Tag:Brett Wallace
Posted on: February 9, 2012 4:51 pm
Edited on: February 27, 2012 10:47 am
 

Spring position battles: National League Central



By C. Trent Rosecrans


The National League Central is often looked down upon, but it produced both teams in the National League Championship Series last year, as well as the World Series. Both the Cardinals and Brewers have large voids in their lineup due to free agency, but all the teams have some questions when pitchers and catchers report to camp. Here's the NL Central spring position battles:

Chicago Cubs
Old vs. Young: Bryan LaHair and Marlon Byrd vs. Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson

For so long the Cubs' motto has been "wait 'til next year" -- that may have been changed to "wait 'til a couple of years" as Theo Epstein has fully embraced the rebuilding effort. The question is whether the braintrust thinks it's better for some of their younger players to learn at the big-league level or continue in the minors. The two biggest choices will be Rizzo and Jackson. Rizzo, 22, struggled in his call-up last season, hitting .141/.281/.242 with a homer in 153 plate appearances, but that was as a 21-year-old in San Diego. LaHair may only have 65 games in the big leagues, but that doesn't make him young -- just inexperienced. LaHair turned 29 in November and spent eight years in the minors. He hit .288/.377/.508 in his 20 games with the Cubs last season, but he's hardly anyone's idea of a long-term solution. Epstein drafted Rizzo while with the Red Sox and then traded for him when he took over the Cubs. It's Rizzo's job to lose. Meanwhile, Byrd is in the last season of his three-year, $15 million contract, so he's more likely to get traded than to be unseated in spring. The 23-year-old Jackson put up a .297/.388/.551 line at Triple-A Iowa with 10 homers in just 48 games after being called up from Double-A. The team's first-round pick in the 2009 draft will have a chance to show he's big-league ready. If the team does go with Rizzo and Jackson, it could be a sign of the team's future and the patience that Chicago will show going forward.

Cincinnati Reds
Left field: Chris Heisey vs. Ryan Ludwick

The Reds signed Ludwick to a bargain deal, hoping he can find the stroke he left in St. Louis. The 33-year-old has always hit well at Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park, putting up a .276/.321/.600 stat line with nine homers in 30 games and 112 plate appearances in his new home park. Both Ludwick and Heisey are right-handed batters who fare better against right-handed pitchers. Ludwick is a career .272/.339/.464 hitter against righties and .237/.316/.435 against lefties. Heisey's split is more extreme -- .288/.346/.539 against right-handers and .180/.248/.300 against lefties. One thing that helps Ludwick's case may be Heisey's strength as a pinch-hitter. Last year the 27-year-old Heisey hit .324/.333/.529 with two homers as a pinch-hitter. There's another option here, as well. If Drew Stubbs struggles at the plate, Hesiey could be an option to play center alongside Ludwick in left. That's a remote possibility, though. The Reds are high on Stubbs' power/speed combination and he is an excellent defender in center.

Houston Astros
Third base: Brett Wallace vs. Chris Johnson vs. Jimmy Paredes

The fact that the Astros are looking to move Wallace to third base may tell you what they think of Johnson and Paredes. If Wallace shows he can play third, he's the likely favorite. Johnson struggled in 2011 after showing promise in 2010. Paredes hit .286/.320/.393 after taking over the position for the last two months of the season, but he's not seen as a long-term solution. Wallace could be.

Milwaukee Brewers
First base: Mat Gamel vs. himself

With Ryan Braun's status resolved, the Brewers don't really have many question marks. All five starters return, as do its closer and top set-up man. The lineup, with a platoon of Carlos Gomez and Nyjer Morgan and newcomer Aramis Ramirez at third base seems pretty much set -- barring injury. The only hole is a big one -- the one left by first baseman Prince Fielder. The position is Mat Gamel's to lose. The 26-year-old played in just 10 games last season, getting 27 plate appearances. His only extensive big-league experience came in 2009 when he hit .242/.338/.422 with five homers, primarily playing third base. However, he's never been able to establish himself and after playing both third base and the outfield, he played primarily first base at Triple-A Nashville last season, while making six errors in 20 games at third base. He's a first baseman now and a first baseman only. He's hit  well at Triple-A, hitting .301/.374/.512 in parts of four seasons at the top level of the minors, hitting 28 home runs for Nashville last season. Gamel will probably start at first on opening day even if he struggles in spring, but right fielder Corey Hart could be used at first if Gamel struggles even more. The team did sign Japanese outfield Norichika Aoki, who could play right if Hart moves to first.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Third base: Pedro Alvarez vs. Casey McGehee

