Results tagged ‘ James Loney ’

Price Is Right? …

David Price

In August 2009, the Angels acquired Scott Kazmir from the Rays in a four-player trade.

In July 2012, Peter Bourjos was so close to being dealt to the Rays — presumably for James Shields, but that part is unconfirmed — that they basically had his uniform ready in St. Petersburg.

This offseason, perhaps the two can come together again — this time for ace pitcher David Price.

The two haven’t been linked heavily in trade talks — yet — but it’s a pairing that would seem to make sense for both sides. The Rays are believed throughout the industry to be shopping Price this winter. It’s the kind of thing they’d do. The starting-pitching market is thin, which would maximize Price’s value; the 28-year-old left-hander is projected to make about $13 million in his second year of arbitration; and Tampa Bay has a gluttony of young, cost-controlled starting pitching, which could free the front office up to trade Price for the offense that may finally balance out their roster.

Meet the Angels. They’ll spend all offseason looking for pitching via the trade market and are more than willing to dangle offensive pieces to get it. Price only comes with two years of control, which doesn’t exactly meet the profile of cost-controlled arms that Jerry Dipoto specifically targets. But here’s the thing: The Angels don’t just have to improve the rotation. They have to get a lot better. Their staff ranked 11th in the American League in ERA last year, Jered Weaver basically loses a tick or two off his fastball every season, C.J. Wilson can drive you nuts every five days, Garrett Richards is still developing and Jason Vargas (if resigned) is 64th in ERA over the last four years.

This rotation looks a whole lot better if you slide Price at the top and move everyone down a spot.

Heck, it may rival some of the best in the league.

Will it happen? Maybe; most likely not, given how difficult it is to pull off trades this big. But it’s an interesting one to think about at this point. (Even a little fun, no?) Who would the Angels have to give up to get Price, you ask? One guy the Rays may really want — perhaps even demand — is Richards, and I can see that being the difference between real dialogue taking place or this being nothing more than a pipe dream. Besides Richards, Mark Trumbo — who you’d hate to lose, but would probably be willing to give up if it means getting someone this good — is probably a guy who would go to Tampa Bay, since he’d be a perfect fit in the middle of their lineup and first baseman James Loney is now a free agent. Maybe Bourjos gets thrown in there again, perhaps second baseman Howie Kendrick — born and raised in nearby Jacksonville — gets added to the mix, maybe some prospects, maybe all of them.

Two things are certain …

  1. The Angels would face a whole lot of competition, especially if Japanese sensation Masahiro Tanaka isn’t posted. And the Rays will seek a significant return since they don’t really have to trade Price this offseason.
  2. The Angels may have to take on money, since a big reason the Rays would do it in the first place is to free up some payroll flexibility. (I estimate that the Angels have something in the neighborhood of $15 million of wiggle room for 2014. Parting ways with Trumbo saves about $6 million for next season, while Kendrick saves about $9 million and Bourjos saves about $1.5 million.)

***

Vargas — without the $14.1 million qualifying offer — officially joined the free-agent pool of starting pitchers at 9:01 p.m. PT on Monday, when teams were given the green light to start negotiating with all eligible free agents. The Angels would be interested in bringing him back. And though their best bet to bolster their starting rotation will come via the trade market, the free-agent list is worth looking at nonetheless.

So, with that in mind, below is a categorical look at the unimpressive-but-perhaps-useful pool. Off the bat, I eliminated Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez and Hiroki Kuroda, the three starters who were tendered the qualifying offer and figure to be out of the Angels’ price range. Also not mentioned are Far East stars Tanaka and Suk-Min Yoon (Korea), who have yet to be posted.

Have a look. (Warning: It ain’t pretty.)

Bartolo ColonProbably Too Steep

Matt Garza
Ricky Nolasco

The Next Tier

Bronson Arroyo
A.J. Burnett
Tim Hudson

Big Names, Big Reclamations

Roy Halladay
Josh Johnson
Johan Santana
Ryan Vogelsong

Reunion Candidates

Bartolo Colon
Dan Haren
Kazmir
Joe Saunders

Phil HughesSteady, Albeit-Uninspiring Veterans

Erik Bedard
Bruce Chen
Jason Hammel
Paul Maholm
Jake Westbrook

Coming Back From Injury 

Chris Capuano
Jeff Karstens
John Lannan
Colby Lewis
James McDonald
Clayton Richard

Potential Minor League Options

Freddy Garcia
Aaron Harang
Ted Lilly
Shaun Marcum
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Roy Oswalt
Barry ZitoTsuyoshi Wada
Chien-Ming Wang

Some Upside Left?

