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Friday, July 31, 2009

As of this evening, seventeen teams could fairly consider themselves contenders. And that's not counting Seattle or the Mets, each of which are within six and a half games of the Wild Card. However, each of them more or less announced this week that their seasons were over. The Mariners traded their second-best starting pitcher, Jarrod Washburn, to the Tigers and the Mets decided not to pursue reinforcements for the injury-devastated roster which has fallen a full ten games back of the rival Phillies in the NL East.

For the remaining eighteen, the first two weeks of August will be a bit of a gauntlet and by the middle of the month the field will probably be pared down to a dozen or less. Among them certainly will be, to nobody's great surprise, the Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels. Most prognosticators considered this the most promising trio in baseball when the season began and, although each team suffered slumps which had some pundits doubting their own predictions, as August begins, they are each right where they were expected to be. Likewise for the reigning champs, the Phillies, who can pick up their 20th win of July this evening if they win the first start by newly-acquired Ace, Cliff Lee. The Dodgers, while appearing quite vulnerable in their four-game set against the revitalized Cardinals, still have the best record in all of baseball and have basically sewn up the NL West. The Cardinals and Cubs, now locked atop the NL Central, will almost certainly take their rivalry into the season's final weeks as both teams appear to be getting stronger as the season progresses. Those are the usual suspects. Here are the eleven franchises which are still trying to prove they are for real:

1. Tampa Bay Rays

The reigning AL champs have been pretty damn good again this season. The only reason I don't assume they will continue to hang around at least into September is they are going to have to leapfrog either the Yankees or Red Sox. The Rays lineup has been outstanding, but they need to get improved effort from James Shields, Scott Kazmir, and Matt Garza. They'll have a chance to gain a little momentum in the next two weeks, with seven games against the anemic offenses of Kansas City and Seattle, and only five games against contenders. They'll get to face the Angels prior to the return of Torii Hunter and Vladimir Guerrero. If they are going to keep pace with the "dynasty" teams down the stretch, they need to be striking distance by the beginning of September, during which they have 13 games against Boston and New York.

2. San Francisco Giants

The Giants are currently atop the NL Wild Card standings and have been for most of the last month or so. There is no doubting their pitching, as Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum are probably the top two candidates for the league's Cy Young thus far. Their offense is improving. Pablo Sandoval has become a legitimate middle-of-the-order hitter; the first in San Francisco since collusion drove Barry Bonds out of baseball. Brian Sabean is hoping that Freddy Sanchez and Ryan Garko will be enough to bolster a lineup which usually doesn't need to produce more than four or five runs to win. San Francisco has yet to reveal it's biggest midseason addition, as they consider if and when it is time to promote blue chip prospects Buster Posey, Madison Bumgarner, and Kevin Pucetas. If the team is still in a tight race for the Wild Card we may see all three getting major roles in September.

3. Detroit Tigers

They've been in first place since the middle of May, but they haven't been able to get any distance on the field, currently leading the White Sox and Twins by two games. The addition of Jarrod Washburn should solidify the back-end of the rotation, taking some pressure off of the young trio of Rick Porcello, Edwin Jackson, and Armando Galarraga. More important, however, is that Detroit gets second-half hot streaks from Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Guillen, and Magglio Ordonez. Hard to believe that prior to 2008 many, myself included, believed Detroit has one of the most potent lineup ever assembled (and they did score 821 runs in 2008), now they are 10th in the AL in scoring, behind mediocre teams like Toronto and Baltimore.

4. Texas Rangers

Most of the April and May surprises fizzled in the summer heat. Long forgotten are the first-place Blue Jays and Mariners and the double-digit winning streak of the San Diego Padres. The Ranger, however, have hung around. Currently they're just three back of the Angels and what's most impressive about it is that the Rangers haven't hit their stride offensively. Josh Hamilton, clearly still recovering from his various injuries, has only seven homers. Ian Kinser is hitting just .242 with an OPS under 800. Chris Davis had to be demoted so that he didn't demolish the major-league record for strikeouts. And the highly-touted catching duo of Saltalamacchia (665 OPS) and Teagarden (532 OPS) has been absolutely brutal. It's hard to believe, but the Rangers are sticking around with their starting pitching. Four members of the rotation (Millwood, Padilla, Feldman, and Hunter) have winning records, and rookie Derrek Holland (4-6) has had moments of brilliance as well. One has to believe that Texas will have better offense during the dog days. If so, they may make a run at the Angels. In the next two weeks they'll make an important west coast swing, facing Seattle, Oakland, and then Anaheim.

5. Colorado Rockies

August is a make or break month for the Rockies. Twenty of their twenty-eight games come against contenders, including seven against the division rival Giants who are sitting right in front of them in the Wild Card standings. Like the Rangers, the Rockies are getting unusually strong production from their starting rotation. Their starter's ERA (4.04) is 6th best in the NL, despite having the toughest home park for pitchers. Unlike the Rangers, the Rockies are also getting it done with the bats, trailing only the Phillies in scoring. They will need to get continued production from their "Ace," Jason Marquis, who's famous for his late-season fades (4.86 career ERA after All-Star Break), if they're going to survive the month. If they do, they can look forward to 19 of 22 games against bottom-feeders, the Mets, D-Backs, Reds, and Padres, at the beginning of September.

6. Chicago White Sox

Nobody can accuse Kenny Williams of being trigger shy. He dealt his two best pitching prospects, both major-league ready, for a guy on the disabled list who may not be ready to pitch until September. What Kenny knows, however, is that after this weekend's series with the Yankees and then another home series against the Angels, the Sox get to face Cleveland, Seattle, Oakland, Kansas City, and Baltimore. If they can't keep pace through that stretch, they don't stand a chance regardless of the Peavy's health. What he needs is for Peavy to be ready to pitch when they hit a stretch of fifteen straight against the Red Sox, Yankees, Twins, and Cubs. The Sox are a "lite" version of the 2005 team which won the World Series. They've got consistent starting pitching, strong defense, and several guys who can hit the long ball. Much will depend, however, on health. Not only Peavy, but also Carlos Quentin and Alexei Ramirez, who are the only youthful energizers in the Chicago lineup.

