Baseball BeatFebruary 29, 2004
An All-Out Effort
By Rich Lederer

I can't help but think that former Dodgers president and general manager Branch Rickey would be rolling in his grave if he knew what manager Jim Tracy was planning to do with the lineup this year.

According to Rich Hammond of the (Long Beach) Press-Telegram, Tracy has spent a lot of time during spring training talking about "lengthening the lineup" and creating more balance from top to bottom. He apparently intends to move Paul Lo Duca down to the cleanup spot and elevate light-hitting shortstop Cesar Izturis to the number two position in the order.

"The thing I'm looking to do is finding different scenarios of lengthening the lineup, and one way to do that is to move Lo Duca into more of a run-producing spot. I think Paul would relish that opportunity."

First of all, why would Tracy want to dilute his lineup by putting bad hitters in between good hitters? If anything, it probably makes more sense to stack the Dodgers lineup to the extent possible, thereby improving the team's chances of scoring every second or third inning.

Next, why is Paul revered? Maybe I'm missing something, but is this the same Lo Duca who has had only one year in which he hit more than 10 home runs, slugged over .402, or had an adjusted on-base plus slugging average greater than 100? Is this the same guy who hit .226 with one homer after the All-Star break last year?

Lastly, is Tracy aware that Izturis has a career OBP of .270 with a season-high of .282 in 2003? Do you think he even knows that Cesar hasn't walked more than 25 times in a season and has never even been hit by a pitched ball before?

Tracy seems to think Izturis is capable of improving, but he also has another take on the situation. "(On-base percentage) is important, but it's also important to have the ability to move David Roberts from second to third if he gets on and steals a base."

You Don't Know Dick, Tracy

The Dodger skipper obviously places a lot of value on putting the bat on the ball, moving runners around, playing hit and run, and bunting. That's all fine and dandy but, contrary to the beliefs of so many "baseball men", not what a manager should want out of his second hitter.

I don't want to hear the old saw that Izturis can handle the bat well. Look, the guy struck out 70 times last year, which is pathetic given that he only hit one home run. Alex Sanchez, in fact, was the only player in the majors last year who struck out more often than Izturis with an equal or lower home run total.

Unlike Sanchez, Izturis isn't all that great of a base stealer either. He has only stolen 17 bases the past two years as a Dodger and has been thrown out 12 times for a less than acceptable SB rate of 59%.

Last year, Izturis ranked 20th in the National League in the number of outs recorded and yet had fewer plate appearances than everyone in the top 20. Not surprisingly, Izturis had the lowest OBP in the league among players with 502 or more plate appearances.

2003 NATIONAL LEAGUE LEADERS IN OUTS

                               OUTS      PA     
1    Juan Pierre                 511      746   
2    Jimmy Rollins               491      689   
3    Rafael Furcal               480      734   
4    Aramis Ramirez              476      670   
T5   Juan Encarnacion            475      653   
T5   Craig Biggio                475      717   
7    Orlando Cabrera             472      691   
8    Jeff Bagwell                469      702   
9    Richie Sexson               467      718   
10   Shawn Green                 466      691   
11   Preston Wilson              464      661   
12   Jay Payton                  458      658   
13   Andruw Jones                457      659   
14   Luis Castillo               450      676   
15   Ty Wigginton                449      633   
16   Jack Wilson                 448      615   
17   Adrian Beltre               447      608   
18   Alex Gonzalez               446      601   
19   Paul Lo Duca                444      630   
20   Cesar Izturis               441      593

Source: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia

Hammond reports that Tracy may go with a lineup that includes Dave Roberts leading off, followed by Izturis, Shawn Green, Lo Duca, Adrian Beltre and Juan Encarnacion. As shown above, the proposed second through fifth hitters all ranked in the top 20 last year in the N.L. in outs. David Ross and Alex Cora (.287 OBP, the second lowest in the league among qualifiers) figure to bat seventh and eighth.

Given what Tracy has to work with, I don't envy him. Tracy isn't responsible for the makeup of the current roster. If anything, the Dodgers are still reeling in the aftermath of the front office chaos since Peter O'Malley sold the franchise to News Corp. during the 1990s. Nonetheless, Tracy should be asking his new boss, "How are we going to drive runners home, DePo?"

Knowing Paul DePodesta's disposition toward OBP, one would think that the Dodger lineup may be overhauled between now and the beginnng of next year. The poor offense isn't entirely attributable to a lack of walks (even though the team placed last in the league in that department with 82 fewer than the next worst club). Let's not forget that the Dodgers were also last in the N.L. in batting, on-base, and slugging averages as well as runs scored. Relative to the league norm, the Dodgers scored the second fewest runs of any team since World War II.

As a result, an offense that was once known as The Big Blue Wrecking Crew has been reduced to a mere pittance of its former self. Tommy Lasorda liked to talk about bleeding "Dodger Blue" back in those days. Well, the current Dodger lineup is hemorrhaging outs.

Dodger fans are in for a long summer. But the good news is that the games will at least be short. Three up, three down. Three up, three down. Three up, three down... Good night, folks. Drive home safely.

Note: For more on this subject, read Ross Newhan's article in today's Los Angeles Times, which is entitled Dodgers Better Walk Before They Run.

WTNYFebruary 27, 2004
The Explanation of My Antics
By Bryan Smith

For those of us that write baseball, Spring Training is a way to not worry about topics for a month. Why? Previews. Everyone tries ‘em. From Gammons to Gleeman, from Prospectus to Primer, an average reader will sort through more thoughts on the Detroit Tigers RF situation than they could have ever dreamt about.

Yes, I will be joining the hoards of writers and produce my own preview of each team. But, this site is different than your average weblog, and I wanted my previews to uphold that principle. With that being said, the simplest explanation of my preview series is this: a review of the 2004 season. I will be writing from November, 2004, reminiscing on what the past season brought. My predictions will appear to be fact, as I run over the organization at both the Major and minor league levels, review mid-season acquisitions, and looking into the ‘upcoming’ offseason.

I really like this idea, it should clearly depict what I try and do at Wait ‘Til Next Year: bring the future to you. The basis of this plan was kindly given to me by Aaron Gleeman, one of the best writers in the biz. I randomly selected the order that I will present the teams in, and it goes as follows:

1. San Diego Padres
2. Montreal Expos
3. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
4. San Francisco Giants
5. Atlanta Braves
6. Seattle Mariners
7. Pittsburgh Pirates
8. Los Angeles Dodgers
9. Cleveland Indians
10. Texas Rangers
11. Kansas City Royals
12. Cincinnati Reds
13. Houston Astros
14. Chicago White Sox
15. St. Louis Cardinals
16. New York Mets
17. Baltimore Orioles
18. Arizona Diamondbacks
19. New York Yankees
20. Oakland Athletics
21. Toronto Blue Jays
22. Anaheim Angels
23. Chicago Cubs
24. Milwaukee Brewers
25. Detroit Tigers
26. Minnesota Twins
27. Boston Red Sox
28. Philadelphia Phillies
29. Florida Marlins
30. Colorado Rockies

Below you will find the first of the series, the San Diego Padres. Enjoy, and let me know how I can improve the series in the comments...

WTNYFebruary 27, 2004
Preview: Padres
By Bryan Smith

It seems like this had been Kevin Towers’ plan all along. Go to the World Series, wait five years, get a new stadium, and jump right back into the playoff race. After five years without topping .500, Towers jumped in at the NL West’s weakest time, narrowly being defeated by the San Francisco Giants for a playoff spot.

The year is testament to Padre ownership, a group that has displayed a lot of trust in their employees in recent years. Few manager/GM combos have been in business longer than Towers and Bruce Bochy, despite .443 baseball in the last five seasons. They trusted Towers to put a winner on the field the year PETCO opened, and he did so. San Diego went out and acquired Brian Giles, Ramon Hernandez, Jay Payton, David Wells, and Akinori Ohtsuka in their chance at the NL West crown. And...it nearly worked.

Giles forced his way onto the spotlight, jumping right back above the .600SLG mark. Giles struggled a bit in right field, but seems to have learned as the season went on. Giles is the third-best left-handed bat in the division, more of a testament to the players in his division than criticism of Giles. Jason Bay has helped to lessen the blow for Dave Littlefield, but hey, Towers only had to give up Steve Reed to nab Bay from the Mets.

The rest of the offense was neither fantastic nor futile, with hitters neither surprising nor depressing Padre fans. Mark Loretta and Jay Payton both predictably dropped from their 2003 lines, but Klesko boosted back into form. Phil Nevin was injured for part of the season (again), but Xavier Nady is really starting to come around as a player. And while the Rey Ordonez expirament was laughable in April, Khalil Greene played well enough to take the two-spot from Loretta in the batting order. By year’s end, the Padres were looking at:

1. Burroughs- 3B
2. Greene- SS
3. Giles- RF
4. Nevin/Nady- 1B/LF
5. Klesko- LF/1B
6. Hernandez- C
7. Payton- CF
8. Loretta- C

The bench, while filled with veterans, was hardly fantastic. Tom Wilson and Brian Buchanon proved to be the “southpaw bashers” that their scouting reports read, but throwing Jeff Cirillo and Ramon Vazquez at right-handers did little to strike fear in enemies’ hearts.

Jake Peavy drew the majority of Padre hype before the season, as many people called for the right-hander to breakout. It was in fact Adam Eaton, the 26-year-old, that became the Padres best starter. Seldom noticed before the season, Eaton had the positive H/9 and K/9 indicators from the 2003 season. Two years removed from surgery, Eaton is not an injury concern anymore, his season was very similar to Kip Wells in 2003.

What held Peavy back from stardom were the home runs allowed. He had allowed thirty-three in 2003, including 24 away from what was then Qualcomm Stadium. The spacious dimensions in San Diego were diminished, and Peavy gave up 35 homers this season. At 23, Peavy looks to have a few All-Star games coming down the road, but he must keep the ball down more. Brian Lawrence was very consistent in 2004, eating a lot of innings with an ERA just below league average. It’s unlikely that Lawrence will return to his 2002 form ever again.

As for the veterans, not a lot can be said about Sterling Hitchcock. He won the job over Ismael Valdez in Spring Training, but did little other than contribute 170 innings of 4.50ERA. David Wells only got in twenty-five starts, but he was a very good influence on the team. He and Rod Beck have become fan favorites in San Diego, becoming well known for going out drinking with fans after games.

Beck wasn’t expected to get any saves this year, so his 15 when Trevor Hoffman was shelved for a month went well. He stumbled more than 2003, but the team had the reinforcements this year. Hoffman was off and on, but seemed to get better as the year went on. Otsuka only was able to pitch sixty innings, but allowed only 48 hits while striking out 63. He was much better than Chicago Japanese pitcher Shingo Takatsu, who saw his peripheral numbers exposed on the South Side. The team was also pleased by the bounce back performance from Antonio Osuna, and Scott Linebrink contributed positively in middle relief. Kevin Towers tired of left-hander Kevin Walker, so he called up Mexican southpaw Edgar Huerta from AAA. Rusty Tucker also did a nice job during September in the LOOGY role.

There were bits and pieces of this 2004 team that build a champion, but just simply not enough pieces of the puzzle. Ridding themselves of Mark Loretta and Phil Nevin is a good place to start, and Towers would be genius to land Jeff Kent to man second base. This lineup could really make noise in the NL West in 2005:

1. Sean Burroughs
2. Khalil Greene
3. Brian Giles
4. Jeff Kent
5. Ryan Klesko
6. Ramon Hernandez
7. Xavier Nady
8. Jay Payton

Kent would need to accept a move in 2006 though, as that looks to be the time Josh Barfield will hit the Majors. Barfield topped fifty extra base hits again, though his batting average was a shade under .300. The Padres were pleased to see him walk more, he’s definitely their top prospect again. 2006 will also be the season that Freddy Guzman takes over in the leadoff slot and in centerfield, following another very promising season. Guzman, a switch-hitting centerfielder, has an OBP of .380 and seventy stolen bases between AA and AAA. The team will trade Jay Payton if Guzman really breaks out.

You can’t talk prospects in San Diego without mentioning Jeff Niemann, the huge right-hander the team selected with the top overall choice. The rage over ‘hometown’ boy Jered Weaver and Niemann is still raging, and Rich Lederer can’t believe the Padres selection. But Niemann looks to be fantastic, a 6-9 pitcher that consistently throws in the high-90s. Yikes. It will be very important for this draft to work out, seeing as though Tim Stauffer appears to be the Dewon Brazelton of the 2004 draft. While Delmon Young, Rickie Weeks, Kyle Sleeth are all enjoying success, Stauffer struggled greatly in his first year. His mediocre offerings didn’t go well in the California League, as his ERA reached the low 4.00s.

The best Padre in the California League was the team’s third prospect, David Pauley. The short right-hander has a very good curveball, and improved the command that had plagued him in the past. With Barfield, Niemann, and Pauley, the Padres seem to have a good group for the future.

A good attendance season in PETCO, ownership will raise payroll again for 2005. The team is very pleased that Kent’s option was declined by Houston, and figure to be one of the larger suitors. If I were GM, I would sign Kent to a three-year deal, with a mutual understanding that the latter two years will be spent at first base. The team should then trade Klesko next winter, creating this very solid team in 2006:

C- Ramon Hernandez
1B- Jeff Kent
2B- Josh Barfield
SS- Khalil Greene
3B- Sean Burroughs
LF- Xavier Nady
CF- Freddy Guzman
RF- Brian Giles

Good times are ahead for San Diego. Towers and Bochy just might be able to keep their jobs another ten years...

Baseball BeatFebruary 26, 2004
Odds and Ends
By Rich Lederer

Fellow All-Baseball.com writer Alex Belth and I co-authored an article that appeared on Bronx Banter yesterday. Belth is one of the best baseball writers in any medium and working with him on a collaborative piece was an honor and a pleasure.

The article was part of Alex's Yankee Preview, a series which he has been running this week, featuring Mike Mussina (by Ben Jacobs) on Monday, Jason Giambi (by Steven Goldman) Tuesday, Bernie Williams and Derek Jeter (by Alex and yours truly) Wednesday, Alex Rodriguez (by Cliff Corcoran) Thursday, Jorge Posada (by Jay Jaffe) Friday, and Mariano Rivera (by Christopher DeRosa) Saturday. Alex will wrap up his series with a Roundtable discussion on Sunday and Monday with a star-studded cast of baseball experts, including several nationally known sportswriters.

Our article was also highlighted yesterday on Clutch Hits.

Bronx Banter: The Odd Couple (February 25, 2004)

Today's episode stars Derek Jeter and Bernie Williams.

brought to you from the good people at Lederer & Belth.

On July 10th, Bernie Williams was asked to remove himself from his place of residence, CF...That request came from his manager. Deep down, he knew he was right, but he also knew that someday he would return to CF. With nowhere to go, he appeared at the locker of his friend, Derek Jeter. Sometime earlier, this same manager threw Jeter off SS and requested that he never return.

Can two men share the spotlight with A-Rod...without driving each other crazy?
--posted by Repoz at 10:59 AM EDT

Have you ever read a more clever introduction than that? Well, thanks to Darren Viola, aka Repoz, baseball fans can enjoy his witty comments every day on Baseball Primer's Clutch Hits.

Here are a couple of other examples from earlier this week:


ESPN: Neyer: Erie feeling about Indians

Is Neyer on a Pluto-Kuiper mission?
--posted by Repoz at 2:52 PM EDT

For the uninitiated, the Pluto-Kuiper mission is designed to fly by and make studies of the planet Pluto and to encounter one or more of the large bodies in the Kuiper belt beyond the orbit of Pluto. Terry Pluto is a longtime Cleveland Indians beat writer and Duane Kuiper was a singles-hitting second baseman for the Tribe from 1974-1981.


Baker Likens Drug Search to 'McCarthyism'

STOP THE PERESS!!!

Dusty Baker on the steroid witchhunt
--posted by Repoz at 2:48 PM EDT

Irving Peress was the Army dentist who took the Fifth Amendment multiple times in connection with his affiliation with the Communist Party.

There are plenty more where those came from. Here are a few more "Repozisms":

*Crouching Tiger, bidden' dragged on regarding an article at the time on the Detroit Tigers' difficulty in signing catcher Ivan Rodriguez.

*A matchick made in heaven? in reference to my interview with Jay Jaffe of the Futility Infielder last weekend. Tom Matchick was a futility infielder with the Detroit Tigers (among others) in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

*(Kirk) Reuter gives out more singles than a dating service.

*This is the worst Met patch-up job I've seen since Lindsey Nelson split his underarm hoisting a few at McCanns.

*...and Clutch Hits co-worker Jon Daly's favorite: (After Tony LaRussa and Mike Scioscia both won Manager of the Year awards in 2002) The last time two Italians won Manager of the Year it was at the Gristedes on Mott Street in 1957.

Among his varied contributions to baseball writing and analysis, Darren wrote an article for Baseball Library on July 31, 2002, entitled The Day I Turned The Mesas On Two Angels.

An Army brat, Darren is married and has twin boys (who he claims are both 15). He hung around Yankee Stadium in the 1960s and 1970s, various New York City punk clubs in the 1980s and 1990s (primarily as a DJ), and has been doing his schtick on Baseball Primer during the 2000s. His favorite player (drumroll, please) is none other than Roger Repoz, who had an undistinguished career with the Yankees, Athletics, and Angels from 1964-1972.

If the baseball-playing Repoz has a claim to fame, it's that he ranks second on the all-time list for the highest OPS in a season with a batting average of less than .200.

HIGHEST OPS WITH BA < .200 (250 OR MORE AB)

                              YEAR     OPS      AVG    
1    Mark McGwire             2001     .808     .187   
2    Roger Repoz              1971     .707     .199   
3    Ruben Rivera             1999     .701     .195   
4    Rob Deer                 1991     .700     .179   
5    Steve Balboni            1990     .697     .192   
6    Mike Schmidt             1973     .697     .196   
7    Andre Thornton           1976     .696     .194   
8    Harmon Killebrew         1975     .692     .199   
9    Gorman Thomas            1986     .687     .187   
10   Dean Palmer              1991     .684     .187
It may not be The Beatles, but it's not Bad Company either. Two Hall of Famers and a first-ballot inductee on his way. Three out of ten. A better batting average than Repoz, whose career high was .247 in 1967, ever had. Twenty home run crowns, 54 top ten HR finishes, 13 times leading the league in strikeouts, and 50x among the top ten in Ks. Everyone except Darren's man Repoz contributes to the good as well as the dubious rankings.

Darren, on the other hand, contributes nothing but positives for all of us.

WTNYFebruary 26, 2004
Off Day
By Bryan Smith

Won't be a long post today, my body is trying to fight off the sickness that plagues everyone I know. But I wanted to point around the Internet and give a few shout-outs before hitting the sack.

First, while scanning the ESPN headlines on their baseball page yesterday, I was shocked when seeing the headline, "Jays: We'll re-sign Delgado at season's end." My ranking on Tuesday put Delgado in the second spot overall for 04-05 free agent hitters, and he'd likely slot in at number three overall.

Earlier this winter J.P. Riccardi locked up Roy Halladay for four more seasons, at the average cost of $10.5M per season. Doug Pappas had the Toronto payroll listed at a shade over $51M last year, about $25M less than what it had been in 2001 and 2002. Delgado will likely sign a compareable deal to Jim Thome's six-year, $85M deal, bringing home about $15M per season. The team has signed Vernon Wells and Eric Hinske through their arbitration years, and the duo will make a little under six million dollars in 2005.

Is it feasible for the Jays to spend $15M towards Delgado when the front office already has a tight budget? By my conclusions, yes. Besides the players I've already named. the Jays also have Miguel Batista (4.75M), Kerry Ligtenberg (2.50M), and Ted Lilly (3.10M) under contract for the 2005 season. That would bring the total up to a little under twenty-seven million dollars for three starters, two hitters, and one reliever. Add fifteen million dollars, and you're giving Riccardi $8-13M to spend on eighteen players.

In 2005, the Jays will be adding new names to their roster. Alexis Rios, Gabe Gross and Guillermo Quiroz will all be regulars. Dustin McGowan will be in the rotation, and Jason Arnold will likely slot in middle relief. Players like Kevin Cash, Josh Phelps, Reed Johnson, and Aquilino Lopez will still be auto-renewable. By my estimations, those nine players should come at about $3M, giving Riccardi $10M to spend on nine players.

Jays ownership, put the payroll at $55M in 2005. Re-sign one of the best hitters in baseball, and let the rookies take the field around him. Pretty soon, you'll have an improbable division winner on your hands.

***************************************

I barely touched on the Baseball Prospectus top 50 list yesterday, and I wanted to jump deeper into it today. My thoughts on the list:

- First of all, Greg Miller has no business down at number 33. I know Prospectus watches out for injuries and that Miller is a chief candidate, but look at the kid's numbers last year. He's got a great four pitch arsenal, and even if you can't put him ahead of Kazmir and Hamels, get him in front of Matt Riley!

- Speaking of Hamels, Rany was nice enough to answer one of my questions in his chat, citing Hamels' once-broken arm as the reason for being so far behind Scott Kazmir. How can a performance-based site harp on an injury that obviously didn't hinder Hamels' numbers in 2003?

- Russ Adams before Scott Hairston? Chris Snelling before Jason Bay? David Bush before Gavin Floyd or Angel Guzman? David DeJesus only two spots from Grady Sizemore? I know Prospectus has informal ties to the Blue Jays and have fans of the Mariners and Royals, but this list displays their affinities a little too clearly.

I would love to have Rany drop-in and further explain the list for me, but that's for another day.

*****************************

While running through Rotoworld yesterday, I came across some nice news. First, Brandon Webb, the sensational sinker pitcher with the Diamondbacks, is planning on adding a cut fastball to his repertoire this year. Remember, it was the cutter that turned Esteban Loaiza's career, so if you see Webb late in a fantasy draft, nab him.

Troy Glaus and Carlos Beltran are both talking about wanting to stay home, although neither seem to be desperate to get the deal done. Beltran will not give the club a hometown discount, and Glaus doesn't seem too preoccupied with his hazy future. Finally, it looks as if the Yankees will offer Pedro Astacio, and not Orlando Hernandez, a contract in case Jon Lieber's injured groin worsens.

We'll be seeing ya tomorrow...

WTNYFebruary 25, 2004
04-05 Free Agent Pitchers
By Bryan Smith

I work hard not to have an East Coast bias in my writings (Hell, I’m a Central boy), but the Rivalry simply does have the most news. Yesterday, Shaun Powell of Newsday wrote an article entitled “Pedro, Nomar, Lowe: ’05 Yanks?” Readers of this site should not be blown away by this statement, I mean, I’ve stated that Pedro and Lowe are unlikely to return. Nomar should be back, and yesterday a Jayson Stark piece gave added insight to the Red Sox Pedro and Nomar situations.

Each has one year left on contracts they seemed to sign back in some other lifetime. It once was hard to imagine the Red Sox without either of them, let alone both of them. But now that could happen. Easily.

So there was Pedro on Tuesday, saying: "If they don't want to sign me, that's fine. I'm pretty sure I'll find a job with somebody else."

And there was Nomar not even an hour later, talking about the prospect of not finishing his career in Boston, saying: "I'd definitely be hurt. I'd definitely be disappointed. ... But basically, I've dealt with that already. As far as I'm concerned, it was a done deal. I was shipped off to another team. So I don't know what the future holds."

While this seemed to reaffirm my belief that Pedro was out the door and Nomar would stay, Garciaparra threw a few negative statements in as well.

The state of Garciaparra's psyche has been a topic dancing all over the New England winter. It will be just as hot a topic all spring, all summer, all fall. No one doubts how hard he will play. But will he feel the same allegiance to a franchise that he clearly believes showed no allegiance to him last winter?

"I probably feel how anyone would feel after playing his whole career in one organization and having to find out he was traded, or pretty much gone, over the television," Garciaparra said, bluntly. "How would you feel?"

Asked how he reacted when he heard statements from the Red Sox that signing him to an extension was still their first priority, Garciaparra couldn't have acted more skeptical if he'd burst into uproarious laughter.

"Everyone saw their actions (this winter)," he said, "pretty much on a daily basis. It was everywhere. You guys can answer that for yourself."

If Nomar was to leave, I doubt he'd come to New York like Shaun Powell suggests, but rather back home in California. This leads me back to yesterday's article about post-2004 free agents that garnered some good feedback. Contrary to what my research had told me, Lance Berkman and Aramis Ramirez will not be free agents until after the 2005 season. Also, I missed Edgar Renteria, who likely would have appeared after Richie Sexson and before Jose Vidro. This would be my Edgar statement...

6.5- Edgar Renteria, St. Louis, SS (78, 116, 131): It has taken a long time for Renteria to reach the bar that was set for him in Florida, but he has done it. I believe that Edgar Renteria is the fourth most valuable shortstop in the game, sitting right ahead of the revered Derek Jeter. Edgar runs, walks, and plays defense. He makes contact and hits for power. The Cardinals have spent a lot of money on the likes of Scott Rolen and Albert Pujols recently, but it would be wise to open their checkbook up once more.

In yesterday's piece I also promised a run-through of the hitters that have 2005 options, and they are:

- Jeff Kent (HOU): Chances are Houston will retain Kent for one last season, seeing as even decreased production is WAY above league average.
- Bret Boone (SEA): For $8M, Seattle ownership shouldn't have a problem bringing the American League's best second basemen back.
- Jeff Conine (FLA): Conine comes cheap, can play a couple of positions, and is a fan favorite in Miami. He'll be back.
- Moises Alou (CHC): Any cost won't be worth an aging outfielder that PECOTA has hated for years.
- Christian Guzman (MIN): Jason Bartlett should be taking over at short in 2005, but if he falters, the Twins may be forced to bring back Aaron Gleeman's least favorite SS.
- Jermaine Dye (OAK): It's laughable that the A's would have to pay more than $10M to keep Dye, so I think it's safe to assume the underachieving right fielder will be on the open market next offseason.

The rest of today's article will be devoted to the next free agent class of pitchers, but because the group isn't as deep as the hitters, the list only goes 15 deep (and oddly enough, all right-handed...ERA+ is attached).

