Tag Archives: Long Cold Winter

The Long, Cold Winter: Chicago Cubs

The streak will be broken.

But not in 2012.

Now that I’ve wet your mouths to the future of the Chiacago Cubs, I can work to justify my bold, nay, beligerant statement that the Chicago Cubs will (soon enough) be World Champions. Of baseball. Major League Baseball.

If you look at the 2011 Cubs, they were, well, shitty. They finished 71-91 in a less-than-awesome division (but not the worst), and generally awful to watch. Bright spots included Darwin Barney and the emergence of Starlin Castro’s bat. Other than that, we saw the repeated lunacy of Carlos Zambrano (now a Flamboyant Miami Marlin, fittingly), the painfully awful defense of LOLfonso Soriano and Starlin Castro and the devastatingly atrocious managing of Mike Quade (long “a”).

It was a bad year for Cubbies fans, but hope is on the way. After one last crippling trade from Jim Hendry, he was out. Quade was out. Epstein, Hoyer and new manager Dale Sveum are in.

Things change, and unlike the Orioles, Twins and Astros, this is one team on it’s way out of the cellar, skipping every second step up the stairs.

Yet, with any good basement analogy, you’re bound to trip up a bit.

Perennial albatross Alfonso Soriano’s (2014, eep) contract is still there. Ryan Dempster (off the books in October) is getting paid significantly to be an average pitcher. With an average rotation and improving bullpen, 2012 will not be the Cub’s year to compete.

They will, however, be competing in the Central. Soon.

The Cubs currently have a reasonable outfield of Soriano, Byrd, Dejesus; backed up by Tony Campana and Reed Johnson. Decent, not great. Give it a few seasons, the possibly movement of LOLfonso Soriano to a terrible GM, some surprise prospects, and the Cubs outfield could look completely different by 2014.

The infield is strong. Beautiful, almost. The potential is palpable. If Castro learns to field a ball like a baseball player and not an MMA jock, his combination with a league average+ 2B in Barney will be a great combination in the coming years. While Brandon LaHair will likely man 1B on opening day, Anthony Rizzo will emerge, and as I suspect, play above average 1B with the glove and bat for half a Cubs decade. Third base is a little iffy – Ian Stewart can mash, however inconsistently, but his defense is non-existent (kind of a developing theme, here) and Josh Vitters might still be a year away, as he is yet to play above AA, but projects to be a solid MLB  option someday.

Bottom line is this team is going to compete in a few seasons, but 2012 may still be a year of growing pains.

Hang in there, Cubs fans.


The Long, Cold Winter: San Diego Padres

When it comes to the Long, Cold Winter series of posts, some teams are just too easy.

Then there are teams like the San Diego Padres. Sometimes they look great, and they end up finishing last in weak National League West seasons (see: 2011). Then, when the teams looks benign and hopeless for a title, they win 90 games (see: 2010.)

I may be beginning to figure this out: in years in which the NL West is strong, such as 2010 – the Padres are strong. It seems like a classic case of playing to your competition. Or maybe it’s El Nino, I don’t know.

Last season, the Diamondbacks stole the NL West from banged-up Giants, playing-under-their-ability Rockies, broke-ass Dodgers and the Padres – who were just kind of…there.

The Padres finished 23 games out of first…behind the 94-win Diamondbacks, the (second) worst record of any playoff team (don’t worry about those 90-win Cardinals, guys…)

Twenty-three games in the NL West can be made up overnight it seems.  The division is a carousel of first-place teams (11-Diamondbacks, 10-Giants, 09-Dodgers, 08/07 Dodgers, 06-Diamondbacks/Rockies).

Any team can win, any year. Except, it seems, the Padres. We’ll admit it is hard to score runs in Petco. We won’t partronize, though. It should be hard for everyone to score runs in Petco. Yet, a significant part of the Padres games will be played in Colorado, Arizona, Houston, Cincinnati, Philadelphia…there are plenty of places and time to hit home runs, score runs, and support a decent pitching staff. The Padres just aren’t that bad, and they improved significantly in the ’11-’12 offseason.

