Posted on: February 11, 2012 10:44 am
By C. Trent Rosecrans
We finish our look at spring training's position battles with the National League East, home of some of the most intriguing teams in the game -- and the Mets.
Previous spring position battles: AL West | NL West | AL Central | NL Central | AL East
Fifth starter: Mike Minor vs. Randall Delgado vs. Julio Teheran
There's not a team in baseball that wouldn't drool over having to make this decision. The three are expected to be the keystone to the rotation in the future, but Minor's still the oldest of the bunch having just celebrated his 24th birthday the day after Christmas and therefore expected to be the first to make an impact in the majors. Delgado turned 22 on Thursday and Teheran celebrated his 21st birthday last month. The left-handed Minor made 15 starts last season for the Braves, going 5-3 with a 4.14 ERA. Meanwhile, Delgado dazzled in his seven starts, going 1-1 with a 2.83. Teheran didn't live up to the expectations many had for him -- but he was just 20 and made only three starts. He'll be fine. More than fine.
Center field: Emilio Bonifacio vs. Chris Coghlan vs. Yoenis Cespedes?
This is up in the air until Cespedes makes his decision, although it seems more and more like he'll be a Marlin. There's no question the Marlins want him and there's no question they want him in center field. If he does sign with Miami, the team will have to see how ready the 26-year-old is for the big leagues. He may not start in Miami, but the goal would be to have him there for the long-haul. Bonifacio is coming off a career-best .296/.360/.393 season with 40 stolen bases, but he was aided by a .372 batting average on balls in play -- something that will likely drop, but should still be high because of his speed. He also increased his walk rate, which helped as well. Coghlan won the 2009 Rookie of the Year, but a knee injury in 2010 has hampered him since his first season. He hit just .230/.296/.368 with five home runs and seven stolen bases in 298 plate appearances last season and his future is up in the air.
New York Mets
Second base: Daniel Murphy vs. Justin Turner vs. Ronny Cedeno
Murphy's likely to get the nod, as long as he can field the position adequately. Murphy made the majority of his starts at first base last season, but with the return of Ike Davis, Murphy needs a home thanks to his .320/.362/.448 line. Turner hit .260/.334/.356 as the team's primary second baseman (71 starts), but is probably no more than a utility player in the long run. Cedeno was signed from the Pirates to back up Ruben Tejada at shortstop, but he could figure in the second base situation if worst comes to worst.
Left field: John Mayberry Jr. vs. Domonic Brown vs. Laynce Nix
The job is probably Mayberry's to lose after hitting .273/.341/.513 with 15 home runs and 49 RBI last season. Brown, the team's former top prospect, struggled in his 56 games and 210 plate appearances with the Phillies last season, hitting .245/.333/.391 with five homers. Brown has the talent, but it has to actuate for him to earn more playing time. The left-handed Nix is a backup, but could add depth to the outfield with the absence of Ryan Howard at first base. A good fielder, Nix struggles against left-handed pitching, so he's not an everyday type player.
Center field: Rick Ankiel vs. Roger Bernadina vs. Bryce Harper
Well, Harper won't be in center field, but he's basically fighting for that spot. If he makes the team out of spring, he'll be in right and Jayson Werth will be in center. That still seems unlikely, as good as the 19-year-old is. Ankiel won a spring-training battle with Nyjer Morgan last year, leading to Morgan's trade to Milwaukee. The Nationals brought Ankiel back on a minor-league deal, but he's still probably the favorite. He hit .239/.296/.363 with nine home runs last season. Like Ankiel, Bernadina hits left-handed. Last year he put up a .243/.301/.362 line with seven home runs in 91 games and 50 starts in center field.
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Tags: Braves, Bryce Harper, Chris Coghlan, Daniel Murphy, Domonic Brown, Emilio Bonifacio, Ike Davis, John Mayberry Jr., Julio Teheran, Justin Turner, Laynce Nix, Marlins, Mets, Mike Minor, NL East, Nyjer Morgan, Randall Delgado, Rick Ankiel, Roger Bernadina, Ronny Cedeno, Ruben Tejada, spring position battles, Yoenis Cespedes
Posted on: December 18, 2011 2:24 pm
By C. Trent Rosecrans
What if players were only permitted to stay with the team that originally made them a professional? No trades, no Rule-5 Draft, no minor or major league free agency ... once you are a professional baseball player, you stay in that organization. This series shows how all 30 teams would look. We give you: Homegrown teams. To view the schedule/past entries of this feature, click here.