1. Pedro Martinez, Boston (189,196,212): Rich Lederer, a far smarter man than I when it comes to historical perspectives, once said that Pedro might be the best rate pitcher ever. In an article about Lefty Grove, Lederer shows tables of career ERA+, ERA vs. league average, and ERA as ratio of league average in which Pedro completely dominates. While people complain that he can't go far into games, Pedro is the best five-inning pitcher I've ever seen...and that has to be worth something. Who will pay, if not the Yankees, is a question I can't answer.

2. Kerry Wood, Chicago (126,110,133): Forever I will be mystified by a spring start in 1998. I've watched a lot of baseball in my time, but Kerry Wood's 20K game against the Astros was the best ever. While his slider doesn't bite quite as hard as it once did, Wood is still one of the top-3 strikeout pitchers in the game today. I'll pray that the Cubs recent talks with Wood's agents represent that a deal will get done, and I'm optimistic. People say he'd like to go to Texas, but he's got things good on the North Side.

3. Matt Morris, St. Louis (137,114,111): With the recent feudings between Morris and my Cubbies, I was thinking about not including this guy at all, but that just wouldn't be fair to my readers. Morris has worsened a bit in each of his three seasons back from injury, but he's still a helluva pitcher. The K/9 rate is a worry for sure (stay away in fantasy leagues), but I would watch that curveball all day if I could. He's enticing, and frustrated with the Cardinals. But they need pitching, and Jocketty is more apt to spend available dough on Morris than Renteria.

4. Mariano Rivera, Yankees (191,160,265): When healthy, Rivera is still one of the best three closers in the game. Mariano hasn't walked more than 12 in a season since 2000, and his ERA hasn't touched 3.00 since he was a starter. Rivera is one of the best things to ever happen to the Yankees, and talks are already under way to re-sign him. This will get done, and on Mariano's terms, he's earned that much.

5. Kevin Millwood, Phillies (102,127,103): Kevin was very lucky the Phils offered arbitration this past year, allowing Millwood to nab one more eight figure salary. While he's talented, I just don't see that in his future. 2002 vs. 2003 proves that he needs a big field to work with, but he's not the player that Halladay, Vazquez, or Wood is. Atlanta might be interested, and Turner Field seemed to work well for everyone involved.

6. Esteban Loaiza, White Sox (95,78,155): There hasn't been a larger breakout in my memory than Loaiza, who went from a 'never been' to a Cy Young candidate in one year flat. His cut fastball worked wonders, but you can't help but think negative thoughts about Loaiza's 2004. Jerry Reinsdorf hates to sign pitchers to long-term deals, and players like Jaime Navarro and Jack McDowell have only reinforced that philosophy. Unless he takes another two-year deal, Loaiza won't be a Chicagoan in 2005.

7. Livan Hernandez, Expos (77,86,155): Look at the ERA+ of Hernandez and Loaiza, they are mindboggling. Hernandez was actually less of a bet to breakout, but when he did, matched Esteban step-for-step. Hernandez has pitched at least 215 innings in five of the last six seasons, but things are clicking again. He's a very good pitcher, and like most Expos, as good of a bet as anyone to be traded midseason when the contenders come calling.

8. Troy Percival, Anaheim (179,226,123): I'm going to go out on a limb and say that moving to the mound was a good decision for Percival. Troy has been a great pitcher during his career, but I was shocked to learn that only four have his nine seasons his ERA has been below 3.00. The K/9 has always been fantastic, which is likely the reason my mind overvalued him. The Angels would be smart to let him walk and to give the closer's role to Francisco Rodriguez, Brendan Donnelly, or even Bobby Jenks.

9. Derek Lowe, Boston (128,171,105): I once heard that no one else in the league throws their sinker like Lowe, probably the reason he's had such success with the pitch. He's a great innings-eater, but his performance has been less than what people give him credit for. He's the type of player Dan O'Dowd should spend eight million per season on, and the player that Theo Epstein would pass on. Both those hypotheticals are plausible, definitly more so than the Yankees.

10. Russ Ortiz, Atlanta (122,105,109): Not many players can have such success while walking so many, but Ortiz has done it for three years running. Like other players on this list, he's good for 200 innings, but that can only do so much. I have this feeling that one season is just going to be ugly, maybe once he gets out of stadiums like Turner Field and Pac Bell. We might get to see if I'm write in 2005, but that would involve a John Scheurholtz pass.

11. Matt Clement, Cubbies (84,112,103): His pitching history isn't filled with wonderful statistics, but Clement has the ability to shoot up this list in a hurry. It looked like Larry Rothschild had helped him turn the page in 2002, just to have more inconsistency in 2003. This year will be big for Clement to prove that he's worth the billing, but I just don't see him returning to Chicago. Instead, I anticipate the Rangers to get their second choice, but yet another Cub.

12. Freddy Garcia, Mariners (138,96,98): Maybe Freddy will never be better than he was in 2001, but it's important for Garcia to prove he's above a league average pitcher. The guys at U.S.S. Mariner pointed out last September that Pat Borders seemed to work wonders with the right-hander, and I'm anxious to see if he'll carry his success into this season. The Mariners are a lost cause, and their frustration may lead to a midseason exit for Garcia.

13. Hideo Nomo, Dodgers (101,112,130): I'm not so sure if Nomo could possibly ever have this kind of success outside of Dodger Stadium, but I'm not sure that we'll again be able to test that notion. There have been times each of the last two years that Nomo has just led the staff for a good month or so, using the park to his advantage. He isn't quite as fun to watch as he was in 1995, but he's just about as effective.

14. Carl Pavano, Marlins (73,79,94): Like Orlando Cabrera yesterday, just because he's never topped 100 before (except in 97 innings in 2000) doesn't mean he'll never do it. Pavano has been highly touted since he was a young Expo, and one of the few players that can say they were traded for the first player on this list. He showed good stuff in the playoffs, causing many teams to call Florida this winter. The team chose to lose Mark Redman instead of Pavano, but I don't think they'll keep him next winter. The Red Sox and Rangers both make sense here...buy low, sell high.

15. Kris Benson, Pirates (119,92,85): What can I say, I'm a believer? Benson was the top overall pick in the 1996 draft, but has hardly justified the selection as of yet. The Pirates will let him go after 2005, and probably right around the All-Star Break. He has tons of potential, and if he can stay away from the DL, might make some noise somewhere. Yes, I did put Benson before Milton, Hentgen, Radke, and Lieber. Call me crazy.

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Finally, I feel it necessary to respond to the Baseball Prospectus recently released top 50 prospect list. Love 'em of hate 'em, you really have to respect Prospectus for their shrewdness. They house the least consertive list I see on an annual basis, letting their hunches ride heavier than a Baseball America scouting report. I think this is a good thing, and something I need to work on. I probably let a few selections be determined on "what I should do."

With that being said, in my mind, I overvalued J.J. Hardy. Prospectus made him a top 20 prospect, and I'm sure Baseball America will have him in the top 25. I regret putting him in my top 30, I'd rather him have been in the 40s somehwere. The kid only hit .279 in AA last year, not as high as a top 40 prospect should do. I came to a revelation next year when trying to think of a good comparison...Royce Clayton. When checking the numbers, I proved to be right. Here are some numbers that the two were eerily close on while in AA:

Average: Clayton- .280; Hardy- .279
Walks: Clayton- 61; Hardy- 58
XBH: Clayton- 35; Hardy- 38

I concede that Clayton has more speed while Hardy has more pop, but both were great on defense. Who knows if this comparison will pan out or not, but I found it interesting.

That's all for today. As always, leave reactions in my comments (I read them all), and go check out the other All-Baseball sites for more fantastic commentary.

WTNYFebruary 24, 2004
04-05 Free Agent Hitters
By Bryan Smith

In order to dig deeper into the mess that is next offseason, I first want to establish a comprehensive list of the next group of major free agents. Ive mentioned a few in the last couple of articles, but I wanted to put them all together.

First, a list of the top twenty free agent hitters next offseason, along with pertinent information on each player (including 2001-2003 OPS+).

1. Carlos Beltran- CF- Kansas City (119, 108, 126)- While the 1999 Rookie of the Year wont compare to others on this list in terms of OPS+, Beltran has the full bag of tricks. Beltran is the best baserunner in the Majors, and plays a fantastic centerfield. Hell supply at least thirty stolen bases a season, as well as seventy walks. There have been no substantial negotiations with the Royals, as Allain Baird is comfortable with David DeJesus patrolling center in 2005. Beltran will be highly sought after by teams like the Dodgers, Yankees, and possibly, the Mariners.

2. Carlos Delgado- 1B- Toronto (141, 153, 160)- All Delgado does is hit. Carlos is the best left-handed hitter in the American League, and behind only Bonds and Helton in the Majors. Delgado led the league in OPS last year, as well as total times on base. That number is helped by the fact that he walks at least 100 times every season, so basically, hes second to only Bonds as favorite sabermetric hitters. Delgado is a threat to approach a .600SLG every season, and nearly capturing the Triple Crown led him to being voted second in the AL MVP race. I believe this will be Paul DePodestas first target, and deservingly so.

3. Lance Berkman- OF- Houston (162, 152, 137)- In the history of baseball, Berkman ranks behind only one switch-hitter in career OPS, Mickey Mantle. Lance has had a magnificent beginning to his career, yet he hardly gets the press that fellow NL Central stud Albert Pujols garners. Berkman will likely be the Astros primary target next year, ahead of Biggio, Kent, and Clemens on Gerry Hunsickers priority list. Berkman will stay apart of the Killer Bs, I guarantee it.

4. Magglio Ordonez- RF- Chicago (135, 152, 142)- Numbers four and five were almost traded for each other, and this is my way of saying that Theo Epstein would have gotten the better side of that deal (can anyone get the short end of the stick against Ken Williams?). Ordonez is a sensational hitter, and even as a Cubs fan, Ill admit hes the best offensive player in Chicago. Mags doesnt run a lot anymore, but hes one of the leagues most consistent hitters. I do not think the White Sox will keep Ordonez, leaving him to what should be a very soft market.

5. Nomar Garciaparra- SS- Boston (114, 132, 121)- Nomar has worked hard to return to the 1997 version of himself, and the last two years are testament to the fact that hes back. Nomar is good for .300/.350/.515 every season, as well as about fifteen stolen bases. His defense at short is a bit under league average, but honestly, who cares? Nomah is the heart of New England, and the fans devotion to their shortstop will not change despite the offseason drama. Theo is already in talks with Nomars agent, and I doubt hell still be on this list in two months.

6. Richie Sexson- 1B- Arizona (124, 130, 136)- The bad news for Richie Sexson is that try as he may, Sexson just cant reach the .280 batting average plateau. The good news? His plate discipline keeps improving; his walks total has increased in every season. The number reached 98 last season, leading to his career high .379OBP. This, along with a .279ISO, is the reason that the Diamondbacks have become so infatuated with Sexson. Whether Jerry Colangelo can afford to retain Sexson beyond 2004 remains to be seen, but considering the number of deferrals he has, its doubtful.

7. Jose Vidro- 2B- Montreal (113, 126, 111)- Since 1900, only five second basemens have hit .300 in five seasons before they turned 29. Four of those players are in the Hall of Fame, including former Twin great Rod Carew. The fifth? Jose Vidro. Unfortunately, being an Expo has shielded many baseball fans of Vidro, who has been a top-3 second basemen in the Majors for four seasons. Unless Major League Baseball finds a buyer soon, Vidro will follow the fate of former teammate Vladimir Guerrero in leaving Montreal/San Juan. The most likely, and equally frightening, destination is in the Bronx.

8. Garret Anderson- LF- Anaheim (100, 130, 137)- Nine straight years. That is the amount of time that Garret Anderson has hit .285 in the Majors, spanning his entire career. Andersons contact skills rival and other Major Leaguers, although his plate discipline is equivalent to Randall Simon. Andersons powerful display in the Home Run Derby exposed his power to the country, yet since 2000, hes having a hard time eclipsing the 30HR mark. The Angels love the leadership he brings to the table, and the team has said re-signing Anderson will be a priority.

9. Derrek Lee- 1B- Chicago (113, 131, 135)- Thirty jacks, twenty steals, and a Gold Glove, all from first base. Derrek Lee is definitely a unique player, and Im under the belief that hell be the Cubs best hitter in 2004. Lee has continued to blossom in each Major League season, and I think hell approach 40HR in Wrigley Field. The Cubs would be wise to lock up Lee now, because if they wait, he could rise very quickly on this list.

10. Richard Hidalgo- RF- Houston (104, 89, 142)- When hes on, Richard Hidalgo is a player to be reckoned with. Unfortunately for the Astros, Hidalgo has been off too much during his time with Houston. While 2003 was his second (see 2000) season to date, there remains too much worry that Hidalgo will slip into the pathetic, overweight right fielder that we saw in 2002. The Astros spend too much on Hidalgo years ago, and I dont suspect Hunsicker will make that gamble again.

11. Troy Glaus- 3B- Anaheim (127, 115, 118)- Amidst all the Garret Anderson praise and Dallas McPherson hype is a former third overall pick that just hasnt developed the way Bill Stonneman would have hoped. While Troy Glaus has hit forty home runs in two different seasons, his career batting average is .253. Glaus, like the player preceding him, just could not stay the 2000 version of himself. Troy will likely draw some fat cash from somewhere, but it wont be Anaheim.

12. Orlando Cabrera- SS- Montreal (87, 84, 95)- In the early days of his career, the knock on Cabrera was always that he couldnt hit. Things changed last year when Cabrera set highs in nearly every offensive statistic, including sixty-six extra base hits. Add that with twenty stolen bases and a Gold Glove-caliber SS, and you have a fantastic ballplayer. Sure, Cabrera hasnt topped an OPS+ above 100, but hes just starting to come around.

13. Geoff Jenkins- LF- Milwaukee (105, 103, 133)- Like #16 on this list, the question is not Can He?, the question is Will He? Geoff Jenkins showed in 2000 that he has all the potential in the world, but just cant stay healthy. He managed 128 games last year, putting numbers that already have General Managers salivating over. With this being his contract year, it would be a good time for Jenkins to stay healthy for 162 games and hit forty home runs. If that happens, he would undoubtedly surpass fellow outfielders Anderson and Hidalgo in front of him.

14. Corey Koskie- 3B- Minnesota (121, 118, 121)- Corey Koskie has always been more than an average player, likely the reason his OPS+ has never dipped below 108. Quietly, Koskie is one of the more complete third basemen in the game, and a high walk total will win him over with stat-heads. Koskies OBP shouldnt dip below .370 again, and while his SLG appears to be descending, I expect that number to rise to about .470. The Twins will likely let Mike Cuddyer play the hot corner after 2004, leaving Koskie to an ugly market.

15. Bill Mueller- 3B- Boston (124, 98, 140)- The 2003 batting champ ranks fifteenth on a future free agent list? Has Bryan gone crazy? Possibly, but I simply couldnt justify putting Mueller ahead of any player in the top-15. Fenway Park has been very nice to Mueller, I just dont think there is another stadium in the game that Mueller could hit 69 extra-base hits in. Hell want to return, but Kevin Youkilis may stand in his way. But heck, Id be happy to see him don Cubbie Blue again.

16. J.D. Drew- OF- Atlanta (162, 110, 133)- Try as I might, its really hard to go against John Scheurholtzs judgment. While Drews consistently low AB numbers scare me, hes like Delmon Young to Grady Sizemore. Sure, Young has a sky-high ceiling, but isnt it a bit early to say hell reach that? Ill just say that Id like to see 425AB in a season before I jump on the J.D. Drew bandwagon. But, Ill sure as Hell never deny that the kid has skills.

17. Jose Valentin- SS- Chicago (117,104, 103)- Being a Chicagoan, Ive seen Jose Valentin play more than a few times. I havent been all that impressed in the past by Valentin, so I was a bit surprised when both the Diamond Mind and UZR defensive systems ranked Jose at the top of the SS charts. My White Sox friend has this theory that Valentins errors come often in the cold weather, but as the season goes on, he gets hotter. While Valentin wont contribute to the team average or OBP, its always nice to get 25HR from your SS. Just ask Ozzie Guillenahh, the irony (Ozzies career HR total of 28 was matched by Valentin last year).

18. Jason Varitek- C- Boston (124, 94, 120)- By giving low rankings to both Bill Mueller and Varitek, Im sure that Ill enfuriate Red Sox nation. Ill be watching my back the next few days, but I really believe that the Varitek selection is justified. Varitek will be 33 in 2005, the year that everything starts to fall off for catchers. His power seems to be highly volatile, so predicting where his HR total will be in three years might even be too hard for PECOTA. I respect the fact that pitchers love the guy, but unlike Chuck LaMar, that wont put him in my top 5 (see Martinez, Tino).

19. Aramis Ramirez- 3B- Chicago (125, 69, 104)- Yes, I know the Cubs have had 4,193 third basemen since Ron Santo left, but that doesnt mean the team should lock up Ramirez. While Im a big believer in Aramis for 2004, like Hidalgo, his shady past is reason enough to avoid long-term deals. If he hits 30HR in Wrigley next year, Ill still be crossing my fingers that Billy Mueller or Corey Koskie sign the dotted line. Aramis has as much talent as anyone, but his mind seems a bit too fragile for my liking.

20. David Ortiz- DH/1B- Minnesota (107, 122, 144)- No Peter, hes not the MVP. And if I was anyone but Theo Epstein, I wouldnt be the least bit interested in Ortiz. Why? .315/.399/.635. That was Davids OPS in Fenway last year, as opposed to .256/.335/.541 away from Bostons confines. If the Red Sox are trying an offense/defense platoon with Reese and Bellhorn this year, maybe a home/away next year? Well see, but all I know is, I would be hard pressed to believe that Ortiz wont be in Boston in 2005.

Thats it for today. Ill review the hitters with options tomorrow, as well as give my top twenty list for pitchers. Otherwise, do me a favor and cruise through the new digs here at All-Baseball

WTNYFebruary 23, 2004
Beane's Choice
By Bryan Smith

After beginning my dive into what will be the 2004-2005 offseason, more news/rumors opened my eyes this weekend. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote an article about Eric Chavez nearly being signed, a story that fellow All-Baseball writer Will Carroll rehashes. On Friday I wrote that Chavez was very likely to stay an A, and Billy Beane doesn’t look to be falling into the same mistake that cost him Jason Giambi by waiting too long.

The Chronice story reads, “In order to retain Chavez, Oakland probably will have to offer a minimum of five years and $50-60M.” Carroll also rumors that the deal is five years, so I’m going to assume as much. I think the largest question this signing will raise is how it affects the big three.

Steve Schott, the tight-fisted Oakland owner, has been getting more gracious each year, raising team payroll in each of the last five seasons. In fact, thanks to Doug Pappas, this is about what the Associated Press has reported the team figures to be each of the last four seasons:

2000: $31.971M
2001: $33.810M
2002: $39.680M
2003: $50.361M

Oakland’s payroll took a 22% increase last season, harboring huge salaries like Jermaine Dye. That problem still exists this season, although the Oakland payroll will likely be below last year’s figure. If Eric Chavez is set to make $11M through the next five seasons, how many more large salaries can Billy Beane afford?

One. Assuming each of the Big Three signs comparable deals to Vazquez, Millwood, and Halladay, the A’s aces will be demanding about twelve million dollars per year soon. Taking Chavez’s contract into account, signing two pitchers would mean that Schott would be asking Beane to sign 22 more players for about $15M, or just over $675,000 per player. That would be nearly impossible. If only one of the Big Three returns, Beane will be forced to sign 23 players using $27M, or $1.17M per player, much closer to the average Major League salary.

Tim Hudson is the first of the group to be up for free agency, which will be after the 2005 season. Zito and Mulder both have options for 2006, and if the A’s continue to do what they did with Hudson, both will remain in the Bay area. So, it’s a good bet to say that these players will be under contract in 2006:

Eric Chavez- $11,000,000
Barry Zito- $8,250,000
Mark Mulder- Between 7.25M and 8.5M
Mark Kotsay- $5,500,000
Arthur Rhodes- $3,100,000
TOTAL- about $35,600,000

Without taking arbitration-eligible or auto-renewable players into account, Oakland is likely already on the hook for $35.6 million for five players. Signing Hudson would put the payroll at about forty-seven million for the cost of six players, exactly the kind of numbers that Billy Beane can’t afford. So, I find that it is logically impossible for the A’s to re-sign Tim Hudson unless Mark Mulder or Barry Zito don’t warrant their options being picked up for 2006.

That leaves the debate to just Mulder and Zito. Looking at rate statistics from 2003, surprisingly Mulder has the clear edge. While Zito has a better H/9 (7.23 to 8.68), Mulder ranks better in K/9, BB/9, K/BB, and ERA. In fact, Zito’s K/9 reached a career low 5.67 last year, dropping for the third straight season. Mulder has excellent control, but a hip problem that ended his 2003 season early poses a big question mark. Between Zito’s dropping strikeout rate and Mulder’s bad hip, it’s too early to tell which player Beane should lock up.

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Also, a reader pointed me to a Boston Globe article about Derek Lowe accepting he won’t be pitching in Beantown in 2005. I touched on this Friday, not knowing that Theo Epstein had just made comments that the Red Sox could not possibly retain all six of their big free agents after this season. Two is more likely, and my guess is that Nomar Garciaparra and David Ortiz get the call. Kelly Shoppach and Kevin Youkilis make Jason Varitek and Bill Mueller easy choices. I also think that Pedro and Lowe will both leave, one spot will become occupied by Bronson Arroyo, while the other will be acquired next winter. I’ll touch more on which kind of players will be available next winter tomorrow...

Baseball BeatFebruary 22, 2004
A Night At The Ballpark
By Rich Lederer

Having watched Long Beach State's Jered Weaver dominate USC the previous week, I decided to go to the ballpark last Friday to see if he could continue his mastery against the #11-ranked Baylor Bears.

The tall right-hander didn't disappoint me or his teammates as he pitched a solid seven innings, striking out ten and walking only one en route to a six-hit, one-run victory over the visitors from the Big XII Conference. (Box Score)

Weaver, who is now 3-0 with a 0.86 ERA vs. three-ranked opponents, and Friday night college baseball go together like Bonanza and Sunday night TV.

Season Totals:

           IP   H    R   ER  BB  SO
Weaver     21   11   2   2   2   30

*Top of the first inning: The 49er ace warms up with Dream Weaver playing over the public address system. Weaver proceeds to set down the Bears 1-2-3, striking out the third hitter swinging on a high, hard one.

*Bottom of the first: Mark McCormick, Baylor's starting pitcher and third team preseason All-American, strikes out the lead-off man, then walks the next three batters. The coach strolls to the mound with "He do the walk, he do the walk of life" blaring over the PA. With the bases loaded and McCormick in dire straits, Troy Tulowitzki hits a triple off the glove of a diving rightfielder. Long Beach State 3, Baylor 0.

*Top of the second: Weaver jams the cleanup hitter on a 3-2 fastball, retiring him on a blooper to the second baseman--the type of contact that would normally result in a broken bat if not for the aluminum ones in college baseball. The home-plate umpire squeezes Weaver on a couple of pitches and the back-to-back National Player of the Week allows his only walk of the evening. The next batter hits a line-drive single to right past an outstretched second baseman. First and second with one out. Weaver meets the challenge and gets the next two hitters on a foul pop-up to the catcher and a called third strike.

*Top of the third: Two scouts sit down in front of me in the second row behind home plate. Weaver strikes out the first batter looking. The older scout reaches into his bag and pulls out his Stalker Sport radar gun. Weaver allows a Texas League single to left. The runner is subsequently thrown out attempting to steal second, 2-6 for those scoring at home. With two outs and nobody on, Weaver reaches back and Ks the next batter on some major-league gas. The scout looks around, spots a buddy and says "94" with a smile on his face.

*Bottom of the third: The scout pulls out his pouch of Red Man and stuffs a few fingers full of tobacco in his mouth. Mike Hofius, the 49ers first baseman, steps to the plate. The older scout turns to the younger one and remarks, "This guy's swinging the bat pretty good", before leaning over and spitting tobacco juice on the floor of the stadium. Hofius, a mid-level prospect, was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 46th round last year as a junior and by the Detroit Tigers in the ninth round out of high school.

*Top of the fourth: As Weaver warms up, the scouts begin talking about Josh Beckett and Mark Prior. Jered strikes out the first batter on a 76-mph slow curve. He gets the next hitter to pop out to second. The following batter hits a single over the the head of the second baseman. Weaver almost picks off the runner with a good move to first, confirming Baseball America's position that he is "tough to run on because he holds runners well". The next batter rifles a line drive single to left. A left-handed hitter pulls a single to right field, scoring the runner from second and sending the other to third. Three consecutive hits and the score is now Long Beach State 3, Baylor 1. Weaver retires the final batter of the inning with what is known as a "Blair Field out" to center field.

(It should be noted that Blair Field is a pitchers' ballpark. According to Boydsworld.com, most noted for its weekly RPI ratings, Long Beach's home field was tied for 16th as the toughest place to score runs in the country from 2000-2003. It has a rating of 79, meaning that teams score 21% fewer runs at Blair than the "average college ballpark".)

*Bottom of the fourth: Tulowitzki, the Dirtbags' sophomore shortstop and hitting star of the game, leads off the inning. Tulowitzki hits a groundball and is thrown out at first. I bend toward the older scout, who also has a stopwatch in his hand, and ask, "What did you get him in?" The scout says "Four-three", a reasonable time for a 6'3" right-handed hitter. Tulowitzki has the best arm and is the #1 shortstop in the Big West according to Baseball America.

John Bowker, a sophomore left fielder who is eligible for this year's draft after redshirting as a freshman due to a wrist injury, drills a single to center. "That guy can hit." Spit. "I really like his bat." Bowker then gets picked off first. The older gentleman proclaims, "Someone did a study and the percentage of runners who steal second base is extremely low" as he shakes his head. Such insight!

*Top of the fifth: Both scouts engage in separate cell phone conversations while Weaver breezes through the inning, 1-2-3.

*Bottom of the fifth: The scouts talk about Scott Kazmir and Clint Everts, the fourth pair of high school teammates chosen in the first round of the same draft. The younger scout, who is not with the New York Mets, mentions that Kazmir was "a lefty who threw 90-94 with a hammer" (referring to the speed of his fastball and the bite of his curveball) in high school. "If Kazmir was 6'2", he would have been the first pick" of the 2002 draft rather than the 15th. Everts, a 6'2" RHP, was selected by the Montreal Expos as the fifth selection in the draft. Kazmir, on the "smallish" side at 6'0" and 170 lbs., led all minor-league pitchers last year with 11.9 Ks/9 IP and is the Mets #1 prospect.

