Wednesday, February 28, 2007

2007 NL West Predictions

Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68) 92-96 win range
Arizona Diamondbacks (85-77) 83-87 win range
San Diego Padres (84-78) 82-86 win range
Colorado Rockies (78-84) 76-80 win range
San Francisco Giants (73-89) 71-75 win range

2006 W-L Record: 88-74 (2nd)
2006 pW-pL Record: 88-74
2007 Projection: 94-68
Strengths: Farm system; young contributors; pitching staff
Weaknesses: Useless old guys blocking young studs; organizational indifference to prospects
Biggest Change from '06: Jason Schmidt
One Reason:
One reason the Dodgers will win in '07 is that their excellent roster is supplemented by top-notch, major league-ready talent.
One reason the Dodgers will lose in '07 is their misappopriation of playing time. Juan Pierre and Luis Gonzalez shouldn't be playing much at all on a team that has so many young possibilities in the outfield. We can only hope that GM Ned Colletti doesn't further damage his team's future in exchange for dubious returns.

They're not without some serious questions, but I think the Dodgers are the best team in the NL going into 2007. As I've said before, I'm encouraged by their depth and their ability to replace injured players or non-entities with quality guys.
The Dodgers are in a very competitive division and certainly won't have any easy time of it. But If I had to pick two teams that I expect to make the playoffs, it would be the Dodgers and Mets.

2006 W-L Record: 76-86 (T-4th)
2006 pW-pL Record: 80-82
2007 Projection: 85-77
Strengths: Outfield; Farm system; Stephen Drew, Brandon Webb
Weaknesses: Pitching Depth; Bullpen
Biggest Change from '06: Great prospects finally graduating to the majors
One Reason:
One Reason the D-Backs will win in '07 is that they've got as much raw talent as any team in the league.
One Reason the D-Backs will lose in '07 is that it's questionable whether they can make use of that talent. The offense is mostly young, and it's hard to predict how fast they'll get used to the big leagues. Their pitchers are questionable for different reasons. Livan Hernandez handles a great workload, but is coming off two down years and is moving into a hitter's park. Randy Johnson is still Randy Johnson, just an older, more rickety version. And the back end of the rotation (Doug Davis, Enrique Gonzalez) has some promise but isn't very reliable.

I mentioned before that the D-Backs have a broader win range than I've listed. They could realistically finish anywhere between 75 and 90 wins, and perhaps beyond that. They're a team of great talent (especially going forward), but the talent is much more volatile than that of the Dodgers. So I've pencilled in the D-Backs for second place.

2006 W-L Record: 88-74 (1st)
2006 pW-pL Record: 86-76
2007 Projection: 84-78
Strengths: Pitching Staff; Defense
Weaknesses: Lineup Depth
Biggest Change from '06: Jake Peavy at full strength
One Reason:
One Reason the Padres will win in '07 is that they are reliably good. Their ceiling isn't nearly as high as that of Arizona, but you can predict with some certainty that they'll win 80-some games and stay in the Wild Card race for a while.
One Reason the Padres will lose in '07 is their lack of upside. The Dodgers are going to be setting a high standard in the West. Other than Peavy, there are no real "difference-makers" in San Diego. Brian and Marcus Giles aren't really difference-makers anymore, and neither are pitchers David Wells, Greg Maddux, and Trevor Hoffman (to a lesser extent). The rest of the team is rounded out by solid players such as Mike Cameron, Adrian Gonzalez, Chris Young, and Scott Linebrink. They've got good depth, but there's just little reason to expect this team to break through to 90 wins.

The biggest thing to watch here is Jake Peavy. Peavy struggled a bit last week, but if you look into it, a lot of his struggles weren't really his fault. He's still a strong candidate for the Cy Young Award and a good bet to notch 200 Ks.
Another boost would be if Mike Cameron and the Giles brothers played a bit like their older selves. The Padres aren't out of the postseason race entirely, but it just takes a lot of "ifs" and "maybes" to make them sound like contenders.

