Blue Jays Rotation : The post-Halladay era begins in Toronto with intense focus on the three prospects acquired in exchange for the face of the franchise this offseason. Pitcher Kyle Drabek, first-baseman-to-be Brett Wallace, and catcher Travis d'Arnaud are expected be the core of future Blue Jay campaigns, but the immediate problem facing the team is fielding a starting staff in 2010 without a #1.
Ricky Romero and Shaun Marcum will vie for the defacto top slot although either would be a #1 in name only. Offseason acquisition Brandon Morrow and lefty Brian Tallet will follow them in front of a wide-open battle for the #5 slot. Second-year lefties Marc Rzepczynski and Brett Cecil will make strong bids. Dana Eveland, who was acquired from the A's this offseason as well as the underachieving and oft-injured Dustin McGowan, and David Purcey will be in the mix as well.
Romero threw BP on Friday for the first time this spring and looked great according to reports. After a hot first half to last season Romero was 6-6 5.54/1.76 after the break. He also had a 7.66 ERA in 5 starts against the Red Sox last year and a 5.94 ERA in 3 starts against the Yankees ... so there are questions. Ricky threw 164.1 IP in the minors in 2008 so his 192.1 pro IP last year may have contributed to his second half to some extent, but it doesn't feel like the total explanation.
Brian Tallet could be an interesting player to follow in all of this. Tallet had started just 6 games in 6 seasons prior to his 25 starts last year for the Jays. Despite a 100-IP jump in workload Brian was 7-8 with a 5.41 ERA as starter. There's a lot of bloat in those numbers, due in large part to 6 September starts after the 32-year-old was seemingly out of gas, 70 innings beyond his previous career-high workload. This, after stretching out from a reliever role to start the season.
Brian was 2-1, 6.25 in September. A look at his May and June of last year may be a better indicator of what he's capable of ... 4-4, with a 3.85 ERA and with a 1.41 WHIP.
"Tallet, there's definitely going to be some strong sentiment with him," GM Alex Anthopoulos said. "He had a run at certain points where he did very well, and he threw 160 innings for us. When you look at the averages in terms of ERAs and innings pitched, for a fourth or fifth starter, he was very solid and was a good stabilizing force."
Tallet will probably only be viable (assuming he makes the rotation out of camp) in AL-only formats ... and only as a 4th or 5th starter. But he bears watching this spring and could be part of your late draft sweep up strategy if he shows signs in March.
Blue Jays Closer : Just as the front end of the Jays pitching staff is an open question, so too is the back end where Cito Gaston is considering a shared closer role among the many non-options available to him. Kevin Gregg, Scott Downs, and Jason Frasor will likely split the job in some form or another over the course of the season either by design, or due to performance, or injury.
Gregg has the lineage of the group with 23 or more saves the last three seasons, and he seems to be skilled at gaining the confidence of managers, especially veteran managers like Cito Gaston. Last year he matched his career high K rate at 9.31 and cut his walks to 3.93 - not great, but his best BB rate since becoming a closer.
His problem last year was his HR/9 rate which jumped to 1.70 with the Cubs after two seasons of 0.95 and 0.39 with the Marlins. He did give up a few more FB last year than normal but his 15.3% HR/FB% was a totally outlying stat in his career and well about league average (around 11%) and his career average of 8.5%. That looks like a little bit of bad luck. Gregg is not a traditional closer, topping out at 91-92 and he's using his slider more of late. It's a safe bet that Cito will look at Gregg first and that as a result, Kevin is a decent bet to end the year leading the team in saves, but keep in mind he should not be confused with a #1 closer option.
Frasor is a more traditional closer candidate. He throws a plus fastball at 93-94 and backs that with a decent slider. He can also keep you off balance with and occasional change and splitter. Frasor was 11/14 in save opps last year with a nifty 2.50 ERA, with an 8.7 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. He keeps the ball in the ballpark and has earned his stripes in the AL East already.
The Jays signed Gregg for a reason however and it's unlikely they were thinking "set up guy" when they did. Frasor should start in that set up role and will push for saves throughout the year. For those of you in keeper leagues with liberal freezes, Gregg is on a 1-year contract with two years of options behind it. Frasor could easily be looking at a full-time closing role with the Jays in 2011.
Downs look to end up as a lefty specialist in this scenario except left-handed hitters don't find him particularly hard to figure out (.263/.786 vs .246/643 against RHH). He's a GB pitcher who will likely only see situational saves.
