Saturday, February 28, 2009

Juan Cruz and the Royals: A Match Made in Heaven?

And the winner is....

The Royals.

What? Talk about coming out of left field. The normally frugal Royals are actually spending quite a bit of money this offseason...what a concept.

I did not see this one coming. The Royals were not even mentioned in "The Market for Juan Cruz" column a few weeks back! But you know what, I like it.

Here's why: after trading away two of their best relief pitchers for Mike Jacobs and Coco Crisp respectively, the Royals needed help in the bullpen bridging the gap to Joakim Soria. My apologies to all the Kyle Farnsworth lovers out there-he's not going to get the job done. Cruz gives manager Trey Hillman a real weapon out of the bullpen besides Soria. Cruz will strikeout lots of hitters (71 in 51 IP in 2008) and can work multiple innings, both of which are major pluses for the Royals.

As for the draft picks, the Royals will only have to surrender their second round pick (#55) because their first round pick is protected. Giving up a first round pick for Cruz would have made no sense for the Royals, and I'm sure there are those who oppose giving up a second round choice for Cruz, but more than likely Cruz will do more for the Royals in two years than a second round draft pick ever will.

We have to ask: do the Royals plan on competing in 2009? It sure seems like GM Dayton Moore thinks they can compete. They have now acquired veterans Kyle Farnsworth, Cruz, Coco Crisp, and Mike Jacobs...a major sign to their fanbase that they are serious about competing. The Royals won 75 games in 2008...does anyone think that these four players will push the Royals over .500 or even towards 85 wins? Very debatable.

The real question is this: does anyone outside of Dayton Moore think that the Royals are good enough to win in 2009? I still don't think so. The Royals play in an awfully tough division and still need another quality starter and impact bat (maybe Jacobs) before I can even consider them to be legitimate contenders. In addition, the Royals lineup needs to collectively produce a respectable OBP for me to take them seriously!

It's encouraging to see the Royals being aggressive. For the fans, it's nice to know that the Royals are not just going to remain inactive and not spend on free agents while the rest of the league laps around them year after year (cough...Pirates). I'm just not sure that the Royals have spent their money in the best way this offseason, but we'll have to wait and see.

The real winner in this deal is the Diamondbacks. By offering Cruz arbitration, the secured themselves and additional two draft picks in the 2010 draft and did not have to give in to a stupid sign and trade. Kudos to Josh Byrnes on this one.

UPDATE (4:41 PM): Here are the contract terms: (2 years/$6 million with an option)

Wow. Kyle Farnsworth got more loot than Cruz! Unbelievable! Cruz's type A status killed his market to such a degree that a mediocre relief pitcher like Farnsworth got a better contract. Memo to Bud Selig: the system needs fixin'!

And finally, it's hard to believe that a team like the Tigers did not make a run for Cruz. Considering the modest price tag, giving up only a second round pick would have been pretty good for the Tigers, and would have made them a much stronger ball club. Now instead, they have to face Cruz 19 times a season...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Spotlight's On: John Baker

*With the season now just over a month away, Jorge Says No! will profile one pivotal player from each team. To often, players get lost in the shuffle of the big names and bright lights, so we focus on some of the under the radar guys who need to step it up in 2009 for their team to succeed.*

For the better half of 2008, the Marlins struggled to find consistent production behind the plate. The combination of Matt Treanor, Mike Rabelo, Paul Hoover, and Paul Lo Duca simply did not get it done. No surprise there. But then in the second half of 2008, something amazing happened.

And his name was John Baker.

Baker, who was drafted by Billy Beane in the famous Moneyball draft, came out of nowhere to hit .299 for the Marlins in just 197 at bats. The unheralded Baker was an after thought in the Marlins organization and few believed that he would be anything more than a starter at AAA.

But during his brief tenure with the Marlins, Baker opened up lots of eyes. He proved to Marlins brass that he could get on base by compiling a robust .392 OBP and exhibited a strong ability to work the count. Despite the fact that Baker is a catcher, he should be the ideal #2 hitter for the Marlins this season because of his ability to take pitches and get on base. He could score lots of runs hitting in between Cameron Maybin and Hanley Ramirez.

With that said, there are plenty of questions that need to be answered about Baker. Can he be this productive for an entire season? Can he hit left handed pitching (.213 in '08)? Can he handle a pitching staff? Can he hit for power consistently? If Baker does not prove his worth, then I would expect the Marlins to look in another direction for a catcher (cough...Ivan Rodriguez).

But for now, Marlins fans have got to feel pretty good about John Baker. At worst, Baker is a one hit wonder who had a couple of very good months on the big show. But the best case scenario is quite sweet for the cash strapped Marlins-a productive, cheap, semi young catcher who can hold down the fort for a few years, while becoming an integral part in what could be an awesome Marlins lineup. Given how difficult it is to find a young catcher these days, it would be a major coup for the Marlins if Baker turns out be something good.

The spotlight's on, John Baker.

What do you think, will Baker produce in 2009?

*Coming up on Monday, the Washington Nationals.*

Florida Marlins: Five Things to Look Forward to in 2009

1. The elevation of Hanley Ramirez into a superstar
-Scary as this might sound for the rest of the National League, but Hanley Ramirez continues to get better and better. And this year, he will be more dangerous than ever. All indications point to Hanley hitting in the #3 hole, which would give him tons of RBI opportunities and a great chance to eclipse the 100 RBI mark for the first time in his young career. Look for Ramirez to put up monster numbers at the dish as he establishes himself as one of the top 5-10 players in the game.

2. The maturation of Cameron Maybin
-On the last day of the 2008 season, the Marlins inserted Cameron Maybin into the leadoff spot against the New York Mets. The Mets were fighting for their playoff lives and needed all the help they could get on that fateful day. Unfortunately, the Mets got no such help from Maybin. He killed us. Maybin went 2-4 with a double, stolen base, and a run scored; all of which helped eliminate the Mets from playoff contention. Maybin possesses a unique blend of speed, quick wrists, and power, which will make him quite the threat atop the Marlins lineup.

Can Cantu do it again?
-Jorge Cantu was one of the biggest surprises in baseball last season when he hit 29 homers with 95 RBI and a .277 batting average. Prior to the 2008 season, Cantu had not had a good season in the bigs since 2005. The steady Cantu was a consistent force in the Marlins lineup, even with his low on base percentage (.327). Will Cantu be able to produce in 2009? If he puts up big numbers again, the Fish will have a dynamite lineup.

4. Chris Volstad
-Yet another Met killer. The big right hander beat the Mets on game 160 last season, dominating them from the start. What an impressive guy. Did I mention that he had a 2.88 ERA in bigs last season through 14 starts (15 games)? How impressive is that? This guy has all the makings of a stud and I, for one, cannot wait to see what he can do.

5. Will Scott Proctor's Arm fall off?
-Probably not. Joe Torre is in LA...thankfully..for his sake.

Manny Ramirez: The Endless Saga Continues...

Chalk it up to Manny being Manny, right? Or maybe it's just Boras being Boras.

But last night, Manny Ramirez rejected the Dodgers latest offer, which was their fourth proposal so far (counting arbitration). The Dodgers reportedly offered Manny a 2 year/$45 million dollar contract, which is nearly identical to the deal the Dodgers offered Ramirez a few months ago. However, the difference this time was that only the first year was guaranteed, which would give Ramirez the ability to opt out in 2010 if the market rebounded.

This deal in theory would have given Manny an opportunity to become the 2nd highest paid player in baseball this season and possibly get another huge contract next season. Sounds too good to be true, right?

Well, wrong. Because when it came down to it, Boras and Manny decided not to accept the Dodgers offer. How could they do this?

The answer is simple. Right now, the Dodgers need Manny more than Manny needs the Dodgers. It's that simple. The Dodgers have played it cool so far, patiently waiting for Boras and Manny to get their act together, but with March rapidly approaching, the Dodgers need to have Ramirez in the fold. Without Manny, the Dodgers are toast.

