Podcast Preview


NL East - The Easiest Division in Baseball to Handicap

1. Philadelphia Phillies - The city of brotherly love and eerily urine-like odor could have my two nephews, both younger than five, and 7 kids from their preschool on offense and still be a threat.  Instead of that murderer's row, their vaunted pitching staff will have to settle for Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, the underrated Shane Victorino, and the under-appreciated Placido Polanco for offense.  Even though Howard has seen his average drop in recent seasons, Utley is a virtual lock for at least one DL stay, and the very good all-around Jayson Werth took his talents to DC, they figure to score enough to run away with this division.  Polanco, even though he has precious little power to be playing 3rd base, is as consistent a hitter as you could want.  And if Jimmy Rollins duplicates his form of a couple years back, the ceiling for this gang suddenly got way higher.  But let's talk about where the true focus of this team is going to be all season.  Roy Halladay is... well, the best.  Enough said.  And then they pulled the rug out from under the Yankees by signing Cliff Lee to a discount (if a nine figure deal can ever be called a discount) long term deal.  These guys could combine for 50 wins.  And then you have potential future hall of famer Roy Oswalt and the underachieving but dynamic Cole Hamels.  Those guys could combine for 40 wins.  The only real weak spot is the closer situation.  Brad Lidge's days of 50 successful consecutive save streaks are a thing of the past and they don't really have a deputy.  Ryan Madson is okay, but not really a ninth inning guy.  God only knows how old Jose Contreras is, but he thrived last year out of the pen.  Color me shocked on that one too.  I don't really see any other team that has the ability or the weakness of their division to challenge the Phils for MLB's best record. 

2. Atlanta Braves - I still hate these guys from back in the day when they were in the NL West.  That said, by default, they're the second best team in this division.  Starting with the offense, rookie stud Jason Heyward is really the only star of note, but he figures to improve by leaps and bounds this year.  I don't have any scientific reason to believe that he will avoid the sophomore slump, but he would scare me into having to change my shorts if he's playing against my team and at bat with runners on.  The rest of the gang is a bunch of good but unremarkable guys, no offense to all star catcher, Brian McCann. Martin Prado is very good, and versatile.  Dan Uggla was a shrewd acquisition, even if it cost them Omar Infante, who if ever given a permanent position and regular playing time, could turn into a perennial all star instead of a one hit wonder.  Chipper Jones is past his prime, but still a threat.  Alex Gonzales is better than the average bear when it comes to slugging shortstops.  The only real questions are whether Jordan Schafer will live up to the hype (you better believe it, more on him later) and if Nate McLouth can rediscover his Pittsburgh Pirates form.  My opinion, no.  But still, he could.  And if he does, he can fill the one glaring void this offense has.  Stolen bases.  Heyward led them last year with 11 and that's not enough. The pitching staff is formidable, if not Philadelphian.  Tim Hudson showed he is still an ace, age has not horribly affected Derek Lowe, and the young Tommy Hanson/Kris Medlen duo has some serious upside.  My favorite of the bunch, however, is Jair Jurrgens, even though he murdered the souls of three of my fantasy staffs last season. His stuff is legit.  If he can get his confidence and health to follow suit, pen him in for 14-16 wins.  The icing on the cake is the apparent decision of closer Billy Wagner not to retire.  Even after crossing the 40 threshold, he is still one the games most dominant closers.  They won't catch Philly, but there's reason for optimism in Atlanta. I know I've said this about like 30 teams already, but the wild card is not a stretch.

3. Florida Marlins - Stephania Bell, the injury guruess from ESPN predicts a significant injury to ace Josh Johnson, and if she's right, this prediction goes in the toilet.  She's clearly an expert, but I have to question this call.  He's physically massive, and doesn't seem to have to exert a ton of effort to get maximum effectiveness out of his stuff.  After him, you have Javier Vasquez and Ricky Nolasco.  Vasquez seems to thrive in small markets and Nolasco... well, he sucks.  Inexplicably too, because his stuff is as good as anybody's.  Maybe this is the year he puts it all together?  The Marlins are hoping so, because you could do worse than Anibal Sanchez, who owns a no-hitter (even though Eric Byrnes looked safe at first to me on the last out... just call me Torsten Joyce), as a number 4 guy.  I'm not sold on Chris Volstad, but I wasn't on Tampa's Jeff Niemann either before last season and look how nice he turned out.  Speaking of not sold on, closer Leo Nunez reminds me of Mitch Williams.  Wild, oddly effective, but always seeming more likely to blow the save than actually get it.  Then again, he notched 30 of them last year and throws in the high 90s.  Who knows. Offensively, they lost their leader in homers, rbis, runs, and slugging percentage when they dealt Dan Uggla.  Omar Infante won't replace the power, but here's hoping he slots into the vacant 2nd base spot.  He deserves it.  Hanley Ramirez remains one of the game's most dynamic all around talents despite a down year in 2010.  Who else can hit .300 with over 20 homers, 30 steals, and you can call it a down year... from a shortstop.  Yeah, he's that good.  Mike Stanton is a star in waiting, and Chris Coughlan should recover from his diabolical sophomore season so there's some reason for a few fans, emphasis on few, to come to the games.  Unfortunately, everyone else appears pedestrian at best, although Gaby Sanchez is intriguing.  They won't embarrass themselves this year, but they've got a tough task ahead.  Not as tough as these next two, though.

