With Spring Training underway, it's time to preview the 2009 MLB season. This year, rather than go into detail about each individual team, I'll just post an interesting factoid about each team. Could be a bit of trivia, a stat, or some personal memo.
It'll be less taxing to read, and more importantly, it'll be less taxing to write. Plus, it'll be a little different than your run-of-the-mill preview, so you might actually take the time to read it.
It'll be broken down by division, in the order that I think the teams will finish. Here goes.
Philadelphia Phillies: The reigning champs were 16th in the majors in OBP last season, at a meager .332. Replacing Pat Burrell (.367 career OBP) with Raul Ibanez (.346) won't help.
Know what would have helped? Bobby Abreu's career OBP of .405. Abreu is two years younger than Ibanez, has surpassed him in EVERY offensive category, and signed with the Angels for a lot less. Oopsy daisy.
New York Mets: Jose Reyes may be fast, but that's about it. There's a reason Derek Jeter owns New York. Reyes has a career BA/OBP/SLG/OPS of .287/.336/.436/.772, while Jeter posts a line of .316/.387/.458/.845.
A quick glance at the stats shows which New York shortstop is actually the far better hitter.
Florida Marlins: In 2008, the Marlins had the lowest payroll in baseball by far, about half of Tampa Bay's, the second-lowest team. Their highest-paid player was Wes Helms, who made under $2.5 million.
The team is talking about trading Dan Uggla and his high salary...yes, the same Dan Uggla who made less than half a million dollars last year. That's the eighth-highest salary on the team.
Atlanta Braves: The Braves have a simply terrible outfield. With so many outfielders up for grabs this offseason, you'd think the Braves could have landed one of them.
After missing out on the overpaid Ibanez and Milton Bradley, the Braves could have signed Adam Dunn or Bobby Abreu for extremely cheap. Instead, they focused on Ken Griffey Jr., who not surprisingly returned to Seattle. Garrett Anderson is not the answer.
The Braves had considered a trade with the Yankees, although they may want to consider shelling out some big bucks to land Manny Ramirez. He'd be expensive, but he'd be cheaper than expected, and would help the team a lot.
Washington Nationals: The Nats made a big push for Mark Teixeira, and according to most reports, actually offered more than the Yankees. It's a big step for the franchise, which is trying to gain some legitimacy.
They landed Adam Dunn at a relatively cheap price, and could make more big moves in future offseasons. For the record, Dunn has hit 40 home runs in each of the last four seasons.
That's not over 40 home runs or approximately 40 home runs. It's 40 home runs exactly, every year since 2005.
Chicago Cubs: I don't know why the Cubs were so desperate for Milton Bradley. Sure, he'll be only 31 this season, and he did have a very good year in 2008.
But he has a well-documented checkered past, not to mention a career riddled with injuries. He stayed healthy last year thanks to playing a lot of DH, something he won't be able to do in Chicago.
It's going to be a long three years for Cubs fans, but hey, they're used to waiting around idly...
St. Louis Cardinals: A need at second base has also opened up the team's outfield logjam. Rather than chase Orlando Hudson on the free-agent market, or pursue a trade for Robinson Cano, the Cardinals will try Skip Schumacher at second.
While this allows them to play all their outfielders (Schumacher, Rick Ankiel, Ryan Ludwick, and rookie Colby Rasmus), it makes their infield defense questionable. Schumacher's double-play partner, newcomer Khalil Greene, should do better than he did in pitcher-friendly San Diego.
Houston Astros: The team should see some improvement at its catcher position. Prospect J.R. Towles didn't exactly pan out last season, but neither did Rockies catcher Chris Iannetta his first time around.
Last year, though, Iannetta posted an OPS of .895 with regular at-bats. With his home ballpark, Towles should be able to put up better offensive numbers this year.
Cincinnati Reds: Let's not forget Bronson Arroyo. His 4.77 ERA from last year isn't at all impressive, but take a look at his second-half stats: he notched a 3.47 ERA, and his OPS-against dropped 200 points.
Arroyo was once considered a very good pitcher, and while he may never be elite, he certainly has capabilities. Also watch for Aaron Harang to bounce back in a big way.
Milwaukee Brewers: Milwaukee made it into the playoffs last year behind two aces. Both are gone. CC Sabathia is now in New York, while Ben Sheets is out indefinitely (possibly the whole year), and currently unsigned by anyone.
I think someone should take a shot at Sheets at some point, especially if he can return this season. He's excellent when he does pitch, and he'd be very cheap thanks to his injury history. He could make a big difference in a playoff race.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Nate McLouth busted out last year, but many still remain skeptical and doubt he can repeat his 26-homer campaign, especially without Jason Bay and Xavier Nady to protect him in the lineup.
True, his homers should decline, but he won't be powerless. More importantly, he's still a good hitter, and while he won't hit for home runs, he'll be on base a lot, and that means his 23 stolen bases will rise.
He's always been fast on the basepaths.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Joe Torre looked very good after last season. Booted by the Yankees, he led the Dodgers to the playoffs, while the Yanks missed the postseason.
But take a closer look, and notice that the Yankees actually won more games. The Dodgers made it thanks to a very weak division and the late acquisition of Manny Ramirez.
Let's not be so quick to pin the Dodgers' success on their manager.
Arizona Diamondbacks: We all knew Eric Byrnes wouldn't repeat his monster 2007, but his 2008 campaign was an utter disaster. Fact is, Byrnes has never been that good, and even his career year was made mostly by his inflated stolen bases total.
Now the Diamondbacks are saddled with his dead weight and his bloated salary. With Chad Tracy moving to first base, putting Conor Jackson in the outfield full-time, Byrnes may not even get enough at-bats to earn his dollars.
