Roy Halladay Announces Retirement

Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game on May 29, 2010 against the Florida Marlins.

Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game on May 29, 2010 against the Florida Marlins.

One of the most dominant pitchers of the past decade has announced his retirement today. Roy Halladay, who pitched 16 seasons in Major League Baseball with the Toronto Blue Jays and Philadelphia Phillies, will sign a one day contract with Toronto and end his career. Halladay is 36 years old, and struggled with injuries over the past two seasons with the Phillies.

Halladay was selected with the 17th pick in the 1995 MLB Amateur Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays, and became a mainstay in the Blue Jays’ rotation for more than a decade. He became a full-time starter in 1999, and grew into an ace by the early 2000s. In 2002, “Doc” went 19-7 with a 2.93 ERA and was named to his first All-Star Game. 2003, however, was even better for Halladay. He earned 22 wins, struck out 204 batters, and earned the 2003 American League Cy Young Award. But despite being surrounded by decent pitchers and batters, Halladay never made the playoffs with the Blue Jays.

In December 2009, Halladay was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for a number of prospect players, and quickly made an impact in Philadelphia. In a career season, Halladay went 21-10 with a 2.44 ERA and a career-high 219 strikeouts. He was named to his seventh All-Star Game and helped the Phillies win their fourth consecutive NL East division title. On May 29th, he pitched the 2nd perfect game in Phillies history against the Florida Marlins, and on October 6, made his dramatic postseason debut by pitching a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds in the NLDS.

Halladay was known for his tricky pitches, including 90+ MPH fastballs and cutters that fooled batters. Halladay worked efficiently on the mound, and followed the same strict mechanical movement throughout his career. He also displayed immense focus during games, often refusing to talk to anyone but his catcher during his starts.

In 2012, at the age of 34, Halladay began to regress, and was placed on the disabled list in May with a shoulder strain. 2013 proved to be more of the same for the Phillies ace. Halladay missed more than three months after having surgery to remove a bone spur in his shoulder. It seems that Halladay’s decision to retire is a wise move made to prevent any more injuries.

Overall, Halladay finished his 16 year career with a 203-105 record, a 3.38 ERA, 68 complete games (all-time record), and 2,117 strikeouts. He made 8 All-Star appearances (and started two games), won 2 Cy Young Awards, threw a perfect game, and pitched the second no-hitter in postseason history. The world of baseball is losing a great player and a great man in Roy Halladay, but he surely left a great legacy for many pitchers to aspire to.

Phillies Fire Manager Charlie Manuel

manuel

Charlie Manuel celebrates the Phillies’ victory in the 2008 World Series.

The Phillies have announced Manuel’s firing today, in a press conference at Citizens Bank Park. “I’ve enjoyed every bit of it,” Manuel said, referring to his nine-year tenure in Philadelphia. He is the winningest manager in Phillies history, with a  780-636 record (.535 win percentage). Manuel led the Phillies to five straight NL East division championships from 2007-11, won the 2008 and 2009 NL Penants, and the 2008 World Series, the Phillies’ first title since 1980.

The Phillies will replace Manuel with third base coach Ryne Sandberg. Sandberg, who was drafted by Philadelphia in the 1978 Amateur Draft, is a 2005 inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He has some managerial experience at the minor league level; he won the 2010 Pacific Coast League Manager of the Year with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs and the 2011 Minor League Manager of the Year with the Triple-A Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. “I think he’ll be a real good manager,” Charlie Manuel said.

October 31, 2008 was perhaps the greatest day in Philadelphia sports history in the past 30 years. Two days after the Phillies won the 2008 World Series, more than 2 million people crowded the streets of downtown Philadelphia and packed Citizens Bank Park to watch the Phillies championship parade, the city’s first in 25 years. The day marked the pinnacle of a tremendous season filled with great performances from Phillies mainstays Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Cole Hamels.

But that day also marked the beginning of a decline for the Phillies that has lasted nearly five years. Sure, the Phillies won the 2009 National League Pennant and three more division titles in 2009, ’10, and ’11, but for all the high expectations and hopes of the Phillies faithful, they never won another championship. But perhaps the true turning point was the resignation of Phillies’ general manager Pat Gillick. His successor, Ruben Amaro, Jr., has invested a great amount of money into high-level talent, but the Phillies have not won a title.

