2010 Preview: Chicago Cubs

Projected 2010 NL Central Finish: 2nd

Lineup:

  1. Theriot ss
  2. Fukudome rf
  3. Lee 1b
  4. Ramirez 3b
  5. Byrd cf
  6. Soriano lf
  7. Fontenot 2b
  8. Soto c

Rotation:

  1. Zambrano
  2. Dempster
  3. Wells
  4. Silva
  5. Gorzelanny (LH)

Bench:

  • Hill c
  • Baker if
  • Tracy cif
  • Nady 1b/of
  • Colvin of

Bullpen:

  • Parisi
  • Samardzija
  • Marshall (LH)
  • Berg
  • Caridad
  • Grabow (LH)
  • Marmol (closer)

DL:

  • Lilly sp (LH)
  • Guzman rp

2010 Preview: Chicago White Sox

Projected 2010 AL Central Finish: 2nd

Lineup:

  1. Pierre lf
  2. Beckham 2b
  3. Quentin rf
  4. Konerko 1b
  5. Teahen 3b
  6. Rios cf
  7. Pierzynski c
  8. Jones dh
  9. Ramirez ss

Rotation:

  1. Buerhle (LH)
  2. Peavy
  3. Danks (LH)
  4. Floyd
  5. Garcia

Bench:

  • Castro c
  • Vizquel if
  • Nix if
  • Kotsay 1b/of

Bullpen:

  • Santos
  • Williams (LH)
  • Pena
  • Linebrink
  • Putz
  • Thorton (LH)
  • Jenks (closer)

Catcher: A.J. Pierzynski isn’t going to win any popularity contests away from the south side, but they love him in White Sox territory. Pierzynski will play in 130 games, get into a couple scuffles, and come up with some clutch hits. It is his contract year so he will have a bit more motivation to produce as the White Sox ponder re-signing him after 2010 or eventually going with prospect Tyler Flowers.

Infield: Alexei Ramirez will look to rebound from a frustrating ’09 and Gordon Beckham will be his double-play partner. Beckham played third base for the Sox last season but Mark Teahen was brought in to man the hot corner. Teahen and Konerko are fairly consistent at the plate but neither are great middle of the lineup hitters. Dayan Viciedo is a top prospect at the corners and will most likely take over one of those spots in 2011.  

Outfield: This is an interesting group. Juan Pierre moves back into an everyday role and will set the table. Alex Rios’ poor play in Toronto got him traded to Chicago mid-season and he hit .199 with his new team. Rios is costing the Sox a ton of money and needs to at least get back to his ’07 form to be worth it. Carlos Quentin came out of nowhere in ’08 to drive in 100 runs in only 130 games. Foot injuries kept him off the field for long stretches of time last year and the White Sox need his power in order to compete in the division. Andruw Jones will battle Mark Kotsay for time in the outfield and at DH.

Rotation: This is one of the strongest groups in baseball. If Peavy can stay healthy, there’s no reason he shouldn’t get 15+ wins. Lefty Mark Buerhle will get his 30 starts while fellow southpaw John Danks will continue to progress in only his 4th Major League season. Gavin Floyd has been either good or bad, with very little grey area in between. A good showing from Floyd will take pressure off Freddy Garcia. Jhonny Nunez will pitch in the Bigs at some point this season as well.

Bullpen: Despite frequent trade rumors, Jenks will be back to close for the Sox in 2010. As for setup men, the Sox have a competitive advantage over many teams. On the other side of town, for example, the Cubs will be relying on youngsters Esmailin Caridad, Jeff Stevens, and Jeff Samardzija to pitch a lot of important innings. The White Sox, on the other hand, will have veteran righties Scott Linebrink, Tony Pena, and newcomer J.J. Putz along with hard throwing lefty Matt Thorton. One of the final spots could go to Sergio Santos who is another hard thrower.

2010: The White Sox have a strong pitching staff but their offense will hold them back. The lineup has a bunch of guys who will hit like Mark Teahen- including Mr. Teahen himself! By that, I mean they have a lot of guys who will hit 15 homers, drive in 60 and hit .260. That isn’t a dynamic lineup. Gordon Beckham is a very good player but will have a lot of pressure to repeat his rookie success. The White Sox will beat out the Tigers in the race for second place but Ozzie Guillen’s team will not make the playoffs.

