Administrative Note: This article should be considered separate from my ongoing series of division-by-division MLB previews. If you’re looking for my actual thoughts on who I think will finish where and what might go right or wrong, go read those instead.
Spring Training is a time for optimism. The grass is green, everyone is undefeated, everyone is in the “best shape of their life,” and everyone feels that if all goes right, they have as good a chance as anyone does of winning the World Series (unless you’re the Pittsburgh Pirates).
Well, I’ve had about enough of this. For every single thing that could go right for a team, there are two things that could go horribly wrong and send them on a death spiral into the divisional basement, so-to-speak. So, to counter all the overwhelming happy sunshine positivity coming out of every team’s camp, I am going to go through all 30 teams and tell you why they suck.
I’m not saying everything listed below is going to happen for sure. But no team is bulletproof, so let’s just plant those seeds of doubt in your mind early, shall we?
*Another note: if you are an overwhelming optimist who can’t stomach the idea of things going wrong for your team and have a convoluted belief that everything will perfectly fall into place and your season will be full of sunshine and rainbows and World Championships, you’re probably going to want to stop reading now.
Without further ado…
Arizona Diamondbacks: I’m not sure if y’all noticed, but you still don’t have a bullpen. This bullpen that you don’t have may well employ Mike Hampton and his 85 mph gas on Opening Day. J.J. Putz is all well and good as long as he’s healthy, but if you have a lead in the late innings, do you really think Juan Gutierrez, Aaron Heilman, and Esmerling Vasquez are going to get the ball to him? If you do, you should probably reconsider.
And how are you going to get a lead in the late innings, anyway? Your rotation is made up of a gaggle of castoffs and fly ball pitchers – and you play in a hitter’s park, by the way. Joe Saunders pretty much defines mediocrity, Zach Duke couldn’t cut it in Pittsburgh, and Armando Galarraga has an ERA of 5.06 over the last two years while pitching in a relatively pitcher-friendly ballpark. With that staff, baseballs will be leaving ballparks off opposing bats faster than illegal immigrants will be getting the heck out of that state. The Home Run Derby should just consist of your bullpen serving up meatballs to the willing participants.
Oh, and if you’re thinking about outscoring the other team, you’ll probably be carrying Melvin Mora, Juan Miranda, Willie Bloomquist, and Geoff Blum on your roster. Good luck.
Atlanta Braves: Your lineup looks nice and all, I’ll give you that much, but Tim Hudson pitched so far over his head last year and Derek Lowe is old and ain’t all that ace-y anymore (and he never really was one to begin with). Jair Jurrjens was hurt last year, Tommy Hanson had a down year, Mike Minor is a rookie… talk about a lot of counting on rebound years. And Dan Uggla is behind them playing horrible defense, too!
And really, I don’t care how good Craig Kimbrel was last year, you’re most likely turning your closer’s job over to a guy who walked almost six batters per nine innings in the minor leagues. You also have Scott Linebrink and George Sherrill, who were very deservingly cast off of their previous ballclubs. Yeah, you guys might be giving up a few runs.
And Chipper Jones will get hurt again, so there’s that. It’s almost a certainty at this point, let’s be honest. And I didn’t even mention Nate McLouth!
Baltimore Orioles: Oh, where do I begin? First, most of those prospects that were going to save you from mediocrity are the very definition of mediocrity these days. There’s still time to turn that around, but Matt Wieters certainly isn’t big baby Jesus at this point, and Brad Bergesen, Jake Arrieta, and Chris Tillman are just kind of hanging around as mediocre starters that were supposed to be really good by now. In a division with CC Sabathia, Jon Lester, and David Price, the closest thing you have to an ace is the good-but-not-yet-great Brian Matusz. Jeremy Guthrie? No. Justin Duchscherer is just waiting to get hurt again. Alfredo Simon is in jail somewhere. Mike Gonzalez was hurt last year, and when he wasn’t on the shelf, he wasn’t all that great anyway. Koji Uehara has yet to prove himself over an extended period of time as any sort of reliable closer, Kevin Gregg is always an adventure, and the other guys are nothing special.
But offense! Oh, it’s not as solid as you think. Vlad Guerrero hit below .260 from July on last year, including a disappearing act in the postseason with Texas. And he’s surely not going to give you anything defensively. Derrek Lee is on the downside of his career, J.J. Hardy hasn’t been much of an offensive threat since 2008, and Mark Reynolds will keep Camden Yards spectators nice and cool during the hot summer months with his repeated swinging strikeouts. Combine that with the fact that Wieters is still waiting for a breakout season, Nick Markakis, Luke Scott, and Adam Jones are good but not great, and that’s not going to get it done in this division, Orioles. Try again next year.