All along the concept remained the same: the Dodgers need Manny and Manny needs the Dodgers...what's taking so long? But now we know why: Boras is convinced that the Dodgers, now out of viable options, will cave into Ramirez's demands...or else. Would it be out the question to see Ramirez hold out until April? He's held out this far...why not another month!

Boras is in complete control of these negotiations. The Dodgers cannot simply say, "we're done with Manny Ramirez" right now. Their fan base will not have it. The Dodgers need to stay in the Ramirez sweepstakes and come away with Ramirez....or else. Boras knows this and is trying to exploit the Dodgers for every last penny they have until Ramirez gets the contract he wants.

Boras is trying to build a market for Manny even where is no market. Boras is hoping that a team like the Giants suddenly gets motivated to get in on the Manny sweepstakes, especially seeing how long and drawn out these negotiations have become. Or Boras is hoping that the Dodgers will big against nobody and ultimately give into Ramirez's demands. Holding out is putting more and more power into Boras's hands.

In the end, I still think these two sides will come together. Manny does not have any other serious suitors out there, and for that, he needs the Dodgers. But by playing it cool, Boras is taking a risk that the best offer has not been thrown out there yet by the Dodgers. It's quite a risk, considering how generous the Dodgers' offers have been thus far and how bad the economy is.

My question is this: does anyone actually think Manny will be able to get a better contract than this? Will the Dodgers have to commit three years to get Manny to sign on the dotted line?

And when will this saga finally end? Somehow I can't help but think that the Manny Marathon is nowhere close to completion. Oy.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Offseason Winners: AJ Burnett

There were several great anomalies this offseason. With the market in such chaos, this is to be expected. But one oddity that I have yet to figure out is how in the world AJ Burnett wound up with $80 million bucks over five seasons.

I'm not saying that Burnett is not a good pitcher. Quite the contrary. He is actually a very good pitcher with a ferocious fastball and devastating hook that make him as good as anyone when he is on. There is no doubt about it...Burnett has ace stuff.

But here's where the problem lies, Burnett has never performed like an ace before over his 10 year career. Burnett has a lifetime 3.81 ERA with a very pedestrian 87-76 record for his career. There is nothing about those numbers that screams out "ace" to me.

In addition, Burnett has been quite frustrating because of his inability to stay healthy and remain on the field. Burnett has only pitched 200 innings in his career three times and has been on the DL more than 10 times.

So then why did the Yankees decide to pay Burnett $14 mil per season? Great question.

Is it because Burnett has ace stuff? The Yankees could have a dynamite rotation if Burnett turns into a number one starter.

Or is it because Burnett can throw 95+ MPH fastball? That could have enticed the Yankees given how effective Burnett's dominant fastball should be in October, where it really matters for the Bombers.

Either one of those reasons is perfectly logical, but do either of those warrant a $80 million dollars? I don't think so.

I would much rather have signed Derek Lowe for $60 million or Oliver Perez for $36 million than AJ Burnett at $80 million...but maybe that's just me. I don't think Burnett is worth $20 million more than Lowe or $44 million more than Perez...even if AJ has better stuff, what counts is ultimately results and not the humongous fastball.

The strange thing about Burnett this offseason was that multiple teams-the Yankees, Braves, and Blue Jays were willing to break the bank to acquire the big guy. Both the Yankees and Braves were willing to spend $80 million dollar big ones to bring Burnett on board, while the Jays maxed out somewhere in the $50-$60 million dollar range. Those teams are obviously higher on Burnett than I ever will be.

AJ Burnett is one giant question mark. Can he stay healthy? Can he perform up to his ability? Will he ever become an ace? $80 million is a lot to spend on question marks.

It'll be boom or bust for AJ in pinstripes, but either way, that 98+ MPH fastball has made him an awful lot of dough.

Philadelphia Phillies: Five Things to Look Forward to in 2009

1. The First Game Against the Mets at Citizens Bank Park
May 1st, Phillies fans. Save the date. Just so you can rub more salt in my already oozing wound.

2. Can they repeat?
This is sure to be the common theme for the Phillies throughout the entire season. No team has managed to repeat as champions since the Yankees from 1998-2000. We'll see if the Phillies are up to the immense challenge.

3. The revival of Jimmy Rollins
Lost in the hoopla of winning a World Championship was a down season from Jimmy Rollins. To be fair, Rollins missed significant time in 2008 and his production suffered as a result. The 2007 MVP went from 88 XBH in 2007 to only 58 in 2008, a drop that signifies how much his production dropped because of the injuries. Look for Rollins to re-establish himself as one of the best shortstops in the league this season at the dish, which would give the Phillies the best lineup in baseball outside of the Yankees.

. The continued assent of Jaime Moyer
As astonishing as it may seem, Moyer is pitching some the best baseball of his career at 47. The soft tossing lefty continues to baffle hitters throwing nothing but junk. What a wonder it is to watch him pitch. Enjoy him while you can Phillies fans...even though it should not be a surprise to see Moyer pitch until he is 50!

5. More Ryan Howard Subway Commercials
Seriously folks, these are gems. We want more!

Spotlight's On: Brett Myers

*With the season now just over a month away, Jorge Says No! will profile one pivotal player from each team. To often, players get lost in the shuffle of the big names and bright lights, so we focus on some of the under the radar guys who need to step it up in 2009 for their team to succeed.*

Brett Myers was horrible for a good portion of 2008. The Phillies number #2 starter had a miserable first half where he had a tough time locating his pitches, gave up far too many long balls (24), and seemed somewhat lost on the mound. His 5.84 first half ERA was sickening. By July, the Phillies decided to ship Myers and his pitching problems to the minor leagues.

Whatever Myers did in the minors, it certainly worked. Myers returned to the Phillies with his location no longer MIA and suddenly became the #2 starter the Phillies had been lacking for the first half of the season. In the second half of 2008, Myers delivered with a 3.08 ERA, finally looking like the powerful Brett Myers of old.

Is it a coincidence then that the Phillies took off in the second half of 2008? They played their best ball of 2008 with a solid Myers on board, thus demonstrating how valuable Myers is to the Phillies when he is on top of his game.

The pressure will be back on Myers to produce in 2009. His 2008 season can be classified as inconsistent at best and if the Phillies are going to be serious contenders in 2009, they will need to have a dynamic #2 starter to pitch behind Cole Hamels. If Myers proves to be the guy once again, then the Phillies will be tough to beat in 2009. They have so many weapons offensively that if their pitchers deliver, they will be the favorites to win the NL pennant. And that's coming from a Met fan.

But if Myers fails to deliver the goods and under performs, it will be a huge blow to the Phillies. Besides Hamels, they have no other pitcher with Myers stuff and capabilities, which would leave a huge hole in their rotation. The Phillies won the title last season on the strength of their pitching staff and if they want to repeat, having Myers at his best in 2009 is a must.

The spotlight's on, Brett Myers.

What do you think, will Myers produce in 2009?

*Coming up tomorrow, the Florida Marlins.*

Coach Mike Piazza!

Exciting news for all of us over here at Jorge Says No! yesterday...there was a Mike Piazza sighting! And he was doing something baseball related!

The 41-year-old former catcher is the hitting coach for the Italian team in the Classic. On Wednesday morning, he was wearing a blue uniform with an "I" on his cap on a back field at Roger Dean Stadium, preparing for a "B" game against the Marlins.

"I'm excited to get on the field a little bit, and the fact they [Italian players] are so eager to learn, and there aren't a lot of egos over there," Piazza said. "It's a good thing. I'm really pumped."

Good for Mike. I always thought he would be a great hitting coach in his life after baseball. Piazza was my favorite player growing up and I always loved watching him hit (not to mention how jealous I was of his awesome facial hair). He had this calm demeanor at the plate and then as soon as the ball reached the plate, he would seamlessly explode towards at the ball. One of the most beautiful and powerful swings I have ever seen. I'm sure the guys on the Italian squad will love working with the legend.

More interesting stuff from this article:

Piazza played for Italy's Classic team in 2006, and coaching is keeping him touch with the game. He is working on doing a little broadcasting when the season starts.

"Nothing is really finalized," he said.

