Pitcher News; I Dump My Tickets
The Rockies signed Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year, $10 million deal, one of those arbitration-avoidance specials that have become all the rage the past few years. It's little wonder when guys are getting $10 million for a single season in arbitration -- when they lose. Keenly Dan O'Dowd has managed to attach team options to the deal that could potentially keep Jimenez in Colorado past his first winter on the free agent market. If he can stay healthy. In the past, whenever the Rockies sign a young pitcher to a multiyear deal he has almost immediately gotten injured. Jimenez, who has inefficient mechanics and tends to react to adversity by throwing harder (which any veteran sinkerballer will tell you is pure foolishness), seems a good bet to hold true to form. If I had to quote odds, I would say the chances of his missing a half-season or more sometime during the length of this deal are rather more than 1 in 1. He'll definitely get hurt once, and he'll probably get hurt a second time.
Speaking of pitchers the Rockies extended who almost instantaneously become either ineffective or unable to pitch or both, Jeff Francis won't be able to make it for Opening Day this year. Oh well, little bother, neither will I. I decided to get rid of my Rockies tickets, which I've gotten every year since I moved to Colorado in 2005. I'm completely disgusted by the organization and their utter contempt for their fans. They didn't care enough to set it up so Rockies fans, instead of scalpers, would get the majority of the 2007 World Series tickets. The didn't even remotely make an effort of getting fair value, or in fact any value at all, for their perennial MVP candidate and face of the franchise. My '07 tickets came in a lovely embossed box with a useful tin and a wristwatch. My '08 seats, after the team had its best year ever and boosted season ticket sales hugely, came in a manila envelope with a cheap pin -- after they pushed me out of my aisle seat because somebody richer had sprung for a full-season plan. This organization doesn't deserve to succeed.
I'm not really fed up with just the Rockies, I think I'm just fed up with baseball. I've been watching a lot of basketball and even though my team (the Bulls) sucks out loud I feel like the NBA is delivering a vastly superior product to MLB right now. There are exciting players on nearly every team. Everybody is only one lucky draft pick or two lopsided trades away from contending. And the system is deliberately set up so that if a star player wants to bolt from the team he got his start with, he has to give up money to do so. LeBron James and Chris Bosh can flee Cleveland and Toronto if they want but they're going to have to sacrifice guaranteed years and guaranteed money to do so. I usually get both he MLB Extra Innings and the NBA League Pass cable packages but as part of my required belt-tightening this year I'm going to chuck the MLB. What's the point? The only five teams that matter are on ESPN constantly anyway. League Pass seems to present me with at least one and often two games I want to watch every night. Baseball? What's the point any more? To see the guys the Yankees are going to overpay in three years' time today? I don't want the Cubs to win any longer because it would make me, as an apostate, look pretty bad. And I know for a fact the Rockies aren't going to contend again so long as this ownership/management regime holds sway.
I do want to make a bit of a rational argument against the Rockies being any good this year, since I've read a few people chiding my pessimism in the comments. We've long since made the mental adjustment when it comes to individual Rockies players' stats, but sometimes we forget to correct for the team as a whole. Colorado was 8th in the National League in OPS last season. That's before any kind of park adjustment at all. So, with the assistance of the most skewed offense-creating stadium in the history of the major league game, they were able to be perfectly mediocre -- 8th of 16 teams. Looking to Baseball Prospectus's adjusted statistics, they don't take that much of a dip in pure rank -- they fall down to ninth going by VORP rather than OPS. But combine that with a pitching staff, last year ranked 14th in the league in VORP, that hasn't gotten any better, and the crippling loss of Matt Holliday and there's absolutely no two ways about it -- the 2009 Rockies are going to suck.
How good was Holliday last year? If you cut him in half down the middle, one half would have been the Rockies' best offensive player and the other would have been their second-best. People still have this weird idea that the Rockies have a good lineup because they play at Coors and they made it to the World Series, but it was pitching that drove the playoff run. Holliday at 61.7 VORP was the only excellent offensive player Colorado had; then you go down to Chris Iannetta, a very pleasant surprise at 30.3, Brad Hawpe, who still struggles against lefties, at 29.5, and then you plunge all the way down to Clint Barmes at 19.0. Sure, Willy Taveras (538 plate appearances for a sparkling 1.8 VORP) is gone and that's a boost in and of itself. But the fact of the matter is that to even be as good as they were last year (74 wins, in a terrible division) they're going to have to pull off an outright miracle to replace Holliday's production.
How on earth could that happen? Well, Dexter Fowler could pull a Freddy Lynn. O'Dowd might be able to find a taker for the rapidly diminishing Garrett Atkins so that Ian Stewart could play every day. Iannetta could get even better, although with a .390 OBP you'd have to think he's bumping up against his ceiling as it is. Troy Tulowitzki would have to have a big bounceback year offensively, although his numbers there from his rookie year weren't anything to write home about. They'd have to get a freaky, out-of-nowhere performance from somebody we haven't even considered yet.
Oh... and also Francis would have to come back quickly and be good, Aaron Cook would have to be as good or better than he was last year, the bullpen would have to not resemble an improperly dressed wound, Clint Hurdle would have to spontaneously develop the capacity for original thought, and absolutely nobody could get hurt. Oh, right, and Todd Helton has to decrease the rate of his ongoing decline dramatically.
Some of these things may happen. All of them will almost certainly not happen together. What's more, Colorado has had horrible Aprils three seasons in a row -- if they have yet another one and still don't fire anybody, my criticisms here will appear gentle. If O'Dowd goes, and I don't understand why he'd even want to stay in this horrible job when his owners fear success so much, a fire sale will probably follow, not that the Rockies really have a whole lot of assets to go around. It'd be cool to see Aaron Cook get to pitch in the playoffs for a real team after his missing out on the '07 run until it was literally all but over (he came back from injury to pitch Game 4 of the World Series). Taylor Buchholz is going to be pitching meaningful pressure innings somewhere eventually. Sadly, pretty much everybody the Rockies have to trade past Atkins would be perceived as a bench player or a platoon guy on one of those teams that tries to win.
I guess Huston Street's around. I keep forgetting about that. Even though Street is overrated and mostly coasting on name recognition by now, he's a player with a profile, and guys like that leave Denver, they don't come here. That's why I'm almost certain, nearly as certain as I am that the Rockies will lose 90 games this year, that Street will never throw a pitch in a Rockies uniform.
This may or may not be the last Bad Altitude post ever. If it is, you can read my ongoing TV and film writing (including my third year of "American Idol" handicapping) at this new page. Thanks to everybody who read, commented, e-mailed, and especially to Ken and the other Toaster-ers who gave me the opportunity to speak my mind.
Taveras, Fuentes Skip Town
Willy Taveras signed with Cincinnati, who have a knack for wasting money on players who can't play, and Brian Fuentes is headed for Anaheim. Good deal for the Angels, who get Fuentes for almost $20 million less guaranteed than the Mets gave their former closer, Francisco Rodriguez. Fuentes wasn't all that far away from saves leader Rodriguez in VORP last year -- 18.0 versus 22.8, which amounts to about one win and change. If the Angels are feeling extra peppy and want to work out some sort of rotation system involving matchups between Fuentes, Jose Arredondo, and Scot Shields, they could be even more effective in the ninth inning than they were last year.
