Articles By Charlie Miller

Path: /mlb/houston-astros-2012-preview
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Houston Astros

No team is undergoing as much of a drastic change on and off the field as the Astros, who are under the leadership of a new owner and general manager entering 2012 and will be competing in their 51st and final season in the National League. The Astros, in the midst of a major rebuilding project, will be moving to the American League in 2013, which was a stipulation of the team being sold to a group led by Houston businessman Jim Crane. New management remains committed to building through player development, which means the Astros will suffer at the major league level for the time being. Coming off a club-record 106-loss season, the Astros aren't in position to contend in their final year in the NL Central. They'll spend much of the 2012 season getting a longer look at the bevy of rookies who made their debuts a year earlier, while pushing an improving list of prospects through the minor league system. Led by veterans Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers, the Astros' pitching staff is actually not as bad as you would think for a team that lost so many games. But there are question marks all over the diamond. Still, the Astros have promising young players to keep an eye on, including third baseman Jimmy Paredes, second baseman Jose Altuve, shortstop Jed Lowrie and outfielder J.D. Martinez. And don't forget catcher Jason Castro, a former first-round pick who missed all of last season with a serious knee injury. The Astros are digging themselves out of a huge hole, but they appear to be on the right track and hope to continue to lay the foundation toward competing in the AL within the next three or four years. There's nowhere to go but up.

Rotation
The Astros shopped veterans Rodriguez and Myers in the offseason, but they return to anchor the staff. Bud Norris has settled in nicely as the No. 2 starter and has the stuff to lead the rotation, so 2012 could be a breakout season for him. The previously steady J.A. Happ is back and hoping his nightmarish 2011 is behind him, and he can take solace in the fact he pitched well in the last month of the season. Rookie Jordan Lyles pitched at 20 years old in the rotation for half of last year and figures to be battling for a spot with Kyle Weiland and Lucas Harrell. Weiland came over from Boston in the trade of Mark Melancon, and Harrell was claimed off waivers from the White Sox last year.

Bullpen
The Astros traded Melancon, their closer, in December to the Red Sox, but there is no shortage of arms in the Astros bullpen. The veteran starter Myers, is now the closer. Plus, veteran Brandon Lyon, who missed the final four months of last season following major arm surgery, will be back and healthy for 2012 and will be the primary setup man. The durable Wilton Lopez will be back to eat up innings at the back of the bullpen, and hard-throwing David Carpenter, fresh off a strong rookie campaign, is capable of getting big outs late in games. Fernando Rodriguez was a huge bright spot in 2011 after being a non-roster invitee to spring camp. The Astros drafted flame-throwing Rhiner Cruz in the Rule 5 Draft in December and will have to keep him on the 25-man roster all season or risk losing him.

Middle Infield
With Clint Barmes leaving in free agency, the Astros addressed their need at shortstop by making a trade with the Red Sox for Lowrie, who will be the starter in 2012. Lowrie, 27, has played a part-time role with the Red Sox since 2008, appearing in a career-high 88 games last season and hitting .252. He's a career .214 hitter with a .293 on-base percentage as a left-handed hitter and a .326 hitter with a .385 on-base percentage from the right side. The 5'7" Altuve returns as the starter at second base after hitting .276 with two homers and 12 RBIs in his major league debut last year. The jury is still out on whether Altuve can hit at the big league level, but he's certainly fun to watch.

Corners
When the Astros traded Hunter Pence last year, they called up one of their top prospects, Martinez, and put him in left field, moving Carlos Lee to first base, where he performed pretty well. Lee wound up leading the team in homers and RBIs and appears to be the starter at first entering 2012. That being said, Brett Wallace - the team's starter at first in 2011 - could push for playing time later in the season if he proves himself at Triple-A. At third, another Opening Day starter from 2011, Chris Johnson, is trying to hit his way back into the lineup after a disappointing season. Paredes, an athletic switch-hitter who can be an adventure defensively, will begin the season in the minors, but will certainly be back in Houston before the summer is over. Paredes looked good at the plate last year hitting .286 in 168 at-bats.

Outfield
The big question is whether Lee returns to left field after being moved to first base midseason last year. Martinez took over in left field after the Astros traded away Pence and Michael Bourn and put up some pretty solid numbers while displaying a good arm. Jordan Schafer, acquired from the Braves in the Bourn deal, is the man in center. There are several options in right field, including a platoon of Brian Bogusevic and J.B. Shuck. Bogusevic needs to show he can hit left-handed pitching to get more at-bats. Martinez will wind up in right if Lee returns to the outfield.

Catching
Castro is expected to be ready for Opening Day despite suffering an injury setback in the offseason. Castro, who missed all of last season after undergoing major surgery on his right knee, missed the beginning of spring training after undergoing surgery in December to remove the sesamoid bone in his left foot. Castro hit .205 with two homers and eight RBIs in 195 at-bats in his major league debut in 2010. The Astros signed veteran Chris Snyder as insurance for Castro.

Bench
Matt Downs was one of the best bench players in baseball last year. Downs, who can play third, second and first base and has even dabbled in the outfield, batted .276 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs in only 199 at-bats in 2011. He had 15 pinch-hit RBIs, which led the majors, and he led baseball with a .462 on-base percentage as a pinch-hitter. Snyder is a solid backup catcher with a strong arm and handles the pitching staff well. Shuck, a left-handed hitter, got his feet wet in the majors last year and showed some promise.

Management
This will be a new era in Houston baseball with Crane taking over as owner and chairman and Jeff Luhnow replacing Ed Wade as general manager. The man in charge of the day-to-day operations on the field, manager Brad Mills, returns for his third season. Mills hasn't had much to work with in the last two years as the team rebuilds, but he's in the final year of his contract (with a club option for 2013) and is coming off a club-record 106-loss season. Mills will be again depending on young players at several key positions, which will make winning difficult. Mills could be a very capable manager, but whether he gets an opportunity to show it in Houston remains to be seen.

Final Analysis
As they enter their final year in the National League, the Astros remain years away from contending. The club is in full-blown rebuild mode and is betting its future on an increasingly improving minor league system, as well as taking advantage of having the No. 1 pick in this year's draft. The road to contention will be a long one, but the Astros have added nearly two dozen young players while trading away veterans in the last few years and appear to be on the right track. Astros fans will have to be patient and enjoy watching the young kids get their feet wet in the major leagues.

 

 


Batting Order
CF Jordan Schafer (L)
A former top prospect in the Braves system, Schafer has all the tools to be a dynamic lead-off hitter.
2B Jose Altuve (R)
He has hit at every level in the minor leagues, but can he do it in the majors?
LF J.D. Martinez (R)
The organization's Minor League Player of the Year in 2010 had an impressive debut when called up.
1B Carlos Lee (R)
In the final year of his six-year, $100-million contract, the slugger remains a proven run producer.
RF Brian Bogusevic (L)
The team's former first-round pick as a pitcher finally showed some potential as a hitter last year.
3B Chris Johnson (R)
After hitting .308 in 2010, he slumped to .251 last season with 97 Ks in 378 ABs.
SS Jed Lowrie (S)
He'll be the starter after coming from Boston, but can he hit consistently from the left side?
C Jason Castro (L)
The jury remains out on the former first-round pick after he lost all of 2011 with a major knee injury.

Bench
INF Matt Downs (R)
Averaged a homer every 19.9 at-bats and led the majors with 15 pinch-hit RBIs.
INF Angel Sanchez (R)
Career highs in runs (35), doubles (10), HRs (1), RBIs (28), walks (27) and stolen bases (3).
C Chris Snyder (R)
The eight-year veteran is good defensively and hit .271 in limited action with Pittsburgh last season.

Rotation
LH Wandy Rodriguez
Went 11-11 with a 3.49 ERA in 30 starts to reach double-digit wins for the fourth time in his career.
RH Bud Norris
In his second full season in majors, went 6-11 with a 3.77 ERA and led club with 176 strikeouts.
LH J.A. Happ
Went 2-1 with a 2.43 ERA in final six starts after posting a 6.26 ERA in his first 22 starts.
RH Jordan Lyles
Went 2-7 with a 5.02 ERA before being moved to bullpen to limit innings.
RH Lucas Harrell
Long-time White Sox farmhand has made just five major league starts.
RH Kyle Weiland
The 24-year-old progressed nicely through the Red Sox system and appears poised to break out at the major league level.

Bullpen
RH Brett Myers (Closer)
Led the club in starts and innings pitched, going 7-14 with a 4.46 ERA, including 4-1 in last five starts. Has spent just one season in the bullpen, which was 2007 in Philadelphia, and he had 21 saves.
RH Brandon Lyon
Veteran began 2011 as Astros closer and went 4-for-8 in save chances before arm injury ended season.
RH Wilton Lopez
Made a career-high 73 appearances in 2011 and went 2-6 with 2.79 ERA, including 1.98 ERA in final 17 games.
RH David Carpenter
Appeared in 34 games in his major league debut after beginning year at Double-A and posted a 2.93 ERA.
RH Fernando Rodriguez
Had a 2-3 mark with a 3.96 ERA in 47 games, striking out 57 hitters in 52.1 innings.
LH Wesley Wright
Appeared in 21 games in three separate stints; allowed one single in 26 AB against lefties.
RH Rhiner Cruz
The 25-year-old Dominican has never pitched above the Double-A level.

Teaser:
<p> The Astros are digging themselves out of a huge hole, but they appear to be on the right track and hope to continue to lay the foundation toward competing in the AL within the next three or four years. There's nowhere to go but up.</p>
Post date: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 - 16:45
Path: /mlb/chicago-cubs-2012-preview-0
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Chicago Cubs

The headline writers in Chicago had a field day about the Cubs' new “Theo-logy” when Theo Epstein was named the team's new president in October. As general manager of the Boston Red Sox, Epstein helped craft a team that broke an 86-year World Series drought in 2004. Now he's the boss of a team that hasn't won the big prize in 103 years. The team he inherited was a mess. The Cubs stumbled through a 71-91 season, with far too many dollars going to Carlos Zambrano, who was suspended by the team after quitting in August, and Alfonso Soriano, an aging outfielder who never became the 40-40 man the team hoped for when they signed him to an eight-year deal before the 2007 campaign. The new regime began cleaning up some of the mess in early January by dealing Zambrano to the Marlins, but turning the club into a consistent winner will likely take more than one year, so 2012 appears to be a season of adjustment. With new general manager Jed Hoyer, senior VP of scouting and player development Jason McLeod and new skipper Dale Sveum in place, Epstein believes he has a management team to lead the Cubs to a bright future. But the present “Theo-logy” is a little hazy.

Rotation
The Cubs had no choice but to part ways with Zambrano. The former staff ace, who had compiled a laundry list of controversial actions over the years, quit on his team after a game in Atlanta in August, prompting then-general manager Jim Hendry to suspend him the rest of the season and effectively end his tenure in Chicago. The Marlins agreed to take Zambrano in a deal for Chris Volstad, but the Cubs will be picking up a reported $15 million of the $18 million he is owed for the 2012 season. Matt Garza finished the 2011 season strong, but he is considered one of the best trading chips, so he probably won't finish the season in a Cubs uniform. Ryan Dempster returns as the likely No. 1 starter despite a 10-14 campaign in 2011. Randy Wells' lights-out August (4-0, 3.32 ERA) helped vault him to a 7-6 mark, which was a nice recovery after struggling in 2010 with an 8-14 mark. But he will start 2012 at Triple-A Iowa. The Cubs traded dependable setup man Sean Marshall to Cincinnati to bring the promising Travis Wood into the rotation. The young lefty will get a few starts at Triple-A before taking his place in the rotation full-time. Volstad, a first-round pick in 2005, struggled last season (5-13) after going 12-9 in 2010. Paul Maholm, who pitched well despite going just 6-14 last year in Pittsburgh, signed a one-year deal with a club option for 2013 in January. They will back Dempster and Garza for now. When Jeff Samardzija was drafted in 2006, the Cubs eyed him as being an effective starter, but he developed a niche as a late-inning reliever and finished with a career-high eight wins and career-best 2.97 ERA. But he's back in a starter's role.

Bullpen
With 10 blown saves and a career-worst 4.01 ERA, closer Carlos Marmol is coming off a rough 2011 season. He was demoted back to setup man for a little while. But he has 72 saves in the past two seasons and goes into spring training as the most experienced closer on the squad. Lefthander James Russell was 0-5 with a 9.33 ERA in five starts and 1-1 with a 2.19 ERA in 59 relief appearances, so he could work his way in as a top setup man. Scott Maine was effective at Iowa but up-and-down in seven major league appearances, posting a 10.29 ERA. Since the Cubs are in need of another southpaw in the pen, he may fill that need. Rafael Dolis showed promise in Double-A Tennessee, got a brief taste of the majors in September and appears to have earned a spot in the bullpen.

Middle Infield
Shortstop Starlin Castro led the National League with 207 hits and 29 errors. His defense can be both spectacular and maddening to Cubs fans - sometimes both in the same game. With experience and maturity will come stardom for Castro. At second base, Darwin Barney became a solid major league player, hitting .276, mostly batting second, in 143 games. He was the National League Rookie of the Month in April but tailed off after the All-Star Game.

