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.

Top NL Left Fielders in 2009

Ryan Braun (MIL):  A threat to win the triple crown at some point, and now a tolerable fielder (much better in left than at third base), Ryan Braun is one of the five most valuable properties in baseball.  (148.3 Runs Created, 1.84 Runs Saved = 150.09 Total Run Production)

Jason Bay, had he played in the NL, would rank here.  The Mets did okay with this signing…

Matt Holliday (OAK/STL):  After arriving in STL, he hit like Albert Pujols and fielded like Chris Duncan.  He’s not usually that bad a fielder, so I wouldn’t worry about it.  (126.5 Runs Created, -13.4 Runs Saved = 113.1 Total Run Production)

Nyjer Morgan (PIT/WAS):  In Pittsburgh, Morgan played left and was supurb defensively and acceptable offensively.  Moved to Washington, Morgan played in center and was supurb both ways.  A late start to his career because he started as a hockey player, he’s the type of player that anybody would be happy to have around.  I don’t think he’s going to be a 100 run producer every year, but for the next three or four years, he might just be a top flight ballplayer.  (76.2 Runs Created, 26.9 Runs Saved = 103.08 Total Run Production)

Josh Willingham (WAS):  Forever, Josh Willingham has been among the worst defensive outfielders in baseball.  Last year, either (a) his back was feeling WAY better than it had been in recent years or (b) Nationals pitchers allowed an ungodly number of fly balls to left than in previous seasons.  Regardless, Willingham had a solid season with the bat in a tough place to hit and caught more than his share of fly balls.  As someone who liked him when he was with the Marlins, to see Willingham exceed our expectations is fun.  (78.5 Runs Created, 5.7 Runs Saved = 84.23 Total Run Production)

Raul Ibanez (PHI):  At some point in the early summer, it looked like Ibanez would hit 50 homers.  And then the aches of being mid-to-late 30s kicked in and things changed.  Still, Ibanez was a valuable performer and contributed to the Phillies success.  I DON’T see him as much better than this in 2010, but if he stays in the remarkable shape he’s in, he should be fine.  (96.0 Runs Created, -13.2 Runs Saved = 82.86 Total Run Production)

Adam Dunn (WAS):  Also a first baseman, Dunn really should be a DH.  One of the most feared hitters, Dunn just gives a ton of runs back defensively such that his overall value suffers.  In the AL, that wouldn’t matter.  (115.0 Runs Created, -33.54 Runs Saved = 81.45 Total Run Production)

Daniel Murphy (NYM):  Like Dunn, plays a lot of first base but isn’t an embarrassment here.  Not really the offensive weapon you’d like at the position.  (71.5 Runs Created, 10.0 Runs Saved = 81.44 Total Run Production)

Chase Headley (SD):  Living in San Diego puts a crimp in his stats, but he’s not a horrible hitter.  He’s really an above average hitter, but a slightly below average outfielder.  The net is just okay, though – and on most teams he would be a fourth outfielder.  (86.0 Runs Created, -4.8 Runs Saved = 81.17 Total Run Production)

Chris Coghlan (FLA):  Two incredible months of two hit games, day after day…  Didn’t come up until May, took about a month to figure things out.  He’s miscast as a left fielder – had played the infield pretty much his whole life until called to the big leagues.  The Marlins hope that he’s their leadoff man for the next three to five years – until he’s due for arbitration, that is.  (86.4 Runs Created, -8.4 Runs Saved = 78.02 Total Run Production)

Carlos Lee (HOU):  See Adam Dunn.  Carlos Lee can hit, even though he’s showing signs of aging, but he doesn’t move around very well anymore and needs to be a DH soon.  (108.2 Runs Created, -31.8 Runs Saved = 76.32 Total Run Production)

Manny Ramirez (LAD):  Cheater.  I’m betting he’s been a cheater for a long time now.  Notice how all the cheaters play for Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre (as well as in Boston, where this was also encouraged)?  People talk about how steroid use will keep Mark McGwire out of the Hall of Fame.  Will it keep Tony LaRussa out of the Hall?  It should.  (84.3 Runs Created, -10.7 Runs Saved = 73.58 Total Run Production)

Juan Pierre (LAD):  When he bats over .300 and gets on base, he can be a productive offensive player.  In left field, where he still has far more range than most left fielders, he comes out as a positive.  If the White Sox try him in center, where he doesn’t really have that kind of range, and Pierre hits .280 and doesn’t add a few walks, then he’s a bust.  (65.3 Runs Created, 1.2 Runs Saved = 66.50 Total Run Production.

