Saturday, December 25, 2010
Friday, December 24, 2010
- They don't have plans and schemes...
...and they don't have hopes and dreams.
Or maybe they do have hopes and dreams.
Maybe that's the problem.
Let's have a look at the hot stove losers...so far.
New York Yankees:
Desperately in need of pitching, they had their sights set on Cliff Lee as far back as a year ago and they didn't get him.
Andy Pettitte is still undecided as to what he's doing----I'm not prepared to sign off on the idea that he's "leaning" toward retirement; I think the closer it gets to spring training without a decision, the better it is for the prospect of him pitching.
Having not been helped by a weak/unsuitable market, they're biding their time and hoping to stay within striking distance of a playoff spot to make a bold maneuver at mid-season 2011. But that doesn't diminish the horrible winter they've had.
On the surface, signing Russell Martin to take over behind the plate may solve the issue of Jorge Posada's declining defense, but Martin's not exactly Charlie O'Brien and his offense has declined on an annual basis for the past three years with injuries a concern. In 2007, Martin appeared to be developing into a Mike Piazza-lite with speed; now he looks more like Paul Lo Duca.
And don't think for a second that Posada's going to put on a happy face about DH relegation.
The Yankees are accustomed to buying whatever they want; that hasn't worked and they're scrambling with nowhere to go.
One of the keys to the Twins being the Twins over the past ten years has been their liberal use of their bullpen. That bullpen has lost Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier----two workhorses----and is now relying on Joe Nathan's successful return from Tommy John surgery and a cast of thousands to replace the valuable innings eaten by Crain and Guerrier.
Alexi Casilla will take over at second base after he lost the job with lackluster play in 2009. Tsuyoshi Nishioka was imported from Japan. Do you know what they're going to get from either? Because I don't know what they're going to get from either.
Nor do the Twins.
The starting rotation isn't impressive and they're trying very hard to keep Carl Pavano.
Los Angeles Angels:
They were in on Cliff Lee and had no chance whatsoever of getting him. They wanted pitching and a bat and have gotten nothing. Rafael Soriano and Adrian Beltre may still be on their radar, but so far all they've done is sign Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi.
Their starting pitching is still deep, but there's something profoundly off with the Angels; something that's hard to pinpoint.
With the Rangers still solid and the Athletics drastically improved, these fault lines in Anaheim are a portent of dark times in 2011.
These moves alone should catapult them from 61 wins to at least 67.
GM Jack Zduriencik must be a genius judging from the fact that he's still employed.
New York Mets:
New GM Sandy Alderson is using an Indiana Jones-style machete to slash through the tangled vines left by years of mismanagement, disorganization, warring fiefdoms and short-sightedness.
Because of this, the Mets have done almost nothing and are preaching patience to a disgusted fan base; it's going to get worse before it gets better.
He won't have to worry about dramatic playoff homers while playing for the Nats.
The team slogan should be "Waiting for Strasburg----Again".
St. Louis Cardinals:
Signing Lance Berkman to play right field might do as much harm defensively as it promises to help the lineup----and I believe Berkman will thrive at the plate.
San Diego Padres:
Suffice it to say that this team is not going to win 90 games again.
They traded Adrian Gonzalez for the future and got some high-end prospects----none of the offense-generating variety----that won't help them in 2011; they acquired Jason Bartlett who isn't any great shakes; they signed Orlando Hudson who's becoming the Kurt Bevacqua of the new millenium. They're looking at Derrek Lee. Big deal.
Does anyone know what they're going to get out of Cameron Maybin?
Don't think that I've forgotten or am ignoring the rest of the clubs in baseball; I'll have some things to say about them and not in a "Gilligan's Island" off-handed "and the rest" variety in adding the Professor and Mary Ann at the conclusion of the credits in the black and white version of the show.
I'll have some stuff to say. Plenty of stuff. Tomorrow.
I'm considering changing the format of my postings; rather than one long deal published once, I may start stretching them out intermittently. Instead of bulletpoints, there will be separate postings.
It's under consideration.
I'll keep you informed; don't panic.
I was on a week ago Wednesday with Sal at SportsFan Buzz talking about the winter thus far. Click here to go to his site and get it from I-Tunes and here—-The SportsFan Buzz: December 15, 2010—to get it directly.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
- In no particular order:
As for trade possibilities, it's been all quiet. I believe----without inside information----that the Yankees have started laying the groundwork for a mid-season deal for a Chris Carpenter or Ubaldo Jimenez.
It's bizarre that my speculation is generally more on the money than those with inside information, but that can stem from the hand-in-hand nature of executives, agents and writers all using one another to get their messages out there.
I'm not hand-in-hand with anyone.
Let's have a look at the winners.
Tampa Bay Rays:
On the surface, one wouldn't think a team that is dumping salary and in a nightmarish division could be considered a "winner", but the Rays looked at their circumstances both financially and practically and acted accordingly.
Carlos Pena was a leader in the clubhouse and despite his on base ability, defense and power, he batted under .200 last year; they'd gotten everything they could get from him.
Carl Crawford was not staying in Tampa no matter what and the Rays had no chance to come within $50 million of the offer the Red Sox presented.
They've also allowed Rafael Soriano, Grant Balfour, Dan Wheeler and Joaquin Benoit to leave. Ordinarily, one would say that has gutted their bullpen, but no club in baseball has been better at finding the refuse of other teams and inserting them successfully into their bullpen mix than the Rays.
They traded Jason Bartlett to the Padres for four prospects----all young, cheap and with big strikeout numbers on the mound or on base numbers at the plate. After his career year in 2009, Bartlett reverted to what he is in 2010: an okay player who can catch the ball well enough at shortstop.
One of the reasons I'd love to see teams allowed to trade draft picks is to see what the Rays would do with such an opportunity----it's be Jimmy Johnson-esque.
The Rays will be competitive. Watch.
Boston Red Sox:
They re-signed Jason Varitek to keep the clubhouse in order despite his rapidly declining skills, but with that lineup, they can carry Varitek and Jarrod Saltalamacchia as the catcher as long as they handle the pitching staff.
