Category Archives: 2011 Previews

2011 San Francisco Giants: Rag-tag lineup and world-class pitching staff carried the Giants to their first World Title since moving west; can they do it again?

2010 Record: 92-70, 1st NL West
2010 Prediction: 91-71, 2nd NL West
Diff: 1
2011 Prediction: 2nd NL West

Impact Player: C Buster Posey
Impact Pitcher: RHP Tim Lincecum
Best Reliever: RHP Brian Wilson
Top Prospect: 1B/OF Brandon Belt

General Manager: Brian Sabean
Manager: Bruce Bochy (323-325, .498)

Significant Acquisitions:
SS Miguel Tejada

Significant Departures:
INF Juan Uribe, SS Edgar Renteria, OF Jose Guillen, RHP Todd Wellemeyer, RHP Denny Bautista, RHP Chris Ray

Again, don’t want to blow my own horn here, but the crowning achievement of my 2010 previews on my old MLBlogs site was predicting the Giants to win the World Series.  I had them narrowly beating out the Braves to win the Wildcard and then storming to a title on their stupidly good pitching staff.  They ended up winning the division and doing just that.

This season, the World Champion Giants (still sounds weird) return much of the same team as they fielded in 2010, which would suggest that they have a chance to repeat, but given how rare it is to repeat (unless you’re the Yankees) it seems unlikely.  But how about the Giants repeating as NL West champs?

Starting Rotation
The Giants starting rotation is one of the top two or three in all of baseball and when combined with their shutdown bullpen, which I’ll get to shortly, they probably have the best pitching staff in the game.

Tim Lincecum seems to have shed the concerns that his small body and odd delivery will one day lead to an injury.  He has become an elite starter.  In what many considered to be a bad season for Timmy, he still posted a 3.04 K/Bb ratio and a very good 3.15 FIP that put him still among the game’s elite pitchers.  His strikeout rate was the lowest it had been since 2007, but was still at 9.79 ranking him tops in all of baseball among qualified starters.

Matt Cain is a solid number two pitcher who does benefit slightly from AT&T Park’s pitcher friendly outfields, but the flyball pitcher is still very good on the road.  His park adjusted FIP has never been below 4.19 so that does suggest that he may be slightly overrates, but his ERA and FIP numbers are consistently well below that mark.  He also posted a career-best 2.46 BB/9 rate which could migrate closer to the 3.00 mark this season.

Jonathan Sanchez will probably start on the second day of the season in order to split up the lefties at the bottom of the rotation.  Sanchez had a breakout year in 2010 posting a 3.07 ERA in a career-best 193.1 innings of work.  A lot of people think he’ll regress due to his 4.00 FIP and .252 BABIP, but Sanchez has been remarkably consistent over the last three years posting WAR ratings of 2.8 in 2008, 2.1 in 2009, and 2.6 last year.  As good as he was last year, his 2008 season when he went 9-12 with a 5.01 ERA was technically a better season.  Either way as the third best starter on this team, you can’t complain.

Young left-hander Madison Bumgarner burst into the limelight during the postseason in 2010 when he posted a 2.18 ERA in 20.2 postseason innings, but Giants’ fans and informed fans around baseball have known about him for a couple years now.  Bumgarner blazed through the Giants’ minor-league system and ended up making 18 starts at the major-league level last season where he was impressive with a 3.00 ERA and a 3.66 FIP.  At only 21-years-old, the Giants pushed him hard last season as he threw 214.1 innings all told through AAA, the majors and the postseason.  Hopefully that doesn’t affect him negatively going forward.  Either way, the Giants should be careful with a pitcher who projects to be their future ace and one of the best fourth starters in baseball.

The fifth starter will be Barry Zito who makes way too much money, but still has to be considered one helluva number five pitcher.  Zito must have been crushed when he was left off the postseason roster last season in favour of Bumgarner, but if he was he hasn’t shown it.  Zito is a durable innings-eater and managed a 4.25 FIP last year, which isn’t the worst number in the world.

One thing the Giants really had in their favour last year was the health of their pitching staff.  If that luck doesn’t favour them again in 2011, there aren’t a lot of depth options for them.  Henry Sosa is probably the only pitcher currently on the 40-man who could step in and that probably doesn’t sit too well with Giants’ fans.

Bullpen
Along with their division rivals in San Diego, the Giants have one of the best bullpens around.  Closer Brian Wilson has a future in comedy once his playing days are over as exhibited by his many offseason TV appearances, but there’s no doubting his ability on the mound.  Last season Wilson posted 48 saves and a 1.81 ERA to go along with a stupid 2.19 FIP.  He rarely gives up long flyballs and posted a 11.21 K/9 rate last year which makes for a potent combination.

One of the best setup men in baseball last season was Sergio Romo who some say (although probably without really looking at the numbers) that he was better than Wilson last season.  Romo also posted a FIP below 3.00 and struck-out a ton of batters.  He also exhibited better control than Wilson with a very good 2.03 BB/9 rate which led to a surreal 5.00 K/BB ratio.

Veteran left-hander Jeremy Affeldt wasn’t terrific in 2010, but he was good enough to be brought back in a setup role.  Affeldt was outstanding in the three seasons leading up to last year so there’s no reason to think he can’t get back there in 2011.

Santiago Casilla is back after his 1.95 ERA and 9.11 K/9 rate last season and he’s joined in middle-relief by submarine left-hander Javier Lopez.  Lopez had a 1.42 ERA and 2.36 FIP in 27 games with the Giants after being brought over from the Pirates.

Ramon Ramirez is back after he too saw a resurgence in his numbers after being traded to San Fran.  After posting a 4.66 ERA and 4.59 FIP in 42.1 innings with the Red Sox, Boston shipped Ramirez off to the Giants where he proceeded to dominate with a 0.67 ERA in 27 innings of work.  His sudden inability to strike people out is a little worrying, but he’s throwing as hard as he ever was.

The final spot in the bullpen will likely go to lefty Dan Runzler who had a 3.14 FIP in 32.2 innings last season, but Steve Edlefsen, Alex Hinshaw, and non-roster invites Guillermo Mota and Casey Daigle are also being given shots to crack the team.  The 37-year-old Mota posted a 3.86 FIP in 54 innings with the Giants last season.

Catchers
Despite only being called up in June, catcher Buster Posey quickly became the best position player on the team.  He absolutely mashed in July with a .417/.466/.699 slash line on his way to being named the NL Player of the Month, but we merely average in every other month.  He put up solid numbers in the postseason and he should increase his walk-rate in 2011 which will help him overall.  Whether or not he can repeat his .305/.357/.505 slash line remains to be seen, but either way he’ll be a very good catcher for a long time.

Backing up the young phenom is veteran minor-leaguer Eli Whiteside who did a decent enough job in short stints last season to warrant a chance.  If he falters, the next best option may be non-roster player Chris Stewart.  Like in starting pitching, the Giants have a shocking lack of depth organizationally at catcher.  Given the high injury rate at the position, this could be a problem.

Infielders
Aubrey Huff is expected to start the year as the first baseman after a terrific rebound 2010 that resulted in a .290/.385/.506 slash line and 26 homeruns.  He even played solid defence accumulating a 6.7 UZR rating all leading to a 5.7 WAR.  The defensive play was a bit fluky considering he’s never put up good defensive numbers anywhere in his career, but there’s reason to be hopeful that the plate performance was for real.

Huff’s BABIP wasn’t much higher than his career mark and neither was his batting average or his slugging percentage.  The one stat that could come back down is his walk-rate which was over 12% last year despite a career mark just over 8%.  At 34-years-old, Huff could just as easily embark back on the decline he seemed to be on in 2009 when he split the year between the Orioles and Tigers, but they might be able to get another solid year from him.  The problem with Huff is that he’s signed to a two-year deal with a third-year option for 2013 and there’s little chance that he’s going to continue to produce solid numbers beyond this season.

Factor in the fact that uber-prospect first baseman Brandon Belt will see major-league time this season and might even break camp with the team and the Huff deal looks questionable at best.  Putting Belt or Huff in the outfield is not something the Giants should want to do, but that’s what appears will happen.

At second base is Freddy Sanchez who is a solid everyday player who can hit with solid contact and plays his position well.  The 33-year-old will make $6-million this season before hitting the open market next fall.

At shortstop is Miguel Tejada who was signed to a $6.5-million deal for this season.  He still has some value offensively, but he’s probably not good enough with the glove to play anywhere in the infield let alone shortstop.  He should have been moved off the position years ago and in fact was moved to third by Baltimore last year before the Padres traded for him and moved him back to short.  It’s only for one year, but playing Tejada there will probably hurt more than help and considering he’s 37, his bat will continue to decline.

Third baseman Pablo Sandoval has been left for dead by most pundits and casual observers.  After showing unprecedented hitting skills in his first couple years at the big-league level, Sandoval fell off last year posting a .314 wOBA a year after being in the conversation for the batting title and posting a .396 wOBA.  Sandoval showed up to camp this year having shed 35 pounds and looking to be in terrific shape.  Not only that, but he had one good year and some are saying he’s washed up…at 24-years-old.  Give your head a shake if you think that way, Sandoval has all of the makings of a player who could win multiple batting titles.

First baseman Travis Ishikawa never quite lived up to his lofty expectations, but last season he was a quality bench player and valuable defensive replacement.  He’ll serve that role again with Huff expected to be the first baseman.  If Belt gets called up at some point, Ishi could be the odd man out.  He does still have one option left, but he hasn’t played in the minors since 2008.

