Sunday, September 14, 2008

Trade Me, Will Ya?!?

  • Reds 3-Diamondbacks 2:
You can pretty much stick a fork in the Diamondbacks playoff hopes now. 4 1/2 games out
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with fifteen games to go doesn't bode well for a team that pulled out all reasonable stops to try and win this season and is going to fall far short. I know there are those that are going to continually reference the Phillies and Rockies comebacks last season, but those situations were so far different than what's going on now that there's no point in even mentioning them.
The 2007 Phillies had three games remaining with the Mets and were surging even when they were in a worse position of seven games out; and with that, there was a fog of impending doom surrounding the Mets from June of last year all the way through to the last game of the season, so it wasn't a surprise that they got caught and passed.
As for what happened with the Rockies last season, that's something that I doubt we'll see again in the next thirty years. For a team that was so far out of contention to win almost every game they played for a month was a freak occurrence that isn't going to happen again for a looooong time, if ever.
The Dodgers have gotten their house in order while the Diamondbacks are switching closers in desperation to try and save their season and playing a brand of baseball that is conducive to losing like they're waiting for it to happen. Call it the Torre-magic or whatever you want, it's real and it's happening right before our eyes. When bizarre decisions are made and players who were just officially traded come back to haunt their former teams when they're not even in their normal roles, you know things are going to end badly.
Would someone please tell me the point of manager Bob Melvin naming Chad Qualls the closer, but then using Tony Pena to close a game that the Diamondbacks had to win because Qualls had worked in four of the previous six games? It's like saying, "he's the closer, but he needs the night off; so he'll start as the closer tomorrow." And this is no criticism of Pena because he has wicked stuff and the potential to dominate because he throws some pitches that are literally unhittable, but he is not the designated closer of the moment and he did blow the game.
How sweet must it have been for Micah Owings, days after what was unofficial but known
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(that Owings was the player to be named later in the Adam Dunn deal), became official that he not only beat his former team in the Diamondbacks, but beat them with his bat because he's unable to pitch for the rest of the season. Here's an interesting question about Owings: in five years, will he be a pitcher or will he be an outfielder/first baseman? I happen to think that Owings could be a consistent 12-15 game winner, but he could also be a 20-homer guy with his bat. Teams are reluctant to have a player/pitcher doing both jobs, but Owings is a prime candidate to do it. Perhaps if he were in the American League, where he could DH on the days he wasn't pitching, it would be more palatable, but the guy is not just a good hitting or a good hitter, he's a good, clutch hitter and a decision has to be made to not just to play it safe and look good in public and make him a hitter or pitcher and stay there without deviation, but to take advantage of his unique skills.
  • Braves 3-Mets 2 (Game One); Mets 5-Braves 0 (Game Two):
In a story of two rookies in important games, the Mets decried farm system was bolstered by the brilliant, high-pressure perforance of Jonathon Niese almost a year after another rookie
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thrust into the spotlight, Philip Humber, failed miserably in another game the Mets had to win. Interestingly, both wore uniform number 49.
With so many fans still watching the Mets with heads tilted, breath short and lips pursed wondering if there's going to be a repeat of last season's suffocation and keeping a surreptitious eye on the Wild Card standings, the first game of yesterday's doubleheader didn't assuage anyone's feelings of dread. Johan Santana battled his way through 7+ innings clinging to a 2-0 lead and trying to navigate his way through eight innings only to see a series of seeing eye hits doom the Mets bullpen to another blown game. The Braves, in the midst of a dreadful season of rebuilding, would like nothing more than to play a large role in keeping the Mets out of the playoffs again; and after the disheartening loss in the first game, coupled with the Phillies continued brutalizing of the spiraling Brewers and that Niese was pitching the second game made the situation appear even more bleak. That was until Niese used a sneaky-fast high fastball, wicked slow curve and solid changeup to handcuff the Braves and pitch eight shutout innings. Most importantly, he threw strikes, challenged the hitters and overcame the nervousness that sabotaged his first start in
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Milwaukee.
Fans were probably remembering Humber last season on September 26th, forced into a start that the Mets needed to get the five solid innings they were hoping for from Niese last night, and that the former first round pick allowed five runs in four innings as the Mets blew leads of 5-0 and 6-2 to the Nationals. If Niese kept the game close, everyone would've breathed a sigh of relief; instead he was brilliant and just as last week, a doubleheader spared the Mets from having to answer repeated questions about whether they were going to blow another playoff spot.
