The Fish are Flying High: Why the Florida Marlins will win the 2009 World Series.

The Marlins are like Britney Spears. Good for one year, a wreck for the next five.

The Marlins are like Britney Spears. Good for one year, a wreck for the next five.

1997-Florida Marlins over Cleveland Indians

2003-Florida Marlins over New York Yankees

2009-Florida Marlins over ????

It’s been six seasons since the Marlins last World Series title, and if history is any indicator, the stars are aligned for Florida to claim the Fall Classic once again. South Florida’s franchise hasn’t even been around for 20 years but already they have had more postseason success in that span than storied franchises like the Chicago Cubs, Seattle Mariners, New York Mets, L.A. Dodgers and Cleveland Indians. During the past 15 years, only three teams have won multiple World Series titles: the Yankees, Red Sox and yep you guessed it, the Florida Marlins. However, unlike New York and Boston who seek to build dynasties, the Marlins self-destruct after each championship; selling off their top players and in turn alienate their fans. With that in mind, the Marlins are off to a torrid start in 2009, and here are six reasons (besides the astrological signs) that Florida will win this year’s World Series.

1) Starting Pitching: The Marlins own one of the best starting quartets in the game with Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, Ricky Nolasco and Chris Volstad. They also have an x-factor in 5th starter Andrew Miller who has the stuff of a future ace but still needs to harness his control. None of these pitchers is over 26-years-old and all of them have lots of room for improvement. If they can stay healthy and continue to mature this fearsome foursome could become any playoff opponent’s nightmare.

Josh Johnson anchors a talented pitching staff.

Josh Johnson anchors a talented pitching staff.

2) Infield Power: The keystone combination of Hanley Ramirez at short and Dan Uggla at second combined for 65 homeruns last season, astonishing numbers for a pair of middle infielders. That number could increase this year as Ramirez moves down in the lineup and Uggla cuts down on his strikeouts. First baseman Jorge Cantu is capable of hitting 30 HRs and so is the heir apparent at 1st Gaby Sanchez. Throw in the speedy Emilio Bonifacio (who already has an inside-the-park homerun) and this is an infield that is capable of going deep over 100 times in 2009.

3) Outfield Upside: Often overshadowed by their infield peers, the Marlins’ outfield is poised for a breakout season in 2009. Jeremy Hermida has started the year on a tear and may finally live up to his limitless potential. He is flanked by speedy leftfielder and former #1 pick Cameron Maybin (who is still just 22) and Cody “the Toy Cannon” Ross in center. Super utility man Alfredo Amezaga can play any position in the outfield and is capable of stealing 15 bases off the bench. Although they may not match the infield’s power, this bunch is more than capable of holding their own among the NL East’s best outfields.

4) Youth is Served: The average age of a Florida Marlin is only 26-years-old, and while many may cite this inexperience as a reason they won’t win it all, it hasn’t stopped them before (the average age for the Fish in 2003 was only 27-years-old). The regular season is a 162-game marathon that wears down even the most conditioned players, especially older veterans with some mileage on their engines. The Marlins crop of youngsters may experience some hiccups along the way, but their relatively young age should have them fresh come playoff time.

Expect the Fish to grace the cover of SI once again this fall.

Expect the Fish to grace the cover of SI once again this fall.

5) Zero Pressure:The Marlins are playing in one of the best divisions in all of baseball, but the pressure to win the NL East falls squarely on the shoulders of the New York Mets and defending champion Philadelphia Phillies. The Marlins were an afterthought coming into the season, but have raced out to an 11-1 start which already puts them five games up in the division. Although the spotlight in the NL has been shifted to Florida, if the young players can continue to play carefree baseball, the Marlins should cruise to the NL East title.

6) Odds and Ends: The Marlins have a well respected coach, Fredi Gonzalez, who has improved the team each year he has managed (71-91 in 2007, 84-77 in 2008, ??-?? in 2009). Florida is an extremely likable bunch of players with no bad apples and good chemistry, something that can’t be overlooked come playoff time (see the 2004 Red Sox). The Marlins will be able to play the “nobody believed in us” card in the postseason, and everybody except the Yankees love an underdog. The franchise has shown the ability to make key acquisitions at the trade deadline to improve their squad for the postseason push (Arthur Rhodes in 2008, Jeff Conine in 2003). And of course, the Mayans have been predicting this title run for over 1500 years, and they’re never wrong (besides the time they guessed that LC and Spencer would end up together on The Hills).

