Saturday, November 13, 2010

Blue Jays Clean Out Some Dead Wood

If this writer understands this properly, MLB teams have to set their 40 man rosters and at the same time, clean out their Disabled List in preparation for the Rule V Draft. That means that each team has to choose which 40 players in their organization they can't do without. For the Blue Jays, that meant cleaning out their disabled list of pitchers, Rommie Lewis, Jessie Litsch and Dustin McGowen. Those three players were added to the 40 man roster meaning the Blue Jays had to clear some space. Edwin Encarnacion was put on waivers and Brian Tallet and Dewayne Wise were assigned to Las Vegas.

Encarnacion was immediately claimed by the Athletics, so his era in Toronto is over. Encarnacion had some pop in his bat but couldn't get himself on base enough and performed poorly at third base. But his 111 OPS+ in 2010 is better than most of what the Athletics put in their line up, so the flyer on Encarnacion makes sense.

Brian Tallet and Dewayne Wise both refused their minor league assignments (as the Blue Jays probably expected) and both are now free agents. Tallet, 33, had a good stretch in the Blue Jays' bullpen from 2006 to 2008. In 2009, the Blue Jays tried to convert him to a starter and though he had a few good games, the overall result was poor. He returned to the Blue Jays' bullpen in 2010 with disastrous results. According to Fangraphs, he had the second least effective year of any AL bullpen pitcher. The Blue Jays obviously have seen enough and will move on. Tallet could probably catch on somewhere. He is a lefty after all and left-handed arms always seem to end up somewhere.

The future is not as clear for Wise. After eight part time seasons as a fast outfielder with no power, Wise has barely kept his career alive. He's now 32 years old and may catch on somewhere as a fifth outfielder off the bench. But realistically, it's hard to imagine anyone signing him to anything other than a minor league deal, which won't improve the deal he just turned down from the Blue Jays. But at least such a deal from another team would result in a Spring Training invite that will allow him to compete for a spot. The Blue Jays have lots of outfield options and will not miss Wise at all.

Morneau Not Using His Injured Head

Perhaps Justin Morneau simply isn't thinking clearly after suffering for months with concussion syndrome. And just perhaps that's a cheap shot. But Morneau was quoted as complaining about the dimensions at new Target Field are too tough on hitters. He is quoted as saying that right handed batters can't hit the ball to the opposite field and vice versa for left handed batters. He calls the dimensions from right center to left center, "Ridiculous." And he expressed his disappointment that the Twins' organization did nothing to address the concerns. This Fan has several questions for Mr. Morneau:

Did you consult with your pitchers upon making this request? It would seem that the pitchers, or roughly more than half of the team, would probably prefer the larger dimensions to keep some of their mistakes in the park. Yes, it affects the offense. But it also affects the apposing teams' offense.

Did you consult with your team's home/road record in 2010? It would be understandable if you have no awareness of the end results, but the Twins had the best home record in baseball in 2010 with a record of 53-28. Why would you want to mess with that?

Do you remember what you were hitting when you were unfortunately hurt? Your slugging percentage was over .600. And yeah, you had an OPS of 1.205 on the road compared to .914 at home, but that kind of defeats your arguments that your swing gets messed up at home from trying to pull the ball.

Did you realize that Jim Thome, a very similar hitter to you, actually fared better at home than he did on the road? He had an OPS of 1.112 at home and .958 away. He hit 15 homers at home and 10 on the road. Most of his moonshots are into the gaps, are they not?

David Wright was freaked out by his new stadium his first year. He bounced back to have a terrific offensive season the next year. From Morneau's splits, it is apparent that his home field messed with him a bit. He hit three times as many homers on the road than at home. But he was still the most valuable player in the league before his unfortunate accident at second base on that double play ball. Obviously the Twins played fantastic at home, so you can understand their hesitancy to change anything. Morneau is just going to have to deal with it.

Just get yourself healthy, big guy. You were missed after your concussion. Just get yourself right and then play baseball.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Get Andrew Miller: What Are Those Red Sox Up To?

The Red Sox made an seemingly innocuous trade today obtaining LHP, Andrew Miller, from the Marlins for LHP, Dustin Richardson. Though Miller is a former Number One draft pick (2006 by the Tigers) and is only 25 years old, why on earth would the Red Sox want him? After all, the guy had just about as bad a year last year as a guy could possibly have pitching for both the Marlins and their Triple A affiliate. But the Fan has already stated once this week that those Red Sox are a crafty bunch. They have to see something in Miller that they believe can be of value.

Miller went 2-9 with a 5.43 ERA in two stops in the high minors last year. His WHIP was 1.8 and he walked 6.8 batters per nine innings. Then he pitched some for the Marlins and it wasn't pretty. He went 1-5 for the big league club with an 8.54 ERA and a WHIP of 2.38. It seems almost impossible for a WHIP to be that high. The only good sign for his minor league work was that he kept the ball in the yard. But that hasn't been true for his work in the majors in 2010 when it spiked to 1.7.

The Marlins aren't getting a sure thing either. Dustin Richardson was converted to a reliever the last couple of years in the Red Sox organization. As such, he had an extremely high K/9 rate in the high minors since the switch. But he couldn't find the plate in a fairly lengthy look with the Red Sox last year. Richardson threw more walks with the Red Sox than he had innings pitched. And a high walk rate is consistent with his work in the minors too.

Richardson was also drafted in 2006, but he was a sixth round pick and not a first round pick. Richardson is a year older than Miller who is 25.

Like the Fan's favorite character The Mentalist, the Fan is trying to find a missing piece of information that the Red Sox seized upon to make this deal. You know they are up to something. It can't be as simple as both teams feeling the pitchers need a change of scenery. Perhaps the Red Sox feel that Curt Young can fix Andrew Miller and if so, he gives them starter insurance in case one of their pitchers comes up hurt. The Marlins are always looking for bullpen help, so you can understand their interest in a high strikeout reliever. The Red Sox already have plenty of those.

This smacks of the Red Sox seeing something in Miller that isn't obvious to the rest of us. The guy is huge, like six feet, eleven or something. He could be a Randy Johnson-like, late bloomer. And perhaps this Fan is just giving the Red Sox more credit than merits here in this no-nothing deal. Or is it...

