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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
Rosters are starting to take shape as we inch closer to spring training. The trade market has been relatively quiet this off-season and the free agent market is dwindling. Some teams are rather comfortable with their rosters as they currently stand but many spots are still in question. Let’s take a look at the most important position battles for each American League team this spring:
Orioles- LF: The Orioles have put together a stellar offense that also has great depth on the bench. Besides left field, the lineup is set. Felix Pie is only 25 and finally realized some of his potential last season after a rough start to his career in Chicago. He provides great defense in left field and a left-handed bat for the bottom of the order. Nolan Reimold is two years older and made his debut last year. As a rookie, Reimold put up 15 homers and 45 RBIs in only 104 contests. They could form a platoon but Pie may be the early favorite to start more games.
Red Sox- IF: The Red Sox are completely set as far as hitters besides maybe another bench player. The bench is currently made of Jason Varitek, Jed Lowrie, Bill Hall, and Jeremy Hermida. One player who could still find his way onto the team is former starting third baseman, Mike Lowell. The Sox nearly traded Lowell to the Rangers earlier this off-season but his injuries kept the deal from being finalized. Adrian Beltre was signed to play third base. First base is already set with Kevin Youkilis. It seems like the only way for Boston to handle this is to trade Lowell for whatever they can get after he proves his health during spring training.
White Sox- BENCH: After shaking up the lineup earlier this winter, the batting order seems to be set. The White Sox have a veteran bench including Ramon Castro, Omar Vizquel, and Mark Kotsay. Whoever else is on the bench will have a tough time finding at bats. Jayson Nix has a shot at making the team as the primary right handed pinch hitter. Jayson, like his brother Laynce of the Cincinnati Reds, doesn’t hit for a high average but does provide raw power. Brent Lillibridge would give the team more versatility but has disappointed in all phases at the plate during his two years in the pros. Others who will get a look this spring include catcher Tyler Flowers, infielders Jason Botts and Freddie Bynum, and outfielders Brady Clark and Alejandro De Aza.
Indians- C: The Indians have many spots that are not set heading into camp. First base, second base, and left field could potentially have competitions this spring. However, the most important battle this spring in Cleveland’s camp could be that for the job of starting catcher. Lou Marson was brought in when the Indians traded Cliff Lee to Philadelphia. Carlos Santana is another candidate. Santana is one of the game’s top prospects and his switch-hitting skills profile similar to those of former Cleveland catcher, Victor Martinez. Lou Marson has already played at the top level but Santana has a higher ceiling. Mike Redmond was signed to mentor both prospects and help a young pitching staff.
Tigers- LF: The Tigers seem to be set with rookie Austin Jackson in center field. The left field competition will include front runners Clete Thomas and Ryan Raburn along with rookie Wilkin Ramirez. Raburn, who can play all over the field, has had the most success including a strong showing in 2009. The Tigers have also been linked to Johnny Damon this off-season. He would be a nice upgrade at the top of their order because none of the in-house options are ideal for the two spot in the lineup.
Royals- 2B/SS: The Royals have two huge battles this spring and both need to be mentioned here. Alberto Callaspo was a great find last year and spent most of the year around the top of the lineup. He is a very well-rounded hitter with good pop and a good eye. His defense was very poor, however, and that prompted the Royals to acquire Chris Getz in the Mark Teahen trade. Getz is a good defender with more speed than Callaspo. Early in the off-season it didn’t seem to be a log-jam as Callaspo could slide into the DH spot but the Rick Ankiel acquisition moves Jose Guillen to DH. The Royals will have to decide between defense and offense when it comes to their second baseman. The shortstop battle will be just as competitive this year. Yuniesky Betancourt was brought in via trade last summer. That deal left many questioning the front office because Betancourt has been declining in every facet of the game and is under contract through 2011. Mike Aviles was possibly the team MVP in 2008 before injuries derailed his 2009 campaign. The loser of the shortstop competition could very well be traded this spring.
Angels- C: The Angels’ starting catcher will probably be Mike Napoli but expect Jeff Mathis to give him a run for his money. Napoli has more power but his numbers did not go up with the increase in playing time he had last year. Napoli also struggled in the post-season. Mathis is a career .200 hitter but still gets plenty of playing time under Mike Scioscia. Mathis’ great post-season may give him a boost in confidence heading into spring training.
