Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Season 13 Previews

Anaheim Angels
Not much in the way of changes for the Angels. Bucky Stultz was acquired to upgrade the offense and Frank Dong should take over at SS to upgrade the defense. Alex Alomar may arrive this year if any of the pitchers falter. He is the Angels ace of the future. Mays, Matthews, Little, Bennett, Creek, Candeleria and Guerrero all return to lead the offense. Crawford, Martinez, Hennessey and Cabeza lead the starters while Phillips, Trammell, Bryant and Perez lead a bullpen that could be reinforced by youngsters Shuh and Andrus. This team is mature now. Time for the Angels to make a run at the playoffs.

Atlanta Braves
The Braves made no significant off season moves, and their modest payroll does not indicate they will likely be back in the hunt this season. The organizational philosophy which served the franchise well for so long has fallen short of the mark in recent seasons and Braves fans are becoming impatient.  Relying heavily on international prospects and draft picks, the Braves have generally avoided the free agent market. Rather than banking on a few superstars, they have strived for balance throughout both the lineup and starting rotation, with emphasis on solid defense and a strong bullpen. With an unfavorable draft position for many consecutive seasons, the draft simply hasn't yielded the quality necessary to sustain this approach, especially among position players. As for the Braves players, our discussion begins with three veteran mainstays. Reliable 1B Al Reynoso returns for his eleventh season as a Brave. He should eclipse the 400 career HR mark before the season is over. Likewise, veteran Gold Glove RF Alex Cheng, a Brave for his entire career, returns after signing a four year deal that will likely be his last. Harold Daily, long one of the top closers in the game, made the transition last season to middle innings/setup work and will continue in that role in what could be his final season as a Brave. The Braves are solid defensively up the middle with the catching platoon of Ricardo Jose and Melky Morales, All Star SS Ezdra Aviles, Gold Glove 2B Joe Watson and veteran CF Jhonny Mercedes. Perennial underachiever Alex Tarraga was traded away for veteran George Wright at 3B as the trade deadline approached last season, though Wright is likely a short term answer at best. Roger Bonds will likely man LF, with versatile Boots Vaughn capable of providing depth at either corner OF position or 1B. The rotation will likely consist once again of lefties Evan Van Hatten and Vincenzo Parker and righties Luke Schulte and Fausto Martin.

Baltimore Orioles
Our goal is to repeat as the AL East division champs. MVP finalist Sonny Ratliff returns to anchor the middle of the lineup. Management feels we are really strong across our entire lineup. 5 guys eclipsed 20 HR and 2 more came close. There really isn't a weak spot. Our goal is to be a top 5 hitting team this season.

Fielding should continue to be a bright spot after placing 4th in Fielding % last season. Our goal is to improve our pitching staff which we feel like we did with the addition of Frank Rando and rookie Tony Santos to the starting rotation. As always, the bullpen should be strong.

Several rookies should make their debut this season including Tony Santos (former $31 mil international bonus baby); Brent Starr looks to take over our DH role with a monster bat. Dioner Segui will come up to be a utility guy, possibly starting SS. Not sure what to do with Jake Mayne as we were hoping to swap him for another player, but couldn't quite nail down a deal. He is ready now so we'll find room for him. And we have several bats at 1B who are itching to try out their game on the ML level, but not sure if we have the room.

AL East Champs and hopefully a decent run in the playoffs!

Boston Red Sox
Coming off a very disappointing 68 win season, the Red Sox have vowed to change their identity and restructure their team. Last season we had the worst defense in the league so the primary focus was to upgrade the defense and get some pitching. This meant a lot of trades needed to happen...and they did.
The list of new additions is as follows: Harold McKnight (1b), Pedro Flores (3b), Jon Schultz (SS), Mariano Cabrera (LF), Dick Simon (C), and Cal Rogers (SP)...among other WW/ Rule 5 pickup relief pitchers.
There was also a nullified trade that stings, Johan Springer was close to coming to Boston to give them a legit playoff threat rotation but unfortunately their amateur GM didn’t realize injuries nullify trades. So instead he goes to Cleveland of all places.
Waiting in the wings in AAA is Chris Parker, and it’s still unknown if he will get a call up or not this season as he could still use some development time down in the minors. I suspect that if Boston is looking good after 20 games they will give him a call up.
Because of the uncertainty of the rotation this could be another transitional year for the Sox, and I am predicting a 78 win season which compared to last year, is a step in the right direction.

