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St. Louis Cardinals: A Trade To Fill Holes and Win the NL Central in 2011

As we know, the injury of Adam Wainwright has put the St. Louis Cardinals in a really tough position. What was looking to be a promising 2011 season is now looking to be one of disappointment. Adam Wainwright has been the Cy Young runner-up in the National League the past two seasons. According to the Wins Above Replacement statistic, Wainwright was worth 5.7 and 6.1 wins in 2009 and 2010 respectively.

If that’s not bad enough, Albert Pujols, the team’s franchise player and the best hitter in all of baseball, said that he will test the free agent market this coming offseason.

Although things aren’t looking great at this moment, don’t fret, Cards GM John Mozeliak. You’re in luck, because I have a trade that will solve all of your problems. I propose the Cardinals trade Albert Pujols to the Dodgers for Andre Ethier and Chad Billingsley.


Albert Pujols

Those of you who are still reading this may be scratching your head at the idea of trading Pujols. WAR had Pujols at 7.3 wins last season. His best all-around season by WAR was in 2003, when he was worth 9.5. Still, the Cardinals are in an interesting predicament.

As expected, Pujols wants the same “respect” A-Rod got with his $30 million contract. All evidence is pointing to the Cardinals not being able to afford “The Machine.” He supposedly laughed at the contract offers the Cardinals pitched to him a week ago. Last offseason, the Cardinals managed to lock Matt Holliday up long-term by promising to pay him through 2029. This likely won’t fly with Pujols, who will have the interest from clubs around the major leagues.

You may be wondering who would fill in at first base if Pujols gets traded for the two players proposed. Lance Berkman is a much better defensive first baseman than left fielder. He would relish the opportunity to play everyday there.


Andre Ethier

From an offensive perspective, few can outperform Andre Ethier in right field. His 2010 season was a down year, but still productive from the 29-year-old lefty slugger. What may not be factored into his offensive line of .292/.364/.493 from 2010 was his propensity for the walkoff hits. He has been the undisputed king of the walk off the past couple of seasons.

His defense is considered his weakness. While he may not be close to Albert Pujols offensively, he will get his fair share of hits and provide the Cardinals with a lefty bat. He costs $7.63 million in 2011. That’s much cheaper than the $30 million Pujols is demanding. In 2010, he was worth 2.2 wins because of his defense. However, he can be expected to be worth 3+ per season for the next four years.


Chad Billingsley

When fully healthy, Billingsley is a top of the rotation workhorse who is only 27 years old. He has a nasty four-seamer, cutter, curveball, slider, two-seamer and changeup. He would do a good job to fill the void left by Adam Wainwright. Billingsley costs $6.275 million in 2011, which is also very cheap compared to the salary of Pujols. He was worth 4.6 Wins in 2010, the best mark of his career. I can see him being worth 4+ per season for the next four years or so.


Trade Hurdles

There are two reasons why this trade may not happen. For one, the Dodgers’ financial situation may be worse than the Cardinals’. With the divorce of the McCourts, it’s hard to say how much money they’d be willing to take on. The Dodgers would only do this trade if they could be guaranteed to extend Pujols, which wouldn’t be possible if they didn’t have the money.

Trading away Albert Pujols may be considered GM suicide by John Mozeliak. In the end, he has to worry about his job security. While I don’t doubt the fans would take to Ethier and Billingsley, Mozeliak may receive the blame if the Cardinals’ season isn’t a success. If the Cardinals have a down year in 2011, he could use the Wainwright injury as a scapegoat and keep his job.

Overall, I feel that this trade would fill holes the Cardinals have and keep them in a position to contend for years to come. Besides, the team that gives Pujols a 10-year, $300 million deal will be as regretful as the Yankees are for signing A-Rod a couple years back.

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Shaun Marcum: One of Nine Key Players to Watch in 2k11

Shaun Marcum broke through in 2010. He finally suprassed 30 starts, albeit after missing 2009 entirely, and was a top 15 AL pitcher. With a nearly 4/1 K/BB ratio, a 1.15 WHIP, and less hits than innings pitched (in the AL East no less), Marcum showed he is ready for prime time.

Now, a year later, with the Jays in salary cutting mode after unloading Vernon Wells, Marcum finds himself a key member as a top three starter for the early season NL Central favorite Milwaukee.

Going from the AL to the NL almost always yields a substantial ERA and WHIP drop, but Marcum’s differentials should be even larger given his career six+ ERA vs NYY and mid-four ERA vs the Bosox. Facing Houston and Pittsburgh has done wonders for NL pitchers ERA’s for years, and this year will be no different.