News on players coming to Colorado rather than leaving it moves slower, but I am reading that the Rockies are going to finalize a deal sending anachronistic middle reliever Luis Vizcaino to the Cubs for career mediocrity Jason Marquis. Marquis is slightly better than a 250-year-old Livan Hernandez, but not a lot better. Anyway, the same logic as last year applies. The team is going to suck, so why bother spending money and (more importantly) playing time on guys who have had plenty of previous service time in the majors to prove that they aren't any good? The Rockies have a lot of prospect types to sort through still, and they don't have the "excuse" any more that they're a contending club. They also keep locking guys up from the farm into middle relief because they have "proven" starters ahead of them, which isn't helping the young players or the team. The trade for Marquis only makes sense if the Rockies have plans to flip him elsewhere, as they supposedly do for Huston Street.
How about this Andruw Jones story? Hard to believe the guy completely fell apart as a player so quickly. That doesn't happen to non-pitchers that often. Fans of the Tigers should be worried about what Jones' career path might mean for Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera, like Jones, is too fat to want to bend over and chase pitches low and outside. And Cabrera was never exactly in the kind of shape Jones was in when he was one of the most feared defenders in the majors. Say what you will about the Rockies' choice of investments, but the one guy they've (ever) given a long-term deal to, Todd Helton, has maintained at least some of his value for the whole run of the contract (thus far). Is Matt Holliday that kind of guy? Having seen him play so much over the past several seasons, I'm either in the perfect position to judge -- or too biased to give a meaningful opinion. I think that Holliday is definitely the kind of player who would still be playing hard and keeping himself in shape at the end of a seven- or eight-year contract. As for whether his health would allow him to maintain the same standard defensively, and as a baserunner, I am less certain. It's a moot point since the Rockies aren't trying to win.
I may be one of the last vocal defenders of the NBA's regular season but this particular year is becoming a drag. Trouble is, there are three teams that are self-evidently better than everyone else, and they can only match up so many times. Boston and L.A.'s Christmas showdown delivered on the hype, even if the home-cooking officials drained a lot of the drama out of the fourth quarter. But after that trying to watch the Bulls and Cleveland was tough. The Cavaliers are so much better than any of the other Eastern Conference teams besides Boston that they only have to play their starters for three quarters most nights. It's pretty hard getting worked up about Atlanta or Orlando -- neither could make a dent against Boston or Cleveland in a playoff series -- and some of the quality teams from past years in the east have fallen off, like Toronto, Washington, and even Detroit. In the West it will be interesting to see if the suddenly team-oriented Nuggets can finally win a playoff series. The race in the Northwest Division, between up-and-coming Portland, resurgent Denver, and the injury-wracked but still dangerous Jazz, should be of some academic interest. But everybody knows who pushes the meter in the NBA and the chances of a loaded Laker team not making the Finals again this spring are slim to nil.
A few NFL thoughts, since I'm watching the first game of the postseason right now: In the absence of a dominant offensive team in the league this year, you tend to look around for the best defense. That would be Pittsburgh, but their offensive line sure worries me. Baltimore's defense is still good, although not quite at Super Bowl level, and they have a rookie QB. The Giants had a better regular season than they did last season, but it takes something special to repeat as champs in the NFL, and I'm still not sold on their quarterback. His older bro in Indianapolis can't do all it by himself, Arizona, Philly, and Minnesota are just happy to be in the playoffs, San Diego shouldn't even have gotten that far. Atlanta's got another rookie QB. So whom does that leave, Carolina? Carolina and Tennessee. That sounds good. Not to football purists, I suppose, or people who don't like teal, but I see veteran quarterbacks, deep running games, good coaching, and stout defense. There's your Super Bowl.
Embers and Embree
The Rockies have signed 39-year-old Alan Embree to a one-year deal. Embree's a below-average situational reliever who has managed to bounce around for 16 seasons because he's left-handed. "Financial terms were not disclosed," as they say, but it's probably somewhere between $1.5 and $3 million. He made $3 million and change last season for the A's, for whom he posted a 4.96 ERA. I checked to see how his platoon splits worked out, because those are usually the details where the devils hide with regards to matchup relievers. Embree did face a lot of righthanders last season -- about twice as many as he did lefties -- and he continued to do well when facing lefty swingers, holding them to a .304 OBP. But he gave up a worrying eight home runs, including four to lefties.
The overall point is, for what this below-average veteran will make, the Rockies could bring in five random left-handed Rule 5 picks and minor-league free agents and with alert management shake out a better performance from the group of them. If you're not going to spend $20 million on a player who's clearly exceptional like Matt Holliday, why bother spending $3 million on a guy who's self-evidently below average? Or, more to the point, why not spend another million or two (per year) on Joe Beimel, who gets both lefties and righties out and didn't allow a home run for the entirety of the 2008 season?
The Rockies are trapped in a no-man's land, between the teams like the Marlins and the Rays who don't spend any money at all and the Yankees, who are about to sign C.C. Sabathia to a seven-year deal of which at least two and a half seasons will be spent on the disabled list. The teams that simply don't spend any money on free agents are weirdly free -- they can simply play the players that are good, and discard the ones who stink, since nobody's earning any money anyway. The Rockies continue to feel obligated to spend a very slight amount of money to make it look like they haven't given up. But why bother? The lesson of the last few years in free agency has been that you either want to be at the very top of the pyramid, swinging the eight-figure deals for the Guerrero, Beltran, Man-Ram types, or you want to just give the whole thing a pass and seek alternate means of loading the 40-man with warm bodies.
The Rockies easily could have kept Jeremy Affeldt for not all that much more than they gave Embree and Luis Vizcaino, or they could have gone after Beimel. Sure, the stories about all-time free agent busts seldom if ever include backup catchers or situational relievers. But teams with a budget like the Rockies are hurt more by all these little $2 million, $3 million deals for players who aren't worth more than the league minimum than a team with essentially infinite resources is damaged by $100 million write-offs. The Yankees can still compete while paying Carl Pavano not to play. O'Dowd and ownership seem completely alien to the concept of marginal value. Does Alan Embree help the Rockies contend in 2009? Absolutely not! That's not to say they can't have another fluke good season, but they could just as soon have it with no lefties in the bullpen.
Is the Veteran's Committee trying to kill Ron Santo? Knock it off already and put the man in. Every time the Hall of Fame changes the rules, which it does every other election, it makes the process more absurd and unfair. Asking a bunch of vain, bitter, fiercely territorial old codgers who mostly hate baseball now (since the players nowadays are super-rich and they aren't) to act as gatekeepers for their own club is asinine. My dad asked if I wanted to go on a road trip to the Hall of Fame when I was ten years old. I told him absolutely not, not until they put Ron Santo in. We've still never been, and we're still waiting. Now I'm not so much worried about Santo dying before being honored as I am my dad.
The news today that the BBWAA has extended voting privileges to a handful of prestigious web writers (Law, Neyer, Carroll, Kahrl) is not, as it may appear at first glance, a sign that the Hall is easing into the 20th (note not 21st) century. It's merely a recognition of the fact that the newspaper industry is dying, and if policy remained as it was, most of the current voters would soon be disqualified. This year has marked a stampede-like trend from the traditional press to the web, as writers like J.A. Adande, Sam Smith, and Jay Mariotti have all seen the writing on the wall and left the smudgy newsprint behind. I'm not happy to see the sports page in its death throes, since it was always my dream as a little kid to be a left-hand Page 1 sports columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Now when I have kids, they may not encounter a newspaper their entire lives. It is what it is. I'm not going to fight it too hard, because I'm saving my resources for the even more important and possibly even not impossible campaign to save books.
