Archive for March, 2006

American League West Preview

Friday, March 31st, 2006

1. Oakland Athletics 97-65

Overview: The AL West winner won’t be decided until the end of the season, and the A’s will ultimately take it. This is their year. Then again, that has been said before, and they still haven’t won a playoff series since 1990. Finally adding opposed to subtracting, this off-season the final pieces joined an already talented team. The deepest rotation in baseball; the best outfield defense in baseball; the best GM in sports.

Hitting: Eric Chavez absolutely has a MVP-type season inside of him. Ellis hit .344/.418/.564 in the second half last year. Crosby and Bradley are bursting with upside, if only they could stay off the DL. The Big Hurt will be motivated to show he still has something left in the tank, and 12 homers in just 105 at-bats last year suggests he’s right. Making him a full-time DH will help, but even if injuries do strike this club, Payton and Kielty are more than capable replacements.

Pitching: Harden is nasty; opponents hit a paltry .201 against him last year. He will contend for the Cy Young this year. Zito is in the last year of his contract and will be pitching with a big payday in mind. Haren and Blanton look to build on promising starts to their careers. It’s questionable if signing Loaiza was even needed with Saarloos and Kennedy available, but it gives them plenty of depth. Witasick, Calero, Duchscherer and Street form one of the best bullpens in the AL.

2. Los Angeles Angels 95-67 *** Wildcard winner

Overview: The Angels are both contenders and transitioning to youth at the same time. Their pitching from top to bottom rivals anyone’s in the league. If Vladdy stays healthy, look for the Angels to sneak past the Red Sox for a wild card berth.

Hitting: Guerrero is capable of carrying this offense; however, this year, he may not need to. Kotchman and Rivera both figure to finally get their shot and will make the most of it. Garret Anderson is in a definite decline, and it will be interesting to follow Tim Salmon’s comeback attempt. The Angels will score some runs, but it will be their pitching that carries them.

Pitching: Colon is coming off a Cy Young winning year, and Lackey is finally ready to live up to the huge expectations he created for himself after his impressive 2002 post-season. Escobar is better than most people realize. Weaver and E. Santana round out the impressive rotation. Shields and K-Rod make the bullpen another strength.

3. Seattle Mariners 75-87

Overview: The Mariners will be battling the Rangers all year to avoid last place. They will field an improved club from last year’s, and it may just be enough to attain that coveted third place.

Hitting: Beltre will bounce back from a very unimpressive first turn in the AL. Sexson will approach 40 bombs yet again. Ichiro will go back to hitting at least .330. Their middle infield will be extremely young with Lopez and Betancourt. How will Johjima adjust to American pitching while also having to catch?

Pitching: King Felix is the best pitching prospect since Doc Gooden. This year, however, he should be limited to around 180 innings. Moyer and Washburn are OK, but Pineiro and Meche have been huge disappointments. Guardado closes for a mediocre bullpen. Rafael Soriano will eventually emerge as the best reliever on the team.

4. Texas Rangers 74-88

Overview: Dealing Chris Young for Eaton looks even worse now, with Eaton set to miss as much as three months of the season. It’s a loss that will hurt a team already thin when it comes to pitching. They better hope Millwood throws like he did last year.

Hitting: The Rangers hit 260 home runs last year, second most in Major League history. Ameriquest Field had a lot to do with it, which is evident by most of the lineup’s home/road splits. This year should be no different; Teixeira, Young, Blalock, Mench, and newcomer Wilkerson figure to put plenty of runs on the board. They can’t seriously be considering hitting Nevin cleanup, can they? Releasing Durazo was their loss.

Pitching: The Rangers better hope Millwood stays healthy after giving him a $60 million contract. They will also be relying heavily on Padilla, especially now that Eaton might be lost for a significant portion of the season. Loe and Dickey round out a lackluster rotation. Cordero, Otsuka and Benoit comprise an average bullpen.

National League Central Preview

Friday, March 31st, 2006

1. St. Louis Cardinals 93-69

Overview: You’ve heard it before, but this team is built for dominance in the regular season. Carpenter has emerged as a true ace, and LaRussa and Duncan just plain get it done. Rolen and Edmonds’ health combined with the loss of Larry Walker make them slightly more vulnerable, but they should have more than enough weapons to be crowned division champs.

Hitting: How many consecutive MVP awards can Pujols win? Seriously, he might have started an unprecedented run with last year’s honor. The man with the greatest 5-year start in MLB history makes this team the favorite to win the NL. How much power will Rolen regain after shoulder surgery? Why not just re-sign Sanders instead of giving Encarnacion $15 million? Still, runs will not be hard to come by.

Pitching: Carpenter is finally living up to his ability and barring any health issues, should continue to dominate this year. Dan Haren is already the better pitcher, but still, Mulder will be focused in his contract year; a refined delivery could also bring some improvement upon last year’s so-so debut in a Cardinals uniform. Suppan and Marquis bring stability, and if anyone can get positive results from Sidney Ponson, it’s Duncan. Anthony Reyes will eventually become a big part of this staff.

