Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Hot Stove:  A rundown of each team in the offseason and what they are looking to improve in 2012. 

New York Mets:            Moving north along the NL east division, our next team, alphabetically, is the New York Mets.

Projected Starting Lineup:

1B            Ike Davis
2B            Daniel Murphy
SS            Ruben Tejada
3B            David Wright
LF            Jason Bay
CF            Andres Torres
RF            Lucas Duda
C              Josh Thole

Projected Starting Rotation:

Johan Santana
Mike Pelfrey
Jonathon Niese
RA Dickey
Dillon Gee

Projected Batting Order:

CF            Andres Torres
2B            Daniel Murphy
3B            David Wright
LF            Jason Bay
1B            Ike Davis
RF            Lucas Duda
C              Josh Thole
SS            Ruben Tejada

The 2011 New York Mets had a lot of problems.  After being named a plaintiff in the Madoff victims’ suit, owner Fred Wilpon was financially hamstrung and unable to bring in any high priced free agents.  If that wasn’t bad enough, injuries played a major role on this team, with Jason Bay, David Wright and Jose Reyes all missing games with injury and Ike Davis missing pretty much the entire season.  However, Reyes came back strong and won the batting title hitting 337.  And Carlos Beltran played well enough to get traded to the Giants at the trade deadline.  However the new concern for the 2012 Mets (besides the financial issues) is the fact that the team’s leaders in AVG (Reyes) and HR and RBI (Beltran) are no longer with the team.  And none of the other players really stepped up. The player with the second highest average (Angel Pagan, also gone) hit 262.  David Wright and Jason Bay are still with the team but neither really had a great year, both hitting in the mid 200s and slugging 14 and 12 HR respectively in that spacious, home run-killing ballpark.  They hope that those two can stay healthy and have better seasons this year, and also hope to have a full season of Ike Davis to help them out.  Outside of that, the Mets have a lot of youngsters finding their way this season and most people don’t expect them to be major contenders in the playoff chase.

The one area the Mets feel good about this offseason is their starting rotation.  Last year’s rotation is missing Chris Young and Chris Capuano, but they are hoping to finally have Johan Santana back and also are looking forward to a full season of Dillon Gee.  This rotation won’t be ranked among the greatest in the NL, but it is solid.  They have 5 good guys for 5 spots.  Gee led the team with 13 Wins last season and is back for a full season this year.  Jonathon Niese was second on the team with 11 Wins, but hopes to pitch a few more innings and lower that ERA.  Mike Pelfrey was expected to lead the staff last season, but struggled posting a 4.74 ERA and a 7-13 record.  He’s looking to bounce back this year as well.  RA Dickey might have been the best pitcher on the staff last season despite only recording 8 Wins.  His 3.28 ERA led the team, as did his 208 IP and 1.23 WHIP.  The knuckler hopes to have another good season in 2012.  The final spot in this year’s rotation goes to former Cy Young winner Johan Santana.  Santana hasn’t pitched a full season since 2008, and missed all of last year due to injury.  If he’s even half as good as he used to be he could be the best pitcher on the team.  His K numbers have dipped since he last struck out 200 in 08 (146 Ks in 09 and 144 in 10).  But a full season could see another 150 Ks and a low ERA.  If they can have a healthy Santana, and the rest of the staff is able to play as well as last season, the Mets will join the Braves and Marlins with their strong staffs and give the NL East some of the best pitching in the majors.  Beyond that the Mets feel fantastic about their bullpen spending essentially all of their 2012 offseason money to improve it.  They gave big contracts to Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch.  Some think these two were overpaid (including me) but with a good bullpen and solid starting pitching, the Mets will be in good position to lose a lot of low scoring games with their anemic offense.

