Sunday, March 31, 2013

2013 AL Preview: AL West

And Finally, the last of our AL Previews here at the Bay Area Sports Journal, fittingly finishing in the AL West, which I think will be the most competitive division in the American League. There's the newly stocked out Angels, but the Rangers aren't going anywhere yet, even without Hamilton, and of course the A's are always good for a surprise run, especially with that pitching staff.

1st Place, Los Angeles Angels

LF Mike Trout
SS Erik Aybar
1B Albert Pujols
LF Josh Hamilton
DH Mark Trumbo
2B Howie Kendrick
C Chris Ianetta
3B Alberto Callaspo
CF Peter Bourjos

RHP Jered Weaver
LHP C.J. Wilson
RHP Tommy Hanson
LHP Jason Vargas
RHP Joe Blanton
SU: Ernesto Frieri
CL: Ryan Madson

The Angels have it all when it comes to that lineup: speed, average, power and consistency. They have the right mixture of youth (Trout, Bourjos, Trumbo) and players in their prime (Pujols, Hamilton, Kendrick) to be serious World Series contenders. Their pitching staff should be a strength too, once Tommy Hanson figures out the AL. The one question I have with them lies in their bullpen. They're banking on the return of Ryan Madson who missed all of 2012, or the young Frieri kid to close out games for them, and they need one of them to succeed. They have enough talent in that lineup though, and enough solid starting pitchers to help overcome the bullpen weakness though, and should win 95 games.

2nd Place, Oakland Athletics (AL Wild Card)

CF Coco Crisp
2B Jemile Weeks
LF Yoenis Cespedes
DH Josh Reddick
SS Jed Lowrie 
1B Brandon Moss
RF Chris Young
3B Scott Sizemore
C John Jaso

LHP Brett Anderson
RHP Jarrod Parker
LHP Tommy Millone
RHP A.J. Griffin
RHP Bartolo Colon
SU: Ryan Cook
CL: Grant Balfour

I just really like the make-up of this young A's squad. They play hard, sound baseball and utilize the solid pitching they get. They don't have a lineup that will overwhelm you, but they have speed and guys that can get on base and cause some havoc. I think a huge key for them will be Jemile Weeks, who showed in his rookie year he can be an All-Star level player when he's right. Cespedes has MVP potential and Josh Reddick is just tapping into his abilities, so this team will only get better. That young staff will also rival any ones in the game, especially if Anderson is on like he was after returning last season. With good health and continued growth, the A's should definitely lock down one of the AL Wild Card spots.

3rd Place, Texas Rangers

2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
DH Lance Berkman
3B Adrian Beltre
RF Nelson Cruz
LF David Murphy
C A.J. Pierzynski
1B Mitch Moreland
CF Craig Gentry

RHP Yu Darvish
LHP Matt Harrison
LHP Derek Holland
RHP Alexi Ogando
RHP Colby Lewis*
SU: Jason Frasor
CL: Joe Nathan

I'm sorry, but you can't replace Josh Hamilton with Lance Berkman and expect to be the same team you where the last 3 seasons. The team that repped the AL in the 2010 and 2011 World Series needs to rebuild that lineup a little bit, and not try and patch together aging vets like Bekrman and Pierzynski to try and fill the void. I love Darvish as their ace, but the rest of that rotation is under-whelming, and the bullpen is hardly one of the premiere ones in the league. The Rangers are in for a drop off this year, but still have enough offense to stay competitive. It wouldn't surprise me if they finish right around .500.