Boston Red Sox: OH THE RED SOX ARE PERFECT AND AMAZING AND shove it. Your starting catcher is Jarrod Saltalamacchia. J.D. Drew is a perennial disappointment. David Ortiz is going year-to-year trying to fend off the specter of age (and, some will claim, post-steroid status won’t help). 1-5 is good and all, but 6-9 might end up being worse than the Yankees, really.
Oh, but the pitching! What about it? Josh Beckett has been great in the postseason, but he’s battled injuries and consistency frequently as a Red Sox. John Lackey’s introduction to the AL East last year did not go all that well. Clay Buchholz is bound to regress. Daisuke Matsuzaka hasn’t come close to being a good pitcher since his 2008 season. And the bullpen? Jonathan Papelbon wasn’t in great form last year, Hideki Okajima is looking more and more like a washed-up LOOGY, and Bobby Jenks was basically run out of Chicago. It’s certainly not better than New York’s. Yes, Boston, you’ve got a pretty good team. No, you’re not guaranteed a thing.
Chicago Cubs: Well, first off, they’re the Cubs, so that should set off all sorts of red flags.
But really, look at that rotation. Isn’t it only a matter of time before Carlos Zambrano snaps again? And before homer-prone Matt Garza, whom the Cubs overpaid to acquire, gives up 7 in 3.2 innings with the wind blowing out at Wrigley? And before Kerry Wood breaks again? And before their unimpressive bullpen blows a few ballgames? And before Carlos Silva sucks and gets into a dugout fight with someone? (Actually, that already happened today.)
And does anyone really expect Kosuke Fukudome to improve? Or Alfonso Soriano to start living up to that megacontract? Their team defense is fairly poor. Their offense isn’t eye-popping. Nothing to see here, folks. Make it 103 years and move it along.
Chicago White Sox: Adam Dunn’s going to hit you lots of homers! And strikeouts. Just like Carlos Quentin, if he can even stay on the field. Then you have Juan Pierre, who would be a career AAA+ player if not for his speed, and Brent Morel, who’s unproven, and Mark Teahen, who’s not great, and A.J. Pierzynski, who’s not much of an offensive force, and Alex Rios, who hit .247 with a sub-.700 OPS after the trade deadline, and Paul Konerko ain’t repeating his 2010 again, and…you get the picture.
But their pitching! Sure, John Danks is good. But Gavin Floyd can never seem to take that next step, and since throwing that perfect game in July of 2009, Mark Buehrle is an unremarkable 15-20 with a 4.42 ERA. Edwin Jackson has never given us any reason to expect him to be consistently good, and not only is Jake Peavy’s health a huge question mark, but since moving to the AL, so is his effectiveness.
Nobody from the bullpen jumps out at you – Chris Sale, good as he was in 2010, isn’t guaranteed to be as successful again in 2011. Jesse Crain and Sergio Santos aren’t really top arms, and the rest of the bullpen that leads to probable closer Matt Thornton doesn’t jump out at anyone. So the White Sox are majorly iffy all over the place.
Cincinnati Reds: Congratulations, Reds! You made the playoffs for the first time in over a decade and reintroduced yourselves to America by getting no-hit by Roy Halladay in the Division Series, and then proceeded to roll over and play dead.
Are things really going to go that perfectly again, though? Are seven of their eight regular starters going to have an above average OPS+ again? Doubtful. Are they going to hit .272 as a team again? I wouldn’t count on it. And considering their pitching wasn’t ridiculously good last year, it’s hard to imagine them winning 90 games again. They did have the highest BABIP (.314) of all 30 teams last year, too. Regression is a terrible thing.
Cleveland Indians: Well, Grady Sizemore hasn’t been worth a damn since 2008, and Travis Hafner hasn’t been worth a damn since 2007. Last year, you had two primary starters that hit below .200. Shin-Soo Choo is really your only intimidating hitter. There’s absolutely nobody proven in the rotation behind Fausto Carmona (and Carmona’s always a threat to have his control fly away again). Chris Perez is good, though. Congrats on that, and congrats on another sub-.500 season. At least Carlos Santana is going to come back.
Colorado Rockies: Okay, Rockies. You’re cute and all, being mediocre for five months before remembering how to play baseball in September. Carlos Gonzalez shouldn’t be counted on to be that good again, and him and Troy Tulowitzki are all well and good, but there’s not a single fearsome hitter around them (Todd Helton doesn’t count anymore). You have a decent bullpen and an ace in Ubaldo Jimenez and a good young guy in Jhoulys Chacin, but does it ever get shaky after that. There’s a reason the Rockies weren’t good enough last year. They’re not really any better this year.