Baseball Needs a Healthy Grady Sizemore

There was a news item today that the Indians restored Grady Sizemore (and Carlos Santana) from the 60 day DL. The move was procedural though as all teams have to clean out their disabled lists and declare a formal 40 man roster. Those left off the roster risk exposing players to the Rule V Draft. But the story indicates that the Indians are hopeful that Sizemore will be ready to start the season. That, if indeed true, would be wonderful. Sizemore has been missed as he was one of the most exciting players in baseball.

For four seasons from 2005 to 2008, Sizemore put up gaudy numbers and with a superlative mixture of offense, defense and base running, averaged a 6.1 WAR for the Indians. In 2006, he hit 53 doubles, added 28 homers and 11 triples. He scored 134 runs that season and also stole 22 bases. He did it all while manning his position in the outfield as one of the best. His season was a big part of the Indians' surge to 90+ wins.

The following season, he had less extra base hits, but upped his stolen base total to 33, and walked 101 times. He scored 112 runs that season. In 2008, he joined a still pretty exclusive 30-30 club as he hit 33 homers, added 39 doubles and reached a career best 38 stolen bases. Sizemore also walked 98 times.

But 2008 saw the start of his long battle with injuries. It was the first time he didn't play all 162 games. His outfield defense wasn't quite as sharp as the previous three seasons. His batting average went down. 2009 continued the trend as he only managed to appear in 109 games. All of his offensive and defensive numbers were down when the plug was finally pulled on his season.

And then 2010 was a total losss for Sizemore. He only appeared in 33 games and he didn't hit. He didn't walk  He stole very few bases. Again, his season ended early and he underwent micro fracture surgery on his knee. Sizemore has had a half a dozen operations in the past two years and one has to wonder if all the king's horses and all the king's men can put Sizemore together again. Sizemore's woes coincide with the Indians' woes. They went from a 90+ win team to a 90+ loss team. Of course, you can't pin that totally on Sizemore's injuries. Travis Hafner is just a shell of what he once was. Sabathia and Lee are gone and even when they bring an all-world prospect like Santana up, he gets seriously injured after 46 games.

But it's more than that. The Indians have also lost attendance in significant chunks. Sizemore was the golden boy, good looking, young and exciting. He gave the Cleveland fans a thrill on a regular basis and despite all those other players, he was the major draw. Perhaps if Sizemore can come back and the Indians can improve their level of play, fans in down-trodden Cleveland will come back to the ball park again.

Talents like Sizemore don't come along very often. His combination of speed, power, agility and style made him one of the elite players in baseball. When a guy like that has two seasons of injury purgatory, everyone loses, especially the fans. Baseball and Cleveland need Sizemore to return to some of his former glory. May it be so this year.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Carlos Beltran and Veterans Day

There really should be a rule against writing a post when so many swirling thoughts and emotions are billowing around. It's Veterans Day and days like today always are sad because Dad was a veteran of World War II. He died in 1966 when this writer was of an age when his heroics were not understood. All this time later, there is no way to tell him how proud his son is for his service and his acts of duty for his country. While thinking about these things, an article passed by this writer's eyes concerning Carlos Beltran. The story was basically about him stating he would wave his no trade clause if the Mets really wanted to get rid of him. That was news in and of itself, but the end of the article talked about the $2 million he donated for a school and academy in his native Puerto Rico. The thoughts go together somehow in that none of us really know people the way we think we know them.

There was no way of really knowing Dad. What does a ten year old kid know? Dad was handsome and blond with an easy smile and a troubled life. He grew up in a blue collar home and his military service was his ticket to a better life, purchased through hell overseas and on too many bombing runs, some of which ended up with harrowing escapes from behind enemy lines. The service gave him a career in banking until, inexplicibly, he screwed it up with a stupid act and was never the same. This writer's older sister spent years being mad at him for his infidelities. Younger brother was angry that stupid decisions cost him his dad. This writer? Well, this writer is just grateful for the love of baseball that was passed down by sitting at his feet watching a ball game.

The thing is, none of us kids really know who he was. These few facts just mentioned are fragments of whispers and secrets slowly discovered. We remember the horrible fights and the divorce proceedings that were cut short by the car accident. We each have taken these fragments and created a construct of who we think the man was. But these few facts simply give us riddles because the same man that earned all those medals ended life broken with failure and loss. For all we know, the car accident was the better end for him. How do we know? Mom, in her late years now, is really not much help as she has chosen to gloss over the pain and the hurt that filled the end and cherishes the good times that preceded them. Again, we have all created a reality of a man that falls short of knowing who he was. What were his thoughts? How did he feel? What was important to him? All of it is conjecture.

These thoughts resonated for some reason reading about Beltran's good deeds for the kids in Puerto Rico. We who love to write about baseball create constructs about the players based on whispers and fragments of truths, don't we? Unless a Mets' beat writer or someone who covered him for his previous teams spent a lot of time with Beltran, there is no way for the rest of us of really knowing who he is as a man. But it is so easy behind a keyboard to create judgments that try to fit a player...a man...into a slot where we can either defend him or carve him up like a roasted chicken.

It's easy we think for the ball players because they get paid millions and are pampered. Because of that, we think they are fair game for our editorials on what kind of people they are. In retrospect, is that any more fair than one of us kids to place value judgments on a father we know nothing about? This writer is just as guilty as others. Hanley and B. J. are lazy. Manny is selfish. Braun and Youkilis are arrogant and hot headed. Yes, this writer has made those calls. While not writing specifically about Beltran, there has been thoughts that he has frittered away his big contract with the Mets and probably doesn't care.

We don't know these people. And since we don't, do we have a right to make such judgments? Most of us think so because they are in the public eye and the trade off of all that money and fame is the harsh pens of the scribes and the fans. But that is a cop out. If we really don't know somebody, then we should just shut up. Write about the performance. The numbers bear that out. Those are cold hard facts. They tell the truth about a player's effectiveness, but never anything about a player's soul.

These thoughts are mainly for the one who is writing them. Any of us that doesn't spend time in self-examination...again with the generalizations...Many of us that don't spend time in self-examination are condemned to rot in our minds and in our souls. If any of these ramblings touch anything in you, fine. If they don't, that's fine too. This Fan isn't preaching and this post is truly a selfish one.

Probably the final thought in this selfish post is to admit that Dad is missed terribly and there is a hole where he is supposed to be. And whatever the failures the man met toward the end of his life, the case of medals are cherished and proof of heroism far greater than this Fan could ever think of performing. Happy Veterans Day, Dad.