The Red Sox set lines in "trying" to retain Beltre and Victor Martinez and I'm of the mind that they knew all along that unless the market crashed completely they weren't going to be able to keep either, nor did they truly want to.
With this flurry of imports, the Red Sox are head-and-shoulders above the rest of the American League and that includes the Yankees.
Chicago White Sox:
"James Bond Villain" Kenny Williams needed a power bat? He signed Adam Dunn.
There is no one more aggressive and gutsy in baseball than Kenny Williams; what makes him more impressive is his utter disregard for what anyone says or thinks of him. He just does things and, for the most part, the things he does work out just fine.
Ignoring that they overspent for Joaquin Benoit and Victor Martinez, they filled two holes with the signings. My main concern regarding finances has never been the amount of money spent, but whether the money spent for "wants" precludes that which is left for "needs". But the Tigers filled two needs in the bullpen and lineup with Benoit and Martinez.
Long term, these decisions may prove costly; but for 2011, they're winners.
I've often torn into A's boss Billy Beane for using Moneyball and his reputation as a "genius" to shield him from ghastly personnel moves; but he's quietly had a terrific off-season and brought the A's into legitimate playoff contention.
He used the organizational depth he'd accumulated in prior deals to acquire the underrated bats David DeJesus and Josh Willingham to bolster a putrid lineup; he signed Hideki Matsui to a team-friendly contract; and they still have a very deep pitching staff.
Even if the staff takes a step back from their league-leading ERA, the lineup will account for any fallback.
They're still hanging around trying to get Adrian Beltre too.
Two words: Cliff Lee.
As my Phillies fan friend said in an overnight text message informing me of the Lee signing----"Mwaahahahahaha."
They needed a bat and got that bat in Dan Uggla; to make it even more of a steal, they got him for almost nothing.
The Phillies are loaded, but the Braves are very, very good.
The Brewers went from having Randy Wolf as their number 2 starter to having Yovani Gallardo (their erstwhile number 1) as their number 2 behind former AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke; they also acquired Shaun Marcum from the Blue Jays.
Having not surrendered anything of note from their powerful lineup, their only question is the bullpen and I'm wondering if they're making a stealth move on Rafael Soriano.
The Brewers are ready to contend for real.
Los Angeles Dodgers:
Amid the lunacy surrounding the warring McCourts, GM Ned Colletti has quietly and relatively inexpensively improved both the entire Dodgers roster.
In an under-the-radar fashion, the Dodgers are again a team to watch for on-field stuff rather than courtroom drama.
- Viewer Mail 12.23.2010:
Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE my new site and the Washington Nationals:
Love the new look of your blog! Very easy to use with great graphics. Kudos. As for the Nationals, they’re surreptitiously becoming the new Yankees.
Thanks for the compliment about the site.
I dunno if the "new Yankees" stuff is exactly a compliment considering how the off-seasons of both clubs has gone so far. And the Nats may be after Carl Pavano!!
Jim Downs writes about me and the Nats:
A couple of mistakes in your post. Scott Olsen is not longer a National, he signed with the Pirates on 6 December and the Nationals had a .500 record in their first year in Washington (not in Montreal). Only time will tell if the rest of your post has any merit. I would only point out that they do have some decent young prospects for pitching within their organization. Pitchers such as Jordan Zimmermann, Colin Balestar, Garrett Mock, Aaron Thompson, Yunesky Maya, and Ross Detwiler all have some potential to become good starters.
Jim's right about my mistake. I checked MLB.com and their transaction listing for the Nats and Olsen was listed as having signed a contract. It didn't specify where, but I knew Olsen had signed with the Pirates. It's an inexplicable mistake and I should've fact-checked.
Regarding the status of being at or over .500, I meant over .500, but that's not a big deal.
As for the Nats pitching prospects? You're asking a lot from that group if they're going to be part of a team that has visions of contention in the NL East as they clearly do with the deranged contract they gave to Jayson Werth.
Jordan Zimmerman is still returning from injury and could be serviceable; Balester was consistently blasted as a starter and may be a good reliever; Mock is another reliever; Thompson's minor league numbers are not promising; I saw Maya pitch against the Mets----he's a right-handed cunnythumber and is awful; Detwiler's put up good minor league numbers and maybe they can get something from him.
But this is the point. What are they? If they had a powerful lineup to account for the building starting rotation filled with mediocrity and question marks, then okay; but they don't.
They have a good bullpen that was abused trying to win as many games as possible early last season; they can't really hit. As I said yesterday, they're waiting for Stephen Strasburg (again) and for Bryce Harper to come and save them.
Is this the plan? Relying on the pitchers you mentioned and Jayson Werth?
I can't see how it can possibly work.
Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE the Nats:
I really don’t understand the Nat’inals either. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I really feel sorry for Ryan Zimmerman. He’s loaded with talent and promise… talent which is wasted, and I assure you that THAT ain’t promising.
Ryan Zimmerman should be rightfully annoyed that Werth is getting paid so well. Zimmerman signed a long-term deal, but he's far superior to Werth and plays a more difficult position to fill.
Gabriel writes RE the Nats:
I think the Nationals just want to make money through ticket sales on the days Strasburg pitches. There's no logic on that team.
Washington is such a promising venue for a team; access to fans and political power. I've often said that if I were going to run one team in baseball, it'd be the Nationals. Current ownership deserves credit for aggressiveness and because they're willing to spend, but they need to think about what they're doing before they do it.
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
- A non-partisan nightmare:
The factional disputes inherent in Washington politics are generally put aside when a true catastrophe occurs. Of course there are always----in every situation----those who will take any kind of disaster and twist it to suit their own needs, truth be damned.
In a baseball sense, the Washington Nationals have the potential to be just such a calamity.
What are they doing?
You can debate the Jayson Werth signing; call it an expensive mistake; say that they'll be paying a good player great player money until he's in his late-30s. But the fact remains that at least Werth is a good player. The assertions that he's a "player who's never driven in 100 runs" as if that's the barometer of the contract are absurd.
But it's the other moves the Nationals have made that are going to exacerbate the hellish fate that awaits them.
