It’s Always Darkest Before The Dawn

January 30, 2007

That phrase is one that many of baseball’s low-budget and bottom dweller teams probably have memorized. They would have to in order to make it through another long season of losing and watching others continue to have success by “buying” a team. So how do some of the small market teams even hope to compete in this age of outrageous contracts? The 2007 season will begin this April with some of the most insane contracts baseball – or any sport for that matter – has ever seen. $126 million over 7 years to a starting pitcher who isn’t even one of the best 15 pitchers in the game? Over $10 million per season to a guy who over his six year career in a pitcher friendly ball park amassed an ERA of 4.65? $14 million per year for an “average” middle of the order guy with a shredded shoulder? With contracts like these for guys that aren’t even close to the best at their position/spot in the order, what hopes do low-budget teams have in competing?

The Minnesota Twins are a perfect example of how you compete. Every year they bring up another group of guys from their farm system to the big leagues and every year it seems they just replenish it with another solid group of youngsters. You put back what you take. So if the Minnesota Twins can pull last season’s AL MVP Justin Morneau, AL batting champion Joe Mauer, and AL Cy Young winner Johan Santana out of it, why can’t someone else?

There are five teams right now that are in a similar spot that the Twins were in back in the mid-late 90’s. Struggling to put out a successful team with very little money and a lot of young players. These five teams are on the brink of exploding with young superstars that can help turn their franchise’s bleak last few years into something for their fans to get excited about. Of the five teams (which I will eventually touch on each of them in the coming weeks), one stands out above them all. While they do have the brightest group, they also have the largest obstacle to over come – their own division.

Since the Tampa Bay Devil Rays were born back in 1998, they have always had the unenviable task of playing in the American League East. Between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox crowding the top of the division with their enormous payrolls and now the Toronto Blue Jays asserting themselves as a team to be reckoned with, the Devil Rays never really had a chance even before they took the field for the first time. This is not the way a franchise wants to start out.

But through all of their struggles and last place finishes, they have done a superb job of drafting over the past few years. They already have a major league roster filled with great young talent (both through drafting and acquiring prospects) like Scott Kazmir, Jorge Cantu, Rocco Baldelli, and Carl Crawford. This is a very solid group to use as a base.

Between now and the end of the 2009 season, the Rays will also have injected another batch of players that they look to have as crucial parts of their success. Even as soon as this upcoming season, the Rays will have one of, if not the, best young outfields in all of baseball. With the already successful Crawford and Baldelli, their top prospect Delmon Young looks to join the team full time in 2007. While Young has had his share of attitude problems (as an unfortunate number of Rays prospects have), he is looked at as the team’s top hitting prospect. The right fielder should have an immediate impact for the team this season and put up some impressive numbers.

While Young is by far their top prospect, they have a slew of others just waiting to get up to the big leagues. By the end of the 2008 season, Evan Longoria should be at third, Reid Brignac should fill in shortstop, and Jeff Niemann will give them a very solid number two starter behind Kazmir. This group that is about to join the major league roster in the next couple of seasons is going to be something special. If Tampa wasn’t stuck in the aggressive alpha-male battle that is the AL East, they could definitely be an interesting team to watch. In the mean time, they will just have to settle for making some noise.

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What Did Johnny Damon Do?

January 29, 2007

Once again, the Boston Red Sox have been one of the most active teams this off season in hopes of bringing another championship back to Bean Town. To keep up with their arch rival New York Yankees, the Red Sox find themselves trying to do everything possible to bolster their already potent lineup. While the Yankees took a different route to better their team by the old “addition by subtraction” rule (for the first time that I can ever remember) and cutting contracts of older players such as Randy Johnson and Gary Sheffield, the Red Sox have followed the old beaten path of the Yankees and throwing large contracts at anything that moves. One of the largest and most talked about moves was that of the JD Drew signing that took over a month to complete. While everyone in Red Sox Nation was up in arms about this contract being given to Drew because of his injury history and less than explosive stats, my reason for questioning it was different. Why wasn’t this money given to Johnny Damon?

