Francesa Dreams Of Justin

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With Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira reinjuring his right wrist and the possibility of him being lost for the season very real, expect Mike Francesa on WFAN tomorrow to begin anew his delusional, deranged and silly demand that the Yankees get—not pursue, but get—Twins first baseman Justin Morneau.

The reasons this won’t happen are nearly endless. The Twins, in spite of being five games under .500, are only 6 1/2 games out of first place, which puts them 2 1/2 games further out of first place than the Yankees. The Twins aren’t giving Morneau away regardless of his expiring contract at the end of the season and there still remains the possibility that they’ll do a typical “Twins thing” and re-sign Morneau. Morneau has played in 61 games this season and hit 2 home runs vs. Teixeira’s 3 in 15 games with a wrist that is now revealed to not have been at 100%.

It makes no sense in any context, but that won’t stop Francesa from repeating the name Morneau (Moah-no) as if that is the answer to the Yankees’ woes when it’s:  A) not; and B) not going to happen.

Amid all the talk of the likes of Cliff Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Brian McCann and other available or potentially available name, they too are unlikely unless the Yankees are willing to surrender the prospects and eat the money that will be necessary to do it. Strangely, with Kevin Youkilis also returning to the disabled list with a back injury and the big news that Derek Jeter is back to baseball activities and may be able to return after the All-Star break, the one player that everyone reviled and wanted gone might be the player who can help more than any of the others who’ve been mentioned and won’t cost them anything to acquire: Alex Rodriguez.

A-Rod, for all the vitriol and embarrassment he engenders, still hit 18 homers and posted a .783 OPS in 122 games last season. His late-season stumble and post-season nightmare were due to him being hurt. If he comes back and shows some semblance of the pop he has in the past, pitchers will still have to plan for him even if he isn’t the 50-homer masher he once was.

After all the loathing A-Rod has inspired, it would be somewhat ironic if the Yankees look forward to his return because they need him and don’t treat him as if he’s an incurable disease whose mere mention inspires retching. And if the fans start clamoring for A-Rod and have the audacity to give him a standing ovation similar to the one that Jeter’s going to get when he comes back, A-Rod should respond appropriately. Given how he can’t sink any lower in the eyes of the public, a perfect response would be to drop he pants and moon the cheering crowd as he flips his middle finger at them. It would sum up the relationship and would probably be the first time in A-Rod’s tenure as a Yankee that he was honest about anything. The fans might actually appreciate it…as long as he hits.

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August Waivers Rodeo—National League

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Yesterday I looked at American League players who are going to get through waivers. Now let’s look at the National League.

Jayson Werth, OF—Washington Nationals

Werth has a full no-trade clause and is due around $100 million from now through 2017. He’s just returned from a wrist injury. By playoff time, the Nationals will benefit from his presence; he’s got playoff experience from his Phillies’ days and has had success while there.

Jason Bay, LF—New York Mets

He might as well take over as GM for any club that claimed him because that job would be open immediately upon his arrival. He might be traded somewhere in an exchange of contracts.

Andres Torres, CF—New York Mets

Someone might take him for a low-level prospect. He’s under team control for 2013, but the Mets are going to non-tender him if he’s still with the organization.

Jose Reyes, SS—Miami Marlins

There’s $96 million on his deal from 2013-2016. Given the way the Marlins operate, it’s safe to say that another team is going to be paying it off sooner or later. Maybe sooner. Maybe later. Who knows? No one’s claiming him. He’s not a player around whom to build.

Mark Buehrle, LHP—Miami Marlins

The contract: $11 million in 2013; $18 million in 2014; $19 million in 2015.

With the new ballpark and the pressure on the front office, the Marlins have to put forth the pretense of being competitive in 2013 and Buehrle can still pitch while not costing much for his skills in 2013.

Given the history of the Marlins under Jeffrey Loria, what did the agents of these players—Reyes and Buehrle—think when they got these backloaded deals? That this time there wouldn’t be a sell-off? This time they were going to keep the team together, win or lose? Reyes and Buehrle wanted their guaranteed money and they got it. They might be playing in space by the time the contracts bloat, but so what? They’re getting paid.

Carlos Lee, 1B/OF—Miami Marlins

He has a no-trade clause to 14 teams and isn’t afraid to exercise it. Someone will take him in late August as a righty bat off the bench hoping that a change wakes up his power bat. He’s a free agent at the end of the season.

Carlos Zambrano, RHP—Miami Marlins

The Cubs are paying most of his salary, but he’s been dreadful. The Marlins will end up just releasing him. Barring seven straight no-hitters, Zambrano’s contract kicker for 2013 (activated if he’s in the top 4 of the NL Cy Young voting this season) is not going to be activated. In that event, he also has to be judged “healthy” at the end of this season. Whether that’s physically and mentally is unknown. He has a no-trade clause, but why wouldn’t he waive it?

Ricky Nolasco, RHP—Miami Marlins

He’s signed for 2013 at $11.5 million. Claim him and they’ll give him to you.

Heath Bell, RHP—Miami Marlins

HA!!!!

John Buck, C—Miami Marlins

He’s batting under .200 and hits the occasional homer. He’s owed $6 million for 2013 and throws well enough from behind the plate.

Greg Dobbs, 3B/OF/PH—Miami Marlins

He signed a 2-year, $3 million contract for 2012-2013 and has pop off the bench. Someone like the Tigers would take him for the stretch run.

Ryan Howard, 1B—Philadelphia Phillies

$105 million on his deal through 2016 and is batting under .200 since returning from Achilles tendon surgery.

Chase Utley, 2B—Philadelphia Phillies

He might be worth a claim since he’s signed through 2013 at $15 million. His knees are a major issue, but he can hit.

Jonathan Papelbon, RHP—Philadelphia Phillies

$13 million guaranteed annually through 2015 with a $13 million vesting option. It would take a lot of courage for a team to claim him and for the Phillies to simply let him go. They have designs on contending in 2013, so they won’t dump Papelbon.