So hop on the Marlins’ bandwagon now before it fills up as quickly as Dolphin Stadium for a mid-April game, it just might be the best decision you ever make (outside of stockpiling your basement with Crystal Pepsi).

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Baseball’s Creamy Centers: The Surprise Players of 2009

Adam Jones is the nougat in a Baby Ruth.

Adam Jones is like the nougat in a Baby Ruth.

We’ve all had the experience before. You grab a chocolate and expect just that, chocolate, nothing more and nothing less. Yet when you bite into that delicious little piece of heaven an unsuspected but more than welcome guest is waiting there for you. Is it caramel? Peanut butter? Coconut? Nougat? Who cares? Either way, it’s a wonderful addition to something you already love. Much like strawberry filling in a chocolate, the following players will make the 2009 MLB season just that much sweeter. These soon to be studs are flying under the radar now but as the heat of summer increases their milk chocolate shells will disappear, leaving these surprising players in higher demand than one of Wonka’s golden tickets.

Adam Jones–CF–Baltimore Orioles: Unlike his football counterpart who shares the same name, this Adam Jones prefers hitting homeruns to hitting bodyguards and would much rather make the playoffs than make it rain. Jones came to Baltimore last year and started for the Orioles in centerfield as part of the historically bad trade that sent Erik Bedard to Seattle (*Bill Bavasi slaps forehead*). After struggling early in the season Jones came on strong in the second half and showed the exciting combination of speed and power that will make him a cornerstone of Baltimore teams for years to come. He plays centerfield with aplomb and a 20HR-20SB season is not out of the question for Jones in 2009; this kid’s upside is through the roof.

Ian Stewart-2B-Colorado Rockies: Stewart won’t be able to hide out in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains for much longer; this middle-infielder is a legitimate 30-HR threat. One of the Rockies top prospects last year, Stewart justified that title by bashing 10 HRs and driving in 41 runs in only 266 ABs during the 2008 season. Although he still strikes out at an astonishing rate, his power potential and ability to play any spot in the infield make him one to watch in 2009.

Shin-Soo's choo-ey caramel center may surprise you.

Shin-Soo's choo-ey caramel center may surprise you.

Shin-Soo Choo–OF–Cleveland Indians: Not surprisingly, Choo is a former Mariner prospect who flourished once he left Seattle. Choo absolutely tore the cover off the ball once he started getting at-bats last season, hitting .343 after the All-Star break. The South Korean Sultan of Swat should continue his assault on AL pitching in 2009 and coupled with Grady Sizemore give the Indians a potent offense. Look for Choo to hit around .300 with 20-25 HRs and 85-90 RBIs, not bad numbers for a guy that couldn’t stick in the Mariners’ outfield.

Chris Davis–1B-Texas Rangers: Chris “Crush” Davis earned his nickname in the minors because of his repeated tattooing of baseballs; he did nothing to change that reputation after his call-up last season. In just under 300 ABs Davis drilled 17 HRs, 23 2Bs and had 55 RBIs and 51 runs. Playing a full season in the bandbox that is the Ballpark at Arlington gives him a legitimate shot at 40 HRs, no small feat in the post steroid era (only 2 players hit more than 40 HRs last year, Adam Dunn and Ryan Howard). AL West pitchers, handle with caution.

Elijah Dukes–OF-Washington Nationals: Sure he’s got more bats in his belfry than Charles Manson, but this guy knows how to hit a baseball. After being castoff from Tampa Bay for repeated bad behaivor, Dukes found a place to play that has no trouble turning a blind eye to criminals: Washington D.C.! He was an instant asset to the Nationals on both sides of the ball and if he can stay out of trouble, could contend for the coveted position of the one player that the team gets has to send to the All-Star game (sorry Dmitri Young). Dukes has the potential to hit 25 HRs and steal 20 cars bases in 2009.

Matt Cain is the peanut butter in baseball's Reese's.

Matt Cain is the peanut butter in baseball's Reese's.

