Tag:Dave Duncan
Posted on: January 5, 2012 9:19 pm
Edited on: January 5, 2012 9:45 pm
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Cards' pitching coach taking leave of absence

Dave Duncan

By C. Trent Rosecrans

Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan is taking a leave of absence, the team announced on Thursday.

"As far as how long he'll be gone, no one knows," general manager John Mozeliak told FoxSports.com.

Duncan, 66, is leaving the team to be with his wife, Jeanine, who underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor in August. Duncan missed more than a month of the season to be with his wife, but returned for the postseason. Bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist served as the pitching coach during Duncan's absence. However, the team has not named an interim replacement for Duncan.

The team's release said Mozeliak and new manager Mike Matheny will meet "in the near future to determine the team's course of action to fill Duncan's position during his absence."

Duncan is considered one of the best pitching coaches in baseball. 

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Posted on: November 14, 2011 5:45 pm
 

Duncan to return as Cardinals' pitching coach

Dave Duncan

By C. Trent Rosecrans

The Cardinals will have a new manager in 2012, but not a new pitching coach.

Dave Duncan, who served as Tony La Russa's pitching coach during his entire reign in St. Louis, was under contract for 2012, but wanted new manager Mike Matheny to have the final say on his status for the upcoming season. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Matheny reached out to Duncan on Sunday, telling him the spot was his if he wanted it.

"I wanted him to feel comfortable if he felt like he wanted somebody else, that he could make that decision," Duncan told the Post-Dispatch's Derrick Goold. "He assured me that he wants me to be a part of what he's going to be doing there.

"My intentions are to come back. I'll be there."

Duncan said his wife, Jeanine, is recovering well from brain surgery and is optimistic he can be ready for spring training.

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Posted on: October 31, 2011 1:19 pm
Edited on: November 14, 2011 9:16 pm
 

Potential replacements for La Russa



By Matt Snyder


It's back to reality in St. Louis. The Cardinals got to bask in the glory of their World Series championship for a few days, culminating with a parade Sunday afternoon. Afterwards, manager Tony La Russa told the players he's retiring. Monday morning, the move was announced in a press conference at Busch Stadium.

So it's back to business for general manager John Mozeliak. Here are a few names that might be considered -- or at least names that people might be throwing around the rumor mill in the next few days:

Terry Francona - It feels like he's got to be the immediate front-runner, though this is only speculation. Francona won two pennants and two World Series championships in eight seasons for the Red Sox, piling up a .574 winning percentage despite playing in the toughest division in baseball. He needed to get out of Boston and he did, but that doesn't mean he's averse to another job immediately.

Joe Maddon - Maddon took over the embarrassment that was the Devil Rays back in 2006. In 2008 they were just the Rays and playing in the World Series. These Rays are a perennial contender and Maddon's as much a part of that as anyone. There's no question Maddon is one of the best managers in baseball, but would he leave Tampa Bay? If Mozeliak wants Maddon, he needs to sell Maddon on the difference in experience between Tampa Bay's financial woes, low fan support and awful facilities to what he'd get in St. Louis.

La Russa retires
Terry Pendleton - He played the first seven years of his career for the Cardinals (1984-1990), was the Braves' hitting coach from 2001-2010 and is currently the Braves' first-base coach. Pendleton has been connected to Cardinals via rumors in the past (when La Russa was reportedly mulling retirement) and has also been reportedly considered to be named the manager of both the Nationals and Braves at different times. He seems like one of those guys on the cusp of getting his first shot, so maybe it happens here.

Bobby Valentine - Hey, there's a managerial opening, so we have to throw Valentine's name in the ring, right? I actually think it's a rule, so don't blame me for falling in line.

Ryne Sandberg - Sandberg is probably closer to getting his first shot than Pendleton, but both the Red Sox and Cubs are likely strongly considering him. It would be another slap in the face to the rival Cubs if the Cardinals hired the Hall of Famer (he played the overwhelming majority of his career for the Cubs -- just a heads-up to those historically challenged), but should that even be a consideration in the hiring process?

