Archive for November, 2008
Tuesday, November 25th, 2008
9:40 PM Eastern
We’re in the early days of the off-season free agent frenzy, and there hasn’t been much more about which to talk besides who is offering what to whom. We have yet to see a high-profile, big-money signing, and a lot of people are getting restless.
Personally, I like the fact that baseball doesn’t have that 12:01 AM spendfest that hockey does when free agency begins. The NHL’s system, I think, is a massive joke. Decisions of this magnitude – on the part of the player more than the team, but on the team side, too – require careful, sober thought, time, the opportunity to play the market and/or to play one suitor against another, and if you want to believe that all that can happen in one minute, then fine. The NBA tried to do it that way, too, but it got out of hand and now they have a waiting period in between the allowed start of free agent negotiations and the date on which players can begin to sign free agent contracts. That’s a good way to do it, but baseball does it right. It’s a long off-season, use the time to see what’s happening out there, and to pick your direction.
Right now, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Manny Ramirez are all still out there, with no clear indication as to where any of them will sign, and so are over 150 other free agents, who will be joined by even more at next month’s non-tenderfest. A.J. Burnett’s still out there, too.
Which brings me to one of the things I don’t get. Why is it that the Blue Jays have come out and said that they’re willing to sign Burnett to a long-term, big-money contract, but other than that they’re not going to be too involved in free agency, if at all? I don’t get it. I’ve said many times that I don’t think Burnett is a good risk on a long-term deal, what with his history of injury (two healthy seasons over an eight-year career). There’s no reason to believe that the A.J. Burnett of 2009-2013 is going to be the A.J. Burnett of 2008. I mean, it COULD happen, but it sure isn’t the way to bet. And yet, here are the Blue Jays claiming that he’s their top off-season priority.
It makes sense in that he’s got the same incredible stuff that he had when they signed him three years ago, and that he’s pitched very, very well when he’s been healthy. They know him and he’s comfortable here, so why shouldn’t he be their top priority? Probably because with the current economic global downturn, there’s not much hope for a bump in the Jays’ payroll for the near future. Can they afford to have so much salary locked up in a guy who may only be able to answer the bell half the time? The 21st Century Blue Jays have (almost) never been a team that’s been able to throw cash at their problems, and an unhealthy Burnett would be a big, big problem. Not to mention the fact that by 2010 they could have an embarrassment of starting pitching riches if Dustin McGowan, Casey Janssen and Shaum Marcum all recover well from their injuries.
Offering A.J. a guaranteed five-year deal is more than likely the only way the Jays will be able to bring him back, since he’ll be able to haul in bigger money from a number of teams who are happy to offer four years (his agent says he’s looking at half a dozen), and I can’t see anyone in the front office thinking that signing up for five years of Burnett is a good thing.
That said, I also don’t get why they’re saying that if they fail to sign Burnett, they’re not going to spend the money earmarked for him on other guys. I mean, I understand that there may not be any starting pitchers in that price range who interest them (Jon Garland, Derek Lowe and Ben Sheets each have their red flags – but then, so does Burnett), but why say that if A.J. doesn’t take their money, they’re going to sit it out?
Doesn’t make any sense to me, which is why I don’t believe it. This isn’t the first time that the Blue Jays have said they wouldn’t be busy in the off-season, though. But things come up. A Bengie Molina or David Eckstein becomes available, a G.M calls and offers a Troy Glaus, or a Scott Rolen for that Glaus. Unexpected things pop up all the time, and there’s no reason something can’t happen this year in late December or January.
Something that will definitely happen around that time this year is that the game of musical chairs will stop and somebody will be left standing. Whether it’s a DH-type left looking for a contract when every team has the position filled or a team left looking for a closer once all the top guys have signed, there’s going to be someone out there – likely more than one someone – with whom the Jays will have a fit, and something will get done.
I also don’t get the fan reaction to Ricciardi’s comments to Fine Reporter (TM) Jordan Bastian of mlb.com about not getting involved with any free agents beyond Burnett. A lot of fans, it seems, don’t believe a word that J.P. says unless it’s something that they don’t like. In which case, they think, why would he lie? Truth is, you can’t have it both ways. You have to take EVERYTHING that EVERY general manager says with a very large grain of salt. It’s not fair to pick and choose what you want to believe, regardless of whether it’s stuff that makes you happy or stuff that makes you mad. What’s in it for Ricciardi to come clean to the media and reveal his off-season plans? There’s absolutely nothing to be gained. I know everyone wants to know what’s going to happen before it happens, but we all have to just wait and see.
