Friday, February 08, 2008

I HAVE RETURNED (NL East Preview)

First off, greetings from never-never land. After a much-too-long hiatus, I have returned to the land of Whizdom. My time away from baseball was against my will, as I've had a pile-up of medical problems over the past six weeks, including being diagnosed with diabetes. A lot has changed since then, and I've found it difficult to generate the energy to pursue my former hobbies, among them this website. But I have returned to start my full-scale preview of the 2008 season. I'll blog again soon to cover all the news I missed while I was gone (something about Roger Clemens).


Before I open up my 2008 preview with a close look at the Alanta Braves, two quick notes:
Reader "t ball" comented on my last blog, where I mentioned reliever Akinori Otsuka, that apparently some teams were scared away by his medical reports. Thanks to t ball for the heads-up. I checked mlbtraderumors.com (which despite the domain name is very respectable). They quote an mlb.com report that says a potential trade of Otsuka to the White Sox was nixed after the Sox saw his medical reports. The site does add that, despite this, Otsuka is getting some interest from some NL teams, including the Padres, his first stop in the US.
  • I've also heard more than once in the past that Otsuka's pitching style is pretty easy to adjust to. While he's had great success his first year in a new league, some wonder if he would be that good if hitters had more time to see him. I'm sure that's also in the back of everyone's mind.
  • And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the big trade today. Rumored for weeks and finally consummated, the Orioles traded ace Erik Bedard to the Mariners for star prospect Adam Jones and some prospects.
    I don't really know enough about the prospects to offer an expert analysis, although I do know that Jones is a potential superstar who will be major-league ready sometime this season.
    I find myself in agreement with Keith Law, who posted his analysis of the trade online today. For the Mariners, giving up a potential A-list talent like Jones for an A- pitcher like Bedard would be acceptable if the Mariners were contenders, or on the verge of contending. The big problem is that they're not. They've given up Jones, who would have been a big asset for them long-term for chump change, to get two years of Erik Bedard, who's a potential ace, but one who has trouble staying healthy. If the Mariners were a veteran team with a short window to make the playoffs, I'd be fine with the trade. But the M's aren't good enough to mortgage their future for Erik Bedard. Bedard will certainly improve them, and will likely be more valuable than Jones in the short run, but if that doesn't push the Mariners into the playoffs (and I doubt it will, not in the American League), then the M's will be SOL as they watch Jones became a star in Baltimore.
  • Now on to my season preview, starting with the NL East.

2008 Season Preview

ATLANTA BRAVES
2007 W-L Record: 84-78
2007 pW-pL Record: 88-74
Strengths: Well-balanced attack, MLB-ready youth
Weaknesses: Spotty lineup; top-heavy rotation
Biggest Change from '07: Bye-bye Andruw
One Reason:
One reason the Braves will win in '08 is that they were a better team than they looked in 2007 and there's room for improvement. The bullpen should be strong from Day One, and they'll have a full season of Mark Teixeira.
One reason the Braves will lose in '08 is that their starting rotation is a house of cards. It all depends on John Smoltz pitching like an ace at age 41 and not wearing down in September. They also must get another good year from Tim Hudson, which is anything but a guarantee. If Smoltz and/or Hudson stumble, there's no one behind them to jump in and pick up the pieces. The skeletal remains of Tom Glavine and Mike Hampton can't be expected to do much, and young pitchers like Chuck James, Jo-Jo Reyes and Jair Jurrjens either aren't ready or aren't able to provide anything but fair performances. The lineup is good, but not good enough to carry a weakened starting rotation.

Notes:
I really can't stress how much of the Braves' success depends on Smoltz and Hudson . . . The Braves do have some young players who could make a difference in '08, namely Yunel Escobar (slated as the starting shortstop), Brent Lillibridge (who could jump in at center field if Mark Kotsay's skills continue to erode), and there's still room for improvement among young stalwarts Kelly Johnson, Jeff Francoeur, and Brian McCann . . . The Braves have some great outfield prospects, and here's hoping they move quickly through the minors; the projected 2008 squad of Matt Diaz/Mark Kotsay/Jeff Francoeur is pretty disappointing, unless Francoeur catches fire.

FLORIDA MARLINS
2007 W-L Record: 71-91
2007 pW-pL Record: 72-90
Strengths: Cheap young talent that's just really cheap, I mean just absolutely cheap. These guys are the Bob Cratchitts of the National League. And did I mention they were cheap?
Weaknesses: "Cheap" and "young" doesn't always mean "good" and "ready."
Biggest Change from '07: They've replaced one one of the best hitters in baseball with Jose Castillo and lost the only marketable player they had left.
One Reason:
One reason the Marlins will win in '08 is that the potential is there. With a lineup including Hanley Ramirez, Jeremy Hermida, Dan Uggla, Cameron Maybin, Luis Gonzalez, and Mike Jacobs, they should be able to score some runs. And their pitching staff, while short on experience and long on DL time, includes some great raw talent.
One reason the Marlins will lose in '08 is that the likelihood of all that potential coming together is almost nil. I don't think they'll be awful. The loss of Dontrelle Willis isn't nearly as bad as people think . . . but the loss of Miguel Cabrera is actually worse than people think, because there is just no way they can replace his offense. Cameron Maybin may help, but everything I've heard is that he's not ready for the majors yet. The Marlins could give a sh*t, though, and will stick him in center field and hope he doesn't drown.

