TODAY, dreams and hopes abound everywhere IN BASEBALL.
Putting money on THIS season? Emotion kills!
Rosters are set. Players AND management can NOW focus on playing ball...the only thing for which their relative skills and performance has been arduously scrutinized and evaluated down to the last ball and strike!
The next round of business will be for teams to either contemplate bolstering their rosters (3-4 months from now) or refocus for 2010.
Buyers and sellers unavoidably emerge annually in due time, but those days are a world away from from the optimism, confidence, and Vegas line that stands like a devious temptress trying desperately NOT to suppress the charm of spring!
In a world entirely apart, and stranded in the land without teams, the moody but inimitable Barry Bonds is joined by remnants of other STILL unsigned and confounded free agents as notable as Ben Sheets, Jim Edmonds, Dave Roberts, Jay Payton, Ray Durham, etc.!
These poor misunderstood souls can thank folks like Mark Mulder and Mike Hampton (even Tim Hudson for that matter), for revealing the folly of past performance, future potential, and lucrative bidding NOT guaranteeing actual future performance.
Other FA's like Will Ohman (Dodgers) were snookered out of high scale salaries that WERE their birthrights in December.
Yes, predicting the future has more pit-falls (and loss potential) than ways for an MLB player to land on the DL. Is Madonna's bathroom floor more slippery than than average girlfriend's?
The answer is "yes", and 'built on a surprisingly slippery slope' as well!
The “experts” have now all put their computations and reputations on the line, but isn't math for people who build bridges and play Black Jack? Sure, they have the distinct advantage of 'open doors' to training rooms and personal assistants (No BASEBALL big leaguer would be caught DEAD with a "PA", would they?
Agents, accountants, security, and "go-fers" may be part of a big leaguers posse', but PA's aren't, are they? Maybe, I just was unaware of the metrosexual trend in MLB, so pardon me!
BUT instinct rules, from the chasing down of 97 MPH fast balls to predicting collective finesse factors for pitching staffs; NOT over complicating logic and raw talent. Baseball is a game of "gamers", whose evolved skills to win always predictably trump physical advantages (unless it is overwhelming) over time!
As we all know, the above described short term factors and advantages MAY SEEM to be more predictable than the more important (and controlling) psychological accumulations of 162 games (and more predictable they MAY be)...but MUCH more relevant (and indicative in the W-L records) is the fact that baseball IS the single most 'mentally challenging' OF the major sports!
Baseball fans DON'T need non stop action like "football people" because the games within games MORE than compensate for any supposed boredom...but THAT'S ANOTHER (digressing) STORY!!
Before I ramble further, here are my 2009 prediction with as must objectivity as I can muster...making this information AS guaranteed as it CAN be in lining YOUR pockets with money!
1. Boston: I cannot resist...the SAUX are loaded! With gamers like Youkilis and Pedroia, a pitching staff without a weakness, PLUS some really nice young players like Lowry and Ellsbury mixed in, it looks like a high quality Rays– Saux rivalry for the foreseeable future.
I'm predicting a down year for the Rays, though...sort of a 'sophomore slump.'
2. New York Yankees: Too much upgrade in the pitching staff to keep the Yankees OUT of the play-offs this year...look for a wild-card berth while narrowly edging out the Rays.
1.Chicago White Sox: ONLY a continued rash of TWINS' injuries can and WILL reward a surging and revitalized South Side Sox team 2009 Central champs. Anything SHORT of this, after all, WILL lead crazy man manager Ozzie Guillen from hiring Dr. Phil as the club's 'head' therapist.
Watch for breakout 3B Josh Fields and newly established Ace pitcher John Danks to lead the Chisox past the otherwise superior Minnesota squad.
2.Minnesota Twins: The (now conventional favorite) Twins not only narrowly miss taking their division (in the last game or three – exactly opposite to their recent winning of the division on the last day of the season), but get nudged out of the wild card by the Yanks as well in the last seven to 10 days of the season.
1. Los Angeles Angels: They'll open the season without starters John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar, they'll rely partially on retreads—(albeit still enviable talents like Abreu, Rivera, Matthews, Jr.) and chronic (almost career) minor leaguers—Morales, Kendrick, Quinlan, Napoli, etc. but STILL should be able to mail it in once their pitching staff heals up...at least MOST of it will (heal)!