Jimmy Rollins, SS—Philadelphia Phillies

Take him and watch him plummet.

Placido Polanco, INF—Philadelphia Phillies

He’s a free agent at the end of the season and is hurt. If he’s healthy by late-August, someone might take him if the Phillies pay his buyout.

Kyle Kendrick, RHP—Philadelphia Phillies

He’s set to make $4.5 million in 2013 and isn’t very good.

Clint Barmes, SS—Pittsburgh Pirates

He’s hitting .211 and is signed for 2013 at $5.5 million.

Francisco Rodriguez, RHP—Milwaukee Brewers

K-Rod will get through and be traded for nothing in late August. Perhaps being in a pennant race as a set-up man will get him back in form—possibly with the Angels or Rangers.

Randy Wolf, LHP—Milwaukee Brewers

He’s a free agent at the end of the season and could help a contending club as a back-of-the-rotation veteran.

Aramis Ramirez, 3B—Milwaukee Brewers

He has a guaranteed $30 million coming to him beginning next season and no one’s taking that.

Alfonso Soriano, LF—Chicago Cubs

The Cubs will have to pay his salary of $36 million in 2013-2014 or take a similar contract, but he still has power and someone would take/exchange him.

Carlos Marmol, RHP—Chicago Cubs

A $9.8 million salary for 2013 makes him essentially unmovable unless the Cubs pay it. He still strikes people out, so someone would probably take him for free.

Barry Zito, LHP—San Francisco Giants

There’s $27 million remaining on his contract in 2013 with the buyout.

Juan Uribe, INF—Los Angeles Dodgers

What a disaster. And he’s got $8 million on his deal for 2013.

Rafael Betancourt, RHP—Colorado Rockies

He’s an effective reliever, but has $4.5 million due him in 2013 with a buyout for 2014. The Rockies probably won’t move him whether he’s claimed or not.

Ramon Hernandez, C—Colorado Rockies

He’s a backup making $3.2 million in 2013.

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Mid-Season Player Trade Predictions—National League

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Yesterday I predicted where various available American League players would wind up (or if they won’t be traded at all). Now let’s have a look at the National League. Bear one thing in mind: the irony shouldn’t be lost on you that Brett Myers was traded from the Astros to the White Sox and the “insiders” and rumormongering schlock sites had no inkling that Myers was even on the White Sox’ radar. They don’t have any more viable information than you or I do and are either making things up or working hand-in-hand with organizations and one another to wag the dog and accumulate webhits, attention and increase advertising rates.

Know what you’re reading and determine credibility based on logic and intelligence, not a circular reputation based on a shoddy foundation.

New York Mets

Ike Davis, 1B—He hasn’t been rumored anywhere that I’ve seen, but if they can move Davis as part of a deal for Justin Upton, it has to be explored. Davis has power, is a good fielder and his teammates love him, but he strikes out way too much; is streaky; and has a growing negative reputation with the umpires as a whiner. If he thinks the whining is going to get him close calls, he’s sorely mistaken. He won’t be traded in-season; in the off-season, the Mets will listen.

Daniel Murphy, 2B/1B/3B—He can hit and does have the ability to hit the ball out of the park 10-15 times a year in spite of his low power numbers in 2012; his defense at second base has been serviceable and no one works harder, but is he going to be the Mets’ second baseman when they take the next step into contention? If not, they should explore dealing him for pitching help. He’ll go as part of a deal for Huston Street so the Mets can get Jordany Valdespin into the lineup.

Scott Hairston, OF—The talk of trading the likes of R.A. Dickey at his “high value” is ridiculous, but they could get bullpen help for Hairston. I doubt they trade him.

Jason Bay, OF—They could get a similarly bad contract like Chone Figgins and probably money to pay off a worse contract like Vernon Wells. It would be best for everyone, but Bay’s not going anywhere now. They’ll release him after the season.

Miami Marlins

Carlos Zambrano, RHP—Nobody wants him and after yesterday’s display of 6 walks in 3.1 innings and his awful pitching of late, when the Marlins start making the inevitable changes, they’ll just release him and make a big show of it as evidence of them “doing something”.

Hanley Ramirez, 3B/SS—They won’t trade Hanley in-season. If they make a move, it’ll be over the winter. Even then, I doubt they’ll pull the trigger. In fact, amid all the talk of a “Marlins sell-off”, they can’t clean out the house halfway into the first season in a new park just because the flawed team they put together hasn’t performed. Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Giancarlo Stanton aren’t going anywhere…for now.

Logan Morrison, LF/1B—LoMo is another matter. He’s too one-dimensional to be this much of an organizational pest. He irritated the club with his tweeting and subversive behaviors and if they’d like to set an example, this is the way to do it.

The Orioles need a bat who can hit the ball out of the park.

Ricky Nolasco, RHP—Nolasco needs a change of scenery and if teams realize the Marlins are moving some pieces after the names that are floating around now are off the board, Nolasco’s a pretty good consolation prize. The Cardinals could use him.

Anibal Sanchez, RHP—Another former Red Sox’ farmhand like Ramirez, he’s available and very good when he’s healthy. Back to the Red Sox he goes.

Heath Bell, RHP—Who wants the contract? Who wants him? Nobody and nobody.

Omar Infante, 2B—They won’t trade him.

John Buck, C—Who wants him?

Greg Dobbs, 3B/OF/PH—The Giants need a bat off the bench.

Philadelphia Phillies

Cole Hamels, LHP—They’re going to sign him.

Cliff Lee, LHP—Here’s a flash for the Joel Shermans of the world of which there are far too many: THEY’RE NOT TRADING LEE!!!!

Shane Victorino, OF—The Yankees are being pushed to acquire an outfielder they don’t need and are said to have asked about Victorino. He’ll be traded and I say to the Indians.

