With only days to go before pitchers and catchers, drop in on Joe and get your questions over what's to come answered.
Joe Sheehan: What the heck was I thinking coming back to New York?
Steve (DC): Joe, amongst baseball's least successful teams of late (Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Washington, Kansas City, and Seattle), which team has the best chance of turning things around and competing in the next few years?
Joe Sheehan: The Orioles have the best core of talent in that group, and may have the best front office, although both Neal Huntington and Jack Zdur... are going to have a say in that. I really like the Pie and Hill pickups, good low-risk, low-cost, solid-upside plays. Less sanguine about signing Wigginton, although he does provide some flexibility and one skill--crushing lefties. A Pie/Wigginton platoon could actually end up fairly effective.
Fred (Houston): Should the Astros make a play for Abreu on a short-term deal? He'd be a big offensive upgrade over Bourn. Or are they too far away to be signing more veterans?
Joe Sheehan: Lee/Pence/Abreu would be awful. Remember that the Astros need to have a good defensive center fielder in that park, and Bourn should fit that desciption. I'm not sure the offensive gain--I expect Bourn to bounce back a bit--would offset the massive defensive drop at two spots.
The Astros are in an impossible spot, with a roster core that actually might be a contender in the NL, but a poor 8-25 and no farm system whatsoever. I guess you have to ride it out until you know that the Oswalt/Berkman era is over.
grainyduck (buffalo, ny): so joe, how about that king felix prediction from last year? care to make a king felix prediction for '09?
Joe Sheehan: He'll be one of the five best starting pitchers in the American League. He was very good last year, a fact hidden by the collapse of the Mariners' offense. Hernandez now has 666 career innings, nearly a 3:1 K/BB, is 23 years old...and everyone has seemingly forgotten about him. It's ridiculous.
dcbove (Albany, NY): It seems like it might be a reasonable strategy for rebuilding teams to sign Mark Loretta-types to 1 year deals, include in the contract that they can't accept arbitration, plan to play them enough so that they qualify as Type B Free Agents, and then hopefully collect the sandwich pick when they sign elsewhere the following year. Is that actually a reasonable strategy? Can teams do this? Do they?
Joe Sheehan: I'm absolutely certain no player or agent would allow that clause, and nearly as certain that building a strategy around signing guys just good enough to be Type B free agents is a bad idea.
PSIllini (Champaign, IL): Current odds to win the AL East: Yankees (1-2), Red Sox (2-1), Rays (5-1). Tampa looks a bit underrated, right?
Joe Sheehan: I think it's the Red Sox who look underrated, largely because the Yankees are ridiculously overvalued. I'll take "Not Yankees" at those odds for whatever Phil Mickelson has in his pockets.
ssimon (Pelham, NY): "The Mets preferred Perez to Randy Wolf, Ben Sheets and the other free agent starters still on the market." Really?
Joe Sheehan: Works for me. I don't believe for a second that Ben Sheets is healthy enough to warrant a deal like what Perez got, and he's the only pitcher close to Perez left out there.
paulbellows (Calgary): Has there been any talk on if the death of Carl Pohlad will affect the Twins?
Joe Sheehan: I believe his son was left in charge, and little change is expected. They got their park, so there's no longer any need to participate in public charades to squeeze labor or taxpayers.
denny187 (WI): Which free agent made the biggest mistake in not accepting arbitration from their former team?
Joe Sheehan: I went looking for a list and couldn't find one, although I know I had one in my mailbox for a while. Anyway, given where the market went, it looks like Bobby Abreu may end up with the biggest gap between arb salary (maybe $14 million?) and an eventual one-year deal. Maybe.
This introduces the question: do we have to re-evaluate my criticism of the Yankees' decision to not offer arbitration to Abreu and Pettitte? Given what each did/eventually will sign for, clearly the Yankees saved money, although I still think both would have declined arb. Wow, imagine Abreu's situation if a #1 pick was attached to him...
Matt (Alexandria): Is Baltimore's outfield of Pie/Jones/Markakis the best defensive outfield in the Majors?
Joe Sheehan: I think it will be, yes. The Orioles' success last season, such as it was, was in no small part due to the Jones/Markakis combination taking doubles and triples off the board.
dtrainmets (NYC): Is there any chance that Daniel Murphy would be able to play second base if the Mets gave him a chance there? The kid's got an incredible work ethic and although he doesn't have too much athleticism, he does have a lot of minor league infield experience. He wouldn't be that much worse than Dan Uggla... would he?
