Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Maple Bats do Shatter

We here at TheBatShatters love maple bats...our logo is likely a result of a swing at an inside pitch. Sometimes though, bad things happen with those little bat shards and last night, something bad happened that will likely renew the debate regarding maple bats in the Major Leagues. During another Brewer drubbing of the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates, a piece, the shattered barrel to be precise, of one of those maple bats flew into the stands and hit a 10-year old kid. The kid was checked out and was fine (and probably got a load of memorabilia from the team), thank God.

Personally, I think baseball is a dangerous game and everyone at the game and in the game and involved with the game should know that. You have hard baseballs being thrown at high speeds, wood bats that are prone to breaking, etc, etc. Of course it's unfortunate that a kid gets hurt, but the instances of fans getting injured are fairly rare. In the vast majority of the 2,430 games played every season, no one in the stands gets hurt. More nets could be put up, but banning maple bats is ridiculous.

What should Major League Baseball do about maple bats?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Someone to Watch For: Jaime Garcia

I was having a little fun on FanGraphs this morning and took a gander at pitchers with the highest GB% (ground-ball percentage). At the very top of the list, with quite a bit of separation, is young Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia. Don't be surprised if that's a foreign name because Garcia broke into the Majors in late-2008 at age 21, only to have Tommy John surgery after only 10 appearances. He missed all of 2009 and now, a year and a half later, has joined the Cardinals rotation and has been pitching well so far this season.

A 70% ground-ball percentage is unsustainable, but what it also worth nothing is that in 19 innings, Garcia has not given up a HR. Garcia's HR/9 ratio in the minors was 0.6, which if translated into the majors would be good for a top-10 slot in that category (Lincecum is #1 at .49). I'm not saying that Garcia projects to be a lights out pitcher like fellow battery-mates Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, but he certainly looks like a solid middle-of-the-rotation guy. In 69 MiL starts, he compiled a 3.49ERA/1.25WHIP with 369Ks in 402IP. His 3.00 BB/9 isn't such a hot stat, but you have to love his GB/FB ratio, good for getting double-plays when you do have men on base.

In the course of my research on Garcia, I came across this little dandy of an article examining Garcia's mechanics, I definitely think it's worth checking out and I would also love to know if he's changed that delivery at all post Tommy John surgery. Anyway, here's the video linked in the article.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Nice Change of Pace

Hey Twins fans, remember when the Twins used to pick up those "crafty veterans" like Livan Hernandez, Ramon Ortiz, and Sidney Ponson, only to watch them lose us a few games early on before they were, inevitably, cut? Isn't it nice not to have one of those guys on the team the last two seasons? When the Twins traded for him last season and brought him back this year, I thought he was going to be another one of those guys. I've been pleasantly surprised so far.

Carl Pavano was originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 14th round of the 1994 amateur draft. He was traded to the Expos with whom he made his major league debut in 1998 and then traded in 2002 to the Florida Marlins. A little known fact about Pavano is that he gave up Mark McGwire's 70th HR in 1998.

After a successful World Series run and win with the Marlins in 2003, he had the best year of his career in 2004, compiling a 18-8 record to go along with a 3.00ERA/1.17WHIP in 222+ innings. The following season he signed a 4-year deal with the New York Yankees worth about $40M. That was the beginning of his decline. In the summer of 2005, he injured his right shoulder, he had another freak injury in spring training before the 2006 season (bruised buttocks) which put him on the DL and then in August of '06 he was involved in an car accident and broke 2 ribs. He ended up not making a single major league start in 2006. In 2007, Pavano had Tommy John surgery and missed almost the entire 2007 season. By the time he made it back in the 2008 season, his 4-year contract was nearly up with the Yankees and Pavano had done nothing to endear himself to either the team or the fans and the Yankees simply let him walk. In January 2009, Pavano signed a 1-year deal with the Cleveland Indians and was traded to the Twins in August of last year.

Pavano has pitched 200 innings in a season three times in his career, in 2003, 2004, and 2009. His career 4.44ERA and 5.9 K/BB is nothing spectacular, but he has seemed to resemble more of his old self since coming to the Twins late last season. In 97 IP with the Twins, Pavano has a 8-5 record and a 4.55ERA, 1.31WHIP, and 76:17 K/BB ratio (!). Again, nothing spectacular, but in a rotation that features a resurgent Francisco Liriano, and youngsters Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn, Pavano provides a nice veteran presence while keeping the Twins in the games he starts. He's currently signed to a one-year deal after accepting arbitration with the Twins this past off-season. Obviously the key for Pavano is to stay healthy, but if he can continue to exhibit the control he has shown so far with the Twins, he could once again pitch 200 innings and be a very valuable part of this year's team.

Aaron Gleeman wrote a great piece the other day looking back on what the Twins could have done this past off-season with a guy like Rich Harden out there. I have to agree with his conclusion, I've very glad the Twins opted to re-sign Pavano. So far, so good.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pitch F(x): It's Neftali's World

Neftali Feliz singlehandedly makes me want to purchase an MLB.TV subscription last night, and given that PS3 is going to be carrying MLB.TV, I may do just that.

The Bat Shatters' favorite Feliz pitched Texas' 9th and 10th innings of last night's loss to the Red Sox, and calling his performance impressive is like calling Ed Price's attack on Joe Sheehan dumb.  It went way beyond that. Through the magic of Brooks Baseball, we can see just how filthy Feliz's stuff was last night:

He threw 21 pitches, 20 fastballs and 1 curveball.  The fastball averaged 100.16 mph, and his curveball came in at 80.30 mph.  He saved his best sequence for the end of his outing when facing 1B Kevin Youkilis.  As you can see from the velocity chart, he threw Youkilis a curveball for a strike on the 19th pitch.  Pitch F(x) actually missed the 20th pitch and didn't record it, as you can see below.  It was a high fastball.  Feliz followed that up by getting Youkilis to chase a 101.6 mph fastball on the outside corner. His bat couldn't catch up to Feliz's fire. 

Now that's just unfair.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Finally, Some Sense on the Race Issue

I've been reading (and commenting) a lot lately on this 'race issue' in baseball, a discussion which has been rekindled by recent comments by Twins shortstop Orlando Hudson and Angles center-fielder Torii Hunter. There was this original article (among other places), then I saw this and after that, this. My feelings on the issue aren't hard to figure out, I've written about it before (here), and quite frankly, I think it's mostly a waste of time to talk about. FORTUNATELY, there are people who agree with me. Rob Neyer over at ESPN c/p'ed a nice article written by John Shea for the SFGate (Chronicle). In the article, Monty Irvin, a 91-year MLB-alumnus was asked about the Giants not having an African-American on their team for the first time in many years and he said,

"The reason we had an all-black outfield in '51 is Don Mueller got hurt, so Hank Thompson was a legitimate replacement," Irvin said. "So what? People talk about, 'You're the first to do this. You're the first to do that.' Don't dwell on race all the time.
"Everyone says we have our first African American president. Has there ever been a Jewish president? An Italian president? They don't say a damn thing about that. You think we're still fighting the Civil War or something. If you want to mention it in passing, OK. But don't dwell on it."

