Articles By Charlie Miller

Path: /mlb/los-angeles-angels-2012-preview

Los Angeles Angels

Arte Moreno clearly doesn't like finishing second. After the Angels missed the playoffs in consecutive years (2010-11) for the first time in his ownership, Moreno fired GM Tony Reagins and a handful of long-time front-office employees in a thorough purge. Jerry Dipoto was hired as GM, bringing a fresh vision to an organization that had not made a significant front office addition from outside the franchise since 2003. After annually falling short in pursuit of their big-ticket offseason targets, Moreno handed Dipoto a blank check and a clear mandate to think big in upgrading the team. Fueled by a new TV deal that gave the franchise's bottom line a robust boost, the Angels splurged on the biggest single-day free agent expenditure in baseball history - a combined $331.5 million committed to first baseman Albert Pujols and left-handed pitcher C.J. Wilson. Those two moves have transformed the Angels from a fading franchise trying to rebuild around young players into a serious threat to the Texas Rangers, the reigning power in the AL West and the American League.

A starting rotation fronted by Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana put up a 3.59 ERA in 2011, the second-lowest in the American League and fifth-lowest in the majors. Weaver (18-8, 2.41 ERA, 1.01 WHIP) had the kind of season that would have won him a Cy Young in most years not featuring Justin Verlander's dominant performance. But the Angels' rotation was very much a front-loaded group with a serious drop-off after that trio. The Angels were a very good team when Weaver, Haren or Santana started (58-42) with those three combining to go 45-30 with a 2.98 ERA and 568 strikeouts in 702.2 innings. When one of their big three didn't start, though, the Angels were not a very good team (28-34). So they signed the best starting pitcher available on the free agent market in Wilson, creating a rotation that might be the best in baseball in 2012. The left-handed Wilson (an Orange County native who grew up rooting for the Angels) gives the rotation balance and lets Jerome Williams and top prospect Garrett Richards fight it out for the fifth spot.

Angels relievers were among the least reliable in baseball last season, blowing 25 saves (tied for the most in the American League). Rookie closer Jordan Walden had 10 of those blown saves, tied with Cubs reliever Carlos Marmol for the most in the majors. Growing pains from a rookie closer are understandable. But as big a problem for the Angels was their inability to find any consistency in their setup crew beyond veteran Scott Downs (who was exceptional). A revolving group of relievers took turns earning manager Mike Scioscia's trust and then promptly losing it - from Kevin Jepsen and Michael Kohn to Fernando Rodney, Jason Bulger and Rich Thompson. Dipoto made the bullpen a high priority in the offseason but emerged only with veteran setup man LaTroy Hawkins and Jason Isringhausen (on a minor league deal) added to Downs, Hisanori Takahashi, Bobby Cassevah and the remnants of last year's pen to build the bridge between the starting rotation and Walden.

Middle Infield
Manning the middle has been a three-man job over the past few years. Injuries, inconsistency and a search for the best lineup matchups prompted Scioscia to rotate the two jobs among three players — Howard Kendrick at second base, Erick Aybar at shortstop and Maicer Izturis at both positions. Kendrick (an All-Star in 2011) and Aybar (the American League Gold Glove winner at shortstop) are entering their primes and have stronger grips on the every-day duty. But Izturis remains a valuable and versatile role player who should see significant playing time at second, third and shortstop.

Pujols' average season (.328/.420/.617, 42 home runs, 126 RBIs and 123 runs scored) blows away anything the Angels have had in their lineup since Vlad Guerrero's prime. His arrival also creates a potential surplus at first base. The Angels are optimistic that Kendrys Morales can finally return from his fractured ankle in 2012. Rookie of the Year runner-up Mark Trumbo returns for his sophomore season after leading the Angels in home runs (29) and RBIs (87). While Morales figures to make his return primarily at DH, Trumbo might have to become a utility player in order to get his at-bats this season. The Angels plan to try Trumbo at third base (in a part-time capacity), where he would join a co-op with Alberto Callaspo and Izturis. The Callaspo-Izturis combo provides little of the power expected from a corner infielder, but Callaspo did lead the team in batting average (.288) and on-base percentage last season.

The Angels head into 2012 with six outfielders vying for playing time in three spots — seven if you count Trumbo, a man without a position. Two of those players represent the Angels' dynamic future - Peter Bourjos and Mike Trout. Three of those players are costly veterans in their declining years (Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells and Bobby Abreu). Bourjos emerged as a Gold Glove-caliber defender, one of the best centerfielders in baseball. He was also the first player in franchise history and one of only two in the majors last season (along with Yankees outfielder Curtis Granderson) to have at least 25 doubles, 10 triples, 10 home runs and 20 stolen bases. Hunter, Wells and Abreu, on the other hand, set career-lows almost across the board. Hunter bounced back in the second half and could be re-energized in a lineup bolstered by the addition of Pujols and the return of Morales, allowing him to slip back into a complementary role. A bounce-back for Wells is almost inevitable — it seems impossible he could be as bad as he was in his first season with the Angels (a .218 average and .248 on-base percentage). Ryan Langerhans will provide a lefty bat off the bench. Looming over all is the rising star Trout. He made the leap to the majors from Double-A last summer with limited success (a .220 average in 40 games). His electrifying skill set was apparent, though, and his time is coming.

Scioscia's love of defense from his catchers couldn't blind him forever to the offensive incompetence of Jeff Mathis. Things finally changed this winter with Mathis jettisoned by Dipoto (in a trade to the Blue Jays) and Chris Iannetta acquired to restore some much-needed balance to the position. The question now is whether Iannetta can carry his offense out of Coors Field and into the American League - his career splits heavily favor his former home. Iannetta's arrival also casts a shadow over Hank Conger as the Angels' catcher of the future. With the 28-year-old Iannetta likely to make 100 starts or more, Conger (a former first-round pick) will compete with Bobby Wilson for backup duty at best.

In an ideal world for the Angels, Morales would return healthy in 2012 and ease back into things as their primary DH. However, as optimistic as the Angels are that Morales will be healthy on Opening Day, his health remains a question mark; Abreu lurks as a $9 million albatross with fading skills; and Trumbo is a second-year player with tremendous power but nowhere to play. Scioscia will piece together a DH out of that group with the remains (plus the idle half of his Callaspo-Izturis infield time-share) making up the meat of the Angels' bench.

Dipoto has brought a new vision, surrounding himself with a group of evaluators and assistants with a distinctly analytical bent. With greater job security than any other manager in baseball, Scioscia had become a looming power in the organization, stifling dissent. That has clearly changed with the new power structure in the front office. Dipoto's offseason moves (aided by Moreno's decision to throw open the bank vault) reflect his philosophy, pushing the Angels toward greater regard for on-base percentage and pitchers who can “control counts.” It represents a new direction for a franchise that had begun to grow stale.

Final Analysis
The offseason splurge for Pujols and Wilson has upped the ante for this season. Anything short of a return to the top of the AL West (a division the Angels ruled with five first-place finishes in six seasons from 2004-09) might make them question their investment. It won't be easy. The Rangers remain a power, with a strong farm system and a deep team anchored by players entering their primes. The Angels-Rangers rivalry figures to be as competitive as any in baseball.



Batting Order
SS Erick Aybar (S)
Switch-hitter was much more dangerous from the left side — a .308 average, .341 OBP and seven home runs.
2B Howard Kendrick (R)
Added power (career-highs of 18 HRs and .464 slugging percentage) to .285 average last season.
1B Albert Pujols (R)
Contract includes $3 million bonus for 3,000th hit, $7 million for 763rd home run - has 2,073 hits, 445 homers.
DH Kendrys Morales (S)
Has missed 273 games since fracturing his left ankle on May 29, 2010.
RF Torii Hunter (R)
Reversed aging process in second half of 2011 - .324 average, 10 home runs, 31 RBIs after the end of July.
LF Vernon Wells (R)
Wells' .218 average, .248 OBP in 2011 were lowest of any major leaguer who qualified for batting title.
3B Alberto Callaspo (S)
Should share playing time with Maicer Izturis, possibly Mark Trumbo as well.
C Chris Iannetta (R)
Had OBPs of .390 and .370 in the only two seasons in which he played 100-plus games (2008, '11).
CF Peter Bourjos (R)
Hit better against lefties (.289 average, .503 slugging) than righties; candidate for spot starts at leadoff.

INF Maicer Izturis (S)
One of Angels' smartest hitters, stayed healthy enough to play career-high 122 games in 2011.
C Bobby Wilson (R)
Caught Ervin Santana's no-hitter; penciled in to back up Chris Iannetta.
OF Bobby Abreu (L)
In serious decline but rare left-handed bat for righty-heavy Angels. He may serve as DH until Morales proves completely healthy.
OF Ryan Langerhans (L)
Veteran gives Angels another left-handed bat, provides solid defense at all three outfield positions
INF Mark Trumbo (R)
First rookie to lead Angels in homers (29) and RBIs (87) has to fight for at-bats now. Should get some work at third base in order to get his bat in the lineup.

RH Jered Weaver
Only Cy Young winner Justin Verlander had a better year among AL pitchers in 2011.
RH Dan Haren
Durable and dependable, Haren has not missed a start since becoming a regular in 2005.
LH C.J. Wilson
In two seasons since converting to starter is 31-15 with 3.14 ERA, 376 strikeouts.
RH Ervin Santana
Went 7-1 with 2.18 ERA in July and August including no-hitter in Cleveland.
RH Jerome Williams
22-2 with 3.10 ERA in 206.1 IP combined in independent league, Triple-A, majors and winter ball last year.

RH Jordan Walden (Closer)
Had club rookie record 32 saves - and tied for MLB-high with 10 blown saves.
LH Scott Downs
Most reliable reliever in a shaky 2011 bullpen had 26 holds, a 1.34 ERA.
RH LaTroy Hawkins
Veteran joins his ninth team; gives Angels another veteran setup option with Downs.
RH Bobby Cassevah
Mike Scioscia grew to trust Cassevah's heavy sinker late in the 2011 season.
LH Hisanori Takahashi
A lefty specialist who fared better against righties (.206 average, .599 OPS) than lefties (.261, .733).
RH Rich Thompson
Never grabbed hold of a role in 2011 but did have 56 strikeouts in 54 innings.
RH Jason Isringhausen
The former Cardinals closer resurrected his career with the Mets last season, finishing with 19 holds, seven saves and just five blown opportunities. He's an inexpensive and dicey insurance plan for Walden.

<p> Fueled by a new TV deal that gave the franchise's bottom line a robust boost, the Angels splurged on the biggest single-day free agent expenditure in baseball history - a combined $331.5 million committed to first baseman Albert Pujols and left-handed pitcher C.J. Wilson. Those two moves have transformed the Angels from a fading franchise trying to rebuild around young players into a serious threat to the Texas Rangers, the reigning power in the AL West and the American League.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 21, 2012 - 08:29
All taxonomy terms: MLB
Path: /mlb/minnesota-twins-2012-preview

Minnesota Twins

It seemed like the end of an era for the Twins last year, when a string of six division titles in nine seasons gave way to a 63–99 finish. But they are firm in their belief that 2012 will bring a quick turnaround. That’s hard to fathom. On paper, the Twins look no better than the team that bottomed out last year. Terry Ryan returned to the general manager’s role in November, replacing Bill Smith, and attempted to address the roster’s myriad needs while streamlining the payroll. The fan base watched as three more mainstays from their recent playoff teams — Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel — departed as free agents. Ryan added some interesting pieces before Christmas, but none that caused a spike in season ticket sales. Josh Willingham should offer a reasonable facsimile of Cuddyer at a cheaper price. Jamey Carroll should help solidify the middle infield. Ryan Doumit’s bat should bolster the offense, giving the team more insurance if Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau struggle with injuries again. But a look at this roster reveals numerous other concerns.

This group is led by Carl Pavano, Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano — three pitchers who could become free agents next fall, though Baker has a 2013 club option. This should add to that trio’s motivation. Liriano, in particular, could cash in big next fall if he regains his 2010 form after struggling with left shoulder issues last season. Twins starters ranked 26th in the majors with a 4.64 ERA last year, when Baker and Nick Blackburn also battled arm injuries. The team’s depth took a hit last summer when their top pitching prospect, Kyle Gibson, needed Tommy John surgery. He won’t return until 2013. The Twins signed National League journeyman Jason Marquis, hoping he could be the workhorse he was from 2004-09. He pitched 132 innings combined for Washington and Arizona last year before breaking his right leg in mid-August. Adding Marquis should allow Brian Duensing to move back to the bullpen, where he posted a 1.80 ERA in 40 appearances in 2010. But it’s hard to see this rotation impressing anyone unless Baker and Liriano stay healthy and pitch as they have at their absolute peaks.

Here’s a list of relievers the Twins have lost to free agency since the end of the 2010 season: Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, Jon Rauch, Brian Fuentes and Nathan. The Twins are determined not to overpay for relief, even if it leaves them thin. They re-signed closer Matt Capps to a deal that guarantees him $10 million less than what Nathan got from Texas in November. Capps was an All-Star closer for the Nationals in 2010, before the Twins got him in a shortsighted trade that sent catcher Wilson Ramos to Washington. Capps helped the Twins finish 94–68 in 2010, when Nathan was recovering from elbow surgery, but fans booed Capps off the field numerous times last year after blown saves. The team stuck with him, knowing he was pitching through a forearm issue. If he falters again, the Twins could turn to Glen Perkins, their most dominant reliever from last season. Perkins and Duensing should help solidify the setup roles, but the Twins have several other holes to fill after ranking last in the majors in bullpen ERA, at 4.51.

Middle Infield
Carroll’s best position is second base, but the Twins plan to start him at shortstop, even at age 38. That would allow Alexi Casilla to stay at second base, where he finally started to look comfortable last season. A year ago, this team had high hopes for Tsuyoshi Nishioka, but after an MVP season in Japan in 2010, he broke his leg in his sixth major league game and looked overmatched when he returned. The Twins grew impatient with his development and optioned him to Rochester midway through spring training.

Morneau is the team’s biggest question mark, since his past three seasons have been derailed by injuries, with the last two involving concussions. The Twins would love to see him return to first base, the position he was slated to start in the All-Star game just two years ago. Third baseman Danny Valencia pledged to work on his defense after drawing manager Ron Gardenhire’s ire last season. Valencia showed limited range and made 18 errors on the balls he did get to. The Twins signed Sean Burroughs to a minor league deal, knowing he can push Valencia to be better. If Valencia can give the Twins what he gave them in 2010 — he batted .311 with a .799 OPS — they’ll have an easier time stomaching his defensive flaws.

This is another area that has changed dramatically since 2010. After trading Delmon Young to Detroit last August, the Twins let Cuddyer and Kubel leave as free agents. Cuddyer signed a three-year, $31.5 million deal with Colorado, and Kubel signed a two-year, $15 million deal with Arizona. Willingham came cheaper than Cuddyer, at three years for $21 million, and might be the better right-handed hitter. The Twins need center fielder Denard Span to stay healthy after playing just 70 games last year because of a concussion. Ben Revere, who made some spectacular catches in center while filling in for Span, is slated to play left field when both are healthy. Knowing how spacious the Target Field outfield is, the Twins will count on the speedy Span and Revere to cover lots of ground alongside the less-rangy Willingham. But Ryan also has hinted at a possible left field platoon with Revere and converted infielder Trevor Plouffe.

Mauer’s goal is to catch at least 130 games, but the Twins know they can’t count on this after injury and illness limited him to 47 starts behind the plate last season. Doumit is not a good defensive catcher, but he’s a switch-hitter with decent power. On days when Doumit isn’t catching, he can DH. The Twins likely will carry three catchers, so there’s an open spot for either Drew Butera, Rene Rivera or former Astros catcher J.R. Towles, who signed a minor league deal. Butera and Rivera combined to bat .160 in 368 plate appearances last season, so Towles will get a long look this spring.

The Twins plan to rotate their DH duties, unless Morneau decides to become a full-time DH, lessening the chances of another concussion. Doumit should see the most time at DH, though Mauer will see plenty, too, as the team looks to keep his bat in the lineup more often. The bench will have more versatility, but significantly less muscle, now that Jim Thome has returned to the Phillies. But with injury-prone players all over his roster, Gardenhire needs all the options he can find. With Nishioka sent to the minors, Luke Hughes will take on a larger role as the backup middle infielder.

Gardenhire returns for his 11th season, hoping this is more like 2010, when he was named AL Manager of the Year. His working relationship with Ryan was always better than it was with Smith, who never considered himself a talent evaluator. In Smith’s four years as GM, the Twins won two division titles and lost a one-game tiebreaker to the White Sox in 2008. Despite that success, the team’s foundation showed some serious cracks last year. It wasn’t just the 99 losses. The injury issues exposed a lack of depth at the Triple-A level. Twins CEO Jim Pohlad grew less confident in Smith as they met to discuss the team’s plans throughout October. Smith’s firing was surprising because the Twins hadn’t fired a GM or manager since 1986. It also was delicate because Ryan and Smith are very close friends. But once again, the Twins proved to be one big happy family. By mid-December, Smith was back in the fold with a new position, as an assistant to the team president and general manager.

Final Analysis
Ryan was considered one of baseball’s best GMs during his previous tenure from 1994-2007, and Twins fans couldn’t help but feel excited when he returned to the job. But that enthusiasm was tempered when he immediately pledged to trim the Opening Day payroll to $100 million, about $13 million less than the team started with last year. This adds pressure for Mauer to stay healthy and perform better in Year 2 of an eight-year contract that is paying him $23 million annually. If Mauer, Morneau, Span, Baker and Liriano are healthy, the Twins should have no trouble playing at least .500 this year, but it’s hard to imagine a leap from 63–99 to the playoffs.




Batting Order
CF Denard Span (L)
Was batting .300 with a .367 OBP when he suffered a concussion June 3 and played only 15 more games.
SS Jamey Carroll (R)
Played a career-high 146 games for Dodgers last year, at age 37, and posted a .359 OBP.
C Joe Mauer (L)
The three-time Gold Glove catcher has started just 105, 107 and 47 games behind the plate since 2008.
RF Josh Willingham (R)
Set new career highs with 29 home runs and 98 RBIs last year for Oakland.
1B Justin Morneau (L)
His career OPS as a first baseman is .856, compared to .772 as a DH.
3B Danny Valencia (R)
Played 147 games at third base last year, the most for a Twins third baseman since Corey Koskie (150) in 2001.
DH Ryan Doumit (S)
Batted .328 (41-for-125) after returning from a broken ankle last year with the Pirates.
2B Alexi Casilla (S)
Had another slow start last year, batting .188 through May 22, but batted .293 after that.
LF Ben Revere (L)
Led American League rookies last year with 34 stolen bases in 117 games.

OF Trevor Plouffe (R)
Batted .308 with a .782 OPS against lefties last year, compared to .212 with a .665 OPS against righties.
INF Luke Hughes (R)
Started 34 games at second base, 30 at first base and 13 at third base in 2011.
C Drew Butera (R)
Batted .197 as a true backup catcher in 2010 but got overexposed last year, batting .167 in 93 games.

RH Carl Pavano
Has pitched 221 innings and 222 innings in his first two full seasons with the Twins.
RH Scott Baker
On July 28, he ranked eighth in the AL with a 2.86 ERA, but a sore elbow limited him to two more starts.
LH Francisco Liriano
He went 14–10 with a 3.62 ERA in 2010 but struggled with left shoulder tightness last year.
RH Jason Marquis
Has fifth-highest ground-ball rate in baseball (55.1 percent) over the past three years.
RH Nick Blackburn
Much like 2010, he had his best month in May, going 3–0 with a 2.53 ERA in six starts.

RH Matt Capps (Closer)
Blew six save chances as the Twins’ closer last year, but posted a 3.24 ERA in his final 30 appearances.
LH Glen Perkins
Averaged 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings last year, ranking 12th in the AL (min. 60 IP).
LH Brian Duensing
Pitching mostly as a starter last year, he held lefties to a .217 average, but righties hit .330.
RH Alex Burnett
Allowed just 10 of his 62 inherited baserunners to score last year.
RH Esmerling Vasquez
Strikeout rate with the Diamondbacks dropped from 9.2 in 2010 to 5.9 last year before they waived him.
RH Terry Doyle
Rule 5 pick went 8–10 with a 3.07 in 26 combined starts at Class A and AA for the White Sox last season.

Other teams' 2012 Previews:

American League National League
Baltimore Orioles Arizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red Sox Atlanta Braves
Chicago White Sox Chicago Cubs
Cleveland Indians Cincinnati Reds
Detroit Tigers Colorado Rockies
Kansas City Royals Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Dodgers
Minnesota Twins Miami Marlins
New York Yankees Milwaukee Brewers
Oakland A's New York Mets
Seattle Mariners Philadelphia Phillies
Tampa Bay Rays Pittsburgh Pirates
Texas Rangers San Diego Padres
Toronto Blue Jays San Francisco Giants
  St. Louis Cardinals
  Washington Nationals
<p> It seemed like the end of an era for the Twins last year, when a string of six division titles in nine seasons gave way to a 63–99 finish. But they are firm in their belief that 2012 will bring a quick turnaround.</p>
Post date: Sunday, March 18, 2012 - 21:08
Path: /mlb/kansas-city-royals-2012-preview

Kansas City Royals

The growing feeling in Kansas City is that it’s time to expect more. Last year’s transition season saw 12 players make their big league debuts from a well-stocked and much-praised farm system. More are on the way. Playing .500 now seems a reasonable goal after reaching that plateau just once in the previous 17 years. Doing so would mark a 10-game improvement over last year’s 91 losses — no small thing, right? — but the Royals are aiming higher. Manager Ned Yost set the tone in December by declaring, “I think we’re going to play much better than .500. … I think we’re at a stage in our development as an organization that these kids are ready for (increased expectations).” Maybe so. These young Royals showed numerous positive signs a year ago and now appear good enough to dream. They just might, with a little luck, be good enough to make some serious noise in the American League Central.

Nearly all hopes for a breakthrough summer hinge on a rotation that lacks a proven No. 1- or No. 2-caliber starter. While an early spring trade remains possible, the unit, as currently projected, should still be better than a year ago — particularly if lefthander Jonathan Sanchez, the club’s biggest offseason addition, marshals his high-grade gifts. He battled injuries last year in San Francisco and has been an enigma throughout his six previous seasons. But Sanchez helped the Giants reach the postseason in 2010 by posting a 2.61 ERA after the All-Star break, including a 1.04 mark in his last seven starts. If the Royals get that guy, this rotation suddenly looks a whole lot saltier. The same goes for righthander Luke Hochevar, who hopes to build on a solid second half (6–3 and 3.52) that marked the best sustained stretch of his career. Veteran lefty Bruce Chen returns after signing a two-year deal as a free agent. He garners little respect for reinventing himself after Tommy John surgery despite going 23–15 with a 4.00 ERA in 48 starts since entering the rotation in late May 2010. Those are the rotation’s three certainties. Then it gets interesting. Righthander Felipe Paulino and rookie lefty Danny Duffy closed last season with jobs but face stiff spring competition. Two to watch: lefty Mike Montgomery and righthander Aaron Crow. Montgomery was inconsistent last season at Class AAA Omaha but has legitimate No. 1 potential and will get a long look. Crow made the All-Star team last year as a rookie reliever, but he was drafted (No. 12 overall in 2009) as a starter and will get a chance to win a job. Another possibility is righthander Luis Mendoza, who resuscitated his career at Omaha before pitching well in two late-season starts. Righthanders Vin Mazzaro and Sean O’Sullivan are still around. Lefty Everett Teaford showed potential last season as a rookie swingman.