7. Minnesota Twins

By sweeping the White Sox earlier this week, the Twins moved themselves into a tie for second place. This is not a typical Twins team. They've only got two starting pitchers with ERAs under 4.00 (Nick Blackburn and Anthony Swarzak). But, what they do have is four hitters with 17 or more homers and 50+ RBI. The middle of the Twins order - Mauer, Morneau, Kubel, and Cuddyer - is becoming one of the more imposing in the American League, and all those players, as well as leadoff man Denard Span, are homegrown. Unfortunately, their other homegrown quartet, pitchers Blackburn, Francisco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, and Scott Baker, expected to be one of the best young rotations in the league this season, has been truly putrid. Those four have combined for a 30-25 record with a 4.72 ERA. Slowey is now out for the season and Liriano may soon follow him. Baker is showing signs of life, allowing only four earned runs in his last three starts, but if the Twins can't bolster their rotation somehow, the only interesting race in September will be Joe Mauer fighting Ichiro for his third batting title.

8. Florida Marlins

The Marlins won the World Series in 1997. They won it again in 2003. So, they're on the six-year plan, right? So...

If they're going to win again in 2009, they'll need to have a good second half. Which may be possible, as they've won eight of their last ten, including four of six against the Dodgers and Braves. In the next three weeks they'll need to do similarly well against the Cubs, Phillies, Rockies, and Astros. If the Marlins are still hanging around at that point, I'll start to be afraid. Until then, they look to me like pretenders.

9. Milwaukee Brewers

I will say this much: I don't want any part of Milwaukee if I'm another NL manager. Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun are probably the most intimidating duo in baseball, combining already for 46 HR and 159 RBI. They can put a game almost out of reach by the third inning. The rest of the team, however, leaves much to be desired. Corey Hart and J. J. Hardy have been disappointments after breaking out in 2008. Manny Parra (5-8, 6.50) has not lived up to his potential either. Yovani Gallardo (10-7, 3.13) has been great, but the rest of Brewers starters have a 24-30 record. There just isn't enough pitching for the organization to make their second consecutive appearance in October.

10. Atlanta Braves

You can't say they didn't try. After their first losing season in almost two decades, the Braves management went out this offseason and acquired Javier Vazquez, Derek Lowe, and Jairr Jurrjens. That trio has combined for 27-21 record and a 3.29 ERA. They also signed Kensin Kawakami, who's been respectable at 5-8, 4.37. When they couldn't find a veteran to take over the #5 spot, they turned to rookie Tommy Hanson, who's been exceptional (5-1, 3.25). Then, when the team proved to be offensively challenged, they added Nate McLouth, Adam LaRoche, and Ryan Church. None of them are huge names, but all are improvements over the players they replaced. This rotation would be a nightmare in October, but I don't think they're going to get there. This team just doesn't appear to have enough offense, especially when Chipper Jones takes his obligatory trips to the D.L. Chipper leads the team with only 13 HR. They don't have anybody on pace for 100 RBI.

11. Houston Astros

The Astros are a mirage. One which will be forgotten by the end of next week. They've already lost six of their last seven. Their next eighteen games come against other NL contenders. Their rotation includes Mike Hampton (6-8, 5.36 ERA), Brian Moehler (7-6, 4.99), and, until recently, Russ Ortiz (3-6, 5.57). Their current lineup includes Chris Coste (700 OPS), Ivan Rodriguez (679 OPS), Kaz Matsui (656 OPS), and Geoff Blum (714 OPS). Miguel Tejada is quietly having an excellent season, much to the surprise of many after his rough offseason, but most of the rest of Houston's success is smoke and mirrors.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

At least 7 teams with regrets...

Toronto's General Manager, J. P. Riccardi, has already come under fire, at home and in the national media, for his Roy Halladay publicity tour. Halladay "rumors" dominated the headlines for most of July, but the Blue Jays failed to find a trading partner in the end. It remains to be seen whether Riccardi will wish he had accepted the reported offer from the Phillies which included either J.A. Happ or Kyle Drabek and Dominic Brown or Michael Taylor. If Toronto ends up trading Halladay this offseason for a package that doesn't include two players the equal of what Philadelphia had on the table, Riccardi will look like a bit of a schmuck, overplaying his hand just as the Twins did a couple years ago with Johan Santana.

However, regardless of where Halladay is pitching next spring, there will be at least seven general managers spending the winter asking themselves "What if...?" One team will take home a World Series trophy and that lucky GM will tell his fan base, "See, we really didn't need Roy Halladay?" But whether he admits it or not, even he will have images of the Doc's gravity-defying repertoire flitting through his mind's eye right up to the final out of the season. And the seven playoff competitors who fall short...well, they'll be having trade deadline nightmares for years to come, particularly when several of the vaunted prospects who they refused to consider parting with never reach their potential, as is inevitably the case with the majority of top prospects.

I'm going to assume that Riccardi was especially reluctant to turn Doc over to another American League team (particularly the Rays, Red Sox, or Yankees), where he could make a triumphant return to Toronto half-a-dozen times in the coming two seasons, so I'll focus my comments on National League contenders.

If the reigning champions, the Phillies, don't win the World Series again this year or next, they will probably be the team kicking themselves the hardest, because if they had been willing to part with any three of their top four prospects, they probably could've guaranteed themselves a dynasty. However, by adding Cliff Lee, they may have found a way have their dynasty and their "future stars" too. Lee is somewhere between 80% and 90% of the pitcher Halladay is, but he cost not a single of Philadelphia prized prospects. The distressing question for Phillies fans is whether having a rotation full of left-handers (Lee, Hamels, Happ, and Moyer) could haunt them in the playoffs when they come up against righty-heavy lineups like Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Chicago. Joe Blanton is the only right-handed pitcher in the Phillies rotation, although they do have some kid named Pedro rehabbing for an August return.

The Dodgers put away the AL West sometime in May, so they weren't pressed to make a splash at the deadline. But one has to wonder whether this team can succeed in October when their top two starters are 21- and 25-years-old. Both Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley are on pace to pitch WAY more innings than they ever have before. Billingsley is already showing some wear and tear, having allowed 5 or more earned runs in four of his last seven starts. The Dodgers do have a veteran in Randy Wolf, who has pitched much better than his record indicates (5-5, 3.43 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 99 K, 134 IP) and they have Hiroki Kuroda recently returned from the D.L. Kuroda hasn't been great so far, but he did have a 1.46 ERA in two postseason starts in 2008. Roy Halladay would've looked really good in Dodger Blue, but the fact is, the Dodgers don't have the prospects to make an offer equal to that which Philly put on the table, so they would've had to part with productive pieces of their current major-league roster - probably Kershaw, Billingsley, or Matt Kemp - which may have created as many problems as Halladay solved.

