I’ve had occasion to see some Chicago White Sox games, as they hosted Pittsburgh last week and then went across town to play the Cubs over the weekend and I was interested in seeing some NL Central contenders play. Instead, my main impression was just how awful this White Sox team really is. It doesn’t come as a surprise—the White Sox weren’t anywhere close to contenders. But it doesn’t seem like that long ago they were knocking on the door.
And it wasn’t. In 2015-16, there was real hope of contention. Those teams ended up as disappointments, finishing with 76 & 78 wins respectively and it cost manager Robin Ventura his job. It turns out, those were the glory days, because Chicago went into full-scale fire-sale mode. And in an American League whose defining feature this year is the number of flat-out hideous teams, the White Sox are the early frontrunner to be the worst of the worst.
Here’s a quick summation of what Chicago did to tear their own house down…
*They traded Chris Sale to the Red Sox and Carlos Quintana to the Cubs, effectively decimating what had been a decent rotation.
*The White Sox traded Adam Eaton to the Nationals and Todd Frazier to the Yankees for more packages of minor league prospects.
*Melky Cabrera was shipped out, as was Anthony Swarzak, taking a decent bat out of the outfield and a respectable arm away from the bullpen.
*The club moved on from Austin Jackson, continuing to remove functional major league players from the roster and replacing them with players unable to compete.
The results have been predictable. Chicago is sitting on a record of 10-27. They have the worst offense in the American League and the worst starting pitching and are a fundamentally unwatchable baseball team.
But it wasn’t that long ago, the same could be said of the Houston Astros. Fans on the South Side are banking on their being better days ahead. Here’s a look at some of the early returns on the players the club received back in the above trades…
*Yoan Mocada was the key piece of the Sale trade. The 23-year-old second baseman is swinging a good bat, with a .359 on-base percentage/.509 slugging percentage. He’s been Chicago’s best everyday player thus far in 2018.
*Reynaldo Lopez came in the Eaton deal and the 24-year-old starting pitcher has been the bright spot of the rotation, with a 2.44 ERA in seven starts. He’ll be the guy visiting contenders hope to avoid this summer.
*A less positive return has come from Lucas Giolito, also a part of the Eaton package. After a promising start last season, with a 2.38 ERA in seven starts, he’s sitting on an ugly 7.25 ERA in his seven trips to the post in 2018. And after watching him bounce balls in the Wrigley dirt this weekend, I was unsurprised to find out he led the American League in walks issued.
Overall though, that’s not a bad success rate in the unpredictable market of young baseball talent. The vast majority of the players acquired in these trades are still in the minors, so any positive signs might have bigger long-term implications.
The immediate consequence of all this though, is that the 2018 version of the White Sox are atrocious and combined with more awful baseball coming out of places like Baltimore, Texas and Kansas City, means that there’s going to be a lot of record-fattening by the American League elite.
TheSportsNotebook’s MLB spring training previews have included separate articles on the ten teams in the American League who either made the postseason in 2013, were right in the race to the end or at least should have been the race to the end. That leaves five darkhorses left on the board.
What’s listed below are the five American League darkhorsesand their betting odds to both win the World Series, along with their Over/Under on the win props. We then offer a few brief comments on what might need to break right. I’ve chosen to focus on the positive with these teams because the track record tells us we can assume the negative. Thus, it makes sense to keep our eye on what might make break the mold.
One thing that doesn’t make sense is that two of the teams that got separate previews have World Series odds amongst the darkhorses. The Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians are each disrespected enough to be among these five in the eyes of Las Vegas, although not in the eyes of TheSportsNotebook. A true darkhorse offers both long betting odds and a recent track record of disappointment, and these are the five that qualify.
Toronto Blue Jays (50-1, 79.5): I like the way Colby Rasmus stepped up and slugged .501 last year. The 27-year-old centerfielder, whose career has been a roller coaster, has the talent to stabilize and be a regular contributor to a lineup that already includes Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes. The Jays need for third baseman Brett Lawrie to follow suit and start performing up to the expectations that accompanied him into the major leagues.
Starting pitching is a problem, but if you can envision R.A. Dickey or Mark Buerhle having one big last hurrah season, that could change the equation for Toronto. Buerhle’s been settled in for a while as more a steady innings-eater than anyone who’s likely to have a huge year. Dickey is a different story. I wasn’t surprised by his struggles last year, but his 4.21 ERA still wasn’t terrible and if the veteran can get his knuckler to dance for one last ride, the Blue Jays can get in the race.