Detroit Tigers: Well, for one, your star first baseman likes to flaunt his alcohol consumption a bit more than he should, but that’s not it. Austin Jackson’s peripherals indicate a potential decline, they don’t have an established second baseman, Jhonny Peralta and Brandon Inge are unremarkable .240-.260 hitters, Alex Avila is unproven, and there are a bunch of injury risks. Ryan Raburn hit .200 into August last year and now he’s the starting left fielder. Rick Porcello may or may not rebound, Phil Coke hasn’t started since 2008, Brad Penny has an injury history and sucked with Boston, Joaquin Benoit got overpaid for one good season, and Joel Zumaya will probably die again. Oh, and their depth leaves something to be desired. If it all goes wrong, good luck with all that!
Florida Marlins: Hi Florida! Remember when you traded Miguel Cabrera for Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller? And now they’re both gone? Heh. And then you traded Dan Uggla for Omar Infante. That’s not winning.
You decided to overpay John Buck, who has had one good season. Your lineup is loaded with average players. Your closer is Leo Nunez. The other pieces of your bullpen aren’t much better. And you’re in the best division in the National League. Not a recipe for success.
Houston Astros: Not sure where to start here either. Talk about an organization with no direction. Your lineup is filled with prospects who never made it, prospects who haven’t made it yet, and Carlos Lee. Your bullpen reeks of mediocrity. Your rotation has Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, and guys who will probably suck. Just start over, Houston. You are going nowhere. OH WAIT, YOU PICKED UP CLINT BARMES AND BILL HALL. A-FREAKING-PPLAUSE.
Kansas City Royals: This isn’t worth writing. Your ace is Luke Hochevar. Try again later.
Los Angeles Angels of Californaheimistan: What are you even doing, Tony Reagins? Carl Crawford is a perfect fit for you and you pursue him in what can only be described as a lukewarm manner, and then you don’t even bother with Rafael Soriano. And then you inexplicably trade for Vernon Wells and his entire contract. Fernando Rodney is your closer, your bullpen is meh, your rotation is questionable in the back, and Jeff Mathis is your starting catcher. But nooo, you hate Mike Napoli and needed Vernon Wells and his contract to go with Torii Hunter and his contract and mess with Peter Bourjos and help block Mike Trout. WHAT ARE YOU DOING, ANGELS?
Los Angeles Dodgers: Well, they aren’t spending spring training on the steps of a courthouse, which is a mild surprise these days. Their marquee center fielder has all the talent in the world but doesn’t much care to use it all (no wonder Rihanna dumped him). There is a chance that Jay Gibbons will be one of their starters. Their rotation doesn’t compare with San Francisco’s. Neither does their bullpen. So their strong points are diminished by their chief rival. Not even Juan Uribe can save them now.
Milwaukee Brewers: Oh, look at you. You went out and got yourself Zack Greinke. You also got Yuniesky Betancourt, which might as well eliminate them from playoff contention. Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy aren’t much to write home about either. Can their bullpen hold leads? Can the back end of their rotation hold up? Can they overcome the fact that their ballpark looks like a glorified rec room? Zack Greinke ain’t gonna turn your entire team around, kids.
Minnesota Twins: Oh, Minnesota. You had such a fine year last year. But you have serious issues. You got a lot of career years last year on offense, and Jim Thome and Delmon Young might have a hard time pulling those seasons off again. Same goes for Carl Pavano on the pitching side. Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey are mid-rotation guys and Brian Duensing has pitched way above what you’d expect from him based on his stuff.
Of course, Joe Nathan is back, but as a 36-year-old less than a year removed from Tommy John, he may or may not return to form. And the problem is accentuated by the fact that the Twins lost five key relievers from last year’s staff – Guerrier, Crain, Mahay, Fuentes, and Rauch. They’re replaced by minor leaguers (Anthony Slama), journeymen (Dusty Hughes), and guys looking to rebound from injury (Pat Neshek).
Oh, then there’s Justin Morneau, who hasn’t even been cleared to play again yet.
But hey, Minnesota, even if you do still make the playoffs, we look forward to another ALDS sweep. Rites of October…
New York Mets: I could do an entire post on this, but I don’t have time. Their lineup is full of overpaid, underproducing veterans (Bay and Beltran are the poster children). Their rotation is sans Johan Santana due to injury. Their closer assaulted his father-in-law after a game last year, causing the Mets to unsuccessfully look into voiding his contract. They are still paying Oliver Perez $12 million to walk people. And they are in the midst of a financial crisis. Meet the Mess, indeed.
New York Yankees: Well, you didn’t get Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte retired. And now you’re stuck in the AL East with CC Sabathia, who is good, Phil Hughes, who faded last year, and A.J. Burnett, who is… we don’t really know anymore. After that comes unproven Ivan Nova, inconsistent Freddy Garcia, and overweight Bartolo Colon. Oh, and they’re going to be paying A-Rod more money than most people make in a lifetime when he is over 40 years old and probably terrible. But that’s for later. Yay Yankees! If all else fails, you still have Sergio Mitre.
