Results tagged ‘ Dan Uggla ’

Getting ready for the Rule 5 Draft …

By 8:59 p.m. PT today, teams must set their 40-man rosters in anticipation for the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. This is when teams choose whether or not to “protect” their eligible players from being taken in that Draft, which takes place at the end of each year’s Winter Meetings (this one being Dec. 6, in Nashville, Tenn.).

For those unfamiliar with the process, here’s a quick primer …

Players who signed after age 18 and have been in the Minors for four years, or players who signed at 18 or younger and have been in the Minors for five years, are eligible to be taken in the Rule 5 Draft if not on the 40-man roster. Now, it’s very rare that teams will find success through the Rule 5 Draft (Josh Hamilton, Johan Santana and Dan Uggla are among very few success stories) because, frankly, there’s a reason players are left exposed despite being in a system so long. Any player taken in the Rule 5 Draft costs $50,000. That player, then, must remain on the drafting team’s active Major League roster during the following season or be offered back to the original club for $25,000.

The Angels’ 40-man roster is currently at 31, so there’s some wiggle room (though the Angels must keep space for all the pitching they want to acquire this offseason). Also, an important side note: Any player who signs a Minor League deal before the Rule 5 Draft can be taken, regardless of his service time. That means each of the players the Angels signed this offseason are eligible if left off. As for guys who have been in their system for a while? Here are some names to watch …

* Travis Witherspoon, a 23-year-old center fielder who hit .268 with a .350 on-base percentage, 13 homers and 34 RBIs in high A and Double-A this season.

* Carlos Ramirez, 24, who posted a .205/.312/.276 slash line in 85 Double-A games. Ramirez, like Witherspoon, played in the Arizona Fall League.

* Orangel Arenas, a 23-year-old right-hander who went 5-11 with a 5.26 ERA in 27 games (24 starts) in Double-A.

* Matt Shoemaker, who’s 26 and went 11-10 with a 5.65 ERA in 29 Triple-A starts.

* Ryan Brasier, a 25-year-old right-handed reliever who posted a 4.37 ERA and 13 saves in 59 2/3 Triple-A innings.

* Efren Navarro, a 26-year-old lefty-hitting first baseman who won a Minor League Gold Glove in 2011 and posted a .294/.336/.403 slash line in Triple-A.

* Matt Long, a 25-year-old lefty-hitting outfielder who posted a .282/.350/.462 slash line with 23 steals in Double-A and Triple-A.

* Jeremy Berg, 26, posted a 3.75 ERA in 74 1/3 innings at Double-A and Triple-A.

Alden 

Trumbo’s favorite Derby homer? It’s a tie for first …

KANSAS CITY — Mark Trumbo impressed a lot of people with his Home Run Derby showing on Monday night, even though he was eliminated in a tiebreaker swing-off by Jose Bautista. Asked for his favorite of the 13 through the first two rounds, Trumbo narrowed it down to two — the one that landed on the roof of the Hall of Fame building beyond the left-field bleachers (measured at a conservative 428 feet); and the smoking line drive out to straightaway center (420).

“I’d say the one on top of the roof,” Trumbo said, before backtracking — “but the one to center was impressive. I think a lot of the guys really liked the line drive.”

Trumbo’s average distance per home run — 434 feet — was the longest among the competitors, including champion Prince Fielder. He started off slow each round, then got into a little bit of a rhythm towards the middle, but felt he could’ve done better.

“I felt like I never really got into a great rhythm,” Trumbo said. “It seemed like I’d hit one, make an out, and then have to take a few pitches. Ideally, the goal is to get into an extended rhythm, kind of like Prince did, and then rattle off a better total. My biggest thing was just to have fun with it. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. I wanted to get one. That was the advice — don’t get a goose egg.”

Trumbo’s favorite moment?

“[David Ortiz] pulled me aside before I left yesterday and that was really cool,” he said. “He was telling me it took him three or four times of doing it to really feel like he — not had it down, but had a chance. Things move very, very quickly when you’re out there. You can’t really simulate that.”

But C.J. Wilson, at least, can capture it.

As usual, Wilson was out there with his camera and estimated taking roughly 800 photos of the Derby participants. He’ll look over them when he has time in the next few days and print them out for Trumbo to keep.

“I had my brand-new camera out there, taking some cool images that I’ll process while we’re on the road in the next couple days and see if I can come up with some winners,” Wilson said. “It’s just fun. Jered [Weaver] and Mike [Trout] and I were out there just trying to hype him up and keep him motivated and have a good time. It’s a lot of pressure out there, when you’re the only guy batting for a couple minutes at a time in front of the fans.”

Trumbo’s roommate also TiVo’d it. But many of those in attendance won’t need reminders of the show Trumbo put on. Many were impressed.

“I know my Twitter following went way up,” Trumbo said with a smile.

“Any time I’m in something, I want to win. But I’m going to take away some really cool memories from it.”

Some other pre-All Star Game notes

  • Asked about their friendship in a pregame presser, Trout joked of Bryce Harper: “We don’t like each other.” Bryce: “It’s like Bird and Magic. He’s Magic, I’m Bird.”
  • Maybe more LeBron and Wade? “I hope I play with [Trout] one day,” Harper said. “I think him playing center field, me playing right field, as a one-two punch, I think that’d be fun.”
  • Trout was asked who wins in a footrace between him and Peter Bourjos. His response: “I think Peter’s got me around the bases in an inside-the-parker, but home to first, we were talking about it the other day, I think I have him by a couple of steps.”
  • Weaver was told he’ll pitch the fifth inning tonight. As for how it affects him for the second half? It’s just like a normal bullpen session.
  • Trout and Trumbo are not really sure when they’ll get in. “I have all my gloves, as usual,” Trumbo said. C.J., of course, is sitting out due to a blister he doesn’t expect to impact his second half.
  • Weaver on not being named the starter for the All-Star Game a second straight year, despite leading the Majors with a 1.96 ERA: “I told you guys, whatever happens, I’m just excited to be here, be a part of it. Obviously it would’ve been cool to start back-to-back years, but I’m just excited to be able to get out there and throw an inning and just be part of this whole experience. It’s fun. It’s great to hang out with all these guys and just see who they are as a person instead of just battling against him.”
  • One guy Weaver was really excited to get to know a little better here: Adam Dunn. “He’s a funny character, man.”