Cincinnati Reds
A disappointing season led to some turmoil in the off-season for the Reds. With the #6 pick in the upcoming draft, they could afford to splurge in free agency while planning for some talent to enter the system.

Gone: LF Greg Monroe, C Frank Hunter, RF Yovani Rijo, SS Goose Howard, CF Yusmeiro Johnson, P Wes Hermsen, P Emil Cabrera, P Tim Sefcik, P Alex Silva
Added: SS Tim Brush, 2B John Jung, 3B Edwin Mitchell, UT Che-Bang Shigetoshi, OF Tony Santos, P Dale Tresh

C: Burt Washington is the undisputed starter this season after splitting time. He managed to hit 20 HRs in limited ABs. Pedro Cabrera is the defensive replacement and has a little bit of pop.
1B: Larry Browning begins as the starter after losing his job last season to veteran Royce Thomas, who also returns. Replicating S11 for Browning is key to this team’s success.
2B: Alan Throneberry performed admirably at 2B last season, but the opportunity to add a top-notch player in John Jung on a one-year deal was just too great to pass up. Che-Bang Shigetoshi adds some overall depth to the team.
3B: Quinton Valdes is back and looks to be a key bat off the bench as he backs up new-comer Edwin Mitchell. Mitchell brings some power that this team was lacking last season.
SS: An organizational weakness that saw this team spend about $8M during the off-season to address, 29-yr old Tim Brush has the defensive chops to play, but won’t hit at all this season. Offensively a black hole.
LF: Veteran David Davis will try to stay healthy enough to hopefully replace some of the production lost when Greg Monroe walked in FA.
CF: Travis Evans. ‘nuff said.
RF: Howard Coghlan manned 3B last season while Yovani Rijo was in RF. When nobody took a chance on Coghlan, we snapped him back up and turned him into a RF which suits his range and glove better.
SP: Rex Howard, Akinori Zhang, Delino Guerrero, and Julio Blanco return 128 starts from last season. Dale Tresh made 33, so a rotation that was very much in flux at the beginning of last season, looks to rebound nicely as each of these guys, with the exception of Blanco had a very solid season.
RP: RHP Alex Sinclair and Rolando Polonia look to hold down the fort and make this former weakness into strength.

Overall I feel that this team has improved from S12 to S13. There are still some weaknesses that need to be addressed at some point, but if the regular season started tomorrow (I wish it did), this team would once again be a contender, in my opinion.

Chicago Cubs
Last season was a typical Chicago Cubs season, losing a franchise high in games and finishing in the cellar of the NL North. Our big goal this offseason was to get Ariel Mateo back in a Cubs uniform as he wanted to test free agency. We were shocked that our first initial offer after waiting a day was accepted so we withdrew and offered him his initial demands, $7M x 4yrs. He accepted and while we lost a Type A we think his contract is a steal considering he hit 54 home runs and drove in 122 rbis last season. Bryan Cook will get the call up from AAA to help solidify our pitching rotation. Last season we went 17-30 in 1 run games so we were in the games but just couldn't close them out. We're hoping that changes for us this season.

Cleveland Indians
The real strength of the squad remains starting pitching. By adding a top of the rotation starter like Johan Springer (through trade) to a group that already included Bill Serrano, Harpo Drabek and Rod Mauer make the Tribe’s rotation very strong. To off-set this improvement, we added a group of 3 relief pitchers that apparently no one else wanted to round out our staff. This should result in an unpleasant level of late inning losses that should engender a great deal of dissatisfaction from our fan base. We’re returning a mostly veteran group on the field that should produce sufficient run support to maintain a somewhat competitive squad for most of the season. Free agent veteran, York Coco will take over a 2B keeping that position warm for the expected promotion of the talented Juan Pasqual this year or next. In all, Cleveland shouldn’t suck too much.