Ruben Amaro, Jr. has agreed to extremely lucrative contracts with many Phillies players, including Roy Halladay (3 years, $60 million), Ryan Howard (5 years, $150 million), Chase Utley (2 years, $27 million), and Cliff Lee (5 years, $120 million). Amaro has locked up millions of dollars for these superstars, none of which are younger than 33. With few exceptions (namely Domonic Brown), Amaro has done little to promote the development of young prospects in the Phillies’ organization. For a general manager who is “looking at a bright future,” signing old, injury-prone players to max contracts is a hypocritical act.

Charlie Manuel wasn’t exactly the most eloquent speaker in his press conferences and wouldn’t exactly be named the most charismatic or motivational manager in baseball history, but his offensive style of coaching produced the most successful teams in Phillies history. In his nine years in Philadelphia, he produced 4 teams that won 90 or more games, and only this year did Manuel’s Phillies have a losing record. For 9 years, Charlie Manuel was the boss of the most successful Philadelphia sports team, and most Phillies fans are sad to see him go. But many Phillies fans might believe that the wrong man lost his job.

Phillies Sign Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez from Cuba

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez joins Raul Valdes as the only other Cuban player on the Phillies roster.

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez joins Raul Valdes as the only other Cuban player on the Phillies roster.

Cuban baseball players are among the best in the world, and many have found success upon defecting to the United States. Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman has developed a powerful legacy since he defected in 2010. Athletics outfielder Yoenis Cespedes recently won the 2013 Home Run Derby. And Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig has been the talk of the league, hitting .376 and leading the Dodgers on a hot streak of late.

Now another Cuban sensation is headed to the major leagues. The Philadelphia Phillies announced the signing of 26-year-old pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez to a 6 year, $50 million contract. The contract is the richest contract ever given to an international player. According to a Yahoo Sports report,Gonzalez has  “a fastball that sits around 93 mph and recently topped out at 96, a split-fingered fastball and changeup that serve as his off-speed pitches, a cut fastball and a slow curveball.” Gonzalez defected earlier this year to Cuba to Mexico and played in a low-level league there.

The move comes as positive news for the Phillies who have struggled recently. The Phillies are 1-6 since the All-Star break, and currently sit at 49-54, 8.5 games out of first place in the NL East. Phillies ace pitchers have had a rough time this year: staff ace Cole Hamels is 4-13 with a 4.09 ERA, and 2010 Cy Young winner Roy Halladay has been out since May after undergoing shoulder surgery (not to mention his 8.65 ERS in 7 games). The only bright light on the Phillies staff has been Cliff Lee (10-4, 3.05 ERA), who remains the subject of trade rumors before next week’s trade deadline.

The signing of Gonzalez is surprising for the Phillies. General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. continues to remain optimistic about the Phillies season despite the team’s recent slide. Three teams stand between Philadelphia and the last Wild Card spot in the National League. Players like Chase Utley and Cliff Lee could be on their way out of Philadelphia soon. Without substantial improvement from the pitching staff, Amaro could be forced to sell and rebuild.

That’s where Gonzalez comes in. He has constantly impressed scouts in his baseball career. He succeeded as a star pitcher in the Cuban National Series, and succeeded again when he arrived in Mexico. At 26, Gonzalez would be one of the youngest pitchers on the Phillies roster. He will start in the Phillies minor league system (likely Triple-A Lehigh Valley) before being called up in mid-August, according to team sources. Not much is certain about Gonzalez’s future, but the addition of the Cuban star is still great news for a subpar team.

2009 World Series Opponents Could Become Trade Partners

After matching up particularly well in the 2009 World Series, the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees make excellent partners again, but not in the grand theatrics departments but, instead, for (multiple) trades.

A season-high five games under .500 at 39-44, the Phillies need to face reality, and that is their core of the Utleys, Rollins, Howards and Hamels of the world are either fading stars (Utley and Rollins), a platoon bat (Howard), or an ace in the midst of an unlucky season with little run support. It’ll be a tough day in the City of Brotherly Love, but a necessary one for the future. The future for the Phillies could come from the now team that arguably started their postseason downfall and has since seen more injuries than a PSA. 