4th Place, Seattle Mariners

2B Dustin Ackley
3B Kyle Seager
DH Kendrys Morales
LF Michael Morse
C Jesus Montero
1B Justin Smoak
RF Michael Saunders
CF Franklin Gutierrez
SS Brendan Ryan

RHP Felix Hernandez
RHP Hisashi Iwakuma
LHP Joe Saunders
RHP Erasmo Ramirez
RHP Jon Garland
SU: Charlie Furbish
CL: Tom Wilhelmsen

I like what the Mariners have done with their lineup, now they just need those number one picks Ackley and Smoak to start playing like the guys they were drafted to be. If that happens, the M's should be able to put runs on the board. It's keeping opposing teams off the board is what will be their biggest challenge. Their rotation after King Felix could be one of the worst in baseball, and their bullpen is stocked with young, unproven guys who will be learning on the go. I know Seattle fans would hate them for it, but I think now is the time to cash in on Hernandez and turn him into 2-3 legit, big time prospects. They probably won't ever win with Felix in his prime and could use a few good young arms to help balance out that pitching staff.

5th Place, Houston Astros

2B Jose Altuve
SS Tyler Green
LF Chris Carter
DH Carlos Pena
1B Brett Wallace
RF Rick Ankiel
3B Matt Dominguez
CF Justin Maxwell
C Jason Castro

RHP Bud Norris
RHP Lucas Harrell
RHP Jordan Lyles
RHP Phillip Humber
LHP Erik Bedard
SU: Wesley Wright
CL: Jose Veras

The newcomers to the AL may very well end up in the cellar of not only the AL West, but the entire American League. Heck, they could be the worst team in baseball. Their lineup is half full of players who'd be AAA'ers on most competitive squads, and their bullpen has more holes than Swiss cheese. Surprisingly, their rotation has some guys with potential (Norris, Lyles, Humber), but this is still a team well within the grasp of 100 losses.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

2013 AL Previews: AL Central

1st Place, Detroit Tigers

CF Austin Jackson
RF Torii Hunter
3B Miguel Cabrera
1B Prince Fielder
DH Victor Martinez
SS Jhonny Peralta
LF Andy Dirks
C Alex Avila
2B Omar Infante

RHP Justin Verlander
RHP Max Scherzer
RHP Anibal Sanchez
RHP Doug Fister
LHP Drew Smyly
SU: Joaquin Benoit
CL: Bruce Rondon

The reigning League Champions are returning pretty much the same squad that took them to the Series' a year ago, they just hope their bullpen holds up a little better this time around. They're getting V-Mart back, so their offense will get a boost, but they don't have a ton of team speed, so they'll need those big hitters to be on their game. That pitching staff is one of the stronger ones in baseball, and should again have them in the running for the AL crown. I think the addition of Hunter and the return of Martinez have improved this team a lot, but they could still use some help at short and at the back end of the bullpen. Still, they're clear-cut favorites in a weak Central Division.

2nd Place, Chicago White Sox

CF Alejandro De Aza
3B Jeff Keppinger
RF Alex Rios
1B Paul Konerko
DH Adam Dunn
SS Alexi Ramirez
LF Dayan Viciedo
2B Gordon Beckam
C Tyler Flowers

LHP Chris Sale
RHP Jake Peavy
LHP Jose Quintana
RHP Gavin Floyd
LHP John Danks
SU: Matt Thronton
CL: Addison Reed

The Sox could give Detroit a run for their money in the Central with the pitching staff they've lined up. It's not quite up to Detroit's level, but it's a young one with big potential. Chris Sale is one of the most underrated arms in the game and John Danks as a number 5 just shows you their depth.They also have a more sound bullpen than Detroit, led by young closer Addison Reed. They're hoping the addition of Jeff Keppinger will help solidify the top of the order, which hasn't been good for them for a while. They have the boppers in the middle, but they need the 1-2 guys to get on base and set the table.