Scott Baker
Scott Feldman
Phil Hughes
Sean O’Sullivan
Mike Pelfrey
Greg Reynolds
Edinson Volquez

Anything Left? 

Jeff Francis
Jon Garland
Roberto Hernandez
Barry Zito

Alden

What can the Angels get for Kendrys Morales? …

Kendrys MoralesThe ideal chip for the Angels’ next, seemingly inevitable trade for a starting pitcher is Kendrys Morales.

It’s hard to deny that. Morales is coming into his final season before free agency and — given his representation (Scott Boras) and his desire to be more than a full-time DH — will leave after 2013.

Trading him now would give the Angels an outfield foursome of Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, Peter Bourjos and Mark Trumbo (with Vernon Wells‘ contract probably still lingering). Trout, Bourjos and Trumbo are still in their pre-arbitration years and all four are under club control until at least 2016. Trout (probably left field), Bourjos (center) and Hamilton (right) would make up one of the game’s best outfields — offensively and defensively — and would give the Angels somewhat of a revolving door at DH. Trumbo would get the most reps there, but his versatility would allow Hamilton and Albert Pujols, who need to stay on the field to maximize their nine-figure contracts, can start there, too, when needed.

But what kind of starting pitcher can Morales bring back?

The Angels will seemingly be selling pretty high on the 29-year-old switch-hitter. He’s coming off his first healthy season since 2009, batting .273 with 22 homers, 73 RBIs and a .787 OPS. Morales, who missed almost two full seasons with a couple of ankle surgeries, even proved he can still handle first base. Then there’s the belief that he’ll be even better in 2013, with the motivation of an expiring contract and a full season under his belt. That’s a pretty good package for a guy who will make about $4 million next year, and teams desperate for power — particularly from the left side of the plate — would no doubt love to have him.

Still, though, his market is limited, because you’d be hard-pressed to find a National League club willing to gamble on him as their everyday first baseman and because we’re at a point in the offseason when most teams no longer have big holes to fill. Of course, the Angels would love to move Wells, but I can’t imagine them getting back any significant starter for him, even if they eat the vast majority of the $42 million owed to him the next two years. They’ll also keep listening on Bourjos and Trumbo, and may pull the trigger if blown away by a top-tier, cost-controlled starter. But as Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com wrote on Twitter recently, the priority is to deal Morales for an innings-eater.

Who can they get?

Here are three potential (and purely speculative) AL fits …

Rays: I know, it’s the first place everyone goes. But Tampa Bay always seems like an ideal match because they’re (still) rich in starters and could always use offense. Right now the Rays have James Loney at first base, with somewhat of a platoon at DH with the right-handed-hitting Ryan Roberts and the left-handed-hitting Sam Fuld. Morales would give them a big upgrade, and someone who can protect Evan Longoria. But he wouldn’t get the Angels Jeremy Hellickson or Matt Moore, or probably even Alex Cobb. Maybe Jeff Niemann, who’s under club control for two more years and would cost about $3 million in arbitration in 2013? The Rays did pick up some flexibility for the rotation by signing Roberto Hernandez on Tuesday.

Orioles: They still seek a middle-of-the-order bat, have a spot open at DH and seemingly have some pitching they can afford to part ways with. Righties Jake Arrieta and Chris Tillman, and lefties Zach Britton and Brian Matusz are all young with upside, but with the exception of Tillman, they all struggled last year. Would the O’s be willing to part ways with the 24-year-old Tillman, one of few bright spots in an eclectic starting staff that ranked ninth in the AL in ERA last year? And given his past inconsistencies, can the Angels do better?