Some Angels All-Star Game links …

Some intriguing All-Star Game stories …

The lineups …

NL

Carlos Gonzalez, DH (COL)
Melky Cabrera, CF (SFG)
Ryan Braun, LF (MIL)
Joey Votto, 1B (CIN)
Carlos Beltran, RF (StL)
Buster Posey, C (SFG)
Pablo Sandoval, 3B (SFG)
Dan Uggla, 2B (ATL)
Rafael Furcal, SS (StL)

SP: RH Matt Cain (SFG)

AL

Derek Jeter, SS (NYY)
Cano, 2B (NYY)
Josh Hamilton, LF (TEX)
Bautista, RF (TOR)
Fielder, 1B (DET)
Adrian Beltre, 3B (TEX)
MikOrtiz, DH (BOS)
Mike Napoli, C (TEX)
Curtis Granderson, CF (NYY)

SP: RH Justin Verlander (DET)

Alden

Now for those UNpleasant surprises …

Earlier this week, I wrote about baseball’s most pleasant surprises of the season. Now I thought I should take a look at the other end of that spectrum; the guys we didn’t expect to have down seasons. Take a step back, and you’ll find there’s a lot of star (or star-ish) players that are having bad years.

Here’s a look at the five of the best (or, worst) …

Not-so-great signings: Jayson Werth — $126 million; .230 batting average, .713 OPS. Adam Dunn — $56 million; .165 batting average, 11 homers. Carl Crawford — $142 million; .290 on-base percentage. All were signed in order to get their respective teams over the hump, all have been nothing besides a hindrance so far. If not for a 33-game, season-saving hitting streak, Dan Uggla would’ve been a part of this group, too. Regardless, the cases of Werth (pictured right by The Associated Press), Dunn and Crawford are all head-scratching, and the most troubling is perhaps the situation of Dunn (an unfathomable 3-for-81 versus lefties).

Still not ready?: That’s probably what we can say about Kyle Drabek and Zach Britton, two young guns we thought would compete for the American League Cy Young Award but have struggled this year. Drabek posted a 5.70 ERA through his first 14 starts, prompting a demotion to the Minor Leagues. Now, he has a 6.51 ERA in 13 Triple-A starts. Britton is 7-9 with a 4.54 ERA, was demoted once and missed about two weeks with a shoulder injury recently.

We thought they were on the rise: But Jason Heyward, Carlos Santana, Pedro Alvarez and Brett Wallace only took steps back this year. Heyward, we thought, was a can’t-miss prospect, and he can of course still be a star. But right now, he’s the definition of “sophomore slump.” He’s been mired by injuries, he’s hitting only .220 with 13 homers, and now he’s been supplanted by a man named Costanza (no, not this one). Wallace won the Astros’ starting first base job with a great spring, but hit just .268 with four homers in 101 games before being sent down. He’s 25 now, and has played for four organizations. Will he ever produce like a first baseman should?  Santana, one of baseball’s best young catchers before missing the final two months of last year with a concussion, has 19 homers but is only hitting .241 and can’t even be considered the AL’s best catcher in a year when Joe Mauer is struggling (that title belongs to Alex Avila). And Alvarez not only doesn’t look too adept defensively at the hot corner, but he’s hitting .196 with three homers in 56 games in a struggle- and injury-filled second year.

Stars? Not this year: Hanley Ramirez, Ubaldo JimenezChase Utley and Mauer have all had uncommon struggles. By his lofty standards, Hanley’s 2010 season — .300 batting average, 21 homers, 32 steals — was a down one. This one — .243 batting average, 10 homers and 20 steals through 92 games — is flat-out mystifying. He has caught flak from teammates — particularly Logan Morrison — and now, he’s in Class A Jupiter rehabbing. Mauer missed time with leg weakness, has just one home run in his 70 games this year and has been tried out first base and right field this year. The Twins must obviously consider moving Mauer to a different position so they can keep him on the field, but does his bat play elsewhere? For the last six years, Utley has been one of baseball’s most consistent players and arguably its best second baseman. But knee tendinitis put him on the shelf at the start, and now he sits with just a .278 batting average and nine homers in 78 games. And one year after placing third in National League Cy Young Award voting, Ubaldo  has a 4.71 ERA in 26 starts this season. Many felt his head simply wasn’t in it in Colorado after frustrations over his contract situation, but he has a 5.79 ERA in his first five starts in Cleveland (though he did pitch seven innings of one-run ball on Friday night).

The lukewarm corner: So, who’s baseball’s best third baseman this year? Not Ryan Zimmerman; he has a .299 batting average but only nine homers and has been limited to 72 games. Not Alex Rodriguez; he has solid numbers for anyone else (.292 batting average and 14 homers) but was set back by a recent stint to the disabled list. Not David Wright; he missed almost 60 games with a back injury. Not Evan Longoria; he’s hitting just .237 after also missing time with injury. Nope, it’s none of those guys. Baseball’s best third baseman this year is … Aramis Ramirez, owner of a .311 batting average, 24 homers and 83 RBIs.

Honorable mentions: Ichiro Suzuki (.331 batting average and 224 hits per season in his first 10 years. This year? Career-low .273 batting average and .313 on-base percentage). … Rafael Soriano (Given $35 million to be a setup man; now has a 4.94 ERA as a middle reliever). … Shin-Soo Choo (One of baseball’s best-kept secrets while hitting .302 with 56 homers and 47 steals from 2008-10. This year, he’s hitting just .261 with eight homers in 83 games).

