Saturday, March 31, 2012

Jamie Moyer has cracked the Rockies rotation at age 49

Unbelievable. Jamie Moyer, at age 49, has earned a spot in the Rockies rotation. Jim Caple wrote a terrific piece on Moyer, but let's expand that list a little bit. Care to go in a time vault back to 1986?

Jamie Moyer made his big-league debut on June 16, 1986. Some interesting things to know:

Moyer during one of the highlights of his career,
the 2008 World Series.
  • The Kansas City Royals were the defending World Champions. They have not been back to the postseason since. Chew on that one for a bit.
  • Only six of the current MLB parks were in existence when Moyer made his debut. They are Fenway Park (Boston), Wrigley Field (Chicago), Dodger Stadium (Los Angeles), Angel Stadium (Anaheim), Oakland Coliseum and Kauffman Stadium (Kansas City).
  • Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox, was still the oldest ballpark in baseball, as it was in its 76th season.
  • 1986 is closer to 1961 and Roger Maris than it is to 2012.
  • Phil Niekro was the oldest active player in the big leagues in 1986 at age 47. He was also the last active player born in the 1930s.
  • As old as Moyer is, he is not the only active player born in the 1960s. Omar Vizquel (1967) and Mariano Rivera (1969) are still hanging around.
  • Moyer and Vizquel (1989) are the last active players who played during the 1980s.
  • Moyer is older than eight MLB managers!
    • Dale Sveum, Cubs (1963)
    • Ozzie Guillen, Marlins (1964)
    • Joe Girardi, Yankees (1964)
    • Fredi Gonzalez, Braves (1964)
    • Robin Ventura, White Sox (1967)
    • Eric Wedge, Mariners (1968)
    • Manny Acta, Indians (1969)
    • Mike Matheny, Cardinals (1970)
  • Only three of the current managers in MLB were managing a big-league club in 1986: Jim Leyland (Pirates), Bobby Valentine (Rangers) and Davey Johnson (Mets, who would go on to win it all in '86).
  • Tony La Russa was still managing the White Sox in 1986. In fact, when Moyer made his debut, La Russa was just three days away from being fired by GM Ken "Hawk" Harrelson, marking the only time in his 34 years of managing that he was ever canned.
  • There were only 26 MLB teams in 1986, as the Rockies, Marlins, Diamondbacks and Rays did not exist.
  • The Seattle Mariners, who debuted in 1977, still had yet to experience the thrill of finishing over .500. It would be another five years before Seattle would finish with a winning record.
  • The Blue Jays, who also debuted in 1977, were the defending AL East Champions, coming off a 99-win season.
  • On the day Moyer debuted, the Mets were already a ridiculous 44-16, leading the old NL East by 11.5 games over Montreal. Even more surprising was the play of the defending NL Champion St. Louis Cardinals, who were floundering in fourth place with a 25-35 record in the East. Already 19 games behind the Mets in June, their season was effectively over.
  • The Mets finished 108-54 that year, the most wins of any big-league club since 1975. They would also join the 1975 Reds and 1983 White Sox as the only teams to win their division by at least 20 games.
  • Fox Television, which has broadcasted every World Series since 2000, did not make its debut until October of 1986.
  • During the span of Moyer's career, two starting pitchers have won the league MVP: Roger Clemens in 1986 for Boston, and Justin Verlander last year for Detroit.
  • Legends from baseball's golden age were still alive, such as Leo Durocher, Joe Sewell and the "Meal Ticket," Carl Hubbell.
  • Barry Larkin also began his career in 1986, retired, and is now being elected to the Hall of Fame after the customary five-year waiting period, plus another two years of falling short of the necessary vote total.
  • A small sampling of players who were still active in 1986:
    • Pete Rose
    • Reggie Jackson
    • Don Sutton
    • Steve Carlton
    • Carlton Fisk
    • Tom Seaver
    • Dusty Baker
    • Don Baylor
    • Kirk Gibson
    • Mike Schmidt
    • Dave Kingman
    • Mike Scioscia
    • Dave Concepcion
    • Tony Perez
  • Some managers who were piloting clubs that season include:
    • Earl Weaver (Orioles, in his final season)
    • Whitey Herzog (Cardinals)
    • Sparky Anderson (Tigers)
    • Lou Piniella (Yankees, his first season managing)
    • Gene Mauch (Angels)
    • Pete Rose (Reds, still a player-manager at this point)
    • Chuck Tanner (Braves)
    • Tommy Lasorda (Dodgers)
Well, there you have it. I'm looking forward to watching Moyer pitch this season, and even more, I hope he does well. After all, I would love to see Moyer stick around to pitch at age 50 next year!
Eh, might as well...
Here's a hit song from 1986, Cameo's "Word Up." Enjoy.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Some thoughts on the season opener and more

Eric Wedge's club left Japan with a 1-1 record.
Well, if you were awake to witness it, the MLB season is already two games deep, as the Mariners and A's split a two game set played at the Tokyo Dome in Japan. Both games featured some outstanding starting pitching, as Felix Hernandez was already in mid-season form in the first game, going eight strong innings, striking out six and walking none. In game two, Bartolo Colon did his best King Felix impression for Oakland, going eight strong innings himself en route to the A's first victory of the year.

All that aside, it was an exciting two days for a baseball die-hard like me. However, MLB opening their season in Japan is riddled with all sorts of problems. First of all, why is America's National Pastime opening in Japan? The first time this was done was back in 2000, when the Cubs and Mets opened the season there, and really, I had no problem with the decision at the time, believing it was just a one-time, novelty gimmick. However, MLB has done this a couple of more times since then, the most recent coming in 2008 featuring the Red Sox and A's.

What makes this so awkward is that both participants in these games have to report to Spring Training earlier than other teams, and they have to fly back to play exhibition games in the States after playing two regular-season contests. Plus, if you are going to open the season in Japan, why send the two worst teams in baseball over there? I know Ichiro is wildly popular there, and the Mariners owner resides in the country. Nonetheless, you are not going to drum up much interest among fans in the States if you are showcasing two terrible teams during baseball's opening week.

Perhaps the biggest travesty in all of this is the way the first game was televised. Unless you resided in the greater Seattle area, or had access to MLB.TV outside of the Seattle and Oakland markets, you did not get the chance to watch the game live. Why MLB Network decided not to broadcast the first game live is beyond me. What is even worse is that if you were an A's fan living in Northern California, you were actually blacked out from watching the game on MLB.TV, despite the fact that the A's didn't televise the game on CSN California! They had to actually watch their team's first game on tape delay. Mercy....

Again, as a die-hard fan, I enjoyed it. Not everybody who watches baseball is a die-hard though. You have to cater to the "casual" fan, and this was a terrible way to go about it. MLB just needs to stick with what they have been doing for the last few years: showcasing the defending World Champion in the season's first game on national television. Everybody is happier that way. If I had my way, I would go back to making sure the Reds get the first game, but unless they win the World Series this year, I wouldn't hold my breath.
Group including Magic Johnson to purchase the Dodgers

Seriously, how cool is that? After a tumultuous ownership reign by Frank McCourt that left him as popular as Barry Bonds in L.A., a group that includes basketball Hall of Famer Magic Johnson have bought the Dodgers for a staggering $2 billion! This ownership group also includes longtime baseball executive Stan Kasten, who will make many of the baseball-related decisions. Magic will not be making any baseball decisions, and he has already stated as much. However, he will definitely be a great recruiting tool for potential free agents around the league. He will not be the kind of recruiting tool that Nolan Ryan is in Texas, but he will be the embodiment of what the city of Los Angeles represents: celebrity and star-power.