Indians: They’re trying to woo free-agent outfielder Nick Swisher, but could always use more offense, and Morales could split time at DH and first base with the right-handed-hitting Mark Reynolds. What about Justin Masterson, who had a rough 2012 season but has topped 200 innings the last two years and is signed for two more years? Well, he isn’t an ace, but he’s listed as Cleveland’s No. 1 pitcher, so they’d probably be very hesitant to give him up for K-Mo. Here’s another intriguing name: Ubaldo JimenezHe’s been a shell of himself the last couple years, but he’s been relatively healthy, will make $5.75 million in 2013 and has an $8 million option for 2014. Perhaps working with his old catcher, Chris Iannetta, can get him back on track.

The important thing to ask yourself is whether any of these guys would be an upgrade over the 24-year-old Garrett Richards, who has yet to start a full season in the Majors but has a lot of upside. Adding another starter would likely push Richards to Triple-A, with Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton making up the rest of the staff, and Jerome Williams likely returning to the long-relief role. The Angels’ front office will have some important decisions to make before Spring Training (and perhaps they’ll linger beyond that). Do they hold onto Bourjos and Trumbo, keeping their position-player roster deep but not improving the rotation a whole lot? Or do they trade one of those two — or both, or more — to land the impact starter they could still use?

Alden 

Game 131: Red Sox-Angels …

With a win tonight, the Angels can sweep their first season series against the Red Sox in club history. The Angels have won seven straight against Boston dating back to May 4 of last year, representing their third-longest winning streak ever against them. While going 5-0 against the Red Sox this year — sweeping a three-game set at Fenway Park at the start of last week, taking the first two here — the Angels have outscored them 42-27.

Red Sox (62-69)

Scott Podsednik, LF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
James Loney, 1B
Cody Ross, RF
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, DH
Ryan Lavarnway, C
Mike Aviles, SS
Pedro Ciriaco, 3B

Pitching: LH Jon Lester (8-10, 4.98 ERA)

Angels (68-62)

Mike Trout, CF
Torii Hunter, RF
Albert Pujols, DH
Mark Trumbo, 1B
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Erick Aybar, SS
Maicer Izturis, 3B
Vernon Wells, LF
Chris Iannetta, C

Pitching: RH Zack Greinke (2-2, 5.22 ERA)

  • No further updates on Scott Downs, who left the team Sunday night and was placed on the family medical emergency list prior to their next game. Mike Scioscia spoke to him, but wouldn’t go into details about his situation. Asked if he could return for the weekend series against the Mariners, Scioscia said: “We’ll see. It’s going to be one step at a time with Downs. We’ll just see whenever he’s ready to go.”
  • Pujols, as you probably noticed, is at DH for the third straight game since returning from a right calf injury on Tuesday. Still no word on when he’ll return to first base, but Scioscia was thinking he could take grounders pregame.
  • It seems like the Angels’ rotation (minus the one constant, Jered Weaver) struggled mightily as a group, and recently has turned it around as a group. Over a 44-game stretch beginning in July, they combined to post a 5.48 ERA that ranked 13th in the American League. Over their last eight games, it’s been a 4.18 (with the Angels going 6-2 in that span). Not great, but not terrible. Along the way, Ervin Santana has been much better, with C.J. Wilson, Dan Haren and Greinke each coming off starts you can consider a step forward. “I think there’s definitely some positive momentum that can be created, but one good thing about it is the teams we’ve had here, we’ve always been able to limit the downside of some of the things going on here because we’ve had, especially on the pitching side, we’ve had deep staffs that can go out there and limit some stuff. And that’s what we anticipated this year. We just haven’t seen it as much as we need to.” Maybe they’re starting to?
  • Kendrick heads into today’s game riding a 15-game hitting streak (three shy of his career-high) and is batting .344 in August. Quietly, his slash line is .292/.332/.405 for the year. “It’s just been a process, trying to get better. I’ve just been watching some of the guys around me, getting ideas from them, and just trying to get better overall. Trying to be more patient at the plate has helped. And just getting pitches to hit.” More on him later.

Alden

Game 129: Red Sox-Angels …

Coming off a 4-2 road trip, and back-to-back losses to put a sour end to it, the Angels return home (rather briefly). They’ll play three against the Red Sox team they swept at Fenway Park last week before opening up a six-game road trip through Seattle and Oakland.

