Postseason baseball is the most exciting time of the year for all baseball fans. October highlights some of the greatest moments in baseball history, and hopefully this October will be just as special. There are many great teams playing in the division series but, only four of them will make it to the ALCS and NLCS. Predicting winners of any playoff series will be a tough thing to do, but hopefully my baseball knowledge will be perfect on this one. Let’s start in the American League.
Tampa Bay Rays vs Boston Red Sox
The Rays have just come off big wins against the Rangers and Indians over the past week, but the challenge of facing the American Leagues best team will be tough. Matt Moore and John Lester will be on the mound to start of the first game of the series and ultimately this game will be a big factor to who wins this series. My guess is the Red Sox games one of this series, even with the Rays playing as hot as they are. Home field advantage at Fenway Park is a huge factor for the Red Sox, along with having your two hottest pitchers in Lester and Lackey throwing. I’m predicting the Red Sox take the series in four games, and win in walk off fashion in game two of the series. To go a little further, Daniel Nava will be delivering the game winning double.
Detroit Tigers vs Oakland Athletics
Out of all the series, that I can predict, this series will be one of the hardest. The Athletics finished strong towards the end of the season, going 19-8 in the month September, while the Tigers went an even 13-13 and got no hit by the Marlins in the last game of the season. Game one tomorrow will be Max Scherzer vs Bartolo Colon, which should be a very competitive game. In this game, I think the Athletics take game one and hit not one, not two, but three home runs in a 7-2 victory. But following this game, I believe the Tigers take the next two games with Verander going 8 innings in game two and Sanchez throwing a gem in a close victory in game three. With the series in favor of the Tigers, 2-1, the Athletics take game 4 and win in extras in game 5 back at home. Pretty crazy series right? Josh Donaldson will be the MVP of the series with 2 HR’s in big moments in the final two games.
Now let’s move on over the NLDS.
Pittsburgh Pirates vs St. Louis Cardinals
This series will also be another tough series to predict, but if there is any team qualified to take down the Cardinals it would be the Pirates. The Pirates have been playing very well towards the end of the year, especially after winning four straight against the Reds. Game one will feature Adam Wainwright vs AJ Burnett, and in this fight the Cardinals will come out on top. Wainwright has a very good postseason record and will continue to have one after this game. Game two will really be the pivotal point of the series, with two young pitchers in Garrett Cole and Lance Lynn on the mound. The pirates will take this close game at a score of 2-1 and will go back to Pittsburgh for Game 3, where Liriano will lead his team to a 1-0 victory. Game 4 will be where the Cardinals offense finally gets a grasp and puts that over .300 batting average with RISP to use, with a victory of 6-2. The final game back in St. Louis will be another close one, Andrew McCutchen will be the MVP of that game with a clutch HR in late innings to seal the deal. So, in other words, I see Pirates in 5.
Los Angeles Dodgers vs Atlanta Braves
The Braves and Dodgers have teams loaded with power. So pitching will be crucial to who wins this series. Kershaw will be on the mound for game one of this series, and I’ll go out of my way to say the Dodgers will win the game, even with Kris Medlen on the mound. Game two will be Grienke vs Minor, but this one won’t be a pitching duel. The final score of the game will be 7-5, with the Dodgers winning this game as well. Game three will be back in Los Angeles, and I think Justin Upton will hit a pair of homers in a close 5-4 victory, with Craig Kimbrel getting a big save. Game four, so long as Kershaw gets the start, will go to the Dodgers with Adrian Gonzalez going 3-4 with 4RBI’s, which will be more than enough for Kershaw to win.
To sum things up:
Red Sox over Rays in 4
Oakland over Tigers in 5
Pirates over Cardinals in 5
Dodgers over Braves in 4
Make sure to tune into these games as they will be one’s to remember.
Imagine this. The Houston Astros vs the Miami Marlins in the 2018 World Series. It sounds like a pretty farfetched idea considering that both teams are now the two worst teams in the league. But, how farfetched is the idea? It’s no lie that both teams are currently in a rebuilding stage, but it is possible that these two teams can reach into their farm systems and build a team for the future (along with other types of trade and free agent moves). Superstars are getting younger and younger, and now it is paying dividends to have a deep farm system that develops top notch big league prospects in a shorter period of time. With this in mind, the idea of having the Astros vs the Marlins in the 2018 World Series doesn’t sound too far off. The question is, who would win? Let’s evaluate.
We’ll start with the away team which I believe will be the Houston Astros. The Astros are currently the worst team in baseball. They are currently the worst in baseball in terms of ERA, with a 4.87 ERA. This is mainly due to an incredibly weak bullpen that had struggled all year long, especially after they lost closer Jose Veras to the Tigers via trade. They also have a big problem on offense, as their .241 batting average puts them in the bottom three in the league. Even with poor performance this year, the Astros do have some bright spots.
First, they are an incredibly young team. Their oldest starting player on offense is currently 27 years old (Brandon Barnes) and with a majority of them are under 25 years old. The same goes for the starting rotation, as all of their starting pitchers are 25 or younger. Second, the Astros have a lot of young talent in their farm system. Currently, the Astros has eight to prospects that have been listed in the MLB’s top 100 prospects. Four being pitchers and four being position players. Also, to make things interesting, their prospects are no older than 23 years old with the oldest being the most ready to step on the roster today (OF George Springer). Finally, the Astros have a coach who is a perfect fit to get these players on track. Manager Bo Porter is a perfect fit for the young players, especially since he was at the forefront of the Nationals fantastic 2012 season.
Even with bright spots though, the team will need to do a lot in order to become a World Series caliber team. Many of the pieces are in place to bring the young talent and mold them into contenders. One way to start is to explore their options in free agency to bring over a veteran starting pitcher that can help lead the rotation. In 2015, there are many front line rotation pitchers who will be available at an age of 30 or younger and at a reasonable price (Homer Bailey, Justin Masterson, etc). The bullpen will also need some reinforcement with pitchers that will be able to eat up innings efficiently. The next step that can be taken is to keep offensive leaders, like 2B Jose Altuve, by locking him down early and for multiple years. Altuve has shown he can be a leader and we’ll be a very important part of their future if they pan to move forward as contenders. Their last step is to not get impatient and let their young players develop, so that their transition into the big leagues is much easier and stress free. Now, let’s move onto the Marlins.
