2011 MLB World Series Favorites: Philadelphia Phillies with Cliff Lee

The final post in a three-part series written by Alan Hull who is previewing the teams favored to win the 2011 MLB World Series.

Philadelphia Phillies

After reaching the World Series two years in a row, the Phillies fell short of their goal in 2010 when they lost to the San Francisco Giants in the NLCS. The Giants will have most of their players back next season, but it doesn’t stop us from making the Phillies one of our favorites to reach the Fall Classic in the upcoming season.

Off-season Moves: The Phillies had an outstanding off-season, re-signing J.C. Romero and backup catcher Brian Schneider, and those were not their only moves. Most notably, they signed the best pitcher in baseball who wasn’t already on their team, Cliff Lee. They also made the easiest decision of the off-season, not paying Jayson Werth $126 million.

Strengths: Their rotation is historically good. With four Hall of Fame-caliber pitchers (not that they all will make the Hall or that any beyond Roy Halladay will, but that they are in their primes and perform at a HOF level), this team will win A LOT of ball games and will be very exciting to watch in the playoffs, if they all stay healthy. They also have a balanced offense (power/speed), are well-coached and play well as a unit. They should be serviceable defensively at every position except for left field and probably first base.

Weaknesses: Raul Ibanez. Their bullpen is good, not great. Brad Lidge is an every-other-year guy, so expect about a 8.50 ERA from him and 15 blown saves. They could really use bounce-back, offensive seasons from Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Placido Polanco and Ibanez (Rollins and Ibanez are in contract years, so…).

Summary: Cliff Lee, bitches.

Also see Thursday W.S. favorite: Boston Red Sox
Friday W.S. favorite: New York Yankees

2011 MLB World Series Favorites: New York Yankees with Soriano in the Pen

The second post in a three-part series written by Alan Hull who is previewing the teams favored to win the 2011 MLB World Series.

New York Yankees

The Yankees seem to be in the middle of the World Series chase every single season. Of course when you have the payroll they do, it’s expected, but they’ve still done well reaching the ALCS the last two seasons. Though they were quiet this off-season compared to the Red Sox and even the Rays, they still are a World Series contender.

Off-season Moves: After missing out on all of the major free agents, the Yankees settled on adding complimentary pieces, signing back-up/starting catcher in Russell Martin, a setup man (Rafael Soriano – to the tune of $35 million) and a lefty specialist in Pedro Feliciano. They are still the Yankees and there is a lot to like.

Strengths: The Yankees are older on the positional side, but this is still a team of Hall of Famers and Hall of Very Good-types. Maybe Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Jorge Posada, Curtis Granderson and Russell Martin all won’t have comeback seasons, but I bet a few of them will. Combine that with a MVP-candidate in Robinson Cano and great guys/great hitters in Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner, and this team will put up some runs. The Yankees also feature a good bullpen, anchored by THE Mariano Rivera.

Weaknesses: They really, really needed to add a starting pitcher. Their number four and five starter, if Andy Pettitte retires, are some guys named Ivan Nova and Sergio Mitre. Those two started 10 games combined in 2010. If they ever had plans to convert Joba Chamberlain back into a starter, this is the season to do it. I certainly would. Look for the Yankees to get creative mid-season and pick up a good starting pitcher or two for the stretch run.

Summary: While I mock their starting pitching, I anticipate Pettitte will be back and their pitching will be pretty good … until they trade for Josh Johnson.

Also see Thursday W.S. favorite: Boston Red Sox

2011 MLB World Series Favorites: Boston Red Sox Rising with Crawford, Gonzalez

Let’s get this straight: once an MLB team makes the playoffs, whether it is by division championship or wild card berth, all is fair and any team can win a World Series.  The San Francisco Giants certainly proved that in 2010, scratching their way to 92 regular season wins in the lackluster National League West with a starting nine full of misfit toys and cast-off veterans.  Edgar Renteria, in the second year of a bad contract and coming off a bad year, was their World Series MVP.  Simply making the playoffs gives teams a chance.  Just ask the 2006 St. Louis Cardinals, the 2005 Chicago White Sox, the 2003 Florida Marlins, the 2002 Anaheim Angels, or the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks. You get the point.

With that in mind, we’re taking a look at the teams in 2011 that appear to be preseason locks for a playoff spot, ensuring the best chance at winning a World Series title.  The first team we’re examining in our three-part series previewing World Series favorites are the Boston Red Sox.

Boston Red Sox

Off-season Moves: No team did more to improve themselves in the 2010-11 off-season than the Boston Red Sox.  Offering up both long-term financial commitment and prospects, the already-good Red Sox acquired two impact players in Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.   Adding two centerpiece-type players like this would do wonders for any team, but with a core as strong as the Red Sox already had, this makes them a favorite for playoff success. They also bolstered their bullpen, adding Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenks, to get the ball to Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon.

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Hank Steinbrenner on Yankees: We Have to F***ing Win

If you think Hank Steinbrenner and the New York Yankees front office spend all this money to benefit the New York Yankees — think again.  That’s right, they’re doing it for everyone.  Without their financial dominance and perennial winning ways, baseball would be no more.  If that seems to have slipped your mind for any reason, Hank is here to remind you.