Seth Smith (COL):  Showed a balanced set of skills – he didn’t get as many at bats, but the rates were much like Troy Tulowitzki.  And, defensively, he was a step up over Matt Holliday.  If he keeps this up, he’ll be a force in Colorado.  (58.8 Runs Created, 7.5 Runs Saved = 66.29 Total Run Production)

Fernando Tatis (NYM):  Played all over for the Mets and was surprisingly good defensively.  My personal take on it was that it was (a) another year in the majors where he felt more comfortable, and (b) a bit lucky.  He also hit pretty well, batting .282 with a touch of power.  Had he done this a few years ago, he might not have disappeared.  (53.3 Runs Created, 13.9 Runs Saved = 66.20 Total Run Production)

Matt Diaz (ATL):  His bat returned, but his defensive range slipped.  Still, a very valuable performer for Atlanta and probably should have been a regular for a couple of years now.  (77.5 Runs Created, -14.5 Runs Saved = 63.02 Total Run Production)

Alfonso Soriano (CHC):  A miserable season for one of the highly priced players on the Cubs roster – but probably isn’t going to give any of that money back.  Below average baserunner these days to go along with a fading bat and abysmal OBP.  Holds his own with the leather, but if the Cubs are going to challenge for the crown, this guy has to make a comeback.  I just don’t think, at this point in his career, that a comeback is possible.  Sam Fuld, who got a lot of innings in the outfield, would be a better leadoff hitter with his .400 OBP.   (59.0 Runs Created, 1.5 Runs Saved = 60.50 Total Run Production)

Garrett Anderson (ATL):  Did about what I expected – which was slip a little further and struggle defensively.  While Anderson is still a better hitter than most people who try to play baseball, he’s now merely league average as a regular.  To be honest, he’s a veteran bench player at best these days.  (65.0 Runs Created, -8.0 Runs Saved = 57.03 Total Run Production)

Carlos Gonzalez (COL):  Fourth outfielder on this roster, but a good one.  Could be a starter on other teams.  (49.0 Runs Created, 4.7 Runs Saved = 53.75 Total Run Production)

Gerardo Parra (ARI):  Called up mid-season, Parra should have room to grow.  Despite the decent batting average (.290), he’s got a lousy OBP and and marginal power – which left him slightly below average in terms of runs created per 27 outs made.  That being said, a second season might be 10 – 15% better – more comfortable in the outfield and at the plate – and if he’s better, Parra worth playing.  Besides, Parra turns 23 in May and made the jump from AA to the majors – all while hitting .290 – those are the things you look for in a prospect.  (56.0 Runs Created, -2.5 Runs Saved = 53.49 Total Run Production)

Jeremy Hermida (FLA):  Now in Boston where he can take two strikes and always bat behind in the count there instead.  Hermida is actually mobile, but he’s awkward and uncomfortable diving or playing the wall.  In Florida, where the wall is a mini-monster in left field, this was a problem and it showed up in the way he plays.  Having watched him for a few years now, the issue is one of confidence and aggression.  Someone needs to get it in his head that it’s okay to look for a pitch to drive earlier in the count and give it a rip – and that diving for a ball from time to time won’t hurt him.  Otherwise, he just strikes you as someone who has loads of talent but is too passive to take advantage of it.  Chris Coghlan is a patient hitter, too – but when he sees a pitch he can hit, attacks it.  Hermida doesn’t attack anything.  (55.9 Runs Created, -8.7 Runs Saved = 47.20 Total Run Production)

Fred Lewis (SF):  Drew a few walks, but he doesn’t hit for a high average or hit for much power, hence his low rating here.  (40.7 Runs Created, 5.7 Runs Saved = 46.38 Total Run Production)

Jonny Gomes (CIN):  Had a really good year with the bat, but really isn’t a fielder.  I was surprised that Cincy didn’t just scoop the guy up and keep him around, though, but the Reds haven’t always been the brightest of franchises for a while now.  (52.9 Runs Created, -8.5 Runs Saved = 44.43 Total Run Production)

Ryan Spilborghs (COL):  Useful fourth or fifth outfielder who got 300+ innings in left.  Seth Smith earned the job for 2010, though.  (40 Runs Created, 0.1 Run Saved = 40.01 Total Run Production)