The Miami Marlins have been much better on the pitching side, as opposed to the offensive side. The starting rotation has been fantastic with a 3.77 ERA, which ranks 9th best in the league. Much of this has been led by the pitching phenom, Jose Fernandez, who is in serious consideration for the ROY award this year (as described in my last article post!). The bullpen has also been much better than expected, with their 3.69 ERA ranking right in the middle ranks The Marlins biggest problem is on offensive. The Marlins are the worst offensive team in the entire league, and are at the bottom of most offensive categories (.231/.292/.336).
So at this point, the Marlins have much to look forward too. The current rotation has a set up that is similar to the Oakland Athletics. Jose Fernandez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Jacob Turner are incredibly talented and, in my opinion, can become even better than the rotation in Oakland. The Marlins also have top pitching prospects, LHP Justin Nicolino and Andre Heaney, waiting in the wings ready to make their impact. The bullpen has a solid closer in Steve Cishek who has yet to reach his potential. On the field, the Marlins have an absolute gem in OF Giancarlo Stanton, but they need to find someone who can protect him in that lineup. The Marlins will either need to rely on prospects, like OF Christian Yelich and OF Jake Marisnick, or a free agent to provide protection for Stanton. Considering that the Marlins have already gone through the free agent route and failed, then it might be better for the prospects to step up and take that role.
Over the next five years, it is going to take smart decision making in the front office to build a team around these young prospects. If the teams can follow this path, it’s possible that these two teams will be World Series contending teams. So, if the 2018 World Series were to be played between the Houston Astros and the Miami Marlins, who would win? My choice would be the Marlins, simply because they have a lot of the pieces already in place and showing success at the big league level. When the rotation is pitching like this at an early stage of its career, it’s only a matter of time until they become a powerhouse. It would be tough for the Astros to fight of such a great pitching team, even though their offense will be very good and more balanced than the Marlins. But, as the 2012 World Series has showed us, pitching is important to win championships.
My choice is the Marlins, and I think they would win in six games to take baseball’s most coveted crown.
Ask anyone in baseball who they think should win the ROY award in the National League and most will probably say “Yasiel Puig, no question!”. Ask me that same question and I have a different answer. I would confidently say “Jose Fernandez, no question!”. Now, what has led me to this conclusion? Let’s find out.
Yasiel Puig has been lightning in a bottle for the Los Angeles Dodgers this season. Since adding Puig (mlb debut on June 3rd) to the lineup, the Dodgers have gone 56-23 and are considered one of the hottest teams in baseball. Puig has also been one of the most exciting players in the league, which has led to Puigmania. In 79 games this season, Puig has hit .351/.409/.566 with 14 HR and 54 Runs. In 2012, Mike Trout, in his first 79 games of the season (not truly his first 79 games but he was a year younger), hit .350/.407/.594 with 16 HR and 49 RBI. But, in those games, the Angels (Trout’s team) record was 47-32. In this context, Puig may actually be more valuable to the Dodgers than Trout was with the Angels. But how is this true when Trout’s numbers were similar, if not better, than Puig’s? I’ll pick up on that soon, but let’s move on to Jose Fernandez.
Jose Fernandez has stepped into a young clubhouse with inexperience, but has pitched like an ace on a World Series contending team. Fernandez is one of the most exciting rookie pitchers in all of baseball, and has been drawing comparisons to dominant pitchers like Felix Hernandez. So far in 26 starts, this season, Fernandez has a 10-6 record with a 2.33 ERA with 173 K’s in 158.2 IP. Last year’s ROY runner-up, Wade Miley of the Diamondbacks, had a less exciting season when he went 16-11 in 29 starts with a 3.33 ERA and 144 K’s. Based on stats alone, Fernandez is a qualified candidate for the ROY award, and possibly a CY Young (Most likely wont win with Kershaw dominating in LA, but nonetheless considered).
Now, we know that both players are both very qualified to win the award and based on this assumption Puig seems like the frontrunner. But, like most things in life, people remember you most for what you have recently done. In this scenario, Fernandez is the clear winner. Since July 1st, Jose has gone 6-2 in 11 starts with a 1.58 ERA and 89 K’s in 74.0 IP. In six of those starts, he has pitched against five different first place teams and compiled a 3-2 record. No other pitcher within this time period has had more strikeouts than Jose, and only Clayton Kershaw has a lower ERA in that time span (1.20). At the other end of the spectrum, Puig has hit .308/.383/.493 with 16 RBI’s and 35 Runs. Those are good numbers for Puig, but are they comparable to Fernandez has done? I don’t quite think so, since in 53 games, within that span, Puig has struck out 55 times. At this point, the numbers are leaning towards Fernandez. But what about beyond the numbers?
Beyond the numbers, Jose Fernandez has stayed much more humble than Puig in his rookie season. His composure and pure love for the game is one to be admired for a player at such a young age (21). On and off the field, Fernandez is a class act and sets a standard for how players should behave. Puig, on the other hand, has not been as composed as Fernandez. Puig has shown that he needs to show more composure during the game, since on numerous occasions he has made mental errors on missing cutoffs from the outfield. No doubt he has a rocket launcher on his arm, but simple things like that are what get you and your team in trouble. Puig was also taken out of the game last week, on August 28th, in a game against the Cubs, after catching two fly balls in a nonchalant fashion that led to his benching. I’m not sure if Puig thinks he is on top of the world, but he needs to remember that his actions have negative consequences.
Up to this point, Fernandez has all the credentials (and then some) to be named ROY. But, given all the data presented, is it enough to overthrow the high perception on Puig? Well, if one stat may completely convince you, it may be the fact that Puig plays on a team with a lot of talent and Puig’s play may not be the only thing fueling the Dodgers hot few months. The starting rotation has been excellent all year long with a league-leading 3.08 ERA. Also, the return of Hanley Ramirez has also been a huge boost with a .340/.387/.624 slash line with 15 HR’s and 43 RBI’s. Other guys like Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford have also been very productive this season, with each player having a batting average over .289. So the possibility of Puig being the sole reason for the Dodgers success is not exactly true.