Mike Fontenot was acquired last year from the Cubs and is back as the utility infielder.  He’s not a good defensive player and combined with his punchless bat, he’s below-replacement value.

Emmanuel Burriss is still around and can play second and the outfield if he gets called up at some point; he’ll have to clear waivers to remain in the organization if he’s sent down as he is out of options.

Outfielders
Mark DeRosa missed almost all of last year with an injury and if he’s healthy, he should get the majority of playing time in leftfield.  His versatility is his best asset as he can play in the corner outfield, third, second, and first.  He could shift to third if Sandoval loses the job (he won’t).

In centerfield is Andres Torres who came out of nowhere as a career minor-leaguer to post a 6.0 WAR season.  He was solid with the bat posting a .268/.343/.479 slash line with 16 homeruns and 26 stolen bases, but his real value was in the field where he posted a 21.2 UZR while playing all three outfield positions.  Torres’ breakout year came at the age of 32 which doesn’t bode well for in his quest to live up to his 2010.  Expect him to regress back to a solid fourth outfielder in 2011.

The rightfielder will be Cody Ross who was practically released by Florida last year when the Giants plucked him from the scrap heap and rode him to their improbable title.  Ross isn’t a bad player, but he’s not the guy who hit five homeruns in 15 postseason games last year and won an NLCS MVP.  Like Torres, Ross is a player who’s likely best suited for a fourth outfielder role on a good team.

The gaps in the outfield make Belt’s call up more likely as he is athletic enough to handle a corner spot, at least in the short term and all three of the current outfielders are utility players pushed into starting roles.

Veteran Pat Burrell was another scrap-heap pickup last year from Tampa Bay and will probably split time with DeRosa in leftfield.  His terrible defence should keep him out of the lineup as it’s likely he’ll fade back into deep decline like he had shown for a year-and-a-half in Tampa Bay.

Aaron Rowand is still on this team and will be paid $24-million over the next two years to sit on the bench.  He’ll still get quite a lot of playing time considering who’s ahead of him on the depth chart.

Nate Schierholtz meanwhile, is out of options and could find himself on the waiver-wire if he doesn’t make the team.

For a chart breaking down the roster of the World Champion Giants, click here.

Overview
The chances of the Giants repeating are pretty slim mostly because any team repeating is rare, but the Giants have the additional wrinkle of an outfield who’s best player is a 33-year-old utility man.  The pitching staff, as it did last year, will carry them into contention with the Dodgers and Rockies in the NL West, but unless all of the unlikely heroes such as Huff, Ross, Burrell, and Torres repeat their surprising years, the Giants will have a hard time getting back to the World Series in 2011.  Stranger things have happened and with pitching that good, anything is possible.
Final Prediction: 88-74, 2nd NL West

2011 San Diego Padres: Regression and the trading of Adrian Gonzalez will deflate San Diego’s win total

2010 Record: 90-72, 1st NL West
2010 Prediction: 64-98, 5th NL West
Diff: 26
2011 Prediction: 4th NL West

Impact Player: 3B Chase Headley
Impact Pitcher: RHP Mat Latos
Best Reliever: RHP Mike Adams
Top Prospect: RHP Casey Kelly

General Manager: Jed Hoyer
Manager: Bud Black (317-332, .488)

Significant Acquisitions:
RHP Aaron Harang, RHP Chad Qualls, RHP Pat Neshek, RHP Dustin Moseley, RHP Samuel Deduno, LHP Randy Flores, 1B/OF Brad Hawpe, 2B Orlando Hudson, SS Jason Bartlett, CF Cameron Maybin, C Rob Johnson, INF Jorge Cantu, UTIL Eric Patterson

Significant Departures:
C Yorvit Torrealba, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 2B David Eckstein, SS Miguel Tejada, OF Tony Gwynn Jr., UTIL Jerry Hairston Jr., OF/1B Matt Stairs, RHP Jon Garland, RHP Kevin Correia, RHP Edward Mujica, RHP Ryan Webb, RHP Chris Young, RHP Adam Russell, LHP Cesar Ramos

 

 

Despite being in the middle of a rather intense rebuild, the Padres up and won 90 games last season and would have won more if it weren’t for a late-season crash that saw them relinquish the division on the final day of the regular season to the eventual champions from San Francisco.  Behind surprisingly good starting pitching and baseball’s best bullpen, the Padres exceeded everyone’s expectations.

To his credit, GM Jed Hoyer recognized that 2010 is probably not a repeatable phenomena and rather than trying to contend by overspending on high-priced free agents, Hoyer remained committed to his rebuild.  The first step was to trade superstar first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox for a bounty of prospects.  In fact, that trade netted the Padres three prospects (Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, and Raymond Fuentes) that now find themselves in the top four in the organization overall.

Realizing just how much ridiculous bullpen depth he had, Hoyer also traded away Edward Mujica, Ryan Webb, Adam Russell and Cesar Ramos in deals to land young centerfielder Cameron Maybin from Florida and shortstop Jason Bartlett from Tampa Bay.

Without their star player and with expected regressions from many key players, the Padres should come crashing back down to earth in 2011.

 

Starting Rotation
Mat Latos
broke out at just 22-years-old last season and immediately became the ace of the Padres’ young staff.  He is a premier strike-out pitcher who posted a terrific 3.78 K/BB ratio last season which led to a 3.00 FIP; only Josh Johnson and Adam Wainwright posted better peripherals.  Repeating those kind of numbers year over year will obviously be difficult, but the 23-year-old certainly has a bright future at the top of this rotation.

Left-hander Clayton Richard also broke out last season after being the centerpiece of the Jake Peavy trade in 2009.  He threw over 200 innings and posted a 3.75 ERA.  He did, however post a pedestrian 1.96 K/BB ratio and might have been the beneficiary of pitcher-friendly Petco Park.  If he can lower his walk-rate, it will go a long way to his continued success.  Ultimately, he’s a solid number three or four starter, not a number two.

Tim Stauffer was called up part way through last season and proceeded to light up the National League with a 1.85 ERA and 3.02 FIP in 82.2 innings.  The problem is that Stauffer is now 29 and had previously never shown that type of ability.  A regression isn’t just likely, it’s pretty close to certain.

Last year, the Padres signed Jon Garland to a one-year deal and he performed well in the pitcher-friendly confines of Petco.  This season, San Diego signed another veteran looking to rebuild his career on a one-year deal in Aaron Harang.  Harang has struggled through a disastrous couple of seasons in Cincinnati after at one time being a solid top-of-the-rotation talent.  At 33, he’ll look to put up a rebound season in order to cash in elsewhere next fall.

The fifth spot in the rotation will go to one of many potential starters including Cory Luebke who zoomed through the upper-minors last season to earn himself a September call up.  Other hopefuls include lefty Wade LeBlanc who somehow managed a 1.48 HR/9 rate despite calling San Diego his home park, and Dustin Moseley who was awful last season with the Yankees and has virtually no ceiling to speak of.

 

Bullpen
Despite trading away two key members and four potential contributors, the Padres still have the best bullpen in baseball on paper.  It’s actually quite ridiculous how good this group was in 2010.

First you have closer Heath Bell.  Bell not only posted 47 saves, but he had a 1.93 ERA, 11.06 K/9 rate and a 2.05 FIP.  He was the best closer in the NL last season by far.  He is in the last year of his contract which could mean that the Padres will deal him before the July 31st deadline if they’re not contending.

Beyond Bell, the Padres have Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams and lefty Joe Thatcher to work the high leverage late innings and all three were spectacular last year.  Gregerson had a 4.94 K/BB ratio and a 2.86 FIP while Adams was even better posting a 1.76 ERA and 2.31 FIP while surrendering only two homeruns all season.

Thatcher was probably the best of them all in his 35 innings of work after a call up from AAA.  Thatcher not only had a 1.29 ERA, but he showed a knack for missing bats and awesome command.  He finished with a 6.43 K/BB ratio and a so-good-it-doesn’t-look-real 1.56 FIP.

Ernesto Frieri was also terrific last season after his call up, posting an 11.65 K/9 rate with a 1.71 ERA, but his high walk-rate and ridiculously low groundball percentage suggest that he’s due for a regression.

Veteran Chad Qualls was terrible last season with Arizona and Tampa Bay, but should benefit from the move to San Diego and was very unlucky last year with a high BABIP and a respectable 4.13 FIP that was much better than his bloated 7.32 ERA.

Pat Neshek, who was just acquired off of waivers a few days ago from Minnesota should slot in to the last spot.

 

Catchers
With Yorvit Torrealba signing elsewhere, the Padres turn once again to Nick Hundley to be their everyday catcher.  Hundley split time with Torrealba last season and had a .249/.308/.418 slash line and was a slightly below average defender.

If Hundley looks to be incapable of being productive in an everyday role, Rob Johnson was brought over from Seattle and although he can’t hit, he is a much better defender than Hundley.

Non-roster invites Kyle Phillips and Guillermo Quiroz (both former Jays’ farmhands) are also in the mix and could play their way to the majors if Hundley or Johnson gets hurt at some point.

 

 

Infielders
With Gonzalez gone, the Padres’ already woeful offense looks down-right bad.  Replacing their former franchise player at first base is Brad Hawpe who looks to transition from poor-defensive outfielder to average defensive first baseman.  Hawpe was terrible after being traded to Tampa Bay from Colorado last season suggesting he might be a terrible player outside of Coors Field, but that didn’t stop San Diego from handing him first base for 2011.