2012 Prediction:            The Mets look like they are in trouble this season.  The Phillies have been the best team in the majors the past couple years.  The Braves were greatly improved last year and at the very least look to be just as good.  And the Marlins have had a big offseason trying to improve their squad.  The Mets weren’t great last year (they finished 4th in the division, 25 games out of first), and lost a lot.  They traded away Francisco Rodriguez to the Brewers and Carlos Beltran to the Giants.  Then they lost Reyes, Chris Capuano and Chris Young to free agency.  And finally they traded Angel Pagan away to the Giants in the offseason.  And they don’t have the money to go out and compete in the free agent market and get new guys for their roster.  Right now they are laying low, trying to pay off the debts of Fred Wilpon and preparing to be sued.  Unless he sells the team soon, Mets fans will probably be dealing with subpar teams for the next couple seasons.

Up next…Philadelphia Phillies.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Hot Stove:  A rundown of each team in the offseason and what they are looking to improve in 2012. 

Miami Marlins:            Staying in the NL East, the next team we look at will be the Marlins.

Projected Starting Lineup:

1B:            Gaby Sanchez
2B:            Omar Infante
SS:            Jose Reyes
3B:            Hanley Ramirez
LF:            Logan Morrison
CF:            Chris Coghlan
RF:            Mike Stanton
C:            John Buck

Projected Starting Rotation:

Josh Johnson
Anibal Sanchez
Mark Buehrle
Ricky Nolasco
Carlos Zambrano

Projected Batting Order:

SS            Jose Reyes
2B            Omar Infante
3B            Hanley Ramirez
RF            Mike Stanton
1B            Gaby Sanchez
C            John Buck
CF            Chris Coghlan
LF            Logan Morrison

The Marlins finished fifth last year after a tough 2011.  They ended the season finishing behind both the Nationals and Mets in the standings and are looking for big improvement this year.  They’ve moved into a new stadium and spent a lot of money on some new players hoping to get fans into the seats in their inaugural season.  But they’ll need more than new uniforms and a new name.  They need the guys they brought in to perform.  The addition of Jose Reyes provides spark at the top of the order, but also was a cause of contention for Hanley Ramirez who was asked to move to third base.  Keeping him happy was tough enough when he was playing the position he wanted.   But Ozzie Guillen thinks he can keep him in line, and when he’s happy he’s incredibly productive.  The other big offseason additions are Heath Bell as their new closer and Mark Buehrle in their starting rotation.  They also made a trade to bring in the oft-troubled former Cub, Carlos Zambrano.  He’s an old pal of Ozzie Guillen and both are native Venezuelans.  He’s another player who can perform well if kept happy. 

The Marlins had a good year from Mike Stanton last season, as he led the team in HRs (34), RBI (87), and R (79).  But there was a big drop off after him.  Only one other Marlin had over 20 HRs (Logan Morrison with 23).  And only 2 others had over 70 RBI (Morrison and Gaby Sanchez).  After that the drop off was even steeper as the Marlin with the 4th most RBI was John Buck with 57.  And their hitters weren’t too prolific without power either, with no one hitting over 300 and only 2 over 275 (Emilio Bonifacio @ 296 and Omar Infante @ 276).  So the Marlins had major offensive issues.  Their leader has been Hanley Ramirez, but an injury-plagued season gave Hanley his worst season yet.  He played in only 92 games, and hit 243 with 10 HR, 45 RBI, 20 SB and 55 R.  They’ll need him to stay healthy and return to his All Star form if they want to compete in 2012. 

The Marlin’s rotation last year featured Sanchez, Johnson, and Nolasco, but also Javier Vazquez and Chris Volstad who are no longer with the team.  Vazquez actually led the team with 13 Wins.  But the best pitcher on the Marlins staff last season was Anibal Sanchez who led the team in ERA (3.67) and Ks (202).  However at 8-9, he’s looking to improve upon his 2011 campaign.  After Vazquez and Sanchez, Nolasco was the third best pitcher on the staff, as the only one to pitch over 200 IP and going 10-12.  Josh Johnson’s injury limited him to 9 starts and forced Clay Hensley and Brad Hand to step into the starting rotation. They hope Sanchez can pitch as well as he did last season, Johnson can stay healthy and the addition of Zambrano and Buehrle will stabilize their starting pitching.  Buehrle had another stable season winning 13 games and pitching over 200 innings for the third straight season.  His 3.59 ERA was solid, and they hope he can continue to be that consistent in Miami.  If he can do that, and the other pitchers stay healthy and pitch like they did last season, then they hope they can contend in the East, at least well enough to challenge Atlanta for a wildcard spot.

