Monthly Archives: March 2011

Let’s Start An MLB Franchise

Recently, Major League Baseball hosted a nation-wide job interview for their Dream Job – one in which the winner would spend the baseball season living in New York City, watching every baseball game of the 2011 season in a state-of-the-art Fancave. 16 television screens so that if a baseball game is on, it can be watched.

I saw a clip of MLB Network’s baseball crew interviewing the winner recently and they asked him if he was starting a franchise, which three players he would choose to build around. His answers were Derek Jeter, Felix Hernandez and Brian Wilson. And with that answer it made me curious as to whether MLB chose the smartest baseball fan for their Dream Job, or simply one that was simply fanatical.

If this guy wants to start his franchise with a 36 year old shortstop, the best young pitcher in baseball and a one-year wonder closer that’s his prerogative. But I bet I can choose three of my own players and blow his out of the water.

First off, you want to take a solid up-the-middle talent star. If he was starting his franchise in 1999, Jeter makes sense. But not now, not when Jeter is in the twilight of his eventual Hall of Fame career. There are really two elite shortstops in baseball right now and neither is Derek Jeter. My first choice is Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. At age 26, he’s just beginning to enter the prime of his career and would solidify the middle of your infield for a decade or more.

Next I’d look for an arm to anchor my pitching staff and Felix Hernandez would be my choice, and is the only pick I agree with. Since he’s taken, I’ll just go ahead and grab someone like Boston’s Jon Lester or Tampa Bay’s David Price. Young, uber-talented lefties don’t just grow on trees. Maybe Clayton Kershaw or Tim Lincecum.

Lastly, I would not take a closer. Unless you are Mariano Rivera, the closer role is simply too volatile and has much too high a turnover rate. I’d turn again to the offense and lock up a young, talented player at a premium position. I’d probably take Evan Longoria, the 25-year old wonderkid who can do just about everything.

I think my trio of Tulowitzki, Lester and Longoria would be a better start to a franchise than Jeter, Hernandez and Wilson. I have more youth and more talent and I also have those aspects at positions where talent is sparsest.

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2011 NL Predictions

1. Philadelphia Phillies (95-67)
The Phillies became so overrated this winter that it’s become trendy to pick against them, so much so in fact that I believe they are underrated again. This is a team that won 97 games last year despite some pretty bad injuries and long disappearing acts from the offense. I’d wager that at least one of their “four aces” takes a turn on the DL at some point, but they are still an excellent ball club and the team to beat.

2. Atlanta Braves (93-69)
Very quietly, the Braves have put together a very formidable team. They have rotation that is deep and talented, so much so that Mike Minor will open the season in Triple-A. The addition of Dan Uggla and the return of a healthy Chipper Jones will lengthen the lineup and provide more support to the staff. They made it to the playoffs last season despite being a lesser offensive club and dealing with significant injuries. I think they make a return trip this season, providing they can stay somewhat healthy.

3. Florida Marlins (88-74)
The 2011 Marlins have significant upside, but have a fairly high bust factor to them as well. They’ve hedging a lot of bets on pitchers that perpetually underperform their peripheral stats (Nolasco and Vazquez). The offense will undoubtedly miss Dan Uggla’s consistency, and expecting Omar Infante and John Buck to repeat their 2010 campaigns may be unrealistic. The talent is there and the team is a good one, but Atlanta and Philly are better.

4. Washington Nationals (78-84)
The future is starting to look a little better, but the nation’s capitol will have to wait a bit longer to be relevant again. The offense has become one that is actually a good unit. Jayson Werth is not worth his contract, but he’s an very good player on both sides of the ball and will fit nicely with the other offensive pieces around him. Ryan Zimmerman is perpetually underrated and Adam LaRoche’s consistency goes overlooked. If young players like Ian Desmond and Michael Morse take a step forward, Washington could prove to be an annoying spoiler team. But regardless of how many runs they score, their pitching staff is more than capable of giving up even more.

