January 2011

Andy Pettitte: Hall of Famer? …

Thumbnail image for AP101018123162.jpgNEW YORK — Surely it’s not much of a surprise, considering the overall silence from the two sides, that Andy Pettitte won’t return to the Yankees and will retire. But now — barring Brett Favre-like indecision — it’s real. Pettitte has informed the Yankees he will end his 16-year Major League career, and will talk about it during a Friday morning news conference at Yankee Stadium.

Now, the Yankees must continue to ponder the makeup of a rotation that is very questionable in the 3-5 spots — with A.J. Burnett, and Ivan Nova, Sergio Mitre, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon currently battling for the final two slots.

And we can wonder whether or not Pettitte (pictured right by The Associated Press) will one day be a Hall of Famer. It’s a tricky proposition, as I pointed out recently.

But let’s take a closer look…

*  240 career regular-season wins (T-55th all-time), a 3.88 ERA, 2,251 strikeouts (48th), 3,055 1/3 IP (123rd), 3 All-Star Game appearances, top-5 in Cy Young voting four times

* 19 wins (1st all-time), a 3.83 ERA, 173 K’s (T-2nd) and 5 World Series rings in 42 postseason starts (1st)

* Also ranks 3rd in Yankees history in wins (203), T-13th in wins by a left-hander and T-16th in K’s by a left-hander

* In terms of Wins Above Replacement, Pettitte ranks T-77th all-time among pitchers, at 50.20. That’s behind Mike Mussina (74.8), Curt Schilling (69.7), Kevin Brown (64.8) and David Cone (57.5); but ahead of Hall of Famers Clark Griffith, Waite Hoyt, Lefty Gomez and Goose Gossage.   

* A list of the Hall of Famer starters who have less career wins than Pettitte and retired after 1950: Jim Bunning (224), Catfish Hunter (224), Don Drysdale (209), Bob Lemon (207), Hal Newhouser (207), Sandy Koufax (165) and Hoyt Wilhelm (143).

* Lastly — and this is perhaps most important — no pitcher in the Hall of Fame has an ERA higher than Pettitte’s. 

But then again, not many have the playoff track record of Pettitte, who is one of the best big-game pitchers of all-time. Which is why his Hall of Face candidacy is so tricky. Pettitte didn’t necessarily dominate his era. But he did lead a team in wins on four separate occasions, and he was the driving force behind several title winners.

Andy Pettitte: Solid pitcher whose mystique was greatly helped by the bright lights and good teams of New York, or a legit Hall of Famer?

– Alden Gonzalez  

If only the Oakland Athletics had a better stadium

Beane .jpg

Then they’d have at least one big-time middle-of-the-order producer, and then I’d have them as the favorite to win the American League West. Still, the A’s look good, thanks to a phenomenal pitching staff put together by general manager Billy Beane (picture above by The Associated Press). 

Their staff — rotation and bullpen — is as good as anybody’s, and they’re one of the most solid defensive teams in baseball (yes, even though thinking about Josh Willingham patrolling right field at The Coliseum makes me nauseous). 

But they’re one big bat away from being a legit World Series contender, and Kevin Kouzmanoff-Willingham-Hideki Matsui (or however Bob Geren chooses to put together the 3-4-5 spots) is not enough. Don’t believe having one of baseball’s worst (and most hitter-unfriendly) ballparks doesn’t play a part in them not signing a premier slugger? Here’s what Beane expressed earlier this offseason, shortly after his lucrative offer to third baseman Adrian Beltre wasn’t deemed good enough. 
“Honestly, for three years, it’s been a concern,” he said. “It seems to be becoming more and more of a challenge. It’s challenging enough financially given the market we’re in relative to some of our peers, but there’s other parts of the equation that are becoming more challenging. The facility’s a hurdle. It’s a fact.” 
The stadium issue involves several non-baseball-related obstacles that go above our heads and everybody’s on the A’s baseball-operations staff. All you can do is the best with what you’re given, and Beane — Mr. Moneyball — has done a phenomenal job of that. The question is whether a great pitching staff and a makeshift lineup are enough to go all the way (and if the 2010 Giants are any example, it is). 
Regardless of whether or not it will be in 2011, the most important aspect to winning — pitching — looks great in Oakland. Let’s have a look…
STARTERS
* LH Dallas Braden: 11-14, 3.50 ERA while making $420K in ’10; first-year arbitration-eligible. 
* LH Brett Anderson: 7-6, 2.80 ERA in ’10; making $1M in ’11, locked up thru ’15. 
* RH Gio Gonzalez: 15-9, 3.23 ERA while making $405K in ’10; not arbitration-eligible until possibly ’13. 
* RH Trevor Cahill: 18-8, 2.97 ERA while making $410K in ’10; not arbitration-eligible until ’12. 
RELIEVERS
* RH Andrew Bailey: 1.47 ERA, .959 WHIP, 25-28 saves while making $435K in ’10; not arbitration-eligible until ’12. 
* RH Joey Devine: .59 ERA, .832 WHIP, 42 G in ’10; making $557.5K in ’11; free agent after ’13 season. 
* LH Craig Breslow: 3.01 ERA, 1.098 WHIP, 75 G while making $425K in ’10; first-year arbitration-eligible. 
* RH Michael Wuertz: struggled in ’10 (4.31 ERA), but 3.08 ERA while appearing in an average of 58 games from 2006-09; making $2.8M in ’11; locked up thru ’12. 
* RH Brad Ziegler: 3.26 ERA, 1.352 WHIP, 64 G while making $410K in ’10; not arbitration-eligible until ’12. 
* LH Jerry Blevins: 3.70 ERA, 1.479 WHIP, 63 G while making $405K in ’10; not arbitration-eligible until possibly ’13. 
Sure, the A’s payroll should increase significantly after this season, but that’s a lot of great, young pitching under club control for a while. And then you add the bullpen additions of veteran righty Grant Balfour and (likely) lefty Brian Fuentes, and that’s perhaps the deepest ‘pen in the game. 
Last season, the A’s (81-81) ranked fourth in the Majors in team ERA (3.56), and they could be even better this season. 
Defensively, first baseman Daric Barton (first), catcher Kurt Suzuki, second baseman Mark Ellis (both third), shortstop Cliff Pennington (seventh), third baseman Kouzmanoff and center fielder Coco Crisp (both ninth) all ranked in the Top 10 in voting for Fielding Bible Awards. 
Offensively, though, 22 teams scored more runs, 16 teams had a better batting average and 27 teams hit more homers. I like the David DeJesus signing, and Matsui and Willingham should provide more pop. Will it be enough in that division? I’m not sure. 
But I know one thing: The A’s are well on their way. (If only they had a better venue.)
– Alden Gonzalez
** Check out my column on why Jose Reyes is Sandy Alderson‘s biggest Year 1 question. 