Ty Wigginton, INF—He’s a Kirk Gibson-type player who’d help the Diamondbacks as a corner infielder and bat off the bench.

Hunter Pence, OF—They’re not trading Pence.

Jimmy Rollins, SS—If they’d like to free up some money for Hamels, they could explore getting rid of Rollins. The Giants like veterans, but Brandon Crawford hit a grand slam yesterday; they demoted Brandon Belt; if the Giants look for a bat, it will be at first base. Nobody’s taking Rollins.

Juan Pierre, OF—The Cardinals could use bench help and speed.

Placido Polanco, INF—Back to the Tigers.

Joe Blanton, RHP—The Orioles need a starter to gobble innings.

Milwaukee Brewers

Zack Greinke, RHP—Greinke won’t sign long-term with the Brewers, but they’re close enough to contention to hang onto him and take the draft pick when he leaves.

Randy Wolf, LHP—Another pitcher who will be on the second tier after the names come off the board. He’ll go to the Dodgers.

Shaun Marcum, RHP—He won’t be traded.

Aramis Ramirez, 3B—Nobody’s taking that contract.

Francisco Rodriguez, RHP—Back to the Angels.

Chicago Cubs

Matt Garza, RHP—The blogosphere went bonkers when Garza was yanked from last night’s game after 3 innings. “Was he traded?” “Where was he traded?”

He wasn’t traded. He had cramping in his triceps.

Unless the Cubs are knocked over, why trade him now? He’s under contract for 2013 and whatever they’d get now, they can get after the season. He’ll stay.

Ryan Dempster, RHP—Don’t buy into the teams that are supposedly “out” on Dempster. He’s a Jim Leyland-type of pitcher and the Tigers need starting pitching.

Starlin Castro, SS—They’ll listen but won’t move him in-season.

Geovany Soto, C—If he’s moved, it will be in the winter.

Bryan LaHair, 1B—With the Giants sending Belt to the minors, they need a bat at first base.

Carlos Marmol, RHP—I don’t know who’d want him. He strikes out a lot of hitters, but walks a lot as well.

Alfonso Soriano, LF/DH—The Cubs would have to pay off his remaining contract ($36 million for 2013-2014), but what’s the difference at this point? I doubt anyone’s taking him even for free.

Houston Astros

Wandy Rodriguez, LHP—He’s owed up to $26 million for next season with his 2014 option becoming guaranteed with a trade. The Blue Jays need pitching and have money and prospects to deal.

Wesley Wright, LHP—The Rangers need another lefty reliever for the playoffs.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Justin Upton, RF—They’ve made such an overt display of putting him on the market, they pretty much have to trade him now. The Rays will jump in with a package and hope that the unification of the Justin with his brother B.J. Upton will inspire B.J. to play hard over the second half and perhaps steal another playoff spot.

Stephen Drew, SS—The Braves need a shortstop and Paul Janish ain’t it.

Ryan Roberts, INF/OF—Roberts is a utility player who had a career year in 2011 and the Diamondbacks began to think he’s an everyday player. They’ll keep him and put him back where he belongs as an extra bench man.

San Diego Padres

Chase Headley, 3B—Their demands are high for a controllable player and won’t trade him.

Carlos Quentin, LF—He and the Padres are supposedly nearing a contract extension.

Huston Street, RHP—He’ll go to the Mets.

Luke Gregerson, RHP—They won’t trade him.

Clayton Richard, LHP—They won’t trade him.

Joe Thatcher, LHP—The Indians need another lefty out of the bullpen.

Edinson Volquez, RHP—They won’t trade him.

Colorado Rockies

Dexter Fowler, CF—They’d listen but won’t move him. If GM Dan O’Dowd goes to ownership with a deal that’s as big as it would be to trade Fowler and ownership says to hold off, O’Dowd should start getting boxes for his stuff and prepare to clean out his office.

Rafael Betancourt, RHP—Back to the Indians.

Ramon Hernandez, C—The Rays have interest and that’s where he’ll go.

Jason Giambi, 1B/PH—The Reds need a lefty bat off the bench who can play sparingly at first base until Joey Votto is 100%.

Carlos Gonzalez, OF—More nonsense from Joel Sherman who said recently that the Yankees (shocking coming from Sherman) should go after Gonzalez. He’s not available even to the Yankees who, supposedly, are preordained to be handed whatever they want whether it be Lee, Gonzalez or whoever.

Gonzalez’s not getting dealt.

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National League Central—Buy, Sell or Stand Pat?

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Cincinnati Reds

Reds’ GM Walt Jocketty is a buyer and wants to win now. The Reds have what it takes to go far in the playoffs with a deep starting rotation and bullpen and mashers in the middle of their lineup. They’re still in need of a bat at shortstop, third base or in the outfield. The only position where they should consider a long-term solution is third base and that’s where they should make a move on Chase Headley. Jocketty and Padres’ GM Josh Byrnes came together on a mutually advantageous blockbuster last winter when the Reds acquired Mat Latos so they’re able to come to consensus on deals.

Apart from Headley, short-term upgrades in centerfield or at shortstop would be better than more expensive, longer-term options. If the Phillies put Shane Victorino on the block, he’d be a positive addition. At shortstop, Stephen Drew of the Diamondbacks is absolutely available. An extra lefty for the bullpen would be of use with Joe Thatcher and Jose Mijares attractive targets.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates have to decide whether they’re going for it with a bomb or going for it with short precision passes.

What I mean by that is if they’re going for it with a bomb, then their top prospects Starling Marte and Gerrit Cole would have to be on the table. The “bomb” type players they could acquire would include Justin Upton, Starlin Castro, Giancarlo Stanton or a similar young bat.

A shorter pass would include Drew or Carlos Quentin.

The Pirates are legitimate contenders and do need a bat, but I would not gut the system to get it. Another concern of mine would be messing with team chemistry by trading for a star player who’s going to be with the club longer than for the rest of this season. They’ve charted a course and need to stick to it because it’s working.

