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1. Which of last year's breakouts (Miguel Montero, Ryan Roberts, Gerardo Parra, Ian Kennedy) is most likely to retain his value?
Jay Jaffe: I'd say Kennedy, who really revealed himself to be a solid frontline pitcher the way we'd been hearing he could be for years.
Geoff Young: Before the inexplicable Jason Kubel signing, I would have gone with Parra, but I'm with you on Kennedy. Even assuming he regresses a bit and splits the difference between 2010 and 2011, that's still a darned good pitcher.
JJ: Absolutely. The thing is, Daniel Hudson's almost as good. Kennedy got the defensive support (.274 BABIP), Hudson didn't, to the same extent (.298 BABIP), but they had very comparable seasons otherwise.
GY: Right. And coupled with some of the great arms coming through the system right now, things could get real interesting sooner rather than later.
JJ: Oh, yes. That leads to another question, but before we shift gears, I'll also put in a good word for Montero. He has shown himself to have a pretty good stick for a catcher (.279 True Average last year, 3.8 WARP), as well as a good defender.
GY: I like Montero as well, although his heavy workload last year concerns me a bit. Then again, that can be said about most any catcher.
2. How many innings is Trevor Bauer going to throw for the big club, and what kind of impact will he have?
GY: I'm a bit conservative in my thinking, so despite all the talk about his making the club out of spring training, I'll go with 50-60 innings and not a huge impact.
JJ: With the Joe Saunders signing, I doubt he breaks camp, but the Josh Collmenter Show is going to run its course at some point, and when it does, Bauer will get his chance. I'd guess by the All-Star break, with maybe 70-80 innings, and I'd bet he puts up respectable numbers, too. 43 K in 25
GY: Yeah, I don't expect a huge adjustment period for Bauer. The reports are pretty glowing.
3. Arizona finished six games ahead of its Pythagorean record in 2011, suggesting a possible regression. What needs to go right for the Snakes to stay atop the NL West?
JJ: I'd say they really need some supporting guys behind Justin Upton to have good years with the bat. The Chris Young/Stephen Drew laggards are going to have to step up because Roberts is probably going to fall off, and as you said, Montero has some workload concerns. Paul Goldschmidt will help.
GY: Mainly they need to stay healthy. A full season of Stephen Drew would help. The good news is that even if a few things go wrong, nobody else in the division (with the possible exception of the Giants) appears ready to pounce.
JJ: That's probably true. Even with an ownership change, the Dodgers are locked into some serious suckitude, and the Rockies [rolls eyes]… but I'll wait until we get to those teams.
GY: Also, having Goldschmidt at first base all year will be nice, which leads to our next question.
4. Which is more likely, 30 homers for Paul Goldschmidt or 40 homers for Justin Upton?
JJ: I like Goldschmidt, but I'd still say Upton for 40 in that ballpark.
GY: Yeah, I'm going with Upton. He has 2,400 big-league plate appearances under his belt, which means he's had ample opportunity to make adjustments. I like Goldschmidt, but as at least one other first baseman in the division has shown us, it's best to wait until after a full season in the big leagues before calling him a 30-homer guy.
JJ: James Loney, 30-homer guy!
5. How does Willie Bloomquist get a 2-year contract after last season's (or any season's) performance?
GY: Yeah, Bloomquist and Geoff Blum. I wish my last name were Blum. I went to high school with a guy named Blum, although he pronounced it "Bloom," which is the first syllable in Bloomquist. There's probably a lesson in this, but I'll be darned if I can figure out what it is.
JJ: I'm kind of happy it's "Bluhm" so I can say Glum Geoff Blum. It's an outlook that seems to fit his mediocrity.
GY: Plus he's got great hair.
JJ: As for Wee Willie, I'd like him more if he were Bloomqvist. That would be kind of badass, even if he is slugging .219.
GY: No doubt. He could at least cast the occasional thunderbolt.
JJ: As it is, I'm guessing he must be one hell of a clubhouse guy. Neck massages for whoever needs them, at any hour of the night. Especially the skipper, because you know that guy is an apple polisher.
GY: Hey, someone has to do it.
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1. What can we expect out of the young rotation? Does Jamie Moyer have a shot?
JJ: Given the fly-ball tendencies of Guillermo Moscoso and Josh Outman, I expect a whole lot of baseballs to leave the yard. I'd guess that Moyer winds up in middle relief if he makes the team. Which would be kind of cool, since I want to make sure there's at least somebody in the majors who's not just older than me, but older than me by several years.
GY: And Alex White did a nice Ken Dixon impression on his arrival. This is a team that legitimately could miss Kevin Millwood, who incidentally was in elementary school when Moyer made his big-league debut.