The Royals strengthened an already strong bullpen by signing free agents Jonathan Broxton and Jose Mijares to one-year deals. Broxton is a former closer and a two-time All-Star but will serve as a setup man for Joakim Soria. Mijares fills the need for a situational lefty. Broxton and Greg Holland also provide the Royals with alternative closers if Soria can’t rebound from an inconsistent 2011. Sidearmer Louis Coleman seems certain to hold a job; the same goes for Crow, if he fails to win a spot in the rotation. Adding Mijares means durable lefty Tim Collins must show better command to keep his spot. Paulino will switch to the bullpen if he fails to make the rotation. The same is likely true for Mendoza, who is out of options. Teaford and Mazzaro could also make the club as long relievers but could easily get squeezed out. The crowded competition makes it even harder to find room for Blake Wood, Kelvin Herrera and Jeremy Jeffress. All five have options.

Middle Infield
Defensively, shortstop Alcides Escobar was everything the Royals envisioned after he arrived in December 2010 from Milwaukee in the Zack Greinke deal. Escobar proved to be a durable, acrobatic playmaker and perked up at the plate after a dreadful first two months. He ended the season with a .254 average after hitting .324 in the final month of the season. Second base, meanwhile, looms as the only real spring battle among position players. It’s Johnny Giavotella’s job to lose, but he needs to show sufficient offensive production to offset severe defensive limitations and mediocre speed. Giavotella, the Royals’ second-round pick in 2008, hit .247 in 46 games as a rookie in 2011. The alternative is Chris Getz, who offers no pop (nine extra-base hits in 380 at-bats) but steady defense and plus speed. Since both have options, the loser probably heads to Omaha.

It is on the corners, more than anywhere else, where the future is on display. First baseman Eric Hosmer, the third overall pick in 2008, arrived May 6 and often resembled an MVP in waiting. Third baseman Mike Moustakas, the second overall pick in 2007, got the call June 10 and, after a miserable start, showed every indication of becoming a productive middle-of-the-order hitter for years to come. Fans in Kansas City are already fretting at how long either will hang around. Since neither will be eligible for free agency until after the 2017 season, that effectively sets the timetable for the Royals’ current window of opportunity.

Alex Gordon’s emergence last season as a reliable run-producer and Gold Glove leftfielder was a measurable reward for the organization’s patience. He was a can’t-miss prospect as the No. 2 overall pick in 2005 who, prior to last season, came to be widely viewed as a bust. Gordon admits that the question now is whether he can validate his turnaround with another big season. Rightfielder Jeff Francoeur similarly revitalized his career after arriving as a free agent and earned a two-year contract extension. Melky Cabrera was another free agent reclamation project who had a career year, and the Royals responded by selling high and sending him to the Giants for Sanchez. Cabrera’s departure creates an opening for Lorenzo Cain, who offers a defensive upgrade. Cain batted .312 last season at Omaha but will be hard-pressed to match the offense that Cabrera provided.

Sal Perez was a huge surprise last season, playing just 39 and batting .331. His advanced defensive skills got him to the majors last August at age 21, but his rapid growth as a hitter has been little short of phenomenal. However, he will miss several weeks after recovering from a torn meniscus that required surgery. In his stead will be Brayan Pena, a tremendous attitude guy who started 72 games last season.

Billy Butler grumbled a bit last year at making the switch from first base to designated hitter in order to accommodate Hosmer. (It was, of course, a move that had to be made given Hosmer’s defensive superiority.) Nevertheless, Butler still finished with a career-high and club-leading 95 RBIs. He also provides a potent right-handed bat in a lefty-heavy lineup. Yost appears likely to again operate, as he did much of last year, with a three-man bench (in order to carry an eight-man bullpen). That means a backup catcher (probably Max Ramirez until Perez is healthy), a backup outfielder (almost certainly Mitch Maier) and a utility infielder (a reacquired Yuniesky Betancourt). If the Royals keep four non-pitching reserves, the final spot should go to outfielder Jarrod Dyson, a pinch-running dynamo.

Last year produced good marks. General manager Dayton Moore and his staff deserve credit for putting together a farm system that shows signs of extracting the franchise from its extended malaise. Yost displayed the same patience in dealing with young players that he used several years ago in helping turn around the once-moribund Brewers. Now it’s time to win.

Final Analysis
Everything suggests that the Royals are heading in the right direction, but expectations are ramping up. Anything less than .500 this season will be a disappointment, and another 90-loss season could force major reevaluations. But if a few things go right — i.e., if the rotation proves steady — it could be a fun summer in the Heartland for the first time in ages.




Batting Order
LF Alex Gordon (L)
Not a prototypical leadoff hitter, but his club-leading .376 on-base percentage makes him the best fit.
2B Johnny Giavotella (R)
His minor league numbers suggest he could be Dustin Pedroia-light; the Royals would take that in a heartbeat.
DH Billy Butler (R)
One of the game’s best pure hitters; doesn’t hit enough homers, but has 140 doubles over the last three years.
1B Eric Hosmer (L)
He was good last year as a rookie, and there is no reason to suspect he won’t continue to get better.
3B Mike Moustakas (L)
Didn’t cut it during extended slump — and then produced big closing kick.
RF Jeff Francoeur (R)
The club’s de facto captain; will be interesting to see if he regresses after a career-renaissance year.
CF Lorenzo Cain (R)
Will show what he can do with an everyday opportunity; should be a defensive upgrade in center.
C Brayan Pena (S)
With upbeat attitude Pena will assume catching duties until Sal Perez is healthy.
SS Alcides Escobar (R)
His slick play solidified the infield after years of suspect predecessors.

C Max Ramirez
Is the short-term answer as the backup catcher until Sal Perez returns from knee surgery.
INF Yuniesky Betancourt (R)
Former starting shortstop returns as utility player after failing to draw interest in free agent market as starter.
OF Mitch Maier (L)
Should draw increased playing time this season as an occasional left-handed alternative to Cain in center.
INF Chris Getz (L)
Stole 21 bases in limited action last season.
C Sal Perez (R)
His defense and game-calling skills always drew raves; but he really turned the corner offensively last season. Will miss several weeks after tearing his meniscus.

RH Luke Hochevar
Showed signs in second half of harnessing tools that made him the first overall pick in the 2006 draft.
LH Jonathan Sanchez
Maybe a change of scenery will finally unlock the power lefty’s tremendous potential.
LH Bruce Chen
A veteran finesse lefty who appears to have figured it out; could be this generation’s Jamie Moyer.
RH Felipe Paulino
Shows tantalizing arsenal but needs to deliver; will shift to bullpen if he fails to hold spot in rotation.
LH Danny Duffy
Flashed potential last year in nearly all of his 20 starts but still posted a 5.64 ERA. Needs strong spring.

RH Joakim Soria (Closer)
Struggled last season for the first time in his career but still posted a 2.58 ERA over his final 37 appearances.
RH Jonathan Broxton
Seeking a bounce-back year after an elbow injury limited him last year to just 14 games for the Dodgers.
RH Greg Holland
Blossomed last season into a potential closer by posting a 1.80 ERA while striking out 74 in 60 innings.
LH Jose Mijares
A good fit as a situational guy; has limited lefties to .212 career average.
RH Louis Coleman
Another young reliever with closer potential; sidearm delivery makes him tough against righthanders.
RH Aaron Crow
Will get a look as starter but appears likely to return to bullpen, where he made the All-Star team as a rookie.
LH Tim Collins
Has plus stuff and a durable arm but will be in the minors if walk rate fails to improve.
RH Luis Mendoza
Could win a job in the rotation but, failing that, seems a likely fit in the bullpen as a long reliever.


Other teams' 2012 Previews:

American League National League
Baltimore Orioles Arizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red Sox Atlanta Braves
Chicago White Sox Chicago Cubs
Cleveland Indians Cincinnati Reds
Detroit Tigers Colorado Rockies
Kansas City Royals Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Dodgers
Minnesota Twins Miami Marlins
New York Yankees Milwaukee Brewers
Oakland A's New York Mets
Seattle Mariners Philadelphia Phillies
Tampa Bay Rays Pittsburgh Pirates
Texas Rangers San Diego Padres
Toronto Blue Jays San Francisco Giants
  St. Louis Cardinals
  Washington Nationals

<p> Everything suggests that the Royals are heading in the right direction, but expectations are ramping up. Anything less than .500 this season will be a disappointment.</p>
Post date: Sunday, March 18, 2012 - 20:39
Path: /mlb/detroit-tigers-2012-preview-0

Detroit Tigers

After winning the AL Central by a whopping 15 games in 2011 for their first division title in 24 years, the Tigers appeared undermanned and overmatched against the Rangers in the ALCS. With a few days of the news that DH Victor Martinez would miss the 2012 season after surgery to repair a torn ACL, the Tigers signed Prince Fielder and immediately created DH/1B/3B questions. But manager Jim Leyland is confidant he will find a spot in the lineup for his prized free agent, perennial MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera and the defensively challenged Delmon Young. With Fielder and Cabrera in the middle of the lineup, the Tigers are quite certainly the best team yet again in the Central — where there is not even an obvious challenger to their supremacy.

One big consideration for the Tigers’ offseason budget was the fact that Verlander’s salary jumps from $13 million to $20 million — not that anyone could argue that he isn’t worth it, following a historic season that culminated in his winning both the AL Cy Young and MVP awards. Over the course of the past three seasons, Verlander leads the majors in wins (61) and strikeouts (738), while ranking third in innings pitched (715.1) and opponents’ batting average (.221). There is, however, some question as to whether Verlander’s heavy usage in 2011 (272.1 innings, regular and postseason combined) will take a toll in 2012. With righthanders Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello (most likely in that order) entrenched at Nos. 2, 3 and 4, the fifth starter spot is the only one that remains up for grabs, with prospects Jacob Turner, Drew Smyly and lefty Andy Oliver among the top contenders. Fister, who went 8–1 with a 1.79 ERA after his trade-deadline acquisition, was the unsung hero of the Tigers’ surge, and the team can’t wait to see what he can do with a full season in Comerica Park. Scherzer, a former first-round pick of the Diamondbacks, is 27–20 in two seasons with Detroit since coming from Arizona in a three-team blockbuster. Porcello, who has started 89 games since breaking into the rotation in 2009, went 14–9 for the second time in his three seasons in the big leagues.

The Tigers’ bullpen, anchored by the flawless performance of closer Valverde (49-for-49 in save opportunities), was a strength of the team all season, until it collapsed in the postseason (8.01 ERA). It turned out that Al Alburquerque’s transformation from shut-down setup man to October arsonist was injury related; he had surgery over the winter and will miss the first part of the season. Picking up Valverde’s $9 million option for 2012 was a no-brainer, and the offseason acquisition of Octavio Dotel will help with depth until Alburquerque returns. Righthander Joaquin Benoit (63 strikeouts in 61 innings in 2011) returns as the top eighth-inning man, while Phil Coke and Daniel Schlereth fill out the pen from the left side. An odd reliever-for-reliever trade sent Ryan Perry packing for Washington and brought swingman Collin Balester to Detroit.

Middle Infield
The Tigers appeared poised to make an upgrade up the middle this winter, but despite plenty of speculation linking them to Jose Reyes, they never made a serious run at the free agent shortstop. That leaves Jhonny Peralta — prior to the Fielder acquisition, a candidate to move to third — back at shortstop, coming off a career-high .299 batting average in 2011. Meanwhile, the Tigers re-signed Ramon Santiago to a two-year deal, meaning that he will likely platoon with Ryan Raburn at second base, with Santiago also filling in occasionally for Peralta at shortstop. As platoons go, Santiago/Raburn is a good one, with Raburn providing some pop at the plate, and Santiago offering a top-notch glove (along with the added bonus of being a switch-hitter).

Every year, Cabrera seems to reveal some new aspect of his game — a sign of his sheer brilliance as a hitter. In 2011, he cut down on his strikeouts, drew 19 more walks, posted career-highs in batting average (.344) and on-base percentage (.448). His dominant performance in the postseason (four homers, 1.261 OPS) only underscored the fact he is as fearsome a hitter as there is in the game. Now Cabrera must rediscover his ability to play the left side of the infield. As the Marlins’ full-time third baseman in 2007, Cabrera made 23 errors. In 2008, his first with Detroit, he made 14 starts at the hot corner and made five errors, prompting the Tigers to keep him at first base. But with Fielder on board, Cabrera will move across the diamond. Fielder brings a large presence both physically and figuratively to the cleanup spot. Detroit has the best offensive tandem at the corners in all of baseball. Defensively, now that’s another story. But something that Leyland is prepared to handle.

Stats-savvy fans understood that Austin Jackson’s remarkable production as a rookie in 2010 (.293/.345/.400) was largely due to an unsustainable .396 BAbip (batting average on balls in play), but few could have foreseen the extent of his precipitous drop in 2011 (.249/.317/.374). He still provides Gold Glove-caliber defense, but the Tigers could use some more offense — even if Jackson is no longer the clear-cut leadoff man. With Magglio Ordoñez gone, Brennan Boesch gets the full-time right field job; he hit a solid .283/.341/.458 until suffering a thumb injury that ended his season in late August. In left field, the Tigers’ first option will be Andy Dirks. The 26-year-old batted .303 from mid-June to mid-August to earn a shot at the job this spring. The team is excited to get a full season of Delmon Young, who was huge down the stretch (and in October) following the August trade that imported him from Minnesota. Young will see some time in left, but is the primary DH.

Avila emerged as a force in 2011, winning the Silver Slugger award and leading all catchers with an .887 OPS. He also endeared himself to management (one member of which, assistant GM Al Avila, is his father) and the fan base by playing through multiple nagging injuries in the playoffs. Still, it is fair to wonder whether the long campaign and a heavy usage pattern (he started 130 games at catcher) will have an adverse effect on him in 2012. The Tigers are counting on his bat to provide length to their lineup beyond the star-filled heart of the order. They brought back veteran Gerald Laird to serve as his backup, but this is the year Avila must prove that his 2011 breakthrough was no fluke.

Martinez hit a sparkling .330 with 103 RBIs last year even though he only hit 12 home runs. Young will inherit the job until V-Mart returns in 2013. Laird was with the Tigers in 2009 and 2010, as Avila was beginning to emerge as the starter, so he knows most of the team’s pitchers. Perhaps manager Jim Leyland, in the interest of giving Avila more regular rest, will trust Laird more than he did Omir Santos. Don Kelly’s versatility (he saw action at seven positions in 2011, including pitcher and catcher) makes him a tremendous asset off the bench. Raburn, when he isn’t playing second base, can fill in at the corner outfield spots.

Both general manager Dave Dombrowksi and Leyland entered 2011 as lame ducks, but emerged with contract extensions by mid-August — Dombrowski through 2015, and Leyland (by his own choice) through 2012. Dombrowski wound up sharing the Executive of the Year award with Milwaukee’s Doug Melvin, and indeed the GM had a tremendous year — beginning with his choosing Martinez over Adam Dunn as the Tigers’ DH, and continuing with his summer acquisitions of Fister and Young. Leyland, meanwhile, was runner-up to Tampa Bay’s Joe Maddon for AL Manager of the Year, and the Tigers’ 2011 playoff run reaffirmed his status as one of the best in the game.

Final Analysis
With the White Sox rebuilding, the Twins reloading and the Indians trying to sustain the progress they made in 2011, the up-and-coming Royals may be Detroit’s chief challenger in 2012. But the Tigers don’t appear overly worried.




Batting Order
CF Austin Jackson (R)
Fell 44 points in BA and 55 points in OPS from stellar 2010 rookie season.
RF Brennan Boesch (L)
Thumb injury derailed promising breakthrough in 2011 (.283/.341/.458).
3B Miguel Cabrera (R)
Arguably the most feared hitter in AL, he posted career highs in 2011 in BA and OBP.
1B Prince Fielder (L)
The hefty hitter has averaged 160 games, 40 home runs and 113 RBIs over the last five seasons.
DH Delmon Young (R)
Came up huge for Tigers after August trade, hitting six homers in September and five in October.
C Alex Avila (L)
Breakthrough 2011 season included All-Star Game appearance, .295 average and an .895 OPS.
SS Jhonny Peralta (R)
Batted career-best .299 in 2011 and became first-time All-Star at age 29.
LF Andy Dirks (L)
Solid contribution in 2011 — seven HRs and 28 RBIs in 219 at-bats — was rewarded with spot on playoff roster.
2B Ramon Santiago (S)
Platoon man became everyday starter late in the 2011 season, with solid results. Will share time with Ryan Raburn.

UT Don Kelly (L)
Versatile enough to play anywhere on the infield.
INF Brandon Inge (R)
Jim Leyland has extraordinary faith in 12th-year veteran despite anemic 2011 numbers. Learning to play second and is a valuable defensive sub for Cabrera.
C Gerald Laird (R)
Veteran returns after winning World Series ring in 2011 as a backup for the Cardinals.
2B Ryan Raburn (R)
Plays the part of the offensive platoon partner with Santiago.
OF Clete Thomas (L)
Will have to battle for a roster spot in the spring; hit .351 with 12 HRs in Toledo last season.

RH Justin Verlander
Historic season included pitching “Triple Crown,” MVP award and Cy Young.
RH Doug Fister
After July trade from Seattle, served as Verlander’s co-ace down the stretch.
RH Max Scherzer
Flamethrower won 15 games in 2011, but needs more consistency to fulfill his vast potential.
RH Rick Porcello
Crucial season for the former first-round pick and 2009 rookie sensation.
RH Jacob Turner
Team may prefer veteran lefty in this spot, but former top prospect Turner is next in line.

RH Jose Valverde (Closer)
Despite nightly high-wire act, finished a perfect 49 for 49 in save opportunities in 2011.
RH Joaquin Benoit
Though not as dominant as in 2010, he remained one of best setup men in the game in 2011.
RH Octavio Dotel
Free agent signee will provide late-inning depth while Al Alburquerque (elbow) recovers.
LH Daniel Schlereth
Succeeds in shutting down left-handed batters (.174/.273/.256 in 2011).
LH Phil Coke
After failed rotation experiment in April and May, had solid season out of pen.
RH Collin Balester
Former Nationals top pitching prospect arrived in November trade.


Other teams' 2012 Previews:

American League National League
Baltimore Orioles Arizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red Sox Atlanta Braves
Chicago White Sox Chicago Cubs
Cleveland Indians Cincinnati Reds
Detroit Tigers Colorado Rockies
Kansas City Royals Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Dodgers
Minnesota Twins Miami Marlins
New York Yankees Milwaukee Brewers
Oakland A's New York Mets
Seattle Mariners Philadelphia Phillies
Tampa Bay Rays Pittsburgh Pirates
Texas Rangers San Diego Padres
Toronto Blue Jays San Francisco Giants
  St. Louis Cardinals
  Washington Nationals
<p> With Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera in the middle of the lineup, the Tigers are quite certainly the best team yet again in the Central — where there is not even an obvious challenger to their supremacy.</p>
Post date: Saturday, March 17, 2012 - 22:01
Path: /mlb/cleveland-indians-2012-preview

Cleveland Indians

If the Indians are going to contend in the AL Central this season, they’ll need to make another double-digit leap in victories. They went from 69 to 80 wins last year for an 11-game improvement and a second-place finish. How hard will it be to jump from 80 to 90-plus victories this year? Remember Evel Knievel’s attempt to clear the Snake River Canyon on a rocket-powered motorcycle? Not to say that it can’t be done, but the Indians will need to make significant improvements on offense this season. Cleveland re-signed Grady Sizemore and sprinkled him with magic dust to keep him healthy after five surgeries in the last three years. The magic dust must have been an off-brand because Sizemore didn’t make it out of spring training before succumbing to back surgery. He’ll mist the first half at least. The Indians, one of MLB’s youngest teams, believe improvement by young position players such as Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall will help. They also need their starting outfield of Michael Brantley, Shin-Soo Choo and a committee in left field not only to return to full health, but also produce.

Pitching drives the Indians. It carried them into September in a gutsy but futile chase of Detroit last year, and it will make or break them this year. While Justin Masterson established himself as a No.1 starter in 2011, all eyes will be on Ubaldo Jimenez, a July deadline acquisition from Colorado. Is he the ace he looked like with the Rockies in 2010 when he started the All-Star Game, or the enigma the Indians acquired? Masterson, Jimenez, Josh Tomlin, Derek Lowe and hopefully Roberto Hernandez Heredia — a.k.a. Fausto Carmona — will open the year as manager Manny Acta’s all-right-handed starting five. Heredia, who is three years older (31) than previously thought, was arrested in January for using a false identity to secure a U.S. visa and will most certainly not be with the team with the Tribe breaks camp. Lowe was acquired from Atlanta right after the World Series because the team’s deep well of starters ran dry. Drew Pomeranz and Alex White, former No. 1 picks, were traded for Jimenez, and Carlos Carrasco will miss this season because of right elbow surgery. Masterson and Tomlin are in position to build on their 12-victory seasons in 2011. New pitching coach Scott Radinsky needs some big market corrections from Jimenez, Lowe and Heredia. Jimenez is a mechanical mess, and Lowe and Heredia combined to lose 32 games last year. Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff, Zach McAllister, Corey Kluber and Scott Barnes provide depth. Slowey and Gomez will get the first trials.

The bullpen, led by closer Chris Perez, has been excellent for the last one-and-a-half seasons and should continue to prosper. Well, once Perez recovers from an oblique injury. He should be back by May, but it’s always difficult to know with injuries of this kind. A fan nicknamed the relievers the “Bullpen Mafia.” This is a talented group that forms the core of the team. Perez converted 90 percent (36-for-40) of his saves last season, but he is a high-wire act who can induce panic among fans. Perez is surrounded by setup men who provide various looks, from lefties Rafael Perez and Tony Sipp to side-arming righties Joe Smith and Vinnie Pestano to hard-throwing righthander Frank Herrmann. Pestano will be the first option to fill in as closer, but Rafael Perez, Sipp and Smith may all get save opportunities. Veteran righthander Robinson Tejeda, if healthy, along with lefty Nick Hagadone will compete for the last spot.

