March 2010


You know baseball season is right around the corner when you receive a certain gambling company’s baseball playbook in the mail full of all kinds of odds and bets for the upcoming season.

Even though I’m not a gambling man at all, I love taking a look to see what chances Vegas thinks some teams have prior to Opening Day. Starting off with the defending champs New York Yankees, they are +300 on the money line. This means if you put $100 down on the Yankees and they win it again, you win $300 total. Now for a less certain team, the Minnesota Twins are +2,200. A bit of a surprise considering this was a playoff team last year. The Rockies, on the other hand, are +1,600 so Vegas obviously believes in the Rockies more than the Twins.

Now for the “chance in hell” category, anyone want a chance to win a boat load of cash if the unthinkable happens? Well how about the Washington Nationals, which are +10,000. The Orioles are also +10,000, but somehow the Royals are only +6,500…interesting. But no one takes the cake like the Pittsburgh Pirates. Coming off their 17th consecutive losing season, the Bucs are a grand +15,000. Whoa. Don’t worry, save your money because hell will freeze over before the Bucs win the World Series.

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Moving right along with the 2010 outlook, I’ll take a look at the National League Central and American League Central divisions—always fun divisions to try to predict in March.

NL CENTRAL
1. Cardinals
2. Reds
3. Cubs
4. Brewers
5. Astros
6. Pirates

It should be clear that this is the Cardinals division to lose. If the Cards aren’t sitting on top of the NL Central come October, then something when drastically wrong in the injury department. St. Louis took the division last year by 7.5 over the games in 2009. In their 2010 projections, Baseball Prospectus has the widest gap between first and second place with the Cardinals predicted eight games ahead of the Cubs. And why not? The Cardinals were able to hold onto Matt Holliday in the offseason, who could have a monster year hitting in the same lineup as Albert Pujols for an entire season. Pujols is coming off a 47 homer, 135 RBI season with a ridiculous OBP of .443, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t do it again because all he’s done in his career is put up superstar numbers. On the pitching side, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter look to be in the prime of their careers as they finished 3 and 2 in the running for the Cy Young in 2009, respectively.

The rest of the division is sort of spinning its wheels with the exception of the Reds, which could be a surprise team this year. The Reds threw a lot of money at Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman with hopes that he can be another piece in what could become a solid rotation. Joey Votto is on the cusp of taking the next step to the elite hitters while Jay Bruce needs to rebound for this team to challenge the Cardinals. I still like them in second place, but the 2-4 teams can be group in any order as they could all be within a couple of games of each other at season’s end. I’m not sold on the Cubs this year considering they weren’t very good last year, so I’m predicting a step back from them with guys like Alfonso Soriano appear to be breaking down.

The Brewers have two studs in the lineup in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, but the rest of the starting nine is a bunch of a question marks. Can Braun and Fielder carry this team back to the postseason? As for the Astros, I think they will end up in last place (at least I hope), but they always seem to perform better than my expectations every single year so I have no idea what to expect from them. I have the Pirates in last place and will have more on that in a separate Pirates preview post later this week.

AL CENTRAL
1. White Sox
2. Twins
3. Tigers
4. Indians
5. Royals

I thought about this one for a while—Twins or White Sox? This AL Central will be another tight race, which is what we have come to expect from this division. Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit will once again come down to the wire, but as much I hate to write it, I think the White Sox will this division title.

I’m high on the Twins lineup, their moves this offseason and their pitching staff, but when it came time to make a decision the loss of Joe Nathan stood out for me. To think that a closer committee can fill the kind of production and consistency that Nathan provided the Twins over the years is illogical. This is a huge loss and can’t be overshadowed. And the White Sox will pitch, they have plenty of capable arms in a rotation stocked with the likes of Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd plus the bullpen is solid as well.