Joe Sheehan: The people who saw him in limited time in Arizona said that he can't play the position. I might run him out there occasionally, say when Johan Santana or Oliver Perez is pitching and the opponent starts a righty, but he can't stay out there every day. The Mets have some tradition of doing this--Kevin Mitchell played some shortstop behind Sid Fernandez back in the day to get an extra bat in the lineup.
Patton1941 (NYC): Is there a date after which signing a Type A or B free agent does not cost a team a draft pick?
Joe Sheehan: No one seems to have a definitive answer for this. I believe I saw a quote from Rob Manfred last week that indicated that if an FA was on the market past the draft, the pick would go away, but that sounded like an interpretation of a vacuum rather than a rule. I don't see the logic behind that--just make it the subsequent year's pick.
brian (brooklyn): I thought I remembered you (it may have been another BP-er) who made prediction for college basketball games on a daily basis. Was it you and why did you exit that racket?
Joe Sheehan: Caleb Peiffer did a feature last year that covered some of the best games of the day. Ken Pomeroy actually has predicted scores for every matchup each day at kenpom.com.
bigrick0016 (Cleveland): Is Shin-Soo Choo a legit corner outfielder or what. he's making it hard for me to figure him out.
Joe Sheehan: Absoutely, an excellent platoon bat with an average glove. He might not hit for quite the average he did last year, but the walks, power and speed are all real. Hopefully the Indians don't look for reasons to sit him.
Jim Clancy (Exhibition Stadium): As its currently constructed, the Yankees roster seems to have too many OF/DH types to let everyone play everyday. Who loses out here on everyday player status?
Joe Sheehan: Of the candidates, all with limitations, I feel that Xavier Nady is the most limited, basically a RH platoon player who happened to have a nice BABIP run for three months. The real issue is that the only CF, Melky Cabrera, has been in decline for years despite his young age. My sense is that, health permitting, the PT goes Damon, Matsui, Swisher, Nady, Cabrera, Gardner.
brian (Brooklyn NY): Any collge hoops thoughts? UNC appeared to be unstoppable at the start of the year but it is hard to ignore UCONN
Joe Sheehan: That was a signature win last night, going into Freedom Hall and owning the Cardinals at the defensive end. The top five teams in the country, IMO, are UNC, Duke, Louisville, Oklahoma and UConn.
tddewan (Torrance, CA): What's your take on the signing of Ollie Perez?
Joe Sheehan: Three years for a guy who's likely a league-average starter and who has All-Star upside seems like a very good contract. I know Perez can be frustrating, and you have to acknowledge the injury risk, but the deal seems to make sense. Certainly it helps the Mets, who faced another rotation-depth issue without Perez.
Clonod (St. Louis): Hi Joe, what's up with the articles showing up on ESPN Insider?
Joe Sheehan: They <3 BP and B'P.
We're trying something.
Jon (SF): Is St. Mary's out now because of Mills injury? They would have been fun to watch in March.
Joe Sheehan: He has to come back and play enough games to establish SMC's true level with him. If he does, they're 2008 Arizona and he's Nic Wise. If he doesn't, they're 2008 Dayton and he's Chris Wright. Because the WCC closes up shop early, he may only get back for the conference tournament. Would a win in the semis (they use a ladder format) and a loss to Gonzaga get it done? Hard to say.
The soft bubble--and total lack of candidates from non-BCS/MWC schools--leaves the door open.
strupp (Madison): No love for Marquette?
Joe Sheehan: The shooting doesn't seem sustainable to me based on the talents involved. Is Jerel McNeal really *this* good? I say, "no." They also opened with a very soft BE slate. I could see Marquette and Notre Dame switching roles in the second half of the schedule.
Drew (Youngstown, OH): Do you hit ARod 3, Teix 4 or vice versa? Could it even make a 1-win difference?
Joe Sheehan: Since it'll probably be Damon/Jeter, I would hit Teixeira third, Rodriguez fourth. Whenever it's reasonable, I like to alternate handedness to reduce the effective usage of xOOGYs. Too many games of Strat, I guess.
shamah (NYC): Which corner OF should the Yankees trade: Matsui, Damon, Swisher, or Nady? I say keep Damon and Swisher, but in this market, would they even get anything in return?
