Archive for Organizational Rankings

Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – Philadephia

The Philadelphia Phillies organization has done a nice job of developing its own players, as witnessed by the likes of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jimmy Rollins. That pipeline, though, has been slowed in recent years. The club lacks the can’t miss prospect at the top of the system, although outfielder Domonic Brown is a very talented player and could develop into an above-average player.

Trades for the likes of Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay have weakened the system. The re-trade of Lee for a collection of prospects including Juan Ramirez, Phillippe Aumont, and Tyson Gillies does not come close to replacing the likes of Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor, and Travis d’Arnaud.

With all that said, there are some interesting names in the minor league system, including pitchers Trevor May, Scott Mathieson, and Brody Colvin, as well as catcher Sebastian Valle, first baseman Jonathan Singleton, and outfielder Anthony Gose. Many of those players, though, are very raw.

The club is definitely veteran-heavy at the MLB level. Starting pitcher J.A. Happ is one of the few players 27 years of age or younger. The youngest hitter on the 40-man roster is shortstop Brian Bocock (age 25), a fringe big leaguer who was claimed off waivers during the off-season.

Although not a major player in the world market, the club has nine international prospects on its Top 30 prospect list, according to Baseball America. The organization’s draft results have been modest over the past three seasons but the club remains loyal to scouting director Marti Wolever, who is in his ninth season as scouting director. First round picks Joe Savery (2007) and Anthony Hewitt (2008) have been disappointments, while the club lacked a first-round selection in 2009. It’s no secret that the club likes to gamble with prep picks. Over the last three drafts, the club has selected just three four-year college players in the Top 3 rounds and with its over-slot deals (20 picks in total). That puts a heavy burden on the player development system, and the jury is still out on that.

Once the main core of star players start to fade out or become too expensive, Philadelphia could be in trouble. The minor league depth is certainly showing signs of wear and tear. The organization has also had trouble developing impact pitching with the likes of Cole Hamels, Brett Myers (now with Houston), and Carlos Carrasco (Cleveland) failing to reach their potentials. Former prep phenom Gavin Floyd did not start pitching well until he reached the Chicago White Sox organization.

The Phillies’ Major League roster is a World Series threat entering 2010, but cracks are starting to show on the foundation.

Organizational Ranking: Current Talent – Cardinals

The Cardinals cruised to the NL Central last season with a 91-71 record, 7.5 games ahead of second place Chicago. They did so despite an $11 million cut in payroll from the previous year down to around $90 million. They are maintaining that level in 2010 even with the addition of Matt Holliday.

Just as the payroll is remaining fairly static, the projected win totals for the Cardinals is close to their 2009 actual totals. FanGraphs readers have the Cardinals at 88 wins for 2010, a massive ten games over the second place Cubs. That is twice the separation of any other division. CHONE agrees as well with the Cardinals topping the NL Central at 91 wins, ten games ahead of the Brewers and Reds.

Around the infield, Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols, Skip Schumaker and Brendan Ryan all return. They’re all reasonably young and none really had outrageously fluke-filled seasons so St. Louis fans should have a pretty good idea of what is in store for 2010. I might expect slightly less offense from the right side, but Schumaker might make up for that with increased defensive prowess at second base with more experience there. What is less known is at third base where David Freese and Felipe Lopez will battle for the majority of playing time.

Matt Holliday, Colby Rasmus and Ryan Ludwick all return for the Cardinals outfield though there appears to be some questions as to who will be providing depth behind the starting three. Holliday and Ludwick are roughly average gloves in the corners but Rasmus provides an opportunity for a plus defender in center and obviously all three can swing the stick a little bit.

While Joel Pineiro is unlikely to repeat the success he had in 2009 for the Angels this coming year, his loss still hurts the Cards some. They did import Brad Penny to ease some of that pain however. The fifth spot was Kyle McClellan‘s to lose and he apparently has as Jaime Garcia appears to have been named to the post. Nevertheless, his hold is tenuous and McClellan along with Rich Hill and others are lurking. Still, it should remain an above average unit for St. Louis.

The bullpen returns largely intact and that’s less of a positive as they were unimpressive in 2009. Still, they were not a disaster and if that’s the worst unit on the team, it’s not bad enough to prevent the Cardinals from playing postseason baseball.

When it comes down to it, the 2010 Cardinals look a lot like the 2009 Cardinals and for a team that’s not overly old and won the division last year, that’s a good thing.

Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – Angels

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have won the American League Western division three years on a row while outperforming their Pythagorean expectation by a combined 20 games. This has tended to generate a lot of hot air. Are they just lucky? Does Mike Scioscia have some managerial secret? Are they good at situational hitting? These concerns distract from the obvious: the Angels have had very talented teams, and still do.

The outfield is a good-hitting, poor-fielding group. Juan Rivera, (along with Chone Figgins, Kendry Morales, and Torii Hunter) had a career year in 2009, and while I think he’s far from a +15/150 fielder, he isn’t helpless out there and can still hit after missing almost two years due to injury. Bobby Abreu‘s power has dissipated at an alarming rate, but he remains an on-base machine. His defense is terrible, but he isn’t in the same league as Jermaine Dye and Brad Hawpe… yet. Torii Hunter doesn’t get enough attention… that is, attention for how overrated he is (particularly in the field), but he’s an above-average player. As a whole, this a decent group, if older and (in the cases of Abreu and especially Hunter) overpaid. Depth is also a concern, given the group’s age and history; if one of the three has a serious injury, that could lead to far too much playing time for Willie Bloomq–, I mean Reggie Willits. Or worse, Terry Evans. I suppose designated hitter Hideki Matsui could see some time in the outfield but that seems… sub-optimal.

If the outfield is aging and overpaid, the Angels are getting great value from their underrated group of home-grown, cost-controlled infielders. It’s unlikely that first baseman Kendry Morales will have another +28 season at the plate in 2010, but after finally getting a chance, he’s shown he’s an above-average player. Erick Aybar‘s bat is also due for some regression, but he has a tremendous glove at shortstop. Remember a few years back when Howie Kendrick and Brandon Wood were slated to be destroy the league infield, with Wood hitting 30+ homers a year from shortstop and Kendrick being a second base version of Tony Gwynn? Well, that didn’t happen. But Kendrick is a plus bat and glove at second, and Wood is finally getting his chance at third base. If any of the three should stumble, Macier Izturis is a plus bat and glove who is good enough to start for almost anyone. Mike Napoli may not be much with the glove at catcher, but he more than makes up for it with a bat that might be the Angels’ best.

While the Angels’ 2010 rotation doesn’t feature an obvious ace, it’s not as if the departed John Lackey had pitched like one since 2007, anyway. It’s a big advantage to be able to go four-deep with good starting pitchers, and Jered Weaver, Scott Kazmir, Ervin Santana, and newcomer Joel Pineiro are all various degrees of above average. Concerned fans should look to the bullpen, once a great strength of the team. Brian Fuentes and Fernando Rodney are a less-than-intimidating 1-2 “punch” at the back end; Jason Bulger might be the best choice for high leverage situations.

