Astros avoid arbitration with Ensberg, who signs for the midpoint at $3.8 million. Huzzah. by the way, he made 500K last year! Should we consider a long-term deal? Not necessarily. The big fella's already 30, and he'll be an Astro for at least three more years. Whether we sign him to a deal that takes him through those years or not doesn't really matter. If Morgan dominates each year, he'll get more money from the organization, which is what I fully expect him to do.
After the boring Super Bowl, I can't stop thinking about baseball. Only four weeks 'til pitchers and catchers! In my spare time at work, I thought I'd talk about a few teams I think might surprise next year. We start in Toronto:
Rotation: Halladay, Burnett, Chacin, Lilly, Towers
Lineup: Johnson/Catalanotto, Aaron Hill, Wells, Overbay, Glaus, Hillenbrand/Hinske, Molina, Rios, Russ Adams
Bullpen: Ryan, Chulk, Downs, Frasor, Schoeneweis, Speier, Walker
I love it when owners 1) have a plan about their team and 2) are honest with their fans about it. I loved it when the Indians said it was time to rebuild and dumped Thome, Colon, Alomar, and all their stars that led the team in the late '90s. They made smart trades, got a bazillion prospects and, after only three or four years, are back among the AL elites.
The Blue Jays are similar, but opposite. Management finally said the time is right to increase payroll and construct an exciting, competitive team. They couldn't have asked for better timing. The Red Sox and Yankees are on the verge of self-destruction, and the door is open for a run at the AL East.
The Jays' offseason moves were a little, shall we say, over-the-top. Forking over $100 million dollars for two pitchers is a bit Steinbrenner-esque. Nonetheless, management lived up to its promise to sign playmakers, and A.J. and B.J. certainly fit that bill. Now, after waiting for Bengie Molina's price tag to drop a few million dollars, they collected three of the top free agents available.
On the trade market, the Jays were also big players… almost too big. They snagged Overbay from the Brewers and traded the still-young Orlando Hudson to Arizona for a rejuvenated Troy Glaus. For 2006, they're probably better off. But the trades left them with about twenty-two corner infielders. They traded Koskie to the Brew Crew, but they still have Glaus, Overbay, Hillenbrand and Hinske.
Meanwhile, their middle infield is less than proven. Russ Adams was decent in '05 at shortstop, and would give the team a boost if he repeast last year's .700 OPS. Will LSU grad Aaron Hill assume full-time second-base duties with Hudson's departure? He has upside after a .727-OPS rookie campaign, but is he ready? Wells can be an all-star, but he's been on the decline since 2003. If Alex Rios can live up to his potential and Catalanotta and Reed Johnson don't drop off, the Blue Jays can definitely do some damage.
Last year the Jays' lineup was unbelievably consistent: Every hitter posted an OPS between .700 and .800. With Glaus, Overbay and Molina, the middle of the lineup will be able to score a few more runs.
The rotation is definitely top five in baseball. Burnett may not win 20 games, but he most likely won't implode. Chacin and Towers were great last year, but can they do it again? Lilly posted the worst numbers (5.56, 1.53) since he became a regular starter in 2001, but he might bounce back to league-average. Schoeneweis can make a spot start or two.
If the rotation and the lineup are as stable as last year's and the new additions live up to their billing, the Jays are money. In either case, management has set the team up for an exciting run in '06.
Rotation: Prior, Zambrano, Maddux, Rusch, Williams, (Wood?, Wade Miller?)
Lineup: Pierre, Walker, Lee, Ramirez, Jones, Murton, Barrett, Perez/Cedeño
Bullpen: Eyre, Howry, Ohman, Williamson, Wuertz, Dempster
Yea, I know… they're the Cubs. They've had great teams on paper since 2002, but it really seems like they just don't want to win. Or maybe they don't know how. Still, with guys like Prior, Zambrano, Lee and Ramirez, it's hard to count them out.
Much like the Blue Jays, they overpaid a couple of pitchers. Unfortunately for them, Eyre and Howry might only combine for 150 innings. Still, those two are pretty good. When all is said and done, it's really not about the money, it's about the talent. Dempster was better than expected last year, but he's no elite closer.
