Friday, January 18, 2013

Season 9 Previews

Anaheim Angels
The Angels may take one step backwards this year with plans to take a great leap forward next year. Theo Mathews refused to resign which weakens an already challenged offense. Alex Guerrero became the first Angel in league history to hit 40 HRs and he hit .302 while Tito Mays is another great young hitter who hit .295 with 26 home runs. Young Alejandro Bennett had a good rookie year and still projects to be their leadoff hitter of the future. Several terrific prospects in AAA really need another year of seasoning, which means guys like O'Shea, Dodsen, Peter Condrey and Yusmeiro Johnson need to have career years for the Angels to hit well. The Angels pitching also takes a hit in the loss of Manto who was in the walk year of his contract. The Angels brought back Fan favorite Emmitt Williams to provide leadership to Trevor Crawford and Matty Martinez, two exciting young pitchers. Mitch Franco signed a 5 year contract which will give the staff additional stability. Khalil Vining (34 saves) still anchors the bullpen and he is surrounded by youth. Exciting prospects will ply their trade in AAA and hopefully be fully ready for the start of next season. .500 will be a moral victory for this team. Anything beyond that is gravy. Watch out in season 10 though.

Atlanta Braves
The Braves are hoping to rebound from a break-even 81-81 season that should have been much worse. Only a remarkable bullpen performance kept the Braves from sinking to a franchise low season wins level below 70. The lackluster showing of the starting rotation was unexpected, and the emergence of rookie Harry Ordonez was the only bright spot. He's slated for a top of the rotation slot this season, and it's hoped that veterans Carlos Navarre, Akinori Zhang, J. P. Maduro and Al Lange all bounce back from sub-par seasons. The bullpen should once again be a strength, with veteran closer Harold Daily, with 209 career saves and an 88% save percentage, back to stake his claim among the game's best. The real key to the season will be whether the Braves' lineup can generate enough offense from a core group that is solid throughout, but lacks a spectacular player. The middle of the lineup will once again consist of RF Alex Cheng, 1B Al Reynoso, 3B Alex Tarraga and C Ricardo Jose. Rookie Ezdra Aviles looks ready to take over the starting SS role, teaming with veteran 2B Dario York and CF Jhonny Mercedes for excellent defense up the middle. Overall, the Braves' defense should once again be among the league's best. On paper, the Braves appear to be ready to challenge for their 5th division championship in the league's 9th year. It won't be easy however, as division mates Houston, St. Louis and Florida field solid clubs as well.

Baltimore Orioles
Was last year an aberration or time to start the rebuild process? After a thorough examination, we decided to push our chips to the middle of the table and push for a few more seasons of competitiveness before rebuilding. We have too many talented players, all of which seemed to have down seasons at the same time, to not try and wrest the AL East crown back from the Red Sox.

Our big acquisition was another top of the rotation pitcher in Denny Andrews to tandem with Geoffrey Rivera as ace 1a and 1b. We also added Chad York as a nice utlity player who will start some games at 3B. After negotiations for a 2B fell through with several teams, we decided to fill 2B hole made by moving John Jung to 3B and moving Rudy Pavlov from CF to 2B while promoting Collin Meyers to everyday CFer.

Unfortunately for us, the Red Sox and Yankees both made major moves as well believing the time is right for them. AL East should be a dogfight this season.

Playoffs or bust!

Chicago Cubs
S8: 65-97 (4th in NL North)
Season 8 was very disappointing to us as we had nearly the same team as season 7 when we went 92-70. The Cubs seem to overachieve one season and with the same team underachieve the next season and management was tired of not knowing which team would show up. Management was active right off the start on the trading block, shipping away big name vets like Denny Andrews, Sam Schwartz, and Cookie Alfonzo. We were pleased to add some nice prospects back into our minors that were pretty bare. With the #4 pick overall in this year's draft we should add one more nice piece as the rebuilding begins here in Chicago. While those players went, we still had to find players for this season and ended up with 4 type B signings in Daryl Cosby, Art Redding, Achilles Dickens, and Delino Guerrero. With the addition of Cosby, Abdul Sweeney will slide over and handle 2B. Our defense should be up near the top of the league with this lineup, but with that means our bats will be weaker. We don't have much power in the lineup so this team will have to put some singles together to get some runs across the plate. We've got some decent pitching but with trading Denny away we lost our #1SP, we're hoping 23 year old Yonder Mendoza will step up for us this season. Last season we thought we had a playoff team put together and disappointed all the fans of Chicago except for the Old Style company executives, this season the main goal is to avoid probabtion get our younger players to develop.

