Daily Archives: February 10, 2011

February 10, 2011

Yahoo! Sports Summarizes the NL Central

So I summarize them.

Yahoo! Sports has an ongoing feature showcasing what each baseball team has done in the off-season and how they look for the upcoming season, plus a silly haiku at the end of each article. They wrapped up their last National League Central division team yesterday, so I thought now would be a good time to run through their opinions and analysis.

Chicago Cubs
The Cubs review summarizes the off-season activities, and there weren’t many. Basically, the team signed Carlos Peña to a one-year deal, hoping he’ll bounce back and post better than a .198 batting average.

Yahoo! summarizes the 2010 Cubs season beautifully.

Take a below average pitching staff, supported by a below average offense, backed by a well below average defense, prop it up with the game’s fourth-highest payroll, and what the House of Ricketts received in return was another lost baseball season on the North Side.

Unfortunately, with the huge, inflexible contracts the team gave years ago to the likes of Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano, and Kosuke Fukdome, 2011 isn’t likely to be any better or different. Several contracts do come off the books after this season, so the team is basically asking its players to “live up to their contracts, to return to their means, and to come to their senses.”

Cincinnati Reds
The Reds review focuses largely on the amount of guaranteed cash the team threw at its young players this off-season.

Despite the spending frenzy, the Reds reduced their payroll. They spent 13.4 percent more in 2010 than 2009, but this season it will roll back to about $73 million, a nifty sleight of hand accomplished through deferred salary and bonuses spread over several years like frosting on a cake.

That payroll will grow over the next few years, and it’s imperative that the team continue to win and increase attendance to keep the winning rolling. Considering the Reds’ recent losing history and the fact that the team is banking on nothing but home-grown players, is this probable?

Optimism is grounded in a fertile farm system that for the first time in many years is producing major leaguers at nearly every position. Votto is homegrown. So are dynamic outfielders Bruce and Drew Stubbs. Bubbling just below the big leagues are legitimate prospects at third base (Juan Francisco and Todd Frazier, shortstop (Zack Cozart), first base (Yonder Alonso) and catcher (Devin Mesoraco and Yasmani Grandal).

Things definitely look good down on the farm. And, if the Reds feel they have a hole to fill mid-season and fans are packing Great American Ballpark, all those good young players should make some great trade-bait.

Houston Astros
The Astros review starts with the news that owner Drayton McLane has put the team up for sale. I wasn’t aware of that happening, but until the sale happens, I doubt the future holds good things for the club. As the Cubs and the Reds have both seen, ownership change can be a rocky affair.

As it stands, the Astros have neither the offense nor pitching to stay with the NL Central’s three lead dogs – Cincinnati Reds, St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers – but are capable of making the Chicago Cubs feel bad about themselves again.

Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers review reads like a worship-fest of Brewers general manager Doug Melvin.

Part of what makes Doug Melvin such a gem of a general manager, aside from the resplendent mustache left over from the prop room of a Tom Selleck movie, is his strict adherence to nobody’s philosophy but his own. The impunity with which Melvin gutted his farm system this offseason was spectacular. Teams hoard prospects like kids used to Pokemon cards, and to that practice, Melvin slowly raised a finger. Which finger is rather easy to guess.

Melvin traded away his best prospects for Zach Greinke and Shawn Marcum for the last year that the team will have Prince Fielder. It makes them an early favorite to win the division, but will it be enough to turn a team that lost eight more than it won last year all the way into a contender?

Yes, the Brewers’ offseason was most excellent. Now that they’ve done well in the paper championship chase comes their quest for an actual one, and much of that will depend on their first two months.

If the Brewers start poorly, the team will have to decide whether to trade Fielder, and that would be a huge off-the-field distraction. To keep that from happening, the Brewers need their best starters to “start the year in midseason form.”

Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates review looks at their off-season moves in a mocking way. After 18 years of losing, who has the team turned to to turn things around?

Kevin Correia, Matt Diaz and Lyle Overbay, of course! Since the end of the 2010 season, the Pirates have committed nearly $12 million – around 40 percent of their projected payroll – to a starter who mustered a 5.40 ERA in baseball’s best pitchers’ park last year, a part-time outfielder with a heavy platoon split and a meek-hitting first baseman. Tack on a catcher with a $3.2 million salary and slugging percentage below .300 with the Pirates last year (Chris Snyder), and the Pirates are repeating the mistakes of yore.

I think the Pirates are spending some of that money because Major League Baseball told them they had to, but it does seem odd. Of course, many of the Pirates’ prospects aren’t ready for the big show yet, and they have to send someone out there. I believe all of the free agents signed one-year deals, so it’s not a long-term bad decision.

There is a minor amount of hope.

There are pieces. Not enough to win this year, and probably not enough to win next year, but if the Pirates can ever muster a couple starting pitchers out of their farm system to complement what’s coming on offense, there’s a chance that the streak may end at 20.

Wow. In just two more years, if things fall perfectly, the Pirates may win 82 games. Ouch. It’s gotta be tough to be a Pirates fan.

St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals review, like all Cardinals news this off-season, is all about Pujols. Pujols! PUJOLS!

The uncertainty surrounding negotiations for an extension that could give the slugging first baseman the most lucrative contract in baseball history casts a cloud over every other roster decision, every dime the team spends or won’t spend.

There were many moves the Cardinals could have made to improve the offense and defense, but were prevented from doing so because Albert Pujols’ contract extension was up-in-the air. Instead, the team rearranged some Titanic deck chairs, and replaced Brendan Ryan with Ryan Theriot.

Several things have to go the team’s way to win the division. The bullpen will have to outperform expectations and Colby Rasmus will have to not piss off Tony LaRussa and Pujols. Also, third baseman David Freese will have to be healthy and productive, while Kyle Lohse and Skip Schumaker need to have productive years, unlike they did last year.

That’s a lot of what-ifs, but they all pale in comparison to the one the St. Louis faithful are fixated on: What if Pujols doesn’t sign an extension, becomes a free agent after the 2011 season and leaves? Worse yet, what if he signs with the reviled Chicago Cubs?

Until the answer is clear, the Cardinals’ future is cloudy because general manager John Mozeliak can’t spend money earmarked for Pujols. And that might mean sacrificing another season.

As a Reds fan, I’d definitely love another off-year from the Cardinals. They’re due.