On paper, I look at this team and see at least one that could get a little bit over .500 if not make the playoffs. But with the schedule that includes 72 games against the AL East quartet of Boston, New York, Tampa Bay and Baltimore, it’s tough to see Toronto breaking in. And if the starting pitching collapses—a realistic possibility—than the house of cards really tumbles. Consequently, I’d lean to the Under.
Chicago White Sox (50-1, 74.5): The South Side of Chicago is witnessing a massive renovation project, the kind old Richard Daley Sr. might have overseen, as he made sure the work fell in the hands of the right contractors. At least the White Sox have some pitching going for them, with Chris Sale at the top of the rotation. If Felipe Paulino and Jose Quintana come through, Chicago will have a genuinely solid rotation.
What they aren’t going to do is score a lot of runs, unless a whole lot of kids all come through together. I suppose it’s not unheard of, but nor is it something you bet on happening in March. The transition from Paul Konerko to Jose Abreu at first is symbolic of what’s taking place in the lineup as a whole.
You know in spite of this, I’m going to lean ever so slightly to the Over 74.5. The reason is simple—I do think the starting pitching is going to be pretty good and I think this team is going to play hard. That can at least get you into the high 70s for wins.
Seattle Mariners (50-1, 81): The Mariners made the big offseason splash when they signed second baseman Robinson Cano away from the New York Yankees. There’s no question Cano is going juice up an offense that was terrible last season, but he’s going to need some help. The candidate to step up would be Justin Smoak at first base. I’m not optimistic, but we’ve hit this theme for three years now, and the most we’ve seen is Smoak hit 20 home runs and slug .412 last year. But that was a tiny amount of improvement, and at 27-years-old, it’s not unreasonable he could still bloom.
Seattle can pitch, with Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma, although the latter is dealing with a hand injury and questionable to open the season. If this was an amateur men’s league that played a couple times a week for seven innings, these two alone would have been enough to win a bunch of 2-1 games.
Unfortunately, when you want to win with pitching, it doesn’t do a lot of good when your bullpen is awful, and Seattle’s was just that in 2013. To that end, the Mariners added Tampa Bay closer Fernando Rodney. I suppose it’s odd that a team with a bad bullpen acquired a closer off a bad year, but Rodney was spectacular in 2012.
I still have to go Under 81. The offense has too many question marks, I don’t consider Cano a real leader and if Iwakuma can’t replicate his performance of last year, things could get ugly. The Over/Under for this team is a straight referendum on whether they’ll have a winning season and I say they aren’t very good.
Minnesota Twins (125-1, 71): Joe Mauer is switching from catcher to first base, which will help the long-term health of the player the franchise has tied up so much money in. Minnesota is also still hanging on to veteran outfielder Josh Willingham who has nice power, and I’m surprised hasn’t been dealt at either of the two last July 31 trade deadlines. Jason Kubel, a veteran DH, can also hit, as can young third baseman Trevor Plouffe.
Can the Twins get starting pitching? That’s going to depend on a top three of Ricky Nolasco, Kevin Correia and Phil Hughes, who gets a second chance at a career in the rotation after inconsistency in the Bronx. This is an interesting top three, and it’s feasible to see them all coming through and Minnesota having a winning season. The flip side is that “interesting” isn’t a word managers like to hear when it comes to the foundation of their pitching staff.
I’ve gotten burned on being optimistic about this team the past two seasons, but I am still going Over 71. In this case optimism doesn’t mean any more than saying they’ll go 72-90
Houston Astros (250-1, 62.5): I really like young second baseman Jose Altuve, and left fielder Robbie Grossman is another everyday player with some promise. Chris Carter, the first baseman/DH, has nice power and needs to improve his plate discipline and on-base percentage. I like young starting pitcher Jarred Cosart, and that the team went out and signed legitimate major league veterans in centerfielder Dexter Fowler and starting pitcher Scott Feldman.
The mere fact that we utter the sentence “signed legitimate major league veterans” still underscores how bad this lineup is top-to-bottom. The Astros are getting better, but they’re starting at somewhere below the bottom of the barrel. The 62.5 win number is really a question that asks whether or not this team will lose 100 games again. The answer is still yes.
If these five teams were a division of their own, Toronto would be the best of the group. But in the real world, the Blue Jays’ chances of making the playoffs in the AL East might be even longer than everyone else’s. While I wouldn’t actually predict any of these teams to make the postseason—final picks will go up Monday morning prior to the first pitches of Opening Day—if I had to take a flyer on a surprise entrant in October, it would be the White Sox.
