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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Projected NL Central Finish: 6th
- A. McCutcheon cf
- Iwamura 2b
- Jones 1b
- Milledge lf
- Doumit c
- LaRoche 3b
- Church rf
- Cedeno ss
- Duke (LH)
- Maholm (LH)
- D. McCutcheon
- Jaramillo c
- Vazquez if
- Crosby if
- Young ut
- Moss of
- Veal (LH)
- Lopez (LH)
- Dotel (closer)
Catcher: Ryan Doumit was mentioned in trade rumors over the last few months of the season but the Pirates ultimately decided to keep their switch-hitting catcher. The Pirates need to keep Doumit on the field for him to realize his potential as he’s never played in more than 116 games. If Doumit struggles, expect Pittsburgh to let him go in favor of prospect Jeff Clement.
Infield: Akinori Iwamura was traded for to inject a good two hitter into a lineup that has disappointed for years. His good bat and ability to get onbase should lead to more runs overall. Andy LaRoche got a full season under his belt in 2009 and didn’t do too bad. The Pirates need more homers from LaRoche who will be looking over his shoulder as Pedro Alvarez gets closer to the Bigs. Garrett Jones got onbase at a .372 clip during his rookie season and hit 21 home runs in only 82 games. Jones could also see time in the outfield. Ronny Cedeno and Bobby Crosby will battle for the job at short in what could be the last chance for either player to get a starting job.
Outfield: The outfield is extremely talented with Andrew McCutcheon and Lastings Milledge. McCutcheon will be a super star in the near future and Milledge hopes to find consistency in Pittsburgh. Ryan Church is the early favorite to play right as he has been able to hit at every stop throughout his career. Brandon Moss will fight for playing time but he failed to improve with the increased playing time in 2009. Brandon Jones, Jose Tabata, and Rule 5 pick John Raynor will get a chance this spring as well.
Rotation: The Bucs have a couple lefties at the top of their rotation in Paul Maholm and Zach Duke. Maholm and Duke both need a breakout season. Ross Ohlendorf was the surprise of the group last year and he had a sub-4.00 ERA. Daniel McCutcheon should get a chance to start for a full season in 2010. Charlie Morton, Kevin Hart, Brad Lincoln and Tim Alderson are all young pitchers who will get a shot at the 5th spot.
Bullpen: D.J. Carrasco was told he will have a shot at the rotation but I believe he will ultimately end up in the bullpen where is very valuable. Brendan Donnelly had a great 1.78 ERA for the Marlins last season. Javier Lopez did terrible last year but had previously pitched well for the Red Sox. Steven Jackson and Joel Hanrahan may be the only hold-overs from last year’s bullpen. Octavio Dotel will win the closer job but will probably get traded to a contender at the deadline.
2010: The Pirates enter the spring with quantity but not much quality. The good news for Pirates fans are the young stars who are emerging or soon will. Andrew McCutcheon has already reached the Show and Pedro Alvarez will join him at some point this season. Pitching will be the most glaring problem. This season will be another of the Pirates’ decade-long rebuilding process.
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 National League team this spring:
Diamondbacks- 2B: Kelly Johnson was brought in to play second base but the starting job will not be given to him. After playing 150 solid games for the Braves in 2008, Johnson struggled mightiliy in 2009 and lost the job to Martin Prado. Ryan Roberts played second base down the stretch for Arizona and hit to a .279/.367/.416 line. Johnson is a lefty while Roberts is a righty so a platoon may be in their future. Tony Abreu is a younger option in case both struggle.
Braves- LF/RF: Nate McClouth will be the team’s center fielder but the corners are far from set. Melky Cabrera was acquired in the Javier Vazquez trade and will probably start at one of the corners after playing 154 games for the Yankees last year. He is a winner, a switch hitter, and capable of playing all three outfield spots. Matt Diaz is a quiet .310 career hitter but has never had 400 at-bats during his 7 years in the pros. Diaz is best suited for left field. The wild card in all of this is Jason Heyward, the number one prospect in baseball. He will be a franchise player soon, but how soon? Heyward is only 20 years old but could very well be ready for The Show.
