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Inside The Wheelhouse: Is this the last hurrah for the Tampa Bay Rays?

September 23, 2010 By: Category: Major League Baseball, Sports

Stu Sternberg has threatened to cut the Tampa Bay Rays payroll.While 2010 has been an amazing year for the Tampa Bay Rays many skeptics in Baseball from the start of the season considered this to be the last chance for the Rays to be contenders for the World Series trophy. Those skeptics got their concerns answered on Wednesday when Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg spoke to the St. Petersburg Times. The end result was that no matter happens this season, World Series or not, the Tampa Bay Rays will look completely different next season.

The Tampa Bay Rays for years were the bottom feeders of the American League year after year and grabbing up top picks in the MLB draft season after season. Finally all those year of being a bottom feeder caught up to the progression of a Franchise when the Tampa Bay Rays shocked the world in 2008 by winning the American League Championship. They would go onto to lose the 2008 World Series that season to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Despite losing the series the Rays were poised to be in contention in the American League as they had surrounded themselves with young talent that can carry a team very far in Major League Baseball. Tropicana Field was fielded by an All-Star of prospects and top draft picks in the likes of BJ Upton, Evan Longoria and David Price. The sky was the limit for the Tampa Bay Rays.

Tampa would not make the playoffs in 2009, coming off of what many people would look at as a potential “World Series hangover.” That the many young talents in Tampa got the taste of the World Series and figured that it would come to them year after year. That wasn’t the case in 2009 and it appeared that it was a growing stage for the young Rays ballclub, one that would humble them to be contenders again in 2010.

As I write this blog the Rays are one of the best teams in Major League Baseball in one of the league’s toughest, if not the toughest Division, the American League East. Barring some monumental collapse in the final week and a half of the season, the Rays are poised to be in the Postseason in 2010. Whether it is an AL East or AL Wild Card berth has yet to be decided at this point.

What has been decided is that no matter what success the Rays see in 2010, this could very well be their “last hurrah.”

Tampa Bay Rays owner Stu Sternberg spoke to the St. Petersburg Times recently about what the landscape of the 2011 Tampa Bay Rays may look like next season: “Unfortunately there’s nothing that can happen between now and April that can change that unless Joe Maddon (Rays manager) hits the lottery and wants to donate it, or I hit the lottery.” When asked what the payroll may look like in 2011 and how much the Rays may have to cut Sternberg told the Times this: “I don’t have a plan in mind what the lower (end) is, I just know it’s going down.”

We could be looking at the next reincarnation of the 1997 Florida Marlins should the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays win the World Series this season. A team that goes from World Series bound to dumping a good portion of their salary next season and not being competitive the following year. Is it a sad state of affairs in Baseball? Yes.

This is something that could have been avoided in great detail if the Tampa Bay fans got behind their great ballclub, something that will very easily drive a player like Carl Crawford to a bigger stage and a bigger wallet. Despite having one of the best records in Major League Baseball the Tampa Bay Rays still rank at the bottom of Major League Baseball in attendance. While some may argue that fan support doesn’t play a role in a teams mindset it has a lot to do with it, home field advantage still doesn’t feel like a home field to the Rays when larger market teams like the Red Sox & Yankees come to town. A lack of support will drive player like Carl Crawford away.

Tampa’s payroll for the 2010 season sits at $72 million. Many people believe the Rays will have to cut $15-20 million off their payroll in 2011 putting them in the $50 million payroll stage. They will more then likely say farewell to All-Star outfielder Carl Crawford, who is poised to be the top Free Agent in the 2011 class. They could also say farewell to first baseman Carlos Pena and closer Rafael Soriano unless they take a considerable pay cut next season.

The Rays may also be looking at potential trade suitors to shave off salary in the offseason. Many names that have been instrumental in the success of the Rays in 2010 are being rumored to be dealt in the offseason. Guys that are rumored to be trade bait in the offseason are shortstop Jason Bartlett and pitcher Matt Garza.

On the other side of the coin the Rays do have young talents under contract for a good amount of years. Third baseman Evan Longoria and ace David Price are locked up for a good amount of years in Tampa. While minor league prospect Desmond Jennings is locked up for a multi-year deal as well and should Carl Crawford leave Tampa in the offseason it will be 24-year old Jennings patrolling left field for the Rays in 2011.

