Sunday, March 31, 2013

2013 MLB Preview and Predictions

With the season fast approaching, I am going through each division and assessing the teams from top to bottom. Predictions are difficult to make, as last year only one of my team records came out exactly as I had predicted in the spring. None of my award winners came into fruition. This season will be even tougher to decide, because so many teams have improved since last year. Feel free to comment if you have any disagreements or want to voice your opinion.

Team Records

AL East
Tampa Bay Rays: 90-72- Y
Toronto Blue Jays: 88-74- W
New York Yankees: 86-76
Boston Red Sox: 83-79
Baltimore Orioles: 80-82

The power shift in the American League East is underway, but exactly which team takes the pie is still a major unknown. With the Yankees and their injuries, I don’t see them pulling out a playoff spot this season, as management tries to get under the $189 million mark in preparation for next season. The Tampa Bay Rays were a safe bet to make as the division winners because of their pitching, and their timely hitting. Although they are a weak hitting team, the offense, led by Evan Longoria, has the ability to get the job done in terms of scoring just enough runs to win games. The pitching staff always finds a way to perform, with defending Cy Young award winner David Price at the head of the rotation. Joe Maddon always gets the best out of his players, and this season should not be any different. Despite Toronto’s effort in acquiring all of the Marlins best players, I do not see the season being outstanding. The team is injury prone, and we have yet to see the rotation pieces contribute at the same time, which causes inconsistency. However, the offense is a force to be reckoned with and will ultimately take them as far as they are poised to go.

AL Central
Detroit Tigers: 93-69- Y
Kansas City Royals: 89-73- W
Cleveland Indians: 86-76
Chicago White Sox: 78-84
Minnesota Twins: 66-96
Detroit is clearly the best team in this division, led by ace Justin Verlander and reigning Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera. The Tigers have one of the deepest lineups in all of baseball, and Jim Leyland’s baseball experience will help the team in winning their second consecutive division title. The Royals may surprise some people. The team acquired James Shields from the Rays to serve as the ace of their rotation, and the Royals have great young hitters who will show why they deserve to be in the conversation this year. A Terry Francona team should never be doubted, especially after signing the likes of Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn. While the lineup is certainly an improvement over last year, the Indians’ starting rotation remains a huge question mark. Their good bullpen means nothing when most of their starters will not be able to reach the sixth inning. This is certainly a rebuilding year for the Twins, who got rid of their athletic outfielders in favor of young starting pitching, which they hope to have developed by the 2015 season.

AL West
LA Angels: 91-71- W
Texas Rangers 87-75
Oakland Athletics: 84-78
Seattle Mariners: 76-86
Houston Astros: 55-107
The Angels are a force to be reckoned with in the American League West this year. With the addition of Josh Hamilton to their already powerful lineup, look for the Halos to make the postseason as division champions. The Rangers will take a step back after losing key pieces to their offense, along with having a weak starting rotation. The Athletics surprised everyone last year with their magical run to the postseason, but I do not see them being as good this year. That does not mean they will not be competitive this year. The A’s are a scrappy bunch of players who leave everything on the field. With the Astros making their way into the American League, they will be the doormat of the AL, who will stomp all over the ‘Stros.

NL East
Washington Nationals: 97-65- Y
Atlanta Braves: 87-73
Philadelphia Phillies: 81-81
New York Mets: 72-90
Miami Marlins: 63-99
The Washington Nationals are the best team in baseball by a mile. With key acquisitions that include Rafael Soriano and Dan Haren along with phenoms Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg the Nats will wrap up this division with almost no issues. The Braves are a team that could likely make the playoffs as the wildcard because of their outfield and strong bullpen. I believe that the Phillies’ run is over. Halladay’s best days are clearly behind them, and the offense is too sporadic for them to compete this year. The Mets will drop down in wins this year after losing RA Dickey and Johan Santana, who won a combined 26 games for the Amazins’ in 2012. The lineup is weak, and the outfield is atrocious. Unless the Mets bring up Zach Wheeler, they will struggle this year in preparation to compete in 2014.

