Posts Tagged ‘Boston Red Sox’

The Josh Hamilton deal sent the shock waves through an entire league, and the core of franchises in both Texas and California. However, while that took the big headlines, the reactions throughout the AL also made a big ripple. No deal after the fact said more than the Tigers’ urgency in resigning Anibal Sanchez, who could have become a target for the Angels as well. His return to the Detroit rotation gives them a benefit that LA, or very few other clubs, can boast this winter.

While the Tigers set up the future, handling the now continued in the AL East, with both the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox continuing to rapidly rebuild their cores. With the Toronto Blue Jays continuing to be the kings of the winter, and the Rays making changes to their core, the division mainstays have to stay active as well. Will any of their hired guns make a difference, and hold off the upstarts? We’ll see, but should they fall, it surely won’t be for lack of trying.

The Tigers may have made the best long-term signing of any AL team by re-enlisting Sanchez.

The Tigers may have made the best long-term signing of any AL team by re-enlisting Anibal Sanchez in the rotation.

Here’s the updated impact of the recent signings in the MLB, and who came out on top…as well as who reached too far.

 

2. Josh Hamilton—Outfield, Signed w/ the Los Angeles Angels: 5 yrs/$125 million

I broke the impact of this, both now and later, down in-depth at The Sports Fan Journal.

5. Anibal Sanchez—Pitcher, Resigned w/ Detroit Tigers: 5 yrs/$80 million

The Tigers ended up holding on to their big trade deadline acquisition from this summer, albeit after a competition for his services in the last second. After outbidding the Chicago Cubs by about $5 million, the Tigers landed a promising young arm who’s sub-.500 career record belies his real abilities. With a mid-90’s fastball and a power slider, Sanchez makes the Tigers rotation perhaps the most complete offering in the American League. He has the roof to grow into either a very high level #3 or legit #2 starter.

16. Kevin Youkilis—Third Baseman, Signed w/ New York Yankees: 1 yr/$12 million

The Yankees rent-a-team efforts continued with another one year deal. However, this signing may be their smartest addition of the winter yet, due to the security and versatility that Youk brings. With A-Rod out until at least June due to hip surgery, he become their everyday third baseman who can either stay there or move to DH when A-Rod returns. They paid more to land him, but it really was a must sign.

17. Stephen Drew—Shortstop, Signed w/ Boston Red Sox: 1 yr/$9.5 million

The Red Sox also paid more for Drew, who rode his status as the only true starting shortstop on the market well, however the same value is not here. Drew is an offense first SS, that hasn’t managed to hit over .270 in three years. This was an overpay for a guy that will hit in the bottom of the lineup, and probably a bit of a reaction to other moves happening in the AL East, which is a tendency the Red Sox have done well to remove themselves from, until now.

20. Ryan Dempster—Pitcher, Signed w/ Boston Red Sox: 2 yrs/$26 million

The Sox did however hit value in landing Dempster. Not only did they get a modest $13 million per season rate for the highly sought after veteran, they also got him to end his pursuit of a 3-year deal, which would have made this a bad move for the 35 year old. But now they have landed a solid top of the rotation arm that will keep their rotation competitive.

35. Ichiro—Right Fielder, Resigned w/ New York Yankees: 2 yrs/$13 million

There was a ton of positioning on both sides, but the Yankees ended up making a smart, and team friendly, commitment to Ichiro. It does leave the club with a definite lack of power in the corner outfield spots, but Ichiro reacted well to Yankee Stadium, hitting .322 in two months in pinstripes. If he can keep close to that for even a year of the deal, it’s a strong value for around $6 million per.

66. Ty Wigginton—First Baseman, Signed w/ St. Louis Cardinals: 2 yrs/$5 million

The Cardinals landed the versatile Wigginton to provide a right handed bat off the bench with some pop, one of the few things they needed. They came in the winter looking to plug bench holes, and this was their solid effort to do so on offense.

 

For more on the signing season around the MLB, and the impact after the fact in real time, follow me on Twitter

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It’s the heart of the winter meetings and deals are coming back in according to form. While the trade market All-Stars (RA Dickey, Justin Upton, James Shields, Astrubal Cabrera among others) are all in pure rumor form, the free agent meter in overdrive. There has been a holding pattern at the top, with Zack Greinke, Josh Hamilton and Michael Bourn all having more myth to reality about exactly who is in for them and what type of deal it will take to land them. But the middle of the market is clearing out like a two for one sale.

The Boston Red Sox have filled their shopping cart in a hurry with new talent, while the New York Yankees and San Francisco Giants have done so with bringing back their own guys. The National League in general has been very active, especially among last summer’s contenders. The Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves have each added a top 10 free agent to their clubs, while the LA Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals are both waiting in the wings still.

What’s waiting to explode still is both the middle of the lineup power market, and most notably the starting pitching field. All of that hinges on what happens with Greinke and Hamilton, but anything is possible and at any second, the powder keg of the field could go off and a few hundred million getting handed out to the pair could change everything.

For now, here’s a recap of the more recent signings in this winter’s free agent scramble, with some of the impact of their deals. The ranks are by their original place on the CHEAP SEATS free agent tracker. An update Top 50 will debut tomorrow, with any updated signings and a complete recap of deals thus far.