3rd Place, Kansas City Royals

LF Alex Gordon
SS Aclides Escobar
1B Eric Hosmer
DH Billy Butler
C Salvador Perez
3B Mike Moustakas
CF Lorenzo Cain
RF Jeff Francoeur
2B Chris Getz

RHP James Shields
RHP Ervin Santana
RHP Jeremy Guthrie
LHP Bruce Chen
RHP Wade Davis
SU: Aaron Crow
CL: Greg Holland

Once again, the Royals success will rely on whether or not their key young players can take that next step. Moustakas, Gordon, Hosmer and Cain are all legit players who could be future all-stars. Billy Butler is a legit run producer in that middle. If the youngsters start putting it together this year, this team could be a lot like that surprise Tampa Bay Rays team from a few years back. Their starting pitching after Shields and Santana is spotty, but they have one my favorite young closers in the game in Greg Holland shutting the door for them. Also, that young catcher Perez may be the 2nd best young catcher in the game behind Buster Posey.

4th Place, Cleveland Indians

CF Michael Bourne
2B Jason Kipnis
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
1B Nick Swisher
C Carlos Santana
DH Mark Reynolds
LF Michael Brantley
RF Drew Stubbs
3B Lonnie Chisenhall

RHP Justin Masterson
RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
RHP Brett Myers
RHP Zach McCallister
RHP Trevor Bauer
SU: Vinnie Pestano
CL: Chris Perez

I loved the addition of Bourne for this team, but I don't know how well Swisher will turn out for them. Their lineup is decent, they have a lot of speed and have some power, but not a lot of guys hit for very high averages, so they'll have trouble getting guys on base consistently. They've improved from last year and are on the up though, so if Ubaldo Jimenez magically re-finds his ace-like form he had in Colorado, they too could surprise a lot of people. Too many things need to go right in order for them to compete this year though.

5th Place, Minnesota Twins

CF Aaron Hicks
2B Jamey Carroll
C Joe Mauer
LF Josh Willingham
1B Justin Morneau
3B Trevor Plouffe
DH Ryan Doumit
RF Chris Parmelee
SS Pedro Florimon

LHP Scott Diamond
RHP Vance Worley
RHP Kevin Correia
RHP Mike Pelfrey
RHP Liam Hendriks
SU: Jared Burton
CL: Glen Perkins

The Twins are filled with some many holes that I just can't see them being very competitive this season. Sure, Mauer will still give you his typical .300/10/80 line, and Willingham will hit 30 jacks with a .250 average, but outside of that, everything is a crap-shoot. Who knows how the top of the order will fare with the rookie Hicks and the ancient Carroll? I don't really like anything about their pitching staff either, bullpen or starters. I could see this team being one of the worst in baseball in 2013.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

2013 AL East Preview

With the baseball season just 2 weeks away from starting up, I wanted to do some MLB previewing before we delved too much into the NFL free agency and upcoming draft. Here's how we see the AL East playing out in 2013.

1st Place, Toronto Blue Jays

Projected Lineup
SS Jose Reyes
LF Melky Cabrera
RF Jose Bautista
1B Edwin Encarnacion
3B Brett Lawrie
DH Adam Lind
C J.P. Arrencibia
CF Colby Rasmus
2B Maicer Izturis

RHP R.A. Dickey
RHP Brandon Morrow
LHP Mark Buehrle
RHP Josh Johnson
LHP Ricky Romero
SU: Sergio Santos
CL: Casey Janssen

Adding a bunch of payroll and big names didn't quite work for the Dodgers last summer, but things should be different north of the border. The Blue Jays new pieces all have time to mesh in spring training and they added professionals like Mark Buehrle and Jose Reyes, who are both notoriously strong clubhouse presences. I absolutely love their rotation, where they have 2011 staff ace and 20-game winner Ricky Romero as their fifth guy. The only question I have with this squad lies in their bullpen where their closer is a little banged up heading into the season and they aren't extremely deep. As long as they keep their key cogs healthy though, they should be the clear-cut favorites in a weakened AL East.