St. Louis may be the most improved team this trade season. The additions of Matt Holliday, Mark DeRosa, and Julio Lugo (as well as the resurgence of Ryan Ludwick) filled out the lineup around King Albert and gave Tony LaRussa the depth off the bench which he so covets. The rotation for St. Louis has been very good (3.60 ERA, 2nd to San Francisco in the NL), so the Cardinals certainly addressed their more pressing problem. They also made it readily apparent that they planned to "go for it" this season. They unloaded their top two pitching prospects (Chris Perez and Jess Todd) to get DeRosa and their top hitting prospect to get Holliday, essentially decimating the farm system. Nonetheless, they probably could've cobbled together a package including Colby Rasmus and Daryl Jones which might've been enough the nab Halladay as well. If you're going to "go for it," then sell the whole damn store! The 1-2 combo of Doc and Chris Carpenter would've given them the formula for playoff domination.

Of all the contending teams who were relatively quiet at the deadline, the Cubs are somehow the most perplexing and it probably has more to do with their impending sale than any apathy on Jim Hendry's part. The Cubs have no other reason to be conservative. They are a veteran team trying to redeeem themselves after two straight early exits from the postseason. Much of their core is either declining or on the verge of free agency, and they don't look like they have much future beyond Lou Pinella's contract (which runs through 2010). They probably could've made a run at Halladay by giving up some combination of Jake Fox, Randy Wells, Josh Vitters, Jeff Samardzija, Jose Ceda, and Micah Hoffpauir. However, Chicago was one of the few contending teams that didn't even get mentioned in the daily Halladay updates, suggesting that Hendry's hands were truly tied.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

The End of an Era

Buster Olney makes the argument over at that the Blue Jays "must" trade Roy Halladay now or they risk ending up with a lukewarm package of prospects like the one the Twins got from the Mets for Johan Santana a couple years ago. He reports that the Rogers Centre was full of salivating scouts this afternoon as Halladay dominated an excellent Red Sox lineup and won another duel against the Ace of a divisional rival (this time it was Jon Lester). I had to wonder, as Halladay polished off yet another complete game by eliminating Big Papi, Jason Bay, and Jacoby Ellsbury in order, whether he was saying farewell to Toronto and the team he's made 273 starts for over the last decade. The ovation which last throughout the 9th suggested that loyal Toronto fans sense they might be saying goodbye to the face of the franchise.

The complete game victory has become Hallday's trademark. The 44 he's hurled since 1999 is easily the most by any pitcher during that span. Saturday's masterpiece was vintage Halladay as he managed to defeat one of the most patient teams in baseball using only 105 pitches. He controls his viciously biting arsenal to a degree which is almost unfair (his K/BB rate this season is 113 to 17). Pitches are liable to bite in any direction, on any count, regardless of the hitter he's facing (Ellsbury, who has the 8th lowest strikeout rate in the AL, was utterly fooled by Halladay's last cutter, which started belt-high on the outside edge and dove toward his shoelaces).

It wasn't until today that I became convinced that Doc was actually going to be trade,d not because of Olney's column or any "necessity" from the perspective of the Jays, but because, clearly, Doc is tired of waiting for his chance at a ring. He's always been good, but he's never been better than he is right now, and perhaps never will be. Other than Albert Pujols, one could easily argue that he is the single most valuable commodity in all of baseball, which is why it is so difficult to imagine the Blue Jays getting a fair deal. If he were to move to the NL, I would be surprised if Halladay didn't duplicate or even improve upon C. C. Sabathia's run of dominance in the second half of 2008.

So, of course, the question everybody is asking, where will he end up? The Jays will be reluctant to trade Doc where he might haunt them for years to come, in other words, the AL East. The Dodgers might be a nice fit, but all of L.A.'s major-league ready talent is currently contributing to the major-league roster, which means the pieces for a deal probably aren't there. The same is probably true of the White Sox and Tigers. Which leaves...

1.) Philadelphia Phillies

Let's get something straight. Pitchers like Halladay are not intimidated by ballparks. The opposing pitcher, after all, has to deal with the same conditions. What Halladay sees when he looks at the Phillies is not only a proven World Series pedigree, but also the two qualities which he obviously covets. Halladay is at his best when he can relax, work quickly, and pitch to contact. The Phillies have a potent offense, which means he will grow much more accustomed to pitching with a lead, which is obviously when he is most dominant (this afternoon Halladay allowed five of his six baserunners in the first three innings). The Phillies also have terrific defenders around the diamond, including probably the best infield in baseball with Jimmy Rollins (#1 SS according to John Dewan's Fielding Bible), Chase Utley (#1 2B according to Dewan), Pedro Feliz (#2 3B according to Dewarn), and an improved Ryan Howard (besides slimming down, Howard has improved his Ultimate Zone Rating in each of the last three seasons).

The Phillies organizational depth is ranked #12 by Baseball America, which means they have a fair amount of top prospects which Toronto might covet. The prizes are starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco (107 K in 108 IP at AAA, but only 4.97 ERA), outfielder Michael Taylor (.333, 15 HR, 18 SB, 977 OPS at AAA), outfielder Dominic Brown (.307, 9 HR, 14 SB, 916 OPS at A), and starting pitcher Kyle Drabek (9-2, 2.83 ERA at A & AA). It will likely take two of them, along with somebody like J.A. Happ, Lou Marson, or Sergio Escalano to lure Halladay away from the Jays.

2.) Milwaukee Brewers

Last year Doug Melvin turned Matt LaPorta into half a season of C. C. Sabathia. This year he could probably turne Alcides Escobar and Mat Gamel into a season and a half of Roy Halladay. However, those two players are currently on track to take over everyday positions for the Brewers in 2010. Will Melvin be willing to endure several more years of Bill Hall, Craig Counsel, etc. in the starting lineup in order to bring in an Ace. I argue that he should. Halladay would take the pressure off of Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra, as well as make Jeff Suppan and Dave Bush more or less expendable in the postseason. Escobar and Gamel are good prospects, but Doc Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball. The Brewers aren't going to be able to keep their core of young players together permanently. It would be good for Milwaukee if they made a serious run now.