The losses of Chone Figgins and Lackey hurts the Angels a bit, but not terribly given the relative quality of their replacements and the $120 million combined for which Figgins and Lackey signed. The starting lineup has no holes. There are depth concerns, and the bullpen isn’t what it was, but many teams have those problems. The main problem the Angels have is that the other three teams in their division are no longer floundering. As will probably continue to be said ad nauseum, the AL West projects as the most closely matched division in baseball. It would be foolish to count a good team like the Angels out, but for the first time in years, they aren’t the obvious favorite.

Organizational Rankings: #12 – Milwaukee

I will admit to being more bullish on the Brewers than anyone else I know that is not from Milwaukee. I realize that the projection systems have them as about a .500 team, but I’ve got them closer to 86 or 87 wins.

I may be the world’s last remaining believer in Manny Parra, who I still expect some pretty good things from. I’ve been a Rickie Weeks fanboy forever, and I’m still high on his abilities if he can stay healthy. I love watching Carlos Gomez play defense. And those guys are just the role players around a really good young core. Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Alcides Escobar, and Yovani Gallardo form a tremendous quartet of young talent, and give Milwaukee some of the best building blocks in the game.

Given the talent already in Milwaukee, I think they’ve got a legitimate shot at contending for at least the next two years and likely beyond. Whether they can retain Fielder is an open question, but even if they can’t, they should be able to get a significant return in trade for him that will include some major league ready guys. With the roster they’ve put together, I don’t see Milwaukee dropping off any time soon.

Part of that belief is faith I have in Doug Melvin and his crew, who don’t get enough credit for the job they’ve done. The Brewers aren’t loud about their integration of scouting and statistic analysis, but they’re one of the more forward thinking front offices in baseball. Melvin might not have an Ivy League pedigree, but he runs a really good organization.

Milwaukee is a good young team that should remain a contender for years to come. Their payroll limitations and mediocre farm system keep them out of the top 10, but it’s definitely a good time to be a Brewer fan.

Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – Milwaukee

The Brewers are coming off of an 80 win season in which their position players earned the right to pummel their pitchers into a big pile of replacementness. The position players accumulated 26.1 WAR, good for 2nd in the NL, while the pitchers only managed a measly 3 WAR, good for last in the NL. However, this post is supposed to be about their chances in 2010, so let’s not dwell on the past. The Fans and PECOTA have the Brewers at 78 wins and CHONE has them at 81, all of which gets them 2nd or 3rd in the Central with a 15-20% chance of getting into the playoffs. Clearly, they are not eliminated from the race before the season starts, but a decent number of things will have to go their way for a playoff berth.

The Brewers’ everyday lineup is built on two stars, a high upside young guy, and some average-ish filler. This model in not too dissimilar from their division rivals the Cardinals, it just so happens that the Cardinals players are projected better at most of the positions. As an interesting aside, both teams have their two stars projected to amass ~45% of the WAR for their starting eight. Those two stars, Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, both project to hit well above average, which more than makes up for their below-average defense, and places both in the top 20 of projected WAR for position players.

Alcides Escobar’s mean projection is a slightly above average to above average glove and a slightly below average bat at a premium position, but he probably has the widest distribution of the Brewers’ position players given the lack of data off of which to project. Carlos Gomez is somewhat similar in that he projects to be more glove than bat and probably has a pretty wide range of outcomes considering his relative lack of experience still. The big question about Gomez is how bad the bat will be. CHONE projects a 0.323 wOBA, while most other systems have him hovering in the 0.300 range. At 0.323 he is likely a well above average player, but it would be hard for his defense to be good enough to be anything more than average with a 0.300 wOBA.

Rickie Weeks, if healthy, could surpass his projections as they are all based off of a fairly low playing time assumption. Corey Hart is two years removed from a 4.5 WAR season, and has seen his offense and defense decline. His projections meet in the middle of his last two years and that one good one. The rest of the starting eight, Gregg Zaun and Casey McGehee, project to be below average to sniffing average.

As a whole the Brewers’ staff projects to be better than the 3 WAR they put up last year. Yovani Gallardo is back at the top of the rotation after posting a 3.97 FIP last year and will probably be good for 3-4 wins this year. Randy Wolf comes over from the Dodgers and slides into the number 2 slot after posting numbers similar to Gallardo last year, but with a lower upside for the upcoming season. Next up in the rotation is Doug Davis, who is back for a second go-around with the Brewers and projects to be right around average. The last two spots theoretically should go to David Bush and Manny Parra, but that implies that the Brewers will see Jeff Suppan and his 12.5M as sunk cost.

The bullpen also projects to be better this year, with Trevor Hoffman back slinging changeups in the closer role. They also have solid depth with LaTroy Hawkins, Carlos Villanueva, Mitch Stetter, and Todd Coffey all projecting to have FIPs in the high 3s or low 4s.

Clearly the Brewers have some pieces in place to be contenders, but their chances this year will likely hinge on a Weeks comeback, a big jump for Escobar, and some substantial improvement on the starting pitching side.

Organizational Rankings: #13 – Cleveland

The Indians won just 65 games a year ago, and in the process, traded away two of their best players in Victor Martinez and Cliff Lee. Their trades of major league talent for minor league prospects emphasize that the team is rebuilding, but yet, I think Cleveland could surprise quite a few people this year. This team isn’t that bad.

At the plate, these guys are going to do some damage. Asdrubal Cabrera, Grady Sizemore, and Shin-Soo Choo are all good on base guys with power and speed, and then some combination of Travis Hafner, Russell Branyan, and Matt LaPorta provide some power in the middle. Even the 7-9 hitters won’t be terrible, especially once Carlos Santana claims the catching job at some point during the season.

The pitching has issues, certainly, and I wouldn’t pick the Indians to win the AL Central this year, but they could hang around for a while and make things interesting. And the future only looks better in 2011 and beyond.

The core of the team is young and cheap, as the organization has quality players or high level prospects at nearly every position on the diamond. The rotation is a big question mark, but there are a quantity of arms to sort through with differing levels of potential. The bullpen is full of young power arms who rack up strikeouts. Give this team a year to mature and figure out how many starters they need to add, and they could be a serious contender in the AL again. There’s that much young talent in place.

And, despite the backlash against the Indians front office for the lack of results, this is still one of the best run organizations in the game. They have a large enough payroll to win, especially considering how many below market contracts they’ll have on the team, and the farm system is deep enough to provide necessary trade chips for when the organization shifts into go-for-it mode.

Don’t sleep on the Indians – they’re on the verge of being good once again.

Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – Cleveland

How does a team feature the AL Cy Young winner two straight years, yet find itself in rebuilding mode? The Cleveland Indians know. In 2007, when the team made it all the way to Game 7 of the ALCS, CC Sabathia won the Cy. The next year, however, Cleveland stumbled out of the gate and found themselves in last place, 10.5 games out of first, on June 30. They didn’t waste much time in trading Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers for Matt LaPorta and others (including, eventually, Michael Brantley). Yet Cleveland still had something brewing in the rotation.

On July 1, Cliff Lee tossed eight innings of one-run ball against the White Sox. That pushed him up to 111.2 innings, in which he allowed just 28 runs, a 2.26 ERA to go with a 2.57 FIP. That was his halfway point. He pitched 111.2 innings after July 1 and saw slightly worse, but still elite, results: a 2.82 ERA and 3.09 FIP. The Indians improved, too, They entered play on Jul 7, the day they traded Sabathia, with a 37-51 record, a .420 win percentage. They finished the season 81-81, having gone 44-30, a .595 win percentage, after the trade. Things, then, didn’t look so gloomy. That’s why 2009 came as something of a surprise.