Fantasy Preview: 3rd Base

This is quite possibly the deepest class when it comes to star production. A-Rod still leads the pack but there are some young franchise players who have the talent to be perrenial All-Stars. There will be plenty of production to go around and waiting to grab a third baseman in later rounds shouldn’t hurt you too badly.

The Elite:

  1. Alex Rodriguez NYY- Rodriguez missed time at the beginning of the year and still had 30 HRs and 100 RBIs. He’s a slugger with a lifetime .390 OBP and can still steal some bases.  
  2. Evan Longoria TB- His first full season in the Bigs led to 33 HRs and 113 RBIs. Longo scored 100 runs and hit 44 doubles, despite lots of strikeouts.
  3. Pablo Sandoval SF- The Kung Fu Panda will again challenge for a batting title. His power will continue to grow and he doesn’t strikeout. Sandoval just needs the guys in front of him to get on-base.

In the running: David Wright NYM, Ryan Zimmerman WAS, Mark Reynolds ARI

Sleepers:

  1. Miguel Tejada BAL- Miggy’s power isn’t what it once was, but he is still gets his extra base hits and comes through in the clutch. Tejada will be batting next to guys like Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Weiters… You get the idea. He will qualify for third base shortly after opening day.
  2. Aramis Ramirez CHC- When A-Ram is healthy, he is a top 5 third baseman. In only 82 games last season, Ramirez drove in 65 and hit 15 HR. His OBP has risen in each of the last three years to a career-high .389 last season.
  3. Kevin Kouzmanoff OAK- Kouzmanoff is not a superstar, but he’s a solid RBI hitter. He was over-shadowed by Adrian Gonzalez in San Diego but now moves on to Oakland. Kouz has had 80 RBIs in each of the last two years and could improve his HR totals now that he’s away from PETCO Park.

Caution:

  1. David Wright NYM- Wright could very easily move back up to “The Elite” category but here’s why I moved him down to the “Caution” level. A move to Citi Field and injuries to the rest of the lineup helped bring his HRs down by 23 and his RBIs down by 52. That’s a lot. As far as I know, the Mets are still going to play half their games in Citi Field and Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran are already missing time. 
  2. Adrian Beltre BOS- In 449 at-bast, Beltre failed to reach double-digits in homeruns. His RBIs were down to 44. Will a change of scenery help him rebound or will he continue his decline?
  3. Chipper Jones ATL- Chipper played in his most games since 2003 but failed to reach 20 HRs for the first time in his career (besides 1993 when he played in 8 games). Jones will put up a good AVG and OBP but for the second year in a row he had decreases in runs, hits, doubles, HRs, RBIs, and SLG.

Fantasy Preview: Shortstop

Hanley Ramirez is far above all other competition in the shortstop category. Troy Tulowitzki is the only other shortstop that should go in the first round. After these two, the competition falls back on some solid veterans and guys like Marco Scutaro, Jason Bartlett, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Erick Aybar who are looking to prove that 2009 wasn’t just a fluke.

The Elite:

  1. Hanley Ramirez FLA- Hanley played in 150 games for the 4th consecutive year and had a .400 OBP for the 2nd consecutive year. He’s an all-around player who got to 100 RBIs for the first time in ’09 as he thrived in the 3 spot of the lineup.
  2. Troy Tulowitzki COL- Besides Hanley, Tulo may be the only shortstop to have 100 runs and 100 RBIs in 2010. Tulowitzki had a career high 32 homers last season along with career highs in triples and steals.
  3. Derek Jeter NYY- This guy is the model of consistency as he continues to put up All-Star numbers. If he can play like last season (107 runs, 18 HR, 30 steals, .406 OBP, etc.), he could be more valuable to fantasy owners than Tulowitzki. Also, Jeter is playing in a contract year which could motivate him even more.

In the running: Rafael Furcal LAD, Yunel Escobar ATL, Jason Bartlett TB

Sleepers:

  1. J.J. Hardy MIN- After being demoted to AAA by the Brewers last season, Hardy enters 2010 with something to prove. Hardy also moves into a great lineup which will benefit his run production. Hardy has the ability to hit 25 home runs.
  2. Alexei Ramirez CHW- Alexei had a down year after very rough start to ’09. He eventually came out of that slump but his power numbers were way down from his rookie year. The good news is that he still increased his OBP and is being mentored by Omar Vizquel this spring.
  3. Elvis Andrus TEX- Andrus won the 2009 AL ROY honors after playing a steady shortstop in Texas. His numbers weren’t astounding but they were better than expected. Andrus is worth taking a chance on with a late pick as his speed leads to runs and steals.