2006 W-L Record: 76-86 (T-4th)
2006 pW-pL Record: 81-81
2007 Projection: 78-84
Strengths: Young talent; Good offseason moves; Rotation stability; Closer
Weaknesses: Inexperience; Rotation mediocrity
Biggest Change from '06: Youngsters are one year better
One Reason:
One reason the Rockies will win in '07 is that they don't have a really striking weakness. Their lineup is surprisingly potent, if short on impact players. Their rotation is strong but also lacking in impact guys. Their bullpen is fair, but they've got a good closer. They've got several young players reaching the majors with good upside. It's a long shot to expect the Rockies to approach 90 wins, but stranger things have happened.
One reason the Rockies won't win in '07 is that they're in the wrong division. Most of the things they have going for them -- the addition of young, impact players -- can also be said of their chief rivals in L.A. and Arizona. And you could argue that the Dodgers' players have more big-league seasoning and that the D-Backs' players have a higher upside. This means that even if the Rockies do succeed in forming a competitive, well-rounded team for the first time in team history, it might not get them much better than 3rd place.

Unlike some commentators, I liked the Rockies' pick-up of Willy Taveras. Taveras has his shortcomings in that he's a weak hitter with an empty average whose strongest suit is defense. But the Rockies don't have a better candidate for CF sitting around. And I think that the rest of the lineup will generate enough pop that they can live with Taveras' offensive issues, especially since he's a great defender.
Two rookies that will likely open the season in the starting lineup are Chris Iannetta (C) and Troy Tulowitzki (SS). Both are very good prospects with the chance to be quite productive and soon. Their performance will go a long way toward making or breaking the Rockies. That's not even considering other prospects such as Jeff Baker who should reach the majors in '07.

2006 W-L Record: 76-85 (3rd)
2006 pW-pL Record: 76-85
2007 Projection: 73-89
Strengths: The Two Barrys and Matt Cain
Weaknesses: Everybody else
Biggest Change from '06: A free agent exodus leaves the lineup stripped bare.
One Reason:
One reason the Giants win in '07 is that they find a way to clone Barry Bonds 8 times.
One reason the Giants will lose in '07 is that their best-case scenario is about 80-82 wins. Best-case. Worst case is finishing 30 games out of first place.

In the NL West, you have three teams -- L.A., Arizona, and Colorado -- on the way up. You've got one team -- San Diego -- who's treading water. And one team -- the Giants -- who are inches away from falling off a cliff. Instead of solving the small problems a few years ago and taking a hit in the short term, the Giants leveraged everything they had into winning in the next few years. Not only did they take this huge risk, but the decisions they made did little to help them on their quest for World Series gold. Instead, their desperation led to signing desperate contracts, some of which have been passable, but many of which have been a total waste. If the Giants had rebuilt around 2004 or 2005, they would have suffered losing seasons in 2005-6 but would be nearing competitiveness in a year or so. As it is, they still lost in 2005 and 2006 with no future hope to compensate. Instead, once this current team dissolves, the Giants will be all but lost on the field. They will have only the skeletal remains of a major league team, with a painfully thin minor league system to support it.
Let this be a lesson to those who wish to sacrifice the long-term for the short-term.

On to the American League this weekend.

Monday, February 26, 2007

2007 NL Central Predictions

  • I thought I should tell you that Blogger is now offering a "widget" to anyone who upgrades to Blogger Beta. I've e-mailed the company, and hopefully that will be the end of this indecency.

To recap:

St. Louis Cardinals (86-76)
84-88 win range
Milwaukee Brewers (83-79) 81-85 win range
Chicago Cubs (78-84) 76-80 win range
Cincinnati Reds (78-84) 76-80 win range
Houston Astros (75-87) 73-77 win range
Pittsburgh Pirates (69-93) 67-71 win range

2006 W-L Record:
83-78 (1st)
2006 pW-pL Record: 82-79
2007 Projection: 86-76
Strengths: Core contributors still best in league; good management team
Weaknesses: Injuries; back of rotation, corner outfield, middle infield
Biggest Change from 2006: Nothing really; Jeff Suppan's loss isn't that big
One Reason:
One reason the Cardinals will win in '07 is that they've got arguably the best hitter (Albert Pujols) and the best pitcher (Chris Carpenter) in the league. They've also got Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds, hopefully still in one piece. Add in two promising young starters (Anthony Reyes and Adam Wainwright), and you've got hope in a winnable division. Okay, that's not one reason, but it's one series of reasons.
One reason the Cardinals will lose in '07 is that their depth has disappeared. Beyond their superstars (who are all injury risks), there's a steep dropoff to the next level of players: capable, unspectacular sorts like David Eckstein and Adam Kennedy. The same is true of the rotation, where the Cards really need Reyes and Wainwright to contribute to fill out the five spots. I would say that a lack of depth means the Cards won't be winning the World Series, but I won't make that mistake again. Let's just say that it really won't happen two years in a row.

