Bud’s Top Ten Players of 2010 (Part II)

It will be a break or make season in 2010 for Jake Peavy and the White Sox.

I hadn’t planned on releasing the identities of my top five players for 2010 until later in the week, but after an overwhelming number of emails begging me to pick up my dusty keyboard and write again, I really had no choice. If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s letting my reader(s) down. So without further ado, here are the top five players I’ll be watching this coming season:  

5.) Jake Peavy/Alex Rios: Both of these players will feel intense pressure to perform in 2010 after failing to live up to expectations last season due to injuries (Peavy) or inconsistency (Rios). Chicago GM Kenny Williams has so much invested in these two players that if the White Sox struggle to compete in the AL Central this year, both his job and that of manager Ozzie Guillen could be in serious jeopardy. Peavy never really got a shot to prove himself last season after being acquired in an unexpected deal with the San Diego Padres, but since he will be receiving around $11 million in 2010, the 28-year-old right hander will be under the microscope as he tries to transition from the NL to the AL, and from a spacious ballpark to a bandbox in Chicago (Career Home ERA: 2.82 vs Career Road ERA: 3.79). Rios played much more like Alexis than Alex after being claimed off waivers from the Blue Jays, hitting only .199 for the White Sox in 146 ABs. He’s also due a sizable chunk of change over the next few seasons and Chicago needs him to improve drastically in 2010 or the team will be out of contention and cash for years to come. Besides, what would the baseball world be like without… Ozzie Guillen?    

Nearly invisible to the naked eye, Josh Johnson might have to switch leagues before anyone notices him.

4.) Josh Johnson: Who is Josh Johnson you say? Well, he’s not one of four quarterbacks for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers whose first name is Josh, although he does make his living in the same state. He’s also not one of 20 people in your hometown with the name Josh Johnson, unless you happen to live in Jenks, Oklahoma. No, the real Josh Johnson is an emerging star pitcher for the Florida Marlins who has gone 22-6 over the past two seasons, including a 15-5 record, 3.23 ERA and 191 K’s in 2009. While Johnson has managed to fly under the radar his first five seasons in baseball, the 25-year-old flamethrower (who owned the third fastest average fastball in baseball last year) is ready to take America by storm, especially after the Marlins trade him to the Red Sox or Yankees. That’s right, just like every talented Marlin before him, Johnson is quickly becoming too expensive for Florida and is on his way to greener pastures (or at least more greenbacks). If the Marlins don’t sign him to a long-term deal before the season starts, expect Johnson to be making headlines for someone in the AL, and to finally receive the attention he deserves. 

 3.) Cliff Lee: Cliff Lee did everything he could to guide the Phillies to another World Series title in 2009, pitching like a true ace down the stretch run and throughout the playoffs. But as suddenly as he appeared in Philadelphia, he was gone. In the biggest deal of the offseason, the 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner was shipped to Seattle in a three-team trade that saw Roy Halladay (more on him later) head to Philadelphia. Understandably, Lee was both shocked and upset by the blockbuster deal, but he lands in an ideal situation with the Mariners, a team on the rise in the AL West. The 31-year-old lefty will be a free agent after the season, and between feeling slighted by the Phillies and pitching for a new contract, Lee should have all the motivation he needs to be on top of his game in 2010. If Seattle can reach the playoffs (a distinct possibility in a weak division), the one-two combination of Felix Hernandez and Lee could prove lethal in a short series. Look for Lee to challenge for the 2010 AL Cy Young award, collect a $100 million dollar contract after the season and change his middle name to something other than “Phifer”.    

You see, he's not a machine! At least, not fully.

2.) Albert Pujols: Albert Pujols is so good he’s boring. Heck, the guy makes Tim Duncan look like Bill Murray, but that hasn’t stopped him from etching his name in history has one of the greatest right-handed hitters to ever play the game of baseball. Pujols made a serious run at the Triple Crown last year and after off-season elbow surgery and with the strong possibility of Matt Holliday returning to St. Louis, he should be even better in 2010.  With the current home run king (Barry Bonds) and the heir apparent (Alex Rodriguez) both bigger juicers than Jack LaLane, baseball is counting on Pujols to led the sport out of the steroid era and into a golden age of prosperity, or something like that.  

1.) Roy Halladay: After 2010, there will be no debate as to who is the best pitcher in all of baseball; Roy Halladay will be number one with a bullet. Halladay has consistently shown himself to be a top-tier starter despite pitching in the most difficult division in baseball, the AL East, and now finds himself in the National League where he won’t even have to face the NL East’s best offense (it’s his own team, the Phillies). In 2009, the four teams that Halladay faced in the AL East combined to score 3,331 runs in 2009—the four teams in the NL East that he will face in 2010 scored only 2,888 runs last year. The talent gap between the two leagues is wider than Christina Ricci’s forehead the Suez Canal, and Halladay has an opportunity to be historically great in 2010. “Doc” will challenge for career highs across the board, lead the Phillies to another World Series and post the majors first sub-2.00 ERA since Roger Clemens in 2005. Shamwow!

