The Prince Of New York’s 2007 Baseball Preview is now available.
The Prince Of New York’s 2007 Baseball Preview
I’m going to include a sample of one of the entire texts for a chosen team. In this case it’s everyone’s favorite "slump buster"—–the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. It may seem long when reading it in a blog, but in the context of a book, the team analyses only last about 8-12 pages each.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays
2006 Record: 61-101; Fifth Place, American League East
Another typical year in the life of the Devil Rays; new owner, new general manager, new managersame result. Hasn’t anyone ever told anyone involved with the Devil Rays the old saying that anyone who does the same things over and over again expecting a different result is bound for frustration?
The Devil Rays took a step back in 2006 from their previous “heights” of 70 wins in 2004, losing 101 games in 2006. The team’s pitching was led by top prospect and 2006 all star Scott Kazmir; and their lineup was led by the unknown star Carl Crawford. The Devil Rays are under the dual sentence of being trapped in a very difficult division and not having a very good team. The 2006 season was dedicated to trying to insert some of the young prospects such as Delmon Young, B.J. Upton, Ben Zobrist, Scott Kazmir and Dioner Navarro into the big league life and building on their talents; they also dispatched some of the remaining veterans that weren’t going to be able to contribute to the Devil Rays improvement.
Over the course of the season, the Devil Rays traded Aubrey Huff, Julio Lugo, Mark Hendrickson and Toby Hall. Some of the young players in the Devil Rays system displayed behaviors that should probably have precluded their being recalled to the big leagues so soon after they occurred. Delmon Young had a much-publicized incident in which he threw his bat at the home plate umpire after being called out on strikes and found himself suspended for 50 games. Top prospect Elijah Dukes was suspended for the rest of the season in August after his pattern of petulant behavior prevented an expected big league recall. B.J. Upton was arrested for speeding and DUI in June.
The Devil Rays have some solid players on their big league roster. Besides Kazmir and Crawford, Rocco Baldelli has proven to be a productive player and solid center fielder; Ty Wigginton turned into a good clubhouse guy and useful, versatile player; Greg Norton showed pop in a limited role; Johnny Gomes hits the ball out of the park and walks a fair amount. Ruddy Lugo showed some ability out of the bullpen; Tim Corcoran showed flashes of future production. Former Red Sox prospect Casey Fossum’s statistics were respectable considering the team he plays for.
The players that were acquired in the trades for their veterans didn’t perform very well. Ben Zobrist and Dioner Navarro were poor and mediocre respectively; Jae Seo didn’t pitch well at all.
In the end, there were a few bright spots, but that’s like looking into the results of an apocalypse and finding a few faint traces of life. There were glimmers of hope, but not many.
2006 POSITIVES: Scott Kazmir; Carl Crawford; Ty Wigginton; Rocco Baldelli.
2006 NEGATIVES: The lack of improvement; lack of progress of prospects in behavior and on-field play; (no need to go into specifics of all the negatives; it will take too long.)
2007 ADDITIONS: INF Brendan Harris was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds.
INF Akinori Iwamura signed three-year contract with club option.
INF Hee-Seop Choi signed minor league contract.
OF Dustan Mohr signed minor league contract.
RHP Jae Kuk Ryu was acquired from the Chicago Cubs.
2007 SUBTRACTIONS: OF Damon Hollins was not re-signed.
RHP Tyler Walker was released.
RHP Brian Meadows was not re-signed.
