Thursday, March 30, 2017

2017 AL West Predictions

The American League West is one of the toughest divisions in all of baseball to predict because of how wide-open the top of the division is. The Texas Rangers have won the division the past two consecutive years and look poised to do so again in 2017. Seattle has made more trades since hiring Jerry DiPoto as their GM than any other team in the show, but has yet to make any truly meaningful moves to get themselves over the proverbial hump. And Houston, with one of the most talented rosters around, appears ready to bring home their first championship in team history. Who's going to "cowboy up" and rope in the West? Here we go.

5. Oakland Athletics
Unless you're a Golden State Warriors fan, sports life in Oakland is pretty grim these days. Just a few days ago, the Raiders were moved out of the big O for the second time in franchise history, this time to the bright lights of Las Vegas. Similarly, the A's cannot get any financial backing from city officials to break ground on a new ballpark, forcing them to play 81 games in what Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in Moneyball referred to as a "shit  hole". As for the on-field problems; Oakland is definitely looking for a bounce-back campaign from their ace Sonny Gray, who endured the toughest year of his young Major League career in 2016. The rest of their thin rotation is comprised of the works-in-progress Jesse Hahn, Kendal Graveman and Sean Manaea, and one of the three youngsters Chris Bassitt, Raul Alcantara or Jheral Cotton will fill the final spot. As for their offense, Oakland made a few lineup-lengthening additions this off-season: bringing in lefty-slugging right fielder Matt Joyce, reacquired a leadoff hitting speed threat in center fielder Rajai Davis and picked up the streaky-hitting Trevor Plouffe from the Twins to man the hot corner this year. Put those guys with Marcus Semien, Stephen Vogt, Yonder Alonso and Khris Davis and the green and gold should put some runs on the board. The best thing the A's have going for them is undoubtedly their bullpen; which includes four guys with closing experience in Jon Axford, Santiago Casilla, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle. Despite their best efforts though. I don't see how Oakland can finish anywhere other than last in the division

4, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
This is actually one of the best jobs Angels brass has done to surround once-in-a-generation superstar Mike Trout with some talented pieces to compete in 2017. For starters, the Halos picked up Cameron Maybin and Ben Revere to provide some speed atop their batting order. They also added Danny Espinoza to strengthen the defense up the middle while adding a sneaky-powerful switch-hitter to the lineup. Surprisingly, the Angels added left-handed slugging Luis Valbuena. who will at worst give them a formidable left-handed 3B/DH option against right-handed pitching. With Albert Pujolz, Kole Calhoun, Yunel Escobar and C.J. Cron, Trout may be in line to possibly set career-highs in both RBI and runs scored this season. But, it's going to come down to what it always comes down to in Anaheim; starting pitching. The Angels are hoping staff ace Garrett Richards can retake the form of the strikeout machine he once was. Tyler Skaggs and Michael Shoemaker had pretty good 2016 numbers, and hope to build off that success in 2017. And it looks like Ricky Nolasco and Jesse Chavez are competing with a few rookies for the final two spots in the rotation. In the bullpen, Cam Bedrosian made a big splash last season and looks to be a closer in the making. And like I said, it is definitely one of the most talented squads that the Angels have put around Trout. But, I still don't think it will be enough to make a serious playoff push.

3. Seattle Mariners
As mentioned in the opener, GM Jerry DiPoto had himself another busy off-season in Seattle. He began the winter by trading for Drew Smyly from the Tampa Bay Rays for a package of prospects. Next,  Dipoto shipped Nathan Karnes. whom he just acquired last off-season from Tampa, to Kansas City for speedy centerfielder Jarrod Dyson. The GM followed that up by moving left fielder Seth Smith to Baltimore for right-handed starting pitcher Yovanni Gallardo. The biggest surprise move came when Dipoto shipped the highly coveted Taijuan Walker and Ketel Marte to Arizona for a package of players, highlighted by shortstop Jean Segura. And no Mariners off-season would be complete without the addition of a catcher, which is just what they did by adding seasoned veteran backstop Carlos Ruise. We know that the offense will be fine, especially when you consider adding Segura to a lineup that already includes Robinson CanĂ³, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager. But, it's the starting pitching that is the primary concern for this ball club. You know what you're going to get out of team ace King Felix Hernandez, and even out of number two starter Hisashi Iwakuma; quality stuff. And you'd figure that Smyly should command one of the top three rotation spots, but he appears to be starting the season on the DL. Which leaves James Paxton, Chris Heston and Gallardo to carry the weight of the rotation until Smyly returns. The M's even have some talent at the back end of the bullpen in Daniel Vogelbach and Steve Cishek, but not much else. Looks like they'll be scheduling October tee-times yet again in Seattle.