4. Washington Nationals - They'd be higher if not for Stephen Strasburg's injury... actually, no they wouldn't, and his absence is crushing to them.  Switching gears, the Jayson Werth pickup showed a commitment to fielding a winner, even though they let Adam Dunn go.  He may have been a defensive disaster anywhere but on the bench, but they'll eventually have to get his 40 homers and 100 ribbies from somewhere if they want to contend. Adam Laroche will help, and Rick Ankiel could, but both of those guys are better suited to be complementary pieces on contenders... as we may see when the trading deadline approaches.  Bryce Harper is the messiah, if you listen to the hype, but likely a year away, so the ancient Pudge Rodriguez will likely see the bulk of the duty behind home plate, his balky back permitting.  Roger Bernardina is an interesting prospect in the outfield but they don't figure to score enough to compensate for their dreadful pitching staff.  Speaking of which, without Strasburg, they're relying on John Lannan is not awful, and neither is Tom Gorzelanny, but can you really count on another 230 meritorious innings from Livan Hernandez?  For goodness' sake, Tyler Clippard led them out of the BULLPEN with 11 wins last season.  Not exactly a harbinger of great success.  And no, Jason Marquis is not worthy of mention here... unless you count emergency pinch hitter as something worth mentioning.  As far as pitchers go, he can rake.  I'm reaching now.  Time to move on.

5. New York Mets - I thought I had money issues... On paper they seem mediocre, certainly better than a last place finish.  I'm going to tread carefully on the financial stuff since I'm not a legal expert but let's just say it can't help their on field focus.  So, David Wright is still a star, although you'd like a few more long balls from his bat.  Jason Bay was an atrocious pickup for superstar money, but can still hit a little.  Beyond that, you're looking at guys like Jose Reyes, Angel Pagan, Ike Davis, Carlos Beltran and Luis Castillo who are injury prone, over acheived last year, figures to slump as pitchers adjust, are REALLY injury prone, and suck, in that order.  For some reason, I like Ronny Paulino, but it's probably because he pulls a ton of chicks with that name, rather than any real star ball playing qualities.  Seriously, I'm Ronny Paulino, what's your number.  Best pick up line in sports.  The staff would be better if Johan Santana was healthy... but he's not.  Mike Pelfrey showed some maturity early in 2010 before fading a bit, but he gives up more hits than innings pitched and doesn't strike out enough guys.  R.A. Dickey was easily my favorite success story of last season, but how often do guys have journeyman careers for a decade and then thrive in their mid 30s?  Not often.  He is a knuckle baller though, and they age well.  Ladies and gentleman, your 2020 Cy Young winner, Charlie Haeger!  Just kidding.  Bobby Parnell is a nice bullpen piece and figures to do a nice job being a bridge to closer Francisco Rodriguez, but how good is K-Rod going to be after serious legal troubles?  Seriously, those kinds of things have a way of being a rain cloud that follows unlucky cartoon characters around.  And there was nothing unlucky about him assaulting his father-in-law.  Just stupidity.  So everything he does is going to be under a microscope, add the aforementioned legal issues, general mediocrity, and you don't have a recipe for a good season at all.

Rookie Pitcher of the Year - Drew Storen.  Yeah, he's that other young pitching prospect in the Capitol. And he's already logged too many innings to be a rookie, so we can re-title this section "breakout pitcher of the year." I just don't see any rookie standing out this season so he gets the nod. He's not a guy I've seen a ton of, but the glimpses I've gotten have been eye-opening.  You can pencil in the same concerns you would have with any young pitcher, and add the fact that he's going to perennially be in the shadow of Strasburg.  That could either help him by motivating him to make a name for himself, or could hinder him by making him try too hard to escape from that shadow. He won't have the luxury of anonymity as major leaguers have seen him now, but the Nats are going to go and stick with him as closer, and since they won't contend this year, he can take some lumps and not worry about losing his job.  By year's end, he'll be a household name.

Rookie Hitter of the Year - Jordan Schafer.  Is it just me, or the Braves churn out an uncanny number of outfield prospects.  Not just prospects, but bona fide blue chippers.  A lot was made, and rightfully so, of Jason Heyward last year, but this kid has the tools to make Heyward the second best player in that outfield.  He's got every tool.  I heard on some radio show that he doesn't always take the best route to the ball.  I don't know if that's true or not, and while you would like your center fielder to be Willie Mays incarnate, if that's the biggest gripe against him I think he'll be okay.  Besides, remember the absolute calamity Matt Kemp was in center for the Dodgers?  And remember how he transformed himself into a gold glover in one season?  Never mind his befuddling regression last season, but this flaw, if it exists, can be worked on.  And since Schafer isn't dating Rihanna, I don't think he'll have a problem doing it. 

Surprise Player of the Year - Ian Desmond.  The Nats' shortstop is big on talent.  Maybe not like Bryce Harper, and maybe he doesn't make scouts slobber like a healthy Strasburg, but he can hit.  If they can stomach the growing pains defensively, they'll have an emerging all star on their hands.  And if you look at last year, his defense actually improved from brutal to merely awful. If this year he can improve from awful to mediocre, notice shall be taken.  He won't be the next Hanley Ramirez, but who is. 

Random Thought - Everyone except his immediate family really dislikes Hank Steinbrenner, right?  They kind of have to.  And if they didn't before, they really ought to after his thinly veiled shot at Derek Jeter.  For those of you who don't know, he intimated that the Yankees didn't do better in 2010 because there was too much celebrating with certain players after 2009, and that they were "building mansions," etc. Well, Jeter happened to be building a mansion, and yeah, his numbers last season weren't great.  But he is aging a bit and some deterioration is expected.  Nonetheless, I can unabashedly say that even as a proud Yankee hater, I cannot believe that an owner would take such a blatant swipe at one guy who has not only been the face of the franchise, but handled himself with class through very contentious contract negotiations, and has left his blood, sweat and tears on the diamond and both Yankee Stadiums.  Very few players can say that they have never taken a play off, never hot dogged it, never half-assed it to first base on a routine grounder, and always taken the high road when others around him have stooped to sophomoric media tactics, for example, a certain high profile teammate. If you ever need an example of someone who deserved a little better, you have it. 