Caution:

  1. Jose Reyes NYM- Reyes was recently sent back to New York to have a possible thyroid condition checked out. He is also coming back from leg injuries. Reyes’ needs to prove his health before fantasy owners should risk an early pick on him.  
  2. Ryan Theriot CHC- Theriot is consistent (but not great) as far as batting average, runs, and steals. Fantasy owners should not expect a repeat of his power numbers from 2009. Theriot’s production could be hindered by a transition to second base if shortstop prospect Starlin Castro proves to be Major League ready early in the season.
  3. Edgar Renteria SF- Renteria displayed rather steady production between 1999 and 2007 before taking a step backwards in 2008 and hitting a wall in 2009. In 460 at-bats in ’09, Renteria only managed 5 HR and a career-low .250 AVG.

Fantasy Preview: 2nd Base

The elite guys in this category are not as plentiful spots like first and third base. Many of the middle tier second basemen provide virtually the same offensive output. If you’re unable to land one of the few elite guys at this position, waiting until later in the draft and going for a sleeper may be the best route.

The Elite:

  1. Chase Utley PHI- Utley has been the best second baseman in Major League Baseball since his first full season in 2005 when he had 105 RBIs. Last year he had career highs in walks and stolen bases while still hitting 31 homers.
  2. Robinson Cano NYY- Cano doesn’t get much attention with the presence of A-Rod, Tex, and Jeter in the same lineup, which is part of the reason he is so under-rated. After a down 2008, Cano bounced back to his usual form while scoring 103 times and hitting a career high 25 home runs. Yankee stadium boosts his power production and fantasy owners can take advantage of that.
  3. Ian Kinsler TEX- Kinsler did not play as well as most expected in 2009 but still had career highs in HR, RBIs, and stolen bases. The emergence of Julio Borbon in the leadoff spot will give Kinsler the chance to drive in even more runs. Kinsler is hindered because he has yet to put together a completely healthy season.
  • In the running: Aaron Hill TOR, Brian Roberts BAL, Gordon Beckham CHW (Beckham will qualify for second base shortly after Opening Day)

Sleepers:

  1. Orlando Hudson MIN- Many forget that Hudson was an All-Star for the Dodgers last season before injuries derailed his second half. Signing with the Twins enhanced his fantasy value as he will be hitting in front of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel.
  2. Rickie Weeks MIL- Rickie carried the Brewers in the month of April last season. Before he got hurt, Weeks was on pace to absolutely shatter his career highs in home runs and RBIs.
  3. Martin Prado ATL- With Kelly Johnson now in Arizona, Martin Prado will get the full-time duty at second base in Atlanta. Prado has always been able to get onbase but last year he added gap power to his game.

Caution:

  1. Freddy Sanchez SF- Many people still remember Sanchez for his NL batting title in 2006. He still hits for a fine average but has regressed in all aspects of run production every year since 2006.
  2. Alberto Callaspo KC- Callaspo is in a rough situation. His fantasy numbers were great last year but his dreadful defense has his starting spot in jeopardy. Callaspo could still be a good pick if he beats out Chris Getz during spring training, but, as of right now, that’s a big ‘if’.
  3. Skip Schumaker STL- The addition of Felipe Lopez will help the team win games but will also hurt the fantasy values of Skip Schumaker, David Freese, and Julio Lugo (if he had any to begin). Lopez will play all over but his best position is second base where he will get the starts against tough lefties. Schumaker is still a solid player, but the platoon situation is something to consider before your fantasy draft.

Fantasy Preview: 1st Base

Spring training games have already started which means Opening Day is close. Another season that is currently getting under-way is Fantasy Baseball. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll write up my position-by-position preview to help prepare you for the pursuit of the ever important bragging rights. First on the list are the first basemen, led by superstar Albert Pujols. 