Matt Cain-SP-San Francisco Giants: Matt Cain has looked ready to break out for the past couple of seasons only to struggle with control issues and poor run support. Last season, he went 8-14 despite a 3.78 ERA and 186 Ks, mainly due to an anemic Giants’ offense that batted Bengie Molina in the cleanup spot (that’s like having a “Best of the ’80s” concert headlined by Banarama). The Giants have made significant strides during the offseason, and if Cain can cut down on his walks he should increase his win total and get some of the recognition that’s given to San Fran’s other ace, Tim Lincecum.

Johnny Cueto–SP–Cincinnati Reds: Although the words “Cincinnati Reds” and “quality pitcher” generally go together about as well as “Mark McGwire” and “honest”, the team has actually managed to assemble a stable of young, talented hurlers. Cueto struggled at times during his rookie year, and was overshadowed by the stellar season of his teammate Edison Volquez, but has some of the best stuff of any pitcher in the NL. Cueto showed flashes of brilliance last season, including striking out nearly a batter an inning after the break, and he should improve considerably in his sophomore campaign. Still just 23-years-old, Cueto has the potential to win 10-12 games and post an ERA under 4.00 with tons of Ks in 2009; buy now while the price is low.

Division by Division Breakdown: NL Style

Don't despair D-Backs, you're the best of the worst.

Don't despair D-Backs, you're the best of the worst.

Though long regarded as the little brother of the American League, the NL has quietly improved over the past few years and captured last year’s World Series thanks to the dominating Philadelphia Phillies. Though they still can’t win an All-Star game (apparently they count for something now), the National League has more quality teams than the AL and will look to go back-to-back in the 2009 Fall Classic.

NL West: Yikes! Winning this division is a lot like winning VH1’s Tool Academy–it doesn’t count for much. Three-and-out in the first round of the playoffs for whichever one of these teams sucks the least.

1. Arizona Diamondbacks (86-76): Flush with young talent, the D-Backs should capture this weak division with continued growth from Chris Young, Stephen Drew and Justin Upton. Also boasting one of the best pitching staffs in the NL, including the 1-2 punch of Brandon Webb and Dan Haren, the snakes should slither in the playoffs after faltering down the stretch last season.

2. LA Dodgers (84-78): The Dodgers could move up or down in this division, depending on where Manny Ramirez ends up. The team lost starters Derek Lowe and Brad Penny to free agency and were so desperate for pitching that they invited Jeff Weaver to spring training (yes Mariner’s fans, that Jeff Weaver). Joe Torre may be a magician, but he just doesn’t have enough cards up his sleeve to pull this one off.

3. San Francisco Giants (79-83): Arguably the most improved team in the NL West, the Giants have all the pitching (Tim Lincecum-Randy Johnson-Matt Cain) to win, but with the heart of the lineup consisting of such fearsome sluggers as Randy Winn, Aaron Rowand and Bengie Molina might have a difficult time scoring enough runs to support their staff. Rumor has it Barry Bonds is still available…

4. Colorado Rockies (74-88): This team isn’t particularly bad, but they aren’t particularly good either. They traded away their most consistent offensive threat, Matt Holliday, for some pieces off  Billy Beane’s scrap heap in Oakland, and mostly treaded water in the off-season. Expect consistent mediocrity throughout the year. Sorry Dave.

5. San Diego Padres (64-98): Will challenge for the worst team in baseball but little else. The Padres should trade Jake Peavy before the season is over, leaving the pitching staff in the capable hands of Chris Young, Josh Banks, Cha Seung Baek, Mark Prior? Don’t feel too bad for San Diego fans, they can always console themselves with a cold one on the beach soaking up the sunshine…KC Royals fans, not so much.

NL Central: This division has more teams than any other, so that’s something. Three of these teams could compete for a playoff spot, but it is unlikely that anyone will challenge the Cubs for the division.

1. Chicago Cubs (96-66): Sure the Cubbies will win the division, but everyone knows that they will choke in the postseason, so does it even really matter? This team is better than last years squad which won 97 games, thanks to the addition of Milton Bradley and a full healthy year from Rich Harden (why does everyone laugh when I say that?) Lou Piniella’s team is the class of the National League, but have yet to prove it in October. Will this be the year the curse ends? No.

Can Ankiel lead the Cards to the playoffs?

Can Ankiel lead the Cards to the playoffs?