It's doubtful that with the LACK of a formidable challenger in their race, and their clearly coming from the weakest division, that they'll be a serious threat UNLESS the pitchers begin to REALLY over-perform in the latter stages of the regular season...thereby potentially launching them into the post season with enough transcendent momentum.
1. New York Mets: J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez fill one of the biggest 2008 voids in MLB. Look for David Wright to finish second in MVP voting and Johan Santana to catch fire, finally breaking the curse of recent seasons by clinching early...but only AFTER a mini-collapse has all of Queens holding its breath for a week or two!
2. Florida: Ricky Nolasco, Josh Johnson, Chris Volstad, Anibal Sanchez and Andrew Miller stay MUCH MORE healthy (and just plain competent) than Hamels' group. Even Atlanta moves ahead of Phillie with its pitching upgrades. I see the FISH competing with the CHC/STL playoff loser for the Wild Card, with the WC winner ultimately coming out of the Central.
1. Chicago Cubs: They'll win, but I personally do NOT believe they will be able to put away an almost written off and forgotten Cardinal team. DeRosa and Wood won't be missed too much, but I would NOT consider Miles and Gregg upgrades.
With their intra-season moves of 2008, the argument is plenty strong that NO upgrades were/ARE necessary.
But even though the Cubbies have a near dominant team (definitely dominant if their pitching staff achieves expectations), there is JUST ENOUGH potential for inconsistency with Soriano, Harden, Fukodome, and Bradley to make things interesting.
1. St. Louis: Can Ryan Ludwick repeat 37 homers and 113 RBI? Since no one gives him a chance to, I'm betting contrarian. AND why not 37 homers from Rick Ankiel...AND 37 homers from Albert Pujols...AND maybe EVEN 37 homers from perennial disappointment Chris Duncan!?
On paper, and after nearly a full offseason of inaction by the front office, STL seems to have left themselves with literally NO breathing room (extra/spare players) for the seemingly inevitable injuries, slumps, and “who-knows what-else” (think Scott Spezio and digress from there).
They let a literal hoard of players go—through various mechanisms – and have scarcely replaced ANY of them—with the lone exception at SS.
This could be the “story of the year” IF it works – “Addition by subtraction”...a Tony La Russa best seller in the making? I expect a ONE GAME Cubs-Cards PLAY-OFF after a season ending TIE.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers: For the end result, See Anaheim Angels, complete with divisional analysis. If Manny is STILL being Manny by the end of the year, then they could pose a playoff threat.
(I hate my prediction.) Just wanted to preclude my prediction with THAT! Boston over NYM: Once they break their curse (the Mets, that is), there is probably no one balanced enough to stop them besides Boston, but I do NOT believe they'll do it without a deadline deal on the magnitude of, say, Jake Peavy.
Sure, the CHC want him, they'll just NOT be brash, bold, and gutsy enough to pay the Pods the incredibly enormous price (in the form of prospects) they are demanding...and make no mistake, the cupboard WILL be bare in the Mets' minors thereafter!
AL MVP: Mark Teixeira, NYY.
NL MVP: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia (partially pay-back for 2008)
AL Cy Young: CC Sabathia, NYY. Yep – to my consternation, it going to be a BIT of a NY kind of year.
NL Cy Young: Johan Santana, Mets. I agree that the bullpen makes the difference.
AL Rookie of the Year: Travis Snider, TOR.
NL Rookie of the Year: David Freese, STL.
AL Manager of the Year: Ozzie Guillen, CHW
NL Manager of the Year: Jerry Manuel, Mets.
AL Most Surprising Team: CHW. The Chisox appear poised for a resurgence, but that doesn't make it unsurprising!
NL Most Surprising Team: STL. Picked for four, seeming to have an empty cupboard (except for unproven prospects), no one could call them a front runner, especially with CHC looking very strong!
AL Most Disappointing Team: Minnesota Twins – Can THIS over-achieving small market perennial underdog EVER be “disappointing”? Yes...especially when 80 percent of those baseball people polled EXPECT the Cinderella Twins to win their division!
“Expectations are a b**ch”, and heightened hopes often are tough albatrosses to shake off! Their roster will STILL be “primed” next year and for a few years to come...until the next round of free agents!