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Phillies Finally Get Their Ace: Cliff Lee, Not Roy Halladay, Headed to Philadelphia

The Phillies hope Cliff Lee can help the capture another World Series.

The Phillies hope Cliff Lee can help them capture another World Series.

For a second straight year, the Cleveland Indians sent the reigning AL Cy Young award winner to a National League contender in a deadline deal. Last season the Indians shipped out C.C. Sabathia to the Milwaukee Brewers, this time around lefty Cliff Lee is packing his bags for Philadelphia after Wednesday morning’s trade. The Phillies had been part of the Roy Halladay sweepstakes over the past few days, but with the team at an impasse with Toronto and little progress being made, Philadelphia decided to shift its focus to Cleveland’s star southpaw. The Indians didn’t ask for any of the prospects that the Phillies were unwilling to part with in negotiations with the Blue Jays, and a deal was quickly struck that sent Lee and outfielder Ben Francisco to Philadelphia in return for minor leaguers Jason Knapp, Lou Marson, Carlos Carrasco and and Jason Donald. The trade will be finalized pending physical examinations (just turn your head and cough please).

The Indians had high hopes of competing for an AL Central title in 2009 but quickly fell out of contention, leading to speculation that the team would try and move Lee before the deadline. Lee stumbled out of the gate but improved with each passing month, and had posted a 3-0 record with a 1.44 ERA since the All-Star break. At the time of the trade Philadelphia was seven games ahead of the Florida Marlins in the NL East, but were only 13th in the league in ERA as a team, and had largely been carried by their modern day Murderer’s Row of Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez. Last year’s World Series hero Cole Hamels has been inconsistent for Philly all season, and with #2 starter Brett Myers still on the DL, the team was anxious to bolster their starting rotation in hopes of capturing back-to-back Fall Classics. This move likely vaults Philadelphia above Los Angeles as the favorites to capture the NL pennant and the team was able to do so without forfeiting Kyle Drabek or Dominic Brown, two of the organizations best and most prized prospects. Like Halladay, Cliff Lee is controlled through next season, meaning that the lefty can help the Phillies in two pennant races and isn’t simply a two-to-three month rental as is the case in many deadline deals (like Sabathia last year). Philadelphia hopes that Lee is the final piece of the puzzle in their march towards becoming the first team to win two straight World Series since the Yankees ten years ago.

18-year-old Jason Knapp is thought to have the greatest potential of the players Cleveland acquired.

18-year-old Jason Knapp is believed to have the greatest potential of the players acquired by Cleveland.

For the Cleveland Indians this latest move is a historic, though not necessarily a good, as they become the first team in baseball to trade away Cy Young winners midseason in back-to-back years. The Lee deal is strangely similiar to last year’s Sabathia deal, as both seasons the Tribe was expected to push for the playoffs but struggled early and decided to move their best pitcher. Though they didn’t get Drabek or Brown, Cleveland still received 4 of the top 10 prospects in the Philadelphia organization, and stocked up for a run at the AL Central in 2010 or 2011. Lou Marson is a good-hitting catcher who is expected take over for Victor Martinez if the Indians trade Martinez before the deadline or in the offseason. Jason Donald is a fundamentally sound shortstop, Carlos Carrasco could be a middle of the rotation starter and 18-year-old Jason Knapp is rumored to have better stuff than Drabek. Some scouts are already criticizing this move, saying that Cleveland got too little in return for Lee, but the organization has a good track record in dealing star pitchers. After all, Cleveland pulled off one of the greatest heists in recent history, trading Bartolo Colon for a young Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Brandon Phillips in 2002. If this group of prospects turns out anything like Lee, Sizemore and Phillips, the Indians could be contenders for the next decade in the Central.

Another day, another big deal in baseball as the trade deadline fast approaches. Philadelphia sets themselves up as the favorites in the NL and Cleveland stocks up for the future as they send yet another Cy Young to the Senior Circuit. Will Lee make the impact that Sabathia did for the Brewers? Does this move mean Halladay is staying put, or is their another destination for Toronto’s ace? Stay tuned, the baseball season is just heating up.

Something’s Cooking in KC: Are the Royals More Than Smoke and Mirrors?

When Sidney Ponson is part of your rotation, the good times can't last for long.

When Sidney Ponson is part of your rotation the good times can't last for long.