What worries me is that rather than the move of "legit" writers to the blogosphere raising the dubious ethical and factual level of web sportswriting, the traditional press in its death throes is sinking to the level of the obscenity-screaming comment boards. We have few if any great young sportswriters who treat their craft like a duty; rather we have a lot of self-promoters who pay attention only to what they want to and decrease rather than illuminate understanding of the games they cover. You can't believe anything that you read because everything is spun; sports are become politics, where no one has any idea what's going on at any given time because the illusion of an impartial, objective perspective has been obliterated.
But they still have elections and they still play the games. Lest we forget.
Holding Pattern Continues
It's hard to really knock the slow start to the hot stove season from the perspective of a Rockies fan, since they really would have been better off keeping Matt Holliday for another year and that's the only really high-wattage deal that's gone down thus far. I've been dutifully checking the rumor sites, but Colorado is now back in its familiar position from years past, waiting for the teams that count to sort out where the valuable players go. In January, Dan O'Dowd will inevitably sign some "name" veteran pitchers who were incongruously in Triple-A, in Mexico, or retired last season. And the wild ride to 70 wins will begin.
I saw an item somewhere regarding Minnesota's interest in Huston Street, potentially for major prospect bust Delmon Young. The Twins foolishly let Matt Garza go for Young last preseason and would like at least partially to reverse their mistake. Street would bolster a bullpen that's always a team strength and he wouldn't be counted on to close games. As for Young, he apparently can't hit at the major league level, but he doesn't cost a lot, and that is the Rockies' one and only priority.
Former Dodgers lefty Joe Beimel would be a natural fit as a replacement for Brian Fuentes, but it appears that the Rockies aren't going to step up and sign him, being unable to compete with that filthy Cincinnati lucre. Aaron Heilman, a frustration for the Mets in the past few seasons, might be another possible return in a Street deal. Heilman wants to start, but is far more effective in long relief. I don't know how well moving from Shea to Coors would sort out his problems there.
The Bears won today, but the game wasn't on TV in Denver. Probably a blessing, given how irritating their performance in the Sunday-nighter against the Vikings was last week. I can't tell whether they're a talented team, atrociously coached, or they're just a lousy, badly-coached team in a weak division. Their play-calling on offense and defense boggles the mind. I have to imagine that the incompetence of the coaches decreases the accountability of the players, leading to plays like the busted-coverage 99-yard touchdown pass last week. Still, it's weird as a football fan grinding your teeth and gritting your knuckles each weeking hoping that your team won't make the playoffs. Another few seasons of Lovie Smith and his "Cover 0" defense would be... slightly less depressing than another several seasons of Hurdle/O'Dowd in Denver.
At least the Nuggets look pretty good. Did you read any of George Karl's comments about two weeks after Iverson left? The ones about it being nice to have a ballhandler in the game who actually runs plays when the coach calls them? I was against the Iverson experiment from the beginning and I feel quite excellently vindicated by Denver's improved play with Chauncey Billups and the Pistons' so-so record with A.I. I can't stand guys who don't play defense and shoot every time they get the ball. It's hard to believe that the Nuggets have lost Marcus Camby and Iverson and are significantly better without them, but the lack of Camby seems to impress accountability on the perimeter defenders. Nene has been unbelievable, too.
The example of Iverson, a player skilled at one thing and one thing only -- scoring lots and lots of points -- reminds me of the statistical tyranny that still keeps us from fully appreciating all our pro sports. So what if he can score thirty points a game playing 45 minutes and jacking up 30 shots? He doesn't make his team win, unless you assemble an entire group of offensive rebounders around him to collect his misses, like the '01 Sixers. Iverson will surely be an NBA Hall of Famer, but his legacy will be a bunch of cities relieved when he finally leaves.
Speaking of Hall of Famers, Greg Maddux yes, Mike Mussina no. Mussina won a ton of games playing for terrific teams but at no point in his career was he ever perceived as one of the dominant starters in the game.
The Cold Stove
It's as I feared: the Rockies are once again complete nonentities in the trade-rumor reports and free-agent signing buzz columns on the national websites. It's not that Colorado plans to stand pat after trading their franchise player for a platoon outfielder, a fifth starter whose ERA at Coors may well top 7.00 (the "Chacon Line"), and a damaged-goods closer that they have no intention of keeping. It's just that the various baseball reporting sources out there assume, correctly, that nobody cares what the Rockies are planning. Their roster is essentially a toolbox for the teams that count to pick and choose parts from at whim.
Normally at this time of year there would be a lot of hot air regarding the postseason awards selections, but aside from the Gold Gloves (which are a travesty) the selectors basically got it right this season. It was gutsy, and uncharacteristic, of the voters to pick the actual best pitcher and player in the NL to win the Cy Young and MVP. The AL Cy Young was too obvious to miss, and the Managers of the Year were pretty obvious choices as well (although Chicago fans wish Lou Piniella's playoff preparations were taken into account during the polling). The only award you could really call a reach was Dustin Pedroia's AL MVP nod; Pedroia clearly wasn't the best offensive player in the league nor the one most valuable to his team. He was third in the league in position-player VORP, though, and nobody wants to see A-Rod win any more awards. I feel bad for Carlos Quentin, who probably would have won had he not missed the last month of the season with an injury. As far as the murky definition of MVP goes, he would have been my pick -- the White Sox would have been a completely different team without his contributions.
I saw a few items out there linking the Rockies and the Reds as possible trade partners, which stands to reason. Colorado needs pitching, desperately, and Cincinnati doesn't have any to spare. It does say that they're kicking the tires on Willy Taveras and Yorvit Torrealba in addition to the eminently available Garrett Atkins. I would frankly trade Atkins for nothing just for the opportunity to never have to watch Willy Taveras play again, but this isn't the NBA. If Dan O'Dowd could move Torrealba, who slumped and was passed by on the depth chart by Chris Iannetta, for anything of use that would be a coup. There's always teams looking to overpay for mediocre catching for some reason, even though there must be 800 catchers in the minor leagues capable of hitting .220 and playing decent defense at the big-league level.
I'm really annoyed by Colorado's decision to ask for Huston Street instead of a third prospect in the Matt Holliday deal. A bird in the hand (or, as the case may be, a mid-minors starting prospect with a swing-and-miss pitch) is worth two in the bush, and as some of you may have observed, the market for "proven closers" is grossly overcrowded this offseason. Brian Fuentes is out there, obviously, and so are Kerry Wood, Trevor Hoffman, Francisco Rodriguez, Eric Gagne, Brandon Lyon, Jason Isringhausen, Jorge Julio... quite possibly more players than there are teams out there who don't have a 9th-inning man already and feel compelled to pay through the nose for one. This is why Billy Beane is smarter than your GM and totally deserves his own video game. He took a player he didn't need and didn't want to pay for and made him the Rockies' problem. Rather than parting with any prospects that Oakland really wanted to keep, he sent Dan O'Dowd two guys who aren't going to get any better and one guy whose rapidly diminishing value is further flattened by the glut of free agents out there at his position this year. But maybe Trader Dan can flip Street and Willy T to the Reds for hundreds of thousands of remaindered copies of Pete Rose's tell-all and the exhumed corpses of all of Marge Schott's pet dogs.
