 39.  [MLB]

Esteban German remains in Texas for 2010.  [MLB]

The Cubs tendered offers to eight players, (Jeff Baker, Mike Fontenot, Koyie Hill, Ryan Theriot, Tom Gorzelanny, Angel Guzman, Carlos Marmol and Sean Marshall) with Neil Cotts likely heading to arbitration.  [MLB]

The Dodgers tendered offers to nine players (go read the article), including Chad Billingsley, Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton and Russell Martin.  Everybody gets a raise in LA!!!  [MLB]

Who Got Let Go…

The Braves non-tendered outfielder Ryan Church and second baseman Kelly Johnson.  [MLB]

Boston non-tendered outfielder Brian Anderson.

The Mets non-tendered four players, including pitchers Tim Redding and Lance Broadway, as well as outfielders Cory Sullivan and Jeremy Reed.  [ESPN]

Despite hitting 20 homers in little more than a half season, Johnny Gomes was non-tendered by the Reds.  He might still sign somewhere, but let’s face it – he’s a DH.  [ESPN]

Chien-Ming Wang is a free agent, and apparently disappointed that the Yankees didn’t stay with him…  Since injuring his ankle running the bases, Wang has REALLY struggled. [ESPN]

Matt Capps, closer for Pittsburgh, was caught off guard – he was non-tendered by the Pirates.  [MLB]

Jose Arredondo, about to have surgery, will not have an Angels contract for 2010.  [MLB]

Jack Cust (Oakland), Ryan Garko (San Francisco), Mike MacDougal (Washington), D.J. Carrasco (Chi Sox), Clay Condrey (Philadelphia), Alfredo Amezaga (Florida) join a LONG list of free agents.

Here’s a good summary of who is now available…  [SI]

For a complete list of transactions, you can always go here…  [MLB]

What’s the Hold Up?

Jason Bay may not return to Boston – the hold up appears to be the duration of the contract.  Bay wants five years; Boston is offering four.  [ESPN]

Mike Lowell’s injured thumb is stalling an agreement between Texas and Boston.  Boston would (a) get catcher Max Ramirez – a good prospect and (b) pretty much pay for Lowell to play in Texas where he would play first, DH, and backup Michael Young at third base.  [ESPN]

The Cards made a pitch to Matt Holliday and hope to have an answer this week.  [FoxSports]

Happy Birthday!

One of the more famous names in baseball history, Bill Buckner, turns 60.  Billy Buck was a hustler – played through injuries, used to complain about every called strike or close play at first base.  He was unfortunately humbled by that error in the 1986 World Series and his career degenerated quickly after that – though he was showing signs of age at the time.  He had a lot of hits – 2715 of them – and used to be fast.  Something tells me that he’s probably mellowed a lot over the last 20 years…  I’d love to buy him lunch.  Happy Birthday, Billy.

Others celebrating with cake, cards, or remembrances include: Honest John Anderson (1872), Maurice “The Comet” Archdeacon (1897), Toothpick Sam Jones (1925), Ken Hunt (1938), Ken Hill and future Hall of Famer Craig Biggio (1965) – I loved Biggio who was an amazingly versatile athlete, Dave Nilsson and Scott Hatteberg (1969), Angel Guzman (1981), and Josh Fields (1982).

Afterthoughts…

Peter Gammons thanks everyone for the memories at ESPN.

Three Team Deal Leaves Yankees Feeling Grand(erson)

Curtis Granderson could be the centerpiece of a three-team deal that would bring the all-star centerfielder to the Yankees.  Various news agencies are reporting that the deal has been agreed to in principle – Granderson would go from Detroit to New York, while Yankee prospects would disperse – AAA centerfielder Austin Jackson would head to Detroit along with lefty reliever Phil Coke, one-time top prospect Ian Kennedy would head to Arizona, where he would be joined by Detroit starter Edwin Jackson – giving the Diamondbacks a pretty solid rotation, and two D-Back arms, Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth would join the Tigers.