Despite scoring 10 runs–their most since May 10–against the Twins last night, the New York Yankees certainly haven’t been the Bronx Bombers this season. Featuring a bottom-five offense which happens to have the third-worst OPS (.681) and a wRC+ of 83, the 43-39 Yankees need help, and fast. Although Alex Rodriguez (hip) has just started his rehab assignment, the offense has taken a huge hit with the loss of Derek Jeter (broken ankle), Mark Teixeira (season-ending wrist surgery), Kevin Youkilis (likely season-ending back surgery), Curtis Granderson (hand), Francisco Cervelli (hand) and Eduardo Nunez (ribcage). With veterans like Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells regressing not only into pumpkins, but jack-o-lanterns-still-up-at-Christmas levels of staleness, there could perhaps be a package of players discussed between the two teams. In order of a likely transaction between 2009’s best teams, here are the players that will likely find themselves on the move sooner rather than later.

Carlos Ruiz
Although Phillies President David Montgomery admitted to Ken Rosenthal the team is hesitant to start selling, Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com reported last week that the Yankees have discussed acquiring catcher Carlos Ruiz. Given that the Yankees’ catching has hit a combined .233/.299/.336, Ruiz would be an immediate upgrade, especially against left-handed pitching (.800 career OPS), the Yankees’ biggest vice this season ( just a .649 OPS). The 34-year-old Chooch is owed about $2.5mm before becoming a free agent at season’s end, which makes Ruiz even more attractive for the Yankees given their desire to get under their self-imposed $189mm payroll cap next year for luxury tax purposes. Although Ruiz is slashing just .261/.316/.295 in 98 PAs this season, the Phillies would likely get something decent back for Ruiz, and his heir–Tommy Joseph–will likely be a September call-up. Ruiz isn’t the only free-agent-to-be that would interest the Yankees, however.

Michael Young

Acquired just a week apart from each other, the Yankees would have loved to seen Kevin Youkilis post a .344 OBP with 105 OPS+. Unfortunately for them, Kevin Youkilis would play in 28 games, missing just about all of May with a lumbar strain in his spine, which would eventually turnout to be a herniated disc in his back, causing the once-Greek God of Walks to undergo back surgery, which puts him at a late-September return barring no setbacks. The aforementioned numbers, however, belong to Michael Young, and though he’s shot defensively (-6.1 UZR this season), the 36-year-old third baseman would be a welcome sight as New York’s third baseman/designated hitter given David Adams’ egregious .103 slugging in his last 20 games. When Rodriguez returns, Young  and his career .312 average against LHP could slide into a platoon with first baseman Lyle Overbay. Kevin Frandsen would likely be Young’s immediate replacement barring something unforeseen, and if 2012 was any indication, Frandsen could handle full-time duties if necessary. From July 31 onward last season, Frandsen hit .338/.379/.448 in 54 games with just 18 strikeouts. Of the $16mm owed to Young, $10mm is being paid by the Rangers, and in this land of hypothetical, both the Yankees and Phillies would be paying $3mm. However, Young is not only of interest to the Yankees, but the Red Sox, who, according to George King III of the New York Post, “want him [Young] badly.” Boston recently demoted struggling Will Middlebrooks to AAA. Yankees third basemen have combined for a wOBA of .260, while Boston’s hot corner sits at .323, respectively.

 John Mayberry Jr.
Hitting his first major league home run in Yankee Stadium on May 23, 2009, John Mayberry Jr. admittedly fitz the Yankees perfectly; either in the outfield or in a first base platoon, similar to what I suggested with Michael Young. With the Yankees originally acquiring Vernon Wells to provide the right-handed power in the outfield otherwise filled with LHBs Curtis Granderson, Brett Gardner and Ichiro, it’s pretty apparent Wells is just about done at this point, with just eight extra base hits since May 1, hitting .184. Mayberry’s .750 OPS would be fourth-best on the team, and his .846 OPS against LHP would be over 1oo points better than Wells’ .733. Unlike Young and Ruiz, Mayberry is controlled until 2016, and will be arbitration-eligible for the first team next season. Obviously, it would require a bit more from New York’s side to pry away the strikeout-prone Mayberry (21.6 K%), which would lead  to a Darin Ruf cameo or having Delmon Young play right every game for the remainder of the season. 

