Friday, March 31, 2006

Rough Day in Twinkie Land

Had to make a mid-day post today, as some interesting (and depressing) news items have popped up:

* Francisco Liriano was was arrested on a DUI charge last night in Florida. At this point, it does not appear that it will affect his ability to make the team, but it's certainly disconcerting. Terry Ryan says the team will stand behind him.

* What does Jason Bartlett have to do to satisfy this team? Despite hitting .382 this spring, the Twins optioned him to Rochester and will apparently open the season with Juan Castro and Nick Punto platooning at shortstop. The team seems to be claiming that they want him to play some minor league games to get back up to speed after suffering a minor hamstring pull last week, but I can't imagine that he wouldn't be ready by Opening Day. Perhaps this move is setting the stage for a trade to acquire a shortstop.

The Best (and Worst) of 2005

One of the fun things about writing a blog is having the ability to go back and read your posts from a year ago to get a handle on how you were feeling about the team over the course of the previous season. Needless to say, last year's archives are not pretty. Last night, it was pretty rainy and crappy out, so I sat inside and looked through some of our blog archives from last season. Reading them now, some of these are pretty funny. I picked out a few of the favorite entries I wrote last season:

April 19: Cruddy Cuddy.
If you are ever wondering why I'm not a big fan of Michael Cuddyer, go ahead and read this post. Perfect example of what he brings you at the plate. In fact, I skimmed through the month of April looking for mentions of Cuddyer, and came across some of the following quotes:

-"The game-winning run that scored in the eighth should have been out at second earlier in the inning, but Cuddy made a terrible wide throw when attempting to get the force that allowed the runner to move up another base and eventually score. This was Cuddyer's fourth error of the season [this was April 17], and he is hitting .231."
-"Michael Cuddyer continued with his abysmal play, going 0-4 to lower his average to .203 on the year and leaving four men on base in the process."
-"Michael Cuddyer again. He may have walked this game, but otherwise, he went 0 for 3 dropping his average to a paltry .194"
-"Although [Cuddyer] did surprisingly manage to finally collect a hit, breaking an 0-18 streak, he still did not look good."
-"...Cuddyer continued his anemic hitting, going 0 for 4 while leaving two runners on."

Can't wait to watch him play this April.

July 5: Gary Darling makes an enemy for life.
This was Scott Baker's major-league debut. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to dedicate much space to writing about it, because I was too busy fuming about the performance of home plate umpire Gary Darling. He killed us in this game.

July 29: J.C. pulls a J.C.
This was the game in which Torii Hunter broke his ankle leaping against the wall at Fenway (an injury which the brilliant Dr. Nick initially diagnosed as an "apparent tendon injury"), but that's not why it is so distinct in my memory. No, I vividly remember writing this post for another reason. It was at a time in the season during which there was a lot of speculation about the Twins possibly trading J.C. Romero to the Red Sox. I was writing the post while watching the game, and Romero came into the game with the bases loaded. I wrote, "now the BoSox will get to see first hand the ability of potential trade acquisition JC Romero to allow inherited runners to score." Just after I finished typing the sentence, John Olerud hit a grand slam off Romero. I was so pissed. Looking back, it was really pretty funny.

August 23: One Hit Wonder

This was the best game of last season by far, and reading the post brought back some good memories. It was a blast watching Johan Santana and Freddy Garcia duel, and it was tremendously invigorating to have Jacque Jones end Garcia's no-hit bid in dramatic fashion with an eighth-inning solo shot. There aren't many things I will miss about Jacque Jones, but his ability to come through with the clutch home runs is one of them.

August 31: Twins held scoreless on 13 hits vs. Royals.
This is a sparking example of the Twins' total offensive ineptitude last season. In this post, I chronicle the Twins' failure to capitalize on a scoring opportunity in literally every inning. Probably the angriest I've ever been when writing a post.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Tough Competition Ahead

I want to make a few notes in this post, as a few things have happened around the Twins recently. However, first things first. Joe Christenson's article in yesterday's Star Tribune points out that the Twins' early schedule is very rough. Their first six opponents? The Blue Jays, the Indians, the Athletics, the Yankees, the Angels, and the White Sox. Those are basically all contending teams, with either great pitching staffs (Angels, White Sox, A's) or offenses (Indians, Yankees, Blue Jays) that will pose major challenges for the Twins.

What's the point? If Twins lose a lot of these games, they'll dig themselves in an early hole that they may not have any chance of getting out of. That means the best players need to be on the team and on the field. Granted, recent news makes it look like they might be getting serious. However, it still looks like they want to get rid of Jason Bartlett.

Aaron Gleeman is astutely points out one thing: We are not going to win those key games with a shortstop with a career .271 OBP and an out-of-shape third baseman with a .298 OBP. Sure, Castro is a fine defensive player and Batista may give us a few home runs in April, but that is not going to win those games. Batista could be a butcher with the glove. Castro simply is a no-hit guy and his competition with Bartlett hurt, Nick Punto, is another story all together. Neither should ever be a starter on a major league team. Castro is overpaid the way it is and Punto is best sitting on the bench as a reserve infielder.

The biggest news relating to this is that Terry Ryan has mentioned the possibility of a trade coming up. Now, we obviously don't know whose names are in the works, but Scott Baker and Bartlett seem the biggest possibilities to get traded. The team's inexplicable dislike for Bartlett is as confusing as anything they've done recently, since he seems like their best option. It would be fine if they traded for a guy like Julio Lugo, who plays good defense, hits for average, and steals bases, but that is essentially Bartlett's ceiling anyways. If they are going to make a trade, it seems like it should be for a third baseman while leaving Bartlett where he deserves to be.

Most of this is confusing, because the other two recent developments are quite positive. For one, it appears that Jason Kubel will be the starting right fielder with Michael Cuddyer likely opening the season on the DL. That's good news simply because Kubel is by far the best option. Ford is a great outfielder, and Cuddyer is probably more suited for a backup utility role. Secondly, the Twins cut Dennys Reyes and sent him to minor-league camp, essentially setting their pitching staff for the beginning of the season. That leaves the Twins with Johan Santana, Brad Radke, Carlos Silva, Kyle Lohse, Baker, Joe Nathan, Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Willie Eyre, and Francisco Liriano going north.

Glad to see Liriano is at least staying on the big league club, although lets hope Gardy uses him as a long reliever instead of a LOOGY. But the best news is that May or Reyes weren't keep on, which most of us feared, and Eyre, who has great minor league numbers as a reliever, is a much better choice, even if he doesn't have a fantastic year. Needless to say, that news provides lots of reason to be excited for next week, even with the confusing situation regarding shortstop and Bartlett.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Around the Horn

Analyzing some news and tidbits as we count down the days until the Twins' season opener.

* It's kind of funny to see how much the fans of a team will overrate a player that becomes available when that player could possibly fill a weak spot on their team's roster. Last year at the trade deadline, it happened with Joe Randa, Bill Mueller, and Kevin Millar. Now it's Tony Graffanino, who was placed on waivers by the Red Sox on Sunday and picked up by the Royals yesterday.

After the Red Sox decided to part with Graffanino, I heard a lot of grumbling from Twins fans about the fact that the Twins would make no effort to get him. Come on. Graffanino had a nice season last year, hitting .309/.366/.425, but that was the first time he's hit above .263 or had an OBP higher than .332 since 2001. He's a sub-par defender at every position other than second base, he's 33, and he is scheduled to make about $2 million this year. I fail to see how he could possibly be construed as a better option than the younger and cheaper Luis Rodriguez.

* If you want a rather pessimistic assessment of the Twins' offseason and their chances for this season, head on over to Sundappled Wood and check out what Frightwig has to say. I can't say that I share his gloomy outlook, but at the same time it's difficult to argue with his logic.

I guess the main difference between me and many of the people who feel the Twins' offense won't improve much this year is that I am really optimistic about Rondell White. I really think he's going to play 130+ games this year because it's just a lot easier to stay healthy when you're not playing the field. He might not be a masher, but the guy is a pure hitter who can drive in runners. It's been so long since the Twins have gotten solid production from the DH spot and I really think Terry Ryan made the right move. We'll have to wait and see.

* If you're looking for a way to kill some time in the final week before the Twins' season opener, I have some recommended reading. I recently received a copy of The Last Nine Innings by Charles Euchner and read it over the past few weeks. It's definitely worth checking out.

The book provides an in-depth look at the many intricacies of the game of baseball set on the backdrop of Game Seven of the 2001 World Series between the Yankees and Diamondbacks. There is all kinds of really interesting information dug up from research and interviews with players and baseball experts. The book provides mostly a look into the psychological aspects of the game, but there is some statistical analysis as well.

Not much Twins-related stuff to be found in this book, but it's still a good read for any baseball fan. Euchner manages to take a very in-depth look at some of the most complex aspects of the game while still remaining accessible to even the most casual of fans, and I think that's a quality that many authors miss when trying to intricately analyze the highly elaborate sport of baseball.

* I'm absolutely baffled by the Twins' attitude towards Jason Bartlett. Here is a team that loves young players who can field at premium positions, especially if they can hit. Bartlett looked pretty good in the field last year and has put up outstanding offensive numbers in the minor leagues. For whatever reason, the team refuses to show any support for him. They won't outright hand him the starting job at shortstop, and continue to claim that Nick Punto and Juan Castro are strong contenders for the gig. In yesterday's Strib, Ron Gardenhire was glowing about Castro's chemistry with Luis Castillo up the middle. It is quite clear that neither Castro nor Punto have any business starting in the Majors.

Now we hear rumblings from over at Seth's site that the Twins are supposedly looking at the possibility of trading Scott Baker for a shortstop (as mentioned in yesterday's post here). I'm not putting too much stock into this rumor, but honestly it wouldn't even surprise me that much.