The new-look Miami Marlins went out and spent some cash on big free agents this offseason, but had that cash been around (or, you know, owner Jeffrey Loria willing to spend it before getting his new ballpark), the team could have kept some of the notable talent in South Florida. While the Marlins sent Josh Beckett and Miguel Cabrera out after winning a World Series, it's intriguing to think of what could have been had the Marlins stayed homegrown.
1. Logan Morrison, CF
2. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
3. Miguel Cabrera, 3B
4. Mike Stanton, RF
5. Josh Willingham, LF
6. Alex Gonzalez, SS
7. Brett Hayes, C
8. Robert Andino, 2B
1. Josh Johnson
2. Josh Beckett
3. Chris Volstad
4. Jason Vargas
5. Livan Hernandez
Closer - Steve Cishek
Set up - Chris Resop, Chris Leroux, Sandy Rosario, Alex Sanabia, Rick VandenHurk
Long - Brad Hand
Notable Bench Players
The bench is deep and versatile, including young and old alike, infielders and outfielders. Some of those guys include Gaby Sanchez, Edgar Renteria, Ross Gload, Matt Dominguez, Mark Kotsay, Chris Coghlan and Jeremy Hermida. Of those, Sanchez and Dominguez are good, young players that are just blocked by superstars, while the rest are clearly bench players.
Gonzalez, Cabrera, Stanton? Does any pitcher want to face that heart of the order? That's two MVP-worthy players plus the best young power hitter in the game. The bottom of the lineup offers a respite, but it's not like it's a wasteland. The top of the rotation can stand in just about any postseason series, throwing Johnson and Beckett back-to-back.
Of course, once you get past the two Joshes, things get a little easier. And once you get past them to the bullpen, the road gets a little easier, as well. Cishek may one day be a closer, and had three saves last year, but there's a reason the team went out and signed Heath Bell. Morrison probably isn't the first choice to play center field, but he's athletic enough to do it, and having Stanton in right helps out, as well. Cabrera hasn't played third base since 2008, but it was a way to fudge the lineup a bit.
Comparison to real 2011
The Marlins were 72-90 in 2011, the same as their Pythagorean record. Of course, they didn't have Johnson for most of the season, so it's hard to really predict where he'd be with this squad. This team is probably better than the 2011 team, scoring more runs, but also struggling in the rotation, just as the regular Marlins did. Better than the 2011 team, this team is not as good as the 2012 team is shaping up to be.
Next: San Francisco Giants
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Tags: Adrian Gonzalez, Alex Gonzalez, Alex Sanabia, Brad Hand, Brett Hayes, C. Trent Rosecrans, Chris Coghlan, Chris LeRoux, Chris Resop, Chris Voldstad, Edgar Renteria, Gaby Sanchez, Heath Bell, Homegrown, Jason Vargas, Jeremy Hermida, Josh Beckett, Josh Johnson, Josh Willingham, Livan Hernandez, Logan Morrison, Mark Kotsay, Marlins, Matt Dominguez, Miguel Cabrera, Mike Stanton, NL East, Rick Vanderhurk, Robert Andino, Ross Gload, Sandy Rosario, Steve Cishek
Posted on: November 14, 2011 7:05 pm
Edited on: November 14, 2011 7:07 pm
By C. Trent Rosecrans
The Rookie of the Year awards are unique among baseball awards in that they are somewhat less about an individual year's performance as much as they are for the hope of better things to come. A Rookie of the Year win is a footnote on any Hall of Fame argument, not a bullet point. Meanwhile, any Hall of Fame argument will start with MVP wins for position players and Cy Young trophies for starting pitchers. If you have those, you have an argument, and if you won Rookie of the Year, that's nice.
No, Rookie of the Year is something to dream on -- there's the potential and what a player could become based upon a solid rookie year.