Chase Utley
Although no one has come right out and said it, at least in the Phillies organization, it’s looking more and more likely the Phillies are shopping Chase Utley, despite Ruben Amaro Jr.’s desire for Chase Utley to “remain a Phillie for life.”  The Orioles, Royals, A’s and even the Dodgers have been interested in the “The Man,” but that discussion is for another day. Despite missing a month due to an oblique injury, Utley has remained consistent, posting a wOBA of .371 this season, which isn’t far off of his career wOBA of .377. Of course, Robinson Cano remains entrenched in New York, but it’s worth noting Utley has some experience at first base; 24 games. In 25 PAs at the New(ish) Yankee Stadium, Utley has hit .300/.440/.300, with two of his five World Series homers coming in consecutive ABs in Game 1 of the 09 World Series. If–and that’s a large if–the Yankees do acquire Utley, it wouldn’t be too shocking to see them discuss a one-year deal for 2014. While Utley provided the offensive fireworks for the Phillies in the 09 World Series, there’s one more name on this list that could conceivably make sense for New York, but on the pitching side.

Cliff Lee
A target of the Yankees’ desire ever since the trading deadline in 2010 (ironically, the deal fell through due to an injury to the aforementioned David Adams), Cliff Lee would make sense for the Yankees not only this year, but for the future as well. Spurning the Yankees and Rangers after the 2010 season, it’s looking more and more likely that Lee could wind up on one of the aforementioned teams with the return for the Phillies needing to be “astronomical,” at least according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. Lee is in the midst of a typical Lee-ian year, with a 2.59 ERA (2.57 FIP) striking out a ton (23.7%) while walking none (4.3%). Lee’s friend and former rotation-mate CC Sabathia is dealing with declining velocity and isn’t looking very ace-like with a 4.15 ERA with his HR/FB ratio on pace to be a career-worst 13.9%. Add in the ineffectiveness of Andy Pettitte since returning from the DL due to back issues (17 ER in his last 36.2 IP); likely goner Phil Hughes (4.41 FIP); a shaky David Phelps (opposing .766 slugging in last five starts); returning Michael Pineda and Lee suddenly puts the Yankees over the top. The only problem, however, is the fact that Lee is owed at least another $67.5mm until 2016 with a $27.5mm player option for 2017 that vests if Lee throws 200 IP in 2015 or 400 IP from 2014-2015. Assuming the Yankees stay committed to their aforementioned $189mm plan for next year, Lee is essentially a non-discussion by default and necessity.

As for what the Phillies could receive, top prospects like outfielder(s) Slade Heathcott and/or Mason Williams would be a good place to start. Given their relief corp is atrocious, Adam Warren (3.11 ERA in 37.2 IP); Preston Claiborne (20 Ks in 24.1 IP) would be solid bets, as well as starter Ivan Nova (fourth in Rookie of the Year voting in 2011). Zoilo Almonte’s 124 wRC+ would be excellent for the future, as well. It all depends on what the final package is, but these names are the most likely to go.

Four years after their World Series (which you can watch here), both the Yankees and Phillies find themselves in somewhat familiar territory; both have bedded themselves with terrible contracts, and both are also hurt under the parity of the new CBA. Although they don’t want to admit it to their respective fan-bases, both large market teams will need to undergo a rebuild sooner rather than later, and for the Phillies, this rebuild could start with some help from a New York team that’s expected to make one last push not only for the great Mariano, but for their declining core as well.

Sizing Up the National League East

Depending on who you ask, the National League East features some of baseball’s best talents, and as is the case in any division, an abundance of veterans mixed with the youth of tomorrow is apparent in this division.  Today’s topic is the National League East in what will be a weekly series recapping teams’ respective off-seasons as well as some predictions.

