Saturday, February 25, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox got off to a miserable start in 2011, played well from May to September, then experienced the worst September collapse in baseball history. They also lost Terry Francona and Theo Epstein, who helped bring two championships to Boston. The Red Sox also lost longtime closer Jonathan Papelbon, and John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka will miss much of the season due to Tommy John surgery. The Red Sox go into 2011 with more question marks than in years past.

Their lineup is one of the best in all of baseball. It starts at the top with Jacoby Ellsbury, who received MVP votes. Ellsbury emerged as one of the best outfielders in the game, and gave the Sox a 30/30 guy at the top of the order. Dustin Pedroia is simply one of the best 2nd baseman in the game, and Adrian Gonzalez blossomed into one of the best players in all of baseball.

The Sox did make some questionable moves, trading SS Marco Scutaro, in what was essentially a salary dump. The Sox also lost J.D. Drew, and Josh Reddick, but I like the idea of a Ryan Sweeney/Cody Ross platoon. I am skeptical of their solution at short, as it appears the Sox will go with a platoon of Nick Punto and Mike Aviles. Here is what I project for their lineup:

CF: Jacoby Ellsbury
2B: Dustin Pedroia
1B: Adrian Gonzalez
3B: Kevin Youkills
DH: David Ortiz
LF: Carl Crawford(when healthy)
C:  Jarrod Saltalamacchia
RF: Cody Ross/Ryan Sweeney
SS: Nick Punto/ Mike Aviles

On the outside: Jose Iglesias has been regarded as one of the top prospects in the Sox system. However, he hit just .235 in AAA, but is known for his glovework. It would not be surprising to see him get a look at some point in 2012. The same can be said about catcher Ryan Lavarnaway. The 24-year-old slugged 32 HR's in the minors last year, and could make the team as a right-handed alternative to David Ortiz.

At the top, the rotation is as good as any team in baseball. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett are both solid at the top, and a healthy Clay Buchholz is a solid #3. After that, the Sox rotation has issues. The Sox are going to give stud reliever Daniel Bard a shot in the rotation. Bard has electric stuff, but it remains to be seen if that will translate to the rotation. The Sox signed many veterans to minor league deals, but I would give Aaron Cook the slight edge as the fifth starter. Ross Ohlendorf is also an interesting candidate for the spot as well. Ohlendorf, a former Yankee and Pirate, was a decent starter in '09 and '10, before imploding in 2011. The Sox rotation should look like this:

SP: Jon Lester
SP: Josh Beckett
SP: Clay Buchholz
SP: Daniel Bard
SP: Aaron Cook

The Sox replaced Jonathan Papelbon in the closer's role by trading for Andrew Bailey. I really like the move for the Sox, but it remains to be seen if he can get it done in the AL East. The Sox also acquired Mark Melancon from Houston, to facilitate the 8th inning role. He looked decent in what little I saw of him in 2011. The Sox could definitely use another established arm in the pen.

Kevin Says:  The Red Sox have one of the best lineups in the game, but the pitching staff is flawed. If Buchholz's back problems linger, the rotation looks rather thin. The bullpen could be dicey as well, and it would not surprise me to see the Sox acquire more depth before the season starts.

Projected Finish: 91-71, 3rd in the AL East.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

2012 MLB Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays are an intriguing team to me. This team would be a legitimate contender in just about any other division in baseball. They have arguably the best player in baseball in Jose Bautista, and another budding star in third baseman Brett Lawrie. However, this team plays in the daunting AL East, with three other teams that could win it all.

I like the Jays' lineup, aside from the two aforementioned sluggers. Yunel Escobar is an underrated player, and is one of the better shortstops in the AL. Colby Rasmus struggled after being traded, but is still just 25, has power, and plays a premium position. J.P Arencibia slugged 23 bombs, despite hitting just .219. The Jays were 6th in MLB in runs scored, and should be just as strong in 2012. Here is my projected lineup.

SS: Yunel Escobar
CF: Colby Rasmus
RF: Jose Bautista
1B: Adam Lind
3B: Brett Lawrie
DH: Edwin Encarnacion
C: J.P. Arencibia
2B: Kelly Johnson
LF: Eric Thames/Travis Snider

On the outside: David Cooper, a former first-rounder, could get a shot at some point in 2012. He led the Pacific Coast League in batting average, and showed great discipline with 67 BB and just 43 K's. He may not have the bat to stick at first, but he could get a shot.

