I was asked recently by the higher-ups at my company to submit my predictions for the 2011 season in several different categories, which was tallied up among several others to produce this. With Opening Day here, I thought I’d share my specific picks with a short explanation.
Here it is …
AL East: Red Sox (too good — everywhere)
AL Central: White Sox (great offense; but Jake Peavy needs to be good)
AL West: Athletics (great pitching and defense)
AL Wild Card: Tigers (solid at every aspect)
AL champion: Red Sox (again, too good)
NL East: Phillies (rotation enough to make up for injuries)
NL Central: Brewers (solid everywhere, but can’t afford injury)
NL West: Rockies (most well-rounded club in the division)
NL Wild Card: Braves (probably most well-rounded team in MLB)
NL champion: Braves (if young guys come through — which they should — they’ll prevail)
World Series champion: Red Sox (Braves have no lefty starters, Sox have great lefty hitters — Boston has the edge)
AL surprise team: Athletics (young, dynamic pitching staff and great defense on low payroll)
NL surprise team: Marlins (their rotation and offense can compete with anybody’s)
AL surprise player: A.J. Burnett (looked great this spring, and health wasn’t a factor in rough 2010 season)
NL surprise player: Juan Miranda (forgotten in Yankees system, but has good power and showed good signs this spring)
AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera (he’s motivated and is the best hitter in the AL; he’ll prove it)
NL MVP: Albert Pujols (easy — best player in baseball is in a walk year)
AL Cy Young: Jon Lester (this is the year he takes it to the next level — especially with that defense and offense behind him)
NL CY Young: Cliff Lee (happy and motivated)
AL Rookie of the Year: Jeremy Hellickson (can’t wait to see him in a full season)
NL Rookie of the Year: Freddie Freeman (everybody absolutely raves about this kid)
AL Manager of the Year: Ozzie Guillen (has a great team, peace with Ken Williams and contract stability)
NL Manager of the Year: Charlie Manuel (yes, he has a great team, but he’ll get them through injury woes)
Breakout Player of the Year: Mike Stanton (almost won Rookie of the Year in 100 games last season; now the world will see how special he truly is)
Executive of the Year: Billy Beane (“Money Ball” at its finest playing out right now)
** Other stuff to get you primed for the start of the season: A look at first-year managers in the Grapefruit League; previews for the AL East and NL East; and a glimpse at five players we can’t wait to see.
It’s Joe Maddon.
Yes, I guess there’s a reason why the volatile slugger seems as motivated as ever this spring — and it has more to do with his humbling contract, his age and his declining skill sets. Maddon (pictured left with his new DH by The Associated Press) just seems like the kind of guy Manny would love playing for.
It’s just too bad he didn’t discover that until age 38.
I had a chance to chat with Maddon on Thursday and asked him about the dynamic of his relationship with Ramirez — a supremely talented hitter who can sometimes be, let’s say, aloof. That day, Maddon decided to hold Ramirez back in Port Charlotte, Fla., rather than have him make the long trip to the Astros’ Spring Training complex, even though Manny wanted to.
Maddon talked about how he has received nothing but positive vibes from Manny thus far (granted, this is still what you would call “The Honeymoon Period”), how he simply hates dress codes, how he doesn’t judge players until he gets to know them first and how he himself is very much a free spirit.
Here’s how that conversation went …
Q: With Manny, where do you draw the line between giving him the benefit of the doubt and stepping in and taking charge?
A: I really have a different approach to things. I think that if you communicate daily or constantly, hopefully you don’t need to step in or bring somebody to the principal’s office. And furthermore, you’re talking about a Hall of Fame player. He’s pretty good. I have a lot of respect for that. He’s going to be afforded different concessions or considerations than a first- or second-year guy is. Now at the end of the day, he’s going to fit in regarding how we play the game. But when it comes to personal situations and listening to what he has to say, quite frankly, I’m going to listen to him more.
Q: At one point in spring, you asked him not to show up to camp and he still showed up …
A: I’m OK with that stuff. … I don’t like the idea of having them conform to my whims and prejudices and judgmental attitudes on anything. I’d much rather try to understand each guy and try to figure out what works for them. But that’s individually. There is team concept, which is unwavering. But individually, I really want us to be a group of individuals that win as a team. That’s the best way to describe it. And I think when you have that, you get the best out of the players. You get a more relaxed player, more confident player. One that’s really going to show you who he is, without any contrive. … I hate when somebody asks, ‘What should I wear?’ I absolutely hate that phrase — ‘What should I wear?’ Look, whatever you want to wear is fine. … I don’t understand why collared shirts are so viable or vital and important in our society. A collar-less shirt also can look really good as far as I’m concerned. So whoever made these rules at some particular time, they really are archaic.
Q: Are you saying a guy can get on the team plane wearing anything?
A: I mean, you don’t want them walking in with a jock strap or some underwear or something really beachy. No, I don’t want that, I don’t think. But I’m only going to say that because it might offend somebody else. It wouldn’t offend me. … I believe if you leave everybody to their own devices, they’ll show up in their own professional way and they’re going to be fine. But I think when you’re always dictating somebody on how to act, then you’re going to get somebody who doesn’t think for themselves, and that may impact how they think on the field, too. … We get confused on what’s really important and what’s not sometimes.
Q: When you found out the Rays were signing Manny, did you seek out advice from anyone on how to deal with him?
A: I wanted advice from Manny. I wanted to be able to speak with him. That’s all Andrew [Friedman, the Rays’ general manager] and I talked about. I didn’t really want to talk to anybody except him. We had dinner before Spring Training began so we can talk openly about what he thought, what his wishes and needs are, and I needed to talk to him openly about the same thing. And my needs basically are a couple things that we do on the field. I just mean a couple. I don’t mean a lot. I’m really anti-rules and regulations. I’m anti-legislation. … So at the end of the day, I’d rather a guy be professional, be themselves, stay within the team concepts, and I really prefer not having a lot of rules and regulations. Now if something were to pop up, then you go talk to the guy one-on-one personally about the situation, and you try to work it out. … We just talked. It was great. Very engaging, very gregarious young man. I enjoyed it.
No wonder Maddon gets so much bang for his buck on those low-payroll Rays teams.
** Here’s a recent column on Jose Bautista — his uphill climb, his new standing as the face of the Blue Jays and his uncelebrated 50-homer season.