Wednesday, April 05, 2006

THE AL 'BEAST; 2nd PLACE RED SOX!

COMPLETED ON FRIDAY!

PROJECTED FINISHES FOR THE AL EAST!

NY YANKEES: 95+ WINS: Assuming Mussina is a 16+ game winner, Unit is an 18+ game winner, and Kyle Farnsworth is a reliable... bodering upon dominant, set-up man. This is a team with 1,000 run, 100 win ability.

BOSTON RED SOX: 90 WINS: So long as Schilling remains on the mound, and the Closer situation settles itself; Foulke's balky knees may force either Timlin, or more likely talented young John Papelbon, into the role. In addition, Coco Crisp MUST do a credible job replacing the departed Damon. The te

TORONTO BLUE JAYS 75+ WINS: The additions of 1B Lyle Overbay, 3B Troy Glaus, and Closer B.J Ryan, when coupled with a potentially dominant rotation could... could, push the Jays past the Red Sox! Should the Blue Jays best the BoSox, can you imagine the Brouhaha that would boil over Boston? Glaus anchors the infield as well as the lineup, and Roy Halladay, if healthy, is a Cy Young candidate.

BALTIMORE ORIOLES: The O's off-season was a mixed bag. Building for the future, signing Pitching Coach Leo Mazzone was a no-brainer. A brilliant teacher and solid assessor of talent, Mazzone is capable of extracting every ounce of effort and talent from his stable of arms. In addition, Sam Perlozzo was a managerial G-d send.
As for talent, the Orioles dropped the ball. Thoroughly misjudging the market, Balty' lost out on every credible closer... and will be forced to put the ball, and game, into unproven Chris Ray's 9th inning glove. Meanwhile, Melvin Mora's '05 was nothing like his off the charts '04, and Miguel Tejada could see his average, and power numbers, take a Nestea plunge.

TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS: This could've been the year that manager Lou Piniella stroked while on the field. In an effort to boost the team's morale and standings, the team inked "Who Dat?" manager Joe Maddon. The club is certainly not without talent, and 2B Jorge Cantu, 3B Aubrey Huff, SS Julio Lugo, LF'er Carl Crawford and RF'er Jhonny Gomes constitute quite an offensive battery. The issue is pitching, and after the enormously gifted but unquestionably erratic Scott Kazmir, Mark Hendrickson, should he emerge, could catapult himself up from 5th in the rotation to 2nd. Casey Fossum, Seth McClung, and Doug Waechter are unimpressive at best, liabilities at worst. The team is entrusting Doug Micelli with Closing duties... but he does NOT look to be the answer, and my money's on Chad Orvella winninb the job by mid-season.

THE RED SOCK: "Feurrot Sochen in German, "Rojo Calcetin" in Spanish, "Reddo Shiire" in Japanese, and "Sore Losers" in plain ol' "Yank-ese!"

PROJECTED FINISH; 2ND PLACE IN THE AL EAST- "WILD CARD" WINNERS

The team went through much tumult over the off-season and as so many other Championship winning teams have, the Sox lost some talent. In much the same way an expensive automobile left on a deserted side street will have some of its' shinier parts ripped off, other clubs willing to shell-out big money contracts to players the Red Sock brass deemed expendable, or too costly to retain, were snatched-up. In addition, bright young GM Theo Epstein, architect of the current Sock team, went off on his merry way... only to find his way back to Beantown after receiving a nice compensation package. Theo possesses a sharp baseball mind and a keen eye for talent.
Although the 3-4 combo of David "Big Papi" Ortiz and Manny Ramirez remain intact, the loss of speedy Centerfielder and On Base machine Johnny Damon will be felt up and down the lineup.
It's my suspicion that unlike the Yankees (yesterday's post), a team quite capable of a 95+ Win, 1,000 run season, the BoSox won't be able to score with impunity ala' last season, and they MUST decide upon... and commit to, a full-time Closer. Although manager Terry Francona believes that Keith Foulke is "back," the veteran reliever is starting the season on 2 balky knees and, coming off a 15 Save season that saw him post an ERA of almost 6.00, he just doesn't inspire much confidence. Behind Foulke, talented young Johnathan Papelbon is drooling and waiting for Foulke to falter. No doubt, the 3rd year, 34 year old 'Sock Saver will be on a short leash. We shall see!

