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Adrian Gonzalez for MVP and 50 Bold MLB Predictions for 2011

Topher GuthrieContributor IJanuary 4, 2011

Adrian Gonzalez for MVP and 50 Bold MLB Predictions for 2011

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    There’s no way to predict what’s going to happen in 2011. 

    For evidence, look at 2010, and the 50 bold predictions I would have made for last season.

    They would have been bold, entertaining and provocative in some way, but they would not have included Jose Bautista hitting 54 home runs (his previous high was 16), MLB pitchers throwing seven no-hitters (counting Armando Gallaraga’s near-perfect game), a player hitting a grand slam on the first major league pitch he saw (Boston’s Daniel Nava), Aroldis Chapman throwing a pitch 105 MPH in a major league game or the Padres racking up 90 wins with the league’s second-lowest payroll.

    The topper was a World Series title by the Giants. The Giants were led by cast-offs from other teams and had one of the worst offenses in the league. Watching them try to squeeze across runs was like watching paint dry, while getting a root canal—on your testes. 

    They were led by blue-chip pitchers but also by an offense built around Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross and Juan Uribe, all players who were released or unwanted by other teams. The Giants’ amazing 2010 campaign offers hope for 2011 to every .500-level team in baseball...except maybe the Cubs.

    So who are the unwanted or unsigned players that will lead someone to a championship this year? And which team will emerge from mediocrity to win (the 2011 version of the Giants)?

    Anyone can predict who looks like the best team heading into spring training or who has assembled the best collection of talent. But no one can sincerely forecast who will be playing the best baseball 10 months from now. Predictions for the Fall Classic are like stock market forecasts—they’re somewhat baseless and arbitrary, but there’s no shortage of experts willing to offer them. 

    That said, here are 50 bold predictions for 2011…

The Red Sox Will Win the World Series

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    The Sox look nothing like the ’10 Giants.  But they do look very similar to the ’09 Yankees, who committed themselves to overpaying the best free agents available in a Gordon Gecko-themed, win-now-forget-later flurry of signings.  Throwing in the return of ’08 MVP Dustin Pedroia and team leader Kevin Youkilis, the Sox will have the best lineup in baseball.  Considering the development of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, and the rebound of Josh Beckett and/or John Lackey, they will boast one of the top rotations in the AL.  Bobby Jenks, Hideki Okajima, Dan Wheeler, Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon will shorten games all season long. 

    This is certainly a new era in Boston Red Sox history.  For the roughly 90 years prior to 2004, the Sox were predicted to win the World Series exactly zero times.  Sox fans discussed late summer heartbreak like they had patent rights on it.  But they’ve won two of the last seven titles and made the playoffs in six of the last eight years.  Sox fans were apoplectic when they failed to qualify for the postseason last year, galvanizing the front office to go all Steinbrenner-y on the rest of MLB. 

    By now, if the Red Sox aren’t Evil Empire II, they do appear to the rest of baseball to have formed an Axis Powers with the Yankees (too soon, WW II vets?).  By October, they will have steamrolled the Allies on their way to world baseball domination.

Ozzie Guillen And/or Jim Leyland WIll Be Fired

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    Both the White Sox and the Tigers are built to win this year.  Unfortunately, five teams don’t qualify for the playoffs in each league yet, and the AL East is more likely to decide the Wild Card than the swimsuit competition is to decide Miss America.  The Tigers added Victor Martinez and Joaquin Benoit and re-signed Brandon Inge, Magglio Ordonez and Jhonny Peralta.  They’ll also likely see the return to health of Joel Zumaya.

    Meanwhile, the White Sox added Adam Dunn and re-signed A.J. Pierzynski and Paul Konerko.  They should see the likely return to health of Jake Peavy.  Throw in Alexei Ramirez, Carlos Quentin and Alex Rios and a rotation built for October baseball, and the expectations have never been higher on the Southside. 

    As it happens, both managers are in the last year of their current contracts, with Guillen’s option being automatically picked up should the White Sox win the AL Central.

    Pressure will head Leyland’s way if they don’t compete all season, as his Tiger teams have underachieved in recent years.  And, oh yes, there are the Minnesota Twins, who won 94 games last year and should see the healthy returns of a couple of All-Stars—Joe Nathan and Justin Morneau.  Good luck in ’11, beleaguered skippers!

