Sunday, March 30, 2008

2008 MLB Preview: It's a Bear

Hey Folks,

This is already going to be long enough without me leading in with a brilliantly written introduction. Maybe you can read it in a couple of sittings if you have ADHD. Bare minimum read about what I think of your team. Don't forget to add this to your bookmarks/favorites and leave comments below. So here we go.


AL EAST (in predicted order of finish)

1) Boston Red Sox

The the World Champion Red Sawks (or is it more like Swocks?) return to defend their crown. And, unless their myriad veteran players begin dropping like flies due to injury, I see no reason why they couldn't win another one. They're stacked offensively again, and they sprinkle in some good young players with proven 30+ year olds. I believe that David Ortiz will have a beast of a year now that he's fully healthy again, and don't discount the importance of Manny Ramirez switching to Scott Boras in preparation for next season. There are 2 years worth of team options left on his deal and they are for exorbitant sums of cash. This is basically a contract year for Manny, and as we all know, Manny plays for Manny and he grows his hair that way for the ladies.

I am concerned about their rotation a little. Ace Josh Beckett begins the year on the DL with a tight back, and we all know his injury plagued past. However, I expect him to come back and perform like the beast he is. God only knows what their gonna get from the injured Curt Schilling, and youngsters Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. They'll need repeat performances (or at least something close) from setup man Hideki Okajima and Closer Jon Papelbon to make up for other bullpen shortcomings.

And please, for the love of God, get rid of Coco Crisp now and get JD Drew some frickin acupuncture!

Strengths: Offense/Lineup, Experience/Big Game Pitching

Weaknesses: Aging veterans, some inexperienced SPs

Under the Radar Fantasy Dude(s): P Manny Delcarmen (You already know about Jacoby Ellsbury)

2) New York Yankees

The jerks in pinstripes didn't make any obscenely stupid moves in the offseason, which will benefit them greatly. Although they could've really used Johan Santana, he probably would've hampered them in two ways: financially and in young talent. Now, the Yanks have 3 great young arms (Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Phil Hughes) to develop on the big squad for years to come, and they pay them next to nothing. We don't know what sort of goodness or greatness Kennedy and Hughes will give them this year, but Chamberlain figures to be a beast very quickly.

Their lineup remains virtually unchanged, other than the fact that Johnny Damon will be alternating with Jason Giambi at DH, while Shelly Duncan gets more time at 1B and Melky Cabrera in the OF respectively.

The Yanks are very similar to the Red Sox in that their lineup is laden with very good, but aging veterans who could begin to break down. Also, the youngsters in the rotation are a question mark. If Hughes and Kennedy give them something, and Chien-Ming "Ting Tang Walla-Walla Bing Bang" Wang continues his K-less winning ways, they'll contend for a Wild Card berth.

Strengths: Offense/Lineup, bright pitching future

Weaknesses: Defense, Young SPs, Mike Mussina/Kyle Farnsworth, team age

Under the Radar Fantasy Dude(s): Carl Pavano (haha, just kidding)-- SP Phil Hughes, Ian Kennedy

3) Toronto Blue Jays

Okay, it's another year, and they've already/still got pitching injuries. Big money closer BJ Ryan looks to rebound from TJ (not a Tijuana bender, Tommy John surgery!), and should be ready in a few weeks. AJ Burnett (Josh Beckett's kindred spirit) slammed his damn finger in a car door during the offseason, and hasn't been able to throw his curveball until recently. It's always something with this guy...

Offensively, Vernon Wells looks to return from a truly disgusting and (the bad kind offensive) season. Ditto for Lyle Overbay. These two really need to get their crap together for this team to accomplish anything other than 3rd place in this impossible division. Then of course, they swapped Troy Glaus for Scott Rolen, so they traded an HGH addict with creaky legs and ankles for a career malcontent who can't use his shoulder. Cool.

Yeah, and does anyone know why they released Reed Johnson? Is Matt Stairs really their starting LF?? Man, that guy just won't go away!

Strengths: Intriguing pitching staff (if healthy), above average lineup (if back to normal production)

Weaknesses: Fragile pitchers, AL East has a glass ceiling

UTRFD(s): SPs Shaun Marcum and Dustan McGowan

4) Tampa Bay Rays

Whoa, cool. No more last place, no more Devil.

Despite their name change, Tampa will still not be talented/experienced enough to contend. But if they proceed with this stable of young talent that they have, a wild card berth may not be out of the question in 2010!

I think it's both ridiculous and disgraceful that they sent down rookie phenom and fantasy darling (wow that sounds gay)-- I mean fantasy stud (wow, even gayer!)... okay, let me try that again... It's both ridiculous and disgraceful that they've chosen to send down prized prospect and future fantasy baseball contributor 3B Evan Longoria. I mean, dude. How do you ever expect to win anything? The guy is ready to go, and you send him down so that you can trap him down there in purgatory a year longer? Pathetic.

While the Oakland Raiders delusionally still hang banners everywhere that say "A Commitment to Excellence," I think the Rays actually know that they have a commitment to mediocrity, and are just fine with it. They should just hang it from the roof of that dump they call a stadium and sell flat beer.

Despite the organizational shortfalls, the Rays have 3 very talented young starters (Kazmir, James Shields, and Matt Garza), and 4 very talented young hitters (Carl Crawford (26), Carlos Pena (29), BJ Upton (23), Evan Longoria (22).)

Their bullpen gained a grizzled, old-balls contingent in Dan Wheeler and Troy Percival, but the back end of the rotation and middle relief will be a problem again.

Strengths: Hope for the future and an some truly exciting players

Weaknesses: Poor ownership/management, bullpen, team defense

UTRFD(s): SP Matt Garza, 2B Akinori Iwamura

5) Baltimore Orioles

Well, I wish I knew an Oriole fan, so I could tell them that I too have a terrible team with black and orange as their colors. We should really set up some sort of nationwide support group for Giants and Orioles fans. The Black and Orange support system.