They desperately need pitching. Their current number 1 starter is listed as Livan Hernandez; they re-signed Chien-Ming Wang after Wang missed the entire 2010 season recovering from shoulder surgery and hasn't pitched at all since mid-2009; they have the middling likes of Jason Marquis, Scott Olsen and John Lannan on the roster; they're looking at Carl Pavano; and appear to be waiting----again----for Stephen Strasburg to arrive, yank open his shirt, show the "S" on his T-shirt and rescue the franchise.
That didn't exactly work the last time.
This exacerbates the overall point.
What are the Nationals?
What's the plan?
Are they trying to win immediately?
Are they rebuilding and trying to compete simultaneously?
Do they have the young personnel to justify the aggressive, expensive and risk/reward decisions that are currently being made?
The latest is Rick Ankiel.
Like Werth, I have to ask the question: is he going to pitch?
Ankiel can play the outfield; he's better than what they currently have on their depth chart beside Werth (Nyjer Morgan and Roger Bernadina), but he's not better than Willingham. Willingham's abilities have long be underappreciated and he was inexpensive for everything he did. When he was with the Marlins, all the focus was placed on Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez, but the hitter I most feared in a big situation was Willingham. And they dispatched him for the future.
But are they playing for the future or making the mistake of being several things at once?
Well-run teams who are successful are learning the error of their ways as they use dual strategies of winning and maintaining the pipeline. They're correctly altering their strategy. But the Nats? A franchise that has had one .500 season since 2003 (when they were still in Montreal); they're not good. They're not in a financial position to be making such prohibitive signings as Werth for that amount of money.
But they are.
One thing that's glossed over when players are signed to deranged contracts like that of Werth isn't that it's an overpayment for a limited player; it's that it hinders what the club can do to fill out the roster.
Such is the situation the Cardinals are going to face with Albert Pujols as they face the prospect of a contentious negotiation with the Joe DiMaggio of this generation; can the Cardinals maintain competition with Pujols taking up a massive percentage of their payroll so they can barely afford anyone else?
The only answer to my question as to whether there's a plan is this: there is no plan. They're just doing things. Things that aren't going to assist in a leap to contention; things that are going to keep the club in the netherworld of mediocrity and worse. They're in a vicious division, they have no pitching and they can't really hit.
So where's the improvement?
It's not there.
- Viewer Mail 12.22.2010:
Matt writes RE the Yankees and Zack Greinke:
If I were the Yank's I'd take Derek Lowe off the Braves hands, presumably for little more than his salary commitment. He'd eat innings per usual and with their offense I could easily see him being a 15 game winner. For what it's worth (not much) I was at Fenway this summer and watched Grienke throw a 1-run complete game loss against Clay Buchholz's gem and obviously came away impressed. I think he'd have thrived in NY or anywhere else.
I actually----and this is 100% true----had mentioned Derek Lowe as an option for them and deleted it. I don't see the Braves moving him now with the Phillies as loaded up with pitching as they are; the Braves are a Wild Card favorite with Lowe; they'd need to bring pitching back to replace him and dealing him makes no sense now.
I love Greinke's talent. What impresses me most about him is the way he can amp it up when he gets into trouble, raising his fastball from 92-93 to 96. His control, command and stuff are undeniable. The big issue is his mentality and handling the pressure. There won't be as much pressure in Milwaukee as there would've been with the Yankees, but he couldn't deal with pitching for a rotten team in Kansas City; there's always a chance of those issues recurring.
I do hope he handles the off-field stuff and shows what he can do on the field in a pennant race.
Max Stevens writes RE the Athletics:
Prince, have you noticed that the Oakland A's have quietly made themselves a much better team this offseason, perhaps even the team to beat in the AL West? They already had pretty solid pitching, and the addition of Willingham and Matsui brings some much needed thunder to their lineup. There's a lot of 'ifs' involved in my thinking about this, but let's say the A's get Beltre, the Rangers don't re-sign Vald or find a suitable replacement for him, and the Angels fail to upgrade their offesne significantly. If all this happens, Oakland will win 90 games or so, which would probably be enough to take the West. What say you?
I think the A's are going to be really good next year. Their pitching is young, but they have a lot of it; I would hesitate to expect young pitchers to repeat their work from one year to the next, but the extra firepower in their lineup will give them the leeway to fall back and still bound into legitimate contention; that division isn't particularly great either, so they have a giant opening to dive through.
Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE yesterday's posting:
"Understandable but mistaken."
Jeff, I bring it sometimes. I....bring....IT!!!!
I was on with Sal at SportsFan Buzz last Wednesday talking about Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and all the other stuff that's gone on in baseball. Go to Sal's site for the I-tunes link or click The SportsFan Buzz: December 15, 2010 to listen directly.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
I'm only half-kidding when I say that.
The Yankees response to their needs in the starting rotation will not be answered by Mark Prior; I think everyone----the Yankees, the media, the fans and Prior himself----know this.
Even with that, we've come a long way from the heady days of mid-summer when following the Mariners backing out of an agreed upon deal with the Yankees and double-dealing Cliff Lee to the Rangers, and weeks before Dan Haren was traded to the Angels, there was a prevailing notion that the Yankees were going to go after Haren via trade, get him, and then go after Lee following the season.
They were going to get him as well.
At the time, I thought the plan was ludicrous. Haren is owed a guaranteed $29 million through 2012; if the Yankees were getting Lee as a free agent, they would've had to up their offer significantly from what it was----so significantly that it would've dwarfed what he got from the Phillies. Once you add in C.C. Sabathia's and A.J. Burnett's contracts and the raise coming for Phil Hughes, then the Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera deals, you come to the conclusion that not even the Yankees could do that and stay financially sane.
I doubt anyone thought they'd end up with nothing.
Well, nothing unless you consider Mark Prior to be someone who can provide....something.
I'm not being cruel or sarcastic when I scoff at the notion of the club getting anything of substance from Prior. History has shown that he's not going to stay healthy regardless of his stuff.
So where does that leave the Yankees?
GM Brian Cashman has said that they're "unlikely" to acquire a top pitcher. This is even more stark with the Zack Greinke trade to the Brewers and Ricky Nolasco signing a contract extension with the Marlins.
There's nothing out there.
