Thursday, December 31, 2009

IronPigs Strengthen(?!?) Pitching Staff

In the continuing quest to create a pitching staff that features all Tommy John surgery pitchers, the IronPigs are pleased to announce the addition of Francisco Liriano. Liriano, who sadly will be an improvement over most of the frauds on our staff, is coming off surgery and will not be relied on heavily to carry much of the burden of the pitching staff. He will likely be used in a mop role. It is rumored that the IronPigs are in negotiations with other prospective players who might fit the bill. Management denied the rumor that Tommy John himself was being contacted.

Sioux Offseason Update - Hot Stove Edition

Burlington, VT -

The dust has finally settled (well, almost) on the travesty that was the 2009 Less Filling League Championship Series. For the first time since they blew a 3-0 series lead against Pennylegion's game Pilots squad, Vermont Fighting Sioux management and players have been seen in actual daylight. The hangover and hibernation were long and wrought with grief and Dewars.

But it's the dawn of a new day (/keeps telling himself that). Sioux GM Justin Rabidoux is proud to announce that he recently received his Stage 6 Merit Badge from the local chapter of Brotherhood of the 7 Stages of Grief. Stage 6 is Reconstruction and Working Through. And gosh darnit, that's just what we'll do. Stages 1 to 3 were so hard on the Sioux front office, that rumors of a possible liquidation of all assets, including Albert Pujols himself, were being considered. However, as they made "The Upward Turn", or Stage 5 to you fellow Merit Badge holders, the Sioux soon realized the folly of such thinking.

With that out of the way, it's time for the Sioux to evaluate their roster and off-season options. Vermont certainly has 17 worthy keepers, but they also have a need come draft day. That need is mainly picks. In the mad race for the (elusive) NASBL World Series trophy, the Sioux traded picks 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 8 away. 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, eh Mr. Tennyson?

The following players are hereby available for trade in return for draft picks.

RHRP - Ramon Ramirez - RR put together another great season out of the pen. Posting 69.2 IP with a great 0.623 OPS vs. RHB. Has proven himself a valuable SOM commodity. For the Sioux in '09 he posted a 2.89 ERA and held RHB to a sick .180 avg. and only 1 HR in 133 ABs. Perfect fit for a contender. I want to keep him, but he may be worth more to you than to the rebuilding Sioux.

LHRP - Hideki Okajima - Very productive 61 IP at your disposable. But did you know this, he held LHB to a 0.467 OPS. That's not a misprint, 0.467 OPS. Even the Royals think that sucks. Hideki continues to be a dependable workhorse into his 30s, posting his 3rd straight 60+ IP MLB season. Once. Again. 0.467 OPS. Same story as Ramon, I'll gladly keep him, but you should want him more than I do.

1b/DH - Aubrey Huff - He continues to hit and hit. The Sioux have Lyle Overbay locked into the backup 1b/DH slot, making Huff expendable.

2b/3b - Akinori Iwamura - An injury cut his season short, but he did return and play in the last 25 MLB games, and did so well enough to get acquired by the Pirates as their everyday 2b. Only one year removed from his season as a "1" at 2b, all signs point to a solid rebound for Aki. Only available due to Robinson Cano's great '09 MLB season. And don't look at Aki simply as a down the road chip, he still has 231 ABs for you with a 2 range at 2b and a sick 0.942 OPS vs. LHP. Perfect platoon player at 2b, and with that OPS even good enough to be a DH vs. LHP.

SP/RP - Francisco Liriano - Now a full two years removed from Tommy John surgery, he's a great low risk/high reward candidate for a team with excess picks or the gambling jones. Don't forget how good he was his rookie season, no reason to think that given adequate recovery time, which he's had, he can't produce for you in the future. Liriano had his troubles last year, but he still produced a 8.0 K/9 ratio, good stuff indeed. Had 5 relief appearance, so could be a decent 140 IP reliever to fill in for usage issues also.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

IronPig Trade Update

In an ongoing effort to improve our pitching staff, LVI management is pleased to announce that we have added a former MLB 18 game winner to our team. Pitcher Kelvim Escobar was added to the team via trade. His presence in our locker room will give a big boost to our younger pitchers.

Unfortunately, Escobar injured his pitching arm playing WII Tiger Woods Golf 2009 and will not be able to participate in the upcoming season, but his knowledge and understanding of the NASBL pitchers should be a big benefit to Jose (don't eat the worm) Cuevo, er Cueto.