The last time the Dodgers celebrated a World Championship, Magic was still wearing a Lakers uniform, Tommy Lasorda was still in the Dodgers dugout, Mike Scioscia was their catcher, and Kirk Gibson won the league MVP for them. The prestige the Dodgers once carried around baseball is slowly eroding, as 1988 fades more into the past (For example, 1988 is closer to 1966 and Sandy Koufax than it is to 2012. Chew on that one). Since then, the team has gone through two disastrous ownerships, and even worse, have witnessed the Angels take a significant chunk of the L.A. fanbase from them. Adding insult to injury, Mike Scioscia is managing the crosstown Angels, and he has been responsible for that team's rise to relevance in not only L.A., but around all of baseball. It is safe to say that the Dodgers and their fans are desperate for another championship. Could Magic, along with the ownership group he is a part of bring home a long-awaited title to Chavez Ravine? Even more, can this ownership group provide the kind of stability the O'Malley family brought during their tenure as owners, when they won six championships and 11 pennants? Time will only tell.
More stories around MLB...

Great piece in Sports Illustrated about the Mariners broadcasters calling the Japan games from a studio in Seattle (Sports Illustrated)

MLB considering London's Olympic Stadium for World Baseball Classic games (Sports Illustrated)

Scary Stuff: Twins pitcher Carl Pavano target of extortion (Meriden Record-Journal)

This season could be Omar Vizquel's final one (Toronto Sun)

One-hour special featuring former Reds broadcaster Waite Hoyt to air on Cincinnati Radio Sunday (

More on Dick Allen...

In addition to "Dick Allen Day" at U.S. Cellular Field, there will be a fundraising dinner held in Allen's honor, courtesy of the Chicago Baseball Muesum. More info regarding this event can be found here (Chicago Baseball Museum)

Today's blast from the past...1983 White Sox clinch AL West
It was the franchise's first postseason appearance in 24 years, and only their second since the infamous "Black Sox" scandal of 1919. The late Don Drysdale has the call. Look for the awkward camera shot of team co-owner Eddie Einhorn at the 17 second mark. Also, Hawk Harrelson comes in at 1:19, and his hideous technicolor sweater comes in at the 1:59 mark (believe me, it is ugly). Also, manager Tony LaRussa comes in at 2:32 and Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk enters at 6:57. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

White Sox to honor Dick Allen this season

Former Sox 1B Dick Allen will be honored at U.S. Cellular
Field on June 24 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his
MVP Season.
One of the more unsung stars in White Sox history is finally getting his day in the spotlight.

Dick Allen, winner of the 1972 AL MVP for the South Siders, will be honored on June 24 at U.S. Cellular Field, where he will recieve the opportunity to throw out the first pitch. The Sox also plan on wearing their 1972 throwbacks (basically the same uniform, except with red caps and pinstripes) for this game, and other members of the '72 squad will be there as well, along with the GM at the time, Roland Hemond.

This was one of the more crucial seasons in team history, as forgotten as it may be. People forget that the Sox of 40 years ago were living on borrowed time in Chicago. Speculation as to where the team could move was rampant, and since the product on the field was not all that great (only two years removed from losing 106 games), there was not a ton of public sentiment to keep them in town. Even the way you could follow the team outside of the park was incredibly difficult. They were relegated to broadcasting their games on WFLD-TV, which at the time was a UHF station that was incredibly difficult to pick up with your antenna. Richard Roeper, film critic and Sox fan, discussed this dilemma in his book "Sox and the City:"
"Nobody, and I mean nobody, had a crystal-clear picture on Channel 32. Sometimes the snow was so bad and the signal was so weak that you'd just give up and watch "Mary Tyler Moore" or "Bewitched"--or the Cubs." -Richard Roeper, from his book "Sox and The City"
Further complicating matters was that no major radio station even bothered to pick up the Sox after their horrendous 1970 season, so they were relegated to two low-wattage AM outlets: WTAQ out of LaGrange and WEAW out of Evanston. As you can already guess, many areas around the Chicagoland region could not pick up the radio signal of either station (unless you lived in either LaGrange or Evanston).  Meanwhile, the Cubs still had their games on crystal-clear WGN-TV and the 50,000 watt blowtorch WGN radio, thus attracting a new generation of fans simply because their games were more accessible.

It was in this situation where Dick Allen stepped in. Not by choice mind you, but by trade. On December 2, 1971, Sox GM Roland Hemond dealt infielder Steve Huntz and pitcher Tommy John to the Dodgers to acquire Allen, who was coming off of a 23 homer, 90 RBI season. He was already known as a great power hitter, as he already had four 30-plus home run seasons in his career. Neither he, nor the Sox knew that he was about to have one of the best offensive performances in team history.

Allen finished the 1972 season with a .308 average, 37 home runs, 113 RBI and an OPS of 1.023. He narrowly missed winning the Triple Crown, as he led the AL in homers and RBI, but finished third in the batting race behind Lou Piniella and Rod Carew. Nonetheless, his efforts helped vault the Sox into contention that year, shocking the American League when they went neck-and-neck with the Oakland Athletics. The Sox were even up on Oakland by a game and a half as late as August 26, before the "Swingin' A's" ultimately won the old AL West by 5.5 games.

Despite the near miss, Allen's season won over many people, and even more, got fans excited about White Sox baseball again. The Sox cracked the one million barrier in attendace for the first time in seven years, finishing third in the AL that season. Just two years earlier, the Sox were dead-last in the AL in attendance, drawing a paltry 495,355 fans for the entire 1970 season. Baseball was back on the South Side, and for the first time in years, they had a bonafide star.

For kids who grew up as Sox fans during this time, Allen seemed like a folk hero, more Paul Bunyan-esqe than a baseball player. Many of those who remember the Sox from this time will tell you about how he wore a helmet while playing first base (an unfortunate carry-over from his Philadelphia days when he had things hurled at him by abusive Phillies fans) and how he would draw messages in the dirt to the fans while at his position. They also remember how he swung a bat that was one of the heaviest in the majors, checking in between 40 and 44 ounces. They also remember his tape measure home runs such as the one he hit into the distant center-field bleachers against the Yankees in August of '72, as he was only the fourth player to accomplish the feat at the time. However, the thing that fans and even GM Roland Hemond remember the most about him was how much he meant to the overall health of the franchise. Hemond even remarked once that he was the "savior of the franchise." Lofty praise, but there is no denying that the Sox would likely not be in Chicago today if it wasn't for his memorable season that reinvigorated a dying franchise. It is fitting that 40 years later, Allen will be on hand for his day of honor on the South Side, along with the man that made it possible, Roland Hemond. I only wish I could be there.