Corners
Aramis Ramirez was the Opening Day third baseman for the Cubs for the past eight years, but he became a free agent and signed with Milwaukee, so the Cubs traded for Colorado's Ian Stewart, who had 25 homers in 2009 and 18 in 2010. But in 2011 he hit just .156 with no home runs in 48 games and was demoted to Triple-A Colorado Springs. The Cubs are hoping a change of scenery will help. At first base, the Cubs will turn to 29-year old Bryan LeHair - for the short term. They acquired power-hitting prospect Anthony Rizzo from San Diego, but the plan - for now - is to let Rizzo start in Triple-A. LaHair led all of minor league baseball last season with 38 home runs at Triple-A Iowa. He hit .288 in 20 games last year with the Cubs.

Outfield
The Cubs' outfield is solid, but unspectacular. Soriano is back in left field, and while his power numbers are decent (70 homers and 92 doubles the past three seasons), his batting average has dipped into the .240-.250 range. His defense in left field continues to be problematic. Marlon Byrd has 101 RBIs and 176 strikeouts in 271 games over two seasons with the Cubs. David DeJesus became the first free agent signing in the Epstein era and figures to patrol right field. He has a lifetime .284 batting average but hit just .240 with Oakland in 2011.

Catching
Which Geovany Soto will show up? Soto has never been able to match his 2008 NL Rookie of the Year season (.285 with 23 homers and 86 RBIs). He followed that season with an awful 2009 campaign (.218 with 11 homers and 47 RBIs), and has averaged only 17 home runs and 54 RBIs in the past two seasons. He committed a career-high 13 errors last year but threw out a National League-high 36 baserunners.

Bench
The Cubs parted ways with backup catcher Koyie Hill, who was with the organization for five years and was on the major league roster full-time the past three seasons. Steve Clevenger has taken that spot. Outfielder Reed Johnson hit .361 or better in three different months of the 2011 season and made some spectacular plays in the field. Outfielder Tony Campana provides speed in both the field and on the basepaths. Jeff Baker can play in both the infield and outfield and hit safely in 30 of his 45 starts. Infielder Blake DeWitt is a solid fielder and turned into a valuable pinch-hitter, batting .265 in 121 games. Journeyman Joe Mather provides another bat off the bench and can play the corner outfield positions.

Management
Third-year owner Tom Ricketts showed Cubs fans that he was serious about winning with his hires of Epstein and Co., and while the Wrigley faithful are sick of hearing about patience, the fans might be willing to endure a tough year or two if it means building a winner. With so many new executives in place, along with Sveum and a host of new coaches, this is clearly a transition year, and it would be a surprise if the newcomers could turn this team from a 71-game winner to a contender in one season. Sveum was blunt on his first day on the job and put the players on notice. “When you lose that many games, there are obviously problems,” he said. “Losing isn't OK. Not running a ball out isn't OK. It's unacceptable, and that has to be communicated.”

Final Analysis
On paper the roster appears to be filled with underachievers, players on the decline and question marks. Castro is a bona-fide star with a huge future ahead of him, but the surrounding cast isn't anything to get excited about. But with the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals losing Albert Pujols and the Milwaukee Brewers losing Prince Fielder, the Central Division doesn't seem to have a powerhouse team. If some of the veterans recover from tough 2011 campaigns and keep the team afloat for four months, management could become bold and aggressive in making trade-deadline deals to help the Cubs contend. However, if the team struggles early, Epstein and Co. will begin to take a look at the younger players in the system and part ways with the veterans.

 

 

 

 

Batting Order
RF David DeJesus (L)
Has never played in Wrigley Field but should shore up the top of the lineup.
2B Darwin Barney (R)
Had 90 hits before the All-Star Game in 2011 but struggled after that.
SS Starlin Castro (R)
The sky is the limit for someone who has accomplished so much before turning 22.
1B Bryan LaHair (R)
Career minor leaguer is keeping the seat warm for newly acquired prospect Anthony Rizzo.
LF Alfonso Soriano (R)
His speed is gone; his contract is immovable; will he ever hit 30-plus homers again?
CF Marlon Byrd (R)
Suffered horrific face injury when he was hit with a pitch May 21 and had mixed results after return in July.
3B Ian Stewart (L)
Cubs are crossing their fingers 26-year-old can return to 25-homer form of 2009.
C Geovany Soto (R)
Roller coaster career needs an upswing this year in a lineup full of question marks.

Bench
OF Tony Campana (L)
Stole a team-high 24 bases in 26 attempts in only 95 games in 2011.
OF Reed Johnson (R)
Hit .309, slugged .467 in his second go-round with the Cubs last year.
C Steve Clevenger (L)
Provides a left-handed complement to Soto.
INF Jeff Baker (R)
Started at five different positions last year and was a DH in three games against American League teams.
INF Blake Dewitt (L)
Valuable member of the bench; drove in 10 runs as a pinch-hitter for the Cubs last year.
OF Joe Mather
Former Cardinal and Brave can provide pop off the bench.

Rotation
RH Ryan Dempster
Has thrown 200-plus innings four years in a row since moving from closer back to starter.
RH Matt Garza
Has averaged 11 wins and 198 innings over the last four seasons.
RH Chris Volstad
Batters hit .289 against the 6'8" former first-round pick en route to a 13-loss season with the Marlins.
LH Paul Maholm
Lost 14 games in Pittsburgh in '11 but had a career-best 3.66 ERA and only allowed 160 hits in 162.1 IP.
RH Jeff Samardzija
Former Notre Dame receiver had best season as a Cub, winning eight games and posting a 2.97 ERA out of the bullpen.
RH Randy Wells
After an April 4 win, didn't get second victory until July 23; was 4-0 in August. Is expected to re-join the rotation by midseason.
LH Travis Wood
Cubs traded reliable reliever Sean Marshall for him and hope he will be around for a long time. His stay in Triple-A should be brief.

Bullpen
RH Carlos Marmol (Closer)
Blew 10 save opportunities last year; will he get his spot as closer back?
RH Kerry Wood
Veteran re-signed with the Cubs in mid-January; struck out 57 batters in 51 innings last season.
LH James Russell
Struggled as a starter but was brilliant as a middle reliever in 2011.
RH Rafael Dolis
Another minor league starter who has found success as a reliever.
LH Scott Maine
Showed promise at Triple-A but was inconsistent in seven major league appearances. Currently the best candidate in the system to be the extra lefty.

Teaser:
<p> With so many new executives in place, along with manager Dale Sveum and a host of new coaches, this is clearly a transition year, and it would be a surprise if the newcomers could turn this team from a 71-game winner to a contender in one season.</p>
Post date: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 - 18:17
Path: /mlb/washington-nationals-2012-preview-0
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Washington Nationals


The Nationals ended the 2011 season with their best record since their first year in Washington, a healthy Stephen Strasburg and plenty of reasons to be optimistic about their chances to compete in the NL East in 2012. That feeling might have been dampened somewhat by the aggressive moves the Marlins made during the offseason, but for the first time since their surprise pennant chase in 2005, the Nationals aren't an afterthought in the division. They'll have a healthy Strasburg with Jordan Zimmermann and Gio Gonzalez, whom the Nationals acquired in a five-player trade with Oakland last December. A rotation like that makes them a wild card dark horse.

Rotation
It's been a long time since the Nationals have gone into a season hoping for anything other than mediocrity from their rotation. With Strasburg, Zimmermann and Gonzalez at the front of the group, the Nationals could have one of the best young pitching staffs in the game. The team has been waiting for a healthy Strasburg since his sensational 2010 rookie season ended with a torn elbow ligament. He pitched very well in five starts last September and will likely be the Opening Day starter. Zimmermann, who also had Tommy John surgery in August 2009, came back strong last year, posting a 3.18 ERA in 161.1 innings. The Nationals traded four players to get Gonzalez from Oakland, but the 26-year-old lefthander could turn out to be worth it; he's had a sub-3.25 ERA each of the last two years. Edwin Jackson should prove to be one of the best No. 4 starters in the game. He has a string of five seasons of 31-plus starts with five different organizations. Over the past three seasons, he's averaged 208 innings and 12 wins. Not bad numbers from the fourth spot in the rotation. John Lannan will man the fifth spot, at least until Chien-Ming Wang recovers from a balky hamstring.

Bullpen
The Nationals' relief corps has been the strongest part of the team for the past two seasons, and there's no reason to think that it won't be solid again in 2012, although it may get off to a slow start. Drew Storen, who had 43 saves in his first season as closer, has experienced some elbow soreness and will begin the season on the disabled list. He shouldn't miss more than a few weeks. The righthander developed better control of his fastball as the year went on, which made his slider even more effective. He'll be helped by roommate Tyler Clippard, whose outstanding performance as the setup man helped him earn his first All-Star nod in 2011. Clippard became Washington's option in all kinds of tense situations, and his rising fastball and odd arm action helped him strike out 104 batters in 88.1 innings. Washington signed Brad Lidge to fill the seventh-inning role, but he may be called on to close a few games until Storen returns. The Nationals also have hard-throwing Henry Rodriguez, who was effective at the end of the season when he developed better control, and Sean Burnett, who was the team's best reliever in 2010 and pitched well late last season after struggling early. With those relievers, as well as Ryan Mattheus and recent acquisition Ryan Perry, the Nationals have plenty of power arms to back up their improving rotation. Lefthanders Ross Detwiler and Tom Gorzelanny will complete the pen.

Middle Infield
If there's one area where the Nationals have some unknowns, it's here. They have two talented young players in shortstop Ian Desmond and second baseman Danny Espinosa, but each one has some questions to answer after the 2011 season. It's likely Desmond will begin the season in the leadoff spot, where he hit well at the end of last season, but he got off to a slow start and wound up hitting eighth early in the year. The Nationals also want to see him continue to cut down on his errors; he committed 23 in 2011 after 34 in 2010. Espinosa set a major league record for homers by a rookie second baseman in the first half of the season, blasting 16 before the All-Star break. But he wore down, hitting only five homers in the second half. Still, Espinosa (who finished sixth in the NL Rookie of the Year race) has the chance to be a special player in his second season. The Nationals have plenty of talent and athleticism up the middle. They'd just like to see more consistency and plate discipline.

Corners
One of the reasons for the Nationals' optimism in 2012 is the presence of a healthy Ryan Zimmerman. The third baseman missed nearly two months in 2011 after tearing an abdominal muscle, and he posted career lows in home runs (12) and RBIs (49). Zimmerman also tinkered with his throwing motion to prevent further injury and had developed a more consistent delivery by the end of the year. The Nationals will also welcome the return of Adam LaRoche, who was gone for the season by May. LaRoche developed a tear in his shoulder in spring training and had surgery to repair a torn labrum. He hit just .172 in 43 games, unable to turn on pitches he would normally be able to drive. He played impressive defense, though, and can probably be counted on for 20-25 home runs if he's healthy. Chris Marrero, who played well in a call-up last September, tore his hamstring playing in the Dominican winter league and could miss a good chunk of the season.

Outfield
At the beginning of last season, the Nationals were counting on Jayson Werth to carry their lineup and were simply hoping Michael Morse could continue making progress after a surprising 2010 season. By the end of it, Morse was finishing a breakout campaign, getting himself on a pair of MVP ballots, while Werth was slogging through a disappointing first year of his $126 million contract. The Nationals will have to hope he rebounds in 2012, both to justify his enormous contract and to fortify a lineup that was too often unable to come up with big hits in 2011. Morse, who was the Nationals' best offensive player in 2011, could see himself shuttled around to a number of different positions in 2012. Morse could start in left or right field, and could also see time at first base if LaRoche isn't fully recovered from shoulder surgery. That is, after Morse himself recovers from a torn lat. Roger Bernadina will get the first crack at the center field job, though it's possible Rick Ankiel will play quite a bit. At some point - and likely this season - the Nationals must make room in center field for the 19-year-old Bryce Harper. He is starting the season at Triple-A Syracuse to hone his skills in center, but it wouldn't be a surprise to see him in the nation's capital by mid-May.

Catching
The Nationals had accumulated a stable of young catchers in recent years but had never really trusted the position to one of them. That will likely change in 2012, when Wilson Ramos gets most of the playing time. Ramos, who finished fourth in the NL Rookie of the Year race, gives the Nationals a potent bat and solid arm behind the plate. He'll be backed up by Jesus Flores, the one-time catcher of the future who has been relegated to reserve duty because of injuries. Flores, though, is a good hitter with men on base and could start if Ramos got hurt. He could also be a trade chip.

Bench
Manager Davey Johnson wanted the Nationals to add more offense to their bench at the end of 2011. But other than Mark DeRosa or Xavier Nady, it's questionable whether the team has that. Steve Lombardozzi could be a solid utility infielder. But the Nationals still lack a difference-making bat for the late innings. When Morse is healthy, Ankiel provides an athletic fourth outfielder.

Management
Johnson, who took over last June when Jim Riggleman abruptly resigned, got the Nationals playing well at the end of the season and decided to return for 2012 at age 69. His handling of the bullpen can be odd at times - his practice of keeping two long relievers seems a bit dated and occasionally left him with poor matchups last year - but he has the respect of his players and the cachet that comes with a World Series ring. In bench coach Randy Knorr and third base coach Bo Porter, Johnson could be grooming a pair of potential successors for when he eventually decides to step down. But at the end of last season, he seemed like a man who wanted to enjoy the ride a little longer.