In December of 2005 Johnny Damon was in contract talks with the Boston Red Sox. He and his agent, Scott Boras, were looking to lock in a long term deal with a team that he had not only won the World Series with, but also achieved rock star status. Damon was a beloved member of the Red Sox and wanted to finish his career as one of the “Idiots.” Boras brought a 7 year, $84 million contract to Sox CEO Larry Lucchino in which the acting GM (since the departure of Epstein a couple of months earlier) turned around and offered less years and less money with 4 years, $40 million. Boras and Damon quickly turned this down and wanted to renegotiate a different deal since they were so far off. When Lucchino put the contract issue aside, the Yankees swooped in and offered 4 years at $52 million. No counter offer was made and one of the most beloved players from the 2004 champs had just joined the enemy. Red Sox Nation revolted at Damon calling him “traitor”, “Johnny Demon”, and a variety of other colorful new nicknames.

After a very nice 2006 campaign with his new team, Johnny Damon seems to have stuck it to his former team for not taking the time to address his contract. It almost felt as if they had a “who cares” mentality. So after disrespecting Damon, the Red Sox ended up losing him to their arch enemy/division rival for a mere $3 million a year. Last season Damon really stuck it to his former team by posting a .324 AVG, 6 doubles, 4 HR, and 13 RBI against the Sox.

So now with the history of the Damon-to-Yankees saga covered, I have to pose a question that has been confusing me ever since the Drew signing was first brought up: why are the Red Sox willing to give all that money to an outside player with injury question marks only a year after passing on a more talented player that was a beloved part of their organization? It makes no sense to me.

I’ve heard some arguments defending the JD Drew signing as it will give them a powerful bat to hit behind Manny Ramirez. I’m not arguing this at all. I applaud the Sox for adding a clause to the contract that if Drew misses too much time due to his bad shoulder that they are able to void the end of his contract. I’m not even arguing one piece of this signing other than the fact that they weren’t willing to sign Damon last off season yet have no problem throwing money around now. Over the weekend I argued my opinion to people and let them know I was planning on writing this article. They said the Drew is a better fit for what they need in their lineup. I told them they are wrong. Then I hit them with the numbers these two have put up over the last three seasons (also remember Damon is a leadoff hitter and Drew was a clean up/five hole hitter):

Damon 2004: [150 games – .304/.380/.477, 123 R, 20 HR, 94 RBI, 19 SB]
Drew 2004: [145 games – .305/.436/.569, 118 R, 31 HR, 93 RBI, 12 SB]

Damon 2005: [148 games – .316/.366/.439, 117 R, 10 HR, 75 RBI, 18 SB]
Drew 2005: [72 games – .286/.412/.520, 48 R, 15 HR, 36 RBI, 1 SB]

Damon 2006: [149 games – .285/.359/.482, 115 R, 24 HR, 80 RBI, 25 SB]
Drew 2006: [146 games – .283/.393/.498, 84 R, 20 HR, 100 RBI, 2 SB]

Now I’m in no way knocking Drew’s stats, but if you look at the comparisons, Damon had very similar stats (if not better in some cases) out of the leadoff spot than Drew had as a clean up/number five hitter. In fact one could argue that Drew is a very below average middle of the order hitter if you compare him to other’s who bat in the same spot. If I had my choice of whether to sign Damon or Drew to multi-year deals I would hands down choose Damon because of everything he brings to the table. It’s so hard to find an elite lead off hitter (especially one that you could just as easily plug into the number three spot in your order) like Damon. It’s even harder to find an athlete that was as beloved to a fan base as Damon was.

The meaning of this article was in no way to bash JD Drew or the signing of him. Rather it was just an opportunity to point out what a major mistake the Red Sox made in their judgment. Signing an overall less valuable player to more money and more years than they were offering one of their franchise guys a mere 12 months previously is something that will continue to haunt the Sox in the years to come.

Of course if this up coming season Drew ends up hitting .300 while knocking out 30 homers and driving in over 100 RBI and protecting Manny Ramirez in the process, then just pretend I never wrote this.


2007 Preview: NL West

January 26, 2007

So far this winter there have been quite a few teams with major overhauls on their rosters while many teams stayed pretty much the same from 2006. Considering most of the wheelin’-and-a-dealin’ is over (with exception of a minor trade here or there), I think its safe to start figuring out how teams will fair in their divisions in 2007.

Every Friday between now and the start of the regular season I will be covering a different aspect of the upcoming year. The first six Fridays (bringing us right up to the start of spring training games) I will preview one division a week and give my views on how each team will fair. After all the divisions are covered, I will go over potential award winners, major storylines, and a wrap up of everything and who will make it to the fall classic.