The Giants two biggest "additions" were returns, by giving out $60 million to hold on to postseason heros Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro

The Giants two biggest “additions” were returns, by giving out $60 million to hold on to postseason heros Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro

 

4. BJ Upton-Centerfield: Signed with Atlanta Braves, 5 years/$75 million

I covered this all the way at The Sports Fan Journal, check it out.

10. Dan Haren-Pitcher: Signed with Washington Nationals, 1 year/$13 million

Haren is a very strong signing for the Nationals, who needed to replace Edwin Jackson in their rotation. While he suffered from some back troubles that produced his worst year as full-time pro, his upside is undeniable and he’ll round out the Nationals starters as the strongest overall group in the NL. With a one year deal, he’ll re-enter the market next year with a chance for very strong deal.

12. Mike Napoli-Catcher/First base: Signed with Boston Red Sox, 3 years/$39 million

Nap’s the perfect signing for Red Sox club that’s getting very versatile in filling its multiple holes. Napoli can work the catcher and first base (which will be his prime position) openings, as well as spell David Ortiz at DH. With his swing, he’ll eat the Green Monster up and could be in place for another 2011 in Fenway.

15. Mariano Rivera-Pitcher: Resigned with New York Yankees, 1 year/$10 million

No surprise here; there was no shot he’d go anywhere else. Rather, it’s a fulfillment of his promise to not go out on an injury note. He’ll slide back into the ninth inning role in the Bronx and make the entire staff better.

18. Angel Pagan-Centerfield: Resigned with San Francisco Giants, 4 years/$40 million

The first big eye raiser of the winter meetings, Pagan’s deal is a high risk one. He had a strong postseason, and was a value at $10 million per in this year’s CF market, but the length of it is questionable, as he’ll be 34 when it ends and will most likely have to man a corner position due to decline. But right now, it’s a major step in the Giants staying put at the top of the West.

24. Joakim Soria-Pitcher: Signed with Texas Rangers, 2 years/$8 million

One of the game’s best closers before having to undergo a second Tommy John Surgery and missing 2012 in KC, this is a rebound chance for Soria. He’ll become a setup man in Texas, but play for a contender for the first time and could be the impact setup man Texas hoped Mike Adams would be.

25. Marco Scutaro—Second Base: Resigned w/ San Francisco Giants: 3 yrs/$20 million

The market worked very favorable deal that was aided by his strong second half, NLCS MVP effort and a late battle between the Yankees, Cardinals and Giants for his services. But the Giants get back steady contributor for just over $6 million per year and keep their greatest strength in tow: group chemistry.

26. Shane Victorino-Outfield: Signed with Boston Red Sox, 3 years/$39 million

This is a strong sign for the Sox, who are looking to fill spots across their outfield, both now and going ahead. He’ll start in right field right, but can play every spot in the outfield and could be an option in center full-time if Jacoby Ellsbury leaves in free agency next winter. His signing changes the shopping list of many teams, as the Indians, Reds, Yankees, Rays and Giants were all in for him.

30. Andy Pettitte-Pitcher: Resigned with New York Yankees, 1 year/$12 million

Another matter similar to Rivera’s return to the Bronx, Pettitte wasn’t going to pitch anywhere else. The only shocker is the $12 million he received to do it, despite making only 12 starts after coming out of retirement and being shut down by injury nearly immediately last year.

33. Russell Martin-Catcher: Signed with Pittsburgh Pirates, 2 years/$17 million

The first big surprise of the offseason was when the Pirates lured Martin from the Yankees. He’ll be a strong veteran to handle their young, up and coming pitchers and provide the type of experience a team that’s failed two Augusts in a row needs.

61. James Loney-First Base: Signed with Tampa Bay Rays, 1 year/$2 million

A solid signing for a team based on pitching strength. He won’t provide much power for a corner infielder, but he’ll carry his own weight with his glove.

69. Scott Feldman-Pitcher: Signed with Chicago Cubs, 1 year/$6 million

A quiet signing that will give the Cubs a solid amount of innings on the bottom half of their rotation, at a decent price.

 

For more on the real time dealings and rumoring around the MLB winter, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

The sun is setting over Fenway before it even got to shine these days….

There’s failure, then there’s what’s been going on in Fenway Park for the last 500 or so days. Not even two full years after their stunning spending spree on the biggest names on the market in Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, the club is getting a face lift that even Harvey Dent would cringe looking at. The malfunction of the entire system around the Boston Red Sox makes this next statement resoundingly true.

It’s official now: The Boston Red Sox’s winter of 2010 is the biggest failure in big-money free-agency history.

Let that set in, and then realize the truth in it. We’ve seen huge buy-ins that got busted before. Think about everybody the mid-2000’s Yankees dumped money into, emptying out hulls of Kevin Brown, Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson. How about the Marlins multi-buy-ins and -outs? Don’t forget about the Cubs and those huge checks they handed Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Zambrano and the walking disaster Milton Bradley. So we’ve seen this before, but never, ever quite this big of a fall-off.

What makes the destruction of the Sox the biggest disaster of them all? It all starts in where it happened. Anything that happens in Boston baseball is on as grand of a stage as there is. Even the failures are historic, and the escapes from them. They traded the entire upper level of their minor leagues for Gonzalez, just a few days before handing Crawford the richest deal of the 2010 winter. In the process, they changed the entire face of the franchise, and on paper, they looked to be the favorites for the American League, at the very least.

