The St. Louis Cardinals had a nice season last year. They came in with expectations of finishing with a sub .500 record, yet the Cards battled for the division the entire year. They finished 86-76, only 4 games behind the Brewers for the Wild Card. They were able to be so competitive because of many unexpected heroes. Just look at their outfield. Ryan Ludwick came out of nowhere to put up fantastic numbers. Albert Pujols finally started to get some protection. Rick Ankiel also had a very good year with the bat. All together, they were a good offensive unit with a lot of thump in it.
Despite many injuries to their starting staff, the rotation was O.K. Adam Wainwright had a very good year and pitched like an ace. Unfortunately, he was limited to only 132 innings because of injury. If he can stay healthy, the Cardinals will have a legitimate #1 sitting atop their rotation. After him, there are some question marks. Kyle Lohse had a career year for the Cards after signing for only 4.25 million the year before. Lohse pitched fantastic and so he got a huge 4 year contract just days after the season ended. Todd Wellemeyer also compiled a nice ERA and had a very good season. After you get past that trio, things get a little shaky. Joel Pineiro had a very poor showing in 2008, Chris Carpenter might not be healthy to start off the season, and there is a total lack of depth. This rotation 1-3 is solid, but once you get past them, there are a lot of question marks.
The bullpen is not very good at all. They have only one sure thing: Ryan Franklin. He is a solid relief pitcher, but I would prefer him in a set-up role instead of the closer. If they decide to go that route the closer’s job would probably belong to Chris Perez. This guy was a very good prospect, and definitely their closer of the future, but will he be able to realize his potential in his first full season at the big league level? If not, then manager Tony LaRussa will have to get creative with his ‘pen.
So, this Cardinal team has some good pieces. The middle of the lineup and the top 3 in the rotation are very good. The big problem with the Cards will be once the starter leaves the game. Will they be able to hold onto leads? Will Chris Perez excel in the closer’s role? Will Chris Carpenter regain his 2005-2006 form? How will the 4th and 5th starters perform? If these questions are answered positively, the Cardinals will be in the thick of the Wild Card race once again. They might even contend with the Cubs for the division. It’s tough to count out a team that has Albert Pujols on it.
The Florida Marlins were big overachievers in 2008. They came into the season without, face-of-the-franchise slugger, Miguel Cabrera because they traded him along with pitcher Dontrelle Willis to the Detroit Tigers for a bevy of young prospects. No one had any expectations, and most thought that they would finish fourth in their division, best-case-scenario. The Fish shocked all of their doubters, though, when they went on to post a record of 84-77, missing the post-season by only 5.5 games.
They were able to last so long because a lot of their young players took big steps forward. Coming into the season you would have thought that the Marlins were terrible at the infield corners. But, first and third baseman Mike Jacobs and Jorge Cantu stepped up big time while batting in the heart of the Marlins lineup. Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla were All-Stars once again, as the infield kept the offense alive. The outfield was pretty thin; Cody Ross performed the best of them all. Starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco had a break-out season, and young guns Josh Johnson and Chris Volstad also helped the pitching staff out a lot when they returned from injury and got called up from the minor leagues. Scott Olson was decent in the 4th slot. The bullpen had a few nice pieces, including Matt Lindstorm, Kevin Gregg, and others. It was a good team, just not good enough to capture the division.
The Marlins didn’t do much to add to their team in the offseason, but they did open up some spots for young players in their trades. The Fish worked quickly, among the first offseason trades were Mike Jacobs, Josh Willingham, Scott Olson, and Kevin Gregg. Replacing the three departed players will be youngsters Cameron Maybin, Andrew Miller, Gaby Sanchez and Matt Lindstorm. There could definitely be some addition by subtraction here. Maybin could easily outperform Willingham, Miller should hopefully be just as good as Olson was, and Sanchez adds a nice bat. Even if he’s not as good as Jacobs, it’s still a good trade because they brought in some much-needed bullpen help in Leo Nunez. Emilio Bonifacio adds some depth to the club. If Gaby Sanchez needs to be bumped from the lineup, they could always move Cantu to first base, Uggla to third, and then play Bonifacio at second. It hurts to lose Gregg because he could have been a solid middle-inning guy, but it’s good to see that Lindstorm will have a chance to close. I liked their offseason.
