March 2011


Opening Day (or Opening Two-Day) is finally upon us. It’s cold, rainy, snowy, windy up here in the north, but who cares? Everyone is in first place today and the weather has to turn at some point since they are playing baseball, right…right?

There are a slew of games on all day (even more tomorrow), so sit back, crack open a beer or two and enjoy America’s past time. And listen to the soothing sounds of John Fogerty…

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Here are my quick predictions for this season:

NL East
Phillies
Braves (wildcard)
Marlins
Mets
Nationals

NL Central
Brewers
Cardinals
Reds
Cubs
Pirates
Astros

NL West
Giants
Rockies
Dodgers
Padres
Diamondbacks

AL East
Red Sox
Yankees (wildcard)
Rays
Blue Jays
Orioles

AL Central
White Sox
Tigers
Twins
Indians
Royals

AL West
Rangers
Athletics
Angels
Mariners

NL Cy Young
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (picking Halladay just seemed too easy at this point. Plus he and Cliff Lee could take votes away from each other)

AL Cy Young
Justin Verlander, Tigers

NL MVP
Albert Pujols, Cardinals (contract year, he could be ridiculous)

AL MVP
Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox

NL Rookie of the Year
Freddie Freeman, Braves

AL Rookie of the Year
Jeremy Hellickson, Rays

Number of HR for Jose Bautista
28

No, no this isn’t about who wears a nice vest on their night out. With Opening Day less than 24 hours away, I think it’s time to talk about 2011 vesting options! Vesting options are incentives that are written into a player’s contract and if he accomplishes the task, the option vests and extra money is awarded. For example, Magglio Ordonez‘s injury last year hurt a little more for him as he lost out on a $15MM payday for not reaching a certain number of at-bats.

So what’s in store for this season as vesting options are concerned? Well, I’m going to predict that Mark Buehrle won’t be pitching in anything else but a White Sox uniform. Why is that? He has an option that if he’s trading at any point in the 2011 season, he gets an extra year at $15MM added to the end of his current contract, which ends at the end of this year.

Here’s one that is already over. Cards pitcher Adam Wainwright has a $9MM option for this season as long as he does not finish 2011 on the disabled list. Considering he’s out for the year, you can scratch this one off the list of possibilities.

Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez has a “set your sights incredibly high” option that could kick in this year. Ramirez will get an extra $16MM if he’s named MVP of the league or league championship series in the playoffs. It will also kick in should he be traded this season. The latter has a better chance of happening, but both are long shots.

Then you have the “this actually may happen” category leading off with Mets reliever Francisco Rodriguez. He will see a $17.5MM payday if he records 55 game finished this season AND the doctors deem him healthy at the end of the season. Are the Mets doctors looking at him for this test…?

“I’m in perfect health doctors.” – K-Rod
“Uh, we’ll be the judge of that and looks like your arm is fatigued. Guess you’re not 100 percent healthy after all. NO SOUP FOR YOU!”

Hopefully he’ll seek a second opinion. As for the games finished, K-Rod has recorded more than 55 GF five times in his career so he has a chance at this one.

And last but not least, the ol’ number of plate appearances to lock in a vesting option. This one always struck me as strange because if the team really wanted to limit your PA toward the end of the year, they could easily do it by giving the player more days off, pinch-hitting for them late in games. I could see teams do this if they were out of the pennant race late in the season, and there’s nothing a player could do about it. At any rate, here are two of these types in 2011:

Bobby Abreu‘s $9MM option vests if he reaches 433 PA this season. Abreu hasn’t had fewer than 590 PA since his rookie year, so barring a major injury Abreu will be getting this option. And why shouldn’t the Angels just keep spending money? Maybe Vernon Wells could donate the $9 mil to Abreu with his current salary.

And last up is Dodgers infielder Rafael Furcal, who will make about $10MM in 2011, but can trigger an insane $12MM option should he stay healthy to reach 600 PA. Of course, he’s only done this once in the past three years thanks to injuries. At age 33 with his recent rash of injuries, I just don’t see this one happening.