Orlando Hudson and Bartlett were acquired in the offseason to be the new middle-infield pairing.  Last season with the Twins, Hudson, despite all of the accolades people throw his way regarding his defense, put up his first positive UZR rating since 2005 when he was still with the Blue Jays.  His bat is more than good enough if he continues to play gold-glove calibre D.

Bartlett, on the other hand, came crashing back down to earth after his breakout 2009 season posting a mediocre .254/.324/.350 slash line which probably would be okay except that he was also one of the worst defensive shortstops in the game.

At third base will be Chase Headley who might be the best position-player on the team, which is kind of sad.  Headley is a below-average hitter who is outstanding defensively.  His 16.5 UZR rating propped him up to a team-best 4.6 WAR rating ranking him third among NL third baseman behind only Ryan Zimmerman and Scott Rolen and ahead of David Wright.

Veteran Jorge Cantu was signed in the offseason and will provide depth at the corners and may eventually be the starting first baseman.  He’s no longer an everyday player and is horrid defensively.

Providing depth up the middle will be speedster Everth Cabrera who hit just .208/.279/.278 in 2010.  He started last year as the opening day shortstop before the team traded for the defensively challenged Miguel Tejada just to upgrade over Cabrera’s terrible bat.  As a defensive replacement and pinch-runner, Cabrera has a lot more value.

Eric Patterson also has a chance to win a spot on the team and is out of options.  He can play second and the outfield.
Outfielders
The Padres traded for Maybin this offseason to upgrade their light-hitting outfield.  Maybin is amazingly still just 24 even though it feels like he’s been around forever.  He’s not a very good centerfielder, but he doesn’t embarrass himself either; he may have a hard time adjusting to Petco’s huge gaps.  The Padres believe he still has plenty of offensive ceiling.

Will Venable was a surprisingly valuable player in 2010 in rightfield.  Not only was he solid defensively but he showed a nice approach at the plate drawing his fair share of walks.  Venable is a guy who could probably hit 20 homeruns if he played anywhere else and if he ever hits for a better average, he could be a very good player.

In leftfield, the Padres somewhat surprisingly retained Ryan Ludwick who was acquired last year from the Cardinals.  Most expected he’d be non-tendered by San Diego because of slugging young outfielder Kyle Blanks who appears ready to be given the everyday job even though he struggled last season at the major-league level.

With Patterson likely making the team, the remaining bench spot will go to one of Chris Denorfia, Blanks, Mike Baxter, or Aaron CunninghamLuis Durango was just optioned to AAA, but will likely see major-league time at some point this season.

Click here for a roster breakdown.
Overview
Even with the roster the Padres had last season, winning 90 games was down-right miraculous.  Without Gonzalez they will come crashing back down to earth and then some in 2011.  The starting rotation has some potential with Latos at its top and the bullpen is still the best in baseball, but the offense will stink; like, Mariners’ stink.
Final Prediction: 74-88, 4th NL West

2011 Los Angeles Dodgers: They have to be better than 80 wins right?

2010 Record: 80-82, 4th NL West
2010 Prediction: 92-70, 1st NL West
Diff: 12
2011 Prediction: 1st NL West

Impact Player: CF Matt Kemp
Impact Pitcher: LHP Clayton Kershaw
Best Reliever: RHP Hong-Chih Kuo
Top Prospect: SS Dee Gordon

General Manager: Ned Colletti
Manager: Don Mattingly (1st Season)

Significant Acquisitions:
RHP Jon Garland, RHP Matt Guerrier, RHP Blake Hawksworth, 2B Juan Uribe, OF Marcus Thames, C Dioner Navarro, OF Tony Gwynn Jr.

Significant Departures:
INF Ryan Theriot, OF Reed Johnson, 2B Ronnie Belliard, OF Garret Anderson, OF Scott Podsednik, C Brad Ausmus, LHP George Sherrill, RHP Jeff Weaver, RHP Charlie Haeger, RHP Ramon Ortiz

The LA Dodgers were coming off a 95-win season where they appeared in the NLCS for the second straight year, they had a young core of players who looked to be hitting their prime and then the wheels fell off.  Owners Frank and Jamie McCourt filed for divorce and have since been tied up in a legal battle over who owns the team.  This has led to a tightening of the financial belt which has prevented the team from aggressively bidding on players on the open market.

On the field, things went just as badly.  The Dodgers posted their first losing season since 2005 and just their third since 1992, finishing fourth in the much improved NL West with 80 wins.  Budding star centerfielder Matt Kemp had a disastrous year which mirrored many of the players.  Pundits blamed it on everything from poor chemistry, to no leadership, to the McCourt’s divorce proceedings, but the fact was that many of the team’s top players simply underperformed.

With no impactful changes coming for the 2011 season, the Dodgers can either cement themselves as a mediocre team or bounce back into contention.

Starting Rotation
The top of the rotation has two of the best young pitchers in the game at its head.  Left-hander Clayton Kershaw cemented himself as an elite talent in 2010 posting a 2.91 ERA and 3.12 FIP.  He still walks a few too many, but makes up for it by posting terrific strikeout numbers and not giving up the long-ball.  The best part is that Kershaw is only 23-years-old which means he could actually get better.  It won’t be long before he has a Cy Young trophy or two in his possession.

Chad Billingsley had a career-best 4.6 WAR rating last year after posting a 3.57 ERA and a team-best 3.07 FIP due mostly to his ability to keep the ball in the yard.  What’s most amazing about that is that he actually had a better HR/9 rate away from pitcher friendly Dodger Stadium.  At 26, he’s entering his prime and with Kershaw forms a scarily good 1-2 combo.

The Dodgers aren’t just top-heavy either; veteran left-hander Ted Lilly was re-signed to a three-year, $33-million extension in the offseason and although the Dodgers will eventually regret that deal, he’ll fit in nicely as a solid number three pitcher this season.

36-year-old Hiroki Kuroda is a criminally underrated pitcher.  He’s advanced in age which certainly raises a red flag, but he has been a remarkably consistent pitcher in his three seasons on this side of the ocean.  He has a career 3.60 ERA and a 3.46 FIP while averaging 3.3 WAR per year.  He may start his decline this season, but if he doesn’t he’s an excellent number three or four pitcher.

Jon Garland played for the Dodgers in 2009 and has returned on a one-year deal after one season in San Diego.  While pitching his home games in cavernous Petco Park for the Padres, Garland posted a 3.47 ERA which was exposed a bit by his 4.41 FIP.  He has proven himself to be very durable making only one trip to the DL in his career; however he’ll make his second trip there to start the year after straining his oblique this spring.

Potential sixth starter/swingman Vicente Padilla will also start the year on the DL with a forearm strain that will keep him out for most of April.  Neither him nor Garland are expected to miss more than a month of the season so the Dodgers will have plenty of depth come May.

In the meantime, veteran Tim Redding who tried and failed to catch on with a team in South Korea or Japan could get a shot at the fifth spot to start the year.  Other hopefuls are Blake Hawksworth, Scott Elbert, and John Ely who also have shots at the bullpen.
Bullpen
Jonathan Broxton went from being one of the most feared closers in the game to an erratic setup man in a matter of months.  Or did he?  After some horrid misuse by manager Joe Torre about mid-season where he threw far too many pitches in a matter of a few days, Broxton’s season tanked.  Still, despite a 4.04 ERA, Broxton was still able to put up insane strikeout numbers and rarely let the ball leave the yard.  His FIP was still an outstanding 3.01 as a result and if he finds the control that left him after those few games mid-season, he’ll be back to his old dominant self.  The fact is, Broxton is one of the best relievers in baseball.

Joining Broxton in that category is left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo who was literally the best reliever in the NL last year.  He posted an insane 10.95 K/9 rate and 4.06 K/BB ratio which led to a surreal 1.81 FIP.  As with all relievers there’s a chance for regression, but even a regressed Kuo is a dominant setup man.

23-year-old right-hander Kenley Jansen came up from AA last year and began completely dominating major-league hitters.  He struck out 41 batters in only 27 innings of work and didn’t give up a single homerun.  Again, there almost certainly will be regression here, but Jansen has the potential to form one of the best bullpen back-end trios in baseball with Kuo and Broxton.

Veteran Matt Guerrier was signed to a three-year deal this offseason from the Twins and figures to the middle-inning reliever capable of eating a lot of innings out of the bullpen this season.  He doesn’t strike out enough batters to be dominating and is definitely not worth the $12-million investment the Dodgers have made in him, but as a sixth-inning guy in front of Jansen, Kuo, and Broxton, the Dodgers could do much worse.

The rest of the ‘pen will be a battle between the potential fifth starters who lose out and the likes of Ramon Troncoso, Ronald Belisario, Jon Link, Carlos Monasterios, Travis Schlichting, and non roster candidates like Lance Cormier, Dana Eveland, Mike MacDougal, Ron Mahay, and Oscar Villarreal.

Catchers
With Russell Martin and his old-man hip off to the Bronx, the Dodgers re-signed former Jay Rod Barajas to split time with another free agent addition in Dioner Navarro.  Barajas managed a .310 wOBA to go along with 17 homeruns last season between the Mets and LA and although he’s not a good defensive catcher, he works well with the pitching staff and calls a good game.

