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Tag:Casey Kotchman
Posted on: March 30, 2010 8:50 pm
 

The End All for 2010 MLB Predictions

With the start of the baseball season less than one week away (yes, a week , with Red Sox vs. Yankees on Sunday Night Baseball), it means only thing: it is time to dust off the magic eight-balls, look into the future and predict where the 30 teams will end up at the end of the season.

(I should point out that I won a pool last season in which we made predictions about the 2009 season before its start, and so needless to say, when I use the word "prediction" I am really meaning "cerifiable locks and spoilers" for the 2010 season.

Let's start with the American League East:
1. Boston Red Sox
2. New York Yankees
3. Tampa Bay Rays
4. Baltimore Orioles
5. Toronto Blue Jays

Comments:
Yes, I know the Yankees are defending champs, and they had a great 2009 season. But I am not impressed with the moves that they made to stay atop the best division in baseball. CBSSports.com has the Yankees, Sox, and Rays as the top three teams in baseball heading into Opening Day, and with those other teams, the Yankees needed to do better than Javier Vasquez and Curtis Granderson. Vasquez will disappoint again as he did during his first tour in New York (he's simply an N.L. pitcher) and Granderson has to fill the roles of three outfielders (Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, and Melky Cabrera - also with no Xavier Nady returning). As for the rest of the team, well this year simply makes them one year older. The Sox will indeed have enough offense to back the best all around pitching staff in baseball. The Rays remain essentially the same, but will get more from Pat Burrell and B.J. Upton. The Orioles have good, but raw, young talent (this will be Adam Jones' coming out party), enough to leapfrog the Blue Jays out of last place, who will be the designated whipping-boy of the mighty A.L. East.

A.L. Central
1. Minnesota Twins
2. Chicago White Sox
3. Detriot Tigers
4. Cleveland Indians
5. Kansas City Royals

Comments:
Traditionally a mediocre division, the Central is shapping up to be... well, mediocre, again . Last year, the Twins made a late run to win the division last season, and they have improved by adding players such as Orlando Hudson, and have enough to overcome the loss of closer Joe Nathan. (This only means that the Twins will not have to wait to the last day of the season to win the division with only 85 wins.) The White Sox have gotten better, with a very strong rotation headed by Mark Buerhle and Jake Peavy. But their success is not automatic, with Buerhle falling off after his perfect game, and Peavy struggling from injuries recently, and offensively, they will be forced to rely on busts (Alex Rios), aging veterans (Paul Konerko, Andruw Jones) and still developing youngsters (Gordon Beckam, Alexei Ramirez) to fill in around Carlos Quentin. Detriot remains a couple of starters away from the playoffs, while Cleveland and Kansas City will compete for "quickest A.L. team to 100 losses."

A.L. West
1. Seattle Mariners
2. Texas Rangers
3. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
4. Oakland Athletics

Comments:
Possibly the most interesting and exciting division in baseball in 2010. The Mariners stand as one of the most improved teams in all of baseball, adding Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins and Casey Kotchman. The Lee-Felix Hernandez 1-2 punch is one of the best in baseball. The Rangers also figure to be stronger, with ample pitching and an always impressive offense. But, perhaps most importantly for the Mariners and Rangers is what is absent from the Angels, long the dominant team in this division. They lost depth everywhere, but remain the same fundamental team of the small ball philosophy, which can always prove to be difficult to play against in September. They have a decent lineup, but no power outside of Kendry Morales, and Matsui and Joel Piniero were not the solutions to the holes in the lineup and rotation left by Figgins and John Lackey, and their bullpen also remains an issue. As for Oakland, not all is as bad as it seems. They have serious young pitching depth and a their first real base-stealer/leadoff hitter since Rickey Henderson in Rajai Davis. They, like the Orioles, are definitely moving in the right direction, but luckily for the Athletics they play in sunny California in the now suddenly wide-open A.L. West, which could start to attract a free-agent bat or two.

A.L. Wild Card:
New York Yankees

Is there any chance that the Wild Card will come out of any division besides the A.L. East in the forseeable future? I really cannot envision a situation where that would come about. Although the Rangers and White Sox may be worthy of post-season play, there is no way that two teams from the Central or West will win more games than either the Sox, Yankees, or Rays. Whoever wins the East should do so with around 100 wins, where the second place team will likely have at least 95, and that is just too many games for anyone else to keep pace.