"Oh... sorry, I can't meet you at the bar on Wednesday after work, I've got a B&O Support Group meeting. Yeah, I can't miss it. It's important."

I wish I were joking about this, but I'm not.

Anyway, the O's have very little to look forward to this season other than outstanding young OF Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts (unless they trade him), and the development of rookie Adam Jones, whom they received in the Erik Bedard trade. Of course, I still don't understand how you trade a guy like Bedard when that son of a bitch owner Peter Angelos threw gobs of money at HGH fiends like Javy Lopez, Ramon Hernandez and Miguel Tejada. Sure the guy's got an injury history, but you do want to compete with the the Yanks and Sox right? Oh, you don't? Hmm. That's weird. Okay then, that explains that.

This once proud franchise has gone through a terrible downfall. I'd compare it only to the 49ers, Chicago Blackhawks, and the New York Knicks, considering they'll be in hell for around 3 more seasons. I'm sure I'm leaving a few out, but that's all up for debate.

I dare you to name 2 of Baltimore's starting pitchers. Seriously. See if you can do it.

I've got Daniel Cabrera, Jeremy Guthrie... and... um... wow. Hold on. Let me look it up.

Okay, it's Cabrera, Guthrie, Adam Loewen, Steve Trachsel, and Brian Burres. Dude. The fact that I didn't even know about Loewen and Burres is bad. Plus, you've got Steve Trachsel? Are you serious? My Lord. That is sad. I'm sorry. He's almost eligible for AARP!

Strengths: Nick Markakis, Brian Roberts, Pitching Guru Leo Mazzone

What? Mazzone's not there anymore? Oh man, they are screwed.

Weaknesses: Everything. Mostly pitching though.

UTRFD(s): SP Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott

AL Central

1) Detroit Tigers

Failure is not an option in the Motor City anymore. This team is officially stacked from top to bottom, and anything less than a World Series is a failure.

They traded promising young talent to Florida in CF Cameron Maybin and SP Andrew Miller, but gained a premier hitter in 3B Miguel Cabrera and a serviceable lefty starter in Dontrelle Willis. They probably have the best lineup I've seen in a long time. It reminds me of those late '90s Cleveland Indians teams. Remember?

1999 Cleveland Indians

1. Kenny Lofton CF
2. Omar Vizquel SS
3. Roberto Alomar 2B
4. Jim Thome 1B
5. Manny Ramirez RF
6. David Justice LF
7. Travis Fryman 3B
8. Richie Sexson/Harold Baines DH
9. Sandy Alomar Jr. C

2008 Detroit Tigers

1. Curtis Granderson CF
2. Placido Polanco 2B
3. Miguel Cabrera 3B
4. Magglio Ordonez RF
5. Carlos Guillen 1B
6. Gary Sheffield DH
7. Ivan Rodriguez C
8. Jacque Jones/Marcus Thames LF
9. Edgar Renteria SS

But guess, what. The '99 Tribe didn't go to the World Series, the '97 Indians did, and this Tigers lineup is better.

I'm going through this crazy syndrome right now, and I don't have a clever name for it. I'm just looking at this lineup and literally salivating. Man, Tiger fans and fantasy baseball managers are lucky. This is amazing. I really hope they win it all. It would be great for an area and a population that's been going through hard times. SO BUY AMERICAN!

I like the starting rotation even though the Gambler, Bonderman, D-Train, and Nate Robertson don't exactly strike fear into anyone's hearts. I still think they can compete with the Yanks and Sox in the playoffs and that's what matters. How long will RPs Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney be out though?

Strengths: Obscenely stacked lineup, ace Justin Verlander

Weaknesses: Bullpen, Closer Todd Jones scares me, injuries**

Under the Radar Fantasy Dude(s): Um, they don't really have one, but I'll say Carlos Guillen, because he's very underrated and has SS eligibility in fantasy leagues

ed. note: This was written before the season opening sweep by Kansas City and the two injuries to Cabrera and Sheffield. I stand by all of my claims and statements. But I'm adding injuries to the weaknesses.

2) Cleveland Indians

Man, these guys were a few innings away from going to the Series last year. Dammit!

Well, these guys are hungry for more, and I believe they'll push Detroit for the division. They've got a pretty solid team themselves, and a much better bullpen (although CL Joe Borowski is always good for a heart attack).

I don't like what they've got going in the outfield other than established monster Grady Sizemore. They're going to try to beat the Tigers with David Delucci, Franklin Gutierrez, and Jason Michaels? Not a very good scene.

Also earning honorable mentions for bad scenes is the CC Sabathia contract/impending free agency issue and SPs Jake Westbrook, Paul Byrd, and Cliff Lee. The best case scenario for the Tribe is to beat out the Yankees for the wild card. The worst case scenario is that they have a poor first half, are forced to trade CC to a contender, and all hell breaks loose.

Strengths: Hungry from last season, overall team balance, bullpen

Weaknesses: Back of the rotation, corner outfield production, CC issue

UTRFD(s): IF Asdrubal Cabrera, RP Rafael Betancourt

3) Kansas City Royals

You've gotta have dreams right? I think this may be the year that KC improves their standing from atrocious to mediocre. This is a tough division, and I think the Royals have improved themselves significantly from last season. They are actually attempting to compete now, and their billionaire owner Mr. Glass has decided to throw this city's starving fans a couple bones.

One of those bones came last year in the form of SP Gil Meche. Another bone was acquired this season in oft-injured HGH indulger and slugger Jose Guillen. The offensive production will be much better with the development of prized youngster Alex Gordon, and the sweet stroking (Dammit, that sounds gay again)... I mean potentially great hitter Billy Butler. Hell, even David DeJesus scored 100 runs last year as a table setter, and C John Buck is good for a couple dongs here and there.

The rotation and bullpen will be pretty average, and there will be struggles. After Meche and the enigma known as Zack Greinke, there isn't much to look forward to. I see Brett Tomko's name listed as the 5th starter. I just cringed a little.