Escobar and an undetermined draft pick were added in exchange for utility man Chase Headley. We are sad to see Chase leave after only one season, but he was behind Longoria, Crawford and Lind on the depth chart so his outlook for playing time was slim at best.

Chase was unavailable for comment, but his Facebook had the following quote: "that's just great, I get traded to the only team that was worse than the IronPigs last year"!

Chows Still Trying to Get a Bat

Illinois Times -- Rumor Report

GM/Owner Brad Sherlag is again in talks with other GMs to shore up his offense. He made some inquiries earlier in the off-season to try to get an impact bat for the Chows 2nd round pick. Sherlag is now sweetening the pot and adding a starting pitcher to the mix. Anonymous sources close to the GM are saying the pitcher is Blanton. Since the Chows are still in the market for a DH, this may be enough to get a deal done. If the Chows are unable to complete a deal - look for them to nab their DH in either the first or second round.

EDITORS NOTE: The Illinois Times realizes that these "leaks" are intentional. We know that the Illinois front office is using us as a tool to drum up interest and urgency from other NASBL GMs. However, this is the type of payback article that allows the Times to scoop other local newspapers when deals are consummated. For example, the St Albans Messenger has yet to report on the blockbuster deal that netted the local Cannibals a 6th.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Roadkill Reshuffle Deck

During a season that led even the most dedicated of Roadkill Nation to question the front office moves the slow rebuilding process continues. When Todd Helton was moved during the '08 Winter Meetings only to be followed by Mags, J-Roll, Lidge & Vlad during the disastarous '09 season, the goal was to shore up the horrific pitching staff.

With Adam Wainwright & Ricky Nolasco acquired via trade the 'Kill should show great improvement in '10. Wainwright is slated as the '10 opening day starter with Nolasco following John Lackey & Yovani Gallardo in the rotation. Brad Penny was also included in the Nolasco deal & is currently being evaluated by pitching coach Leo Mazzoni for the final spot. He is expected to miss the Roadkill's ST in Lake Buena Vista and will report directly to the STL Cards pitching camp to work with Dave Duncan.

With two #1 picks in the upcoming '10 Rookie Draft it's critical the front office sign a future Justin Morneau or Nick Markakis of year's past. "Got Bats" bumper stickers have been spotted recently around the ATL.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Knights '09: A Leap Forward - to Mediocrity

(New York Daily Mirror – December 27, 2009)

NEW YORK – “Losing is a disease, like polio…ah, but curable.”
Frank Carpenter, PhD, “The Natural”

Losing stinks. Losing a lot stinks even worse. About the only good thing that can be said about the Knights’ unforgettably bad 2008 season is that it was so putrid that it probably could never be repeated, even intentionally. That improvement was inevitable was the silver lining to the dung heap that was the team’s campaign two years ago.

Indeed, the Knights’ brass, from GM Mitch Pak on up, were sorely embarrassed after the Knights lost their final game of that 44-118 abomination, particularly after the club had finally experienced success in 2007, when the Knights won 87 games. Smarting from a 50% drop-off in production, Pak pledged to make sweeping changes to the club and vowed to get the team at least back to the fringe of relevancy, if not contention. He immediately rolled up his sleeves, went to his office closet and got out the axe he put away after the 2004 Midseason Massacre. This was not a job for a surgical scalpel; if this team were to get back at least a measure of respectability, and if Pak wanted the sports talk radio gasbags in New York off his back, substantial changes had to be made, and quickly.

Pak swung the axe mightily and took out the Knights putrid pitching staff. Gone in one fell swoop were Doug Davis, Dontrelle Willis and mega-bust Barry Zito, who combined for an incredible 9-54 record, including Zito's epic 0-23 in 2008. The axe swung again and gone were has-beens like Mike Piazza (3 HR, 10 RBI, .227 BA, .561 OPS) and Cliff Floyd (.205, 4 HR, 13 RBI). With more swings came the ejections of one-hit wonders like Billy Hall, whose stupefying single-season decline from 2007 (49 HR, 134 RBI, .291) to 2008 (.250, 3 HR, 10 RBI) was akin to falling off the deck of a luxury liner into the Marianas Trench. Gone was mega-bust draft pick backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who had more letters in his last name (14) than runs scored (six).