With that in mind, I wanted to look back on the past Rookie of the Year winners and what players had the best careers after winning the award and which ones peaked in their first year. Because this particular argument needs time for perspective, I've broken up the last 20 years in five-year increments. Below are the winners of the awards each year for both leagues, as well as their Wins Above Replacement (from Baseball-Reference.com) for both their rookie year and their career, as well as a decision on the best player in retrospect, the worst and the best duo from one year.
Best: This is where we need perspective -- and time. Right now it looks like you could go with any of six candidates -- Justin Verlander (AL 2006), Hanley Ramirez (NL 2006), Dustin Pedroia (AL 2007), Ryan Braun (NL 2007), Evan Longoria (AL 2008) and Buster Posey (NL 2010). In 10 years this may be easier to pick, but right now it's just way too close to call. Of the group, Ramirez has the highest career WAR.
Worst: Again, this is still way too early to call, but Chris Coghlan (NL 2009) may take this dubious honor. There's plenty of time for him to turn it around, but he finished 2011 hitting .230 at Triple-A New Orleans.
Best duo: Another toss-up -- 2006 had Ramirez and Verlander, while 2007 featured Pedroia and Braun. Check back in 10 years and this may seem to be an easier choice, but right now it's too close to call.
Best: Albert Pujols (NL 2001). He may be the best player of our generation and best right-handed hitter of all time. With apologies to Ichiro Suzuki (AL 2001) and Ryan Howard (NL 2005), it's Pujols and it's not close.
Worst: Oh, Angel Berroa (AL 2003). Acquired in the deal that sent Johnny Damon and Mark Ellis to Oakland, Berroa last appeared in the big leagues in 2009. The Royals shortstop won the award over Tampa Bay's Rocco Baldelli and Hideki Matsui, earning the scorn of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
Best duo: Pujols and Suzuki would be a heck of a Hall of Fame class, not to mention a rookie class. Suzuki won not only the Rookie of the Year in 2001, he also took home the American League MVP.
Best: Scott Rolen (NL 1997) and Carlos Beltran (AL 1999) have had fantastic careers, but Derek Jeter (AL 1996) is a first-ballot Hall of Famer and a baseball icon. Jeter also has the highest career WAR among the group of rookies.
Worst: This one is tough, if you guy by WAR, it's Kazuhiro Sasaki (AL 2000), who had just a 4.0 career WAR. However, Sasaki was 32 when he started in the United States and played just four seasons in the majors. In addition to his Rookie of the Year, he made the All-Star team in 2001 and 2002, recording 129 saves in four seasons. I'm going to take Ben Grieve (AL 1998) slightly over Todd Hollandsworth (NL 1996) based solely on Hollandsworth holding on longer (12 years to nine) and finding his late-career niche as a pinch hitter, while Grieve did appear in the majors after his 30th birthday -- and just 17 after his 29th birthday.
Best duo: How about Rolen and Nomar Garciaparra (AL 1997)? Garciapparra never quite lived up to the rival to Alex Rodriguez and Jeter as the greatest shortstop of his generation, but he was in the conversation for a time there. While each year from 1996-2000 had at least one pretty good pick, 1997 was the only one to produce two players that finished with double-digit career WAR.
Best: WAR likes Jeff Bagwell (NL 1991), the Hall of Fame will like Mike Piazza (1993). Either way, it's tough to go wrong. Unlike the Hall of Fame voters, I'll take Bagwell over Piazza, but can see both sides of the argument. I"m in the camp that Bagwell is one of the more underrated players of his generation.
Worst: Yet again, the award goes to a Royal. Bob Hamelin (AL 1994) had a 2.5 WAR in his rookie year and 2.4 for his career. Pat Listach (AL 1992) also has a lower career WAR (3.9) than single-season WAR for his rookie season (3.9), but the be speckled Hamelin did less in his career than Listach, even if most of Listach's value came from his rookie season.