Unheralded coming into the season by most baseball pundits, the Kansas City Royals have roared out of the gate to post an 18-14 record and grab an early lead in the AL Central. Can a team whose key offseason acquisitions included Willy Bloomquist and Sidney Ponson really compete for a shot in the playoffs? Survey says….NO. Here’s why:

Kansas City’s pitching has been lights out so far, posting a 3.49 ERA as a team. Led by Zack Grienke (who owns 1/3 of the team’s wins himself) the Royals have been shutting down opponents on a nightly basis, helping to make up for some sub-par showings from the offense. However, after Grienke, the only other reliable starter for KC is Gil Meche (shocker, another ex-Mariner who discovered his talent once he left Seattle). The rest of the rotation is made up of has-beens (Brian Bannister), never-weres (Kyle Davies), and the majors only native Aruban (Sidney Ponson). Although Bannister has been solid so far, his low strikeout and high walk total signal impeding armageddon…or at least a significant rise in ERA. Ponson (5.91 ERA) and Davies (5.22 ERA) have been terrible in the early going, and there is no reason to believe that will change anytime soon. Grienke has been phenomenal thus far, but expecting him to continue pitching at his current rate is completely unrealistic. Once he returns to earth, the Royals will be in a world of hurt.

Will Alberto Callaspo hit .340 all season? Probably not.

Will Alberto Callaspo hit .340 all season? Probably not.

Kansas City’s offense has been able to escape scrutiny the first month and a half of the season (the team is second to last in the AL in runs scored) because of a dominating pitching staff. However, the lineup has some serious holes and only the surprising Alberto Callaspo (.340 BA) and resurgent Mark Teahan (.302-4 HR-13 RBI) have kept the team afloat. The offense is significantly lacking in power outside of Jose Guillen and Mike Jacobs, who is on pace for an Adam Dunn-esque 170 Ks. First baseman Billy “the Backside” Butler will hit for average, but a corner infielder who only slugs 15 HRs doesn’t really put the fear of God in many opposing pitchers (outside of Carlos Silva) and leaves the Royals as a station-to-station squad. Last season’s leadoff man David Dejesus is struggling with back issues which have lead to his .224 BA and 0 SBs. Coco Crisp and Willy Bloomquist are the only players with any speed in the lineup, and when you’re counting on key plays from those two, it goes without saying that it’ll be a long season. The Royals have an underwhelming lineup and once the pitching fades, and it will, the offense won’t be able to supply enough firepower for very many wins. Is Barry Bonds still available?

While the Cleveland Indians have likely already played themselves out of the postseason the rest of the teams in the AL Central are all capable of capturing the division title. Minnesota’s young pitchers have struggled but if they can put things together, they have more than enough talent to overtake the Royals. The White Sox have been inconsistent early on but a potent offense and fiery manager Ozzie Guillen should keep them in the hunt all season long. The greatest threat to KC in the early going, the Detroit Tigers, have shaken off the disappointment from last year and with Miguel Cabrera and Curtis Granderson anchoring the lineup as well as a revitalized Justin Verlander toeing the rubber, will probably be the favorite to take the division from here on out.

So enjoy this magical run while it lasts Kansas City fans; it won’t be long before the rest of the league discovers that this hot start is nothing more than an illusion, and your beloved Royals return to mediocrity.

Division by Division Breakdown: AL Style

Can the Rays recapture the magic?

Can the Rays recapture the magic of 2008?

The American League, while generally regarded as vastly superior to the National League, only leads the senior circuit in World Series victories this decade 5-4. The AL has won 13 of the past 14 All Star games, but has generally failed to capitalize on the home-field advantage. Last year the Tampa Bay Rays won the AL Pennant, but fell to the Phillies in the World Series in 5 games. Can the AL avenge the loss in 2009?

AL East: Arguably the toughest division in baseball, whichever team comes out on top will likely be the favorite to win the World Series. (* denotes wildcard winner)

1. New York Yankees (95-77): As painful as it is to put them on top, this team simply has too much talent not to win the  division, and will be playing with a chip on their shoulder (hold the salsa) after missing out on the postseason last year. The additions of CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett and Mark Teixeria make this one formidable team and A-Rod should have a monster year to silence his critics (who are, at this point, just about everyone).

2. Tampa Bay Rays* (94-78): The Rays were the darlings of baseball last season, and despite having a target on their back the size of Florida, should battle the Yankees till the bitter end. With increased production from young players, the addition of Pat Burrell and a full season of David Price, this year’s Rays may be even better than last season’s version.

3. Boston Red Sox (90-72): While still a talented team, Boston is beginning to show signs of aging, and will need some good luck to stay healthy and competitive. This team full of has-beens (Mike Lowell) and never-weres (Julio Lugo) will crumble down the stretch like Tom Brady’s knee.

4. Toronto Blue Jays (84-78): Just like the Canadian dollar, the Blue Jays are headed south in a hurry. The loss of AJ Burnett will hurt them, as will a schedule full of games against Boston, New York and Tampa Bay. It’s just not their year.