NL Central
Cincinnati Reds: 91-71- Y
St. Louis Cardinals: 88-74- W
Pittsburgh Pirates: 83-79
Milwaukee Brewers: 81-81
Chicago Cubs: 69-93
Expect the Cincinnati Reds to take care of business after failing to make it past the first round of the playoffs in 2012. Joey Votto is a force in the Reds lineup and Brandon Phillips is the best second baseman in the National League. The Reds have too much going for them to do anything but win their division. However, I do worry about their starting pitching depth, as they do not have good backup insurance in the case that one of their starters goes down. The Cardinals seemingly make the playoffs every year, and I once again can see them winning the wildcard round to make it to real October baseball. The rest of the teams in the division are rebuilding, and I would keep an eye on the Pirates. They have the pieces needed to contend. Although their number is low, don’t let them fool you. I think the Pirates are ready to take the next step.
NL West
San Francisco Giants: 94-68- Y
Los Angeles Dodgers: 91-71- W
San Diego Padres: 83-80
Arizona Diamondbacks: 80-82
Colorado Rockies: 73-89
The defending World Champions will not disappoint this year. They are perhaps the best all-around team in baseball. Their rotation is lethal, their lineup is sneaky good and their bullpen gets the job done under the bright lights. I don’t have the Dodgers winning the division, but I do believe they will be in contention for a wildcard spot. Money does not buy championships and the Dodgers are inexperienced when it comes to putting a team together that meshes well. The remaining teams in the division will not serve as much of a threat, however there is a chance that the Padres will surprise some people and get in the Dodgers’ way for the wildcard.

2013 MVP Predictions:
AL: Mike Trout
NL: Matt Kemp
2013 Cy Young Award Predictions:
AL: David Price
NL: Adam Wainwright
2013 Rookie of the Year Predictions:
2013 Cinderella Teams:
AL: Cleveland Indians
NL: San Diego Padres
World Series: Washington Nationals over Tampa Bay Rays

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Trimming the Roster

Juan Rivera is the latest Yankee to get cut just four days before Opening Day. The problem with Rivera, aside from the Yankees owing him a contract bonus if they had to keep him past today, is that there is no room for Rivera to play. He began Spring Training in the outfield shortly after Granderson's injury. However, after Mark Teixeira went down the Yankees tried him at first and it did not go well for Rivera defensively. Despite having good numbers at the plate, the Yankees needed Rivera to play solid first base, which is something he was incapable of doing.

After dealing for Vernon Wells and signing Lyle Overbay to try out for the first base job, there was no reason to keep Rivera on the squad. Although Overbay is a downgrade at the plate over Rivera, Overbay is one of the better defensive first basemen in baseball. The Yankees would rather have a defensive guru at first base that saves errors for other infielders than having a player who only was capable of playing on one side of the ball. Thus signaled the end of Juan Rivera's Yankee career-- for now.

With Opening Day four days away, the Yankees have made most of their decisions. Both, Ivan Nova and David Phelps will begin the year in the rotation while Hughes is on the disabled list with a bulging disc. Nunez will be the Yankees Opening Day shortstop while Derek Jeter is rehabbing his ankle. Finally, the Yankees will likely settle with Kevin Youkilis at first base and Jayson Nix at third against lefties, while having Overbay play first with Youkilis at third against righties.

The Opening Day lineup will likely look like this:

Brett Gardner CF
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Kevin Youkilis 1B
Travis Hafner DH
Vernon Wells LF
Jayson Nix 3B
Eduardo Nunez SS
Chris Stewart/Francisco Cervelli C

SP: LHP CC Sabathia vs. LHP Jon Lester

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Rest of the East: Toronto Blue Jays

In the final installment of my analysis of American League East teams, I look at the newly revamped Toronto Blue Jays who acquired half of their roster from the Miami Marlins in a mega-trade early in the off-season. The Jays were a horrific baseball team last year. Most of their key players were injured, and the rest of the team was not effective. If they want to finish first in the division, a lot of things have to go right.