Middle Infield
Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera is the Indians’ best all-around player, but they need a full season from him. He hit .293 in the first half of the season but only .244 (60-for-246) in the second half. Cabrera doesn’t have to hit 25 homers as he did last year, but he must be more consistent both offensively and defensively from Opening Day to the end of the season. Kipnis, who has had a strong spring, will start at second base. He showed power and production in his brief big league debut last year but had a hard time staying healthy. The converted center fielder is still raw defensively, which could mean trouble with a starting rotation dominated by ground-ball pitchers. Jason Donald can back up at both positions.

Cleveland signed Casey Kotchman to play first base after Matt LaPorta has failed to take control of the job. LaPorta was the key player in the 2008 deal that sent CC Sabathia to Milwaukee, but the former first-round pick out of Florida has not shown consistent production. Kotchman is clearly an improvement defensively and hit .306 for Tampa Bay last season. Santana, a switch-hitting catcher, made 63 starts at first last year and could make even more this year. Chisenhall will get every chance to be the Opening Day third baseman. He’s raw defensively but showed flashes of power. He was protected against lefties, but still hit .260 in 50 at-bats vs. southpaws. If Chisenhall isn’t ready, Jack Hannahan would be in line for significant playing time. He displayed Gold Glove defense last year.

Last year Brantley led the Indians’ starting outfielders in games played with 114. Choo, on the disabled list twice, played 85. Sizemore, on the disabled list three times, played 71. Brantley missed all of September with a broken hamate bone in his right hand. If healthy, Choo has demonstrated in the past that he can produce offensively. Brantley is still trying to establish himself offensively, but he appears to be more of a top-of-the-order hitter. A DUI and a broken left thumb wrecked Choo’s 2011 season, but in 2009 and 2010 he hit .300 and was a 20-20 man. Sizemore, a member of the 30-30 club in 2008, underwent back surgery this spring after rebounding from microfracture surgery on his left knee in 2010 and arthroscopic surgery on his right knee at the end of the 2011 season. Ezequiel Carerra and Shelley Duncan will compete for an extra outfield spot after seeing plenty of playing time last year. Aaron Cunningham, out of options, was acquired in a trade with San Diego, and Felix Pie was signed to a minor league deal for depth.

The Indians want Santana to get most of his playing time at catcher. They believe his offense (27 HRs, 79 RBIs, 97 walks, .457 slugging percentage) helps the team more at a premium defensive position rather than having him play exclusively at first base. The problem is that when they do move Santana to first, usually against a lefthander, the offense suffers, because backup Lou Marson hit just .230 with 19 RBIs in 79 games last season. The Indians did sign veteran Matt Pagnozzi to a minor league deal to push Marson for playing time.

This is the final year of Travis Hafner’s four-year $57 million deal, and the Indians probably started counting it down on Jan. 1, 2012. It’s not only the biggest contract in team history, but it’s also probably the worst, given Hafner’s lack of production over the last four years because of a damaged right shoulder that required surgery in 2008. Hafner hasn’t played more than 118 games or driven in more than 57 runs in any of the last four seasons, appearing in 94 games in 2011. The leading candidates for bench jobs include Marson at catcher, Duncan at first and the outfield, Donald, Hannahan and Jose Lopez as utility infielders and Carrera, Cunningham and Pie in the outfield.

The front office was impressed enough with Acta following the 2011 season to exercise his 2013 option. The Indians were 30–15 on May 23, saw a significant uptick at the turnstiles and still owned a piece of first place in the AL Central on July 20 before fading. GM Chris Antonetti was aggressive in his second year. He mortgaged the future in the Jimenez trade by trading former No.1 picks Pomeranz and White. In the offseason he struck early by trading for Lowe and re-signing Sizemore, two moves that may not pan out. The Kotchman signing could be one of the shrewdest in baseball.

Final Analysis
The Indians have the talent to be a factor in the AL Central. They will need another solid season from their starters, and their key offensive players must perform at a high level. If Choo and Hafner spend more time on the disabled list than on the active roster, this team is going to have a tough time making another significant leap in the win column.





Batting Order
CF Michael Brantley (L)

He hit .289 (90-for-311) against righties, but just .214 (30-for-140) against lefties.
SS Asdrubal Cabrera (S)
Won the Silver Slugger last year, but lost the Gold Glove because he ran out of gas in second half.
RF Shin-Soo Choo (L)
Must hit better than .205 (17-for-83) with runners in scoring position to stay in No. 3 spot.
C Carlos Santana (S)
He hit just .239, but slugged .457 because of 64 extra base hits; also had 97 walks.
DH Travis Hafner (L)
Is there a big season bubbling inside Hafner in his walk year, or will it be more of the same?
2B Jason Kipnis (L)
He hit six homers last year in his first 16 big league games.
1B Casey Kotchman (L)
The Indians believe they have the 2011 version (.306 avg.) rather than the 2012 model (.217).
3B Lonnie Chisenhall (L)
He hit five of his seven big-league homers last year against lefties.
LF Aaron Cunningham (R)
Journeyman is with fifth organization in six years, but has a chance to play every day with injury to Grady Sizemore.

C Lou Marson (R)
Threw out 38.5 percent (30-of-78) of the basestealers he faced.
INF Jack Hannahan (L)
Provides stellar defense at third and first and hit .296 (32-for-108) against lefties.
UT Jason Donald (R)
Hit .377 (23-for-61) against lefties and can play second, short, third and the outfield.
UT Shelley Duncan (R)
Ranked third in the American League with 23 RBIs in September.
OF Grady Sizemore (L)
Indians re-signed him for $5 million, but back surgery is latest medical issue. He’ll miss at least half the season.

RH Justin Masterson
Allowed the second-fewest homers per nine innings (11 in 216) in the American League.
RH Ubaldo Jimenez
Averaged 8.6 strikeouts per nine innings last year, but AL batters slugged .448 against him.
RH Josh Tomlin
Finished first in the AL in fewest batters walked per nine innings with an average of 1.143 walks.
RH Derek Lowe
He’s durable, but can he bounce back from 17-loss season with the Braves against AL lineups?
RH Kevin Slowey
Winless in eight decisions with Minnesota last season with a 6.67 ERA. Heredia’s legal troubles open the door for Slowey to resurrect career.
RH Roberto Hernandez Heredia
Pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona is 33–48 since going 19–8 in ’07 — and he’s 31 years old, not 28. Still trying to sort through legal issues to join team.

RH Chris Perez (Closer)

Strikeouts dropped from 61 in 2010 to 39 last year, but finished fourth in AL with 36 saves. An oblique injury will likely land him on the DL for the first month.
RH Vinnie Pestano
Righthanders hit just .115 (15-for-130) against him with four extra base hits. Will share closing duties with Sipp, Rafael Perez and Smith until Chris Perez returns.
LH Tony Sipp
Allowed 10 homers in 62.1 innings, but overall the opposition hit just .201 (45-for-224) against him.
LH Rafael Perez
His ERA was 1.91 in the first half of the season compared to 4.62 in the second half.
RH Joe Smith
Lefties hit .342 (13-for-38) against him in 2010, but .152 (12-for-79) in 2011.
RH Frank Herrmann
Long-relief man who does well against righties, not so well against lefties.
LH Nick Hagadone
He has a big arm, but he also has control issues that could be a concern.
RH Dan Wheeler
Cagey veteran could earn a spot on the roster this spring.


Other teams' 2012 Previews:

American League National League
Baltimore Orioles Arizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red Sox Atlanta Braves
Chicago White Sox Chicago Cubs
Cleveland Indians Cincinnati Reds
Detroit Tigers Colorado Rockies
Kansas City Royals Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Dodgers
Minnesota Twins Miami Marlins
New York Yankees Milwaukee Brewers
Oakland A's New York Mets
Seattle Mariners Philadelphia Phillies
Tampa Bay Rays Pittsburgh Pirates
Texas Rangers San Diego Padres
Toronto Blue Jays San Francisco Giants
  St. Louis Cardinals
  Washington Nationals
<p> The Indians have the talent to be a factor in the AL Central. They will need another solid season from their starters, and their key offensive players must perform at a high level.</p>
Post date: Saturday, March 17, 2012 - 17:10
Path: /mlb/chicago-white-sox-2012-preview

Chicago White Sox

Having done more spending than winning in recent years, the White Sox enter 2012 with a new manager and without their familiar expectations. They lost free agent lefthander Mark Buehrle, one of their two long-term cornerstones, to free agency, because the investments in Jake Peavy, Alex Rios and Adam Dunn have not paid off. General manager Ken Williams is overseeing an awkward rebuilding project that is hindered by both the veterans with oversized contracts and a weak farm system. Robin Ventura, who takes the helm after Ozzie Guillen asked out of the last year of his contract to manage the Miami Marlins, will add Dayan Viciedo to the lineup, platoon Tyler Flowers at catcher and create a major role in the bullpen for Addison Reed. But there is no major wave of talent coming up through the team’s farm system, like the ones in Kansas City and Tampa Bay.

Disappointing last season, the White Sox starting pitching could be a mess in 2012. Peavy, healthy after 2010 surgery to reattach the lat muscle below his shoulder, hopes to be back to full strength in the third full season since he was acquired from San Diego. This is the last guaranteed season on his contract, and he’s being counted on heavily with the Sox needing to replace 327 innings from Buehrle and Edwin Jackson, who was traded at the deadline a year ago. The White Sox are also counting heavily on lefthander Chris Sale, who moves into the rotation after being used as a reliever last season. Sale and John Danks, who was signed to a five-year extension after a down season in 2011, appear to be the cornerstones of future rotations. Gavin Floyd, under Chicago’s control through 2013, is a likely trade candidate. Philip Humber, claimed on waivers from Oakland, and Zach Stewart, who was acquired for Jackson (whose acquisition in 2010 cost the White Sox Daniel Hudson), get chances to prove themselves. Humber had a strong first half as Peavy’s fill-in but had a 5.01 ERA in 10 second-half starts.

For the second year in a row, the White Sox head toward the season not knowing who will be the closer. Sergio Santos had established himself in that role but was surprisingly traded after signing a contract that placed him under the team’s control through 2017. Reed, who closed games for Stephen Strasburg at San Diego State, is viewed as a future closer but has only six games of experience. Veterans Matt Thornton, Jesse Crain and Will Ohman will be counted on to help Reed and a cast of other youngsters get acclimated to the big leagues. The job seekers include lefties Hector Santiago and Charles Leesman and righthanders Dylan Axelrod, Jhan Marinez and Deunte Heath. Thornton, who has two years and $12 million on his contract, will be a candidate for a midseason trade if the Sox are not in contention.

Middle Infield 
Gordon Beckham has not developed into the run-producing second baseman the White Sox expected after he hit .270 with an .808 OPS as a rookie. His numbers have dropped two years in a row — his OPS fell to .633 in 2011 — and even though he’s only 25, this is a critical season, as he’s testing the patience of the organization. Beckham gives up too many at-bats, with his ability to put the ball in play no longer a given. He’s a solid enough fielder, but it was his bat that made him the eighth player taken overall in the 2008 draft. Alexei Ramirez is one of the few White Sox players who is a standout at his position. He has led AL shortstops in homers and extra-base hits over the last three seasons and was third among AL shortstops in defensive runs saved last year.

With Buehrle gone, first baseman Paul Konerko will carry a huge load as far as leadership. He made his fifth trip to the All-Star game last season, and while he’s 36, there’s no reason to expect him to slow down. The cast around him will determine if he can have his seventh 100-RBI season. Brent Morel returns for his second season as the third baseman. He’s a gifted fielder but was a disappointment at the plate in his rookie season. He did go on a late tear, hitting eight home runs in September to give him some momentum heading into this season.

With Carlos Quentin now in San Diego, there’s a lot of heat on Viciedo in left field and Rios in right. Quentin, a 2011 All-Star, provided some protection for Konerko. Viciedo, signed to a four-year, $10-million contract before 2009, has been patiently preparing for the 500-plus plate appearances that should be coming his way, but he had only a .641 OPS after being promoted late last August. Rios, surprisingly, is just as big of a question mark. The White Sox claimed him on waivers in 2009 and owe him $38 million over the next three seasons. The Sox understand why Toronto allowed him to leave with no compensation, as he’s been highly inconsistent. Rios was a plus in every way in 2010 but last year hit .227 with his fewest home runs since 2005 while allowing balls to fall all around him. Alejandro de Aza is a late bloomer who emerged as a fourth outfielder in 2011 but could hit his way into a much bigger role, possibly even taking over for Juan Pierre as a left fielder/leadoff man. He adds both speed and balance to the lineup, and he hit .324 for the Sox in 73 games over the last two seasons.

A.J. Pierzynski is the only catcher who has worked 1,000-plus innings in each of the last 10 seasons, but the streak could end in 2012. He’s 35 with his only real weakness being a sub-par arm that has contributed to opponents’ succeeding on more than 75 percent of their stolen base attempts over his career, including an 80 percent success rate last season. This could be Pierzynski’s last season with the White Sox — we’ve thought that before — depending on the play of Flowers, who has an .876 career OPS in the minors but has hit .197 in limited big league duty.

Can Dunn recover after being a flop of historic proportions? He lost his bat speed, his strike zone judgment and his confidence after signing a four-year, $56-million contract. He had averaged 40 homers over the previous seven seasons but hit .159 with 11 home runs, including an .064 average against left-handed pitchers. He’s likely to be used in a platoon with Viciedo and Brent Lillibridge until he shows he’s a force again. Dunn is owed $44 million, so he’ll have a long leash. Lillibridge can be an excellent role player, starting all over the field and hitting for power. Ozzie Martinez, acquired from Florida with Marinez as Guillen compensation, replaces Omar Vizquel as the backup middle infielder. Flowers has established himself everywhere except the big leagues.

Ventura was highly respected for his skills and his leadership during 10 seasons playing for the White Sox. He’ll need every bit of his intellect and character as he replaces Guillen in the manager’s office. Ventura retired as a player after 2004 and didn’t return to the game until last summer, when he took a job as an advisor to farm director Buddy Bell. Inexperience is a major issue for the coaching staff too, with pitching coach Don Cooper and first base coach Harold Baines the key holdovers from the Guillen era. Williams, the long-time GM, was under heat last season, but chairman Jerry Reinsdorf stuck with him rather than promoting assistant Rick Hahn or creating a position for Tony La Russa. Williams wears a World Series ring from 2005 but allowed the farm system to deteriorate and painted himself into a corner with unproductive acquisitions. The Sox did make a significant hire in the offseason, adding former Blue Jays Latin American operations director Marco Paddy as an assistant to Williams. Paddy faces a big job trying to help the Sox sign more prospects from the Dominican Republic and elsewhere.

Final Analysis
Despite a record payroll of nearly $128 million, the White Sox suffered a losing season and enter a year that could expose the organization’s lack of young talent. Ventura should win Manager of the Year honors if he can help them avoid their fourth losing season in the last six. Bounce-back seasons from Dunn and Rios could provide some thump for a team that was 11th in scoring in the AL a year ago, but Buehrle’s loss will be heavily felt by a pitching staff that looked to him for leadership. If the Sox aren’t contending at midseason, Williams will almost certainly continue to jettison veterans. It’s possible Williams himself could be a casualty if there are not strong signs of internal growth.




Batting Order
CF Alejandro de Aza (L)
11th pro season could provide big league breakthrough if he continues to hit.
SS Alexei Ramirez (R)
Did his best hitting after overdue promotion from down in the order in midseason.
1B Paul Konerko (R)
Coming off his best back-to-back seasons, he’ll carry a bigger load than ever.
DH Adam Dunn (L)
Struck out 177 times in only 496 plate appearances in first season with the Sox.
LF Dayan Viciedo (R)
Bad-ball hitter with questionable plate discipline; compared to Vlad Guerrero by one minors manager.
3B Brent Morel (R)
Good hands in field earned him patient handling when he had two homers, 22 RBIs through August.
C A.J. Pierzynski (L)
He’s the anti-Dunn, striking out once every 15.2 plate appearances last season.
RF Alex Rios (R)
In the last three years, he’s experienced BA swings of minus-44, plus-37 and minus-57 points.
2B Gordon Beckham (R)
White Sox wouldn’t give him up in Adrian Gonzalez trade talk after 2010.

UT Brent Lillibridge (R)
Fifth big league season could be the first time he gets 200-plus at-bats, with frequent outfield starts.
SS Eduardo Escobar (S)
Got his first big league hit off Cy Young winner Justin Verlander; could be trade chip.
INF Ozzie Martinez (R)
Promoted to majors by Florida in 2010 but hasn’t hit; will get a look at second base in the spring.
C Tyler Flowers (R)
King-sized (6'4", 245) receiver handled Sox pitchers well (3.96 catchers’ ERA).
OF Kosuke Fukudome (L)
Former Cub should be much better bargain on the South Side.

LH John Danks
Looking to bounce back after season that included 0–8 start and first career stint on DL.
RH Gavin Floyd
Since 17-win season in 2008, has gone 33–37 with a 4.17 ERA; averaging 30 starts and 191 innings.
RH Jake Peavy
Candidate for midseason trade to NL (career ERA 3.29 in NL) if he is finally healthy and effective.
RH Philip Humber
2011 All-Star candidate faded badly after the break; needs to re-establish himself.
LH Chris Sale
Moves from bullpen with hope he’ll grow into staff ace in post-Mark Buehrle era.

LH Matt Thornton (Closer)
Only bullpen holdover from before 2011, he failed as closer but could get a mulligan.
RH Jesse Crain
Solid set-up man could get chances to close at the start of the season.
RH Addison Reed
After holding minor leaguers to a .158 average, will play a big role filling hole left by Sergio Santos trade.
LH Will Ohman
This will be first time he’s spent back-to-back seasons with the same team since leaving the Cubs in 2007.
RH Zach Stewart
Made eight starts for White Sox in 2011 and figures to be a spot starter and long man.
RH Dylan Axelrod
Former Padre is a strike-thrower who could start if needed.


Other teams' 2012 Previews:

American League National League
Baltimore Orioles Arizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red Sox Atlanta Braves
Chicago White Sox Chicago Cubs
Cleveland Indians Cincinnati Reds
Detroit Tigers Colorado Rockies
Kansas City Royals Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Dodgers
Minnesota Twins Miami Marlins
New York Yankees Milwaukee Brewers
Oakland A's New York Mets
Seattle Mariners Philadelphia Phillies
Tampa Bay Rays Pittsburgh Pirates
Texas Rangers San Diego Padres
Toronto Blue Jays San Francisco Giants
  St. Louis Cardinals
  Washington Nationals
<p> General manager Ken Williams is overseeing an awkward rebuilding project that is hindered by both the veterans with oversized contracts and a weak farm system.Manager Robin Ventura should win Manager of the Year honors if he can help them avoid their fourth losing season in the last six.</p>
Post date: Saturday, March 17, 2012 - 16:23
Path: /mlb/toronto-blue-jays-2012-preview

Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays have gone nearly 20 years since their last trip to the postseason, but that drought seems likely to end soon, perhaps as soon as this year. Toronto will contend if its starting pitchers continue to improve, and young position players like Yunel Escobar, Brett Lawrie and Adam Lind complement the American League’s top slugger last year, Jose Bautista, in the lineup. With two wild cards now in play, Toronto can be a team squarely in the hunt late in the season.

Only five teams had a higher earned run average from their starters last season than the Blue Jays, who checked in at 4.55, ahead of only the Twins, Rockies, Cubs, Royals and Orioles. To escape such inglorious company and become serious contenders, the Blue Jays need more of the same from ace Ricky Romero, a 27-year-old lefthander who improves every year. They also need to find out if Brandon Morrow can harness his exceptional stuff and produce consistent, top-level results. If he can, the Jays have a 1-2 punch to contend with the tough lineups of the AL East. The Jays hope that Henderson Alvarez can build off an impressive 10-start audition late last season, when he was the second-youngest starting pitcher in the major leagues, and they need Kyle Drabek to show why the Phillies were initially so reluctant to give him up for Roy Halladay. Alvarez and Drabek have more upside than Brett Cecil, the lefty who earned 15 victories in 2010 but was shipped back to Class AAA in April. He pitched well for a while, but finished 0–7 with a 5.16 ERA in his last 10 starts in the big leagues. The Blue Jays put him on a conditioning program to lose weight over the offseason. He lost about 30 pounds and has looked good in early spring outings. Dustin McGowan, who missed all of 2009 and 2012, is a long shot to return to the rotation, but is being tested this spring.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos was overjoyed to trade for closer Sergio Santos in early December, even though it meant sacrificing a top pitching prospect, Nestor Molina, to the White Sox in return. Anthopoulos raved about Santos’ strikeout stuff — he averaged more than 13 strikeouts per nine innings last year — and his contract, which includes six years of club control: three guaranteed, and three option years. Santos, a first-round draft pick by the Diamondbacks as a shortstop in 2002, played in the Jays’ farm system from 2006 to 2008, actually hitting 20 homers one year. But he found his calling as a pitcher with the White Sox and now leads the Toronto bullpen. Another acquisition late in the offseason was Francisco Cordero, the Reds’ closer for the past four seasons, and Milwaukee prior to that. He has 194 saves over five seasons, but he will be asked to fill the setup role in front of Santos. The Jays’ bullpen is now pretty deep and should be a strength, putting less pressure on the starters to get deeper into games. It is stocked with former starters like Jesse Litsch and Carlos Villanueva, and the Jays reacquired righty setup man Jason Frasor, who spent the final two months of the 2011 season with the White Sox. Frasor spent the first seven-plus years of his career in the Jays’ bullpen. Veteran Darren Oliver was signed in January as a situational lefty.

Middle Infield
The Blue Jays pulled off a steal when they snagged Escobar from the Braves in a five-player deal in 2010. Escobar is 29 and a good fielder who gets on base and has some power. Critics have said he has an attitude, but with that kind of on-field profile, Escobar helps a team win. Judging by Wins Above Replacement, only the Blue Jays’ two All-Stars, Bautista and Romero, contributed more wins to the team than Escobar last season. Escobar’s keystone mate is Kelly Johnson, acquired from Arizona in August for Aaron Hill, who never came close to repeating his 2009 All-Star form. Johnson struggled for the Diamondbacks last season, but in 33 games with Toronto, he batted .270 with a .364 on-base percentage and three homers. He accepted the Blue Jays’ arbitration offer in December, and with another shot at free agency after this season, he should be motivated to put up big numbers.

If only Lind, the first baseman, could be the basher he was in 2009, when he hit .305 with 35 homers and 114 runs batted in. If he could, pitchers might be less inclined to walk Bautista in front of him. But with Lind a relatively easy out in the cleanup spot last year, Bautista led the majors in walks (132), including a league-leading 24 intentional walks. Lind should be healthier this season after dealing with injuries to his lower back and his wrist, and at 28, he should be in his prime. Across the diamond at third is Lawrie, who played like a veteran when he arrived from the minors last season. Lawrie, from Langley, British Columbia, showed why he was Milwaukee’s top prospect before he was traded to Toronto for Shaun Marcum. From his debut on Aug. 5 until he fractured a finger on Sept. 21, Lawrie led all major league rookies in OPS (.953) and was tied for first in homers (nine) and extra-base hits (21). He plays with swagger and is quick and athletic in the field.

