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As we’ve now finished up our look at all 30 MLB teams, I wanted to again express my appreciation and thanks for all the writers that helped me out this season.  Maybe you were late to the series, maybe you missed a few, maybe you just want to re-read what someone had to say about a certain team.  You can either follow the #PlayingPepper hashtag on Twitter or you can click a link below.  Ten years of Pepper in the books and I look forward to the next ten!

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In 2009, before my second full season of blogging the Cardinals, I reached out to other bloggers to other teams to get insights on their clubs.  This year, instead of going through the teams alphabetically, we’ll approach it a little differently, spending a week with each division.  For the tenth straight season, get ready for the upcoming MLB season by playing a little pepper.  

St. Louis Cardinals
83-79, third in NL Central
Website | Twitter

Last year’s Pepper

We’ve done the rest, now let’s do the best.  If you are a regular reader here, you probably know enough about my thoughts about the coming season.  So I’ve gone and got an All-Star cast to answer some questions for your entertainment and edification.  (And I left Heather’s the way she sent it, to honor Mr. Borowsky’s signature style while he was running VEB.)


Writer, Site, Twitter
Heather Simon, Viva El Birdos, lil_scooter93
Will Leitch, The Will Leitch Experience, williamfleitch
Larry Borowsky, VEB founder,
Allen Medlock, The Redbird Daily, amedlock1
Dayn Perry, Baseball Genres, daynperry
Tara Wellman, Birds on the Black, tarawellman
Drew Silva, Rotoworld, drewsilv
[/table}

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?

Heather: i certainly believe the club improved this offseason. while there is room for criticism that the team did not do enough, i think that the trade for marcell ozuna is not quite getting the recognition it deserves, perhaps because it occurred early in the offseason. i would like to see the team raise its floor in the rotation – there are still a lot of questions there, but i think they will ultimately be fine with what they have.

Will: I think they did all they could. If there would have been any way to trade for Josh Donaldson, I absolutely think they would have done it. There just wasn’t. So they added around the margins. I still think someone like Logan Morrison would have been handy in a pinch, and while I’m glad they didn’t pay for Holland or Wade Davis, the bullpen has to be a worry. But they’ve kept that all-important flexibility, and that’s not nothing. Also: Marcell Ozuna totally rules! Did everyone forget that?

Larry: The most promising additions were on the coaching staff. The Cards have underachieved two straight years — they should have been a wild card both seasons by Pythagorean formula. You could say they were just unlucky; I’d say they were both unlucky and incompetently managed. If Jose Oquendo and Mike Maddux can rein in Matheny’s worst tendencies, this winter’s roster changes may look very astute. Otherwise, I think the team is gonna stay stuck in the same old 80-something-win rut.

The personnel moves were sensible but not particularly imaginative. The pattern of hoarding redundant WAR on the bench and in the minors doesn’t seem to be working. The organization remains overstocked from the right side (both bats and arms) and undermanned from the left, skewed to the flabby end of the defensive spectrum, and so heavily invested in high-floor talent that opportunities to raise the ceiling seem to get crowded out. These imbalances have persisted through multiple off-seasons — and that’s not the manager’s fault.

Allen: It was impressive to see the club act quickly on the goals they set during the season wrap-up press conference. I feel the club did improve in the ways they directly prioritized like impact bat, closing option, and starting pitching depth. The names weren’t necessarily the names that most Cardinals fans wanted to hear but the team felt like this group was close to playoff contention with what seemed like incremental improvements. In my eyes, the club seemed to miss a component the last two and a half years. The acquisition of Marcell Ozuna and the maturation of the pitching staff seems to point the arrow in the up position. 

Dayn: I thought it was quite good. The team needed power, and Ozuna addresses that in a very direct way. As well, they were able to get Ozuna at what I think was a very nominal cost in prospects. I don’t dislike the Bud Norris signing considering he’s slated for bullpen detail. If he makes more than a handful of starts, though, I’ll have objections. Bringing in Mikolas also strikes me a sound calculated risk, and I’m encouraged that he’s apparently been willing and able to make adjustments this spring. I thought the front office also did a solid enough job of clearing out the outfield logjam while also getting back some pieces that can help in the near and mid-term. Dominic Leone is especially interesting. At various points, I stumped hard to add another starting pitcher, but I’ve softened that stance a bit. I still think there’s collapse potential at a couple of spots, and I worry that the team will stick with Wainwright too long if he doesn’t rebound. That said, I think I was giving short shrift to the depth that’s in place. 

Tara: An offseason that begins with the possibilities of Giancarlo Stanton, Manny Machado, Chris Archer and Alex Colome and ends with none of those players is bound to be a little disappointing… especially after hearing the big talk from the Front Office about impending roster changes for 2018. That said, there were some improvements and perhaps more importantly, some decluttering that took place. Plus, the additions to the field staff were very strong. So, sure. They improved. How much, though? Well, not enough to make themselves favorites for the top of the NLC.

Drew: I wanted more. I wanted two bats. And I think the Cardinals’ front office did too. I would guess they made a hard early run at Josh Donaldson and Manny Machado and came away surprised at the Blue Jays’ and Orioles’ unwillingness to negotiate. I also wanted someone like Addison Reed — or exactly Addison Reed — whose two-year, $16.75 million free agent agreement with the Twins would have barely been a pin prick in the Cardinals’ budget. That said, they did make upgrades. I consider the Marcell Ozuna trade a big win, as I think most around baseball did and do. Sandy Alcantara throws hard, but there are at least five under-25 pitchers in the Cardinals’ system whom I like better. Magneuris Sierra runs fast, but there are 100 guys in the minors just like him and few of them will become everyday major leaguers. Ozuna is the middle-of-the-order slugger the Cardinals desperately needed last year and he won’t hamstring the club’s spending power in the long term like Giancarlo Stanton might have. Miles Mikolas is an intriguing addition, and beating out the Cubs to get him — if those reports are accurate — makes that two-year, $15.5 million deal all the more inviting. Dominic Leone had closer-like numbers last season in Toronto and Luke Gregerson is a decent bet for a bounceback. Yairo Munoz is the only utilityman I’ve ever loved (sorry, Jose Oquendo).

C70: What do you think the club will get out of Alex Reyes this season and what role will he be in come September?

Heather: all reports i have heard is that reyes will be ready by may and will take on a bullpen role. i see him taking a path similar to the one we saw carlos martinez take a few years ago. i think the team will be cautious with his workload and since he will start in the bullpen, the team might not feel comfortable using him for spot starts. i don’t anticipate him making any starts until at least after the all star break.

Will: I think they take as much time as they possibly can, as they should. And then by August, he’s basically playing the role Carlos Martinez played in 2013. It’ll be beautiful.

Larry: In a perfect world he’d throw 100+ innings and ease into a starter’s profile over the course of the year, setting him up to make 25+ starts in 2019. But with Jack Flaherty and John Gant on hand for rotation depth, it’s possible (likely?) the greater short-term need will be in the bullpen. It’s also possible Reyes will be ineffective due to Tommy John hangover or the inconsistent strike-throwing he’s always struggled with. IMO the likeliest (albeit not most desirable) scenario is that he gives the Cards 40 or 50 innings of relief.

Allen: The Alex Reyes situation looks to be fluid throughout the season. Personally, I’m glad that spring has worked out to where we don’t feel like he will need to be rushed into action. I would like to see him prepare as a starter and hoping that the preparation will allow him to pitch multiple inning relief stints late in the season. When an Alex Reyes looks to be the club’s sixth, seventh, or possible eighth starting pitcher option, it’s hard not to believe the organizational depth is quite impressive. 

Dayn: I’m going to guess he gets some spot starts but mostly works out of the bullpen — low-leverage at first and of increasing importance as the season goes on. Spotty command in May, but he gets up to vintage level before the end of the first half. I’ll say he’s a multi-inning reliever by September (and a full-time member of the rotation to start 2019). 

Tara: Unless the need for him becomes dramatically apparent, I don’t expect them to rush him back. With the emergence of Jake Flaherty this spring, there’s more than one backup plan, should the Big League team need a starter for any length of time. And with the promise of Reyes’s future, I fully expect the Cardinals to be extra cautious in getting him back up to speed. But, should Wacha face physical challenges, Mikolas fail to recreate his overseas success, and Wainwright falter under the weight of Father Time… Reyes will have his chances. And that’s just in the rotation. The bullpen that was once more full of question marks than answers seems to have steadied heading into Opening Day. But by July? Who knows. Still, I’d expect Reyes to be groomed as a starter, and scheduled for work there at some point this season. 

Drew: An exciting unknown as we sit here in late March. You probably want a straightforward prediction, but it’s going to depend on what the Cardinals’ biggest immediate need is once Reyes is deemed fit for major league games. If the Opening Day rotation is still rolling in May and Reyes is reintroduced as a reliever, that’s more of a positive than a negative. It means Adam Wainwright has rebounded. It means Michael Wacha’s shoulder is healthy. It means Miles Mikolas really did figure something out in Japan. Reyes’ innings and situations can be managed in middle relief and then he’ll have more freedom to go the distance in 2018, jumping into a rotation spot whenever one opens up. I’ll say he’s in the rotation in September. I’ll say he’s getting stretched out by the All-Star break. I’d like him to throw around 120-130 innings and I think there’s no limit to how good he can be. By the opening game of the 2018 postseason, his Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery will be nearly 20 months in the rear view.

C70: What’s one thing people may overlook (either positively or negatively) about this team?

Heather: the cardinals outfield is legitimately good. one could make the argument the cardinals have the top outfield in the division, though the brewers are certainly a contender in that department. the team has a steady lineup throughout and while there are not any true super-stars, there are not many obvious holes…

… except potentially at shortstop. paul dejong had a breakout year in 2017, but he is unlikely to repeat that production in 2018. his walk rate is worrisome and his defense seems likely to regress. this issues would be less concerning if the cardinals’ depth at the position was not so thin. the cardinals are all in with paul dejong. it may work out, but if it does not… that could be quite bad.

Will: Ozuna. Honestly, the Cardinals finally got the huge power bat we’ve all been waiting for and we’ve still done nothing but complain all winter. Whatever order you put the top three — Fowler/Pham/Carpenter — you’ve got three huge on-base dudes all set up for a monster bat to drive them in. He’s what we’ve been asking for. We got him. This is good, right?

Larry: They really need another left-handed power hitter. If Carpenter spends any significant time on the shelf this year, the big-league roster will be completely lacking in LH sock, with no help in the upper minors.

Allen: I’ve been saying for well over a year that Matt Carpenter will have a monster season with lineup protection. Ozuna hitting in the cleanup spot allows for Carpenter to get back to his line drive approach that is capable of 35-45 doubles. With a lineup of high on-base potential of Fowler and Pham hitting in front of Carpenter with Ozuna looming, pitchers will be forced to throw Carpenter fastballs in which case MC should thrive. 

Dayn: The addition of Mike Maddux as pitching coach and the analytics-friendly Mike Shildt as bench coach may be key to helping Matheny make fewer obvious tactical errors. Maddux should be able to help him have better instincts when it comes to removing the starter, which has been a huge blind spot for Matheny. If they do their jobs and Matheny listens to them, this could cut down on the number of games that are lost in the dugout. 

Tara: Jedd Gyorko. Just sort of in general… he’s somehow easy to forget about. (Sorry, Jedd. It’s not personal, I promise.)

Drew: Probably that starting pitching is not an issue. I heard people clamoring for Jake Arrieta, or for the Cardinals to re-sign Lance Lynn once it became clear that his market had cratered, but I’m on board with Mozeliak and Co. trusting what they have. Maybe it’s over for Adam Wainwright, but they can plug in Alex Reyes or Jack Flaherty. Carlos Martinez is one step away from becoming an ace. Luke Weaver has breakout written all over him. Michael Wacha seems to have somehow become underrated. Miles Mikolas put up a 2.18 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in three years with the Tokyo Giants and he struck out 187 batters over 188 innings last season in the contact-driven Japanese leagues. I’ll also just casually mention Ryan Helsley, Austin Gomber, and Dakota Hudson. And in the long term, watch out for Jordan Hicks.

C70: Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the Cardinals to do well?

Heather: the cardinals really need carlos martinez to lead the pitching staff. while tommy pham will probably take a step back, the team is very dependent on his production in the outfield. marcell ozuna putting up a good year after the trade would definitely be a good thing…

but, the cardinal that needs to perform well the most is paul dejong. his production will be critical to the cardinals success this season. there is just not another actual shortstop in the pipeline – at least not for another couple of years. greg garcia and jedd gyorko could fill time if dejong suddenly turns into a pumpkin, but that would be beyond less than ideal.

Will: Probably Paul DeJong? They were counting on Aledmys Diaz just as much last year, but they had DeJong waiting in the wings if he struggled. There is now not a DeJong for DeJong, if you will. Shortstop is the one position where there is no backup plan. He has to be healthy, and he has to produce.

Larry: Carlos Martinez. He’s the only 200-inning pitcher on the staff, unless Wainwright surprises us. Without a healthy, consistent Tsunami, the Cards’ rotation becomes as formless (and as susceptible to the manager’s nonsensicalities) as the lineup was last year.

Allen: If we see one of the rotation components behind Martinez take a step forward this club could be really, really good. A good number two would move this rotation form very solid to scary good. Luke Weaver seems like the most likely to make that jump. I felt like a playoff series last year with Martinez and Weaver leading the charge would have put them in a great position. 

Dayn: Obviously, there are a lot of ways to answer this question. I’ll take an obvious path and say Carlos Martinez. To me, he’s the one true present known quantity in the rotation, and I think it’s important that he’s once again that stabilizer at the front end. I think this team needs Carlos to make 30-plus starts with an overall body of work that’s ace to ace-ish in quality. In other words, C-Mart needs to continue being what he already is. 

Tara: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: As Matt Carpenter goes, so go the Cardinals. In years past, that was in part due to the significant drop off of his replacement. This year, Jose Martinez seems to have a better grip on that role. However, a fully functioning Matt Carpenter takes this team to another level… even if it means putting him at 3rd base now and then to keep Martinez in the lineup, too. 

Drew: I’d lean Kolten Wong. Obviously the Cardinals need their best players to be their best players, but it’s time for Wong to finally prove that he’s a worthy everyday second baseman who can extend the lineup and make life easier on the pitching staff. We saw some positive flashes last year — Wong quietly posted career-highs in batting average (.285) and on-base percentage (.376) — but he finished with just four home runs and eight stolen bases in 411 plate appearances and rated barely above average defensively. Wong has to do more in 2018. He would seem plenty capable of it.

C70: What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?

Heather: i think the division race will be more interesting than those of the previous two years. while the smart money is on the cubs to take the division, i can forsee a path for them to falter. i think the birdos and brewers make it interesting, but the cubs take the division by three games while the birdos take the first wild card spot with 90 wins.

Will: I think they win 88 games and host the wild-card game.

Larry: Their last two Pythagorean win totals have been 88 and 87, so 90-something wins ought to be well within reach. To get there, they’ll need the new coaches to tighten things up and the young pitchers to come through. A softer interleague schedule this year (AL Central vs AL East) might also help. But after the last couple of seasons, low expectations are in order. Put me down for (sigh) 87-75.

Allen: Less than two weeks ago this question would have had me top out my expectations at 83-86 wins, battle for a wild-card spot and see what happens. I’ve become very bullish on the lineup and think the team has a chance to be very good. 90-93 wins could be very attainable as I believe they are truly one of the best four teams in the National League. 

Dayn: 89 wins, second place, host the wild card game. Beyond that, I have no idea, as only my employer can force me to predict postseason outcomes. 