Final Analysis
As tough as the Marlins have made the NL East, and as many questions as the Nationals could still have about the middle of their lineup, it's possible the team is still a year and a couple moves away from really making noise. But there's enough here, particularly in the rotation and the bullpen, that it's not hard to see the team making a push if Werth rebounds and Desmond helps the team solve its long-standing problem at the top of the lineup. Consider the Nationals a candidate to win 80-85 games, keep themselves on the periphery of the playoff race - especially considering two wild cards - and create a legitimate buzz about baseball in the nation's capital for the first time since the team's inaugural 2005 season in Washington.

 

 


 

Batting Order
SS Ian Desmond (R)
Improved toward the end of the season to raise average to .253; will get first shot to lead off.
2B Danny Espinosa (S)
Nationals will look for more consistency in his second year; has power, great range and arm.
3B Ryan Zimmerman (R)
Team's best player missed 61 games in 2011; looking for big year after abdominal surgery.
LF Michael Morse (R)
Hit .303 with 31 homers in breakout season; might be Nationals' best power hitter. Will start the season on the shelf.
RF Jayson Werth (R)
Needs to rebound after disappointing 2011 and show he's worth his $126 million deal; hit .232 with 20 homers.
1B Adam LaRoche (L)
Back from shoulder surgery, he's looking to get back to typical production; .265, 20-25 homers, 85 RBIs.
C Wilson Ramos (R)
Finished fourth in NL Rookie of the Year vote; could hit 16-18 homers with solid defense behind the plate.
CF Roger Bernadina (L)
Tons of talent, but can he ever put it together? Probably his last chance with Washington to play consistently.

Bench
OF Rick Ankiel (L)
The athletic defensive outfielder had just one home run in 88 plate appearances against lefties last season.
1B/OF Xavier Nady (R)
Went homerless in 110 plate appearances vs. righthanders last year.
INF Mark DeRosa (R)
He can play anywhere, but hasn't played much recently; only 73 games in the past two years, and one homer.
C Jesus Flores (R)
Might still be able to play every day after two years of injuries, but won't get the chance with Ramos on board.
INF Steve Lombardozzi (S)
Struggled in September call-up, but son of former major leaguer can draw walks and play middle infield.

Rotation
RH Stephen Strasburg
The phenom returns; he'll pitch around 150 innings, but could strike out 150 batters in that time.
LH Gio Gonzalez
After winning 31 games the last two years in Oakland, he comes to the NL.
RH Jordan Zimmermann
Ranked 10th in NL with 3.18 ERA last year; won't have an innings limit after coming back from Tommy John.
RH Edwin Jackson
Cardinals won seven of his last 10 starts down the stretch last season as he went 4-1 with a 3.14 ERA.
LH John Lannan
Won 10 games for first time in 2011, had career-low 3.70 ERA. Not great stuff, but a solid No. 5 starter.

Bullpen
RH Drew Storen (Closer)
Saved 43 games in first full year as closer; has great stuff, and showed he could handle a big workload. A sore elbow will keep him out for a few weeks.
RH Tyler Clippard
Rode funky mechanics and rising fastball to stellar season and first All-Star Game.
RH Brad Lidge
Healthy for only 19.1 innings last season, he still averaged more than a strikeout per inning.
RH Henry Rodriguez
If he can control his fastball, he can be a good late-inning reliever.
LH Sean Burnett
Nationals' best reliever in 2010; came back strong at end of 2011 after struggling early.
RH Ryan Mattheus
In deep bullpen, could pitch in middle relief, but has potential for more.
RH Ryan Perry
Big fastball and questionable control. Came over in trade from Tigers; probably a mop-up man to start.
LH Tom Gorzelanny
Pitched well in long relief (2-0, 2.42 ERA in relief) after being bounced from rotation.
LH Ross Detwiler
The 2007 first-round draft pick is still a candidate for the rotation.

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

Teaser:
<p> The Nationals ended the 2011 season with their best record since their first year in Washington, a healthy Stephen Strasburg and plenty of reasons to be optimistic about their chances to compete in the NL East in 2012.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 2, 2012 - 23:32
Path: /mlb/philadelphia-phillies-2012-preview-0
Body:

Philadelphia Phillies

An anguished Roy Halladay sat for what seemed like an eternity and stared blankly into his locker after the Phillies’ remarkable 2011 season ended in a painful 1–0 loss to St. Louis in Game 5 of the National League Division Series in early October. Less than two months later, Halladay’s fire began to burn again. “I’m ready to go try again,” he told manager Charlie Manuel in a Thanksgiving text message. “If we keep doing this, we’re going to win it one of these days.” The Phils won a franchise-best 102 games and a fifth straight NL East title in 2011, but they fell far short of the World Series title that was their goal. They’re not as young, physically sound or offensively explosive as they once were, but with a star-studded pitching staff they’re still plenty good enough to turn Halladay’s text message into gospel and go all the way in 2012.

Rotation 
It’s the best in baseball with Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels in the top three spots. The trio helped the Phils record the best starters’ ERA — 2.86 — in the majors last season. That was the best mark by any starting staff since 1985. The group’s 932 strikeouts were the most by a starting cast since 2003. Halladay, Lee and Hamels finished second, third and fifth, respectively, in NL Cy Young voting. Even on the cusp of his 35th birthday, Halladay remains one the game’s elites. He has recorded six straight seasons of 220-plus innings. In 2011, he held opposing clubs to three or fewer earned runs in 27 of 32 starts and never had a month with an ERA above 3.00. While consistency is Halladay’s calling card, Lee became a cult hero in Philly with some amazing highs. He made 10 combined starts in June and August and gave up a total of three runs. Three. His six shutouts were the most in the majors in a season since 1989. Halladay and Lee both fit the description of an ace. What sets the Phillies apart is that they have three aces. At 28, Hamels has already made 13 postseason starts. He had a career-best 2.79 ERA last season, and his best might still be to come. Between the ears, the lefthander has matured and sharpened his focus. On the mound, his arsenal of pitches now goes four deep with the addition of a cutter. Over the last three seasons, Hamels’ opponents’ batting average has shrunk from .273 to .237 to .214. A year away from a big free agent payday — the Phils would like to lock him up before then — Hamels seems primed for a big year. The balance of the rotation has youth and experience. Righthander Vance Worley is locked in after a strong rookie season in 2011. The club went 16–5 in his 21 starts. Joe Blanton spent most of 2011 rehabbing an elbow injury. If healthy, he’s a strong No. 5. If not, Kyle Kendrick will make the necessary spot starts.

Bullpen 
No team closed games better than the Phillies in 2011. Their 85.5 save percentage (47-for-55) was tops in the majors. In signing Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year $50 million contract — the richest ever for a reliever — the Phils took a strength and made it better. Papelbon averaged 36 saves for Boston over the last six seasons. He was 31-for-34 last year while striking out 87 and allowing just 50 hits and 10 walks in 64.1 innings. The setup role is a question mark. Hard-throwing lefty Antonio Bastardo was spectacular in the role for five months in 2011 but struggled with control and confidence in September. If Bastardo is over his growing pains, the eighth inning will be in good hands. Veteran righthander Chad Qualls has accumulated 20 or more saves or holds in six of the last seven seasons. But his best days are behind him. The Phils would love for the aging Jose Contreras to come back strong from elbow surgery. Kendrick, Mike Stutes, David Herndon and Justin De Fratus will all have a chance to earn innings. This could be an area of flux during the season, but the ninth inning shouldn’t be a problem with Papelbon responsible for the final three outs.

Middle Infield
With their bats and gloves, shortstop Jimmy Rollins and second baseman Chase Utley, both 33, have been pillars on which the best era of Phillies baseball has been built. But as they begin their ninth season together, they are on the downside. Don’t misunderstand: Both players still have good tread on their tires, but they must stay on the field, and that’s been a challenge the last two seasons. Rollins, a player who relies on his legs, has been on the disabled list three times with nagging leg injuries, while Utley has missed significant time with a pair of more serious injuries. Chronic right knee tendinitis forced Utley to miss the first 46 games in 2011, and he did not drive the ball with his usual force when he returned. His batting average (.259) and OPS (.769) were both career lows for a full season. Utley’s knees are not healthy enough for him to start the season. He’s adamant that he does not need surgery, but it appears he will be on the DL for a prolonged period. Rookie Freddy Galvis appears capable of keeping the position warm until Utley can return, but unlike Utley, Galvis will not be a major factor offensively.

Corners 
This is another area that illustrates the fragile health of this team. First baseman Ryan Howard and third baseman Placido Polanco are both rebounding from offseason surgery. Howard, one of the game’s premier power bats, will begin a five-year, $125 million contract extension on the disabled list after blowing out his left Achilles tendon on his last swing of 2011, which was also the final out of the NLDS. He should be back around midseason, but not in time to make a run at a seventh straight 30-homer, 100-RBI season. Ty Wigginton is the beneficiary of Howard’s injury. The veteran is with his seventh franchise and has averaged 444 at-bats with 18 homers and 56 RBIs over the past four seasons with Houston, Baltimore and Colorado. The Phils’ offense is in need of a contact hitter. Polanco is that kind of guy, but age (36) and health risks — he was plagued by a bad back and a sports hernia in 2011 — are definite concerns.

Outfield 
With Shane Victorino in center and Hunter Pence and John Mayberry Jr. on the corners, this is where the team’s best young athleticism resides. Victorino had a career-best .847 OPS in 2011. Defensively, he can run down any ball and throws with the best of them. Two-time All-Star Pence brings an energetic spark and much-needed, potent right-handed bat to the lineup. Mayberry Jr. has the look of a late-bloomer. The 28-year-old former first-round pick opened eyes by hitting .309 with 10 homers and 34 RBIs over his last 55 games in 2011. He gets first dibs on left field, and his ability to play first base will come in handy as Howard mends. With Howard and Utley out, the three outfielders will carry a much heavier load this season.

Catching 
Every good pitching staff needs a rock behind the plate, and the Phils have one in Carlos Ruiz. His 3.06 catcher’s ERA was the majors’ best in 2011. The staff swears by him and seldom shakes him off. When Halladay won the NL Cy Young in 2010, he bought Ruiz a replica of the trophy. Veteran backup Brian Schneider, impressive in breaking in Worley in 2011, is back.

Bench 
This unit received a makeover as general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. looked for health insurance and power. He signed left-handed-hitting Laynce Nix who could play himself into a left field platoon. Fan favorite Jim Thome is back to finish his Cooperstown-destined career as a pinch-hitter and occasional first baseman. Pete Orr has become the team’s supersub, capable of playing anywhere with a smile.

Management 
Manuel, the most successful manager in team history, begins his eighth season. You have to go back to Gene Mauch (1961-68) to find a longer-tenured Phillies skipper. Manuel has been backed by some of the best talent in franchise history, big payrolls and an aggressive front office that traded 17 prospects the last four years to acquire Halladay, Lee, Pence, Blanton and Roy Oswalt. Amaro likes to strike big at the trade deadline. Keep an eye on July 29. He landed Lee, Oswalt and Pence on that day over the last three seasons, respectively.

Final Analysis
Age continues to creep up on this club. The offense isn’t as scary as it used to be, and the division has gotten better. Still, there are a lot of teams that would like to have the Phils’ problems. Barring injury, they should ride this pitching staff into the postseason once again.

 

 


 

Batting Order
SS Jimmy Rollins (S)
Philly’s longest-tenured pro athlete ranks fifth in franchise history with 1,636 games.
3B Placido Polanco (R)
Led NL third basemen in fielding pct. (.977) for second straight year in 2011.
CF Shane Victorino (S)
Had an errorless season (296 total chances) while making second All-Star team in 2011.
RF Hunter Pence (R)
Tied for the NL lead with 57 multi-hit games and batted .339 with RISP in 2011.
1B Ty Wigginton (R)
Hit just .163 (20 for 123) with runners in scoring position for Colorado in 2011. Takes over first base while Ryan Howard recuperates.
LF John Mayberry Jr. (R)
Slugged .597 in his final 55 games in 2011; 15 homers in 104 games.
C Carlos Ruiz (R)
Not known for offense, but has hit .292 with 93 RBIs last two seasons.
2B Freddy Galvis (S)
A career .246 hitter in the minor leagues batted .298 in 33 games at Triple-A last season.

Bench
1B Jim Thome (L)
Ranks eighth all-time in homers (604) and 26th in RBIs (1,674). Will get a few spot starts at first base against righthanders.
OF Laynce Nix (L)
Newcomer had a career-high 16 homers for Washington in 2011, all against righthanders.
C Brian Schneider (L)
Steady veteran is back for his third season with the club.
INF Pete Orr (L)
Veteran can play both infield and outfield until Chase Utley can return.
UT Michael Martinez (S)
Rule 5 pick made 48 starts at five different positions as a rookie in 2011. A broken foot will keep him on the DL for most of the year.
1B Ryan Howard (L)
Has eight homers, 33 RBIs and one torn Achilles in 46 career postseason games. His return by the All-Star break is a bit optimistic.
2B Chase Utley (L)
Has played 1,038 games at second base, most in franchise history, but knee trouble has put that count on hold.

Rotation
RH Roy Halladay
Had career-high 220 strikeouts in 2011 while leading NL with eight complete games.
LH Cliff Lee
Reached career highs in strikeouts (238) and innings (232.2) in 2011.
LH Cole Hamels
His 2.62 ERA since 2010 All-Star Break is fifth-best among MLB pitchers with 300-plus innings.
RH Vance Worley
Was first in ERA (3.01) and second in wins (11) among NL rookies with at least 15 starts in 2011.
RH Joe Blanton
Elbow problems limited him to a career-low 11 games in 2011.

