previous years, I’ve used the six divisional columns to predict
records and make comments about the teams. This year, I’m debating
the records part. There will still be a summary column… so I’m
thinking of putting records over there if I do them.
now… let’s take a look at the NL Central. The listing of teams
is in the order I’m predicting the division to finish…
is one troubled division. Seriously. Full of questions.
the Cubs are the clear favorite. And yet going in to the last
weekend of March, Lou Pinella still hadn’t decided on a closer…
the team doesn’t know what to do with Kosuke Fukudome… and they
signed Milton Bradley, who would have been a huge risk for a team
that could use him as a designated hitter.
you have it folks… a highly paid designated hitter on a team that
will play more than 150 of their regular season games in National
League parks... the clear favorites.
Cubs ~ How much would you pay Ryan Dempster? Twist my
arm and… well… I suppose $13 million a year for four sounds about
right actually. Considering what Sabathia, Burnett and Lowe got,
this one is in the right zip code. But if you asked me to name
the pitchers I would give more than $10 to $12 million per season
over multiple years to, it would take me quite some time to get
down the list to Dempster. And here’s why I ask that… keep in
mind, they spent the money to keep Dempster. Because they also…
Milton Bradley, an injury-prone liability that, as I just mentioned,
is probably suited for use as a designated hitter if you want
him to get into more than 125 games, a three-year deal to play
in the league without a designated hitter option.
Jason Marquis (not a bad idea) for Luis Vizcaino (also not a bad
idea, but yawn).
in Aaron Heilman (second yawn, but I suppose worth a shot).
Joey Gathright. (Stop the yawning. This one is a head-scratcher.
For all his speed and potential, he sure seems to be available
all the time. In fact, if you called the Cubs right now with the
roster of your AAA team in hand, I bet they’d consider including
him in a trade. Go ahead. Call.)
all of these moves and more accomplished… well… a whole hell of
alot of nothing.
team is no better than they were in 2008, and management this
year might actually be facing more questions coming out of spring
training than they did in March of 2008. Sure… they added Milton
Bradley. Nice. Who’s playing when he gets hurt? Gathright?
that too harsh?
So… I’m sorry.
on a second… no… I’m not sorry. If Bradley made their offense
better… didn’t letting Kerry Wood go make their bullpen weaker?
The focus there seems to be on Kevin Gregg. Not a hideous choice,
but Gregg bounced from California to Florida and now to Chicago.
His career WHIP is 1.32… career ERA is 4.00… his strikeout to
walk ratio is barely better than 2 to 1… and, he has 62 career
saves (most of those in 2007 and 2008). Nothing obscene in any
of those stats, but hardly dominating folks. So when the Mets
are bringing in Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz, and the Angels
are landing Brian Fuentes… how is it the supposed best team in
the National League lets Kerry Wood go and brings in Kevin Gregg?
(As of late March, Gregg still hadn’t cemented his spot as closer.)
moving on… if adding Vizcaino brings the pendulum in the other
direction and their bullpen is better again… didn’t giving up
Marquis take depth away from the rotation?
then adding Heilman… I should stop… I could play this game all
afternoon. Let’s just circle around and get back to Dempster.
Carlos Zambrano has been declining for a couple of years (202
strikeouts in 223 innings in 2005… 210 in 214 in 2006… 177 in
216 in 2007… and 130 in 188 in 2008… uh-oh, this doesn’t look
good for him)… and Bradley played 126 games for Texas last year,
mainly as a DH (it was the first time over 100 games played in
a season since 2004). So Dempster, as an example of contributions
from the full roster and not from those dominating stars and supposed
big-splash additions, is a nice place to look.
I admire some of his work… and 2008 was a very good season for
him… the last time he made over 30 starts was 2002. In 11 seasons
of big league action, he’s had 4 seasons with a winning record…
4 seasons of over 150 innings pitched (all were 200+ seasons too)…
4 seasons with an ERA under 4.70… and you see where I’m going.
Being fair to his first season of play and taking it out, in 11
seasons he has actually had 4 good ones and 6 not so good ones.
That’s a 40% shot for good in 2009. (And… oh… just 1 of those
4 good seasons took place in a Chicago uniform.)
club is going to get hot and lap the competition in the Central
division. And unless some of these other clubs turn in some unexpected
surprises, I expect the Cubs to build up a great record as a result.
But, when we get into October, if you like the Cubs, you might
want to cross your fingers.
Brewers ~ What’s not to like about J.J. Hardy?
young… he plays well… he’s showing improvement… and he’s relatively
unknown to the average fan.
to Milwaukee. Land of pleasant surprises… where good things happen,
but great things are just out of reach.
the 2006 season, Jeff Suppan… lord knows how… hit the market and
was sort of, kind of, in demand. Milwaukee lost… I mean won… Milwaukee
won his services. He’s gone 22-22 in 65 starts, pitched about
384 innings, and the remaining numbers are really, really weak.
Hey… 65 starts! He may not be good… at least he’s there!
in the middle of the 2008 season, the Brewers trade for the big
guy… Sabathia. They’re going for it folks! And if they don’t get
there… and if they don’t sign him… at least they got some choice
draft picks. (Well… yeah… at least until the Yankees go out and
spend a kajillion dollars on higher rated free agents and the
formula means no first round pick in return for losing him.)
so want to give this club applause for trying. They’re making
trades… they’re signing players and taking chances. (They also
signed Eric Gagne… I didn’t say all of the attempts were gems…
but again, they are trying.)
