Saturday, March 31, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Toronto Blue Jays (Part 2)

The Blue Jays offseason did have one apparent failure. According to Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston, the Blue Jays could have and should have done a much better job of managing fan expectations. There was some attempt at this, when they tried to introduce “payroll parameters” to fans vocabulary mid-way through the offseason, but even that came with mixed results. Fans with ideas of an unlimited budget had to adjust to the idea of Alex Anthopoulos working within “payroll parameters,” and while fans knew that every other GM had to work within certain guidelines, the idea that AA was being treated the same was somehow surprising. So despite a rollercoaster of expectations throughout the offseason, fans were excited to see how the team would fare in Spring Training. The results have only raised expectations for the upcoming season to new heights.

In 1989, the Blue Jays had their best Spring Training record with 21 wins, and would go on to win their second AL East division title that year. The franchise record of 21 Spring Training wins would go on to stand for 22 years, until March 29, 2012 when the Blue Jays won their 22nd game of the spring over the Boston Red Sox, and as of today have a record of 23-5-1, or 25-5-1 if you include their spring training exhibition games. It seems the Blue Jays may have failed to manage expectations once more, but I don’t think anyone is too upset or wishes spring training would’ve gone any differently. So as Spring Training draws to a close, how do things look for the upcoming season?

To the surprise of many, John Farrell began tinkering with the lineup throughout the spring, and the lone position up for grabs was LF, which was a two-horse race between Eric Thames and Travis Snider. Both played incredibly well throughout spring, but having Thames essentially as the incumbent LF gave him the advantage, and but here is how I see things shaking out.

  1. Yunel Escobar (SS)
  2. Kelly Johnson (2B)
  3. Jose Bautista (RF)
  4. Adam Lind (1B)
  5. Edwin Encarnacion (DH)
  6. Brett Lawrie (3B)
  7. Eric Thames (LF)
  8. Colby Rasmus (CF)
  9. JP Arencibia (C)

Nothing too surprising but it’s highly unlikely that this will be the lineup in August. I expect there will continue to be some tampering with the lineup done and players play their ways up or down the lineup. I think the only real locks will be that Bautista and Arencibia will likely spend the entire season in the spot in the lineup. I expect Thames and Rasmus to be the first to flip spots in the lineup and by May I see Lawrie and EncarnaciĆ³n switching places as well. From everything being said by both Farrell and Anthopoulos, everyone has to play for their spot, because there are a lot of talented people in the minors waiting for their shot.

The rotation has been known for most of the spring, but it was recently announced that Dustin McGowan, long known to have been the probable fifth starter, will begin the season on the DL creating a need for someone to fill his place. So how does the opening day rotation look?

  1. Ricky Romero (L)
  2. Brandon Morrow (R)
  3. Brett Cecil (L)
  4. Henderson Alvarez (R)
  5. Kyle Drabek (R)

The only real spot open in the rotation is the fifth spot due to Dustin McGowan’s trip to the DL, which opened a new competition. It really will come down to Kyle Drabek or Aaron Laffey, but I will give Drabek the edge because the experience will benefit him over Laffey, and Drabek is an important part of the organization’s future. Laffey may have had the edge for the majority of the Spring, but his two most recent outings may have handed Drabek the job, at least until McGowan returns from the DL.

It’s a long season, everyone knows it, and it won’t be so easy to just guarantee the Blue Jays another fourth place finish again in 2012. The potential for a big season is there, and as everyone will remind you, a second wild card will change more than just the post-season format. Playoff races will stretch out longer, more teams will be buying at the trade deadline, and the prices for such trades will as a result be higher. The real test of this team will come at the trade deadline. Areas that truly need to be addressed will become apparent by the All-Star break, and Alex Anthopoulos has the pieces to make deals, and if the Blue Jays are going to make it to the post-season for the first time since 1993, that is when they will really need to strike.

The Final Count: 86 – 76, Fourth in AL East

It’s an unfortunate numbers game for the Jays. They have the unenviable task of calling the AL East home, which means they play the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays more than any other contending teams, which have hindered their playoff chances considerably. Over the last four years, if you remove games played vs the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays, the Blue Jays have a better record than any NL team (except the Phillies), but have nothing to show for it. The Blue Jays Plus staff have the Jays slated for a good season, posting a record of 86 – 76, again fourth in the AL East, which is a conservative opinion and a realistic one. This is a team that has a very real chance a 95 wins as well, but I don’t know if they are there just yet, which this prediction holds. Injuries could derail the success of this team, and if the trade deadline is a bust due to prices being too high, the Jays may lack the necessary depth for a post-season run. In a perfect world, I see the Jays winning a wild card spot after a terrific regular season, but I don’t see much post-season success just yet. A lot of things have to go right this summer for the Jays to have the season Jays fans are expecting, and if Spring Training is any indication, we are certainly getting closer to that goal.

You can follow Brandon on Twitter @Bam_86

Friday, March 30, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Toronto Blue Jays (Part 1)

2011 Record: 81 - 81, Fourth in AL East.

Key Additions: Sergio Santos (P), Francisco Cordero (P), Ben Francisco (OF), Jason Frasor (P), Aaron Laffey (P), Jeff Mathis (C), Darren Oliver (P), Omar Vizquel (IF), Brian Bocock (SS), Kyle Phillips (P), Nelson Figueroa (P), Luis Valbuena (IF)

Subtractions: Shawn Camp (P), Jesse Carlson (P), Frank Francisco (P), Jon Rauch (P), Brad Mills (P), Adam Loewen (OF), Jose Molina (C), Brian Tallet (P), Mark Teahen (IF), Dewayne Wise (OF), PJ Walters (P), Nestor Molina (P)

2012 Outlook: Could there be a better, more exciting time to be a fan of any other franchise than the Toronto Blue Jays? The Jays have gone back to their roots when they announced new uniforms, going “Back to Blue,” to the delight of fans everywhere. They have the reigning 2-time MLB Home Run Champ in Jose Bautista. They are likely the team that may benefit most from the addition of a second wild card, and despite playing in the AL East, notorious for being the toughest division in all of baseball, the Blue Jays have quietly become everyone’s favorite underdog. After shedding all of the bad contracts that AA inherited, and building a farm system that is among the highest ranked in all of baseball, many baseball insiders believed that the Blue Jays were on the cusp of contending, which lead many fans and insiders alike to believe this was the Blue Jays offseason to finally spend big, and make a run for the postseason.

