2009 Position Battles: February 2009 Archives

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With spring training camps now underway, we here at Walkoff Walk should really get off our rumps and start taking a look at the pole positioning for premium positions among the six divisions. With the country stuck in the dregs of the Xtreme Depressionⓒ, folks'll be working extra hard to get the premium salaries that come along with starting jobs. Today, we look at the National League Central:

  • Chicago Cubs closer: With Kerry Wood moving on to browner pastures in Cleveland, Sweet Lou Piniella must make another tough decision involving the Cubs' endgame scenarios. Chicago returns just a few relievers headed up by strikeout wizard Carlos Marmol, who is favored to win the job out of camp. I mean, it's not like Jeff Samardzjia (pronounced suh-mar-dih-JIZZ-ee-uh) is suddenly going to become an above average pitcher suddenly. But lo, Kevin Gregg and his two-year portfolio of 61 saves has emigrated from Miami and is looking to make this a two-dog race. Both gentlemen have unhealthy walk rates (greater than 4.5 BB/9 in the last two years) but Marmol should get the edge because of his strikeout numbers.

  • Milwaukee Brewers closer: Just because Eric Gagne had Lasik eye surgery this offseason doesn't mean I'm putting him in the closer sweepstakes in Milwaukee. The dude is going to have to bust his ass to just make the team out of spring training and Bob Uecker will have an aneurysm if Gagne is allowed to close games for the Brew Crew. That being said, the $6 million that Doug Melvin threw at Padres legend Trevor Hoffman pretty much makes him the man, but there are other gents lurking. New Brewer Jorge Julio has had better strikeout rates over the last three years and closing experience way back when in Baltimore. Unfortunately, Julio's walk and tater tot rates are atrocious, but hey, Trevor Hoffman is 83 years old.

  • St. Louis Cardinals closer: Are you sensing a theme here? The NL Central teams had trouble closing games at the start of last year too. Who will be the white knight to save the Cardinals bullpen in 2009? PECOTA is predicting four different pitchers to earn at least 8 saves for St. Lou: sexy prospect out of Miami Chris Perez, aging righty Ryan Franklin, one-time college catcher Jason Motte, and former Ray lefty Trever Miller. Perez, with his magic fastball and high strikeout rates, is the odds-on favorite. But hey, the Cardinals have had success turning pitchers into hitters in the past, so why not try the reverse for Motte?

  • Cincinnati Reds left field: For better or worse, Coco Cordero has the closers job locked up, so we'll take a different route for the Reds team. Our pal John Fay mentioned yesterday that, contrary to popular belief, Chris Dickerson has not yet earned the starting LF nod on Opening Day. The Reds brought back the versatile Jerry Hairston, who collects high OBP rates and can play the infield as well as the outfield. There's also Norris Hopper, ex-Ray Jonny Gomes, and Dusty's old pal Jacque Jones, who also had corrective eye surgery this offseason after batting a miserable .147 last year in Detroit and Miami. Expect Hairston to win the job and hopefully Dickerson can supplant the horrid Willy Taveras in center.

  • Pittsburgh Pirates fourth and fifth starter: Paul Maholm, Zach Duke, and Ian Snell should have the top three slots in the rotation locked up, but after that, it's a big fat question mark. Manager John Russell will have a few gentlemen to choose from, including former Yankees prospects Jeff Karstens, Dan McCutchen and Ross Ohlendorf, one-time Cub stud Donald Veal, last year's mistake Phil Dumatrait, and homegrown guy Tom Gorzelanny. The 1989 Oakland Athletics, these are not.

  • Houston Astros catcher: Whoever would have thought that the departure of Brad Ausmus would create a power vacuum! But really, it's happening in Houston, where Ausmus was the unassuming catcher for ten years. Alyson Footer at MLB.com thinks the job is merely a placeholder for stud prospect Jason Castro, so here are the three candidates to get a year's worth of work in: last year's big flop J.R. Towles, longtime Astro Humberto Quintero, and shaving cream pie victim Toby Hall. Look for Towles to rebound in his sophomore effort and lead the Astros to a whopping 53 wins!
trialsofjob.jpg

With spring training camps now underway, we here at Walkoff Walk should really get off our rumps and start taking a look at the pole positioning for premium positions among the six divisions. With the country stuck in the dregs of the Xtreme Depressionⓒ, folks'll be working extra hard to get the premium salaries that come along with starting jobs. Today, we look at the American League Central:

