Five teams that could come up short in 2011

Philadelphia Phillies starter Roy Halladay pitches against the Boston Red Sox during the fourth inning of a MLB spring training game at Bright House Field in Clearwater, Florida, March 21, 2011. REUTERS/Steve Nesius (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASEBALL)

It’s the start of a new year and you know what that means: Expectations are running high for every club not named the Pirates and Royals. (Or Astros, Cubs, Mariners, Diamondbacks, Nationals or Indians for that matter.)

But what postseason contenders are most likely to fall short of expectations in 2011? I’ve highlighted five below.

Philadelphia Phillies
When a team is hyped for an entire offseason, it almost becomes cliché to say that they’ll fall short of expectations. But in the case of the Phillies, there’s some major concern here. It’s impossible to replace Chase Utley’s production in the lineup and this is an aging roster. Yes, the Halladay/Lee/Oswalt/Hamels/Blanton combination will keep most opposing batters up at night and yes, the Phillies will probably win the NL East. But the Braves aren’t too far behind talent-wise and Philadelphia has become a club that starts off slow only to pick it up in the second half. If Atlanta comes out of the gates hot and the Phillies suffer some early-season hiccups without Utley, the Braves might be able to build a decent lead that they can ride throughout the season. Barring injury to Halladay or Lee, I can’t imagine a scenario in which the Phillies don’t make the playoffs this year. But without Utley, the playing field has definitely been leveled in the National League.

San Francisco Giants
This is an easy one. It’s been 10-straight years since the last time any team was able to repeat as World Series champions. And while the G-Men aren’t considered the favorites to win this year’s Fall Classic (that would be the Phillies or Red Sox), many pundits believe that, at the very least, they’ll win the NL West again. A World Series hangover is the Giants’ biggest concern, because this club is better now than it was a year ago. They’ll get a full year out of Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner, the energetic Andres Torres will serve as the leadoff hitter from Day 1 (instead of the highly unproductive Aaron Rowand), Pablo Sandoval looks like he’s ready for a big bounce back campaign, top prospect Brandon Belt might start the year with the big league club after dominating this spring, and Mark DeRosa, Mike Fontenot and Pat Burrell strengthen the bench. But it’s a different game for the Giants now. They’re going to be the hunted instead of the hunters, at least in the NL West. Can this fun-loving team recapture the same magic it had in September and October last year? Or will all of those extra innings that Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez endured in the postseason last year eventually catch up with this team?

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Greinke may be out longer than expected

When Brewers’ starter Zack Greinke fractured a rib playing pickup basketball earlier this month, April 16th was the date given as his possible return. But as Milwaukee skipper Ron Roenicke tells John Schlegel of, that timeframe seems unrealistic.

“If he’s ready at that point, I’m going to be really happy,” Roenicke said. “I just don’t know if he’s going to be ready then. I think we’re not really planning on that early.”

Greinke has been exercising but he has yet to play catch. I would assume that it’s still a possibility that he’ll come back sometime in April, but he’s definitely going to miss a few outings at the start of the season.

Fans have a tendency to panic when it comes to Opening Day injuries, but it’s a long season. I’m sure the Milwaukee faithful is anxious to see the Brewers’ new toy but there’s no sense rushing him back. There’s a lot of optimism surrounding this club right now and Greinke will play a key role in their success. But nobody has ever won a pennant in April so allowing him to fully recovery is best for all parities involved.

Brewers, Fielder avoid arbitration with $15.5 million deal

Prince Fielder and the Brewers successfully avoided arbitration on Tuesday by agreeing to a new deal worth $15.5 million. The contract makes him the highest-paid Brewer in team history and it’ll likely be his last arbitration contract.

Craig Calcaterra of NBC Sports Hardball Talk brings up a good point about Joey Votto’s deal with the Reds as it relates to Fielder’s new contract:

Attention Reds fans who keep asking me why the team would agree to buy out Joey Votto‘s arbitration years for $38 million while not getting any free agent years from him: this deal is the reason. If Votto had gone to arbitration for all three years, he’d easily exceed $38 million given the precedent set by Ryan Howard and Fielder’s arbitration deals. It gave the Reds cost-certainty and saved them several million dollars. That’s not nothing.

Calcaterra goes on to mention that Fielder has apparently lost weight and is “poised for free agency” after the 2011 season. That makes it sound like Fielder doesn’t want to be a Brewer beyond next year, although I think the main point is that he’s looking to cash in big after the upcoming season.

Fantasy baseball owners should take note because it looks like the Prince is in for a monstrous season.

Royals trade Zack Greinke to Brewers

July 21, 2010 - Kansas City, Missouri, United States of America - 21 July 2010: Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Zack Greinke.

According to’s Jon Heyman, the Royals have traded starter Zack Greinke and Yuniesky Betancourt to the Brewers in exchange for Lorenzo Cain, Alcides Escobar, pitching prospect Jake Odorizzi and a player to be named later.

Commissioner Bud Selig must approve the trade since the Royals are also sending $2 million to the Brewers to offset the buyout they’d have to pay for Betancourt’s 2012 option, but it looks like it’s a done deal.

None of the prospects in the deal outside of maybe Odorizzi are blue-chippers, so it appears as though Kansas City accepted quantity over quality. They wanted to move Greinke for a couple of middle infielders, which is why the Yankees and Rangers weren’t fits. As accustomed with all trades involving multiple pieces, it’ll be a while before we see which side won this deal.

Of course, it’s a win for Greinke. The Brewers weren’t competitive last year but they weren’t competitive in large part because of their faulty pitching. If the 2009 Cy Young winner can rebound from a rough 2010, he’ll give Milwaukee a nice 1-2 punch along with Yovani Gallardo. Milwaukee is also a perfect low-key place for Greinke, who has dealt with anxiety problems in the past and was reluctant to go to a big city like New York.

Maybe a deal like this could catapult the Brew Crew back into contention next season.

Brian Sabean, Corey Hart and the art of the “fleece”

July 05, 2010- Milwaukee, WI. Miller Park..Milwaukee Brewers Corey Hart  continued his hit streak to 20 games today, Hart had 2 hits including a double off of Giants pitcher Dan Ruzler..Milwaukee Brewers lost to the San Francisco Giants 1-6..Mike McGinnis / CSM.

There’s no way Brian Sabean will overpay for Corey Hart.

Brian Sabean won’t overpay to get Corey Hart, will he?

Oh God, Brian Sabean is going to overpay for Corey Hart, isn’t he?

If the Giants’ GM has taught us anything over the years, it’s that he’ll sell his wife, kids and soul just to get the player he covets. See Edgardo Alfonzo, whom he overpaid for in 2003 despite the third baseman’s well documented back troubles. See A.J. Pierzynski, whom he inexplicably acquired from the Twins in exchange for Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser because the Giants needed a catcher. See Barry Zito, whom he gave a $126 million contract to after outbidding himself.

For as great of a job as Sabean has done building one of the best pitching staffs in baseball, he’s done an equally horrendous job developing position players (Buster Posey being the exception, of course). Because he wasted years signing past-their-prime veterans instead of building through the draft, Sabean has had to overpay when it comes to free agents and trades. So when I read that the Giants are interested in Corey Hart, my palms and forehead get sweaty and the room starts spinning.

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