Tara: I hate predictions on principle, but I’ll play along… 2nd in the division, good enough for a Wild Card spot. After that, who knows?!

Drew: 89 wins, hosting the National League Wild Card Game at Busch Stadium.

C70: What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?

Heather: i am very interested in the cardinals bullpen this year, so i would have thrown in a question about how the cardinals are building it. it appears the strategy is to just throw a bunch of relievers into the mix and see what plays out. it is a bit different from years past where we seemed to have a pretty good idea of how the ‘pen will be constructed. this year, i am really unsure of what they will do!

Will: Why in the world would Bernie Miklasz do a weekly podcast with you, of all people? (I have no answer.)

Larry: Who might be this year’s out-of-the-blue source of WAR —- ie, this year’s Aledmys Diaz, Tommy Pham, Paul Dejong, etc.? Yairo Munoz sure looks the part.

Allen: “Do people really like the powder blue uniforms?” They are victory blue, my friend. People love them and they need to be worn several times a season.

Dayn: If loving Tommy Pham and Jose Martinez is wrong, do you want to be right? No, if loving Tommy Pham and Jose Martinez is wrong, then I do not want to be right. 

Tara: Why didn’t the Cardinals trade for Chris Archer? I HAVE NO IDEA.

Drew: [Maz Kanata voice] “Who are you?” … No one.

My thanks to my podcast co-hosts, my fellow and predecessor bloggers, and our national folks for their thoughts on the Cardinals.  No matter what happens starting Thursday, one thing is for sure–we’ll be watching all the way to October!

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In 2009, before my second full season of blogging the Cardinals, I reached out to other bloggers to other teams to get insights on their clubs.  This year, instead of going through the teams alphabetically, we’ll approach it a little differently, spending a week with each division.  For the tenth straight season, get ready for the upcoming MLB season by playing a little pepper.  

Minnesota Twins
85-77, second in AL Central, lost in Wild Card Game
Website | Twitter

Last year’s Pepper

Every year there’s that team that surprises.  That team that improves faster than expected.  That team that makes people wonder, “What is happening here?”  Last year, that was the Minnesota Twins.  Losers of 103 games the year before, nobody would have expected them to be in the playoffs 12 months later.  Even mid-year there were questions, as they traded for then traded off Jaime Garcia within the span of a week.  Now the surprise factor is gone.  How will the Twins respond?  Let’s take a look at what our panel has to say!

Writer Site Twitter
Thrylos Tenth Inning Stretch thrylos98
Cody Christie Twins Daily NoDakTwinsFan
Maija Varda Twinkie Town KirbysLeftEye
Seth Stohs Twins Daily SethTweets
Collin Kottke CollinKottke.com CollinKottke 

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?

Thrylos: Yes it did. This has been the club’s best off-season since the one before 1991, and we know what happened then.

Cody: Minnesota had one of their best offseasons in recent history. Pitching was a weakness a year ago and the front office made this a priority. Trading for Jake Odorizzi and signing Lance Lynn have added depth to the rotation. The additions of Fernando Rodney, Addison Reed, and Zack Duke should solidify the bullpen. Logan Morrison also adds some much needed pop from the left-side of the plate. Derek Falvey and Thad Levine were able to add all of these pieces with very little commitments beyond next season. After a surprise playoff appearance in 2017, the Twins seem destined for a return trip to October baseball. 

Maija: The Twins improved this winter. In fact, they just had their best offseason ever. That’s not saying much because the Twins, historically, haven’t been big players in the offseason, but man, they did well. They took advantage of both the slow market — waiting until the end to sign guys like Logan Morrison and Lance Lynn on cheap deals — and of teams (supposedly) “tanking” — trading their fourth? fifth? best shortstop prospect to the Rays for Jake Odorizzi. The team definitely improved, but more importantly, they did it with a bunch of smart, shrew moves that puts them in a great position both in the short term and long term.

Seth: It was a remarkably, painfully slow offseason, to be sure. Twins fans had some hopes for Yu Darvish which didn’t pan out, but all-in-all, it’s been an offseason that Twins fans should be happy about. They went after some veteran bullpen arms early and signed Fernando Rodney, Zack Duke and Addison Reed to help solidify things at the end of games. The took a two-year flier on Michael Pineda which could pay dividends late in 2018 and hopefully in 2019. And then to acquire a solid young pitcher like Jake Odorizzi for SS Jermaine Palacios was a very good trade. Signing Logan Morrison late just makes the Twins lineup even stronger. And don’t be surprised if the Twins add another starter before the season begins. Of course, losing shortstop Jorge Polanco to an 80-game PED suspension is not a positive for the Twins, but it makes their minor league signing of Erick Aybar potentially good.

Collin: I think the Twins had a very good offseason which has been a rarity in Minnesota. I don’t know if you could say that the Twins grabbed anyone that will drastically change the course of the season, but the combination of all the moves does improve the club. The additions of Lance Lynn, Jake Odorizzi, Addison Reed and Fernando Rodney should all help drastically improve the pitching staff. Logan Morrison is also an intriguing addition with his big bat.

C70: It would seem Joe Mauer could bring out a lot of conflicting emotions. What are your thoughts on him and will he be a lifetime Twin?

Thrylos: He can be a lifetime Twin if he retires after this season. I just hope that the Twins do not re-sign him, if he is not on the top quarter of first basemen, just because he is local. Now with Logan Morrison on board, this possibility has been mitigated a bit, I hope.

Cody: Mauer has made it clear that he wants to stay in Minnesota. His offensive numbers seemed to bounce back last season and he played Gold Glove caliber defense at first base. With a young family, the biggest question might be how much longer he will wants to play. Mauer has always been a polarizing figure for the casual Twins fan. His huge contract has always been a sticking point, especially after he was forced to move out from behind the plate. The truth is, he is one of the best players in the history of the Twins and I don’t think he will play a single game in another team’s jersey. 

Maija: Not sure what the conflicting emotions here are supposed to be. I feel absolutely honored and so lucky to have gotten to watch Joe Mauer’s entire career, and have a player like him on my team. I get teary-eyed just thinking about this. Joe has earned every single penny and more. As for him being a lifetime Twin, yeah. I can’t imagine him playing for any other team, and highly doubt he ever will. His grandparents would kill him.

Seth: He’s one of the Top 4 players in the 57-year Minnesota history of the Twins organization. Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew and Kirby Puckett are the only players that could be considered better. He was still at his peak when he suffered his concussion in 2013, and the next three years were tough. But 2017 was a return to “normal” for Mauer, again hitting over .300 and getting on base over 38% of the time. I hope he will be a lifetime Twin. It would be unfortunate if he ends his career in another uniform.

Collin: Joe Mauer is a lighting rod throughout Twins Territory. It seems that you either love him or hate him, that’s mostly thanks to his contract. Personally, I like him, but he’s just simply not as valuable as his once was. Mauer has a really good glove, he should have been the Gold Glove winner at first last season, and still hits decently. If I ran the organization, this would be Mauer’s last season as an everyday player, though. I would love to keep Mauer as a great left-handed option off the bench for next season, but that will totally be up to Mauer. I don’t believe that Mauer will ever wear a different team’s uniform, because he is a Twins legend. Mauer will have a gate at Target Field dedicated to his #7 and that number will also be retired. That is usually something that the team reserves for players that make the Hall of Fame, but fellow hometown boy Kent Hrbek has paved the way for Mauer to get those honors.

C70: What’s one thing people may overlook (either positively or negatively) about this team?

Thrylos: That good young players improve. And the Twins are full of them.

Cody: Minnesota has a lot of question marks on the offensive side of the ball. Young players like Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler need to take the next step. All of them have shown flashes of being above average big league players. The coming season will be crucial for each of them to find consistency. Sano was an All-Star but is coming off an injury. Buxton suffered through a terrible start before turning it around in the second half. Kepler continues to struggle against lefties. There are other veteran players in the lineup but the Twins’ offense hinges on the young players. 

Maija: Probably still the youth. Though not as young as they were last year, people have been hearing names like Byron Buxton for so long that I think some forget he only just turned 24. Buxton, Miguel Sano, Jose Berrios, Jorge Polanco… These guys are good and young and hitting their prime, so it’s not totally crazy for them to make improvements. People were already trying to label Buxton a bust during his early season struggles at the plate last year, which was a bit crazy.

Seth: I happen to think that depth is the biggest asset for the Twins right now. They have a lot of talent offensively, but they have options behind their starters that could help in case of injury. Guys like Nick Gordon and LaMonte Wade are nearly ready. While they don’t have an “Ace” starting pitcher, they have a lot of good pitchers, and they have a handful of young pitchers on the cusp of big league ready (Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero, Zack Littell, Felix Jorge, Aaron Slegers, etc.). Same thing in the bullpen. While they added veterans, they have several young bullpen options (Alan Busenitz, John Curtiss, Gabriel Moya, Jake Reed) that should be part of the long-term future.

Collin: I think that people overlook how good the offense is for the Twins is. Minnesota found themselves around the top five in almost every offensive statistic in the American League in 2017 and that should only improve in 2018. Byron Buxton is improving at the plate with every game, Brian Dozier is an under-the-radar superstar (if there can be such a thing) and, frankly, there’s not really a spot in the lineup that should continually be a loss at the plate.

C70: Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the Twins to do well?

Thrylos: Hate to do this to him, but it has to be Jose Berrios. The only guy with close to top of the rotation stuff, because he is the one who will have to beat the other good team’s aces, if this team is to have a chance in the post-season.

Cody: Even with the addition of Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn, the Twins need a pitcher to lead the pitching staff. Jose Berrios has the potential to be an ace at the top of the rotation. His strikeout numbers haven’t followed him from the minor leagues but that could change in 2018. He’s pitched over 200 innings at the big league level with 188 strikeouts. In his age-24 season, the team will be looking for him to take on more of a leadership role. This could be critical for the Twins to make a return trip to the playoffs.

Maija: I should probably pick a pitcher, but really, Byron Buxton. He’s going to be out there every game, picking up all those fly balls Lance Lynn, Jake Odorizzi, and company are going to be giving up. Buxton is what makes the Twins special. He’s so fast.

Seth: While there are some hitters who obviously need to take a step forward in 2018, I think that pitching is always the key. Therefore, I’ll say that Jose Berrios is a guy who really needs to take another step forward in 2018. He is capable of being ace-like, and if he can do that, he can really help the Twins take that next step. 

Collin: Jose Berrios appears to be that key player. With the Twins really bolstering their starting rotation this offseason, it looks like the team could be really, really good if Berrios fully becomes the ace that he is capable of becoming. The rotation will be solid around Berrios with Lynn, Odorizzi and Ervin Santana (assuming he can bounce back from surgery), but it goes to a whole new level if Berrios can fully blossom.

C70: What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?

Thrylos: Challenging Cleveland for the Central and making the post-season either as a champion or as a wild card. Too hard to tell what happens afterwards. Will depend on what they do with pitching at the deadline and how wild cards like Trevor May, Phil Hughes and Michael Pineda do.

Cody: The AL Central will come down to the Indians and the Twins. Cleveland will likely end up with a win total in the mid-90’s. Minnesota likely doesn’t have the firepower to hit that mark. This team is still good enough to build on last year’s 85 win performance. My guess is 90 wins and another trip to the AL Wild Card Game. 

Maija: I’m a bit biased here… but I think the Twins are going to give the Indians a run for their money. Heck, I think they might beat the Indians. I mean, the Twins were in first place in the AL Central for nearly half the season last year, and they are a much better team now. There’s a lot of recency bias, I think, with the Indians. Anything can happen.

Seth: I think that the Twins have taken a step forward this offseason while I think Cleveland may have taken a partial step backwards. I think that the Twins will finish second to Cleveland while adding a few wins to their 2017 total of 85. If that’s the case, it sure would be nice to have a home Wild Card game!

Collin: It’s going to be a good year for the Twins. I’d predict a record of 90-72 with a probably second place finish in the American League Central, but good for the first AL Wild Card spot. If the Cleveland Indians falter for some reason, maybe, just maybe, the Twins might slide their way into the division crown.

C70: What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?

Thrylos: Who is the one player that nobody who is not following the Twins knows about who may make a huge splash this season?  Fernardo Romero.

Cody: Where’s the best spot to find out about prospects in the Minnesota Twins system? The Minnesota Twins Prospect Handbook

Maija: Will the Twins re-sign Brian Dozier after his contract is up at the end of the season? This is a good question, and hard to answer in light of what happened this past MLB offseason with hardly any free agents getting big deals. I would say no, the Twins won’t re-sign him, because someone else will probably give Dozier a bigger pay day… but will they? I’m sure the Twins will at least extend him a qualifying offer, but again, considering what happened this offseason, I feel like more players are actually going to start accepting those offers. So, maybe, unless he has just an abysmal year.

Or maybe a question about Sano, but no one really wants to talk about Sano right now. Just kinda wish MLB would tell us how long his suspension is going to be already.

Collin: This is a very good question about a question with so many things going on with the Twins. The question I would ask is: how is the new brain-trust of Derek Falvey and Thad Levine doing running the baseball operations for the Twins? My answer would be: Very, very good! Along with their signings, they have pulled off some wonderful moves. I don’t fully understand the international spending money thing, but the Twins took advantage of having some and not being able to use it all by trading it for draft picks. The Twins essentially took nothing and made it into draft picks. Again, I don’t know exactly how all of that works, but that’s what I’d like my Chief Baseball Officer and General Manager to be working. Do things that I, a typical nobody, wouldn’t think of doing to make the team better.

It should be a fun season for the Twins and I thank all of those that spent some time helping us get a handle on them.  We’ll see how far that young talent takes them!

0 comments

In 2009, before my second full season of blogging the Cardinals, I reached out to other bloggers to other teams to get insights on their clubs.  This year, instead of going through the teams alphabetically, we’ll approach it a little differently, spending a week with each division.  For the tenth straight season, get ready for the upcoming MLB season by playing a little pepper.  

Pittsburgh Pirates
75-87, fourth in NL Central
Website | Twitter

Last year’s Pepper

After breaking through that .500 barrier that kept them down so long, after three consecutive Wild Card games (and, unfortunately for Pirates fans, three straight losses), the sub-break-even pull looks like it is starting to exert its influence again.  The Pirates dealt off a number of big names this offseason and from the outside looking in, the prospects don’t look that good for another winning season.  What about from the inside?  We’ve got a very solid group of bloggers to tell you all about the black and gold!

Writer Site Twitter
Michael Clair Cut4 michaelsclair
Kevin Creagh The Point of Pittsburgh thepointofpgh
David Kaleida RDavidK
Jason Rollison Pirates Breakdown pbcbreakdown

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?

Michael: This is the toughest question and obviously the one that divides and upsets most Pirates fans. Most would argue that no, the team didn’t do enough — though that is mostly about the previous years when the team was perhaps an addition or two from getting beyond the Wild Card Game. Is Colin Moran the team’s third baseman for the next decade? Is Joe Musgrove a rotation stalwart? What will Kyle Crick and Bryan Reynolds, the prospects that the team got for Andrew McCutchen, become? The team seemingly shored up multiple positions this offseason, but didn’t get a future star. So, if I had to give the team a grade, it would be a C. As in, wait and see.

Kevin: This was a very frustrating offseason to be a Pirate fan. With the influx of the BAMTech $50M ($22.5M of which should have gone to payroll, using the 45% rule of thumb), the Pirates should have kept Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen, plus added 1-2 pieces. This would have taken payroll to around $125M. If they were not doing well on July 1st, then they could have traded everything away down to the bare bones. So, no. The Pirates at best just treaded water this offseason.

David: No? Maybe? Who knows? The total sum of moves this offseason amounted to three trades. I’m not sure they were bad baseball moves but they felt bad because of the names involved.