If Piazza becomes a full time broadcaster, I'd be thrilled (is this the man crush talking?). Piazza always seemed a bit timid to me in interviews and with the fans, but I'm sure he would add some valuable insight to the booth. Or at least I hope he would.

I just hope Piazza doesn't coach the catchers at throwing out base stealers...that could get ugly.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Poll Results: Who Will Win the NL East?

In our most recent poll, we asked "who will win the NL East in 2009?"

Well, 42 of you chimed in (c'mon people, VOTE!), and here are the results:

15 (35%)
16 (38%)
8 (19%)
1 (2%)
2 (4%)

Another close race this season, eh? The Phillies beat out the Mets by just one vote! That's exactly what I am expecting. The Mets and Phillies have evolved into quite the rivalry over the past three seasons and I look forward to another drama filled and heart pounding season from these two teams.

I find it fascinating that the Marlins only got 1 vote. Hell, even the Nationals got more votes than the Marlins! I know that almost no one knows who plays on the Marlins these days given their limited spending, but this is a talented bunch that might emerge as a dark horse playoff contender in 2009.

This should be a very competitive division is 2009 that probably won't be decided until the final days in September. No team is terribly weak in this division and even the once lowly Nationals should be more competitive than they were in years past. I can honestly see either the Mets, Phillies, Braves, or Marlins winning the NL East in 2009, which will be good for baseball, but bad for my heart.

Next Poll: Who win the 2009 NL Central? VOTE! VOTE! VOTE!

Atlanta Braves: Five Things to Look Forward to in 2009

1. An actual starting rotation complete with pitchers, who can throw more than 4 innings!
-Hallelujah for Javier Vazquez, Derek Lowe, and Kenshin Kawakami! 200 innings, here we come!

2. The possible return of Jeff Francoeur
-Will "the Natural" ever recapture his rightful place on the throne next to Mickey Mantle? Probably not. Can he become a productive middle of the order hitter, who does not swing at every damn pitch he sees? Hopefully...the talent is there.

3. The incredible Larry Wayne "Chipper" Jones
-Does anyone realize that Chipper hit .364 last season? How incredible is that? This guy is truly one of the best "clean" players of my generation, and Braves fans should enjoy getting to watch Larry Wayne play as much as they can while he is still healthy and productive. Yes, I'm a bitter Mets fan.

4. The continued rise of Yunel Escobar
-Thank God the Braves did not trade Yunel for Jake Peavy. Escobar has the makings of a top flight shortstop in this league and I fully expect him to breakout this season by hitting well above .300 and setting the table for the aforementioned Chipper Jones with a .370+ OBP. Mark my words, this guy is a stud.

5. A healthy, deep bullpen
-Pray to whatever Gods you want to on this one, Braves fans. Mike Gonzalez and Rafael Soriano are your meal tickets to meaningful September baseball and maybe, just maybe, the Braves will be able to hold a few damn leads this season.

So Braves fans, what are you looking forward to in 2009? Discuss.

Spotlight's On: Mike Gonzalez

When the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, they did so with one of the game's strongest bullpens anchored by closer Brad Lidge. The flame throwing Lidge did not blow a single save in 2008 and turned a average bullpen into one of the best in baseball through his consistently great performance. His impact was enormous and cannot be understated.

Braves closer Mike Gonzalez, coming off Tommy John surgery, has the opportunity to transform the Braves bullpen from horrific to dynamic in 2009. Don't let his mediocre 2009 stats (0-3, 4.28 ERA) fool you, Gonzalez has the makeup and the stuff to be a fantastic closer in this league. The only question is whether or not he can remain healthy.

When the Braves acquired Gonzalez from the Pirates in 2007, they envisioned Gonzalez as a dominant relief pitcher at the back end of the bullpen and a possible candidate to close. Armed with a powerful fastball and a dynamic slider, Gonzalez has all the makings of a great closer. He can strike out hitters even after Tommy John surgery (44 K in 33 IP) and make hitters look absolutely foolish at the dish. But only 18 games into the 2007 season, Gonzalez was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery and missed the remainder of the season. Ouch.

So after missing all of 2007 and a good portion of 2008, this is Gonzalez's chance to prove his worth to the Braves. They will be counting on Gonzalez heavily this season to become the steady and productive force at the back end of their bullpen that they lacked in 2008. Without a solid closer last season, the Braves consistently struggled late in ball games last season and won only 11 one run ball games.

The Braves will need to win lots of close games if they are going to seriously compete in the NL East this season. Gonzalez will play a major role in that. If he performs well, the Braves could become the team no one wants to play in 2009 and a legitimate playoff candidate. Who knows if Gonzalez will turn into a lights out closer like Lidge? He certainly has the stuff to do it.

However, if Gonzalez fails to hold down the job or gets hurt, the Braves will struggle to hold down leads and win ball games. It could get ugly for the third year in a row for the Braves.

The spotlight's on, Mike Gonzalez. Stay healthy!

What do you think, will Gonzalez be the dynamic closer the Braves need?

*Coming up tomorrow, the Philadelphia Phillies.*

The Nonexistent Market for Pedro Martinez

Lost in the mist and muddle of this offseason has been the mysterious disappearance of Pedro Martinez from our collective consciousness. Isn't it somewhat surprising how little Pedro has been mentioned this offseason? We're talking about one of the best pitchers in baseball history, who has been strangely ignored this offseason like he has coodies or something.

The reality here is that Pedro is nothing more than a fifth starter right now. Since his surgery in 2006, Pedro's stuff has not been the same and too often he has been forced to rely on his guts and guile to pitch out of tough situations. He finished the 2008 season with an unimpressive 5-6 record, a 5.61 ERA, and an ugly 1.569 WHIP. Those are some ugly numbers.

There was talk in the beginning of the offseason that Pedro was drawing some interest from the Mets. Thankfully, they didn't. The Marlins were also rumored to have some interest in Pedro, but that proved to be hogwash. Outside of the Mets and Marlins, the market for Pedro has been dead quiet, which has to be concerning for the three time Cy Young award winner.

Pedro's 2008 was so bad that I understand why no team wants to go after him right now. But at the same time, there is no denying that Pedro is popular amongst fans and players and he is still a draw at the gate. Even towards the end of Pedro's run with the Mets, there was still a buzz when he took the hill, simply because he was Pedro Martinez, one of the best players in baseball. People want to see this guy pitch...especially when he is on.

In these rough economic times, I'm surprised that not one team has opted to take a flier on Martinez hoping that his mere presence would somewhat excite the fan base. Mediocre fans still know who Pedro Martinez is and the name recognition alone could bring some added fans to the stands.

So will someone take a shot on Pedro? Maybe. If he has a good WBC, then I could see someone taking a chance on Pedro. Or if a starting pitcher gets hurt, I could see a club taking a look at Pedro hoping that he recaptures some of his old magic. Would a team like the Pirates or Marlins take a chance on Pedro somewhere down the road? Debatable.

But right now, it's going to continue to be a tough go of things for Martinez. Teams obviously feel pretty strongly that Pedro is just not worth it at this point and that his skills have declined too much for him to be successful. I hope that Pedro gets a chance to come back and pitch well, because man, that guy is fun to watch and an amazing competitor.

Good luck, Pedro.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Rhythmic Styles of Razor Shines

And the blog description has finally spoken.

Without further ado, Ladies and Gentlemen, the rhythmic styles of Razor Shines courtesy of the NY Times.

"Watching Shines interact is like a seeing a game of verbal pepper. Don’t let me down now, David. That’s what I’m talking about, Carlos. Good Lord have mercy, José. He is continually talking, constantly moving. He jogs from station to station, bumping fists and slapping fives. Security guards get them,too.

“When I was with Seattle, I would call Razor whenever I wanted to feel good about myself,” said outfielder Jeremy Reed, who played for Shines in 2003, for a White Sox Class A affiliate. “Now that we’re together again, I never have to worry about getting down on myself. He won’t let me.”