Bullpen
RH Jonathan Papelbon (Closer)
His 88.3 save percentage (219-for-248) the last six years is sixth-best in baseball.
LH Antonio Bastardo
Held opponents to a .144 batting average in 2011, lowest by a Phils’ reliever since 1920.
RH Chad Qualls
Veteran will be primary right-handed setup man.
RH Mike Stutes
Had 2.08 ERA in first 23 games in 2011, 4.46 in next 34.
RH Jose Contreras
Opened 2011 with 12 scoreless appearances before elbow injury. Will open 2012 on the DL.
RH Kyle Kendrick
Unheralded swingman had a 3.14 ERA in 15 starts in 2011.

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

Teaser:
<p> The Phillies are not as young, physically sound or offensively explosive as they once were, but with a star-studded pitching staff they’re still plenty good enough to turn Halladay’s text message into gospel and go all the way in 2012.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 2, 2012 - 17:44
Path: /mlb/new-york-mets-2012-preview-0
Body:

New York Mets

The Phillies rule the division. The Braves are loaded with pitching. The Marlins spent big in the winter. And the Nationals have dynamic young stars. The Mets? They’ll show up — as long as they keep getting loans to keep the business up and running, anyway. There’s little reason for optimism at Citi Field, where attendance is slipping fast and only blind loyalists expect the Mets to avoid the basement of the National League East.

Rotation 
For all of their injury woes, the Mets somehow had five starters make at least 25 starts apiece last season, which is often a predictor of success. Problem was, their five were decidedly mediocre, going 50–55, with only one starter, knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, posting an ERA below 4.40. Four of the five will return this season, with ace Johan Santana taking the place of Chris Capuano, a one-year fill-in who led the team in strikeouts and then signed with the Dodgers. Serious shoulder surgery limited Santana to only two starts for Class A St. Lucie last season, and the Mets are cautiously hopeful that he will be ready for Opening Day. That may be asking too much, but it seems at least as likely as Dillon Gee, Jonathon Niese and Mike Pelfrey all rising from back- to front-end kind of starters. Gee, Niese and Pelfrey struggled on the road, and they could be exposed this season, with outfield fences now normalized at Citi Field. Dickey, improbably, is the old reliable, finishing the season with 12 quality starts in a row. At $4.25 million this season, Dickey is doubly rare for the Mets: a good player, and an actual bargain.

Bullpen 
The Mets needed a bullpen makeover after their 2011 group posted a 4.33 ERA to rank 28th out of 30 teams, ahead of only the Astros and the Twins. So in a market rich with closers, the Mets decided it was wiser to spread their limited funds on multiple arms rather than one big name for the ninth inning. To that end, they signed Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco while trading for Ramon Ramirez, all on the same night at the winter meetings. Rauch and Ramirez (one of the most underrated and reliable relievers of the last few years) should be capable setup men for Francisco, who cost $12 million over two years after a dominant second half with Toronto. Francisco is a hard thrower, combining a splitter with a fastball that averages more than 94 miles per hour. He has 368 career strikeouts in 334 career innings. Holdovers Manny Acosta and Bobby Parnell offer depth in the middle innings. Tim Byrdak, a useful lefty, will miss the first month with a tron meniscus. D.J. Carrasco and Pedro Beato offer depth.

Middle Infield
The Mets made little effort to retain Jose Reyes, understanding that they could never match the motivated, cash-rich Miami Marlins. So Reyes moved on, for six years and $106 million, leaving the Mets with Ruben Tejada in his place. As backup plans go, it’s not too bad — Tejada is only 22 and had a .360 on-base percentage while accumulating 376 plate appearances last season. At second base, the Mets want Daniel Murphy’s bat in the lineup and will do all they can to make the position feel natural to him. Last spring, Murphy hop-scotched around the infield and did not have a set position. “This spring going in,” manager Terry Collins says, “if we concentrate and say, ‘Hey, look, you’re going to get the majority of your playing time at second base,’ I think you’re going to see a little bit more comfort when he takes the field.”

Corners 
Owner Fred Wilpon stung David Wright early last season by telling The New Yorker that Wright was not a superstar. It was a rude thing to say about the team’s marquee player, who never seems to turn down a charity appearance on behalf of the team — but it was pretty much accurate. Before the Mets moved to Citi Field, Wright had four consecutive seasons with an OPS of .912 or better. In the three years at their new home, his highest OPS is .856. The Mets have brought in the fences this season, which could help Wright rediscover his opposite-field stroke, and they have to hope he moves better in the field after missing time last season with a stress fracture in his back. First baseman Ike Davis never played after May 10 because of a serious ankle injury, but he should be back and ready to resume his career as one of baseball’s top young first basemen. He lacks the power of slugging first basemen like Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, Albert Pujols and Mark Teixeira, but at 25, Davis’ career arc is headed in the right direction.

Outfield
In hindsight, the Mets’ four-year, $66 million contract for Jason Bay seems quite foolish, as his two Mets seasons have been disastrous. The Mets need Bay to be the offensive threat he once was, and maybe, with the smaller dimensions at home this season, he can again be the run producer a legitimate corner outfield should be. Bay has been adequate in left field, and the Mets believe they’ve improved defensively in center field with the addition of Andres Torres from the Giants. Torres helped the Giants win the 2010 World Series, but that seems like an aberration in an otherwise ordinary career. Right fielder Lucas Duda thrived after the trade of Carlos Beltran, hitting .315 with a .919 OPS over the final two months of the season. Duda is big and burly, but his bat earns him a spot in the lineup, and with Davis back at first base, right field is the best place to put him.

Catching 
Josh Thole was born Oct. 28, 1986, in Breese, Ill. That same day, in New York City, an estimated 2.2 million people lined the streets of Manhattan for a ticker-tape parade, exulting in the glory of the Mets’ World Series championship. Thole would love to be behind the plate the next time the Mets win a title, and at his age, he could have staying power. He held his own in 2011, with a .268 average and 40 runs batted in over 114 games as the Mets’ primary catcher. But while Thole caught 44 percent of potential base-stealers in 2010, that figure dropped to 21 percent with more exposure last season. Thole, who was mostly a first baseman early in his minor league career, also led the league in passed balls (16) and admitted to a lack of confidence on defense. Yet with no viable starter ready to supplant him in the system, the Mets will continue to trust in Thole and dream big dreams.

Bench 
The Mets have little reason to spend money on their bench, which seems likely to be filled by fringe major leaguers and prospects or non-roster invitees who make a good impression in Port St. Lucie this spring. Justin Turner could see some playing time at second base, although Ronny Cedeno will be the primary middle infielder off the bench. Scott Hairston is a valuable pinch-hitter with some pop who can play multiple positions. Mike Baxter will get some opportunities to pinch-hit.

Management 
The Mets might not win many games, but it won’t be for lack of effort. Collins demands it, and his team displayed plenty of grit to even flirt with .500 last season. General manager Sandy Alderson and a sharp baseball operations staff will try to give Collins pieces to keep the team respectable enough to get the fans back. The Wilpons continue to seek investors while maintaining majority control of a franchise that incurred $70 million in losses last year.

Final Analysis
Until the Mets completely settle their shaky finances, they will continue to avoid pricey additions, making the development of their mediocre farm system critically important. The upside is that their prospects should have plenty of opportunity to prove themselves, as Davis and Duda have done in recent seasons. But there’s hardly enough star power to make the Mets a playoff contender. The Mets already squandered the Reyes era without reaching the World Series. Wright is a proud company man, but at this point he seems to be lingering by the exit.

 

 

 

 

Batting Order
CF Andres Torres (S)
Profiles as a classic fourth outfielder who overachieved in 2010, but Mets will see if he’s more.
2B Daniel Murphy (L)
Will work extensively on the fundamentals of second base, to keep bat in lineup and avoid further injury.
3B David Wright (R)
If traded, his option for 2013 is voided and he can be a free agent after the 2012 season.
RF Lucas Duda (L)
Must get really tired of opposing PA announcers playing “Camptown Races” when he bats.
LF Jason Bay (R)
His 18 homers in two Mets seasons are half the total he hit for Boston in 2009.
1B Ike Davis (L)
Had 20 RBIs in month of April, one of only 12 Mets ever to do so.
C Josh Thole (L)
After a slow start, hit .299 from May 26 through the end of last season.
SS Ruben Tejada (R)
If he can maintain his .360 OBP from 2011, he could rise to the top of the order.

Bench
UT Scott Hairston (R)
Can play second base or any outfield spot and provides some pop — hit seven HRs in 132 ABs in 2011.
2B Justin Turner (R)
Hit .350 (35-for-100) with runners in scoring position last season.
C Mike Nickeas (R)
Didn’t hit much at Class AAA, but manager Terry Collins likes his defense and attitude.
IF Ronny Cedeno
A .246 career hitter, but a solid defender at both short and second.
1B/OF Mike Baxter
Queens native has played in 709 minor league games, 31 games in the majors.

Rotation
LH Johan Santana
After a year lost to shoulder surgery, how close can he be to the ace of old?
RH R.A. Dickey
Knuckleballer took a while to establish himself, but has many good years ahead.
RH Mike Pelfrey
Handed the Opening Day starting job last season — and proved he’s not an ace.
LH Jonathon Niese
Intercostal strain ended a promising season in August; can he move beyond a .500 pitcher?
RH Dillon Gee
Opponents’ batting average went up every month from June through September.

Bullpen
RH Frank Francisco (Closer)
New closer’s ERA was 5.92 at the All-Star break in 2011, but 1.37 thereafter.
RH D.J. Carrasco
Had a September to forget, allowing 21 hits in only seven innings.
LH Tim Byrdak
Across 415 career games, lefties are hitting just .206 off the former Rice Owl, but a torn meniscus will keep him out for a month or so.
RH Pedro Beato
Rule 5 pick started his MLB career with streak of 18.2 innings without allowing an earned run. Likely to start the season on the DL.
RH Bobby Parnell
Flamethrower averaged more than a strikeout per inning for first time in career.
RH Manny Acosta
Has a 3.22 ERA in 85 games for the Mets last two seasons, with more strikeouts than innings.
RH Ramon Ramirez
Of the six pitchers with at least 275 appearances since 2008, Ramirez has the lowest ERA, at 2.77.
RH Jon Rauch
Physically imposing at 6'10", 290 pounds, but fastball averaged just 89.5 MPH 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

Teaser:
<p> There’s little reason for optimism at Citi Field, where attendance is slipping fast and only blind loyalists expect the Mets to avoid the basement of the National League East.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 2, 2012 - 17:04
Path: /mlb/miami-marlins-2012-preview-0
Body:

Miami Marlins

It was the spending spree heard ’round the baseball world. In the span of a few dizzying December days, the newly recast Miami Marlins shelled out $191 million to sign three prominent free agents. And that outlay would have been even richer if Albert Pujols and/or C.J. Wilson hadn’t spurned the Marlins to sign with the Angels instead. In the process, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria didn’t just bring Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell into the crowded South Florida sports scene. Loria also served notice that these new Marlins would be doing business in a very different sort of way. With a new 37,000-seat, retractable-roof ballpark set to open this season in downtown Miami, the Marlins have gone from the team with the worst lease in baseball and a starter-kit payroll to a legitimate factor in the annual race for top-shelf talent. And to think, when Ozzie Guillen was brought in as the new manager to succeed the retiring Jack McKeon at season’s end, one of the first questions was about ownership’s willingness to spend on player payroll.

Rotation
One of the biggest reasons the Marlins lost 90 games in 2011, second-most in Loria’s nine seasons as owner, was another disappointing performance by the starting rotation. Signing Buehrle, author of 11 straight 200-inning seasons, to a four-year, $58 million contract, was a great place to start. But if the Marlins want to finish higher than 12th in ERA as a rotation — which is where their 4.23 ERA and 42–60 cumulative record landed them last season — they will need to keep ace righthander Josh Johnson healthy. Johnson was limited to just nine starts last season as his comeback from early season shoulder woes kept getting pushed back. The Marlins made a splash in early January by shipping Chris Volstad to Chicago for embattled starter Carlos Zambrano. The team is hoping that Zambrano, who went 9–7 with a 4.82 ERA with the Cubs before he was suspended in August, will thrive playing for his friend, Guillen. He’s a risk, though the Cubs are paying a reported $15 million of his $18 million salary in 2012. Ricky Nolasco, who signed a three-year extension before last season, tested the club’s patience with his erratic showings. However, Nolasco still led the staff with 206 innings. Anibal Sanchez has put together back-to-back seasons of 195-plus innings for the first time in his injury-plagued career and appears to have turned the corner.

Bullpen
Sixteen closers have reached the 40-save mark over the past three seasons, but Bell is the only one to do it three years running. That, along with Bell’s degree from the Trevor Hoffman School of Closer Leadership, made it seem a little more sensible to authorize a three-year, $27 million deal for the former Padres closer. That’s two-and-a-half times what the Marlins had ever paid their primary closer going into a season. Juan Oviedo, formerly Leo Nuñez, was displaced by the Bell signing and should become the primary setup man. Righthanders Edward Mujica, Ryan Webb and Steve Cishek and veteran lefties Randy Choate and Michael Dunn will round out the bullpen.