And as for Carlos Beltran, he has a new Fan who is now hoping he wins Comeback Player of the Year in 2011 and leads the Mets to the promised land.

The Marvin Miller - Steinbrenner HOF Debate

The Veterans Committee, or whatever they are calling themselves these days, will soon vote to give some former players a second look and decide if the writers overlooked them when they were on the Hall of Fame ballot. Ted Simmons is one of those players and this writer wholeheartedly supports Simmons for the Hall of Fame. Among the players, some non-players will also be considered. Billy Martin is one of those who will be considered as a manager. The two biggest names on the list are also the most controversial. They are George Steinbrenner and Marvin Miller. It's sort of ironic that these two men are being considered together after years of being on the opposite sides of the negotiation table.

Let's start with George Steinbrenner because that seems to be the easiest. But for some, he may be the most difficult. The arguments this Fan has heard (read) include that he was indicted for improper campaign contributions. They will also argue that his dirty investigations of Dave Winfield should keep him out of the Hall of Fame. Others say he just died and it should wait a while.

The last argument is the one with which this Fan has the biggest problem. It's very similar to the notion that only a select few players should be voted into the Hall on the first year of eligibility. What a bunch of hooey. The only decision to make is whether or not a player--or in this case, a person--should be included in the Hall of Fame or not. It's that simple. Yes or no. Black or white. Decide. If Steinbrenner deserves to be in the Hall of Fame because of his contributions to baseball, that won't change two years from now or five or ten. Either he should be elected or he shouldn't. If he should, now is just as good a time as five years from now.

What these elitists are trying to do is to put artificial layers to the players voted into the Hall of Fame. In other words, if a guy is a top tier player or person then the first ballot (or now) is okay. If he is a second tier player or person, then wait a year or five. There are no layers in the Hall of Fame. There isn't a raised area dedicated to only Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. There is no second layer for a guy like Joe Morgan and Bob Gibson with a third layer for the Lou Brocks and Phil Neikros of the world. Nobody announces Joe Morgan as a, "Second Tier Hall of Famer." He's simply a Hall of Fame player. Simple. So waiting to vote on Morgan a year or five or ten is just stupid. The only time it isn't stupid is if a voter has a change of heart down the road and a bunch of other voters do the same thing and a guy gets elected.

Thus the Steinbrenner argument that his bones are barely cold in the ground are stupid. Either his accomplishments and his influence on the game are Hall-worthy or they aren't. This Fan happens to think he is. Look, the guy made some mistakes. But he paid for them. He served his suspensions. Yeah, he broke the law. So did Paul Molitor. But Steinbrenner took a once proud franchise that had fallen on hard times and made it the most amazing brand in sports. By doing so, he raised the interest level in the game, helped bring road attendance up so that all teams made more money playing the Yankees. He meddled too much with his teams, but no one can deny the state of the Yankees when he bought them versus when he died.

Marvin Miller is a tougher argument. He was a labor leader. He helped establish a climate that shut the game down for two seasons. 1991 would never have happened if he hadn't united the players and set a goal that eventually raised their stake in the game. That's one way of looking at it. The other is that he was an emancipator. He helped end an unconstitutional premise that the owners carried out for years. He helped usher in a new era where players could participate in the profits of the game and contrary to the dire predictions, those events did not lead to the downfall of baseball. Baseball is in tremendously good shape despite the economy. There are very few people in the last fifty years that have influenced the game more than Marvin Miller. Not all of those influences benefit fans. But so be it. For all we know, Miller could care less about being in the Hall of Fame. And for all we know, he may covet that vote. It doesn't matter. The only question is if Marvin Miller helped shape and influence major league baseball in a way that is worthy of the Hall of Fame. This Fan says yes.

The Fan didn't always like Steinbrenner and never liked Marvin Miller. But perhaps, those are just two of the reasons that make them the influences they were. The sport is different because they touched it. And that is the true test of whether a non-player belongs in the Hall of Fame. And that touch doesn't always have to be one that sits well in the stomach.

Vizquel Signs: Another Win for the Old Guys

Baseball needs its old guys if only for us older folks who get to hang on to a player we have known for a very long time. Rationally, Vizquel provides little worth for his $1.75 mil that he'll be earning in 2011. But he can play third, short and second and still provide some scrappy at bats for the White Sox. With Moyer trying to prove something in the Dominican Republic and blowing his arm out and with Wakefield and Thome undecided about their futures, Vizquel gives us at least one guy born in the 60's playing Major League Baseball.

Vizquel said that his playing time induced him to come back for another year. The White Sox had tried Mark Teahan and that failed miserably. So Vizquel managed to walk up to the plate 391 times. He hit .276 with a .340 OBP (of course with no power) so he didn't embarrass himself in any stretch of the imagination. Ozzie must enjoy managing a guy he used to play against all those years ago.

Just to give some context to this thing, Vizquel was born in 1967. His first year in the big leagues was 1989. He was signed by Seattle Mariners in 1984. Wasn't Reagan the president then? That was 26 years ago. He has nearly 12,000 plate appearances in his career. Junior Griffey was 19 when Omar first got to the big leagues. Edgar Martinez was still a part time third baseman (Jeffrey Leonard was the DH). Randy Johnson wasn't a good pitcher yet. Do you have the picture? The guy is ancient.

Which is why this is great news for the geezer set. Three cheers for the old guy!

DeJesus for Mazzaro Should Be Win/Win

Hey! We have some trade news today. The Royals traded David DeJesus to the Oakland A's for Vin Mazzaro and Justin Marks. The Royals desperately needed pitching and their offense was fine while DeJesus was injured last year. The A's needed an outfielder that can handle the bat, run the bases and run down line drives. This seems like a good deal for both clubs.

DeJesus fits the Billy Beane strategy really well as DeJesus is severely undervalued with his paycheck. Between his stellar defense and consistent offense (108 OPS+ for his career, 117 in his last three years), he's at least a $10 million player who will make $6 million in 2011. He did have thumb surgery, but Beane said that they checked that out and everything seems fine. DeJesus will be 31 in 2011 and his contract expires at the end of that season. So if DeJesus doesn't pan out due to lingering effects from the thumb, the A's are only on the hook for a year.