“That was a tough loss, Saturday was,” veteran outfielder Torii Hunter said. “Sunday, we were either going to hit him [Max Scherzer] or we weren’t. But Saturday, I think we should’ve come through with that game. We had the lead in the eighth inning and just blew it.”

But  with his team still 4 1/2 out of the Wild Card and a solid 10 games back in the AL West, Hunter prefers to look at the positive.

“Four of six on the road,” he said. “That’s pretty good for baseball. And now we’re coming home with four [wins] in our last six, it’s just like we won two series.”

Red Sox (62-67)

Scott Podsednik, LF
Dustin Pedroia, 2B
Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
Ryan Lavarnway, C
James Loney, 1B
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, DH
Ryan Kalish, RF
Jose Iglesias, SS
Pedro Ciriaco, 3B

Pitching: RH Clay Buchholz (11-4, 4.47 ERA)

Angels (66-62)

Mike Trout, CF
Hunter, RF
Albert Pujols, DH
Kendrys Morales, 1B
Mark Trumbo, LF
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Maicer Izturis, 3B
Erick Aybar, SS
Chris Iannetta, C

Pitching: RH Jered Weaver (16-3, 2.74 ERA)

  • Pujols still doesn’t feel 100 percent, but he showed enough during some pregame agility and baserunning drills to return to the lineup for the first time since suffering an injury to his right calf at Fenway Park on Wednesday. “Obviously, I’m not where I want to be,” Pujols said, “but it’s good to be back in the lineup. I’m still going to be taking it easy. It doesn’t bother me swinging, but running I’m still a little bit sore.”
  • Asked when he could return to first base, Pujols said: “I don’t have a magic ball, so whenever I feel good. If it’s tomorrow, where I can go and take some grounders and feel good, I’ll go and play my position. But I don’t think that’s a problem here. We have two good first basemen here who can play the position, so as long as I’m in the lineup, that’s more important than anything else.”
  • Mike Scioscia couldn’t divulge much regarding Scott Downsdeparture from the team, saying only: “Right now we’re not sure [how long he’ll be out]. Hopefully as a little time goes on, we’ll get a little more clarity as to Scott’s situation.” Downs left Sunday night, flying back home to Kentucky.
  • Without Downs, and with Hisanori Takahashi being claimed by the Pirates on Friday, the Angels have no lefties in their bullpen. The Red Sox, at least, are without lefty sluggers David Ortiz (DL) and Adrian Gonzalez (trade).
  • Garrett Richards has had three stints as a reliever. One went well (a two-out save against the Tigers on Friday), but he gave up two runs to the Red Sox on Thursday and three to the Tigers on Saturday. Asked about his bullpen role moving forward, Scioscia said: “I think he’s got a power arm that can possibly play in the back end of a ‘pen. We’ll slot him in where we think he can help us, depending on who’s available on a given night.”

Alden

Game 71: Dodgers-Angels …

The scene shifts for the Freeway Series tonight, with the Angels hosting the second leg and looking to build on an 11-4 mark against the crosstown-rival Dodgers over their last 15 games. Mike Scioscia, on the significance of it all: “I don’t think there really is as far as our clubhouse or anybody in their clubhouse, but I do know the media and the fans obviously have more interest in a game because of the geographical rivalry that’s here, with the two teams being so close. But for us, it’s another game. They’re a good team, we have to do things well if we’re going to beat them, and that’s what we’re going to focus on.”

Dodgers (42-28)

Dee Gordon, SS
Jerry Hairston, 2B
Andre Ethier, RF
Bobby Abreu, DH
Juan Rivera, LF
James Loney, 1B
Adam Kennedy, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF

Pitching: RH Chad Billingsley (4-5, 3.75 ERA)

Angels (38-32)

Mike Trout, CF
Torii Hunter, RF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Kendrys Morales, DH
Mark Trumbo, LF
Alberto Callaspo, 3B
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Erick Aybar, SS
Bobby Wilson, C

Pitching: RH Dan Haren (4-7, 3.96 ERA)

