Baseball's best of the best (cont.)
Best Rotation Top: Mariners/Cardinals
This is a tossup between the Mariners' one-two punch of Hernandez and Lee and the Cardinals' duo of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, with the Giants (Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain) and Red Sox (take your pick from Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Lackey) just a tick behind. The Hernandez-Lee duo is the best righty-lefty pair, and I'll take that one for balance, though it might only last a year if the Mariners can't re-sign Lee. The Diamondbacks' pair of Brandon Webb and Dan Haren is right up there, as well, assuming Webb eventually returns to full health (he will start the year on the disabled list after a slow start this spring in his comeback efforts). One through three, the Red Sox, with Lackey following Beckett and Lester, are awfully strong, while the Yankees and White Sox may be strongest one through four. The Yankees have CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte and Javier Vazquez, the White Sox Mark Buehrle, Jake Peavy, John Danks and Gavin Floyd.
Best Bullpen: Dodgers
The Dodgers' bullpen is probably the best-balanced, and will get even better if Hong-Chih Kuo is healthy. George Sherrill, Ronald Belisario and Ramon Troncoso are talented front man for imposing closer Jonathan Broxton, who still has to show he can close out games in October. Their 2.54 overall ERA was nearly half a run better than anyone else. The A's, Twins, Angels, Red Sox, White Sox and Yankees all should have productive pens, with the Yankees aided by a full year of Joba Chamberlain (or Phil Hughes), the Red Sox by a full year with Daniel Bard, the Angels vastly improved with the Fernando Rodney signing and Scot Shields returning and the White Sox better with J.J. Putz joining Matt Thornton and Bobby Jenks. The Twins will be good again if they can figure out how to replace Joe Nathan, who is likely out or the year after suffering an elbow injury.
Best Bench: Rockies
The Rockies are the surprise winner here. Considering their payroll, they have done a superb job putting together a deep roster. Nobody has a pair of backup outfielders like the Rockies' Seth Smith and Ryan Spilborghs and not many have a better backup catcher than Miguel Olivo. Melvin Mora makes a nice backup, too, as no one's more versatile. Eric Young Jr. brings speed.
Best Manager: Mike Scioscia
For getting the most out of the Angels year in and year out, Scioscia is my choice. No wonder he's locked up through 2018. Scioscia declined comment about himself when informed he might be the choice, but he talked up several others. "The thing about Tony La Russa, Jim Leyland, Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, and guys like Sparky Anderson, is that their decision-making is so clear.'' Told La Russa was my other top choice, Sciosicia applauded that. "Tony is as good as there is,'' Scioscia said. Well, almost. Following Scioscia and second choice La Russa are Torre, Terry Francona and Joe Girardi. The Mariners' Don Wakamatsu is the choice in the future division.
Best General Manager: Theo Epstein
Red Sox GM Theo Epstein gets the nod here in the big-market division, while the Rockies' Dan O'Dowd is the choice in the small-to-mid-market division. Epstein has won two World Series after 85 straight years without a title in Boston, and O'Dowd has built two playoff teams in three years, despite a payroll that places the Rockies in the bottom half. Colorado combines depth, balance and youth again, and looks like it has a chance to make it back to the postseason. Brian Cashman with four World Series titles is in the argument. Seattle's Jack Zduriencik, who should have been a GM long ago, did the best work this winter, and in the future division, I'll take Jon Daniels, who's building something pretty special in Texas.
Around the camps
While the Mariners have interest in Jarrod Washburn, they are said to be at their budget. The Twins might still make the most sense, but it could be tied into whether or not Joe Nathan is healthy enough to be their closer this season. For now, Jon Rauch looks like the favorite if Nathan can't go, as manager Ron Gardenhire prefers a strikeout guy to be his closer. Francisco Liriano is pitching well as a starter right now and they seem to lean toward keeping him in that role but one possibility might be to move him to closer. If that happened, there would be an opening in the rotation that could be filled by Washburn, who is from Webster, Wisc., two hours east of the Twins Cities.
The Mariners offered Russell Branyan more money than he got in Cleveland on a one-year deal, plus a vesting option, but Branyan was hoping for a straight multi-year deal and turned down the Mariners. He eventually signed for $2 million over one year with Cleveland, but the herniated disk in his back that caused him to miss the last month of the 2009 season still has him out.
The Blue Jays outbid the Yankees and a couple others to sign Cuban defector Adeiny Hechevarria, a shortstop, for $10 million. The Blue Jays made a strong bid to try to sign Aroldis Chapman and are a big player in the international market. The New York Post first report Hechevarria was close to going to the Jays while SI's Melissa Segura reported there was an agreement, pending a physical.
Dominican right-hander Alexi Ogando, who was banned from coming to the United States for five years after admitting to marrying a woman to help her gain a visa, is impressing with a big fastball and impressive secondary stuff in Rangers camp. Ogando, 26, throws 94-100 mph and has an excellent breaking ball and changeup. He was originally an outfielder in the A's organization, but Texas acquired him for the $12,000 minor-league Rule V price.
Sergio Santos, a converted shortstop who's pitching well for the White Sox, is very likely to make their staff as a reliever, as he is out of options. He throws in the high 90s and has an excellent corkscrew changeup, according to pitching coach Don Cooper. White Sox farm director Buddy Bell gave him the chance to become a pitcher a year ago after he didn't hit enough to play shortstop. He still had the bug to hit and was traded to the Giants last spring, but after he didn't make it there as a shortstop either, he returned to the White Sox.
Jason Heyward, a sensation in Braves camp, is no fluke, according to scouts, who love his plate discipline and expect a big rookie year.
Jenrry Mejia looks like he has a good chance to make the Mets as a reliever. The other option would be send him to the minors and keep working him as a starter. First base prospect Ike Davis, who's had a big spring offensively, and shortstop Ruben Tejada, who's also been impressive, are likely to start at triple-A Bualo.
Astros owner Drayton McLane is still thinking seriously about selling the team, though he has publicly downplayed sales talks. His issues are said to be capital gains and estate taxes.
Best wishes to top Red Sox outfield prospect Ryan Westmoreland, who will be undergoing surgery to repair a cavernous malformation in his brain. The Red Sox have asked that no inquiries be made of Westmoreland's family during this difficult time.
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