The Elite:

  1. Albert Pujols STL- He continues to build on an already legendary career as his HR, RBIs, and SLG have all increased each of the past three years.
  2. Mark Teixeira NYY- Teixeira impressed in his first year with the Yanks. 100-plus runs and 100-plus RBIs are a near lock with his career .923 OPS.
  3. Miguel Cabrera DET- The Johnny Damon acquisition should only give Cabrera more chances to drive in runs.
  • In the running: Adrian Gonzalez SD, Ryan Howard PHI, Prince Fielder MIL

Sleepers:

  1. James Loney LAD- He is often forgot about due to low HR totals, but in his 4 year career Loney has a .295 AVG and two 90 RBI seasons. If his power comes through, Loney will becom a very valuable player.
  2. Billy Butler KC- Playing in the spacious Kauffman Stadium doesn’t help his power production, but KC’s lineup is improved and he showed progress last year.
  3. Adam LaRoche ARI- LaRoche will be available late in the draft and is someone you shouldn’t forget about. He’ll put up his usual 35 doubles, 25 HR, and 85 RBIs.

Caution:

  1. Garrett Atkins BAL- Atkins will play first base in Baltimore but has been in a steady decline for three years. He bottomed out in ’09 with 9 HR and a .226 AVG.
  2. Garrett Jones PIT- Jones came on strong as a rookie and even had some ROY consideration. I expect him to come back down to earth after his stunning .938 OPS in ’09. Jones’ strikeout rate is also unfavorable.
  3. Lance Berkman HOU- Something must be in the water in Houston as Berkman and Roy Oswalt are already talking retirement. Berkman’s 2009 was below expectations and he seems to have lost his edge at the plate. He won’t be horrible but he is no longer a first tier first baseman.  

Like we didn’t see this coming…

It’s only February and the Cubs are already hitting speed bumps. Ted Lilly’s recovery from November surgery was apparently going well, but now he hits a bit of a set-back with illness. Angel Guzman hurt his knee and his shoulder is acting up. The Cubs expect Lilly back on track this weekend and Guzman will take 7-10 days off. These seem like minor issues, but don’t forget who we’re talking about here. The Cubs aren’t a team with the history of getting past speed-bumps (cough… Bartman!… cough). The Cubs are also not lucky enough to get past injuries when the team should’ve already prepared insurance for such instances.

Entering the off-season, GM Jim Hendry and manager Lou Piniella each made it publicly known that acquiring a veteran right hander for the bullpen was a necessity. Pitchers and catchers have reported and the only veteran righty they’ve acquired is Carlos Silva who won’t be competing for a setup role (at least I hope not!). The Cubs have missed out on affordable righties like Matt Capps, Octavio Dotel, Guillermo Mota, LaTroy Hawkins, and Chan Ho Park. The only reasonable options left on the market are Kiko Calero and David Weathers. But let’s be honest, “reasonable” is stretch for these two given Kiko’s questionable health and David’s old-ness. 

The best solution for this dilemma may have to come via trade. The Blue Jays are currently rebuilding so setup man Jason Frasor is probably available. Luke Gregerson has been mentioned as a target as well. A trade offer for Gregerson could start with Mike Fontenot as the Padres don’t have a promising second baseman waiting in the wings. Cubs fans have to hope that Jim Hendry judged the market correctly for once and will make a smart move, but I wouldn’t bet on that.

But at least Hendry found some insurance for Lilly and added depth at the back end of the rotation… Or wait… He didn’t. If things continue to go the Cubs’ way, Lilly’s illness will lead to a sneezing attack that will keep him out of action for a couple months (See Sammy Sosa). Further down the rotation, the Cubs will be relying on at least one of Tom Gorzelanny (5.55 ERA), Jeff Samardzija (7.53 ERA), or good old Carlos Silva (8.60 ERA) to provide crucial innings. In case Hendry is reading this, allow me to let him in on a secret: The lower the ERA, the better… A team with playoff hopes can’t wait for these types of players to figure it out.

In the end, Hendry missed out on many proven winners who could have given the Cubs the depth that’s necessary to win a World Series. Doug Davis and Jon Garland got inexpensive deals and Joel Pineiro didn’t even get the cash he was hoping for this off-season. No, they’re not Cy Youngs, but they are serviceable. Due to the lack of starters left on the market, I expect Hendry to go all-in for Ben Sheets once he proves his health with the A’s. A different option could be a guy like Kevin Correia who should be attainable from the Padres.  

Instead of addressing a pitching staff known for injuries (Zambrano, Dempster, Guzman, and possibly Lilly), Hendry decided to go down his usual path of disappointment. On paper the Cubs’ hurlers look great, but when you scratch the surface you see a bullpen lacking experience and starters lining up for their turn on the DL. Unless there are some changes in the near future, Cubs fans could be in store for another season of falling just short. As newest Cub Kevin Millar would say, it’s time for Jim Hendry to “Cowboy Up!”