JJ: Wow. I had never heard of Ken Dixon until now. Orioles 1984-1987, 1.6 HR/9 in 482.1 innings, with a 2.7 HR/9 in 105 innings during his final year, to go with a 6.43 ERA. That guy must have been a real treasure. 7.0 K/9 overall, and pushing 8.0 in his latter two years, so I can imagine why they kept trying, but… yowzah.
GY: And he did it without the benefit of Coors Field.
JJ: Or even Camden Yards.
2. A Jim Tracy extension? Really?
JJ: There was a point when Tracy was managing the Dodgers, and Nate Silver called him the best manager in the game. Tracy must have clipped that one out and read it so many times he believed it, because he's legitimately terrible now. For the life of me I don't see how you take last year's Rockies and not only fail to contend but come in at 73-89.
GY: In fairness, he won 73 more games than you and I did combined last year. The downside, of course, is that this is a miserable selling point.
JJ: That's a terrible selling point. They had some pitching injuries to Jorge de la Rosa and Juan Nicasio and whatever's left of Aaron Cook, but I have to think just about any other manager could have gotten more out of that team. How do you keep screwing up guys like Chris Iannetta and Dexter Fowler?
GY: His handling of Iannetta was pretty bad. I wasn't impressed with the way he treated Ian Stewart last year, either.
JJ: Exactly. Another point against him. And the bullpen… Joe Sheehan has documented Tracy's crimes against the bullpen quite well over the years.
3. What will Marco Scutaro and Casey Blake mean for the Rockies?
GY: Scutaro has decent on-base skills and Blake hits the ball hard every once in a while when healthy. They don't seem like great fits for a team that should be rebuilding. The best thing about Blake is that he can be jettisoned the moment Nolan Arenado is deemed ready.
JJ: I think Scutaro is a major upgrade at second base, where they got a .256/.304/.351 line despite playing in Coors. Blake is so fragile at this point that it just saddens me when it's not filling me with murderous rage that Carlos Santana isn't in a Dodger uniform. You're right about his disposability and Arenado's impending arrival. On the other hand, given how much Tracy LOVES those veteran-y herbs and spices, you have to assume he can screw up Arenado Inna Dexter Fowler Stylee.
GY: I imagine Tracy is up to the challenge.
4. How does Colorado get out from under Todd Helton's contract? Is 2012 the year that Giambi outhomers Helton?
GY: First, they need a DeLorean. Failing that, they can take comfort in having learned a valuable lesson from the experience and never doling out another contract like that again. Except for Troy Tulowitzki. And Carlos Gonzalez.
JJ: Neither of those contracts is as bad as Helton, but how many other teams have $40 million locked in for 2017? Helton at least showed some modest productivity last year, just when it looked as though all hope was lost.
GY: Right. They shouldn't be drags on the team's resources to the same degree, but that is a good chunk of change committed to five years from now. And Helton did play well last year when healthy, which was not often enough.
JJ: I have to admit I kind of love Jason Giambi's twilight years. He seems like he's really enjoying himself out there. I bet he's going to make a hell of a hitting coach someday soon.
5. Can Dexter Fowler make it through the season without a "refresher" in Triple-A?
JJ: I have to think so. Fowler had a really good second half last year (.288/.381/.498, after a .238/.340/.348 first) despite just a 16-point uptick in his BABIP (.345 to .361). His speed was really a factor there, too (10 triples, 10/12 in steals, compared to five triples and 2/8 in steals).
GY: Agreed. Last year's demotion seemed to light a serious fire. His second-half power display probably is unsustainable, but if he retains any of the gains he made in OBP, he's mighty useful. I like Fowler's chances going forward, with the obligatory caveats about his manager.
|LOS ANGELES DODGERS
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1. What will the change in ownership mean for the 2012 team?
JJ: A cleansing fire. I have to think Ned Colletti will be gone by the end of the year, and Don Mattingly could be on notice, even if that's unfair given what he's been given to work with. But I still worry that McCourt holds onto the parking lot to spite Dodger fans, because he has a special talent for being where nobody wants.
GY: The thing that still blows my mind about McCourt is that he actually managed to be worse than Rupert Murdoch as an owner. How is that even possible?
JJ: Well, Murdoch didn't have his hands on the team, it was mid-level News Corp people. What McCourt saw is that he could leech off the legitimately good work of Logan White and bleed the team dry by underspending on both domestic and international talent acquisition, yet still reap the benefits of what was already built, and that he'd probably be gone by the time the shit hit the fan.
GY: I can't begin to articulate how much that bothers me, even as someone who actively roots against the Dodgers.