After trading Lee to the Phillies and receiving a handful of prospects in return, the Indians head into 2010 with a relatively thin pitching staff. Jake Westbrook, who hasn’t thrown a major league pitch since May 28, 2008, will likely start Opening Day. He was a solid option when healthy in the mid-00s, pitching 770.2 innings to a 4.06 ERA and a nearly identical FIP from 2003 through 2006. In the final year of a three-year, $33 million contract, and if the Indians again find themselves out of the race in July, he could prove a viable trade chip if healthy.

Justin Masterson and Fausto Carmona figure to follow Westbrook in the rotation. Carmona’s story is well known by now. After a standout performance in 2007 he’s struggled over the past two years, walking three more batters than he has struck out. He has pitched well this spring and will get another shot. With $18 million guaranteed to him over the next three years, it might not be his last, either. Masterson, acquired from the Red Sox in the Victor Martinez trade, will get a chance to prove his worth in the rotation. Lefties have killed him during his career, posting a .374 wOBA against him in 479 plate appearances.

The final two rotation spots appear a battle among three competitors: Aaron Laffey, David Huff, and Mitch Talbot. Laffey, a lefty who will turn 25 in April, has posted a near-league average performance in parts of three seasons with the Indians. Last season he started in 19 of his 25 appearances, logging 121.2 innings. He walked nearly as many as he struck out, though. He’s never been a strikeout guy, so he’ll have to bring down his walk totals if he’s to succeed. Huff, also a 25-year-old lefty, fared a bit worse in terms of results in 2009, a 5.61 ERA in 128.1 innings. They had comparable FIPs, though, Laffey at 4.54 and Huff at 4.69.

Talbot, acquired from the Rays in exchange for Kelly Shoppach this off-season, presents an interesting case because he is out of options and has pitched only 9.2 innings at the major league level. Over his minor league career he has struck out 7.4 batters per nine to 2.6 walks, a good ratio and a good walk rate. If he doesn’t win a rotation spot he’ll likely end up in the bullpen. Carlos Carrasco, acquired from the Phillies in the Lee trade, has performed well this spring, though he is likely ticketed for AAA to begin the season. Considering the state of the Indians rotation, he could force his way into the majors in a few months.

On the offensive side the Indians look relatively strong, but have a few question marks in terms of health. Grady Sizemore could again be the team’s best hitter. He posted the worst wOBA of his five-year career in 2009, .343, though an elbow injury certainly affected his play. A recovery to the ~.380 wOBA figures he posted in the previous three years would be a huge boost. He won’t be batting leadoff this year, but instead second. This leaves room for Asdrubal Cabrera to bat first. He greatly increased his production last year, raising his OBP to .361 while hitting for a bit more power. If he can maintain that OBP he should score plenty of runs.

After Cabrera and Sizemore, the Indians could have three lefties in a row. Shin-Soo Choo, Travis Hafner, and Russell Branyan figure to hit 3-4-5 in some order. Choo began his breakout in 2008, though he played in only 94 games. In 2009 he again displayed middle of the order skills, posting a .389 wOBA in 685 PA. Hafner remains an injury concern, having just 617 PA over the past two years, though 383 came last year. He hit decently enough, a .355 wOBA. It’s unlikely that he returns to the .420+ wOBAs he posted from 2004 through 2006, but he could still provide power if healthy. Branyan presents a similar situation in that he can hit for power and he’s an injury risk.

After that portion of the lineup, the only Indians hitter long on experience is Jhonny Peralta. He experienced a down year in 2009, though he could certainly rebound to his prior production levels. He slides over to third, too, where his defensive deficiencies shouldn’t hurt the team as much. The remaining three, Luis Valbuena, Lou Marson, and LaPorta, have just 726 career PA among them. That’s fine, though, for a team like the Indians. With only an outside chance of contending, they should get a very good look at their up and coming players.

What would it take for the Indians to make a run in 2010? A complete recovery to 2007 form for Carmona, for starters. They’ll also need an effective return from Westbrook and progress from Masterson. They’ll also need a few more things to go wrong for the Twins, the AL Central favorites. Perhaps then they could sneak into the picture. More likely, though, the Indians will perform well, but not playoffs well. They have a good crop of talent. It just seems like they underachieve most years.

Organizational Rankings: #14 – Dodgers

On talent, the Dodgers may be top ten. They’re the favorites in the NL West this year (or at least co-favorites with Colorado) with a club built around mostly young talent, including several of the best under-27 players in the game. The core trio of Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, and Chad Billingsley are tough to beat, and they’re surrounded by quality or upside at most spots.

So, why are they 14th? The Divorce. The uncertainty surrounding the ownership of the Dodgers is a big problem. Frank McCourt can talk about how it will be business as usual once everything gets settled and the court gives him control of the team, but that’s not the only possible outcome, and he knows it. There’s a reason they didn’t really spend any money this winter.

The whole thing is a mess. The revelations that have surfaced in the divorce proceedings paint the McCourts in an even less flattering light than before, which is saying something. Any owner that would essentially use his team as an ATM to finance his personal lifestyle is a problem, and that description undersells how the McCourts behaved with Dodger money.

As a Dodger fan, I can only imagine the frustration when you see the team declining to offer arbitration to players who clearly won’t accept it, because of the perceived risk, yet later finding out that the team has both of the McCourts sons on their payroll at a total of $600,000 per year, when neither actually work for the Dodgers. I bet Logan White would love to have another $600,000 to spend on the draft. I can only imagine how much they could upgrade their information systems with a $600,000 per year investment.

Regardless of how it turns out, the McCourts have been exposed as people you don’t want owning your team. Through their own personal issues, they have created a cloud that hangs over the team, and is now affecting the way they put together their ball club.

If I’m a Dodger fan, I’m hoping that the Judge orders a sale of the team. But, no matter what, this doesn’t look like its going to end any time soon, so while 2010 should be an exciting year for LA fans as they push for a playoff berth, it’s all secondary to the drama of the owners.

Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – LA Dodgers

This once-mighty prospect factory has fallen on hard times to a degree. The organization has some interesting sleepers – Trayvon Robinson, Kenley Jansen, and Allen Webster, for example – but it lacks the impressive collection of high-ceiling talent that it once had. With that said, the likes of Devaris Gordon, Andrew Lambo, Josh Lindblom, Ethan Martin, and Chris Withrow possess a lot of potential.

There is a serious lack of depth at catcher, first base, second base, third base, and left-handed pitching. The deepest positions are right-handed pitching and the outfield. Gordon and Ivan DeJesus Jr. are interesting shortstop prospects.

The organization’s recent drafts have been good but they really haven’t produced high-ceiling talents. Aaron Miller was an interesting pick in ’09 but he was not a consensus first round selection, and the club chose not to sign players to over-slot deals. Martin (’08) and Withrow (’07) have the potential to be impact starters but they have yet to truly take “that next step.” Scouting director Tim Hallgren, in his fourth season, will have his work cut out for him. This organization needs depth.