Let’s do this by team.  The Yankees have to deal with the potential free agency losses of both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui.  Granderson would likely move Melky Cabrera to left (Cabrera might be a better centerfielder these days, though) letting Damon find a new home.  The thinking is that the overall outfield defense would improve (either Cabrera or Granderson in left is an upgrade over Damon), and Granderson would at least maintain the offense provided by Damon.  Except that Damon has hit pretty well and Granderson hit .249 last year – his second straight year of decline after breaking through in 2007.  What might be a concern is the Yankees dropping a couple of useful relievers (Coke, Bruney) – but it might be that Chamberlain is going back to the bullpen, especially if the Yankees land a starter in the next several weeks.

Arizona loses a blue-chipper in Max Scherzer, who looked VERY promising in 2009, and Daniel Schlereth, who has a nice arm but needs to deal with control issues.  However, if Edwin Jackson is as good as he looked for the first four months of 2009 (he slipped as the year ended) and Ian Kennedy stays healthy (he looked great in the Arizona Fall League and appears to be ready), the Diamondbacks could be REALLY solid in the rotation.  Webb (hopefully) , Haren, Jackson, Kennedy is potentially as strong as anybody.

Detroit unloads a lot of salary in Granderson (two more years at $23 million).  Jackson was due for arbitration on the heels of a fine season.  So, adding Scherzer – who, frankly, looks to be better than Jackson moving forward – also cuts the salary back without necessarily hurting the team.  Austin Jackson was a Yankee prospect who appears to be Melky Cabrera – fast, a slashing hitter but not a ton of power – and now appears to be a leading candidate for the centerfield job.  He won’t provide Granderson’s offense (even in an off-season, Granderson does take a walk and hits for serious power), but he could match his defense.  The net change may be 30 runs, but we’ll see.  Adding Coke and Schlereth gives the Tigers a much deeper pen and a potential future closer if Joel Zumaya never gets going again.

It’s hard to call the Yankees a winner in this deal – I think it’s a bit of a wash, really, though they get younger in the outfield.  I don’t like giving up all these arms – but the Yankees do have other options, and they have some money left to spend.  Detroit might take a slight step back in terms of offensive production, but the extra arms might make up for it and Scherzer could wind up being AWESOME (!) and giving them a second ace.  They get some money back that can be used for other holes.  In Arizona’s case, they have a couple of ifs (if Jackson can repeat, if Kennedy stays healthy and produces) and gave away what I thought was a solid future ace.  So, my early take is that the Tigers got the best of the deal, the Yankees are second, and Arizona is third – but could wind up being a surprise winner.  We’ll see.

Other News…

Rafael Soriano accepted an arbitration offer from the Braves – despite the fact that Atlanta added two potential closers to the roster.  Ryan Church was released to make room on the roster for the 2009 closer.  [ESPN]

Carl Pavano also accepted arbitration from the Twins – Boof Bonser will be asked to hit the road or head to the minors.  [ESPN]

Mark Teahan signed a three year, $14 million deal with the White Sox, avoiding arbitration. [SI]

Florida pinch hitter deluxe, Ross Gload, joins the Phillies.  My friend, Gio, will be saddened.  Gload got a two-year deal.  [MLB]

MLB is getting serious in their baseball coverage.  Peter Gammons is leaving ESPN to join the MLB Network and add his writing skills to a growing online news presence.  Gammons joined ESPN in 1989…  [MLB]

Happy Birthday!

One-time MEGA prospect, Todd Van Poppel, turns 38 today.

Others celebrating with cards, cake, or remembrances include: Cy Seymour (1872), Joe DeMaestri (1928), Bob (Hurricane) Hazle (1930), Darold Knowles (1941), Del Unser (1944) – one of my favorites as a kid because I thought he was related to Al Unser, but I was wrong, Doc Medich (1948), Steve Christmas (1957), Juan Samuel (1960), Tony Tarrasco (1970), Tony Batista (1973), and Eric Stults (1979).

Afterthoughts…

Mark Buehrle bid $10,000 to manage the Cardinals for a day in spring training – and will use the opportunity to present his prize to a young girl (Mickey Cunningham) with Down’s Syndrome and her mother.  Very cool!  (Tony LaRussa matched Buerhle’s donation.)