St. Louis Cardinals

GM John Mozeliak has proven himself to be aggressive in the fact of overwhelming odds to the point that he was perceived as desperate and delusional at the trading deadline last season when he made his one marketable young player, Colby Rasmus, the centerpiece of the deal that got them Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel.

Will the Cardinals make a similar decision this season? Tony LaRussa is gone and it’s doubtful that Mike Matheny’s voice will elicit the same wearing down effect that LaRussa’s whining and organizational politicking did.

The Cardinals are leading the league in runs scored but should bolster their bench with a Ty Wigginton or Jason Giambi. They need a starting pitcher and have the prospects to get Zack Greinke or Cole Hamels. I can’t imagine the Cubs trading Ryan Dempster or anyone else to the Cardinals. For the bullpen, they could look to the Mariners for Brandon League; the Athletics for Grant Balfour; the Padres for Thatcher, Huston Street or former Cardinals’ prospect Luke Gregerson; or the Rockies for Matt Belisle or Rafael Betancourt.

I don’t think the Cardinals are legitimate contenders as currently constructed and will fade without improving the pitching.

Milwaukee Brewers

Mixed signals are coming from Milwaukee. Like the Phillies, they’re waiting and listening. Francisco Rodriguez just replaced the struggling John Axford as closer, but K-Rod is a free agent at the end of the year and would bring back a couple of prospects from a team like the Angels or Rangers. There’s speculation that Greinke is hurt after he was pushed back from his start to “recharge his batteries”—whatever that means. They’re supposedly accepting offers for a free agent they signed last winter, Aramis Ramirez.

I don’t think they know what they are at present.

The problem the Brewers have is that their farm system is essentially gutted and they put everything into winning last season and didn’t. The next two weeks will determine the remainder of 2012, but they have to be open to trading Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf, K-Rod, Ramirez and calculate the draft pick compensation they’d get for Greinke in comparison to what teams are offering.

They’re not out of contention…yet. Considering where they’re heading with a rebuild/retool on the way after this season, they might be better off adding a Drew, Victorino or Bryan LaHair rather than clean house.

Chicago Cubs

Everything must go.

They’ve denied it, but I think they will absolutely be willing to trade Castro. When the manager of the team, Dale Sveum, has to bench a player and have that player sit next to him to explain why things are happening on the field and quiz him about where he should be in certain situations and what he should be doing, he’s not a Theo Epstein-type of self-starter who plays the game correctly. Castro’s extremely talented, accumulates hits and makes a sparkling play here and there, but he’s not good.

Matt Garza doesn’t have to be traded and that makes him more valuable since he’s under team control through 2013. Dempster’s getting traded; LaHair might get traded; if he was hitting, Geovany Soto would be in heavier demand than he is and might get traded anyway. They should do whatever they can to get rid of Alfonso Soriano and if that means accepting the sunk cost of his contract and paying him off, so be it. Someone might be willing to take a chance that a change of scenery would help the strikeout/walk-machine, on-again/off-again closer Carlos Marmol.

Houston Astros

GM Jeff Luhnow got a couple of useful pieces for Carlos Lee. They were willing to listen on Jed Lowrie, but Lowrie’s hurt. Brett Myers is marketable as is Brandon Lyon. Wesley Wright will be in play as a lefty reliever. The opinions on Wandy Rodriguez are varied and vast. I’ve always liked him and think he’d be a good addition to a team with a solid defense and playing in a park where it’s not easy to hit home runs like the Mets, Angels, Dodgers and Marlins.

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Off Season Losers In Retrospect

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Several days ago I listed the off season winners in retrospect discussing teams and the moves they made this past winter. Now it’s time for the losers.

New York Yankees

Acquired: Michael Pineda, Raul Ibanez, Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, Jose Campos

Subtracted: Jorge Posada, A.J. Burnett, Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi

The YES Network website still hasn’t mentioned Jose Campos since he got hurt. For that matter, nor have they mentioned Manny Banuelos’s recent injury. Maybe they haven’t been informed yet. Yeah. That’s it.

The trade of Montero and Noesi for Pineda and Campos is an absolute and utter disaster—a fireable offense for GM Brian Cashman.

Kuroda’s been good and unlucky.

Pettitte’s unexpected return has been a bolt from the blue and Ibanez has contributed the power I expected.

It’s fine to talk about them “having” to get rid of Burnett, but they’re paying him; they got low minor leaguers for him; he’s pitching well for the Pirates; and the players the Yankees got haven’t played yet in 2012. Had Pettitte not returned I guarantee there would be people now lamenting the loss of Burnett.

Guarantee.

Boston Red Sox

Acquired: GM Ben Cherington, Manager Bobby Valentine, Andrew Bailey, Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross, Kelly Shoppach, Mark Melancon, Nick Punto

Subtracted: GM Theo Epstein, Manager Terry Francona, Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scutaro, Josh Reddick, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek

It’s only when you look at the list above all at once do you realize how rancid an off-season the Red Sox had. Never mind the exchange of GMs/managers. Had he stayed, Epstein probably would’ve had better success fending off the advancing power grab of Larry Lucchino but it would’ve taken a Herculean effort for Epstein to prevent the mediocrity that the Red Sox have become.

I’m sick of seeing Francona complaining about how he was treated in Boston. If it weren’t for the Red Sox, the hot chicks to whom he’s sending candid photos of himself wouldn’t know who he is; not to mention would he not have two World Series rings and respect as a “great” manager—which he’s not.

Bailey got hurt as Reddick is on his way to making the All Star team and has been the Athletics’ best player. Melancon is back in the minor leagues; Shoppach is on the trade block; Ross was playing well before he got hurt; Punto is Punto.

No one’s saying they should’ve overpaid to keep Papelbon, but giving Scutaro away for a journeyman righty Clayton Mortensen made no sense.