The Chicago White Sox may have seen their six-game winning streak come to an end last night in Baltimore, but the White Sox are still rolling around at 71-56, and keeping their two-game cushion on Detroit in the race for the AL Central title. Chicago is also only 2.5 games back of New York for the two-seed in the American League playoffs, meaning homefield advantage in the Division Series. Given the tightness of the division race and the current landscape which has only one team making it to the postseason from the AL Central, we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. But for a team the Las Vegas numbers had projected as a 74-88 team back in March, Robin Ventura’s White Sox have had quite a run. The biggest reason is there offense.
Chicago is fourth in the American League in runs scored, making up for a pitching staff that John Danks first disappoint, then be lost for the year to a shoulder injury. The rotation has seen Gavin Floyd struggle with the same mix of injuries and incompetence. They’ve survived thanks to a good year from Jake Peavy and a great year from 15-game winner Chris Sale, who gets the ball tonight in Camden Yards, but the staff is subordinate to the job the offense is doing.
Paul Konerko has always been the reliable cog in the White Sox machine and this year is no different. The first baseman has churned out a .390./514 year for on-base percentage and slugging percentage and that’s par for the course for one of the game’s underrated players. Virtually everywhere else though, has popped up pleasant surprises and best-case scenarios come true.
Alex Rios has finally found the form he seemed to have permanently left in Toronto back in 2006. Six years ago Rios was emerging as one of the game’s top all-around offensive players. He regressed, was traded to the South Side three years later and while he showed flashes, he never put it all together. This season he’s batting .303 and has popped 20 home runs. Rios still needs more plate discipline to up the on-base percentage, but he’s back as a threat to hit for contact and power.
Adam Dunn showed that last year was just a sad aberration and he’s on course again as a walk-drawer and home-run hitter, with a .338 on-base percentage and 38 home runs. Alejandro de Aza has posted a nice .346 on-base percentage and been a table-setter. He’s currently on the disabled list, but will be back in September and in the meantime DeWayne Wise has stepped in with a .328/.491 line since he was cut loose from the Yankees after they acquired Ichiro Suzuki. Wise won’t have to lose playing time when de Aza comes back. The one thing that hasn’t gone well for the White Sox offense this year is the development of Dayan Viciedo in left, and the kid can go to the bench to make room for Wise.
But the big addition to the offense is the unlikely acquiring of Kevin Youkilis from Boston. Who could have guessed that Youkilis would be the first victim of the Bobby Valentine era in Fenway, struggle early and play his way out of town. Those who believed a change of scenery was the ticket were right. Youkilis has had 184 at-bats with Chicago and submitted .381/.495 stat line, including 12 home runs.
When you add it all up, that’s a pretty deep lineup and it makes the prospect of facing the combination of this offense and Sale on the mound twice in a postseason series, a nerve-wracking thought for New York or Texas. In the meantime, this offense is the biggest reason the White Sox have so drastically exceeded expectations and continue to lead a division everyone handed to Detroit in March.
The Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers are each on a stretch of playing decent baseball, as last year’s ALCS teams look to again make it to October and go deep. The Tigers split four with the Yankees earlier in the week. I suppose that can be considered modestly disappointing, as they won the first two at home and hit C.C. Sabathia hard in the third game before losing 12-8. But a split with one of the league’s best teams is never a bad thing and it fits into an overall stretch of consistency for Jim Leyland’s team. Texas, after losing the first two games of their series with the Angels early last week, responded by winning the next two and salvaging a split and then taking two of three from Kansas City and Boston.
Detroit is one game out in the AL Central race, trailing the Chicago White Sox and they’re tied with the Baltimore Orioles for the second wild-card spot. Both the Tigers and Orioles are only a half-game behind Oakland for the lead wild-card spot, although all three teams have Tampa Bay and Los Angeles closely in the rearview mirror. Texas’ strong run has kept their lead in the AL West at a comfortable 5.5 games over Oakland, and the Rangers are a half-game ahead of New York for the top seed in the American League playoffs. This one of two hotly contested matchups on the AL landscape this week, and we’ll see Justin Verlander pitch Saturday and the struggling Yu Darvish tries to turn it around on Sunday for the Rangers.