Random Thought #2 - It's official, Carmelo Anthony is a Knick. Look, I'm not even a basketball fan.  In fact, I quite dislike it.  But being the blogger hack that I am, I pay enough attention to have an idea of what I'm talking about.  I don't know who thought it would be a good idea to put two of the biggest "me first, I gotta get mine" guys on the same team in Anthony and Amare Stoudamire but he might have been smoking something.  This is not the Lakers bringing class act Pau Gasol in, or even LeButthead James going to Miami. He's shown enough unselfishness on the court, as has Chris Bosh, that despite their weaknesses and lack of depth the team is thriving. Not like the Knicks have done anything wise in the personnel department (unless you count ditching Eddy Curry in this deal or canning Isaiah Thomas a billion years too late) but what in the heck were they thinking? Can someone help me with this? 

Up next, our Triple A preview.  Or not.


AL West - Didn't mean to stick Torsten with the 6 team division, just wanted the 4 team division for myself.

1) Texas Rangers – The defending AL champions have lost ace pitcher Cliff Lee, DH Vladimir Guerrerro, and stud set up man Frank Francisco, but they did add Mike Napoli and Adrian Beltre.  The big question is what will happen with Michael Young.  If they can flip him and get a big bat to fill in for the often injured Nelson Cruz and DH when Napoli is behind the dish, it would be a nice move for the Rangers, but in the end, I see Michael Young staying in Texas.  Nelson Cruz is in an outfield with MVP candidate Josh Hamilton, and Julio Borbon who has the potential to be an excellent leadoff hitter, but hasn’t put it all together just yet.  If Ian Kinsler can stay healthy, he looks to get back to stud second base levels.  Mitch Moreland will get a chance to hold down the first base spot, and Elvis Andrus is the best young defensive shortstop to come around since Omar Vizquel.  Adrian Beltre will not have the season he had last year, but he will have one of his better years.  Michael Young can fill in at any infield position when he is not DHing, and Mike Napoli will fill in at catcher or first when he is not DHing.  And when Napoli is not catching, Yorvit Torrealba and Taylor Teagarden will battle to get playing time behind the plate.  Their pitching staff is not as impressive as it was last season, but C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Brandon Webb, Tommy Hunter, and Derek Holland make up for a quality rotation that is more than enough to win the unimpressive AL West.  Neftali Feliz is a great young closer, while Arthur Rhodes and Darren O’Day will be quality 7th and 8th inning guys, although an upgrade and moving them to middle relief is needed if they want to make another run at the World Series.

2) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – The best staff in the AL West belongs to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of Orange County of California of…seriously, I will never get over this, the dumbest name in sports.  If you want to be an LA team, move to LA, otherwise just own the fact you are a suburban white family team in the heart of Orange County just down the street from “the happiest place on Earth.”  Back to baseball.  They do have a staff that could really surprise people this year.  Jered Weaver has developed into an ace, and Dan Haren certainly has the skill to be an ace as well.  Ervin Santana is about as good a 3rd pitcher as you will find in the American League, Joel Pinero is a really good 4th pitcher, and Scott Kazmir has the stuff to be an ace, just has lost his way a bit the past couple years.  Fernando Rodney will shut the door in the 9th consistently, and he has guys like Scott Downs and a familiar name, Francisco Rodriguez, coming out of the pen to set him up.  No, it is not K-Rod, just a guy with the same name which is fun to see in an Angel uniform.  At catcher, Jeff Mathis will be the clear cut starter with Mike Napoli now in Texas via Toronto, and Bobby Wilson is a quality backup backstop, but look out for young Hank Conger to make it to the bigs and make an impact by the end of the season.  Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis are a solid defensive left side of the infield.  Heard this before, “Howie Kendrick will win a batting title someday”?  Well…his batting average has gone down every year for the past three years, so it is time for him to either step up or for the Angel Fans hyping him to shut up.  After the freak injury that ended Kendry Morales’ season last year, his big bat will be a great impact in the middle of the order.  Bobby Abreu is the DH while Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells make for the most overpaid corner outfield combo in baseball.  Peter Bourjos should roam center for the between the two former center fielders that have each lost a step.

3) Oakland Athletics – Dallas Braden, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill….heard of them?  The most below the radar young staff in baseball is in Oakland.  Add the battle between Brandon McCarthy and Rich Harden for the fifth starter and the massive ballpark they play at in Oakland, and you have a team that can stay in the game with anyone.  They have Andrew Bailey at closer and set up men Grant Balfour and Brian Fuentes.  This team can be a surprise threat in the west if they have enough offense.  So, do they?  Two words…Kevin Kouzmanoff.  Yes, the Padre prospect reject is still a starter in Oakland.  Cliff Pennington is an ok shortstop, as is Mark Ellis at second base.  Daric Barton is a far below average first baseman but can provide surprising power at times.  Coco Crisp does manage center well, and David DeJesus is an underrated right fielder.  Left field will be a three man race this spring between Josh Willingham, Conor Jackson, and Ryan Sweeney.  Add Hideki Matsui as DH and potential emergency outfield fill in, and the A’s actually have a pretty impressive outfield.  Don’t sleep on Chris Carter or Michael Taylor either, they are two rookie outfielders that can make an impact this year, or make an impact as trade bait.  With top 10 catcher Kurt Suzuki rounding out the starting lineup, the A’s are a team a mid-season move or two away from making a run at the division.  They are not on the list of approved teams just yet, but Michael Young is an A’s type player, and with a package of a couple young outfielders and a pitching prospect just might be enough to get him from Texas.  A bit of a stretch, but to me, there isn’t a better fit for him.