There can be no doubting Bautista anymore. After his sudden explosion for 54 home runs in 2010, he led the majors for the second straight year, this time with 43. Bautista also led the majors in OPS (1.056) and walks (132), and at $14 million per year through 2015, his contract makes a lot of sense for the Blue Jays. Bautista has started at six different positions in his career but has settled in nicely in right field. New centerfielder Colby Rasmus never clicked with Tony La Russa in St. Louis, but at 25 years old, the former first-round draft pick is a strong candidate for a breakout season in his first full year in Toronto. Left field will be manned by Eric Thames or Travis Snider, with Snider still trying to unlock the power he has shown in the minor leagues.

The Blue Jays thought so highly of J.P. Arencibia that they traded Mike Napoli to the Texas Rangers before last season. Napoli became a second-half and postseason sensation for Texas, but Toronto is happy with Arencibia, who hit 23 homers, fourth-best among major league catchers and a record for a Blue Jays backstop. There’s room for improvement, though, considering his .282 on-base percentage. On defense, Arencibia threw out 24.3 percent of potential base-stealers while committing 12 passed balls, ranking second in the American League. The Blue Jays acquired a defensive specialist, Jeff Mathis, in the offseason, but Arencibia should not have to worry about his starting spot. Mathis was a career .194 hitter in seven seasons with the Angels.

Edwin Encarnacion is the incumbent at DH for the Blue Jays, but as designated hitters go, he’s not one of the best. He peaked early in his career with the Reds and has made little impact, positive or negative, in two-plus seasons with Toronto. His OPS was identical in 2010 and 2011: an uninspiring .787. With a bench that includes Ben Francisco, Rajai Davis and possibly the loser of the Snider/Thames left field battle, there should be plenty of names spinning in and out of the DH spot, unless Encarnacion’s career suddenly takes off. He’s 29 this season, so he probably is what he is. But when you play on the same team as the ultimate late bloomer — Bautista — perhaps there’s always hope of becoming a top slugger with little advance warning. Veteran Omar Vizquel, who turns 45 in April, made starts at third, short and second last season for the White Sox. He is with the team in spring training and likely to make the team as a utility infielder and mentor to the Jays’ youngster.

Rival executives see the Blue Jays as an imminent threat to contend for the playoffs, largely because of the smart leadership of Anthopoulos. The team is in a healthy place financially, with no regrettable contracts, several young, impact position players and a pitching staff guided by an astute ex-pitcher, manager John Farrell. Anthopoulos is confident that Rogers Communications, with its vast resources, will allow the team to spend big when he sees fit. With the Canadian market all to themselves, and an extra wild card spot on the horizon, all signs point to a renaissance north of the border very soon.

Final Analysis
Eleven times in the last 14 years, Toronto has won at least 80 games but no more than 88. It’s a frustrating place to live, especially in the American League East, where 90 wins are generally the benchmark for relevance. The Blue Jays are building carefully, trying to build something sustainable to finally escape the good-but-not-great treadmill. They’re probably a year away from doing it, but if they’re close enough to contention this summer — a distinct possibility, given the upside of players like Lawrie and Morrow — expect the creative Anthopoulos to make a move that gives the Jays a chance to go for it.



Batting Order
SS Yunel Escobar (R)
Punished lefties for a .330 average (sixth in the AL) last season.
CF Colby Rasmus (L)
Should have plenty of motivation after Cardinals traded him and went on to win World Series. Will also see some time in the No. 6 slot.
RF Jose Bautista (R)
Jays’ highest-paid player is a certified bargain at $14 million a year through 2015.
1B Adam Lind (L)
Must provide better protection for Bautista, who drew 132 walks to lead MLB.
DH Edwin Encarnacion (R)
Had a .382 on-base percentage in the second half, 99 points better than he did in the first half.
3B Brett Lawrie (R)
Future franchise cornerstone, acquired from Milwaukee for Shaun Marcum; looks like a star in the making.
C J.P. Arencibia (R)
Rookie season produced 23 homers, a single-season record for a Blue Jays catcher.
2B Kelly Johnson (L)
Middle infielder with pop on a one-year contract makes perfect sense for Toronto. Will not be a surprise to see him batting second.
LF Eric Thames (L)
Will try to hold off Travis Snider for the starting job after slumping in September.

OF Rajai Davis (R)
Speedster’s spot is shaky after a career-worst season hampered by hamstring injury.
OF Travis Snider (L)
Posted a .394 OBP at Triple-A last year and .269 with Jays. Needs to prove he’s not a 4A player.
INF Mike McCoy (R)
Appeared at every spot on the field except catcher, left field and first base (yes, he even pitched).
OF Ben Francisco (R)
His pinch-hit, three-run homer won Game 3 of NLDS for the Phillies.
C Jeff Mathis (R)
After flipping an Angels catcher last winter (Mike Napoli), Jays will hold onto this defensive specialist.
INF Omar Vizquel (S)
The ageless future Hall of Famer will likely make the team as a mentor for Escobar and Lawrie.

LH Ricky Romero
Since 2009 debut, he’s lowered ERA and WHIP while raising wins and innings each season.
RH Brandon Morrow
Improving steadily, the strikeout specialist could break into stardom at age 27.
LH Brett Cecil
Very lucky to be 15–7 in 2010, very unlucky to be 4–11 last year.
RH Henderson Alvarez
Finished season strong, with quality starts in five of six appearances starting Aug. 31.
RH Kyle Drabek
Must continue to work on commanding his fastball to win back a starting job after rough 2011.
RH Dustin McGowan
Is competing with Drabek for final fifth spot in rotation. Returned last season after missing all of 2009 and 2010 to start four games with modest results. May be better suited for bullpen now.

RH Sergio Santos (Closer)
Despite free agent options, Jays traded for Santos and believe he can be elite.
RH Francisco Cordero
The former Rangers/Brewers/Reds closer has six 37-plus save seasons.
RH Carlos Villanueva
After five years with Brewers, he made 13 starts, 20 relief appearances in first year with Jays.
RH Jesse Litsch
Won four of eight starts last year before shoulder injury; a serviceable long man, but has been shut down until mid-April.
RH Jason Frasor
After brief interlude with White Sox, he’s back in familiar setup role.
LH Darren Oliver
Veteran specialist gave up four extra-base hits (in 94 PAs) vs. lefties with the Rangers in 2011.
RH Casey Janssen
Coming off his lowest WHIP and highest strikeout percentage of five-year career.

Other teams' 2012 Previews:

American League National League
Baltimore Orioles Arizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red Sox Atlanta Braves
Chicago White Sox Chicago Cubs
Cleveland Indians Cincinnati Reds
Detroit Tigers Colorado Rockies
Kansas City Royals Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Dodgers
Minnesota Twins Miami Marlins
New York Yankees Milwaukee Brewers
Oakland A's New York Mets
Seattle Mariners Philadelphia Phillies
Tampa Bay Rays Pittsburgh Pirates
Texas Rangers San Diego Padres
Toronto Blue Jays San Francisco Giants
  St. Louis Cardinals
  Washington Nationals

<p> The Blue Jays have gone nearly 20 years since their last trip to the postseason, but that drought seems likely to end soon, perhaps as soon as this year. With two wild cards now in play, Toronto can be a team squarely in the hunt late in the season.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 13:48
Path: /mlb/tampa-bay-rays-2012-preview

Tampa Bay Rays

You can count the 30 million dollars conserved in 2011 by lopping off the seven-highest paid players from their payroll. You can count all the franchise-record stats that departed with Carl Crawford, the homers and RBIs Carlos Pena left behind, the runs Jason Bartlett saved at shortstop and the 86 percent attrition of bullpen appearances the club overcame in its improbable 91-win season. But the one thing you can’t ever do is count out the Tampa Bay Rays. So while they will again be generally regarded as the cheap cuts in the AL East meat-grinder, there is still a feast of pitching, defense and speed on the menu. While those are ingredients for continued success, a look at the only moderately amended batting order begs the same question as last year: Where’s the beef?

“Starting pitching depth to us is everything,” says GM Andrew Friedman. “That’s the one area that we can’t make great decisions under the radar. If we ever have to go to market for that, we’re in a lot of trouble.” Fortunately, the only trouble the 2012 Rays have is finding enough baseballs to go around, with two go-to aces in David Price and James Shields. Price’s 12–13 record was indicative of little more than the team’s spotty run production; he was only the ninth pitcher in history to endure a losing ledger despite punching out 200 batters with an ERA below 3.50 and a sub-1.15 WHIP. Shields, the first 200-inning man in 22 years to shave two runs off his ERA, may not duplicate the 2.82, but he’s a warhorse who led the league with 11 complete games and four shutouts. Third in the array is Jeremy Hellickson, who could be a No. 1 for many teams. The Rookie of the Year makes up for a too-high walk rate and ordinary velocity with an impressive repertoire, good life and steely poise. Streaky skyscraper Jeff Niemann, seemingly reinventing himself as a junk-baller, just wins. Wade Davis admits to being “my own worst enemy.” He has No. 2-starter stuff and he’s competitive, but his fastball command and some adjustment-phobia relegate him at the bottom edge of the rotation. That’s five — so someone will have to move to the bullpen (or another city) to clear room for phenom Matt Moore, who, in the other league, goes by the name “Strasburg.” The 22-year-old with effortless high-90s cheddar and myriad other weapons is driven to be great — which, by all indications, he will be. Young Alex Cobb is also ready for a rotation — just not this one.

For the second straight year, an “Under Construction” sign hangs on the bullpen gate. Thanks especially to Kyle Farnsworth’s dual redefinition as a closer and a strike-thrower, last year’s came together fairly well. At 35, he saved 25 games — two shy of his previous 12-year total. There is concern that his elbow is a time bomb, but the Rays were secure enough to pick up his option. Joel Peralta doesn’t profile as one, but he would be a solid ninth-inning option if needed. Skipper Joe Maddon calls him Campeòn (The Champion) and compares his competitive moxie to that of an undersized boxer. One-time 37-save man Fernando Rodney, who while a Tiger was suspended for heaving a ball into The Trop press box, heads a list of three righties brought in to compete with holdover Brandon Gomes. Rodney still throws 95 with a 12-mph separation from his deluxe change-up, but he has had little command and a recent encounter with back problems. The others were sinkerballer Burke Badenhop (from Miami) and power-armed kid Josh Lueke (from Seattle). Southpaws vying for a role include former closer J.P. Howell and ex-elite prospect Jake McGee (neither of whom has recouped pre-surgery form), as well as the underwhelming Cesar Ramos.

Middle Infield
Ben Zobrist gave his defensive GPS a rest last season and settled in as the regular second baseman with just an occasional detour to right field. He split the difference between his All-Star breakout of 2009 and all-out pratfall of 2010 — still enough to brand him one of the better bats around at his position. He’s also a Gold Glover without the hardware to show for it. Likewise, the leather doesn’t come much smoother than what Reid Brignac flashes at shortstop. But because he bears zero resemblance to the hitter who put up promising numbers in the minors, he often cedes time to Sean Rodriguez. The latter hasn’t hit much, either, but anyone with his bat speed must stay in the mix.

While teams with “real” money in the bank were rasslin’ over the likes of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, the Rays blew their projected budget by re-signing Pena for $7.25 million. Powerful, popular and ecstatic to be back, he’s worth 20 more home runs than they got from Casey Kotchman in 2011, and is just as slick defensively. At the other corner is franchise cornerstone Evan Longoria. If he can stay healthy and put two halves together, neither of which he did in 2011, he’s capable of supplying Pujolsian production at 20 cents on the dollar.

It was only two and a half months, but in Desmond Jennings’ trial spin as the Tampa Bay leftfielder, he was everything Crawford was — and sometimes more. Though a late slump depressed his stats, the rookie revealed expectation-exceeding pop and patience to go with his searing speed and scintillating glove. He’s a center fielder playing left — if or until the Rays desaddle from B.J. Upton. A seven-year vet at 27, Upton is as enigmatic as ever. Skilled enough to be a two-time 20-20 man, he gives away far too many at-bats, as his .240 average since 2009 corroborates. No question he can outrun the ball and throw it as well as anyone at the position. In right, Matt Joyce made the All-Star team, then scuffled. It was, on balance, a nice step forward for another high-ceiling hitter who’s also a defensive standout. If he still can’t solve lefties (.196 career avg.), his platoon partner will be Brandon Guyer, an overachieving ’tweener of a prospect with a strong minor league résumé.

The Rays feel they got a free agent steal in Jose Molina to replace John Jaso, who was dealt for Lueke. Certainly the defensive upgrade was colossal. One’s been the toughest catcher on whom to steal the last four years (39.0 percent caught stealing) the other among the easiest. One treats the job as “an art,” according to his former manager, John Farrell; the other never really got the hang of it. Molina, though, is 36, offensively challenged and without a 300-at-bat season.

A deep, versatile bench is Maddon’s lifeblood. Zobrist, Rodriguez and Elliot Johnson can play almost anywhere, enabling the manager to conjure all sorts of matchup edges. Utility outfielder Sam Fuld is a treasure, especially defensively and attitudinally. “There are a lot of average Americans who can identify with this fellow,” extols Maddon. Jeff Keppinger brings a solid right-handed bat and can play three infield spots. Youngsters Jose Lobaton and/or Robinson Chirinos will be Molina’s caddy. Luke Scott, fresh off shoulder surgery, will be the primary DH. The powerful former Oriole, who also could see spot play at first or in left, seems always to be in either a torrid groove or a subterranean slump.

Friedman, Maddon, team president Matt Silverman and owner Stu Sternberg enjoy a symbiosis that’s rare in sports. Their skills, smarts, sophistication and sensibilities fuse to make the franchise more than the sum of its parts. The challenge is to keep the “fab four” together. Sternberg must wrangle a new stadium or pack up and move to stay financially viable; Friedman already has been approached by other teams; but Maddon’s contract has been extended through the 2015 season.

Final Analysis
The Rays’ offensive muscle is well south of average, but they have pitching to be plundered, speed to spare and defense to die for. That may not be good enough in their treacherous division, since it took a scenario that Maddon called “beyond fiction” to get them into the playoffs last year. Still, there’s an X-factor about this bunch that can’t be minimized. “I dig the way the Rays play baseball,” Maddon says. And while Sternberg laments that, fiscally, “there are 29 other teams passing us like we’re going in reverse,” he hastens to add, “except on the field.”




Batting Order
LF Desmond Jennings (R)
Only player in baseball with 10 homers and 20 steals from July 23 (his 2011 season debut) forward.
CF B.J. Upton (R)
Sole player with at least 50 home runs and 100 stolen bases over the last three seasons.
3B Evan Longoria (R)
His 401 RBIs represent an AL record for a third baseman in his first four seasons.
1B Carlos Pena (L)
Led NL qualifiers by ripping 52.2% of his hits for extra bases, but had the second-lowest average (.225).
2B Ben Zobrist (S)
Has hit .221 or lower at The Trop in five of his six seasons, but .285 on road since 2008.
RF Matt Joyce (L)
Just three career HRs vs. lefties — all in a span of 13 trips against them last year.
DH Luke Scott (L)
Ex-Oriole is the only player to launch six HRs onto Eutaw Street beyond the Camden Yards fence.
C Jose Molina (R)
Two-time AL caught-stealing percentage leader who’s nabbed two of every five in his career.
SS Reid Brignac (L)
Eighth-lowest average among players with 200 PAs in 2011, but Rays went 46–30 in his starts.

INF Sean Rodriguez (R)
Per ESPN Home Run Tracker, scorched the hardest-hit longball (118.4 mph) of 2011.
OF Sam Fuld (L)
Was the AL batting leader at .366 on April 22, then collapsed to .203 in his final 87 games.
INF Jeff Keppinger (R)
Made 82 starts at second base for Astros and Giants last season. Brings a career .281 average to the Rays.
OF Brandon Guyer (R)
Acquired with Sam Fuld from the Cubs in the Matt Garza deal a year ago.
UT Elliot Johnson (S)
Highest shortstop fielding percentage (.993) among players with at least 50 games there in 2011.
C Jose Lobaton (S)
Raked .307 in minors (career high by far) in 2011, but is only 7-for-51 as a big leaguer.

LH David Price
First pitcher since Tom Glavine to start a playoff, All-Star and Opening Day game before turning 25.
RH James Shields
Each 2011 triple crown stat (16 wins, 2.82 ERA and 225 SOs) was second-best in Rays annals.
LH Matt Moore
Led short- or full-season minor leaguers in strikeouts per nine innings each of last four seasons.
RH Jeremy Hellickson
Topped the AL with a .167 opponents batting average with runners in scoring position.
RH Wade Davis
Held hitters to .161 average with RISP/two outs in 2010-11 — No. 1 among AL starters.
RH Alex Cobb
Shown to be major league ready, but may get squeezed out this year. Owns a 2.41 ERA over 34 starts a Double-A and Triple-A the past two seasons.

RH Kyle Farnsworth (Closer)
Second-lowest career ERA (1.87) at The Trop among relievers with at least 50 IP there.
RH Joel Peralta
Led major league relievers by limiting first batters to an on-base percentage of .099.
RH Fernando Rodney
Saddled with highest WHIP (1.55) in the majors since 2008 among pitchers with at least 200 outings.
RH Jeff Niemann
Second-highest winning percentage (.623) in history by a 6'9" or taller pitcher, behind Randy Johnson’s .646.
RH Brandon Gomes
Limited right-handed batters to 18 hits in 83 at-bats (.217 average).
LH J.P. Howell
Allowed .169 average with runners in scoring position in 2008, but .308 in his other five seasons.
RH Burke Badenhop
Ranked 10th in the majors (min. 60 IP) with a 58.5 percent ground ball rate.


Other teams' 2012 Previews:

American League National League
Baltimore Orioles Arizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red Sox Atlanta Braves
Chicago White Sox Chicago Cubs
Cleveland Indians Cincinnati Reds
Detroit Tigers Colorado Rockies
Kansas City Royals Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Dodgers
Minnesota Twins Miami Marlins
New York Yankees Milwaukee Brewers
Oakland A's New York Mets
Seattle Mariners Philadelphia Phillies
Tampa Bay Rays Pittsburgh Pirates
Texas Rangers San Diego Padres
Toronto Blue Jays San Francisco Giants
  St. Louis Cardinals
  Washington Nationals

<p> You can count the 30 million dollars conserved in 2011 by lopping off the seven-highest paid players from their payroll. You can count all the franchise-record stats that departed with Carl Crawford, the homers and RBIs Carlos Pena left behind, the runs Jason Bartlett saved at shortstop and the 86 percent attrition of bullpen appearances the club overcame in its improbable 91-win season. But the one thing you can’t ever do is count out the Tampa Bay Rays.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 12:58
Path: /mlb/new-york-yankees-2012-preview

New York Yankees

The Yankees fell short of the World Series for the seventh time in eight seasons, but this remains a formidable team. A deep lineup returns, and so does ace lefty CC Sabathia, who fronts a rotation fortified by the additions of veteran Hiroki Kuroda and 23-year-old All-Star Michael Pineda. With those arms, all those hitters, a stingy bullpen, and the money and prospects to have plenty of trade options, the Yankees are poised for another turn in October.

The Yankees avoided the doomsday scenario of losing their ace when Sabathia agreed to a one-year contract extension, with a vesting option for a second year, instead of opting out of his contract to explore free agency. Sabathia could end up making $50 million over the 2016 and 2017 seasons, but the Yankees can afford it, and they had no other options. Sabathia is 64–24 in three years with the Yankees, including a 5–1 mark in the postseason, and at 31, he is still squarely in his prime. He settles a rotation that was much sturdier than expected last season and got a boost in mid-January with the signing of Kuroda and the trade for Pineda, a hard-throwing righty with five years remaining before free agency. Ivan Nova returns after going 16–4 as a rookie, leaving Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia – once a hard thrower, now a craftsman — to compete for the final spot in the rotation. That gives the Yankees plenty of depth, and they also have a crop of prospects at Class AAA to plug holes during the season.

Despite losing Joba Chamberlain and Pedro Feliciano to injuries — and with Rafael Soriano sidelined for much of the season — the Yankees still posted the best bullpen ERA in the American League, at 3.12. Mariano Rivera was his usual incomparable self, passing Trevor Hoffman for the career saves record and blowing only one save opportunity in the second half. Rivera turned 42 in November, and as he enters the final year of his contract, he has made no commitment about his future. That will be an ongoing storyline, as will the performance of Soriano, who was signed with the notion that he might replace Rivera in 2013. Soriano has a player option for next season, but he must first prove he can repeat his success as a closer while pitching in a setup role. Last season, David Robertson was the Yankees’ most effective setup man, earning an All-Star spot, fanning 100 batters in 66.2 innings and posting a 1.08 ERA. Boone Logan returns to neutralize lefties, and Chamberlain could be back at midseason if his recovery from Tommy John surgery goes as planned.

Middle Infield
Derek Jeter was a daily soap opera for months after the 2010 season, with contentious contract negotiations, a sluggish first half and a disabled list stint for a strained calf. But once Jeter zoomed past 3,000 hits — having reached the milestone on a home run off Tampa Bay lefty David Price, as part of a 5-for-5 day — the questions about his age and salary subsided, and Jeter reverted to his status as the revered and reliable Captain. His range at shortstop will never be great, but he makes few mistakes, and at 37, he has a capable backup in Eduardo Nunez. Jeter made 10 starts at DH last season, a career high, and will probably make more in 2012. Second baseman Robinson Cano, meanwhile, flashed a terrific glove in the field while leaving no doubt that he was the Yankees’ best offensive player. Cano finished second in the league in extra-base hits and ranked among the top four in total bases for the third year in a row. He set career highs in runs (104) and RBIs (118), although his walks fell and his strikeouts increased, a trend he must reverse as he tries to extend his prime. At 29 years old, with free agency in his sights after the 2013 season, expect Cano to continue his ascent.

The Yankees are still in the first half of the massive contracts for their corner infielders, Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira. And while both remain feared hitters in the middle of the lineup, they are coming off possibly their worst seasons. Teixeira, the first baseman, hit a career-low .248 with an .835 OPS, the lowest figure for him since his rookie season. Rodriguez, the third baseman, had an even lower OPS, .823, his worst since he turned 20. Rodriguez turns 37 in July, and while the three-time MVP vows to work extremely hard every winter, his body keeps betraying him. Rodriguez has not played 140 games in a season since 2007, and he is signed through 2017 at an average annual salary of $27.5 million. That means Nunez or Eric Chavez could see increased playing time at third, with Rodriguez seeing more time at DH. Teixeira remains an elite power hitter, but while he hit .302 from the right side last season, he slumped to .224 as a lefty. That must change, and at 32 this April, Teixeira is still young enough that his 2011 season can be considered more of a fluke than a trend. At least, that is what the Yankees must believe, because at $22.5 million per year through 2016, they have no other choice.

