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.
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.
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.
First of all, happy holidays!
Now, here’s what teams still need going into the New Year:
Arizona Diamondbacks: The rotation is inspiring with Dan Haren, Brandon Webb and Edwin Jackson followed by a couple younger guys who will get a chance to prove themselves. The middle of their bullpen will struggle, Aaron Heilman was not enough of an addition. A healthy Conor Jackson and Stephen Drew will provide more baserunners but the team could still use an RBI man at first base and a dynamic hitter at second.
Atlanta Braves: Troy Glaus was recently signed to play first base and I hope (for the Braves’ sake) that he is not the legitimate right-handed power threat they have coveted. If Jason Heyward is not going to start the year with the big club, Atlanta needs to use some of the money saved in the Javier Vazquez deal to pursue Jason Bay. I expect Melky Cabrera to excel whether in left field or right.
Baltimore Orioles: The Orioles could be division contenders if it was for their AL East residency. They will run out an up-and-coming team that is full of All-Star potential including Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters. What the team is still needing: a first baseman. The Orioles staff was not impressed with the Luke Scott experiment there last year and look for him to DH. Their young pitching is ready to break through.
Boston Red Sox: Like the Red Sox still need something… Though they do not, Theo is still going after Jason Bay and Matt Holliday. Seemingly, for every proven veteran, there is another prospect in the wings. Look for a ring in Boston next October.
Chicago Cubs: The Carlos Silva acquisition was more addition by subtraction than anything, but so were the Aaron Miles and Aaron Heilman trades. At first glance the rotation looks fine, but Ted Lilly will miss time to start the year, Randy Wells could encounter a sophomore slump, and this time last year, Tom Gorzelanny wasn’t even Major League caliber for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Another right-handed setup man and center fielder should be next on the list while a second baseman would be luxury.
Chicago White Sox: Juan Pierre, Jake Peavy, and Andruw Jones will pay off this year. My opinion is still un-decided in regards to the Mark Teahen extension, but just the acquisition itself made sense. I believe the White Sox are done with the big transactions so adding depth is all that’s left.
Cincinnati Reds: The Reds still need a lot, but have too much money tied up in a few players. Spreading out Scott Rolen’s salary was thrifty but they’ll have to work overtime to figure out how to move the high salaries of Francisco Cordero, Bronson Arroyo, Aaron Harang and even Willy Tavarez. Whatever happens with their finances, the team could sure use a shortstop and another outfielder.
Cleveland Indians: The Indians only have a few veterans remaining on the roster due to their rebuilding process. This process takes time and it will result in a last place finish in their division. In the meantime, a veteran catcher could help mentor prospects Lou Marson and Carlos Santana.
Colorado Rockies: The lineup is solid from top to bottom though a little lefty heavy. Ryan Spilborghs will have another prominent role this year off the bench to relieve Carlos Gonzalez and Brad Hawpe in the corners. Another right handed option of the bench should be a new backup catcher. Yorvit Torrealba has filled that role the last couple years but he may be leaving via free agency.
Detroit Tigers: The return was big enough for Curtis Granderson but the full effect of that move will not be felt this year. Austin Jackson will have a chance to earn the center field spot this year but Detroit has been linked to Scott Podsednik and other free agent targets for that position. The Tigers will also have to decide if prospect Scott Sizemore is ready for the everyday second base job.
The most notable move at the Winter Meetings thus far was the three team trade between the Arizona Diamondbacks, Detroit Tigers, and New York Yankees.
D-Backs get: SP Edwin Jackson, SP Ian Kennedy
Tigers get: OF Austin Jackson, RP Phil Coke, RP Daniel Schlereth, SP Max Scherzer
Yankees get: OF Curtis Granderson
Everyone knows what Curtis Granderson brings the Yankees (and it’s a lot). Arizona came away with All-Star Edwin Jackson to improve their 2010 rotation behind Brandon Webb and Dan Haren. Ian Kennedy may be ready to contribute at the top level this year after an injury sidelined him last year. Though both teams made helpful additions, the Tigers came away with a ton of talent.
Granderson will be replaced in center field and at the top of the order by Austin Jackson. Jackson was the Yankee’s top prospect before the trade and has excelled in the minors while displaying the great potential of a five tool player. Max Scherzer will bring his hefty strikeout total to Detroit’s rotation. He is under control for longer than Edwin Jackson and is more affordable as well. Lefty Phil Coke will help replace free agents Brandon Lyon and Fernando Rodney in the bullpen as the new top setup man. Daniel Schlereth is another talented young lefty who pitches out of the bullpen. He struggled in 21 appearances for Arizona but is only 23 and should only get better.
As you can see, I think the Tigers came out on top with their large return of young talent. How do you feel about this trade?
With the free agency period off to a frustratingly slow start, I’ve decided to post my synopsis of the top free agents in this year’s market. Also listed are some potential destinations.