Brian Wilson Will Shave

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    Wilson grew the most famous baseball facial hair since Jeff Bagwell.  No, wait, since Scott Speizio.  How about Rollie Fingers?  The beard was the symbol of the Giants’ late-inning magic, as they led baseball with 57 team saves and played a league-leading 34 one-run games. 

    Wilson seemed at the center of all the drama last October because he was.  He challenged hitters with his 98 mph fastball and shut down most of the razor-thin leads his team handed him.  His success and the Giants late-season exposure turned his preposterous beard to just laughable and eventually appropriate for the occasion.

    Wilson is a man with a high capacity for attention-seeking—witness the fine-inducing orange shoes and the half-buttoned jersey.  He added that the beard—which he claimed was darker than his natural hair color simply because it had tanned from long exposure to the sun—would be gone before the next season began.  This makes the above prediction an easy one, as it yields the likelihood he’ll find another way to grab attention.

Atlanta Will Battle Philadelphia for the NL East Crown

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    The Braves offense has been their Achilles heel for nearly 10 years.  Chipper Jones looked significantly more chipper the last time the Braves offense carried the pitching staff.  But this year, the core of the lineup will include Martin Prado, Jones, Brian McCann, Dan Uggla and Jason Heyward (the best of the bunch). 

    But the Braves strength will again be the improved pitching staff, led by Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson.  Sure, that might appear to be the ’27 Pirates compared to the Phillies’ Murderer’s Row.  But what the Braves lack in star power, they make up for in youth and depth, with Brandon Beachy, Mike Minor and Julio Teheran.  With longtime bench coach and former Marlin skipper Fredi Gonzalez taking over, the Braves are primed for another postseason run.  Hopefully, they’ll play a little less Brooks Conrad at 2B this time.

The Athletics Will Finish over .500

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    Maybe a lineup rebuilt around David DeJesus, Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham doesn’t sound convincing.  Keep in mind that the A’s once again get 38 games against the Mariners and Angels and that, while playing late West Coast games in their weak division, they finished 81-81 last year. 

    But the A’s strength will continue to be their rotation, led by ace Trevor Cahill and young studs Brent Anderson and Gio Gonzalez.  Brandon McCarthy and Dallas Braden fill out the rotation, and if just three of the five surpass last year’s totals, the A’s will be primed for a run at the postseason.

The Dodgers’ Divorce Saga Will End but Not in the Postseason

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    The McCourts have tethered the Dodgers’ fate to their messy, court-infested, post-marital bliss mess, and we all know there are no winners there.  If there’s a lesson to be learned, it is that billionaires shouldn’t co-own their major league franchises with their spouses.  It is a lesson the entire world could learn from.

    The Dodgers have the talent to reach the top of the division, but the questions are too numerous, and they start from the top—which McCourt will take over after court proceedings? Will Matt Kemp reach MVP status or get traded? Will Clayton Kershaw see the eighth inning again?  But the biggest questions regard first-year skipper Don Mattingly, the length of his leash and his ability to handle a pitching staff. 

    Anyone who saw him cost the Dodgers a game last year while filling in for the retired Joe Torre, by stepping onto the mound twice during a mid-inning visit with closer Jonathan Broxton (leading to Broxton’s automatic removal), knows he is still learning as a manager.  He’ll have to learn quickly in the volatile NL West.

Johnny Damon Will Contribute Somewhere

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    Okay, maybe it’s just a regular prediction and not a bold one.  He’s currently fourth in line to be signed among potential DHs, somewhere behind Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Vladimir Guerrero (in no particular order).  But he will wind up as the best of the four, playing meaningful games for either the Angels, Rays or Yankees as a platoon-DH and left-handed bat off the bench. 

    Let’s take a moment to laud the aging non-Hall-of-Fame candidates.  No, they’re candidates for the Hall of Very Good—players who were major contributors for more than 10 years but whose numbers fall just short of greatness.  Damon won two championships and has over 2,500 hits and nearly 400 steals.  Only staying power and two or three more years like those he had in the early 2000s will keep him out of the real Hall.

    While we’re at it, let’s give it up for Guerrero, Andruw Jones, Garrett Anderson, Andy Pettitte and Tim Wakefield.  If you love baseball, it’s easy to appreciate their accomplishments without arguing their Hall of Fame shortcomings.

