Tag Archives: Grady Sizemore

Phillies 2015 Report Cards: Outfielders

After previously handing out grades to the 2015 Philadelphia Phillies infielders and catchers, it’s now the outfielders turn. 
The starting outfielders based on playing time this season were Ben RevereOdubel Herrera, and Jeff Francoeur, and there were 2-3 others who received substantive time.
Others receiving significant time included Cody Asche, who started 61 games in left field. 
Domonic Brown, who the club released just yesterday, appeared in 50 games in right field. 
Aaron Altherr appeared in 37 games spread across all three outfield positions. 
The Phillies also got 31 early season games from Grady Sizemore in left and right field.
When spring training in Clearwater began back in February, few would have predicted that the Rule 5 draftee Herrera or the supposedly washed-up free agent signee Francoeur would end up as regulars, let alone as fan favorites. But that is exactly what happened as the 2015 season developed.
Below you will find letter grades assigned to the first seven names mentioned above, making up all of the players who appeared in at least 30 games in the outfield for the 2015 Phillies.


Grady Sizemore – F: it’s really hard to see why Ryne Sandberg kept writing the then-32 year old Sizemore’s name into the lineup during the months of April and May. 
Likely it was simply because the ill-fated skipper felt there were few proven options, with Herrera and Francoeur not yet having fully emerged, and with Revere as the only established, healthy, proven starter. 
Sizemore produced nothing in 104 plate appearances: a .245/.288/.296 slash line with no homers, six RBI, four runs scored, no stolen bases. 
He was released on June 1st, signed with the Tampa Bay Rays two weeks later, and actually produced well for the Rays over the season’s final three months. But again, with the Phillies he was nothing more than a complete waste of time.