Acquiring the veteran McGehee from Milwaukee could be seen as a kick in the pants for the second-overall pick of the 2008 draft. Alvarez hit just .191/.272/.289 in 74 games last season and the team may be getting worried about whether he'll ever develop into the star as expected. McGehee is coming off a rough season of his own, hitting just .223/.280/.346 with 13 homers after hitting 23 homers and 104 RBI in 2010. McGehee was replaced by Jerry Hairston Jr. at third base during the playoffs and by former Pirate Aramis Ramirez after the season.

St. Louis Cardinals
Second base: Skip Schumaker vs. Daniel Descalso vs. Tyler Greene

General manager John Mozeliak has insinuated he'd like to see Greene win the job. The 28-year-old has yet to produce at the level expected of him, hitting just .218/.307/.313 in 150 games and 359 plate appearances. Descalso filled in for the injured David Freese last season and responded with a .264/.334/.353 line, while Schumaker is the incumbent having hit .283/.333/.351 while starting 89 games at second, but none in the World Series. All three have some positional versatility.

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Posted on: February 8, 2012 12:47 pm
 

Astros will experiment with Wallace at third

Brett Wallace

By C. Trent Rosecrans


Moving to third base is the new black.

Kevin Youkilis did it last year, the Tigers say they'll do it with Miguel Cabrera, the Marlins hope Hanley Ramirez will do it -- and now the Astros want Brett Wallace to move across the infield as well, according to Zachary Levine of the Houston Chronicle.

Wallace, drafted as a third baseman by the Cardinals in 2008, hasn't played anywhere but first base since coming up with the Astros in 2010. But the Astros have Carlos Lee's $18.5 million contract at first base for one more year before they could actually use him as a designated hitter in their move to the American League. By that time, though, the Wallace experiment at third base will likely have failed and Wallace can play first (or DH) and Lee will be somewhere else making much less money.

Wallace, 25, has hardly lived up to expectations since the Astros traded fellow prospect Anthony Gose to Toronto for the left-handed hitter. Wallace was traded twice in a year and five days, first by the Cardinals to Oakland for Matt Holliday and then to Toronto for Michael Taylor. Since being called up in 2010, Wallace has managed to hit just .248/.323/.354 with seven home runs in 537 plate appearances. Last season he hit .259/.334/.369 with five homers in 115 games.

Wallace hasn't played third base since 2009, when he played 52 games at the position for the Cardinals' Triple-A team in Memphis. Toronto and Houston never used him at third.

Levine writes that Astros general manager Jeff Lunhow, who drafted Wallace for the Cardinals in 2008, said Wallace has been taking ground balls at third base this offseason and will continue to play there in the spring.

The Astros hardly have Mike Schmidt or George Brett in waiting at the hot corner, as the other candidates for third base are Jimmy Paredes and Chris Johnson.

Johnson, 27, started 98 games at third base for the Astros last season, hitting .251/.291/.378 with seven home runs in 107 games and 405 plate appearances. Paredes, 23, played 46 games for Houston last season, hitting .286/.320/.393 with two homers in 179 plate appearances. Paredes hit.270/.300/.426 with 10 home runs in 93 games at Double-A Corpus Christi before being called up to Houston.

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Posted on: December 22, 2011 10:57 am
 

Homegrown Team: St. Louis Cardinals

Albert Pujols

By C. Trent Rosecrans


What if players were only permitted to stay with the team that originally made them a professional? No trades, no Rule-5 Draft, no minor or major league free agency ... once you are a professional baseball player, you stay in that organization. This series shows how all 30 teams would look. We give you: Homegrown teams. To view the schedule/past entries of this feature, click here.

