Rich Uncle Pennybags 2012 MLB Preview

Last year VMS did individual previews for each of the 30 MLB teams. In the end, that process was both time consuming and slightly ineffective. This year I have tried something a bit less labor intensive yet an idea we can all relate to. With that in mind, it is now time to take a few trips around the Monopoly board as I use the beloved game to preview the 2012 MLB season.

Dark Purple (the welcome mats)

Mediterranean Avenue – Houston Astros, Baltic Avenue – Oakland A’s

The only thing that could have kept the Astros out of the board game basement would have been if they changed their name back to the Colt .45’s. As for the A’s, maybe a new stadium will change their future fortunes.

Railroads (surprising overachievers)

New York Mets, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland Indians

Individually, the railroads are essentially worthless entities. However, when combined they form quite the formidable conglomerate. In the case of the Mets, Cubs, White Sox, and Indians expectations are fairly low but something tells me that a couple of these teams will surprise us all and remain in contention through the All Star break.

Light Blue (proud yet pathetic)

Oriental Avenue – Baltimore Orioles, Vermont Avenue – Pittsburgh Pirates, Connecticut Avenue – San Diego Padres

The light blues are your first real opportunity around the board to score a semi desirable property. I don’t know what the statistics show but it sure does seem like a lot of players land on these three pieces of not so prime real estate. Speaking of people landing on something, the Orioles, Pirates, and Padres have been getting stepped on for years. Just one winning season, that’s all us Orioles fans are asking for!!!

Light Purple (too old with too far to go)

St. Charles Place – Minnesota Twins, States Avenue – Atlanta Braves, Virginia Avenue – St. Louis Cardinals

There’s something about taking that turn around Just Visiting that gets participants all sorts of hot and bothered. Unfortunately, Monopoly is very rarely won or lost in the light purples. Fans of the Twins, Braves, and Cardinals know a thing or two about winning. This year things could be different as all three are beginning to trade on name more than talent. Too bad to since you haven’t lived until you’ve tried the Walleye Skewer at Target Field.

Water Works & Electric Company (meh)

Milwaukee Brewers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Colorado Rockies, Seattle Mariners

I’ve been playing Monopoly for most of my life and I still can’t figure out exactly how you make money off of either Water Works or Electric Company. All I know is it somehow involves percentages and I was never any good at fractions to begin with. The Brewers, Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Mariners are equally as hard to figure out which is surprising considering 2 of 4 made the postseason in 2011. East coast bias? Perhaps, but how many of you living west of the Mississippi were even aware that the MLB regular season started last week in Japan?

Orange (can’t you just smell the free parking?)

St. James Place – Kansas City Royals, Tennessee Avenue – Toronto Blue Jays, New York Avenue – Washington Nationals

The Royals, Jays, and Nationals have all been picked to have breakout seasons in 2012. And while these teams are at least one year, or in the case of the Jays a different division, away from competing for a playoff spot, I’d be willing to bet that most Monopoly winners make more money off of the oranges than they do either Boardwalk or Park Place.

Red (avenue of longshots and dreams)

Kentucky Avenue – Miami Marlins, Illinois Avenue – San Francisco Giants, Indiana Avenue – Cincinnati Reds

When you get to the reds it’s time to play for keeps. I expect all three of these teams, the Marlins, Giants, and Reds, to make the playoffs but don’t feel as if any will contend beyond the divisional round. These teams are all excellent examples of how weak the National League is this year. None of three would make the playoffs if they were in the American League.

Yellow (anything less than a championship)

Atlantic Avenue – Philadelphia Phillies, Ventnor Avenue – Texas Rangers, Marvin Gardens – Detroit Tigers

I for one have always wanted to know more about the etymology of Marvin Gardens. Is it really named after a guy named Marvin? If so, what was so nice about his garden? In any case, the yellow block treads on very perilous territory given its close proximity to the Go To Jail space. The Phillies, Rangers, and Tigers could easily find themselves behind bars this season if the injuries mount and Miguel Cabrera continues to field ground balls off of his orbital bone.

Green (crowd pleasers)

Pacific Avenue – Boston Red Sox, North Carolina Avenue – Los Angeles Angels, Pennsylvania Avenue – New York Yankees

The green properties are a nice, relatively inexpensive alternative to Boardwalk and Park Place. Some players may even tell you that they prefer the green monopoly over the blue. There is however nothing cheap about the Red Sox, Angels, and Yankees who all end up spending, and making, more money than just about any other MLB franchise. But all the hotels in the world can’t make up for a lack of starting pitching depth, flawed lineup, and an overly contentious manager.