But instead of a third World Series in a decade’s time, they ended up being the greatest paper champs ever, because those signings were the highlights of the year in Bean Town. After rarely ever putting their full squad on the field, hosting pitchers that drank more beers than winning games and blowing the biggest lead in one month in baseball history, somebody had to burn. Manager Terry Francona took the burden of the burning ship last year and was made to walk the plank for the club’s failures. GM Theo Epstein may have been the smartest of the whole group, and he jumped off the Titanic on its way down. Anytime the Chicago Cubs, his new club of design, is seen as a safe haven, that’s the realest sign ever that everything’s gone to hell….

 

For the rest of this peace, including why it’s impossible for the Sox to really rebuild, head on over to The Sports Fan Journal’s CHEAT SEATS here: http://www.thesportsfanjournal.com/sports/baseball/everything-must-go-the-tragic-red-sox-yard-sale/

 

For more on baseball’s break into the final month, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

The American League East is the best collection of teams in all of sports. However, last summer/fall, it was also the scene of both biggest collapse and one of the greatest comebacks ever in sports as well. The Boston Red Sox entered the season with all of the juice, after owning the free agent market the previous winter. They also entered September with a 9.5 game lead….which they hacked off, and ultimately blew on the last day of the season, and put the Tampa Bay Rays into the playoffs.

Actual Standings

  1. New York Yankees (97-65)
  2. Tampa Bay Rays (91-71)
  3. Boston Red Sox (90-72)
  4. Toronto Blue Jays (81-81)
  5. Baltimore Orioles (69-93)

    Longoria's last inning walk off launched the Rays into another October, while dooming the Red Sox all at once.

So what now? The Yankees are the most consistent team in baseball over the last 5 years, but haven’t been able to break through since 2009. The Blue Jays and Orioles have been the perpetual underdogs, but have gone in different directions in their efforts to shake that role. Can the Rays keep the momentum of a strong finish last fall, coupled with another wave of young talent coming to the forefront? Finally, in Boston is the curse back or will they have a rebound season and take the fight to the rest of the division themselves this year…

All-Division Team

Catcher: Matt Wieters – Orioles

First Base: Adrian Gonzalez – Red Sox

Second Base: Robinson Cano – Yankees

Third Base: Evan Longoria – Rays

Shortstop: Derek Jeter – Yankees

Left Field: Carl Crawford – Red Sox

Center Field: Jacoby Ellsbury – Red Sox

Right Field: Jose Bautista – Blue Jays

Designated Hitter: David Ortiz – Red Sox

 

Starting Pitcher: CC Sabathia – Yankees

Starting Pitcher: James Shields – Rays

Starting Pitcher: David Price – Rays         

Starting Pitcher: Jon Lester – Red Sox

Sabathia has averaged 19 wins per year in the Bronx since returning to the AL in 2009.

Bullpen Righty: David Robertson – Yankees

Bullpen Lefty: Darren Oliver – Blue Jays

Closer: Mariano Rivera – Yankees

 

Best Players

  1. Robinson Cano – Yankees
  2. Jose Bautista – Blue Jays
  3. Mariano Rivera – Yankees
  4. Evan Longoria – Rays
  5. Adrian Gonzalez – Red Sox
  6. CC Sabathia – Yankees
  7. Jacoby Ellsbury – Red Sox
  8. Mark Teixeira – Yankees
  9. Curtis Granderson – Yankees
  10. Dustin Pedroia – Red Sox

 

Bautista has taken many baseballs into the stratosphere the last two years. Now it's time to bring the rest of the Jays with him.

Lineup

  1. Yankees
  2. Red Sox
  3. Blue Jays
  4. Rays
  5. Orioles

One thru seven, there is no such thing as a break in the Yankee lineup. They were in the top three in every major offensive category in 2011, and A-Rod is alledgely in the best shape he’s been in for years. In Boston, there are still some missing pieces to injury woes, but the potential is still there for them to be devastating as well. The Blue Jays are based around Joey Bats, but as a team they have led the AL in homers as recently as 2010, and are getting better.

Rotation

  1. Rays
  2. Yankees
  3. Red Sox
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Orioles

    Embarassment of Riches: Shields heads a dominant Rays staff, that actually has too few spots to let all of it's talent shine.

Top to bottom, there’s no better group in baseball than Tampa’s. After the obvious headache of James Shields and David Price at the top, there’s 2011 Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, then either Wade Davis or Jeff Niemann, and finally topped off by uber-prospect Matt Moore, who could make it back-to-back Rays ROY’s. If Phil Hughes can round back into shape, coupled with repeat rookie performances from Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda, the Yanks could have their best arms offering in years.

1-2 Punch

  1. Rays (Shields & Price)
  2. Yankees (Sabathia & Pineda)
  3. Red sox (Beckett & Lester)
  4. Blue Jays (Romero & Morrow)
  5. Orioles (Britton & Hammel)

In the last two years, both Shields and Price have taken turns finishing in the top 3 in Cy Young voting. Price racked up a career high 218 K’s last summer, and “Complete Game” James led the MLB with 11 games started and finished. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester both have all the stuff in the world, but lacks of health and focus hid that for much of last year. Ricky Romero is one of the best arms nobody talks about up in T-Dot.

Bullpen

  1. Yankees
  2. Blue Jays
  3. Red Sox
  4. Rays
  5. Orioles

If the starters lag, the Yanks have more than enough firepower held back. In what could be Rivera’s victory lap season, he’s joined by Robertson and Rafeal Soriano, both former All-Stars in their own right. Francisco Cordero and Sergio Santos both joined the Toronto pen this winter and will be a tough 8-9 combo. Andrew Bailey is has been annually among the best ninth inning guys in the biz, and will come out of the shadows of Oakland to showcase in Boston this year.