Please don’t hesitate letting me know if you agree or disagree with any of my predictions via comments or by emailing me at mlbdiamondcutter@gmail.com.

This week’s topic: National League West

The National League West has become the most pitching dominant division in baseball. Not only did four out of the five teams upgrade their staffs, but two of them possess the top rotations in all of baseball. While offensively we don’t really know what to expect from most of the teams, this shouldn’t be too much of a concern as the rotations and bullpens of these teams will always keep the games close. So let’s see where everyone will land in the division. They are in order of how I think they will finish in the division.

1.) LOS ANGELES DODGERS
While every team in the NL West has question marks in their lineups, the Dodgers seem to have the fewest. They have an extremely speedy 1-2 punch at the top of their order with Juan Pierre, who came over from the Cubs, and Rafael Furcal, who combined for 95 stolen bases in 2006. With these two turned loose on the base paths, Nomar Garciaparra and Jeff Kent should see a lot more fastballs. In his first season as a Dodger, Nomar showed that given the opportunity to play and be healthy, he can still rack up some impressive numbers. In 2006 the former shortstop hit .303, 20 HR, 93 RBI, and had an OPS of .872 and was a main contributor the Dodgers’ success.

The Dodgers do have some concerns regarding their lineup especially with the loss of JD Drew and his 20 HR/100 RBI season in 2006. They have brought in veteran and former Diamondback Luis Gonzalez. While Gonzo has lost some of his home run pop over the years, the left fielder still was able to collect 52 doubles last season. This will hopefully give Nomar and Kent a little protection in the lineup. Their other concerns are how sophomore Andre Ethier (who will move to right field where he is more comfortable with the arrival of Gonzalez) and third baseman Wilson Betemit will fair offensively. Betemit is especially the focus of some concern as they really don’t know which version of the player they will get after a tale of two halves in 2006. If he struggles, look for the Dodgers to bring up top prospect Andy LaRoche (.315/.410/.514 between AA and AAA in 2006) who I believe would make the transition to the majors nicely.

Where the Dodgers don’t have a lot of worry is their starting rotation which looks to possibly be the best in baseball. Jason Schmidt’s signing with the Dodgers couldn’t be a bigger deal. Not only did the Dodgers gain one of the best pitchers in the NL (from their arch rival no less), but they also acquired a true ace for their staff allowing Derek Lowe to slide down to where he should be as a number two guy. Last season Schmidt was only able to muster an 11-9 record due to poor run support from his team, but he did have a very strong 3.59 ERA with 180 strikeouts. With a fresh start and a team (who did have trouble scoring runs in stretches last season) that has a nice top of the order, I think it’s possible to see Schmidt return to his success of 2003 (17-5, 2.34 ERA) and 2004 (18-7, 3.20 ERA) and lead the Dodgers towards an NL West title.

Bottom Line: In a division that will probably come down to the last weeks of the season (again), the Dodgers seem to be the team that will end up separating themselves from the pack to end up winning the west. This looks to be a 92+ win team that will be very hard to beat considering what a strong rotation they have. If the hole in the middle of their lineup doesn’t come back to hurt them, they will not only be the team to beat in the West, but also in the National League.

2.) SAN DIEGO PADRES
While the rival Dodgers continue to get praised for their excellent pitching staff, the Padres decided they too would bolster the already stellar staff. With ace Jake Peavy and veteran David Wells returning, the Padres went out and acquired another arm to solidify them in the West. Future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux joins the Friars and looks to continue his great career. After a hot start in 2006, Maddux was happy to leave the wind tunnel in Wrigley for a pitcher’s paradise in Los Angeles. Now he has signed on to pitch in another pitcher’s park in San Diego. Like the Dodgers, this rotation will keep the team in games night in and night out, so its up to the offense to scrap together some runs which was a major problem for them last season.

Going into the winter meetings the Padres had to try to get some offensive help. They needed some help around Brian Giles and Adrian Gonzalez. Unfortunately they weren’t able to pull out a big name free agent, but were able to sign second baseman Marcus Giles and trade for third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff. The Padres hope that the combination of the Giles brothers will help the top of the order and the potential bat of Kouzmanoff will payoff considering the traded away a bright spot of their lineup in Josh Barfield to obtain him. Kouzmanoff was second among all Minor League players with a .379 batting average last season and made history when in his very first Major League at bat hit a grand slam. The young third baseman’s power won’t be properly displayed at home with the enormous outfield, but he looks to be able to be a .300 or better hitter with power to the gaps. The Padres didn’t make a huge splash offensively, but hope that their lineup will still be able to put them over the top with such a strong group of starting pitching.