Mazzaro is only 24 and his big league service hasn't yet matched his success in the minors. He wasn't the A's best arm, but the Royals finished dead last in earned runs allowed in 2010. Mazzaro needs to cut down on his walks and battle in the strike zone and he should be a darn sight better than the Kyle Davies and Brian Bannisters of the world. Mazzaro is from Hackensack, New Jersey, home of the best crumb cake in all the world. That's a plus in this Fan's book.

Justin Marks is 22 and has a good arm. His strikeout totals in the minors have been impressive, but again he walks too many batters and he's been hit a bit by the long ball bug. But he was just drafted (third round) in 2009, so he has plenty of room for growth. He's just one more solid prospect the Royals are building in a highly talented farm system.

This deal seems to make a lot of sense for both teams. The Royals seemed to have plenty of offense and needed pitching help. The A's had a pitching surplus and needed offensive and defensive help. Marks helps even out the fact that DeJesus is more valuable a commodity than Mazzaro (at the moment). The Fan doesn't see any negatives to this deal as long as DeJesus comes back healthy.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Carlos Ruiz - Stud Catcher

Carlos Ruiz came into his own last year at the age of 31. While his 2009 campaign was impressive for a catcher, 2010 was the year that he really became among the elite. Would anyone outside of Philadelphia know that in terms of overall value as a catcher, Ruiz was the third best catcher in the game last year behind McCann and Mauer? Probably not. And it wasn't just his remarkable season batting that sets Ruiz apart. He also had a fantastic season behind the plate. His season brings two questions: 1. Can he continue being this good and, 2. What took him so long to become this good?

Judging the defensive strength of a catcher is difficult to do. Matt Klaussen has done that just about as effectively as this Fan has ever seen. Check out this link and see for yourself. As there is no surprise at the top spot, which went to Yadier Molina, it was surprising to see Ivan Rodriguez at second. It was no real surprise that Ruiz came in third. It comes as no surprise that Roy Halladay threw a perfect game and a no-hitter with Ruiz behind the plate.

But Ruiz is definitely a late bloomer. He was signed by the Phillies way back in 1998 as a teenager and he really languished in their system for a long, long time. He didn't crack the .800 OPS barrier as a batter until 2004, a full six years after he signed. That was his second year in Double A ball. Before that, his OPS ended mostly in the .600s. By the time he was ready to rise, his way was blocked in the majors by Mike Lieberthal, who was a fine catcher for a few years with the Phillies in the mid-2000s.

By 2006, the Phillies had tired of back up catchers like Fasano and his ilk and Ruiz finally had his chance. The Lieberthal era ended and Ruiz became the number one catcher in 2007. But it still did not come quickly for him as a major league hitter. 2008 was particularly gruesome as he ended the season with a .219 average and a 63 OPS+. But he bounced back in 2009 and posted his first plus-100 OPS+ season. And then we all know what happened in 2010 as Ruiz really came on and had a terrific offensive season with a final slash line of .302/.400/.447.

Ruiz has always had terrific discipline at the plate. He doesn't strike out that often and he walks 50 to 55  times a season, which doesn't sound like much. But since a catcher--even a starting catcher--only gets 400 plate appearances a year, that number of walks is truly impressive. Ruiz had 55 walks in 2010 and only 54 whiffs. That's terrific. Tie that in with being the third best defensive catcher in baseball and you have a monster season for a catcher.

But can he maintain that kind of production? There are a couple of reasons to think he can. First, since he doesn't strike out a lot, he puts the ball in play. If you put the ball in play a lot, good things happen. Secondly, he doesn't hit a plethora of ground balls. For a catcher, he only hit into eight double plays all year. Ruiz hit a line drive once for every two ground balls. In addition, he is not overly influenced by his home/road split. Ruiz actually hit better on the road last year than at home. Plus, he is equally effective against both right and left handed pitchers.

The only indicator that he may regress just a bit is that his BABIP was .335. League norms seem to indicate that figure going down to .300 or so. Even so, there is no reason not to project Ruiz to hit .290 or so with an OBP in the .380 range. That's good stuff for a catcher that can block a pitch in the dirt as well as anyone and can play as good a defense as Ruiz can.

The feeling from this side of the aisle is that Ruiz should be an All Star caliber catcher for another two or three years at least. He has arrived and this Fan doesn't expect him to go away any time soon.

Whether the Tampa Bay Rays Wither or Weather

Quick: Name the Tampa Bay Rays' general manager. [[tapping foot]] Times up. His name is Andrew Friedman and it is a mystery why he is so little known. We all know Ken Williams, Brian Cashman, Theo (who doesn't even need a last name) and now we know Alderson. But the best of the bunch in the last three years has been Andrew Friedman who has transformed the Bay Rays from a perennial punchline to a powerhouse. Now Friedman has his work cut out for him. 2010 was in many ways, the last hurrah for the particular bunch that made them successful.  As Peter Gammons points out, eleven of the twenty-five players on the Rays' roster last year are free agents, including the entire bullpen. Crawford won't be back. Pena shouldn't be back. And so it will be one of the most fascinating stories of this off season as to what the Bay Rays can and will do to keep their competitive edge.

The good news is that there is still a good core of young talent. Longoria is already the best third baseman in the league. Wait...and then what? The Fan just came up short in his thinking because there really isn't a superstar on the team besides Longoria. B. J. Upton has been nothing but frustrating in his recent few years for the Bay Rays. Bartlett went from being one of the best shortstops in the league two years ago to being one of the worst last year. Zobrist went from god-like in 2009 to league average in 2010. Jaso is serviceable and has great baseball instincts. Matt Joyce showed flashes of brilliance and could be in the superstar category soon. Sean Rodrigeuz was just okay. But the team didn't have a DH worth writing about and again, Crawford and Pena are gone.

Wait, there is another superstar! His name is David Price and he really blossomed last year. But what of the rest of the rotation? Garza is a puzzle. He either throws no-hitters or gets lit up like a Christmas tree. Shields did not have a good year. Niemann was good and then he wasn't. Wade Davis wasn't good and then he was. But the feeling here is that the Bay Rays' rotation will be just fine. The Fan sees it as: 1. Price, 2. Daves, 3. Garza, 4. Hellickson and 5. Niemann. That could be a fantastic rotation. So that is the least of the Rays' worries.