Navarro, on the other hand, came over from Tampa where he was a big part of the team’s 2008 pennant-winning team.  He was at one time a Dodger and will get a chance to do right by the organization.  He was terrible last year posting an anaemic .194/.270/.258 slash line, but is amazingly still just 27-years-old and has much more upside than Barajas.

A.J. Ellis will provide depth in case one gets hurt or is ineffective.  He was actually far more productive in limited time in 2010 than Navarro.

Infielders
Rafael Furcal had a nice bounce-back year in 2010 after an ineffective ’09.  Despite only playing in 97 games due to injury, Furcal accumulated a position-player team best 4.1 WAR with an impressive .300/.366/.460 line.  He also demonstrated that he can still field with 4.3 UZR and still run with 22 stolen bases.  At 33 and coming off more injuries, Furcal may take a step back, but considering the league-wide shortage of quality shortstops, the Dodgers could do much worse.

I was once a big believer in James Loney.  I always thought his ability to make solid contact and his projectable frame made him a great candidate for big season after big season, but I’ve given up on that.  He’s not a bad player, but he’s essentially Lyle Overbay with slightly less homerun power and more speed.  If the McCourt’s sort out their issues and Albert Pujols hits the open market next fall, I would not be at all surprised to see the Dodgers make a run at signing the best player in baseball.

The Dodgers decided Ryan Theriot wasn’t the answer at second base and dealt him to the Cardinals for Hawksworth and then signed veteran Juan Uribe away from the rival Giants.  Uribe was a revelation for San Fran last year posting terrific fielding numbers and a 3.2 WAR to go along with 24 homeruns in a pitcher-friendly park.  Uribe is a very difficult player to project from year-to-year and is very streaky, but is ultimately due for a regression in 2011.

Casey Blake was to be the Opening Day third baseman again in 2011, but the 37-year-old is hurt and will miss some time at the start of the year.  Blake is still a very good defensive player who can contribute enough with the bat to provide value, but until he returns it’s likely that Uribe slide to third while veteran Jamey Carroll will move into second base.

Carroll posted a higher WAR rating than Loney, Andre Ethier, and Kemp last season with a .291/.379/.339 slash line and a 2.6 UZR rating at all three infield positions.  Ivan De Jesus Jr., Russ Mitchell, and non-roster invitees Aaron Miles and Juan Castro are also in the mix for bench spots.  Mitchell may also get a crack at the Opening Day third base job.

Outfielders
Kemp and Ethier in center and right respectively have the ability to be elite players, but neither showed it last year.  Ethier was good at the plate with a .292/.364/.493 slash line and 23 homeruns, but he was one of the worst defensive rightfielders in the game with a -15.4 UZR rating.

Kemp was terrible at the plate and in the field posting a major-league worst -24.0 UZR in center.  Although he hit 28 homeruns and stole 19 bases his .249/.310/.450 slash line coupled with his defence made him a barely above replacement player.  Still just 26, Kemp has too much talent to that bad for too long.  He’s probably best suited for a corner outfield spot, but his bat should come around and that will go a long way to getting the Dodgers back in to contention.

In leftfield, LA plans to use a platoon of left-handed-hitting Jay Gibbons who has a career .787 OPS against righties and right-handed-hitting Marcus Thames who has a career .838 OPS against lefties.  The Thames-half of this platoon is solid (at least offensively), but he needs a better partner than Gibbons who is equally as bad defensively.

Xavier Paul and Tony Gwynn Jr. are also around and may find their way onto the team.  Paul is out of options and the acquisition of the defensively gifted Gwynn could signal the end for him with the Dodgers.  Both, however, may be more suitable to platoon with Thames than Gibbons.

A chart for the Dodgers detailing their roster can be found here.

Overview
With a deep and talented rotation and a lineup that can pull their weight if Kemp and Ethier have rebound seasons, the Dodgers should not be nearly as bad as they were last season.  Broxton, Kuo, Jansen and Guerrier form a potentially dominant bullpen and role players like Furcal, Uribe, and Blake still have value despite their advanced age.  With the McCourt’s legal battle handcuffing the team financially, this could be their last kick at the ol’ playoff can.
Final Prediction: 90-72, 1st NL West

2011 Colorado Rockies: A top-heavy roster could make it difficult to really contend

2010 Record: 83-79, 3rd NL West
2010 Prediction: 79-83, 4th NL West
Diff: 4
2011 Prediction: 3rd NL West

Impact Player: SS Troy Tulowitzki
Impact Pitcher: RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
Best Reliever: RHP Huston Street
Top Prospect: LHP Tyler Matzek

General Manager: Dan O’Dowd
Manager: Jim Tracy

Significant Acquisitions:
RHP Matt Lindstrom, 2B/3B Jose Lopez, C Jose Morales, INF Ty Wigginton, RHP Felipe Paulino

Significant Departures:
C Miguel Olivo, 2B Clint Barmes, 3B Melvin Mora, OF Jay Payton, LHP Jeff Francis, RHP Manny Corpas, LHP Joe Beimel, RHP Manny Delcarmen, RHP Octavio Dotel

On September 18th, 2010, the Rockies were 82-66 and just a game out of first in the NL West when they hit a brick wall.  They won just one of their final 14 games and finished a mediocre 83-79, nine full games out of first.  The Rockies have proven themselves to be a streaky team, but usually the good end of the streak gets them into the playoffs rather than keeping them out.

The question going into 2011 is which team is the real Rockies?  The 82-66 team, or the 83-79 team?  Colorado was also a really bad road team in 2011 posting a phenomenal .642 record at home, but a .383 record on the road.  The team’s pitching was consistent on all fronts, but all of the prominent Rockies’ position players were terrible away from Coors Field.  It’s at least reasonable that that will even out a little in 2011 even if they are still a significantly better home team.

The Rockies’ front office is also making some perplexing decisions by dedicating a lot of money to a few players and extending players like Troy Tulowitzki even though they were already under contract until 2014.  It’ll be interesting to see if these bold moves end up paying off or weighing down the franchise going forward.
Starting Pitching
Ubaldo Jimenez asserted himself as a true ace pitcher last season compiling an impressive 2.88 ERA, 3.10 FIP and 221.2 innings pitched.  It was the best single season pitching performance in the history of the franchise and Jimenez was in Cy Young talks all year long.  Most impressive was his ability to keep the ball in the park, especially in Coors Field where he allowed just four homeruns in 101.2 innings of work.  Numbers such as that may not stay that low, but Jimenez is still a legitimate number one pitcher.  He struggled in the second-half, however, after one of the best first halves in recent memory.

Beyond him there are some questions.  Jorge de la Rosa was re-signed to a two-year, $21.5-million contract with a player option for a third year that could make the contract worth three-years and $31.5-million.  de la Rosa bounced around for years between the Brewers, Royals, and Rockies before finally breaking out in 2009 with 16 wins.  Unfortunately, he had a mediocre 4.38 ERA and only slightly better 3.91 FIP.  Last season, he made only 20 starts and saw his FIP balloon to 4.30.  This contract could end up being a big mistake for Colorado.  He probably isn’t a legitimate number-two pitcher on a contending team.

Jhoulys Chacin has shown flashes of brilliance and had a 3.28 ERA and 3.54 FIP striking out over a batter an inning last season for the Rockies.  He may end up having a better season than de la Rosa, but at just 23-years-old could see a slight regression that often comes with a young pitcher.

Jason Hammel will be the number four guy to start the year after a decent 2010.  Hammel displays solid command with a BB/9 rate of 2.26 over the last two seasons.  His ERA last season was a rough-looking 4.81, but his FIP was substantially better at 3.70.  The Rockies could do much worse than Hammel at the back end of their rotation.

Aaron Cook was looking to rebound after an injury-plagued 2010 season that saw him post a 4.54 FIP in just 127.2 innings of work, but not only has he experienced some shoulder tightness this spring, but he slammed a finger on his pitching hand in a door at his residence on March 11th and has not pitched since because of the resulting broken finger.  If Cook eventually gets healthy and pitches this season, the Rockies’ rotation looks much better.  Without him, Colorado will turn to either Esmil Rogers or non-roster invitees John Maine and Claudio Vargas.

Felipe Paulino was acquired in an offseason trade with the Astros for long-time Rocky Clint Barmes, but the team has decided to move him to the bullpen; a move that Paulino has apparently taken well to.
Bullpen
Speaking of the bullpen, the Rockies unit looks like it could be one of the better ones in the National League.  Huston Street may not be an elite closer, but he’s consistent and reliable.  He posted a 3.61 ERA and an impressive 3.37 FIP last year and continued to show great control with a 2.09 BB/9 rate.

Matt Belisle was finally given a definitive role for the first time in his career and he responded by having a career-year.  Belisle had 12 decisions (which means nothing except that he was trusted with a lot of high leverage, game-deciding situations) and had a terrific 2.68 FIP mainly due to a surreal 5.69 K/BB ratio.

Joining Belisle in setup if left-hander Rafael Betancourt.  If Belisle’s K/BB ratio was surreal, Betancourt’s was stupefying at 11.13.  The 36-year-old averaged 12.85 K/9 and posted a 2.49 FIP to go along with a decent 3.61 ERA in 2010.

Unsatisfied with three good relievers at the back of the bullpen (or perhaps worried that Belisle will turn into a pumpkin), the Rockies traded for former Astros and Marlins closer Matt Lindstrom.  Lindstrom has an electric arm and had 23 saves in Houston last year.  His 4.39 ERA was a tad high, but his FIP was a little better at 3.81.  His stuff has historically been much better than his numbers indicate so Lindstrom could break out at any point.  If he doesn’t, the Rockies should have the depth to cover up their mistake.