The first deal was Gerrit Cole for Colin Moran, Joe Musgrove, Michael Feliz and a minor league OF. I don’t hate this trade. Due to injuries, Cole hasn’t been the Cy Young contender he was in 2015. If Moran’s swing changes from last season work in the bigs then the Pirate have their thirdbaseman for the next 4-6 years. Musgrove should be an adequate starter, but doesn’t have the upside that Cole did.

All I can say about the McCutchen deal is that it hurt. It hurt because the player is gone, it hurt because the man is gone and it hurt because you shouldn’t trade a player like him unless you’re getting back a can’t-refuse offer. They didn’t. But now he’s gone.

I will now attempt to analyse this on a purely baseball level. Combine it with the recent trade with the Rays:

Cutch, Daniel Hudson and a minor league 2B
for
Dickerson, Kevin Crick and a minor league OF

That’s almost a wash, folks. Dickerson should nearly match Cutch’s production this year and I expect Crick to be better than Hudson. Pirates get younger and more years of control, which is what they’re always looking for.

Jason: That depends on how you look at it. Surely McCutchen and Cole leaving the club would mean they did not improve, but the team also added Corey Dickerson, Joe Musgrove, Colin Moran, Kyle Crick and Michael Feliz. Those are five bona fide MLB players (giving Moran the benefit of the doubt here), one of whom was an All Star last year. AT the very least, you could say that the club stayed stagnant as the talent level is still more or less the same as it was last year, while other clubs perhaps leapfrogged them. Could the Pirates have done more? Absolutely? Did they NEED to? I’m not so sure.

C70: With some high profile folks traded, who now stands out as the face of the franchise and the ace of the staff?

Michael: Another tough one. The face of the franchise is now the usually smiling, racing around the bases Josh Harrison. Trevor Williams has an outside shot at becoming the voice, if not the face of the franchise, by virtue of his Twitter account and the podcast he co-hosts with fellow pitcher Steven Brault. As for the ace of the staff, that’s firmly Jameson Taillon’s purview now. Though the full season numbers don’t look great, he had a 3.31 ERA when he went on the DL with cancer, and is it really fair to judge someone’s stats when returning from cancer?

Kevin: The ace of the staff is Jameson Taillon, although in a macro sense he’s really only a low-end #2/high-end #3. The face of the franchise in the short-term is Josh Harrison, but in the long-term is probably Josh Bell.

David: Ace of the staff is easy – Jameson Taillon. He might have been the ace this year even if they had kept Cole. The Face of the franchise right now is harder to pin down. It might have been Starling Marte if not for the PED suspension. It might have been Gregory Polanco but injuries have kept him from breaking out. Ask me next winter and it might be Josh Bell, but let’s see what he does this year. It’s probably Josh Harrison. He’s good but not great and he’s ticked off at the front office. Sounds about right.

Jason: Josh Harrison and Francisco Cervelli will be the faces of this club, at least while they are here. The next wave includes Josh Bell and Jameson Taillon, who is as close to an “ace” as this club has.

C70: What’s one thing people may overlook (either positively or negatively) about this team?

Michael: Positively, Jordy Mercer. When he took over the shortstop in 2013, I don’t think anyone would have thought he would still be the starter in 2018. While Mercer isn’t going to be anyone’s idea of a superstar, he hits enough and fields well enough to let the Pirates worry about other positions. In a way, his ability to just be there has made him one of my favorites on the team.

Negatively, the team is thin at catcher. I have a deep love of Francisco Cervelli (and his robe), but injuries and age appear to be sneaking up as both his offensive and framing numbers took a dip. Meanwhile, backup Elias Diaz seems to lack the bat to start should Cervelli miss time.

Kevin: The Pirates have the potential for an excellent bullpen. The Cole/Cutch trades brought Feliz and Crick, respectively, to add to the bullpen with high upside. Felipe Rivero is either the 2nd or 3rd best reliever in the MLB, so adding Feliz and Crick to the solid George Kontos has a great deal of potential. If Kevin Siegrist isn’t irreparably broken, he’s a great lefty option.

David: Chad Kuhl had a solid second half, buoyed by an outstanding July. There’s a lot of potential in the rotation but it all has to come together for good things to happen.

Jason:  The young talent. I mentioned guys like Taillon and Bell, but Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are in their primes. They have some issues, sure, but the talent level with those two is there. Folks may also overlook just how much left-handed power is on this club. Moran, Polanco, Dickerson and Bell all have 25+ home run potential.

C70: Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the Pirates to do well?

Michael: Gregory Polanco. Everything was set for last year to be his breakout before multiple hamstring strains caused him to miss over 50 games and saw his numbers nosedive. This has to be the year he asserts himself as the star he could be.

Kevin: I would love to say Gregory Polanco, but he is appearing to be unrealized potential at this point in his career due to injuries. Starling Marte must return to his non-PED form and put up a 4-5 WAR season for the Pirates to have any legit hopes of contending.

David: Moran or Musgrove. David Freese was stretched as a full-time player last year, so getting solid production from 3B will help. And you can never have enough pitching.

Jason: It’s gotta be Starling Marte. The Pirates’ 2017 was absolutely derailed before it really began with his 80 game PED suspension. If he can come back to the 3.5-4 WAR player he was before the suspension, the Pirates will be in good shape.

C70: What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?

Michael: Let’s say the Astros screwed up and Joe Musgrove is a mid-rotation pitcher, Colin Moran is a top-10 third baseman, Josh Bell and Gregory Polanco are stars and Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon front the rotation. That’s an 85 win team. More realistically, they win 75 games and finish in fourth place.

Kevin: I’ll say 78 wins and 4th place in the NL Central.

David: 4th place is the obvious projection, behind three teams making big positive moves this winter and ahead of the rebuilding Reds. Somewhere between 75-80 wins.

Jason: If everything breaks right, the Pirates could win 85 games. As it stands, I’ll say 80-82 or thereabouts is more appropriate. I think that with the club taking some hits in the PR department and trading away some stars, most fans would take that in a heartbeat.

C70: What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?

Michael: Will Tyler Glasnow find the command necessary to start? And that question is one that is asked every time he takes the mound. I hope so.

Kevin: Why did the Pirates bring back Neal Huntington on a 4-year extension after his lackluster record of drafting players, which is how the Pirates must excel at in order to contend? The answer is that they appear to be comfortable in going with what they know that is moderately safe, rather than be bold.

David: Will the Pirates get over the mental hump of having traded their best two players? Will it matter? They were under .500 the last two seasons with them. I don’t think we can answer this because none of us are in the clubhouse with the team. If two players can step up their performance to fill in the void, the team will be fine.

Jason: What is Tyler Glasnow’s ultimate ceiling? The former number one pitching prospect has been a disaster in his major league career thus far. He can’t find the strike zone consistently and is prone to bouts of inept control. Despite high velocity, his fastball comes out of his hand flat and is very hittable. I’m actually glad you didn’t ask this because I have no idea at this point!

My thanks to the guys for telling us all about a team that’s been a good rival to the Cardinals over the last half-decade or so.  I’d expect they will be again this season as well!

0 comments

In 2009, before my second full season of blogging the Cardinals, I reached out to other bloggers to other teams to get insights on their clubs.  This year, instead of going through the teams alphabetically, we’ll approach it a little differently, spending a week with each division.  For the tenth straight season, get ready for the upcoming MLB season by playing a little pepper.  

Kansas City Royals
80-82, third in AL Central
Website | Twitter

Last year’s Pepper

Cardinal fans are always going to keep an eye on the Royals.  For some of them (given how far Cardinal Nation spreads) Kauffman Stadium might be closer to their front door than Busch Stadium is.  (That’s actually true for me, actually, by about 30 miles even though I’ve never been there.)  It could easily feel like the start of a new era in Kansas City this year, but what will that new era bring?  I’ve got a couple of guys here who have some pretty smart things to say about that.

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?

Josh: It’s pretty clear that the Royals have little chance at competing for at least four or five years. The major-league roster wasn’t great last year and lost a slew of key contributors to free agency. The farm system is one of the worst in the game. So what did Moore and the Royals do? Gum up the works with signings like Alcides Escobar, Lucas Duda, Jon Jay, and Mike Moustakas. While being completely all right with the Moustakas pillow contract, it’s hard to see how signing those four isn’t detrimental to the development of the Royals’ admittedly sketchy prospects being at least theoretically blocked. Sure, the win total nudged up a few wins, but with where the Royals are likely to finish, that’s just going to cost them positioning for a better draft pick in 2019. They’re likely to be worse than they were last year, but anyone can tell you that. 

Justin: The Royals made it clear during the offseason they were going to cut payroll. They brought back SS Alcides Escobar on a one year deal and tried to get Eric Hosmer back but it didn’t work out. In Spring Training they added 1B Lucas Duda, CF Jon Jay, and Mike Moustakas all on one year deals. I think what the Royals did was bought a year on their minor leaguers. This allows players more time to develop, come up at the same time, and keeps them here longer. Next year they could bring SS Adalberto Mondesi, 2B Nicky Lopez, IF Hunter Doizer, and CF Donnie Dewees all at the same time to try to replicate what they did in previous years.

C70: What’s going to be the strength of this team, pitching or hitting?

Josh: Neither? The rotation might be non-awful, but the bullpen is a gigantic question mark. The offense will be bad. So we’re talking degrees of worse. Who knows which side of the ball will be less bad?

Justin: If you would have asked me at the beginning of Spring Training I would have said Pitching but with the veteran hitters they acquired I would say hitting. There are a lot of question marks on both sides but the bats have more stability. They added some left handed bats to even out the lineup. The pitching staff has a bunch of questions mainly in the bullpen. There are a bunch of young players that are looking to prove themselves so it will be fun to watch.

C70: What’s one thing people may overlook (either positively or negatively) about this team?

Josh: When everything is not awesome and nearly everyone knows it, it’s hard to peg just what might be overlooked. Again, I probably have to turn to the rotation. Cock-eyed optimists could see these starting pitchers be all right.

Justin: The Farm System is better than people think. It is not a top 10 system but there are some guys who do not get a ton of attention but could make a difference within the next few years. IF Emanuel Rivera and OF Khalil Lee are guys I think who could contribute down the road.

C70: Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the Royals to do well?

Josh: There is not a player who will be able to make the Royals do well. Jorge Soler seems like the guy who could put things together and begin to validate the Wade Davis deal (the Royals’ place on the win-curve excepted). Adalberto “Don’t Call Me Raúl” Mondesí turning into the player portended years ago would move the needle some too. He and Kyle Zimmer could both emerge as legit standout players, but expecting that from Mondesí or hoping that Zimmer pitches at all would be foolhardy. 

Justin: Alex Gordon needs to do well for this team to be successful. Since he signed a long term deal he has not hit as well as the Royals had hoped but there were other guys on the team to pick up the slack. This year there are not and he will likely hit in the top half of the lineup and will need to hit like it. Bringing back Moustakas relieved some of that pressure but he will need to improve form last year to give the Royals a shot.

C70: What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?

Josh: I mean if everything breaks right, maybe they win 78 games. Anything between 65 and 78 wins seems entirely possible. My guess would be 73 wins. There are three bad teams in the Central. The Tigers and White Sox seem like they’re more committed to losing. I’ll guess third in the Central but with the fourth-worst record in the AL. 

Justin: I expect them to finish around 75 wins and in third place in the central. The recent acquisitions of Duda, Jay, and Moustakas give the Royals some much needed stability in the lineup to be successful. They will not replace what they lost in Free Agency but they are much more competitive than they were to Spring Training. I like that the Royals are not tanking. I see the value in it but I also see the value in creating and maintaining a culture that wants to win.

C70: What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?

Josh: Is the World Series win fresh enough to make seven-plus years of ultimate irrelevance worth it?

Justin: How far off are the Royals from competing again? I think they are about 4-5 years. They have some talent in their farm system that needs to develop plus 3 first round picks. This draft is extremely important for the Royals heading into this rebuild. They will need to pick well and develop the guys they currently have for this to happen.

Appreciate Josh and Justin talking about the club with us today.  It should be interesting to see if this season lays the foundation for another strong Royals team!

0 comments

In 2009, before my second full season of blogging the Cardinals, I reached out to other bloggers to other teams to get insights on their clubs.  This year, instead of going through the teams alphabetically, we’ll approach it a little differently, spending a week with each division.  For the tenth straight season, get ready for the upcoming MLB season by playing a little pepper.  

Milwaukee Brewers
86-76, second in NL Central
Website | Twitter

Last year’s Pepper

The Cardinals were expecting to be in a three-team race for the NL Central last year, but Milwaukee wasn’t the team that they were expecting to be part of it.  We all kept waiting for the Brewers to come back to earth and while they didn’t wind up winning the division after leading early, they still were able to force the Cards into their first third place finish in quite some time.  Are they for real?  That young talent and active offseason seems to go against any “one hit wonder” thoughts.  We’ve got Kyle here today to help us delve into that.

Writer Site Twitter
Kyle Lesineski Brew Crew Ball brewerfan28

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?

Kyle: I certainly think that the Brewers improved their roster this offseason. The club went out and acquired two star-caliber players in Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. Outfield was considered an area of depth entering the winter, but David Stearns chose to upgrade in center field (where the group of Keon Broxton, Brett Phillips, and Lewis Brinson combined for 80 wRC+ and 1.3 fWAR last season) by bringing in Cain, who has been a premium defender throughout his career and is coming off one of the best offensive seasons of his career. He’ll be 32 soon and signed a five-year, $80 mil deal so Milwaukee must feel confident about how he’ll age. Yelich, on the other hand, is a prime-age star who is still under control for another five seasons thanks to the early-career extension he signed with Miami a few years ago. Another strong defender, Yelich won a Gold Glove in left field in 2014 and will man that position regularly in 2018. He’s no slouch at the plate, either, owning a 121 wRC+ over his career while averaging ~4 fWAR per season over his four-and-a-half year career. Many have speculated that the move from Marlins’ Park to Miller Park could be a boon for Yelich’s offensive game, although he’ll probably have to start hitting a few more fly balls to see the power boost that fans around here are hoping for.

Those moves led many to believe that a trade of another outfielder was coming, but to this point that hasn’t happened. So that leaves last year’s breakout star Domingo Santana in right field and moves former MVP Ryan Braun to a sort of utility position. He’ll spend time in left and right, and is working on adding a new position to his arsenal this spring – first base. Braun has said in the early part of camp that he’s “not remotely comfortable” at the position yet, but his manager isn’t worried that he will be able to play the position passably once the regular season starts. The club hopes he can see about 50 games there while splitting time with Eric Thames. Around the infield looks mostly the same as last season, with Orlando Arcia and Travis Shaw manning short and third, some combo of Jonathan Villar/Eric Sogard/Hernan Perez at the keystone, and Manny Pina getting the bulk of the starts behind the plate. The bullpen looks like a strength behind Corey Knebel and Josh Hader along with new additions Matt Albers and Boone Logan. The biggest question mark is the starting rotation. Most figured that would be Milwaukee’s #1 need to address in the winter after the loss of Jimmy Nelson, but Stearns and company elected to target a few pitchers on value contracts – Jhoulys Chacin, Yovani Gallardo, and Wade Miley – and rely on the team’s statistical and scouting analysis and the tutelage of Derek Johnson to try and get the most out of those players and their other internal arms. I personally would’ve liked to see an addition along the lines of a Darvish or Arrieta, but alas.

C70: Chase Anderson seemed to come into his own last season. What’s next for him?

