Take a look ahead at the '09 season, with a list of predictions for the finish of each team, a quick summary of the team's prospects, and a round-up of what they're doing to entice cash-strapped fans to spend at the ballpark.
Listen to Jeff Beresford-Howe talk about his MLB predictions and ballpark recession busters on The Takeaway.
#1. Boston Red Sox (104-58)
This team simply has no weaknesses. Sure, there are a couple of questions — Is Jason Varitek done? Will Josh Beckett rebound? Is Jon Lester really that good? — but the line-up is outstanding one through nine, the rotation and bullpens are both star-studded and deep, and the team won 95 games last year despite the Manny Ramirez fiasco and an off- and injury-riddled year from David Ortiz. They're the model for how to run an upper class baseball team.
Recession Buster: The last time this team played at Fenway to a less than sellout crowd was May 2003. So forget about bargains, although the Sawks did forego their annual ticket price increase.
#2. Tampa Bay Rays (95-67)
You have to wonder if it's hubris sending down David Price, the Vanderbilt phenom who closed out the Red Sox in the playoffs last year and put up a 1.08 ERA in spring this year. Hubris, or the legendary, Bennyesque, Rays cheapness: by limiting Price's service time now, the Rays can limit his salary later. (For what it's worth, the Rays say it's about limiting the number of innings Price pitches.) Leaving that aside, the Rays are probably the only team in baseball that doesn't need Price. They have nothing but young talent as far as the eye can see and added slugger Pat Burrell from the Phillies.
Recession Buster: Has the AL championship gone to their heads? Few bargains to be had here, and the Rays are going to raise ticket prices five hours before every home game to punish fans who decide to go to the game at the last minute.
#3. New York Yankees (90-72)
The big free-agent signings covered up the loss of a LOT of hitting talent. Bobby Abreu and Jason Giambi are gone and Alex Rodriguez will miss at least a month to injury. His specific malady makes his value questionable for at least a couple of months after that. (Which makes it even more astonishing that the Yankees still have no Plan B at 3B.) Despite the C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett signings, the rotation also has no back-up plan. If one of those guys, or Chien-Ming Wang, Joba Chamberlin or Andy Pettitte, goes down, the Yankees are in deep trouble.
Recession Buster: Are you kidding? Although if you have a military ID, the Yankees will treat you to a bleacher seat Mondays through Thursdays.
#4. Toronto Blue Jays (85-77)
Roy Halladay is the best pitcher of his generation. Him and a roster that practically defines mediocrity are good enough keep the Jays where Simple Minds are: stuck in the mid-80s. And out of contention by mid-July. The only interesting questions around this team are what kind of year Vernon Wells has —- he ranges from terrible to All-Star, depending — and whether the Jays finally give John McDonald the shortstop job. (McDonald can't hit much, but stat guys think he's a miracle in the field.)
Recession Buster: $5 Canadian in the upper reaches of the outfield (practically in the CN Tower).
#5. Baltimore Orioles (60-102)
Peter Angelos continues to own the team and make them the Los Angeles Clippers of major league baseball. Career 17-game winner Jeremy Guthrie starts on Opening Day. Matt Wieters, a catcher who is the best prospect in baseball, will begin the year in the minors.
Recession Buster: Not much. If you buy a season ticket, it’s free t-shirt time! Yankees and Red Sox fans taking the train down for games will appreciate that ticket prices are cheaper than New Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park, sometimes even if you include train fare.
#1. Detroit Tigers (86-76)
Even without (just released) Gary Sheffield, the Tigers will have one of the best line-ups in baseball. Miguel Cabrera is a force of nature. But the pitching has become a soap opera: Joel Zumaya and Jeremy Bonderman are hurt again, Dontrelle Willis will start the season on the DL with “anxiety disorder,” and Jason Verlander struck out 15 in 32 spring innings. The elegant pitcher Armando Galarraga and all that hitting will lead to a divisional title anyway.
Recession Buster: $5 in the upper deck.
#2. Cleveland Indians (84-78)
It's inconceivable that Cliff Lee can have another year like '08, when he was 22-3, 2.54. On the other hand, neither will Travis Hafner, who finished at .197 with 5 HR and 24 RBI, or Fausto Carmona, 8-7, 5.44. Shin-Soo Choo will have a break-out year in the outfield, and the Cleveland bullpen, led by Kerry Wood, Rafael Perez, Rafael Betancourt and Joe Smith, may be the best in the AL.
Recession Buster: Discounts of more than 50% for early-season games against bad teams; for mid-week games at the end of April against KC, for example, the best seat in the house will go for $35.