4) Seattle Mariners – Worst team in the AL.  Justin Smoak will be the first baseman, and while he has incredible potential, but has yet to put it together.  Jack Wilson is a great defensive shortstop, but has certainly lost a step.  Chone Figgins has moved back to the position he has truly thrived at third base.  Brendan Ryan will start this season at second, but Dustin Ackley will earn the spot by the all-star break and will put together a really good second half.  Franklin Gutierrez is a really fun center fielder to watch, and we are all familiar with Ichiro and his brilliance at the plate.  In left field, look for Michael Saunders to battle Milton Bradley, and if Bradley loses that battle, he will try to get the DH spot from Jack Cust.  The real offensive struggle for the Mariners will be at catcher where Miguel Olivo will try to improve the worst starting staff in baseball.  King Felix is great, the rest of them are not.  Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, Erik Bedard, Michael Pineda, Luke French, and David Pauley will all battle for the last 4 starting spots.  The good news, the Mariners have choices of which pitcher they want to send out and get lit up.  They do have a decent back end of the bullpen.  Garrett Olson to Brandon League to David Aardsma would save the leads if the Mariners could find a way to get any.  But they might also be the only 3 relievers they have that deserve to play in the Major Leagues.

AL West Offensive Player of the Year – Mike Napoli – Texas Rangers – Don’t know what the Angels were thinking getting rid of him.  They said it was his contract, and then they brought in the worst contract in baseball with Vernon Wells.  Now Napoli finds himself in the same division he is already used to destroying.  He hit 26 home runs last year while his average dropped.  But now he goes to Texas where everyone’s stats improve.  So look for .265/30/105 this season.

AL West Pitcher of the Year – Felix Hernandez – Seattle Mariners – 2.27 ERA, 232 Ks, 1.06 WHIP, 13-12 record.  The guy keeps getting better but his offense keeps getting worse.  He will pitch at a Cy Young level again this year, but the 11-14 record he will have this season will keep him from getting winning the award.  But if you have a chance to watch him this year, do it, he is great on the mound, just don’t watch when the Mariners are on offense, they will bore you.

AL West Offensive Rookie of the Year – Dustin Ackley – Seattle Mariners– He will be a solid second baseman for years to come.  He will never hit for power, nor will he blind anyone with his speed, but he will play a solid defense and hit for a good average.  He was MVP in the Arizona Fall League, let’s see if he can string that into a good spring and win the starting job come opening day.

AL West Rookie Pitcher of the Year – Michael Pineda – Seattle Mariners – Looks like the only bright side the Mariner fans will have is the youth.  Here is another guy that could really do well this season.  He will have a sub 4 ERA and will likely be the #2 pitcher come end of the season.  But as is the case with any pitcher not named Felix, he won’t have more than 7 wins.  But he has excellent control and could strike out 150+ batters this season.

AL West Surprise Player of the Year – David DeJesus – Oakland Athletics – He has been a quiet player through his career, but mostly because he has been stuck in Kansas City.  Now he is in Oakland, where the big ballpark may hurt him from time to time on foul ball outs, but the space in the outfield will more than make up for it.  Look for him to hit over .300, take advantage of a hitter friendly division and get 10-15 long balls, and rack up 10 triples with 40 doubles.   He won’t win any awards this year, but he will be a solid contributor to the team, offensively and defensively, if the A’s make a run this year.


NL Central - It Figures Shaun Sticks Me With The Six Team Division

1. Cincinnati Reds - Wanna know what's sad?  I'm not sure I spelled Cincinnati right but I'm too lazy to check. Anyway, I put the Reds here more out of attrition than anything else.  No team in this division convinces me.  But they have Joey Votto.  True, he's only the second best player in the division, but if there's one guy I don't want to face with the game on the line, it's him.  They also have some really nice arms on the staff. Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, fireballer Aroldis Chapman, last year's rookie stud, Mike Leake to just name a few.  And then you have pseudo hippie guitar player Bronson Arroyo, who is perhaps the most unheralded 17 game winner in baseball.  Sure, when he's bad, he's awful and that inflates his ERA and WHIP, but he's good more often than not.  How he does it with an 83 MPH heater is beyond me, but he's done it long enough and consistently enough for it not to be a fluke.  There are some glaring flaws here.  Drew Stubbs has a nice combination of power and speed, but he does not seem to be able to hit for average.  I'm never surprised when Jay Bruce launches a 500 footer into the upper deck, but any time he rips an opposite field RBI single in a late inning, clutch situation, my face looks like that guy in the really creepy Monet painting from a billion years ago.  I'm just not convinced that he's clutch.  Lastly, Paul Janish is a decent shortstop, but he pronounces his last name's J like it's a Y, and that pisses me off much the same way it does when people add silent letters to their names... like spelling Roger with a D.  Like Rodger.  Did you really need that D?  Come on...