Looking at the overall picture, Fernandez has ben put in a position where he was set to fail and has come out to be one of the biggest successes of the year. Whether you think so or not, Fernandez has all the tools to win the award. If the season were to end today, I would say that Fernandez is the winner of the award. So, again, who do you think should win the award? Fernandez, no question!
Approximately one year ago, the race to play in October was much more different than it is today. At this point in the season there is currently only one team that is in first place that was also in first place at this same point last year. That team is the Texas Rangers. What’s even more shocking is that a majority of the teams that were in first place last year, are sitting in third place or worse! If someone were to hop in a Back-to-the-future style DeLorean and go forward one year to today, they would ask “So you mean to tell me that teams like the Nationals, Giants, White Sox, Yankees, and Reds are all out of first place and are in third pace or worse?” I would simply say “Yes and here are my reasons why”.
Let’s start with the disappointing Nationals
The Nationals are utterly the biggest disappointment of any of the teams that I listed above. Last year’s team that achieved so much success is, essentially, the same team that has taken the field this season. As a whole, the team actually improved in the off season when they signed players such as OF Denard Span and RP Rafael Soriano. Even with losses of RHP Edwin Jackson and OF Michael Morse, the team still had enough talent to win another division and compete for a World Series. So, what’s the problem? Run production has been scarce, which has been accompanied by an inconsistent pitching staff. Run support has dropped down to nearly a run less than last year and only two of the five staying pitchers have an ERA of under 3.50. This combination causes closer ballgames to be lost and the bullpen doesn’t help with a closer whose ERA is near the mid 3’s and 6 blown saves on the year. The team is also setting less of the power production this year with a surprisingly low .392 slugging percentage, compared to last year’s .428. Now, this years team has seen its fair share of injuries but even with their top players on the field they still struggle to hit above .250 (batting average) and get on base with consistency (.309 on base percentage). This is still a great ball club on paper and may see more favorable times in 2014, but for this season they will be going home early.
The Giants are not so Giant
The Giants have come from the top of the mountain and have fallen a long and hard way down. Some may say that the Giants are the biggest disappointment but considering they weren’t as highly favored for this year’s World Series, then I would put them as the 2nd biggest disappointment. It’s said that in football “Defense wins championships”. The same can be said for pitching in Baseball. The Giants are in this position, because much of that championship pitching that was present in 2012 is not present in 2013. In a nutshell they have been awful. Four out of the five starters on this years current rotation have ERA’s above 4.00, which includes top pitcher RHP Matt Cain. If you weren’t mistaken, you would think the Giants play in Colorado. Any team that allows that many runs per game has a tough time winning ball games. Especially for an offense that isn’t as strong as, say, the Washington Nationals. The offense this year has not seen much of a chance from last year, but has seen a big part of their offense disappear. This would be their ability to gather extra base hits. The Giants slugging percentage is third worst in the league and as a team they have nearly half as many triples this year as they had last year (28 compared to 57). So pitching can’t get all the blame, but they sure are the biggest reason for the Giants struggle this season.
The torn White Sox
Considering that the White Sox missed last year’s playoffs at the end of the season to the Tigers, I can’t say that this team is a big disappointment. First off when a team loses a leader on the field and in the clubhouse, then team overall suffers. Losing C AJ Pierzynski was a blow to the White Sox, especially since this year’s team is struggling at the plate. They lost their homerun leader, which has shown in this years production with a much lower .382 slugging percentage compared to last year (.422). Also, last year’s team finished the year with five of its players having 20 HR’s or more. This season the club has only one member in that group, 1B/DH Adam Dunn. But, offense isn’t the sole reason for this slump. Injuries have also plagued the White Sox, with only three players out of the starting nine to play 120 games or more. The pitching staff has been relatively efficient in terms of both starting and relieving roles, but the lack of run support keeps it hard for this team to stay in the game. But even with decent run support and a good pitching performance, closing the door in the 9th seems to be a problem with 16 blown saves (36 saves). This year won’t be the year for the White Sox, and after losing more team leaders in RHP Jake Peavy (traded to Red Sox) and OF Alex Rios (traded to Rangers), it may take some time before this team comes back into the limelight.
Age is catching up on the Yankees
The Yankees have not disappointment this season, rather they been the result of bad luck. The Yankees began the year with something you call a “WTF moment”. The opening day lineup did not include C Russell Martin (signed with Pirates), 1B Mark Teixeira (DL), SS Derek Jeter (DL), 3B Alex Rodriguez (DL), CF Curtis Granderson (DL), and 1B/OF Nick Swisher (signed with Cleveland). Not to mention, the starting lineup was also missing guys like OF Andrew Jones (signed with Japan League team) and OF Raul Ibanez (signed with Mariners). All together, that is a total of 178 HR’s that is lost before the season even started. Now for the most part, the Yankees have been in contention this season. But as of late, the team has dipped down to 7.5 games for the division and 4.5 games for the wild card. Because of injuries that have left most of the lineup to be of of sync for the entire year, the team, with their age, has not been able to keep up with younger teams in the division. Older players in result have not received the proper rest time to stay efficient, which results in a team batting average of .246 and a slugging percentage of .377 (2012 slugging percentage of .435). On the pitching side, the rotation has seen inconsistency while the bullpen has been very effective. Ace CC Sabathia has struggled with command all year along with a drop in fastball velocity, which has resulted in a 4.81 ERA. While the bullpen has been very effective in one run ball games with over 42 saves converted this season, which has been a big reason for their winning record this season. Overall, the Yankees are hurting but not completely out of the picture, but they are in this situation today because some of their starting nine this season are not necessarily first team choices on contending teams.