The Yankees current depth chart in the starting rotation consists of Sabathia, Burnett, Hughes and Ivan Nova.
Venturing into frighteningly new and unfamiliar territory of rejection, the Yankees and their fans are confused and scrambling. They've grown accustomed to being able to purchase whatever they wanted/needed; when someone refuses their money, they have to step back and reassess; move onto Plan B; but Plan B wasn't all that great either with Greinke being considered unsuitable for New York and the pressure of pinstripes.
They have no options other than to wait for mid-season and see which teams might place some pricey and unexpected arms out on the market.
Factoring in the aggression of the Red Sox and White Sox, the Yankees are now in the position of needing----not wanting, needing----Burnett to return to 2008 form (and since he's not a free agent, don't hold your breath).
Like the once wealthy person who looked down upon his contemporaries from a lower class, rather than being above the fray in digging for answers, the Yankees are amongst the rabble without the bounty to go around and the objects of their desires either refusing to take their cash or being sent elsewhere.
A lot can change in five months----backward and forward.
- Viewer Mail 12.21.2010:
Glad to hear you like the Feliciano signing for the Yankees. Always good to have a guy who will give you innings.
He's actually more of a lefty specialist. The Mets made the mistake of trying him against both righties and lefties and it, um, didn't work.
Justin writes RE Zack Greinke:
You're just plain wrong throughout the article. Greinke was a 5WAR player last year. He doesn't need to bounce back. A transition to the NL will make him even better.
Second, the whole point about facing Pujols in September is kind of moot. It's not like he gets shelled everytime a good batter comes up to the plate because he's scared.
Lastly, the Brewers bullpen morphed as the season went along. Loe, Braddock, Axford is a 7-8-9 inning trio that can stack up to the best.
Don't come at me with WAR when we're talking about more of a mental issue than performance; and he did not pitch up to the standard he set in 2009. His strikeouts were way down and he, bottom line, was on a level with a number 3 starter on a good team. He was the number 1 starter on a rotten team, so it didn't make much of a difference, but now there are actual expectations in a team-concept aside from a talented and frazzled pitcher who's failed to fulfill his potential.
You're missing the point about facing Albert Pujols----the mental aspect has a lot to do with performance and Greinke's mentality is an acknowledged question mark.
Truth be told, I think he's going to do very well with the Brewers, but if you're expecting a Roy Halladay-level of dominance, you're deluding yourself.
Bullpen performances are fluctuation, but Loe? Really? Are you expecting him to repeat what he did last season? Good luck there. Braddock walked 19 in 33 innings and his control wasn't much better in the minors. Axford's good. I'd prefer to have an established closer, but they can win with him.
Your expectations appear to be peppered with the enthusiasm from a big acquisition. Understandable, but mistaken.
Joe writes RE the Red Sox:
Everyone has games where they score double-digit runs. The offense was 2nd even with all of the injuries, which you mentioned in your first article, but fail to mention now. That is WAY more important than a few offensive "outbursts."
(T)hey didn't expect "too much" from any players. They hoped everyone could hit like they have, and be average or better. Then, the lineup would be really good up and down, but not necessarily *great*
Their 2009 offseason WAS "fine." There 2010 offseason was great. You can't grab great players in every offseason, that is unrealistic.
You try and decipher the intangibles/unknowns (You just did it with Greinke, as you cannot get in his mind, yet try and speak of how he might handle a big game), yet when I do it, you frown upon it. All I did was bring it up as a possibility that Theo was okay with waiting to acquire Gonzalez for 2011, rather than 2010. And any GM knew that they could also add an impact OF for 2011 through free agency. It is a definite possibility that this was Theo's plan.
Joe's bloviating comments are peppered with quotes from yours truly. You can read the entire context here----link.
Where's the "objective analysis" from which your life is based, Joe? All I see here is explosive defense of that which is, at best, arguable. That you happen to be wrong is irrelevant. If this were any other team I was discussing, you'd comment and move on; since it's the Red Sox, you're taking it as a personal affront for reasons that aren't based in logic, but in emotional response.
And all this time I thought you were Spock.
Max Stevens writes RE the new site:
Prince, the new layout looks great. Congrats.
Thank you Max, we're moving up in the world!!!
Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE the Cubs and Kerry Wood:
I actually like Kerry Wood coming back to the Chi. As much as I dog the sCrUBS for being... well, dumb... Wood has long been a stand-out in the community and this is a good, cheap PR move if nothing else (I do think he'll help Marmol get a hold of himself... maybe). Wood gives back so much to community and he is a genuinely nice guy. I hope to run into him at Wildfire sometime... maybe I'll even buy him a drink.
I'm amazed he took such a light deal. $1.5 million? It's nothing in today's game; especially for a veteran who did very well with the Yankees and taking into account the dearth of relievers available.
I was on with Sal at SportsFan Buzz yesterday talking about Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and all the other stuff that's gone on in baseball. Go to Sal's site for the I-tunes link or click The SportsFan Buzz: December 15, 2010 to listen directly.
Monday, December 20, 2010
- Holes big enough to drive a truck through:
I tend to look at the positive of what a player can do rather than what he can't, so when it's noted that the Brewers had to take Yuniesky Betancourt in the deal to acquire Zack Greinke from the Royals, I don't harp of Betancourt's poor defense and atrocious on-base percentage; I look at Betancourt's 47 extra base hits in 2010 (a number he's approached in every one of his full big league seasons) and say, "they might get some use from him".
Apart from that, the Brewers have drastically improved themselves from the .500 team they've been in the past two seasons as they acquired Greinke from the Royals for a package of youngsters----ESPN Story.
This comes on the heels of their acquisition of Shaun Marcum from the Blue Jays. The Brewers rotation is now among the top tier in baseball with Yovani Gallardo, Greinke, Marcum and Randy Wolf as a number four----where he belongs.
They can really hit as well.
But their flaws are still glaring and must be addressed as should their questions regarding the new manager and their newest acquisition, Greinke.