KEY ADDITIONS: Josh Beckett, Coco Crisp, Wily Mo Pena, Mark Loretta, Hee Seop Choi, Mike Lowell, Alex Gonzalez, J.T Snow, Andy Marte, john Flaherty, Rudy Seanez, David Riske

KEY LOSSES: Johnny Damon, Bronson Arroyo, Bill Mueller, Edgar Renteria, Mike Stanton, Wade Miller, Mike Myers, Hanley Ramirez

POSITION PLAYERS:
The loss of CF'er Johnny Damon cannot be underestimated. Damon, aside from knowing how to work a count and exasperate a pitcher, possesses 15+ HR power, is a brilliant base-runner, and can cover more ground than a John Deere Riding Mower. Likewise, Bill Mueller's departure will be felt in the power and RBI departments. Epstein and company did a nice job acquiring both 2B Mark Loretta, who will much prefer Fenway to Petco, and Coco Crisp. Crisp, now that he has a chance to be an everyday player, should blossom.

C: JASON VARITEK: Varitek is certainly getting up there in years, and at 35 he's a contemporary of some of the most prolific... and oldest, backstops in the bigs'; Ivan Rodriguez, Javy Lopez, Jorge Posada, and Mike Piazza. Nevertheless, the Sock Catcher is no slouch with the lumber himself, and his .281/20/70/70, 30 Double, .489 SLG % '05 season set some marks. His .856 OPS and 22 Homers led all Catchers, and 70 Ribs' and 70 Runs were good enough for 3rd at the position. For fantasy purposes, that's outstanding production for a Catcher. Even taking their considerable positional losses into account, the much-storied club remains an imposing offensive team and Varitek is a key cog in the BoSock dynam-O.
While it's probably time to take 'Teks' age into account, I would still look for something akin to .280/18/65... and if Wily Mo and Coco and go-go, Varitek's RBI total could even creep up a bit.


1B: J.T SNOW/ KEVIN YOUKILIS: How long does a prospect remain a prospect? What's the expiration date on "potential?" And... when does a promising youngster become a "could've been?" With luck Youkilis, who was a "Hot Cornerman" by trade... until the team traded for savvy Mike Lowell, will slide into the opposite corner and attempt to pay dividends on 6 long seasons of minor league dues. The problem lies in Youkilis's power, or lack thereof. Boasting an OBP of .400 last year, he also rang-up a total of 30 Round-Trippers'. Over the span of his 6 year Minor League career, that is. Knowlegeable fantasy folk know that... hell, ANY Baseball fan worth his salt knows that a team needs 30 HR power from it's corner infielders. Generally speaking, 1st Baggers are defensive liabilities capable of wielding a bat as if it were a toothpick. Clearly, given Youkilis's, umm, shallow gap power, his game is built upon contact.
Although he's considered a top "Sleeper" in many fantasy circles, I see Youkilis as nothing more than a .255/10/45 player assuming he sees 145 or so games.
One of the older players in the game at 38 (he, Todd Jones, Greg Maddux, and Julio Franco often play Bridge), Snow's bat has cooled considerably over the past 3 seasons or so. To be fair, though, he somehow managed to sandwich a .327/.529/.429 12/60, 113 hit, 32 Double 2004 campaign in between a .274/.418/.387 8/50, 70 hit '03, and a .275/.365/.343, 4/40, 101 hit 2005. All of those diggies' aside, Snow should be considered nothing more than a late-inning defensive replacement and bench depth for the Red Sox, and a near-zero fantasy 1st baseman; .255/8/45.


2B: MARK LORETTA: M-Lo'... okay, so the 2nd bagger's butt isn't a thing of beauty as J-Lo's is, but then again J-Lo' ain't gonna' turn a DP' with the grace and beauty that M-Lo' can!
Seriously, though. Loretta was never happy playing in Petco Park; a field with dimensions that may be closer to those of a State Park then ballpark. Fenway, coupled with teammates David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez, should help propel the Red Sock middle infielder's numbers upwards, although hopes that he'll approach the numbers of his career 2004 campaign should be extinguished right now.
An excellent offensive 2nd baseman who may be a tier below guys like Kent, Soriano, and Chase Utley, batting 2nd in the BoSock order should allow M-Lo to reach .305/15/85.

