Thursday, September 23, 2010

Five Disappointing Teams - Looking Ahead to 2011

The White Sox, the Tigers, the Angels, the Dodgers and the Cardinals have all been disappointing this season after high hopes starting the season. The Mets could be added to this list, but that team has probably been dumped on enough in this space and will be spared another round. But that is misleading. This post isn't to dump on these teams. Things happen and stuff goes wrong and there is no shame in that. There are thirty teams and obviously, they can't all get to the post season. But these five teams thought they had a good shot and hence the disappointment. Let's take a look at each of the five and talk about what happens in the off season.

The Angels: The Angels might be the easiest discussion we'll have in this post. They have long term stability in Scioscia. With Haren, Weaver and Santana, they already have the makings of a good rotation. The team seemed to get old this year, especially on offense. Hideki Matsui came on in the second half. Actually, Matsui is considered by most to be a bust in California, but his OPS+ is a very good 124. His season really is just as good as most of his years in New York.. But, it seems unlikely that the Angels bring him back except as a role player. Bobby Abreu has had a great career and a good run with the Angels, but they might want to cut that tie. Abreu is not a good outfielder and though he still gets a lot of walks and the occasional big hit, his skills on offense have eroded as well. Abreu would be a good fit for the Bay Rays for a fairly cheap DH. Napoli could probably do a decent job as a DH. He's not a first baseman or a catcher. But he's hit fairly well (not for average, but has a decent OPS+). Torii Hunter is still a solid guy in the line up and moving him to right (or left) is a good call and he should have another good year in him.

Peter Bourios is a terrific centerfielder, but still hasn't shown he can hit. He has shown flashes at the plate, but for the Angels to compete next year, he'll have to hit. The Angels do have to make some moves in the infield. As a unit, the second basemen have a .698 OPS, the shortstops a .625 OPS and the third basemen an abominable .595 OPS. It seems they could take any minor league players at all three positions and do no worse than what they have here this year.

The Angels also need to fix their bullpen. Rodney is not the answer as the closer. Scott Shields is having the most invaluable bullpen season in the majors this season and it doesn't get much better from there. Kevin Jepsen is the only candidate to keep out of the whole bunch. Fortunately, (at least in theory) bullpens are easy to fix. It would be not unexpected for the Angels to go after Papelbon when the Red Sox let him walk at the end of the season.

The Angels will be busy in the off season. Look for them to make a bunch of strides to get infield help and perhaps pick up Carl Crawford to take Abreu's position in the outfield.

The Cardinals: The first question for the Cardinals is who is going to manage next season. The odds are only 50/50 that LaRussa will return. If he does, and so does Duncan, the team will maintain some stability. If LaRussa leaves (and takes Duncan with him), then the Cardinals have to be very smart about who will follow him. The Cardinals still need a shortstop. The Cardinals still need to figure out if things will work out with Colby Rasmus after things got ugly and Pujols made some pointed comments.

Wainwright, Carpenter and Garcia will continue to be a great 1-2-3 punch in the rotation next year as all are signed up with Wainwright and Carpenter signed through 2011. They will have to decide on the fourth and fifth starters. But that seems to be doable with what will be out there and with what they already control. So the rotation will be fine.

The bullpen was surprisingly good this year and this Fan sees no reason to mess with it. Most of those guys though are contact pitchers and a power arm would be nice so they can blow people away when the need to. Franklin has had his ups and downs but this Fan likes how he throws strikes. He's only walked eight batters all year.

With the exception of Pujols, the infield is almost as much of a mess as the Angels. Freese needs to come back strong after missing the second half with injury. But if he does, that will anchor third base. The Skip Schumaker experiment doesn't work if the guy doesn't hit. His 85 OPS+ won't get it done, especially since he isn't the best fielding second baseman. Brendan Ryan will probably get the spring to see if he can learn how to hit. The Cardinals have enough outfielders so a key deal for infield help could be enough to put them back in the playoffs next year.

The Dodgers: James Loney said today in one report that the Dodgers don't always run hard and play hard. That's quite a statement. The Fan doesn't know what to make of Loney. He doesn't thrill you with the normal first base ferocity at the plate. But the guy leads the league in line drive percentage and always drives in his share of runs. He's also a good fielder. He's kind of like Mark Grace, isn't he? The rest of the Dodgers infield is puzzling. Furcal is great at short, but he's getting older and he needs to stay healthy. If he can do that, he's a great player. Theriot for DeWitt is a wash as far as the Fan is concerned. DeWitt might be better offensively but Theriot is probably better defensively. But neither was much to write home about. Casey Blake is going to be 37 next year. He's batting .248 this year. Seems like they need an upgrade at third.

What do you do about Kemp? Do you see how he does next year now that Torre is gone? Do you consider this year a blip? His situation reminds a lot of Granderson, who started peaking and then just tanked. Will that be Kemp's fate too? He is a tough call. You might want to give him a fresh start somewhere. Or you might want to bring him back. Andre Ethier regressed after his injury, but that only makes the Fan think that he just wasn't right physically. He should be fine next season. The only scary part was that this injury is a lot like what Nomar Garciaparra went through with the Red Sox. He was never the same player.

The Dodgers need pitching help. The NL West is all about pitching and the Dodgers are too weak to compete in that area. Kershaw can be a stud, but then who? Kuroda had a fine year, but he's going to be 36. Billingley could use a change of scenery in this Fan's opinion. But then who? Lilly will be expensive to sign and there is no clues yet as to what the Dodgers are going to be able to do financially until the McCourt thing is settled. The bullpen should be fine. Broxton still has great peripherals. He struggled during a stretch and it seemed the team was too quick to turn on him. In the big picture, the bullpen isn't what ails the Dodgers, it's the rotation.