3.) Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are a bit of a darkhorse as far as the rumor mill has been concerned so far, but they make as much sense as anybody. Time is running short for this Cubs team as Lee, Soriano, Ramirez, Bradly, and Lilly are all obviously entering the backstretch of their careers. Pinella is only signed through 2010 (same for Lee, Lilly, and Bradley), which means if the Cubs don't bring home a pennant this year or next, they are probably going to have to re-shuffle to deck before they make another serious run. By acquiring Halladay they would lessen the anxiety that accompanies every start by Rich Harden (and, to a lesser extent, Carlos Zambrano). It would also allow Sean Marshall to stay in the bullpen (his ERA as a reliever is 1.47, compared to 4.87 as a starter). And, perhaps most importantly, they would keep Halladay away from divisional rivals Milwaukee and St. Louis.

The Cubs farm system isn't exactly deep, but they've got a couple of premier prospects: Josh Vitters (.302, 15 HR, 831 OPS at A) and Jeff Samardzija (5-3, 3.72 at AAA). They also have a nice selection of major-league guys like Jeff Baker, Chad Fox, and Micah Hoffpauir who are still relatively young (and cheap), but have proved they can be good, if not great, at the top level. Jim Hendry might be more prepared than any GM in baseball to lay all his cards on the table in order to find the final piece of the puzzle. The Cubs don't have much to lose at this point.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday Night Notes: All-Star Break

Hippeaux's Predictions For the Second Half:
  • Ryan Howard will justify his All-Star selection and the inequity of Miguel Cabrera's snubbing will be exacerbated. Miggy's second half in 2008 was pretty explosive (.302, 21 HR, 70 RBI, 951 OPS) and this year he already has a pretty stellar first half to build on (.322, 17 HR, 48 RBI, 923 OPS). He faced tough competition on the A.L. ballot, but let's face it, he deserves to be there as much or more than Carlos Pena and Mark Texeira. Howard's selection prompted widespread accusations of nepotism, which are probably founded, considering it cost guys like Pablo Sandoval and Matt Kemp opportunities, but Charlie Manuel understands that Ryan Howard's game isn't suited to provoke All-Star selections. Every season he invokes the ire of Phillies fans with early season slumps, than reclaims their affections come summertime. These are his career OPS splits by month: 793 in April, 950 in May, 874 in June, 980 in July, 937 in August, and 1150 in September. His post-All-Star Break OPS (1050) is a full 175 points higher than in the first half.
  • Roy Halladay isn't going anywhere. I could be wrong. Some contender may get eager enough to put together a package which the Blue Jays can't pass up. But it will have to include at least two premier prospects, and with the premium placed on youth in recent years, I'm not sure teams are prepared to "mortgage the farm" to that extent. I can't imagine J. P. Riccardi would trade the best pitcher in baseball within his division, considering those are the teams he'll be trying to catch in the coming years, so that rules out three of the most obvious buyers. The Brewers have already made pretty clear that they aren't willing to part with their top prospects, guys like Alcides Escobar and Mat Gamel, in an attempt to recreate their Sabathia trade from 2008. So that leaves the Cardinals, White Sox, and two teams out of Los Angeles. I'm not sure any of them have enough good talent (which isn't already essential to their success) to woo the Jays. Honestly, Halladay is almost too valuable. Their may not be any such thing as a fair trade.
  • The Giants will go for it. If Cain's elbow injury is more than just a bruise, this could change. But the Giants rotation is undeniably the best in baseball. The starters are responsible for 38 of the team's 49 wins (despite being near the bottom in run support) and lead MLB in ERA (3.49), K (487), BAA (.236), and CG (8). They're second in WHIP (1.27) to Seattle. Although Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez, and Sandoval give this team a lot to build on, it isn't exactly a group which has time to wait. Randy Johnson, Ben Molina, and Randy Winn are only signed through the end of the season and Barry Zito, Edgar Renteria , and Aaron Rowand aren't exactly on the upside of their career tracks. The Giants have extraordinary pitching depth, with minor leaguers like Ryan Sadowski (recently promoted), Madison Bumgarner, Kevin Pucetes, Henry Sosa, and Tim Alderson looking very near to major-league ready, but other than Buster Posey and Angel Villalone, both of whom are probably still at least a year away, the Giants position player prospects are pretty pathetic. In the last ten year the Giants have only groomed one position player who became a major-league regular (Pedro Feliz). Sandoval is going to be the next and maybe Travis Ishikawa will join him, but guys like Fred Lewis, Nate Schierholz, and Kevin Frandson look like busts. If the Giants want to go for the NL Wild Card this year, they are going to need to acquire a bat. Most of the early rumors have surrounded Matt Holiday and I'd bet Billy Beane would be thrilled to get one of the pitchers mentioned above, with a few well-chosen B-level guys thrown in. I also wouldn't be surprised if the Giants seriously considered Miguel Tejada, Carlos Lee, Alex Rios, and Freddy Sanchez, among others.
  • The '09 Rays are not the '08 Rockies. Tampa Bay's +76 run differential (3rd in MLB) says a great deal about how good they are, despite being in third place in their division. They begin the second-half with a ten-game road trip against Kansas City, Chicago, and Toronto, against whom they will no doubt be favored, despite the fact that they are only 18-26 on the road so far. A strong start to the second half may be critical if they are going to surpass either the Yanks or the Red Sox (or both). (An interesting note: all three AL East contenders have great home records thusfar and the Yankees have the most home games remaining in the second half, 39 compared to 36 for both Boston and Tampa.) What bodes well for the Rays, in my opinion, is that Scott Kazmir appears to be close to becoming his dominant self again (despite a poor outing on Thursday), David Price recently outdueled Roy Halladay for his best start since being promoted, and James Shields' monthly ERA splits look like this: 3.74, 3.35, 3.15, 3.14. If the rotation (currently a 4.56 ERA) comes around, the Rays become the American League's best team...again.
  • Prince Albert is "crowned" King Pujols. There hasn't been a Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967. Pujols will have to hold off Prince Fielder, Ryan Howard, and Hanley Ramirez, but he's very much positioned to do the near unthinkable. He's ten homers up on Howard (who I guarantee will pass Adrian Gonzalez and Mark Reynolds by the end of July), nine RBI up on Fielder, and seventeen points back of Ramirez (who has spent much of the last two weeks nursing an injury). It would appear that average will be the greatest test, but while Pujols .332 is right in line with his career (.335), Ramirez is currently a dozen points above his best full season, 25 over his career, and nursing a hip flexor (see A-Rod, Mike Lowell), and Pujols nearest contention besides him is a rookie, Pablo Sandoval, and a Mets' outfielder, Carlos Beltran, who might be out for much of the rest of the season.
  • Expect a regression to the mean. In other words, just as David Ortiz and Ricky Nolasco were not as "done" as many were prepared to declare them, Jimmy Rollins, Rafael Furcal, and Magglio Ordonez are not as bad as they have thusfar demonstrated, nor are Ben Zobrist, Russell Branyan, and Mark Reynolds likely to be as good as they have looked before the break. We all know, track records don't lie. Teamwise, that's probably good news for the Rays, Cubs, and Phillies, maybe not so good for the Marlins, Brewers, and Rangers.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The worst team in baseball? My answer might surprise you.