Other series involving contenders in the American League…
Oakland-ChiSox: The A’s came up with a couple big-time wins over the Angels earlier this week, including hitting Zack Greinke hard in a 9-8 win in Wednesday’s rubber match. The White Sox missed an opportunity, dropping two straight to Kansas City after taking the series opener. This weekend’s games feature important pitching storylines. Brandon McCarthy makes his return from the disabled list in Friday night’s opener and Francisco Liriano goes for the White Sox on Saturday. As noted above, both teams hold narrow lead for playoff spots, Chicago for the AL Central title. Sunday’s game will get some national attention at 2 PM ET on TBS.
Kansas City-Baltimore: Are the Royals set to play spoiler? After the aforementioned wins over Chicago, KC won the opener of this four-game set in Camden Yards last night. Baltimore’s a hot team though, having won consecutive series over New York and Tampa Bay on the road, then sweeping Seattle earlier this week. Orioles manager Buck Showalter still has to patch together starting pitching though. Zach Britton did not pitch well on Tuesday and was sent back down to the minors. Chris Tillman, on the other hand, has continued to be effective and he gets the ball Saturday night. Baltimore also brought up highly touted third-base prospect Manny Machado, who went 2-for-4 in his major league debut last night.
Tampa Bay-Minnesota: Since the All-Star break, Tampa pitching has been the best in the American League. No surprise there. In that same timespan, the Minnesota offense has been the second-best in the American League. Big surprise there. The Rays are playing well though, having won 10 of their last 15, including this week’s sweep of Toronto and they have Jeremy Hellickson and David Price lined up to pitch the first two games of this series.
Seattle-LA Angels: Los Angeles’ pitching is faltering badly, with a 5.36 ERA in the season’s second half and since missing the chance to take a series from Texas early last week, they’ve dropped key series to Chicago and Oakland, amidst increasing discontent over the work of the bullpen. The offense has produced more runs than anyone since the break, but the Halos are still a game out in the packed wild-card race. This series starts a 10-game homestand where they simply have to get well. It might not start tonight, when Ervin Santana faces Felix Hernandez, but if the Mariners, then the Indians, can’t solve the LAA slide, then this team is really in trouble.
NY Yanks-Toronto: Toronto’s three straight losses to Tampa have effectively buried any longshot hopes the Jays had of making the playoffs. New York is kind of just middling along right now, but still maintains a comfortable 5.5 game cushion in the AL East. What’s not comfortable for Joe Girardi is consecutive starts by Freddy Garcia, Ian Nova and Phil Hughes, like he has on tap in the Rogers Centre this weekend. Nova, in particular, might be pitching for his job after getting hammered in Detroit on Monday night.
In the National League…
Washington-Arizona: The Nats took advantage of a soft spot in the schedule and swept Houston fourstraight, and keeping Atlanta at arm’s length in the NL East. Arizona survived a four-game series in Pittsburgh where they pulled out a couple wins. Both teams are swinging the bats well, the two most prolific offenses in the National League since the All-Star break, but Washington has done the better job of combining it with pitching. Stephen Strasburg goes Friday night as he pushes closer to the magic 160-inning mark when he’ll allegedly be shut down for the season.
Atlanta-NY Mets: Atlanta’s playing well, and took two of three in Philadelphia, as Ben Sheets’ magic continued with an opening game win over the Phils. Atlanta still leads the wild-card race and won’t have to face R.A. Dickey this weekend. The nation can watch Sheets’ revival on Sunday night when this series gets the ESPN spotlight.
Cincinnati-ChiCubs: What happened to the Reds? No one’s going to stay hot forever, but to go from playing the best ball in the majors, to coughing up three home games and then losing the series opener in Wrigley last night is a pretty extreme swing. Cincy still holds a 2.5 game lead in the NL Central and has ace Johnny Cueto in reserve for Sunday’s finale.
San Diego-Pittsburgh: The Pirates still share the lead for the wild-card spots with Atlanta and have a 2.5 game cushion, along with trailing Cincy by the same margin in the NL Central. But the alarm bells are there with the pitching, which is in the bottom half of the National League since the break. James McDonald, A.J. Burnett and Erik Bedard have to turn it around against an anemic Padre lineup this weekend.
St. Louis-Philadelphia: St. Louis is hitting well right now, and split four games at home with San Francisco this week. But the Cards are also pitching well, with the #2 ERA in the National League in the second half. Kyle Lohse puts his 12-2 record on the line tonight against Roy Halladay.
Colorado-San Francisco: The Giants join the Nationals as a pitching-heavy team that’s hot with the bats right now. Nothing would make Frisco feel better though, than a good outing from Tim Lincecum in tonight’s series opener. Colorado created problems for Los Angeles, winning twice against the Dodgers earlier this week and now looks to spread the misery around their divisional contenders.