NL Most Disappointing Team: Easy. Repeating is becoming the toughest of challenges in the expectations game. Everything fell so perfectly in line last year for the Phils...sure lightening CAN strike twice, but...
AL Comeback Player of the Year: Jorge Posada, NYY. With the (possibly) obvious exception of DJ, there is NOT ONE other player that has been so singly and quietly integral to the NYY success in recent years, and as a Catcher, he is A HITTING BEAST!
As he is also key to the success of the newly configured pitching staff, there really is NO player MORE critical for a successful 2009, and he's primed FOR it!!
NL Comeback Player of the Year: Chris Duncan, STL. Even Cardinal fans have been dumping on this guy...constantly for the past TWO YEARS!
He has SO frequently been mentioned as trade bait that Cardinal fans seem ONLY to be rooting for Chris to make a comeback SIMPLY so his trade value improves?!? In fairness, STL DOES have a surplus of outfielders...so far!
AL Surprise Player: Josh Fields, CHW. Fields was a “can't miss rookie prospect of the highest magnitude a year ago...until Joe Crede suddenly emerged out from under a back injury that supposedly had him ticketed for a rest home shortly (with no discernible future to look forward to).
But hopefully (in the Chisox's minds) a trade for something/someone of value – as soon as he showed he “still had it” but before his body decomposed abruptly into MUSH! That window of opportunity closed so quickly that Ozzie decided Crede was necessary to KEEP.
Fields was summarily relegated to subservient bench and/OR Minor League duty. THIS year, CHW let Crede go AHEAD of the curve, before history could repeat itself.
NL Surprise Player: Huston Street, COR. Street was cast aside like so much excess baggage last season in Oakland, and the Rockies wisely see him as not only someone who will surprise those who've considered his best days behind him, but end up being an upgrade over supposedly hotter (FA) prospect and departee, Brian Fuentes.
AL Disappointing Player: Matt Holliday, OAK. I'm going to take a flier on this pick instead of my conventional multi-year' pick, Gary Matthews. Jr.. Holliday would NOT be the first ex-Colorado slugger to suffer from some post-Coors—hangover.
He's already having a sluggish .231 (BA) spring, and may already be buckling a bit under the mega-deal expectations. For Oakland's part, there contingency plan, “cashin' in” for THREE younger players before the deadline, is just business as usual!
NL Disappointing Player: Gary Sheffield, MYM. This is a “no brainer”, because WHATEVER “SHEF” does, he'll disappoint someone! If he pans out with NYM, Detroit will be SOOO disappointed in their management for letting him go AND paying him ALL but $400,000 in salary! If he FAILS to impact the NYM winning %, and IF his playing time dwindles TOO much, look for Sheff NOT to disappoint in whining about it publicly.
First Manager Fired: Erick Wedge, Cleveland. The Indians could contend if Jake Westbrook can stay off the DL AND finally pitch to expectations, if Carl Pavano and Anthony Reyes can break out of multi-year funks, AND if Cliff Lee can repeat his 21-3 career year in addition to replacing CC Sabathia's missing wins. Yeah.
The Indians CAN hit, but can they hit enough to make up for the likely pitching deficiency. It seems to me that Wedge faces a nearly impossible task, and that he'll likely fall victim to this team's chemistry NOT being capable of turning this team around quickly enough.
Biggest Name Traded at July Deadline: I'm going with Matt Holliday in a squeaker over Jake Peavy because of SD's intolerable tendency to always ask for just a bit more than the other cooperating team can bear. Some of this is perfectly understandable, of course, as Peavy is clearly a rare commodity!
I have come to the opinion that SOME of the “moving target strategy” boils down to plain old inability to make a decision. Now that SD has a new owner, there MAY be more certainty as to what the team's priorities and plans actually are.
For THAT reason, and THAT reason alone, I'm predicting that the Mets make a STRONG play to scoop up Peavy and make the inaugural edition of the New Shea a season to remember.
Nonetheless, it seems to me MORE certain that Oakland fails in their attempt to have Holliday magically pull the A's to near the top of the AL West in his first year, which might well prompt the business minded Athletics to parlay their “King piece” into a multiple of the fine sort of prospects they're more known for developing...with timing being exquisitely optimal, of course!