Bottom Line: Again, very much like the Dodgers regarding their question marks offensively and very strong pitching staff. I do think they will eventually fall short of LA because their lineup will hit long stretches where they will struggle to score runs. A lot is riding on the bat of Kouzmanoff, the Giles brothers, and Mike Cameron staying healthy. If the Padres are unable to win the division, look for them to be in strong contention for the NL Wild Card.

3.) ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS
The Diamondbacks enter the 2007 as the wild card in the division. The reason for that is we really don’t know what to expect from them. Their starting lineup is filled with young players and their rotation looks to be very strong. One thing the D-Backs knew they wanted was to bring their former pitcher Randy Johnson back so that he could retire as one of them. While Johnson did have a rough 2006 in New York posting an ERA of 5.00 and late season back problems, Arizona hopes he is able to rekindle his success he had during his last stint in the desert. There is some debate on whether or not he will be ready on opening day, but what is certain is that 2006 NL Cy Young winner Brandon Webb (16-8, 3.10 ERA) will be back as the team’s ace. These two will put together a very solid rotation for the D-Backs in 2007.

While they know they will have a dependable rotation (barring any injury problems for Johnson), what they don’t know is what to expect from their young lineup. Corner infielders Chad Tracy (.281/20 HR/80 RBI) and Conor Jackson (.291/15 HR/79 RBI) will continue to mature in the middle of their lineup after another year in the big leagues. Where the D-Backs really hope to get a boost from is their two top prospects that will join the opening day lineup. Outfielder Chris B. Young and shortstop Stephen Drew are the keys to this team’s success. The 23 year old Young has the inside track to be the Diamondbacks’ opening day center fielder and leadoff hitter. His lethal combination of power and speed should give him a shot at being a 20 homer, 30 stolen base guy right away which would go along way in the rebuilding in Arizona. Drew also has high expectations as a solid hitter who should be able to provide some pop. He’s had a lot of success in Arizona’s minor league system and should fit in nicely on their major league roster this upcoming season. If these two can live up to their potential, the Diamondbacks should be able to make some noise in their division race and Wild Card race. If nothing else they will make large strides towards the future of this team.

Bottom Line: For the D-Backs to make any attempts at competing this season they are going to need their starting rotation to stay healthy and for their young position players to adapt to the major league pitching. This may be more difficult considering they will be facing some difficult pitchers in their own division for the majority of the season, but I think if they stay confident they will learn quickly. I think they will toy with the idea of contending for the division and Wild Card spots during the summer, but will eventually fade away. 2008 and 2009 look to be very interesting for this ball club.

4.) SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
There are a lot of question marks for the Giants in 2007. They have put together a pretty solid rotation lead by the enormous (and ridiculous) contract signing of Barry Zito and budding youngster Matt Cain. While this rotation looks to be pretty dependable, it isn’t as strong as the Dodgers, Padres, or Diamondbacks. They, like many of their division rivals, also have a pitchers park which always helps a rotation.

Another problem that the Giants face is an uncertain and elderly everyday lineup. With 10 of their starters and bench players over the age of 32 (many of them much, much older than that), the Giants face the possibility of nagging injuries as the season wears on. Another big problem they face is that of Barry Bonds. As someone who is their only real offensive threat (if the Giants uphold the contract), the possibility of him missing time again this season due to injury or even due to the steroid controversy, becomes more and more real. The day to day grind of playing in the field has worn down the man who if he isn’t in this lineup decreases the Giants chances of competing.

Bottom Line: I just don’t see how the Giants make a serious run at the division. Unless they get stellar pitching from their rotation and aren’t haunted my injuries, this team looks to finish near the middle to bottom of the pack. They need to look younger as they gear up towards 2008.

5.) COLORADO ROCKIES
The Colorado Rockies have an interesting situation. While they have a very inexperienced and unproven starting rotation, they do have a nice base of young players on the offensive side of things. While they are nothing like the mashers they had years ago, they have built up a good group of hitters. Two such players emerged last season at the corner outfield spots. Right fielder Brad Hawpe (.293/.383/.515 and 22 HR/84 RBI) and left fielder Matt Holliday (.326/.387/.586 and 34 HR/114 RBI) both exploded onto the scene last season and gave hopes to the Colorado faithful. They along with long time Rockies star Todd Helton (who had a down year by his standards) have built up quite a special middle of the order. The Rockies hope to have similar success from them this season (if not more after another year of experience under their belts) along with top prospect Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop.