Shines, 52, is the Mets’ version of a corner man, albeit one with more than three decades of professional experience and a mind as sharp as his name. About that name, Razor. He has had it since July 18, 1956, his birth date. He was born Anthony Razor Shines, the third generation of Shines men to have Razor as a middle name. He says he does not know the origin, he just observes the tradition, having passed it along to his son, Devon.

“If I hear Anthony, I look around because someone sure knows a lot about me,” Shines said. “Razor gets more attention. As a baseball player, I like attention. I like it out there. Put it on me. Pile it on.

Classic stuff there. There are four generations of Razor Shines? That's too good to be true!

Too bad Razor never made it big in the majors...I'm sure the good folks over at Gillette would have been all over Razor for endorsements!

On the baseball side of things, just keep the boys upbeat and smiling Razor...Lord knows you'll be keeping me smiling with that awesome name. And have no fear Razor, you will get plenty of attention all season long from Jorge Says No!

(Note: In a few weeks I will be heading down to Florida for a few days of spring training. My first, and only goal: picture with Razor Shines)

Spotlight's On: Luis Castillo

*With the season now just over a month away, Jorge Says No! will profile one pivotal player from each team. To often, players get lost in the shuffle of the big names and bright lights, so we focus on some of the under the radar guys who need to step it up in 2009 for their team to succeed.*

When the Mets acquired Castillo in 2007 from the Minnesota Twins, I thought he was going to be the perfect compliment to leadoff hitter Jose Reyes. Castillo, known primarily as a speedy slap hitter, could take lots of pitches in the #2 hole and get on base quite frequently, all of which would make the Mets lineup more potent in theory. For the latter half of 2007, Castillo actually played quite well for the Mets...well enough for GM Omar Minaya to hand Castillo a 4 year/$26 million dollar contract extension.

And from there, it was all downhill. Castillo was out of shape from the get go, spent almost two months on the DL, and looked old and slow on the diamond. The speedy slap hitter was replaced by an out of shape, gimpy man, who looked to be in severe pain just walking out to second base. By the end of the season, Castillo was getting booed mercilessly at Shea Stadium as he drifted into obscurity and into Mets fans' doghouse.

Fans began to view Castillo as a bust and demanded that Minaya get rid of the aging Castillo. However, Minaya decided to keep Castillo, banking on a resurgent season from the 33 year old second baseman. If Castillo can stay healthy and productive, the Mets lineup instantly becomes deeper, more potent, and one of the best in baseball. Castillo NEEDS to get on base to set the table for the heart of the Mets order (Wright, Delgado, Beltran) and take some of the pressure off of Jose Reyes at the top of the lineup.

In addition, Mets manager Jerry Manuel has discussed moving Castillo to the leadoff spot, which would allow Jose Reyes to hit third in the Mets order. Such a move would put even more pressure on Castillo to produce, but if he comes through, the Mets lineup would gain even more flexibility and potency.

Plain and simple, the Mets lineup improves tremendously with a healthy and productive Castillo. Yes, he is nothing more than a slap hitter and yes, his best days are probably behind him, but he is exactly the kind of table setter the Mets need. Having a second productive table setter is an aspect that Mets missed last season when Castillo got hurt, but if he rebounds, the results could be fantastic for the Mets.

The pressure is certainly on Castillo in 2009. If he fails to produce, he will be booed-alot. He will be labeled a bust by the NY media and Mets fans alike, while the Mets scramble to find a capable replacement. The Mets showed enough confidence in Castillo to keep him around, but they also made sure to sign a capable replacement, Alex Cora, to back up Castillo. Castillo will need to produce right away or a benching will certainly be in his future.

The spotlight's on, Luis Castillo.

What do you think, will Castillo produce in 2009?

*Coming up tomorrow, the Atlanta Braves.*

World Baseball Classic: Only 10 Days Away!

In just nine days, we will have the first real baseball of 2009. Yes, the World Baseball Classic makes its return to the forefront of the baseball universe, and I for one am excited to see how it plays out. Even with some odd rules and such, the tournament will be fun interlude between spring training and the start of the regular season.

Can you feel the excitement???

I'm somewhat worried about all the players not playing in the World Baseball Classic this time around. Between Francisco Liriano, Johan Santana, Joe Mauer, Mark Teixeira, and Albert Pujols; the Classic will be missing some of its biggest stars and draws. The Classic needs all the names it can get to sustain credibility and I for one will watch the Classic just to watch the best players compete at the same level. It loses some of its luster if B and C level players are only competing.

So who are the favorites this time around? Well, if you bet on baseball, I would have to put my money down on Cuba and Japan. Those two countries hooked up in the final last season and seem to care more about this tournament than any of the other countries who have serious talent. For that reason alone, they are my two picks for the final.

My favorite part of the classic is seeing all the different countries play under one umbrella, especially since some of them I had no idea even knew what baseball was. Seriously, South Africa and the Netherlands! Head over to your favorite sportsbook to see all the matchups, analysis, and random teams that will be involved in the WBC.

And finally, the big question on everyone's mind is how will the US fare in the tournament? Well, I think we'll put up a respectable showing. I think our guys will win a few games in tournament, but ultimately be knocked out just like last season because once again, this tournament does not mean as much to us as it does to the rest of the world. In addition, the US no longer has the best baseball talent in the world. Both those reasons are good enough for me NOT to pick the United States to win the WBC.

(Note: Pray that no one gets hurt in this exhibition tournament. The last thing Bud Selig needs is for Derek Jeter, David Wright, or Ichiro Suzuki sustaining a major injury and not being able to play in the upcoming season. Stay healthy guys!)

So is anyone excited for the WBC? Thoughts?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Where in the World is Odalis Perez?

Talk about going AWOL.

First, Odalis signed a very questionable minor league contract with the Nationals. I, like many others, was stunned to see that Perez was forced to sign a minor league deal given the market for starting pitching and the season he put together in 2008. While Perez's statistics were far from spectacular, he still put up good enough numbers to be an effective #5 starter on most teams (4.34 ERA, 159 IP, 122 K).

I admit that there are plenty of flaws in Perez's game: high WHIP (1.484 in '08), lots of HRs given up (22 in '08), but there is no reason why he should have had to settle for a minor league contract. Hell, even Mark Hendrickson, who could not even stay in the Marlins starting rotation last season, got a major league deal. Even though the market was greatly depressed, there is always demand for quality starting pitchers, even those of Perez's caliber.

Side note: Perez's agent should be fired for only getting him a minor league deal.

Right before spring training, Perez finally got the memo that a minor league contract was stupid. He could have done better. He should have done better. So what did Perez do? He demanded a guaranteed contract that would have given him security. Problem is, Perez already had agreed to the original contract. Ooops.

Perez then did the only thing he could to protest the atrocity of the Perez and his agent agreeing to only a minor league deal: he went AWOL. Perez failed to report to spring training and despite the Nationals attempts to reach him, Perez has failed to pick up his phone. What a guy.

And with that, the Nationals decided to release Perez today. Good for them. They did not need a headcase like Perez around. The last thing the Nationals needed right now was another distraction. Even if the contract was less than he deserved, Perez still agreed to terms and should have shown up. Plain and simple.

But the interesting facet to the Perez story is that by getting his release, Perez will now probably be in line for a major league contract with someone. There are plenty of teams out there that still need starting pitchers (Astros, Cardinals, Athletics, Pirates, Orioles, Rangers, etc). It's not out of the realm of possibility for Perez to actually benefit from his childish behavior, especially if he performs well in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.

I know for sure that I would not want a guy like Perez on my team. But since pitching doesn't grow on trees, I'm sure the phone will quickly begin ringing for long as he still remembers to pick up the phone.

Anyone Remember This?

I sure do.

1999 NLCS. Mets v. Braves. What a series it was! Still breaks my heart do this day. Damn you, Kenny Rogers!

I was nine years old at the time and had not a care in the world outside of baseball. Little did I know that my family and I were sitting in front of one of the most epic signs ever created. Vulgar, insulting, yet hilarious at the same time. Boy am I glad this one was pulled from the ole' Shea Stadium family achieves!

RIP Shea Stadium.

Anyone else psyched for baseball? Just looking at this picture is getting me excited to see the Mets play the Braves and Phillies this season.