While most of the teams on our list would love a do-over for 2011 -- or at least part of it, the season somehow worked out pretty well for the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that took advantage of an epic collapse and capitalized upon its chance by winning the World Series. The moves made by both the current management team and former executives, all worked out for one glorious season in St. Louis, so it's another example of why the exercise is for fun only. But there's one thing our Homegrown Cardinals have that the 2012 version doesn't -- Albert Pujols

Lineup

1. Jon Jay, RF
2. Placido Polanco, 3B
3. Albert Pujols, 1B
4. Allen Craig, LF
5. Colby Rasmus, CF
6. Yadier Molina, C
7. Brendan Ryan, SS
8. Skip Schumaker, 2B

Starting Rotation

1. Dan Haren
2. Jaime Garcia
3. Kyle McClellan
4. Chris Narveson
5. Lance Lynn

Bullpen

Closer - Chris Perez
Set up - Mitchell Boggs, Fernando Salas, Luke Gregerson, Blake Hawksworth, Eduardo Sanchez

Notable Bench Players

The bench has some interesting players -- you have defensive replacements in Jack Wilson and Coco Crisp, some pop in Brett Wallace, J.D. Drew and Rick Ankiel, as well as some versatility in Daniel Descalso. Daric Barton's there, too, but not sure where or when he'd ever play considering Pujols is still a Cardinal here.

What's Good?

Any lineup with Pujols is not bad -- but it's not overwhelming, either. While lacking some of the firepower from Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman, there are still some passable players. While there's no Chris Carpenter or Adam Wainwright, there is Dan Haren and the top two of the rotation are good. The strength of this team -- and Tony La Russa would certainly love this -- is the bullpen. Not only are their Cardinals holdovers of Motte, Boggs, Salas and Sanchez, you also add Perez, Gergerson and Hawksowrth, giving this team plenty of relief options. 

What's Not?

After the top two in the rotation, the rest are pretty pedestrian. McClellan is not only in the rotation -- where he started in 2011 -- but he's also going to be either a No. 3 or No. 4. The outfield isn't terrible, but when you take away Berkman and Holliday, it's going to pale in comparison.

Comparison to real 2011

Let's just get to the point, the margin for error for the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals was razor thin, but they stayed on the right side of it just enough to go on to one of the most exciting, improbable runs of all time to capture the World Series title. There is no way this hypothetical team could do anything close to what the real Cardinals did. The offensive firepower isn't the same and there's no Chris Carpenter. No, this team doesn't just fail to win the World Series or make the playoffs, it fails to reach .500 and probably finishes in the bottom half of our made-up NL Central.

Next: Ranking the Homegrown teams.

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Posted on: November 19, 2011 1:46 pm
Edited on: November 20, 2011 11:56 am
 

Astros' Brett Wallace released by Dominican team

Brett WallaceBy C. Trent Rosecrans

The Astros' struggles on the field didn't end when the 2011 season was over, as first baseman Brett Wallace was released by Dominican Winer League team Leones del Escogido this week, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Wallace played in 20 games for Escogido, hitting just .173/.366/.327 with two home runs, going 9 for 52 overall with 16 walks and 16 strikeouts. He hasn't played since recording a sacrifice fly for Leones on Nov. 13. The team also has the Giants' Brandon Belt as a first baseman. Belt is hitting .312/.405/.495 with three home runs in 26 games.

Former big-leaguer Moises Alou is Escogido's general manager. 

Wallace hit .259/.334/.369 with five home runs in 115 games for the Astros in 2011. The former first-round pick of the Cardinals was sent to A's in 2009 as part of the trade that brought St. Louis Matt Holliday. He was later sent to Toronto and finally to Houston in return for another prospect, Anthony Gose, in 2010.

The Astros sent Wallace to the minor leagues in August, where he hit well at Triple-A Oklahoma City, after losing the first base job to Carlos Lee.

His winter league performance won't hurt his standing with the team, general manager Ed Wade told the Chronicle, but it can't help his confidence going into 2012.

"He has to come in and win a job," Wade told the newspaper. "Same as if he had hit .400."

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Posted on: September 3, 2011 2:20 pm
 

Wallace, Johnson back with Astros, won't start

Wallace

By Evan Brunell

The Opening Day starters at first and third base for the Astros are back after being demoted to Triple-A, but Chris Johnson and Brett Wallace (pictured) aren't reclaiming their starting spots, as Carlos Lee and Jimmy Paredes have impressed in the interim.

