Some random thoughts two weeks into the season…

The Jeter fascination is annoying. In the many nationally televised Yankees games already this month, I’ve grown tired of listening to the announcers feel the need to defend Derek Jeter at every step because of his down year in 2010. It basically goes something to this effect: “Everyone talks about what a bad year Jeter had last season, but who wouldn’t take a shortstop that scores 100 runs, hits .270 and wins a Gold Glove.” If I hear that line again, I may puke.Here’s my simple answer: Uh, that’s nice and all but I wouldn’t be paying this guy $20 plus million, which is what Jeter’s salary was last year, for that especially when his Gold Glove is a joke.

People will always defend him because of the greatness of his entire career, but let’s face it the guy has lost a step and is currently overpaid. He only hit about 50 points below his career average in 2010. It’s like “Holy cow! We can’t just say he had a bad year because he’s an awesome player and a nice guy!” We’ll see what year he puts together this season, but he’s already off to a slow, mediocre start.

The upside AL Central. While the Twins are struggling at 4-10 and the Tigers and White Sox are hovering around .500, the Royals and Indians are killing it in first place with a 10-4 record. I’m not sure I saw a preseason prediction that included the Royals and Indians anywhere but the basement. It’s a nice start, but at the same time it’s just a nice start. It’s April 16th. I hope both teams actually stay in the hunt, but I don’t see that happening. I liked the Indians lineup in spring training, but the pitching was going to be the question. Well so far, guys like Josh Tomlin, Mitch Talbot and Justin Masterson are pitching the lights out. If one of these surprise teams stay above .500, I see it being the Tribe than the Royals.

Fun fact: The Indians are the first team in the AL to win eight straight games after starting 0-2.

Craig Kimbrel. The Braves new closer is nasty. He nailed down his fourth save of the season today in Game 1 of a DH against the Mets. And he’s been pretty much unhittable since coming up last year. Check out these gaudy numbers: in 26.2 innings pitched in his career, Kimbrel has struck out 50 batters…that’s a 16.9 K/9 rate. Whoa. Kimbrel features a sinking fastball in the mid-90’s along with a devastating slider that hitters haven’t begun to figure out to date. This young kid is making Braves fans quickly forget about retired closer Billy Wagner.

Rockies rolling at 11-2. The Rockies are off to their best start in franchise history. And they are doing it without Ubaldo Jimenez, who is sidelined with an injured thumb. The Rox have certainly been impressive, but it should be noted that they have benefited from playing the Diamondbacks, Pirates and Mets already this season. They are just beating the teams that are scheduled in front of them, but I’m interested to see how they fare against the Phillies, Giants and some of the better teams in the NL.

Oh, and how big was Troy Tulowitzki‘s series against the Mets where he had 10 hits, four HRs and eight RBIs? He’s the first player to pick up numbers like that in one series since Vlad Guerrero smoked the Rangers in September of 2004 with 12 hits, five HRs and nine RBIs.

Charlie Morton has “good stuff.” And he may be finally showing it. The sinker was sinking all over the place Friday as Morton tossed a complete game in a victory over the Reds. He came within one out of the shutout before allowing a Jay Bruce home run. This is all significant because the Pirates had only one CG in 2010 when Paul Maholm fired a CG SO on July 18. Morton already matched their one CG in just two weeks into this season. After his disastrous 2010 season, Morton is off to a stellar start already: 2-0 with a 1.64 ERA in three starts. NL Cy Young anyone?

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Troy Tulowitzki went on a tear this week by teeing off early and often against Mets pitching. The 10-2 Rockies swept a four-game series at Citi Field and Tulo was a big reason why.

So how good was his week? Well to put it into perspective, he left Pittsburgh after a four-game series hitting just .214 with three home runs. After his week in New York, he’s now hitting .364 with seven home runs. Tulo badgered Mets pitching at a 10-for-16 mark with four home runs, eight RBIs and five runs in four games. The series including a doubleheader in which Tulowitzki recorded five hits and launched a home run in each game.

