I just read an article extolling the virtues of former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Dave Concepcion and his resume for the Hall of Fame. In looking at his statistics, I don’t see how he comes close to cutting it. Concepcion’s former teammates such as Joe Morgan and Johnny Bench are all fondly recalling Concepcion as a fielder on a level with Ozzie Smith who has suffered because of the lack of exposure he received. That was apparently due to the absence of all-sports cable TV repeating highlights over and over again; and that Concepcion was an unappreciated member of a team that was loaded with superstars such as Morgan, Bench and Pete Rose. I really don’t remember Concepcion other than at the tail end of his career, but in looking at the facts, he simply doesn’t pass the test of a Hall of Famer.
Comparisons are made to Ozzie Smith and the offensive numbers are similar; but they played in different ballparks and were asked to contribute different things. Concepcion was an occasional power threat; while Smith had almost no power whatsoever. Both had speed; and both were superior defensive players.
I’m trying to come up with a cogent argument for Smith and not for Concepcion, but am having trouble doing it for reasons other than saying it is an innate "feeling", but it is what it is; I simply don’t think that Concepcion is a worthy recipient of the game’s greatest honor considering he was a relatively mediocre player. Both Smith and Concepcion had extensive experience and success in the post-season as clutch hitters. It’s difficult to put my finger on exactly why Concepcion is out and Smith in; but here goes my best logical argument: Ozzie Smith is widely recognized as being the best fielding shortstop in the history of baseball. Concepcion, while apparently being excellent defensively and winning five Gold Gloves, never seemed to be able to gain that type of cachet. Smith is one of those players who entered the Hall of Fame based mostly on his defensive genius. Logically, if a player is enshrined due to greatness in a specific area then another player cannot be enshrined for the same reason. There can be only one "best" at any one spot. Ozzie Smith was state of the art at shortstop and won 13 Gold Gloves. If Smith was inducted predominately for his greatness as a fielder, then he is the anomaly of being elected for that greatness. Concepcion misses out on that argument.
If there is any shortstop who is more worthy of enshrinement for all around play and clutch performance it is former Tiger Alan Trammell. He had excellent offensive numbers at a time when shortstops were more prone to be light hitting/good fielding, ninth place hitters such as Bucky Dent and Mark Belanger; and Trammell won four Gold Gloves.
The bottom line is that there has to be someplace where the argument of "if this guy’s in, then that guy deserves to be in" ends. Garry Templeton was a better hitter than Concepcion and his fielding statistics are frighteningly close to Concepcion’s. Templeton didn’t get as many chances at the post-season as Smith or Concepcion, but he did well when he made it. Is Garry Templeton an arguable Hall of Famer? Of course not. But he is if Concepcion gets in. How about Tony Fernandez? He won four Gold Gloves and was a better regular season hitter than Concepcion, and a good post-season hitter; does he deserve consideration?
Omar Vizquel has turned into an excellent all-around player who may be the smartest in baseball and may have more Gold Gloves than Smith by the time he retires; if he does, then he will merit serious consideration for the Hall of Fame. But that’s years into the future; right now the argument is whether or not Concepcion qualifies; and in comparing him to some of the above-mentioned names, the answer is no. If any shortstop deserves to be waiting by the phone for a call informing him of his induction into the Hall of Fame, it isn’t Concepcion, it’s Alan Trammell.
With the signing of Aubrey Huff, the Orioles continued an off-season of importing useful ancillary parts that have the potential to combine to greatly improve the overall sum of the parts. Huff, who has good power and a history of hitting well at Camden Yards, can play 3rd base, 1st base and the two corner outfield positions.
On their roster, the Orioles have several players that can play multiple positions. If they decide that they want Huff to play first base, they can DH Kevin Millar; if Huff plays third, they can move Melvin Mora—-who has Gold Glove capability as an outfielder—–to left field. With the outfielders they have in Jay Gibbons; Corey Patterson; Nick Markakis; and the newly signed Jay Payton; such a move probably won’t be necessary; but there’s nothing wrong with flexibility. My guess is that Huff will predominately be playing first base.