Left-hander Matt Reynolds was very solid in 18 big-league innings last year and will be in competition for the second lefty job with Franklin Morales who had a terrible 6.29 FIP in 28.2 innings last season, but has terrific upside as a reliever.  Righties Paulino, Matt Daley, Edgmer Escalona, and Clay Mortensen are in the hunt for the final bullpen spot.
Catchers
Miguel Olivo was good for Colorado last season, but the team decided to move on given the depth at the catcher position in the system.

Chris Iannetta was relegated to backup duty for most of last year and was terrible.  He hit just .197, but had a great walk-rate and solid enough power to prevent his WAR rating from falling below zero.  He enters camp in a likely platoon with former Twin Jose Morales who put up similar numbers to Iannetta with less power and better fielder ratings.

The wildcard is Jordan Pacheco who has torn apart pitchers in Spring Training so far; so much so that it looks like he could wiggle his way on to the roster.  Since both Iannetta and Morales are out of options, it could mean one of them will hit the waiver wire before the season starts.

Wilin Rosario is one of the league’s top prospects but he has yet to play a game above AA so expect him to start the year at AAA-Colorado Springs.  If he thrives there, it probably won’t be long before you see him at the major-league level.
Infielders
Troy Tulowitzki cemented himself as the game’s best shortstop in 2010 posting a .315/.381/.568 slash line and a 6.4 WAR rating despite only playing in 122 games.  For a slugger, he posted a very low strike-out rate in 2010 and Tulo is also one of the premier defensive shortstops in that game with terrific range and a plus throwing arm.

The Rockies are so confident in him that they extended his contract through 2020 when he was already -extended through 2014 in one of the oddest moves by a front office in a long time.  The other concerning thing about Tulowitzki is his home and road splits.  Last year Tulo posted an unreal .339/.403/.631 slash line at Coors Field compared to a .291/.358/.504 line on the road.

At first base is franchise stalwart Todd Helton who had by far his worst season in 2010 and appears to be in full decline.  Coupled with below-average defensive ratings and a dismal .367 slugging percentage, Helton accumulated a 0.4 WAR rating making him just above replacement value.  At 37, there’s little hope that he’ll turn this around.

At the opposite corner, Ian Stewart will look to prove his worth.  He has shown solid power but his hit-tool has been suspect.  If he can bring his average up to the .270 range, Stewart can conceivably be a 30-homerun threat.  He’s still only 26-years-old.

At second base, the Rockies acquired the much maligned Jose Lopez from Seattle where injuries and inconsistencies took their toll.  He was once one of the top young players in the game and very quickly fell off a cliff.  If he can figure stuff out, the trade that nabbed him may turn out to be a huge boon for the organization.

In competition with Lopez are Eric Young Jr., veteran Ty Wigginton and Jonathan Herrera.  Young has yet to show much offensively or defensively at the major league level and could be on his last legs in the organization.  His ability to play leftfield does help his overall value, though.

Wigginton, meanwhile, likely has much more value to the team as a super-utility player with some pop off the bench.  Herrera, like Pacheco is hitting well enough to stick with the team and could split time with Lopez who I still think has the best chance at sticking long-term.

Jason Giambi was brought back on a minor-league deal and should make the team as a pinch-hit specialist who can fill in occasionally at first base.  If Helton gets hurt again, he might be the only other option in the system right now who could step in, which is a scary thought.

Joe Crede is also around on a minor-league deal after missing all of last season with an injury.  He can play the corner infield positions and could fill in occasionally in the outfield as well.
Outfielders
Carlos Gonzalez is expected to play most of his time in leftfield rather than right where he struggled defensively at times in 2010.  There was, however, no struggle in his bat.  Gonzalez was in the MVP discussion all season and finished with a sublime slash line of .336/.376/.598, with 34 homeruns, 26 stolen bases and a 6.0 WAR rating.

His low walk-rate and very high BABIP of .384 may signal a regression forthcoming and his road splits were awful.  Like much of his team, Gonzalez was a totally different hitter on the road.  At home he hit .380/.425/.737 while on the road he was a much more modest .289/.322/.453.

It’s hard to believe that he’s as good as his home numbers or as bad as his road numbers and Coors Field no doubt played a factor, but it’s doubtful that it played that much of one.  Look for those numbers to even out a little and look for a slight regression overall.

In centerfield will likely be Dexter Fowler who could be primed for a breakout after a solid, but not spectacular .260/.347/.410 slash line and a 1.7 WAR rating in 505 plate appearances.  He’s not likely a future All-Star, but he projects to be a solid player.

Rightfield is up for grabs between Seth Smith and Ryan Spilborghs who will likely end up platooning.  Many are predicting that this will be the year Smith breaks out, but at 28, it seems unlikely.  Spilborghs on the other hand, was so bad defensively last year that his decent numbers at the plate were completely cancelled out.

26-year-old Cole Garner tore up AAA last season and could also be in the mix for a roster spot.

Chartastic breakdown.
Overview
There are some seriously talented players on this roster capable of carrying the team, which is exactly what they did for most of last year, but ultimately Tulowitzki, Gonzalez and Jimenez can’t do it all and some of the role players need to step up if they’re truly going to compete in the NL West in 2011.  Some are saying that the 83 wins the Rockies posted in 2010 was unlucky; I say it was right about where they should have been and expecting a whole lot more from them this year is risky.  They are a very streaky team, however, and with a top-heavy roster they may make a run at any time.
Final Prediction: 85-77, 3rd NL West

2011 Arizona Diamondbacks: One of the worst pitching staffs in baseball will try not embarrass a decent lineup

2010 Record: 65-97, 5th NL West
2010 Prediction: 84-78, 3rd NL West
Diff: 19
2011 Prediction: 5th NL West

Impact Player: RF Justin Upton
Impact Pitcher: RHP J.J. Putz
Best Reliever: RHP J.J. Putz
Top Prospect: RHP Jarrod Parker

General Manager: Kevin Towers
Manager: Kirk Gibson (34-49, .470)

Significant Acquisitions:
LHP Zach Duke, RHP J.J. Putz, RHP David Hernandez, RHP Kam Mickolio, 1B Juan Miranda, 3B Melvin Mora, OF Xavier Nady, C Henry Blanco, 3B/1B Geoff Blum, RHP Armando Galarraga, UTIL Willie Bloomquist, RHP Micah Owings, 1B Russell Branyan

Significant Departures:
1B Adam LaRoche, 3B Mark Reynolds, UTIL Rusty Ryal, INF Augie Ojeda, OF Ryan Church, INF Bobby Crosby, RHP Rodrigo Lopez, RHP Blaine Boyer, RHP D.J. Carrasco

I have been way off each of the last two years in predicting a Diamondbacks breakout and even though they’ve made more changes than just about any team in the past year, they’re probably worse on paper this year than last.  Part of the reason my faith in this team had persisted in each of the past two years was the starter tandem of Dan Haren and Brandon Webb.  Coming into the past two Spring Trainings with those two at the head of your rotation had to make you feel pretty good.  I was confident that Webb would recover from his shoulder ailments and achieve at least some of his former dominance and coupled with some young rising stars in the lineup, the D-Backs looked like a team on the rise.

Unfortunately, Webb missed his second straight year and Haren was dealt to Anaheim when it was clear the team wasn’t going to contend.  Up-and-coming superstar Justin Upton had a down year, as did slugging third baseman Mark Reynolds and the team fired young manager A.J. Hinch halfway through the year and replaced him with bench coach Kirk Gibson.  The team didn’t fare any better after the switch and finished with a 65-97 record, finishing last in the NL West.

Gone in 2011 are corner infielders Adam LaRoche and Reynolds, pitchers Webb, Haren, Edwin Jackson, and closer Chad Qualls and in is starter Zach Duke, new closer J.J. Putz and useless veteran third baseman Melvin Mora.

A new regime led by former Padres’ GM Kevin Towers is in the front office and they were so committed to starting over this offseason that they floated the idea of trading Upton.  They decided to keep their 23-year-old franchise outfielder (thankfully for D-Backs’ fans) and seem committed to building around him for now.

Starting Rotation
With Haren and Webb now in the D-Backs history books, they are firmly in a year of transition in the pitching staff.  Promising prospects Jarrod Parker and Tyler Skaggs are still at least a year away from making a real impact on this team so the Diamondbacks have far more questions than answers in their rotation for 2011.

The battle for Opening Day starter was between three pitchers: Ian Kennedy, Joe Saunders and upstart youngster Daniel Hudson.  Kennedy won out after a decent season in the desert in ’10.  He finished with a 3.80 ERA and 194 innings-pitched.  Like most pitchers in Arizona, he gave up a ton of homeruns which led to an inflated FIP of 4.33.  Kennedy counts on getting a lot of flyball outs which severely limits his potential the homer-happy dry air of the Arizona desert.

Saunders split last season between the Angels and Arizona after being acquired in the Haren deal.  Overall, he lost 17 games and finished with a disappointing 4.57 FIP although he was slightly better with the D-Backs.

Hudson was lights out after being acquired from the White Sox in the Jackson trade going 7-1 with a 1.69 ERA and a 3.22 FIP in eleven late-season starts.  Repeating those type of numbers will prove to be very difficult for Hudson once the rest of the league begins to build a report on him.  Most scouts think he’s a solid number three pitcher at best.