As 2010 draws near to a close it will be this storyline that the Rays will have to face throughout their postseason run this October. It is the “last hurrah” for this group of Tampa Bay Rays players to get the job done and win a World Series. The comparisons to the 1997 Florida Marlins are starting to build as this Tampa Bay Rays franchise could look completely different come Opening Day 2011.

Jeff Peck is the producer for the “Wheelhouse Radio” program that airs every Sunday – Thursday @ 8pm ET/5pm PT at www.blogtalkradio.com/thewheelhouse and at www.errorfm.com @ 2am ET/11pm PT

Jeff also co-hosts “The Still Real to us show” with Eric Gargiulo which can be available at www.wheelhouseradio.com and can be downloaded in the “Real Guy Radio” section of the site..”

If you would like to subscribe to “The Wheelhouse” on iTunes simply subscribe for free at iTunes by typing in “Wheelhouse Radio!”

You can follow “The Champ Jeff Peck” on Twitter at www.twitter.com/therealjeffpeck you can also follow Wheelhouse Radio on twitter at www.twitter.com/thewheelhouse and you can e-mail them @ [email protected].

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Brandon Morrow Hopes For Big Things In Final Start Of Season

September 02, 2010 By: Category: Major League Baseball, Sports

Brandon MorrowMLB Betting – Toronto Blue Jays @ New York Yankees
Brandon Morrow (10-6) vs. Ivan Nova (1-0)

Morrow vs. Yankees Hitting
This will be Morrow’s final start of the season; the Blue Jays know their postseason chances are zilch and are looking to preserve the arm of one of their most promising young pitchers. Morrow has exceeded expectations in 2010, winning in the double-digits and, in limited action, being near the top of the AL in strikeouts. He’s been absolutely spectacular in the month of August, going 2-0 in four starts, not allowing more than two runs in any of them. He has more than 9 K’s in three of those outings. I’m betting he’ll want to finish his season in similar fashion.

However, three of Morrow’s last 10 starts have come against the Yankees, and while he hasn’t lost any of them he hasn’t exactly been throwing gems His most recent start against New York (6 IP, 2 ER, 12 K’s) was fantastic, but he allowed five runs in six innings in each of the two starts preceding it. The Yankee offense is well-known as one of the best of baseball, and they have had success against Morrow.

Nova vs. Blue Jays Hitting
Ivan Nova is making just his third career start in the majors and fifth career appearance. He won his first career game in his most recent outing, allowing just one run in 5 2/3 innings while striking out seven. In limited action Nova has put up some pretty strong numbers, sporting a 1.93 ERA with 11 K’s in 14 IP. Too early to make any real predictions, but his numbers should stay strong with such a good team around him.

Nova’s first career start came against the Blue Jays last week. It was a solid outing, allowing two runs in 5 1/3 innings. Both runs came by the home-run bat of Jose Bautista, the major league leader in four-baggers. Bautista has been Toronto’s best hitter this season, and in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium, his success against Nova could very well continue. If you’re one who bet on MLB games, assume a good outing by Mr. Bautista.

Bullpen Comparison
A solid, if unspectacular, group of relievers make up the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen. Scott Downs and Shawn Camp each sport sub-3.00 ERA while pitching their fair share of innings. Closer Kevin Gregg has 30 saves, but his 3.55 ERA and 1.32 WHIP correctly suggest his outings are rarely lacking in the drama department.
Somehow, Mariano Rivera is having one of his best seasons in 2010. His 1.13 ERA is otherworldly, and his 27 saves are nothing to sneeze at as well. However, it’s the rest of the ‘pen that has issues. Joba Chamberlain, Dustin Moseley and David Robertson have all had their struggles, giving New York a shaky bridge to the rock that is Mariano Rivera.

Outlook
While Morrow may have the recent hot streak and motivation to win in his final start, I’m betting it won’t happen. Both of Morrow’s recent poor outings against the Yankees came in New York, as will this game. In fact, Morrow has been pretty shaky on the road all season. There’s no real reason to believe either trend will be broken in this matchup.

MLB Betting Pick: New York Yankees

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MLB Game Preview for Aug 27: Boston Red Sox vs. Tampa Bay Rays

August 26, 2010 By: Category: Major League Baseball, Sports

Terry FranconaThe betting experts know that the writing is on the wall for the Boston Red Sox. This series with the Tampa Bay Rays will pretty much determine if the Sox make the playoffs or not. Right now, the Red Sox are five and half games out of the AL East lead and out of the AL wild card berth. They are the only team considered to be in striking distance of the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays for that wild card spot.

