Reading Between Sandy Alderson’s Lines

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Sandy Alderson was a guest with Mike Francesa on WFAN in New York yesterday and said a lot without going into great detail as to what his true intentions are. This is nothing new. Alderson is cautious and makes it a point to give himself room by not saying anything that could later come back to haunt him. But if you read between the lines of what he said, you can come to a conclusion as to where he’s heading for the Mets in 2014 and beyond.

Matt Harvey – surgery or not?

According to Alderson, by next month there should be a plan in place on what to do about Harvey’s partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. While Harvey’s determination to avoid surgery to help the Mets is admirable, it was clear from listening to Alderson that he and the Mets want Harvey to get the surgery done, have his elbow repaired and be 100 percent for late 2014/early 2015.

Alderson is essentially saying what the self-educated “experts” in the media and on social media should say: “I’m not a doctor and we’ll do what the doctors’ consensus is.” If I were Alderson, I would speak to Harvey’s dad, Ed Harvey, who is a notable high school coach and make certain he understands the ramifications of Matt not getting the surgery and express that to his son.

Ike Davis and Lucas Duda

Alderson sounds as if he’s unsure about Davis and likes Duda much better. I agree. The bottom line with the two players is that Duda’s a better hitter. He’s got more power; he’s got a better eye; he hits lefties; he’s got a shorter swing that will be more consistent in the long run; he takes the game more seriously; and he can play a similar defensive first base to Davis.

Alderson brought up Duda’s struggles but made sure to point out that in spite of them, he still had one of the highest OPS’s on the club. Davis improved in certain aspects when he returned from his Triple A demotion, but his power is still missing. He’s walking more, but unless Davis is hitting the ball out of the park, what good is he?

The strained right oblique that Davis suffered in Washington has all but ended his 2013 season. This is a positive and negative for the Mets. It’s a negative because they won’t be able to get a look at Davis over the final month to see if the improved selectivity yielded an increase in power over the final 30 games. It’s a positive because they can play Duda every single day at first base and get a gauge on whether they can trade Davis and trust Duda without it exploding in their faces.

Joel Sherman came up with a ridiculous series of scenarios for Davis including trading him for the likes of Chris Coghlan, Gordon Beckham or Jeremy Hellickson. Coghlan is a possible non-tender candidate after this season and Beckham and Hellickson have done nothing to warrant being traded for a player who hit 32 home runs in 2012.

It’s almost as if Alderson is pleading with Duda to give him a reason to hand him the job in 2014. Alderson clearly wants Duda to put a chokehold on first base so the Mets can trade Davis.

Ruben Tejada

The Mets had implied as far back as spring training 2012 that Tejada’s work ethic was questionable. It’s not that he doesn’t hustle or play hard when he’s on the field. He does. It’s that Alderson came right out and said that Tejada has to be dragged onto the field for extra infield, extra hitting and any kind of after-hours instruction. Whereas players like Juan Lagares can’t get enough work, Tejada doesn’t think he needs it. They’d never gone as far as to openly say it, but now it’s out there. Unless Tejada shows that he’s willing to go as far as he needs to to be the Mets’ shortstop, he’s not going to be the Mets’ shortstop. In fact, it’s unlikely that he’s going to be their shortstop next year whether he suddenly finds a determination similar to Derek Jeter’s. He doesn’t hit for enough power to suit Alderson and he can’t run.

The status of manager Terry Collins

Collins is going to be the manager of the Mets in 2014. While there has been a media/fan-stoked idea that if the Mets tank in September and come completely undone that will spell doom for Collins, it’s nonsense. That might have been the case had David Wright, Davis, Harvey and Bobby Parnell been healthy and if they hadn’t traded Marlon Byrd and John Buck. Now that they’re without all of these players and are on the cusp of shutting down Zack Wheeler, they’re playing so shorthanded that a September record of 10-19 would be expected. If they go 14-15 or thereabouts, Collins will get the credit for overachievement.

How can anyone in their right mind hold Collins responsible if the team has a poor September when they’re going to be trotting Daisuke Matsuzaka and Aaron Harang out to the mound for a number of starts just to get the season over with?