The bullpen, as mentioned are ALL free agents. The Bay Rays can probably afford to sign three or four of them. And then what? Soriano will probably move on and he was so solid for them as a closer last year. It was the first time ever that the Bay Rays had a lock on the ninth inning. It seems difficult for them to revert back to their closing history of 2009 and before. But, if building a bullpen is as easy as a lot of smart people think it is, no need to worry. Friedman will think of something. Perhaps the Nefti Feliz clone, Alex Colombe, could be the closer.

The thing about the Bay Rays is that they are fantastic at drafting players. Need another pitcher? Hellickson came up last year and pitching brilliantly in four starts. The Bay Rays messed him up a bit by putting him in the bullpen after that, but hopefully, there won't be a long term problem with that. Need another pitcher? How about Matt Moore or Alex Torres or...the list is endless.

Look for the Bay Rays to give Desmond Jennings a chance to be an every day outfielder. Jennings, to quote a scout, is "toolsy." He's a center fielder by trade, but with Upton, he may have to move to left or vice versa. Zobrist should play right and the Rays have to hope that he becomes what he was two years ago again. Upton needs to find himself. The Fan still believes he will, but time is running out. If Jennings, Upton and Zobrist man the outfield, two of the three at least should have good seasons.

If the Fan was the GM--and thank goodness, that will never happen--Bartlett would be traded for prospects or another part player. Reid Brignac is a better fielder and can be a 15 homer guy in time. Rodriguez should build on his rookie season. He shows flashes of being really good, but if that doesn't work out, they can always put Zobrist there and find an outfielder. Zobrist could also play first or rotate there with someone else.

John Jaso really impressed last year. His patience at the plate and his base running presence (not steals though) found him in the lead off spot last year. Shoppach wasn't much of a back up and of course, Dioner Navarro walked out on the team after being left off the post season roster. That probably seals his fate with this team. Bottom line, the Rays could use another decent catcher. The nice thing about needing a catcher is that you can get a pretty good one for just a few mil and change. Buck would be a nice addition that wouldn't break the bank.

And man, do the Bay Rays need a DH or what? Holy cow, that position has been a stinker for them. If they could get one of the big bruisers on the market for $5 or $6 million, they should certainly do that. Perhaps even Magglio Ordonez would be a good option if he is healthy. Anything has to be an improvement. Anything!

The Bay Rays have their work cut out of them. Crawford was one of the best players in the league. Guys like that are hard to replace. A lot has to go right for this team to be as good moving forward. Can they find bullpen help? Can more young players step up and do as well as those that have in the past? Can Garza and Niemann find some consistency and put a solid year together? But again, Friedman is one of the best and there is no way you can count them out. The scary part for this team is that depending on how their young players do, they could finish anywhere from first to fourth.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Old Media Doesn't Help Jeter

It's bad enough that the media dumps heaps of praise on Derek Jeter for all sorts of mythical stuff. There is Mr. November and Captain Clutch and all the other nonsense that heaps a nationhood of scorn on Jeter as a player. If the media--at least those that are old school and not the new baseball analysts that take delight in puncturing holes in the old guard's adulation--would have treated him no more or less than one of the most interesting and effective offensive shortstops in our generation, things would be fine. But they haven't (and despite this Fan's bemoaning of Jon Miller's dismissal, Mr. Miller was one of the guilty parties) and because they haven't...because they were more interested in building the myth of Jeter, there isn't a more fiery lightning brand of derision than that of the Yankee shortstop. That same old school has now given Jeter another Gold Glove that we all know he doesn't deserve and adds to the din and clamor. Mr. Neyer has already fired two salvos and he isn't alone.

Clearly Alexei Ramirez was the best fielding shortstop in the American League this past season. Pennington was probably second. Jeter--who made very few errors, and is a solid shortstop in that he catches what is hit to him and makes the throws once he catches them--doesn't have the range of those two and is clearly not their equal in the field. If one of them had won the thing, then the young media...the baseball analysts (many of whom this Fan admires)...wouldn't have further ammunition and neither would the thousands of comment makers on thousands of sites all over this country. It's enough to make a Fan pull his hair out. And thank goodness, this Fan has lots of it for an older guy (eat your hearts out!).

Jeter winning the Gold Glove is just about the worst thing that could have happened to his image and for the way he is viewed around the country. Yes, sure, a few die-hard and blindly loyal Yankee fans will raise a glass to the Captain, but they are misguided and they don't help.

Yes, Jeter has already punched his ticket to Cooperstown. Yes, Jeter is one of the top ten shortstops of the last fifty years because of his offense. Yes, you can't argue with five rings on his fingers. But geez Louise, stop voting him those dang Gold Glove Awards. They don't help anything. They just make things worse.

Yeah. Albert Pujols Is Pretty Good

As a baseball Fan that grew up fascinated by the backs of baseball cards and the stat section of the Sporting News, going over to to look at Albert Pujols' stat page is a study in the surreal. In the modern era, there has never been a player as consistently devastating. Year after year, he puts up eye popping numbers that just make your head swirl. There is no way to completely wrap your head around how good a player he is.

Alex Rodriguez was long the glory guy of the major leagues. He was considered by most to be the best player in baseball. But at no time in A-Rod's career did he ever put a ten year streak together that looked anywhere near Pujols. For his CAREER, Albert's slash line is .331/.426/.624. He barely missed .600 in slugging in 2010 and it's like a major upset. In ten years of playing for the Cardinals, Pujols has averaged 119 runs, 190 hits, 43 doubles, 40 homers, 123 RBI, 91 walks and 64 strikeouts. There is no way to fathom that kind of continuity. Yeah, we could probably insert Barry Bonds into this conversation. And Bonds cleans up on even Albert Pujols. But that is an entirely distasteful conversation, isn't it (unless you are a Giants' fan)?

So while we can't even get our minds around how good Albert Pujols is, how are the Cardinals supposed to figure out how to compensate him? The $14 million he made last year is such a joke compared to the value he built for the team. But what are the Cardinals supposed to do? Say they budget around $110 million for player salaries. If they paid Pujols what he was worth, they would have to pay him upwards of $28 to $30 million a year. That would be 25 to 28 percent of their payroll. Add in the ridiculous sum they paid Holliday and you have two guys making over $45 million. So what can they do?

The Cardinals picked up Pujols' absurd option for 2011. Should they hope he regresses quickly? Should they just try to get through the year and then let another team have him? Should they break the bank and pay him what he is worth? It's really a no win situation for the Cardinals, isn't it? Maybe they have to get creative and give him a percentage of ownership or something. Teams are now using player analysis to ensure that they don't overpay for talent. But Pujols is the type of player that breaks all the models. He turns the tables around so that the tools teams use to keep payroll down, make Pujols so expensive that they can't afford him. It's certainly a conundrum, isn't it?