Strengths: Hope, solid top and middle of the batting order

Weaknesses: Not nearly enough quality starting pitching

Under the Radar Fantasy Dude(s): DH Billy Butler, 3B Alex Gordon, CL Joakim Soria

ed. note: The Royals swept Detroit to open the season and Soria has 2 saves

4) Minnesota Twins

So, let me get this straight. Your owner is a billionaire (with a 'B'), you're getting a heavily taxpayer funded stadium opened in a couple years, and you couldn't pay Johan Santana an extra 20 million, and let fan favorite Torii Hunter walk away scot free in the winter? Dude.

Look, I'm not claiming to know how to run a franchise, but I think it would be nice for your fans if you paid Johan the money he deserved, and had him around to open your new park. Just a thought. Then, on top of it, they could've had Jacoby Ellsbury and another couple pitching prospects or Phil Hughes and Melky Cabrera, and instead you got Carlos Gomez and Phillip Humber. That sounds like settling for less to me.

What I do like, is the trade of Matt Garza to Tampa Bay for hotheaded/talented Delmon Young. Well, now that I look at it, that's not a bad squad. Nice little nucleus out there: Joe Nathan, Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, Francisco Liriano, Boof Bonser, Scott Baker, Carlos Gomez, and Delmon Young.

This team is going to go through growing pains this year. But assuming they keep these guys together and Lirano returns from injury at 90% of what we saw in 2006, I like the future in Minny.

Strengths: Good young core, Bullpen

Weaknesses: Weak offensive production from 2B, 3B, SS, Many unproven guys

UTRFD(s): CF Carlos Gomez, SPs Boof Bonser & Scott Baker

ed. note: I wrote this before Carlos Gomez started the year with a .375 avg. and 2 steals.

5) Chicago White Sox

I think they should just begin the firesale right now. Just fire Ozzie Guillen and just start blowing it up.

I'm sorry, but I'm not sure how they expect the underachievement and dysfunction of last season to pull a complete 180 on its own.

Once the strength of the '05 Champs, the starting pitching staff has been reduced to Javier Vazquez, Mark Bueherle, two randoms, and old-balls Cubano Jose Contreras. The bullpen, the laughing stock of the league last year in every corner of the U.S. other than Tampa-St. Pete, has bolstered itself by the acquisition of the overpriced Scott Linebrink and walking medical chart Octavio Dotel. Bobby Jenks is as solid as it gets at closer.

Here's the biggest issue: Joe Crede, Paul Konerko, Jim Thome, and Jermaine Dye. These guys have a combined $128 million dollars remaining on their contracts. They may produce more than all the San Francisco Giants combined, but they aren't exactly who you'd like to build toward the future with. If they only they'd signed Carl Pavano, Quentin Richardson, and Alexei Yashin, they'd be set with overpaid nutsacs!

They gave up some good prospects to get Nick Swisher, but he's a good clubhouse guy and a solid contributor.

Strengths: Good talent in wait, very powerful lineup

Weaknesses: Pitching, especially middle relief

UTRFD(s): Josh Fields (once they trade Crede)


1) Seattle Mariners

No more Angels up here. Weird. I think we'd all gotten used to the Angels being the best of the west. No longer.

Seattle has a pretty good thing going on up there. They've retained important pieces, developed a couple, and made some good transactions. Obviously the biggest moves they made were to lock up Ichiro and trade for ace Erik Bedard. But we shouldn't discount the addition of SP Carlos Silva. He will be grossly overpaid and couldn't strike out his grandmother, but he's pretty steady and will give them between 15 and 20 quality starts. This also needs to be the breakout year for "King" Felix Hernandez.

This looks like a team that will manufacture runs. They've still got free swingers Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre, but they could really use another power hitter. They might just squeeze enough out of these guys to form a truly functional team. If this year isn't their year, they've got a bright future.

Strengths: Pitching, Defense, Functionality on offense

Weaknesses: Richie Sexson's underproduction, Jose Vidro at DH

Under the Radar Fantasy Dude(s): Yuniesky Betancourt, Brad Wilkerson

Los Angeles Angels who actually play in Anaheim which isn't that close to LA, formerly owned by Disney

The Angels didn't exactly take a step back personnel-wise. In fact, if we're talking about their lineup, it got much better. Their pitching on the other hand is looking like a total disaster, with their two best hurlers totally messed up on drugs.

By drugs, of course I mean painkillers because they're injured on the DL. But you know potayto, potawto.

I'm less concerned about Lackey because it's just a muscle strain. But Kelvim Escobar is crying himself to sleep every night and manager Mike Scioscia is singing him lullabyes via cell phone and trying to convince him that his career isn't over. NOT A GOOD SCENE!

So that leaves them with Jon Garland, Joe Saunders, Jered Weaver, and Ervin Santana. Not a bad group. But-- I really don't think you can win more games than the Mariners with this staff unless Lackey is going strong. These 4 guys combined to have a 4.59 ERA last season. Good thing they signed Torii Hunter because they'll need all the hitting they can get. They'll challenge Cleveland and the Yankees for the wild card spot.

Strengths: Depth at all positions but pitcher, sweet OF

Weaknesses: Vlad's deteriorating abilities, SP's ERA/health

UTRFD(s): Joe Saunders

Oakland A's

I've seen enough of these guys in spring training to know that they won't be nearly as bad as some think. They will be maybe be better than 7 or 8 other teams in MLB, and maybe even better.

I know, I've never heard of half their roster either, but I'm not picking them to make the playoffs, I'm just saying that they won't be total pushovers, and they might have some decent young players.

I don't know exactly what the career ceiling is for guys like Travis Buck, Daric Barton, and Kurt Suzuki is. What I do know, is that these guys will be playing balls out all year and could become a nice little team. I don't know what Eric Chavez and Bobby Crosby will bring to the table in the course of a full season, but I don't think they do either. Chavez is still screwed up as we speak.

Pitching-wise, they have Rich Harden back from whatever injury he was recovering from, which is almost like signing a prized free agent ace. Hopefully he stays healthy and beasts around so that they can trade him for a gift basket of youngsters at the deadline. I have no idea what to think of Justin Duchscherer as a starting pitcher, but if he's anything like he was as a setup man, that could be a nice find.