2. St. Louis Cardinals (87-75): Any team with Albert Pujols has a chance to contend, as proved by last year’s overachieving Cardinals. The offense will be one of the better top-to-bottom in the NL with A-Pu, Ryan Ludwick and Rick “The Natural” Ankiel. The pitching staff is the real question mark, and counting on a full season from Chris Carpenter is kind of liking counting on John Rocker and Jesse Jackson collaborating on a book–unlikely.

3. Houston Astros (85-77): Houston was making a strong push for the playoffs last year before hurricane weather forced them to play their home games in Milwaukee (I looked it up, it’s not in the state of Texas). The Astros should be a solid squad once again, assuming the weather holds up and Miguel Tejada doesn’t end up in jail. Mike Hampton returns to the home of his 22-win season, but his year should be considered a success if he manages to throw 22 pitches.

4. Milwaukee Brewers (79-83): The Brew Crew were the surprise of the NL last year, making it to the playoffs for the first time since 1982. Don’t expect them to go back-to-back though, after losing ace pitchers CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets to free agency. Prince Fielder and Ryan “Brains and” Braun are the meat (or tofu in the case of Fielder, a vegan) of a good offense, but it won’t be enough for them to repeat last year’s success.

5. Cincinnati Reds (78-84): The Cincinnati Reds have the look of a team that will be good in a few years, chock full of young talent like Jay Bruce and Edison Volquez, but they also have the look of a team that will struggle mightily this year. Granted they will be better than the Bengals, but not by much.

6. Pittsburgh Pirates (68-94): The Pirates, currently in year 15 of a 30-year rebuilding plan, will stink worse than two-month-old milk. At least it’s a scenic town…

NL East: Probably the best division in the the National League, the NL East has four teams with a shot at making the playoffs. Problem is, only two of them will get in…let the fighting commence! (* denotes wildcard winner)

1. New York Mets (95-67): No really, they won’t collapse down the stretch this season. Thanks to the additions of JJ Putz and Francisco Rodriguez, New York should have just enough talent to eek out a win in this tough division.  With potential Cy Young winner Johan Santana and the dynamic duo of Jose Reyes and David Wright the Metropolitans will be a handfull come playoff time. Do I smell a Subway Series brewing?

Can the Phillies remain top dog in the East?

Can the Phillies remain top dog in the NL East?

2. Philadelphia Phillies* (93-69): The defending champs bring back the bulk of last year’s team and should be considered a serious threat to win it all again. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard lead the offense, while Cole Hamels and septuagenarian Jamie Moyer key the pitching staff. This division race should go down to the end of the season and will decided by the bullpens (hint: don’t expect another perfect year from Brad Lidge).

3. Florida Marlins (91-71): Despite selling off their top talent seemingly every year, the Marlins are still a darkhorse to win the division. Lots of young talent on both sides of the ball–led by the pitching staff of Josh Johnson-Anibal Sanchez-Ricky Nolasco and the keystone combination of Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla, will power the fish to a surprising record. Keep on eye on young centerfielder Cameron Maybin, 2009 may be his coming out party–of the baseball variety that is.

4. Atlanta Braves (84-78): The Braves had a difficult off-season, losing out on free agents Rafael Furcal and Ken Griffey Jr. and allowing John Smoltz to jump to Boston. The pitching staff was bolstered by the additions of Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami and Atlanta signed fan favorite Tom Glavine hoping that he still has something to offer (besides a startlingly resemblance to Bob Saget). Not a whole lot to get excited about on the offense, besides Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. Look for Bobby Cox to increase the all-time record for ejections substantially this season.

5. Washington Nationals (70-92): The NL version of the Mariners, the Nats have a bigger collection of washed up stars than the Surreal Life. The addition of Adam Dunn was a pleasant surprise (who joins a growing list of Cincinnati Reds’ castoffs including Austin Kearns, Wily Mo Pena, Cory Patterson and Dmitri Young–who, if they aren’t good enough for the Reds, well, somethings are better left unsaid) but their “big” pitching acquisition of Daniel Cabrera (8-10, 5.25 ERA in 2008) leaves a little something to be desired. It’s hard to tell which is worse: the relationship between Democrats and Conservatives on Capitol Hill or the Washington Nationals. Cover your eyes Nationals’ fans, it’s going to be a long year.

Coming Soon: Playoff Previews and World Series Winner!!

Some Kids Do Come Home: What Griffey’s Return to Seattle Means For the Mariners

Seattle sports finally catch a break.
Seattle sports finally catch a break.