– Alden 

* Also filed this week: Aces’ contract decisions deliver parity

1st half is almost over; time for invisible hardware

Pretty unreal that the first half of this 2011 baseball season will ceremoniously end in three days.

It has been yet another busy one.

The Pirates, Indians and Diamondbacks are well-positioned in their respective divisions. The Phillies and Red Sox are on top as expected. The White Sox and Twins have struggled. Matt Kemp, Lance Berkman, J.J. Putz, Prince Fielder and Jose Reyes have experienced their own respective revivals. Manny Ramirez has retired. Bartolo Colon has turned back the clock. Derek Jeter hasn’t. Jose Bautista has gotten even better. Bob Geren, Edwin Rodriguez and Jim Riggleman have departed. Davey Johnson and Jack McKeon are back. The Mets’ and Dodgers’ stability have come into question. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds have taken the stand. Eric Hosmer, Jemile Weeks, Lonnie Chisenhall, Dustin AckleyMike Trout and a host of others have come up. Buster Posey has been lost for the year. Joe Mauer has become somewhat of a first baseman. Bryce Harper has dominated. Dan Uggla, Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford and Adam Dunn have all struggled with new teams. Justin Verlander and Francisco Liriano have thrown no-hitters. And pitching in general has continued to dominate.

One more weekend series remains before the All-Star break, and soon after that, we’ll reveal our cumulative first-half awards. But before I depart to Phoenix on Saturday morning, I figured I’d give you my own.

Here goes …

AL MVP

Jose Bautista (.333 BA, 1.158 OPS, 29 HR, 61 RBI)

* Simply the best player in baseball right now. He’s getting very little to hit and taking advantage of every mistake. 

AL Cy Young

Justin Verlander (11-4, 2.26 ERA, 138 SO, 143 1/3 IP)

* A no-hitter in progress every time he takes the mound. 

AL Rookie of the Year

Michael Pineda (8-5, 2.58 ERA, 106 SO, 108 IP)

* A physical specimen with great stuff who stays within the strike zone. 

AL Manager of the Year 

Manny Acta (Indians 47-39, 1 1/2 games up in the AL Central)

* Easy choice with the way the Indians have performed. Everyone expected them to eventually fall off, but they’re still in first place.

NL MVP 

Jose Reyes (.354 BA, .398 OBP, 32 RBI, 30 SB, 15 3B)

* The most electrifying player in baseball right now. Let’s hope he doesn’t miss too much time on the DL. 

NL Cy Young

Jair Jurrjens (12-3, 1.87 ERA, 1.066 WHIP, 110 2/3 IP)

* In a league with names like Halladay, Lee, Lincecum, Johnson and Greinke, Jurrjens has put up the best numbers. 

NL Rookie of the Year 

Danny Espinosa (.249 BA, 16 HR, 52 RBI, 11 SB)

* Not a great crop right now. Espinosa has put up the power numbers and provided Gold Glove-caliber defense. 

NL Manager of the Year 

Tony La Russa (Cardinals 47-42, tied for first place in the NL Central)

* No Adam Wainwright, a mediocre Chris Carpenter and Albert Pujols (by their standards), plus bullpen issues, and still TLR has them on top.

– Alden

** Filed this week: The NL has the pitching to win the All-Star Game; Werth, Uggla, Dunn and Crawford have all struggled with new contracts and new teams; MLB, New Orleans agree on new Urban Youth Academy; MLB, MiLB deal perhaps a sign of labor peace throughout industry. 

*** I haven’t watched the replay of the Rangers fan who died while trying to retrieve a baseball on Thursday night. I can’t. It would sadden me too much, and would make me think of how devastated I would be to lose my father. My heart goes out to that little boy and his family. 

A look at some struggling stars

Maybe the world did end on May 21 and this is some Twilight Zone-ish parallel universe we’re living in, because there’s plenty about the first two months of this baseball season that just doesn’t seem too, well, Earth-y.

Carl Crawford has a .269 on-base percentage?

Adam Dunn‘s batting average is .180?

Albert Pujols sports a .745 OPS?

Hanley Ramirez is hitting .210?

Dan Uggla is following it up with a .175 clip?

I can’t figure it out. But I did find it interesting that almost all of these guys — with the exception of Hanley — are either in the first or final year of their current deals. With a new contract comes pressure, with an expiring one comes uncertainty. Could that be to blame?

Nobody can know for sure. But here’s a closer look at The Mystifying Five …

Crawford

We’ve seen spurts, little flashes in the pan that the Red Sox’s new left fielder is getting back to being the electrifying player he was for so long in Tampa Bay. There was an 11-game hitting streak at the beginning of May that saw him bat .356, a few walk-offs sprinkled in, and back-to-back four-hit games on May 25 and 26.

But still, the consistency has lacked for one of the most consistent — and now richest — players in baseball.

Terry Francona has protected Crawford a bit by keeping him away from the top of the order since his dreadful start, batting him sixth recently. Upon being named American League Player of the Week on Tuesday, Crawford  sounded upbeat, saying: “I’m feeling a lot better. I’m feeling a lot more comfortable at the plate. Things are slowing down for me a lot. I feel like it’s definitely gotten better for me from the way I started off.”

But after May 26, Crawford has notched just three hits in a span of 20 at-bats, and thus the inconsistencies continue.

From 2003-10, Crawford hit .299 with a .340 on-base percentage and averaged 50 steals per season. But heading into Thursday, he had drawn just eight walks (though he’s not really known for that anyway), had stolen just seven bases and had notched just 50 hits in 224 plate appearances.

