Let's jump right into it...
The Wednesday firing of Chuck Lamar can only mean good things for the Tampa Bay franchise. But more than anything else, it shows that new owner Stuart Sternberg has some dedication towards building a successful organization. Sternberg says he is in no rush to find a new GM or manager, and will not necessarily hire one before the other. This is fine, and even a good sign that the owner is dedicated, but I can't help but think the team should be selling these jobs to ex-Astros Gerry Hunsicker and Larry Dierker. Few teams offer the promise of a better turnover rate, which should help re-establish the combo at the combo they deserve: one of the best GM/manager tandems available.
However, whoever comes in for Tampa Bay has a few roster decisions to make before this team has any success. Quite a few roster decisions, actually. First on the plate will be choosing whether or not to tender Toby Hall a contract, the middle-of-the-road catcher that never stepped forward. Next this GM must explore a trade of Aubrey Huff, as he would have one of the bigger bats on the Who's Available List. Besides that, there is the B.J. Upton decision, sorting out the crowded outfield, and re-building one has consistently been one of the game's worst pitching staffs.
Still, don't feel too bad for whoever gets this job. Assuming Sternberg continues to show a winning attitude when the topic of payroll comes up, they will be fine. It is just too difficult to expect any GM to win in a division with the Yankees and Red Sox with the budget that Chuck Lamar had. Give the new GM another $20 million to play with, and this team does have a shot of contending in 2008-2010 like we always imagined.
The Arizona Fall League began without much coverage on Tuesday, as can be expected for the league with the collection of some of the minors best talent. While the league isn't quite as stacked as when I analyzed it earlier in the season -- players like J.J. Hardy have since dropped out -- it still profiles to be offense, offense, offense.
And as you may have expected, two players that are already succeeding in the league are Brandon Wood and Stephen Drew. Both shortstops started with two home runs in just as many games, including a game-winning hit for Drew on Wednesday. On the mound, the best performance thus far has to be Jered Weaver, with his two-inning, six strikeout performance to start the "season." Runner-ups are Adam Loewen and Scott Mathieson, both who dominated in three innings of work out of the gate.
However, my prediction for MVP is very similar to last year's winner Chris Shelton: Ryan Garko. In a league where offense rules, going with the most polished offensive player can never hurt. Garko has come out of the gate quick, and probably realizes he has a shot at a job with the Indians if his success (in hitting LHP) continues. Garko will do just that in the AFL, giving Mark Shapiro a nice 1B platoon of Ben Broussard and Garko.
Despite facing the league's most dominant pitcher from both 2005 and the rest of the last century, the Atlanta Braves inched towards shocking the world yesterday. While the Braves had a better record and home field advantage in this series, few game them a shot to win over a team like Houston -- built for a short series. However, Atlanta's resilience was on true display against Clemens, especially in the young bat of Brian McCann.
I will be breaking down the NL rookie class in more detail next week, so let's just say that McCann is one of the unsung heroes of the class. His 180 at-bats behind the plate will ruin any chance of garnering ROY votes, but McCann stepped in nicely when Johnny Estrada went down: .278/.345/.400. This leaves the Braves front office with a difficult decision, as Estrada continued to decline in putting up a .670 OPS this season. However, what Estrada lacks in offense he probably makes up in defense, as his 31% caught stealing rate was nearly double McCann's (18.5%).
One route would be to split up the pitching staff by catcher, with each pitcher having his preference man the plate that day. This probably would work better than a platoon, as both players (despite McCann's sample size numbers in the Majors) prefer right-handed pitchers. However, the most likely option is that Johnny Estrada is on his way out, and that Brian McCann will have 1-2 short years to prove what Estrada couldn't -- that he is a better option at backstop than the farm's best catcher.
And at that point, no one will bring up caught stealing numbers. Both will be too low.
