I’m still figuring a way to connect a link to this, but my new book is available. It’s called The Prince Of New York’s 2007 Baseball Preview and it’s a comprehensive guide to the upcoming season complete with analyses of every team; predictions for the playoffs and World Series along with post-season awards. Anyone who reads my blog knows that I don’t waste time on a bunch of irritating stats that essentially mean nothing. At any rate, the book just became available and as I’m trying to figure this stuff out, I’m adding a link to the book.
The Prince Of New York’s 2007 Baseball Preview
A series of unforeseen events or circumstances may keep Lastings Milledge in New York for this entire season rather than having him return to Triple A for a bit longer. First, the Mets don’t seem confident or impressed enough with what they’ve seen from Shawn Green this spring to automatically anoint him the every day job in right field. Second, Milledge has performed brilliantly this spring and there haven’t been any reports of discipline problems or immaturity as there were last season. Third, the Mets Triple A team was moved from Norfolk, Virginia to New Orleans. Any one of these things could be a consideration in keeping Milledge or sending him back down; as a whole, though, the Mets and Milledge would probably be better served to keep the talented and emotional outfielder in New York for the full season.
Shawn Green was once a fearsome power hitter in the middle of the lineup and a potential Gold Glove winning outfielder. He hit for power, average, got on base and could run; now he’s become a journeyman. For whatever reason, his statistics have fallen off the map; there is no justifiable reason to believe that at age 34 he’s going to ever get his game back. The Mets are only paying a part of his salary; there could be a valid reason not only to bench him if he doesn’t start hitting, but to release him entirely. There was talk early in the spring that Green had spotted a mechanical flaw in his swing that was robbing him of his power; so far the results of the correction have been mixed at best. It is not out of the realm of possibility that Green will be quickly reduced to a platoon player and then to the bench if he doesn’t hit immediately out of the gate. Milledge and Endy Chavez would be a far more productive right field combination at this point.
Lastings Milledge has hit well over .350 this spring and has proven that physically he’s ready for the big leagues. One thing the Mets have been concerned about since the rise and fall of both Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden is that their young players be physically and emotionally ready for the candystore that is big league life and the dangerous candystore that is big league life in New York. As much as they deny it, there were rumblings that some in the Mets organization were concerned about this aspect with Scott Kazmir and that was one of the reasons that they traded him.
The noticeable differences between the eras of Strawberry and Gooden and this Mets team is that the 1980s manager, Davey Johnson, was known to be hands off with his players; and the veterans on that team behaved worse than Strawberry and Gooden eventually would. This Mets team has a disciplinarian manager in Willie Randolph and veteran character players in Tom Glavine, Carlos Delgado, Paul LoDuca, Billy Wagner and Moises Alou to keep an eye on Milledge and steer him in the right direction.
Finally, it may be politically incorrect to say it, but I would be reticent to put a young athlete who has had disciplinary problems in a place such as New Orleans right now. The crime rate in the devastated city is soaring; it is a dangerous place to be and to play. The Mets organization has embraced the city and is openly trying to help with the reconstruction, but the fact is that the team’s top farm club is only located there because they were shut out of every other option. It seems that the Mets affiliation with New Orleans is a short-term inconvenience that could have long term ramifications if they send someone like Milledge down there.
Now Milledge is going to miss a few days after being hit on the hand with a pitch. The Mets would be well advised to keep the young outfielder on the big league club to start the season, give him his at bats when resting Moises Alou and against lefties in place of Shawn Green. Milledge is so young and talented that he may be one of those players that suddenly explodes into all of his abilities. That is one of the reasons that the Mets were reluctant to trade him for pitching this past off season. Now it may be his opportunity to show that he can play in the big leagues and behave like a big leaguer. With all of the other factors considered, the Mets best choice is to keep Milledge in New York; deal with some more growing pains; and keep an eye on him. It also may be the only way to get the most out of his abilities as well.
With a tighter budget than during their heyday and a dwindling number of stars remaining from their annual playoff appearances, the Braves appear to be a team at the crossroads of where they should go next. Even with all the drastic improvements that they’ve made to their bullpen, they appear to be taking a "let’s see what the Mets and Phillies look like" approach to this season. They’ve got a lot of young talent on their roster, but with the huge question marks at first base, second base and the entire starting rotation, the Braves might quickly decide to dismantle what is left from their years of National League dominance.
Bobby Cox himself has hinted at retirement after his contract runs out; will Cox have the patience and the stomach to deal with a full scale rebuilding project? John Schuerholz is one of the best GMs in baseball, but does he want to continue with the payroll constraints of the corporate ownership that may prevent him from keeping such in-his-prime stars as Andruw Jones? The Braves have to answer these questions before moving forward.
