Monthly archives: January 2006
At about 7:45 this morning, while I was listening to the Mike & Mike show on ESPN radio, I officially became sick of the Super Bowl. Don't care any more. Wake me up when the Olympics start. Meanwhile, here's a bunch of links:
The last two Thomas Harding mailbags at rockies.com are pretty good, one on Jeff Francis and Ryan Shealy and one on the winnability of the NL West. The official site has also been working its way around the roster position by position. The first four are starters, relievers, catchers, and corner infielders.
Due to the WB"C" and the club's recent history of slow starts, Colorado has a new philosophy for its starting pitchers this spring. Starters will throw every four days for the first few weeks. This article also clarifies that the only competition in the rotation will be for the fifth starter's spot, and the candidates are Zach Day and Sunny Kim.
Electronic Arts' new NCAA baseball game is in stores. I haven't had a chance to play it yet but you can read reviews here and here. It sounds like the gameplay is pretty fun, and there's never been a college baseball video game before. It's $30 new, not $50, which is a good incentive to buy. There's interviews regarding the game up on IGN with Roger Clemens and cover athlete David Maroul.
Tracy Ringolsby weighs in on the Rockies' novel new bullpen depth. Tracy says Colorado might be interested in adding Josh Fogg, the first I've heard of that. Fogg was really terrible last year and in fact has never been much good, but if he comes cheap it never hurts to have fallback options.
Finally, the John Sickels 2006 Prospect Book is out. If you take baseball at all seriously, you should have one of these. The book is pretty much invaluable in spring training, as it gives you something interesting to say about virtually every no-name you will see wearing your team's uniform in Florida or Arizona. Of course, this might not always be such a good thing. In Mesa in 2004 I enthusiastically informed a Cubs minor league pitching instructor that Andy Pratt was a C- prospect; it turned out it was Pratt's dad.
Nuts to This
I don't know how this escaped my attention until now, but the Rockies' Modesto affiliate will "play a prominent role" in an upcoming episode of "the greatest family television show in the history of television drama," which according to Nuts GM Mike Gorrasi is "7th Heaven."
The episode, in which a character must make a difficult choice between college and potential Rockies stardom, will air Monday, January 30th on the (doomed) WB network. If you're willing to wade through the treacle, "the Modesto Nuts team name, logo and jersey will be seen and mentioned throughout the episode." Woo! This may well be your only chance to see any Rockies affiliate on national TV. On the downside, Jessica Biel is apparently no longer with the show.
The Devil Rays were a topic on "Pardon the Interruption" and "Around the Horn" today, thanks to their plan for a name change. That hardly ever happens, as reflected by the talking heads' complete inability to say anything interesting on the subject. Change seems to be in the air in pro sports, as the NHL's Ducks are dispensing with the "Mighty" modifier as well.
Perhaps even more unlikely, I flipped on the radio in the car this evening and the 24-hour Broncogasm that is Denver sports talk actually lowered itself to talking about the Rockies for ten minutes. There are in fact some local on-air personalities who can name three Colorado players (Barmes, Holliday, Cook) besides Helton. But the overall story is still the same: the perception of the local baseball team is that they wasted money in the '90s and won't spend any now. The next time the drive-time jockeys will take a Rockies call is when ownership or upper management changes, hopefully both.
I'm willing to give O'Dowd and the Monforts a little more slack, perhaps because I haven't been living here since 1993. It's true that the team's brief experiment with big-money free agency was a catastrophic failure. But it's also true that it would have taken any regime a few years to dig themselves out from under it. In the current economic environment, no team not named the Yankees, Mets, or Red Sox can spend enough to go from really bad to contending in an offseason. Could the Rockies afford to carry a payroll twice the current size? Well, no, because it wouldn't make them better enough to pay off in ticket sales and renewed local interest. The only way to fill Coors again is the agonizingly slow way. The signs of progress under O'Dowd 2.0 are limited, but they are there. I'm willing to give him two more years rather than start a whole new five-year plan under some other GM.