As an example, let me (ugh) point to the Toronto Maple Leafs. There’s no more blanketed sports franchise in this country. There may even be regular updates on Matt Stajan’s bowel habits, for all I know. We have more hockey experts, insiders, analysts and pundits working in Toronto than taxi drivers, it seems, all of whom have great breadth of insight and contacts. How many of them had the Leafs and Blues making a big trade on Monday more than an hour before it came down? Right.
Another thing I don’t get is why so many people seem to think a B.J. Ryan/J.J. Hardy trade with Milwaukee is such a perfect fit. Forty percent of the Brewers’ starting rotation is on the open market right now, and far more than likely not coming back. They’ll still have Yovani Gallardo and Dave Bush, as well as Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, but do the Brewers imagine themselves a contender in 2009? Do they imagine themselves a closer away from being a contender, as they did last year when they spent a foolish $10 million on Eric Gagne? And Alcides Escobar or otherwise, do they think that moving a shortstop who has hit 50 home runs the last two years is the way to go? Could be, but I don’t think Jays fans should be pinning their hopes on it.
I also don’t get Yellow Submarine. My daughters (7 and 3 1/2) have gotten VERY into The Beatles lately. I’m thrilled with that, I wanted to introduce them to good music and so I got them listening and they got hooked. Then I figured that Yellow Submarine would be the perfect thing to show them, since I remembered that it was a cartoon with a good message (love takes down Blue Meanies) with lots of great music (“Only A Northern Song” excepted). Turns out, though, that it’s pretty much an 85-minute acid trip. Cool enough, but seriously. I get the movie, I guess, but what I don’t get is that my daughters can’t get enough of it. The Gillian must have watched it 10-11 times in a week. She’s 3, and now she knows all the words to “When I’m Sixty-Four”, which is cool, but wow is that movie something else. I don’t recommend watching it sober, and I’m not sure that watching it blitzed would be a good thing, either. I’m sure, though, that the Drunks can let us know.
I also don’t get why ABC would cancel Eli Stone and Pushing Daisies.
If nothing newsworthy happens between now and Saturday, there won’t be another post from me for a week and a half. The girlies and I are shoving off on a cruise this weekend and we’re really looking forward to it. It’s leaving from Puerto Rico, so I’ll try to run into Alex Rios while I’m down there to gain some insight into the Jays’ off-season plans. I wish that I could tell you that I’ll be checking in from the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas in a couple of weeks, but the current climate of belt-tightening has unfortunately caused that business trip to be cancelled. If anything does go down at the Meetings, though, be sure to check in here to find out what I think and, of course, for the best baseball discussion, comment-sectionally, on the interwebs.
To that end, rational, reasonable comments are always welcome.
Monday, November 17th, 2008
11:50 AM Eastern
The post-season awards season concludes this week, with the writers handing out the Most Valuable Player trophies – National League today, American League tomorrow.
I was a perfect six-for-six with my awards predictions last week, and have no illusions about being able to wind up eight-for-eight for a second straight year. The fact is, there are no clear-cut favourites for either league’s MVP award, so it’s mostly guesswork.
National League goes first, and in a perfect world, there’s no question. Albert Pujols was the best player in the senior circuit this season. Pujols hit .357/.462/.653, finishing second to batting champ Chipper Jones in average and in on-base percentage, and leading the loop in slugging and by a hundred points in OPS. Despite missing 14 games to injury and despite his 104 walks (against only 54 strikeouts – amazing), he still led the league in total bases.
So why isn’t Pujols an overwhelming favourite to win the NL MVP? Simple. The Cardinals’ pitching staff sucked. OK, well, it didn’t suck, but it was very average, and despite Pujols’ spectacularitude, the Cards finished 86-76, 11 1/2 games behind the Cubs in the division and four games back of the wild-card Brewers. Were they in the race? Sure, because the Brewers fell back so much over the season’s final few weeks, but were they in a race enough to have the MVP? I’m not sure.
Still, the fact that Pujols finished in the top FOUR in the National League in each of RBIs, multi-hit games, doubles, extra-base hits and batting average with RISP along with the above-mentioned average, on-base, slugging, OPS and total bases should carry a bunch of weight. Add to that that he finished fifth in the league in home runs and RBIs. My vote would go to Pujols, overwhelmingly.
Who’s the competition? Had Manny Ramirez been in the National League one more month, I’d have said it’d be him. Carlos Delgado had a phenomenal second half of the season and may have almost single-handedly pulled the Mets into first place in September, but the Mets blew that lead and sat out the playoffs again. That’ll work against Delgado even more than the Cards’ record will work against Pujols.