And this wasn’t even the thin air at Coors Field. He annihilated the ball at Citi Field, an extreme pitching park. The Mets pitching staff may have nightmares for a while. Don’t look now, but the Mets will be in Colorado in less than a month in early May. I bet they can’t wait to see Tulo and the Rockies again.

About a month ago I was approached through this blog to participate in a GM-only Strat-O-Matic baseball league (The Franchise League) as one owner to take over a MLB franchise as of January 1. The objective is to act as that team’s general manager and make trades, sign free agents, release players and work within a salary cap of $100 million payroll.

As a fantasy baseball junkie for years, I jumped at the opportunity. This was something right up my alley that I planned on getting involved in sooner or later. Unfortunately the Pirates franchise was already taken by the time I was asked, so I went with the ol’ Colorado Rockies. My primary reason for taking them over was I like their young players and they still had about $30 mil to work with under the cap.

We went live at the new year and since then there’s been a plethora of trades, and I’m talking about a shit ton of deals. I quietly made a couple deals myself that helped turn my rotation into one of the best in the league…in my opinion at least. If you are interested in reading up on the league, here’s the link to the TFL Constitution. And if you’re interested in possibly joining the league yourself in the future, contact me on my email to the right or through the comments section. There’s currently a small waiting list, but some owners have dropped out due to lack of free time to properly run a team.

Anyway, the following is a write-up by my fictional beat writer—Xander Force. I’ll continue to post my updates from The Franchise League throughout the year to see how my version of the Rockies are doing in a salary cap world. Here’s the Rockies outlook for 2011…

 

Rockies focus on pitching this offseason
By: Xander Force

DENVER (AP) – Just one month into Ryan Alexander’s reign as Colorado Rockies owner in The Franchise League, it’s easy to decode his number one philosophy—pitching is paramount.

While the majority of TFL owners were busy turning their entire 40-man roster upside down, the Rockies didn’t panic and methodically made a couple of under-the-radar type trades to quietly put together one of the best rotations in the league.

Strapped with RHP Aaron Cook’s $10 million contract, the Rockies shipped him out-of-town while bringing in RHP Matt Garza and LHP John Danks in separate moves. The Garza deal cost the most as Alexander had to give up perennial All-Star player Troy Tulowitski to acquire Garza from the Rays. Then shortly after picking up RHP Justin Masterson in a small deal with the Phillies, the Rockies turned around and dealt Masterson and others to the Twins for Danks.

Danks (15-11, 3.72) and Garza (15-10, 3.91) will join RHP Ubaldo Jimenez (19-8, 2.88), LHP Jorge De la Rosa (8-7, 4.22) and one of the best young pitches in the game in RHP Jhoulys Chacin (9-11, 3.28) in what should be a loaded five-man rotation in 2011. As for the bullpen, RP Huston Street will be in Colorado once again to close the door on Rockies opponents with Matt Lindstrom serving as the setup man. Manny Delcarmen, Matt Belisle, Michael Dunn and free agent pickups Todd Coffey and J.C. Romero appear to be the other arms to round out the Rockies pen in the upcoming season.

As for the lineup, the loss of Tulowitski will hurt in terms of power and leadership, but the Rockies made a couple of moves to solidify the top of their order. They picked up Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki, who is coming off his 10th straight 200-hit season, in a trade with San Diego to pick up hits at the top of the order. Alexander also answered the big hole at shortstop with Tulo leaving town and dealt infielders Eric Young Jr and Reid Brinac for Phillies All-Star Jimmy Rollins. The former Phillies star will most likely bat second behind Ichiro and in front of budding star Carlos Gonzalez.

