Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Triumphant(!) Return Of Carl Pavano And Other Stories

  • Yankees 5-Orioles 3:
It wasn't a David Cone/seven no-hit innings in a comeback from aneurysm surgery kind of performance for Carl Pavano, but all things being equal, it wasn't all that bad. Pavano's stuff wasn't great;
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his control wasn't great; and he was lucky, but after four years of embarrassment on and off the field, a win is a win is a win. Before anyone gets all enthusiastic about a possible useful month from
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Pavano, it has to be remembered that he acquitted himself well in his two starts in April of 2007 before going on the disabled list with Tommy John surgery, so it's a start-by-start thing with him and the Yankees should put him out on the mound as long as he says he's able and use him for whatever they can get out of him over the last month.
The thing that sticks out for me in this whole episode was revealed in the recap of the game in the New York Times----Story. Here's the relevant clip:

When the Yankees were courting Pavano in 2004 — taking him to “Mamma Mia!” on Broadway, with General Manager Brian Cashman dancing in the aisles — they never could have expected what would happen to their $39.95 million, and medical expenses.

They took him to see Mamma Mia!? And they used this as a selling point? And Brian
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Cashman, the general manager of the New York Yankees, was dancing in the aisles? Say what you want about Pavano on the field, but off the field he's a guy's guy; he chases girls, drives fast cars and lives his life; I find it hard to believe he had any interest whatsoever in Mamma Mia! other than scouring the cast for potential dates. In fact, if the idea were suggested to me to go see the show as part of the free agent courting process, there's a pretty good chance I would've gone to see the show and afterwards dragged Cashman into an alley, beaten him up and taken his wallet.
  • Angels 7-Twins 5; the importance of long relievers as game stabilizers:
The most unsung parts of any winning team are the long relievers who rarely receive attention unless they do something bad; don't make much money; don't accrue gaudy stats
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and are unappreciated by the general public. Smart baseball people know how important it is to have a pitcher who's able to enter a game in the middle innings and calm things down because the only time these types of pitchers get into a game is when the starting pitcher is knocked out early. One of the ignored pieces of the Los Angeles Angels bullpen is veteran lefty Darren Oliver.
Oliver was a successful starter early in his career and has fashioned a new job for himself as a long man out of the bullpen. He was an important part of the 2006 Mets and is now imperative to the Angels because when one of their starters gets knocked around, it's Oliver who's called upon. Many times, the game is in danger of getting out of hand when the long man enters; usually his team ends up losing no matter how well or poorly he does; but it's when he comes into a game with his team behind and stabilizes things, giving his team a chance to come back, that his value is realized.
In last night's game against the Twins, the Angels built a 6-1 lead for starter Jon Garland before the Twins started pecking away and got to within 6-4 in the fifth inning with runners on second and third and one out; Garland was yanked in favor of Oliver. Oliver proceeded to get Justin Morneau to ground out to first, scoring one run to make it 6-5; Jason Kubel grounded to second to end the inning. Oliver pitched the sixth and seventh innings, allowing only an infield single before giving way to the glamorous (and better-paid) parts of the Angels
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bullpen, set-up man Scot Shields and closer Francisco Rodriguez. Shields gets the eighth inning "hold"; Rodriguez gets the save; and Oliver gets the appreciation from his teammates for stopping the Twins rally and getting them to the money men.
Oliver's an understated type who doesn't want any publicity; and he's come close to retiring several times; first when he was cut by the Mets on the last day of spring training 2006, only to see the team change their minds and bring him back; and then before the Angels called with a job offer that was partially accepted because he wanted to be closer to his family if he was going to continue to play. There are many games that are getting out-of-hand when a pitcher like Oliver enters and no one notices if the team doesn't come back; but there are also many games like last night's win, which might not have happened if the Angels didn't have a guy like Oliver who can handle the pressure, throws strikes and does his job without complaint.
  • Blue Jays 11-Red Sox 0; Vernon Wells pads his stats with a team not really in, but not completely out of contention:
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I've called Vernon Wells a player making $100 million rather than a $100 million player because he's essentially done nothing since signing that big contract to forgo free agency and stay with the Blue Jays. The argument that injuries have curtailed his production doesn't account for his woeful 2007 season----Wells Stats----but now he's starting to heat up after missing a big chunk of this season. Yesterday, Wells homered twice and his numbers are looking pretty good; if he has a solid final month and stays healthy, he'll be close to 20 homers and 85 RBI, but injuries or not, is that a season worthy of a player with Wells's contract?
A player who is worth the money that Wells is making is not putting up these numbers once his team is out of contention. Where would the Cardinals be if Albert Pujols hadn't put off elbow surgery to play through the pain? There were many voices, credible and not, saying
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that since the Cardinals looked to be so terrible in the spring that Pujols should just have the surgery immediately rather than trying to drag a rickety and unusable cart like the rest of the Cardinals roster on his back.
A guy like Wells with his superior talent should have been putting these numbers up early in the season when the Blue Jays were desperate for power, their front office was making decisions that were based on money rather than wins (releasing Frank Thomas), and they weren't scoring enough runs to support the solid work of their pitching staff. Wells has gotten hot now that the Blue Jays----67-62, two games behind the Yankees and not in any realistic contention barring an almost impossible Rockies-like hot streak----are playing out the string and trying to put up a respectable record to again save GM J.P. Ricciardi's job.
The reality of the situation would be obvious to people paying attention to the circumstances in which a player puts up his numbers, but given the way the Blue Jays ownership has been taken in by the bluster of Riccardi along with his embarrassing missteps, there's every possibility they're going to take Wells's hot streak as a portent for the future; if they do that, there's no reason to believe that they're going to take proper steps to fix their franchise, which ends every season with 80-some wins leading them to think that they're going to contend the next year, only to repeat the process again and again.
  • Giants 4-Padres 3; the Padres should trade Jake Peavy:
A few weeks ago, I wondered whether a devoid franchise like the Padres should try to
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recover as quickly as possible by trading their two most marketable quantities in Adrian Gonzalez and Jake Peavy; now I know they should trade Jake Peavy. The Padres (48-81), heading toward 100 losses and with an owner in the midst of a divorce and possibly cutting the team payroll down to $40 million, have no hope of contending in the near future. Peavy, with his brutally violent motion is a pitcher who's destined to get hurt, but he has a reasonable contract through 2012----contract----and many teams have the prospects and motivation to take a chance on Peavy.
I don't have any faith at all in the Padres front office; nor do I think they'd be able to extract an adequate haul for a former Cy Young Award winner with or without his terrible mechanics (these ain't the brilliantly smart and savvy Marlins we're talking about here), but if they're slashing salary, they'll be better-served to re-stock the organization as best they can and they can do that by putting Peavy out on the market to see who bites, because someone definitely will.

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