So World Series Champion Ryan Howard is the main threat to Big Al and his Big MVP Boat Ride, though the Series has no bearing. Howard led the league in home runs and RBIs, two things that play very well with MVP voters. He played for a division winner, which also plays very well, and he won the MVP two years ago, so he’s got the “pedigree”. There are two major strikes against him, though. He hit .251 and he struck out 199 times. Ask me if I care about those two categories, in the face of all the other stuff, and the answer will be that I don’t- not at all – but a lot of the voters do.
The question for the voters is (was, since they got their votes in a month and a half ago), do the strikes against Howard for his low batting average and high strikeouts outweigh the fact that Pujols’ team didn’t make the playoffs, and wasn’t a factor in the race down the stretch? I’m hoping the answer is no, but I don’t have that kind of confidence.
Remember too, that Howard hit .352/.422/.852 in September, when the Phillies overcame that 3 1/2 game deficit with 17 to play to overtake the Mets and win the division by three. He hit 11 homers and drove in 32 in just 24 starts. Those are the kinds of “clutch” numbers that make MVP voters have to go be alone for a while. One month ought not a season make, but it can sure help.
Even as I’ve written this, I’ve gone back and forth at least a half-dozen times on who I’m going to call for the award. I’ve come up with this: I think that Pujols was the MVP, but I think the fact that Howard led the league in homers and RBIs, combined with his huge September, might be too much for the voters to ignore, so I think that the Phils’ slugger will be the BBWAA’s choice. I hope I’m wrong.
In the American League, I think it’s a three-horse race. Carlos Quentin would have won the award if he wasn’t an idiot. The Sox’ outfielder was running away with things through the end of August, hitting .290/.396/.576, leading the league with 36 homers and having driven in 100 runs for a division leader when he smacked his bat after striking out and broke his wrist, ending his season. Idiot. And let that be a lesson to those of you who complain about not seeing enough outward displays of passion and/or anger on the field.
With Quentin out, the White Sox still held on to win the division in a one-game playoff with the Twins, but he’s out of consideration for the big prize, in large part because of the incredibly selfish act that may have cost his team a World Series bid.
The three horses, I believe, are all-time single-season saves leader Francisco Rodriguez, Red Sox sparkplug Dustin Pedroia and New Westminster’s own Justin Morneau.
It’s strange to say that K-Rod is a front-runner, since the Twins’ closer, Joe Nathan, had a better year that he did (WHIP of 0.90 to 1.29, lower ERA by almost a run, half as many walks in the same number of innings with almost as many strikeouts, opponents hit .179/.242/.279 compared to .216/.314/.316), but that’s the way the cookie crumbles. Rodriguez had a record-setting 62 saves (in 69 opportunites), and Nathan only had 39 (in 45 opportunites).
The fact is though, that those 62 saves dazzle (and may blind) a lot of people, and with no one putting up eye-popping offensive numbers for any playoff team, K-Rod may well take the award. He’s the biggest candidate on the team that had the best record in all of baseball.
Pedroia is a candidate, I think, as much because of buzz as anything else. Generally you don’t see a second baseman who hit 17 homers and drove in 83 runs winning the MVP. But Pedroia came thisclose to winning a batting title, losing out to Joe Mauer by two points, led the league in runs, hits and doubles and was third in times reaching base. He hit .326/.376/.493 and is a major force in the MVP debate half because of all those things and half because he is widely regarded as the catalyst that makes the Red Sox’ engine go. Still, the MVP tends to go to hitters who smack the ball out of the park and drive in runs on a regular basis.
That’s why I think Morneau might take the thing. He wound up hitting .300/.374/.499, driving in 129 runs – almost catching Josh Hamilton, who was running away with everything at the all-star break – despite hitting only 23 homers. He had a very good year, but not a phenomenal one, and unfortunately saved his worst for last, hitting .243/.298/.398 from September 1st on, though he did drive in 21 runs in 26 games. Had Morneau not had his worst OPS (by almost 150 points) of any month of the season in September/October, there wouldn’t even be a debate.
The Rays didn’t have anyone worthy of the MVP – you can’t give it to Grant Balfour – which is too bad, because given what they were able to accomplish this year, a more marginal candidate off that team would have had a good shot.
So who will be the A.L. MVP? I still don’t feel confident about any of those three choices. Hamilton isn’t a factor, by the way, because of his second-half fade. By”fade”, I mean the fact that he drove in 35 runs after the all-star break after driving in 95 before. His OPS was only 35 points lower after the break. Hamilton also loes out because the Rangers were 79-83 and finished over 20 games up the track.
OK, I guess I have to make a choice. K-Rod keeps jumping out to me, for some reason, even though when I started writing this I was pretty sure I was going to say Morneau. Go with your gut, though, right? So K-Rod it is. Even though Joe Nathan was better and won’t even finish in the top 5, maybe even top 10.