Laynce Nix (CIN):  The other half of the left field platoon – Gomes and Nix combineed for 35 homers and 97 RBI – which would rank pretty well up this list.  Nix is younger and a bit more mobile, but I’m not sure I’d take him over Gomes.  Nix has had nearly three full seasons and his career batting mark is .236 with no OBP to speak of.  (43.8 Runs Created, -4.7 Runs Saved = 39.09 Total Run Production)

Wladimir Balentien (SEA/CIN):  Overrated prospect who played pretty well after arriving in Cincinnati.  There’s always hope.  (32.6 Runs Created, 5.8 Runs Saved = 38.3 Total Run Production)

Gary Sheffield (NYM):  The man can hit.  Can’t run much anymore, but still has a smoking hot bat.  Somebody will likely give him a shot, but he’s running out of teams to infuriate.  What do you make of a guy with 500 career homers, and might still have an outside shot at 3000 hits (he’s at 2689), may get past 1700 RBI this year and 1800 for his career, and has more than 250 stolen bases?  If I were San Diego or Pittsburgh or Kansas City, I’d give him a job and leave him alone.  (47.0 Runs created, -9.1 Runs Saved = 37.95 Total Run Production)

Eugenio Velez (SF):  See Fred Lewis.  Andres Torres is better than both of them…  (36.4 Runs Created, 0.5 Runs Saved = 36.9 Total Run Production)

Eric Byrnes (ARI):  The body is finally giving out on the old warrior.  Now in Seattle where he’ll be a fun fifth outfielder.  Still plays great defense…  (24.5 Runs Created, 8.3 Runs Saved = 32.85 Total Run Production)

Lastings Millege (PIT):  The National League’s answer to Delmon Young.  Uninspired ballplayer who hasn’t taken that next step forward.  (31.5 Runs Created, -0.8 Runs Saved = 30.7 Total Run Production)

Chris Duncan (STL/BOS AAA):  Didn’t hit enough, can’t cover any ground.  Needs to launch a new career as a DH or else it’s over and over fast.  (32.2 Runs Created, -15.0 Runs Saved = 17.17 Total Run Production)

Top AL Left Fielders in 2009

Jason Bay (BOS):  Now a Met, I think the Red Sox are going to miss this guy.  Had a soft summer, but otherwise was solid.  Gets a bad rap for his defense, but last year I showed him as being 5.3 plays per 800 balls in play better than the average left fielder and worthy of a Gold Glove.  My system says Bay was one of the 20 most valuable position players in baseball.  The Red Sox will move Mike Cameron or Jacoby Ellsbury here – and will lose about 30 runs in total productivity from 2009 to 2010.   (109.0 Runs Created, 17.8 Runs Saved = 126.81 Total Run Production)

Carl Crawford (TB):  Good hitter, good fielder, as daring a baserunner as you can find.  Another top 20 player…   Here’s something to think about.  Is Carl Crawford potentially worthy of the Hall of Fame?  If he can stay healthy, he’d have 2500 career hits and maybe 600 or 700 stolen bases.  We put all sorts of power guys in the Hall, but how about a guy who can scoot, hit, and play solid defense?   (112.9 Runs Created, 12.5 Runs Saved = 125.36 Total Run Production)

Matt Holliday (OAK/STL):  Left town at the trading deadline – was as productive in two months in St. Louis as he was in four months in Oakland…  126.5 Runs Created, -13.4 Runs Saved = 113.1 Total Run Production)

We’ll get to Rajai Davis, your A’s current left fielder in few paragraphs…

Adam Lind (TOR):  Miscast as an outfielder, but is such a good hitter he has to play somewhere.  The best hitter at this position – Bay’s power and Crawford’s batting average.  (127.1 Runs Created, -15.3 Runs Saved = 111.78 Total Run Production)

David DeJesus (KC):  A Carl Crawford clone, but a shade less productive – still a valuable player.  Crawford hits .300, DeJesus about .280; Both are decent fielders with speed, but DeJesus isn’t a base stealer.  (80.9 Runs Created, 18.9 Runs Saved = 99.82 Total Run Production)

Denard Span, the Minnesota outfielder, if he were a regular left fielder would rate here.  Jason Kubel, too.  I’d love to see Kubel play left every day and let Jim Thome DH as much as possible.  The Twins would improve so much offensively…