Too early for MLB power rankings? …

I don’t think so. 
All the big free agents — minus Rafael Soriano — have signed, and it seems every team is pretty much set for the start of Spring Training. It has been an amazingly surprising offseason, with Jayson Werth signing with the Nationals, Cliff Lee going to Philly, Carl Crawford now with Boston, the Angels missing out on everyone, the Yankees staying quiet, and Dan Uggla getting the kind of money I never thought he would land. 
That means a lot has changed since the end of the 2010 season. 
So, let’s get to it … 
* 2010 records are listed in parenthesis

A-Gonz.jpg1. Boston Red Sox (89-73):
The Red Sox have the best lineup in baseball after adding Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez (pictured right, by The Associated Press), they have a very good bullpen after key offseason additions, and their rotation is very deep. But they’ll have to stay healthy — something that didn’t happen last year. 

2. Philadelphia Phillies (97-65; lost in NLCS): The old saying says, “You’re only as good as your next day’s pitcher.” If that’s the case, put the Phillies in the World Series right now. Lee, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels is arguable the best rotation foursome in baseball history. And their offense is still scary. But the bullpen, as usual, is a question mark. 

3. San Francisco Giants (92-70; won WS): They’re the defending champs, and their pitching staff is as good or better than anybody’s in baseball. But can their spare-parts offense carry them deep like it did last year? Hard to believe they can repeat without a more-consistent bat. 

4. Texas Rangers (90-72; lost in WS): Not being able to get Lee hurts, especially when considering pretty much everybody in that rotation outperformed last year. But their starting staff is still solid, their bullpen is very good and, after the addition of Adrian Beltre, they have one of the best offenses in baseball. 


5. Atlanta Braves (91-71; lost in NLDS)
Filling the big shoes of Bobby Cox is a whole lot easier when inheriting a team like this one. Fredi Gonzalez has a dynamic lineup, especially with the addition of Uggla – though they’ll regret that extension — plus a solid rotation and a really good bullpen.  

6. St. Louis Cardinals (86-76): I expected the Cards to be a lot better than they were last year, and I don’t expect them to disappoint again this year. Lance Berkman could end up being a liability in right field, but if healthy, he can give them a big middle-of-the-order bat. Regardless, two dynamic duos — Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, and Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright — should lead to title contention.  

7. Milwaukee Brewers (77-85):
It took a major toll on the farm system, but the additions of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum give the Brew Crew one of the best 1-thru-5 rotations in baseball. And Prince Fielder is still there. The Brewers will be legitimate title contenders.   

8. Colorado Rockies (83-79)
The Rockies have a bright future with Troy TulowitzkiCarlos Gonzalez and possibly Ubaldo Jimenez – if he agrees to an extension after the 2011 season — locked up. Their present looks very good, too. They have great depth, a solid rotation and a good lineup. Lots to be excited about in the Mile High City.

9. Chicago White Sox (88-74)
Looks like the South Siders are going for it all this year after signing Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko – or perhaps they’re setting it up so that Ozzie Guillen is the main culprit if they don’t win it all in 2011. Regardless, they have a power-packed offense and some nice arms. It’s up to Ozzie to bring it all together.  