Best duo: Again it comes down to the 1993 choices (Piazza, Tim Salmon) and 1991 (Bagwell, Chuck Knoblauch), with 1991 taking the crown. Knoblauch and Salmon both had good careers, with Knoblauch winning four rings and Salmon one. Knoblacuh was a four-time All-Star, Salmon never appeared in the game. Knoblauch also won a Gold Glove, despite his woes throwing later in his career. Going by WAR, the 1991 duo beats the 1993 pair, 121.1-96.7.For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @eyeonbaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Tags: 2011 awards, Albert Pujols, Andrew Bailey, Angel Berroa, awards, Ben Grieve, Bob Hamelin, Bobby Crosby, Buster Posey, C. Trent Rosecrans, Carlos Beltran, Chris Coghlan, Chuck Knoblauch, Craig Kimbrel, Derek Jeter, Dontrelle Willis, Dustin Pedroia, Eric Hinske, Eric Karros, Evan Longoria, Geovany Soto, Hanley Ramirez, Hideo Nomo, Huston Street, Ichiro Suzuki, Jason Bay, Jason Jennings, Jeff Bagwell, Jeremy Hellickson, Justin Verlander, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Kerry Wood, Marty Cordova, Mike Piazza, Neftali Feliz, Nomar Garciaparra, Pat Listach, Rafael Furcal, Raul Mondesi, Rookie of the Year, Ryan Braun, Ryan Howard, Scott Rolen, Scott Williamson, Tim Salmon, Todd Hollandsworth
Posted on: November 2, 2011 5:28 pm
By Evan Brunell
Chris Coghlan won the Rookie of the Year award in 2009.
Three years later, he might be plying his trade for a minor league team.
“It’s been disappointing, really, the last two years,” Marlins president Larry Beinfest told the Palm Beach Post about Coghlan's struggles the last two seasons which may leave the youngster on the outside looking in next season.
The left-handed hitter burst on the scene in 2009, playing in 128 games and hitting .321 as he romped to the Rookie of the Year award and even placed 28th on the MVP ballot for his season which also included 31 doubles and nine homers, fairly strong power numbers. The future looked bright for Coghlan, who came up through the minors as a second baseman, but played left in 2009.
The following season, Coghlan regressed to a .266/.335/.383 line in 400 plate appearances, as his season was cut short in late July by a torn meniscus. Outside of a scorching June, Coghlan was essentially a waste last season, but he still had a bright future. One problem: shoulder and knee problems plagued Coghlan in 2011, limiting him to just 65 games where he hit .230/.296/.368 in 298 PA as the club tried to masquerade him as a center fielder. It didn't work, and he finished the year out in the minors.
“He needs to re-establish himself healthy, which we anticipate he will be with the knee or knees and come in and compete," Beinfest said. "We already know he can be an offensive force, a great left-handed hitter.”
Unfortunately for Coghlan, even if he heals up, he looks destined to open the season in the minors. The Marlins will be pursuing a center fielder which would presumably block Coghlan from a spot. It's possible that he could return to second or even slide over to third as has been previously debated, but Florida seems happy with Omar Infante at the keystone position, and there hasn't been any whispers about Coghlan heading to the hot corner. So center field it is, probably in Triple-A. But if he impresses in spring training, things could change.
“I think this is an important offseason and certainly spring training for Chris to get back to where he was when he won the rookie of the year,” Beinfest added.
The Marlins are looking to compete this season and could even trade Coghlan to another team willing to take a chance on the youngster. Florida hasn't been all that eager to trade young players in the past as they are cost-controllable, but that could start changing now that the Marlins are moving into a new stadium and boosting payroll in anticipation of higher revenues.
"I think we need to become a little more open, just in general," Beinfest told MLB.com of changing ways it usually does busines. "I think we've been very protective of our zero to three [years of experience] players because we've had to be, given our payroll challenges. I think we can open up a little more now."
The Marlins, who will change from Florida to Miami on Nov. 11 when it unveils its new logo and uniforms, plan to be aggressive in free agency this season although it remains to be seen just who they can reel in. If they can't get a center fielder, that would give Coghlan a second chance at contributing.For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeonBaseball on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: July 8, 2011 11:39 am
Edited on: July 8, 2011 12:13 pm
By C. Trent Rosecrans
At the Major League level, four different Marlins tried to deliver shaving cream pies to Marlins outfielder Mike Stanton on Wednesday. Nobody got hurt this time, but last July Chris Coghlan missed two months after suffering a knee injury trying to dump a Gatorade cooler on Stanton's head during an interview. Coghlan is back on the DL this season with trouble in the same left knee.
In the minors, outfielder Josh Kroeger sprained his right knee in a post-game celebration Monday. Kroeger, who led the Marlins' Triple-A New Orleans team in RBI and shares the lead in homers, tried to jump on Joe Thurston, whose RBI double gave the Zephyrs a walk-off win, but missed and was carted off the field after his knee buckled on landing.