The Cards have, in my opinion, the best team and the best-run organization in the NL Central. They won the division (and -- gulp -- the World Series) last year despite some dreadful shortcomings. While the Cards haven't gotten a lot better, neither has anyone else in the division. I think the Cards can expect some improvement over last year, and while it's possible that the Brewers can get it together in time to catch them, I wouldn't bet on it.

2006 W-L Record: 75-87 (4th)
2006 pW-pL Record: 71-91
2007 Projection: 83-79
Strengths: Good, young offense; Depth across the diamond
Weaknesses: Pitching in general; Ben Sheets' health
Biggest Change from '06: If the Brewers are lucky, a healthy Ben Sheets. If not . . . well, maybe the ushers will start wearing different vests.
One Reason:
One Reason the Brewers will win in '07 is they've already got the talent to do it. I have no doubt that the Brewers are capable of winning the NL Central (getting there is, of course, a different story). But the Brewers have a strong offense, and while their pitching staff is a bit patchy, it will be a lot better off if we see a healthy Ben Sheets.
One Reason the Brewers will lose in '07 is that everything I just said was also true last year, and it didn't stop them from finishing 71-91. The Brewers need to keep all their stars healthy and productive (Sheets, J.J. Hardy) and will need their rookies to step it up (Fielder and Weeks especially were good, but not that good).

As I said before, Milwaukee has the roster to win a very winnable division. But it's like herding cats getting all these kids on the field and productive. I'm usually a big fan of GM Doug Melvin, but I don't think he's done the best of jobs this past year. The Carlos Lee trade wasn't particularly helpful, and neither was the Johnny Estrada trade with Arizona. There should be reason for optimism in Milwaukee, but not enough to cancel that October cruise.

2006 W-L Record: 66-96 (6th)
2006 pW-pL Record: 70-92
2007 Projection: 78-84
Strengths: Hitting Prospects; Corner Infield
Weaknesses: Starting Pitching; Middle Infield
Biggest Change from '06: The Tribune Co.'s wallet now weighs as much as David Eckstein
One Reason:
One Reason the Cubs will win in '07 is that everything went wrong last year; that can't happen two years in a row. But just so you know -- I said the same thing last spring and was really proven wrong.
One Reason the Cubs will lose in '07 is that they've spent a gi-normous amount of money without really solving most of their problems. They've got a glut of players in the outfield, only half of whom are worth having, they've got far too many middle infielders than they can play, but then they probably shouldn't be playing that much either. They brought in two pitchers (Ted Lilly and Jason Marquis) that improve their starting rotation somewhat, but not nearly proportional to their cut of the payroll. Barring a trade, they've completely blocked most of their major-league ready prospects for the foreseeable future. They tried to fix a low-OBP, strikeout-heavy offense by bringing in the patron saint of poor plate discipline, Alfonso Soriano.
Only in a really unlikely scenario do the Cubs make it to October.

I guess I vented my spleen there in the last comment.
But everyone thinks the Cubs have really improved this offseason. I think they've improved, too, but I'm not about to list them as contenders, as others have done. I've even heard some say that the Cubs are "favorites" in the NL Central. I've already dispensed with the notion that the Cubs have gotten a lot better. I think that this misplaced euphoria is the product of two things: One, that the only thing stronger than a sportswriter's cynicism is his blinding optimism concern his team, and two, that people have a really over-inflated opinion of Alfonso Soriano.
The Cubs will be lucky -- very lucky -- to win 80 games.

2006 W-L Record: 80-82 (3rd)
2006 pW-pL Record: 76-86
2007 Projection: 78-84
Strengths: 1-2 starters; Adam Dunn, Edwin Encarnacion & Homer Bailey
Weaknesses: Back of rotation; bullpen; infield; upper management
Biggest Change from '06: Very little has changed, except that Austin Kearns and Felipe Lopez are gone
One Reason:
One Reason that the Reds will win in '07 is . . . they have magic powers?
One Reason that the Reds will lose in '07 is that there's just not enough here to cobble together more than 82 wins, even with a good front office. All things considered, the Reds will be lucky to scrape their way up to .500

The Reds are basically the same team they were last year, except that Ken Griffey, Jr. (and all their relievers) are a year older and nearing retirement. They also won't have Kearns & Lopez for the few months they had them last year. And the odds that Bronson Arroyo will pitch like a Cy Young contender again is remote.
With all these players declining, who's going to be the one to help the Reds break even, let alone improve? Homer Bailey is a big hope. The problem is that because the Reds are so bad and Bailey is so good, they're starting to prepare for his arrival like he's the Messiah. That never ends well, for either the fans or the player, especially.