Detroit Tigers

Acquired: Prince Fielder, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Collin Balester

Subtracted: Wilson Betemit, Brad Penny, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Joel Zumaya

Fielder and Cabrera are doing their jobs at the plate and more. The porous defense created by the signing of Fielder and shifting of Cabrera to third base hasn’t been as catastrophic as expected. That’s unless the pitching staff has it in their heads that they have to strike out more hitters or pitch differently to prevent balls from being hit to the right or left sides of the infield—highly unlikely.

The Tigers are 5 games under .500 because their pitching has been bad. The off-season isn’t a failure because of the signing of Fielder, but 5 games under .500 wasn’t what Mike Ilitch had in mind when he paid all that money to sign a huge bat like Fielder to replace Victor Martinez and team him with Cabrera.

Minnesota Twins

Acquired: GM Terry Ryan, Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll, Jason Marquis, Ryan Doumit, Joel Zumaya

Subtracted: GM Bill Smith, Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel, Kevin Slowey

Terry Ryan was supposed to come back into the GM’s chair and start doing things the “Twins’ Way”. Well, that “way” is no longer working. The reason that vaunted “way” worked in the past was because they had talent on the roster and a club that was built for how Ron Gardenhire managed.

That’s no longer the case.

Marquis was released. Carroll hasn’t hit. Willingham’s been fantastic. The Zumaya signing was worth a shot I suppose, but he got hurt again. What he needs now is a friend—a real friend—to tell him that it’s over and he should retire before he damages himself permanently.

Maybe that’s what the Twins need too.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Acquired: GM Jerry Dipoto, Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson, Chris Iannetta, Jason Isringhausen, LaTroy Hawkins

Subtracted: GM Tony Reagins, Fernando Rodney, Jeff Mathis, Tyler Chatwood

Pujols has started hitting and the Angels will rise and fall on what he does, but the uncharacteristic decision on the part of the Angels to depart from the template they’ve adhered to for a decade has led to this disconnect between GM Dipoto, manager Mike Scioscia and the club.

Scioscia’s hitting coach, Mickey Hatcher, was fired against Scioscia’s wishes. They never took serious steps to bolster the bullpen and had too many players for too few lineup spots.

Owner Arte Moreno made maneuvers that were not team-related, but related to the TV deal he wanted to secure. And he did.

They did business like the 1980s Yankees and they’ve been playing and behaving like the 1980s Yankees. The one thing that will save them is the thing that was lacking in the 1980s: the Wild Cards.

Cincinnati Reds

Acquired: Mat Latos, Ryan Madson, Ryan Ludwick

Subtracted: Ramon Hernandez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal, Edinson Volquez, Edgar Renteria, Francisco Cordero

The Reds are in first place and playing well no thanks to Latos (he’s been horrific); Madson (out for the year with Tommy John surgery); and Ludwick (.205/.290/.402 slash line with 6 homers in a homer-friendly home park).

It’s not as if they needed Alonso with Joey Votto ensconced at first base. They have a young catcher in Devin Mesoraco so they didn’t really need Grandal. And Volquez has been consistently inconsistent and injured since his great rookie year with the Reds.

But the winter moves are what’s relevant here and if they’d held onto the players they traded for Latos (and I’m not retrospectively ripping the deal since I thought it was good for both sides), they could’ve gotten mid-season help rather than an in-season nightmare.

Milwaukee Brewers

Acquired: Aramis Ramirez, Alex Gonzalez, Norichika Aoki, Jose Veras, Brooks Conrad

Subtracted: Prince Fielder, Yuniesky Betancourt, Casey McGehee

Ramirez is starting to hit and will hit put up numbers by the end of the season. We’ll never know whether the improved defense and pop from Alex Gonzalez and a full season from Mat Gamel would’ve made up for the loss of Fielder because both blew out their knees within days of each other.

It’s not really anyone’s fault. They did the best they could under their financial and practical circumstances.

St. Louis Cardinals

Acquired: Manager Mike Matheny, Carlos Beltran, pitching coach Derek Lilliquist

Subtracted: Manager Tony LaRussa, pitching coach Dave Duncan, Albert Pujols, Edwin Jackson, Octavio Dotel, Gerald Laird, Nick Punto.

So wait…now that the Cardinals are at .500 and freefalling it’s been miraculously discovered that the transition from a Hall of Fame manager/pitching coach combination to a manager who’s never managed before anywhere wasn’t going to go as smoothly as it did when they got off to a hot start?

That replacing Pujols wasn’t as simple as signing Beltran and moving the now-injured 36-year-old Lance Berkman to first base?

Shocking.

Colorado Rockies

Acquired: Michael Cuddyer, Marco Scutaro, Ramon Hernandez, Jeremy Guthrie, Tyler Chatwood, Tyler Colvin, Jamie Moyer

Subtracted: Chris Iannetta, Jason Hammel, Matt Lindstrom, Ian Stewart, Seth Smith

The starting pitching has killed them.

They loaded up on starters, but it hasn’t been enough as Drew Pomeranz got hurt and they gave Moyer 10 starts. It hasn’t helped that Hammel has been very good for the Orioles while Guthrie has been terrible for the Rockies.

Cuddyer has been everything advertised. Scutaro and Hernandez haven’t.

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Believe It Or Don’t—The Bad (National League)

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In recent days, I’ve looked at teams that were either underachieving or overachieving based on expectations. Let’s check the National League underachievers (or achievers as the case may be).

  • Miami Marlins

What they’re doing.

The Marlins are 23-19 and in 3rd place in the NL East, 2 1/2 games behind the Braves.

How they’re doing it.

Their starting pitching has helped them overcome Heath Bell’s rancid first two months, a shaky overall bullpen and struggling lineup.

Bell’s been better in his last several outings, but no one, nowhere in Miami is going to feel comfortable with him closing an important late season game against any contender.