10. New York Yankees (95-67; lost in ALCS)The Yankees have issues, yes — they’re aging, they have holes in the rotation and the bullpen is spotty. But they’re still the Yankees. And as long as Alex RodriguezDerek JeterRobinson CanoMark TeixeiraCC Sabathia and Mariano Rivera are there, they’re a major threat.  

11. Cincinnati Reds (91-71; lost in NLDS): The Reds were a surprise team last year, but I don’t think they did enough this offseason to stay on top. Their pitching staff is still deep and talented, but they needed to make bigger moves this offseason — mostly on offense — to take the next step, especially when considering how much better the teams in their division got. 


12. Detroit Tigers (81-81): Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit were big pickups, and the Tigers will compete in the American League Central all the way through. But it’s a tough division.  

13. Minnesota Twins (94-68; lost in ALDS)
The Twins always seem to find a way, and they’ll be fine again if they resign Carl Pavano and Jim Thome (as expected). A healthy Justin Morneau will be huge, too. But their bullpen took a major hit, and while the White Sox and Tigers got better, they really didn’t. 


14. Oakland Athletics (81-81):
This is my surprise team of the year. Billy Beane has established a phenomenal young pitching staff and a great defensive team. If only they could’ve acquired a couple of the big bats they needed. (I give their stadium a lot of the blame for that.)  

15. Chicago Cubs (75-87)
The Cubs sure look like they’re going for it by trading for Matt Garza, signing Kerry Wood to a two-year deal and giving Carlos Pena $10 million. On paper, they look good. But that seems to be the case a lot in the Windy City, and somehow it never comes to fruition. Why should I believe otherwise now?  

16. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (80-82): It has been a very disappointing
offseason for Angels general manager Arte Moreno, who lost out on Crawford and Beltre despite badly needing offensive help. They have potential in their rotation and a good bullpen that will be great if they get Soriano. But it seems they took a step back this offseason.  

17. Los Angeles Dodgers (80-82):
The Dodgers still have pieces in that lineup that can do some things, as well as a deep rotation. Don Mattingly will keep them relevant in his first year on the job. 

18. San Diego Padres (90-72):
This was the kind of reality Padres faithful expected, even after a surprising 2010 season that should’ve led to a playoff berth. No Gonzalez, and Heath Bell is a very likely Trade Deadline chip. But they still have a great pitching staff and a very good defensive team. I just don’t know where their offense will come from.  

19. Tampa Bay Rays (96-66; lost in ALDS): It’s a different Rays team now, with no Crawford, Soriano, Benoit, Pena or Garza. But that’s a savvy front office, and their array of young players give them a great future once again. But it’s a retooling year in Tampa Bay. And they won’t be as relevant in the AL East as they have been.  

20. Florida Marlins (80-82): The Marlins needed bullpen help, a catcher and another arm for the rotation this offseason and got all of that. They also have a great bunch of young position players and two franchise-type guys in Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson. But it looks like another .500 year in South Florida. Nothing more, nothing less.  

21. New York Mets (79-83): The Mets have toiled in obscurity this offseason, and maybe that’s a good thing. This is a year about finding out their identity and improving for the future — not competing.  

22. Washington Nationals (69-93): Mike Rizzo lost out on Lee, and he overpaid enormously for Werth. But they vastly improved their defense (with Werth and Adam LaRoche), have a nice lineup and boast a few nice, young pitching arms. D.C. is still on its way to becoming a place where free agents will actually want to be at some point.  

23. Baltimore Orioles (66-96): O’s look to have a pretty impressive lineup, but they need a lot more pitching — especially in the bullpen — to compete in baseball’s toughest division.  

24. Toronto Blue Jays (85-77): They’re another team that had its bullpen get completely stripped, and I don’t expect Jose Bautista and Vernon Wells to equal their 2010 season and keep them competitive. Not a bad rotation, though, and Alex Anthopoulos has made some nice forward-thinking moves thus far. 

25. Houston Astros (76-86): Brad Mills led the Astros to an impressive second half last year, but they have a long, long way to go.  

26. Seattle Mariners (61-101): The M’s were a big disappointment last year, and they will struggle once again in 2011. 

27. Arizona Diamondbacks (65-97): Kevin Towers has gone to work on retooling that dreadful bullpen, but there’s a lot more work to be done in Arizona than that.  

28. Cleveland Indians (69-93): Indians are still waiting for the young players they got back from trading two Cy Young Award winners (Sabathia and Lee) to come through. Until that happens, they’ll go nowhere. 

29. Kansas City Royals (67-95): With the pieces they have in their farm system and in the big leagues, the Royals seem set up to be a competitive team as soon as 2012. But not in 2011. 

30. Pittsburgh Pirates (57-105): The Pirates have issues. Their Major League roster is unimpressive, and their farm system isn’t great. All they can hope to do is avoid another 100-loss season.  

– Alden Gonzalez

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