The Reds are oh so close
The only people that may consider the Reds to be a disappointment are Cincinnati fans. But, they don’t need to feel that way. The Reds are currently almost 20 games over. 500, they are in the second position for the Wild Card race, and are only 4.5 games behind first place in the division. For the most part the offensive and defensive production has been similar to last year’s, even with a drop in power and extra base hits. The biggest difference from last year is the amount of stolen bases that the team has this year (41) compared to last season (87). But this is due in large part to the loss of OF Drew Stubbs, which has been offset with the acquisition of OF Shin-Soo Choo. What separates the Reds from any other team in the division, and the biggest reason why they are not in first place, is that RHP Johnny Cueto has been down for most of the year. Last year’s Cy Young candidate has been battling injuries with his shoulder all season and doesn’t seem to be coming back any time soon, after being placed on the 60-Day Disabled List. The Reds have a silver lining though, as power hitter OF Ryan Ludwick has rejoined the club and will provide much needed support to this lineup. The Reds will make the playoffs, but it won’t be easy and in my opinion it won’t be as a division winner.
6) Avoid big free agent signings.
Big free agent signings are, almost always, a bad move. Lets look at the recent history of big free agent signings. Since 2006, there has only been one free agent signing that has lived up to the money that was given to him, his name is OF Matt Holliday. In 2009, Matt Holliday signed the highest free agent contract with the St. Louis Cardinals for $120 million, which happens to be lower than any of the other highest signings from any other between 2006 and 2012. His slash line since signing that contract (2010-2013) has been an impressive .303/.387/.514 with an 8th best (16.5) WAR in that span. On the other hand, since 2007 (when Alfonso Soriano signed his 8 year, $136 million contract) Alfonso Soriano has only been able to compile a 17.9 WAR. Considering that Soriano had three years of baseball ahead of Holliday, it is rather an unimpressive WAR for such a big contract. But, it doesn’t just stop here. Alex Rodriguez signed a contract for 10 years and $275 million in 2007, which was after his 2007 MVP season. In that span (2008-2013), Rodriguez WAR is a 29th best 19.8. For someone to be making nearly $30 million/ year and to be producing a slash line of .282/.370/.503, it is just embarrassing. Not to say Rodriguez was the worst player in the league, but when you make that much money a year, you might as well wear a paper bag over your head.
The best way to help a team improve is by making key moves by trade or in-house extensions, as opposed to big spending free agent signing. For example, in 2012 Brian Sabean traded for SS Marco Scutaro and OF Hunter Pence in order to add more depth to a team that just needed a few more pieces to become a World Series contending team.
7) Have separation between the Front Office and Coaching Staff when it comes to the team on the field.
In my opinion, the Front Office should be responsible for finding players to be put on the field and the Coaching Staff should determine where these players should play on the field. The point of hiring a coaching staff is for them to be involved with the day-to-day operations of the team. They know the team better than anyone else and they know the players inside and out.
8) Attempt to trade Ricky Nolasco before offseason.
Not to say that Ricky Nolasco is a bad pitcher and that he wouldn’t be able help this team if he stayed, but he would help the team much more (potentially) if he were traded away. The free agency market has grown, in terms of salary money issued, every year over the past five years or so. A pitcher like Nolasco hasn’t necessarily been the best pitcher in the league, but could possibly demand a fairly decent contract when hitting the open market. Some teams are so desperate for pitching that they will ignore the fact that his ERA over the past five years is a 4.66 (especially in the National League). Teams will look more at his low walk ratio and think that he is a much better pitcher than he seems to be. Nolasco has not been injured much in that span and can be seen as a reliable 4th or 5th starter for a team making a playoff push. This would be the best-case scenario for the Marlins, because a team would be willing to give up a younger prospect or older veteran for a not-so-consistent Nolasco. Let’s look at what could be called a lop-sided trade in history; Scott Kazmir was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2004. In that trade, the Mets received Victor Zambrano and Bartolome Fortunato. Needless to say, Kazmir would end pitching four great seasons for the Tampa Bay Rays and was at the forefront of their World Series run in 2008. While, Zambrano would only end up pitching one full season for the Mets and Fortunato would only pitch a total of 17 games for them in relief.
The moral of the story is that pitching always has value in the league, and trading Nolasco can help bring a great player to the Marlins for a lower cost.
9) Strengthen the bullpen.
This does not necessarily mean bringing in a shut down closer, but it means having a bullpen that has depth and strength to help keep teams in the ballgame or hold a lead. The bullpen is often one of the most undermined parts of a team. That is because there is never a lot of media attention that is given to the bullpen. The only players on the team, from the bullpen, that are known are the closer and, maybe, the set-up man. Dating back to 2007, there has been a positive correlation between the ERA and WAR of a bullpen and the number of wins a team has in a season. Since 2007, the Red Sox, Phillies, and Giants have all ranked in the top ten in both bullpen WAR and ERA for the season and have gone on to win the World Series. The Yankees and Giants (2012 World Series) have ranked in the top ten in either one of the two categories; while, the Cardinals had, surprisingly, never ranked in either of those two categories in their 2011 World Series run. Let’s go a little more in depth. Since 2007, at least four teams per year ranked in the top ten in bullpen WAR and made the playoffs. In that same time period, at least six teams per year ranked in the top ten in bullpen WAR and were competing for a playoff spot.
The point is that the bullpen is a very important part of the team. Right now the best relievers on the Miami Marlins team are Mike Dunn and Ryan Webb. Steve Cishek has struggled somewhat this year but is still a great young reliever. Over the next few years, it would be one of my top priorities to bring in older experienced arms to help out the younger rotation over the course of the season. As far as the closer role, it would be determined based on the best pitcher out of the bullpen. It is often rare to have a closer who is dominant for many years, so there would be no set closer from year to year on the team. But if our team were to find such a closer (like Mariano Rivera, Jim Johnson, or Johnathan Papelbon), we would be very lucky.
10) Pray and have a little bit of luck.
Let’s make it simple, winning a championship is not as simple as putting the best team out on the field. It is a combination of great talent, shifting momentum, and a little bit of luck. It’s also not as simple as winning a division title, since you can make the playoffs as a wild card and still have as much of a chance of winning as anyone else. The Marlins playoff history reinforces this idea, since they have only made the playoffs twice as a wild card team and have won two World Series in those runs. But, this doesn’t make being a wildcard team desirable. Every team should aim to win their division as it provides some type of home field advantage (depending on your overall seed) for the first two rounds of the playoffs. Home field advantage means more games with your home crowd, which helps factor in momentum and excitement.
As the owner of the team, I can only pray that I have the best team on the field for 162 games or more, and I can hope that luck and momentum is on my side when comes to gaining a World Series title.