Tablesetters

  1. Red Sox (Ellsbury & Pedroia)
  2. Yankees (Jeter & Granderson)
  3. Rays (Jennings & Upton)
  4. Blue Jays (Escober & Johnson)
  5. Orioles (Chavez & Hardy)

Ellsbury was always a burner on the bases, but he took his game to another level last year, knocking out 32 homers while still swiping 39 bags. Pedroia is one of the best do-it-all guys in the game, and stole 29 bases of his own in ’10. Granderson brings 40 home run power to the second spot in the Yankee ambush, while Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton both have a very real shot at 40 steals this year.

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Yankees (Cano/Teixeira/Rodriguez)
  2. Red Sox (Gonzalez/Youkilis/Ortiz)
  3. Rays (Longoria/Pena/Zobrist)
  4. Blue Jays (Bautista/Lind/Encarnacion)
  5. Orioles (Markakis/Jones/Wieters)

As a unit, there’s no more dangerous core of any lineup than the Yanks 3-4-5. Cano has hit .300 with 40 doubles and 25 homers for the last three years, Teixeira has averaged 37 homers a year since coming to the Bronx and A-Rod only has, oh, 629 homers himself. Carlos Pena comes to find himself in nice company between two of the game’s most complete players in Tampa, and Bautista has hit 97 homers over the last two years. If Carl Crawford gets healthy, he takes the Red Sox group to another level.

Markakis and Jones are two of the few bright spots in a rough situation in Baltimore.

Bench

  1. Red Sox
  2. Yankees
  3. Rays
  4. Orioles
  5. Blue Jays

Darnell McDonald, Mike Aviles and Nick Punto give the Sox a very versatile offering that really fortifies their defensive potential. Francisco Cervelli is a starter quality backstop in many places, perhaps including New York. Jeff Keppinger is a toolsy player that Joe Maddon will make good use of.

Defense

  1. Rays
  2. Yankees
  3. Orioles
  4. Red Sox
  5. Blue Jays

There’s no where the Rays are bad on defense, and it is a major reason why their more hallowed pitching staff has the success it does. Longoria and Pena can shutdown the corners, while Upton, Jennings and Joyce may be the best defensive outfield in baseball. Cano and Teixeira make hitting the ball through the right side nearly impossible in NY.

Speed

  1. Rays
  2. Red Sox
  3. Yankees
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Orioles

The Rays are young and play like it. They get plus speed from several places, and Ben Zobrist has 43 steals while only being cut down nine times over the last two years. Pedroia, Ellsbury and Crawford, if ever on the field together for long, could swipe 100 bags easy. On the other side, the Orioles have been very stationary since injuries took under Brian Roberts two years ago.

Manager

  1. Joe Maddon, Rays
  2. Joe Girardi, Yankees
  3. Bobby Valentine, Red Sox
  4. Buck Showalter, Orioles
  5. John Farrell, Blue Jays

Maddon gets more out of his squad, in spite of nearly constantly playing against the odds, than any other manager in the game. On the other side, it’s often popular to think the Yankees just buy wins, but Girardi is a great manager of both players and people. For a team coming off a tumultuous year, it will be interesting to see how the lively Valentine injects himself into steadying a situation such as the Sox locker room.

Valentine will be charged with settling down a carnival of both talent and personality in year one in Boston.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Matt Moore (Pitcher, Rays)
  2. Felix Doubront (Pitcher, Red Sox)
  3. Dellin Betances (Pitcher, Yankees)
  4. Travis D’Arnaud (Catcher, Blue Jays)
  5. Tsuyoshi Wada (Pitcher, Orioles)

Moore is so talented that no less of a baseball mind than Maddon recognized he was talented enough to kick off the Rays playoff stand last year as Game 1 starter after only nine innings of MLB experience beforehand. Doubront could be a major factor on if a turnaround season in Fenway really can happen. Japanese import Wada could be a very important factor in stabilizing the Orioles shaky pitching.

Finances

  1. Red Sox
  2. Yankees
  3. Orioles
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Rays

The Red Sox and Yankees battles on the field are legendary, but their battles at the bank are nearly just as legendary. The edge in the financial war goes to the Sox right now, as they have more needs that they are willing to pay out for throughout the year. Also, the Yanks have to be cognizant of not picking up many more big contracts so they don’t violate the payroll penalty feature of the new CBA agreement.

Leap Forward Candidates

  1. Brett Lawrie, Blue Jays
  2. Desmond Jennings, Rays
  3. Jeremy Hellickson, Rays
  4. Daniel Bard, Red Sox
  5. Sergio Santos, Blue Jays

Evan Longoria is the best third baseman in baseball. However, in a few years he may not even be the best in his own division, by no fault of his own. Toronto’s 22 year old third sacker is the truth, and he’s about to get his first full year to show it. Jennings showed why losing Crawford was more than manageable for the Rays, after hitting 10 homers and stealing 20 bases in 63 late season games. Hellickson has right handed Tom Glavine written all over him, and kept his ERA under three as a rookie in baseball’s best hitting division.