The rotation will be led by young lefty Ricky Romero. Romero is a stud, as he gave the Jays 15 wins, and 225 innings, with an ERA under 3.00. His walks are a little high, but he is one of the best pitchers in a tough division. Beyond Romero, the Jays have an enigma in Brandon Morrow. The guy throws as hard as anyone, and has some of the most dominant stuff in all of baseball. However, Morrow posted the highest ERA in the history of MLB for a guy who averages more than 10 K's per nine innings, at 4.72. (Athlon Sports, 2012). The Jays should round out their rotation with Brett Cecil, Henderson Alvarez, and Kyle Drabek, the key to the Roy Halladay trade. The team could really use a veteran innings eater in this rotation.

SP: Ricky Romero
SP: Brandon Morrow
SP: Brett Cecil
SP: Kyle Drabek
SP: Henderson Alvarez

The Jays rotation lacks depth, but they have a tremendous bullpen, led by former White Sox closer Sergio Santos. The team also added Francisco Cordero, and reacquired Jason Frasor. Casey Janssen and Darren Oliver, along with Charlie Villanueva should round out the pen.

I really love this team's core. Bautista is signed through 2015, with an option for 2016. Brett Lawrie and Ricky Romero should be all-stars for the next few years, and Alex Anthopoulos has made some shrewd moves as the GM. This team should continue to get better, they will fall short of contention in 2012 though.

Projected Finish: 84-78, 4th in the AL East.

2012 MLB Preview: Baltimore Orioles

The Baltimore Orioles have been one of the most consistent franchises in all of baseball over the last five years; unfortunately, that is not a good thing. The Orioles have won 69, 68, 64, 66, and 69 games over the last five seasons. 2012 does not offer much hope, especially in the brutally tough AL East.

The Orioles have some interesting players on the roster: Nick Markakis, Matt Wieters, and Adam Jones are all all-star caliber players, and Mark Reynolds is good for 30 HR's each year, if you can accept shotty defense, and 200 strikeouts. J.J. Hardy seems under-appreciated as well; last year he hit 30 HR's, led all AL shortstops with a .491 slugging percentage, and is dependable as they come in the field. Brian Roberts, a former all-star 2nd baseman, is battling concussion issues, so he might not start the year on the active roster. Wilson Betemit, formerly of the Royals and Tigers, should get some at-bats as the DH. Here is what I believe Baltimore's lineup will look like on Opening Day.

2B: Robert Andino
SS: J.J. Hardy
RF: Nick Markakis
CF: Adam Jones
1B: Mark Reynolds
3B: Chris Davis
C:   Matt Wieters
DH:  Wilson Betemit
LF: Nolan Reimold

On the outside: Two intriguing names who could get at-bats for the Orioles are Matt Antonelli and Jai Miller. Both will be 27 by the start of the season, and they could play a key role for the O's. Antonelli is expected to get a chance to start at 3rd, and has the ability to play 2nd, 3rd, and SS. Miller hit 32 HR's in AAA last year, and could push Nolan Reimold for playing time.

While the O's have a pretty decent lineup, their pitching staff leaves a lot to be desired. They traded Jeremy Guthrie to Colorado, and received Jason Hammel and Matt Lindstrom in return. The O's raided Asia for 2/5 of their projected rotation in Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Yin Chen. Both are left-handed, although Chen is supposed to have more upside. Wada is a soft-tosser, and his fastball tops off in the mid-80's. Hammel, Zack Britton, Tommy Hunter, Chris Tillman, and Jake Arrieta. should be in the mix as well. Here is how I see their rotation:

SP: Wei-Yin Chen
SP:  Jason Hammel
SP: Tsuyoshi Wada
SP: Zack Britton
SP: Jake Arrieta

On the outside: Brian Matsuz seemed poised for stardom after his rookie season, winning 10 games, and finishing fifth in the rookie of the year race. Last season, he imploded, with an ERA over 10, and a 1-9 record. He will need a big spring to crack the Orioles roster.

The Orioles are expected to go with Jim Johnson, a very solid set-up guy as the closer. The Orioles got a first-hand experience on how terrible Kevin Gregg, and are not likely to go through that again. Matt Lindstrom could also get a shot at closing games.

Final analysis: The Orioles will not contend in 2012, and should finish in last again. This team just does not have a shot to compete in their division. Projected finish: 69-93, 5th in AL East.