  • Cleveland Indians rear-end rotation: Besides reigning Cy Young winner Cliff Lee and stud Dominican Fausto Carmona, Indians manager Eric Wedge has some tough choices to make filling out the rest of his starting staff. With Jake Westbrook having his elbow ligaments replaced with orangutan scrotums, Wedge seems to think Bronx pariah Carl Pavano is ready and willing to fill out the third slot. But remember, being ready and willing does not necessarily make one able. Looking past to slots four and five, Wedge can decide from the grab bag of Anthony Reyes, Aaron Laffey, Jeremy Sowers, Zach Jackson, David Huff, Scott Lewis, Kirk Saarloos and Tomo Ohka for the leftover 75 to 80 games. Huff was a stud lefty last year at Triple-A Buffalo while the other young southpaw Lewis went 4-0 in four impressive late season starts last year for the big club.

  • Minnesota Twins third base: GARY GAETTI IS NOT WALKING THROUGH THAT DOOR, PEOPLE. Really, he's been banned from the Twins clubhouse for inappropriate contact with Harmon Killebrew's daughter. Filling out the hot corner for the Minnesota nine this year will be either Brian Buscher, Brendan Harris, or if Ron Gardenhire's wishes come true, former White Sock Joe Crede. Tough nuts for Brian if Crede signs because the lefty Buscher would make a fine, fine platoon with the righty Harris. Offensively, Crede has the advantage despite a glaring inability to draw walks. Heck, he's got the advantage defensively too. But between the actual current Twins, I'm giving the nod to Harris for having a slightly better glove.

  • Detroit Tigers closer: I just found this Jerry Crasnick piece on ESPN that I totally would have been stealing from if I hadn't just discovered it. Anyway, he has the Tigers closer as the 7th most compelling contribution of Spring Training. Now that our own Todd Jones has retired, there is an enormous dumb vacuum in the Detroit bullpen. They've obtained former Diamondback closer Brandon Lyon who had some rough patches shutting down ninth innings last season. Past Lyon, there are Tiger vets Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney, both of whom are adept at striking out major league hitters but also prone to giving up walks. Actually, Rodney walked in the winning run in a loss to the Rays last year. I see Lyon winning this job and being demoted some time in May.

  • Kansas City Royals manager: Royals skipper Trey Hillman was the only major league manager to receive less ink (pixels?) on this here weblog than Pirates head honcho John Russell last year. He compiled a satisfactory 75-87 record in his first season of USA managing after five years in Japan where he took the Nippon Ham Fighters to a championship in 2006. So what does that all mean now? If his Royals take a big fat step backwards in 2009, it might mean curtains for Hillman and might force owner David Glass to import another ex-NPB manager. Heck, anything that keeps Bobby V. out of New York City is okay with me.

  • Chicago White Sox second base: With Alexei Ramirez shifting from second to short to replace the departed Orlando Cabrera, an opportunity has arisen for White Sox youngster Chris Getz to make a splash. Marcel projects Getz to have a tidy .768 OPS next year but Brent Lillibridge and Jayson Nix are lurking. Getz is a great option for an obviously-rebuilding team, but there's a perfectly better option on the market for a team that wants to open up their purses a bit.
trialsofjob.jpg

With spring training camps now underway, we here at Walkoff Walk should really get off our rumps and start taking a look at the pole positioning for premium positions among the six divisions. With the country stuck in the dregs of the Xtreme Depressionⓒ, folks'll be working extra hard to get the premium salaries that come along with starting jobs. Today, we look at the National League West.

  • Arizona Diamondbacks left field: This isn't much of a competition, since Conor Jackson is set for left field on the days Chad Tracy plays first base, but really, it's worth pointing out that Eric Byrnes does not have a starting job. He hasn't been healthy in months and hasn't really produced since 2007 and finds himself competing for attention in an otherwise young Diamondbacks outfield populated by Jackson, Justin Upton and Chris Young. Byrnesy baby, you're too Hollywood to be futzing around on the bench for a team with no DH. Get Jeanne Zelasko on the phone, stat, and start your own pregame show on the Internet.