Can I just say; that is an extremely refreshing perspective. Now, I'm not trying to make it seem like Monty Irvin speaks for the entire African-American community, by no means. I think the point of this quote is that if we continue to talk about such topics, that talking really gives certain issues more credit than they may deserve. In many ways, I think this race issue (read: conflict) is perpetuated by the continual discussions that are had regarding race. This is especially true as it relates to baseball for one BIG reason: Baseball DOES NOT market itself to the Black community in nearly the same way that the NBA or NFL does. Watch an NBA game or NFL game and you will see mostly African Americans on the court/field. Those two sports advertise toward that demographic, their current talent helps develop more talent from that demographic and on and on. Major League baseball does very little to help it's own cause in African American communities, in fact, I dare say individual players like Curtis Granderson and Torii Hunter, do more than League itself does.

I'm not gonna sit here and try and pretend that everyone, everywhere is past the racism issue, but I won't sit there and listen to those who suggest or say that there is some sort of systematic racism going on in baseball which accounts for the few number of African Americans in the league. To me that is lazy thinking and a poor analysis of what the real, much more plausible reasons might be. I'll finish this piece with one more quote from Mr. Irvin where he talks about getting kids from the African American community involved in baseball:

"Kids should get involved in baseball more. You don't have to be 6-foot-9 to play baseball. It's peer pressure, I guess. They like football and basketball and find out they can't make it because of physical requirements. They need to send out more emissaries around the league and country to stress the point."

That doesn't sound like much of a plan to me, but his point if valid, nevertheless. If kids from African American communities are exposed to baseball in a more direct way, chances are there will be more African Americans in baseball 10-15 years down the road.

PED Suspension On the Way?

Last night Will Carroll dropped a little bit of gossip on his Twitter feed, stating simply: "PED suspension incoming".  He followed it up by saying that he didn't know the name or the team, but that he expected a baseball reporter to scoop it shortly.  He then tweeted that the positive test came during spring training, that it wasn't a repeat offender, and that it was not a positive test for amphetamines.

And so we wait.  As TheYankeeU and I tweeted back and forth, we just hope it's not ARod.  It would be typical, though.

Tick tock...

Craig Calcaterra confirms Carroll's report, and says that it could come "as early as this week".  Calcaterra says:

Baseball Prospectus' Will Carroll tweeted this first yesterday afternoon, and I have since confirmed it with a baseball source: a major league player is going to be suspended for a PED violation, possible as early as this week.
I could not confirm the player's identity, but my source tells me that it's a "semi-big" name, though not a "huge" name.  I imagine that, once the name is revealed, we'll have more fun arguing about what being a "semi-big" player truly means than we will wondering why he was not a bigger name despite taking PEDs.
 I'm hoping we don't have to wait all week. My money is on it getting leaked today. Can MLB really keep a secret that long?

Craig Calcaterra is reporting that it's an NL pitcher.  The slow drip continues.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The First 10-15: Suprises and Thoughts

At this point, most teams have played about 12 or 13 games and I think that's a perfect time to take a look and see what's going on:

The Tampa Bay Rays are the first team to 10 wins, having just finished off a sweep of the Boston Red Sox (at Fenway mind you) and sporting a perfect 7-0 record on the road to start the year. There were a good number of analysts out there who were high on the Rays coming into this season so it's not all that surprising that they're off to a fast start, though what probably would be surprising to most people is that they've done it with the bats so far, averaging almost 5.4 runs/game, a stat which has allowed them to overcome a team ERA of 4.56.

If I asked baseball fans and asked them to tell me who has the longest active hitting streak and the highest batting average in the majors as of today, 95% would not be able to tell me. The answers? Ryan Sweeney of the A's and Jorge Cantu (CANTUUU!) of the Marlins have 13 game hitting streaks as of today. Jason Kendall, yes, that Jason Kendall, has a 12-game hitting streak and has hit safely in all 12 of his Royal starts. As a side note, the Royals have the AL's best team average at .309. That won't last, but it segues nicely into the next part of the trivia question. Scott Podsednik of the Royals is hitting .457 through the Royals first 12 games. That won't last either.

The Twins' Jason Kubel hit the first ever Home Run in the new Target Field on the day it opened, last Monday April 12th (answer to future trivia question). The Twins are 3rd in the AL (and technically the Majors as well) in HRs with 11, the Jays are leading with 13. All you Twins fans will hear me when I say it's been a LONG time since the Twins were near the league lead in HRs.

The other day I looked up the stats to see if there was any correlation between a team's record with 10-15 games played and their eventual outcome at the end of the season...the research suggests no. For example, last year at this time, the Yankees were 2.5 games behind the 10-4 Blue Jays, the Twins were in 4th place and the Angels were in last place. 25 games isn't much better; it's gonna be awhile till we can tell what's real and what's not.

This last one comes to via the ESPN Power Rankings which linked to a great article and astounding stat: "On average, the Yankees’ 2009 gate receipts for a seven game home series were greater than the Pirates’ gate receipts for the entire year." The leader in attendance so far this year is the Los Angeles Dodgers who are averaging over 47,000 per game.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Benefit of Protection in the Lineup

I'm way into fantasy baseball. (sic), Domedog and I are all in the same league which has started it's 3rd season and is very competitive. This year, we abandoned the keepers we'd had for the past two years and re-drafted the entire thing which was pretty exciting.

Anyway, I drafted Carlos Lee as one of my outfielders and have watched him really struggle out of the gate. Currently he has a .097/.125/.097 through 31ABs, and this for a guy with a career .290/.343/.501 line. Slump yes, could it be his rodeo-obsession? Yes. But more likely than that, I suspect it's because, without Lance Berkman, he has no protection in the lineup. The problem is compounded by the fact that Hunter Pence, who has been hitting either 3rd (in-front) or 5th (behind) Lee hasn't been hitting at all either. You look around the league at 3 and 4-hole hitters and who hits behind or in front of them and you start to see how valuable protection in a lineup is. Holliday has Pujols, Morneau has Mauer, Tex has A-Rod and on and on. To me it makes what Adrian Gonzalez has managed to do in San Diego even more amazing. He's managed to continue a high level of hitting despite no protection.

For the sake of my center-fielder, I hope when Berkman comes back, he's able to contribute immediately to the offense. I should have expected a drop-off from the aging Lee, but this is truly pathetic.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

2010 Year in Preview: Colorado Rockies

We'll get these done at some point, I swear. As we limp to the end of our previews, I'll take on my new hometown (geographically speaking, obviously not in my heart, although I love going to Coors Field) team, who, at the time I am writing this, have just taken care of the Mets 11-3. Newcomers on the scene in 1993, the Rockies had some early success only a few years into their tenure in the league, as the Blake Street Bombers led them to the playoffs in 1995 amidst monstrous attendance figures (they still hold the single-season record with 4,483,350 fans in the inaugural season). The following years were mediocre to terrible, marked by some of the worst contracts in MLB history (anyone remember Mike Hampton's 8-year, $121MM deal?) After bottoming out at 67-95 in 2005, the Rockies shocked the baseball world with a magical run to the World Series in 2007. They disappointed in 2008, but seem to be back on top of the NL West pile after a great 2009 campaign. They seem to be a lot of people's pick to overtake the Dodgers as division champs this year, and I'd have to agree. With a young superstar in Troy Tulowitzki anchoring a deep lineup and a few fireballers atop the rotation, the Rockies seem poised to contend both now and into the future.