What hardcore Rockies fans remain (and we're out there, really) seem to feel pretty much the same way. If the current core doesn't even sniff a division title, or even .500, by the time Matt Holliday reaches free agency, it'll be time to question whether Colorado can ever contend with its current leadership. In this division, though, it'll be pretty hard to not contend at least once if only by accident. There are plenty of other teams who are worse off -- I'd rather be a Rockies fan than a follower of the incompetent Pirates, geriatric Giants, or rudderless Reds. The team's not in immediate danger of relocation, the stadium's still nice, and good seats come real cheap.
I Got Nothin'
I hate to not write anything for a few days, but is it really worth chiming in on the non-acquisitions of Jim Brower and Brian Meadows? I mean, come on. There's Denny Neagle trial news if you want it, but that has no bearing on the 2006 Rockies, and, well, go look at the picture. I think we'd all just as soon forget the whole thing.
I was going to note the presence of several interesting names in the increasingly complex Coco Crisp deal, but now it looks like there isn't going to be one. At least three of the names mentioned in the most widely-reported version of the three-way deal between Boston, Cleveland, and Philadelphia have been Dan O'Dowd targets at one point or another: Kelly Shoppach, Jason Michaels, and Josh Bard. Make of that what you will. It is a little distressing that the Red Sox were willing to give up Andy Marte for Crisp while all the Rockies could get for Preston Wilson last year was Zach Day (and J.J. Davis, who's out of the organization as far as I can tell). Lame.
OK, when is the Kobe game going to be on ESPN Classic? And how many other people fired up the Lakers and the Raptors in NBA 2K6 this morning to see if they could replicate the feat?
Minor elbow surgery for Todd Helton. Well, that's a good sign.
Ringolsby: Zach Day has the inside shot for the fifth starter spot because of Sunny Kim's participation in the World Baseball "Classic." Well, Tracy, it is true that Rockies brass won't be able to keep a close eye on Kim's outings in Tokyo. But they'll still get to see Day pitch, and I assume they can read box scores.
The estimable Jon Weisman (writing for SI.com) on the NL West in 2006. Great lead: "Have you ever gone a year without a date? Or a job? Or a date and a job? Or a date and a job and a shower?" Jon, that's just mean. I thought we were colleagues.
And finally, video footage of the proposed "rolling roof" for Kansas City's baseball and football stadiums. (Warning: off-color humor follows.) It looks kind of like a giant space condom. Meaning after the game, you can peel it off and discard it into New Soldier Field.
At Least It's Something to Write About in January
While the rest of metro Denver is working themselves into a frenzy for the Broncos-Steelers contest, I turn my attention to the complete list of Rockies players on the World Baseball "Classic" provisional rosters. First, the players who appeared in the majors for Colorado last season: David Cortes (Mexico), Jeff Francis (Canada), Luis Gonzalez (Venezuela), Matt Holliday and Brian Fuentes (US of A), Byung-Hyun Kim and Sunny Kim (Korea). Free agent signing Jose Mesa is on the list for the Dominican Republic. And now for the system guys:
Adam Bright (Australia): Left-handed relief prospect. He's just young enough to have made the very bottom of the organizational depth chart in last year's Baseball America Prospect Handbook. 4-2, 3.38 ERA, 6 saves, 7.17 K/9 for AA Asheville in 2005. He's genuinely Australian, born in Melbourne. Last July the Asheville Citizen-Times did a feature on Bright in which the pitcher addresses one of the things baseball is trying to accomplish with the WBC: "Baseball is not really considered a sport in Australia. If you don't play rugby or soccer, then not many people really care."
Manuel Corpas (Panama): Righty reliever. He was born in '82 in Panama City and played for High A Modesto last year (3-2, 3.78, 2 saves, 6.78 K/9). He's not in any of the prospect books, as you would expect for a guy relieving at his age and level.