Here's the video, which you may not want to watch if you're squeamish.
Marlins manager Jack McKeon said he's not planning on telling his team to curb its post-game celebrations.
"You have an isolated case or two like last year with [Coghlan] tearing up his knee," McKeon told Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Post. "You hate to see it, but yet you hate to take it away from them.
"The thing is, I'd like to see more of them. I'm not seeing enough of them."For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Posted on: June 17, 2011 4:08 pm
Edited on: June 17, 2011 5:01 pm
By Evan Brunell
The Marlins demoted Chris Coghlan to the minor leagues in a surprising move Friday, recalling veteran outfielder DeWayne Wise to fill the roster spot.
Florida, which has lost 15 of 16 (and 17 of its last 18), is scrambling to find a way to reverse its fortunes as it tumbled from 30-20 on May 29, just two behind first place to 32-37, in last place and 11 1/2 games out. Part of that solution was to fire hitting coach John Mallee, which resulted in a public dustup with Logan Morrison, who criticized the firing. The second part of the solution appears to be the demotion of Coghlan, hitting a paltry .2390/.296/.368 in his third season.
Coghlan has yet to reach the promise he displayed in 2009, when the then-24-year-old hit .321/.390/.460 as a left fielder after coming up through the minors as a second baseman. He stayed in left for 2010 and hit just .268/.335/.383 in 400 plate appearances before suffering a season-ending injury at the worst time. Coghlan hit .377/.463/.642 in June of 2010, before falling flat in July and injuring his knee during a game-winning celebration.
Then, to start 2011, Coghlan was asked to move to center field, a pretty demanding position and a lot to ask someone coming off knee surgery. Indeed, while it's a fallacy to rely entirely on a season's worth (less than half, actually) of fielding data, the early returns on Coghlan's impact on defense were far from rosy. Who knows if the position adjustment is to blame for Coghlan's hitting woes, but it certainly didn't help.
Looking at Coghlan's offensive numbers, it's easy to see why he's struggling to hit. Despite an acceptable walk rate, cutting down his strikeout percentage and flashing more power than he has yet in the bigs, Coghlan's only seen 26 percent of his batted balls fall in for hits. Compare that to a league average of 30 percent and a career mark of 33 percent; Coghlan's offensive decline seems tied more to luck than any discernible failure or shift in his offensive profile.
Wise, meanwhile, was released from the Blue Jays last week and inked a minor-league deal with Florida before getting the call. Perhaps best known for his amazing catch to save Mark Buerhle's perfect game in 2009, Wise will now split nine years in the majors between 2000 and 2011 with five different teams. Last season for Toronto, he hit .250/.282/.393 in 118 PA, pretty much the most you can hope for out of the 32-year-old's bat.
Wise will likely share time in center going forward with Emilio Bonifacio. The club also has a black hole at third base, with Wes Helms, Greg Dobbs and Bonifacio all getting time there as well. If the Marlins want to reverse their slump, they may want to consider adding a bat and exercising more patience with Coghlan.
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Posted on: April 8, 2011 9:59 am
Edited on: April 8, 2011 10:17 am
By Evan Brunell
STILL BIKIN': 1,000 straight days. That's how long Bud Selig has been using his exercise bike which is an impressive accomplishment. That means Selig's hopped on a bike literally every day for almost three years.
As someone who works out regularly and hates taking off days, that's an amazingly impressive feat that should be commended. The 76-year-old usually bikes for 53 minutes and then does a total of seven minutes of exercise. That's enabled him to keep in shape and he could have plenty of years ahead as a commissioner even if he plans to step down after 2012.
It may surprise you to learn that Selig wasn't always so healthy.
"I was smoking Tiparillos at the time," Selig recalled from 1980, when he was the Milwaukee Brewers president, "and Dr. [Paul] Jacobs said: 'We've got to get you into an exercise program ... I don't want you running; you'll end up with bad knees, bad ankles, bad feet, bad everything.'"
And so the bike program was born. Selig should absolutely be thrilled with his accomplishment, as its simply not easy to do with his age and schedule.
