A baseball preview question and answer… thoughts and more…
an overview and response

Just a few extra thoughts as the season begins…

Any advice as we watch the early season?

Sure… don’t get carried away.

In Boston, as one example, I can guarantee you that there will be a sketchy defensive play or two… or maybe the pitching won’t be strong… or perhaps David Ortiz will slump. This after stressing before the season that it was pitching and defense for them, and the offense was just fine. Each of these may be a viable item to critique, and critique rather early in the year, especially Ortiz considering last season and options like Mike Lowell available.

But, don’t overreact. If Lester or Buchholz struggle… give them a second or third start. (And I’m kidding about giving only a start or two to show how ridiculous it is… give them more than a couple of starts before predicting doom and gloom. Unfortunately, Boston is a town that will be calling for Varitek to catch Beckett if the rotation matches up at some point soon and Beckett looks great with him.)

And that Boston idea carries over. People want immediate observations and opinions these days. They don’t care that occasionally early numbers for such observations will support that the Pirates are going to win 123 games, the Astros are going to lose 135, or that some player is on pace to hit 292 home runs.

Reality though folks… marathon… not a sprint. Start most discussions in mid-May or so, when about 40 games have been played and early streaks have settled down.

Why don’t you seem to think the loss of Joe Nathan will hurt the Twins?

Well… duh… of course it’s going to hurt them. If you think I was saying the Twins wouldn’t suffer because Nathan is out, then I made a mistake and wasn’t clear. What I was trying to say about Nathan falls into three different categories.

First, the Twins are good enough to win the Central right now because they are a solid team. A team. A group consisting of more than one. With the exception of one particular other-worldly player, I think you could honestly look over their roster and there isn’t a single player on the team you would rank as a top two or three player at any position. In fact, let’s check out closers. Rivera… Papelbon… I think you’d have to give a nod to Rodriguez in New York… so there’s three names right off the bat. All three of them can claim a championship ring along with great regular seasons on their resume and at least one effective postseason. Nathan is in that next group, but even then he might not be the fourth best in baseball.

Second, Nathan didn’t look right last year in the playoffs. At least not to me. Two innings is hardly a good sample size, especially against New York, but that’s what I saw. I think there’s more to this than showing up in February and the team suddenly discovering something. In terms of this question, I do wonder if the Twins approached 2010 thinking they would have to tread lightly with Nathan already, and then learned he was injured much worse than feared.

And third, I just don’t see another team in the Central that will run away from the Twins. There is no team capable of 95 wins in the division. And unless that happens, when September arrives the Twins will be in the race. I suppose you could argue that Nathan would make a difference… and even I would attempt to make that argument… but I just don’t see how it ends their season and finishes them.

Over 162 games, Minnesota can survive the loss of Nathan and win the division. That was my point.

Umm… maybe this never occurred to you and no one is asking… but considering some of what you have to say about the teams, how come you have Pittsburgh struggling and Florida not?

Interesting question. I do seem to like some of what Pittsburgh did, and yet have Florida within sight of the wild card while Pittsburgh isn’t even fighting for an even record.

I suppose more than anything else… past history.

Since the last time Pittsburgh made the playoffs, Florida has won two championships. They’ve also made… as recently as last season… unexpected runs at the 85 win level.

History tells me that the Marlins can be good when you don’t expect it. The Pirates? Not so much.

So sure, maybe I have the Pirates a bit too low and the Marlins a bit too high… still, I’m comfortable with my predictions there.

How about some really solid trade thoughts?

Well… honestly… there won’t be any interesting trades at all.

How’s that?

See, most of the big names are already settled into place. There are only a couple of players… Adrian Gonzalez for one… that you can point to and everyone knows eventually he will be moving, the questions is primarily timing.

But there are no big pitchers on the fringe of free agency or bad contracts to move or glaring needs that would inspire movement.

So there you have it… no big trades.

(Ok… fine… I’ll give it a shot. Let’s see…)

I think Brandon Webb could be an amazing player to watch when talking trades. The Diamondbacks thought they had finished rebuilding a few seasons ago. They made the playoffs… had solid young players… and it all seemed to be a time for tinkering to stay at the top of the division. Now they are heading into 2010 off of disappointment in 2009, and Webb… the indestructible Webb that you kept on your roster almost regardless of cost as long as he’d stay in town… is coming off of an injury and moving closer to forcing the team to make contract decisions that don’t seem quite so easy these days. If Los Angeles and San Francisco… and let’s toss in Colorado… race ahead of them, and Webb is pitching fine but not spectacular, I could see Arizona not wanting to commit money to him if a team is willing to give them talent in return.

