The Only Thing Worse Than a Lousy Postseason Is a Lousy Offseason
by Mark T.R. Donohue
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.