Thursday, January 27, 2011

California Dreamin' 2011 Part I

During last year's free-agent's period I wrote a post called California Dreamin'...or is it where I basically noted how the California teams had seemed to be trumped by other teams in terms of free-agent signings. Now, as we saw with the culmination of the World Series, the San Francisco Giants had the last laugh on all the naysayers (including myself). So in keeping with the theme of last year's post, here I go with my California Dreaming.

- San Francisco Giants
I've got to start off with the World Series Champs who finally brought the trophy to San Francisco after 58 years without a championship. My main gripe about the Giants last season was though the team could pitch, they lacked offensive. Though they showed in the stretch run and the postseason that their pitching could offset their offensive woes, there were times during the early season that their offense was their achilles heel. This season their offense hasn't really improved, yet.

I think the Giants will feel the loss of Juan Uribe more than the loss of Edgar Renteria. While both players came up big in the postseason, Renteria was mainly a non-factor during the season while it seemed that Uribe played everywhere in the field. For now Miguel Tejada seems to be starting shortstop while a Mark DeRosa can fill Uribe's utility man spot on the roster if he can remain healthy. Pablo Sandoval's weight issues will also be a major news story especially if he fails to regain his form from the 2009 season. Aside from those two free agent departures and the Tejada signing the team is not much different offensively than last season. I think that changes in May when Brandon Belt is called up from the minors.

Belt is a 22-year old 6'5" 195lb left handed hitting first baseman who in one season in the minor leagues for the Giants hit a combined .352 with 23 HR and 112 RBI. In 492 at-bats, Belt had 173 hits (43 2B/10 3B/23 HR) with 99 strikeouts, 93 walks and 22 stolen bases. His OPS was 1.075 (.455 OBP/.620 SLG). Now keep in mind that the majority of those numbers were achieved in single A California League but having started in single A and finishing the season in AAA Belt performed at each stop. I believe that it is a matter of time before Belt joins the Giants and solidifies the lineup.

In terms of pitching, when you have a rotation Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Johnathan Sanchez and Barry Zito with a bullpen of Brian Wilson, Jeremy Affeldt, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez and Santiago Castilla there's not much that needs to be said. I know the talk of the National League's pitching is going to center among the fearsome foursome in Philadelphia but these guys in San Francisco have already done it together while the Philadelphia quartet has to do it together. I believe that Giants will still be the team to beat in the National League.

- San Diego Padres
The Padres are the California team that has made the most changes to its team for the 2011 season. The big move was the trade that sent All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the Boston Red Sox but it wasn't the only move made by the Friars. The Padres added the following players through trades and free agent signings:

1B Brad Hawpe
2B Orlando Hudson
SS Jason Bartlett
CF Cameron Maybin
C Rob Johnson

Both Bartlett and Hudson are signed for two years and Maybin is arbitration eligible in 2013. Add these players to Chase Headley and Ryan Ludwick and the Padres seem to have a good core nucleus to play alongside their strength which is their pitching.

The Padres rotation is made up of starters Matt Latos, Clayton Richard, Tim Stauffer, Wade LeBlanc, Adam Harang (who was signed in the offseason from Cincinnati) and youngster Cory Luebke. The bullpen is anchored by closer Heath Bell and supported by Luke Gregerson, Mike Adams, Joe Thatcher, Ernesto Fieri and free agent signing Dustin Moseley (formerly of the New York Yankees). The Padres faithful might be saddened by the loss of Gonzalez but on paper based on their offseason moves, I believe the Padres will be a threat to contend for the National League Wild Card.

- Oakland Athletics
Billy Beane has once again put the pieces together for what I believe is going to be an Oakland Athletics team that will win the American League West Division. Why? First off, their rotation is solid. Even after trading Vin Mazzaro to the Kansas City Royals for David DeJesus, they have Trevor Cahill, Brian Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden, Brandon McCarthy and Rich Harden. Their bullpen might be the best in the league with the signing of Brian Fuentes who will be either the 8th inning option or the closer if Andrew Bailey has issues from his recovery from last season's elbow injury. The A's also added reliever Grant Balfour (formerly of the Tampa Bay Rays) to go along side Michael Wurtz, Craig Breslow, Jerry Blevins, Brad Ziegler and Joey Devine.

Offensively, the A's have had a year together to gel into a solid unit. The addition of DH Hideki Matsui will only help the development of players due to his veteran presence and baseball experience. The acquisition of Josh Willingham from the Washington Nationals also adds depth to an outfield that will be made up of Coco Crisp and David DeJesus. The infield of Daric Barton, veteran Mark Ellis, Cliff Pennington and Kevin Kouzmanoff along with catcher Kurt Suzuki to me is one of the best in baseball and they can only get better.

Like I said before, I think the A's will win the American League West. The Rangers are not the same team they were last season. The Mariners are in rebuilding mode and I'll get into the reasons why the Angels won't win the division in my next post. I'll also touch upon the Los Angeles Dodgers and their made for Hollywood divorce drama.


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