How is it that the Twins are willing to steadfastly stand by and support Michael Cuddyer, who can't defend well enough to play the infield and can't hit well enough to be a corner outfielder, yet they seem to have no faith in Bartlett? It's mind-boggling, to say the least.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Dealing Lohse?

Originally, I had planned on today's post taking a look at Jason Bartlett, who for some apparent reason continues to be treated by the Twins organization in a very negative light. I'll get to that, but in looking around, I started to think about Kyle Lohse's trade value. This came with a comment from Roger I read on Seth's site that suggested the Twins might be looking to trade Scott Baker for a shortstop and my associate suggested Julio Lugo may be someone they are looking at. Lugo is a good shortstop and anyone playing fantasy knows he hits for good average, steals bases, and plays defense. Sounds like Gardy's kind of guy.

But to me, I don't know how much you can put into this kind of speculation. All I get out of it is the sad indication that the organization doesn't think much of Bartlett, which is unfortunate. Bartlett can get on base, play some solid defense, and if his minor league numbers say anything, hit for average. For a shortstop, there is nothing wrong with that. If we are going to trade Baker, we better at least do it for a third baseman or an outfielder, like Tampa Bay's Aubrey Huff.

To me, the problem is I'd be more apt to believe speculation about trading Lohse over Baker. Why? Lohse is 4-0 with a 2.14 ERA in Spring Training and has looked strong. Now is as good a time as any to trade except for the one major issue: no sixth starter. Beyond Liriano, who would most certainly step in, who else is there? Matt Guerrier? He'd be the best option by far over anyone they can get from the minors if Radke or Silva goes down, but the bullpen would be hurt by that move as well. If Gardy wants to use Liriano in the bullpen for long-relief, I'm supportive of that, but if he's pulled, who replaces him? Eyre? It would be a bad situation.

But it would be even worse if Ryan wanted to trade Lohse for a shortstop. Lohse, to me, if he's traded, needs to fill the team's major needs; either an outfielder or a third baseman. We need depth in both those places and Tampa isn't a bad trade partner. It's just, unless we are going to trade for Carl Crawford or Huff, I don't think we should trade Lohse yet. Not until we have another pitcher or two ready to step in.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Trading With Tampa

Remember when the Twins were absolutely overloaded with outfield talent? At the outset of the 2003 season, they had Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, Michael Cuddyer, Bobby Kielty, and Dustan Mohr all warranting play-time in the outfield. Several other minor leaguers seemed deserving of shots, including Michael Restovich. Over the next year, guys like Kielty and Mohr departed, but other guys like Shannon Stewart and Lew Ford entered the picture, preserving the Twins' outstanding outfield depth.

Starting as soon as next season, we are going to see a dramatic reversal in this trend. The Twins will be scrambling to fill holes left by the departures of Stewart and possibly Hunter. Stewart's contract expires following this season and, at age 32 and with his performance in apparent decline, it is unlikely the Twins will make an effort to bring him back. Hunter has an option for the 2007 season, but it would be very expensive to bring him back. He could be even be traded in July of this year.

If both of those players depart, the Twins will be left with two glaring holes in their outfield. The situation could be worsened if anything bad happens with Jason Kubel this year, as he is being counted on as the future solution in right field. With this in mind, it is time that the Twins start thinking about future options for their outfield. They are fortunate in that they have a minor league system rich with pitching prospects. With that in mind, I took a look around at some teams that had an abundance of young outfielders and was in need of pitching.

There are a few possible options rising in the Twins' minor league system. Alex Romero hit .301/.354/.458 in Double-A last year, and the 22-year-old has consistently hit for good average throughout his minor league career. He lacks the type of power you'd like to see from a corner outfielder, however. The same can be said about Doug Deeds, who is a career .305/.386/.472 hitter in the minor leagues but has hit only 28 home runs in 1,146 at-bats. Center field prospect Denard Span is highly regarded in the Twins' organization for his speed and defensive ability, but I won't consider him a legitimate prospect until he can show more patience at the plate and add at least some gap power to his game. These guys are all possibilities, but none have played above the Double-A level and all have holes in their game that make you question whether they will develop into productive big-league hitters.

Instead, the Twins might want to look into trading for a young outfielder with proven Major League ability. In February I wrote an article discussing the possibility of the Twins dealing with the Reds to acquire one of their outfield bats. One guy who I discussed as a likely trade piece for the Reds was Wily Mo Pena. Turns out I was right, as the Reds dealt Pena to the Red Sox last week for pitcher Bronson Arroyo. This would have been an intriguing move for the Twins to investigate. No doubt Reds GM Wayne Krivsky realizes that Kyle Lohse is a better pitcher than Arroyo, and Pena would be a nice addition to the power-starved Twins, as he projects possible 40+ HR type power. Still, Pena has a lot of flaws in his game, namely that he has an atrocious 2.9 AB/K ratio in his Major League career, doesn't walk much for a power hitter, and isn't an asset defensively. Pena would not have been a bad acquisition, but I won't sit here and complain about Terry Ryan passing on him.

Instead, I look to another team that is stacked with young outfield talent and desperately in need of pitching help. That team is the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The D-Rays already have three star players patrolling their outfield and they have a couple more quickly rising through their minor league system. These are the speedster Joey Gathright and the #1 pick in the 2003 draft, Delmon Young.

Gathright has an almost identical skill set to Span, so trading for him wouldn't make a whole lot of sense. Young, rated as the number one prospect in all of baseball by Baseball America, is almost certainly off-limits. That said, these guys are good enough to be playing in the Major Leagues this year, which would mean the Devil Rays -- who posted the worst team ERA in the MLB last season -- would have to trade one of their current outfielders to make room.

The Rays' outfield is currently comprised of Carl Crawford, Rocco Baldelli, and Aubrey Huff. I'll break down the possibility of acquiring each of these players and why each would be beneficial to the Twins.

Aubrey Huff
Huff can play either of the corner outfield spots, but he also has a ton of experience at first base and third base, which could be an asset to the Twins who lack depth at either of those positions.

Huff broke out in 2002, hitting .313/.364/.520 in 113 games with the Rays. The next year he played in all 162 of the team's games, hitting an outstanding .311/.367/.555 with 34 home runs and 107 RBI. He posted similar numbers in in 2004, but then had a bit of a down year last year as his OPS dropped from .853 to .749, but he still hit 22 home runs and drove in 92.

At age 29, Huff isn't exactly young, but he is an excellent hitter who could fill several major areas of need for the Twins.

Rocco Baldelli
After missing all of the 2005 season with knee and elbow injuries, Baldelli appears to be ready to go for this season. Picked 6th overall in the 2000 draft, Baldelli is an intriguing player. His Major League numbers aren't jaw-dropping; .289/.326/.416 in his rookie season of 2003 and a nearly identical line the next year. Baldelli is a 24-year-old free-swinging speedster with some power who plays great defense in center field. Unfortunately, the Rays would probably be a lot more likely to trade Gathright, since they just signed Baldelli to a contract extension last November and he is a better player.

Carl Crawford
If the Twins can somehow manage to get their hands on Crawford, they will be in very good shape. He is the best player in this group, but is also the most valuable and would require significant return. Crawford hit .301/.331/.469 last season with the Rays with 15 home runs and 81 RBI. He can fly on the basepaths. He swiped 46 bases last year and was caught only 8 times. He is one of the league's elite base-stealers, having ripped 59 in 2004 and 55 in 2003. He has tripled 34 times in the past two seasons, leading the league both years. He's only 24.

I don't know what it would take to pry Crawford away from the Devil Rays, but it would have to be package of very high value. Perhaps if some of the Twins' minor league pitchers greatly improve their stock and Scott Baker has a good year at the Major League level, a package could be made there. Maybe it's just wishful thinking. What I do know is that Tampa Bay has a corner outfielder that is just about Major League ready in Young, and they really need some pitching if they want to have any chance of competing in the offense-loaded AL East. They could get that in a trade with the Twins. Keep an eye on the Devil Rays as a potential trading partner for Terry Ryan, either around the deadline during this season or in the next offseason.


We can breath a sigh of relief. The Twins have released Darrell May. I wish him the best, but he was not going to help this ballclub. The battle for the final two relief spots is pretty much now between Francisco Liriano, Dennys Reyes, and Willie Eyre.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The Nicks' Picks 2006

Our predictions for the 2006 season (made independently despite their similarity):


AL West
AL Central
AL East
New York
AL Wild Card
AL Division Round
Minnesota over New York
Oakland over Cleveland
AL Championship
Oakland over Minnesota

NL West
Los Angeles
NL Central
St. Louis
NL East
New York
NL Wild Card
NL Division Round
New York over Los Angeles
St. Louis over Atlanta
NL Championship
St. Louis over New York

World Series
St. Louis over Oakland

Alex Rodriguez
Albert Pujols

AL Cy Young
Johan Santana
NL Cy Young
Jake Peavy

AL Rookie of the Year
Joel Zumaya
NL Rookie of the Year
Matt Cain


AL West
AL Central
AL East
New York
AL Wild Card
AL Division Round
Minnesota over New York
Oakland over Cleveland
AL Championship
Oakland over Minnesota

NL West
Los Angeles
NL Central
St. Louis
NL East
NL Wild Card
New York
NL Division Round
Atlanta over Los Angeles
St. Louis over New York
NL Championship
St. Louis over Atlanta

World Series
St. Louis over Oakland

Alex Rodriguez
Albert Pujols

AL Cy Young
Roy Halladay
NL Cy Young
Carlos Zambrano

AL Rookie of the Year
Francisco Liriano
NL Rookie of the Year
Jeremy Hermida

Saturday, March 25, 2006

New Position Battle Updates

With injuries to Ruben Sierra and Michael Cuddyer, a lot of roster possibilities are opening up. The Twins are even discussing backup first basemen, with Tony Batista's name being mentioned. I can't imagine why that is. But the worst of these rumblings is the idea of keeping Terry Tiffee on, as a pinch hitter, DH, and defensive replacement while Sierra is out with injury.

