- Screwing Up Spring Training Basics:
It’s amazing how many routine plays that are repeated in torturous spring training drills are being screwed up so routinely. Last night, Dodgers starter Hiroki Kuroda threw a ball to third to try and get the lead runner on a bunt play and pulled the Blake DeWitt off the base making everyone safe; on Sunday, Conor Jackson threw a ball into left field trying to start a 3-6-3 double play; again and again we see pitchers throw the ball off line to second base after inducing a comebacker for a routine double play; last week, in that embarrassing, mistake-filled game against the Pirates, the Mets made a debacle of a simple rundown play. It would be one thing if these were unusual plays that rarely come up during a game, but these are the exact things that are worked on over and over again in spring training. Bunt plays are practiced; double plays are replicated; pickoffs and rundowns are simulated—-and still big league players are looking like something out of The Naked Gun. What’s so hard about throwing a ball directly to the base on a comebacker? The pitcher is supposed to turn and fire directly to the base and it’s the responsibility of the designated middle infielder to cover the base; what’s so hard?
It’s this attention to fundamentals that allowed teams managed by the likes of Earl Weaver, Billy Martin, Buck Showalter, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox to win so consistently. If the manager isn’t paying the proper attention to these relatively straightforward plays and making sure the intricacies are drilled in, how are they expecting the players to get them right when the time comes?
- Eaton away at the Phillies chances to win:
As a rule, I avoid using economics terms when discussing baseball because I find the trend incredibly annoying and pretentious, but with Adam Eaton, I find it to be appropriate because the pitcher has become the epitome of the “sunk cost”. There’s nothing that can be done about his contract for which he’s making an average of $8 million for this year and next, so the Phillies should either yank him from the rotation or make him the long man out of the bullpen because he is non-competitive in the games he starts.
After last year’s woeful campaign, were the Phillies expecting anything more than what he’s given them so far this season? He’ll pitch perhaps five, maybe six innings; walk a few guys; give up a homer; and leave the game having allowed at least three runs. Last night, he walked the opposing pitcher, Diamondbacks starter Randy Johnson, on four pitches with the bases loaded. It’s not as if Eaton’s providing anything of value; the Phillies could assuredly find someone on the waiver wire to pitch more competently than Eaton has since joining the Phillies, so how much longer are they going to continue trotting him out there? My guess is when (and if) Kris Benson is ready to join the big league club, that’ll be it for Eaton in the Phillies rotation and it won’t be a moment too soon.
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Since Jay Gibbons’s bulging biceps (that he dutifully showed off while playing) and solid power numbers were aided by PEDs, wouldn’t it be reasonable now that he’s apparently unable to perform for the Orioles to try and recoup some or all of the money still owed on his contract? Gibbons signed a four-year, $21.1 million contract in January 2006—-ESPN Story—-and in addition to the PED revelations, he only played in 84 games last year and his numbers this spring make him look like he’d be lucky to get out of A ball without the special “help” of PEDs. With the Orioles releasing him, why are they so agreeable to paying off the remainder of that contract? It seems to me that in this case, they’d have a pretty solid argument for a player’s performance misleading them into thinking he was worth all of that money and could void the contract.
I’m no lawyer, but the players contracts have morals clauses to get the team out of paying the player if they commit a severe enough crime, so what about the small print that shields the teams in the case of someone like Gibbons? Jay Gibbons was a steroids-assisted player, capitalized on it by receiving a lavish contract, then couldn’t perform once testing came into baseball; why is he still receiving his paychecks as the Orioles are dumping him? The money isn’t the point, but it’s not like it’s a small amount either. We’re talking about almost $12 million going to a guy who’s unlikely to get picked up by another team and isn’t going to be seen on a big league diamond again; not because of the PED usage, but because he can’t play without them.
This is what’s so strange about these contracts; I would think that a team like the Orioles could at least try and get some of that wasted money back. Just as I suggested weeks ago that the Yankees should sue Carl Pavano for not putting forth a reasonable effort to fulfill his part of the agreement he signed when he joined them, the case of Gibbons is more clear cut. At least Pavano has his injuries (as piddly as some of them have appeared, and as uninterested in making any kind of good faith attempt to come back) to fall back on. Gibbons has no argument to say that he was a good enough player without the PEDs that he would have gotten the contract anyway, because it’s quite obvious that he wouldn’t have.
As reviled as some owners are (specifically someone like Peter Angelos), they have rights as well. One of those rights should be a good-faith performance from their highly paid employees. Angelos’s legal career was made by representing labor unions; one would think that he’d be able to get some of that wasted money back if he really wanted to. And it’s not the money itself, it’s the principle. The guy’s unable to play anymore because he can’t use the drugs, so why should he still be getting paid?
Please check out my new book The Prince Of New York’s 2008 Baseball Guide, also available on Amazon.com and BN.com.