The Brewers bullpen has been awful in the past few years; they overspent on the likes of LaTroy Hawkins and David Riske to terrible results; Trevor Hoffman was great in his first season with the club in 2009, but horrific last year and is now gone. His replacement closer, John Axford, showed promise; if they truly intend to contend in the tough NL Central, they need to beef up the bullpen. I'm wondering whether they'll make a bold move on Rafael Soriano now that they've got the starting rotation to go along with their lineup.
Then there are the lingering questions about Greinke. He was masterful in 2009 as he won the AL Cy Young Award. He was shaky in 2010 and until he loses the deer-in-the-headlights look, a jaundiced eye will be cast on his mental makeup.
Will he handle being the focal point even in a mid-market town like Milwaukee? He's never been in a pennant race; he's never pitched in a prototypical "big" game; he's never been anywhere close to a relevant baseball venue. What happens in September if the Brewers are two games behind the Cardinals and heading into St. Louis for a key series with Greinke pitching the opener against Adam Wainwright? When he sees Albert Pujols striding to the plate with two runners on base in the first inning? Will he panic? Or will he rise to the occasion?
These are not small, insignificant questions to ask about a player who's had the off-field mental problems dealing with his station that Greinke has had.
Even if he is the ace he was in 2009, the Brewers bullpen is a problem. If they go after Soriano, then they're legitimate contenders for the playoffs. Could they survive with Axford? Maybe. But I'd prefer to have a proven closer.
Then there's the new manager Ron Roenicke.
His resume is excellent; he comes from stock as a longtime journeyman player who hung around the big leagues on guile more than talent; he paid his dues managing in the minors and was a longtime coach for Mike Scioscia with the Angels.
But other managers have had similarly solid resumes and failed miserably, so you don't know until you know. I think Roenicke will do well, but I also thought Trey Hillman was going to be a big time winner with the Royals, so it has to happen before it's taken for granted.
The Brewers are a playoff contender in the pre-season analysis, but with those questions and the winter only half over, they do have other issues to address. Are they better than the Cardinals right now? I'd say no.
They're among the group of teams who are in the mix for the playoffs; they've been aggressive in getting drastically better, but Greinke is no guarantee and the bullpen is a problem. What maneuvers they make from now on will determine the decision to anoint them as the class of the NL Central or not.
If the players perform as expected, holes can be covered; there are also mid-season deals to be made; but if they don't do as they're asked; if they stumble, someone has to pick up the slack. Do the Brewers have the personnel to do that?
Right now, I'd say I don't know; right now, I'd say hold off and wait.
- Viewer Mail 12.20.2010:
I hope "Perpetual Pedro" still has tendons and ligaments attached to his arm.
Feliciano has been a gutty and solid performer for the Mets; never complaining and always doing his job. He'll blow a couple here and there, but for the most part in his 80 or so appearances, he'll get the job done. He's an asset to the Yankees bullpen.
Joe writes RE the Red Sox:
I like how you say the Red Sox were plagued by injuries and that is why their plan didn't work. Then say not getting a bat was a "mistake." Their offense was really good. And they had guys up and down the lineup that could hit some. It is actually possible that they wanted to wait to deal for Gonzalez with only a year left, to surrender one or two fewer prospects. Plus, they knew Crawford would be available. And they assigned a scout to follow him around for half of 2010. There have been jokes that Theo's plan began at such a young age, but I have no trouble believing that he had a plan for 2011, before 2010 ever began. The Red Sox 2009 offseason was fine. The team was good enough in what was clearly a "bridge year."
On the surface and without mining deeper into the accuracy of your statement through numbers----supposedly your forte----you're right. The Red Sox offense was "good enough"; but when you look at it in detail, you're selectively picking and choosing numbers to bolster your argument.
The Red Sox offense was second in the AL in runs scored, but that was skewered by some gigantic offensive explosions of double digit runs. They were inconsistent and flawed when constructed as they expected too much from players for whom it was unreasonable to expect too much.
If they didn't want to overpay for Gonzalez, then why have they been pursuing him for the better part of two years (at least)?
Regarding Crawford, I don't see it as a big deal that they were following him for half the year; that could have been a scouting operation not only for the decision of whether or not to sign him, but for a potential playoff matchup. I'm sure they had scouts assigned to keep an eye on Gonzalez and Jayson Werth along with any other player in whom they had an avid interest.
The Red Sox 2009 off-season was not "fine"; it was an attempt to build through stat zombie tenets----like the "closer-by-committee"----that failed in practice.
They're doing it the way they should be doing it now; for that they should be applauded; but don't try to alter history with non-facts as to their thinking that you or I couldn't possibly know.
I was on last Wednesday with Sal at Sportsfanbuzz talking about the winter thus far. Click here to go to his site and get it from I-Tunes and here—-The SportsFan Buzz: December 15, 2010—to get it directly.
- New site design:
Sunday, December 19, 2010
- Concepts vs Reality:
While last winter was dedicated to rebuilding via concept, this winter has been exemplified by an adherence to reality.
The Red Sox and Phillies both had "ideas" in the winter of 2009. Ideas that stemmed from overthinking. Both resulted in disappointment.
The Red Sox were determined to use pitching and defense rather than acquire a much-needed bat; they signed Mike Cameron, Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro to team-friendly, short-term deals; they signed John Lackey to bolster their rotation.
Beltre was an MVP candidate; Scutaro played as expected; Cameron got hurt; and Lackey was inconsistent at best. It wasn't this concept that undid the Red Sox in 2010, but injuries; that doesn't diminish the fact that they needed a bat in the middle of the lineup and were short in the bullpen.
The Phillies wanted to ensure that they wouldn't gut their farm system if they traded for Roy Halladay; to do that, they made the lateral move of trading Cliff Lee to the Mariners for the prospects that would ostensibly replace those that were going to the Phillies in exchange for Halladay. As 2010 wore on, they teetered on the brink of irrelevance and addressed the shortness in the starting rotation by trading for Roy Oswalt.
This winter, both clubs have learned from their mistakes and addressed needs rather than be all things to all people at all times.
The Red Sox needed a bat and acquired two----Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. In addition to that, they made the wise decision to augment their bullpen with proven veterans and post-season performers (both former closers) Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler.