Cincinnati Reds
After a horrible season 8, which saw the pitching staff finish dead last in ERA, we went into this season thinking “pitching overhaul”. The offense produced 4.2 runs per 9 innings, while the pitchers had an ERA of 4.63. I figured the offense, while not good, was solid enough that some improvement in the pitching staff would make this team into a contender for at least the wild card. As so often happens here in Cincinnati, the original plan wound up being a total remake of the offense and pitching staff. 

On offense, last year’s SS Hi Jensen shifts over to his more natural position of 2B to make room for newcomer and hopeful ROY candidate Branch Pressley. CF Travis Evans and 1B Robert Rogers return. We traded for 3B Sam Schwartz and LF Harold McKnight, while the late signing of RF Theo Mathews to give us a middle of the order worth bragging about. C Eric English upgrades an already solid situation. OF Merv Dorsey was brought back late in FA to provide some depth in the OF while Eric Swift was brought in to provide IF depth. 1B Larry Browning, C Juan Rosa, and UT Brad Hinchcliffe join those two to provide a very strong bench. The 6th bench slot is currently occupied by Rule 5 OF Charlie Bolton, although that remains up for grabs as to whether we will go with 3 C or another BP arm.

Pitching-wise, 5 new SP should make all the difference. Last season’s SP1 wouldn’t even make the rotation this season, so we are pretty excited. The opening day pitcher is going to be Jimmie Aparicio who should lead the way for a much better staff. SP2 Junior Carrasco, SP3 Greg Hennessey, and SP4 Willie Diggins (4th tour of duty in Cincy) combined to pitch 752.2 innings, while going 52-42 with 1.32 WHIP and 3.99 ERA, which is a tremendous improvement over S8’s starting staff. SP5 Willie Felix had a terrible season so we’re hoping a change of scenery out of Wrigley Field will help. There is one major question mark heading into this season, and it is the bullpen. We focused so much of our time and effort onto acquiring starting pitching, that the bullpen was neglected majorly. Bailey Nolasco, Terrence Franklin, Lew Bridges, Tim Sefcik, and Oscar Heving return while Jim Jakubauskas joins them. Combined they pitched 428.2 innings while putting up a 1.37 WHIP and 4.01 ERA in various roles. It’s hard to get excited about the bullpen with numbers like that and no star power.

The outlook is that this season could be a very happy one in Cincinnati, but it’s going to take some help from the bullpen before that happens. A wild-card is a distinct possibility.

Cleveland Indians
Cleveland is coming off of a very disappointing season 8 where the team underachieved in every category. Season 9 should see dramatic improvement. First, we’ve added catchers Frank Hunter (by trade) and Harold Gross (FA). While neither are stellar defensive catchers, they should offer significant improvement over last season and will undoubtedly help our young starters reach expectations. The signings will also allow slugger Randy Washington to devote all his energies to DH where he is sure to excel. The addition of Jeff Bonds at first base gives us a very solid platoon there. Our pitching staff should be solid. While we have no “Standout Ace” yet, we have depth and three young guys in Drabek, McGowan and FA Parker who should develop into a great starting trio this year or next. We’ve also added Cookie Alfonzo (by trade) to an already deep bullpen and he should compete for the closer role. The lineup should also be trouble for opposing staffs with Neftali Barrios in his prime and emerging stars, Wells at 3B, Coggin in CF and Osbourne in Right. It is hoped that Lew Anderson will shrug off a disappointing rookie season at SS and develop into the all-round player we think he can be. Down on the farm pitching sensation Bill Serrano is close to ML ready.

Detroit Tigers
The Tigers have not had a very active offseason this year. Unless a deal happens in the next few days, it looks like we're going with essentially the same team as last year. Given that we made the Series, that is not a bad thing, but this year we are hungry to win it all. With several players just hitting their prime, and a couple of impact pitchers due to be promoted this year, hopefully that is realistic. The Tigers just made a dramatic upgrade to their lineup with a trade for DH Hipolito Iglesias from Colorado.

