As promised, today I am going to be looking at the progress that last season's division winners have made during this offseason. I will likely step over a lot of the same ground that Ben Jacobs did in this post, and I apologize for that. The 2004 offseason has defnitely been East-heavy, although I think it's more important to keep things relative to their division than to break it up by League. So, here are my breakdowns of six Major League teams, where they've been, and where they're headed...
San Francisco Giants
The Giants have been active this offseason, as Brian Sabean has needed creativity to reconstruct a team with minimal resources. He started that at catcher, virtually replacing Benito Santiago with A.J. Pierzynski. Here are the stats of those two last season:
Santiago: .279/.329/.424 56 RBI in 401AB
That is a significant upgrade, and should help make up the loss the team is going to suffer at shortstop. Arbitration was not offered to Rich Aurilia, whose .277/.325/.410 is less than exciting. But those numbers look like Barry Bonds' when you put them up against Aurilia's likely replacement, Neifi Perez (.256/.285/.348). It's hard to say that those two positions come out a wash, but Sabean didn't stop looking for improvements. Although Gold Glove winner Jose Cruz Jr. is gone, consider the production of Giants' RF last season:
RF: .244/.344/.395 in 582AB
So, Sabean re-signed Jeffrey Hammonds, picked up Michael Tucker, and most recently traded to newfound friend Terry Ryan for Dustan Mohr. Let's look at the numbers from those three:
Tucker: .262/.331/.440 in 389AB
My guess is that Tucker will play the position against right-handers (.274/.342/.474), Mohr will play vs. southpaws (.265/.348/.453), and Hammonds will be used as a fourth outfield/defensive replacement type. That should produce a rough outcome of .270/.345/.460 in right field, far surpassing the mark that Jose Cruz and company set last year.
Sabean is also banking that 2003 disappointments Ray Durham and Edgardo Alfonzo bounce back and have healthy and consistent 2004s. Durham bounced back from a lack of an August to have a nice final month (.297/.350/.514), and Alfonzo showed nice improvements in the second half (.296/.372/.474). Also, can surprises Barry Bonds (.341/.529/.749), J.T. Snow (.273/.387/.418), and Marquis Grissom (.300/.322/.468)
Here's an overview of a Giant offense that should be equal to the 2003 version:
C- A.J. Pierzynski
Bench: Yorvit Torrealba (C), Pedro Feliz (1B/3B), Cody Ransom (SS), Jeffrey Hammonds (OF), Dustan Mohr (OF)
While the offense doesn't need much work (maybe replacing Ransom?), Sabean does have an open hole in his pitching staff. Currently, the team has Jason Schmidt, Kirk Rueter, and Jerome Williams to start their rotation. The team is looking to depend on those three horses for more than the 77 starts they posted last year, to help bridge the gap for the losses of Damian Moss, Kurt Ainsworth, and Sidney Ponson.
Sabean brought back Dustin Hermanson to fill the fifth slot, but the team is looking to fill the fourth spot in their rotation currently. Shane Reynolds has been a hot rumor this week, and as I suggested in their offseason preview, the Giants will pursue Greg Maddux if he drops into the $5-7M range. Jesse Foppert will be lost for the season with an arm injury, and Kevin Correia is going to have to pitch very well at AAA to unseat Hermanson. For now, it looks like Jim Brower and Ryan Jensen will be lost to the bullpen.
Speaking of, the bullpen has seen its top two workhorses, Tim Worrell and Joe Nathan, leave San Francisco this offseason. The two pitched in a combined 154 games last season, and only one other reliever appeared in seventy games (Scott Eyre). To replace Worrell will be a healthy Robb Nen, whom will return to his closing role with questions surrounding him. Felix Rodriguez will continue to close, and Matt Herges, along with Brower and Jensen, should complete the right-handed side of the bullpen. Eyre will be the top leftie, and I imagine the expensive Jason Christenson will make the team as well. With Worrell and Nathan, the team is losing more than one hundred and fifty innings of under 3.00 pitching. Can Nen and Herges make up for the losses?