When the carnage was done, Pak turned his attention to rebuilding the starting rotation. With the overall #1 pick of the ’09 draft, the Knights, in a controversial move, took hard-throwing lefty hurler Jon Lester, and subsequently added complementary arms in Gavin Floyd and Joe Saunders. 40 year old fan favorite Mike Mussina was brought back in his final season to send off Empire Field to the Great Ballpark Beyond. Pak then turned to the offense and brought in legendary Grizz speedster Juan Pierre and hard-hitting infielders Jorge Cantu and Clint Barmes. He brought back defensive specialist Jason Kendall (and no one else, natch) to catch. And, in his crowning move, he dealt talented but underachieving righthander Adam Wainwright (0-4, 8.47) for a quality (if aging) bat in Vladimir Guerrero. He then tweaked the bullpen and fashioned a middle relief staff that was as good as any in the entire league.

The new ingredients formed, if not a tasty stew, then at least an edible concoction that Knights fans could swallow without gagging too much. The Knights competed in ’09 and finished with 73 wins, a 29-win leap from a year earlier. While they didn’t contend in the LF Central, they at least took a big step forward to mediocrity, if not borderline respectability. The Knights went from being a mud-caked doormat in 2008 to a team that could beat you on any given day in 2009 but couldn't win consistently enough to be a contender in '09.

With the above serving as a backdrop, the Mirror presents its review of the 2009 Knights.

Xavier Nady - Grade: A

Plainly put, Nady was the Knights’ only true offensive star in 2009. He bashed 31 homers, good for sixth in the LF in a year where dingers were difficult to come by (Albert Pujols only had 33). Also had 34 doubles but netted just 75 RBI, thanks primarily to the Knights inability to get their table-setters on base consistently. Hit .293, good for tenth in the LF.

Rafael Perez - Grade: A

One of the cornerstones of the Knights superior middle relief corps, Perez was also a member of the Knights’ “closer by committee” club. Logged 65.1 innings over 37 appearances and was nothing short of terrific, going 4-1 with a 2.48 ERA and 75 strikeouts, just 24 walks and a 1.29 OPS.

Chad Qualls - Grade: A-

Qualls was named the closer after Takashi Saito was traded midway through the 2008 season. Was never quite up for the job, but did bag 9 of the team’s 24 saves. Posted a 4-2 record in 39 appearances with a 2.86 ERA, striking out 60 while walking just 20. Will probably get the closer’s job again in 2010.

Jon Lester - Grade: B+

Lester was the overall #1 pick in the ’09 draft and the face of the future of the Knights rebuilt rotation. He faced an enormous amount of pressure to do well and did not disappoint, going 12-10 for a team that finished 16 games under .500. His 3.86 ERA was good for 8th in the LF and his ability to eat innings (216.2, seventh in the LF) took pressure off the Knights bullpen. His 162 strikeouts were also good for 8th in the LF. A solid rookie season.

Grady Sizemore - Grade: B+

Sizemore rebounded nicely from a dreadful 2008, coming within a pair of eyelashes of clinching his first 30-30 season. Hit 28 homers and 38 doubles, but, like Nady, didn’t drive in many runs; he only managed to collect 73 RBI. His 29 steals is a career high. Featured prominently on the LF leaderboards: sixth in the LF in runs scored (89), total bases (275) and doubles; tied for eighth in homers and third in stolen bases. Fails to reach “A” level because of a lowish .266 batting average.

Vladimir Guerrero - Grade: B+

Vlad didn’t have the same kind of immediate impact that Jim Thome did when he arrived in New York in 2001, but his presence in the lineup definitely gave opposing managers cause for concern. Here, for the first time in five years, was a legitimate Knights slugger who could change a game with one swing. The 4-time Georgia All-Star only appeared in 60 games for the Knights after a mid-season trade with the Roadkill, but he made a large contribution with a .314 average, 15 homers, 41 RBI and a .935 OPS in just 245 at bats. He misses a higher grade due to his limited at bats.

Darren Oliver - Grade: B+

Continued to perform in a dominant fashion despite advancing age. Led the club in relief appearances with 43 and innings pitched out of the pen with 80.1. Was murder on lefty hitters (.170), struck out 46 against 20 walks and posted a 3.47 ERA with a 3-2 record and two saves.

