Five players on the rise in 2006, and five who'll slide
Posted: Friday January 6, 2006 2:41PM; Updated: Friday January 6, 2006 2:57PM
Carlos Beltran didn't live up to his $119 million deal in his first season in New York.
We all know that Jim Thome is going to have a better season in 2006 than he did in '05, when his back flared up, his elbow went down and a youngster swiped his job, sending him scurrying off to Chicago. Barry Bonds is bound to have a better year, too, though he'll no doubt be his same, irascible, loveable self off the field.
Lots of players figure to rebound in 2006. But it's a two-way street, you know ...
Five who should be better
Carlos Beltran, Mets
Last winter's prime free-agent catch had the worst full-time season in his still-young career, with only 16 homers (22 fewer than in '04), 78 RBIs (-26) and a .744 OPS (down from .915). Living up to the big contract in the Big Apple got to him, clearly, but he'll have a better lineup around him this year and not quite as many eyes on him. He may not hit .310, but he's a better player than he was in '05.
Adrian Beltre, Mariners
Some guys are just slow learners, all right? After finally figuring it out with the Dodgers after years of unfulfilled promise, Beltre signed a megadeal with the Mariners and -- poof! -- went from MVP hopeful to dud. Forty-eight homers to 19. An OPS that dove from 1.017 to a not-good .716. A career-worst 108 strikeouts. Beltre's '04 season is looking like a fluke, but he can't be that bad. Can he?
Vladimir Guerrero, Angels
He hurt his shoulder on a stupid slide, his back bugged him for much of the season and he had next to no protection in the Angels' lineup from Day 1. Sure, 2005 seemed to turn out OK for Vlad (32 homers, 108 RBIs and a .317 average). But his .959 OPS was his worst since '01. The Angels still are looking for a big bat to help take the heat off Vlad (Edgardo Alfonzo is not the answer), but even if they don't find someone, a healthier Guerrero will be a threat to pound out 40 homers and 130 RBIs.
Lance Berkman, Astros
He played in only 132 games in '06 -- that flag football's a killer on the knees -- so Berkman, who is a year removed from surgery, should see his raw numbers (24 homers, 83 RBIs in '05) rise. And nobody knows how to hit in his home park better than Berkman does in Houston's quirky Minute Maid Park. Berkman -- who, like Vlad, turns 30 this year -- should be good for 35 homers and 120 RBIs this season, minimum.
Carlos Zambrano, Cubs
In his three full years as a starter, Zambrano is 43-25 with a 3.05 ERA. Only three other throwers in that time -- Johan Santana, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez -- have been better, and only one other pitcher (Arizona's Brandon Webb) has had a better strikeout-to-walk ratio. With a zippy fastball and a bottoms-out sinker, Zambrano is the no-doubt ace of the Cubs' staff. He's better than his '05 numbers indicate (14-6, 3.26), and they're pretty good. I'm calling for a breakout, Cy-type year in '06.
Others due for big years in '06: Mike Lowell, Jake Peavy, Brad Wilkerson, Javier Vazquez and Edgar Renteria.