The Brewers finished 14 GB of division winning Cincy last year, and a full nine games behind second place STL. The gap has been narrowed with STL simply because the loss of Wainwright should cost the Redbirds 5-6 wins off the top (not to mention the six+ WAR that Greinke adds to the Crew). Factor in Marcum and his 3.5+ WAR and you have yourself a race for the division. Hell, Marcum merely needs to maintain his K/BB ratio to go with 30+ starts and the Brewers will be in the race till the last week of the season.

The Marcsman flew under the radar last year in many regards, he didn’t lead the league in wins or k’s, he didn’t even pitch for a third place team, but he was pretty consistent in the toughest division in all of sports and now finds himself with even less pressure, going third (after Gallardo and Greinke) to start the year.

I expect a complete repeat of 2010 for Marcum, with at least 175 k’s to go with a sub 3.5 ERA and a sparkling 1.1 WHIP. Assuming he keeps his walks under 50 for the year, and he always has, the Brewers have a top three rivaling anyone in baseball, this side of the Phils. There is no team with three better righties than the triumvirate of Grienke/Gallardo/Marcum.



The Brewers have the second best offense in the NL, a top three rotation (after Phils and SF), a fantastic fan base who sells out games in September (I know because I was there). As long as the bullpen (which is question mark followed by question mark, especially when compared with Cincy’s pen) holds up, the Brewers will win the division.

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Jose Bautista: Biggest Question Mark of All, One of 9 Players to Watch in 2k11

It is hard to argue that Jose “Giuseppe” Bautista is 2011’s Biggest Question Mark. This is a big accomplishment. Josh Hamilton has won the award before, though his talent was never in doubt. Bautista presents easily the most difficult-to-surmise season of all MLB players in 2010.

Giuseppe throttled 54 jacks last year, more than any player in baseball.  His average was barely mediocre (.260), but still a good 20 points above his career number. His OBP hit .378, which was a solid 35 points above his previous number, but his slugging was the big jump, obviously.

A career .400 slugger going into last season, he added a full 50 percent-plus to that stat by slugging .617. His OPS was nearly 1,,000 (995) and his strikeouts were higher than ever (116). Granted, he walked 100 times, which nearly doubled his prior high from 2007 (68), but the jump from 12-15 jacks a year to 54, from 60 RBIs to 120, is about as unforeseen as any season any player has ever had.

He truly had the biggest jump from nowhere of any player, perhaps in baseball history.

Of course, questions abound: Did Giuseppe spend a lot of time with Victor Conte, Gary Sheffield and Barry Bonds?  Did he take the boner juice Manny Ramirez took back in 2009? Did Bautista partake in Edinson Volquez’s fertility drugs?  Does Toronto have some kind of food the rest of the world is unaware of?

None of these questions have answers and like Bill O’Reilly’s curiosity and amazement over the moon’s origination, some may never be answered.

Rest assured, there is no chance in hell that Bautista hits 50 jacks this year, no chance in hell he walks 100 times and no chance in hell he slugs .617. That is as lead pipe guarantee as exists on Earth.

The guy may rake 30-35 bombs, but if he hits 54, I expect a full shutdown of MLB offices while an investigation takes place.

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Surprise Teams By Division: American League East

For those of you who think the AL East is just too competitive for the lowly Toronto Blue Jays to do any damage, think again. General manager Alex Anthopoulos has been quietly putting together a nice team that will continue to be good for years to come.



If last season proved anything, it’s that this Blue Jays team can flat out rake. Jose Bautista set a Blue Jays franchise record by hitting 54 homers, which was also best in the majors. He will get time at third base this season as the unknown Travis Snider will take over in right field. At just 23 years old, Snider will be looking to put up some nice numbers in his first full major league season. I expect him to hit 22 home runs and to drive in 80 runs.

Another young slugger to watch out for is J.P. Arencibia. Although only appearing in 11 games in 2010, he made a name for himself by hitting two homers in his debut; I had him on my fantasy team that day. Hitting 20 home runs shouldn’t be too hard to achieve for this young slugging catcher over the course of a full season.

Two Blue Jays are coming off down years: Aaron Hill and Adam Lind. Both are still fairly young and have shown the propensity to hit in clutch situations. Aaron Hill should get his batting average up to his career average of .270 and still hit 25 jacks.