Jose Oquendo - Another former Cardinals player, the versatile Oquendo was with St. Louis from 1986-1995. He has been the Cardinals' third-base coach since 2000 and has interviewed for several other managerial openings. Oquendo also served as the manager for Puerto Rico in each of the first two World Baseball Classics.

Jim Riggleman - Riggleman played in the Cardinals' minor-league system and also managed at both the Class-A and Double-A levels for the Cardinals back in the early 1980s. He's a very highly respected baseball man, but his track record as a manager isn't sparkling. He's managed 12 seasons and made the playoffs just once (the 1998 Cubs, who had to win a one-game playoff to take the wild card). Also, the manner in which he resigned this past season from the Nationals' managerial post can't leave teams pining to hire Riggleman.

Joe Torre - Um, yeah, he's not going to manage anymore. Don't waste your time even thinking about this one.

Dave Duncan - The best pitching coach in the game is too valuable in his current role. Plus, not many pitching coaches make a successful transition to manager. I can't see the Cardinals taking this route.

Mark McGwire - One year of being a hitting coach doesn't mean he's ready to be a big-league manager. There are so many more qualified guys to have the manager job, I don't see Big Mac even being a consideration.

Albert Pujols - Hey, the White Sox considered Paul Konerko as a player-manager, right? And what better way to afford Pujols than to give him the salaries for both the manager and a superstar first baseman. Plus, he's been calling hit-and-run for years! (This is a joke, by the way. Pujols is not going to be even considered).

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Posted on: October 25, 2011 2:57 am
Edited on: October 25, 2011 3:56 am
 

Transcript: La Russa's communication breakdown



By C. Trent Rosecrans

Tony La Russa's non-move in the eighth inning of the Cardinals' 4-2 loss was certainly baffling -- CBSSports.com senior writer Danny Knobler didn't understand why La Russa left Marc Rzepczynski in to face Mike Napoli, the Rangers didn't understand it and even as La Russa tried to explain it in his postgame news conference, people in the room still had trouble figuring out why the left-handed Rzepczynski was facing the right-handed Napoli.

So, if you aren't quite confused yet -- check out the entire transcript of La Russa's postgame news conference, even though it's not guaranteed to clear anything up (with the non-pertinent parts replaced): 

Q. Could you take us through the thought process leaving Rzepczynski in to pitch to Napoli.

La Russa: Well, what happened was that twice the bullpen didn't hear Motte's name. They heard "Rzepczynski" and they didn't get Motte. I looked up there and Motte wasn't going. So I called back for Motte and they got Lynn up. That's why he wasn't supposed to pitch today, so I wasn't going to let him throw that hitter. He just threw the warmups and walked him and Motte behind was ready. I don't know if it was noisy, probably real noisy. They just didn't hear the second time.

Q. (Inaudible).

La Russa: They heard "Rzepczynski" and they didn't hear "Motte", and when I called back I said "Motte", they heard "Lynn". So I went out there, wrong guy. He's not going to pitch today. I said, "Go back, get Motte ready. We'll walk the guy because I don't want Lynn to he is not supposed to pitch. I didn't want to hurt him. And then Motte came in. That's why -- it must be loud. I give the fans credit.

Q. Has that ever happened to you before where you had a call to the bullpen and guys didn't hear you right?

La Russa: Yeah, well, sometimes real loud, especially when some of the bullpens that are right amidst the fans and excitement. It happens in Philadelphia. It's hard to hear it there. So it's not unusual. Maybe we need to come up with some ear mikes or something.

Q. Just to be clear, if Motte was ready, he would have faced Napoli?

La Russa: Yeah.

Q. So you had no choice at that point

La Russa: He was warming up, so I said, "Get Motte up," and they heard "Lynn". But by the way, we had a chance with Rzepczynski's stuff to get Napoli the first pitch, and then he put a nice swing on a breaking ball.

Q. Not to be dense, but what's the sort of procedure in terms of when you guys have the phone call and call down there, who gets the word, and how do they convey it?

La Russa: The bullpen coach hears it, and like he heard "Lynn".