Friday, March 23, 2012

2012 MLB Predictions

Ladies and gentlemen, we are less than a week away from games that count! The Oakland A's and Seattle Mariners will begin the 2012 season in style on Wednesday, facing each other in a brief two-game series in Tokyo, Japan. I have been holding off on this for a while, but now is the time to get this bad boy going. We will begin our predictions with the American League. Let's go!

AL East:
1.) New York Yankees (96-66)
Along with the AL Central, this appears to be the only other division where the best team is clearly evident. The Yankees should be able to outlast Tampa Bay and Boston to win another division title.

2.) Tampa Bay Rays (92-70)
Behind their stable of strong young arms, the Rays will send the Red Sox home packing once again, advancing to the Wild Card round of the postseason.

3.) Boston Red Sox (89-73)
They will not have a dramatic collapse like last year, but they will have their hands full battling the Yankees, along with a young Rays team.

4.) Toronto Blue Jays (79-83)
Always the biggest tease in baseball. First place on Memorial Day, fourth place by Independence Day. Great lineup, but still lacking depth in the pitching department, which will be their downfall.

5.) Baltimore Orioles (64-98)
While their lineup features some good pieces within it, they still lack the overall pitching to even pose a remote threat to anyone. Their lineup will not be good enough to mask their pitching deficiencies (unlike Toronto), and the other four teams in the division will feast upon them. This will be their 15th consecutive losing season, the second-longest current streak in baseball, and the third-longest in MLB history.

AL Central:
1.) Detroit Tigers (98-64)
The Tigers will have the easiest path to the playoffs of any AL Central team since the Indians of the late '90s. They are clearly the class of the division, and they feature last year's MVP (Justin Verlander) and two other players who are fully capable of winning one (Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder). While they lack team speed, they make up for it by featuring an intimidating lineup, along with a decent rotation behind Verlander. They will benefit from playing the majority of their games against inferior competition within their division. This will also mark the first time since 1934-1935 that Detroit will record consecutive postseason appearances.

2.) Cleveland Indians (83-79)
The Tribe, much like last year, will be nothing more than average. An over-reliance on Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore to stay healthy and produce will be their downfall once again.

3.) Chicago White Sox (80-82)
Honestly, things could not get much worse than last year, and they still finished 79-83. Adam Dunn will be better, but the Sox will continue to be hampered by inconsistent offensive performances from Alex Rios and Gordon Beckham. They will also lose many games late due to a poor bullpen.

4.) Kansas City Royals (75-87)
The lineup is finally there, but their pitching is not. Since closer Joakim Soria may need Tommy John surgery, it is a good thing they signed Jonathan Broxton, or else they could be worse.

5.) Minnesota Twins (72-90)
Even with Mauer and Morneau, this is one of the weaker lineups in baseball. When Jamey Carroll is projected to be one of your regular starters, you are in deep trouble. Additionally, when you consider that they have a collection of number three and number four starters in their rotation, this has all the makings of a last-place team. Whatever magic they have been producing in the Twin Cities all these years is finally gone.

AL West:
1.) Texas Rangers (94-68)
All of the accolades you have been hearing about out of the West are going to the Angels for landing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson during the offseason. In fact, the Angels have been getting so much attention that people forget they still have to un-seat the two-time defending American League Champions within their own division! The fact that the Angels have such a bright spotlight on them will enable the Rangers to fly under-the-radar, which will help lead them to their third consecutive division championship. It won't be without a battle though, one that will come down to the season's final day. Texas still possesses the most frightening lineup in baseball when everyone is completely healthy, and their pitching will be just good enough for them to get by.

2.) Los Angeles Angels (93-69)
The Angels were good, but not quite good enough last year. Picking up Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson will help account for a seven-win spike over last year's total. The quartet of Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson and Ervin Santana may be the best group of starting pitching in the American League.

3.) Seattle Mariners (68-94)
Their willingness to trade Michael Pineda to the Yankees for catcher Jesus Montero speaks to how desperate the M's are for any sort of offense. Montero is a nice piece to build around for the future, but for right now, they will not even sniff contention.

4.) Oakland A's (63-99)
Only the additions of Yoenis Cespedes and Manny Ramirez keep them from having the worst offense in the game. Trading away Gio Gonzalez and Trevor Cahill will also hurt what was once a good pitching staff. This will be the worst team in the American League, and perhaps the most boring to watch in all of baseball.

On to the National League....

NL East:
1.) Philadelphia Phillies (92-70)
Their dominance over the East is slowly eroding, and their lineup is not as formidable as they once were. Nonetheless, their starting rotation remains strong, and that will be enough for them to capture their sixth consecutive division championship, the third-longest streak in baseball history.

2.) Miami Marlins (91-71)
This will be MLB's most improved team this season, as they will increase their win total by 19 over last year. A healthy Josh Johnson will help stabilize their rotation, and the additions of Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano will be a boost to the back end of their staff. Heath Bell closing games will be a huge improvement over Juan Oviedo (formerly Leo Nunez) and Hanley Ramirez will have a comeback year.

3.) Washington Nationals (88-74)
Get ready for one of the more exciting teams to watch in baseball this season. Their win total may seem pedestrian, but it will be enough for the franchise to reach their first postseason since 1981, when they were still in Montreal. For the city of D.C., it will be the first time they have seen postseason baseball since 1933! The keys to their improvement will be having a healthy Stephen Strasburg for the entire season, along with having lefty Gio Gonzalez backing him up in the rotation. Some of the younger players such as Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa will make improvements at the plate this season, and the inevitable mid-season call-up of Bryce Harper will definitely give their lineup an added boost. For those who believe this appears far-fetched, remember this: the team finished 80-81 last year without Strasburg, Gonzalez or Harper.

4.) Atlanta Braves (85-77)
The Braves will have a good team, but somebody has to finish fourth in this stacked division!

5.) New York Mets (60-102)
They'll be the laughingstock of baseball, but they will get the number two overall pick in next year's draft. Hopefully for their case it will be someone that pans out.

NL Central:
1.) Cincinnati Reds (95-67)
The addition of Mat Latos will be huge for Cincinnati, and the regression of St. Louis and Milwaukee will enable the Reds to win their second division title in three years.

2.) St. Louis Cardinals (87-75)
Not much of a drop-off from last year (they won 90 games in 2011), but they will feel the pinch of losing Albert Pujols. Rotation is very good and perhaps a bit underrated, but expect Lance Berkman to take a step back this year.

3.) Milwaukee Brewers (84-78)
Prince Fielder's departure via free agency will be a big loss for Milwaukee. Aramis Ramirez was a nice acquisition to make up for that, but he will not approach the kind of numbers Fielder put up year in and year out.

4.) Pittsburgh Pirates (79-83)
Oh, so close. The Buccos are getting better, but that elusive winning season will fall just out of their reach once again. This year will mark their 20th consecutive losing season, by far and away the longest streak in professional sports. However, this season will still mean something: the light at the end of the tunnel is near. I wouldn't be surprised to see that streak end next year.

