I started this web site back in 2003, one of the first efforts
I spent time on was a preview of the baseball season. Over the
years I’ve actually had a couple of decent moments with my predictions
and observations. And now, as I work on getting the site back
up and running at full speed, I find myself approaching the sixth
anniversary of In My Backpack and start of another baseball
are arriving in Florida and Arizona… another edition of the World
Baseball Classic is on the schedule… and this web site is working
on getting back into game shape as well.
with some research needed and writing to do before a regular season
preview is ready to go… how about a sports column with some questions
and answers… based solely on my thoughts… for the 2009 season?
the Yankees really that good? Or, are all these signings just
poorly invested money?
can’t believe I’m saying this.)
They are that
(I can absolutely believe I’m saying this)
is a catch.
my mind the best signing the Yankees made this off-season was
one of the most recent. Guy named Andy Pettitte.
before you go thinking I’ve lost my mind… Pettitte is a back of
the rotation starter these days. At best. The pure and simple,
no extra conditions added, knowledge that Andy Pettitte is striding
to the mound to start that day’s game will be striking little
fear in the opposition these days.
his signing did something that no other signing, trade or acquisition
of any kind did for them. It added depth.
Teixeira is a tremendous player and he will put up some monster
seasons… potentially MVP earning seasons… for New York. I actually
consider him the most valuable player… the best player… in their
locker room right now, bar none. But… you know… so they win games
15-6 instead of 9-6. Does that really matter on their march to
95 or so wins and the playoffs?
leaves Boston scrambling since they had hoped to use him for years
to come in a number of their solutions for aging veterans… absolutely.
regular season, changes the landscape? I don’t know.
big changes… the additions that they hope bring championships…
don’t involve Mark Teixeira. They involve pitching.
here’s where I start to have questions.
anyone else noticed that Sabathia seems to get tired in October?
And before you start telling me about how anyone that starts five
of Milwaukee’s last eight games (or whatever it was… we all recall
he was pitching alot late last year)… how great was he for Cleveland
has pitched in the postseason three times… 2001, 2007 and 2008.
Let’s look at the past two years, when he was counted on as a
dominant difference maker…
|Year - opponent
||Hits - walks
|2007 - NYY
|2007 - BOS
|2008 - PHIL
he’s 1-3 in 4 starts. He’s pitched a whopping total of 19 innings
in those 4 starts… less than 5 innings per outing. And, in those
19 innings, there have been 44 base runners.
thought? Wow. I thought it was bad, but better than that.)
to a degree, this is all a bit misleading. For his career, Sabathia
has always been stronger in the second half of the regular season
than he has in the first half. Overall, his September numbers
are very good. And let’s face it, he’s getting more support from
the New York roster than he has from previous teams.
just asking a question or two though… which is based on… does
he get tired? Does his history suggest postseason dominance? Because
let’s face it… the Yankees didn’t sign him so they could make
the playoffs. They signed him to win in the playoffs. That’s something
he hasn’t done… and both Beckett and Smoltz have. Because while
New York is expecting Cy Young like performances from him all
year long, Boston has already told Smoltz he’s there to destroy
the opposition in August, September and October and not to concern
ok… so only two years where he’s made almost all of his starts…
2005 and 2008, when he made it over 30 starts both times. Let
me ask you two questions…
one ~ Do you know what 2006 and 2009 have in common? One answer…
and the one I’m going to give you… is that he will be wearing
a different uniform than the one he wore the year before. 32 starts
in 2005… buh-bye Florida, hello Toronto. 34 starts in 2008… opt
out clause… toodles Toronto, howdy New York.
two ~ Ok… 20-plus starts might not be too bad. An average of 28
per year. That’s good. But… he’s also averaging 180 innings per
year over those four years. 180… divided by 28… about six and
a third. And that six and a third roughly holds up every year
in Toronto, where the math of number of starts times 6.1 brings
you right to the neighborhood of his innings pitched total. How’s
that bullpen looking in New York? Solid? Because for the money
Burnett is getting, he’s giving them two-thirds of a game every
time he takes the mound.
major theme to consider for him is easy enough for fans of the
Yankees to see… Are you really comfortable with a number two guy
that won’t go much beyond 180 innings per season over the next
three years and has a history of delivering his largest quantity
of efforts only in seasons when he is looking for dollars at the
end of the rainbow?
I admit it. The Yankees look incredible. I’m impressed with their
I hate their outfield defense. (Well… actually, that’s kind of
misleading… they’d have to have some defense in the outfield in
order for me to hate it. And, they don’t.)
got no clue who is pitching in the seventh and eighth innings
on most nights. And… according to Burnett’s, and what I would
expect from an aging Pettitte, and what should be found offered
by an unknown end of the rotation… I don’t know who’s pitching
the sixth inning.
