Sunday, March 29, 2009

MLB Previews #6
American League Central

Cleveland Indians

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Grady Sizemore CF
Mark DeRosa 3B
Travis Hafner DH
Victor Martinez C
Jhonny Peralta SS
Shin-Soo Choo RF
Ryan Garko 1B
Ben Francisco RF
Asdrubal Cabrera 2B

Cliff Lee
Fausto Carmona
Carl Pavano
Scott Lewis
Anthony Reyes
Jeremy Sowers
Aaron Laffey
Zach Jackson
Jake Westbrook

After a bittersweet 2007 and a disastrous 2008, the Indians are predicted to win the Central in 2009. That's thanks in no small part to their offense - one that scored 800 runs last year despite prolonged injuries to third and fourth hitters Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez. Martinez is back, as is Hafner to an unknown extent, and they're joined by legit two-hole hitter Mark DeRosa. DeRosa and Kelly Shoppach give the Indians infield flexibility. DeRosa can play second or third (or outfield), which gives Cleveland the chance to decide what they want to do with Jhonny Peralta and Asdrubal Cabrera defensively. For the time being, Peralta will remain at third and Cabrera at second, with DeRosa playing third. Meanwhile, Kelly Shoppach has proven himself to be an everyday catcher, even if he won't have a chance in that role this year. He will have plenty of chances to play though, and give Victor Martinez opportunities at first base and DH. In the outfield, Grady Sizemore is joined by Ben Francisco and the emerging Shin-Soo Choo. To some, Francisco is just a placeholder until Matt LaPorta arrives, but Francisco is still a solid ballplayer in his own right.

On the bench, Jamey Carroll returns as a versatile utility infielder with good on base skills. Speaking of versatility, former up-and-coming second baseman Josh Barfield appears to have made the 2009 club out of spring training after adding third base and all three outfield spots to his repertoire. David Dellucci will fight for playing time in the outfield, but with guys like Choo, Francisco, LaPorta, Trevor Crowe, and Michael Brantley waiting in the wings (and Barfield, Carroll, and LaPorta's ability to play outfield), Dellucci's days in Cleveland may be numbered.

To some extent, Cleveland's starting rotation looks good on paper, but it relies on some faith and optimism. No one expects Cliff Lee to repeat his 2008 performance, but the hope is that he'll pitch at least as well as he did prior to his 2007 collapse. Fausto Carmona dominated in 2007, but then the league learned to be patient and ride out his control problems. Now the ball's back in Carmona's court when it comes to making adjustments. Carl Pavano, it appears, is healthy again, and the Indians hope he can repeat the flashes of brilliance he showed with the Expos and Marlins. Rounding out the rotation are Scott Lewis and Anthony Reyes, two pleasant surprises in 2008 who look to repeat in 2009. If they cannot, Aaron Laffey, Jeremy Sowers, Zach Jackson and a host of others are waiting in the wings. Jake Westbrook will also be a much needed shot in the arm when he returns from Tommy John rehab in June.

As Michael Taylor of Baseball Digest put it, "it's an odd year, so the Indians bullpen must be good. After a horrendous 2008, Cleveland made active strides to improve their bullpen, signing closer Kerry Wood and trading for setup man Joe Smith. Joining Wood and Smith are the two bright spots from 2008, bulldog interim closer Jensen Lewis and left setup maestro Rafael Perez. Rafael Betancourt is also back, and will look to rebound from arm troubles that limited his speed and effectiveness in 2008.

Detroit Tigers

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Curtis Granderson CF
Placido Polanco 2B
Carlos Guillen LF
Magglio Ordonez RF
Miguel Cabrera 1B
Gary Sheffield DH
Gerald Laird C
Brandon Inge 3B
Adam Everett SS

Justin Verlander
Edwin Jackson
Armando Galarraga
Jeremy Bonderman
Nate Robertson
Dontrelle Willis

Detroit's projected lineup is an interesting mix of on base skills, power, and defense. The batting order breaks down pretty neatly that way too - the top three guys get on, the next three hit them in, and the final three are mostly there for defense. Of course, Carbera and Ordonez are quality on base guys too, and Laird is a fairly good hitting catcher. But it's not often you see an offense broken down so neatly.

Detroit's bench features the same familiar names Tigers fans are used to - Ramon Santiago in the infield, and Brent Clevlen, Ryan Raburn, Marcus Thames, and Clete Thomas in the outfield. Carlos Guillen and Brandon Inge give the Tigers some position flexibility, which may mean increased playing time for Marcus Thames. Of course, with Guillen moving to the outfield this year, it may mean plenty of playing time for one of the other outfield backups as a defensive replacements. Inge, meanwhile, may not need to strap on the tools of ignorance this season, as Detroit has found a capable backup in Matt Treanor, husband of some Olympic volleyball player you may have heard of.

Baseball Prospectus expects fairly good things for Detroit's pitching staff, predicting they will lead the division with only 777 runs surrendered. But that may come as little comfort to Tigers fans. For starters, Detroit has taken Edwin Jackson - the odd man out in Tampa Bay's rotation - and made him their No. 2 starter. They're also expecting fairly big things from last year's surprise ace Armando Galarraga. "Young veterans" Verlander and Bonderman have had their ups and downs, but they'll have to pitch well to get Detroit back in the playoffs.

When none of their young fireballers could hold down the closer's role, Detroit acquired experienced stopper Brandon Lyon. Lyon will be supported by two of those fireballers - Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya, familiar face Bobby Seay, and young veteran Zach Miner.

Kansas City Royals

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Coco Crisp CF
David DeJesus LF
Mark Teahen 2B
Jose Guillen RF
Mike Jacobs 1B
Alex Gordon 3B
Billy Butler DH
Miguel Olivo C
Mike Aviles SS

Gil Meche
Zack Greinke
Kyle Davies
Brian Bannister
Luke Hochevar
Horacio Ramirez
Sidney Ponson
John Bale

Yes, that's the Kansas City Royals that Baseball Prospectus has in first place, two games ahead of last year's division winner and tied with the team that took that division winner to a one-game playoff. The Royals are a team on the rise, but at the same time they seem to match every good move with a baffling one. Good move: trading for Coco Crisp to move David DeJesus down toward the heart of the lineup and out of center field. Baffling move: trading for Mike Jacobs, a guy who hits for some power but who doesn't get on base and doesn't play good defense. Good move: getting Mike Aviles and in the lineup. Baffling move: trying Mark Teahen at second base, especially with the aforementioned poor fielding Jacobs at first. Of course, you do have to give the Royals credit for doing what it takes to put all their best bats on the field.

Bonus baffling move: signing Willie Bloomquist. Bloomquist plays at least average defense at every position, and he's a good piece to have on a contending ballclub. But a team like the Royals have much more important things to spend their money on. John Buck will back up Miguel Olivo, and the starting nod will probably go to whomever is hitting better at the time. Tony Pena, Jr. was statistically the worst offensive player in baseball last season, and this year he'll fight to keep a job with the parent club. Maybe the Royals should think of moving him to pitcher. In one mound appearance last season, Pena threw in the low 90s with decent movement. Imagine how he'd do with the proper training and practice.

One of the big reasons for Kansas City's predicted success is its stockpile of young, talented pitching. Gil Meche was a baffling move ($55 million free agent signing) that turned into a brilliant move. Meche is joined in the rotation by homegrown talent in Zack Greinke and Luke Hochevar and crafty trade acquisition Brian Bannister.

Good move, bullpen addition: picking up Joakim Soria in the 2008 Rule V draft and making him a closer. Baffling move, bullpen edition: throwing millions of dollars at Kyle Farnsworth. Sure he throws hard, but there's a reason why Major League hitters are the best in the world: they'll catch up to speed eventually. Fortunately, Kansas City does have some other versatile arms in their bullpen, including Juan Cruz, Ron Mahay, Joel Peralta, Robinson Tejada, Jamey Wright, Brandon Duckworth, and Doug Waechter.

Minnesota Twins

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Denard Span/Delmon Young LF
Carlos Gomez CF
Joe Mauer C
Justin Morneau 1B
Mike Cuddyer/Denard Span RF
Jason Kubel DH
Joe Crede 3B
Alexi Casilla 2B
Nick Punto SS

Francisco Liriano
Scott Baker
Kevin Slowey
Glen Perkins
Nick Blackburn

The Twins have always been over-infatuated with slap hitters, but they've always seemed to make it work, especially in the Metrodome. It'll be interesting to see how playing time shakes down in the outfield, especially considering that to date, Denard Span is basically a better version of Carlos Gomez. Minnesota had been looking for a third baseman since the middle of last year, and they found one in Joe Crede. The Twins left side of the infield will rival Detroit's in terms of its defense first, offense second mentality. As always, the offense will revolve around Justin Morneau (this generation's Don Mattingly?) and Joe Mauer, and as always Minnesota's main concern will be keeping Mauer healthy.