5.) Chicago Cubs (64-98)
They are not as bad as the Astros, but that's not saying much. Now that the final remnants of the Lou Piniella era are finally gone (Carlos Zambrano and Aramis Ramirez), Theo Epstein and company can get to work with rebuilding this team. It will be a Herculean task; honestly, when was the last time you ever heard about the Cubs having one of the best farm systems in baseball?

6.) Houston Astros (54-108)
Right now represents the absolute dark ages for the Houston Astros. Their final year in the National League will not be a memorable one. The only silver lining in their recent run of ineptitude is that they will continue to get high draft picks. Hopefully their scouts are doing their homework, because things will probably get a lot worse for the Astros before they get any better.

NL West:
1.) Arizona Diamondbacks (86-76)
Arizona will be good, but "good" will be more than enough to win this dreadful division. This will be an unprecedented sixth division title for the Diamondbacks since joining the league in 1998. Arizona still features a solid offense led by Justin Upton, but their real strength will lie in their rotation, as Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson and Trevor Cahill will each get the job done.

2.) San Francisco Giants (80-82)
Once again, the story will be all about the pitching from the Giants. Their lineup is absolutely dreadful and it will be the albatross around their collective necks all season.

3.) Los Angeles Dodgers (76-86)
The Dodgers have great individual talent on their team (Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp), but not much else.

4.) Colorado Rockies (75-87)
The biggest enigma in all of baseball. Whenever you expect great things from them, they fall flat. When you expect nothing from them, they play out of their minds. I'll probably eat crow on this one.

5.) San Diego Padres (67-95)
They acquired some good young pieces from the Reds in first baseman Yonder Alonso and catcher Yasmani Grandal. However, Grandal does not figure to be in the plans for the major-league squad right away, and there is nothing more than marginal talent on the team.

Postseason Predictions
AL Wild Card Game:
Angels defeat Rays
Playing before the home crowd, the Angels will bounce the Rays for their first postseason victory in three years.

NL Wild Card Game:
Nationals defeat Marlins
Davey Johnson's boys will pull off the shocker in South Beach.

Division Series:
ALDS: Tigers over Angels, 3-2
ALDS: Rangers over Yankees, 3-0
NLDS: Reds over Nationals, 3-0
NLDS: Phillies over Diamondbacks, 3-2

League Championship Series:
ALCS: Tigers over Rangers, 4-2
The Tigers will get their revenge on the Rangers for bouncing them out of last year's playoffs, reaching their first Fall Classic since 2006 while denying the Rangers for the chance of an AL three-peat.
NLCS: Reds over Phillies, 4-3
Revenge will be the storyline in the LCS, as the Reds issue some payback to the Phillies for shutting them down in the postseason two years ago.

World Series:
Tigers over Reds, 4-3
The I-75 series! It will be the first time since 1940 that these two teams have hooked up in the World Series, and like the Fall Classic of 72 years ago, it will go the full seven. Both teams are evenly matched, but Justin Verlander will out-duel Johnny Cueto in Game 7 for the Tigers to win their first championship since 1984.

Award Winners:
American League MVP: Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays
National League MVP: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

American League Cy Young: Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels
National League Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

AL Rookie of the Year: Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays
NL Rookie of the Year: Drew Pomeranz, Colorado Rockies

AL Manager of the Year: Ron Washington, Texas Rangers
NL Manager of the Year: Davey Johnson, Washington Nationals

Other bold and utterly insane predictions...
  • After another disappointing last-place finish in Minnesota, manager Ron Gardenhire will be shown the door by management following the season. In Twins-like fashion, they will stay in-house for Gardenhire's replacement, but it will come with a twist. Tom Kelly will come out of retirement (and the front-office) to manage the Twins again. For those unfamiliar with his work, Kelly piloted the Twins from 1986-2001, winning World Championships in 1987 and 1991.
  • Reds second baseman will elect to stay in Cincinnati following an excruciating near-miss of a World Championship at the hands of the Tigers. Of course, this will fire up speculation as to whether or not the club can bring back Joey Votto, which will be a major storyline heading into 2013.
  • Justin Verlander will toss his third career no-hitter, but unfortunately, he won't be able to join Kate Upton's "Perfect Club!"

  • Johan Santana will become the first pitcher in Mets history to throw a no-hitter this season, leaving the Padres as the oldest franchise without one.
  • Zack Greinke and Cliff Lee will also toss no-hitters during the season.
  • The Marlins' Mike Stanton will become the first player in nine years (and just the 16th in MLB history) to blast four homers in one game.
  • Adam Dunn, not Joe Mauer, will win the American League Comeback Player of the Year.
  • Pujols will be dominant as always, but Evan Longoria will steal the MVP from him.
  • The Pirates will be 79-77 with six left to play, but will get swept by the Reds and Braves to finish the season, narrowly missing their first winning campaign since 1992.
  • The Reds/Cardinals rivalry will go to another level this season, as Cincinnati will destroy St. Louis' hopes for a playoff berth by taking two of three from them to close out the season.
  • As noted above, the Yankees will get swept in the playoffs for only the fourth time in team history, as the Rangers will decimate them in the Division Series.
  • Yankees closer Mariano Rivera will finally show signs of slowing down, as he will lead the majors in blown saves. In a not too surprising decision, he will announce his retirement after the postseason.

Jamie Moyer's 1987 Topps card. Yes, he is
still pitching.
  • Colorado's Jamie Moyer will put together a decent year, and he will announce at the close of the season that he plans to pitch for his 27th big league campaign in 2013, when he will be 50 years old. The Rockies will gladly bring him back. His 27th major-league season will also tie him with Nolan Ryan for the longest career in baseball history.
  • Joey Votto will narrowly miss winning the Triple Crown, as he will lead the league in batting average and RBI, but not home runs. The Marlins' Mike Stanton will be the NL home run king in 2012.
  • In a similar twist, Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays will also narrowly miss winning the AL Triple Crown, leading the league in batting average and home runs, but not RBI. Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers will be the AL RBI champ.
  • Matt Kemp will not be the first 50-50 player in MLB history as he said he would attempt to do this season, but he'll go 40/40. He will join Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano as the only players in history to achieve the feat.
  • Joey Votto will become the first NL player since Barry Bonds in 2002 to hit .370 in a season.
  • Even though three teams will finish with a worse overall record, the Cubs will have the season's longest losing streak, dropping 15 straight at one point.
  • On the other side of this, the Reds will have the longest win streak of any team during the regular-season, winning 14 straight at one point.
  • In the Division Series, the Phillies will go down 0-2 to the Diamondbacks before winning three straight to finish them off.
  • The National League will win their third-consecutive All-Star Game for their longest streak since 1994-1996. Unfortunately for the Reds, this means that they will become the first team since the 1979 Orioles to lose Game 7 of the World Series at home.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Odds and Ends: March 20

Some thoughts on White Sox Spring Training...
Young lefty Chris Sale is looking to make an impact
in Chicago's rotation this season.
Right around now is the time where I will begin to take a gander at how the gang is doing in Arizona. I do not generally look at guys like Konerko or Pierzynski, because I know they will be ready for the start of the season, as always. I'm also beginning to add Alexei Ramirez to that list as well, despite the fact that he is a notorious slow starter.