Duke was acquired from the Pirates this offseason and will look to rebound in 2011.  He produces a decent groundball rate which should play well in Arizona, but he allowed 25 homeruns in just 159 innings playing most of his games at a fairly neutral ballpark in Pittsburgh.  His 5.72 ERA and 4.95 FIP could skyrocket with the most west.  If it does, he may not be long for this team.

The fifth spot is being fought over by Barry Enright, who had a terrible 5.62 FIP in 99 innings last year, Armando Galarraga, who despite pitching a “perfect” game in June had a terrible 5.09 FIP in pitcher-friendly Detroit and possibly Kevin Mulvey who was less-than-impressive in AAA last season.  Galarraga is out of options so he may be the most likely to stick.

Bullpen
With Qualls being dealt to Tampa last July, the Diamondbacks turned to Juan Gutierrez as their closer late last year and although he accumulated 15 saves, he had a 5.08 ERA and an even worse 5.83 FIP making his solid 2009 season seem like a distant memory.  Deciding to reinforce their shaky bullpen, Arizona signed J.J. Putz to a two-year, $10-million deal and he heads into the year as the closer.  Putz was formerly a closer with the Mariners and has spent the last two years as a setup man with the Mets and White Sox.

Last season on the South-Side, Putz had a 2.83 ERA and a very good 10.83 K/9 rate which led to an outstanding 2.52 FIP.  He also keeps the ball in the park, something almost everyone on this team has trouble with so there’s an immediate upgrade in the closer spot for this season.

Unsatisfied after acquiring Putz, GM Towers traded Reynolds, his slugging but struggling third baseman, to the Orioles for two relievers in David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio.  Both have live arms and the ability to strike out batters, but neither can seem to keep the ball in the park.  Hernandez had a dismal 27.9 groundball percentage last year which means he may get hammered hard in Arizona.  Mickolio, on the other hand, had a 6.37 ERA in 35.1 innings in AAA last season although his FIP was a solid 3.40.  With his big strikeout potential, he could have a breakout year in 2011.

Sam Demel is also in the mix and was acquired for outfielder Conor Jackson from the A’s last year.  He wasn’t terrible after the trade and should settle in in mid-relief this season.

Left-hander Jordan Norberto has a live arm, but can’t control it.  If he can’t figure out how to harness his stuff, he’s not going to be much use to this team.  Other lefties in the mix are Zach Kroenke, Joe Paterson, Leyson Septimo, Clay Zavada and reclamation project Mike Hampton who was brought back on a minor-league deal after impressing in a very small 4.1 innings sample size in 2010.

Other right-handers in the mix include Esmerling Vasquez, Aaron Heilman, Carlos Rosa and non-roster invites Rafael Rodriguez and Micah Owings.  Owings may be an intriguing storyline to follow this season as the D-Backs have said they’re considering using him as both a pitcher and a first baseman.  Owings is widely considered the best hitting pitcher in the game, but has struggled to stick at the major-league level with both Arizona and Cincinnati.

Catchers
In a world where there are less quality starting catchers than teams, the D-Backs could do much worse than the underrated Miguel Montero.  Montero doesn’t embarrass himself behind the plate and puts up solid offensive numbers.  He’s accumulated a 5.0 WAR over the last two seasons which is behind only Brian McCann, Yadier Molina, and Carlos Ruiz in the National League.

Backing him up will be 39-year-old Henry Blanco who was brought in on a free agent deal from the Mets.  He doesn’t hit anymore, but is still a strong defender who’ll fill in nicely on days off for Montero.

John Hester saw some major-league time in 2010 and will provide depth.

Infielders
The most intriguing spring battle on this team lies at first base where two near-bust prospects and a veteran slugger are attempting to nail down the job.  Former Yankee prospect Juan Miranda was finally liberated from purgatory behind both Jason Giambi and Mark Teixeira in the Bronx and figures to be winning the job right now.  At 28-years-old, this may be his only real shot.

Russell Branyan is in on a minor-league deal after spending last year split between Cleveland and Seattle where he finished with an .810 OPS and .350 wOBA.  His favourable splits towards righties and terrible defense make him more likely a pinch-hit candidate who can occasionally fill in at first than an everyday player.  He did manage 25 homeruns and a 2.0 WAR last season.7

Finally, Brandon Allen is also in the mix, but with the team saying Miranda is winning the job right now, Allen looks to be the odd man out and will likely start the year at AAA.  If Miranda scuffles, he may see time.

Kelly Johnson emerged as one of the best second baseman in the game in 2010 slugging 26 homeruns, finishing with a .377 wOBA, a 7.1 UZR defensively and a 6.0 WAR that ranked him behind only Robinson Cano and Rickie Weeks and ahead of Chase Utley.  The question for the D-Backs is can he sustain it?  Most of his numbers look somewhat repeatable, but his .339 BABIP and astronomically high 15.6% HR/FB rate should ensure a bit of a regression.

At shortstop, Stephen Drew quietly put up a terrific season in 2010.  He finished with a 5.1 WAR rating putting him behind only Troy Tulowitzki and ahead of Hanley Ramirez.  With the lack of truly elite everyday shortstops in baseball right now, Drew has cemented himself as (contemporarily at least) the third best shortstop in the game.

Replacing Reynolds at third will be the 39-year-old stop gap Mora who comes over from Colorado where he put up a dismal -9.8 UZR at third which made him a barely above replacement player.  The good news is that the D-Backs have Matt Davidson, a Reynolds clone with higher average potential coming up through the system along with another third base prospect in Bobby Borchering and Arizona is confident at least one will turn out.  The bad news is neither will see major league action until likely 2013.

Veteran Geoff Blum comes over from Houston and will provide depth at the corners while Tony Abreu is expected to make the team as a utility infielder.  Ryan Roberts and non-roster invite Cody Ransom could also crack the team if Abreu struggles.

Outfielders
Upton was talked about in trade rumours around the Winter Meetings, but Towers decided to hang on to his talented young rightfielder instead of dealing him for a bounty of prospects.  Upton has the raw ability to win multiple MVP awards as a true five-tool player.  He had a down year in 2010, but he is still just 23 and has shown the ability to absolutely mash.  I would be surprised if he’s not in the conversation of the game’s elite within two years.

Centerfielder Chris Young is another toolsy player albeit not as young or as potential-laden as his running-mate.  He doesn’t hit for a great average but has well above-average power and speed and is a solid defensive player.  He accumulated a 4.3 WAR in 2010 which was much higher than Upton’s.

Leftfield is a little less certain.  Gerardo Parra is just 24-years-old but his skill-set suggests that he’s better suited as a fourth outfielder while the only other real option is veteran Xavier Nady who is never going to be the player he was in 2008.  Cole Gillespie and non-roster invite Wily Mo Pena, who’s taking time out of his busy schedule of bad rap songs and beating pregnant women to try and make the team.

Arizona Chart-ondbacks

Overview
The Diamondbacks will hit enough to keep from completely embarrassing themselves, but their pitching staff will undoubtedly be among the worst in baseball.  Hudson, Parker, and Skaggs provide a potentially bright future but the Diamondbacks appear to be at least two years from making any real noise in the NL West.
Final Prediction: 66-96, 5th NL West

2011 St. Louis Cardinals: Was Wainwright the difference between contention and mediocrity?

2010 Record: 86-76, 2nd NL Central
2010 Prediction: 84-78, 2nd NL Central
Diff: 2
2011 Prediction: 3rd NL Central

Impact Player: 1B Albert Pujols
Impact Pitcher: RHP Chris Carpenter
Best Reliever: RHP Ryan Franklin
Top Prospect: RHP Shelby Miller

General Manager: GM John Mozeliak
Manager: Tony LaRussa (1318-1110, .543)

Significant Acquisitions:
LHP Brian Tallet, RHP Miguel Batista, SS Ryan Theriot, OF Lance Berkman, C Gerald Laird, INF Nick Punto, RHP Bryan Augenstein

Significant Departures:
OF Randy Winn, UTIL Pedro Feliz, LHP Dennys Reyes, RHP Mike MacDougal

 

The St. Louis Cardinals are in an awkward position.  They won only 86 games in baseball’s worst division last season, finishing well back of the Reds and in 2011, they return much the same team with one very large subtraction.  Adam Wainwright, the team’s undisputed ace, will miss the entire season recovering from Tommy John surgery, leaving the rotation in a precarious position.  Not only that, but the Cards failed to ink the best player in baseball to a contract extension this offseason and there’s now a very good chance he’ll hit the open market this fall.

St. Louis could go from perennial contenders to a team in transition very quickly.  If they don’t contend in 2011, it’ll be all the harder to re-sign Pujols and for a team with very little depth outside of a few top players, that is a problem.
Starting Rotation
With Wainwright at the top of this rotation in 2011, the Cardinals finished third in the NL in ERA and fifth in runs allowed.  Wainwright finished last year with a 2.86 FIP putting him behind only Josh Johnson, Cliff Lee, and Francisco Liriano in all of baseball.  Losing him will be very difficult to overcome.

Charged with the task of heading such an undertaking will be 36-year-old Chris Carpenter who threw an impressive 235 innings in 2010 and put up solid numbers with a 3.22 ERA and 3.69 FIP.  Amazingly, that FIP was his highest mark since 2004.  Carpenter has managed to make it back from several career-threatening arm injuries, but there’s no telling when the injury bug will strike again.  If it does, the Cardinals are really screwed.