Impact Additions

  1. Michael Pineda, (Yankees from Mariners)
  2. Andrew Bailey (Red Sox from A’s)
  3. Mark Melancon (Red Sox from Astros)
  4. Carlos Pena (Rays from Cubs)
  5. Cody Ross (Red Sox from Giants)

Pineda was often the most impressive pitcher in Seattle a year ago, which is saying A LOT since he was following behind Felix Hernandez. But the 6’7 righty was often dominant, making the All-Star Game as a rookie. Bailey can relate to this scenario, as he moves east after being Rookie of the Year and an All-Star twice in his first two seasons. Along with Melancon, the backend of the Sox pen will tough.

 

2011 PROJECTION

  1. Rays
  2. Yankees
  3. Red Sox
  4. Blue Jays
  5. Orioles

Baseball’s five tools are hitting for average, hitting for power, speed, throwing and defense. And the Rays are by and far the best at doing a little bit of everything in the game. Top off their talent in the field with a manager in Maddon that can get the most of team consistently, and a team that will find more ways to win than any other in the game. They just play pure detail, intangible surplus baseball.

And it’s not that it will be easy though. The Yankees will potentially be a better team than they were a year ago. They’ll score a lot of runs and get a definite chance to win every fifth day on CC’s turn. But how will their revamped and rehabbed pitching staff do? They’ve tried to hit their way to the title the last two years, but have come up short.

Not much reason to think anything different will happen this year yet. It could also be a repeat story in Boston and Toronto. To the Blue Jays credit, they have continually gotten better over the last two years, and could be ready to take another gradual step this year by snatching third place from the Red Sox. However, last season very well still could be an aberration for the BoSox. There’s so much talent on that team, and some smart additions as well, it would be foolish to count them out.  However, it would be foolish to think that the perpetually backsliding Orioles will do anything different this summer, and I smell a fire sale of the few attractive parts of that collection coming up this summer.

If this year’s Wild Card rules were in play last year, three AL East teams would have made the postseason, and that very well could still happen this year. But in the end, the south (of the division) shall rise again. The East’s Florida contingent won in 2008, then in 2010 and in ’12, they’ll take home another title.

 

Don’t forget to check out both the American League West & Central previews from this week as well.

 

Next week, its National League forecast time during the last week of Spring Training. What does the Senior Circuit have in store? For the lead up to that, and reflections on this and more, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

It’s time to round down another year in the CHEAP SEATS, and that can mean only one thing: it’s time to make fun of myself again. In the sports writing/predicting/claim staking world, there’s a lot of chance to hit the ball out the park…or strike out swinging, tee ball style. Many folks like to cover those errors up, find ways to make them not seem as bad as they were.

Well not me. I embrace the foolery that I do here, because hell I’m wrong sometimes and deserve to be chastised for it first-hand.  The good thing here: I got better from last year, in 2010’s edition of this column, I was littered with an amazing amount of “WTF was I on?” moments. But luckily this year, there were less “Bengals go to the Super Bowl” predictions or the Rams will win once claims (although both of those clubs will reappear again in this year’s version as well, for opposite reasons). This year, it’s more about, good and bad ideas. And it’s safe to add a VERY in front of the bad.

Yeah, I can relate. It looked like I was on beer & pain pills too writing some of this. But I kept my gig.

However, you’ll get all of that here shortly, so without further delay, here is the Worst of the CHEAP SEATS in 2011, including some straight snores, overly ambitiously boring efforts and the usual awful predictions that have me looking the other way every time the topic is brought up now. Check em out and if you had some personal favorite awful things I did…well keep that to yourself! Trust me, I know already.

10. Touch Em All: Final MLB Preview (March 30): Man, I really believed in the Red Sox this year. I mean by reading this it seemed like they had already won the Series and it was a season recap. Well needless to say after an epic pitching collapse and fall off the map, I came up wrong here in handing them another World Series off the bat. I even tossed Jon Lester a Cy Young in the process. At this rate, you’d figure I may have predicted a Ted Williams defrost and mid-season return to grab his first ring too.

In my defense, there was no way I could have predicted that chicken in beer in the dugout would come into play either. But still, I’ll take my lumps.

9. A Passing Interest (July 27): This was a terrible idea from the jump: to write a prediction on where players would fit in…while ESPN was announcing where they were really going. Terrible, terrible idea. What’s even worse? Tossing in a byline like this…

Kolb represents one of the few long term fixes for many of the teams in need...if Philly lets him loose

I actually said & believed that. Yeah…moving right along.

8. MLB Power Poll Series (April – June): This was a good idea, in theory: Following each team in baseball, game-by-game, every week and showing how they are doing against each other with some analysis too. Oh wait, that’s an awful idea that took 4 hours to write every Monday.

7. NFL’s 10 Greatest Wide Receivers (August 3): This started off as a tribute to Randy Moss’ retirement, but quickly became completely redundant and about as anti-climactic as any of the Lineup series list could have possibly been. I believe countdowns should have some drama, and while waiting to see who got the nod for #2 between Moss and TO could is guaranteed to spark some arguments, #1 was pointless. I mean when Jerry Rice, at his position, is stacked up against anybody it’s over. A list of most exciting ways to tie your shoes would be better.

6. NFL Lockout Is Almost Over…But Is This A Good Thing? (July 20th): What the F**k? Of course it is? Moving right along…

Because none of this was a good idea right? None of it....SMH.