2. Milwaukee Brewers 85-77

Overview: The Brew Crew will be battling the Astros for a second place finish throughout the year. Maybe still a year away from truly contending, the Brewers will be fielding their most competitive team in years. Much like Pedro and the Mets, their season hangs in Sheets’ balance.

Hitting: Fielder and Weeks will need some time to realize their vast potential, but this lineup might be one of the deepest in all of baseball. Bill Hall doesn’t even have a regular spot but will be productive in a super-utility role. If Jenkins can stay relatively healthy, he’ll get his first 100 RBI season. Carlos Lee will put up big numbers before he enters free agency.

Pitching: It looks like a huge bullet was dodged, and Sheets will only miss the first couple weeks of the year. If healthy, he can contend for the Cy Young. Davis and Capuano are solid enough, and Bush was a great addition to the staff; in fact, he may prove to be their second best starter this year. Turnbow, Wise, Lehr and Capellan possess the ability to be an overpowering bullpen.

3. Houston Astros 84-78

Overview: The Astros have gotten off to terrible starts for two straight years now – something that could factor into Clemens’ decision to return or not if it happens again. Still, the smart money is on a Clemens June return. Maybe their run production problem will cease with Lane’s development, and the addition of Preston Wilson, but the back of the rotation figures to be their downfall.

Hitting: Berkman will enter the year stronger, as he is now a year removed from ACL surgery. Put a fork in Bagwell; he’s done. Although they should be able to score more frequently than last year, run production should still be something of a problem.

Pitching: Oswalt and Pettitte are a great one-two punch. After that, there’s Backe, Buchholz and a guy named Wandy. Ouch. Still, the Astros were 56-36 in games started by Oswalt, Pettitte or Backe last year and only 15-17 in games Clemens started, so there is hope. The back-end of this rotation is ugly though. Don’t worry about Lidge’s post-season struggles; he will go back to being unhittable this year.

4. Chicago Cubs 81-81

Overview: With Zambrano, Prior, Wood and Maddux, the Cubs should be yearly World Series threats; unfortunately, things haven’t gone according to plan. Maybe it could feasibly all be blamed on Dusty Baker; the guy cannot manage his pitchers. There seems to be more at work here, however. Anyway, expect another disappointing season for the Cubbies.

Hitting: Lee has nowhere to go but down from last year’s incredible campaign, but he and a healthy year from Ramirez create a formidable duo. Baker loves his veterans, so Neifi Perez again figures to get way too many at-bats. Baker will also assuredly miscast Jacque Jones as a regular – he needs to be sat versus lefties. This offense looks average at best.

Pitching: Zambrano worked hard this off-season and has his eyes on the Cy Young. With his emotions in check, he will make a strong run at it. Prior and Wood are the obvious question marks. People have to be sick of the words potential with these two. Maybe one year it will all come together, but it doesn’t look to be this one. Maddux had his 15-win streak snapped at 17 last year, but still remains an asset. Jerome Williams continues to underachieve.

5. Cincinnati Reds 72-90

Overview: The Reds led the NL in runs scored last year. After trading away Wily Mo Pena and seriously considering giving Tony Womack significant at-bats, don’t look for a repeat. Their hitting still far outweighs their pitching, however. Defense will be a real problem for them.

Hitting: Dunn is the favorite to lead the majors in home runs. Encarnacion is showing signs of breaking out. Kearns will live up to his potential one of these years. The LaRue/Valentin combo produces the best numbers of any catching situation in baseball. Why Womack would start over Freel is beyond me.

Pitching: Pitching in Great American Ball Park, where the most home runs in any stadium were hit in 2005, is not kind to the Reds staff. Harang, Claussen and Arroyo form a solid enough trio, but things get ugly after that. Milton has to improve because it might be impossible to get any worse than he was last year – 6.47 ERA. He’ll give returns on his $25.5 million contract with at least a sub-5.00 ERA in 2006. With no obvious closer candidate, look for Ryan Wagner to eventually settle into the role once thought to be his.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates 72-90

Overview: It should be a heated battle to the very end in the NL Central, with the Reds and Pirates battling for the rights for fifth place. The Pirates actually have a lot of young pitching talent, and the teams’ outlook is better than usual.

Hitting: Bay is a superstar waiting to happen. Too bad he will have to carry the entire offense on his shoulders. At least the team traded for Casey, whose solid OBP will be directly in front of Bay. Duffy, Burnitz, J. Wilson and Randa are all uninspiring. How can this team possibly not find room for Craig Wilson’s bat? It’s their loss.

Pitching: Oliver Perez is a huge wildcard: capable of dominating but also prone to wildness. His velocity has been down this spring, but look for a better year than last. Duke has great upside and contributed immediately when given the chance last year. Tom Gorzelanny is a nice looking prospect and should join the rotation by midseason. Mike Gonzalez could emerge as one of the most dominant closers as soon as this year. It’s unfortunate they dealt Williams and/or Redman, an all-lefty rotation would have been sweet.

National League East Preview

Thursday, March 30th, 2006

1. Atlanta Braves 91-71

Overview: Many claim the Mets to be this year’s division favorite. Don’t buy it. The Braves will claim their 15th straight division title. Although, it will be interesting to see how truly great of an effect Leo Mazzone’s departure will have.