Aaron Altherr – C: some over-exuberant fans or evaluators may be tempted to give Altherr a higher grade. Let’s not get carried away. 
He will turn 25 years old in January, so he’s not exactly a kid. He also hit for a just a .241 average, and the right-handed batter amazingly performed much worse against lefty pitching, with a .180/.276/.360 slash line in 58 plate appearances against southpaws. 
He did produce five homers, 22 RBI, 25 runs, and six stolen bases in 161 total plate appearances. Multiply those production numbers by four to get a full season. 
If Altherr can actually produce those types of numbers, he can be a full-time big league starter, at least for the next few seasons as the Phillies roster continues to improve. 
He committed no errors, and generally fielded well no matter where he was placed in the outfield. 
Expect Altherr to enter spring training as a favorite to win a starting corner outfield spot. If he can figure out lefties, the Phils may have themselves a productive, dependable starter.
Domonic Brown – F: never let it be said that I didn’t kick a man when he was down, at least when that man is someone who I have cringed at watching in a Phillies uniform as much as I have Dom Brown over the last few years. 
I already went over Brown’s disappointing performances over the last few years in yesterday’s piece following his removal from the Phillies 40-man roster. Let’s just focus here on what produces this grade, his 2015 performance. 
The season began with him on the DL, then with a .260 average and three homers in 248 minor league plate appearances. 
He certainly didn’t earn a promotion, but the Phils gave him one anyway. Back in the big leagues, Brown produced just a .228/.284/.349 slash line with five homers, 25 RBI, and 19 runs scored over 204 plate appearances. 
He committed just one official error, and did flash his strong arm with four outfield assists. 
But he continued a troubling lack of awareness of his place on the field at times, which directly ended his season and Phillies career in early September when he tumbled into the Citi Field stands, suffering a concussion. 
It was just more of the same disappointing failure time after time for Brown. Can you tell my feelings regarding his release? Good riddance.
Cody Asche – D: let’s be honest here, Asche wasn’t much better in 2015 than Brown, if better at all. His passing grade is barely, and is really only given due to his versatility in reasonably covering two positions on defense. 
Asche had been the club’s starting 3rd baseman, but was moved to left field with the development of top rookie Maikel Franco
While no Gold Glover, the athletic Asche did show that he can handle the outfield, at least in a backup role. 
In 2015, Asche produced a disappointing .245/.294/.395 slash line that was very close to his overall career MLB numbers across more than 1,000 plate appearances. 
While he didn’t hit righties particularly well, he did show far greater power against them.
He will turn 26 years old right in the middle of next season, and looks like a backup player. 
Asche is going to need to show more, or as the overall roster improves he is going to find it harder and harder to keep a big league job, at least in Phillies pinstripes.
Ben Revere – C: the speedy Revere had an almost identical season to his 2014 campaign, when you combine his full Phillies and Blue Jays numbers. 
With the Phils, he produced a .298/.334/.374 slash line with 24 stolen bases and 49 runs scored across 388 plate appearances prior to his July 31st trade to Toronto. 
Revere was with the Phillies what he is overall as a player: a speed threat. His speed allows him to beat out enough infield hits, and he makes enough contact, to keep his average around the .300 level. 
His ability to get on base and use his speed fit perfectly with the Jays’ power-laden lineup. With the Phillies, his skill set was basically being wasted. 
He will turn 28 years old in early May, and becomes arbitration eligible this coming off-season, so he would have begun to become an expensive, limited option. 
Defensively, Revere’s speed allowed him to run down some balls, and he was willing to give up his body for diving grabs. However, he also took questionable routes at times, and has a weak arm. 
The Phillies were able to get a pair of young arms for him. If either pans out in any way that helps them down the line, this should prove a deal that works out for both teams.
Jeff Francoeur – C: it’s not that ‘Frenchy’ wasn’t a joy to watch for most of the season, he was. Especially during such an overall down season for the team. But we have to be reasonable about handing out grades. 
He produced a .258/.286/.433 slash line with 13 home runs and 45 RBI in 343 plate appearances. 
A few of those home runs were dramatic, coming at key moments, including to walkoff some of the Phillies few victories during the 2015 season. 
A former Gold Glover who was once a regular atop the NL outfield assists leaderboards, his still powerful arm produced some sensational throws. 
Heck, he even took the mound in a blowout, tossing two solid innings. 
He was also widely acknowledged to be a strong, positive influence in the clubhouse. 
However, Francoeur does turn 32 years old in January, and should not be considered a big piece of the future. 
He earned a return in the same role, at least for 2016: backup outfielder who will not embarrass himself or the team if needed as the regular right fielder at any point.
Odubel Herrera – B: there is nothing to say about the fact that a Rule 5 draftee who had never played center field in his career became your starting center fielder than “amazing”, and that was Herrera for the 2015 Phillies. 
Easily the season’s most pleasant surprise, the rookie Herrera was voted the club’s top offensive player by the staff here at TBOH, and was also selected by the Phillies as the team Hank Aaron Award nominee. 
He will turn 24 years old at the end of December, and thus is young enough that, if he continues to develop, he can become a key piece to the rebuilding program. 
The player known affectionately as “El Torito” (the little bull) hit for a .297/.344/.418 slash line, producing eight homers, 30 doubles, 41 RBI, 64 runs scored, and 16 steals across 537 plate appearances. 
While he won’t win the award, Herrera should receive some votes in the upcoming NL Rookie of the Year voting. 
Frankly, I’m not sure of what the Phillies have here. Is he their future in center field? Maybe back at his more natural position of 2nd base? 
Will he be a regular, a bench player, or a flash-in-the-pan who fades into a footnote in Phillies history? I honestly believe that all of those remain possibilities at this point.
OTHERS: Brian Bogusevic played 16 games in the Phillies outfield this season, receiving 13 starts in right field and one in left. 
Darin Ruf played 22 games, including 19 starts, in left field. We covered Ruf in our infield grades, where he started 43 and appeared in 66 at 1st base. 
Darnell Sweeney played 14 games in the outfield, starting 11 times in left. He also started eight games at 2nd base. 
Jordan Danks appeared in one early August game. None of these players received enough time to be able to give any a fair grade. Bogusevic was released from the 40-man roster along with Brown yesterday. However, it is believed that the club is interested in bringing him back, at least with AAA Lehigh Valley.
Towards the end of the season, manager Pete Mackanin was forced to bench Herrera due to an episode of pouting in which he also displayed a lack of hustle in a game against the Atlanta Braves. As reported by ESPN, Mackanin called Herrera out publicly after the outburst.
Boys play Little League and men play Major League Baseball. We will not pout, we will not feel sorry for ourselves. If you want to, then you don’t belong here. He had to learn a lesson. Lately he’s been showing his emotions a little bit more. We’re just not going to stand for it. He’s got to understand that it doesn’t work that way. I’m sure he’s going to understand.
No one wants or expects Herrera to play without emotion. He needs that aspect of his game, and it can bring energy to the entire team. 
However, he does need to grow and learn to harness those emotions, displaying them in a more positive way. 
If he can do so, his talent could allow him to become a player similar to what Shane Victorino became a decade ago.
The developement of the Phillies outfield, like the rest of the roster, will continue in 2016. You should expect to see Herrera featured prominently. 
If not, you can also expect to see a lot more of Altherr, Francoeur, and even Asche.