2. Texas Rangers
In order to take the division two years in a row, a team must have a solid core of players to build around. And that's exactly what they have going on in Arlington in 2017. The top of the Rangers rotation is the class of the division, with the three-headed monster of Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Martin Perez. And with Colby Lewis and A.J. Griffin to round out the staff, Texas went out this off-season and acquired the services of two former Padres, right-handers Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross to strengthen the back end of the rotation. Similarly, the back end of the bullpen has some quality pieces to work with, such as Matt Bush, Sam Dyson and Jeremy Jeffress, but are one really dominant reliever away from having a lights out pen. On the offensive side, the Rangers brought back fan favorite Mike Napoli, a guy that's been to the playoffs every season but two years in his big league career, to help bolster an already packed lineup. And when the weather heats up, and you have guys like Rougned Odor, Adrian Beltre, Jonathan Lucroy and Shin-Soo Choo, we should be in store for some seriously crooked numbers at the Ballpark in Arlington this summer and possibly even farther.

1. Houston Astros
After researching and evaluating every team in the AL, I believe that the Houston Astros may have the deepest roster in the entire league. The Astros have two power-hitting catchers, Evan Gattis and Brian McCann, when most teams don't even have one. They have two young quality first baseman in Tyler White and A.J. Reed to possibly platoon with the clutch-hitting infield utility man Marwin Gonzales. Rising star third baseman Alex Bregman was on Team USA as they took home the WBC championship in only his second year in the show. And the Astros middle infield just might be the best in all of baseball, featuring a top five shortstop in Carlos Correa and arguably the best second baseman in the game, Jose Altuve. In the outfield to go along with their sensational centerfielder George Springer, Houston added the services of three solid players on both sides of the ball; Carlos Beltran, Josh Reddick and Norichika Aoki. On the mound, ace Dallas Kuechel looks poised to put a tough 2016 campaign behind him and regain his 2015 Cy Young Award winning form. The rest of the staff with Collin McHue, Lance McCullers, Mike Fiers and Charlie Morton all have the same goal in mind; pitch six quality innings and get the ball to the outstanding bullpen. If the Astros follow the model laid out by Terry Francona in the playoffs, we could see the nealy unhittable Ken Giles used as the relief ace and WBC Team USA closer Luke Gregerson as the guy who shuts the door in the ninth. It would not surprise me at all to see these Astros in the Fall Classic when it's all said and done.


The Tumultuous Final Days to Roster Cut-down…

As expected, this is proving to be a very active week.  As teams prepare for their final cut-downs, many players are temporarily (or in some cases, permanently) losing their Major League dreams.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to have spent your entire life in Baseball and at age 29 or 30, you can’t break out of the minor leagues.  At some point, you have to make the decision to move on with life.  Meanwhile, the kids they grew up who chose non-baseball related paths are deep into their lives and careers. 

This is clearly a game of sacrifice...

With so much talk about the possibility that Aaron Hicks unseats Aaron Judge for the right field job, why can’t the Yankees create room in left?  I know that GM Brian Cashman has put Brett Gardner on the table before but seemingly the return is never enough to justify the consummation of a deal.  I’ve not heard any of the names offered for Gardner, but as a 33-year-old outfielder whose primary attribute is speed (a declining resource with age), he will not be in the picture when the Yankees return to full prominence in the next couple of years.  Gardner has been a good Yankee and we know he’s not the worst starting outfielder on the team, but he’ll be 34 in August.  Get what you can and move on.  Open left field for Aaron Hicks and let Judge develop in right.  When Judge “gets it”, he’ll be a monster, strikeouts and all.  If Hicks fails, then it is time to see what we have with Mason Williams and later in the season perhaps even Clint Frazier.