JJ: Intradivisional sympathy is a rare commodity, but yeah, McCourt is the kind of guy I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. I wouldn't even want him to own the Red Sox because he'd have torn down Fenway Park by now.
2. To less unpleasant matters… With Hiroki Kuroda gone, how does the rotation shake out behind Clayton Kershaw, Ted Lilly, and Chad Billingsley?
JJ: Shakily. Both Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano needed big ballparks to mount their comebacks last year, and even then, they were only so successful. Dodger Stadium isn't as forgiving for fly-ball pitchers. I'm assuming only one of them pans out, and that Nathan Eovaldi gets a shot by midseason, with Rubby de la Rosa perhaps coming back from TJ late in the year.
You must have seen a lot of Harang, what's your take on him?
GY: On the bright side, Capuano is a lot cheaper than Zito, so there's that.
JJ: Being run over by a bus is cheaper than lingering on life support.
GY: I never thought of it that way, but you're right. As for Harang, he should soak up innings. He's basically Jon Garland, without the impeccable health record.
What, too soon?
JJ: Oof. Hearing the postmortems on Garland's condition, it was like hearing Brian Cashman on Pedro Feliciano, West Coast-style. "Yeah, we knew this could blow up. But hey, whaddayaa gonna do?"
GY: Hey, look, there's a bus!
JJ: Harang wasted his best years in a bad ballpark. He could have gotten serious money on the free-agent market had he been able to keep up his 2006-2007 level.
GY: Yeah, I don't know if people realize how good he was during that period. In all seriousness, he should do fine with the Dodgers. Nothing special, but he'll keep the bullpen from getting overworked, which always a good thing.
JJ: I can live with that.
3. Beyond Matt Kemp, who is going to provide offense for this team?
JJ: Andre Ethier and nobody else. That infield—James Loney, Mark Ellis, Dee Gordon, and Juan Uribe—is going to be the least productive in baseball, unless you're counting Gordon's steals for your fantasy team.
JJ: It truly is. What drives me nuts about Colletti isn't that he bought low on so many guys—there's a value strategy that can work in there—it's that he went for the backloaded second year, when the first one might be a disaster.
GY: There's probably a joke about long-term bottom feeding as the new market inefficiency. Or not. It sounded better in my head.
JJ: Ned Colletti couldn't find his own ass with both hands and a GPS, let alone the new market inefficiency.
GY: Uh, thanks for the image?
JJ: Yeah, that one's gonna sting for awhile. Sorry.
4. Will the real James Loney please stand up? What can we expect?
JJ: I fully expect the last two months of last season, when he turned it around and started raking, to be a total mirage despite evidence that his uptick was rooted in an improved swing, because Loney has done nothing but disappoint in one way or another since his late-season cup of coffee in 2006. Wait, I take that back—2007 was not a disappointment, but it's so long ago that the brain cells holding those memories are dead.
GY: I hope he will give up baseball to star in the Off-Off-Broadway production of "Being Doug Mientkiewicz," but that's just me.
JJ: Loney is going to once again lead the league in Good Face, and that's enough for Ned.
GY: He's been around long enough that it seems likely we're seeing his true level of ability. Sad but true.
JJ: [cries into his keyboard]
5. How does left field unfold between Phony Gwynn, Juan Rivera, and Jerry Sands? Is the latter ever going to get another shot?
GY: You've got a guy in his prime who will never hit big-league pitching, a guy past his prime who can't play a position, and young kid who has dominated the minors. Which one do you make sure never sees the light of day? Not that Sands is great, but it seems to me he deserves a chance.
JJ: I agree. And don't think at my age that I'll live to see it, at least under this regime.
|SAN DIEGO PADRES
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1. What will the transition from Jed Hoyer to Josh Byrnes mean?
GY: Less than you might expect. Both Hoyer and Byrnes worked under Theo Epstein in Boston, and although Byrnes gets a bad rap in some circles for his work with the Diamondbacks, he actually did pretty well there. He was aggressive this past winter in continuing the rebuilding efforts previously begun by his predecessor. Honestly, the biggest difference is one of perception.
JJ: Fair enough. Yes, I wasn't a particularly big fan of Byrnes' work in Arizona. Can I also just say that I can't believe John Moores is still around? I thought he'd been gone for at least two years by now.
GY: Moores can't believe it either.
JJ: Is it just lingering resentment against Jeff Moorad for being an agent?
GY: Probably. Rumblings are that Jerry Reinsdorf, who carries considerable clout, isn't a big fan. Plus being burned by the Dodgers and Mets situations I'm sure is making MLB more cautious.
