Once the World Series finishes, baseball’s off season begins. Baseball’s off season is more complex then just waiting for spring training to start. It is a time of reflection, hope and decisions. The General Managers of every team must assess what they have and determine what they need. Twenty-nine GM’s must look at their teams and ask what went wrong? And how can they fix that? While one GM celebrates briefly a World Series victory, he then has to worry about how to improve his team so it can repeat.
GM’s, who are plagued with questions about how to build a winning team, fail more often than succeed. Of course, what is success? Is success only when a World Series is won? Or only if the team reaches the playoffs? Maybe it is measured if the team substantially improves from the season before. Realistically it depends on the market and the expectations going in. The Pittsburgh Pirates may consider the season a success if they win 70 games, something they have not done since 2004, whereas for most other teams 70 wins would be a complete and utter failure. Then it is World Series or bust for teams like the Yankees or Phillies.
It would seem that the New York Yankees are unable to develop a farm system. At least the way they make trades and sign free-agents would make it seem that way. However, a closer look would show that they are just as aggressive when it comes to acquiring minor league talent as they are with major league talent. After all, they would need a lot of talent to pull off as many trades for high profile players as they do. It is also no secret that in order to dominate for as long as they have, developing talent is a must. Several of the current Yankees came up through their farm system as well as many other successful players around the league. The current class of Yankees prospects should prove to be no different.
Every tiger fan has a soft spot for Jim Leyland. He is after all partially responsible for delivering the tigers from futility. In 2006 he inherited a team that had just lost 500 games in their previous 5 seasons including an abysmal 119 losses in 2003. In his first season he changed the clubhouse from a group of players who had no idea how to win into a team that worked hard for 9 innings and didn’t know how to lose. Or rather, they didn’t know how to lose in the first half.
In five seasons with the Tigers Jim Leyland has amassed an impressive winning percentage in the first half. With a record of 254 and 187 and a winning percentage of .576 he has not failed to have a .500 record in the first half with the tigers.
Cliff Lee is the envy of his teammates these days, particularly those on his own pitching staff; two of which are better pitchers with smaller salaries. Actually, the signing of his new 5-year, $120mm contract with the Phillies is the envy of the entire baseball world since he doesn’t even crack the top 10 starting pitchers in MLB, and he wouldn’t even be in the conversation if he wasn’t left-handed (he didn’t even crack the top-10 in WAR in the AL last year, let alone MLB, and the Rangers made the playoffs in spite of his average performance down the stretch, not because of it). Controversial statement? Read my list of the top 10 pitchers in baseball and you decide where he should be.
Notorious for being one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball since moving to Washington, the Nationals have had several top draft picks to build their system from the ground up. They have a deep, talented system; though their top ten may be deceiving due to Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen, and Ian Desmond loosing prospect status last season. Although this list is far from the most impressive prospect list this season, the Nationals likely have the most exciting stock of players under 25. Additionally, Bryce Harper picks up any and all hype that Strasburg left behind. There are several top talents in this system that tend to get lost in the excitement surrounding Strasburg and Harper.
When I started to write something this week, I started to write about the biggest news of the off season: Cliff Lee agreeing to a discounted deal with the Philadelphia Phillies.
It was only natural, being a Phillies fan, that I write a few hundred words gushing about how sneaky and brilliant (Phillies GM) Ruben Amaro Jr. is, or how great Cliff Lee is for taking less money and years to come to Philly, or how incredible it’s going to be to be throwing Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, and Cliff Lee out on the hill four out of every five days.
And then I got home last night, and I heard the news: Legendary Indians pitcher Bob Feller had passed away at 92-years old, and everything changed.
This shouldn’t have been a shock, but it was. It shouldn’t have been so sad, but it was. The man lived a great life and was a true American hero (for reasons other than his athletic accomplishments.) Feller was 92-years old and battling leukemia. It shouldn’t have been so hard to swallow, but it was.
Last season some of the tigers starting pitchers struggled, but by the end of the season the rotation was starting to look like the strength of the team. Justin Verlander at just 28 will be anchoring a younger staff with Scherzer and Porcello as the 2nd and 3rd starters. Phil Coke is supposed to be the 4th starter despite only starting one game in his career. He will be the oldest pitcher on the staff unless Galarraga wins the 5th spot. Galarraga will be 29 by the time the season starts and Coke will turn 29 during the season. The final spot is open for competition where the inconsistent Galarraga will have to win the spot from rookie Andy Oliver among other competition.
The tigers bullpen was a weakness of the team and will need to improve if the tigers have any hope of competing for the playoffs. They have added Joaquin Benoit to help their bullpen but will rely heavily on 2010 rookies Robbie Weinhardt and Daniel Schlereth.
Even though I’m the Braves writer here, I have to speak up. This Cliff Lee stuff is getting out of control.
Does a guy who can throw a baseball really merit $161 million dollars? Well, of course not. But that’s not my argument… that’s a different article altogether. The baseball market these days involves high dollar contracts… like really high dollar contracts, and that’s just the way it is. The question is – in today’s baseball market and age, does Cliff Lee really deserve a 7 year $161 million dollar deal? Heck no.
Last season the Tigers opened training camp with a hole at 2nd base, and once again may be opening the season with a hole in the same position. Scott Sizemore ended up filling that hole, but was ineffective at the plate and was eventually sent down after about a month and a half. That opened the door for Danny Worth, while they waited for Carlos Guillen to return from injury and fill the position. Injuries to other tiger infielders, including another to Guillen reopened the door for these guys, as well as a new candidate in Will Rhymes.
Carlos Guillen is still in the tigers plans at second base, but that is no reason for these young players to be discouraged. It isn’t even known if Carlos will be able to start the season at second, and once he does start playing it is only a matter of time before he goes down with another injury. Perhaps a negative point of view, but history is not on his side.
It is no secret that I am a huge Matt Diaz fan. I think he’s the most underrated baseball player in the bigs, and I’m fairly certain he holds the cure to cancer. Since the news came out about Matt leaving Atlanta, it’s been a struggle for me to get out of bed and to be nice to people. I’ve been raving about Matty for the past 3 seasons. Most of Diaz’s time in Atlanta was spent platooning left field because of his “struggles” against righty pitching. Less intelligent baseball fans seem to obsess over Matty’s numbers against right-handed pitching. They would call him a “lefty killer”… which he certainly was. You see, Diaz is a .335 lifetime hitter against lefties, which rightfully deems him as a “lefty killer”, however his .269 lifetime avg against righties is not something to be frowned upon. Alex Gonzalez hits .250 against righties, Dan Uggla hits .267 against righties, and Brian McCann has a lifetime .267 avg against lefties.