The aging infielders carry more star power, but the Yankees get a lot of production from their younger outfield. Centerfielder Curtis Granderson, 31, led the team in runs, homers and RBIs, and became the first player ever with 40 homers, 10 triples and 25 steals in the same season. His speed helps him patrol a lot of ground in center field, and leftfielder Brett Gardner can track down a lot of balls Granderson might not reach. Gardner is one of the majors’ fastest players, and his 49 steals tied for the league lead. Gardner’s walk rate declined last year, though he made more contact at the plate and — depending on which advanced defensive metrics you believe — he might save more outs than any other outfielder in the league. Rightfielder Nick Swisher has been anemic in the postseason as a Yankee (.160 average), but the organization was smart enough to look past that and see the value in his ability to get on base and hit home runs. Swisher is much more dangerous as a right-handed hitter, but he is capable as a lefty. He plays a decent right field, and while Swisher is a bit of a showman, he genuinely loves playing in the Bronx, and the fans appreciate his effort. Newcomer Raul Ibañez will likely take some of Swisher’s at-bats against right-handed pitching.

A team rich in catching prospects did not seem like the ideal fit for Russell Martin, but the Yankees were thrilled to add the former Dodger All-Star last winter. He’ll be back again in 2012, and not just as a stopgap for Austin Romine or Gary Sanchez. The Yankees loved the way Martin managed the pitching staff, and with 18 homers and 65 RBIs, he was more than adequate as a run producer. Martin can be a free agent after the season, and at that point the Yankees must decide if Romine is ready for full-time duty as the heir to the position held with such dignity by Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson and Jorge Posada.

With aging superstars like Jeter, Rodriguez — and, to a lesser extent, Teixeira — needing time at designated hitter, Nunez becomes a pivotal piece for the Yankees. Nunez could start for a lot of teams, but the Yankees have resisted trading him because of how easily he slides into the left side of the infield when Jeter or Rodriguez need a break. Nunez was prone to defensive mistakes (20 errors), but all the tools are there to be a solid fielder, and he stole 22 bases last year as a fill-in. Ibañez and Andruw Jones will start most often as the designated hitter. Among bench options, Jones gives the Yankees a strong power bat against lefties and Chavez against righties.

Joe Girardi, who enters his fifth season, excels at the two most important facets of managing this team: maneuvering a deep bullpen to compensate for a so-so rotation, and getting the most from his veterans by knowing when to rest them. Girardi has the firm backing of the Steinbrenner family and general manager Brian Cashman, who re-signed for three more years and has wisely used the Steinbrenner money to build a fearsome major league roster and a strong farm system.

Final Analysis
The Yankees’ bats went cold in the playoffs, but over the long season, this lineup will produce. The Yankees won 97 games last season, and with the improvements to their rotation, they should crack 100 this year and fend off the Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays for yet another AL East crown.




Batting Order
SS Derek Jeter (R)
Quieted critics with a second-half surge that evoked the Jeter of Old, not the Old Jeter.
CF Curtis Granderson (L)
No longer struggles against lefties, with a .272 average and a .597 slugging percentage in 2011.
2B Robinson Cano (L)
A free swinger (just 38 walks), but what a swing it is; seems to hit everything hard.
3B Alex Rodriguez (R)
Midseason knee surgery ended his record streak of 13 seasons with at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs.
1B Mark Teixeira (S)
Hit just .239 on balls in play, suggesting bad luck or better defensive positioning against him.
RF Nick Swisher (S)
Mark it down: good for 20+ homers, 80+ RBIs and .360 on-base percentage every year.
DH Raul Ibañez (L)
Hit just .245 with a .289 OBP (.211/.232 vs. LHP), but Yankees hope his power (20 HR) will translate well at Yankee Stadium. Will most likely platoon with Andruw Jones.
C Russell Martin (R)
Professionalism and power give Yanks a big boost and buy time for prospects to mature.
LF Brett Gardner (L)
Yanks love the way he sets the table for the top of the order.

C Francisco Cervelli (R)
Solid hitter, but has caught only 13 of 92 potential base-stealers in last two years.
INF Eduardo Nunez (R)
Made 83 starts at various spots last year; allows Jeter to ‘rest’ as the DH.
3B Eric Chavez (L)
Solid left-handed option at third and is strong defensively.
OF Andruw Jones (R)
Former home run champ can still mash, with a .923 OPS against lefties last year

LH C.C. Sabathia
Eleven MLB seasons, all with a winning record, and he’s only 31 years old.
RH Hiroki Kuroda
Made 11 quality starts in 14 post-All-Star break starts for the Dodgers last season.
RH Ivan Nova
Hard to believe the Yankees once lost him in Rule 5 draft — and Padres gave him back.
RH Michael Pineda
Fastball averaged 94.7 mph last year, fourth-best among starters in the majors.
RH Phil Hughes
Has proven he can start or relieve at the big-league level, but struggled for consistency.

RH Mariano Rivera (Closer)
Had 7.5 strikeouts for every walk, the second-best ratio of his storied career.
RH David Robertson
AL-best 13.50 strikeouts per nine innings for pitchers with at least 65 innings pitched.
RH Rafael Soriano
Before his May elbow injury: 5.40 ERA; after his July return: 3.33.
RH Freddy Garcia
Veteran has value as a long man or reliable insurance policy for rotation.
RH Cory Wade
Former Dodger surfaced as useful middle man with curveball/changeup mix.
LH Boone Logan
Lefties and righties had the same OBP off him last season: .328.
RH Joba Chamberlain
Underwent Tommy John surgery last June, which puts him on track to return in midseason.

Other teams' 2012 Previews:

American League National League
Baltimore Orioles Arizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red Sox Atlanta Braves
Chicago White Sox Chicago Cubs
Cleveland Indians Cincinnati Reds
Detroit Tigers Colorado Rockies
Kansas City Royals Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Dodgers
Minnesota Twins Miami Marlins
New York Yankees Milwaukee Brewers
Oakland A's New York Mets
Seattle Mariners Philadelphia Phillies
Tampa Bay Rays Pittsburgh Pirates
Texas Rangers San Diego Padres
Toronto Blue Jays San Francisco Giants
  St. Louis Cardinals
  Washington Nationals
<p> The Yankees fell short of the World Series for the seventh time in eight seasons, but this remains a formidable team. The Yankees’ bats went cold in the playoffs, but over the long season, this lineup will produce. The Yankees won 97 games last season, and with the improvements to their rotation, they should crack 100 this year and fend off the Red Sox, Rays and Blue Jays for yet another AL East crown.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 12:02
Path: /mlb/baltimore-orioles-2012-preview

Baltimore Orioles

The Orioles have undergone a number of significant changes, but they’re mostly confined to the front office and scouting department. Unfortunately, this team needs more than just a few minor adjustments to the roster. They added quantity more than quality to the pitching staff — the big signing being 26-year-old Taiwanese lefthander Wei-Yin Chen — and the lineup was still missing a big difference maker. They’re strong up the middle with Gold Glove catcher Matt Wieters, shortstop J.J. Hardy and center fielder Adam Jones, but they aren’t set up to overtake anyone in the treacherous American League East Division.

Righthander Jeremy Guthrie, the ace of the staff the last two seasons, was traded to Colorado. The Orioles gave Chen a three-year deal to occupy Guthrie’s spot at the front end of the rotation. Chen, the first Taiwanese-born player in Orioles history, went 36–30 with a 2.48 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 117 games (88 starts) over the last four seasons with the Chunichi Dragons in the Central League of Nippon Professional Baseball. The Orioles also signed Japanese lefthander Tsuyoshi Wada to a two-year deal with a club option for 2014, but some scouts question whether a soft-tossing lefty with no big league experience can compete in the division as a starter. He’s a strike-thrower with a wide assortment of pitches, but that includes a mid-80s fastball. Tommy Hunter joins can be a staff innings-eater. Hunter went 3–3 with a 5.06 ERA in 12 games after being acquired from the Rangers. Jake Arrieta finished second on the team with 10 victories, but he underwent surgery in August to remove a bone spur from his elbow. He has shown no ill effects this spring. There is a chance manager Buck Showalter could hand him the ball Opening Day. Lefthander Zach Britton should stay in the rotation after going 11–11 with a 4.61 ERA as a rookie. He posted a 5.76 ERA after the break. After losing his spot in the Rockies’ rotation, Jason Hammel pitched well the final month, including two starts. The Orioles acquired Hammel and reliever Matt Lindstrom in exchange for Guthrie. Hammel he has shown promise before but never delivered. Baltimore would love to see former first-round pick Brian Matusz blossom in 2012. He was 1-9 with a 10.65 ERA in 12 starts last season.

Kevin Gregg began last season as the closer, but his seven blown saves in 29 chances and 40 walks in 59.2 innings tested the patience of Showalter. Former setup man Jim Johnson was closing games in September and could remain in that role, though there’s also been talk of making him a starter. Pedro Strop, claimed off waivers from the Rangers, posted a 0.73 ERA in 12 games and looks like a quality late-inning arm. Another former Ranger, lefthander Zach Phillips, could work in middle relief. Submariner Darren O’Day — yes, a former Ranger — also figures in the bullpen plans. Lindstrom — who has never been a Ranger — has appeared in 312 games over the past five seasons. Wada, Brad Bergesen, Jason Berken, Alfredo Simon, Luis Ayala and lefthander Troy Patton also are candidates to work out of the bullpen.

Middle Infield
Former GM Andy MacPhail pulled off one of the best trades last winter when he sent two minor league pitchers to the Twins for Hardy, who hit a career-high 30 home runs and played outstanding defense. Hardy also tied his career high with 80 RBIs despite spending a month on the disabled list with a strained oblique. His .990 fielding percentage and .491 slugging percentage led AL shortstops. The Orioles signed him to a three-year extension on July 18. His double-play partner remains a mystery. Second baseman Brian Roberts didn’t play after May 16 because of concussion-like symptoms that are threatening his career. He has two years and $20 million left on his contract. Robert Andino filled in admirably for Roberts, but Showalter wants to use him in a super-utility role. Other second base candidates include Triple-A infielder Ryan Adams, Rule 5 pick Ryan Flaherty and minor league free agent Matt Antonelli.

Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis are expected to be the corner infielders barring a trade, but their exact positions must be determined. Reynolds committed 26 of his 31 errors at third base, and he looked much more comfortable at first. His 37 home runs look good at either corner, and the Orioles seem to be leaning toward keeping him at first. Davis also can play both positions, but he’s still trying to establish himself in the majors. The Orioles are giving him that chance after acquiring him from the Rangers in July. Both players have tremendous power. They also strike out a lot. Antonelli and Flaherty also are being considered at third base.

Nick Markakis finally won a Gold Glove in right field after going 160 games without committing an error. However, his streak of consecutive seasons with at least 40 doubles ended at four, and he posted the lowest average (.284) in his six major league seasons. Jones didn’t win a Gold Glove, but he was outstanding in center field. He wasn’t too bad at the plate, either. Jones hit .280 with 26 doubles, 25 homers and 83 RBIs, and was named Most Valuable Oriole. Left field isn’t quite as settled. Nolan Reimold is the early favorite to win the job. Reimold, a former second-round draft pick, hit 13 homers in 87 games. The Orioles signed veteran Endy Chavez as a free agent to back up Jones in center and maybe platoon with Reimold in left. They also traded for Jai Miller, 27, who batted .276 with 32 home runs, 88 RBIs and 16 stolen bases without being caught in 110 games for Triple-A Sacramento in 2011.

The Orioles’ pitching staff is in good hands with Wieters, who played in his first All-Star Game and won his first Gold Glove. Wieters, the fifth overall selection in the 2007 draft, was charged with only one passed ball, posted a .992 fielding percentage and led AL catchers by throwing out 37 percent of runners attempting to steal. He also hit 22 home runs, 11 more than his career high. He’s got superstar talent and it’s rising to the surface. The Orioles traded for Taylor Teagarden, another former Ranger, to back up Wieters. Teagarden is limited offensively, but the Orioles like the way he calls a game, handles a pitching staff and controls the opponents’ running game.

The Orioles need to find a DH. Roberts is one possibility. The bench will include Teagarden as Wieters’ backup and Chavez as the fourth outfielder. Miller also will be given a long look as a backup at all three outfield positions, especially because he’s out of options. Flaherty, the Rule 5 pick, has a good chance to make the club out of spring training and back up at multiple infield positions. The Orioles also like Antonelli, the former Padres infielder who played at Triple-A Syracuse last season. Andino will be a super-utility player if he isn’t starting at second.

The front office has taken on a decidedly different look with the hiring of Dan Duquette as executive vice president of baseball operations. Duquette was a former GM with the Expos and Red Sox, but he hadn’t worked for a major league club since being fired after the 2001 season. He twice traded for Pedro Martinez, and his commitment to scouting, player development and the international market could be exactly what the Orioles need after 14 straight losing seasons. However, his absence from the game for such an extended period of time could work against him. If nothing else, he figures to be more aggressive than MacPhail, whose deliberate pace and reluctance to spend money frustrated fans. Showalter has a track record for turning around clubs and bringing them to the threshold of the World Series. He’ll need to maintain his patience with this team.

Final Analysis
The Orioles have a nice nucleus of players that Duquette wants to build around. The trick is acquiring the necessary pieces while still holding onto Wieters, Hardy, Jones, Markakis and his young starters. The Orioles still lack depth in their farm system, preventing them from making the kinds of trades that brought frontline starting pitchers to the Reds (Mat Latos) and Nationals (Gio Gonzalez). Duquette has a lot of work to do, and not just with his 25-man roster. It’s difficult to envision the Orioles getting out of last place this season. They’re trying to borrow the Rays’ blueprint, but a turnaround won’t happen overnight.




Batting Order
DH Brian Roberts (S)
Status in the air after concussion symptoms limited him to 39 games in 2011.
SS J.J. Hardy (R)
Hit career-high 30 home runs and tied career high with 80 RBIs.
RF Nick Markakis (L)
Joins Ichiro as only AL players with at least 180 hits in each of past five seasons.
CF Adam Jones (R)
Team MVP led major league CFs with 16 assists; added career-high 25 homers.
C Matt Wieters (S)
Made first All-Star team and was the first Orioles catcher to win a Gold Glove.
1B Mark Reynolds (R)
Led team in home runs (37), RBIs (86), runs (84), walks (75), strikeouts (196).
3B Chris Davis (L)
Hit .368 with 24 homers in 48 games at Triple-A Round Rock before trade to Orioles.
2B Robert Andino (R)
Could be utility player if Roberts plays second base, which is club’s preference.
LF Nolan Reimold (R)
Hit .321 with five homers, 16 RBIs, nine walks and 16 runs in last 17 games.

C Taylor Teagarden (R)
Considered a huge defensive upgrade over previous backup catchers.
OF Endy Chavez (L)
Hit .301/.323/.426 with five homers and 27 RBIs in 83 games with Texas.
INF Wilson Betemit (S)
Made 80 starts at third base for Royals and Tigers last season and hit. 303, slugged .500 vs. RHP.
INF Ryan Flaherty (L)
Rule 5 pick has played second, third, shortstop, left field and right field.
INF Matt Antonelli (R)
The 17th-overall pick by Padres in 2006 draft can play three infield spots.

LH Wei-Yin Chen
Was 36–30 with a 2.48 ERA, 1.06 WHIP in last 117 games with the Chunichi Dragons.
LH Zach Britton
Rookie was 4–1 with a 2.84 ERA in April; 2–1 with a 2.60 ERA in August.
RH Jake Arrieta
His 10 wins ranked second on team; could be No. 1 by the end of spring training.
RH Jason Hammel
Went 3–1 with 2.63 ERA in first six starts and 4–12 with 6.44 ERA in next 19 for Rockies in 2011.
RH Tommy Hunter
Went 3–3 with a 5.06 ERA in 12 games after being acquired from the Rangers.

RH Jim Johnson (Closer)
Former setup man closed in September and went 7-for-7 in save opportunities.
RH Kevin Gregg
Signed to be the closer, but his seven blown saves and 40 walks were an issue.
RH Matt Lindstrom
In Colorado began 2011 with 1.16 ERA in first 26 appearances; 4.40 in final 37 games.
LH Tsuyoshi Wada
Japanese import, known for his control and pitching to contact, not his velocity, is being given a chance to start.
RH Pedro Strop
Didn’t allow a run in his first nine appearances after being claimed off waivers.
RH Brad Bergesen
Had a 5.78 ERA in 12 starts and 5.59 ERA in 22 relief appearances; out of options.
RH Darren O’Day
Submarine-stylist was 0–1 with a 5.40 ERA in 16 games with the Rangers.
RH Luis Ayala
In 56 IP for Yankees last season, he had a 2.09 ERA and allowed just 51 hits, but 20 walks. Won 24 games in relief for Expos/Nats from 2003-05.
RH Alfredo Simon
Logged 115 innings as a part-time starter for O’s last season.
LH Troy Patton
Faced 41 batters in September and allowed a .325 OPS. Has proven to be as tough against righties as lefties.


Other teams' 2012 Previews:

American League National League
Baltimore Orioles Arizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red Sox Atlanta Braves
Chicago White Sox Chicago Cubs
Cleveland Indians Cincinnati Reds
Detroit Tigers Colorado Rockies
Kansas City Royals Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Dodgers
Minnesota Twins Miami Marlins
New York Yankees Milwaukee Brewers
Oakland A's New York Mets
Seattle Mariners Philadelphia Phillies
Tampa Bay Rays Pittsburgh Pirates
Texas Rangers San Diego Padres
Toronto Blue Jays San Francisco Giants
  St. Louis Cardinals
  Washington Nationals
<p> The Orioles have undergone a number of significant changes, but they’re mostly confined to the front office and scouting department. Unfortunately, this team needs more than just a few minor adjustments to the roster. It’s difficult to envision the Orioles getting out of last place this season. They’re trying to borrow the Rays’ blueprint, but a turnaround won’t happen overnight.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, March 13, 2012 - 11:13
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, MLB
Path: /college-basketball/how-baseball-fan-fills-out-his-ncaa-tournament-bracket

I spend a lot more time watching baseball than I do college basketball, but it’s a law that everyone — sports fan or not — must fill out a bracket. And I must obey the law. So knowing what I know about baseball, here’s my bracket.

1 Kentucky vs. 16 Mississippi Valley State/Western Kentucky
8 Iowa State vs. 9 UConn

Iowa State alum Buster Brown was 51-103 with a 3.21 ERA in the majors. Just how bad was his run support? So the Cyclones lose in a low-scoring affair. Scott Burrell, former fifth-round pick of the Toronto Blue Jays, and UConn won it all last year, but will lose to Kentucky this year. No one from Mississippi Valley State has played in the major leagues. A handful of players have made it to the Show from WKU, and 11 Hilltoppers were drafted in the past two years, so that’s an easy call. I know just enough about college basketball to know that WKU can’t keep the Cats out of the Sweet 16.

5 Wichita State vs. 12 VCU
4 Indiana vs. 13 New Mexico State

Wichita State has been to seven College World Series, winning it all in 1989. VCU has never been. So that settles that. Indiana is synonymous with basketball, New Mexico State not so much. If this were about basketball, the Hoosiers would advance to the Sweet 16, but Joe Carter wins this one with a walk-off for the Shockers.

Wichita State has Darren Dreifort and Braden Looper, but I like Cy Young winner Brandon Webb to send UK to the Elite Eight.

6 UNLV vs. 11 Colorado
3 Baylor vs. 13 South Dakota State

UNLV, Colorado, Baylor and South Dakota State have a combined three CWS appearances — all three by Baylor. Former Baylor Bear and Hall of Famer Ted Lyons has 356 complete games, 27 shutouts and 23 saves in the majors. The Bears will cruise. Oh, to complete the bracket, take UNLV over Colorado.

7 Notre Dame vs. 10 Xavier
2 Duke vs. 15 Lehigh

Crash Davis, an infielder not a catcher, played in 148 games over three seasons for Connie Mack during WWII. Basketball All-American Dick Groat won NL MVP in 1960. Two-sport star Quinton McCracken played defensive back for Steve Spurrier before playing 999 games in the majors. With those three stars, Duke takes this bracket rather easily, although Notre Dame’s 6’5” righthander Ron Reed, who doubled as a forward on the hardwood, will give the Blue Devils a battle.

I’ll ride Groat, Quinton and Crash over Baylor into the Elite Eight.

1 Michigan State vs. 16 LIU Brooklyn
8 Memphis vs. 9 Saint Louis

Michigan State wins easily over LIU Brooklyn. Brooklyn hasn’t played good baseball since the 1950s. Let’s see, Saint Louis and Memphis should be a blowout. Duh. Memphis Redbirds, Saint Louis Cardinals; Triple-A, Majors. Why does the University spell out Saint? The Spartans enjoyed a trip to the College World Series in 1954, and although they didn’t win or finish second, Tom Yewcic was named the Most Outstanding Player. The Saint Louis Bilikens earned a spot in 1965. They didn’t win, finish second or have the MOP. Spartans advance.

5 New Mexico vs. 12 Long Beach State
4 Louisville vs. 13 Davidson

The Dirtbags of Long Beach State played in four CWS from 1989-98, so a first-round win is a cinch. Same for Louisville, who was in college baseball’s final eight as recently as 2007. So edge to the Cardinals. Besides, the Cardinals’ nickname means something in baseball right now.

Can’t stop thinking about Tom Yewcic. Michigan State over Louisville and into the Elite Eight.

6 Murray State vs. 11 Colorado State
3 Marquette vs. 14 BYU/Iona

There’s very little tradition here, but BYU’s Danny Ainge will lead the Cougars into the Sweet 16. I understand VCU found its way into the Final Four from the First Four last season. Why can’t BYU do that? After all, Jack Morris is a big-game pitcher. I’ll go with Murray over Colorado in the battle of the first-round State schools. But BYU will march into the Sweet 16.

7 Florida vs. 10 Virginia
2 Missouri vs. 15 Norfolk State

Mizzou, with seven CWS appearances and one title, rolls past Norfolk State. Florida and Virginia both visited Omaha last summer and have played in the CWS a combined four times since 2009. Don’t sleep on a school that produced both Eppa Rixey and Ryan Zimmerman, but the Gators have a stronger tradition than UVa. Following David Eckstein’s lead, the Gators will do all the little things to defeat Missouri and play in the Sweet 16

Okay, I’m allowed to do this once. I flipped a coin and Florida won, so the Gators are in the Elite Eight.

1 Syracuse vs. 16 UNC-Asheville
8 Kansas State vs. 9 Southern Miss

I love the Asheville Tourists nickname and their tradition at the Single-A level. But there has been only one major leaguer from UNCA, Ty Wigginton, which is no match for Syracuse and its 26 big leaguers, not to mention the fact that the Syracuse Chiefs have competed at the Triple-A level since 1961. Southern Miss was in the CWS a few years ago, but will be taken down by the Orange.