If Mauer can't stay healthy, Mike Redmond has always been a capable backup. On the infield, the utility spots are up for grabs between Brian Buscher, Brendan Harris, and Matt Tolbert.

Minnesota has been a factory of young pitching talent for the past two decades. Even with Boof Bonser out for the season, the Twins still have a respectable rotation headlined by Francisco Liriano and featuring Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins, and Nick Blackburn.

Joe Nathan is still one of the best closers in the business. As usual, he'll have a great supporting cast. Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier are back, as is Craig Breslow, who pitched brilliantly for Minnesota after being released by division rival Cleveland.

Chicago White Sox

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Dewayne Wise CF
Chris Getz 2B
Carlos Quentin LF
Jermaine Dye RF
Jim Thome DH
Paul Konerko 1B
AJ Pierzynski C
Alexei Ramirez SS
Josh Fields 3B

Mark Buehrle
John Danks
Gavin Floyd
Jose Contreras
Bartolo Colon
Clayton Richard
Jeffrey Marquez

As always, the computers hate the White Sox. Fortunately for Chicago, their combination of small ball and power hitting always seems to outperform the predictions (much as Minnesota's combination of small ball and speed normally does). Chicago's aging core of Dye, Thome, Konerko, and Pierzynski remains intact, with 2008 breakout stars Carlos Quentin and Alexei Ramirez added to the mix. The question is whether this year's new faces - Wise, Getz, and Fields - will hit well enough to keep their spots.

If Wise, Getz, and Fields can't, the White Sox may not have anyone to replace them - unless they want to rush 2008 top draft pick Gordon Beckham to the majors. Outside of new pickup Wilson Betemit, most of Chicago's bench is comprised of players whose bats never developed enough to become everyday players. That mix includes Brent Lillibridge, Colorado castoff Jayson Nix, Jerry Owens, and Brian Anderson. (Arguably, Betemit may belong in this category as well.)

After trading away Javier Vazquez, questions begin to creep in concerning Chicago's starting rotation. Mark Buehrle is a stalwart ace. But behind him are too much youth in John Danks and Gavin Floyd, and not enough youth in Jose Contreras and Bartolo Colon.

At least the back end of the bullpen won't be a question for the ChiSox. Bobby Jenks is back as the closer, with Octavio Dotel working the eighth and Scott Linebrink, Matt Thornton, and DJ Carrasco leading into them.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

The New York Knicks are expected to shop for a new starting point guard in the off-season. The good news is that Stephon Marbury should be available.

Alex Rodriguez is opting for surgery. Unfortunately it will be on his hip, and not his brain.

Kevin McHale can expect to double his $1.5 million salary if he decides to return to coach the Timberwolves next season. And he can use that money to treat his blood pressure and ulcers.

Dolphins running back Ricky Williams is putting his autobiography on hold. Because he accidentally smoked the first chapter.

And NASCAR driver Burney Lamar and his wife Niki Taylor are the proud parents of a baby girl. The girl will be brought to you by Tide, Wonder Bread, and Skoal.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

The Netherlands shocked the world by eliminating the Dominican Republic at the World Baseball Classic. Of course, the real shock is that they were able to play baseball at all in those little wooden shoes.

Ray Lewis has signed a seven-year extension with the Baltimore Ravens. America can sleep soundly knowing exactly where he is.

Pacman Jones reportedly got in a fight during an episode of Pros vs. Joes. Which is much better than the fight he got into on Pros vs. Hoes.

The Utah Jazz collected their 12th straight victory. In celebration, Utah residents might even stay up til midnight.

And the Oregon Urology Institute is offering a March Madness-related vasectomy event. So even if your team doesn't make the cut, you still can.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Pacers owner Herb Simon is considering moving his team out of Indianapolis. That way they can find another city to disgrace.

Brian McNamee has admitted to injecting Roger Clemens with drugs at Yankee Stadium. Which is strange, since its much more common to use drugs in the neighborhood surrounding Yankee Stadium.

The Detroit Lions are reportedly on the lookout for a quarterback. In related news, Detroit fans are on the lookout for any kind of money back.

A judge has ruled that Michael Vick must pay his own way to his upcoming bankruptcy hearing. Ironically, he may have to take a Greyhound to get there.

And a Boston bar is now serving a novelty A-Roid cocktail. The drink is overpriced and best before October.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez complained about fans booing friend and Detroit Tiger Magglio Ordonez during the World Basdeball Classic. Ordonez brushed the booing off easily as he normally plays in Detroit.

LeBron James may be signing an extension this summer to stay with the Cavs. The Knicks are having trouble wooing him, since he's seen Knicks games.

The NFL has decided to maintain their tradition of showing a Detroit Lions game on Thanksgiving. Because the best way to enjoy Thanksgiving is with a giant turkey.

And NBA insiders believe the Indiana Pacers could be on the move to Kansas City. Where they'll instantly become the city's best baseball team. In a related story, the Pacers Danny Granger has returned after an 11-game absence. Just in time to help the team pack.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

The Suns scored 154 points in a resounding victory over the Warriors. The game was so lopsided that even the Phoenix Gorilla had a triple double.

Ken Griffey Jr. has admitted to experiencing serious pain when he was with Chicago. Yeah, it's called winter. Coincidentally, Reds fans experienced serious pain when Griffey Jr. was with Cincinnati.

Former Philadelphia Phillies star Lenny Dykstra has been accused of racist, sexist and homophobic remarks. No one heard him say these things, they just saw his mullet.

And there is growing concern that the Sacramento Kings could end up moving to Anaheim. Based on how bad they are, we are guessing that concern is coming from Anaheim.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Bud Selig said he is increasingly concerned about how significantly baseball might be affected by America's economic crisis. It's gotten so bad, only a handful of his players are able to afford drugs.

The NBA continues to discuss rewriting its traveling rules. That is four steps in the right direction.

Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels will be back in the line-up shortly after an elbow injury during spring training in Florida. Hamels injured himself repeatedly flipping off Florida drivers.

Andruw Jones is currently hitting over .400 for the Texas Rangers. He's not only pulling his own weight, he's also hitting it.

And Bucks forward Charlie Villanueva recently got in trouble when he was caught twittering in the Bucks locker room. Which a few years ago, had an entirely different meaning.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Fourteen women's basketball teams in the NCAA tournament have graduation rates of 100%. Which is the exact opposite of their Nielsen ratings.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson admitted to using steroids at the University of Miami. And if you're surprised by this, you probably enjoyed The Scorpion King, too.

Jessica Simpson recently signed up for golf lessons. Perfect. She already has the high waist pants.

MMA Fighter Tito Ortiz and Jenna Jameson are the proud parents of twin boys. Fortunately Jameson has plenty of experience dealing with two boys at once.

And New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Broduer set the NHL mark for most wins by a goalie. This was such an historic moment in hockey, sports networks almost cut away from bass fishing to cover it.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

The odds of filling out a perfect NCAA bracket are one in 9 quintillion. And even greater if you picked Illinois.

Venezuela beat the U.S. 10-6 in the World Baseball Classic. On the positive side, it's never too late to find a new national pastime.

Bills running back Marshawn Lynch says he expects to be suspended by the NFL for his latest run-in with the law. Or traded to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Kobe Bryant was recently excused from jury duty. Prosecutors were worried that during deliberations, he would refuse to give up the floor.

And Lance Mackey has won the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race for the third consecutive year. The only thing better than winning the Iditarod is not being in Alaska in the first place.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

The Los Angeles Clippers are reportedly looking for a new general manager. And a new excuse.

A Binghamton University fundraiser has accused two athletic department officials of offering her money for sex. She wasn't offended by the offer, she was offended by the amount.

Miguel Tejada will likely be placed on probation for lying to Congress in 2005. No word yet on what Congress will get for lying to America since 1776.

Boston University earned the top seed in the NCAA hockey tournament. Fans celebrated by chanting that the Yankees suck.

And Shaquille O'Neal recently tweeted at halftime in a game against the Wizards. His updates aren't nearly as entertaining as imagining someone with hands that big typing on a Blackberry.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Special Olympian Kolan McConiughey made headlines by boasting he could beat Barack Obama at bowling. And George W. Bush at the SATs.

Retief Goosen picked up his first victory on the PGA Tour since 2005 by capturing the Transitions Championship. Afterwards, Goosen thanked his wife, his swing coach and Tiger Woods' knee.

The Angels and Royals combined for 30 runs in a Spring Training game thanks to winds that were gusting at 36 miles per hour. It's the most hot air we've ever seen in a game that didn't have Alex Rodriguez.