As for Pujols, is any amount too much? Or is any amount enough? He certainly has built the value. Does he insist on getting it? Or does he figure that $25 mil is more than enough to be happy? If you think the Jeter story is interesting now, just wait. The Pujols puzzle for the Cardinals is going to be the biggest story of the coming year. Pujols has expressed a desire to have an extension in place before the season. The Cardinals reply that there is no rush. That is a dangerous stance for the Cardinals, but if it were the Fan's team, the Fan would probably be doing the Russian two-step too. It has to be a day the Cardinals have dreaded for a long time. And now it's upon them.

It would be nice if something could be worked out. Pujols belongs in St. Louis and we fans don't really like talking about money and negotiations. We just want to sit back and watch the best player of his generation (and many other generations) play baseball.

Reds Should Be Cautious About Arroyo

The Cincinnati Reds are doing more than just picking up Bronson Arroyo's option for 2011. Word is that they are trying to lock him up to a two or three year deal at around $13 million per year. That's a pretty heady price tag for a really durable, league average pitcher. Arroyo (on paper) had his best year in the majors with 17 wins and a sub-4 ERA. But caution abounds here and in this writer's mind, there is a big yellow flag being waved.

There is value in a pitcher that will give you a chance to win 33 starts a year. Arroyo has not failed to pitch at least 30+ starts and 200+ innings for four straight years. He never seems to get hurt, or if he gets hurt, he never seems to say anything. Since he isn't a power pitcher anyway, he's not going to blow you away. His 5.0 K/9 rate isn't what you would call a buzz kill as a batter. But Fangraphs pegged his value in 2010 at $7 million. gave him a slightly higher value. That means that even at his option price of $11.5 million, Arroyo is overpaid. Bump that up to $13 million and he his nearly doubly overpaid.

Arroyo's year was commendable, but it was a bit of a fluke too. His BABIP was .241 for the season which is a combination of great luck and very good fielding behind him. Though his ERA was 3.88, his xFIP was 4.60 which, according to the formula, is where his ERA should have been. To give you an idea what the Fan is talking about, Arroyo's value, as calculated by Fangraphs, puts him in the company of A. J. Burnett, Kevin Millwood, Chris Narveson and Chris Volstad.

On top of all this, Arroyo is going to be 34 in 2011. Can he keep on being effective at that age? Certainly. Are the odds good that he will be as affective as his reasonably effective 2010 for the duration of a three year deal? No. The Fan was surprised when the Reds picked up his option for the 2011. But that is fine as long as you are only gambling with house money for a year. Extend that wager for three years, and it seems a bit crazy.

Nice Timing By the Blue Jays

Doesn't it seem fitting that during the week that Sparky Anderson passes away, that his erstwhile phenom, Torey Lovullo got hired by a MLB team? Anderson was always touting this prospect or that one and many times, it became a laughable joke because the players ended up being terrible. Torey Lovullo was one of those. When Sparky called up Lovullo, his famous quote was: "I'll die before Lovullo comes out of the lineup." Fortunately for us, Sparky didn't die and Lovullo came out of the line up after batting .112 in over 100 at bats.

Remarkably, Lovullo did managed to eke out parts of seven years in the big leagues. He only had one year where he approached being a regular player and that was in 1993 with the Angels. Lovullo finished with a 69 lifetime OPS+.

Of course, Anderson was a pretty lousy baseball player too, but he was a great manager and Lovullo's playing career should have no impact on what he will do as a major league coach. But his hiring wasn't the only Toronto hire. They also hired former Mariner manager, Don Wakamatsu, as their bench coach. John Farrell will have an excellent side kick there (in this writer's opinion).

Another hire was Pat Hentgen, the Blue Jays former Cy Young Award winner. He will join the team as its bullpen coach. Blue Jays fans should get a great kick out of seeing Hentgen in a Blue Jays uniform again.

Jon Miller Canned? What the Frick Is That?

[[switching to first person]] I used to love ESPN. I really did. It was fresh and fun and for the first time ever (when they first came out) you could see highlights of all the games. Sports Center used to be the bomb. They had first class talent that made you laugh. Advertisements are still using, "Booyah," in their ads (does Stu get royalties?). Then Baseball Tonight came along and it was perfect. ESPN made a big splash with baseball. I'm not sure it's ever been worth the money they paid for those rights, but they went in big. Their signature event was Sunday Night Baseball which has been broadcast by Jon Miller and Joe Morgan for twenty years. Now ESPN has pulled the plug on the team and this Fan...I...don't like it.

Why don't I like it? The answer isn't rational. I don't like change when it comes to broadcasters. I'm still trying to get used to Don Orsillo (sp?) on NESN. I adopt broadcasters in some sort of emotional way. No, I can't explain that. I just do. Announcers become like uncles you enjoy seeing on a regular basis. Phil Rizzuto was my first and greatest uncle. Joe Garagiola was my second when he did those Saturday broadcasts. Jon Miller became my third.

The reason I adopted Jon Miller was because I'm not a fan of the Red Sox. I probably shouldn't admit that as a "general" blogger. But I'm sure the Red Sox will get over the admission. I do like Jerry Remy who has become almost an uncle of sorts. So since I don't have a home network to watch on a regular basis, I looked forward to the Sunday night games. Thus Jon Miller as my uncle.

Why Jon Miller? He was like the silly uncle that always made you smile. He wore those funky shirts and ties and had the goofiest hair ever seen on national television. But it was his voice and good nature that drew me in. Jon Miller is a broadcaster of the old school. His voice is an instrument and he knows how to use it. He knows when to build the drama and he knows how to carry a game when the broadcast becomes a laugher. But he did it all with such an honest integrity for the game that you could tell he was a fan too. I love that about him.

Now Joe Morgan was another animal. Joe Morgan would never become my uncle. He was like that rich, imperious relative that always felt above your particular station. He was prickly and cold to a degree. But there was respect. He knew the game and though his opinions were strong, at least they were honest. I also felt that Jon Miller made the most of his pairing with Morgan. Many say that he kissed Morgan's feet. He did just enough of that to satisfy Morgan's craving for respect. But he also knew how to poke holes with Morgan and the two adopted a grudging and sometimes humorous relationship.