Some pregame notes …

  • Jerome Williams (breathing problems) has been medically cleared to do everything, meaning he can begin the process of long-tossing, then getting in bullpen sessions, being stretched out and ultimately returning to the Angels’ pitching staff. Will that be as a starter or a reliever? That remains to be seen. But Scioscia said he’s received no indication from the medical staff that Williams would not be allowed to start.
  • Chris Iannetta (wrist surgery and forearm strain) will restart his throwing program Saturday, but is still a ways away from getting in a rehab assignment.
  • Scioscia, on how Weaver’s feeling after his Wednesday start: “He feels really good. I think he feels just some normal stiffness you would get from going out there and pitching, nothing connected at all with what put him on the disabled list, so that’s encouraging.”
  • Every Angels starter will be on at least six days’ rest coming up, which can be good (it’s a long season) and bad (starters for the most part hate breaking routing). “I think long term it’s a good thing, for guys to maybe catch their breath,” Scioscia said. “Some guys aren’t sharp historically on six days, and some guys are very good on six days. There’s no rhyme or reason or one thing you can point to that’s going to make your staff better, but especially this time of year, these guys have been grinding a lot.”
  • Scott Downs and Ernesto Frieri have the best combined ERA of any Major League relief tandem, at 0.66 (or four runs in 54 2/3 innings). Minimum for this was 20 innings per player.
  • Erick Aybar is on a seven-game hitting streak and is batting .417 over his last 10 games.

Some Angels.com links from Thursday …

Some AL West links …

And in case you missed it, MY HEAT WON THE ‘SHIP!

Alden

Game 62: Angels-Dodgers …

OK, at the start of the year, how many of you had the Dodgers sporting the better record by the time these two kicked off their annual Freeway Series? Come on, be honest. The Angels, at least, have been looking a lot more like the team many expected them to be, coming off a three-game sweep of the Rockies, winning nine straight road games and sporting a Major League-best 14-4 record since May 22. The Dodgers just completed a 7-3 road trip — though they got no-hit by the Mariners in one of those games — and own baseball’s best record despite the absence of superstar Matt Kemp.

Here are the lineups for their first meeting at Dodger Stadium …

Angels (32-29)

Mike Trout, CF
Torii Hunter, RF
Albert Pujols, 1B
Mark Trumbo, LF
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Alberto Callaspo, 3B
Erick Aybar, SS
John Hester, C
Garrett Richards, SP (RH, 1-0, 1.13 ERA)

Dodgers (39-22)

Dee Gordon, SS
Elian Herrera, 3B
Andre Ethier, RF
Bobby Abreu, LF
Jerry Hairston Jr., 2B
James Loney, 1B
A.J. Ellis, C
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Chris Capuano, SP (LH, 8-2, 2.82 ERA)

Some pregame notes …

  • The Angels signed 11 of their Draft picks, including third-round right-handed reliever R.J. Alvarez.
  • Trout, Torii were named AL Co-Players of the Week.
  • Pujols is fifth in All-Star Game voting at first base, with no other Angels really in the running to start.
  • Kendrys Morales is expected to start at first base tomorrow.
  • Jered Weaver threw off the front part of the mound today. If he feels fine tomorrow, he’ll have a full bullpen. After that, he could be one bullpen and one sim game away from returning.
  • Chris Iannetta, who had a setback a couple days ago with his forearm, is back doing baseball activities now. He’s expected to get back into games in the middle of the week, with manager Mike Scioscia thinking he’ll need four or five rehab games behind the plate before being activated.
  • Bobby Wilson (concussion) has been cleared for baseball activities and hopes to be back over the weekend.

Some Angels links from Sunday …

Some AL West links …

And in case you hadn’t heard … The Heat are in the NBA Finals!!! (sorry)

Alden

Angels 12, Dodgers 3 … (‘Big A’ opener)

Recap

Dan Haren was crisp in his final spring tune-up, Mark Trumbo homered and the Angels cranked out 14 hits for the blowout in Game 1 of the Freeway Series.

The good

Howie Kendrick, Peter Bourjos and Torii Hunter each went 2-for-4.

Trumbo hit a line-drive three-run homer that just cleared the left-field wall, giving him five on the spring.

Haren gave up just one run on six hits in 5 2/3 innings, walking none and striking out five. Through 26 2/3 big league spring innings, Haren has posted a 2.05 ERA and — get this — has walked just two batters while striking out 25. Best of all for him on Monday, he got over that “dead arm” issue he had been dealing with.