The Rays need to start putting some distance between themselves and the New York Yankees if they want to win the AL East, or distance between themselves and the Red Sox if they want to lock up the wild card should they lose the AL East. In other words, if the Rays can sweep the Red Sox in this series then they pretty much lock up the AL wild card and can focus on beating out the Yankees for the AL East pennant.

While this series determines if the Red Sox are the talk of Bean Town in September, or if NFL betting and college football betting take over the Boston sports landscape, it is also a time for the Red Sox to re-evaluate their roster for next season. There must be something going on in Boston if Johnny Damon refused to go back there for a season. Designated hitter David Ortiz is probably on his way out, and pitching ace Josh Beckett is still battling the same back problems that have hampered him his entire career.

With Beckett on the injured list for most of the season, pitcher Jon Lester has assumed the role of Red Sox ace. Lester has a 13-8 record with a 3.26 ERA. He is continually asked to pitch in the big games for the Red Sox, and that includes this one. Red Sox skipper Terry Francona scratched the struggling Daisuke Matsuzaka to move Lester back to days in the rotation just so he could be the opening pitcher in this series. Lester, like all Red Sox starting pitchers, has been having problems the last few games. The last time Lester faced the Rays he gave up nine runs in a little over two innings.

The Rays put their ace David Price on the mound for this game. MLB betting experts may not have been too familiar with Price when the season started, but his 15-5 regular season record and 2.97 ERA has gotten everyone’s attention. Price struggled a bit in his last start against the Oakland A’s, but his ability to bring himself under control allows him to stay competitive in almost every game he plays in.

The importance of this game to the Red Sox cannot be overstated. This is not the first time Francona has passed over Matsuzaka for the start in an important game. There is also a great sense of relief in Red Sox Nation at the turnaround of closer Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon has picked up his last four save attempts in a row and has allowed only one hit in the last four games.

Pick: Boston Red Sox 5-2

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MLB Preview for Aug 20, 2010: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Boston Red Sox

August 20, 2010 By: Category: Major League Baseball, Sports

Jon LesterSo much has gone wrong for the Red Sox this season that betting people are left wondering how the Sox season would have looked if they could have stayed healthy. While the sports fans in Boston are starting to turn towards NFL betting and NCAA football betting, Red Sox Nation is caught up in a battle for the AL East pennant or the AL Wild Card berth with the same two teams; the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays.

The Red Sox are five and a half games out of the AL East lead and out of the AL Wild Card spot, chasing the Yankees and Rays for both. At this point, it looks like the Yankees and the Rays have the AL East and AL Wild Card tied up. Whoever does not win the AL East will get the AL Wild Card. All the Red Sox can do is try to keep winning and push themselves into that mix.

The MLB betting lines early in the season for the AL pennant included the Toronto Blue Jays. It looked like the Blue Jays would be able to recover from losing their pitching ace Roy Halladay before the season started, and challenge for the AL East pennant. But as the season wore on, the Blue Jays watched their starting rotation and bullpen give away game after game. The Jays remain one of the best power hitting teams in baseball cranking out more homeruns than any other team in the majors. But the Jays also top the majors in blown saves and are in the lower half of the majors in team ERA. As many had expected, pitching is a problem for the Blue Jays this season.

The Red Sox needed to put together a wining streak to start making a move, and right now the Sox are on a two-game winning streak that started with their series against the Angels. The problem for the Sox is that the Yankees are also on a two-game winning streak and the Rays are nursing a five-game winning streak. In order to keep up and then gain ground, the Sox must continue to win.

For this critical game the Boston Red Sox are putting pitching ace Jon Lester on the mound. Lester has a 13-7 record and a 2.80 ERA. He has been one of the few pitchers that has remained consistent for the Red Sox this season, and he has been able to put up wins when the Sox need them. In his last 25 consecutive starts Lester has gone at least five innings which is a streak that stretches way back to October of 2009.

The Blue Jays will send Brett Cecil to the mound. Cecil has had a fairly successful season with a 9-6 record and a 3.96 ERA. He is a streaky pitcher that goes for long stretches where he has great command of his pitches and lasts seven or eight innings a game. He recently experienced such a stretch not too long ago, but had it snapped in his last start.