The Cubs Will Be Really Bad

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    The Cubs have a payroll built for 2011 and a roster built for 2004.  They have a first-year manager and a lineup consisting of overpaid underachievers who, from this particular perspective, seem somehow unlikely to find motivation from the new guy in the dugout. 

    Imagine the scene from the movies in which a car holding a dead body sinks slowly into a lake.  Bubbles surface as the car slowly submerges, leaving just the roof of the car visible in the murky water, until finally the car completely and suddenly disappears.  That is the Cubs season in 2011.

    Now, imagine the later scene where the cops wench the car safely from the water to recover forensic evidence and move forward with the investigation.  That is the Cubs in 2012.  The Cubs will slash $50 million in payroll following the 2011 season and will have an eye on signing a piece or two (attention, Mr. Pujols) to help lead them to the promised land.  (Maybe.  See 2012’s bold predictions.)

    Unfortunately, it will be a long season in Wrigley-ville in 2011.

The Cubs Will Not Be as Bad as the Pirates

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    If the Cubs’ outlook is not very pretty for 2011, the Pirates are the slightly more overweight, less attractive girl that the Cubs hang out with all the time to make them appear more attractive.  This will be the last year at the helm for Neal Huntington, and Clint Hurdle may regret taking over in the dugout. 

    A fan could be enamored with the possibilities of Andrew McCutchen’s development and a full year of Neil Walker, Jose Tabata, and Pedro Alvarez.  But the Pirates rotation, led by Paul Maholm (that’s right, led) will be the worst in baseball, and they’ll play a combined 57 games against the Reds, Brewers and Cardinals.  That will mean another rebuilding project in 2012.

The Yankees Will Be the Second Best Team in the American League

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    They led the league in runs scored and OBP in 2010.  The core of the lineup and top of their rotation remains from their ’09 championship team.  Many have predicted that the gap between first and second in the AL East will be the biggest in the division, but the Yanks will stay with the Red Sox all year.  Furthermore, when they are battling Boston for the top of the division at the trade deadline, the Bombers might be a little more equipped for a deadline deal (paging Mr. Hernandez). 

    Maybe, the Yankees have failed to grab this offseason’s headlines, but they were already too talented not to make headlines on the field in ’11.

Felix Hernandez Gets Traded to the Yankees

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    When teams trade their best players, it is not always due to salary constraints.  The Mariners demonstrated a willingness to spend (not to mention a pie-in-the-sky vision for the future) when they acquired Cliff Lee and Chone Figgins before last season.  Sometimes teams trade players simply because they need more players. 

    The Mariners lost 101 games last season.  They were, by far, the biggest disappointment of 2010.  Jeff Zduriencik, the Mariners ridiculously overmatched GM, has to consider that Felix Hernandez will not still be on the team the next time the Mariners are good or almost good or even in third place. 

    Bring on the Yankees, who give out money like Goldman Sachs at Christmastime. 

The Blue Jays Will Start Hot, Then Falter Down the Stretch

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    It’s not a leap, considering the Blue Jays season followed the same trajectory in ’09 and most of '10.  But the Blue Jays rallied down the stretch last year and appear poised for a solid 2011  This year, they should get bounce-back years from Aaron Hill and Adam Lind and good work from emerging stars Kyle Drabek and Travis Snider.  The pitching should improve with the addition of new skipper and long-time pitching coach John Farrell. 

    Then, there’s the rest of the division.  The Blue Jays would be better geographically positioned if they were the Montreal-Puerto Rico Expos, circa 2003…or maybe the Yomiuri Giants.  Their wealth of talent will keep the Jays playing meaningful baseball late into the summer.  Their divisional alignment will keep them in fourth place.

The Baseball Lifer Disappears, Baseball Survives

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    2010 saw the departure of managerial stalwarts Joe Torre, Lou Piniella, Cito Gaston and Bobby Cox, who have combined for eight World Series titles and at least one thrown base.  Each was lauded for their service and accomplishments extensively last year (Gaston was in Canada, anyway), and each will be missed in their respective hometowns. 

