SI baseball writer Tom Verducci recently wrote an article speculating on what teams in 2009 could be like last year’s Rays — from losers to winners. While I usually like Verducci’s work, this one was a clunker. His picks? The Tigers, A’s, Braves and Orioles.
For three of them, he’s not really going out on a limb. Would anybody be really surprised if the Tigers, Athletics or Braves contended this year? Nobody who follows baseball, even moderately. The Tigers underperformed last year, but they are still stocked with talent. The A’s are always contenders, and were last year until Billy Beane kicked the legs out from under his team and dealt Harden and Blanton. And the Braves are always a possibility, especially now that they’ve revamped their pitching staff. No news here, Tom.
And the Orioles!? To give Verducci credit, he does say they have no shot at making the playoffs in the division. They do have some talent, but I don’t think their pitching can even make them moderately good this year. Maybe I’m missing something.
But there are a lot of longshots — true longshots — that do have a very good chance at contending this season.
Rangers – For years the Rangers have struggled behind the Angels and Athletics, and occassionally the Mariners. Given the AL West is more attainable now that the Angels have taken a step back this winter, the Rangers could make a move. They have the thunder in their offense. But, like always, their pitching is a big question. If they stock up on some bargain pitchers — ala Ben Sheets and Pedro Martinez, they could take the division.
Mariners – Yes, the Mariners were terrible — Holy Terrible — last season. And given they’ve dealt players like JJ Putz, they look like they have no intention of contending this season. But they could end up with maybe the best 1-2 punch in baseball with Felix Hernandez and Erik Bedard in their rotation. If those two pitch how they are supposed to, that alone can make anyone a contender, especially in the wide-open AL West. On top of that, they still have Ichiro at the top of the lineup generating runs.
Pirates – A longtime loser who I’ve picked to surprise for years. Eventually, I’ll be right. And it could certainly be this season. More often than not, the reason a team like the Rays come out of nowhere to be a contender is their pitching comes together. Besides last year’s Rays, check out the 2002 Angels, the 2003 Marlins, the 2005 White Sox, 2006 Tigers and 2007 Rockies. The pitching staff on all these teams suddenly gelled and put together a winner. The Pirates’ front four of Ian Snell, Tom Gorzellany, Paul Maholm and Zack Duke are all young and all have boatloads of talent. Snell and Gorzellany took steps back last season, but could be ready to have big bounce-back years. And with the NL Central rather mediocre, they could pad their record and grab the Wild Card with a finish behind the Cubs. And they have been a team linked to Pedro.
Rockies – Again, its about pitching. And this team has some. Quite frankly, I was shocked they dealt Matt Holliday. This is a good team. They had a bad season last year, with a few guys having off years and injuries. They were a lot like the 2006 Indians. But people forget that after a disasterous first half, they were clawing back into the race by late-August last year. This division is wide open. Tulowitski will be back for a full year. And Ubaldo Jimenez is ready to become one of the best arms in the game. Him along with the talented Jeff Francis (and a resurgent Josh Fogg) could carry this team to a division title. (If they kept Holliday, they’d have it in a walk,.)
Giants – Again, a team with pitching that plays in a weak division. With Linecum, Cain and now Randy Johnson, they have the pitching. If they sign one of the big bats still out there, they can contend.
Marlins – Maybe they can’t be considered losers. They had a good year last year, despite injuries. Still, is anyone really giving them a chance to compete with the Phillies and Mets? Not many, but I am. They have some excellent hitters with guys like Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez. But, like the Pirates, their pitching goes four talented young arms deep. If those arms stay healthy, they will have a deeper, better rotation than either the Phillies or Mets.
Oh, Manny. What are you thinking?
The Dodgers just handed Manny Ramirez a big, fat stack of cash to play for them next year — $25 million. And Manny said, “No thanks.”
I know Manny wants a 4-year deal. But it’s time for him and Boras to admit they’ve had a bad offseason, take their lumps and move on. They’ll be better off for it in the long run. Nobody is going to give them a 4-year deal at this point. Nobody. Maybe they can squeeze 2 years at around $25 million out of the Dodgers . . . maybe. Maybe another team like the Giants or Angels sweep in and give him a 3-year deal for around $20 million . . . maybe. But that’s it. The reality is there aren’t a lot of buyers for Manny, and without that demand there, the price won’t be high. It’s basic economics.
Manny would be better served taking the obscene $25 million to play ball next year, hit .300 with 35 homers and 120 RBIs, and look to cash in next offseason, when there might be more buyers. Right now, Manny isn’t in a position of strength (see Jason Varitek). Teams would be smart to sit back and wait him out; they might ultimately be able to land him for under $20 million, although the Dodgers seem a little desperate.
Actually, the real question might not be “Manny what are you thinking?”, it might be “Dodgers, what are you thinking?” They don’t seem to be approaching this very rationally. They seem blinded by Manny’s incredible two months last season. But the fact is he won’t perform like that over an entire season. He can’t; nobody can. So why are they bidding against themselves? And why are they throwing so much money at him? For $25 million, they could probably land both Bobby Abreu and Adam Dunn for next season. That would give them a better team than having just Manny. What about signing a Ben Sheets?
The smart teams will look for deals and steals right now. The dumb ones will overpay when they don’t have to, and then watch the playoffs on TV in October.
Reports are the Sox brass are currently in Texas with Scott Boras hammering out the final details of the contract for Mark Teixeira. The announcement that Tex is a member of the Sox could come any moment.
Now what? The Sox have seen this coming for awhile, and likely already have a trading partner for Mike Lowell. Expect him to be dealt almost immediately, as much in fairness to Lowell as anything else. The sooner Lowell knows where he is going, the better for him.