Sabathia… like Burnett… don’t fear either one in October. (And
amazingly… I didn’t tell you either one of them would be getting
hurt. I was just telling you history suggests they aren’t strong
contributors… either when it matters or from year to year.)
top of all of this, there’s the little Joba problem. I think you
at least have to wonder if he can last a full season or if there’s
more to his arm troubles than we know.
Pettitte adds depth. He gives them options.
since I can’t tell you these guys won’t play regularly in 2009…
and when they do play during the season, they usually play very
well… I think you have to say it is not an illusion. The Yankees
spent a ton of money and got some talented players. And as long
as they are on the field and not in a doctor’s office… this team
should be one of the very best in the regular season.
the Red Sox really losers this off-season?
and no. For 2009… no. For this season, you could make an argument
they had the best off-season of any team heading into next year.
think the Red Sox, legitimately, have some concerns about parts
of their batting order. David Ortiz is the best example of this.
Will he be healthy for the whole season? And, if he is, will he
put up dangerous numbers? I’m not looking for 80+ home runs and
200 RBIs and destruction of the American League from him… but
35-40 home runs is a reasonable target. And… what makes Ortiz
a better example of where I am going on the long term commentary
than a player like Mike Lowell, who is recovering from surgery
and also presents some 2009 questions … is what does Ortiz offer
in 2010… 2011… and beyond? See…
thought Mark Teixeira was the answer to these questions. Kevin
Youkalis isn’t the classic number four hitter. But, he will make
you pay for avoiding Ortiz. If you walk Ortiz you have a better
chance of him safely reaching second base with Youkalis hitting
behind him than you would with virtually any other batter in professional
baseball. But what if Ortiz and Lowell don’t bring decent hitting
and power to 2009? Answer… in the early plans… Teixeira.
what about 2010… 2011… and beyond? Ortiz and Lowell are older.
They might be fantastic for a season or two (or three). But you
have to begin thinking beyond those years as well, even if it’s
just to consider it. Again… answer… Teixeira.
yes… by not signing Mark Teixeira, unquestionably the organization’s
top acquisition target this year, and possibly the most desired
player since Curt Schilling in November of 2003… the Red Sox were
losers this off-season.
Varitek situation couldn’t have gone any better for them.
haven’t traded any young, major parts of their organization.
and Youkalis signed long term deals that should work out very
nicely for them.
backed up great risks like Rocco Baldelli with a solid retaining
of Mark Kotsay (which effectively gave them depth in case Baldelli
can’t play four or five straight games).
let’s face it… the Red Sox are a team targeting good regular season
numbers, but designing rosters for postseason success. Their bullpen
looks very solid. Their rotation could hit a point where it’s
healthy and nine decent starters deep. And in the playoffs
there is a good chance they will be sending Beckett and Smoltz
to the mound… two of the most dominant and successful pitchers
in the playoffs this side of Curt Schilling… backed up by Lester
and Matsuzaka with Papelbon to close.
yeah… just some rumors-to-be possibilities to keep in mind. Not
that I’m advocating signing Curt Schilling, but has anyone else
noticed him digging in to the Boston scene? Radio appearances…
his private business interests. In short, if he is working out,
and they do wind up needing a starter mid-season, Boston probably
has a better chance than anyone of landing Schilling for August,
September and the playoffs.
they do have some flexibility in the payroll. I don’t think they
want to commit it, but it is there if they need something in July.
losers on a major acquisition… sure. But overall I think Boston
is pretty happy with the past few months right now. They’ve certainly
won more battles than they’ve lost. And the team is very solid.
teams that look like sleepers for this season?
Francisco comes to mind right away. No doubt about it, there are
questions here. But let’s face it… if they didn’t have questions,
they wouldn’t be sleepers. The Giants need some hitting… they
have to score more runs. But they have enough pitching to be interesting,
and even dangerous.
and Atlanta interest me. I think the Brewers… even with Sabathia
gone… might actually be able to succeed in 2009 since I doubt
they will enter the season with a ton of expectations. The problem
for both the Brewers and the Braves is that… unlike San Francisco…
there are a few more talented… or at least as talented… teams
in the National League East and Central for them to contend with.
The West is kind of a battle between a bunch of average to slightly
above average teams on a 162 game quest to be good. The Brewers
have the Cubs… the Braves have the Mets and the Phillies.
Tampa count as a sleeper after last year? Probably not.
is talking about Oakland… so let’s skip them.
fact… I don’t know if the American League has any team that qualifies
as a sleeper.
to the World Series last year, the Rays join the Yankees and the
Red Sox in the East… shouldn’t be anyone else there. In the West
the A’s might contend, but it’s likely the Angels will run away
again. I don’t see anyone challenging them.
the Central? Geez… how many times can we back the Tigers? So what
you end up with is really alot like the NL West… average teams
fighting to be in the playoffs. And since everyone except Kansas
City has at least been in the mix recently, I can’t see I see
any stunning results.