In Motown, there was a lot of attention paid to the Tigers cutting payroll especially with the Granderson trade, but I think the Tigers could actually be better this year than in 2009. Max Scherzer is primed for a breakout season in his third season and teamed with ace Justin Verlander and Rick Porcello, this could be a formidable rotation for years. A couple of questions I have with the Tigers is starting two true rookies (Austin Jackson in center field and Scott Sizemore at second base. Only four teams in MLB history have made the postseason with a rookie starting in CF. The numbers don’t lie, it’s just hard to win with rookies starting especially one that is slated to lead off and play center field. They will definitely be in the hunt though.

As far as the rest of the division is concerned, they’ll be on the outside looking in. I think the Indians will be better than most people expect to see. Grady Sizemore will rebound, Asdrubal Cabrera is primed for a breakout campaign and a couple of other young players in Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta will have chances to stand out for the Tribe. The pitching will struggle and that will likely be the downfall of the Indians in 2010. The Royals will be improved and they won’t go into too many slumps with Zack Greinke on the mound every fifth day, but they just don’t have enough fire power to contend this summer. A positive sign for 2010 and the Royals future would be Alex Gordon to shrug off a disastrous, injury-filled 2009 season to break out and be the complete hitter the Royals thought they were getting with the second overall pick in 2005.

I’ve  been tossing around ideas of how I wanted to put together a proper preview to the 2010 season. But instead of doing an elaborate breakdown of each division in its own post, I’ve decided to take two divisions at once, list my predicted order of finish and talk about a couple of highlights in each division. Let’s start with out West with the NL West and AL West.

NL WEST
1. Dodgers
2. Rockies
3. Giants
4. Diamondbacks
5. Padres

The NL West is always a fun division to predict. It seems like it had a different winner every year until the past two years when the Dodgers have taken over. I think that trend will continue for the Dodgers third straight division title. The bums are loaded with talent especially with Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier emerging as superstars in the league. Clayton Kershaw will take a step this year to become the team’s No. 1 ace that Joe Torre doesn’t think he has right now, and I see the Dodgers winning a tight race with the Rockies again.

The Rockies are close. I think their chances hinge on whether or not Jeff Francis can return from injury and be the front line starter Colorado needs him to be again. If Francis is healthy and exceeds expectations, the Rockies could definitely steal this division title.

The Giants will have the pitching to hang around with anyone thanks to the Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, but I’m not sure there’s enough power in the bats to help this team turn the corner. As for the Diamondbacks, I fell for their potential last year and won’t do it again this year especially with Brandon Webb’s setback in spring training. Padres? Ah, not this year…their offense could be putrid.

AL WEST
1. Rangers
2. Angels
3. Mariners
4. A’s

The Rangers made a four-game improvement in 2008 and then significantly improved their game by eight games in 2009. I believe they are ready to take the next step, win the AL West and get back to the postseason for the first time since 1999. The reasoning behind this pick is twofold—1) the Rangers are loaded with hitting and will score runs sometimes at will, plus they currently own probably the top minor league system in the game that is close to taking over especially with the pitching staff. 2) Second part is the Angels had some key losses none bigger than John Lackey. I think the Lackey loss will be tough for the Angels to replace. Don’t get me wrong though, I think this will be an extremely tight division with three teams pretty much in contention down the stretch.

I like what the Mariners did in the offseason, and they seem to be everyone’s trendy pick at the moment. When you boast studs like Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee at the top of the rotation, that will draw attention. If both guys are healthy, the M’s won’t go on many long losing streaks which is why they will remain in contention all year. You probably couldn’t ask for a better 1-2 punch in baseball this season. The problem for me is the rest of that rotation especially when Lee is going to start the year suspended and now on the DL, you have guys like Ian Snell, Ryan Rowland-Smith and Erik Bedard. Like I said, the rotation gets thin quick. If Bedard can get his head on straight and pitch like the guy they thought they were getting in the Adam Jones trade, this team will be a surprise team. They have been in talks with Jarrod Washburn, who had a sub-3.00 ERA last year with Seattle before being dealt to the Tigers on his way to a horrible second half. At this point, Seattle needs to sign Washburn to provide some depth to the staff.