This is a bad idea simply for the reason that Tiffee cannot hit major-league pitching. Yes, he hit a homer of Randy Johnson yesterday, but that just made it worse. That kind of thing gives a guy like Gardy the idea that Tiffee really can hit big-leaguers. Wrong. Sure, Tiffee is hitting .361 with a .553 slugging percentage through spring (he was hitless today), but its difficult to trust any of those numbers consider what he has done in the majors. In 2004, he did alright in a late-season call up, hitting .273 with 2 home runs and 8 RBI against the kind of pitching Cuddyer loves. But last year, given more at-bats, he was atrocious. He hit .207/.245/.293 with only one home run and 15 RBIs in 150 at-bats. True, that may not completely indicate his ability, but even if he improves, we don't need a .230 or .240 around when we already have Nick Punto and Juan Castro. These are exactly the kind of moves we pulled last year and they are the moves that killed the offense. Tiffee needs to be left in the minors. Maybe he'll be useful at some point, but for now, we need a better solution.

As for right-field, I'm happy to see the possibility of Cuddyer out and Kubel in. If Cuddyer is out, he can replace Tiffee in the role I just discussed, as more of a utility guy and a back-up for Morneau at first. Kubel, although he was hitless in his last 12 spring at-bats before going 2 for 4 today with a double, has the most potential by far of any of the candidates. Given the role, he couldn't do any worse than Cuddyer does in April and once he heats up, he would do a lot more as well. The other possibility, mentioned by Gardenhire, is a platoon of Ford and Kubel, with Kubel getting the starts against righties and Ford getting them against lefties. I would be okay with this too, if only because it would get Ford time in the field and give Kubel most of the starts. Either way, even if Ford isn't the greatest against lefties, it would be a big improvement over starting Cuddyer there.

Shortstop is also rumored to have plenty of battling going on too, but I'm not sure I completely understand it. Bartlett is hitting .387 this spring, over Punto (.310) and Castro, who has been injured. Bartlett had a few impressive at-bats against Johnson yesterday and did just fine in the field. Yes, he isn't a spectacular defensive player, or at least yet, but what does that matter if the backup (Castro) is and the rest of the options (Punto, Castro, Rodriguez) shouldn't even be considered? Its time the Twins just give this guy a chance. I've heard people like Seth at Seth Speaks suggest that we've been spoiled in our perception of what shortshops should produce and that may be true. Regardless, if Bartlett hits .270 with improved discipline and plays average defense, that would be a good improvement.

The last battles are for a left-handed reliever and a long reliever. By now, the Twins should know that Darrell May is just an awful choice for anything. Here is his line this spring: After another ugly outing today, 14 IP, 8 Ks, 13 runs, 12 earned runs, 7.71 ERA, 24 hits allowed. There is nothing positive I can see there. If the Twins really think they need another Terry Mulholland (or a lefty who doesn't strike anyone out, is a batting practice pitcher, and whose K/BB ratio is close to or under one), then they are just delusional. I'd rather have Willie Eyre or even Boof Bonser in this role, although Bonser is back in Triple-A already. May just doesn't deserve a shot. As for the lefty reliever, they'll pick Dennys Reyes anyway, so there isn't a point in debating. He'll do just fine if Rick Anderson teaches him some control (good chance) and if Gardy uses him properly (bad chance).

Needless to say, there is plenty going in Spring Training to pay attention to. Let's just hope that Tiffee isn't kept around, that Cuddyer finds the right role, that Kubel and Bartlett are given chances, and that May is permanently banished from MLB playing. Its a lot to hope for, but let's do it anyways.

Friday, March 24, 2006

NL Predictions


1. Los Angeles Dodgers 93-69

This might be a bad prediction, but I have to be a little bold, as the West is very hard to predict. San Francisco could surprise and so could Arizona. The point is that this division is wide open. The Dodgers could be a team nearly as bad as last year's if Nomar Garciaparra can't contribute and J.D. Drew spends the year hurt again. There are so many intangibles, its hard to name them all.

However, they have a lot of young talent and a great farm system, which makes it hard to bet against them. The problem is no real superstars are here. Jeff Kent isn't really much of a leader, just a great consistent hitter. Basically, the Dodgers win if 1) Eric Gagne is healthy at the back of the pen, 2) if they manage to have a healthy and contributing Drew and Garciaparra, and 3) the rest of the West remains just as inept as they were last year.

2. San Francisco Giants 85-77

I originally had the Giants winning more games, but upon second thought, the Giants just aren't that good. Sure, they have Barry Bonds, but honestly, we can't expect the kind of success he had in 2004 on that knee. If he manages to play 100 games, he'll probably hit close to 30 home runs, but that's not guaranteeing a playoff spot.

As in the past, the Giants' issue is, more or less, age. They do have young starters Matt Cain and Noah Lowry, but I don't believe either of those guys is ready to command this staff. And what about Jason Schmidt? He seems to be doing well this spring, but he lost a lot on his fastball last year and his command killed him. If he can get back near his 2003 form, this team could go somewhere. To me, Schmidt is just as important as Bonds, as this staff's success hinges on his performance. Its not as if Matt Morris is suddenly going to look like an ace again. He'll be lucky to turn in a 15-win, 4.00 ERA season.

As for the rest of the lineup, you can't expect too much. Moises Alou is still skillful, but he's almost 40. Lance Niekro, Pedro Feliz, and Mike Mathany all posted putrid .295 on-base percentages last year. And Steve Finley, who slid off completely last year with the Angels, is manning center field. About the only positive is that Randy Winn was re-signed in the offseason, after posting .359/.391/.680 numbers in 231 at-bats last year with the Giants, in which he had 14 homers and 26 RBI. Winn, however, has been fairly mediocre in his recent run in Seattle, so it's doubtful he'll repeat.

So, for the Giants, they'll probably get some good "Barry" numbers but not too much else from their lineup and they'll have a solid rotation supported by closer Armando Benitez (if the knee holds up) and an average bullpen.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks 79-83

To me, Arizona is a lot like Milwaukee, except without three quality pitchers in the rotation. They have tons of talent just waiting to hit the big leagues with a bang. From Stephen Drew to Justin Upton to Carlos Quentin to Conor Jackson to Chris Young (acquired in the Javier Vazquez trade that will eventually favor the Diamondbacks) to Dustin Nippert, the list goes on. They also have some other solid players to go around, like Chad Tracy, Luis Gonzalez, Shawn Green, and Orlando Hudson, who they acquired from the Blue Jays for Troy Glaus this offseason.

Of course, this year, we can't really expect all the new guys to burst on the scene and hit Arizona to a championship. There will be adjustment. Plus, Arizona's pitching situation still needs help. Brandon Webb has been a good pitcher in the desert for three years now and with Hudson's arrival helping to provide improved defense behind him, the ERA will go down. Nippert may even make the cut, with his up-and-coming stuff. But beyond Webb, there is a large void. Russ Ortiz and Miguel Batista are the other two known starters, but Ortiz was atrocious last year and Batista was closing games for the Jays after an unspectacular starting pitcher career that begun with (guess who) the D-Backs.

Sure, the team will score plenty of runs and they'll be a blast to watch with all their young stars, but it will be another year or two before they really make a run. But when that time comes, you better watch out.

4. San Diego Padres 70-92

There just isn't much here to discuss. San Diego has an ace for its staff in Jake Peavy and traded this offseason for a good, young pitcher in Chris Young, but the rest of the rotation will have guys like Chan Ho Park (yes he looked good in the WBC, but he was closing), Woody Williams (too old), and Tim Redding. Those aren't great names to throw out there, unless Park actually keeps the fastball going and returns to decent form for the team, conceivably possible considering they are in a pitcher's park. And the bullpen does remain a positive point, with the re-signing of Trevor Hoffman (nice to see him close his career with the same team -- Hall of Famer all the way) this offseason and top set-up man Scott Linebrink sitting behind him.

However, even with some good pitching (and maybe great with Peavy), the hitting won't be much at Petco. Brian Giles was re-signed and he's a very good veteran hitter, but Petco kills his power totals and he isn't getting any younger. Ditto for Ryan Klesko. Otherwise, they'll be relying on the Vinny Castilla, who can't hit a loaf of bread outside of Coors, Khalil Greene, who's been a bit of a dissapointment, and Dave Roberts. The Padres were an awful offensive team last year, with a .257 team average and that doesn't look to change. And don't think they'll win the division with 82 wins again either.

5. Colorado Rockies 68-94

I'd love to believe Todd Helton and others and think these guys have a chance, but the dilemma in Denver remains the same: they have little or no pitching and tons of offense, partially due to their homepark. The rotation will probably consist of Jason Jennings, Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook, Byung-Hyung Kim, and Zach Day. While Cook and Kim were fine, albeit in less games, Francis was one of the worst pitchers last year in terms of ERA and Jennings hasn't done much since winning the Rookie of the Year in 2002. If he ever gets back to his sinker again, he may have that same success. That's a big if. But not nearly as big as the bullpen, whose only real stable reliever is Brian Fuentes, who is surrounded by mediocrity and journeymen most of us can't name.

The lineup will continue to produce without problems while the pitching struggles again. Helton will probably bounce back with a big, as he is healthy now after a down-year last year. He should hit .340 or so again with around 30 HRs and 100 RBI. And young sluggers Matt Holiday, Garrett Atkins, and Clint Barmes should have no problem producing big numbers at Coors. But it just won't be enough. Colorado will, sadly, continue to be a mess this year.


1. St. Louis Cardinals 94-68

Although the offseason wasn't very good for St. Louis -- as they missed out on AJ Burnett, lost Matt Morris, Larry Walker, Mark Grudzielanek, Reggie Sanders, and others and replaced them with mediocre players -- they remain the team to beat in the NL. That's because you simply don't bet against a team whose 3-4-5 hitters are Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds. Ok, I take that back. Rolen may be hurt and Edmonds may regress. Don't bet against Albert Pujols. Ever.