The lineup, which was supposed to be a strength, is 13th in the NL in runs scored. Jose Reyes hasn’t been the sparkplug they thought they were getting and his defense is drastically declining. Emilio Bonifacio is on the disabled list; John Buck and Gaby Sanchez are both hitting under .200 with Sanchez just having been sent to the minors; Logan Morrison has 2 homers; most glaringly and concerning (not counting last night’s game), Hanley Ramirez has played in a combined 133 games in 2011-2012 and hit 17 homers with a slash line of .259/.323/.412.

Then there’s the Ozzie Guillen-Fidel Castro controversy that, luckily for the Marlins, died down.

In addition to all of that, there’s the new ballpark and newly remodeled club and a still-underwhelming attendance that’s 8th in the National League.

Believe it or don’t?

I’d be very worried about Ramirez. With their starting pitching and Josh Johnson finding his form, they’ll have enough to loiter around contention, but their hitting and bullpen are so problematic that being barely over .500 is pretty much it for the Marlins.

Believe it.

  • Philadelphia Phillies

What they’re doing.

The Phillies are 21-22, in last place in the NL East and 5 games behind the Braves.

How they’re doing it.

They’re without Chase Utley and Ryan Howard; Jimmy Rollins is hitting around .230; they’re carrying hitters like Freddy Galvis who’s not ready for the big leagues; and playing role players Ty Wigginton and John Mayberry Jr. regularly.

Roy Halladay hasn’t been his normal, machine-like self. Cliff Lee was on the disabled list and Vance Worley is on the disabled list. Cole Hamels and Joe Blanton have picked up the slack and helped the Phillies stay competitive through their injuries and offensive malaise.

Believe it or don’t?

Don’t believe it and don’t listen to Jim Bowden/schlocky websites/trolling columnists when they suggest that the Phillies are going to be sellers at the trading deadline. They’re not selling anything unless they’re 20 games under .500, and that’s not going to happen.

The Phillies will be back at or near the top of the NL East by the time the season is over.

  • Milwaukee Brewers

What they’re doing.

The Brewers are 17-25 and 6 games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central.

How they’re doing it.

Losing Prince Fielder was bad enough, but his designated kindasorta replacement in the lineup, Aramis Ramirez, is hitting .218 with 3 homers; his actual replacement at first base, Mat Gamel, blew out his knee; and for good (or bad) measure, shortstop Alex Gonzalez blew his knee out as well.

The starting pitching has been good and the bullpen hasn’t.

Ryan Braun has picked up where he left off from his MVP season in 2011 and—presumably—he’s not going to be stupid enough to do anything that might cause a failed PED test.

Believe it or don’t?

This team is flawed and short-handed offensively. They have the pitching to get back within striking distance of a playoff spot, but unless they hit, they’re a .500 team at best.

Believe it.

  • San Francisco Giants

What they’re doing.

The Giants are 22-20, 7 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West.

How they’re doing it.

They’ve lost closer Brian Wilson for the season, but their bullpen is still deep enough even without their horse. Starting pitching is carrying them and that’s with Tim Lincecum carting around an ERA over six.

Their hitting has been better than the popgun it was in the past, but pitching is what carries the Giants.

Believe it or don’t?

Don’t believe it. The Giants are better than a .500 team and once Lincecum gets straightened out and Pablo Sandoval is back healthy, they’ll be in the thick of the playoff race.

  • Arizona Diamondbacks

What they’re doing.

The Diamondbacks are 19-24 and 10 1/2 games behind the Dodgers in the NL West.

How they’re doing it.

A lot went right for the Diamondbacks in 2011, especially in the bullpen. The lineup has black spots. Chris Young is just off the disabled list and they’re waiting for Stephen Drew.

Paul Goldschmidt and Ryan Roberts have a combined 4 homers. You can’t win with Willie Bloomquist playing every day and your first and third basemen not hitting the ball out of the park.

Trevor Cahill is 2-4 and that’s with a .262 BAbip. Imagine if he wasn’t as lucky as he’s been. Ian Kennedy has an ERA of nearly 4.5 and is leading the National League in hits allowed.

J.J. Putz has been a calamity as the closer.

Believe it or don’t?

Believe it. Their luck from 2011 has abandoned them and they’re plainly and simply not that good.

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Time Is Running Out Fast On The Brewers

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By itself the Brewers’ loss of first baseman Mat Gamel to a torn ACL isn’t all that catastrophic.

Gamel wasn’t exactly taking advantage of his opportunity to play every day (again) after the free agent loss of Prince Fielder. With a slash line of .246/.293/.348, 1 home run and mediocre defense, it shouldn’t be that hard to replace Gamel.

But if you read this piece from Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Brewers intend to replace Gamel with veteran journeyman Travis Ishikawa.

Ishikawa’s slash line is .172/.226/.414.

That’s not going to cut it.

The Brewers’ best maneuver (one they’re considering) would be to shift Corey Hart to first base—where he’d done some spring work—and use a combination in right and centerfield of Carlos Gomez, Nyjer Morgan and Norichika Aoki.

Eventually I’m sure that’s the final conclusion they’ll come to.

The Brewers had hoped that their pitching would remain a strong suit. A deep and impressive starting rotation backed up by two legitimate closers should keep any team competitive whether they lose a basher like Fielder or not. They signed Aramis Ramirez to pick up some of the slack, but Ramirez is a notorious slow starter and has gotten out of the gate poorly. When the weather heats up, in general, so does Ramirez.

Ryan Braun has quietly gotten off to a good start with 7 homers and a .942 OPS and quieted the PED controversy from the off-season.

But the Brewers don’t have much time to get themselves together. They’re a win-now team with important pieces—Zack Greinke, Francisco Rodriguez and Shaun Marcum—set for free agency after the season.

For a mid-market team with a tiny window, the Brewers got to the precipice in 2011 and fell short. They took steps to make another run, but fate has stepped in with a vengeance.