The pitching improvements are in the most underappreciated area—–the bullpen. They overpaid for Chad Bradford, but teams that are underwhelming on the field occasionally have to overpay to improve. Signing established relievers such as Danys Baez; Jamie Walker; and Scott Williamson provides much needed depth. Trading for Jaret Wright and reuniting him with the pitching coach in Leo Mazzone who presided over Wright’s best season is a worthwhile risk. Their young starters in Erik Bedard and Adam Loewen along with Wright, Kris Benson and (I think) a future superstar in Daniel Cabrera is better than many contending team’s rotations; and they have that bullpen to take the pressure off of their starters.
There is a bit of a logjam with their outfielders, but they have flexibility if they want to bring in another established starter; or make some other move to improve the team. They’re in a very difficult division; but they have a superstar pitching coach in Mazzone who is regarded as one of baseball’s best and was in charge of the Braves starters for a long time. While other teams such as the Red Sox made the splashier moves with their signings, the Orioles may turn out to be the better team because they have something that the Red Sox and Blue Jays don’t—–depth on their pitching staff. They’re not going to be able to compete with the Yankees; but if things go right (and the Orioles have been down for so long that they’re due for some good things to happen to them) they might leapfrog both the Red Sox and Blue Jays and perhaps contend for a Wild Card spot.
I was flipping channels last night and happened to catch a glimpse of a clip of Barry Zito in an Athletics uniform doing spring training drills. That the show was Quite Frankly With Stephen A. Smith didn’t prevent me from watching for a moment. I don’t watch the show at all because Smith doesn’t know much about any sport other than basketball and seems to yell an awful lot; but I wanted to see if perhaps he was going to speak to someone like Peter Gammons or Tim Kurkjian who is dialed into what is happening in baseball. I was disappointed when I saw Steve Phillips face pop up on the screen; but I watched anyway.
As is his wont, Smith began asking benign, ill-informed questions about Barry Zito to which Phillips explained his thoughts on why Zito and the Giants ended up together. Then Smith’s lack of any semblance of basic baseball knowledge popped up when Phillips said that the Giants are still probably the third best team in the NL West after the Dodgers and Padres. Smith said (I’m paraphrasing) that he didn’t hear the Mets mentioned in there anywhere. I stared at the television in disbelief before realizing what show I was watching.
Stephen A. Smith doesn’t even know that the Mets are not in the same division as the Giants, Padres and Dodgers! But he feels free to comment extensively on baseball as though he has an idea of what he’s saying and watching. Smith is embarrassing himself and ESPN with his ineptitude; yet his show and his screaming continues as though he is passionate about that which he speaks when in reality, he simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about and tries to gloss over that fact by screaming a lot. I should have known what to expect when I left the show on, but I continue to be unpleasantly surprised.
Barry Zito and Scott Boras couldn’t have scripted things any better for the pitcher to get that immense contract to which the Giants have agreed with the free agent lefty. Everyone, myself included, who didn’t believe that Boras would be able to pry the years and money he wanted from some desperate club isn’t paying attention to the past when it comes to Boras delivering for his clients; and this isn’t a situation where a designated ****** such as Tom Hicks was coerced into signing a player by Boras’s sweet nothings; it is a situation in which Zito isn’t even going to have to move to a new home. The circumstances—-a weak class of starting pitchers available; a desperate and fading team with a vested interest in keeping their fans enthusiastic; other interested parties who might, might have been willing to break the bank for the starting pitcher—–all allowed Boras to procure the money that Zito so desperately sought when he switched agents from Arn Tellem to Boras to prepare for impending free agency.
The teams that were openly interested in Zito—-the Mets, Angels, Mariners, Giants, Rangers—–along with stealth teams like the Yankees and Cardinals who might have dipped their toes into the waters to see what it would take to get the pitcher all added to the intrigue of what it would take to sign him. Boras is so skilled at what he does that all he needs is the mere threat of another team swooping in to take the lead and offer the most money that he is able to play that against whomever he is negotiating and get the contracts that he wants. With the next tier of pitchers already having signed elsewhere (including the stunningly lucrative contract that a team that normally doesn’t indulge in such a way when the Brewers snatched up Jeff Suppan), Boras found himself with the only desirable pitcher left available.