They key to this club in ’09 will be how their young players perform, which is pretty much how it is every year. If Andrew Miller and Anibal Sanchez pitch well in the rotation, it will be very good 1-5. If Ryan Tucker pitches in the MLB coming out of the bullpen the way he pitched in the minor leagues, he’ll be a great set-up guy for Matt Lindstorm. Lindstorm, an improved Tucker, and the addition of Leo Nunez should give the Fish a nice bullpen, but they need Tucker to step up. If Gaby Sanchez brings at least close to the bat that Mike Jacobs brought, they’ll still have solid power in the lineup. But most of all, the Marlins’ season depends on how well Cameron Maybin plays. If Maybin can live up to his potential in his first season in the bigs, the Fish will have one of the best leadoff men in the MLB hitting right in front of Hanley Ramirez.
So as you can see, the Marlins’ season is once again up to the young players. If they all step up, you will see a very good team take the field on Opening Day. If the young players don’t step up, you will see a mediocre at best team. If should be fun to watch as the fantastic four in the NL East square off against each other.
The Cleveland Indians were expecting a lot more out of their 2008 season than what they got. What they did get was a .500 team with a lot of injuries. The Tribe lost the meat and potatoes of their lineup when Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez went down. They also had to live the final 3 months of the season without CC Sabathia, as he was traded to the Brewers for a bevy of prospects including stud left field prospect Matt LaPorta. This team was just flat out bad in the first half of the season, but they rallied back in the second half and got to up to .500. If the Indians can play the way they did to end 2008, or the way they did the entire 2007 season, they’ll be in the playoffs.
They knew that they could compete when they went into the offseason, and GM Mark Shapiro knew that he had to improve the bullpen and tweak the offense if the Tribe were to compete. So, he went out and did just that. The Indians signed Kerry Wood to a 2 year, $20 million contract to be their closer. Then they dealt fourth outfielder Franklin Gutierrez to the Mariners as part of a three way trade that netted them middle reliever Joe Smith from the Mets. Those two additions, plus a bounce back season from Rafael Betancourt could lead to a stellar bullpen in ’09.
Shapiro also addressed the lineup when he traded 3 young pitching prospects to the Cubs for third/second baseman Mark DeRosa. He’ll be just as good as Casey Blake was, and could be even better. If Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner bounce back the Indians could have a very powerful lineup on their hands. That’s a big “if,” but at least one bouncing back is necessary to the Indians hopes of contention
The rotation will miss CC Sabathia, but Cliff Lee is still going to be a monster. They key to the pitching staff is Fausto Carmona. He was injured to end the season, but pitched very poorly before he got hurt. If that injury is behind him, and he is able to bounce back to the dominant pitcher that he was in 2007, this starting rotation is going to be just fine. Jake Westbrook should be back around the All-Star break to help solidify the team’s pitching staff.
As you can see, there are a lot of questions about this Indian club. Will Hafner return to form? How about Martinez? Carmona? Betancourt? They are all question marks, but if at least half of those players bounce back the Indians will be in the thick of the AL Central race. If all of them bounce back, you’ll see a 96 win team again.
The New York Mets will attempt to hold onto a playoff spot should they have one in late September. The previous two years the Mets have lost a possible playoff spot on the final game of the season. The Phillies stole the division at the end of 2007, and the Brewers took the Wild Card at the end of last year.
The Mets tried to change that when they went out and fixed their bullpen, the biggest problem of 2008. After finding out that Billy Wagner would miss the entire ’09 season, the Mets went out and acquired Francisco Rodriguez and JJ Putz. After that, they kept the rotation strong by resigning Oliver Perez and adding starters Freddy Garcia and Tim Redding. The team has some quality pitching depth in both the rotation and bullpen, something that wasn’t there last season.
With Jon Niese lurking in the wings, the Mets are 7 deep in the rotation. It’s talented, too. Johan Santana is obviously one of the top 3 pitchers in the MLB if not the best. Pelfrey, Main, and Perez are solid middle-of-the-rotation types. And then there is all that depth in the 5th spot. The lineup is just as good as it was last year. There have been no changes at any position. They are looking really good.
It’s obvious that the Mets are much improved. Their bullpen has gone from a huge hole to a huge strength. Garcia and Redding add some nice depth to the rotation, and New York brought back Perez as well. The New York team in the Queens is in a great position to get to the playoffs. The only question is, will they be good enough to get past the World Champion Phillies? I have no idea. Everyone keeps talking about how great of a race the AL East is going to be, but the NL East is also up for grabs. The Mets and Phillies could get in, but the Marlins and Braves will also be competing. This should be an awesome race.
I have no idea who is going to win this division, but it will be a lot of fun to watch. It might not matter, because the second place team could easily take the Wild Card. I actually expect two playoff teams coming from the NL East. I just can’t wait until the season starts.