If they don’t get themselves together soon, GM Doug Melvin needs to seriously consider putting the word out that he’s willing to listen to offers on the above-mentioned pending free agents. K-Rod would be an asset to a contender—perhaps back where he began his career with the Angels. Marcum is a solid mid-rotation starter. Greinke is a star whom the Brewers are unlikely to be able to keep.

They gutted their system and made their moves for 2011 and lost in the NLCS. Now it may be time to set a date (around mid-late-June) and make a move in the direction of reality and accept that they need to get what they can for the players they won’t have much longer and look toward 2013 and beyond.

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2012 National League Central Predicted Standings

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Wins Losses GB
1. Cincinnati Reds 91 71
2. Milwaukee Brewers 87 75 4
3. St. Louis Cardinals 77 85 14
4. Pittsburgh Pirates 77 85 14
5. Chicago Cubs 73 89 18
6. Houston Astros 60 102 31

Cincinnati Reds

Dusty Baker’s teams have a tendency to win when his job is on the line or his contract is coming to a conclusion—and this is the final year of his contract.

GM Walt Jocketty made a bold move in trading a large portion of the Reds’ farm system to get an ace-quality starter in Mat Latos and bolstered his bullpen by signing Ryan Madson and trading for Sean Marshall.

Offensively, the Reds have some question marks but were second in the National League in runs scored last season and first in 2010. Scott Rolen’s injuries are an issue and shortstop is likely to be manned by a talented rookie Zack Cozart.

But with a deep starting rotation; a very good bullpen; Joey Votto in the middle of the lineup; the emerging Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs; and the additions from the winter, the Reds are a championship threat.

Milwaukee Brewers

If Mat Gamel hits and Aramis Ramirez posts his normal numbers, they’ll have enough offense without Prince Fielder. Alex Gonzalez is a good pickup offensively and defensively to replace the limited Yuniesky Betancourt; Zack Greinke is sure to have a big year heading towards free agency; and the bullpen is superlative with Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford.

The questions surrounding the Ryan Braun failed drug test and technical knockout of his 50-game suspension are not going to go away.

Braun has to hit from the beginning of the season to the end and he’s still going to be hounded with a press contingent waiting for a reasonable answer as to how he failed the test in the first place. A slow start will be the death knell to his season and probably the Brewers’ playoff hopes.

And don’t forget how much vitriol their arrogance engendered throughout baseball last season. When the world-at-large was pulling for a Tony LaRussa –led team, you know their oppenents were despised.

There’s a 2006 Mets feeling about the Brewers that they missed their chance and we know what happened to the Mets in the aftermath of their upset loss to the Cardinals.

St. Louis Cardinals

It’s idiotic to base one’s hopes for a repeat championship on the idea that losing the generation’s best manager (Tony LaRussa); hitter (Albert Pujols); and a magician of a pitching coach (Dave Duncan) are going to be easily covered with Mike Matheny (never managed before—ever); signing Carlos Beltran and shifting Lance Berkman to first base (they’re older players); and Derek Lilliquist (um…).

You cannot dismiss the contributions of those three men—all of whom are Hall of Famers.

As respected and well-liked as Matheny is, there’s a learning curve to manage.

The Cardinals have starting pitching, but their bullpen is still a question mark and Matheny’s handling of said bullpen is going to be an issue.

Beltran and Berkman will make up for Pujols’s production to a degree, but if you’re banking your hopes on David Freese being the same star he was in the playoffs and Rafael Furcal, Jon Jay and Skip Schumaker, you’re dreaming.

This team is rife for a big fall and major turmoil.

Pittsburgh Pirates

We’ll never know what the Pirates’ 2011 season would’ve become had they not been so horribly robbed in that play at the plate and egregious call by Jerry Meals in the 19-inning game against the Braves in late July. Those who think that an entire season can’t hinge on one game are wrong.

The Pirates did many good things mostly as a result of manager Clint Hurdle’s simple mandate of discipline and not taking crap.

They’ve locked up key players Andrew McCutchen and Jose Tabata and acquired cheap, high-ceiling veteran starters A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard.

They’re not ready to contend, but they’re getting better and if things go well, they have a shot at third place.

Chicago Cubs

Those expecting a Theo Epstein arrival/revival and immediate rise to championship-level status as happened when he took over the Red Sox need to take a step back.

The Red Sox had a lot of talent and money to spend when Epstein took over in 2003; the Cubs are trying to clear onerous contracts of declining veterans like Alfonso Soriano and already got rid of Carlos Zambrano (and are paying him to pitch for the Marlins).

A large part of my analysis isn’t simply based on what a team has when the season starts, but what’s going to happen as the season moves along. The Cubs are going to be ready to deal with Carlos Marmol, Ryan Dempster and Marlon Byrd possibly on the move.

It’s not going to be a quick fix to repair this organization.

Houston Astros

There’s a perception that simply because they hired a stat-savvy GM in Jeff Luhnow and he’s at work rebuilding the system that the Astros are “guaranteed” to have success in the near future.

Are you aware of what happened to similar thinking baseball people like Paul DePodesta and Jack Zduriencik?

The Astros neglected their minor league system for so long that they’re tantamount to an expansion team. Luhnow brought in high-end talent like Fernando Martinez cheaply; he’s scouring the scrapheap with Livan Hernandez for big league competence while he cleans up the mess; and he’s hired like-minded people to help him.

But it’s not a guarantee and his “success” with the Cardinals minor league system is based on perception depending on your own beliefs and/or biases on how to run a club rather than bottom-line reality.

Here’s what we can agree on: in 2012, they’re going to be terrible.

Click here for a full sample of Paul Lebowitz’s 2012 Baseball Guide (this link is of the Blue Jays) of team predictions/projections. My book can be purchased on KindleSmashwordsBN and Lulu with other outlets on the way.

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Hot Stove Losers, 2011-2012

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On Friday I listed the winners of the off-season. Now let’s look at the losers.