Cubs- 2B: Mike Fontenot disappointed after beating out Aaron Miles for the second base job last year. His struggles, along with the injury to Aramis Ramirez, prompted a Jeff Baker acquisition. In 69 games with the Cubbies, Baker hit .305 and took over the second base job. Similar to Arizona’s situation, the Cubs have a left handed option with Fontenot and a right handed option with Baker. A straight platoon situation seems unlikely after Baker’s solid showing last September.
Reds- LF: Chris Dickerson will be the early favorite to start in left field due to a career .383 OBP in 128 games the last two years. He is a lefty with some speed and the potential for 15 homers a year. He will be challenged by Wladimir Balentien who has under-performed after being tabbed as a great prospect earlier in his career. Laynce Nix hit 15 home runs but the Reds would rather use him as a reserve. The Reds could still look to the free agent market for a guy like Jonny Gomes or even Johnny Damon.
Rockies- PH: Colorado’s starting lineup is basically set and they have a great bench. Ian Stewart will split time at third with Melvin Mora while Chris Iannetta and Miguel Olivo each get time behind the plate. Ryan Spilborghs will get plenty of playing time with lefties Carlos Gonzalez and Brad Hawpe starting in the outfield corners. The bench will also have Seth Smith and Jason Giambi to pinch hit late in the game. Even with their strong depth, the Rockies’ most interesting question entering the 2010 season may be if they carry six bench players. It is unlikely that they would carry another bench bat, but the front office has brought in some notable veterans including catcher Paul LoDuca, first baseman Josh Phelps, and outfielder Jay Payton, who will all be considered.
Florida- 1B: Mid-season acquisition Nick Johnson has moved on and Jorge Cantu may move to first base. If Cantu stays at third, the Marlins will have competition between Gaby Sanchez and prospect Logan Morrison. Sanchez has not developed as fast as the Marlins had hoped and Morrison may not be ready. Wes Helms will get some at-bats at first base but the free agent market still has a couple of possibilities. Russell Branyan, Carlos Delgado, and Hank Blalock are hoping for starting jobs.
Astros- C: This battle points to a potentially tough road ahead for the Houston Astros. Humberto Quintero will be the veteran in camp but has never played well. J.R. Towles was supposed to be the team’s catcher a few years ago but has hit .188 in 234 career at-bats. The bright spot at catcher is a great prospect by the name of Jason Castro. Castro is the top prospect in the organization but is only 22 and may need another year in the minors. Will the team get a guy like Rod Barajas to be a stopgap until Castro arrives in Houston?
Dodgers- 2B: Ronnie Belliard worked hard and stole the job from Orlando Hudson last season during the playoff push and was re-signed. He’s going to have to work just as hard to get the majority of starts at second this year. Along with Belliard, the Dodgers have plenty of other veteran options at second base: Nick Green, Alfredo Amezaga, Jamey Carroll, Angel Berroa. There are some younger guys who are looking for a chance this spring as well: Blake Dewitt, Chin-Lung Hu, Ivan DeJesus. Belliard is definitely the favorite but he will have to earn it.
Brewers- 3B: One of Milwaukee’s top prospects has been third baseman, Mat Gamel. He got some playing time last season and did OK. Meanwhile, Casey McGehee got a chance to play and did very well. McGehee provided a spark with his bat and posted a .859 OPS in 116 games. A huge spring from Gamel may be earn him a platoon role at third base but everyday at-bats in the minors would be helpful at this point in his career.