Q. Oh, he heard "Lynn"?

La Russa: Yeah, that's why Lynn got up, and I went out there. I thought it was Motte, and they were yelling at me as I went out. I didn't hear them. It wasn't Motte. So I saw Lynn, I went, oh, what are you doing here?

Q. On the telephone he didn't hear it?

La Russa: Yeah, when you say "Motte", they heard "Lynn". It wasn't supposed to be Lynn because he wasn't going to pitch today.

Q. I think this was brought up earlier but is there a problem when something like that can happen? Is there a better way to do it, bullpen phones in this day and age?

La Russa: Yeah, smoke signals from the dugout. There are times, like what happened in Philadelphia, the phone went out, and so we used cell phones, and then the Phillies brought down walkie talkies, and they fixed the phone. But that phone in a loud ballpark, it's not an unusual problem. I mean, it doesn't make it right, but...

Q. You said it happened twice?

La Russa: When Rzepczynski first got up, I mentioned Motte's game.

Q. So Motte ends up -- did you want both of them to get up?

La Russa: Motte was just going to go along because I was hoping that we'd get the left hander out and then we were not going to pitch to Napoli, and then we were going to go after Moreland. And then Motte would have been ready if they brought a pinch hitter.

Q. I guess this is a protocol question: If Lynn isn't available for this game, doesn't your bullpen coach know that?

La Russa: He's available in an emergency, but I wasn't going to use him. But if he hears "Lynn" and I'm the manager, what is he going to say

Q. That's why I was saying is there a protocol thing. Does he say "Tony, are you sure on Lynn?" Or something like that?

La Russa: I'm sure he's thinking that now, but when you hear something, he had a day off, but like I said, he wasn't going to pitch until Game 6. I saw the big fella come in, and I said, "Why are you here?" He came to pitch. "Walk the guy," because the next guy was going to pitch.

Q. The decision to pass Cruz, was that done with the idea thinking you had Motte for Napoli?

La Russa: Well, I was more thinking that we had a real good chance with Rzepczynski with a pinch hitter or not, and if we got an out or not we were going to pitch around Napoli and then go after the left hander. And if the worst happens, then we would have stalled and got Motte ready for Napoli. But he wasn't throwing,so we couldn't get him ready. That's when I called the second time and said "Motte" and they heard "Lynn".

Q. One more clarification: Is that conversation between (pitching coach Dave Duncan and and bullpen coach Derek Lilliquist)?

La Russa: It depends who makes the call. I made the call.

Q. So you made both calls?

La Russa: Today I did.

La Russa's counterpart, Ron Washington said the noise has hampered his ability to talk to the bullpen before at Rangers Ballpark. 

Q. Tony said that he wanted Motte in the game, bullpen coach heard "Lynn" on the phone. He said that's happened to him before, was just a complete mix up, bullpen coach didn't hear him correctly. Has that ever happened to you?

Washington: Yes, it has. It has. And you've got to do what you have to do.

In a bit of interesting timing, on Sunday the New York Times wrote a fascinating story on the dugout phone as the last bastion of the landline, and how it's one of the last places where cell phones aren't used, even though the Cubs and Reds have both experimented with cell phones in the past. Perhaps a text would have worked well -- except anyone who has their cell service through a certain company that rhymes with "AT&T" may scoff at the notion of getting a signal in a crowded ballpark.

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Posted on: July 8, 2011 10:15 am
Edited on: July 8, 2011 1:09 pm
 

Pepper: @DatDudeBP leads MLB tweeters

By C. Trent Rosecrans



BASEBALL TODAY:
CBSSports.com senior writer Danny Knobler joins Lauren Shehadi to talk about Derek Jeter, but also notes these games against the Yankees are not just big for Jeter's chase of 3,000 but also vital for the Rays. There's also the Braves-Phillies series, but Danny points out why that may not be as big of a series.

TWITTER 140: Our own @JamesonFleming put together the sports world's top 140 Twitter users and the Cincinnati Reds' Brandon Phillips (@DatDudeBP) comes in as baseball's best Twitter user.