5. Bradford’s Big Debut, Outside the Numbers (August 16): In this piece, I championed Bradford beginning to master the little things and about how his performance meant a lot more than his numbers on the board. Four months and 15 games later, those numbers still haven’t shown up for Savior Sam, and not coincidentally, not many numbers have been put up in the Rams’ win column either.

4. The People’s Choice NFL Top 50, Parts 1 & 2 (September 16/19): This is usually a nice bit of debate piece over who’s the best in the NFL before each season. This year I took it a step further and let folks cast ballots on who they’d put in their top 50 for it to be more than just me. After taking in a number of ballots that were spread out all over the place (including a few that didn’t have Patrick Willis, Michael Vick or Ray Lewis on them at all), it became a mess of epic proportions. Next year I’ll stick to casting & posting my ballot maybe again. (PS: In a small victory a few weeks ago, I got the caster of the Ray-less ballot to admit the error in his ways).

3. CSP’s 2011 AFC North Fearless Predictions(September 6): I’m just going to leave the Bengals alone. Last year, coming off a strong season, they picked up TO and looked ready to go over big…and went 4-12. Coming into this year, they dumped everything that resembled that club, lost their best defensive player Johnathan Joseph, made no change on the sidelines and started a second round rookie at QB…and are a game away from making the playoffs. Me? I gave them a chance of winning a grand total of 1 game this year in this year’s preview. I give up, I’m skipping them next year.

2. Late Registration-NFL Rookie QB ETAs (August 10): This was a colossal exercise in foolery right here, mostly because I was proven wrong right away by the first possible suspect that could do it. After I humbly predicted it would be week 10 before Mr. Newton took over the reins in Carolina, he went out and threw for 850 in his first two starts…in the first two weeks of the season. Christian Ponder joined in the prediction crashing party as well, as did Blaine Gabbert. At least in Blaine’s case, it may have helped if I was right though.

I feel like he's been laughing at me all year now...or least for 10 weeks. My bad man.

1. You Gotta STFU…Tony LaRussa (September 28): This may be the worst timed piece in the history of the site. While it held some weight several times over many years, picking the end of September 2011 to tell Tony LaRussa to shut up and get out the way was pretty stupid. He’d only guided the Cardinals back from the grave and was in the middle of the greatest stretch of coaching his career ever saw. And that’s saying a lot for guy that might as well go stand in the Hall of Fame and wait for his plaque to come take his place.

The “STFU Series” is on point and is my way of straightening out the mess some folks make for themselves watching these games. But in this case I may have been better off taking my own advice.

At any rate, come back a bit later for the BEST of CSP, including what rounded out as my best works to date on a pretty good year in sports for the Cheap Seat Fan. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter at that same name.

Baseball has been no stranger to scandal at any point in its history. From the Black Sox throwing the World Series in 1919, the blatant segregation issue and the fight to breakthrough (and subsequent fight for Latinos as well), to various strikes and most recently, the steroid scandals of the last ten years. The league has been victimized by having many of its most prominent players being indicted viciously in the court of public opinion, and several others having the same fight in legal ones.

However, baseball has done a remarkably good job in fighting this element in every level of its game (whether this was done in good intention or merely for survival is a completely different subject…), but still has some that refuse to acknowledge they aren’t bulletproof and/or above the rules.

Enter Manny Ramirez

For years, he has been one of the most enigmatic, and controversial, players on the field for any club in the game, but the guy could outright destroy the baseball, so it was accepted in one degree or another. Well after he was popped for steroid usage two years ago, and suspended for 50 games as a result, he shortened up his leash considerably. However, it seemed that besides his still wacky character, he had cleaned up at least that part of his act….

WRONG.

Last week, Manny left his new home of less than ten games in Tampa Bay to tend to “personal issues”….and never came back. Shortly afterwards it was announced he had once again been tied to steroid usage and was about to catch the required 100-game suspension for this. As opposed to facing up to this issue, or even speaking to it, Manny decided to retire instead. This brought an end to a high-profile career that only Richard Nixon could’ve probably related too. But at least Tricky Dick got on the plane and saluted as he left. Manny didn’t even leave through the stadium’s back door, and a loud and constantly in your face career came to an ironic end; with a loud silence and disappearing act.

Too often Manny walked the line being being too much in a variety of ways, good and bad.

What does this say about the last 19 years in his time on the field, and just how bad did it slam the door on the future of that career around the game as well? Here’s my three takes on all that was, and now never will be.

1. THE FRANCHISE DEVOURER: Has there been another guy who has left a wake of destruction from stop-to-stop in any sport quite like Manny? What can’t be debated is if he makes his squads better on the field….he does do that. I mean he played a huge role in the Red Sox winning multiple World Series, when they hadn’t won even one since before World War I. However, was it ever worth it in the end? By the time he left Beantown, even his hero status there could save him from the Sox’s management, fans & even players wanting him gone like an STD. He brought that same curse to LA, who after he made a huge debut in blue and white, emulating with a playoff appearance in September, soon caught the disease as well. The symptoms this time included a 50-game suspension, followed by him returning as a shell of his old self (that still was bringing home around $20 million a year). Then the shell was passed along to the White Sox & Tampa Bay, where it flamed out, yet still had the same controversial element.

If that’s not baseball’s equivalent of any non-terminal STD, I don’t know what is.

 

Top to Bottom: Manny did more damage in a year and half in LA than any earthquake ever could.