Kyle: Anderson broke out in a big way last season, becoming only the sixth Brewer starter since 2000 to toss more than 100 innings in a season while posting an ERA below 3.00. He missed about seven weeks with an oblique strain he suffered while batting (can we get a DH please?) but still managed to lead the pitching staff in Baseball-Reference’s RA9 based version of wins above replacement, checking in with 4.2 bWAR. The Brewers even gave him a modest contract extension after the season, buying out his next two years of arbitration with club options for the each of the two seasons after that. Anderson’s biggest improvement was the addition of a couple miles per hour on his fastball, which helped him strike out a career-best 8.5 batters per nine. He also made greater use of his cutter and curveball, giving him a true four-pitch mix to confound batters with. Peripherals like FIP and DRA saw Anderson’s work last season as more of a mid-rotation starter than a true ace, but the Brewers don’t necessarily need him to duplicate last season to be successful. If he can continue to limit home runs like he did last season and finish the year with an ERA around 3.50 or so, that would be plenty enough production from Chase.

C70: What’s one thing people may overlook (either positively or negatively) about this team?

Kyle: I think that one thing folks around Milwaukee are underrating is the depth that the team possesses around the diamond. Milwaukee boasts arguably the strongest outfield group in the game, with Santana/Yelich/Cain/Braun backed up by Keon Broxton (20 HR, 21 SB last season) and Brett Phillips (a top-100 prospect per BP and BA). The infield is full of versatility, with Thames able to cameo in the outfield, Shaw able to cover first, Villar and Sogard able to cover third and short in addition to second, and super utilityman Hernan Perez who can play anywhere on the diamond. Craig Counsell used around 130 different starting lineups last season, and he’ll almost surely use that many again this year, if not more. As for the pitching staff, what the club lacks in front-line potential, it makes up for in depth. In the early going the club will use Anderson, Chacin, and Zach Davies as their top-3 starters, and ace Jimmy Nelson will return sometime this summer – perhaps as early as June, per the club – from his labrum surgery (although it’s no guarantee that he’ll be as effective as he was last year prior to the injury). Beyond that group is a secondary tier of back-end depth that should allow the team to stay competitive in games – Brent Suter, Junior Guerra, Wade Miley, Brandon Woodruff, Aaron Wilkerson, and top prospects Corbin Burnes and Freddy Peralta. Sans Miley (who is on a MiLB deal as an Article XX(B) free agent) each one of the pitchers from that secondary group has minor league options, allowing Milwaukee to shuffle them back and forth to the minors depending on effectiveness. It’s a staff built to stave off attrition throughout the year. Owner Mark Attanasio stated that “According to analytics, we are going to score a lot of runs. That’s not a surprise. And our pitchers are going to perform at well-above replacement value.” I’d say that’s a pretty good summary of where the team should be overall.

C70: Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the Brewers to do well?

Kyle: The player who needs to perform well this year for the Brewers to succeed is Chase Anderson. With Jimmy Nelson on the shelf and no sure thing once he comes back, Anderson looks to be the de facto leader of the starting rotation – which was surprisingly one of the best in the NL last season. Davies and Chacin figure to provide useful production, but Anderson will need to prove that he can be something close to the guy he was last year, versus the 4.00+ ERA back-end starter that he was for the first three seasons of his big league career. If Anderson can post an ERA of around 3.50 or better, it would go a long way towards increasing Milwaukee’s chances of breaking their postseason drought.

C70: What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?

Kyle: It’s arguable that the Brewers overachieved last season on the way to 86 wins, but the moves completed this offseason should help raise the “true talent” level of the team. I’m thinking something around 85-87 victories would be a reasonable estimate and keep the Brewers right in the thick of Wild Card contention. And if they overachieve again this year like they did last year, then maybe they can give the Cubs a run for their money in the race for the NL Central.

C70: What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?

Kyle: You should have asked whether Josh Hader will be a starter or reliever, and the answer is perhaps both this season. Craig Counsell has shown that he like to be creative with his pitching matchups, and now that there is a true LOOGY in the bullpen in Boone Logan, CC will be able to deploy Hader in whatever fashion he sees fit so he can mow down hitters with his dangerous fastball/slider combo. That figures to be most often working multiple innings in a relief outing, but he could also be used in a setup capacity, or even a short start based on the opposing team’s lineup. There will be points throughout the year that Milwaukee employs a four-man rotation based on off days and spot starters are always needed throughout the long season on short notice. Hader doesn’t figure to go much longer than 3 innings in a given appearances, but he could be the guy who leads off a “Johnny Wholestaff” game in addition to one of the arms shutting teams down later in games.

Really appreciate Kyle spending some time with us today.  The Brewers aren’t going to be able to sneak up on anyone this season but that may not really matter!

0 comments

In 2009, before my second full season of blogging the Cardinals, I reached out to other bloggers to other teams to get insights on their clubs.  This year, instead of going through the teams alphabetically, we’ll approach it a little differently, spending a week with each division.  For the tenth straight season, get ready for the upcoming MLB season by playing a little pepper.  

Detroit Tigers
64-98, fifth in AL Central
Website | Twitter

Last year’s Pepper

Well, that was a bit unexpected.  After finishing second in 2016, the Tigers freefalled (freefell?) to the bottom of the division, barely escaping 100 losses.  Brad Ausmus took the heat but it really was a team effort.  Now the Tigers have to do what they’ve done a number of times before, pull themselves out of the cellar on the way to contention.  Can they do it?  Let’s ask our expert panel!

Writer Site Twitter
Neil Weinberg New English D NeilWeinberg44
Ashley MacLennan Bless You Boys 90feetfromhome
Jennifer Cosey Old English D VivaTigres

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?

Neil: The Tigers did basically what they were expected to do given the degree to which they sold last season. With basically no chance of contending in 2018, they dealt Kinsler and then signed a couple of cheap MLB free agents and a bunch of minor league free agents. They didn’t get better, but they were definitely not trying to get better.

Ashley: Hahaha, no. I think the Tigers have been pretty open about the position they find themselves in this offseason. The team hitting the field on Opening Day won’t be one that’s there to make the playoffs. That said I think they’ve got a good group of young prospects, and some exciting players who will be getting their first real shot at the big leagues this year. It might not be a 90-win club, but there will still be some quality games played. 

Jennifer: The Detroit Tigers are in the beginning of a full rebuild. The selloff began at the trade deadline and continued through the off season. This season will involve watching the kids develop and seeing whether prospects that were acquired through trades are likely to pan out. The club did not improve for the short term, and only time will tell whether the deals made were successful. The upside is that there is finally some good young talent in what has long been a very low-ranking farm system.

C70: How strange is it going to be not seeing Justin Verlander out there Opening Day? Who will get the nod there?

Neil: Verlander defined the Tigers for more than a decade and seeing him suit up with the Astros down the stretch last year and in the postseason was a very surreal experience. Michael Fulmer is the obvious choice for Opening Day, although he’s recovering from an injury and the Tigers aren’t going to take any chances if there are any setbacks.

Ashley: Michael Fulmer, without a doubt, is going to pitch on Opening Day. It’s at home in Comerica, he’s become the de facto ace following Verlander’s exit. I don’t see anyone else in that role. 

Jennifer: It will be a very strange thing not to have Justin Verlander on the hill for Opening Day, but no stranger than watching him pop champagne bottles in an Astros uniform. Very happy for him, but not gonna lie, it stung a little. Michael Fulmer will almost certainly get the Opening Day nod, and he’s earned it. The 2016 AL Rookie of the Year didn’t suffer a sophomore slump, although his 2017 season ended early in September with ulnar nerve transposition surgery. BREAKING NEWS: Jordan Zimmerman has been given the Opening Day assignment. Even he said he was shocked. I think that about sums it up.

C70: What’s one thing people may overlook (either positively or negatively) about this team?

Neil: I’m actually pretty bullish on the starting pitching. The Tigers aren’t going to be great this year, but Fulmer-Norris-Boyd is a pretty fun young group. Zimmermann hasn’t been good as a Tiger but he’s had success in his career. Liriano has been lights out at different points and Fiers has a no-hitter on his ledger. This is not the 2011-2014 rotation, but we might look back in September and be pretty pleased with the pitching.

Ashley: I think the team is going to get a lot of flack this season for performance, because fans want to see a winning club, and what they’re going to get is a lot of experimentation with roles and players, not all of which will be enjoyable to watch. The big thing for people to remember going into this season is that the team is building a foundation for future wins, and that’s going to be pretty ugly sometimes. 

Jennifer: This winter, I attended TigerFest for the first time in a number of years. I am not an autograph hound, so I just attended the interview sessions. Daniel Norris posed the question “Why do we have to lose?” To paraphrase some other comments, he indicated that the players are young, hungry, and lace up their spikes every day to compete. Now, don’t get it twisted: I don’t think the club is going to contend, but it’s nice to see that players are not just conceding mediocrity.

C70: Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the Tigers to do well?

Neil: Miguel Cabrera, no question. He had the worst season of his career in 2017, but if he is healthy he remains one of the most gifted hitters in the game. A classic Cabrera year could be the different between irrelevance and interesting.

Ashley: Miguel Cabrera is going to be a big factor. Both he and Victor Martinez are aging and coming off unhealthy seasons, but both have looked really good in spring training. Miggy looks like he’s slimmed down a lot, he appears fast on the bases and really healthy, which is great. He hasn’t hit any home runs yet, but he’s hitting the ball hard. Martinez also looks good, so hopefully the 3 and 4 hitters are going to make some magic this year and give the young guys something to live up to. 

Jennifer: For every team, starting pitching must perform. The Tigers need all of their starters to overachieve to have any hope of staying out of the cellar. Jordan Zimmerman has struggled in a Tigers uniform. He will need a good year to help anchor the rotation.

C70: What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?

Neil: I think they’re built to win around 75 games. They would need a lot to go right into order to jump into the wild card discussion, but I think they will be a step above the true bottom-feeders in the league.

Ashley: I think the team ends up bottom of the AL, unfortunately, and under .500. I’d love to see them get 75 wins. Last year was pretty abysmal for them with only 64, and I think 75 might be a bit of a stretch, so let’s say 69 wins. That would be nice.

Jennifer: As always, I am loath to make predictions. A 162-game season is a marathon that can torch the best of paper lineups. On the other side of the same coin, players can rise from injury or obscurity to shock analysts and casual fans alike. I fully expect the Tigers to finish near the bottom of the standings this season, but I’ll still be watching. I’ll still be in the stands.

C70: What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?

Neil: I think the biggest question for the Tigers is where they see themselves going into next season. There is a huge free agent class coming following 2018 and the Tigers ownership has deep pockets. If the Tigers want to be contenders again soon, 2018 is going to be about figuring out which of their young players are going to be part of the next good team and which are fillers. Is Candelario an MLB starter? Is Castellanos worth keeping? Are Norris and Boyd a 2-3 punch or a 4-5?

Ashley: “How do you think the addition of Chris Bosio will help the Tigers pitching staff?” and the answer is that Bosio appears to have a bit more of an open mind about shifting roles for pitchers. He’s not afraid to put Daniel Norris in during the 8th inning to get his confidence up. He seems willing to let relief guys wear a lot of hats. The best I can tell is that Bosio will be something of a counterpoint to Ron Gardenhire‘s old-school mentality, and between the two of them we could see some really interesting things out of guys like Fulmer, Norris, and Boyd.  

Jennifer: “Did the hire of Ron Gardenhire, an old school manager, make sense for the Tigers in rebuild mode?” I was puzzled by the move. GM Al Avila had indicated the Tigers were going to be more analytics oriented. This hire flies in the face of that assertion. However, claims were made that the Tigers were impressed by how open Gardenhire is to advanced metrics. Overall, it’s a mixed bag for me. On one hand, Gardy will probably be good for a crop of young players. However, I was looking forward to seeing what an analytics minded manager would do.

Thanks to Neil, Ashley, and Jennifer for their thoughts on this team.  It will be interesting to see how quickly the club can get back into a pennant race in the AL Central!

0 comments

In 2009, before my second full season of blogging the Cardinals, I reached out to other bloggers to other teams to get insights on their clubs.  This year, instead of going through the teams alphabetically, we’ll approach it a little differently, spending a week with each division.  For the tenth straight season, get ready for the upcoming MLB season by playing a little pepper.  

Cincinnati Reds
68-94, fifth in NL Central
Website | Twitter

Last year’s Pepper

It’s not easy to be a Reds fan right now.  The team has a great player, some interesting players, and some players that, well, you just don’t know what they are capable of.  It’s a team that doesn’t necessarily expect to contend last year.  And yet the Cardinals had huge problems with this team last year.  One of the reasons they didn’t make the playoffs was their scuffles against the team from the Queen City.  So what does 2018 have in store for Cincy?  Let’s let our great panel of bloggers fill you in!

Writer Site Twitter
Nick Vorholt Blog Red Machine blogredmachine
Wick Terrell Red Reporter wickterrell
Shawn Weaver coweaver
Jim Walker Redleg Nation jn_walkerjr

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?

Nick: The Cincinnati Reds aren’t quite done with their off-season or at least they shouldn’t be. Their laundry list was help the bullpen, sign some veteran pitching depth and look for a back-up shortstop. The bullpen is rebuilt, but the other two items remain undone.

The Reds signed a pair of 30-something year-old relievers to help set-up for Raisel Iglesias. David Hernandez and Jared Hughes both came over on two year deals. They should make the Reds’ bullpen better even if they regress to closer to the MLB reliever norm.  The Reds have done almost nothing to support a starting rotation that had to use sixteen different pitchers in 2017. Their only signing was Vance Worley and his days as an MLB starter may be done for good. That puts all of the pressure on the big three of Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, and Brandon Finnegan.  On the defensive side of the ball, the entire microscope is focused on Jose Peraza. He failed as the everyday starting second baseman in 2017, after looking like a great super sub the second half of 2016. The Reds’ defensive plans all require him to be solid at short as the roster stands now.

This isn’t a case of addition by subtraction. This is a case of addition by experience. Compared to the end of last season knowing what they have in new ace Luis Castillo is worth losing a season of service from Dan Straily.  Not only do the Reds know what they have in Castillo, but they know what they have in Austin Brice, the other player from that deal. He looks like a middle reliever with closer upside. Likely, he will start the season either in Cincinnati or closing for Louisville.  The addition of Hernandez and Hughes will also help. In addition to being short on starting pitchers for much of the season, the Reds had to use starting prospects Cody Reed and Robert Stephenson in the bullpen to start 2017. Now any extra starters will begin the season in Louisville’s starting rotation.

Only time will tell if the Reds have really improved since last season. Experience will help six of the eight position players be better professionals. However, the real test will be how the pitching performs day in and day out.

Wick: If Anthony DeSclafani, Homer Bailey, and Brandon Finnegan are all healthy, the Reds improved greatly this offseason simply by getting three of their biggest horses back. At least, that seems to have been the team’s M.O. this winter, since they opted not to add another starter despite the beleaguered rotation’s struggles in 2017. That trio, though, paired with the additions of Jared Hughes and David Hernandez to the bullpen, could help rectify the team’s biggest issue over the last two years, which has obviously been their pitching.

There’s a ton of talent there, but certainly not a ton of dependability. Still, I think I like the course of action.

Shawn: Improvement in the club will have more to do with young players getting player than anyone acquired. Can’t say the team will be better losing Zack Cozart, but we’ll see if some pitching develops. That’s the key.

Jim: Underwhelming may not be sufficient to describe the Reds lack of off season activity. They signed only a couple of journeymen relievers, Jared Hughes and David Hernandez to MLB contracts. There is a typical crew in camp on minor league deals for a look/see. Cliff Pennington and Ben Revere are the “headliners” of this crew. They could emerge as backups at shortstop and centerfield respectively. Definitely underwhelming.