San Francisco Giants: Randy Winn is better than you think. He's not very flashy or interesting, but he's always been a quietly solid contributor, even in his days with Tampa Bay and Seattle.
He batted over .300 last year, with 10 homers and 25 stolen bases. If he can repeat that in 2009, he'd have a season similar to what many project for Nate McLouth.
Colorado Rockies: I love Chris Iannetta. I don't know why Clint Hurdle waited so long to give him regular playing time, but he showed his potential once given the opportunity.
For some reason, his road was blocked in 2007 by Yorvit Torrealba. Not exactly an all-star there, Clint.
San Diego Padres: No one cares about Chase Headley anymore. Last year, it was all "When are the Padres going to wake up and bring him to the majors?"
He was excellent in AAA, but the Padres were, for no good reason, reluctant to call him up. Then he arrived and didn't impress anybody. He's a little old to be a prospect, and he plays in a vacuum of a ballpark. Too bad.
New York Yankees: A.J. Burnett is a former Florida Marlins pitcher with a storied injury history. Haven't the Yankees been down this road before? I know Burnett is great when he pitches, but his health is not exactly a given. The Yankees could be paying a ton of money for this guy not to pitch.
Tampa Bay Rays: While everyone loved the Rays last year, I still couldn't stand them. For one thing, Joe Maddon is pompous, and his moronic "9=8" motto was just so stupid.
But moreover, their ownership doesn't put any money into the team. I'm not saying they have to be the Yankees, but at least TRY a little. They're consistently at the bottom of the league in payroll (even the Marlins invest some money when they do well), and I often wonder if ownership even cares.
There's a reason they've been bad for so long.
Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox had a quiet, yet effective offseason. Without spending too much money, they added some minor players that may or may not be very good.
It's a bunch of low-risk decisions, but with what the Yankees did this offseason (not to mention their slew of players returning from injuries), will these moves be enough?
Toronto Blue Jays: They're the last remaining team in Canada, and they inexplicably play in the AMERICAN League. Here's an interesting factoid: on the Blue Jays' current 40-man roster, there is only one catcher, Rod Barajas.
I'm sure someone else will make the team (Michael Barrett, perhaps?), but that is rather thin for such a position.
Baltimore Orioles: Without much noise, Melvin Mora has batted at least .274 every year since 2003, with a minimum of 14 home runs each year during that span.
Still, he's not exactly an RBI machine. His 104 last year tied a career-high set in 2004, although those years are the only two times he's ever knocked in more than 88 in a season.
Minnesota Twins: Despite dealing Johan Santana and Matt Garza last year, the Twins have one of the best rotations in baseball. Francisco Liriano is as good as anyone, and will be healthy the entire year.
Behind him are Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey. All three are young and very talented, as evidenced by their great numbers last season. Imagine those three PLUS Santana and Garza...
Chicago White Sox: Ozzie Guillen still has a job, which amazes me. It's not that he's done a bad job, but every year, he's the first guy rumored to be on the hot seat. He's a nutjob, and whenever the team underperforms, he's the first guy they blame.
Yet he always manages to cover his ass, and here he is again, managing the team in 2009. Will this be the year?
Cleveland Indians: The Indians didn't just overpay for Kerry Wood this offseason; they also overpaid for Carl Pavano. I say "overpaid" even though they didn't spend that much because paying anything for Pavano is too much.
The man has barely pitched in the past four years, and when he's pitched, it's been a disaster. His teammates hated him, management hated him, the fans hated him...so why did Cleveland take a chance on this guy? Is there really any upside left in Carl Pavano?
Detroit Tigers: Things can't possibly get worse than last year for this team. Perhaps the biggest change for them was the addition of a closer in Brandon Lyon.
After Todd Jones was FINALLY bad enough to lose his job, Joel Zumaya, Fernando Rodney, and even Kyle Farnsworth couldn't save games for them. Hopefully Lyon will help keep them out of the basement this year.
Kansas City Royals: At one point in time, not too long ago, this team boasted an outfield that consisted of Carlos Beltran, Jermaine Dye (in his prime), and Johnny Damon. Yet the team still sucked.
This year, they passed up on Orlando Hudson because his $4 million price tag was too expensive. And that's after they spent $9.25 million on Kyle Farnsworth for two seasons. yes, THAT Kyle Farnsworth.
When will this team ever be relevant again?
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: While the Yankees snatched Mark Teixeira away from them, the Angels struck back and signed former Yankee Bobby Abreu.
Abreu is no Teixeira, but considering what they paid for him, the Angels filled Tex's spot in the lineup relatively well. Although with just the one-year deal, they'll have to go through this again next year.
Texas Rangers: I can't stand what this team is doing to Michael Young. He's the franchise's standout player, a Gold Glove shortstop, and one of their best and longest-tenured players.
Yet they're bumping him to third base to make room for Elvis Andrus, who has never played a game above AA, and has proven himself to be an error-prone fielder. No wonder Young wanted a trade.
Oakland Athletics: The A's were one of the worst hitting teams last year, but that will change very quickly in 2009. Jason Giambi is back, and while he's not the MVP he was when he was last in Oakland, he's better than whoever they put at first base last year.
More noticeable, however, is the addition of Matt Holliday. While his numbers will decline away from Coors Field, Holliday will still be a great addition to the lineup.
But the team still isn't that good as a whole, and seeing how Holliday couldn't save the Rockies last year, there's no reason to think he's the miracle cure for the A's. He could be traded again by July.
Seattle Mariners: Two years ago, the team was pretty good. They thought they improved last year with the addition of Erik Bedard, but that experiment fizzled quickly, and the Mariners were one of the worst teams in the league.
This year, we get a look at Bedard round II, and I expect this season will be better than last. Then again, any season would be better than last.