#3. Chicago White Sox (81-81)
This team got old fast. If their veterans continue to deteriorate, the Sox will go nowhere and get broken up at mid-season with lots of Very Bad Vibes to go around. However, if guys like Jim Thome, Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye have another good year left in their weary bones, it's not hard to imagine this team winning the division. A key will be John Danks, the kid who shutout Minnesota 1-0 in the one-game playoff at the end of the '08 regular season. If he has the all-star season a lot of people in Chicago think he's headed for, this team will have one of the better rotations in the league.
Recession Buster: "Value Mondays" — half off every ticket in the house on Monday nights.
#4. Kansas City Royals (73-89)
One winning season in the last 15. Acquired Mike Jacobs, one of the most underrated hitters in major league baseball. Alex Gordon may be ready to break out at 3B. The pitching is still tissue thin. If Zach Greinke or Gil Meche get hurt or pitch poorly, this team will struggle to win 70 games.
Recession Buster: Buy two season tix, get two free.
#5. Minnesota Twins (71-91)
Without Joe Mauer, who has back problems which may eventually force him out from behind the plate, the Twins have a AAA line-up plus Justin Morneau. Not much pitching, either: the best they've got is Scott Baker, who has racked up 28 wins in four years and is hurt anyway. It's practically impossible for teams trying to win this cheap to win at all if even the tiniest thing goes wrong. Better luck next year in the new park.
Recession Buster: Ticket prices for the "Home Run Porch" will be based on the Dow Jones average: if the Dow closes at 8,000 on a Friday, tickets the next week will be $8.
#1. Los Angeles Angels (85-77)
Los Angeles? Please. They play an hour south of Union Station if the traffic isn't terrible, which it never is. They're in Los Angeles like the Phillies are in New York. The team dropped Garrett Anderson and Mark Teixeira without replacing them. Most of the starting rotation — John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar — starts the year on the DL. They lost KRod to the Mets. And it turns out that Vladimer Guerrero's aching knees are a year older than he said they were. This is a team that will struggle to win at their usual level, but in a weak division, they probably still have enough.
Recession Buster: As befits a team within hailing distance of Disneyland, it’s all about the kids. They can sit in the left field bleachers for $5 a shot, and "family fun packs" — 4 tix, 4 dogs, 4 sodas — are available for between $25 and $51.
#2. Seattle Mariners (81-81)
Felix Hernandez turns 23 the first week of the season, despite which he begins his fourth year at the top of the Seattle rotation. If King Felix has a breakout year, this team could win the division. He's that good. On the other hand, Ichiro took a ton of criticism last year for “selfishness” because he does things his own way and slugged under .400 for the first time in his career. Did that and/or the hideously bad Mariners get to him? He begins the season on the DL with a bleeding ulcer.
Recession Buster: The Mariners are hitting the giveaways hard: 70 of 81 home dates are defined as promotion nights.
#3. Texas Rangers (75-87)
Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo is the star of this team. Never heard of him? You would have if you were a major league hitter. He's to hitters what Leo Mazzone is to pitchers: the guy whose advice is going to make you very good and very rich. The Rangers are conducting one of the most interesting experiment in baseball: they shifted their All-Star shortstop Michael Young to third base — over his protests — to give the job to a 21-year-old kid named Elvis Andrus who slugged .367 for AA “Don't Call It” Frisco last year. The Rangers have no pitching. Again.
Recession Buster: Half-price tix in April and May. Kids under 13 free on Tuesdays. $10 against KC in April. $5 beers every night.
#4. Oakland Athletics (67-95)
The is a team that has gone to extremes to fulfill the Seinfeld observation that, “we're just rooting for laundry.” The instant a young, talented player gets close to arbitration or free agency, he's gone, creating a bad, virtually anonymous team and a discouraged and apathetic fan base. It doesn't help that the managing partner, the aptly named Lew Wolff, held a press conference last month and announced that he can't wait to move the A's out of Oakland. The team now operates the same way the Kansas City A's did in the ‘50s: as a farm outfit for teams that are trying to win. Unlike those A's, internet and network revenue sharing means this A's are a tidy little ATM for management.
Recession Buster: The best deal in the majors: $2 for outfield seats and tickets down the line in the second deck.
#1. New York Mets (95-67)
It's Santana and Maine and pray for rain in the starting rotation, but the bullpen, with KRod, J.J. Putz and Pedro Feliciano at the back end, is going to be fierce. The everyday line-up, led by Carlos Delgado, Jose Reyes and David Wright, will be too, although the Mets may come to regret giving up the good hitting, good fielding platoon they had going in right field to accommodate stoneglove Gary Sheffield.