It looks like Adam Lind will be playing first base in 2011. Back in 2009, he was an All Star and was worth a whopping 3.5 wins as a DH/LF, which is extremely hard to do. While I don’t envision he’ll hit 35 homers and drive in 114 like 2009, he should hit high 20s in home runs and be just shy of the 100 RBI mark in 2011.

Yunel Escobar is still very young and has shown flashes of absolute brilliance at shortstop. The Jays only had to give up Alex Gonzalez, who was having a career year, to get him. Escobar, 28, has shown an ability to draw walks in his major league career. He could very well bat leadoff in 2011.



The Jays pitching in 2010 surprised many, people including myself. They had just traded away their franchise ace in Roy Halladay to the Philadelphia Phillies. To compensate, Anthopoulos traded Brandon League for Brandon Morrow. This ended up being one of the best trades of 2010, as Morrow fulfilled the potential people had been talking about from the highly touted prospect.

This offseason, the Jays traded away another 2010 breakout pitcher in Shaun Marcum to the Brewers for 2B prospect Brett Lawrie. This should not slow down the Blue Jays, who have no shortage of pitching. Ricky Romero will be the ace of this staff as he is becoming one of the rising stars in the game. Morrow will be the No. 2 starter.

Brett Cecil, the club’s No. 3, put together a nice 2010 in his first full major league season. Expect the 25-year-old southpaw to give more innings in 2011. The fourth and fifth rotation spots will be up for grabs in spring training.

I expect Kyle Drabek will win the No. 4 spot. The young pitcher came in the Roy Halladay trade with the Phillies and projects to be a solid No. 3 innings eater. The No. 5 spot has a number of options including Mark Rzepczynski, Brad Mills and Dustin McGowan. If McGowan is healthy, he’s the guy I want in the starting rotation.



The Jays bullpen lost two key relievers this offseason. Scott Downs will be with the Los Angeles Angels while Kevin Gregg will be with the Baltimore Orioles. Frank Francisco should be the Jays closer. They acquired him from the Vernon Wells-Mike Napoli trade. When healthy, Francisco is a productive major league closer.

The setup roles will be filled by Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch. Both are respectable as setup men, though they are not great options as closers. Jason Frasor and Shawn Camp will be on the team once again in 2011 looking to put up good numbers. Carlos Villanueva is a nice low-risk, high-reward option for their bullpen.

While the Jays bullpen may not be in the same league as the Oakland A’s bullpen, they have some nice depth and could be more successful than their 2010 counterpart.



The Blue Jays are projected to have an average defense. Lind will be playing first base, which is a relatively new position for him. Bautista will be returning to third base, which was a position he struggled with early in his career. Expect good defense from Travis Snider, Jose Molina, Rajai Davis, Corey Patterson and Hill.



While the Boston Red Sox are the clear favorites to win the division, the rest of the AL East doesn’t look as strong as it did in 2010. The Tampa Bay Rays are without bats and proven players. The New York Yankees have average starting pitching and bullpen. The Orioles have almost no pitching whatsoever. The Jays are probably the second best-rounded team in this division. For that, I think they will contend for a Wild Card spot in 2011.

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Danny Haren: 1 of 9 Major Impact Players to Watch in 2011

He has a career 3.66 ERA and a sparkling 1.19 WHIP to go with it.

Not yet 31 years old and a top 10 pitcher in both leagues at one point or another, Dan Haren has already proven his mettle. A typical year for Haren is a 5-plus WAR and 2011 should be no different, even with a fluky 2010 thrown into the mix. 

Haren had a 4.60 ERA in the launching pad that is the D-Backs yard, he allowed 23 jacks in less than 150 NL innings (before his trade and subsequent sub-3 ERA with LAA).

So, coming off a down year (for him), which was almost entirely due to an upped HR/AB ratio, Haren goes to a bigger yard and gets to face Seattle and the A’s  instead of the Rockies, so his ERA should drop below four once again.

His walk rate was stellar to begin with, the only difference between Haren last year and any other was the 285 BAA opposing hitters netted when facing the shaggy Irishman.

Everyone seems to think the Rangers will repeat, given their highly talented offense and defense. Heck, a lot of people pick the Oaks to win the division, even with an average, at best, offense.

If there is one team that can rival Oakland’s pitching, its the Angels. With Ervin Santana, Jared “Dreams” Weaver and Joel Pineiro, they already have as good a top three as anyone outside of Boston. But when you throw in Haren, a certifiable stud, you have the potential to shut down AL West offenses.

