Posted: Saturday April 2, 2005 6:03PM; Updated: Saturday April 2, 2005 7:33PM
By David Young, Special to SI.com
"Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." --Theodore Roosevelt
The traveling road shows have left Arizona and Florida (at least the baseball-related ones), the congressional testimony is part of the record and the teams are ready to go. As are we. This may have been the longest baseball preseason in recent memory. I'm afraid the season will be an afterthought and not live up to the preparation and hype it has created. However, I feel this way every year and every single time I am amazed by what someone does or doesn't do.
We've been told that this year there will be a lack of speed, a lack of power and a plethora of third basemen. I'll go one step further and say we're going to be hurting for big-name stud strikeout pitchers who don't visit the DL at some point this year. The major candidates are Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, Wade Miller, C.C. Sabathia, Roger Clemens, Roy Halladay, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens, Oliver Perez, and Ben Sheets. Would we be surprised if I went 10 for 10 with that list? (OK, Miller and Sabathia are already on there.)
I predict this year will be the Year of the Waiver Wire with most league championships won by those with the fastest and most confident mouse clicking. Below we're going to go through the announced Starting Fives for all 30 teams (that includes the Cards and Yankees this week, so please, no letters) and their relative health. As I pointed out in last week's Relief Efforts, perhaps your better bet is to get a healthy closer rather than an unhealthy starter. BTW, look for an updating of the relief pitcher Normalized Wins numbers in the upcoming column. The closer numbers seemed high and have now been recalculated to be on par with the starters' numbers. That said, the top closers still have higher scores than the top starters.
Here's an early vote for starter-turned-closer-turned-starter John Smoltz as the 2005 NL Cy Young winner.
Brad Halsey won the "Fifth Diamondback Starter who won't Look So Bad Compared to the Other Starters who Will Lead the League in Walks" sweepstakes. Expect Mike Gosling to get some starts as well. I was there when Russ Ortiz gave up 6 ER in 1-3 IP against the Red Sox. The first five batters all went to three balls, and of his 45 pitches, only 17 were strikes. That's what it looks like to publicly set 33 million one dollar bills on fire.
Atlanta Braves -- Smoltz, Hudson, Hampton, Thomson, H. Ramirez
Look at that rotation. Yeah, that's fair. John Smoltz is my early candidate for NL Cy Young. There are concerns about his innings and being able to pitch a full season as an SP, but LeoMazzone's pitchers are pitching all the time and Smoltz definitely has the arm strength already. The only question will be his elbow, but that seems to have held up OK the past couple of years.
Chicago Cubs -- Wood, Prior, Zambrano, Maddux, Dempster
If you want to be gutsy and draft Kerry Wood or Mark Prior, then you go right ahead. I won't. There are too many other healthy guys you can get. Ryan Dempster has about a month before Glendon Rusch and Angel Guzman force him to the bullpen.
Cincinnati Reds -- P. Wilson, Milton, Ra. Ortiz, Harang, Claussen
Quick, name the ace in that rotation...Yeah, I'd say it's Aaron Harang. Brandon Claussen has a chance to be a star, but not this year. I wouldn't expect the same 2004 numbers out of Paul Wilson this year. Eric Milton will be another year removed from surgery and should keep the ball down more this year. Can't say the same about Ramon Ortiz.
The top three of the rotation have a chance at being respectable this year. However, Joe "The Patriarch" Kennedy is an injury risk, Coors has a way of making five innings seem like nine to a pitcher, and Jeff Francis has yet to show he can actually pitch at altitude. That leaves Jason Jennings who has enough contract incentives to make this season worth his (and your) while.
This is the only rotation in the NL that has a chance to rival Atlanta's. I love this division race this year. I think Atlanta takes the division again (unless they wear those new unis ...) but Florida will be on their heels all year, will be the NL wild card team and will make the World Series. I feel confident in this pick and am banking on the reality that come October, you won't have remembered we ever had this conversation (you're getting sleepy ...).