Prospect Week in MLB!

This is prospect week, if you were paying attention. David Price was brought up by the Rays and given a start on Monday. Injuries to just about everybody on the Mets means that their top prospect (according to Baseball America), Fernando Martinez, will get a shot at the outfield. And, the Orioles announced that catcher Matt Wieters will be on the big league roster on Friday.

Price’s first outing wasn’t much to write home about – he couldn’t get through four innings and 100 pitches, but he left with a lead. Wild as all get out – but he’ll be fine.

Wieters – I saw him play and he’s the real deal. Big, strong, good catching instincts. He’ll catch for a few years and then become a first baseman DH hitting a ton. I think Steve has him – he’ll be an impact player. Think Joe Mauer, but bigger (and probably not as good defensively).

Fernando Martinez I know less about. He’s 20, though, which means there’s upside. He’s shown improving power and hits well enough (.282 in the minors, .294 in AAA Buffalo) and he can run a little – though he’s not asked to run much. I can say this, though, if some kid is 20 and performing well in AAA, he’s a prospect. We may not own him this year (but you might consider it), but somebody will own him by 2011.

The Mets keep winning, though. Last night was 1997 Marlins retro night – Gary Sheffield (roid!) homered in support of a Livan Hernandez complete game. Earlier in the day, the Mets finally put Jose Reyes on the DL (calf), and they put Ryan Church on the DL (hamstring). And, Carlos Beltran is day to day – won’t play until the weekend at the earliest. Delgado is already out with a bad hip. So, that’s four of the top six batters in the lineup??? Wow.

Tommy Hanson is expected to join the Braves this week – Hanson is the top pitching prospect for the Braves and is mowing down AAA pitching. 446Ks in 376 minor league innings, good control, and could be Rookie of the Year material if he gets 20 starts. (Nice pickup, Steve.)

I forgot – another prospect got a start last night – Jason Berken of the Orioles. Just 25, has great command and keeps the ball in the park. I think he looks good, and he won last night in his MLB debut. If you are rotating pitchers and he comes up, you might consider giving him a shot.

Too bad Andy couldn’t have taken his kids to the Royals game last night. Another Greinke gem.

Cubs finally win (rain stopped it in six), Padres finally lose (but nearly pulled it out with a ninth inning rally). The days of a Jays pennant seems a distant thought now.

Ryan Braun was hit by a pitch on his right wrist last night; x-rays were negative for the Brewer Bomber.

Roy Oswalt has a bruise on his throwing hand, hopefully won’t miss a start.

People who will miss a turn? Scot Shields has a left knee injury and joins the DL – the Angels can’t keep a pitcher healthy.

Jason Bartlett’s sprained ankle is enough to head to the DL. The Rays infield is now Brignac and Aybar (or Zobrist) instead of Bartlett and Iwamura – which might be a big decline in skills. Bartlett is one of the best, and Aki was playing great this year. Called up? Utility player, Joe Dillon (former fish!).

Lou Montanez, Orioles DH/OF prospect, is now on the DL with his thumb injury. Hope surgery goes well; he can hit.

Brian Bruney, Yankee Reliever, goes to the DL with elbow discomfort – and Joe Girardi was not happy with Bruney’s communication skills.

Braves pitcher Buddy Carlyle heads to the DL, back comes Jorge Campillo. The Reds activated Nick Masset from the DL. The Giants get back Andres Torres, a CF burner, and send Jesus Guzman back to Fresno (AAA).

Hurry Back! Matt LaPorta, Indians 3B prospect, heads back to AAA – which was surprising…

Interleague Baseball is Fun!

Lots of fun stuff going on in baseball right now – wish I had more time to chase it all down for you…

Michael Cuddyer hit for the cycle – the fourth of 2009 and second for the Twins.