*Top of the sixth: Weaver strikes out the side, racking up his sixth, seventh, and eighth Ks of the night. "Another one bites the dust" is heard over the PA. In between half innings, I ask the scouts where they think Weaver will be drafted and the younger one tells me, "Top half of the first round". That's a pretty safe bet. I ask him what he likes most about Weaver and he says, "Good arm...good arm angle...good movement".

*Top of the seventh: Weaver drops down and throws an almost sidearm fastball for the first time. The pitch is fouled straight back. He then gets the batter on a lazy fly ball to center, a "can of corn". The conversation in front of me turns to Rice's triumvirate of All-American pitchers--Jeff Niemann, Wade Townsend, and Philip Humber. The younger scout predicts that Niemann (17-0, 1.70 ERA for the national champ Owls in 2003) will go #1 in the draft and describes him as a "six-nine, 250-pounder who goes 97-98 with an 82-mph curve". He says Townsend (11-2, 2.20 with 164 Ks in 119 IP) also throws 97-98 with a "filthy" 84-mph curve.

While we're talking, the next batter rips an aluminum bat single past a befuddled Weaver, the sixth and final hit of the game for Baylor. Weaver then reaches back and blows a fastball past the next hitter for his ninth strikeout. He puts the finishing touches on the evening by getting a pinch hitter on an off-speed breaking ball for his tenth strikeout.

*The older scout stands up, knowing his job is pretty much completed for the evening and spits a stream of tobacco juice across the way. The scouts then disappear for an inning, before returning to watch Long Beach State closer Neil Jamison pitch a perfect ninth inning to record his third save of the season.

Next up on Weaver's Friday night hit list: The Houston Cougars at Houston, Friday, February 27.

Friday night I crashed your party
Saturday I said I'm sorry
Sunday came and trashed me out again
I was only having fun
Wasn't hurting anyone
And we all enjoyed the weekend for a change

--Billy Joel, You May Be Right

Baseball BeatFebruary 21, 2004
Making Hay With Jay
By Rich Lederer

Jay Jaffe is the creator of The Futility Infielder. His Around The Bases articles have been enlightening and entertaining readers for nearly three years.

Jay was born in Seattle, raised in Salt Lake City, and is a current resident of New York City. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Brown University in 1992. Jay is a freelance graphic designer and writer, who was commissioned to write a couple of articles for Baseball Prospectus in January.

I had the opportunity to chat with Jay during the past week as part of my offseason series of interviews with baseball's best online writers. Although Jay claims that he hasn't been above replacement level since Little League, I am quite sure that he is referring to his playing skills rather than his analytical talents. Pull up a chair and enjoy.

RWBB: The Futility Infielder. Fill us in on the origin of the name of your blog?

Jay: The short answer is that, in the summer of 2000, the Yanks were having all kinds of problems in their infield due to Chuck Knoblauch's throwing problems. They acquired Jose Vizcaino to stablize the position, Wilson Delgado, and even stuck Clay Bellinger in there at times. Finally, in August, they reacquired Luis Sojo from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Somewhere, either in my email correspondence or over a beer, I remarked that they were now a complete ballclub since they were deep in futility infielders. Lo and behold, both Vizcaino and Sojo had game-winning hits in the 2000 World Series, Sojo's being the series clincher.

The long answer is that I've always been equally fascinated by the scrappy infielders who could barely hit their weight as I was with superstars or even good ballplayers. That probably stems from being a baseball card collector as a youth and having the cards of these shortstops who lasted 10-15 years in the big leagues while hitting one home run a year. Fred Stanley, Darrell Chaney, Jim Mason, Kurt Bevacqua, an endless parade. I can still remember when the term Mendoza Line, after Mario Mendoza, came into play.

RWBB: You're showing your age, Jay. It sounds like you're a "washed up" futility infielder to me.

Jay: Now, I wasn't exactly a slugger during my own Little League career, which was mostly squandered on the soccer fields of Salt Lake City rather than the diamonds. I was small and not particularly strong, though I had a good batting eye. I played all over the field--everywhere except first base, catcher, and pitcher. A real futilityman. No wonder I gravitated towards those guys; they're the only type of player I could have aspired to be.

Fast forwarding to recent history, over a period of a couple years, I'd spent much time emailing friends with all kinds of baseball stuff while frequenting the Baseball Primer Clutch Hits discussion boards. Finally, my friends encouraged me to leave them the hell alone and start a blog. Since I wanted to dabble in designing a web site, it became a bit more fully fledged than the average blog. And thinking back to the previous season, the first name that popped into my head was The Futility Infielder. After registering the domain name in April 2001, I did a search and discovered that Ron Gardenhire, then a coach and now the manager of the Twins, had used the term to describe his own playing career.

RWBB: Are you an overachieving type like most futility infielders?

Jay: Futility infielders tend to be jacks of all trades, and I suppose that describes me. I'm a professional graphic designer, and the writing has been a sideline for the past several years--though lately it's filled up a lot of my time when I've had less work. As a writer, I'm fairly versatile, equally at home doing statistical analysis, news analysis, opinion, first-person narratives, whatever suits my mood. My versatility is something of a substitute for not being great at any one of those, but I like to think I'm pretty solid in many of them.

I guess the other thing about futility infielders is they get to spend a lot of time observing things and thinking about the "why". I suppose that describes me a bit, too.

RWBB: Maybe you could follow in the footsteps of so many other futility infielders, making a second career as a bench coach or possibly as a manager?

Jay: Hahaha! I think the ship has sailed on my career in a uniform, though once in awhile I joke about being available if the Yankees need another reliever. My bum shoulder has pretty much crushed even that pipe dream. Probably the best chance I have of working for a team is in a front office, but there are about 10,000 guys ahead of me in analytical skills.

RWBB: ...and only 30 teams.

Jay: If I were realistic about pursuing a front-office job, I wouldn't limit myself to major-league teams. I'd start in the minors if I could and work my way up. I love minor-league ball. I grew up in Salt Lake City and saw a lot of Triple-A games--farm teams of the Angels and Mariners--and then Single-A--a team called the Salt Lake Trappers, co-owned by actor Bill Murray, that set a professional record for the longest winning streak. Murray used to show up and coach third base for a few innings. I also saw a lot of Walla Walla Padres games with my grandfather, and some of the guys I saw made the majors: Tony Gwynn, John Kruk, Mitch Williams, Kevin Towers (Padre GM), Bob Geren (A's coach who will probably manage in the bigs some day), Jimmy Jones, and Mark Langston and Phil Bradley of the Mariners chain. If I ever win the lottery, among the things I'd do would be to buy a minor-league ballclub and learn about running it.

RWBB: You're one of the old-timers in the business of baseball blogging. What are the biggest changes that you have seen over the past few years?

Jay: Hard to believe I'm an old-timer just three years into this. There have been people talking about baseball on the Internet, primarily in discussion sites going back to rec.sport.baseball, long before I arrived on the scene. But it's true that, even in the time I've been doing this, the landscape has changed dramatically. So many blogs spring up every day, I can barely keep track of them or find the time to visit even the ones I like. The sheer flood is something I'm not used to; back when I got going, there were really only about a half dozen to a dozen I took seriously on any level. Now there's lots of 'em. I try to stay on top of as many as possible because I know that's where my audience is coming from. More blogs mean more people to link to, but also more people linking to me. A rising tide lifts all boats.

The most interesting change since I started has been the implementation of reliable commenting systems. The appearance of Movable Type, which has commenting built in, has shifted a lot of blogs away from Blogger/Blogspot, and the whole comment system makes sure this remains a two-way medium. Not that I get a hell of a lot of comments on a given day unless I really piss somebody off, but people have the option to say their piece, and I like that.

RWBB: Why has the baseball blogosphere become such a popular medium?

Jay: People love to talk about baseball, even... hell, especially if there's snow on the ground. You can reminisce, you can analyze, you can argue, you can BS, and it all beats working, or arguing politics, or staring out the window wondering when winter will end. The sabermetric revolution has done wonders in expanding the dissemination of baseball knowledge. Perhaps Bill James's biggest accomplishment was to expose the fact that an outsider with the right tools can get a better view of the forest than an insider among the trees.

RWBB: Amen.

Jay: Now that you've got the Internet giving a guy in New York the ability to instantly find any articles in even the tiniest California paper about a trade rumor or a roster move, there's an overwhelming amount of information out there, and the blogs are a way of filtering that information so that you can find the most interesting and relevant stories from around the country. I think if you're a fan of a particular team, a blogger is going to do a better job of staying abreast of the several sources of info out there than the beat reporter, who's got a serious investment in his own old-school, inside-the-locker-room authority.

RWBB: Are we in competition with one another or are we complementary?

Jay: There's a definite niche to be filled by the bloggers because the mainstreamers are so loathe to step back and analyze using anything that's beyond conventional wisdom. The newspaper and TV guys are the ones still advocating leading off with the speedy player who steals a lot of bases and then batting the guy who can bunt second. The bloggers have been doing their homework and know that you need to worry more about on-base percentage at the top of the lineup than you do about having guys who can play littleball. They also know it doesn't really matter how many errors an infielder makes compared to the number of balls he gets to.

It goes further than that. The newspaper guys also seem to think that whatever Derek Jeter has to say about a tough loss or what Jason Giambi has to say about a long home run is more relevant than analyzing why Joe Torre or the opposing manager made some move in the ballgame that did or didn't pay off. I'm not saying that we should sit around second-guessing managers all the time, but we should be challenging ourselves by asking important questions. Collectively, you'll get a pretty good discourse from the bloggers where you won't in the papers.

I know plenty of people who don't go to the "pros" for their news anymore. They don't really bother reading some of the shrill big-name hacks who populate our nation's sports sections, disseminating old-school wisdom about RBI men, pitchers who know how to win, and the way the Yankees buy their championships. The bottom line is that there's a certain segment of the population that's spoken, and they want their baseball coverage in a different kind of way than they're receiving from the mainstream.

RWBB: What possesses us to spend so much time and energy reading and writing about a game?

Jay: I think it's a way to break across boundaries that otherwise might separate us, whether that be ideologically or temporally. We may not agree on the actions of our politicans or even which team has the better ballpark, but we agree that there are ways to talk about baseball that won't result in lowest common denominator verbal warfare. Whether that means saying, "great game last night" to the delivery guy in the elevator wearing a Mets cap or a Yankee fan swapping email with a Red Sox fan about the Schilling trade, there are ways to connect with people around us.

And in some ways when we write, we're leaving behind a record of who we are, and what our passions are. I wish that my grandfather had kept a journal or scorecards of what he saw because he watched Ruth and Gehrig at Yankee Stadium, Babe Herman getting hit on the head with a fly ball, Mel Ott at the Polo Grounds, John McGraw, all kinds of stuff. I would love to have grandchildren who stumble across what I've written and have that give them a glimpse into who I was at a certain time and what I saw.

RWBB: Do you anticipate any changes ahead in the baseball blogging world?

Jay: Yes. I think you're going to see more aggregation of blogs, like what's happening with so many of my buddies at all-baseball.com, where several sites come under one roof. About which, congratulations on your new digs, by the way.

RWBB: Thanks, Jay. I'm excited about the change and what we can do together.

Jay: I once thought about asking some of my favorite blogspot-type bloggers if they wanted space on my server to spruce things up for themselves, but I'm not sure I have the appetite to be a webmaster beyond my own not-so-simple needs.

I think more cases of aggregation will arise, perhaps by somebody with a desire to do more than just house the sites, maybe exert some editorial muscle and fuse several blogs into one bigger site.

I think the bigger change you're going to see is sports news outlets dabbling in blogging, not always well. Maybe that means they syndicate somebody's blog and run it through their site during the season (Bambino's Curse did that last year with Fox) or maybe a reporter starts a blog of his own--hell, from the looks of things, Peter Gammons just skips the middleman and writes whatever he wants without an editor asking any questions or even fixing the spelling and grammar. Actually I think he's got a monkey at the other end of a telephone who transcribes him and posts straight to ESPN...but I'm getting away from myself.

RWBB: I just ask the questions, Peter. Jay's the one who answers them.

Jay: There are ways that the dabbling might work well, and ways that might become an unmitigated disaster, especially if controversial opinions are aired or if some reporter does something unjournalistic or otherwise foolish.

RWWB: Speaking of controversy, you're no stranger to it...

Jay: [groans]

RWWB: ...having recently criticized the Sons of Sam Horn moderators over the way they handled the quoting of Curt Schilling's posts there. How do you feel about that whole brouhaha?

Jay: What is this, Meet the Press? My intelligence said that the Sons of Sam Horn had Weapons of Mass Destruction Related Program Activities going on...no, wait. That wasn't me.

Getting involved in the Schilling matter, some would say, showed that my intelligence was questionable! Without rehashing all of this in painstaking detail, my first response was to come to the defense of a respected peer who'd been unfairly slammed by a moderator in public. I tried to amplify what I felt was a pretty outrageous activity, but, in doing so, I went looking for trouble and said some inflammatory things. The debate degenerated into a verbal rock fight until the moderator stepped forward and apologized, at which point I did my best to begin mending fences and restoring civility. I think for the most part that's been done to everybody's satisfaction. I'm not sure how many friends I still have in Red Sox Nation, but then I'm rooting against them anyway.

I don't think Schilling's statements were aimed at the bloggers or the Primates. Instead, I believe (and so do most others who've weighed in) that they were aimed at the real media which has access to him seven months a year. I do think that if a blogger or a Primate decides to use part of what he says, they should take great pains to do so in a manner which complies with our common understanding of "Fair Use", including a link to the actual quote to show the context of what he said. I know that this position may still be open to criticism. I'm not looking for a fight anymore so I'm not really that interested in touching what Schilling says there although I like checking in from time to time to read his comments. I saw the other day that Gordon Edes of the Boston Globe used a chunk of what Schilling said about the A-Rod trade in one of his columns, and I'll be interested to see how that plays out.

RWBB: Tell us about The Big Book of Bitter Defeats that you created.

Jay: One of the things I really enjoy about writing is the chance to preserve a bit of the vocabulary that my friends and I use, and perhaps add something to the lexicon. The site name is one example that I came up with, and the Big Book is another. Like much of my humor, it's based on a Simpsons reference, in this case the Big Book of British Smiles which Lisa sees at the dentist's office. The phrase popped into my head one day, probably using sports as a metaphor for some other kind of disappointment--romance perhaps or maybe an election.

I imagine some weighty tome, bigger than the MacMillan Baseball Enyclopedia, that each fan has in their mind which carries an excruciatingly detailed record of all of those heartbreaking losses, the ones for which they will always carry a grudge. You know, whatever you do, you are never going to forget how painful this loss was.

RWBB: Your Big Book of Bad Ideas is a companion piece, correct?

Jay: Yes, though I imagine the Big Book of Bad Ideas to be something a manager has at his side during a ballgame. "Page 437: In an elimination game, it is often best to dance with the gal what brung you. Leave a tiring starting pitcher in the game until the score is tied, otherwise you run the risk of letting your bullpen blow the lead." Though there are definitely some non-game ideas which would fit in there: GMs signing pitchers to long-term contracts, bloggers starting fights with armies of fans, politicians screaming into microphones during election season, politicians dating interns...My friends and I have another phrase that I'll invoke here: "It's going to end in tears." If it comes from the BBBI, it's going to end in tears.

RWBB: You and Alex Belth traveled to New Orleans for the Winter Meetings. What impressed you the most?

Jay: That we were able to do it so easily and that it was so much fun! We were invited down as Friends of Baseball Prospectus, a chance to meet some guys who respected our work and wanted us all to get some face time with each other and to show us a bit of how the system worked. On that level, it was great fun.

On the larger level, it's amazing just observing the scene of several hundred people milling about in a hotel lobby, tapping each other for information or just talking baseball lightheartedly, all while ogling other men. You'd think Omar Minaya was wearing a thong bikini for all the attention he got. I can't say that there's all that much to see visually; it's not like you're going to see two GMs reach down into their briefcases and swap contracts right there. But you feel close to the action because you get to watch Peter Gammons working the room on one side, Scott Boras striking up a conversation on the other, Dusty Baker shaking hands with Lou Piniella, all while Jack McKeon is smoking his cigar outside.

RWBB: What surprised you the most?

Jay: The Tejada deal, I guess, was the real blockbuster, and nobody saw it coming. The buzz that signing created was tremendous. The way you could tap the grapevine to get a sense of how other deals were unfolding, such as the Mike Cameron one--at 1 p.m. when we show up in the lobby, the word is that he may be considering San Diego, at 4 when we're going for a late lunch, the word is he's headed to Oakland, and by 7 p.m. when we're drinking the ill-advised second hurricane, he's a New York Met. The other really good one on that note was the Brian Cashman situation. On Friday, Steinbrenner wouldn't let the Yankee contingent go down to New Orleans and had apparently taken control of the personnel reins. On Saturday, the New York papers run articles about a disgruntled "friend" of Cashman's leaking word that the Yankee GM's got just one more year on his contract and then he's out of there. By Sunday night, Steinbrenner's picked up his option for another year!

On a personal level, I was surprised and touched that my work is thought of highly enough by the BP guys that they asked me to join them for this. We had a lot of fun down in New Orleans, and I think I've got a few more really good friends within this racket now.

RWBB: Now that Rupert Murdoch no longer owns the Dodgers, are you tempted to switch your allegiance from the Yankees back to your original love?

Jay: I don't really think that allegiance ever went away; I've always said that if the two teams met in the World Series, there's no question I'd be breaking out Dodger blue.

I follow the Yanks because they're right in front of my nose, I can go to the ballgames any time I want and because, in the course of my daily reading, I can digest the contents of about eight different sources and filter out the BS from the real stuff pretty quickly, and then make something out of that which people enjoy reading. They're a fun team to follow, and I appreciate the fact that I have lots of Yankee fans who look to me for a good, smart take on the team.

But deep down, I have to admit that I don't love the Yanks the way I do the Dodgers. I've written about the Dodgers several times over the course of my blogging. This winter, I've probably had as much to say about them, especially regarding their sale, as I have the Yanks. I think the biggest reason for my Dodger allegiance returning isn't necessarily the sale, it's that I found a blog--Jon Weisman's Dodger Thoughts--that does a great job covering them. He's really got a finger on the pulse of it, and his work helps to keep me abreast of what's going on in a way that I just can't get from ESPN or the wire reports. If blogging in general and Weisman in particular had been doing this in '97, I might not have strayed so far afield. With him around and being a great correspondent, I feel invested again.

RWBB: Jon has a special knack that makes us all sit up and take notice of the Dodgers, like them or not.

Jay: I think a good writer can do that about any team. I like to think that's why I've got Sox fans who read my blog or why I read Bambino's Curse or Cub Reporter or blogs about the Twins, the A's, the Mariners, or the Mets.

I guess deep down, I'm really a baseball fan more than I am a fan of a single team. Ever since the '79 Pirates came along, I've had no problem taking an interest in another team if mine wasn't in the championship hunt. I'm not redecorating my walls every year, mind you, and the answer to the "favorite teams" question doesn't change. But I'm perfectly happy to spend a couple of weeks or months taking an interest in another team for the purposes of watching baseball to the final out of the season. And I'm perfectly happy to incorporate reading blogs devoted to other teams into my weekly regimen of getting around the Internet.

RWBB: You are a student and proponent of Defense Independent Pitching Statistics (DIPS). Do you believe pitchers have much, if any, control over balls in play?

Jay: Based on what I've read and studied, I'd say, "Some, but not nearly as much as the average fan thinks. And not enough that you should confuse those results with the ones over which the pitcher has more control."

RWBB: Why do you suppose a pitcher such as Glendon Rusch shows up so well in DIPS yet so poorly in his actual ERA?

Jay: Mike Emeigh of Baseball Primer actually answered this one pretty well. Basically, Rusch is a guy who gives up a disproportionate number of line drives, and line drives aren't converted to outs nearly as frequently as grounders or fly balls. Part of that is a scoring bias--whoever's recording the type of hit is more likely to score a hit as a line drive rather than a ground ball. But part of that is just a meatball factor; guys who don't have the stuff to keep hitters from hitting the ball hard get pounded. They usually don't stick around very long. Rusch, because of the lousy teams he's pitched for and the occasional glimpses of potential he's shown, is just somebody who has. But I would be wary of taking his DIPS results too literally because of the line-drive factor.

RWBB: Who shows up in DIPS as a pitcher whose upside hasn't been fully recognized yet?

Jay: Well, most of the guys with the lowest dERAs are guys who are generally recognized as good, if not great, pitchers. The top 10 in dERA based on 100 innings were Pedro Martinez, Mark Prior, Curt Schilling, Jason Schmidt, Kevin Brown, Guillermo Mota, Esteban Loaiza, Javier Vazquez, Josh Beckett, and Mike Mussina. Heralded youngsters like Brandon Webb and Johann Santana are in the top 20, as is Miguel Batista, who was a nice signing by Toronto, and Carlos Zambrano, who's a bit overshadowed by Prior and Kerry Wood and now Greg Maddux in Chicago but still very good. I'd say that Batista and Zambrano haven't really been recognized by most fans yet, and they just learned about Beckett in October.

RWBB: Name the pitchers whose DIPS numbers suggest trouble ahead.

Jay: Ryan Franklin should rent, not buy. Out of all the pitchers whose dERAs are higher than ERAs (which suggests trouble down the road), he's half a run ahead of everybody else. Guys like Darrell May (KC) and Kip Wells (Pittsburgh) don't inspire much confidence. A lot of of the guys in that class aren't ones you'd gravitate to anyway, they're guys putting up 4-something ERAs that should be 5-something.

RWBB: You were born in 1969, the year baseball celebrated its 100th anniversary. Name your all-time team since your birth.

Jay: Assuming I can count 1969, while I was in the womb...Most of this is informed by how these guys would fare using the system I devised for a pair of articles (Analyzing the Hitters and Pitchers) for Baseball Prospectus on the 2004 Hall of Fame ballot. As such, I'm a little reluctant to tap players who are still on the early side of their careers.

SP (RH): Roger Clemens -- I'll take his durability over Pedro's fragility.
SP (LH): Randy Johnson -- Once he found himself, an incredibly dominant pitcher.
RP: Rich Gossage -- From an emotional standpoint, I'm tempted to take Mariano Rivera, but he's got to have a few more great years before he can hang with the Goose.
C: Gary Carter -- Pudge and Piazza still have work to do to catch him.
1B: Eddie Murray -- If there was ever a guy who deserved the title "Steady Eddie".
2B: Roberto Alomar -- Even if he stopped playing two years ago. Which he kinda did.
SS: Cal Ripken, Jr. -- If he stays at short, sooner or later this will be A-Rod's slot.
3B: Mike Schmidt -- pre Bonds and A-Rod, the most complete ballplayer I've ever seen.
LF: Barry Bonds -- Hate the player, love his game.
CF: Rickey Henderson -- He only played 2 full years in CF, but I have to fit him on here.
RF: Dave Winfield -- I don't think he got his due.
DH: If I could slot any player who came up short at the other positions, it would be Tim Raines or George Brett. If I limited myself to guys who were regularly DHs, I'd say Edgar Martinez.

RWBB: Who would be your Futilityman?

Jay: I can't let this go without throwing some names out there, even if they don't really fit the definition of a futility infielder. I loved the way Davey Lopes (my favorite Dodger as a youth) held on by playing a bunch of positions and embracing the utility role. Pedro Guerrero could hit anywhere you put him. Tony Phillips is probably the best of the recent ones at moving around the diamond while staying productive.

RWBB: And how about a Manager to round out the All-Jaffe team?

Jay: Earl Weaver. OK, he took over halfway through '68. I'm still impressed by how much of today's game is informed by his thinking.

RWBB: Weaver was definitely ahead of his time. And, speaking of time, I think we have just run out. Thank you, Jay, for sharing your wisdom with us today.

Jay: Thanks, Rich, it's been a pleasure.

[Additional reader comments and retorts at Baseball Primer.]

Baseball BeatFebruary 20, 2004
The Line Forms to the Left
By Rich Lederer

Doug Krikorian of the (Long Beach) Press-Telegram today weighs in on the Dodgers GM Office DePo situation with "Has McCourt hired a boy to do a man's job?"

The columnist interviewed DePodesta, who he describes as Paulie D, the other day and asks his readers the following question:

...should one of the most sacred franchises in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers, entrust an on-the-job-training type to run its operations? Of course not.

Krikorian, who lobbied for Pat Gillick, chastises McCourt for choosing DePodesta.

So, ominously for Dodger loyalists, McCourt in his first major decision goes for thriftiness and inexperience over a more expensive, proven commodity.

It's certainly possible that Paul DePodesta could turn out to be another Billy Beane, who's built the A's into a formidable team despite limited funds with shrewd drafting and deft trades.

But there's also that dark possibility that he could turn out to be a bust, which only would be continuing the recent Dodger tradition of hiring GMs--Kevin Malone and Chemical Dan Evans come to mind--who generate more ridicule than victories.

Sounds to me like Krikorian has fully hedged his position so that he can be on the right side of this move either way.

WTNYFebruary 20, 2004
Long-Term
By Bryan Smith

Yesterday, my article on Greg Maddux inspired further thought. I wrote about how the Maddux signing almost assures that Juan Cruz will be traded at midseason. So I have decided to look at how the big Major League moves from this winter will dictate what certain teams do in the future.

To continue with Maddux and the Cubs, his signing provides clarity for how Jim Hendry will handle the future of this pitching staff. The Cubs have often voiced their desire to sign soon-to-be free agent Kerry Wood to a long-term contract before he reaches free agency next winter. I believe there is a mutual love between Chicago and Wood, and I do not doubt that a deal will get done. The Cubs will follow the contracts signed by Roy Halladay (4/42) and Javier Vazquez (4/45), and lock up Kerry Wood for four more years. As for Matt Clement, he’s history. The Cubs top prospect, Angel Guzman, should be ready in 2005, and he’ll provide a cheap replacement for Clement.