*all statistics were found using fangraphs.com and baseballreference.com*
1) Build fan support by addressing the public
Originally when the city of Miami agreed to build a new stadium and the Marlins decided to spend their money on top-tier free agents, the fans began to believe that this organization was looking to win in the near future. But, now the organization has taken the long-term approach, which has made this city resent the team that they have loved over the past two decades. The confusion between the team and the city has caused people to no longer trust this organization, which has showed in the attendance of this year’s games. This year’s attendance keeps dropping and dropping, and the Marlins front office tries to compensate this with weekly deals and giveaways to drive people to the ballpark. Which isn’t such a bad thing considering that the stadium is one of the nicest ballparks in the league, but it doesn’t escape the fact that the team on the field is not so nice.
Marlins fans don’t want to be in last place anymore, they want to be competing for division titles. They want to see their team compete for multiple years, not just one year and then go right back to the cellar of the NL East. Creating a team that can compete for multiple years is the only way to bring this fan support back from the dead. If I were to take this team upon my own, the first thing I would do is fix the part of the team that needs most saving. The fan base. I would personally go out to the media and address the city of Miami, and tell them what I intend to do with this ball club. At first, I wouldn’t expect it to change much, but my goal is to show this city that not only can I talk a big game, but I have the action to back it up. I would tell them that it is time to build a team that has the same type of talent rotation as teams like the St. Louis Cardinals or the San Francisco Giants. I would tell them that is time to keep Miami within the loop of decisions, meaning I’m not going to lose my goals based off of temporary failure. I will keep an ultimate goal in mind while attacking short-term goals as they come together. My goal is to keep Miami in the loop, because they don’t need anymore confusion just results.
2) Evaluate the farm system and the current state of the team.
The Marlins farm system at this point in time has improved because of the trades that ensued during this past season and offseason. According to baseball prospectus, the Marlins rank 11th in MLB farm system and I can agree with that ranking. Jose Fernandez is their best prospect and has done well in his time so far in the big leagues. He has a smooth easy delivery, which contributes to his great command and high velocity. Considering that he is only 20 years old and shows such great presence on the mound, he is going to be one of those pitchers to pay attention to over the next 5 years. The Marlins also have a few good pitchers behind that in LHP Justin Nicolino, LHP Andrew Heaney, RHP Mason Hope, and LHP Brian Flynn. My favorite of that group would have to be Justin Nicolino, considering he has a nice delivery from the left hand side and shows great control with a great changeup at his age. My only problem with the pitchers is that they still have some more time to develop, since they haven’t gone past the High A ball to this point. I find the position players to have more promise at this point, with guys like OF Christian Yelich (who I think is fantastic), OF Jake Marisnick (reminds of Brett Lawrie hitting with pop, but out on front foot too much), SS Derek Dietrich. What I like from this group is that there is a lot of power, which is lacking in the big club at this moment. My evaluation is closer to a B at this moment, considering that this group of talent is very young and still has a lot to prove.
The big club right now is not very good. The team is very young and inexperienced. The biggest highlight of this team is OF Giancarlo Stanton, which I believe is one of the best players in the league (just watch him swing the bat and you’ll understand). But, beyond Giancarlo there’s not incredibly great talent. The only players that I have seen to have some promise may be 2B Donovan Solano, OF Justin Ruggiano, and C Rob Brantly. The rest of the team is filled with below average players and older veterans looking for revival in their careers. The bullpen is the same story, but I do like RP Steve Cishek (even though he has struggled this season). Guys like SP Jose Fernandez and SP Alex Sanabia show promise in the rotation, but again there is not a lot of talent beyond those two pitchers. This team at this moment is at just about a D or F, but at least they can’t get any lower at this point.
This team has a lot of players that can be good for bench players or platoon players, but as everyday starters is a huge stretch.
3) Set performance goals for the next 5 years.
Every team needs to set performance goals that they look to achieve over a set period of time. Right now this Marlins team is on pace to lose around 100 games this season, so the first goal that needs to be achieved is to work towards building a .500 win team. A .500 team is a team that wins more than 80 games in a season, which may not seem hard but building wins is tough business. Right now at this moment the team is a few years from winning a major amount of ball games, so the order of business is to bring around players that can help the young players get accustomed to the league by the time they get the call up. We can already keep some players that are already on the team like 3B Placido Polanco, OF Juan Pierre, and 1B Greg Dobbs (so long as they don’t demand a high cost). Other players, or free agents, can be obtained in the offseason that can help fill some roles as well, such as: 2B/SS Nick Punto or SP Chien-Ming Wan. This goal will be obtained within the next 3 years, which is around the time most of the prospects can be expected to start to make their debuts in the league. Right now this rides on the fact that the Marlins already have three great pitchers (Fernandez, Eovaldi, and Turner) in the making for a top end rotation, but will need more time to develop over the next three years. The second goal is moving towards a 90-win season, which I believe can be achieved by the 5th year of my tenure with the Marlins.
The ultimate goal is to have a team that can compete for several division titles, which is one thing that this franchise has not been able to do since it’s inception in 1993.
4) Sign Giancarlo Stanton long-term
It’s quite simple, Giancarlo Stanton is the crucial to the success of this franchise and his presence in the lineup will help this team become one of the best in the division and the league. My goal would be to sign him up over the next 5-8 years. Signing him early will help cover those arbitration eligible years and since Giancarlo hasn’t played a full season yet, the cost could come out less than letting him go through the arbitration process. The main point here is to sign him long-term and make sure he is not lost to another team in the process.
5) Bring in an experienced arm for a young rotation.
There are a lot of pitchers that can be brought in in the 2014 or 2015 free agency that can help propel this rotation to one of the top in the league. A pitcher to consider in this process is LHP Paul Maholm. Maholm has pitched much better over the past couple of years as he has learned to harness his control and focus on getting ground ball outs. Another option is LHP Wandy Rodriguez, who has been much more consistent over the years but would be looking for a much higher asking price. The stretch pick-ups would be guys like RHP Tim Lincecum, RHP Edison Volquez, RHP Justin Masterson, or RHP Jake Peavy. This is because these guys are proven pitchers who might ask for a higher price (even if their recent performance might not be as good), but they are veterans who will provide great insight to a young rotation.