At best the Reds’ front office has done no harm in the off season. However, there is a case to be made if they weren’t going to step up and compete for a playoff spot in 2018, they should have moved players such as Scooter Gennett, Adam Duvall and Billy Hamilton both to obtain more near MLB ready talent and clear major league playing time for nearly ready internal prospects and the newly acquired talent. This double-barreled passivity may have actually hurt the team in the long run. Time will tell.

C70: Scooter Gennett had a huge season last year (as Cardinal fans well remember). How much of that is reasonable to expect for 2018?

Nick: After a breakout season for the Cincinnati Reds, the team needs to maintain realistic expectations. Last season Scooter Gennett was the best offensive second baseman in the National League, once he began playing everyday for the Cincinnati Reds. Gennett played second, third, and some outfield for the Reds in 2017. Last season, Gennett was second in the NL among second basemen with at least 400 plate appearances with an offensive WAR (wins above replacement) of 13.0. He had a -4.8 WAR defensively for a net WAR of 2.4. That WAR ranked him twelfth in MLB among all second basemen with 400 or more PA. There should be no expectation the Gennett produces anywhere close to that number. Instead of a 2.4 WAR, something in the 0.7 to 1 WAR range seems more realistic. That puts him towards the lower end of veteran starting second basemen.

The bigger question is his home run power. Last season he was fourth among all second baseman and first among NL second basemen with 27 home runs. Looking at his career stats, a regression to closer to twenty home runs seems more than likely, even accounting for playing in Great American Ballpark.

Last season, Gennett played a career high 141 games, despite starting the season on the bench. He should play about that number again. The Reds will likely bench him against tough left-handers. His .531 slugging percentage is another stat to watch. With a career .446 slugging percentage, something close to .450 is a better expectation. This is especially true if Gennett hits 8-10 fewer home runs. His OPS was also a career high .874. Something closer to his career number of .769 is more likely. Even that may be a stretch if both his OBP and slugging percentage regress to normal. The hope has to be that his defense returns to an MLB average state without too large of an offensive regression. He is making enough from arbitration that he is not likely to be traded. That means that Gennett has to hold a starting job for the Reds all season long.

The good news is that Gennett is a career .283 hitter with a career OBP of .323. Those numbers play fine in Cincinnati anywhere in the batting order. They will play even better if the Reds let Gennett bat clean-up to start the 2018 season.

Wick: Every single projection for him sees him as much more of the player the Reds claimed off waivers a year ago than the dinger-smasher he turned into in 2017, and while I do think he’s a bit better than that baseline, I think that’s a fair estimation. He sported a .339 BABIP last year, but he’s always been a guy with a better BABIP than most, so I don’t see a ton of regression there. However, the 20.8% HR/FB rate seems way high even with the ‘new’ baseballs in the game, and I’d wager that number scoots back down to just a bit higher than his 11.5% career mark.

He pulled the ball more (42.4%) than he ever has last year, though, and that does suggest that he modified something from his previous approach. He was also in his age 27 season, which has always typically been viewed as when players ‘peak.’ Still, if they let him face righties everyday and sit him against lefties, something along the line of .280/.330/.460 sounds reasonable.

Shawn: Gennett had his career year last year, but 80% of that would still be pretty good. We’ll hold out hope for that.

Jim: Let’s start by looking at Scooter’s 2017 numbers versus his career numbers prior to 2017. His 2017 slash line was .295/.342/.531 compared to career line prior to 2017 of .279/.318/.420, The only truly seismic uptick in Gennett’s slash line in 2017 came in his slugging % driven by 27 home runs which was just 1 short of doubling his prior seasonal best.

The popular projection systems all have Gennett regressing to figures near his previous career levels. However, given Gennett’s improvement was driven by a slugging surge, it is possible that the change in his home park to Cincinnati’s GABP with its notorious right field shooting gallery will allow the left handed hitting Gennett to continue to slug at a rate markedly better than he did prior to becoming a Red. It would not be surprising if he hit at least 20 HR and turned in an .800 or better OPS for 2018.

C70: What’s one thing people may overlook (either positively or negatively) about this team?

Nick: The Cincinnati Reds had two of the worst pitching seasons in franchise history over the past two years. In 2016 it was the worst pitching staff that the franchise had ever seen for most of the year. In 2017 the rotation was among the worst in baseball. Heading into 2017 the pitching staff was in shambles. Every one who was initially penciled into the rotation was down by the All-Star break. Over the course of the season sixteen pitchers made starts for the Reds. Now, ten of those pitchers will either start games for Cincinnati or Triple-A Louisville at the beginning of the 2018 campaign. Anthony DeSclafani and Homer Bailey both look healthy at the same time since DeSclafani joined the Reds. Brandon Finnegan also appears to be back to his old self.

That’s not the story here, though. The real story is the last two spots in the rotation and all of the young guys that have a chance to compete for them. Luis Castillo appears to be the ace of the next generation. After that the team has a top prospect in Tyler Mahle, a former top prospect in Robert Stephenson and Sal Romano, who looks like a big league starter. These three will likely contribute this season. All three of them have something that looks like a weakness for this season.

The great secret weapon on Reds’ current roster may be Keury Mella. He is the other guy that came over in the Adam Duvall for Mike Leake deal. He has only pitched one inning this spring, but will likely start the season in Louisville’s starting rotation. Jackson Stephens is also in a similar situation. He made his MLB debut last season and looked impressive with a 1.12 WHIP. This spring Stephens has only pitched 5 ⅔ in four games. As course, there is also Amir Garrett. He was in the opening day rotation last season, but a hip injury ended his effectiveness after two months. Some more development could make him a factor.

The Reds literally have a now and later rotation. Five pitchers look ready now and five more look like they need more development. Hopefully, the Reds are positive about who is ready and who isn’t.

Wick: I’d say their team defense. Tucker Barnhart took home a Gold Glove last year – rightfully so – and despite the fact that Billy Hamilton somehow doesn’t have one in his trophy case yet, he’s as elite as they come. Eugenio Suarez, Adam Duvall, and even Joey Votto have graded out quite well at their positions, too, and their collective 26.6 DRS in 2017 ranked 4th in all of baseball. Heck, their team UZR/150 of 4.8 was the best mark in all of baseball.

Losing Zack Cozart will hurt, to be sure, but there’s still enough to like about Jose Peraza defensively to think it’ll still be a plus unit, which bodes well for such an inexperienced group of pitchers in front of them.

Shawn: There is a lot of talent coming up, especially pitching; there are a lot of good arms here. It’s a matter of developing them and making them major league pitchers. So far that goal has been elusive.

Jim: The Reds offense could be very, very good, particularly if when Nick Senzel is called up, he is used primarily at shortstop instead of at the expense of playing time for players who are better offensively than the presumptive SS, Jose Peraza. 

C70: Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the Reds to do well?

Nick: There is no secret who has to be the best player on the Cincinnati Reds in 2018. For the past several seasons Votto has been the second best offensive player only to Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout. For the Reds to succeed in 2018 Votto has to be the best player in the National League. It is easy to get seduced by the youth that Eugenio Suarez and Scott Schebler. They both seem to be on a power upswing. That though doesn’t mean much if players don’t get on base around them. It is easy to get seduced by the power of the slightly older duo of Adam Duvall and Scooter Gennett. Duvall is a true slugger, but has been one dimensional offensively for most of his time with the Reds. Gennett, meanwhile, hit more home runs than his metrics suggest. Of course, there is also the pitching that has been a weak spot for the past few years. The Reds cannot expect too much out of the pitching staff. The starting rotation just needs to be decent to be much improved.

Last year Votto lead MLB in OBP at .454. He also led MLB with 134 walks. He beat out Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins for the National League lead in OPS as well. The rest of team should step up a little bit. Duvall should continue to hit for power. Suarez and Schebler should each be a little better. Votto, though, must come close to doing what he did last year for the improvement of the rest of the team to mean anything. Votto must lead MLB in OBP again. That is the top priority. Votto has to continue to show his power. A top ten finish in the NL in slugging is another must. A top five finish would be meaningful.

With Stanton gone to the New York Yankees, Votto must lead the NL in OPS. There are not many players that will challenge him if he hits his OBP goal. This is what Votto must do for the Reds to be competitive in 2018. If the Reds don’t compete, it likely won’t be Votto’s fault. If he isn’t himself this season, though, they don’t stand a chance. He gets paid the big bucks and needs to continue to produce like it.

Wick: I think it’s DeSclafani, since the Reds have clearly banked on him being healthy despite him having had both elbow and oblique issues. If he’s the 3 WAR pitcher he’s shown he can be on multiple occasions (or, god forbid, improves on those numbers), that paired with the emergence of Luis Castillo gives the Reds a talented, cheap, and controlled 1-2 punch atop the rotation, which they’ve not really had in quite some time. (/crosses fingers)

Shawn: Joey Votto, obviously. The guy whose development would mean the most this year would be Jesse Winker (position player) and Luis Castillo (pitcher). A healthy and effective Homer Bailey and/or Anthony DeSclafani would mean a lot to the young staff. On a bad team, there’s a lot of key players.

Jim: The too easy answer here is Joey Votto who missed winning his second NL MVP award by just 2 points in 2017. Yet despite Votto’s stellar season, the team lost 94 games and, it has many offensive producers who as a group could mitigate much of an off year by Votto. If the lot of the Reds is to improve in 2018, it will be on the backs of their young pitching prospects. So, instead, I’m going with the man who won the NL Gold Glove at catcher in 2017, Tucker Barnhart, because his work with the young pitchers will be key to any such improvement.

C70: What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?

Nick: Last year the Cincinnati Reds tried to catch the Pittsburgh Pirates for fourth place in the National League Central. Right now, it looks like 2018 will be a repeat of that show. The Pirates look like a potentially stronger team even with the loss of Andrew McCutchen, negating a modest improvement for the Reds. Creating an exact win-loss number is always difficult. Taking a less than scientific approach, the bullpen is a wash and the offense is likely one too. The starting rotation’s health should be worth one win and Luis Castillo being in the rotation for a full season should be worth two more. That places the Reds at 71-91. That feels pessimistic, but there were no major moves this off-season. The shortstop position is also very weak right now.

The fact of the matter is that free agent signees Jared Hughes and David Hernandez are only marginally better than the traded Tony Cingrani and the departed Drew Storen. The Reds didn’t address the loss of opening day starter Scott Feldman, nor the loss of All-Star shortstop Zack Cozart this off-season. The Reds are slowly getting better, but they still have the worse pitching/defense combination in the NL. As the pitching slowly increases in talent, the defense is slightly worse in the middle infield. Of course, the Reds still play in Great American Ballpark, which plays small at times.

The Reds also play in the ultra-competitive NL Central. With the improvements that they Saint Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers made this off-season, the Reds are practically destined to give up more runs to their in division rivals. The Chicago Cubs also look like a team focusing on offense. That cannot help the Reds keep teams from scoring. They may have a better offense than the Pirates, but they are outclassed by the rest of the division. Thanks to the Miami Marlins’ fire sale this past off-season, the Reds won’t be the worst team in the NL. They will battle the San Diego Padres and Atlanta Braves to avoid being the second worse team in the NL. At the end of the day, there will be about four teams worse than the Reds in MLB in 2018.

Wick: I’m optimistic for them in 2018, but I need to break that down a bit more. I’m optimistic that this is the year the Reds begin to turn the corner, but I only think this specific group can get them to 82, 84 wins. That said, I do get the impression that if the team as currently constructed is playing well at that pace, the Reds are ready to begin to add more proven pieces to that core, and that could happen as early as this July.

One thing they have accumulated is a lot of tradeable depth, both with young pitching and pre-arb position players, and I think any glimpse that they’re healthy and winning will prompt them to add once again in a way similar to how they added Scott Rolen, Mat Latos, and Shin-Soo Choo in their previous era of success.

I do, though, think 2019 will be a much, much more successful year for them than 2018.

Shawn: I would put the over/under at about 75 wins. There should be some improvement if only because the pitching can’t be AS bad.

Jim: A reasonable scenario is that the team seriously flirts with .500 for the season and along the way is on the fringe of the wildcard race into August. A best-case scenario is that the starting pitching gels early, the offense adds some consistency, there are no major injuries and the team is a legitimate wildcard contender into the last couple of weeks of the season. The more likely scenario is that the Reds win around 75 games and manage to escape the divisional cellar. 

C70: What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?

Nick: How did the Reds have such a bad off-season when there was so little to accomplish? There is little positive momentum from the Cincinnati Reds off-season. The Reds had specific needs and neglected most of them. Now the team is staring another 90-loss season in the face. The Reds had three needs heading into the off-season. They needed to add a veteran starter for depth, a versatile reliever, and a true MLB shortstop. They went one for three. The Reds signed veteran relievers David Hernandez and Jared Hughes. The case could be made that in signing two veterans, they added a starting pitcher as well. With the free agent duo added, Michael Lorenzen is back pitching of a spot in the rotation. Of course, the issue here is what happened once again. Anthony DeSclafani has an oblique strain and Brandon Finnegan also came up lame. That puts the Reds best two young veteran starters on the DL to start the season, the same as where they ended it. As far as shortstop goes, the Reds signed a pair of minor league free agents. They needed someone to back-up Peraza, but instead got a pair of guys that could be playing the entire season in Triple-A. The shortstop depth is scary thin.

The Reds also have three players that are blocking their top prospects. Rather than move them for prospects, the Reds held onto them. They are also eating up salary cap money. Devin Mesoraco, Billy Hamilton, and Eugenio Suarez are all blocking top prospects. Tyler Stephenson may not be ready to make his MLB debut, but he is darn close. He could replace Tucker Barnhart behind the plate. Hamilton has been close to leaving the Reds each of the past two seasons. With Jesse Winker ready to play everyday, Hamilton is a pricey extra piece. His value is also slowly starting to decrease. Speaking of decreasing value, third baseman Suarez could bring a king’s ransom right now. He is blocking top prospect Nick Senzel and is a legitimate 20 home run slugger. He should have been moved as an auctioned off bat.

That is what the Reds don’t do well. They don’t understand when to hold ’em and fold ’em, know when to walk away and know when to run. They just don’t take the chances that they need to turn this rebuild into a finished product.

Wick: You should’ve asked “Is Joey Votto really as awesomely amazing as it seems he is?

I’d have replied that he absolutely, positively is, and it’s been a privilege to get to watch him suit up for my favorite team everyday for the last decade. Though, if you’d actually asked me about Joey Votto, I’d have probably replied with about 12,000 more words, and we all know nobody’s got time to read through that.

Shawn: When is the next year the Reds can make the postseason? The optimist would say 2019 because the pitching will develop quickly. I think when it does gel, it will gel quickly, but not until at least 2020.

Jim: Given the Reds languid off season, when will the organization get serious about competing for a playoff position? The view here is that the Reds will not take any deep dives on major league level free agents or talent via trade until as late as 2020. They appear to be committed to the development of their in house starting pitching and are waiting to see positive signs of that development prior to spending dollar or talent resources to fill out the rest of the roster. However, with no less than Joey Votto recently wondering very publicly when the organization would show urgency about competing for the playoffs, maybe we will see a change in attitude.

As everyone knows, I always follow the Reds thanks to my wife’s father having been such a fan.  I’m glad that these guys came to talk about Cincy and I appreciate them filling us in about what to expect this season!

0 comments

In 2009, before my second full season of blogging the Cardinals, I reached out to other bloggers to other teams to get insights on their clubs.  This year, instead of going through the teams alphabetically, we’ll approach it a little differently, spending a week with each division.  For the tenth straight season, get ready for the upcoming MLB season by playing a little pepper.  