The organization’s international signing efforts have also fallen on hard times. Based on Baseball America’s Top 30 prospect list for the Dodgers, the club has just four international prospects amongst the organization’s best players. Four. Five years ago, the club had nine international prospects listed. In the publication’s first handbook in 2001, the system had 11 internationally signed Top 30 prospects. The organization’s player development system seems lost. Where is the club investing in prospects?

On the plus side, the club does have some exciting, young players currently in the Major Leagues. Outfielders Matt Kemp (25) and Andre Ethier (27) are some of the best hitters in the NL West under the age of 30. Kemp flirted with a .300 average while also just missing a 30-30 season. He drove in 100 runs for the first time in his career. Ethier also topped 100 RBI for the first time and slugged 31 homers and 42 doubles. James Loney (25) doesn’t have prototypical power, but he’s a valuable first baseman. Catcher Russell Martin is just 27 but his bat has fallen on hard times.

On the mound, the club has innings-eater Chad Billingsley (25) in the starting rotation and bulldog Jonathan Broxton (25) holding down the bullpen. Left-hander Clayton Kershaw, 22, has the ceiling of a No. 1 starter. Those are three very talented arms, but the depth is just not there are the MLB level, either.

There are a lot of question marks surrounding this organization entering the 2010 season and there may not be many answers until the ownership mess is resolved.

Organizational Rankings: #15 – Mets

Ahh, the Mets. So much to say in just 600 words.

Obviously, they’ve made a lot of mistakes in the last year. Omar Minaya has taken a beating here and elsewhere, and the organization appears to be in something of a mess, with the organizational flow chart kind of summing up the front office. Feuds with the players and media, a GM who may or may not be allowed to handle conference calls, an involved (to say the least) ownership group… it’s all just a big circus at times.

It didn’t help that everything that could have gone wrong last year did, from the star players getting hurt to David Wright losing his power, and the team fell apart as a result. As such, the Mets have been the butt of many jokes over the lsat 12 months. Spending a lot of money to be terrible will do that to you, especially when you play in New York.

But, despite all the jokes and all the problems, the Mets actually aren’t in that bad of shape. The revenue stream from being in New York with a new ballpark is significant, obviously, but the core of a good team is still there. Despite last year’s debacle, few teams have a group that can match Wright-Reyes-Beltran-Santana. And it’s not exactly barren after that, either.

Jason Bay may be wildly overpaid, but he’s not useless. There is a mix of solid role players and some good young players. The farm system boasts a couple of high ceiling youngsters. The roster isn’t perfect, but with a few breaks, they could contend this year, and a better management team could build a beast of a team with the resources they have.

In many ways, the Mets are where the Mariners were a couple of years ago – the joke of the league, with some core talent dragged down by bad decision making upstairs. But, a new front office can fix a lot of things in pretty short order, and since the Mets front office probably can’t survive another bad year, the options for them are essentially win or clean house. Neither option is all that bad.

So, while the Mets may do a lot of things hilariously wrong right now, I don’t think fixing the organizations is that big of a task. They don’t have to burn the whole thing down – just get some new people in charge, make some better use of the money they have to spend, and the Mets could be challenging for the NL crown again. It probably won’t happen in 2010, but I don’t think it will take that long.

Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – New York Mets

What to make of the Mets?

The club currently seems to be drifting a little aimlessly and that indecisiveness can be felt in the minor leagues, as well. The club has some interesting players but they can best be described as promising but raw, especially when discussing the likes of Wilmer Flores, Jeurys Familia, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Juan Urbina, and Kyle Allen.

The club has also received mixed results from top draft picks like Ike Davis, Reese Havens, and Brad Holt. The lack of first round picks in ’07 and ’09 has hurt – especially since the club doesn’t seem to believe in playing the over-slot game. The ’07 draft was an absolute disaster. As well, the club hasn’t had much luck scouting later round players, with the odd exception like catcher Josh Thole.

If there is one bright spot, it’s the club’s ability to scout the international market. Some of the key players signed by the Mets organization include perennial prospect Fernando Martinez, Ruben Tejada, Jenrry Mejia, Jefry Marte, Cesar Puello, Flores, Urbina,

At the MLB level, the club has two of the most talented young players in the game: David Wright and Jose Reyes. Unfortunately, they are both coming off of nightmarish seasons. The 27-year-old third baseman is entering his seventh MLB season and he experienced his worst power season in ’09 after hitting just 10 homers in 535 at-bats and posting an ISO rate of .140 (His first season below .217). On the plus side, he still hit more than .300 and stole 27 bases. Reyes suffered through injuries in ’09 and appeared in just 36 games. A thyroid condition will likely bite into his 2010 season.

The 24-year-old Daniel Murphy will man first base in 2010 for the Mets but he’s miscast at the position. He’s not likely to produce more than fringe-average power for the position after posting an ISO rate of .160 over the past two seasons. His wOBA of .318 suggests he’s a platoon player at best.

There is some youth in the starting rotation with Mike Pelfrey (26), and Jon Niese (23) but neither player projects as more than a No. 3 starter. The club is currently toying (stupidly) with the idea of keeping 20 year old Mejia at the MLB level to begin 2010. The club would utilize the top prospect – who has just 10 appearances above A-ball – in the bullpen, much like the Rangers did with Neftali Feliz in ’09, albeit for a small portion of the season.

The club’s insistence on rushing its young players through the system is both baffling and frustrating. It’s had its ups (Reyes) and its downs (Martinez). The big league club has a mix of young players and veterans, but I’m not sure it’s the right mix.

Organizational Ranking: Current Talent – Mets

The Mets doled out roughly $150 million in player salaries during the 2009 season and managed to win only 70 games. Suffice to say, that was a poor season. Due in large part to injuries, are the Mets ready to move on and compete in this year’s NL East? It is worth noting that according to current estimates, the Mets are dropping their payroll quite a bit for the 2010 season. Cot’s estimates that the Mets are presently set to outlay a little over $120 million, about an 18% drop from last year’s figure. What have the Mets assembled for that cost?

You the loyal readers and forecasters have pegged the Mets for a modest eight-win improvement in 2010, up to 78 wins and a repeat of their fourth-place finish inside the division. If true, at least they would be much closer than last year finishing 11 games back of the Braves rather than 23 games back of the Phillies. CHONE agrees on the division-leading Braves at 89 wins but it is slightly more optimistic on the Mets picking them for 80 wins and a third-place finish.

The infield is loaded with questions for the Mets, starting behind the plate with some sort of conglomeration of Rod Barajas, Henry Blano and Omir Santos. Barajas, of course, is coming off a season in which he posted a .258 OBP over 460 plate appearances. Santos isn’t much better and Blanco is like 90 years old, not that either Barajas (34) or Santos (soon to be 29) are young guns.

Daniel Murphy at first base is an interesting choice and by interesting, I mean punt-worthy. If the Mets get a league average performance out of him it will be amazing but that’s okay because they have Fernando Tatis backing him up.

Luis Castillo returns at second base. He even managed to hit at an above league average clip last year for the first time in five seasons, but he managed to make up for that with some really poor UZR numbers. Alex Cora is the likely backup both here and at short stop. Luckily the Mets are paying him $2 million to offer replacement level services up the middle.