2007 PROJECTED LINEUP: 1B-Ty Wigginton; 2B-Jorge Cantu; 3B-Akinori Iwamura;
SS-Ben Zobrist; LF-Carl Crawford; CF-Rocco Baldelli; RF-Delmon Young;
C-Dioner Navarro; DH-Greg Norton/Jonny Gomes
2007 PROJECTED STARTING ROTATION: Scott Kazmir; Casey Fossum; Jae Seo; Tim Corcoran; James Shields
2007 PROJECTED BULLPEN: Dan Miceli; Ruddy Lugo; Shawn Camp; Jon Switzer; J.P. Howell; Edwin Jackson
2007 POSSIBLE CONTRIBUTORS:
PITCHERS: Chad Orvella; Jeff Niemann; Jason Hammel; Seth McClung; Brian Stokes; James Shields; Mitch Talbot; Al Reyes; Doug Waechter
HITTERS: B.J. Upton; Elijah Dukes; Brendan Harris; Josh Paul; Joel Guzman; Hee-Seop Choi; Dustan Mohr; Raul Casanova
Devil Rays fans who felt liberated when the terrifying reign of owner Vince Naimoli and General Manager Chuck LaMar finally ended should be reacting with righteous indignation at the results under the stewardship of new owner Stewart Sternberg.
After so many years of ineptitude and regression, there was hope when the tandem of Naimoli and LaMar were finally gone. That hope is diminishing with each passing day that the Devil Rays continue to be operated as though they are the plaything of some young, rich men who, tired of the workaday world, have placed their focus on running a baseball team as though it were an enjoyable diversion.
When Sternberg took over, the first thing he should have done to create some semblance of organization and baseball know-how would have been to hire a veteran, experienced baseball man to take control of the operation from top to bottom. He should have tried to create an atmosphere that people weren’t entering the dregs of the major leagues and a place run unprofessionally by people who were unprofessional.
There should have been an effort to create stability in an organization by the mere presence of someone that has had previous success and knows how things should be. Instead, Sternberg turned to two people with whom he was familiar in his investment banking dealings in club president Matthew Silverman and executive vice president in charge of baseball operations Andrew Friedman.
Anyone who has read Moneyball and believed every word in the slanted book as though it were the new gospel presented by the baseball gods thinks that there is a formula to creating a baseball team. That formula, if followed will result in a certainty of performance from the players. No longer are the eyes of scouts who have spent their lives watching baseball players and analyzing them based on their judgement and statistical performance treated with the reverence they once were. It’s quite simple, place the numbers into a machine and out pops an on base percentage wielding, power hitting machine who will deliver the goods to those that are smart enough to see his inherent value. What people are failing to notice however, is that there has been only one team that has been able to field a successful team utilizing the theories within that book, and that is the man about whom the book was based—-Billy Beane—-and his team—-the Oakland Athletics. Every other team that utilizes the so-called Moneyball theory of hiring non-baseball men to run their organizations and are relying on everything other than the techniques that have been utilized from time immemorial has failed miserably or has abandoned the tactics for a more traditional approach.
Maybe those that thought they had discovered the “formula” (especially the book’s author, Michael Lewis, whose slanted view of Beane’s strategies has been the impetus for all of the failures by susceptible owners and their hires) should consider the idea that Beane is really smarter than all of these other people and is, in fact, not simply using a series of statistics developed by Bill James (now a Red Sox employee, whose team hasn’t had the most success with some of their imports over the past couple of years); but is using other methods as well as the tool of statistics.
The reality that it just isn’t as simple as it is made out to be has apparently been lost on people such as Sternberg, who, in hiring Friedman as his head of baseball operations, has created another disaster for the dwindling number of fans of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
I take offense to the implication that anyone, from any walk of life, can simply walk into baseball at the age of 29 and suddenly run an organization and expect to be a success at it. The reasons given under auspices of Friedman’s “experience” are that he acquired a baseball scholarship to Tulane, and that he is a long time player of rotisserie baseball.
This reminds me of a story I once heard (I think it was on Howard Stern’s show) about Eddie Van Halen when he and David Lee Roth were at the height of their fame together, but were unable to get along. Van Halen had supposedly beaten up Roth; he was later asked, “Isn’t David Lee Roth like a black belt in karate or something?” To which Van Halen replied incredulously, “Yeah? So?” That’s what I say to Friedman’s baseball “qualifications”: Yeah? So?