Phillips didn't start using Twitter until this offseason, but has embraced the technology, holding contests for fans and also taking suggestions on restaurants and off-day activities. Earlier this season, a teen asked Phillips to come to his baseball game on a day the Reds were off, and Phillips stopped by. He also sent a pair fans to spring training and then another pair to San Francisco for the Reds' games at AT&T Park.

He has even won over some Cardinals fans, an amazing feat considering Cardinal nation's distaste for the Reds second baseman, who last year used not-so-nice words to describe Tony La Russa's club.

Florida's Logan Morrison (@LoMoMarlins) is fourth on the list and the second baseball player. Brewers closer John Axford (@JohnAxford) is the third MLB player in the Top 10.

LAST ONE THE TOUGHEST: George Brett told the Associated Press he thought the last hit would be the toughest for Derek Jeter in his quest for 3,000. Of course, Brett reached the mark with a four-hit game. Brett also said he wasn't sure how many more players would reach the milestone.

"Is that desire still going to be there when they're worth $250 million when they're 37 years old?" Brett said.

GOTTA BE THE SHOES: Jeter will be wearing special shoes for his 3,000th hit, and you can get a matching pair. Yahoo!'s Big League Stew has all the details on the details of the shoes.

JETER'S BALLS: One more Jeter entry -- a look at the special baseballs that MLB will use to try to track Jeter's 3,000th hit. [BizofBaseball.com]

CARDS LOCK UP GARCIA?: There are reports from the radio station partially owned by the Cardinals that say the team has reached a four-year deal with two option years with left-hander Jaime Garcia. The deal would cover all three arbitration years and one year of free agency for the 25-year-old Garcia. He's 8-3 this season with a 3.23 ERA and is 22-12 with a  3.07 ERA in his career. [MLB.com]

HARPER STILL TOPS: Baseball America released its Midseason Top 50 Prospects List, and the Nationals' Bryce Harper leads the list, followed by Angels outfielder Mike Trout and Rays' lefty Matt Moore.

ALL-STAR SWITCH: Royals right-hander Aaron Crow may have made the All-Star team as a reliever, but Kansas City manager Ned Yost sees the team's former first-rounder as a starter down the line, as soon as next spring. [MLB.com]

DOCTOR MAY NAME NAMES: Canadian Dr. Anthony Galea has pleaded guilty to a felony charge of bringing unapproved drugs into the United States to treat athletes, and he may be pressed to give the names of athletes he treated and gave illegal drugs. Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran of the Mets are among the players who have been treated by Galea in the past. [New York Times]

BORAS SPEAKS AT SABR: Super-agent Scott Boras talked of his love of baseball at the Society for American Baseball Research's annual conference on Thursday. Boras talked about his first superstar -- a cow on his family's farm. [Orange County Register]

SCHILLING TALKS PEDS: Former All-Star Curt Schilling went on a Philadelphia radio station Wednesday and said that no "team in the last 20 years that's won clean." Schilling said he thinks the recent decline in offensive numbers are because of MLB's testing policies. [SportsRadioInterviews.com]

NO TAPE MEASURE NEEDED: Ever wonder how they calculate home-run distances so quickly? There's a chart, of course, but how is that chart made? Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has that story.

CRADLE OF MANAGERS: The Kansas City A's didn't produce a lot of wins, but they did produce their fair share of managers. Tommy Lasorda, Billy Martin, Whitey Herzog, Joe Morgan (not the Hall of Famer, but the former Red Sox manager), Dick Williams, Hank Bauer, Dick Howser and Tony La Russa all played for the A's in KC. Two of the game's more successful coaches, Dave Duncan and Charlie Lau, also played for the A's during their stint in Kansas City. [Joe Posnanski]

SLUGGER EMPATHY: Twins designated hitter Jim Thome said it wasn't his place to comment on Adam Dunn's struggles, but said he did empathize with the struggling Chicago DH. "As a guy who swings and misses and has struck out a ton, it's hard," Thome told the Chicago Tribune. "When you can have success and are blessed to play a long time and [then go through] those periods, it's tough."