Jose Bautista missed most of the second half of the 2012 season with a wrist injury that he suffered at Yankee Stadium during an at-bat. Until that point in the season, Toronto was treading water. They remained in the wildcard hunt until the end of July, when things totally fell apart. Their manager, John Farrell, did a great job in working with what he had but the end result was not a desirable one. After winning a mere 73 games in the AL East one year ago, the Blue Jays look to buck that short trend by taking it all in 2013. The star power on the team begins with the pitching staff and ends with the starting lineup. There is no question that the Blue Jays are an all-around improved team, aside from minor holes in the bullpen. The World Series is not won in March, it is won in October. The Miami Marlins learned that the hard way after they spent a ton of money of big free agents and came in last place in their division.

Beginning with the trade, the Blue Jays now have a stellar front of the rotation pitching staff. Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle were both respective aces at some point in their career. The problem with the pair is, Johnson could not stay healthy in 2012 and Buehrle had an off year for his standards. The rotation looks great on paper, but the players have to stay healthy and remain effective to pose as a real threat in the division. Jose Reyes was another key player traded from Miami to Toronto. There is no question that the team up north possesses one of the best shortstops in Major League Baseball. Reyes had a great season with the Marlins, and was able to remain healthy through the season which is something he has struggled with in the past.

The Blue Jays further strengthened their rotation by adding the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner in RA Dickey. Dickey is the only remaining knuckle ball pitcher in baseball and has found his way after struggling for years before coming to the Mets in 2010. RA has already been announced as the Opening Day starter, and he has fared well in domes over the last couple of years so I don't expect him to struggle north of the border.

The Jays announced that Ricky Romero is getting sent down to Class A Dunedin. The former ace lefty starter has struggled with his command since the middle of last year and has shown no signs of improvement in spring camp with the Blue Jays. Manager John Gibbons said that Romero is lacking confidence and mental toughness, which is something that a first year manager should not be saying to the media. However, the fact remains that Romero pitched to a 7.35 ERA with 59 walks and 55 strikeouts over his final 17 starts of 2012. Those are startling numbers from a pitcher who was thought so highly of in the past.

The Blue Jays offense is certainly capable of hitting, with Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes leading the way. Toronto has added some pieces which include Melky Cabrera and Maicer Izturis. They have great players in Edwin Encarnacion and Brett Lawrie, who projects to be a start third baseman one day.

With all of that said, I believe that the Blue Jays will make the postseason, but likely in a wildcard spot. I project the Jays winning about 87 games, which should be enough to make the postseason.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Riding the Bench

The Yankees' bench is more of a question entering Opening Day than it has been for the previous two years. There are clearly holes on the Yankees bench and there are a number of ways to go about playing men off the bench.

Eduardo Nunez has been named the Yankees Opening Day shortstop in place of Jeter, who is still feeling discomfort in his ankle. This takes care of that position, and the Yankees will likely carry Jayson Nix to play the utility role throughout the middle infield.
With Kevin Youkilis as the Yankees everyday third baseman, the Yankees have given a long look to Ronnier Mustelier who has opened eyes this spring. The Cuban defector has hit for power, and played a stellar third base, so there is a good chance the Yankees will carry Mustelier on the bench to start the season.

Juan Rivera is almost a lock to become the Yankees first baseman, with Teixeira out and Dan Johnson showing no signs that he can hit. Rivera is a natural outfielder, but is learning first base in case he is called upon to play the position in the regular season.