I don't know enough about these guys to predict what their team defense will be like, but I'll go out on a limb and say it'll be average. Quite a limb.

Strengths: Youthful exuberance, Pitching (believe it or not!)

Weaknesses: Power, experience, inconsistency

UTRFD(s): Daric Barton, Mark Ellis, Travis Buck, Dana Eveland, Jack Hannahan, Emil Brown, pretty much the rest of the roster too

4) Texas Rangers

The name of the game is pitching, and the Rangers don't have it. I read a funny article on ESPN about what each team's slogan should be. Maybe Jerry Crasnick or Jayson Stark. Anyway, Texas's slogan was "The Texas Rangers, pitching-free since '93." I thought that was hilarious, because it really is true. And that's no thanks to the single dumbest trade ever, when Texas shipped Chris Young (the pitcher) and Adrian Gonzalez to the Padres for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka. That is unbelieveably bad. Imagine Adrian Gonzalez in his current form playing in that bandbox every day and Chris Young starting opening day.

It pains me to even look at this pitching staff. Kevin Millwood is their #1 starter, and their bullpen includes Eddie Guardado. Their closer is CJ Wilson. It's going to be a long, hot summer for Ranger fans. I sure hope that whatever they got from Atlanta in the Mark Teixeira trade is almost up to the big leagues, and I hope that it's pitching. Oh wait, it was Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a catcher who they sent down to Triple A. Good job; that was all very necessary.

There is a ray of hope out there, and his name is Nolan Ryan. He was named President of the Rangers this winter. Hopefully his Texan no-nonsense attitude gets this franchise back on track. Once Dubya leaves office he should seize the Rangers in a controversial eminent domain case. I'm sure he could do a better job than current moron/owner Tom Hicks. I'm dead serious.

Strengths: Hitting

Weaknesses: Pitching (it's that simple)

UTRFD(s): Milton Bradley (I'm serious), Hank Blalock (returning from injury), Josh Hamilton (in case you haven't heard)



1) New York Mets

Strangely, I'm not that comfortable picking the Amazins to come in first. I should be comfortable with picking them to come in first, shouldn't I? They snagged Johan, they've got a pretty disgusting lineup, and they're solid on paper all the way around. I think that's what it is. These guys should have made the playoffs last year, just like they're favored to make it to the Series this year. But, real life got in the way, and these guys blew it last year in an epic fashion.

So that gives them one of two destinies. They can learn from their collapse, and prevent it while staying healthy, or they can be severe underachievers. We'll see. But I certainly don't think it helps to keep away the bad juju by signing some guy named Pagan. I don't know, they should get some holy water in the clubhouse just in case.

I like the pitching staff overall, and I think they've got some good arms, but I don't fully trust SP Oliver Perez, and will Pedro Martinez be Pedro Martinez and remain healthy? (ed. note: I wrote this part last Friday, Pedro is now out 6 weeks with a hammy!). The bullpen should be pretty solid. I don't know. The NL East is tougher, and there's a lot of parity in the NL overall. We'll see if the cream rises.

Strengths: Lineup, Pitching staff, bullpen (sounds pretty good, huh?)

Weaknesses: Some old guys at key positions, Injury concerns, mental toughness

Under the Radar Fantasy Dude(s): Ryan Church, Aaron Heilman

2) Philadelphia Phillies

These guys still can't get any respect right? They're the defending NL East Champs, and yet, I'm picking them to come in second to the bleepin' Mets. Yeah, well, they could damn well win this division again, although I believe that to be unlikely.

I'm a bit surprised that they let SP Kyle Lohse go in free agency, when Jamie Moyer is going to remain in the rotation. But hey, if Moyer's still got it, he's still got it. I recognize that bringing Brett Myers back from the closer's role also fills that spot. But hey, if the Mets get Johan, can't you spare 8 million a year for Kyle Lohse, just in case?

Instead Philly countered the Johan move by signing Brett Favre look alike Geoff Jenkins and landing the biggest turkey in free agency, a chap by the name of Pedro Feliz. They also traded speedster Michael Bourn for former Astros closer Brad Lidge. Lidge of course begins the year on the DL, and Tom Gordon assumes his role temporarily.

You know, I really really like Philly's lineup. They've got a solid contributor at every position. It's pretty scary to have the MVP leading off and the MVP from two years ago hitting 4th; but that's what they've got. They have the makings of a an insanely good offense this year. Two switch hitting dynamos start the order in Rollins and Victorino (The Flyin' Hawaiian), then come mashers Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell (a Boras client in a contract year). This is what makes them even better though... Geoff Jenkins and Pedro Feliz. That's right. I said it. Geoff Jenkins and Pedro Feliz are the difference between this offense being very good and being obscene. They've both hit 20+ home runs multiple times and are a left/right combo that protect the rest of them. It'll be a brutal scene for managers both early and late in games.

Pitching may be a problem for the Phils. Other than Brett Myers and Cole Hamels, there is a back three of Moyer, Kyle Kendrick, and the oft-injured/awfully disappointing Adam Eaton. Jamie Moyer is 73 years old, Kendrick believed he got traded to Japan, and Eaton tears a ligament and strains his nutsac every time the wind shifts. The bullpen is shady as well. This could be why they finish 2nd to the Mets. I do expect them to compete for a wild card berth.

Strengths: One of the top offenses in all of baseball

Weaknesses: Pitching depth, bullpen, propsensity to strike out too much

UTRFD(s): Pat Burrell (I know, I know, but CONTRACT YEAR + Scott Boras = #s!), Kyle Kendrick

3) Atlanta Braves

The Braves will be better than people expect them to be. After winning 74 consecutive NL East Titles, it seems like they've dropped off the map. Geez, can't we at least include them in the conversation? They are intriguing enough to make a wild card push, and who knew that Chipper, Smoltzie, and Glavine would still be around after all these years? Crazy. I half expect them to re-sign Terry Pendleton and Brian Jordan for old time's sake.