    However, new blood is not a bad thing in baseball nor is a manager who can relate to current players.  Each manager had a knack for developing rapport with his players, but each is at least 30 years removed from stepping on the diamond as a player.  What has changed since then?  Only free agency, steroids, $100+ million contracts, television revenue, bats, balls, gloves, diet, training…

Instant Replay Will Be Added for All Calls Except Balls and Strikes

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    There won’t be a final blown call that breaks the Commissioner’s back, because if there were to be one, it would have happened last June 2 in Detroit, when Jim Joyce miraculously botched the 27th out in Armando Galarraga’s erstwhile perfect game.  Or, it would have happened the previous October, when Phil Cuzzi somehow missed Joe Mauer’s bloop down the left-field line in Game 2 of the ALDS against the Yankees. 

    On the same night as Galarraga’s gem, the NHL twice used instant reply to correctly confirm calls on the ice in the Stanley Cup Finals.  Both calls happened quickly and without disrupting the sweet hockey action. 

    Instant replay is coming because Major League Baseball is the most reactionary professional sport, and because, the fans are ready to overwhelmingly demand it. 

MLB Will Drop the Idea of an International World Series

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    The Commissioner has floated the idea of playing a series of exhibitions between the World Series champ and the Japanese champ in a best-of-seven format, yielding a true World Champion.  Such talk will continue in 2011, but it will interest no one, and the Commissioner will abandon the idea.

    Here is a brief list of headaches such a series would create: more November baseball, more injuries, random exhibition games, over-saturation of the market.  Baseball will never be played in November because it can’t compete with the NFL on television.  The only expansion baseball will consider is that of the playoff format, which will heat up as the 2011 season winds down.

Derek Jeter Will Stop Winning Bogus Gold Gloves

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    Herewith is a list of American League shortstops who were more deserving of winning the Gold Glove than Derek Jeter in 2010: Alexei Ramirez, Yuniesky Betancourt, Cliff Pennington, Yunel Escobar, Erick Aybar, Marco Scutaro, Jason Bartlett, J.J. Hardy, Cesar Izturis, Elvis Andrus, Jack Wilson, Jhonny Peralta, Nick Punto and Alex Gonzalez (before he got traded to Atlanta). Oh, and Ramon Santiago.

Yovani Gallardo Will Be the Breakout Pitcher of the National League

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    Call it the Ubaldo Jimenez Award.  There are many candidates, including Clayton Kershaw, Aroldis Chapman and Clayton Richard.  But Gallardo has the nastiest stuff of any pitcher yet to have 15 wins in a season, or who doesn’t throw 105 MPH.  This year, Gallardo won’t bear the burden of ace-hood, won’t have a freak knee injury and won’t have an innings-pitched cap.  Also, he’ll be playing on a team with meaningful September games.

Javier Vazquez Will Lead the Marlins Back to .500

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    Vazquez returns to the NL, where he posted a 2.87 ERA and a 1.02 WHIP in 2009 for the Atlanta Braves, leading the Yankees to bring him in for another wasted season in the AL.  Vazquez will form a South Florida Voltron with Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco, who will keep opposing bats in check and run totals low in Sun Life Stadium.

    Unfortunately, the Marlins lineup will also keep run totals low.  The Marlins have shown renewed commitment to winning by signing Johnson and Nolasco to long-term deals and grooming young prospects Michael Stanton, Chris Coghlan and Logan Morrison.  However, their youth and lack of punch leave them a year away in the tough NL East.

Albert Pujols Re-signs with the Cardinals

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    This is a close call, as Pujols offered what many believed to be a hometown discount when he signed an eight-year $111 million contract in 2004.  He has spent years being contractually overshadowed by Alex Rodriguez, among others, and the sense is that his next deal might take him beyond A-Rod’s $27 million per year.  Only the Cardinals brass knows whether or not they have the money to spend on the Triple Crown-in-waiting first basemen.

    But the Yankees and Red Sox are both locked up at first base, and the Cardinals have the lead in the clubhouse, as they’ll be able to negotiate with Pujols exclusively until the end of 2011.  Pujols has stated his desire to be a lifetime Cardinal, the club has clearly appreciated in value over the last 10 years, and they sport a rabid fanbase that would be scorned if the slugger chose to play elsewhere, especially in the National League and especially in the National League Central.  In the end, Pujols will re-sign.