The Red Sox need this game, and Jon Lester has the ability to keep the Jays bats at bay. Now that the Red Sox have Dustin Pedroia back in the line-up, they should have the offense they need to beat the Jays.

Pick: Boston Red Sox 4-2

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New York Yankees Still Favorites To Repeat As World Champions

June 24, 2010 By: Category: Major League Baseball, Sports

It’s never easy in sports to repeat as champion, but as July 1st quickly approaches, it appears as though the MLB betting reigning champion New York Yankees are on their way to making a second consecutive world title run. With the best record in the majors through 62 games, New York has paced the tight American League East, and is currently two-and-a-half games up on the division rival Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox. Though the 20-17 mark they have recorded on the road must improve, their 25-10 home mark is also the best in the American League, and with a veteran laden team that has only improved as the season progresses over the past couple of years, New York is well on it’s way to another postseason berth, and possibly another championship run.

The main obstacles in the Yankees’ way may reside in their own division, where despite recent mini losing streaks, the Rays and Red Sox remain less than three games back. Just one team in the American League East is operating with a mark below .500, and that is the lowly Baltimore Orioles. Pitching has been the name of the game in Boston, where one of the deepest and most talented rotations in the majors has held its own while the offense has steadily improved. Tampa Bay is playing complete baseball as well, and looks to be back in the form it was in when the Rays made it all the way in the American League only a couple of years ago. The Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers each lead their respective divisions, but neither has showed the dominant pace the Yankees have at this point in the online sports betting season.

While World Cup betting has dominated the sports scene, inter league play has delivered few surprises, and other than perennial contenders Atlanta who always seem to put together solid regular seasons, more teams in the National League have underachieved to date than lived up to the hype that preluded their seasons. The Braves have the best home record in the majors, but are somehow five games below .500 on the road, and are facing stiff competition in the National League East from New York’s other team, the Mets. In the National League Central, Adam Wainwright has provided the St. Louis Cardinals with the pitching needed to help the Albert Pujols-led offense to top spot in the division. In the NL West however, it’s the surprising San Diego Padres that are competing with the San Francisco Giants for the top spot, while the Los Angeles Dodgers continue to struggles to find their place are documented like a soccer blog. Despite some excellent competition in the NL, none of the aforementioned teams have been as good as the Yankees this season, which has New York projected to repeat as World champions in 2010.

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Inside The Wheelhouse: 2010 AL East Preview

April 12, 2010 By: Category: Major League Baseball, Sports

Derek Jeter New York YankeesIt’s that time of year again where we look at the upcoming 2010 Major League Baseball season. Throughout the next couple of days I will preview every division in Major League Baseball then ending my blog series previewing the 2010 MLB Season by looking at the teams I see entering the playoffs this year and who will be World Champions when it’s all said & done. In this edition of my blog I will preview the AL East division.

AL East:

1. New York Yankees

I know it’s the homer pick to go for the New York Yankees as the top team in the AL East division this year. But how can you not say they are a favorite to win the AL East this season? This is literally the same exact team that won the championship in 2009 (minus Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Melky Cabrera and Phil Coke). The same team that I feel got better with their additions during the offseason.

As I much as I love Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon it was time for the Yankees to get younger in their lineup. So the Yankees went out and traded top prospect Austin Jackson, reliever Phil Coke and other minor leaguers for All-Star outfielder Curtis Granderson. Granderson provides a better arm in the outfield then Damon’s, more power at the plate and is a youngster at 28 years old. It was a good deal incase Damon didn’t resign, which ended up being the case.

Then to fill the other holes the Yankees brought back 1B/DH Nick Johnson to replace the Matsui void in the lineup and to give them a player with a high on base percentage (was 2nd in the NL in 2009 behind Albert Pujols). But the biggest deal the Yankees made this offseason is finally filling the major void in their rotation by trading fan favorite Melky Cabrera away for pitcher Javier Vazquez. Vazquez fills the void the Yankees had in 2009 in the rotation that was absent for most of the year as they dabbled with 4th & 5th starters between Joba Chamberlain, Chad Gaudin and Sergio Mitre. The Yankees rotation is very deep this season.