2006 W-L Record: 82-80 (2nd)
2006 pW-pL Record: 83-79
2007 Projection: 75-87
Strengths: Infield Corners, Roy Oswalt
Weaknesses: Gaping holes in lineup; hapless back of the rotation
Biggest Change from '06: Willy Taveras and Andy Pettite weren't great, but an 80-win team still can't afford to lose them
One Reason:
One reason that the Astros will win in '07 is that maybe they can fool the umpires by giving Lance Berkman a bunch of wigs and letting him take up 6 spots in the order.
One reason that the Astros will lose in '07 is that their only strong weapon was their pitching, and it's just not anymore there like it was.

The Astros are another one of those teams whose win range is really about 20 wins wide. But the realistic guess is that they'll end up at the bottom of that estimation. Their offense was terrible before they traded Willy Taveras. They've got about half a dozen holes in a 9-man lineup. Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, and Morgan Ensberg are each very good hitters. But if surrounded by 6 clones of Rafael Belliard, they're not too threatening.
Now take into account that their starting pitching is significantly worse than it was two years ago, or even last year. Getting 3 months of Roger Clemens at 6 innings a pop won't solve that problem.

2006 W-L Record: 67-95 (5th)
2006 pW-pL Record: 70-92
2007 Projection: 69-93
Strengths: Ummm . . . let's see . . . their logo is cool?
Weakness: Gross Incompetence . . . and their lineup sucks, too
Biggest Change from '06: Adam LaRoche, plus more seasoning for their young starters
One Reason:
One reason the Pirates will win in '07 is that we'll enter a parallel universe where a loss is really a win.
One reason the Pirates will lose in '07 is that they're the Pirates, man.

I know I've said it before, but the Pirates are the sort of team who will just coast to 70 wins every year so long as they can find some sort of semi-exciting event in the offseason to sell season tickets. They're boring and that's a lot worse than just being bad.

Back tomorrow with the NL West.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

2007 National League Predictions

New York Mets (93-69) 91-95 win range
*Philadelphia Phillies (87-75) 85-89 win range
Florida Marlins (82-80) 80-84 win range
Atlanta Braves (80-82) 78-82 win range
Washington Nationals (68-94) 66-70 win range

St. Louis Cardinals (86-76) 84-88 win range
Milwaukee Brewers (83-79) 81-85 win range
Chicago Cubs (78-84) 76-80 win range
Cincinnati Reds (78-84) 76-80 win range
Houston Astros (75-87) 73-77 win range
Pittsburgh Pirates (69-93) 67-71 win range

Los Angeles Dodgers (94-68) 92-96 win range
Arizona Diamondbacks (85-77) 83-87 win range
San Diego Padres (84-78) 82-86 win range
Colorado Rockies (78-84) 76-80 win range
San Francisco Giants (73-89) 71-75 win range

NL MVP: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
NL CY YOUNG: Jake Peavy, Padres
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Chris Young, Diamondbacks
NLCS: Dodgers over Cardinals
WS: Yankees over Dodgers

2006 W-L Record:
97-65 (1st)
2006 pW-pL Record: 91-71
2007 Projection: 93-69
Strengths: Offense at skilled defensive positions; money; closer; trading chips
Weaknesses: Starting pitching x 10; Corner Outfielders
Biggest Change from 2006: Pedro no mas
One Reason:
One Reason the Mets will win in '07 is that they have the best team in the NL East (good reason). All of the concern about the Mets' starters is warranted, but they do have a lot of them lying around, and they don't need to be dominant for the Mets to win the east.
One Reason the Mets will lose in '07 is, of course, their starting rotation. The Mets can win without a dominant rotation, but it will be damn difficult. I seriously doubt the Mets will run away with the NL East like they did in '06. A lot of their success depends on acquiring another starting pitcher. Even considering the competition, you can't just pencil the Mets in as NL East Champions with that rotation.
It's because of their starting pitching woes that I can't see the Mets advancing far in October. I give Omar Minaya the benefit of the doubt that he can make a move or two to shore up this woeful rotation. But I don't think there will be any "miracles" this year.
I should say, though, that I think Minaya did a good job filling the holes in his offense. Second base is still a concern, but it's a slow market for second baseman, and Jose Valentin did a good job last year. He also snagged Moises Alou to shore up the corner outfield spots offensively. I probably shouldn't have listed the corner outfield spots as a weakness, except that I feel pretty certain that we'll be seeing too much of Shawn Green and not enough of Lastings Milledge.