Recession Buster: No bargains here. And after building a $600 million new ballpark on the back of the taxpayers, the Mets won’t even cancel the deal with Citi to save said taxpayers $400 million. The only putz from Queens they care about is the one in their bullpen.
#2. Philadelphia Phillies (89-73)
That sound you hear is Phillies fans shrieking with horror over the news that stud pitcher and World Series MVP Cole Hamels is having elbow problems. He and shortstop Jimmy Rollins — after injury troubles in '08, look for him to have another MVP-type year in '09 — are the indispensable men on the Phillies roster. With Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez and Shane Victorino in the line-up and decent pitching from Joe Blanton, Brett Myers and Jaime Moyer (47 this year), the Phillies can survive Hamels going down, but can't thrive.
Recession Buster: Maybe next year, when they won’t be coming off a World Series win.
#3. Florida Marlins (72-90)
A new stadium deal has been finalized, which ordinarily would mean that the bizarre Marlins roller coaster ride — from expansion team to World Series winner to expansion team to World Series winner to expansion team — is coming to an end, but Jeffrey Loria, the biggest jerk in professional sports, still owns the team, so probably not. Beyond Henley Ramirez and Dan Uggla, the best hitting DP combo in the game, it's hard to see where the runs are going to come from, and the future “Miami Marlins “ finally seem to have run out of promising kid pitchers.
Recession Buster: 30% off Wednesday tickets if you agree to get the Marlins e-newsletter. Assuming you can still afford an internet connection.
#4. Washington Nationals (70-92)
The Nats finally fired Jim Bowden — the worst GM in baseball by a considerable margin — but not in time to stop him from putting together yet another roster from the Island of Misfit Toys (Elijah Dukes, Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Cristian Guzman, Julian Tavarez, Daniel Cabrera). Ever heard of John Lannan? He's the Opening Day starter for the Nats. The White Sox aren't on the interleague schedule, so good luck getting the president to a game.
Recession Buster: The Nationals appear to be banking on the notion that recessions mean nothing in a city dominated by federal employees.
#5. Atlanta Braves (68-94)
Their pitching staff is all either geriatric, on the DL, or surgery scarred. Jair Jurrjens — how good would the Nederlands team in the WBC have been if he'd been willing to pitch for them? — is the only reliable starter on the staff. He's 23. If this is the year Chipper Jones, who turns 37 during the season, starts to decline, this team will be hopeless. Garrett Anderson? Seriously?
Recession Buster: Season tix for no money down through GE Financing. Credit check required.
#1. Chicago Cubs (105-57)
The surest thing in baseball is the powerful Cubs winning the otherwise flailing NL Central. Everyone is back except Kerry Wood from a team that won 97 games, and they added Milton Bradley, who may be a head case, but he's a head case with 54 XBH and an OBP of .436 last year. If no one gets hurt in their rotation — a huge if because of Rich Harden — this team could challenge the Seattle Mariners record of 116 regular season wins.
Recession Buster: Zip. Probably the smallest number of ticket deals and promotional giveaways in major league baseball.
#2. St. Louis Cardinals (85-77)
Albert Pujols swore this off-season that he's never used steroids. The number of people who believe him can and probably does fit in his car. Either way, he's the best hitter alive, and the rotation suddenly seems credible after excellent springs by the rehabbing Chris Carpenter and classic Dave Duncan reclamation project Joel Pineiro. On the other hand, the Cards are bucking a trend in major league baseball by not paying a lot of attention to glovework: they're taking a talented outfielder — Skip Schumaker — and asking him to play second base for the first time as a professional. Ever. And hardly anybody thinks Rick Ankiel is a good enough outfielder to play CF every day.
Recession Buster: Every game day at 9 am, the Cards are going to put 550 tickets — including the best seats, if available — on sale for $5.50.
#3. Cincinnati Reds (81-81)
Edinson Volquez (17-6, 3.21 in a radical hitter's park, with 206 strikeouts in 196 innings) was as good as anybody in the National League last year. Acquiring him in the trade in which the Reds gave up Josh Hamilton seems to have turned this franchise around after years of drifting aimlessly. This year, with Alex Gonzalez back from knee surgery and Gold Glover Brandon Phillips at second base, the Reds will be as good as anybody up the middle. The defense backs the best pitching staff the Reds have had in a generation. Last time the Reds finished at .500 or better: 2000.
Recession Buster: 38% off (for a family of four) for select games in "non-premium" seats; 50% off for senior citizens for 12 games, also in "non-premium" seats.
#4. Houston Astros (79-83)
If Hunter Pence returns to rookie year form, the line-up, which already has Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, Ivan Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada, will be awesome. After Roy Oswalt (who looked terrible in the WBC), the pitching staff is a complete mess, and the former Enron Field is a hitter's paradise to boot, so no help there.