Detroit Tigers
Things look much the same for the Tigers in season 13. Kevin McKinley was allowed to walk as a cost saving measure, and Tomas Belliard was brought in to battle rookie Garry Banks for the 3B job. The mission is still the same: try to get that elusive championship before the window closes on this aging group.

Houston Astros
Key adds: C - Bonk Stien, OF Willis Branyan, SP Max Osoria, SP Omar Quintanilla and RP Darnell Shaw

Key losses: C - Dick Simon, OF Kenny Blake, SP Bernie Speier, RP Justin Mienkiewicz and RP Fred Adams

Overview: The Astros are desperately scratching and clawing to remain a contender in the super competitive NL. The team is coming off a successful regular season in which they accumulated a franchise record 109 wins, but failed to make it to the LCS. Key improvements include major upgrades to the teams line up vs. left handing pitching in the form of Bonk Stien at C and Willis Branyan in the OF. The team lost all star and hall of fame pitcher Bernie Speier from their rotation and as a result that group will not be quite as deep in season 13. The Astros may not repeat last season’s regular season success, but the hope is they can produce a more favorable showing in the post season.

Milwaukee Brewers
Predictions in this game is dicey. Take season 12 for example, during spring training I harbored no illusions about the Brewers making the playoffs, yet they did. Granted that had more to do with a down year for the division than a great year by the Brewers, but still, I was expecting high 70's in wins but got mid 80's and a division title.

My expectations for season 13 are higher than they were for season, so I expect low/mid 80's in terms of wins. It would be nice if that translates into a playoff spot. It would be nicer to exceed expectations again and run away with it....

The team will miss Steven Newfield who opted out on the final year of his deal with us. We wish him well in Boston. Free agent departees, Dale Tresh and Morgan Taylor will also be missed.

The signing of Sal Boyer and the anticipated promotion of Alex Woo should solidify if not strengthen the starting rotation. Greg Monroe should help wean the team off the contributions of Jim Thomson whose decline is accelerating into the final year of his multi-year deal. Matty Sanchez was brought in to replace Newfield at second. He has a bat that the team is excited to get into the lineup, the hope is his defense up the middle doesn’t hurt too much.

Montreal Expos
After 12 seasons, 5 division titles and 1 Word Series with one owner and GM, the Montreal Expos decided to head in a different direction after a disappointing 78-84 season, hiring Kelly_McCann to run the franchise.
“The fans in Montreal have come to expect a winning team”, McCann said, “and that’s what we plan on giving them this season.”
McCann has gone right to work, bringing in a completely new starting outfield at all 3 positions, a new starting short stop, pulling off 4 trades, including a blockbuster deal that sent 3-time All Star Cesar Cedeno to the Phillies, and signing 3 players from the Rule 5 Draft. When asked about the “new-look” Expos outlook for this season, McCann told reporters, “It’s a mix. Our pitching staff remains largely unchanged. Other than Al Flores & Bernie Speier who should compete for that 5th spot, the rotation will be the same. I think free agent Scot Page has a shot at closing for us, but we’ll have to see how that all pans out. I wanted to strengthen the defense up the middle and I think we did that with Branch Pressley and Kenny Blake. Steven Newfield and Yovani Rijo didn’t get a lot of attention in free agency so we were able to bring them both in at an economically feasible rate. Both of those guys will contribute. But the biggest change I see won’t be a change at all. We need to get Mark Ishikawa at-bats. The guy is 27 years old and a two-time MVP. He played in 33 games last season and wasn’t injured. I’m not sure what went on here previously, but he needs at-bats, and he’ll get them with this team.”
So what is McCann hoping to get out of this season’s Expos? “Listen guys. We spent a ton of money. More than I normally spend when I’m brought in. But I saw this team as unique. There were a lot of pieces already in place. I expect to win a lot of games and get into the tournament. Once you get in the tournament, anything can happen.