Remembering the Real Grady Sizemore

This afternoon, the Phillies designated outfielder Grady Sizemore for assignment. 
What this means is that the Phillies removed him from their roster in order to make room for the return to the team of Cody Asche, who was demoted a few weeks ago in order to become more acclimated to a position switch from 3rd base to left field.
Sizemore now has to decide whether or not he wants to remain with the Phils organization, accepting an assignment with AAA Lehigh Valley in the hopes of eventually working his way back to the big leagues, or become a free agent and try to seek employment with another team that might want him at the major league level.
Whichever decision that Sizemore eventually makes after consulting with his family, his agent, and his own conscience, this outfielder whom the Phillies just DFA’d is not the Grady Sizemore about whom I am referring in the title of this piece. 
I’m not talking about the player who hit .250 with three homers, 18 RBI, and one stolen base in 280 plate appearances across parts of 99 games with the Phillies.
The Grady Sizemore that I want to remember here is the one that many fans, especially younger fans, may not know has ever existed. 
You see, a decade ago, Sizemore was one of the most exciting young players in all of baseball. That is the Sizemore that I want to take a few minutes to remember. For some of you, it will be an introduction.
Entering the 2004 season, Sizemore was a member of the Cleveland Indians organization, one of the Top 10 prospects in the entire sport based on rankings by the noted authorities on such things at Baseball America. 
Sizemore had been originally drafted by the old Montreal Expos in the 3rd round of the 2000 MLB Amateur Draft.
Just over two years later, on June 27th, 2002, with the Expos sitting at 41-36 and 6 1/2 games out in the NL East, the Expos made him a piece in one of the biggest blockbuster deals of the decade. 
Montreal sent 1st baseman Lee Stevens and three high-level prospects in Sizemore, 2nd baseman Brandon Phillips, and a lefty pitcher whom you might have heard of named Cliff Lee to the Cleveland Indians for then 29-year old emerging ace Bartolo Colon and reliever Tim Drew.
Grady Sizemore
A decade ago, Sizemore was one of the most exciting young all-around players in baseball with the Cleveland Indians. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane) ORG XMIT: OHRS101
The deal did not work out as Montreal hoped. The team had to win it’s final four games just to finish in 2nd place with a winning 83-79 record, but it was a distant 19 games behind the division-winning Atlanta Braves (and just 2 1/2 ahead of the 3rd place Phillies, who were beginning to emerge.)
For the Indians, it was an incredible boon., even when the veteran Stevens would retire following that 2002 campaign after a 10-year big league career. 
But the three prospects all became stars in Major League Baseball over the next few seasons.
Lee would pitch for parts of eight seasons with the Indians, compiling an 83-48 record and winning the 2008 AL Cy Young Award with a 22-3 season. 
Phillips never quite caught on as a regular in Cleveland, despite substantial playing time in 2003. He was eventually flipped to the Cincinnati Reds, where he has become a Silver Slugger winner, a 4x Gold Glover, and a 3x NL All-Star.
For his part, Grady Sizemore made his MLB debut in 2004, and took over as the Indians starting center fielder for the 2005 season. 
Though he had gone 29 plate appearances over the limits during 2004 to allow him to qualify for the ’05 AL Rookie of the Year Award, he fashioned a tremendous first full season with the Tribe.
In that first full 2005 season, Sizemore hit .289 with 22 homers, 81 RBI, 111 runs scored, and 22 steals. 
His catches in center field were often of the diving, lay-your-body-on-the-line highlight reel variety. Sizemore was a sensation, and he even received AL MVP votes at the end of the year, helping the Tribe to a 93-win season.
There would be no ‘sophomore slump’, as Sizemore produced the first of three consecutive AL All-Star campaigns in 2006. That year he hit for a .290/.375/.533 slash line, with 28 homers, 76 RBI, 22 steals, and a league-leading 134 runs scored.
In 2007, he won the first of back-to-back Gold Gloves, hitting .277 with a .390 on-base percentage, 24 homers, 78 RBI, 118 runs, and 33 steals. 