The Adrian Gonzalez trade of ’11 netted them Casey Kelley and Anthony Rizzo (who in turn, netted them hard-throwing Andrew Cashner). Mat lLatos turned into a significant haul of Yonder Alonso (one of my favourites since his CWS days), Yasmani Grandal (possibly a stud catcher, and only 23 years old).

Aside from the yet-unproven prospects, the San Diego Padres lineup…really isn’t that bad. A decent catching tandem in Hundley and Baker, Hundley/Bartlett/Hudson (getting old, though)/Alonso across the infield. Their outfield, outside of Petco, is actually a quite good one. If Quentin can come back to normal, Cameron Maybin breaks out, Venable stays good, they can be even better with their backups of Kyle Blanks, Mark Kotsay and Chris Donorfia. [It’s funny that the first two images on Bing search for Mark Kotsay…are very much NOT Mark Kotsay. Well done, Mark.]

How about that rotation? Well, Cashner and Kelley cannot arrive quick enough – as an opening say starter of….Tim Stauffer is just not intimidating. Nothing against Stauffer, but “the ace” of a staff is more psychological than anything, and you want a true number one in there, and Stauffer is not it (prove me wrong, Tim). After Stauffer, you have Luebke, Edinson Volquez, and two of Cashner/Moseley/Richard.

I’ll save you the trouble, Bochey:

Volquez, Luebke, Stauffer, Richard, Cashner. Make it happen.

In short, don’t ever, ever, ever, discount the Padres.


The Long, Cold Winter: Baltimore Orioles

It was so, so hard to not write OriLOLs in the header. Must. Remain. Professional.

Nevermind. Word just broke that the Orioles have traded Jeremy Guthrie to the Colorado Rockies for Jason Hammel (who has shown flashes of brilliance with zero consistency) and Matt Lindstrom (who is…well, decent, I guess.)

What the hell is going on in Baltimore? Aside from the acquisitions of Wada and Chen, the Orioles have done nothing to improve themselves this offseason. And no, the Guthrie trade…does not help.

The Orioles were humiliated by the American League East last season (aside from game 162). They will be humiliated again in 2012. The Red Sox will kill them. I’d be surprised if they beat the Yankees at all in 2012. The Jays are better than last season. And there’s always the Rays, always beating the Orioles.

The AL East isn’t fair. The Tampa Bay Rays, however, have learned to play the system. The Jays under the reign of Anthopoulos are figuring it out. The Orioles are going backwards.

What looks like a solid rotation simply is not. Now their star and favourite is gone, placing the weight of 162 games on Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter and Asian imports Tsuyoshi Wada and Wei-Yin Chen.

Orioles GM Dan Duquette has pushed the Orioles even farther away from competing by not trading Adam Jones at the peak of his worth, and his lack of improvement beyond 2010 will not help.

Everyone else, you know the story. The falls of Markakis and Reimold after impressive big league starts. JJ Hardy and his towering shots…without anyone on base. Brian Roberts is almost certainly busted. Matt Wieters not quite matching up to sliced bread. Josh Bell? We’ll see. We’ve been waiting for a while.

The bottom line is the Orioles are the silhouette of an El Camino in a junkyard sunset. Beautiful from a far, but once you’re up next to it – it smells like urine, the gas tank has rusted out and there’s a mummified cat in the passenger seat.

Long, Cold Winter in Baltimore? More like long, cold decades.

Please, please make it stop.

The Long, Cold Winter: Seattle Mariners

Ya’know, this team isn’t that bad. At least, not as bad as their 2011 67-95 season would make them look. Although there has not been an extreme makeover from 2011 to 2012, the changes being made in Seattle will make more of a difference than some of the obnoxious trades and free agent signings of the larger-market teams this offseason.