Johnny Damon (NYY):  Now in Detroit, Damon is still a productive hitter as he moves into his late 30s…  His legs are getting in the way of his having solid range anymore and he can’t throw.  Somebody could use him as a DH and part time outfielder.  The new left fielder, Curtis Granderson, was barely two runs more productive than Damon, but since Granderson would be moving to an easier position, he might make up for it with a few more defensive runs.  (102.7 Runs Created, -12.3 Runs Saved = 90.38 Total Run Production)

Scott Podsednik (CWS):  Now a Royal, played 615 innings here and few hundred more in center…  Slapped a few hits, but doesn’t do much else.  Can steal a few bases.  The Royals hope he’ll be better than what they got for signing Coco Crisp…  (81.5 Runs Created, 4.7 Runs Saved, 86.24 Total Run Production)

Juan Rivera (LAA):  An above average player – hits for power and a decent average, isn’t hurting you in the field too much.  He’s better than Gary Matthews, for sure.  (84.0 Runs Created, -3.0 Runs Saved = 80.99 Total Run Production)

Rajai Davis (OAK):  He can run, he can field, he can throw a little.  Davis can hit .300, but he has little power.  If David DeJesus is a poor man’s Carl Crawford, Davis is a poor man’s David DeJesus with younger wheels.  Still – he’s an above average performer and with a full season’s at bats, might get 200 hits.  (69.1 Runs Created, 2.4 Runs Saved = 71.58 Total Run Production)

Juan Pierre, if he were to be ranked in the AL based on his Dodger stats, would rank here.  If the White Sox think he’s a centerfielder, they are grossly mistaken.  He’s a combination of Johnny Damon’s defense and Rajai Davis’s offense.

Ryan Rayburn (DET):  The Tigers used three people here for the most part (Rayburn, Carlos Guillen, and Josh Anderson) and Rayburn got the most innings.  Rayburn has some skills – hits for a nice average with power (.291 BA, .533 SLG, .360 OBP) and looks to have wheels in the outfield.  As such, I’d like to see him play more.  A full season of Rayburn at this rate would rank in the top five – assuming he can play at this pace for 150 games.  (50.7 Runs Created, 14.27 Runs Saved = 64.94 Total Run Production.

David Murphy (TEX): The new Juan Encarnacion.  (65.4 Runs Created, -1.1 Run Saved = 64.33 Total Run Production)

Nolan Reimold (BAL):  The rookie played great until getting injured in the late summer.  Reimold didn’t look comfortable as an outfielder but he got his hitting wheels down as the season rolled on…  As with Rayburn, I’d like to see what would happen if he got 500 at bats.  Felix Pie isn’t a bad option here, either.  (61.9 Runs Created, -5.2 Runs Saved = 56.70 Total Run Production)

Carlos Quentin (CWS):  It was only a half a season, but he was still marginally productive.  I hope he can get back to where he was in 2008 – the Sox need all the help they can get.  (50.9 Runs Created, -3.4 Runs Saved = 47.51 Total Run Production)

Delmon Young (MIN):  Delmon Young has done nothing to suggest he deserves a starting position on any roster.  Borderline power and batting average, poor fielder.  It’s time for the Twins to move on.  And, I would NEVER have made that trade with Tampa to get him and give up Jason Bartlett AND Matt Garza.  (50.1 Runs Created, -10.2 Runs Saved, 39.90 Total Run Production)

Five Unproductive Guys (SEA):  Wladimir Balentien, Bill Hall, Ryan Langerhans, Michael Saunders, and Endy Chavez all got between 175 and 350 innings here and nobody stands out.  All five guys were great defensively, oddly, but none of them could hit his way out of a paper sack.  Milton Bradley or Eric Byrnes will get the next shot here – and it HAS to be better than what they got last year.  At least Bradley can hit – and Byrnes has a great attitude.  Combined, they’d be a heck of a player.

Mets Move Closer to Bay – But Does it Hold Water?

The Mets made their initial splash in the free agent market by signing Jason Bay to a four year, $66 million deal – with a vesting option that would make it 5/$80…

Shall we overanalyze this?

Jason Bay is a pretty darned good player.  He can hit – hits for some power, has some patience at the plate even though he does have fits of strikeouts from time to time.  He can run a little bit, and while his reputation doesn’t support it, last year his defensive stats in left field weren’t half bad.  Boston left fielders, despite having a slightly below average number of outfield putouts relative to the AL, made 4.63 more plays than the average left fielder for every 800 balls in play – second to Seattle (about five guys, none of whom were bad defensive options – Balentien, Chavez, et al.) – so if Bay is a lousy outfielder (and he doesn’t have the range to cover center anymore) it didn’t show up in his stats last season.  For the record, Bay was above average in 2006, league average in 2007, and below average in 2008 – so my take on it is that he’s not far from league average heading into next year.

