Tuesday, May 16, 2017

More Preview Material From Cards, Bosox, Indians, Braves and Reds

Cardinals - jclarkbaker
Most of my club returns. Only changes are: waived Derek Cromer (RF) . Did not resign Dick Pedersen (P) , Ronald Sims (CF) , or Christian Robinson (2B) . Vicente Urbina (P)p and Ramiro Cela (3B) were signed to replace Pedersen and Cromer.Jonathan Sparks (1B) and Maicer Martinez (SS) will get the post 20 game call up to replace Simms and Robinson. Both are likely to start.

Red Sox - Spistol
This may be the season the competition catches up to the Red Sox and ends its run of division titles. Offseason moves have mostly replaced lost production from departing free agents, at best -- though the pickup of Javier Brogna (P) does bolster the bullpen. The offense, Boston's specialty during this run, may not be as potent, with Daniel Harper (3B) andHenry Young (DH) replaced by Laynce Taubensee (SS) and Junior Pierce (RF) , respectively. Joan Sprague (2B) will add speed and maybe a little batting eye to the bench after a less-than-stellar minor-league career. The pitching remains aggressively average as always. The only question seems to be how far off last season's 96-win campaign this squad will fall.

Indians - opie5
This squad needed an overhaul - it was a bunch of sluggers (3 or 4 DH's) with little regard for defense. Some of the prospects will make it to the bigs this season but it will take a couple of seasons to upgrade the defense in order to help the pitching staff (there's no ML 2B or SS to be found in the system - love to get one of those positions with my high draft pick). The nucleus of a good team is there - I just have to fill the fringes (and find a #1 SP) to take this team into the PO's. There's actually enough talent to have a shot at a WC - but I'd have to get very lucky to get to that.

Braves - majnunFor two seasons in a row I got too cute, and took half-measures with a team I thought could win it all. As Mike Ehrmantrout would say: "No half-measures." I concede that I will take a hit five seasons from now, but this is too competitive a league to fool around with.

Reds - wrecks
Only a couple of things to add to our preview. We will be calling up Reynaldo Flande (SS) after 20 games, and should have great depth and defense all over the field, as well as an improved bullpen and rotation.

Season 38 Preview: NL North

Season 37 Recap
The Reds arrived in a big way last year, winning the division for the first time since Season 21 and advancing all the way to the NLCS.

Season 38 Preview

Somewhat lost in all the Mets/Pirates off-season hoopla were all the Reds' moves.  They traded for vets Darrell Hughes, Al Rosado, Jaime Aldridge, Justin Zagone, Troy Griffith, and Danny Barr; they may now have the NL's most productive lineup. They improved the pitching for sure, although I'm not sure the rotation compares with that of the Mets, Braves or Pirates.  No doubt, though, Cincy has as good a shot as anyone to be the NL's WS rep.

Meanwhile the Cubbies weren't sitting still.  They added closer David Estrella, C Robert Roberts, defensive SS Alcides Lopez, and short reliever Malcolm Buxton.  Chicago now has a capable bullpen to go with an excellent 4-deep rotation and last year's #4 offense and all-round excellent defense (.987 fielding % and 93/32 on +/- plays).  Yet another team that will likely win more games this year than last.

The Expos look like they're going to trust Rudy House's glove in RF - a perfectly legit move considering the (needed) punch he brings.  Montreal is in the process of becoming one of the youngest ML rosters in Major Leagues, with prospects like Kurt Koch, Dorssys Johnson, Marco Greene, Cam Bando, Hugh Kent, Wilking Benitez, and others heading for the Show in coming seasons.  Not a bad ML roster now, and it's going to get better and cheaper soon.

Milwaukee gets another bite at the top-5 apple this year (#1) after selecting power-hitting infielder Rob Zoltan #3 last year.  The ML team will no doubt take their lumps this year, although they rummaged around in the FA bargain bin enough to keep them above the MWR (I especially liked the Sid Larkin signing).