The Blue Jays offseason needs were obvious. A premier bat to fit into the 3-4 hole, a frontline starter, and an overhaul of the bullpen would put the Jays into contention, and as if fate had intertwined, the offseason free agent market was a perfect storm to answer the Blue Jays needs. Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder were two of the finest hitters in the National League over the past five years, and would’ve easily slotted into the Jays lineup with amazing results. Yu Darvish, the young Japanese phenom, was all but officially announced as a Blue Jay hours before the official bidding results were released, only for him to be snatched out of the welcoming arms of Jays fans by the Texas Rangers. The loss ignited a powder keg of frustrations among the Blue Jays fanbase, as hope turned to anger, and patience turned to distrust as fans began to question the ownership and leadership of the Blue Jays all leading into the State of the Franchise event. Was Rogers willing to spend the money necessary to win? Would Alex Anthopoulos ever be able to bring himself to sign a big free agent and give up the necessary draft picks? Was the plan to rebuild the Jays really working? Some “fans” showed up to the State of the Franchise event, and let their frustrations be known, but for most, hearing what Alex Anthopoulos, Paul Beeston, and John Farrell had to say mellowed most out enough to continue with the offseason.

The one thing the Blue Jays did do, was to complete an almost total overhaul of the bullpen after it turned out that it was not the strength many thought it to be last spring. Alex did so by signing veteran relievers Darren Oliver and Francisco Cordero, and by trading for the Jays closer of the future in Sergio Santos, who will be under team control until 2017. Santos was previously a part of the Blue Jays system as a shortstop, but struggled until the Chicago White Sox converted him to a pitcher in the spring of 2009. The benefit of that late transition is that he still has thrown a relatively small amount of innings and his arm should be in great condition with limited wear, and he has already shown that he can be highly effective, saving 30 games for the White Sox in 2011. Again, Alex Anthopoulos has shown how effective he can be, as he turned one of the Jays apparent weak spots into yet another area of strength, as now the Jays starters should feel more comfortable turning the game over to the bullpen with a lead, and despite not adding any big name free agent batters, the Blue Jays should have a lot more leads to turn over this year as well.

While many wanted the Jays to spend, in reality, the need to spend wasn’t there. Last season the Blue Jays seemed to have a new third baseman every month. Jayson Nix, Edwin Encarncion, and Jose Bautista all spent time at the hot corner, among others, and with the exception of Bautista, the offensive output was relatively lacking, and then the Blue Jays Nation welcomed Brett Lawrie to The Show and things quickly turned around as Lawrie posted a .293 avg with 9 home runs, 26 runs scored, 7 stolen bases, and 25 RBI in 161 plate appearances. To say that things at the hot corner have already improved is an understatement. In a similar vein the Blue Jays were able to acquire from a young, very high upside, center fielder in Colby Rasmus, who despite not finishing the season on as bright a note as Lawrie, is expected to be a big part of Toronto’s future.

In a bid to shake things up, Alex Anthopoulos also flipped Aaron Hill and John McDonald to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Kelly Johnson, who can hopefully rebound and be a bright spot near the top of the Blue Jays lineup, and possibly play up to the level Aaron Hill once did. All things considered, the Blue Jays finished sixth in runs scored in the MLB last year, and with the addition of full seasons from Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus, and Kelly Johnson that number should only improve, which should lead to more leads late in the game, which when turned over to the bullpen, results in more saves, and in turn, more wins for the Blue Jays who still have the enviable tasks of likely having to win at least 90 games, if they want a shot at the postseason, even with the addition of a second wild card spot.

Part 2 of the Toronto Blue Jays season preview is coming soon!

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Tampa Bay Rays

2011 Record: 91-71

Key Additions: Jeff Keppinger, Josh Lueke, Jose Molina, Carlos Pena, Fernando Rodney, Luke Scott

Subtractions: Johnny Damon, John Jaso, Dan Johnson, Kelly Shoppach, Andy Sonnanstine

2012 Outlook: As it has been since the Rays became competitive in 2008, the Rays strength isn`t their hitting, but it is their pitching. Led by James Shields, the Rays have arguably the best rotation in the MLB, and they are only getting better. Behind Shields is David Price,2011 AL Rookie of the Year winner, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, and Jeff Niemann. The #1 prospect in the MLB according too many, Moore, has amazing stuff, and will make Shields a number two starter come 2013, at least in my mind. The truly amazing part about the Rays staff isn't how good it is, and it's amazing, it's the depth that the rays posses. This spring, Niemann and Wade Davis competed for the #5 spot in the rotation. While Niemann won, it's ridiculous that Wade Davis, a pitcher who would be a 3/4 pitcher on most teams, was not able to make the rotation. The 1-4 guys on the Rays are as good as anybodies in the game, even the Angels. I would not be surprised if the Rays starting staff as a whole this year had an ERA under 3.00 in 2012, and that is just the beginning for this young and upcoming group.