2. Milwaukee Brewers - Again, my laziness takes over.  I just changed my mind and picked Milwaukee to win this division, but I don't feel like doing the necessary cutting and pasting to re-order this post.  Zach Grienke moves to the National League, likely knocking half a run from his already sterling ERA, and will form a fearsome one two with Yovanni Gallardo.  Shawn Marcum was an excellent pickup also.  And they still have Randy Wolf, who has always been a little overrated if you ask me, but isn't altogether awful either.  They picked up the awesome (if ancient) Takashi Saito who will provide insurance if John Axford's excellent rookie closing season turns out to be a one and done.  Don't think Saito is awesome?  Look at his career ERA and K to BB ratio.  Unmatched for someone who was considered over the hill for the JAPANESE LEAGUE!!!  Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Casey McGeeheeheehee or however you spell it, and Cory Hart provide a nice offensive punch, that will be even nicer if Rickie Weeks can improve his on base percentage.  The achilles heel is huge though.  Shortstop and catcher are huge question marks, unless you consider 40 year old Craig Counsell, perennial suck monster Yunieski Betancourt, George Kottaras and Wil Nieves answers.  If not a division title, a wild card berth is a real possibility.

3. St. Louis Cardinals - The Albert Pujols deadline for a contract extension passed without, well, an extension.  Rumor has it he wants 300 million, and while nobody deserves that kind of money, the Dominican equivalent to Roy Hobbs comes close.  I've never been a big believer in nonsense like clubhouse chemistry or "intangibles," but it's going to get tiresome for this team to be fielding questions about this situation after every single game.  And by every single game, I mean twice on Sunday's too.  That sad, the offense should be okay with Matt Holliday, last season's revelation John Jay, and the improving Colby Rasmus.  Lance Berkman was a sneaky good acquisition also.  On the rotation, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Jake Westbrook form a solid quarted, which immediately becomes worse when you look at Kyle Lohse in the fifth spot, but Kyle McClellan might take over that job before long.  The thing that would scare me if I was a Cards fan is the 235 innings Chris Carpenter logged last season.  He's always been very very good, but never has proven himself as a model of durability.  Like Milwaukee, they could win this division, or they could fall apart with all the Pujols scrutiny wearing on them and the fact that Ryan Franklin still figures to close.  I wonder if they have Troy Percival's number on file.  Or Lee Smith.  Or Bruce Sutter.

4. Chicago Cubs - The only reason I don't have them ranked lower is the fact that the Pirates and Astros also play in this division.  They did make a nice move by adding post-season proven Matt Garza to a rotation that was relying too heavily on Ryan Dempster and headcase, Carlos Zambrano.  But it's just not enough.  It's nice to have a thoroughbred like Carlos Marmol at the back end of the pen, but I just don't see them getting enough games to the ninth inning with a lead to really maximize the weapon he is. Kerry Wood remains an x-factor, if healthy, but how often does that happen? On to the offense.  This is going to be short. Aramiz Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, Geovany Soto, and Marlon Byrd are nice pieces to a good team, but would be much better if a superstar (think the aforementioned Votto or someone like that) was sandwiched in between them.  The addition of slugging first baseman Carlos Pena replaces the departed Derek Lee's pop and outstanding defense at first base, but he'll need to bump his average way above the Mendoza line to have the impact this team needs him to have to be a competitor.  Not to look too far ahead, but do you think Albert Pujols would stab St. Louis in the heart and sign with the hated Cubbies in 2012?  I just smiled while typing that.  Does that make me a bad person?

5. Pittsburgh Pirates - How long can a team be bad?  Check that, how long can a team be awful?  There are players here with some great potential.  Andrew McCutcheon, Pedro Alvarez and Jose Tabata are a future trio who are going to do some damage.  But offseason acquisitions Lyle Overbay and Matt Diaz are better suited to platoons, and are likely going to play way more than that.  Garrett Jones has nice power... for a guy who is third or fourth on his team in long balls, but he led this squad with 21 last year.  That's not enough.  Speaking of not enough, Paul Maholm led the team in wins last season.  With nine.  Yup.  Nine.  And Ross Ohlendorf just WON his arbitration case with the Pirates after going a sparkling 1-11.  One. Freaking. Win.  Yeah, Ohlendorf is better than his numbers would indicate, but he's not part of any rotation that is going to compete in September.  Ever.  And neither are Kevin Correia, James McDonald, and Jeff Karstens, and a healthy and sane Scott Olsen is pushing it.  I don't think they'll lose 100, mainly because God is benevolent and can't continue in good conscience to punish the Pirates faithful so harshly.  On the bright side, they don't have anyone on their team who (allegedly) assaults women in bathrooms like the local football squad.

6. Houston Astros - They may not finish last.  But they should.  You don't trade your best pitcher, your best hitter, not get any real top level talent in return (I don't consider J.A. Happ top level, mainly because he should ditch the initials and just go with Jim, or whatever his first name is. My philosophy is beer over research) and expect to get any better.  True, Hunter Pence put up bigger numbers than Berkman did last year, and he's a very nice player.  Chris Johnson is an intriguing and powerful prospect at the hot corner, but what message are you sending your fans when your big offseason offensive pickups are Bill Hall and Clint Barmes?  Even though the left field porch is about arms reach from home plate, no way Barmes duplicates the deceptive power he showed in Colorado.  And no way Bill Hall becomes anything other than the shining example of mediocrity he has been his whole career, save for one monster, 35 dinger year. I'm just going to say a couple things about the pitching.  One, it's terrible.  Wandy Rodriguez would be a nice guy to fill out a rotation with, but they'll need him to lead it.  Not good.  Brandon Lyon is a nice guy to have around if you need a couple outs in the 7th inning, but they need him to close.  He's done that before and failed miserably at it.  If I'm forgetting to mention someone, I don't care.  They can't possibly make a difference for this suffering franchise.