The gloves are off for Stephen Strasburg, who is expected to surpass the 200-inning plateau this season.  Photo Credit: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

The gloves are off for Stephen Strasburg, who is expected to surpass the 200-inning plateau this season. Photo Credit: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

  Washington Nationals (98-64 in 2012): For many pundits, the expectation for the baseball team in  nation’s capital was a matter of when, not if, the Nationals would become a legitimate powerhouse.  Perhaps a little too soon by experts standards, the Nationals made it to Game 5 on the NLDS against St. Louis where an epic bullpen meltdown was their demise.     To address the issue, the Nationals signed former Yankees closer Rafael Soriano to a 2-year $14mm deal.  Also acquired was Twins’ center fielder Denard Span, owner of a .357 career OBP, averaging 25 steals a year.  For speed came the cost of power, as following a 2-year $24mm pact (mutual option for 2015) with gold-glove winner first baseman Adam LaRoache, popular outfielder Michael Morse was deemed expendable and sent to Seattle in return for Oakland’s pitching prospect A.J. Cole, the center-piece of the deal that brought pitcher Gio Gonzalez to Washington a year prior.  Seattle also sent catcher John Jaso to Oakland.  Featuring a rotation of stability, the Nationals figure to have Stephen Strasburg for more than the 159.1 IP in 2012, where his K/9 was an amazing 11.13.  Washington’s rotation lost Edwin Jackson (4.03 ERA; 3.85 FIP) but gained former Angels RHP Dan Haren on a one-year $13mm deal (Career 3.66 ERA; 3.64 FIP).

Breakout (And Disappointing) Performer: Tied into this team’s bold prediction, outfielder Tyler Moore has an ISO of .250 last year; 19 XBHs in 75 games.  Stretched into a full season, that’s over 28 homers.  A baseball season wouldn’t be complete without someone under performing and a season-ending injury, and my belief is that Bryce Harper could see some time in AAA this year. In July of 2012, Harper slowed down, featuring a .222/.306/.313 line.  This team will probably win anywhere between 97-101 games.

Atlanta Braves (94-68 in 2012):  For the first time since 1990, the Atlanta Braves will be without the name Chipper Jones gracing some aspect of their organization.  For the first ballot ., he managed a .287/.377/.455 line at 40-years old.  However, it won’t be fan favorite and contact hitter Martin Prado manning the position, as the Braves acquired outfielder Justin Upton from the Diamondbacks a few weeks ago, as well as third baseman Chris Johnson, expected to platoon with Juan Francisco (.477 against RHP).  Signing Justin’s speed-oriented brother B.J. back in November to a 5-year, $75mm deal, the Atlanta Braves outfield has historic potential.  It’s all a matter of whether or not there is an element of potential and “pushing each other” as the Uptons put it, or whether or not the Uptons’ lackadaisical approach takes shape in Atlanta.  For both BJ and Justin, rumors of such dormancy have plagued them for some time.  Also lost was back-up catcher David Ross, replaced by Gerald Laird.  The 35-year-old Ross, considered the best back-up in the game by many, signed a 2-year $6.2mm deal with the Boston Red Sox in November.  In 2010, Ross had his best season as a Bravo, hitting .289/.392/.479 in 59 games.  His loss becomes magnified by the fact that catcher Gerald Laird (signed by Atlanta to a 2-year, $3mm deal) has a meager .359 slugging percentage, and catcher Brian McCann (a free agent-to-be in 2014) saying he “isn’t sure” when he will start hitting following shoulder surgery.

The Braves outfield in 2013 and beyond. Justin Upton, left; Jason Heyward center; B.J. Upton, right. Photo Credit: David O'Brien (@ajcbraves)

The Braves outfield in 2013 and beyond. Justin Upton, left; Jason Heyward center; B.J. Upton, right. Photo Credit: David O’Brien (@ajcbraves)

Starting pitching has also been a strength for Atlanta since the days of Maddux-Smoltz-Glavine, and this off-season they traded away Tommy Hanson’s ticking time-bomb of a shoulder to the Los Angeles Angels for hard- throwing reliever Jordan Walden.  Slotting into the back-end of that bullpen with closer Craig Kimbrel leading the way will allow Atlanta’s starting pitchers (Medlen, Hudson, Maholm, Minor, Teheran with Beachy coming back) some ease of mind. Earlier this week, speedy outfielder Michael Bourn agreed to a 4-year, $48mm deal with the Cleveland Indians.  Obviously, Bourn was expendable with the two Upton brothers manning the outfield together, but between Bourn, B.J. Upton and Heyward, the Braves could have seen a drastic uptick of stolen bases, as their 2012 team was just under the league average (108) at 101 stolen bases.  The potential of Justin Upton, however, is a must.

