Results tagged ‘ Hanley Ramirez ’

Trout’s mom: ‘I’m really going to miss Torii’ …

TROUT-TORIIThere are a lot of pictures at Mike Trout‘s parents’ house in Millville, N.J.

To his mom, Debbie, this is the favorite.

It’s hanging in a frame downstairs, in the basement Mike has turned into his own personal “man cave,” and autographed with silver Sharpie by the two of them.

This is a snapshot of Mike’s first Major League game on July 8, 2011, taken just after Mike raced to the wall to make this running catch.

But the significance of this photo lies in the man standing to Mike’s right, Torii Hunter, who took Mike under his wing basically since the moment he was drafted and is now gone, signing with the Tigers to a two-year, $26 million contract over the offseason.

“I’m going to miss Torii,” Debbie said. “I really am going to miss Torii. He was just absolutely wonderful to Mike.”

“Not only did he help him with his approach to the game, but all the little things that people don’t realize when you get up there as a 20-year-old kid — how to behave in the clubhouse, what time to get there,” Mike’s father, Jeff, said. “He’s counseled Mike on nutrition, how to take care of his legs, how to take care of your body, how to handle fans, how to handle the autograph thing. He really has been a really, really positive influence on Mike.”

Hunter was one of the first players Mike met after being the Angels’ 25th overall pick in 2009. The Angels invited him to take batting practice at Angel Stadium, Hunter introduced himself and the veteran outfielder stayed in touch with Mike as he was coming up through the system. Hunter bought Mike a suit shortly after he came up to the big leagues, tipped clubbies for him and even paid for his parents’ dinner when he spotted them at a restaurant one night. The two still stay in touch.

Shortly after Hunter signed with the Tigers, Mike’s mom sent him a tweet (her handle: @DebbieTrout27) …

Thank you from the bottom of my heart!!! Mike has learned from the Best!!!We will miss you but see you in Detroit!!!

Hunter’s response (via @toriihunter48) …

no mama! Thanks to u for raising such a great kid. He was easy to work with and talk to. @Trouty20 is a special kid

“He was a great mentor, and we appreciate everything he did,” Jeff said. “Hopefully some day Mike can do the same for a young player coming up.”

“That’s right,” Debbie added, “because that’s what it’s all about. But I’m really going to miss Torii.”

We ran a story today on Mike’s hometown of Millville — the impact it’s had on his life, the way it has rallied around him these last nine months and how, in some ways, things can never be the same again there. Here are some additional notes …

* The Angels have not begun talks with Mike and his representatives with regards to a long-term extension, sources have said. The club is past the point where it can get him to agree on an Evan Longoria-type deal — six years, $17.5 million, agreed on when he first arrived in the big leagues.

Big-market clubs, as a general rule, can opt to wait a little longer to sign controlled players to a long extension because they aren’t scared by looming arbitration. And by waiting, they minimize the risk for nine figures at such a young age. Normally it’s the small- to mid-market teams that do it in the pre-arbitration years (think Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, Justin Upton and Hanley Ramirez) because it’s one of few ways to assure a star player doesn’t leave via fre agency.

Also, the competitive balance tax accounts for the average annual value of a contract, not the year-to-year price point. So, for example, if Mike signs a 10-year, $200 million contract that’s typically backloaded into his free-agent years, the $25M AAV is factored into the “now payroll” for the CBT. So, even if that contracts pays him only $1M in 2013, the Angels are paying taxes as if that were a $25M deal. That gets to be very pricey when you have other massive deals (Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, etc.).

In short, the Angels’ thinking is: What’s the rush? They’ll get there at some point. They’d sure like to.

* Mike isn’t too thrilled about being relegated to left field next season, several people close to him say. No surprise. (How would you feel if you were told to switch positions after being the MVP runner-up?) But Mike has made no mention of his displeasure to Angels management, simply telling them he believes he’s a center fielder but will do what it takes to help the team win.

The Angels remain committed to putting Peter Bourjos in center and Trout in left for a vast majority of the 2013 season – unless Bourjos struggles offensively again. They like the alignment because Bourjos is also an elite-level defensive center fielder – some would say he covers more ground than Mike – and Mike has more experience in left field. Also, staying away from center will only limit the wear and tear on Mike’s legs long-term. Being a left fielder, however, could cost Mike some money, especially in arbitration. It’s highly unlikely that Mike attains Super Two status, so he probably won’t reach arbitration until after the 2014 season.