Cardinals 5th Starter : Rich Hill would seem to be a favorite at first blush but several other candidates are in the running including a couple of surprises. John Smoltz went 1-3, 4.26 while walking just 9 batters and striking out 40 in 38 IP for the Cards last year and topped that off with 5 Ks in 2 IP in his only playoff appearance. He's unsigned however and the Cardinals don't have enough payroll flexibility to make him viable offer.
For the time being the Cardinals seem to be hoping that 25-year-old Kyle McClellan is ready to grab the role despite never having made a major league start. Kyle posted a 3.38 ERA and 1.35 WHIP in 66.2 IP of relief last year with 51 Ks. He threw less sliders last year, almost foregoing it in fact, instead relying in his 91-92 fastball and his 88 mph cut fastball to set up what is a decent curve. Kyle will still toss a show-me change every once in a while as well.
He'll need to control his walks better than he did last year (4.5/9) and he's shown that ability in the past (3.0/9 in 75.1 IP in 2008), He'll also need to continue to throw GBs as a starter, but his biggest hurdle this year will be IP as he will certainly top his career high of 75 in 2008 and will likely double it. Should McClellan beat out Hill and youngster Jamie Garcia to win the fifth slot he should be a worth add for the back of your rotation, but have an exit strategy for the second half when the weight of all his innings starts to build up.
Cardinals SS : Brendan Ryan's wrist surgery earlier in the month has the Cardinals at least considering short-term options for shortstop. Ryan had surgery to address a chronic soreness in his right wrist and is expected to be limited in the first three weeks of camp.
The obvious solution to the Cardinals SS issues and their relatively soft bench was to sign Felipe Lopez who hit .325 in a late season run with the Cardinals in 2008. Last year Lopez hit .310 in 601 ABs with 9 HRs and 57 RBI.
The Cardinals successfully played the waiting game with Lopez since Ryan's surgery. Suitors dropped for Lopez and he recently fired Scott Boras as his agent, all of which brought his price more in line with the Cardinals budget.
Last year has to be considered a resurgence by Lopez who posted a .383 OBP with the Brewers in over 680 plate appearances. The caveat however is Felipe's .360 BHIP% in 2009 is a career best, and 37 points higher than his career BHIP%. Lopez's K and BB rates remain wholly consistent with his recent mediocre past leaving just a relatively lucky BHIP% as the only visible means of support of his very solid 2009. Betting on a repeat of that BHIP% this year would be a fools bet and a repeat of 680 trips to the plate this year seems even less likely.
Red Sox Batting Order : This Red Sox camp, to this point is incredibly devoid of drama or debate. Everyone has come to grips with the new outfield alignment for 2010 which will see Mike Cameron in CF and Jacoby Ellsbury in LF. Adrian Beltre has supplanted Mike Lowell as the starter at third base and Mike seems content with his role as the Red Sox equivalent of a 6th man. And even Jason Varitek has come to grips with his new life as the back up to Victor Martinez. Offensively the only thing there seems to be to discuss is how the pieces fit together in the batting order.
The Boston Herald reports that the Sox are toying with the idea of hitting Dustin Pedroia in the 5th spot in the order. Dustin is almost a prototypical 2-slot hitter but that may actually be cramping his style. Dustin raised his average 30 points with runners on base last season and struck out just 7.2% of the time. He's not a home run power house but he is more than capable of 50 doubles and a .470-.500 SLG% which will more a lot of base runners and knock in a lot of runs. It's hard to see how this would do anything but increase Dustin's value.
I'm going to work on the assumption that Dustin is smart enough and capable of tailoring his hitting approach to a role, and while we won't know until we actually see him do it I will say that in 20 ABs hitting cleanup since 2007, Dustin's slash line is .650/.652/1.802. You want bigger samples? I do too. Over the last three years with runners on ... a 5th-slot type of situation Dustin's slash line is .313/.382/.823 ... with none on it is .313/.370/.847 ... If your math skills are not warmed up yet, I'll tell you that means that over the last three seasons Dustin's SLG% drops 36 points with runners on. So much for bulking up for a situation. Keep in mind though he's as equally tough an out and just as capable of moving runners along, the primary role of the #5 hitter.
A move to 5th in the batting order is not likely to chip into Dustin's SBs or doubles or batting average and it should goose his RBI total. With JD Drew and Marco Scutaro very viable alternatives for the #2 position, and much less so candidates for the #5 hole, don't discount this possibility too quickly.