There are also trade opportunities that can be observed based on the performance of our players and the needs of other teams that are willing to give away older pitching veterans.
New York Yankees
The reigning AL East division winners will face one of their biggest challenges in this 2013 season. Making the postseason. This Yankees team has not missed a postseason since 1993, so the fact that making the postseason is their biggest challenge is a scary thought. But, it is realistic considering the strength of this division. So, will the October favorites fall short for the first time in 19 years, or will veteran players lead this team to a consecutive 20 postseason berths? Lets find out.
This year’s offense is will be different from last years home run hitting offense. With the loss of RF Nick Swisher, OF Raul Ibanez, OF Andrew Jones, and C Russell Martin, this team has lost a lot of depth too. The Yankees have also lost their $114 million dollar 3B Alex Rodriguez to hip surgery, which some may consider his time with the Yankees to be over. Much of this teams offense will revolve around 2B Robinson Cano, and whether SS Derek Jeter can repeat his performance from last year. Jeter is more questionable this year considering his ankle injury in last years postseason. Although, but I would still consider him to have a good year but no repeat of 2012. The Yankees will need 1B Mark Texeira to have a good season this year, if they really want to compete. When I mean good year, I’m implying a 2009 type year, but I’m not sure whether that’s in Texeira’s reach. 3B Kevin Youkilis joins the team this year looking get himself back to where he used to be, and his ability to draw walks and get on base will be crucial for this team to succeed. Two players to be looking out for this season will be LF Brett Gardner and RF Ichiro Suzuki. Gardner is a huge threat on the base paths and will be a source of run production with his great ability to get on base. Ichiro will be the best hitter on this Yankee line up, even after two years of downward production. Ichiro was fantastic after he was traded last season to the Yankees, and I believe he will continue this tend in 2013. Call me crazy, but I see Ichiro having 200 hits this season with 12-15 HR by the end of the year (mark it down). A big blow to this team will be the loss off Curtis Granderson, who will be out for approximately 10 weeks after taking a pitch to his right forearm. His absence for the first two months of the season will show whether this team will have a real problem generating runs, since Granderson was a huge party of that process last season.
The pitching staff of this Yankees team will be the most important part of this team in 2013. LHP CC Sabathia will head the rotation and will look to continue a strong campaign in 2013. RHP Hiroki Kuroda will go into his second season with the Yankees and his success will help set the tempo for this team. Kuroda will help keep this team in the race and, to me, will be the most important pitcher on this staff behind Sabathia. LHP Andy Pettitte pitched very well in his return to baseball last season, but I’m unsure how well he will pitch. There’s no saying how many innings he might pitch at his age, but with his recent track record those innings will be valuable to this team. RHP Phil Hughes is at a point in his career where he is looking to prove himself as more than a back end starter. When Phil Highes gets himself going, he is a great pitcher who can locate his pitches effectively. The only problem is that Hughes cannot stay consistent within an entire season. I expect him to stay in the status of a lower rotation type pitcher, but if he gets hot, he can be a pitcher to watch out for. The last spot in the rotation will be a competition between the young arms of RHP Ivan Nova, RHP David Phelps, and possibly RHP Michael Pineda. Nova seems to be more of the favorite considering his winning track record, but can easily lose the spot if he pitches like he did in late 2012. The bullpen will remain strong in 2013, but it will be interesting to see how CL Mariano Rivera comes back from his season ending ACL injury. If its anything near his normal performance, he will have no problems saving games this season.
In the outfield, the loss of Granderson will mean Gardner will have to take over in CF. this can be seen as no problem considering Gardner is a much better defender. Ichiro will take the starting job in RF this year with Nick Swisher’s move to the Indians. This follows the same scenario in CF, since Ichiro is a much better defender than Swisher. The question arises in LF. Right now it is an open competition, but it is expected that OF Matt Diaz will be the starter on Opening Day. Diaz has been an average to below average defender for the past few years, so he would be the only real hole in the great Yankees defense. In the infield, 1B Mark Texeira and 2B Robinson Cano will continue to be great gold glove caliber defenders. The other half of the infield will have more question marks with returning Derek Jeter playing SS and newcomer Kevin Youkilis playing 3B. Jeter is coming back from an ankle injury, which places his everyday mobility in question as the season progresses. Youkilis has declined from his former top glove form, so it is uncertain how well he will play. But the truth is Youkilis will still be a better defender than A-Rod. Behind the plate, Francisco Cervelli will look to take over as Catcher after the loss of Russell Martin. Cervelli isn’t the best defender and has shown a track record of not throwing runners out. Beyond Diaz and Cervelli, this defense is still very good and will be a strong point for this team.
This team has many question marks going into this season, as their offense is not what it used to be. Pitching will be a string point but it is uncertain how well the veterans will hold up this season. I don’t believe this team will win the division and will have only a slight chance to make the wild card. But don’t take my word too much, this Yankees team hasn’t missed a postseason in 19 years and knows what it takes to make it to the playoffs.
Toronto Blue Jays
Going into this season, this Toronto Blue Jays team will be put under tremendous pressure to succeed. After an offseason full of top-notch moves, this team is looking to contend for the AL East division title, or even a World Series. Also, former manager John Gibbons will be returning to help bring this team a title to Canada. This Blue Jays team will be hard to evaluate. Is it easy to call them a division winner because of what is on paper, or is there more uncertainty than meets the eye?