The biggest issues the Yankees will see this season will be how good new 5th starter Phil Hughes will end up being and how the age of the “core four” (Jeter, Posada, Pettitte and Rivera) will actually take into effect as the season goes on. Phil Hughes enters this season coming off of a year where he was mostly in the bullpen after June 1st and became the setup man in the 8th. Hughes was valued a couple years ago as the team’s #1 prospect and one of the top pitching prospects in all of Baseball. This could be the swan song for most likely two of the four players (Posada and Pettitte) especially even if they win another a Championship. Both are in or nearing their 40s right now and it will be interesting to see if their age affects their numbers this year.

2. Boston Red Sox

Flip a coin between the Yankees and Red Sox when it comes to who will win the AL East because that’s how good I think these two ball clubs will be in 2010. The Red Sox made the biggest splash in the free agent market this season by signing former Angels ace John Lackey to provide depth in their rotation at the #3 spot behind Josh Beckett and Jon Lester. The Red Sox rotation 1-5 (Beckett, Lester, Lackey, Dice-K & Buchholz) could be the best 1-5 starting rotation in all of Baseball.

The Red Sox also made other splashes in the free agent market this season by bringing Adrian Beltre, Mike Cameron and Marco Scutaro on to the team for the 2010 campaign. Beltre and Cameron provide great on base percentage and decent depth in the lineup while Marco Scutaro brings amazing defense at short & a pesky bat in an already good lineup. For a free agent market that was lacking greatly these three players would consider some of the elite available.

Red Sox brass went in a different route this year when it came to building a 2010 team. They wanted to put together great pitching and great defense on the field. They did that by the signings they did during the offseason. While they were able to successfully do that they created a potential different issue that Red Sox fans are definitely worrying about in 2010.

The Red Sox lineup will be under a microscope this season because the lineup does not have that one player that truly puts fear in the eyes of the opposing pitcher. For years the Red Sox had Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz in the core of their batting order to provide the power that was needed to make the score unreachable for the opposing team. They don’t have that anymore as Ortiz is getting older and the core of the lineup just doesn’t have that “pop” it once head. With that being said I would not be surprised if the Red Sox go out at the trade deadline and try to make another run at San Diego Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, especially if this team is not living up to expectations.

3. Tampa Bay Rays

Everybody is still hoping that this team can live up the team that we saw in 2008 and the expectations that people panned out for them for American League domination in 2009. I just don’t see that happening for the Tampa Bay Rays. This is a team similar to that of the Cleveland Indians (but not to their extent) that may be seeing the players that they thought would carry their franchise for a good portion of the next decade start to break down so early in their career.

Players like BJ Upton, James Shields and Matt Garza did not live up to expectations in 2009. Had they we may be discussing a different situation in 2009 as that Tampa Bay team could be right back in the playoffs. 2010 is a make or break year for those players while getting support from players they didn’t expect to pick up the slack from 2009 (Zobrist and Jason Bartlett). Should all the Rays players improve from 2009 in 2010, then there will be different story for this young and talented franchise.

What the Rays don’t have but what the Yankees and Red Sox do have is an actual ace in their rotation. For years people considered Scott Kazmir as that ace for Tampa but he didn’t live up to expectations and was often injured for them. People may now consider James Shields to be that ace but when you look at 2009 you have to wonder if he is considered ace material. While the Rays have a great young rotation, there is no anchor in that rotation. There is no “go to guy.” There is no ace. That creates a major problem for the Rays.

This could be the last season for a couple years where the Rays are considered competitive in the AL East. Franchise player Carl Crawford is in a contract year and there is a great chance he could be heading out because the Rays just can’t afford his services and as the Rays have gotten better over the last three years they don’t have those automatic #1 draft picks to be sitting in waiting to be brought up to the big leagues. Then you have to wonder whether or not BJ Upton will pick his game up and be a playmaker like people thought he was poised to be. This seriously could be it for the Rays for a little while as the team I have down in 4th in the AL East is starting to develop into a great young team similar to the Rays of 2008.

4. Baltimore Orioles

This team has potential for being the 2010 American League version of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays and be the sleeper team that comes out of no where to surprise everyone. It’s either that or the Orioles are just a couple seasons away from being a top 3 team competing with the Yankees & Red Sox in the AL East. This team is filled with future stars that can finally bring competitive Baseball back to the city of Baltimore.