Sizemore was a major cog that year as Cleveland went all the way to the ALCS, where they took a 3-1 lead in games over the Boston Red Sox. Those Bosox rallied incredibly to win the last three in dominating fashion, snuffing out the Tribe hopes of a World Series.
In 2008, still at just age 25, Sizemore upped his game to another level. He hit for a .268/.374/.502 slash line, with 33 homers, 90 RBI, 101 runs scored, and 38 steals. 
He was a 2008 AL All-Star, even competing in the Homerun Derby at old Yankee Stadium. Sizemore finished 10th in the AL MVP race, and won both a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger.
At that point, Sizemore was perhaps the best all-around player in baseball. He had both power and speed, and he played a dazzling center field. 
Entering 2009, he was committed to playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. But then fate began to intervene in his career, and not in a good way.
The injury bug bit him, with a left groin injury early on in spring training causing him to miss representing his country in that WBC. And whether in some way compensating for the injured groin, or completely separate, he injured his left elbow as well. 
The throwing arm hurt him all year, though he mostly tried to play through it. The result was a subpar, to that point, 18 homers, 64 RBI, 73 runs, 13 steals season. Little did anyone know, it would be a portent of things to come.
In 2010, Sizemore lost nearly the entire season when, just over one month in, a sore knee turned out to require microfracture surgery. He was done for the year after just 33 games. 
After returning in 2011, Sizemore again was rattled by injuries. In mid-May he hit the DL for just over two weeks with a right knee contusion. Then in mid-July, a more serious injury to the same knee, as well as sports hernia surgery, knocked him out until September.
Sizemore (24) in a game May 2015 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citizens Bank Park. (Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
Having missed most of the previous two seasons in a stretch of injuries that went all the way back to September of 2010, the Indians decline his 2012 contract option. 
A free agent, the club was able to negotiate his return at a reduced rate with a $5 million contract offer. But it turned out there would be no comeback in Cleveland.
In spring training of 2012, Sizemore experienced back discomfort that required surgery. He suffered numerous setbacks all year long with both his back and his knees, eventually leading to microfracture surgery on his right knee – the same procedure that he had on his left knee back in 2010. 
He missed not only that entire 2012 season, but also the 2013 season as he tried to get himself physically capable of performing.
Most of the baseball world assumed that Grady Sizemore was finished. Back surgery, microfracture surgeries to both knees, and two full years out of the game. 
He hadn’t played full-time since early September of 2009. The player who from 2005-08 was one of the game’s brightest young stars appeared to have lost his career to injuries.
But Sizemore had a final act left in him after all. He signed with the Boston Red Sox in the off-season prior to 2014 for a minimal guarantee. 
After a strong spring training and against all odds, Sizemore was named the Opening Day center fielder for the Bosox. He hit a homerun vs Baltimore in the opener, and another big one to help win a game at Yankee Stadium two weeks later.
For the first couple of weeks of the 2014 season, Grady Sizemore was perhaps the best story in baseball. Was he really back? Could he possibly keep this up? 
The answers proved to be no on both counts. He slumped precipitously, and was eventually released by Boston in mid-June.
That’s where the Phillies came into things. With the club struggling through it’s major downturn, the Phils decided they had nothing to lose by taking a shot with him. 
Sizemore signed with the Phillies on June 24th, went to the minors for some conditioning, and was called up just prior to the All-Star break.
That bring us full circle to the Grady Sizemore that fans watched over roughly a year here in Philly. It was not the Sizemore who literally flew across big league diamonds a decade ago. 
That Sizemore was, for a quick four-year burst, one of the best players of the last decade. 
It’s that tremendously exciting young player that I wanted to remember here today, as the Phillies possibly say goodbye to the shadow of that former greatness.