- Astros Release Woody Williams:
For a team with as many issues in their starting rotation as the Astros, this doesn’t say much about what Woody Williams has left in the tank. That being said, I think that (as Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman seem to be implying here) it’s not very fair to judge a veteran starter on spring training performance.
I can see both sides of the argument. The Astros coaching staff and management must have figured that Williams wasn’t going to improve much on last year’s awful showing and it made no sense to put him out there if he couldn’t compete; on the other hand, veterans (especially those that get by on location and changing speeds) need time to get their timing down and legs under them; releasing them before the season even starts makes no sense, especially for a team with the issues in their starting rotation that the Astros have.
I’m not prepared to say Williams is done. The Astros are paying his salary; many teams who need some veteran starting pitching for the back of the rotation will look at a veteran that knows how to pitch. Even if he can only help them win a game or two, that’s not insignificant in the long term; someone’s going to pick him up and try to get something out of him.
- Many Are Suddenly Down On The Angels:
With all their injuries, specifically to 2/5 of their starting rotation in John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar and the indispensable Scot Shields, I can understand the sudden wariness at the Angels prospects this season. That the Mariners have seemingly improved so much makes it even easier to pick the Mariners in the division instead. I’m not prepared to give up on the Angels though. Because their pitching is so deep and they’re run so well, it’s not as catastrophic for a team like the Angels to have so many injuries, especially in the early season.
One thing I point to with the Angels in regard to how their system wins them games is 2006. Their starting pitching staff was shaky in spots; their bullpen wasn’t as deep as usual and their offense was mediocre at best; they fell to nine games under .500 at nearly the halfway point in that season and were still able to right the ship in time to win 89 games and put a scare into the division champion Athletics. It says more what a team does in a bad year than what they do in a good year and the Angels always find a way to win enough games to keep themselves in contention. That comes from management and team commitment.
I like the new graphics and everything they’re trying to improve. I’m not all that thrilled about the filter that’s editing the word C-R-A-P (who knows what other innocuous words from the past are being blotted out); nor do I think it was a great idea to get this moving right before the season started, but I think that was due to circumstances beyond everyone’s control. I also don’t like the idea of filtering the comments for approval, but that’s arguable. Hopefully the personal design stuff (Links, BOOKS—-The Prince Of New York’s 2008 Baseball Guide also available on Amazon.com and BN.com, and other things we use to personalize our blogs) will be available soon.
There appears to be an attempt afoot for the Mets to put little whispers in the wind about players that they let go to soften the blow of public protest. The latest is Ruben Gotay. On today’s Mike and the Mad Dog radio show on WFAN, there were implications (nothing specific) that Gotay may have been a bad influence on Jose Reyes. This dovetails with the nuggets that were planted in the media this past off season about Luis Castillo when there was a question as to whether he was going to return to the Mets as a free agent. There was circumstantial evidence that Castillo was having a "bad" influence on Reyes, which led to Reyes’s awful second half swoon. I do not understand the idea behind this other than self-preservation.
First, is Jose Reyes so easily influenced and naive that he blindly follows other players into their behaviors? One would think that Reyes, given his burgeoning fame and gregarious reputation, would be the one that the other players would be following, not the other way around. If Gotay is being let go because he’s truly a "bad" influence, it would be one thing, but if the Mets are just putting this out there to shield themselves for making a decision that could come back to haunt them, it’s a trend that has been in practice for awhile. They did the same thing with Scott Kazmir when they stupidly traded him to the Devil Rays, and Lastings Milledge received similar treatment on his way out the door.
Both Kazmir and Milledge were top round draft picks who received hefty signing bonuses from the Mets when they were drafted. Didn’t the Mets look into the backgrounds of these players before using a top pick and doling out millions of dollars for their signatures on a contract? Or is it just politically expedient to say, "We were concerned about him off the field," and justify an ill-thought-out decision? This is the same team that put up with Paul Lo Duca for two years; kept a maniac like Mike DiFelice around; had guys like Tony Tarasco on their roster; and allowed John Franco to essentially make personnel decisions for the front office. None of these players have squeaky clean resumes either.
Once David Eckstein turned down the Mets offer to play second base for them, they had few options other than to get Castillo back, then came the stories that the Mets "looked into" the Reyes/Castillo allegations and found nothing to substantiate the claims. Ruben Gotay might very well be a bad influence on Reyes and if that’s the case, good riddance; but is it necessary to plant these little stories to protect themselves in the case of a player who leaves and becomes productive if it’s not even true? It strikes me as hedging bets and if a person in the front office has confidence in his decisions—-even if they don’t work out—-he should have the confidence to make the move and not resort to making the player look bad as he’s heading out the door. It’s called taking the high road.