Hitting: Andruw Jones won’t be as productive as a year ago, but the Braves possess many weapons on offense. Renteria should enjoy his return to the NL, and Francoeur’s impressive debut was legit. Langerhans figures to start in the beginning, but Matt Diaz and Kelly Johnson make the outfield deep and should prove to be a strength.

Pitching: Always their strongest point, the Braves will continue to rely heavily on their rotation. Smoltz should have another dominant year left in him, and Hudson will bounce back with a better year than last. Jorge Sosa’s 1.39 WHIP suggests a rise in ERA, but he should remain an asset. Look for a trade to eventually open a spot for Kyle Davies, who will become a fixture on the staff for years to come. The bullpen will be a problem area. Reitsma is not the long-term answer at closer. The Braves better hope Joey Devine is ready, and his spring numbers say that he is.

2. Philadelphia Phillies 89-73 *** Wildcard winner

Overview: The Phillies should have no trouble putting runs on the board; their pitching, however, will ultimately decide their fate. What, if any, effect will the moving back of the leftfield fences have?

Hitting: Too bad they traded Polanco for the incarcerated Urbina, or the Phillies would be the favorites to lead the league in runs scored. Instead, they’ll employ a weak bottom third of the order. Still, the rest will be potent. Howard and Utley could be scary good.

Pitching: The staff will appreciate newcomer Rowand’s terrific center field defense. Myers, Lieber and Madson form a solid top three. Gavin Floyd looks ready to contribute and is capable of immediate success. His and Cole Hamels development will play a big part in the franchise’s future. Tom Gordon will successfully step right into the departed Wagner’s closer role.

3. New York Mets 87-75

Overview: Not that far off a year ago, the Mets added Carlos Delgado and Billy Wagner this off-season. Willie Randolph can’t possibly continue messing up his lineup arrangements this year, can he? Never has a franchise’s fortunes been so dependant on one toe.

Hitting: Beltran will start earning his huge contract this year, and Wright will begin a long run at MVP-type seasons. The health of Floyd, Reyes and Delgado will be paramount. The Nady/Diaz platoon should be rather productive.

Pitching: After Pedro, the rest of the rotation will ultimately be the Mets downfall. If they really do end up sending Heilman to the pen, then they are in even more trouble. Even if the Glavine after last year’s All-Star break shows up (he just turned 40, by the way), the Mets will find it difficult to reach expectations with Steve Trachsel, Victor Zambrano and Brian Bannister filling out their rotation. Look for the club to end up disappointing yet again.

4. Washington Nationals 74-88

Overview: Last year the Nationals surprised and remained in the playoff hunt almost until the very end; this year they might be eliminated by the All-Star break. Good thing they share divisions with the Marlins.

Hitting: Losing Guillen would’ve been crushing, and his recovery from the wrist injury will be vital. Nick Johnson has a big year in him somewhere, but he can’t stay healthy. Same goes for Vidro. The Soriano situation will have a soap opera vibe throughout.

Pitching: John Patterson is here to stay. How many more 150-pitch outings can Livan Hernandez take? Lawrence and Ayala both succumbing to injury doesn’t help an already Nicole Richie-like-thin pitching staff. Chad Cordero will continue to shine, but save opportunities will be minimal.

5. Florida Marlins 60-102

Overview: The Marlins might just be undergoing the most extreme youth movement ever. Cabrera and Willis are the true cornerstones of the franchise, but with their supporting cast, a 100-loss year may very well be in store.

Hitting: Cabrera’s patience will be greatly tested this year; why would anyone ever throw him a fastball? Hermida is the early favorite for ROY honors, and Willingham will more than hold his own; however, after that, it gets worrisome. While Hanley Ramirez and Mike Jacobs have bright futures, for the short-term, the Marlins will really struggle to score runs. It should be the least potent offense in the majors.

Pitching: If Willis doesn’t work out his mechanics, and his WBC performance continues into the season, the Marlins are in even more trouble than anticipated. Jason Vargas, Scott Olsen and Travis Bowyer are all promising prospects, but again, not much should be expected for the time being.

National League West Preview

Wednesday, March 29th, 2006

1. Los Angeles Dodgers 88-74

Overview: Why does everyone trash Paul DePodesta? It’s almost as if the media don’t pay attention. Jim Tracy didn’t help; Hee Seop Choi had an 1103 OPS in 31 games as a No. 2 hitter, then never hit there again. Choi was part of the deal that netted Penny for Mota. Starters are more valuable than relievers people; how’s Mota turned out since then by the way? Further claiming the organization took a huge step backward by making DePodesta their scapegoat would take an article in itself, so we’ll look to the future instead. Furcal for $39 million when you already have the NL’s best defensive shortstop? Still, the Dodgers have the players intact for an immediate playoff run.

Hitting: J.D. Drew’s huge contract contributed to DePodesta’s undoing (sorry, I still can’t get off the misinterpreted Moneyball disciple), and $55 million is admittedly risky for such an injury-prone player. But the guy is a stud when he does play (career OPS over 900), and last year’s broken wrist resulted from getting hit by a pitch, something that could’ve happened to anyone. If age doesn’t catch up to Garciaparra, Kent, Mueller and Lofton, runs will be put on the board.