If last year's playoffs were a lesson to anyone, it's that this guy is a quiet leader with incredible skills who may get better. (Can you imagine that? Better? .340 average, 50 HRs, 20 SBs? Its in his set.) With that stability, as seen last year, when Walker, Rolen, and Sanders all spent time on the DL, Pujols kept producing with guys like So Taguchi hitting behind him. In other words, the offense probably won't be all that different this year, even if Junior Spivey replaces Mark Grudzielanek.

As for pitching, reigning Cy Young winner Chris Carpenter and closer Jason Isringhausen remain the big guys. The season will really depend on whether or not guys like Mark Mulder (who has regressed since being acquired from Oakland), Jason Marquis, and Sidney Ponson can step up in the rotation. But when Tony LaRussa is your manager and Pujols is your franchise guy, there aren't that many question marks about whether they get to the playoffs. The question is what happens when they get there.

2. Milwaukee Brewers 86-76

This may be an outlandish pick for the second spot, but Milwaukee has a basin of young talent to put on the field. Prince Fielder, Bill Hall, J.J. Hardy, Rickie Weeks, and Brady Clark are all upcoming members of the team who could contribute in big ways. Fielder is a light-tower power first baseman, Hall a super-utility guy with power and Weeks is a big-hitting second baseman. Needless to say, they could surprise everyone this year. And they should, with a solid lineup pairing with a sneaky good pitching staff.

Although Ben Sheets will start the year on the DL, he should be back by April 15th. With that in mind, a rotation with Sheets, Doug Davis, and Chris Capuano at the top has potential to win a fair amount of games. And Derrick Turnbow turned into a 9th-inning monster last year. Of course, they could be outright mediocre with so many young guys, but if they fail this year, they'll take over the next year. Either way, the Brew Crew is a team on the rise.

3. Houston Astros 78-84

No Roger Clemens? No World Series, Houston. Clemens may return in May, but I'm not sure he'll even be enough for Houston to go the playoffs again. Craig Biggio is a year older and a year closer to the end. Jeff Bagwell may not even play. Sure, they have some talent there, centered around Lance Berkman, Willy Taveras, Jason Lane, and Morgan Ensberg. Preston Wilson is a fine piece to pick up, as he plays good defense and hits home runs, but overall, the offense may not be enough once again.

Beyond losing Clemens, Andy Pettitte may be hurt again, as he is nursing elbow soreness this spring. For that reason, do not expect to see last year's gaudy, career-high numbers (2.39 ERA, 17 wins) again this year. Beyond Pettite, Roy Oswalt is the last of the big three from last year but he should be just fine this year. He may even win 20 games for the third year in a row.

The face of the bullpen hasn't really changed, as Brad Lidge, Chad Qualls, and Dan Wheeler are all returning. Realistically, they do have a chance. And Clemens' return could change everything. But to me, it looks more like a time to start rebuilding then the beginnings of a championship run, as there just isn't enough offense to carry this team once again.

4. Chicago Cubs 74-88

Every year now, it's the same thing; will Mark Prior and Kerry Wood be healthy? The Answer again: No! Wood may never even start a game again and could become a complete burnout. His future just does not look good at all. And it's questionable whether the Cubs can ever get 200 innings out of Prior again. The worst part of that news is thats exactly what the Cubs need if they have any hopes of advancing.

Sorry, but acquiring outfielders Juan Pierre and Jacque Jones is not what I call a huge offseason. Pierre is a fine leadoff man, but his defense will probably be subpar in Wrigley. And we all know that Jones is a piece of work himself. To me, he'll essentially replace Jeremy Burnitz in the lineup and that's not good news. If they think Jones will show up and hit .300 with 25 HRs, they are terribly mistaken. Even if he gets more fastballs behind Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez, it probably won't add up to much.

Of course, like most of these teams, the Cubs have some rays of hope. Lee has officially arrived. Sorry, but anyone who thinks last year was a fluke didn't watch Derrek hit last year. This isn't Brady Anderson, folks. Lee has had this kind of power since he came up, he just finally put it together. Increased patience, shortened stroke, confidence put together and that equaled a big season. And he'll do it again, along with Ramirez, who should be good hitting behind him.

And they still have surefire Hall of Fame veteran Greg Maddux and young stud Carlos Zambrano in the rotation. Things could happen for this team, it's just that knowing their past, they don't tend to.

4. Cincinnati Reds 72-90

Even with former Twins assistant GM Wayne Krisvky running things, that ship has not straightened. Sorry, but the recent Bronson Arroyo/Wily Mo Pena trade wasn't too good. You have to wonder if Krisvky considered Twins starter Kyle Lohse as an option, as he's a better pitcher than Arroyo with a better track record, which Krisvky would know about. Sure, the Reds have picked up a better starter than their others, but that isn't saying much when your ace of choice is Paul Wilson or Eric Milton.

That being said, we know the rotation is a disaster waiting to happen. And the bullpen isn't much better either, with the possibility of David Weathers closing. Their only saving grace is the lineup, which has monster hitters Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr., and Felipe Lopez along with possible future mashers Edwin Encarnacion (who is absolutely creaming spring pitching, with 6 HRs and 18 RBI) and Austin Kearns. But with a pitching staff that is so suspect, you can't expect that much.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates 68-94

Pittsburgh is still going through lots of funks with young talent and they seem to have gone the road Kansas City has this year: bring in some mediocre veterans to get the fans in while the young guys learn to play. Sorry, but Jeromy Burnitz and Joe Randa don't really change games. And Burnitz's skill set is quickly fading. However, there is room for hope on the horizon.

Pittsburgh has an outstanding young pitching staff. From Zack Duke to Oliver Perez to Paul Maholm, they have potential staff aces ready to go. To be fair, Maholm won't really be a staff ace, but he'll be a solid major league starter. Duke, on the other hand, could very well be, as he had 8 wins and a 1.82 ERA after his call up in late July. He was, essentially, the NL's answer to Felix Hernandez, except he went unnoticed. (That's not to say he is skilled like the King. He isn't.) Perez could be an ace pitcher as well, but he hasn't looked too good this spring and was awful in an injury-plagued 2005 campaign. He'll start the year as their number one starter, but that could quickly change. If his fastball (which is clocking at 88 this spring) really has lost that much, he could be a huge bust.

In other words, there will be some nice talent to look at and Jim Tracy might motivate the team well, but I just don't seem them having success this year. They need more hitters now to build around Jason Bay or else they'll go nowhere.


1. New York Mets 90-72

The Mets had a pretty big offseason this year, so it's pretty natural to assume they'll have success. But there are plenty of reasons for them to fail as well. I have them on top for the simple reason that competition will be down in the NL this year, at least it seems. The Mets now have a potentially frightening lineup, with Jose Reyes up top and Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Carlos Delgado, and Cliff Floyd making up the heart of the order.

Reyes may not necessarily be a good lead-off hitter, but the Mets have little choice. Their trading for Paul Lo Duca was silly, but it relates to the general overrating of Lo Duca's offense and leadership that stews from his stay in Dodgerland. They probably should have signed Bengie Molina or Ramon Hernandez, as they are both younger, with Molina being a much better defender. Also, failing to find a suitable replacement for Kaz Matsui, the highly unsucessful Japanese import at second, was bad.

But the main reason they may still fall to Atlanta (illustrated by the close records) is because their pitching staff just isn't that great. Omar Minaya made the bad choice of trading Jae Seo and Kris Benson away for relief help. Sure, their bullpen is better, but that's mainly because of signing Billy Wagner. But none of that matters if they don't have solid starting pitching. Instead of Seo and Benson, are they to rely on Victor "No-Control" Zambrano and Aaron Heilman, who is apparently a much better reliever? Pedro Martinez will likely start the season on the DL, and his health this year could be crucial to the team's chances.

Their season rests on whether or not Beltran improves on a disappointing first year in New York, whether Pedro is healthy or not, and whether or not the rest of the players hold up. One big injury could dismantle the squad.

2. Atlanta Braves 88-74

I like the Braves in the top as much as anybody and Bobby Cox is an amazing manager, but it's really hard to be completely sold on this squad yet. There is so much youth and the loss of Leo Mazzone, the wizard pitching coach, is hard to measure early on.

Last year's success relied on the contributions of tons of rookies and a career year by Andruw Jones. Jones may hit 50 homers again, but it's hard to think Jeff Francoeur will hit .300 with 30 HRs in his sophomore season. Most likely, the lineup will struggle a lot. They only staples at this point appear to be Andruw Jones, Chipper Jones, and Marcus Giles up front. Adam LaRoche, Ryan Langerhans, Brian McCann, and Kelly Johnson could all end up doing great this year. Or they could fall on their faces.

And the pitching staff is a bigger worry. John Smoltz is an excellent ace, but he'll be 39 in May and has logged a lot of time on his arm. Will this year be more like 2005 was for Curt Schilling? It seems entirely possible. And Tim Hudson is a bigger question mark, as in recent years his K rate has gone down and his hit rate has gone up. He may not be a legitimate second starter any longer. From there, it doesn't get too much better. Mike Hampton is out for the year following surgery and Jorge Sosa will definitely not get that lucky again. And the Braves don't appear to have a lock for closer. Losing Kyle Farnsworth probably wasn't good but bullpens have always been a question for them. Mark Wohlers anyone? Lots of question marks, but still, they are the Braves and they do have Cox. That counts for a lot.

3. Philadelphia Phillies 80-82

A team that appears to be a mess. The Phillies could be great, if they got things together. But with a lineup of producers (Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Chase Utley, now Ryan Howard), they sure underachieve. It's hard to put a finger on, but a lot seems to be chemistry. Their offense was just fine last year (.270 team average, 167 HRs) and their pitching wasn't bad (4.21). The problem is now it will get worse.