That being said, I don't think they have enough to compete in this division. They've been relegated to being the Toronto Blue Jays of the NL for now. No matter how decent they are, they'll always have the Yankees/Mets or Phillies/Red Sox above them. Unlike the BJ's though, they may have a chance in a couple years.

I believe this depends on the development of the pitching staff, and whether or not they can re-sign Mark Teixeira. I can't imagine that they could justify letting him go scot free after the season, but at the same time... he's a Boras client. That's really all you need to know. Boras clients don't sign long term deals with their current clubs in general, let alone during the season. It just doesn't happen. I think the only examples to the contrary have been good guys like Boston's Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield. So... if Los Bravos are totally out of the race by the trade deadline (which seems pretty unlikely), it would really behoove them to either throw a bunch of money at Big Tex (who's actually from Maryland), or try to trade him for whatever prospects they can get.

Baseball wise, the Braves just don't have enough experienced pitching. Short of the overly experienced trio of Smoltz/Hudson/Glavine, there are a lot of young question marks. I believe the bullpen is a wild card. It'll get better when Mike Gonzalez returns from injury, but with names like Blaine Boyer and Peter Moylan, what exactly will they get on a day in, day out basis? I love Rafael Soriano at the closer position, and I believe he will become elite this season.

BTW, the Braves are definitely (no research needed) the only team in history, maybe of any sport, to have guys from Germany, Panama, Curacao, and Australia on the same team, let alone just the pitching staff. Wild scene.

PS: Jeff Francoeur is going to have a monster season

Strengths: Veteran influence/youthful exuberance, good top 5 hitters

Weaknesses: Undeveloped arms, Teixeira's uncertain future

UTRFD(s): 2B Kelly Johnson, SS Yunel Escobar, P Jair Jurrjens

4) Washington Nationals

Slowly but surely, these guys are becoming respectable. It's amazing that only 3 years ago they were the friggin Montreal Expos. Now look at 'em. They've got a sweet new yard and they're stealing Oriole fans by the day.

That being said, these guys aren't quite ready to compete with the big boys, or even the above average boys yet. They've simply got too many holes at too many positions, and have a severe lack of pitching.

That being said, they made an amazing trade in the offseason to get Lastings Milledge from the Mets for pennies on the dollar. In addition, Ryan Zimmerman is truly one of the best young hitters in the game. Hell, I've got him in 4 fantasy leagues so you've got my stamp of approval. What else do you need?

They also have Nick Johnson back from a really ugly broken leg. He was out all year so I'm sure the wound was beginning to smell like almonds when he injured it. He should help to make things tolerable but as I said, there are waaaaay to many holes for these guys to compete. They're a few years away, but they're on the right track.

PS: Odalis freaking Perez was their opening day starter. Wow. This is truly the worst rotation I've ever seen. Please, if anyone knows of a worse one, historically or otherwise, please let me know. At least the Rangers have Kevin Millwood!

Strengths: Ryan Zimmerman, Lastings Milledge, new ballpark

Weaknesses: Pitching, pitching, pitching, and middle infield production

UTRFD(s): Lastings Milledge, Austin Kearns, Nick Johnson

5) Florida Marlins

I almost want to skip this preview entirely. I am thoroughly disgusted by this organization and its miserly owner Jeffrey Loria. I think I'm going to just talk minimally about baseball in the form of bullet points and then go on a semi-relevant rant about their management from the top on down.

-Hanley Ramirez best offensive SS in the game
-Traded Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit for Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin
-No reason to watch them this season other than Ramirez
-They will average 7,500 fans per game
-Worst franchise in the MLB, yet they've won two World Series
-Have 3 pitchers on the DL that could make this a top 15 rotation in two years

Now for the real stuff. Jeffrey Loria, I believe is the worst owner in sports. It's truly incredible that anyone would pay a dime--even a corporate dime-- to support a team run by such a nightcrawler. This is a guy who bought the Montreal Expos, knowing they had a bleak economic future, then intentionally ran them into the ground and alienated the public by making outrageous stadium demands when the old stadium wasn't even completely paid for (sound familiar? See Bennett, Clay and Sonics, Seattle Super).

After MLB attempted and failed to cull the Expos and Minnesota Twins like some sort of sick euthanasia enthusiast organization, Loria was given a sweetheart deal of taking over the Marlins for jack squat and a free no-interest loan by Selig and company. He tried to move the Marlins immediately, but found no takers, so he decided to try to win.

He learned from the best when Wayne Huizenga broke the bank (so to speak) and bought himself a World Series in 1997, then had one of the most ugly, hurtful, and disgusting fire sales this world has ever seen. This would be the equivalent America finding and killing the entire Al Qaeda organization including Osama himself, and then dismantling its military and CIA a few weeks later.

Had Loria owned the Marlins then, he would've done the same thing! He was probably cheering as it happened. Then it became part of his future plan. Get as many people on board as possible, then rip their hearts out and piss them all off, so that they won't come back. Then he'd have a reason to leave. Luckily he happened to have enough young talent from the '97 firesale to win it all (again) in 2001. Unbelievable. Fans of the Giants, Cubs, and Indians would kill for a title and the Marlins have two; and they have about two fans to go with it. (This is no accident. Miami is by far the worst and most fairweather sports town in America. Just look at those thousands of empty lower bowl seats at Heat games only 2 years removed from a title).

This next part should make you sick to your stomach if you haven't already heard it. MLB has a socialistic revenue sharing program in which the richest teams like the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Cubs, etc. must pay millions and millions of dollars into a giant slush fund that is divyed up among the bottom feeders and "small market boo-hoo sob stories". Jeff Loria has taken advantage of this system to the tune of a profit. That's right. His team payroll for this year is $20 million. His welfare check from the league? $25 million. He is making $5 million dollars a year by putting a garbage product on the field and getting almost zero fans to that football stadium. Then there's the millions he makes from TV/Radio deals, concessions, ticket sales, Mafia kickbacks, etc. The only thing the Marlins actually spend money on is scouting, uniforms, and travel. This business model was made infamous by Selig himself, who in the 1990s invented the system while his "daughter" owned the Milwaukee Brewers. Selig in fact still owned the team, and was basically embezzling money from the league to make himself a profit while refusing to make the Brewers competitive. He should be hanged on Wisconsin Avenue and everyone in Southeastern Wisconsin should dance on his grave. Talk about a nightcrawler...