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- Mets Put Gotay On Waivers:
Someone’s going to claim Ruben Gotay and the Mets are going to lose his potentially lethal bat for no reason other than manager Willie Randolph doesn’t think he can field and the organization, for some unfathomable reason, wants to keep Fernando Tatis or Brady Clark. There may be things going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about in regards to this move, but unless we’re informed of those things, I have to make judgments based on face value; on face value, this decision makes no sense. The logic is so fractured that it’s bordering on the absurd. The Mets decided that Gotay can’t field well enough, nor hit from the right side well enough to justify keeping him on the roster, yet they cut him and instead of keeping another middle infielder, they have a backup third baseman and apparent backup left fielder in Tatis, and a pure journeyman outfielder in Clark.
I also have some concerns about Randolph’s talent recognition skills and decision-making. It seems to me that Randolph makes decisions based on his experiences as a player. He doesn’t think Gotay can field because it’s quite possible that he’s comparing Gotay as a second baseman to himself. Randolph was a fine all-around player, but that doesn’t mean a potential backup infielder has to be a comparable player to Willie Randolph to be useful. Randolph has done things like this before with his insistence on using Joe Smith last year while the rookie was clearly overmatched as the season wore on; then there was the egregious 2005 decision to use the recently released Shingo Takatsu in an important game against the Marlins only to see Takatsu blow the game. Both threw sidearm, and if I were to check Randolph’s history against sidearmers, I bet I’d find that he didn’t hit them well.
It would be all well and good if they had to choose between a guy like Marlon Anderson and Gotay; that would be a no-brainer and they’d have to keep Anderson, but they’re going to use Damion Easley if they need a backup infielder and then make roster moves to bring up someone like Anderson Hernandez if they need an infielder for a longer period of time (or they might just bring back Jose Valentin). And all of this is in the interests of keeping Fernando Tatis or Brady Clark. And Gotay can hit left-handed and since he’s only 25, who’s to say his right-handed hitting and fielding wouldn’t improve enough to make him viable. Instead of Tatis or Clark, they might as well just keep an extra pitcher. This was just a bad mistake.
- Rolen Possibly Out Until May With Finger Injury:
Scott Rolen’s reputation has taken a beating with a second ugly divorce from his previous team because of irreconcilable differences with his manager, first with the Phillies and Larry Bowa and then with the Cardinals and Tony La Russa. One thing that is somewhat unfair is when he gets lumped in with other injury-prone and disinterested players like Carl Pavano, J.D. Drew and Mark Prior. Rolen’s injuries have either been out of bad luck or because he plays very, very hard; but they’re still injuries and they keep him out of the lineup for extended periods on a regular basis. Now this finger injury, which sounds gruesome—-MLB.com Story—-is likely to keep him out of the Blue Jays lineup until May. The Blue Jays (and especially GM J.P. Ricciardi) need Rolen to be on the field and the player he was two years ago.
I wouldn’t have made the trade of Troy Glaus for Rolen because of the way in which Rolen has had problems with his managers; his injury history and his contract. Glaus has a player option after this year and Rolen is still signed for the next three seasons. No matter what happened with Glaus, the worst case scenario had him as a Blue Jay for the next two years and hungry for another big contract this year. Even though he was just unlucky, Rolen is always hurt and if he’s not in the lineup, he can’t help the team contend, which I think they’re going to have to do to save Ricciardi’s job. It was too risky a move and it’s already looking bad because they’re not going to have Rolen for at least the first month, and who knows what they’re going to get out of him when he comes back?
- The Prince Of New York’s 2008 Baseball Guide:
The book jumped about 900,000 spots on Amazon.com and I’m grateful to whomever has purchased a copy. For those who haven’t, it’s also available on BN.com and at the following link in paperback and E-book: I-Universe.com.
In 2000, after one-quarter of the season, the Mets were obviously a playoff and World Series contender when starting shortstop Rey Ordonez broke his arm against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Backup Melvin Mora was inserted into the lineup and his fielding gave the Mets pause as to whether they could trust his glove in a big game. Manager Bobby Valentine had an affinity for Mora and felt he was one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, but GM Steve Phillips decided that he couldn’t trust Mora as his shortstop, sought a defensively minded and offensively solid replacement and consummated the deal at the trading deadline which sent Mora to the Orioles for Mike Bordick.
Bordick had developed into a power threat for the Orioles, hit only four homers with the Mets, played in 56 games in the regular season, didn’t hit at all in the playoffs and was benched in the final game of the World Series in favor of the better-hitting Kurt Abbott. Bordick returned to the Orioles as a free agent after the season and Mora has developed into a highly productive bat in his time with the Orioles. There was no short-term gain for the Mets and they would have been better off going with Mora and dealing with his shortcomings rather than make this desperation move.
This would all be ancient history because the Mets wouldn’t have beaten the Yankees that year with or without Mora, but they’re poised to make a similar mistake with another solid bat in dumping Ruben Gotay in favor of the washed up Fernando Tatis for reasons that aren’t entirely clear—-NY Times Story—-and the decision might yield similar results.