2. NOTHING IS REAL…: The biggest question comes into what really was and what wasn’t. The cases of Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and most noteably, Barry Bonds, have shown that there is a great concern on the validity of anybody’s numbers in the most recent era of baseball. Even the accomplishments of the repeatedly proven innocent (Pujols, Howard, Jose Bautista) are questioned now. With the exception of Bonds, no player of the entire “Steroid Era” has done more than Manny at the plate. But put the Hall of Fame to the side (we’ll get to that in a minute), how does this impact the hierarchy of him in the history of game?

This was a guy that was approaching Ted Williams and Stan Musial-level accomplishments; and its all out the window. What it clearly does do is throw out one of the foremost careers of the last 20 years, which further destroys the credibility of an entire era of the game. And in a sport where history looms larger than any other, and is more intertwined with the current state of the game than any other, it damages the face of the game even more. It goes far outside of just hurting him; his selfishness hurts the game that has been, and is being, played.

Way to go kid.

3. HALL OF FAME: TEAM CAPTAIN:

And in the end...: Great numbers will be forever overshadowed by even greater scandals.

In the end, has there ever been clearer member of the “No Chance in Hell” list for the Hall of Fame? A lot of guys have strong cases against them, and both Bonds & Roger Clemens are making a push to be the biggest names on that same list, but Manny has taken poll position for one simple reason: it’s beyond a shadow of doubt he’s guilty. All the other HOF controversies have out clauses. Bonds can’t seem to get real proof to stick to him, even if he’s got OJ-level clues hanging around everywhere. Clemens has a world of good sentiment, despite the vultures that are circling on him daily. McGwire, Palmeiro, Sosa, even A-Rod & David Ortiz, all have time on their side at least. It plain wasn’t illegal when they did it, and it is more of a moral dilemma than a rules infraction. Even take it up to Pete Rose & Shoeless Joe Jackson’s classic cases. Pete owned up to what he did & was even honored, mid-ban, at a League-hosted ceremony of its greatest players ever. And Shoeless Joe has never had real concrete proof that included him of being in the know with the rest of the Black Sox.

But Manny? He’s screwed. He took an already shaky relationship with management, the media & fans and combined it by spitting in the face of the rules not once, but twice. And the second time he did it post-league wide crackdown. Seriously, can you be much more blantant than this?

The Hall of Fame clearly isn’t a character measurer, there are gloried cheaters & racists in it. What does do without fail is measure the play & impact of the game. And by Manny playing the game at such an amazing level, yet with such disregard for the times & place he held in it, he displayed the exact opposite of what a Hall of Famer can be in today’s game or at anytime in the future.

Over the past few weeks here in the CHEAP SEATS I’ve broken u each division in baseball, and shown who I think  is the best of the best from each division,  winners, player ranks and everything I could possibly think of in-between. However, with Opening Day less than 24 hours away, it’s time to bring it all home, with MVPs, injury red flags, playoff scenarios and finally, who I think is taking home the World Series this year. That, and a bit more fodder, in my final lap (hopefully of the victory variety, we’ll see about that come October) around the baseball prediction bases.

A DECK OF WILD CARDS…

National League: Braves, Brewers, Cardinals & Rockies

American League: Yankees, Twins & Athletics

Who does it? The Yanks and Brewers. The AL East traditionally supplies the Wild Card in the AL, and despite an impressive playoff streak by the Twins and an up and coming A’s squad, they aren’t better than the Yanks overall, and will have much better luck attempting to either dethrone the champs in the West or holding off the Sox in the Central. The Yanks will not take down the Red Sox, but won’t have trouble still winning 90 games, and being the second-to-third best club in the AL.

Their rivals may have reloaded, but A-Rod and the Yanks still have too much firepower to miss October.

In the NL, the Braves are a trendy pick to repeat as Wild Card reps, but they’ll have to face that revamped Phillies rotation a lot, and they don’t hold a distinct advantage over them in any match up. The Rockies are primed for revival after a disappointing 2010, but still have a four deep division that will make every night tough. The Brewers and Cardinals on the other hand play in the Central with the Astros and Pirates to beat up on, and a the most narrow talent margin between the top the four clubs of any other group in baseball. They’ll ride their new AL imported arms in Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum, along with a contract year Prince Fielder, back to the postseason.

The addition of arms to their power will place the Brewers back in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

World Series words later….

M.V.P

N.L.: Albert Pujols: It’s a safe pick to take a three-time winner who could easily have about six if not for Barry Bonds at the beginning of his career, but it’s a simple equation here. He’s probably going to be in (at least) the top 3 in home runs and RBI, and he’s playing before the most epic contract year of all-time. You think he won’t want to both punish the Cards for not getting this deal done early AND drive his solar system-level value up as hight as possible? Me either. He’ll take the honors despite being on a third place club. RUNNERS UP: Ryan Howard, Troy Tulowitzki

A motivated monster will man first base in St. Louis this summer. A scary thought for N.L. pitchers.

