TOP 10 ACQUISITIONS
1. Albert Pujols, L.A. Angels – Biggest acquisition in recent years, for any team.
2. Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers – Returning to the city where he watched his father play and give Detroit fans hope again.
3. C.J. Wilson, L.A. Angels – The combination of Pujols and Wilson could be what Angels need to win it all.
4. Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals – Can he replace production of Pujols? Likely not, but having Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday in the lineup make it possible.
5. Brad Lidge, Washington Nationals – Some may question Lidge’s place on this list, but if you remember the Lidge from 2008 (41 saves in 41 save opportunities in the regular season and 7-for-7 in the playoffs), and you consider his numbers from last year (1.40 ERA as a set-up man) you’ll understand.
6. Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers – Could be another bust from Japan, but his numbers (18-6, 1.44 ERA, 276 Ks in 232 innings) are better coming in than any Japanese League pitcher.
7. Jose Reyes, Miami Marlins – Why are people excited? Because he hit .337 (best in the NL), stole 39 bases and scored 101 runs.
8. Mark Buehrle, Miami Marlins – Went 13-9 with 3.59 ERA last year, but he is consistent and his leadership, along with Reyes and manager Ozzie Guillen, could help the Marlins make the postseason.
9. A.J. Burnett, Pittsburgh Pirates – He should dominate the NL after fairing okay in the tough AL East. One of the biggest signs, along with signing star Andrew McCutchen to a long-term deal, that the Pirates are serious about winning. He will be out three months, though, with an injury.
10. Yeonnis Cespedes, Oakland A’s – All you need to know is this: He was a Cuban Baseball League star (the best baseball in the world) and in only 90 games he had 33 HRs, 99 RBIs and hit .333.
TOP 10 MOST INTERESTING PEOPLE
1. Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants – This generation’s Yogi Berra. Wilson is often over the top with everything he says or does – wearing a tuxedo leotard at the ESPY’s, giving a beat down to water coolers in the dugout after a blown save, or telling Jim Rome in a live interview that he has ninja skills.
2. Ozzie Guillen, Miami Marlins – You never know what this man will say, but you don’t want to miss it. Either on Twitter, or in front of a camera.
3. Kevin Millar, Baseball TV Personality – Co-host of MLB Network’s Intentional Talk has baseball’s best TV segment in “Got Heem!” A term originated by interesting man No. 1, Brian Wilson.
4.Bobby Valentine, Boston Red Sox – Back in the MLB, after a stint managing in Japan and on ESPN, to manage the high-profile Red Sox. He’s already begun taking shots at the rival Yankees during spring training. After being ejected from a game during his managerial stint with the New York Mets, Valentine came back to the dugout wearing a disguise. It did not go unnoticed.
5. R.A. Dickey, N.Y. Mets – An avid writer, biker, knuckleballer, and Mt. Kilimanjaro climber, Dickey is a man of faith without a boring bone in his body.
6. Jaime Moyer, Colorado Rockies – After spending time with ESPN and rehabbing from Tommy John surgery last season, Moyer is planning on playing more baseball with Colorado at the age of 49!
7. David Ross/Tim Hudson, Atlanta Braves – This duo has been together since their days in college at Auburn, likely why they are known as the Braves biggest pranksters.
8. C.J. Wilson, Texas Rangers– Straightedger Wilson is always an interesting interview.
9. Torii Hunter, L.A. Angels –Hunter is always smiling and is very camera friendly.
10. John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers – The closer won the American Mustache of the Year award in 2011, despite the fact he’s is Canadian.
TOP 10 HITTERS
1. Matt Kemp, L.A. Dodgers – Many thought Kemp should have been the National League MVP after taking two-thirds of the triple crown (39 HRs, 126 RBIs) and finishing third in hitting (.324), so the chip on his shoulder will be noticeable as he tries to become the first 50-50 player (50 HRs, 50 stolen bases) in MLB history.
2. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers – The controversial choice as NL MVP, he didn’t lead any of the big three categories (HR, RBI, BA), but he did hit .332, 33 HRs, and produce 111 RBIs, 109 runs and 33 stolen bases. However, with the alleged drug use that came out this past offseason, this could be a tough season.
3. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers – If Cabrera can duplicate his numbers from last season (30 HRs, 105 RBIs, 111 runs scored and a career-best .344), he and newly acquired star Prince Fielder could make this a memorable season for the Tigers.
4. Adrian Gonzalez, Boston Red Sox – Even though his home run total (27) was the least productive since 2006 when he hit 24, he adjusted well to AL hitting and surprised with the best batting average of his career (.338 vs. .304 in 2006) and second-most RBIs (117 vs. 119 in 2008).
5. Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays – Hard to believe he was a 20th round pick 12 years ago by the Pittsburgh Pirates, but his numbers last season (.302 BA, 43 HRs, 103 RBIs, 105 runs scored) are evidence that scouting isn’t always right.
6. Albert Pujols, L.A. Angels – Even though last season was his least productive, his numbers were still impressive: 37 HRs, 99 RBIs, .299 BA. The interesting thing will be if Pujols can adjust to AL pitching.
7. Prince Fielder, Detroit Tigers – Could find it difficult against AL arms after battering NL pitching while playing for Milwaukee (.299 BA, 38 HRs, 120 RBIs), but he’s still a solid power hitter and would love to supplant the memory of his dad who had some good years in Detroit.
8. Jose Reyes, Miami Marlins – Led the NL with a .337 batting average and scored 101 runs. A new environment (he played for N.Y. Mets from 2003-2011) and new ball park (Miami is playing in a new stadium) could produce even bigger numbers.
9. Robinson Cano, N.Y. Yankees – Another season like last year (.302 BA, 118 RBIs, 104 runs scored, 28 HRs) is imperative if the Yankees want to get back on top.
10. Michael Young, Texas Rangers/Curtis Granderson, N.Y. Yankees – If you could mesh both of these players you would have a great hitter, but you can’t. So, they are a tie for the 10th spot. Young had career-bests in batting average (.338, third-best in AL) and RBIs (106), and also had 88 runs scored and 11 homers. Granderson provided what Young lacked in power by hitting 41 HRs. He also scored 136 runs, had 119 RBIs, but hit just .262.
TOP 10 STARTING PITCHERS
1. Justin Verlander (RHP), Detroit Tigers – Won the American League Cy Young by winning pitching’s Triple Crown (24-5 record, 2.40 ERA, 250 Ks) and will be relied on to help Detroit to the World Series.
2. Clayton Kershaw (LHP), L.A. Dodgers – Like Verlander, Kershaw won the Cy Young (in the National League) after winning pitching’s Triple Crown (21-5 record, 2.28 ERA, 248 Ks). History is on his side to have a similar season.
3. Roy Halladay (RHP), Philadelphia Phillies – In most years, Halladay’s numbers (19-6 record, 2.35 ERA, 220 Ks) would have made him a lock to win the Cy Young. Look for more greatness this season.
4. Cliff Lee (LHP), Philadelphia Phillies – The other half of Philadelphia’s dynamic duo, Lee was impressive again last season (17-8 record, 2.40 ERA, 238 Ks) and hopes he and Halladay can carry the Phillies to the World Series after a disappointing exit last year.
5. Jered Weaver (RHP), L.A. Angels – Had career-bests in wins (18-8) and ERA (2.41) and struck out 198. Look for those numbers to improve with the addition of C.J. Wilson (from Texas) to the starting rotation.
6. Ian Kennedy (RHP), Arizona Diamondbacks – Had career-bests with a 21-4 record, 2.88 ERA and 198 Ks to help the Diamondbacks to a surprising season under NL Manager of the year and former big leaguer Kirk Gibson.
7. C.C. Sabathia (LHP), N.Y. Yankees – To think that Sabathia had a 3.00 ERA and 230 Ks in baseball’s toughest division and then to go 19-8 (even though it’s with the Yankees) make us believe he could be a multiple Cy Young winner in the National League if he ever chose to test those waters again.
8. Tim Lincecum (RHP), San Francisco Giants – His record wasn’t impressive (13-14), but he had one of the league’s best ERAs (2.74) and he had 220 Ks, which make for a lethal combination.