(h/t Bruce Levitt)

Garret Anderson: Look Out for the Braves

Almost a week ago, the Braves seemed to be closing in on signing Ken Griffey Jr to a one year contract worth just over $2.5 million. However, Griffey decided to sign with the Mariners instead of the Braves, which left Braves GM Frank Wren in an interesting position. Should he let young guys compete for left field or sign one of the many veteran corner outfielders to a team friendly contract?

Well, today we got our answer. The Braves signed Garret Anderson, formerly of the Los Angeles Angels, to a one year/$2.5 million dollar contract. Anderson, 37, will become the Braves starting left fielder and gives their lineup some needed pop and credibility.

For the Braves, I love this move. While they have a number of good, young talents that might be able to play left field full time, the Braves have lots of questions in the outfield already. Will Jeff Francoeur recover from his lost 2008 season? Who will be the Braves starting center fielder? Anderson offers stability to the Braves outfield and guarantees a certain level of production as long as he's healthy. While he will no longer hit 30+ home runs, Anderson should be able to hit .280 with 15+ HR, 80 RBI. Those are some solid numbers, especially for $2.5 million bucks.

Surprisingly, Anderson still hits lefties (.290 in '08) and righties (.293 in '08) extremely well. Because of this, he should serve as a more than capable everyday left fielder and a solid #6 or #7 hitter in the Braves lineup.

On the down side, Anderson's defense is nothing to write home about and it will be interesting to see how he holds up playing the outfield everyday. Anderson was the Angels designated hitter 60 times in 2008, a luxury that he will not have with the Braves.

Furthermore, Anderson is by no means an on base machine. In 2008, Anderson only walked 29 times resulting in a meager .325 OBP. Those numbers have to be a concern for the Braves, especially if the plan on hitting Anderson, Casey Kotchman (.328 OBP in '08) Jeff Francoeur (.294 OBP in '08) back to back to back. The Braves will need those guys to produce higher OBPs in 2009 if they are going to seriously compete in the NL East.

Nevertheless, this move makes the Braves a better team than they were before. Anderson is an upgrade over anyone else the Braves had, so that alone makes the Braves a better team on paper. Their lineup still leaves much to be desired, but if Anderson, Francoeur, and Kotchman can produce, than this team can go places.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Sounding Off: Those Who Did Not Cheat

*Sounding Off will be featured every Sunday morning as we address a hot topic from the past week. Feel free to weigh in and make your opinion heard!*

The true effect of the steroid era will be felt for years to come. I written at length about the legacy of the steroid era, but I have come away feeling as though that piece was not enough. There are so many different facets to the steroid era that need to be addressed. Because now that the steroid shock has somewhat gone away, some clear, rational thought needs to expressed about steroids and the future.

Perhaps nothing conflicts me more with the steroid era is how to view statistics. Here we have a group of players, who have used an illegal substance to give themselves a competitive advantage. There is no doubt that their statistics are tainted and will leave a stain over their careers, no matter how significant they were. This much we can all agree on.

But what about those who have never used steroids or at least have never been linked to performance enhancing drugs? Do we now elevate their statistics knowing that they played against a group of athletes, who were putting illegal drugs into their body in the hopes of performing better. There are a significant number of players who still put up great statistics even when faced with chemically enhanced players, who looked more like body builders instead of ball players.

Take for instance, Curt Schilling. The former Diamondbacks ace put up very good statistics throughout his career (216 career wins, 6 time all star) and is thought of in many baseball circles as one of the better pitchers of my generation. However, whether Schilling is a hall of famer or not is a widely debated topic. Hell, Schilling himself does not believe that he should be in the hall of fame!

But should the baseball community re-evaluate how they view Schilling because he performed at an optimal level during the steroid era and by all accounts has not used any sort of PED? There is no telling how Schilling's performance would have improved if he had used steroids during his career or if the rest of baseball had been clean. But the fact remains that Schilling put up fantastic numbers as a clean athlete. That's damn impressive.

If Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Roger Clemens are going to be excluded from the hall of fame because of performance enhancing drugs, then I think there will be "clean" players who will gain credit with hall voters because of their performance during the steroid era. Schilling is one of the guys who I can see entering the hall of fame based both on his performance and that he was clean.

It'll be hard to figure out exactly who was clean and who wasn't during this era. But the presumption of innocence will play a large role in who enters the hall of fame. Because Lord knows, the worst case scenario for major league baseball is if a player in the hall of fame is found to have used performance enhancing drugs. Baseball simply cannot afford to have that happen.

So what do you think? Will the candidacy of "clean" players be elevated because they did not cheat?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Orlando Hudson: Finally Dodger Bound

For Orlando Hudson, the long national nightmare is over. He finally has a team.

After more than three months of free agency, Hudson and the Dodgers came to terms on a one year/$3.4 million dollar contract. The deal could be worth upwards of $7 million bucks if Hudson reaches all incentives.

For the Dodgers, I love this deal. Hudson is a very good player, who can make a significant impact in 2009 both offensively and defensively. Don't let the mild contract fool you, Hudson is one of the best second baseman in the league. He could very well score 100 runs, hit above .300, produce a .370+ OBP, and play gold glove caliber defense. That's quite a package for the Dodgers at the low price of $3 million.

And don't get me wrong, I like Blake Dewitt. I think he's got a future in this league and showed quite a bit last season with the Dodgers. However, the Dodgers are building to win now. And let's face it, Hudson gives the Dodgers the best chance to win right now. Not only did the Dodgers add a fine player, but they signed Hudson away from the Diamondbacks, who are a division rival. Quite a pickup for the Dodgers.

The only downside of this signing is that the Dodgers have to surrender their first overall pick (#17) to the Diamondbacks. But, c'mon people, who cares? The objective is to win now. The Dodgers, assuming they sign Manny Ramirez, will be legitimate pennant contenders in 2009 as their roster up and down is as good as anyone else's in the National League. Their starting pitching might be suspect, but I have supreme confidence in Kershaw, Kuroda, and Billingsley. I expect big things from those three in 2009.

Now all that's left is for the Dodgers to sign Manny Ramirez. If/When that day comes, the Dodgers will officially be among the National League's top contenders for the National League pennant. It's a good day to be a Dodger fan.

As for Hudson, this one has to be bittersweet. Yes, it's great to finally have a team and a contract in hand, but this came at a severely reduced rate. Remember, Hudson was originally looking for a 4 year deal worth $9-$10 million per season. Needless to say, he never came close to that. What a shame. It'll be interesting to see what Hudson can get on the open market in 2010, hopefully by then the market will have turned around. There is no reason why a good season with the Dodgers should not translate into a big contract next long as the economy is in better shape.

Let's all say a prayer for that!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Manny Ramirez: What's Taking So Long?

Manny Ramirez still does not have a home. Yes, with only 9 days left until March, Ramirez and the Dodgers remain at an impasse.

My question is simple: how the hell could this be possible?

I mean, God, the two sides have been negotiating since November. That's more than three months. Memo to Scott Boras, this is a contract negotiation, not a peace agreement.

At this point, there really should not be that much to negotiate. Both sides know the other's position. Manny wants a huge mega deal. The Dodgers are willing to pay Manny (20+ mil per season), but only on a one (1 yr/$25 mil) or two year deal (2 yr/$45 mil). You would think a compromise could be worked out, but not in the world of Manny Ramirez.

Strangely, the Dodgers are Ramirez's only serious suitor. Not one other team has put an offer forward besides the Dodgers, and most of the cheaper outfield options have already signed with teams. The market for Ramirez was small at the beginning of free agency, but it has gotten even smaller as free agency has progressed.

Don't get me wrong, the Dodgers need Manny in a big way. They simply cannot afford to miss out on signing Ramirez after Adam Dunn and Bobby Abreu signed contracts. There is no fallback option. Without Ramirez, the Dodgers are screwed both on the diamond and in the pocketbook.

And Ramirez needs the Dodgers as well. They are the only team, who is willing to meet his exorbitant price tag of more than $20 million in tough economic times. Despite his immense talent, a combination of the economy and concerns over Manny's dedication have kept other teams from entering the Ramirez bidding. It's about time Manny and Scott Boras recognize this.