That relationship was a tightrope. You could just tell it was. Recently, ESPN added a third guy to the booth and that didn't work at all. It felt like an intrusion. It was an intrusion. You could tell Morgan was uncomfortable and it gave Miller too much juggling to do.

Recently, Miller won the Ford C. Frick Award for outstanding work in the broadcasting world. It was well deserved. Which is why I don't get what ESPN is doing. They guy was just honored as one of the best broadcasters ever and his own network responds by canning the guy? Then the network falls all over itself thanking the two stalwarts of Sunday Night Baseball and stating how wonderful they were and how much they created the brand and blah, blah, blah. Then why did they fire them? Don't give us platitudes. You are a news organization. Tell us why.

We deserve an explanation. After all, it is we who pay for the network. Our cable or satellite subscriptions pay for the network and some of us are even stupid enough to pay to be an "Insider" on their website. Don't we customers deserve some sort of explanation?

Don't you just get the feeling that there are some analysts feeling smug because their research showed that the ratings were suffering with the right kind of viewers--namely those in the 18-30 group who we are told make the advertisers the most money? Those same researchers are probably responsible for the abominable David Wells and Kevin Millar that other networks think are so cool. The problem with those guys are that they have no souls. There is no depth in their character that we can relate to. Or they are just bad at getting that across to their viewers.

So ESPN will replace tradition with something younger. Orel Hershiser is okay as a replacement for Morgan. He did make some stupid mistakes early on the way he tried to bait Morgan. He looked like a punk trying to get more face time. But he is likable enough. But who is going to replace Miller? Nobody. You can't replace that voice and that likability. You can't replace an uncle with someone new that your aunt just married because of a divorce. Miller had gravitas. You need a lifetime of experience to earn that.

But this situation has precedent. The same thing happened in New York to Mel Allen years ago. The same thing happened to Carey in Atlanta. And now it has happened to ESPN. Yeah, I fully understand and am aware that I sound like on old creep that is apposed to any change. I get that. I also get that ESPN is probably upset about its ratings. But ESPN is like Microsoft or General Motors. Sooner or later upstarts like MLB.TV and the like eat into those formerly unassailable market shares. It happens. But the one way not to fix it is to discard everything that is likable about what you do.

It was bad enough that they ruined Baseball Tonight so that it became a show about analysis instead of about the highlights. Now they have ruined Sunday Night Baseball. Good luck with that. Thanks for all the memories, Uncle Jon.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Forget Martin! Simmons For Hall of Fame!

The 2010 ballot for the Hall of Fame: Loser's Brackett was announced today. George Steinbrenner and Marvin Miller seem like overly logical picks. Both had the kind of impact on the game that demands a place in Cooperstown. But forget about Billy Martin or anyone else that is listed in this second chance, "veterans committee." The only other player who really needs to get elected is Ted Simmons. Simmons, who was just hired by the Seattle Mariners front office, is really in the argument as one of the best fifteen catchers to ever play the game.

Let's look at some of Simmons' numbers:

Stat/Rank Among Catchers All time
  1. Hits Total: 2472 - 2nd (behind Pudge Rodriguez)
  2. Hits as catcher: 7th
  3. One of only 14 catchers ever to have a .300/.400./.500 season
  4. Homers Total: 242 - 10th
  5. Runs Batted in: 1389 - 2nd
  6. Batting Average: .289 - 14th
  7. Doubles: 483 - 2nd
  8. Total Bases - 3793 - 3rd
  9. Runs Generated (RG) - 75 - 9th

Add to the list is that Simmons is thirteenth on the all time list for games caught. Pete Palmer has a stat called TPR that tries to measure the best offensive catchers ever. According to his calculations,  Simmons is the ninth best offensive catcher to play the game. Since there are already thirteen catchers in the Hall of Fame, shouldn't Ted Simmons be in there too?

Dan Uggla Turns Down 4yrs at $48 Million

Dan Uggla just turned down a guaranteed contract valued at $48 million over four years. The deal would take him to his 34th birthday and would have made him a very rich man. Even for perennial cheapskates like the Marlins, the deal is a substantial offer and seems fair for Uggla's value. Why would he turn that down?

Uggla had probably his best year in 2010. According to, his season netted him a 3.7 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Since wins are valued at about $2.7 million, his season was worth about $9.9 million. But others argue that if you go by what the market has spent for free agents over the past few seasons, the market value for a win is around $4.5 million. Even if you go by that number, Uggla's best season was worth $16.65 million. If you split that difference, Uggla seems to be worth every penny of what the Marlins offered.

There are other considerations here. First, Uggla isn't young. At 30 years of age, you don't expect him to get much better than he already is. If most pundits are to be believed, he will regress from here on out. He's already a terrible second baseman who has always been in the negative stats in fielding. So he is out of position anyway. The .287 he hit last year was way above his career average of .263. The standard feeling here is that he has a better chance of being a .260 hitter than a .287 hitter. Plus he strikes out 150 times a year with about 75 walks (the walks are a nice thing). And his .287 was a bit of a fluke as his BABIP was .330 for the season, meaning he was fortunate a lot of his hits fell in.

On the plus side, his home/away splits are good. He fared well with runners on base and in high leverage situations. And he is consistent against any kind of pitcher (power, medium and junk). Those are all valuable stats. But geez, $48 million is a lot of peanuts to throw away and to hope that you have a good enough 2011 season to hit the market big in 2012. It's a gigantic risk on Uggla's part. Naturally, the Marlins were stunned by his decision. For them, this was an excellent offer.

So what exactly would possess a guy playing in South Florida to turn down guaranteed money to stay there with the knowledge that he will be playing in a new park next year in one of the best places on earth to live? Add to his location the fact that Florida does not have an income tax and his contract is worth even more money. It's really hard to fathom.

If this Fan ran the Marlins, the offer would forever be pulled off the table and Uggla would play out his 2011 season and be shown the door. The Marlins get a bargain for another year, can use him for trade bait if they don't contend (and this Fan expects them to contend) and let nature take its course. As for Uggla, this is an extremely shocking and dramatic refusal to take good money at the peak of his value. It seems highly unlikely he'll ever be offered more.