The upcoming winter and spending

I’m not getting into speculation on the Wilpons’ loan payments due in 2014. So many have already done that and the vast majority of them have been completely wrong every step of the way since the arrest of Bernie Madoff and the financial meltdown. From the outside, I’m going to say that the banks are going to let the Wilpons renegotiate the debt. In truth, considering the amount of money they owe, what it will cost to sign a few players – even expensive players – is relatively negligible. It’s not in Alderson’s DNA to pay $150 million for a free agent because as Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Carl Crawford and so many others have proven, it’s just not worth it in the majority of cases. The Mets will be in on the likes of Bronson Arroyo, Carlos Beltran and Jhonny Peralta whose prices will be “what’s the difference?” outlays. Alderson said they have financial flexibility and they do. The Mets are going to spend this winter because they’re out of excuses and they can’t afford not to.




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National League Fantasy Sleepers

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Let’s look at some fantasy sleepers in the National League.

Mike Minor, LHP—Atlanta Braves

He got a lot of grief for what was perceived to be a “play me or trade me” demand that he start the season in the big leagues in the Braves’ starting rotation.

It wasn’t that kind of demand at all, but that’s how it was taken.

Putting that aside, with Tim Hudson recovering from back surgery Minor is going to have to start the season in the big leagues. He’ll want to get off to a good start to stake his claim in the rotation and validate his assertion that he belongs.

He racks up the strikeouts, hits hits/innings pitched ratio is great and he doesn’t allow a lot of home runs or walks.

John Mayberry Jr., OF/1B—Philadelphia Phillies

Mayberry has never gotten the chance to play regularly from the start of the season onward, but will in 2012.

With Ryan Howard’s return date increasingly uncertain after the procedure to clean up the infection in his surgical wound, there’s even more reason to pick up Mayberry. The Phillies’ situation in left field is in flux and he’ll also play some first base.

He has 25-30 homer potential.

Chase Utley, 2B—Philadelphia Phillies

Looking at his basic stats, it appears as if he’s on the decline due to age and injury.

It’s nonsense.

Utley has hit in notoriously bad luck in the past two seasons. His BAbip was .288 in 2010, .269 in 2011. He stole 14 bases without getting caught after returning from his knee injury. His power numbers were right in line with what he normally produces.

Utley’s going to have a big comeback year.

Chris Coghlan, INF/OF—Miami Marlins

He may have worn out his welcome with the newly star-studded Marlins, as injuries and bickering with the front office have diminished the former NL Rookie of the Year to a forgotten man.

The Marlins don’t have a prototypical centerfielder on the roster (they’re intent on going with Emilio Bonifacio), Coghlan can play the position defensively and his bat can rebound. He’ll get one last shot with the Marlins; otherwise he’s trade bait and is worth the risk in the hopes of a return to what he once was.

Frank Francisco, RHP—New York Mets

He’s not a great closer, but he strikes out over a batter an inning. If you need someone to get you some saves and don’t want to pay for them, he’s going to be cheap.

These are the Mets and fantasy mirrors reality.

Or reality mirrors fantasy.

Or both reflect a nightmare. Or circumstances.

Or all of the above.

Jonathan Lucroy, C—Milwaukee Brewers

Lucroy has a career minor league OPS of .838 and an OBP of .379. He’s hit 20 homers in a season in the minors and hit 12 in the big leagues last season.

He’ll be cheap and there’s major room for improvement.

Alex Presley, OF—Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates’ outfield situation flanking Andrew McCutchen isn’t set. Presley can run and had an .804 OPS in 231 plate appearances in the big leagues last season.

Jeff Samardzija, RHP—Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are going to trade Carlos Marmol at some point and someone—either Samardzija or Kerry Wood—will have to take over as closer. It makes no sense to use Wood at this stage of his career.

Samardzija overcame his control issues for the most part and struck out 87 in 88 innings last season.

Bud Norris, RHP—Houston Astros

Norris isn’t going to win many games for the Astros, but he strikes out close to a batter per inning and has had excellent hits/innings pitched ratios at every level.