Phillies Countdown to the MLB Trade Deadline

Marlon Byrd one of several Phils on the trade block
There are just seven days until the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline, and for the Philadelphia Phillies, the number of potential trade partners is diminishing as teams make other deals. Last night, the Detroit Tigers agreed to acquire veteran relief pitcher Joakim Soria from the Texas Rangers for a pair of high-level prospects, closing one possible destination for Jonathan Papelbon.
This is a make-or-break point in the career of Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr, at least as far as the increasingly disgruntled fan base is concerned. So with pressure on in the Phillies front office, the team disappearing to the bottom of the N.L. East standings, and the fans disappearing from the once-packed Citizens Bank Park stands, here areseven players that the Phillies could move in these next 7 days:


The closer wants to go. The team would like to accommodate him. He is an experienced veteran who has delivered at the highest levels in the most pressure-packed environments on the biggest stages. Who wouldn’t find that attractive?
Unfortunately there are two big negatives with Pap. First, his salary, which is exorbitant for a closer. He is owed $13 million for next season, and has a vesting option for 2016 for another $13 million that he is likely to reach.
Second, he is an eccentric personality, to say the least. Should money really be an issue for a couple of years in an industry bathing in cash? He has a limited no-trade clause, can block deals to 17 clubs. Says he would waive to go to a contender.
POTENTIAL DESTINATIONS: Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Tampa Bay, Toronto.

Antonio Bastardo. Image Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports


The reliever has a handful of key things going for him. He is cheap, making just $2 million this season, though he does become arbitration-eligible next year. He is relatively young, not turning 30 until September. And perhaps most of all, he is left-handed. He has also had success in a big market.
POTENTIAL DESTINATIONS: every single team that is at .500 or above and thinks it is a contender.


He was coaxed to play by the possibility of joining Cole HamelsCliff Lee and the 2008 leftovers in one last shot at contending. It hasn’t worked out here in Philly. But the 37-year old proven vet is already in playing shape, and is having another solid season. Not an “ace” but would strengthen most any rotation.
He is owed $15 million next year on a mutual option contract. A team could buy him out for $1 million, but he could respond by activating a $7.5 million player option. The contract shouldn’t be a hinderance. You only get him for this year. If you want him next, would likely have to talk him into playing.
POTENTIAL DESTINATIONS: could be most any contender, but best bets may be Baltimore or Pittsburgh.


What Burnett is to Phillies pitching assets, Byrd is to hitting assets. He turns 37 years old next month, and is a proven veteran having a solid season. He brings right-handed power to a lineup, an increasingly valuable characteristic.
A downside? He can block deals to four clubs that would appear to be potential trade matches: KC, Seattle, Tampa Bay, and Toronto. Should be able to be coaxed for the chance to win. An affordable $8 million option each of next two seasons that is likely to kick in if he stays healthy and productive.
POTENTIAL DESTINATIONS: Cincinnati, Cleveland, KC, NY Yankees, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle, Tampa Bay

Cliff Lee not likely to move before the deadline {Picture: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports}


Any team would want a true “ace” caliber pitcher with Lee’s big game pedigree and veteran experience. Problem is, Lee spent a majority of the first half of the season on the DL. He just returned, and laid an egg in his only start back to this point.
Would a team be willing to roll the dice on the vet regaining form? Best bet probably would be for the Phils to get him through waivers and deal him in August, though it might now require an off-season deal to move the popular lefty.
Negatives? He turns 36 years old next month, and is owed $25 million next year, with a $27.5 million vesting option for 2016. The injury this year combined with his age may make that unreachable. Has limited no-trade protection blocking 20 clubs.
POTENTIAL DESTINATIONS: Atlanta, Cleveland, NY Yankees, Tampa, Toronto, Washington


Could the Phillies have possibly acquired Sizemore for anything more than the hope that he would play well in an audition for other teams before the trade deadline? He turns 32 years old next week, and missed two years with various injuries and performance issues. But he has fought back gallantly, and has looked excellent.
If a team can limit his exposure, his lefty bat, speed, and veteran experience would be very valuable. No real financial investment required, and could probably be had for a mid-level prospect at most.
POTENTIAL DESTINATIONS: Any team that thinks it is a contender and is willing to part with some type of organizational arm with any amount of potential at all.