24-year-old Jaime Garcia (pronounced Hi-a-may) was very good in his rookie campaign.  He posted a 2.70 ERA and a solid 3.41 FIP.  Some think that Garcia’s 2010 was a bit of a fluke and although I do find it hard to believe that he’ll replicate those numbers in 2011, his batted-ball average, HR/FB rate and left-on-base percentage were all close to the league average suggesting that most of his numbers are repeatable.

Jake Westbrook finally returned from missing almost two entire years due to shoulder problems and was a decent back-end arm for both the Indians and Cardinals last season.  In his 12 starts with St. Louis, Westbrook posted a 3.48 ERA and 3.52 FIP.  Like Carpenter, his only question mark is health, otherwise they should know exactly what to expect from the 33-year-old.  Whether or not he’s worth the two-year, $16.5-million extension he inked this offseason is yet to be seen.

Kyle Lohse will look to rebound in 2011 as the number four starter.  After re-establishing his career in 2008 posting a 200-inning season with a 3.78 ERA and 3.89 FIP, Lohse has battled injuries the past two season making only 40 major-league starts over those two years.  Last year, in only 18 starts, he posted a miserable 6.55 ERA and 4.42 FIP.  One factor that suggests a rebound in 2011 was his .364 BABIP.  Like Westbrook and Carpenter, health is the biggest issue here.

The fifth spot in the rotation vacated by Wainwright’s injury looks to be going to converted reliever Kyle McClellan.  McClellan has established himself as a quality back-end reliever after a 2.27 ERA in 75.1 innings last year.  His 4.07 FIP suggests that he may have been a tad lucky, but if he can keep the ball in the park, he should be pretty solid.  Some are predicting that he’ll be this year’s C.J. Wilson, but if he struggles, he’ll be back in a setup role quickly.

Other candidates for the final spot include Bryan Augenstein, David Kopp, and minor-leaguers Lance Lynn and former top prospect Adam OttavinoIan Snell was also brought in on a minor-league deal, but has allegedly retired after the team sent him to their minor-league camp.
Bullpen
A failed starter for much of his career, the Cardinals signed Ryan Franklin ahead of the 2007 season and he took off as a late-inning reliever.  By the middle of the 2008 campaign, Franklin was regularly closing out games and turned out a fantastic career-year in 2009.  2010 was a more normal year for him as he returned to a modest 3.46 ERA and 3.83 FIP while accumulating 27 saves.  Franklin is 38-years-old and is a disaster decline-year waiting to happen, but the Cards are hoping it’s not this year especially since McClellan is expected to move into the rotation.

Jason Motte stepped in last year and put up some very good numbers as a late-inning high-leverage pitcher.  After his late-April call up from AAA, Motte threw in a 2.24 ERA and 3.29 FIP in 52.1 innings at the major-league level.  His strike out numbers are very good and should continue to be good making him a possible replacement closer if Franklin struggles.

Right-hander Mitchell Boggs stepped in last season and provide a nice year of relief with a 3.61 ERA and 3.88 FIP in 67.1 innings of work.  His K/BB ratio is a bit pedestrian, but as a middle-innings reliever, he’s not bad.

Veteran left-handers Trever Miller (38) and offseason signing Brian Tallet (33) should provide the south-paw relief and although Miller is serviceable, he posted a not-so-good 4.86 FIP against right-handers last year making him a possible LOOGY.  Tallet on the other hand was awful in Toronto last year acting as a swing-man who made an occasional start.  He posted a 6.40 ERA and even worse 6.70 FIP.

The final two bullpen spots will be battled out in the spring with internal options like Fernando Salas, Blake King, and P.J. Walters battling 40-year-old Miguel Batista who’s in camp on a minor-league deal.  Given his injury history, Ottavino might also be a nice fit in the bullpen if he’s not starting.

Catchers
Yadier Molina is consistently one of the better all-around catchers in the game.  He continually plays outstanding defence (6.0 UZR last year) and possesses one of the finest throwing arms for a catcher.  He’s not going to set the world on fire with his bat, but he holds his own posting a .262/.329/.342 slash line last year.  A mark that was quite far below his offensive performances from the previous three seasons.

Veteran Gerald Laird was acquired to back up Molina but is probably a worse overall option than Bryan Anderson who continues to toe the line in AAA.

Infielders
Pujols at first base is on pace to become known as the best hitter who ever lived.  Although there is a general understanding that he’s at least two years older than he says he is, Pujols will be the most talented free agent to hit the market since Alex Rodriguez if he does not sign an extension with St. Louis before the end of the season; and he’ll get A-Rodesque money wherever he ends up.  Pujols had another stellar campaign in 2010 with a .312/.414/.596 slash line although it was his worst overall season since his sophomore 2002 campaign.  He finished second to Joey Votto in NL MVP voting and has now finished in the top-four in MVP voting every year except 2007 when he finished 9th.  If it wasn’t for the exploits of Barry Bonds, Pujols would probably six MVP awards instead of the three he has to his name currently.

The rest of the infield should be filed under “also-ran”.  Skip Schumaker was a below-replacement-value player in 2010 and was the worst defensive second-baseman in baseball, but none-the-less, he’s back there for 2011.

Third baseman David Freese is already 28 and although he showed promise in his rookie 2010 campaign, he’s still a limited-ceiling player who’s a stop-gap until something better comes along.  He’s also not a great defensive player.

Ryan Theriot typifies the type of player Tony LaRussa tends to covet; a hard-nosed, scrappy, white middle-infielder who has the “heart” and “leadership” abilities to help team win.  Unfortunately, logic gets in the way of this argument since Theriot is at best a replacement-level player who has no business calling shortstop his home defensively.

Other infielders in this category are Tyler Greene and Nick Punto, although at least Punto can play defense and has some versatility.  The Cardinals lack real depth in the infield.
Outfielders
Colby Rasmus is hated by LaRussa because he doesn’t fit the mould of a LaRussa-type of player and because of that he’s very underrated.  Rasmus showed that he is about to become an All-Star-level talent offensively in 2010 posting a .276/.361/.498 slash line to go along with 23 homeruns.  He’s athletic and has all the tools to be a solid centerfielder, although he struggled there last year according to his -6.5 UZR.

In leftfield, Matt Holliday did his best in 2010 to prove that he’s not overpaid.  He had an excellent year with a .312/.390/.532 slash line and his 6.9 WAR was behind only Josh Hamilton, Joey Votto, Pujols, Ryan Zimmerman and Adrian Beltre in all of baseball.  Although he takes a lot of flak for his defence, Holliday is consistently rated well according to UZR and he posted a career-best 8.2 in that regard in 2010.

The rightfielder will be offseason signing Lance Berkman.  Despite barely being able to hold his own at first base, the Cardinals plan to move him back to the outfield where he could be the worst defensive player in the game.  Coupled with his declining bat, Berkman may find himself on that line of a zero product WAR player.  Luckily, they only signed him for one year.

If the Cardinals were a little smarter, they probably would have recognized that they’d be better off letting either Jon Jay or Allen Craig roam rightfield in 2011, rather than Berkman.  As it stands, they’ll be the extra options.

A roster-chart for St. Louis resides in the underlined text.
Overview
The Cardinals are returning pretty much the exact same team as last season and now they don’t have their best pitcher.  Berkman and Theriot do not equal the loss of Wainwright, in fact, the Cards may be worse because of the addition of those two players.  It’s hard to imagine the Cards really contending, even in the weak NL Central.  They are one more major injury away from total collapse and with players like Carpenter, Westbrook, and Lohse in their rotation that could very well happen.  Cardinals’ fans shouldn’t expect Pujols to stick around on a losing team.  My prediction is that he’ll be playing elsewhere in 2012.
Final Prediction: 78-84, 3rd NL Central

2011 Pittsburgh Pirates: A promising young group of hitters paints a silver lining on the the darkest cloud in baseball.

2010 Record: 57-105, 6th NL Central
2010 Prediction: 62-100, 6th NL Central
Diff: 5
2011 Prediction: 5th NL Central

Impact Player: 3B Pedro Alvarez
Impact Pitcher: RHP James McDonald
Best Reliever: RHP Joel Hanrahan
Top Prospect: RHP Jameson Taillon

General Manager: Neal Huntington
Manager: Clint Hurdle (1st Season)

Significant Acquisitions:
RHP Kevin Correia, 1B Lyle Overbay, OF Matt Diaz, INF Josh Rodriguez, LHP Scott Olsen

Significant Departures:
OF Lastings Milledge, 3B/1B Andy LaRoche, 2B/OF Delwyn Young, INF Akinori Iwamura, C/1B Jeff Clement, LHP Zach Duke, LHP Javier Lopez, RHP Brendan Donnelly, RHP Chan Ho Park, LHP Wil Ledezma

AIMLESS MINI-RANT DISCLAIMER: Seriously marketing team, do away with the red already.  You’re ruining one of the best logo/nicknames in pro sports with your tackiness.  There’s nothing wrong with just plain black and yellow.  In fact, it’s one of the best colour combos going.  Just get rid of it.  Maybe then you’ll start winning.

The Pirates haven’t had a winning season since I was just entering grade three.  I remember when the team had Barry Bonds and was winning games.  I even remember watching that game in the 1992 NLCS against the Braves where the Braves clinched their second straight NL pennant only to lose to the Jays in the World Series.  But only very vaguely.  And likely only because there were implications for my Blue Jays.