5 Vanderbilt vs. 12 Harvard
4 Wisconsin 13 Montana

Harvard has played in the CWS four times, but had just one alum drafted in the first round of the regular June draft. Vanderbilt has played in just one CWS (2011) but has had 12 players selected in the first round in June, seven since 2007. Harvard may have a slight edge in SAT scores, but the Commodores have the athletic advantage. Wisconsin, behind Hall of Famer Addie Joss, cruises by Montana, then loses to VU’s David Price. Buster Olney, Tyler Kepner and Lee Jenkins are among those covering the Commodores’ run.

Pedro Alvarez of Vanderbilt awakens just in time to knock a game-winning double off Dave Giusti of Syracuse to send the Black and Gold to the Elite Eight.

6 Cincinnati vs. 11 Texas
3 Florida State vs. 14 St. Bonaventure

It makes no sense that Texas and Florida State are in the same group. Who does this seeding anyway? Since WWII, Texas has had an alum in the majors leagues every season but 1961. Florida State can claim an alum in the majors all the way back to include 1961. Texas has played in 34 College World Series, winning six championships. Florida State has played in 20, but never taken home the hardware. But I’m going with the Seminoles in an upset and move FSU into my Sweet 16. If this game were played 15 years ago, I’d go with Roger Clemens, but I like Buster Posey and the Drew brothers (J.D. and Stephen) now over Brandon Belt and Huston Street.

7 Gonzaga vs. 10 West Virginia
2 Ohio State vs. 15 Loyola (MD)

Ohio State should dominate this regional (or whatever the basketball folks call these four-team groups). The Buckeyes are the only team that can claim an appearance in baseball’s big, big dance, having won a championship in 1966. But they haven’t made it to the CWS since 1967. Of the 25 West Virginia alums in the majors, none have appeared in an All-Star Game, so I’ll give the edge to Gonzaga’s Jason Bay.

Posey just keeps getting stronger and leads the Seminoles into the Elite Eight.

1 North Carolina vs. 16 Lamar/Vermont
8 Creighton vs. 9 Alabama

This is as strong of a quartet as there is in the tournament. Creighton has experience in the CWS, which is played near its home in Omaha. Alabama has been five times, twice a runner-up (Texas 1983, LSU 1997). The Tar Heels have been nine times, five times since 2006. UNC was runner-up back-to-back years to Oregon State. The Creighton Bluejays can bring some heat when Bob Gibson is on the mound. But there’s no offense. Of the 18 Creighton alumni in the major leagues, nine are position players, and Gibson is third among all those players in hits, runs and stolen bases, second in home runs. Lamer has three alums that played in the bigs last season. Vermont hasn’t been represented since Kirk McCaskill retired after 1996. Edge to Lamar. I have the Tar Heels advancing past Alabama. B.J. Surhoff is the all-time leader among big league alumni of North Carolina. Since his dad, Dick Surhoff, played in the NBA, I like North Carolina as a threat to win it all.

5 Temple vs. 12 California/South Florida
4 Michigan vs. 13 Ohio

All of these teams have visited the CWS except for South Florida. There have been 16 appearances from this group with four titles. California and Michigan each have two championships, but none since 1962. So, it’s easy to take Cal and Michigan into the second, uh, make that third round. Cal played in the CWS last June. We love the distinguished alumni list of Wolverines: Three Hall of Famers, Charlie Gehringer, George Sisler and Barry Larkin, plus Jim Abbott, Bill Freehan and J.J. Putz. But the two that stand out above all of them are Moses Fleetwood Walker and brother Welday Wilberforce Walker. Google those guys and you’ll learn why they’re special. Wolverines march on.

The Tar Heels have excellent tradition in both the CWS and NCAA tournament. We couldn’t find any information on the football tournament. Evidently there is a real confusing bracket that’s not really a bracket at all. But we like the sky blue Heels in both basketball and baseball. On to the Elite Eight.

6 San Diego State vs. 13 NC State
3 Georgetown vs. 14 Belmont

Of the 35 Georgetown alumni to play in the majors, 21 of them left the game by 1916. And only one player has made the show since 1960. I think the Hoyas are primed for an upset by the upstart Belmont Bruins. Perhaps the best game of the first (or is it second?) round might be the San Diego State-NC State game. The Aztecs are led by point guard-turned baseball coach Tony Gwynn, who incidentally had 3,000 knocks in between. The Wolfpack features the play of power forward Tim Stoddard, who holds the distinction of starting an NCAA Final and winning a championship as well as relieving in the World Series and earning a ring. We believe Stephen Strasburg’s elbow will hold up and pitch the Aztecs into the Sweet 16.

7 Saint Mary’s vs. 10 Purdue
2 Kansas vs. 15 Detroit

Kansas claims James Naismith as its first basketball coach. I’m going to editorialize for my own benefit; since he was officially hired as a physical education instructor, he must have coached baseball there at some point. Detroit claims Dick Vitale as a former coach. Advantage KU. Purdue and Saint Mary’s have a combined zero College World Series appearances. The Purdue Boilermakers list Bob Friend and Archi Cianfrocco among their 20 alums in the bigs. Saint Mary’s claims Hall of Famer Harry Hooper and Icehouse Wilson as two of its 60. Saint Mary’s defeats Purdue, but falls to Naismith and Kansas.

A part-time baseball coach like Naismith can carry a team only so far. Backing up the Gwynns (Tony, his brother Chris and son Tony Jr.) and Strasburg are Mark Grace and Graig Nettles. Aztecs keep rolling into the Elite Eight.

Elite Eight Games
So, who will play in the Final Four? One of my colleagues, Mitchell Light, a college basketball expert, might have you believe that Kentucky, Marquette, Syracuse and North Carolina will make it to New Orleans. But he thinks baseball is better with the DH, so what does he know?

Down by one in the bottom of the ninth, Duke’s Groat hits a two-run homer with McCracken on base to shock the Wildcats and send Kentucky home. (Or some scenario such as that.)

Spartans Kirk Gibson and Steve Garvey played a little football, so they can probably play a little basketball as well. Behind Hall of Famer Robin Roberts and a little help from Mark Mulder, Sparty puts the chomp on the Gators.

Florida State’s 20 CWS appearances trump Vanderbilt’s one. But that’s all right, that’s okay….

The Tar Heels have had 27 players drafted in the past five years. And 14 of them went in the first seven rounds.

In the Final Four, Kirk Gibson hits a miracle shot to catapult the Spartans into the finals against North Carolina, as Florida State proves once again that it can’t quite win the big one.

I understand from colleagues that former Chicago White Sox farmhand Michael Jordan was a decent basketball player at North Carolina, so just as we predicted in our College Basketball magazine, the Tar Heels will win the National Championship.

<p> We're pretty sure we knocked these picks out of the park.</p>
Post date: Monday, March 12, 2012 - 18:27
Path: /mlb/boston-red-sox-2012-preview

Boston Red Sox

If you navigated last September without shaming yourself, your family, your employers and the city you call home, congratulations! You had a better month than the Red Sox. When September began, they led the AL East and owned the best record in baseball. When it ended, they owned the greatest collapse in baseball history, and the fallout swiftly claimed their manager, GM and training staff — not to mention their good standing with Boston sports fans. The task in 2012 will be rebuilding their image and reclaiming the postseason berth that has eluded them for the past two seasons. They’ll do so with a new manager, Bobby Valentine, who’s no stranger to controversy, and a new GM, Ben Cherington, who wants the team to get younger and more dynamic. They have the talent to win it all, but there are holes, too. About all we can say with certainty is that any beer and fried chicken will be consumed on the players’ own time.

If there’s a group to blame for last year’s clubhouse shenanigans, it’s the starters. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, John Lackey and Clay Buchholz were the ones drinking beer during games, and they collectively have something to prove. Lester is the ace and pretty close to a sure thing, though he’s coming off a 2011 that saw his innings and strikeout totals decrease by about 10 percent each. Beckett was an All-Star last year, but he was considered the ringleader of wrongdoing, so he’ll have a target on his chest. Lackey is out for the year following offseason Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. Buchholz is an outstanding No. 3 — provided the stress fractures in his back that limited him 82.2 innings last year are healed. Reliever Daniel Bard is hoping to make the leap to the rotation after two dominant seasons as a setup man, and the fifth spot is up for grabs, with winter pickups like Carlos Silva, Aaron Cook and Vicente Padilla fighting it out.

Eighties hair rockers Cinderella warned us, “Don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.” The Red Sox will soon discover whether they’re living those words after watching closer Jonathan Papelbon sign with the Phillies. They replaced him by acquiring righthander Andrew Bailey from the A’s. Bailey may not be Papelbon, but he’s a two-time All-Star and former Rookie of the Year who has been taking the ball in the ninth practically from Day 1 in the big leagues. With Bard shifting to the rotation, another acquisition — former Astros closer Mark Melancon — becomes the primary setup man. Jack-of-all-trades Alfredo Aceves returns to provide an invaluable multi-inning power arm with the added ability to make the occasional spot start. From there, one player to keep an eye on is rehabbing (Tommy John) left-handed specialist Rich Hill, who hasn’t allowed a run since 2009.

Middle Infield
Dustin Pedroia will continue to battle New York’s Robinson Cano for the title of game’s best second baseman. He’s coming off a Gold Glove season that saw him set career-highs in homers (21) and RBIs (91). He’s also coming into his own as the heart and soul of the team and a true leader with veteran Jason Varitek now retired. Mike Aviles played just 14 games at shortstop last season, but will get the first crack at playing everyday this season. That is until the 22-year-old Jose Iglesias can prove he can hit big league pitching. He’s shown he can play Gold Glove defense, but his bat isn’t ready yet. Newcomer Nick Punto is Plan C at short.

Where once there was Manny and Big Papi, the Red Sox hope to have A-Gon and Youk. Few 3-4 punches in the game are as potent as first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and third baseman Kevin Youkilis — provided Youkilis stays healthy. Gonzalez nearly won the batting title in his Red Sox debut, and another year removed from shoulder surgery, he should have the power to top 40 homers again. Youkilis has steadfastly refused to alter the all-out way he plays — “I’d rather retire,” he says — and as a result, he hasn’t topped 136 games since 2008. When healthy, both he and Gonzalez are guaranteed .950 OPS types with the ability to grind at-bats and leave the park.

The Red Sox are pretty much guaranteed to receive above-average production from their outfield — because Jacoby Ellsbury is in it. The game’s newest superstar returns for an encore as one of the most dynamic players alive. The Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner did everything en route to a second-place finish in the MVP voting, and matching his 30-30 totals will be a challenge. The challenge is entirely of a different sort for left fielder Carl Crawford. The $142 million man is out to show that last year’s woeful season was an aberration born of acclimating himself to Boston. While it can’t help his confidence that owner John Henry admits he opposed the signing, Crawford is a man on a mission. That mission, however, might be delayed a bit; Crawford underwent surgery on his left wrist in the offseason and is not expected to be ready for Opening Day. As for right field, newcomers Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ross should form a nice platoon.

Among the victims of September’s collapse was the second-longest-tenured member of the Red Sox — catcher Jason Varitek, who retired this winter. The Sox seemed ready to move on after signing Kelly Shoppach to back up starter Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and with young masher Ryan Lavarnway waiting in the wings. Saltalamacchia is looking to build on a fine 2011 season, his first as a full-time starter and one that saw him hit 16 homers and slug .450. Those numbers would look even better, but he withered in September, hitting just .162. Shoppach is here to hit lefties (.909 lifetime OPS) and throw out base-runners (league-leading 41 percent caught stealing last year).

In an organization that aims to rate as far above the league average as possible at every position, Ortiz represented the greatest single advantage in the game. He hit 29 homers (28 as the DH). No other DH reached 20. His OPS of .964 ranked more than 100 points higher than No. 2 Victor Martinez. He made his seventh All-Star team and won his fifth Silver Slugger. The 36-year-old is supposed to be on the downside, but outside of a brief interleague slump and a mediocre September (.769 OPS), he was a beast. He accepted arbitration rather than test the market, and the Red Sox will happily return him to the heart of their order. As for the bench, the Sox will have Punto and right-handed outfielder Darnell McDonald, as well as Shoppach, and possibly Lavarnway, who can serve as a right-handed DH.

Theo Epstein’s departure for the Cubs marked the end of an era in Boston. Over his nine seasons, the Red Sox won a pair of World Series and became one of the model franchises in the game, last September notwithstanding. Epstein’s replacement, Cherington, brings a similar intellect to the position, but with a slightly different focus. Whereas Epstein eventually became seduced by the idea of flexing the team’s formidable financial muscle, Cherington is a player development guy at heart. That approach was reflected in his first two major deals, acquiring young arms Melancon and Bailey. Valentine will make for good copy, and though it remains to be seen how his approach will play in Boston, he’s universally regarded as a brilliant strategist. The Cherington-Bobby V. partnership could be the perfect marriage — or end in a War of the Roses divorce. But it will not be blah.

Final Analysis
If the leaders in that clubhouse have any pride whatsoever, the Red Sox will bounce back in a big way. Outside of Ellsbury, every player on the roster has room to improve, and all of New England — not to mention the rest of baseball — will be watching hawkishly to see how they respond. In a tough-as-nails American League that now includes Albert Pujols, the Red Sox will not skate to the postseason. The key will be the health and conditioning of the starting rotation, with all eyes on Beckett and Buchholz. The Sox have circled the wagons and proclaimed that they’re not the freak show everyone thinks. Now comes their chance to prove it.




Batting Order
CF Jacoby Ellsbury (L)
Talk about options. Ellsbury could bat third, too, after his monster 2011. But why mess with a good thing?
2B Dustin Pedroia (R)
With the pin out of his foot, Pedroia is poised to follow up a bounce-back 2011 with an even better 2012.
1B Adrian Gonzalez (L)
With his shoulder fully healed a year after labrum surgery, ready to challenge for the Triple Crown.
3B Kevin Youkilis (R)
If Youk could stay healthy, the Red Sox would be in a lot better shape.
DH David Ortiz (L)
Ortiz was far and away the best DH in baseball last year, and even at age 36, that trend should continue.
RF Ryan Sweeney (L)
Is battling with Cody Ross for at-bats.
LF Carl Crawford (L)
Prefers to bat second; Sox could drop Ellsbury to third and hit Pedroia leadoff if Crawford regains form. Slow coming back from wrist surgery.
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S)
The man they call Salty hit for surprising power last year (16 HRs).
SS Mike Aviles (R)
Phenom Jose Iglesias is still not ready for major league pitching, so Aviles will keep this job for now.

C Kelly Shoppach (R)
He can still pound lefties and throw, which is what the Sox need.
OF Darnell McDonald (R)
Will have to fight to win his job in spring training. A strong September helps his cause.
OF Cody Ross (R)
Most likely will be part of a platoon in right field. But if Crawford continues to heal slowly, Ross will be ready to play in left.
C Ryan Lavarnway (R)
Even if he opens the season in Triple-A, he’ll end it in the big leagues.
INF Nick Punto (S)
The Sox acquired the former Twin and Cardinal for his leadership and solid defense.

LH Jon Lester
Ace hasn’t quite put together a Cy Young-caliber season yet. Maybe 2012 will be his year.
RH Josh Beckett
Talk about a man with something to prove after being at the center of the beer and fried chicken controversy.
RH Clay Buchholz
He has something to prove, too, after a back injury ended his season in June.
RH Daniel Bard
One of the X-factors will be Bard’s ability to transition to the rotation.
RH Aaron Cook
The Rockies’ all-time wins leader gets a chance with a new organization.

RH Andrew Bailey (Closer)
The New Jersey native is East Coast through and through, which should help his transition.
RH Mark Melancon
He closed in Houston, but if he can set up in Boston, the Sox could be in business.
RH Alfredo Aceves
Also a candidate to start, the rubber-armed Aceves is a huge weapon as a multi-inning reliever.
LH Felix Doubront
The Sox expected big things out of Doubront last year, and he fizzled. It’s make-or-break time.
RH Matt Albers
The 95 mph-throwing Albers was a revelation in the sixth and seventh.
LH Franklin Morales
A second lefty never hurts, which gives Morales an edge to get the last roster spot.

Other teams' 2012 Previews:

American League National League
Baltimore Orioles Arizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red Sox Atlanta Braves
Chicago White Sox Chicago Cubs
Cleveland Indians Cincinnati Reds
Detroit Tigers Colorado Rockies
Kansas City Royals Houston Astros
Los Angeles Angels Los Angeles Dodgers
Minnesota Twins Miami Marlins
New York Yankees Milwaukee Brewers
Oakland A's New York Mets
Seattle Mariners Philadelphia Phillies
Tampa Bay Rays Pittsburgh Pirates
Texas Rangers San Diego Padres
Toronto Blue Jays San Francisco Giants
  St. Louis Cardinals
  Washington Nationals
<p> When September began, they led the AL East and owned the best record in baseball. When it ended, they owned the greatest collapse in baseball history, and the fallout swiftly claimed their manager, GM and training staff — not to mention their good standing with Boston sports fans. If the leaders in that clubhouse have any pride whatsoever, the Red Sox will bounce back in a big way.</p>
Post date: Friday, March 9, 2012 - 19:05
All taxonomy terms: MLB, News
Path: /mlb/baseball-and-nicknames-go-together

What is it with nicknames and baseball? In high school I played with Doggie, Bird, Soup, Clone, Rooster, T and White Legs. Nicknames and baseball players just seem to go together like bat and ball. For as long as young boys and men have been batting baseballs around, they have given each other descriptive nicknames for facial features, deformed body parts, the way they played the game, hair color and, the most popular, shortening their surnames. In fact, some players with nicknames were given nicknames for their nicknames. 

Here are the 50 best—and often very politically incorrect—nicknames in baseball history.

50. Don Mossi
also The Sphinx)
Perhaps you had to see Mossi to really appreciate the name. In Ball Four, Jim Bouton said Mossi “looked like a cab going down the street with its doors open.”

49. Ernie Lombardi

Not to allow Mossi and his ears steal all the thunder, the catcher who was also known as the world’s slowest human had a beak of monumental proportions. But the catcher hit his way into the Hall of Fame.

48. Nick Cullop
Tomato Face

Cullop spent 23 years in the minors, hit 420 home runs and had 2,670 hits, both minor league records when he retired.

47. Mordecai Peter Centennial Brown
Three Finger

Known more commonly as Three Finger Brown than by Mordecai, Brown capitalized on losing most of his index finger in a childhood farming accident. Apparently that helped him throw a devastating curveball described by Ty Cobb as the toughest in baseball.

46. Don Zimmer
The Gerbil

Despite the success for the Red Sox in the late 1970s, Zim is blamed for the team’s collapse in 1978, ultimately losing a playoff game at Fenway Park (commonly known as the Bucky Dent game). Because of this, lefthander Bill Lee, with whom Zimmer often sparred, gave him the name Gerbil.

45. Bill Lee

And speaking of Lee, it wasn’t as though he was a mental giant himself. The lefthander’s outrageous, often irreverent personality and his fearless rhetoric earned him the name Spaceman, allegedly, from John Kennedy (the Red Sox utility infielder, not the former President). Just being left-handed in Boston was probably enough.

44. Jim Grant

Grant, who became one of the most successful African-American pitchers in the 1960s, was the roommate of his boyhood idol Larry Doby when he first came to Cleveland. It was the veteran Doby who dubbed him “Mudcat”, saying that he was “ugly as a Mississippi mudcat.”

43. Jim Hunter

Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finely often seemed more interested in flashy P.R. than winning baseball games. Evidently, this nickname was a product of the PR-conscious Finley more than any angling the Hall of Fame pitcher might have done in his home state of North Carolina.

42. Randy Johnson
Big Unit

Okay, get your mind out of the gutter. Former Expos teammate — yes, Johnson was originally a member of the Expos — Tim Raines once collided with him during batting practice, looked up at the 6’10” hurler and proclaimed, “You’re a big unit.”

41. Mark Fidrych
The Bird

The affable righthander enjoyed talking to the baseball while on the mound and manicuring the mound on his hands and knees between innings. But it was because of his resemblance to Big Bird of Sesame Street fame that Fidrych was given his name.

40. Marc Rzepczynski

Some surnames scream for nicknames, like Yastrzemski with Yaz, and Mazeroski with Maz. But there are few names that could earn more points in the famous word game than this lefthander’s.

39. Doug Gwosdz

Ancestors of the former catcher of the San Diego Padres must have misspelled this name somewhere down the line. But as astute teammates surmised, his jersey resembled those charts hanging on walls in optometrists’ offices.

38. Johnny Dickshot

First of all, that is his real name. And secondly, he referred to himself as the “ugliest man in baseball.” So, we have no qualms about Dickshot making the list.

37. Luke Appling
Old Aches and Pains

Dubbed by teammates, it’s unclear whether the name was given in jest. But it is clear that Appling didn’t mind complaining about the physical demands of the job all the way to the Hall of Fame.

36. Roger Bresnahan
The Duke of Tralee

Nothing really unusual about this name; after all many players were named in honor of their hometowns. Earl Averill was the Duke of Snohomish after his hometown in Washington. But, Bresnahan was from Toledo. For some reason he enjoyed telling folks he was born in Tralee, Ireland.

35. Bob Feller
Rapid Robert

Taking the American League by storm as a teenager led to this nickname as well as The Heater from Van Meter (Iowa).

34. Edward Charles Ford
The Chairman of the Board

Well known as Whitey because of hair color, the lefty dominated the American League for 16 seasons as a member of the Yankees. As a tribute to his calm, cool demeanor in tough situations, he became known as the Chairman of the Board.

33. Leon Allen Goslin

Several sources agree on how Goslin acquired his name. Evidently, he waved his arms as he chased fly balls, had a long neck, and was not the most graceful player.

32. Willie Mays
Say Hey Kid

There is no definitive agreement on how Mays acquired this classic name.

31. Mickey Mantle
The Commerce Comet

Mantle, a star athlete from Commerce, Oklahoma, was offered a football scholarship by the University of Oklahoma, but wisely chose baseball.

30. Joe Medwick
(also Muscles)
According to, fans called Medwick Ducky-Wucky more than merely Ducky, presumably because of his gait, or perhaps the way he swam. Teammates, seemingly out of self-preservation, never called him Ducky-Wucky, but chose instead the name, Muscles.

29. Brooks Robinson
Vacuum Cleaner

If you ever saw Brooksie do his work around the hot corner, you would quickly understand the moniker. Teammate Lee May once quipped, “Very nice (play)...where do they plug Mr. Hoover in?”

28. Aloysius Harry Simmons
Bucketfoot Al

With an exaggerated stride toward third base. Bucketfoot Al bashed major league pitching at a .334 clip on his way to the Hall of Fame.

27. Lynn Nolan Ryan
Ryan Express

No one readily admits giving him the name, but any hitter who stood in the box against Ryan is keenly aware of what the name means.

26. Darrell Evans
Howdy Doody

One look at the famous puppet and a glance at the power-hitting lefty, and you’ll know why.