Pitching: Their strong point. Penny, Lowe, Perez and Seo (a nice pickup by Colleti) make one of the best foursomes in baseball. Gagne may not be 100 percent but even at 90 percent, he will be effective. Baez provides solid insurance and will be motivated for his impending free agency. The Dodgers look poised to take the NL West.

2. San Francisco Giants 87-75

Overview: The Giants have been mortgaging the future for a few years now. Playing for immediate returns isn’t a terrible idea considering the Bonds situation, but the future looks bleak after some of Sabean’s head-scratching moves. This year, though, the Giants should be able to make one final post-season run, with Bonds the center of uncertainty and possible success.

Hitting: Felipe Alou will almost assuredly continue to fail at arranging lineups correctly, and Winn will go back to being Winn after his unbelievable run in a Giants uniform last year. Still, there is the possibility of some decent production here. The Sweeney/Niekro platoon could actually be sneakily productive, but this again calls for Felipe to be cognizant, something that may take awhile. Obviously, this all comes down to Bonds. He will be motivated, and there still isn’t anyone alive who affects a game the way he does.

Pitching: Although Schmidt’s velocity isn’t all the way back, look for him to return to form and anchor the staff. Lowry’s changeup is one of the best in baseball, and Cain will make a run at ROY. Matt Morris is the key here. The spring results have not been encouraging, which is especially bad news considering the No. 5 starter, Jamey Wright, should be one of the worst in the league. The big three really need to carry this staff because the bullpen figures to be a weak point as well.

3. San Diego Padres 78-84

Overview: Last year’s NL West winner with only an 82-80 record, the Padres will have more of a battle on their hands this year with improved LA and SF clubs. Mike Cameron’s terrific defense will be a welcome addition to spacious Petco Park. Giving up Loretta for Mirabelli and then signing Piazza was quite perplexing.

Hitting: Padre fans better hope Castilla hits toward the bottom of the lineup or this is going to be a long season. How much he, Piazza and Klesko have left in the tank are big question marks. Khalil Greene will breakout one of these years, and Giles remains great, but runs will not be coming in bunches.

Pitching: Peavy will win a Cy Young the year he stays healthy. Chris Young will find Petco to his liking and produce solid numbers. It gets sketchy after that as far as the rotation is concerned. Dewon Brazelton may prove to be quite the pickup, but is probably still a few years away from truly blossoming. The bullpen will once again be a strong suit.

4. Arizona Diamondbacks 70-92

Overview: The D-Backs will be starting a major youth movement and are due for some growing pains this year. But with Conor Jackson, Carlos Quentin, Stephen Drew, Chris Young and Justin Upton, the future looks promising.

Hitting: Maybe the biggest surprise of the entire league last year was Tony Clark’s 1003 OPS. Chad Tracy should slide into the three-hole and produce good numbers. How much does Shawn Green have left? Is this the year Orlando Hudson breaks out?

Pitching: Adding a cut fastball will help Webb continue to improve on his already impressive numbers. Also, his extreme groundball ratio will play very well with the addition of Hudson, baseball’s premiere defensive second basemen. After Webb, though, things don’t look quite as good. Russ Ortiz is probably the most overpaid player in all of baseball: $33 million for someone who had an ERA over 8.00 after April last year, ouch. The recent Juan Cruz acquisition will prove to be savvy, and Valverde will settle nicely into the closer’s role.

5. Colorado Rockies 68-94

Overview: The Rockies can’t seem to make any progress. Maybe now, sticking with players within the organization, they will begin to show signs of improvement – probably not too much though.

Hitting: Helton’s back problems may prevent him from ever regaining his power stroke but his average will remain high. Home run numbers may have dropped significantly last year in Coors Field but it still led all of baseball in hits, so runs will still be plentiful. Look for the trend of inept hitting away from Coors to continue.

Pitching: Why Francis pitches better in Coors than on the road is confounding and anyone’s guess. He should be better this year, however. Aaron Cook made an impressive recovery from lung blood clot surgery and may be this year’s ace of the staff. Byung-Hyun Kim has been surprisingly effective for the Rockies. If Jose Mesa’s over/under for ERA was 6.50, I’d take the over.

Players to Avoid

Monday, March 27th, 2006

Alfonso Soriano – The good: he’s still a 30/30 threat and in a contract year. The bad: he now calls RFK home and is unhappy with being forced to play leftfield. The ugly: his .224/.265/.374 line away from Ameriquest Field last year. Take Utley over him.

Andruw Jones – He’s going too early. Sure, he’s only 28 and last year’s improvement was overdue, but remember the .267 career average. Plus, he doesn’t even steal any bases anymore. The 51-homer campaign will almost assuredly go down as a career-high; let someone else overpay.

Rafael Furcal – He’s returning from knee surgery, has a .157 career average in his new Dodger Stadium home, and is more likely to swipe 25 bases than 50. Don’t overpay for him like the Dodgers did.

Derrek Lee – Listen, the guy absolutely deserved MVP last year. He was robbed and the fact he finished third was a joke. This year, however, I recommend staying away. Last year screams career year and was a complete aberration. He hit .287 with 19 HR in the second half last year, which is the pace to be expected this year. He will put up solid numbers, just not top 8 numbers, which is what he’ll cost.