ALDS Matchups:
Red Sox vs. Twins              
Mariners vs. Yankees

These teams matchup well with each other, but it comes down to the Red Sox and Yankees having more talent in the bottom half of their roster. The Twins do not have the depth in the rotation to hang with Boston, and the Yankees overpowering style of offense will lead to another ALCS rivalry.

Result: Red Sox, Yankees, both in 4

ALCS Matchup

Red Sox vs. Yankees

The two best teams in the A.L. will feature two of the best rotations in baseball. The Yankees have the advantage on the offensive side, but the Red Sox have the pitching depth. The Yankees would likely have to use CC Sabathia twice in the ALDS, while the Sox can afford to only use their starters once, which means that the Beckett/Lackey/Lester order is preserved for this series. The Sox bullpen is also stronger, as is their bench.

Result: Red Sox in 6

N.L. previews coming soon.
Posted on: August 5, 2009 12:40 pm
 

Victor Martinez is a Catcher: So Let Him Catch

The moves that the Boston Red Sox made at last Friday’s trading deadline gives them flexibility to choose from an array of line-ups each night. As they are preparing for a four-game showdown with the New York Yankees this weekend, the playoff run is very clearly upon them.

Victor Martinez is listed on the Red Sox roster as a catcher, although he played at only five more games behind the plate than at first for the Cleveland Indians before being traded. Pitchers often have difficulty adjusting to a new battery-mate after a trade, but a catcher has to learn an entire pitching staff’s strengths and weaknesses, a daunting task this late in the season.

That said, it is clear that the Sox’ best offensive line-up has Martinez at catcher, Kevin Youkilis at first base and Mike Lowell at third. In two of his three games with the Sox, however, Martinez has started at first, with Youkilis moving over to third, Jason Varitek doing the catching and Lowell playing left bench.

Varitek is the premier signal-caller in baseball. I say that without reserve, but not in reference to his hitting ability, or defensive signals, and certainly not his throwing arm. But rather that Varitek handles an entire pitching staff better than any other catcher in baseball, and calls a game with similar success.

Defensively, a catcher-first-third combination of Martinez-Youkilis-Lowell is roughly par with an assemblage of Varitek-Martinez-Youkilis. Varitek is no longer a Gold Glove catcher, and Lowell’s mobility and range is significantly reduced due to his off-season hip surgery.

Offensively, there is no debate that Martinez sports better numbers that Varitek. Martinez is an elite hitter at the position of catcher, and has hit in third in the Sox line-up.

The problem is that with Varitek tabbed as the team’s number one catcher, and any team wants their best starting line-up on the field in the playoffs, Varitek gets the starts during a playoff series. But that forces Youkilis over to third, which keeps Lowell out of the line-up.

Sox fans need no reminder that Lowell was the 2007 World Series MVP. But with his stint on the disabled list and constant talk of his off-season hip surgery, it may come as a bit of a surprise that Lowell is fourth on the team in batting average with an even .300. He has 11 home runs and 53 RBIs in 80 games this season.

That is a pretty solid bat to sit, especially for someone who has shown a lot of success in the playoffs (He racked up 15 RBI during the ’07 playoffs). Varitek, meanwhile, is headed toward another season batting average in the .220s.

Manager Terry Francona thus far has done a great job in managing the Sox’ line-up so that he rotates players in and out so that players with nagging injuries, like Varitek and Lowell, get the rest they need. In the playoffs, Lowell’s bat has to be in the line-up in place of Varitek at least half the time.

The implication that has for the Sox now is that Martinez needs to start catching the Sox front line starters, particularly Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. Beckett and Lester would undoubtedly go 1-2 in a playoff series. To avoid having Lowell’s bat on the bench for two games in a row, Martinez needs to be familiar enough to handle them in a playoff series.

Many teams that have productive hitting catchers, like the Indians (before the trade) and the Yankees, often use their regular catchers at another position. That sometimes leaves the team vulnerable because it becomes more difficult to pinch hit or run for that player.

If the Sox open a playoff series with Martinez as their everyday catcher, and Varitek on the bench, it gives them their best shot at winning the series. I do not underestimate Varitek’s value to the pitching staff, but for a very experienced staff like the Red Sox, Beckett and Lester can be relied on to handle their start.

