Sunday December 25, 2011
Jonathan Hacohen: Posted every Weekend: Your top baseball questions from the past week are answered. E-mail all questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, message us on Twitter and post on our Facebook Wall!
Let’s get to your top questions of the week:
Q: As things stand right now, who wins the divisions and Wild Cards from AL/NL in 2012? Steve
MLB reports: It’s not even 2012 and you want me to give you a sneak on predictions? Sure. I’m game! Which MLB teams will make the playoffs in 2012. I am looking at the crystal ball. We are going to assume there is still only one Wild Card team per league. I am finding it a little hazy at this point, but here is what I am seeing:
East: Tampa Bay Rays: Still the cream of the east. Nobody is touching that pitching staff, led by David Price, James Shields and company. The Rays could still add a bat or two before the season starts. If pitching is king, the Rays are royalty.
Central: Detroit Tigers. The class of the division and this one isn’t even close. Justin Verlander. Miguel Cabrera. Victor Martinez. Alex Avila. Full seasons of Doug Fister and Delmon Young. MLB should just hand them the division title right now and save everyone else the trouble. It is a great time to be a Tigers fan.
West: Houston Astros (just kidding…they don’t get their chance until 2013). Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Surprised? Me too. Most would expect me to say the Rangers. But with the Angels pitching and offense bulked up by Albert Pujols, the Angels get my vote. Jeff Weaver. C.J. Wilson. Dan Haren. Peter Bourjos. I see where the Angels are headed and they have the horses now to take the West. Their pitching is still stellar and with all that offense that is coming….a miracle will happen in Anaheim in 2012.
Wild Card: Texas Rangers. The AL West will go down to the last day of the season likely. With that offense led by Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Mike Napoli…Texas will be tough to beat. The difference will be pitching. Sure they have Yu Darvish. But I don’t think he will be enough to get the AL West title. But it will still get Texas into the playoffs again.
East: Philadelphia Phillies. Yes Ryan Howard is out for some time. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins are getting older. But Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels equates to an automatic division title. Book it.
Central: Cincinnati Reds: My pick for the second straight year. With the Brewers and Cardinals both losing key parts, it is time for the Reds to shine. A pitching staff led by Mat Latos and Johnny Cueto. The dangerous offensive weapons of Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce. Devin Mesoraco becoming the full-time catcher. 2012 will be a bright year for the Reds.
West: Arizona Diamondbacks. No longer a surprise, the Dbacks are loaded to make another strong run in 2012. On top of the returning team, Trevor Cahill will be a strong addition. Kirk Gibson has a nice mix of offense, defense, starting pitchers and a deep pen. The Dbacks are the team to beat in 2012.
Wild Card: St. Louis Cardinals. The 2011 World Series champions are back for more. While the loss of Albert Pujols and Tony La Russa will be devastating, Dave Duncan returns as the pitching coach. Carlos Beltran should pick some of the offensive slack, plus Adam Wainwright will be back from injury. With Wainwright, Carpenter and Garcia leading the rotation, the Cards should make the postseason.
Q: (a) Exactly how does the “bidding”, say for Yu Darvish work? Where’s that $54 million go towards?
(b) How will Fielder (likely) and Pujols leaving the NL Central affect the division? Lee
MLB reports: A two-part question for you today Lee, nicely done! (a) The Darvish posting fee ($51.7 million) goes to his former Japanese team, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters as a transfer fee. All MLB teams had a window in which to submit a bid for the rights to negotiate with Darvish. In that time, the Rangers submitted the highest bid. The Ham Fighters did not know the team, only the winning bid. Now the Rangers have 30 days to sign Darvish to a contract. If Darvish signs, the Ham Fighters keep the $51.7 million. If no contract, Darvish goes back to Japan for next year and can be re-posted in 2013. Expect Darvish though to sign with Texas and the Ham Fighters to keep the posting fee.
Now on to part 2 of your question. You are correct in your estimation, as Prince Fielder is likely to join Albert Pujols and leave the NL Central. The departures of the two stars means that the NL Central crown is up for grabs. As per my earlier answer, the Reds are now the heavy favorites to win the Central. The Cards will still be in it, as the return of Wainwright will drastically help the team. But nobody can know how the team will play without Pujols and its former manager, Tony La Russa. The Brewers could be in big trouble, especially if Ryan Braun is lost for any lengthy period of time. Prince Fielder did not get enough credit for the success of the Milwaukee Brewers. Now the team will have a reality check when he is gone in 2012.
Q: As of today, what are the top-5 rotations in MLB? Fredy
MLB reports: A great…great…great question. What a fantastic discussion point and source of debate. With all the cries about the lack of pitching in baseball, there are some fantastic rotations out there. Now, with trades and free agent signings, this list could change. But as of today, here are my top rotations in baseball (in order):
1) Tampa Bay Rays: Some teams may have a better 1-2-3 punch. But for overall depth and quality, the Rays are the class of baseball. David Price, James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson can run with the best of them. Then add Matt Moore, Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann into the equation and you have baseball’s best rotation. With even more good young pitchers coming through the minors, the Rays have an embarrassment of riches. A trade could still come through the pipe, but even still, the Rays are my selection.
