Atlanta Braves – Healthy Mike Hampton, Healthy Mike Gonzalez, RH hitter off the bench, Hope that Andruw Jones’ defensive value was highly overstated
With their recent acquisition of Mr. Jamie Kotsay to patrol centerfield, the Atlanta starting lineup appears to be set. We can quibble with the top of the order a bit, as we’re not quite sure how Yunel Escobar will perform in his first full year, but aside from that, it’s a more than solid crew. Chipper Jones had a very underrated 2007 campaign, Mark Teixeira gets his first fulls season in the National League, and LFer Matt Diaz turned some heads as well, especially against lefties. Despite the absence of Andruw Jones – let’s face it, Jones wasn’t that much of an offensive asset in 2007 anyhow – the Braves offense looks strong enough to duplicate their success from last year, when they scored 810 runs (3rd in NL). They could use another right-handed bat off the bench (no, Omar Infante doesn’t count), however, as Scott Thorman, Brandon Jones, and Josh Anderson all bat from the left side.
However, Mark Kotsay himself will never be able to replace Andruw Jones, especially with the glove. And it’s the all-important preventing of runs that may pose to be a problem for the Atlanta Braves in 2008. Their top-two starters, John Smoltz and Tim Hudson have the ability to match up with pretty much anyone aside from the Arizona duo. After them, however, it’s completely a crap shoot. By the end of 2007, Tom Glavine had nothing to rely on aside from his famous changeup, and even that was losing effectiveness since his fastball had dipped to the low 80s. I’m also not sold on Chuck James yet either, as his rather successful year was largely due to the defense behind him (his fielding independent ERA was 5.41). The ultimate wild card, however, is the status of Mike Hampton. The far-too-often-injured lefty had yet another set back in his continued recovery from elbow surgery after straining a hamstring on a rehab assignment down in Mexico in November. The Braves did, however, have the foresight to gain some solid pitching depth, as Jair Jurrjens remains a viable option.
The Atlanta bullpen has some questions as well. I think Rafael Soriano will do just fine in the closer role, but who will bridge the gap? Can Peter Moylan duplicate his surprisingly effective (1.80 ERA over 90IP) 2007 campaign? How effective will Mike Gonzalez be following Tommy John surgery and how soon can he return?
Moving forward, I’m interested in seeing how much of an impact Andruw Jones had on the Atlanta pitching staff. It’s been over a decade since the Braves had this to worry about, and although Kotsay has been a capable defender in the past, his recent back surgery and age (32) could affect the pitching quite a bit. Smoltz, Glavine, and James are all flyball pitchers (James is extremely so), and are the most likely to miss a top flight centerfielder they could rely on.
Florida Marlins – The Ability to Stop the Arbitration Clock, pitching, pitching, third baseman, pitching.
We knew going into the offseason that the Florida Marlins had to do something. Two of their most recognizable players, Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, were approaching arbitration and were going to get mighty expensive. But they surprised everyone by trading both these guys away in the same deal.
But the clock now starts again for the Marlins and herein lies a potential problem. Hanley Ramirez, Dan Uggla, Jeremy Hermida, Mike Jacobs, Scott Olson, Cody Ross, and Josh Willingham have all completed their second year of MLB-service. Players can become arbitration eligible after three.
Another interesting subplot to the current Marlins team is how far their pitching has fallen over the past year. Dontrelle Willis was supposed to be a superstar. Never happened – at least not in Florida. Josh Johnson was supposed to be his trusty sidekick. He’s out the entire year most likely, following Tommy John surgery. Scott Olsen was supposed to be the great accompaniment to Willis and Johnson who would also get into fights with Miguel Cabrera. Instead, Olsen was the guy with a 5.81 ERA who would also get into fights with Sergio Mitre. And Anibal Sanchez was Mr. Perfect Game. He spent most of the year in the minors. It really wasn’t that long ago that the young Marlins staff looked like the future of MLB. Remember, kids: TINSTAAPP (there is no such thing as a pitching prospect).
Another thing they need to get sorted is their third base situation. Alfredo Amezega, Jose Castillo, and Jorge Cantu look to battle it out for the starting gig in spring training. But I have to wonder – why not move Dan Uggla over to third?
It’s not all bleak, however. The Marlins did get two worthwhile prospects from Detroit in that Cabrera-Willis deal. Both Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller will get the chance to prove themselves at some point in 2008.
New York Mets - A Quick Start, Ace Pitcher, Let Youth Develop
Well, there wasn’t much that the New York Mets needed to do. After all, this is the same team that cruised into the postseason, maintaining the seven game lead they had in mid-September over the Philadelphia Phillies, and went on to dispatch all who were in their way en route to the franchise’s third World Series Championship ever.
But everyone else wants to tell me that none of that happened. Including my shrink. Fine. For the purposes of this post, I’ll pretend that the Mets failed to hang onto their huge lead over the last three weeks of the 2007 season. Are you happy? Seriously, the things I do for you people…
Since I have no soul, I don’t really believe that momentum exists in the context of a baseball season. With that said, I still think it’s important that the Mets get off to a strong start. If they falter early on, the NY media will be absolutely relentless. Of course, the only way they can really silence doubters would be if they could build a lead going into September (a big “if” at this point) and maintain it this time around. But a good April will spare
me the team from having to read about “the collapse” to the point where I they have to swear off reading anything for all of eternity.