There is no perfect economic system for modern pro sport, or if there isn't it hasn't been hit upon yet. The NFL has that thorny issue with its unproven rookies making way more guaranteed money than experienced veterans. The NHL still hasn't reconciled its salary scale with its revenues, leading to a bunch of teams hovering near bankruptcy and an increasing number of European players figuring they might as well go back to the Old World so they can be heckled in more familiar languages. The top-flight pro soccer leagues in Europe are all top-heavy, with three or four dominant clubs and sixteen just hoping to avoid relegation. But even as I'm whining about the Rockies and their disinterest in spending money in an environment where the best-capitalized clubs are always going to have two or three times as much cash to throw around, I'm observing the state of affairs in the NBA and thinking that maybe it's a blessing that MLB hasn't worked out a salary cap yet.
The Knicks traded their two top scorers on the same day this week. This is a team that has been ghastly for almost ten years, and with a new coach committed only to playing the guys who would work hard, they were starting to play a lot better this year. And yet the deals getting rid of Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph were widely received in New York as masterstrokes. It's not the players they're getting back. Al Harrington is a headcase and one of the few players in the league even less disciplined than Crawford when it comes to jacking up stupid, low-percentage bombs. Tim Thomas was the laziest man in Los Angeles County, coming damn near close to making him the laziest in the world. Now he'll compete for the title of laziest man in Manhattan. Cuttino Mobley is a nice player, but he's an aging, undersized shooting guard. Guards don't post up much in Mike D'Antoni's offense so playing for the Knicks might well neutralize Mobley's chief skill.
But analysis like that is completely beside the point in the cap-crazy world of the NBA. None of those players' per-game averages matter in the least. The only math that counts is how much money in expiring salaries they carry. New York is punting, openly and apparently with full fan approval, on this season and the next so that they might have the chance to sign LeBron James in 2010. Well, what if he stays in Cleveland? Then what do the Knicks do? Overpay Chris Bosh? No way Amare Stoudemire leaves Phoenix or Dirk Nowitzki leaves Dallas. The rules are set up so that the incumbent team can give their free agents more money and more years. And what kind of core are the Knicks going to have in 2010? Sure, you can look at the Celtics and say being able to add Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen took them from worst to first. But Paul Pierce was already there, and so were useful rotation players like Leon Powe, Kendrick Perkins, and Rajon Rondo. Is LeBron really going to want to play in New York so bad that he'll suit up every night with Nate Robinson, Wilson Chandler, and Chris Duhon?
No, the NBA is set up so that you have to draft your superstars, which is why it's so nice to watch the Bulls play these days even though they're terrible. Derrick Rose is so good. I have a mad man-crush. The way he goes down the lane crashing into guys without having his trajectory or his control of the ball affected in the least is impressive, particularly for a guy who's probably six-one and a half. His jump shot is way better than I remember it being in the NCAA tournament and he's a beast on the fast break. His fourth quarter last night against Golden State was scintillating -- he was scoring on drives, from the foul line, on pull-up jumpers, on catch-and-shoot threes. It's too bad he plays on the same team as Larry Hughes, because all of the joy you get from watching Rose play the game gets sucked right out when Hughes comes in. Between the blowout loss to Portland and the win in Golden State, I didn't see Hughes ever once look at a teammate after receiving the ball on offense. His eyes lock right on the basket like the white whale. Thankfully Rose is getting about twice as many minutes as Hughes so the Bulls are two-thirds fun to watch.
Coming back around to baseball, I think the NBA's lesson for our game is that unintended consequences abound when you start tinkering with payroll caps. In a way, there's something positive about how in the NBA a super-rich team has to take big risks and take its lumps for a few years in order to position itself best to take advantage of its resources. If there was a hard cap in the MLB, the Yankees would be even more screwed than the Knicks, with the incredibly high dollar amount of worthless or near-worthless free agent contracts they've handed out in the last five years. But things have sort of corrected themselves. When was the last time the Yankees won the World Series? It's been a while. And, I think everyone but the most passionate Yankee-hater would admit, it's best for baseball for the Yankees to be in the playoffs most years, so long as they don't win every year. And that's exactly what's happened, as New York's spendthrift contracts have held them back just enough so that we've seen some knockout races in the AL East. Which is great. I don't think anyone's advocating that every team in baseball should spend the exact same amount on their major-league rosters each year. The problem I have is with teams like Pittsburgh and the Rockies using the lack of a salary cap as an excuse to not spend money at all. It's ridiculous to say you can't compete with a $60 million payroll when the Rays just went to the Series with a $40 million one.
The dirty secret: The owners of poor teams don't want a salary cap. Not in the slightest. That might compel them to invest the eight-figure revenue sharing checks they get every year in their product on the field instead of pocketing it. You, the taxpayers, built them billion-dollar stadiums so they could have the right to charge you thirty bucks a ticket and eight dollars a beer to watch AAA players.
I hate you, Rockies ownership.
Quite a Haul
So we have a better idea now of the players the Rockies will receive from Oakland in the Matt Holliday trade, although not a complete one. There are physicals still to come and there is also a chance that Dan O'Dowd may flip the only guy with a big-league profile, reliever Huston Street, for further prospects. Street's presence in the trade saves it from being a complete disaster for Colorado, particularly if they're able to move him before his pitching elbow falls off. Some early rumors suggested that the Rockies were going to get Greg Smith, Brett Anderson, and Carlos Gonzalez, all three of whom were acquired by Oakland in the same deal with Arizona last offseason. That sends up a red flag since any time a young player spends only a year in Oakland's system and then gets flipped there's usually something wrong with them. The A's don't waste cheap talent.
Street is a better get than Anderson (the Rockies do receive Smith and Gonzalez) because even though his health situation has deteriorated he's still perceived as a plus closer. Brian Fuentes was significantly better last year, with a way higher K rate and half the homers. But the Rockies don't care about being good, they care about being cheap, and Street has two more years until free agency. Thus, he has at least half a season in him before he becomes too expensive for the Monforts. Street is a high-fastball pitcher and could be a catastrophe at Coors Field, particularly if bad early results lead to him overthrowing and hurting himself. I think the odds of his ever even wearing a Rockies uniform are somewhat less than fifty-fifty.
The other two guys, from what I hear, are no great shakes. Smith is a lefty with superb control, a much-praised move to first, and no above-average pitches. Guys like that tend to get absolutely torched at Coors, Jeff Francis notwithstanding (although the Channel's pure stuff is pretty underrated). Smith also has an almost 60% flyball rate and strikes out about five per nine. In short, he's a mediocre fifth starter who at Coors will probably give up five or six runs a start and leave the bullpen with four innings of work to do. Just like the back-end starters the Rockies had last year, only... even cheaper! Wow, maybe we can finally afford to get the Dinger costume dry-cleaned between homestands this season.
Carlos Gonzalez is an outfielder considered the big prize in the Haren deal. The A's were terribly excited to see him arrive a winter ago and now they're even more excited to be rid of him. Unlike another D-Back Carlos, Carlos Quentin, Arizona didn't err in letting this guy leave town. He's a platoon lefty who strikes out a ton and doesn't hit for power, although Keith Law likes his defense. He's young, to be sure, but the Rockies still haven't learned their lesson on this -- guys who reach the majors without having fully absorbed the difference between balls and strikes almost never fall upon it late in life. He'll hit more than four homers at Coors Field but with an OBP well south of .300, he'll do far more harm than good.