Cleveland Indians
102-60, first in AL Central, lost in ALDS
Website | Twitter

Last year’s Pepper

It’s still a little strange (though in a good way) to see the Cleveland franchise that was so moribund for so long when I was growing up now being that perennial contender. While they didn’t make it to the World Series last year, there was no doubt that they easily would have been a respectable option had they been there.  Now it’s not enough to get to October, the Indians need to be standing late in the month.  Will they?  We’ve got a couple of quality bloggers to tell you just that.

Writer Site Twitter
Nino Colla The Tribe Daily SnarkyNino
Steven Kubitza Believeland Ball StevenKubitza

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?

Nino: That’s the question, isn’t it? I think every fan of every team has been completely baffled with how this offseason has unfolded with the lack of movement and staunchness on spending. And even us here in Northeast Ohio are a little perplexed as to why the Indians didn’t jump in and try to bargain with a few of the disappointed free agents. But here’s what it came down to. The Indians invested in Edwin Encarnacion last offseason, which was a pretty big commitment for a team that has been burned by big-money contacts in the past and, despite recent success, have to be cautious and judicious about where they put their coin. And before the offseason really even got started, they decided to pick up Michael Brantley‘s $12 million option, which if they had foresight, would probably not have done that. It’s hard to peg them for picking up the option before they could see the market cratering. They definitely could have added an outfielder for a cheaper price than $12 million and still bring back a rehabbing Michael Brantley. But that’s the decision they had to make then, add some increases to players like Trevor Bauer, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Cody Allen, well-deserved mind-you, and the Indians didn’t really have much room to do much of anything, including bringing back much-loved and under-appreciated Carlos Santana.

The most notable addition was Yonder Alonso, who they hope can match similar production of Santana both offensively and defensively, but that’s a big shadow to try and out-run. Did they improve? Look, this is a team that didn’t need much, but depth helps and I don’t think they got any deeper, but they certainly didn’t get worse. It’s kind of a weird way to look at it, but, while they could have done more, they’re still ahead of many of the teams in their division. Despite the Twins getting better, the Indians didn’t have much to address and it seems like there is still a gap there. Did a lot of us hope for them to have done more? Absolutely, but there also wasn’t a lot that they needed to do. The real work will happen between April and September.

Steven: I wouldn’t say the team got better this offseason. Rather, I think they remained a contender and got no worse than they were in 2017. Losing Carlos Santana, Jay Bruce, Joe Smith and Bryan Shaw isn’t ideal, but the team did add Yonder Alonso and will feature more experienced versions of Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and Trevor Bauer. Add in the fact Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Cody Allen and Andrew Miller remain as one of the best staffs in the league and fans shouldn’t be worried.

The real key is the health of Michael Brantley. Having a full season from his is essentially adding a top free agent to the club. I wouldn’t say the team’s success will be determined by his health, because the team has done fine without him the past two seasons. But getting a full year from him would be a cause to claim improvement in 2018.

C70: Francisco Lindor seemed to take another step next year. Is there another step for him to take this season?

Nino: Yeah, and I thought he was going to take a step back last year. It’s looking like Francisco Lindor put on a little bulk, so there’s some reason for excitement in the power department as he fills into his frame already coming off a season in which he hit 30 home runs. There’s a lot of hope for another and some are even chattering about him leading the team in that department. I’m just excited about his new Sisqo-like silver bullet hairstyle. I think the one thing Lindor can do is completely solidify himself as the guy on this team. It really is his team, but leadership-wise, I think he’s establishing himself as the engine and conductor of the train. His drive is what will power this team and the past two years coming up short have really left him hungry to finish the job. Hopefully the team can feed of that and in that way, his next step is the team’s next step in bringing home the trophy.

Steven: Francisco Lindor is only going to be better in 2018. Some fans forget this will only be his third full season in Cleveland, and he is already a two-time All-Star, a Gold Glove winner and is fresh off a season with 33 home runs and a Silver Slugger award. His career slash line is .293/.349/.474, and there is no reason to expect a lower line than that in 2018.

The pressure of the postseason may have gotten to Lindor in 2017 after playing so carefree in 2016, but that learning experience should help in 2018. It is almost hard to imagine him continuing to get better than he has been, but that is going to be the case. There is not one particular mark he needs to hit in order to take that next step, although having a successful postseason and leading the team to a World Series title would make him a legend around Northeast Ohio. It may also make his price tag too high for the team to retain him long-term, but that is a problem for the future.

C70: What’s one thing people may overlook (either positively or negatively) about this team?

Nino: I think a lot of fans internally are sour on the team because of how last year ended and how they didn’t make the moves they would have hoped they would. But, I think the biggest overlooked thing about this team is that their rotation is really stinkin’ good still. There’s very few better 1-2-3 lineups than Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer. That has been and what will continue to be what makes this team so good and the king of the division. It’s the reason that they just need to stay healthy to all but assure themselves the position they were in last year to make it to the postseason. They just have to hope the other pieces fall into place as well and they can have a little better fortune when it comes time for it.

Steven: I think some fans may be overlooking the fact that this team didn’t need to make any major moves this offseason. It is easy to get caught up in the free agent frenzy and declare a team like the Yankees to be World Series contenders just because they added someone like Giancarlo Stanton. But fans following this Indians team know that the team is already stacked. It is now just a matter of everyone staying healthy and playing up to their potential. That is easier said than done, but all the moves made over the past decade led up to this team being where it is right now. 

C70: Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the Indians to do well?

Nino: I would think Jose Ramirez needs to continue to play the part he did last year. He was such a huge part of the offense and when he was producing, the offense was at its best. His production all-but replaced and surpassed what Michael Brantley had been giving the team and with the uncertainty of Brantley and the more-than-likeliness of him not being the Michael Brantley everyone has come to hope for, he’ll have to do it again. Ramirez is not prone to cold streaks because of the way he carries his swing, so that’s a plus, but it seems like when he’s going better than average, the team as a whole is playing better. I’ll go one further and say, if the Indians are going to be stout defensively and also not have to completely worry about their outfield situation, Bradley Zimmer is vitally important. His defense is game-changing considering the options beyond him and with so much uncertainty and the need to platoon and use secondary pieces, Zimmer would be the one constant in center. There’s not telling what you get, if anything from Brantley; Chisenhall is still only playing against right-handers and his platoon-mate Brandon Guyer has some uncertainties. There’s no telling if Melvin Upton Jr. can be this year’s Austin Jackson and anyone hoping Rajai Davis can do what he did in 2016 for the club is hoping for a lot. Zimmer is a constant and that will be needed with all the uncertainty.

Steven: Given the nature of baseball, that is a tough one. I’ll go with Corey Kluber. He needs to continue to be the ace to give the team that reassuring presence that no matter what, the team will have a chance to win every time he takes the mound. He is capable of stopping losing streaks before they get out of hand and his dominance surely inspires the rest of the staff. It is hard to put too much stock into a starting pitcher’s importance because of the fact they only pitch once every five games, but there is something special about an individual who is never off. Someone who can go out and give his team a chance to win every time he takes the mound. I think the better point is to consider what would happen if you took away his 30 starts and replaced him with a lesser pitcher. That could derail the whole season. 

C70: What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?

Nino: I think the team wins the division without an issue, provided health is not a concern. And then, like always the playoff is a crap-shoot. You have a team that was in a better position health-wise and production-wise in 2017 than they were in 2016 and they got bounced in the first round. It’s all about how you’re playing, variance, and what the other team is doing. Just getting there is the easy part, especially for this team where their biggest competition is the Twins, who are good, but not quite there yet in terms of having the pieces for sustained year-long success like the Indians do. The hard part is the playoff and the harder part is having to go through this entire season just to get there and hope things fall your way. They’ve got the pieces to be dangerous in the postseason. I’d like to see a more solidified arm in the pen to add to Miller & Allen and of course another solid outfielder would make things feel a little better. Jason Kipnis has been on an absolute rip this spring, so there’s some hope for a bounce-back that would really ignite this team. If that all comes into play, this team could definitely contend with Houston and New York, but I still think Houston is the team to beat when it comes down to it.

Steven: I think this team coasts to another AL Central division crown, although the Twins will at least provide some competition. And to keep it short, I see the Indians winning the World Series over the Cubs. I don’t think it is biased to take the Indians after the success the team has had the past two years. The core of the team is only more experienced, and 2018 will be the year it all comes together.

C70: What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?

Nino: What’s the deal with Danny Salazar? Kidding. In all seriousness though, as sure as is the Indians front end of the rotation, the back-end is really interesting. You have Danny Salazar, Mike Clevinger, who took a huge step, and Josh Tomlin all as possibilities. Salazar is once again hurt though and that’s opening up the door for Clevinger to once again step in and I think it may be for the better long-term. Salazar is proving to be not so durable and there’s even some questions if there’s something between the ears that isn’t quite right. I love Salazar and his arsenal is devastating. He perhaps has the best stuff of any of the starters. But he can’t put it together and it’s starting to look like he may be a better pen option.

And if that’s the case, and if he can stay healthy, and he could take to the role, that may be the short and long-term back-end bullpen piece that the Indians need. Those are three really big ifs though and I’m not sure if they all work out that way. I find the idea of him playing a part in that role fascinating though and although I’ve been staunchly in the Salazar as starter camp for years, I think it might be the time to make the full-time move to the bullpen in an effort to perhaps keep him more healthy and better utilize his arsenal. That being said, the Indians are stronger with more depth in their rotation and taking Salazar out of that role damages that depth.

Steven: One question could be whether or not Michael Brantley’s health is crucial to the team’s success. And the answer to that is no, but having him around is a bonus. The team has enough talent to do fine without him, but having him back is a free upgrade. Well, a $12 million upgrade I suppose. 

My thanks to Nino and Steven for their insights on the team.  There have been a lot of droughts broken lately, both in baseball and in Cleveland.  The Indians believe it is their turn and there’s no reason not to believe them!

1 comment

In 2009, before my second full season of blogging the Cardinals, I reached out to other bloggers to other teams to get insights on their clubs.  This year, instead of going through the teams alphabetically, we’ll approach it a little differently, spending a week with each division.  For the tenth straight season, get ready for the upcoming MLB season by playing a little pepper.  

Chicago Cubs
92-70, first in NL Central, lost in NLCS
Website | Twitter

Last year’s Pepper

I know, I know.  If you are a regular reader of this corner of the Internet, probably the last thing you want to read about is the team from up north.  Especially now, when they have two division titles, three NLCS appearances, and a World Series title since the Cardinals lost to them in the 2015 playoffs.  However, unlike that Deadspin series a couple of years ago which notably omitted the Cardinals, we’re going to cover all the teams.  Most of these bloggers I’ve dealt with for a long time, so we can humor them as they extol the glories of the baby bears.

Writer Site Twitter
Josh Timmers Bleed Cubbie Blue Cubsminorswrap
Rob Harris Blue Batting Helmet
Neil Finnell Chicago Cubs Online TheCCO
Ryan Maloney Prose and Ivy  proseandivy
Jacob Misener Cubbies Crib JacobRMisener

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?

Josh: Funny Yu should ask! (And we’ve got up to six years of those lame jokes coming.) The Cubs lost two starting pitchers in Jake Arrieta and John Lackey and replaced them with two free agent pitchers, Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood. Chatwood is a sneaky good move and I believe that he could thrive now that he doesn’t have to pitch half of his games at Coors Field, although the Cubs didn’t exactly land him at a discount. He’s a big improvement at the back of the rotation over Lackey, who was pretty much pitching on the fumes of his career last season. Signing Chatwood allows the Cubs to leave Mike Montgomery in a swing role, providing left-handed depth to both the starting rotation and the bullpen.

But Darvish was the big fish that Theo Epstein and company landed this winter. He’s no longer the ace that he was before the Tommy John surgery, but he’s still a very good pitcher who was the top free agent available this winter. He’s only a marginal improvement over the now certainly-departed Arrieta, but Arrieta was showing some troubling signs of decline last season. I’m confident that Darvish will be a better pitcher than Arrieta going forward, or at least as confident as you can be with any pitcher.

The bullpen took a big blow by losing closer Wade Davis, although I do understand why the Cubs were reluctant to match what the Rockies offered Davis. The Cubs are hoping that newly-signined Brandon Morrow can step into the closer role. Morrow has been terrific since he made the transition to the bullpen, but he’s 33 years old and was in the minors as recently as 2016. It’s risky move, but the money saved likely went into signing Darvish. On top of that, the Cubs are hoping that Steve Cishek can help stabilize a bullpen that was very shaky at times last year. They’re also counting on a bounce back from Justin Wilson, who oddly struggled after coming over from Detroit last season.

On the offensive side, the Cubs lost backup catcher Alex Avila and signed Chris Gimenez. That’s a big minus on offense but a big plus on defense. But with Willson Contreras as the team’s starter and prospect Victor Caratini (a good-hit, poor-fielding catcher) major-league ready, it was probably better to get a good defensive catcher. Gimenez also has experience working with Darvish, although Darvish joked “I like Contreras better” at his press conference. The rest of the lineup remains pretty much the same because there was very little reason to mess with it. Jon Jay is gone and Peter Bourjos is in. Bourjos, if he makes the team, will probably not play much as Albert Almora Jr. seems ready to handle the everyday center fielding role. Ian Happ will probably also play more in the outfield.

So to finally answer your question, yes. The Cubs did improve this winter when they signed Darvish.

Rob: Time will tell. If Yu Darvish is more like Jon Lester and less like Edwin Jackson, I’ll say yes. But he’s turning 32 this season, and giving him a six-year deal seems ill-advised to me. Tyler Chatwood does nothing for me, either. The loss of Wade Davis, who was as reliable as any closer could be last season, could be significant, too. We’ll have to see if Brandon Morrow can have comparable success in this role. 

Neil: This was the weirdest off-season in my lifetime, possibly history of the game. And there are several free agents that could still impact races this season.

On paper, the Cubs improved over the off-season. The additions of Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood give Joe Maddon a better Opening Day rotation, again on paper, than he had a year ago. Darvish has a questionable history of pitching with expectations and that is HUGE concern going into the season. Chatwood is a solid, backend of the rotation starter, that should flourish outside of Coors Field. His road numbers back up the projections.

The bullpen is still a concern, mainly the backend. I did not like the Brandon Morrow signing. And giving him the ninth inning, is an extremely questionable decision. His workload in the post-season and World Series last year is reminiscent of what the Cubs did to Aroldis Chapman. If any organization knows how a heavy, post-season workload can impact the following season it is the Cubs. The wild card for the pen could be Justin Wilson. If he has gotten past the mental aspects of pitching for a contending team, he could be the key to the bullpen being a solid group to start the season.

Ryan: This off-season was certainly a waiting game. No 108 years of course – but MLB sure did take its time situating which names will need to be sewn on the back of jerseys this year. It will feel odd to see Jake Arrieta in a Phillies jersey but as odd as that will feel, it will just as good to see Darvish on the Cubs. I feel the signing of Darvish will bring a needed breath of fresh air to the club. I feel Darvish vs Arrieta is nearly a wash when you look at how they each impact the team, however that breath of fresh air will be the difference, overall. All of last year was essentially spent either celebrating the World Series championship the club tried so hard to bring home to Chicago or recovering from doing so. I think they were spent in the first half of the season from all the different emotions and experiences that came along with winning for the first time in 108 years and then they had to dig down deep to turn it around and have the success they had in the 2nd half of the season in order to achieve their 3rd straight trip to the NLCS. The Darvish signing I believe makes them marginally better however that pressure coming off the team’s shoulders to either win, or repeat, will be the major difference in 2018.