Recession Buster: "Outfield deck" seats $7 for adults, $1 for kids, with $5 beers to help you forget how far from home plate you are.
#5. Milwaukee Brewers (78-84)
Without C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets (he's hurt again! Surprise!), the Brewers have no pitching and head back to mediocrity. It's always fun watching Prince Fielder, though, Ryan Braun is about this far from being a superstar, and J.J. Hardy's reputation as a good hit/no field shortstop is utterly lacking in reality. He's a very good hitter, of course, but a damned good shortstop too.
Recession Buster: $10 off everytime Bud Selig says "frankly." No, that’s not true. This is: half off every ticket in the house for games against Florida, Pittsburgh and Arizona, and the "Uecker Seats" remain $1.
#6. Pittsburgh Pirates (66-96)
The Pirates remain lacking in any serious effort to put a competitive team on the field. The last time the team finished above .500 was 1992.
Recession Buster: Pirates were offering layaway plans for season tickets, increased the number of "dollar dog" nights to thirteen this year and are offering bleacher tickets on Apr. 15 against the Astros for $1.
#1. Los Angeles Dodgers (100-62)
All the ink went to Manny Ramirez re-upping — Why not? He singlehandedly makes the Dodger line-up a threat — but among the cognoscenti, the move that separated the Dodgers from the rest of the division was the acquisition of Orlando Hudson, who may be the best second baseman in baseball. The rotation is at least average and the bullpen is chock full of stud arms like Jonathan Broxton, who routinely lights up the speed gun at 100 MPH.
Recession Buster: Four tix plus all you can eat in the Right Field Pavilion for $25. But the 18th amendment is still in force out there.
#2. Arizona Diamondbacks (90-72)
Another team with financial woes — the D'backs are paying off a truckload of loans and deferred salaries — trying to compete with young, cheap players. Fortunately for the people of Phoenix, their young, cheap players are really good, starting with the rotation which features two of the best pitchers in baseball, Brandon Webb and Danny Haren, and a line-up with budding superstars like Conor Jackson (if they can ever find a position for him), Stephen Drew, Justin Upton (B.J.'s equally talented brother), Chris Young and Mark Reynolds.
Recession Buster: The D-backs will be offering specially marked "value items," including $5 outfield tickets, $8 t-shirts, $1.50 corn dogs and — you’re never going to believe this — $4 beers.
#3. Colorado Rockies (78-84)
The Rockies traded their best hitter (Matt Holliday) for two guys who were farmed out to Colorado Springs at the end of spring and a shaky closer (Huston Street) who is unpopular in Denver before he's even thrown a pitch there. The stud shortstop who led them to the World Series in '07 (Dirtbag extraordinaire Troy Tulowitzki) is coming off injury rehab and admitted during the off-season that he was too much of a jerk to really contribute last year. Their hitter's paradise of a ballpark continues to defy the efforts of the Rockies to put together pitchers who can prosper for more than short spells. This is a team that will put together a contender once every ten years or so, ad infinitum.
Recession Buster: Apropos a team operated by intensely conservative Christians, the Rockies are offering separate men’s and women’s nights at the ballpark: on Tuesdays (men) and Wednesdays (women), you can get multi-game, lower-deck package for what amounts to about $6 a ticket.
#4. San Francisco Giants (77-85)
It's going to be the 1960s all over again in San Francisco. Not the Summer of Love — though the Dead are back together — but rather the baseball ‘60s. Just like when Koufax, Gibson and Marichal roamed the earth, there will be lots of 2-1 games with two home runs a week. Playing in a stone pitcher's park at China Basin, the Giants have assembled perhaps the best starting rotation in baseball — Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez, Barry Zito and Randy Johnson — and what is indisputably the worst starting line-up in baseball. It's the baseball equivalent of malpractice to let such a fantastic rotation die on the vine for lack of a couple of guys to whack the ball around the park.
Recession Buster: The Giants will be doing "dynamic pricing" — constant readjustment of ticket prices — for some games. For example, a cold, drizzly mid-week, night game against the Rockies is going to cost you less than a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in July against the Dodgers.
#5. San Diego Padres (60-102)
Because of a divorce-forced off-season sale of the team, the Padres had no real off-season strategy besides trying to sell off Jake Peavy, who is one of the best pitchers in baseball. They failed. The season looks grim because of a lack of even replacement-level talent to accompany Peavy and the great, great first-baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
Recession Buster: $10 (total) for an upper deck ticket, a beer, popcorn, peanuts and a cookie.