2009 Season: 92-70, 2nd in NL West. Lost 1-3 to the Phillies in the NLDS.

Key Departures:

The Rockies actually saw quite a few regulars leave through trade or free agency. Third baseman Garrett Atkins was non-tendered in December and ended up signing Baltimore, and despite a few excellent years in 2006 and 2007, he saw his production fall off a cliff in fairly limited action in 2009. Atkins always had pretty atrocious home-away splits and owns a -6.3 lifetime UZR/150, so this will make way for Ian Stewart, who has more power and plays much better defense, to receive most of the at-bats. Colorado also declined the 2010 option for catcher Yorvit Torrealba but then reportedly offered him a two-year contract worth $4.5MM; Yorvit apparently thought he was worth a little more than that and stood his ground. The market not apparently being what he wanted, he then ended up being forced to take a one-year $1.25MM deal from division bottom-feeder San Diego, which qualifies as a FAIL in my book. The rotation also lost Jason Marquis and Josh Fogg; I discussed Marquis in my Nats preview, and although he may have pitched a bit over his head last year, he was still a stable veteran presence and a solid back-of-the-rotation starter for the Rockies last year, and his loss is not insignificant, especially with the injury questions surrounding Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis.

Key Additions:

In terms of true additions, there's not a whole lot to report here. After letting Torrealba walk, the Rockies inked former Royal Miguel Olivo to a one-year, $2.5MM deal. Olivo is a black hole of OBP as evidenced by his .279 lifetime mark, but he has some significant pop in his bat, slugging .490 with 23 homers and a .241 ISO last season. Paired with Chris Iannetta (16 HR, .232 ISO in 2009), this gives the Rockies a pretty powerful platoon behind the plate. The only other true addition to the roster was the aging Melvin Mora, who got a one-year, $1.75MM contract. Mora's line plummeted last year to .260/.321/.358, and he won't (or at least shouldn't) see more than pinch hitting duty and spot starts in relief of Ian Stewart at 3B or Clint Barmes at 2B.

Talent En Route:

The Colorado farm system is ranked by most analysts as right in the middle of the pack. There aren't a lot of stud position prospects on the rise, but there are a few high-upside lefty arms that I'll highlight.

Christian Friedrich, LHP - Drafted in 2008, Friedrich spent his first full season in the minors baffling hitters at A and High-A to the tune of a 2.41 ERA with a .215 batting average against and a K/9 of right around 12. Also, and I'm not sure if this would play any different in the minors, but his BABIP was a robust .336, which means that line could have been even better. His fastball only sits in the low 90s, but according to BP, his curveball is his truly special pitch, coming in at 70 on the scouting scale. He should find a place near the top of the rotation at some point, especially as a lefty, and while maybe not bona fide ace material yet, he'll certainly bolster the Rockies pitching staff when he makes it to the bigs.

Tyler Matzek, LHP
- The second of the Rockies' LHP tandem, Matzek is a few years younger than Friedrich, but some think he might have more upside. He's got a little more velocity on his fastball, but features a slider as his out pitch. Like Friedrich, he doesn't have much of a changeup, which is something he'll need to work on. He hasn't played a full season in the minors yet after being drafted in the 1st round in 2009, so it will be interesting to watch his development.

2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook (thanks as always to Cot's Contracts):

The Rockies Opening Day payroll this year is $84MM, which puts them in the upper half of MLB clubs and represents an all-time high. The biggest chunk of this is the $16.6MM going to Todd Helton as he nears the tail end of his monster deal signed in 2003, and the front office did some creative negotiating over the off-season to defer $13MM of the $19MM owed in 2011. Starting in 2014, the Rockies will pay Helton $1.3MM per year for ten years, which might look a little silly on the books (as does the fact that the Mets are still paying Bobby Bonilla) but will give them some more payroll flexibility over the short term. Helton's obviously not worth this kind of money anymore, but he's not without value, and the Rockies gave him a two-year extension for 2012 and 2013 so that he can ostensibly retire wearing purple and black.

After deferring that money, the Rockies only have $50MM committed to the 2011 roster, meaning that we could very well see them be real players in the free agent market next year, although they have the luxury of not having any glaring needs. They hold club options for Jeff Francis, Brad Hawpe and Miguel Olivo - it seems like a no-brainer to pick up Hawpe's option, and I'd imagine what they do with Francis and Olivo will depend on their performance this season. Outside of aging veterans Jason Giambi, the only real free agent question will be Jorge De La Rosa, who, if his first start is any kind of indicator (sample size alert) could be poised for big things this year and thus a bigger payout on the free agent market. Given their payroll flexibility, I'd expect the Rockies to make at least a competitive offer. The other main rotation pieces are signed (including options) for at least a few years, Aaron Cook through 2012, Ubaldo Jimenez through 2013 and Jason Hammel entering his second year of arbitration.

Given the lack of holes elsewhere on the roster (infield is set with Helton, Tulo, Barmes and Stewart, and they have potentially the best fourth and fifth outfielders in the game in Seth Smith and Ryan Spilborghs) I'd look for the Rockies to go after pitching first, and then what they do after that is anyone's guess.

The Future of the Rockies:

In my opinion, the future of the Rockies looks bright. They showed last year that they can challenge the Dodgers for NL West dominance, and as I mentioned I don't see any huge holes to fill in the next few seasons. They have two emerging stars anchoring the rotation in Jimenez and De La Rosa and the second-best shortstop in the game in the middle of their lineup. They have a slew of young, talented (and cost-controlled) outfielders, and when closer Huston Street is healthy, he can be one of the best in the game. Should any needs arise due to underperformance or injury, the front office should have the financial flexibility to be able to adapt through either trade or free agency. Obviously nothing is guaranteed from season to season, but I'd put my money on the Rockies sustaining their success from recent years.

2010 Year in Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

2009 Record: (95-67) 1st place in the NL West, Lost in the in NLCS to the Phillies

Key Additions:
The only player even worth mentioning in this section is OF Reed Johnson, which tells you about all you need to know about how active the Dodgers were this past offseason. With the ownership families mixed up in a fairly ugly divorce, it seems they weren't really able to focus on anything regarding the team.

Key Departures:
SP Randy Wolf (signed with the Brewers), OF Juan Pierre (signed with the White Sox)

Nothing too surprising here, the Dodgers have a nice mix of young talent (Kemp, Loney, Ethier) and veterans (Ramirez, Blake) so they really didn't need to do too much, nor are the losses of the above players all that huge. Even their pitching staff is decent, should Kershaw and Billingsley really start to dominate.

Talent En Route:
There are two prospects in the Dodger farm-system that are ranked 5-stars by Baseball Prospectus, the BatShatters official source for Prospect information.

Dee Gordon SS - at 22-years old, Dee is probably still two years away from being on the big league roster, but if he can continue on the pace he set last year (.301/.362/.394 in 131Gs at Low-A), it could be sooner. The problem is that his position at the big-league level is currently held by Rafael Furcal, and he's unlikely to be going anywhere soon. There has been talk of turning Gordon into a center-fielder to pave his path to the big leagues, but as of now no position change has been made. He's extremely fast (stole 73 bases last year), with good hand-eye coordination and some decent power potential as well. Keep an eye on this kid over the next couple of seasons, especially since scouts have called him a "Jimmy Rollins starter kit."

Chris Withrow RHP - (1st round draft pick in 2007) Withrow's pitch is the fastball which is consistently in the 93-95 range and tops out in the upper-90's. He has had health problems in the past which have hindered his development, and has also suffered from bouts of over-throwing which lead to higher walk rates. All that said, the fastball is electric and BP has him projected as a 2nd starter or possibly even a closer (due to his lack of a solid secondary pitch). He'll start this season at Double-A, it's hard to say what the timetable would be for his first crack at The Show.