Offensive Player of the Year Other than Votto or Pujols - Had to throw that disclaimer in there.  I might be selling out by picking Prince Fielder here, but I have a theory.  There are perpetual trade rumors following him, and I don't know why.  The Brewers would demand a king's ransom for him in return, and given the fact that aside from his power, his numbers are only a little better than pedestrian, and nobody will pay that. The only thing I can think of is that he might want out of Milwaukee, realize that in order for a likeable destination to pay what it would take to get him, he'd need to have a monster of a year.  I think he'll end up dropping 20 pounds and getting serious this year.  If he does, look out.

Pitcher of the Year - Plenty to choose from here and I'm going to go with the obvious choice in... well, is it obvious?  Ok fine, Zack Greinke.  His struggles with anxiety are well documented but he can thrive in the relative anonymity of Milwaukee, and his devastating arsenal of pitches is matched by precious few. If Milwaukee scores some runs, and they figure to, he could win a boatload of games.  Very few pitchers pitch better with a lead than Greinke.  You wouldn't know this unless you really paid attention because Kansas City rarely led anyone, but it's eerie.  His command goes from excellent to impeccable. His movement goes from baffling to just plain evil.  Tune in to a game this year when he's on the mound, hope the Brewers get the lead, and watch.  Tell me I'm wrong.  You won't be able to.

Rookies of the Year - Pedro Alvarez and Jordan Lyles.  Alvarez has the starting gig at third base in Pittsburgh, and since they figure to suck, they will stick with him through any struggles.  He has mythic power and can hit to all fields.  True, I did kind of pick him because I don't see any John Jay or Chris Johnson type guys in the rookie class for the NL Central this year, but if someone is going to blow up, it could be Alvarez.  Lyles is barely out of his teens, and his selection here is predicated on him making the big league club at some point, but the Astros have invited him to major league camp as a non-roster invitee, and I don't think they would have done that if they weren't going to give him a shot at winning a rotation spot.  The Dodgers did it with Clayton Kershaw and that worked out okay, so why couldn't it with Lyles.  I've seen a couple youtube videos of him and he can get big league hitters out now.  If he can do it for a full season without fading is a question mark right now, and the 'Stros would likely limit his innings, but he's a future all star.

Surprise Player of the Year - Johnny Gomes.  Why?  This guy seems to have to win a spot in camp every year, despite always having shown good power, first in Tampa and now in Cincy.  There are certain guys who if you give them 400 plate appearances, are virtual locks to hit 20 home runs.  He's not much different than guys like Russ Branyan, Marcus Thames, and isn't much worse than Minnesota's Michael Cuddyer if you ignore batting average.  Gomes can hit home runs in bunches, rakes lefties, and if he gets consistent playing time, could really have a big year.  You'll have to live with some strikeouts and an inability to lay off fastballs above the letters, but the upside is worth the risk. 

Random, Non-Baseball Related Blurb That I Felt Like Writing - I hate irresponsible journalism.  Calling what Shaun and I do here "journalism" would be a stretch, but whoever the moron is that wrote the piece about Mark Sanchez having sex with a 17 year old is an embarrasment to anyone who writes, for a living or otherwise.  In New York, 17 is above the age of consent.  The only reason anyone would write that would be to start a furor about Sanchez possibly going to jail. I ask, why?  Why be a douche like that?  While it might make you raise an eyebrow, it's not illegal.  Not in NY anyway.  Age, in my opinion, is a lousy way to determine ability to consent, but I guess you have to do it somewhere.  I know 40 year olds with the maturity of a toddler who should never be allowed to do anything where procreation is a possibility, but they can.  In ten years, Sanchez will be about 33 and the woman he allegedly had relations with will be 27, and nobody would bat an eyelash.  Don't get me wrong, kiddy diddling is one of the most despicable things anyone can do.  In my opinion, that's exactly what the guy who wrote the article about Sanchez was trying to get people to think of Mark Sanchez.  Anyway, I should come up with an original sign off to my articles.  How about, good night, and good luck.  Okay, that's totally unorignal.  I'm open to ideas.


AL Central...As average as they come.

1) Detroit Tigers – Stud offensive players in Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez in the middle of their lineup are as good as any duo in the league.  Jhonny “My Parents are Dyslexic” Peralta will try to remember which direction to hit the ball as he is a former stud prospect turned average big league shortstop.  Carlos Guillen is coming back from yet another knee surgery this season.  He is a quality second baseman, but the 35 year old is less than reliable health wise, so look for Will Rhymes to split time with Guillen and have Guillen play DH when Victor Martinez is behind the dish.  Another guy to keep an eye out for at either short or second, and maybe this is just a personal bias considering I have played with and against the kid since I was 7, Danny Worth.  He will never be a big offensive threat, but he is solid with the glove and in the AL Central and the Tigers lineup, he can certainly be a valuable late inning defensive replacement for Peralta or Guillen and could easily be a quality back end of the line up guy.  At third the Tigers will run with one of the most versatile, least impressive tool wise, but fun to watch players in baseball, Brandon Inge.  Doesn’t matter if he is at third, outfield, catcher, or any other position he is asked to play, guy will go through a wall to make a play.  When V-Mart is not catching, which will be at least half the time, Alex Avila will fill in very nicely.  In the outfield, they will roll out a very good young centerfielder in Austin Jackson, 37 year old Magglio Ordonez in right, and Brennan Boesch in left.  Look for Ryan Rayburn to play quite a bit in right when Magglio is hurt, DHing, or simply benched for playing like a 37 year old in the post steroid era.  Not accusing anyone, just show me a quality 37 year old in the league today.  Now for the part of the Tigers that will win them the division, the starting staff.  Is there anyone in the league with better stuff than Justin Verlander?  Let me help you with the answer….HELL NO!  Guy will saw you off inside with a 99 mph fastball on the hands, followed by a massive curve thrown at your eyes that ends up painting the low outside corner.  And if you can unbuckle your knees enough to get in the box again, he can throw a change-up that will make you look fall forward trying to reach it you were so far off.  Then they will roll out two excellent young pitchers in Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.  If you haven’t seen these guys pitch, you need to watch them this season, just fun guys to see on the hill.  Phil Coke is a quality #4 pitcher with Brad Penny a very up and down #5.  Jose Valverde is a quality closer, Joel Zumaya could have been great had he not had the elbow trouble, but he is still really good.  Joaquin Benoit and Daniel Schlereth are decent middle relievers and there are two quality prospects in Andrew Oliver and Jacob Turner that could make an impact on this pitching staff this season.