John Smoltz is about to turn 40 and despite his greatness, has had injury problems in the past; Tim Hudson is trying to rebound from a mediocre year; and the rest of the rotation is pedestrian at best. That revamped bullpen is going to get a lot of work. Their offense isn’t much better. They have the injury prone Chipper Jones; the free-agent-to-be Andruw Jones; the overly impressed with himself Jeff Francouer; shortstop Edgar Renteria; and catcher Brian McCann. Beyond that, there isn’t much to concern oneself with in that lineup. The Braves are going to know pretty quickly this season where they stand.
With the Mets starting rotation as questionable as it is and their bullpen in a bit of a quandry; with the Phillies having bullpen issues of their own; the Braves seem to be improving themselves incrementally to see if they have a chance to contend in a division that may be winnable for a 87-88 win team. If the Phillies starters perform up to their capabilities; if the Mets get a similar performance from their bats and their bullpen as last season, the Braves won’t be much of a factor. What will be their course of action?
The smartest thing for them to do, if Schuerholz is in this for the long haul, would be to trade their remaining stars and rebuild completely. Smoltz, if healthy, would accrue a bounty at the trading deadline; Hudson has value; Andruw Jones is going to be a free agent and would be in heavy demand to a large number of teams (the Red Sox, Astros, Dodgers, Angels and Padres for example); Chipper Jones might be better suited going to an American League team where he could DH and save his body from the wear and tear of playing the field. The team doesn’t promise to be a contender this season if things go according to plan for the Mets and Phillies. If Cox and Schuerholz want to start another era of dominance, they may have to endure a few seasons of growth for that to have a chance of happening again.
Now’s as good a time as any to place my projected standings on the record. I actually wrote these about a month ago and have no intention of imitating other "experts" who change their predictions with each passing day; I, unlike them, know the difference between a confidence in one’s ability to prognosticate (which I like to think I have) and arrogance to simply be right and add a well-formulated excuse when they’re wrong (which I know they have). Be that as it may, ** denotes wild card winner:
American League East:
1) New York Yankees
2) Baltimore Orioles **
3) Toronto Blue Jays
4) Boston Red Sox
5) Tampa Bay Devil Rays
American League Central:
1) Detroit Tigers
2) Cleveland Indians
3) Chicago White Sox
4) Minnesota Twins
5) Kansas City Royals
American League West:
1) Los Angeles Angels
2) Oakland Athletics
3) Seattle Mariners
4) Texas Rangers
National League East:
1) New York Mets
2) Philadelphia Phillies **
3) Atlanta Braves
4) Florida Marlins
5) Washington Nationals
National League Central:
1) Houston Astros
2) Chicago Cubs
3) Cincinnati Reds
4) Milwaukee Brewers
5) Pittsburgh Pirates
6) St. Louis Cardinals
National League West:
1) Los Angeles Dodgers
2) San Diego Padres
3) San Francisco Giants
4) Arizona Diamondbacks
5) Colorado Rockies
American League Playoffs:
ALDS: Los Angeles Angels defeat New York Yankees
ALDS: Baltimore Orioles defeat Detroit Tigers
ALCS: Los Angeles Angels defeat Baltimore Orioles
National League Playoffs:
NLDS: New York Mets defeat Los Angeles Dodgers
NLDS: Philadelphia Phillies defeat Houston Astros
NLCS: New York Mets defeat Philadelphia Phillies
Los Angeles Angels defeat New York Mets
American League Awards:
Cy Young Award: Roy Halladay-Toronto Blue Jays
MVP: Alex Rodriguez-New York Yankees
Rookie of the Year: Jeff Niemann-Tampa Bay Devil Rays
Manager of the Year: Sam Perlozzo-Baltimore Orioles
National League Awards:
Cy Young Award: Carlos Zambrano-Chicago Cubs
MVP: Alfonso Soriano-Chicago Cubs
Rookie of the Year: Chris Young-Arizona Diamondbacks
Manager of the Year: Jim Tracy-Pittsburgh Pirates
For all the smug, pedantic, arrogant and condescending droning of the Red Sox hierarchy regarding how they’re going to do business "their" way and not follow the conventional wisdom when making decisions, they very conveniently revert to the much decried "conventional" baseball wisdom when their backs are against the wall. From the signings of Daisuke Matsuzaka, J.D. Drew and Julio Lugo; to the decision not to trade Manny Ramirez; to the now announced move of Jonathan Papelbon back to the closer’s spot; the Red Sox have continually said one thing and then turned around and done the exact opposite when it suited their purposes. Of course there’s always the caveat added at the end of the statement announcing the decision as to how they are not abandoning their principles to suit their ends; but savvy fans know the truth.