I thought he’d be a perfect fit for Fenway Park and that lineup (and still do), and I know he’s one of the hardest-working players in baseball. Is playing in a big market and with a big contract for the first time a factor?

It’s at least a fair question.

Dunn

Dunn (pictured up top by The Associated Press) has struckout an AL-high 71 times, has hit just five homers (he had 10 at this time last year) and has batted just .088 — yes, .088 — against lefties.

Because of that, the man who was  supposed to be that big lefty bat the White Sox have been missing since Jim Thome left has been sitting against tough lefties and has jumped around in the batting order.

Dunn, a real standup guy and one of my favorite players to talk to, said this recently: “I’m normally pretty good at not letting things affect me too much. This has been one of the tougher things for me. I don’t know why it is. I know I’m coming to a new team, we’re not playing very well, and I feel I’m a big part of why we’re not doing well. I think that weighs a little more on me than in the past.”

Two Sox teams, two star players acquired in the offseason, two unexpected records largely because of their struggles.

Pujols

Who knew. Even with Adam Wainwright missing the season with Tommy John surgery, the Cardinals are in first place thanks to the contributions of Yadier Molina (.320 batting average) and Lance Berkman (1.044 OPS), and not Pujols.

Considering Pujols is insanely focused, is in a walk year and is the greatest hitter on the planet, I was expecting numbers like .782 batting average, 91 homers, 256 RBIs this year. But, by Gosh, he’s human!

Pujols — he who has averaged a .331 clip, 41 homers and 123 RBIs every year heading into this one — is hitting only .262 with nine homers and 31 RBIs. I mean, they’re not terrible numbers. But they’re nowhere near Pujols-like.

I keep waiting for him to break out, but it just hasn’t happened yet. Is it possible that  future uncertainty has impacted the production of a man nicknamed “The Machine”?

Possible. But I still think his numbers will be solid by the end of the year, and I still wouldn’t be surprised if he signed for record money somewhere.

Ramirez

Ramirez is off to the worst start of his career, and now that he’s nursing what seems to be rather serious lower back pain, it may only get worse.

Ramirez, out since Sunday, has only a .306 on-base percentage, has hit only four home runs and has been caught stealing six times. Meanwhile, he continues to get dinged up, and he gets a little bigger every offseason.

I’m wondering how this affects talks of him switching positions.

Hanley wants to continue to play shortstop for obvious reasons — because he loves it, because it’s pretty much all he’s ever known, and because it makes him even more valuable when he hits free agency again. But the Marlins have too much invested and too little revenues to not try to get the most out of the $70 million deal they signed him to two years ago.

Ramirez’s 2010 season — when he batted .300 with 21 homers, 76 RBIs and 32 stolen bases — was solid, but a disappointment for him. Would Hanley be able to produce more if he moved to a less-demanding position? He’s never been great defensively, and the Marlins — with no disrespect meant to the fine season Greg Dobbs is having — have a hole at third base.

Just a thought.

Uggla

And that brings me to Ramirez’s teammate, who signed a five-year, $62 million contract with the Braves I never thought he’d land.

Look, Uggla has always been a slow starter (.440 career batting average in April, his lowest for any month) and besides last year, he’s never really hit for a high batting average (.257 from 2006-09).

You’d think Uggla would’ve gotten hot by now, though.

But he seems to have been getting progressively worse.

Over his last 12 games, Uggla has gone just 3-for-40 while striking out eight times and walking only once. Now, his batting average is the lowest it’s been since April 16.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez knows about Uggla’s early-season struggles very well. But recently, upon batting him seventh after giving him a couple of mental days off, Gonzalez admitted Uggla’s previous slow starts have been “nothing like this.”

“The thing he needs is a couple of balls to fall in,” he added. “For me, that’s all he needs. He’s unlucky at times. You hate to say he’s unlucky because he’s hitting [.175], so how unlucky can it be? But sometimes [the unluckiness] just starts piling on.”

I’ll leave you on this note: I’ve been getting the feeling that Uggla has never really thrived with the attention on him. He’s always been an under-the-radar guy as a Rule 5 product, always played in a small market in Florida with a reasonable contract; then he had that dreadful All-Star Game performance at Yankee Stadium in ’08, and now he’s struggling under the weight of a big contract.

I hope I’m wrong.

Alden

** What I wrote recently: The talent pool at catcher is growing awfully shallow; and Mets manager Terry Collins faces a kind of challenge he never foresaw.

So, about those MLB rankings …

One month in, and my preseason predictions aren’t looking very good. (Hey, at least give me credit for volunteering that … no?)

Through April, five of the eight teams I picked to make the playoffs don’t even have a .500 record right now; and the two teams I picked to clash in the World Series — the Red Sox and Braves — aren’t even among the top two in their own division. (Good thing I didn’t pick the Twins.)

Five months remain in the regular season, so everyone still has plenty of time. Who should worry, who will turn it around and who was I a fool to even consider?

Let’s have a look …

Red Sox (11-15): We’ll start in Beantown, because our jaws are still dropped from the ridiculously bad start coming from this ridiculously stacked team. Heading into Saturday’s action, the club I thought was going to sport baseball’s best offense ranked 17th in the Majors in OPS and tied for 18th in runs. Meanwhile, their bullpen ERA was tied for the second-highest in baseball. Boston started off the season with six straight losses, went on to win eight of nine shortly thereafter and have lost four of five since.

We’ll start with the good: The Sox have received some lights-out performances from three of their biggest question marks heading into the season — Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka (though Dice-K did leave his last start with elbow tightness). But two of their offseason acquisitions have struggled, with Bobby Jenks sporting a 2.160 WHIP and, most glaringly, Carl Crawford putting up only a .155 batting average in the first month.