1. Matt Holliday OF– Great all-around hitter who rebounded well in St. Louis after his short stay in the AL. He is the premier offensive player in this year’s class and a legitimate 3-hitter for any contender. His combination of power, speed, and competitiveness will land him the biggest contract of all free agents in the coming months. Yankees, Mets, Red Sox
2. John Lackey SP– Despite a couple recent injuries, Lackey’s leadership and determination are great intangibles. He consistently puts his team in the spot to win games and will be the ace anywhere he goes, besides the Yankees… Yankees, Brewers, Angels
3. Jason Bay OF– Bay has taken some hits lately for his defense and even criticism for rejecting the Red Sox initial offer of 4 years/$60MM. Bay, however, was able to post great HR and RBI numbers and that’s what gets free agents paid. Bay is a great number two option to Holliday. Red Sox, Mets, Giants
4. Chone Figgins 3B/UT– After Chone struggled mightly in the playoffs, he is on a mission to get back in the post-season and earn another ring. Figgins will go to a winner where he can play third base, his best position. Many teams have been rumored to the speedy utility man for many different positions, though the White Sox have said they’re already out of the hunt due to the price. Angels, Phillies, Mariners
5. Aroldis Chapman LHP– Chapman is a lefty phenom who defected from Cuba who just changed his agency. He has great stuff and a fastball that approaches 100mph. Nearly every team has some level of interest in his rare skills set. He may spend some time in the minors, but will still earn a great paycheck. I could see Chapman as the Dodgers’ single big move this off-season if they’re unable to attain Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays. Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers
6. Mike Gonzalez LHP/Rafael Soriano RHP– This pair of relievers come from the same bullpen and can both setup or close. Their electrifying stuff will earn them both a huge (and probably over-priced) payday. My guess is that both will have a chance to close. Phillies, Braves, Tigers
7. Orlando Hudson 2B– This perennial gold glover is a switch hitter with pop and speed. He can work an at-bat and is a great clubhouse guy. The only thing going against Hudson is his injury plagued second-half with the Dodgers, which will keep him affordable like this time last year. Mets, Nationals, Twins
8. Joel Piniero SP– I like Piniero. Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan once again worked his magic with Piniero. Piniero always had talent and he finally turned the corner. In a relatively weak market for starting pitchers, Piniero comes in as the number two. Mets, Cardinals, Brewers
9. Mark DeRosa 3B/UT– Mark DeRosa built his great reputation off a couple solid years with the Cubs. His value diminished a bit with a wrist injury which required surgery after the season and a rough stay with the Cards where his OBP dropped significantly. DeRosa though, is a good option for most teams as he can play a very formidable second and third along with first and the corner outfield spots. Even though the Cubs fans love this guy, they will not reunite on the Northside. Phillies, Cardinals, Twins
10. Bengie Molina C– In a very thin offering of catchers this year, Molina provides a veteran presence with a solid bat. He has hit cleanup or fifth many times in the past few years with the Giants. Mets, Brewers, Mariners
11. Jason Marquis SP– Marquis’ sinker worked well for him in Colorado where he flourished for the first half, but then dropped off. He is durable and an innings eater, and provides some offense from the pitcher’s spot for what it’s worth. Keep in mind his 10 year streak of making the playoffs. Mets, Cardinals, Rockies
12. Johnny Damon/Hideki Matsui OF/DH– Pros: came up huge in the post-season. Cons: age and declining overall skills. These two Yankees favorites would both love to be back in the Bronx but the Yankees are looking for more athleticism in LF and would rather commit one year too few than one year too many. White Sox, Yankees, Mariners
13. Rich Harden SP– Harden would like to be back in Chicago’s rotation but I’m not sure he proved his health enough to be warranted a raise in the windy city. He has an upper 90s fastball and a nice changeup/sinker that makes him perhaps the biggest risk/reward pitcher this year. It’s very conceivable Boston picks him up to be another reclamation project similar to Paul Byrd, John Smoltz, and Brad Penny of late. Red Sox, Cubs, Mets
14. Adrian Beltre 3B– Beltre is still a great defender and a power threat. His value is nowhere near it was the last time he hit market and cashed in, but he will still be coveted with lots of vacancies at the hot corner this year. Phillies, Orioles, Twins
15. Nick Johnson 1B– Johnson is known for his injuries and his above average OBP. He improved that OBP with his second half Marlins stint in which he posted a .477 OBP. This off-season he will earn himself a multiyear deal to provide the steady production people have grown accustomed to. Mets, Giants, White Sox
- Orlando Cabrera SS
- Russell Branyan 1B
- Miguel Tejada SS/3B
- Marlon Byrd OF
- Vladimir Guerrero DH/RF
- Adam LaRoche 1B
- Fernando Rodney RP
- Andy Pettitte SP (would be higher on the list, but the Yankees are the only destination)