The bad

Trumbo had a bit of an adventure at third base in the second inning, when he awkwardly charged a slow roller by Juan Rivera, resulting in an infield single, and had a hard time tracking a high popup by James Loney before recovering.

Jason Isringhausen struggled for his second straight outing, giving up four singles and a run while only recording one out in the seventh. That’s six runs, nine hits and four outs he’s registered in two outings since being added to the 40-man roster.

Albert Pujols update: 0-for-3 in his first game at Angel Stadium, though he also drove in a run with a walk and was robbed of a single on a slick play by third baseman Juan Uribe.

Best quote

Pujols, on the pressure of a big contract and a new team: “To tell you the truth, there’s [three] times that I feel pressure: my first at-bat in Spring Training, first at-bat Opening Day and first at-bat in the playoffs. The rest is just baseball. My dad always told me you can’t be afraid of making a mistake; you always need to learn from your mistakes. And there’s no pressure at all. I’m playing the game that I love.”

Best play (that I saw)

In the second inning, Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp robbed Trumbo of extra bases, diving to his right to snare a line drive in the gap.

Alden

Game 31: Dodgers-Angels …

Dodgers (14-13)

Dee Gordon, SS
Mark Ellis, 2B
Matt Kemp, CF
Andre Ethier, RF
Juan Rivera, LF
James Loney, 1B
Juan Uribe, 3B
A.J. Ellis, C
Adam Kennedy, DH

SP: RH Jamey Wright

Angels (17-11-2)

Erick Aybar, SS
Howie Kendrick, 2B
Albert Pujols, 1B
Kendrys Morales, DH
Torii Hunter, RF
Vernon Wells, LF
Mark Trumbo, 3B
Chris Iannetta, C
Peter Bourjos, CF

SP: RH Dan Haren

Some notes from this morning …

  • Big day for the Angels fans who decide to make it out to The Big A tonight. It’ll be their first time seeing Morales since that fateful May 29, 2010, game that saw him suffer a broken left ankle on a walk-off grand slam. And, of course, it’ll be their first time ever watching Pujols in an Angels uniform. Pujols, on the pressure of living up to his new contract: “I’ve been feeling pressure for 12 1/2 years, 13 years since being a professional. To tell you the truth, there’s [three] times that I feel pressure — my first at-bat in Spring Training, my first at-bat Opening Day and first at-bat in the playoffs. The rest is just baseball.”
  • No more Gatorade at the Angel Stadium clubhouses and dugouts. It’s all — from the coolers to the cups to the towels — “Oh Yeah!”, a nutritional company Pujols is a major spokesman for.
  • Big night for bullpen sages LaTroy Hawkins (Kansas State fan because his godson, Elijah Johnson, plays for the team) and Scott Downs (who played at the University of Kentucky). Both are rocking their gear, neither is scheduled to pitch today and both are hoping they can watch a little bit of the action from the clubhouse TVs.
  • Mike Scioscia, on the decision to slot C.J. Wilson as the No. 4 starter (though that hasn’t been officially declared yet): “If you have an abundance of lefties, you might want to break it up. You’re certainly breaking up length with a guy who’s not going to get deep enough, but that’s definitely not the issue we’re dealing with here. Maybe the No. 5 guy, if we have a guy who doesn’t have a lot of length we would have length surrounding him. The way this was set up is really the versatility to move who ever’s in the fourth spot forward if we had to, and it gave us a way to get a good look at the start of the season. Once the season starts, there’s no 1, 2, 3 and 4. We have four guys who are front-end-of-the-rotation guys, so that’s the way we’re going to look at it.”

Some links from Sunday …

Some AL West links …

And the Miami Heat’s road struggles continue. On Sunday, they got torched by the Celtics at The Garden.

Alden

Where will the top free agents sign? Here’s a guess …

Two things about the free-agent market this offseason: It sure is thin, and it sure is top heavy. If you’re looking for a lights-out closer, there are many. If you’re looking for a front-line starter, there are little. And if you want a premier slugger, you better be prepared to pay up.