2006 W-L Record: 85-77 (2nd)
2006 pW-pL Record: 86-76
2007 Projection: 87-75
Strengths: Offense, duh; 1-2-3 starters
Weaknesses: third base; catcher; back of rotation; bullpen
Biggest Change from 2006: Freddy Garcia and Cole Hamels should help the Phillies over the hump and back into October.
One Reason:
One Reason the Phillies will win in '07 is their powerful offense and improved rotation depth.
One Reason the Phillies will lose in '07 is the quality of their starting rotation (cross your finger for Moyer/Eaton) and their spotty lineup (Wes F'n Helms?!)
I actually didn't have the Phillies picked as my NL Wild Card team; I had the Diamondbacks. But then I listed out my win probabilities and realized that I actually thought the Phillies would win more games than the D-Backs. And winning more games than someone is a sure-fire way to beat them in a pennant race.
Truth be told, my guess for the Phillies is pretty optimistic, and my range for the D-Backs is too narrow. Arizona has far more upside than Philadelphia, but it's so uncertain that I went with the safe choice. Granted, this also enables me to have two picks for the Wild Card: my real pick and my real real pick. Some may say it's cheatin', I say it's thinkin'.

2006 W-L Record: 78-84 (4th)
2006 pW-pL Record: 80-82
2007 Projection: 82-80
Strengths: Youth; Bargain Value; Pitching Depth; Miguel Cabrera
Weaknesses: Youth; Bargain Value; Fluky Nature of '06
Biggest Change from 2006: Everybody's a year older (which isn't usually good news in Florida, but it is here)
One Reason:
One Reason the Marlins will win in '07 is their break-out potential. The Marlins have a solid core of young talent that will play .500 baseball most likely. But they have several young players with the chance to break out (Jeremy Hermida, most of their pitchers) and push them into Wild Card contention.
One Reason the Marlins will lose in '07 is that their 2006 success is hard to repeat. All of their rookies were so good, and so many of them reached their potential in 2006, that's there's not a lot of room for upward expansion. In fact, it's more realistic to expect several guys to suffer setbacks. We've already seen it start among the young pitchers (Jason Johnson, Anibal Sanchez), and it's likely to cascade. The only sure thing is Miguel Cabrera's MVP Candidacy.
The Marlins will most likely do in 2007 what they did in 2006: make an encouraging but unsuccessful run at the Wild Card.

As I said before, the main reason I'm less than optimistic about the Marlins is that it's hard to repeat great luck with rookies like they had last year. A good comparison would be the 2005 Braves. The '05 Braves had that amazing rookie class that helped propel them into the postseason. But in 2006, most of those guys experienced (perfectly normal) growing pains and sophomore slumps.
It's great when you have everything go right for you. The only downside is knowing that you probably won't be as lucky again in the future. Long-term, the Marlins are on the path to contention, but it's a stretch to expect them to make the leap this season.

2006 W-L Record: 79-83 (3rd)
2006 pW-pL Record: 85-77
2007 Projection: 80-82
Strengths: Strong core contributors; improved bullpen; Brian McCann
Weaknesses: Core contributors are old and getting brittle; weak rotation; lineup depth
Biggest Change from 2006: Losing the right side of your infield in exchange for a relief pitcher. Mmwhat?
One Reason:
One Reason the Braves will win in '07 is that they're the Braves, and they've done stranger things before. I may be pessimistic about their young talent, but that doesn't mean it's not still there.
One Reason the Braves won't win in '07 is that Chipper Jones is still playing third base. This means more bad defense and another 40-50 games from their best hitter lost to the DL.
I remember when I used to complain every Spring Training about how depressing it was to know the Braves were going to win just to lose in October. I miss those days.
The Braves' Pythagorean record was very encouraging last year, suggesting that they were much closer to contention than they looked. But it's hard for me to believe that an 85-win team can get better when they lose a pretty good right side of the infield for no apparent reason. The two best players on this team are Chipper and Smoltz, and they're getting much older.
I guess I can use all my experience as a devotee of a doomed October team and become a Yankee fan.
Yeah, right.