  • Los Angeles Dodgers left field: This shouldn't really be a competition either, but as of today, Joe Torre is stuck penciling in Juan Pierre in a spot where Manny Ramirez should be. Right now, PECOTA is projecting the Dodgers as an 84-win team, eight games behind the Diamondbacks. Add in Manny's projected 30 tater tots and .950 OPS and that win total goes up by four. So stop dicking around, Ned Colletti, and throw $40 million over two years at the poor guy.

  • San Francisco Giants second base: Technically, most of the Giants infield is open for discussion because they have a bunch of unproven youngsters and no slamdunk veterans short of Edgar Renteria. The good folks at Fangraphs are calling this a four-horse race between Emmanuel Burriss, Eugenio Velez, Kevin Frandsen and Juan Uribe. I'll let them do the heavy lifting and simply break down the odds for you: youngster Burriss is a 9-1 outside shot, Rule 5 draftee Velez is even longer at 12-1, 2007 regular Frandsen coming off a ruptured Achilles tendon injury that caused him to miss all of 2008 is a good bet at 4-1, and minor-league-deal signee Uribe is a 9-to-5 shot because he's a grizzled veteran and Bruce Bochy is a bum.

  • Colorado Rockies center field: With Willy Taveras' corpse mercifully shed from the payroll, the Rox can test out youngster Dexter Fowler against the more experienced Ryan Spilborghs, Carlos Gonzalez, and Mr. Hustle himself, Scott Podsednik. Fowler, a 2004 draftee, finally got a taste of the bigs last September and appeared in the Futures All Star Game in July despite not getting any Triple-A action yet. He's a high-OBP guy with not much pop, not unlike Spilborghs. Gonzalez came from the A's in the Matt Holliday trade and is seen as having the best defensive potential among the group but can't hit his way out of a wet paper bag. Podsednik is 33 and is a gigantic liability at the plate and in the field. I'd like to see Gonzalez get a chance in CF with Brad Hawpe in right and Spilborghs in left, until Dexter Fowler makes some noise in Triple-A Colorado Springs.

  • San Diego Padres shortstop: The Padres signed David Eckstein to be their second baseman and he was simply thrilled with finally moving back to his natural position. See, it's easier for little people to throw the ball to first from where a second baseman stands than where a shortstop stands. The problem is that the Padres are trying to figure out which young middle infielder is going to be less bad: Luis Rodriguez at short, or Matt Antonelli at second. Whoever screws up worse this spring might lose their job to Eckstein the professional dwarf. The wild card? Last year's second baseman Edgar Gonzalez who is also brother to stud first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Sometimes you gotta make the talent happy and give their big brother a job.
trialsofjob.jpg

With spring training camps now underway, we here at Walkoff Walk should really get off our rumps and start taking a look at the pole positioning for premium positions among the six divisions. With the country stuck in the dregs of the Xtreme Depressionⓒ, folks'll be working extra hard to get the premium salaries that come along with starting jobs. Today, we look at the American League West.

  • Los Angeles Angels outfield: Longtime Angel in the outfield Garret Anderson is gone, but with the signing of Bobby Abreu, the logjam continues in Anaheim. With Torii Hunter and Vlad Guerrero as the two true automatic starts in the outfield, that leaves Abreu, Juan Rivera, Reggie Willits, and Gary Matthews Jr fighting it out for the third OF slot and the DH role. Shame that Matthews will get a good amount of consideration because of his over-inflated salary; his bat just doesn't have the pop necessary to be a league-average corner OF or DH. To complicate matters, catcher Mike Napoli is nursing a sore shoulder and may need to eat up some of that DH time in the early spring. What does this all mean? The Angels still won't be scoring six runs a game.

  • Oakland Athletics designated hitter: Another former Yankee heads west to mess up a team's depth chart, as Jason Giambi returns to Oaktown seven years later to mash some taters and take some DH time away from Jack Cust. Neither of those dudes are very good with the glove, but Cust is younger and knows where to stand and which way to face in the outfield. Still, he's not going to take much corner OF time away from newcomer Matt Holliday, so Travis Buck gets the short end of that stick. Expect Giambi to usurp most of the DH duty but also find time to use his first baseman's glove, leaving Daric Barton in the lurch a couple times a week. Bottom line: save for Holliday, don't draft any of these guys in your fantasy league.