However, observing players' performances in Spring Training can be beneficial when it is either a highly touted prospect trying to make the club, or if it is a player looking to rebound from a terrible year. Since the Sox have what is widely regarded to be the worst farm system in baseball, they feature more of the latter in Arizona right now.

One veteran who is looking for a bounce-back season is hurler Jake Peavy. His most recent outing was his most productive one of the spring, when he tossed five no-hit innings against the Mariners on Saturday. Granted, I am not about to do cartwheels and predict a 22-6 season from Peavy based on his most recent outing. However, we are deep enough into the spring where pitchers are beginning to go deeper into games, and considering he will likely earn two to three more starts before the season begins, this is a good thing to see. It is always difficult to evaluate pitchers in Arizona due to the altitude affecting things, but a nice outing like that is a great starting point.

On the other side of things, you have Chris Sale, who will be entering the rotation for the first time in his young career. In his start yesterday, Sale went six innings, giving up only two hits while striking out six against the Reds. Even better, he surrendered no walks. I was impressed with Sale's bullpen performance last year, and with the kind of stuff he possesses, I am eager to see how he can translate that to a full-time spot in the rotation.

Additionally, Adam Dunn appears to be swinging the bat well this spring. Jim Margalus of "South Side Sox" goes more in-depth with Dunn's performance this spring, even commenting on Dunn's assertion that he came back too soon from his appendectomy last year, which greatly threw off his timing. (South Side Sox)

Again, you do not want to put too much weight on what goes down in Spring Training, but I will defer to the words of former Sox manager (and Hall of Famer) Al Lopez, who mentioned this to John Kuenster in 1957. Kuenster was covering the team for the Chicago Daily News (a newspaper that gave up the ghost a long time ago):

"Watch the players in practice. See how they handle the ball, if they are careless. Those habits might stay with them in games that count." -Al Lopez (courtesy of Baseball Digest)

If it's from a Hall of Fame manager, it's good enough for me. It appears that manager Robin Ventura is handling his first spring well, and is making sure bad habits are not being formed. I am not certain that the same could be said of the last couple of camps Ozzie led in Arizona. With all of this said, Opening Day is only 17 days away!

Other stories of interest...
White Sox had the chance to be the first team to break baseball's color line. What happened? Chris Kamka of CSNChicago investigates. (CSN Chicago)

One of baseball's best writers, Furman Bisher, has passed away at age 93. Read one of his best pieces, an interview with "Shoeless" Joe Jackson for Sport Magazine, from 1949. (

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution takes a look back at Bisher's long and illustrious career (AJC)

Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson pulls an ill-advised "prank" on former teammate Mike Napoli. Not too surprisingly, Napoli was not humored by this stunt. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

Could Votto stay with the Reds? (Redleg Nation)

No surprises here: Bryce Haper will begin the season with Triple-A Syracuse. (Big League Stew)

For your viewing pleasure...
I take you back to July 31, 1991. This moment was perhaps the second most memorable one of Ventura's tenure with the Sox (next to the Nolan Ryan brawl). Chicago was locked in a divisional battle with the Minnesota Twins (sound familiar?) and entered the evening trailing them in the old AL West by three games. They were facing the Texas Rangers, a team not completely out of it (5.5 back in the West), but not quite in it. Since the Wild Card had not come into play yet, it was division title or bust for each and every team, and the Sox were attempting to earn their first since 1983.

The Sox entered the bottom of the ninth, trailing Texas 8-6. Kenny Rogers allowed the first two runners to reach base before retiring the next batter. He was removed for future Hall of Famer Goose Gossage. The Goose promptly got Carlton Fisk to pop-out (another future Hall of Famer) before walking Tim Raines. Bases loaded, two out. That sets the stage for Mr. Ventura. Look for big Frank Thomas picking up Ventura toward the end of the clip, along with a much younger Bobby Valentine in the dugout managing the Texas Rangers. Who else would be on the call for this one other than Ken "Hawk" Harrelson? Enjoy!

***For you drama-less people who do not enjoy watching a story unfold (kidding, only kidding), the moment occurs around the 1:16 mark.***

The Twins defeated the Yankees 12-3 that same night to keep the Sox at bay. Chicago would get to within one game of Minnesota as late as August 11, before losing 15 of their next 17 to fall out of the race. The Twins would ultimately win the West by eight games, and they would ride that momentum to their second World Championship in five years.

Nonetheless, in a franchise that does not quite have the illustrious history of teams like the Yankees, Cardinals, Reds, Giants or Dodgers, moments like this stand out and are fondly remembered by many Sox fans. Sure, there have been better walk-off homers hit in team history (Scott Podsednik's Game 2 World Series winner in '05, Jim Thome's 500th HR in '07), but this one still retains a special place in team lore.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Profiling the Reds: What can we expect?

Now that I have finally shaken off my lack of productivity due to March Madness, let's get back into the swing of things, shall we? We are only two weeks and change away from Opening Day in Cincinnati, which is pretty much a holiday in the Queen City. The Reds have made significant moves this offseason to retool themselves following a disappointing 79-83 finish, a 12 win drop-off from their 2010 mark. If you are a Reds fan, you already know that the team is basically going "all in" by trading many of their prized farm pieces in order to make a run at a championship, something that has evaded the team for the last 22 years. Will their moves be good enough, or will they fall flat like my White Sox did last year? Much like I did with the Sox on Monday, we will evaluate the Reds today and look at their strengths and weaknesses.

Projected 2012 Infield:
1B:  Joey Votto
2B: Brandon Phillips
SS: Zack Cozart
3B: Scott Rolen

Could this year be the final one for Phillips in
a Reds uniform?
Aside from third base, there is not too much to be worried about with the Reds' infield this season, especially since they have arguably the best right side of any infield in the NL. Joey Votto is coming off another strong season, hitting .309 with 29 homers and 103 RBI, in addition to a robust .416 OPS. With Pujols' departure, Votto is the best hitting first baseman in the National League right now, and there is no reason why he cannot put up similar or better numbers in 2012. With Votto set to become a free agent after the 2013 season and with Yonder Alonso gone, you hope the Reds can open up their wallet to try to keep this dynamic hitter.

Meanwhile, the Reds have a dilemma at second base as to whether or not they can sign Brandon Phillips to an extension. There is no question that he is one of the best second basemen in the National League, and he continued to make that point clear by earning his third career Gold Glove and first career Silver Slugger last year. However his contract is up at the end of this season, and you wonder if the Reds possess the financial resources to keep him. They could re-sign him, sure. If they do that, then would they have enough money to bring Votto back? Do they realistically have a shot at keeping both players? This is just a sub-plot in what looks to be a crucial year in determining the Reds' future for the next few season.

Shifting over to shortstop, the Reds will be featuring a fresh face with the 26-year-old Zack Cozart likely receiving the lion's share of starts. They hope he will be an improvement over the duo of Edgar Renteria and Paul Janish at short, both of whom were dreadful at the plate last year. Renteria is gone, but Janish remains, likely in a bench/platoon role, which is perfect for him. Cozart saw some playing time at the big league level last year and hit well in his brief opportunity, finishing with a .324 average in 11 games. Unfortunately, his season at the big league level ended prematurely when he suffered an elbow injury on July 23.