The 2008 season didn’t go exactly the way the Tigers wanted it to go. They came into the season with expectations of making it to the World Series, and then they fell flat on their face. Suprisingly, they finished dead last in the American League Central. The reason — terrible pitching. Ace Justin Verlander didn’t pitch anything like an ace during the season as he compiled an ERA of 4.84. The #2 Jeremy Bonderman got injured early and was out for the rest of the season. Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson were both terrible. Kenny Rogers was pretty bad, too. Ironically, Armando Galarraga was the team’s best pitcher. That’s right, Armando Galarraga! The bullpen was a complete mess as well. The offense was solid, but not as good as the year before thanks to a poor showing by Curtis Granderson, Gary Sheffield, and Edgar Renteria. 2008 obviously didn’t turn out the way the Tigers had hoped.
Detroit had limited resources because of all the payroll added the season before. With only about 15 million to spend, the club was not able to acquire any bullpen help. They made only 3 meaningful acquisitions. Gerald Laird was brought in through a trade with the Rangers. He’ll be the regular catcher. Adam Everett was signed to play shortstop, but honestly, I would rather just give the job to Roman Santiago. The biggest transaction was through a trade with the Rays. The Tigers sent outfielder Matt Joyce to the Rays for starting pitcher Edwin Jackson.
Jackson will bring a nice arm to the rotation, but I still don’t like their chances unless they get a bounce back year from at least 2 or 3 of their starting pitchers. If that happens, they’ll have a solid rotation and could score enough runs to sneak into the playoffs. It all depends on the pitching.
Winning the division sure is possible as this is basically the same team that many predicted would win it all coming into last season. My early prediction: they’ll be much better than last year because of a bounce back season from Verlander, but they’ll finish about 7 games out of first place.
The Washington Nationals had a very bad 2008 to say the least. They finished with the worst record in the MLB, and didn’t get consistency out of any one player all year long. The Nats decided that they needed to add some power to the lineup, so they went out and made Mark Teixeira a very large offer. Rumors say that it was more than 200 million! However, Tex decided he would rather be on a winning team, so he opted for the Yankees’ offer. It might have been a good thing, though, because the team signed Adam Dunn for 2 years, 20 million, a huge bargain. Dunn will bring nearly the same offensive production as Teixeira and comes at a much cheaper price. He will add a very big bat to the Washington lineup. The Nationals added a couple of nice role players when they traded Emilio Bonifacio and others to the Marlins for Scott Olson and Josh Willingham. They also cut Tim Redding and signed Daniel Cabrera to take his place.
Unfortunately, this team has about a 3% chance of competing. Unless a lot of young players step up big time, and unless the Phillies, Mets, Braves, and Marlins all have a lot of injuries, the Nats don’t have a chance. The goal for this year’s National team should be to win 70 games, a large improvement from the year before. Keep on building young talent, maybe sign a free agent or two in the offseason, and aim for competing in 2011, or 2012. Maybe 2010 if they show a big improvement this year.
Sorry Nats fans, but 2009 won’t be much better than the last.
The Seattle Mariners had a very disappointing 2008 after coming into the season with very high expectations. They spent a ton of money while depleting the farm system to acquire starting pitchers Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva. Bedard was hurt and ineffective while Silva was flat out awful. After other pitchers in the rotation such as Jarrod Washburn and Miguel Batista faltered, the team fell apart.
In this offseason, they didn’t do much to improve the team; however they did bring back future Hall-of-Famer Ken Griffey Junior. Raul Ibanez, Jose Vidro, and Richie Sexon have all departed. The Mariners executed a couple trades in the offseason. First, they traded closer JJ Putz to the Mets in a three way trade that brought them a host of young players. Then, they dealt Aaron Heilman, a player acquired in the Putz trade, to the Cubs for Garret Olson and Ronny Cedeno. This year’s version of the Mariners will not be much better than the last one, in fact, they’ll probably be worse. Losing Putz and Ibanez will hurt them, and Adrian Beltre could be traded during the season.
It will get worse before it gets better, so the M’s have got to continue to clean house and deal Beltre and Bedard. I don’t think that this team has the talent to retool by adding a couple of bats or arms next offseason. They’ll have to blow it up and start over the way the A’s and Rangers have done. With the aforementioned teams on the way up and with the Angels standing high, it is imperative for the Mariners to rebuild. Aim for competing in 2011 or 2012 and hope that new GM Jack Zduriencik can rebuild this team successfully.