Oakland Athletics: You play in a park that limits power, we know this, but your lineup does a good job limiting power in itself, as your best power hitter is an over-the-hill Hideki Matsui. The lineup is filled with meh, Trevor Cahill is bound for regression, Brandon McCarthy and Rich Harden are both broken, and the pitching you’re relying on is one injury away from being decidedly average. But hey, BILLY BEANE! HE DOES THINGS…RIGHT…RIGHT?
Philadelphia Phillies: FOUR. ACES. FOUR. ACES. FOUR. ACES. YOU HAVE TO FILL 21 OTHER ROSTER SPOTS, I AM NOT SURE YOU WERE AWARE OF THAT. Brad Lidge is still your closer, and it is not coincidental that the shorthand of Lights Out Lidge is LOL. You’re relying on chair-kicking Ryan Madson, 83-year-old Jose Contreras, 66-year-old J.C. Romero, and 58-year-old Danys Baez to get him the ball if the bullpen is called upon. Chase Utley’s OPS has been declining since 2007. Jimmy Rollins hasn’t been an elite shortstop for a couple years. Raul Ibanez is ancient. Shane Victorino is fine, but can’t carry a team. Dom Brown still has to prove himself. And Ryan Howard’s truly awful contract extension hasn’t even kicked in yet. BUT YOU HAVE FOUR ACES! It’s very brave of you go to without a bullpen this year.
Pittsburgh Pirates: You don’t need me to explain why you should be negative about your team. Moving on.
San Diego Padres: Congratulations! You have zero great hitters! Your cleanup hitter is probably Ryan Ludwick, whose power strengths are completely neutralized by your home ballpark! You’re relying on Brad Hawpe to remember how to play baseball! You need the ballpark to help out the back end of that rotation! YOU HAVE CAMERON MAYBIN PLAYING CENTER FIELD! NOT GOOD. Don’t expect a 2010 redux.
San Francisco Giants: Hi, World Champs. You have a great pitching staff, but how will you cope when Miguel Tejada reminds you just how old he is, Aubrey Huff comes back down to earth, Cody Ross stops being Babe Ruth, and Andres Torres fails to replicate his success? Buster Posey can only do so much, you know. Everything went pretty right for you last year and you almost ended up in a one-game playoff anyway. What happens when things go against you?
Seattle Mariners: Your team consists of Felix Hernandez, Ichiro, and crap. Mariners game tapes would make effective torture devices at United States military prisons.
St. Louis Cardinals: Well, first of all, Adam Wainwright is gone for the season, which means you’re relying on Chris Carpenter, whose injury history is longer than War and Peace. After that, the rotation gets shaky. Your bullpen is nothing phenomenal, and outside of Pujols, Holliday, and the occasional Rasmus flash, your lineup consists of slap hitters and Cubs castoffs (Theriot!? Really, TLR!?). Defensively, you’re putting a lawn chair in right field and throwing a Berkman jersey on it. And Gerald Laird is on your bench. Season over right there.
Tampa Bay Rays: Well, let’s see, Carl Crawford is gone, and so is Carlos Pena and your entire 2010 bullpen. Matt Garza’s been traded. Your bullpen was scrounged together off the free agent wire and a few trades. They are employing Kyle Farnsworth as their closer. Annnd they play in the toughest division in baseball. Ouch.
Texas Rangers: You’re expecting your pitching to be that good again? There’s no Cliff Lee here to bail you out anymore, by the way, and everything went right for C.J. Wilson, Tommy Hunter, and Colby Lewis, but who’s to say all that will fall into place again? Can that bullpen really be so flawless again? And, heh, we’ll see how that little Adrian Beltre thing goes…
Toronto Blue Jays: Okay, Jose Bautista. For your next trick, let’s see you do something even remotely comparable again. And the rest of your lineup is kinda underwhelming when you take the rest of the division into account, too. Plus your rotation isn’t as good. Plus you probably overachieved a bit last year. You’re on the right track, though!
Washington Nationals: Well, congratulations on overpaying Jayson Werth. You don’t have Strasburg and now you don’t have Dunn, so you’re just mediocre. And Livan Hernandez sucks. The world will find this out again soon enough. The lineup is mediocre, the bullpen is mediocre, the rotation is mediocre. G’luck, Washington.
Some of this is nitpicky, I know. Some of these teams are legitimately great, and you have to look hard for things that could backfire. But every team has a worst-case scenario. So next time you read another glowing account of your ballclub from Florida or Arizona, consider how likely it is you’ll be reading the same sort of thing in July or August. Baseball is back, which is perfect. But your team isn’t.