Joe Sheehan: There's no market for that list, not when better players are on the market and likely for bargain prices. I suspect that we'll spend countless hours debating this, and then the four players will be available simultaneously for about a dozen innings all season.
Tom (Philadelphia): If you were advising the Phillies, what feels right for $ and years for Ryan Howard? Although he's only been a star for three years, he's already pushing 30, with a body you figure may not age like Jamie Moyer.
Joe Sheehan: I go to arbitration every season. There's no way he ages well, and in fact, he's been in a fairly steep decline since 2006. Howard has certainly passed Ichiro to become the most overrated player in baseball.
jalee121 ((Normal, Illinois)): Please tell me the Abreu to the White Sox is a joke. I just don't see where he plays and why they want another player past his prime.
Joe Sheehan: He'd help the team OBP, and the White Sox window is basically now, so a good player on a one-year deal for small money is a good idea. Because of the different configuration of US Cellular, you can suffer the bad D he'd create a bit more readily. I mean, they were going to run Ken Griffey Jr. out there last year, so that bridge has been crossed.
Abreu > Konerko, so you could also teach someone first base. Or go back to whatever pawn shop Jim Thome sold his glove to.
Blake (Portland, OR): Crystal ball time -- whose your pick for 2009's Lincecum? Somebody like Kershaw? Baker? Slowey?
Joe Sheehan: David Price.
Blake, you didn't really just create a list that included Clayton Kershaw and Scott Baker, did you?
brian (brooklyn): Would it be reasonable for a small market team to sign Manny Ramirez with the sole intention of flipping him for a bunch of prospects at the deadline? Maybe he will sell some tickets for a few months and could result in a nice return.
Joe Sheehan: The risk there is that Ramirez has never really played for a bad team in a small market, and if you're signing him to trade him, you have to hope that doing so doesn't have a negative effect on his performance.
Remember, too, that Ramirez isn't finding suitors when all it will cost to sign him is money. Is there any guarantee teams will pay talent for two months of him at the deadline?
I wouldn't do it. I'd sign him because he'd make my team better, but I would not do so *intending* to make a deadline deal.
Charlie (DC): Should the Nats sign a free agent or two hoping to get some fans to buy tickets? Or just stick with what they have and realize that people aren't gonna come to watch the kids play?
Joe Sheehan: Where would you play an FA? Your best players are outfielders, and you have contracts where you'd stick Cabrera or Hudson, and those guys won't get people excited. A starter? Maybe, especially given how weak a slot that is. Again, though, are fans going to buy tickets to see Braden Looper?
By the way, if getting a team and a new park isn't enough to get people interested, perhaps it's time to acknowledge that D.C. wasn't exactly clamoring for baseball. Maybe they should play 18 games in Puerto Rico this year.
Or maybe the failures in Montreal were about the management, not the city.
raygu1 (princeton, nj): Joe-thanks for the chat. Are the Dodgers better off signing Dunn, Hudson and Wolf vs. Manny and Wolf?
Joe Sheehan: Why are they signing Randy Wolf? Why, in fact, do I have so many references to Randy Wolf in my queue? He's a flyball pitcher without the stuff to pull that off, a 6.24 ERA waiting to happen.
The Dodgers have jammed up their roster in a way that makes it hard for them to sign players. Too many roster spots and too much money being wasted on Juan Pierre and Casey Blake and Jason Schmidt.
Charlie (DC): If you saw how crazy this town is going for HOCKEY, you'd realize that a good team would bring out fans...
Joe Sheehan: Kind of my point.
Aaron (YYZ): Over/Under on the number of AL teams that will get significantly worse DH production compared to what you could reasonably expect Manny or Adam Dunn to produce?
Joe Sheehan: 11.5.
denny187 (WI): Can the Brewers return to the playoffs with their rotation? Ben Sheets would obviously help, so why does it seem that they have no interest in resigning him?
Joe Sheehan: I would imagine it's because they were the last team to get a good long look at his arm.
DanLong (NY): Which impact Prospect (who hasn't seen big league action yet) makes a a big splash in Spring Training?