David Hernandez, RHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

I don’t trust J.J. Putz to stay healthy and Hernandez saved 11 games in Putz’s absence last season.

Hernandez struck out 77 in 69 innings and allowed 49 hits.

Cory Luebke, LHP—San Diego Padres

Luebke struck out 154 in 139 innings last season and allowed 105 hits.

He began 2011 in the bullpen, but moved to the starting rotation in the second half. He’ll be a full-time starter in 2012.

Jerry Sands, OF—Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers circumstances in left and right field aren’t settled. Juan Rivera is slated to start in left and Andre Ethier is a free agent at the end of the season and is a good bet to be traded.

Sands has posted huge power numbers in the minors—stats—and has the speed to steal 15-20 bases.

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Marlins Sign Aaron Rowand Following Their Old Template

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The Marlins don’t really have a center fielder unless they’re willing to put Chris Coghlan out there again; Aaron Rowand has been a Gold Glove center fielder in the past; at 34 obviously he’s not as good as he was, but he can still play the position. Given that the Marlins signed him to a minor league deal and would be paying him the big league minimum if he makes the team (the Giants released him and will be paying the bulk of his $12 million salary), what’s the harm?

Rowand is also a hard-nosed tough guy who’ll be more than willing to get in the face of a teammate who’s either pouting or not playing hard. (See Hanley Ramirez.)

The “hard-nosed” reference is a fitting adjective after breaking his nose crashing into the fence in Citizens Bank Park against the Mets in 2006 to make a game-saving catch.

I’m a fan of Coghlan, but the Marlins demoted him last season because he wasn’t hitting and he seems to be on the outs with the organization. Emilio Bonifacio played some center field, but is more of a roving utilityman type rather than an everyday center fielder.

Why not see if Rowand has anything left?

The big question with him is whether or not he’s healthy; but the signing makes perfect sense considering the hole the Marlins have at the position and the personalities they’re accumulating in that clubhouse. If he’s able to play, Rowand can help them a lot and he’s costing them almost nothing.

I’m not sure what the critics want from the Marlins. For years they scrimped, saved and treated their players and fans like fools; they used political trickery to get their new ballpark built at a minimal cost to the organization and are now spending big money on players and are still getting criticized.

So what would happen if they were entering the new ballpark and conducted Marlins business as usual, scoured the scrapheaps and refused to invest in the on-field product? What would be said then?

They signed an All Star shortstop (Jose Reyes); a veteran closer (Heath Bell); one of the most durable starting pitchers in recent memory (Mark Buehrle); and made a legitimate offer to Albert Pujols.

Now they’re taking their old familiar tack—one that worked in finding the likes of Cody Ross, Jorge Cantu and Dan Uggla—and taking players that other teams didn’t want and seeing if they can get cheap production from them.

If the club thinks Rowand can possibly help them, of course he’s worth a look; and if he’s unable, they can release him at almost no cost.

Some think this is funny and I’m not understanding why.

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The Silly Uproar Over Trading For A Manager

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Ozzie Guillen will not be returning to manage the White Sox in the final year of his contract in 2012 and there’s an agreement in place for the Marlins to exchange a player to hire Guillen—Chicago Tribune Story.

There’s an uproar over this because the Marlins are giving up a living, breathing player for a manager.

This is without knowing who the player is or anything about him.

It’s not without precedent for a team to trade a player for a manager. The Mariners traded the rights of Lou Piniella to the Devil Rays and got the Devil Rays’ best player at the time, Randy Winn; but the Devil Rays were desperate and stupid in trading an asset for a manager and then refusing to give that manager the players he needed to win.

In 1976, the Pirates traded catcher Manny Sanguillen to the Athletics for the rights to manager Chuck Tanner. Tanner won the World Series with the Pirates in 1979. Sanguillen was a pretty good hitter and very good defensive catcher who wound up being traded back to the Pirates and was on that championship team.