Once Crawford gets going and emerges back into the top of the order — and believe me, he will — the dominoes will fall and the rest of that lineup will start churning out runs like we all expected. The rotation is fine if that offense hits to its capabilities — especially with the way Lackey, Beckett and Dice-K have been throwing it — but two big flaws are noticeable on this team: Catcher and lefty relief.

 Jarrod Saltalamacchia shouldn’t be in the big leagues at this point, and Jason Varitek isn’t anything more than a once-a-week starter these days, so eventually, they’ll need a reliable, veteran catcher who’s solid defensively and can manage a pitching staff. In the bullpen, they need a go-to lefty reliever. The Red Sox hoped Dennys Reyes would pan out, but the veteran was placed on waivers — ones he eventually cleared — four rough outings into his Sox tenure. I’m not solid on Hideki Okajima, either.

The good news is both of those roles are usually readily available at the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Panic meter: 5

White Sox (10-18): The South Siders could ill-afford a rough start to the 2011 season. They went overbudget this offseason and needed good attendance to continue to turn profits, but White Sox fans are a fickle bunch that won’t show up if the team isn’t performing. And the recently patched-up relationship between general manager Ken Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen didn’t need a test like this so early. But so it is. The White Sox’s bullpen struggled early on, the offense then went to sleep, and all year long the club has struggled to build any sort of consistency.

As Williams said in New York recently: “It’s a whole different stress level when you look at what we have.” He’s right. Chicago is loaded this season. But the truth of the matter is Adam Dunn‘s OPS is only .567, the offense altogether was tied for 20th in the Majors in runs scored entering Saturday, Mark Buehrle and Edwin Jackson have a combined 6.33 ERA, Chris Sale has given up seven runs in 10 2/3 innings and Jake Peavy still isn’t back.

Perhaps of all those warning signs, the latter is the most significant. The White Sox, regardless of all the talent they boast everywhere else, needed Peavy to be healthy and right in hopes of winning the deep American League Central (a division that’s only deeper with how the Indians are playing). Peavy did have an encouraging Minor League outing on Friday. But what he can give them after that kind of surgery is beyond me.

I do expect the offense to be much better, and I expect the bullpen to turn it around once Sale is more effective (and his stuff is just too good for him not to be). But facts are facts — the White Sox are already nine games back of first place. And this isn’t really an organization that breeds the type of optimism needed after early-season setbacks like these. (As Ozzie said in New York, “Every year, at some point, I get fired.”)

Panic meter: 8

Athletics (13-14): Allow me to bring in Dennis Green to kick this one off: “The Athletics are who we thought they were!” Going in, we felt the A’s had a nice-looking pitching staff and could defend, and we figured they’d struggle to score runs consistently. … OK, well, two out of three ain’t bad, right? Heading into Saturday, the A’s sported baseball’s lowest ERA and ranked 28th in runs scored. But they had the second-most errors in baseball, which has cost them considering eight of their losses have been decided by three runs or less.

The A’s can’t afford to be a team that makes a lot of errors. Their offense isn’t good enough to bail them out of many of them. Regardless, somebody does need to step up offensively. The question, as we pondered at the start of the season, is: who? In picking the A’s, I knew they had to ride a strong pitching staff and good defense to beat the likes of the Rangers and Angels. But also, both of those teams needed to struggle, and somebody needed to step up in that lineup.

The A’s are 0-for-3 there.

Maybe Billy Beane has a deal for a power bat up his sleeve.

Panic meter: 8

Tigers (12-15): Many wondered if Miguel Cabrera‘s Spring Training DUI troubles would be a distraction as the club looked to make a return trip to the playoffs. So far, Miggy — .333 batting average, seven homers and 19 RBIs — has been one of few bright spots in the Motor City. The Tigers, in the final year of Jim Leyland‘s contract, have been pretty streaky. They lost three in a row, then won four in a row, then lost three of four, then won four in a row again, and on Saturday night, they dropped their season-high fifth straight game. Meanwhile, offseason pickup Victor Martinez is on the disabled list, and there’s still no telling when Carlos Guillen and Joel Zumaya will be back.

The top of the order — mainly center fielder Austin Jackson and second baseman Will Rhymes — has struggled so far, with the Tigers going into Saturday ranking 29th and 18th in the Majors, respectively, in on-base percentage from the Nos. 1 and 2 spots in their order. Meanwhile, if anybody can find Magglio Ordonez (.159 batting average, zero homers in 18 games), please tell him to report to Comerica Park.

Look, at least one of the three between Brad Penny (6.11 ERA), Phil Coke (4.88) and Rick Porcello (4.25) is going to have a fine year when it’s all set and done;  Joaquin Benoit should pick it up at some point (though you can never tell with relievers); and once V-Mart is back, the offense will be much better (perhaps even Ordonez will be).

But this team isn’t immune to weaknesses. They’re rather old, have questions at several positions and — most important to me heading into the season — they don’t have that one lefty in the bullpen Leyland can have turn to late in games. When you’re in a division with the likes of Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer and Adam Dunn, you need that guy. Brad Thomas (10 earned runs in 8 1/3 innings) ain’t cutting it.

Panic meter: 7

Braves (13-15): Outside its record, Atlanta recently put pitching coach Roger McDowell on administrative leave after he allegedly heckled fans and saw starter Derek Lowe get cited for a DUI. When did the Braves become the Mets? On the field, meanwhile, they’ve struggled to find any sort of consistency in the early going, having not lost or won more than three in a row through the first month.

Of the five, I’m least worried about them.

Dan Uggla (.194 batting average) has always been a slow starter and should get going; Freddie Freeman (.217) is still getting adjusted to the big leagues, but will be a stud; and their starting pitching is simply too good for them not to be in it all year. Heading into the season, the Braves’ weaknesses lied in defense and in the top of the order. But I still believe they have enough elsewhere to overcome that.