When word broke late Wednesday that Ken Griffey Jr. chose to sign with the Mariners over the Atlanta Braves, hysteria broke loose through Seattle–the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Starbucks offered $1 lattes. Griffey is the player that saved baseball in Seattle, a transcendent figure who loomed larger than the Space Needle. The “Kid” was the greatest all-around player of the 1990s and the image of him scoring the winning run in the 1995 ALDS against the Yankees will forever be etched into the minds of Mariner’s fans.

Junior made 10 straight All Star games in the 90s, as well as collecting 10 Gold Gloves and 7 Silver Slugger awards. He hit 382 HRs in the decade and drove in 1091 runs, punctuated by his MVP season of 1997 when Griffey put up a line of .304-56-147. He is a definitive first ballot Hall-of-Famer and was the only active player to be named to the All-Century Team.

But Junior is so much more than just mind-boggling numbers. He was the young kid with the backwards cap and 1000-megawatt smile. He played the game with such passion and reckless abandon that he won over fans not just in Seattle, but everywhere the Mariners played. Griffey’s love of baseball was evident each time he stepped onto the diamond. He was the prodigal son of a struggling franchise, sent by the gods of baseball to leave an indelible mark upon the Mariners, finally giving them the identity they had sought for so long. The clouds seemed to shy away everytime Junior came to the plate, and the sun shone just a little bit brighter each time he robbed a foe of a would-be homerun.

Just as when he burst onto the scene in 1989, Griffey is joining a Mariners team that needs him much more than he needs them. The Mariners lost 101 games last year, and would undoubtedly struggle to sell tickets with the down economy and a god-awful mediocre team. Not any more; Griffey’s 1 year/$2 million contract will look like a bargain when factoring in all the ticket and merchandise sales that will accompany his return. His #24 jersey will sellout quicker than the Turbo-Man action figures in Jingle All the Way.

However, Junior isn’t just some golden cow for the Mariners to trot out onto the field. He still has some gas left in the tank, and is eager to prove that he can perform at a high level. Although last season’s numbers weren’t great (.249-18-71), Griffey is certainly an upgrade over Endy Chavez in left-field, and should also see some time at DH (again, not hard to improve over Jose Vidro’s performance last season). And who knows, maybe that fresh breeze blowing in off the Puget Sound will rejuvenate Junior enough to capture the spirit of ’95, and play one last time like the kid Seattle fell in love with. 

Seattle sports were in desperate need of a shot in the arm after losing the Sonics to Oklahoma City and the disappointing Seahawks season. Wednesday night Seattle caught lightning in a bottle, as one of the city’s griffey19most beloved sports heroes finally returned home. M’s fans will once again get to see the Kid chasing down flyballs, and can “ooh” and “aah” at the swing sweeter than a box full of Krispy Kremes. Fans will finally have a reason to come to the ballpark and countless employees will have an excuse to call in sick. Starting April 6, Opening Day, Griffey will begin to write another chapter in one of the most storied careers in the history of the game, in the place where it all began. Junior saved baseball in Seattle once, and now the question becomes, can he do it again?

2009 MLB Season Preview, Predictions and Projections

Your 2009 NL MVP

Your 2009 NL MVP

The sun is shining, the snow is melting and Oprah’s weight is ballooning again–which can only mean one thing…that’s right ladies and germs, Spring Training is upon us. That glorious time of year when every team (not including the Royals, Nationals, Mariners, Orioles, Pirates or any team from the NL West) believes its their turn to win it all. A time when young players have a chance to prove their worth and seasoned vets fight for one last shot (paging Mike Sweeney to the manager’s office). A time of year when A-Rod dodges every question thrown his way and Brett Favre once again “retires” for good. A time to look at ahead at what baseball is bringing to the table in 2009 and ask important questions like: Which team will be this year’s Tampa Bay Rays? Will the Yankees off season spending spree pay off? Who framed Roger Rabbit? Can Albert Pujols hit .400? Will Manny Ramirez find a team? Who will win the World Series? It’s prognostication time! Let’s start with the individual movers and shakers in each league:

AL MVP–Grady Sizemore (Cleveland Indians CF): Just 26 years-old, this kid keeps getting better, and 2009 is the year he makes his mark and becomes a true superstar. One of the most talented all-around players in the game, Sizemore’s combination of speed and power at the top of the lineup are more frightening than Barry Bonds’ bacne. He has the potential to become the first 40HR-40SB player since Alfonso Soriano and if he can lead the Indians to the playoffs, voters will be hard pressed not to pick this 5-tool talent.