Middle Infield
Reyes should be a defensive upgrade over Hanley Ramirez, who still managed to lead the team in errors (14) despite missing 70 games last year. Pairing Reyes with second baseman Omar Infante, who re-upped for two years at $8 million total, should give the Marlins a chance to shine up the middle. Infante ranked fourth in range factor among all big league second basemen, a tribute in part to longtime infield guru Perry Hill, who retired after the season. Offensively, Reyes is just the dynamic sort of leadoff presence Guillen wanted for his lineup. However, the Marlins training staff will have to do a better job of keeping him on the field than their Mets counterparts did over the years.

Corners
Don’t believe the hype. No, Ramirez didn’t demand a trade or a fat contract extension in the wake of the Reyes signing. That’s not to say Ramirez was ecstatic about being asked to change positions after six full seasons in the majors, but he’s professional enough to understand what’s at stake this season — both personally and for this franchise. Coming off surgery on his left shoulder will make it tougher for Ramirez to make the transition to the hot corner, but he’s a good enough athlete to figure it out. If he does it sooner than later, the left side of the Marlins’ infield should have ridiculous range. Gaby Sanchez returns at first base after the push for Pujols fell about $50 million short. There won’t be any hard feelings there, not after Sanchez followed his first All-Star selection with a miserable second half at the plate. Defensively, Sanchez has come a long way from prior experiments at third and behind the plate in the minors.

Outfield
What opened the year as the third-youngest outfield trio since 1990 still has a bright future. Who occupies the middle spot in that future, however, has become an open question after injuries and lost momentum got Chris Coghlan sent back to Triple-A. The former NL Rookie of the Year (2009) will have to battle Emilio Bonifacio and Bryan Petersen for the job. The good news is that Mike Stanton returns in right field — this time as Giancarlo Stanton — and Logan Morrison, borderline tweets and all, is due back in left. That pair combined for 38 percent of the Marlins’ power production. Stanton is expected to take dead aim on that quirky, light-up sculpture the team is planning to unveil in left-center field at the new ballpark. He certainly figures to be the one to make it spin and blink more than anyone else in Marlins colors.

Catching
John Buck’s offense was about what most expected it would be after he was signed away from Toronto and the hitter-friendly American League. He still gave the Marlins the defense and staff leadership they hoped for when they gave him a three-year, $18 million deal. That 17 percent success rate against opposing base-stealers needs work, though, as a whopping 83 bags were swiped on his watch. In Buck’s defense, he caught a career-high 1,144 innings and was working for the first time in the South Florida heat.

Bench
The best place for Bonifacio, considering his versatility, is probably the same super-utility role he’s held the past few years. However, in light of his offensive growth, he will be given a chance to secure the starting job in center field. If that happens, Donnie Murphy could be the main option at utility infield, with Petersen and Scott Cousins back for outfield depth. Backup catcher Brett Hayes is a glove-first type whose bat likely limits his upside, but he handled himself well in his first full big league season. Greg Dobbs signed a two-year deal in January to serve as the team’s primary left-handed pinch hitter.

Management
How different was this Marlins offseason? Put it this way: That $191 million was just $3 million shy of what the Marlins had spent to field their entire teams the previous five years (2007-11). Most of that change, no doubt, was tied to the new revenue streams that will accompany the long-awaited ballpark. However, there’s no denying the magnetic pull of Guillen. His strong relationship with Buehrle helped lure the durable lefty away from the Midwest, and his reputation as a player’s manager was cited by Reyes and Bell upon their signings as well. The front-office team of Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill and personnel man Dan Jennings has had to do more with less for so long that it should be interesting to see what kind of damage they can do now that the spending field has been evened up a bit.

Final Analysis
For all the hype about the Marlins’ offseason spending, the biggest factor in their ability to roar out of the NL East basement is the health of a pair of holdovers. Get 30 starts out of Johnson atop the rotation and 500 at-bats from a motivated Ramirez at third, and the possibilities for 2012 start to look pretty bright. If nothing else, having Guillen as the daily public spokesman for the franchise will keep them relevant and entertaining, regardless of the standings. After acting like a small-market franchise for virtually all of their two-decade existence, it’s a refreshing change to see the Marlins fall in line with such big-spending Miami brethren as the Heat and the Dolphins. Perhaps that third World Series crown isn’t as far off as some had started to believe.

 

 

 


Batting Order
SS Jose Reyes (S)
His addition gives Marlins two of the past three NL batting champions.
2B Omar Infante (R)
Slick fielder with range who led the league with 17 sacrifice bunts.
3B Hanley Ramirez (R)
His .243 average was down nearly 100 points from his career-high .342 mark in 2009.
RF Giancarlo Stanton (R)
Prodigious power hitter ranked fifth in the NL with 34 homers.
LF Logan Morrison (L)
On-base percentage dipped 60 points during injury-plagued sophomore season.
1B Gaby Sanchez (R)
Of his 19 home runs in 2011, only six of them came in the second half.
C John Buck (R)
Ranked last in OPS among 14 NL catchers with at least 275 plate appearances.
CF Emilio Bonifacio (S)
Played six different positions last year, showing up everywhere but catcher and first base.

Bench
C Brett Hayes (R)
Has thrown out 28 percent of attempted base-stealers the past two seasons.
INF Donnie Murphy (R)
Right wrist injury wiped out four months of his 2011 season.
INF Greg Dobbs (L)
Posted a .919 OPS in 30 pinch-hit plate appearances last season.
OF Chris Coghlan (L)
Former NL Rookie of the Year has struggled with knee, defensive problems.
UT Austin Kearns (R)
Likely to fill the last roster spot.
OF Bryan Petersen (L)
Was successful on seven of eight stolen base attempts. Likely to be the odd man out.

Rotation
RH Josh Johnson
ERA has dropped four straight seasons, but must prove he can stay healthy after elbow, shoulder woes.
LH Mark Buehrle
Has produced 11 straight seasons of 200-plus innings since becoming a starter.
RH Ricky Nolasco
Led the National League in hits allowed with 244, one more than Chris Carpenter.
RH Carlos Zambrano
Three-time All-Star has plenty of baggage, but has the ability to win 15 games in Miami.
RH Anibal Sanchez
Led regular Marlins rotation in ERA and strikeouts, ranking sixth in the league in the latter category.

Bullpen
RH Heath Bell (Closer)
Only big league closer with 40 or more saves each of the past three seasons.
LH Randy Choate
Veteran specialist held lefties to .453 OPS before elbow injury shelved him in August.
RH Juan Oviedo
The deposed closer formerly known as Leo Nuñez averaged 30.7 saves the past three years.
LH Michael Dunn
Ex-Brave’s strikeout rate fell off by 24 percent de-spite staying in the NL East.
RH Edward Mujica
Strikeout/walk ratio of 4.5/1 was easily the best on the staff.
RH Steve Cishek
Durable sidewinder struck out 9.1 batters per nine innings in 2011.
RH Ryan Webb
Sinkerballer pitches to contact but keeps the ball in the park — gave up two HRs in 51 innings.

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
Teaser:
<p> It was the spending spree heard ’round the baseball world. In the span of a few dizzying December days, the newly recast Miami Marlins shelled out $191 million to sign three prominent free agents. After acting like a small-market franchise for virtually all of their two-decade existence, it’s a refreshing change to see the Marlins fall in line with such big-spending Miami brethren as the Heat and the Dolphins.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 2, 2012 - 16:42
Path: /mlb/atlanta-braves-2012-preview
Body:

Atlanta Braves

If not for the beer-drinking, chicken-eating pitchers’ scandal from the Red Sox clubhouse, the spotlight would have shined brighter on the Braves, who are also left to pick up the pieces from one of the most colossal September meltdowns in history. The Braves led the NL wild card by 8.5 games Sept. 5, only to lose it to the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals on the season’s final day. Unlike the Red Sox, who dumped Terry Francona, the Braves stuck by first-year manager Fredi Gonzalez, though the scrutiny in the post-Bobby Cox era will intensify. General manager Frank Wren didn’t make wholesale changes to the roster, saying that as it was constructed last Aug. 25, the Braves were on pace to win 96 games, with the fourth-best record in baseball. That thinking, and a lack of available funds, kept Wren from overhauling. With the Marlins having spent nearly $200 million on free agents to go along with a new manager and a new stadium, and the Nationals returning Stephen Strasburg and adding Gio Gonzalez to their rotation, the Braves will have company challenging the Phillies, who have won five straight NL East titles.

Rotation
Not many teams can lose two All-Star-caliber pitchers — Jair Jurrjens (knee) and Tommy Hanson (shoulder) — in the final two months of the season and make a playoff run, but that’s the depth the Braves have in their rotation. They have standout prospects Mike Minor, Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran vying for a fifth spot in the rotation and Tim Hudson’s replacement while the ace is recovering from back surgery. They also provide insurance for Jurrjens, who’s faded each of the last two seasons with knee problems; and Hanson, who is hoping offseason rest and rehab gets his shoulder back to 100 percent. Hudson expects to be ready by May 1 despite herniated disc surgery. Not completely satisfied with how the youngsters were progressing in the spring, the Braves signed veteran Livan Hernandez, who had been released by Houston. Derek Lowe went from a workhorse to a burden on the rotation last season — he failed to go six innings in seven of 14 starts in the second half and lost his last five starts — and was traded to the Indians in a salary-dumping move. Had the Braves made the postseason, Brandon Beachy would have been their No. 2 starter. He’ll have to pitch deeper in games to improve on seven wins in 25 starts in 2011.

Bullpen
The Braves return NL Rookie of the Year Craig Kimbrel and his rookie-record 46 saves to anchor the bullpen. He blew eight saves and enters the season motivated by his last one in the final game against the Phillies. The 23-year-old rejoins left-handed setup men Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty to give the Braves a back end that compares favorably with any in baseball. The key will be whether they are used more effectively after wearing down in 2011. Kris Medlen could help. The versatile righthander showed during the last week of last season that he was healthy after Tommy John surgery. If the Braves don’t need him in the rotation because of injuries or trades, he can help their bullpen depth. Rule 5 selection Robert Fish could be a factor.

Middle Infield
Dan Uggla could use some middle ground after a tumultuous 2011. Through his first three-plus months as a Brave, Uggla hit .173 before breaking out with a 33-game hitting streak, tied for the third-longest ever by a second baseman. He managed to maintain his power throughout, finishing with a career-high 36 homers. The Braves are counting on another 30-plus homers, like he’s hit each of the past five years. Uggla will break in a new double-play partner. Looking for an offensive upgrade at shortstop, the Braves parted ways with Alex Gonzalez, who hit .241 with .270 on-base percentage last year, and opened the door to 22-year-old rookie Tyler Pastornicky. Pastornicky is not the leather-flashing Gonzalez, and he’s played only 27 games above Double-A, but he hit .365 with a homer and seven steals in those 27 games for Triple-A Gwinnett. The Braves like his speed and grit and project him as a 20-steal threat.

Corners
By now the Braves know what they’re going to get from 39-year-old Chipper Jones, who had ACL surgery on his left knee in 2010 and arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in 2011. They figure on 120 to 130 games, with Martin Prado ready to spell him at third base. If they can get another .275 year with 15-20 homers like they did from Jones in 2011, the Braves will be pleased. At the other corner, first baseman Freddie Freeman hopes to avoid the sophomore slump his close friend Jason Heyward endured. Freeman’s swing isn’t as violent and his approach is more refined, giving the Braves confidence he can repeat his success. At times Freeman was the Braves’ best hitter coming down the stretch. If not for Kimbrel, Freeman would likely have been NL Rookie of the Year.

Outfield
For the second straight offseason, the Braves sought pop in the outfield. They ranked second to last in the National League last year in home runs (41) and last in slugging percentage (.375), after ranking last among NL outfields in home runs (40) and 15th in slugging percentage (.389) in 2010. The Braves upgraded in center field at the trade deadline last year and have Michael Bourn through the end of the 2012 season. But they need Heyward to be the player he was as a rookie, not the injury-laden easy out he became last season when pitchers jammed him inside. Prado’s left field experiment was largely a flop. Whether he was focusing too much on learning a new position, or the five weeks he missed with a staph infection cost him his rhythm, he was a shadow of his 2010 All-Star self offensively.

Catching
Brian McCann’s five Silver Slugger awards and six trips to the All-Star game in his first six full seasons make the Braves the envy of the National League and maybe all of baseball. Even by his own lofty standards, McCann was on pace for a career year last year, but his season stalled after an oblique injury. He came back after only about two weeks and maintained that he was healthy upon his return, but his timing was off. He hit .180 with a .346 slugging percentage and 16 RBIs in 37 games after returning from the disabled list. He still hit .270 with 24 home runs for the season, the most by any catcher in the majors, but he shouldered significant blame for the Braves’ September fall-off. David Ross returns as his backup, giving the Braves a little pop, a great signal-caller and a veteran presence in the clubhouse.

Bench
Eric Hinske returns to bolster the bench, which is another area where the Braves saw production drop off a year ago. Hinske hit double-digits in homers for the second straight year but drove in just over half as many runs with 28 RBIs vs. 51 in 2010. Brooks Conrad, who was subsequently non-tendered, didn’t spark the Braves as he had in the past, and without Omar Infante and Prado like the year before, the bench didn’t provide much of an offensive lift. Matt Diaz returned via trade from the Pirates in August and should provide some right-handed power. The Braves added veteran shortstop Jack Wilson for insurance if Pastornicky struggles. But a calf injury has slowed Wilson, who may not be available for the first month.