SS: ALEX GONZALEZ: Although the departed Edgar Renteria was unable to recapture the magic he displayed as a Cardinal Shortstop, he was still a better play than Alex Gonzalez. Gonzalez, who came over from Florida, offers a better glove hut he's hit better than .265 only once, in '01. It could be that if he flounders at the plate, bench player Alex Cora will see 2 or so games a week at Short'.
The loss of Renteria is one of Boston's costlier departures, and Gonzalez looks to be nothing more than a .250/15/65 player.


3B: MIKE LOWELL: The longtime Marlin is hoping that Beantown's mighty lineup will allow him the opportunity to re-discover his .290/25+/90+ po'. Coming off a perfectly hideous 2005, Lowell can't help but to improve.
However, the corner infielder's bat has reportedly slowed down considerably, and even though he's just "32"... on the wrong side of 30, anything can happen. While it's too soon to judge, his current average of .182 is somewhat less than encouraging.
If Lo' can scratch-out a .245/10/65 season, that will be a victory in and of itself.


LF: MANNY RAMIREZ: ManRam; professional malcontent... but a heckuva' good lockerroom card player! Not the headiest of ball players, Ramirez has mistaken the number of outs in an inning on more than once occassion; this would leave fans to believe that he just doesn't care. Umm, they might be right. A "me" and "stat'" driven athlete, Ramirez is a top-tier talent. A 35 year old talent, and it wouldn't be a shocker to see his average take a bit of a plunge as it did last season, falling to .292. While that's nothing to sneeze at, particularly when you take 45 HRs, 144 RBIs, and 30 Doubles into consideration... but it was the first time his average dipped below .300 since he suited up for Cleveland in '98 (.294). And, over the course of ManRam's 14 year career, he's had just 4 seasons of sub-.300 ball. Look for '05 to be a 5th.
The loss of Damon and Mueller sting, and Manny and Big Papi' will bear the brunt of the pain. Look for a modest correction in Ramirez's production, something resembling .289/38/130. Manny should still be a top-15 OF'er.


CF: COCO CRISP: A mere $365,000 (and I'm rounding up) earned Cleveland a .300/.465/.345 16/69/86, 15 SB, 42 Double, 4 Triple season from from Coco last year. At that price was Coco burnt? You bet, to a "crisp!" Now, roaming Centerfield with former Cin' City' bench player Wily Mo, Crisp has some big shoes to fill; Johnny "Da'Mans." Just 26, Crisp is growing into his body and developing "his game." And allow me to inform you, just entering the prime of his career... Crisp's "game" resembles that of a young Andruw Jones. He may not possess the power 'Druw does, but Crisp should be capable of 25 Dingers' by the time he's 28, and with his blazing speed he covers a lot of ground. Just like Jones.
As long as the BoSock CF'ers Slugging and OBP percentages keep climbing, his fantasy (and real) value will climb correlationally. With all the meat and muscle batting behind the Sox's newest leadoff hitter, a .310/18-20/60/90 season is NOT out of reach.


RF: TROT NIXON / WILY MO PENA: The Nixon administration began in '96... the "Trot Nixon" administration, that is. And although Trot was expected to surrender at least 1/3 of his starts to foerm Red OF'er Wily Mo Pena, with a hit in each of Boston's 1st 3 games, including a 2 run Round-Tripper' in Game 1, the incumbent Sock is no crook and won't waste a roster space.
Assuming the Sox trot Nixon out for 125+ contests, look for a .275/15/65 season.