9. James Shields (RHP), Tampa Bay Rays – Look past his record (16-12) and look at the possibilities (2.82 ERA, 225 Ks) and you have someone who could end up with one of the big-spending teams soon.
10. C.J. Wilson (LHP), L.A. Angels – Was the big contract worth it? Most think so, but only a World Series title will justify most naysayers. Wilson’s numbers last season: 16-7 record, 2.94 ERA, 206 Ks.
TOP 10 RELIEVERS
1. Mariano Rivera, N.Y. Yankees – Still the best closer in baseball, despite being 42 years old. Rivera has amassed 603 career saves and last season finished second in the American League with 45. He has finished with a sub-2.00 ERA the past four seasons.
2. Jonny Venters, Atlanta Braves – Despite not being his team’s closer, Venters might be the game’s most dominating reliever. He throws a mid-90’s fastball with wicked movement to go along with his knee buckling slider leaving many helpless in the batter’s box. In his first two seasons as a big-leaguer, Venters struck out 189 batters, pitched 171 innings, and gave up only three homers.
3. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves – The 23-year-old is the only one standing in the way of Venters being the Braves full-time closer. If you can believe it, Kimbrel’s fastball is both harder (high 90‘s) and has more movement than Venters. Kimbrel set a National League rookie record by saving 46 games last year. If he can improve his control (3.7 BB/9 last year), he might challenge Rivera’s saves record by the time he’s 35.
4. John Axford, Milwaukee Brewers – Has beaten out a 600-career saves man (Trevor Hoffman) and the single-season saves record holder (Francisco Rodriguez) the past two years to earn the closers job in Milwaukee. Axford led the NL in saves last season with 46.
5. Jose Valverde, Detroit Tigers – Finished last season perfect, saving 49 of 49 games, and leading all of Major League Baseball in saves.
6. J.J. Putz, Arizona Diamondbacks – After a few seasons of being forced (by the Mets and White Sox) into a set-up role, where he is not comfortable, Putz flourished as closer of the resurgent Arizona Diamondbacks. He logged a career-best 45 saves and had an ERA of 2.17, helping the D-Backs complete a worst-to-first season.
7. Ryan Madson, Cincinnati Reds – Madson has moved on from the Phillies after becoming a free agent and gives the Reds some sorely needed stability in the closer role. Madson finished last season with 32 saves in 34 chances (in his first full season as a closer) and cashed in with the Reds, signing a 1-year $8.5 million deal.
8. Eric O’Flaherty, Atlanta Braves – O’Flaherty is the third man in the Braves “Nasty Boys 2.0” and had, statistically, the best year of any of them, finishing the season with an 0.98 ERA in 73.2 innings.
9. Brian Wilson, San Francisco Giants – Last year was frustrating. Even before battling injuries down the stretch, Wilson struggled to hold onto leads early in the season, but he was able to eventually get it together until having to sit out half of August and most of September because of an elbow injury. However, the one thing that Wilson does not lack is confidence, and assuming he has good health, he figures to have a strong rebound season.
10. Jonathan Papelbon, Philadelphia Phillies – Has not been the same pitcher he was early in his Boston career, but a change in leagues and teams gives him a fresh start and a clear mind.
TOP 10 YOUNG PLAYERS
1. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves – The Braves youngster won Rookie of the Year in 2011 and set a rookie saves record with 45 saves. If that’s what he can do in his first year on the job…
2. Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers – The Rangers dished out more than $110 million to sign Darvish. First, the Rangers had to pay about $51 million to his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, just to negotiate with him. Then they settled on a $60 million, six-year deal. Considering pitching expert Nolan Ryan has final say on all Rangers signings, Darvish must be good. Last year, he finished with a 1.44 ERA and had a Japanese career ERA of 1.72.
3. Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals – It will be interesting to see how quickly Harper continues to move up through the Nationals minor league system. The No. 1 pick of the 2010 draft, Harper tore apart Class A pitching by batting .318 and hitting 17 homeruns. His average was down once he moved to Class AA (.256), but he still knocked 14 over the fence. This spring training will likely determine where Harper starts out, but I’m sure many Nationals fans would love to have him on the big-league roster on Day One.
4. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals – After spending most of last season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, Strasburg should be good to go for his first full season as a major leaguer. Considering his starts before the injury were called “Strasmas,” the Nationals have a big ticket seller.
5. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves – Freeman lost out on Rookie of the Year honors to his fireball-throwing Braves teammate, Craig Kimbrel, but Freeman’s numbers were solid. He hit 21 homers, knocked in 76 runs and finished the season with a .282 batting average. The slender first baseman figures to be a key cog in the middle of the order in Atlanta for many years.
6. Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays – Called up in September last year and pitched so well in three games that they gave him the Game 1 start of the ALDS. No experience? No problem! Moore pitched seven shutout innings and won the game. This year, Moore, who throws a mid-90’s fastball, figures to be the No. 3 man in the rotation behind David Price and James Shields. There are such big expectations for this guy that the Rays have already locked him up with a five-year, $14 million deal, despite having very little major league experience.
7. Jesus Montero, Seattle Mariners – In his 61 at-bats last season for the Yankees, Montero hit .328 with four home runs and 12 RBIs. Now that Montero has been traded to Seattle, he figures to have most of the playing time behind the plate for last year’s most anemic offense (last in runs scored, batting average, and on-base percentage, to name a few).
8. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds – Still a young guy learning how to pitch, but considering he was once clocked at 105 mph (an MLB record), he can make a few more mistakes on the job than most guys. But the Reds need to figure out what they are going to do with him. He’s getting tested as a starter in spring training and it’s given them mixed results. You have to wonder if it would be better to groom him as the long-term closer.
9. Josh Reddick, Oakland A’s – Was poised to become Boston’s starting right fielder before a trade for Andrew Bailey and Ryan Sweeney sent him west to play “moneyball” for Oakland GM Billy Beane. Reddick is major league ready and is a building block for Oakland’s future.
10. Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs – Rizzo, who the Cubs acquired in a trade from San Diego this offseason, is looking to become the Cubs cornerstone first baseman they’ve been searching for since Mark Grace left town. Rizzo may start the season in the minors, as 29-year-old Bryan LeHair has been given the first base job to start in April, but the long-time minor leaguer may not be able to hold off the younger (22), talented, power-hitting Rizzo for very long.
TOP 5 CHRISTIANS TO WATCH IN BASEBALL
1. Albert Pujols, L.A. Angels – St. Louis Cardinals fans reading this, and even some pure baseball fans, are either sighing or shaking their head because they can’t believe Pujols didn’t stay with the Cardinals. But he’s gone and the American League will be a new adventure. His numbers took a slight dip last year and he missed 15 games, so this season, and next, will tell if, at 31 years of age, Pujols is on the downside of his career or if last year was merely an anomaly.
2. Clayton Kershaw, L.A. Dodgers – How will the 24-year-old lefthander follow up last year’s performance of winning the National League Cy Young and the Triple Crown for pitchers (21 wins, 2.28 ERA and 248 Ks) in only his fourth season? If history is any indicator, he will fare pretty well. In the last 13 years in the National League, Randy Johnson won four consecutive Cy Youngs (1999-2002), Tim Lincecum won two (2008-09) and six of the last 10 winners have produced lower ERAs the year after winning the Cy Young.
3. Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers – With this being the last year of his contract, and with the revelations of his relapse with alcohol on every baseball fan’s mind, this could be a defining year for Hamilton. We’re hoping, and praying, he gets the help he needs and also the peace and victory of God to beat this dreadful addiction.
4. Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals – Replacing Albert Pujols will be difficult considering Beltran has been often injured (he missed 81, 98 and 20 games in each of the past three years with the Giants and Mets) and the last time he had a solid season was in 2008 (27 HRs, 112 RBIs, .284 BA), which is barely comparable to Pujols’ worst season (37 HRs, 99 RBIs, .299 BA), which was last year.
5. Brad Lidge, Washington Nationals – He signed a one-year contract with the Nationals. So the question remains if he can regain the edge he had in 2009 when he was the top closer in baseball by making good on 48 of 48 save opportunities, including seven in the postseason and closing out the deciding game to help Philadelphia win the World Series?