2011 Free Agency & Salary Outlook:
The two biggest names coming up for free-agency in 2011 for the Dodgers will be LF Manny Ramirez and SP Hiroki Kuroda. Manny will be 39 next year and though I imagine there will be some interest in him, I can't imagine anyone will be banging down the doors to sign him to anything more than a 2-year deal and it's hard to say whether the Dodgers would be the #1 suitor or not. As far as Kuroda goes, that could be a different story, he's going to be 36, but has pitched fairly well in 2 big-league seasons to this point (injured part of last year). On the one hand, I could see the Dodgers resigning Kuroda during the year this season, but on the other hand, at 36 he probably doesn't have many years left. His original deal was 3 years/$35M+ and if they did something similar to that, maybe 3 years/$30M, it would make sense, particularly if you consider they have Chad Billingsley locked up through 2012 and Clayton Kershaw locked up through 2014.

With the Dodger payroll sitting around $102M this year and being north of $100M the past 4 seasons, they could be looking at some money to spend if they want to stay at that level. At this point, they have $61M committed for next year, but they will be losing the $20M/yr. salary of Ramirez and the $15.3M salary of Kuroda. As I mentioned above, they may resign Kuroda which would like take up $10-$15M of that available money, and they do have quite a few arbitration-eligible players, but they could easily have $15-$20M to play with to land a big free-agent. That said, I'd look for the Dodgers to be bigger free-agency players this coming offseason than they were this past offseason.

The Future of the Los Angeles Dodgers:
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that this year is particularly special for the Dodgers in that it is the last season that the legendary Vin Scully will be calling games. He has been calling games for an astounding 61 years for the Dodgers and it will definitely be a big change when he's gone. If you've never heard Scully call a game, you really are missing out, along with Uecker in Milwaukee, they are the only two broadcasters who call the games alone. Scully has such a vast knowledge of the game, it's very interesting to listen to him. But I digress.

The rest of the future of the Dodgers really hinges on the outcome of the ugly divorce that is currently happening within the ownership. If everything is resolved by this coming off-season and the team wants to maintain that $100M+ payroll, they could be big players, surrounding the young nucleus of talent they have with even more pieces. If they don't spend the money, I still think this team is in pretty good shape for another year or two, but eventually they are going to start having to lock up some of this young talent like Matt Kemp, James Loney, Clayton Kershaw, Andre Ethier, Jonathan Broxton, and Chad Billingsley. That's going to cost some money...a lot of money.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Night Twins Fans Have Been Waiting For

[cue triumphant music]

I realize the image is a computer generated one, but surprisingly there are few capture the ballpark's beauty from this particular angle. This image is missing the large old-school Twins logo that sits left of the large center field scoreboard, but highlights the stark background that is the Minneapolis skyline. Twins fans have waited many years for tonight and even though I can't be there in-person, I will watch every second on ESPN.

I haven't read much on the subject but I hear that the analysts think this will be a hitters ballpark. That could be problematic for a couple of the Twins pitchers, but should benefit their new, quite powerful lineup (10HRs in 7 games). Here's a diagram of the dimensions:

It looks pretty standard, a little more favorable for opposite-field hitting righties or pull-hitting lefties (Justin Morneau) but THANK GOD the baggie is gone. The capacity is 40,000 which is a far cry from the Metrodome's capacity, but let's be honest, pretty much EVERYTHING ELSE is better. We'll see how things play out, I suspect it will be somewhat of a hitters park with a 9ft. left-field wall and relatively short right and left-field line distances, but hey, there's only been two major league games there so far.

Yours truly has seen the field with his own eyes back in November 2009 and it's beautiful. I'm going to a game in August for sure with hopes of at least one more game besides that one this summer.

Oh yeah, forecast for tonight according to the Weather Channel:

"Widespread showers and thunderstorms developing around mid-afternoon. Increasing clouds with temperatures steady near the low 60s. Winds E at 10 to 15 mph. Chance of rain 80%."


Friday, April 9, 2010

Will the Padres Keep Adrian Gonzalez? 2011 Free Agency and the Padres' Payroll

It's become a fait acompli among some baseball minds that the Padres will deal Adrian Gonzalez as a part of their efforts to rebuild for the future.  Gonzalez is an All Star first baseman in the prime of his career and will make a very reasonable $11M total in 2010 and 2011.  He's widely expected to score a mammoth contract if he hits free agency, with Mark Teixeira's 8 year, $180M deal being used most frequently as a comparison.  While it's obvious that the Red Sox or White Sox would be obvious suitors if the Padres decided to deal him, I'm wondering if it's actually possible that the Padres keep Gonzalez, and still continue their rebuilding process. 

The answer to this question obviously centers on the San Diego Padres payroll, which has fallen considerably from its $73M high-water mark in 2008 when they employed players like Randy Wolf, Greg Maddux and Trevor Hoffman.  Their Opening Day payroll in 2010 is a scant $31.6M and it's scheduled to go lower.  In fact, and this is really quite stunning, the Padres only technically have $1.1M committed to their payroll in 2011.  This $1.1M won't even guarantee them any players, as it comprises the buyout cost for declining the options on Yorvit Torrealba and Jon Garland.  Now, that number is artificially low.  The Padres have a bevy of players that are pre-arbitration eligible and only have 1 year of service time in 2010.  They will get very modest raises, provided the Padres don't lock them up.  Additionally, three of their players (Gallagher, Mujica and Gwynn) will be eligible for arbitration for the first time after this year. Mike Adams is due for this second year of arbitration eligibility, and Scott Hairston and Heath Bell will all be due for significant raises in their third year of eligibility.  Finally, if they don't deal Adrian Gonzalez before the end of this year, they will certainly exercise his 2011 option.

By my estimation, their payroll could come in under $25M before they make any free agent signings.  In August 2009 CEO Jeff Moorad stated that dealing Jake Peavy would allow them to build the payroll past $43M (their 2008 number) in the future. 
"Next season will now have to be re-evaluated given the Peavy deal," Moorad said. "I'm ultimately comfortable with a payroll in the $70-80 million [range], but it's likely that it will take us a couple years to get back to that level.
If 2010 marks the low point for the Padres payroll, and there is no reason why it shouldn't, then we might expect the Padres to become bigger players in the 2010-2011 free agency market than they have been in the past few years.  Looking at their depth chart, we see the following for 2011: 

C - Nick Hundley and replacement for Torrealba: $1.5M
1B - Adrian Gonzalez: $5.5M
2B - free agent 
SS - Everth Cabrera: $0.4M
3B - Chase Headley: $0.4M
LF - Kyle Blanks: $0.4M
CF - Tony Gwynn: $1.0M
RF - Will Venable: $0.4M 
SP 1- Clayton Richard: $0.4M
SP 2 - Mat Latos: $0.4M
Closer and BP: Heath Bell ($6M), Mike Adams ($3M), Luke Gregerson

The Padres have a mutual option with Torrealba for 2011 for $3.5M with a $0.5M buyout.  I would put the chances of him returning at that price at 5-10% at best. They can get a similar replacement for around $1M.  I'm also going to wager that the Padres deal Heath Bell at the deadline this year, freeing them of his 2011 salary and giving their other capable arms a chance at the closer spot.  As Baseball Prospectus noted, there are worthy in-house replacements. Accordingly, the Padres will need to target starting pitching, second base and possibly center field, should they decide that Gwynn's mediocre production is no longer worth his rising cost. This leaves them with a commitment of around $15M for the main roster spots.  As we noted above, we need to budget around $10M for the other spots on the roster and arbitration raises. Remember this. 