Notes:
Maybe someday Jeffrey Loria will realize that treating the taxpayers well is a much better tactic to get their approval for a stadium plan. Hitting someone over the head with a club and then demanding $300 million for a few more whacks doesn't usually work . . . I've heard a lot of complaints about the Marlins' ability to keep players healthy. Pitcher Anibal Sanchez even had to file a grievance against his own team. This makes it even less likely that the Marlins will be able to help these young pitchers reach their potential . . . the Marlins have become the modern-day Kansas City Athletics, except they deal with any team that asks.

NEW YORK METS
2007 W-L Record:
88-74
2007 pW-pL Record: 86-76
Strengths: His name rhymes with Bo-han
Weaknesses: Depth
Biggest Change from '07: See above
One Reason:
One reason the Mets will win in '08 is Johan Santana. Well, that's the easy answer. The good answer is that the Mets were a darn good team in 2007 that almost made the playoffs without Johan. Johan is a big improvement over Tom Glavine, but the other good news is that it's hard to see one spot where the club will get worse. They're not going to get much from the catcher (Brian Schneider) and the bottom of the pitching staff is a bit murky, but that's true of anyone. There's a lot less to go wrong here than in Philadelphia or Atlanta.
One reason the Mets will lose in '08 is age. While the Mets are held together by David Wright and Jose Reyes, they're really counting on a significant contribution from Carlos Delgado, Moises Alou, Pedro Martinez, Orlando Hernandez, Luis Castillo, and Billy Wagner. While it's not likely that all these players will be stricken with age at once, the Mets already know that just because something's "unlikely" doesn't mean it won't happen.

Notes:
The Mets gave up a lot to get Johan, but they're a team that can afford to do so. They've got a pretty good young core already in the majors and can afford to buy on the trade and free agent markets . . . Don't forget Carlos Beltran, who's always got an All-Star up his sleeve . . . The Mets still have time to solve their catching problem; the trouble is that, with Brian Schneider, they think they already have.
PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES
2007 W-L Record:
89-73
2007 pW-pL Record: 87-75
Strengths: Offense
Weaknesses: Starting Pitching
Biggest Change from '07: Very little ... Brad Lidge as closer, I guess.
One Reason:
One reason the Phillies will in in '08 is offense. The Phillies still have a top-notch offense, even though their starting pitching leaves much to be desired. The good news is that they had the same "problem" last year and made the playoffs.
One reason the Phillies will lose in '08 is pitching. Getting Brett Myers back in the starting rotation is a plus, but other than Cole Hamels, there's not much here to separate this starting rotation from Atlanta's, let alone New York's. I would normally give Brad Lidge a good bet to bounce back as a good closer, except he's moved into another bandbox where fly balls quickly become souvenirs. A lot depends on find out how much Jamie Moyer has left in the tank and finding out if Adam Eaton still has a tank.

Notes:
I respect what Pat Gillick has done with other clubs, but I'm just not a big fan of what he's done in Philadelphia. This may seem an odd comment to make about a team that just won their division, but all of the key cogs in that win were in the organization before Gillick came along, with the exception of mid-level stars Aaron Rowand and Jamie Moyer. Gillick's personnel moves (the woeful Bobby Abreu trade, the Adam Eaton experiment, the bottomless pit at third base and behind the plate) are, on the whole, not a good reflection on him. He did make a good move this offseason to get a potentially good closer (Brad Lidge) for a fourth outfielder (Michael Bourn), but the Phillies have, at both the major and minor league levels, not gotten a whole lot better under Gillick. Once the Utleys and Howards of the world start to get older, this team is going to fall quickly, unless they can draft themselves a safety net . . . Really, guys, Jimmy Rollins is not that good . . . and neither is Pedro Feliz, for the love of God.
WASHINGTON NATIONALS
2007 W-L Record:
73-89
2007 pW-pL Record: 70-92
Strengths: An amorphous blob that could be a decent lineup.
Weaknesses: A no-name pitching staff left to atrophy
Biggest Change from '07: Lend Me Your Malcontents! Dukes, Milledge, Pena, Lo Duca welcome!
One Reason:
One reason the Nats will win in '08 is that Jim Bowden finally convinces us that he's crazy like a fox, instead of just crazy. Maybe it's just the people around him, but Bowden's low-risk/high-reward acquisitions this offseason like Dukes, Milledge, and Pena are the signs of someone who's savvy enough to win on a budget. And if just one of them works out, it gives the club extra leverage to spend some of their stadium money on the free agent market.
One reason the Nats will lose in '08 is a spontaneous clubhouse combustion. Seriously, though, can you picture in your wildest dreams a postseason rotation of Jason Bergmann, Shawn Hill, Matt Chico, and Tim Redding?

Notes:
Either the Nats are crazy, or they know something about their pitching staff that I don't. Or maybe it's just a simple fact that we both know: they're cheap as hell . . . This team is going to be pretty ugly defensively, with the notable exception of Ryan Zimmerman at third . . . Speaking of which, I read one analysis that predicts the Nats' new park will really help Zimmerman offensively. And if Zimmerman can add another level to his offensive game, he's in the running for the MVP . . . Here's hoping that Bowden has a Plan B for the infield of Dmitri Young, Ron Belliard, Felipe Lopez, and Zimmerman.
Next up, the NL Central. And it won't take six weeks.
Thank you for reading.

2 comments:

Branan said...

Welcome back.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back. To follow up on Otsuka, Rotowire reported on Jan. 10 that he was having surgery, but there were no other details.