Of course the thin air of Coors Field always hurts pitchers, but this group of youngsters may find the learning curve in Colorado difficult with their collective inexperience. It’s not easy to pitch in Colorado when you are a veteran let alone a player at the start of his career. While the Rockies don’t hope to have to slug it out with teams to pick up victories, it may come down to that in the end.

Bottom Line: As nice as the middle of this order can be, the idea of the Rockies competing in the NL West this season is pretty slim. Unless their rotation catches everyone by surprise and can compete with the other staffs in this division, the Rockies look like another team that is geared up at a bright future.


Prospect Spotlight: Alex Gordon

January 25, 2007

Name: Alex Gordon
Organization: Kansas City Royals
Position: 3B
Bats: Left
Throws: Right
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 220 lbs
My Prospect Ranking: 1st overall (2007 pre-season top prospect rankings)

Report: For the first time in years fans of the Kansas City Royals have the chance to be excited about a player. Alex Gordon is the ultimate prospect. The lefty owns a beautiful swing that has both the ability to hit for power and average. Gordon played his college ball at the University of Nebraska and took home numerous collegiate awards (such as 2005 Baseball America College Player of the Year) before being drafted second overall by the Royals in 2005.

In 2006 Gordon played his first year of minor league ball with the Wichita Wranglers. The third baseman put up very impressive numbers posting .325/.427/.588. He also showed a lethal combination of power and speed with 29 homers and 22 stolen bases. All his excellent play also gained him a few more awards with the 2006 Texas League Player of the Year and 2006 Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year.

ALEX GORDON 2006 STATISTICS
TEAM AVG R HR RBI SB OBP SLG
Wichita-AA .325 111 29 101 22 .427 .588

The Royals look for him to take all this talent and start producing for them in the big leagues in 2007, possibly as their opening day third baseman. A player like Gordon is exactly what the talent starved Royals have been looking for ever since Carlos Beltran left the roster back in 2004.

Look for the youngster to make an impact right away as he has all the tools necessary to succeed in the majors. I can see Gordon easily putting up similar numbers in 2007 that he did last season in the minors. 20-25 homers with 20-25 steals isn’t out of the question along with a .290 or so average. The Royals hope to build around Gordon along with their core of young players currently on the team and with some of the other top prospects they have on their way up through the minors. Gordon is exactly the type of player the Royals organization has been starving for to help turn around their ball club.


Where’s The Faith?

January 23, 2007

Now before I start this, I just want to state for the record I love Twins GM Terry Ryan. I think he is the best GM in all of baseball with the magic he has been able to perform throughout his tenure. But sometimes I just wonder if he learns from his past mistakes. Last season Ryan openly admitted (and even joked) about what a bad decision he made in bringing in Tony Batista, Rondell White, and Ruben Sierra to help give the Twins line up a little extra pop. By the end of June, these players had been replaced for the most part. White and Sierra were injured and not playing and had been replaced by Jason Tyner in left field and DH. Batista was replaced by Nick Punto (again, not your typical corner infielder). And the struggling Kyle Lohse had finally worn out his welcome in Minnesota when he and Juan Castro were shipped off to Cincinnati and replaced in their spots by Jason Bartlett and Francisco Liriano. So why is Ryan seemingly wandering down the same path of destruction?

This winter has been uneventful as usual for the Twins. The exception has been a couple of signings that seem so similar to the mistakes of last year. The first signing came when the Twins brought aboard the veteran third baseman Jeff Cirillo. Sure he’s not the risk that Batista was, but I don’t see how .319 AVG, 3 HR, 23 RBI, and 1 stolen base will be any sort of upgraded from Punto’s .290 AVG, 1 HR, 45 RBI, and 17 stolen bases. Punto did a great job for the Twins in the number two spot in the order by getting on base, moving runners across, and scoring runs. As long as Cirillo is here to play off the bench, I’m fine with it. But Punto had better be the starter on opening day.