Jacob: I think the Cubs had a very clear plan heading into the offseason and they executed it near-perfectly. We knew replacing both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey might be a challenge – but Theo jumped on Tyler Chatwood early in the offseason, locking him up for three years and capped the winter by signing Darvish to a very reasonable six-year, $126 million deal. (Keep in mind MLBTR predicted he’d get 6/160 before the winter began). The bullpen acquisitions of Steve Cishek and Brandon Morrow shore up an already talented corps and the position player group is re-energized for 2018. This is definitely a better team heading into 2018 – or, at the very least, a deeper one.

C70: A bit of a step back for Jon Lester last season. Does that get better in 2018 or was that the start of a trend?

Josh: I’m not too worried about Lester. At 34 it’s clear that his best days are behind him, but I still think he will be a quality pitcher in 2018. His ERA spiked in 2017, but a lot of that because of a poor strand rate and a big spike in the percentage of home runs allowed on fly balls. I think Lester will bounce back in 2018.

Having said that, I think he days of being an elite pitcher are likely over. He’s lost a tick of velocity. He’s probably now more of a #3 pitcher than the borderline ace pitcher he was in the past. He’s likely behind Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks in the Cubs rotation. But he’s still a good pitcher.

Rob: Lester’s first year in Chicago wasn’t too great, either. Maybe he only pitches well in even-numbered seasons. He’s already accomplished what he was brought here to do, but now there’s still three years left on his deal. He’s always going to be the Game One starter in any postseason series.

Neil: Jon Lester will be fine moving forward. He was coming off two trying and long seasons with the Cubs. Add in the fact he had to learn a new catcher in Wilson Contreras then Alex Avila and the natural decline in a player’s career and he was bound to struggle last year. The Cubs’ front office thought he could be their Andy Pettitte over the course of his contract when he signed the long-term deal, and minus the ugly PED admission by Pettitte, Lester is on track to match the projections.

Will Lester ever finish second in Cy Young voting or repeat his 2016 season? Probably not. Will he be a very good starter and help the Cubs win another championship, or championships, over the next three-four years? Yes.

Ryan: I’m not concerned about Lester at all and I’d hardly call it a step back. 2016 was his all-time best season (career best in wins, winning percentage and WHIP, 2nd best ERA of his career, All-Star appearance, finished 2nd in Cy Young Award voting and pitched over 200 innings for the eighth time in his career). Arguably, you could say he had nowhere to go but down. And yet he still managed to put up numbers not all that far off from 2016 and led the team to its 3rd straight NLCS – a playoff position they have reached or surpassed in each of his three years with the team. 2016 was legendary. 2017 was still dominating. I predict Lester to continue as a reliable ace and at least match the numbers from 2017. 

Jacob: Jon Lester isn’t going to come close to 20 wins again, but I don’t think the Cubs signed him with those expectations – at least not on the back end of the deal. Lester will be better than he was last year, but I expect him to a be a mid-3.00 ERA pitcher who takes the ball 30 times and pushes 200 innings this year. If he does that and continues to lead a still-young clubhouse, it’s a win.

C70: What’s one thing people may overlook (either positively or negatively) about this team?

Josh: I think it’s hard to say anything about the Cubs is overlooked as they’ve joined the Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers as the teams that fans of every other team is sick of hearing about. The only thing I think people might forget is how incredibly young this lineup still is. Because the big core have been in the public eye (and the playoffs) since they first reached the majors, I think most people forget that almost all of these guys were still in the minors as recently as 2014. Even veterans Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward are still both only 28. This group could all end up staying together for years like the Dodgers of the 1970s. 

Rob: The team is set up to contend for at least three more years. Sustained success isn’t something the Cubs have ever had before.

Neil: The Cubs kept the young core intact that has already won a World Series. The front office did not trade any of the position-player depth for starting pitching. One of the positives of the off-season for the Cubs. The market came back to them and they were able to add Darvish without impacting the future of the team. With the young position players still with the Cubs, Joe Maddon will be able to mix and match while keeping players fresh and win games. A must for the Cubs is a quick start so they do not have to ‘flip the switch’ again in the second half and run out of gas in October.

Ryan: I’ll answer both positive and negative. I believe you can only put so much stock in how a team performs in Spring Training. However, the Cubs have dominated all spring which says a lot for how deep not only the club is, but the organization. People dismiss Spring Training records, but I think this may be a sign of things to come in 2018. As for the negative, I think the bullpen could be a concern. We were spoiled to have arms that could be relied on like Chapman and Davis over the past couple of seasons. I have faith in the guys that got us there before (Strop, Edwards Jr, etc) but the new names always bring an element of the unknown with them. Hopefully the front office nails it again with guys like Brandon Morrow joining the effort this season. Good news is, with an offense like this, there should be plenty of breathing room late in the game no matter who comes out of the bullpen. 

Jacob: Chatwood at the back end of the rotation has the potential to be a big positive for this team. His road splits were very favorable outside of Coors (3.49 ERA/.200 OPP AVG) last season and he’s sat in the mid-90s with his fastball this spring. He could be a huge upgrade over Lackey in the number five spot in the rotation.

C70: Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the Cubs to do well?

Josh: I’d say everyone in the rotation, but Jose Quintana stands out. The Cubs gave up a lot for him thinking that he could be their ace for years to come. If he doesn’t perform the way the Cubs believe he can, it’s going to have a major impact on the entire pitching staff. It’s going to mean a lot more innings for a bullpen that underperformed last year and there are no guarantees that they’re going to be any better in 2018.  Quintana has the talent to be an ace. The Cubs will need him to pitch like one if they want to win another World Series in 2018.

Rob: Anthony Rizzo is the beating heart of this team, and always will be as long as he’s with the Cubs. He’ll be the one to watch.

Neil: Addison Russell. He had a bad year on the field and it was even worse for him off the field. Russell has the ability to be one of the best players in the game. But he has not been able to put it all together, or stay healthy, for a whole season. Russell healthy and productive for an entire year would give stability to one of the most important positions on the field. There is a reason the Cubs have won so many games since Russell took over at shortstop. While he might not be as flashy or have the arm that Javier Baez does, Russell is the best shortstop on the roster.

Ryan: I’m going to go outside the box on this one, focus on ‘the guy’ part of that question and say Joe Maddon. With new faces on the coaching staff and the bullpen and a new vibe in the clubhouse – one with a goal of not winning, but winning again – Maddon will again need to use the depth this roster provides and draw up the right matchups day in and day out. Maddon will have to make the right call of when to give guys a day off and which guy comes out of the bullpen on a regular basis. The talent is there. The way Maddon uses it is what will determine whether we win again in 2018. (And for those of you saying that wasn’t question – ok fine – Schwarber.)

Jacob: Outside of Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo, who are givens being the franchise cornerstones, Jose Quintana is my key to 2018. You largely know what you’re going to get from Yu Darvish, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks. If Quintana continues to be the horse he’s been during his career, you could see him turn in a career season and really add unparalleled depth in the Chicago starting rotation.

C70: What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?

Josh: The Cubs should win the NL Central again. In fact, it’s hard not to say that the three NL divisions aren’t already decided and Spring Training hasn’t even opened yet. (Of course, we know that’s not the way it works and baseball has a way of surprising.) I don’t think either the Brewers or the Cardinals have enough talent to hang with the Cubs over 162 games. As many question marks as the Cubs pitching staff has, the Brewers and Cardinals both have more and neither of their lineups are as talented as the Cubs. They should win the division by another 5-6 games over one of those two teams.

Beyond that, it’s hard to say. The Nationals and Dodgers are both very good teams, but neither one is better than the Cubs. I don’t think they’re worse, either. The Cubs could get knocked out in the first round of the playoffs or they could win the World Series again. There are three elite National League teams and one of them will get a chance to beat an elite American League team.

Rob: I think the Cubs will win the division again, by maybe two games over the Brewers and four or five over the Cardinals. 96-66 sounds about right to me.

Neil:  I predicted the Cubs would win 95 games last season, a NL Central Championship and make a run in the playoffs. I thought they would struggle to start the year and they did. But I did not see it lasting the entire first half. The Cubs ended up three wins short of my prediction. I still think it will take 95 victories to win the NL Central. The Cubs have the best team on paper in the division. Like all of the pre-season contenders, health is the key this year. And unlike last season, the players will not have a problem staying focused on the team’s goals. If the Cubs can avoid the injury bug, a third straight Central title and a fourth trip to the NLCS are realistic for this team. Advancing to the World Series and winning it again … well that is hopefully something we all get to talk about in October.

Ryan: There’s no reason for me to think the Cubs can’t win it all in 2018. I believe the team will win the NL Central by at least 10 games considering how dominant this rotation and lineup should be. Hopefully they play a team in the NL East again this year in the NLDS or NLCS so I can see them play in the postseason as I did last year in DC. (Selfishly, east coast trips are easiest for me so hopefully they end up in the playoffs playing road playoff games throughout October nearby). And while that would work out best for me, one thing I think all Cubs fans would agree on – no matter which teams they have to go through to get there – I think we all feel comfortable saying this year could be the year…again. 

Jacob: With Kyle Schwarber looking like a new player and the entire roster well-rested, it’s World Series or bust. With one of the best rotations in the game and a very, very deep position player group, I think the Cubs lock up the Central with two weeks left in the regular season and square off against the Astros in the Fall Classic come October.

C70: What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?

Josh: The Cubs built their current team through a strong farm system. What’s it like now? It’s not very good, actually. They traded two of the best prospects in the game the past two years for Aroldis Chapman and Quintana. They dealt another good prospect for Justin Wilson and Avila. They haven’t had a top ten draft pick since Ian Happ. But along with the aforementioned Caratini, they do have some pitchers who could contribute in 2018. Dillon Maples made his major league debut last fall and he could end up as a major league closer if he can keep his control issues in check. He’s also a great story, as he was a kid who got a huge overslot bonus (back when such things were allowed) and then struggled for years with control problems and injuries. He was ready to quit baseball last year, but his dad talked him out of it and he shot through three minor league levels last year to make the majors. He could be an important bullpen piece this season.

The wonderfully-named Adbert Alzolay is the Cubs best pitching prospect. He’s a starter who came out of nowhere last season. He added about 2-3 mph on to his fastball and his curve got a lot sharper after he worked on developing his legs. He also started yoga and meditation to keep himself more focused on the mound. He could be major-league ready by mid-season and could end up in the rotation if there is a vacancy.

The other pitcher who could take that spot is Thomas Hatch, the 2016 3rd-round pick who impressed in his first season of pro ball last year. He’s more of a #3/#4 pitcher than an ace, but he could shore up the back of the Cubs rotation in the second half if necessary.

Rob: Will Wrigley Field be ready by Opening Day? I hope so, but right now it looks like a crazy mess of construction equipment. 

Neil: What impact will the new coaching staff, especially Chili Davis, have on the young players? Nationally the Cubs are viewed as a much older team than they actually are. Anthony Rizzo is only 28 years old (29 in August) and Kris Bryant (26), Russell (24), Baez (25), Willson Contreras (25, 26 in May), Albert Almora Jr. (23, 24 in April), Kyle Schwarber (25), Ian Happ (23, 24 in August) and Kyle Hendricks (28) are all younger than Rizzo. The Cubs are viewed as having a horrible system which impacts the future. There is some truth to that, but the future is now with the Cubs and for the next four years. There is still a lot of development needed. These players are not a finished product and on the downside of their career. It’s the exact opposite. The coaches the Cubs brought in can help take the players to the next level. And Davis is now in charge of developing arguably the best group of young position players in the game. If Davis can reach and teach the importance of contact and situational hitting, the Cubs’ offense has the pieces to be even better than the last two seasons which will help keep the Cardinals, Brewers, Pirates and Reds looking up at them in the NL Central standings for the next several years.

Ryan: “Do you have any gum?” Yes, but it’s my last piece. Sorry. Go Cubs!

Jacob: What will the Cubs get out of Brandon Morrow? They’ll get what they need. If they use him in a traditional closer role – similar to how they did Wade Davis last year – his injuries, etc. from the past are completely irrelevant in my mind. Instead of throwing $52 million at Davis, the Cubs answered the closer role question for the next two years while barely breaking the $20 million mark. Oh, and that allowed them to add Darvish while still staying under the luxury tax threshold. 

In all seriousness, I do appreciate these guys taking the time to talk about the Cubs.  We know that, right now, the road to October runs through Chicago.  Which means, if the Cardinals do win this season, that win is all the more sweet!

0 comments

In 2009, before my second full season of blogging the Cardinals, I reached out to other bloggers to other teams to get insights on their clubs.  This year, instead of going through the teams alphabetically, we’ll approach it a little differently, spending a week with each division.  For the tenth straight season, get ready for the upcoming MLB season by playing a little pepper.  

Chicago White Sox
67-95, fourth in AL Central
Website | Twitter

Last year’s Pepper

There a lot of mixed feelings when it comes to the White Sox.  I mean, they are from Chicago, which isn’t good.  But they are the rivals of the Cubs, which is.  Then they went out and snatched Luis Robert from out of the Cardinals’ clutches, which is not good (especially according to Kyle Reis, who still mourns the loss of Lou Bob).  No matter what you think about the Sox, though, they should be interesting to watch over the next few years.  We’ve got some great bloggers to fill us in on just what we should be watching for in 2018.

Writer Site Twitter
Josh Nelson Sox Machine soxmachine_josh
The staff Southside Showdown SoxShowdown

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?

Josh: The offseason went as expected. Chicago wasn’t in the market to make significant additions but Rick Hahn made two smart moves that will help make the team better in 2018: signing Welington Castillo, and trading for relievers Joakim Soria/Luis Avilan. Castillo will provide more offense from the catching position, and Soria/Avilan will help handle high leverage situations. The significant additions (should) come next year.

Showdown: The White Sox did not make much of an attempt to improve in the short term over the winter, but that is not a bad thing. Their only major league acquisitions were signing catcher Wellington Castillo and trading for relievers Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan. What they didn’t do is sign aging veterans like Carlos Gonzalez, Jose Bautista, and Mike Moustakas, who would have taken at bats away from some of their younger, big league ready players who may or may not be part of their future like Nicky Delmonico and Yolmer Sanchez. This year will serve as a year to get top prospects like Eloy Jimenez and Michael Kopech a taste of the majors and to see what they have in their inexperienced roster. (Jack Soble)

C70: What’s the most interesting roster “battle” that may happen in spring training?

Josh: Thanks to Carson Fulmer‘s poor spring, the fifth starting pitching spot is available. Hector Santiago was a non-roster invitee that had a chance of making the team serving as a swingman out of the bullpen. From what we have seen from Fulmer, where he has allowed more home runs (7) than striking out batters (5), Santiago could be the White Sox fifth starter to start 2018. Once Carlos Rodon returns from injury, or Michael Kopech is ready for a promotion, then Santiago can move to the bullpen. We’ll see how Renteria handles this role as it was assumed Fulmer would get first crack starting games in Chicago. That seems like a long shot of happening now.

Showdown: At this point in the spring, the White Sox 25-man roster is all but finalized despite no official announcement being made. The last “battle” would be the center field job between Adam Engel and Ryan Cordell, but despite Cordell having a great spring, the coaching staff is in love with Engel, who hasn’t had a bad spring himself. I’m betting on the incumbent, and that pretty much does it for roster sports come Opening Day on the Southside of Chicago. (Patrick Flowers)

C70: What’s one thing people may overlook (either positively or negatively) about this team?

Josh: Jose Abreu is the best first baseman in the American League. ZiPS projects Abreu to have the highest WAR total for first baseman in the American League with another 30+ home run / 100+ RBI season.