The Giants pitching staff:
Rotation: Jason Schmidt, Kirk Rueter, Jerome Williams, Dustin Hermanson
In conclusion, the Giants have taken a miniscule step back this offseason, but it could have been a lot worse considering the substantial drop in payroll. The team will be in the hunt again next season, but this time don't expect the division to be locked up by the All-Star Break.
Five outs. The number still hurts for Cubs fans to think about, but it also breeds optimism for the 2004 season. They were so close last year, an Alex Gonzalez grounder away, but lost. Redemption will be in the minds of players, a trait Jim Hendry has used so far this offseason. Hendry has been quick and efficient to amend the Cubs' issues, making bold, sometimes questioned moves. But no one questions Hendry's motives: to bring a World Series to the north side for the first time in 95 years.
To do so, Hendry first realized he must fix an offense that ranked among the worst in baseball last season. Consider the following:
Choice A: .276/.349/.469 in 608AB
You would take the second option, right? Well Hendry did, already having acquired choice B, and lose the A players (Karros, Choi, Simon). Lee will bring speed, defense, and even more power to an offense in desperate need of it. Also, consider this:
Choice A: .272/.324/.465 in 607AB
The first one is the obvious choice, and the numbers that Aramis Ramirez would bring in a fullseason. Second was what Cubs third basemen actually did, although the numbers were boosted with Ramirez having 232 .259/.311/.491 at-bats. And while I won't get into the catching situation, it's hard to imagine any situation where the combination of Damian Miller, Paul Bako, and Michael Barrett couldn't best the .229/.309/.351 that Miller and Bako combined for last season.
So, I think what my demonstration has proven is that the Cub offense should be a much larger threat next season, not costing the team victories and lapses of confidence. Here, again, is the Cub team:
Bench: Miller/Bako (C), Martinez (IF), Goodwin (OF)
The Cub pitching staff was sensational in 2003, as the starters combined for a 3.69ERA despite the ugly numbers that Shawn Estes (5.70) put up. Estes is gone, and the team is looking for Matt Clement to regress to his 2003 numbers and become one of the league's premier pitchers once again. Whether it is Juan Cruz or another pitcher in the fifth slot remains to be seen, but it's common thought around Cub fans that it can't possibly get worse than Estes in 2004, and we all expect that starter ERA to drop below 3.50 next year.
Another important flaw of the 2003 version was middle relief. While Borowski, Farnsworth, and Remlinger were quite sufficient to end games, the problem was bridging the starters and those three. And what about when Farns or Rem need a day off. Look at the numbers of a trio of Cub relievers last season:
7-5 4.64ERA 152H/141.2IP 101K/54BB
While these aren't Estes-horrific, the combination of Mark Guthrie, Antonio Alfonseca, and Dave Veres was pretty bad last season. The team has already got LaTroy Hawkins to fill one of those spots, and Hawkins is one of the best right-handed set-up men in the game today. And while the team hasn't named the other two quite yet, it won't be hard to find a pair of relievers that bad, at any cost.
Chicago's offseason is hardly over, as Hendry must fill a bench, rotation, and bullpen still. But the thought is that he can't do any worse than last year, and when paired with the core of players this team already has, Chicago becomes the National League favorites in 2004.
Never say die. I've learned to not question John Scheurholtz's motives until the season starts the last few years, but every offseason I end up doubting if the run of divisional championships can continue. Will that thought corrupt my mind the rest of this offseason? Yes. It will be difficult for me to choose any other team than the Phillies in March, but I will at least give Schuerholtz and Cox until then to sway my opinion.
Here is the cumulative output of four players last season on the Atlanta Braves roster:
600H/1984AB (.302BA) 115HR 397RBI 332R 183BB 278K
Those are the combined numbers for the four free agents the Braves have lost from their starting lineup last season, Gary Sheffield, Javy Lopez, Vinny Castilla, and Rob Fick. What do those numbers prove? Well, this should help put it into context, the following numbers are the percentage that these four made for the Atlanta offense last year:
These four players made up for more than a third of the Braves hits, runs and walks last season, and nearly accounted for HALF of the total homers and runs batted in. Who replaces them? How does Johnny Estrada, Adam LaRoche, Mark DeRosa, and J.D. Drew sound? Less than enthusiastic? You should be.