5. New York Mets (72-90)
The Mets’ new front office has its work cut out for them. The Kings of Queens have turned quickly into jokers. They’ve got some potentially nice offensive pieces, but not a particularly intimidating lineup. They’re not exactly a model of perfect health either and they are betting on some young unproven guys to repeat career performances. If a lot things break right for the Mets they could be looking at a remote wild card shot by July. If not, an enormous roster shake up wouldn’t be out of the question.

1. Cincinnati Reds (91-71)
Apart from Joey Votto, nobody particularly stands out on a rather blase Reds team. But they were good enough to win a weak division last year and it doesn’t look like the division got much better. As is the norm with most upstart teams, the Reds got a lot of unexpected contributions this year and the trick now is to see if they can repeat those.

2. Milwaukee Brewers (90-72)
The Brewers did not struggle to score runs last season, nor did their opponents. While they will remain a very strong offensive team, they did vastly improve their rotation situation which no longer boasts Randy Wolf as a main attraction. Both Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum are excellent additions, although they’ll need to avoid any more pick-up basketball games. The Brewers are definitely the most improved NL Central team and could very well nudge the Reds out for the division crown.

3. St. Louis Cardinals (89-73)
Adam Wainwright’s injury really threw the rotation out of whack, to the point where it probably won’t be all that good. Carpenter is solid, but not a given to stay on the field. Chances are he’ll either be on the DL or on a different team come the trade deadline. After Pujols, Holliday and Rasmus, the lineup is void of any serious offensive threats. The Cardinals are the epitome of stars and scrubs, and with less stars than they had last year, they shouldn’t expect much this summer under the Arch.

4. Chicago Cubs (80-82)
The rotation should be solid and the back of the bullpen is excellent, but the offense seems to be comprised of too many overpaid and underperforming aging veterans. Starlin Castro is a nice injection of youth and ability, but he’s just one guy.

5. Pittsburgh Pirates (75-87)
At least they’re not in last place! They have some nice young offensive pieces like Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker, but the rotation is mostly garbage and the bullpen is not much better. They’re moving in the right direction, but at an exponentially slow pace. The fifth place finish is less a vote of confidence in the Pirates, but rather a complete disbelief in the awfulness of the Astros.

6. Houston Astros (69-93)
Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers did a nice job last year at the front of the rotation, but the back of the rotation is filled with question marks, the bullpen is less than intimidating and the offense isn’t going to out-score anybody enough to consistently win ballgames. And considering the Astros shocking lack of high-end talent in the minors, don’t be surprised to see some veterans shipped off for prospects, like Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman were last season.

1. San Francisco Giants (92-70)
World Series hangover or not, this is still a very good club. I don’t think they’ll get quite the same production that they got last year from Aubrey Huff, Andres Torres and Pat Burrell, but offense isn’t what won them a championship anyways. The 2011 Giants will go just as far as their pitching takes them. And with a rotation fronted by 2-time Cy Young award winning Tim Lincecum and filled out with guys like Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner, that’s a long way. Because of their ability to develop young pitching, it’s made making $185 million dollar man, Barry Zito a very expensive fifth starter a little bit easier.

2. Colorado Rockies (86-76)
I don’t see San Francisco being better than they were last year, but I do see the Rockies being better. However, the Rockies were only an 83 win team last season and didn’t do much to improve themselves except that they expect Troy Tulowitzki to be around for a full season this year. The rotation has a lot of boom or bust potential, and can we really expect the same numbers from Carlos Gonzalez again? Maybe, but I still see them as an also-ran rather than a frontrunner this year.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers (78-84)
Kershaw-Billingsley-Kuroda is a damn good front three and they have some depth at the back of the rotation. The bullpen’s not terrible, but I can not foresee the offense scoring with enough frequency to support what should be a nice year from their pitchers. They lack a high impact bat on offense, but could have several nice pieces if they can stay healthy. A bounceback from Matt Kemp would be nice, especially if it settles some questions about his dedication and work ethic. Funny how production answers those. Truth is, the Dodgers really need to smooth out their ownership status before they can truly rebuild themselves into a perennial contender.