The Mariners have had a rough go of it in recent years. Win 90 games, Oakland wins more. Then lose 101. Then win 88, twice, and lose all the other games in between. Being a Mariners fan must be a constant roller coaster ride – but even I, born and bred into east-coast megafandom, can see the shape of the Mariners taking place in the West, and I see something wonderful.

No, the Mariners (and Athletics, for that matter) will not compete in 2012. Or 2013. They’ll get better every year, but do not expect them to compete for real until at least 2014, or make the playoffs until ’15.

Zduriencik (which I spelled right, first try) is not building this team to win now, simply to just be better now, and get through the next few years until their top prospects can blossom as big leaguers.

Pineda was great, but the M’s needed a batter. Chances are, Seattle saw something in Pineda no one else saw. Some sort of flaw. Z took this as an opportunity – take a strength (well, sort of) and fix a weakness. Pineda and Campos are gone, which yes, is a big hit now and likely could be in the future, but Montero and Noesi are in. Compare Noesi’s and Pineda’s numbers in August. I assure you, you may be alarmed.

Montero is not el tercera llegada. He might not be a true catcher, but he’s going to mash for a while, get figured out, and mash again. Noesi is a very solid option in a rotation featuring Felix, Vargas, Iwakuma and…someone.

Figgins played the game, got paid, and hasn’t played since. It is now the first Italian-born MLB player’s time to shine. Expect Alex Liddi to light up the west soon enough. Liddi, Smoak and Ackley are a hell of a infield. Brendan Ryan, not so much. If Jack Z has any assets at the deadline, M’s should address this hole at SS.

Given proper health from Frankie Gutierrez and Ichiro rebounded from a mediocre 2011, the Carp/Wells/Saunders/Robinson platoon in LF; their outfield really isn’t that bad.

Yet, the two monster in the room remain. The Angels and Rangers will be strong for a while. But give them three years, and they’re the Phillies. I see all the stars, but they’re squandering. Aging. Backs breaking from too much money, too much stress from expectations and falling short in the playoffs and World Series.

Give it time, Seattle. The West will be your’s again.

The Long, Cold Winter: Minnesota Twins

If it were nto for the ongoing theme of the Long, Cold Winter post titles, this post would have been called “How to dick over a franchise.”

Hoooookay, so maybe that is a bit harsh. But how often do you see a baseball franchise take such a dive, so quickly, and spend the offseason….not improving? Even the Astros 2006-present fall from grace was a bit more gradual. However, in 2010 the Minnesota Twins had a record of 94-68 (.580). In 2011, they managed a 63-99 (.389).

Twenty-nine games. The Twins won 29 more games in 2010 than 2011, much of which can be attributed to the loss of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Tsuyoshi Nishioka and the less-than-well, good pitching on the team. Joe Nathan was still clawing his way up from a terrible arm injury – yet still highlighting not the worst – but certainly one of the more flaccid and boring bullpens…ever.

So, of course, GM Bill Smith was fired and the Minnesota brass brought in young-and-up & coming hotshot GM Terry – wait….what? Terry Ryan? The Red Foreman of baseball GMs?

In an articles I read researching this one, the Twins were described as “the most conservative franchise in baseball”. Well, I suppose so. But being conservative simply doesn’t work in today’s game.

Sure, sign the hometown hero quarterback Joe Mauer. Extend Justin Morneau. And then – fire the GM when they get hurt? Really? And bring in a more bull-headed, old-school GM in Terry Ryan?

Come on, Minnesota. Forget 2011 happened. If Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau can play in 2012, you should compete.

But then, there is the loss of Twins mainstays Michael Cuddyer, Jason Kubel and Joe Nathan. All of whom can be replaced, yet the Twins payroll, sagging under the Morneau and Mauer contracts, has only managed to support the additions of Josh Willingham, Jamey Carroll (puke), Ryan Doumit and Joel Zumaya.