Breakout Performer: While I’m not picking one of the sexy names in Justin or B.J. Upton, Mike Minor seems poised for more success following his second half rejuvenation.  In 14 starts (87.1 IP) following the All-Star Break, Minor posted a 2.16 ERA, a 4.19 SO/BB ratio and a .87 WHIP.  Kris Medlen’s 120 strikeouts to 23 walks is also absurdly good, but for Minor, the numbers posted in the second half could quietly make him one of the game’s best no. 3 starters for 2013.

Disappointing Player: Brian McCann saw his OPS drop to a career-low .698 last year, and following shoulder surgery, McCann’s production could be unknown.  His OBP was unspectacular (.318 vs RHP; .265 vs LHP).  For McCann, it all comes down to his shoulder.

Bold Prediction: The Braves play the Cardinals again in the wildcard format in St. Louis, only for the infield-fly rule to come back at Busch Stadium.  Atlanta will probably win around 93-95 games.

Philadelphia Phillies (81-81 in 2012): Following a 21-win drop-off from 2011, the Phillies perhaps face the most questions out of anyone in this division.  Is Roy Halladay healthy? What’s their defense like? How’s the bullpen with the addition of set-up man Mike Adams  to a  3-year $18mm deal (52.1 IP and a WHIP of 1.395)?  Losing outfielder Hunter Pence in a trade with the San Francisco Giants, center fielder Shane Victorino to the Dodgers (then Red Sox on a 3-year $39mm deal), and replacing Joe Blanton with Nationals cast-off LHP John Lannan on a one-year $2.5mm deal, the Phillies only have three regulars in their lineup from last year (Keep in mind Carlos Ruiz faces a 25-game suspension for Adderall use): Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jimmy Rollins.  Ironic.  Lannan owns a 53% ground-ball and was stashed in Triple-A last year, posting a 4.30 ERA in 148 2/3 IP.  Former third baseman Placido Polanco and speedy outfielder Juan Pierre left for the Miami Marlins (more on that later).  Replacing Victorino, and to a lesser extent, Juan Pierre as well, the Phillies acquired Minnesota Twins’ outfielder Ben Revere for Vance Worley and top prospect Trevor May to be the everyday center fielder.  There’s no doubt Revere can swipe bases–40 in 2012–but had a meager .333 OBP with literally no pop; 19 XBHs with 0 major league home runs.  For Revere, Charlie Manuel’s preference for Jimmy Rollins in the lead-off spot will probably have Revere batting lower in the order to start the season at leaast.  However, his 2.4 WAR will probably offset the addition Michael Young’s -2.4 WAR, who was, statistically speaking, the worst full-time player in the majors last year.  Posting a .277/.312/.370 line last year with a dWAR of -2.2, Young was acquired by Philadelphia to be their everyday third baseman in early December for reliever Josh Lindblom (acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Victorino trade) and minor league pitcher Lisalverto Bonilla.  At 36, Young’s career-low .682 OPS begs the question of whether or not Young’s best days are behind him, and according to GM Ruben Amaro Jr., the Phillies feel position stability will help Young’s production, but it’s worth noting he hasn’t played third base regularly since 2010.  On the subject of defensive liabilities, the Phillies also signed another Young, Delmon, to be the everyday right fielder on a one-year, $750,000 contract.  The former first-round pick, suspended last year for an anti-semantic rant in New York, will have weigh-in clauses, subject to the team’s choosing  in his contract.  Worth -0.9 WAR last year, Delmon Young, who hasn’t played right field regularly since 2007 with the Tampa Bay Rays, had a .296 OBP, and struck out 112 times.  Left field figures to be a competition between apparent Phillies cast-off Domonic Brown and power phenom Darin Ruf, a converted first baseman.  Realistically, this team could total anywhere between mid-70s and to mid-80 wins.  It all comes down to pitching, again.  Cliff Lee, despite the pathetic six wins, had nice peripherals, and Cole Hamels had a career year.  If Halladay’s fastball slows to the 87-89 range, look out.  If he pulls a Mike Mussina and learns to locate more often, then a wildcard isn’t out of the question.