Abreu is getting older and fell off bad in the second half last year. He could be great again, but he may also be a shell of his former self. Burrell is the NL's Paul Konerko, as he has had some good seasons but some awful ones too. You never know when he could revert. Howard probably won't be as great his sophmore campaign either. About the only guy poised for a huge season seem to be Utley.

Pitching-wise, they have issues. They lost Billy Wagner to the Mets and traded starter Vicente Padilla away. Their replacement for closer, Tom Gordon, is old and recent reports don't suggest too many positive things. The most they can hope for is having Brett Myers establish himself as a staff ace, with Jon Lieber in support, and get some production from former superprospect Gavin Floyd or Cole Hamels. Otherwise, it will be more dissapointment in Philadelphia.

4. Washington Nationals 65-97

Washington is not in a great situation, to say the least. They remain owned by Major League Baseball, so their moves are fairly limited. And their biggest offseason move, acquiring Alfonso Soriano, has been a flat-out mess. That being said, there isn't too much to say for Washington. They don't have a farm system to speak of, they have no pitching beyond Livan Hernandez and John Patterson, and they lost key set-up man Luis Ayala to injury in the WBC, leaving closer Chad Cordero without much support. And the offense will most likely be as inept as it was last year.

The only prayer for success is some more amazing management magic from Frank Robinson and a big season from Soriano in left field. But that's pretty unlikely. Robinson will do his best, but there simply isn't that much talent there. And Washington's big pitcher's park will hurt Soriano's numbers, not to mention he'll have no protection in the lineup. It may be a long season in Washington.

5. Florida Marlins 62-100

Florida is probably the least-watchable team in all of baseball. They have two superstars (Dontrelle Willis, Miguel Cabrera), but you couldn't name five other players if you researched it for hours. Well, you could, but regardless, it will be a team of rookies. Think the 2000 Twins, or for that matter, the 1998 Marlins.

There is tons of talent there (Hanley Ramirez, Jeremy Hermida, and former Twin Travis Bowyer to name a few), but nothing will come of it this year. They will have a chance at a run in a few years, but only if they keep cornerstone players Willis and Cabrera around. That may be hard, consider that both have been around for only competitive seasons. Willis will be killed by an uncompetitive atmosphere and Cabrera needs good veteran presence.

They may lose out on them pretty quickly and the team itself may not be around Florida for much longer. Don't be surpised if they lose 120 games. Its possible.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

AL Predictions

It's that time of year. Time to predict where each team in baseball will finish this year based on their offseason moves. We start with a look at the American League today, and Mr. Mosvick will be doing his National League predictions tomorrow. Enjoy, and feel free to comment if you have any disagreements.



Much like with the Atlanta Braves, I have learned over the past several years never to underestimate the Oakland Athletics. Prior to last season, I thought they looked thin, especially on offense, and predicted them to come in last place in an improving division. Much to my surprise, the A's finished the 2005 season 88-74 and were in strong playoff contention right up until the end.

The Athletics have produced the AL's Rookie of the Year winner the past two seasons (shortstop Bobby Crosby in 2004 and closer Huston Street in 2005) and have a young lineup poised to improve this season. Crosby will look to stay healthy all season and could put up big numbers. First-baseman Dan Johnson and outfielder Nick Swisher should continue to develop in their sophomore campaigns. Look for a rebound year from Eric Chavez, who will provide pop in the middle of the Oakland lineup along with new arrival Milton Bradley. The acquisition of slugger Frank Thomas could pay dividends in the unlikely event that he stays healthy for the majority of the year.

The A's are loaded with arms. Barry Zito and Rich Harden form one of the league's most formidable 1-2 punches, and youngsters Dan Haren and Joe Blanton continue to develop. I'm not big on Esteban Loaiza, but he should fit in decently with this club as a veteran middle-of-the-rotation guy. If a starter gets injured, they have good depth, led by Kirk Saarloos. After saving 23 games and posting a 1.72 ERA last year, the 22-year-old Street should be one of the league's top closers.


Last year, the Rangers stumbled to a sub-.500 record despite leading the Major Leagues in home runs (260) and team slugging percentage (.468). Why? Their 4.92 team ERA ranked worse than any other team in the AL other than bottom-feeders Tampa Bay and Kansas City. During the offseason, they made several moves to shore up their rotation and it should lead to much more success in the AL West this season.

The Rangers' marquis offseason acquisition was 2005 American League ERA Champ Kevin Millwood. While his numbers will probably be a little worse in the Rangers' hitter-friendly ballpark, he should be an adequate ace. Texas also added Adam Eaton in a trade with the Padres (bit of a head-scratcher, as they gave up promising young pitcher Chris Young in the deal, who looked pretty good last year), and also acquired Vicente Padilla from the Phillies. The bullpen looks a little questionable in front of hard-throwing closer Francisco Cordero, but it should suffice.

The Rangers' three starting pitcher acquisitions will probably all have decent years, and that should be enough to allow a monstrous lineup that includes Mark Teixeria, Michael Young, and Hank Blalock to power them to second place in the division.


The defending division champs did not have a particularly impressive offseason. They picked up a couple of mediocre left-handed relievers in J.C. Romero and Hector Carrasco (both former Twins), but they lost a reliable starter in Paul Byrd and a solid catcher in Bengie Molina. They also parted ways with Steve Finley (which was probably for the best). They also signed Jeff Weaver to a one year, $8 million deal, one of the worst signings of the offseason in my opinion.

The problem is that a few of their projected regulars are getting old and probably set to see regressing numbers, namely Garret Anderson and Darin Erstad. I think 2005 Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon is going to have a down year, and the rest of their rotation will be about average. I predict they'll start to fall out of the race mid-way through the season and then call up star prospect middle-infielders Brandon Wood and Howie Kendrick to get some Major League experience.


The Mariners finished last in the AL West last season and didn't do a whole lot to improve themselves during the offseason. They brought in Japanese catcher Kenji Johjima, who will probably be hit-or-miss, and also signed southpaw Jarrod Washburn to add to their rotation, who is a decent back-of-the-rotation starter but not worth what they payed him.

I think Adrian Beltre will have a rebound year after a horribly disappointing 2005 campaign, and Richie Sexson should have another good year, but this offense is fairly unimpressive outside of those two and Ichiro. Young phenom Felix Hernandez will be a joy to watch pitch this year, but he will probably one of the few bright spots for M's fans in '06.



The Indians had a rough first half last year, but were the best team in baseball in the second half of the season. I believe that will carry into the 2006 season, where they will be a tough team to beat. They lost some pitching in the offseason, but considering that they had the lowest team ERA in the AL last season, they probably could afford to.

Catcher Victor Martinez had a putrid first half last season before tearing it up after the All-Star break. If he can get it going early this year, he will team up with Travis Hafner and Jhonny Peralta to bring some serious power to the table. The Tribe lost leadoff man Coco Crisp in an offseason trade with the Red Sox, but young center fielder Grady Sizemore should be able to step into that role nicely. They signed starting pitchers Jason Johnson and Paul Byrd to offset the losses of Kevin Millwood and Scott Elarton. I'm not at all big on Johnson, but I think Byrd is a nice fit with Cleveland. Cliff Lee proved himself as a high-quality pitcher last season, and C.C. Sabathia and Jake Westbrook are both capable of solid seasons.


Last year, the Twins were pretty much a unanimous choice to win the Central Division for a fourth consecutive year. Unfortunately, their offense fell well short of expectations and they wound up finishing just above .500. This year, they have made some nice offensive additions, namely Luis Castillo and Rondell White. It is also reasonable to think young players like Justin Morneau and Jason Bartlett, who struggled in their first full seasons in the big leagues, will improve dramatically with a year of experience under their belt.

The pitching staff should once again be excellent, perhaps even better than last year. The rotation returns 2005 Cy Young snub Johan Santana as well as Brad Radke, Carlos Silva, and Kyle Lohse. Francisco Liriano should join the rotation at some point in the season, and when he does, he could do some pretty special things.

I believe the Twins will improve enough offensively to win several of the close games they lost last year.


Perhaps it's out of bias against the franchise, but I just don't see the White Sox repeating their magical campaign of last year. Despite winning the World Series in 2005, General Manager Kenny Williams was very aggressive in the offseason, trading to get for slugger Jim Thome from the Phillies and pitcher Javier Vazquez and re-signing first baseman Paul Konerko, who hit 40 home runs last year.

Judging by the moves they made in the offseason, it would stand to reason that the Sox could only improve heading into 2006. However, I can't see their starting pitchers doing as well as they did last season. Jose Contreras, who posted a 5.50 ERA in 2004, won 15 games with a 3.71 ERA. Jon Garland, who, from 2002-2004, won 12 games a year and consistently posted an ERA around 4.60, went 18-10 with a 3.50 ERA. Furthermore, I don't think Vazquez, an extreme fly ball pitcher, will have much success in that stadium.

The Sox have many questions as well. Thome has some serious injury questions, as he was limited to just 59 games and a .352 slugging percentage last year with Philadelphia. Closer Bobby Jenks has had some character problems in the past, and while he was able to pull it together and pitch very effectively out of the Chicago bullpen last year, I question how he'll handle a full season in the closer role.

The White Sox are a team who I could easily see repeating as division champs, but I could also see them having some serious problems and struggling to stay above .500. Since a lot of things would have to go right for them to have success again this season, I'm going to go with the latter.


I really wanted to rank the Tigers higher. I think that if Ivan Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, and Carlos Guillen are healthy and productive for most of the season, they have a chance to be a great sleeper team and seriously contend for the division title. They added veteran Kenny Rogers to their rotation in the offseason, and I think his presence will be nice with young hurlers like Jeremy Bonderman and Justin Verlander/Joel Zumaya.