4. San Diego Padres (76-86)
Now that Adrian Gonzalez no longer anchors the lineup, the Padres offense is among the games worst units—Ryan Ludwick probably bats cleanup for San Diego this year. Take a terrible offense and make it play 81 games in one of the most offense-suppressing ballparks in baseball and you end up with very ugly results. The rotation isn’t anything special and since that is the case, the shutdown bullpen is typically going to be rendered to lower-leverage situations.

5. Arizona Diamondbacks (70-92)
A bounceback from Justin Upton would go a long way into re-establishing this lineup, but apart from him there are a lot of decent players with big holes. They strikeout way too much and get on base way too infrequently. Those two characteristics lead to a very inconsistent and ineffective offense which is the last thing the Diamondbacks need with its pitching situation in absolute shambles. Ian Kennedy profiles more as a back of the rotation guy, but draws an Opening Day start for Arizona.

2011 AL Predictions

1. Boston Red Sox (94-68)
I don’t think Boston will be the ungodly superpower that many are projecting them to be. Sure, they picked up Adrian Gonzalez and signed Carl Crawford, but the two of them were less productive than Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez were in 2010. Gonzalez and Crawford also play less premium positions, meaning the Red Sox will have to run someone like Jarrod Saltalamacchia out there on a regular basis, he of the 82 career OPS+. The back end of the pitching rotation remains questionable. Josh Beckett was not good last year and Dice-K is about as dicey as they come.

2. New York Yankees (93-69)
The Yankees failed to sign Cliff Lee, leaving them to scramble to fill the back two spots in their rotation. If Ivan Nova, Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia can be serviceable, the Yankees will be just fine. But if they all flame out early, it could be a long year in the Bronx. The offense will remain prodigious, and the bullpen should be among the league’s best. The Yankees led the league in offense in 2010, and did so with several key players contributing less-than-impressive seasons. A return to normal for guys like Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter could turn an already impressive offense into a run-producing powerhouse.

3. Tampa Bay Rays (85-77)
The Rays have won the AL East two of the past three years, but enter into another transition year in 2011. Gone is pretty much the entire bullpen as well as two of their most productive hitters, Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena. As usual, the farm system is stacked with plenty of talent ready to start replacing the departed stars, but this year may be too soon to expect full returns on investment. The homegrown rotation will keep the Rays in ballgames and in the division race, but ultimately will miss out on a third playoff berth in four years.

4. Baltimore Orioles (80-82)
The O’s are definitely headed in the right direction, but their touted young talent has failed to develop as well as expected. Matt Wieters has been more average than awesome, and the young outfield has been more ordinary than outstanding. There’s some hope on the way with some pitching prospects, but they’re in the wrong division to be learning on the job. A lot of one year stopgaps in place for the team, with guys like Derrek Lee, JJ Hardy and Vladimir Guerrero looking to rebuild their value off down years.

5. Toronto Blue Jays (76-86)
Trading Roy Halladay hurt, no doubt, but getting rid of Vernon Wells was a fantastic move by the Jays, regardless of how positive an influence he was. His ill-advised contract was a burden on a team playing in a division where every dollar counts if they want to compete. Shedding that salary allows them more financial flexibility going forward.

1. Detroit Tigers (90-72)
Despite his off-the-field antics, Miguel Cabrera remains one of the league’s most prolific offensive players and now has an adequate sidekick to help carry Detroit’s offense in Victor Martinez. The Tigers offense will be better, but they will still rely on their top heavy rotation and shut down bullpen to win ballgames. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello look to build onto their short major league resumes, and Joaquin Benoit will team with Jose Valverde to form an imposing late-inning tandem.