We'll have to wait and see what the Rockies get for Street, if they choose to move him, before we can really close the book on this deal. Gonzalez is the key, clearly -- Street being two years away from free agency means he has no future in Denver and Smith's best-case scenario is that he pitches so well he gets to become Colorado's first-ever 20-game loser. It's a little unfair to look at the numbers alone and say that Gonzalez isn't any improvement on Spilborghs, Smith, Hawpe, Fowler because those guys have gotten to play at Coors (and Colorado Springs -- 6,035 feet) and Carlos had to play at the Mausoleum. He could get better. If he does, we can look forward to the Rockies trading him in three or four years.
I held off on this yesterday because I wanted to find out what the haul was, but now I know. The Rockies are a pathetic, disgusting joke and I'm annoyed that by proximity I'm going to be forced to follow them for another dreary season. This ownership group has ground the hopes and spirits of baseball fans desperate for a quality squad into the ground, Albert Haynesworth-style. The Nuggets, Avalanche, and Broncos are spending all of their resources to bring star players, successful coaches, and hopefully championships to the city of Denver, a city where for better or worse winners get supported intensely and passionately and losers get ignored. This is the city of Carmelo Anthony, Joe Sakic, Champ Bailey, Milan Hejduk, Jay Cutler, Adam Foote, now Chauncey Billups.
And Greg Smith, Carlos Gonzalez, and (maybe) Huston Street. Bleep you, you cheap bleeping jerks. Thanks for stealing my money and my team.
Rockies to Trade Holliday
I'm still waiting to hear what prospects they're getting back. I highly doubt they'll be "major-league ready," since Oakland studiously divested themselves of most of their remaining assets of that sort last season. Still, I'd rather have A's prospects than most other teams', since they draft and develop pitchers like clockwork and they have a farm system that to its roots respects pitch counts and year-to-year innings increases.
Is Holliday the big star that Oakland will re-sign and build around as they open their new stadium? Or does Billy Beane figure that a year of Matt Holliday and compensation picks is better than whatever he's sending back to Dan O'Dowd?
In any case, Rockies fans should be irate. Particularly since Holliday told the Denver Post a week ago that the major reason he doesn't want to stay with Colorado is because he doesn't believe they can compete reliably. A year after they were in the World Series! If you go from defending NL champs to your best player deserting you over competition concerns in one year, there's something deeply broken with your franchise.
More later, to be sure.
The Only Thing Worse Than a Lousy Postseason Is a Lousy Offseason
Well, so much for baseball in 2008. Anybody else feel ripped off? The fact that the champs clinched in a three-inning pretend game must have left a lot of people besides me seeking closure. I guess I must seek it in my Ken Burns DVD's and those dreams I sometimes have where the Rockies' ownership isn't a bunch of greedy short-sighted morons.
Colorado's quest to replicate exactly its losing AAA Colorado Springs teams of 2005-06 at the major league level continues rapidly as Brian Fuentes has been informed he won't be negotiating with the Rockies for a new contract and Matt Holliday will be dealt soon. "Any pitching we get will likely be projection pitching," Dan O'Dowd tells the Denver Post. So they're trading Holliday, their best player and offensive leader, and getting minor leaguers in return. This is not a competition deal. This is a "we're cheap, and not trying to win" deal.
But thanks for your money, Rockies fans!
At least Willy Taveras is likely to go as well. He's been named in connection with the White Sox, which makes sense. There aren't many teams in the majors that witlessly prioritize smallball more than Clint Hurdle and the Rockies, but the White Sox are one of them. It's completely ridiculous for both teams to be worried about taking the extra base when one plays in thin air and the other has a stadium with a jetstream to left-center. But in any event, please take Willy, Ozzie and Kenny. For anything. For free, even. Ryan Spilborghs is going to go play center in Mexico this winter, with an eye on his assuming the full-time job. Spilborghs is a tremendous asset to have on the bench as a pinch-hitter and fourth outfielder, but he'd be stretched as an everyday centerfielder. The Rockies won't pay the going rate for legitimate two-way centerfielders, and perish the thought they ever trade for someone making more than the veterans' minimum. So it's going to be Seth Smith, Brad Hawpe, and Spilborghs. Go, SkySox!
I don't mean to knock the Rockies' player development system incessantly. Obviously it's better than it's ever been after almost a decade of neglect and mismanagement. However, a great player development system with no commitment to achieving lasting results on the major league level is worth... well, one lucky playoff appearance every fifteen years or so, depending on your division. Colorado now has seemingly no interest in either holding on to talent like Holliday and Fuentes or looking outside the farm system to fill in the holes the farm can't handle on its own, like second base and center field. The only guys the Rockies will take a look at are failed starters and middle relievers, the day-old donuts of the free agent market. And they can't even get that right -- Luis Vizcaino was a complete waste of money.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers are preparing to give Manny Ramirez more guaranteed money than the entire Rockies payroll will make this year and next year combined. Funny situation there in Los Angeles. Normally, a team trying to keep a free agent tries to lowball him -- the "hometown discount," although that doesn't really apply to Manny since he was only there for a few months. But even so the practice is usually to put some kind of qualifying number out there, maybe 60-70% of what the player and agent are demanding, and see if any other team steps up to blow that away. That's what Milwaukee seems to be doing with C.C. Sabathia, throwing out a 5-year, $100 million deal that sounds generous but might be two fewer guaranteed years and some $50 million less than Sabathia's asking figure. L.A. however isn't fooling around. There's a lot of pressure on them to keep Ramirez in town, since it was his play after the trade that was perceived to have launched the Dodgers all the way to the NLCS. That's not the whole story (Rafael Furcal and the bullpen helped a lot too), but this is a bit of a reversal from what we usually see because it's the incumbent team that has the real pressure on them to perhaps break discipline and massively exceed their budget. I'm only really interested in this from an academic point of view, since the Dodgers are going to be be ten games (at least) better than the Rockies even without Manny next year.
I've been watching a lot of basketball lately. I'm quite thrilled the Nuggets traded Allen Iverson for Chauncey Billups; it remains to be seen whether the exchange of one disinterested defensive player for one very good one will rub off on the rest of the team. Nene has looked good in the early going, which is good news for fans of one-named Brazilians. We'll see if Billups can get Carmelo Anthony (now with grown-up hair!) more looks at the rim instead of long jumpers. As for the Bulls, Vinny Del Negro is massively overmatched as a first-time coach, especially with the roster Chicago has with no true center and a bunch of standstill shooting guards. Their offense will likely lead the league in 24-second violations. But at the very least, Derrick Rose is the real deal. He was instantly their best player the moment he put on a Bulls uniform and as soon as Chicago sorts out the mess of mismatched talent around him, he's going to be an All-Star. He can shoot, he can drive, and he's too strong to taken advantage of on defense. He needs more scoring big men to develop fully as a playmaking point guard, since right now at 6'3" he's the most reliable option the Bulls have in the paint. It's hard to screen-and-roll with yourself, and if Tyrus Thomas takes one more 20-foot jump shot all season it'll be one too many.
The other NBA team I've been watching a lot of is the Warriors, who are always interesting. With Baron Davis gone and a more conventional scoring guard in Corey Maggette signed to replace him, they really ought to start running something like a conventional offense. Particularly considering that minute for minute post-up center Andris Biedrins is the best offensive player they have (his free-throw shooting has even advanced to the point where you don't have to cover your eyes every time he gets the ball at the line). If the Warriors slowed things down they'd get more from Biedrins and Maggette, and they'd be better placed to take advantage of their length and athleticism on defense. But this is a Don Nelson team, and it's just not going to happen. They're going to continue letting Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington jack up threes from halfcourt, and when Monta Ellis gets back, things will just get worse. Biedrins might not get another play called for him all year. I don't think that Nelson's insistence on playing his way is the difference between Golden State making the playoffs and missing out; in the Western Conference the Warriors are a fortysomething-win team either way and that ain't cutting it.