The pitching market will be ripe with bargains for the Padres.  Javier Vazquez and PETCO Park were made for each other.  He's a pitcher that induces tons of fly balls when he's not striking batters out.  However, Vazquez has made his desire to be on the East Coast very well known, and so I don't expect the Padres to be able to lure him out West.  Ted Lilly fits the mold, though. Among qualifying pitchers, he led the league in fly ball rate in 2009, and so pitching in the cavernous PETCO might result in incredible numbers.  Of course, this isn't to say that the Padres should simply pursue fly ball pitchers because fly ball pitchers would fare better in their park than others, just simply that Lilly is a very good and underrated pitcher that might enjoy pitching in a park that will certainly make him look like a top 10 pitcher.  Lilly is coming off a 4 year, 40M deal with the Cubs, and could be due for a salary reduction.  Would 3 years and $24M be enough to lure him out to anchor a young, up and coming Padres staff?  Let's say that it is, and let's also say that the Chris Young is rejuvenated and has another solid year for the Padres and they exercise his option.  Now the Padres have four quality, relatively inexpensive pitchers, and would be able to pursue someone like Correia, who won't net more than $5M AAV in the coming market, or use a pitcher like Aaron Poreda, the blue-chip prospect they received in exchange for Peavy in that fifth starter spot.  

The second baseman market is weak in 2010-2011, and so I expect the Padres to attempt to resign the incredibly white David Eckstein or pursue someone like Akinori Iwamura.  I hate Eckstein, so I'll fantasize that they snag Iwamura for $3M.  All of a sudden, the roster doesn't look so bad: 

C - Hundley/replacement: $1.5M
1B - Gonzalez - $5.5M
2B - Iwamura - $3M
SS - Cabrera $0.4M
3B - Headley $0.4M

LF - Blanks $0.4M
CF - Gwynn $1.0M
RF - Venable $0.4M 
SP 1- Young $8.5M
SP 2 - Lilly $8M
SP 3 - Latos $0.4M
SP 4 - Richard $0.4M
SP 5 - Poreda $0.4M
Closer - Adams $3M

This is a commitment of around $35M to the 2011 payroll, and as I noted above we need to budget in around $10M for other roster spots and raises which leaves the Padres close to $45M.  This number could be in the mid-30s if they pursued someone like Correia and/or another bargain SP instead of Young and Lilly.  

So this gets us to our main question: can the Padres keep Gonzalez? 

I'll be honest, I think they can.  Even making a relatively big free agent splash with Ted Lilly and reupping with Chris Young, the Padres are well shy of the stated goal of a $70-80M payroll.  I know they don't want to reach that goal in 2011.  They need to factor in the rising costs of their young guys like Latos, Richards, Poreda and Blanks in 2012-2015.  But even signing Gonzalez to a Mark Teixeira type deal ($20M AAV), would only bump their payroll up to around $65M, including all my wild-eyed free agent signings above. Would an offer of 7 years, $120M be enough to lure the hometown boy to stay in San Diego? 

What happens to this team if they let Gonzalez walk?  Blanks can play first base, sure, but how will they score runs?  How will they attract fans?  Attendance at PETCO has been on a decline since the inaugural season, and its hard to see it rebounding until the front office fields a competitive team.  Unless the Padres can get a monster, "Mark Teixeira to the Braves"-type package of ML ready prospects from Boston or another team, I can't see how they can afford to deal him and I don't see how it fits into the goal of moving the payroll back up into the more competitive $70-80M range.  It's not the answer for this team, and as much as Boston fans may want to see him dealt, I think the Padres will hang on to their incredibly valuable franchise first baseman.  So, I'm with you Moorad.  Save Adrian!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

2010 Year in Preview: San Diego Padres

We're gonna finish these before it becomes 'Year in RE-view', I promise.

2009 Record: (75-87); 4th place NL West; 20GB the Los Angeles Dodgers

Key Additions:
The Padres were mildly active this off-season under the direction of brand-new GM Jed Hoyer, the former assistant GM with the Boston Red Sox. The acquired 3 recognizable names; SP Jon Garland, INF Jerry Hairston Jr., and C Yorvit Torrealba.

None of these guys are going to make the Padres into a contender and apart from Garland, they would struggle to get a starting spot with most teams. To me the most interesting off-season change for the Padres is adding Hoyer who, at one time, was the GM of the Red Sox before Theo Epstein took over. We'll see what Hoyer can do with a minuscule budget, my guess is he'll struggle...that is unless Padres ownership loosens the pocketbook a little.

Key Departures:
The Padres lost quite a few players in the off-season, but none of them are key so let's just cover the few names anyone would recognize.

3B Kevin Kouzmanoff (signed by the Oakland Athletics); OF Brian Giles (retired, recently charged with battery); C Henry Blanco (signed by the New York Mets)

Like I said, nothing key here, Kouzmanoff was probably the most recognizable Padre, but he wasn't producing anything they'll miss.

Talent En Route:
Three prospects deserve mention within the Padres system, though all 3 of them are realistically a year or two away from being major-league ready.

Donavan Tate OF - (1st round draft pick, 2009 draft) Tate was selected 3rd by the Padres last year and received a club-record $6.25M signing bonus, the highest bonus ever paid to a high-school draftee. He proceeded to develop an injury similar to sports hernia that required surgery and then broke his jaw in an ATV accident, all of which prevented him from making his pro debut last season. Tate was a two-sport athlete in high-school, excelling in both football and baseball. He is the son of former NFL player Lars Tate and all the projections point to great things for him. Baseball Prospectus wrote the following about him:

"No player in the 2009 draft could match Tate in terms of athleticism. His raw power and speed rate as well above average, giving him true 30/30 potential, and possibly even more. He's a very good center fielder now with the possibility of turning into an impact defender, and his arm is yet another plus tool."

Simon Castro RHP - (signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2006) Castro had his first full season last year, playing a Low-A ball and starting 28 games. He wowed with 157Ks in 141IP while compiling a 3.33ERA. Castro's feature pitch is a fastball that consistently hits 96mph, but his continued success will depend on his ability to develop a complimentary pitch, which at this point, he does not possess. He'll start this season at High-A ball and it's unlikely that he cracks the major leagues until 2011, if that.

James Darnell 3B - (2nd round draft pick, 2008 draft) in his first full season Darnell performed very well, hitting .311/.424/.536 showing both power and patience at the plate. The downside for Darnell is not a lack of offense, but rather below-average defense and an inaccurate arm. Darnell eventually projects to be a right or left fielder because of the inaccuracy, but if he keeps hitting at the pace he established last year, it will be impossible to keep him out of the lineup. At any rate, he's only played as high as High-A ball, so it's going to be a year or two.