Offensively, the Cubs have more decisions to make. Aramis Ramirez will probably turn out to be the best Cubs third basemen since Ron Santo, but what do they do with him? Hopefully Hendry will be smart enough to buy out the aging Moises Alou, giving him plenty of money to work with. But the number one priority should be locking up Derrek Lee, the Gold Glove first basemen that the Cubs acquired this winter. Lee will not come cheap, but his mix of power, speed, and defense is beyond fantastic.

It was the World Champion Marlins who actually used more foresight in the Lee deal, acquiring a first basemen with a super-high ceiling. After winning their second championship the Marlins had big decisions to make this winter, and ultimately chose Mike Lowell and Luis Castillo over Lee and Pudge Rodriguez. There are big decisions to make in the Florida rotation, as Beckett, Burnett, Penny, and Pavano all become free agents at similar times. Surely the team will lock up Josh Beckett, one of the key characters in their championship run. The final question will come down to Brad Penny and Carl Pavano, a decision that Larry Beinfest should wait and let performance dictate.

Florida started their rotation trimmings this winter sending southpaw Mark Redman to Oakland for a middle reliever. Billy Beane is one of the more complicated GMs in the game, and guessing his plan is as ludicrous as seeing “You Got Served.” Peter Gammons stresses that Eric Chavez is the key, and I would agree with him. Beane waived off the losses of Giambi and Tejada, always citing their main long-term target was Chavez. The third basemen recently hired ex-A consultant Dave Stewart as an agent, and the former Oakland hurler will likely cause Beane to lose a member of the Big Three.

With a $40M payroll, I think it was only logical think that Beane could only sign two of the six great players the A’s have had in the last five years: Giambi, Tejada, Chavez, Hudson, Zito, and Mulder. The first two are already left, and we’ve established that Chavez will likely stay in Oakland. Of the big three, I think Barry Zito would be the best choice. He may not be the best pitcher of the group, it’s extremely close, but he upholds the best image. His huge curveball and suave demeanor fit well by the Bay, while Hudson and Mulder seem a bit more high-strung. I know, we’re not selling jeans here, but when performance is this close, go to the player with the most hardware.

Another great player the A’s had to waive goodbye to this winter was Keith Foulke. The dominating closer signed a big deal with the Boston Red Sox, a team that really shook up their future by adding Foulke and ace right-hander Curt Schilling. The team has also already re-signed Trot Nixon to a long-term contract, and are in negotiations with Nomar Garciaparra’s agent. Despite the winter controversy, expect the Red Sox to lock-up Nomah, as he’s the next best thing after the Bronx Bombers brand new third basemen. This likely means the team will lose batting champion Bill Mueller, but the Greek God of Walks should help lessen that blow. Gammons’ MVP choice, David Ortiz, is one of the more unclear situations, and I think time will tell with the big designated hitter.

By adding Schilling, Theo Epstein clouded an already murky contract situation with ace Pedro Martinez. With large contracts already existing in Nomar, Schilling, Manny, and Foulke, I think that Theo will allow Pedro to seek free agency after 2004. While Martinez is the greatest rate-statistic pitcher since Sandy Koufax, his body appears to frail to risk a $15M per year contract on. The final decision that Epstein will be forced to make is Derek Lowe. While converting Lowe to starting has turned out to be a fantastic move, Lowe’s 2003 performance was hardly awe-inspiring. This situation will likely be decided after 2004, and Colorado GM Dan O’Dowd should already be licking his chops.

Former Boston manager Joe Kerrigan may be running the show in Philadelphia by July, assuming that Phillie ownership does the right thing and fires Larry Bowa. Ed Wade has invested a lot of money for this team to be this decades 1990s Indians, so Bowa has very little wiggle room. Most of the offense is locked up, so Wade’s largest post-2004 decisions should be from the pitching staff. Kevin Millwood signed a very fat contract after accepting arbitration in December, and I doubt that Philadelphia will make that mistake again. There is also virtually no chance that Eric Milton gets re-signed, I just don’t believe there’s any way he’ll prove worthy of nine million dollars in 2004. Instead, the Phillies will turn to prospects Ryan Madson, Gavin Floyd, and possibly even Cole Hamels.

Expect the Phillies to exercise brand-new closer Billy Wagner’s option at the end of the year, and the team will probably pursue a long-term contract. Houston was forced to make that move in order to bolster their rotation, and Octavio Dotel should be fine in the closer’s role. The team will have big arbitration salaries due to Dotel, Wade Miller, and Roy Oswalt next year, really limiting Gerry Hunsicker next offseason. That will be very problematic, as a sizeable portion of Houston’s offense will be free to leave.

Will Carroll reported yesterday that Houston is trying to trade Richard Hidalgo, one of four Astros that will be free agents next season. Actually, if the team decides to pick up a $9M option on Jeff Kent (doubtful due to Chris Burke’s presence), it would only be three. Homegrown star Lance Berkman will surely be locked up in Houston, but Hidalgo will be shown the door. Centerfielder Craig Biggio poses an interesting loyalty problem, but from a baseball sense, should not re-sign Biggio for any amount of money.

Tensions began and grew between Houston and the Bronx this offseason, as the Astros stole a pair of ex-Yankees from Steinbrenner’s mighty grasp. But, no matter, George has found some decent replacements instead. While the Yankees got just about every under the sun this winter, the four largest additions were Alex Rodriguez, Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez, and Gary Sheffield. In 2006, the Yankees will be paying eight players somewhere around $110M. After 2004, Mariano Rivera, Jon Lieber, and Steve Karsay will be Brian Cashman’s decisions. Expect the latter two to be let go, but surely the team will sign Rivera for the rest of his career. Afraid the Yankees will go after Pedro to be their “fifth” starter next winter? Yeah, me too.

John Hart’s main justification for the Alex Rodriguez will come down to dollar and cents, as he has about sixteen million dollars more to spend on this team each winter. The club’s desire for Kerry Wood has not been silent, but as I said earlier, I remain confident that Kid K will remain in Cubbie Blue. Instead, I think this team will go after two middle-of-the-rotation pitchers, guys like Matt Clement and Brad Penny. Signing Hank Blalock to a five-year contract was genius, but surely it was pushed by Grady Fuson rather than Hart. Tom Hicks largest post-2004 decision will be whether it is time to publicly hand the team’s reins over to Fuson.

By Fuson becoming general manager, the Major Leagues will have three GMs that worked under Billy Beane. That number increased to two last week as new Dodger owner Frank McCourt named Paul DePodesta their new head honcho. DePodesta likely has large plans for this organization, yet is likely very limited until the Kevin Malone mistakes are completely weeded out. Expect players like Adrian Beltre, Juan Encarnacion, and Odalis Perez to be out of Dodger uniform in 2005. The team will go hard after a big-name shortstop, as well as adding another quality outfielder. Edwin Jackson, Greg Miller, and Joel Hanrahan will provide DePo with a fantastic young, cheap rotation. This will allow the team to go after players like Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Delgado, Richard Hidalgo, Orlando Cabrera, and Edgar Renteria.

If he had been named GM months earlier, I suspect that DePodesta would have signed Vladimir Guerrero to a contract. Instead, Guerrero signed with the Anaheim Angels, joining other talented free agents Bartolo Colon, Kelvim Escobar, and Jose Guillen. Expect either Troy Glaus or Garret Anderson to not be re-signed after 2004, and likely the latter. Anderson has received much praise from Angel brass, and third base prospect Dallas McPherson could be Glaus’ successor. Ben Molina will be pushed out by prospect Jeff Mathis, and Ramon Ortiz will walk when Ervin Santana is ready. I also doubt the team will re-sign Troy Percival, especially when relievers like Francisco Rodriguez and Brendan Donnelly are more than qualified to end games.

Finally, there are the constant question marks surrounding Vlad’s old team, the (insert city here) Expos. Selling the team after 2004 is a must, because if the team remains without ownership, their foundation will crumble. If the Expos are completely out of the race by July, and they should be, Omar Minaya will have the option of trading Jose Vidro, Orlando Cabrera, and Livan Hernandez. All three would be valuable pieces to any puzzle, and the second basemen would unfortunately by Steinbrenner’s first choice. Even OBP Jesus couldn’t help an Expo team without Vidro and Cabrera.

************************

That’s all for today, I hope you found this article as interesting to read as I found to write it. This blog will slowly struggle to find topics as the year begins, and I urge you all to give me future topic ideas in the “Comments” section. Thanks!

Also, I want to point out a few things I've noticed around the blog-world lately...

- Aaron Gleeman's article about Bill Plaschke was one of the best articles I've read in a long time. Alex Belth's Winter Meetings article and Christian Ruzich's review of the Javier Vazquez trade join Gleeman's piece as the best of the winter in my book.

- Finally, if you want to read some good sabermetric pieces, I've seen a few of those. Mike here at All-Baseball is concluding his study on relievers, and you should definitely go see that. Also, Avkash Patel at the Raindrops wrote a great piece on combining the various defensive metrics to create one lone number. Enjoy...

WTNYFebruary 19, 2004
A DAY LATE AND A DOLLAR SHORT
By Bryan Smith

One Cub Fans Impression of One Huge Move

Back to that same old place, sweet home Chicago. Frank Sinatra

I wasnt ready to leave the first time...its nice to have an opportunity to come back, and with those words, the Cubs greatest homegrown pitcher (so far) was welcomed back to Cubdom. Greg Maddux, after an eleven-year hiatus, will be wearing Cubbie Blue once again.

While Maddux may be one of the best products to ever come from the Cubs minor league system, its fitting (considering the Cubs history) that his best years came in another uniform. Fans have cursed the organization for letting another Lou Brock slip away, and this is Jim Hendrys way of reconciling that move. But as the Cub boss says, Greg is coming home because Greg can still pitch. And Greg can still win games.

Winning games has never been a problem for Maddux, as he owns the Major League record for most consecutive seasons with at least fifteen wins (16). Gregs career win total is up to 289, so its likely that number 300 will come in the uniform that it all began.

Maddog also has kept his innings pitched numbers up as hes gotten older, starting at least thirty-three games in every season since 1995. That dependability will be important for a Cub staff that will be clouded with yellow lights. As Will Carroll pointed out when breaking the story yesterday, Gregs reliability will especially help Carlos Zambrano, who should see less stress in the fifth spot. Hopefully Dusty will see Maddux as an excuse to lay off the young arms, letting the veteran become his innings-eater. While Maddux has become an eighty-five pitches/game starter, his efficiency allows for six or more innings a start.

Maddux critics will of course point a few negative indicators the thirty-seven year old has shown: his worst ERA+ since 1987, a four-year declining K/9 rate, and a home run total that has peaked. These are all valid arguments, and the same worries that I as a Cubs fan have. The ERA, while rising, was lower than Andy Pettite and Wade Miller, while mirroring Roger Clemens. The K/9 rate might not be as sexy as it once was, but his K/BB balances it well. And finally, I cant explain the HR numbers, and frankly, they worry me. Gregs road ERA is cause for concern, but I guess he keeps the ball down enough to combat that.

As a Cubs fan, Im supposed to be optimistic. I mean, hell, look at the title of my blog, it indicates the hope that Cubs fans have. Greg Maddux becoming a Cub is a move that I will keep my optimism on, even through all three years. I cant promise that win streak is going to continue, but I think it has a damn good chance.

Another important question this raises is whats next? The Cubs have a roster built right now, it goes as follows:

C- Michael Barrett
1B- Derrek Lee
2B- Mark Grudzielanek
SS- Alex Gonzalez
3B- Aramis Ramirez
LF- Moises Alou
CF- Corey Patterson
RF- Sammy Sosa

B1- Todd Walker- IF
B2- Todd Hollandsworth- OF
B3- Ramon Martinez- IF
B4- Tom Goodwin- OF
B5- Paul Bako- C

1. Mark Prior
2. Kerry Wood
3. Greg Maddux
4. Carlos Zambrano
5. Matt Clement

CL- Joe Borowski- RH
SU- LaTroy Hawkins- RH
SU- Mike Remlinger- LH
MR- Kyle Farnsworth- RH
LOOGY- Kent Mercker
6th- Cruz/Beltran/Wellemeyer

To go into camp with only one problem is fantastic. The last relief spot will be a battle royal between Juan Cruz, Francis Beltran, and Todd Wellemeyer. First of all, Id love to eliminate Cruz, who just doesnt have the stuff cut out to be a reliever. I have big plans for him thoughkeep reading. Beltran was sensational in the Winter League, becoming closer on a team that had Guillermo Mota and I believe, Danys Baez. The only problem is that Beltran would need to pitch some long innings, a trait Im not sure he possesses.

So by default, Todd Wellemeyer gets the job. I think Wellemeyer is well-suited for this role, his stuff is relief-quality and hes able to pitch a lot of innings. The other five will allow Baker to seldomly use Wellemeyer, only when we need a reliever in the fifth.

As for Cruz, I would first send him to Iowa. Hes trade bait. The Cubs have one need and one need onlya leadoff hitter. Everyone at the Cub Reporter keeps pointing to Jose Vidro, but my hope is Jason Kendall. Why not send Cruz, Beltran, and Mike Barrett to Pittsburgh for Jason Kendall? Great catcher, great leadoff hitter, Dusty Baker-type player. It would solidify the lineup, and make the Cubs the undeniable favorites to capture the National League crown.

And all because one man came back home.

Theres no place like home, theres no place like home. Wizard of Oz

Baseball BeatFebruary 18, 2004
The Times, They Need A-Changin'
By Rich Lederer

Bob Keisser of the (Long Beach) Press-Telegram is perhaps the only writer in the Los Angeles market that understands and appreciates the Dodgers hiring Paul DePodesta as the team's new general manager. Keisser, a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) for more than a decade, wrote a column (Dodgers figure on some changes) in Wednesday's newspaper.

Unlike Bill Plaschke and Larry Stewart of The Los Angeles Times, Keisser "gets it":

Where the fan on the street might say the important hitting numbers are average, runs and runs batted in, SABR people and (Bill) James would gently shake their head in disagreement.

Batting averages do not differentiate between the infield single and double in the corner, and runs and RBI depend on others. The guy on base can't drive himself in, and a batter can't hit an RBI double if the bases are empty.

In this world, the statistics that drive the bus are on-base percentage and extra-base hits. The former is the absolute essence of baseball--not only producing a runner but avoiding an out--and the latter is the most quantifiable stat when it comes to scoring runs.

Now that is highly refreshing in comparison to his counterparts at The L.A. Times.

Stewart, in DePodesta's Theories Aren't That Relative, writes:

Paul DePodesta is said to be a numbers guy. The Dodgers' new general manager has an economics degree from Harvard. But being good with numbers doesn't necessarily translate to baseball knowledge.

Stewart fails to mention that DePodesta actually has an extremely impressive resume. After playing football and baseball at Harvard (and graduating cum laude), DePodesta worked in the Canadian Football League and the American Hockey League. DePodesta then joined the Cleveland Indians as an intern in player development before becoming an advance scout for the major league team and eventually special assistant to the general manager.

DePodesta was hired by the Oakland A's as an assistant general manager in 1999. The team went on to experience its first winning season in seven years and has made the playoffs every year since, including three A.L. West Division titles. The A's, with a record of 479-339 during DePodesta's stay, won more games than every time in baseball except the Atlanta Braves (488) and the New York Yankees (484).

DePodesta was so well thought of that the Toronto Blue Jays offered him the franchise's GM job more than two years ago. He turned it down, and Toronto hired another Oakland A's assistant, J.P. Ricciardi (who led the Blue Jays to their second-highest win total in ten years last year).

Plaschke, in With Luck, The Dodgers Won't Crash, matches his fellow columnist by making a similarly ignorant comment:

And nothing against DePodesta, but it's hard to watch what was once baseball's most prestigious operation become an entry-level position.

Plaschke's column is full of jabs about DePodesta's age and inexperience, using such words as "nerd" and "kid" to describe the new GM of the Dodgers. Aaron Gleeman, another baseball writer who "gets it", wrote an outstanding critique of Plaschke's comments. I recommend that you read Gleeman's take on this subject as well as another article he uncovered searching the columnist's archives.

To Keisser's credit, he later adds:

DePodesta is a perfect choice for McCourt. He didn't cost McCourt a fortune and he's familiar with a small budget...

Plus, the Dodgers' old way of doing business fits the model DePodesta learned in Oakland. Branch Rickey created the concept of the farm system and wrote an article in the '50s saying on-base percentage was undervalued.

Rickey's article in Life magazine should be required reading for all baseball executives, analysts, commentators, and writers.

For those skeptics who don't think DePodesta is ready to take over the reins of the Dodgers, I suggest reading an insightful interview conducted by Rob Neyer last March.

"Dan O'Dowd told me -- when I was first working in Cleveland -- he said, 'One thing to be aware of, when you're a GM candidate, is that there are three different possibilities: you're not ready, or you're ready to survive, or you're ready to succeed.'

You have to be ready to survive, or your career can end almost immediately. Ultimately, what you want is to be ready to succeed, right from day one. When the Blue Jays offered me the job, I definitely felt like I was ready to survive. I felt like I was on the cusp of being ready to succeed, but I knew that if I waited another year -- now it's been a year-and-a-half -- then I could really hit the ground running.

And I did want to wait for the right job rather than the first job."

Whether the Dodgers GM position is the right job for DePodesta remains to be seen but by no means--are you listening Plaschke and Stewart?--is it his first job.

WTNYFebruary 18, 2004
Justifications and More Rankings
By Bryan Smith

Hope everyone enjoyed my top fifty prospects, it’s 6600 word Gleeman-length post was my longest ever. I didn’t receive a ton of feedback, but I want to spend today explaining, justifying, and going deeper into the realm of prospect ranking.

Yesterday in the comment section, by far the best feature of Movable Type, Will Carroll asked my methodology behind my rankings. I’m no scientist, and even if I were, prospectology is no field that can be researched. My best attempts including reading everything I can get my hands on, from daily Baseball America reports to articles in small-town minor league newspapers. I compare statistics for every minor leaguer, and when possible, and go see as many games as I can. I’d be lying if I said I weighed everything equally, because I don’t. Instead, the rankings look somewhat like this:

1. Statistics- The central influence for all new-age baseball fanatics
2. Scouting Reports- Trust Baseball America first, but all reports are fair game
3. Other materials
4. Personal Experiences

I’ve learned to trust my own judgment last, as talent evaluators like Josh Boyd, or the numbers, tend to tell the story best. Numbers are my key instrument, but sometimes potential is too salivating to ignore. The reason I rank Alexis Rios ahead of Jeremy Reed is solely based on ceiling, Reed hit for better average, has more immediate power, better stolen base skills, etc. But as I pointed out yesterday, the only 6-6 outfielder that has hit for .300 in the past is a Hall of Famer.

But the reason Edwin Jackson is ahead of Greg Miller proves that I’m a stat-head at heart. Southpaws that have the numbers Greg Miller did in AA have immense ceilings, and I don’t doubt that. But Edwin Jackson had better H/9 and K/9 numbers last season, at a higher level. Jackson is the much better bet to reach his potential, and since he’s older, less likely to suffer an injury.

Another question I got yesterday was about Gabe Gross. I was asked where Gross would stack up in the next group, whether it be the next ten or next twenty. Little did Jay know, Gabe Gross was the next guy on my prospect list. The rest of my top 90 list goes as follows:

51. Gabe Gross (TOR OF)- High OBP-type that is a good bet to reach his potential. I thought the Blue Jays traded Bobby Kielty?
52. Matt Peterson (NYM SP)- Dominating numbers in the FSL and very good pitcher’s body. A good bet to breakout big-time next season.
53. Jeff Francouer (ATL OF)- I’m less high on Francouer, a physically-gifted player that is a bit too raw. Jeff could go in either direction, but flaming out is a decent bet.
54. Taylor Buchholz (HOU SP)- Houston wouldn’t have dealt Billy Wagner if they hadn’t received their best pitching prospect since Roy Oswalt. One of the top five curveballs in the minor leagues right now.
55. Justin Jones (CHC SP)- An injury seems probable for Jones, who must add weight to his tall frame. Has succeeded at each stop since becoming a pro...few prospects have an arsenal this good.
56. Chris Snelling (SEA OF)- U.S.S. Mariner says Snelling’s ceiling is Tony Gwynn, and while I’m not that high on him, the Australian needs to stay healthy for an entire season to really prove his potential.
57. Khalil Greene (SD SS)- The former collegiate player of the year didn’t have the year he was hoping, mostly because the Padres rushed him. A year in AAA could make him equal to J.J. Hardy.
58. Jesse Crain (MIN RP)- Stormed through three levels in a breakthrough season. Proving that University of Houston closers make good prospects (see Wagner, Ryan), could be a big help come midseason.
59. Kris Honel (CHW SP)- Honel’s knuckle-curve draws comparisons to Mike Mussina, which seem to be fair. Rushing the Providence High School right-hander would be foolish considering his potential.
60. Andy Sisco (CHC SP)- The numbers just aren’t matching with potential. Sisco stands above 6-8, and can dial his fastball in the mid-90s. His arm is a concern, but Sisco could breakout huge if he stays healthy.

And the rest, without my input:

61. Justin Huber (NYM C)
62. Adam LaRoche (ATL 1B)
63. J.D. Durbin (MIN SP)
64. Fausto Carmona (CLE SP)
65. Jason Lane (HOU OF)
66. Corey Hart (MIL 3B)
67. Joel Hanrahan (LA SP)
68. Ramon Nivar (TEX 2B/OF)
69. Manny Parra (MIL SP)
70. Jose Lopez (SEA SS)

71. Jayson Nix (COL 2B)
72. Joel Zumaya (DET SP)
73. Sean Burnett (PIT SP)
74. Chadd Blasko (CHC SP)
75. Dan Meyer (ATL SP)
76. Freddy Sanchez (PIT 2B)
77. Bubba Nelson (ATL SP)
78. Bobby Brownlie (CHC SP)
79. Alberto Callaspo (ANA 2B)
80. Brandon Claussen (CIN SP)

81. Matt Cain (SF SP)
82. Ryan Madson (PHI SP)
83. Ryan Howard (PHI 1B)
84. Rett Johnson (SEA SP)
85. Kevin Youkilis (BOS 3B)
86. Mike Jones (MIL SP)
87. Kevin Olsen (FLA SP)
88. David Bush (TOR SP)
89. Chad Tracy (AZ 3B)
90. Felix Hernandez (SEA SP)

Notice that I only included three 2003 draft picks in my top 90, and that was on purpose. I limited myself to players who had Major League experience, and Delmon Young, as I think it’s fun to see where the top pick stacks up. So by demand, here is my top ten prospects from the 2003 draft:

1. Rickie Weeks- 2B- Milwaukee Brewers
2. Delmon Young- OF- Tampa Bay Devil Rays
3. Ryan Wagner- RHP- Cincinnati Reds
4. Ian Stewart- 3B- Colorado Rockies
5. Kyle Sleeth- SP- Detroit Tigers
6. Ryan Harvey- OF- Chicago Cubs
7. Conor Jackson- 3B/OF- Arizona Diamondbacks
8. Jeffrey Allison- SP- Florida Marlins
9. Michael Aubrey- 1B- Cleveland Indians
10. Brad Sullivan- SP- Oakland Athletics

Finally, using my top 90, I’d like to give my organizational rankings. To do this, I count how many players each team had in the top 90, and if teams are tied, I add up the rankings of each player (the lower, the better the ranking). For example, Tampa Bay and Houston both have two players in my ranking. Tampa Bay’s two players are ranked second and seventeenth, while the Astros two are fifty-fourth and sixty-fifth. So since Tampa Bay’s 19 is lower than the Astros 119, the Devil Rays get the better ranking. After that long explanation, these are my organizational rankings solely bases on my top 90 prospect list:

1. Anaheim Angels
2. Milwaukee Brewers
3. Chicago Cubs
4. Seattle Mariners
5. Los Angeles Dodgers
6. Toronto Blue Jays
7. Atlanta Braves
8. Minnesota Twins
9. New York Mets
10. Pittsburgh Pirates
11. Philadelphia Phillies
12. Baltimore Orioles
13. Colorado Rockies
14. Florida Marlins
15. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
16. Oakland Athletics
17. Kansas City Royals
18. Chicago White Sox
19. Tied- St. Louis Cardinals
19. Tied- San Diego Padres
20. Cleveland Indians
21. Houston Astros
22. Arizona Diamondbacks
23. San Francisco Giants
24. Cincinnati Reds
25. New York Yankees
26. Texas Rangers
27. Detroit Tigers
28. Boston Red Sox
29. Montreal Expos

That’s it for today. As always, leave any questions in the comments below...

Baseball BeatFebruary 17, 2004
The BEAT Goes On
By Rich Lederer

I'm pleased to announce that Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT has become an official member of the All-Baseball.com network.

The new URL address for Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT is:

http://www.all-baseball.com/richbeat

The new RSS feed is as follows:

http://www.all-baseball.com/richbeat/index.xml

Eight months ago when I started Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT, I could not have envisioned joining up with Christian Ruzich (The Cub Reporter and The Transaction Guy), Alex Belth (Bronx Banter), Mike Carminati (Mike's Baseball Rants), Will Carroll (The Will Carroll Weblog), Mark McClusky (Baysball), Jon Weisman (Dodger Thoughts), Peter White (Mariner Musings), and Bryan Smith (Wait 'Til Next Year) in such an exciting and promising venture.

I'm honored to be associated with these talented writers, and I'm proud to call each and every fellow member a friend. The relationships that I have developed with writers and readers alike have meant a lot to me, and I look forward to building upon them in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

All-Baseball.com. Is there a more descriptive name for a baseball website than that? Our aim is to deliver baseball content that is distinctive, relevant, and entertaining to a growing base of readers. We want you to check in with us in the morning, during your coffee break, at lunchtime, and in the evening before, during, or after Baseball Tonight.

Effective immediately, all of my new columns will be found exclusively at this new site. Please reset your bookmarks and links at your convenience.

Thank you for your past patronage, and I hope to maintain your loyalty as we go forward.

"And the BEAT goes on, the BEAT goes on..."

Baseball BeatFebruary 17, 2004
The BEAT Goes On
By Rich Lederer

I'm pleased to announce that Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT has become an official member of the All-Baseball.com network.