San Francisco… and if you wish, Milwaukee and Atlanta.
teams might disappoint?
hold on… don’t get the wrong idea from that. I like the Rays.
And didn’t you see I even wanted to toss their candidacy in for
a sleeper pick? They are definitely in the conversations as one
of the top four or five teams in the American League.
even if they are better, I don’t think they are going to improve
on the results of the 2008 regular season. And, to be realistic,
I expect a slightly lower finish. Let’s put it this way… even
if you’re the third best team in your league, if the top two teams
play in your division you don’t make the playoffs. So if we can
agree that Boston may be better… and that New York may be better…
and Tampa might slip a couple of games to 90-92 wins in a simply
brutal division… see where this is going?
top of that, when thinking Rays… check out the Tigers. Everyone…
well, at least me… thought they were set up nicely after that
year they made it to the World Series. Good manager… nice combination
of talent… just a few things to work on, but a winnable division
around them. Does Detroit’s approach to the year after their World
Series sound familiar? Manager? Talent? Ok… how has that worked
out in Detroit, without Boston and New York to fight
with for about 25% of your regular season games?
think the Mets could be 85-90 wins and out of the playoffs bad,
and that would be a disappointment. To my way of looking at it,
they haven’t addressed their starting rotation. (Freddy Garcia?
Really? No… I’m serious… really?) And I don’t like their bullpen
at all. Granted, they got Rodriguez cheap compared to his expectations…
but he hasn’t been dominant since the playoff run that earned
the team a championship and him a reputation. Huge numbers… hardly
outlined my thoughts about the Yankees up above. But so many people
are discussing possible problems for them that I think the only
way to include them in this group… where more was expected and
less ultimately realized… is if everyone stays healthy and they
miss the playoffs.
about a quick thought or two on each division?
American League East is where it’s at for regular season excitement.
Tampa, New York and Boston will, in some way, each play about
a quarter of their season against the other two from this group.
And even if two of these teams go to the playoffs, at this moment
one very good team will be staying at home when October rolls
around. Plus… don’t forget… if they beat each other up enough,
a team in the Central could sneak in and steal the wild card.
the AL Central… I don’t know. I need to do some more research
into it. Minnesota and Cleveland should have good teams… but they
will have some weaknesses. Detroit and Chicago need to sort out
some troubles, but both have enough talent that if things go right
they will be there when September arrives. In fact, Detroit could
run away… but I’ve lined up for that ride before. I suppose I’ll
go with the Tigers right now, because I do like alot of what they
have in place. But, there is a real chance that since I feel like
I’ve fallen for their potential before, I may feel differently
when I start looking in depth a few weeks from now.
AL West? California. And it will be a sequel… no challenge in
the regular season… then not enough to get past the tougher competition
in the playoffs.
NL East… geez… I don’t know. Not enough information. Philly took
home the title last year, and should be good in 2009. But I keep
looking at that team and I get the feeling they are on the verge
of falling apart. Stay with me on this… there always seemed to
be something wrong here… players wanting more from their contracts…
players giving great quotes to the media about whatever… all sorts
of little elements taking place and swirling around. Now… when
there is a big picture item… like winning a championship… many
times a team can put those to the side and succeed regardless
of the distractions. But once that mission is accomplished, quite
often the motivation isn’t the same and the desire to get paid
takes over (for one example). I wonder if following last season,
there might be a letdown waiting to happen. The problem with sticking
with that? Well… look around. Do you buy in to the Atlanta story?
I might… but not right now… I still think they are the third best
team in the division.. The Mets? Johan and the four question marks.
This division could be very, very good… but I don’t believe it
will be all that exciting.
NL Central. Hmm… I sort of like what Milwaukee has tried to do
to keep the dream alive. I actually hope they are successful in
2009. And I see some improvements for just about every team out
here. But… nothing shocking will happen in this division because
none of these teams are in a position to spend any more money.
Houston… Pittsburgh… Cincinnati… all of these clubs are pretty
much in place. None will be in a position, that I can see, to
make a trade like Milwaukee did last year to add a big name during
the season. And don’t forget… Toronto, California, and Milwaukee
all thought they would be getting draft picks that included a
first rounder when they made offers to Burnett, Teixeira and Sabathia.
How did that work out for all three of them? Two of the three
wound up with lower picks because New York signed them all. Not
that such a perfect storm will happen again, but you have to believe
a team like Milwaukee, even if encouraged to take some risks to
make a trade, will have that in mind when asked for big prospects.
They’re not guaranteed that first rounder in return if they lose
the player at the end of the year. All of this means… take the
NL West… I’m just not sure yet. I suppose I like Arizona. They
have a couple of chips they could trade if needed. They have the
pitching. But… LA and San Francisco could be better than I expect
them to be. Let me think about this one.