The simple fact is that these people who play rotisserie baseball and think that it is going to be the exact same thing to construct a real baseball team consisting of human beings are just as inept as the fired Chuck LaMar; more so, because at least LaMar, for all of his faults, was coming from a baseball background. If the failures of Paul DePodesta with the Los Angeles Dodgers; or the sudden change of philosophy of the Red Sox under Theo Epstein aren’t convincing enough, perhaps looking at the disaster that is being wrought in Tampa Bay might change a few minds.
If Sternberg was so intent of having someone like Friedman be a member of his team’s front office, what he should have done was to hire an experienced veteran baseball man who would be willing to both rebuild the franchise from top to bottom and teach the neophyte Friedman everything he knew, and then step aside after four or five years. There are plenty of baseball men to at least ask if they’d be interested in such an arrangement. Gene Michael of the Yankees; former Dodgers GM Fred Claire; former Red Sox GM Dan Duquette; Phillies executive Dallas GreenI could name names for ten pages. Yet Sternberg decided that Friedman was his man. Gerry Hunsicker, a qualified baseball man is assisting the inexperienced front office in running the team, but it’s unclear how much influence he is having in what is going on in Tampa Bay. From the lack of decisive movement, it doesn’t appear as though he’s helping very much.
There is a decided lack of direction in the Devil Rays organization. The absence of any acquisitions to improve the team over this off-season is proof that the indecisiveness stems from there being an absence of quality minds who know the ins and outs of running a baseball team present. Discipline is non-existent. Players are doing whatever they want throughout the organization without fear of reprisal. The behavior of a top prospect such as Delmon Young, behavior which managed to get him suspended for 50 games, should have precluded a promotion to the big leagues late last season; yet there was Young in Tampa with the Devil Rays. It’s a symptom of a disease that is not being treated.
As time passes and the team continues to muddle it’s way through as the whipping boy of the rest of the American League; as one talented player after another either leaves the Devil Rays or refuses to join them because of the disarray, perhaps the realization will come to those in command that there should be someone who has the experience and cachet to say, “This is how things are going to be from now on,” rather than hiring someone who is being called “whip smart” because after being on the job for a certain amount of time, he’s finally getting an idea as to what goes into running a baseball team, yet is still afraid to do anything for fear of being criticized. A team like the Devil Rays that has to be completely rebuilt from the bottom up, doesn’t have the time to sit and wait for the man who is the Vice President in charge of Baseball Operations to learn what he’s doing and find the courage to make a trade in which the possibility exists that he’ll get criticized. This organization is a disaster, and will remain so until someone who knows what he is doing is put in charge. If I were a fan of the Devil Rays, I wouldn’t be holding my breath waiting for that to happen.
Manager Joe Maddon has been criticized for a supposed lack of discipline; his players supposedly were given video game systems to play in their hotel rooms on the road, among other criticisms. Maddon was a coach with the Angels for a long time working under an excellent manager in Mike Scioscia, and was around quality people like Gene Mauch. He deserves a chance to show what he can do with a team that has some genuine talent. There are some good players on the roster such as Scott Kazmir, Rocco Baldelli and Carl Crawford; and other players who would have use on a better team such as Jonny Gomes. But it’s hard to gauge a manager on a team like this one without strong, experienced leadership in the front office.
If Lou Piniella couldn’t get anything done with this team, what chance does Joe Maddon have? The team hasn’t changed all that much from the players that Piniella had during his tenure, so there won’t be much of a change under Maddon. There are some players in the Devil Rays organization who have had discipline problems in the minors who probably aren’t going to put too much stock in what Maddon has to say. Until this organization begins to bring in some talent, it’s difficult to give an honest and accurate appraisal of Maddon’s managerial abilities.