New Orleans Jazz
The Jazz will return mostly the same key players. Position players in particular will feature the same starting 9 as last season. Scot Dickey will be in the Big Easy for the entire season and hopefully Benito Infante will rebound from an off season. The pitching will have some of the same key players and some impactful rookies. Hideki Ni could have a Cy Young caliber season and will anchor the pitching rotation. Veteran, and HoF hopeful Larry Leach will provide a very capable sidekick for Ni. Highly touted prospect Felipe Sanchez will make his ML debut this season and is expected to provide pair up with Ni for a number of seasons providing an All Star level 1-2 punch. Last season's impact international signing, Kiki Aguilar, required major elbow surgery after just 10 starts. The team is hoping Kiki will be fully recovered and be a major contributor this season. While Maikel Castillo expected to be a solid ML pitcher, scouts think he is still a season away but he may be pressed into service if a veteran starter isn't signed to fill out the rotation. In the pen, Ned Gold should have more help this season. Benny Morlan will make an immediate impact in his rookie season. Expectations are for the squad to challenge Kansas City for the division and make another run at the pennant in the playoffs.

New York Mets
This year's motto: Trim The Fat

The Mets made an organizational move over the off season and replaced long time owner jgnjr with good ole Wisconsin boy bigsammich. Working part time at a local glue factory, bigsammich was surprised to hear that the Mets had stumbled across his LinkedIn profile, noticed his passion for the game, and immediately offered him the position. During the first talent evaluation meeting, the new owner was pleasantly surprised with the Mets 82-80 record last yr, barely missing the last wild card spot. This year will be different though, with bigsammich already beginning to clear every unnecessary dollar off the books. Gone are veterans Matty Sanchez, Bonk Stein and Oswaldo Santiago replaced by youngsters like Ivan Amezaga and Rule 5 pick Lucas Scott, as well as cheap 38 yr old vet Alex Gomez. Scott was a pleasant pickup and, at only 23, will bring some pop vs righties and discipline at the plate, while Gomez provides leadership, offense, and a good sense of humor. With 57 mill on the books this year and only 4.36 mill next yr, the Mets are hoping to re-tool with top international and domestic talent in hopes of challenging the Phillies for the division title in the next 2 yrs.

Record: 73-89
Team MVP: Thumper Bailey
Team Cy Young: Heinie McGowan
Most Likely To Get Thrown Out At First: Ivan Amezaga

New York Yankees
The New York Yankees enter the season wondering how to get the team to reach its potential. High hopes over the past several seasons have led to mediocre results. The Yankees reworked their bullpen during the offseason. They enter the season with much the same lineup and hope the big guns have hot seasons at the same time. If not, the Yanks will likely look to the future and be major traders leading to the deadline.

Philadelphia Phillies
Key additions: C Cesar Cedeno (trade), CF Enrique Iglesias (trade), SP Bryant Koskie (FA)

The Phillies return a very similar team as last year’s division winner. The front office is hoping that a few upgrades will be enough to contend once again. Big bat Cesar Cedeno will hopefully add to what was the highest scoring offense in the NL last season. An upgrade defensively in CF with Iglesias should help the pitching staff as well. The starting rotation was given a boost with veteran acquisition Bryant Koskie as the Phillies hope to improve on what was the 4th best pitching staff in the NL last season. Overall, the Phillies expect to win the division again this season and are hoping that come playoff time, the three key additions to the team prove to be enough to get us over the hump and into the WS.

San Diego Padres
Management is very satisfied with the off-season. The long-term signing of Phil Lowery was enough to pump up the fan base but the surprising signing of Seth Wall was the cherry on top and set the team up for future success. The signing of Wall did stretch the budget for this season and, as a result, the squad will have little pitching depth and will be counting on MiL starters Tito Peters and Rubby Benitez and relievers Andres Guevera, Hipolito Gonzalez and Bret Olsen to plug holes. The starting lineup returns pretty much intact with Greg Greewood as the primary C, the bench is solid and the 1-4 starting pitching and tail end of the bullpen are excellent. Front office creativity will need to occur in order for this squad to make it back to the playoffs. Once promotions are made, the Padres are sure to lead the league in at least 1 category this season - Hipolito’s on a pitching staff (3 – Gonzalez, Ramirez & Tatis).

St. Louis Cardinals
The St. Louis Cardinals are in rebuild mode after new ownership during the course of last season.