2011 Salary and Free Agency Outlook:
FIRE SALE!! Unless the Padres organization has a sudden change in modus operandi, there will be one major free-agent that will be leaving their organization, and likely this year or next. His name is Adrian Gonzalez and if he didn't play in San Diego, he would be a star 1st baseman. He's a two-time Gold-glove winner and two-time All Star and despite ZERO protection in the San Diego lineup, he has hit 30+ HRs and driven in 100+ runs for the last 3 years straight. His price tag will certainly be high, and maybe he doesn't move this year as the club has an option for 2011, but he will move sometime and the Padres will get much in return. Aside from him, SP Kevin Correia, uber-hustler INF David Eckstein and recently acquired INF Jerry Hairston Jr. are all free-agents this coming off-season. Correia is probably the only worth keeping because he's young, but with a new GM, it's hard to say what the Padres will do.
As far as salary goes, the Padres high-water mark for team payroll in the last 10 years is $73M in 2008. In 2009, it dropped to $43M which was good for 29th in the league. Like I said to start this thing out, unless the ownership loosens up some money, this team will not be able to compete.

The Future of the San Diego Padres:
Aside from some young talent such as recently drafted Donavan Tate or young stud-pitcher Mat Latos, there isn't much to be excited for as a Padres fan. You're going to lose Adrian Gonzalez whether it's this year or next, your minor league talent is still a couple of years away, and though you have a young, mildly exciting pitching staff, there's no offense to support them, not to mention Petco Park is an airport that is hard to hit a ball out of. I feel like a team that plays in the paradise that is San Diego should be more of a contender. You have the population to support the team, consistently beautiful weather, and NO EXCUSES. The Padres could really build on the base of young, talented pitchers they have, add some offensive pieces and be contenders within a couple of years, but that would require some serious investment on the part of Padres ownership which, to this point, they have shown no wont to do.

2010 Year in Preview: Arizona Diamondbacks

When you think "Arizona Diamondbacks", what comes to mind?  Randy Johnson?  Curt Schilling? Justin Upton?  Yusmeiro Petit?  The D'Backs have been around since 1998 and were an almost instant success,  winning three NL West titles in 1999, 2001 and 2002, and winning the World Series in 2001.  Since then they've had mixed results, never reaching the World Series again.  Maybe it's because I'm a Yankees fan, I don't know, but when I think DBacks I think of Luis Gonzalez leaping in joy as the Diamondbacks won the World Series, walkoff style.

Ugh.  I enjoyed your post-steroidal dropoff, Luis, and I'm looking forward to Justin Upton becoming the face of the franchise for the next six years.   

Key Departures
Eric Byrnes, scrap scrap scrap scrap scrap scrap scrap DFA,  Doug Davis, signed with Milwaukee, Max Scherzer and Daniel Schlereth, traded to Tigers. 

Key Additions
Received Aaron Heilman in trade with Cubs, received RHP Edwin Jackson and RHP Ian Kennedy from Tigers and Yankees, respectively, exercised the one year, $8.5M option on RHP Brandon Webb, signed 1B Adam LaRoche to a one year, $6M deal, signed the DFA'd Kelly Johnson to a one year, $2.35M deal, signed RP Bob Howry to a one year, $2.25M deal.  Signed RF and Force of Nature Justin Upton to a six year, $51.25M extension, signed 3B Mark Reynolds to a three year, $14.5M extension with an $11M club option for 2013, signed RHP Edwin Jackson to a two year, $13.35M extension. 

Talent En Route
The Diamondbacks farm system is a bit thin on talent.  The top prospect is RHP Jarrod Parker, whom you can find on Twitter here.  Parker was the Diamondbacks first-round pick in 2007.  Drafted straight out of high school, Parker had a sparkling debut in A ball as a 19 year old, throwing 117 IP and striking out 117 batters while walking only 33.  His ERA was 3.44, which almost masks how excellent the peripherals were (9.0 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 3.55 K/BB, 1.241 WHIP.  As you can see, Parker has great control.  His ERA and his WHIP (1.241) suggest then that he was too hittable at times.  This diagnosis was confirmed by BP's Kevin Goldstein

"Parker can be more hittable than his stuff should allow for, as he tends to throw his fastball not only for strikes, but down the middle too often."
 Parker began his 2009 campaign in High A, where he dominated in a short stint with a 0.95 ERA (19, 12, 4, 21).  He was then promoted to Double A, where he posted a 3.68 ERA over 78 innings, striking out 74, walking 34 and allowing 82 hits. His WHIP was a career high 1.481, inflated by a career high in H/9 (9.4) and BB/9 (3.9).  His K/9 (8.5) and K/BB (2.18) were also career lows.  All things considered, this was a solid start to the season even if he was still a tad too hittable and was walking more batters than before.  His K rate was still decent (8.5), and he was only 20 years old. 

Unfortunately, Parker was injured midway through the year and required Tommy John surgery.  He is scheduled to miss all of 2010.  If he returns strong, we could see him shoot up the 2011 prospect lists and crack the bigs in late 2011 or early 2012. In the meantime, Parker will continue rehabbing and blogging about it at Parker's Pitch.  Parker wrote this the day after his surgery:  

Everything went well yesterday during and after the procedure! I struggled to get comfortable last night with a cast on my right arm and my left leg wrapped in a brace. The reason my leg was in a brace was because they used a graft from that leg to repair the ucl in my right arm. 
 He also commented on a typical rehab day at the facilities:
Following the whirlpool treatment I start my wrist and elbow stretching and range of motioin exercises. These usually can be done on my own but when I'm finished our training staff wants to see my progression and they help me get more movement. An important thing that people quickly forget is how crucial it is keeping your shoulder strong throughtout all this. This week was the first week I was able to start moving my leg more freely, I was able to get on the bike and loosen my knee and hamstring up. We have been focusing a lot on the small stuff and there are some new things we add to my program daily, which I love cause I am always willing to try new exercises and get better.
Interesting stuff.  Parker will be one to watch in 2011.  Another name to watch is 1B Brandon Allen, who will begin the year in AAA.  Allen is 6'2", 235 lb right-handed hitter that the DBacks acquired from the White Sox in exchange for reliever Tony Pena.  In 2008 he knocked 29 home runs in 539 PAs between High A and Double A for the White Sox, posting a line of .278/.367/.555.  He began 2009 as a 23 year old in Doulbe A Birmingham for the White Sox and performed adequately, 7 HR in 274 PAs with a tripleslash of .290/.372/.452.  He was then promoted for 15 games to Triple A Charlotte, before getting dealt to the DBacks, who assigned him to Triple A Reno.  In Reno, the biggest little city in the world and home of Lieutenant Dangle, Allen raked, hitting .324/.413/.641 and clubbing 12 home runs in 167 PAs.  However, Reno is a notorious hitters' park, and the offensive stats are inflated.  Perhaps this is why the DBacks signed Adam LaRoche to a 1 year, 4.5M deal.  Clearly they want Allen to take more time to develop his power stroke in Triple A.  

2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook 
The Diamondbacks enter 2010 with around $71M committed to their payroll, which is slightly down from their Opening Day number in 2009 of $73M.  In 2011, they have $43M committed to payroll, not factoring in arbitration raises.  The Diamondbacks have $14.2M coming off the payroll in Brandon Webb ($8M), Chad Qualls ($4.2M) and Aaron Heilman ($2M), which bumps it down to around $58.2M.  How then does it drop to $43M, you ask?  Weeeell, the Diamondbacks are paying $14.7M in 2010 to players that are no longer on their team.  Eric Byrnes, whom they DFAd and is playing for the Mariners, is getting $11.2M, Jon Garland is getting $2.5M and Chad Tracy is getting $1M.  Add it all up, and you've got a 2011 payroll of $43M. 