 THE 2008 GANG

Cole Hamels. Image Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Cole Hamels is the crown jewel, but you likely can’t get him. This would be a blockbuster, and you would need to part with 3 of your best prospects in return. Not many teams have 3 prospects at the level it would take. But he is indeed a true “ace” that could make all the difference for any contender now and for the next few years.
Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins can still play up the middle, can still produce. Neither wants to go anywhere, the team wants to keep both. Odds are they finish their careers in Philly. But JRoll could be coaxed to go back to the west coast to a contender in the right deal.
Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz have had too many issues with injuries and non-performance to be attractive to teams, and Howard has a nearly untradeable contract, but the club would welcome offers on either.

It’s just a fantasy

Embed from Getty Images


If you know me, you know that I am a huge baseball fan. A lifelong Phillies fan, of course, and someone who played for and managed a local championship men’s softball team for over a decade and a half.

As I got a bit older, I retired the old glove and bat, and moved into the fantasy game. Fantasy baseball has been one of my biggest hobbies over the past decade, particularly with a ‘Keeper’ league of which I am a part known as the ‘Whitey Fantasy Baseball League’.

In this case, ‘Whitey’ refers to the man for whom the league is dedicated, Philly’s own Rich ‘Whitey’ Ashburn. We have 16 players in the WFBL known to each other as GM’s (general managers) of the 16 teams, which are all league-owned.

My own team, the Philadelphia Athletics, has been highly successful. My team has captured seven of the 11 pennants in our Paul Owens (East) Division, and one league championship during a history which began back in 1998.

That first summer saw the WFBL stock each of our team rosters for the first time with an original draft. Since then, players have been exchanged over the years through trading and a waiver-acquisition process. We are permitted to keep between 16-20 players every year, so you can actually build a team and keep it together if you like.

That original franchise-stocking WFBL Draft yielded me Scott Rolen and Derek Jeter as the first two picks. They became cornerstones, and I picked up later in the Draft such young studs as Billy Wagner and Andruw Jones.

We have two divisions, my Owens Division and the western Connie Mack Division, with eight teams in each. Most of the current 16 GMs have been with the league for a long time, with four of us still remaining from that first Draft day and season.

In the east there are teams representing New York, Boston, Alexandria, Carolina, Atlantic City, Middle Village (NY), Montreal and my Philly club. From the west the teams are in Portland, California, Jackson Hole, Alabama, Louisiana, St. Louis, Eugene and Spokane.

The actual GMs are from all across the country as well. There are two of us from Philly, three guys from the Bayou of Louisiana, and the rest spread from the Pacific Northwest to the Cayman Islands and everywhere in between. Our ages range from 24 to 58, with most in their 30’s and 40’s.

We utilize an even mix of offensive and pitching stats, making both sides of the game equally important, and we play a head-to-head schedule of 22 games, once each vs. the other division and twice vs. your own division rivals.

It’s now playoff time in the WFBL, and my A’s finished in 2nd place in the Owens/East. We will open this week against the 3rd place Boston Bulldogs.

My club has always been known as a pitching-first team, and this year was no exception as the A’s staff was tops in the league led by Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Cliff Lee (pictured), Cole Hamels and Tim Lincecum in the rotation and closer Francisco ‘KRod’ Rodriguez. My offense features Chase Utley, Jose Reyes, Mark Teixeira and Grady Sizemore.

Boston has a tough squad, one that the A’s edged out in last year’s opening round. Okay, it’s only fantasy, but in our little 16-man world of nationwide friends, it’s a big time of year. Here’s to hoping that my A’s put the stats together over the next few weeks to bring my second WFBL championship to Philadelphia.

NOTE: On Sunday September 28th, after a three-week run against the best competition in the league, my Philadelphia Athletics edged the Eugene Emeralds by a 6-5 final score to win the second championship in my history, the first since 2002.

Hope springs eternal on MLB 2008 Opening Day


After a long winter’s hibernation, hope once again begins to spring eternal. Today is Opening Day for most teams in Major League Baseball, including my own defending National League East Division champion Philadelphia Phillies.