Additionally, sometime before Opening Day, the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox and Twins need to piss or get off the can when it comes to Johan Santana. Despite Pedro Martinez’s successful return towards the end of last season, the Mets still lack someone they can call their ace. Oliver Perez took a couple steps forward in 2007 but he’s still a box of chocolates. John Maine also showed improvement, but he must continue to limit walks and homeruns. Neither of them can yet be considered as more than mid-rotation arms with some room to grow. Pedro should no longer be considered an “ace pitcher” since we have no idea if he can sustain himself over 100+ innings, let alone 200. IF the Mets end up with Santana (another big “if”), this will allow the team to potentially put Orlando Hernandez in the bullpen, which in my mind would be ideal as it allows the Mets to not rely on Jorge Sosa to do much of anything.
Lastly, this isn’t necessarily something they need in 2008, but for the sake of 2009 and beyond, I’d like to see the Mets have a better organizational philosophy when it comes to managing their younger players. As a franchise, the Mets have historically rushed their prospects to the big leagues and 2007 was no exception. Carlos Gomez has the talent to be sure, but had no business playing on a team that needed to win every game possible to make the playoffs. Both Mike Pelfrey and Phil Humber were not considered “Major League ready” when they made their respective debuts either.
Of course, this is a total moot point if Johan Santana becomes a Met. Last I heard, the Twins were actually asking the Mets to include the entire cities of New Orleans, Binghamton, Savannah, Brooklyn, and St. Lucie in the deal (they didn’t want Kingsport).
Now I’ll go back into my world where I wear my Championship T-Shirt proudly.
Philadelphia Phillies - RH Bat, Starter not named Adam Eaton. Relief Pitching
And I’m back in reality. The 2007 NL East Champs should have no problems scoring runs in the coming season. They led the National League in runs scored (2nd in MLB) and the lineup remains largely intact. While there is no such thing as a sure thing, the big three of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and (ahem) MVP Jimmy Rollins come close. And Pat Burrell will continue to be denied his just praise by the Phillies fanbase. The only real change in the lineup comes in the form of Geoff Jenkins, who will most likely get the bulk of the time in RF, while Shane Victorino moves to Center to replace the departed Aaron Rowand. I was a bit surprised by the Jenkins deal, as I thought that the Phils were already loaded with hitters capable of hitting from the left side. Howard, Utley, Greg Dobbs, Rollins, Victorino, and now Jenkins are all either lefty or switch hitters, leaving only Carlos Ruiz and Pat Burrell hitting from the right side during most games. Jayson Werth should see some time in lieu of Jenkins against lefty pitching, but I do wonder if they should get an additional righty capable of swinging the bat (which incidentally leaves out Wes Helms).
I do have to admire the Phillies for obtaining Brad Lidge from Houston on the cheap. This has of course allowed the team to move Brett Myers back into the rotation, and he and Cole Hamels should be a formidable duo atop the rotation. However, much like Atlanta, the rest of the rotation needs work. UmpBump writer Coley has already expressed his slight-discomfort-inducing love for Kyle Kendrick, but I’m one of the naysayers. So far in his brief MLB career, he hasn’t induced nearly enough groundballs (1.55 GB/FB ratio) to make up for the fact that he strikes out far too few (3.8K/9IP. 3.8!!!) . His peripheral stats project him as someone who should have an ERA in the mid-to-high-fours. I do expect Jamie Moyer to be slightly better than he was in 2007, but this does assume that his magic anti-aging powder was not discontinued. Plus, Moyer had an ERA over 5 last year, so “slightly better” in this context doesn’t have much weight. But compared to Adam Eaton, I’ll take Kendrick and Moyer any day. Here’s a general rule of thumb: bringing an extreme flyball pitcher into an extreme homerun hitters’ park is generally a bad idea (only two more years and $16.135 million to go, Phils fans!). At this point, Chad Durbin would most likely be the safer option.
While I still have faith that Brad Lidge can be a fine closer, I do wonder about this team’s bullpen. Tom Gordon (can we stop calling him Flash now?) is no longer reliable, and they have no viable lefty option after J.C. Romero. Will someone step up?
Washington Nationals - Trade away Dmitri Young and/or Nick Johnson, Find trade partners for Chad Cordero and Jon Rauch, Pray for John Patterson’s health
The Nats were one of my favorite offseason stories to watch, since they finally appear to have a sense of direction. They acquired Lastings Milledge and 2007 Douchie Award winner Elijah Dukes in trades that could both potentially end up as steals for the Nationals. With Austin Keans and Wily Mo Pena, they actually will have a decent, young outfield in 2008. I fully expect Ryan Zimmerman to have a bounce-back year as well. A few more young prospects and the Nats may actually be in business. They must know that they have no shot in the immediate future, and I love that they’ve begun to create something that could bear fruit in a few years.
With that in mind, I’m surprised that no one is yet to offer something that convinced Jim Bowden to trade away both Chad Cordero and Jon Rauch. Those two are prime candidates to used as bait to acquire some B-level young pitching. I also do wonder what the team intends on doing once Nick Johnson returns. Neither he nor Dmitri Young are really capable of playing elsewhere, so I assume at least one of them will have to go.
I also think that one issue that is getting overlooked is the health status of John Patterson, who was clearly not right the past two seasons. But back in 2005, he looked to be “top-of-the-rotation” material, sporting a 3.13 ERA along with a 8.7K/9IP over 198 1/3 innings. It’s most likely asking far too much to think he can immediate return to those numbers following surgery on his pitching arm back in September, but a glimpse of that former self should give hope to the future of Nationals pitching.