Seizing on their burgeoning opportunity in the American League, the Red Sox have placed themselves head and shoulders above their competitors----even the Yankees. They have a deep starting rotation; a powerful lineup that can catch the ball in the field; and a power-packed bullpen.
Don't discount that the two pitchers who are going to be handling matters in the eighth and ninth innings, Jenks and Jonathan Papelbon, have closed for championship teams; they've gotten it done in the big spots. This is something very few relievers can say and it's not meaningless. Trevor Hoffman, for all his accumulated saves, doesn't have that. Jenks and Papelbon do.
As for the Phillies, their bold strike to sign Cliff Lee out from under the Yankees and Rangers was a glaring yet tacit admission on the part of GM Ruben Amaro Jr. that you cannot walk the tightrope with a veteran team and restock on the fly. The Phillies are older; they're expensive and built to win now. With the addition of Lee, they're assured of a playoff spot and are a great bet for a deep playoff run.
Both clubs have smart people in their front office----they wouldn't be in their current positions with continuing success if they didn't----but they out-thought themselves in 2009; what's admirable is that they took the steps to fix their problems rather than cling to an ideal. Because of that, they're the early and overwhelming favorites to face each other in the 2011 World Series.
- Moderate blasts:
Cubs sign Kerry Wood
The idea of Wood being an "icon" returning to the his first home is a bit over-the-top, but Wood clearly wanted to go back to the Cubs as evidenced by his acceptance of a 1-year, $1.5 million contract. Even if they weren't going to go crazy in an effort to keep him, the Yankees would absolutely have given him something closer to $5 million and possibly more than one year on the deal to be Mariano Rivera's set-up man.
Will Wood be any better this time as a set-up man for Carlos Marmol than he was as a closer before he left? Wood was shaky at times and his injury issues are a concern, but for $1.5 million? It's a great deal for the Cubs.
Yankees sign Pedro Feliciano
Feliciano has been worked, worked, worked and worked some more by the Mets paranoid and overactive managers Willie Randolph and Jerry Manuel. Both wore out a path to the mound and wore out Feliciano in the process.
Since 2006, Feliciano has appeared in 64, 78, 86, 88 and 92 games, hence the nickname Perpetual Pedro. The deal with the Yankees is said to be for 2-years at $8 million. Feliciano is a lefty-specialist and he's been durable; this will give provide the Yankees with something that was lacking in the past year as they overused Damaso Marte and relied on Boone Logan after Marte got hurt.
Will the abuse catch up to Feliciano? He's been remarkably resilient, so I would expect him to be as useful to the Yankees as he was to the Mets when they were in their contending years.
This is a good move for the Yankees.
I was on last Wednesday with Sal at Sportsfanbuzz talking about the winter thus far. Click here to go to his site and get it from I-Tunes and here—-The SportsFan Buzz: December 15, 2010—to get it directly.
Saturday, December 18, 2010
- Which one?
As talented and charismatic as some of the Japanese imports are when they first reach North America, baseball is littered with more failures than successes.
Then there are the two New York acquisitions----Hideki Matsui and Kaz Matsui.
Hideki joined the Yankees, was perceived to be little more than a solid player with a cool nickname (Godzilla) and major marketing possibilities.
Kaz joined the Mets and forced the shifting of Jose Reyes from shortstop to second base.
While Hideki was quiet cool, Kaz was personality and flair. But they each went in opposite directions. Hideki proved himself to be an all-around player; he could hit, hit for power and while he wasn't a great fielder, it wasn't due to lack of effort. He was durable, tough and hit in the clutch.
Kaz, on the other hand, was a disaster. He couldn't field; he didn't hit well enough to justify the contract and shifting of Reyes; and he was injury-prone. It was only when the Mets dumped him on the Colorado Rockies that he played somewhere close to expectations as he was an important contributor for the 2007 NL pennant winners. Kaz left the Rockies for the Astros as a free agent after the 2007 season and was again disappointing.
It's a risk to expect major production from these newcomers regardless of scouting and prior performance.
The Twins are in need of a shortstop after the trade of J.J. Hardy; as I discussed two days ago, they're in flux with their bullpen after the losses of Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier; and now they've signed Tsuyoshi Nishioka to a 3-year contract to take over at shortstop----ESPN Story.
Nishioka batted .346 in 2010 for the Chiba Lotte Marines; he hit 11 homers and had 206 hits and stole 22 bases. But that essentially means nothing in coming to the big leagues. The power players---and not all of them are Japanese----have shown in Japan has not translated to the majors. Hideki Matsui hit 50 one year in Japan; his career high in North America was 31.
How Nishioka's game will translate remains to be seen, but judging from history and the Twins needs, they should probably not expect much in terms of similar production. Given the players they've lost so far, they're going to need him to produce as well.
- New site design:
My personal site---PaulLebowitz.com----has been redesigned. It's still being tweaked, but it looks more professional and there's a preferable commenting section that was lacking in my prior design. Once everything is organized, my postings will be there alone. I'll continue posting here until it's complete.
I was on last Wednesday with Sal at Sportsfanbuzz talking about the winter thus far. Click here to go to his site and get it from I-Tunes and here----The SportsFan Buzz: December 15, 2010---to get it directly.
Friday, December 17, 2010
- The cage of expectations; the confinement of lies:
Because Beane took part in the Michael Lewis project with such enthusiasm, on some level it appeared that his failure as a player could somehow be compensated if he made his name as an executive.
And he did make his name as an executive.
But in retrospect, I would think that he would probably have preferred that the narrative not been as twisted as it was; that he wouldn't have been canonized as the infallible expert whose every breath, every utterance, every move was to be recorded and mimicked.
Does Beane regret the way he's made to look like a bully?
That Art Howe was made into a fool?
That other baseball executives were portrayed as buffoons?
Only he knows the answer to that question.
With the Moneyball movie being filmed, it's interesting to notice the distancing currently taking place. Background characters from the book----Sandy Alderson, J.P. Ricciardi and Paul DePodesta to name three (the Mets new front office)----have taken steps to either shake the infestation Moneyball has inflicted upon their careers and reputations or to "explain" them away.