When last we left the Big Leagues, the Boston Red Sox were dancing off the field having swept out the Colorado Rockies for their 2nd World Series title in four years. Terry Francona was proving to everyone that he indeed was a good manager, as most everyone in baseball outside of Philadelphia could have already told anyone willing to listen.

In a true winter of discontent, baseball was slapped around by the Mitchell Report in December, and suffered through more talk about players testing hot for performance-enhancing drugs than fans discussing the Hot Stove League.

But we weathered the storms, and the cold world is once again beginning to thaw. The past month has seen the return of Spring Training in Florida and Arizona, and now it’s time once again for the real thing. Play Ball!

This also means it’s time to go public with something that I do most every year in private – my own predictions for teams and players in the upcoming season in what I personally consider the Greatest Game that God Himself Ever Invented.

First, I am going to go through each division and predict the order of finish. Then I will give my predictions for the playoffs. Finally, I will give my call on the major post-season awards such as the MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and the Manager of the Year.

Let’s start in the most interesting place for local fans, including myself. The National League East. This is a real difficult call, because I honestly see reasons to pick any from among the Phils, New York Mets, and Atlanta Braves.

I just believe that the Phillies have too much offense, and that the other two teams have as many problems throughout their team as a whole. Call it in this order: Phillies, Mets, Braves, Nationals, Marlins.

In the NL Central, the Chicago Cubs are the consensus favorites, and a sentimental choice since it has been a full 100 years since they last won the World Series. And you thought Phillies fans had it tough! Here is the way I see it: Cubs, Reds, Brewers, Astros, Pirates, Cardinals.

In the NL West, there are four teams with legitimate claims to being the favorite. I just happen to like the young players of the Arizona Diamondbacks, as well as their 1-2 ace punch of Brandon Webb and Dan Haren. Call it: DBacks, Rockies, Dodgers, Padres, Giants.

Over in the AL, the East will see the Bosox outdo the Yankees once again in another tough race. I see it as: Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays, Orioles. Look in this division for the Rays, with some of the best young talent in the big leagues, to begin to make the perennial big boys sweat.

In the AL Central we have two of the best lineups in the game in Cleveland and Detroit. The turnaround by the Tigers franchise in the past three years has been astounding, and they have a true Murderer’s Row offense, but the Tribe simply have more pitching. I think it goes: Indians, Tigers, White Sox, Twins, Royals.

The AL West has the rising star of the Seattle Mariners, and I think that this time around the slide past the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in a tough race. Call this one: Mariners, Angels, Rangers, Athletics.

The Wildcard races in both leagues should be similar to last season, with many NL teams battling and just a couple of AL clubs in the hunt. In the NL, I think the Mets will end up with enough to outlast the others this time. In the AL, the Yankees should be able to hold off the Tigers and Angels.

So we are down to my final important playoff predictions. Anyone who looks at this season and tried to predict here, over six months before the Series, who is going to win it is just speculating. No educated opinion is much better than any other. So this educated baseball fan’s view is this: the Cleveland Indians will take the next step, win the AL pennant, and move on to defeat the Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series.

In the Awards department, give the NL MVP to Chase Utley of the Phils, and the AL MVP to Tribe centerfielder Grady Sizemore. The Cy Young Award will go to Dan Haren in the NL, and in the AL the award will go to Justin Verlander of Detroit.

There are so many variable in the Rookie race, but I will go with pitcher Johnny Cueto of Cincy in the NL and Clay Buchholz of the Bosox in the AL. Cincy’s Dusty Baker keeps his team in surprise contention and takes NL top manager, while the AL vote goes to the Tribe’s Eric Wedge.

It’s going to be a year for the Cleveland Indians and their fans to remember if I get things right: a World Series crown, the AL MVP, the league’s top manager. Though many are sentimentally rooting for the Cubs to end their century-old jinx, it will actually be the team with the 2nd-longest wait, the Tribe, who have not won since 1948.

But hey, my Phils do have a puncher’s chance. With their trio of MVP candidates and a great 1-2 starting punch, they really can go all the way. Heck, at least that’s what I believe, even sitting here watching the bullpen melt down in yet another Opening Day loss. After all, baseball is finally back, and hope springs eternal.