If the Marlins are trading someone with legitimate, near-future potential to get Guillen, then it’s a mistake; with or without this agreement, Guillen was not going to be managing the White Sox next season; if the White Sox fired Guillen, the Marlins would’ve been free to hire him without giving up anything other than the money to pay him and they’d save on the deal because the White Sox would still be paying a chunk of his 2012 salary.

I highly doubt that the Marlins are giving up a player they have in their near or distant plans. I speculated recently that the White Sox should ask for Chris Coghlan, with whom the Marlins are annoyed and who needs a change-of-scenery.

Who cares what they’re giving up if it’s not someone they have use for?

Isn’t it better to get this done now rather that go through the endless speculation—with the White Sox as to Guillen’s future; with the Marlins as to whom they’ll hire—and complete it immediately without rancor and controversy?

Guillen was not going to keep his mouth shut—he’s repeatedly asked for a contract extension that he knew he wasn’t going to get; the Marlins have had enough aggravation this season with the Leo Nunez identity mess; the Mike Cameron “firing”; the Logan Morrison Twitter-gate; and Wes Helms‘s union activities among other things.

Yes, there were other things.

They wanted Guillen.

They’re getting Guillen.

They probably won’t give up a big league player or a blue chip prospect.

The deal for compensation is done; Guillen wants to go to Florida.

It’s better to be decisive than to handle the possible and likely alternatives.

Everyone’s getting what they want, so it’s a sound business decision despite the silly responses before the fact.

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Marlinating

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You can read stories saying Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez is safe; you can read stories about him being fired very soon.

People are covering their bases. I guess that’s a guaranteed way of being “right”.

But all you need to do to get a grasp on the situation is look at history.

Fredi Gonzalez did a fine job with the Marlins and was fired. Joe Girardi won Manager of the Year and was fired. Jeff Torborg was a close friend of the owner and was fired.

Rodriguez is on a 1-year contract; he doesn’t have the name recognition that the team is going to want heading into their new ballpark next season; there are expectations of contention surrounding the team in 2011; and they’ve lost 18 out of 20 games.

Rodriguez got ejected from last night’s game—a 5-1 loss to the Rays—in what was likely one of his final memorable acts as manager.

It’s not Rodriguez’s fault that Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez have been injured; that John Buck and Omar Infante have been borderline train wrecks; that Chris Coghlan has hit so poorly and done a defensive tap dance in center field that he’s been demoted.

Rodriguez is a fall guy for a team that fires first and asks questions later—something with which I do not have a problem.

My question is: what were they expecting?

Another note about the Marlins, could they try something drastic like listening to offers for Ramirez?

They’ve listened before when the Red Sox came calling, but nothing came of it. They’ll listen on and trade anyone.

Ramirez is a viable alternative for teams that have been pursuing Jose Reyes and would extract a substantial amount even though he’s had a bad year and been on the disabled list with a back problem.

He’s signed through 2014, is guaranteed around $50 million and does not have a no-trade clause.

The Marlins have already fired a hitting coach; demoted a former Rookie of the Year; and are about to fire their manager.

If they’d like to drop a bomb in their clubhouse, trading Ramirez is the way to do it.

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Viewer Mail 3.14.2011

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Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Chuck Greenberg and Cliff Lee:

Seeing Greenberg get the boot from the Rangers made me smile. And btw, he didn’t “fire back” at the Yankees; he was the one who fired the first shot and the Yankees responded, at which point he meekly apologized. As for Lee, I agree that his responses are honest and that his straightforward, no-nonsense attitude is part of what makes him such a great pitcher.

Tying the responses to the Lee/Greenberg comments shows an interesting dichotomy. Jane’s a (mostly) rational fan, but Greenberg’s pokes at the Yankees struck a nerve. I don’t think Greenberg was sorry; he was apologizing because of pressure from MLB itself and, obviously given his ouster, Nolan Ryan.

In the realm of rationality, I doubt most Yankee fans are going to share the grudging admiration for Lee; he’s persona non grata at Yankee Stadium because he refused the Yankees money and isn’t shy about saying why—all the more reason to believe him when he says the spitting incident in the ALCS had nothing to do with anything; clearly he had a list of reasons why he spurned the Yankees that superseded his wife being spit on. And that’s not good.