After finishing in the middle of the pack of the MLB in 2011 in runs scored, with 707, the Rays decided that if they were going to want a chance at the World Series again, they would need a better offence. So, they went and brought back Carlos Pena after a 1-year deal with the Cubs. Pena, won't hit for average, but he gets on base (.352 career mark) and he crushes the ball (34.4 HR's a year since 2007). Pena will bat 4th in the Rays lineup, right behind All Star third baseman Evan Longoria in the three hole. Longoria, 26, hit 31 long balls in 2011, and he missed the first month of the season due to injury. He's got a nice sweet swing, and will benefit greatly with the acquisition of Pena. Except for Desmond Jennings in Center, the rest of the lineup is pretty average, which is the reason they struggle at times. My concern is Jose Molina. The former Blue Jay signed a 1 year deal with Tampa in the off-season, and has been given the starters role behind the dish. Molina has never been a starting worthy catcher, and at age 36, he is definitely not one now. If Jennings has a good sophomore campaign, and a 4th offensive star rises in this lineup, then the Rays will go far this October.

The Final Count: 93-69

The Rays have the potential to win 162 with their staff. Although that will not happen, 100 is in range of this club if the pitching lives up to the hype, and a 4th offensive contributor appears. 93 is realistic due to the lack of offense, and the young pitching staff.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: New York Yankees

2011 Record:97-65

Key Additions: David Aardsma, Russell Branyan, Raul Ibanez, Hiroki Kuroda, Jayson Nix, Michael Pineda, Clay Rapada, Dewayne Wise

Subtractions: A.J Burnett, Bartolo Colon, Andrew Brackman, Jesus Montero, Hideki Okajima, Jorge Posada

2012 Outlook: The Yankees are reloaded and ready to go on a run for their 28th World Series title in 2012. After spending the first two months of the off-season being quiet, all of a sudden, on Friday the 13th in January, the Evil Empire restocked their rotation, and by doing that, became instant World Series favourites. Brian Cashman, GM of the Yankees, signed Hiroki Kuroda, and traded for Michael Pineda. The only problem with trading for Pineda, they had to give up Jesus Montero, the Yankees top catching prospect.

The scary thing about the Yankees is that when their starters had a combined ERA of 4.03(2011), they won 97 games. This year, their rotaion improved a ton by acquring Kuroda and Pineda,so imagine how many wins they will get this season! The Bronx Bombers offence is led by perennial MVP candidate Robinson Cano, while the supporting cast around him isn't too bad. Mark Teixera and Curtis Granderson will both hit 30+ homers this year, and drive in 200 runs between the two. A third tier of offence comes from SS Mr.3000 Derek Jeter,3B A-Roid, and C Russel Martin. The key to winning the World Series for the Yankees in my mind is Martin. The rest of the lineup will be good, and the pitching will be amazing, but Martin can make this team so much scarier. All he has to do is get his OPS to what it was in 2007(.843), and he will be the difference maker. This offence will lead the Yankees to the playoffs, but it is their pitching that will get the their 28th title.

Although all the talk about the Yankees pitching is usually focused on the starters, which include CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda, and Hiroki Kuroda, I want to talk about their famed bullpen led by the best closer of all time, Mariano Rivera. If the Yankees starters last 6 or 7 innings each game they pitch, the Yankees will have their 28th Championship in no time. The 8th inning is over before it starts, as David Robertson and Rafael Soriano combine for a shutdown team. When it comes to the 9th, the cutter sits batters down in order, and the Yankees win games as easy as that. Led by Rivera and Robertson, the Yankees pen is once again one of the best in the game, and is another reason why they are arguably the best team in the league once again this year.

Final Count: 97-65

97 wins again will likely not happen, but anything is possible. 101 wins is probably more realistic, but age will most defentily be a factor this season. If Rivera/Jeter/Pettite slow down, and one major injury occurs to Cano/Teixera, then this could be a wild card team. Yes, they are that good, even when things go wrong, they will still make the playoffs.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Boston Red Sox

Picture via -

30 in 30 – Boston Red Sox - 2012 team preview

I love the above picture for several reasons.  First Jason Varitek was the face of this franchise for over 15 seasons, and one of my favorite players because he was a leader and played hard each game.  Also the tears represent their epic collapse of September 2011.  The above link also mentioned this about Varitek –
  • Only player to play in Little League World Series, College World Series, MLB World Series, Olympics, and World Baseball Classic.
  • Played in more post season games than any other player in Red Sox history.
  • Only player in MLB history to catch four no-hitters.
OK, now onto the rest of the Red Sox 

Key Additions: Mike Aviles (SS), Andrew Bailey (CL), Mark Melancon (RP), Ryan Sweeney (RF), Cody Ross (RF), Nick Punto (SS)

Subtractions: Jonathan Papelbon (CL), Josh Reddick (OF), Marco Scutaro (SS), Jed Lowrie (SS), J.D. Drew (RF), Jason Varitek (C), Tim Wakefield (SP), Erik Bedard (SP)

2011 Record: 90-72

2011 Highlights: This time last year, no one would have thought that Jacoby Ellsbury would lead the team in home runs (32), but his numbers exploded all over the stat sheet – finishing with 119 runs, 32 HR, 105 RBI’s and 39 stolen bases.   Dustin Pedroia also finished with a 20-20 season and 102 runs and 91 RBI’s for good measure.  In his first year as a Red Sox, Adrian Gonzalez hit the least amount of home runs in over 5 years, but had the most runs in his career and just 2 RBI’s off his career mark.  Both Josh Beckett (13-7 with 2.89 ERA and 175 K’s) and Jon Lester (15-9 and 182 K’s) had great season’s.  Jonathan Papelbon had the lowest save total in his career (31) but the highest strikeout total (87) in his career.

Offseason Moves: Once Jonathan Papelbon signed with Philadelphia, the Red Sox needed to sign or trade for a closer.  Daniel Bard managed to put up 9 losses and 5 blown saves, while posting a WHIP under 1 (0.96).  Weird numbers, but the Red Sox wanted to go CJ Wilson on him (not by posting his phone number on twitter but by turning a reliever into a starter) and make him the #4 starter.  Andrew Bailey should put up good numbers, but can Mark Melancon match Bard’s good numbers (34 holds and 74 K’s) from last year?  Only other positional changes are Mike Aviles at SS and Ryan Sweeney in Right.  Both Varitek and Wakefield retired.