Manny Delcarmen - Grade: B+

Was another member of the Knights excellent middle relief staff. Posted a 3.81 ERA in 54.1 innings spread out over 34 appearances. Fanned 49 against just 20 walks and held all batters to just a .224 average. Had an impressive 1.17 WHP.

Jeremy Affeldt - Grade: B

Another key member of the Knights middle relief staff, Affeldt was invaluable, making 31 appearances spanning 69.1 innings. Although he did have a losing record (1-4), also had an excellent 2.86 ERA. Allowed just 2 homers all season. Fails to get into “A” range because of a mediocre strikeout to walk ratio of 1.73-1 (58-33).

Joe Saunders - Grade: B

A mid-level draft pick in 2009, Saunders’ ’09 season was a textbook example of how statistics can be misleading. Although he had a poor 8-13 won-loss record, his 3.86 ERA suggested low run support (no surprise from this club). Gave the Knights 197.1 innings while allowing just 187 hits, striking out 120 and walking just 63. His two complete game shutouts led the club. Lefties hit just .239 off him.

Adam LaRoche - Grade: B

If not for his inability to hit left-handed pitching, requiring the Knights to constantly seek a platoon, LaRoche would be able to get 550 at bats in a season and probably hit 30-35 homers. Instead, LaRoche usually finds himself as the left-handed member of a first base platoon and 2009 was no exception. And, as usual, LaRoche turned in very good numbers in a partial season – 24 homers, 26 doubles, a .271 average and .855 OPS in 436 at bats. His grade is held down by his low RBI production, just 59.

Clint Barmes - Grade: B

Barmes was brought in to play second this year, as the Knights weren’t confident that Ty Wigginton was an everyday player at that spot. Barmes performed very well in his first year in New York , batting .290 with 11 homers, 28 doubles and 55 RBI in 106 games. His aggressive running style netted him 28 doubles in just two-thirds of a season.

Jason Kubel - Grade: B

Kubel was a 13th round pick for the Knights in 2009 but like many late-rounders selected by Mitch Pak, Kubel paid off handsomely. In 128 games, Kubel hit 19 homers and drove in 65 runs, His 10 triples were good for a second-place tie in the LF with Grundy’s Stephen Drew and was a major factor behind his 66 runs scored.

Garrett Atkins - Grade: B

With Michael Young moving to third in 2010 and with the team already loaded with first basemen, Atkins has probably spent his final year in a Knights uniform. Platooned for the first time in his career, limiting him to just 64 games and 212 at bats, the former All-Star managed to rebound from a lousy 2008 and return to his old form, batting .297 with 13 homers and 39 RBI. His on-base percentage was the best in years at .379 and his .898 OPS was among the team’s leaders. Atkins gave the Knights a steady presence at third in his years in New York and if he is cut, he will be missed.

Matt Kemp - Grade: B-

Like Atkins, Kemp was platooned at center this season, but the 23 year old made the most of his limited playing time. In 217 at bats, Kemp batted .304 with 35 runs scored, 18 doubles and 22 RBI. He was a real threat against lefties, batting a lethal .339. He was a legitimate base-stealing threat, swiping 20 bags in 22 attempts. After two years in part-time service and with incumbent Grady Sizemore facing limited at bats next season due to injury issues, look for Kemp to emerge as the club’s starting centerfielder in 2010. With 600 at bats, Kemp could steal 30-40 bases and score over 100 runs.

Jorge Cantu - Grade: B-

Cantu is an enigma. He was drafted in the 8th round of the ’09 draft, even though the Knights were already set at first and third, his two best positions. The Knights love Cantu’s bat, however, and so made room for him by shoehorning him into platoons at both first and third, managing to get him 331 at bats. Cantu delivered a good season, but not the electrifying one Pak had hoped for. His .275 average, .750 OPS, ten homers and 39 RBI were just adequate, even for someone limited to 86 games. Cantu’s lack of discipline at the plate (64 strikeouts vs. 17 walks) was alarming, although he did boast a healthy .307 average against lefties.

Ty Wigginton - Grade: B-

The Wigster was handed the starting second base job in the spring, in the hopes that he could be another Mark Loretta and provide an offensive boost from that traditionally modest offensive position. But doubts began to form, and the club eventually drafted Clint Barmes to complement Wigginton at second, a move he did not appreciate after being one of the team’s lone power threats a year ago. Perhaps feeling stung after hitting 30 homers in ’08, Wig shrank to just 19 dingers in 2009, though his 45 RBI are pretty good by Knight standards. His .253 average and .731 OPS keep him from a higher grade.