2012 Prediction:            The Marlins have a new name, a new uniform, new players and a shiny new stadium.  But they still have the same shady stench of the past ownership.  The Florida Marlins may be a thing of the past, but the Miami Marlins are still run by the Jeffrey Loria, David Samson and their infamous “market correction” schemes.   For those who don’t know, that was the name they gave to the dumping of players after the World Series years of 1997 and 2003.  They sold off all their good players as they got too expensive and finished in the bottom 5 of attendance every year since 2001.  Using weak attendance figures as a crutch, they threatened to move the team out of Florida unless the taxpayers of Miami-Dade County bankrolled a $515 million dollar new stadium.  In return, the Marlins agreed to change their name from the Florida Marlins, to the Miami Marlins.  That seems totally worth it.  They’re hoping that this is the year that they change their fortunes, but I’m not sure they have the people to do it.  They brought in Ozzie Guillen to be their new manager, who is as well known for his angry outbursts as he is for fielding good teams.  They brought in 4 new players to strengthen their team, but one of them is prone to angry outbursts and the other caused the team’s resident diva to act out even more than usual.  There are too many egos in play in South Florida and I think it will destroy them.  It’s already a poisonous clubhouse atmosphere with a whiny star and crooked ownership that will do anything to make him happy. (The Commissioner’s office forced the Marlins to pay Hanley so they want to keep him happy).  And we also learned that speaking out against the Miami Taliban is strictly forbidden and can get you demoted to Triple A.  (Don’t let them crush your spirit Logan Morrison).  A lot of things are different in Miami, but not necessarily better.  And while they hope to sell out more games this year (it’ll be easier as their new stadium’s 37,000 seat capacity is the third smallest in the MLB), people may not come to watch the team win, but rather watch them implode as arguments and the divas tear each other apart.  It’s like the most expensive train wreck in history, that will probably be broken apart and sold in pieces over the next few years in another bout of “market correction”.

Up next…New York Mets.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hot Stove:  A rundown of each team in the offseason and what they are looking to improve in 2012. 

Atlanta Braves:  Starting with my favorite team because it’s the easiest place to start:

Projected Starting Lineup:

1B:            Freddie Freeman
2B:            Dan Uggla
SS:            Jack Wilson
3B:            Chipper Jones
LF:            Martin Prado
CF:            Michael Bourn
RF:            Jason Heyward
C:            Brian McCann

Projected Starting Rotation:

Tim Hudson
Jair Jurrjens
Tommy Hanson
Brandon Beachy
Mike Minor

Projected Batting Order:

CF            Michael Bourn
LF            Martin Prado
3B            Chipper Jones
C            Brian McCann
2B            Dan Uggla
1B            Freddie Freeman
RF            Jason Heyward
SS            Jack Wilson