Almost from the moment they came into existence five seasons ago, the Washington Nationals have been a baseball punchline. And, again this season, they possess, predictably, the worst record in baseball. There isn't a lot for the Nats management to hang their hats on. After all, they began the season with a South American scouting scandal which eventually led to the resignation of their general manager and have since seen the demotion and/or trading of three of the "budding stars" they had designed their 2009 advertising around: Lastings Milledge, Elijah Dukes, and Joel Hanrahan. However, it hasn't been all bad. The Washington offense, led by Adam Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman, Nick Johnson, and Christian Guzman, is 9th in the NL in runs scored (it would be their highest finish ever) and 5th in OPS. For the most part their pitching has been atrocious, but "Ace" John Lannan has proven himself to be more than a fluke, going 6-5 with an excellent 3.49 ERA. And rookie Jordan Zimmerman is looking like a solid major-league pitcher as well. Since the beginning of June he is 1-1, but with a 2.41 ERA and 31 K in 33 IP. They will presumably soon be joined by the #1 pick, maybe the most-touted pitching prospect ever, Stephen Strasburg, as well as some combination of other recent top prospects Sharon Martis, Scott Olsen, and Ross Detwiler, each of whom has shown flashes of brilliance (and a considerable amount of mediocrity) during their limited stints so far in 2009. In other words, the Nats might accurately be conceived of as a franchise on the rise...headed in the right direction.

The San Diego Padres, however, are in quite the opposite position. In the middle of May, with Jake Peavy still healthy and Adrian Gonzalez streaking, the Padres put together a highly unexpected 10-game winning streak, climbing back to .500 in the process, since then they have been the worst team in the sport, going 12-27 (.307). Peavy was lost, probably for the season. And, the league having realized the Padres hadn't a single other hitter worth being afraid of, stopped pitching to Gonzalez. On May 16 he was hitting .302 with 15 HR and 29 RBI, since then he is hitting .214 with 9 HR and 23 RBI.

The Padres don't have a single regular (200+ AB) with a batting average above .267 (David Eckstein). Their .236 team average, if it persists (and there's no reason to think it won't, since their best months are probably already behind them), would be the worst registered by a major league franchise since the 1992 New York Mets (.235). The just traded their second-best hitter, Scott Hairston, to the Athletics for some mediocre pitching prospects and rumors swirl around that veterans who have any value at all, guys like Kevin Kouzmanoff and David Eckstein may soon follow. Gonzalez, who is signed through 2011 at a reasonable price and is a fan favorite due in part to his Mexican heritage (San Diego, of course, has a sizable Mexican-American community), is probably the only player who is off-limits...and maybe not even him.

San Diego's management realizes that as poor as the product they are putting on the field currently is, it may get even worse. The Padres' farm system was ranked 29th (out of 30) prior to the season by Baseball America and their #1 pick (#3 overall) was a "toolsy" teenage outfielder, who can't be project to join the big-league roster for at least three or four seasons. The Padres had hoped to re-stock by dealing Peavy at the deadline, but he's all but worthless now until he proves himself fully healthy. It's going to be a rough few seasons for San Diego fans, who may see more than they would like of Everth Cabrera, Will Venable, and Jody Gerut.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Vote For Kung Fu Panda

As I mentioned when I wrote up my preview last week, I don't envy Joe Maddon and Charlie Manuel. There are far more deserving candidates this season than there are roster spots for the All-Star game, even when you include the expanded pitching staff and the vote-in guys. The job is made even more difficult by the fact that the fans voted in Dustin Pedroia (whose 761 OPS ranks him as 8th out of the eleven AL second-basemen with 225 or more plate appearances) and Josh Hamilton (who has spent almost the entire first half on the D.L. and didn't play particularly well when he wasn't there).  And the players added a few likable veterans who are having decent seasons, but probably aren't the best choices.  I'm thinking of Michael Young, Orlando Hudson, and Ryan Zimmerman.  

One bit of good news. Charlie Manuel will essentially get two more chances to do right, since Carlos Beltran and Raul Ibanez, both deserving candidates, are unlikely to be healthy enough to participate.

Top 5 Snubs:

1.) Pablo Sandoval - 3B/1B/C - San Francisco Giants

Kung Fu Panda isn't just blossoming into a fan-favorite in the bay area, he is undeniably one of the ten or twelve best hitters in the N.L. this season.  He is fourth in the league in batting average (.332) and ninth in OPS (958).  And, among N.L. third-basemen (his primary position this season), he is the cream of the crop.  Here are his stats compared to David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman:

Sandoval - .332/.386/.564, 37 R, 12 HR, 44 RBI, 59.3 RC
Wright - .326/.414/.470, 51 R, 5 HR, 42 RBI, 59.7 RC
Zimmerman - .293/.361/.479, 55 R, 13 HR, 47 RBI, 53.1 RC

There are two things, however, which make Sandoval a more deserving candidate, beyond his impressive statistics.  First of all, he's been asked to play three different positions (and he hits regardless of where he plays).  Wouldn't that versatility (and that catcher eligibility) be valuable on a roster than is currently carrying four first-baseman and only two catchers?  And, most importantly in my mind, while Zimmerman's surge may have much to do with the addition of Adam Dunn (more on that later) and Wright has, despite the Mets rash of injuries, been surrounded by guys like Carlos Beltran, Gary Sheffield, and Jose Reyes for most of the year, Sandoval really is an island.  The Giants team OPS is 704, 15th in the N.L., compared to 740 for the Mets (6th) and 743 for the Nationals (5th).  Sandoval leads his team in AVG., OPS,  
OBP., SLG., H, 2B, HR, TB, RBI, and BB.  His lineup protection is Bengie Molina (706 OPS) and a carousel of guys like Travis Ishikawa, Andres Torres, and Nate Schierholtz.  The Giants, even with their spectacular pitching, simply would not be contenders if it wasn't for his monster season thusfar.  To me, that screams All-Star.