Andruw Jones is expected to sign with the Texas Rangers as a backup. He will be backing up the Rangers' mascot.

And Hulk Hogan is reportedly working on his first book. Hopefully he'll be done reading it soon.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Laetare Sunday

Editor's Note: It's been a prolific weekend. Scroll down for my NL Central preview and a statistically-inclined article on NCAA brackets.

For the third straight year, Kanka's Sports Page is proud to announce the recipient of the KankaNation Laetare Medal. The KankaNation Laetare goes to the KankaManiac "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of Kanka's Sports Page and enriched the heritage of humanity."

This year, the award goes to...

Erin, the woman who's going to marry me. Why? Because I'm that fiance.

2008 recipients: The Hatton Family
2007 recipients: Dave and Klondike
2006 recipient: Ellen

MLB Previews #5
National League Central

Chicago Cubs

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Alfonso Soriano LF
Ryan Theriot SS
Derrek Lee 1B
Aramis Ramirez 3B
Milton Bradley RF
Geovany Soto C
Mike Fontenot 2B
Kosuke Fukudome/Reed Johnson CF

Carlos Zambrano
Ted Lilly
Ryan Dempster
Rich Harden
Sean Marshall
Aaron Heilman
Jeff Samardzija

The Cubs won 97 games last year, and they may have actually found a way to improve. The major addition is Milton Bradley. Bradley isn't capable of playing 162 games at DH, much less in the field, so Kosuke Fukodome and Reed Johnson will get their fair share of at bats. Still, the number of at bats for each will be below 600, and in the end that reduced workload should pay off for the Cubs. There's still some debate about Alfonso Soriano's ideal location in the batting order, but at this point in his career, his own comfort level is just as important as anything else.

The loss of Mark DeRosa and Ronny Cedeno makes Chicago exceptionally thin on the infield, especially if Micah Hoffpauir is given a roster spot. Hoffpauir can only play first base and left field. That leaves the utility infield responsibility to Aaron Miles and/or Esteban German. That's little comfort if Ryan Theriot or Mike Fontenot falter. In the outfield, Joey Gathright's speed will try to find some playing time, and at catcher, familiar faces Paul Bako and Koyie Hill will look to back up Geovany Soto.

The continuing theme of these previews is that two pitching aces equals playoff success. If all goes well for the Cubs, they'll have three in Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, and Rich Harden. Ryan Dempster is a good complementary starter, leaving only the fifth spot in the rotation up for grabs. But there are more than a few capable candidates, including Sean Marshall, Aaron Heilman, and Jeff Samardzija.

In the bullpen, the Cubs lost Kerry Wood and may have actually gotten better. Carlos Marmol and Kevin Gregg both have closing experience. Heilman, Samardzija, and Chad Gaudin are versatile players who can fill any role. And veterans Neal Cotts and Luis Vizcaino round out the staff.

Milwaukee Brewers

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Rickie Weeks 2B
JJ Hardy SS
Ryan Braun LF
Prince Fielder 1B
Corey Hart RF
Bill Hall 3B
Mike Cameron CF
Jason Kendall C

Yovani Gallardo
Dave Bush
Jeff Suppan
Manny Parra
Braden Looper
Seth McClung
Carlos Villanueva

The Brewers liked to bat the pitcher eighth at times, but you really can't blame them when they had CC Sabathia and Jason Kendall at the time. Kendall is back, but Sabathia isn't. Bill Hall and Mike Cameron may not be stellar hitters, but they're good role players in a lineup that features Hardy, Braun, Fielder, and Hart. Yes, I included JJ Hardy in that list - he doesn't get much hype, but he's a very good hitter for his position.

Milwaukee's bench is highlighted by Tony Gwynn, Jr. and the veteran Craig Counsell. But for a farm system that has produced (at the time) four quality infielders in Fielder, Weeks, Braun, and Hardy, the surprise is that their best third baseman and middle infielder may still be in the minors. The third baseman is Mat Gamel, who may struggle to stay at that position, and the middle infielder is Alcides Escobar, a shortstop who may supplant Rickie Weeks and second base sooner rather than later. All this after trading away top first baseman Matt LaPorta, too.

Now, the rotation will be a question mark. Yovani Gallardo may have fallen off of a few radars due to injuries, but he's still a talented young pitcher. But relying on converted relievers (Looper and McClung) and some other retreads may not be enough to eclipse the Cubs in this division.

In the bullpen, the Brewers will rely on a bevy of veteran arms. But that's better than the the plan they employed in 2008, marching out a steady supply of post-steroids washups (Eric Gagne and Derrick Turnbow to name a pair). Trevor Hoffman becomes the Milwaukee closer, aided by David Riske, Jorge Julio, and Mark DiFelice.

St. Louis Cardinals

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Skip Schumaker 2B
Rick Ankiel CF
Albert Pujols 1B
Ryan Ludwick RF
Troy Glaus 3B
Khalil Greene SS
Yadier Molina C
Chris Duncan LF

Adam Wainwright
Chris Carpenter
Kyle Lohse
Todd Wellemeyer
Joel Pineiro
Brad Thompson

Outside of Albert Pujols, St. Louis' infield is a question mark. Troy Glaus is always an injury issue, and as it is he won't be ready until mid-April. At shortstop, the Cards acquired Khalil Greene, a record-setting hitter in college who hasn't been able to replicate that success in the majors. Left without a second baseman, Skip Shumacher will try to climb the wrong way up the defensive ladder from outfield to the keystone sack. If Schumacher doesn't work out, St. Louis doesn't have many other options. In the outfield, Ryan Ludwick will try to prove he's not a one-year wonder, aided by Rick Ankiel and Chris Duncan, both of whom had respectable years last season.

The top name on the bench is Colby Rasmus, Baseball America's top National League prospect. Rasmus's defense is ready to be an everyday center fielder, and the question is whether his bat is up to speed. If not, he can still serve as a respectable defensive replacement at all three outfield spots. Meanwhile, backing up Yadier Molina is veteran National Leaguer Jason LaRue.

The Cardinals pitching rotation may not feature any big names, but they did find success last season. If Chris Carpenter can return anywhere near is Cy Young form - and some think he can, that will only help this ballclub.

The rotation may have to carry the pitching staff, however, with all the questions in the bullpen. The closer spot is still up in the air, and may go to Ryan Franklin, Jason Motte, Chris Perez. Also fighting for bullpen spots are veterans Trever Miller and Dennys Reyes.

Cincinnati Reds

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Willy Taveras CF
Chris Dickerson LF
Jay Bruce RF
Brandon Phillips 2B
Joey Votto 1B
Edwin Encarnacion 3B
Ramon Hernandez C
Alex Gonzalez SS

Aaron Harang
Edinson Volquez
Bronson Arroyo
Johnny Cueto
Micah Owings
Homer Bailey
Ramon Ramirez
Daryl Thompson

Perhaps indicative of this club's manager, only three players in this lineup posted an OBP over .320 last year - Joey Votto, Edwin Encarnacion, and Chris Dickerson - and Dickerson did so in only 31 games. This team has talent with Bruce, Phillips, and even guys like Ramon Hernandez, but if that club keeps making outs, there's little hope for them.

The key name on Cincinnati's bench is Jeff Keppinger, who performed admirably at shortstop when Alex Gonzalez went down last year. Jerry Hairston, Jr. is a valuable piece who can play several positions. Other names fighting for bench spots fit into the Dusty Baker mold well, sacrificing OBP for speed or pop. Those names include Norris Hopper, Jacque Jones, and Jonny Gomes.

Cincinnati's rotation has some talent, and that talent was somewhat masked by the team's overall poor performance last year. Aaron Harang, Bronson Arroyo, and Johnny Cueto all lost over 10 games, but posted ERAs under 5. Edinson Volquez had a spectacular season, going 17-6 with an ERA of 3.21. Even slight regression would still lead to a solid season for Volquez. The final spot in the rotation will go to one of a pair of guys who have trouble translating their talent into production in the majors. Micah Owings, the PTBNL in the Adam Dunn trade, and Homer Bailey both come with tons of hype but few good results in the show.

The Reds bullpen features three quality names with save experience. Francisco Cordero is the closer, supported by Arthur Rhodes and former Cincinnati closer David Weathers.

Houston Astros

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Michael Bourn CF
Kaz Matsui 2B
Miguel Tejada SS
Lance Berkman 1B
Carlos Lee LF
Hunter Pence RF
Ivan Rodriguez C
Geoff Blum 3B

Roy Oswalt
Wandy Rodriguez
Brandon Backe
Mike Hampton
Brian Moehler
Chris Sampson
Alberto Arias

Houston is returning six offensive starters from last year, and now adds Ivan Rodriguez. But Pudge isn't the offensive powerhouse he once was. Still, Lance Berkman, Miguel Tejada, and Carlos Lee still are. The main question in the lineup may be why Lance Berkman, who once patrolled center field for the Astros, is now at first base while Carlos Lee, never an asset on defense, is still in the outfield.