2011 Rewind – For the second year in a row, a team won 90 games but failed to reach the playoffs.  In 2010 the Padres did it.  In 2011 the Red Sox managed this feat.  We can’t feel too bad because the Red Sox managed to let the postseason get away from them.  On September 3rd, they were 9 games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East, (with a 99.6% chance of making the playoffs) and then lost 18 (75%) of their final 24 games.  On the last game of the season, they blew a save to the Baltimore Orioles, and the Rays won (but were down by 7 runs in the 8th inning) in extra innings against the Yankees. 

In May and June the Red Sox lost both Daisuke Matsuzaka (Tommy John) and Clay Buchholz (back) for the rest of the season.  John Lackey was also on the DL and ended the year with an ERA of 6.41 and is now out for 2012 with Tommy John surgery.  The Red Sox were 2-4 against the White Sox and were 6-12 against the Tampa Rays.

To go along with their historic collapse in September, they had their fare share of controversy in 2011.  The option on Terry Francona’s contract was not exercised.  GM Theo Epstein was essentially traded to the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named later (the other Chris Carpenter) and their two aces – Lester and Beckett were in the news.  They had been eating fried chicken, drinking beer and playing video games, in the clubhouse and dugout during games when they were not pitching.  New manager Bobby Valentine will be cracking down on such activity this year. 

2012 Outlook – With 90 wins in 2011, it’s going to be hard to improve in 2012, with an improved American League.  Teams like the Yankees, Angels, Rangers, and even the Blue Jays have all improved going into 2012.  Mike Aviles is the only upgrade in the offseason.  The rest of the moves were replacing guys who left or retired.  Ellsbury and Crawford help to form what should be a great outfield again.  Pedroia and Gonzalez on the right side of the field will once again be great, but the left side has question marks.     

Lester and Beckett should be solid at the top.  Although Beckett is in a year that is even and should have an inflated ERA once again.  Sounds like crazy talk – I know – but look it up.  Over 2006, 08 & 10, his average ERA is 4.89.  A healthy Clay Buchholz back will be just what the doctor ordered – sorry couldn’t resist.  But after that what will their 4 & 5 starters do.  Andrew Bailey has averaged 25 saves over his first 3 seasons in Oakland and should get 35 if he can stay healthy as well.      
Question Marks: The Red Sox are full of question marks heading into 2012.  Bobby Valentine is a legendary manager, and he better have some answers because I don’t.  Carl Crawford did not live up to expectations in 2011, hitting .255 and stealing only 18 bases.  He will start 2012 on the DL and I doubt if he will ever get back to the 2010 numbers, but at least he cashed in those numbers with his nice contract. 

Can Saltalamacchia improve his numbers and get into the 70 Run and RBI marks?  Mike Aviles has never played more than 110 games; can he stay healthy and put up good numbers in 2012?  With the JD Drew era finally over, how will Ryan Sweeney fare in Right?  Sweeney had a solid 2009 (68-6-53 .293), but will need to do better in 2012 with the Sox.  Right now Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves are the 4 and 5 starters, both were relievers in 2011, that could go either way. 

Projected Lineup – Here’s how I would construct the Red Sox batting order;
  1. Jacoby Ellsbury (CF)
  2. Dustin Pedroia (2B)
  3. Adrian Gonzalez (1B)
  4. Kevin Youkilis (3B)
  5. David Ortiz (DH)
  6. Carl Crawford (LF)
  7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (C)
  8. Ryan Sweeney (RF)
  9. Mike Aviles (SS)

Last year the Red Sox led the league in runs scored, and should once again be at the top of that category in 2012.  The Red Sox still managed to win 90 games and if a few things go their way, they could win more this year.  With the extra wild card team being added, it will be harder this year for the Red Sox to make the postseason, but should be right at the cusp of October ball once again this year.  Getting off to a good April will sure help put September to bed in a lot of Red Sox minds.  At BlueJaysPlus, we see the Red Sox winning around the 90 win mark once again. 

The Final Count: 89-73 – 3rd in AL East  

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Monday, March 26, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Baltimore Orioles

2011 Record: 69-93

Key Additions: Matt Lindstrom (P), Jason Hammel (P), Luis Ayala (P), Armando Galarraga (P), Wilson Betemit (3B), Taylor Teagarden (C), Endy Chavez (OF), Jai Miller (OF), Ronny Paulino (C), Pat Neshak (P), Tsuyoshi Wada (P), Wei-Ying Chen (P), Matt Antonelli, (IF)

Subtractions: Jeremy Guthrie (P), Rick VandenHurk (P), Vladimir Guerrero (DH), Chris Jakubauskas (P), Jake Fox (C), Felix Pie (OF), Cesar Izturis (SS), Brandon Synder (1B), Jo-Jo Reyes (P), Luke Scott (OF), Jeremy Accardo (P), Clay Rapada (P)

2012 Outlook: The Baltimore Orioles are in an unfortunate situation and in it doesn’t appear that it will improve anytime soon. A great example of how bad things have become in Baltimore had to do with their recent GM search. Being stuck in the bottom of the AL East looking up at the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, and Jays above them, the Orioles ownership decided a shake-up was in order, but every time they offered someone the job, they turned it down, incuding the Blue Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava. It was the job that no one wanted, and when only 30 of those kinds of jobs exist, for someone to say no, says a lot about the organization and it’s ownership. They eventually found their man in Dan Duquette, who immediately set out to make his mark.

It appears that he immediately identified pitching as the best area to improve as he added no less than 7 new arms in the offseason including two aggressive international signings in Wada and Chen. They also were aggressive in trying to obtain other young pitching prospects when they signed 17-year-old Kim Seong-min from South Korea. The problem with that, is that South Korea had a policy banning MLB scouts from signing players before they reach their final years of school, which Baltimore did, and as a result, the entire organization is banned from South Korea. Ouch.