Breakout Player: Darin Ruf had three homers in 12 games last year, and while it’s unrealistic to expect the .394 ISO carrying through a full season, it’s possible he could hit 20-25 homers, especially considering most teams still have not seen the player.  At the league minimum, this would certainly be a bargain.  Again, the issue here is defense, but if he hits, the critics will quiet.

Since the 2010 NLCS against the San Francisco Giants, Howard's career has seemingly started the downward bell curve.  Photo credit:

Since the 2010 NLCS against the San Francisco Giants, Howard’s career has seemingly started the downward bell curve. Photo credit:

Disappointing Player: Recently named to the third-worst contract in all of baseball, Ryan Howard’s decline has been swift, and at this point, one can start to wonder if a platoon would almost be more effective.  Coming off an Achillies injury, Howard posted a weak .219/.295/.423 line in 2012 in 71 games, good for 14 home runs.  The main issue with Howard has been his effectiveness, or lack thereof, against left-handed pitching.  Owner of a career .739 OPS against LHP, Howard hit .173/.226/.378 against southpaws in 2012.  For a player making $25mm annually, improvements must be made.

Bold Prediction: Darin Ruf out-homers Chase Utley this season, and Carlos Ruiz is traded at the deadline.

New York Mets (74-88): For the Mets, another season of irrelevance in perhaps baseball’s biggest market took place.  The biggest acquisition this offseason wasn’t a signing, but rather a trade, unpopular by many, yet necessary for the future.  Trading National League Cy Young Award Winner R.A. Dickey to the Toronto Blue Jays along with catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas, the Mets received a cornerstone piece in Travis D’Arnaud, the highly-regarded catching prospect originally sent to Toronto for Roy Halladay; as well as a stop-gap option catcher in John Buck, RHP Noah Syndergaard and minor league outfielder Wuilmer Becerra.  For the Mets, D’Arnaud’s addition might not serve importance for the upcoming 2013 season, but a core of D’Arnaud, pitching prospect Zack Wheeler and Matt Harvey (Who earned his cup of coffee in 2012) could potentially be right up there with the youth of the Washington Nationals sooner rather than later.  To fill the void left by Dickey, the Mets signed RHP Shaun Marcum to a one-year $4mm deal with another $4mm in incentives.  Marcum posted a 3.70 ERA with a 35.4% groundball rate, which given Citi Field’s spacious dimensions, could still benefit Marcum, who pitched to 124 innings last year before being shut down with elbow tightness.  For Marcum, plenty of balls will need to be caught in the outfield, and though they were in on Michael Bourn, the Mets outfield is a little uncertain from an everyday playing perspective.  With names like Lucas Duda, Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Collin Cowgill and Mike Baxter, platoons would be ideal:  Duda struggled mightily last year leading to time in Triple-A; Cowgill had a .510 OPS against RHP; Nieuwhenhuis had a .315 OBP and Baxter hit .048/.200/.095 against LHP last year.  The lack of production has led the Mets to sign former Red Sox outfielder Marlon Byrd to a minor league deal as well as Corey Patterson and Mike Wilson.  Andres Torres was non-tendered, while Jason Bay and the Mets mutually parted ways much-maligned outfielder Jason Bay.  Yes, they still owe him the remaining $21mm on his contract.  Relievers have been hunted in the bargain bin as well.  40-year old LaTroy Hawkins and his 4.9 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9. was signed to a minor league deal while Brandon Lyon earned an incentive-heavy one-year major league contract for the Metropolitans.  Recently, manager Terry Collins said Bobby Parnell, he of the 100-mph fastball, is his favorite for the closer’s job with Frank Francisco’s injury history.   The best news for Mets fans, however came when third baseman and face of the franchise, David Wright agreed to an 8-year $138mm deal in mid-December, keeping Wright a Met for life.  The franchise leader in WAR, runs scored, hits, total bases, doubles, walks, strikeouts, and extra base hits, the deal is front-loaded with the six-time All-Star receiving $12mm in 2020.  Wright has seen his OPS drop since moving to Citi Field for half the season, but 2012 he posted his highest OPS–.883–since his 2007 age-24 season.  While this team’s outfield could be historically bad, this team has a lot of right pieces for the future, and will probably finish in the 72-78 win range again.