2009 projected season numbers (.285 BA-37HR-101RBI-37SB-107R)

NL MVP–David Wright (New York Mets 3B): The third baseman in New York who isn’t dating Madonna, this uber-talented diaper dandy (who like Sizemore, is just 26) excells at the dish but has also captured two Gold Gloves, and should break out with his best season yet. More importantly, the Mets finally have a bullpen, which should allow them to reach the postseason, further helping Wright’s case. He could one day win a triple crown, but he will have to “settle” for MVP this year.

2009 projected season numbers (.310 BA-40HR-129RBI-20SB-120R)

AL Cy Young–Roy Halladay (Toronto Blue Jays): “Doc” Halladay will come out with guns-a-blazin in 2009, eager to pick up the slack left by since departed teammate AJ Burnett. Arguably the most consistent pitcher in the game, Halladay epitomizes the term “workhorse” gobbling up innings like Ruben Studdard gobbles up hoho’s. He won 20 games last year, and had the highest strikeout rate of his career; as long he stays healthy, he should put up big numbers again. The Blue Jays will stink in 2009, but Roy Halladay will come out smelling like roses…or whatever flowers Canadians love.

2009 projected season numbers: (19-8, 2.85 ERA, 200 Ks, 1.07 WHIP)

NL Cy Young–Johan Santana (New York Mets):  While it’s generally hard to hide out in New York, Santana’s terriffic first season in a Mets’ uniform was largely overshadowed by the teams’ late season collapse. Despite a porous bullpen, Santana finished the year 16-7 and led the league with a 2.53 ERA and finished second to Tim Lincecum with 206 Ks. He should again finish near the top of the league in ERA and Ks and will almost certainly win more games than last year thanks to the additions of JJ Putz and Francisco Rodriguez.

2009 projected season numbers (21-8, 2.71 ERA, 220 Ks, 1.09 WHIP)

You don't recognize him...yet.

You don't recognize him...yet.

AL Rookie of the Year–Matt Laporta (Cleveland Indians OF): Matt LaPorta (pictured right) was the crown jewel of the CC Sabathia trade last summer, instantly becoming the Cleveland Indians best prospect upon his arrival. In just 302 ABs at Double-A last season, LaPorta cracked 20 HRs and drove in 66, to go with a .288 BA and .402 OBP. He might start the year in the minors, but when he does arrive, expect a strong season from Ryan Braun 2.0.

2009 season projected numbers: (.279-18HRs-71RBIs-60Rs)

NL Rookie of the Year–Colby Rasmus (St Louis Cardinals OF): Colby Rasmus is the #1 prospect in the Cardinal’s farm system, and if he finds some way into playing time in the St Louis outfield logjam, should turn a lot of heads. A 5-tool talent, Rasmus struggled in the minors last year (.251-12HR-38RBI) but was hampered by injuries, and is expected to head into the 2009 system at full health. Look for Rasmus to team up with Albert Pujols to create a formidable 1-2 punch in the lineup for years to come.

2009 projected season numbers: (.290-20HRs-78RBIs-68Rs)

Coming soon: 2009 projected finishes and World Series winner!

Scott Boras and Manny Ramirez: The Blind Leading the Blind

Yes that's correct, I am a tool.
“Yes that’s correct, I am a giant tool.”

Manny continues to be Manny this off-season, but this time it may end up hurting his wallet more than it hurts his team. Ramirez and his agent Scott Boras (aka the Prince of Darkness, Beelzebub, etc.) turned down the LA Dodgers’ latest offer of one year/$25 million with a $20 million player option for 2010. The $25 million salary would have made Manny the second highest paid player in baseball behind A-Rod who is not surprisingly, also a Boras client. Additionally, the contract would have allowed Ramirez to opt out at the end of the year and seek a new contract if the economy improves over the course of the season (magic eight ball prognosis—unlikely). Boras warned the Dodgers “not to play chicken” with him and has turned down each offer as if they are somehow insulting. It’s easy to see why. As is, he only stands to make about $2.5 million with the deal – tough life.  