The bench consists largely of aging retreads, including Darrin Erstad, David Newhan, and Jason Michaels. Aaron Boone would be on that list if it wasn't for a heart condition that will force him to sit out 2009. The infield is thin, with starting third baseman Geoff Blum currently listed as the primary backup at second and third.

Houston's ace is Team USA's ace, Roy Oswalt. Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez had decent seasons in 2008, but the rest of the rotation is questionable. Mike Hampton was decent when healthy, and Brian Moehler had a solid season for a back-of-the-rotation starter. But Brandon Backe has a career ERA over 5 and Russ Ortiz didn't pitch in the Majors in 2008.

Houston has traditionally produced quality closers and setup men from their organization. This year, they'll use imports to man the back end of their bullpen. Jose Valverde will close, aided by veterans Geoff Geary, LaTroy Hawkins (Oswalt's WBC teammate), and Doug Brocail.

Pittsburgh Pirates

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Nyjer Morgan LF
Freddy Sanchez 2B
Nate McLouth CF
Ryan Doumit C
Brandon Moss/Erin Hinske RF
Adam LaRoche 1B
Andy LaRoche 3B
Jack Wilson SS

Paul Maholm
Ian Snell
Zach Duke
Russ Ohlendorf
Jeff Karstens
Virgil Vasquez
Phil Dumatrait

Last year, Pittsburgh made a statement that they want to be good in the future, instead of being perpetually mediocre in the present. Nate McLouth may not repeat his success from last year, but he's still established himself as a Major Leaguer. In that way, he's followed in the footsteps of Freddy Sanchez. As a full time player, Ryan Doumit may be that man this year. Adam LaRoche is a steady hitter. While brother Andy's prospect status has lost some lustre, he's still a few years away from his prime.

Pittsburgh has some decent talent in their starting rotation, even with Tom Gorzelanny back down in the minors. As with most teams with poor offenses, you can't judge the starting pitchers by their win-loss records. Look for a big year from Ian Snell after he proudly represented Puerto Rico, the homeland of his stepfather and his wife.

Pittsburgh's bullpen is highlighted by returning closer Matt Capps. Capps will be supported by John Grabow, Tyler Yates, Chris Bootcheck, Evan Meek, and Donald Veal, a rule V pickup from the Cubs organization. Oh, and there's also Rinku and Dinesh.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Stathead Bracketology

I participate in two NCAA bracket competitions every year. One (through this site) uses fairly straightforward scoring based on the round and nothing else. The other uses upset bonus points: when the lower seed wins, you get the normal points for the win (one for the first round, two for the second, etc.) plus bonus points worth the difference in the two seeds. For example, for picking a 12-seed over a 5-seed in the first round, you get one point for the win plus 12-5=7 bonus points, for eight points total.

Now, being statistically inclined, I wanted to use mathematical methods in each. Here's what I did.

Straightforward Scoring: The Pomeroy Ratings

For my straightforward bracket, I decided to employ the Pomeroy Ratings. I used the Fremeau Efficiency Index Ratings with great success in our BCS Bowl Pick 'Em a few months ago, so I wanted to go with a similarly statistically-inclined system for the basketball pool.

I did it the simplest way possible, too. For each matchup, first round through final, I picked the team with the higher Pomeroy Rating. (Note that the ratings are being continuously updated through the tournament, so the ratings as they are right now do not match what they were when I made my picks the day before the tournament started.) Some notes:
  • Memphis is number one in the ratings, and therefore my champion.

  • The ratings "predicted" Wisconsin's win over Florida State.

  • All of the 6 seeds were apparently undervalued by the selection committee. Going by the Pomeroy Ratings, all of the sixes except Marquette were expected to beat the 3 seeds in their respective brackets and advance to the Sweet 16.

  • West Virginia was in Pomeroy's top 10, which should have gotten them into Elite 8. But I guess Dayton had something to say about that.

  • I did "cheat" and pick Cleveland State in the first round, since my dad was a two-time basketball letterman there. I'd be kicking myself this morning if I hadn't picked them.

My "straightforward bracket" can be found as a Google Doc here.

Upset Bracket: The Expected Value Method

Last year, I outlined a method for using expected values to make picks in a pool with upset points. Well, I'm happy to say that my method worked. Thanks to a bevy of first round upsets last year, I built a big lead and was able to withstand a single competitor to win the pool. I did have to sweat out the last rounds as my bracket started to fall apart, but I was so far ahead that it didn't matter.

As with last year, I used a different method for each regional. Two were methods (b) and (c) from Part 2 of last year's post. The other two were "controls." On one regional, I would pick only the top seeds for every game. On the other, I would pick by feel. Actually, I even took the human element of "feel" out this year, instead picking by the Pomeroy method chosen above.

Thanks to the Pomeroy bracket I filled out first, I was able to pick and choose which method I would use on each regional. And I will admit that I did allow for the human element to creep in when making my decisions. I used the two different expected value upset methods on the Midwest and South regionals. This mainly allowed me to advance West Virginia to the Elite 8 again (whoops), and pick Cleveland State in the first round.

I made the East my Pomeroy regional, mainly so I could take Wisconsin in the first round and put 6 seed UCLA in the Sweet 16. That left the West as my higher seeds only regional. Unfortunately, that means I won't have Memphis as my winner in this bracket, but maybe hedging my bets isn't a bad thing.

Once I got to the Final Four, where the seeds don't matter anymore, I went back to the Pomeroy Ratings to determine the finals participants and eventual winners.

First Round Results

My straightforward bracket isn't doing so hot, garnering only 23 of a possible 32 points, with one Elite 8 team (West Virginia) and one Sweet 16 team (Utah) down.

My bonus points bracket is doing fantastic, though, as it nailed all three 12 seed wins plus the Cleveland State upset. I am down an Elite 8 team in West Virginia, but the 57 points I did pick up should again give me a lead that's difficult to catch.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

MLB Preview #4
American League East

New York Yankees

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Johnny Damon LF
Derek Jeter SS
Mark Teixeira 1B
Alex Rodriguez 3B
Hideki Matsui DH
Jorge Posada C
Xavier Nady RF
Robinson Cano 2B
Brett Gardner/Nick Swisher/Melky Cabrera CF

CC Sabathia
AJ Burnett
Chien-Ming Wang
Andy Pettitte
Joba Chamberlain
Phillip Hughes
Alfredo Aceves
Ian Kennedy
Dan Giese

Sure, the lineup takes a hit with the loss of Alex Rodriguez. But an offense that was one of the best in 2008 shouldn't have any trouble going into 2009, with or without A-Rod. Sure, Damon, Jeter, Matsui, and Posada are all a year older, but they're still very effective hitters. The open competition in center should only help the club, especially if Nick Swisher manages to fully bounce back from a down 2008. Swisher is a luxury the Yanks can afford to trade, but they may want to wait until after the start of the season so Swisher can bounce back and New York can sell high.

Thirty-three year old utility infielder Cody Ransom is expected to fill in a third base to start the season, with help from former Royals shortstop Angel Berroa. Jose Molina, meanwhile, returns as the backup catcher.

A common theme in these previews is that it takes two aces to have any success in the playoffs. With the addition of CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett, the Yankees now have three - and possibly four if Joba Chamberlain can live up to his hype. Injuries will be a concern for Burnett, Wang, and the aging Pettitte. If any of the starters miss significant time, it will be up to guys like Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy to live up to the expectations placed upon them.

Mariano Rivera is back as the Yankees closer, and even if Joba Chamberlain sticks in the rotation, Rivera will have a decent support staff. Damaso Marte may be the only recognizable setup man, but he's not the only capable reliever the Yanks carry. Brian Bruney posted a 1.83 ERA in 2008, and Jose Veras and Edwar Ramirez each came in under 4.00.

Boston Red Sox

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
David Ortiz DH
Kevin Youkilis 1B
Mike Lowell 3B
JD Drew RF
Jason Bay LF
Jason Varitek C
Julio Lugo/Jed Lowrie SS

Josh Beckett
Jon Lester
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Tim Wakefield
Brad Penny
John Smoltz
Justin Masterson
David Pauley

It was addition by subtraction in 2008 for Boston, as they traded a disgruntled Manny Ramirez for Jason Bay and still made the playoffs. This year, they'll see if that formula can carry them through an entire season. Early indications show that it can. The Red Sox are strong (and virtually interchangeable) from lineup spots one through seven, but the last two places are question marks. Jason Varitek was resigned by Boston for lack of a better option, but he'll need to hit much better than he did last year to keep his starting job. At shortstop, Jed Lowrie has essentially won the position by default after Julio Lugo injured his knee.