One would have to hope the Boras and Ramirez realize that the Dodgers offer is going to be the best they're going to get. They can continue to fool themselves into thinking that some "mystery team" is going to swoop in a sign Ramirez to a $100+ million dollar deal, but that's just not in the cards right now.

This is a marriage that needs to happen for both sides. They need each other. But when will both sides realize it?

Yet another big question remains: when will the thick headed duo of Boras and Manny finally give in to the Dodgers? A few days? Weeks? Months? Will Manny even play at all (foolish, I know) if he doesn't get the huge deal he wants? If Boras and Manny continue to hold firm, could this standoff possibly, gulp, go on for awhile? Let's hope not...

And how about this: would the Dodgers ever give into Ramirez with another year or more money? What would it take for the Dodgers to give into Ramirez? My best guess is that the Giants would have to go after Manny hard for the Dodgers to up their offer, but I doubt the Giants would enter the Manny market unless his price came down significantly. Damn!

We're well in February now people, enough is enough. Get the Manny deal done!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Brian Roberts: A Quality Extension

It's been reported that the Orioles and Brian Roberts are close on a 4 year/$40 million dollar extension that will begin in 2010. The 31 year old Roberts is a two time all star and has been a prime contributor with the Orioles over the past five seasons. It's hard not to like this extension for both Roberts and the Orioles.

On one hand, the Orioles need quality players to build around if they are ever going to be serious competitors in the American League. Roberts is one of the best second baseman in all of baseball and there are many teams who would break the bank to have Roberts on board. Roberts is definitely an asset and someone who the Orioles can build around.

I think this was an important move for the Orioles front office to make to show the fans that they are serious about competing and winning. Roberts is one of the few homegrown players the Orioles have and this extension shows the young guys that if they play well, they will be rewarded. This a sign of good faith from the organization to Roberts, the team, and the fans that the organization is serious about changing their troubled ways.

In addition, Roberts is one of the few players the Orioles have, who fans will actually come out to see. It's no secret that Roberts is a fan favorite in Baltimore and one of the most marketable players the Orioles have. If the Orioles are going to create a image and brand for their team, Roberts will undoubtedly play a big role in that.

And when you throw in that the Orioles have no other long term options at second base, this extension looks even better for the Orioles, who now have a long term, quality option at second base.

But on the down side, you have to wonder about giving Roberts a four year extension that will lock him in until 2013, when Roberts will be 35 years old. For a team that is looking to get younger, there is some significant risk involved in signing a guy as old as Roberts to a long term deal. There is a risk that Roberts, whose game depends so much on speed, will be on the decline towards the back end of this deal. If he does decline, his contract will make him virtually unmovable.

However, I think this was a move the Orioles needed to make. Losing Roberts would have hurt the Orioles big time on the pr front and they probably would not have been able to get that much back in a trade considering how poor the second base market is right now. While this extension won't make the Orioles instant competitors, it does give them a valuable asset who could help rebuild this franchise.

I have to ask though: did the Orioles overpay for Roberts? Considering how bad the free agent market has been for second basemen, I'm surprised to see Roberts getting $10 million per season. Any thoughts?

Ken Griffey Jr: Jubilation in Seattle

This quote from Mariners GM Jeff Zdur-something or another says it all:
"He's coming home. ... I can't begin to tell you how ecstatic we are. He is, too," Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik confirmed on Wednesday night, calling Griffey "arguably one of the greatest athletes to ever play in the Seattle area."
And you know what, they should be elated. Griffey is back! Break out the #24 Griffey Jerseys!

Sure, no one has any idea what Junior will be able to give the Mariners this season, but the fans needed something to be excited about in 2009, especially after last season's debacle. Griffey brings an instant buzz to the Mariners, which the team needed in the worst way.

This team is still not expected to compete. Everyone knows that. But Junior will put the fannies in the seats for the Mariners and sell tons of merchandise, which is more than any player outside of Ichiro could say.

However, I do have one problem with this move. Junior's arrival in Seattle likely means that Wladimir Balentien, the Mariners top prospect for years, will be relegated to the bench or AAA. The Mariners have talked about giving Balentien a shot for years, but it looks like that opportunity will have to wait.

True, Balentien did get 243 at bats with the Mariners last season. And you know what, he was pretty unimpressive during that time (.202 BA, 7 HR). But 243 ABs is a rather small sample size for a highly touted youngster, don't ya think?

And you know what, that's a shame. This Mariners team should be trying to get YOUNGER and experiment with their highly touted young players to see what they got. This season would have been the perfect time to give Balentien a shot to perform everyday to see if he really does have a future with the team. This guy has performed very well at every stop in the minors and deserved a chance to play everyday. It's clear to me that the Mariners have little faith in Balentien and probably will never give him a chance to play everyday.

Wladimir Balentien=Felix Pie

Mariners fans: do you think Griffey and Balentien will platoon in left field? I hope so.

Ken Griffey Jr: Ouch, Atlanta

Shocking news last night that Ken Griffey Jr has decided to sign with the Seattle Mariners instead of the Atlanta Braves. The deal with the Braves seemed to be a near certainty, but Griffey, perhaps feeling quite nostalgic, decided to turn back the clock and sign with the Mariners.

Ouch, Atlanta. That hurts.

And you know where it hurts the Braves the most? The pocketbook. With the economy currently in the tank, having a guy like Griffey around would be a huge asset for Braves management because it would give fans a reason to buy all different kinds of Braves items. Stuff like tickets, merchandise, concessions, and TV revenues all would go up with Griffey on board.

Strangely enough though, I don't think this will hurt the Braves on the diamond. Sure there was always the chance that Griffey would recapture his glory days at 39, but odds are high that Griffey would be nothing more than a platoon player, even at the dish. In addition, playing Griffey everyday in the field would be a major risk given his injury history and decline; it's obvious that Junior should be in the AL with the hitter friendly DH.

Now the big question for Braves management has to be who do they pursue next? The obvious choice has to be Garret Anderson, who hit .293 with 15 home runs for the Angels last season. It's clear that he can still hit right handed pitching (.293, 14 HR in 2008), but the question remains: can he play defense consistently? Anderson was the Angels DH 60 times in 2008 and having him the outfield consistently would be a liability. We'll see if that's a risk the Braves are willing to take at this point. Trading for Xavier Nady or signing Luis Gonzalez remain options as well.

For Braves fans, this one has to be yet another letdown. This is the second time this offseason that a player (Rafael Furcal) has spurned their offer to sign elsewhere after the media reported that a deal was close. Even at his old age, people will still pay money to see Ken Griffey Jr, one of the best players in baseball history, play the game. He was that good.

Too bad Braves fans. For now, you'll have to settle with Gregor Blanco and Josh Anderson. Ouch.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Weird and Wacky Left Handed Relief Market

When the offseason began, I thought that the demand would be high for left handed relievers. Sure there was an abundance of quality left handed relievers on the market this offseason, but hey, every team needs pitching, especially in the bullpen. Relief pitchers have done quite well on the free agent market in years past and there seemed to be no reason why a bunch of these guys would not get solid deals.

Hell, the market even started off well for left handed relief pitchers. On the eve of free agency beginning, Damaso Marte signed a 3 year/$12 million dollar extension with the Yankees. And within days of free agency beginning, Jeremy Affeldt signed a 2 year/$8 million dollar contract with the Giants. Even the 40 year old Arthur Rhodes found a home by signing a nice 2 year/$4 million with the Reds. Yay for setting the market...right?

Wrong. Because then, a funny thing happened, teams stopped giving left handed relief pitchers deals longer than 1 year. Veterans like Alan Embree, Brian Shouse, and Trever Miller have all found work on one year deals, but younger left handed relief pitchers, who put up very nice numbers last season, like Dennys Reyes, Joe Beimel, and Will Ohman are still out of work.

So what gives? How could this be?