The outfield is an interesting point of discussion. With the Yankees acquisition of Vernon Wells, all three outfield spots are spoken for until Granderson recovers from his forearm injury. The Yankees outfield, which has been lacking power, should get a boost when Wells comes over to play left field. Wells will be the starter against left handed pitching, and after Granderson returns, Wells can serve as a good compliment to Brett Gardner. I believe that Gardner has the ability to be an everyday outfielder with his glove alone, however Girardi does not trust Gardner against certain lefties. Just trying to play along to what the manager will do when the regular season bell rings.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Vernon Wells Traded to Yankees

The Yankees and Angels are ironing out a trade in which outfielder Vernon Wells would find himself in pinstripes. The only major hurdle that is keeping the deal from being official is financial. Wells is owed $42 million for the next two seasons, equating to $21 million per year. The Yankees are only willing to pay a fraction of his salary. The Angels are content with the deal in part because they do not have room for Wells in a crowded outfield which includes the likes of Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton and Peter Bourjos.

The Yankees have been desperately seeking a formidable bat in the middle of their order that would fill a temporary void for the injured Curtis Granderson. After Granderson's return the Yankees would platoon Gardner and Wells in left field, being that Wells is a right handed bat that the Yankees have been lacking in the outfield over the last couple of seasons. If Wells hits in 2013, the Yankees can use him in his final season in 2014. starting Brett Gardner in center field and moving Wells to left field for his final season playing in the Major Leagues. Wells has verbally approved a trade to the Yankees. The outfielder showed excitement when asked whether he would accept the trade.

While Wells' best years are behind him, he can still provide the Yankees with a strong force in the middle of their order for the next two seasons. With all the home runs the Yankees are missing from their lineup, Wells' presence gives the Yankees a more legitimate look in the power department.

The Yankees will be responsible for about $13 million of the contract and will pay it all this season so the $6.5 million owed to Wells next year does not interfere with $189 million goal in 2014, according to Joel Sherman. The salary is a lot for a player who has hit .222 over the last two seasons, but the Yankees needed to go down this road because of their lack of depth in the outfield.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Lineup Assessment

We all know that in April the Yankees will start the season without Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, Alex Rodriguez and possibly Derek Jeter. Jeter was a late scratch from the lineup yesterday afternoon against the Phillies after complaining about ankle discomfort. Jeter visited the doctor and the results of the MRI were that the Captain had mild inflammation in his surgically repaired ankle. GM Brian Cashman spoke to the media today and said that it is quite possible the Yankees open the 2013 regular season with Derek Jeter on the disabled list. Having Jeter out of the lineup would be a further blow to this team, which is already weakened offensively.

The Yankees will have to rely heavily on players like Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki to score their runs. If the Yankees want to compete for the division title, they have to play station to station baseball and they have the makings of a team that can do so. The important thing for the Bombers is to be able to hit with men on base, and not relying on the three-run home run to score all of their runs this season. Juan Rivera and Melky Mesa are looking like more realistic options for the Yankees by the day.

Of course, Curtis Granderson will be back in early May, and there is a 70% chance that Teixeira's wrist injury heals without surgery and he will be back in late May. There is also a chance that Teixeira will need surgery to repair his wrist and could miss the entire 2013 season which would be a huge blow to this already offensively challenged team.

This is what the Yankees starting lineup can look like on Opening Day against the Red Sox without Jeter:

Brett Gardner CF
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Kevin Youkilis 3B
Travis Hafner DH
Juan Rivera 1B
Chris Stewart/Francisco Cervelli C
Eduardo Nunez SS
Melky Mesa LF

That lineup looks like something that rolled out of a spring training game, and it is just that because the Yankees do not have other options they can go to due to their lack of depth at certain positions in the minor leagues.

If Derek Jeter is able to play on Opening Day, this is what the lineup can look like against Jon Lester:

Brett Gardner CF
Ichiro Suzuki RF
Derek Jeter SS
Robinson Cano 2B
Kevin Youkilis 3B
Eduardo Nunez DH
Juan Rivera 1B
Chris Stewart/Francisco Cervelli C
Melky Mesa LF

I like the above lineup because it is top heavier and you aren't forcing Travis Hafner to DH against lefties. It looks so much better having one more impact player in the top of the lineup as opposed to the first lineup. Let's hope that Jeter is healthy enough to play shortstop on Opening Day.