Free agent pickup Ty Wigginton slugged 22 home runs in 2010, and the Rockies will be banking on that power and more in the four hole as he will split time at third base and first as he spells longtime Rockies first baseman Todd Helton. Wigginton figures to get a lot of time at first due to Helton’s age and the fact that Ian Stewart needs to see the field a lot this year at third base. Speedy center fielder Dexter Fowler was slated to lead off the season, but will now most likely drop in the order behind the heavy bats thanks to the acquisition of Ichiro and Rollins. Catcher Chris Iannetta will look to have a rebound year deep in the lineup with him or 2B Jose Lopez rounding out the eight hitters in front of the pitcher. A dark horse in this lineup could the extra power at the bottom of the order from Lopez, who needs to revert back to his 2009 where he belted 29 home runs for the Mariners. A change of scenery, especially the thin air in Coors Field may be just what Lopez needs to bounce back.

The outlook for this season will depend heavily on the rotation. If healthy, the Rockies own one of the best young rotations in TFL and the most talented staff in the NL West division. If Colorado can find the necessary power from the Wigginton/Stewart/Helton trifecta, this team should be right there in the division and/or wildcard hunt all season. See below for the Rockies projected rotation, bullpen and lineup.

Starting rotation:
1. Ubaldo Jimenez
2. Jon Danks (L)
3. Matt Garza
4. Jorge de la Rosa (L)
5. Jhoulys Chacin

Bullpen:
Closer: Huston Street
Setup: Matt Lindstrom
Middle Relief: Manny Delcarmen
Middle Relief: Matt Belisle
Middle Relief: Todd Coffey
Middle Relief: Michael Dunn (L)
Lefty Spec: J.C. Romero (L)

Lineup:
Ichiro Suzuki – RF
Jimmy Rollins – SS
Carlos Gonzalez – LF
Ty Wigginton/Ian Stewart – 3B
Todd Helton – 1B
Dexter Fowler – CF
Chris Iannetta – C
Jose Lopez – 2B

Pitcher spot

Yesterday, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki agreed to a seven-year $119 million dollar extension with the Rockies that will keep him in Colorado through 2010 2020. The extension along with the remainder of his current deal will guarantee Tulo $163M through the lifetime of the contract. At the age of 26, life is good for Tulowitzki. Or is it? On the heels of the announcement, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan wrote a ridiculous article that I have to vigorously disagree with.

It’s one thing to give your opinion and say that the Rockies made a big mistake by committing a quarter of their payroll to one player when they probably won’t spend above $80M a year on the entire team, but to go out and chastise a player for wanting to stay in Denver where he’s built a life and will make $20M per year is pretty ridiculous. It seems outrageous to me that he will regret this extension at some point of his career. The Rockies may regret it later down the road, but I don’t think Tulowitzki will.

Tulo told the media in the presser announcing the deal that his goal was to play for one team his entire career like Derek Jeter and Cal Ripken Jr, two stars that he looks up to. How can you blame him for wanting that and getting paid at the same time? How dare he for being unselfish and leaving some extra money on the table that he probably could have picked up from the Yankees or Red Sox! Passan comes off like a whiny Yanks or Sox fan that is confused beyond belief of how this guy wouldn’t run to Boston or New York to squeeze every million he can out of some team. Tulowitzki obviously enjoys playing for the Rockies, enjoys the city of Denver and wants to be the guy for an entire franchise for the remainder of his career. How can you not respect that?

Passan’s opening line reads Troy Tulowitzki did not want to be Alex Rodriguez. He didn’t want to be Nomar Garciaparra, either. So he carved his own path. The wrong one.”

Come on, seriously? There’s no way of telling that this is the wrong choice for him at this point, but I find it refreshing that there are still players out there that aren’t like A-Rod and the guys that just go for the highest dollar. If anything, I applaud Tulowitzki for making this decision.

Passan also asks “oh, what could have been” for Tulo with multiple championships coming every year had he gone to New York or Boston! Yeah, how many World Series championships has A-Rod seen since signing his landmark deal with the Yankees? One in seven years with the pinstripes. That’s not exactly a trophy case full of championships. And is it so far out of the realm of possibility to think the Rockies couldn’t win a championship in the near future? This is a team that went to the World Series in Tulowitzki’s rookie year and followed it up with a playoff appearance in 2009. They have another young star in Carlos Gonzalez that they want to lock up and, oh yeah, they have an OK pitcher by the name of Ubaldo Jimenez. It’s a fairly easy argument to say they have a nice core of young players that will help them compete in the National League for years.