My thought was well, if the offense is going to worsen so much, surely the team will combat that with improvements in pitching, right? Not so fast.
Player A: 16-11 3.96 225/218.1 124/33
Player A is the choice, although a large part of that decision is ERA. Greg Maddux has been a mainstay in the Atlanta rotation for a long time, but Scheurholtz chose the more economical choice B, John Thomson. While Thomson has room to grow into a solid third starter, we're hardly talking about Maddux Jr. I think Brave optimism should breed from Mike Hampton's second half, one that saw the leftie go 9-3, with a 2.91ERA. Could Hampton be back to the New York Met version of himself? Tune into TBS next season to find out.
John Smoltz saw a lack of support in the bullpen last season, especially from highly esteemed veterans Roberto Hernandez and Darren Holmes. Ray King had a decent season, although he was included in part of the package to acquire J.D. Drew. The team will replace Hernandez and Holmes with Jaret Wright and Will Cunnane next season, an inexpensive gamble that Scheurholtz is gambling a lot on. He's yet to name the left-hander, but rumors are surfacing that Arthur Rhodes will become Bobby Cox' favorite southpaw.
Atlanta's run is in more than jeopardy for next season, it's in doubt. Regardless, Scheurholtz is best managing his assets to build a good ballclub, and Atlanta fans should just bath in the fact that they aren't the Mets next season...that should be enough.
While Billy Beane is still a favorite among most of my readers, it's time to accept the man is hardly a perfect General Manager. In fact, he was one of the major losers of the Winter Meetings, although even Sean McAdam was afraid to admit so in an ESPN article yesterday. Beane lost out on top two choices Keith Foulke and Mike Cameron, left to search for other options.
When your team begins with Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito, and Rich Harden, you're going to be good. Damn good. Harden's arm wore down a little last season, but if you sit and wonder what the 2004 season will bring him, a 3.50 ERA sounds pretty nice. Especially as a fourth starter. Hell, you'd think we were talking about my Cubbies here. And whether the fifth starter is Justin Duchscherer or the hot rumor of Mark Redman, the rotation is the strength to this team.
Next, is the bullpen. While Moneyball describes just how fungible relievers truely are, this offseason will truly be a test to that theory. With the best closer off the market, with few available on the block, can Beane create another forty save player? I don't know. Keith Foulke was the most valuable non-big 3 player the A's had last season, arguably the most important of all. He added 87 innings of 2.08 ball, and closed the door on 43 games. Here is a good description of Foulke's importance:
A's Bullpen in '03: 29-14 3.65 381/423.2 308/177
With Foulke, the A's bullpen is very good last season, but without him, they're merely adequate. Look at the K/BB rates after he leaves, along with the signficant rise in ERA. If he turns the 2004 bullpen to the '03 version, than I'll stop giving Beane so much flak. Right now, we know the 2004 bullpen has Chad Bradford, Jim Mecir, Mike Neu, Ricardo Rincon, and Rule V pick Frank Brooks. The club will sign someone to fill the closer spot, and expect Chad Harville, Jeremy Fikac, and Mike Wood to all battle out that last spot. No, there won't be any 3.65ERA this year.
Also, isn't it ironic that a Billy Beane team could only manage to post a .327OBP in a season. Well, that's what happened in 2003, when Beane's team struggled offensively, only scoring a total of 768 runs, or 4.74 runs a game. Granted, this offseason we've seen the loss of some of Beane's least favorite players, the group of Miguel Tejada, Terrence Long, Ramon Hernandez, Chris Singleton, and Jose Guillen.
Last year those five had 2081 at-bats with the A's, roughly 37.9% of the team's at-bats. In that time, these five players, including a former MVP, posted a .313OBP. Meaning, in nearly 40% of the A's at-bats, their on-base clip was depressing. Then, throw in the .261 figure posted by Jermaine Dye, that has to go up, and there is some optimism. To replace the aforementioned five, Billy Beane will likely use Adam Melhuse (.372), Bobby Crosby (.395 in AAA), Mark Kotsay (.343) , and Bobby Kielty (.358). Yes, I believe the offense will improve next year.