The Red Sox used the injury to Mike Timlin as a face-saving cover for a decision that they must have realized that they were going to have to make sooner or later. The charade of "discovering" a closer from the unimpressive cast of Devern Hansack, Julian Tavarez, Brendan Donnelly, Joel Piniero and Timlin had left Red Sox fans and almost all observers scratching their heads as to why: A) They didn’t take a chance on Eric Gagne, sign Danys Baez or trade for Chad Cordero; and B) they continued to insist that they had no intention of putting Papelbon back into the bullpen. Timlin has been a useful component for the Red Sox bullpen, but even they couldn’t truly have believed that Timlin, at age 41, was going to be able to handle the pressure and the workload he was likely to face this season as the closer.
It was none other than Steve Phillips who made an intelligent and insightful comment (Yes, really!) during the Red Sox-Pirates pre-season game on Wednesday that the Red Sox could cost themselves a playoff spot in October if enough games were blown in April as they were figuring out the situation in the bullpen. A team that has spent the money that the Red Sox have to regain their competitiveness could not expect to go into the season with any of the aforementioned questionable options installed as the closer.
This shines a light on the disingenuousness of the Red Sox decision makers, Theo Epstein in particular. They’re always rambling about their decisions being based on the overall health and future of the franchise; but when things go sour, they conveniently forget what they had originally said. They made the signings of Julio Lugo and J.D. Drew to those absurd contracts to augment their lineup; they doled out the highest bid for Daisuke Matsuzaka; they held onto Manny when it was an open secret as to how disgusted they were with him following his questionable injuries last season; now they’ve returned Jonathan Papelbon back to the job that he shouldn’t have been removed from in the first place. Will anyone remember the statements of last season when Epstein claimed to have one eye on the future and one eye on the present as the Yankees blew past them in August? How about the silly claims of how the posting money for Matsuzaka is palatable for the Red Sox organization because it doesn’t count against the luxury tax? And now the idea that they’ve put Papelbon back as the closer because the pitcher himself suggested it? There’s always an excuse for every decision; always a statement to explain away the supposed "principles" to building an organization that they betray again and again.
I still cringe when I think back to Epstein’s comments when the announcement was made that the Red Sox had won the bidding for the rights to speak to Matsuzaka: "We have long admired Mr. Matsuzaka’s abilities and believe hewould be a great fit with the Red Sox organization,"; and "Clearly, we believe Mr.
Matsuzaka is a real talent."
It’s all ****; and it’s all an atmosphere in which the Red Sox try to portray themselves as above the fray on certain issues and doing things their way only to revert back to what they have to do to win right now. The arrogance involved with the mere attempt to place any of those pitchers into the position of closer on a team that has such high expectations, an agitated fan base after last season’s collapse and a division that promises to have not one, not two, but three legitimate playoff contenders in addition to themselves makes me wonder whether Epstein and co. really believe all of this nonsense or are trying to make themselves out to be better than everyone else until they see that they’re backed into a corner and have to revert to "conventional baseball wisdom".
The decisions to sign Lugo and Drew may work out; they could not offset the offensive downgrade if they were to trade Manny; Papelbon back in the role he never should have left pretty much guarantees that the Red Sox will be able to contend for a playoff spot this season; but does there have to be such a self-aggrandizing attitude around the Red Sox? The real problem seems to be that as they repeatedly claim to never want to be an organization like the hated Yankees, they behave more and more like the Yankees every day. I think with each passing day, the Red Sox are loath to admit that when they look toward New York they realize that they’ve had to resort to the Yankees way of doing business to maintain their competitiveness when their intention was to do it a whole other way; they no longer see a rival and a threat, they see a reflection; and that may be even more painful than losing to the Yankees again.
It was said before spring training started that Alex Gordon was coming to Royals camp as a non-roster invitee and would only make the team if he proved he was ready to play in the big leagues. Apparently that point has been proven because Gordon has been informed by manager Buddy Bell that he is going to start the season as the Royals third baseman.
The Royals have nothing to lose by starting Gordon and moving Mark Teahen to the outfield. Gordon tore up the Texas League last season in his first year of professional ball and has little left to prove in the minor leagues; it’s not as if he’s coming out of high school either; he spent two years in college with Nebraska and is already 23. There’s no point in sending him back to the minors for more seasoning if he doesn’t need it.
If Gordon were playing for a team that had an intention of contending this season, perhaps he would be better suited to start the season in Triple A; but the Royals are in the middle of a rebuilding project under competent front office management for the first time in well over a decade. In Buddy Bell, they have a veteran manager who was also in the big leagues at a young age for a rebuilding team and performed well at the same position. There’s no point in not letting Gordon learn to play in the big leagues.