“Those guys have been playing pretty well,” manager Brad Mills told the Houston Chronicle. “They deserve to get the bulk of the time. That’s not saying that CJ and Wally aren’t going to play. At the same time, those guys are doing a real good job.”

Johnson, son of Red Sox first base coach Ron Johnson, grabbed the third base job in Houston on the strength of a strong 2010 but couldn't keep the good times going this year, struggling with a .245/.286/.373 line before being demoted. Johnson wasn't a heralded prospect prior to his ascension to the majors, but expected more of himself after slashing .308/.337/.481 with 11 homers in 362 plate appearances last season.

“It was the first time of my life getting sent down playing baseball,” Johnson said. “It was definitely tough. I just basically told myself I’m not going to let this one bump in the road ruin my career. So I got back on the horse, worked hard, worked on some of the things I needed to work on, and now I’m back.”

In lieu of Johnson, Paredes is the man at third. A former Yankee who came over with Mark Melancon in the Lance Berkman deal, the 22-year-old is hitting .308/.348/.452 in 113 plate appearances. He wasn't a highly-regarded prospect, but is playing like it so far.

Meanwhile, Wallace, who was hitting .318 at the end of May before sinking to .268 prior to demotion, won't regain his job with Carlos Lee anchoring first. Lee can play left field, but the Astros have a J.D. Martinez - Jordan Schafer - Jason Bourgeois trio they aren't eager to switch up. That leaves first base for Lee and his bloated contract, which isn't up until after 2012. It says a lot of what the Astros think of Brett Wallace that they're allowing Lee and a motley crew of outfielders to stand in the way.

Wallace was a former first-round pick who was traded once upon a time for both Matt Holliday (St. Louis to Oakland) and then to Toronto as part of a satellite deal when Roy Halladay was dealt to Philadelphia. He was part of another satellite deal in Toronto that landed him in Houston as part of the Roy Oswalt move to Philly. Throughout all this, Wallace was considered a good hitter for average with solid pop, but he hasn't come close to reaching his potential in the majors. Wallace is staying patient, though, and hoping his chance will eventually come again.

“As a competitor you want to be out there every day,” Wallace said. “I think my job is just be prepared whether they need me late in the game defensively or to pinch-hit or a spot start or whatever they might need. I can’t control how much I play or how many at-bats I get. I’m just going to work hard and be ready to go when I get called.”

As part of the September callups, catcher J.R. Towles, outfielder J.B Shuck and pitchers righthanders Jordan Lyles, Lucas Harrell and Enerio Del Rosario were called up. Harrell made his Astros debut on Friday in an eventual loss.

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Posted on: July 27, 2011 8:48 pm
Edited on: July 28, 2011 1:25 am
 

Holliday deal part of best trade deadline deals

By Evan Brunell

As the trade deadline kicks into gear, teams who consider themselves buyers -- much like the Cardinals in acquiring Edwin Jackson and relievers, but sending away young center fielder Colby Rasmus -- are hoping that years from now, those teams will land on articles detailing moves that worked out at the trade deadline.

This is one such article looking back at the three previous years and the deadline deals that occurred. Which of these deals ended up being fantastic ones for teams? Looking strictly at those who were "buyers" -- that is, they went after the best player in the deal or made a trade clearly geared toward winning, let's take a look at the top five in reverse order.

Sanchez5. FREDDY GOT FINGERED

July 29, 2009: Pirates trade 2B Freddy Sanchez to Giants for minor league RHP Tim Alderson.

The Giants were seven games out of first place, but leading the wild card when they added second baseman Freddy Sanchez from Pittsburgh. Sanchez was supposed help settle the Giants' offense en route to a playoff berth. "A kid that has distinguished himself as an All-Star three out of the last four years and a batting champ within that time frame," GM Brian Sabean told the Associated Press at the time of the trade. The timing's great."

Unfortunately for Sabean, Sanchez has neither been an All-Star or batting champion since, but this trade still comes away as a win. That's because Sanchez wasn't acquired with just 2009 in mind, as he limped to the finish line with his new team that season. Battling a leg injury, Sanchez appeared in only 25 games, hitting .284/.295/.324. But in 2010, Sanchez hit .292/.342/.397 as an important part of the team, which would eventually win the World Series that October.