Atlanta had a good season last year winning 89 games.  But an epic collapse left them out of the playoffs on the last day of the season. They lost 12 of their final 17 games, which eventually enabled the St. Louis Cardinals to sneak into the playoffs and end up winning it all.  If it weren’t for the Red Sox collapse, the Braves would have been REALLY embarrassed.  The Braves of 2012 look similar to last year’s team with a few noticeable subtractions.  Former number one starter, Derek Lowe, is off to Cleveland, to the relief of many Braves fans.  But Atlanta is still on the hook for a lot of his salary, and was fairly hamstrung by that this offseason.  In addition they lost Alex Gonzalez to the Brewers in free agency.  In fact, they haven’t really added anyone to the roster.  They needed a big bat (which has been the same story in Atlanta for at least the past 5 years), but the free agent market didn’t supply any viable candidates.  The only decent fit would have been former Brave Andruw Jones, but his defense has declined enough that he can only play the corner outfield positions, and they are already well stocked there.  GM Frank Wren has recently gone on record saying a quiet offseason was always the plan for this club.  They like what they have, and they have a strong group.  The Braves had only one player with over 25 HR (Uggla 36), one with over 75 RBI (Uggla 82) and a rookie leading the team in AVG (Freeman 282).  Their offense needs a major shot in the arm.  They hope a full season of Michael Bourn will give them a high AVG player at the top of the lineup that can get into scoring position and score some runs.

Brian McCann continues to be the class of NL catchers and consistently turns in All Star seasons.  While that’s fantastic for the Braves, you don’t want a catcher as your offensive leader as he needs more time off than other players and gets quite beat up throughout a long season.  After losing Alex Gonzalez to free agency, they have a bit of a hole at the position.  They did recently come to terms one a one year $1 million contract with veteran Jack Wilson who came over from Seattle at the trade deadline.  He will take some pressure off rookie Tyler Pastronicky and projects to be the starter.  Dan Uggla’s big bat was a welcome addition, but a horrendous start of the year gave him less of an impact than his 36 HR would suggest.  Freddie Freeman was a pleasant surprise at first, and hopes to keep up his hot start from 2011.  Chipper returns for another season, but nowadays mainly walks and gets the occasional double.  Martin Prado had a down year due to injury, but can hopefully return to his 2010 form hitting over 300 again.  Bourn can get on base a lot and lead the league in steals any time he wants.  But the fate of the Braves will lay with their 3rd year right-fielder, Jason Heyward.  Injuries and a sophomore slump destroyed his second campaign for Atlanta, and they have to have him come back strong to compete this year.  They don’t have the money to sign a big power-hitting free agent (plus there’s no one worth taking for them) and need more power desperately.  Heyward hit 18 HR in his rookie season.  If he can get 20+, then they will have a shot at contending for the East Crown, or at least a wildcard slot.

The Braves pitching continues to be the team’s strength.  Both the bullpen and starters are in good shape.  Tim Hudson had a strong season last year winning 16 games.  He looks to anchor the rotation as the number one starter.  Both Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson had injury issues derail strong seasons.  Both were in the running for the NL All Star team before injury limited them to 13 and 11 Wins respectively.  After the top 3, the Braves are relying on youngsters Brandon Beachy (who led the team in Ks) and Mike Minor (the only starting southpaw) to round out their rotation.  Both had their moments last year, but they are young and are hoping to be a little more consistent.  The bullpen is in good shape with Rookie of the Year Craig Kimbrel closing things out for Atlanta again this season.  Jonny Venters is as good in his set up role and gives Atlanta one of the best 8th-9th inning punches in the game.  Lefty Eric O’Flaherty is also back after another strong season.  Add to that a wealth of quality young arms and the Braves feel good about their bullpen.  Their only weakness on the mound would be no clear-cut number one starter (Hudson is old, Hanson is young, and Jurrjens can’t seem to stay healthy).  But Atlanta feels good about their pitching in 2012, and they should.

2012 Prediction:  I think the Braves are good enough to finish second again this year and maybe snag a wildcard spot.  Their biggest challenge (besides the Phillies who will probably win the division) will be from the Marlins who have made strides towards improving.  But I think they need more power in their lineup too, and there are still some questions on the staff with Nolasco and new Marlin Carlos Zambrano.  Buehrle is good, but not overpowering.  And their bullpen is weak before the 9th inning.  And I think the Nationals are a few years from contending and the Mets a few decades.  For that reason the Braves are looking at second place again this season, with around 90 wins. 

Up next…Miami Marlins.