Anyone who listens to me over on “The Wheelhouse”(www.wheelhouseradio.com) knows I have been a huge fan of Matt Wieters this year in Fantasy when it comes to the Catcher position. I really feel like this kid could be the 2nd coming of Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer and am a great threat for the Orioles as well as my Fantasy Baseball team. The guy can hit for average, hit homeruns and drive in runs. He will be in the middle of a decent Orioles lineup and should see a ton of production in 2010.

This I also feel like will be the breakout year for outfielder Adam Jones. If you remember he was the main cornerstone for the Erik Bedard deal that sent him packing from Baltimore to Seattle some time ago. The kid was considered one of the top prospects in the game at the time has already been to one All-Star game (2009) and is looking like he will be there again for quite sometime. He reminds me a lot of what we were hoping to see from BJ Upton when he first debuted and can continue to be great player for years to come.

While I am excited to see what this Baltimore Orioles team can become with their youth you have to figure that their youth may also be a flaw as well. This Orioles team can be compared to other young teams in Major League Baseball (Reds, Giants and Royals) in what their team may one day achieve if all the prospects pan out to live up to the hype the scouts touted them for. But with that youth comes seasons where they need to learn and grow as a team.

That’s what I see happening for the Orioles in 2010. This team can win up to 80 games this year, while I will take the under on that, it literally could happen. While I don’t like them in 2010, I feel like a good 2010 campaign will make them an easier pick to be a top team in the AL Wild Card run in 2011. This is a team to keep your eye on.

5. Toronto Blue Jays

You trade away the best pitcher in all of Baseball and what do you expect? This is going to be a season filled with headaches for the Toronto Blue Jays as I consider them the worst team in the American League entering 2010. I’m sure this is not the way Cito Gaston thought his career as Blue Jays manager would end.

This is a team that is in a horrible rebuilding stage for its franchise right now. This team doesn’t look like they will be in the playoff hunt for most of this decade. There are really no star players on this team worth noting unless you’re a fan of Vernon Wells. While I did project Vernon Wells to have a bounce back year and capture the AL Comeback Player of the Year; I just don’t see him accomplishing a winning season with this Blue Jays ballclub.

The Blue Jays are lucky they have a good manager in Cito Gaston to at least give this team some guidance in his swan song of a career in 2010. He will do what he can with this team and try to make them at least competitive. If not competitive this team will learn how to become better ball players through their manager. Which Blue Jay fans hope leads them to success in about five years from now.

It’s going to be a long season in Toronto for Blue Jay fans. This team is not poised to do much of anything but hopefully break 60 wins in 2010. The Blue Jays can not even trade away former All-Star outfielder Vernon Wells in hopes of getting more prospects to their team due to his horrible contract in 2010 (he makes $20 million this season). If the Blue Jays decide to take on most of his contract in a deal with a team to get prospects then I can see that happening for this franchise. But for the time being this is the worst American League team ahead of the Oakland Athletics and Cleveland Indians. Good luck this year Toronto.

Jeff Peck is the producer for the “Wheelhouse Radio” program that airs every Sunday – Thursday @ 8pm ET/5pm PT at www.blogtalkradio.com/thewheelhouse and at www.errorfm.com @ 2am ET/11pm PT

Jeff also co-hosts “The Still Real to us show” with Eric Gargiulo which can be available at www.wheelhouseradio.com and can be downloaded in the “Real Guy Radio” section of the site. There you can also download many different shows including “The Wheelhouse”, “24 on 24″ and “Lost: Smoke Monsters and You.”

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Inside The Wheelhouse: The Beltre-ville Horror

January 06, 2010 By: Category: Major League Baseball, Sports

Adrian BeltreMy beloved Boston Red Sox came to terms with Adrian Beltre on a 1 year/$9 million deal, with a player option for 2011 for $5 million. While that news is not surprising (or important enough to break through as one of the top stories on ESPN.com’s front page…), it is significant to Red Sox fans, Yankees fans, Mike Lowell fans, and fans who think that money is wasted in Major League Baseball.