2006 W-L Record: 71-91 (5th)
2006 pW-pL Record: 70-92
2007 Projection: 68-94
Strengths: Ryan Zimmerman
Weaknesses: About everything else
Biggest Change from 2006: The starting rotation is now completely gutted; Tim Redding is their #2 starter!
One Reason:
One Reason the Nats will win in '07 is that theirs is the only fanbase with the power of federal subpoena.
One Reason the Nats will lose in '07 is that they're a bad, hopeless baseball team . . . What? That's only one.

Baseball America's 2007 Prospect Handbook rates the Nats' prospects as the worst in baseball. Their "Impact" grade is a D, and their "Depth" grade is an F. It's really scary that such a barren major league team has such little support in the minors.
On the bright side though, things really are improving. Granted, it would be hard for them not to improve, but the Nats have done several things to provide themselves with depth in the lower minor leagues, from drafting better to making better trades. Even GM Jim Bowden, whom I admittedly give a hard time, has done a better job of handling the team. He's apparently seen the folly of the attempted quick fix (a la Cristian Guzman or Vinny Castilla) and seems to committed to overhauling the franchise from the bottom up. The Nats have a new ballpark opening up soon, which gives them a bit of a target date for rebooting the club. It also gives them the promise of extra cash in the future and gives their fans something to hope for while the current incarnation stumbles back to last place.
Things are getting better in Washington. But it sure as hell won't look any better in 2007.
Back later with the other divisions.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