Adrian Gonzalez Will Drive in 150 Runs; Carl Crawford Will Score 130 Runs

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    Anyone who watched Gonzalez over the last three years saw a lot of warning track fly balls fall innocently into backtracking outfield gloves in the gloomy San Diego night.  Those will now bounce off the Green Monster or even carry over the Camden Yards scoreboard or blow out of Yankee Stadium. 

    Anyone who watched Carl Crawford last year saw a lot of the back of Crawford’s uniform dancing off second base, while Carlos Pena swung at a ball in the dirt for the third out.  That will now be Gonzalez, driving him in.

Cody Ross Will Stay Hot

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    Ross didn’t just quickly adjust to the frigid San Francisco air or the pressure of a pennant race or the uncertainty of a platoon situation.  He also adjusted his batting stance to a more open one, allowing him to drive the ball to all fields and giving him massive confidence as the postseason started.

    Ross’s emergence from the waiver wire to the NLCS MVP made him the most likely postseason MVP since Craig Counsell in 2001.  The Giants reportedly signed the wayward outfielder to prevent the Padres from picking up an extra bat.  It worked.

    Ross will play everyday in right field and bat sixth for the Giants.  And he’ll pick up where he left off at the end of 2010.

The Twins Will Also Pick Up Where They Left off in 2010

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    Not in a good way.  The Twins streaked down the home stretch to one of their best records in team history.  Then, they laid the ultimate postseason egg, losing three straight to the powerful Yankees.  Teams can get blown out in the postseason, and they can get blown out repeatedly by the same team, but the Twins have set a new standard for ownership at the hands of the Yankees, who have eliminated them four times in the last nine years.

    In 2010, they were swept in humiliating fashion, watching Nick Swisher and Marcus Thames hit clinching long balls and Phil Hughes take the bats out of their collective hands.  That hangover will require more than a little BC Powder to cure.

    Think of the Washington Capitals or Phoenix Suns, teams in other sports that suffered devastating playoff losses in the last year, with lingering effects to begin their subsequent year.  The Twins will see third place faster than the Green Party next year.

Dallas Braden Will Not Throw a Perfect Game

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    I know, it’s a stretch, but Braden does not have many gems in the near future.  Braden definitely hurled the least likely perfect game in baseball history last year, with the second least likely perfect game being…Armando Galarraga.  Braden finished 11-14 last year, meaning his record in all games except for the perfect game against Tampa was 10-14. 

    Braden’s masterpiece was the most striking evidence that 2010 was the Year of the Pitcher.  His was one of seven no-hitters (forgive me if I count Galarraga’s).  There were also nine one-hitters and several close calls.  On June 13, the Cubs and White Sox entered the seventh inning of a game in which neither team had a hit.  Gavin Floyd finished with six-and-two-third hitless innings, while Ted Lilly wound up giving up a hit in the ninth. 

    Anecdotes from 2010 are everywhere, but they won’t be from Braden in 2011.

Year of the Pitcher Will Continue

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    There are too many great young pitchers in the game now.  Pitchers like Aroldis Chapman, Felix Hernandez, Jon Lester and Mat Latos throw too hard, have varied arsenals and no book on how to be beaten. 

    How many dominant pitchers are there in baseball?  Fourteen pitchers won at least 17 games last season, while 33 pitchers won at least 14 games  The trend will continue in ‘11.

Aroldis Chapman Will Throw 105 MPH Again

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    The story of the minor leaguer who could throw 105 mph was met with skepticism around baseball.  Maybe the radar guns were flawed or maybe the story was just inaccurate.  But then Chapman was called up late in the summer and threw a ball 105 mph in a game against the Padres, with several guns reading the same jaw-dropping number and several more cameras carefully placed to detect the velocity and spin on the ball. 

    Chapman is the ultimate Natural, firing the hardest cheese ever seen in the bigs.  He is a mitt-popping, smoke-firing monster, with mythical-proportioned talent playing regularly this spring at Great American Ballpark.  He will be a media darling this spring and star in the Reds bullpen, if he can stay healthy.

    I’m sure it will be tempting for Dusty Baker to put him in the rotation.  Baker has shortened the careers of his share of phenoms (ask Kerry Wood or Mark Prior).  But the Reds will baby him with Strasburg-like caution, and he will likely stay in the back end of the bullpen, filling in for Francisco Cordero as needed.