The Mets are likely to need Cora because Jose Reyes has a thyroid condition of all ailments and might miss time in 2010 on the heels of playing in only 36 games last season. For the Mets to have any realistic shot at the playoffs, they need Reyes to be back on the field and his old five-win self because a full season with Castillo and Cora up the middle would make the rest of the questions moot pretty fast.

Speaking of those questions, is David Wright going to rebound and start hitting for power again? His .447 slugging percentage was a career worst by almost 100 points. Citi Field is not entirely to blame as Wright struggled both at home and on the road to hit long balls.

Carlos Beltran and Jeff Francouer return in the outfield joined by new addition Jason Bay and backed up by Anaheim castoff Gary Matthews Jr. Moving from Fenway Park to Citi Field is going to be a story to watch for Jason Bay.

In the rotation, the Mets are planning to not give Livan Hernandez so many starts which is good, but a certain number of those starts are going to go to Oliver Perez so who knows if that’s actually an improvement or not.

The bullpen was decent overall last season, though that might just be because the Mets were so bad that they didn’t give them a chance to blow a late season division lead. Even though they were close to average overall, the bullpen was nowhere near the revamped unit that the acquisitions of Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz were supposed to provide and 2010 doesn’t look to be much different.

The Mets suffered beyond their fair share of injury bad luck last season but looking over the roster up and down, I agree with the projection systems; the realistic ceiling for this team is around .500 and I’m not sure 2011 looks any rosier.

Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – Arizona

The organization has not had the results over the past five years at the MLB level that it would have liked. However, there is good news for the fan base. The club is developing some exciting talent – especially on offense.

The club’s youth movement is led by 22-year-old outfielder Justin Upton, who posted a wOBA of .388 in ’09. He was also a 20-20 player who batted .300. Add in his defensive value and he’s one of the brightest young stars in the game. Fellow outfielder Chris Young is loaded with potential but the 26 year old was demoted to triple-A in ’09 and hit just .212/.311/.400 in 433 MLB at-bats. With that said, he’s already has one big league season with 30+ homers to his credit. Gerardo Parra, 22, received unexpected playing time in the Diamondbacks outfield in ’09 thanks to the injury to Conor Jackson and Young’s ineffectiveness. Parra posted a .313 wOBA and hit a soft .290 but he has a lot of potential.

On the left side of the infield, third baseman Mark Reynolds is just 26 and he slammed 44 homers and stole 24 bases last season. Stephen Drew recently turned 27 and he’s looking to finally tap into his star potential, but time is running out. Behind the plate, Miguel Montero, 26, took advantage of an injury to Chris Snyder to seize the full-time catching gig. The club will employ a veteran one-year gap at first base in Adam LaRoche but prospect Brandon Allen could be knocking on the door by mid-season.

Although technically a veteran, starter Edwin Jackson is just 26 and he was acquired this past off-season from the Detroit Tigers and provides excellent value as a No. 3 starter. The club also acquired Ian Kennedy from the Yankees and he has a good chance of developing into a solid National League hurler.

The club has had a few down years with the draft in recent seasons, which has led to little or no depth in the upper minors. The club has also traded away a number of prospects in an effort to “win now.” The club’s top prospect and 2007 1st round pick – Jarrod Parker – will miss much of the 2010 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in ’09. There is a light at the end of the tunnel for the player development staff. The club had seven picks before the third round of the 2009 amateur draft and the club did not go cheap. It also nabbed a few interesting over-slot players in later rounds.

General manager Josh Byrnes certainly appears to have this organization headed in the right direction. Scouting director Tom Allison returns for his fourth season and he’ll look to build off of his ’09 draft, albeit with fewer premium picks. Former farm director A.J. Hinch graduated to manager in ’09 and he was replaced by Mike Berger, who will continue overseeing the prospects in 2010.

The puzzle is not quite finished but the organization is getting closer and closer to the goal of being a force to be reckoned with in the National League.

Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – Arizona

The Arizona Diamondbacks seem to have quite a few players who have either under- or outperformed the baseballing community’s initial assessments of them. Of course, this isn’t true of all the D-Backs — I mean, Augie Ojeda is probably right about where you’d expect him to be — but still, to this author’s mind, it does appear as though the team possesses quite a few players who were misread initially.

Which is why, for this edition of Current Talent — and to appease that part of the brain that looks for patterns in everything — we’ll look at three categories of D-Back: the Outperformers, the Underperformers, and then the Other Guys.


There were big concerns about Mark Reynolds‘ contact rates and major league position. A 2007 injury to Chad Tracy solved the latter; as for the former, well, it turns out that if you hit 44 homers and take some walks, you’re okay. How could wunderkind Justin Upton outperform his pedigree? Pretty easy, actually; by being better than these guys: Bryan Bullington, Delmon Young, and Matt Bush. Those are the three Number One Picks before Upton.

Dan Haren was, at one point, traded for Mark Mulder. Now he’s basically a lock for about 200 innings of low-3s FIP. Back in the day, Brandon Webb was an eighth round pick out of Kentucky. Before last year’s injury, he was a constant threat for the Cy Young. That’s what a sinkpiece and an outpitch will do for you. (Although, it needs to be said, the injury is of great concern right now.) Chad Qualls received the Heath Bell treatment for some years. Now he’s en route to becoming a Proven Closer. Like Bell, he’s got sweet groundball numbers.


It’s almost definitely unfair to deem an underachiever somone who’s projected by CHONE to post a 2.8 WAR, but shortstop Stephen Drew hasn’t yet become the player that the prospect maven community expected. Slightly above average isn’t bad, mind you, but that wasn’t the original assessment. “Left fielder” Conor Jackson was hailed for his excellent plate discipline — and it’s true, he’s has always had pretty excellent numbers as far as that goes (10.2% BB rate versus 13.0% K rate). Thing is, if you play corner outfield — and your name’s not Ichiro — you should probably jack a donger every once in a while. “Power-speed combo” must’ve been thrown around like a million times about center fielder Chris Young before he made his debut. Unfortunately, people said the same thing about Corey Patterson, too. Like Patterson, Young hasn’t really figured out how to get on base, and his career 91 wRC+ shows it.

Starter Edwin Jackson appears poised for a career as a league-average innings-thrower. That’s worth something, for sure — just not what we expected. Ian Kennedy will get an chance immediate chance to prove himself in the D-Backs’ rotation this spring. His 43/37 K/BB ratio in 59.2 major league innings bears little resemblance to the 273/77 K/BB in 248.2 minor league ones.

Other Guys

Miguel Montero seems to have successfully banished fellow catcher Chris Snyder to the role of back-up. Both are offensive pluses. Adam LaRoche will play an average-ish first base and hit like Albert Pujols — starting in mid-July. Second baseman Kelly Johnson got taught a lesson in random variation last season as his BABIP plummted to .247. That’s unlikely to happen again.

On the bench you got Ryan Roberts, who’s not bad at all, backing up non-shortstop infield positions; the lovable Augie Ojeda ready to fill in for Stephen Drew; and 23-year-old Gerardo Parra, The giant and powerful Brandon Allen might make an appearance at some point.