If he is spectacular, I could still see them trading him hoping to get real value in return.

And then, seriously, he might just be the only really interesting pitching name out there.

Houston has basically refused to move Roy Oswalt before. I don’t know if they would move him this year. That said, he isn’t coming off a major injury and I don’t believe his contract changes much in 2011, and part of his status in Houston is similar to Webb… the Astros will have plenty of teams in front of them, and a great return might make it worth saying goodbye.

After those two names (really one name), I think the reality is that we’ve seen the big time pitching moves made already. The rest would be something like the bullpen. And out there, a name like Heath Bell is the biggest one that could get dealt.

(Now I say that because I’m trying to give you surprising, not heard in many other places trade thoughts. Anyone can predict Oakland dumping Ben Sheets if he looks good and someone like the Yankees wants him. Do you really want a list of potential names on the move, even if it’s something so vanilla as that? Really? Ok… pitching names that could be available…)

Gil Meche needs to prove he’s worth the risk, but a solid three months could put him on the block. Kansas City obviously has a top of the rotation guy now, and if Meche could bring something in return, freeing up his dollars might be more important than keeping him for the run in 2012 or 2013 that they hope to make.

Would Cleveland move Carbona? Maybe. But I sense some real lack of interest. I don’t see them getting much. Pay attention to Westbrook when it comes to leaving the Indians.

Here’s something you won’t see mentioned in many places… watch the White Sox carefully. Jake Peavy could bring back a ton in return if they feel a need to move him. And… honestly… you never know if Chicago is looking to dump dollars or looking to add payroll. Last season you could argue we watched them do both over the span of just a few days. I would expect them to keep Peavy… as an acquisition for multiple seasons… but treating him like Ben Sheets wouldn’t be stunning if they are offered a couple of good players for him.

Basically… shopping for American League pitching will mean going to Oakland or the Central.

National League pitching?

Pittsburgh maybe. Zach Duke is there and I suppose he could be had. The Pirates are tough to really wade through because they made several short-term deals and yet are always thinking about three to five year projects.

San Diego could be interesting… mainly for Bell… but as I said in my preseason preview, I wouldn’t be stunned if they tried to move Chris Young as well. Once again though, I don’t know what kind of market would appear for him if he did hit it.

See… the problem is that the market has regulated itself thanks to some really fascinating moves in trades and free agency recently. The Red Sox and Yankees aren’t likely to be looking for starters unless injuries occur (or the unbelievable availability of Webb and Oswalt actually materializes and they feel they can bargain shop). The Indians and Blue Jays have already traded their big name pitching. And… the majority of teams will be looking for less expensive (in dollars and prospects) bullpen help.

Not much to move + no big names shopping = slow market.

Now… position players.

The same formula is in place, but I have a funny feeling here. See…

People seem to have Prince Fielder locked in to staying with Milwaukee. Me? I wonder about that. Should happen. Could happen. But, Adrian Gonzalez is the big fish in the pond right now for first base and hitting options. Right? Good… we all agree there. Call me crazy, but I could see Milwaukee trying to test the waters before Gonzalez hits the market, offering Fielder as an option. The idea being that maybe they cash in by finding teams wondering if they’re going to lose out on Gonzalez, see Fielder available, and hoping to land something of value. Worth watching.

The Red Sox won’t be sellers… but between Lowell and Ortiz and their passion for obtaining Gonzalez, they are a team that will be looking to tinker and adjust for the playoffs. By July they should know if they need Lowell, and if Ortiz has steadied his problems from last season. I expect them to be looking for bench help for their infield and that one big splash at first base if it’s possible.

(Funny story about Boston. What happens with Victor Martinez? See… he’s been getting moved out from behind the plate. Cleveland was doing it. Boston did it just last year after getting him. Are we 100% certain Boston wouldn’t consider Martinez replacing Ortiz? In other words… Boston shopping for a catcher and holding off on first base isn’t a true long shot. I honestly think they’d love to have Gonzelez at first, Youkilis at third, Martinez at DH… with Martinez available to catch a little and play first base once in a while to get rest of some sort for the others.)