Showdown: I think people overlook the possibility this White Sox lineup could actually be really good. You have Yoan Moncada leading off, and indications are he could be a very good leadoff hitter. We don’t know what peak Moncada looks like yet, but he’s been getting on base and hitting extremely well this spring. Following him you have Jose Abreu, who is going to be good for 30 home runs and 100 RBIs. Avisail Garcia, while probably not going to hit .333 again this year, could still be a strong .280 hitter this year. Wellington Castillo was one of the best hitting catchers in baseball last year, and could do it again. Tim Anderson, while a question mark because of his sophomore slump, figures to bounce back and could become a serious weapon in the lineup. Nicky Delmonico has shown he can be an above average hitter in a small sample size. If he is healthy and plays up to his apparently very high potential he could be an under the radar key contributor. Adam Engel and Yolmer Sanchez are the two biggest question marks. Even Yolmer Sanchez could hit .260 at the bottom of the lineup and be an above average contributor. Adam Engel could represent the only real “hole” in the lineup, but if he hits like he has during this spring could be really good. DH is a question mark, but we could see Matt Davidson make a jump in his second full year. Don’t sleep on this Sox lineup.  (David Wildman)

C70: Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the White Sox to do well?

Josh: Depends on your definition of “well”? If “well” means a winning record, I’ll say Lucas Giolito because I feel he has the most potential to have a very good year starting games for the White Sox and lead a rotation that will be fluid in members during 2018.

If your definition of “well” is making you believe the White Sox will be destined for greater things soon, that is Yoan Moncada. If Moncada can generate a 4+ WAR season that will get fans to really believe this team is ready to turn the corner with Eloy Jimenez, Kopech, Alec Hansen, and Luis Robert waiting in the wings.

Showdown: You could argue for any one of the young pitchers, or Yoan Moncada. You might suggest Avi Garcia needs to repeat his successful year. While all these things might be true, the most important success comes from the middle of the diamond. Tim Anderson had a tough 2017 season, due to a personal event that took a lot of his time and energy from him. He rebounded late in the season and looked like a solid contributor for the rebuild. Getting the news that your best friend was murdered isn’t easy for anyone, and Anderson admitted it got to him too much throughout the season. However, his play picked up when he started seeing a therapist, and Anderson believes that is no coincidence. Anderson won’t suddenly walk at a league average rate, but he should have a solid average and be a threat on the base paths. Additionally, he won’t set the world on fire with his defense, but he can be at the very least, an average shortstop defensively. He has always struggled out of the gate, so if he has another slow start, don’t give up on him. (Griffin Meadors)

C70: What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?

Josh: 73-89, 4th place in AL Central.

Showdown: Ultimately, the White Sox are still in “non-compete” mode in 2018, if for no other reason than they’re not looking to add to the major league roster solely to compete. As is, the lineup may be a sleeper, but the pitching staff will bog the team down in the standings. Lucas Giolito looks like a stud this spring, following up his impressive end of 2017, and Reynaldo Lopez isn’t far behind him. Outside of Giolito and Lopez, the rotation really falls off of the table with James Shields who is a shell of himself and Miguel Gonzalez in his second stint with the White Sox not really intimidating any opposing lineups. The fifth spot in the rotation will go to the veteran Hector Santiago, who has been mildly impressive this spring, or former first round draft selection Carson Fulmer, who has an ERA just shy of 20.00 in four starts this spring. I can see this team, as is, winning anywhere from 72-78 games in 2018. (Patrick Flowers)

C70: What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?

Josh: Who on the White Sox can help my fantasy baseball team? If you are in the late rounds and want to pick up a bat that could surprise, Nicky Delmonico is your man.

Showdown: One question that should have been asked about a team like the White Sox is: will we see any of the top prospects make it to the Major Leagues level this year aside from the usual September call-ups? The two that I believe have a very good chance to get called up before September this year are right-handed pitcher Michael Kopech and outfielder Eloy Jimenez. In my opinion, I think we will see Michael Kopech much earlier than people might anticipate. He’s starting the season in Triple-A for the Charlotte Knights and if he cruises through his first five or so starts, then I think he will get the call shortly after. This would give Michael Kopech an estimated May/June call-up date. Eloy Jimenez on the other hand will be starting this season in Double-A for the Birmingham Barons. Eloy saw limited action this spring due to a knee injury, but he made the most of his time when he got the chance. In 7 plate appearances, Eloy had a .571 avg with 2 HR, 3 RBI, and a 2.381 OPS. He was able to quickly advance through the Sox minor league system last season and I imagine that will be the case again this season. He’s only seen 18 games of experience in AA for his career, so he should get a lot of work there this season and then he will be briefly called-up to Triple-A for a couple of months before getting called-up to the Majors. Estimated call-up date for Eloy Jimenez: late June or the middle of July, so right around the All Star break. 

My thanks to everyone for dropping some Chicago knowledge on us.  It’s going to be interesting to see how the prospect haul from the last couple of years begins to pay off!

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In 2009, before my second full season of blogging the Cardinals, I reached out to other bloggers to other teams to get insights on their clubs.  This year, instead of going through the teams alphabetically, we’ll approach it a little differently, spending a week with each division.  For the tenth straight season, get ready for the upcoming MLB season by playing a little pepper.  

San Francisco Giants
64-98, fifth in NL West
Website | Twitter

Last year’s Pepper

As Cardinal fans, we tend to have both a negative and perhaps a somewhat inflated view of the Giants.  After all, a team that continually beats the Cardinals in the playoffs has to be pretty good, right?  The Giants took a serious blow last year but it again is an even year and while that didn’t quite work out in 2016, we well remember there was still enough of it for them to hold off the Cardinals.  Because that’s always the way.  Anyway, three excellent San Francisco bloggers are here to fill us in on just what might be in store this season.

Writer Site Twitter
Craig Vaughn THE San Francisco Giants Blog 1flapdown77
Richard Dyer The Giants Cove
Doug Bruzzone McCovey Chronicles

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?

Craig: Last year I remember being very negative about the team in my “Playing Pepper” responses. I’ll have to go back and look and see if that’s the case. :). Bottom line this off season: I am very happy with what they did. Hey, when you lose 98 you could please me with some free ice cream. But Sabean gave me more than free ice cream. I got Longoria. McCutchen. Jackson. Watson… And hopefully I also get Bumgarner not falling off his motorbike this year. The club is much improved…..as long as no one gets hurt. 

Richard: As I noted in a recent blog, after going 64-98 last season the Giants’ front office made the decision to, 1) double down on their veteran players; and, 2) try to add two outfielders, a third baseman, and at least one reliever. And they did just that. San Francisco traded for 3B Evan Longoria of Tampa Bay and OF Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates, and also signing free agents lefty relief pitcher Tony Watson and OF Austin Jackson.

The 2017 club was definitely improved. But to take a NL Wild Card slot this season, the Giants will have to be better than four of these five teams: Arizona, Milwaukee, Colorado, St. Louis, and the New York Mets. Which is not likely.

Doug: The club definitely improved over the winter! You can’t say they didn’t improve. They saw the soul-sucking void that was the outfield and they got Andrew McCutchen and Austin Jackson to, uh, address a soul-sucking void however you do that. Caution tape, I guess? Plywood? New wallpaper? And, of course, they went out and made a big trade for Evan Longoria. Eduardo Nunez was a perfectly fine player at third base for the Giants last year, but the team saw they were going nowhere and traded him, and for the next two months they saw a series of madcap disasters manning the position. Then, and no one saw this coming because no one saw how they could do it and stay under the luxury tax, they got Tony Watson to be (A) a lefty in the bullpen who (B) wasn’t a disaster every day and in every situation. All in all, if someone put a gun to Bobby Evans’s head and say “Compete next year while staying under the luxury tax and also not trading away top prospect Heliot Ramos or else,” and nobody thought too hard about what the gun was even there for when Evans wouldn’t be evaluated on this mission for months, it would be hard to imagine a more successful offseason.

They still might not be good enough to actually compete, by the way. But I’ll just have to hope that Question 2 gives me the opportunity to talk about that.

C70: Is there any concern that the Giants’ window might be closing soon?

Craig: This question cracked me up when I read it. There is no window left, my man. Just an enclosed cinder block house. It’s pitch black inside. Gonna need to bust a block or two out just to see what’s going on outside; if there’s even still a world out there……

Richard: Organizationally, the Giants’ “window” closed after their 2012 World Series win. Ownership and the front office had just come off winning the Series two of the previous three years. They had a golden opportunity to not just win some championships, but to build a championship organization for years to come. Instead they opted to slap together a series of teams on the cheap and continued to neglect their failing farm system. At the same time the front office was actively resisting the advanced metrics revolution, opting instead to sell a tired “old school” approach to their fanbase.

The Giants accidently got lucky in 2014, riding Madison Bumgarner’s arm to another Series win. But the last three seasons shows what happens when you rely on luck and crossing your fingers instead of building a top-notch baseball franchise.

Doug: Hahaha, yes. Oh, yes. Goodness, yes. The only reason to answer no to this question would be if you think the window is already closed and they’re going to slam into it 162 times next year. This team was godawful last year, and a whole lot of that same cast is going to be back for more. Hunter Pence might be done. Brandon Crawford might have forgotten how to hit. I’ll talk about the rotation later, but suffice to say there are worries there. They went 64-98 last year, and it turns out that 98 losses is an awful lot of losses. Since the Phillies have become terrible, for example, they’ve only had one season where they lost 98 games. It’s honestly really hard to do.

But let’s say that last year doesn’t mean that much. Let’s say that the window is still unequivocally open. Yes, it’s going to close soon. This team is old. Buster Posey is a catcher on the wrong side of 30. Most of the lineup is over 30. If last year was not the reckoning, then there is a reckoning coming, and it is coming soon.

C70: What’s one thing people may overlook (either positively or negatively) about this team?

Craig: I’m gonna say “the bullpen.” My entire reputation is at risk with this answer, I know. But I think losing Raggs will be a good thing. He did great things in SF but near the end, that was one tired voice. A voice I’m sure the pitchers were tuning out. Melancon and Smith will return healthy, Watson is going to be a rock solid anchor, and some of the younger guys are going to be inspired by Curt Young and Matt Herges. The SF Giants bullpen in 2018 will surprise people. There. It’s been said.

Richard: Unlike MLB fanbases in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, and St. Louis, for some reason most San Francisco Giants fans bond with individual players and managers instead of bonding with the historic franchise and demanding a winning organization. No doubt the Giants’ front office perceives this as a big “positive”. As a result, over the past ten years San Francisco’s ownership and front office have gotten away with “PR selling” inexpensive, poor performing players to their fans instead of actually developing talented players in the minors.

Doug: One thing people sometimes overlook is that Buster Posey has had a better career than Yadier Molina.

This is a good crowd to say that to, right?

C70: Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the Giants to do well?

Craig: Cueto. Hands down. Preferably hands without blisters on them……

Richard: The problem is, for the Giants to do well in 2018, a number of veteran players will somehow have to have very good years. There is no one “key player” who can carry this team, especially offensively.

For example, catcher Buster Posey is by far the team’s best position player (and should be a lock to be a first year eligible Hall of Famer). But Posey will be 32 this season. He has had only one +.900 OPS season in his 9-year career (.957 in 2012). And he’s hit 20 or more home runs just twice in his career (24 in 2012, 22 in 2014). In 568 PA in 2017, Posey hit just 12 home runs. So Buster Posey can’t carry this team, and the other veteran players that make up the 25-man roster aren’t likely to have multiple breakout seasons at this point in their careers.

Doug: Johnny Cueto. The secret huge weakness of this team is the rotation. Madison Bumgarner has been an excellent pitcher for years, and he’s very likely to be excellent again, but there are question marks in every spot in the rotation. How will Bumgarner respond the year after he had a pretty devastating injury (even when he came back last year, he had his worst strikeout rate and home run rate since he was a rookie)? Will Jeff Samardzija ever not give up runs at the rate that advanced stats say he should be not giving up runs? Will the fourth and fifth starters — Chris Stratton and Ty Blach, at least for now — be effective major league starters? You can’t really be 100% positive about any of those questions, which is why Cueto is so vital. He struggled with blisters last year, and then he struggle with some other mild injuries, and he was never right. He was never the Cy Young contender he’s spent most of his life being. If he has a good year, that’s a huge plus for the rotation and a huge plus for a bullpen that doesn’t want to pitch lots of innings every day. If he doesn’t, that’s one day out of every five that’s for sure no fun, and the Giants really won’t be able to count on most of the other four to be much better.

C70: What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?

Craig: 88 wins. This is risky because I think even one or two key injuries could doom the season. But I’m sticking with 88 wins and a wild card berth.

Richard: With the additions of McCutchen, Longoria, and Watson there is little doubt that San Francisco should rebound from last season’s 64-98 record. I think they have a good shot at getting to .500 this season, but not much more. And after losing 98 games last season, getting back to .500 this season would be no small achievement.

Doug: The short answer is ¯_(ツ)_/¯. The long answer is ¯_(ツ)_/¯ but then I explain it and write more words. So: the Giants lost 98 games last year. Teams that lost 98 games one year tend to be very bad the next year. On the other hand, teams that lost 98 games one year also tend to not make a big splash like the Giants did this offseason to compete again, so it’s tough to take that history as a guide. So here’s what I’ll go with: Losing 98 games means that your team is fundamentally flawed in myriad ways. For all the work the Giants did, it’s just about impossible to fix all that damage in one offseason. A successful season for them would be something like 84-78, because an 84-78 team doesn’t make you want to die every time you watch them. I’m going to say they’ll wind up in 3rd place, and I’ll consider that overly optimistic.

C70: What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?

Craig: “Craig, have you lost your dang mind with that bullpen prediction?” 

Richard: What does the immediate future after 2018 look like for the San Francisco Giants? This is an organization that committed a series of long-term contracts to an aging team of veterans. The Giants will have the third highest MLB payroll in 2018 (only Washington and Boston are higher). The MLB Network reported that in 2020, when all these players will still be under contract and be at or approaching their mid-30s, the San Francisco Giants will have highest salary obligation in the Majors– $122.4 million. And there’s no relief from San Francisco’s farm system in the next several years. The Giants have been routinely rated in the bottom 20% of Baseball America’s team organizational rankings the past six years. And the Giants’ farm system won’t remotely be fixed by having the second pick in the 2018 amateur player draft.

On the positive side, the Giants have by far the wealthiest ownership group in the Majors (Principal Owner Charles Johnson alone is worth $4.9 billion), and the 5th most valuable franchise in baseball ($2.65 billion). [Forbes.com] So San Francisco’s ownership has more than enough resources to buy their way out of the salary pit they’ve put themselves in– if they’re willing to spend their money smarter.

Doug: “What kind of depth do the Giants have in order to weather the injuries that inevitably crop up during a long baseball season?” Oh, none, and thanks for bringing it up. The backup plan for middle infield is either Kelby Tomlinson or no plan, which are basically the same thing. The backup plan for the rotation is more unproven rookies, who as someone who attends a lot of AAA Giants games I certainly have unrealistic hopes for, but they come with legitimate question marks. The backup plan in the outfield is basically the same crew that disappointed us so badly last year, the backup plan at the corner infield spots is Pablo Sandoval (lol), and the backup plan at catcher is who cares about the backup plan at catcher this team is built on not needing a backup plan at catcher if we need a backup plan at catcher we’re doomed. The team had a depth problem last year too and it really came back to bite them; they’ve mostly addressed their needs this year by vastly improving the top of the team, but once you get through that top, it’s very, very rough.

My thanks to all of these guys for giving us a little bit of insight on the boys in orange and black.  We’ll see if all that veteran presence will help push them to October!

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