Every spring there’s a big fuss made about a team’s Opening Day starter. Who will it be? Who wants the ball? When will the decision be made? Is this the pitcher’s first Opening Day start? It’s a nice little story about who the team pegs to toe the rubber on Opening Day, but in actuality it doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot.

It’s definitely a nice honor for the individual that the team wants him to go on the first day of the season, but in the grand scheme of things it’s one start out of an 162-game season. The media will pour over it for days, but like I said above, it doesn’t make or break the season or a pitcher’s career.

Being named the Opening Day starter is an honor for a pitcher because it usually signifies that pitcher as the team’s ace. That’s not the case every time, but for the majority of the time it is—i.e. Roy Halladay will start Opening Day for the Phillies, Tim Lincecum will go for the Giants and Felix Hernandez for the Mariners. No questions there. Those obviously makes sense. But as I was sifting through some other team’s Opening Day starters, you start to really see that some teams are really hurting in the pitching department.

Orioles – Jeremy Guthrie. The O’s have some good, young pitchers on their staff, but they wanted to go with some experience, but this still isn’t very good.

Padres – Tim Stauffer. Mat Latos had a breakout season in 2010, but doesn’t get the nod on day one as the Padres will roll with Stauffer. Ouch.

Pirates – Kevin Correia. The Pirates “big” free agent pickup will start Opening Day for the Buccos. Correia had a 5.40 ERA last season, but lack of other quality options will dictate bad decisions like this one.

Diamondbacks – Ian Kennedy. Kennedy actually turned in a quality season last year, but I don’t see him improving much on it. This is another lack of other quality options (see above) with Zach Duke, Barry Enright rounding out your rotation though Dan Hudson should emerge as the team’s ace by the end of 2011.

Nationals – Livan Hernandez. Really? Livan Hernandez is your Opening Day starter? I realize Strasburg is still injured, but come on. How old is this guy? I looked it up, he’s 36. He won’t end up being the team’s ace, but I guess they wanted to go with experience.

Twins – Carl Pavano. Not sure what exactly is behind this decision to start Pavano ahead of Francisco Liriano, who is clearly a better pitcher and the Twins ace. Yes, Pavano had one of the better seasons for a pitcher in the AL in 2010, but a career year at age 35? I see some regression from his numbers last year.

Royals – Luke Hochevar. Yes, he has a 5.60 career ERA, but I give the Royals props for at least going the young route and giving their prospect the ball on Opening Day and see how it turns out. Then again, who else is there for the Royals…Bruce Chen?

Mets – Mike Pelfrey. Don’t get me wrong, Pelfrey’s a good, young pitcher but he is not Johan Santana. The Mets are really going to miss their ace and the fact that Pelfrey suddenly becomes your ace and R.A. Dickey your number two guy is cause for serious concern.

The lack of depth on some of these staffs is disturbing. At the end of the day (or season) who your team’s Opening Day starter is really doesn’t matter, but there’s a lot to read into about the quality of certain rotations by who is tabbed to start game one and their chances in 2011.

Trivia question: Who was the last team to have four 20-game winners in one year?

Answer: The 1971 Orioles rotation that featured Dave McNally (21-5, 2.89), Mike Cuellar (20-9, 3.08), Pat Dobson (20-8, 2.90) and oh yeah, Hall of Famer Jim Palmer (20-9, 2.68).

No one has been able to match that feat, or really come close for that matter. Keep in mind baseball was a different game in 1971 from today. Starting pitchers went further into games almost every time out and averaged more starts throwing on less rest than today’s pitchers. Though now the big comparison to this rotation is the current one the Phillies are about to start the 2011 season with that includes Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton (the fifth guy could be my neighbor, it really doesn’t matter).

Do four pitchers on this staff actually have a shot at 20 wins each? Well three out of four have won 20 games at some point in their career. Halladay has done it three times including last year, Oswalt twice and Lee once. Hamels career high in win was 14 in 2008, but this could be a breakout year for him with less pressure on him as the number four guy. Though Blanton actually has more wins than Hamels in a year with 16 in 2006 with Oakland.

