Archive for 2011 Team Previews

Is This ‘Pen Mightier?

Rebuilding a 99-loss team is never easy, especially when an already tight budget is reduced by more than 10 percent. However, that’s the exact thing Twins GM Terry Ryan was tasked with when he returned to the post following Bill Smith’s dismissal in November.

Ryan has done a nice job of mixing in low-cost free agent options with a few buy-low candidates to rebuild the club on pretty much every level, but today let’s focus on how the nearly completely revamped bullpen should be more of an asset than a liability in 2012, especially in light of the signing of the quintessential buy-low option, Joel Zumaya, which became official Thursday.

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Team Preview: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

It was a disappointing 2010 season for Anaheim. They finished in third place in the AL West and with a below .500 record for the first time since 2003. With lots of money to spend and a natural motive to improve, most people figured the Angels would be big players in all the major free agents this winter. Instead, they struck out on nearly every target. Rightly or wrongly, a hard line stance on contract offers to the likes of Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre resulted in those players signing elsewhere and leaving the Angels with no big move to hang their hat on. Perhaps out of desperation came the trade for Vernon Wells and the assumption of his entire contract. How does that impact the starting lineup?

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Team Preview: Seattle Mariners

The Mariners’ 2010 season was a colossal failure any way you care to measure it. The offense was both bad and unlucky. For reasons unknown to man and/or beast, manager Don Wakamatsu (before being fired) deployed Ken Griffey and Mike Sweeney with unnerving frequency — both of whom were part of an early season controversy involving the sleeping habits of the former. Milton Bradley had a bit of a Milton Bradley Situation. And somehow the Mariners lost three games behind God’s Most Blessed Angel, Cliff Lee.

Projected Starting Lineup
1 RF Ichiro Suzuki*
2 3B Chone Figgins**
3 LF Milton Bradley**
4 DH Jack Cust*
5 CF Franklin Gutierrez
6 C Miguel Olivo
7 1B Justin Smoak**
8 SS Jack Wilson
9 2B Brendan Ryan

To get a sense of how poor the offense was last year, consider this fact: in 2010, Mariner DHs slashed .194/.269/.340, a figure that compares a little too closely to the .143/.177/.176 triple-slash posted last year by National League pitchers. The team as a whole finised 30th in the majors with 138.4 weighted batting runs below average — a metric that adjusts for park. Basically, if Jason Kendall had started every game at every position, the Mariners would’ve been no worse off — from an offensive point of view, at least.

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Team Preview: Oakland Athletics

Oakland may have surprised a few people last season by being more competitive than was expected, but they should not sneak up on anyone this year. Is the young pitching shaping up into a potential competitive window again? That’s where most of the focus is drawn to, but the rest of Oakland’s roster could wear teams down in unexpected ways. The lineup has pop, the gloves can catch and the bullpen has been bolstered. In short, Oakland lost little talent this winter and padded their depth in needed areas. Will it be enough?

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Team Preview: Detroit Tigers

Every year, it seems like the Tigers are too old and need to rebuild. Yet every year, they refuse to do so. Why should they? Why not go for it in a weak division when they still have the horses to do so in credible fashion? While the piper will eventually have to be paid for some of the less-than-optimal contracts signed during this past off-season, for now, the Tigers are certainly in the hunt for the 2011 American League Central.

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Team Preview: Boston Red Sox

The acquisitions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez highlighted an offseason that has most pundits now calling the Boston Red Sox the best team in baseball. But are we being too optimistic about a team that was projected by many experts to win the AL East last year, only to finish third and out of the playoffs? Let’s take a look.