Here, should be the Opening Day lineup of the 2004 Oakland A's:
1. Mark Kotsay- CF
While that ain't top five, it's an improvement from last year. Given the right choice at closer, Billy Beane's intellect will end up battling Arte Moreno's pocketbook for the AL West title. And Mariner fans? I'm really sorry about that Bavasi choice.
I'm really starting to get discouraged with Terry Ryan, and I'm not even a Twins fan. The man promises changes, vows to go after Hawkins, Eddie Guardado, and Shannon Stewart. To do so, he needs to trade Pierzynski and Eric Milton. Uh-oh, only Shannon Stewart re-signs. Now, the team has been left with a depleted rotation, bullpen, and a lineup that Earl Weaver couldn't decide among.
The Twins have two questions to answer in the coming weeks: do we trade/non-tender Doug Mientkiewicz? And, what should we ask for Jacque Jones? Me? I would trade both. I would have, and would, attempt to talk the Expos into taking Christian Guzman, and maybe a prospect or two, for Orlando Cabrera. I would send Mientkiewicz to Atlanta, trade Jones to San Diego. In exchange, ask for pitching, pitching, and some more pitching.
In the end, I fully expect the Twins to hold onto Mientkiewicz, and trade Jones. That will be Justin Morneau somewhere, although I'm not quite sure where. If my gut feeling is right, this is the Twins lineup:
1. Shannon Stewart- LF
Hardly a bad lineup, in fact, it's a pretty good one. Does it beat Santiago, Sweeney, Graffanino, Berrora, Randa, Stairs, Beltran, Guiel, and Harvey? Probably not.
Last season, the foursome of Kenny Rogers, Rick Reed, Joe Mays, and Eric Milton combined to make 76 starts for the Twins. Roughly half of the time, those four pitchers were being used by the Twins. Now, their combined ERA was above 5.00, so inotherwords, the Twins have suffered from addition by subtraction this offseason. They will use Grant Balfour in one of these rotation spots, and Ryan should really find someone to fill the final slot behind Santana, Radke, Lohse, and Balfour.
While the bullpen lost horses Guardado and Hawkins, they got back Hawkins' replacement in Joe Nathan. Nathan was the best reliever in baseball against right-handers last season, so him and J.C. Romero could make a mean tandem in set-up for someone. The question though, is who? Aaron Gleeman supports Arthur Rhodes, and the Twins have placed a call into Rhodes' agent. The rest of the bullpen shoud include Juan Rincon, Carlos Pulido, and Mike Nakamura.
In a perfect world, Twins fans would have read this during the Winter Meetings:
- Twins trade Boof Bonser and Christian Guzman to Expos for Orlando Cabrera
No, no, no. It's all part of Terry Ryan's plan to become the next Stand Pat Gillick.
New York Yankees
A look into the 2003 Yankees:
Yankees '03 3B: .242/.316/.386 in 591AB
Clemens+Pettite: 38-17 3.96 426/420 370/108
Osuna: 48G 3.73 58/50.2 47/20
To clarify, the Weaver+Contreras is how they did in the rotation, the "non-Hammond/Hitchcock LH" division is the LOOGYs the team used that weren't Chris Hammond (there were 5), and the "Hitchcock/Weaver/Contreras" was those three's combined numbers being used in long relief. Now, here will be the men that fill those roles this coming season:
There is little question left, and the team still needs to sign a right-handed corner infielder to play first against southpaws, during which Bernie will play center, and Giambi will DH. An example of that player is Eric Karros, a good clubhouse guy that kills lefties (.366/.441/.545 last year). So, all those players represent significant improvements in my mind, meaning the Yankees will be a helluva lot better next year than they were this year.
Even with Boston completiting the Alex Rodriguez trade, ESPN says it will become official today, I don't think they can be in the Yankees league next season. This team is too good, and while they appeared to be lacking direction at times, it will all come together to form a solid group. The only things left on this team's agenda are re-signing David Wells, and picking up a guy like Karros.
I'll be back tomorrow, and the A-Rod deal will probably be the topic of discussion. Until next time...