Cliff Floyd – His latest kidney issue only compounds the problems that come with Floyd. Before last year, he hadn’t reached even 400 at bats since 2002. The injury risk is simply too great for what it’ll cost to get him this year. If you must go after an injury-prone outfielder, take J.D. Drew.

Jeff Suppan – Sports Illustrated has him as their 19th ranked SP. Huh? This after they had the legendary Reggie Williams as their 19th ranked WR. Anyway, Suppan’s ERA was fine, but a sub-par 1.38 WHIP suggests a return to over 4.00 is in the cards. He also sports a terrible strikeout rate. Wins will be the only category he contributes in, which makes him a fine pick after maybe 60 SP are off the board, not 18.

Bartolo Colon – Last year Colon robbed Santana of the Cy Young, this year he should be avoided. Don’t expect another 1.16 WHIP; after all, his career line stands at 1.31. Weight issues, shoulder concerns and decreased spring velocity are all reasons to stay away.

Mark Buehrle – Definitely a solid pitcher but typically going a bit too early. Look for his second half numbers of 3.84 ERA and 1.28 WHIP to be more in line of what’s in store for Buehrle this year. Also, he threw 260 innings last year when you include the post-season. I’d let someone else take him.

Chris Capuano – Wins are the flukiest stat. A repeat of 18 wins this year is about as likely as Kevin Federline having a successful rap career. Concentrate more on the post All-Star break numbers of 4.42 ERA and 1.44 WHIP and steer clear.

Todd Jones – This is obvious but still merits acknowledgment. Last year he was unreal. Ignore it. He’s old, switching to the American League and figures to do more harm than good when it comes to ERA and WHIP.

Hitters to Target

Sunday, March 26th, 2006

Carlos Beltran – Beltran rededicated himself this off-season and is primed for a rebound. Limited by a leg injury and later a concussion, he was one of the biggest busts last year. Look for him to approach 30/30 and provide huge value if he falls late 2nd or early 3rd.

Travis Hafner – Fluke injuries have kept his at bats down and, therefore, his overall numbers. After posting back-to-back near 1000 OPS seasons, “Pronk” is one of the premiere hitters in baseball. Count on a fully healthy season and a run at 125 RBI.

Chase Utley – Everyone knows about this budding star, but he still may be a bit undervalued. Last year, he frequently hit lower in the order and didn’t become a true everyday player until June. This year, there isn’t any other middle infielder I’d rather own.

Adrian Beltre – From steal of the draft in 2004 to bust of the draft in 2005, Beltre seems to be an afterthought these days. Still only 26 and with a year of American League pitching under his belt, count on his torrid WBC play to continue into the season. Now, if only he could suffer another bone spur on his left ankle…

Mark Loretta – A torn left thumb ligament ruined last year, but an off-season trade to Boston has his future looking brighter than ever. Moving from Petco to Fenway is great in itself, but add to the fact that his superior on-base skills will be directly in front of Ortiz and Manny, and a league lead in runs scored is quite possible.

Justin Morneau – He can be had for cheap. Last year he dealt with an appendix removal, the chicken pox, a cyst removal, a concussion and finally an elbow injury. This year look for him to quickly move up in the order, settle into the cleanup spot and become the first Twin to eclipse 30 homers since 1989.

Matt Holliday – Way too many outfielders are going before Holliday. The fact that he’s not even an above average player in real baseball doesn’t matter. He plays in Coors and is locked in the cleanup spot right behind Helton. 64 RBI in his final 71 games last year reveals a sign of things to come.

Scott Podsednik – Concerns with his shoulder should drop his price tag even further. Remember, Podsednik had 47 steals in his first 75 games last year, a remarkable pace eventually slowed by what was later revealed to be two hernias. His ability to dominate the rarest category, steals, is unlike any other player out there. If he approaches 80 steals, a very real possibility, his value will be much higher than almost anyone realizes.

Edwin Encarnacion – Although batting average is likely to remain a problem, there is a lot to like here. Playing in hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark, where the most home runs were hit in all of baseball in 2005, as well as a move to the heart of the order mean big things are in store for this spring training standout. He’ll even contribute with 10-15 steals.

Jhonny Peralta – Not only did he split time with the immortal Alex Cora for the first month but he also hit ninth until August. Then he moved to the three spot, an ideal place to rack up runs and RBI in the Tribe’s lineup. It’s where he figures to bat all of this year, making him a great value pick at shortstop.

Casey Kotchman – Someone who figures to go very late in most drafts, Kotchman should receive the majority of time at first base for the Angels this year. He will pound righties and will soon make the Royals look foolish for turning down the Sweeney proposal.

Austin Kearns – It will happen one year. I promise. Finally enabled job security, Kearns showed up to camp in noticeably better shape. Plus, he’s using the Nike Maxsight contact lenses now, which helped take Brian Roberts to a new level last year. At this point, the upside is worth the risk. Go ahead and go after him, even if you’ve been burned before.