I believe the Yankees will not win the American League East division, as they have been accustomed to doing for years, but will finish with 86-88 wins, which should be enough to carry them into the Wildcard playoff game.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Yankees sign Brennan Boesch

Brennan Boesch, who was released by the Tigers on Wednesday finds himself in a Yankee uniform on Friday. The Yankees were quick to pounce on Boesch, who was released by the Tigers after having a dismal Spring Training and a weak 2012 season. Boesch is primarily a right fielder, but the Yankees already have a gold glove right fielder in Ichiro Suzuki, so Boesch will find playing time in left field until the return of Curtis Granderson to the Yankees lineup. At that point, Boesch will likely be optioned to the minor leagues,which is his final remaining option.

The Scott Boras client signed a Major League deal worth $1.5 million and the outfielder has the ability to earn $600,000 in incentives based on plate appearances. Brennan Boesch had a great season in 2011, batting .283 and hitting 16 homers but took a step back in 2012 with a lowly .240 batting average with 12 home runs. The lefty hitter will increase his power totals at Yankee Stadium with the short porch being at his disposal.

The Yankees are trying to find a replacement for Curtis Granderson until Granderson returns in mid-May. Melky Mesa, who is making a case for the left field job is having a fantastic spring. If he keeps it up, Mesa has a legitimate chance of making the Yankees bench as a right handed compliment to Brennan Boesch. Boesch will report to GMS Field in time for tomorrow's game.

The Rest of the East: Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays seemingly are in the postseason hunt year after year despite their lack of offense. Joe Maddon, who I believe is the best manager in baseball, lets his team have fun which is the ultimate sign that the players have respect for their managers. He thinks up themed road trips where the players dress up in wacky clothing on their plane ride to a visiting city. Players seem to gravitate toward Maddon, who will be managing the Rays for at least three more years, since he was extended by ownership.
In 2012, the Rays were missing a key ingredient from their offense, Evan Longoria. Longoria suffered with a leg injury for most of the year an when he finally returned late in the season, he played most of his games at DH. Despite having BJ Upton in 2012, the Rays were a different team when their third baseman was healthy. The Rays had a 46-26 record with Longoria in the lineup and a losing record without Longo in the lineup. That is the true definition of a game changer. Longoria's presence in the lineup was enough for the Rays to have that much more confidence in any given game. Longoria did not play up to his capabilities in the 2012, after appearing in a career low 74 games. The Rays made it a priority to extend Longoria, making his contract the largest ever in the short history of the Devil Rays/Rays. Longoria will remain the linchpin in the Rays lineup until 2022 with a club option for 2023, which would be ten years down the line. It's different talking about Longoria's ten year deal than it was talking about A-Rod's because Longoria's deal will take him through his age 36 season, whereas Alex Rodriguez is signed until nursing home age.

The Rays traded James Shields and Wade Davis to the Kanses City Royals but in return received a stud prospect in Wil Myers. The outfielder is in camp, fighting for an outfield job which he has a decent chance of getting because of the hole made when Upton signed with the Braves early in free agency. Despite getting rid of their number two starter, the Rays always seem to unleash unreal talent in starting pitching and I'm not worried about their rotation at all. Having Cy Young winner David Price as your number one starter should make you feel confident.

The Rays will lack the offensive drive this season, with a slow off-season. Their starting lineup features two stars at most, who can prove to be a threat. However, their starting pitching and bullpen, anchored by Fernando Rodney, will be weapons for Tampa. The Rays have work to do offensively, but I can still see them winning 89-91 games with what they have.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mariano Rivera Announces Retirement

Mariano Rivera announced at a press conference today at George M. Steinbrenner Field that 2013, will indeed be his last season playing Major League Baseball. It was a sobering moment to say the least, remembering all the great moments that Mariano had in pinstripes. It is a sad feeling to know that after this season, we will never hear "Enter Sandman" at Yankee Stadium again. Mariano Rivera put everything he had into his performances as a pitcher, but even more important was the attention he paid to the fans. Before and during every game, Mariano Rivera acknowledged fans at the Stadium with a wave or a handshake, and that is what makes him a great man, aside from being the best relief pitcher in the history of the game.