“We will do what we have to do to win,” Steinbrenner told Kevin Kernan of the NY Post.  “We have the highest payroll and the reason is we are committed to our fans to win. We just have to f***ing win.”

“Look at the money we are paying out in revenue sharing,” he continued. “We are baseball’s stimulus package. The fans of other teams have no reason to complain about us or the Red Sox or the teams that support the rest of baseball.”

Steinbrenner has a point about revenue sharing, but shouldn’t he say the owners have nothing to complain about, not the fans?  Fans can complain all they want.  Some MLB teams are not making enough money and thus cannot afford astronomical payrolls like the Yankees’ and Red Sox’s.  Other teams have cheap owners who choose to sit on their hands and pocket as much money as possible while putting a horrendous product on the field.

So Hank is somewhat right and somewhat wrong.  Does baseball need teams like the Yankees and Red Sox to survive? Yes. Do the fans of teams whose owners refuse to spend more money even though they have more money to spend have a reason to be upset?  Again, yes.

Jerry Reinsdorf Admits White Sox Reached with Free Agent Signings, Budget

The Chicago White Sox, along with the Detroit Tigers, had a strong off-season in hopes of overtaking the Minnesota Twins in the AL Central. They landed Adam Dunn, one of the premier sluggers in the free agent market, with a four-year $56 million contract. The decision to sign Dunn apparently was not an easy one, and according to team owner Jerry Reinsdorf, it led to more signings by the team.

Reinsdorf explained at the team’s SoxFest ’11 event Saturday that the franchise was deciding between two different plans — one where they would cut payroll and go young, and another where they would spend money to try and win. He said “We reached this year. Last year was a difficult year. We weren’t as good as we thought we could be. Our attendance was down. Financially, it came out OK.”

Once the White Sox committed the money to Adam Dunn, it only made sense to bring back Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski who were also free agents. Adding just Dunn without Konerko was essentially pointless, because then the team would be in a similar situation as last year. Hopefully the fans appreciate the direction the ownership took this off-season for Chicago. This also means that they may be likely to unload contracts if they fall out of contention by the All-Star Break.

Reds Locking Up Core Players: Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto Get Extensions

The Cincinnati Reds have been busy signing their (mostly) young talent to multi-year extensions this offseason. In December, pitcher Bronson Arroyo signed a three-year deal that will take him through the age of 36. He’s the only player the Reds extended that’s over the age of 27. Shortly after extending Arroyo, the Reds signed 23-year-old Jay Bruce and 27-year-old and reigning NL MVP Joey Votto to six and three-year deals, respectively. On Thursday, the Reds signed pitcher Johnny Cueto, 25, to a four-year deal and are reportedly pursuing an extension with 27-year-old pitcher Edinson Volquez.

The moves signal that the 2010 NL Central champs are serious about contending for the foreseeable future. Since arriving in Cincinnati in 2006, Arroyo has won at least 14 games four times, including a career-high 17 last season. Arroyo also won a Gold Glove last season. Cueto went 12-7 last season with a respectable 3.64 ERA. Bruce hit 25 home runs last season, though 19 of those came at the Great American Ballpark — about as hitter-friendly a park as you’ll find. The main concern with Bruce is his strikeout numbers; he’s had more than 100 twice in his three major league seasons, and a career-high 136 last year.

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Angels Acquire Vernon Wells From Blue Jays for Mike Napoli, Possibly Juan Rivera

On Friday evening at 5:00 p.m. EST, I was making my blog rounds when I came across a headline that stated the Blue Jays had acquired catcher Mike Napoli in a trade with the Los Angeles Angels.  Big deal, right?  Actually, it is.  What started out as a seemingly minor transaction quickly morphed into one of the most surprising moves of the winter.

Roughly an hour later, Ken Rosenthal reported that one of the names included in the deal was the amazingly overpaid Vernon Wells.  It remains to be seen what type of financial shuffling needed to take place for Toronto to unload Wells, but he is now a member of the Angels.  The Jays will certainly have to eat a significant chunk of the $86 million Wells is owed over the next four seasons.

Napoli was seeking over $6 million in arbitration — a number the Angels were unwilling to play — while Wells waived his no-trade clause to allow the deal to go through.  The center fielder had his best offensive season since 2006 last year when he hit .273 with 31 homers and 88 RBI.  According to Rosenthal, the Angels will likely leave Wells at his natural position and keep Torii Hunter in right.  Juan Rivera may be included in this deal, but if not the Angels will look to trade him elsewhere to free up space.

For this trade to make any sense at all, Toronto will have to eat almost half of Wells’ contract.  Angels fans were holding out hope that the team would sign either Carl Crawford, Cliff Lee, or Adrian Beltre this offseason and the prize they ended up with is arguably the most overpaid player in baseball.  Maybe a change of scenery will be just what the doctor ordered for Wells.  After all, you don’t ink a $20 million per year contract for absolutely no reason.