Los Angeles Dodgers
This is year was phase 1 in a rebuilding project. We were able to trade Speier and get some valuable minor league pitching in return. It was hard to part with arguable the best pitcher The MLB has had but after many LA playoff disappointments we had to do some forward thinking and start shaking this place up. We still have some very good, young, ML talent in Posada, McInerney, and our newest acquisition Harris. Fa agent signings of Gray and Kent helped form out our rotation and Bennett should provide solid play in LF, and is only 27. We hope to stay competitive while stocking up our minors to make a stronger push for a WS in the future.

Minnesota Twins
FA Signings: SP Stubby Easterly, P Charles Wang
Key Promotions: DH Randy Gilbert, 1B T.J. Payne

After last year's ugly showing, the Minnesota Twins outlook for this season looks a bit brighter.

Once again, all eyes will be on the pitching staff to hold up its end of the deal. With that in mind, management went out and signed P Stubby Easterly to a 5 year, $61M deal. Not having thrown a pitch for the Twins, Easterly has been pencilled in as the Opening Day starter. With Cal Rogers returning from last year's season ending injury, the rotation should see better days. Patrick Diggins will anchor the bullpen with hopes of getting more than the 32 save opportunities he was given last year.

Al Javier (27 HRs) will lead the offense again this season. Rookies Randy Gilbert and T.J. Payne (22 HRs, .304 avg in AAA) should be able to provide plenty of help.

Management is confident that with this year's moves, there is no where to go but up.

New Orleans Jazz
In New Orleans this offseason, we've been making moves with both long term and short term goals in mind. The priority is in the long term. That goal is to build a farm system and organizational stability to have a playoff team season after season. To work toward this, the organization has continued to invest heavily in scouting, both domestically and internationally. With the 3rd and 4th overall picks and an eye toward a big time IFA, it's expected that this season will produce the future cornerstones of the franchise. In the short term, the goal was to improve over last season. Donzell Holmes will be promoted early in the season to play SS. He is an improvement over last season's Reynel Rodriguez. Darrell Vitiello will also be promoted to help anchor the starting rotation. Felipe Estrada was acquired as an offensive upgrade behind the dish and veteran slugger Ernest Cambridge signed to play mostly at DH. While no major signings were made, the squad is overall improved and the expectation if for this team to win somewhere between 70-75 wins.

New York Mets
Counting on new hitting coach can spark last year averages......need good years out of Candelaria, Sellers and Taylor.

New York Yankees
The Yankees suffered a disappointing season 8. Expectations were very high following a solid season 7 but instead the Bronx Bombers regressed. Many in the front office spent the off season dodging batteries and being taunted with Bronx cheers wherever they went. The Yankees must be better this season. The trade for AJ Sewell and FA signing of Max Osoria place solid starters behind Staff ace Ducky Jensen. The bullpen remains an area of worry. Behind set up Ralph Serrano and closer Alex Hernandez the rest of the pen must step up their game. On the offensive side, RF Javier Mercado, DH Jermaine Gorecki. 2b/CF Brian Greenwood and 1b/LF Allen Withers form a solid nucleus. Superstar SS of the future William Aoki will join the team and jump to the middle of the lineup immediately.

Oakland Athletics
I'm hoping this team has enough to make a deep run again this year, however I'm not confident we'll have enough pitching. The offense returns most of the same key contributors from last year, and should again be above average. 

The foundation of my lineup - Everett, Rhodes, Root, Fox, Francis - is the same as its been the past few seasons. One glaring weakness we had last year was at short; where Peaches Moore (sounds like a porn name, sorry) make somewhere around a gazillion errors and was only meh with the bat. To replace him, we swung a deal for David Hall, who should hold his own vs R and be much better than porn-star-Peaches with the glove. He'll platoon with cheap FA pickup Renyel Rodriguez and the pair should be an upgrade. 

The pitching is where we have a concern. Wells, O'Malley, Polcovich and Valentin are back from last year and all are decent. They'll be joined by trade acquisition Stan Foster to form a solid but unspectacular starting 5. What we need is a true ace, and there's not one in this group. The pen should also be remarkably average at best, and could possibly be worse than that. 