This deal was actually considered a loss for San Francisco at the time, as they coughed up Tim Alderson, then ranked the No. 4 prospect in the Giants organization by Baseball America. But declining velocity took all the luster off of the lefty, who is 22 years old and attempting to reinvent himself as a reliever for Double-A and won't reach the majors unless something changes.

4. BACK TO ATLANTA

July 31, 2009: Red Sox trade 1B Adam LaRoche to Braves for 1B Casey Kotchman.

LaRocheMark Teixeira's replacement in Casey Kotchman wasn't bearing fruit, so the Braves gave up and shipped Kotchman north for Adam LaRoche, who came up with Atlanta and spent three years with the team before being dealt to Pittsburgh in the offseason prior to 2007. At just one game over .500, the Braves were looking for an offensive punch that could get them into the wild card and division mix.

It worked, as the Braves finished the season 10 games over .500, but they still fell short of the playoffs, despite LaRoche's patented second-half surge aiding the team with 12 home runs in 242 plate appearances, hitting .325/.401/.557. That's fantastic production with a cost in only Kotchman, who was traded after the season to Seattle for Bill Hall and hit .217/.280/.336 in full-time duty. Kotchman has rebounded this season in Tampa Bay with a .328 batting average as the club's starting first baseman, but Atlanta's happy with rookie first baseman Freddie Freeman.

3. IT'S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA

July 29, 2009: Indians trade LHP Cliff Lee and OF Ben Francisco to Phillies for minor league RHP Jason Knapp, RHP Carlos Carrasco, SS Jason Donald and C Lou Marson.

LeeThis ended up being a fantastic deal for the Phillies. While the players Philadelphia coughed up have either not yet started their major-league careers or have just started -- making full evaluation of the deal impossible -- we can try. Let's go in order, starting with Knapp. What made him so highly regarded is obvious when he steps on a mound, but that's not often. He briefly pitched for the Indians following the trade, then checked in with just 28 2/3 innings all of last season and has yet to pitch this year after undergoing his second major shoulder surgery since being acquired. He could still end up an ace, but it doesn't look good.

Carrasco has developed into a solid middle-rotation starter for Cleveland. That's all well and good but Philly doesn't lack for prospects and while Carrasco has value, he's not going to make the deal worth it all by himself. It'll be up to Donald and Marson. Donald hit .253/.312/.378 in 325 plate appearances for the Indians last season and is the man with the lone hit in Armando Galarraga's not-perfect game. He's toiling in the minors and isn't much more than a backup infielder, while Marson isn't much more than a backup catcher, hitting .208/.279/.296 in 424 PA over the last two seasons in that capacity.

So the Phillies benefit by giving up a package that, so far, isn't much for an ace like Lee. The left-hander would go on to post a 3.39 ERA in 79 1/2 innings for Philadelphia, giving the club an ace it desperately needed to defend their 2008 World Series title. Philly didn't do that against the Yankees (although Lee did win the only two games Philadelphia came away with in the series), but they did capture a second straight NL pennant and established Philadelphia as a big-market team that would be around for a while.

And of course, while Lee's stay in Philadelphia would be brief as he was moved to Seattle in the offseason to make way for Roy Halladay, Lee's time in Philly was so good that he returned to town as a free agent, taking less years to get back in the City of Brotherly Love. (And we haven't even mentioned Francisco, who has continued his fine career as a fourth outfielder in Philly, although he stumbled this season when handed more playing time.)

2. MANNYWOOD

RamirezJuly 31, 2008: Red Sox trade LF Manny Ramirez to Dodgers, with 3B Andy LaRoche and minor league RHP Bryan Morris going to the Pirates in a three-team trade.


Manny Ramirez wore his welcome out in Boston so badly, the Red Sox would have given anything to get rid of ManRam. They ended up walking away with Jason Bay in a three-team deal, sending Ramirez to Los Angeles. (The full details: Morris and LaRoche to the Pirates along with Boston's RHP Craig Hansen and OF Brandon Moss.) The Red Sox ended up pleased with their investment, giving up essentially nothing. But the Dodgers had the bigger coup, as LaRoche was a colossal bust in Pittsburgh and is now in the farm system of Oakland. Morris is now 24 and has an outside chance of making the majors.