Josh Bard is back for his second try as Tim Wakefield's personal catcher. Bard was booed out of town last time, while his team captain remained surprisingly silent over Bard's knuckleball-handling troubles. If Bard can hit like he has over the past few years, he may just take the everyday job from that captain. In the outfield, Rocco Baldelli was added as a backup and spot starter. Mark Kotsay and Brad Wilkerson are also on the roster, but they may see more time at first base than in the outfield. That leaves the infield, where depth was already an issue before the loss of Lugo (and before Pedroia was pulled from the WBC). It appears that that utility spot is up for grabs between a handful of non-roster invitees, including journeyman Nick Green.

Tampa Bay Rays

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Akinori Iwamura 2B
Carl Crawford LF
BJ Upton CF
Carlos Pena 1B
Evan Longoria 3B
Pat Burrell DH
Dioner Navarro C
Gabe Gross RF
Jason Bartlett SS

Jamie Shields
Scott Kazmir
Matt Garza
Andy Sonnanstine
David Price
Mitch Talbot
Jeff Niemman
Jason Hammel

Yes, Baseball Prospectus expects the Rays to finish in third place in the East in 2009. But that doesn't mean their 2008 success was a fluke. Yes, the team is due for some regression, but BP still predicts them to win a whopping 95 games and finish just one game behind the wild card-winning Red Sox. Part of the reason is that a majority of their core is still intact. Two revolving door players in right field, Eric Hinske and Rocco Baldelli, are gone, but Gabe Gross is back. In addition, Gross will be challenged by young outfielder Matt Joyce, who was practically stolen from the Tigers in exchange for Edwin Jackson. Speaking of steals, Tampa Bay also got a steal of a deal in picking up Pat Burrell on the cheap. This lineup may not have the name recognition of New York's, but Baseball Prospectus actually predicts the Rays to outscore the Yankees this year. I wouldn't be surprise if they gave Boston a run for their offensive money as well.

In addition to Matt Joyce, the Rays also have Gabe Kapler as an outfield option off the bench. Willy Aybar returns as the club's utility infielder, and Morgan Ensberg and Adam Kennedy will also battle for backup infield spots.

Last year, the Rays had the luxury of having too many capable starting pitchers. This year is no different. Even after trading away Edwin Jackson, Tampa Bay still has to decide whether they want to move David Price to the rotation or keep him in the bullpen. Price, Baseball America's number two overall prospect this year, was lights out in last year's ALCS, earning an extended save in the game that sent Tampa Bay to the World Series.

Of course, the nice thing about the Price decision is that Tampa Bay also has a glut of talent in the bullpen. Troy Percival is back as the club's closer, aided by Chad Bradford, Dan Wheeler, JP Howell, Grant Balfour, and Brian Shouse. Former Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen will also compete for a spot in the Rays pen.

Baltimore Orioles

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Brian Roberts2B
Melvin Mora 3B
Nick Markakis RF
Aubrey Huff 1B
Adam Jones CF
Luke Scott DH
Greg Zaun/Matt Wieters C
Cesar Izturis SS
Felix Pie LF

Jeremy Guthrie
Koji Uehara
Rich Hill
Adam Eaton
Danys Baez
Hayden Penn
David Pauley
Radhames Liz
Bradley Bergensen
Chris Waters
Dennis Sarfate
Brian Bass
Matt Albers

Baltimore's offense showed good improvement in 2008, and that improvement should continue in 2008. The lineup starts off with solid professional hitters in Brian Roberts and Melvin Mora. Next come three unheralded starsin Nick Markakis, Aubrey Huff, and Adam Jones, all of whom outperformed their 2008 expectations. Markakis became a legitimate star in 2008. Huff had always been a good hitter, but he was just phenomenal towards the end of last year. And who would have guessed that Seattle would regret trading a then-unpolished Adam Jones for Cy Young candidate Erik Bedard? The bottom of the Orioles lineup still has question marks, but one of those questions will be answered as soon as Matt Wieters makes his MLB debut. Baseball America considers Wieters the top prospect in all of baseball, and he's a great hitter regardless of position. He's enough to make this author regret joining an NL-only fantasy league this summer.

The Orioles have some recognizable and versatile veterans fighting for backup spots. Chris Gomez can play four positions (the four infield spots), Ryan Freel and Ty Wigginton five (2B, 3B, LF, and RF for both, CF for Freel, and 1B for Wigginton), and Jolbert Cabrera seven (everywhere except pitcher and catcher).

It's easy to say that Baltimore's starting pitching is its weak spot. But this example illustrates that perfectly: up for a spot in the rotation is Danys Baez, who hasn't pitched in the Majors since 2007, and who hasn't started since 2002.

If there's one good thing about Baltimore's pitching staff, it's that their bullpen seems to produce All Star closers year after year. This season's edition still has current closer George Sherrill and former closer Chris Ray. Also providing relief for the Orioles are veterans Jamie Walker and Mark Hendrickson.

Toronto Blue Jays

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Aaron Hill/Joe Inglett 2B
Adam Lind LF
Alex Rios RF
Vernon Wells CF
Scott Rolen 3B
Travis Snider DH
Lyle Overbay 1B
Rod Barajas C
John McDonald/Marco Scutaro SS

Roy Halladay
Jesse Litsch
David Pursey
Casey Janssen
Scott Richmond
Matt Clement
Brett Cecil
Shaun Marcum
Dustin McGowan

I'm beginning with Toronto's starting pitching, because their rotation was arguably the best in the game in 2008 (a fact few people knew). Unfortunately, they lost AJ Burnett to free agency, and Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan begin the year injured. Marcum and McGowan were two big reasons for the rotation's success in 2008, and the Blue Jays will have trouble filling their spots. After all, they can only ride ace Roy Halladay so much, no matter how good he is. One of the contenders for a rotation spot is Matt Clement, a poor man's Mark Prior who went from dominating Cubs starter to disabled has-been in less than a year.

Closing for Toronto is one of Baltimore's former stoppers, BJ Ryan. Notable Blue Jays relievers include Jason Frasor, Jeremy Accardo, and swingman Brian Tallet. Matt Bush, the number one overall pick of the 2004 draft as a shortstop by the Padres, will try to resurrect his career and make the Blue Jays as a relief pitcher.

As hard as it is for Toronto fans to think "what if" if their 2008 rotation was still intact, it's even harder when you see the pieces added to their batting order. Sure, none of their middle infielders are much with the bat. But adding Travis Snider to a lineup where Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, and Scott Rolen play at least 150 games, and there's a force to be reckoned with. Of course, all three outfielders - Rios, Wells, and Adam Lind, have struggled to live up to unfair expectations. But even if they just ignore the critics and do what they're capable of doing, this lineup can win some ballgames.

Toronto is obviously deep when it comes to defensive middle infielders, as can be seen by the options in the starting lineup. They also have some choices on the corners, with Jose Bautista and Kevin Millar coming off the bench. In addition, both Michael Barrett and Raul Chavez are more than capable as backup catchers. The depth problem comes in the outfield, where Travis Snider may have to play on days when Millar or even Lind DH.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Daryl Strawberry has just written his first book. He would have finished sooner but he was stuck on Chapter 11 for the better part of a decade.

PETA activists showed up at Madison Square Garden this week dressed in KKK outfits to protest the breeding practices of The American Kennel Club. MSG hasn't seen a display that offensive since the Knicks' last home game.

The Padres have traded former No. 1 pick Matt Bush to the Blue Jays following his third run-in with police. The Blue Jays plan to subsequently trade him to the Bengals.

Marv Albert recently turned 65. Albert is delighted that he can now get a senior citizen's discount on all of his lingerie.

And Tony Romo said that he's completely behind Jessica Simpson. Because she's now big enough to play center for the Dallas Cowboys.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Jamaica has named Usain Bolt its Sportsman of the Year. In related news, the island has also made Michael Phelps an honorary citizen.

Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant shared a single trophy after being named co-MVPs of the NBA All-Star Game. In related news, there is now peace in the Middle East.

San Diego Padres reliever Heath Bell has credited his Nintendo Wii Fit game for helping him lose 25 pounds. Andruw Jones has just ordered three of them.

The Lions plan to make Daunte Culpepper their starter in 2009. Were very excited to know which quarterback will be losing their games.

And the Atlanta Braves have added Tom Glavine and Ken Griffey Jr. to their wish list. Also on their wish list? Liniment, a hospital, and a time machine.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

David Ortiz says players who test positive for steroids should be suspended from baseball for the whole season. Ortiz is confident saying that, since his drug of choice is gravy.

Commissioner Bud Selig recently told reporters that he is not to blame for baseball's raging steroid problem. And considering he makes $18 million a year, it's pretty easy for him to pass the buck.