Houston Astros -- Oswalt, Clemens, Pettitte, Backe, E. Astacio/Duckworth
The Astros haven't made an official decision about that fifth spot, but what should concern them is the health of the first three and the talent of number four. Brandon Backe has been lit up like Times Square at Christmas, which might mean Brandon Duckworth and Ezequiel Astacio both get their starts during the year.
Los Angeles Dodgers -- Lowe, Weaver, Od. Perez, Penny, Erickson
Is there a more hated pitcher than Derek Lowe? Boston fans hate him, fantasy players hate him, he acts like he hates himself. I hate the defense behind him. What's not to hate? Odalis Perez is slipping in drafts this year for no reason. Get him if he does in yours.
Milwaukee Brewers -- Sheets, D. Davis, Capuano, Santos, Glover/Obermueller
Wait a second. Do the Brewers actually have a rotation here? I'm not a believer in BenSheets' health, but I am in DougDavis' ability not to hurt you and in the high ceiling of Chris Capuano. We'll have to ask the Diamondbacks how that whole Richie Sexson thing is still working for them.
New York Mets -- Martinez, Glavine, Benson, V. Zambrano, Ishii
Don't count on Steve Trachsel returning this year. Even if he does, do you want a pitcher who has had back surgery? I'm not as high on Pedro this year because of his health and think the over/under for number of starts has to be 20 (if I were gutsier, I'd say 15). This is put or shut up time for Kaz Ishii. Granted he has been improving, but even though Shea is a pitcher's park, New York City is not a pitcher's paradise.
Philadelphia Phillies -- Lieber, Wolf, Padilla (DL), Lidle, Myers/Floyd
Love Lieber this year (In German, I think that was a redundancy). I also think Randy Wolf returns to form and that Vicente Padilla, if he ever gets his health back, will be a force. Corey Lidle is better suited to be a No. 4 rather than a 1. Having said all this ... Phillies in 2005 ... yuck.
Pittsburgh Pirates -- Ol. Perez, Wells, Redman, Fogg, D. Williams
OK, I bit the bullet and drafted Oliver Perez in the TalentedMrRoto.com Expert Mixed League. That can only mean one thing: DL. For the right amount of money (let's call it a "tithe"), I will trade him for a pitcher that your closest rival has starting.
San Diego Padres -- Peavy, W. Williams, Lawrence, Eaton, Redding
Jake Peavy appears to have a million dollar arm attached to a glass body. If he were pitching at Coors, I'd expect multiple DL stints. As it is with Petco Park, let's say one during the year. Everyone is touting Adam Eaton as this year's ____ (fill in blank with some out of nowhere guy from 2004). Sure, I'll agree, but I'm not drafting him. Tim Redding has looked good in spring training, but even when he was good in 2003, he really wasn't THAT good. That said, that's the park where you want him to pitch.
San Francisco Giants -- Schmidt, Tomko, Rueter, J. Williams, Lowry
This rotation is in the top five of NL staffs, but it will need Pedro Feliz to stop swinging at every pitch he sees and for Moises Alou to wash his hands before every at bat. I'm not convinced about Noah Lowry yet, but it won't take too much more to do so.
St. Louis Cardinals -- Carpenter, Mulder, Morris, Suppan, Marquis
This rotation has been set for some time and should have no problems with the team scoring six runs per game. I like Chris Carpenter this year for that very reason: no pressure. Mark Mulder should mow through the NL (at least the first time), and Jeff Suppan should be more than adequate. However, I've warned you about Matt Morris and at the end of the day, that's still Jason Marquis out there.
Washington Nationals -- L. Hernandez, Loaiza, Ohka, Armas (DL), Day, Patterson
In a bit of shocking news, Tony Armas Jr. is hurt. This is my official Dear John to Tony. You're just not worth the DL stints any more. Tom Ohka isn't getting any love this year, and if he's still available, go ahead and pick him up.