The main move which I don’t see any benefit from was the signing of Ramon Ortiz. Here is a man who in a weaker league and in one of the biggest pitcher’s ballparks in baseball posted a 5.57 ERA. Of the 38 pitchers in the NL that qualified with enough innings to win the ERA crown, Ortiz finished second to last. In opponent batting average he finished third to last. In other words, he had a horrible 2006 and a similarly horrible 2005. So why did the Twins shell out $3.1 million and a spot in their starting rotation to a pitcher who has had such issues?

The reason seems to be one that has haunted this team for years: their inability to put faith in their young talent. They’ve been doing it for years. Look how long it took them to insert Johan Santana into their starting rotation from the bullpen. Everyone on earth knew it was time months before the Twins made the move. Look at Michael Cuddyer who finally got a chance to play everyday and put up monster numbers as their clean up hitter that they have been desperately searching for since Kent Hrbek. And look what happened when they finally trusted Punto (.290 AVG, 17 SB, and a great 2 hitter), Bartlett (.309 AVG, 10 SB, and huge clutch hits), Tyner (.312 AVG and did great in left field and DH), and Liriano (12-3, 2.16 ERA) last season. Once all those players slid into the line up, they became the best team in baseball.

Rather than waste the $3.1 million on Ortiz, that money should have been used towards avoiding arbitration with Joe Mauer, Morneau, Cuddyer, and Punto. Then just use one of our young pitchers like Scott Baker or Glen Perkins. Honestly none of them could do any worse than Ortiz. Plus we already have a pitcher who gives up home runs and racks up his ERA with Carlos Silva. Two in the rotation would be disasterous.

Bottom line is the Twins front office and coaching staff needs to be more willing to embrace these younger players and let them learn at the major league level. I know there is a lot to learn for players in the minors if they are only going to ride the bench in the majors, but signing a hand full of has been (or never was) players just holds back the possibilities they have for success.

And if there is one thing a small market team like the Twins know it’s that you live and die by your young, home grown players.


2007 Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

January 22, 2007

Between now and the start of the 2007 regular season, I plan on giving previews on some of the more interesting teams around Major League Baseball. While I won’t be covering every team, I will touch on those that either have made significant changes, have interesting stories, or even good chances to win it all this October.

Today’s preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

KEY HITTER

#5 Nomar Garciaparra | 1B
Last year for the first time since 2003, Garciaparra was finally able to play for the majority of the season. Sure he still missed 40 games, but considering he had played a total of 143 games combined the previous 3 years, that’s quite an accomplishment. In his first season as a Dodger, Nomar showed that given the opportunity to play and be healthy, he can still rack up some impressive numbers. In 2006 the former shortstop hit .303, 20 HR, 93 RBI, and had an OPS of .872 and was a main contributor the Dodgers’ success. This season look for Garciaparra’s numbers to increase even more. With Rafael Furcal (113 runs and 37 stolen bases) and newly acquired leadoff hitter Juan Pierre (87 runs and 58 stolen bases) in front of him, Garciaparra should have plenty more opportunities to drive in runs.

KEY PITCHER

#29 Jason Schmidt | SP
Jason Schmidt’s signing with the Dodgers couldn’t be a bigger deal. Not only did the Dodgers gain one of the best pitchers in the NL (from their arch rival no less), but they also acquired a true ace for their staff allowing Derek Lowe to slide down to where he should be as a number two guy. Last season Schmidt was only able to muster an 11-9 record due to poor run support from his team, but he did have a very strong 3.59 ERA with 180 strikeouts. With a fresh start and a team (who did have trouble scoring runs in stretches last season) that has a nice top of the order, I think it’s possible to see Schmidt return to his success of 2003 (17-5, 2.34 ERA) and 2004 (18-7, 3.20 ERA) and lead the Dodgers towards an NL West title.

PLAYER TO WATCH

#26 Luis Gonzalez | LF
After 16 seasons, the veteran Gonzalez starts over in a new city, same division. The 39 year old saw his power numbers drop a little again when he only mustered 15 homers for Arizona. While he did hit .271 and drive in 73, the Dodgers are going to need him to step it up a little bit. After losing free agent JD Drew to the Boston Red Sox (supposedly), the Dodgers were left with a bit of a hole in the middle of their lineup. While the Dodgers not expecting Gonzalez to hit 57 homers again like he did in 2001, they do have to hope he can get close to 20 and drive in 80 or so to pick up the slack. It will be interesting to see how he fares in this new environment and to see if he is nearing the end of his career.