A.L: Josh Hamilton: What’s most amazing about him is that he won the award last season while a) winning with his second most valuable ability (average over power), b) he did it while being hurt for a month & c) he’s played in a lineup not as good as the one he’ll be in this year. I’m going with him to be the first back-to-back winner in the AL since Roger Maris in 1960-61. RUNNERS UP: Adrian Gonzalez, Alex Rodriguez

Cy Young

N.L.: Roy Halladay: Look, there hasn’t be a guy this much better than everybody else that throws the ball for a living since the Randy Johnson of the mid-2000’s. The guy is coming off of one of the best season’s in the history of the game last year (A perfect game, a no-hitter, 21 wins, 219 strikeouts against 30 walks). All in his first year in the National League. Now in his second go around, he could somehow be even more deadly. Scary. RUNNERS UP: Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw

A.L.: Jon Lester: For as dominant as Felix Hernandez was a year ago, this guy was nearly just as deadly. This season with the improved and healthy Red Sox lineup behind him, he’ll do even more than last year’s 19-9, 225 strikeout season. He could easily turn 4 of those losses into wins and lead baseball in victories this time around. RUNNERS UP: CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez

Lester's improved cast will move him to the forefront of all lefties in the game this year.

 

ROOKIES OF THE YEAR

N.L.: Freddie Freeman: This young Braves slugger is in the perfect scenario. Unlike teammate, and 2010 ROY frontrunner, Jason Heyward, he isn’t being counted on to produce at the top of the lineup. He’ll be able to sit back and hit around 6th or 7th and rake with members of the Braves impressive lineup on base in front of him. And also unlikely Heyward, he’ll take home the hardware at the end of the year. Whether he gets voted into the All-Star game this summer like Jason was in his first year…well that’s a whole different matter.RUNNERS UP: Craig Kimbrel (Braves), Brandon Belt (Giants)

A.L.: Jeremy Hellickson: He doesn’t throw the hardest, but also what he doesn’t do is throw anything straight. He threw nasty enough stuff to win multiple Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors last year, and even went 4-0 in brief stint in the majors last year. This kid was good enough for the Rays to trade away Matt Garza (who tossed a n0-hitter last summer) to make room for him, so that’s good for him to become the the third consecutive pitcher to win ROY honors in the A.L. RUNNERS UP: Dustin Ackley (Mariners), Desmond Jennings (Rays)

The Rays won't skip a beat adding Hellickson's nasty change-up to their rotation.

MILESTONE MARKERS

Derek Jeter-3,000 hits: While he’s built his legend in baseball played after September, he’s accumulated a pretty decent body of work in the first 162 of the season as well, to say the least. In the ultimate testament to that, with his 74th hit this summer he’ll become the 28th player ever to get 3,000 hits. He’ll join Honus Wagner and Robin Yount as the only shortstops to achieve this. In a bigger “Wow fact”, he’ll also become the first Yankee to ever surpass the mark. Pretty good. ETA: End of May

Jeter will add yet another honor to his prestigious career with hit 3,000 this summer.

Jim Thome-600 home runs: There are a select few that have eclipsed the this level of power production, but this summer the durable Twins slugger will join that group. Last summer he turned it up again & popped 25, which leaves him 11 short of the mark headed into this year. While he won’t be a full-time starter, he’ll still get swings & should topple the mark by mid-season. ETA: July

Mariano Rivera-600 saves: The game’s greatest finisher has a chance to become the second member of the 600 saves club this season. He is 41 short of joining Trevor Hoffman in this group, and if he reaches 43 he will become the all-time leader. If the Yanks keep enough games close enough to need him, he’ll have no trouble getting this done. Either way it’s just a matter of time. ETA: Late September

CLUB COOPERSTOWN

Barry Larkin: In a down year, usually a player may slide in that would have trouble otherwise. However, Larkin isn’t one of those guys & deserves the honor regardless. He’ll be helped by little competition, but he rose up to over 60% & all signs point towards the 1995 MVP joins the most select group in all the game. As one of the top 5 overall shortstops ever, he deserves it.

And finally….

FALL BALL and Winning It All

N.L.: Phillies vs. Brewers & Giants vs. Reds = NLCS: Phillies vs. Giants: The Phils have too much pitching to drop a best of 5 series, especially since they could drop Halladay & Lee twice if it goes 5 games. That’s too much for even the Brewers balanced offering.

The Giants have the experience here & like the Phils, have the ability to dominate the match ups on the mound, to take the W a series.

As for the NLCS, the tables turn in a rematch of 2010’s pairing, and the Phils return to the World Series for the third time in the last four years.

A.L.: Red Sox vs. Rangers & White Sox vs. Yankees = ALCS: Red Sox vs. White Sox: The Sox have too much balance for the Rangers to overcome. Their lineup can throw too many different looks at the Rangers, and have a strong enough rotation to withstand the Texas blitz on offense.

In what may seem like a shocker, the White Sox have what it takes to knock off the Yanks. They don’t have a better lineup, but have enough offense to last. The advantage goes to them on the mound, where they can throw a deeper rotation that could beat out the Yanks in a close series.

In the ALCS, the Red Sox can do what the Yankees can’t against the White Sox: pitch, especially late in games. When it comes down to the clutch, both teams have been here before, but the Red Sox have more talent & make a return to the Series.

WORLD SERIES: RED SOX VS. PHILLIES

The Red Sox looked to get better everywhere this wineter, and they rebuilt the offense to matchup with the Yankees. However, the winter of ’09 they planted they focused on starting pitching. John Lackey & Josh Beckett are two of the most prominent big game pitchers in the game, while Lester & Buchholz are among the most talented.

The new faces will pay off and the Sox will have to expand their jewelry collections even this fall.

Needless to say they’ll need them all against Philly, and both have dynamic offenses that will test them all series. The difference will come from the other side of the pitching mix, where Jonathan Papelbon & company are superior to the Philly pen & take the edge in bringing Boston a third World Series in eight years.