Lets start off by talking about the new additions. We know a guy like SS Jose Reyes (.287/.347/.433) will be valuable to any line-up. Going into this new stadium, filled with fantastic AstroTurf, Jose’s numbers will only increase; specifically in areas such as: doubles and triples (37 2B & 12 3B). This is because when the ball hits the ground on AstroTurf it skips faster than on regular grass, which will lead to more balls falling in the gaps. This same concept can apply to 2B Emilio Bonifacio (.296/.360/.393), assuming that he can stay healthy. The benefits of Emilio’s health will be crucial to this team, considering that he has been able to limit his fly ball rate and increase his line drive and ground ball rate. Melky Cabrera will be an interesting case. Melky has just come off a 50-game suspension for PED use (.346/.390/.516 with 51 hits) and is now being investigated in the Anthony Bosch cases in Miami. It will be uncertain which Melky we will see in 2013, since his numbers show a substantial difference between PED usage and “Non-PED” usage. My guess is that we will see a good Melky, but not a fantastic one like the one we saw in San Francisco. With the existing players from last year’s 2012 team, we can expect RF Jose Bautista (.241/.358/.527 with 27 HR by all-star break) to come back from his wrist injury and return back to his home-run hitting form. Edwin Encarnacion (.280/.384/.557 with 42 HR) is a different, yet similar, story. Last year his HR total jumped by a substantial 30+ compared to his prior seasons. What’s interesting is that this jump is similar to Jose Bautista’s jump in 2010 at 29 years old. It’s worked out so far, so it will continue to work out in 2013. The final two players to pay attention to this season are Colby Rasmus (.223/.289/.400) and Brett Lawrie (.273/.324/.405). Although they are young, they will help set the tempo of this team and their production is crucial to the success of this team. Since joining the Blue Jays in 2011 (via trade), Colby has not hit well. At only 25 years old, Colby has a good swing with quick hands but is lacking the plate discipline that he should have at this stage in his career. With more hitters in the lineup, it is expected that he will hit lower in the lineup, which can actually help revitalize his hitting career. In 178 games over his career and when hitting in the 5th or 6th position of the line-up, Colby hits .261/.335/.488 (.823 OPS). This is a game changer and is an option that the Blue Jays should pursue. At 22 years old, Brett Lawrie shows that he is the type of player that you keep around for a long time. He hits the ball aggressively and is great defender. His biggest challenge this season will be to limit his strikeouts and stay healthy. If both become the case, you’ll be seeing a possible MVP candidate coming out of Toronto.
This years pitching rotation sees three new faces that will make up the top 3 pitchers in the rotation. First, is last years NL Cy Young winner RHP RA Dickey (20-6 with 2.73 ERA & 230 K’s). Dickey has revolutionized the way the knuckleball is thrown. His ability to throw the knuckleball at such a high speed (83-80 mph), causes the deception and movement of the ball to be out of this world. Most knuckleballers tend at have a lot of variation from year to year, but I expect Dickey to have another solid year with 15+ wins. RHP Josh Johnson (8-14 with 3.81 ERA) and LHP Mark Buerhle (13-13 with 3.74 ERA) are coming from a bad position with last year’s marlins team and will be looking for a fresh start in Toronto. Josh is coming back from his worst full season as a starter, but it seems his shoulder is holding up well; which shows good signs going forward. Mark continues to prove that he can a workforce for any team he is on (12 consecutive 200+ win seasons) and that he can succeed at the Rogers Center. He will be a valuable asset for this Toronto Blue Jays team and, looking down the stretch, will be very influential on their playoff run this year. RHP Brandon Morrow (10-7 with 2.96 ERA) will be coming back from his best shortened season and will need to prove that he can maintain that low ERA. LHP Ricky Romero (9-14 with 5.77 ERA) will finish off this rotation with a question mark. It’s no doubt he had an awful year last year, but this shouldn’t be looked at as a trend for the future. With four other great pitchers in the rotation, he will benefit from having the stress taken off his shoulders. I see him producing something between his 2010 and 2011 numbers, which will be a step in the right direction. Casey Janssen (22 saves) seems to be the clear favorite as the closer this season and will need to build upon last years 22 save season. Also, Sergio Santos (30 saves in 2011) may be the player who has most to prove going into this season. His shoulder injury knocked him out for the rest of the season and will need to prove he can be as effective as he was in 2011 with the White Sox.
Cabrera (-1.7 UZR), Rasmus (0.0 UZR), and Bautista (0.8 UZR) will make up the big three in the outfield in the hitters aspect, but not so much in the fielding aspect. All three have had multiple seasons of negative UZR’s and below league average fielding %. Strong point comes in the arms as Jose Bautista will be more of a threat with the power arm, but it’s an otherwise weak defensive outfield. In the infield it is a little more different, because of new additions such as Jose Reyes (.988 Fielding %) and Maicer Izturis (4.7 UZR at 2B). Jose is a solid glove at the position and Maicer will be a great defensive substitute late in games to help keep the defense strong. My favorite glove in the infield has to be Brett Lawrie (6.5 UZR) who showed countless times last year that he can make great plays. His quick reactions and strong arm make him a premier glove at third base. Even thought he may not be on Evan Longoria’s level at this point, he is still an interesting glove to watch. Although C JP Arencibia (22 CS to 53 SB) may not have former prospect Travis D’Arnaud’s bat, he makes up for it by being a solid defender, who will be crucial to the success of this pitching staff this season.
The Blue Jays did a lot of shopping around this offseason and only time will tell if this team is the real deal or not. My guess is that the Blue Jays go as far as competing for the wild card, but it may be a year or two before I announce them division winners…or even World Series Champions.
*UZR= Ultimate Zone Rating
*ERA= Earned Run Average
Tampa Bay Rays
The Tampa Bay Rays will not be a team who will score many runs in 2013; which isn’t much of a difference from last year. The Rays haven’t addressed their offensive needs this offseason, especially after losing CF BJ Upton to the braves. The main production of this line up will come from all-star 3B Evan Longoria (.289/.369/.527), 2B Ben Zobrist (.270/.377/.471), and RF Matt Joyce (.241/.341/.429). Even though Longoria is coming back from a hamstring injury and played only 74 games, it’s expected Longoria will come back and perform at a high level. One hitter to look out for this season is LF Desmond Jennings. Although his numbers don’t look as great in 2012 (.246/.314/.388), I expect him to start getting more comfortable with his plate approach and start hitting the ball with authority. Beyond these three players, there aren’t many run producers on this team. Even with the addition of Yunel Escobar (.253/.300/.344) and James Loney (.249/.293/.336) this offseason, they didn’t show much success in the past season with their other AL East teams. The Rays best bet will be if Yunel Escobar returns to his higher batting average form (2007-2011 .289/.366/ .401). But after being traded twice and being gIven the title of a clubhouse cancer, it’s likely his morale won’t be in the right place this season.
