Friday, December 05, 2003

Does the average Fan care much about Barry Bonds testifying before the grand jury in the BALCO case? If I am an average fan, the answer would be no. Oh sure, most of us--if not all of us--believe baseball should be protected from steroid abuse. But it's not a concern that is about the best interest of the game, it's about the best interest of the players. In a sport where so much money is involved, an athlete is not always going to make the right choice. MLB should help those players only have the right choice.

Why doesn't the average fan have much concern for the welfare and integrity of the game? Because most of us played the game at some level and understand that a hormonal boost, artificial or not, is not going to help a player hit a little white blur in a fraction of a second. Nor will it help that pitcher train his body to hit that little white rectangle called a strike zone.

The enhancements probably help in the training process and players are probably stronger, but I still don't buy that the increase of homers is a result of steroids or other enhancements. The extra homers are a result of too many mediocre sliders thrown by a thinner pitching pool. Anyone who watched the post season could see that good pitching still shuts down those artificially enhanced sluggers.

No, fans do not want steroids in baseball. But we don't want them because of Lyle Alzado and other athletes whose lives were cut short because of the price they were willing to pay to give them a perceived edge. But saying that, I am not aghast and mortified thinking the game is in mortal danger of scandal. Instead, I am appalled by the thought that some players are playing Russian Roulette with their health.

Lost in the big news of the Yankees, Phillies and Red Sox moves, the Cincinnati Reds made Dave Miley their manager. Who? Miley has been in the Reds organization for twenty-four years and finished out the season last year after Boone was fired. This time he will have a chance to bring his own team into the season.

If Griffey comes back healthy along with the Reds core of other stars, he could look like a genius. More likely, the Reds will be also rans and Miley is on board to bring along young players. The Reds couldn't afford a high profile manager and instead promoted from within. Good for them and good for him. Anything has to be better than the Boone regime.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

The Fan doesn't buy all the talk in the press of the Red Sox and Yankees competing against each other for headlines this off season. What you are seeing are two very good general managers who have the luxury of larger payrolls trying to better their teams. Both are after pitching first and will shore up their lineups next. But these two teams aren't the only ones working hard to improve their teams. The Phillies are also having an active off season.

The Red Sox did the expected and hired Terry Francona as the team's new manager. Francona was strongly plugged by Curt Schilling and it isn't beyond the realm of possibility that hiring Francona was part of the deal. Francona brings a lot of energy to the team and is a young former player who was a smart player. He didn't fare that well with the Phillies but a manager can't always help the deal he was dealt. Look how unsuccessful Joe Torre was before he came to the Yankees. Francona's stint with the Phillies probably taught him a lot that will now be the benefit of the Red Sox.

The other nice thing about the Francona selection is that a non-Caucasian is coming to a club with a spurious history of fighting enlightenment. His signing has to give hope that we are making slow progress in this country towards going beyond our cave man past.

In a blockbuster trade, the Montreal Expos traded their best pitcher, Javier Vazquez, to the Yankees for Juan Rivera, Randy Choate and Nick Johnson. The jury is still out on Rivera's potential and Choate was basically a throw in to the deal. The real prize for the Expos is Nick Johnson. The 25 year old first baseman was coming into his own with the Yankees and had the potential to be one of their better players for a long time.

Although injury prone so far in his career, Johnson has shown real discipline at the plate and his loss in the lineup will really hurt the Yankees who strike out too much. I really feel that Johnson had a brighter future with the Yankees than Soriano. But that's baseball and the fans can only sit back and see what happens. Vazquez is a horse and will really help the Yankees. But even with the addition of Gary Sheffield in the lineup, how many 3-2 games will the Yankees continue to lose?

The Phillies quietly continued their quest for excellence. They acquired Eric Milton from the Twins for basically nothing and have really strengthened their staff. Milton can be a big winner if he stays healthy. Although he isn't a flame thrower, he's a pitcher with a proven ability to win and can win 15 to 20 games with the Phillies. Will this be the year the Braves run ends?

Monday, December 01, 2003

A couple of blockbuster stories fed the off season water cooler set this week. First, Peter Gammons announced that Gary Sheffield has agreed to sign with the New York Yankees. Next, after the Schilling to Boston deal was finalized (Schilling had to pass a physical), the Diamondbacks and Brewers pulled off a nine player deal with Richie Sexson moving to Arizona.

Brewers fans are going to be upset as Sexson was one of the most popular players ever to play in Milwaukee--and for good reason. Sexson has become one of the steadiest sluggers in the game. Sexson has hit 180 homers in the last four year and drove in 458 runs in that same time period. Sexson has also increased his walk total and lowered his strikeouts. You can count on Sexson to hit in the .270s every year as he is very consistent.

There will be some teeth gnashing in Milwaukee tonight because the Brewers didn't get a lot of real value in return. Overbay, Moeller and Counsell are all useful players, but none in the star caliber of Sexson. The only possible stars are Junior Spivey, who slumped badly after a great rookie campaign, and Jorge La Rosa, the minor league pitcher the Red Sox sent to Arizona for Schilling. La Rosa has a big upside but it's all speculative. Spivey is 27 years old but could still have a very good career.

The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, have really upgraded their lineup and have erased what has been a left-handed dominant lineup that could be pitched around. It's tough to lose Schilling, but Sexson should get a lot of folks in Arizona excited.

Okay, call the Fan cynical, but why can't the Yankees sign a superstar who is less than 35 years old? Carlos Beltran would have been a much better long term option. Sheffield is a great player. But why has he been on six teams? He is another player who has found a negative place in fans' hearts. It will be interesting how well he fits in with the Yankee team culture, which starts with Joe Torre. Sheffield has also never played for a man like Steinbrenner.

Again, Sheffield has been a great player. But he's 35 and he's been a bit troublesome. I'm not sure I like this deal for the Yankees. Beltran could have taken over centerfield, moving Williams to left and Matsui to right. Now Williams will have to go back to centerfield and he has slowed down in the past two years. The only other option is to move Soriano to center, but that leaves Bernie out and he's getting paid too much money and is too much a part of the clutch Yankees to put to pasture.

It will be an interesting year in Yankee Stadium this year.