While on paper, these additions look as though they could easily fill the void, err, compact parking space left by Kubel and Cuddyer – the health of Zumaya is always in question – along with the presence of Ryan Doumit’s clandestine bat. Jamey Carroll was a meaningless addition – hardly an upgrade over Alexi Casilla and certainly a downgrade from Nishioka in full health and form (yes, he is a good player – give him a chance!)

And while the Twins pitching staff isn’t necessarily bad, they’re not all that good, either. Or interesting to watch. Yes, occasionally we see glimpses of brilliance from Francisco Liriano and gritty, inspiration complete game 12-hit 2-run games from Carl Pavano, there just isn’t anything to get excited about in Minnesota this season.

Which is why, of course, this team may surprise us. Last season, they were the whipping boy of the American League. This season, with a healthy Morneau and Mauer splitting DH and 1B time, Doumit behind the plate and Willingham in RF, this might not be such a terrible team. They won’t however, be a great team. I see them in the 75-80 win range, but certainly not a repeat of 2011.


The Long, Cold Winter: Houston Astros

Sorry Astros, but you’re going first.

Well, not really sorry. Every professional sport needs a whipping boy – the NHL has the Columbus Blue Jackets, the NFL has the St. Louis Rams, and the NBA has, well, itself. Now, it’s time for the Houston Astros to assume the position, and bend over and take it like a champ.

Its going to be a long 2012 for Houston – even in the meager National League Central. And an even longer 2013 in what will soon be one of the better divisions in baseball, the American League West. And 2014, yeah, that will probably be pretty brutal as well.

Honestly, I have been putting off this post for nearly two months. I wanted to say something good about every team, but what can you say about a team who’s measure of success should be no more than 200 wins – in the next three years?

So, I looked at their depth chart. While at first glance it looks “deep”, you’ll notice these are just names of marginal big leaguers at best. If you had a fantasy draft today, would you draft any Astros? Not likely.

If you really strain your eyes, there are slight glitters of hope on the horizon. The Jordan Schafer reclamation project, let’s hope that goes well. Jose Altuve is fun to watch.

But their stars? Pence and Bourn are gone. Carlos Lee? Who can carry a horse around left field? Schafer cannot.

Paredes? An average player. Brett Wallace? Ha! The Blue Jays thank you for Anthony Gose.

Pitching? Wandy can keep you in a game, Meyers is…well, who knows at this point and Norris strikes everyone out the first time through the order. After that..? Right…Lyon, Wright, Sosa, Rodriguez. Looks for these guys to keep the ‘stros from not getting blow out too much.

What about prospects?

Jarred Cosart. Good. Jordan Lyles? He’ll be good.
But really, there aren’t much in the way of brights spots for Houston right now.

Kevin Goldstein said it better than I can, over @Baseball Prospectus:

System in 20 Words or Less: Trades and the draft improve things dramatically, but there’s still much work to be done.

“…there is much work to be done.”

Indeed. There is much work to be done, but it will get better for Houston. Eventually.

PS. Please rebrand. #bringbacktheorange

Image courtesy of http://www.sportslogos.net/index.php

The Texas Rangers and Anaheim Angels

So, as a I write this, I notice Matt Vasgersian and John Hart are talking about the exact same thing on MLB Network’s Hot Stove. While John Hart is cooing over the stats of the Angels and Rangers staffs on paper, I’m going to go ahead and translate it all into something that makes sense.

The Angels Changes

The Angels acquired Brad Mills for Jeff Mathis early this month. Sorry, but this means nothing. They did, however, send Tyler Chatwood to Colorado a little later for underappreciated, and possibly un-blossomed Chris Ianetta, and nearly any catcher on the planet provides a greater upside than Jeff Mathis, this doesn’t improve the Angels terribly – especially after that other cather they traded last offseason, who coincidentally fit into their division rivals plans for dominating the West for the next half-decade.