The Tigers have some very nice young hitters, like first baseman Chris Shelton and speedy center fielder Curtis Granderson. If the aforementioned veterans could stay healthy and hit like they have in their better years, the offense would be one of the most dangerous in the league. Unfortunately, it's tough for me to see that happening. Pudge seems to be wearing down and his patience at the plate has disappeared, as he posted a terrible .290 on-base percentage. Ordonez has played in just 134 games over the past two years combined. Guillen was great when he played last year but missed almost half the season due to a knee injury.

Detroit has a roster loaded with talent and could do some special things this year, but I have a feeling it is going to be another tough year in Mo-Town.


Last year, the Royals posted the worst record in the Major Leagues, going 56-106 while posting a league-worst 5.49 team ERA. Seems like things couldn't get much worse. Well, they won't; but they won't get a whole lot better either. The Royals went out and signed some veterans with winning track records during the offseason. The hope is that guys like Doug Mientkiewicz, Reggie Sanders, and Mark Grudzielanek, while not being the most earth-shatteringly talented players around, will bring a new attitude to a young team that understandably doesn't have a whole lot of confidence. I think this will help, to some degree, but not nearly enough to dig them out of last place.

The additions of Scott Elarton and Mark Redman give them a more respectable rotation, but they need the MIA Zack Greinke to return. The bullpen is highly questionable. Young players like third baseman Mark Teahen and 2003 Rookie of the Year shortstop Angel Berroa have not produced offensively like the team had hoped.

It will be another year of losing and growing pains for the Royals, but they should be better than they were last year, for what it's worth.



The Yankees don't have much pitching, but that shouldn't prevent them from winning at least 100 games with this lineup. With the newly acquired Johnny Damon hitting leadoff, the Bronx Bombers will be absolutely monstrous pretty much 1-9 in the lineup. Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Hideki Matsui, Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada... who do you pitch around? Opposing pitchers are going to be having nightmares about this lineup, which should help some of the headaches that their own pitching staff will be causing.

One would hope that Randy Johnson will bounce back this year, but it's hard to imagine career mediocrity Shawn Chacon repeating the success he had with the Yankees last year. I'm fairly convinced that Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright are simply overpaid free agency busts. Mike Mussina is getting old.

Still, the Yanks have a pretty solid bullpen. The legendary Mariano Rivera is coming off perhaps his best season, and he will have Kyle Farnsworth, Octavio Dotel, Tanyon Sturtze, and a variety of other solid pitchers setting him up.


The Blue Jays were very aggressive in the offseason and should pay off as they finally pass the Red Sox in the standings. Even though they payed far too much to get them, AJ Burnett and B.J. Ryan are great acquisitions. Ryan gives them a lights out closer, and if Burnett stays healthy (big if) he and Roy Halladay form a dominant 1-2 punch at the top of a very solid rotation. With all due respect to Johan Santana, Halladay is the best pitcher in the American League when he is healthy.

The Jays also stocked up on solid hitters in the offseason, trading for first baseman Lance Overbay and third baseman Troy Glaus. This should give them good power, and center fielder Vernon Wells could use a big year to prove that his 2003 season (.317/.359/.550) was not a fluke.

Toronto is not yet ready to overcome the Yankees, but getting out of third place will be a good start for them.


I've been hearing a lot about how deep the Red Sox are with pitching, but I just don't see it. When I look at their pitching staff, I see a lot of questions and I'm not too optimistic about the answers.

I have trouble believing Curt Schilling has anything left in the tank after last year. He was just horrific. Josh Beckett, who the Sox acquired from the Marlins in the offseason, is a great pitcher when healthy but he doesn't have a very great track record with health. Much like former teammate A.J. Burnett, he throws really hard and it gives him frequent arm problems. David Wells has been nasty towards the Sox organization this spring and will probably be traded. Matt Clement was 10-2 with a 3.85 ERA before the All-Star break last year and 3-4 with a 5.72 ERA afterward. Youngster Jon Papelbon looks like he might be ready for the big leagues, but who knows how he will fare.

Even the mighty Red Sox offense looks a bit weak this year, particularly the infield. Mike Lowell is coming off an absolutely awful 2005 campaign and has reportedly looked bad in Spring Training. Shortstop Alex Gonzalez and first baseman J.T. Snow are good fielders who don't hit much. Kevin Youkilis has some hype surrounding him because he can draw walks, but he doesn't hit for great average or power. Mark Loretta has been a very good hitter over the course of the year, but he's 34 and showed some decline last year, particularly with his slugging percentage.

Of course, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez are still around. Unfortunately for Red Sox fans, there isn't nearly as much talent surrounding them as they have in the past several years. What is always hyped as a battle between Boston and New York for first place might turn into a battle between Boston and Baltimore for third place.


Miguel Tejada was furious this offseason with what he viewed as complacency by the Orioles organization. It's hard to blame him. While the Blue Jays went out and stocked up on prominent players in an effort to unseat the big-market Yankees and Red Sox, Baltimore signed catcher Ramon Hernandez and mediocre center field Corey Patterson. The also signed Kevin Millar, who doesn't have a history of hitting too well outside of Fenway Park.

The Orioles do have a sneaky good rotation featuring promising youngsters Erik Bedard and Daniel Cabrera. The team lured in legendary pitching coach Leo Mazzone with the hope of helping these players reach their potential sooner rather than later.

Even if both of those pitchers are able to come out and have great seasons, it still probably won't be enough for a team that has a lousy bullpen, not much offense, and plays in a very tough division. Chances are the Orioles will be sellers around the trade deadline.


The Devil Rays are on their way to building a pretty darn good offense, filled with athletic and talented young players like Jorge Cantu, Julio Lugo, Carl Crawford, and Rocco Baldelli. Unfortunately, their pitching could be disastrous this year. The casual baseball fan could not be blamed for not recognizing a single name on this team's pitching staff. They traded away their most established reliever, Danys Baez, in the offseason, and now are left with a collection of inexperienced young players and sub-par veterans. With more talented outfielders quickly rising through the system, like the speedy Joey Gathright and top prospect Delmon Young, the Rays might have to look at trading Crawford or Baldelli for legitimate pitching help. As it stands, Scott Kazmir is the only starter on this team who seems remotely capable of a good season.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Hope Springs Eternal

It is important to remember that Spring Training statistics cannot always be taken too seriously. After all, last spring Jason Bartlett hit .370 and Michael Cuddyer had a 1.037 OPS. We all know what happened to them in the regular season.

Still, it is difficult to look at what the Twins have done this spring and not be at least cautiously optimistic. After scoring fewer runs than any other team in the American League last year, the Twins have smacked the cover off the ball in their exhibition schedule this month. They have been posting big run totals in lop-sided victories. A 16-7 win over Tampa Bay. A 10-3 win over Cincinnati. A 12-5 split-squad victory over Cleveland. Several players have had prolific springs as well. Nick Punto, Luis Rodriguez, and Terry Tiffee are all performing very well and providing hope that the Twins can have solid depth in their infield this year. Rondell White and Tony Batista both have shown glimmers of the power Terry Ryan was hoping to receive when he signed them during the offseason, as each have hit three home runs in 35 at-bats. New arrival Luis Castillo is hitting .381. Torii Hunter is hitting .370 and has five extra-base hits in 27 at-bats. Shannon Stewart is hitting .348. Justin Morneau has homered twice in 16 at-bats since joining the team.

Beyond just seeing what guys are doing with the team in Spring Training, all the Twins players who participated in the World Baseball Classic looked very good in the tournament. Morneau had 4 hits and 2 RBI in 13 at-bats for Canada. Johan Santana pitched 8.1 innings for Venezuela, facing star-studded lineups, and allowed just 3 hits while striking out 10. Carlos Silva pitched 5.2 innings of shutout ball for the same squad. Francisco Liriano dominated for the Dominican Republic, striking out 8 hitters in 5.1 innings while allowing just one earned run.

None of this really means anything in the long run, because as I stated before, spring performances can be misleading. Nonetheless, I'm relieved to see that the Twins hitters have been swinging the bats well and that none of the major players have suffered any serious injuries to this point. There's plenty of reasons to be optimistic right now, so let's just hope that carries through to April.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Position Analysis: Relief Pitcher

The Twins' bullpen is expected to once again be a strength this season, as several players return from last year's excellent group that posted a 3.24 ERA (third-best in the American League) return. Gone is J.C. Romero, who despite posting a solid 3.47 ERA in 2005, was extremely frustrating to watch due to his lack of control and his maddening tendency to let almost every inherited runner score. Also gone is Terry Mulholland, whose "rubber arm" was good for only an 18:17 strikeout-to-walk ratio last year. Four spots look to be locked down in the Twins bullpen, with the final two up for grabs between a number of candidates.

I'm not as optimistic as some in my outlook for the Twins 2006 bullpen. I think there are several reasons for concern. We'll likely be seeing an increased dependence on youth this season which can always spell trouble in the high-pressure situations of relief pitching.

First, the four returning players who, barring injury, are essentially assured spots in the Twins' bullpen entering the 2006 season:

Joe Nathan - The Closer
2005 stats: 70 IP, 7-4, 43 saves, 2.70 ERA, 94 K/22 BB, .97 WHIP

Since the former starter was acquired by the Twins in a 2003 trade with the Giants, Nathan has blossomed into one of the league's best closers. In each of his first two seasons with the Twins, Nathan has ranked third in the American League in saves, posted WHIPs under 1, and been an All-Star. I see no reason why he shouldn't repeat all these feats again in 2006.

Nathan had a bit of a roller-coaster season last year, posting 0.00 ERAs in April and August and a 0.79 in July but a 5.73 in May, a 6.30 in June, and a 5.59 in September. The final product was good -- a 2.70 on the season -- but you'd like to see a little more consistency. He struggled with his control at times last year which frequently got him into trouble. This year, I think he'll come out strong and have a very solid year. His fastball -- which normally takes a couple months to get up to top speed -- clocked at 96 MPH in the World Baseball Classic so he should be blowing by hitters right from the start. I predict 45 saves and a 1.90 ERA.