NO STARS FOR ALL-STARS: Major League Baseball has added stars to the uniforms of All-Stars, but apparently the designations are purely optional, as the Cardinals' three All-Stars declined to take part to keep their uniforms uniform. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

STARLING UNDECIDED: The Royals took a gamble when they picked prep outfielder Bubba Starling with the fifth overall pick in last month's draft, as Starling is also a top-flight quarterback committed to Nebraska. Starling told the Kansas City Star he hasn't decided whether he's going to play football for Nebraska or sign with the Royals for millions of dollars. Starling said he's going to Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday and will work out with the team, but won't enroll in classes for the summer.

SAVES RECORD: You need more evidence they keep stats for everything? Braves closer Craig Kimbrel has set the record for most first-half saves by a rookie. Kimbrel's 27th save Thursday broke the record of 26 set by Boston's Jonathan Papelbon in 2006. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]

LAWRIE PROGRESSING: Just before he was scheduled to be called up in May, Blue Jays prospect Brett Lawrie suffered a broken hand after being hit by a pitch. Lawrie began hitting off a tee earlier this week, and he's improving. The team doesn't expect him to be able to play in games until August. [MLB.com]

ROYAL SHAME: The Royals have once again taken the cheap route in their tribute to the Nergro Leagues, ditching the vintage uniforms. While there are many good signs for the Royals' future, this is a reminder that David Glass is still the owner. [Kansas City Star]

MYTHBUSTER: Scientists are using a lab at Washington State to measure some baseball physics. Among the findings, corked bats don't work, humidors do, and the balls from 2004 performed the same as a ball from the late 70s. [Popular Mechanics]

REMEMBERING BUDDIN: Former Red Sox shortstop Dan Buddin died last week. He's remembered mostly for not being very good -- he averaged 30 errors a year and didn't hit very well, either. A really good remembrance by FanGraphs.com's Alex Remington on the man Boston booed.

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Posted on: July 4, 2011 12:06 pm
Edited on: July 4, 2011 1:01 pm
 

On Deck: Jeter returns; fireworks in St. Louis?


By C. Trent Rosecrans

Derek JeterJETER RETURNS: You may have heard by now, but Derek Jeter is on his way back. The Yankee captain is expected to start at shortstop and leadoff for the Yankees today against Cleveland's Josh Tomlin (9-4, 3.86 ERA). Jeter is 2 for 6 lifetime against the right-hander. Jeter hasn't played since leaving a game against the Indians on June 13 with a strained right calf. On June 12, Jeter had two singles off of Tomlin, driving in two runs in a 9-1 Yankee victory. The Yankees are 14-4 in 18 games without Jeter. Yankees at Indians, 6:35 p.m. ET (Follow live)

BAD BLOOD: Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto makes his first start in St. Louis since his part in a benches-clearing brawl last August at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. Not only that, he's facing off the same pitcher that started that game for St. Louis, Chris Carpenter. Cueto was suspended seven games after kicking at players after he was pinned against the backstop. Carpenter was among those on the other end of Cueto's spikes and showed off scratches and scrapes on his back. Carpenter said Cueto's actions would have consequences "on the street." We'll see if he goes all 'hood on Cueto when the Reds' pitcher has to bat. The two teams also had words the last time they met, May 15 at Great American Ball Park when Reds closer Francisco Cordero hit Albert Pujols in the ninth inning of the Reds' final game of a three-game sweep. Cardinals backup catcher Gerald Laird, bench coach Joe Pettini and pitching coach Dave Duncan took offense and screamed at Cordero and other Reds players from the bench. Reds at Cardinals, 6:15 p.m. ET (Follow live)

Rays ON TARGET: The Rays have won six of seven games against the Twins this season and all three games played at Target Field. Tampa Bay has won its last five games in Minnesota and have to feel good with David Price on the mound. The All-Star lefty is 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA and is 1-1 with a 1.69 ERA in four appearances all-time (three starts) against the Twins. The Twins counter with lefty Brian Duensing, who is 5-7 with a 4.69 ERA but hast the team's lone win against the Rays this season, allowing two runs on seven hits in seven innings on April 17 at Tropicana Field. Rays at Twins, 2:10 p.m. ET (Follow live)

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Posted on: May 17, 2011 8:30 pm
 

La Russa irked by Reds broadcaster

By C. Trent Rosecrans 

Little surprise here, but Tony La Russa is upset at other people and what they do or say.