LA Dodgers-Miami: Los Angeles starts a seven-game road trip after the aggravating losses to Colorado brought an end to a 4-5 homestand. Maybe the road is what Don Mattingly’s team needs. If nothing else, tonight’s start by Clayton Kershaw would be what any team needs. With a four-game set in Pittsburgh looming right after this, Los Angeles needs to right the ship quickly.
The Chicago White Sox have been the active team in the weeks leading up to the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. After first acquiring Kevin Youkilis from Boston to play third base, the White Sox struck this weekend when it came to the bullpen, bringing in Brett Myers from Houston in exchange for two minor-leaguers. TheSportsNotebook evaluates the White Sox bullpen in light of their new acquisition.
Chicago’s save percentage is just 58%, easily the worst in the American League and there’s no one arm that’s clearly reliable, even in setup work, so it makes obvious sense to address this area. Addison Reed has been the closer and is 15/18 on his save chances and the ERA of 4.24 is pretty high. He is only 23 years old though, and in his rookie year. If the White Sox displace him from the ninth-inning role what does that do to his confidence? For a job where mental makeup matters as much as raw stuff, this can’t be taken lightly. And while the White Sox have said all the right things about Reed still being the closer, how many blown saves does he really have left before the new toy starts pitching the ninth inning?
Reed isn’t the only young arm in the Chicago relief corps. 26-year-old Nate Jones and 24-year-old Hector Santiago are each in their first year in the majors and have each done reasonably well. Jones has a 3.57 ERA in 41 innings, while Santiago has worked 38 innings with a 3.79 ERA, also picking up four saves.
When it comes to experience, manager Robin Ventura has a lefty-righty combo of Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain. The latter, 31-years-old, is just off the disabled list and has only worked 22 innings, but has a 2.38 ERA and a good track record of success. Thornton is 35, though his career as a lefty setup man didn’t really take off until 2008 when he started three straight years of sub-3.00 ERAs. The number jumped to 3.32 last year and is at 3.86 for 2012. While age seems to be catching up with Thornton, he’s also a reasonable option to get lefthanded hitters out.
When you look at the pieces individually none of these five pitchers are a major liability. The problem is that there’s nobody you can look at consider a lock to come in and get three outs. In TheSportsNotebook’s evaluation of Brett Myers earlier this week, I’m not sure that he really solves that problem. In fact, I’m sure he doesn’t. Myers is a decent arm added to a bullpen that already has five decent arms. While you can argue his experience makes him a better bet than Reed in closing the crucial games that presumably lay ahead, Myers doesn’t drastically alter the equation for this pen.
That’s the negative side. The positive side is that Myers is under club control for 2013 and given how relievers blaze and fade at any level the fact he’s been consistent for several years ensures the White Sox will have a reliable piece for the pen for the next year and a half. Perhaps next season depth might have become an issue and the Myers deal fixes it in advance. The other factor is that the veteran pitcher has considerable experience as a starter. While there’s no evidence the White Sox intend to use him in that role, intentions can change. If nothing else, if John Danks can’t be effective in coming back from the disabled list next month, Ventura has an option in his back pocket. And again, the option to put Myers in the rotation carries into 2013.
Overall, I give this trade a modest plus grade, but with reservations. If the ultimate cost is Reed losing his confidence then the deal won’t be worth it, but that’s more about how things are handled going forward rather than being about the deal itself. In the end, while Myers isn’t someone whose mere presence changes a game, he is a reasonably reliable veteran who can both work relief and start and the price Chicago paid to get him was fair.
Continuing with TheSportNotebook’s analysis of the 2012 baseball season, we will take a look at some of the players that will surprise you. Last season, we had guys like Alex Avila, Michael Pineda, Jair Jurrjens, Matt Kemp, and James Shields all taking the league by storm and completely obliterating the expectations set for them.
Avila aided the Tigers in their run into the postseason by having a breakout 2011 campaign, batting .285 with 19 HR’s and 82 RBI’s. He definitely got a lot more time behind the plate, possibly giving him the confidence he needed to contribute to the lineup. Michael Pineda swept the northwest by coming out and putting together a terrific rookie season. He only had 9 wins, but had a sub-4 ERA, with a .211 BAA (batting average against), 4th in the American League. Jair Jurrjens was absolutely lights out until he went down with injury. He went 13-6 with a sub-3 ERA. He was a large reason why Atlanta had so much success last year, and is it coincidence that Atlanta began their fatal collapse around the same time that Jurrjens went to the DL? Matt Kemp had by far the best numbers of anyone last year. He was .013, in batting average from being the NL Triple Crown winner. He led the National League in HR’s with 39 and led MLB in RBI’s with 126. James Shields was probably the biggest surprise out of anybody. There were several years of struggle for Shields before he finally reached his potential in 2011. We all knew he had the stuff, but for some reason he couldn’t put it all together. Last season, he finally got his command back, his changeup was supercharged, and his stamina was unmatched. Shields posted 11 complete games, tops in the league.