Projected Starting Lineup
1 CF Jacoby Ellsbury*
2 2B Dustin Pedroia
3 LF Carl Crawford*
4 1B Adrian Gonzalez*
5 3B Kevin Youkilis
6 DH David Ortiz*
7 RF J.D. Drew*
8 C Jarrod Saltalamacchia**
9 SS Marco Scutaro

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Team Preview: Cleveland Indians

With some nice pieces in place for the future, the Indians enter the season with the league’s youngest 40-man roster. Even though someone predicted that the Indians would win the AL Central last year, they didn’t come close to that benchmark and just missed the AL Central cellar. Going into 2011, they will need to improve both their hitting (75 runs scored below the league average) and pitching (36 runs allowed above the league average) without many additions to the team

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Team Preview: Chicago White Sox

After a coming in 6 games out of first place last year, the White Sox decided that they needed to add some power to their lineup and signed Adam Dunn to a 4 year, $56 million contract. Besides bringing in Dunn and a few changes in the bullpen, the 2010 and 2011 White Sox won’t be that much different in their personnel.

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Team Preview: Kansas City Royals

The Kansas City Royals have as much optimistic buzz around the franchise as they have in years. Almost all of that buzz, however, has to do with the minor league system, which is the best anyone has seen in a long time. On the major-league level, 2011 looks like it will be another long season, as there is very little talent there and aside from one big 2011 call-up, the farm system probably will not really begin to make its impact felt on the big league team until 2012. In any case, the 2011 major league team does have some players worth watching, and the front office needs to find out which of those players are worth keeping around when the prospects start to come up. Hopefully the front office will stick to that plan. In the meantime, 2011 could get pretty ugly.

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Team Preview: Minnesota Twins

It used to be that the problems with the Twins roster stemmed mainly from their frugality. These days, thanks in part to their shiny new ballpark and recent playoff appearances, the Twins are spending with the big boys, but the roster still has uncertainties. Mo money, mo problems indeed. Despite Justin Morneau’s return to the field yesterday, it still may not be possible to know how his season will unfold. In addition to Morneau’s plight, shortstop is a question, the Twins may be incorrectly surmising who are their five best starters and the bullpen may have more unknowns than even Liam Neeson could solve. However, while these are not minor concerns, they don’t outweigh the multitude of positives the Twins have on the ledger heading into 2011, and another AL Central title is definitely within reach.
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Team Preview: Tampa Bay Rays

“The death of the Rays is greatly exaggerated.” – Joe Maddon, Spring Training 2011

I know I’m going to be accused of homerism, but here it is: the Rays are better than you think they are. Yes, I know they just had a rough off season, losing Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, Joaquin Benoit, Rafael Soriano, Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, Grant Balfour, and Dan Wheeler. Those players contributed a total of 15 wins to the Rays last season, and the Rays didn’t add much free agent talent to compensate for these losses. Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, and Kyle Farnsworth were their only notable roster moves, and they are easy to write off as they are aging or (in the case of Farnsworth) have a spotty track record. How could the Rays possibly hope to compete with the Yankees and the restocked, reloaded Red Sox?

And yet, that’s exactly what the Rays plan to do.

The Starting Nine

Behold, the mind of Joe Maddon!

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Team Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto really is the dark horse candidate in the vaunted American League East division. The club will face an uphill battle for division supremacy against the likes of Boston, New York and Tampa Bay. But each club has its weaknesses, so a fourth or fifth place finish for the Canadian club is not guaranteed. New manager John Farrell is a bit of a wild card. Fans of the team have no idea what to expect from the first-time manager. The strength of the team appears to be its pitching, so the former big league hurler and pitching coach should be the right man for the job.

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Team Preview: Washington Nationals

Last summer, Stephen Strasburg put the Nationals into the spotlight every time he took the hill, bringing attention to a franchise that has been forgettable since their move to Washington D.C. Strasburg’s injury took away their star attraction, however, so Mike Rizzo decided to make a big splash this winter in order to try and retain his franchises newfound relevancy. Will it work? Let’s start by evaluating the team’s everyday players.