KEY ADDITION

#9 Juan Pierre | CF
While Juan Pierre was looked at as a failure in Chicago, the Dodgers see him as a great opportunity at the top of their lineup. Pierre did struggle for much of the season for the Cubs (as did most of them), but he did end the season with some fairly solid numbers. He was able to bring his average up from the depths to .292 and had a career high 58 stolen bases. The Dodgers hope that he and Furcal can cause some problems on the bases for pitchers so Garciaparra and Jeff Kent have plenty of RBI chances. I think this will be a good situation for Pierre who is a career .303 hitter. He just needs to start the season off on the right foot.

STARTING LINEUP

[Name, Position (2006 stats)]
1. Juan Pierre, CF (.292 AVG, 3 HR, 40 RBI, 58 SB, .718 OPS)
2. Rafael Furcal, SS (.300 AVG, 15 HR, 63 RBI, 37 SB, .814 OPS)
3. Nomar Garciaparra, 1B (.303 AVG, 20 HR, 93 RBI, 3 SB, .872 OPS)
4. Jeff Kent, 2B (.292 AVG, 14 HR, 68 RBI, 1 SB, .860 OPS)
5. Luis Gonzalez, LF (.271 AVG, 15 HR, 73 RBI, 0 SB, .796 OPS)
6. Andre Ethier, RF (.308 AVG, 11 HR, 55 RBI, 5 SB, .842 OPS)
7. Wilson Betemit, 3B (.263 AVG, 18 HR, 53 RBI, 3 SB, .743 OPS)
8. Russell Martin, C (.282 AVG, 10 HR, 65 RBI, 10 SB, .791 OPS)

STARTING ROTATION

[Name, Position (2006 stats)]
1. Jason Schmidt, SP (11-9, 3.59 ERA, 180 SO)
2. Derek Lowe, SP (16-8, 3.63 ERA, 123 SO)
3. Brad Penny, SP (16-9, 4.33 ERA, 148 SO)
4. Randy Wolf, SP (4-0, 5.56 ERA, 44 SO)
5. Hong-Chih Kuo, SP (1-5, 4.22 ERA, 71 SO)

KEYS TO SUCCESS

The National League West has become a pitching division. The Dodgers (Schmidt, Wolf), Giants (Zito), Padres (Maddux), and Diamondbacks (Johnson, Davis) have all upgraded themselves to have very solid rotations. For the Dodgers to win the West they will need to have their rotation stand out above the rest. They will also need production out of the top of their lineup in order to manufacture runs against such difficult pitching. They will also look for a little bit of luck and hope a couple of the teams struggle and fall out of contention early because it will make for a long summer if there are four teams contending for the division crown.

2007 Prediction: 92-70 (1st place in NL West)
2007 Strength: Starting Rotation
2007 Weakness: Middle of Lineup
2007 Team MVP: Nomar Garciaparra
2007 Team Cy Young: Jason Schmidt


2007 Preview: New York Mets

January 19, 2007

Between now and the start of the 2007 regular season, I plan on giving previews on some of the more interesting teams around Major League Baseball. While I won’t be covering every team, I will touch on those that either have made significant changes, have interesting stories, or even good chances to win it all this October.

Today’s preview: New York Mets

KEY HITTER

#7 Jose Reyes | SS
The Mets always hoped the young shortstop would develop a better hitter’s eye once he gained more experience, but they never expected the pop that he’s given them. While Reyes ended the season with a solid .300 average, the biggest suprise came when he hit 19 homers and drove in 81. Those numbers along with his other stellar stats of 122 runs, 17 triples, and 64 stolen bases has made Reyes one of the best overall players in the game. It’s hard to believe that Reyes could improve on his 2006 statistics, but who knows how far the Dominican native’s skills can take him. With another year under his belt, don’t be shocked to see those numbers increase as well as walks and his overall on base percentage as he continues to hone in his eye at the plate.

KEY PITCHER

#33 John Maine | SP
Last season the New York Mets were forced to use a patch work starting pitching staff to carry them through most of the regular season and into the playoffs. Luckily for them, an inexperienced young pitcher named John Maine who had only 24 career starts heading into the playoffs (15 in 2006) stepped up big when they needed him most in the late summer and into the fall. Right handed pitcher John Maine exceeded expectations and climbed up the depth chart due to some outstanding starts in August. During this time Maine would go on a tear that included winning five straight outings and a 26-inning scoreless streak. The Mets finally seemed to discover some stability with one of their starters. With this season seemingly starting the same way last year ended, Maine is going to have to be a huge part of this Mets rotation. Especially until Pedro Martinez returns around the All-Star break.