Management
Gonzalez enters the season determined not to overuse the back of the bullpen as he admittedly did in the first half of 2011. The Braves’ lack of offense and propensity for extra-inning games didn’t make it any easier. The Braves hope new hitting coach Greg Walker will help them get back to good fundamental offensive play, and that they won’t be the pull-happy team they turned into down the stretch.

Final Analysis
If the Braves are going bounce back from last season’s epic collapse and make a run in an ever-improving division, they’ll need to see significant improvement from players such as Heyward and Prado. To offset any potential injuries in their rotation, they’ll need some of their good young arms to pitch deeper into games, not just through the fifth inning. The NL East might be the most competitive in baseball, with both the Marlins and Nationals making significant steps forward and the Phillies a continuing threat with that vaunted rotation.

 

 

 


Batting Order
CF Michael Bourn (L)
First true leadoff hitter for Braves since Rafael Furcal in 2005; led majors with 61 stolen bases in 2011.
LF Martin Prado (R)
Followed All-Star season by hitting career-low .260; missed five weeks with staph infection.
3B Chipper Jones (S)
Underwent arthroscopic surgery on right knee last season, but still played 126 games, hit .275 with 18 HRs and 70 RBIs. Had more surgery in the spring and won’t be ready for Opening Day.
C Brian McCann (L)
Provides power in the middle of the lineup, but hit only .180 in final six weeks coming off oblique injury.
2B Dan Uggla (R)
His 33-game hitting streak was longest since Chase Utley’s 35-gamer in 2006.
1B Freddie Freeman (L)
Led the Braves in batting average as a rookie. Runner-up in Rookie of the Year race.
RF Jason Heyward (L)
Followed breakout rookie season with sophomore slump; benched for parts of stretch run.
SS Tyler Pastornicky (R)
Hit .314 in 117 games at Double-A and Triple-A combined last season, with 27 steals.

Bench
UT Eric Hinske (L)
Best power threat off bench, hitting double-digit homers each of past two seasons for a total of 21.
OF Matt Diaz (R)
Failed to homer in 116 games last season with Pirates and Braves, but hit .286 in 16 games for Atlanta.
C David Ross (R)
Braves were 28–14 in his starts, and 9–5 when he caught Tim Hudson.
OF Jose Constanza (L)
Speedster was a surprise spark for Braves last year, hitting .372 in first 23 games of call-up.
3B Juan Francisco (L)
Was hitting below .200 for Cincinnati in spring training when Braves acquired him.

Rotation
RH Tim Hudson
Went at least seven innings in 10 of last 16 starts. Coming off back surgery and will miss at least the first month.
RH Tommy Hanson
10–4, 2.44 ERA in first half, but shoulder injury led to 1–3, 8.10 ERA in five second-half starts. Will be the Opening Day starter.
RH Jair Jurrjens
First-time All-Star after 12–3 first half, but knee problems cost him another September.
RH Brandon Beachy
Started 25 games as a rookie and had 10.7 Ks/nine innings, but had trouble finishing big inning.
LH Mike Minor
Poised to join rotation full-time after Braves won nine of his last 12 starts filling in for injured starters.
RH Randall Delgado
Held opponents to a .220 average over 35 innings in his seven starts last season. Either he or Hernandez will take the fifth spot until Hudson returns.
RH Livan Hernandez
Signed late in spring training as insurance for the youngsters and Jurrjens.

Bullpen
RH Craig Kimbrel (Closer)
Lived up to billing with rookie-record 46 saves but blew three saves in September.
LH Jonny Venters
Established as one of majors’ best relievers; only allowed 53 hits in 88 innings in 2011.
LH Eric O’Flaherty
Proved more than lefty specialist by leading all major league relievers with a 0.98 ERA.
RH Kris Medlen
Missed all but two outings in 2011 following Tommy John surgery.
RH Cristhian Martinez
Valuable long man, as evidenced by six shutout innings in 19-inning marathon vs. Pirates.
LH Yohan Flande
Earned a spot in the bullpen this spring. In eight games he gave up eight hits, struck out eight and walked eight.
RH Anthony Varvaro
Earned Fredi Gonzalez’s trust in call-up, allowing only four runs in 15 innings in September (2.40 ERA). Starts the season on the DL.
RH Julio Teheran
Had a dominant Triple-A season and held his own in three major league starts. Will start 2012 at Triple-A.

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

Teaser:
<p> The Braves are left to pick up the pieces from one of the most colossal September meltdowns in history. If they are going bounce back from last season’s epic collapse and make a run in an ever-improving division, they’ll need to see significant improvement from players such as Jason Heyward and Martin Prado.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 2, 2012 - 16:08
Path: /mlb/texas-rangers-2012-preview
Body:

Texas Rangers

The American League West race likely won’t be a runaway in 2012, as it was the past two seasons, but the Rangers remain the team to beat. They have the best infield in baseball and one of the top outfields. They received production from their catchers in 2011 that they hadn’t had since Ivan Rodriguez was in his prime. All that offense overshadows a young, talented rotation — which now includes Yu Darvish and Neftali Feliz — and some stingy relievers. The bullpen, which faltered early last season and prevented the Rangers from pulling away sooner, is one of the AL’s best. The two-time defending league champions have a chance to be better in 2012 and erase the sting of missing out on their first championship in a terrific World Series against St. Louis.

Rotation 
The biggest pitching story of the offseason was the Rangers’ pursuit of Darvish. The righthander agreed to terms in January after the Rangers bid a record $51.7 million for the posting fee. Darvish is seen as less of a risk than previous Japanese pitchers who came to the majors. He’s 25, 6'5" and has a fastball that clocks in the mid-90s. Darvish, 93–38 with a 1.99 ERA in Japan, is also a premium strike-thrower. While Darvish has ace potential, he won’t top the rotation. Colby Lewis, who resurrected his career in Japan, will likely get the Opening Day nod as the lone veteran on the staff after C.J. Wilson jumped to the Angels. Big things are expected from Derek Holland after he won 16 games in 2011. The Rangers rewarded him with a five-year, $28.5 million contract that takes him through the first year of free agency. Another lefthander, Matt Harrison, should be in the rotation after also breaking through last season with 14 wins. Feliz, the closer the past two seasons, is the most intriguing piece. He was thought to be a No. 1 starter when acquired in 2007 as part of the Mark Teixeira haul. Feliz will be paced, as Alexi Ogando was in 2011, but the Rangers expect him to succeed.

Bullpen 
A weakness early last season, the Rangers’ bullpen became a strength down the stretch and in the playoffs. The team worked in the offseason to make sure there are no holes in 2012. The biggest move was the acquisition of free agent closer Joe Nathan to replace Feliz. Nathan returned last season after missing 2010 due to Tommy John surgery. He hit his stride in the season’s second half, though he is not the Joe Nathan of old when he saved 246 games over six seasons for the Twins. Mike Adams will work the eighth inning. The Rangers still have high hopes for righthander Koji Uehara, who struggled last season in Texas after being acquired from Baltimore at the trade deadline. Uehara’s ability to retire left-handed hitters was a factor in how aggressively the Rangers pursued lefty relief help. With Feliz and Darvish in the rotation, the Rangers had the option of moving Ogando back to the bullpen. He was an All-Star last year as a member of the rotation, but he showed in the postseason how effective he could be as a shutdown reliever. Scott Feldman, another starter, was a valuable late-season piece as a long man and spot starter.

Middle Infield
Second baseman Ian Kinsler, a two-time 30-30 man, and shortstop Elvis Andrus excel in all facets of the game and rate as two of the most exciting players in the game. The Rangers like Kinsler’s pop and knowledge of the strike zone atop the lineup. He finished with a team-high 89 walks and a .355 on-base percentage that helped offset a .255 batting average. Andrus, meanwhile, has hit ninth, first and second in his first three seasons, and has swiped at least 30 bases each year. But it’s not just the steals that make him and Kinsler so good on the bases. They both get terrific reads on balls put into play and go from first to third as well as anyone. Andrus is known as much for his glove as his legs. Though he committed a league-high (for a shortstop) 25 errors, he played the final 33 games without one. Many of his errors were on balls that average shortstops never reach. Kinsler’s 11 errors were second-most (among second basemen) in the league, but his .850 zone rating was second-best.

Corners 
Adrian Beltre exceeded expectations in his first year, even though he missed all of August with a hamstring injury. He hit for power (32 homers) and average (.296) while playing Gold Glove defense at third base, all of which helped him shake the label that he performs only in a contract year. Beltre’s biggest impact was in the field. He was an instant upgrade over predecessors Michael Young and Hank Blalock, and he and Andrus combine to give the Rangers the best defensive left side of any infield in baseball. Across the diamond, though, first baseman Mitch Moreland enters 2012 dogged by doubts. He started 2011 well, hitting .300 the first two months. But an injured right wrist affected his swing in the second half, and he lost out on playing time. Young and Mike Napoli will also see time at first.

Outfield 
Talent isn’t an issue, but avoiding the disabled list has been a problem. Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz combined for 54 homers and 181 RBIs in 2011 even though Hamilton was down for more than a month early in the season and Cruz had two DL stints. Hamilton, who can be a free agent after the season, will play primarily in left field to keep his body fresh. Cruz, who saw David Freese’s two-out, two-strike drive sail over his head to tie Game 6 of the World Series, has a big arm in right field. Julio Borbon, Craig Gentry and Leonys Martin will compete for time in an unsettled center field. Hamilton could become the regular there if no one distinguishes himself during spring training, and fourth outfielder David Murphy would become the left fielder. That’s the alignment that has prevailed the past two postseasons.

Catching 
Napoli developed into an all-around force, hitting for average and shedding the tag he acquired in Anaheim as a poor defensive catcher. He had always hit for power, but a torrid second half (.383) pushed his final average to .320. He fell 70 plate appearances short of qualifying for league-leader status, but was sixth in average, third in on-base percentage (.414) and first in slugging percentage (.631) among players with 400 plate appearances. Napoli also earned the trust of the pitching staff and threw out base runners at a far better rate than the Rangers had expected. The offense-defense combination made him the No. 1 catcher down the stretch and in the playoffs. Yorvit Torrealba won’t be glued to the bench. He caught a team-high 98 games in 2011, hitting .273 and throwing out 32.5 percent of attempted base-stealers. He will catch at least twice a week as the Rangers monitor the wear and tear of the Texas heat on their backstops.

DH/Bench
Young will play first, second and third base again this season, but most of his time will be spent as a designated hitter. He adapted quickly to the role after being a regular in the field over his first 10 seasons, and finished up at .338 with 106 RBIs and 213 hits. Murphy is the team’s best pinch-hitter when he isn’t filling in for an injured outfielder, but the Rangers don’t call on their bench often. Torrealba has pinch-hitting experience from his days in the National League, but he is only 1-for-27 lifetime. Alberto Gonzalez is the leading candidate for a backup infielder.

Management
Ron Washington has seen his record improve each of the past four seasons since he took over as manager in 2007. The Rangers play hard for him because of his enthusiasm and loyalty to the players. Highly regarded pitching coach Mike Maddux turned down two chances to become a manager during the offseason and will return to Texas. General manager Jon Daniels isn’t afraid to make midseason acquisitions to bolster the roster, and he’s attempting to keep a talented core together for the long haul.

Final Analysis
A third AL West title is within the Rangers’ grasp. The division got tougher when the Angels snagged Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, but the Rangers didn’t go quietly through the offseason. Darvish and Feliz ooze talent and will fortify the rotation despite Wilson’s departure. The Rangers’ offense might be the most dynamic in baseball. With the bullpen built to avoid the early-season woes it encountered in 2011, the Rangers enter this season as the team to beat in the AL West.

 

 

 


Batting Order
2B Ian Kinsler (R)
Turned back critics of his .255 batting average with 32 home runs, 30 steals and a team-high 89 walks.
SS Elvis Andrus (R)
Ability to hit-and-run, bunt and steal bases makes him a table-setter for the middle of the lineup.
LF Josh Hamilton (L)
The 2010 MVP missed 36 games with an early-season arm injury but finished with 25 homers and 94 RBIs.
3B Adrian Beltre (R)
Had MVP-type numbers (.296 AVG, 32 HRs, 105 RBIs) despite missing 37 games; wowed with the glove.
DH Michael Young (R)
His first season primarily as DH resulted in 213 hits (tied for the MLB lead) and a career-high 106 RBIs.
RF Nelson Cruz (R)
Two stints on the DL prevented this slugger from hitting 30 homers, but he drove in a career-high 87 runs.
C Mike Napoli (R)
Acquired to bash lefthanders, Napoli was an all-around force at the plate and a pleasant surprise defensively.
1B Mitch Moreland (L)
The Rangers are hoping that an injured right wrist is behind him.
CF Julio Borbon (L)
Has been the Opening Day starter the past two seasons but hasn’t lasted.

Bench
OF David Murphy (L)
One of the best extra outfielders in the game typically gets off to a slow start before finishing strong.
C Yorvit Torrealba (R)
Will see plenty of playing time as the Rangers try to limit their catchers’ exposure to the Texas heat.
OF Craig Gentry (R)
The fastest player on the team is also the best defensive outfielder, and he made strides in 2011 at the plate.
INF Alberto Gonzalez (R)
The search for a steady hand to serve as a backup shortstop could end with Gonzalez.