25. Dennis Boyd
Oil Can

Born in Mississippi (where beer may be referred to as oil), the colorful righthander carried the nickname on to the major leagues.

24. Johnny Lee Odom
Blue Moon

Reportedly, a classmate in grade school thought Odom’s face looked like the moon. Really?

23. Frank Thomas
Big Hurt

Given to Thomas by White Sox broadcaster Ken Harrelson. Thomas put the big hurt on American League pitching for 19 years.

22. Garry Maddox
Minister of Defense

If you watched Maddox patrol center field for the Phillies in the 1970s, you immediately get the name.

21. Mike Hargrove
Human Rain Delay

And you think Nomar Garciaparra invented the step-out-of-the-box-and-adjust-your-batting-gloves routine. Nope. Seasons changed between pitches when he was at bat.

20. Daniel Joseph Staub
Le Grand Orange

Known as Rusty by the Texans while with the Colt .45s, he became Le Grand Orange in Montreal as a member of the original Expos.

19. Jimmy Wynn
Toy Cannon

His small stature and powerful bat led to this moniker.

18. Steve Balboni

Presumably, Balboni was given the name because of his propensity to hit home runs. It may also be noted that a double meaning could be bye-bye, as in “He gone” back to the dugout because of his propensity to strike out.

17. Joakim Soria
The Mexicutioner

When the Royals’ closer took the mound, it was usually lights out for the opponent’s offense. He has since requested another, less violent name.

16. Frank Howard
The Capital Punisher

While playing in the nation’s capital, Howard punished AL pitching for 237 home runs in seven seasons, twice leading the league with 44, and finishing second in 1969 with 48.

15. Carl Pavano
American Idle

After signing a four-year, $38 million deal with the Yankees prior to the 2005 season, Pavano made just nine starts in four seasons, going 3-3 with a 5.00 ERA.

14. Lawrence Peter Berra

Evidently when Berra sat with arms and legs crossed a friend suggested he looked like a Hindu yogi. Now the term Yogi is associated with malaprops more than Hindu.

13. Mariano Rivera
The Sandman

Good night batters.

12. Rickey Henderson
Man of Steal

One look at his stats and you understand this one: 1,406 career steals and a record 130 in 1982.

11. Shane Victorino
The Flyin’ Hawaiian

Victorino plays the game with endless energy and spunk, but his heritage rules the day.

10. Vince Coleman
Vincent Van Go

A true artist of the stolen base.

9. Ken Reitz

Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon marveled at how the St. Louis third baseman could pick up everything.

8. Pablo Sandoval
Kung Fu Panda

The loveable Giant Panda.

7. Fred McGriff
Crime Dog

One of ESPN sportscaster Chris Berman’s nicknames that actually stuck. Thanks McGruff, the cartoon Crime Dog.

6. Kenny Rogers
The Gambler

“Every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser. The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.”

5. Jose Bautista
Joey Bats

Bautista was terrific as Joey Bats in “The Hitman” on YouTube. He’s been even better as himself for the Blue Jays.

4. Harry Davis

Poor Davis lost his job as Detroit first baseman to some kid name Hank Greenberg in 1933.

3. Ron Cey
The Penguin

Playing for Tommy Lasorda in the minor leagues must have had its pros and cons. Having your manager dub you Penguin because of your awkward running style would probably fall on the con side.

2. William Ellsworth Hoy
Dummy Hoy

As if anyone needed reminding, here’s a clear indicator of just how far political correctness has come in 100 years. William Ellsworth Hoy lost his hearing and ability to speak as a result of childhood meningitis. At only 5’4”, he was difficult to strike out and was the first player to hit a grand slam in the American League. He died in 1961, just five months shy of his 100th birthday.

1. George Herman Ruth
(also the Bambino, Sultan of Swat, The King of Sting, The Colossus of Clout)

Babe was the only major leaguer large enough for five larger than life nicknames.


Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie.

<p> From Ears to Babe, here are our 50 favorite</p>
Post date: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 - 07:29
Path: /mlb/baseball-drug-testing-ryan-braun-wins-fans-lose

by Charlie Miller

Baseball fans finally made it to third base, on the cusp of believing that MLB and its players are clean — standing on third base, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to celebrate a PED-free game with Ryan Braun and MLB itself coming up to bat. But both Braun and MLB struck out, leaving fans stranded at third.

I’m sure Braun feels like he just hit a home run, getting a 50-game ban overturned. But fans feel stranded. MLB probably feels like it just got called out on strikes on a pitch in the dirt. (Hey, it happens.) But fans feel stranded.

After the cloud of the Steroid Era, which began in the 1980s and lasted well into the 2000s, fans have been apprehensive in accepting the credibility of MLB’s drug testing program.

Since an agreement with the players instituted the testing program 2006, players have been busted 27 times. That isn’t close to the number of players most fans suspected of cheating in the early 2000s, so it’s easy to see why many fans didn’t immediately jump on board. And suspending Guillermo Mota or J.C. Romero for 50 games, or even Dan Serafini, didn’t exactly convince fans that the game was clean.

But once Manny Ramirez got popped in the midst of terrific run with the Los Angeles Dodgers, fans began to take note. After hitting .396 for the Dodgers during the second half of 2008 after his trade from Boston, Manny was off to a torrid start for L.A. in 2009 when he was suspended for 50 games.

If MLB is willing to suspend a star like Ramirez, then the program must be working, right? If the suspension of lesser known players managed to get fans back on base, the Ramirez decision moved the fans to second. As time passed and gaudy offensive numbers became a thing of the past, fans were more comfortable moving on to third, finally prepared to proclaim the game clean.

Then, while standing on third base, believing that favorite stars like Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Joey Votto, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera have been tested and tested again for PEDs, and that all were drug-free, the hammer fell, crushing fans’ hopes.

And I’m not sure what’s worse, quite frankly, having the NL MVP taking PEDs, or having a system that we can no longer trust. I think I would take the tainted MVP.

Now I have no business declaring Braun innocent or guilty. Only he truly knows the answer to that. And sadly, that’s not the most important issue right now. The fact that we can’t trust testing, or that there is a loophole large enough to convince a judge to doubt the process, can only mean that MLB and its players do not have a reliable testing system.

And that leaves fans stranded.

Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie

<p> Just when fans thought it was safe to believe baseball was PED-free, the Ryan Braun testing debacle happened.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 24, 2012 - 11:29
All taxonomy terms: Houston Astros, Throwback jerseys, MLB
Path: /mlb/houston-astros-inauthenticate-throwback-jerseys

The Houston Astros are celebrating the franchise’s 50th anniversary this season and have planned to wear throwback uniforms for Friday home games. I love throwback uniforms. Mainly because most of the throwbacks teams wear are from the 1970s and ’80s, an era I recall fondly.

There were relatively few uniform changes across baseball during the first half century or so, once uniform numbers were introduced. But along came the 1970s and teams began experimenting. The swinging ’70s brought a whole new assortment of colors, styles and flair to uniforms. The hideous White Sox black shorts and shirts with collars were among the worst. As a kid I didn’t mind the Hawaiian softball uniforms the Astros introduced in 1975. Now, I don’t like them so much. The solid red Indians uniforms that Boog Powell once said made him look like a “big blood clot”? Hated ’em.

But no matter how ugly, how crazy and how politically incorrect uniforms and team names of the past seem today, they are a part of baseball history.

So that’s why I am confused and dismayed why baseball and the Astros have decided to alter history. You see, on Fridays this summer in Houston when the Astros show off their throwback uniforms, they won’t limit the fashion to those candy stripes from the ’70s. They’ll also be wearing throwbacks from the franchise’s original name, the Colt .45s. However, the throwbacks version will not represent the original jersey.

Before the Astros became the Astros in 1965 celebrating the city’s association with the space program, the team was the Colt .45s, commonly known as the Colts. As in the gun, not the equine. And the logo on the jersey featured a colt revolver underneath the word Colts with the C swirling as if the gun were smoking.

MLB and the Astros will have us to believe now that the original uniform did not have a gun depicted on the front. That’s right. The Colt .45 has been removed from the jersey.

Now would I want to name my team after a gun these days? No. Am I a fan of any kind of gun imagery? No. But we can’t really revise history, now can we? We can’t refer to the team as the Colts and put a running yearling on the shirt. And just what is the plan for the caps? Will the players wear the authentic caps with the ‘.45s’ emblem?

If MLB and the Astros want to celebrate the history of the team, then celebrate the entire history, warts and all. If not, celebrate the Astros Era and just wear throwbacks from the 1970s and ignore the Colt .45s Era altogether. But altering the authentic logo on the jersey makes no sense. I guess MLB may have to change the “MLB Authentics” apparel line to “Inauthentics.”

Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie.

<p> The Houston Astros will celebrate their 50 years in the National League this season by wearing throwback jersey on Friday nights. But they've significantly altered the original Colt .45s jerseys.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 - 14:01
All taxonomy terms: Gary Carter, Montreal Expos, MLB
Path: /news/remembering-hall-fame-catcher-gary-carter

by Charlie Miller

In the summer of 1974, I attended my first minor league baseball game. Although I had been to a handful of major league games with larger crowds and familiar players, this was my first experience seeing players in a more intimate setting — and watching players I had never heard about.

But there were a couple of players on the Memphis Blues that were familiar to me. One was leftfielder and leadoff hitter, Pepe Mangual, the other, Gary Carter. I didn’t understand the ramifications of a 20-year-old catcher playing at the Triple-A level. My dad made sure that I knew to watch Carter and Mangual because they would be major league players one day.

So when Carter made his first All-Star team as a rookie in 1975, I felt somehow closer to him than the other stars on TV. He played left field in that game and seeing him in that All-Star Game made me eager to attend more minor league games and the game’s rising stars.

But more than the memory of watching Carter play in my first minor league game, I’ll remember his energy and smile. He always played the game with effort and with a broad smile. He made baseball look like so much fun when he was on the field.

I know his family, as well as his baseball family, will dearly miss The Kid, who died Thursday at age 57. His daughter, Kimmy Bloemers, softball coach at Palm Beach Atlantic, reported Carter’s death on the family website.

“I am deeply saddened to tell you all that my precious dad went to be with Jesus today at 4:10 p.m. This is the most difficult thing I have ever had to write in my entire life but I wanted you all to know. He is in heaven and has reunited with his mom and dad. I believe with all my heart that dad had a STANDING OVATION as he walked through the gates of heaven to be with Jesus,” Bloemers wrote.

His friends around baseball were saddened with news, although it was not unexpected. Carter had been battling malignant tumors for some time.

“Gary Carter was everything you wanted in a sports hero: a great talent, a great competitor, a great family man, and a great friend,” former Mets pitcher and teammate Ron Darling said.

“I am so sad! The Kid has left us,” fellow Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench tweeted. “I started calling him Kid the first time I met him. He was admired and loved. Thank you for our past.”

<p> Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter died Thursday at age 57. He was catching for the Memphis Blues at my first minor league game.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 17, 2012 - 14:31
Path: /mlb/new-york-yankees-mt-rushmore

MLB Mt. Rushmores

by Charlie Miller

Major League Baseball is promoting an effort to identify the best four players in each team’s history. We selected our choices for Mt. Rushmores a few years ago. Here are updated versions for all 30 teams. Who are the four baseball players that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.


New York Yankees Mt. Rushmore

This is the team that started the entire Mt. Rushmore discussion. Now that I’ve waded through the likes of Brandon Webb, Aaron Cook, Jeff Conine and Randy Jones as faces on teams’ Mt. Rushmores, it’s time to attempt to cull the illustrious history of the New York Yankees down to four men. Four. From Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle to Reggie Jackson to Derek Jeter. Perhaps we should allow an organization with 27 World Series titles eight faces on its Mt. Rushmore — or at least six. But we’re sticking to the rule of only four faces on Mt. Rushmore, even with the Yankees. And for a team that boasts 17 retired numbers (with Jeter’s No. 2 to follow), there are numerous candidates. But we’ll have to identify the four guys who have risen above all others. I’m sure the arguments will be aplenty. Here goes:


Babe Ruth
The Sultan of Swat was larger than life. He transformed his career from one of the game’s best pitchers to, perhaps, the game’s greatest hitter of all-time, not just his era. The Babe was a household name for generations nationwide. Ruth ushered in the Live Ball Era making the home run something to behold. As a pitcher, Ruth won an ERA title and led the AL in shutouts with nine in 1916. That season he became one of five pitchers to toss more than 320 innings without giving up a long ball. He was 3-0 with a 0.87 ERA in three World Series starts. But for, oh about 714 reasons, Babe gave up pitching for right field. He then proceeded to win 12 home run titles, a batting title and six RBI crowns on his way to establishing the standard for home runs hit during a season and career. From 1918-29 Ruth hit more than 10 percent of the home runs in the American League. He outhomered half (or more) of the teams in the league during eight of those 12 seasons, outswatting all seven rivals in both 1920 and 1927.


Lou Gehrig
Ruth’s partner in offensive assaults was the Iron Horse. Gehrig spent most of his career batting cleanup behind Ruth and set the all-time mark with 23 grand slams (since surpassed by Alex Rodriguez). But much like Ruth, Gehrig was much bigger than stats, or the game itself. After Wally Pipp’s famous injury in June of 1925, Gehrig quickly became the Iron Horse, establishing a mark once thought to be unbreakable of 2,130 consecutive games. Without a doubt, Gehrig’s proclamation upon his retirement precipitated by ALS — now known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease — that he considered himself “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” rings loudly still in the hearts of baseball fans. As it turns out, the two MVPs, the Triple Crown, the 2,721 hits, 493 home runs and 1,995 RBIs were just icing on the cake.


Mickey Mantle
Few players can ever replace a legend. But in 1952, a 20-year-old from Oklahoma was handed the keys to center field in Yankee Stadium, patrolled by Joe DiMaggio just the year before. Mantle never disappointed. On his way to 536 home runs, three MVPs and three runner-up finishes, the Commerce Comet was third in MVP voting in ’52, finishing behind two pitchers. Mantle hit 18 home runs in World Series play covering 65 games and 12 Series. From the 1950s until his death in 1995, Mantle was the most beloved Yankee.


Mariano Rivera

Okay. Here’s where it gets a little tricky. Well, maybe more than a little. Why not DiMaggio, Jeter, or even Yogi? As beloved as those three icons are, none dominated his position like Rivera. The premier closer of all-time conquered enemy hitters for 19 seasons. Pitching in an offensive era, Rivera’s WHIP is an even 1.000 and his ERA is 2.21. He owns the all-time record with 652 saves and converted saves at an 89 percent rate. In the postseason, Rivera was even better. In 141 innings, Rivera has 42 saves, a 0.70 ERA and 0.759 WHIP.


Close Calls

The fact that he played in New York, had a 56-game hitting steak and was married to Marilyn Monroe for almost a year — not to mention a little shout-out from Simon and Garfunkel — has put Joe DiMaggio on a higher pedestal than he deserves. And he deserves a pretty high pedestal.


The only player to get 3,000 hits in pinstripes is Derek Jeter, the most celebrated shortstop in team history. The Captain was the heart and soul of the most recent dynasty of the late 1990s. DiMaggio and jeter would certainly be on any other team's mountain, and it's painful to omit them here.


Few fans talk about Yogi Berra anymore, probably because he’s so talked about.


George Steinbrenner bought a struggling franchise in 1973 and turned it into the Evil Empire — and made no apologies for his efforts or success.


American LeagueNational League
Baltimore OriolesArizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red SoxAtlanta Braves
Chicago White SoxChicago Cubs
Cleveland IndiansCincinnati Reds
Detroit TigersColorado Rockies
Houston AstrosMiami Marlins
Kansas City RoyalsLos Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles AngelsMilwaukee Brewers
Minnesota TwinsNew York Mets
New York YankeesPhiladelphia Phillies
Oakland A'sPittsburgh Pirates
Seattle MarinersSan Diego Padres
Tampa Bay RaysSan Francisco Giants
Texas RangersSt. Louis Cardinals
Toronto Blue JaysWashington Nationals

Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him [email protected]

<p> The team that started the entire Mt. Rushmore discussion. From Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig to Joe DiMaggio to Mickey Mantle to Reggie Jackson to Derek Jeter. Perhaps we should allow an organization with 27 World Series titles eight faces on its Mt. Rushmore — or at least six.</p>
Post date: Monday, February 6, 2012 - 11:41
Path: /mlb/st-louis-cardinals-mt-rushmore

MLB Mt. Rushmores

by Charlie Miller

Major League Baseball is promoting an effort to identify the best four players in each team’s history. We selected our choices for Mt. Rushmores a few years ago. Here are updated versions for all 30 teams. Who are the four baseball players that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.


St. Louis Cardinals Mt. Rushmore
The Mt. Rushmore for the team nearest and dearest to my heart also proves to be the most difficult for me to select. There are six strong candidates — five Hall of Famers and one who will be — and a handful of others who would make most teams’ mountains. One of the most storied and tradition-laden franchises in baseball, the Cardinals have enjoyed more success than any other National League team. They won six World Series and lost three in the 21 seasons from 1926-46. Since that time, it’s been a little bit of every-other-decade success for the Redbirds. No World Series appearances in the 1950s; three in the ’60s, winning two. None in the ’70s; three in the ’80s, winning one. None in the ’90s; two in the ’00s, winning one, before winning another in 2011. With 11 titles, the Cardinals rank second all-time, a distant second behind the Yankees. The organization has been loyal to managers. Since 1965 (47 seasons), only four men — Red Schoendienst, Whitey Herzog, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa — have managed more than 91 percent of the Redbirds’ games. Obviously, the discussion begins with Stan the Man. Musial is the No. 1 name on all Cardinals fans’ lists. After that, it becomes a tough choice.


Stan Musial
Stan the Man is on the short list for MLB’s Mt. Rushmore, and no doubt would be a unanimous choice among Cardinals fans. Musial dominates the Cardinals’ all-time leaderboard, even leading in triples. He spent his entire career in St. Louis and remains an icon. He made 24 All-Star teams, was MVP three times with four runner-up finishes, won seven batting titles, is fourth all-time in the majors in hits, second in total bases, ninth in runs and sixth in RBIs. That’s quite a resume. He also was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a civilian.


Bob Gibson
Gibson had as intimidating a mound presence as any pitcher ever. The menacing righthander spent his entire career with the Cardinals and was instrumental in the three pennant winners in the 1960s. There are the two Cy Young awards and 1968 MVP, but Gibson’s World Series performances were off the charts. In three Series he made nine starts with nine complete games, going 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA. He had 92 strikeouts in 81 innings and a 0.889 WHIP.


Lou Brock
Known for his stolen base records, Brock was much more than a one-dimensional player. Other than establishing season and career stolen base records, Brock had 3,023 hits — 2,713 of them with the Cardinals. He scored 1,427 runs for St. Louis and drove in 900 runs in his career, 640 of them from the leadoff spot. He is as beloved in St. Louis now as the day he retired.


Ozzie Smith
The Wizard came to St. Louis in 1982 as a .230-hitting defensive shortstop and retired as one of the greatest shortstops to play the game. During his 15 years in St. Louis, Smith made 14 All-Star teams, won 11 Gold Gloves and even a Silver Slugger in 1987 to go with his runner-up finish in MVP balloting. He had 1,944 hits, 991 runs and 433 stolen bases for the Cardinals in addition to saving more than 1,000 runs with his glove.

Close Calls
Had Albert Pujols re-upped with the Redbirds and finished out his career in St. Louis, there is little doubt that he would have ended up on the mountain. King Albert completed the most astonishing 11 seasons in team history in 2011.

It’s equally painful leaving off Rogers Hornsby, one of the best hitters in the game prior to 1930. From 1921-25, the Cardinals’ second baseman averaged .402 with 29 homers, 120 RBIs and 123 runs. But by most accounts he wasn’t the most popular teammate and he bounced from team to team after spending 12 years in St. Louis to start his career.

During the 1980s and ’90s, Red Schoendienst was always alongside greats Musial, Gibson and Brock donning red blazers at every major Cardinal event. In addition to his Hall of Fame career, Red managed a couple of pennant winners in the 1960s and remained an influential presence as a special coach for several years after his managerial career ended.

In terms of popularity and impact on the franchise, Whitey Herzog deserves consideration. He took over a franchise in 1980 that was drawing just over one million, had drug problems and hadn’t won in 11 years. Over the next decade, “Whiteyball” accounted for three World Series appearances, lifted attendance to three million for the first time and turned the franchise down the path it travels now.

August “Gussie” Busch Jr. bought the team in 1953, and nurtured it as an iconic franchise that became Cardinal Nation, bringing six pennants and three World Series titles in the 1960s and ’80s.

For his emotional post-9/11 speech alone, Hall of Famer Jack Buck deserves some mention as the Cardinals’ long-time broadcaster.

When Dizzy Dean was in his prime, he was right there with Babe Ruth as the biggest star in the game. It was just short-lived.

Few players have captured the hearts of fans in St. Louis the way that Yadier Molina has. Tony La Russa refered to him as the most indispensable player on the 2011 championship team, a club that included Pujols. Redbird pitchers will tell you that he deserves an MVP trophy.

Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him [email protected]


Other teams' Mt. Rushmores:

American LeagueNational League
Baltimore OriolesArizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red SoxAtlanta Braves
Chicago White SoxChicago Cubs
Cleveland IndiansCincinnati Reds
Detroit TigersColorado Rockies
Houston AstrosMiami Marlins
Kansas City RoyalsLos Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles AngelsMilwaukee Brewers
Minnesota TwinsNew York Mets
New York YankeesPhiladelphia Phillies
Oakland A'sPittsburgh Pirates
Seattle MarinersSan Diego Padres
Tampa Bay RaysSan Francisco Giants
Texas RangersSt. Louis Cardinals
Toronto Blue JaysWashington Nationals


<p> The Mt. Rushmore for the team nearest and dearest to my heart also proves to be the most difficult for me to select. There are six strong candidates — five Hall of Famers and one who will be — and a handful of others who would make most teams’ mountains. Stan the Man Musial is the No. 1 name on all Cardinals fans’ lists. After that, it becomes a tough choice.</p>
Post date: Friday, February 3, 2012 - 10:05
All taxonomy terms: Turn Back the Clock, News
Path: /news/week-sports-history-jan-28-feb-3

Turn Back the Clock
Jan. 28, 1958
Dodgers star catcher Roy Campanella was injured in an automobile crash near his home on Long Island. He was left paralyzed, ending his Hall of Fame career.

Jan. 29, 1936
The Baseball Hall of Fame elected its first members: Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner became the first-ever Hall of Fame class.

Jan. 30, 2000
In Super Bowl XXXIV, the St. Louis Rams held on for a 23-16 win over the Tennessee Titans. Tennessee receiver Kevin Dyson was tackled by linebacker Mike Jones a yard short of the end zone on the final play of the game.