He’s 31, so Bay is starting to get long in the tooth (31) and by the end of this deal, he might not be worth $14 million a year, but you never know.

Bay will likely get a spot in the middle of the Mets lineup.  Think this through – Reyes, Castillo, Wright, Beltran, Bay – or Bay, Beltran, or something like that.

Bay struggled in the middle two months of the season while in Boston last year – oddly coinciding with the time he was asked to bat cleanup because David Ortiz had lost his bat speed (among other problems).  When Bay was batting sixth in the lineup, he was REALLY good.  The Mets, however, may not resign Carlos Delgado, and with Bay averaging 30 homers a year for the last six seasons, it’s easy to imagine him as the new cleanup hitter.  Hopefully, this trend doesn’t stay with Bay – it hadn’t been a problem for him in Pittsburgh.

Given the struggles the Mets had last year were all tied to injuries – especially with the veterans – adding a 30+ outfielder wouldn’t have been high on my plans but the Mets had few other options.  Gary Sheffield and Fernando Tatis are not viable outfielders, and Fernando Martinez (who is half of Sheffield’s age) doesn’t look ready to take over – he could use a full season at AAA.  And Martinez is the closest thing to an outfielder prospect who could help immediately.  Outfield options are players like Johnny Damon (expensive, old) or Bay (expensive, not young) or Matt Holliday (expensive, prime).  The rest are question marks (Xavier Nady?) – so Bay is probably the best option the Mets had.

Now, to find a first baseman and a quality starting pitcher – the Mets, on paper and healthy, could return to being a contender in the NL East.  I don’t totally BUY it, but crazier things have happened.

Seattle a Buyer? Adds Wilson, Snell from Bucs for Clement and Four Others

Last year, many had Seattle contending for the AL West crown only to look bad as Jarrod Washburn struggled and Erik Bedard went down to injury.  This year, forecasts for Seattle were more conservative – and yet here is Seattle just 7-1/2 behind Los Angeles and an outside shot to take down a wild card spot.  So – rather than deal away talent, Seattle tried to fill a couple of holes and just might have done it.  Seattle acquired shortstop Jack Wilson, who had complained about his lot in Pittsburgh, and Ian Snell, whose struggles earned him a ticket to AAA, for a quintet of players including Jeff Clement, Ronnie Cedeno and three others.

Seattle Gets:  A solid fielder, even at 31, who is looking for a change of scenery.  Jack Wilson is 25 runs each season better than the departed Yuniesky Betancourt and the recently struggling Ronnie Cedeno (a good utility infielder, though – and a legitimately great fielder).  Wilson won’t put these guys over the top, but he’s a step up for sure and might be even better now that he’s with a team that – so far as he knows – isn’t dealing away anybody with talent for prospects. 

Ian Snell is the wild card.  He SHOULD be a solid #3 starter, but because he’s been in Pittsburgh where arms go lame and playing for a team that hasn’t had a sense of direction, he hasn’t really developed into the top flight starter he should be.  That being said, he can be fixed; he can be saved.  Seattle give him that opportunity.  And, if Bedard can come back and give the Mariners eight to ten solid starts, you almost have to like their chances to make a run in September.  It may not be enough, but if they find one more piece – preferably a hitter – the Mariners are contenders.

Pittsburgh Gets:   Well.  I’m not sure.  Jeff Clement was a first round pick out of USC – and should be what Ryan Doumit is.  But he hasn’t been that good.  Look, if you play in the PCL, just drop 50 points off the batting average – and Clement has hit about .275.  That doesn’t equal a major leaguer.  Maybe he can find something in Pittsburgh to add 40 points to his batting average and unlock his power.  However, he’ll be 26 in a month and he’s running out of time as a prospect.  He can catch – and if Doumit becomes a permanent first baseman, he’ll help out for a year or two.  After that, though, I’m not sold on Jeff Clement.

Ronny Cedeno has improved some with more time in the majors – as a hitter.  He’s a gold glove candidate if he plays 1000 innings in the field.  So, the Pirates got Jack Wilson without the bad attitude and a little less punch.  I’ll try not to get too excited, though.  If Pittsburgh is to win at all on this deal, the three minor leaguers had better be prospects.