Octavio Dotel - Grade: B-

Dotel had a pretty good year in middle relief, making 34 appearances and tallying 53.1 innings, during which he allowed 47 hits and 26 walks, while striking out 59. Tended to lose movement on his fastballs occasionally, resulting in 12 homers. Misses out on a higher grade because of a 4.56 ERA.

Scott Linebrink - Grade: C+

An adequate middle reliever for the Knights, Linebrink has never quite lived up to the Knights’ hopes that he would be a lights-out set-up man or perhaps a closer. Made just 24 appearances in 2009, going 0-3 with a 4.43 ERA. Allowed 65 baserunners in 44.2 innings and surrendered an alarming 13 home runs.

Michael Young - Grade: C+

Questions about age and declining ability are starting to swirl around the Knights captain, who will be 34 next season. Young leads the Knights in most offensive career categories and marked his 1,000th hit as a Knight this past season. He has been wearing a New York uniform since mid-2003, longer than any other Knight and longer than many players on other clubs as well. But 2009 marked Young’s second down season in the past three. Benched for one block for the first time ever, Young batted just .258 with 9 homers and 61 RBI, with an alarming .362 slugging percentage and .668 OPS. The team made a long-term commitment to Young as they saw him as a Derek Jeter-type of player, who could provide both power and leadership, but if Young really is in a period of pre-decline inconsistency, the Knights had better at least start thinking about a new face of the franchise. Young will be moving to a corner position next season and the Knights will need more production from him if they have any dreams of .500, much less contention for a wild card.

Jason Kendall - Grade: C+

Kendall deserves a gold medal for perseverance but only a C+ for performance. After the club revealed in mid-season that it had accidentally neglected to draft a backup catcher and was subsequently unable to trade for one, Kendall was pressed into full time service. He caught all 162 games, amassing a career high 670 plate appearances. But the daily grind clearly wore him down. Despite making the ’09 All-Star team (and what does that tell you about the paucity of offensive catchers in the LF?), Kendall hit just .234, a career low, with one homer and 53 runs batted in. His .287 on-base percentage clearly showed the strain on his 34 year old body. It is a testament, however, to Kendall ’s ability to hit in the clutch, when you consider that while he netted 53 RBI on just one homer, Adam LaRoche only netted 59 with 24 homers. That is what lifts Kendall to the “C” level. Knights fans never really got to show their appreciation, however; Kendall was traded for SS Cristian Guzman immediately after the regular season ended - a classless move by the Knights, in the opinion of this page.

Juan Pierre - Grade: C

Pierre , a base-stealing legend for the Grizzlies, was a late-round draft pickup, was taken primarily to address the Knights’ glaring weakness in baserunning speed. Used mostly as a spot starter, defensive replacement and pinch hitter, Pierre had just 137 at bats. The lack of consistent playing time clearly affected him; while his batting average (.263) was OK, his other key numbers were putrid – no homers, 4 RBI, a .578 OPS consisting of a .294 on base percentage and .285 slugging percentage. But, Pierre did do a good job in what he was brought here for – speed on the bases. Pierre was successful in 17 of his 20 steal attempts in 2009 and was 5 for 6 in sacrifice situations.

Mike Mussina - Grade: C

With his number 35 set to be retired next spring at spanking new Knights Field, Mussina did not exactly go out in a blaze of glory in 2009. Won 11 games (against 14 losses) but allowed far too many hits (255) and right-handed hitters feasted off his pitches to a .385 clip. Did have excellent control, striking out 159 while walking just 35, keeping him from a lower grade. Allowed 30 homers, inflating his ERA to an unsightly 5.49. He goes out as franchise leader in most career pitching categories, including wins (77, going back to the North Celtic Druid days) and strikeouts (1,122). His 2002 Cy Young Award trophy is on display in the Knights Hall of Fame.

Gavin Floyd - Grade: C

Floyd, along with Lester and Saunders, was one of the three young pitchers the Knights drafted in the early rounds to refill the rotation gutted after the ’08 disaster. Even by the Knights mediocre-at-best standards, Floyd had a subpar season, going 9-13 with a bloated 5.45 ERA. He does get credit for allowing fewer hits than innings pitched (182 vs. 185) and for striking out 139, he allowed way too many home runs (36) and his 52-73 BB/K ratio against lefties is alarming. Floyd must pick it up in ’10 if the Knights are to make any noise in the LF Central.