Jan. 31, 1990
The first-ever all-sports daily “The National” began publishing. Headquartered in New York, the Editor-in-Chief was former Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford. The first cover featured NBA players Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Patrick Ewing. It ceased publishing on June 13, 1991.

Feb. 1, 1914
A group of players from the Chicago White Sox and New York Giants played an exhibition game in Egypt. The game was part of a world tour that began in November of 1913 in Tokyo and ended in February in London. The tour included games in Japan, Australia, Philippines, Ceylon, China, India, France and England. Games in Paris and Rome were rained out.

Feb. 2, 1970
Pete Maravich of LSU became the first college basketball player to score 3,000 points in his career. Pistol Pete averaged 44.2 points a game during his three-year career (freshmen were not eligible) in Baton Rouge, but never played in an NCAA Tournament. He ended his career with 3,667 points.

Feb. 3, 1979
Hall of Famer Rod Carew was traded by the Minnesota Twins to the California Angels for Dave Engle, Paul Hartzell, Brad Havens and Ken Landreaux. The 12-time All-Star with seven batting titles, an MVP and more than 2,000 hits for the Twins signed a five-year contract for $4 million with the Angels, something the Twins had been reluctant to do. Carew ended his career with 3,053 hits.

<br />
Post date: Friday, January 27, 2012 - 17:34
Path: /mlb/detroit-tigers-mt-rushmore

MLB Mt. Rushmores

by Charlie Miller

Major League Baseball is promoting an effort to identify the best four players in each team’s history. We selected our choices for Mt. Rushmores a few years ago. Here are updated versions for all 30 teams. Who are the four baseball players that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.


Detroit Tigers Mt. Rushmore

In their 114 seasons, the Tigers have finished at or above .500 in 70 of those seasons, pretty impressive. But Detroit has only 16 postseason appearances to show for their winning ways. In 11 World Series, the Tigers have come out on the winning side four times. Three times in their history the Tigers have had a winning percentage over .600 and not made the postseason. Once came in 1915, a year the Tigers went 100-54 for their second-best winning percentage (.649) in history. The Tigers are one of only four of the original American League franchises to call the same city home for its entire history. And the Tigers are the only AL team to go by just one name; always known as the Tigers. There is no shortage of candidates for the Tigers’ Mt. Rushmore, but Ty Cobb may be the only lock.

Ty Cobb
While the Georgia Peach has taken personal hits over the years, there is no denying his production on the field. No one played the game harder or better or with more zeal than Cobb did during his era from 1905-26. He had 3,900 hits for the Tigers. No one has more for one team. Cobb sits atop the Tigers’ all-time lists in more categories than anyone else, and it’s not even close. Cobb finished his 22-year career in Detroit with a .368 batting average. For his entire career, which included two seasons with the Philadelphia A’s, he amassed 4,189 hits and 2,246 runs.


Charlie Gehringer
A Michigan man through–and-through, Gehringer spent his entire 19 seasons with the Tigers and finished in the top 10 in MVP balloting for seven consecutive seasons. He won the award in 1937 along with a batting title with a .371 average. He was a narrow runner-up to teammate Mickey Cochrane in 1934, although the second baseman had clearly superior numbers. Known for his quiet nature, it has been noted that he would say hello when he arrived at spring training and good-bye when the season ended and not much in between.

Hank Greenberg
Hammerin’ Hank had a mercurial career with the Tigers in the years surrounding World War II. From 1934-46, Greenberg had just seven full seasons for Detroit, but full seasons they certainly were. In those campaigns in which he played a complete season, he averaged .322 with 40 home runs and 147 RBIs, with 43 doubles and 122 runs. He earned a couple of MVP trophies and finished third twice. He lost one season to a broken wrist after just 12 games, and three full seasons to military service, and in two more seasons he played briefly just prior to and after his service.


Al Kaline
The rightfielder from Baltimore quietly put together a Hall of Fame career spent exclusively with the Tigers. Kaline reached the 3,000-hit plateau and missed 400 home runs by one. Kaline entered the league in 1953 as an 18-year-old having never suited up in the minor leagues. In his second full season, Kaline won the AL batting crown with a .340 average and earned the first of his two career runner-up finishes in MVP voting. Overall, he had nine top-10 MVP finishes. He made 15 All-Star teams and was honored with 10 Gold Gloves.

Close Calls
Ace Hal Newhouser had back-to-back MVP seasons in 1945-46 with a runner-up for the award the following season.


For three generations in Michigan, Tigers fans associated games with the voice of Ernie Harwell on the radio.

In 16 full seasons at the helm in Detroit, Sparky Anderson led his team to a winning record 11 times, including eight straight, the only Tigers manager with such a streak.


In 1968 the Tigers erased a three-games-to-one deficit in the World Series to defending champion St. Louis. It was lefthander Mickey Lolich whose heroics in Games 5 and 7 made that championship comeback possible.


While Miguel Cabrera may seem like an obvious choice, his career numbers in Detroit may not measure up to the greats above.



American LeagueNational League
Baltimore OriolesArizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red SoxAtlanta Braves
Chicago White SoxChicago Cubs
Cleveland IndiansCincinnati Reds
Detroit TigersColorado Rockies
Houston AstrosMiami Marlins
Kansas City RoyalsLos Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles AngelsMilwaukee Brewers
Minnesota TwinsNew York Mets
New York YankeesPhiladelphia Phillies
Oakland A'sPittsburgh Pirates
Seattle MarinersSan Diego Padres
Tampa Bay RaysSan Francisco Giants
Texas RangersSt. Louis Cardinals
Toronto Blue JaysWashington Nationals


Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him [email protected]

<p> There is no shortage of candidates for the Tigers’ Mt. Rushmore, but Ty Cobb may be the lonely lock. One thing for certain, all four honorees will be Hall of Famers.</p>
Post date: Friday, January 27, 2012 - 09:31
Path: /mlb/milwaukee-brewers-mt-rushmore

MLB Mt. Rushmores

by Charlie Miller

Major League Baseball is promoting an effort to identify the best four players in each team’s history. We selected our choices for Mt. Rushmores a few years ago. Here are updated versions for all 30 teams. Who are the four baseball players that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.


Milwaukee Brewers Mt. Rushmore
A franchise that began as the Seattle Pilots in 1969 lasted just one season in the northwest prior to moving to Milwaukee in 1970 under new ownership that included Bud Selig. The Brewers have the distinction as the only franchise to compete in four different divisions at some point: the AL West from 1969-71, the AL East from 1972-93, the AL Central from 1994-97 and the NL Central from 1998-present. But Milwaukee has just two division titles, the first in 1982, and the second in 2011. In 46 complete seasons of competition, the Brewers have finished at .500 or better just 17 times. The 2002 season marked the only time the franchise lost 100 games, and the only season with a worse record than the expansion season of 1969. The two names that scream loudly to any Milwaukee fan for Mt. Rushmore are Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. Finding two additional names takes a bit more digging.


Robin Yount
The most popular man in Milwaukee (who never played for the Green Bay Packers, that is) won two MVP awards, one as a shortstop in 1982, the second as a center fielder in 1989. Yount made his major league debut on Opening Day in 1974 at age 18 and spent his entire 20-year career with the Brewers. The Hall of Famer amassed 3,142 hits, 1,632 runs and 1,406 RBIs in a Brewers uniform.


Paul Molitor
With Yount firmly entrenched at shortstop, Molitor was forced to find other positions in order to break into the Brewers’ lineup. Like Yount in 1973, Molitor was drafted No. 3 overall in 1977. And also like Yount, Molitor found himself in the Brewers’ Opening Day lineup the following season. A shortstop by trade, Molitor stated at five different positions the first five Opening Days of his career (shortstop, DH, second base, left field and third base). In 15 seasons in Milwaukee, Molitor totaled 2,281 hits, 412 steals and a .303 batting average in 1,856 games.


Cecil Cooper
Ranking third in most offensive categories in Brewers history (albeit a distant third) is enough to get Coop in this honored company. He has 154 more RBIs than Molitor, which ranks him second in that category. Cooper in fifth with 201 home runs. Of the nine 120-RBI seasons in team history, Cooper owns three of them, most of anyone. The former first baseman also owns three of the team’s seven 200-hit seasons, again, tops on that list. Acquired prior to the 1977 season from Boston, Cooper batted .302 over 11 seasons with the Brew Crew. During his first seven seasons with the team, he finished fifth in MVP voting three times over four seasons with an eighth-place vote mixed in. He won two Gold Gloves and batted .316 from 1977-83, averaging 22 home runs and 95 RBIs. His .352 average in 1980 would have been good enough to win an AL batting title 22 times during the 30 years from 1962-91, but George Brett chased .400 in 1980, ending at .390, leaving Cooper to settle for runner-up.


Bud Selig
You can say what you want about Selig’s tenure in the Commissioner’s office, but he worked tirelessly to bring baseball back to Milwaukee after the Braves left for Atlanta after the 1965 season. It isn’t a stretch to say that the owner-turned-Commissioner is responsible for bringing baseball back to Milwaukee.


Close Calls
Along with Yount and Molitor, Jim Gantner shares the record for games played by three teammates.

Mike Caldwell averaged 15 wins and 231 innings from 1978-83, and won 102 games.

Had he signed a long-term contract with the franchise, Prince Fielder most certainly would have hit his way onto the mountain.

Stormin' Gorman Thomas averaged 35 home runs and 98 RBIs from 1978-82.


Ryan Braun appeared to be on his way to a spot in the quartet until PED problems clouded his record. He now has much more ground to make up. Putting together a couple of clean Braun-like seasons would be a nice start, but that doesn't appear likely.


Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him [email protected]


Other teams' Mt. Rushmores:

American LeagueNational League
Baltimore OriolesArizona Diamondbacks
Boston Red SoxAtlanta Braves
Chicago White SoxChicago Cubs
Cleveland IndiansCincinnati Reds
Detroit TigersColorado Rockies
Houston AstrosMiami Marlins
Kansas City RoyalsLos Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles AngelsMilwaukee Brewers
Minnesota TwinsNew York Mets
New York YankeesPhiladelphia Phillies
Oakland A'sPittsburgh Pirates
Seattle MarinersSan Diego Padres
Tampa Bay RaysSan Francisco Giants
Texas RangersSt. Louis Cardinals
Toronto Blue JaysWashington Nationals


<p> After one disastrous year in Seattle, the Pilots became the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970. From the American League West to the AL East, to the AL Central to the National League Central, the Brew Crew has won two division titles. Two Hall of Famers — Robin Yount and Paul Molitor — are the faces of the franchise. Who else belongs on the Brewers' Mt. Rushmore?</p>
Post date: Monday, January 23, 2012 - 13:32
Path: /news/week-sports-history-jan14-20

Turn Back the Clock
Jan. 14, 1940
The NFL played its second all-star contest featuring the NFL champion Green Bay Packers against a team of All-Stars from nine other teams in the league. It was originally scheduled for Jan. 7, but delayed due to weather. Gilmore Stadium in Los Angeles was the site as the Packers defeated the All-Stars 16-7. The highlight of the game was a 92-yard touchdown pass from Cecil Isbell to Don Hutson at the close of the first half to make the score 13-0.

Jan. 15, 1892
Triangle Magazine, a publication of the International YMCA Training School (now Springfield College), published the rules of basketball. The game, invented by James A. Naismith while teaching at the school as a graduate student, featured two peach baskets hanging from the balcony in the gymnasium, and the ball more closely resembled today’s volleyball than basketball. It wasn’t until 15 years later that the bottoms were cut out of the baskets to allow the ball to fall through freely.

Jan. 16, 1970
Baseball player Curt Flood filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, both American League and National League presidents and all 24 Major League clubs. Flood argued that baseball’s reserve clause — which ostensibly kept players under the control of their teams — violated antitrust laws and the 13th Amendment, which barred slavery and involuntary servitude. Flood, only 31 at the time at the height of his career, made $90,000 in 1969 while playing for St. Louis. He was traded in October and refused to report to the Phillies. The All-Star centerfielder’s career was pretty much over as the legal wrangling reached the Supreme Court. Although Flood had the support of Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson, no active players agreed to testify on his behalf, and the high court voted against Flood, 5-3, in 1972.

Jan. 17, 1971
In Super Bowl V, Baltimore’s rookie kicker Jim O’Brien nailed a 32-yard field goal as time expired to defeat the favored Dallas Cowboys, 16-13, at Miami. Dallas linebacker Chuck Howley, who made two interceptions, was named the game’s MVP, the only player so honored from a losing team.

Jan. 18, 1983
After 70 years, the International Olympic Committee restored Jim Thorpe’s gold medal status, although it was 30 years after the athlete’s death. Thorpe won gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. More than six months later it was revealed he was paid as a semi-pro baseball player in 1909-10, causing Olympic officials to strip him of his medals.

Jan. 19, 1974
The Notre Dame men’s basketball team defeated UCLA, 71-70, to end the Bruins’ 88-game winning streak. Digger Phelps coached the Irish led by John Shumate, Adrian Dantley and Gary Brokaw. But it was Dwight Clay who nailed a jumper from the right corner with 29 seconds left that provided Notre Dame with the one-point victory, after the Irish had scored the final 12 points of the game over the last three and half minutes. Incidentally, Austin Carr of Notre Dame scored 46 points to defeat UCLA on Jan. 23, 1971, the last Bruin defeat prior to this game.

Jan. 20, 1991
It was Championship Sunday in the NFL. Buffalo trounced the Los Angeles Raiders 51-3 in the AFC Championship Game as the Bills intercepted six passes and amassed 502 yards on offense led by Thurman Thomas with 199 yards rushing and receiving. There was very little offense in the NFC tilt as the New York Giants dethroned the two-time defending Super Bowl Champion San Francisco 49ers, 15-13, with a 42-yard field goal by Matt Bahr as time expired. Bahr was good on five of six field goal tries for the only points for the G-Men.


Previous Weeks

Jan. 7-13

<p> Athlon Sports turns back the clock and relives special moments in sports history.</p>
Post date: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 16:17
All taxonomy terms: Turn Back the Clock, News
Path: /news/week-sports-history-jan7-13

Turn Back the Clock
Jan. 7, 1972
The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Atlanta Hawks, 134-90, to win their 33rd game in a row. The winning streak still stands as an NBA record. Led by veterans Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West, the Lakers would lose at Milwaukee two nights later to end the streak, but Los Angeles finished the regular season with a 69-13 mark and defeated the Bucks in six games in the NBA Finals to win the franchise’s first title since moving to L.A. in 1960.

Jan. 8, 1962
The legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus made his professional debut at the Los Angeles Open, won by Phil Rodgers by nine shots over Bob Goalby and Fred Hawkins. The Golden Bear, who would go on to win an incredible 18 majors, finished 50th. Nicklaus, who had a distinguished amateur career, won his first professional tournament at the 1962 US Open, defeating Arnold Palmer in a playoff.

Jan. 9, 1977
In Super Bowl XI, the Oakland Raiders won their first Super Bowl, 32-14 over the Minnesota Vikings. Playing at the Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, Calif., in front of a record 103,438 fans, the Raiders rolled up 429 total yards against the Purple People Eaters of Minnesota. Running back Clarence Davis ran for 137 yards, and receiver Fred Biletnikoff was named MVP.

Jan. 10, 1982
In one of the coldest NFL games on record, the Cincinnati Bengals hosted the San Diego Chargers in the AFC Championship Game. With game time temperatures at -9 degrees and winds gusting to 35 mph, the wind chill reached a frigid 59 below. The Chargers’ high-scoring offense was held in check by the weather more than the Cincinnati defense. Committing four turnovers, San Diego never mustered much offense. Pete Johnson barreled his way for 80 yards to lead the Bengals. Ken Anderson threw for two scores in the Bengals’ 27-7 win.

Jan. 11, 1970
The AFL once again flexed its muscles in the Super Bowl as the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the favored Minnesota Vikings of the NFL, 23-7, in Super Bowl IV. Jan Stenerud opened the scoring with a 48-yard field goal, then added two more kicks for a 9-0 lead. Otis Taylor ended the scoring on a 46-yard touchdown reception from MVP Len Dawson.

Jan. 12, 1958
Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes scored the 11,770th point of his NBA career, setting a new record. Two years later, he would become the first player to top the 15,000-point mark. He spent his entire NBA career with the same franchise, the Syracuse Nationals/Philadelphia 76ers.

Jan. 13, 1962
NBA great Wilt Chamberlain set a new NBA record with 73 points in the Philadelphia Warriors’ 135-117 win over the expansion Chicago Packers. It was the most points scored in regulation. A month prior, Chamberlain scored 78 points in a triple-overtime game. And two months later, he tallied 100 points against the New York Knicks in a game played at Hershey, Penn., to break his own record and set a mark that still stands.

<p> Athlon Sports turns back the clock and relives special moments in sports history.</p>
Post date: Friday, January 13, 2012 - 14:01
Path: /mlb/who-wins-world-series-first-st-louis-cardinals-or-los-angeles-angels

by Charlie Miller

With Albert Pujols signing with the Los Angeles Angels, ending his 11-year tenure in St. Louis, just how much does that swing the balance of power in baseball? While the Cardinals are coming off their second World Series title in six years, even with Pujols they would have not been a favorite to win again in 2012. But how far does Pujols’ defection knock St. Louis down the pecking order in the National League? The NL Central isn’t exactly the toughest division in baseball.

And how much do the signings of both Pujols and starting pitcher C.J. Wilson push the Angels up the depth chart in the American League? Are those two signings enough to tip the scales to L.A. in the AL West? Remember, two-time AL champion Texas resides in that division. And with the strong AL East — eight of the last 10 AL wild card teams have come from the AL East — winning the division is the only realistic shot at the postseason if you play in the Central or West.

So, who wins the World Series first, St. Louis or the Angels?

Good question.

The Case for St. Louis
St. Louis has a few loose ends to tie up in order to lock up some key players, but World Series hero David Freese, clean-up hitter Matt Holliday, rising star Allen Craig, centerfielder Jon Jay, starter Jaime Garcia, prospect Shelby Miller and essentially an entire bullpen are locked up for the next four years or beyond. And at relatively reasonable prices. Ace Chris Carpenter, who was one of the Redbirds’ postseason heroes last season, is signed for two more years. So not only do the Cardinals have a proven core in place, but there remains enough payroll flexibility to fill holes.

Now back to the “loose ends.” They hold the key to the Cardinals’ next five years. Catcher Yadier Molina can be a free agent after 2012 and Adam Wainwright is signed through 2013. Getting extensions done for Molina and Wainwright will keep the Cardinals squarely in the hunt in the National League.

They may not be the odds-on favorite to win any single season, but as we’ve seen over and over again, once teams reach the postseason, the season resets enough for any hot team to win. Were the Cardinals really the best team in baseball in 2011? No. Not even the best in the National League. They squeaked into the playoffs courtesy of the Atlanta Braves on the final day of the season. Having an ace in Wainwright and stalwart Molina behind the plate gives the Redbirds a terrific opportunity to reach the postseason. Then anything can happen.

The final loose end is securing one more first baseman/outfielder. Not only for 2012 while the Cardinals wait for Craig to return from knee surgery, but for 2013 and beyond after Lance Berkman is presumably gone.

It’s easy to see how the Cardinals can be in the hunt in the NL Central for the next several seasons. The reigning champion Brewers are about to lose Prince Fielder and MVP Ryan Braun is facing a 50-game suspension. That’s a huge blow to the lineup in Milwaukee. It remains to be seen how quickly the Cubs can become contenders again, but at this point there are no real signs of improvement. They lost their best hitter from last season and have two ugly contracts (Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano) strangling their payroll. I suspect new president Theo Epstein will right the ship soon, but I don’t see the Cubs becoming a juggernaut in the near future. The Reds can be contenders, but they face payroll constraints and must deal with the impending free agency of Brandon Phillips after 2012 and former MVP Joey Votto after 2013.

Let’s face it, there are no dominant teams in this division, leaving an opportunity for St. Louis.

What could go wrong
St. Louis is beginning a new era, and not simply because No. 5 is no longer hitting in the No. 3 hole. Tony La Russa is no longer in charge in the dugout. Rookie manager Mike Matheny is the new sheriff in town and has little experience. While Matheny played a role in the development of both Molina and Wainwright, both could leave just as Pujols — a close friend of Molina — did this winter.
And what if Matheny just isn’t ready? Having a veteran pitching coach in Dave Duncan in the dugout and experienced Jose Oquendo still on the staff provides some kind of safety net. But if Matheny falters badly, the franchise could be set back a few years. The bullpen, which was much maligned early last season, became a team strength down the stretch. But counting on arms like Jason Motte, Eduardo Sanchez, Fernando Salas, Lance Lynn and Marc Rzepczynski could prove to be fool’s gold. And what if Freese’s World Series performance turns out to be the peak of his career?

Bottom Line
There are certainly no guarantees, far from it. But the Cardinals will continue to put themselves in position to make the playoffs for the next several seasons. And that alone gives them a shot at winning the franchise’s 12th championship.

<p> Now that Albert Pujols has departed St. Louis for sunny Los Angeles, just how does his move shift the balance of power in baseball?</p>
Post date: Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 08:34
Path: /mlb/ryan-brauns-positive-drug-test-more-bad-news

by Charlie Miller

Steroids, Steroids, Steroids.

Will talk of steroids in baseball ever go away? When will this loathsome subject that dirtied the past two decades of baseball become a distant memory?

Unfortunately, the subject of steroids and other PEDs in baseball will never go away. Never ever, ever.

NL MVP Ryan Braun is the latest player to test positive for something on the restricted list. With his camp adamantly denying wrongdoing, the appeal process will drag through much of the offseason. And what should be made of the award Braun has yet to actually receive? If it is determined that he in fact cheated, can the award be rescinded?

The bad news for Braun is that one of two things will happen after his appeal is heard with MLB: He’ll be found guilty of using illegal substances and shelved for 50 games, costing him about $1.85 million and forever tarnishing his otherwise pristine image; or he will be exonerated and show up for spring training in February with a clean record, yet forever placed on the “suspicious list” by most fans and members of the media.

And the news gets worse. As long as there is more money in cheating than in testing, the sinister laboratory minds and illicit athletes will always be one step (or more) ahead of the chemists developing tests.

So we are stuck with the curse of these insidious drugs. I believe that MLB testing is working, but it’s not absolute — and never will be. But baseball will always have this problem as long as substances can allow players to run faster, throw harder, hit with more power and prolong careers. With every 10-year, $254 million contract signed, players will try to cut corners. And every spring when clean players are cut, many will face unimaginable temptations.

And so it goes. Until the long list of players from the “Steroid Era” are no longer on the Hall of Fame ballot, we will continue to hear arguments about Hall of Fame voting as many writers will allow their suspicions, or proven allegations, about PED use to determine their Hall voting.

This subject is not going away.

Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie.

<p> Will talk of steroids in baseball ever go away? NL MVP Ryan Braun is the latest player to test positive for something on the restricted list, keeping the subject of PEDs front and center in baseball news.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, December 13, 2011 - 10:19