My predictions for 2011: Some safe, several that will surprise
The only safe prediction for the coming baseball season regards Francisco Rodriguez's $17.5 million vesting option for 55 game finishes. He won't be getting it, the games or the money.
K-Rod was brilliant this spring, and he may well continue that brilliance. But he isn't getting those games. Certainly not from the Mets. Nobody wants to pay more than Mariano Rivera money to another closer, least of all a team that has, shall we say, financial problems.
That was an easy one. Now here are the rest of my predictions for the 2011 baseball season.
But Posey is primed for a monster year with the pressure off after leading the Giants to a World Series championship despite beginning last year in the minors. As one scout said, once Posey learns how to pull the ball, he could be unstoppable.
The Rays will be better than folks suspect, but it's hard to imagine a bullpen with no names thriving in the AL East. The Blue Jays will get another monster performance from Jose Bautista, and they have to get more out of Aaron Hill and Adam Lind than last year, but the task still looks a bit out of reach for them. The Orioles are much improved but still look like all but a certain cellar dweller even with Buck Showalter managing things from the start.
The Phillies have that fantastic pitching, good enough to justify their tag as World Series favorites. But their spring was an unmitigated disaster. Chase Utley is out indefinitely, Brad Lidge is hurting and so is Placido Polanco. The Marlins have two great players in Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson, and maybe a third in young slugger Mike Stanton, and they could pose a threat. The Mets still possess Jose Reyes, for now, anyway. But there's no Johan Santana, at least until July (and quite possibly longer), Carlos Beltran still has a knee issue, there are all sorts of questions about the bullpen, not to mention the pall that's been cast by the Madoff mess and the realization that only nickels remain to spend. The Nationals have a nice lineup but don't have a set closer and have mostly back-end starters filling out their rotation, at least until phenom Stephen Strasburg returns, probably next year.
Anything can happen in October, and my guess is that the Rockies beat the Rangers to win the World Series. How's that for conviction?
Other predictions ...
• Derek Jeter will become the 28th player to reach 3,000 hits, and he'll experience a rejuvenation at the plate. His new stance will be credited for the rebirth, but the placidity brought by his new long-term deal will be the real reason.
• Mariano Rivera will get his 600th save, and finish the year with exactly 601, by saving 42 games (his uniform number).
• Jim Thome will hit his 600th home run, solidifying his spot in Cooperstown.
• Albert Pujols will reach 2,000 hits and 1,000 walks.
• Ivan Rodriguez will play in his 2,500th game (that's an easy one, he'll do it on Opening Day). And he isn't close to being done.
• Not nearly as many managers will be fired as last year. Marlins manager Edwin Rodriguez, who received a one-year deal after the long courtship of Bobby Valentine failed, starts the year with the biggest bull's eye on his back, considering owner Jeffrey Loria's annually lofty standards in relation to the team's puny payroll.
• White Sox GM Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen will continue to bicker in the longest-running soap opera in major league baseball.
• The relationship between Yankees GM Brian Cashman and his bosses, who don't always agree with Cashman on player personnel decisions (see Rafael Soriano) will continue to be among the more interesting ones in the game. And it will continue when Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner/Randy Levine come to a contract extension agreement after the year to keep Cashman in the Bronx for another three years.
• The McCourts will hang on in Los Angeles. It seems that everybody but them wants them out as Dodgers owners, but justice moves slowly, and it'll take at least a year to sort out the mess and boot them from Chavez Ravine to one of their four homes in Holmby Hills or Malibu.
• The better-liked (at least in baseball circles) Wilpons will hang on for a while, too, as the Madoff mess is untangled. The trustee who is suing them won't get his $1 billion, as there's no real proof that the Wilpons knew the score. But their legal bills will run high enough that their ownership won't be secured, either, and they might have to take on an equal partner.
• Pujols will return to the Cardinals with a contract after the season. St. Louis wants to see the market, but will ultimately have no choice but to pay him about $256 million over eight years to keep him at home.
• Prince Fielder will play out the year with Milwaukee and leave for the rival Cubs, who will need to make a splash and give him close to what he wants, maybe $180 million over eight years.
• Jose Reyes will be traded at mid-year when the Mets don't contend. Carlos Beltran (if he's still standing) and K-Rod will go, too. And the new team won't want to give Rodriguez his 55 finishes, either.