The strong point of this Rays team lies, like in prior seasons, in their pitching staff. With Cy Young winner LHP David Price (20-5 with 2.56 ERA & 3.47 K/BB), RHP Jeremy Hellickson (10-11 with 3.10 ERA & 1.12 GB/FB), and LHP Matt Moore (11-11 with 3.81 ERA & 8.88 K/9) leading the rotation this year, it is easy to say that this team has the best rotation in the AL East. The key player to focus in on is RHP Jeremy Hellickson. Although Hellickson is not a guy to strike you out like former RHP James Shields (traded to Kansas City in the offseason), he is the type of guy who lets his defense make plays and get easy outs. Expect Jeremy to sit with a low ERA this season, and also to see his K and GB rate to continue to grow. In the bullpen, Fernando Rodney (48 Saves-2 Blown saves, with .60 ERA) will sit as the closer after last years spectacular season. The Rays also resigned RHP Kyle Farnsworth (2011 25 Saves with 2.18 ERA) to help strengthen a bullpen that was already strong.
Defense has been a strong point for the Rays in recent years, and going into 2013 this will continue to be a factor. The outfield has gold glove caliber outfielders in LF Desmond Jennings (11.0 UZR with no errors) and CF Sam Fuld (2011 9.5 UZR). Also, RF Matt Joyce has the ability to make some nice plays and throws from time to time. In the infield, two time gold glover Evan Longoria (2008-2011 UZR over 10) comes back at third base looking to reclaim his crown (after a 2012 season filled with injury). The rest of the infield is solid with multi-positional 2B Ben Zobrist (2011 6.8 UZR) and the above average SS Yunel Escobar (4.6 UZR). Behind the plate, the catching guru Jose Molina will be a huge factor for pitchers, considering he saved a womping 50+ runs behind the plate on framing alone last season.
The Rays will need to rely on their pitching and their defense if they want to earn another spot in the playoffs this year. The Rays won’t outscore opponents this year, but I expect them to win many close games. I’m not sure if the division is in reach for them this year, but don’t count them out for the wildcard.
*All statistics where found at fangraphs.com or baseballreference.com*
*Slash line reads batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage*
*WAR=Wins Above Replacement; UZR= Ultimate Zone Rating*
BOSTON RED SOX
The Red Sox are a much more improved team going into 2013. First and foremost they got rid of troublemaker Bobby Valentine and brought back old pitching coach John Farrell to be the new manager.
The Red Sox come into the 2013 year with a solid lineup. Built around the same core hitters that have given them success in the past, the Red Sox will have no problems scoring runs. Much of the backbone of this offense will continue to be from the efforts of CF Jacoby Ellsbury (.271/.313/.370), 2B Dustin Pedroia (.291/.347/.449), and DH David Ortiz (.318/.415/.611). Newly acquired OF Shane Victorino (.255/.321/.383) will also play a big role as he will serve as the Sox’s true leadoff hitter, considering the team didn’t have stability in that spot in 2012. The big question will lie on the performance of both 1B Mike Napoli (.227/.343/.469) and 3B Will Middlebrooks (.255/.325/.509). Their health is vital to the continuing production beyond the 1-2-3 spots in the lineup. I expect Mike Napoli will bounce back from his down season and use the green monster (and that big uppercut swing) to help him return to his form as a patient 25+ home run hitter. As for Middlebrooks, this year might look something like a typical sophomore slump. His swing can push for a 20+ home run season, but his high K rate and low walk rate will continue to be a factor in 2013.
There’s no question the type of affect John Farrell brings to the table for this pitching rotation. Between 2007-2010, while John Farrell was the pitching coach in Boston, the starting rotation led the entire league in FIP (4.09) and WAR (76.3). The team was also in the top five in IP (3927.1), K/9 (7.25), HR/9 (0.96), and ERA (4.26). Both John Lester (2007-2010, 3.41 ERA) and Clay Buchholz (2010, 2.33 ERA in 173.2 IP) were developed under John Farrell, and both had some of best seasons in their career within that span. Coming into this season, both men have something to prove and will be crucial to the success of the Red Sox. Don’t be surprised if both of these men fall into the discussion of the Cy Young award by the end of the year. The Red Sox also added veteran RHP Ryan Dempster to the rotation, who seems to be improving with age (2008-2012, 16.9 WAR with 3.46 ERA). John Lackey will be returning from Tommy John surgery this season so its expected to not see much miraculous stuff out of him, considering he wasn’t so miraculous when he left. What will be interesting to watch is Felix Doubront (4.86 ERA with 167 K’s), at 22 years old last season he wasn’t necessarily putting up all star numbers but he was consistent and showed the ability to miss bats. If he could get his walk rate down, we can see much better production out of him. Even though bullpen may have lost a couple of players this past season (Scott Atchinson, Mark Melancon, Vicente Padilla), they are still looking strong going into this season. With arms like Andrew Bailey (2009-2011 ~25 Saves) and newly acquired Joel Hanrahan (2011-2012 ~40 saves), this Red Sox team will be tough to score with a lead going late into the games.
The Red Sox are a pretty average team when it come to defending in 2013. The outfield will seem to be secured with 2011 Gold Glove winning CF Jacoby Ellsbury (2011 15.6 UZR) and two time Gold Glove winning RF Shane Victorino. The only question mark will be with newly acquired LF Johnny Gomes, but this will depend how well he can defend the monster. In the infield, 2B Dustin Pedroia (2011-2012 27.9 UZR) seems to be the only Gold Glove caliber player. The infield would be much more improved if Jose Iglesias would play shortstop, instead of newcomer SS Stephen Drew. The best bet is to hope Stephen Drew returns to his 2010 roots when he was second in the league in Fielding % (.984 FP). C Jarrod Saltalamacchia was a solid catcher for the Sox in 2012, but will need to tone down his league high 80 SB allowed if he wants to consistently catch on a day to day basis.
This Red Sox team won’t finish in the bottom of the division like they did last season. Expect them to be competing for a wild card spot this season…or possibly the division.
*All statistics where found at fangraphs.com or baseballreference.com*
*Slash line reads batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage*
*WAR=Wins Above Replacement; UZR= Ultimate Zone Rating*