Hardy to Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, and there are still some
solid pieces in place here. 2009 could be another good season…
and one where a tweak or two gets them into the playoffs. I just
wonder if they’ll pull the trigger on a trade, or if they’ll be
scared off by recent returns and reach October wondering what
might have been.
Louis Cardinals ~ Any time you start reviewing a roster
with the name Albert Pujols, you really should pay attention.
This club makes good on that concept too… with alot of items that
could work out just fine, or may make for a terrific fire sale
around July 25th.
Greene was brought in to help solidify a middle infield that at
times last season might have done better by laying a couple of
gloves on the ground and just hoping they stopped a ball or two
from getting to the outfield.
don’t love the rotation, but Wainwright, Carpenter, Lohse and
Pineiro are serviceable enough names. (And the group is honestly
better than serviceable if Carpenter can figure out how to stay
on the mound. If they can get 170+ innings from him, the world
will look much better in St. Louis. Of course… he hasn’t hit 16
innings in either of the past two years.) Last season Todd Wellemeyer
delivered an unexpectedly strong performance. Sure… 13-9 doesn’t
sound amazing, but 190+ innings and 32 starts was not an effort
anyone would have predicted. So maybe no love… but it certainly
has some potential.
think about this one…
say that rotation does manage to deliver a middle-of-the-road
effort and stay healthy for most of the year. Are you with me
this club should score plenty of runs. I’m thinking in the neighborhood
of 5 per game. I’m thinking that they could be in the neighborhood
of 90 wins.
problem is… the navigation system they are using to arrive at
those 90 wins involves Carpenter… and his 21 innings over the
past two years. Not exactly the most reliable navigation system
Reds ~ This team may have the most balanced and underrated
starting rotation in baseball. Please note… I didn’t say one of
the best rotations… I didn’t say very good rotation. I said balanced
and underrated. Unfortunately… the more I read… the more I see
it being linked to expectations. And, for the team, that’s just
by Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo as names you’ll recognize,
Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto return to the rotation. They
could wheel out a batting tee for their fifth starter and get
more production than they did from that slot last year. They have
pitching, even if it doesn’t scare you.
trouble in Cincinnati is simple to see though. While the starting
rotation doesn’t present many questions… and while the bullpen
should be at least average… they have no offense and their defense
is worse than that.
just move on.
Astros ~ Some comedian… you have to be a clown or a comedian
to come up with this one… decided that bringing in Ivan Rodriguez
was a sign the Astros were going to fight and contend in this
division over the course of 2009.
to the bartenders… there’s a guy to cut off at table 1.)
version of the Astros would have a hard time taking a division
title in a girls’ fast pitch league provided one of the girls’
teams could run a lefty starter or two out to the mound each time
through the rotation.
when you have Roy Oswalt on your team, that’s a good beginning.
The guy is going to kick off 32 games for you, average about 7
innings per start, and even when you stink he’ll put up 15 or
Heck… that’s great.
after him, there isn’t much at all in Houston that doesn’t stink.
batting order and defense is getting old folks. Don’t believe
me? Ok… quick… how old is Carlos Lee?
know you might not believe the answer, so I’ll give you a couple
of seconds to think about that question. I will take that time
to point out that while a very good hitter, Lee’s best career
stretch was the roughly 60 games he spent in Texas after his 2006
trade… just before hitting free agency.
fairness, Lee has always been pretty reliable actually. Last season’s
115 games played could probably be viewed as misleading since
he has played in 150 or more every year except two since 2000.
The trouble is… most people don’t think Lee will continue to be
reliable. They think he’ll be missing more and more time. And
if that’s the case, then this club is in even more trouble than
I think. Because in June, Carlos Lee will celebrate his birthday
by turning 33.
Mike Hampton wasn’t signed because the Astros were taking a chance…
they’re actually counting on him! (Personally… I think the girls
in the division are going to light him up like Disney World in
Pittsburgh Pirates ~ I had a great time in Pittsburgh
last year. Dad and I flew out and caught ballpark tours and games
in Cleveland and Pittsburgh.
sharing that with you, I don’t know what to say.
the guy… great team player. One of those people you have to have
on your roster in order to win. But moving this team up and over
the 80-win mark? Umm… sorry… not with the other 24 roster spots
filled like this one is.
you serious? Nate McLouth? Let me tell you what I think, in my
limited knowledge, about Nate McLouth. He’s a nice player, very
good 2008, and I’m sure he’s just a terrific kid. But over the
course of his entire career, he will never be the best outfielder
on any team that has a winning record.
of that said, there are some interesting players out here. Ryan
Doumit turned in a very solid season last year… but they have
to get more than 116 games behind the plate from him.
that’s the story with this club. Is Craig Hansen really good?
Sure… could be… but he hasn’t been consistently good over the
course of his career, so let’s hold off on being really good.
And the same goes for McLouth and Doumit and so many others. You
can tell me they’re quality players, and a look at the numbers
says maybe… just maybe you might have a point. But is good in
comparison to the Pittsburgh roster, right now, good in comparison
to the rest of major league baseball?