Ike Davis needs to rebound from his .246 BABIP campaign in 2012.  Photo Credit: Getty Images/Huffington Post

Ike Davis needs to rebound from his .246 BABIP campaign in 2012. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Huffington Post

Breakout Player: Prior to breaking his ankle in 2011 and missing the rest of the season, first baseman Ike Davis had a BABIP of .344 in 36 games.  Despite last year’s .246 BABIP, Davis had a nice half; .255/.346/.542 in 75 games, still eclipsing the 30-homer mark with 32 home runs in a full season.  Would 40 home runs be out of the equation? Perhaps not.  It’s possible the low BABIP was fueled by Davis’ Valley Fever.

Disappointing Player: A defensive liability in right field, Lucas Duda was sent down to Triple-A in late July after posting a .493 OPS that month.  With the previous outfield names already mentioned, Duda is going to have to out-hit his defense issues, and fast.  A return to his rookie campaign in which he hit 10 homers and had a .852 OPS in 100 games would be pretty spectacular, but at 27, time really isn’t on his side, either.

Bold Prediction: The Mets will be 10 games behind at the All-Star Break, and manager Terry Collins, a lame duck manager, will be fired and replaced by Mets fan favorite Wally Backman.  The 2013 All-Star Game will be Citi Field’s Saving Grace.

Miami Marlins (69-93): What a mess of a year for the Marlins. Just when things were looking up for the South Florida franchise, owner Jeffrey Loria decided to break up his team. Prior to the 2012 season, the Marlins changed their identity from the Florida Marlins to the Miami Marlins, opened a state of the art $600 million stadium complete with aquarium backstops, changed their colors to reflect Miamian culture, and signed great players. The Fish landed Mets SS Jose Reyes off of the free agent market in a 6 year, $106 million contract, acquired pitchers Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell and Carlos Zambrano, and hired former White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen to lead the team. A year later, none of these players remain. The Marlins traded franchise player Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers in July for two pitching prospects. The Marlins also shipped Reyes, Buehrle, ace Josh Johnson, catcher John Buck, and infielder Emilio Bonifacio to Toronto for Yunel Escobar and prospect players. The only player remaining from last season’s starting lineup is outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. Filling Heath Bell’s closer shoes is RHP Steve Cishek, who had 15 saves last season with a 2.69 ERA.  The side-armer Cishek struck out 68 in 63.2 IP and held RHBs to a .185/.266/.282 line in 2012.  Former Phillies Juan Pierre and Placido Polanco also joined the club this offseason as free agents. Loria also fired Guillen, and has received much criticism for poor ownership and management of the club.

 

Really, is there anyone else to pick? Photo credit: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

Really, is there anyone else to pick? Photo credit: sportsillustrated.cnn.com

Breakout Player: There’s not a better player on this Marlins squad than Giancarlo Stanton. The 23-year-old outfielder broke out last season with a .290 batting average, 37 home runs, and 86 RBIs. On a team with few star players, Stanton has the opportunity to prove that he is one of the best sluggers in baseball. Look for Stanton and his career .282 ISO to put up better numbers this year if he can stay healthy.

Disappointing Player: Placido Polanco didn’t play in Miami in 2012, but his season was still disappointing. Hampered by injuries, Polanco played just 90 games for Philadelphia, worth 0.3 WAR, his worst mark since his 1998 rookie season. Polanco is 37 years old, and nearing the end of his career. He will only continue to get older and more susceptible to injury, so look for Polanco’s numbers to match those of 2012.

Bold Prediction: The Marlins will not sell out a single game this season, and will finish with the worst record in the National League. Maybe it would be even bolder to predict a sellout or two?  This team could maybe– a big maybe–win 65.