2. Minnesota Twins (85-77)
The Twins have long made a habit of developing their own talent and competing year in and year out with a limited payroll. But the Twins have churned out some rather impressive homegrown players the past few years, and with high attendance numbers and a new stadium generating record revenues, the Twins have raised their payroll into baseball’s top 10. Their park, while detrimental to and infuriating for the Twins home run hitters, is suited perfectly for their “pitch-to-contact” pitching philosophy.

3. Chicago White Sox (82-80)
The Sox are definitely going for it, having taken on a lot of payroll in recent years (Rios, Peavy and Dunn). They’re in the right division to make a run at another playoff berth, but will need their pitching to hold up all season in order to have that shot. They won the World Series because each of their pitchers had a career year and something similar will need to happen for them to be serious contenders again this year. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

4. Kansas City Royals (75-87)
No matter what transpires for the Royals this season, if their young talent continues to develop on schedule the season will be a success. They’ve got some veteran placeholders while that talent approaches the major leagues, and I feel comfortable in saying that the Royals will make the playoffs within the next five seasons. Dayton Moore said that his first priority was going to be rebuilding the Royals from within and he’s certainly accomplished the first step in that process by compiling vast amounts of young talent. The trick now is to develop it and transition it all to the majors.

5. Cleveland Indians (70-92)
In direct contrast to the Royals, the Indians have very few high-upside talents in the minors and look to be mired in a rebuilding stage for a few years. Trading off veterans like Grady Sizemore and Fausto Carmona makes all the sense in the world if by doing so, Cleveland can replenish their farm system. Although given the poor returns on their recent trades, even that may be too much of a challenge for the Tribe. When the best player you get back for CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez is Justin Masterson, it might be time to reconsider the scouting department.

1. Texas Rangers (89-73)
I can’t see them being that much better than they were last year, when they got a career year from Josh Hamilton, a pleasant surprise from CJ Wilson and a resurgence from Vladimir Guerrero. The starting rotation doesn’t look to be overly impressive so the Rangers will have to mash their way to a second consecutive division crown, which they are more than capable of doing.

2. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (84-76)
In 2011, the Angels will pay over $50 million for three centerfielders—none of which will play centerfield for the Angels. Gary Matthews Jr is still owed $11 million this season despite being dumped last season, while Vernon Wells ($23 million) and Torii Hunter ($18 million) will play the corner outfield positions this year for the Halos. The Angels are a collection of a lot of overrated offensive and defensive players with a pitching staff that doesn’t have much depth beyond Dan Haren and Jered Weaver.

3. Oakland Athletics (80-82)
Perhaps one of the league’s best kept secrets is Oakland’s starting rotation, which is five deep and five strong. With a very good bullpen, even a passable offense could allow the A’s to make their first playoff run since 2006. But additions like Josh Willingham, David DeJesus and Hideki Matsui probably won’t help an offense that ranked eleventh in the American League last season enough to jump to the top of baseball’s smallest division.

4. Seattle Mariners (63-99)
Typically I don’t like to pick teams to lose 100 games, but the Mariners did it last season and very well may do it again in 2011. The offense was historically futile last season and doesn’t figure to be much better this time around. The pitching, apart from Felix Hernandez, isn’t very good and there’s not much minor league talent behind Dustin Ackley and Michael Pineda. The forecast looks just as bad for the Mariners as it does for America’s dreariest city.

15 Places Kids Should See

A friend turned me onto this article of 15 Places Kids Should See Before 15. As it would seem, she assumed that I had visited each place on the list because of my extensive travel experience.

But as I scrolled through the list I realized I had hit only about half of them. This development made me realize that while my international travel itinerary is quite vast, I haven’t really explored a lot of the awesome places that our own country offers.

Officially, I’ve been to 8 of the 15 places on this list, but it’s 9 of 15 if you substitute Yankee Stadium for Fenway Park, which I think any red-blooded American should.