The new URL address for Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT is:

http://www.all-baseball.com/richbeat

The new RSS feed is as follows:

http://www.all-baseball.com/richbeat/index.xml

Eight months ago when I started Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT, I could not have envisioned joining up with Christian Ruzich (The Cub Reporter and The Transaction Guy), Alex Belth (Bronx Banter), Mike Carminati (Mike's Baseball Rants), Will Carroll (The Will Carroll Weblog), Mark McClusky (Baysball), Jon Weisman (Dodger Thoughts), Peter White (Mariner Musings), and Bryan Smith (Wait 'Til Next Year) in such an exciting and promising venture.

I'm honored to be associated with these talented writers, and I'm proud to call each and every fellow member a friend. The relationships that I have developed with writers and readers alike have meant a lot to me, and I look forward to building upon them in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

All-Baseball.com. Is there a more descriptive name for a baseball website than that? Our aim is to deliver baseball content that is distinctive, relevant, and entertaining to a growing base of readers. We want you to check in with us in the morning, during your coffee break, at lunchtime, and in the evening before, during, or after Baseball Tonight.

Effective immediately, all of my new columns will be found exclusively at this new site. Please reset your bookmarks and links at your convenience.

Thank you for your past patronage, and I hope to maintain your loyalty as we go forward.

"And the BEAT goes on, the BEAT goes on..."

WTNYFebruary 17, 2004
The WTNY Top 50
By Bryan Smith

I’ve been working on this list for awhile, so finally I get to debut my top 50 prospect list. For each player I wrote about a paragraph about their skillset, and then skipped a line, put a *, and wrote a sentence or two about their future. My list is more tools-based than most sabermatricians around the Internet, but more performance-based than the average scout would tell you.

Enjoy...

1. Joe Mauer- C- Minnesota Twins
Not many players can justify being chosen before Mark Prior, but Mauer comes awfully close. He’s the consensus #1 choice on every list, mainly because he is so unique. Only five left-handed hitting catchers have hit .280 more than once, and three (Mickey Cochrane, Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey) are Hall of Famers. Mauer hits for average extremely well, and is said to have Gold Glove defense. I’m not sure if Mauer will ever hit for the power the scouts are suggesting, I see more Cochrane than Dickey.
*- It’s really up to Mauer when he hits the Metrodome, but he could start the season there. If he struggles in Spring Training, the Twins will send him to AAA for fine-tuning.

2. B.J. Upton- SS- Tampa Bay Devil Rays- Bats- R Throws- R
The sky is the limit for B.J., who had very similar numbers to what Derek Jeter had in the SALLY League as a 19-year-old. Upton has 50SB potential, and projects to 15-25HR annually. He struggled mightily on defense, and had 56 errors last season. That should change with age, and it’s believed he can be at least league average.
*- The Devil Rays challenged Upton in 2003, and he really came through. The team will send him to AA Orlando, and will have the position wide open before 2005. But, they must make sure they advance him carefully, he’s their best prospect ever.

3. Edwin Jackson- RHP- Los Angeles Dodgers
At first glance, I was going to give the best starter label to fellow Dodger Greg Miller, but when investigating their peripheral numbers, my mind changed. Here’s how the pair did at their main level in ’04:


Name H/9 K/9
Jackson 7.34 9.53
Miller 8.01 8.64

While Miller ended the season wonderfully in AA, Jackson did fantastic in the Major Leagues. Jackson reminds me of Giant Jerome Williams, and it looks like the two will duke it out for years to come. Both have mid-90s fastballs and very good curveballs, are basically the same size, and are said to have very fluid motions. If you live in Los Angeles and aren’t excited, change.
*- After a spectacular September, Jackson might earn a spot with the Dodgers. If not, he’ll go to AAA and be up by midseason. Dodger Stadium plus Jackson spells out Rookie of the Year.

4. Rickie Weeks- 2B- Milwaukee Brewers- Bats-R Throws-R
With Weeks being selected second overall, there has been three straight years of #2 choices dominating the first pick (Prior over Mauer, Upton over Bullington, Weeks over Young). Weeks has been much accomplished at every level, starting with the NCAA, then the Midwest League, and finally the AFL. He reminds me of Joe Morgan offensively, though Weeks has defensive shortcomings that Morgan didn’t. Think Alfonso Soriano, only with better discipline.
*- The Brewers have second base filled in 2004, but they’ll make room when Rickie is ready. He’ll likely start in AA, but will join his future infield partners J.J. Hardy and Corey Hart in Indianapolis before long.

5. Alexis Rios- OF- Toronto Blue Jays- Bats- R Throws- R
No one broke out last year more than Rios, who finally justified the first round selection the team used on him. Tall and lanky, Rios has contact skills that are unmatched in the minor leagues. While his power hasn’t developed yet, he showed promising results in the Winter League, hitting 12 HR in 155AB. John Neary over at Batter’s Box had a nice piece on what that means here. On defense, Rios doesn’t cover the ground that Vernon Wells does, so he may move to left. At the Futures Game, Rios made a fantastic throw from center, and scouts agree he has the arm for right. The only outfielder to ever hit .300 at 6-6 was Dave Winfield, and Rios might be a lighter version of him.
*- There’s little doubt that Rios will be in AAA next season, as the Blue Jays give him another year to hone his power skills. Then in 2005, the Jays will field a fantastic Gross-Wells-Rios trio in the Skydome.

6. Justin Morneau- 1B- Minnesota Twins- Bats-L Throws-R
In terms of power, Justin Morneau is in the highest tier, competing only with Prince Fielder and Jason Stokes in the minor leagues. But Morneau is the most Major League ready of the 3, as he hit 22HR in only four months in AA and AAA. The best comparison I could come up with is Willie McCovey, who just happens to be in the 500-HR club. Justin could draw more walks and strike out less, and some worry he won’t hit for average. The Twins have a star on their hands here, and Minnesota could have an M+M combo reminding of Biggio and Bagwell very soon.
*- Justin is very close to ready, but the team is milking their time with Doug Mientkiewicz. I would trade their Gold Glover for Morneau, but instead Terry Ryan is going to let him dominate AA, and then unseat Matt LeCroy at DH.

7. Greg Miller- LHP- Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers are really hoping for a second coming of Sam McDowell, but Miller might write his own book with his skills. Thought to be a questionable first-round pick before the 2002 draft, Miller turned it up in the final weeks, and the Dodgers ended up with a steal. Miller brings mid-90s heat, and two fantastic breaking pitches. Health could be a worry, but Miller finished the season fantastically in AA. Greg must add weight to his 6-5 frame, but could give the Dodgers the best 1-2 combo in the National League.
*- While Miller was great in Jacksonville, it was only in four starts. He’ll go back there for 2004, and spend the year in the Southern League as a 19-year-old, like Jackson did this past year. Jackson and Joel Hanrahan will get starts before Miller, but the Dodgers might be highest on their southpaw.

8. Andy Marte- 3B- Atlanta Braves- Bats-R Throws-R
While the Braves system is renowned for producing pitching, the team has their best prospect since Andruw Jones and Chipper Jones walked the minors. Marte produced and produced big in the Florida State League, hitting 52 extra-base hits at the level. If your keeping track, that’s one less than Miguel Cabrera had at that level in 2002, and Marte’s AVE and OBP bested the Marlin youngster. Marte brings great defense to the table, and is nearly Major League ready.
*- If Marte follows Cabrera’s path, he’ll be in Atlanta midseason. My guess is they leave him in AA Greenville a little bit longer, but he’ll be the Opening Day 3B in 2005. Marte will be hitting 30HR annually in Turner Field in five years time.

9. Zack Greinke- RHP- Kansas City Royals
In his first full year against professional hitting, Zack Greinke has made a name for himself. The Royal right-hander absolutely dominated Carolina League opponents, following a winter spent in the Puerto Rican League. Greinke dropped on my list due to a weak K/9 rate, but he balances that with great control. He understands changing speeds better than any other prospect, and mixes in an above-average curve. With three Major League pitches, Kansas City fans are praying for the second coming of Saberhagen.
*- Upon promotion to AA, Greinke was hardly dominating. He'll head back to Wichita at year's beginning, but don't bet against him arriving about the same time that Jimmy Gobble did last year.

10. Jeremy Reed- OF- Chicago White Sox
My 2003 minor league player of the year, Jeremy Reed has ascented unlike any other prospect. The White Sox outfielder improved after a midseason AA promotion, hitting .409 and slugging more home runs. Reed may be the most instinctual player in the minors, using that both on defense and on the basepaths. He'll be an average fielder in both center and on the corners, but he does have the arm for right field. Reed's plate discipline is unparalleled, and he's very reminiscent of Lenny Dykstra. A sabermatrician's dream, it wasn't a surprise that Baseball Prospectus introduced Reed to me.
*- Jeremy will get a chance at the centerfield job in Spring Training, but sending him to AAA has advantages also. Reed far surpasses former top prospect Joe Borchard, who should consider following the Drew Henson path soon.

11. Cole Hamels- LHP- Philadelphia Phillies
No 2002 draftee made noise like Cole Hamels did last year, not Upton, not Greinke, not Prince. Hamels made low-A hitters look silly in 2003, to the tone of a 3.86H/9 and 13.86K/9. Upon moving to the Florida State League, Hamels' H/9 fell a bit, but he kept his strikeout rates high. The southpaw has the best change up in the minors, as well as pinpoint control. Give Ed Wade and Mike Arbuckle some credit, they've had some great draft picks in recent years.
*- Cole will head back to the FSL next year, but will be in the Eastern League by year’s end. A 2005 September call-up should be in the cards, fantastic pick by the Phillies.

12. Jeff Mathis- C- Anaheim Angels
While Mauer is a better catching prospect, Jeff Mathis has much more raw power. Mathis, converted to catching when joining the Angels, is transitioning better each year. Jeff has become a solid catcher, improving his caught-stolen percentage each season. If Mathis can turn some of his thirty-nine doubles to home runs, he’ll hit twenty-five home runs immediately. Forget a terrible AFL, Mathis is the top Angel prospect.
*- Bengie Molina is a free agent at year’s end, and they’ll lean on Mathis to take over in 2005. The Angels ability to mesh rookies and All-Stars will determine their success.

13. Prince Fielder- 1B- Milwaukee Brewers
There is not a bat in the minor leagues that I (as a hypothetical GM) would want more than Prince Fielder's. Prince has inherited his father's power, but possesses contact skills that Cecil didn't have. Fielder has very good plate discipline, and struck out much less than the average Midwest Leaguer. While he has the bat, he drops in rankings because he brings little else to the table. His speed is non-existent, and some worry he won't be much as a first basemen. But in Weeks and Fielder, the Brew have a helluva 3-4 for the future.
*- Milwaukee doesn't like sending hitters to the massive pitcher's park at high-A, so they probably won't. Fielder will be challenged at AA, and his timetable will solely be determined on performance.

14. Scott Kazmir- LHP- New York Mets
The Mets took it very slow with Scott Kazmir this year, as the 2002 first-rounder only threw 4.37 innings a start. There have been prior concerns about injury, likely due to his short build and high-torque delivery. Kazmir wasn't as dominating as Cole Hamels, but had better peripheral numbers after a promotion to the FSL. Kazmir throws a great fastball, and some scouts say he depends on it too much. He draws the inevitable Billy Wagner comparisons, but they may be fair as he could end up closing in Flushing.
*- New York will continue to baby Kazmir, whom they invested $2.15M into. Barring injury that should pay off, whether or not he's starting. Expect him in Shea regularly by 2006.

15. David Wright- 3B- New York Mets
In terms of prospect status, the AFL helped David Wright considerably. During that time, Wright jumped over Dallas McPherson as my #2 3B prospect, and climbed into the top-15. There isn't a lot to not like about Wright, he's got power, patience, and speed. Some are worried that he's yet to dominate a level, but the Mets have very high hopes for his 2004 Eastern League performance. I'll second Mike Gullo's comparison to Scott Rolen, Wright's got the total package.
*- New York is another team who could have great success if they mix veterans and prospects well, as they have both the money and the system. Jim Duquette is counting on Wright to nudge out Ty Wigginton next year.

16. Grady Sizemore- OF- Cleveland Indians
Grady Sizemore isn't fantastic at anything, but he's above average in just about everything. I witnessed the outfielder hit a home run in the Futures Game, and was left very impressed. While Sizemore didn't 'dominate' the Eastern League, he was one of the better players. The Indians aren't sure what to make of Sizemore: center or left? Middle of the order, or top? My thinking is that Grady should be a leadoff left fielder, although he's not the fantastic basestealer that some GMs yearn for.
*- The Indians should send Sizemore to the International League to further refine his skills. Plus, the $13.5 million that Matt Lawton is owed still stands in the way. But when it's time, the Indians Sizemore-Bradley-Gerut outfield will be damn good.

17. Delmon Young- OF- Tampa Bay Devil Rays
To say the least, Tampa Bay had a hard time with their top overall choice. It was going to be Ryan Harvey, maybe Kyle Sleeth, even Marc Cornell got a try out. Adam Loewen signed with the Orioles in the final minutes, and it looked like Rickie Weeks was the choice. That was until they saw Delmon Young. Dmitri's brother is a much more complete version of himself, with a sky-high ceiling. He dominated the AFL, and Peter Gammons quotes a scout that is reminded of Albert Belle. Delmon will remain in right field, and may lead the AL in home runs if Chuck Lamar finally got one right.
*- Predicting Delmon's performance next year is a fool's game, but the D-Rays would be correct to send him to high-A Bakersfield. With the speed of Tampa promotions, he'll get a shot next Spring Training, with a more permanent stay mid-2005.

18. Bobby Crosby- SS- Oakland Athletics
Knowing that Miguel Tejada was heading elsewhere after 2003, Billy Beane and co. had high hopes for Bobby Crosby. He exceeded every expectation that could have been set, capturing the PCL Rookie of the Year award. Crosby had 54 extra-base hits, including his own career-high 22HR. He walks a lot, yet balances that with too many strikeouts. He'll show average power, and is a fantastic basestealer (24/28) if the A's utilize that skill. Crosby reminds me of Edgar Renteria with his mix of power and speed.
*- The only thing that can hold Crosby from starting is a bad enough camp to put Mark Ellis back at shortstop. Bobby will get 500AB in 2004, and is a favorite to land his second straight Rookie of the Year award.

19. Casey Kotchman- 1B- Anaheim Angels
When healthy, Casey Kotchman can hit. It's just that first part that holds him back from the top ten, and the second part that keeps him in the top 20. Kotchman has a left-handed swing that rivals only Joe Mauer, and like Mauer, he perfectly commands the strike zone. He'll have to prove he has home run power to end the Will Clark/Mark Grace comparisons, and may turn out to be Rafael Palmiero when all is said and done. Kotchman is a great defender, and could start winning Gold Gloves from year one.
*- The Angels will likely lose Garret Anderson after 2004, pushing Darin Erstad back to center, allowing Kotchman to step in and join Mathis in the '05 lineup. For now, he'll head to AA, try to stay healthy, and keep tearing the cover off the ball.

20. Josh Barfield- 2B- San Diego Padres
Being the son of a former AL home run champ seems to be the easiest way in the top 20, as both Cecil Fielder and Jesse Barfield's sons have spots there. Josh Barfield is much different than his father, as he's a second basemen who has yet to develop more than doubles power. His forty-six doubles led him to being California League MVP, and the Padres hope that his home run total will rise this year. Barfield strikes out too much, and is merely an average defender. He stole 16 bases last year, and has the speed to boost that total.
*- Josh will be tested in AA, as San Diego hopes to push Barfield to less strikeouts. He was the best 2B prospect before Rickie Weeks came along, and should be in PETCO starting in September of 2005.

21. Ervin Santana- RHP- Anaheim Angels
The Minors First said of Santana, "[Santana] has one of the most electric young arms in the minors." And as usual, Mike Gullo is right on the nose. Santana was sensational in high-A, with a H/9 sitting right around 7.00. He struggled a bit when moving to the Texas League, although he only allowed 23 hits in 29.1 innings. Ervin has a mid-90s fastball, along with a great slider as a knock out pitch. I'm not as high on Ervin as other sites, but I concede that he has #2 potential.
*- Santana will head back to AA this year, and is looking at a September call-p in Anaheim. He'll be starting in 2005, and begin what should be a long rivalry with Rich Harden.

22. Guillermo Quiroz- C- Toronto Blue Jays
Months after having his season ended with a collapsed lung, Guillermo Quiroz kept hitting while in the winter league. I remember when Quiroz was the fourth best catcher in the Toronto system (Phelps, Werth, Cash), then drawing comparisons to Henry Blanco. Then something weird started happening...he started hitting. Twenty home runs later, Guillermo Quiroz is a power threat every at-bat. Mix that with a fantastic arm, and you have yourself a top-notch catching prospect.
*- Since the Blue Jays have Kevin Cash and Greg Myers, Quiroz will get all the time he needs. He’ll start the year in Syracuse, and could have the weak side of a platoon in September.

23. Clint Nageotte- RHP- Seattle Mariners
If you like sliders, you’re going to love Mariner right-hander Clint Nageotte. There is little question that Nageotte’s slider is the best of any prospect, which led to a dominating Texas League performance in 2003. His 3.10ERA (higher than most prospects on this list) is caused by a high walk ratio, but I am a believer that control can be learned. Nageotte also boasts a big fastball, a picture of the perfect power pitcher. Refining his changeup would put him in the top 10, for now, just be wowed by those sliders.
*- I’m under the opinion that the 2005 Mariner rotation will be very different than the current version. I expect Soriano, Nageotte, and prospect #37 will join Moyer and Pineiro full-time next year.

24. Dustin McGowan- RHP- Toronto Blue Jays
It’s definitely amusing that the Blue Jays, with their Moneyball regime in place, have three non-college players in the top twenty-five. McGowan is the most unique of the bunch...a high school pitcher. McGowan is a big right-hander that showed plus control in 150+ IP. His K/9 is a little low, but improved upon a move to AA. His H/9 jumped above 9.00 after his promotion, but John Sickels pointed out he was still below Eastern League average. With four plus pitches and a good pitcher’s body, McGowan is the real deal.
*- Dustin is another of the many pitching prospects on this list that will be in the Majors in 2005. Sure, he might make about five starts this year, but he’ll likely split time between AA and AAA.

25. J.J. Hardy- SS- Milwaukee Brewers
J.J. Hardy is a scout’s dream. The kid has contact skills, patience, a bit of power, and sensational defense....at shortstop. Sabermatricians will love his BB/K that is above 1.00. But one thing scares me: a .275 average. Hardy faded late, and his average finished much too low. AA is a long way from the NL Central, so Hardy must boost that average this year. He won’t run much, but he’ll be a wonderful two-hole hitter if things bounce right.
*- Like most Brewer prospects, Hardy doesn’t have to worry about being blocked. His performance creates its own timetable, and I think the Brewers are hoping for a Midsummer entrance.

26. Angel Guzman- RHP- Chicago Cubs
Not often can a player make the top thirty with an injury that ended his season before he threw ninety innings, but then again, few have Angel Guzman’s arm. Reports say Guzman will be back and healthy by the end of Spring Training. When healthy, Guzman has a fantastic fastball, and can change speeds very well. He has a very refined change up, as well as a very good curve. There is still a large injury concern with Guzman, so the Cubs will take it very slow with Guzman this year.
*- Guzman is the favorite to replace Matt Clement in 2005. He’ll likely get 3-5 Major League starts this year, and spend the rest of his year in Iowa.

27. Franklin Gutierrez- OF- Los Angeles Dodgers
There is no question that Franklin Gutierrez is raw. He struck out 131 times in 492AB between high-A and AA, and then 47 more in 160 Winter League AB. But like many Dominican sluggers before him, Gutierrez has power. He hit 20HR in A-ball, and then four more in just 67 Southern League at-bats. Power was the only thing that stayed with him in winter ball, as his contact skills left him. Gutierrez stole twenty bases in the regular season, and is touted with having a plus arm.
*- Despite a great performance in AA last year, Gutierrez will spend more time there in 2004. This type of player tends to struggle when reach upper levels, so it’s safer predicting a 2006 time of arrival.

28. Adam Wainwright- RHP- St. Louis Cardinals
The first player on this list that isn’t on his original team, Adam Wainwright was the key to the J.D. Drew trade for the Cardinals. Teams are intrigued over Wainwright’s 6-6, 220 body, a frame that is usually very resistant to injury. Wainwright’s strikeout rates were alarmingly low, and he really tailed off after joining Team USA in October. Adam doesn’t throw in the mid-90s like scouts used to project, but he mixes his three pitches very well against hitters.
*- Wainwright should be up by midseason, though there is a chance he beats Dan Haren or Cris Carpenter out of a rotation slot. Expect Wainwright to replace an injured Cardinal before the Midsummer Classic.

29. John Van Benschoten- RHP- Pittsburgh Pirates
After watching JVB play baseball, you get the feeling that he would have succeeded in hitting if the Pirates had chosen that route. But Dave Littlefield made a nice move converting the former NCAA home run champ to the mound, where he’s really flourished. Like Dustin McGowan, Van Benschoten’s H/9 rate was above 9.00 in the Eastern League, but still below league average. Watching him at the Futures Game, I was very impressed by his curveball, a pitch he threw quite often.
*- The Pirates worry about their former first-rounder’s stamina, so you might not see Van Benschoten in PNC Park this year. He still must develop his secondary pitches, but should replace Kris Benson in 2005.

30. Jason Bay- OF- Pittsburgh Pirates
Being in three organizations in oen year normally doesn’t reflect a good player, but Jason Bay is the exception to that rule. The Mets made a big mistake trading Bay to the Padres in order to land Steve Reed, a deadline deal gone wrong. Bay was sensational in the PCL, with a .951OPS, 20HR in 307AB, and 23 stolen bases. He was a key component in the Brian Giles trade, and quickly justified the Bucs end of the deal. His OPS was .950 in eighty-seven Major League at-bats, including eleven extra-base hits.
*- Bay, along with Kaz Matsui and Edwin Jackson, is a favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year. He’ll play an outfield corner spot for the Pirates, and should sit in the middle of Lloyd McClendon’s lineup.

31. Bobby Jenks- RHP- Anaheim Angels
I imagine this pick will draw as much criticism as any other choice, because I rank Jenks much higher than other systems. I see Bartolo Colon in Jenks, fitting as they will soon be teammates. Jenks has a huge fastball, but had more success not trying to register triple digits last season. His curveball, like Colon, can be unhittable at times, and led to a fantastic K/9 rate. Jenks continued his success in winter ball, but like always, his problem will be control. And like Colon, his weight.
*- Jenks only managed 16 starts in AA due to injury, but he was fantastic. He’ll be in AAA this year, and is a good bet to make a Rafael Soriano impact before getting a full-time job in 2005.

32. Joe Blanton- RHP- Oakland Athletics
Moneyball glorified every selection the A’s made in the 2002 draft, but only Blanton has panned out like Billy Beane had hoped. The A’s sent the right-hander to the Midwest League last year, and he didn’t have much competition. Blanton was one of the older pitchers in his league, and only allowed nineteen walks in 133IP. His success continued greatly in the Texas League, and the A’s are hoping that Blanton flies through the system like Rich Harden did a year ago.
*- Oakland’s rotation is flawless, and PCL pitcher of the year Justin Duchscerer is one of the best sixth starters in the business. Blanton will take his time in AA, but will probably be looking at a mid-2005 entrance.

33. Dallas McPherson- 3B- Anaheim Angels
Much ado was made when Dallas McPherson hit a home run off Randy Johnson when the Big Unit was rehabbing, and it started to tell the story on McPherson’s power potential. The third basemen his twenty-three home runs last season, but about half of those was in a red-hot twenty game span. He walked enough to keep his OBP over .400, and even stole some bases. The Texas League proved to be no contest, as his OBP and BB/K all improved after promotion.
*- The Angels spent a lot of money, and as a result, likely won’t be able to afford Troy Glaus after this season. Anaheim is hoping McPherson continues to hit well, as he’ll likely be handed the starting job next season.

34. Gavin Floyd- RHP- Philadelphia Phillies
That 2001 draft just can’t go wrong. First there was Joe Mauer, then Prior, third was Teixeira. The fourth pick was Gavin Floyd, a high school pitcher that the Phillies would give more money than any draft pick they’ve ever had. He’s done a good job as a professional, and despite a record under .500, was very successful in the FSL. His low K/9 scares me, but Floyd’s calling card is control anyway. His fantastic curve should yield more strikeouts, but Floyd’s potential is enough to warrant this selection.
*- Floyd seems to be doing a level a year, and should spend much of 2004 in AA. The Phillie rotation will likely lose Kevin Millwood and Eric Milton after next season, possibly making way for Floyd.

35. Scott Hairston- 2B- Arizona Diamondbacks
Hairston shows up really high on a lot of prospect charts, despite not producing like he should have last season. Hairston’s average was below .280, his OBP below .350. But he has much more power than the normal second basemen, is a very hot and cold player. He won’t run much, instead should produce more like a Marcus Giles-type. There are rumors that Hairston will move to the outfield because of his bad defense, but I don’t see that happening.
*- Robbie Alomar is signed for one season, and for good reason. Hairston might be sent back to AA to start the year, but the Diamondbacks will hope he hits enough to warrant a promotion. He should be the starting 2005 second basemen.

36. James Loney- 1B- Los Angeles Dodgers
One of many first basemen who endured wrist pain last season, Loney seems to have been effected the most. He only hit seven home runs in the Florida State League, but showcased his potential with more than thirty doubles. The twenty-year-old has good defense, but needs to start walking more to become a prototypical first basemen. He still has some convincing to do, but for now I’ll say that Loney is a lot closer to Will Clark than Casey Kotchman is.
*- Loney will be sent to AA next year, and expectations will be high. The DePodesta regime will not like a first basemen that doesn’t walk, so Loney may be in a different location when it’s all said and done.

37. Travis Blackley- LHP- Seattle Mariners
This kid may not have the potential of some pitchers, but he sure has the results. The 2003 Texas League Pitcher of the Year, Blackley led all minor leaguers with seventeen wins last year. His H/9 and K/9 were good for a soft-throwing southpaw, but Blackley understands the art of pitching. The Australian sets up hitters well, changes speeds, and throws a plus curve to strike them out. He walks more than his scouting report would suggest, but that shouldn’t be a problem at upper levels.
*- Blackley is behind Soriano and Nageotte on the depth chart, but the Mariners will stick him on Jamie Moyer in camp. Travis should have a job in 2005, unless Rett Johnson leapfrog’s the Aussie.