There is no question that it’s a rough time for the Orioles. It’s been 15 years since their last post-season appearance, but it may be another 15 before they are back again. The brightest part of their roster is behind the plate in Matt Wieters. A former top prospect who has yo-yo’d expectations and performance, but appears to be realizing his potential. Beyond that, Baseball America ranked the Orioles farm system ahead of only 5 teams, good for the 25th best spot. So if the Orioles are going to contend anytime this generation, it’s going to need a real overhaul from the bottom up. Much like the Blue Jays have, they will need to invest in scouting and grow the organization from the minors up. However, one of the Duquette’s first moves as GM was to dissolve the pro scouting department and reassign them all to amatuer scouting. It’s not the best way to go about things, but at least they are starting to scout the amateurs more.

The Final Count: 68-94, Fifth in AL East

2012 will be another year where the Orioles will toil in the basement of the AL East, as the postseason seems further out of reach than ever before. The staff here at Blue Jays Plus predict a record of 68-94, but it could be worse if injuries take their toll as they have in the past. The Orioles have interesting pieces to work with in their roster, but they may have missed some of their best opportunities to improve over the past few years already. It’s been a comedy of errors in the handling of the Orioles over the past few years, but there is a reason they are nicknamed the OriLOLes.

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Sunday, March 25, 2012

Passing the Leadoff Baton

Blue Jays skipper John Farrell continues to explore his options at the top of Toronto's explosive batting order. The decision has been made over the pass five spring training games to give 2B Kelly Johnson a shot at the top of the order, while SS Yunel Escobar has been slotted into the #2 hole. This move has paid great dividends for the top of the order thus far; and this move continues to create quite a buzz around Blue Jays Nation (not the website, the fan base).

The differences between these two players are stark when compared with each other. Johnson and Escobar have similar career on-base percentages (Johnson OBP .343 & Escobar OBP .366) with the edge going to the Cuban slick fielding SS. Escobar also keeps the edge with a career batting average of .289, almost 30 points higher than Johnson. The power difference has to go Johnson with 19 per 162 games, and Yunel with just 11. Kelly has the advantage on the base-paths, but it has been said this ST that Escobar has been working on his base running. This assessment leaves Escobar with the statistical edge for leading off in the Toronto Blue Jays batting order.

However, there is something much more telling then these individual statistics when compared next to each other. As a right-handed hitter Escobar has proven in his 5 years of big league ball that he is the superior hit-and-run batter. With the ability to slap the ball through the right infield hole when Johnson is on base – the Jays are left with a better chance to have runners on 2nd & 1st when Mr. Bautista comes to the plate.

I believe that Escobar will remain the leadoff hitter with the Opening Day Blue Jays roster because of one major reason: Johnson is a better base stealer, and this is not beneficial with Jose already leading the majors in walks in 2011. If Johnson is to be utilized to his best potential it will be his better power numbers and OBP ahead of Jose, not his speed.

Regardless of the final decision and the batting order presented on April 5 in Cleveland, the Toronto Blue Jays have a few batting order problems that are good problems to have. Who is more useful as leadoff? Which order gives Jose the best chance to see fastballs, and therefore drive more runs in?

Make no mistake Blue Jays fans, K. Johnson and Y. Escobar are both good options as leadoff hitters for the 2012 season. With a little more Pacific Coast League seasoning, the ability to bunt once again, and a continued presence with the major league level – Anthony Gose WILL BE a prototypical leadoff hitter that the Toronto Blue Jays will covet for years to come.

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30 Teams in 30 Days: Minnesota Twins

2011 Record: 63-99

Key Additions: Ryan Doumit (C), Josh Willingham (OF), Jason Marquis (P), Jamey Carroll (2B), Jason Bulger (P)

Subtractions: Joe Nathan (P), Michael Cuddyer (OF), Jason Kubel (OF) Jose Mijares (P), Kevin Slowey (P)

Offseason Roundup

The Twins let Nathan, Cuddyer, and Kubel walk, leaving some large holes to be filled. New addition Josh Willingham should be able to help fill the void in the outfield. At seven million per season, he was cheaper than both Cuddyer and Kubel, so the Twins probably made a good call there. However, they did nothing to replace Nathan, so there is no reason to assume that this year’s pen improves upon its MLB worst 4.51 ERA it put up last year. Doumit provides insurance at first and catcher if Justin Morneau or Joe Mauer are bit by the injury bug again. At 37, Jamey Carroll doesn’t have much upside, but he provides depth up the middle. Marquis has the potential to be an above average fourth starter.

The Good

The Twins have two former MVP winners in Morneau and Joe Mauer. Third baseman Danny Valencia and Willingham are both above average hitters. All of the Twins top three starters could hit free agency in 2013, so they should be motivated. Carl Pavano has pitched over 220 innings for the past two seasons. Francisco Liriano had a stellar 2010, and is leading the AL in strikeouts this spring, so perhaps his elbow troubles are behind him. Scott Baker is the third starter eligible to test the market next year, but the team holds a 2013 option for him. Last year he had a sub three ERA until elbow problems knocked him out for August and September. Reliever Glen Perkins was dominant last year, posting a 9.5K/9.

The Bad

This team is essentially the same one that finished with only 63 wins last year. Mauer and Morneau have been unable to stay healthy for the past few years. Denard Span (OF) is coming off a year that saw him play on 70 games due to a concussion. Alexi Casilla (2B) and Ben Revere (OF) are well below average hitters.

The Ugly

Tsuyoshi Nishioka (2B/SS) was terrible when he played last year, and was unable to live up to expectations after winning the 2010 MVP in Japan. Then he broke his leg. Twins starters have a tough time staying healthy, and even when they are, they have been pretty bad as of late. Help is not on the way, as top pitching prospect Kyle Gibson needed Tommy John surgery, so he will be on the shelf till 2013. Matt Capps is slated to close, despite blowing six saves and posting an ugly 4.25 ERA last year. Morneau was bad even when he was healthy last year, hitting .227 in 288 plate appearances.