The Starting Line-Up

1. Nyjer Morgan*, CF
2. Ian Desmond, SS
3. Jayson Werth, RF
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
5. Adam LaRoche*, 1B
6. Rick Ankiel*/Mike Morse, LF
7. Ivan Rodriguez, C
8. Danny Espinosa, 2B

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Team Preview: Baltimore Orioles

After suffering through five straight seasons of 90+ losses, this off season was an exciting time to be an Orioles fan. While the O’s front office has remained relatively quiet over the past few winters, preferring to let their young talent develop, this year the Orioles starting making moves as if they were a contender. Derrek Lee and Vladamir Guerrero were added on one year deals for around $7-8M each.  Defensive wiz J.J. Hardy and masher Mark Reynolds were acquired in trades. Kevin Gregg, Jeremy Accardo, and Justin Duchscherer were signed to help shore up the pitching staff. It was an off season full of movement and action.

But the skeptic in me isn’t sure what to think. Sure, the Orioles have improved their team in the short term, but to what end? When competing in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox, does it matter if you win 79 games as opposed to 69? Did the Orioles improve their long-term competitiveness, or were these moves the product of a frustrated ownership that wants to win now?

The Projected Starting Nine

2B Brian Roberts
RF Nick Markakis
1B Derrek Lee
DH Vladimir Guerrero
LF Luke Scott
3B Mark Reynolds
CF Adam Jones
C Matt Wieters
SS J.J. Hardy

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Team Preview: New York Yankees

They’re the only team in the league for which a mere ALCS appearance represents a disappointment. The Yankees fell six victories short of their goal, but went into the off-season with a bit of confidence. A bona fide ace, Cliff Lee, was on the market, and Yankee dollars would surely lure him to the South Bronx. When that plan backfired, the off-season was immediately deemed a disappointment. Yet the Yankees again return one of the strongest teams in the league for 2011.

The Starting Nine

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Team Preview: Florida Marlins

The Phillies might have grabbed the most headlines this off-season, and the Braves might remain the stable contender in the NL East, but it’s the Marlins that are the most interesting team in the division. They have finished second or third in each of the last three years, and are slowly amassing a core of young talent that could soon bring them into serious contention. In 2011 we’ll get to see a number of these players try their hands against major league competition.

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Team Preview: New York Mets

Revamping a flagging team doesn’t happen in one offseason, especially an offseason spent discovering new and unhappy things about the owners’ finances. The ‘Sandyball’ era in New York has started, as Sandy Alderson got the old gang together and made wholesale changes in how the Mets are run. The new question is, ‘how long will it take for the new organizational philosophy to take hold?’ And can a team that made no obvious fundamental changes to the roster will their way to a different fortune in a new season?

The Starting Nine
SS Jose Reyes ^
CF Angel Pagan ^
3B David Wright
RF Carlos Beltran ^
LF Jason Bay
1B Ike Davis *
2B Brad Emaus / Luis Castillo ^
C Josh Thole *

* denotes left-handed hitter; ^ denotes switch-hitter

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Team Preview: Philadelphia Phillies

In one sense, the 2011 Phillies are pretty easy to sum up – they’ve pushed all in on starting pitching, and with the best rotation that anyone has seen in some time, they are perceived as the strong favorites to win the National League. If the pitching holds up, they’re going to be good. But, there’s far more to the story than that, and I actually find this Phillies team rather fascinating.

Let’s start with the offense.

Starting Line-Up

1. Jimmy Rollins, SS
2. Placido Polanco, 3B
3. Chase Utley, 2B*
4. Ryan Howard, 1B*
5. Raul Ibanez, LF*
6. Shane Victorino, CF
7. Carlos Ruiz, C
8. Domonic Brown*/Ben Francisco, RF

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Team Preview: Chicago Cubs

The Cincinnati Reds are the defending NL Central champs. The Milwaukee Brewers are this year’s darlings after adding Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to a team already flush with big bats and young bullpen arms. The St. Louis Cardinals should still contend even with Adam Wainwright gone, given the presence of Chris Carpenter, Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus, and the best player in the world.

Where does leave the Chicago Cubs? Middle of the pack, most likely.

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Team Preview: Houston Astros

While the top of the National League Central figures to be competitive in 2011, the Houston Astros will be fighting their own battle this season: to stay out of the basement. The Astros might not be a complete doormat this year, but it’s hard to envision a scenario where they compete for a division title. That being said, Houston has a few position players to watch and a pitching staff that might surprise in 2011.

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