Joe Sheehan: I'l go with a healthy Colby Rasmus, since Matt Wieters is way too easy. If I need someone more obscure...Engel Beltre.
strupp (Madison): Any comment on all at Bud Selig essentially being the 5th highest paid player in baseball?
Joe Sheehan: He's made a lot of money for the people who pay his salary. It doesn't seem out of line to me, and I say that as someone who has disagreed with nearly everything he's done.
jromero (Seattle): Are you as annoyed as I am by the annual flurry of articles that go something like this, "So and so really hit the weights in the offseason and is poised for a big year" nonsense? In any case, who are your breakout picks in the N.L.?
Joe Sheehan: I wouldn't say "annoyed," but I do tend to ignore them as a group. Everyone has a story in March.
NL breakouts: Lastings Milledge, James Loney, maybe Ubaldo Jimenez.
Jason (OH): 2009: Quentin or McLouth?
Joe Sheehan: Quentin.
Thomas (Tarzana, CA): Joe, if you know -- Do the WBC guys report to their teams first and then take off or do they start training as a national team as soon as Spring Training starts?
Joe Sheehan: I'm pretty sure it's the former, save for the players in the Asia group.
juiced (frisco): Gun to your head right now, who makes the AL playoffs as things stand?
Joe Sheehan: Yankees, Indians, Rangers, Red Sox. The AL West isn't good.
David (NJ): What are your thoughts on the stadium naming rights deal the Mets struck with CitiGroup, Inc.? There's talk that Citi is looking for a way out.
Joe Sheehan: People--and congresspeople--get excited about the funniest things. This is a distraction, a pimple on the ass of the real problems, like worrying about how automotive industry execs travel.
Then again, this is what happens when you nationalize the economy. Everyone thinks they get a vote.
Aaron (YYZ): Jays finish last in the AL East? I can't think of any real upgrades they're likely to make that would allow them to vault into contention with the top3, and the rickety pitching staff combined with a suspect offence would seem to set them up for a bit of a collapse.
Joe Sheehan: I trashed the long answer to this. I see them as a .500 team that will look worse in that division, maybe 75-87 or so. A lot went pretty right last year, so although the offense will be better, it won't cover the slip in runs allowed.
Joe (Tewksbury, MA): Let's play a hypothetical; if Manny Ramirez doesn't get a contract he wants and retires (I know, just play along) where would it rank in bizarre career endings in American sports history? Has a player of Manny's caliber ever retired in such circumstances?
Joe Sheehan: I'm not entirely sure how to frame the answer. Will Clark comes to mind. Barry Bonds. Michael Jordan's first two walkaways, maybe. Barry Sanders.
DanLong (NY): given that Joba is going to start and spend the whole season in the rotation, predictions for his stat line this season?
Joe Sheehan: 3.57 ERA in 185 innings, 176/69 K/BB, 14 HRA.
ekanenh (capitol city): How many games do you think the Yankees can realistically expect out of Posada behind the plate, at 37 and coming off shoulder surgery?
Joe Sheehan: One of the top questions of spring training, because the falloff from him to the backup may be the difference between winning the division and not, not to mention what having to squeeze him in at DH does to the roster. I honestly have no insight here--we'll have to see what happens next month when he starts playing.
Dan P. (Dallas, TX): Do the Rangers have enough to creep into the discussion with the Angels and As this year? (I personally think the Angels are more vulnerable than the conventional wisdom seems to hold.)
Joe Sheehan: I don't think the Rangers are wired to succeed in 2009, nor should they be. That said, I also think this is a very weak Angels squad, the weakest in a while, lacking the BA and speed to make their walks-averse offense work, and with a defense that continues to slide. The AL West might not have one of the seven or eight best teams in the league. I know I'd take the Rays, Yankees, Red Sox and Indians over any of them, and maybe the Twins. Then you can argue the White Sox, Blue Jays and Tigers.
So, yeah, I think all of the other three teams would have value in wagers. If that were legal.
David (NJ): I know you had a gun to your head but why Texas over Oakland? What tipped the scales in Texas' favor? I think Oakland has quietly had a nice off season.
Joe Sheehan: Because I'm not sure what the A's might do at any given point any longer. That's not a criticism, just an observation.
Aubrey (Atlanta, GA): Kelly Johnson -- much upside in 09?