The Padres Remain MLB’s Little Engine That Could

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    In one of the league’s most remarkable team accomplishments, the Padres won 90 games last year with the second lowest payroll, at just over $ 38 million.  Only the Pirates had a lower team payroll.  The Padres’ payroll was less than one-fourth of the Red Sox, who finished third in their division.  Ask a Cubs fan for more perspective.  The Cubs had the highest payroll in the NL but won 15 fewer games.

    The Padres will have their backs to the Petco Park wall in 2011 after losing Adrian Gonzalez.  However, they’ll be improved at 2B, SS and CF.  The IFs with this club are many.  If Brad Hawpe, Ryan Ludwick and Will Venable can drive in some runs, and the rotation continues to develop.  If the bullpen can shorten games to seven innings like it did for most of last year.  If they can avoid a season-ruining 10-game slide. 

    And, if you like an underdog, you could do worse than root for the Padres.

Carlos Santana Will Win AL Rookie of the Year

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    Santana had a .401 OBP and 6 HRs in 150 ABs.  Just as importantly, the Tribe’s hope for the future handled himself like a big leaguer until his season-ending knee injury in a home-plate collision.  Among all ROY candidates, he has the greatest chance to make the leap to stardom in 2010. 

    He is the complete package, with power and bat control from both sides of the plate.  He is a solid defensive catcher, demonstrating an above average arm behind the plate and earning the respect of his young pitching staff.  The Indians were nearly a .500 team with him behind the plate, which they were not for the rest of the season. 

Oakland’s 2008 Trade of Carlos Gonzalez Equals Worst Trade in Years

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    This will accelerate from rumor to fact when Gonzalez wins the NL MVP, while Matt Holliday continues to not play for Oakland.  Gonzalez has all the tools and experience, and his unbalanced home/road splits will even out with another year at the MLB level.  He also has another year with Troy Tulowitzki hitting behind him and Dexter Fowler getting on base in front of him.

Zack Greinke Struggles To Adjust in Milwaukee

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    Grienke has great stuff and developed exceptional command over the last two seasons in Kansas City.  He also has a career record below .500 and one season with more than 14 wins.  He has yet to start a meaningful game past June, yet to feel the pressure of high team expectations, and yet to face most of the young sluggers in the National League.

    Zack Greinke is a thinking man’s pitcher, which is why he is fun to watch on the mound and why he has been inconsistent over the years.  He will have trouble handling the pressure that goes with being an ace in a pennant race and will again struggle to finish over .500.

Reds/Brewers Will Play Meaningful Games in September

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    Looks funny just reading it.  The two teams have never played a meaningful game in September…until now.  Both lineups are stacked with young talent, and both rotations are ready for big years.  Each team has flaws, and the Cardinals could contend along with the Reds and Brewers.  But one of these teams will make the playoffs, and the late season contests between them will likely decide who it will be.

You WIll Draft Drew Stubbs for Your Fantasy Team

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    If you don’t, you will regret it.  Stubbs’s 30-30 apprenticeship is officially over.  Sure, he struggled at the plate, but his OPS rose as the Reds blasted past the Cardinals in the standings and his spot in the Reds outfield coming into 2011.

    The only question for Stubbs is where he’ll hit in the Reds potent lineup.  He scuffled as a leadoff hitter, with a miserable .324 OBP and seemed more at home batting sixth or seventh.  But, for now, the Reds lack another leadoff candidate, meaning Stubbs's runs scored and SB totals could be through the roof in 2011.

Jim Thome Will Not Carry the Twins Offense Down the Stretch

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    The 40-year-old slugger seemed to provide every big hit as the Twins sprinted to the AL Central crown last year.  The Twins actually improved by a wide margin after Justin Morneau’s concussion, going 49-29 without the former MVP.  Thome clearly thrived regaining an (almost) everyday role, hitting 25 HRs and batting .283. 

    Unfortunately, the market for 40-year-old DHs is not strong in 2011.  Thome will land somewhere, and it may well be to provide more veteran leadership in Minnesota.  But his pursuit of 600 HRs (he is 11 shy) will be the only drama.

Dave Dombrowski Will Be Fired in Detroit

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    Dombrowski has been the team’s GM since 2002, when he fired Randy Smith and appointed himself.  The team rapidly ascended the AL ladder until 2006, when they won the pennant.  The Tigers have underachieved since, and another slow start will mean the end for the man who fills out the roster. 