Mariano Rivera was firm in his decision on retiring, citing a desire to spend more time with his family. However, he did say that he will be back in the game of baseball in the future, saying that he loves working with minor leaguers. Mariano Rivera will always be welcome at any ballpark by all fans in Major League Baseball. Despite many people not liking the Yankees, Mariano Rivera holds a place in every fan's heart for his integrity and humility of the game he loves so much.

It will not be easy for Mariano Rivera's successor in 2014. Judging by what the Yankees have, David Robertson will be the heir-apparent to the great Mariano. Rivera has given his blessing to Robertson, saying that he feels that the young right hander is ready for the big stage. If Mariano Rivera says it, I will believe it.

Thank you for all you've done, Mr. Rivera. I wish you a happy retirement (after the season) and hope you return to the Yankees soon in a different capacity. Cheers!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Mark Teixeira out of WBC

Yesterday, Mark Teixeira was hitting balls off a tee for the USA team, which he was originally representing in the World Baseball Classic. He was shut down after experiencing discomfort and a "pop" in his right wrist. Teixeira was sent to New York this morning to visit with a wrist specialist in the city. The USA team will miss Teixeira's presence in the lineup, as he was their only true everyday first baseman. Since the injury, America has added Kansas City's first baseman Eric Hosmer to the roster to replace the injured Teixeira.

The news of Teixeira comes as an even bigger scare for the Yankees who have suffered a stockpile of injuries already in camp. If the diagnosis on Teixeira is not good, the Yankees will have to move Youkilis to first base to begin the season, and most likely have a platoon of Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix at third base. However, this is not a scenario that the Yankees would welcome. Having already lost over 100 home runs from their lineup, the Yankees can not afford to lose another 35 if Teixeira's wrist injury turns out to be serious. Brian Cashman said openly that he is concerned because wrists can be tricky. If Teixeira suffers a long term injury because of this, the Yankees will be dead in the water. The will be missing their everyday first baseman, third baseman and center fielder. In addition, they don't have a clear starting catcher at this point in Spring Training camp.

The Yankees will be in a lot of trouble if Teixeira's injury is more than they expected, so get ready for the worst, Yankee fans. I'll certainly be hoping for the best. The injury bug has been with the Yankees for two years in a row, and this time before the season even starts.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Yankees News and Notes

Many interesting developments unfolded in Yankees camp through the weekend leading into today. Last week, Joba Chamberlain did not make himself any friends in the Yankees front office by saying that he still considers himself a starting pitcher. Going into his final year with the Yankees, Chamberlain is looking for a long term contract, and would like to become a starter again. His body of work as a starter with the Yankees is less than impressive. I still see teams paying for him to be a closer or a set-up man for a dominant closer.

Ichiro Suzuki was involved in a two-car collision on Saturday following the Yankees' 10-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers. Ichiro is not hurt, which comes as a sigh of relief to management and fans alike.

Granderson's injury has basically scrapped Girardi's decision to put Gardner in center field while having Granderson switch to left field. Granderson's injury is forcing him to miss two months. That time would have been perfect for him to learn the new position. The Yankees are now thinking that they don't want the slugger to change positions mid-season because of the possibility of the change affecting his bat.

A new injury development, and not from any of the players. Brian Cashman went sky-diving this morning to benefit the Wounder Warriors Project. Cashman heard a pop in his leg, which later turned out to be a broken leg and dislocated ankle. He will have surgery soon, and will be walking on crutches for the near future. That puts him out of the left field conversation, for sure.