JJ: I guess so, but jeez, this seems like a much cleaner break. The TV money is already lined up, no?
GY: You're asking the wrong guy. I gave up trying to figure out these things once Selig had the Expos playing in Puerto Rico. It's like trying to tell the time by gazing at Dali paintings.
JJ: Hey, there's a lot of Canadians in Puerto Rico. Big hockey towns down there.
2. How do you see the first base battle between Yonder Alonso and Jesus Guzman playing out? Is there any hope for Kyle Blanks?
GY: Alonso was pretty much given the job when Anthony Rizzo got shipped to the Cubs. Guzman will spell Alonso against tough left-handers and will see action at third base, as well as the outfield corners. Expect 350-400 PA. As for Blanks, his best hope at this point is for a trade. He isn't a left fielder and the Padres repeatedly have made it clear that they don't envision him as the answer at first base.
JJ: Blanks had the misfortune of getting hurt at the wrong time and seems to have missed his window of opportunity. Then again, it's hard to fit a 270-pound guy through a window. But is Guzman going to take at-bats from Chase Headley?
GY: Not many. He'll be there to give Headley the occasional day off. Maybe 10-15 starts?
JJ: OK, that's not so bad.
3. How is Carlos Quentin a better option in left field than Ryan Ludwick was?
JJ: I like this move. Quentin may be a lousy defender but the kid can hit, and this team needs as much offense as it can get. As I've been writing in my defensive spectrum series, I think teams should be taking more chances on who they put in left field.
GY: Yeah, and they gave up very little to get him. Even if Quentin's batting average lingers in the .240-.250 range, he's got nice secondary skills. Plus he's a local kid, which may not mean a lot in the box score but helps in the goodwill department.
JJ: I didn't realize that he was a local boy, but that couldn't hurt.
GY: Yeah, and as for his defense, we survived Ryan Klesko. I fear no man in left field.
4. How will Corry Luebke, who led the NL rookie pitchers in WARP, fare as a full-time starter? With Clayton Richard and Dustin Moseley coming off season-ending injuries, what does the back of the Padres' rotation look like?
GY: Luebke's strikeout numbers jumped on reaching the big leagues, which isn't supposed to happen. He will regress a bit because a) hitters will adjust and b) few pitchers are as good as he was last year. As for the back of the rotation, Richard and Moseley are expected to be ready for Opening Day. Youngster Anthony Bass is one option; veterans Micah Owings and (I'm not kidding) Jeff Suppan are others.
JJ: I like Owings, because of his possibilities as a PH-P, but I'm surprised they couldn't scare up anything better than the desiccated remains of Suppan as another option. Bass I have legitimately never heard of. Luebke did seem to put up some sick numbers out of nowhere last year. What changed for him?
GY: It's easy to say Petco Park, but his ERA was actually a run and a half higher at home. The main thing is he was super-aggressive.
JJ: Luebke went from about 7.0 K/9 in the high minors to 9.0+ in the majors almost literally overnight. I'd love to see how often that's been done.
GY: Not often, I'm guessing, and Luebke probably won't sustain that level. But he's legit.
5: With Mike Adams and Heath Bell gone, what does the bullpen look like?
JJ: That park can make any half-decent reliever look pretty good, right? So if Huston Street can more or less survive Coors, he'll look sharp in Petco. At least until his next injury.
GY: My lingering memory of Street is him serving up a walk-off homer to Brad Hawpe last year. It was one of the few fun moments for the Padres, but in all honestly, Hawpe couldn't catch up to a big-league fastball by the time he got to San Diego. So that worries me a bit. I'm intrigued to see what Andrew Cashner (acquired for Rizzo) brings to the table. He'll be Street's primary set-up man.
JJ: Ah, I missed that Hawpe homer. Cashner could be interesting as a set-up guy, but considering the consensus that he's a reliever, that's not a whole lot to get back for Rizzo, and I don't see the other prospects in that deal helping to even it out. Isn't Luke Gregerson still the top set-up guy?
GY: It was the Rockies versus the Padres. Everybody missed that one. There is talk that Cashner may eventually start, but given his history, I'm not sure how viable that is. As for Gregerson, he completely lost the ability to miss bats last year (K/9 from 11.2 to 10.2 to 5.5 in three years), and I fear that he's headed down the Cla Meredith path to early retirement.
JJ: Ugh, that's a grim fate.
GY: Which pretty much sums up the NL West.
|SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS
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1. How does replacing Carlos Beltran, Cody Ross, and Pat Burrell with Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan help the NL's worst offense?
GY: I should have had a concrete answer in mind when I came up with this question. Frankly, I was hoping you'd tell me, because I'm not seeing it.