Thankfully for the Diamondbacks, $43M includes the hefty raises that will go to their core talent.  Haren will  be getting a bump from $8.25M to $12.8, Mark Reynolds will be going from $800K to $5.3M, and The Force of Nature that is The Justin Upton will be going from $700K to $4.4M, as a part of his 6 year, $50M extension that will prove to be worth EVERY PENNY.  Now, $43M will rise as Stephen Drew, Conor Jackson, Kelly Johnson, Miguel Montero, and Augie Ojeda get arbitration raises.  Let's tack on an additional $10M for those players.

So the Diamondbacks will move into the winter of 2011 with a payroll in the neighborhood of $55M, which may give them at least $15M to spend.  Where are their holes?

C - Miguel Montero - only in second year of arbitration eligiblity
1B - Adam LaRoche - club option for 2011 or call up Brandon Allen
2B - Kelly Johnson in third year of arbitration eligiblity
SS - Stephen Drew in second year of arbitration eligibility
3B - Mark Reynolds signed through 2012
LF - Conor Jackson in third year of arbitration eligibility
CF - Chris Young signed through 2013 (gulp)
RF - Justin Upton signed through 2015(!)

SP 1 - Dan Haren signed through 2012 with 2013 club option
SP 2 - Edwin Jackson signed through 2011
SP 3 - Ian Kennedy not even arbitration eligible yet

The Diamondbacks will be in pursuit of some help for the rotation and for the back end of the bullpen.  If Qualls works out, I wouldn't be surprised to see them attempt to resign him quickly.  In the rotation, the Diamondbacks are hoping that Webb can regain his 2008 form.  Either way, I wouldn't be surprised to see him rejoin the team in 2011, probably at a discounted rate. This will leave the Diamondbacks with enough money to pursue a free agent SP.  Possible targets could include Bronson Arroyo, Kevin Correia, Chad Gaudin, Hiroki Kuroda or Kevin Millwood.  I would be surprised to see them make a run at a more expensive pitcher like Cliff Lee or Javier Vazquez.

The Future of the Diamondbacks
A lot needs to go right for the Diamondbacks to compete in 2010.  They need Brandon Webb to be healthy. They need Edwin Jackson to have a relatively good year, although not as good as he had in the first half of the year with the Tigers (which wasn't really that good, if you look at his xFIP).  They also need some help from guys like Ian Kennedy and Rodrigo Lopez.  On the offensive side, the D'Backs have a very nice core of talent in Montero, Reynolds and Upton.  If some of the group of Johnson, LaRoche, Jackson or Young could put it together and have a solid year, the Diamondbacks could be contenders in the weak NL West.  If they flounder, the Diamondbacks will go down very quickly and will have some tough decisions to make about 2011.  Dan Haren and Justin Upton are world-class players.  The question is, both now and in the coming years, how good the Diamondbacks front office will be at filling out the roster behind them.  I'm cautiously optimistic, but they'll have to be very shrewd.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Instant Replay Debate

It's been discussed a million times. There seems to be limitless opinion on the issue. But the fact remains: Baseball needs to embrace technology and stop falling back on this "human element" argument. Yesterday's Cubs v. Braves game provided yet another PERFECT example why replay should be expanded in baseball.

Aramis Ramirez on 1st, Marlon Byrd at the bat. Byrd hits a line-drive/fly-ball to deep left-center field that Nate McLouth dives for. Because of the angle of his body in relation to the umpire, the umpire's view was temporarily blocked. McLouth appeared to catch the ball but the replay's showed the ball hit his glove and then trickle away. Ramirez, the runner on first, sees McLouth drop the ball and runs for second. The umpire does not see the drop, McLouth throws the ball back in and doubles Ramirez off of first.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqx-xZoGJhQ (YouTube video before MLB takes it down)

Keep in mind, the Cubs were down 8-5 at this point and there were no outs in the inning prior to Byrd's at-bat. So the situation went from 1-on, 0-out to 0-on, 2-out when it should have been 2-on, 0-out. At that juncture, the complexion of the game changed entirely and the Cubs went on to get routed, 16-5 (worst Opening Day loss for the Cubs since 1884).

The point here is not that the ump missed the call because that happens all the time. The point is that Major League Baseball has both the technology and the infrastructure to do something about this, yet they continue to refuse to change. It is a FACT that McLouth dropped that ball, not an opinion, just like it's a fact whether a ball leaves the park or not (the only thing subject to replay currently).

This probably isn't even a novel idea, but the solution here is to give each team one replay per game. That replay can be used to challenge a home-run call, a questionable catch or a close play (on a stolen base or at home plate). No ball/strikes. One replay per game, each side, that's it. They already have an area set up to review HR calls so you wouldn't even need to change anything. I feel that it's completely unacceptable that Baseball not embrace the technology that is there. There are dozens of cameras at every baseball game, let's start using them to their full potential.

Joel Zumaya's Magic Arm

Joel Zumaya appeared yesterday in the matchup between the Royals and the Tigers and showed that no Guitar Hero mishap or silly "horrific shoulder injury" would keep him from hitting the triple digits.  Via Brooks Baseball, here is the velocity chart for the 12 pitches he threw:

Those peaks are fastballs, and you can see he sat at over 100 mph on his 2nd, 3rd and 4th pitches.  Numbers 1, 5 and 6 are curveballs.  On his seventh pitch, he dialed it up to 102 and then settled in around 101 for the remainder of the inning, ending with a curveball.

That's just sick.  Enjoy it now, because he'll be back on the surgeon's table again before we know it.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Jason Heyward Has Arrived

The future is now.

I don't see the embed code, but watch it before MLB takes it down.


**UPDATE, 5:59 PM:**
Here is the official MLB video highlight.  This one doesn't have a shaky camera, and you can hear the call, "Welcome to the show!" much better.  You can also see Jones and Heyward hug, which is pretty cool.  The only thing you miss is the reaction from his parents, which was awesome.


2010 Year in Preview: AL East Wrapup

Without further ado...

Top AL East Prospect: 

Jesus Montero.  The best hitting prospect the Yankees have had since Jeter, the best prospect in the AL East, and maybe the best hitting prospect in all of baseball now that Heyward is in the majors. Montero will begin the year at Triple-A Scranton, and we'll be following him all year in our Prospect Watch. 

AL East Projected Standings
Boston Red Sox, 96-66, 847 RS, 687 RA
New York Yankees, 91-71, 859 RS, 748 RA
Tampa Bay Rays, 91-71, 817 RS, 708 RA
Baltimore Orioles, 78-84, 798 RS, 836 RA
Toronto Blue Jays, 72-90, 732 RS, 837 RA

New York Yankees, 99-63
Boston Red Sox, 93-69
Tampa Bay Rays 88-74
Baltimore Orioles, 75-87
Toronto Blue Jays, 68-94

A few things stick out to me here.  For one, both systems hate Toronto a great deal.  Secondly, CHONE skews a bit more pessimistic on Tampa.  Thirdly, the top of the division looks to be a tossup between two very well-built teams, Boston and New York.

Predictions Sure to Lead People Astray:

New York Yankees, 101-61
Boston Red Sox, 93-73
Tampa Bay Rays, 89-77
Toronto Blue Jays, 74-88
Baltimore Orioles, 72-90

New York Yankees 95-67
Tampa Bay Rays 93-69
Boston Red Sox 90-72
Baltimore Orioles 82-80
Toronto Blue Jays 72-90

We'll add AK's when we get him.  For now, enjoy the inundation of baseball.  It's a glorious, glorious day. 

Let the Good Times Roll!