Billy Buckner posted a 3.95 xFIP last season, largely on the strength of a groundball rate (48.8%) that far surpassed his previous major league numbers. He’s poised to pick up many of Webb’s lost innings. Rodrigo Lopez and Kevin Mulvey represent a name you thought you’d never hear again and a name you may never hear again.

Finally, like many teams, the D-Backs have a bullpen. In this case it’s not the beacon of excitement. Juan Gutierrez has some of the proverbial giddy-up on his fastball (94.8 mph last year) and his slider came out to 3.00 runs per 100 pitched. Aaron Heilman is meh-worthy and Bob Howry throws a straightball. Clay Zavada and Zachary Kroenke are LOOGY-types, but only one has the facial hair of a medieval knight. Bobby Cox attempted to detach Blaine Boyer‘s arm in Atlanta. Let’s hope it still works.

Organizational Rankings: Future Talent – Baltimore

If you’re looking for talented and promising pitching then you’ve come to the right place. This organization can certainly challenge the Rays for the best pitching prospects in the American League East (if not the entire league). The club has recently graduated Chris Tillman, Jason Berken, Brad Bergesen, and David Hernandez with mixed success.

At just 21 years of age, Tillman has the highest ceiling – that of a No. 1 if all goes well – of the quartet. The right-hander posted a 6.10 FIP in 12 big league starts in ’09 but it was a year of learning, which he should be all the stronger for in 2010. Bergesen is a back-of-the-rotation warrior with modest stuff, a promising sinker and good ground-ball rate (50%). Hernandez flashes some of the nastiest stuff on the staff but his below-average command led to negative values on all his pitches (including the 93 mph fastball). Berken is most likely a long-term reliever and fringe Major Leaguer.

Ready to contribute full-time in 2010 is Brian Matusz, who made eight big league starts in ’09 but managed to hold on to his rookie eligibility. The lefty could rival Tillman for the No. 1 man in the rotation within the next few years. The club also has some promising arms in Zach Britton, Jake Arrieta, and Brandon Erbe. Kam Mickolio and Troy Patton have potential, as well, and the former has a shot at being the club’s closer of the future.

At the plate and in the field, the club acquired a promising third baseman from the Dodgers last season in Josh Bell. He should be ready to take over the position from Miguel Tejada by 2011, if not sooner. Across the diamond we find Brandon Snyder, a sweet-swinging first baseman (and former catcher) with fringe-average power for the position. The minor league hitting depth is not as impressive as the pitching, but the club does have some promising, young players in the Majors.

Matt Wieters has the potential to be an absolute star behind the dish and the 23-year-old hitter posted a .330 wOBA in his 96-game debut. He has much more to offer. The club also has an exciting, young outfield with the likes of Nolan Reimold (age 26), Adam Jones (24), and Nick Markakis (26). The slick-fielding Michael Aubrey is already 27 but he’s appeared in just 46 MLB games and could be a late bloomer thanks to injuries.

The club nabbed some interesting prospects in the ’09 draft in shortstop Mychal Givens and left-hander Cameron Coffey. The club toed the line a bit in ’09 (at least by going inexpensive in the first round before collecting quite a few over-slot players) after spending big dollars on Matusz and Wieters in recent years.

The organization has done a nice job of drafting in recent years, especially in the pitching department and when the organization was not afraid to spend a little money. Players like Bell, Jones, and Tillman were brought in through smart trades. General manager Andy MacPhail continues to entrust scouting director Joe Jordan (entering his six season) and farm director David Stockstill (third) with overseeing the club’s young flock of players. After all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – Baltimore

The Baltimore Orioles are one of those teams for which the line between Current and Future Talent is a little blurry. Though the club has as yet to solidify its 25-man roster, whichever group they send northward, it will consist of at least five — and, very possibly, seven or eight — players who made their major league debuts last season. Nor does that tally include players like Adam Jones or Felix Pie who, despite their relative experience, won’t even turn 26 before the end of 2010.

Well-known superhero (and sometime catcher) Matt Wieters did not, in fact, save the planet last season. Still, he actually hit pretty well down the stretch (.354/.420/.525 over his last 112 PA, with improved BB/K ratio). CHONE rates the second-year player at 4.0 WAR. Center fielder Adam Jones won a Gold Glove in center last season. That probably shouldn’t have happened, but it’s not Jones’ fault. He should play a league-average-y center while hitting above league average.

Left fielder Nolan Reimold didn’t make his major league debut till the middle of May, but when injuries befell teammates Luke Scott and the aforementioned Jones, it was difficult for Baltimore not to give a chance to Reimold and the .394/.485/.743 line he put up in Norfolk.

If you want the brass tacks on right fielder Nick Markakis‘s down 2009, Jack Moore’s article on the same is the place to go. Here’s the most interesting thing you’ll probably learn from it, though: last season, Markakis saw a drop in Z-Swing and an increase in O-Swing. The Orioles hope that sitch straightens itself out before he gets too far along in the six-year, $66.1 deal to which they signed him prior to least season.

Luke Scott isn’t a bad hitter at all, but gets hit hard by the DH positional adjustment. It’s not clear that he’s actually a worse fielder than Nolan Reimold, but Baltimore appears committed to giving the latter all the time he needs in left.

Likely first baseman Garrett Atkins and fellow corner infielder Miguel Tejada are not — nor are they intended to be — long-term solutions at their repsective positions. Suitably, they’re each signed to one-year deals.

Shortstop Cesar Izturis is a liability with the bat, with CHONE and ZiPS calling for 69 and 68 wRC+s, respectively. If it were possible to bat him 10th in the lineup, Manager Dave Trembley might consider it. Still, he’s been worth two full wins afield the last two years while netting fewer than 900 PA. Oh, and while we’re at it, we might as well consider the guy who’s been the team’s best player for awhile: second baser Brian Roberts signed a four-year, $40M extension before last season that begins this year. Reports out of spring training that Roberts’ back is a problem are not particularly encouraging, but CHONE projects a 3.2 WAR and, as we all know, projections are designed to be completely accurate exactly 100% of the time.

Sitting on the bench you’ll almost definitely see Felix Pie and Ty Wigginton. The former can play any outfield position well and is interesting because of his youth and pedigree; the latter can play any infield position below average-ly and is interesting because, despite a body type that belongs in the Before column, is still a major league baseball player. (And, fine, he can hit, too. Usually, at least.) A fierce battle is raging at back-up catcher between Chad Moeller and Craig Tatum. I can barely contain my excitement.

As Marc Hulet will almost definitely shout to the heavens in the Future Talent version of this report, the Orioles have a cadre of young, high ceiling starters. Of that group, lefty Brian Matusz and righty Chris Tillman combine potential with ability to contribute immediately. It’s probably not best to expect the biggest of things from either this year, but something in the vicinity of league average may not be crazy talk.

Also in the discussion is Brad Bergesen, who will probably enter the season as the third starter despite the fact that he very likely is what he is. One thing “he is” is the guy who led all Baltimore pitchers in WAR in 2009 (2.3). According to our own Bryan Smith, he has the sort of sinker that could go unrecognized at lower levels but still make him a useful major leaguer.