Jeff Kent - Grade: C-

Even for a 40 year old veteran, Kent was a disappointment to the Knights. Brought in to shore up questionable offense from the second base position, Kent batted just .229 with three homers, 22 RBI and a .597 OPS in 227 at bats – all well below his career numbers. His .182 average against left-handed pitching is awful for a right-handed hitter. Chalk up Kent as another faded veteran who went out with a whimper instead of a bang.

Luke Scott - Grade: C-

Used primarily as a defensive replacement and sometimes-DH, Scott appeared in 95 games, batting .229. Managed to drive in 48 runs in limited playing time. His 88 strikeouts in 340 at bats showed an alarming lack of plate discipline and helped to drive his on-base percentage down to .303. Surprisingly, was intentionally walked three times.

Matt Cain - Grade: D+

Cain suffered through another subpar year, his second straight since his impressive rookie year in 2007. While Cain did win 14 games in ’09 (against 15 losses), nobody watching him was fooled; his success was primarily due to run support he received. His other numbers speak loudly about how poor his season really was: 196 innings, 242 hits, 108 walks, a 1.78 WHP and 30 homers allowed. The Knights are counting on Cain, who is still just 25, to have a big comeback season in ’10 and be the right-handed complement to Jon Lester. If he flops again, the Knights will go nowhere in the standings and will look elsewhere for a quality right-handed starter.

Jeff Baker - Grade: D

Most memorable moment as a Knight was his accidental selection in the draft by Mitch Pak, who thought he was drafting C Josh Baker. Had no impact on the Knights season at all, with just 66 at bats and a .227 average. Had more strikeouts (20) than hits (15).

Corey Hart - Grade: D-

Was obtained by the Knights in a hideous trade involving slugger Hideki Matsui, whom the Knights felt had run out of gas. Hart quickly proved to be a dud, batting just .211 in 71 at bats, quickly earning himself a spot on the bench. His abysmal .507 OPS was the lowest on the team.

Adam Wainwright - Grade: Inc.

Wainwright has a live arm, but never panned out in New York . Was given a second chance after a 5-14, 5.60 campaign in 2008 but when he started off 0-4, 8.47 in his first seven starts of 2009, the club gave up on him. He was benched and subsequently dealt for Vladimir Guerrero. While there is no indication that Wainwright would have rebounded from his terrible start and would have had a good ‘09, we will be charitable and say that his season here was incomplete.

Seth McClung - Grade: Inc.

McClung was the other Roadkill player the Knights received in the Vladimir Guerrero trade. Made just 10 appearances and was utterly forgettable, posting a 7.06 ERA and a WHP of 2.00. Opposing hitters will be sorry to see him go, as they teed off on him at a .344 clip.

Mike Jacobs - Grade: Inc.

Jacobs can’t figure out whether Mitch Pak likes him or not, and frankly, neither can we. He was first drafted by the Knights before the 2007 season but spent most of the year spitting pistachio nut shells out in the bullpen with the relievers, amassing a grand total of 8 at bats, during which he went hitless. He was released but then drafted again before the disastrous ’08 season. He did have a good season in a part time role in ’08 but was again released. He was drafted a third time by the Knights in ’09, but once again resumed his role as president of the benchwarmers, amassing just 16 at bats. This time around, however, Jacobs made the most of his very limited time, batting .375 with three homers, 7 RBI and a 1.290 OPS. With Jorge Cantu and Adam LaRoche still ahead of him on the 1B depth chart, however, don’t look for Jacobs to survive another cutdown round this year. But in the unpredictable world of the Knights, who knows?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Chows Hire Counsell

Illinois Times -- No, this isn't another story about the legal wranglings surrounding DYoungGate from a few years back. This time the Chows are not lawyering up, rather they are solidifying their middle infield. In a rare move that loses a Chows draft picks, Illinois traded their 6th pick to LCC for Craig Counsell.

"The move makes sense to us in a couple of ways. We wanted to get a 2B to share the load with Prado. Counsell fits that bill nicely and will play against the R-R guys while Prado plays against lefties and the R-L guys. We also needed to get a 2B who was rated at SS. Now that Hanley is a 2, we don't need a defensive caddy anymore. Counsell will fill in very occasionally for Hanley to keep his usage under check. We should be able to do this in blowouts and keep hanley available to start most every game."