The most recent (but not the final chapter)of the Loria saga, is that he has finally convinced Miami-Dade County to give him millions of dollars for a new retractable roof stadium. I'f I were the city and county government, I'd tell him to get lost in the Everglades drenched in cow blood and play some gator roulette. But instead it looks like he'll get his way. Not bad for a snooty New York art dealer who'd kill his own grandmother if it would help him make a buck. Eff that guy.


1) Milwaukee Brewers

Whew, all that hate flowing out of me felt theraputic! Now it's time for some love. I really like this team. They've got some insanely good talent on this roster, and it looks like it might come together this year. And then... gasp... the Brewers will make the playoffs! This may seem like an impossibility with the big budget Cubs in their division. The only thing wrong with that argument is that the Cubs are cursed, and find a way every year to disappoint. The Brewers aren't cursed, they were just owned by a moron/villain named Bud Selig, that's all.

They've got a newish stadium, a passionate owner, and things are looking up for them. They've got a scary good lineup, and it looks like Rickie Weeks may finally be reaching his potential this year. Imagine... if you get through Weeks and Gwynn (later on Mike Cameron), you've got to deal with Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. Yeah have fun with that. Then you've got Corey Hart, Bill Hall, and JJ Hardy, 3 guys who could hit 25-30 HR apiece. The only problem that I see are inflated strikeout rates and below average team defense.

As for pitching, they have a lot of it-- more quantity than quality, but they're still pretty darn solid. Ben Sheets MUST shake the injury bug and be the horse that he can be. Next, they need the consistency of Jeff Suppan to continue. Thirdly, Yovani Gallardo needs to be the phenom that we all know he will be. Manny Parra and Carlos Villanueva will pleasantly surprise people. Also, don't underestimate the value of Jason Kendall behind the plate. He may not hit or throw anyone out anymore, but the man knows how to handle a pitching staff.

As for the bullpen... well they spent big money on a dirty Frenchman named Eric Gagne this winter. (ed. note: He's already blown a save). If he is a headcase failure, there are plenty of closer types in the bullpen. It's a veritable who's who of mediocre closers who make decent long/situational relievers. How about this list (career saves in parentheses): David Riske (21 sv.), Solomon Torres (29 sv.), Derrick Turnbow (64 sv.), Seth McClung (6 sv.), and Guillermo Mota (7 sv.).

They've got a lot of weirdos in that list, but they are also very experienced arms. I think they'll be fine actually.

Strengths: Power, speed, good young rotation

Weaknesses: Defense, keeping leads late in games

UTRFD(s): SP Manny Parra, SP Carlos Villanueva

2) Chicago Cubs

The Cubbies are more like paper tigers. It's the same thing every year. They buy a high profile manager, they buy a big free agent, then they zig zag around all year, generally culminating in some sort of catostrophic failure either leading up to the playoffs or in the playoffs themselves.

Since I don't much care for Cubs fans, I will not pretend that I want them to succeed. I don't. The mere fact that my feelings about this team and their fans will not differ from what happens in real life is very convenient.

The Cubs are a tough out. They have a very good lineup, that cannot be denied. Assuming they pull off a deal for Baltimore's Brian Roberts, they'll have a lineup that could compete with the best of the best.

Of course, the offense's production hinges greatly on the production of 1B Derrek Lee, who appears to be in decline at this point. His power numbers have dipped sharply since his incredible season of 2005 mainly due to injury. He'll need to at least get his doubles for this team to run on all cylinders.

The other what if is Alfonso Soriano. Is he in decline too? At 32, he's a lot older than people think he is, and his legs may be breaking down. They gave him an awful lot of money last season, and I'm sure they're regretting it now. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure he can still be a dynamic player, but I'm just not sure how dynamic. At this juncture, I'd say he's better suited for the second or 3rd position in the batting order than batting leadoff, which Sweet Lou may be forced to do if Ryan Theriot can't get the job done (ed. note: Sweet Lou is now hitting Soriano 1st).

I think this pitching staff is a mess. I see nothing but mediocrity past Carlos Zambrano. Ted Lilly? Jason Marquis? Ryan Dempster? Rich Hill? Hill has the best upside obviously, and those other guys aren't heinous, but that's what they've got. Now tell me the truth. Wouldn't you rather have Ben Sheets/Yovani Gallardo/Jeff Suppan than Zambrano/Hill/Lilly? If you'd rather have the Cubs, good luck with that.

PS: Kerry Wood is their closer. YIKES!

Strengths: Offensive firepower, Managerial entertainment factor

Weaknesses: Potential for injuries to star players very possible, mediocre pitching staff, cursed franchise

Under the Radar Fantasy Dude(s): C Geovany Soto, RF Kosuke Fukodome, RP Carlos Marmol

3) Cincinnati Reds

This preview has been pretty ho-hum in terms of predictions until now. Yeah, you're picking the Astros to be in this position. Sure. Very possible. But it's also very boring, and in my opinion is incorrect. The Reds have fallen on hard times the last few years. They've got a sweet new bandbox along the Ohio River, and they've got a veteran-loving high profile manager who might actually play some youngsters.

Of course, I'm talking about Dusty Baker. Dusty had some great years managing my Giants, but he also ruined Robb Nen's career and helped contribute to the downfall of Shawn Estes and Russ Ortiz among others. He tends to play old guys out there instead of youngbloods and overpitch his pitchers (see Prior, Mark and Wood, Kerry). Let's hope management has got an eye on him, because he's got some serious talent there.