For starters, perhaps teams started to view quality relief pitching as a luxury in these poor economic times and decided to cut back on spending. Many teams have decided to focus on other areas in the hopes of finding a solid, young, and cheap replacement to fill the left handed void in the bullpen. There was just no way that all of these guys were going to get $3-$4 million a season in a down economy. Unfortunately, left handed relief pitchers have become casualties of a terrible market.

The abundance of left handed relief pitchers on the market certainly has not helped given that so many teams have opted not to go the free agent route to solve their bullpen voids. Once the supply outweighed the demand, it was obvious that some of these guys were going to be left with nothing while others struck it rich. In this case, those who signed early certainly hit the jackpot. There is simply no way to explain how Jeremy Affeldt will likely get $6-$7 million dollars more than Will Ohman outside of luck and timing. Hell, the Giants even had to give up a pick for about luck!

Interestingly, draft pick compensation was not an issue for a lot of these guys. Affeldt, Shouse, and Reyes were the only ones offered arbitration and therefore, it costed/will cost whichever team that signs them a draft pick (probably 2nd round for type B free agents). The free agent compensation excuse is not valid here as Affeldt and Shouse have already signed and guys without compensation attached to their name remained unsigned as well. This offseason has truly been unpredictable.

And yes, I think these guys held out too long hoping for a deal similar to Marte or Affledts. The number of teams who could afford to go after left handed relief pitchers has dramatically declined and there has been limited competition for their services. Once they realized that the market was just not there, each guy should have jumped at the best deal one year out there and tried again in 2010 for the free agent riches.

One final thought: kudos to the agent of Darren Oliver. Oliver, a relief pitcher for the Angels, wisely accepted arbitration instead of playing the free agent market at 38. Oliver hit it big by accepting the Angels offer of arbitration and eventually agreeing on a one year/$3.7 million dollar contract. Yay for arbitration! Too bad more of these guys were not offered arbitration, then they all would have teams by now!

If the market for left handed relief pitchers has taught us anything, its that timing and luck are crucial.

Poll Results: Where Will Manny Sign?

In our most recent poll, we asked "where will Manny Ramirez sign?"

Well, 109 of you chimed in (thank you!), and here are the results:

56 (51%)
5 (4%)
23 (21%)
-Darkhorse (other)
17 (15%)
-Sit Out!
8 (7%)

Those numbers are right in line with my thinking. I still think the Dodgers are the odds on favorite to sign Manny, but what the hell is taking so long? It's not like either side has many more options...

It's interesting how only 5 of you thought Manny could wind up with the Giants and 23 of you think he could be a Yankee. The Giants need Manny a lot more than the Yankees do, but as we have seen in the past, never count out the Yankees and their massive check books.

With that said, how ridiculous would it be if Manny decided to sit out this season. Just another weird and wacky case of Manny being Manny I guess.

Next Poll: Who win the 2009 NL East? VOTE! VOTE! VOTE!

Do You Believe Alex Rodriguez?

Simple question, yet confusing on so many different levels.

The optimist in me wants to believe A-Rod. I want to believe that A-Rod only took steroids from 2001-2003, that it was just a stupid mistake, that he was just young and stupid, that he is truly sorry for lying to the American people on national TV, and that he had no idea what steroids did to him.

But for some reason, I don't.

Maybe it was the lack of conclusive answers from A-Rod. Maybe it was the culmination of all the lies from A-Rod in the past (Couric interview, Selena Roberts stalked me!). For some reason, I did not walk away from yesterday's interview believing that A-Rod had completely solved this steroid issue. If anything, I think A-Rod might have opened up a new Pandora's box of questions because of his continually vague answers.

Here is what bothers me most: How could A-Rod put "stuff" into his body when he had no idea of the side effects or benefits? For a professional athlete, that just seems ridiculous and well beyond stupid.

So I ask you, the people, do you believe Alex Rodriguez? Did yesterday's interview satisfy all your concerns and questions?

Feel free to leave your responses in the comments section.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Geriatric Braves: Tom Glavine and Ken Griffey Jr

Depending on the source, it now appears very likely that the Braves will sign Ken Griffey Jr. to a one year contract. The 39 year old outfielder is in the twilight of his career and is noticeably on the decline. Griffey will undoubtedly bring a good bit of revenue to the Braves simply based on merchandise and ticket sales. From that perspective, the move is a home run.

And from the baseball side of things, this appears to be a good risk for the Braves. Their outfield is in shambles right now outside of Jeff Francoeur and if they want to compete in 2009, they will need some production from someone outside of Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, and Yunel Escobar. Griffey at least gives the Braves a chance for the Braves to find some cheap production to support their main group. Look for "the Kid" to platoon with Matt Diaz in left field, which could keep him fresh and productive.

But on the down side, you have to wonder how much Griffey has left in the tank. Even though Griffey hit 18 home runs last season, he was only able to muster a .249 batting average and is no longer a great defensive player. Griffey has dealt with so many injuries over the past ten years and you just have to wonder how much more his body will be able to take. I worry about Griffey running around in the spacious Turner Field because of his injury history so restricting Griffey to left is a must.

I'm sure he will have his moments of glory with the Braves, but at this point, it might be unrealistic to expect any major production from Griffey. Then again, if he does produce, watch out for the Braves.

In addition to Griffey, the Braves also seem to be close to re-signing Tom Glavine. The 42 year old Glavine is coming off a season where he was unproductive (5.54 ERA) and injured. Glavine underwent surgery on both his elbow and shoulder, which limited him to 13 starts in 2008.

Despite the horrid numbers and injuries, the Braves seem intent on bringing back the declining star on a one year deal. Glavine is expected to be the fifth starter on the Braves and if healthy, might be able to contribute.

However, you have to wonder if the soft tossing left hander will be able to make a successful return to the big leagues. Even before the injuries, his stuff was declining as he relied more and more on smarts, guts, and guile. I'm sure Glavine's mental toughness will win him a few games with the Braves, but at what point does his physical liabilities start to have a real effect on his performance? There is only so long you can survive with a 83 MPH fastball in the big leagues.

We'll see how these two signings work out for the Braves. If the Braves limit their expectations of Griffey and Glavine, then they might be pleasantly surprised with some production. However, expecting miracles from either of these aging stars is stupid. Please keep expectations in line.

If anything, the team just got a whole lot older and more enjoyable for me. I'm not sure how these guys will react on the field given their old age (in baseball terms of course!), but having three first ballot hall of famers on one team (Glavine, Griffey, Chipper) is very exciting. Too bad for Braves fans that it's 2009, and not 1999. A team with those three would have been remarkable.

Young and Stupid

And with those two words, we sum up the 35 minute "Alex Rodriguez-Steroids Extravaganza" press conference. Rodriguez stuck to the talking points for a good portion of the time, but went to some interesting details about his steroid use.

Here is what we learned:

-He got the "boli", as he called it, from a cousin in the Dominican Republic

-His cousin injected Rodriguez with steroids

-A-Rod did not reveal his cousin's identity

-A-Rod had no idea what the drugs did for his body

-Even with his limited knowledge of the drug, Rodriguez was injected roughly twice a month for 3 years.

-Rodriguez never took HGH, but did admit to taking some kind of amphetamine during his time in Seattle

And with that, the extravaganza was over. I think Rodriguez needed to come clean with as much information as possible, which is what he did, but the idea of simply being 'young and stupid' became annoying and repetitive for me. He really beat that point over the head.

Did anyone else feel uncomfortable when A-Rod became all choked up and emotional when thanking his teammates? Okay good, glad I'm not the only one.

Let's just hope, for everyone's sake, that this story simply dies off. The circus will hopefully subside, and maybe, just maybe, we can all focus on baseball for once. Enough with this nonsense.

For more on the A-Rod press conference, head on over to Fack Youk and read their hilarious live blog of the press conference.

Be Patient, Orlando Cabrera!

It's hard to believe that Orlando Cabrera made $10 million bucks last season. The former White Sox shortstop will be lucky to make half of that in 2009, if he is even signed before the season begins. And as we documented before, Cabrera's type A status has absolutely shredded his market because teams would have to give up a high draft pick (either 1st or 2nd round) in addition to the millions they would surrender for Cabrera.

