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2005 Outfield (read: Sammy Sosa)

Alright, we're getting close to settling on this team as a whole, so let's start looking around our field. I'll start with the outfield, which is the weakest part of our team except the rotation.

I would project the starters right now as Luis Matos in center, Sammy Sosa in right, and probably Larry Bigbie in left field although I think we'll see David Newhan a lot too. Bigbie has struggled this spring (.163 with a SLG of .326) after a solid '04. Newhan hasn't been a ton better (.256/.349), but that just means two guys whose spring totals haven't instilled confidence, which probably leads to going with the hot hand or an odd lefty/lefty platoon.

The best news is that Matos has hit at a .351 clip this spring, meaning we'll have someone in center with range to make up for the corner spots being nothing special.

Defensively, Matos can be a lift, and if he hits, he'll do enough to be a bottom of the order guy, along with Bigbie or Newhan. A return to Luis' 2003 numbers wouldn't be shocking, and would be most welcome.

With Newhan serving as a utility man (he'll see time at third, wouldn't surprise me to see him get ABs at 2B or 1B either) it makes me question why we had 78 guys trying out for the utility infielder's spot this spring. Would Newhan be a worse second baseman than Enrique Wilson? I'll save that, but spoiler - my answer is "likely not."

Jay Gibbons is also available for RF duty, but will likely see most of his at-bats platooning at 1B and DH, assuming he can stay healthy.

Sosa is the key to this unit being better than last year, obviously. Our outfield last year was tremendously weak, with almost zero pop. Sammy hit 35 home runs last year for as much flak as he caught. Now, that was in Wrigley, and he hit quite poorly on the road:

Sosa 2004 Home/Road Split
Wrigley: .277/.361/.563, 18 HR
Road: .231/.304/.474, 17 HR

Sosa is going to hit home runs if he's healthy. 30 seems like a given, 40 like an impossible dream given how much bad you hear about him nowadays, and the assumption that he just has to fall off more (which is probably true), and it must be this year (which probably isn't).

Of course, based on the available most similar by age score, Sosa's closest at 35 was Mickey Mantle. Mantle had by far his worst season at age 36, and retired. Sosa's health is nowhere near what Mick's was at the time, so that's likely irrelevant.

Personally, I'm still trying to get clear in my own head what I think of Sosa this season, projection-wise. I'd figure 135 games played, possibly up to 150 now that he can "take some days off" with the DH role.

He'll hit homers. I'm not worried if he hits .250, I'm worried if he keeps swinging more and more and doesn't get on at a .320 clip, returning to numbers more similar to his 1997 season before he exploded in 1998 by both hitting 30 more homers and walking 30 more times. Both helped.

He's also going to strike out. That's a fact you accept with Sosa. Whether or not he does it in the figurative clutch is another thing entirely. What I saw of Sosa last year "in the clutch" was decidedly not good, and the numbers support this:

Sosa 2004 "Clutch" Hitting
Runners On: .224/.313/.439, 12 HR
RISP: .224/.346/.480, 9 HR
RISP, 2 Out: .170/.313/.358, 3 HR
Men On, 2 Outs: .176/.279/.297, 3 HR
Man On 3rd, Less than 2 Outs: .316/.407/.737, 2 HR

23 of Sosa's 35 taters were solo shots.

We also have the ageless BJ Surhoff, who refuses to retire but still gets on base. Having both Surhoff and Newhan seems rather counter-productive, along with Gibbons, as all bat lefthanded, all can play corner outfield, two of them play 1B, and one of them plays 3B. Is there a need for all three? I would wager not. You also have the lefty-hitting Palmeiro at 1B/DH, and it's not the Palmeiro of olden times, but the Palmeiro of being old times. Bigbie is also a lefty hitter somewhat similar to Surhoff and Newhan.

Is there a point? Yeah, that's a lot of lefties, and only two of them could be expected to hit 25 homers, and none of them can be expected to be a true difference-maker.

Summary: this is, best case scenario, an above-average bunch. That hope lies on Sosa and Matos both getting back to '03 numbers and Bigbie either staying the same as 2004 or improving slightly. A big jump is probably not going to happen, although I like Bigbie. Defensively, they should be adequate.

Worst case scenario is Matos not hitting, Sosa continuing to decline, and Bigbie...well, Bigbie's probably going to do the same. The outfield's success is stuck on Sosa first and Matos a distant second, since even at his best Matos isn't going to do what Sosa can do.

With Val Majewski out for the season, Bigbie/Matos/Sosa/Surhoff/Newhan/Gibbons looks like our outfield group for the entirety of 2005, barring a trade if we manage to claw into contention. Nick Markakis and Jeff Fiorentino may someday team with Majewski to give us a pretty good outfield, but that's a ways off. For now, we're still relying on an old slugger and a bunch of middling players that have as much chance of playing themselves out of the lineup by early June as they do sticking in the mix all season.

If I were giving a grade, I can't see calling this group above a C or at best a C+ right now.