Cincinnati is just too loaded, I think they'll win handily.  The Cubs may well win 90-95 games, and I could see them getting a Wild Card or missing narrowly.  Some really good teams are going to miss the NL playoffs, and at this point I expect Chicago to be one of them.  

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Season 38 Preview: NL East

Season 37 Recap
The Pirates started slow but eventually came on to win the division for the 3rd time in 4 years, only to lose in the playoffs to the Mets for the 3rd straight year.  New York also started slowly, but got hot at the right time and rode Ruben Ozuna (4th Cy Young, 5-1, 2.56 in the playoffs) and Cecil Bonilla (MVP) all the way to the World Championship.  Washington D.C. looked unbeatable early, help on for a Wild Card, and lost to Cincy in the play-in round. Philadelphia fell 17 games off its Season 36 win total for 4th place.

Season 38 Preview

With the Pittsburgh franchise officially "up for sale," gm blanch13 mortgaged the future for a 1-or-2 year window by trading 3 top-tier prospects for J.B. Hunter, Chris Petkovsek, Adalberto Cervantes, and Enerio Amaro, and then later dealing for Tony Moya. Yes, they'll be good, but is it enough to get past the younger Mets and the ever-tough Nats?

New York responded by dramatically upgrading CF with Dean Whitfield and bolstering the league's best pitching staff with Garrett Ward and Rodrigo Cortes. This is a remarkably talented team - they have 5 potential Sliver Sluggers in the lineup plus the odds-on favorite for the NL Cy Young.  Their only potential flaw is a thin bench, made moreso by the injury to IF Arodys James.

Washington D.C. got younger by moving Petkovsek and Cervantes to the Pirates, and only downgraded a little by getting Leonardo Grimm and Alan Carpenter back.  The Otto Little deal vaulted them into the rare "3-aces-in-the-rotation club, which usually makes you a playoff favorite.  The problem here is the other 2 members of the club are also in the NL East.

Philadelphia had a very good offseason, adding Shigetoshi Shinjo, Felipe Jose, Miguel Valdez, and Yamil Mercado in free agency; and new regulars Davey Ontiveros and Nestor Bautista in the Whitfield trade.  The Phillies will be much-improved this year but are still dealing with the "3-juggernauts-in-the-division" problem.

It's a tough call, but I think the Mets are overall a little more talented than the Pirates.  Mets win the division, Pirates get Wild Card 1, Nats get Wild Card 2 in a squeaker over the Cardinals.

Season 38 Preview: NL South

Season 37 Recap
St. Louis came out on top after a hard-fought season, but fell to the Reds in the Division Round. Atlanta won 93 games but for the second year running found itself out of the playoffs.  After a magnificent 14-year run, Houston finally got old and dropped to 80 wins.  And Florida continued building up its farm system with the additions of Jose Infante (IFA, $12MM) and Clayton Craig (#14 in last year's draft).

Season 38 Preview

The Cardinals win with pitching.  Yes, they have their stars - Esteban Mateo (18-11, 2.60) is the ace and Henderson Cross (7 wins, 1 save, 2.32) is the all-purpose reliever.  But they're also very good at not having anyone blow up - 11 pitchers who threw more than 40 innings last year came in with ERA's under 4. That lets them win 98 with a league-average offense, where Julio Nunez (.290/30/99) is certainly earning his Season 36 free-agent deal.  

Stinging from missing the playoffs in 92 and 93-win seasons, the Braves made a huge splash in the offseason.  They won the Espinosa sweepstakes, of course, but also traded disappointing OF J.B Hunter for promising young 3B Arismendy Johnson (Season 35 IFA, $28.7MM), and then replaced Hunter with Orlando Figueroa for a 4A outfielder and a non-prospect pitcher.  I'd certainly expect at least 95 wins from this team.