It's Opening Day - need I say more?

Friday, April 2, 2010

2010 Year in Preview: New York Yankees

It's odd.  I'm ready for baseball to come back.  I miss it, and I'm really looking forward to 2010.  But it's bittersweet, in a way.  It's good to be on top, it's good to be the champs, it's good to know that we are the best and that every team, especially Boston, has to deal with that reality for an entire year.  I'm looking forward to 2010, but 2009 left the sweetest taste in my mouth and I'm not yet ready to let go.   

2009 Season: 

Oh my.  It doesn't get much better than that.  I love the ARod taunting before the pitch, the lull at 0:09 and the way all the hands in the joint go up in the air as mayhem descends on the stadium.  I think I should watch it again, maybe from a different angle.

New York Yankees.  103-59.  AL East Champs.  Swept the Twins in the ALDS.  Defeated the Angels 4-2 in the ALCS.  Defeated the Phillies 4-2 in the World Series to win their 27th World Series title.

Key Departures: 
LF Johnny Damon departed after a long, soap-operatic tango with the Yankees and signed with the Tigers.  DH Hideki Matsui signed with the Angels.  Jose Molina signed with the Blue Jays.  Phil Coke, LHP and Austin Jackson, CF were traded to the Tigers and RHP Ian Kennedy was traded to the Diamondbacks in the Curtis Granderson deal. Traded CF Melky Cabrera, RHP Arodys Vizcaino and LHP Mike Dunn to the Braves in the Javier Vazquez deal. 

Key Additions: 
Signed 1B/DH Nick Johnson to a 1 year, $5.5M deal with a mutual option for 2011 for $5.5M, acquired CF Curtis Granderson in a trade with the Tigers and Diamonbacks, acquired RHP Javier Vazquez in a trade with the Braves.  

Talent En Route: 
In a way, the discussion of the Yankees' talent en route begins and ends with Jesus Montero.  Montero is a consensus Top 10 Prospect in all of baseball, with some lists placing him as high as 3rd or 4th.  We followed Montero's season all last year here on The Bat Shatters, but let's recap for a moment, shall we?

Montero is a 6'4", 225 lb, 20 year old catcher from Venezuela.  As an 18 year old in Low-A Charleston, Montero hit .326/.376/.491, clubbing 17 home runs and 34 doubles in 569 plate appearances.  By any and all standards, this is a stunning debut.  Montero showed the ability to hit for average, get on base, and hit for power at an extremely young age. 

The following year, Montero began the year in High-A Tampa, and in 198 plate appearances hit 8 home runs and 15 doubles, posting a line of .356/.406/.583.  He was then promoted to Double-A Trenton midseason, and showed that he was able to punish better pitching at a similar rate, hitting 9 home runs and 10 doubles in 181 PAs, good for a line of .317/.370/.539.  His season was ended prematurely when he broke his finger when he was hit by a pitch. 

There aren't enough superlatives for Montero's hitting ability.  He is showing an extraordinary ability to dominate minor league pitching at a very young age and might be the best pure hitting prospect in all of baseball.  Scouts have compared him to Miguel Cabrera and Frank Thomas.  The latter comparison seems particularly fitting when you see how both hit off their front foot.

The knock on Montero, and this has been discussed ad nauseum, is that scouts doubt his ability to stick behind the plate long-term.  He isn't particularly quick to release his throws, his blocking ability is average at best, and he's gigantic.  But, as many have said, his bat is so good that it doesn't matter where you put him on the diamond.  I have to imagine that if he showed at least average defensive ability he would be a contender for the best prospect in baseball.

Montero is slated to begin the year at Triple-A Scranton.  The plan is for him to get a full year of work in at catcher, and the soonest Yankees' fans will probably see him is in September when rosters expand.  I expect Montero to make the team out of Spring Training in 2011.  There's no clear open position for him, since Posada will still be under contract, but I expect the Yankees to have him split time between C and DH.  His bat is so good, it doesn't really matter where he plays.

2011 Free Agency and Salary Outlook 
I already covered the offseason potential scenarios over at The Yankee U a few weeks ago, so I'm going to quote myself liberally here. 

"Thanks to the invaluable tool at Cot’s Baseball Contracts, we see that New York already has $144M committed to the 2011 payroll. When you add my proposed $20M to Jeter and $15M to Rivera, and the payroll is already at $179M. From there, you have to factor in raises for Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes, who will become eligible for arbitration for the first time. Using Liriano as a comparison, it won’t be unexpected to see them both pull in $1.5M apiece. This bumps the payroll up to $182M, and I’m going to round it up to $183M to cover raises for Boone Logan, if he’s still around, and for the pre-arb guys like DRob, Aceves and others.  
With a budget of $183M, the Yankees will have, at the most, $17-27M to spend."
The most obvious holes in the 2011 roster are starting pitching and LF. Since I penned my post at The Yankee U, the Yankees' FO put Joba in the bullpen for 2010 and put Hughes in the rotation.  The Twins also signed Joe Mauer to an 8 year, 180M deal and there was much rejoicing.  Thus, I'm going to rework my Scenarios a bit differently this time, focusing on Andy Pettitte.   

If Andy Pettitte retires...
If Pettitte retires, then the Yankees have three starters under contract for 2011: Sabathia, Burnett and Hughes.  If they choose to move Joba back to the rotation, they it would be most logical to assume that they would pursue Lee or Vazquez.  If they leave Joba in the pen, then they might be forced to go with Vazquez and a bargain-bin starter, or sign Lee and use Zach McAllister in the fifth spot. 

If Andy Pettitte returns...
If Pettitte returns on a deal similar to this year's contract (1 yr, 11M), then the Yankees have four starters under contract for 2011: Sabathia,  Burnett, Hughes and Pettitte, and a payroll of around $194M.  In this scenario, they could try to pursue Cliff Lee and max out their payroll.  This would leave them unable to pursue Crawford.  They could also shift Chamberlain back to the rotation for the fifth spot, leaving them with more than enough money to pursue Crawford. 

In all of these scenarios, several things are apparent.  Firstly, the Yankees do not seem likely to sign both Lee and Crawford.  Secondly, having Chamberlain in the rotation affords them far more roster flexibility. Keeping him in the pen is going to mean more money committed to the rotation.  Finally, the Yankees 2011 payroll is already extremely high.  Sadly, I think that Joba will be in the bullpen for the long haul and that the Yankees will need two more starters for 2011.  I'm a Cliff Lee fan, so I'd really love to see them resign Pettitte and ink Lee to a deal.  Having Lee would give the Yankees a ridiculous rotation (Sabathia-Lee-Burnett-Pettitte-Hughes), and it would give them a hedge against the risk of Sabathia exercising his opt-out clause and leaving for some place like San Francisco or Anaheim.  

The Future of the Yankees
The immediate future of the Yankees is very good.  They will field a team that is, on paper, superior to last year's World Series Champion.  They have an extraordinary prospect in Jesus Montero, and several very good prospects in Zach McAllister and Austin Romine. They have a savvy GM who is able to make smart moves free from sentimentality or pressure from ownership.  They have an exceptional pitching staff and some of the best players in the game. The risks with the Yankees in 2010 and beyond is that age and injuries will catch up with them, and that their exorbitant salary commitments in the next five years will prove burdensome.  But for now, Yankee haters everywhere need to fear the rise of another New York Yankee dynasty.  

In the words of Leon from Curb Your Enthusiasm, "Let's do it, baby!"