Marty BrennamanOn Tuesday, he was asked about these comments from Reds radio play-by-play man Marty Brennaman (right) during Monday's Reds-Cubs broadcast about the complaints made by Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter, who complained about the mound at Great American Ball Park:

Marty Brennaman: The grounds crew did an incredible job, despite what that whiner and excuse-maker Chris Carpenter complained about the mound and the smoke after the fireworks -- Travis Wood didn't.

Jim Kelch: It's always something when they come in here.

Brennaman: Yeah, that's the line Joe Petini laid on the media, that every time they come in here, it's always something with that team. Oh, really? You might be the most unliked team in baseball and it's always the other team? Unbelievable.

(via the Cincinnati Enquirer)

Joe Pettini, the acting manager of the Cardinals over the weekend, said, "It's always something when you come in here." 

Later, Brennaman called Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan "infantile" for his criticism of Reds closer Francisco Cordero for hitting Albert Pujols in Sunday's Reds victory.

Well, Tuesday, La Russa fired back.

"I think the safest thing to say is he's a Hall of Famer, and he should get the respect that inclusion in that place deserves," La Russa said, according to MLB.com's Matthew Leach. "And then he ought to earn it every day from his Hall of Fame induction forward. He ought to earn it and not abuse it."

Brennaman won the Ford C. Frick Award, presented by the National Baseball Hall of Fame, in 2000. Brennaman is well known for saying exactly what he feels on the air and that's gotten him in trouble occasionally, but he's been paid for many, many years to say exactly what he feels and that's not changed anytime recently. That's what makes listening to Brennaman a joy, he calls a great game and doesn't let anything hold him back -- even to the dismay of some Reds players and officials. There are homers out there, but Brennaman isn't one of them.

Brennaman was honored by the Hall of Fame because he does his job well, and sometimes that includes criticism. La Russa will be inducted into the Hall of Fame as soon as he's eligible, but that will be as a manager, not a broadcaster. He doesn't have to like what Brennaman said, but Brennaman is living up to his reputation -- and his duties -- as he says what he did about the Cardinals, Carpenter and Duncan. La Russa, too, has a right to defend his players and coaches, even though at time it may be better just to decline comment. But hey, it keeps keep us bloggers employed, so there's that. And with the Reds and Cardinals battling for the NL Central crown (along with the Brewers and Cubs) in a race that won't be decided until the end of the season, the back-and-forth should give us fodder for months to come.

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Posted on: March 29, 2011 5:56 pm
Edited on: March 29, 2011 9:35 pm
 

Five teams to improve, five to decline in 2011

By Matt Snyder

Finally, spring training is concluding. Now we have a day or two before your favorite team begins play. In the meantime, I'm here to bring you the top five teams to decline and the top five to improve upon their 2010 performances. In return, you accuse me of bias and call me names. It's fun for everyone, really. One thing to keep in mind is that improving or declining by more than 10 games is pretty drastic. On some of these, I'm looking at something like a seven-game swing.

TOP FIVE TEAMS TO IMPROVE

1. Boston Red Sox. Well, let's see ... Last season Kevin Youkilis only played 102 games, Dustin Pedroia saw action in 75 and Jacoby Ellsbury just 18. Josh Beckett was either injured or ineffective all season. Meanwhile the Red Sox added Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to a team that won 89 games, despite all those injury woes -- and some underachieving from people like John Lackey. Easiest call on the board here, and even Yankees fans would have to concede this team is loaded.

2. Oakland A's. The pitching staff is stellar, even including the bullpen. The starting rotation is already really good and only getting better. The A's won 81 with one of the worst offenses in baseball last season. A full season of Coco Crisp, Kurt Suzuki bouncing back and the additions of Hideki Matsui and Josh Willingham don't exactly sound like adding Gonzalez and Crawford, but small improvements will do wonders for the pitching staff. Slugger Chris Carter is waiting in the wings, too, and don't be surprised if Billy Beane adds a bat at the deadline.