Mets- C: The Mets will have plenty of options at catcher and each comes from a very different background. Henry Blanco’s abilities to mentor a pitching staff and his great defensive attributes make him the backup catcher. Chris Coste was a long-time minor leaguer who finally broke into the Majors with the Phillies a few years ago. He struggled last year but has been useful as a pinch hitter. Omir Santos took over for Brian Schneider last year with the Mets to drive in 40 runs with only 281 at-bats. Josh Thole is the catcher of the future and may be ready after finding success in the big leagues last season. Even with all of this depth, the Mets have been linked to many other veteran catchers this off-season.
Phillies- OF: No, I’m not talking about a starting outfield spot. Those should be held down by Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth. I’m not even talking about the opening day bench for that matter of fact. Ben Francisco and Ross Gload will be the backups. I’m talking about September. The Phillies have positioned themselves to make a playoff run again this year and having a speedy pinch runner when the rosters expands never hurts. The Phillies have brought in Dewayne Wise, Freddy Guzman, and Chris Duffy to compete in the minors for that opportunity. Freddy Guzman held that role with the Yankees in the playoffs last year.
Pirates- SS: Ronny Cedeno was the Pirates’ late-season shortstop after being acquired from Seattle. With Pittsburgh he hit .258 with 5 home runs. That performance was enough to make him the early favorite for this season but the team brought in veteran infielder, Bobby Crosby, to compete. Crosby has hit over .239 only once since 2004. Either way, the Pirates don’t project to get a lot of production from their shortstop this season.
Padres- C: The team is about to sign veteran Yorvit Torrealba to a Major League deal. He will battle incumbent Nick Hundley for innings at catcher. Torrealba had a similar situation in Colorado and the starting job went back and forth between himself and Chris Iannetta. Torrealba hit .291 last year but had only 2 home runs in 213 at-bats. In similar playing time last year, Hundley hit .238 with 8 homers.
Giants- LF/RF: Mark DeRosa moves to the outfield with the signing of Aubrey Huff who will play first base and keep Pablo Sandoval at third. It is still to be seen if DeRosa will play left or right but who will play in the other spot? They have a pair of lefties in Fred Lewis and Nate Schierholtz who have not gotten to their potential yet. Lewis is better suited for left field and offers more tools with his speed. Schierholtz is better suited for right field and is younger. Andres Torres and Eugenio Velez will fight for playing time in the outfield too. Could the Giants still sign Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, or Jonny Gomes?
Cardinals- OF: The Cardinals don’t have an obvious option as their fourth outfielder. The starters are set from left to right for a while and that puts the Cardinals in an interesting position. The team doesn’t have to worry about grooming an outfielder and giving him everyday at-bats in the minors as much as most other teams do. So while other teams sign veterans to pinch hit, the Cardinals may just promote their next-best outfield prospects to get those at-bats and innings. They have plenty of minor league outfielders who are good but not great such as Jon Jay, Allen Craig, Daryl Jones, Joe Mather, Shane Robinson, and Nick Stavinoha.
Nationals- PH: The Nationals have a lineup that is basically set. The bench, however, has a couple open spots. Jesus Flores will be the backup catcher unless he encounters a setback while rehabbing from an injury-plagued season. Willie Harris has become a fan favorite with versatility, speed, and some pop. Besides those two, there are no guarantees. Eric Bruntlett could make the team as a backup infielder after holding that role with the Phillies for a couple season. Chris Duncan is looking for a pinch hitting role. Justin Maxwell is a big outfielder who can play all three outfield spots and has had success in limited time with the Nationals. Others who will get a look are catcher Wil Nieves, infielder Alberto Gonzalez, utility men Pete Orr and Mike Morse, and outfielders Jerry Owens, Roger Bernadina, and Kevin Mench.
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 final group of teams still needs going into the New Year:
Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies have already made a big splash with the Halladay acquisition which was followed with a hefty extension. It works out well that Philadelphia doesn’t have much money left, because there aren’t many holes to fill either. Another lefty in the bullpen wouldn’t hurt because J.C. Romero has had some struggles staying on the field.
Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates should try to unload catcher Ryan Doumit and his extension, though it isn’t too large. Rumors for a Rick Ankiel signing makes sense because it would add some more power and a strong arm to help in the deep gaps of Pittsburgh’s field. A player like him can be a one year stop-gap until top prospects Jose Tabata and/or Gorkys Hernandez are able to assume full-time roles. Besides these ideas, there aren’t many reasons for additional moves given their slim chances of contending.
San Diego Padres: While contending next year is possible, it’s not extremely likely. Their best bet would be to add a middle level starter to hold down a rotation spot. Losing catcher Henry Blanco via free agency will have a significant impact, just ask the Cubs. Though it’s overdue, the Padres need to trade one of Chase Headley or Kevin Kouzmanoff. They waited too long and their values have both dropped. Also, test the market and see if there is still any interest in middle infield prospect Matt Antonelli as David Eckstein will block his path for the second year in a row.
San Francisco Giants: Though the Giants were able to compete last year, they have a lot to do. Travis Ishikawa, Fred Lewis and Nate Schierholtz cannot all be in the lineup at the same time. Apparently the team is close on both Mark DeRosa and Juan Uribe, which would move Pablo Sandoval to first and Ishikawa out of the lineup. A cheap outfielder would at least allow for a platoon with Lewis or Schierholtz. Buster Posey needs a mentor behind the plate and the bullpen needs more proven arms. As I said, they have a lot of work ahead.
Seattle Mariners: Speaking of lots of work, the M’s have already done that and surely have more moves on the horizon. A first baseman is necessary and Russell Branyan is the best fit. The rotation is very strong with two Cy Young candidates already there but depth is needed. A lefty in the bullpen is also very important.
St. Louis Cardinals: Will the team re-sign Matt Holliday? They should. Holliday has proven to be hard to sign in the past and Scott Boras has already shrugged off huge offers in the first half of the off-season. If not Holliday, someone else must be brought in because their depth in left field is horrible right now. The team claims to be happy with David Freese at third base but I doubt it.
Tampa Bay Rays: The lineup is interesting to look at from the trading-block standpoint. The team has already moved Akinori Iwamura, tried vigorously to move Pat Burrell, almost non-tendered Dionner Navaro, and has been rumored to at least listen to offers for B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford. The team has to decide upon their direction but I only foresee Pat Burrell getting moved while Matt Joyce, Willy Aybar and Fernando Perez gets his at-bats.
Texas Rangers: After a failed trade for Mike Lowell, look for the team to pursue Vladimir Guerrero to play DH. He played great down the stretch last year and, for whatever its worth, hits like the second-coming of Babe Ruth in Texas. Another top starter is necessary to win the division. Signing a catcher may be in store because Jarrod Saltalamacchia got hurt during winter ball, Taylor Teagarden hasn’t proven himself yet, and Max Ramirez has been in trade rumors for the past two years.
Toronto Blue Jays: The new GM has gotten off to a great start in his rebuilding process. The team has needed it for a while but the relations between ownership and former GM J.P. Ricciardi wouldn’t really allow for it. Trading Roy Halladay has been a must for two years. Did they really think they would compete? Even after Tamba Bay passed them? Continuing this process will include attempts to move Vernon Wells, Jeremy Accardo, and Edwin Encarnacion.
Washington Nationals: Last but not least, the Washington Nationals. Their off-season is honestly pretty much done. However, one thing that still needs some attention is the middle infield. Ian Desmond came up at the end of the year and did fine at shortstop leading to attempts to persuade Christian Guzman to play second base. Guzman initially met it with hesitance but his range has dropped and second should be a little less physically demanding. He would fit well there and can swing the bat so it would work for the team. If he really demands to be moved, the Nationals have always been intrigued by Orlando Hudson who could replace him at second.
Now we just have to wait and see what the coaches, GMs and owners really have planned for their teams.