The 2011 season definitely had its fair share of drama and heroic endings, but 2012 has a completely different outlook. We had our fair share of players contributing to the storyline but 2012 will have a new crop of people leading their teams to the coveted Series. Here is the list of five players that look to finally have that breakout season or get back on track after seasons of diminished expectations.
1. Adam Dunn – 1B/DH, Chicago White Sox – A man that’s known for his power, Dunn has hit 25 or more home runs in 9 of his last 11 seasons. The exceptions are 2008 when he played only 44 games in Arizona, hitting 8, and last season with the White Sox, hitting only 11. He posted a .159 BA in 122 games. Dunn posted a career low .569 OPS in 2011 after having an .800 or higher his entire career. He may strike out a lot but that OPS is indicative that he can also get on base (or around them). He was quoted by Yahoo! Sports as saying that he is seeing the ball well this spring and is touted by many as a Comeback Player of the Year candidate.
2. Brandon Beachy – SP, Atlanta Braves – Beachy is looking to breakout this season after only posting 7 wins in 25 attempts last year. He did have a strikeout ratio of 10.7 per nine innings which led the Major Leagues. With Atlanta’s recent injury problems in the rotation, Beachy will be expected to carry the load and win more games for the Braves. There is no reason that Beachy will not post the numbers that can move him into the upper echelon of pitchers this season. With that strikeout ratio, Beachy should be able to reach at least 15 wins and substantially lower his ERA.
3. Brett Lawrie – 3B, Toronto Blue Jays – With protection coming in the form of Jose Bautista, there is no reason that Lawrie should not be able to put up top 20 offensive numbers. The situation here is a little Prince-Fielder/Ryan Braun-esque, where Fielder provided Braun with protection in the lineup and allowed him to blossom into the great hitter he is. Not to say that Lawrie needs protection, but it does allow for him to put balls in play greatly increasing his odds of adding to the scoreboard. Lawrie is capable of posting a 30/30 season, but not just yet. In 2011, we saw Lawrie play in 43 games, posting a .293 BA, with 9 HR’s, 31 RBI’s, and 7 stolen bases. If Lawrie were to continue at this pace for 2012, we could see him surpass 35 HR, 120 RBI, and steal about 30 bases.
4. Joe Nathan – CP, Texas Rangers – We have to remember that Nathan is only two years removed from his 47-save season with Minnesota in 2009. Nathan had surgery in 2010 and returned for the 2011 season and struggled. He posted only 14 saves with a 4.34 ERA while going 44.2 innings. Nathan did get it together about halfway through the season as he went 27.1 innings with a 3.29 ERA and a 26/5 K/BB ratio. There is reason to believe that Nathan will be more than able to rebound from a down year and post numbers close to what he was putting up before surgery. He is 38 and has had surgery, but about 35 saves and a sub-3 ERA is not out of the realm of possibility. The Rangers are hoping the $14 million used on Nathan will pay off, as they’ve moved Neftali Feliz to the rotation.
5. Allen Craig – OF, St. Louis Cardinals – Allen Craig has been able to consistently put up numbers even with limited Major League play. In the 2011 regular season, Craig played in 75 games and batted .315 with 11 HR and 40 RBI. What’s more impressive is the .917 OPS that he put up. Craig is an absolute masher and proved it during the 2011 postseason tallying 4 HR and 8 RBI. Because of knee surgery, however, Craig is expected to miss about a month to open the season. Once he returns, we can expect him to continue his success. He has yet to play a full season and will not in 2012, but he is capable of putting up huge numbers if given 120 or so games. Look for him to post somewhere around 25 dingers with around 90 RBI, even with limited action. Allen Craig is the real deal, a lot of people just haven’t caught onto that yet.
Honorable Mentions – Johan Santana , Brandon Belt, Francisco Liriano, Andrew Bailey, and Colby Rasmus
-Will Fairbanks is the owner and contributor to The Educated Sports Fan, a blog offering analysis and opinion for all things MLB, NFL, NHL, NBA, and NCAA.