Without further ado, here’s my guess (with emphasis on the word “guess”) at the destination of who I consider to be the top five free agents …

Albert Pujols: Cardinals

The notion that Tony La Russa‘s retirement somehow has some relevance with regards to Pujols’ situation is silly. Pujols is signing a deal that could reach 10 years. And even if La Russa, at 67, did come back, he’d only manage for another, what, two years? Pujols knows this. And this may just be me falling victim to the moment, but I can’t see Pujols signing with a different organization just because he’ll be making a few extra millions. With the Cardinals, Pujols goes to a city where he’s revered, an organization where he basically makes the rules and a team that consistently has a chance to win. The Cardinals’ contract offers may not have been lucrative enough before, but they got some extra money with a World Series run, restructuring Chris Carpenter‘s contract and signing Lance Berkman to a rather bargain deal. Plus, if they make third-base coach (and Pujols’ buddy) Jose Oquendo the manager, their chances of him staying are even greater. It’ll be a long, drama-filled battle. But in the end, I’ve got the Redbirds. … Perhaps it’s just that part of me that wants to believe a star player can stay with one franchise.

Other options: Rangers, Cubs, Giants, Dodgers, Marlins, Blue Jays, Nationals

Prince Fielder: Dodgers

I can’t see Fielder picking his team until Pujols signs first and, thus, sets the market for him. And though Brewers owner Mark Attansio expressed his team would “be in the game” for Fielder, it’s long been considered a foregone conclusion that the 2011 season was Fielder’s last in Milwaukee. The West coast seems to be the logical landing spot for the big vegetarian. It’s a big market, Prince and Matt Kemp are pals, the Dodgers badly want to improve their offense, and general manager Ned Colletti is expected to have $25 million to spend on free agents this offseason. Of course, a lot of this will hinge on how quickly the sale of the Dodgers goes through and who buys them. But if this gets done quickly, and MLB proclaims it will be, the Dodgers and Prince look like a great match.

Other options: Brewers, Rangers, Cubs, Giants, Mariners, Marlins, Blue Jays, Nationals

Jose Reyes: Tigers

The Tigers are right there. They just need to improve their defense and get some sort of consistency out of the top of their order. Hello, Jose Reyes. The Tigers’ biggest deficiency in 2011 was third base, but that can easily be solved by moving the defensively-inept Jhonny Peralta — signed through next year, with a team option for 2013 — over to his more comfortable position of third base and obtaining Reyes, who would allow Austin Jackson and his .317 on-base percentage to move lower in the order. Two things that may stand in the way: GM Dave Dombrowski has said he prefers to keep Peralta at shortstop, and the Tigers already have two players making $20-plus million a year in Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. But owner Mike Ilitch has shown he’ll do what it takes to build a championship-contending club, and the Tigers may be a Reyes away from that. The Mets will give it a valiant effort, but barring significant payroll-shedding moves, they don’t have the capital to keep up.

Other options: Mets, Marlins, Red Sox, Cardinals (if no Pujols)

C.J. Wilson: Marlins

The Marlins have money to spend, and they keep telling everybody they’re going to be in play for the major free agents. That includes Wilson, who would give Florida something it badly needs headed into its new ballpark: A frontline starting pitcher, particularly a left-hander. The price for Wilson will be high, considering he’s clearly the best of what’s a shallow free-agent pool of starters and plays a position that’s always coveted. Projections have him attaining something in the range of the five-year, $82.5 million deals A.J. Burnett and John Lackey previously signed in free agency. But he may get an ever bigger deal. Regardless, the Marlins want to prioritize the rotation and, for one of the rare times in franchise history, have the means to do it. Wilson would give them a solid No. 2 behind Josh Johnson.

Other options: Rangers, Yankees, Blue Jays, Padres, Nationals, Red Sox, Twins, Orioles, Rockies, Royals

Yu Darvish: Yankees

The Yankees are prioritizing the rotation once again, but reports say they don’t want to go all-in on Wilson. If he’s posted, the Japanese Darvish seems like the perfect answer for general manager Brian Cashman, who continues to put a premium on accumulating young starting pitching (something he showed while refusing to trade his top prospects for Ubaldo Jimenez at the non-waiver Trade Deadline). Darvish will have a much cheaper contract than Wilson because he’s only 25, but because of the posting fee that would come with him — remember, Daisuke Matsuzaka required a $52 million posting fee, and that was five years ago — he won’t be much cheaper. The Yanks will face a lot of competition for Darvish, but when it comes down to dollars, they usually win if they have enough desire. And they definitely desire another rotation piece.