Today, Eric Gagne has called for Dodger ownership to spend more money. My question is not which free agents will become a part of this organization, but how they will block the Majors most loaded farm system. Let's take a look at the Dodgers position-by-position:
Catcher - Do not expect the Dodgers to add a big-name bat at this position. If any Dodger fan was excited by Dioner Navarro, just wait until the team calls up Russ Martin. The latter is simply a rich man's Navarro, as both don't appear to have super-strengths, but are fantastic across the board. And then when you don't know it, Martin has dropped a .400 OBP on you. Given the ease in hitters adjusting to the PCL, expect Martin to be ready after the All-Star Break, at the latest.
First Base - One of the larger problems that Jim Tracy and Paul DePodesta had was that Tracy just did not buy into DePo's theories. One of those was that Hee Seop Choi could be an everyday first baseman. Choi put up a .789 OPS this season, not playing everyday, and will almost surely have the chance to do that next year. If he falters, and James Loney continues to improve, we could see that change happen. If neither player brings any consistency to the table, look for DePo to look into the FA market in 2006-2007.
Second Base - Jeff Kent has one more year left with the Dodgers, and they might as well play him at second base. I'm not a huge fan of the options waiting below the surface -- Delwyn Young, Wily Aybar -- so there is no reason to move Kent to accomodate them. In 2007, the team will probably play one of those two players, as they either bridge the gap to Travis Denker, or bridge the gap to a free agent signing.
Shortstop - Cesar Izturis is their man, but he won't be able to contribute in the early going of the season. Don't expect anything too dramatic, like a Joel Guzman promotion, but instead a solid bench player. With Izturis making $7.25 million the next two seasons, there is no reason to sign any player that will dethrone Izturis. Instead, signing a Ramon Martinez-like player is probably best for the franchise. Izturis has this position for the near future.
Third Base - This is where the Dodgers face a dilemna. There is no question that they have to add a bat to this offense, but they also have a great player nearly-ready in the minors. Andy LaRoche has all the makings of a future All-Star, and will even bring great defense back to this position. Again, Guzman does not make sense at the position in the short or long-term. Instead, the team will be forced to go after Bill Mueller or Joe Randa to fill in for a year.
Outfield -- In one spot, there is J.D. Drew, who besides injuries, will not be going anywhere for awhile. In another, there could be Milton Bradley, who is up for arbitration again. Both of these players are definitely worth bringing back. The third position is another question mark, much like third base. The Dodgers know that their most talented young player, Joel Guzman, will be ready fairly soon. However, it's hard to stake a future on an unknown commodity, especially one that took so long to develop in the minors. At this point the best option is probably to sign someone like Jose Cruz Jr., and re-evaluate in another year.
Starting Rotation - Let me start by saying I think the Dodgers should re-sign Jeff Weaver. This should be, in my opinion, priority #1. When that deal is complete, the Dodgers have four solid starters in Weaver, Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, and Odalis Perez. We know that Chad Billingsley and others (Edwin Jackson, Chuck Tiffany, Justin Orenduff, etc) are not far away, and one could even surprise the club in March and steal a spot. However, it's probably not intelligent to bank on that. So, my vote is this is the spot where the Dodgers spend money. Don't go for the top two guys, too overpaid, but someone in the next tier like Jarrod Washburn. A southpaw who will fit well in Dodger Stadium, and probably won't even be forced to move. It gives the Dodgers a veteran starting rotation for 2006, allowing them to give their prospects all the time needed.
What would you do if Paul DePodesta this winter?
Thanks to Kevin Goldstein, already loved in our hearts due to the Baseball America Player Reports, minor league statistics just took a step forward. With BA's new Player Finder, we can see groundball-to-flyball rates. This tool allows us to tell you things like Adam Loewen had a 2.58 GB/FB ratio, giving him one of the minors best K+GB rates in the game. This is, of course, why I think Loewen will continue to be one of the best pitchers in the AFL. On the other end of the spectrum is Matt Cain, with a 0.60 groundball rate, which is likely one of the reasons he gave up 22 home runs on the season. Although don't let this effect your opinion of Cain, his home games will be in San Fran -- he'll only be in Denver a couple times per year.
That's all for now. Expect more notes to be added as the day goes on, and check back this weekend as the Baseball Analysts will have new content on both Saturday and Sunday. Take care...