    Jim Leyland could be fired, and perhaps will, but the heat will fall to Dombrowski, who has assembled a curious mixture of overpriced veterans and the sixth-highest payroll in baseball.

Terry Collins and Jose Reyes Won’t See Eye to Eye

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    Let’s just say Terry Collins is intense, and Reyes is less than so.  Terry Collins was a fire-and-brimstone clubhouse leader in previous managerial stints in Anaheim and Houston.  He turned the Angels around in the late ‘90s, leading the team to two second-place finishes before he was forced out by the same group of veterans he helped turn around. 

    Reyes, on the other hand, is injury-prone and inconsistent.  He is the sort of young player Collins has excelled at helping, and theirs might begin as a prosperous relationship in 2011.  But the late season game will come when each is not ready for the other man’s personality.  Think Fredi Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez, 2010, except more New Yorky.

Josh Hamilton Will Get Hurt

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    Hamilton will probably play left field for the Rangers, which may cut down on the number of times he runs into the centerfield wall.  It will not, however, reduce the times he sees the DL.  The oft-injured MVP is one healthy season away from establishing himself as the best player in the AL.  Unfortunately, he is also one injury-prone season away from being a liability to your fantasy team and risky for the Rangers to sign to the mammoth contract extension he covets.

Josh Johnson Wins the NL Cy Young

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    Johnson had more Ks than innings last year and a 2.30 ERA.  He is 26-11 over the last two years, and only his health and a little run support have prevented his ascent to the top of the NL food chain.  There’s no way to truly separate all the aces in the NL, just as it's impossible to separate a New York strip from a filet mignon. 

    Forgive me if I rely on the eyeball test for this one.  Johnson and Ubaldo Jimenez were the nastiest pitchers I saw in baseball last year, and Johnson is the one who is overdue for a breakout year.

Domonic Brown Wins NL Rookie of the Year

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    Forget about the dismal numbers last year while playing part time for the Phillies.  Brown will play everyday in right field this year and fill in nicely for the departed and massively overpaid Jayson Werth.

Jayson Werth’s Contract Is Not the Worst in Baseball History

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    …but it’s close.  The Nationals gave Werth a seven-year, $126 million contract, presumably to bat .272 (his career BA), hit a lot of doubles (he led the league last year), grow a nice beard and lead them to fourth place.  The worst current contracts belong to Barry Zito and Alfonso Soriano, while the worst of all time was magically conferred upon Mike Hampton.

The Orioles Will Still Finish Last

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    The Orioles have been the trendy pick to turn things around in 2011.  By turn things around, I mean have a winning record, which they have not had since 1998.  In 2010, the Orioles lost 96 games, which they managed by playing over .500 in September under new skipper Buck Showalter.  Showalter, like Terry Collins in New York, has a knack for high intensity and turning teams around.

    The Orioles will likely be vastly improved, but they remain the fifth best team in the AL East.  The Orioles have stockpiled prospects since giving up on a season four years ago when they traded Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard.  However, the Jays and Rays have more MLB-ready prospects.  The unbalanced MLB schedule hurts no team more than the Orioles, who played 76 games against divisional opponents last year, all of whom were over .500 (all of whom will finish over .500 again)

MLB Revises the Unbalanced Schedule for 2012

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    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    The unbalanced schedule, which requires most teams to play 19 games versus divisional opponents exists for one reason: for the Yankees and the Red Sox to play 19 times.  It does not exist for Cleveland to play Kansas City 19 times, and some teams have reportedly complained about the preponderance of Kansas Cities on the schedule. 

    To be sure, there is no perfect solution, and television dollars solve the logistical knots that arise at MLB headquarters.  The unbalanced schedule will be the first change to spark higher ratings.  Half of major league teams saw a drop in TV ratings in 2009, and national ratings for all three baseball carriers hovered around 2.0. Greater scheduling variety would attract viewership at the local level.

Daniel Bard Will Be the Red Sox Closer

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    Bard throws harder than Papelbon, has a nasty slider and an effective change.  Papelbon’s WHIP ballooned to 1.26 as he lost seven games for the third-place Red Sox.  Are the Red Sox concerned?  The additions of Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, along with their hesitance to include Bard in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, suggest that they are hedging their bets for 2011.