Joe writes RE the luck/intelligence argument with Johan Santana, the Red Sox, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron:

Well “lucky” only has so much to do with it. I don’t know that they knew anything anyway. But it is obvious the risk associated with pitchers on long-term deals. The problem with that, is the Red Sox handed out long, expensive contracts to Lackey and Beckett after that. And the Yankees to CC and Burnett. And Johan at the time, was better than at least 3 of those guys. So their philosophy either changed some, or well, I don’t know.

***

I am not sold on Ellsbury offensively or defensively either. But I think he can be a decent player this year. And Cameron offers much more flexibility playing in RF and DH’ing against some lefties. And he can play some center too, of course. Also, he is 37 now. So having him play sometimes, rather than everyday, should benefit him, keeping him healthy and fresh.

Of the names you mention, the only contract comparable to Santana’s is C.C. Sabathia‘s; in fact, the Red Sox got both John Lackey and Josh Beckett for close to what the Mets gave Santana in guaranteed money. Lackey’s contract is nearly identical to that of A.J. Burnett.

I still hold to the argument that neither the Yankees nor the Red Sox wanted Santana. They knew they’d have to surrender Jon Lester/Phil Hughes and then give Santana that contract to keep him. The fears regarding any hindsight-laden “expertise” have conveniently coincided with Santana’s injury.

Regarding Cameron/Ellsbury, the logic is that they have Ryan Kalish, Darnell McDonald, Josh Reddick and Daniel Nava so they can afford to move Cameron.

The same argument holds for keeping Cameron and dealing Ellsbury; in fact, they’d get more in a trade for Ellsbury than they would for Cameron and the reasons are more applicable to those you imply are in favor of keeping Cameron—age and wear; plus Ellsbury costs nearly nothing financially for the foreseeable future.

The Other Mike in The Bleacher Seats writes RE the Marlins:

Do you think the Marlins are contenders? Or are you just saying that they’re ahead of the Mets?

The Marlins are talented but flawed.

Their defense is atrocious and unless they take the reins off Matt Dominguez and shut their eyes, they’re relegated to either using Wes Helms or some configuration of Chris Coghlan, Omar Infante and Emilio Bonifacio at third/second base; using Coghlan would require a panicky shift of positions as they have Coghlan in center field—a position he’s never played as a professional.

I’m not a fan of the drastic bullpen alterations they’ve made.

The rotation is young a supremely talented; the lineup will score.

But do you see the mismatched puzzle pieces of the Marlins?

They have a starting rotation that, for the most part, gives up an even number of hit balls to the outfield and infield and a terrible outfield defense; they have a lineup of mashers and an inexperienced manager—Edwin Rodriguez—on a 1-year contract who, in his brief time last season, preferred small ball to going for the big inning.

It doesn’t fit.

They are contenders for the Wild Card at least, but it all has to go right. For everything to go right, there has to be continuity from the front office to the manager to the rest of the roster.

It’s not there.

Given their looming questions and the new ballpark set to open next year, I still believe that Bobby Valentine will be managing the Marlins at some point, but by the time that happens they’ll too far out of first place to be factors in the division race.

As for the Wild Card? They can hang around and hope for a hot streak to swipe it.

But I don’t see it.

And yes, the Marlins are better than the Mets.

The above bit about the Marlins is what you can expect (albeit in greater detail) based on stats and rational/deep-strike analysis from my book.

Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN.


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Teetering

Hot Stove

Barring anything miraculous in the positive or negative sense, there are teams that we pretty much know their collective fates.

The Red Sox and Phillies are at the top of the food chain; the Yankees, Braves and White Sox can expect to be good; the Royals are basing their entire future and present on the fact that everyone worships their packed farm system—they’ll see you in 2014, just you wait!!

The Mets know where they’re at; the Pirates are the Pirates.

But other clubs have pressing questions of the make-or-break variety; questions that could lead to their rise or fall, depending on the answers.