2) Philadelphia Phillies: Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee are the most devastating top-2 starters I have ever watched in my life. They have the chance of being one of the best duos of all time, and that is saying a lot. Cole Hamels could be an ace for many other teams and is playing for his next big pay-day. Vance Worley had a solid 2011 campaign and should do much of the same this year for the Phillies. The 5th job will likely be between Kyle Kendrick and Joe Blanton, unless another move is made. The Phillies may not be the most complete team in baseball, but they certainly have one of the top rotations in the game.
3) San Francisco Giants: This team does not require much explanation. Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito to round out the squad. You would have a very difficult time finding a better top-3 when they are on. Cain is one of my personal favorites and one of the most underrated players in the game in my estimation.
4) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: My pick to win the AL West and a big reason is this staff. Jeff Weaver and Dan Haren are the foundation of the team. C.J. Wilson should be a great #3 on a team where he will not be expected to be the ace. Between Ervin Santana, Jerome Williams and Garrett Richards, Mike Scoscia should be able to fill in the rest of his rotation.
5) Atlanta Braves: I struggled with this one. I was thinking Cards, Reds and even the Nationals. While each of those teams had some top guns, it was their lack of depth that made them fall of the list. The Braves are my pick for having strong pitchers, but just the best depth in the rotations that were left. Tim Hudson. Jair Jurrjens (if not traded). Tommy Hanson (if healthy). Brandon Beachy. Mike Minor. Randall Delgaldo. Julio Teheran. Just having Teheran alone shoots this rotation up the list. They may not be the flashiest, but the Braves have a choice of starting pitchers that other teams just drool over.
Q: Will Ubaldo Jimenez regain his 2010 first half form? David
MLB reports: Is there a bigger source of frustration in baseball? The Ubaldo from 2011 looked nothing like the recent Ubaldo we have come to know. He will be turning 28 in January (in Dominican years) and should just be entering the prime of his career. I will tell you my gut feeling…and Cleveland fans, you will not like it. I have seen this pattern too many times over the years. Occasionally a pitcher goes through a dead-arm period, where their numbers and performance all of a sudden drops drastically. Through rest and a change in mechanics, the form can return. But that is the exception to the rule. Usually when a decline like Ubaldo’s appears, it means that there is an injury in hiding. I will be very surprised if Ubaldo regains his form overnight. I am looking at a crystal ball and my sense is a visit to Dr. Andrews in his future. This is a gut feeling, but a very strong one. It could be heartburn, but I doubt it.
Q: Tim Wheeler and Seth Smith for Prado or Jurrjens? Joe
MLB reports: Its a possibility, but I don’t see it happening. Wheeler is the real deal and I can’t see the Rockies moving him at this point. Smith is a useful role player and could blossom into a steady every day player, but I have my doubts. Between Jurrjens and Prado, I take Jurrjens if I’m the Rockies. A great pitcher, but has issues staying healthy. The key component in this trade is Wheeler. The former 1st round pick is highly rated and was terrific last season with 33 home runs in AA. Rockies say no, Braves say yes. But if it happens, it would be for Jurrjens also. Martin Prado is another useful player, but not a star and worth the cost of a top prospect.
Q: Which team makes the biggest jump in the ‘Power Rankings’ if they sign Fielder? Bleacher GM
MLB reports: Another great question! Prince Fielder will instantly help any team that signs him. But who will make the biggest jump…now that is a different story. I could see the Jays being stronger playoff contenders with him. The Rangers would be even that much more dangerous. But the biggest jumps would be based on a team with potential that needs to go the next level. My picks in order would be the Nationals, Mariners and Orioles. With Prince on board, I could see the Nats finally climbing from potential to contenders. The Mariners and Orioles would go from the basement to respectability overnight. Yes, Prince has that kind of power and abilities to make everyone else around him better. But the Nationals get my vote, given their emerging pitching staff and great young hitters. If the Nats sign Prince, we could be looking at the Nats in the playoffs by 2013. The Mariners are still far too behind on offense to become contenders and the Orioles are still emerging and integrating as a young team. The Mariners get the edge based on their pitching staff. But imagine Prince hitting between Harper and Zimmerman. Just the thought gets me very excited!
Final Question of the day: Here’s a good question, what was the one moment that made you realize baseball was your niche? Eric
MLB reports: I needed a week to ponder this one Eric. One of the most insightful and deep questions ever presented to me. I always knew that I had a deep love for baseball. I have read about the game and its players and studied the sport for most of life. I have always enjoyed writing about baseball, but never knew where it would be headed. In conducting interviews, I felt a good connection to the game and the people associated with it. But the true point when I knew it was my calling- now that is a different story. I would have to say when a leading baseball writer for a well-known baseball publication told me that he reads the site regularly and enjoys my work, that was the instance I felt that I had something special. When a writer of his caliber and experience was quoting my work and praising it, I literally had goosebumps. That was the defining moment in my career. From there, when I get emails and messages from baseball fans all over the world- it makes all the hard work very gratifying. I enjoy touching people’s lives and being able to deliver to them positive information and analysis on the game of baseball. Finding the right writers who had the same principles, work ethic and ideas was the key to the growth of the site. I definitely love what I do. I believe that people lead busy lives and time is precious. By people taking the time out of their lives to read my work, I have an obligation to provide them with the best baseball writing that I can deliver. It is an honor that I get to interact with as many baseball fans that I do as part of my role as a Baseball Writer. It is the greatest game on the planet and I am proud to be able to make contributions to baseball through my writing. Thank you for the question!
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Jonathan Hacohen is the Lead Baseball Columnist & Editor for MLB reports: You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)