2) Chicago White Sox – Mark Buhrle, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, Jake Peavy, Edwin Jackson…Ace lefty, pretty good righty, crafty lefty, Cy Young talent trying to re-establish his form, top tier prospect that has grossly underachieved but is a better 5th starter than 90% of the league.  A very odd starting staff makes up the White Sox rotation, but in the right season, could be special.  I see them being oh so close.  They are not good enough to win the division, but based on individual talent, don’t be surprised if this staff leads the league in shut outs and draw comparisons to the 2005 World Series winning pitching staff.  Matt Thorton is a really good closer, but will have competition by early May when Chris Sale is done filling in for Jake Peavy as a starter due to Peavy’s rehab coming into the season.  Sale has great stuff and will be an excellent starter for the White Sox in the years to come.  For Sox fans, pray he doesn’t become a closer or even a stud set up man, too often those guys fail when going back to a starter.  He would be best off being a middle relief/spot starter and let Tony Pena, Jesse Crain, and Will Ohman handle the 7th and 8th.  The outfield is solid but nothing spectacular.  Carlos Quentin is not the stud he was a few years ago, but is a quality right fielder.  I really like Alex Rios, but he struggled in the second half last year so no telling how he will come out this year.   If Juan Pierre can get back to a .285-.290 batting average and steals over 60 bags again, he will be a very good leadoff man.  A.J. Pierzynski has been just what you expect from him since joining the White Sox.  He will have another .280/10/55 year, which doesn’t sound like much, but doing that while handling a staff as well as anyone does, is worthy of being called a quality catcher in my book.  At third they will run with Brent Morel, a young decent upside guy that will fit in to the back end of the lineup, not going to scare anyone, but won’t hurt the team either.  Alexei Ramirez is a decent fielding shortstop with some pop.  He and Gordon Beckham create a double play combination that will wow people with their mediocrity.  Neither will be anything great, but neither will hurt the team.  Paul Konerko is their big hitting first baseman and Adam Dunn will do nothing but hit bombs at DH when he is not too busy striking out, which will happen 200 times this year.  Mark Teahen, Omar Vizquel, and Brent Lillibridge are guys available off the bench that fit the 2011 White Sox perfectly…average.  This is a team that would put you to sleep with their run of the mill squad, but when you wake up, they will be right in the hunt for the playoffs, losing the division by only a few games.

3)  Minnesota Twins – A team that does it right, plenty of home grown players and a well managed payroll.  Michael Cuddyer is your typical blue collar Twin.  Delmon Young looks to repeat his excellent last season and look like the prospect he was drafted to be.  Denard Span is a very good center fielder, but he replaced Torii Hunter who was an incredible center fielder for a decade in the twin cities.  Joe Mauer is the best catcher in the league and can do it all.  If Justin Morneau can keep from sliding into second base literally head first, and not get a concussion this season, he will be a big offensive threat for the Twins and make Jim Thome the excellent complimentary bat he was signed to be last year.  Alexi Casilla had a good season last year, but toed the Mendoza Line the season before, so consistency is something to fear there.  Valencia should hit close to .300 with mid-teen power at third, not quite the power you want to compete against the AL East, but seems to be the way of the AL Central.  I would love to tell you all about Tsuyoshi Nishioka, but I live in America and the only thing I know about Japanese baseball is if you grow a sick mustache and light shoe laces on fire you can get manager’s hot daughter…Mr. Baseball was an awesome movie.  Speaking of ‘staches, maybe Carl Pavano is the reason Nishioka signed in Minnesota, he grew a ‘stache, and decided to be yet another player to have good seasons, sign a massive contract with the Yankees, only suck when playing but spending most the time on the DL, then giving them the finger by having a career year the next season.  All the reasons I will forever be a fan of his.  He is in the middle of the staff that includes Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, and Brian Duensing.  A good fifth starter battle to keep an eye on in Spring Training will be between Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey.   Matt Capps will be the closer until Joe Nathan can prove he is completely healthy, and Jose Mijares is an excellent reliever.