Even with the Rangers openly pessimistic of their prospects to sign Zito, their presence did help Boras in his negotiations with the Giants; the Rangers had put forth an ultimatum that they wanted an answer in the negative or affirmative by the weekend. By the time the ultimatum was proffered, the Giants had already made Zito’s decision for him. There was always the ever-present threat of another team jumping in to sweeten the offer a desperate team like the Giants was going to make.
Would the Mets suddenly decide that they had to have Zito as they did with Carlos Beltran two off-seasons ago?
Would the Yankees make the rumored move and sign Zito before they dealt Randy Johnson and worry about dealing Johnson later?
Would the Mariners, having lost out on Jason Schmidt and Adam Eaton and having overpaid for Horacio Ramirez jump in and try to grab Zito with a huge offer?
Would Tom Hicks panic and suddenly reverse course on his public stance of not going overboard again?
Would the free-spending Angels make a similar late move on Zito as they did with Vladimir Guerrero?
The Giants were sufficiently desperate; with one option after another rejecting their overtures; their financial situation so constricting; their team so old and rickety and their prospects so grim; that they felt they had little choice but to give Boras exactly what he wanted to land Zito. In a weak division, the wins that Zito will provide (13-17 is my guess) will propel them to contending in the National League West if their bullpen holds up. As talented as their young pitchers Matt Cain and Noah Lowry are, it would be very dangerous to go into the season relying on young pitchers as the anchors of their starting rotation. Zito gives them a name at the top of their rotation who—–while not being the quality of an in his prime Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Pedro Martinez—–is still a healthy, innings gobbling winner.
That Zito lives in San Francisco, has spent his entire career in the Bay Area, and is from the West Coast helped the Giants; but the money is what truly delivered the goods. The question becomes: Did the Giants overpay? In comparing Zito to the above-mentioned future Hall of Famers, of course they overpaid. But they needed to do something to prevent their team from going, at best, 75-87 next season. They didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. The risk of banking their entire season on a tainted home run chase was too much of an ambiguous prospect for Giants owner Peter Magowan and GM Brian Sabean. The money is of course absurd; but it was what the market was going to demand; and once Barry Bonds’s salary comes off the books after next season, it won’t be as hard to swallow; and if Zito wins 20 games, no one will say a word.
People can say whatever they want about Scott Boras; but this wasn’t a situation where he steered a free agent pitcher somewhere he didn’t want to go. Zito stayed at home and he got his money. He was helped by the convergence of events, but Boras got what Zito wanted when he hired him; and the Giants are going to possibly contend in a weak division because of it.
Scott Boras’s reputation as being the Emperor Palpatine among agents—–bane to frugal owners; seductive attraction to players seeing the riches bestowed upon his clients; loathed by baseball purists who consider his acts to be that of a organized crime boss—–has been taking a beating this winter. Is this the first act in a rebellion against the practices of the agent everyone other than Boras’s clients seems to hate?
Much like any rebellion, this tide has turned slowly. Prior to this turn of events, Boras has gotten everything he has asked for his clients whether he had any negotiating leverage or not. The cracks in the armor began with the botched negotiations with the Red Sox for Daisuke Matsuzaka.
With the posting fee that the Red Sox doled out for the rights to negotiate with the Japanese star, Boras and his client had nowhere to go; and with the open secret that Matsuzaka had no desire whatsoever to return to Japan, Boras had no leverage at all with the Red Sox and wound up getting a contract that could probably have been negotiated with a good pay-by-the-hour lawyer.