If the Angels have a downfall, it won’t be the starting pitching. Bullpen is another story, however.

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Carlos Pena: Players To Watch in 2011 (Part 2 of a 9-Part Series)

While most of his friends call him Carl, perhaps a change back to Carlos (along with a change of scenery) will help him forget about his 2k10 campaign. 

Carl’s season was a miserable one for him. He played through a heel injury without bemoaning his condition or making excuses for his .196 average. He was the leader of the Rays and a major clubhouse presence for the winningest team in the AL, but to say it was a down year is an understatement.

His jacks dropped from 39 to 28, his OBP dropped from .356 to .325 and his OPS was a full 100 points under his career average. To all of that he added a minuscule 1 WAR, which, for a power-hitting corner infielder in the AL, is pretty abysmal (to put that in perspective, Lyle Overbay had a 1.5 WAR and Daric Barton had a 4.9).

Perhaps equally distressing as his batting average was his defense, normally an area of strength for Carl. His -2.8 UZR and, according to fangraphs, -1 DRS ranked him in the middle of the pack, far from acceptable for a guy who is a dynamite fielder when healthy.

So now Pena moves to the Windy City and the Cubbies, a team coming off of an equally awful season, but a team with renewed hope and optimism under manager Mike Quade and stud hitting coach Rudolfo Jaramillo. Gone is Derrek Lee (and thankfully Ryan Theriot), and into the middle of the order slides Pena.

The NL Central has quickly gone from a garbage division with 1-2 good teams to possibly the most competitive in baseball, with four playoff caliber squads. The Cubs have as good a shot as any of winning the division, and if they do, Pena will be a major reason why.

I fully expect him to get back to his career averages, hitting at least .250 with 35-plus jacks. Questions surround the Cubs, from the health of third baseman Aramis Ramirez to the sanity of Carlos Zambrano. If Pena is healthy again, and he says he is, there is no reason to expect anything less than a major bounceback year from one of baseball’s good dudes.

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2011 MLB Preview: The Tampa Bay Rays Look To Continue Their Winning Ways

Although they won 96 games and the AL East in 2010, the Tampa Bay Rays have lost a number of players through their firesale this offseason.

This has given the spotlight of the division to the rival Yankees and Red Sox. First, Rays’ franchise player Carl Crawford became a free agent only to be swept up by the Red Sox. Then, their slugging defensive 1st baseman Carlos Pena went to Chicago’s southside. To add insult to injury, their All Star closer from 2010, Rafael Soriano, departed for their other division rival the New York Yankees.

Their top tier set-up man Grant Balfour became a free agent and signed with Oakland. They lost their other top tier set-up man Joaquin Benoit to the Tigers via free agency. They traded defensive shortstop Jason Bartlett to the Padres for two minor league pitchers. And finally, they traded their hot-headed ace in Matt Garza to the Cubs for seven minor-leaguers.

Given all of this, it’s understandable why the Rays may be overlooked by many in a division with no shortage of talent.

That’s not to say that the Rays are finished. Since the Rays lacked guys who could hit for average, General Manager Andrew Friedman has targeted two veteran Scott Boras clients in Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon.

Manny, 39, and Damon, 38, are both coming off down years. Manny is a future hall of famer with a flair for the dramatic. Both his bat and antics generate controversy. When all is said and done, he’s a productive major league hitter when he wants to be.

Traded away due to off-the-field antics, Manny will have plenty of opportunities to get revenge on the Red Sox. He is also known as a Yankee-killer and always brings his A-game against them. And Damon is a former Red Sox and Yankees player who will relish the opportunity to put his skills on display.

We should never forget the Rays’ best player and perhaps the top 3rd baseman in all of baseball, Evan Longoria. At just 26 years old, he should put up another monster season offensively and with the glove. Expect to see him hit for more power in 2011.

The voids left by the big-names that left will be filled by top prospects. A number of the names mentioned will probably be in the AL Rookie of the Year race. Desmond Jennings has been described as the next Carl Crawford due to his propensity to steal bases, hit for average and play good defense in the outfield. Although Matt Joyce may not qualify as a rookie due to his 77 appearances in 2010, he’s still shown he’s extremely talented.

Joyce can hit for power, play good defense in right field, and has good plate discipline. Reid Brignac and Sean Rodriguez are young, slick-fielding middle infielders who should impress in 2011.

While the 2011 Rays may have some nice offensive and defensive players, they are going to show their superiority with their pitching. David Price was a Cy Young award candidate in 2010, his first full season as a starter. Expect him to continue to improve.