But Manny was all the rage in Los Angeles for the rest of the year back in 2008, hitting an unconscionable .396/.489/.743 with 17 home runs in 53 games. Even Jose Bautista can only aspire to these levels. Ramirez took a .500 team to the division title and boasted a .520 batting average in October as the Dodgers fell to the Phillies, who would eventually win the World Series. He hit well enough in 2009 for Los Angeles at .290/.418/.531 in 431 PA, but was suspended 50 games for violating baseball's drug program. A year later, Ramirez was no longer the toast of town and quickly forced his way out to the White Sox. Still, Ramirez helped revive the Dodgers, if only for a brief period of time before Frank McCourt would do Manny one better in demoralizing Dodger fans.

1. A HOLLIDAY IN ST. LOUIS

HollidayJuly 24, 2009: Athletics trade LF Matt Holliday to Cardinals for minor league 3B Brett Wallace, OF Shane Patterson and RHP Clayton Mortensen.

This is the fourth 2009 deal on this list. It was certainly a good time to be a buyer back then, as the Cardinals well know. They picked up a slugger for ... well, nothing special. Holliday had been acquired from the Rockies in the offseason by Oakland, who offered up (gulp) Carlos Gonzalez, Huston Street and Greg Smith. They didn't get anywhere close the return for Holliday after he failed to produce in Oakland's cavernous stadium. Wallace was supposed to be a good hitting prospect -- his luster had yet to dim. But it did in the next two years, with Wallace being flipped to Toronto after the season, the Jays then immediately sending him to Houston. Opening the year as the starting first baseman for Houston, Wallace has hit .275/.352/.382 and just lost his starting spot.

Mortensen was a fleeting -- and failing -- pitcher in Oakland before being traded for next to nothing to Colorado and has been a solid swingman this season but is currently in Triple-A. Peterson was just promoted to Triple-A and has a shot to develop into ... well, something. But that's a very weak return for a man who has paired with Albert Pujols for a devastating 3-4 punch. He was so overjoyed to be back in the NL that he hit .352 the rest of the way, and is at .320/.400/.549 after inking a contract extension. That's even better than his Colorado numbers, so this was a masterstroke for St. Louis. Odd to say that on a day where the Cardinals did the opposite of a masterstroke by dealing Colby Rasmus to Toronto.

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Posted on: July 26, 2011 9:29 am
Edited on: July 26, 2011 9:42 am
 

Pepper: Bedard's start in nick of time



By Matt Snyder


Good news is hard to come by when a team has lost 16 games in a row, but the Mariners at least received marginally good news Monday. Left-handed starting pitcher Erik Bedard will return to the mound Friday (MLB.com).

On the surface, it's kind of a "who cares?" type movement. The Mariners are 15 1/2 games out and obviously will not factor into the AL West race. It's just that there's something else rapidly approaching, and that is the non-waiver trade deadline. Bedard is 32, on a one-year contract and has been effective when healthy this season (3.00 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 85 strikeouts, 26 walks in 90 innings).

With the deadline Sunday at 4:00 p.m. ET, Bedard's start coming Friday, several contending teams looking for starting pitching, a lack of quality starting pitchers readily available and the Mariners obviously in selling mode, Bedard coming off the disabled list couldn't come at a much better time for all parties involved. As long as he gets through the start healthy, expect to hear his name in rumors this coming weekend.

HOW TRADES HAPPEN: Former Reds and Nationals general manager Jim Bowden now writes for ESPN, and he has an article up about how trades happen. It's nothing really Earth-shattering, in fact it might seem a bit obvious, but it's still a detailed look about the methodology of going through a major-league trade from someone who has made several in his time.

BUCHHOLZ PROGRESSING: The Red Sox have the best record in the American League, and they've been doing it of late with a patchwork pitching rotation. Jon Lester returned Monday night and now Clay Buchholz is making solid progress in his fight to return from a back injury. Monday, he estimated that he's "75 to 80 percent" healthy after throwing a bullpen session, including breaking pitches (Boston.com).