It’s impossible to predict how this extension will play out, but it’s nice to see a player who wants to stay with his original team, still take very good money and play out his career in the mold of Ripken. And despite what Jeff Passan says, there’s nothing wrong with that.

After a short hiatus, let’s jump into an update on each pennant race going on around baseball. There are only two divisions pretty much wrapped up out of the six total, so it should be a very entertaining final month in Major League Baseball.

NL Central: A month ago I was pretty confident that the Cardinals would eventually beat out the Reds for the NL Central division title. Well, scratch that. Suddenly the Cards can’t win and the Reds can’t lose. The Reds 6-1 victory over the Red Birds Saturday gave them a nice eight game lead over St. Louis. Eight games?? Forget it, this race is OVE-VA! Who in their right mind had the Reds winning this division prior to the season? Oh wait, I had them as a surprise team in our 2010 outlook series. I need to take credit for something because I also had Baltimore in that list…whoops.

NL West: Another surprise team I had was the San Francisco Giants, who are currently just two games back of the sinking Padres. It’s actually amazing to think that the Padres have dropped nine straight and still lead the NL West by two games. The Giants stable of arms may have enough to leap past the falling Padres in this final month of the season. Plus, the Rockies are still hanging around as usual…5.5 games back in the division. A five-plus game difference is tough to make up in the final month, but the Rockies seem to find ways to go on a ridiculous run late in the year. This could be the closest race between more than two teams to watch in September.

AL East: Let’s head over to the AL East, where the Yankees are doing their thing—becoming a machine down the stretch that is immensely difficult to catch. The Bombers have won eight straight, and despite the Rays doing everything they can to keep pace, they remain 2.5 games behind New York. The Rays still have seven games this month against the Yankees, and if they don’t win five out of seven, we could be looking at another Yankees division title. In the end, it really doesn’t matter a whole lot because the runner-up in this division will end up with the wildcard.

AL West: Here’s how good it looks for the Rangers to be playing postseason baseball come October. Even if the A’s went on a tear and played .700 ball the rest of the way (19-8), the Rangers would have to go 10-17 in their final 27 games to lose the division to Oakland. Considering Oakland isn’t that good and the Rangers are pretty good, this isn’t going to happen. I’m excited about seeing what Cliff Lee/CJ Wilson tandem can do in the playoffs with this hitting behind them.

AL Central: Last year, it was a three-team race in September, but this year it’s only the Twins and White Sox battling to the end as the Tigers fell out of it a while back. The Twins are up today 3.5 games on the White Sox, but Chicago has been hot, winning five straight and seven of their past ten games. These two teams only meet up three more times this month in Chicago, but the Twins schedule is set up for them to win this thing. In their final 22 games that don’t include the White Sox, the Twins face the Royals six times, the Indians six times, the Tigers three times, the A’s three times and the Blue Jays three times. The Royals and Indians six times?? What a nice way to end it. If they end up blowing this 3.5 game lead, they only have themselves to play.

NL East: The Braves are clinging to a one-game lead as the Phillies are turning red-hot with their team getting healthy at the right time. This division looks like a clone of the AL East where the runner-up may be in the playoffs no matter what by earning the wildcard. If I had to pick a team to win the division though, I think the Phillies will still pull it out for another division title. The teams have six games remaining against each other with what could be a huge three-game series to end the season in Atlanta.

MLB fans, GMs and players can now breathe again—the trading deadline has officially passed. Need a recap on everything went down? Here are some trade links to do just that…

MLB Trade Rumors is the authority on the trading deadline, and the folks over there put together a nice rundown of all the trades from the past couple of days.

MLB.com also runs down the plethora of trades today.

Jayson Stark of ESPN gives his winners and losers of the trading deadline.

Big League Stew of Yahoo! ranks the top 10 notable trades from this July.