What Beckett and Lester cannot do, and nor can Varitek apparently, is hit their weight. The Sox traded for a productive hitter because they were struggling offensively. Varitek and pitching coach John Farrell can micromanage their starters from the dugout and not loose much from their pitching staff.

Lastly, I do not mean to keep Varitek out of the line-up completely. When Varitek does start, it gives the Sox two excellent pinch hitters in Lowell and Casey Kotchman. But the Sox are disadvantaging their team to have Varitek catch consecutive games at the expense of a much better offensive player like Martinez or Lowell.

Posted on: July 31, 2009 5:11 pm
 

Recapping the Sox' Deadline Deals

The Boston Red Sox were one of the busier teams leading into today’s 4pm trading deadline.

The major deal was the Sox acquiring Cleveland Indians All-Star catcher Victor Martinez, and the minor deal was swapping first basemen to get Casey Kotchman from the Atlanta Braves.

Martinez is the biggest offensive pickup of the 2009 trading deadline. Martinez had a injury plagued 2008 season that lead to mediocre numbers, but he has picked it up again in 2009 and reestablished himself as one of the best offensive catchers in the game.

A switch-hitter, he gives the Sox excellent versatility in the line-up and on the field. While not official, it is expected that he will play predominantly at catcher and designated hitter. He is a better left-handed hitter, and that will allow the Sox to rotate Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek in the line-up against lefties.

The Sox gave up RHP Justin Masterson, who had been splitting the year in the bullpen and rotation, and minor league pitchers Nick Hadagone and Bryan Price.

Masterson was a solid cog of the Red Sox team, but often found himself as the odd man out. The Indians will probably utilize him as a starter, which is where most scouts see him headed, but the Sox were never in the position to give him a chance to develop in that respect.

Hadagone was the biggest chip the Sox gave up. A left-hander in class-A Greenville, Hadagone underwent Timmy John surgery and recently returned from the disabled list and was very impressive. Price is a right-handed pitcher also in Greenville.

The other trade, while it possesses less excitement, was much more peculiar. The Sox obtained Kotchman, traded as the major component of the deal that brought Mark Teixeira to the Angels, for recently acquired Adam LaRoche.

It is odd not because LaRoche only spent a few days with the Sox, or that the Sox traded him because of the surplus of first basemen the Sox possess after getting Martinez. It is strange that the Sox would trade him, an everyday player, for another left-handed first basemen used to playing everyday.

Terry Francona is going to have to do an incredible job of juggling the line-up to make sure everyone gets enough at-bats to be happy. Kevin Youkilis has to play everyday, an one would expect that Martinez is also going to be in the line-up everyday.
 
This means that somehow Francona has to rotate them so that Varitek, Mike Lowell and David Ortiz get playing time. Lowell’s time figures to be cut the most, as Youkilis will likely play most of him games at third base for the rest of the season.

Given Martinez’s poorer numbers against lefties, and Lowell and Varitek’s success, they will be playing against left-handers. But while Varitek has been described as a walking ice-pack and Lowell is coming off of hip surgery, they can’t be thrilled at the prospect of their playing time being reduced.
Kotchman has likely drawn the shortest straw. His playing time will be significantly reduced as virtually every other player in this rotation can play multiple positions, where Kotchman is relegated to first only.

Back up catcher George Kotteras will return to triple-A Pawtucket. He is the personal catcher for knuckle-baller Tim Wakefield, who is on the disabled list. He won’t be activated for a few weeks, at which time the Sox will have to decide who should catch him.
   
To replace Masterson, the Sox have several immediate choices to pick from. Southpaw Javier Lopez was optioned down at the beginning of the season because of terrible struggles, but he has turned his season down in the minors. The Pawtucket Red Sox’ closer Fernando Cabrera is mowing down hitters with an ERA under two while being perfect in save chances. Lefty Hunter Jones and righty Michael Bowden have already pitched out of the bullpen this season for the Sox, and they also have Japanese prospect Junichi Tazawa.

Until Wakefield comes back from the DL, one of those triple-A relievers figures to replace the gap in the bullpen.

Heading into tonight’s game against Baltimore, the Sox are a significantly upgraded team both offensively and defensively. The only problem will be getting a group of good players fair playing time, which any manager will tell you is a good problem to have.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com