Gotay isn’t a very good fielder and the basis of keeping Tatis seems to be that he bats right-handed and Gotay is a switch-hitter who is weak from the right side, but other than that what would be the explanation for this type of decision? Gotay, at age 25, has nowhere to go but up in his defensive work and has proven that he can hit and hit with some power; Tatis is 33; was out of the big leagues last year; batted 56 times for the Orioles in 2006 with poor production; and was out of the big leagues for two years before that. Are the Mets really going to risk trying to get Gotay through waivers (he’s out of minor league options) to keep Fernando Tatis on their roster?
Never mind the absence of a true backup middle infielder if they choose to go this route; never mind the righty-lefty stuff. If the Mets were torn between a solid righty bat who could be counted on for production off the bench and Gotay, it would be one thing, but this is Fernando Tatis we’re talking about. If the Mets actually do this, they’re going to lose Gotay and his bat and probably get little or nothing in return for him. Is Tatis worth that? It’s a stupid idea to consider and even stupider if they follow through on it. Fernando Tatis indeed.
Please check out my new book The Prince Of New York’s 2008 Baseball Guide, also available on Amazon.com and Barnes And Noble.
There have been many searches for guesses as to which player is going to lead their respective leagues in which categories (presumably due to fantasy league stuff; just for the record, I don’t play fantasy baseball and the overwhelming majority of my fantasies have little if anything to do with sports). With that in mind, here are my predictions for the league leaders in the important categories:
- Batting Average—-Amercian League: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners; National League: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
- Hits—-American League: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners; National League: Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies
- Runs—-American League: Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees; National League: Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies
- Singles—-American League: Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle Mariners; National League: Willy Taveras, Colorado Rockies
- Doubles—-American League: Grady Sizemore, Cleveland Indians; National League: David Wright, New York Mets
- Triples—-American League: Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Rays; National League: Jose Reyes, New York Mets
- Home Runs—-American League: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers; National League: Mark Teixeira, Atlanta Braves
- RBI—-American League: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers; National League: Mark Teixeira, Atlanta Braves
- Walks—-American League: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox; National League: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies
- Strikeouts—-American League: Curtis Granderson, Detroit Tigers; National League: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies
- Stolen Bases—-American League: Chone Figgins, Los Angeles Angels; National League: Jose Reyes, New York Mets
- On Base Percentage—-American League: Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees; National League: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies
- Slugging %—-American League: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers; National League: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies
- OPS+—-American League: Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers; National League: Mark Teixeira, Atlanta Braves
- Extra Base Hits—-American League: Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees; National League: Matt Holliday, Colorado Rockies
- Wins—-American League: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers; National League: Aaron Harang, Cincinnati Reds
- ERA—-American League: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers; National League: Johan Santana, New York Mets
- Win/Loss %—-American League: C.C. Sabathia, Cleveland Indians; National League: Johan Santana, New York Mets
- Strikeouts—-American League: C.C. Sabathia, Cleveland Indians; National League: Johan Santana, New York Mets
- WHIP—-American League: C.C. Sabathia, Cleveland Indians; National League: Aaron Harang, Cincinnati Reds
- Walks—-American League: Daniel Cabrera, Baltimore Orioles; National League: Carlos Zambrano, Chicago Cubs
- Hits Allowed per 9 IP—-American League: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers; National League: Johan Santana, New York Mets
- Innings Pitched—-American League: C.C. Sabathia, Cleveland Indians; National League: Aaron Harang, Cincinnati Reds
- Home Runs Allowed—-American League: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston Red Sox; National League: Aaron Harang, Cincinnati Reds
- ERA+—-American League: C.C. Sabathia, Cleveland Indians; National League: Johan Santana, New York Mets
- Strikeout/Walk Ratio—-American League: C.C. Sabathia, Cleveland Indians; National League: Aaron Harang, Cincinnati Reds
- Adjusted ERA—-American League: C.C. Sabathia, Cleveland Indians; National League: Aaron Harang, Cincinnati Reds
- Shutouts—-American League: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers; National League: Brandon Webb, Arizona Diamondbacks
- Saves—-American League: Francisco Rodriguez, Los Angeles Angels; National League: Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati Reds
- Games Finished—-American League: Joe Nathan, Minnesota Twins; National League: Francisco Cordero, Cincinnati Reds
- Blown Saves—-American League: Joe Borowski, Cleveland Indians; National League: Brad Lidge, Philadelphia Phillies
I’m not a stats-obsessed-guy, so I’m sure I’ve forgotten a couple of things and there’s every possibility that the math doesn’t work out for some of the picks, but this is what I got for your consideration.
Please check out my new book The Prince Of New York’s 2008 Baseball Guide, also available on BN.com and Amazon.com.