This was the Dodgers fourth offer to Ramirez during the off-season; they offered him arbitration which was declined, a 2 year/$45 million deal which they took off the table after Boras said that his client was only looking at serious offers, and a straight up one   year/$20 million deal. Apparently, over $20 million a year in a major economic slump for a 36-year-old who plays defense about as well as Stephen Hawking plays Wii Tennis is not a “serious” offer. The Dodgers have bent over backwards to accommodate Ramirez, who seems to have more demands than most poodles (looks like someone will only eat Fancy Feast), yet Boras isn’t willing to budge an inch. One can see why fans have become frustrated with the greed in major sports; ticket prices continue to soar as millions are fired across the country, but here is Ramirez and his agent asking for a king’s ransom.  

Boras claims that there are a number of teams in pursuit of Ramirez, but is that really the case? Most teams have been unwilling to spend large chunks of money this off-season, the Yankees being the obvious exception, and many talented players like Orlando Hudson, that would have been quickly snatched up in years past are still looking for work.  The Giants claim that they are interested–if the price is right–but are they going to up the Dodger’s ante? Boston has the money but are clearly out of the equation (hell hath no fury like a Sox fan scorned) and the Yankees don’t have a spot for Ramirez in the field after their free agent splurge. The Mets are rumored to be looking at Manny, which is denied by GM Omar Minaya and after signing Oliver Perez and being hit by Madoff’s ponzi scheme, don’t really have any more money to throw around (at least not like Howie Mandell).

The Dodgers are a completely different team with Ramirez in the lineup as he finished last season with a stat line of .332 BA-37 HRs-121 RBIs, including hitting a ridiculous .520 in the postseason. Manny is one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all-time (think Jimmie Foxx with dreads) and is a lock for the Hall of Fame, but he does come with his baggage. Often chided for his lackadaisical play, Ramirez seemingly forced his way out of Boston with a laundry list of “injuries”, decreased production at the plate, and utter bewilderment in leftfield (we’re talking Paris Hilton in a library confused). A beloved player who had led the Red Sox to two World Series in four years had worn out his welcome in the summer of 2008, leaving Boston GM Theo Epstein little choice but to ship Manny across the country to L.A. Once the precocious Ramirez felt once again that he was the center of the universe, he magically rediscovered how to hit, and the fresh L.A. air reignited his passion for the game. Playing for the Dodgers, he dove for fly balls and sprinted down the first base line like his life depended on it. The only time Manny ran in Boston is when a new Dunkin’ Donuts opened up.

The Dodgers have no one else in their lineup who can come close to that kind of production (and no, the signing of Mark Loretta is not the answer), but why should the Dodgers let Boras manipulate them into bidding against themselves? Ramirez wants a multi-year deal but his track record suggests keeping him on a short leash is the best way to get him to produce. If this continues to drag out, the Dodgers may simply decide he’s not worth the trouble and walk away, leaving Ramirez out of options and Boras a long overdue date with the Karma Police.

The 2009 Seattle Mariners: “We Can Build On This”

The only consistent performer for the Mariners in 2008.

The only consistent performer for the Mariners in 2008.

The 2008 Mariners made  the Hindenburg and Titanic look successful. After a big offseason trade that netted the Mariners “ace” starter Erik Bedard, the team was expected to compete for the AL West crown. Unfortunately, after storming out of the gate with a 1-0 record, the wheels fell off and only a late season surge (4-6 in their last 10 games) allowed the Mariners to finish off the pace for the worst record in baseball (mind you by one game). Seattle became the first team in big league history to lose 100 games (61-101) with a payroll of over $100 million. The team allowed 811 runs and only scored 671, and ranked near the bottom of the AL in nearly every offensive and pitching category (13th in runs, OBP, Slugging and 11th in ERA and WHIP). Quite simply, they sucked.