The final diagnosis is that we'll need to lean on the offense and hope for some playoff luck this year.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Starting pitching and defense looks to be the strength of the season 9 Pirates. The rotation will be bolstered by a full season of the services of Ismael Pascual (11-11, 1.23, 3.62) and Rod Maurer (9-12, 1.41, 4.32)--both were acquired mid-season last year. They join Chance Malloy (9-8, 1.37, 3.83 as rookie), Lance Cornelius (10-12, 1.22, 3.66), and one of Glendon Meluskey (10-13, 1.40, 3.82), Sal Boyer, or Cristobal Fernandez in the rotation. This group was average last season, but Pirates management expects improved performance this season due in part to defensive upgrades. 

The bullpen is mediocre at best, and much of the team's success may hinge on how it holds up. The most significant addition is McKay Frazier (4-1, 1.09, 3.54 in 94 innings).

The most exciting addition to the Pirates will be the debut of rookie slugger Nick Helms at catcher who will replace mainstay Luis Bravo. Bravo's offense will be difficult to replace, as he has averaged .270 36hr 103rbi over the past 8 seasons. However, he has been a disaster behind the plate. Helms not only is a huge upgrade defensively, Pirates management expects him to approach Bravo's level of offensive production.

3/4 of the infield remains in tact as Deacon Kelly (.259 27 hr 78 rbi) 1B returns along with the excellent double play combo of Troy Knight (.244 21 hr 61 rbi) and Willie Donnelly (.307 9 hr 50 rbi). Joining them is rookie Omar Cordero, who replaces the remarkably consistent Chad York (.304 19 hr 86 rbi). Cordero represents a significant defensive upgrade but will struggle to match York's offensive output.

Newcomers Archie Coco LF (.291 32 hr 92 rbi) and rookie Anibal Johnson CF join Yovani Rijo (.271 18 hr 51 rbi), who returns batting leadoff and playing RF. Coco will be a huge upgrade both offensively and defensively, while Johnson will provide top notch defense and likely struggle at the plate. 

The season 8 Pirates were strangely both very lucky and very unlucky. They were very fortunate to win the division with 84 wins, as they went 29-18 in 1-run games. On the other hand, they did this with nearly every player drastically underperforming at the plate. The season 9 Pirates should again contend for the division title, as the offense shoud normalize a bit to go along with improved pitching and defense. Management's only pause is that they are relying on 3 rookie starters, with 2 of those playing extremely important positions (C and CF). Season prediction: 85 wins

Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners have enjoyed eight years of near-relevance in the AL. However, this glorious hey-day of first-round exits is about to come to an end. Seattle's payroll is mounting, their minors are barren, and their core is advancing into their 30s.Management internally acknowledges the window of opportunity, which was really never more than a doggie door, is closing. Their hope in Season 9 is that, with Colorado throwing in the towel and Baltimore (Seattle's post-season kryptonite) struggling, they may have an opportunity to sneak in as a #6 seed - catching Oakland in the brutal AL West isn't happening. They continue to boast a solid lineup and a rotation 6-deep in #3 starters. The bullpen is always an adventure. Should the club find itself in contention midway through the season, expect an emptying out of the minors for one last dramatic surge for an wild-card spot and another untimely departure from the post-season.

St. Louis Cardinals
After a disappointing third place finish in the competitive NL South, St. Louis went into the offseason needing to upgrade the offense but never fulfilled all of their wishes. 

When York Coco (.229/.311/.244) bolted to the New York Mets, the team opened up the bank for Nicholas Walters (.268/.342/.366) who should represent an improvement at second base. The team however failed to make a trade or sign a key free agent to replace the aging JJ Sherman at third base to improve their meager production offensively from the hot corner. 

The offseason also saw the team sign consistent starting pitcher Edge Gibbons out of Philadelphia, adding an excellent arm to the front of the rotation and allowing them to move Mark Prince back to long relief duty, a role for which he is likely more suited.

Defensively the team added shortstop Pedro Valentin in the Rule V, helping to solidify their defense in the late innings. 

The net effect should keep the team competitive, and the emergence of rookie Harry Ortiz, splitting time at first base and left field, should help the team hit better against right-handed pitching. It remains to be seen if the team will challenge for the division or simply bounce around the .500 mark.

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