* Here’s a running joke around Millville: The city doesn’t have any maternity hospitals, so every woman in this city gives birth in Vineland, which just so happens to be their heated, neighboring rival. That was no different for Debbie Trout on Aug. 7, 1991, when Mike was born. And because of that technicality, every Mike Trout baseball card and bio page lists his birthplace as Vineland, N.J. (The grainy picture below is from his freshman year of high school.)

IMG_1753Millville folks don’t generally find that very funny, as you might imagine.

“Yeah, but he never spent no time there,” Millville Mayor Tim Shannon bellowed. “Soon as he was born, we brought him back!”

* Jeff and Debbie point to the July 10 All-Star Game in Kansas City as the moment they realized their lives, and especially Mike’s, would never be the same again.

At about 2 a.m., while the Trouts were celebrating Debbie’s 50th birthday at one of The Capital Grille’s private rooms, fans were still parked outside waiting to hound Mike for autographs as soon as he stepped out. At that point, he and his family were led out the back – where Charlie Sheen was coming in, and sparked a short conversation with Mike.

“That’s when we realized things had changed forever, for us and for Michael,” Jeff said.

Added Debbie: “We no longer were coming in through the front door.”

Alden 

6 divisions in 6 days, Day 1 …

Leading up to Opening Day, I’ll roll out an All-Star team for each of the six divisions in baseball — that includes a manager, a starting nine (with a DH also for the National League), three starters and two relievers. One catch: Each team must have at least one representative, and the skipper doesn’t count. Feel free to submit your own lineups below. I’d love to see how yours differ.

Day 1: NL East
Team-wise, perhaps the deepest division in baseball. But there are a lot of players I’m counting on bounceback years from (and that’s not even including Chase Utley)

Manager: Charlie Manuel, PHI

Lineup

Jose Reyes, SS (MIA)
Hanley Ramirez, DH (MIA)
Ryan Howard, 1B (PHI)
Mike Stanton, LF (MIA)
Brian McCann, C (ATL)
David Wright, 3B (NYM)
Danny Espinosa, 2B (WAS)
Jason Heyward, RF (ATL)
Shane Victorino, CF (PHI)

Rotation

Roy Halladay, PHI
Cliff Lee, PHI
Stephen Strasburg, WAS

Bullpen

Jonathan Papelbon, PHI
Craig Kimbrel, ATL

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

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.

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. 

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  

Trying to predict a truly unpredictable game …

What would Opening Night be without predictions of what will happen half a year from now? Baseball is one of those elements of life that follows no script and is loaded with unpredictability. Come October, this will serve as proof …

Best offense: Phillies 

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Best defense: Red Sox
Best starting rotation: Yankees
Best bullpen: Rangers
Best bench: Rockies
NL Rookie of the Year: Jason Heyward 
AL Rookie of the Year: Michael Brantley
NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay
AL Cy Young: Josh Beckett
NL MVP: Hanley Ramirez
AL MVP: Alex Rodriguez
World Series champion: Phillies (over Yankees)
… Now, it’s time to find out just how wrong I truly am. Happy 2010 season, everyone.
Alden Gonzalez

(Pictured: A vintage Ken Griffey Jr. moon shot. Why? He was my favorite player growing up, this may be the last year we are graced with his presence, and his eight Opening Day home runs is tied with Frank Robinson for the most in baseball history. Enough said.)

6 Divisions in 6 Days: NL East

With this being the final week of Spring Training (crazy, right?), I figured it’d be justified to take a look at all 30 clubs and examine where they stand, what they need and where it looks like they’ll finish heading into the 2010 season. So, leading up to Opening Night between the Red Sox and Yankees, I’ll touch on one of the six divisions each day Monday-Saturday. Today, Day 1, we look at the National League East …

Phillies: I see no weaknesses in the back-to-back NL champions. They have arguably the best pitcher in baseball at the top of the rotation, a starting lineup that will scare the bejesus out of you, a great defensive group, options at the back end of their bullpen and incredible depth. Cole Hamels, of course, is the key. Since the Phillies didn’t keep Cliff Lee in the Roy Halladay deal (Phillies fans will debate that for decades), Hamels is the No. 2 starter again despite a rough year in 2009. If Hamels’ comeback is the most important, then that of closer Brad Lidge is 1A. Lidge and lefty J.C. Romero likely won’t be ready for the start of the season, but they’ll join the club soon thereafter. Still, the Phils signed Danys Baez, who also has experience closing out games, and Ryan Madson is there, too, of course. Offensively, uh, yeah, they’re good. I love the addition of Placido Polanco, who is a great No. 2 hitter and allows Shane Victorino to slide down in the order. J.A. Happ, Joe Blanton and possibly Jamie Moyer round out the rotation, which is good enough — at least. Their bench is solid with the addition of Juan Castro and Ross Gload. Defensively, Carlos Ruiz, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Victorino and Jayson Werth are some of the best in the business at their respective positions. So, again, no weaknesses, really. 