In this economy, that is not a good combination.

Here we are on February 17 and Cabrera remains unsigned with limited interest. His price tag has dropped quicker than Enron stock and people seem to have forgotten just how good a player Cabrera really is.

So that begs the question, just what kind of deal could be out there for Cabrera right now?

The answer is beyond simple: not a good one. The only team interested in Cabrera right now has been the Athletics, who usually hesitate to spend any money at all. If the Athletics sign Cabrera, they would have to surrender their second round pick because their first round pick is protected (#13 overall). That's actually a plus for Cabrera, since teams have refused to part with their first round pick...a second round pick might be more feasible for the Athletics given how deep their farm system is.

However, it's all downhill from there for Cabrera. The Athletics are in total control of the negotiations. If they do not sign Cabrera, they still have a pretty good option at shortstop with the oft injured Bobby Crosby. Cabrera is a luxury, not a necessity; therefore, the Athletics have full power to dictate his salary, which should be solely on their terms.

I would say that the best Cabrera should be able to do right now is something in the one year/$2-$4 million dollar range. When you consider that Bobby Abreu just signed with the Angels for a one year/$5 million, a minuscule salary should not be out of the question for Cabrera. Whoever gets Cabrera at that rate would be getting a huge bargain. Mark my words.

But if I was Cabrera's agent, I would hold off on signing a contract anytime soon. There is just no market for Cabrera right now and his only opportunity to build a market for himself is to wait for either an injury to occur, a disappointing season from a fellow shortstop, or for some GM to become desperate and throw a nice chunk of change at Cabrera. All three of those options are going to happen at some point. Patience is the hard part.

It's gotta be tough for Cabrera to be sitting around and waiting for any team to suddenly become interested in his services. However, this late in the off season, not much is likely to change. But I'm sure Cabrera will be rewarded down the road if he stays patient and does not jump at some ridiculously low offer.

Enough with the Steroids...What are you Looking Forward to in 2009?

Steroids. Alex Rodriguez. Steroids. Alex Rodriguez. Steroids.

That's all we've heard for the past week. And I'm sick of it!

I know A-Rod has his press conference later on today, but c'mon everybody, it's spring training! This is the time where baseball fans all over the world should be coming out of hibernation by making rash predictions about why the 2009 season will be fantastic...not steroids!

So I'd like to take a minute to state five things about the 2009 season that I am profoundly looking forward too. There are so many positive story lines coming into the 2009 season that I feel as though we are doing a disservice by not touching on them.

So with out further ado, here are the top 5 things that I am looking forward to in 2009:

5. Josh Hamilton
2008 was Hamilton's coming out party. The Rangers OF hit 32 home runs with 130 RBI in 2008 after battling through drug addiction and nearly being out of baseball prior to 2007. Hamilton also put together one of the greatest performances in home run derby history by hitting a ridiculous 28 home runs in the first round, many of which were moon balls that almost left the Earth's orbit.

So in theory, it should be all downhill for Hamilton from here on out, right? Wrong. People forget that Hamilton drove in 95 RBIs before the all star break before fading badly down the stretch (only 35 RBI). Who knows how crazy Hamilton's numbers could have been if he had been able to produce down the stretch like he did in the first half?

Now with a full season under his belt, Hamilton could put up RBI numbers that should only be attainable in video games. Hamilton has a realistic chance drive in 160+ runners in 2008, a number that has not been met since 2001, when a potentially juiced Sammy Sosa drove in 160. Let's hope Hamilton can put together an even better season than he did in 2008!
4. The Orioles
After more than a decade of suffering, Orioles fans finally have hope. For years, Orioles management tried to sign aging and expensive free agents in the hopes of competing with the Yankees.

Well, that didn't turn out too good. The Orioles have lived in the AL East cellar (or 4th place) since 1998 and have only finished higher than 4th place once in that time. It's been a rough go for Orioles fans, but luckily for them, hope is on the way.

Because for the first time in years, the Orioles actually seem to have a plan. They finally have a solid, young nucleus to build around (Markakis, Jones, Pie, Guthrie, Hill etc.) that does not consist of overpriced stars. GM Andy McPhail has done a masterful job bringing young talent to the Orioles and understanding the importance of player development.

In all likelihood, the Orioles will stink in 2009. But they will be fun to watch. I cannot wait to watch Nick Markakis develop into a franchise player, Rich Hill find his control again, Felix Pie establish himself as a major league outfielder, and Adam Jones track down balls in center field. Seriously, Jones is a joy to watch in the outfield.

And the under rated part of the 2009 Orioles will be the trades. With Aubrey Huff, Melvin Mora, and Brian Roberts coming off the books after the season, will GM Andy McPhail try to trade any of them to a contender in the middle of the season? Each guy could bring back young talent to help facilitate the rebuilding process...


3. Francisco Liriano
In 2006, Liriano was establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Unfortunately, Liriano got hurt and missed all of the 2007 because of Tommy John surgery.

So when Liriano finally returned to the big leagues in 2008, the results were ugly at first. Liriano posted an ERA above 11 in the first half and looked like a shell of his former self. Many Twins fans wondered if they would ever get anything out of Liriano in the future.

But then, Liriano turned it around in the second half. All of a sudden, Liriano's trademark slider had returned and his stuff was looking explosive again. Liriano was dominant in the second half to the tune of a 2.74 ERA and 60 Ks in 65 IP. Not too shabby for a guy just coming off Tommy John surgery.

So as we enter 2009, I am interested to see if Liriano can dominate for an entire season. Even though he has been around for what seems like forever, Liriano has yet to pitch a full season in the big leagues, and is overdue for a breakout season. I see big things for Liriano in long as he remains healthy. Twins fans should be very excited to watch their new ace develop.

2. Nelson Cruz and Chris Davis
Wow, I guess it's safe to say that I'll be watching lots of Rangers games this season. First Hamilton, now these two.

Like most Rangers teams, the offense will be incredible. Between Hamilton, Michael Young, Ian Kinsler, etc, we already know that this offense should be able to keep the Rangers in lots of games even with their horrible pitching. The Rangers led the AL in runs scored, batting average, RBI, and total bases in 2008.

But it's Cruz and Davis who can transform this lineup from amazing to prolific. These two potential studs put up huge numbers in the minors and looked very impressive for the Rangers during their stints with the team in 2008 (Cruz: .330, 7 HR...Davis: .285, 17 HR). Those translate to huge numbers over an entire season and would make the lineup video game-esque.

Can Cruz and Davis put up huge numbers for an entire season? It remains to be seen. Both guys will get the opportunity to hold down a starting job (Davis 1b, Cruz rf) and if they prove to be capable big leaguers, this lineup could be impossible to pitch too.

The thought of those two studs hitting after Hamilton is enough to make Jon Daniels salivate....

1. Yankees
The baseball world's biggest soap opera! How could the Yankees not be #1!

Where to begin....? Can Teixeira and Sabathia live up to the hype? Will AJ Burnett break down? Can Joba Chamberlain successfully make the switch to the rotation for a entire season? Will Robinson Cano rebound from a sub par 2008? How will Joe Girardi find at bats for Damon, Matsui, Nady, and Swisher? Who will start in rf-Swisher or Nady? How many stupid comments will Hank Steinbrenner make? Will Yankee fans be able to survive without their two main whipping boys-Latoya Hawkins and Kyle Farnsworthless?

Oh yeah...and there's that Rodriguez guy.

Woo. That's going to be some quality TV right there folks. Much better than Rock of Love.

And how about will the Yankees fare with having a roster full of all stars? By my count, the Yankees have 11 former all stars on their roster, a number that seems to be unmatched throughout baseball. Will a collection of stars be able to win games as a cohesive unit? Will the Yankees ultimately suffer because they lack role players? Will talent alone be able to propel the Yankees to a title?

So many questions...just get on with the season already!

One final question...what will happen if the Yankees fail to win a title in 2009? I sense a Steinbrenner meltdown....

Please chime in! Post the top five things your looking forward to as we get ready for the 2009 season!