Third base will likely be the achilles' heel for the Reds infield this year, as the ancient Scott Rolen returns for his 17th big league season. The big problem for him as usual is if he can stay healthy. He only appeared in 65 games last year due to shoulder surgery, his lowest total since 2005. He was not all that productive when he was in the lineup last year either, as his .242 batting average, five home runs and 36 RBI would attest. The Reds would like for him to return to his 2010 figures, when he hit .285 with 20 homers and 83 RBI in 133 games, however, does he have one more season like that left in him?

Todd Frazier and Juan Francisco would be the two candidates to take over at third should Rolen go down with another injury. Frazier hit .232 with six homers and 15 RBI last year in 41 games, while Francisco hit .258 with three homers and 15 RBI in 31 games. The 24-year-old Francisco also hit one of the more memorable home runs in Great American Ballpark history last year, blasting a home run off of the Cubs' Rodrigo Lopez that cleared the right field seats. The estimated distance of the home run was 502 feet.

LF: Chris Heisey
CF: Drew Stubbs
RF: Jay Bruce

Center fielder Drew Stubbs will
look to have a bounce-back year in 2012.
The trio of Heisey, Stubbs and Bruce bring a considerable amount of power to the Reds lineup. The three combined for 65 homers last year, with Bruce leading the way with 32 of them. Heisey brings a fair power bat to left field, hitting 18 homers while driving in 50 last year, to go along with a .797 OPS. His fielding capabilities are average, but considering that the Reds thought about sticking Yonder Alonso in left before trading him (Alonso has a dreadful glove in the outfield), average is good enough.

After an impressive breakout performance in 2010, Drew Stubbs took a big step back last year. His batting average went down from .255 to .243, he hit seven less homers and had 33 less RBI. Additionally, his strikeout total climbed to a major-league high 205 last year, 37 more than he had in 2010. Like Heisey, Stubbs possesses modest power, but features a better glove than his counterpart in left, to go along with more speed. Stubbs is only 27 and entering his third full big league season, so it will be interesting to see if he can rebound from the struggles he had at the plate in 2011. He is not your prototypical lead-off hitter, but you may see the Reds stick him or Phillips in that spot.

Jay Bruce is coming off a career year power-wise, hitting 32 homers while driving in 97. Even though his average fell 25 points to .256 and his strikeout total went up by 22, last year represented the fourth consecutive season in which his home run and RBI total rose. Logic should tell us that at just 24 years old, the best has yet to come for Bruce. Although his batting average may not be where you would like for it to be, I would look for him to have an outstanding year power-wise this season. Do not be surprised if he continues that streak to five consecutive years.

Devin Mesoraco
Ryan Hanigan

Devin Mesoraco will get his chance as the Reds' primary catcher
in 2012.
Since the aging Ramon Hernandez departed for free agency, the young Devin Mesoraco will receive his opportunity behind the plate this season. The 23-year-old Pennsylvania native tore it up with Triple-A Louisville last year, hitting .289 with 15 homers, 71 RBI and an .855 OPS in 120 games. That performance was good enough for the Reds to call him up for a cup of coffee last year, and it also made Yasmani Grandal (another young catcher in the Reds' farm system) expendable. Grandal was traded in a multi-player deal to the San Diego Padres during the offseason, meaning that the Reds are placing all of their chips on the table and all of their confidence in Mesoraco.

Ryan Hanigan will serve as the back-up catcher once again this season. He hit .267 last year serving as the secondary catcher to Ramon Hernandez, which is pretty solid for your bench guy.

Starting Rotation:
Johnny Cueto
Mat Latos
Bronson Arroyo
Mike Leake
Homer Bailey
Aroldis Chapman?

Mat Latos should provide a big boost to
Cincinnati's rotation.
The missile that sank the Reds' ship last year was their starting pitching. They fell from 13th to 21st in ERA, (finishing at a 4.47 clip) while surrendering a major-league high 138 homers. The chief culprit was Bronson Arroyo, as his ERA ballooned to 5.07, while surrendering a MLB-high 46 homers. Usually a reliable arm in their rotation, last year was the worst of Arroyo's career in Cincinnati by far, and he should have nowhere to go but up this season.

Another culprit was Edinson Volquez. In only 20 starts, he recorded a dreadful 5.71 ERA, and the Reds managed to take him off their hands this offseason, trading him to San Diego along with Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal in order to obtain Mat Latos. Consider the departure of Volquez addition by subtraction.

In a more postive light, Johnny Cueto emerged as the team's best starter last year, finishing with a 2.31 ERA and a spectacular WHIP of 1.09. He fell just six innings short of qualifying for the ERA title, as he was shut down in September due to injury. He enters this season as the unquestioned ace of the team, and they will need anything close to an encore performance from him in order to contend.

Another young arm they will need to come through big is Mat Latos. Just 24 years old, Latos brings three years of MLB experience already to the Reds, and a great deal of potential. However, the Reds had to surrender their two best prospects in order to obtain the young righty, as he was the centerpiece of that aforementioned deal with the Padres. While he took a slight step back from his outstanding 2010 season, he still finished with a solid 1.18 WHIP in 194.1 innings last year. Some may question whether he can carry his success from pitcher-friendly Petco Park to hitter-friendly Great American, but I believe that will not pose too much of an issue. Latos is a power pitcher who racks up Ks while staying around the plate, meaning whatever effect GABP might have on him will be minimal. He will finally receive the opportunity to pitch on a team that will provide him with ample run support, something which will also help as well.

Rounding out the rotation will be Mike Leake and Homer Bailey. Leake was solid in his second season with the club, leading the team in wins and strikeouts. His ERA also went down last year, falling from 4.23 to 3.86. Meanwhile, Bailey will look to finally establish some sort of consistency this season. While injuries have set the young Texan back the last two years, he looks to finally put together the kind of year many have expected from him since his much-anticipated MLB debut in 2007. Bailey has packed on some extra muscle to help with his endurance during the offseason, so we'll see how far his winter regimen takes him through the season. As always, it can be difficult to evaluate pitchers in Arizona in Spring Training, so we won't get to see the real fruits of his labor until the season begins. 

The one question mark I placed at the very bottom of the rotation is Aroldis Chapman. The way things look now, it might appear as if he is destined for another season in the bullpen, as the team is using him out of there for the most part this spring. His ERA was somewhat high for a reliever last year (3.60), but when you take into account that he was likely going through some off-the-field issues (as manager Dusty Baker suggested in the provided link) that would distract any young player, he should be fine for this season. Nonetheless, with the kind of money the Reds are paying him, the debate of whether or not he should be a starter will continue to be the elephant in the room.