Rotation
RH Colby Lewis
Has registered consecutive 200-inning seasons and rates as the veteran leader of a young starting crop.
LH Derek Holland
A breakthrough 16–5 season and a near-shutout in Game 4 of the World Series has raised expectations.
RH Yu Darvish
All eyes will be on the Japanese superstar, who could wind up as a staff ace for several seasons to come.
RH Neftali Feliz
A reliever in his two-plus big league seasons, Feliz was groomed as a starter in minors and has ace potential.
LH Matt Harrison
It’s not often that a 14-game winner has to prove himself, but he’ll have to win a spot in spring training.

Bullpen
RH Joe Nathan (Closer)
Second half in Minnesota gave the Rangers confidence that he has recovered from Tommy John surgery.
RH Mike Adams
A top setup man, Adams will be the primary eighth-inning reliever in his first full season with the Rangers.
RH Alexi Ogando
Though an All-Star starter in 2011, Ogando goes to the bullpen role he excelled in during the postseason.
RH Koji Uehara
The Rangers are looking past the rough two final months of 2011 and expect him to be a key contributor.
RH Mark Lowe
No one questions the arm and the stuff, but he suffered periods of inconsistency throughout 2011.
RH Scott Feldman
Though he prefers starting, Feldman proved to be a valuable piece as a long man and spot starter.
LH Michael Kirkman
Lefties batted .214 vs. the 2005 fifth-round pick during his stint with the Rangers in 2011.
RH Yoshinori Tateyama
Allowed just 37 hits and whiffed 43 in 44 innings 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

Teaser:
<p> The American League West race likely won’t be a runaway in 2012, as it was the past two seasons, but the Rangers remain the team to beat.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 2, 2012 - 14:18
Path: /mlb/seattle-mariners-2012-preview-0
Body:

Seattle Mariners

On the morning of July 6, 2011, the Mariners were 43-43 and two and a half games out of the AL West lead. Less than three weeks later, they were 43-60 and 15.5 games back. The 17-game losing streak came to define the Mariners' season, plunging them back into the same last-place abyss they had occupied in three of the previous five seasons. In the process, they reached new lows for offensive futility, posting franchise records for lowest batting average and most strikeouts. And despite bolstering their offense with the addition of Jesus Montero in a January trade, the Mariners are in danger of falling even further behind division rivals Los Angeles and Texas, both of which made significant moves over the winter. Despite small pockets of progress, and some promising young players, the Mariners appear to be nowhere close to contending any time soon.

Rotation
The Mariners split up one of the best young rotation duos in the game when they traded Michael Pineda to the Yankees for Montero, a slugging catcher/DH, in arguably the biggest deal of the offseason. They still have Felix Hernandez as the No. 1 starter, who remains one of the elite pitchers in the game despite a rather mediocre (by his lofty standards) season in 2011._Newcomer Hisashi Iwakumi, a righthander signed out of the Japanese league in January, could slide into the No. 2 spot vacated by Pineda. Iwakumi was 24 games over .500 in five seasons in Japan with a 1.130 WHIP. Lefty Jason Vargas is locked in as the No. 3 starter, while righthander Blake Beavan and lefty Charlie Furbush figure to vie with veteran Kevin Millwood for the final two spots. Vargas, in his second full season as a starter, went 10-13 with a 4.25 ERA. He has averaged just under 200 innings over the past two years. If one of the starters falters, the Mariners can look to young guns Danny Hultzen, Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton to camp to step into the rotation. Hultzen, the No. 2 overall pick last June out of the University of Virginia, is quite polished for someone who has yet to throw his first pitch in the minors, but it remains doubtful that the Mariners would allow him to break camp with the big league club.

Bullpen
The December signing of George Sherrill satisfied two different bullpen needs for the Mariners - veteran leadership, and help from the left side. Though he was once a solid closer, Sherrill is pretty much used strictly as a left-handed specialist these days, something for which the Mariners had an acute need. Despite being the subject of trade rumors all winter, Brandon League is back as the Mariners' closer, coming off a solid 2011 that saw him named to his first All-Star team. The former Blue Jay saved 37 games in his first season as a closer. Tom Wilhelmsen and Shawn Kelley are penciled in as right-handed setup men, but Chance Ruffin, acquired in the Doug Fister deal with Detroit, has enormous back-end potential. He struck out 60 in 48.2 innings pitched in the minors last season. Hector Noesi, acquired with Montero from the Yankees, can start or come out of the bullpen.

Middle Infield
Picked one spot behind Stephen Strasburg in 2009, second baseman Dustin Ackley arrived in Seattle last June with tons of hype, and despite some stumbles he proved himself worthy. His 2011 numbers may not leap off the page (.273/.348/.417), but that is solid production at Safeco. He should get better in 2012, with a year under his belt, but it is a bit disconcerting that his OPS declined in every month of the season. Ackley's double-play partner once again will be the sure-gloved Brendan Ryan, who hit just .248/.313/.326 in 2011. But on this Mariners team, numbers like those practically qualify him as a middle-of-the-order force. He is far from this team's worst problem.

Corners
First baseman Justin Smoak's first full year in the majors began with such promise - 12 homers by mid-June and an OPS that hovered in the mid-.800s until late June. But a thumb injury derailed him physically, and the death of his father brought untold mental anguish, and Smoak declined fast. He wound up hitting just .234/.323/.396. It goes without saying that an AL first baseman needs to do better than that. At third base, youngsters Kyle Seager and Alex Liddi, who looked solid down the stretch in 2011, will compete this spring for the regular job, with veteran Chone Figgins and his disastrous contract (which runs through 2013 with $17 million still owed) still the favorite. Figgins hit only .188 last season in 288 at-bats, almost 100 points below his career average. The Mariners hope a move to Figgins' more familiar role at the top of the order will spark the veteran who thrived in that position for the Angels.

Outfield
Ichiro Suzuki arrived on these shores in 2001 at the age of 27, and 10 years later looked as if he hadn't aged a day. But that changed over the course of the 2011 season, when Ichiro suddenly seemed to have added those 10 years all at once. His paltry .272/.310/.335 line - easily career-worsts in all three - called into question his long-term future in Seattle (he is a free agent after the season). Of Ichiro's 1,733 games started, 1,720 of them have come out of the leadoff spot (the other 13 were all as the No. 3 hitter). But manager Eric Wedge has not committed to Suzuki as his leadoff hitter in 2012, after his career-low .310 OBP in 2011. On the other hand, the emergence of Mike Carp as an offensive force in the second half of 2011 - he hit 10 home runs in 212 at-bats after Aug. 1 - was arguably the team's best surprise of the year; he will likely split time between left field and designated hitter. In center field, former Gold Glover Franklin Gutierrez faces a pivotal year in which he has to do better at the plate than the anemic .224/.261/.273 he put up during an injury-plagued 2011. While he recovers from a torn pectoral muscle, Michael Saunders will assume the job in center.

Catching
The Mariners pulled off a surprising trade in November that netted them catcher John Jaso (in exchange for young pitcher Josh Lueke), who is likely to join veteran Miguel Olivo in a platoon for 2012. Jaso, who hits from the left side, struggled at the plate for Tampa Bay in 2011, but he is only two seasons removed from an impressive .263/.372/.378 year. Olivo, meantime, hit 19 homers for the Mariners in 2011, but his awful OBP (.253) and high strikeout rate (27.6 percent) put a serious drain on their offense. Montero will see the majority of his at bats as the DH unless he shows significant improvement defensively.

DH/Bench
The Mariners are hoping Montero will provide some much-needed pop in the middle of the lineup. He hit 18 home runs in 463 at bats in Triple-A last year before impressing during a September call-up with the Yankees. The Mariners got almost no production from the position in 2011, with their DHs posting a combined OPS of .650 for the year. Casper Wells will see time as the fourth outfielder - if he doesn't beat out Carp - but also figures to get some ABs as the DH. Seager, Liddi and the odd man out in the catching platoon will form the bulk of the bench.

Management
General manager Jack Zduriencik brought impeccable player-development credentials with him when he took over in October 2008, but after a promising debut in 2009 he has now overseen back-to-back last-place finishes, and one can imagine that if his 2012 youth movement doesn't pan out, then his days at the helm of the Mariners could be numbered. Wedge received a vote of confidence of sorts when his entire coaching staff was preserved, despite a last-place finish in 2011. Clearly, the Mariners franchise could use some stability in management, but to earn that Zduriencik and Wedge will need to win.

Final Analysis
With plenty of talent and youth around the diamond and on the pitching staff, the Mariners should be better than a 95-loss team in 2012. You can certainly build around a core of Hernandez, Paxton, Hultzen, Carp, Smoak, Montero and Ackley. But the Mariners are stuck in the brutal American League West, and with the Angels loading up this winter (Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson) and the two-time defending AL-champion Rangers still a force, a .500 record and a third-place finish would appear to be the outer limits of hope for the Mariners. And in a worst-case scenario, they could easily tumble back into a loss total in the 90s. There is little hope in the short term for this franchise.

 

 

 


Batting Order
3B Chone Figgins (S)
$36 million contract has been disaster, but a return to his old lead-off role could still salvage the deal.
2B Dustin Ackley (L)
Might be better as No. 2 hitter, but Mariners think he will become a big-time run-producer.
RF Ichiro Suzuki (L)
If his acute 2011 decline doesn't turn around, his days at leadoff could be numbered.
LF Mike Carp (L)
Batted .286/.325/.494 with 12 homers in second-half breakthrough in 2011. Sprained shoulder in Japan and is on the DL.
DH Jesus Montero (R)
Too young to be a full-time DH, not polished enough to be a full-time catcher, but his bat is MLB-ready.
1B Justin Smoak (S)
Improved numbers across the board in second big league season; needs to improve even more in 2012.
C John Jaso (L)
Offensive numbers slipped in 2011, but he hits righthanders very well.
SS Brendan Ryan (R)
Seattle pitchers love his glove at shortstop where he makes their jobs easier. Opposing pitchers love his bat at the plate where he makes their jobs easier.
CF Michael Saunders (L)
Will fill in while Franklin Gutierrez recovers from a torn pectoral muscle.

Bench
INF Kyle Seager (L)
Will fill in at 2B, SS and 3B. Carp's injury is an opportunity for Seager.
C Miguel Olivo (R)
Ability to crush left-handed pitching makes him perfect platoon-mate for Jaso.
3B Alex Liddi (R)
Mariners took a good look at him in September and liked what they saw.
OF Casper Wells (R)
Has 15 homers, 44 RBIs in only 340 career plate appearances.

Rotation
RH Felix Hernandez
With all he's accomplished, amazing to think he'll still be only 25 on Opening Day.
LH Jason Vargas
Not the hardest thrower, but 10 wins, a 4.25 ERA and 201 innings for a bad team are impressive.
RH Hisashi Iwakumi
Went 107-69 in 222 games in Japan; won the Pacific League MVP in 2008 with a 21-4 record, 1.87 ERA.
RH Kevin Millwood
Veteran impressed with nine starts for Colorado last season. He was 4-3 and the Rockies won one of his no-decisions and the bullpen blew a four-run lead in the other.
LH Charlie Furbursh
Went 3-7 with a 6.62 ERA in 11 games (10 starts) after coming over from Detroit last July.
RH Blake Beavan
Big (6'7") Texan pitched his way into rotation discussion with impressive 2011 rookie year.

Bullpen
RH Brandon League (Closer)
Key to All-Star 2011 season was his career-low walk rate (1.5 per nine innings).
RH Tom Wilhelmsen
Thrived in eighth-inning audition as 27-year-old rookie in 2011.
RH Shawn Camp
Averaged 73 innings over the past three seasons with Toronto.
RH Shawn Kelley
Mariners hope 2009 standout is healthy again after two elbow surgeries.
LH George Sherrill
Former All-Star closer returns to Seattle as top lefty specialist.
RH Chance Ruffin
Flamethrower has chance to be closer some day if he reins in his walks.
RH Hector Noesi
Came out of the pen 28 times for the Yankees in 2011 but could pitch his way into the rotation.

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

Teaser:
<p> With plenty of talent and youth around the diamond and on the pitching staff, Seattle should be better than a 95-loss team in 2012. But the Mariners are stuck in the brutal American League West, and with the Angels loading up this winter (Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson) and the two-time defending AL-champion Rangers still a force, a .500 record and a third-place finish would appear to be the outer limits of hope.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 2, 2012 - 13:20
Path: /mlb/oakland-2012-preview-1
Body:

Oakland A's

Billy Beane's offseason left little doubt among A's fans that the team was shifting its focus beyond 2012. Beane traded away Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Andrew Bailey, the only three players who have represented Oakland as All-Stars over the past three years. In return, the A's received a handful of prospects whom they plan to use to build toward the opening of their new ballpark, whenever that may be. Oakland did make a small splash by signing Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36-million deal. Unless you count signing Manny Ramirez to a minor league deal knowing he must serve a 50-game suspension before being active, the A's were quiet in the free agency market. Beane has said he has no choice but to operate under the assumption that the A's will eventually be moving into a ballpark that produces enough revenue to let them compete. In the meantime, he's got a team with a skimpy payroll and almost no chance to contend in 2012.