Alex Rodriguez Regrets Using Texas “Bole”

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    A Rod’s 600th home run last August was the all-time under-the-radar milestone, more notable for the length between it and his 599th than anything else.  He became one of only seven players in MLB history to hit 600, and more amazingly, seems well on his way to 700 and the all-time record. 

    It’s possible that no athlete has ever made a more egregious mistake than Rodriguez did by taking what he termed an over-the-counter, basic steroid.  If Rodriguez hadn’t taken steroids for three years when he was very young, he might be the most decorated player in baseball history, on his way to being the unquestioned HR king.  Instead, Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit, likely to come late this summer, will probably receive more attention.

The Seattle Mariners Will Be Really, Really Bad

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    The Mariners will have the worst lineup the AL has seen in the last 10 years, which is saying something, because it was 10 years ago that the Mariners set the all-time record for wins in a season.  The Mariners were consensus favorites to win the AL West in 2010.  Let’s just say things didn’t work out.

    The M’s lost 101 games last year, enough for the worst record in baseball.  The best case scenario for 2011 involves prospect Michael Pineda earning the No. 2 spot in the rotation and Justin Smoak hitting 40 HRs. 

Strasburg Doesn’t Return in 2011, Season Is Played Anyway

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    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    In 2010, the Nats were careful with Strasburg.  From now on, expect them to newborn baby him.  Imagine five-pitch simulated games and soft toss bullpen sessions when he gets healthy.  Before an elbow injury sidetracked his career, Strasburg compiled the fourth highest K/9 innings rate in history, at 12.2.  That’s right, the history of baseball.  Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait to see his 90 MPH change-up and mid-90’s slider that turns even the best hitters into guessers.

Mark Reynolds Will Strike Out 200 Times, Again

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Reynolds’ strikeout totals are a farce, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in another farce.  Reynolds holds the three highest strikeout totals in a season, and he’s only been a full-time player for three years.  At 767 career K’s, Reynolds is only 1,830 behind the all-time leader, Reggie Jackson.  Jackson played for 21 seasons.  Playing as long as Jackson played and striking out at his current rate, Reynolds would nearly double Jackson’s record.

White Sox, Red Sox, Rangers and Yankees Make the Playoffs

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    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    Red Sox advance to the World Series.

Giants, Brewers, Phillies and Braves Make the Playoffs

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    Philles advance to the World Series.

Dexter Fowler, CarGo and Tulo Are the Best 1-3-4 Combo in the NL

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    That’s the upside for the Rockies.  The downside is the remainder of the lineup, featuring Seth Smith and Ian Stewart and probably Jonathan Herrera.  It’s a similar story on the mound for the Rockies, who feature Ubaldo Jimenez and Jorge De la Rosa at the top and journeyman Jason Hammel from there.  Depth will keep the Rockies from matching the Giants in the NL West.

Brett Anderson Will Be the Breakout Pitcher in the AL

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    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Anderson throws a mid-90’s fastball and a nasty curve.  He has the best stuff on the talented A’s pitching staff and cobbled together a solid, under-the-radar 2010, with a 1.19 WHIP and 2.80 ERA in 112.1 innings.  He is also a coach’s son and demonstrated a knack for keeping hitters off balance, all of which make him primed for to battle Trevor Cahill as the Oakland ace.

Cliff Lee Will Stop Changing Teams

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    Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

    Remember when it was surprise that the Yankees didn’t get him at the ’10 deadline?  It was assumed then they would just sign him in the offseason anyway.  It is safe to say, based on the money currently burning a hole in their pockets and the Grand Canyon-sized gap in their rotation, that the Yankees assumed the same. 

    The ’08 Cy Young winner has changed teams more times than my slightly effeminate uncle—four times in the last year-and-a-half alone.  Obviously, finding a home was his top priority during the offseason.

Adrian Gonzalez Wins the AL MVP

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    Think Gonzalez is glad to be out of Petco Park?  Over his career, Gonzalez batted .267 with 57 HRs at home and .297 with 111 HRs on the road. 

    Think of another Adrian.  Beltre left behind a pitcher’s ballpark and took an immediate liking to Fenway, hitting .325 with 28 HRs and 49 doubles.  Gonzalez will easily surpass his career highs in BA and HRs (.304 and 40) to win his first MVP.

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