"I'm very proud of it," Selig said. "When I finished exercising [Thursday morning] I was like a little kid." (MLB.com)
MLB TODAY: Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe hops onto CBSSports.com's MLB Today to talk Red Sox.
DONATING FOOD: This is a fantastic idea and makes you wonder why this isn't more widespread. The Pirates will be donating left-over concessions to shelters and soup kitchens to help feed the hungry. That could mean over 250 tons of food otherwise sent to the compost heap. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
AVOIDING FOOD: Don't read this if your stomach gets queasy fast or you've eaten at some of the worst violators of food safety, as this article details which ballparks are the worst and why. (BusinessInsider.com)
BLACKOUT: MLB.com's blackout policy has been nothing short of idiotic the last several years and frankly, it appears that won't change anytime soon. That's a disgrace, as the blackout policy is completely nonsensical. Between this and refusing videos from MLB.com to be embedded onto other sites ... while baseball is a great leader in internet and social media, baseball completely whiffs on the basics. (BizofBaseball.com)
REHABBING: Jake Peavy will make his first rehab start Friday and will make three more before his target of returning to the club in early May. (Chicago Tribune)
PUT UP OR SHUT UP: Greg Reynolds was picked ahead of Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw and Evan Longoria while Reynolds is scrapping to become a viable major leaguer. He believes it's time for him to "put up or shut up." The Rockies would appreciate the former. (Denver Post)
LINEUP OF A LIFETIME: It's always fun to put together lists of the best players you've seen play in your lifetime. Well, Derrick Goold went ahead and listed his own lineup and pulled in several other people to participate. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
WRONG SPORT? Former NC State quarterback Russell Wilson's transition to full-time baseball wasn't going so great Thursday as he went 0 for 4 with four strikeouts for Colorado's low-Class A affiliate. (Baseball America)
ONION: The Onion is a hilarious satirical website, and they haven't shied away from poking fun at baseball over the years. Here's a look at the top 25 baseball-related Onion articles. (Fangraphs)
Posted on: March 29, 2011 5:56 pm
Edited on: March 29, 2011 9:35 pm
By Matt Snyder
Finally, spring training is concluding. Now we have a day or two before your favorite team begins play. In the meantime, I'm here to bring you the top five teams to decline and the top five to improve upon their 2010 performances. In return, you accuse me of bias and call me names. It's fun for everyone, really. One thing to keep in mind is that improving or declining by more than 10 games is pretty drastic. On some of these, I'm looking at something like a seven-game swing.
TOP FIVE TEAMS TO IMPROVE
1. Boston Red Sox. Well, let's see ... Last season Kevin Youkilis only played 102 games, Dustin Pedroia saw action in 75 and Jacoby Ellsbury just 18. Josh Beckett was either injured or ineffective all season. Meanwhile the Red Sox added Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to a team that won 89 games, despite all those injury woes -- and some underachieving from people like John Lackey. Easiest call on the board here, and even Yankees fans would have to concede this team is loaded.
2. Oakland A's. The pitching staff is stellar, even including the bullpen. The starting rotation is already really good and only getting better. The A's won 81 with one of the worst offenses in baseball last season. A full season of Coco Crisp, Kurt Suzuki bouncing back and the additions of Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham don't exactly sound like adding Gonzalez and Crawford, but small improvements will do wonders for the pitching staff. Slugger Chris Carter is waiting in the wings, too, and don't be surprised if Billy Beane adds a bat at the deadline.
3. Colorado Rockies. Troy Tulowitzki needs to stay healthy and Dexter Fowler needs to get closer to his ceiling. I'm going out on a limb that both happen, along with steps forward from Chris Iannetta and Ian Stewart. Watch Jhoulys Chacin's development in the starting rotation, too. He's got big potential.
4. Milwaukee Brewers. This is contingent upon the big names staying healthy and Zack Greinke getting healthy as soon as possible, because this team is paper-thin. But the top line is very impressive. Plus, the division is not very good at all. The Brewers are going to score runs, get good starting pitching (again, assuming the health thing) and have a good back-end of the bullpen. If they can overcome defense and depth deficiencies, they'll win the Central.