I don't think even the Cubs realize how good their rotation can be. Prior and Zambrano are amazing pitchers. Rusch and Williams aren't spectacular but are capable of 4.00 ERAs. Greg Maddux is slipping, but he is Greg Maddux. Obviously, Kerry Wood isn't going to pitch 200 innings anytime soon. Probably not even 100. But as soon as Dusty stops screwing around with his arm, he can be effective out of the pen.
The Cubs actually traded prospects to the Marlins so that they could pay Juan Pierre $6 million for one year. That's not a terrific idea. Of course, Corey Patterson wasn't about to be good again. Not at Wrigley anyway. And after Rafael Furcal went to La-la land, the Cubs needed to move fast to acquire a leadoff man. As long as Dusty keeps Neifi Perez as far away from the top of the order as possible, Lee and Ramirez will actually have runs to drive in.
It's hard to say what the Cubs' outfield will do in 2006. Murton was fantastic in his limited time last year, but it may have been a fluke. Everyone knows Jacque Jones can't hit lefties, but will Dusty use him accordingly? Chicago doesn't really have a good platoon partner for him yet, although Murton would seem to be a perfect fit. Maybe they'll make another move, such as signing Richard Hidalgo.
The middle infield is also up in the air. I'm a big fan of Todd Walker. He's posted an .820 OPS in his two years with the club, but no one in the organization seems to care. Dusty might even sub him out for Jerry Hairston, a mistake. At shortstop, the Cubs are in trouble. Ronny Cedeño is a decent prospect, but he probably isn't ready to be a regular shortstop.
Michael Barrett is awesome. I know, I know… we're supposed to hate him because of the Oswalt thing. But how many catchers in the NL can put up an .800 OPS consistently? Maybe I'm just jealous since we got Ausmus and all.
It's going to take a lot for the Cubs for make the playoffs in 2006. They have the personnel to do it, but can they all keep it together? After all, they are the Cubs.
Rotation: Millwood, Eaton, Padilla, … … … John Wasdin … … um … … Kameron Loe?
Lineup: Young, Wilkerson, Teixeira, Blalock, Mench, Nevin, Barajas, Delluci/Nix, DeRosa
Bullpen: Otsuka, Cordero … … … Leicester … … … R.A. Dickey … … … Benoit … … and that's about it.
It only took five years for the Rangers to step up and sign a decent pitcher. Orel Herscheiser can only do so much. Kevin Millwood probably won't lead the AL in ERA again, but he will bring stabilization to a pitching staff that desperately needed it. Eaton and Padilla are capable of being winners, even though Chris Young would have been the better option. I honestly don't know much about the back of the rotation starters. I remember hearing Loe's name a couple of times last yearm but I doubt he'll be a ROTY candidate. They just need a couple of guys who can step up consistently and hopefully keep the game in single digits. Now, if they go out and sign Jeff Weaver, the rotation will be set. (They desperately need Clemens, but I won't even comment on that possibility).
Michael Young was the best shortstop in the game last year. He's knocked in 190 runs in two years as the Rangers' leadoff man. For any other team, Soriano would be hard to replace. The Rangers might actually be better off without him. DeRosa's nothing special, but Soriano wasn't a top-of-the-order guy. Wilkerson or Dellucci will fit better in the #2 spot. We all know what Teixeira can do, but he'll need more balance from the rest of the lineup. Blalock must return to his 2004 form, and Nevin must prove he can still play. If that happens, and Mench doesn't let his all the trade banter go to his head (ha, ha), the Rangers' lineup will once again be among the best in baseball.
I have a sneaking suspicion that the AL West will remind us of last year's NL West. The Angels are considerably worse, and and the Mariners aren't getting a whole lot better. The A's did almost won 90 games last year, but I'm skeptical of Frank Thomas, Milton Bradley, Dan Johnson and Mark Ellis. The A's actually have a decent rotation and bullpen, which is more than the Rangers can say. All Texas has is Kevin Millwood and Orel Herscheiser.
These three teams could all make the playoffs in October. It's much more likely that none of them does. The Jays have the best chance, but I wouldn't count the Cubs and Rangers out — if nothing else, they could surprise a lot of folks.