2.) Jered Weaver - SP - Los Angeles Angels

I'm as happy as anybody to see Tim Wakefield making his first All-Star appearance, but, really, it comes at Weaver's expense. He is by far the best pitcher left off the AL roster. The numbers are good (9-3, 3.15 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 95 K, 114 IP), but the other part of the story, as with Sandoval, is that the Angels would be nowhere near first place without him. When the Angels rotation (and roster, generally) was decimated by injuries early in the season, Weaver rose to the occasion and demonstrated the maturity of an Ace, something that many of us have been expected from him for the last couple years. He consistently went deep into games and ended losing streaks.  In seventeen starts Weaver has failed to go six inning only four times (never less than five) and has gone seven or more inning ten times, including three complete games (which ties him for 2nd most in MLB).  He deserves this accolade more than several of the pitchers who were chosen.

3.) Yovani Gallardo & Trevor Hoffman - SP & RP - Milwaukee Brewers

Yes, the Brewers are already represented by Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, but the fact is, nobody thought the Brewers would be anywhere near contenders this season, not because they didn't believe Prince and the Hebrew Hammer would be doing exactly what they're doing, but because they lost their three most valuable pitchers from last year's Wild Card winner: C. C. Sabathia, Ben Sheets, and Salomon Torres.  Gallardo (8-5, 2.75 ERA, 114 K, 1.15 WHIP) and Hoffman (18/19 SV, 1.93 ERA) have at least slightly ameliorated the sting of those losses and the Brew Crew is currently one game out of first place.  I know the math wouldn't allow for both of them to make the team.  But, I'll put it this way: Fuck Jason Marquis.

4.) Adam Dunn - OF - Washington Nationals

The Nats are the worst team in baseball, so, there wasn't much chance of them getting two representatives.  So, when Zimmerman was voted in by the players, Dunn was plum out of luck.  Although, somehow, Charlie Manuel decided that Christian Guzman deserved a place on the Final Vote ballot more than Dunn.  Dunn is very quietly having a career year, making many franchises who passed on him over the winter look a little silly.  He's currently on pace for 44 HR and 119 RBI, right in line with his usual totals, but he's also hitting 20 points above his career average.  Zimmerman has already nearly equaled his total output from 2008 and much of his production has to do with the fact that Dunn is hitting behind him.  

5.) Ian Kinsler - 2B - Texas Rangers

Kinsler just missed being elected by the fans, as a Boston bias prompted him to get passed in the final week, and he still has a chance to get in on the Final Vote. And, I would agree that if Maddon could only afford one more second-baseman (besides Pedroia), Aaron Hill was the right choice (Hill was added to the roster by his fellow players). Nonetheless, Kinsler is quite worthy among AL 2B, with 19 HR (2nd), 59 R (2nd), and 51 RBI (2nd) in the first half, as well as 16 SB (2nd) and an 825 OPS (2nd). Adding to his well-known offensive attributes is that fact that he's made significant strides on defense, leading the AL in Range Factor and second to Placido Polanco in Ultimate Zone Rating.

Honorable Mentions: Jermaine Dye - RF - Chicago White Sox, Scott Rolen - 3B - Toronto Blue Jays, Adam Lind - DH - Toronto Blue Jays, Zack Duke - SP - Pittsburgh Pirates, Mark Reynolds - 3B - Arizona Diamondbacks

Top 5 Duds:

1.) Jason Marquis & Tim Wakefield - SP - Colorado Rockies & Boston Red Sox

I pair these two, not because they are anything alike as players or individuals (i.e. I like Wakefield), but because both were added based largely on gaudy win totals which were accumulated due to a significant amount of good fortune.  Both have been solid pitchers, but not All-Star caliber.  Wakefield's 4.30 ERA is good for only 27th in the A.L. (among starting pitchers) and Marquis' 3.61 is 21st in the N.L.  Add to that their abyssmal K/BB rates and their outstanding run support (8.85 R/9 for Wakefield [1st among pitchers in the A.L. with 100 IP], 6.67 R/9 for Marquis [6th in N.L.]) and we get a much more accurate sense of their seasons.   

2.) Hunter Pence - RF - Houston Astros

I don't know what to make of the fact that he was selected by his fellow players.  It is possible that they have seen something that I haven't.  Here's a point of contention:

A .302/.370/.492 - 44 R, 11 HR, 34 RBI, 8 SB
B .295/.344/.464 - 34 R, 12 HR, 47 RBI, 2 SB
C .270/.402/.526 - 43 R, 17 HR, 48 RBI, 6 SB

Player A is Hunter Pence.  Player B is Carlos Lee.  And Player C is Lance Berkman.  All three are having very similar seasons, but Lee and Berkman have much more star power and much longer track records of success.  What makes Pence a better choice to represent the Astros? Here's another comparison:

A .302/.370/.492 - 44 R, 11 HR, 34 RBI, 8 SB
B .266/.425/.546 - 38 R, 22 HR, 59 RBI, 0 SB
C .305/.369/.474 - 43 R, 10 HR, 44 RBI, 19 SB
D .263/.364/.491 - 56 R, 17 HR, 50 RBI, 11 SB

Again, A is Pence.  B is Dunn, C is Matt Kemp, and D is Jayson Werth.  It would appear to me that B, C, and D are all at least equal to A, probably superior, especially when you factor in that Kemp and Werth are better defenders.  Dunn is definitely the biggest star in the group, while Werth and Kemp both play for more successful franchises.  I just can't figure out what Pence is doing which commands so much support from his peers.  Perhaps his awkwardness just makes him more memorable.