Panic meter: 3

– Alden 

** What I wrote recently: Ageless wonder Omar Vizquel should be a no-doubt Hall of Famer; my 25-and-under All-Star team; it’s time to seriously consider moving Joe Mauer; CC Sabathia must step up for the Yanks; and a new generation has emerged onto the All-Star ballot.

*** Photos by The Associated Press. 

Big shoes to fill in Atlanta

Fredi.jpg
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Teams normally seek a new direction when they change managers. Not the Braves. When looking for the Bobby Cox successor, they sought consistency — somebody who would run a team, run a clubhouse, in much of the same way Bobby did. 
That’s why the choice to bring in Fredi Gonzalez was such an easy (and quick) one. 
Cox has been such an important and beloved figure in Atlanta that it was critical for the Braves to find somebody similar. And by all accounts, Fredi (pictured above by The Associated Press) hasn’t been much of a break from Bobby — because a lot of how he manages stems from his tutelage under Cox, not because he’s being anybody but himself. 
“Same old Fredi that I’ve seen him,” new Braves second baseman Dan Uggla told me on Sunday morning. Uggla, of course, also played for Gonzalez when the two were on the Marlins together. 
“Fredi’s Fredi. He’s not going to change who he is just because he’s in a different place. I think that’s a good thing, though.” 
I wrote recently about how the Marlins’ dismissal of Gonzalez in June seemed to be a win-win for both sides — the Marlins (now with Edwin Rodriguez) and Fredi himself. This clubhouse seems to play better to who Gonzalez is as a manager. Covering him with the Marlins, it didn’t seem like his strengths lied in getting on guys and being very demanding — they were in instilling confidence in players and getting the best out of them in that way. 
Problem is, with the Marlins, somebody needed to get on the guys at times. It wasn’t going to be Fredi, and it wasn’t going to be Josh Johnson or Hanley Ramirez; that’s just not who they are. And if it’s not the manager or the star players, it’s hard for anybody else to do it. In Atlanta, Tim Hudson and Chipper Jones are those guys. And by all accounts, they both have Fredi’s back. 
That’s huge for any first-year manager, especially one taking over a championship-contending team, and especially one filling such big shoes. 
One thing Fredi has said he wants to do is keep Bobby — now in an advisory role — as involved with the club as possible. 
“I want to try to get him in uniform before Spring Training, but I don’t know if that’s going to work,” Gonzalez said from Roger Dean Stadium on Monday. “He comes around as much as he wants to, and you want him to be around.”
As for what’s different between Marlins Fredi and Braves Fredi? 
“I think the experience,” he said. “I couldn’t tell you this is the one thing, but I think you’re always prepared after your first job — anywhere, I think — to handle things better. Because nothing prepares you to manage a club until you manage.” 
– Alden Gonzalez 

** What I wrote this week: Neftali Feliz should start for the Rangers; Brett Gardner a fit atop Yankees lineup; Mets well-versed in putting distractions in the back burner; Jason Bay and Justin Morneau fighting concussions together; stars bouncing back from 2010 injuries. 

Star gazing as we approach vernal equinox


Spring Training .jpg

NOT FLORIDA — I won’t make it down to Florida for Spring Training until early March, but I’m sure the Grapefruit League will be fine without me. A lot happened this offseason, and there’s a lot to watch this spring, especially among the upper-echelon guys. So, I thought I’d put together an easy-to-follow guide. Print it out, fold it up and put it in the back pocket of your Bermuda shorts as you weave through camps this spring. 

Here goes nothin’
… 

Coming back from injury

Star players whose 2010 seasons ended on the shelf

* Chipper Jones (Lake Buena Vista, Fla.):
It looked like Chipper’s career would be over when the 38-year-old tore his ACL
in August, but now he’s
aiming
to be ready for Opening Day
. If he’s healthy and contributing — even if it’s not at an
All-Star level — the Braves are title contenders. 

peavy.jpg

* Stephen Strasburg (Viera, Fla.):
Strasburg’s meteoric rise came to a screeching halt with the dreaded Tommy John
surgery in August. He won’t be ready until September, but he has already been tossing a ball
, and Tommy John has a pretty good
track record with regards to comebacks. 

* Jason Bay and Johan Santana (Port St. Lucie,
Fla.)
: Bay’s rough first season in Queens was put out of its misery
when a concussion ended his season in late July, and now the right-handed power
hitter must prove he could succeed within the spacious dimensions of Citi Field. Santana’s
season was cut short last year because of left shoulder surgery and he isn’t
expected back until midseason, though he
has
begun throwing at his Fort Myers, Fla., home
. The Mets need Santana to return to full health, since he’s still owed at least $77.5 million over the next four
years. 

* Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby
Ellsbury (Fort Myers, Fla.)
: The healthy returns of Youkilis
(thumb), Pedroia (foot) and Ellsbury (ribs) will be key if the Red Sox are
going to cash in on widespread expectations of an American League crown
(including from me).
Youkilis and Pedroia both say they’re feeling good,
and Ellsbury is expected to be ready to go from the jump. But can they continue
to produce at the same level? 

* Jake Peavy (Glendale, Ariz.):
Injuries have limited Peavy to 33 starts the last two years, and shoulder
surgery knocked him out in early July last year. Peavy (pictured above) is
pushing
to be ready by Opening Day
, but the White Sox will be cautious — because they know that
even with all the success they’ve had this offseason, Peavy may still be the key in
2011. 

* Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan (Fort Myers,
Fla.)
: Even without their biggest run producer and closer — and
thanks to the services of Jim Thome
and key bullpen additions — the Twins were the first team to clinch a playoff
spot last year. This year, the comebacks of
Morneau (concussion) and Nathan (Tommy John surgery) will be vital
for success in an improved AL Central. 

* Brandon Webb (Surprise, Ariz.):
Nobody is expecting him to fill the void of
Cliff Lee, but it’d be nice if Webb could retain some of what made
him one of baseball’s best pitchers two years ago and help shore up a pretty
questionable Rangers rotation. Webb, coming off shoulder surgery, has made
exactly one Major League start since the end of the ’08 season. 