38. Chin-Hui Tsao- RHP- Colorado Rockies
Most rankings have Tsao much higher than thirty-eighth. But when I look at this list five years down the road, I really think this is where Tsao’s numbers belong. In terms of ceiling, Tsao’s name would come in just behind the top four pitchers listed. But, the first Taiwanese to start a Major League game will be throwing in Coors Field, a park that isn’t very good to power pitchers. If Tsao is dealt somewhere else, he belongs in the top 20, but for now, Denver drags his ranking.
*- He should start where he finished last year, which was Denver. Tsao looked mediocre when I saw him against the New York Mets last year, likely because he had tired late in the season.

39. Dioner Navarro- C- New York Yankees
The lone Yankee. I know that Dioner is not headed to the Rangers in the A-Rod deal, as the Bombers will probably send Navarro off for Jose Vidro midseason. The catcher came out of nowhere this season, but after a promotion to AA, went red-hot. In 208 Eastern League AB, Navarro his .341, slugged 19 extra bases, and controlled the strike zone well. He’s called ‘Pudgito’ for his defense behind the plate, and should be a fantastic addition for Montreal...er, the Yanks.
*- His organization will determine his future. My guess is the Yanks will send Navarro back to AA to boost his numbers (and thus trade value), but if he’s moved to another organization, could start there in ’05.

40. John Maine- RHP- Baltimore Orioles
Maine’s 2003 statistics look fake at first glance. 91 hits in 146.1 innings? 185 strikeouts but only thirty-eight walks? Can that be for real? It is, as the former collegiate starter proved to be a little too advanced for low-A hitters, and even high-A batters for that matter. Maine relies on his fastball more than most starters, and his secondary pitches aren’t refined. Look for him to struggle a bit this season, but to regain his status as his breaking pitch improves.
*- Maine will start the year in AA, and I don’t expect him to move quickly. A 2006 entrance is the most likely guess, though Maine could surprise and even end up in Camden this year.

41. Jeremy Hermida- OF- Florida Marlins
Normally grouped with Jeff Francouer, Hermida blows his fellow NL Eastern outfield prospect out of the water. Hermida looks to be a leadoff hitter in the making, as he hit for contact last season, drew eighty walks, and is fast. On the basepaths, Hermida was only caught twice in thirty tries, as good of a stolen base threat as anyone on this list. He is said to play centerfield well, and might overthrown Juan Pierre if he moves fast enough.
*- The Marlins will be sure not to push Hermida, likely scooting him along at one level a year. Pierre’s contract runs out after 2005, so Florida likely has 2006 circled on Hermida’s calendar.

42. Adam Loewen- LHP- Baltimore Orioles
I’m always hesitant to put players on this list solely based on potential, but Loewen makes me bend the rules. A 2002 draft-and-follow, Loewen signed minutes before the deadline last year as the Devil Rays were salivating with the top choice overall. The Canadian southpaw has a great fastball and curveball, and is said to throw his change up quite often. He did well in seven starts last year, but has to prove he can last a full season to become a bona fide prospect.
*- Loewen is probably on the John Maine path, which means that he’ll be sent to low-A to boost his confidence, and then get a midseason promotion to high-A.

43. Jeff Francis- LHP- Colorado Rockies
Here’s my guarantee: you won’t find another prospect ranking in the world that has Jeff Francis in the top fifty but right here. The reason behind that is an e-mail that I saved thanks to Kevin Goldstein’s Baseball America Prospect Report. In Francis’ last fifteen starts, he went 10-1, 1.06, showing the type of prospect he really is. Francis has a big body and is very durable, but needs to refine his pitches before blasting off.
*- I’m very high on Francis, and I expect the Canadian to dominate AA in 2004. With Tsao and Francis atop their rotation, the Rockies should boost that road record in coming years.

44. Merkin Valdez- RHP- San Francisco Giants
The Giants didn’t expect Manuel Mateo, a throw-in from the Braves in the Russ Ortiz deal a year ago, to contribute much to the organization. But after adding a couple of years and seeing his name changed, Valdez has skyrocketed atop the Giants’ system. El Mago was far too advanced for low-A last season, dominating in every start. Don’t be surprised if Valdez is converted to a reliever down the road, he has a very light frame and an undeveloped off speed pitch.
*- The Giants have made noise that Valdez will compete for a rotation spot, though I don’t really believe they would give him the job before he’s even touched high-A. I would test Valdez with AA this year, and maybe let him really compete next Spring Training.

45. Denny Bautista- RHP- Baltimore Orioles
No one impressed me more at the Futures Game than Denny Bautista, a huge right-hander that the Orioles acquired for Jeff Conine last season. Bautista, a cousin of Pedro and Ramon Martinez, throws a fantastic fastball that was the best of any pitcher at the Futures Game. His curveball was impressive as well, but I won’t be shocked to see Bautista to become a reliever. Adding control and weight to his repertoire would make Denny a top-notch prospect.
*- While his H/9 and K/9 were good in AA, a 3.71 isn’t acceptable for a prospect. Bautista will go back to AA this year, moving from the Southern League to the Eastern League. With the Orioles horrendous pitching staff, Bautista could be starting come August.

46. Ryan Wagner- RHP- Cincinnati Reds
Cincinnati was justified in choosing Ryan Wagner from the University of Houston last year, as no other draftee was even as close to being ready as Wagner. Ryan broke Billy Wagner’s NCAA record of strikeouts per nine innings last year, and his slider continued to strike people out in the Major Leagues. I was lucky enough to watch Wagner on TV for one of his four Major League innings, and I was left very impressed. His fastball/slider combo could make him a top-20 reliever this year.
*- Unfortunately, the word from Reds camp is that Danny Graves will become the Reds closer, and not Wagner. Rumors of moving Ryan to the rotation have been squashed, and Wagner should become closer as soon as Graves proves to be terrible.

47. Jason Stokes- 1B- Florida Marlins
This is when sensational power overrides all else. My senses tell me that a first basemen that hit .258 in high-A, and then .145 in the AFL should be ignored. But Stokes smacked 48 extra-base hits last year with a bum wrist, which is the reason I speak of his fantastic power. Stokes struck out 135 times in the regular season, and more than 35% of the time in the AFL. His plate discipline is terrible, but as long as Stokes can hit the ball four hundred feet, he’ll stay on my list.
*- The Marlins might want to consider sending Stokes back to high-A next year, as Hee Seop Choi allows them to take it very slowly with Stokes. Rushing someone with this potential would be foolish.

48. Felix Pie- OF- Chicago Cubs
In his short time as a professional PEE-ay has drawn the comparisons to fellow Dominican outfielders Vladimir Guerrero and Sammy Sosa. I disagree wholeheartedly with that presumption, Pie will never have that type of power. Instead, I expect Pie to be a leadoff hitter down the road, though he has a ways to go. He got caught thirteen times in thirty-two stolen base attempts last year, a number much too high for someone with his speed. But Felix plays the best outfield defense in the minors, and isn’t as immune to walking as Guerrero and Sosa were at this age.
*- Pie will move to high-A next year, but the Cubs will be much more open to a promotion is he succeeds. The team expects Felix to move Corey Patterson to left field down the road, but that’s not until 2007.

49. Blake Hawkesworth- RHP- St. Louis Cardinals
Before Wainwright came onto the scene, Blake Hawkesworth was all the Cardinals had in their minor league system. Hawkesworth is very similar to former top prospect Dan Haren in size and performance, and could have the same type of meteoric rise to the Majors. Blake has a very good curveball, and low to mid-90s heat. His peripherals were good in high-A, and Hawkesworth was far too advanced for Midwest League hitters.
*- The Cardinals will likely send Hawkesworth back to high-A, but I suspect Blake will be in AA by July. A mid-2005 call-up is probable, but you won’t see Hawkesworth regularly in Busch Stadium until 2006.

50. David DeJesus- OF- Kansas City Royals
Another sabermatrician dream, all DeJesus has to do is keep his OBP above .400, and he’ll keep coming up in the rankings. Like Jeremy Reed, DeJesus plays defense and occasionally steals bases on instincts, but doesn’t nearly have the tools that other players on this list do. DeJesus can do just about everything on the baseball diamond, and even showed a power spike in the Arizona Fall League. If he could keep that up, the town of Kansas City could forget about Carlos Beltran very quickly.
*- DeJesus will start the year in Omaha, but isn’t likely to finish there. He’ll replace Beltran in center in 2005, and is probably the favorite to win AL Rookie of the Year that year.

That’s the top 50, please leave any comments, questions, or suggestions in the comment box below...

WTNYFebruary 16, 2004
The Trade
By Bryan Smith

Sometimes there are moves that make me post when I don’t plan on it. Sometimes the history of baseball is changed on a certain day, when no one saw it coming. I thought the largest news of this weekend would be the Tampa Bay Devil Rays opening camp...I was wrong.

Alex Rodriguez, the best player in baseball, the best non-Bonds player of my lifetime, has gone to the Yankees. My hate of the Bronx Bombers is like many baseball fans, hate born from pure envy. Being a Chicago Cubs fan, that envy grows considerably. And today, my envy grows even further.

George saw a problem when Aaron Boone went down, and like he always does, sent Brian Cashman out to fix it. While we all mocked the Yankees for acquiring the likes of Tyler Houston and Mike Lamb, it was the Yankee front office that was laughing. They have no problem pushing their payroll over $200 million for a winner, for Alex Rodriguez.

Alex’s resume is fantastic, and he deserves a lot more than one MVP trophy on his mantle. His OPS has been above .900 each of the last six seasons, although it has dropped each of the last four. Rodriguez slugged above .600, and got on-base at above a .390 clip every year since 2000. He stole 17 bases last season, and brought in 118 runners.

By comparison, Alfonso Soriano isn’t too bad either. Soriano proved last year that 2002 was no fluke and that Juan Samuel is not his best comparison. Soriano’s OBP will never touch .390, and his SLG is far from .600. But Alfonso is good for 35-50SB a year, and should near 40HR yearly. In the last three seasons, Soriano’s road OPS is .118 better away from Yankee Stadium, and he has a 1.248OPS in 41 Arlington at-bats.

While Texas will catch a lot of flak for trading away the best player they ever acquired, this is not a terrible deal for the Rangers. They are only on the hook for $3M to A-Rod this year, although they will pay him $43M more, and owe him deferred money. Soriano will come fairly cheap as this year was his first with arbitration, but his salary should gradually increase each of the next two seasons. The Rangers will be able to afford a long-term contract with Alfonso when Chan Ho Park’s vicious contract comes to an end.

For the Yankees, this deal has nothing to do with money. Rodriguez is a great addition no doubt, although his home/road splits aren’t perfect. Arlington has been very nice to A-Rod, as his OPS has been .143 better there since becoming a Ranger. He’s hit six home runs in fifty-four Yankee Stadium at-bats though, so don’t look for Rodriguez to fall off the MVP ballot. He’ll provide better offense than Soriano did, but he’ll come with more controversy.

If you listen to the rumors so far, Alex Rodriguez will move to the hot corner next year, keeping Derek Jeter at short. This move is guaranteed to catch criticism from the sabermetric community, as Rodriguez is a much better shortstop than Jeter. Rodriguez is better with David Pinto’s probalistic model of range, significantly superior in range factor, and while Rodriguez ranks 10th using UZR, Jeter ranks last. But Jeter is Mr. Yankee, the newest captain of the Bronx Bombers, they can’t possibly ask him to move.

They should. Jeter could be a very good third basemen, or move to centerfield, a la Robin Yount. No matter what, this pushes the third base problem the Yankees had to second base. The team has the following competitors for this job:

Miguel Cairo
Enrique Wilson
Homer Bush

Yikes. This makes the team’s acquisition of Lamb look pointless, just as the Travis Lee addition raises questions to why they are paying Tony Clark. I’m fairly confident that Miguel Cairo will get the job in Spring Training, which is laughable. But as a friend pointed out, Jose Vidro will be available by the All-Star Break, and could give the Yankees this type of depth chart:

C- Jorge Posada
1B- Jason Giambi
2B- Jose Vidro
SS- Derek Jeter
3B- Alex Rodriguez
LF- Hideki Matsui
CF- Kenny Lofton
RF- Gary Sheffield
DH- Bernie Williams

Wow. The Yankees have assured their place as AL East favorites, and the Evil Empire has tightened their grip on the rest of Major League Baseball.

Moving back to Texas, this creates some defensive questions in Dallas as well. Do you move Michael Young back to shortstop? Does Alfonso Soriano move to the outfield? Can Eric Young get in the lineup? I would assume that Soriano stays at his position, giving the Rangers this offense:

C- Einar Diaz
1B- Mark Teixeira
2B- Alfonso Soriano
SS- Michael Young
3B- Hank Blalock
LF- Brian Jordan
CF- Laynce Nix
RF- Kevin Mench
DH- Brad Fullmer

Not bad. Teixeira should breakout this year, giving the team a very good middle of the order. Hopefully Buck Showalter will realize what Joe Torre didn’t: Soriano is not a leadoff hitter. The problem is, no one really is on this team. If Eric Young could get in the lineup he would be, but that would entail beating out the young Nix in centerfield.

As it stands right now, no one knows if Jose Contreras will be in the deal. I’m very high on Contreras, and if he’s still a Yankee, will probably be in my top 5 Cy Young candidates for 2004. He would become the immediate ace in Texas, while he’ll be fourth in the powerful Yankee staff. I don’t think he’ll be included in this deal, which means the Bombers clearly win.

While the Yankees do win this deal, it won’t be as much as the media makes it out to be. These are the dog days of February, and any chance at drama will be exaggerated. This trade works on both ends, and I’ll give John Hart a thumbs-up if he can get Conteras in there too. But please Torre: move Jeter!

WTNYFebruary 14, 2004
New Home
By Bryan Smith

I've finally left Blogspot for a new home, and I'm lucky enough to be joining the powerful team of writers here at All-Baseball.com. I'd like to first thank my readers for making this possible, and secondly Christian Ruzich for inviting me to his establisment.

I'm especially excited to be joining a sensational team of writers that includes Ruzich, Will Carroll, Alex Belth, Jon Weisman, Peter White, and Mark McClusky. I'm in constant awe of what these guys produce, and I am still in disbelief that I can be found on the same URL as that group.

A few new features have been thrown onto the site:

- Leave Comments at the end of every post. I'm really happy about this, and I would love for my readers to comment as often as possible. I've seen the dialogue that other sites produce, and I hope we can do the same here.

- My link system is hardly finished, but I'm working on it. The daily reads are finished, and are the 15 or so sites that I must visit every day. It will be hard for blogs to break into this group, and it hardly means that other blogs aren't 'daily' material, I just haven't gotten there yet. The 'Blogs of Note' section is for the other blogs that I read, and for those people who request link exchanges. Blogs can come and go off this section, and I hope that anyone whose blog isn't on there will drop a line in the comment section so I can add it.

- Finally, you can search my archives or navigate through the calendar on my sidebar.

I hope the site looks as good to you as it does to me, and I want to thank the guys at All-Baseball again for having me...

Alex Rodriguez may or may not be headed to New York when I write this, but the rumors are already flying. While jumping from A-Rod to Soriano is a fantastic improvement, it still leaves one giant hole in the Yankee lineup.

If George becomes so enfatuated with Derek Jeter that he can't move him to the hot corner, I'll be sick. Alex Rodriguez is one of the games' best SS, and Jeter is among the worst. I think Derek could be a great third basemen, think Cal Ripken.

A-Rod would do great in New York, and it would greatly increase the team's chances of making the World Series. I'm really impressed that this team has gone so hard after a player of his caliber, and I'm in awe at the payroll that Steinbrenner will have next year. Winning is winning, and once again, every non-Yankee fan should be envious right now, because your owner doesn't care nearly as much as the Boss.

That's it for today, and I probably won't be making a post until Tuesday, but for now, leave me a comment.

Baseball BeatFebruary 14, 2004
Dream Weaver
By Rich Lederer

I've just closed my eyes again
Climbed aboard the dream weaver train
Driver take away my worries of today
And leave tomorrow behind

(chorus)
Ooh dream weaver
I believe you can get me through the night
Ooh dream weaver
I believe we can reach the morning light
Fly me high through the starry skies
Maybe to an astral plane
Cross the highways of fantasy
Help me to forget todays pain

--Gary Wright


I attended a baseball game between #9-ranked Long Beach State and #16-ranked University of Southern California on Friday night. The game was played in Long Beach at Blair Field, one of the most beautiful ballparks in the country. A school-record 3,163 fans attended the Dirtbags' home opener. It was a standing-room-only crowd except for those sitting atop the fire engine truck beyond the left field wall.



The sell-out crowd was treated with a dazzling performance by Jered Weaver, Long Beach's ace starter. Weaver struck out the first ten Trojans he faced, including four in the third inning. Ten up, ten down. All via strikeouts. The first six went down swinging on 0-2 and 1-2 pitches.

In the top of the third, Weaver continued his streak, getting Baron Frost to miss on a 0-2 pitch far outside the strike zone. The ball eluded Catcher Brad Davis and rolled to the backstop, allowing Frost to reach first base. The big right-hander proceeded to "K" Billy Hart (who served as USC's fourth-string QB last fall), Hector Estrella, and Jon Brewster, the latter for the second time in the first three innings.

Michael Moon then flied out to right field to lead off the fourth inning, ending Weaver's strikeout streak at ten. The All-American went on to whiff 14 Trojans in seven innings as Long Beach State defeated USC, 3-1. Relievers Brett Andrade and Neil Jamison combined for three strikeouts, tying the 49ers' record of 17 for the game.

Weaver opened his 2004 season last week, pitching seven shutouts innings while scattering three hits with no walks and six strikeouts. For his effort, Weaver was honored as Collegiate Baseball's National Player of the Week--the third time that he has won this award.

Big-Time Prospect

If you hadn't heard of Weaver before, you have now. If he remains healthy, look for him to go in the top five in this year's draft. Weaver is so advanced and such a dominant force that it would not surprise me if he pitched in the big leagues in 2005.

Weaver's pedigree (he's the younger brother of Dodger pitcher Jeff Weaver), size (6'6", 200), arm (low-90s fastball), and record make him as good a bet as any amateur pitcher to succeed as a professional.

I sat directly behind home plate among a sea of major league baseball scouts, surrounded by more radar guns than at a California Highway Patrol convention.

A Kansas City Royals scout sitting behind us told me that he "wouldn't rush" Weaver. When I asked him if he preferred high school or college players, he said "college" when it came to pitchers--noting that most arm injuries are incurred between the ages of 18-20.

When I mentioned Zack Greinke, the Royals' top pitching prospect and #1 draft pick in 2002, he just smiled. Greinke was drafted as a high schooler even though General Manager Allard Baird had instructed his staff that he wanted to select a college pitcher in the first round. The 20-year-old prized prospect dominated the Carolina League and acquitted himself well enough in the Texas League last year that he stands an outside chance of making the team this spring.

Weaver is actually a year older than Greinke. If the latter can make it to the big leagues this year, then why couldn't the former get there next year? Although Weaver may not have Greinke's professional experience, he has pieced together an incredible resume.

During his sophomore season, Weaver was 14-4 with a 1.96 ERA. He tied a school record with 144 strikeouts. Weaver then led Team USA to the silver medal in the Pan American Games. He went 4-1 with a USA single-season record 0.38 ERA and was named Baseball America's Pitcher of the Summer. Weaver strung together an all-time record scoreless innings streak of 45 before giving up his only two runs in an eight-inning loss to Cuba in the championship game.

Nothing But Dirtbags

Weaver was the fourth straight 49er to be named to Team USA, following teammate Abe Alvarez (2002), Jeremy Reed (2001), and Bobby Crosby (2000). Alvarez was selected by the Red Sox in last year's draft.

After the draft, Boston GM Theo Epstein said, "We were really happy to get Abe Alvarez. He's a first-round talent and we got him in the second round."

"Alvarez is a left-hander who has gone out for Long Beach State every Friday night for the last three years against other team's No. 1 starter. He's an outstanding performer. He has command of the strike zone and can get swings and misses with his changeup. He's an entertaining pitcher to watch."

Reed, a center fielder with the Chicago White Sox, and Crosby, a shortstop with the Oakland A's, are two of the favorites to capture Rookie of the Year honors in the American League this year. Reed and Crosby were named first team Minor League All-Stars in 2003.

Reed, who finished third in the Minor League Player of the Year voting, led all minor leaguers in batting average (.373) and on-base percentage (.453), splitting time between Single-A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham. Reed was rated the the second-best prospect in the Carolina League and the third-best prospect in the Southern League.

Crosby, who made his major league debut last September, batted .308 with 22 home runs and 90 RBI for Triple-A Sacramento. Crosby was voted the third-best prospect in the Pacific Coast League and was named Baseball America's Triple-A Player of the Year.

Other past National Team players from Long Beach State include current major leaguers Rocky Biddle (1995) of the Montreal Expos, Jason Giambi (1991, 1992) of the New York Yankees, and Chris Gomez (1990, 1991) of the Toronto Blue Jays.

Long Beach's baseball program has also produced Mike Gallo (Houston Astros), Jeff Leifer (Milwaukee Brewers), and Steve Trachsel (New York Mets) as well as Termel Sledge (Montreal Expos). Sledge, a 27-year-old rookie, had an outstanding season (.324, 22, 92) at Triple-A Edmonton last year and is expected to compete for the team's starting left field job this spring.

If you sold any of the above 49ers short, please be advised that it's not too late to climb aboard the Dream Weaver train.

WTNYFebruary 12, 2004
Central Questions
By Bryan Smith

Sorry, can’t bring a whole lot of writing to the table today. I have the NL Central questions, but not the corresponding questions that the Easts got. And no, this is not East Coast bias, I’m a central boy born and bred. Kyle Farnsworth, Guillermo Mota, and B.J. Ryan all avoided salary arbitration yesterday...which was the largest story of February 11. I’ll be back tomorrow with more...

Chicago Cubs

Five Pressing Questions
1. How does Dusty organize the veteran middle of the infield?
2. Maddux or Cruz in the fifth spot?
3. Will Derrek Lee reach the potential he had with the Padres and Marlins?
4. Can Joe Borowski keep red-hot with Hawkins breathing down his back?
5. Will one of the Cubs’ starters have their arms fall off?

Houston Astros

Five Pressing Questions
1. Can the bullpen recuperate from losing their best reliever?
2. How do the veteran starters pitch?
3. Are Biggio and Bagwell really down the drain?
4. Is Richard Hidalgo as good as the 2004 version shows?
5. Will the lack of depth come back to haunt the team?

St. Louis Cardinals

Five Pressing Questions
1. How does the back end of the rotation do?
2. Does Jason Isringhausen have a genuine set-up man?
3. Is Jeff Suppan the Pirate or Red Sox version?
4. Who plays the 1B/LF spot that Pujols doesn’t use?
5. Who plays second base?

Pittsburgh Pirates

Five Pressing Questions
1. Will Jason Bay make noise in the Rookie of the Year talks?
2. Will Craig Wilson finally get some playing time?
3. Can Kris Benson bounce back from injury?
4. Is there a person in baseball who knows any reliever on this team?
5. Oliver Perez. Breakout or no?

Cincinnati Reds

Five Pressing Questions
1. Is Adam Dunn anything more than a present day Rob Deer?
2. Can Ken Griffey Jr. bounce back from injury?
3. Is there any way of avoiding having the worst rotation in baseball?
4. Will Ryan Wagner get the closer’s role?
5. Is Austin Kearns ready to become a superstar?

Milwaukee Brewers

1. Will Ned Yost realize Keith Ginter is a better choice than Junior Spivey?
2. What will Scott Podsednik do in year 2?
3. Is there a starter in the Milwaukee organization worth talking about?
4. Will Dan Kolb continue his end of the year success?
5. ETAs of J.J. Hardy, Rickie Weeks, Corey Hart?

WTNYFebruary 11, 2004
AL East Questions
By Bryan Smith

More lull in the baseball world, as the news of the day consisted of Fred McGriff, Terry Mulholland, and Eric Owens. I’ll root for Fred McGriff, though it will take an injury or two for him to catch onto a Major League roster. I would bet on McGriff playing baseball in 2004, but against him hitting the nine home runs necessary for 500.

Today I’ll ask the preview questions for the AL East, as that was the first preview that Mr. Gammons unveiled in his rounds around the Majors. Here goes...

New York Yankees

Five Pressing Questions
1. “I don’t know is on third.”
2. Can a team succeed with a defense that bad?
3. Will Steve Karsay and Jon Lieber revert to old form?
4. Which pitcher (Vazquez, Brown, Contreras) really steps up?
5. Is Jason Giambi capable of his MVP numbers of 2000?

Aaron Boone threw this team for a curveball they didn’t see coming. George thought he had every base covered, and then in a blink of an eye, third became exposed. It didn’t take long for the team to realize their infield depth extended as far as Enrique Wilson and Miguel Cairo. One Tyler Houston and Mike Lamb later, and the situation is still nerve-wracking. After surviving a scare from the team’s rival in last year’s playoffs, George shouldn’t take anything for granted this year. If the Yanks are in second in July, who is managing?

Boston Red Sox
1. “What’s on second.”
2. Will Byung-Hyun Kim be a good starter, especially with numerous Yankee Stadium confrontations?
3. Can the lesser-known hitters (Ortiz, Nixon, Mueller, etc.) stay on fire?
4. How much of an impact will Keith Foulke make?
5. Will the unresolved contract/trade disputes with Pedro, Nomar, and Manny distract the team?

Under Theo Epstein, the Red Sox have a vision that hadn’t existed in years. In fact, if you already haven’t, go to Baseball Prospectus and read his interviews immediately. Theo and his staff know baseball so well, that they’ve transformed the Red Sox from a team chasing the Wild Card into a team determined to end such talk of a streak. It’s very smart to not expect the offense the 2003 team generated, but with Schilling and Foulke, scores won’t need to be so high. Terry Francona’s first worry should be making Nomar, Manny, and the contract-disputing Pedro feel right at home.

Toronto Blue Jays

Five Pressing Questions
1. Who closes?
2. Will Josh Towers continue his success?
3. Which hitters breakout, and which regress?
4. Ted Lilly: 2003 season repeated or breakout candidate?
5. Can prospects make their presence felt on this team?