I said it would be a three-team race and that’s because I struggle to see how the A’s are going to score runs this year. And I’m not feeling the Ben Sheets project working out too well for Billy Beane…that has the potential to be a horrible signing at $10 million for 2010. The A’s do have some talent coming up (Michael Taylor, Chris Carter) that could see some time this year, but it’s too early to expect big things from this team in 2010.

UPDATE: Actually Bedard is out until at least July with a shoulder injury, so consider the Mariners rotation even thinner than mentioned above. Look for them to get a deal done with Washburn prior to Opening Day next week.

With less than one week until Opening Day, let’s take a look at some early week links from around the baseball world.

MLB Trade Rumors is wondering the same thing I posted about a couple of weeks ago with Jermaine Dye’s lack of work. They are right—retirement would be a shame for someone who can still produce.

Not every roster spot is set in stone at the start of spring training as we are reminded by the Nationals prospect Ian Desmond winning the job at shortstop for Washington. He beat out Christian Guzman, who will serve as the Nats utility player (hey, can he play the outfield?). It will be interesting to see how Desmond develops after getting a brief taste of the majors last September.

Good thing Strasburg’s in the minors to avoid the attention and pressure from the media. Nothing like a minor league start as one of the top headlines at MLB.com. Hmm, Altoona is only a couple of hour drive for me.

Did I mention just one week away?! I have to purchase my MLB-TV package soon.

Baseball Musings breaks down Curtis Granderson and what to expect for him this year in the Bronx. Was last season a fluke or did Grandy peak early? He may not hit lefties, but he may crush that short porch in right at Yankee Stadium.

And last, what would a links post be without a link from Baseball Reference? Stat of the Day takes a look at Phil Hughes being awarded the fifth spot in the Yankees rotation and how many other 24-year-old’s in their fourth season were locks in the Yanks rotation. For the record, I don’t know about this decision for Hughes as a starter, then again he didn’t look good in the bullpen this spring either.

Dodgers manager Joe Torre has decided to go with Vicente Padilla as his Opening Day starter against the Pirates on April 5th. To say this is a surprise would be an understatement. When asked about the decision, Torre was totally clear about it…

“We just had to pick somebody,” Torre said. “He was the one. Am I going to say he’s better than the other guys? I can’t do that.”

“I guess the fact that you don’t have a No. 1 … you just have to line them up some way, and we decided to do it that way,” Torre said.

Hey, Joe had to pick somebody! Isn’t that his job? Way to instill some confidence in your guys. Why didn’t he just throw darts at a board with pictures of his starting pitchers? At least say something that Padilla has more ML experience or the best option to handle the pressure of game one.

But he has no number one, really? Why do the Dodgers continue to play around with Clayton Kershaw? Just call him what he is—an ace. I don’t care if he’s 22 years old or not, he’s better than Padilla at any point in his career.

I’ll be the first to admit the role of Opening Day starter is a bit glorified in the media as more news than it really is toward the end of spring training, but Torre’s explanation is just ridiculous.

Over the next nine days until Opening Day arrives, Caught Looking will preview  2010 with a series of posts and predictions as we gear up for the new season. Let’s start this off by taking a look at possible comeback players:

Carlos Quentin – Most of these players on this list will be hoping to bounce back from a bad season of injuries, and Quentin is exactly that. He struggled after his breakout season in 2008 and then missed two months due to a foot injury. I expect him to bounce back. The former first round pick is too talented to hit .236 again, which was helped by his extremely unlucky .221 BABIP. The good news is even in his down year he still showed power with 21 homers in 99 games. Of course, health will be a concern, but you could say that about anybody in the game. You’ll be able to pick him up late in fantasy leagues and enjoy the power and rebound season.