Boston Red Sox

It’s not the maneuvers they made that are specifically bad.

Confusing? Yes, trading Marco Scutaro to free up some money and then spending some of that money to sign Cody Ross while leaving shortstop in the questionable hands of Nick Punto, Mike Aviles and/or rookie Jose Iglesias was one of a long line of bizarre decisions, but none could be called “bad”.

My focus is on the perceived and practical appearance of disarray that’s taken hold in Boston since the departure of Theo Epstein.

Say what you want about Epstein and the moves he made, but you knew he was in charge.

Now, with Ben Cherington elevated to GM and Larry Lucchino clearly diving into the breach and interfering in team matters (Bobby Valentine would not be the Red Sox manager without Lucchino championing him), there’s a troubling lack of cohesion.

What you have is a team of well-paid stars whose behavior was enabled by a disciplinary lackadaisical former manager, good guy Terry Francona; a transition from a clubhouse dominated by Jason Varitek to…who?; a front office with multiple voices and philosophies trying to gain sway; and a polarizing manager who won’t want to blow what is probably his final chance to manage in the majors and working on a 2-year contract.

They haven’t addressed issues in the starting rotation other than hope that Daniel Bard can make the transition from reliever to starter and sign a bunch of low-cost veterans on minor league deals to see if they can cobble together a back-end of the rotation. But what happened with the Yankees and Freddy Garcia/Bartolo Colon in 2011 doesn’t happen too often, so the Red Sox shouldn’t expect to get similar renaissance-level/amazing rise performances from Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, John Maine and Clayton Mortensen.

There are more questions than answers with this team and the solution to what ails them starts at the top.

And at the top, it’s chaos.

Baltimore Orioles

Regardless of the ridicule his hiring received, Dan Duquette is a highly competent baseball man who never got the credit he deserved for helping put together the Expos of the 1990s or the Red Sox of recent vintage.

But the Orioles are devoid of talent, especially on the mound, and it doesn’t matter how qualified the manager (Buck Showalter) and GM are, you can’t win if you don’t have talent.

What the Orioles have to do is make the difficult decision to take their most marketable assets—Nick Markakis, Adam JonesJim Johnson and even Matt Wieters—and let the rest of baseball know that they’re open for business and willing to listen to any and all offers.

Whether owner Peter Angelos or Showalter will be on board with that is up in the air.

Oakland Athletics

So Billy Beane gets another rebuild?

How many is this now? Five?

The Athletics use a lack of funds and a difficult division—along with their GM’s increasingly ridiculous and fictional reputation as a “genius”—to justify trading away all of their young talent for the future.

That future is far away in the distance and contingent on a new ballpark that they hope, pray, plead, beg will one day come their way.

Here’s a question: why do the Rays, facing the same logistical issues as the Athletics, try and win by making intelligent, cost-effective moves with their players and somehow succeed while a supposed “genius” is continually given a pass because of a resume that is bottom-line fabricated from start-to-finish?

Yet we’ll again hear how Beane got the “right” players in dumping Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey.

Right players for what?

If the answer is losing close to 100 games, then he’s definitely succeeded.

Oh, they kept Coco Crisp and signed Bartolo Colon.

Beane deserves an Oscar more than Brad Pitt for maintaining the veneer of knowing something others don’t.

It’s a ruse and you’re a fool if you continue to fall for it.

Milwaukee Brewers

They understandably lost Prince Fielder because they couldn’t and wouldn’t approach the $214 million he received from the Tigers.

Signing Aramis Ramirez was a good decision and they kept their bullpen and starting rotation together, but their hot stove season was pockmarked with the failed(?) drug test of NL MVP Ryan Braun and possible 50 game suspension for using PEDs.

With the pitching and remaining offense in a mediocre division, they’d be able to hang around contention even without Fielder, but missing Braun for 50 games could bury them.

St. Louis Cardinals

You can’t lose three Hall of Fame caliber people and consider the off-season a success. Albert Pujols, Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan are all gone. Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran will offset the loss of Pujols…somewhat, but he’s still Pujols and fundamentally irreplaceable.

Mike Matheny has never managed before and it was the rebuilding aptitude of Dave Duncan that salvaged something out of the broken down and finished pitchers he continually fixed like an abandoned but still workable car.

LaRussa is the best manager of this generation.

A seamless transition? No way.

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The Brewers Fill Their Holes

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They may not be flashy signings, but the Brewers acquisitions of Alex Gonzalez to play shortstop and Aramis Ramirez to play third shore up holes and give them two bats who hit the ball out of the ballpark to counteract the near-guaranteed loss of Prince Fielder.

Gonzalez signed a 1-year contract and Ramirez’s deal is reportedly for 3-years at $34-$37 million—MLB Trade Rumors.

Gonzalez is still a fine fielder and despite a lack of on-base skills, he’ll hit 15-20 homers. You could make the same offensive argument with Yuniesky Betancourt, but at least Gonzalez can catch the ball and has range.

Ramirez isn’t a particularly good defensive third baseman, but he’ll hit 25-30 homers and has a .342 career on-base percentage and has always hit for power. You know what you’ll get from Ramirez.

Individually, the acquisitions aren’t much to get excited about, but considering the Brewers pitching staff—a superior starting rotation and shut-down bullpen (especially now that Francisco Rodriguez has accepted salary arbitration)—they don’t need a high-powered offense to win.

If they choose to keep Casey McGehee rather than non-tender him, he’s insurance at first base if they give Mat Gamel a legitimate chance to play regularly or take a chance on a Kendrys Morales.

The Brewers have limited funds and couldn’t afford to replace an expensive star-level player like Fielder with a similar talent from the outside, but it’s smart to accentuate the positives and focus on what these players can do rather than what they can’t, scouring and assessing what was available in replacing Betancourt and making McGehee a backup—as he should be—with Gonzalez and Ramirez; in these deals they’re staying competitive, without destroying their salary structure.

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