Joey Gathright – How much playing time he gets is the key factor here. Whether it’s Huff moving to third to open a spot in the outfield, or a trade to the Marlins, Gathright should get his chance. He has the ability to carry teams in the steal category, make sure he’s on yours when it happens.

Pitchers to Target

Thursday, March 23rd, 2006

These are the pitchers who are holding the most value in many of the drafts I’ve seen. Simply put, target these guys and thank me later…

Johan Santana – I don’t understand why most “experts” subscribe to the theory of waiting on starting pitching. No other SP is even close to Johan; the same cannot be said for any offensive player. Draft A-Rod and Pujols if you must, but Johan is the clear choice at number three.

Jake Peavy – Since most leagues tend to wait on SP, take advantage of this and pounce on my #2 rated starter. The injury risk is definitely there, but with Petco’s aid and his filthy arsenal, look for Peavy to be polishing a Cy Young at year’s end. Pitching in the NL West makes it almost unfair.

Rich Harden – Another big time talent to yet reach his potential. Take advantage of his recent DL stints (none of which had anything to do with his throwing arm) and get a potential top 3 SP. Next year it will take a much higher pick to nab him.

Ben Sheets – Make sure he drops. I’m thinking he will. If he falls past rounds 5 or 6, go for it. In some drafts, he may last even longer. It’s looking like his latest injury concern is not as serious as originally feared. So what if he misses his first start. His WHIP contribution just might be second-to-none.

Curt Schilling – I love targeting guys coming off abnormally bad years, and in Schilling’s case, he even has an excuse. Now more healthy than at any point last year, look for a big bounce back. Even if his ERA hovers around 4.00, Schilling’s extra motivation will reward you with superior WHIP, strikeouts and wins.

Jeremy Bonderman – It’s time for the breakthrough. Bonderman, still only 23, had a solid season last year all the way up until the final month, when he tired and his ERA inflated. Don’t look at the final numbers. Look into drafting him, however.

John Patterson – They don’t call him “Big Nasty” for nothing. Patterson has continued his breakout season from last year with a lights out spring. The fifth overall pick in 1996 took longer than expected to develop, but it looks like he was worth the wait. RFK and the addition of a changeup don’t hurt matters either.

Randy Johnson – Rounds 5-8 are simply too late for a guy who will contribute so heavily in wins, strikeouts and WHIP. Even if he can’t post a sub-4.00 ERA, he still is a threat to win 20 with that lineup. His strong second half numbers suggest the decline has been exaggerated.

Erik Bedard – Another case of an injury ruining final numbers in an otherwise impressive campaign. Leo Mazzone will get the most out of him; make sure he’s on your team when it happens.

Francisco Liriano – The Nathan, Liriano and Bonser for Pierzynski deal is the most lopsided trade that no one talks about in recent memory. Liriano, once thought to be too injury-prone to ever have any success, is now one of the best prospects alive. Talk up how he won’t have a rotation spot to begin the year. Then draft him late and you’ve got THE steal of the draft.

Kyle Davies – Davies will probably go undrafted in most leagues, but what about when John Thomson gets dealt, which is rumored to be happening soon? Davies will become a fixture in the Atlanta rotation and has sleeper written all over him.

Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Odalis Perez, Jae Seo and Chris Young – Not only will all of these guys outperform their numbers from last year, but their ballparks and division make them great bets to succeed beyond where most are being drafted.

Tom Gordon – I’m seeing him go way too late. This is the guy who once saved 54 straight games, 54! His stuff is still filthy, his workload will be more manageable now back in the closer’s role, and he joins a team that figures to put up runs in bunches. The best value of any closer.

Neal Cotts – Bobby Jenks has a great future ahead of him, but for this year, he’s riskier than talking trash to Danny Bonaduce. Once injury or wildness strikes, Cotts will effectively take over the role of closer for the World Champs.

Jonathan Papelbon – Numerous shots of a joint lubricant called Synvisc into Foulke’s knees? That can’t be good. The over/under on Foulke going down is somewhere around June 1. Papelbon is the sneaky alternative once it happens.

My Name Isn’t Earl

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

I don’t care if my accountant is a jerk. As long as he performs his job well, I am choosing him over a more likable guy, who just isn’t quite as good at accounting.

Why must the media insist on teams fielding likable players? We can pretend we know these athletes all we want, but the fact is, rarely do we truly know one’s character. And who cares anyway?

Hey, I’m as big of a believer in karma as anyone, but give me the choice between Peja Stojakovic, an apparent nice guy, versus Ron Artest, by all accounts a no-good, worthless human being, and I’m taking Artest every single time. Why? I’m glad you asked.

Locker room chemistry and nice guy competitions are great in theory, but realistically unimportant. Talent isn’t. Listen, if attitude becomes so disruptive that DNPs fill up the stat sheet, it is hard to back my stance. All I’m saying is that character is overrated.

Artest is most likely clinically insane, but for all I know, he spends his free time feeding the homeless and rescuing stray kittens. Maybe Peja is the opposite of this. Who knows is the point.

Yes, if the behavior affects the team, then it becomes a problem, but more often than not, the team with the best “chemistry” is the team that is winning. It is a causal relationship.