Here are those teams and things can go right…or wrong in 2011.

Toronto Blue Jays

They’ve done a lot of stuff, but I don’t necessarily know if they’ve gotten better from last season.

Stacked with young pitching, they’ve signed or acquired veteran relievers Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco to augment young starters Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek, et al.

With the departures of Vernon Wells, John Buck and Lyle Overbay, they lost 71 homers and replaced them with nothing but hope. Hope that the atrocious seasons from Aaron Hill and Adam Lind were nothing more than blips; hope that Travis Snider will hit the way he did in the minors; hope that Edwin Encarnacion and Yunel Escobar won’t join forces to send new manager John Farrell to test the benefits of the Canadian health care system’s mental program; and hope that the young pitchers improve rather than stagnate or regress.

The Blue Jays could easily fall to 75 wins or rise to 90.

Minnesota Twins

The departures of Matt Guerrier, Jesse Crain, Jon Rauch and Brian Fuentes have gutted imperative parts of their bullpen. Joe Nathan is returning from Tommy John surgery and Matt Capps is still there for the late innings, but the foundation of their bullpen was based on the above names—names that are no longer there. The Twins won with competent, mediocre starting pitching and a deep, reliable bullpen.

They still have the mediocre starting pitching, but without the bullpen, they could have a problem.

Justin Morneau is a question mark returning from his concussion; Delmon Young had his career year in 2010; they’re replacing Orlando Hudson and J.J. Hardy with Alexi Casilla and, the biggest wild card, Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka.

I don’t care what the scouting reports say about a player coming over from Japan, you never know what you’re getting until they play in North America. You could be getting Hideki Irabu; you could be getting Hideki Matsui. You don’t know.

If the Twins bullpen falters, that’s going to damage their starting pitching—starting pitching that isn’t all that great to begin with. With the new middle infield, they could take a drastic tumble. They’re also in a division with two good teams in the White Sox and Tigers.

Florida Marlins

The front office has had unreasonably high expectations in the past and it, along with the enabling of diva-like behavior from Hanley Ramirez, combined to cost Fredi Gonzalez his job as manager at mid-season, 2010.

They have an impressive array of talent, but there’s something…off about them. Wes Helms at third base? Chris Coghlan in center field? 3-years, $18 million for John Buck? Trading for relievers Edward Mujica and Ryan Webb when, in the past, the Marlins set the standard for building a bullpen the right way by finding cheap, discarded arms?

Javier Vazquez is a good pickup for the deep rotation as he joins Josh Johnson, Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez.

That division is a nightmare with the Phillies likely to disappear into the distance a month into the season and the Braves probably the second best team in the National League.

Manager Edwin Rodriguez is on a 1-year deal and the club has had an on-again, off-again flirtation with Bobby Valentine. Owner Jeffrey Loria wants a “name” manager to helm his club heading into the new ballpark in 2012 and Ozzie Guillen, another object of his desires, just had his contract option for 2012 exercised by the White Sox.

Rodriguez did a good job after taking over for Gonzalez, but he’s not box office.

Like a prospective romance that for a variety of reasons all parties insist is over, Valentine and the Marlins are still eyeing each other lustily. Unless the Marlins are right in the thick of the playoff race in June, don’t—do….not—be surprised to see Valentine managing the Marlins.

San Diego Padres

The starting pitching has been compromised with the departures of Jon Garland and Kevin Correia; they still have Clayton Richard and Mat Latos at the top, but after that?

I dunno…

Then they dealt away Mujica and Webb for Cameron Maybin who’s done nothing to justify his top prospect status as of yet—he’s not a prospect anymore, it’s either do it or don’t.

Who knows how the loss of Yorvit Torrealba—a terrific handler of pitchers—will affect the staff.

The offense is devastated by the trade of Adrian Gonzalez; they brought in Maybin, Jason Bartlett, Orlando Hudson, Brad Hawpe and Jorge Cantu.

Again, I dunno…

“I dunno” is not cutting it in a rough division.

The Padres could fall from 90 wins to 75 if their pitching doesn’t perform.