Juan Rincon - The Set-Up Man
2005 stats: 77 IP, 6-6, 2.46 ERA, 84 K/30 BB, 1.21 WHIP

Struggling with elbow issues, Rincon has yet to appear in a game this spring. I have a suspicion that he might open the season on the disabled list. This would be bad news for the Twins, who have relied heavily on Rincon's ability to dominate opposing batters and get close games into Nathan's hands. Steroid suspensions aside, Rincon was very solid last year, holding opposing hitters to a .224 batting average and allowing just 2 home runs in 77 innings. At age 27, he is still very much in his prime and capable of reproducing last year's numbers.

Hopefully Rincon can overcome his elbow issues because he is an absolutely crucial piece in this bullpen, especially with the departure of Romero.

Jesse Crain - The Middle Reliever
2005 stats: 79.2 IP, 12-5, 2.71 ERA, 25 K/29 BB, 1.13 WHIP

Crain is the member of this bullpen who I am perhaps most concerned about entering this year. Not because of any injury problems -- he is at full health as far as I know -- but rather because of a disturbing trend I have noticed with him. Fellow Twins blogger Aaron Gleeman wrote a post last year pointing out something that I too had noticed: Crain's strikeout rates have dropped off the charts since his arrival in the Major Leagues. Not just a little, but at an alarming rate. At every level of the minor leagues, Crain never posted a K/9 rate lower than 10 (except for 12 innings he threw at Quad City in 2002, in which he had 11 strikeouts -- an 8.25 K/9 rate). However, in his first stint in the Majors in 2004, Crain struck out just 14 batters in 27 innings. A little disconcerting, but possibly attributable to a small sample size. Last year was far more alarming. Crain struck out only 25 batters in almost 80 innings, a K/9 rate of just 2.82. He walked five more batters than he fanned.

Last year, his inability to make hitters miss didn't hurt him too much. He still had a good season, posting a solid 2.70 ERA and collecting more wins than any Twins starting pitcher other than Johan Santana. Still, if more of the balls that opposing batters put into play starting falling in for hits this season, it could spell trouble for Crain. He's still very young, but I will be concerned if he doesn't start collecting more strikeouts this year.

Matt Guerrier - The Long Reliever
2005 stats: 72.2 IP, 0-3, 3.39 ERA, 46 K/24 BB, 1.33 WHIP

Guerrier had a very nice season in 2005, performing well in the low-pressure role of long relief. Actually, he performed so well that I was mystified by the team's hesitation to give him a chance in more crucial situations. It seemed that Ron Gardenhire would be more apt to go to Mulholland when he needed a guy to come in and toss a couple innings in a relatively close game. Guerrier was very good after the All-Star break last year, posting a 2.97 ERA and holding opposing hitters to a .253 batting average.

I would like to see Guerrier play a larger role in the Twins' bullpen this year. I would also be comfortable having him start for a period of time if one of the team's starting pitchers were to get hurt. Just another reason why Kyle Lohse is expendable for the right offer.

And now, the fringe guys, who are battling for the final two spots in the Twins' bullpen:

Dennys Reyes
2005 stats (w/ Padres): 44.2 IP, 3-2, 5.15 ERA, 35 K/32 BB, 2.04 WHIP

Reyes, 28, is not a very good pitcher. He's posted ERAs below 4 twice in his career, and the last time was 1999. He will probably make the Twins as a left-handed specialist. In that role, he could be adequate. Over he past three years, he has held left-handed hitters to a .271/.336/.394 line -- not great, but decent. He also has much better control against lefties than righties. If Gardenhire starts using Reyes like he used Romero, having him pitch entire innings and facing right-handed hitters regularly, he will not have a good season. If he uses him specifically for the task of retiring tough southpaws late in games, he could be sufficient.

Darrell May
2005 stats (w/ Padres): 59.1 IP, 1-3, 5.61 ERA, 32 K/20 BB, 1.67 WHIP

I see little reason why May would make the Twins roster. He has had one decent season in his career -- which was almost assuredly a fluke -- and he has a 5.73 ERA this spring. He's been a starter for most of his career and has never been a remotely effective reliever. The Twins already have a good long relief man and they have several young guys who would almost certainly be more competent than May. His only redeeming quality is the fact that he is left-handed, but there are several lefties in the minor league system that would be preferrable, and at least have upside. May is 33 years old.

I will be baffled and frustrated if May makes the Twins' roster. Unfortunately, I could see it happening. Just seems like the kind of thing they would do...

Willie Eyre
2005 stats (w/ AAA Rochester): 82.2 IP, 10-3, 7 saves, 2.72 ERA, 74 K/28 BB, 1.29 WHIP

Eyre is a guy who I'm really hoping makes the Twins' roster. He pitched very well out of the Rochester bullpen last year, and he has allowed only 8 hits and 2 earned runs in 10.1 innings this spring. Eyre is pretty old for a prospect (he'll turn 28 in July) so there's really no sense in leaving him sitting in the minors anymore. Even if he struggles a little making the transition to the Majors, it's still difficult to imagine him being a worse option than May.

Dave Gassner
2005 stats (w/ AAA Rochester): 116.1 IP, 8-8, 4.95 ERA, 64 K/33 BB, 1.47 WHIP

Gassner, another lefty, probably doesn't have much of a Major League future. He had a solid year a Triple-A in 2004, going 16-8 with a 3.41 ERA, but last year his ERA ballooned near 5 and he was only .500. He was called up mid-way through the season and made two starts for the Twins, pitching pretty well in his debut but then getting pummeled in the second start. Gassner is a soft-tosser who doesn't really have a strong enough repertoire to get by against Major League hitters. I'd still rather see him in the 'pen than May though. Gassner has no chance of making the Opening Day roster because he recently discovered a bone spur in his elbow that will keep him out for at least a month.

Boof Bonser
2005 stats (w/ AAA Rochester): 160.1 IP, 11-9, 3.99 ERA, 168 K/57 BB, 1.31 WHIP

Some people consider Bonser to be a candidate for a starting spot with the Twins in the near future but I have trouble understanding why. He has never had a real good season in the minors beyond the Single-A level. Last year in Triple-A he was solid but not spectacular. He has allowed 8 runs on 15 hits in 8 innings this spring, which probably doesn't help his chances much.

There are a few other young guys, like Justin Jones, Errol Simonitsch, Glen Perkins, Matt Garza, Pat Neshek, and Jose Mijares, who have pitched well this spring but haven't seen action above the Double-A level and thus don't have much of a shot at winning a Major League spot to open the season. Keep those names on the radar though, as they could quickly rise through the ranks and find themselves in Twins uniforms very soon.

I think the competition for the final two spots in the bullpen is mostly between Reyes, May, and Eyre. I hope May is the odd man out. I think he will be.

Overall, the Twins bullpen can very strong this year, but there are some things to keep an eye on. Rincon needs to get healthy and stay healthy. Crain needs to either continue to have good luck on balls put into play or raise his strikeout rate. Reyes (or whoever the Twins use as their strikeout specialist) needs to be able to handle the division's big southpaw sluggers like Travis Hafner and Jim Thome. The Twins will need a young player or two to step up. If all those things can happen, I think the Twins will have one of the strongest bullpens in the American League. But those are big ifs.


This concludes our position analysis series. Back to your regularly scheduled blogging tomorrow.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Position Analysis: Starting Pitcher

Despite trotting out the worst offense in the American League last year, the Twins miraculously managed to finish with a winning record thanks to an outstanding pitching staff. This year, the top four starters are back and two young stars with a lot of potential will vie for the final spot. Whichever one takes it will almost certainly be an upgrade over what Joe Mays gave them last year. Things are definitely looking promising for the Twins' starting rotation for the 2006 campaign.

Johan Santana
2005 stats: 231.2 IP, 16-7, 2.87 ERA, 238 K/45 BB, .97 WHIP

One of the huge numbers for Johan last year was this: 24. That is, 24 quality starts. With a quality offense, Santana should have easily won 20 games last year and, naturally, his second straight Cy Young award. However, as we all know, the Twins' offense was putrid and Santana had his award stolen by the unworthy Bartolo Colon.

This year, I wouldn't expect anything different from Johan. The only thing that should and will hopefully change is his tendency to get off to slow starts. If Santana can get through April and May with a 3.50 ERA and a .500 record, look out. Since 2003, post-All Star break, Johan is an incredible 30-3 with a 1.90 ERA, 312 Ks in 298 innings and a jaw-dropping .187 opponents' batting average. He really seems to turn a corner the last two months of the season, as he is 14-1 in August with a 1.52 ERA and 10-1 in September with a 2.03 ERA. Inexplicably, his only really problem month is May, where he has gone 5-6 with a 4.65 ERA.

I suspect Santana will turn the corner, at least somewhat. He's way too good not to. And he looked great in the WBC. My prediction: 19-5, 2.70 ERA, 250 K, .95 WHIP, another Cy Young.

Brad Radke
2005 stats: 200.2 IP, 9-12, 4.04 ERA, 117 K/23 BB, 1.18 WHIP

This may be Radke's last year in a Twins uniform and that's too bad. Radke really is a solid pitcher and a good number two starter. He hardly walks anyone (23 walks in 200 and 2/3 innings last year) and is a great big-game pitcher (remember his stellar starts against Oakland and Anahiem in the 2002 playoffs?). Most of all, he's really a good guy who stuck around here through all the awful seasons and for less money to win with the Twins. Hard not to respect that.