Jeremy Hellickson impressed in his four major league starts in 2010. Some people, myself included, suggested that the Rays use him in the playoffs instead of James Shields. He is predicted by some to win the AL Rookie of the Year award. Wade Davis had an encouraging rookie season in 2010. I look forward to seeing his improvement as well. Jeff Niemann and James Shields are coming off down years and should probably be better in 2011.

A question with this team is their bullpen. Losing Balfour, Benoit and Soriano will definitely hurt. However, they acquired Joel Peralta, who showed a lot of promise with the Nationals in 2010. I predict he will emerge as their closer in spring training.

There are also two new names in their bullpen from Bartlett trade: Adam Russell and Cesar Ramos. They also picked up some low-risk, high-reward veterans in Kyle Farnsworth and Juan Cruz. Their other bullpen guys are either from the farm system or were in the majors last season.

The Rays may not win their division, but I expect them to contend for a playoff spot in 2011.

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Kansas City Royals Keep All Their Talent in the Minors: A Winning Strategy?

“We made it very clear that an area of focus to improve our team this offseason was our outfield. And it became very clear to us that we were going to fill that position with a right-handed bat, somebody that could play defense as well as somebody that could help us offensively and acquire somebody with tremendous leadership ability. With that being said, I am delighted to announce that we’ve signed Jeff Francoeur as our latest addition to the 2011 Kansas City Royals.”

—Royals General Manager “extraordinaire” Dayton Moore at Jeff Francoeur’s Press Conference


If this quote doesn’t tell how bad things have gotten in Kansas City, I don’t know what will. I mean, c’mon! They had a press conference for Jeff Francoeur for peet’s sake! This is all the while the Tigers and White Sox are holding press conferences for big names like Victor Martinez and Adam Dunn.

As I’m sure all you Royals fans already know, Baseball Prospectus has rated the Royals farm system as the best in baseball. Kevin Goldstein said earlier in the offseason that this farm system could be the best ever. How old is this guy, 9? In all seriousness, Reed MacPhail of Fangraphs wrote an interesting article comparing this Royals farm system to that of the 2006 Diamondbacks, which I think is fair.

For those of you who don’t remember, the 2004 Diamondbacks were one of the worst teams in history: They won 51 games.

The 2006 Diamondbacks ended up winning 76 games with limited appearances by the top prospects that made their farm so highly touted. Those prospects were Stephen Drew, Carlos Quentin, Miguel Montero, Chris Young and Conor Jackson. The Diamondbacks went for a more hybrid call-up approach and ended up winning 76 games. All of the prospects I mentioned put together good seasons in 2006 to help the team. Had those players not get called up, the Diamondbacks of 2006 may have looked more like their 2004 counterpart.

This makes one wonder what course would be best for the Royals. No Royals team in recent memory has won as few as 51 games. That’s pretty difficult to do. Here’s the 2011 Royals Projected Lineup:

  • SS Alcides Escobar
  • 2B Mike Aviles
  • 1B Billy Butler
  • RF Jeff Francoeur
  • 3B Wilson Betemit
  • LF Alex Gordon
  • DH Kila Kai’aihue
  • C Jason Kendall
  • CF Lorenzo Cain

Also, we can’t forget about Melky Cabrera as a backup outfielder. While this lineup may not be too hot, the pitching is even worse. Let’s have a look:

  1. Jeff Francis
  2. Luke Hochevar
  3. Kyle Davies
  4. Vin Mazzaro
  5. Bruce Chen
  6. Sean O’Sullivan

Aside from Joakim Soria, the bullpen isn’t too great, either.

I think we know how this 2011 season is starting to look. I don’t see why the Royals shouldn’t bring more of their farm system to the major leagues. I’m sure Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer would be instantly producing more than any Royals position player besides Billy Butler.

As for the pitchers, why not try out Mike Montgomery and John Lamb in the rotation instead of O’Sullivan, Kyle Davies or Bruce Chen? I understand that there are instances of players getting rushed to the majors and not panning out but I believe that if you keep a player in the minors for too long to dominate, they can become stagnant.

In 2007, the Diamondbacks went to NLCS only to lose to the Colorado Rockies. A number of the guys who were part-time players in 2006 became regulars in 2007. Major league experience at an earlier age can definitely help a player mature. If I’m the Royals, I say we let our AAA and AA farm guys play in the majors in 2011 to take the place of replacement level players.

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