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Marlins: Ask anybody around the league, and they’ll tell you the Marlins will be a pain in the neck this year — just like they were in 2008, and just like they were in 2009. The Marlins’ brass, however, wants more. They wanted a playoff team with a $30 million payroll, as evidenced by Fredi Gonzalez being put on the hot seat early this offseason despite finishing above .500 and being in contention most of the way last year. Pretty much the same core group is back, with Josh Johnson — fresh off signing a four-year extension — at the top of the rotation and Hanley Ramirez in the middle of the lineup. That young rotation that was the talk of baseball a couple of years ago isn’t looking so good right now, though. While Johnson and Ricky Nolasco give the Marlins a nice one-two punch, there are questions in the other three spots. And their closer, Leo Nunez, has only been one for half a season. The rest of the bullpen is a bit shaky and inexperienced, too. Offensively, they’ll have reigning NL Rookie of the Year Chris Coghlan for a full season. But they need Cameron Maybin to produce as the No. 2 hitter, and I don’t think they have a big enough bat to protect Ramirez in the middle of the order (Jorge Cantu is the guy right now). With a new stadium, and Johnson and Ramirez locked up long-term, the future looks good for the Marlins. 2010? I think they’ll be in it in September, but it’ll be the same story as the last couple of years. This division is too good to win with that payroll. 

Braves: There may be no better starting rotation than the Braves’, and there may be no feel-good story better than the one playing out in Atlanta. Bobby Cox‘s last season. Jason Heyward‘s first. Veteran players making the Braves look legit for the first time in a while. Meant to be? Perhaps. Derek Lowe, Tim Hudson, Tommy Hanson, Kenshin Kawakami and Jair Jurrjens is flat-out scary. And I like their bullpen. Here’s my problem: The Braves will rely on a cleanup hitter (Troy Glaus) and a closer (Billy Wagner) coming off major surgeries. But they’re deep in the ‘pen, and the offense is pretty good, with Chipper Jones, Brian McCann, Heyward (what a phenomenal player he is) and Yunel Escobar. Oh, and Wagner and Glaus have each looked good this spring. I have questions about Nate McLouth as the leadoff hiter (and Melky Cabrera seemingly being the No. 2 option), and their infield defense is shaky with Jones at third, Glaus at first, McCann behind the plate and Martin Prado at second base. But the more I see this team, the more I like it. 

Mets: Meet the Mess! Once again, the Amazin’s have a nice-looking squad on paper, but who knows what you’ll get out of them? They already know Carlos Beltran won’t start the season healthy, nor will expected setup man Kelvim Escobar, and Jose Reyes probably won’t, either. But they still have Johan Santana at the top of their rotation, they still have Jason Bay in the middle of their order, and neither Beltran nor Reyes are expected to miss much time. The Mets will of course be a much better offensive club than last year’s rag-tag group, but I’d worry about their rotation. After Santana, there are four solid question marks in Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, Oliver Perez and Jon Niese. Also, who will be the bridge to Francisco Rodriguez? There’s a flame-throwing prospect by the name of Jenrry Mejia who has drawn comparisons to Doc Gooden. He won’t start the season as the eighth-inning man, but that may be his role eventually. Once again, the Mets have the potential to be great and catastrophic, all at the same time. One thing that’s certain: It should be interesting. 

Nationals: Mike
Rizzo
has done a pretty descent job in his short time as the Nats’ general manager. He acquired pitching help in Jason Marquis (though he’s not an ace by any stretch), got a solid catcher who can mentor Jesus Flores in Ivan Rodriguez (I don’t know about giving him two years and $6 million, however), went hard after Orlando Hudson (but he had to settle for Adam Kennedy at second base), came to terms with top pitching prospects Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen, and he made the bold — and surprising — move of releasing Elijah Dukes, getting rid of a supreme talent but a perceived clubhouse cancer. Think again, though, if you think the Nats can go from 103 losses to playoff contention in one season. They’re at least another year away. I really like their lineup, with Nyjer Morgan at the top, and Ryan Zimmerman, Adam Dunn and a healthy Josh Willingham in the middle. And I like rookie Ian Desmond‘s defense at shortstop. But that starting rotation, led by John Lannan, is still shaky at best. And despite adding guys like Brian Bruney and Matt Capps, there’s no legit closer, and the bullpen should struggle as a unit. But expect progress. 
NL East champion: Phillies
NL Wild Card: Braves
– Alden Gonzalez

Where does Maybin hit in the Marlins’ lineup?