Twins- 3B: The Twins entered the off-season with holes at second, short, and third. Orlando Hudson will play second and J.J. Hardy was traded for to play short. Nick Punto is the favorite to play third given his great defense and the presence of many other prominent bats to pick up his slack at the plate. If Ron Gardenhire needs another bat, however, Brendan Harris could get some playing time. Others who will get a chance to audition at third base this spring are Matt Tolbert, Luke Hughes, and Danny Valencia.
Yankees- BENCH: Like many other AL teams, the Yankees’ defense is set. New York’s All-Star lineup is amazing, as usual, but every team needs depth. Juan Miranda is a first baseman that has been blocked by Mark Teixeira after solid play throughout the minors. He will fight for a bench spot with the big league team as a left-handed pinch hitter. Marcus Thames will also compete for a pinch hitting role but he is right-handed. Rule 5 Draftee Jamie Hoffman has a slim chance at making the team as a reserve outfielder and may need an injury to either a starter or to Brett Gardner in order to make the roster. Mike Rivera will compete with Francisco Cervelli for the chance to backup Jorge Posada.
Athletics- LF/RF: Coco Crisp is the only outfielder that is a lock for a starting position in Oakland’s outfield. Rajai Davis and Ryan Sweeney are the early favorites to start in left field and right field, respectively. Davis finally got consistent playing time and was able to produce runs in many clutch plate appearances last season. Sweeney is best known for plus defense but since arriving in Oakland he also has a .349 OBP. Sweeney still lacks power and speed. Travis Buck enters spring training with a chip on his shoulder after the club brought in Gabe Gross, Michael Taylor, and re-signed Jack Cust. Michael Taylor is one of the top prospect in baseball and many think he is ready for a full-time role in Oakland.
Mariners- C: Most of Seattle’s lineup will be different from opening day 2009 (catcher, first base, shortstop, third base, and left field). Catcher is the leading question mark entering 2010. Adam Moore is the catcher of the future but the Mariners see now as their best chance to take the division from the Angels. Will they let Moore grow in the midst of a pennant chase? Josh Bard is a veteran that was invited to camp with a chance to make the roster. Bard had two fairly good seasons in 2006 and 2007 but struggled at the plate last year in 90 games. Moore and Bard will battle Eliezer Alfonzo and Rob Johnson for playing time this year but the Mariners should not expect too much offense from this spot in 2010.
Rays- C: In 2008 Dioner Navarro was an All-Star catcher for the American League Champions. In 2009 Dioner Navarro lost playing time and saw his OBP drop from .349 to .261 while the Rays missed the playoffs. Navarro is still young but the Rays project to again be one of best teams in baseball and need production from the entire lineup to keep pace with Boston and New York. Kelly Shoppach was brought in to compete with Navarro. He is another young catcher who experienced a drop-off in production last year. The Rays hope the competition between the two will spark better play in 2010.
Rangers- 1B: The Rangers will again have a good offense with players like Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Vladimir Guerrero, Josh Hamilton, and so on. One spot that isn’t so great is first base. Chris Davis played well as a rookie in 2008 but his ability to get onbase completely fell off the chart last year. The Rangers have their eyes set on the playoffs and tried to acquire Mike Lowell as insurance for first base. Lowell’s nagging injuries didn’t allow the deal to be completed. Justin Smoak is a switch-hitting prospect but is still very young. The Rangers may still look to free agency for a hitter like Russell Branyan, Carlos Delgado, or, longtime Ranger, Hank Blalock.
Blue Jays- LF: The Blue Jays are in rebuilding mode and are looking to stopgaps to fill in all over the field. Utility-man Jose Bautista may end up being the stopgap in left field. He has the ability to hit for power but will not have a high average. Bautista is the favorite but Jeremey Reed is another option along with speedster Joey Gathright. The Jays had a potential five tool left fielder in Michael Taylor but traded him for corner infield prospect, Brett Wallace. Free agents Johnny Damon and Willy Taveras could be brought in to play left and provide top-of-the-order experience as well.