* Grady Sizemore (Goodyear, Ariz.):
This is a big year for Sizemore, who was one of baseball’s best center fielders
from 2005-08 but has been derailed by injuries the last two seasons. An Opening
Day return still seems possible. But can he return to form after knee surgery? 

* Kendry Morales (Tempe, Ariz.):
That offensive spark the Angels sought this offseason could be fixed by the
healthy return of Morales, whose season ended in late May after an awkward
landing at home plate caused a serious leg injury. He is
expecting
a full recovery

New in town

Notable offseason pickups and their new homes 

* Dan Uggla (Lake Buena Vista, Fla.):
Love Dan, but I feel like the Braves will regret that five-year, $62 million
extension down the road (and I know I’m not alone). Still, he’s the
right-handed power hitter they sought this offseason, and he helps make them a force. 

Lee.jpg

* Lee (Clearwater, Fla.): OK, so Lee (pictured left) is not really new. But
he’s back in Philly (or, for now, Clearwater). And thanks to him taking less
money — though nobody’s bringing out the violin for a $120 million player –
the Phillies have arguably the best rotation foursome in baseball history. 

* Jayson Werth (Viera, Fla.): One of
the most scrutinized contracts of the offseason was the seven-year, $126
million one signed by Werth. Now, he’ll try to prove he’s worthy of being one
of the highest-paid players. It’ll be interesting to see if he can without the benefits
Philly brought him — a star-studded lineup loaded with lefty sluggers and a
hitter-friendly park (though Nats Park isn’t bad for hitters, either). 

* Rafael Soriano (Tampa, Fla.):
Soriano was a great closer for the Rays last year, and now he’s a $35 million
setup man. That’s pricey, but the Yankees have the eighth and ninth locked down
now. 

* Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez (Fort
Myers, Fla.)
: Nobody had a more successful offseason than the Red
Sox, which added Crawford (seven years, $142 million) and Gonzalez (extension
pending) and now have one of the game’s best offenses. Fenway Park should prove
very friendly for both. 

* Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez (Port
Charlotte, Fla.)
: I don’t know about Manny and Johnny making the
Rays elite again, but they’ll surely make things entertaining in St. Pete. And
they were cheap (Damon at $5.25 million, Ramirez at $2 million). 

* Vladimir Guerrero (Sarasota, Fla.):
Quietly, the Orioles look to have one of baseball’s best offenses. The addition
of Guerrero 
– signed to a one-year, $8 million deal — as the designated hitter is just one of many reasons why. 

* Adam Dunn (Glendale, Ariz.): The
White Sox needed a big lefty bat for the middle of the order, and they got one
in Dunn — signed to a four-year, $56 million deal. Dunn should thrive in U.S.
Cellular Field, especially while hitting in such a dangerous lineup. 

* Victor Martinez (Lakeland, Fla.):
V-Mart, a switch-hitting catcher who can also play first base and DH, was a
nice pickup for the Tigers at four years and $50 million. They should be in the
hunt in the AL Central all year. 

* Lance Berkman (Jupiter, Fla.):
Berkman was an interesting signing for the Cardinals, especially at $8 million
guaranteed. If he reverts to pre-2010 form, it’s a bargain. If he doesn’t, it’s
a mistake signing at a time when the club can’t really afford any (see: Albert Pujols extension). 

* Zack Greinke (Phoenix, Ariz.): The
Brewers, thanks to the acquisition of Greinke, now boast one of the deepest and
best rotations in baseball. The best part about it is they didn’t really give
away any premier prospects in the process. 

* Matt Garza (Mesa, Ariz.): Garza
may not be an ace, but he’s a solid pitcher who’s been very consistent the
last few years. He gives the Cubs significant depth in their rotation. 

* Miguel Tejada (Scottsdale, Ariz.):
The defending champions will have a 36-year-old manning shortstop. Tejada gives
them a bit more punch than Edgar
Renteria
and Juan Uribe
— maybe — but a left side of the infield with Tejada and Pablo Sandoval will be, ahem,
interesting to watch. 

* Adrian Beltre (Surprise, Ariz.):
The Beltre signing — for five years at $80 million — gives the Rangers an
instant upgrade at third base (at least defensively). But does it make them a better team overall? Not
if it ends up costing them Michael
Young

* Vernon Wells (Tempe, Ariz.): It
was seen as a desperation move in many circles, and it surely is costly. But if
Wells — still owed $86 million the next four years — can repeat his 2010 performance, the Angels can stay in
the hunt in the AL West. 

Back to elite status? 

Elite players who had a down year — by their standards — in 2010 

Hanley .jpg

* Hanley Ramirez (Jupiter, Fla.): By his
standards, Ramirez’s 2010 — .300 batting average, 21 homers, 76 RBIs, 32
stolen bases and one public bout with his manager — was a down one for the
star shortstop. Could Hanley (pictured
right
) return to being the National League’s best shortstop, or has Troy Tulowitzki permanently taken that
crown from him? 

* Carlos Pena (Mesa, Ariz.): Pena
has averaged 36 homers and 102 RBIs over the last four seasons, but last year’s
.196 batting average was an embarrassment. Perhaps being reunited with his old
hitting coach,
Rudy Jaramillo,
in Chicago can make a difference. 

* Justin Upton (Scottsdale, Ariz.):
Is this the year Upton finally proves he’s a franchise-type player? Last year,
when he hit .273 with 16 homers and 79 RBIs, he wasn’t, and it led to new general
manager Kevin Towers listening to offers for his right fielder.
But Upton has all the tools, and he says he’s
ready
to have a big year

* Matt Kemp and Jonathan Broxton (Phoenix,
Ariz.)
: Broxton’s 4.04 ERA in 2010 was by far his highest in five full seasons in the Majors, and Kemp’s .249 batting average was a big
shock. Perhaps a new skipper could do the trick? 