JUPITER, Fla. — The Marlins will go into the 2010 season with one of the lowest payrolls in the big leagues, but ownership is seemingly putting the heat on manager Fredi Gonzalez to make the playoffs this year. Owner Jeffrey Loria felt his club was good enough to play in October last year, and he feels even stronger about that notion this year.

There are obvious reasons for that mentality — two big ones are Josh Johnson and Hanley Ramirez — but certain things will have to happen for that to become a reality.
For starters, Cameron Maybin (pictured) will have to finally demonstrate at the highest level what has made him one of the most promising young players in the game in recent years. 

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I really believe Maybin’s struggles last year (a .254 batting average in 54 games) had a lot to do with the fact he was hitting eighth. Batting in that spot of the lineup in the National League is really difficult since you’re not getting many pitches to hit with the pitcher behind you, especially when you’re an aggressive hitter like Maybin, who sports a career .475 slugging percentage in the Minor Leagues.
Gonzalez told me that “in a perfect world” he’d like to avoid batting Maybin eighth and that he sees him as his No. 2 hitter — between leadoff man Chris Coghlan and No. 3 hitter Hanley Ramirez. But that can change.
Here’s what Maybin said when I asked him what his ideal spot in the lineup is: I’ve always hit at the top of the order. That’s all I’ve been telling everybody. I’ve always been a guy that hit in the top of the order in the Minor Leagues. Here, we’ve got so many weapons. It’s just one of those things. The things I can bring to the table, you can put me in a lot of places.
I’m still unsure of where Maybin belongs in a Major League lineup, because he’s got the speed to be a leadoff hitter and the power to be a middle-of-the-order guy. It’s a lot like Hanley in the beginning of his career. Ramirez began as a leadoff hitter with the Marlins, but now he’s a full-fledged power hitter (though, of course, he can hit for a high average, get on base and steal bases, too).
So, what about Maybin? Is he a run producer or a run scorer? He says he doesn’t really have to choose.
“I just want to affect the game in as many ways as I can with my ability, that’s my plan,” he said. “However that may be, by knocking them in or scoring from first base on base hits, that’s what I do, man.
“If you’re hitting in the middle of the order, you’re looking to drive runs in. If you’re hitting at the top, you’re looking to get on base. … I just want to be whatever I can be. Everybody asks these difficult questions. It’s all about helping the team win — bottom line. Whether it’s one-two, eight-nine [in the lineup].”
As spectacular as Coghlan was at the top of the order en route to winning Rookie of the Year for the NL, I believe he is the prototypical No. 2 hitter. The only problem is the Marlins haven’t really had a truly leadoff hitter since Juan Pierre left, and Maybin strikes out too often to be a top-of-the-order guy.
But when asked if he believes he can be an everyday leadoff hitter in the big leagues, Maybin said, “Absolutely. Why not, man?” Still, though, he added that he loves hitting behind Coghlan — like he’s done through so many years in the Minors — and that’s ideally where he’ll be in 2010. 
Here are his Major League-career splits from the different spots in the lineup …
* 1st: 46 AB, .304 BA, .699 OPS, 1 RBI
* 2nd: 83 AB, .325 BA, .861 OPS, 1 HR, 7 RBI
* 3rd: 3 AB, .333 BA, 1.000 OPS, 1 RBI
* 4th: 1 PA, 1 SH
* 5th: 2 AB, 1 H
* 6th: 1 PA, 1 BB
* 7th: 10 AB, .333 BA, 1.067 OPS, 1 HR, 4 RBI
* 8th: 93 AB, .194 BA, .594 OPS, 2 HR, 3 RBI
* 9th: 21 AB, .190 BA, .689 OPS, 1 HR, 1 RBI
——-
As for that whole playoffs thing, is it unfair to demand postseason from a team with that kind of payroll? I think the Marlins will be fine, and I think they’ll be in the thick of things all year (everyone in the league pretty much feels the same way). But the NL East has become the deepest division in the Major Leagues, and I see zero weaknesses on the Phillies.
Here’s what Fredi had to say: There’s no reason why we can’t make a run at this. A lot of things have to go right. You can drop $100 million on this team, and it would be hard to get five wins better [than the 87 wins of 2009]. But I like the guys that we have here. The pitching has got to be better, more consistent than last year, and then we’ll see what happens in July, when it’s time to get another piece. 

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