You know it’s a long season when the happiest your fans are all year is when the team releases a player (thanks for the memories Richie Sexson) and you can’t even sign your top draft pick (still waiting on you Josh Fields). New manager Don Wakamatsu seems eager to inject young talent into the lineup, which means more at-bats for Jeff Clement and Wladimir Balentien and less for players like the long since jettisoned Miguel Cairo and Jose Vidro. While it doesn’t seem like much, the Mariners have made some progress this offseason and it seems like new GM Jack Zduriencik has a long term plan for the organization. Let’s take a look at what the Mariners are bringing to the table in 2009 (2-7, offsuit):

Potential Starting 9:

RF-Ichiro Suzuki (.310 BA-6 HR-46 RBI-43 SB-.361 OBP-103 Runs)

SS-Yuniesky Betancourt (.279 BA-7 HR-51 RBI-.300 OBP)

2B-Jose Lopez (.297 BA-17 HR-89 RBI-.322 OBP)

3B-Adrian Beltre (.266 BA-25 HR-77 RBI-8 SB)

CF-Franklin Gutierrez (.248 BA-8 HR-41 RBI-9 SB)

DH-Jeff Clement (.227 BA-5 HR-23 RBI, 203 ABs)

C-Kenji Johjima (.227 BA-7 HR-39 RBI, 379 ABs)

1B-Russell Branyan (.250 BA-12 HR-20 RBI, 132 ABs)

LF-Endy Chavez (.267 BA-1 HR-12 RBI, 270 ABs) and Wladimir Balentien (.202-7 HR-24 RBI, 243 ABs)

Admittedly that lineup is about as intimidating as a box full of puppies, but we can assume following the principles of statistical regression, that most of the M’s hitters will have a better season than the one they did last year; that can’t possibly be that bad again, can they? Additionally, players like Adrian Beltre will benefit from offseason surgery and young players like Gutierrez and Clement should produce better with some additional seasoning (try just a pinch of basil).

The strength of the team will probably be the pitching staff. With continued development from King Felix and Morrow, and a full season from Bedard, the Mariners could actually have one of the better starting fives in the AL.

Potential Rotation:

Felix Hernandez (9-11, 3.45 ERA, 175 Ks)

Erik Bedard (6-4, 3.67 ERA, 72 Ks)

Ryan Rowland-Smith (5-3, 3.42 ERA, 77 Ks)

Brandon Morrow (3-4, 3.34 ERA, 75 Ks)

Carlos Silva (4-15, 6.64 ERA, 69 Ks) Just go away

Jarrod Washburn (5-14, 4.69 ERA, 87 Ks)

Bullpen:

David Aardsma (4-2, 5.55 ERA, 49 Ks)

Ray Corcoran (6-2, 3.22 ERA, 39 Ks)

Mark Lowe (1-5, 5.37 ERA, 55 Ks)

Tyler Walker (5-8, 4.56 ERA, 49 Ks)

Cesar Jimenez (0-2, 3.41 ERA, 26 Ks)

Miguel Batista (4-14, 6.26 ERA, 73 Ks)

After trading away J.J. Putz in the offseason, it’s anyone’s guess who Wakamatsu will choose to close games in the upcoming season. As you can see he has quite the stable of talented pitchers to choose from, assuming that the Mariners leave Brandon Morrow in the starting rotation. Walker has former experience as a closer and Aardsma was a closer in college, but none of the available options exactly strike fear into the heart of opposing batters like Putz did. Keep an eye on this situation throughout the season as Wakamatsu may ride the hot hand in the dreaded “closer by committee” approach.

The Mariners haven’t got drastically better since 2008, but they did manage to jettison some dead weight and hopefully Wakamatsu can breathe some fresh air into the team and get some production out of his young players. The AL West is still one of the weaker divisions in baseball and heck, the M’s ended the 2008 season on a 3 game winning streak. As the great Herm Edwards once said “we can build on this”, and Mariner’s fans we can build on this, we have to…

Fearless Prediction:

The Mariners finish the season last in the AL West (really going out on a limb on this one) but improve on last year’s mark with a 72-90 record, which of course would instantly improve to 90-72 if they sign Ken Griffey Jr. (if this team can give Brad Wilkerson 200 ABs it can certainly justify bringing back one of the most popular Seattle area athletes of all-time) There will be a pitcher on the M’s staff in 2009 that wins double digit games, King Felix will sneak into the Cy Young talks, and Carlos Silva will choke to death on garlic fries (please God, I don’t ask for much). Ichiro will continue to be allergic to extra-bases but will once again rap out over 200 hits and Adrian Beltre will play like fans always expected him to (.300-30 HR-100 RBI), just in time for him to leave. It’s going to be a long rebuilding process in Seattle, but if I can change, and you can change, everybody can change…even the Seattle Mariners.