Today the Oakland A’s officially acquired third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and a minor league prospect in a trade for San Diego outfielders Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham. This deal brings clarity to the A’s infield picture and unblocks a log jam in San Diego, making it a great move for both teams.
Kouzmanoff’s defense has gotten better each year and his hitting has been constant during his three years in the Bigs. He would be best suited as a 5 or 6 hitter but the A’s will likely need him to bat cleanup. Speedsters Coco Crisp and Rajai Davis will get on-base ahead of him so he should be able to build on his solid 88 RBIs of 2009.
The addition of Kouzmanoff pushes Jake Fox to the bench but Fox, a right-handed slugger, will still get plenty of playing time. The A’s will rotate Fox between first base, right field and DH as each of those spots are occupied by left-handed starters. This move should set the infield with Cliff Pennington and Mark Ellis up the middle. Fellow third baseman and longtime Athletic, Eric Chavez, is rehabbing after another surgery and it would be tough for him to play everyday. Just another reason this is a smart move for the A’s.
The trade of Kouzmanoff works out well for the Padres as they can now move Chase Headley back to third base which is his original position. The Friars will hope a reunion with his old position will bring comfort that translates into improved offensive output as well. Headley has performed below expectations the last two years but he is still young and the team has confidence he will be a switch-hitting threat in the near future.
Before the trade, San Diego’s projected lineup had two natural infielders (Chase Headley and Kyle Blanks) playing the outfield corners. Blanks is a large athlete who will eventually take over at first base or be traded. His bat is strong enough to keep him in the lineup and he will remain in right field. Will Venable displayed strong defense and hit 12 home runs in limited playing time which earned him first crack at left field.
This will be Scott Hairston’s second tour with the Padres. He is a strong right-handed outfielder with good pop but his role with the A’s became foggy when the team brought in Coco Crisp and re-signed Jack Cust. Last time around, he enjoyed the best success of his career and will be back to a platoon situation with left fielder Venable and center fielder Tony Gwynn, both of whom are left-handed. Aaron Cunningham is the other outfielder attained by the Padres and he will start the year in AAA but has a good chance to start in the future.
Due to the talent of the players and the situations they are heading to, I see this deal as a perfect win-win for everyone involved.
My predictions of a free agent pitcher each team will still sign this off-season:
Nationals: Tim Redding could reunite with his former team as a swing-man after failing in NY.
Royals: Joe Beimel to be their lefty out of the bullpen.
Pirates: Kevin Gregg who will compete with Joel Hanrahan for the closer job.
Orioles: Erik Bedard can comeback to Baltimore and help a push for the Wild Card.
Indians: D.J. Carrasco will be the fifth man in their young rotation after performing well out of the White Sox’ bullpen.
Mets: Joel Piniero to help solidify their rotation because their makeover won’t be complete without a couple more starters.
Diamondbacks: Will Ohman to give the D-Backs another lefty to throw against the left-handed sluggers of the NL West (Helton, Gonzalez, Ethier, Loney, etc.).
Padres: Seth McClung who may get a chance to start.
Astros: Rich Hill as a low-risk/high-reward lefty; they don’t have much to spend after a couple questionable commitments this off-season.
Blue Jays: Pedro Martinez to mentor the very young rotation and be a trade chip at the deadline.
Athletics: John Bale as a veteran lefty out of the pen.
Cincinnati: Luis Vizcaino on an inexpensive deal; not much money left after they reportedly signed Aroldis Chapman this morning.
White Sox: Noah Lowry to rehab at AAA and provide depth for the strong rotation.
Brewers: Mark Mulder to meet up with a couple former coaches and try to stay healthy.
Cubs: Kiko Calero as a veteran righty in the pen though they need a starter badly as well.
Rays: Brendan Donnelly to come out of a bullpen that doesn’t have much depth.
Mariners: Ron Mahay to join the team’s renovation as their top bullpen lefty.
Tigers: Justin Speier who can help a good but young relief corps.
Braves: Ken Takahashi to compete for a spot in the bullpen.
Twins: Doug Davis would fit in well with the Twins as their 3 starter.
Marlins: Guillermo Mota will return to Florida for his second tour as a durable righty.
Rangers: Jon Garland who can be a reliable guy in the rotation that already has a couple injury prone starters.