Scott Kazmir made the all star team last season and showed the abilities the made him a top draft pick of the Mets; but one of the proffered reasons (excuses?) that the Mets gave when they stupidly traded Kazmir for Victor Zambrano was that Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson felt that with Kazmir’s motion and build, he was a prime candidate for a physical breakdown. That assessment was vilified in the New York press, but how does it look now that Kazmir missed a substantial amount of time with shoulder woes?
I’ve seen Kazmir pitch and his stuff is electric; but his body and motion are warning signs for a future of injuries. I believe that Kazmir and the Devil Rays would be better suited if the pitcher were made into a closer. He doesn’t have the build to handle the 215-225 innings that a quality starter must be counted on to provide; and the Devil Rays don’t have the bullpen to be able to limit the number of innings that Kazmir is going to need to throw to keep his team competitive.
The same problem that the team has in being built exists in making such a bold decisionthey don’t have anyone to analyze the pitcher and decide that the best thing for him is to make the change that will benefit both him and his team, the decision to make Kazmir a closer. My guess is that they’ll leave him in the rotation and run the increased risk of him getting injured, rather than make the bold, gutsy (and correct) decision to make him into a short reliever. The pitcher getting injured is better than the front office being criticized I suppose.
Casey Fossum’s stats were relatively good last season; he’s lefty and his stuff is good enough to be a serviceable big league pitcher. He’s just on a team in which he has to be perfect to win some games.
Tim Corcoran also showed some potential as a starter during last season. He got off to a fast start and struggled as the season wore on, but he does have ability.
Jae Seo has been with three organizations over the past year and a half; despite his flashes of brilliant with the Mets, he was horrendous with the Dodgers last season. The Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson and the Mets previous coach, the late Vern Ruhle, both had problems with Seo listening to their advice. There were also the reports of his getting lazy when he thinks he has a spot in the rotation sewn up. He has the ability to be a useful back of the rotation pitcher if he gets over his stubbornness. Whether he’ll be able to maintain his attention span on a team that is a good bet to lose 100+ games is a big question.
Top draft pick from 2004, the immense (6’9”, 260 lbs.) Jeff Niemann has shown great ability and should be ready for a chance in the big leagues relatively soon. They should give him a shot at the rotation this season.
The cupboard is bare. Last season’s leader in saves, Tyler Walker, was released. Presumably, veteran Dan Miceli will get a chance to close games; he’s done it before with modest success.
Ruddy Lugo has shown that he can be an effective reliever in the major leagues. Edwin Jackson threw bullets before getting injured shortly after the Devil Rays acquired him from the Dodgers; perhaps he can come back and help this moribund bullpen.
Others such as Shawn Camp, Jon Switzer, J.P. Howell and Brian Stokes all had chances in the majors last season; there will be many open jobs in the Devil Rays bullpen that they will have a chance to compete for.
The Devil Rays could use some veteran presence in the bullpen to provide guidance and performance to the young pitchers.
Ty Wigginton was a pickup off the scrap heap that turned into a versatile and productive player; he’s hard nosed and can set an example for the younger players about persistence.
Jorge Cantu showed some pop in his bat; but hit for a mediocre average and had a terrible on base percentage. His fielding percentage of .973 and 13 errors is weak for someone who only played in 107 games last season.
Ben Zobrist was a prospect acquired in the Aubrey Huff trade. He’s big and had excellent stats in the minors; this was his first chance to play in the big leagues and struggled. There is talent there that must be unlocked.
The Devil Rays signed Japanese infielder Akinori Iwamura, presumably to play third base and first base. His stats in the Japanese league show a player with power (last season was his career year with 44 homers, a total he never came close to before), but who knows what he’ll do in the majors? It should be a telling sign that he wasn’t in such high demand and that the Devil Rays were able to get him at all.
Carl Crawford is a star whose numbers measure up to Rickey Henderson at the same point in his career. The continuous losing of playing with the Devil Rays and hopelessness for the future haven’t seemed to affect Crawford’s enthusiasm for playing the game. He’s a shining light in the miserable darkness of Tropicana Field.