Joe Sheehan: Yeah, had I included another name on the breakout list, it would have been his. Nice little player who could add some power and be a midballot MVP guy.
The Braves are better than anyone realizes.
cpintak (VA): Is there any market for Carlos Delagdo at 1/$12m? I was thinking a salary dump to the Angels, sign Dunn and use any difference ($2-3m?) to get a RH platooner to pair w/Daniel Murphy. Of course, my first choice of Wiggy is now gone.
Joe Sheehan: Why would a team trade for an inferior player for more money rather than just signing Dunn?
ChuckR (Addison, IL): Can you look at the Cubs' dumping of their 'out of option' guys - Pie, Hill, Cedeno - and see anything less than organizational failure? It seemed to be a lot of useful talent being given away for virtually nothing.
Joe Sheehan: The timing of the deals, given the return, was disappointing. Why not take these players to Arizona and see if they can raise their trade value?
And why trade for Aaron Heilman and trade away Michael Wuertz? I'm not convinced they now possess the better pitcher.
Kevin (NY): Who do you like better for 2009: Votto or Youklis?
Joe Sheehan: Votto, who might even be a better defender than Youkilis is (a significant compliment, not a slam on Youkilis).
Matt (Chicago): Any pick for team that everyone expects to contend (based on offseason acquisitions, development of prospects, good trends in the prior last year, etc.) but that ends up flaming out -- a la the 2008 Tigers?
Joe Sheehan: Yankees.
strupp (Madison): Same gun to your head, NL side?
Joe Sheehan: Mets, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Braves. I'm much less confident over here. The only teams I could not possibly see making the postseason are the Padres, Pirates and the Nationals, and even the Nats could be frisky if all the young hitters click and Cristian Guzman...well, I'm not going there.
mase1361 (Boston): Ronny Paulino: good enough to get 500 plate appearances on a championship team?
Joe Sheehan: No.
Ryan (Santa Barbara): What options are available for the Mozeliak to make the Cardinals a playoff team? Is Ben Sheets still an option, or should they be looking at trades?
Joe Sheehan: I don't think it'll come from the outside, at least not right now. At some point, they'll need a middle guy who gets on base.
mase1361 (Boston): Better player in 2009 Milledge or Dukes?
Joe Sheehan: Milledge, because of the defensive value in CF.
Larry Fitzgerald (Minny): Twins are going to be the AL breakout team. They are sitting on a +90 win season, perhaps 92 or more.
They have quietly put together a young and deep pitching staff, great (underrated) closer and their offense is only getting better.
Fix 3rd base with a warm body (yes that is all they need to improve) the Twins are certainly looking good in the AL Central this year.
Joe Sheehan: For how many years have the Twins been a warm body or two from success, only to turn up more stiffs than...man, too many places to go there...anyway, the Twins can win 84 games as they are or 94 with a push. You tell me what will happen.
Jim Clancy (Exhibition Stadium): Aceves. Just another weird little run the Yankees have had a couple of times in the last five years with freely available pitching, or is this something more?
Joe Sheehan: He's way above the Small/Chacon class. I love him in the seventh inning, a bit less--not a deep repertoire--as a starter.
Will (DC): Who's your pick to win the WBC?
Joe Sheehan: It'll always mean more to Cuba. I'll go with them.
Jeremy (OR): Expectations for David Price this year?
Joe Sheehan: 190 innings of 3.25 ball, 200 K.
Charles (VA): 2009 - BJ or Justin?
Joe Sheehan: B.J., but both are All-Stars.
Clonod (St. Louis): The Cubs' core players (except Soto and Z) are all 31-33 years old, and their farm system is a disaster. Is it just me, or is that window closing fast?
Joe Sheehan: Hence the push to trade for Peavy and open it as wide as possible. They're where the Astros were in 2004-05.
glenihan (NYC): Cano's 2009 OBP: over/under .340
Joe Sheehan: Over, on a BA spike.
Jim Clancy (Exhibition Stadium): What's the short way of explaining that the Blue Jays were better than their record indicated in 2008?
Thanks for today's chat. Much appreciated.
Joe Sheehan: "They played 54 games against three of the five best teams in baseball."
Joe Sheehan: Thanks for the questions. I'll be back later this month.