The Angels also signed Albert Pujols and Hipter CJ Wilson for years to come, funded by a heaping bucket of cash handed to Arte Moreno from FOX for another absurd TV contract – the new market efficiency.

About Pujols:

Look, this signing looks good right now. Emphasis on…right now. Pujols is signed for a decade. Seriously, a decade. Ten years of baseball is a considerable chunk of time. Chances are, Albert will be the only current Angel left in Anaheim. Wells, Hunter, Abreu; retired, at the very least. Trades here, free agency there. By then, it’ll be Albert’s team – and he’ll be the old man in the rocking chair, blanket over his lap and shotgun in hand, ruling the team with an arthritic iron fist.

CJ Wilson:

Yeah, CJ is good. He’s not great, but he’s…good. He’s left-handed and from Los Angeles and should fit well into a stacked rotation. In reality, this might actually be a better signing than the Pujols one. There wasn’t an extreme overpay (notice, I said extreme, this is more…say, nauseating). CJ should be good in Anaheim, and probably put up the same numbers he did in Texas. However, instead of facing Anaheim’s weak 2011 lineup 5-6 times, he’ll have to face the best one in baseball 5-6 times. Enjoy that.

The Rangers Changes

It’s probably a bit too early to start writing this, but since I am confident that the Angels are done dropping piles of money out of solid gold helicopters, I’m writing it anyway. So far, Texas has spent $51.7 million on one player this offseason without actually signing said player, and extensions and raises are due to Josh Hamilton, Mike Napoli and others.

That $51.7 MM player they haven’t signed yet is Yu Darvish.  Chances are, he’s a Ranger. He’ll likely slot into the number 1 or 2 spot in the rotation (not that he’s not a #1, this is just to pattern Left/Right in Texas). In doing so, he makes the Rangers a better pitching team. And by the way, they already have the best offense. Yu Darvish gives them an ace. CJ Wilson was not an ace. Yu wore #11 in Japan, the number denoted to your team’s best pitcher, so yeah, he’s done this before.

There’s been whispers that the Rangers are not done yet. And honestly, aside from upgrading the serviceable Mitch Moreland to the mashing machine of Prince Fielder, there really is no need for another move (with a signing of Prince being more a spoil of riches than a necessity).

The fact of the whole situation in the AL West is that the both teams got better, and both addressed their needs, whether those needs were pressing or not is up to them to figure out. Unfortunately for Anaheim, the Rangers did a better job of doing it.

Here’s looking at Yu, Kid.

This one hurts.

Last night, the Texas Rangers won the rights to negotiation with 25-year old Japanese-Iranian pitching phenom Yu Darvish. Up until literally the eleventh hour, Jays fans throughout Canada, the US (yes, they exist) and worldwide held on to hopes that the Blue Jays had finally pulled one out – raised from the cellar, out of the shadows of the Red Sox and Yankees, to land the big one. The ace in the hole. Someone to take some of the enormous pressure off of Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow to win every night.

This is no failing of Blue Jays management. In fact, congratulations is owed to Jon Daniels, Nolan Ryan and company over in Arlington for the solid gold balls they placed on the table along with a record $51.7 million posting fee – to negotiate. All the power to them. If they sign him, they’ll win their division, again. Angels just aren’t that great, and in terms of the Toronto Blue Jays – well, Shi Davidi’s magnificent work from earlier today offers hope:

The reality is the team is no worse off than it was last week, when Anthopoulos was looking to augment his young core.

…and he’s right. Take a breath, Blue Jays fans. This one hurts, I know. I fell for it. At 9:30 last night I was ready to load up the Jayshop website and order my first new #11 jersey shirt since my unfortunate RIOS order placed in 2005.  But we’ll get over it. There are whispers that the silent assassin has something devilish up his sleeves. Did anyone see the Santos trade coming? No. Rasmus, Johnson, the shipment of Wells and Rios off to other divisions? No.

We’ll be okay.

Now back to your regularly-scheduled, non-homerism analysis.