Nathan Adcock is a high school draft pick from 2006 who isn’t making great progress in the minors.  He has some stuff, but no command and remains – three years later – with A+ High Desert Mavericks.  If he makes a big step up in his control, he’s got a shot at being a mop up reliever.  At this point, though, he’s losing ground on being a ranked prospect.

Brett Lorin is a young arm pitching for Clinton (A) right now – and pitching really well.  A starter with good command – a great K/W ratio, too – Lorin has a chance to make this work for Pittsburgh.  The problem is (a) he’s still three years away, and (b) Pittsburgh has wasted the arms of so many prospects.  Otherwise, I like this kid and think that the 2012 rotation may feature Lorin in the #4 or #5 spot.  If he gets further than that, the Pirates will have overhauled their development program.

Aaron Pribanic is pitching with Lorin at Clinton.  Drafted out of the University of Nebraska, he’s got decent numbers but at a glance his stuff isn’t quite as nasty as Lorin’s.  Given a few years to mature, though, he might turn into Matt Herges – and that wouldn’t be a bad career.  We’ll get a few baseball cards, anyway.  I don’t see him making a huge difference in the Pirates fortunes in 2012, but he could be on the roster.

In summary, I think Seattle wins this one – getting two guys who can help now and might have an immediate impact just by being freed from the Bucs dungeon.  Pittsburgh, however, only removed two talents who were no longer friends of management to acquire the next Andy Marte, Rey Ordonez, and three guys to fill out the AA roster.  I’ll root for Lorin to wear the black and yellow, though.

In a related trade…  Disappointing prospect Wladimir Balentien was shuttled to Cincinnati for reliever Robert Manuel.  I’m okay with this – Balentien might help the Reds in a utility outfielder role and he certainly needs a change of scenery, having failed in Seattle and being designated for assignment.  However, Manuel isn’t bad – good control in the minors, strikes out a lot of guys.  If this translates to big league success, you’re talking about getting a seventh inning guy or long reliever you aren’t embarrassed to shove out there if needed.  I like both of these moves for Seattle.  I DON’T think they’re going to catch teams and surprise someone in the playoffs, but they definitely improved the roster for very little cost.

Interested in Erik Bedard? You’ll Have to Wait…

If Seattle had plans to trade Erik Bedard, those plans were dashed when the lefty hit the DL with shoulder inflammation.  In his last start, Bedard fired 81 pitches in just three innings.  I’ve written about this before – 100 pitches isn’t the problem, a heavy pitch count in an inning or two is much worse.  Returning to the rotation will be Jason Vargas.  [ESPN]

Brett Gardner broke his thumb breaking up a double play, and the Yankees outfielder will miss the next month of the season.  His thumb is in a cast, but fortunately doesn’t need surgery.  [ESPN]

Jim Leyland remains optimistic that Jeremy Bonderman and Joel Zumaya might return this season.  Zumaya hopes cortisone shots will help avoid season ending surgery (an eventuality, really) and Bonderman has been throwing lately without discomfort.  [SI]

Kansas City isn’t giving up on Tony Pena.  It’s just giving up on the idea that he can play shortstop.  Now, the strong armed Pena will be given a shot to pitch.  I like the idea…  [FoxSports]

Texas starter Kevin Millwood left his start against Kansas City after two innings with a pain in his butt.  The strained left glute muscle wouldn’t allow him to extend his front leg when throwing…  Now Texas is waiting to see if this means Millwood might miss a start.  [MLB]

A lot of action on the transaction wire…

Hurry Back!  Cincinnati pitcher Jared Burton heads to the DL with shoulder fatigue.  Brewer pitcher Seth McClung heads to the DL with an elbow strain.  Phillies reliever Clay Condrey heads to the DL with a left oblique strain.

What Gives?  Wladimir Balentien was designated for assignment by Seattle.  The power/speed prospect hasn’t panned out – in 400 major league at bats, he’s hit .209…  Houston did the same with Chad Paronto, who hasn’t stuck with six organizations.  At 33, he’s running out of shots.

Player to be Named Later:  Jess Todd was sent from Memphis to Cleveland to complete the Mark DeRosa trade.  Todd is a reliever with some talent – he was the closer for Memphis, has great strikeout numbers, good control, and a fighting shot to help the Indians as soon as 2010.

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.