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!