Red Sox Corners/DH : Mike Lowell wasn't supposed to be here. Theo's plan was to trade Mike to Texas along with $9M of his salary and spend $3M on the free agent market, supplementing his bench and providing some insurance for the uncertainties of David Ortiz and Adrian Beltre. The Rangers balked at Lowell's thumb injury in a trade they had agreed to with the Sox for Lowell and the Red Sox stopped looking for corner help. Mike Lowell showed up at camp with a first baseman's glove determined to show that he's healthy. To this point Mike has participated in throwing and defensive drills but has only hit off a tee.
Mike says his goal is to show he's healthy, and in his mind showcase himself for a trade to a team which can offering a starting position. Mike is less than a week away from live BP in his own estimation and feels his recovery from thumb ligament damage is a "minor issue". He thinks he could be ready for the first exhibition games but will likely be 3 or 4 games behind. Lowell says his surgically repaired hip is "10 times stronger" than it was last year at this time
The Red Sox maintain the situation will take care of itself and there are enough moving parts in the starting lineup between 1B,3B, and DH that Lowell could play a very significant role if it works out that he stays in Boston. They acknowledge however that David Ortiz is their DH and Beltre is the starter at 3rd.
Adrian Beltre : While we are on the subject, Beltre is expected to resume full workouts soon after turning his ankle on Wednesday. Beltre reported major improvement on Friday in limited testing
Brandon Webb : Friday provided more positive signs for the D-Back and Brando Webb owners as he continues his return from shoulder surgery last August. Webb had a strong 45-pitch bullpen session on Thursday and followed that up yesterday with a "really good" long toss session in the words of pitching coach Mel Stottlemeyer Jr. I'll leave it to all of you to imagine what a "really good" long-toss session looks like. Stottlemeyer rolled balls to him during the session to get his feet moving in an attempt to reset his timing and mechanics. Webb has been working on the side alone but will take his next session on Sunday with other pitchers, So far. So good.
Carlos Beltran : The news is less good for we Carlos Beltran owners. Beltran has yet to take part in baseball activities and the Mets have essentially written him off until May. The Mets and Beltran had a little spat over a procedure that Carlos apparently decided on unilaterally this winter. they've since kissed and made up. Angel Pagan and Gary Matthews Jr. will split CF duties for the first few weeks of the season and the Mets are reportedly thinking about batting Jose Reyes third in his absence, which could be an issue for Reyes owners counting on high SB totals.
Billy Wagner : Wagner left Braves camp on Friday and returned home with an undiclosed illness believed to be an upper respiratory infection. More when we get it but nothing here suggests any change in the big picture. Wagner appears to be set as the Braves closer for the upcoming campaign.
Jair Jurrjens : The Braves practically have to strap Jurrjens down to keep him from rushing his recovery from shoulder soreness. Jurrjens tried to talk his way into a throwing session on Friday but the brass turned him down. That's a good sign. He did throw some long toss and did hear a little soft barking from his shoulder. he's still on track for a mound session sometime next week and it remains possible he will be ready to go opening day.
Derek Holland : It turns out that Derek Hollands slightly sprained knee will not be much of an issue. Doctors have cleared Holland to resume baseball activities and he will throw off a mound today.
Justin Duchscherer : Justin responded so well to his Thursday throwing session that he decided to play catch again yesterday. Duchscherer had a minor back procedure earlier this week and all indications are that his recovery is going very well.
Chris Burke : Burke is going to miss two weeks with a fractured right ring finger after injuring himself trying to field fly balls on Thursday. Oddly enough this can only help his chance of making the team and if your draft comes up in the next two weeks start talking him up to your opponents and see how high you can get him drafted ...
Stephan Strasburg : That low rumble you heard yesterday was Nationals manager Jim Riggleman sending shock waves through every mock draft in the country by admitting on the record that Stephen Strasburg could make the major league roster for opening day. The #1 overall pick in the 2009 draft has done nothing to diminish his stock in the AFL this fall or in camp so far ... but then again he hasn't proven anything yet either. Still, this you can't ignore. Strasburg's ceiling is too high, even with the Nationals. We have a whole camp to track this so buckle up. As it stands now however, in keeper leagues, start positioning yourself for this rare talent.
Pablo Sandoval : The Kung Fu Panda, Pablo Sandoval will wear prescription goggles this season after being diagnosed with diminished vision in his left after shortly after the season ended last year. Sandoval started wearing the vision correction in the Venezuelan Winter League this year and all he did was hit .395 in 20 games. They was already at a 14.5% K rate and 8.2% walk rate in the majors last year ... and making contact in the zone on nearly 88% of his swings ... oh and ya ... he hit .330! ... no ... !! ... And he couldn't see? Yikes ...