PLAYER TO WATCH

#44 Lastings Milledge | OF
This young man has a bright future ahead of him but I’m not sure if its with the Mets. Despite how badly the Mets wanted to keep Milledge and not trade him last season, they now seem to have changed their tune a bit. After his brief stints in the Major Leagues last season, Milledge apparently rubbed some of the team’s veterans the wrong way. This perhaps with the Mets realization that they need more pitching has now loosened their stance on the young prospect. Then the Mets brought in left fielder Moises Alou and over crowding the outfield making Milledge the odd man out. Granted Alou has had a history of injuries, but I don’t forsee the Mets leaving Milledge on their major league roster to only have him sit on the bench. Barring any major injuries by one of their outfielder, Milledge will most likely start the season in AAA or will be traded away for starting pitching. Either way, he will be one to watch in 2007.

KEY ADDITION

#18 Moises Alou | LF
While Alou has battled injuries the past couple of seasons, he is still a very solid presence in the lineup. In only 98 games last season, he still hit .301 with 74 RBI with the San Francisco Giants and looks to put up similar numbers in the already potent Mets lineup. Alou even passed up other 2 year deals with other clubs so he could play for the Mets. They should be very happy with their investment, especially if he can play at least 130 games.

STARTING LINEUP

[Name, Position (2006 stats)]
1. Jose Reyes, SS (.300 AVG, 19 HR, 81 RBI, 64 SB, .841 OPS)
2. Paul Lo Duca, C (.318 AVG, 5 HR, 49 RBI, 3 SB, .783 OPS)
3. Carlos Beltran, CF (.275 AVG, 41 HR, 116 RBI, 18 SB, .982 OPS)
4. Carlos Delgado, 1B (.265 AVG, 38 HR, 114 RBI, 0 SB, .909 OPS)
5. David Wright, 3B (.311 AVG, 26 HR, 116 RBI, 20 SB, .912 OPS)
6. Moises Alou, LF (.301 AVG, 22 HR, 74 RBI, 2 SB, .923 OPS)
7. Shawn Green, RF (.277 AVG, 15 HR, 66 RBI, 4 SB, .776 OPS)
8. Jose Valentin, 2B (.271 AVG, 18 HR, 62 RBI, 6 SB, .820 OPS)

STARTING ROTATION/BULLPEN

[Name, Position (2006 stats)]
1. Tom Glavine, SP (15-7, 3.82 ERA, 131 SO)
2. Orlando Hernandez, SP (11-11, 4.66 ERA, 164 SO)
3. John Maine, SP (6-5, 3.60 ERA, 71 SO)
4. Oliver Perez, SP (3-13, 6.55 ERA, 102 SO)
5. Mike Pelfrey, SP (2-1, 5.48 ERA, 13 SO)

Aaron Heilman, RP (4-5, 3.62 ERA, 73 SO)
Duaner Sanchez, RP (5-1, 2.60 ERA, 44 SO)
Ambiorix Burgos, RP (4-5, 5.52 ERA, 72 SO)
Scott Schoeneweis, RP (4-2 4.88 ERA, 29 SO)
Billy Wagner, CL (3-2, 2.24 ERA, 94 SO, 40 SV)

KEYS TO SUCCESS

If the New York Mets want to win the NL East again in 2007, there are a few key items that need to go right for them in order to hold off the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies again. The most important item is their starting rotation. They can not afford any injuries or any players to have sub-par seasons. With as many problems as they have had in the past, this has to be one area that doesn’t cause them problems. They look to get their ace Pedro Martinez back sometime around the beginning of July so until then they are going to need to rely on 3 pitchers that haven’t proven they can pitch consistantly at the major league level. Their starters will also have to eat up some innings so not to burn out their bullpen too early in the season. If the Mets plan on playing again this October, they will need a fresh bullpen as pitching has shown to be the greatest weapon in the post season.

2007 Prediction: 96-66 (1st place in NL East)
2007 Strength: Bullpen
2007 Weakness: Starting Rotation
2007 Team MVP: David Wright
2007 Team Cy Young: John Maine