3.) Michael Young - 3B - Texas Rangers

To begin with, one could argue that there are three guys on his own team - Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, and Kevin Millwood - who are more deserving. Mort importantly, there are at least two guys at his position who are obviously better choices. It isn't that Young is having a bad year, offensively, it's just that Brandon Inge and Scott Rolen are have demonstrably better seasons both at the plate and in the field, where Young has been especially putrid (-11.3 UZR, last in MLB).

4.) Brian Fuentes - RP - Los Angeles Angels

Maybe it says somewhere in a little black book that the manager's receive that the league leader in saves must be selected. Because, with the exception of that tidbit, which is largely due to the propensity of chances in Anaheim (remember that record-breaking performance by K-Rod last season), Fuentes hasn't been all that great.  He's pitched the fewest inning of any closer who was selected and his ERA (3.38) is more than half-a-run higher than the next All-Star closer (Broxton, 2.72). Certainly not as good as guys like David Aardsma (17/18, 1.41), George Sherrill (18/21, 2.43), and Joakim Soria (13/15, 1.66). And that's just to name some relievers. One might also argue that Fuentes' spot could've been more appropriately used on, say, his teammate, Jered Weaver, who has a significantly better ERA, despite pitching quadruple the innings.

5.) Freddy Sanchez - 2B - Pittsburgh Pirates

Part of his selection was All-Star math.  The Pirates needed to be represented.  But, in my opinion, Zack Duke is having a hell of a season (8-7, 3.28), certainly better than Jason Marquis, probably better than Francisco Cordero as well.  Could've bumped one of them and made room for Mark Reynolds, Pablo Sandoval, or Brandon Phillips.  Again, it isn't that Sanchez has been bad, it is just that he offers very little besides a high average (.316).  He doesn't hit for power or drive in runs, he doesn't steal bases, and he doesn't play particularly strong defense (which is the one quality that Orlando Hudson has over him).  

Dishonorable Mentions: Josh Hamilton - CF - Texas Rangers, Dustin Pedroia - 2B - Boston Red Sox, Ryan Zimmerman - 3B - Washington Nationals

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

All-Star Selection Preview

I don't envy Charlie Manuel and Joe Maddon. At least, I don't envy the task in front of them in the coming week: selecting the final players for the All-Star rosters. There are, as ever, plenty of great candidates, but their hands will be tied by the necessity of representing every team and building a flexible roster. Here's how the fan's vote (for starting hitters) looks going into the final two days of voting:

American League

C - Joe Mauer, MIN
1B - Kevin Youkilis, BOS or Mark Texeira, NYY
2B - Ian Kinsler, TEX or Dustin Pedroia, BOS
3B - Evan Longoria, TB
SS - Derek Jeter, NYY
LF - Jason Bay, BOS
CF - Josh Hamilton, TEX, Torii Hunter, LAA, or Carl Crawford, TB
RF - Ichiro Suzuki, SEA

National League

C - Yadier Molina, STL or Brian McCann, ATL
1B - Albert Pujols, STL
2B - Chase Utley, PHI
3B - David Wright, NYM
SS - Hanley Ramirez, FLA
LF - Ryan Braun, MIL
CF - Carlos Beltran, NYM
RF - Raul Ibanez, PHI

In the A.L., the races at first base, second base, and for the final outfield spot are very close and could have a considerable impact on how the roster shapes up. Hamilton has been injured for most of the first half and Pedroia has had a somewhat sub-par season thusfar, so they're likely not to make the squad if they aren't voted in. If they are, that could be bad news for borderline guys like Aaron Hill, Robinson Cano, Adam Lind, and Nelson Cruz. The race between Texeira and Youkilis is also pretty serious since, although both are highly qualified, the loser will be part of a deep pool for backups at their position, including Justin Morneau, Miguel Cabrera, and Carlos Pena. In the N.L. it looks like the only significant race will be for catcher, with both candidates certain to make the squad regardless, as both Russell Martin and Geo Soto, normally All-Star contenders, have had bad first halves.

All in all, the fans have done a damn good job. Hamilton is the only truly atrocious selection. He has been utterly absent from the first half of play, but was buoyed no doubt by his memorable Home Run Derby performance in 2008. One might hope that fans would've given more acknowledgment to the work of Justin Upton, Brandon Phillips, and Aaron Hill, all of whom got only modest support, despite having excellent seasons, but Kinsler, Utley, and Beltran are certainly legitimate choices as well.

The starting pitcher is usually the last of the All-Star announcements, as it is influenced as much by schedule and relative health as by talent. In the A.L., Maddon could hardly be faulted for choosing Roy Halladay, Zack Greinke, or Justin Verlander, each of whom is in the top six in the league in Wins and Strikeouts. They will almost certainly be joined on the staff by Kevin Millwood, Felix Hernandez, and Dallas Braden (who is the really the only guy from Oakland having a half-way decent season). For the final one or two spots, Maddon will likely face a tough decision. Edwin Jackson (6-4, 2.49), Jered Weaver (8-3, 2.65), Mark Buehrle (7-2, 3.26), and Nick Blackburn (6-4, 3.10) are all richly deserving. Meanwhile, C. C. Sabathia (7-4, 3.55), Josh Beckett (9-3, 3.67), and Cliff Lee (4-7, 3.39) are respected veterans pitching well enough that they may be voted in by their peers, in which case Maddon's hands may be tied.

On the senior circuit, one would think that the starting duties will fall to somebody from the group of Johan Santana, Tim Lincecum, Dan Haren, Chad Billingsley, and Matt Cain, all of whom are likely to be Cy Young contenders if they continue at their current paces. Santana and Lincecum are likely the fan favorites, having already amassed said hardware. Zack Duke is having a great season in Pittsburgh and seems destined to represent the Bucs...that is, if he isn't traded to a contender for seven plugged nickels, a pack of Bubbalicious, and a player to be named later. Yovani Gallardo (8-5, 2.75) also seems like a certain selection. The fact that Jason Marquis has double-digit wins for the Rockies will work in his favor, even though his peripheral numbers don't equal guys like Josh Johnson (7-1, 2.76) and Johnny Cueto (7-4, 2.86). Ted Lilly may also sneak in as the Cubs lone representative (How far have they fallen!?!), being the only reasonable choice besides Derrek Lee (who plays at a very deep position).