JJ: I think I need to take some peyote and wander into the desert to get some vision, Carlos Castaneda style. Because that's the only way it's going to happen. Melky's coming off a career year (.287 True Average, 32 points above his career mark) and moving to a much tougher hitter's park. He's going to suck eggs, and he seems to have the nod over Brandon Belt in left field already, so it's going to be Belt and Aubrey Huff competing for first base, as I understand it.
GY: Okay, so it's not just me… And yeah, anything that reduces Belt's chances of playing has to be good for the team. Because, you know, he can hit.
JJ: I guess the other question is how committed they are to Nate Schierholtz in right, because if you're somehow dead set on figuring out to fit Belt, Melky, and Huff into the lineup then he's the one who's expendable.
GY: Glad I'm not the one making the decision. That's too many inspiring options for my taste.
JJ: So true. Which leads us to the next question…
2. How many plate appearances will Brandon Belt get, and what will that mean for Aubrey Huff?
GY: Well, he should get 500 or more. And if he does, it means that Huff stands a better chance of getting another ring, because the Giants are a better team with Belt in the lineup.
JJ: The thought of the Giants with a ring makes me retch.
GY: Preaching to the choir, my friend.
JJ: If Bochy is committed to Melky, Huff, and Schierholtz, then I can certainly see a path to which Belt gets less than 400 PA. Maybe he starts slow and Bochy plays the contract (Huff), or tries Huff in the outfield again and they wind up with another "chalk outline."
GY: It's very possible. Bochy's reluctance to play young talent was a sore point for many years in San Diego. It'd be a shame to see Belt fall victim to that same tendency.
JJ: A shame, except that it's the Giants. So screw 'em.
GY: There you go.
3. What can we expect from a healthy Buster Posey, and how much longer will he remain behind the plate?
JJ: I'd bet that the logjam at first base keeps him behind the plate, but that his offense is slow to come back. I wouldn't be surprised if his BABIP suffers because he's been slowed by the injury.
GY: I'm a little more bullish on his offense than that. My concerns center more around his ability to survive a grueling season. That was a serious injury, and I wonder how many games he can be expected to catch this year.
JJ: Good point. I did at least see that according to Max Marchi's work that backup Eli Whiteside has some good pitcher-handling skills that don't show up in his sub-zero WARP. But that's just what the lineup needs: a catcher who can't even cross the Mendoza Line and lacks secondary offensive skills as well.
GY: If only his name were Bloomqvist.
JJ: Haha, so true. Between that and some suddenly quantifiable intangibles, he would be unstoppable.
4. Can Ryan Vogelsong come anywhere near repeating last season's stunning comeback?
JJ: I'd bet on some regression, but a guy with 7.0 K/9 and a .284 BABIP isn't somebody who strikes me as likely to turn back into a pumpkin so quickly.
GY: Agreed. PECOTA has him at 180 IP, 4.28 ERA, which seems reasonable to me. The difficulty with Vogelsong is that there are so few analogues for his career path. Maybe Colby Lewis, who slipped a bit in his encore but still pitched well enough to be useful.
JJ: That's an interesting parallel. I'll take the under on that ERA projection, because Vogelsong at least has the favorable ballpark and a much higher ground-ball rate (48 percent to 35 percent last year) going for him than Lewis. Interestingly enough, I saw Vogelsong pitch at Salt Lake City to end the 2010 season, and I was in shock when I heard the name.
GY: Good points about his home park and ground-ball tendencies. And Triple-A games are always good for a shock or three. I saw Brian Lawrence pitch in Tucson last summer.
JJ: Every pitching bust you ever saw is toiling for somebody's Triple-A team somewhere. Forty-year-old Todd Van Poppel's comeback is only weeks away.
GY: So pumped for that.
5. Speaking of pitchers who used to be good… Is this the year the Giants cut bait on Barry Zito?
JJ: I'd almost be ready to say yes except that I don't think they have anybody who's a legitimate replacement.
GY: That's the problem, isn't it? But is it a bigger problem than paying a guy $19 million to be a lousy fifth starter?
JJ: On second thought, I guess Eric Surkamp's Double-A numbers say he's legit in a 2.02 ERA, 10.4 K/9 kind of way. But you'd think they'd cover themselves with a viable ready-now option if they planned to sink the Zito cost, so I guess they're not…
JJ: Fair enough. Their closest ready-now option is the Zombie Ramon Ortiz. You might as well stick with Zito, because zombies don't surf.
GY: That zombies don't surf is an important take-home lesson. The other is that winning a Cy Young Award is a great career move.