Grady Sizemore – Sizemore is another outfielder that is too talented (and I’m not talking about his nude photos!) to hit like he did in ’09. The dude was injured all season and it showed as his average dipped to .248, homers dropped from 33 to 18, steals down from 38 to 13 and he only fought through 106 games before shutting it down. He was also unlucky as he BABIP was the lowest in his career (.275). He’ll rebound in 2010, he has to or the Indians bats could be horrendous.

Chipper Jones – Unlike most on this list, Larry can’t blame his 2009 decline on injuries as he played 143 games. So what’s the problem? Well Chipper is getting up there in age, but the guy can still hit. Maybe he should have taken more days off to rest. I have no doubts that Chipper will shrug off his down year and bounce back like he always does despite turning 38 in April. Look at his 2004 season when he hit .248 and rebounded to hit .296 the next season, then .324, .337, .364 up till last season. His power might never be the same, but his average will rebound and hover in the .300 range once again.
3B honorable mention—Aramis Ramirez – Considering the fact that he missed more than two months due to injury, Ramirez still hit in the 82 games he played. This is becoming a trend…if healthy, Ramirez will be a solid third baseman.

Russell Martin -Who saw that season coming from Martin? I don’t think I’ve been more disappointed with a player in fantasy baseball then with Martin’s production drop off significantly instead of taking off after his solid ’07 and ’08 seasons. Instead of knocking out 20 homers for the first time in his career, they practically disappeared with only seven while hitting .250. Alright time for some good news. Martin just turned 27, so he can still hit his prime at the right time. Also, despite not hitting for power and his average dropping, he still walked a ton to warrant a .352 OBP. Finally, the last bit of good news is while other fantasy teams are taking Mauer and McCann ridiculously early, you’ll be able to pick up Martin later as a pretty good bargain.

Where in the hell did that season come from, Russell?

Catcher honorable mention—Ryan Doumit – It would be thrilling to see what this guy could actually do if he stayed healthy for an entire year. That’s what he’s focusing on this spring. Stay healthy, Ryan, stay healthy.

Roy Oswalt – I had to get a pitcher on here before closing out the list. The 2009 season was the worst yet in Oswalt’s career (8-6, 4.12). In fact, it was the first time in nine MLB seasons that his ERA was even above 4.00, which is a credit to how stellar he’s been over his career. He was shut down late in the season due to a back injury. That injury most likely bothered him throughout most of last season, so why shouldn’t we expect a big bounce back year for the Astros ace? I expect him to rebound to about 13-16 wins and an ERA back in the low-to-mid 3’s, and fantasy owners will be able to grab him a little later than usual on draft day.
Pitcher honorable mention—Derek Lowe – Lowe owns a career ERA of 3.84 and that’s even with eight seasons in the American League. Last year, he moved from the Dodgers to the Braves and saw his ERA go up a whole run and a half. He was durable, though, making 34 starts for Atlanta and still winning 15. I still Lowe “lowering” his ERA back under 4.00. Get it? Lowe, lowering, ha. Yep, I think I’ll end on that.

Cue the memory bank for your list of funniest baseball injuries because Cubs slugger Derrek Lee was the latest victim when he was injured while eating in the clubhouse.

Yes, apparently he decided to eat while sitting down and the chair said “screw this” and collapsed. Awesome. Just another bit of evidence to add to the Cubs billy goat curse? Ugh, I’m sure some Cubs fans actually believe that is so. In all seriousness, I hope Lee is okay and won’t miss Opening Day and from what it sounds like is he will be just fine. As for the chair though, its seen better days.

Of course this injury will conjure up other infamous injuries such as Sammy Sosa’s sneeze that Big League Stew mentioned today. Also, who could forget Tigers reliever Joel Zumaya hurting his arm during a playoff run by playing too much Guitar Hero? Then he came back and was injured in 4-wheeler accident, seriously what’s next for this guy?

My favorite injury of all time though (sorry to go off the norm here and bring up football) was Thomas Jones breaking his hand… “answering the telephone.” That must have been one important phone call he had to get to. Honestly, couldn’t they make something up better than that? Just tell us he got drunk and fell down some stairs.

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