Rotation
The Opening Day starter will be Brandon McCarthy, a nomadic righthander whose career had been floundering until he busted out with a 3.32 ERA in 25 starts for the A's in 2011. The two true “aces” will likely start the season on the disabled list. The A's were optimistic about Dallas Braden's rehab from shoulder surgery, but shoulders are always tricky, so they'll be cautious with him, especially in a rebuilding year. But he will be ready months before Brett Anderson, who isn't expected back until midseason at best after undergoing Tommy John surgery last July. They bought some insurance with veteran Bartolo Colon, who was a revelation in the first half for the Yankees last year. If Colon's 2011 season, which came after being out of the big leagues for a year, wasn't a total fluke, which it may have been, he can eat innings and allow the A's not to rush so many young pitchers. The A's essentially have five pitchers fighting for the final two spots in the rotation (three if Braden starts on the DL). Graham Godfrey and Tyson Ross come back after bouncing between Triple-A and the majors with the A's, and Tom Milone and Brad Peacock who each had impressive cameos in the bigs last year before the A's acquired them this winter. If even two of those five can establish themselves as better-than-average big league starters sometime in 2012, the A's have a shot at a decent rotation in 2013 and beyond.

Bullpen
The A's could afford to deal Bailey and Craig Breslow (to Arizona, in the Cahill deal) because they still have Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour, two veterans who have track records of late-inning success in the majors. Fuentes has 195 saves since 2005. Balfour has a 2.85 ERA over the past four seasons. Those two pitchers will each be free agents at the end of 2012, so they'll simply be holding the late innings warm while the A's figure out who their next young closer will be. One of the leading candidates is Fautino De Los Santos, who showed electric stuff at times in his rookie year in 2011. Joey Devine might also be a candidate. He missed two years because of Tommy John surgery, but he came back last year with a 3.52 ERA in 26 games. Ryan Cook was a closer in the Arizona system before he came to the A's in the Cahill deal.

Middle Infield
There were reports that Beane went into the winter with only one player on his untouchable list: Jemile Weeks. The second baseman came up in June and wasted little time establishing himself as someone who could hit and make an impact on the bases. His defense isn't quite what the A's had come to expect with Mark Ellis, though. Across the bag, Cliff Pennington is a very good defensive shortstop who has some offensive shortcomings. Pennington's numbers in 2010 and '11 were eerily similar - his OPS was .687 both years. It's a safe bet that he'll be somewhere in that range again, which makes him a below-average hitter, even for a shortstop.

Corners
Daric Barton looked like the long-term answer at first base after he showed significant defensive and offensive improvement three years in a row, but last season he started terribly and got hurt. He was a candidate to be non-tendered, but the A's re-signed him for $1.1 million, signaling that they plan to let him have a crack at getting back into their good graces. He is still recovering from shoulder surgery. They have plenty of candidates in Brandon Allen and Kila Ka'aihue (both acquired in trades since July) and the tantalizing Chris Carter, whose raw power allows him a long leash while the A's hope for him to put it together. Carter will start the year at AAA, but will return if he shows more consistency. At third, the A's seemed settled on Scott Sizemore as the answer, for the short term anyway, that is until he tore an ACL early in the spring and will miss the season. That left the A's scrambling a bit, but Adam Rosales and Josh Donaldson are the best options.

Outfield
Halfway through the winter, the A's had an entire outfield worth of unproven players, but then in a two-week span in January, they re-signed Coco Crisp to play center and traded for Seth Smith to play left, then signed Cespedes in mid-February to complete the group. Cespedes offers good speed and power, but is still a little raw. He may look overmatched at times, but the A's will allow him to learn at the big-league level. A word of caution could be his maturity. That seemed to scare off a few teams. Crisp is an above average defender and he can be a dynamic player at the top of the lineup, but he's had injury problems over the past few years. With Weeks slated to lead off, and considering the dearth in the heart of the order, Crisp will be forced into the No. 3 hole. Smith has been a fairly consistent performer over his three full seasons in Colorado, but if he hit only 15-17 homers there, he's not likely to do better in Oakland. Smith is not such a proven commodity that the A's couldn't slide him to the bench if more than one of the young players proves worthy, though. Josh Reddick, who came from Boston in the Bailey deal, is the top of the pack. He's solid defensively and has some pop, but, like Smith, probably not enough to be a long-term answer in a corner outfield spot. The A's also have Collin Cowgill, who will get just enough of a shot in 2012 to show whether he can be a part of the long-term solution. The real budding star, top prospect, Michael Choice, also could be ready to make his debut sometime this year.

Catching
Kurt Suzuki appeared to be on his way to becoming one of the best young, two-way catchers in baseball. The A's were betting on it when they gave him a four-year, $16.25-million deal early in 2010. But he has struggled in the two seasons since. The A's don't have any alternatives in the short term, so they'll hang with Suzuki and hope that he can figure out what went wrong offensively and defensively. They may have to drop him into the middle of their young lineup, though, which is only going to add more pressure.

DH/Bench
Whoever doesn't get the bulk of the playing time out of the first base jumble - Barton, Allen and Ka'aihue- is going to get a good crack at the DH spot. The odd man out in the outfield sweepstakes will see some time there as well. Smith is the most likely candidate given that Reddick is better defensively. If the A's are going to punt this season and look to the future, there's no reason not to let Carter (49 Triple-A homers the past two years) see what he can do.

Management
When Beane hired Bob Melvin to replace Bob Geren last June, it marked the first time in his tenure as a GM that he'd hired a manager with any big league managerial experience. Perhaps it's a sign that Beane is yielding more power to his on-field boss. Melvin has been widely heralded by his players for his touch with a team, but he's going to have a big job with this bunch. In any case, don't expect much pressure on Beane or Melvin this season. Ownership most likely understands exactly what's happening here. As long as Beane and Melvin can show some development among the young players, their jobs will be safe. Beane also owns a small piece of the club, so that never hurts.

Final Analysis
The A's have some pieces to have a passable pitching staff. Between the guys coming back and the prospects coming in, this team should be in the middle of the pack in pitching. The problem is going to be scoring runs. They didn't score much last year, and the guys who provided what little pop they had (like Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui) are gone. Weeks and Cespedes are still unproven and the A's best offensive prospects (Choice and Green) are not likely to see the majors until late this season, at the earliest, so it's hard to imagine how this team is going to avoid being one of the lowest-scoring teams in the majors again. The A's have managed to win at least 74 games in the five seasons since their last playoff berth, and they'd probably be ecstatic to win that many this year. More likely they'll be fighting to crack 70 victories.

 

 

 


Batting Order
2B Jemile Weeks (S)
Picked a bad year to be a rookie; got no votes for Rookie of the Year despite hitting .303.
SS Cliff Pennington (S)
Slick fielder with a cannon arm who will hit in the .260 range.
LF Coco Crisp (S)
His .693 OPS in '11 was second-lowest of his career, but he led the AL with 49 stolen bases. Is out of place hitting in the middle of the order.
RF Josh Reddick (L)
A nice fourth outfielder on a good team - but he will be forced to start in Oakland.
CF Yoenis Cespedes (R)
Cuban outfielder is expected to prop up A's lineup immediately - a tall order.
DH Seth Smith (L)
Served as Eli Manning's backup at Ole Miss; has a chance to play everyday in Oakland.
C Kurt Suzuki (R)
Should be a 15 HR, .270 hitter, but slumped badly last two years; he's expensive, too.
1B Brandon Allen (L)
Hit .354 in first 13 games after July trade from Arizona, then .133 in last 28. Has an opportunity to prove himself with Daric Barton recovering from shoulder surgery.
3B Eric Sogard (L)
Batted .200 and hit two homers in 27 games for the A's last season.

Bench
1B Daric Barton (L)
Hit zero homers in 280 PAs in the majors in '11; not good for a first baseman. Coming off shoulder surgery.
1B Kila Ka'aihue (L)
Former Royal spent parts of four seasons at Triple-A, with a .412 OBP.
C Anthony Recker (R)
Hit double-digit HRs every full season in the minors, including 16 in 345 ABs in 2011.
INF Adam Rosales (R)
Probably the fastest HR trot in the majors; played five positions in 2011.
OF/DH Manny Ramirez (R)
Manny will be available in June after serving a 50-game suspension.
OF Jonny Gomes (R)
Redundant once Ramirez becomes available.
C/3B Josh Donaldson (R)
Primarily a catcher, he has 53 games of experience at third base in the minors, none in the majors.

Rotation
RH Brandon McCarthy
Had a 3.32 ERA in '11 but better known for his cult following on Twitter (@BMcCarthy32). Already named as Opening Day starter.
RH Bartolo Colon
Was out of the majors for a year but returned to throw 164.1 innings for the Yankees in 2011.
LH Tom Milone
Not the most talented, but probably the most polished of the pitchers acquired this winter.
LH Dallas Braden
Has eight wins and one shoulder surgery since May 2010 perfect game. Likely not ready Opening Day.
LH Brett Anderson
Ace of the staff had Tommy John surgery in July, so a midseason return is optimistic.
RH Tyson Ross
Definite major leaguer (2.75 ERA in limited duty last season) who could start or relieve in 2011. Will get opportunities to start with Braden and Anderson on the shelf.

Bullpen
LH Brian Fuentes (Closer)
Established veteran will be trade bait in July; will be a major surprise if he lasts the season in Oakland.
RH Grant Balfour
Fiery Australian is a dependable setup man who only gave up 44 hits in 62 innings in 2011. Will also be used as a closer.
RH Joey Devine
Has the stuff to be a closer, and he might get a chance to prove it late this season. He will begin the season on the DL with minor biceps injury.
RH Fautino De Los Santos
Could help make the Nick Swisher trade look like one of Billy Beane's best.
RH Ryan Cook
Power righty with some potential to be a set-up type reliever.
LH Jerry Blevins
Has held left-handed batters to a .232 BA in his 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
Teaser:
<p> The A's have managed to win at least 74 games in the five seasons since their last playoff berth, and they'd probably be ecstatic to win that many this year. More likely they'll be fighting to crack 70 victories.</p>
Post date: Monday, April 2, 2012 - 12:16
Path: /mlb/los-angeles-angels-2012-preview
Body:

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.

Rotation
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.

Bullpen
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.

Corners
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.

Outfield
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.

Catching
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.

DH/Bench
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.

Management
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.

Bench
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.

Rotation
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.

Bullpen
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.

Teaser:
<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
Body:

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.

Rotation 
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.

Bullpen 
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.

Corners 
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.

Outfield 
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.

Catching 
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.

DH/Bench
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.

Management 
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.

Bench
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.

Rotation
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.

Bullpen
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
Teaser:
<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
Body:

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.

Rotation 
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.

Bullpen 
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.

Corners 
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.

Outfield 
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.

Catching 
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.

DH/Bench
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.

Management 
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.

Bench
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.

Rotation
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.

Bullpen
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

Teaser:
<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
Body:

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.

Rotation 
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.

Bullpen 
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).

Corners 
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.

Outfield 
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.

Catching 
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.

DH/Bench
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.

Management
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.

Bench
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.

Rotation
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.

Bullpen
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
Teaser:
<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
Body:

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.

Rotation 
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.

Bullpen 
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.

Corners 
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.

Outfield 
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.

Catching 
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.

DH/Bench
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.

Management 
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.

Bench
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.

Rotation
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.

Bullpen
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
Teaser:
<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
Body:

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.

Rotation 
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.

Bullpen 
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.

Corners 
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.

Outfield 
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.

Catching 
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.

DH/Bench
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.

Management 
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.

Bench
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.

Rotation
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.

Bullpen
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
Teaser:
<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
Body:

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.

Rotation
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.

Bullpen
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.

Corners
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.

Outfield
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.

Catching
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.

DH/Bench
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.

Management
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.

Bench
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.

Rotation
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.

Bullpen
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

Teaser:
<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
Body:

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?

Rotation
“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.

Bullpen
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.

Corners
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.

Outfield
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.

Catching
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.

DH/Bench
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.

Management
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.

Bench
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.

Rotation
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.

Bullpen
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

Teaser:
<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
Body:

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.

Rotation
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.

Bullpen 
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.

Corners
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.

Outfield
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.

Catching
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.

DH/Bench
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.

Management
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.

Bench
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

Rotation
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.

Bullpen
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
Teaser:
<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
Body:

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.

Rotation 
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.

Bullpen 
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.

Corners
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.

Outfield
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.

Catching
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.

DH/Bench
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.

Management
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.

Bench
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.

Rotation
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.

Bullpen
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
Teaser:
<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
Body:

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.

South
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.

West
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.

East
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.

Midwest
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?

South
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.)

West
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.

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

Midwest
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.

Teaser:
<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
Body:

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.

Rotation
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.

Bullpen 
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.

Corners
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.

Outfield 
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.

Catching
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).

DH/Bench
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.

Management
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.

Bench
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.

Rotation
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.

Bullpen
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
Teaser:
<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
Body:

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
Ears
 (
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
Schnozz

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
Spaceman

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
Mudcat

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
Catfish

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
Scrabble

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
Eye-chart

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
Ugly

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
Goose

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
Ducky-Wucky
(also Muscles)
According to Baseball-Reference.com, 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
Bye-Bye

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
Yogi

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
Zamboni

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
Stinky

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
Babe 
(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.

Teaser:
<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
Body:

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

Teaser:
<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
Body:

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.

Teaser:
<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

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