Rumor has it that Jeremy Guthrie was once a highly touted prospect. Now he’s a 31-year-old coming off 200 innings of 5.22 xFIP pitching. If he can hit the 200 IP mark again while FIP-ing under five, that makes him something, at least — and probably worth the $3M he’s being paid. Old Man Kevin Millwood will spend the last year of his five-year, $60M contract — originally signed with Texas — as the “ace” in Baltimore.

Right handers David Hernandez and Jason Berken made their respective debuts last season. Despite his giant minor league strikeout totals, Hernandez might not have the overall repertoire to gets outs as a major league starter. Look for him in the bullpen at some point. Koji Uehara actually didn’t pitch poorly at all last year in his Stateside debut, posting a 1.6 WAR in just 12 starts. The problem was that kept straining his thigh and elbow. A move to the bullpen is one possible remedy for that, although, as we speak, the 35-year-old is dealing with — what? — a strained hamstring.

Though it’s not Brandon Lyon-bad, the O’s signing of Mike Gonzalez to a two-year, $12M deal is a head-scratcher for a team that will almost assuredly not be contending this season. What’s more, Baltimore has young-ish Jim Johnson, who became the team’s closer after the departure of George Sherrill to the Dodgers. Also of note here are Cla Meredith — he of the immense ground-ball rate — and Kam Mickolio — he of the immense Man Body. Matt Albers, Mark Hendrickson, and Will Ohman all own Baltimore Orioles jerseys, and will — for better or worse — probably wear them at some point this season.

Organizational Rankings: Current Talent- Cubs

The Chicago Cubs are in a liminal state. The club’s farm system has shown considerable improvement recently, with the emergence of prospects like Starlin Castro, Josh Vitters, Hak-Ju Lee, Brett Jackson, Andrew Cashner and Jay Jackson. But outside of Cashner and perhaps Castro, those guys aren’t ready for prime time.

At the major league level, the Cubs could once again be expensive and ordinary in 2010. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, Chicago enters the season with a payroll topping $140 million. Despite spending big bucks, though, the North Siders have run-of-the-mill win totals from most projection systems. The FANS (78 wins), CHONE (79) and PECOTA (80) all call for a sub-.500 campaign. Oliver (86) is more optimistic, with a forecast that has the Cubs keeping pace with the Cardinals and staying in the Wild Card hunt.

The Cubs figure to be strong at the infield corners. Derrek Lee isn’t likely to eclipse 5 WAR again next year, but CHONE calls for a three win season. At third, Aramis Ramirez had a hard time staying on the field last year, suffering shoulder, back and calf injuries (he has been slowed by a triceps issue this spring, too). But if healthy, his potent bat should produce another 3+ WAR campaign. Both are very good players, but it’s hard to call either a huge bargain or a long-term asset: the 34 year-old Lee will pull down $13 million in 2010 and hits free agency after the season, and the 31 year-old Ramirez will earn $15.75 million this year, with a $14.6 million player option for 2011.

Up the middle, Ryan Theriot‘s slick glove work and decent offense make him a good, if not breath-taking option at shortstop. He might slide over to second when Castro arrives, though he has some trade value as a guy with a few years of team control remaining. At the keystone, Jeff Baker and Mike Fontenot have the makings of an average duo.

Behind the dish, Geovany Soto looks like a great bet to bounce back in 2010. A plummeting BABIP obscured what was otherwise another season in which he displayed patience and pop at a premium position (and he’s skinny now!) CHONE forecasts a 3+ WAR season.

In the outfield, Kosuke Fukudome and Marlon Byrd are average to slightly above-average starters. And then, of course, there’s Alfonso Soriano in left, he of -0.7 WAR in 2009. The 34 year-old, hampered by calf and knee injuries in recent years, is owed $18 million annually over the 2010-2014 seasons. Even if there’s a dead cat bounce in Soriano’s performance, he’s going to be a drag on the bottom line for years to come. This is what happens when a team signs a free agent at or around his current market value, but then pays him that same rate years and years into the future, as if the player is a baseball version of Richard Alpert, impervious to the effects of aging.

On the bench, Xavier Nady is a fringe starter/good fourth outfielder, though a second Tommy John surgery that wiped away his 2009 season continues to give him problems. Manager Lou Pinella said that Nady might not be able to uncork a throw from the field until June, limiting him to pinch-hit duty. Sam Fuld, a 28 year-old with on-base chops and speed, could be the reserve outfielder called upon most often. Micah Hoffpauir will lace some extra-base hits, but limited defensive ability and so-so strike zone judgment curtail his value. Tyler Colvin, a 2006 first-rounder, could also enter the picture. A lack of plate discipline means he’s probably a long-term fourth outfielder. Koyie Hill will back up Soto at catcher.

Like Soriano, Carlos Zambrano is owed enough cash in the years to come to buy his own magical island. The 28 year-old will earn $17-18 million annually between 2010 and 2012, with a possible vesting option for 2013. He’s still a quality starter, but the mileage on Z’s arm belies his age, and shoulder, back and hamstring injuries over the past two years have kept him far from the 200 inning mark that he zipped by from 2003-2007.

Free agent-to-be Ted Lilly has been one of the better open market values over the past few seasons (providing $43.5 million in production from 2007-2009 while earning $24 million), but knee and shoulder injuries figure to sideline him in April. Ryan Dempster proved that his breakout 2008 was no fluke, providing another season of quality pitching. But, his salary ($12.5M in 2010, $13.5M in 2011, $14M player option for 2012) makes him more of a “get what you pay for” player than someone who provides cost savings. Randy Wells had a nifty rookie season, though his peripherals were more in line with a mid-to-low four’s ERA than the sparkling 3.05 mark that he posted. Former Pirate Tom Gorzelanny looks like the best bet of the back-end candidates, a group that also includes Jeff Samardzija, Sean Marshall and Carlos Silva.

In the bullpen, Carlos Marmol channeled Rick Vaughn last year, posting a sub-50 first-pitch strike percentage (58 percent MLB average). He’s absolutely filthy, but all of the free passes and plunked batters preclude him from relief ace status. Samardzija or Marshall could end up in the ‘pen, should they fall short of securing a rotation spot, and Cashner could arrive at some point this season. John Grabow is a slightly above replacement level reliever, yet he figures to occupy a late-inning role and earn a decent chunk of change ($7.5 million) over the next two years. Sadly, Angel Guzman (shoulder) has been dealt another career blow, and will miss the 2010 season. Keep an eye on Esmailin Caridad. The 26 year-old righty originally signed with the Hiroshima Carp of Japan’s Central League, but the Cubs nabbed him during the ’07 off-season. A starter in the minors, Caridad impressed in relief last season. He seems better suited for ‘pen duty, given his impressive fastball and fringy secondary stuff.

Even in the most sanguine scenario, Chicago figures to pay Rolls Royce prices for Honda Civic production. There just aren’t a lot of players that you can point to and say, “man, is that guy a steal.” There are a couple of ominous long-term deals and several market-value contracts, with a few players who provide production at below-market prices sprinkled in. The Cubs are lacking in young, cost-controlled talent, something that the next wave of well-regarded prospects could fix. To contend in 2010, the team needs Ramirez, Soto and Zambrano to stay healthy, while hoping that Soriano can rise from the ranks of the undead.

