Hey, remember three years ago when it seemed like everyone was celebrating the demise of Billy Beane after Oakland's third straight losing season? Joe Morgan was probably cackling with glee while swirling good Scotch in a snifter. Well, which one of those gentlemen is still employed in baseball today? I'll give you a hint; firejoemorgan.com is no longer an active web page. Last season, due to trades, one ugly injury (Brandon McCarthy fielding an Erick Aybar line drive with his dome), and a PED suspension, the A's ended the season with a rotation made up entirely of rookies, yet still charged from behind to steal the AL West from the Rangers before losing to Detroit in the ALDS. So Moneyball isn't dead after all, huh? Allow me to remind everyone that Beane's philosophy isn't so much religiously tied to on-base percentage as it is to exploiting market inefficiencies on the cheap. For further proof, check out the projected lineup below.
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
The Second City's second team threatened to win baseball's weakest division last year before an utter collapse in the final days allowed the Tigers to sneak in and leave the White Sox out in the cold. Still, it was a successful first year for rookie manager Robin Ventura, who had never previously managed any team. You could be forgiven for asking, "Who are these fuckin' guys?"; years of poor drafting and development have left the Pale Hose with a system nearly bereft of young stars and a major league team relying on a couple of older recognizable names to carry them. Let's take a look:
The 2010 and 2011 American League champions suffered through a rough final week that saw them let the AL West title slip through their fingers (or bounce off of Josh Hamilton's glove, depending on how you look at it), forcing them to settle for the one-game wild card playoff that they lost to Baltimore. Then, over the winter, Hamilton left for Orange County, weakening their team and strengthening their division rivals. The composition of this team will be different, with three or four new faces in the lineup, but the Rangers should still be a dangerous team in 2012.
Friday, February 15, 2013
I guess because they're the Yankees and they spend more money than anyone else (except the Dodgers now), it is almost impossible to write a preview of contending teams without including them. Still, this is a very flawed organization that is transitioning to a supposedly more fiscally restrained model over the next couple of seasons, although they still have some poison pill contracts to work through. They'll probably make it interesting, because they're the Yankees and they've missed the playoffs just once since the 1994 strike (in 2008). And of course, you know, they're the most storied franchise in American professional sports, with those 27 championships and all. So what do they have this year?
In 2012, the Orioles surprised everyone, including themselves, by making it to the AL Division Series with an injury-riddled lineup and a rotation of castoffs, none of whom except Wei-Yin Chen made more than twenty starts. Buck Showalter turned out to be the perfect manager for this club; a brilliant in-game tactician and non-nonsense perfectionist, he arrested the culture of losing that had hung around Baltimore for over a decade and made his players a lot tougher. Can they repeat their magic trick in 2013? Let's start by looking at the lineup:
The Tampa Bay Rays will spend less than a third of what the Dodgers or Yankees will spend on player payroll in 2013 ($59.9 million vs. $200 million-plus), but they might be better than either team. That's what several years of smart drafting and shrewd personnel moves will do for you. This winter was no different, as Andrew Friedman and company turned two years of James Shields and five of Wade Davis, both solid-to-very-good pitchers, into a boatload of Kansas City's top prospects, most notably outfielder Wil Myers, rendered superfluous thanks to the Royals' infatuation with Jeff Francoeur. They also let center fielder B.J. Upton walk in free agency, deciding to replace him with internal solutions and spare parts. Sometimes those spare parts work out (Carlos Pena 2008-9), and sometimes they don't (Carlos Pena 2010 and 2012, Luke Scott). What might be in store this year?
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
For a second consecutive offseason, the Angels made a splash in free agency by signing the top available hitter, inking Josh Hamilton for five seasons one year after signing Albert Pujols for ten. Last year's team was good, particularly after the arrival of Mike Trout from AAA Salt Lake City, but lost out on a playoff spot to the Rangers and A's within the division, and the Orioles for the other wild card. Poaching Hamilton from their division rivals (a year after also signing C.J. Wilson away from Texas) was a calculated move that could make this a dynamite team this year. In three years, I'm not sure that I want either Hamilton or Pujols at their current salaries. But right now? Sure.
