Soft Sells and Big Shifts 

I'm back from India and fighting the evil forces of jet lag (no relation to Jet Li), brought on by forty straight hours of airplanes and airports. At least I have an excuse for saying dumb things; not so for Howard Simon, Jeromy Burnitz's agent, who gave the free agent's skills a less-than-ringing endorsement:

"He (Burnitz) was very proud of the fact he has the capability to play center field," said Simon. "He may not be as good in center field as some of the pure center fielders, but everybody who's seen him patrol center field in Coors is convinced he does at least, if not better than, an adequate job."

Can you imagine Scott Boras showing up at negotiations and saying, "My client is perfectly adequate, if not better than adequate, for the job"?

I came home yesterday to find the tectonic plates of the NL West greatly shifted; I'd like to expand upon Elbo's discussion of the realigned division with a look at a possible permutation of each team's lineup and pitching staff.


2b Durham
ss Vizquel
1b Snow/Feliz
lf Bonds
rf Alou
3b Alfonzo
cf Grissom/Tucker
c Matheny

sp Schmidt
sp Williams
sp Tomko
sp Lowry
sp Rueter

cl Benitez

Muchas pixels have been spilled about the advanced age of the Giants lineup and the screaming hole of existential pain brought about by the Mike Matheny contract, so I'll turn to the pitching staff. Jason Schmidt is a perennial Cy Young contender and the best starter in the division. Jerome Williams has all the tools necessary for a breakout year. Tomko might finally have his head together to complement his 93-MPH fastball. That's a potentially strong top three, but not a given, and certainly no better on paper than the rotation troikas of Dodgers' Penny-Perez-Weaver, the Pads' Peavy-Eaton-Williams or even the D-Backs' Vazquez-Ortiz-Webb. More question marks: Lowry is in for an adjustment period as smart teams figure out the change-up; that learning curve will likely determine whether he's long-term major-leaguer or one-year wonder. Rueter could be replaced in the rotation by the All-Star break by Jesse Foppert, Brad Hennessey, Matt Cain or Merkin Valdez.


ss Izturis
lf Werth
2b Kent
rf Drew
cf Bradley
3b Valentin
1b Choi
c Ross/Bako

sp O. Perez
sp Penny
sp Lowe
sp Weaver
sp Ishii

cl Gagne

In India, Shiva is the Lord of both creation and destruction. In Los Angeles, he is known as DePodesta. This is not your father's Dodgers, or even last year's season ticket holders' Dodgers. The only other place to find this much turnover is the glass dessert case at your local Bakers Square.

Just as it's fair to ask why anyone would eat coconut cream pie, one must wonder: $9 million a year for Derek Lowe? If Rob Neyer can give his homey DePo the benefit of the doubt, perhaps I should, too....naaah. Still, the horrid nagging little voices tell me, if Neyer's right, the rotation is probably the best in the division. And the closer is the best in baseball. And the lineup could be very, very good if Drew plays up to expectations, Kent has a solid year, Werth continues to improve and enrage the denizens of the 1-3-8, and Milton "Mindhead" Bradley learns to K-I-T keep it together. Curse ye, Ducking Fodgers!


cf Roberts
2b Loretta
rf Giles
1b Nevin
lf Klesko
3b Burroughs
ss Greene
c Hernandez

sp Peavy
sp W. Williams
sp Eaton
sp Lawrence
sp D. May

cl Hoffman

Not many moves so far this winter. Not many needed. With Greene good and getting better, Hernandez a solid young catcher, and Loretta a potential batting champ, the Pads have a strong lineup that only lacks surefire power. Sean Burroughs has shown zero and doesn't have enough OBP to compensate; Klesko's pop melted away last year like Jason Giambi's musculature (blame it on Petco, Ryan?), so Nady may step in. I like the starting rotation: Peavy is the next Kevin Brown without the giant bug up his ass; Eaton could be ready for a breakout; Lawrence is steady if not spectacular. The rotation only needs to get a lead to the bullpen (Linebrink-Otsuka-Hoffman), one of the best trios in the bigs.


2b Counsell
ss Clayton
lf Gonzalez
3b Glaus
rf Green
1b Tracy
c Hammock?
cf ?

sp Ortiz
sp Vazquez
sp Webb
sp Estes
sp Fossum/Halsey?

cl Valverde

Lots of big acquisitions, lots of big holes. Still no center fielder (Luis Terrero didn't wow anyone last year). The offensive output of Craig Counsell and Royce Clayton will make Az. fans long for the thunderous lumber of Alex Cintron and Matt Kata. And the big three in the lineup -- Glaus, Lu-Go and Green -- all have injury question marks. If Vazquez returns to form, the Unit-less rotation will still be quite good at the top. Like Randy Johnson, Brandon Webb pitched much better last year than stats indicate.


2b Miles
c Closser
1b Helton
cf Wilson?
lf Holliday
rf Mohr
3b Atkins
ss Barmes

sp Francis
sp Cook
sp Jennings
sp Kennedy
sp Wright

cl Chacon

The Fourth Immutable Lefty Law of Non-Tenders: This summer Dustan Mohr will hit at least one game-winning home run off Matt Herges in Coors Field, one half-inning after Shawn Chacon walks the bases loaded then strikes out Marquis Grissom on three chin-high fastballs. It will be the bright spot of the Rockies' year. Todd Helton, how do you like that long-term contract now?

As of January 12, I don't quite understand all the hubbub about the Giants being the favorite in the West. The Dodgers have five potential 25-HR guys, good young starting pitchers and the best closer in baseball. The Padres have excellent young talent. No doubt rosters will continue to shift between now and April, but as things stand, the key question for me is the Giants' bench. With the advanced age of their lineup, will Michael Tucker, Deivi Cruz, Pedro Feliz and the Unknown Fifth Outfielder Who Should Have Been Dustan Mohr fill in capably?


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