The Kings pulled off one of the best trades of the decade with their Artest for Peja swap. The Pacers had their reasons, and they were justifiable, but just because the Kings are collectively more malevolent, doesn’t mean they aren’t a much better basketball team.

Before the trade, the Kings were 17-24, and so far after the deal, 16-7; this while not simply adding Artest, but also subtracting Peja – a ridiculous turnaround that warrants MVP talk for Artest. Name more than five other players in the league who could produce such a transformation.

So I’d rather Peja baby-sit my kid than Artest. So what? They play basketball for a living, and their ability in that profession is what should matter most.

Ask yourself this: did the Dallas Cowboys have a better chance of winning next year’s Super Bowl last week, or now, after they signed Terrell Owens? Even my accountant knows that answer.

Curb Yao Enthusiasm

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

So it took longer than expected. I admit I was the one proclaiming Yao Ming to be the next great thing. This wasn’t the new Shawn Bradley I argued. Superstar was more applicable.

Unfortunately, I found myself repeating this same thing for three straight years, and it became tiresome. It was time to rethink my stance. Maybe Yao wasn’t what I envisioned. Maybe he was destined to be a good, not great, player, despite his size. The improvements never fully materialized.

I gave up. No longer was I arguing on his behalf. Sure, he was no Shawn Bradley, but disappointment was the label I stuck him with. Then, a funny thing happened. Yao Ming, almost overnight, began dominating. Ironically, it was an injury that may have contributed to this turnaround.

Surgery on his left toe gave Yao unaccustomed rest; when he’s not playing for the Rockets, he is obligated to the Chinese national team, playing nearly 12 months a year. Since returning from this much needed break, Yao has been a force: averaging 28 ppg, 12.9 rpg and 2 bpg while shooting better than 53 percent in the second half of the season.

After all the hype has passed and some have called him a flop, Yao is finally living up to expectations with little recognition. Sure, McGrady is out, which leaves more shots (as well as double-teams), but the light has officially gone on for Yao.

LeBron and Wade would still be my top choices to start a franchise, but Yao Ming is at least finally entering the conversation.

Starting Pitcher Rankings

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

1. Johan Santana
2. Jake Peavy
3. Rich Harden
4. Roy Halladay
5. Pedro Martinez
6. Felix Hernandez
7. Chris Carpenter
8. Carlos Zambrano
9. Randy Johnson
10. Roy Oswalt
11. Ben Sheets
12. Andy Pettitte
13. John Smoltz
14. Mark Prior
15. Dontrelle Willis
16. Jason Schmidt
17. John Patterson
18. Barry Zito
19. Curt Schilling
20. Bartolo Colon
21. Tim Hudson
22. Brandon Webb
23. Jeremy Bonderman
24. Jose Contreras
25. Erik Bedard
26. Zach Duke
27. Brad Penny
28. Josh Beckett
29. A.J. Burnett
30. Mark Buehrle
31. C.C. Sabathia
32. Dan Haren
33. Brett Myers
34. John Lackey
35. Roger Clemens
36. Francisco Liriano
37. Javier Vazquez
38. Kelvim Escobar
39. Mark Mulder
40. Oliver Perez
41. Chris Young
42. Matt Cain
43. Cliff Lee
44. Freddy Garcia
45. Kerry Wood
46. Scott Kazmir
47. Kevin Millwood
48. Odalis Perez
49. Noah Lowry
50. Daniel Cabrera
51. Matt Clement
52. Derek Lowe
53. Matt Morris
54. Joe Blanton
55. Mike Mussina
56. Greg Maddux
57. David Bush
58. Jon Lieber
59. Brad Radke
60. Kyle Davies

Relief Pitcher Rankings

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

1. Mariano Rivera
2. Francisco Rodriguez
3. Brad Lidge
4. Huston Street
5. Billy Wagner
6. Joe Nathan
7. Eric Gagne
8. B.J. Ryan
9. Tom Gordon
10. Chad Cordero
11. Derrick Turnbow
12. Jason Isringhausen
13. Armando Benitez
14. Francisco Cordero
15. Trevor Hoffman
16. Bobby Jenks
17. Ryan Dempster
18. Eddie Guardado
19. Mike Gonzalez
20. Jose Valverde
21. Chris Ray
22. Keith Foulke
23. Chad Orvella
24. Bob Wickman
25. Brian Fuentes
26. Todd Jones
27. Joe Borowski
28. Mike MacDougal
29. Ambiorix Burgos
30. David Weathers
31. Chris Reitsma
32. Scot Shields
33. Aaron Heilman
34. Ryan Madson
35. Neal Cotts
36. Brandon McCarthy
37. Scott Linebrink
38. Juan Rincon
39. Joey Devine
40. Danys Baez
41. Jonathan Papelbon
42. Fernando Cabrera
43. Jesse Crain
44. Justin Duchscherer
45. Kyle Farnsworth
46. Bob Howry
47. Todd Coffey
48. Rafael Soriano
49. Ryan Wagner
50. Rafael Betancourt