There’s obviously a chance, but I see it as a long shot to accomplish it. The offense is certainly there for the Phillies to produce plenty of runs, but everything would basically need to go right for them to do it.

As I mentioned above, Lee has only won 20 games once in his career as injuries have been a problem for him over the years. Oswalt is also 32 years old and his back is always a question mark. He reached 200 innings last year, but I think it will be difficult for him to continue to go deep into games all year. And Hamels would really need to take a jump in production and dominate to reach the 20-win mark. Halladay appears to be a lock for 20 wins (barring injury) with the way he pitched last year for Philly.

Plus, look at the ’71 Orioles numbers above for each pitcher. McNally reached 21 wins, but the other three just barely reached 20 wins. Obviously they were an incredible staff, but even they received some luck down the stretch for three of them to just get over the mark. You need the offense to score runs, you need your bullpen to hold leads late in the game, you need to stay healthy and avoid a freak injury, need weather to hold up and not wash out a pitcher’s start among other intangibles.

Another interesting fact is while that Orioles staff was unreal with four 20-game winners, they still did not win the World Series. They came close though losing in seven games to, that’s right, the Pittsburgh Pirates. Will the Phillies hold the same fate?

Last week I made my way to sunny Florida for my fourth annual spring training trip. I first went down back in 2008 as my employer (at the time) sent me down, and I’ve been instantly hooked since. I mean, who doesn’t want to get out of the cold up north and see some early baseball with the sunshine? Unlike last year, there was no rain and thus no rainouts as I enjoyed nothing but perfect blue skies weather.

The first game I attended was March 18th’s tilt between the Tigers and Red Sox at the Sox home park in Fort Myers. This was the last year at their current facility as they are building a new complex next to my family’s condo in Fort Myers, which works out perfectly for me in the future.

 

Fort Myers

 

 

City of Palms Park

Besides a fire breaking out in the right field concessions (seriously), that was really all the fire power the Sox could get going even with all the big guns in the lineup. Dustin Pedroia homered in the first inning, but that was about it for Boston (we missed it too because we were moving slow after the major St. Patty’s Day hangover that morning). The Tigers rolled to an 8-3 victory behind some fireworks as Brennan Boesch, Ryan Raburn and Andy Dirks all went yard for Detroit. Nothing else real notable from this game other than the fact that I found it unbelievable that pitcher Brandon Duckworth was still making a go at pitching in the Majors when he came on the mound for the Sox in the ninth. He didn’t fare too well either, giving up two runs and a home run. My guess is you won’t be seeing him pitch in Fenway anytime soon.

 

 

See, there really was a fire in right field.

 

On the following day, my friends and I followed the Red Sox up I-75 through construction to see them take on my hometown Pirates in Bradenton at McKechnie Field.

 

McKechnie Field

 

 

Bradenton

Since 1887, baby!

The Red Sox struggled for the second day in a row as the Pirates put up a five-spot in the bottom of the fourth inning thanks to two RBIs each from Lyle Overbay and pitcher Kevin Correia, who was named the Pirates Opening Day starter this week. And just as the Sox were drawing close, John Bowker ripped a two-run homer in the seventh to give the Pirates the lead and eventually the win 7-5. Josh Beckett, who looks to rebound from last year’s troubles, was hit around by the Buccos allowing five runs in 4.2 innings though four of those runs were unearned as the Red Sox played sloppy defense with two errors.

 

The losing did not stop there for the Red Sox even though my short trip did. Boston has not won a game all of this week since I returned home from Florida, a streak that is at 10 games and dropped them to 12-19 this spring. I know it’s only spring training, but is it a sign of things to come from a team that is being picked as the favorite to win the World Series this year? We will find out soon enough.

At the end of the trip, it was another successful voyage to spring training. I miss it already. It did two things for me. It held me over to see some live baseball until Opening Day later this week, and it made me start planning my fifth trip down there for next March already.