Rocco Baldelli has been mentioned in trade rumors because of the glut of young outfielders that the Devil Rays have in their system. Baldelli is a hustling, hard-nosed player who became a favorite of Lou Piniella while he was the Devil Rays manager; being traded might be the best thing that could happen for Baldelli.
Delmon Young’s behavior is not going to change until he is properly disciplined; bringing him to the big leagues after that disgraceful display in the minors of throwing his bat at an umpire with whom he disagreed was the lowlight of a series of incidents involving Young. Selfishness and arrogance have been two terms that have pockmarked all of the talent that Young has shown; until he is put into his place, being in the big leagues, with all the inherent distractions and without veteran guidance is a recipe for disaster.
Elijah Dukes and B.J. Upton have had similar charges against them; until the Devil Rays find someone to reason with these young players and teach them how to behave, they’re going to have little choice but to tolerate them (the probable result), or get rid of them (what a veteran, experienced baseball man might do for the overall health of the organization.)
Dioner Navarro has been a player that other teams have salivated over and then, once they unwrapped the package, have traded almost immediately. His performance in his chance to play in the big leagues last season was mediocre. It’s hard to say what the team is going to get out of him. He should get a chance to play regularly to see what he can do.
The Devil Rays have several hitters who can help as DH. Greg Norton and Jonny Gomes have shown the ability to contribute with power and both have decent on base percentages.
The Devil Rays acquired Brendan Harris from the Cincinnati Reds, presumably to be a utility infielder. B.J. Upton will have a chance to make the big league club and get some at bats at third base and possibly shortstop; he has a wealth of talent should he behave himself. Dustan Mohr is a veteran pinch hitter whom the Devil Rays have invited to spring training as a non-roster player; I would expect him to make the team. Hee-Seop Choi has become a journeyman, but he does have power; he too has been invited to spring training. He’ll have to have a strong spring to make the team. Elijah Dukes is another player with a wealth of ability and attitude issues. If there is any way to bridle the three young playersYoung, Upton and Dukesthe Devil Rays have chips with which to deal or some talented players to put out on the field; the key is to get them to behave themselves in the big leagues.
WIN RANGE: 58-68
This organization is a rudderless disaster. They have an owner who appears to be treating the team as a retirement plaything; a head of baseball operations whose main qualifications are that he played baseball in college and that he was a rotisserie baseball fanatic; a group of young players who don’t listen to anyone and who didn’t show the maturity necessary to handle the “kid in the candystore” life that is inherent with being in the major leagues; a raw starting pitching staff; a porous bullpen; a miserable ballpark and a disinterested fan base.
The only hope that they have is if somehow, someway Kazmir becomes a Cy Young contender and wins 22 games; if Seo becomes the pitcher he briefly was with the Mets; if Niemann comes to the big leagues and dominates as he did in college; if Upton, Dukes and Young are able to lose their labels as out of control discipline cases and put up big numbers; if Iwamura is the same player he was last season in Japan; if Crawford continues his improvement; if Navarro becomes the prospect that had so many teams coveting him; if the veterans perform above their career averages. Then the Devil Rays have a chance to win perhaps 75 games in a tough division. Then perhaps the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus will appear on Dancing with the Stars wearing Devil Rays jerseys. In other words, it’s not going to happen.
After a couple more years of this, perhaps Friedman will be “whip smart” enough, or will “learn on the fly” that he doesn’t know how to run a major league baseball team and will go to Sternberg and tell him that perhaps he should hire someone with the qualifications to turn around a moribund franchise that is diminishing in value to the point that major league baseball might want to consider taking a page out of the book of European soccer and relegating them to a lower league.
The Devil Rays are an irrelevant embarrassment; I don’t see anything on their horizon to make me think anything is going to change anytime soon.