For starters, there's CF Jay Bruce, who is one of the top 10 prospects in all of baseball. Then there's 1B Joey Votto, who is probably a top 30 prospect. This of course is followed by SP Homer Bailey, who is also a coveted chip. That's not all...

Enter SP Edison Volquez and SP Johnny Cueto. Whoa. Dude. These guys are absolutely stacked with talent (ed. note: Cueto just made his first start yesterday, gave up one run and had 10 K!).

When you throw all these guys together with innings horse Aaron Harang (who's almost as big as a horse incidentally), exciting 2B Brandon Phillips, and a lineup that includes Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey Jr., you've got some serious action going on.

Obviously, Bruce and Bailey are in AAA ball now. But Volquez, Votto, and Cueto are not, and they are going to help get this team back to respectability. I would like to see Cincy re-sign Adam Dunn, because he is a perfect guy for that ballpark, and could anchor a pretty sweet young team. We'll see.

Strengths: Some speed, some pop, some young arms

Weaknesses: Old guys clogging up spots needed for young guys, defense, bullpen

UTRFD(s): Edison Volquez, Johnny Cueto, Votto/Bruce

4) Houston Astros

It's of course possible that Cincy and Houston could flip flop positions here. But does it really matter? Neither will make the playoffs--Cincy because of inexperienced players and a bad bullpen, Houston, because of no pitching and defense. It's not like the Astros will be horrid, because that simply won't be the case. They will be average and will go on a lot of upswings and downswings. They might go on some decent winning streaks this year because of a potent offense, but they simply have no pitching after Roy Oswalt in the rotation, and he's starting to deteriorate a little bit. This is could be the Denver Nuggets of the NL. They'll score a lot, but can't guard anyone to save their lives, and won't get very far as a result. Seriously, take a look at Houston's rotation. It's not a good scene. And if you want a bad scene, look at the bullpen. The only thing they've got going there is Jose Valverde who is completely out of his mind. He's like a mixture between Jose Lima and Jose Mesa on methampetamines from Beaumont.

All that being said, fantasy owners should be salivating over guys like Carlos Lee, Lance Berkman, Hunter Pence, speed demon Michael Bourn. Even the old needle stabber himself Miguel Tejada will have a good year. Then there's Ty Wigginton, a funny looking guy who's eligible at 3 infield positions and will hit 20 HR. Crazy, wild stuff.

Strengths: Offense

Weaknesses: Defense, Pitching

UTRFD(s): IF Wigginton, CF Michael Bourn

5) St. Louis Cardinals

I'm glad to have the Cards down here. I hate their success. I still can't get over the fact that they won a World Series. That was seriously the worst team to win a title of any kind since, well, I can't remember. I haven't gotten over it, just like I haven't gotten over Eli Manning winning a ring. Completely unacceptable.

The Cardinals have decided to rough it. It's like they're in the waning rounds of a 25 round fantasy draft and are just taking fliers left and right. The only risks that they haven't "drafted" are Jason Schmidt and Mike Hampton.

Other than Pujols, these guys have nothing going. Then of course there's Pujols's elbow. WTF is up with that? So here is my list of late round fliers that they've assembled here: Chris Carpenter (DL), Matt Clement (DL), Mark Mulder (DL), Rick Ankiel (Self explanatory), Troy Glaus (injury prone/HGH), and Joel Pineiro (???/DL). What the hell is this supposed to be, a sanctuary for aging and injured baseball players? Jesus, just put them all out to pasture. This is a joke. And may I ask why the hell uber-prospect Colby Rasmus was sent down to AAA? Stop kidding yourselves, you're not going to compete here. Just bring up the young guys and let them play. Otherwise by the time they're ready, Pujols will be old and gray. Brutal. If you wanna see their depth chart/rotation/bullpen, go ahead. It's a waste of time.

Strengths: Pujols/LaRussa, defense

Weaknesses: Everything else

UTRFD(s): OF Rick Ankiel

6) Pittsburgh Pirates

These guys will never get out of the cellar if they don't start trying. This is another joke of the league. Owners of teams that refuse to compete should be voted off by the fans. And when I say 'voted off' I mean run out of town with molten steel making equipment and coal mining picks. What these successive owners have done to the people of Pittsburgh is disgraceful. Previous owner Kevin McClatchy, and current owner Robert Nutting are complete jokes. They have forced 14 consecutive losing seasons on these people, and that is totally unacceptable.

This is yet another case of crack heads on welfare, funded by hard working people like me. Or in baseball terms: Slimeball owners who cut payroll down to the bone marrow and make profits on the backs of teams/owners who actually try to win. I'd like to coin a term here: Jeffrey Loria syndrome. Jerks who turn a profit by alienating their fans and not trying to win.

This roster is the definition of mediocrity. How about these names: Bay, Nady, McClouth, LaRoche... it goes on and on. Totally lame. This team is like a C List movie. You've heard of one person, and recognize one other from a cancelled Fox sitcom. That's about it.

Their rotation is okay, but nothing special. However Ian Snell could be real good some day.

Strengths: No pressure to win, 5 starters who could darn well last all year

Weaknesses: Overall talent and abilities

UTRFD(s): OF Nate McClouth, SP Ian Snell


1) Arizona Diamondbacks

This is truly the most competitive and toughest division in baseball. It's now the NL Best. Seriously, any one of 4 teams could win this division out of 5. That's pretty remarkable. Last year Colorado and Arizona got the playoff spots, and this year it could be the Snakes, the Fathers, the Mountains, or the L.A.-Holes.

The reason I believe the D-Backs will take the division is due to pitching. They have 2 of the top 10 starting pitchers in baseball. It's like the reincarnation of the Curt Schilling/Randy Johnson days (yeah, they won a World Series). Facing the Snakes in a short series will be very tough on any team. They may have some problems though after Webb and Haren. Doug Davis unfortunately has thyroid cancer, and it's unknown what impact that will have on his season. Micah Owings looks to be a solid #3 starter. Then it gets a little murkier. They've got Randy Johnson coming off his umpteenth back surgery, and some randoni (random guy) named Yune Petit or something of that nature as the #5. We'll see how that pans out.