First, let me make the case for why this is a good deal: (Stop laughing. I can do this…) Beltre is only 30 years old, so he should be in his theoretical prime after an already lengthy career which started very young. He is one of the best fielding third basemen in all of baseball. (And, after last year’s injury, hopefully he wears a cup now, so he could be even better!) So his defense adds to an already Gold Glove level infield at every position with Kevin Youkilis at 1st, Dustin Pedroia at 2nd, and Marco Scutaro at SS, when clearly the Sox have put en emphasis on pitching and defense. While he was injured for most of last year, his previous free agent year was a season for the ages as a 3rd baseman. In 2004, he hit .334, with 48 HR and 121 RBI, so if he even comes remotely close to that, he’s a bargain. And if he doesn’t work out, it’s a 1 year deal. (He’ll never take the $5M player option – not as long as Scott Boras is his agent.) And the Sox score another victory over Scott Boras. At the Winter Meetings, Boras wanted a 4-5 year deal for around $14M per year. So anytime you back Boras down, it’s a win. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

So those were the rose-colored glasses look at the facts. Here’s the rest: the guy is a .265 hitter, who has 20-25 HR power and can knock in 80-85 runs. He’s been that way throughout his career, save for one year. He’s the right-handed JD Drew! Which is one thing, but when you’re already paying $14 million a year for the REAL JD Drew that looks like $23M for a pair of 6-7 hitters in your line up, who HOPEFULLY will hit .270 with 40 HR and 150 RBI COMBINED! Is that where opposing pitchers give pause in the the Sox line up? Does CC Sabathia take a moment in the 7th inning in late August and say, “Hmmm…I could pitch to Beltre, but if he gets on, then I have JD Drew up after him. Wow. Um…I know what I’ll do. I’ll just pitch to both of them, since they both strike out 100 times a year, while only hitting .265. And who knows? Maybe one of them hurts themselves putting pine tar on the bat.” Here’s your 2010 Red Sox starting line up: Jacoby Ellsbury, Pedroia, Victor Martinez, Youkilis, David Ortiz, Beltre, Drew, Mike Cameron, Scutaro. At best, it’s a lot of tough outs, who can grind out offense with big innings of several singles and doubles. At worst, its 5 guys in a row who will whiff 100 times, without a 30 HR guy anywhere. I guess it’s like the HR budget of a company in December: if you don’t spend all the money, the ownership will give you less next year.

How big an upgrade is Beltre really on the defensive front? The Sox said publicly that they were ready to start the season with Casey Kotchman at 1st and Youkilis at 3rd. Kotchman is a Gold Glove-caliber 1st baseman. It’s why they traded for him in the first place. Same for Youk at 3rd. So…where’s the upgrade? Well, Beltre has better offensive potential right? Well:

Beltre:

2009: 111 games, 449 AB, .265, 8 HR, 44 RBI, $13.4M

Avg from 2006-2009: Beltre: .270, 25 HR, 88 RBI

Kotchman:

2009: 126 games, 385 AB, .268, 7 HR, 48 RBI, $2.88M

Avg from 2007-2009: .279, 11 HR, 63 RBI

So they were almost the same in 2009 and Beltre cost about $11M more a year for 10 more HR a year and 25 more RBI. 10 HR and 25 RBI cost $11M a year in MLB now? Yikes!

I even read how moving from the spacious Safeco Field to the friendly confines of Fenway Park will surely help Adrian. The .179 career batting average at his new home would argue differently. But it does get better at some of the other AL East parks, like Tropicana Field, where he hits .185 and Yankee Stadium, where he hits .219. See both of those are better than .179! I can’t believe he was still available. How can you not sign this guy?

Not to mention there is still a pretty prominent third baseman on the Red Sox roster in Mike Lowell. They tried to give him away to Texas AND pay $9M of his $12M contract and the trade was voided. So now what? He stays and plays primary pinch hitter? Right, the Sox are an American League team. He plays DH? Nope, they already have one of those…hopefully. Platoon at DH? $24M for 2 guys who can’t really play in the field and that I guarantee I could beat in a foot race to 1st right now, without warming up. Awesome! We are stampeding towards Mike Lowell being named the 3rd baseman on the Red Sox All-Time Designated for Assignment All-Stars, with Julio Lugo playing short and John Smoltz and Brad Penny as your starters. (So I hope Mike Lowell like St Louis…)

Look, of course I will root for this team. One of the best things about not being in Boston is that I don’t have to listen to every radio host and read every writer’s doom and gloom prediction. But it’s hard to get excited about them. They will look to win every 5-4 and 3-2 game on the schedule. A lot of money comes off the books at the end of 2010, so here’s hoping for a capable current season – and a ferocious 2011.

Chris Cause is the co-host for the “Wheelhouse Radio” program that airs every Sunday – Thursday @ 8pm ET/5pm PT at http://www.wheelhouseradio.wordpress.com

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