After looking the roster over during the course of the season and before the beginning of this year I felt it was best to start the rebuild project now. I think the talent we received during the course of trades and after the Rule 5 draft will make us competitive in a few seasons. Expectations are low this season but I'm hopeful of putting a team out there that can compete day in and day out.

Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays are looking to make a run at only their 2nd ever playoff appearance this season after narrowly missing last season. Tampa Bay will be getting full seasons out of their star youngsters, Austin Leiber, Wandy Bennett and last seasons International Signing, Ubaldo Moreno. TB is also expecting a big season out of last seasons trade deadline acquisition, Rich Coco. To solidify the offense, TB acquired 2B Henry Lennon in a trade. He is looking to step into the 2nd spot in the lineup and get on base for the big bats behind him. The Rays also strengthened their weak bullpen by signing Free Agents, Buddy Borders & Willie Belliard. The signings cost them a 1st round draft pick, but it is time to stop planning for the future and to win in Tampa Bay. A Spring Training injury to CF Manny Park is going to cost him 2 weeks once the season starts, but the Rays see him returning to form once he comes back. They are hoping to get strong performances out of the same 5 starting pitchers as last season, but if someone falters, former 1st Overall Pick Dayan Mercado is waiting in the minors for his chance to join the rotation.

Texas Rangers
The Rangers are under new ownership, but it will be another long rebuilding season in Texas.
The offense should be respectable with 1B Deacon Kelley, RF Bob Osborn, DH Shane Pillette and 3B Ronnie Robinson leading the offensive charge.
The Rangers added C Al Guzman, C Will Lansing and SS Troy Knight via FA to help the defense, which should be improved overall.
The weak spot of the Rangers will again be pitching. SP's Charlie Cecil and Doc Holmes, as well as RP Ronald Roosevelt will be the staff leaders.
With a different management style in place, Texas hopes to at least be competitive this season. The season will hinge on the offense performing up to standard and a much improved defense to cover for an average at best pitching staff.

Washington Nationals
Would you believe it if I told you that the Nationals organization has never had a winning record in a single season? Last season started off as though it might be the year to break that trend, however a poor second half dashed any hopes of that happening. An off-season of more or less lateral moves does not bode well for the chances of it happening this season either.

I think most people agree that a strong pitching staff is the key to success. There was a bright spot last season. Bernard Reid finally pieced together a solid season (18-8, 3.53 ERA) and performed up to his potential. Washington will lean heavily on him again this season. If Heinie Kinkade can bounce back (9-15, 5.72 ERA) from a disappointing season, the chances of winning 81 games will be much greater. Miguel Romero (13-13, 4.20 ERA) was a pleasant surprise and lefties Walter Gray (10-11, 4.53) and Bernard Hollins (10-14, 4.62) performed as expected.
The pen is anchored by closer Cookie Alfonzo, who was acquired via trade in the middle of the season. He pitched better with Washington than he did with the Indians. He finished the season converting 40 out of 43 saves with a 3.69 ERA. The Nationals will hope to get the most out of returning pitchers Ronnie Brooks, Donatello Farrel and Julio Franco. Peter Haughian and Terrence Franklin were added for depth.

Offensively the team struggled in the second half. If C Rubby Gomez can replicate his numbers from last season (.291, 35 HR, 102 RBI) he will again be the force of the lineup. Elston Hartzell was brought in to back him up and see the majority of reps vs. lefties. 2B Domingo Velez saw a dip in production last season (.255, 15HR, 50 RBI, 61 SB) but will again be looked upon as the igniter of the offense. His low OBP (.327) is a cause for concern as the leadoff man. RF Pepe Nieto had a strong rookie season (.307, 22 HR, 81 RBI) and will look to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump. The rest of the lineup is piecemeal. Additions like 3B switch hitter Jonathan Nix and shortstops Yonder Alomar and Kirt Diamond will look to sustain what will hopefully be an average lineup. Younger bats Keith Hannity and Trot Phillips will get their opportunity again this season.

All in all, it appears to be another mediocre season in Washington. The hope is to have the franchise’s first winning record.