The Really Ugly

The bullpen.

The Final Count: 83-79, 2nd AL Central

Shame on you, Bluejaysplus staff! The Twins aren’t good enough to win 75 games, let alone 83.

I predict 70. A healthy Mauer and Morneau could see this team win as many as 80 games. Max. And that’s if they play at an MVP level. Minnesota has bad pitching, and a mediocre offence. They did nothing this offseason that would make them significantly better than the team that won 63 games last year. 83 wins? Ha!

Note: There was an error when calculating how many wins the staff thought the Twins, Royals, White Sox, and Indians would have. Turns out, the entire AL Central's wins total except for the Tigers was messed up. Full corrections will be posted on March 31st in our full MLB Standings preview.

Was Sending Snider Down the Right Move?

The Left Field battle for the Toronto Blue Jays is over, well at least for now. On Sunday afternoon, Travis Snider was sent down to AAA, using his last option year, and giving the LF job to Eric Thames.

Thames, who`s job it was to lose, had a slash line of .333/.380/.511, and Snider had one of .283/.353/.652. This move, does not decide who has won the battle, as Thames also has options left, and if he struggles in the majors , Snider will be up here very quickly. I can't see this being the final chapter in this story, as it would be a classic AA move if he traded Thames after sending down Snider.

I personally wanted Snider to get the job in left for one reason, and one reason only. I couldn't care less about their offensive skills, even though Snider has a lot more upside than Thames, and I don't care about their base running. What I do care about is defense. When your sticking the winner (Thames/Snider) in a defense with Colby Rasmus and Jose Bautista, two outfielders with lackluster defense, then you need to pick the player with the better defensive skills, especially when their offensive numbers have been so similar. Thames, in his brief major league career, hits lefties a little bit better than Snider, and also hits righties a little bit better. So, making a decision based on offence would be silly, especially because both players have been hitting rockets this spring, and their swings have been amazing. Thames' first step when the ball is hit is horrific, and his range is effected greatly because of it. If two thirds of your outfield don't field their positions well, than why make it the whole thing. AA and John Farrell made the wrong decision in my mind, and I hope they reverse it soon.

I would love to hear what you guys think about the demotion, and which side you are on, so leave your comment on the article!

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Saturday, March 24, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Kansas City Royals

2011 Record: 71-91

Key Additions: Yuniesky Betancourt, Jonathan Broxton, Jonathan Sanchez

Subtractions: Melky Cabrera, Jeff Francis, Aaron Laffey

2012 Outlook: After finishing under .500 every year since 2003, the Royals have a great chance this season to break that streak. With a young nucleus of key players all stating to come up to teh Royals, they will be an exciting team to watch. 2012 may not be the year to make the playoffs, but in 2013 or 2014, the Royals might bring joy back to Kansas City.

The offence has been led by Billy Butler over the past few years, but with the emergence of Eric Hosmer as one of the games best young hitters, that seems to be changing. Hosmer, who finished 3rd in AL ROY voting in 2011, hit 19 homers and drove in 78 runs, and also had a OPS+ of 118, putting him well above the average MLB Player. Remember, he did this in just 123 games,, so average that out in a 162 game season, and you have a 22 year old making $503,000,hitting 25 HRs, and driving in 103 runs. If Hosmer wants to be a premier player in the MLB, he needs to improve his eye, and take more walks. I believe he will be able to do that for two reasons. First, he knows Butler will drive him in if he gets on, and two, he has always had a high OBP in the minors, so that should translate into success int he Majors as well. Alex Gordon will lead off for the Royals, and if he continues to improve, then he should score plenty of runs because of his high OBP, that will likely be near the .400 this season. Jeff Francoeur finally played well again last year, and will need to continue to hit well along with Lorenzo Cain, so they can compliment the top of the lineup with some secondary scoring. When Salvador Perez comes back from surgery in May-June, he will give the Royals some stability behind the plate,and be able to produce offensives and defensively.

To go along with Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar at the top of the rotation, the Royals acquired Jonathan Sanchez from the Giants. Their rotation is lacking a true number one, or even a number two for that matter, but if/when Mike Montgomery makes it to the majors this season, he will provide them with a potential top starting pitcher. He got roughed up last year in AAA, but it was int he PCL, so who doesn't get roughed up. He still struck out almost 8 batters per nine innings, and should be a force in the Royals rotation for years to come. Chen will have to continue his magical season that he had last season, and Sanchez is going to have to return to 2010 form if the Royals want to have a chance of not getting ripped apart in their games this season. They will have to play the Tigers 18 times in 2012, so pitching will be the key to a good finish for KC.

Joakim Soria will miss the entire season because of surgery, so Jonathan Broxton and Greg Holland will lead a mediocre bullpen for the Royals.

The Final Count: 81-81, 4th place AL Central

That record could be very generous if the Royals youngsters don't play like they are expected to. The Royals record this season will be based on how the White Sox and Twins perform, as they meet them 18 times each, and if they both have bounce back years, then this could be another long season in Kansas City. We here at Blue Jays Plus have the Twins and White Sox both finishing ahead of the Royals, but it is just by a couple of games, so positions 2-5 in this divison are basically up for grabs.

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Note: There was an error when calculating how many wins the staff thought the Twins, Royals, White Sox, and Indians would have. Turns out, the entire AL Central's wins total except for the Tigers was messed up. Full corrections will be posted on March 31st in our full MLB Standings preview.

Friday, March 23, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Detroit Tigers

Picture via - M Live

30 in 30 – Detroit Tigers - 2012 team preview

Key Additions: Prince Fielder (1B), Octavio Dotel (RP)

Subtractions: Magglio Ordonez (RF), Joel Zumaya (RP), Wilson Betemit (INF)

2011 Record: 95-67

2011 Highlights: Justin Verlander turned out to be a pretty good pitcher for the Tigers and won the AL CY Young award, AL pitching Triple Crown & AL MVP award (posting 24 wins and 250 K’s).  Oh ya he also pitched a no-hitter May 7th against the Toronto Blue Jays.  Jose Valverde saved 49 games.  Miguel Cabrera has a monster season going 111-30-105 and hitting .344 – which won the AL batting title.  Victor Martinez also had over 100 RBI’s with 103. 