Blue (the names say it all)

Park Place – Los Angeles Dodgers, Boardwalk – Tampa Bay Rays

It’s official, I’ve caught Dodger fever. And why not? There isn’t another National League team that really jumps off the page plus after years of playing under the dark shroud of the McCourt’s, Chavez Ravine will finally become an enlightened destination under the stewardship of new owner Magic Johnson. And for the Rays, I’m picking Tampa to win the whole thing in 6 games. Love their young pitching. Love Desmond Jennings. Heck, I even love Joe Maddon’s shorts.

 view from Ed Smith Stadium courtesy of @EddieInTheYard

View from Spring Training: 2011 Texas Rangers

2011 Texas Rangers

NFL Equivalent – Arizona Cardinals: Not much behind this comparison except that in recent years both teams, the Cardinals and Rangers, have lost championship game(s) to more established and beloved franchises. Before that, both were kind of obscure entities that the general public didn’t hear much about unless the manager was caught doing drugs or the starting quarterback was giving up on his team.

Google Search: Should Neftali Feliz start or close? Does Michael Young want to be traded or is he happy as a DH? Is Ron Washington still sporting a fake mustache? These are questions the reigning AL champs need to answer as the 2011 season begins. The Rangers have decided that Feliz will in fact remain the teams closer but this decision has not stopped fans/columnists from clamoring for a change. With the offseason acquisition of 3B Adrian Beltre, veteran Michael Young has been forced into a new role as DH and reports out of Arlington were that Young was none too pleased with the Rangers front office and requested a trade. Rangers would be very wise to keep Young who remains a very valuable bat and versatile infielder.

Famous Movie Quote: We’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired. Alec Baldwin from Glengarry Glen Ross

A-B-C. Always-Be-Closing! Another memorable line from the too often overlooked, seldom cited 1992 classic starring Kevin Spacey, Al Pacino, the late Jack Lemmon, and Alec Baldwin. I see a lot of Jack Donaghy in Baldwin’s character from Glengarry Glen Ross. Of course, after 19 years, and 100 lbs, Baldwin is now twice the man he use to be. Making it to the World Series in 2010 was a huge statement for the Texas Rangers franchise. Expectations are once again high as most baseball people pick Texas to return to the playoffs in 2011. This year, is just getting to the World Series enough or is A-B-T (Anything-But a Title) considered a little bit like a set of steak knives? 2011 prediction: 88-74, 1st place AL West.

view from BB&T Coastal Field courtesy of @carolinakidder

View from Spring Training: 2011 Tampa Bay Rays

2011 Tampa Bay Rays

NFL Equivalent – San Diego Chargers: These two teams are both young, yet still quite accomplished.  Despite the success, though, their championship window barely remains ajar.  Led by superstars 3B Evan Longoria and QB Phil Rivers, respectively, these teams have recently tasted greatness, only to be left with a shell of their rosters moving ahead.  Included in the departures are, arguably, the most interesting parts of their franchises: their names. Tampa has turned toward the light by dropping the ‘Devil’, while San Diego, inexplicably, has rendered one of the best cheers in football obsolete by ditching the ‘Super’.

Google Search: The downside of being a small market rabble-rouser is the reality of balancing the books.  The venture capitalists-cum-Tampa front office were forced to say goodbye to a strong corps of players: 1B Carlos Pena, LF Carl Crawford, SS Jason Bartlett, SP Matt Garza, and RP Rafael Soriano.  All have been All-Stars at one time in their careers with Tampa Bay.  Moving into their lockers are DH Manny Ramirez, OF Johnny Damon, and—gulp—RP Kyle Farnsworth.  While the former two are merely past the 7th Inning Stretches of their illustrious careers, the latter is a straight-throwing, irascible goon, who has failed triumphantly on every mound in baseball.  Not a good offseason for the Rays.

Famous Movie Quote: This is the AK-47 assault rifle, the preferred weapon of your enemy, and it makes a very distinctive sound when fired at you, so remember it. – Gunnery Sgt. Tom Highway, Heartbreak Ridge.