Last year's American League champions made very few changes to their regular lineup, but there were two gigantic improvements made. Delmon Young and his negative everything (except for the occasional power) are gone to Philadelphia, where Ruben Amaro can deal with the anti-Semitic remarks and total lack of plate discipline (and I mean that in more ways than one). He was replaced on the payroll by free agent Torii Hunter, who is many things that Young is not: in shape, a quality hitter and defender, and a good citizen. The other big change is that Victor Martinez, signed prior to last season, returns after missing 2012 with a torn ACL. Those two moves mean that Detroit gets to remove two offensive black holes from their lineup; Young and the mostly regrettable cast of characters, chiefly Brennan Boesch, who manned left field for them last year. Here is how it should look:
All right! Spring training is now officially here, with pitchers and catchers reporting at the beginning of this week. Since I have already tackled the various National League contenders in this space, it is now time to look at the American League's best teams. This will take a little longer, as there are nine (perhaps ten) teams with a real shot to make the playoffs in the junior circuit. There was more roster upheaval in the AL, and where better to start than with the completely revamped Toronto Blue Jays? Let's take a look at their new lineup:
Friday, February 8, 2013
The Dodgers have spent vast piles of money over the past year, and at least they can be happy that their $217.5-million payroll got them a preview amongst my other National League contenders. Whether their approach of spending like my friend Logan home from a month-long hitch on the North Slope is wise is still up for debate. None of the players that they acquired from the Red Sox in last summer's blockbuster are still in their primes, a distinction that really only applies to one regular position player (Matt Kemp) and two starting pitchers (Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke). This is a team that needs to win now, but do they have the juice?
While all the attention was focused on the Mariners, the Braves swooped in and made a trade with the Diamondbacks for Justin Upton, nabbing a talented, cheap outfielder for 50 cents on the dollar. This will be the first Braves team since 1994 without Chipper Jones in the lineup, and so the team needed to get a bat to replace him in their lineup from somewhere. Mission accomplished. How does this new lineup look?
Not only did the Cardinals finish at the top of Keith Law's organizational talent rankings, but they have a pretty good major league team, too. They have an excellent mix of overlooked players (Allen Craig, David Freese), legitimate stars (Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina), up-and-comers (Jon Jay, a boatload of pitchers), and aging-but-effective veterans (Carlos Beltran). After beating the Nationals in the Division Series, they looked primed for a back-to-back title run, but the Giants derailed their dreams in the NLCS. But they will be good again this year. Let's take a look:
Monday, February 4, 2013
After winning the World Series in 2010, the Reds mostly stood pat, trusting in their core to deliver again. Then Buster Posey broke his leg and that year didn't quite work out. Last year, with a healthy Posey, they won again, and once again have pretty much let things be. There were no major personnel moves apart from letting Melky Cabrera and the iconic Brian Wilson (injured last year) walk. If you haven't seen the Nationals or Reds previews, feel free to jump to those or stay here. As always, projected stats are courtesy of Bill James and Fangraphs. Let's start with the lineup.
We covered the Washington Nationals with the first pre-spring training preview, and now we're moving to the Central Division, where I expect the Reds to once again rule the roost. Like the Nationals, the Reds made few changes, but two of them are big ones. Todd Frazier will step in at third base for the departed Scott Rolen, giving the Cincy faithful that many more times to enjoy his "Fly Me to the Moon" intro music (he is a Jersey boy, after all), and perhaps they can hope for more no-handed home runs and credible Sinatra imitations. The other major move was getting Shin-Soo Choo in a three-way trade with the Indians and Diamondbacks, landing them their first credible leadoff hitter since Dusty Baker became the manager, and significantly weakening their outfield defense into the bargain, because now either Choo or Jay Bruce has to play center.
We're less than two weeks away from the four greatest words in the English language: "Pitchers and catchers report." The beginning of spring is so close, teasing those of us who live in DC this week with a pair of 65-degree days. I think because of its start time that no sport fully embodies hope in the way that baseball does. The beginning of spring training comes after the Super Bowl, when the only major sporting options are the mid-season doldrums of the NBA and NHL, and conference slates in college basketball. By this point most of the good teams in those sports have separated themselves from the pack (although hockey is different this year), so February can be a melancholy month for most, until the arrival of baseball in Florida and Arizona.