Is this a signal the Chows are going for it this year? "It really all depends on how the draft breaks. With 5 picks in the first two rounds, our team will look a whole lot different than it does now. We will not pass-up a guy we think is a future superstar for a veteran that will be a stop-gap for us. However, we are not oposed to drafting a guy still in their 20s that is an established major leaguer. Right now our team does not have enough bats or top of the rotation guys to compete in our division. Who is selected with the top 6 picks (the Chows figure to have the 7th, 8th and 9th picks) will determine if we draft more with an eye towards this year or the future. The nice thing about Craig is he gives us roster flexibility. We free up the need for a back-up SS and maybe even the need for a back-up 3B. Each extra roster spot gives us the flexibility to take the best guy available instead of the position we need to fill."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Predictions - Chows Fielding Ratings

Tomorrow the annual fielding ratings will be released and give Chows GM/Owner Brad Sherlag some clarity bout some of the teams strengths and weaknesses. Below is the Illinois Times predictions and how changes could impact the club.

1B - Carlos Pena -- Prediction 2 -- Last year Pena had a 1, figures to go down a little with injury and others moving up.

2B - Martin Prado -- Prediction 3 -- There is a chance for a 4 here and Illinois would then have to address 2B. Prado may not even hit well enough for a 3 to be there. Look for the Chows to open up some trade talks once the ratings are known.

SS - Hanley Ramirez -- Prediction 3 -- He was a 4 two years ago and a 3 last year. We see him retaining his 3 but you never know. The Tulo trade will look worse if Hanley is saddled with a 4.

3B - Chone Figgins -- Prediction 2 -- Chone was a 3 last year but is regarded as a premium defensive 3B around the league. He could get anywhere from a 1 to a 3 - we are splitting the difference and going with a 2.

OF - Carlos Beltran -- Predition CF2 arm -2 -- Beltran is a perennial 1 but we think his injuries will push him to a 3 this season.

OF - Michael Bourn -- Prediction CF1 arm 0 -- Winning the gold glove should assure no worse than a 2, but we think Bourn will get the 1

OF - Kosuke Fukudome -- Prediction CF3, RF2 arm -1 -- He was not previously rated in CF so it will be interesting to see what lies ahead for kosuke.

OF - Josh Wilingham -- LF 4, RF 4 arm 0 -- Josh could get a 5 or he could get a 3 but we think a 4 is about right.

C- kurt Suzuki -- 3 arm +1 -- Kurt had a poor throwing year this season and should move from neutral to plus.

The Chows should be in good shape at the corners in the IF and in the OF with Beltran, Bourn and Fukudome. Unfortunately the middle infield is the most important part of the diamond and the Chows are weak there. SS, 2B and C could be a defensive sore spot for Illinois. Look for the Chows to get a 2B via trade or the draft and add a defensive C on draft day.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Iron Pig Call to Arms

The Lehigh Valley IronPigs suffered a tremendous sophomore slump in 2009. Having made the playoffs in the inaugural season, expectations were high for 2009, however, the baseball gods had other ideas.

The 2008 team featured a pitching staff that led the league in team ERA (3.82). The offense was somewhat pedestrian, ranking in the middle/bottom of most statistical categories. The combination proved effective though as the team posted a record of 96-66 which qualified for the playoffs.

The 2009 team was a completely different story. The team ERA skyrocketed to 5.21. The best IronPig starter was Gil Meche who posted a 7-14 record with an ERA of 4.49. Mid season acquisition, Jonathan Papelbon did not have many save opportunities, but made the most of his chances. He was the lone bright spot in a dreary season of pitching. The IronPig offense proved equally dismal. The team was near the bottom of almost every statistical category that matters. The lone bright spot was Jose Reyes, who was the team's lone all star selection.

It is reported that Reyes was complaining that his legs felt "tight" toward the end of the season. Management plans to be very cautious with Reyes in the 2010 season and will probably limit his use.

Management had the following comments following the 2009 season. IronPig management knows that the fans deserve better than we showed in 2009. We appreciate your patience and are doing everything in our power to improve the team for 2010. Management has quite a few pieces that make good trade bait and are interested in upgrading the pitching staff accordingly. Keep the faith.