As for the 2006 season, he may have injury woes. A bad shoulder shut him down at the end of the year in '05, but Radke to me remains a 200-inning guy. The ERA should fall somewhere between his 2004 and 2005 numbers. I'd say 14-11, 3.75 ERA, 1.15 WHIP.

Carlos Silva
2005 stats: 188.1 IP, 9-8, 3.44 ERA, 71 K/9 BB, 1.17 WHIP

A bit of a surprise last year, Silva did some great things while pitching with a knee injury. He threw a 74-pitch complete game, ended the year with only 9 walks allowed (.43 per nine innings, a modern big league record), and was a solid pitcher all year round. Of course, his defense behind him is key, since he is almost a one-pitch pitcher--sinkerballer. Last year, he gave up a lot of hits but managed a low ERA, mostly do to his ability to get the double play at will. He'll need that again this year. An improved defense behind him should help him achieve that goal.

Like Radke, Silva has some injury concerns, but he appears to be doing just fine. Silva should toss around 200 innings this year, as he easily goes deep into games by throwing a lot less pitches than most. I'd say expect I rise in ERA, but not by that much. My prediction: 13-10, 3.60 ERA, 1.22 WHIP

Kyle Lohse
2005 stats: 178.2 IP, 9-13, 4.18 ERA, 86 K/44 BB, 1.43 WHIP.

Lohse is sort of the outlier of the bunch. While Silva and Radke give up their share of hits, they manage to keep their WHIPs low by walking very few hitters. Lohse has good control too, but his isn't quite as good. The fact that he gave up so many hits and struck out so few is concerning. He isn't a sinkerball pitcher like Silva, so the low strikeout rate is something to watch out for.

Lohse, to me, isn't as good as his ERA might make him seem. He's a fine bottom-of-the-rotation guy, but after he listened to Rick Anderson last year and focused on getting ground balls (3.93 ERA in the second half), he seemed to get away from it again late in the season, as his ERA rose in September. He still seems like a stubborn personality who doesn't mesh with the Twins clubhouse and could be perfect trade bait for Terry Ryan. Plus, with youngsters Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano right behind him, the Twins may not need him if the rotation stays healthy. For that reason, I doubt Lohse will spend the whole year with the Twins. I say he goes 6-8 with a 4.55 ERA before getting traded in July for another hitter.

Scott Baker
2005 stats (w/ Twins): 53.2 IP, 3-3, 3.35 ERA, 32 K/14 BB, 1.16 WHIP
2005 stats (w/ AAA Rochester): 134.2 IP, 5-8, 3.01 ERA, 107 K/26 BB, 1.11 WHIP

Fransisco Liriano
2005 stats (w/ Twins): 23.2 IP, 1-2, 5.70 ERA, 33 K/7 BB, 1.10 WHIP
2005 stats (w/ AAA Rochester): 91 IP, 9-2, 1.78 ERA, 112 K/24 BB, .88 WHIP

These two top pitching prospects, as we well know, are ready to fight it out in the last days of Spring Training, as Liriano has just returned from the WBC. It's an interesting battle, as Baker has the makeup of Radke, with some extra zip on his fastball, while Liriano has absolutely nasty stuff while throwing in the high 90s from the left side.

To me, it's very hard not to get excited about Liriano. Next to Santana, the guy could strike out over 200 hitters now. He also could blow up and lose his confidence, which is why I see Ryan staying cautious on this one. Liriano won't spend all of 2006 in the minors, though. He can't. He has nothing left to prove after demolishing Triple-A hitters last year. The likely scenario is that either Kyle Lohse gets traded early in the year or someone in the rotation gets hurt and opens a spot for Liriano. Liriano will break the rotation at some point, regardless, but his entrace will be dependent on the moves of the organization.

That leaves Baker in the fifth spot at the beginning of the year and likely in the fourth spot by the end. Baker did great after his call-up last year, but he won't sustain the low ERA all year and he'll have to go through some rough spots. My prediction is 10-9, 4.10 ERA with 120 Ks in 180 innings and a 1.30 WHIP.

As for Liriano, once he cracks the rotation, he should perform a lot better than he did in a few innings with the Twins last year (if you ignore the high ERA, he still dominated the hitters he faced). He should rack up close to 150 innings by the end of year. In those, I say he goes 9-6 with 180 Ks and a 1.20 WHIP.

All in all, looks like a pretty exciting and great rotation to watch. A Cy Young winner, a rookie phenom, a sly veteran, and a strike-throwing machine. Should be a top rotation to support this year's run.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Position Analysis: Designated Hitter

Likely Starter: Rondell White
2005 stats (w/ Tigers): .313/.348/.489, 12 HR, 53 RBI

Potential Backups: Ruben Sierra, Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer

The Twins have had a considerable problem with the designated hitter position for the past several years. The guys that they have put there -- with the sole duty of hitting -- have not really hit. As such, no single player has really been able to hold down the spot. Several guys have been tried there over the years, but it has been a long time since the Twins have had a solid DH who has been able to hold the spot for an entire season.

Terry Ryan set out during the offseason to change that for this year. The two big-name candidates on the free agent market that the Twins reportedly had interest in were Frank Thomas and Mike Piazza, but there were many issues with both of these players. Aside from injury concerns, Thomas is a questionable clubhouse character and Piazza still wants to play the field. Wanting to avoid these issues, Ryan went the safer route and signed Rondell White from the Tigers to an incentive-laden one-year contract (with an option for a second year). Despite a long injury history, White has been a very consistent hitter in his career, posting a .289/.343/.472 line. The only time he has hit below .270 in a full season was in 2002 with the Yankees, by far his worst season. The Twins had two starters hit over .270 last year.

White has typically been a left fielder over the course of his career, but the Twins plan to move him to full-time DH duties in order to reduce the likelihood of another injury. White has only gotten over 500 at-bats in a season twice in his 13-year career. Last year he only played in 97 games, but hit very well, posting a .313/.348/.489 with 12 home runs and 53 RBI. He injured his shoulder while playing in the outfield, and that is how a lot of his injuries have come. Being used strictly as a DH should hopefully keep him healthy for the majority of the season.

Perhaps the most important thing to look at with White is how he hits with runners in scoring position. Last year he was phenomenal, hitting .364/.417/.525 with with 41 RBI in 99 at-bats. His three-year line with RISP is .301/.387/.501. This is extremely important as White will probably hit cleanup for the Twins, right behind a couple of guys who get on base a ton in Luis Castillo and Joe Mauer. Even though Rondell lacks prototypical power for a cleanup hitter, he should drive in a lot of runs if he gets the opportunities.

The Twins would be exuberant to get the kind of numbers from White that he put up last year, but even if he hits around his career averages it would be a major upgrade for this offense. If he can stay healthy for most of the year, I predict White will have a very good season and hit around .300/.345/.475 with 20 HR and 95 RBI. And I also think that will be a much better year than either Piazza or Thomas will have.

If he's healthy, White should start most of the games at DH. Ruben Sierra will probably start there a few times against right-handed pitchers if he's on the roster. Jason Kubel might also spend some time at DH, particularly if his knee has problems and keeps him from being able to play the outfield.


On another note, this is why you don't spend 55 million dollars on an extremely injury-prone pitcher. Close call.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Position Analysis: Right Field

Likely Starter: Michael Cuddyer
2005 stats: .263/.330/.428, 12 HR, 42 RBI

Potential Backups: Lew Ford, Jason Kubel

Last year, at this time, we were writing about Cuddyer being the starting third baseman, replacing Corey Koskie. This year, we are talking about his last chance as a Twin.

Cuddyer's start last year was atrocious after a hot spring, as he hit was his usual inept self in April. In April last year, Cuddyer hit .205 with only one homer. Since Cuddyer has always gotten off to a late start, as he is much better post-All Star break, you have to wonder if he can hold on to any job.

However, the likely scenario is that he'll get the job and lose it. When, in May, Gardy can't take his terrible batting and ability to hit into double plays, his likely replacement will be Jason Kubel.

I say this for two reasons. For one, it appears that Lew Ford will be the fourth outfielder this season. That makes sense. Lew may be a better option than Cuddyer in right, as he has so far proven to be a better hitter in the big leagues and is a better defender. However, since he can play all the outfield positions, he's a very useful bench player, especially if Torii Hunter gets hurt.

Secondly, it appears that Kubel is getting seriously consideration for the spot in right field. Recently, in both the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press, this was noted. LaVelle quoted Gardy as saying, "He got that second base hit with a man on third, and I said right away, 'This young man is really going to make it interesting as we go along here in spring. Your thought is on the cautious side, but let me tell you what, he's swinging pretty good, and he's moving pretty good, and if he's the best player out there, that's who will be playing out there."

He notes that, however, the competition will likely remain between Ford and Cuddyer. This will likely prevail, if only because Kubel is still working his way back from major knee surgery. The predicted scenario will have him going back to the minors for a little bit to get his swing fully back and then to bring him up. That makes sense, just because he need not sit on the bench for all of April only to get rusty.

All in all, the predictions for stats are a little hard to say. To me, this is Cuddyer's last chance with the organizaton that has given him so many chances since he was choosen in the first round back in 1997. I just don't believe that he'll make it past April. If he isn't traded, he'll become a utility guy, which seems the most suitable role for him anyways. With that in mind, I see Cuddyer with a .245/.325/.430 line at the end of the year with around 8 HRs and 30 RBI in about 200 ABs. Kubel, getting the job around May, should hit around .280/.350/.440 with 10 HRs and 50 RBI while Ford, possibly getting more time with the injury concerns surrounding Hunter and Stewart and the likely caution Gardy will show with Kubel, will produce a .270/.345/.425 line with 7 HRs and 40 RBI.

Overall, I still say it would be better to start the year with Kubel in right or even Ford. However, this is Cuddyer's last hurrah. In a way, I'd love to see him finally produce up to his potential, but I just do not see it happening. Because of that, I'll still look forward to seeing what Kubel can do out there when the job is finally his.