5. Baltimore Orioles (69-93): Maryland has great crab cakes. Maryland does not have a great baseball team. Enjoy another year in the cellar Orioles’ fans.

AL Central: This division is up for grabs, as none of the teams in the division made major strides in the offseason. Not a great division, but pretty consistent from bottom to top.

1. Cleveland Indians (89-73): The Indians vastly underachieved last season, with top players like Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez struggling all year. The team also suffered as the result of a chaotic year from the bullpen which was addressed with the addition of Kerry Wood. Cleveland should get better production from its veterans as well as key contributions from youngsters like Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo and Matt Laporta and win a hard fought division crown.

2. Minnesota Twins (86-76): The Twinkies compete year in and year out despite a limited payroll and 2009 will be no different. A lineup led by two-time batting champion Joe Mauer and former MVP Justin Morneau is complemented nicely by a stable of young arms including Francisco Liriano, Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and R.A. DickeyNick Blackburn.  Minnesota will enjoy its last season in the Metrodome, but it won’t be enough to push them into the playoffs.

I think they can't, I think they can't, I think they can't...

I think they can't, I think they can't, I think they can't...

3. Detroit Tigers (84-78): The Detroit Tigers were expected to compete for the World Series last year but bombed worse than a J-Lo movie. The offense was great but the pitching staff was atrocious as newly acquired Dontrelle “D-Train” Willis ran off the track early in the season and never recovered. The team still doesn’t have a closer heading into the season (no offense Brandon Lyon) and will struggle to win close games.

4. Chicago White Sox (82-80): This will finally be the season that costs Ozzie Guillen his job as the Sox will have to fight to finish over .500. A dysfunctional team that somehow got into the playoffs last year, the loss of Orlando Cabrera will hurt this team as will the the rapidly aging Jim Thome and Paul Konerko (who may or may not be dead at the time of this post). The White Sox have some good young arms, but not enough offense to contend.

5. Kansas City Royals (76-86): The K.C. Royals are just like the little engine that could, except they can’t. The perennial laughing stock of the AL Central has made some strides in recent years, but some quizzical offseason moves (Mike Jacobs, Willie Bloomquist, keeping Jimmy Gobble–he of the cartoon character name and 8.81 ERA last season) will keep the Royals mired in mediocrity.

AL West: Bringing up the rear of the AL divisions is the much maligned AL West. This division hasn’t sent a team to the World Series since the Angels miraculous run in 2002, the longest drought of any division in baseball. Don’t expect that to change this year, no team in this division has improved enough to be considered a legitimate contender.

1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim California U.S. North America Earth (92-70): The Angels ran away with the West last year on the way to winning 100 games but fell to their old nemesis, the Red Sox, in the first round of the playoffs capping off yet another disappointing postseason. The team was hit hard in free agency losing All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez, starting pitcher Jon Garland and 1st baseman Mark Teixeria. The addition of Bobby Abreu should bolster the lineup, but the Angels will likely win the division on the weaknesses of the other teams, rather than their own strengths. Expect another first round exit.

Can the Angels get the playoff monkey off their back?

Can the Angels get the playoff monkey off their back?

2. Oakland Athletics (84-78): The A’s ditched their usual conservative offseason approach and brought in former MVP Jason Giambi, as well as trading for Colorado’s Matt Holliday. These two bats should bring some life to a punchless offense and give Oakland a shot to contend for the division. The team will be relying heavily on unproven pitchers like Gio Gonzalez, Sean Gallagher and Dallas Braden so the A’s will probably experience quite a few growing pains during the season.

3. Texas Rangers (81-81): Still one of the most prolific offenses in the game (and thanks to A-Rod we finally know why) the Texas Rangers will head into 2009 looking to win games with football scores of 14-13 or 17-10. This team still lacks pitching depth (you know you’re in trouble when Vincente Padilla is your ace) and will win games largely on the strength of Josh Hamilton, Chris “Crush” Davis and Ian Kinsler in the heart of the lineup. The Rangers should be a fun team to watch, but they won’t challenge the Angels.

4. Seattle Mariners (74-88): While the addition of Ken Griffey Jr. adds some hope for the Mariners, the rest of the team offers little guarantee that 2009 will be markedly better than the disastrous 101-loss season last year. Seattle has a solid pitching staff led by the terrific triumvirate of Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard and Brandon Morrow but there are question-marks in the bullpen after the loss of JJ Putz. The lineup will struggle to score runs with no true power hitters in the lineup (only in your dreams Endy Chavez), but should improve somewhat over last season, because quite frankly, it’s pretty hard not to. Enjoy Junior’s return M’s fans; there’s little else to look forward to with this motley crew.

Coming Soon: A Look at the NL!