Monday, April 08, 2013

2013 MLB Preview


I am a man who has hate in my heart.  In my youth, if someone ever asked me, “Why are you so angry?” I would blame my parents, my memories of whom usually involved overhearing my mother yelling at my father until he got fed up and started yelling back.

So it was natural for me to hate the New York Yankees, right?  I haven’t hated them all my life.  In fact I think my first favorite baseball player growing up was Don Mattingly.  But my rise through adolescence came just before George Steinbrenner began going all-in on Major League Baseball’s lack of a salary cap and bought his way to four World Series titles in five years while the Minnesota Twins couldn’t compete because they were forced to suck in a government-owned multi-purpose stadium.

To their credit, the Yankees have maintained that level of revenue and thus success for two decades.  But every fat lady is clearing her throat to sing the end of the Evil Empire.  Injuries to Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson to begin this season, plus the aging of the core powering this generation of winning, may be too much even for the vaunted Yanks to overcome.

The question has to be asked: Are the New York Yankees the most hated team in American sport because of their free-spending, win-at-all-costs philosophy, or because they happened upon a quartet of players – Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Jorge Posada – that developed into Hall of Famers together?  That core is slowly ceding to Father Time; this will be the first year without Posada in pinstripes, and Rivera, after suffering from his first significant injury in his career, will hang it up after this year.  If the Yanks grow old before our eyes and become merely good for the first time since 2008 (when they failed to reach 90 wins and missed the playoffs), it means that every baseball team has to eventually rebuild.  That would be great for haters like me … but it would also sap me of my victim identity, since the supposed unfairness of baseball’s class warfare could, depending on whether the organization is able to reload quickly, be exposed as a mere cycle.

As the Yankees are moving on down, however, the teams in Southern California are moving up.  The Los Angeles Dodgers are, without a doubt, now what the Yankees traditionally have been.  Guggenheim Baseball Management rescuing The Bastard Brooklyn Dodgers from Frank and Jamie McCourt’s juicy divorce like a child pulled by both sides of a bitter custody battle may be the best thing to happen to this franchise since the Southern California-weather-consistent days when the O’Malleys owned the team.

Guggenheim Baseball Management, the most famous member of which is Magic Johnson, became the best friend to a Boston Red Sox organization suddenly going through an austerity plan, bringing in Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford last August.  And now they enter 2013 as close to the Yankees in payroll as they used to be physically when they were back in boogie-down Brooklyn.  The $223 million in obligations more than doubles the organization’s previous record high.  This monetary muscle is the product of an obscene war between cable TV networks that eventually yielded the Bombers a new 25-year, $7 billion contract.

Where Time Warner Cable, the winner of the Dodgers TV package, got the money from, I have no idea.  I mean, of course it came from skyrocketing cable subscriptions, but they would have to average $3.57 billion dollars every year to fulfill that contract.  By the way, it seems very unfair that sports events are migrating from over-the-air stations to cable networks because teams and leagues can double-dip by taking cable subscriptions in one hand and commercial advertising in the other.  Pete Kotz of Village Media Group recently wrote that these humongous cable contracts to broadcast games may be creating a bubble, and I know you know someone who has at least thought about “cutting the cord” to cable or satellite service because costs are out of control.  I don’t know why Kotz singles out baseball, but the Dodgers’ TV contract, as well as the Texas Rangers’ 20-year, $3 billion contract with Fox Sports Southwest signed in August 2010 and the exact same contract the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Angles of … signed with Fox Sports West in December 2011, may be the tipping point that launches a backlash that may finally bring about something that should have happened a long time ago: à la carte cable.

Meanwhile, the teams don’t care; the Angels can use the money they’re fleecing off of dumb American cable subscribers to give Josh Hamilton the money he wasn’t going to get from the Rangers, and the Dodgers can “invest” their cash into players they hope will bring them a World Series title.  But the question – and what may potentially constitute the difference between how these teams throw their money around and how the New York Yankees do – is the players they spend their largesse on.  The Dodgers’ cavalry were exposed in Boston either as underachievers (in the cases of Crawford and Gonzalez) or pricks (Beckett).  And the Angels are fortifying their lineup by bringing in a man who slumped badly in the second half of last season and has succumbed to his addiction demons twice in recent years.

And don’t forget that the Toronto Blue Jays have also gone the free agent route, trading with the Miami Marlins in November to land, among others, pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson and shortstop Jose Reyes.  The sports analogy is: Toronto Blue Jays:Miami Marlins::Los Angeles Dodgers:Boston Red Sox.  The Jays must have gotten jealous that the Baltimore Orioles were able to bust through the Yankees-Red Sox-Tampa Bay Rays axis of American League East evil and went all-in just to show their fans they can compete in the most loaded division in American sport.