Giants: Braden Looper will head back to the bullpen where he has had his most success.
Cardinals: Joe Nelson has been a solid reliever the past few years and the Cards don’t have much to spend.
Rockies: Jose Contreras pitched well last year in 7 games for Colorado.
Red Sox: Horacio Ramirez to provide lefty depth in the bullpen but will begin the season in AAA.
Dodgers: Chien-Ming Wang who will have to get healthy in a hurry because the Dodgers desperately need starters.
Angels: Chan Ho Park to be a middle reliever.
Phillies: Brian Shouse to replace retiree Scott Eyre as the second lefty in the pen.
Yankees: Mark Prior to continue his lengthy rehab process.
My predictions of a free agent hitter each team will still sign this off-season:
Nationals: Chad Tracy to pinch hit and get some defense at 1st base for Adam Dunn.
Royals: Vladimir Guerrero to DH; maybe play some right to keep Jose Guillen rested. (I would say Scott Podsednik but it appears he is about to sign with them anyway.)
Pirates: Rick Ankiel to play right field and hit 4th/5th.
Orioles: Hank Blalock to play first base though Baltimore may use Garrett Atkins there.
Indians: Jose Molina to mentor the team’s young catching prospects.
Mets: Bengie Molina who will start at catcher.
Diamondbacks: Randy Winn to play left field and mentor their young outfielders.
Padres: Brad Ausmus to backup Nick Hundley at catcher.
Astros: Jerry Hairston Jr. to start the season at short until Manzella is ready
Blue Jays: Endy Chavez is a great defender in the outfield.
A’s: Khalil Greene to possibly get some innings at short and third.
Reds: Miguel Tejada to start at shortstop and hit 2nd.
White Sox: Ryan Church to be insurance for oft-injured outfielders Andruw Jones and Carlos Quentin.
Brewers: Fernando Tatis to provide some pop off the bench from the right side.
Cubs: Orlando Hudson to play second base and hit 2nd.
Rays: Marcus Thames who can hit for power and start if Joyce/Perez need time at AAA.
Mariners: Xavier Nady has power and can split innings at first with Casey Kotchman.
Tigers: Alfredo Amezaga to spend time in center and at second while prospects learn.
Braves: Jeremy Reed who won’t cost to much and can play all three OF spots.
Twins: Orlando Cabrera fit right in last year and he’ll be back to play second base this time.
Marlins: Gabe Gross to provide a lefty bat off the bench.
Rangers: Russell Branyan who will have to sign another cheap, one year deal.
Giants: Yorvit Torrealba to share catching duties with Buster Posey like Torrealba did with Iannetta in Colorado.
Cardinals: Matt Stairs to pinch hit.
Rockies: Jason Giambi will re-sign after a fun run in Colorado last year.
Red Sox: Rocco Baldelli to backup the outfield because I believe they will trade Jeremy Hermida.
Dodgers: Felipe Lopez to play second base and thrive in that lineup.
Angels: Melvin Mora who will get time at third and left.
Phillies: Paul Bako to play catcher at AAA and wait for an opportunity like he got last year with the Phillies.
Yankees: Reed Johnson to split time with Brett Gardner in left.
Here’s what the next group of teams still needs going into the New Year:
Florida Marlins: Entering the off-season the entire world new what this team was going to do: cut costs. Jeremy Hermida was shipped to Boston while Matt Lindstrom was moved to Houston. Since then, the Marlins have tried and failed to sign Josh Johnson to an extension and trade slugger Dan Uggla. Uggla has plenty of potential suiters but teams are not agreeing on similar trade value. If Uggla is moved, as expected, Florida could bring in a first or third baseman with Jorge Cantu playing the other and Emilio Bonifacio likely filling the second base void. A left-handed bat off the bench, preferably an outfielder, is also needed.
Houston Astros: The Astros have been in a horrible state of flux since their World Series appearance. They’re not quite good enough to win the division and not quite bad enough to completely rebuild. The latter is probably the best move however. For the rest of the off-season, expect another catcher to be added with the goal of meshing the scrap-heap that is their pitching staff.