Grand Canyon – Arizona
Definitely a location on my bucket list, as an East Coast and Midwest guy, my western travels haven’t been all that extensive. I’ve definitely witnessed some absolutely breathtaking physical marvels, but the Grand Canyon is not one of them.

Redwood National Park – California
California really isn’t my cup of tea. Been out there a few times, but the furthest north I ever made it was San Francisco. But that certainly doesn’t mean I’ve missed out on enormous trees. Maybe not trees so big that you could drive a car through them, but definitely trees bigger than the pines outside my work.

Monticello – Virginia
The first location on this list that I have been to. Went to Thomas Jefferson’s estate when I was a younger boy and would love to head back at some point.

The Freedom Trail – Massachusetts
Makes it three out of four so far that have yet to play host to a Nathaniel vacation. As someone who has more than just a passing interest in American history, the whole Boston area is one that probably needs a thorough exploring in the next few years.

Niagara Falls – New York
Yes, my first trip to Canada and my first experience in a revolving restaurant. Truly breathtaking, Niagara Falls is something that I’m certainly glad I was able to witness first hand.

The National Mall – Washington, D.C.
All of Washington DC is an excellent place to spend hours and hours just wandering around. The history that is represented in that town is fantastic. From memorials to museums, DC has everything. I was lucky enough to spend a week up in that area for a 300-voice choir conference and performance back in high school and even then, didn’t have nearly enough time to fully explore everything that I wanted to.

Williamsburg – Virginia
It’s really a novel concept that by dressing kids up in 18th century garb, you can get them to enjoy chores. But when they get back home and into their crocs, heaven forbid if dad asks them to set the table for dinner. I was the same way. Churning butter in knickers? So much fun! Taking out the trash in OshKosh? Forget about it.

Walt Disney World Resort – Florida
Been several times, and it got better and better each time. Most recently I was down there for spring break one year in college which was probably the most fun I’ve had in Disney. Certainly pricey, but definitely worth it and I hope someday I can bring my kids there and let them run around collecting autographs from Mickey and Pluto.

Independence Hall – Pennsylvania
Another hot spot for history. But so far as I know, Nicolas Cage only planted National Treasure clues there.

Alcatraz Island – California
Something I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed in my earlier years, when I went in high school I was absolutely fascinated my the prison. I like being to places I’ve seen in movies and Escape From Alcatraz is one of my favorite old movies.

Ellis Island – New York
Imagine a place where people from other countries could immigrate to the United States legally. I don’t want to turn this into a political post, but we could use one of these somewhere along the Mexican border.

Yellowstone National Park – Wyoming, Montana and Idaho
An American classic, but not one that ever really interested me that much. Hot springs and geysers and other geographical workings never really caught on as a subject of fascination with me. I did read a book as a child about a family that took a huge RV to Yellowstone. I don’t remember the name of the book or if they ever made it to Yellowstone or not.

Fenway Park – Massachusetts
Can’t say this is a place that I’d ever want to patronize. Don’t like the on field product and I’m fairly certain I wouldn’t enjoy the 35,000 other people or so that would be joining me. Sure it’s old and historic, but I’m not a fan of cramped run-down facilities. I love watching games on TV from those places, but Wrigley Field was a dump and I’m sure Fenway is too. As for baseball history? I’ve been to the old Yankee Stadium and that has countless more memories and legends.

Craters of the Moon National Monument & Preserve – Idaho
Never even heard of it. And if I haven’t heard of an exotic travel destination with the grandparents I have, it’s probably not a place that a child needs to see by any age, let alone their 15th birthday. I googled it and it’s another one of those geological marvels.

San Diego Zoo – California
I love zoos. I think animals are simply fascinating. But I’ve never been to the San Diego zoo. I’ve been to a handful of American zoos, and probably even more international zoos, most recently the Taronga Zoo in Sydney. It was my first Southern Hemisphere zoo, meaning I got to experience a whole new lineup of exotic creatures.