I really like Arizona's lineup. They've got speed for days with Eric Byrnes, Chris Young, and Justin Upton. They've got upside (although I think a bit optimistic) in Stephen Drew, and youth all over the place. If they can one day get a first baseman with power, they'd be in business. I think their bullpen is solid as well. Juan Cruz is an excellent setup man.

Strengths: Team speed, youth, a little playoff experience

Weaknesses: On base percentage, reckless abandon

UTRFD(s): OF Justin Upton, C Chris Snyder, SP Micah Owings

2) Los Angeles Dodgers

I really hate myself for giving these jerks any credit, but what can I do? What's real is real. They have an enviable roster full of future stars. There's no denying it. Even the most fervent of Giants fans can't look at an outfield where Juan Pierre is a bench warming specialist, and not have part of him wish that was our roster.

The Dodgers are going to be good for awhile. That's the worst part.

Not only do they have an outfield of Matt Kemp, Andruw Jones, Andre Either, and Juan Pierre, but they have rising stars at 1B (James Loney) and C (Russell Martin). I'm sick just thinking about it. WHY? HOW?

SP Brad Penny is a beast out there, and is truly an ace. Then you've got Derek Lowe and the youngster Chad Billingsley following him. Talk about a brutal team to face in the playoffs. I'm just praying to the Baseball Gods and even the Real God that Arizona wins the division and that the wild card is the Phillies or Mets. I can't stomach the Dodgers doing well. Everything about them disgusts me.

Strengths: Depth, Versatility, Talent, etc.

Weaknesses: When I find some, I'll let you know

Under the Radar Fantasy Dude(s): James Loney, Jonathan Broxton

3) Colorado Rockies

They had one helluva run last year, and it really says something when the team that got to the World Series last year gets picked to come in 3rd in the division. They didn't really add or subtract any of the parts they had. In fact they added some farmhand youngsters (see a pattern here in this division?) to the diamond and the pitching staff.

It remains to be seen if Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe and Troy Tulowitzki will have the same beastly years that they did last year. There's no indication that they won't barring injury or sophomore/junior slumps. This is another team that's built around a great combination of power and speed (see another pattern?). The Rockies have 30+ SB guy Wily Taveras in CF and even signed former 70 SB threat Scott Podsednik. Wild.

Pitching will be the downfall of this team, if you will. I don't see enough starting pitching to get the wins necessary to make the playoffs. It's just so hard in the NL West now. Of course Franklin Morales and Ubaldo Jimenez could turn out to be quick bloomers, and will get 10-13 wins each. Who knows? It could happen. I like the "Corpse Man" at the end of the game too (CL Manny Corpas).

Strengths: Solid lineup: quick and powerful

Weaknesses: Defense, young guys in rotation (but could end up being a strength)

UTRFD(s): CL Manny Corpas, SP Ubaldo Jimenez, SP Franklin Morales

4) San Diago Padres

Did I say San Diago? Sorry. I meant San Diego. Whatever. I'm tired of these guys. They just won't go away. Every year they seem lamer and lamer, and yet, they still compete.

I'm assuming that this is the year they cease to compete. They won't even sniff the postseason, and for that, I'm glad. Sadly, this lineup is a slightly better version of the Pittsburgh Pirates. When your best hitters are Khalil Greene and Adrian Gonzalez, you're not winning the NL West. Sorry. I'm not saying those guys suck. I'm just saying that Arizona has Byrnes/Young/Hudson/Reynolds (a reach I know), LA Has Loney/Jones/Martin/Kent, and Colorado has Holliday/Hawpe/Helton/Tulowitzki/Atkins.

Not your year Padres, even with a great pitching staff. Peavy and Chris Young is just a notch below Webb and Haren, and San Diego's bullpen is always excellent. They'll win a lot of close games, but just not enough. Finally!

Strengths: Jake Peavy/Chris Young, bullpen, doubles power

Weaknesses: Doubles Power

UTRFD(s): 3B Kevin Kouzmanoff, RP Heath Bell

5) San Francisco Giants

I've saved the worst for last unfortunately. I've been putting it off for thousands of words, and now the time has come to break down my team...

What can I say? We had a nice run. We're a bit spoiled out here. We've got some real nice scenery, great weather, and we've had some good sports teams. Indeed there have been some really special moments by the bay, but all things must come to an end.

The day that Peter Magowan decided not to re-sign Bonds, a new era of Giants baseball arrived. It is not a great era yet, but I'm hoping that it will be one day. Our group of players may not be the fastest, or the strongest, or even the coolest, but I know for a fact that they'll be playing their asses off from the first pitch until the grisly end. They are cast offs, and organizational players (instead of prospects). To quote a Luke Bryan song, "We were poor, we were ugly, we were all best friends."

I hope that if nothing else, that these guys have fun, and show hustle on the field. Everyone knows that contention for anything is out of the question. There will be no playoff berths in 2008 and celebrations may be few and far between. What I must see is a roster full of men who don't ever quit, and give it their all. All out. All Season.

Our starting pitching I believe is among the 10 best in all of baseball. Granted, they may not get much run support, and will become frustrated, but that's the name of the game in 2008.

Our defense may not be pretty, and our lineups may be depressing; but that's who we've got, and we must cheer for them like they're the best damn players in the world. Every game will be a close game, and every mistake is magnified, because runs will not come in bunches. Anyone who cannot appreciate a game without home runs need not apply, because we'd be lucky to hit 75.

I could go on a rant about how things should have been done, or could have been done, but that point it moot. I could rage on and on about how disrespectful it is to remove Barry Bonds's likeness from AT&T Park, but I won't. I plan to take this year in stride. It will be rocky, it will be hard, but this is what being a true fan is all about. It's about pride. It's about belief. It's about hope.

We will be back someday.

Strengths: Pitching, Speed, Hustle

Weaknesses: Hitting, Defense, Experience

UTRFD(s): CL Brian Wilson, 2B Eugenio Velez, RP Merkin Valdez

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