Howard and Rodriguez get me 8-for-8 for a second straight awards season. If I was a betting man, I’d say that I’m going to stay stuck on six.
Reasonable, rational comments are always welcome!
Monday, November 10th, 2008
11:45 AM Eastern
It was a good week and a half away.
Thanks to all of you who left such kind words in the comments section after the Phillies did me the huge solid of closing it out in “five”. As a result, the family trip to Boston went off hitch-free, and even included a Birthday Chang’s lunch for my wife, which is the first time we have ever been able to have Birthday Chang’s for anyone in the family besides me (I have a Spring Training birthday, so we’re always in the U.S. then).
It was definitely a good time, I even enjoyed the So You Think You Can Dance Tour show – which is to say I managed to stay awake throughout the show (barely). I think I was charged by the adrenaline rush of the two-mile jog to the arena that our cabbie couldn’t find.
The highlight of the trip was probably taking the kids trick-or-treating through my uncle’s neighbourhood in suburban Wellesley, home of Hilary Clinton’s alma mater and a place where Dee Brown was famously pulled over for DWB. We were asked where we came from a few times, and at one of the houses, the woman at the door said something along the lines of “how wonderful this must be for you, since you don’t have Hallowe’en in Canada”. I came this close to giving her the igloo/indoor plumbing speech.
So now I’m back to my off-season job of being a traffic cop at The Billie’s school (getting parents to love or hate me like just listeners do during the season), and occasionally checking in here. I’ll try to do a better job of getting the comments up on a more timely basis, but I really neeeded the time to decompress.
Now, onto the baseball.
Starting today and over the next week and a half, the annual Baseball Writers’ Association of America Awards will be handed out, beginning with the rookies of the year. I’m going to offer my predictions as to who will win (I’m very confident about four of the eight awards, not confident at all about the others), with NO thought that I’ll be able to repeat last year’s eight-for-eight prediction performance.
I’ll repeat this – there’s a VERY good chance that I will be wrong with most of these predictions, and if I am, I don’t want to hear about it for years to come.
That said, I’m going to tell you who I think WILL win the awards, not who I think deserves to win them. And we’ll start with the easy ones:
Rookie of the Year:
A.L. – Evan Longoria, 3b, Tampa Bay. I’m not sure anyone else is even in the conversation, despite the fact that Longoria didn’t make the team out of Spring Training and missed a month with a broken wrist. He could very well win the award unanimously.
N.L. – Geovany Soto, c, Chicago. Soto and Joey Votto of the Reds (and of Etobicoke!) had very similar numbers in their rookie seasons, finishing within one home run and two RBIs of each other (which is what a lot of the voters look at first and last, unfortunately), but the fact that Soto is a catcher tilts the scales in his favour.
Cy Young Award (N.L. – Tuesday, A.L. – Thursday):
A.L. – Cliff Lee, Indians. There are many arguments to be made as to why Roy Halladay should win this award over Lee, and most of them have a LOT of merit. When you look at the big picture, including WHIP, innings pitched, strength of opposition, everything, Halladay had a better year than Lee. But Cliff Lee went 22-3 AND led the league in ERA. He’ll win, and likely in a walk. Halladay may even be pushed out of the top 3 by Francisco Rodriguez and Dasiuke Matsuzaka.
N.L. – Tim Lincecum, Giants. This is one of the tough ones. Do you go with the guy who had four fewer wins, knowing how much the voters look at that one stat more than seemingly anything else, or do you go with the guy who led the league in strikeouts and finished second in ERA? I’m thinking that Lincecum’s strikeouts and ERA will likely swing the vote his way despite how his 18-5 looks next to Brandon Webb’s 22-7. Maybe.
Manager of the Year (Wednesday):
A.L. – Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay. And it’s foolish to imagine that anyone else will even be considered seriously.
N.L. – Lou Piniella, Chicago. Another one of the tough ones, but Charlie Manuel of the Phillies will lose votes because of the Mets’ collapse, Joe Torre of the Dodgers will lose votes because Manny Ramirez was seen as the thing that got L.A. to the playoffs, and Ned Yost of the Brewers will lose votes because he got fired with a week and a half left in the season. There wasn’t an out-of-nowhere team that made huge, unexpected gains this year, so that leaves Lou. Remember, too, votes were in when everyone saw a 97-win Cubs team that appeared to be headed for post-season glory, not a team that got swept in ugly fashion in the first round.
Next week, they hand out the MVPs, and next Sunday or Monday, I’ll post on who I think will win those awards. Neither of them are slam-dunks by any means.
Until then, reasonable, rational comments are always welcome.