5. Florida Marlins. Call it a bit of a gut call, but I really like the Marlins. The rotation really has great potential with Javier Vazquez returning to a pitcher's park in the NL East (he's apparently too intimidated by being a Yankee) and Ricky Nolasco having the ability to be a true No. 2 if he can ever stay consistent. Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad have -- again, this word -- potential to be solid at the end, with stud Josh Johnson leading the five-some. I love the outfield potential of Logan Morrison, Chris Coghlan and Mike Stanton, so long as all three can stay healthy. Hanley Ramirez is primed to have a big season, too.
TOP FIVE TEAMS TO DECLINE
1. San Diego Padres. Removing Gonzalez from the middle of the batting order changes the complexion of everything. And Mat Latos is already hurt, which does nothing to alleviate the concern of the huge workload increase he's experienced over the past two seasons. Most of all, the Padres just seem outmanned by the Giants and Rockies. Winning close to 90 games seems outlandish. Of course, many people said that last year, too.
2. Houston Astros. They overachieved in a big way last season according to run differential (the 'Stros allowed 118 more runs than they scored) and aren't any better. Other than Hunter Pence, the position players are either getting old (Carlos Lee), still unproven (Brett Wallace) or just not that good (Jason Michaels, Bill Hall, Michael Bourn). I'm not a huge fan of the rotation, but it's going to have to carry the team. Good luck with that.
3. Tampa Bay Rays. This is difficult. It's hard to not love the Rays for being so good at sticking with the Yankees and Red Sox in the mighty AL East on that paltry payroll. The loss of Crawford hurts. Carlos Pena wasn't overly productive -- though he was much better than his batting average said -- last season, but his presence helps everyone else see better pitches. That goes away with Dan Johnson at first. The loss of Matt Garza isn't a big deal, so long as Jeremy Hellickson does his thing and James Shields returns to form. The bullpen is worse, though. Look, I'd pick the Rays to win the NL Central if they were in it, but the Yankees aren't any worse and the Red Sox are way better. The Orioles should be better as well. I think the Rays win in the ballpark of 86 games, but that's 10 worse than last year and good for third place.
4. Toronto Blue Jays. They're still building and are moving in the right direction, but winning 85 games again in that division is a very tall order. Any offensive bounce-back from the likes of Aaron Hill and Adam Lind is negated by Jose Bautista's return to this planet.
5. St. Louis Cardinals. If anyone can pull this off, it's Dave Duncan, but losing Adam Wainwright was a death blow. Chris Carpenter is old and injury-prone. Jaime Garcia is due a massive regression. Kyle Lohse was awful last year and Jake Westbrook doesn't have good stuff. Kyle McClellan could very well prove a solid No. 5 starter, but he hasn't exceeded 75 2/3 innings the past three seasons in the bullpen. Can he really double that and remain effective? The outfield defense won't do the staff any favors, either. The Pujols/Holliday/Rasmus combo -- and even Lance Berkman in a best-case scenario -- is very solid, but there's only going to be so much they can do on some nights. I feel like mid-to-high 70s in wins, but Duncan and Tony La Russa find ways to make people wrong often.
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Tags: Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, Adam Wainwright, Adrian Gonzalez, AL East, AL West, Albert Pujols, Anibal Sanchez, Astros, Athletics, Bill Hall, Billy Beane, Blue Jays, Brett Wallace, Brewers, Cardinals, Carl Crawford, Carlos Lee, Carlos Pena, Chris Carpenter, Chris Carter, Chris Coghlan, Chris Iannetta, Chris Volstad, Coco Crisp, Colby Rasmus, Dan Johnson, Dave Duncan, Dexter Fowler, Dustin Pedroia, Hanley Ramirez, Hideki Matsui, Hunter Pence, Ian Stewart, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jaime Garcia, Jake Westbrook, James Shields, Jason Michaels, Javier Vazquez, Jeremy Hellickson, Jhoulys Chacin, John Lackey, Jose Bautista, Josh Beckett, Josh Johnson, Josh Willingham, Kevin Youkilis, Kurt Suzuki, Kyle Lohse, Kyle McClellan, Lance Berkman, Logan Morrison, Marlins, Mat Latos, Matt Garza, Matt Holliday, Michael Bourn, Mike Stanton, NL Central, NL East, NL West, Padres, Rays, Red Sox, Ricky Nolasco, Rockies, Troy Tulowitzki