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...