Ryan Madson
Sean Marshall
Nick Masset
Logan Ondrusek
Jose Arrendondo
Bill Bray
Sam LeCure

Strangely enough, Cincinnati's bullpen actually improved last year, as their ERA fell from 3.97 in 2010 (15th in MLB) to 3.55 last year (11th in MLB). Seeing an opportunity to make themselves stronger in this area, the Reds traded lefty Travis Wood to the Chicago Cubs for lefty specialist Sean Marshall. The 29-year-old lefty was one of the best relievers in the National League last year, recording a 2.26 ERA in 78 appearances, to go along with a solid WHIP of 1.10. Travis Wood on the other hand struggled a bit in his sophomore season last year, recording a 4.84 ERA in 106 innings. Even though Wood has good upside, it really served the Reds no purpose to carry seven starters. This was a good move for them to make a decent bullpen even better.

Additionally, the Reds brought in former Phillies closer Ryan Madson via free agency to fill the void left by Francisco Cordero. While Cordero had a good year last year (37 saves, 1.02 WHIP, 2.45 ERA), they were also paying him $12 million in the final year of his contract. It's never good to have too much money tied up in a closer, and the fact that he is 36 gave the Reds further credence to follow the ancient Branch Rickey model of dealing with players. Instead of bringing him back at a cheaper cost, they simply parted ways with him. If you are wondering what the Branch Rickey model is, it basically means that it is better to get rid of a player a year too soon rather than a year too late.

Lefty Bill Bray will likely serve as the set-up man again this year. He recorded a team high 20 holds last season, and in 79 appearances, he finished with a 1.08 WHIP and a 2.98 ERA. Not too shabby. Also, many people forget that Bray, along with Brandon Phillips and Bronson Arroyo, are the longest tenured members of the team, as all three have been with the club since 2006.

Area that will improve: Starting Rotation and Bullpen.
The Reds significantly improved themselves in these areas, and considering their main two divisional foes (the Cardinals and Brewers) have gotten weaker, their entire staff should improve.

Area where they will regress: Third Base
I like Scott Rolen, but I cannot see him playing more than 100 games in a season anymore. They better have Juan Francisco and/or Todd Frazier ready.

Final Verdict: 94-68
This team has way too much on the table and way too much talent to lay an egg like they did last year, and they know it. They significantly improved themselves during the offseason, and while some still want to find fault with that (saying they surrendered too much young talent), the truth is that their best chance to win a championship is right now. GM Walt Jocketty knew this, and did what he could to place this team in a position to not only compete for their second division title in three years, but to shoot for their first World Series crown since 1990.

I do not understand why some people are so upset that the Reds traded away so much young talent. First of all, Yonder Alonso cannot play the outfield. He just cannot do it. There's also a MVP already playing first base, and who is under contract through next year. Why let Alonso just rot on the bench and watch his value go down when you can get something for him?

Yasmani Grandal, as I mentioned earlier, was expendable. There is no sense in having two young, talented catchers on the same team, because one is going to get the lion's share of work, while the other will get relegated to back-up duties. Most catchers cannot play anywhere else other than first base, in which you already have a MVP manning that position. If you were to keep Alonso, you would have him as the back-up to Votto and Grandal would be third on the depth chart, while being second to Mesoraco behind the plate. Trade him and get something in return. You were able to package those two, along with the enigma that is Edinson Volquez to get Mat Latos, a young arm who is just 24 and has proven it at the big league level already. I already discussed the reasoning behind trading Travis Wood, which falls along similar lines. Like the great bluesman Buddy Guy once said, "you gotta go with what ya know." You know Latos has gotten it done at the big league level, as has Sean Marshall. Alonso and Grandal are still unproven for the most part, while it served no purpose to keep Wood as nothing more than a spot-starter.

Sometimes "all-in" plans do not work. You can look no further than my White Sox from last year to find that out. However, what happened with the Sox last year was basically Murphy's Law working in full effect in Chicago. Almost everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. The bullpen imploded in April and May, Peavy couldn't stay healthy (and when he did, he stunk up the joint), Gordon Beckham continued to regress and John Danks, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios all had the worst years of their career. I just cannot see that happening with the Reds.

The National League is wide open this year, and the pennant is ripe for the taking. I sincerely believe the Reds are good enough to not only win the division, but to take home a NL flag as well.

Blast from the past...from 1976...Pete Rose sings. Oh boy.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Profiling the White Sox: What can we expect?

Another former Sox star will lead the way
for Chicago in 2012, as Robin Ventura will take over as
manager for Ozzie Guillen.
The 2012 season will represent the beginning of a new era for the Chicago White Sox with new manager Robin Ventura. What era will be initiated this year, though? Will it be a continuation of the team spinning its wheels in the mud, stuck in gear? Will this be a return to the salad days of 2005-2006? Perhaps Murphy's Law will come into play, and the team will begin their downward spiral toward ineptitude and irrelevance? Only time will tell.

Right now though, the White Sox are in a sort of bizarre in-between phase as an organization. General Manager Kenny Williams has not made a full commitment to rebuilding, despite his comments that he is about to do so. On the other hand, they do not resemble a contender, especially when you consider their poor finish last year and their collective talent compared to the Detroit Tigers. In order to better assess where the team could potentially finish in 2012, we need to evaluate the team up and down; their strengths, their weaknesses, where we could potentially see them improve and where they will likely regress. First, we'll take a look at their infield before moving on to their other positions.

Team captain Paul Konerko has been the first baseman for the 
Sox since 1999.
Projected 2012 Infield:
1B: Paul Konerko
2B: Gordon Beckham
SS: Alexei Ramirez
3B: Brent Morel

Perhaps the one part of the team the Sox know they can count on is first baseman Paul Konerko. The team captain that Lindy's Sports Magazine described as "regal" is entering his 14th season with the South Siders, and he is coming off another strong season. He completed his second consecutive year with at least a .300 average, 30 homers and 100 RBI, and he finished in the AL's top ten in home runs, RBI and OPS. At age 36, Konerko is peaking, and while I expect him to be somewhere near the numbers he recorded the last two seasons, I also would not be surprised to see him regress a bit, at least in the batting average department.

Another thing that will be fun to follow is Konerko's quest for 400 homers in a Sox uniform. He has 389 in his career with the Pale Hose, and when he reaches that milestone, he will join Frank Thomas as the only two players in team history to reach that plateau. After that, Konerko will only be 48 behind Thomas for the team record, and if he stays healthy, does not get traded, and stays relatively productive, he should have a decent chance of surpassing Thomas in late 2013.

While there are no worries at first base, second base is a completely different story. Gordon Beckham has regressed at a disturbing rate since his solid rookie campaign in 2009, when he hit .270 with 14 homers, 63 RBI and an .808 OPS in just 103 games. In 2011, Beckham fell to .230 with 10 homers, 44 RBI and a .633 OPS. Considering that he was Chicago's first round draft choice in 2008 (eighth pick overall), there were high expectations from him once he entered the majors, and while you could give him a mulligan for the usual "sophomore slump" some big leaguers go through (like he did in 2010), this year could go a long way in determining what kind of player Beckham will become.

Meanwhile at shortstop, there appears to be no worries as Alexei Ramirez enters his fourth big-league season. Even though his batting average dipped 13 points to .269 last year, his power totals remained somewhat steady, finishing with 15 homers, 70 RBI and a .727 OPS. He is not an anchor of the lineup, but he does serve as a good complimentary piece.