The N.L. bullpen will definitely feature K-Rod, Trevor Hoffman, Heath Bell, and Jonathan Broxton. Manuel could also opt for Ryan Franklin (18 SV, 0.93), Francisco Cordero (18, 1.97), or Huston Street (19, 2.91), or go with an additional starter.

In the A.L. Joe Nathan, Mo Rivera, and Papelbon are probably safe bets to be joined by some combination of Brian Fuentes (22, 3.62), Bobby Jenks (18, 3.21), and George Sherrill (17, 1.99).

Sherrill plays for a team, the Orioles, who have been better than most expected. He joins Nick Markakis and Adam Jones as excellent candidates for the All-Star roster, but since they are a last place team, it is likely only one will make it.

A similar situation may face the Houston Astros. Miguel Tejada is pretty apparently the second best shortstop in the N.L. this season (with Reyes injured and Rollins playing very poorly), but Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, and Hunter Pence all have very respectable numbers as well. Rather than choose from among them, Manuel may prefer to just leave all of them at home.

Besides McCann and Yadier Molina, there isn't a single catcher in the National League with an OPS above 722 (Geo Soto). All-Star team usually feature three catchers, but Soto, Martin, and Bengie Molina clearly haven't played well enough to justify selection. The right choice would be to go with the Giants Pablo Sandoval, who came into the league as a catcher and has played three games there this season, while splitting most of his time between first and third. Sandoval should be on the team anyway, he's hitting .338 with a 958 OPS on the worst offense in baseball. This would be a way to open up an additional roster spot, but Manuel may fear offending the Giants, a Wild Card contender, by putting their best player behind the dish for a couple of innings, where he would have to deal with unfamiliar pitchers who throw nastiest stuff in baseball. It's a broken thumb waiting to happen.

Position flexibility should work to the advantage of Ben Zobrist. He's second in the A.L. in OPS and deserves his spot on the team, plus he can play both corner outfield spots and both middle infield positions, which might allow Maddon to make space for another bopper like Texeira or Miggy Cabrera. Somewhat similarly, Mark Reynolds ability to play both first and third (poorly) may allow him to capitalize on being, undeniably, the second-best third basemen in the N.L. thusfar this season. However, if his peers vote in Chipper Jones or Ryan Zimmerman, both very popular but not as productive this season, he may be on the outside looking in.

Here's how I see things shaping up:

With Certainty:


C Joe Mauer, MIN
C Victor Martinez, CLE
C Jason Varitek, BOS
1B Kevin Youkilis, BOS
2B Ian Kinsler, TEX
3B Evan Longoria, TB
SS Derek Jeter, NYY
OF Jason Bay, BOS
OF Ichiro Suzuki, SEA
OF Torii Hunter, LAA
OF Carl Crawford, TB
UT Ben Zobrist, TB
SP Roy Halladay, TOR
SP Zack Greinke, KC
SP Justin Verlander, DET
SP Felix Hernandez, SEA
RP Joe Nathan, MIN
RP Mariano Rivera, NYY
RP Jonathan Papelbon, BOS


C Brian McCann, ATL
C Yadier Molina, STL
1B Albert Pujols, STL
1B Prince Fielder, MIL
2B Chase Utley, PHI
3B David Wright, NYM
SS Hanley Ramirez, FLA
OF Raul Ibanez, PHI
OF Ryan Braun, MIL
OF Brad Hawpe, COL
UT Pablo Sandoval, SF
SP Matt Cain, SF
SP Johan Santana, NYM
SP Tim Lincecum, SF
SP Dan Haren, ARZ
SP Chad Billingsley, LAD
RP Heath Bell, SDP
RP Francisco Rodriguez, NYM
RP Trevor Hoffman, MIL
RP Jonathan Broxton, LAD



1B Justin Morneau, MIN
2B Aaron Hill, TOR
SS Jason Bartlett, TB
OF Jermaine Dye, CWS
SP Kevin Millwood, TEX
SP Dallas Braden, OAK


1B Adrian Gonzalez, SDP
2B Brandon Phillips, CIN
SS Miguel Tejada, HOU
OF Carlos Beltran, NYM
OF Adam Dunn, WAS
OF Justin Upton, ARZ
OF Matt Kemp, LAD
SP Zack Duke, PIT
SP Yovani Gallardo, MIL

On the Bubble:


1B Miguel Cabrera, DET
1B Mark Texeira, NYY
1B Carlos Pena, TB
2B Robinson Cano, NYY
3B Scott Rolen, TOR
3B Brandon Inge, DET
OF Curtis Granderson, DET
OF Nick Markakis, BAL
OF Adam Jones, BAL
OF Adam Lind, TOR
OF Nelson Cruz, TEX
SP Jered Weaver, LAA
SP Edwin Jackson, DET
SP C. C. Sabathia, NYY
SP Josh Beckett, BOS
SP Mark Buehrle, CWS
RP Bobby Jenks, CWS
RP George Sherrill, BAL
RP Brian Fuentes, LAA


1B Ryan Howard, PHI
1B Derrek Lee, CHC
2B Orlando Hudson, LAD
3B Mark Reynolds, ARZ
3B Ryan Zimmerman, WAS
SS Troy Tulowitzki, COL
SS Ryan Theriot, CHC
SP Josh Johnson, FLA
SP Johnny Cueto, CIN
SP Jason Marquis, COL
SP Ted Lilly, CHC
RP Ryan Franklin, STL
RP Francisco Cordero, CIN

On the Outside, Looking In, Longingly:


1B Russell Branyan, SEA
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS
3B Michael Young, TEX
OF Johnny Damon, NYY
OF Luke Scott, BAL
OF Jason Kubel, MIN
OF Shin-Soo Choo, CLE
OF Matt Holliday, OAK
OF Josh Hamilton, TEX
SP Nick Blackburn, MIN
SP Cliff Lee, CLE
SP Matt Garz, TB
SP Jarrod Washburn, SEA


1B Lance Berkman, HOU
2B Freddy Sanchez, PIT
3B Chipper Jones, ATL
OF Jayson Werth, PHI
OF Andre Ethier, LAD
OF Hunter Pence, HOU
OF Carlos Lee, HOU
SP Javier Vazquez, ATL
SP Jair Jurrjens, ATL
SP Adam Wainwright, STL
SP Wandy Rodriguez, HOU
RP Huston Street, COL