18 consecutive losing season is a mark that few franchises in professional sports history can lay claim to.  Every year, hardened and probably mostly apathetic Pirates’ fans hope that this is the year the franchise starts to turn around, but usually it’s worse.  Last year, the Pirates were the worst team in baseball finishing with 105 loses, finishing last in the NL Central for the fourth straight year, the fifth time in six years and the ninth time since the lockout.  For all the terrible seasons the Pirates have gone through, the 2010 team had the most loses in a single season since the franchise’s last year as the Pittsburgh Alleghenys in 1890!

But, for the first time in probably a decade, Pirates’ fans have something to be hopeful for.  The emergence of several young stars including Pedro Alvarez, Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker, and Jose Tabata have formed the best young core of players in a very long time.  When pitching prospects such as Jameson Taillon and Stetson Allie start knocking on the major league door, the Pirates may be primed for a long overdue return to contention.  It won’t happen in 2011, but by 2013 or 2014, we might see a winner in the Steel City.

Starting Rotation
As bad as the Pirates were last season, they actually outperformed their Pythagorean record by four wins.  Their pitching allowed more runs than any other team in the NL and they also scored fewer runs than any other team.  For all the promise that lies in the Pirates lineup, their pitching staff is scarily thin.  It will be a few years before Taillon and Allie make an impact so the Pirates will have to try and find a way to get the most out of a cast of pitchers that would struggle to win in AAA.

Their top pitcher heading into the year appears to be James McDonald who was acquired in a trade along with outfielder/first baseman Andrew Lambo for Octavio Dotel.  That trade will end up being a stroke of genius as McDonald could end up being a solid number-three starter on a good team.  After the trade, he posted a 2.91 FIP in 11 starts with the Pirates.

The former lefty tandem of Paul Maholm and Zach Duke the has graced the top of the Pirates crappy rotation for years was broken up this offseason when the Pirates dealt the underachieving Duke to Arizona.  Maholm is still here and will need to improve on his 2010 numbers if he wants to stick around.  He posted a 5.10 ERA but did post a slightly better (although still not good) 4.18 FIP.

The rest of the rotation is by no means set in stone.  It’s likely that former Giant and Padre Kevin Correia will be slotted in, but the fact the he posted a 5.40 ERA and 4.71 FIP while pitching half of his games in the friendliest pitcher’s park in the game last year does not bode well.

Ross Ohlendorf was once very highly touted after being acquired from the Yankees, but like so many Pirates players, he didn’t live up to the hype.  He’s now 28-years-old and is coming off a 1-11 season with a 4.44 FIP.  He still has a good shot at this rotation simply because of a lack of options.

The same goes for Charlie Morton who had an equally terrible 2-12 record last season to go along with a vomit-inducing 7.57 ERA and 5.29 FIP.  His 1.69 HR/9 rate was 6th worst in the NL among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched.  Another starting candidate, Daniel McCutchen was one of the five who were worse with a 1.73 HR/9 rate.

Left-hander Scott Olsen recently made tiny waves by suggesting he should either be in the starting rotation or the Pirates should trade him.  This was kind of an off statement from someone who has never shown any consistent ability at the major-league level.  Although he has a shot, the lack of left-handed presence in the bullpen likely means he’ll end up there.

Jeff Karstens, Tony Watson, Brad Lincoln and non-roster invites Brian Burres, Sean Gallagher, and Fernando Nieve could also be given a shot to win a spot in either the rotation or the bullpen.

Bullpen
With Matt Capps and Octavio Dotel now gone, Joel Hanrahan should finally get his shot at closing for the Pirates.  Hanrahan posted an impressive 2.62 FIP last season mainly because of a ridiculous 12.92 K/9 rate.  He heads up a group that actually looks decent on paper.

Three other right-handers are essentially locks for spots in the ‘pen.  Evan Meek is a flame-thrower who keeps the ball on the ground and posted a 3.45 FIP last season; while Chris Resop and Chris Leroux both looked impressive in short stints at the major-league level last year.  Leroux’s 6.75 ERA is deceiving as he put up the peripherals that led to a 3.56 FIP in that time.

The rest of the bullpen will likely be made up of pitchers who fall out of the rotation competition, but Jose Ascanio, Mike Crotta, Kevin Hart, and left-hander Daniel Moskos are 40-man guys who have a shot.

Non-roster invitees that could crack the ‘pen include righties Jose Veras and Tyler Walker and lefties Joe Beimel and Justin Thomas.

Catchers
Ryan Doumit has fallen out of favour with Pirates’ management and was so bad defensively last year that the team tried moving him to the outfield.  Although he’s never been a good defensive catcher, Doumit wasn’t embarrassing himself at the position until last season and his offensive numbers are still pretty good for a catcher.  Last year, despite all the bad press, Doumit had a .251/.333/.406 slash line to go along with 13 homeruns and a .326 wOBA.  Not amazing numbers, but certainly numbers that project better as a catcher than as a right fielder.

The Pirates, however, seem content with starting Chris Snyder at catcher this season, which seems ridiculous since he’s not much better than Doumit defensively and had an awful .207/.320/.376 slash line last year.  At worst, these two should split time behind the plate.

Jason Jaramillo is also in the fold, but has yet to figure out how to hit and is appears as though he never will.

Infielders
Third baseman Pedro Alvarez is about to explode into all-out stardom.  After his call up from AA last season, Alvarez posted an acceptable .256/.326/.461 slash line and clubbed 16 homeruns.  He’s probably destined for first base at some point, but his overall ceiling is among the best of any young player in the game.  Alvarez hitting 30 homeruns this season is by no means a stretch.

At second base, the Pirates have another potential stud in converted third baseman Neil Walker.  He was an embarrassment defensively last year, but scouts point to his overall range as a reason to be hopeful that he can at least be average at second at some point.  If he isn’t, the team may move him back to third when Alvarez makes his transition.  Last season Walker put up a .296/.349/.462 line with 13 home runs in limited time.  If he can figure out a way to stay at second, his offensive ability plays like an All-Star at that position.

The Pirates signed former Blue Jay Lyle Overbay to play first base this year and although he’s not a good enough hitter for the position, he’s still a consistent on-base man who plays exemplary defence.  Alvarez and Walker will certainly benefit from having him on the throwing end of their plays.  Excluding last year, Overbay has been a consistent 2.0-2.5 WAR player throughout his career.

At shortstop, the Pirates will likely go with Ronny Cedeno who’s ultimately a replacement-level player, but they few other options.  If Cedeno is truly awful, Pedro Ciriaco could step in, but he’s ultimately no better.  Travis’ brother Chase D’Arnaud is also a shortstop, but after tearing through his first few pro years, he hit a wall at AA last year and is likely to go back there making his impact on the team in the short-term doubtful.

Josh Rodriguez was a Rule 5 pick from the Indians and has a real chance at making the team.  He can play all over the infield and could also end up the everyday shortstop if Cedeno struggles.

The team also has bust-prospect infielder Andy Marte in camp on a minor-league deal
Outfielders
Andrew McCutchen is a future superstar in centerfield.  He’s very overrated defensively where most metrics have him as a liability, but if the team ever moves him to a corner, he could be at least average.  Offensively, McCutchen is a force.  In his first full year, he hit for a decent average, showed great patience at the plate posting a 10.7 BB%, doesn’t strike out often and has some pop hitting 16 home runs and posting a .166 isolated power rating.  McCutchen also has the ability to steal a lot of bases with 33 last year, if you’re into that kind of thing.

In left, the Pirates have another young cornerstone in Jose Tabata.  Tabata came up last year and posted a 2.0 WAR in only 102 games, most of which came before his 22nd birthday.  His slash line of .299/.346/.400 was impressive as was his 2.9 UZR in leftfield.

In right, the Pirates have late-bloomer Garrett Jones, whose defensive numbers would suggest he’d do better in either leftfield of at first base.  After tearing up the league in a half season in 2009, Jones predictably came back down to earth in 2010 with a .247/.306/.414 slash line and was essentially a replacement-level player in terms of WAR.  Jones would make a decent fourth outfielder/first baseman on some good teams, but relying on him in the middle of the lineup is a mistake.

Matt Diaz was brought over via free agency from the Braves and is an excellent platoon option in the outfield.  Diaz is a well-below-average hitter against righties, but against lefties, Diaz has a career .334/.373/.533 slash line against lefties making him a no-brainer insert into the lineup when a southpaw takes the hill.  The left-handed-hitting Jones is the obvious benched player on those days.

John Bowker, Steve Pearce (who can also play first) and youngsters Alex Presley and Gorkys Hernandez will fight over the fifth outfielder spot with Bowker and Pearce having the edge given that they’re both better suited as bench players with less ceiling.

YAAAAARRR, roster breakdown.
Overview
The Pirates look to be well on their way to a 19th straight losing season, but for the first time in years, there’s hope.  The young core of Alvarez, McCutchen, Walker, and Tabata should continue to improve and start to bring this team back to respectability, but until high-ceiling pitching talent like Taillon, Allie, Luis Heredia, and Bryan Morris arrive, the Pirates will continue to wade out of contention.  Unfortunately for the franchise, the hitting talent and the pitching talent in the system have a two or three year gap so 2013 or 2014 will be the earliest this team will approach the .500-mark providing they manage to keep their core of young hitters together.
Final Prediction: 65-97, 5th NL Central