  • Precisely why is Luis Ayala not a long-term solution as closer?
The armchair experts keep saying that the Mets are going to have to find a closer next season because Luis Ayala is not the long-term answer. May I ask why? How many teams have found a guy who didn't have the "stuff" or mental makeup to be a closer, installed him in
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the role and found a hidden gem? Ayala's appearances have been far cleaner than Billy Wagner's ever were in his three years with the team; Ayala throws strikes, trusts his fielders; hasn't let the pressure of the situation bother him; and he's got great stuff. What's the problem with using him to close?
Look at the last five teams that have won the World Series. The 2007 Red Sox had a truly dominating closer in Jonathan Papelbon; the 2006 Cardinals had a converted starter with three career saves in Adam Wainwright; the 2005 White Sox had a guy with a bad reputation who'd been released and
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didn't become the closer until September in Bobby Jenks; the 2004 Red Sox won with a junkballer in Keith Foulke; and the 2003 Marlins won with a journeyman in Ugeth Urbina.
With all the talk about Mariano Rivera's greatness and importance in the Yankees World Series titles, four of the past five teams won the World Series with a closer who wouldn't even be mentioned in the same breath as Rivera. The job isn't one in which teams have to spend the money that the likes of Francisco Rodriguez is going to demand this winter. I would be perfectly comfortable with Ayala, Al Reyes or Todd Jones as a stopgap and trying to convert the likes of John Maine into the job if necessary and spend the money to bolster the starting rotation because it's a lot of money at the roulette wheel spending money on a closer for a historically iffy result.
  • Brian Cashman's return may not be as assured as everyone thinks:
It seems to be automatically assumed that Yankees GM Brian Cashman is going to re-up and remain with the Yankees after the season, but with each passing day and the Yankees
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soon to be eliminated from playoff contention, along with the ambiguity, silence and repeated statements to the tune of "we'll deal with it after the season" make the odds around 50-50 (in my mind) that Cashman returns. With the East Coast jobs that will and might be available in Philadelphia and Washington is another possibility as a landing spot and that's the Seattle Mariners.
Given his choice, I'd guess that Cashman would prefer to stay with the Yankees first and foremost----and this is imperative----as long as he's allowed to run the team the way he wants. With the new statements of Hank Steinbrenner implying an "advisory board" would be utilized----ESPN Story----making it a question of whether or not that's going to happen, Cashman seems to be deliberating of what to do and reconciling the possibility of leaving the Yankees in his mind and preparing for it. The longer this vacillation goes on, the less likely it is that he'll return.
If he leaves, I'm sure Cashman would prefer to stay on the East Coast, but it also has to be remembered how conscious Cashman is to his legacy and reputation. The Phillies GM Pat Gillick has gutted their farm system trying to win right now and they're in for a rough couple of years if they don't spend a lot of money to fill their holes. The Nationals are a massive project in which it would take about three years before they're even a .500 team; and I doubt that Cashman is going to willingly want to deal with Elijah Dukes and the other juvenile delinquents that permeate the Nationals roster. That leaves the Mariners.
The Mariners are the best bet to improve next year to perhaps a win total in the mid-80s.
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Their pitching staff, with Felix Hernandez; impending free agent, Les Miserables Erik Bedard who's going to have an A.J. Burnett-type season; Carlos Silva; and Brandon Morrow is enough to assure a drastic improvement and if they make a smart player move or two to improve their offense and bring in a smart manager like Bobby Valentine, how is that going to make Cashman look if he turns around a team that is set to lose close to 100 games from one season to the next?
If Cashman does leave, where does that put Joe Girardi? If there were a big name GM available to replace Cashman, I'd say that the Steinbrenners, as part of the interview and hiring process, would tell the new GM, "you do what you need to do" with Girardi and he might be replaced with someone to the new GM's choosing. Since there's no big name available, it's likely that Damon Oppenheimer would replace Cashman and keep
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Girardi, but that being said, it's very possible that Girardi could be fired (especially if the Yankees end up in fourth place) and end another job after one season of work with questions about his suitability to be a manager despite his impressive interview skills, obvious intelligence and likability. I don't see this as remote a likelihood as everyone else and if Cashman's out, there may be an entirely new regime in the Yankees new stadium by 2009.

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