4) Cleveland Indians – Young, talented, and inconsistent.  Not a great combination in this veteran heavy, solid division.  Pronk will be looking to get back into his power hitting form while Carlos Santana looks to bounce back from a gruesome injury last season, but Lou Marson is far from the worst backup catcher in baseball.  Asdrubal Cabrera and Luis Valbuena will make for fun young double play combination to watch.  Jayson Nix might be the worst starting third baseman in the league.  I personally believe this season will be Matt LaPorta’s coming out year.  I see .280/30/115 from him.  A huge year compared to his .221/12/41 from last year.  I guess you can call him my Jose Batista this season.  I know Torsten thinks it is a guy that currently has a minor league deal with the Indians in Austin Kearns.  While I don’t see him having a great year, I do see him taking the left field spot from Michael Brantley and having an excellent year in the 5 hole of this lineup.  Grady Sizemore will not get back to his prime years in center, but I do think he is a top 10 center fielder in the game and will be a top 5 type player this season.  Last week I told you Adam Jones should be on the starting lineup of guys you haven’t seen play.  Well, meet the captain, Shin-Soo Choo.  If you take his career and average it out to 162 games, he averages .297/21/95.  He plays a solid right field, his career WAR is 17.8.  So essentially, if you put an average right fielder into right instead of him, the team will have 18 fewer wins than with him in the lineup.  Kinda impressive for a guy on a team that went 69-93 last season.  Then there is the military service portion of his career.  Choo is a native of South Korea, where they have a requirement for all men to serve 2 years in the military before turning 30.  If you are a national athlete, you only have to serve 4 weeks, but Choo failed to show several times due to the baseball schedule conflicts making him obligated to serve the full two years.  If he played baseball this year and did not serve his time in the military, he would never be allowed to enter South Korea again without being arrested.  His one way out, winning gold on the South Korean baseball team at the Asian games this past off season as it would allow him to forgo his military commitment free of repercussion.  How did he do?  Simply lead his team to gold.  Now if only his pitching staff in Cleveland had golden arms they might be able to make a run.  Do they have the guys to do it?  Let’s see…Fausto Carmona is the clear cut #1 with Justin Masterson being an excellent #2 guy.  Carlos Carrasco, Mitch Talbot, and your best friend’s mom round out the staff.  Honestly, after Masterson, the starters are a disaster.  Chris Perez is a decent but not special closer, and guys like Joe Smith, Tony Sipp, and Jensen Lewis will be coming out of the pen.  They can keep the bullpen ERA to the low 4.00’s, but the starting staff will rely on them entirely too much.

5)  Kansas City Royals – They traded their Cy Young pitcher to the Brewers, they are holding hope their prize prospect Alex Gordon will find himself in left field, and they round out their outfield with contending team rejects like Jeff Franceour and Melky Cabrera.  Mike Aviles can be an excellent player, and I think he will be this year, for a shortstop, only he will be playing third and not really impress anyone from there.  But by mid-season, the Royals will be out of it, and they will bring up their next stud third base prospect Mike Moustakas and trade Aviles or Chris Getz to a contender to play second base for them.  Detroit would be a great fit for either of them in my book, and they have a couple decent pitching prospects the Royals could use.  Alcides Escobar will be a good fit for the Royals they received as part of the Grienke trade.  Billy Butler would start at first on my players you have never heard of team, maybe I should stop talking about them and just create a post breaking down that team, with Kila Ka’aihue looking to earn the DH spot out of spring.  Also keep an eye out for Eric Hosmer to break into the bigs this year and make an impact.  Who is left on the staff after Gil Meche retired and Grienke was traded?  Not much.  Luke Hochevar is a quality pitcher, but nowhere near ace worthy.  Then you run with guys like Sean O’Sullivan, Vin Mazzaro, Bruce Chen, Kyle Davies, and Jeff Francis.  Haven’t heard of half those guys, don’t worry, me neither, had to look up depth charts to even see who the other starting candidates were.  The starting staff will be ugly, but surprisingly the bullpen is very good.  Joakim Soria is the best closer you have never….that is it, I am gonna write another blog of the “guys you have never heard of” starting lineup.  Robinson Tejada, Jesse Chavez, and Blake Wood can certainly get guys out. 

AL Central Offensive Player of the Year – Sin-Soo Choo - On what you will see is a cellar heavy award division; Choo will finally become the household name he deserves to be.  He will push the Indians into a playoff race in early August, only for it to slip away from them and land them second to last in the division.  But in those couple weeks people are actually paying attention to the Indians, Choo will be on fire, setting career highs in long balls and RBIs.

AL Central Pitcher of the Year – Justin Masterson – Buhrle and Verlander would be too easy to choose.  Justin Masterson will not have a great win total as he will be playing for the Indians, but look for the baby faced kid not to straighten out his hat, but straighten out his stuff for 16 wins and an ERA under 3.00.  He has excellent stuff and is learning how to be a pitcher.  He can keep his team in the game, and if the Indians offense has the breakout they are due to have, and Perez shuts the door at a consistent rate, Masterson could be an out of nowhere big time pitcher.

AL Central Offensive Rookie of the Year – Eric Hosmer/Mike Moustakas – These two will be in the heart of the Royals lineup for years to come.  Neither will start the season with the big club, nor will either threaten a league rookie of the year award, but both will leave you talking about them by the end of the season and make Royals fans confident in next year….until they realize next year it is still just a bunch of guys with a ton of hype that do not translate to wins..

AL Central Rookie Pitcher of the Year – Aaron Crow/Mike Montgomery/John Lamb – Yes, three pitchers from the Royals.  I would not at all be shocked if the Royals end the season with 3 rookies in the starting rotation, if not more.  Believe it or not, the team has a good core, it is just a matter of keeping the right guys around, and these three starters could really be a strong staff behind Hochevar.

AL Central Surprise Player of the Year – Kila Ka’aihue – He plays for the Royals, Billy Butler is the “star” of the team, Alex Gordon is the washed up prospect they still have hope for, Moustakas is the next player to come up with big time expectations.  But Kila will do just that, kill a ball.  Guy will hit 30 home runs and become the most feared regular DH in the AL Central.