Everyone needs a vacation. Granted, mine didn't involve going anywhere exotic and tropical. In fact, I was in the midst of a devilish winter storm. Baseball slows down in early February, especially in a year where most of the free agents were gone before Christmas. As it is, pitchers and catchers are in camp, and spring training proper will being quite soon. So as the camps are open, so must my blog re-open (they don't pay me for my metaphors . . . whoever they are).
  • After what seemed like a ghastly eternity, Barry Bonds finalized his contract with the Giants, paying him $15.8 million for one year. Giants' officials spent weeks upon weeks trying to hammer out an agreement with Bonds' agent. Speculation was that the club's concerns revolved mainly around Bonds' legal issues. Not only did was the club trying to structure performance bonuses in case of a Bonds injury, they were trying to include some sort of clause that would allow them protection in case Bonds was indicted (and thus unavailable to play). Their first agreement was rejected by the league office, but the sides were finally able to come to terms on a finalized deal. Details were sketchy, but this reliable source says that the club reserves the right to terminate Bonds' contract if he is indicted (with some restrictions), and that Bonds will not file a union grievance if this does occur.
    Another very fascinating part of the contract states that Bonds' personal trainers are no longer club employees, and thus will no longer enj0y unfettered access to the clubhouse, etc. This shows that the Giants are trying to put some distance between themselves and Barry's medicine men, something that they probably should have done ten years ago. But where your conscience fails you, fear of a prosecution often compensates.
  • A lot of ink has been spilt discussing contract extensions, as far as who's going to get them and who isn't. The most notable example would be the eternally outspoken Curt Schilling, who was not able to reach a deal with the Red Sox, and thus will become a free agent after this season. Schilling has a knack for polarizing public opinion in many ways, and I think the Sox were probably just tired of it. That said, the decision makes perfect business and baseball sense. At Schilling's age, there's no reason to commit big money to 2008 without knowing what 2007 holds. The Sox will miss Schilling, but not very much; he's been replaced as #1 pitcher by Matsuzaka and is too much of a financial risk at his age (and with his poor conditioning).
  • Carlos Zambrano, who is also a free agent after this year, made a statement to the effect of "pay me now or lose me" to the Cubs, but then backed off. Making public ultimatums in Spring Training is rarely a good PR move. Even considering that the Cubs have already bought a small Mediterranean island this off-season, they'll probably end up ponying up for their star pitcher; it's just a matter of how much.
  • There's been a lot of speculation about Alex Rodriguez's contract. A-Rod's deal has an opt-out clause after this season, similar to the ones included in the J.D. Drew and Aramis Ramirez deals. As if the media doesn't have enough reason to hound A-Rod into a self-imposed exile, now they're obsessing over whether he will decide to opt out of his current deal, as both Drew and Ramirez did.
    I can't imagine how miserable it must be to be Alex Rodriguez in New York, but I'm not so sure that A-Rod would choose to opt out. Granted, I'm biased; I don't think he's the son of Satan bent on stealing money from orphans. Even so, both Drew and Ramirez opted out of their deals because, in the current climate, they could do better for themselves. But even considering the financial inflation involved, I'm not sure that A-Rod could find a better deal than his current one. If so, it's doubtful that it would be that much more -- certainly not enough to merit being burned in effigy in the Bronx. We'll see how this plays out, but I don't really see A-Rod "cutting and running" at this point.
  • Keith Foulke, unable to make a comeback from the injuries that limited him over the past two years, retired last week. Foulke had signed a deal with Cleveland and was pencilled in as their closer, but this puts the Indians back at square one (i.e. Joe Borowski). Foulke was just 34. He may have been an old 34, but it looked like he still had some good ball to pitch. That he would make this decision after signing a deal must mean that he was in pretty bad shape.
  • In what can only be described as some sort of moronic deja vu, there has been a bit of a disagreement expressed over the ownership of the baseball used to record the last out of the 2006 World Series. It hasn't reached the courts yet, and may be nothing more than a slight squabble, but Adam Wainwright has the ball and apparently Yadier Molina wants it.
  • In other extension news, the Twins signed up Joe Mauer to a four-year deal that skips over his arbitration years. Good move for them. Bill Hall (of all people) signed an extension with the Brewers, an odd move to lock up a Player Out of Position. Austin Kearns signed a three-year deal to stay in Washington. Also, the Reds signed their two top starters to extensions; Aaron Harang gets a perfectly sensible deal (4 years, $36.5 mil), while Bronson Arroyo signed a two-year extension that will go into effect when his current contract expires after the 2008 season (2 years, $25 mil.). The Harang deal is great. And while I'm not on the "Arroyo-as-ace" bandwagon yet, two more years isn't so unreasonable, even if he is nothing more than above-average. And in 2009, $12.5 million a year won't be too bad for a starter. I guess you can forgive the Reds for getting antsy about their pitching. Two down, ten to go.
    (There was an article in Cincinnati's Citybeat newsweekly about the Reds, which claimed that their biggest weakness was their bullpen. That's kind of true, but they're not exactly sitting pretty in terms of offense or starting pitching, and the former is mostly the fault of the current administration. The author was much kinder toward GM Wayne Krivsky than I've been, even suggesting that the complete turnover of his staff in two years is a good thing).
  • In more depressing Reds news, Ken Griffey, Jr. confirmed that he did suffer a wrist injury in December, as had been speculated. Griffey claims that he suffered the injury while playing with his children, which may very well be true, considering that the man is made of Waterford crystal. It really looks like we're seeing the end of the old Ken Griffey, Jr., with last year's woeful performance not likely to improve this season.
    Over at's Page 2, Jeff Pearlman begs to differ. He makes the argument that Griffey really was better then Bonds, and he's the one who deserves all the media coverage this Spring. Pearlman's argument is, essentially, that Griffey used to be a pain in the ass, but then grew up. Therefore, he's a better ballplayer than Barry, because he was a stand-up guy who didn't use steroids.
    That's very debatable on a statistical level and is pretty doubtful even on an anecdotal level.
    Pearlman has not only made the sweeping assumption that Junior is clean, he's determined that that makes him a better person and that it (apparently) jumps the huge gap between him and Barry as players. While we can all be sure that Griffey wasn't as drugged-up as Barry, that doesn't mean that he was clean. He looked clean, yes. But what the hell does that mean?
    And even if Griffey was clean and Barry wasn't, there's not enough statistical weight in the world to bridge the gap between their performance on the field. And while I know it's tempting to create some heroes in a pretty barren moral climate, we just shouldn't be doing that. Because we either fail completely, or we deify someone by ignoring their imperfections. And neither I nor Jeff Pearlman nor any other mortal knows enough about Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey to pass this judgment upon them.
    I hate to pick apart such an honest article by Pearlman, but I think this is the sort of thing we do too often with athletes. Searching for heroes, we take an athlete (or a politician, or a parent) and turn them into a mythical creature. And when they don't measure up, we blame them completely. Sometimes we'll even go to more trouble to tear down our former heroes than we did building them up in the first place. Doesn't s0und familiar? Look this man in the face and tell me that's not exactly what we did to him.

I'll be back soon with my predictions for 2007, one division at a time. One thing I'm sure of? It's nice to have this.