* Sandoval (Scottsdale, Ariz.): Can
he return to being the “Big Panda” of 2009, the one who hit .330 with
25 homers and 90 RBIs? The Giants will need him to in hopes of repeating. And it
seems he
feels
the same way

* Chone Figgins (Peoria, Ariz.): Maybe there was just something in the water in Seattle last year that caused everyone to struggle at the plate. Nonetheless, Figgins had a rather unimpressive showing in his first year with his new team, sporting career-lows in batting average (.259) and on-base percentage (.340). Now, he’s dealing with trade rumors

* Jose Reyes (Port St. Lucie, Fla.): An assortment of injuries limited Reyes the last few years and greatly diminished his production. Now, he says he’s feeling good, and he’s entering his walk year. Big year for the speedy shortstop.

* Derrek Lee (Sarasota, Fla.): Lee hit .310 and averaged 26 homers and 84 RBIs from 2005-09. But a bad back limited him to a .260 batting average, 19 homers and 80 RBIs in 2010. Now, he’s in Baltimore on a one-year, $7.25 million contract. 

* Phillies’ middle infield (Clearwater, Fla.): Chase Utley (.275 with 16 homers and 65 RBIs) and Jimmy Rollins (.320 on-base percentage and eight homers in 88 games) are coming off down years. They’ll need to step up now that Werth is gone. 

* Red Sox starters (Fort Myers, Fla.): Mainly, the two veterans — Josh Beckett and John Lackey. Regardless of all the moves the Red Sox made on offense and in the bullpen, starting pitching always wins out (see: 2010 Giants). So, the success of this 2011 team will ultimately begin and end with the effectiveness of that staff. Beckett (6-6, 5.78 ERA) and Lackey (14-11, 4.40 ERA) need to be better. 

* Yankees infield (Tampa, Fla.): Well, at least three-quarters of it. All eyes are on Derek Jeter, who’s 36, coming off his worst year and recently signed to a three-year, $51 million contract with a fourth-year option. Rightfully so. But Alex Rodriguez (career-low .270 batting average) and Mark Teixeira (career-low .256 batting average) need to be more efficient to help make up for a shaky rotation in the Bronx. 

– Alden Gonzalez

** Check out my take on why greed shouldn’t be to blamed in the situations of Albert Pujols and Young. 

*** And check in next week, for a look at the most important Spring Training position battles.  

**** Photo credit above: The Associated Press 

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

You can’t really blame the Marlins this time

Based on history, it’d be easy to hate on the Marlins right now.

It’d be easy to call out the tight-wallet team that has let so many quality players slip through its organization and passed on so many big-time free agents. And it’d be easy to rip a club that has a hard time spending despite records recently showing they’ve turned handsome profits in the past.

You can’t get on the Marlins for trading Dan Uggla to the Braves, though.

The Marlins, in fact, almost overpaid for Uggla. They gave a 30-year-old second baseman with a long swing and a stiff glove a four-year, $48 million proposal, and according to The Miami Herald, they kept jacking up that offer in hopes of getting a deal done. But Uggla wanted five years at $71 million and reportedly wasn’t backing down from that.

Florida wouldn’t go there.

And it shouldn’t have.

“We felt like we were where we wanted to be in terms of an offer to Dan, that we were more than fair,” Marlins president of baseball operations Larry Beinfest said upon announcing the deal from the General Managers Meetings on Tuesday. “We acknowledged all the things he had done in the game and will continue to do in the game, and we weren’t able to get it done. An option was to keep him for a year, realizing he would probably walk into free agency by the end of the year, and we chose to make a move.”

Braves general manager Frank Wren said he’d like to sign Uggla to a long-term deal, but Uggla isn’t going to get anywhere near what he’s asking for from a foreign club. Despite his big year last season and his home-run production throughout his entire career, Uggla will be 31 in March, and scouts are turned off by his strikeout totals and spotty defense.They like him, but they don’t love him. And that’s the kind of money you give to guys you can’t see your team without.  

Uggla’s best shot at a big contract came with a franchise that reveres him and is looking for good publicity heading into a new stadium.

He got that.

“We think the compensation would have placed him with the elite players at his position in the game,” Beinfest said. “Dan, I guess, saw it otherwise.” 

Veteran infielder Omar Infante (solid defense and a good contact hitter) and young lefty Mike Dunn (who supposedly has electric stuff and, well, throws left-handed) fill two critical needs for the Marlins. Could Beinfest have received more elsewhere? Maybe, maybe not. Uggla could get up to $12 million in arbitration this year, and he’s a free agent after the 2011 season, so teams probably weren’t willing to give up too much.

One important thing Beinfest said: “What Dan would have been paid in our budget, we will re-spend that money.” The Marlins have already begun to do that by agreeing to sign John Buck to a three-year contract reportedly worth $18 million. Perhaps they can add a cost-efficient starter, too.  

Full-disclosure, I really, really like Dan. He’s one of my favorite players ever to deal with. A real stand-up guy. I saw the impact he had in that Marlins clubhouse (one franchise player Hanley Ramirez is hardly a leader in). And I saw the love he got from the Marlins’ fan base.

I know it hurts to see another lovable Marlin go. Heck, just a few weeks ago, Marlins fans were forced to watch one of their all-time faves, Cody Ross, light it up for the Giants and win it all after the Marlins literally gave him away in August.

You can blame the Marlins for that. And with Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller now traded after neither performed up to par in the early part of their Major League careers, you can blame them for the Miguel Cabrera trade of 2007.

Want to blame somebody for what was announced in Orlando this afternoon?

“His name is DAN UGGLA.”

– Alden Gonzalez  

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