Kansas City Royals: Adding another starting pitcher would be smart along with a good lefty in the bullpen to match up with AL foes Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Justin Kubel and Grady Sizemore. This division will be up for grabs next year because no teams in it are great just yet which gives the Royals hope. Hopefully the team will refrain from the idea of trading Alberto Callaspo. Players they may need to think about moving are Jose Guillen, Yuniesky Betancourt, Alex Gordon or Mike Aviles, in that order. Also, decide if David DeJesus will be in left or center.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: The Angels should focus on adding depth for the rotation and a swing man to come out of the bullpen. Though they have four young studs in the rotation even after the departure of Lackey, injuries seem to hit them each year. It seems inevitable Gary Matthews Jr. will be moved so the team will need some more pop added to the bench.
Los Angeles Dodgers: This team badly needs a fourth or fifth starter and is currently in early talks for Aaron Harang. Blake Dewitt is not the answer at second base and a reunion with Orlando Hudson is not in the plans after how much he was benched in the second half and the playoffs. The benching started because of injury but continued when Ronnie Belliard took his job. A more likely option is Felipe Lopez.
Milwaukee Brewers: More additions to the rotation are needed to compete with the Cardinals and Cubs. It has been rumored with great frequency (and great plausibility) that Mark Mulder will sign to fill one of those spots and reunite with former coaches Macha and Peterson. The Crew could also use an all-around utility player to fill out their bench.
Minnesota Twins: Depending on the Twins’ confidence in Francisco Liriano they may want to add a legitimate starting pitcher. However, even before that, the lineup needs to be more balanced. Last year the bottom half consisted of Brendan Harris, Nick Punto, Matt Tolbert, and Alexi Casilla far too often. Bringing in J.J. Hardy to play short was a fine move but improvements need to be made to either third or second base. Mark DeRosa seems like a good fit and the club may re-sign Orlando Cabrera to play second.
New York Mets: A healthy year is this most important facot for the Mets. The Phillies and Braves already pose challenges no matter who the Mets bring in, but Jason Bay and Bengie Molina would certainly help. The Mets were interested in John Lackey and Jason Marquis but with them off the market a Joel Piniero signing makes sense.
New York Yankees: Like the Red Sox, the Yankees don’t need too much. If the team wants some insurance or just an insurance partner for Brett Gardner in left, there are plenty of options on the free agent market. Reed Johnson has been in talks with New York. Jerry Hairston Jr. would be a valuable re-sign for the bench.
Oakland Athletics: The A’s will finish in last place next year while they wait for both their starting pitching to mature and Chris Carter and Michael Taylor to make an impact at the major league level. For now, newcomers Coco Crisp and Jake Fox will get a chance to prove they are starters in this league. The entire team is young and don’t expect Billy Beane to block paths with one year deals this time around. Justin Duchscherer was signed to mentor the staff, but there won’t be any Frank Thomas, Orlando Cabrera, or Jason Giambi-like signings this winter.
This evening, Jim Hendry traded infielders Aaron Miles and Jake Fox to Oakland for relievers Jeff Gray and Ronny Morla and outfielder Matt Spencer. Let’s break it down.
Miles was injured basically all of last year after Hendry attempted to replace the versatile Mark DeRosa with him. He never made a contribution and would only take up space on the Cubs roster this year as the infield was already set without him. He will be valuable to Oakland as he can mentor their very young infield.
Jake Fox will be a 27 year old DH without options left. A healthy Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez make him expendable even though he showed mammoth power while with the Cubs. Third base still is not set in Oakland however Fox’s defense may not be good enough to hold up there for an entire year. His power threat is what intrigued Billy Beane and Fox will get at bats at DH and first base against tough lefties to spell Jack Cust and Daric Barton, respectively.
Gray succeeded in 24 relief appearances with the A’s in 2009, posting a 3.76 ERA. Oakland has many young arms however, and taking a chance on a power bat makes sense for the Athletics right now. The addition of Gray to the Chicago bullpen means fireballer Jeff Samardzija will spend more time in AAA Iowa searching for control.
The other prospects Chicago received are 21 year old Ronny Morla, a starting pitcher, and power-hitting outfielder Matt Spencer. These two will not be in the majors within the next year so only time will tell as far as their worth to the Cubs. At face value however, it seems as though both clubs made a sensible move for their situation.