Offseason Moves: Everyone was waiting for the Tigers to do something during the offseason, so they just signed the best free agent besides Albert Pujols.  Once an offseason injury forced Victor Martinez to miss all of 2012, the Tigers needed to replace his 103 RBI’s and quick.  In walks Scott Boras and get GM Dave Dombrowski to sign Fielder to a 9 year $214 Million dollar deal.  That means that Verlander, Cabrera and Fielder will earn over $60 million dollars in 2012 – about $5 less than that KC Roylas entire payroll.

2011 Rewind – The Detroit Tigers honored long time coach Sparky Anderson on opening day, who had passed away, and retired his jersey as well.  On July 30th the Tigers saw something in Seattle’s Doug Fister (who was 3-12 and ended up going 8-1 for the Tigers with en ERA of just 1.79).  August 15th the Tigers made another big move and landed Delmon Young from Minnesota (getting 32 RBI’s in 40 games for the Tigers). 

The Tigers went 1-5 playing against the Red Sox, and 7-11 in interleague play.  They could have won 100 games if those two series’ played out differently.  They won 50 games against teams in their own division.  Detroit went on an 11 game winning streak for the first time in over 43 years.  They clinched the AL Central division on September 16th, for the first time since joining the division in 1998.  They beat the New York Yankees to advance to the American league championship series against the Texas Rangers, which they lost. 

2012 Outlook – The Detroit Tigers will just chug along in 2012.  They won 95 games and retooled both during the season and in this past offseason.  Victor Martinez will be a big loss during 2012, but if he didn’t go down, they might not have landed Prince Fielder.  Third Base will no longer be a question mark for the Tigers, as Miguel Cabrera (who will probably end the season being the best 3B in the AL).  They have an above average outfield – with Delmon Young, Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch.  They are solid behind the plate and at the corners, but not so much at DH and 2B. 

Their pitching staff 1-5 sould be a lot better in 2012, with Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello and Jacob Turner.  Their 1-4 starters could all could win 15 games in 2012.  The Tigers pitchers stacks up with the best of them in the American League, probably the 2nd best behind Los Angeles Angels.       

Question Marks: Can Ryan Raburn put up a 75-20-70 season, like he can to improve on 2011?  How will Miguel Cabrera handle 3B, defensively at least?  Alex Avila came out of nowhere to hit 19 HR and 82 RBI, how will he do in 2012?  If he can get there again, he would be the top catcher in the AL.  Delmon Young needs to get back to his 100 RBI season, and there is no reason why he won’t in this potent lineup.  What do the Tigers have in their DH - Clete Thomas, Don Kelly, Brandon Inge – could be the AL’s worst DH hitter.  The Tigers don’t have a great defensive team, but with their offense and pitching they should win a lot of games once again.

Projected Lineup – Here’s how I would construct the Tigers batting order;
  1. Austin Jackson (CF)
  2. Brennan Boesch (RF)
  3. Miguel Cabrera (3B)
  4. Prince Fielder (1B)
  5. Delmon Young (LF)
  6. Alex Avila (C)
  7. Jhonny Peralta (SS)
  8. Ryan Raburn (2B)
  9. Andy Dirks/Clete Thomas (DH)
Last year the Tigers won 95 games, and came 2 games away from playing in the World Series.  This year, the Detroit Tigers look even better this year than they did last year.  Gone are the days the Tigers will lose 90+ games over a 3 year span, including 119 losses in 2003.  Miguel Cabrera took a ball off his face and has a small fracture under his right eye.  But will be in the opening day lineup.     

At BlueJaysPlus, we see the Tigers winning close to 100 games, and could easily win 100-105 games.  They will once again benefit from playing the Royals, Indians and Twins and White Sox in 2012.  They will make the playoffs in 2012 and look to make the next step and make it to the World Series this year.  That won’t be too difficult with this team. 

The Final Count: 99-63 – 1st in AL Central

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Note: There was an error when calculating how many wins the staff thought the Twins, Royals, White Sox, and Indians would have. Turns out, the entire AL Central's wins total except for the Tigers was messed up. Full corrections will be posted on March 31st in our full MLB Standings preview.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Cleveland Indians

2011 Record: 80-82, Second in AL Central

Key Additions: Derek Lowe (P), Andy LaRoche (3B), Robinson Tejada (P), Chris Ray (P), Fred Lewis (OF), Jeremy Accardo (P), Kevin Slowey (P), Dan Wheeler (P), Russ Canzler (IF), Casey Kotchman (1B),

Subtractions: Jim Thome (DH), Travis Buck (OF), Adam Everett (2B), Justin Germano (P), Zach Putnam (P), Austin Kearns (OF), Chad Durbin (P), Kosuke Fukudome (OF),

2012 Outlook: 2011 was a surprising year for the Cleveland Indians and a very surprising year for the entire AL Central division. The division was flipped on its head in a way, as the reigning AL Central champions Minnesota Twins completed the rare first to worst transition, and the Cleveland Indians came out of nowhere to really push the Detroit Tigers for the majority of the season, but ended up with an 80-82 record, good for second in the AL Central. As late as July 20th, the Indians were in first place in the AL Central and appeared to be surprise contenders for the central crown, as in 2010 they finished with a 69-93 record, an amazing turn around to be sure. So are they contenders or pretenders? Was 2011 a year where they played above their talents, or was 2010 a truer indication of the Cleveland Indians talents?