It won’t work.  And this fattening-up on players will doom the Dodgers to another year of watching the postseason on TV as well.  How?  Through my own proprietary baseball system, the Putative Unscientific Sabermetric Systemic Advanced Algorithm, or PUSSAA.  The PUSSAA gives me the regular season record of all 30 Major League Baseball teams, from which I will try and glean the World Series winner.  And yes, the records and statistics through the first week of the season were taken into account.  I may be late, but I am not stupid.  Herewith:

AL East: Until the Bay Rays sort out their bullpen situation, their continually replenished lineup will mash.  Evan Longoria will regress a bit because he became a father for the first time earlier this year, but Wil Myers, who was acquired from Kansas City, may be a Rookie of the Year candidate … I don’t know how the Yankees will do it, but they will.  They still have C.C. Sabathia, Robinson Cano and Mariano Rivera playing his last season.  They may lose the play-in game, but they’ll make the playoffs … Just don’t trust that the Blue Jays’ new parts will all play at their best like the franchise needs them too.  That contradicts my feelings that winning in baseball is largely tied to the size of your payroll, but I’ll predict an exception for Toronto until I see otherwise … Baltimore won 29-of-38 one-run games and 16 straight games that went into extra innings.  The regression to the mean will be a bitch, especially with an unheralded starting rotation … After abandoning Bobby Valentine for trying to clean up a clubhouse that was deemed out of control, the Boston Red Sox coaxed John Farrell from Toronto to try and mend fences.  He will, but not only will this allow the inmates to control the asylum again, those inmates won’t do much to improve the fortunes of a franchise that is in need of several years of rebuilding.

Predictions:

Tampa Bay Rays: 93-69

New York Yankees: 88-74 (Wild Card)

Toronto Blue Jays: 85-77

Baltimore Orioles: 76-86

Boston Red Sox: 71-91

AL Central: This should be seen as the Detroit Tigers dynasty days, although they could spend $75 million a year and probably win this division by at least ten games for the next half-decade.  The only thing stopping this team from winning it all was the main reason they lost the World Series last year in five games: Their bullpen … You could put the names of the other four teams in a bag and determine their order by blind draw; I don’t think they’re any good.  But if there’s a breakout team, it’s the Chicago White Sox, whose lineup may be on the wrong side of the age hill but could have the best pitcher in the American League in Chris Sale and the next great closer in Addison Reed … The Kansas City Royals are about to be MLB’s version of the Portland Trail Blazers: Smartly stockpiling young talent, then seeing that talent wither on the vine without any tangible success on the field.  General Dayton Moore fast-tracked the organization’s development (in order to save his job) by shipping Wil Myers to the Bay Rays for pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis.  They’ll fortify the rotation; now to see if the young hitters finally make good on their potential … The best free agent acquisition Cleveland made is getting Terry Francona as their new skipper.  But getting Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn won’t change a lick of a frighteningly nondescript roster … The Minnesota Twins still suck.  They rightly blew up their starting rotation last year; no one with them at the start of 2012 is hurling for them, at least not right now.  But this is still a team whose strength is in the farm system, even though there is a little pop in the lineup.  Could Justin Morneau be traded?  Will Ron Gardenhire be fired?

Predictions:

Detroit Tigers: 100-62

Chicago White Sox: 83-79

Kansas City Royals: 75-87

Cleveland Indians: 71-91

Minnesota Twins: 69-93

AL West: Howard Bryant of ESPN The Magazine had an excellent column about how the Texas Rangers are a team in flux, especially after clubhouse leader Michael Young left for Philadelphia.  These guys could implode and cost Ron Washington his job.  But Yu Darvish is about to step up as a great hurler, and somehow class irritant A.J. Pierzynski will toughen up this ballclub to yet another division title … The Angels landed Josh Hamilton, but did you know that Angels Stadium is more of a pitchers’ park than a batters’ like Rangers Ballpark?  They’ll make the playoffs since they have Hall of Famer-to-be Mike Trout, but the back end of the rotation scares me … Oakland overachieved; they have to, so long as they play in a stadium they have to share with the equally flinty Raiders.  But Moneyball has been overrated as a concept and a way to operate an organization for a long time, and they’ll finish out of the, shall we say, money this year … I’ve got nothing on the Seattle Mariners.  That’s because the Mariners have nothing, besides Felix Hernandez, whom they’ll have to keep in order to keep the franchise relevant in Seattle … Oof!  After hearing them be one out away from getting perfected by Darvish, I now understand why so many people predict the Houston Astros will be the worst team in the majors.  Hope the lumps are worth it now, but if this were football or even basketball, I can see this team getting good before I die.  The chances that the ‘Stros make it back into the playoffs before 2050 is about 50-50.