Speaking of good GMs, J.P. Ricciardi had a sensational offseason. He got Miguel Batista at a fraction of the cost that the Angels paid Kelvin Escobar, and also added Ted Lilly and Pat Hentgen to the pitching staff. It’s imperative for the team that Eric Hinske or Josh Phelps (or both?) breaks out this year, as the team needs a #5 hitter after the likes of Delgado and Wells. While Theo may have attempted a bullpen by committee last year, check Toronto for how it really works.

Baltimore Orioles
1. Will Miguel Tejada’s road numbers (.303/.377/.497) become his 2004 overall stats?
2. Can Melvin Mora stay in the .300s?
3. Will an opponent ever be fooled by that staff?
4. Is Omar Daal completely worthless?
5. How will Jorge Julio do with high-pressure situations now that the team is competing?

Let’s just say I’m not high on the Baltimore Orioles. Sure, Peter Angelos can spend his Expos to D.C. lawsuit money on offense all he wants, but you can’t win without pitching. I mean, Rodrigo Lopez? Omar Daal? Eric DuBose? Are they serious? I’ll sell anyone 85 wins, and I’m happy with making the bold prediction that they won’t finish .500. I love Camden Yards as much as the next guy, but Baltimore fans will have to endure bad baseball just a little longer.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Five Pressing Questions
1. Which pitchers will Lou Piniella pick to start?
2. What is Rocco Baldelli, v. 2?
3. Can a Tino, Lugo, Rey, Blum infield come close to replacement level?
4. Will Jose Cruz be one of the offseason’s best additions?
5. Who closes?

If I mention GMs, how can I not spend time bashing Chuck LaMar? I mean, how many years under 75 wins can you have before getting fired? I know that Piniella runs the team anyway, but Vince Namoli really should consider firing his GM. The team shouldn’t be expecting much out of Rocco Baldelli, but I’m a big believer in Aubrey Huff and Victor Zambrano. The team has brought in a lot of veteran pitching, hoping to find that one diamond in the rough. It won’t work, and the Devil Rays will stare last place in the face again.

We’ll head to the Centrals tomorrow, starting with my Cubbies.

WTNYFebruary 10, 2004
NL East Questions
By Bryan Smith

Not much going on in the baseball world...hell, I mean a Ron Villone signing is the biggest news. Bill Bavasi is such a terrible GM, one million dollars? Bavasi, have you ever heard of peripheral numbers? No, ERA doesn’t tell the whole story. Yikes.

Anyway, as I did last week with a few articles, today’s piece is based off a ESPN article that I read over the weekend. Peter Gammons has started his divisional breakdowns, already accomplishing the Easts. Gammons is my favorite baseball writer in the world, and I wanted to further develop the questions he asked in each team’s preview.

Below you will find the five most pressing questions for an NL East team, as well as a quick synopsis of the team going into Spring Training. I’ll write much more in-depth previews next month, but a Spring Training preview ain’t bad either. Granted, some of the questions might overlap with Gammons, so Peter, please don’t sue me.

Atlanta Braves

Five Pressing Questions
1. Can J.D. Drew ever top the 425AB mark in a season?
2. Will the horrendous bullpen surrounding Smoltz ever get the ball to him?
3. Does John Thomson have the stuff the team hopes?
4. Are rookies Johnny Estrada and Adam LaRoche ready for the Big Show?
5. Who pitches in the fifth slot?

Much ado will be made on the Braves not being able to continue their divisional streak, but they are used to it. But this is top to bottom the worst team Bobby Cox has been handed in the last ten seasons. While I am not going to start questioning Cox and Mazzone, they are going to need to work magic this season. Filling holes left by Javy, Sheff, and Maddux look daunting, and the bullpen is pitiful. But this team has a will to win, and Bobby Cox knows how to manage...during the regular season.

Florida Marlins

Five Pressing Questions
1. How will Sophomore year treat Hee Seop Choi and Miguel Cabrera?
2. Can A.J. Burnett be effective in 20-25 starts?
3. Does Armando Benitez have the stuff to close outside of the spotlights of New York?
4. Will Beckett, Penny, and Pavano ride the success they had in the playoffs?
5. Can the team replace it’s heart and soul, Ivan Rodriguez, with an accused felon like Ramon Castro?

Going back to back is damn hard, just ask the Angels, the Diamondbacks, and well, the 1997 Marlins. While Florida had a great playoff run, Jack McKeon likely will not be able to build the motivation that made Florida the best team from mid-May on. They don’t promise to be as strong up the middle as they were a year ago, but have a ton of players that could breakout at once. If Choi, Cabrera, Castro, Beckett, Penny and Pavano all have big years, they should win the division.

Philadelphia Phillies

Five Pressing Questions
1. Can Pat the Bat bounce back from an ugly 2003?
2. Will Marlon Byrd build off the success he had in the leadoff role?
3. Will Rheal Cormier stay that good, and will Roberto Hernandez stay that bad?
4. Should Brett Myers and Eric Milton be counted at the back end of the rotation?
5. Can star and leader Jim Thome stay healthy again?

Everyone, including myself, is calling the Phillies the 2000s version of the Cleveland Indians of a decade ago. The Phils are moving into a new stadium with a lot of pressure, and Larry Bowa is under a lot of stress. The spotlight will be shined brightly on the manager the first two months, who needs to be in first place by the end of April to keep his job. If not, Joe Kerrigan may receive another shot at managing, and the Phillie chemistry would be much improved. Billy Wagner was a sensational addition, plus Burrell and Bell can’t be THAT bad again...can they?

Montreal Expos

Five Pressing Questions
1. First and foremost, will Nick Johnson and Brad Wilkerson breakout like some, including myself, are predicting?
2. Surely Frank Robinson doesn’t let Rocky Biddle close games again, does he?
3. Will Wilkerson or Everett hold up in center, or does Endy Chavez need to play out of necessity?
4. If Zach Day stays healthy, can he be a stud?
5. Will Livan Hernandez continue pitching masterfully, as he did a year ago?

I hate to say it, but there are actually things to like about this team. Vidro, Cabrera, Johnson, Wilkerson, Everett...oh, they have the offense. And with Hernandez plus a barrage of young, high-ceiling pitchers, this team could make some noise. Eventually they’ll finish fourth, again, but don’t be surprised if they are in first place in mid-May. Chad Cordero is the right choice for closer, not Rocky Biddle. And here’s to hoping that the Day for Milton Bradley trade ends up working for both teams.

New York Mets
1. How does Kaz Matsui do in year one, and can Jose Reyes really play short?
2. Will the Mike Piazza position dilemma become a distraction?
3. Can Braden Looper hope to fare any better than Armando Benitez did as Mets closer?
4. How do the host of veteran starters pitch this year?
5. Can the team avoid the health problems that plagued them in 2004?

From the beginning, I said that Art Howe moving to the National League was a bad idea. Throwing someone with a learned school of thought into that environment will not work. I think getting Rick Peterson back will help this organization that appears headed in the right direction. Mixing David Wright, Scott Kazmir, Justin Huber, and other prospects will be key in determining if this team will smell the playoffs during Jim Duquette’s tenure. They might not have the right man for the job, but they sure do have the system.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a look at Gammons’ favorite division...the AL East.

WTNYFebruary 09, 2004
Maddux
By Bryan Smith

As a Cubs fan, to me there is only one free agent left on the market. I don’t care what happens to Travis Lee, Ugueth Urbina, or even Randall Simon. My hot stove interest has dwindled to cool, but I still check my Internet hourly for word on this generation’s #2 pitcher. Sure, I’ll concede that the hated Astros got the best pitcher in the last fifteen years, but no one has come close to Greg Maddux in the National League.

While I would love for Greg Maddux to join my team, am I overestimating his ability? Do I simply want Maddux because what he’s done in his 571 starts prior to 2004 rather than his possible contributions this season? Does 1994-1998 cloud my thoughts of Maddux so much that I don’t clearly see 1999-2003?

The consensus rumor around the media is that Greg Maddux has been offered a contract by one team, but has received calls from four. The Cubs admit to making an offer believed to be worth between $14-16M over two seasons. The Cardinals’ pitching staff is offering to defer money so that ownership will sign the right-hander. Frank McCourt’s Dodgers placed a phone call days within the ownership change. The fourth team is a bit of a mystery. Jeffrey Loria of the Marlins announced his team will not make a formal offer to Maddux, leaving many to believe the mystery team is the Baltimore Orioles.

Greg Maddux is a wanted individual, until cost comes into play. Is Maddux worth between seven and nine million dollars a season at age 37?

Mad-dog won sixteen games last season, meaning the last time he failed to win fifteen games was during the Reagan presidency (1987). His 1994 and 1995 seasons were both in the top 5 for WHIP and ERA against league average since 1900. His 1997 season had the best BB/9 against league average ever. He’s renowned for being a student of the game, as well as for teaching his art to young pitchers. A true class act, Maddux was one of the Braves best additions ever, and along with Lou Brock for one of the Cub’s worst.

Along with all the great numbers, Maddux has some negative indicators. His H/9 has gotten worse each of the last four seasons, topping the 9.00 mark for the first time since 1998. The K/9 also is on the decline, 5.11, which he hasn’t had since 1989. His 3.96ERA was the highest since 1987, his rookie season in the Major Leagues.

Many people accuse Maddux of being a five-inning pitcher, but his IP/GS last year was 6.06. That was better than the 5.86 in 2002, but hardly close to the years that he bested seven. Maddux was actually significantly better in innings 4-6 than 1-3 last year, giving up a .625OPS against a .779. His largest struggles came in the first fifteen pitches, the only group that his SLG allowed was greater than .500. Maddux gives six good innings on most outings, and surviving the first is his biggest key.

Turner Field has been very good to Maddux, as his ERA has been 0.76 less at home than on the road the last three seasons. It was 1.20 better last year at home, as his road ERA was an ugly 4.61. But as some consolation, Maddux had only a 3.03ERA after the All-Star Break last year, after a 4.63 before the break. After June he warmed up, and finished in top form including a hard 3-1 loss in Game 3 of the NLDS when Mark Prior outpitched the veteran.

Could Maddux be joining the team that beat him in the playoffs, or will he go for their largest rivals? Will Frank McCourt start his term out with a boom, or will Peter Angelos throw another curveball into this offseason? First of all, let me eliiminate the Orioles. Maddux thrives against the 7-9 spots in the order, a spot much weaker in NL lineups than in the AL. Greg would not do well in the American League, and I think he would recognize that.

You can’t blame Frank McCourt: in order to get the Los Angeles fans to like him, the new owner wanted to surprise the city. The team showed interest in Greg Maddux, implying that McCourt’s regime would be filled with the free agent signings that this offseason so desperately lacked. While this is a good symbol to send out, it also will come with a bad message. The Dodgers don’t need pitching at all, and should be spending all available resources on offense. They know this, and have given a town hope that will surely be left unfulfilled.

St. Louis Cardinal pitchers want Greg Maddux. Matt Morris, along with a few other players, have asked to defer money in order to sign the right-hander. If the Cardinals get creative, they might be able to have Maddux sign a deal that defers money as well. But there is one problem: the team has no money to offer. Scott Rolen is signed to a huge contract, and the team is working on long-term deals for Albert Pujols and Matt Morris. Throw in the large amount of money that Jim Edmonds and Edgar Renteria are owed, and the numbers just don’t work out. This is a good thought by the Cardinal pitching staff, but one that won’t be followed by ownership.

That leaves one team, my Cubs. I’ve thought for awhile the team would scoop Maddux up, and it is likely that I will be right. Maddux should be a good change of pace from the hard-throwing group that makes up the rest of the rotation, and will renew the thought that the Cubs have the best rotation in baseball...not the Astros. Bringing back one of their largest mistakes would be a good move by the Tribune Company, though it will come at a cost.

Scott Boras is tough. He’ll milk every dollar an organization has left for his client, and appears to be doing that with Maddux. In response to the offer the Cubs made, it’s believed that the Maddux side sent back a counteroffer of two years and $18M. This would put the Cubs well over the $90M mark, a barrier they have never topped before.

Is Maddux worth that kind of money? Probably not. But, he’s a great addition, and would send a symbol of winning that Chicago needs. Not advocating a Maddux signing is impossible for me, no matter what the cost. He won’t be the pitcher he was in the mid-90s, but seeing him back in Cubbie Blue will be worth the cost of ticket for me.

Baseball BeatFebruary 08, 2004
Weapons of Mass Production
By Rich Lederer

Sabermetricians are guilty of developing too many Weapons of Mass Destruction. Too many stats. Too much confusion. It's time to get back to the basics. If we reduce the number of weapons (stats), then it follows we can reduce the amount of destruction (confusion).

Substitute Production for Destruction, and you've got Weapons of Mass Production. Production, in this case, is the original name for on base plus slugging. John Thorn and Pete Palmer of Total Baseball created the stat, shortening it to PRO. The authors also developed Production Plus (PRO+) before OPS+ was popularized by Baseball-Reference.com. Production Plus, like OPS+ in later years, normalizes PRO (or OPS) to league average and adjusts for home-park factor. A mark of 100 is a league-average performance.

Ted Williams in his book Ted Williams' Hit List (which was written in 1996) gave "special credence" to PRO in ranking the greatest hitters of all time.

"We looked at various systems and methods, and we can't conceive of anything superior to this one. It is a simple statistic that is nonetheless as fair, as thorough, and as thought-out as any that has ever been used.

I realize that everyone has a different idea of what constiutes a great hitter. For some it's a high batting average. For others it's the guy with the most total hits--or home runs or RBIs. I've always believed that slugging percentage plus on base percentage is absolutely the best way to rate the hitters. This is something I've been talking about for a long, long time. To begin with, I've always felt that the bases on balls factor should be given more significance in rating a hitter's overall performance at the plate."


The beauty of PRO is its accuracy and simplicity. You don't need to know advanced math. You don't even need a calculator. You just add the two most important rate stats and bingo, you've got your number. I realize if you multiply rather than add these two percentages, you get a product that has an ever so slightly higher correlation with runs scored. There have also been some newfangled attempts to use a multiplier for the on-base average before adding this adjusted number to the slugging percentage.

Why complicate a formula that works just fine as is? I don't see the need to create additional methodologies unless they prove to be sufficiently more accurate to make up for their additional complexity. Wouldn't it be much easier for all of us to hold more intelligent discussions if we adopted batting average, on-base average, and slugging average as the three main rate stats when evaluating or comparing players? If we could agree on those three metrics, then wouldn't it also make sense to use PRO or OPS as a "quick and dirty" solo stat? Gosh, if we could come to terms with BA, OBP, SLG, and OPS as the basic core set of rate stats, wouldn't OPS+ be understood by the average fan in due time? If so, wouldn't that be a great first step for evaluating and comparing players by positions or within a league or from one era to another?

Counting stats would be a whole different matter. I'm not proposing that we throw out traditional stats such as hits, doubles, triples, and home runs but anything that would wean fans from a myopic focus on runs batted in would be a positive in my mind. How about times on base, total bases, and outs as the three core counting stats? If we could agree on those categories, then something like Runs Created could serve as the summary counting stat just as OPS would do the same on the rate side.

The value of walks and power as well as the scarcity of outs would all become better understood and appreciated by baseball fans, announcers, writers, and analysts alike. For those of us who wish to look into the numbers even further, the use of related stats such as isolated power and secondary average or developing "new frontier" stats involving defense, pitching, and baserunning makes more sense than affixing another label to the same can of alphabet soup.

By the way, a couple of tables for those who think OPS is dated and not an accurate measure of offensive production:

ON BASE PLUS SLUGGING
TOP TEN SINGLE SEASONS
MODERN (1900-2003)

                              YEAR     OPS
1 Barry Bonds 2002 1.381 2 Babe Ruth 1920 1.379 3 Barry Bonds 2001 1.379 4 Babe Ruth 1921 1.359 5 Babe Ruth 1923 1.309 6 Ted Williams 1941 1.287 7 Barry Bonds 2003 1.278 8 Babe Ruth 1927 1.258 9 Ted Williams 1957 1.257 10 Babe Ruth 1926 1.253

Not a bad list, huh? When I see nothing but Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams, I am reminded that we're talking about pretty exclusive company here.


OPS+
TOP TEN SINGLE SEASONS
MODERN (1900-2003)

                              YEAR    OPS+
1 Barry Bonds 2002 275 2 Barry Bonds 2001 262 3 Babe Ruth 1920 255 4 Babe Ruth 1921 239 Babe Ruth 1923 239 6 Ted Williams 1941 235 7 Ted Williams 1957 233 8 Barry Bonds 2003 231 9 Babe Ruth 1926 227 10 Babe Ruth 1927 226

Adjusted or unadjusted. The monopoly of Bonds, Ruth, and Williams prevails.

One of the best features of OPS+ is the fact that it not only adjusts OPS for park effects but that it also standardizes it versus the league average. A player with an OPS+ of 120 is 20% above the league average OPS+. An OPS+ of 80 is 20% below the league average OPS+. [Editor's added note: OPS+ = 100 * ((OBP/lgOBP*) + (SLG/lgSLG*) - 1)]

Thanks to the Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia, we can standardize all stats to the league average. The following is an example of the first table presented above with OPS expressed as a ratio versus the league average.

ON BASE PLUS SLUGGING
TOP TEN SINGLE SEASONS
RELATIVE TO THE LEAGUE AVERAGE
MODERN (1900-2003)

                              YEAR     RATE   PLAYER   LEAGUE
1 Babe Ruth 1920 182 1.379 .757 2 Barry Bonds 2002 181 1.381 .763 3 Barry Bonds 2001 177 1.379 .781 4 Babe Ruth 1921 173 1.359 .786 5 Babe Ruth 1923 172 1.309 .761 6 Ted Williams 1957 171 1.257 .733 7 Ted Williams 1941 170 1.287 .758 8 Barry Bonds 2003 166 1.278 .772 9 Babe Ruth 1926 163 1.253 .768 10 Babe Ruth 1927 163 1.258 .773

The order is slightly different than the one not standardized to the league average, but the names remain the same.

Weapons of Mass Production. Batting average, on base average, slugging average, and OPS. Times on base, total bases, outs, and runs created. Four by four (and, thank goodness, not the rotisserie syle). Four rate stats and four counting stats.

These stats can be expressed in absolute terms for simplicity. They can be standardized to the league and positional average for comparative purposes. Or they can be normalized for home-park factors when necessary.

There are other worthwhile measurement tools for sure. But many of them are better applied to scouting and player development than evaluating actual performance.

The bottom line is that we should concentrate on reducing rather than expanding the batting metrics available to us. Having said that, I support the sabermetric community in its efforts to quantify defensive value, and I think there is still much more work ahead of us when it comes to computing baserunning as a separate area of performance.

Sources: Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia and Baseball-Reference.com

WTNYFebruary 06, 2004
Pitching Battles
By Bryan Smith

Yesterday, I attacked a Tim Kurkjian article about Spring Training battles, detailing a dozen positional battles that the ESPN writer failed to recognize. In response to my column, Tom Gorman, one of the writers of a new Giants blog called Fogball, brought my attention to Brian Sabean comments saying that Pedro Feliz will get 300AB this year. I don't think he presents any competition to any Giant, although he will be platooning at first base with J.T. Snow.

Today I will move on to the pitching battles, starting with the six teams (minus the Twins, who we talked about yesterday) that are undecided on their closer:

1. Montreal: Biddle v. Ayala v. Cordero: Rocky Biddle had 34 saves last season, despite keeping his ERA above 4.60. He's very ineffective as a reliever, but had some great strokes of good luck last season. Ayala was a Rule V pick last year that made great progress in his rookie season, and is an extreme groundball specialist. I would leave him in roles when a double play is needed, as well as the set-up role. I would give the job to Chad Cordero, their top choice from a year ago that only allowed 4 hits in his first 11 innings in the Majors.

2. Cincinnati: Reitsma v. Wagner v. Graves: The Danny Graves starting expirament is over, so does the former closer get his job back? I would hope not, as Graves H/9 hasn't been below 9.00 since the 2000 season. I like Reitsma a lot, but I think his versatility is better suited in the middle relief role. I would also pressure the Reds to use their first-round choice, Ryan Wagner, at the end of games. Wagner, who set the NCAA record in K/9 last year, could jump in the upper echelon of relievers right now.

3. Arizona: Valverde v. Mantei: Bob Brenly has a nice problem here, he can't pick wrong. Mantei will likely win the job, as he makes a lot more money than Valverde will dream about this year. Valverde had a H/9 below 4.50, along with a 12.70 K/9. Mantei's hit rate sits right around six, while his K/9 was 11.13. Mantei is the inferior pitcher, by a very small margin, but his giant paycheck will get him 30 saves.

4. Toronto: Speier v. Ligtenberg v. Lopez: The Blue Jays might even consider more than these three, but it should come down to this group. Ligtenberg was J.P. Riccardi's worst offseason signing, just for the reason that he overpayed greatly. Kerry allowed more hits than innings pitched last year, with a K/9 of just 7.13. And between Speier and Aqulino Lopez, I don't think there is a right answer. Speier has been great considering his surroundings the last few seasons, while Lopez had a great second half in his first year with the team. I'd go with Speier here, mostly because of a better strikeout rate.

5. Kansas City: MacDougal v. Leskanic: MacDougal is another example of a player who becomes immediately overrated as a result of more than twenty-five saves. His ERA was 6.85 after the All-Star Break last season, and his insane GB rate would be better before the ninth inning begins. I'd rather go with the veteran Leskanic, who was sensational in 27 games after coming to the Royals in July. Leskanic shuts down LH and RH alike, and hasn't had a bad season since leaving Coors Field in 1999.

6. Cleveland: Wickman v. Riske v. Jimenez: I'll rule out Jimenez off the bat, who either belongs in the rotation or in middle relief. I really like signing relievers that come from Colorado, especially someone with the sinker that Jimenez possesses. But he's in no way a closer, and has the arm to throw two innings about fifty times this season. Wickman is coming off surgery, and throwing him into a high-stress situation like closing right off the bat wouldn't be a good idea. Plus, you can't go wrong with David Riske, who had a BAA below .200, a WHIP below 1.00, and a K/9 nearing 10.00. Riske is the best choice here, and a decision that Mark Shaprio should make for Eric Wedge.

Some would argue the Devil Rays have no set closer, but I can't envision a situation in which Lou Pineilla doesn't give the job to a veteran like Danys Baez over Lance Carter. Moving on to the rotations, I have counted at least seven teams that will have serious competition to decide slots in Spring Training.

1. Atlanta: All-Rookie competition: And by all rookie, I mean that Bubba Nelson, Andy Pratt, Brett Evert, and a host of other pitchers will try out for a spot. Nelson is the best pitching prospect of the group, and a player that Leo Mazzone could flock to. The Braves surprised with Horacio Ramirez last year, but I'm fairly sure that Nelson will be the choice in this scenario.

2. San Francisco: Hermanson v. Correia: Sure, Jim Brower and Ryan Jensen will get looks in camp, but they won't be thought about too heavily. It will come down to a pair that each pitched between 38 and 40 innings with the Giants in 2003. Hermanson was the better of the two, with a 2.97ERA in six starts while in San Fran. Correia appeared in the Baseball America Giants Top Ten Prospects list, so he has a higher ceiling. The team will likely go with Hermanson off the bat, and Correia could win the job if he pitches well enough in the PCL.

3. Los Angeles: Jackson v. Alvarez v. Dreifort v. Lima: Jim Tracy has said that Edwin Jackson has to pitch his way out of the fifth slot, but with this competition, he might just do that. My guess is that Edwin Jackson will be starting Opening Day, and if the Dodgers listen to my pleas to trade Odalis Perez, the latter three will fight for a slot as well. Alvarez earned the opportunity, and definitely stands second on the totem pole.

4. Arizona: Sparks v. Youth: Steve Sparks will need a very good camp to hold off the competition that is Casey Fossum, John Patterson, Edgar Gonzalez, Andrew Good, and maybe more. I think Fossum gets the job, but will prove in short time that he really does belong in the bullpen. By that time, the D-Backs are hoping that Gonzalez or Mike Gosling are polished enough to take over full-time.

5. Tampa Bay: Final two slots: At this point, I'm going to assume that Jeremi Gonzalez, Victor Zambrano and Mark Hendrickson all have slots. And that is precisely when this gets confusing. The Devil Rays could decide between veterans John Halama, Paul Abbott, Damian Moss or Todd Ritchie for the last two spots. There are also in-house options such as Jorge Sosa, Chad Gaudin, and Doug Waechtler. But then again, don't forget about Dewon Brazelton, Jon Switzer, or Seth McClung. My guess is that Damian Moss and either Gaudin or Waechtler win the spot, with Moss out by June 1.

6. White Sox: Final two spots: Loaiza, Buerhle, and Garland need not try out. After that, Ozzie Guillen must sort through the mess that is Neal Cotts, Dan Wright, Scott Schoenweis, Jon Rauch, Josh Stewart, and Robert Person. Living in Chicago I have seen most of these people pitch, and let me say that Cotts and Rauch aren't ready, and I'm not sure if Schoenweis or Stewart ever will be. That would leave Dan Wright and Robert Person to spots in the rotation, although I stand by my stance that Wright and his knuckle-curve belong in the bullpen. Person will be the yearly minor league signing that Ken Williams makes in attempts to duplicate Esteban Loaiza.

7. Seattle: Meche v. Soriano: In a perfect world, this wouldn't even be talked about. Soriano was sensational after the All-Star Break, while Meche couldn't keep his ERA below 6.00. Soriano has a ceiling higher than any young Mariner hurler since Randy Johnson, while Meche is the feel-good comeback story that lacks a happy ending. Rafael pitched great in Winter Ball, but I still have a feeling that Bob Melvin is going to drop the ball and put Soriano in the set-up role. What a waste!

Arguments can be made that I forgot Texas and Colorado. Those two circumstances are very detailed, and I'll probably tackle those two teams at a later date. I also wanted to touch on a few things since it's Friday...

- Fernando Seguignol was traded to the Nippon Ham Fighters yesterday, a move that angers me greatly. Seguignol is a better, younger, cheaper version of Ruben Sierra, and definitely wouldn't give the attitude that Sierra has portrayed in the past. Seguignol won the International League MVP last season, and it's disgraceful that 30 teams wouldn't want his switch-hitting, powerful bat on their bench.