If that didn’t sully Boras enough, the J.D. Drew contract that he so cleverly negotiated with the Red Sox before the Matsuzaka deal still hasn’t been finalized due to the Red Sox concerns with the condition of Drew’s shoulder. After abandoning the Dodgers by activating the clause that allowed Drew to become a free agent after two seasons in Los Angeles drew rancor from the Dodgers; the decision seemingly benefited his client; and Drew seems to be chasing every last dollar he can possibly get doing a job that he doesn’t appear too fond of to begin with; but now there has to be questions as to what the true value of the contract is going to be even if it does get done. The holdup in the finalization of the deal can be seen as trepidation on the part of the Red Sox; and an attempt to lower the guaranteed money in the deal.
Now the Barry Zito negotiations are about to lose the favored ****** among all targets of Boras—-Tom Hicks. The Rangers have apparently pulled themselves from the bidding for Zito because, to the shock of many, Hicks has finally smartened up to the fact that he was being used by Boras to drive up the prices of other teams; or was the last resort for Boras’s clients to bleed every single penny from their free agency.
Without the Rangers, the new strategy is the hope that the Yankees deal Randy Johnson and dive into an attempt to sign Zito away from the Mets; this would be a dream for Boras—-two big city teams with immense resources going back and forth for the services of his client. The problem is that the Yankees would have to deal Johnson first; that is far from guaranteed; and they then would have to decide to spend the Johnson money on Zito. Teams may not want to sit and wait for those events to occur.
Mets GM Omar Minaya is patient, but not to the point of being foolish. Last season, the Mets had almost identical deals on the table for catchers Ramon Hernandez and Bengie Molina; when Hernandez signed elsewhere and Molina vacillated, Minaya suddenly turned around and traded for Paul LoDuca; Molina was left to sign a one-year deal with the Blue Jays after all of his other options fell through as well.
Now it’s being said that the San Francisco Giants and Seattle Mariners may be willing to break the barrier of $100 million that Boras and Zito are said to be waiting for. I’d be extremely surprised if the Giants went that high for Zito; so whether or not that is true remains to be seen; but baseball people seem to be getting wise to the games that Boras plays in order to get his clients their money and aren’t falling for them again and again. The old adage: "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" has never applied to baseball owners; but it could be changed to: "Fool me twenty times, shame on you; fool me a twenty-first time, shame on me."
The off season is only half over and there is plenty of time left. Zito may get every dollar and perk that Boras demands; there may be unknown clauses in the contract of Matsuzaka that will guarantee he is paid commensurately with someone of his apparent talents within a couple of years; Drew may get his money, or the incentives the Red Sox are demanding may be shrouded in language that makes Boras look like a genius again in a couple of years. I would hesitate to give desperate and shortsighted baseball owners too much credit in the form of such a 180-degree turn; but this hasn’t been a great off-season for Boras. I may have to eat my words eventually. I’ve always given Boras credit for his creativity in serving his clients and getting them every dollar that they demand; but as of right now, he is doing a similar job as any competent agent would be able to do and has found his attempts to create a Revenge of the Sith style civil war to form an impenetrable power base to be stunted in growth. The revolution in baseball may be beginning; and once the cracks start to manifest themselves, there will be no stopping the eventual fall.
I usually don’t get into back and forth arguments about the Hall of Fame because it’s a war of attrition. How many times do I have to hear talk radio imbeciles go on and on about whether a player was a "stat compiler" or a "dominant player"? Not everyone can be a superstar; some make do with their individual talents and are able to pitch well enough to win a substantial number of games; or hit well enough over a long period of time to be enshrined.
The debate over pitchers such as Tommy John and Bert Blyleven is legitimate. I don’t think that there is any question of Goose Gossage’s qualifications for the Hall of Fame. Ron Santo has been mentioned as being a qualified candidate; but if they put Santo in, then they have to put in Graig Nettles, because Nettles was a better player and a proven post-season performer. These arguments could go on for days and I could be swayed on Santo and Nettles one way or the other; but one player for whom there should be no argument or debate is former Red Sox star Jim Rice.