One would assume that the whole debate of the veracity of the book and the inevitable caveats will start again once the movie comes closer and closer to release; but that doesn't remove the reality that all participants have subtly altered their strategies to suit their needs----and the biggest need is to keep their jobs.
Directly as a result of Moneyball, Beane was able to do essentially whatever he wanted for years.
He wanted to clean house after his team came within four games of the World Series and reload for the future? Fine.
He wanted to fire his manager for basically no reason apart from a petulant whim and pay off an expensive salary? Whatever.
He had corporate speaking engagements galore and a part ownership of the team.
But that didn't diminish the increasing belief that perhaps Beane wasn't the "genius" the book made him out to be. The Athletics on-field failures could no longer be chalked up to a lack of funds. If he was a "genius" for winning with less, for finding players regardless of circumstances and obstacles, then this had to extend far beyond Moneyball; far beyond Tim Hudson/Mark Mulder/Barry Zito; far beyond Ken Macha; past the halcyon days of, "Well, Billy knows what he's doing".
After an annual finish at the bottom of the AL West standings and rightful allegations that his "best friend", manager Bob Geren, was only holding onto his job because of the subjective nature of that friendship----any other manager would've gotten fired after two years of win totals in the mid-70s, let alone three----Beane has quietly put a team together that is poised to contend in 2011.
I mean legitimately contend; not simply having the remaining "believers" of Moneyball continually picking the Athletics because of an agenda to have the book "proven" to be accurate as if one thing has anything to do with the other.
The A's have a surplus of pitching from several of the trades Beane made in recent years; now they're taking steps to bolster an offense that was rancid in 2010.
Three quiet, under-the-radar maneuvers the A's made have brought David DeJesus, Josh Willingham and Hideki Matsui to Oakland. All are underrated and productive; they're inexpensive and positive clubhouse men.
With an offer out to Adrian Beltre, the A's are still interested in importing a similar non-star, but useful cog into that which they're building. With their pitching, these acquisitions alone will push them onto the outskirts of contention.
The AL West is winnable for the A's. The Rangers are no guarantee to repeat their work from 2010; the Angels are scrambling; and the Mariners are horrific.
Unlike other years where he was the star of the show, it's been a stealth winter for the Athletics. It's something similar to the famous star whose career had fallen on hard times; he took a backseat, reassessed and altered his strategy to suit what he needed to succeed rather than save face.
Could it be that the Moneyball cage has been removed from the likes of Beane, Alderson, et al? That since the ridicule doled upon them for years and years of trying to justify the hype (and failing) has freed them from following the faulty blueprint and they're now able to actually build their teams based on all aspects of finding players----statistically, via experience and through gut reaction?
Considering the way the A's are looking better and better, Beane's reputation could be saved by something other than Hollywood; it could be saved by success on the field.
- Viewer Mail 12.17.2010:
I hope ESPN is wrong about Kerry Wood. I was hoping the Yankees would bring him back as Mo's heir apparent.
Um....you wanted Kerry Wood to replace Mariano Rivera?
You're talking about replacing Frank Sinatra with Enrique Iglesias.
Joe writes RE Jayson Werth and Cliff Lee:
Lee was a better player than Werth. But it isn't easy to replace Werth's production in the outfield (even in a bandbox). They were able to do this because Domonic Brown may replace a few of those wins. And they could have signed Lee and let Werth walk, then signed an OF too. But outside of Carl Crawford, no one is replacing Werth straight up in the outfield, unless a trade were to be made. It's simple: Lee + Brown is better than Werth + no one (or a crappy fifth starter).
Here's what I was thinking for the Phillies a week or so ago----Manny Ramirez.
Of course this would be contingent on Manny Being Reasonable rather than Manny Being Manny; that Scott Boras wouldn't try to extract every single penny remaining on Manny's value; that he'd be willing to take a one-year deal with heavy incentives to go to a World Series contender and play for a manager in Charlie Manuel with whom Manny has had a father-son relationship.
With Lee and Werth, the Phillies were slick and smart as they struck. There's no question about that.
Na writes RE Carlos Zambrano and the Yankees:
The Zambrano rumors started with Bill Madden in the Daily News and Madden was making his own assertion without so much as an "unnamed source." It was a piece of bad journalism, with no reporting whatsoever. Madden needed to fill space, and figured since Rothschild was the pitching coach in Chicago, maybe cool hand Zam' would come along for the ride.
Hey, I don't blame Madden, a guy like that would be a dream player for the NY Press.
That would explain it. It really didn't make sense that they'd preach patience and then start pursuing an expensive headache like Zambrano.
You bring up an interesting point about the media and what they need rather than what would be wise for the team. It was the same way with the Mets as they were interviewing managers and the media pushed and pushed for Wally Backman based on little else than his Mets ties and that he's a potential explosion at any moment.
Sometimes teams are smart enough to resist this pressure; other times they're not.
I was on with Sal at SportsFan Buzz on Wednesday talking about Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and all the other stuff that's gone on in baseball. Go to Sal's site for the I-tunes link or click The SportsFan Buzz: December 15, 2010 to listen directly.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
- You can't dance through the raindrops forever:
Every year the Twins are contenders based on intelligence, execution and some luck. I've repeatedly lauded the "Twins Way" as a strategy for teams to emulate. Not copy, but emulate. Much like the Jesuit teaching techniques learned and espoused by Vince Lombardi----tweaked slightly and transferred----of "freedom within structure", there are baseline attributes all teams must have; they can deviate in their methods as diverse clubs like the Yankees, Marlins and Cardinals do, but the foundation remains the same.
The Twins have always been built on the operation running as a whole; individualism and selfishness is at a minimum for the team goals and their roster has reflected that. One of the most successful clubs over the past ten years, they've justified certain questionable decisions by winning. Although that has yet to translate itself into a pennant, they've been more consistent in their performance----under a similarly limited budget----than the acclaimed Billy Beane with the Athletics.
Even after the atrocious return they got on the Johan Santana trade after badly overplaying their hand, they still managed to win 88 games and make it all the way to a one-game playoff with the White Sox in 2008; they lost, but simply being there was an accomplishment in and of itself. They achieved similar heights in 2009, defeated the Tigers in the playoff game and were dispatched by the Yankees in the ALDS. In 2010, they spent some money on veteran players----albeit short-term reasonable money----won 94 games, coasted into the playoffs....and were dispatched by the Yankees again.