DH: DAVID ORTIZ: David Ortiz, "Big Papi'," DH-D-Luxe. Ortiz is one of the leagues' most lethal batsmen, and at 6-4/240, the bat looks like a toothpick in his mighty mitts! His .300/.604/.397 47/148/119, 40 Double, 180 hit '05 earned him serious MVP consideration. Although he was edged-out by Yankee 3B A-Rod's equally impressive (.321/.610/.421 48/130/124, 194 hit, 21 SB) season, probably due to the uproar a non-position player would've provoked by winning the award, Papi' was probably the more feared batter of the 2. While the Yankee roster was bolstered over the off-season, the Sox's lineup took some costly hits; Johnny Damon, Bill Mueller and Edgar Renteria to name but a trio.
Nevertheless, last season's "Hank Aaron Award" and AL RBI leader still cleans-up for a very impressive cast of Beantown boppers, and at age 30 the DH isn't forced to absorb the beating a regular position player is subjected to. Therefore, another "Ruthian" campaign of .325/45/135 could even be on the conservative side.


STARTING ROTATION:
A potentially dominant group, the team could feature a troika of #1 quality arms in Schill', Beckett and Clement. After facing Wakefield's Knuckler and "junk," facing a mid-high 90's Beckett the following day is tantamount to getting splashed with ice water.

CURT SCHILLING Talk about a true "Red Sock," Schilling and his fabled "bloody sock" will forever live in World Series history and be an inseperable component of Beantown lore. When he's on, there are few better. Schilling may be disliked by many in the league (including an appreciable percentage of teammates) and looked upon as an arrogant know-it-all, but there's no disputing his ability... or age, 39. Even the arch-rival Yankees will grudingly admit that the dude's a horse, his mid-90's Fastball is electric, it still explodes through the zone, and few pitchers possess better control.
Bottom line? Schilling is a dogged competitor, he won't allow minor injuries tro knock him from the rotation, and another 16 Win season... so long as he stays relatively healthy, should be on the way.


TIM WAKEFIELD: After facing a hard-throwing Schill', opponents must contend with Wakefield's butterfly Knucklers. There are 2 types of games Wake' has; those in which he's hammered and yanked by the 4th inning, and those in which he positively confounds and exasperates opponents. Last year, the 39 year old Junkballer went 16-12 (including 3 complete games), with 150+ Ks, an ERA of 4.15 and a WHIP of 1.23. The downside to wakefield is that a scant few Catchers can handle him, as even Tim doesn't know, exactly, where his pitchers will flutter to.
Although the guy didn't miss a start last season, it would be alot to expect the same spate of good health this year. If Wakefield can bank 15 Ws, GM Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona will be thrilled.


JOSH BECKETT: The former Marlin was signed because the team felt, quite understandably, that their stable of pitchers was aging rapidly. Although the 25 year old Beckett's been besiged by blister problems, his talent is undeniable.
Supported by an impressive offensive armada and with his fabuluous stuff, Josh is capable of reaching 20 wins this year and a 3.20 ERA.


MATT CLEMENT: Clement never reached his true potential as a Chicago Cub. Perhaps the coaching staff never took the time to hone his mechanics... perhaps the iffy run support cost him, or perhaps it was a combination of those things... and others, but one thing's for cdertain; Clement is an immensely gifted hurler.
Clement came over to Boston mid-season of last year and the results were immediate; 1-2 in 17 starts and an All-Star berth!
Matt Clement boasts an arsenal that renders him far better than a #4, but Francona likes Wakefield as his #2 man, primarily because his jinky stuff sets-up both Beckett and Clement. If he can harness his pitches and throw them with consistency, a 17 Win season is not out of the question.


BULLPEN:

KEITH FOULKE: Aging and not gracefully, Foulke is puttering about on 2 balky knees and probably won't make it past June as the Sock Closer. Most likely, he'll either be forced to go back under the knife, be relegated to mop-up duty, or go on the DL.

MIKE TIMLIN Timlin should see ample mop-up duty... but my hard-earned dough's on Papelbon to supplant Keith cause his knees are "Foulked!"

DAVID RISKE: Middle-relief and possibly a stop-gap Closer, the BP is a shaky situation for Beantown.

JONATHAN PAPELBON: Pap' already notched his 1st Save of the season and I expect it'll be far from his last. A sneaky-good "Sleeper" at Closer, Papelbon absolutely blew AWAY the Rangers on Wednesday, 4/5.

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