Other options: Rangers, Blue Jays, Nationals, Red Sox, Mariners, Twins, Orioles, Rockies, Royals (and probably a bunch of others)

* Filed this week: The Cardinals will be fine, even without Albert Pujols; a look at the curious free agent case of one C.J. Wilson.

** Photo courtesy of The Associated Press.

Alden

6 Divisions in 6 Days: NL West

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 5, we look at the National League West …


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Dodgers: They’ve gone backwards a bit, which is what makes this one of the most evenly matched divisions in baseball. But the Dodgers are still a big threat. Yeah, Manny Rarmirez‘s best days are behind him. And, sure, having Vicente Padilla start on Opening Day doesn’t say much about your rotation. But the Dodgers’ lineup is solid, with a still-very-productive Ramirez and up-and-coming studs in Matt Kemp, James Loney, Russell Martin and Andre Ethier. The rotation has some nice young arms in Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley. And the back end of that bullpen is very good with George Sherrill and Jonathan Broxton. Other clubs in this division are starting to catch up, but you still have to look out for the Dodgers. 

Rockies: Last year, Jim Tracy was a miracle worker with the way he turned them into a playoff team after taking over for Clint Hurdle. In his first full season as manager in Colorado, he’ll direct a very formidable bunch once again. First off, that bench is the best in baseball — and it’s not even close. As reserves, the Rockies have established everyday players like Miguel Olivo, Melvin Mora and Jason Giambi, and other solid pieces in Ryan Spilborghs and Seth Smith. Think benches don’t matter much in baseball? They’re crucial throughout the aches and pains of a 162-game season, and this one will be huge in boosting the Rockies. As for the starting lineup, there’s nice pieces in Dexter Fowler, Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki, but they won’t hit much for power. The rotation is good, but not great. And I still have doubts about whether Huston Street (who will start the season on the disabled list) can be relied upon as closer for a full season. Still, the Rockies will be in the hunt all year. 

Giants: The Giants step into the 2010 season with the same problem — offense. Let’s get the obvious positives out of the way first. With Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Barry Zito, their rotation is one of the best in baseball. And Brian Wilson is a solid closer. (The rest of the bullpen doesn’t really matter, since starters will be going seven or eight innings for most of the season, anyway.) But will they hit? I don’t think so. They went into the offseason knowing they needed more punch in the lineup, but all the Giants ended up with was Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa. That’s not enough. They’ll need Aaron Rowand, Pablo Sandoval and Freddy Sanchez to do a lot of the heavy lifting, and that’s never a good sign. As was the case last year, pitching will keep them in it. But they’ll need a Trade Deadline move for a big bat if they want to get over the hump. 

Padres: They’ll finish last in the division, but the Padres, I believe, are on the upswing. I don’t foresee Adrian Gonzalez — very affordable this season, and with a very affordable club option for 2011 — being traded during the regular season, and Kyle Blanks is a nice counterpart in the middle of the lineup. They also have some nice, young position players in Tony Gwynn Jr. and Everth Cabrera. Heath Bell is a top-tier closer. And the rotation isn’t too bad, with Jon Garland, Chris Young, Matt Latos, Kevin Correia and Clayton Richard. They’re a rebuilding team, and they don’t have nearly enough to compete this year — or even next year. But I think they’re on their way up (with or without A-Gonz). 

Diamondbacks: If Brandon Webb is healthy and right, the D-backs — losers of 92 games last season — could end up being the most-improved team in baseball. With Dan Haren and new acquisition Edwin Jackson, they can have a very nice top three in that rotation. But how and when Webb returns from shoulder surgery will be critical, of course. The bullpen isn’t great, but I like their offense. I love Justin Upton. Combine him with Mark Reynolds, newcomer Adam LaRoche, a healthy Conor Jackson and a Stephen Drew who should be better, they’ll be much more improved scoring runs. But even with the Webb of 2008, I felt this team would fall just shy of the postseason. Without him in top form, they’ll struggle to finish at .500.
NL West champion: Dodgers

– Alden Gonzalez
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