2nd Place, New York Yankees

SS Derek Jeter
RF Ichiro Suzuki
2B Robinson Cano
1B Mark Teixiera*
LF Curtis Granderson*
3B Kevin Youkilis
DH Travis Hafner
C Francisco Cervelli
CF Brett Gardner

LHP C.C. Sabathia
RHP Hiroki Kiroda
LHP Andy Pettite
RHP Phil Hughes
RHP Ivan Nova
SU: Dave Robertson
CL: Mariano Rivera

*ETA early May

The Yankees have some big injuries to overcome with Tex and Granderson out to start the year, but I think they can get by with small ball until then with Ichiro, Jeter and Gardner. Getting Mo back in the 9th should help solidify things a lot though, and I think Youkilis will be a steady add to the lineup after the ARod debacle. They're obviously a team built to win now and have the oldest roster in baseball, but I can see them staying strong for another run. As long as their two injured sluggers return in good shape by their estimated time-table (early May), Andy Pettite's arm holds up for one more year, and Phil Hughes can continue to take strides forward, I think the Yanks will be in the mix for one of the Wild Card spots. Plus it's the Yankees we're talking about, so even if they're falling short, they'll do whatever they can at the trade deadline to help themselves.

3rd Place, Tampa Bay Rays

CF Desmond Jennings
SS Yunel Escobar
3B Evan Longoria
RF Ben Zobrist
LF Matt Joyce
DH Luke Scott
2B Kelly Johnson
1B James Loney
C Jose Molina

LHP David Price
RHP Jeremy Hellickson
LHP Matt Moore
RHP Alex Cobb
RHP Jeff Niemann
SU: Joel Peralta
CL: Fernando Rodney

I don't love Tampa's lineup, but I really like their pitching staff, despite the loss of James Shields. Price, Hellickson, Moore and Cobb are all bright young arms who've already had success at the big league level and will only get better. Then there's that bullpen, which is one of the better ones in the league and won't be coughing up many leads they take into the 7th inning. If they can get Jennings, Joyce, Johnson and Escobar to all get back to their standard level of play, and they keep Zobrist and Longoria on the field together, then they're going to be a solid squad. If they could have gotten one more big bat for the middle of the order, they'd be a lot better off. They certainly have one of the best in the game pushing the buttons for them in Joe Maddon, who's had that team a perennial contender since taking over as manager. If the Yanks can't get/stay healthy, then they slide up to 2nd and NY sinks down.

4th Place, Boston Red Sox

CF Jacoby Ellsbury
RF Shane Victorino
2B Dustin Pedroia
DH David Ortiz*
1B Mike Napoli
3B Will Middlebrooks
LF Jonny Gomes
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
SS Stephen Drew

LHP Jon Lester
RHP Clay Bucholtz
RHP Ryan Dempster
LHP Felix Doubront
RHP John Lackey
SU: Andrew Bailey
CL: Joel Hanrahan

*Will miss opening day, no concrete ETA

The Red Sox lineup will take a huge hit if David Ortiz's injury continues to linger and hold him out of significant action.  I don't like their pitching staff as much as Tampa's, but even without Ortiz, that lineup should still put some runs on the board, especially in Fenway. A healthy Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan pose one of the best 1-2 punches to end games, but the bullpen has a lot of question marks aside from that. Ellsbury and Pedroia are two of the best at their positions in the game, but the Red Sox are no longer the AL East powerhouse they've been ever since breaking the curse in 2004.

5th Place, Baltimore Orioles

2B Brian Roberts
DH Nolan Reimold
RF Nick Markakis
CF Adam Jones
C Matt Wieters
SS J.J. Hardy
1B Chris Davis
3B Manny Machado
LF Nate McLouth

RHP Jason Hammel
LHP Wei-Yen Chen
RHP Chris Tillman
RHP Miguel Gonzalez
RHP Steve Johnson
SU: Pedro Strop
CL: Jim Johnson

The O's surprised everyone with their Wild Card birth in '12, but the stars kind of had to align for it to happen. I do like the makeup of their young pitching staff, but they don't have a true ace. Jason Hammel will carry that role but he has a career ERA of 4.78 and I expect him to return closer to that level than the 3.43 number he put up last season . They do have bright young arms like Tillman and Chen, and there's Dylan Bundy waiting in the wings, and I like the middle of their order. However, unless Brian Roberts returns to form, they really don't have a true leadoff hitter either.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Alex Smith Trade and the Ripple Effect

On Wednesday, business opens for the 2013 NFL season, and the 49ers figure to be one of the most active teams right off the bat. As I'm sure you've heard by now, they've already agreed to send Alex Smith to Kansas City, but it will finally become official after this weekend.