Detroit could be a really strange team. If they start losing ground they could be looking to deal Miguel Cabrera. (Go back and read the Prince Fielder theory I mentioned… hitting the market when teams want a first baseman with an alternative.) They also have Johnny Damon… and a contending team might be willing to listen.

The funny thing is that here we actually have some chatter… one Adrian Gonzalez. And, as I’ve said, some interesting possibilities of teams trying to take advantage of the first base market he might create. Beyond that though… once again… the big teams are set for tinkering and not adding significant pieces… the small teams seem to have already sent their players away.

Or… am I crazy… and the prospect of Lyle Overbay hitting the market excites you? (Hey… Overbay… decent average… good on-base percentage… nice guy. But a hot trade market commodity? For who?)

White Sox are interesting here as well… I don’t think they’re going to stretch to sign Paul Konerko for 2011. So, if they drop out of it, he might be available. But they have to be out of it.

If I have one name to watch, it would be Carl Crawford. I don’t expect him to be moved, but I also think the Rays might not bring him back. If they unexpectedly find themselves out of it and someone offers an amazing package for him, they might blink.

The more I think about this, the more I think I’m repeating my preseason observations. I was just about to comment on Cincinnati… but I covered that already. Head over to Sports and check out the divisional columns. There’s simply not that much to be excited about, and definitely not more than this that I haven’t already covered.

Why do you have the Mets fourth in the division? You like their best starter. You admit that regular season, they have a solid closer. And you contend that half of their order… Reyes, Beltran, Wright and Bay… could be as solid as it gets. So really… fourth?

Well… yeah… because Washington isn’t catching them.

In fact, let’s go to the next question so I can use the Mets as an example and answer wo questions at once.

Players were released… injured… does this change your mind about anything?

Overall? No. Not at all.

Jose Reyes had a rough spring training and isn’t with New York as the season begins. I have seen more problems with Beltran and his timetable for returning than I’m comfortable trying to sort out. After Santana pitches, the Mets could use one of the guys tossing peanuts to the fans and get better consistency.

They could be great… they could stink. I’m not placing that over Philadelphia, Atlanta or Florida right now. And... none of the players available to them or on their disabled list changes that for me.

Here’s the crazy thought for this question… when you go through the teams and divisions and sort out a preseason opinion, it makes sense to you. And… mine sort of does to me. I see a few places where I could have screwed up… Colorado, or maybe even Pittsburgh. Overall though, I don’t see Tampa catching Boston or New York. Which means…

In order for things to happen that I’m not predicting, some players and teams are going to need to prove something to me. As the joke goes… we’re in Mississippi… show me.

I think the Mets have way too many problems, and there are questions as to whether or not they’ll ever be able to field all of their stars at the same time. So yes… fourth for the Mets… and no, nothing about what might be because of changing rosters alters my view right now.

Ok… same idea then… what about the players playing great during spring training? Did that change your mind as the season begins?


Now some people will tell you all sorts of stuff about why some of spring training can be meaningless to use for observations. The pitchers are working on new stuff and building arm strength… the position players may not be playing full speed… and so on.

In many ways, I disagree with this. Sure… players, and possibly a majority of them, are looking to play golf or make publicity appearances or whatever and aren’t committing all of their focus to the field. The idea makes sense. But I have a slightly different view on it, based on general perspective.

I ask you this…

Was there any chance of St. Louis sending a healthy Albert Pujols to the minor leagues? Any chance of the Cardinals releasing him? Any chance of him being anything but a starter on their 25-man roster?

Of course not. He could have struck out in every spring training at bat and committed three to five errors per game… Pujols would not have been anything but the opening day starter.

Ultimately, what I am saying is that spring training is not equal for all players. So while you could consider that incentive and motivation and workout goals that favor development over statistical results make it difficult to judge, I want to go one step further. Some people have zero to gain from spring training. It really is getting the work in and preparing for the season for Pujols. Absolutely nothing more. But for some… like Jason Heyward in Atlanta… a solid spring training can convince decision makers of their final evaluations. And suddenly we have performance that matters.

Overall though, when the media is reporting that so-and-so looks great and is throwing really hard, often after a game where he faced a split squad roster… you see what I mean.

Spring training is what it is. Unless someone is injured, don’t pay too much attention to it.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at Bob@inmybackpack.com