Houston pitcher Mike Hampton has been sent home with an irregular heartbeat. The timing is unusual since the Astros' hearts usually don't give out on them until the playoffs.

Steelers kicker Jeff Reed has been charged with criminal mischief for beating up a towel dispenser at a gas station. In fairness to Reed, he was told to pick on someone his own size.

And Alex Rodriguez was spotted with six different women on Valentine's Day weekend. Clearly, his performance enhancer is Cialis.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

The Washington Nationals have learned that their top prospect is actually 23 years old, and not the 19 years old he had claimed. The team knew he was really old when he remembered the last time Washington had a good basketball team.

Alex Rodriguez has allegedly told his friends that he's over Madonna. And under her. And behind her.

Rumors continue to swirl that Jessica Simpson is expecting Tony Romo's baby. Given her size, we wouldn't be surprised if she was expecting his octuplets.

And the Major League Baseball Players Association has sent a memo to all of its members about drug testing during the 2003 season. And by "memo," we mean "suicide note." The players are expected to read the note very carefully, as soon as they're done taking more steroids.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Ken Griffey Jr. is returning to the Mariners after a nine-year absence. Fortunately he didn't miss much.

Cavs center Ben Wallace needed 14 stitches after crashing into a window while playing touch football. Fans are not concerned, however, since it's not like he's going to get any uglier.

Charles Barkley has apologized for his DUI a day before returning to TNT. Man, that guy will say anything when he's drunk.

Major League Baseball reportedly wants more from Alex Rodriguez. Now they know how Yankee fans feel every October.

And the last part of Shea Stadium has finally been destroyed 44 years after it was built. They didn't mean to wreck everything quite yet, but demolition crews accidentally gave a 7th inning lead to the bullpen.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

ESPN plans to use 26 cameras for its broadcast of the Bassmaster Classic. Wow! That's one camera for every viewer.

Amar'e Stoudemire will miss the rest of the season after having surgery to repair a partially detached retina. It must be really damaging to watch opposing players run right past you.

Charlie Weis has announced he will once again be responsible for Notre Dame's offensive coordinator duties. Perfect - Notre Dame fans have found his last three years of play calling extremely offensive.

Ashton Kutcher has signed on to star in a movie about an NFL quarterback who trades bodies with a 12-year-old. The movie is tentatively titled, "Recycled Premise."

And security for the 2010 Winter Olympics in British Columbia is expected to cost $715 million. And $15 million of it is just Tonya Harding's consulting fee.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Yankees manager Joe Girardi took his team to a pool hall, in an effort to create stronger bonds. Alex Rodriguez was especially comfortable there, since he will spend most of 2009 behind the 8-ball.

The San Antonio Spurs beat the Wizards to wrap up a 19-day road trip. The players have been away from home for so long they can't even remember what their illegitimate children look like. Thats just a joke. They never remember what their illegitimate children look like.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently told reporters that drugs have no place in sports. Luckily for him, they still have a prominent place in politics.

And doctors have advised Northeastern tight end Brian Mandeville to retire. His heart ailment could result in instantaneous death, or even worse, he could get drafted by the Lions.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Three teams are reportedly interested in signing Stephon Marbury. Unfortunately for Marbury, none of them are basketball teams.

Experts have selected Venezuela as the favorite to win the upcoming World Baseball Classic. In related news, Canada has been selected as the team most likely to apologize every time it scores a run.

David Beckham is currently starring in a Chinese TV commercial for anti-impotence pills. The pills are made of natural herbs, chemical supplements, and pictures of Beckham's wife.

Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Vernon Wells could be out for more than a month after tearing his left hamstring. Or as was reported in Toronto, his left Canadian bacon string.

And two-time Olympic Gold medal boxer Guillermo Rigondeaux defected from Cuba to Miami. When asked why he took so long to make his escape, Rigondeaux said that before he escaped his evil, oppressive dictator, he wanted to make sure we'd gotten rid of ours.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

The New York Mets won their spring opener, bringing them one step closer to disappointing their fans.

Alex Rodriguez homered in his first spring training game. Yankee fans are happy that all the steroid hoopla didn't get in the way of A-Rod's ability to play well when it doesn't count.

Red Sox reliever Jonathan Papelbon recently told reporters that he suspects he is going to die young. Thousands of Yankee fans agree.

Stephon Marbury is expected to sign with the Boston Celtics as a free agent after he clears waivers. No one is more excited than the city's psychiatrists.

And Arizona's Kurt Warner said he is not sure if he will retire. The good news is he's already in the right place for it.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Stephon Marbury has finally joined the Boston Celtics. The former all-star would have been there sooner but he couldn't fly with all that baggage.

The New York Yankees have announced that Joba Chamberlain will start the first game at their new stadium. Which would explain the pitcher's mound being steel reinforced.

The Dodgers are close to signing Manny Ramirez. It took them this long because he was still in the batter's box admiring a homerun he hit in August.

Celtics guard Gabe Pruitt was arrested on suspicion of DUI in Los Angeles. Police knew he was drunk because he was headed to watch the Clippers.

And Marquette's Dominic James is out for the year with a broken foot. Wisconsin hasn't been this upset since hearing someone say, "Now starting: Aaron Rodgers."

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

New York Mets ace Johan Santana had an injury scare. So Mets fans might experience this year's heart breaking disappointment as early as March.

U.S. Figure Skating has announced its 2011 national championships will be held in Greensboro, North Carolina. Because if there's anywhere that is known for it's love of figure skating, it's Greensboro, North Carolina.

Michael Phelps has been dropped as the keynote speaker at two events in Canada. They are not angry about the marijuana bust, just mad that Phelps didn't get his pot from Vancouver.

73-year-old NCAA basketball player Ken Mink has been declared ineligible after he failed Spanish. His failure is inexcusable since he was alive when they still had an Armada.

And Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff is reportedly looking for a new home for his franchise. He might want to consider moving to Kansas City, since they haven't had a professional baseball team in 20 years.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Alex Rodriguez says he sees his two children once a week. Because that's how often they happen to walk by his mirror. Rodriguez allegedly turned to Katie Couric for career advice in 2007. If that's true, it is proof that he was still on drugs.

A 1952 Mickey Mantle baseball card has been auctioned for $121,000. You can tell it's authentic, because it still smells like cheap bourbon.

Brett Favre is currently selling his 2007 Ford F-150 truck on eBay. Or maybe he isn't. Wait, no no, he is. Nah, he'll just keep it for another year.

And Barry Bonds' perjury trial has been moved to July. Conveniently, Bonds will not be busy.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Mets fans are thrilled that Johan Santana might still start for the Mets Opening Day. They're also terrified about who might finish.

The Oakland A's have come to terms with Nomar Garciaparra. The free agent shortstop is expected to sign a contract as soon as he adjusts his gloves, fiddles with his hat and taps his cup 27 times.

The NBA may rewrite the official rules for traveling. That way they can have something entirely new to not enforce.

Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones has signed on to host a new travel show entitled Dhani Tackles the Globe. We're impressed, since most Cincinnati Bengals aren't even allowed to leave the state.

And Edgerrin James wants the Arizona Cardinals to release him. And to show that he's serious, he's been hanging out with Plaxico Burress.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Lakers guard Jordan Farmar is currently writing a blog on Playboy's website. Now guys have one more article they can pretend to read.

Former NASCAR driver Dean Combs has been arrested for making moonshine. When reached for comment, Combs told me I "had a purdy mouth."

The Minnesota Timberwolves are lowering prices on 95 percent of season tickets in the Target Center. It's never been more affordable to watch horrible basketball.

And Barry Bonds' agent plans to contact all 30 Major League Baseball teams to see if anyone will hire his client. Which is a plan that somehow took him 14 months to come up with. His next plan is learning that same sales pitch in Japanese.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

The National Lampoon Sports Minute (Or So)
By Steve Hofstetter, Keith Alberstadt, Ryan Murphy, and Chris Strait

Darryl Strawberry has admitted he would have used steroids if they were available during his prime. And if he could have snorted them.

The Knicks gave statistician Al Marchfeld a gold watch to commemorate his 60th year with the team. The watch commemorated his first 25 years with the team. For his last 35, they gave him a purple heart.

The Cincinnati Reds have invited Barack Obama to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in a game against the White Sox. If he can hit 50 miles per hour, they might sign him.

The Yankees new stadium includes a field-level seat that costs $26,000. Which, considering real estate in New York, is a pretty good deal.

And Terrell Owens has signed a contract with the Bills. Owens is hoping he can lead the team to four straight Super Bowl losses.