Despite the playoff failures, doing it the "Twins Way" has worked.
But now there are questions as their off-season has been limited to losing veteran players----especially in the bullpen----and replacing them with nothing. Yesterday dealt two potentially devastating blows to that which was the foundation of the Twins success----the aforementioned bullpen.
The Twins strategy has always been to have competent innings-eating starters who threw strikes; a deep and durable bullpen; a solid defense; players who did the right thing situationally at the plate and in the field; and a club that won because of execution.
That bullpen has been badly compromised by losing the hard-throwing Crain and under-appreciated workhorse Guerrier.
Add in that they've lost or are resigned to losing Orlando Hudson, J.J. Hardy (no great shakes), Brian Fuentes, Jon Rauch and Ron Mahay and you see that the team is going to have a hard time maintaining competition with these departures alone. They haven't replaced them and sat by as the White Sox and Tigers have improved themselves drastically.
For the bullpen they still have Matt Capps and the returning from Tommy John surgery Joe Nathan, but it's rarely been discussed how important those cogs----Crain and Guerrier----were to the workmanlike Twins. When you factor in the concussion problems of Justin Morneau, the holes look even larger.
Their main focus now appears to be keeping Carl Pavano and presumably, they're going to have to overpay to do it.
Just as the "Twins Way" led them to those above-and-beyond results in 2008 and 2009, it only takes a slight deviation----an error; a bad bullpen performance; a shaky series of starts; an injury to a key player----to reduce the number of wins from 88 and a date in a one-game playoff down to 81 and relegation in mediocrity.
The Yankees have had a bad off-season so far, but one need only look towards middle America to see a team that has had a worse off-season----and much less margin for error----the Minnesota Twins.
- Jayson Werth as Anakin Skywalker...
...and we know what happened to him as he made the self-righteous decision to eschew his friends and his teachings (who were using him just as much as the beckoning power of the Emperor and the Dark Side) for his own interests.
Jayson Werth eerily resembles Hayden Christensen and the machinations of the Nationals, Phillies, Werth and Cliff Lee make the analogy more apropos.
No one can blame Werth for leaving the Phillies for the ridiculous contract bestowed upon him by the Nationals; he wasn't going to get anything close to that deal anywhere else; but we also saw the Werth negatives that I've been cautioning about for quite awhile: he was angry about the Phillies signing Lee.
Sure, it can be covered by the shadowy assertion that he's upset because he's leaving a championship caliber team that added the jewel of this year's free agent class; he can say that he wanted to play with his good friend Lee; but does anyone really believe that given Werth's reputation for being angry about his late-blooming status? His bouncing from the Orioles to the Blue Jays to the Dodgers before finally getting his chance to play with the Phillies? His chafing at the Phillies refusal to give him a long-term contract when they overpaid to keep Ryan Howard?
I don't believe for one second that Werth is angry about not being able to play with his friend; he's mad because the Phillies repeatedly said they didn't have the money to sign Werth, then mystically found the money to sign Lee.
Here's a flash for Werth: the Phillies didn't have the money to pay him but had the money to pay Lee because he's not Cliff Lee. Lee has proven that he's a worthwhile investment for that cash; Werth isn't. You can find an outfielder to stick into the Phillies lineup to replace Werth with the unstoppable pitching staff they've built; you can't find an arm like Lee and one that was willing to be reasonable in his contractual demands in length and dollars simply to rejoin them.
When he hired Scott Boras, Werth made it clear that he wanted to get paid and paid handsomely; he went to a club that is not good; and as egotistical as Werth (and baseball players in general are), Werth can't possibly believe that he and he alone is going to lead a transformation in Washington from 69 wins to contending status.
The Phillies had the money. They just didn't want to give it to Jayson Werth.
- Ah, ESPN:
I'm not spending too much time on this, but I read the following on ESPN this morning regarding Kerry Wood:
Source: Cubs close to bringing back icon Wood
Who writes this stuff?
- Viewer Mail 12.16.2010:
Joe writes RE Cliff Lee:
I posted a comment yesterday but it did not go through. Anyway, I agree about Lee; It's his choice, let him go where he wants to. And yes, Cashman did what he could. He presented the best offer, and it was turned down. I guess some fans think that he should have offered Lee his own statue already or something to lure him.
It's a conspiracy, Joe. A conspiracy against you!!!
The ripping of Cashman died down relatively quickly. What I find idiotic is the Yankees preaching patience...then the rumors popping up that they're considering making a move on Carlos Zambrano.
(No it won't.)
Matt writes RE Cliff Lee:
It's not at all a sure thing that Lee won't some out financially ahead when all is said and done. Look how much the Yanks have paid Andy Pettitte for his late 30's. Lee will only be 37 or so when this deal is up and he is a lefty.
Matt's right. Regardless of injuries or missed time that Lee is likely to have during his second stint in Philadelphia, career-ending injuries to pitchers are rarer and rarer these days. The dearth of pitching isn't going to be solved anytime soon and if Lee pitches well, he's going to be in position to make a lot of money once this contract concludes.
I love the idea of Dallas Braden as a Yankee! Then he could move to Manhattan, change his area code and say, "That's how we do it in the 212."
Jeff (Street Boss) at Red State Blue State also writes RE Braden:
Braden would have to pay a lot of money for a 212 area code in New York these days. Those all got used up years ago, which bred the 718 and all that followed.
(I believe the above was also the plot to a Seinfeld episode but I could be wrong.)
He's got the personality for New York. I'll say that.
Alex Rodriguez may----may---be allowed to venture into Bradenia if it's an absolutely necessary negotiation for a bunt play or something similar; he'd have to have all his paperwork in order and receive diplomatic immunity, but it's coming to the table that's the first step in true reconciliation and re-establishing ties.I was on with Sal at SportsFan Buzz yesterday talking about Cliff Lee, Carl Crawford and all the other stuff that's gone on in baseball. Go to Sal's site for the I-tunes link or click The SportsFan Buzz: December 15, 2010 to listen directly.