Predictions:

Texas Rangers: 90-72

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Angels of Los Angeles Angels Of Anaheim Angels Of … : 88-74 (Wild Card)

Oakland Athletics: 79-83

Seattle Mariners: 72-90

Houston Astros: 50-112

NL East: The Bastard Montreal Expos – OK, the Washington Nationals – may be the most complete team in the pros.  But I can’t get over the fact the organization shut down Stephen Strasburg last year.  That may have been their best chance ever to win a World Series.  Bad karma alone could (should?) prevent them from ever winning one.  The window’s still open wide, but this contender does have a problem that is more than cosmic: It has more starters with injury histories than most others, and they all can’t stay pain-free all year … Is anybody willing to give the Philadelphia Phillies a chance?  They get Michael Young from Texas, which should provide a veteran presence to an already veteran-laden team, and if Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay bounce back from subpar 2012’s, they can win a lot of low-scoring games.  There has to be a surprise team in the playoffs, and I’ll take the Fightins’ … Unfortunately that means someone in the division has to pay, and that’ll be the Atlanta Braves.  So far so good for the joining of the Upton brothers, B.J. and Justin, but can Jason Heyward be the wunderkind he was his rookie year, and can Craig Kimbrel lead an awesome bullpen like he did last year? … Really sad that Johan Santana is lost for the year, and maybe for good.  But it’s very, for lack of a better word, courageous that the New York Mets are seriously going through rebuilding plans in the nation’s biggest TV market.  Ike Davis may be the team’s best asset, but watch out for pitcher Matt Harvey … It’s a goddamn crime that Jeffrey Loria lied and pressured Miami into giving him a new stadium the city will be paying for for decades, only to trade away all the good players in a bait-and-switch fire sale and pocketing the money he won’t have to pay in salary for the next several years.  I don’t care if the rookies on this team and in this system are going to be good in the future; I hope his team loses for the rest of his lifetime.

Predictions:

Washington Nationals: 110-52

Philadelphia Phillies: 87-75 (Wild Card)

Atlanta Braves: 80-82

New York Mets: 73-89

Miami Marlins: 60-102

NL Central: The difference in the division will be, of all people, Shin-Soo Choo.  He will give the Cincinnati Reds what they lacked last year: A place-setter at the time of their lineup.  That will mean a world of difference for this team … The St. Louis Cardinals always seem to have the right blend of veterans and newcomers.  But can Pete Kozma make up for the loss of Lance Berkman, who’s now with the Rangers? … It’ll be so damn cruel if the Pittsburgh Pirates finish below .500 for a 21st consecutive year.  But where’s the pitching?  Too bad; Andrew McCutchen may be this generation’s Tim Raines, a great player stuck playing anonymously without enjoying a postseason … The turnaround team this year could be the Chicago Cubs.  Theo Epstein’s moves have already borne fruit, as evidenced by Anthony Rizzo.  Starlin Castro will continue to improve, and the Cubbies may have found their ace in Jeff Samardzija.  But yeah, about Carlos Marmol and that toxic waste dump in the bullpen. … Ryan Braun got pinched in another performance-enhancing drug scandal again this off-season.  The allegations have to catch up to him some time, right?  And even if they don’t and he has another monster season, who else besides ace Yovani Gallardo will be great on the Milwaukee Brewers?

Predictions:

Cincinnati Reds: 91-71

St. Louis Cardinals: 86-76 (Wild Card)

Pittsburgh Pirates: 80-82

Chicago Cubs: 80-82

Milwaukee Brewers: 74-88

NL West: The world champion San Francisco Giants are back largely intact … and that should spell trouble for the rest of the league.  If the pitching holds up – and that could be iffy, especially with Tim Lincecum – we might be talking about a dynasty … The Arizona Diamondbacks’ rebuilding might be ahead of schedule, but this could be a damn good team for years to come.  Brandon McCarthy might be the stabilizing force the rotation needs, and Adam Eaton could be MLB’s next great hitter … Like I said, it’s the players the L.A. Dodgers are paying that I’m worried about.  This has “expensive bust” written all over it … The Colorado Rockies have bottomed out, I’m certain of it.  They still don’t have much of a pitching staff, but they still have Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler.  The lineup may bring about a return of the Go-Go Rox of old … Petco Park may be the pitching-friendliest park in Major League Baseball, and yet the San Diego Padres pitchers could be so bad that it might not matter.  Two of their starters are Edinson Volquez, who washed out with the Reds because he walked too many batters, and Jason Marquis, who was so bad he was cut mid-season by the Twins – the Twins!!!

Predictions:

San Francisco Giants: 99-63

Arizona Diamondbacks: 85-77

Los Angeles Dodgers: 81-81

Colorado Rockies: 73-89

San Diego Padres: 67-95

American League Predictions:

Wild Card: Angels over Yankees

Division: Tigers over Angels in 5; Bay Rays over Rangers in 3

Championship: Bay Rays over Tigers in 7

National League Predictions:

Wild Card: Phillies over Cardinals

Division: Nationals over Phillies in 3; Reds over Giants in 5

Championship: Reds over Nationals in 7

When I began this column I had no idea I would have the Reds winning it all.  Hey, that’s baseball for ya.

World Series prediction: Reds over Bay Rays in 5

Posted by WilliamSou at 2:32 AM

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