Almost forgot: The Gold Gloves are a joke. Still.
I waited a day to write anything because I felt I might be overreacting, but if Peter Gammons himself has come out to call this the worst World Series ever -- before it's officially over, even -- then I don't know what else to wait for. Boy, is baseball going out on a brutal note this season. Spooked by terrible TV ratings and aghast at the prospect of rain delay "Simpsons" reruns beating out a potential elimination game, Bud Selig and Bob DuPuy and company ramrodded about four innings of completely unwatchable mudball down our throats the other night before the Rays mercifully managed a game-tying run.
The utter lack of common sense displayed by the baseball bigwigs was stunning. You could see from the umpires' body language that they knew the teams had no business playing, and these are the same guys who can't keep the strike zone consistent from one half of an inning to the other. The players, fans, announcers -- everyone was disgusted, and there wasn't any reason for it at all. Selig made headlines by announcing afterwards that he would have made an exception to the normal rule in effect regarding rain-shortened games. If the game had been called with the Phillies in the lead, he would have caused for the rest of the innings to be played even though the rules on the books contradict that.
The thing is, there never would have been any need for the commissioner to consider such an heroic intervention if he'd followed the rules in the first place. There was absolutely no way that Game 5 should have even started. If the league was feeling lucky, they still should have called it in about the third. That way, they'd still be in the same situation they are now -- a better one, even, with a whole game to make up to rather than a bizarre one-third of a game. If they'd had the guts to postpone the contest in the first place, Philadelphia wouldn't have had to waste its best starter.
The further baseball bends over to please TV -- and it's just about licking its own rear at this point -- the lower the ratings get. The powers that be overruled common sense and standard operating procedure to deliver a product that was pretty close to unwatchable, with baserunners grinding in mud and pitchers giving up on their pitches and just trying to throw over the plate. Not only that, but they stuck the usual 35-minute pregame on top of it, so as to maximize the amount of coverage labeled "World Series" in prime time on both coasts. Maybe if they'd had the brains to move the start time forward they wouldn't be in the mess they are now.
The most depressing thing about this whole situation, besides the fact that it means the baseball year is going to end on a deathly depressing note and it'll be months before the breaking balls fly in good cheer again, is that there was just absolutely no point to all of it. All they had to do is call the stupid game and they would now be in the precise same situation they are now, with another couple of telecasts no one's going to watch, except without looking like complete morons in front of the whole sports media world and insulting the intelligence of what rump of fans still remains that genuinely cares. As a baseball lover and NFL hater, it bugs me that my one argument in favor of my league is completely toasted. Neither league has any integrity whatsoever. But when football sold its soul, it got paid for it. I don't know what the heck baseball's getting.
Another Bummer World Series
Things could still turn around in the game tonight, but a World Series I was really looking forward to watching has kind of turned around us. Everywhere you look, it's bad news. The television ratings are beyond abysmal, aided by bad weather and dumbly scheduled start times. The umpiring has been hideously bad, from the random Greg Maddux strike zone granted Jamie Moyer (what, for every year past your fortieth birthday you get half an inch off the plate?) to the missed tag calls on the bases seemingly every other inning. Add in the young Rays tightening up in exactly the same manner the young Rockies did last Series, and you've got a Fall Classic that I'd be happy to see end today.
At least Game 3 was pretty compelling, with the Rays overcoming their complete lack of middle-of-the-order hitting to grind out runs with bunts and steals. Then they got done in by their own alleged strength, with the defense letting them down both in the ninth inning of that game and all throughout Game 4. Their young starters looked as bad as they have all postseason and Philadelphia's Rollins and Howard finally made it to the party.
The ratings are the worst news. Joe Buck spent gigantic chunks of Game 3 talking about the next day's football matchups, as if that was the only way to get viewers to tune in. How is that the headlines for baseball wallow around in this negative news like a pig rolling in slop while football writers and commentators have more or less taken a pass on addressing the fact that dozens of players have just tested positive for steroids and weight-loss medications? Baseball has a steroid epidemic, football has a few footnotes. Even when an NFL guy does mention a drug suspension, it's always just to explain how the returning offender will improve his team's play -- or worse, your fantasy team's play. I'm never going to stop being annoyed by this.
As I write this, I see the Rockies in the ESPN news crawl for the first time in months. Two items! What are they? First, they're willing to trade Matt Holliday now. That would make the team worse and save the owners a lot of money, so everything is going according to plan. Second, Luis Vizcaino, last year's "big-ticket" free-agent acquisition, was just arrested in Florida on suspicion of a DUI. This is baseball and not football, so we have to find that alarming rather than amusing.
The problem with dealing Holliday is that his agent will scare away most of the bidders for his services who could give Colorado even close to the near-MVP's value. Holliday doesn't have no-trade rights but he does have one of the best agents in the biz at getting his way, Scott Boras, and Boras will surely promise that whichever team deals for Matt must either immediately present a $100 million contract extension or else suffer the consequences. The teams in that financial position don't have the prospects, and the teams that do likely won't give them up for a clear one-year rental. I think the Rockies might be best-off hanging on to Holliday until midseason, where they can exact more punishment in a panic trade. Or I suppose it's remotely likely that they could be having a good season, though I'm not holding my breath.
At the Turn
I didn't watch as much of the preview coverage for the World Series as I could have because the five minutes an hour they spend talking about baseball on ESPN is inevitably sandwiched between twenty minutes of commercials and forty minutes of football talk. I don't know which is more tedious. Of what I saw, picks tended to divide into groups -- people who hadn't actually been watching any of the playoffs, who liked the Phillies, and genuine baseball fans, who favored the Rays. "Because they have Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard" is a bad reason to pick Philadelphia, since neither star has hit a lick in the whole postseason. "Because Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer, and Brett Myers are better than James Shields, Matt Garza, and Andy Sonnanstine" is just asinine. As for the Phillies' wizened bullpen being better than the Rays' group of retreads and no-names... well, that remains to be seen. It will probably be what decides the series.
The two games in St. Pete went exactly as the chalk said they would. Cole Hamels, the best pitcher in the series, won Game 1 for Philadelphia. Then the Rays came back in Game 2 with a solid performance by Shields and a well-handled sequence of bullpen choices by Joe Maddon. Rollins, Howard, and Chase Utley all had multiple chances to flip the script on the home team, but they could not. Howard's struggles have been more publicized but he did hit the ball solidly a few times. Rollins, on the other hand, looks completely lost. Maybe he should make a guarantee before the series shifts to Philly.
The Phillies do have more name stars, such as it is, but they also have a way more frontloaded lineup. Jayson Werth, Carlos Ruiz, and Pedro Feliz are all not very good. They have, in short, the kind of lineup that's perfectly good for the National League. In addition to a heart of the lineup (Upton, Longoria, Peña) that's as good as what Philadelphia is sending out there the Rays have guys who would all be above-average NL offensive players from front to back.
Hamels is going to win his other start and the Rays are going to win the rest. That gives them the series in six games, as predicted. It's been cool to see such quick, crisp baseball being played in the Fall Classic, isn't? A lot of credit goes to both managers for not going into matchup paralysis mode and employing four arms an inning in the seventh and eighth.