The answer is somewhere in between. There is no question the Cleveland Indians have the pedigree to be successful in the AL Central, winning the AL Central crown in 2007, but the AL Central division has created a monster in the Detroit Tigers, who appear to have a very solid grasp on the AL Central crown, and won’t let go easily. If the Indians are going to challenge for the division championship once more, they will need strong performances from their entire roster, and a great deal of trouble to run through the Tigers roster. But what has GM Chris Antonetti done to strengthen the Indians roster in his second offseason?

It’s apparent that the Indians front office has embraced a strategy of keeping the ball on the ground, as 4 of their 5 potential starters are groundball pitchers. They traded for Derek Lowe over the offseason, and traded for Ubaldo Jimenez during the 2011 season, and already had both Justin Masterson and Roberto Hernandez Heredia (the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona). The strategy hinges on the ability to prevent the long ball, and on the strength of a very active defensive infield. While the tools are certainly there to embrace a groundball-centric strategy, the rigors of the season have certainly taken their toll on the team in the past, and with an aging rotation, that will certainly continue to be something to be weary of.

However, defensively, this is one of the youngest teams in baseball and will continue to grow, and could very likely be the team to eventually upset the Detroit Tigers. However, it won’t likely happen this year. The Tigers are lead by Justin Verlander, the reigning AL Cy Young and MVP, who is supported by Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. To compare, the Indians are have Derek Lowe/Ubaldo Jimenez, and are supported by Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, and Shin-Soo Choo. Shin-Soo Choo is coming off a down year, and Grady Sizemore will start the season on the DL after having back surgery. To say that things haven’t gone the best for the Indians, would be an understatement, but that doesn’t mean that their season is over.

The Final Count: 76-86, Fifth in AL Central

Much like the Blue Jays, the Cleveland Indians are a young team that can benefit from a patient approach. They don’t have the strongest farm system right now, but many predict them to be within the top 10 by 2014, as they have a lot of talent, that is just farther away from the majors. A great example of the kind of young talent they have coming is Vinnie Pestano who was the only rookie to break camp with the Indians last season, and was arguably their best reliever in 2011. Unfortunately, 2012 will likely not be the Indians year, and the staff here at Blue Jays Plus expect them to start a step backwards, and finish the year with a 76-86 record, while finishing last in the AL Central. Injuries and inexperience put them at the bottom of their division for 2012, but youth and determination will hopefully bring them back to the top in the near future.

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Note: There was an error when calculating how many wins the staff thought the Twins, Royals, White Sox, and Indians would have. Turns out, the entire AL Central's wins total except for the Tigers was messed up. Full corrections will be posted on March 31st in our full MLB Standings preview.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Chicago White Sox

2011 Record: 73-83

Key Additions: Kosuke Fukudome (OF), Nestor Molina (P)

Subractions: Carlos Quentin (OF), Mark Buehrle (P), Jason Frasor (P), Sergio Santos (P)

2012 Outlook

The White Sox are coming off a disappointing year that saw them finish third in the AL Central, despite the fact that they had the highest payroll in their division, and the fourth highest in the MLB. Much of this is due to the struggles of Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, and Adam Dunn, players who the Sox invested big dollars in, but have yet to see the returns they were expecting. So it was not surprising when Chicago made moves that screamed “REBUILDING MODE” this offseason. They shed the contacts of Carlos Quentin and Jason Frasor, let long-time number two starter Mark Buehrle walk, and started to collect prospects. It’s going to be a long road though. Chicago has one of baseball’s worst farm systems (ranked 30th out of 30 by John Sickels), and a few horrible long term contracts that will weigh them down. Still, there are a few bright spots for White Sox fans to look forward to.

For one, the offence isn’t too bad. Alexi Ramirez is a stud shortstop, who has led AL players at his positions in homers over the past three seasons. He’s also an excellent defender, finishing third among AL shortstops in runs saved last year. Paul Konerko is aging (36), but he’s still an elite offensive first baseman. He will be counted on to fill part of the void created when Quentin was traded. The key to Chicago`s offensive success this year is bounce back seasons from Rios (CF), Dunn (DH), and Gordon Beckham (2B). Beckham and Rios are former top prospects who have shown flashes of greatness, but have yet to put it all together for a full season. Dunn is coming off a historically bad season in which he hit .159, with only eleven long balls, a far cry from the forty that he seemed to be able to crush every year. The White Sox desperately need good seasons from these guys. The rest of the lineup features veteran catcher A.J. Pierzynski, Brent Morel at third, and corner outfielders Alejandro de Aza and Dayan Viciedo.

Chicago’s rotation has a lot of potential, but this group has yet to develop much of it. John Danks is coming off a tough season that saw him open the year 0-8, and spend time on the DL. Despite his tough year, the White Sox clearly believe in him, as they gave him a five year extension this offseason. Gavin Floyd has struggled since his sensational 2008, and Jake Peavy has yet to produce quality seasons in a Sox uniform. Peavy, a former ace, is costing Chicago far too much in terms of his production. Phillip Humber had a great first half last year, but struggled mightily in the second. Youngster Chris Sale will fill the final rotation spot. He has electric stuff, and many believe he is the future staff ace. Zach Stewart, acquired in the Edwin Jackson deal with Toronto, is a dark horse rotation candidate.

The White Sox’s bullpen is a mess. They traded last season’s closer, Sergio Santos, to Toronto, moved Chris Sale to the rotation, and now only have one reliever in their bullpen from last year, Matt Thornton. It is likely that Thornton will close, and Jesse Crain will set up, but the rest of the roles remain undefined.

The Final Count: 82-80, 3rd AL Central

The White Sox still have a strong enough roster to win about eighty games, but they probably won’t contend this year. They’ll have a hard enough time holding the third place spot with a young and talented KC team hot on their heels. Best case scenario: The Sox finish above .500, manage to dump a couple of bad contracts, and acquire some decent prospects along the way.

Note: There was an error when calculating how many wins the staff thought the Twins, Royals, White Sox, and Indians would have. Turns out, the entire AL Central's wins total except for the Tigers was messed up. Full corrections will be posted on March 31st in our full MLB Standings preview.