There are circumstances in which certain players probably would be well served if they were to spend some extra time in the minor leagues even if they appear physically ready to play in the majors—-Lastings Milledge comes to mind. It’s up to the team to analyze whether or not the player is ready for everything inherent in playing in the big league candystore. (I don’t know that anyone is ever really ready for that type of thing unless they’re a Ken Griffey Jr, or Prince Fielder, or some other player who spent his childhood hanging around big leaguers.) With that in mind, with such veteran players as Mark Grudzielanek, Reggie Sanders and Mike Sweeney around to keep an eye on him, the Royals might as well throw Gordon from the nest and see if he can fly. Worst case scenario, they’ll have to send him back to Triple A for a little more seasoning; best case scenario, they have their third baseman for the next fifteen years.
What is the risk/reward for Alfonso Soriano playing center field?
By asking that question, I am openly wondering what the Cubs hope to get out of this experiment. At best, Soriano will be an adequate center fielder. At worst, he’ll be a disaster. Is it worth it to even try? In looking at every team in the big leagues and their intended starter in center field, Soriano will be the absolute worst defensively. Even the teams that promise to be the dregs of their respective leagues like the Washington Nationals and Tampa Bay Devil Rays have a center fielder who knows how to play the position. With all the improvements they’ve made with a new manager and new players, in addition to being in a winnable division, the Cubs obviously have their eyes on a bit more than simple respectability. How does having a player who is weak defensively to begin with help them achieve that end when there were other, affordable options available?
Alfonso Soriano is a great athlete, but his mind is almost entirely focused on hitting. While he was with the Yankees he was a below average second baseman; while with the Rangers he refused a request to move to either shortstop or the outfield; and with the Nationals he went to left field kicking and screaming. Much is made of his 22 outfield assists last season, but none other than Frank Robinson, who was his manager with the Nationals and a pretty good outfielder himself, said that Soriano was below average in the outfield at the start of the season and adequate at the end. Now he’s being placed in one of the most important defensive positions on the field. Simply because a player is athletic and has speed doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to be able to adapt to being the "center of attention".
For years teams—–specifically the Mets—–insisted on moving non-center fielders to center field. First there was the disastrous trade of Lenny Dykstra for Juan Samuel; Samuel lasted a couple of months for the Mets in center field and they traded their other center fielder, Mookie Wilson, shortly after they acquired Samuel. Then there was the attempt to get young sparkplug second baseman Keith Miller’s bat into the lineup by switching him to…center field. The injury prone Miller was neither able to deal with the position, nor the constant scrutiny by the charmers in the New York City media. After that, the Mets had acquired a solid defensive center fielder in Daryl Boston who played well both in the field and at the plate. Then came the insane decision to move Howard Johnson to center field. Johnson’s career at the plate collapsed at about the exact time he moved to the outfield; who can say whether he got old in a hurry or the pressure of the switch precipitated his downfall?
Teams try this move again and again without deep consideration or the player on board with willingness and the ability to play the position. Others point to such players as Robin Yount and Craig Biggio, who were able to play the position; they miss the fact that Yount was a daredevil who looked for ways to challenge himself and was a good enough athlete with his excellent hand-eye coordination that he was in the big leagues at eighteen and considered playing on the PGA tour. Biggio switched from catcher to second base and became a Gold Glove winner. There was a precedent for the moves. Anyone who has seen Derek Jeter go back on pop ups or chase balls into the stands can say that Jeter would have been an excellent center fielder had the Yankees decided to move him to center and Alex Rodriguez to shortstop rather than signing Johnny Damon. Can the same be said for Soriano?
This is not to imply that Soriano isn’t going to try his hardest to be a decent center fielder; but why put him in that position? He is predominately an offensive player and has barely been adequate defensively. The center fielder has to be the captain of the outfield and be ready and willing to take charge and get everything that comes his way; he has the most ground to cover and can’t be hoping that the ball isn’t hit to him or practicing his swing as the pitch is being delivered.
This is especially egregious considering that the Cubs had other options that probably would have made them a better team this season. What they could have done is hidden Soriano in his best possible National League position—–left field; they could have traded Jacque Jones or Matt Murton for a pitcher or two; they could have signed Kenny Lofton or Steve Finley to play center field for this season and waited until Andruw Jones or Torii Hunter became available either at mid-season or in free agency after the season.
Now they’re trying Soriano in center field and hoping that it works; but what if it doesn’t? What then? Are they going to spend the first month of the season reconfiguring every player’s position as they are simultaneously hoping that Mark Prior straightens himself out to be a factor and Kerry Wood adjusts to the bullpen? Are they expecting to be able to compete while doing this? This whole problem could have been avoided by not putting Soriano in this position in the first place by putting him in left field and leaving him there because that’s where he can do the least amount of damage to the rest of the team.