What Side You On?
I have a long-held bias against Philadelphia sports and the Phillies in particular. Philly fans have a reputation that precedes them everywhere, and in general the town has been light on stars with national appeal. I'm not a big Donovan McNabb guy, I can't stand Iverson (or what he's doing to basketball in Denver now), and John Kruk and Mike Schmidt just don't do it for me. Not to mention Pete Rose and Larry Bowa.
But on the other hand, the Rockies are in a very precarious position if the more recently invented Rays win a title. Florida and Arizona, the other two nineties expansion teams, have their World Series banners. Florida has two! If you'd asked any sports business expert in 1993 which of those four markets, Denver, Miami, Tampa/St. Pete, and Phoenix, had the best chance for sustained MLB success, they'd have said Denver. Phoenix still hasn't fully embraced the Cardinals, and when the Rockies played the D-Backs in the NLCS last season, Denver fans could drive up to Bank One Ballpark (or whatever) and buy tickets day-and-date for games one and two. The Florida franchises have been trying to move or facing the threat of contraction basically since the days they began existing.
If the fanbase, the nice park, and the lack of of local allegiances to older teams have all been in place in Colorado since day one, what's keeping them from being good? I don't want to hear excuses about the altitude. The Rockies have been held down by terrible management, as the Rays were until quite recently. If Tampa Bay can go worst-to-first in a single season, there isn't any excuse any longer for the incremental progress we're seeing here. I'd kind of like to see the powers that be with the Colorado organization shaken out of their complacency a bit. The model Tampa Bay has made, with its aggressive drafting and trades, is one the Rockies need to examine more closely. Like the deal the Rays made to bring Matt Garza. They got rid of a guy, Delmon Young, while his trade value was still very high. They dealt from a position of strength to shore up one where they needed more help. The Rockies, meanwhile, are piling up corner infielders like they're going to switch to 10-man softball rules next season. The mistakes of overvaluing their own talent and assuming the market on a guy is never going to go down or away plagued Tampa management for ages until they finally got rid of Chuck LaMar (who, weirdly, is now a Phillies scout). I've been on Dan O'Dowd's side more often than not over the past few seasons, but... come on. The Rockies' window is not wide. The Dodgers are (obviously) beginning to figure stuff out. Arizona has a lot of youth on its side and a decision-making team that in contrast to Colorado's is willing to roll the dice and play to win now. The Dan Haren deal makes that obvious.
So, besides the fact that it's a good story and the Phillies' rotation features a guy whose baseball card I had when I was seven, I like the Rays. In six.
I feel really bad, but I was between a rock and a hard place. On one hand you had the chance to watch the Tampa Bay Rays clinch passage to their franchise-first World Series. On the other, my pub quiz team needed their all-star history/pop music/"Simpsons" quotes anchor at nine sharp. What's a right-thinking fellow to do? I elected to make it to the bar on time, and I ended up missing the season's second-most epic comeback (after that Phillies-Mets brainmelter) and the quiz team ended up going down in flames in the rock-paper-scissors tiebreaker round.
So what do we make of Boston's late surge? I think it would mean a lot more had it been James Shields and not Scott Kazmir who'd started the game. St. Pete can't feel completely shaken knowing they have their postseason ace back on the mound, at home, in the next game. They have to feel good also knowing they've tagged every starter the Red Sox have to offer at least once in this season. On the other hand, David Ortiz finally showed up for October last night, and that's got to be at least a little scary for the Manta birostris fans.
As for the waiting Phillies, I'm a little late to the party with this point, but I feel it needs to be made. Headline writers: knock it off with the "ph" puns. Just stop.
On the offseason front, the Padres have made it known that they're dangling Jake Peavy, and I know it's futile to even speculate, but if the Rockies don't at least inquire, they're not trying. San Diego may be reluctant to move their ace within the division (although I don't see why, since they're not going to contend in it for four or five years at least), but if they're ever going to be taken seriously by the baseball community at large, Colorado has to import a living, breathing pitcher (as opposed to the mummified likes of Livan Hernandez) and they're going to have to do it in trade. It's silly that free agent pitchers who aren't completely desperate bottom-feeding sucker fish won't even negotiate with the Rockies, but the fact remains that a somewhat unfair impression of Coors Field has formed in the minds of hurlers around the circuit. I don't think pitching for the Rockies nowadays, particularly with the humidor and (even more so) their beefed-up defense, is any more ruinous to a starter's baseline stats then pitching in places like Philly or Houston where the left-field foul pole is 250 feet from home like a little league park.
But until a pitcher who's perceived to be a big deal arrives at Coors and succeeds, the bias will persist that Denver is where careers go to die. It's a pretty small sample size that current free agents are drawing their impressions from, but the fact remains that a pitcher who operated on a star level elsewhere has never come to the Rockies and thrived. The sample size, of course, is essentially Mike Hampton; and he wasn't really that big of a star to begin with. He piled up stats at the Astrodome and Shea Stadium, two (former) pitchers' parks.
(The only two former Rockies players whose baseball-reference.com pages I have bookmarked are Hampton's and Vinny Castilla's. Both I keep going back to to make basically the same point about how misunderstanding of park effects kept this team from competing for a decade.)
Long story short, the only way the Rockies are going to bring in the frontline starter that they need to complete their rotation alongside Jeff Francis, Aaron Cook, and Ubaldo Jimenez and keep tomato cans like Jorge de la Rosa out is by trading for him. With Garrett Atkins, an established star-level slugger, and Joe Koshansky, a lefty masher who could easily develop into an everyday first baseman, and any number of AA-level prospect arms, the Rockies have the hard currency to get a deal for a #1-A starter done. Will they? Of course they won't. They're waaay too cheap, and they think they can pass off the likes of Kip Wells and Mark Redman as real rotation-fillers all while Matt Holliday and Scott Boras tick off the days until free agency. Lame.
You know what else is lame? The accusation of collusion as to keeping Barry Bonds on the field in 2008. You know what it seems the MLBPA hasn't considered? That Bonds is a walking soap opera, a guy who has to take two out of every five games off to even play well, a massive festering metastasizing clubhouse cancer, and someone who's 80% likely to be in federal prison by the end of next year. Who wouldn't want to pay the dude $20 million to bring all of that baggage, and his leather recliner, to their city? Obviously the MLBPA is just trying, like most of our society, to get some free money while the getting's good. I'll settle for a winning my team a free round by sweeping the 80's music category.
How 'Bout Those Rays?
I was watching a documentary about the James Bond movies last night, and they had a bit on the making of the tank chase through St. Petersburg, Russia in GoldenEye. Remember that? The tank smashing through all those walls, crushing police cars, upsetting applecarts, generally wreaking PG-13 havoc? That was Evan Longoria and the St. Petersburg, Florida offense last night in Boston, only if you were lip-reading the guys in the Red Sox dugout closely it would have merited an R rating.
You knew that maybe these weren't the championship Red Sox of 2004 and 2007 because Tim Wakefield was starting. Wakefield was the unsung MVP of the comeback in the ALCS in '04 simply because he saved the rest of the staff by taking a protracted beating out of the bullpen in Game 3; his value to the team once October starts has always been his ability to pitch unlimited innings in lost causes. He's the guy you hand the ball to when things get out of hand. If he's the one coming out of the game and giving way to the mop-up guys, then Boston's playoff rotation isn't at the high level we've seen before.