Jake Peavy stayed home, and trashed the Cubs last night. For the Cubs, Carlos Zambrano came off the DL and was decent – looks like he’ll be fine. However, Zambrano was replaced on the DL by Rich Harden (big surprise) with a back injury. Zambrano drilled David Eckstein with a pitch in the first inning, though, when Eck squared up to bunt. The pitch nailed Eckstein high on the chest. He stayed through the inning, but left when he said he was light-headed on the bases.

Daisuke Matsuzaka returned to the Red Sox last night and was okay – threw a lot of first pitch strikes, but was pulled after 80 pitches in his first start. He was topped by Johan Santana, who was fired up after a little tussle with Kevin Youkilis. Youk yelled loudly when plunked in the fifth inning and made it a little dicey – but it only made Santana focus more. By the way, J.J. Putz has a stiff neck, so Bobby Parnell pitched the 8th. Did you know Parnell could hit 100 on the gun? Me neither. Suddenly, I’m a fan. Meanwhile, outfielder Ryan Church left the game with a sore hammy.

Texas won in extra innings, but not without a price. Michael Young has a strained foot and may not play today.

How about Ricky Nolasco? After another bad outing last night (he ruined my ERA), he was shipped to AAA New Orleans. Ouch. The Marlins, who were clocked 15 – 2 by the Rays, called on Ross Gload to pitch an inning. Apparently Cody Ross was unavailable. Continuing to try and find anyone who can pitch, the Marlins designated David Davidson for assignment, then called up Sean West and Christopher Leroux from AA Jacksonville. West, who has stuff but may not be ready, gets the start today for the Fish. He was a 1st round draft pick in 2005 – looks to be wild and a flyball guy. Baseball America calls him the #4 prospect on the team, but I can’t tell. Leroux doesn’t look like a prospect yet. The kid hails from Wintrop University and hasn’t been bad, but he’s maybe 80% the pitcher West is, and West doesn’t look ready.

Seven more homers in Yankee stadium last night – A.J. Burnett gets the loss to the Phillies. Chien Ming Wang allowed two runs in three innings of relief, his first game since returning from the DL, and dropped his ERA to 25.00.

David Price may get the call by the Rays. The Ripped Hydes have been holding him all year and may finally get to use him!!! Scott Kazmir, who hasn’t looked the same, was placed on the 15 day DL with a quadriceps strain. It may last longer than that, though, as his mechanics are fouled up. Also, Troy Percival’s shoulder problems put the veteran reliever on the DL – though the stories coming out of Tampa suggest that Percival may actually hang up the mitt for good. Percival helped two teams get to the World Series, and has been a VERY good reliever since coming up in 1995.

Add J.J. Hardy to the Day-To-Day list… Back spasms.

The Transaction List for 5/22 in MLB was ENORMOUS. Here are the highlights:

Welcome back! Magglio Ordonez (personal), Juan Uribe (bereavement), Nomar Garciaparra (calf – DL). Billy Buckner got the call from Arizona and got a win for the Snakes. Johnny Gomes gets a trip back with Cincy with Joey Votto’s illness.

On the Mend: Kelvin Escobar (arm) gets a rehab stint in Rancho Cucamonga, along side Vlad Guerrero. Hiroki Kuroda was assigned to Inland Empire for his stint.

Hurry Back! Travis Snider (Toronto), whose bat stopped working. Wilkin Ramirez (covering for Maggs), Ramon Ramirez (Reds) – replaced by prospect Carlos Fisher. Eugenio Velez (SF) who wasn’t hitting as well, and the Giants like Kevin Frandsen better. Hunter Jones (BOS), who was replaced by Dice-K. He can pitch, will be back with somebody. Maybe, when the Sox decide to replace David Ortiz, they’ll package Jones and Brad Penny in a trade for someone…

Is it over? Adam Eaton was (finally) released by the Orioles.

Afterthoughts… Jerry Koosman may land in jail following a conviction for income tax evasion over a three year period. Sad story, really. Sounds like he became a radical conservative!!!

2009 Season Forecast: New York Mets

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

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

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

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

Looking Back on 2008

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

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

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

Tell me about that offense

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

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

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

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

Defensively:

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

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

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

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

Now Pitching…

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

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

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

Forecasting 2008:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Down on the Farm…

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

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

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