Then it is on to signing another starter. Of course, the Sox could slide Masterson, Bucholz or Bowden into that open rotation spot. But expect them to bring in a veteran to fill that spot to begin the year, with the three young arms being worked in gradually throughout the season, and maybe even locking down a rotation spot or two (Wake’s?) come September.
With so many young arms on the horizon, they likely won’t look for a long term deal, so no Lowe or deal for Peavy. We’re probably looking at a Paul Byrd type for a one-year deal, maybe they can score a Brad Penny for two-years. I still maintain Ben Sheets might be best served grabbing a one-year deal and cashing in next offseason, but he might just be satisfied with a sub-par annual salary but three- to four-year deal now.
There’s a lot of rumors swirling that the Sox are shopping for another pitcher. And while Theo and Co. play calm and say they like their rotation as is, the reality is they do need another arm, maybe two.
As it stands now, the rotation looks like Beckett, Lester, Daisuke, Wakefield, and then one of the young guns — Bucholz, Masterson or Bowden. And if someone goes down, the only solution as of now is to rely more heavily on those young, unproven arms . . . and just ask the Yankees how productive it is to rely on question marks. The style of the Sox in recent years has been to stock up on more pitchers than they need, recognizing how prone the position is to injuries. And while they have a number of young arms, Theo’s track record suggests he’d rather have veteran arms slotted for the rotation and bring those young arms along very slowly.
While the prevailing theory seems to be the Sox could bring in a Paul Byrd type, they could luck into something better. Given the downturn in this year’s market, the Sox have a golden opportunity to steal a very good arm for next year.
When healthy — which, I’ll admit is rare — Ben Sheets has elite stuff, comparable to Mr. Sabathia. But he is rarely healthy. So he’s currently being rated not only behind AJ Burnett, but behind Derek Lowe (for reasons completely foreign to me). Given that his stock is so low, but his talent ceiling so high, Sheets would be crazy to sign anything other than a short-term deal, because he’ll be costing himself millions of dollars he could cash in on following a big year. In this case, the Sox could rent an elite talent for the year. Sheets would get an opportunity to shine in one of baseball’s most high-profile spotlights and then cash in after the season. The Red Sox would add to their stockpile of pitching by getting one of the game’s best arms for the season without the risk of a long-term deal. He’d have every incentive to shine. If they like what they see, they’d have a leg-up on signing him to an extension. And if he faulters, he faulters, and they then go to the young arms. Either way, he cushions their rotation, and gives the young arms more time to develop.
Of course, they could score John Smoltz, who is done in Atlanta. While he is coming off an injury, Smoltz has been one of the most reliable, enduring and successful pitchers of the last 20 years. And, at his age, he is going to be looking for one last shot at a championship more than just a big payday.
Then there’s Brad Penny. Sure, an injury risk. But he is a talented pitcher whose stock is low and could benefit from one healthy, successful season.
And then there are the reclaimation projects like Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. These guys will never again come close to the pitchers they were a few years ago. And they sure aren’t going to get a big contract for one year, and aren’t going to be slotted into the rotation picture anytime soon. But Theo seems to like to throw a lot at the wall to see what sticks. And there are always these reclaimation projects floating in Pawtucket to begin the season. Don’t be surprised if a few of these type of guys make appearances during the season.
ON HAVING TIX FOR TONIGHT’S GAME: Having two tickets to “Game 4* – If Necessary“, I thought I might feel conflicted, maybe hoping the Sox would drop one so I could go to the game. But, no. I screamed and swore at the TV last night, wanting desperately for them to finish the series. I’ve been lucky enough to go to my share of playoff games. I wanted to skip tonight’s ridiculous 8:37 start and instead sleep. I never thought I’d be so upset about going to a playoff game.
HOW MANY TIMES are the Sox going to get the lead runner on-base, only to squander the inning?
IF THEY LOSE TONIGHT, I’m going to punch Wally in his Big Green Face.
IN CASE I HAVEN’T MENTIONED IT BEFORE, which I have, my brother and I were the ones who started the famed “LI-LLY” chant in Game 3 of the 2003 ALDS, the one where if you watch the “Cowboy Up” video, players like Mirabelli and Merloni later taped “LI-LLY” to the backs of their jacket to encourage the fans to keep it up.
YOU HAVE TO FEEL SORRY for the Milwaukee Brewers. If Ben Sheets had been healthy down the stretch, they likely would have wrapped up the Wild Card a little earlier, and then been set-up for October success with two stud pitchers in Sabathia and Sheets, plus an amazing young arm in Gallardo. They could have gone a long, long way, even with how enemic their offense was in the Philly series. Now they’ll likely lose both Sheets and Sabathia in the off-season, and although they have talented young arms, they might take a step back. (They might be a prime candidate to sign a Pedro or Schilling to a one-year, incentive-laden contract.)
COREY HART LOOKED like the worst baseball player I’ve ever seen. Maybe he isn’t. But he looked like it.
THE PHILS-DODGERS SERIES looks like it’ll be an exciting one. Everyone, though, is hoping for a Sox-Dodgers series. Everyone, that is, except for my brother: Mr. Chase-Utley-ManLove.
ON THE CUBS COLLAPSE: Ha ha ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha. Ah, ha ha ha ha. HAAA, ha ha ha ha ha. Ha ha ha (snort). Ha ha. Ha ha. Oh, whoo whoo whoo, hee hee. Haaaa haa ha ha ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha ha.
Watching a great pitchers’ duel between Zambrano and Sheets in the Brewers-Cubs game. Seeing all the talent on the Brewers, I feel even better about picking them to win that division.
There was a rain delay in the game, and ESPN2 jumped around to a bunch of other games; Nationals-Phillies, Red-Dbacks, White Sox-Indians. Whenever I get a chance to hear those other commentators we rarely get to hear, I’m always left appreciating Jerry Remy that much more.