If ever there was a player who was being punished by the writers for his open dislike of them, it’s Rice. If the voters who consistently run Rice down for specious reasons are doing so because of their own form of revenge against a player who they disliked for disliking them, for such a transgression, they should have their voting rights rescinded. (I know there’s no way to prove their true motivation for voting or not voting for him; but the argument that his stats don’t measure up doesn’t work.)
Jim Rice was a dominant player on a level with Hall of Famer Dave Winfield for twelve straight seasons. He finished in the top five of the MVP voting six times and won the award once; he also won the Rookie of the Year award. Rice was an underrated outfielder who learned to handle the Green Monster in Fenway as well as anyone has ever played it. He was also playing in a very difficult town (especially for black players in the 70s and 80s) to play.
Naysayers claim that when his career ended, his numbers fell off the map and that is why they choose not to vote for him. If his career had ended due to injury, would that change their minds? Rice was a better player than Kirby Puckett; and for a few seasons he was nearly as dominating at the plate as Sandy Koufax was on the mound. The arguments against Rice’s enshrinement are flimsy and only serve to enhance his negative opinion about members of the media who refuse to vote for him based not on statistics and performance, but on some attempt to extract a post-career pound of flesh over a personal vendetta. Those that are perpetrating this crime should be ashamed.
With the recent revelation of the Diamondbacks and Yankees discussing a possible deal that would send Randy Johnson back to the Diamondbacks, the question becomes whether or not this is palatable and wise on both ends. I believe that it would probably be best for all involved if the Yankees were able to send Johnson back to the West Coast, dump his salary, and move forward without him. The Diamondbacks are a team in a weak division with some good pitching, solid young players and a genuine chance to contend next season; Johnson would, if healthy, provide a veteran presence who might be rejuvenated by a return to his home.
Randy Johnson has never appeared to be comfortable in New York; he has accumulated 17 wins in each of his two seasons, but he wasn’t the same dominating pitcher he was in the past. It would be unreasonable to expect him to replicate his Koufax-like numbers from his prime at his advanced age, but his performance has been predominately mediocre——definitely not what was expected of him, nor acceptable considering his salary that stemmed from the contract extension he demanded to allow himself to be traded to the Yankees in the first place.
With the Yankees in the process of a retooling without the overbearing interference of owner George Steinbrenner, GM Brian Cashman appears to be in the process of dispatching the players who were imported based only on the demands of Steinbrenner, rather than due to baseball related decisions. One of those players was Gary Sheffield; another is Randy Johnson.
With Johnson having undergone back surgery following last season and closing out a Hall of Fame career, it would benefit him to be in a warm weather state all year round; his discomfort with New York has been evident since day one and it appeared as though he was abandoning a sinking ship in Arizona for New York and one last chance at a grand payday. He got his money, but in a baseball sense it hasn’t worked out. The Yankees didn’t get the dominant force at the top of their rotation, and Johnson hasn’t delivered the intimidating presence that the Yankees wanted.
On the Diamondbacks end, with the Western Division as weak and winnable as it is, it makes sense to make a bold and decisive move to try and improve enough to realistically contend. If Johnson were to return to the National League and the Diamondbacks, an expectation of 15 wins would be realistic. Combining Johnson with 2006 NL Cy Young Award Winner Brandon Webb would give the Diamondbacks a powerful 1-2 punch. Despite the reports of high demands, when it comes down to zero hour and Yankees really do want to get rid of Johnson, they will presumably lower their demands in terms of players being as desperate as they are to get Johnson’s salary and dour personality off the team; and if the Diamondbacks are willing to take on the salary and wait the situation out to come to an agreement in terms of players, it could be a positive match.
The mere fact that this has come out publicly says that there is significant interest in both sides on getting something done. The same type of thing happened right before the Yankees acquired Alex Rodriguez, where it was reported that there were discussions and the Yankees classified them as simply keeping tabs and exchanging names. Such things wouldn’t be leaked to the press if there weren’t any validity to them or a genuine possibility of them coming to fruition. This won’t happen overnight, but as things are progressing, it may happen after the New Year; and it would be best for everyone involved if it did.