3. Colorado Rockies. Troy Tulowitzki needs to stay healthy and Dexter Fowler needs to get closer to his ceiling. I'm going out on a limb that both happen, along with steps forward from Chris Iannetta and Ian Stewart. Watch Jhoulys Chacin's development in the starting rotation, too. He's got big potential.

4. Milwaukee Brewers. This is contingent upon the big names staying healthy and Zack Greinke getting healthy as soon as possible, because this team is paper-thin. But the top line is very impressive. Plus, the division is not very good at all. The Brewers are going to score runs, get good starting pitching (again, assuming the health thing) and have a good back-end of the bullpen. If they can overcome defense and depth deficiencies, they'll win the Central.

5. Florida Marlins. Call it a bit of a gut call, but I really like the Marlins. The rotation really has great potential with Javier Vazquez returning to a pitcher's park in the NL East (he's apparently too intimidated by being a Yankee) and Ricky Nolasco having the ability to be a true No. 2 if he can ever stay consistent. Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad have -- again, this word -- potential to be solid at the end, with stud Josh Johnson leading the five-some. I love the outfield potential of Logan Morrison, Chris Coghlan and Mike Stanton, so long as all three can stay healthy. Hanley Ramirez is primed to have a big season, too.

TOP FIVE TEAMS TO DECLINE

1. San Diego Padres. Removing Gonzalez from the middle of the batting order changes the complexion of everything. And Mat Latos is already hurt, which does nothing to alleviate the concern of the huge workload increase he's experienced over the past two seasons. Most of all, the Padres just seem outmanned by the Giants and Rockies. Winning close to 90 games seems outlandish. Of course, many people said that last year, too.

2. Houston Astros. They overachieved in a big way last season according to run differential (the 'Stros allowed 118 more runs than they scored) and aren't any better. Other than Hunter Pence, the position players are either getting old (Carlos Lee), still unproven (Brett Wallace) or just not that good (Jason Michaels, Bill Hall, Michael Bourn). I'm not a huge fan of the rotation, but it's going to have to carry the team. Good luck with that.

3. Tampa Bay Rays. This is difficult. It's hard to not love the Rays for being so good at sticking with the Yankees and Red Sox in the mighty AL East on that paltry payroll. The loss of Crawford hurts. Carlos Pena wasn't overly productive -- though he was much better than his batting average said -- last season, but his presence helps everyone else see better pitches. That goes away with Dan Johnson at first. The loss of Matt Garza isn't a big deal, so long as Jeremy Hellickson does his thing and James Shields returns to form. The bullpen is worse, though. Look, I'd pick the Rays to win the NL Central if they were in it, but the Yankees aren't any worse and the Red Sox are way better. The Orioles should be better as well. I think the Rays win in the ballpark of 86 games, but that's 10 worse than last year and good for third place.

4. Toronto Blue Jays. They're still building and are moving in the right direction, but winning 85 games again in that division is a very tall order. Any offensive bounce-back from the likes of Aaron Hill and Adam Lind is negated by Jose Bautista's return to this planet.

5. St. Louis Cardinals. If anyone can pull this off, it's Dave Duncan, but losing Adam Wainwright was a death blow. Chris Carpenter is old and injury-prone. Jaime Garcia is due a massive regression. Kyle Lohse was awful last year and Jake Westbrook doesn't have good stuff. Kyle McClellan could very well prove a solid No. 5 starter, but he hasn't exceeded 75 2/3 innings the past three seasons in the bullpen. Can he really double that and remain effective? The outfield defense won't do the staff any favors, either. The Pujols/Holliday/Rasmus combo -- and even Lance Berkman in a best-case scenario -- is very solid, but there's only going to be so much they can do on some nights. I feel like mid-to-high 70s in wins, but Duncan and Tony La Russa find ways to make people wrong often.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com