  • Texas Rangers entire pitching staff: Here's a list of the eight possible Rangers starting pitchers that the good folks at Baseball Prospectus are forecasting to have an ERA under 4.70: ____. Ooph. Well, what about Sean Smith's CHONE projections? ____. Jeez, is there anyone on the Rangers roster who can pitch? I pity pitching coach ____ for attempting to cobble together a rotation out of Kevin Millwood, Vicente Padilla, Dustin Nippert, Matt Harrison, Scott Feldman, Brandon McCarthy, Jason Jennings, and Kason Gabbard. That's a veritable who's who of who stinks.

  • Seattle Mariners closer: Last year's closer J.J. Putz is somewhere in Port St. Lucie right now plotting the mysterious disappearance of Frankie Rodriguez, and so is his wormball-inducing pal Sean Green. That leaves a power vacuum at the top of the Mariners bullpen. This, of course, is like a power vacuum at the top of a special needs high school's math team: it's just not a very important position when there isn't a ton of predicted success. Still, saves are saves and the extremely dated Elias Sports Bureau values them more than anything else when it comes to deciding how much relievers should get paid. Look for Mark Lowe, David Aardsma and newcomer Luis Pena to share closing duties, but also for new M's manager Don Wakamatsu to get creative because that's what the Seattle beat writers and bloggers enjoy. Ichiro as the closer? Sure! Why not?
trialsofjob.jpg

With spring training camps now underway, we here at Walkoff Walk should really get off our rumps and start taking a look at the pole positioning for premium positions among the six divisions. With the country stuck in the dregs of the Xtreme Depressionⓒ, folks'll be working extra hard to get the premium salaries that come along with starting jobs. Today, we look at the National League East.

  • Philadelphia Phillies fifth starter: I was in Dover, DE this weekend and the top story in The Downstate Daily's sports section on Monday involved Kyle Kendrick's chances to retain his claim on the Phillies' fifth pitcher in the rotation. This told me two things: (a) Kyle Kendrick is a pretty lucky guy, earning that World Series ring and bonus check despite being a terrible pitcher who was left off the Philadelphia roster for the entire postseason and (b) there isn't much sports news going on in Delaware. Kiki is going up against the likes of Chan Ho Park, Carlos Carrasco, and J.A. Happ for the chance to pitch once every five days and carry Brett Myers' beer cooler out from the bullpen twice a week.

  • New York Mets fifth starter: The first four slots in the Mets starting rotation are taken by stud Johan Santana, smug John Maine, slug Oliver Perez, and scrub Mike Pelfrey. That leaves the fifth day, the Lord's day, left to be filled by one of a bevy of general manager Omar Minaya's gentleman callers. You've got youngster Jon Niese, born the same night the Mets clinched their last World Series win back in '86, former Nat Tim Redding, who somehow managed double-digits in wins for a miserable Washington team last year, journeyman Freddy Garcia, who looks nothing like this portly creature, and Livan Hernandez, the man who has never met a base-on-balls he didn't like. Dear God, please let it be Livan Hernandez, and please let him bring his golf clubs to camp.

  • Atlanta Braves center field: Quick, name the Braves' starting center fielder. Nope, keep guessing. Wrong again. I'll just go refresh my coffee mug while you keep repeating the names "Griffey" and "Andruw" over and over. If the season started today, (a) Gregor Blanco would be the man with the job and (b) we'd have neglected to give you our wacky predictions. However, Braves beat blogger Dave O'Brien thinks the job battle is between Josh Anderson and Jordan Schafer. Anderson got his chance to play in the bigs after Mark Kotsay was traded to the BoSox last year and hit .294 in 40 games. Schafer's the dude who got suspended 50 games last year for ingesting some of that delicious human growth hormone, but don't hold that against him.

  • Florida Marlins catcher: Misty May's husband is gone, nursing his grundle with the Detroit Tigers, so that leaves John Baker and Mike Rabelo to 'fight' for a job they'll probably end up platooning. Still, Pudge Rodriguez might still swoop in and inject the young Marlins team with some veteran intensity and Icy Hot. This is progress?

  • Washington Nationals outfield: Ever since Jim Bowden oddly brought in difference-maker Adam Dunn to play first base, the Nats depth chart has been re-arranged more than Mickey Rourke's face (zing! relevant Oscars joke!). So: you've got Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, Austin Kearns, Josh Willingham, Willie Harris, Wily Mo Pena, and my white knight Corey Patterson fighting it out for three outfield slots for a team that will struggle to score 700 runs. But hey, the 2009 Nats outfield can't be worse than last year's version...can it?