Shifting over to third base, the White Sox will enter their second season with the young Brent Morel at the hot corner. He started off slowly last year before heating up during the season's final month, smashing eight of his ten total homers while recording 19 of his 41 RBI during that same time frame. This year will go a long way in determining what direction Morel will be heading.

"The Tank," Dayan Viciedo.
LF: Alejandro De Aza/Kosuke Fukudome
CF: Alex Rios
RF: Dayan Viciedo

The Sox will feature a new look outfield this season, with three new faces added to the mix. Dayan Viciedo will take over in right, while Alejandro De Aza and Kosuke Fukudome look to compete for the other corner spot in the outfield. The only constant is Alex Rios, who will look to rebound from another poor season. Rios, along with Adam Dunn, were the main culprits behind an underachieving offense last year, as he hit only .227 with 13 homers and 44 RBI. Additionally, when you look the sabermetric stat WAR (wins above replacement), Rios actually finished with a -1.5 rating, meaning that the White Sox would have statistically been better off having someone else in the lineup instead of him. Ouch.

Dayan Viciedo (or as Hawk Harrelson calls him, "Tank"), will look to replace the offensive void left by Carlos Quentin, who was dealt to the Padres this past offseason. Viciedo is only 23, and after receiving limited playing time the last two seasons, the young outfielder from Cuba will finally get his opportunity to prove himself. The last two seasons in Triple-A have been very productive for Viciedo, as he recorded 40 home runs in 205 games at that level.

Alejandro De Aza recorded only 171 plate appearances for the Sox last year, but he made the most of them, hitting .329 in that time frame, along with recording a .920 OPS. He also brings a decent level of speed with him, recording 12 steals in 17 attempts last year. He looks to be the lead-off hitter for a team that has yet to produce a legitimate lead-off man since Scott Podsednik's departure three years ago.

Kosuke Fukudome was picked up for cheap by the Sox this offseason, and while he is competing for a spot in the outfield, look for him to be the fourth man in their depth chart this year. He split time between the Cubs and Indians last year, hitting .262 with eight homers and 35 RBI.

Designated Hitter:
Adam Dunn

Oh boy, where do I begin? Let's just say that there is nowhere to go but up for Dunn. The big man was historically awful last year, hitting .159 with 11 homers and 59 RBI, to go along with a dreadful .569 OPS. Along with Rios, Dunn finished with a -1.5 WAR, which means they would have been better off having someone else in the lineup (not that this surprises anyone).

However, he cannot possibly stay that bad, can he? Between 2001 and 2010, Dunn's seasonal averages were .250, 40 HRs, 99 RBI and 111 walks. You may call me crazy, but I'm calling for him to have a comeback season. He may not return to those lofty figures, but don't be surprised if he hits at least 30 dingers this season. I'm looking at the glass half-full here.

This year might be it for Pierzynski's tenure with
the Sox.
A.J. Pierzynski
Tyler Flowers

A mainstay with the South Siders for the last seven years, Pierzynski is entering the final year of his contract, and at age 35, his best years behind the plate are likely behind him. Tyler Flowers looks to be his backup this season, and being ten years younger, is slated to be his successor. Pierzynski has never possessed a cannon behind the plate, but he does possess durability for a catcher, playing at least 125 games in all six seasons in the South Side. Oddly enough, his .287 average ranked as one of the team's best at the plate last year.

John Danks will need to step up as the team's new ace
this season.
Starting Rotation:
John Danks
Gavin Floyd
Jake Peavy
Philip Humber
Chris Sale

The Sox will look to weather the loss of Mark Buehrle, who ranked sixth all-time in team history in victories (161) and seventh in innings pitched (2,476.2). Although Buehrle brought many good memories to Chicago, nothing lasts forever, and the Sox appear to be capable to move on from his departure. John Danks will be the new de facto ace, signing a five-year, $65 million contract during the offseason. He had been pretty solid the last few seasons, but he struggled quite a bit last year, finishing 8-12 with a 4.33 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP. Danks has earned the benefit of the doubt from many who watched the team, and he should bounce back this year.

Gavin Floyd was the subject of several trade rumors this past offseason, but it appears that he will stay put for now. The big righty is also looking to bounce back from a poor season, finishing 12-13 with a 4.37 ERA. Oddly enough, his WHIP was 1.16 last year, which was actually lower than some elite pitchers such as Felix Hernandez and CC Sabathia. Many are looking for him to return to the form he displayed in 2008, when he finished 17-8 with a 3.84 ERA.

For the Sox to succeed this season, they will definitely need for Jake Peavy to stay healthy. He has been hampered with injuries the last two seasons, and while it is highly unlikely he will return to his 2007-2008 form, he needs to stay healthy and contribute as a solid number three. The last two years have not been pretty when he has pitched, as he has a 12-13 record with a 4.77 ERA.

Philip Humber was the biggest surprise for their rotation last season, as he was a solid 9-9 with a 3.75 ERA, the lowest figure on the staff. He is projected to be the number four starter, should Peavy remain healthy and productive.

Meanwhile, the 22-year-old Chris Sale will finally enter the rotation this season in the number five spot, giving the youngster his first shot at succeeding as a starter. He was terrific out of the bullpen the last two seasons, finishing with a 2.58 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP in his brief career. The Sox looked for him to be a starter when they drafted him out of Florida Gulf Coast University in 2010, and enough chairs have shuffled around on the deck for him to have room to prove himself.

Matt Thornton has been a mainstay of Chicago's
bullpen since 2006.
Matt Thornton
Jesse Crain
Will Ohman
Addison Reed
Dylan Axelrod
Zach Stewart
Hector Santiago
Gregory Infante

The team has yet to decide on who their closer will be, but they would be better off not having Matt Thornton close games. Thornton is an excellent set-up man, but was dreadful as a closer last year, blowing four saves in April alone before being shifted out of the role in favor of Sergio Santos. In a puzzling decision, the Sox dealt Santos to Toronto in the offseason, meaning they are in search for who their guy will be at the end of games this season. Look for any of the aforementioned eight to be considered.

Overall, Chicago's bullpen ranked as one of baseball's worst last year, recording a 3.88 ERA, 21st in the majors.

Area that will improve: Designated Hitter
As I mentioned above, there cannot possibly be anyway Dunn will continue to perform that badly. There is nowhere to go but up for him.

Area that will regress: Bullpen
When you are entering Spring Training without a closer, that can spell trouble. Hopefully I'm wrong on this one, but that 'pen does not make me too confident heading into this season. I believe they will cost them several games (much like last year) and trading your best reliever during the offseason will not make matters any better.

Final Verdict: 80-82
Some prognosticators may see this team as being terrible, and judging by the amount of disarray and turnover that occurred with this team last year, I do not blame them. However, they still finished 79-83 in spite of everything that went on last year. I do not see them being too much better or worse than they were last year.

Also, for your pleasure, Chuck Garfein of CSN Chicago created this hilarious response to the "Cubs Win MLB 2K12" commercial that's out right now.