As a non-baseball related side note, and possibly a portend of how the summer looks to play out in Tampa, Evan Longoria had possibly an even worse winter than his near namesake Eva Longoria.  The actress lost an oily French husband, while the 3B, in a recent spring training robbery, was relieved of a pile of cash, a cache of jewels, and, yes, an AK-47 assault rifle.  Seriously—Evan Longoria has been disarmed.  Despite the larceny and the exodus, though, there is still a nucleus here to be optimistic about.  Longoria is a perennial All-Star and SP David Price was the AL Cy Young runner-up in 2010.  Flamethrowing lefty RP J.P. Howell will slide into the closer spot vacated by Soriano, and, most likely, will not miss a beat. 2011 record: 80 – 82; 4th Place AL Central

view from City of Palms Park courtesy of @jamescarbary

View from Spring Training: 2011 Cincinnati Reds

2011 Cincinnati Reds

NFL Equivalent – St. Louis Rams: Young, energetic franchises with marque star players in QB Sam Bradford for the Rams and 1B Joey Votto for the Reds.  Last season, following years of disappointment, the Reds made it to the first round of the 2010 MLB playoffs while the Rams missed the postseason by a single game. St. Louis and Cincinnati also sport relatively new stadiums however neither the Great American Ball Park or the Edward Jones Dome really distinguishes itself on TV.

Google Search: Why would a Chicago Cubs player poop on Dusty Baker’s spot in the dugout back when Dusty was enjoying his final days as manager of the Cubs?  I always thought Baker was popular with his players and did not figure him as the manager most likely to be victimized by a anonymous defecation.  Ozzie Guillen maybe but Dusty Baker? Complete shocker. In other offseason news, backup catcher Ryan Hanigan resigned with the Reds for 3 years/$4 million. I mention this not because Hanigan is an important part of Cincinnati’s catching corps, which he is, but because we were on the same summer ball team back in 2001. He was a 3B back then but became a catcher based on his strong arm and baseball sense. If you don’t remember me Ryan I was the guy shagging all your BP moonshots. Glad things have worked out for.

Famous Movie Quote:

Michael Corleone: I saw a strange thing today. Some rebels were being arrested. One of them pulled the pin on a grenade. He took himself and the captain of the command with him. Now, soldiers are paid to fight; the rebels aren’t.

Hyman Roth: What does that tell you?

Michael Corleone: It means they could win.

from The Godfather Part: II

This famous quote from the best movie sequel of all time (apologies to Terminator 2: Judgemet Day, Empire Strikes Back, and Staying Alive) applies to the 2011 Cincinnati Reds in many ways. For starters, this is a hungry team that has the ability and, after last season, the experience to make a run deep into the playoffs. Secondly, the most prized prospect in the Reds organization, Aroldis Chapman, is a Cuban import. All I know about Chapman is that he can throw the ball 105 mph and is either the next Stephen Strasburg – minus the Tommy John surgery – or Joba Chamberlain – minus the 150 lbs. 2011 prediction 88-74, 2nd place NL Central

view from Goodyear Ballpark courtesy of @VeroPadilla34

View from Spring Training: 2011 Atlanta Braves

2011 Atlanta Braves

NFL Equivalent – Philadelphia Eagles: I think neither the Atlanta faithful or the Philly Phanatics will care much for this comparison, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Both teams have been very good in the past few years, always getting close to winning it all, but not quite getting the job done. The Braves and the Eagles have both done a fine job of blending veterans and young blood, always retooling without having to have a “rebuilding” period of failure. Both teams were also once known for staunch defenses and more recently are putting up gaudy offensive numbers with some real powerful offensive threats like WR DeSean Jackson and QB Mike Vick and the frightening OF Jason Heyward and now 2B Dan Uggla. By the way, Mike Vick can throw the ball really far and so can Alex Gonzalez.

Google Search: How underrated is Derek Lowe? The guy is starting another opening day, and a quick look at his numbers over the past few years shows you why. He’s pitched about 200 innings over the past three years, winning at least 14 games each year with an ERA around 4.00. Sure these numbers aren’t gaudy, but I can’t think of a team in the baseball that wouldn’t want a workhorse like that in the rotation.

Famous Movie Quote: I just dropped in to see how you boys was doing. Daniel Day Lewis from The Last of the Mohicans

Okay, this was a little cheap, I admit it. Braves. Native Americans. I know. But this is what I imagine new Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez saying while strolling into the Atlanta clubhouse for the first time since replacing the iconic Bobby Cox. Like, “I’m not sure I have anything to tell you guys, so hey, how is it going?” That said, I’m not so sure the Braves will need anyone to be a firm leader in the clubhouse. Chipper Jones is still around, as well as Derek Lowe and Tim Hudson. These guys are pretty strong clubhouse guys, and to be honest, do the Braves seem like they are interested in anything but getting business done? They are downright workmanlike in their approach. So sure, Fredi can saunter in every morning and just, see how the boys are doing. 2011 prediction, 87-75 2nd place NL East

view from Champion Stadium courtesy of @jcarlin