Organizational Rankings: #19 – Oakland

Billy Beane and the rest of the A’s front office got famous for being the most visible sabermetric organization, and as Matt noted, it served them well for the first half of the decade. They exploited opportunities in value to build contending teams on the cheap, and were able to win in spite of low payrolls and general fan disinterest.

Unfortunately for the A’s, the proverbial cat is out of the bag. The list of organizations that could now be described as stat-centric is longer than ever. Everyone is now reading from the same general playbook, and while there will always be inefficiencies to exploit, they are now much, much harder to monopolize. When the A’s were going for OBP or defense, they didn’t have many people bidding for those types of players – now, they’re fighting big market franchises with similar ideals when they try to pursue players like Adrian Beltre.

Beyond just a league wide acceptance of the principles the A’s have built their organization on, their division is now an ineptitude free zone. The Mariners went from disaster to contender at the same time that the Rangers built a monster farm system and have committed themselves to spending wisely rather than wasting money on big money contracts for mediocre pitchers. And, of course, there’s the Angels, flexing their big market payroll and keeping the talent flowing from their minor league system.

The AL West is no longer an easy division to win, and it’s only getting stronger. While the A’s are still a very well run team, their relative advantage over their peers has all but evaporated, and now they’re fighting an up hill battle to contend against better resourced smart teams.

Unfortunately for the A’s, their best chance to win is now to hope they catch a few breaks, and that’s the direction they’ve headed. They bet their 2010 season on the health of Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer; if it works, they could contend, but if they both land on the DL, there’s not enough talent in Oakland to keep up with the rest of the division.

If this was just a one year thing, that would be okay, but this is essentially what the A’s are going to have to do on an annual basis. They can’t afford low risk premium talent, so they’ll have to bet on guys with baggage to get the necessary upside onto the roster. It will work sometimes, but other years it will fail spectacularly, because the A’s playoff hopes are now going to inevitably be tied to keeping injury prone guys healthy (or hoping that whatever other risk they’ve taken on doesn’t come to fruition).

You can’t blame the A’s for adopting this strategy, given the circumstances. It will allow them to contend, just not annually. Given their budget and the relative strength of their competitors, that might be the best they can hope for until they get a better stadium, better attendance, or both.

Organizational Rankings: Current Talent – Oakland

From their divisional championship in 2000 through of their last playoff appearance 2006, the Oakland Athletics had the second best regular season winning percentage and run differential in the major leagues, behind only the Yankees. Expanding the scope to include the non-winning seasons of 2007-2009, they still have the third best winning percentage and run differential in the American league for the Decade of the Aughts, behind only New York and Boston. Are the As prepared to return from their exile from contention after three years of mediocrity?

While Oakland’s current team doesn’t feature standouts like its excellent teams of the early 00s (although Zombie Eric Chavez lingers on as perhaps the highest paid backup 1B/3B in baseball history), like the 2006 team, the team has an even distribution of average and above-average starters. The only projected weak spot around the diamond is at shortstop, but even there, neither Cliff Pennington nor Adam Rosales is a replacement level scrub. The longstanding 3B problem (due to Chavez’s injuries) has been resolved for the moment with Kevin Kouzmanoff, who isn’t anything special with the bat or glove, but is a league average player or perhaps a bit better. Injuries and age have taken their toll on second baseman Mark Ellis, but his excellent glove makes him valuable. At first base, Daric Barton may have disappointed in the past, but he’s still only 24, the projection systems still like his offense, and he’s a slick fielder. The underrated Kurt Suzuki is a real asset at catcher. Despite Jack Cust‘s down year in 2009, both ZiPS and CHONE still have confidence in his ability to produce at the plate, and should he or Barton fail, the As’ #1 prospect, power-hitting 1B/DH Chris Carter, might be ready to step in. Along with the Mariners, the As sport one of the most obvious “three center fielder” outfields in baseball. Coco Crisp, Rajai Davis, and Ryan Sweeney would each probably be above-average in center field; despite less-than-intimidating bats, the gloves are good enough that all three project as above-average players. Injuries are a concern with all three, but reserves Gabe Gross (yet another defensive standout) and Travis Buck could start for many teams. Moreover, the As’ #2 prospect, outfielder Michael Taylor, is just about ready for the big leagues.

Although the offense should be better in 2010, the strength of this team still lies (and will need to lie) in run prevention. The fielding should be excellent, but the pitching has to do its part. Free agent signee Ben Sheets is a wild card, given his injury history and (if one puts weight in such things) his Spring Training performance, but even if he isn’t the #2 pitcher the projection systems see, the As aren’t totally reliant on him. 22-year old Brett Anderson is likely their best starter, and Dallas Braden and Justin Duchsherer also projecting as above-average. Relief pitching is a major strength; Brad Ziegler, Andrew Bailey, and Michael Wuertz are all good relievers, and if Joey Devine can come back from his injury, this could be one of the best bullpens in baseball.

The As are far from perfect, but few teams outside of the AL East come close. The As’ starters may not be able to match up with Seattle’s Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee, but their offense is probably a bit better than the Mariners’. They don’t have the offense of the Angels or the Rangers, but they will field better than the Angels and pitch better than the Rangers. The As have a lot of young players, so there is a lot of volatility in their projections — perhaps they’ll only win 70, or perhaps youngsters like Anderson, Carter, and Taylor will carry them to 90 wins. I’m probably higher on the As’ current chances than other FanGraphers, and I’m not saying they’re the best team in the AL West, the most evenly matched division in baseball. But from this pre-season vantage point, it’s a four-team race that the As have a non-trivial chance of winning.

Organizational Rankings: #20 – Cincinnati

The Reds are one of the teams that was really hard to slot on this list. On one hand, I like a lot of the young players in the Reds system. There’s a solid core of home grown players to build around, including a couple of All-Stars in Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. The outfield is as deep as it is talented, and the infield is home to the team’s best current players. There are a lot of things going right in Cincinnati.

However, there are timing issues involved that offer some challenges. The young talent may not quite be ready to overtake the Cardinals in 2010, and by the time they develop, it’s a question about whether some of the veterans will still be effective. Scott Rolen turns 35 in a couple of weeks, and his back is about twice that age. Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo both have pricey team options for 2011 that will likely be declined, and Brandon Phillips becomes expensive after the 2010 season.

Will those four still be on the team when Bruce, Drew Stubbs, Aroldis Chapman, and company start to fulfill their potential? Maybe, maybe not. As much as I like the Reds core, I don’t think they’re quite ready to overtake St. Louis for the NL Central yet. They could pull off an upset, but they’re certainly not favorites to end up in the playoffs in 2010.

So, their best days probably lay ahead of them. But Walt Jocketty will have to make some good moves to replace the current crop of veterans with a group of role players that is at least as effective, if not more so. And he’ll have to do it with limited payroll flexibility, as a good chunk of the money they’ll save by ditching Harang and Arroyo will have to be reallocated towards buying out the arb years of Bruce and Votto.

If the Reds can balance their chances of winning in 2010 with the dual goal of finding new pieces to put around their core for 2011 and beyond, they’ll be in great position going forward. But that is easier said than done, and with the Reds fan base itching for a winner, the team will likely have to make some tough decisions this summer. How well Jocketty handles the transition will determine whether this Reds team will win with this core or if they’ll have to wait for a few more pieces to put them over the top.