Outfielder Rankings

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

1. Vladimir Guerrero
2. Bobby Abreu
3. Carl Crawford
4. Manny Ramirez
5. Carlos Beltran
6. Jason Bay
7. Scott Podsednik
8. Gary Sheffield
9. Ichiro Suzuki
10. Lance Berkman
11. Adam Dunn
12. Grady Sizemore
13. Carlos Lee
14. Matt Holliday
15. Johnny Damon
16. Hideki Matsui
17. Juan Pierre
18. Coco Crisp
19. Andruw Jones
20. Vernon Wells
21. Barry Bonds
22. J.D. Drew
23. Pat Burrell
24. Magglio Ordonez
25. Jim Edmonds
26. Brian Giles
27. Rocco Baldelli
28. Moises Alou
29. Willy Taveras
30. Randy Winn
31. Jeff Francoeur
32. Austin Kearns
33. Joey Gathright
34. Jonny Gomes
35. Jermaine Dye
36. Wily Mo Pena
37. Milton Bradley
38. Corey Patterson
39. Jason Lane
40. Geoff Jenkins
41. Aaron Rowand
42. Cliff Floyd
43. Ken Griffey Jr.
44. Torii Hunter
45. Shawn Green
46. Kevin Mench
47. Jeremy Hermida
48. Luis Gonzalez
49. Garret Anderson
50. Mike Cameron
51. Preston Wilson
52. Curtis Granderson
53. Brady Clark
54. Dave Roberts
55. Trot Nixon
56. Brad Hawpe
57. Jose Guillen
58. Cory Sullivan
59. David DeJesus
60. Reggie Sanders
61. Raul Ibanez
62. Juan Encarnacion
63. Chris Duffy
64. Mark Kotsay
65. Alex Rios

First Base Rankings

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

1. Albert Pujols
2. Mark Teixeira
3. Derrek Lee
4. Todd Helton
5. Lance Berkman
6. Adam Dunn
7. Paul Konerko
8. Ryan Howard
9. Richie Sexson
10. Carlos Delgado
11. Aubrey Huff
12. Jim Thome
13. Justin Morneau
14. Brad Wilkerson
15. Chad Tracy
16. Jason Giambi
17. Mike Sweeney
18. Nick Johnson
19. Lyle Overbay
20. Dan Johnson
21. Chris Shelton
22. Casey Kotchman
23. Prince Fielder
24. Nick Swisher
25. Jay Gibbons
26. Phil Nevin
27. Sean Casey
28. Dmitri Young
29. Mike Jacobs
30. Darin Erstad

Designated Hitters
1. David Ortiz
2. Travis Hafner
3. Frank Thomas
4. Erubiel Durazo

Third Base Rankings

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

1. Alex Rodriguez
2. David Wright
3. Miguel Cabrera
4. Aramis Ramirez
5. Hank Blalock
6. Adrian Beltre
7. Eric Chavez
8. Chipper Jones
9. Morgan Ensberg
10. Troy Glaus
11. Melvin Mora
12. Scott Rolen
13. Chad Tracy
14. Edwin Encarnacion
15. Garrett Atkins
16. Shea Hillenbrand
17. Aaron Boone
18. Pedro Feliz
19. Joe Crede
20. Ryan Zimmerman
21. Mike Lowell
22. Corey Koskie
23. Kevin Youkilis
24. Tony Batista
25. Joe Randa

Shortstop Rankings

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

1. Miguel Tejada
2. Michael Young
3. Jose Reyes
4. Derek Jeter
5. Jimmy Rollins
6. Rafael Furcal
7. Jhonny Peralta
8. Felipe Lopez
9. Clint Barmes
10. Bobby Crosby
11. Julio Lugo
12. Nomar Garciaparra
13. Edgar Renteria
14. Juan Uribe
15. Carlos Guillen
16. Khalil Greene
17. Orlando Cabrera
18. David Eckstein
19. Omar Vizquel
20. Jason Bartlett
21. Angel Berroa
22. Russ Adams
23. Alex Gonzalez
24. Adam Everett
25. B.J. Upton

Second Base Rankings

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

1. Chase Utley
2. Chone Figgins
3. Alfonso Soriano
4. Jorge Cantu
5. Rickie Weeks
6. Jeff Kent
7. Marcus Giles
8. Mark Loretta
9. Brian Roberts
10. Tadahito Iguchi
11. Placido Polanco
12. Robinson Cano
13. Mark Ellis
14. Ryan Freel
15. Orlando Hudson
16. Jose Vidro
17. Craig Biggio
18. Luis Gonzalez
19. Ronnie Belliard
20. Adam Kennedy
21. Ray Durham
22. Junior Spivey
23. Michael Cuddyer
24. Ian Kinsler
25. Tony Womack

Catcher Rankings

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006

1. Victor Martinez
2. Joe Mauer
3. Javy Lopez
4. Pudge Rodriguez
5. Jorge Posada
6. Jason Varitek
7. Roman Hernandez
8. Michael Barrett
9. A.J. Pierzynski
10. Josh Willingham
11. Kenji Johjima
12. Jason Kendall
13. Paul Lo Duca
14. Yorvit Torrealba
15. Mike Piazza
16. Johnny Estrada
17. Brian McCann
18. Benjie Molina
19. Rod Barajas
20. Mike Lieberthal