LACK OF SECURITY: Last week, a fan ran onto Citi Field during a Mets-Cardinals game. Usually when these clowns run on the field, they're stymied by security pretty quickly. Not this time, as the fan took security for quite a ride. Jon Bois over at SB Nation has the details along with video and a map.

WHITE HOUSE INVASION: The Giants won the World Series last year with a group of colorful personalities. That group was back together Monday as the champs visited President Obama in the White House. The Giants went through the usual song and dance, glad-handing with the President, giving him some gifts and posing for plenty of pictures. Perhaps the best part of the whole visit was the presentation. You wouldn't expect personalities like Tim Lincecum or Brian Wilson to dial anything down for the visit -- like a haircut or shave, perhaps -- and they didn't disappoint. Check out the photo at right here, courtesy of the Associated Press.

SEVEN DOWN, TWO TO GO: Michael Cuddyer went into Monday night's game having played six positions for the Twins: First base, second base, third base, left field, right field and center field. After manager Ron Gardenhire saw his pitching staff bludgeoned for 25 hits and 20 runs in seven innings against the Rangers, he turned to Cuddyer for the eighth. Cuddyer ended up throwing the only scoreless frame of the game for the Twins. Sure, he gave up two hits and a walk, but he got through it without allowing a run (3 Up, 3 Down). No other pitcher for the Twins Monday could say the same -- Phil Dumatrait had a line with zero earned runs, but did allow two inherited runners to score. So now the only two positions Cuddyer has never played in a game for the Twins are shortstop and catcher. He has appeared as a DH before, so if you want to count that, he's eight for 10.

A-ROD ON TARGET: Yankees injured third baseman Alex Rodriguez had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee on July 11 and was given a four to six weeks timetable for his return. As things presently stand, everything is in order and the Yankees expect him back by mid-August (MLB.com).

WALLACE'S TIME LIMITED: Brett Wallace got off to a hot start for the Astros this season. It wasn't just a few games. Through April 30, Wallace was hitting .388 with a .988 OPS. Since then, however, both figures have pretty progressively come down to the current marks of .279 and .749, respectively. Manager Brad Mills has reportedly tried to balance protecting Wallace against left-handers versus trying to develop the young first baseman. Mills is now leaning toward sitting Wallace more often against left-handers (Ultimate Astros).

BALL-HAWKIN': Highly-touted Angels rookie Mike Trout hit his first major-league home run Sunday, and it was caught by famous ball hawk Zack Hample -- who has caught over 5,000 balls at major-league games and written three books on the subject. The OC Register has the story about how Hample planned to catch Trout's first homer, how he made it happen and how he gave the ball back to Trout.

MORE DAY BASEBALL: When the Marlins move into their new home next season -- hopefully to a lot more fanfare than they get in their current football stadium -- they'll be playing a lot more day games (MLB.com).

BROOKS WAS HERE: The Orioles have begun building a statue to honor Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson at Camden Yards. The statue will be nine feet tall and weight 1,500 pounds. It's scheduled to be unveiled Oct. 21 of this year. Fittingly, the statue will depict the 16-time Gold Glover preparing to make a routine throw to first base (Baltimore Sun).

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Posted on: March 29, 2011 5:56 pm
Edited on: March 29, 2011 9:35 pm
 

Five teams to improve, five to decline in 2011

By Matt Snyder

Finally, spring training is concluding. Now we have a day or two before your favorite team begins play. In the meantime, I'm here to bring you the top five teams to decline and the top five to improve upon their 2010 performances. In return, you accuse me of bias and call me names. It's fun for everyone, really. One thing to keep in mind is that improving or declining by more than 10 games is pretty drastic. On some of these, I'm looking at something like a seven-game swing.

TOP FIVE TEAMS TO IMPROVE

1. Boston Red Sox. Well, let's see ... Last season Kevin Youkilis only played 102 games, Dustin Pedroia saw action in 75 and Jacoby Ellsbury just 18. Josh Beckett was either injured or ineffective all season. Meanwhile the Red Sox added Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to a team that won 89 games, despite all those injury woes -- and some underachieving from people like John Lackey. Easiest call on the board here, and even Yankees fans would have to concede this team is loaded.