I can think of 90 million reasons why Jacoby Ellsbury should not be the starting centerfielder for the New York Yankees but unfortunately, the Yankees have 89,571,428 reasons for why he should…

The composition of the Opening Day bullpen remains very much in doubt.  There’s no question the seventh inning on is set with Tyler Clippard, Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman.  But it’s the other guys that remain questionable.  I really like the work that Ben Heller has done, and have been hopeful that he wins a job.  He’s faced competition from major league veterans like Jon Niese and Ernesto Frieri but seems to be winning the battle.  Another reliever that I really like is Jonathan Holder.  Holder is starting to get some love and there’s talk that he could break camp with the team.  Holder has pitched 12 innings this Spring, with a 3.00 ERA.  He has given up 7 hits and 4 runs, but he has struck out 9 and walked none.  To me, Holder is representative of the new era Yankees.  He’s a hard worker that is continually trying to get better.  He is one of the pieces that will bring a World Championship back to New York.

You have to figure that a bullpen spot will go to either Bryan Mitchell or Chad Green, depending upon who wins the final rotation spots.  With no need for a fifth starter until April 16th, they both could find themselves in the pen if Luis Severino takes the fourth spot in the rotation.  Chasen Shreve is another that should be considered for the bullpen if Frieri gets re-directed to minor league camp (as I suspect he will).

Earlier this week, Bryan Van Dusen was insistent that Ronald Torreyes will be the replacement shortstop.  While I admit that it appears Bryan is right, I just can’t seem to wrap my head around it.  I’ve never been that excited about Torreyes, despite the decent job that he did last year.  If he was ‘all that and a bag of chips’, he wouldn’t have bounced among five clubs before settling in the Bronx at age 24.  I am one of the many that feel Rob Refsnyder deserves stronger consideration than he’s been afforded, but I also recognize, begrudgingly, that Torreyes is the better defender.  The Yankees have not played Starlin Castro at short this Spring so I don’t think they’ll slide him over although the transition would not be that difficult for him.  So if it must be Torreyes, so be it.  But it does not mean that I have to like it.  I just hope that Didi Gregorius gets back soon.

And the winner of the fifth spot in the starting rotation be continued.  Manager Joe Girardi has indicated the rotation's 5th starter won't be named until later.  The starter won't be needed until the April 16th game at home against Matt Holliday's old buddies, the St Louis Cardinals.  The winner in my mind?  Jordan Montgomery, hands down.  In yesterday's Grapefruit League action, Montgomery, in his final Spring appearance, went 5 innings, allowing only one run while scattering six hats.  He walked one, and struck out four.  He finishes the exhibition season with a 3.20 ERA.  He's accomplished everything that he needs to.  He belongs.  He is ready.  I am sure that he'll be sent down to minor league camp for now, but when it's time for the April 16th starter, make room because he deserves a first class ticket to New York.  The Yankees won the game, 3-1 over the Detroit Tigers, and improved their Spring record to 23-8-1.

Getting their pink slips (re-assignment to minor league camp) on Wednesday were shortstop Tyler Wade and catcher Kyle Higashioka.  The moves solidify Ronald Torreyes as an interim replacement for Didi Gregorius (ugh) and Austin Romine as backup for Gary Sanchez.  

Have a great Thursday!

This Day In New York Yankees History 3/30: Dwight Gooden's Final Walk

On this day in 2001 former Yankee Dwight Gooden announced his retirement from baseball. Doc finished with a 194-112 record playing for the Mets, Yankees, Indians, Astros, and Devil Rays and won a World Series and pitched a no hitter with the Yankees.

On this day in 1991 the Yankees and the Baltimore Orioles played an exhibition game at Joe Robbie Stadium which drew 67,654 fans, a new spring training attendance record. The two day series between the two teams was a part pf South Florida's efforts to get a National League expansion team, soon to be named the Florida Marlins.

On this day in 1984 the San Diego Padres obtained Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles for pitcher Dennis Rasmussen and prospect Darin Cloniger.