Glut of First Base/DH Free Agents

It's probably not a good year to be a free agent this year if you are a first baseman or DH. The pond is full of those types of ducks. The list? Jim Thome, Paul Konerko, Carlos Pena, Johnny Damon, Lance Berkman, Manny Ramirez, Lyle Overbay, Aubrey Huff, Jorge Cantu, Russell Branyon, Hideki Matsui, Marcus Thames, Troy Glaus, Adam LaRoche, Derrek Lee, Ty Wigginton and Adam Dunn. Obviously, Damon and Ramirez are more known as outfielders, but Damon could probably survive in left field for a couple of dozen games. Manny could not.

That's seventeen players who need to find a job among thirty teams. It seems pretty reasonable that Huff will re-sign with the Giants, so the Fan will leave him out of this conversation. Cantu, Glaus and Thames will be considered role players. The Fan is tempted to put LaRoche in that category, but won't for now. So that brings us down to thirteen to consider as starter types in this position. As the Fan mentioned yesterday, all of the value of these players has to be generated by their bats. Few analysts give first baseman any brownie (or WAR) points for playing first and certainly there are none for playing DH.

Saying all of that, let's take a look at each of the remaining thirteen and rate and rank them and perhaps even make a suggestion or two about which teams they may end up with:

1. Johnny Damon: Surprised? Yeah. Understood. But at 37, Damon still provides flexibility. He can play left, first or DH. Damon can still steal a base for you (22 of 24 the last two years) and hit an occasional dinger. He would be worth a one year deal at $12 to $14. Angels? Tigers?

2. Lance Berkman: Berkman really doesn't want to DH. But he's been a first baseman for a long time and won't hurt you too badly there. Teams shouldn't give up on batting him right handed. The Fan still thinks he has a good year in him. One year deal at $12 to $14 with options.

3. Lyle Overbay: This ranking is surprising the writer as much as you probably. But Overbay is perhaps the best fielder of the bunch at first, has some pop and will give you 70 or more walks a year. Useless against lefty pitchers though. Tampa Bay?

4. Paul Konerko: Last year feels more like an outlier than anything else. It would seem improbable for Konerko to match it. But his problem is that he will want to command the dollars such a year would bring. But at 35, he still may have a couple of valuable seasons left in him. He really isn't much of a first baseman any more but he can play there if that's what you need. He would be an asset for Tampa Bay, but it's doubtful they will spend that kind of money he will want.

5. Derrek Lee: Lee is the same age as Konerko but didn't have the kind of year Konerko did. He looks much older. It wouldn't seem wise to move Lee to the AL, but after watching that World Series, perhaps we have to stop thinking of the AL as the dominant league, eh?

6. Adam Dunn: Dunn is one of the youngest of the bunch, but he plays old. He's slower than a mule and he wasn't disastrous at first base, but he isn't great either. It's also troubling that his walks, long one of his staples, were way down this past year. But he still hit his 38 homers, no? He is another bat that could help the Bay Rays. He would be a perfect fit for them.

7. Carlos Pena: Pena has had two awful seasons in a row. But it really seems like if he had a chance to work with a really good batting coach, he could come back in a big way. His power is still there. He's still a tremendous fielding first baseman. And, best of all, he could be a major bargain for somebody. The Fan doesn't think Tampa Bay should re-sign him as he is in too much of a rut there.

8. Jim Thome: The Twins certainly got their money's worth with Thome last year. He can still hit the ball a mile and can still get his fair share of walks. But golly, the guy has to slow down some time. Shown a willingness to play for peanuts.

9. Adam LaRoche: He may be rated too far down this list. Had a serviceable year last year with 25 homers with 100 ribbies. But this Fan just can't get past the strikeouts. 172 last year is just intolerable. And his power may have been inflated by playing in Arizona for half his games.

10. Ty Wiggintin: Wigginton, by all accounts, is a good egg and a great teammate. His willingness to keep trying hard despite his team's struggles early last year say a lot about the type of player he is. But he's simply a marginal talent who, if put in the right place, could have an Aubrey Huff type season.

11. Vladmir Guerrero: Vlad had a great half of a season last year, but really looked ancient in the second half and in the post season. He can only DH which limits his options. He just might have another league average season in him before he heads to the Hall of Fame. It's too bad that the carpet in Montreal ruined so many legs of so many great players.

12. Hideki Matsui: Matsui had a marginal season for the Angels. This Fan feels he is done as a productive major league hitter. He is a proud man who has done great things in his career. Can you see him being a marginal player somewhere for peanuts? This Fan can't.

12. Russell Branyon: Good golly, can he play for another team? He probably will. His power will always get him a cheap look with someone.

13. Manny Ramirez: Wouldn't touch him with a ten foot pole. Sorry. He can ride off into the Barry Bonds sunset.

The first six on this list may get close to what they want for money. But the rest will be scrambling for jobs and it wouldn't be a surprise if a third of this list wasn't signed by the opening of Spring Training. Life goes on.

Can't Find Faulta With Peralta

When this post was conceived, there was the overwhelming urge to ask the Detroit Tigers just what the heck they were doing in signing Jhonny Peralta to a two year deal worth nearly six mil a season. Really? Jhonny Peralta. But then, after taking a look at this stats, the contract really isn't that bad a deal for the Tigers.

Peralta had one really bad year in 2009. He bounced back to his career norms for 2010 (though he didn't play that well for Detroit after he was traded). But those career norms average around $6 million a year in value. Peralta is a reliable fielder with good range at third (but not at short) with a good arm. His defensive numbers have been reliably on the north side of zero for most of his career. Like his offense, Peralta's defense suffered a bit after he was traded to the Tigers. But perhaps that can be explained by a lack of comfort in being thrown into a new arrangement after years at Cleveland.

Peralta will give you 15 to 18 homers a year with 30+ doubles thrown in. His OPS+ has averaged just around the league norm. He strikes out too much and gives you a walk occasionally, but he won't kill you with his offense. Plus, he is only 28 years old and should be in his peak years. Two years at almost $12 million for a guy who has an average worth of $6 million is not signing Peralta at below market value, but at least his next two seasons should be peak and the deal could become a bargain.

It's funny how sometimes perception becomes reality in one's mind. This Fan has never been impressed with Peralta. The Tigers have already signed Inge though, so Peralta will play short? If that is the case, the Fan likes the deal a little less because Peralta at shortstop is not his best position. But it's not a bad move. It may not be the juiciest deal for Tigers' fans, but at least it wasn't stupid or something like this Fan at first thought.