2. Oakland A's. The pitching staff is stellar, even including the bullpen. The starting rotation is already really good and only getting better. The A's won 81 with one of the worst offenses in baseball last season. A full season of Coco Crisp, Kurt Suzuki bouncing back and the additions of Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham don't exactly sound like adding Gonzalez and Crawford, but small improvements will do wonders for the pitching staff. Slugger Chris Carter is waiting in the wings, too, and don't be surprised if Billy Beane adds a bat at the deadline.

3. Colorado Rockies. Troy Tulowitzki needs to stay healthy and Dexter Fowler needs to get closer to his ceiling. I'm going out on a limb that both happen, along with steps forward from Chris Iannetta and Ian Stewart. Watch Jhoulys Chacin's development in the starting rotation, too. He's got big potential.

4. Milwaukee Brewers. This is contingent upon the big names staying healthy and Zack Greinke getting healthy as soon as possible, because this team is paper-thin. But the top line is very impressive. Plus, the division is not very good at all. The Brewers are going to score runs, get good starting pitching (again, assuming the health thing) and have a good back-end of the bullpen. If they can overcome defense and depth deficiencies, they'll win the Central.

5. Florida Marlins. Call it a bit of a gut call, but I really like the Marlins. The rotation really has great potential with Javier Vazquez returning to a pitcher's park in the NL East (he's apparently too intimidated by being a Yankee) and Ricky Nolasco having the ability to be a true No. 2 if he can ever stay consistent. Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad have -- again, this word -- potential to be solid at the end, with stud Josh Johnson leading the five-some. I love the outfield potential of Logan Morrison, Chris Coghlan and Mike Stanton, so long as all three can stay healthy. Hanley Ramirez is primed to have a big season, too.

TOP FIVE TEAMS TO DECLINE

1. San Diego Padres. Removing Gonzalez from the middle of the batting order changes the complexion of everything. And Mat Latos is already hurt, which does nothing to alleviate the concern of the huge workload increase he's experienced over the past two seasons. Most of all, the Padres just seem outmanned by the Giants and Rockies. Winning close to 90 games seems outlandish. Of course, many people said that last year, too.

2. Houston Astros. They overachieved in a big way last season according to run differential (the 'Stros allowed 118 more runs than they scored) and aren't any better. Other than Hunter Pence, the position players are either getting old (Carlos Lee), still unproven (Brett Wallace) or just not that good (Jason Michaels, Bill Hall, Michael Bourn). I'm not a huge fan of the rotation, but it's going to have to carry the team. Good luck with that.

3. Tampa Bay Rays. This is difficult. It's hard to not love the Rays for being so good at sticking with the Yankees and Red Sox in the mighty AL East on that paltry payroll. The loss of Crawford hurts. Carlos Pena wasn't overly productive -- though he was much better than his batting average said -- last season, but his presence helps everyone else see better pitches. That goes away with Dan Johnson at first. The loss of Matt Garza isn't a big deal, so long as Jeremy Hellickson does his thing and James Shields returns to form. The bullpen is worse, though. Look, I'd pick the Rays to win the NL Central if they were in it, but the Yankees aren't any worse and the Red Sox are way better. The Orioles should be better as well. I think the Rays win in the ballpark of 86 games, but that's 10 worse than last year and good for third place.

4. Toronto Blue Jays. They're still building and are moving in the right direction, but winning 85 games again in that division is a very tall order. Any offensive bounce-back from the likes of Aaron Hill and Adam Lind is negated by Jose Bautista's return to this planet.

5. St. Louis Cardinals. If anyone can pull this off, it's Dave Duncan, but losing Adam Wainwright was a death blow. Chris Carpenter is old and injury-prone. Jaime Garcia is due a massive regression. Kyle Lohse was awful last year and Jake Westbrook doesn't have good stuff. Kyle McClellan could very well prove a solid No. 5 starter, but he hasn't exceeded 75 2/3 innings the past three seasons in the bullpen. Can he really double that and remain effective? The outfield defense won't do the staff any favors, either. The Pujols/Holliday/Rasmus combo -- and even Lance Berkman in a best-case scenario -- is very solid, but there's only going to be so much they can do on some nights. I feel like mid-to-high 70s in wins, but Duncan and Tony La Russa find ways to make people wrong often.

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