The Fan doesn't think that Russell Martin is done yet in Los Angeles. It's easy to say that he's had two down years, but he's good with the pitchers and he is the heart of the team. Nobody really knows how much his health has to do with his hitting as he is one of those guys that would never talk about it. We'll see.

The real wild card here is Don Mattingly. It seems that he is just a younger version of Torre. This Fan feels that Torre lost the team in the second half, but that's just one perception. If Mattingly is known as Torre's guy, will that make a difference in the clubhouse?

The Tigers: The Tigers still seem to be Jim Leyland's team. The Fan likes the vibe they have given off all year despite some deep troughs they went through. They have played really well in September and that speaks to a team that keeps playing hard and didn't pack it in after their losing streak took them out of contention. But there are some question marks to this team. Let's take a quick look.

Johnny Damon really didn't have a great season and it wouldn't hurt the Tigers no to bring him back. He's not the typical DH anyway. Dunn would be a great pick up or somebody like that. The team also creates a lot of question marks with their young players. Austin Jackson has had a very good rookie campaign. But is his season a fluke with a BABIP near .400?  His defense surprised a lot of people and he's been a lot better than advertised. Boesch had a strange season. He started out gangbusters, then went into a black hole but is finishing strong. So what is he? His numbers in the minors weren't amazing. Ryan Raburn looks good so far and there seems a lot of upside to him. But these guys are all question marks for next season. The Tigers don't appear to have much choice but to hope they will all continue to improve. It is a given that Magglio Ordonez will not be back unless he takes a HUGE paycut.

Please don't tell the Fan that the Tigers will bring Peralta back next year. The mere thought gives the Fan a headache. But that's just the beginning of the trouble for the Tigers' infield. No problems at first base with Cabrera, but who plays second? Short? Inge has heart, but little else anymore. Thus, the Tigers really need to get stronger at all three of those skill positions. Perhaps Will "Busta" Rhymes will work out.

The Tigers have three fifths of their rotation set for next year. Verlander is a stud. Scherzer and Porcello both hit speed bumps early and came back strong in the second half. So they should be fine. Bonderman made a valiant effort to resurrect his career, but he isn't good enough. Galarraga is okay as a fifth starter perhaps. But the Tigers could use one more starter they can count on.

The bullpen wasn't great this year, especially after Zumaya went down. You can't count on him coming back from that nasty injury. Phil Coke was very good but got over used and wore down at the end. Valverde is a decent closer, but he doesn't scare anybody. Schlereth is an interesting find for the bullpen. He could be very good in that role.

The Tigers are one of those character teams that just don't seem to have enough horsepower to keep up with the Twins. Their off season will be an interesting one. This Fan hopes that Leyland is safe.

The White Sox: Wow! Did the White Sox implode or what? The Fan was wrong about them but ultimately right. They constructed a team that couldn't hit enough, especially against tough pitching. They tried to go the speed route and it flopped. Their pitching is very good and should remain so and that fact alone means you can't ever count them out if they can retool the offense.

The big interest is in what happens with Williams/Guillen. All reports indicate the relationship is fractured. The question is if one of them goes or if both of them go. It just doesn't appear possible that both will survive, especially after the ugly finish and with Williams throwing money away on Manny. And so, until all those issues are settled, all bets are off when it comes to the team's future.

The White Sox have a good rotation and that is their strength. This Fan can't imagine that they will be throwing to Pierzynski next season. He's had another poor season at the plate and appears done as a good starting catcher. The bullpen was great too except they seemed to run out of steam at the end.

Paul Konerko had an amazing year. His 160 OPS+ is astounding. That leads to a problem for the White Sox. Do they pick him up again for next year or let him go? He's going to want good money. But he'll be 35 next year. What would you do? What will the White Sox do?

Juan Pierre was a huge mistake. And it is a mistake that will keep on giving as he has another year on his contract. His defense is fine, but his OPS+ is 76. And he's batted lead off all year. Ouch. His acquisition seemed like something the Royals would do and not the White Sox. But he'll make a lot of money next year. If the rest of the line up hits, you can keep him for his speed or his defense, but for heaven's sake, bat him ninth or something.

Here's an idea. The White Sox need a DH. How about Carlos Quentin? Of all starting outfielders, he comes in as the worst defender in baseball. That solves the DH problem, but now they need an outfielder...or two...or three. Actually, Alex Rios had a surprising comeback year and played solidly all year. He's all set for next year.

The White Sox also need a third baseman in the worst way. You're not going to throw Omar Vizquel out there full time at 44 are you? Teahan should be released. Nix should be nixed. Yeah, they need a third baseman. And the jury is still out on Beckham. He started to hit, then he didn't. His time is running out. But he is only going to be 24 next years, so there is still hope he can become the player everyone saw he could be.

Add all that up and the White Sox need help in the outfield, third base, catcher and they need to figure out this leadership thing. Again, another interesting off season awaits.

Expect the Angels to bounce back, but the other teams we've surveyed here all have huge question marks. Scioscia and Leyland are terrific and Guillen will be terrific for somebody. All have talent and strengths. It's just a matter of how well the front office does to mend some of the glaring weaknesses that have done these teams in this year.

1 comment:

Josh Borenstein said...

The Dodgers and Sox have a lot question marks they need to address.

I recently caught two games at the Cell. I've always known Brandon Inge was a great fielder, but you really can't appreciate how great he is until you see him in person. It's a crying shame that he has never won a Gold Glove at third.