For more of the Sports Minute (Or So), visit

Sunday, March 08, 2009

MLB Preview #3
National League East

New York Mets

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Luis Castillo 2B
Jose Reyes SS
David Wright 3B
Carlos Beltran CF
Carlos Delgado 1B
Daniel Murphy/Fernando Tatis LF
Ryan Church RF
Brian Schneider C

Johan Santana
Mike Pelfrey
Oliver Perez
John Maine
Freddy Garcia
Tim Redding
Livan Hernandez
Jon Niese
Nelson Figueroa
Brandon Knight

The Mets lineup didn't change much from last year, but then again it really didn't need to. Reyes, Wright, and Beltran are stars, and the rest are good to great complimentary players (despite what locals think about Luis Castillo). Reyes and Castillo are about equal at getting on base, and if New York drops Reyes to second, it will be able to better take advantage of his power - especially compared to the punchless Castillo.

In addition to Murphy, Church, and Tatis likely sharing time in the outfield, the Mets have even more talented outfielders is Marlon Anderson and Jeremy Reed. On the infield, Alex Cora is a proven utility man and a capable emergency starter. Once again, Ramon Castro will relieve Schneider at catcher.

New York's starting rotation may be a bit short on household names, but it's not short on talent. Of course, top starters Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey have had their bumps and bruises, so that's something Mets fans will want to keep their eye on.

The much maligned New York bullpen should be helped by the move to Citi Field. Despite early reports that balls flew out of the new stadium, it is located just across the street from Shea and has bigger dimensions, so it should favor pitchers even moreso than the original Mets home. The Mets now have an embarrassment of riches in the bullpen after acquiring Francisco Rodriguez as their new closer and JJ Putz as K-Rod's top setup man. Putz had a tough 2008 due to injuries, but had he not been traded to the Mets he likely would have been an elite closer again this year. Rodriguez, Putz, Duaner Sanchez, and Pedro Feliciano should help the Mets avoid late game (and late season) collapses this year.

Philadelphia Phillies

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Jimmy Rollins SS
Shane Victorino CF
Chase Utley 2B
Ryan Howard 1B
Raul Ibanez LF
Jayson Werth RF
Pedro Feliz 3B
Carlos Ruiz C

Cole Hamels
Brett Myers
Jamie Moyer
Joe Blanton
JA Happ
Chan Ho Park
Kyle Kendrick
Carlos Carrasco

Well, it's hard to find fault in a team that won the World Series last year. Losing Pat Burrell in favor of Raul Ibanez was more of a downgrade that most people realize. But with the rest of Philadelphia's lineup, that shouldn't be an issue.

Like all good teams, the Phillies relied on key backups taking over if and when a starter faltered. Unfortunately for Philadelphia's opponents, that backup corps is as strong as ever. Geoff Jenkins lost his starting job to Jayson Werth last year, and this year he'll be Werth's backup. Greg Dobbs will once again back up the corner infield spots, with Eric Bruntlett up the middle. Catcher was a weak spot for the Phillies in 2008 after Carlos Ruiz struggled at the plate. But in addition to Ruiz and Chris Coste, the Phillies also picked up Ronny Paulino from in-state rival Pittsburgh. But all three catchers are probably just keeping the seat warm until prospect Lou Marson is ready.

Philadelphia's fifth starter spot is still up for grabs. But you know you're in good shape when that's the only question your starting rotation has. Myers, Moyer, and Blanton aren't elite pitchers, but staff ace Cole Hamels certainly is.

The bad news is that Brad Lidge probably won't convert all of his save opportunities this year, like he did in 2008. The good news is that Lidge is back as one of the best closers in the game. The even better news is that Lidge also has a strong support staff, led by Ryan Madson, JC Romero, Chad Durbin, and Scott Eyre.

Atlanta Braves

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Yunel Escobar SS
Kelly Johnson 2B
Chipper Jones 3B
Brian McCann C
Garret Anderson/Matt Diaz LF
Casey Kotchman 1B
Jeff Francoeur RF
Josh Anderson CF

Derek Lowe
Javier Vazquez
Jair Jurrjens
Kenshin Kawakami
Jorge Campillo
Tom Glavine
Jo-Jo Reyes
Tommy Hanson
Charlie Morton
James Parr
Jeff Bennett

I'll be honest - I have no idea how this lineup will shake out. On top of not knowing who will bat where, there are also questions of who will actually be playing at any given time. Garret Anderson may not hold up for a full 162 games. Josh Anderson is only holding onto his spot until top prospect Jordan Schafer is ready for the bigs. Jeff Francouer had enough trouble holding his starting spot last year, and questions remain this year. And that's just the outfield.

Fortunately, the Braves do have some decent backups. Matt Diaz was last year's starter in left field, and he'll likely see decent playing time on both corners this year. Gregor Blanco filled in for Francouer last year, and could do it again this year. On the infield, Martin Prado put up good offensive numbers last year, and warrants playing time this year when he gets a chance. Of course, he'll also have to compete with proven infielder Omar Infante for the utility role.

As always, the Braves have put together a solid rotation. Tim Hudson is out with an arm injury, but in his stead the Braves have acquired two very good starters - Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez. Jair Jurrjens was a darkhorse rookie of the year candidate last year, and this year he returns as a capable number three starter. The Braves also have some decent pieces to fill the last few rotation spots, including Jo-Jo Reyes, Ken Kawakami, and a swan song from Tom Glavine. The Braves may be headed for another third place finish in their division, but don't fault the rotation for them not finishing any higher.

The Atlanta bullpen may seem like a group of castoffs, but there is some decent talent there. Former Pirates closer Mike Gonzalez now assumes that role with the Braves. He'll be aided by Rafael Soriano, Manny Acosta, Boone Logan, and Buddy Carlyle.

Washington Nationals

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Christian Guzman SS
Elijah Dukes RF
Ryan Zimmerman 3B
Adam Dunn 1B
Lastings Milledge CF
Josh Willingham LF
Jesus Flores C
Anderson Hernandez 2B

John Lannan
Scott Olsen
Daniel Cabrera
Shawn Hill
Jordan Zimmermann
Collin Balester
Shairon Martis
Jason Bergmann
Matt Chico
Garrett Mock
Tyler Clippard

The Nationals are an organization looking for respect. While their record in 2009 might not win them any respect, they have pieced together a respectable lineup and a respectable bench. New to the DC are are Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham, two players who won't hit for a high average, but who will get on base and hit for power. They, along with previous acquisitions Christian Guzman, Elijah Dukes, and Lastings Milledge, will help compliment Washington's star-in-training Ryan Zimmerman. And while the previously light-hitting Guzman probably won't match the batting numbers he reached in 2008, one of those other starters just might.

Like the Nationals lineup, the bench is full of recognizable names. While they may be castoffs from other organizations, they're also proven Major Leaguers, and many of them former starters. Nick Johnson will try to stay healthy and fight for playing time. Ronnie Belliard and Kory Casto will back up the infield, and former Nationals starters Austin Kearns and Wily Mo Pena will do the same in the outfield. Kearns, Pena, and Dunn - reunited from their time in Cincinnati - will give this team some pop.

Over the past few years, the Nationals have had no trouble acquiring players with character issues, alleged or otherwise. This year is no different as they add starter Scott Olsen from the Marlins. If players can Olsen and Elijah Dukes can contain their emotions, they will make the Nationals a better team. If instead they feed off of each other's negativity, then I pit manager Manny Acta. But outside of Scott Olsen and John Lannan, Washington is full of question marks in the starting rotation, none bigger than enigma Dnaiel Cabrera, who on any given night could strike out 15 and walk just as many.

The Nationals bullpen is highlighted by Team Canada member Joel Hanrahan. Hanrahan has a thin bullpen behind him, composed primarily of fringe starters like Garrett Mock and Tyler Clippard.

Florida Marlins

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Hanley Ramirez SS
Jeremy Hermida RF/LF
Jorge Cantu 3B
Dan Uggla 2B
Gaby Sanchez 1B
Cody Ross LF/RF
John Baker C
Cameron Maybin CF

Ricky Nolasco
Josh Johnson
Chris Volstad
Anibal Sanchez
Andrew Miller
Dan Meyer
Burke Badenhop
Ryan Tucker
Rick VandenHurk

Like the Braves, and even moreso, I'm not sure how the Marlins lineup will look in 2009. If Cameron Maybin can stick in the leadoff spot, Florida will benefit from moving Hanley Ramirez to the three hole. But until then, the Fish will benefit from hitting Ramirez first, effectively giving their best player as many at bats as possible. Like Washington's, Florida's lineup delivers some pop with Ramirez, Cantu, and Uggla, but it also has many question marks. Still, the Marlins have the ability to make games exciting.

Florida does have some capable backups, primarily on the infield corners. Both Wes Helms and former Angels super-prospect Dallas McPherson can play both third and first base. Alfredo Amezaga, meanwhile, can play anywhere on the diamond.