- Antonio Osuna to the Padres? Don't they already have Hoffman, Wells, Otsuka, Linebrink, and Witasick all on the right side? I think Osuna is better than a $750,000 pitcher, and I would hardly be surprised if he outpitches overpayed relievers such as Ligtenberg and Julian Tavarez.

- Nice story with Ellis Burks coming back to Boston, but where does he fit in? I've always loved his bat, I just don't understand what his role will be. Maybe a DH platoon with David Ortiz?

- Scott Erickson, as I presumed Wednesday, signed with the Mets yesterday, and will act as their fifth starter. I doubt his health will sustain any period of time, but the Mets have Aaron Heilman and Jeremy Griffiths waiting in reserve.

- The Pirates signed Mark Guthrie yesterday, but will go after Travis Lee rather than Randall Simon now. Good call by Dave Littlefield, who needed some sense knocked into him.

- Finally, let me point you over to a great new blog that has hit the Internet by storm...Dugout Dollars. Michael Srihari has done a great job compiling salary information about all 30 teams, and gives us lesser writers a sensational reference material.

Have a good weekend, and hopefully I'll return Monday with an article about the newest Chicago Cub, Greg Maddux...

WTNYFebruary 05, 2004
The Real Battles
By Bryan Smith

Yesterday I detailed the problem I have with baseball magazines, and the despair that a poor rookie section gives me. Another annual I get excited about is the ESPN.com Hot Stove Heaters, which unfortunately has a new style this year. Rather than write about each team individually, in which they gave great previews in my opinion, they've gone to questions ranging from "What will Bud Selig's legacy be?" to "When will there be an openly gay Major Leaguer?" I just can't say this got my juices flowing.

But when reading the overview of questions when this system was presented, I circled the date January 30 in my head. On that day, the question "Where will there be position battles in 2004?" would be answered. I think the two single greatest things about Spring Training are the fights for starting roles and the chance to see youngsters against Major League talent. I thought ESPN would go all out on this article...I was wrong.

Tim Kurkjian, a vastly overrated baseball reporter, gave us EIGHT battles that will be fought out in Spring Training. Granted, they all are true (we're not talkin' about Phil Rogers here), but eight? That's akin to buying first-row seats at Wrigley Field only to see the game rained out after five innings. But, just like yesterday, I decided to answer my own question. First, I'll show the eight Kurkjian presented, and then add on to his list:

1. Yankees CF- Well, is this really a position battle? I think there's no question that Kenny plays center except when southpaws are on the mound, in which Bernie moves back to his old position, Giambi hits in the DH slot and Tony Clark plays the infield. This could possibly change in Spring Training, but I don't think there's too much to be fought out.

2. Twins closer- This is a better battle. The favorite is Joe Nathan, the newest Twin, who held right-handers to a .136 average last season. Juan Rincon and J.C. Romero have done great things in bullpens in the past, and both could fill in. Top 100 prospect Jesse Crain will get a chance, although he's likely to end up starting the year in Rochester. Finally, expect Ugueth Urbina's name to be tied to this team, remember, they like signing players in February/March, a.k.a. Kenny Rogers?

3. Dodgers 1B- We'll see how this plays out, but at this point, is anyone but Robin Ventura even logical? Sure, Jeremy Giambi could always have a great camp, but chances are that Ventura would get the job if the Dodgers opened the season February 6. But, they don't, giving whomever becomes the GM a chance to fix this terribly weak hole.

4. Mets C/1B- Jason Phillips earned the right to play everyday last year, posting an OPS over .800. And, Mike Piazza is obviously guaranteed a slot. What's the controversy? Sure Art Howe has to decide who catches who and when, but either way the Mets won't have a Gold Glover behind the plate. Ask the pitchers, let them decide.

5. Orioles 2B- The battle between Jerry Hairston Jr. and Brian Roberts will be a good one. I think Hairston is the better player of the two, and chances are that he earns the job here. In that case, Roberts should be dealt to a team like the Cardinals or White Sox. The Orioles can't make a bad decision here, but it is a tough one.

6. Cardinals 2B- Ahh, Bo Hart. If the kid wasn't so lovable, would he even be in AAA this year? Kurkjian points out that Hart held hit own hitting .277 last year, but doesn't point out a .317OBP, or the fact that he tailed out in the second half (226/267/332). Marlon Anderson, hands down.

7. Red Sox 2B- Theo Epstein might just be testing Terry Francona here, hoping he weeds out Tony Womack and Terry Shumpert before they really get a chance. I've heard the idea of putting Pokey, the defensive specialist, in the lineup when Derek Lowe and Byung-Hyun Kim are starting. With Wakefield or Schilling on the mound, go with Bellhorn. Then, go with the hot hand for Pedro.

8. White Sox closer- I've pointed out why Shingo Takatsu is a bad idea, citing the large statistical differences between him and Kaz Sasaki preceding their journey to America. Billy Koch could get the job back with a great camp, and even Cliff Politte might get a look. But I would go with Damaso Marte, who draws the inevitable "lacks closer mentality" crap.

Those are the ones that Kurkjian gave you, but I have more. I've accumulated twelve hitting battles (and there are a few others I missed probably) he didn't talk about, and they go as follows:

1. Atlanta 3B (Branyan v. Derosa): Derosa will be better defensively, he'll strike out less, he'll be more consistent. And then there is Branyan, who will hit it to the steakhouse behind the centerfield bleachers at Turner Field. Derosa gets the job here, with the occasional break against ace right-handers.

2. Philadelphia 2B/3B (Utley v. Polanco v. Bell): Utley is full of potential, Polanco produces better than anyone else, and Bell has produced the most in the past and makes the largest paycheck. Will Carroll gave Bell a red-light yesterday in his THR of the Phillies, so this may be an easier decision than Larry Bowa had hoped for.

3. Montreal CF (Sledge v. Chavez): This comes down to the defensive versus offensvie argument. Should the Expos sacrifice defense to put sabermatric favorite Sledge in the lineup, or favor defense and go with Chavez. I think Frank Robinson will pick the latter, the Expos have a lot of offense as-is.

4. Cubs MI (Walker v. Grudzi v. Gonzalez): This also comes down to defense/offense. Gonzalez should have won the Gold Glove last year, while Walker computed for the Lead Foot award, given out to the worst defender at each position. A platoon of Walker/Grudzi and Grudzi/Gonzalez might be in order, depending on Grudzilanek's ability to handle shortstop.

5. Cincinnati SS (Larkin v. Youth): To further define Larkin's opponents, Ray Olmedo, Tim Hummell, and Ryan Freel will all be battling with the veteran for playing time. If Freel proves that he can play a good shortstop, give him the job. If not, I would let Larkin make one last tour around the Major League stadiums.

6. Milwaukee 2B (Ginter v. Spivey): We've all heard of Junior Spivey. He's the fun, slashing 2B that the Diamondbacks had represent them in the All-Star game in 2002, after an amazing first half. But in the three halves since then, he's sucked. Ginter is the better player, and displays a lot of the same attributes at Marcus Giles, who had to fight Keith Lockhart for a job once.

7. San Francisco RF (Mohr v. Hammonds v. Tucker): I would bet good money that Tucker and Mohr end up platooning this spot, as the Bay waits for Todd Linden to actually be ready for the Major Leagues. Tucker will struggle in Pac Bell (or what is it now?), and Felipe might be smarter to give the job to Mohr and have him run with it.

8. San Diego SS (Ordonez v. Greene v. Vazquez): Now the Padres have a justifiable response to sending Khalil Greene to AAA at season's beginning, which they likely wanted to do in the first place. Ordonez will most likely win this job, though it won't take long for Padre brass to realize last year was a fluke happening.

9. Colorado 2B (Miles v. Jackson): I've fought this battle 100 times on-line before, go with Miles. He was great in AA, great in AAA. The kid can hit, and he gives 100% on every single play. He could hit 10-20 jacks in Coors Field, and be a very important piece of a very threatening lineup.

10. Yankees 3B (???): The most talked about position battle on the Internet. I haven't written a story on this because I feel I have little to add to what the general public does. It will come down to Tyler Houston, Mike Lamb, and Almonte, with the Houston likely the most deserving. The Yankees haven't pursues a player for the hot corner as avidly as some predicted, but maybe George wants to build the suspense before releasing the clone he made of Mike Schmidt back in the day.

11. White Sox CF (Rowand v. Benard v. Reed): Jeremy Reed would have to prove a lot to me in camp before handing him an everyday job, but it seems like Reed is more than capable of leaving that impression. Benard can barely play centerfield at this point, so I think Rowand has the job until Reed makes a mockery of International League pitching.

12. Indians LF (Lawton v. Ludwick v. Crisp v. Escobar): Eric Wedge says that Lawton's paycheck won't affect his decision, which is a lie. Lawton will get the left field job, and hold it until Grady Sizemore is ready to handle Major League pitching full-time. That should be sometime in the summer months.

Tomorrow I'll handle the pitchers. Drop me a line with any suggestions, as well as positions that I missed today.

WTNYFebruary 04, 2004
The Rookies
By Bryan Smith

See, I have this problem. I'm addicted to baseball magazines. Put a baseball player on the cover of a magazine, and chances are if I see it, I'll soon own it. The winter months often deprive me of this need, that is, until the Sporting News comes out with their baseball annual.

For some reason, the Sporting News annual magazines, one for fantasy and one for the average fan, come out in late January, so forget about any insight on Pudge moving to Detroit, or how Greg Maddux will fare in 2004. But, there are a lot of players talked about, and it's always fun to start thinking about baseball, whether in be from a fantasy perspective or not, in January.

One of my favorite sections in annuals is the page or two devoted to rookies. While many magazines focus on prospects, I like the magazines that will dedicate a page or two on the players that could win a Rookie of the Year crown. Granted, Dontrelle Willis nor Brandon Webb was likely to be on those pages last year, but it's a fun thing to think about.

This year, the Sporting News list was very incomprehensive, not giving nearly enough players to fill my craving. So when in doubt, come up with your own lists. So I went through the depth charts I have for all the Major League teams, and circled any player that will be a rookie in 2004. So here is my list of rookies that will/could be Major League regulars, or have spots in a rotation.

First, the National League players, listed in alphabetical order:

Jason Bay, OF- Pittsburgh Pirates- Bay, one of the better outfield prospects in the game, will finally get an everyday job with his third Major League organization. His OPS was above .900 in a 79AB stint with the Pirates at year's end, so he'll be a favorite to win Rookie of the Year.

Brandon Claussen, LHP- Cincinnati Reds- Acquired for Aaron Boone, Claussen has become the posterchild to quick Tommy John recoveries, thanks to being publicized by Will Carroll. His pitching is just what the Reds need, and he should be penciled in for at least 25 starts.

Kevin Correia, RHP- San Francisco Giants- He'll need a good camp to beat out Dustin Hermanson, Ryan Jensen, and Jim Brower, but Correia showed real promise in seven starts with the Giants last year. Might not be up to start, but he'll be in the second half rotation guaranteed.

Jorge De La Rosa, LHP- Milwaukee Brewers- The Brewers have no reason not to give DLR a chance, so he should be there the whole season. He dominated the Eastern League, and has more electric stuff than the aforementioned Claussen.

John Gall, 1B- St. Louis Cardinals- I'm under the belief that Pujols should be playing left field, and the Cards should go with this kid. He'll remind many of Tino Martinez, but has much more upside than their former first basemen. Won't win any awards, but keep him under your radar.

Khalil Greene, SS- San Diego Padres- Will need to convince Bruce Bochy in Spring Training that he is more deserving of an everyday job than Rey Ordonez and Ramon Vazquez...fat chance. He could use some PCL work, but could flourish given 350 bats from June on.

Aaron Heilman, RHP- New York Mets- Once was the #2 Mets prospect behind Jose Reyes, but those times have changed. Jim Duquette is hot after Scott Erickson's trail, which would push Heilman back to AAA. He could use the work, he wasn't ready last year.

Edwin Jackson, RHP- Los Angeles Dodgers- I'll give you a hint: when my top prospect list comes out, this guy will be in the top 10. He beat Randy Johnson on his 20th birthday last September, and Jim Tracy recently talked about how Jackson will have to pitch his way out of a fifth hole. Along with Bay and a certain Japanese shortstop, Edwin should be considered one of the ROY favorites.

Adam LaRoche, 1B- Atlanta Braves- Will likely hold the strong side of a platoon with Julio Franco, the most unlikely of partners. LaRoche has the potential to win a Gold Glove next year, and might mix in 20 HR to boot. Is a sleeper choice to be this year's top rookie.

Luis Martinez, LHP- Milwaukee Brewers- His age and AAA performance will keep him off prospect lists, but Martinez put a hurting to AA at the start of the 2003 season. Might land the fifth spot in the rotation, but his future is likely in the bullpen.

Kaz Matsui, SS- New York Mets- It seems like everyone you talk to has a different opinion on Kaz, I've heard everything from MVP to flamed out. He should be right around 15-15, with an off chance of being this year's Angel Berroa.

Aaron Miles, 2B- Colorado Rockies- Often mentioned on this blog, I can't say enough good things about Miles. He has been a AA MVP and AAA Rookie of the Year each of the last two seasons, and the Rockies must give him a chance. His bat plus thin air could produce interesting results for a second basemen (upside being Marcus Giles).

Bubba Nelson, RHP- Atlanta Braves- Should be this year's rookie in the Atlanta rotation, and has more potential than anyone who has tried out in quite some time. Under Mazzone's tutelage, Nelson could be great, but he may be better suited for relief.

Freddy Sanchez, 2B- Pittsburgh Pirates- Wherever he goes, Freddy Sanchez hits, and hits, and hits. He could very well hit .300 with the big league club this year, mixing in 10 home runs and a few highlight reel defensive plays. Bay's the better player, but Sanchez might have more immediate success.

Terrmel Sledge, OF- Montreal Expos- A sabermatrician favorite, Sledge's fifteen minutes of fame were when he was caught for taking steroids. He'll need to prove he can play center field well, as Brad Wilkerson and Carl Everett hog the corners. If not, he's trade bait.

Chin-Hui Tsao, RHP- Colorado Rockies- In any other stadium, he's the favorite for this award. But he drops in prospect rankings because of where he will pitch, and I doubt he'll be one of the top 10 rookies of the 2004 seasons. But that won't be because of his stuff, which is second to only Edwin Jackson on this list.

Ryan Wagner, RHP- Cincinnati Reds- The only reliever in the NL with a chance for the award, Wagner did set K/9 records while closing for University of Houston. He proved he was ready for the Majors last year, and might win if the Reds give him 30-40 opportunities to save games.

Most choices will come down to Bay, Jackson, or Matsui in the National League, with the latter garnering much of the publicity. As for the American League, here are the 11 that I will keep close attention on...

Grant Balfour, RHP- Minnesota Twins- Weak depth in the rotation almost assures Balfour a job, who did well moving back to starting last year. He doesn't have ace-like stuff, but he's as Major League ready as anyone else.

Neal Cotts, LHP- Chicago White Sox- The stuff will never be questioned, but his stamina, health, and control might be. Cotts should step into an incomplete White Sox rotation quickly, but needs to get over the walk problems that plagued his call up a year ago.

Jesse Crain, RHP- Minnesota Twins- If given the closer job, Jesse Crain will make noise for Rookie of the Year. The Twins figure to give the kid about forty save chances, and he won't blow many. Might start the year in AAA, bringing the Soriano/K-Rod effect in the second half.

Bobby Crosby, SS- Oakland Athletics- Will be seen as the favorite by many, seeing as though he replaces Miguel Tejada this season. Crosby hit like hell in the PCL last year, and could hit 20-25 home runs as a rookie. If he does so, he'll be deserving.

Alex Escobar, OF- Cleveland Indians- Remember that great outfield prospect the Mets used to have? Five tools? Horrible plate discipline? Traded in the Robbie Alomar deal? Out for a year with knee surgery? Returns to almost win the International League home run crown? Oh yeah, same guy.

Chad Gaudin, RHP- Tampa Bay Devil Rays- A perfect game in AA Orlando put him on the map, starting a rapid ascent that finished in Tropicana Field. He'll have lots of competitors in Spring Training, but has the most potential out of the bunch...Lou should like this guy.

Joe Mauer, C- Minnesota Twins- As someone pointed out to me recently, Butch Wynegar started huge before his rapid descent to failure. I'm not sure if Mauer's ready for the Major Leagues, but if I'm wrong, he'll hit .300 and play Gold Glove defense immediately.

Justin Morneau, 1B- Minnesota Twins- Will have to fight much harder for a job, and is likely starting the year in Rochester. Morneau has fantastic power, and may end up hitting about 15 home runs if given the chance to have about 350 at-bats, kind of like a 2002 version of Kevin Mench.

Jeremy Reed, OF- Chicago White Sox- If Reed wins the White Sox centerfield job, he'll have to be the favorite. Reed could steal 40 bases, have an OBP above .400, and play very good defense, all in his rookie year. Has a huge future, but his timetable is up to Ozzie.

Matt Riley, LHP- Baltimore Orioles- Formerly a top prospect, Riley re-ignited the prospect talks with a great comeback season this year. He'll be handed a rotation slot, and could be a left-handed, American League version of Webb.

Cody Ross, OF- Detroit Tigers- Will Alan Trammell give Ross the job over Bobby Higginson and Craig Monroe? Probably not. Would I? Yes. Ross could hit thirty doubles right away, and would be more consistent than what Higginson would bring to the table.

My thoughts are always subject to change, but for the time being I'm going to pick Edwin Jackson and Matt Riley. It may be silly to be guessing this before pitchers and catchers report, but I wanted to give readers what the Sporting News missed out on, a good rookie review section. If I missed out on anyone, let me know, and you'll have a synopsis of that player both in your e-mail and in tomorrow's article, guaranteed.

WTNYFebruary 03, 2004
The Blues Continue in Motown
By Bryan Smith

Ivan Rodriguez finally signed with the Tigers, a topic I've been hesitant to comment on for the last few weeks. This is largely because I didn't believe it would happen, I mean, from the World Series to Motown? Pudge is the player that almost single-handedly beat the Giants, teared up my Cubbies, and played an instrumental role in the David over Goliath win over the Yankees. And now, he'll need another big season just to get the Tigers out of the MLB cellar.

This is one of the top five greatest catchers in history, signing out of necessity (no one else really wanted him) to one of the top five worst teams in history. This shouldn't happen, and it's a signal of the future that the MLB economic system is headed down. I would love to pick the brain of a team executive or agent on this subject, so if any are reading (which they aren't), e-mail me (bryball@hotmail.com). The middle (or even lower) class teams can sign big-name free agents, although many are players that were passed on by the Yankees or Red Sox or Mets.

Many of my articles follow Rob Neyer, who seems to write transaction analysis articles minutes after the AP posts it. Neyer pointed out how catchers don't age well, and the upper echelon of catchers have fallen apart (30% decrease) in their 32-35 seasons. And yes, there is more than history to believe that Pudge isn't going to be worth $40M down the road.

First of all, there is the fact that Pudge only hit 3...THREE home runs after the All-Star Break. He didn't hit one after September 10, nor any between August 6 and 9/10. He also only posted a .779OPS away from home, as Pro Player Stadium actually proved to favor a few hitters in 2003. Pudge came to camp totally fit and with a chip on his shoulder a year ago, but how much does he still have to prove to us? He's in the Hall of Fame, he has an MVP, more Gold Gloves than one could imagine, and a World Series ring. If he's hoping to turn around this team, he's mistaken.

There's no question the Tigers will be better next year, I mean, Dave Dombrowski has at least been active this offseason. Here is a look at the team that Tiger fans should, at the very least, be able to identify with next season:

C- Pudge Rodriguez
1B- Carlos Pena
2B- Fernando Vina
SS- Carlos Guillen
3B- Eric Munson
LF- Rondell White
CF- Alex Sanchez
RF- Bobby Higginson
DH- Dmitri Young
Bench: Mike Diefelice, Chris Shelton, Omar Infante, Greg Norton, Craig Monroe

1. Jason Johnson
2. Mike Maroth
3. Nate Cornejo
4. Jeremy Bonderman
5. Esteban Yan

CL- Fernando Rodney
SU- Franklyn German
SU- Matt Anderson
RH- Al Levine
LH- Jamie Walker
MR- Danny Patterson

Well, I can at least say that I know they will be improved next year. The team will surely sport the anti-OBP Sanchez and Vina atop their order, yet I can hardly say that I support such a notion. The 3-4-5 of Ivan Rodriguez, Dmitri Young and Rondell White should be fairly productive, followed by Eric Munson, Carlos Guillen, and Carlos Pena. All three have solid potential, and I think Munson could become a 30HR threat this season, although a reader reminded me of Kevin Mench (whom I thought the same about) yesterday. Pudge should give a drop off from his 2003 stats, and Higginson is a waste of space, I'd much rather have Cody Ross and Craig Monroe fill that void.

The pitching will be improved, as experience usually has such an effect. Jason Johnson will profit from moving to Comerica Park, although Nate Cornejo pitches like his ERA should be above 5.00. Mike Maroth, despite the losses, was the best pitcher on last year's staff, and should improve from not competing against aces this year. Who knows if Jeremy Bonderman will ever reach his one-time potential, and the Esteban Yan experiment is a crap shoot if I ever heard of one.

The bullpen could, and I use that term lightly, be imposing. I like Fernando and Franklyn at the end of games, and Jamie Walker is one of the better LOOGYs in baseball. Matt Anderson and Danny Patterson once had juice in their system, and Al Levine is not about to hurt anyone out there.

Detroit will be an improved team next year, and the Motor City fans will find players they can cheer about. However the lack of anything vaguely resembling a farm system will hurt them down the road, as the Tigers won't be in the playoffs in the next five years...or anything even close to it. But, Pudge may bring the team to the promised land...fourth place!

WTNYFebruary 02, 2004
Bryan's Thoughts
By Bryan Smith

Surely now it's time to refer to the present as baseball season, right?

The Super Bowl was a mix of horrendous boredom and extreme excitement, almost taking me back to last year's playoffs. Jake Delhomme should never be doubted again, although he got off to a bad start, he more than held his own against a great New England defense. I don't like the Patriots, but I will always respect Bill Belichek's ability to outsmart any coach he goes up against. If he wasn't the Super Bowl MVP, I don't know who was.

Now back to baseball. I want to apologize for not making a post on Friday, but a lack of baseball news, other projects I'm working on (more arbitration stuff to come), and a busy life contributed to a four-post week. Hopefully, it won't happen again...

In the past, readers have accused me on being too hard on the Dodgers (namely Jeff Felix). I think this was fair, as I've spent a good majority of the off season criticizing Dan Evans lack of action. It appears now that Evans was hog-tied, and the Dodgers were doomed from the start. Evans will have to re-interview to keep his job, but my guess is he won't be working in Los Angeles next season. So, I've decided to write what I would do if given the Los Angeles GM position, since I know Frank McCourt will be asking.

First, let's look at what the Dodgers currently have:

Position Players
C- Paul Lo Duca
1- Robin Ventura
2- Alex Cora
3- Adrian Beltre
S- Cesar Izturis
L- Juan Encarnacion
C- Dave Roberts
R- Shawn Green

Bench
1. Todd Hundley
2. Jolbert Cabrera
3. Jose Hernandez
4. Bubba Trammell

Rotation
1- Hideo Nomo
2- Odalis Perez
3- Jeff Weaver
4- Kaz Ishii
5- Edwin Jackson

Bullpen
CL- Eric Gagne
SU- Guillermo Mota
RH- Paul Shuey
LH- Tom Martin
RH- Darren Dreifort/Rick White
LH- Wilson Alvarez

While that is only 23 players, that's really all the players I feel are locks to make the roster. Jose Lima has an outside chance, but Jim Tracy said that Edwin Jackson would have to pitch his way out of the rotation, and Darren Dreifort, Wilson Alvarez, and prospect Joel Hanrahan could also start if needed. I think Dreifort and Alvarez could have positive results in the bullpen, but both will have competition for spots. The bench could have plays like Chin-Feng Chen, Dave Ross, and Joe Thurston on it, but I just don't see that happening.

OK first of all, this is bad. The offense could be irreparable for 2003, but the Dodgers have a very bright future ahead of them. I'll say that Los Angeles has four players in my top 50 prospects (Jackson, Greg Miller, Franklin Gutierrez, and James Loney), which I'll be displaying in February. Los Angeles should be winning divisions when these players hit the prime time, but that's years down the road. Don't trade any of those four players, nor Hanrahan for that matter. Everyone else is available, especially overrated shortstop prospect Joel Guzman.

The Dodgers need to trade pitching for hitting, it's just a fact. In a perfect world, they could acquire both a first basemen and a left fielder, so that Robin Ventura and Dave Roberts could move to the bench, and Juan Encarnacion could go to center. With Eric Karros apparently signing with the A's, it may be too late to trade Odalis Perez in a package for Paul Konerko. But, that should be explored. Travis Lee probably ends up being the first basemen, and I guess the Dodgers COULD do worse (see Randall Simon). If so, they must trade Perez away for a left fielder, and my choice would be Jacque Jones. The Twins need starting pitching badly, and could easily recuperate from losing Jones off their depth chart...it would easily make them the 2004 AL Central favorites.

The Dodgers will have a very good rotation. Edwin Jackson should be considered the favorite to win the NL Rookie of the Year, Jeff Weaver should bounce back, and Jose Lima could do very well in the spacious Dodger Stadium. Hideo Nomo was just built for there, and while I'm not high on Ishii, he does bring positives. And any bullpen that has Shuey, Gagne, and Mota will be good, so I wouldn't worry about that.

In the end, I don't see the Dodgers competing for the NL West crown in 2004, but I think they should circle 2005 on their calendar, as they get a lot of players off the books. The Dodgers should be considered the present favorites to land Carlos Delgado and/or Nomar Garciaparra, and will be mixing in Greg Miller and Joel Hanrahan in a rotation that already has Edwin Jackson, Jeff Weaver, and Darren Dreifort. I think Nomo should remain in Los Angeles as well, but we'll see how much Frank McCourt will invest in this team.

I'm skeptical, to say the least, for 2004, but Los Angeles (and Anaheim for that matter) is going to be a very fun place to live for baseball in 2005-2008.