I still figure Boston will renew Wakefield's unique indefinite contract after this year. He's still better than everybody the Rockies had this year save Aaron Cook, and unlike Colorado, his front office will spend money to make sure he's back in his accustomed fifth starter/playoff innings sponge role next season.
So it might be a little early to crown the Rays, seeing as Boston was able to topple Cleveland after going down 3-1 last year. Josh Beckett's damaged status weighs the scales heavily in St. Pete's favor, though. As for the Dodgers, I expected their pitching to be better than it has been so far in their series against Philadelphia. They face the same challenge as Boston, having to win one game at home to stay alive and then taking two on the road. The Dodgers' young hitters haven't played loose the way the Rays' have, and Philadelphia has another Cole Hamels start up their sleeves to put the hammer down.
You can't turn on a sports radio channel or TV station without hearing some blather about Adam "Pacman" Jones these past two days. I ask you -- do you remember anything "Pacman" has done on the field, ever? Is there a single amazing "Pacman" highlight that stands out to you, making you think, "Okay, well I can see why it's worth having that maniac on your team," as you would for Terrell Owens or Ron Artest or Brett Myers? The only time I can remember thinking about Adam Jones without a connection to some act of off-field malfeasance is tweaking the Titans' depth chart in Madden a couple seasons ago so that he wasn't the default kick returner. Because he wasn't very good at that, either.
Basketball season is nearly here again. I'm looking forward mostly to getting to listen to Charles Barkley talk every Thursday, since it's going to be a brutal year for both the Bulls and the Nuggets. The Bulls have a new coach with no experience, a rookie point guard, and Larry Hughes, whose shot selection makes Antoine Walker look discriminating. Their offense is going to be hideous. Denver has the opposite problem, having traded the only starter they had with the least interest in playing defense. The most distressing thing about the Nuggets is that adding Allen Iverson has almost ruined Carmelo Anthony -- Iverson doesn't pass, rebound, or guard people after one reckless dive for a steal, and now Anthony has figured that it's OK for him to play the same way. At least he's not front-rimming jumpers from the right elbow so much any more but watching the Nuggets alternately run an isolation for AI, an isolation for Melo, another isolation for AI, and so on is stultifying. One of the reasons I pay more than I can afford for the League Pass package every year is because watching nothing but the Nuggets' offense every night would be enough to make me turn away from basketball entirely.
Would a St. Petersburg-Philadelphia World Series be a complete disaster for TV ratings? Probably not all-time low, but it's not going to be pretty. The Phillies have one medium-sized star in Ryan Howard; the Rays have no stars. Neither team has much of a national following in the way the Cubs, Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers do. Baseball has been systematically eroding its own popularity by comically over-emphasizing coverage of the glamour teams for 20 years. ESPN's frothing dedication to broadcasting at least two out of three games of every Red Sox-Yankees series all year has effectively convinced the average sports fan that as soon as both of those teams plus the cursed Cubs are out, the postseason isn't interesting anymore. Maybe the new all-baseball channel that's supposed to launch next year will start to spread interest in the flyover teams. If you're a developing NBA fan, most of the TNT games are going to be Lakers, Celtics, Cavs, Suns but NBA TV (assuming you have it on your cable system) is really good about giving you up-and-coming teams like the Blazers and Raptors. Same goes for MLB's various Internet ventures. The goal is to breed fans of the league rather than fans of teams. Most Cardinals fans, I'm sure, don't give a toss about a midseason Rockies-Padres game. But we all watch whatever NFL they put in front of us.
Speaking of the NFL, I saw that Lovie Smith admitted calling for the squib kick with seconds left in the Bears-Falcons game Sunday was stupid. I could have told you that, Lovie. Tell you what, for a tenth of one percent of your salary I'll give you my cell phone number and any time you have a concern about elementary strategy you can call me and I'll put down what I'm doing and break it down for you.
The Two Series After Four Games
After the Rays pulled Scott Kazmir early and the Red Sox were able to stagger through another inning and change with the plainly ineffective Josh Beckett, I thought that Boston ought to have the advantage going into extra innings last night. But Terry Francona seemed to overdo it with matchups, and you knew as soon as 25th man Mike Timlin came in that it was all over for Boston.
Last night's game was obviously bigger for St. Petersburg than for Boston, and it's not hard to argue that it was the biggest of the postseason for any team thus far. None of the four Championship Series teams was really much challenged in their first-round series, and with the Rays leaving home for three games in Boston after last night, there was no way they could feel comfortable about having to win two on the road. The Dodgers, on the other hand, didn't seem to play with much urgency at all in their two games in Philadelphia. You'd think at least they would have pitched Brett Myers a little more carefully. I think L.A. feels, and perhaps justifiably so, that they can win three out of three at home. Certainly the trend in recent years has been towards the NLCS going the distance.
I think I underestimated Philadelphia going into the playoffs for a couple of reasons. First, the Rockies completely flattened them last season, and they had pretty much the same team then. Second, I didn't watch them this year hardly at all, so I was only vaguely aware of how dominant Cole Hamels has gotten and how much difference Brad Lidge has made in their bullpen. For this series in particular, there's something that helped the Dodgers against the Cubs that's hurting them now -- their preponderance of power righty pitchers. You don't need lefty pitching to beat Chicago, but against the Phillies you almost have to have it. Most of my healthy contempt for Chase Utley I picked up during last year's NLDS, when he swung at many of Brian Fuentes' pitches before they actually had left his hand. It's not like you can suddenly ask guys to start throwing with their other hands at this point, so we'll see what L.A. can do with Joe Beimel, Clayton Kershaw, and Hong-Chih Kuo.
Did you know that the Dodgers' backup catcher is Danny Ardoin? Yes, that Danny Ardoin. I don't know how Ardoin, Juan Pierre, and Angel Berroa all showed up on the same playoff roster together, but Joe Torre has to be hoping that nobody gets hurt. Anywhere. That is one crappy bench.
Tough loss for the Chicago Bears today, in a game they had won before an ill-advised call for a pop-up kickoff gave Atlanta enough time to run one more play and get into field position for a game-winning field goal. I've been a Bears fan too long to be surprised by chicken-hearted conservative play-calling leading to a loss; that stuff has been the rule ever since Ditka was ousted. But what really made me mad, watching that game, was how incredibly awful the Fox announcing team was. There was one replay challenge in the second quarter where Thom Brennaman and Brian Billick talked for five minutes, repeating the same basic explanation of the challenge over and over and over again. The booth review completed, the Falcons took the ball at the 12. Trouble is, the fumble that caused the review happened at the 24. The announcers never explained why the spot had mysteriously moved forward 10 yards. I had to go online to find out that there was a dead-ball penalty on Brian Urlacher. Billick and Brennaman went the entire rest of the game without even acknowledging the oversight. Don't they have a producer in the truck hollering in their headsets so that they don't miss this stuff? Also, Billick called Kyle Orton "Kyle Boller" at least five times. I realize that Boller must torture Billick day and night, having cost him his old job as coach of the Ravens and everything, but -- is he going to prevent him from doing his new job competently as well?
This makes me feel better about baseball on TV. Sure, the analysts are mostly deadball-worshiping clods (TBS's studio crew with Eckersley, the rehabilitated Harold Reynolds, and my buddy Cal Ripken is a welcome exception), but at least the play-by-play guys are pretty competent. I'm starting to get why Dr. Z's annual football announcers review usually tops out with C- grades.
Not trying to win, but at least ticket prices won't rise (again)
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.
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