The Marlins rotation has some young talent that may still be a year or two away from being good. Ricky Nolasco wins the top rotation spot by default, more or less. Chris Volstad and Andrew Miller will be good, but may not be Major League good yet. Anibal Sanchez has an MLB no hitter under his belt, but has been relatively silent outside of that one game. Dan Meyer was once thought to be one of the next big Oakland pitching prospects; now he's just fighting for the fifth starter spot on a bad team.

Matt Lindstrom has been named Florida's closer after converting five of six opportunities in 2008. He'll be supported by Leo Nunez, Logan Kensing, and Taylor Tankersly, as well as Scott Proctor. Proctor was an interesting acquisition, as talented veteran middle relievers are often not a priority on a team like this.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

MLB Preview #2
American League West

Los Angeles Angels

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Chone Figgins 3B
Bobby Abreu LF
Kendry Morales 1B
Vlad Guerrero RF
Mike Napoli C
Juan Rivera DH
Torii Hunter CF
Howie Kendrick 2B
Erick Aybar SS

John Lackey
Ervin Santana
Joe Saunders
Jered Weaver
Dustin Moseley
Nick Adenhart
Shane Loux
Anthony Ortega

As usual, the Angels lineup won't blow anyone away on paper. But once again, it's a solid collection of players that will win quite a few games. With the loss of Mark Teixeira, Kendry Morales will be asked to step in at first base. The Cuban refugee's development has been slower than expected, so it will be interesting to see if he's finally ready for a full time spot in the majors. The other addition for the Angels is Bobby Abreu. Abreu's defense may have worsened over the years, but he's still phenomenal at getting on base, and 20 home runs will be a good complement to the power players like Guerrero, Napoli, and Rivera bring to the table.

The Angels have always had a deep bench under Mike Sciocia, and this year is no different. Gary Matthews, Jr. and Reggie Willits can fill in at all three outfield spots. Macier Izturis will once again be the utility infielder. Rob Quinlan will backup both corner spots in the infield, and may find himself a starter if Morales falters again. Meanwhile, Brandon Wood, LA's "other" shortstop prospect (after Erick Aybar), will try to find playing time at third and short. And Jeff Mathis should see decent playing time at catcher when Mike Napoli is called on to DH, or when Napoli simply needs a day off.

Ervin Santana looked like a bust in 2007. But he bounced back strong in 2008, giving Los Angeles their second legitimate ace with John Lackey. As I've mentioned before, having two aces is important to playoff success. Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver would probably be number two starters on some team, but in this deep rotation they slide down to the third and fourth spots. The final rotation slot appears open to competition. After a rough introduction to the majors in 2008, top prospect Nick Adenhart will try to bounce back to take that spot in 2009.

In addition to a deep bench, the Angels have always had a deep bullpen. Gone is Francisco Rodriguez, but LA was quick to replace him with Brian Fuentes. Fuentes has an excellent veteran support staff in Scot Shields, Justin Speier, and Darren Oliver. However, at 34 Shields is the youngest of that group, so durability may be an issue.

Oakland Athletics

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Mark Ellis 2B
Bobby Crosby SS
Matt Holliday LF
Jason Giambi 1B
Jack Cust DH
Eric Chavez 3B
Kurt Suzuki C
Travis Buck RF
Ryan Sweeney CF

Justin Duchscherer
Dana Eveland
Sean Gallagher
Dallas Braden
Gio Gonzalez
Josh Outman

Oakland's offense took two huge steps forward with the trade for Matt Holliday and the free agent signing of Jason Giambi. Holliday, Giambi, and Jack Cust are Billy Beane's dream players - pure machines that get on base and hit for power. The questions come from the rest of the lineup. Eric Chavez is a great player when healthy, but that "IF" gets larger and larger every year. Kurt Suzuki and Travis Buck are good on base guys, but Mark Ellis, Bobby Crosby, and Travis Buck struggle at it. In Ellis's defense, at least, he's probably the best-fielding second baseman in the game.

The bench features some no-names that began 2008 as starters, and would be again this year if not for the return of Chavez and the acquisitions of Holliday and Giambi. Namely, they are Darric Barton, Jack Hannahan, Rajai Davis, and former Cubs farmhand Eric Patterson.

The A's have always found a way to grow pitching talent, trade it away, then replace it with more talent. That needs to be the case again this year, after they traded away both Rich Harden and Joe Blanton during the 2008 season. The player to watch is Gio Gonzalez, a former first round draft pick who has been traded three times in five professional seasons.

Oakland traded closer Huston Street to get Matt Holliday. Brad Ziegler ended the year as Oakland's closer, but this year he will relinquish that role to Joey Devine. Devine will be supported by Ziegler and Russ Springer.

Texas Rangers

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Ian Kinsler 2B
Michael Young 3B
Josh Hamilton CF
Nelson Cruz RF
Hank Blalock DH
David Murphy LF
Chris Davis 1B
Jarrod Saltalamacchia C
Elvis Andrus SS

Kevin Millwood
Vincente Padilla
Scott Feldman
Matt Harrison
Brandom McCarthy
Dustin Nippert
Jason Jennings
Kason Gabbard
Luis Mendoza
Eric Hurley
Tommy Hunter
Warner Madrigal

The masthead on the Rangers website says they are "Built for Fun." That's an apt description, but perhaps a bit of a backhanded compliment. Texas has retooled its batting order, but again has done little with its pitching. New to the lineup this year is Nelson Cruz, who at 28 last year wasn't considered a prospect, but who still absolutely obliterated AAA pitching. Also new to the lineup is the organization's number one prospect, Elvis Andrus, who will move Gold Glove shortstop Mike Young to third base. Third base was vacated by Hank Blalock due to injury issues. Blalock will take over the DH spot this year.

Texas went into the offseason with four MLB-ready catcher, but after trading Gerald Laird are now left with three. All three are solid players, but each comes with the smallest of asterisks. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who looks to win the starting role, has always been an offense-first catcher, but now his offense looks a little suspect. Taylor Teagarden, conversely, may be the best defensive catcher this organization has seen since Ivan Rodriguez, but only recently has his hitting been considered up to the task. And Max Ramirez tore up the low minors, but was always a little old for his class. The Texas bench also features Frank Catalanotto, who now looks to be a super sub, and Omar Vizquel, brought on to mentor Andrus.

As mentioned above, little was done to improve the Rangers rotation. Like the last few years, it's Millwood, Padilla, and a bunch of question marks.

Frank Francisco has been promoted to closer after several years as a setup man for the Rangers. He'll be supported by a bevy of experienced bullpen arms, including CJ Wilson, Eddie Guardado, Brendan Donnelly, and Derrick Turnbow.

Seattle Mariners

Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Ichiro Suzuki RF
Jose Lopez/Ronny Cedeno 2B
Ken Griffey, Jr DH
Adrian Beltre 3B
Russell Branyan 1B
Kenji Johjima/Jeff Clement C
Endy Chavez/Waldimir Balentien LF
Franklin Gutierrez CF
Yuniesky Betancourt SS

Felix Hernandez
Erik Bedard
Brandon Morrow
Carlos Silva
Ryan Rowland-Smith
Jarrod Washburn
Garrett Olson

The Mariners had a stunning fall from grace in 2008, but perhaps we should have seen it coming with an aging lineup and questions in the rotation. The lineup has been retooled with a combination of defense, youth, and power. The defense comes from Ichiro and new acquisitions Franklin Gutierrez and Endy Chavez. Individually each could claim the title as best center fielder (or best outfielder) in the game. Together, they'll help save quite a few hits for Mariners pitching, even if (in Gutierrez and Chavez' cases) they aren't offensive powerhouses. The youth comes in the form of Wladimir Balentien and Jeff Clement. Both are known as plus bats and minus defenders. Some have suggested a combined Johjima/Clement and Chavez/Balentien platoon, wherein one day the poor hitting/good defensive catcher would play with the good hitting/poor fielding outfielder, and vice-versa, to offset all four players' deficiencies. The power comes from scrap heap acquisition Russell Branyan and what the Seattle front office hopes to be the triumphant return of Ken Griffey, Jr.

Seattle's rotation should improve significantly with the health of Erik Bedard. The continued development of Brandon Morrow and Ryan Rowland-Smith will help as well. Jarrod Washburn was 5-14 last year, but with an ERA under 5, that record may have just been the result of being an unlucky player on a bad team.

After trading away JJ Putz, Seattle's closer position is still up for grabs. Among the contenders are Mark Lowe, Miguel Batista, Tyler Walker, David Aardsma, and Roy Corcoran. Lorain County's Ryan Feierabend was expected to be this year's long reliever. But unfortunately he has been lost for the season with an elbow injury.