The Smith trade has been something that was in the works for apparently a few weeks before both teams agreed to the deal last week. Now, if you just scroll down to our previous post, when we talked a lot about the prospects of Smith being traded and what I was hoping to see in return if he was indeed dealt, you'll see that I'm completely satisfied with this deal. Alex Smith has started to show he can win in this league, and he's put up some decent numbers in the process the last few seasons. What he did with virtually no receiving help in 2011 was pretty impressive. While he's not an elite, top-10 QB, he's got a solid skill-set and has really developed into a smart player. He's going to finally give the Chiefs a QB that will not only help them compete, but one they may be able to build around a bit as he's just 28 years old and entering his prime. Had Smith left after the 2010 season as many expected he would, he would have gone down as one of the biggest blunders in not only 49ers draft history, but NFL draft history, as another top picked QB with huge expectations that never amounted to much. But instead, he helped lead the 49ers back to the place they're at and finally adapted to this level.

For all those qualities, the 49ers had to get something at least halfway decent in return, and they were able to do just that in landing the Chiefs 2nd rounder (pick 34 overall in next month's draft) as well as a conditional mid-round pick for the 2014 draft. I was hoping for at least a 3rd rounder, maybe high-end 4th or a serviceable defensive back in return, so seeing the pick they're getting is really what made this deal a big win for the 49ers. Would I have liked to see Brandon Flowers come over? Absolutely, Now they enter the draft with 15 picks and are in terrific position to move up at various points to grab a particular player they like should the situation present itself. Five of those fifteen are within the top 90 picks of the draft and that's ammo enough to be able to move up significantly in round one. The only question really at this point is what they'll use their first pick on and which player may have their eye as a possible option to move up for. Depending on what happens with DaShon Goldson, the 49ers could have a huge hole in center field that would become priority number one. They also really could use a young shut-down corner too, and then there's the D-line that needs to be addressed as well.

Finally, besides putting the 49ers in a much more optimal draft position, the Alex Smith trade frees up $8.5 million that would have went towards their 2013 cap. I mean, that's a legit amount of money and it's a reason why the 49ers will be able to enter Darrelle Revis talks should they so choose. So, for a player the 49ers would have probably been forced to cut anyway this spring, they free up that large chunk of cap space to be able to put towards a potential top of the line free agents, and get themselves a draft pick that just barely missed the first round. Now, it remains to be seen what the 49ers turn that $8.5M and high-end 2nd rounder, but at this point, I trust Harbough and Co. have a good idea of what they want to do. I have to give the Niners an A for this deal. At the same time, it's a nice deal for KC as well, who get themselves a proven QB who's shown he can win and help lead a team from the outhouse to the penthouse. Starting QB's don't just grow on trees these days in the NFL, and the Chiefs managed to get themselves a pretty good one for a pick that may never end up amounting to anything. Really a win-win for both teams.

We'll talk more about how the 49ers replace Smith and some of the potential options they could see come draft day in April, but we also have March Madness kicking off and that will be heating up in the coming weeks. Needless to say, between Madness, the Draft, NBA playoffs (which the Warriors are in the picture for) and the start of the MLB season around the corner, it's really a sports fan's paradise this time of year. In order to keep a pulse on all of it, we'll probably be doing a lot of mixed posts over the next few weeks were we dabble into a few different topics. Get ready for a wild next few weeks, sports fans!