With 13 trades, 6 free-agent signings, a couple of waiver claims and 1 Rule 5 pickup, the Astros have morphed from an aging, high-payroll squad to a defense-first, moderate-payroll team in one off-season.  I'm sure they'd like to have much more speed (see Twins, Diamondbacks), but they do have 1 track star (and an immediate favorite for a Gold Glove) in 2B Ken Saunders.  As with all defense-oriented efforts, the big question will be whether they can put up enough runs...RF Alex Field is the only proven run-producer.

Florida has patiently stuck to a youth movement for the entire 5 seasons of the cyben era, and it's close to paying off big.  The current ML squad (with a payroll of only $38MM by the way) will probably get above .500, and the best talent is still in the minors (Sea 35 #4 Donzell Roberts, Sea 36 #46 Rene Bierbrodt, Infante, Sea 36 #2 Tanner Rogers, and Craig.  In another season or 2, there's going to be a new power in the NL.

I like the Braves to regain supremacy in the South. The Cards will be close, and I expect them to be locked all season in a wild-card tussle with 2 NL East teams.  I think it comes down to the last day of the season, with the Nats topping St. Louis for the 2nd Wild Card.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Season 38 Preview: NL West

Season 37 Recap
The Dodgers came out of nowhere (45 wins in a disastrous Season 36) to nip Colorado for the crown and even in a first-round playoff loss, distinguished themselves (they were the only team to win 2 games against the Mets in any of New York's 4 playoff rounds).  The Rockies dropped 7 wins but were still playoff contenders at Game 162.  The Giants posted a nice 12-win improvement, while San Diego continued to stock its farm system with strong #1's (Al Arguelles) and IFA's (Gustavo Javier, Al Tejada).

Season 38 Preview
Dodger SS's committed 26 errors and 5 bad plays (to 6 good plays) last year, which they addressed with the trade for Marcos Profar.  The offense is potentially top-5 (7th last year with 695 runs) behind Jemile Frazier (.268/46/107), Cy James (.305/18/76, 24 SB) and Dan Ross (.275/23/103).  Interesting note:  last year's top OPS'er - Vladimir Washington (.310/21/60 in 406 AB's) - remains unsigned.  The pitching was a vast improvement over Season 36's disaster (ERA dropped from 5.73 to 3.92), but remains a wild-card.  

The Rockies had perhaps the biggest hitting loss in free agency - longtime 1B and face-of-the-franchise Orval Miller (.276, 265 HR's over 9 seasons) bolted for Tampa Bay. Rookie Russell Heilman is the likely inheritor of the 1B job; the Stubby George and Norman Weston-led pitching staff will have to shoulder a little more of the burden for Colorado Springs to contend.

San Francisco badly needs a new direction, and will likely get one at some point under new GM ACEROTHSTEIN.  The prime pieces of the Season 33 Maicer Camacho trade - Douglas Lindor (.731 OPS over 3 seasons) and Yamil Pino (.298 OBP over 3 seasons, although he has played good defense), have been disappointing, and they've squandered too many 1st-round draft choices.  The Giants were quiet this off-season, so don't expect a big surge in the win column.  But do expect some wholesale changes as new ownership's plans unfold.

San Diego will be the West's most-changed squad heading into the season.  They added 2B Ugueth Gonzalez, a move we praised in our free agency reviews.  They tacked on 3 more Type A and B free agents (C Joel Dorsey, 1B/OF Darnell Bell, and OF Rodney Simmons) for peanuts, and added several more nice budget signings.  It looks like they've now got a much more contact-and-batting-eye-oriented lineup ( a nice fit for the ballpark), but can they improve on last year's NL-low 511 (gulp) runs?  And can the no-name staff deliver another 3.43 ERA (5th)?

Given that the top 2 in the division each won just 81 games last year, and the bottom 2 were only 12 and 13 back, this is probably the division most ripe for a surprise.  I think the Dodgers are the best on paper, but I'm going to pick the Padres in an upset.