I had to get my hometown Pirates in here as they were busy as usual on the deadline. Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette recaps the three trades the Buccos made today. From my viewpoint, the Pirates made some low-risk free agent pickups in the offseason and flipped most of them for some decent, young talent today. Not bad in my book.

Am I the only one who didn’t like the Jake Westbrook deal for the Cardinals? I mean parting with young hitter Ryan Ludwick for Westbrook when they also went after Oswalt and Lilly and end up with Westbrook. Seems like they panicked to me and settled for the lesser of three pitchers. I could see Westbrook find his groove against NL hitters, but it’s still a downgrade after losing out on Oswalt and Lilly.

Speaking of the Indians, they found a taker for Kerry Wood!?! The Tribe sent the struggling closer to the Yankees for a player to be named later or 500k. Uh, I’m pretty sure that cash will work just fine. I could see the Indians going to the Yankees in the offseason and say, “You know what, don’t bother sending anyone for the deal. We’re good.”

FanGraphs breaks down the Octavio Dotel trade to the Dodgers and wonders, along with many, what the Dodgers are doing giving up too much for bullpen arms, including a top prospect in Andrew Lambo now with Pittsburgh.

Also, the Reds stood pat and made zero moves. Interesting. After trading for Yunel Escobar earlier this month, the Blue Jays also were quiet at the deadline along with the Tigers, Mets, A’s (Billy Beane must have been sick), Brewers (they’re in contention though, that’s it), Red Sox and Rockies.

Well the non-waiver trade deadline gone, tomorrow is August 1 and back to our regularly scheduled program of baseball while teams battle for pennants the last two months of the season.

After a busy weekend in the league, let’s take a look at what’s been going on in the world of baseball.

Edinson Volquez is outta here. Volquez was suspended 50 games for violating MLB’s drug policy. This makes sense because he’s currently on the 60-day DL and players were known to take some illegal substance to quickly recover from an injury. Here’s the part that doesn’t make sense—Volquez isn’t expected back until July at the earliest, but he can serve the 50 games while on the DL. Who thinks this is fair? His 50-game suspension should begin once he is healthy and activated from the DL. At any rate, he will lose 50 games worth of pay.

Just three days after one of best performances in Rockies history, awful news hits MLB as Rockies president Keli McGregor was found dead in a hotel room in Salt Lake City. No word yet on the cause of death, but it doesn’t appear to be foul play or anything like that. You never expect to see something like this. Just shocking and sad news out of Colorado today.

Moving onto the field now, how about the start for the Rays? Tampa Bay currently holds first place by themselves in the AL East thanks to a seven-game winning streak that was anchored by stellar pitching. The Rays ERA during this win streak is 2.39 (64.0ip/17er). They are also coming off a four-game sweep of the Red Sox in Boston that was so convincing, it made the Sox look they like couldn’t compete in the division. Boston’s 4-9 start will be harder to turn around with the announcement today of Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury both heading to the DL.

During last weekend’s 20-inning marathon at Busch Stadium between the Cards and Mets, “genius” Tony LaRussa made some bizarre double switches and moves in the extra frames. I’m not going to get into the moves, but Big League Stew does a good job of breaking them down.

Vin Scully has been calling games for the Dodgers for 60 years now. An amazing feat for a Hall of Fame broadcaster. Scully is one of the reasons I purchase the MLB Extra Innings package each year. I enjoy tuning into a late-night Dodgers game in Dodger Stadium with Scully announcing and listen to his stories of each player.

Today marks the ridiculous day you can begin voting for the All-Star game…on April 20. The season started on April 4. We are only two weeks into the season yet you can vote for the top players. Does anyone else see a problem with this? Since the All-Star game isn’t held until mid-July, voting should not be allowed until at least mid-May with more toward the end of May. I also think fans shouldn’t be allowed to vote, but that’s another long topic for another day.

Speaking of things that are ridiculous, the Orioles tailspin has run them down to a 2-12 record already. At this rate, they might reach 10 wins by July. Not only are the O’s struggling, but they had a horrible homestand as they went 0-6 at Camden. Obviously, this can’t continue…right?