Ching-Long Lo (Taiwan): AKA "Dragon." The Rockies signed the 6'6" righty out of Taiwan when he was 16, and to their credit they've handled him with extreme caution since. BA notes that Colorado had Lo shelf his splitter for his first three years as a pro to avoid elbow problems. He struggled a bit at Asheville last year (7-9, 5.65, 6.77 K/9 in 24 starts) but he just turned 20 in August. Lo has a long way to go yet but has been a regular name on top prospect lists since his signing. Given how gently the Rockies have moved him along thus far, he'll probably repeat AA in 2006.
Maruis Loupadiere (Panama). A righthanded outfielder, he hit .262/.326/.310 for rookie-league Casper last year. He's not going to push Carlos Lee for playing time for Panama. Not a lot of info on this guy out there, but he does have a build like mine -- 6'1", 150 -- and a great name.
Miguel Ojeda (Mexico). Colorado claimed this catcher off waivers in October and designated him for assignment in December after the Yorvit Torrealba trade. In 399 major league at-bats he's hit .221/.308/.353.
Nelson Robledo (Panama). Organizational-type righty catcher. .239/.328/.326 as the starter for Asheville last year. Wow, Panama is taking two Rockies hitters to the WBC and they both had slugging percentages lower than their OBPs last season.
You can read more on top prospects in the WBC over at MILB.com.
Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back to Coors
Evidently the Rockies front office has interest in bringing back Royce Clayton. It follows that they also must enjoy point-shaving, substituting lite beer for real beer, and kicking puppies. Clayton at age 36 boasts a career line of .258/.313/.370. Last season he was arguably no better than Eddy Garabito or Omar Quintanilla while somehow accumulating 513 at-bats for Arizona. Clayton, as we already know, doesn't walk and has no power. He's also been significantly below average defensively two seasons running (with the qualifier that his home parks have been the two best hitters' environments in the majors -- someone more math-oriented than I will have to tell you whether that affects defensive stats like rate and runs above average).
While Clayton isn't a good enough player to be worth paying the veterans' minimum to ride the bench, what's really scary is the thought that his presence could cause a replay of the Danny Ardoin/J.D. Closser situation from last season. Why are intelligent Cubs fans scared to death of Neifi Perez? Not because he's a completely useless player, although he comes pretty close. They're scared because they know Dusty Baker deeply longs to give Neifi 600 at-bats in the two hole. Clint Hurdle's distaste for Closser's defense didn't really end up hurting Colorado last year because the switch-hitting catcher never really found his batting stroke after a tease in 2004. As far as Colorado's won-loss record was concerned, Ardoin's ascendance to the starter's job most likely had a tiny net positive effect if any. So the only cost to the Rockies really was completely obliterating any chance of J.D. Closser ever becoming a productive player for Colorado. No big deal.
Clint Barmes's job ought to be fairly safe since his timely injury kept the bloom from coming off of the rose that was Clint's first two months last year. Jason Jennings has certainly gotten his fair share of a grace period after his great rookie season, so things should be much the same for Barmes. But pity Luis Gonzalez. All the guy does is go out and play whatever position they tell him to run out to, and he usually outhits whomever it is he's subbing in for. Yet Hurdle is always looking for excuses to keep the entirely unmerited "super-utility" label on the poor guy. Maybe it's the generic name. Anyway, I am now living in fear of the inevitable game where Gonzalez makes one throwing error and bobbles one other grounder (recovering in plenty of time to throw the dude out, note) and suddenly Clayton's name starts showing up in the lineup on an increasingly regular basis. Listen, Dan O'Dowd: If the only way to make Clint Hurdle play Luis "N.R." is to provide him with literally no acceptable other options, then do it. If he gets hurt there's always Quintanilla, who's not good but is at least on a rookie contract and (I read somewhere) possesses the mystical "upside."
Gonzalez and Todd Walker should start a support group.
Rockies Sign Another Lefty
As they had planned, Colorado has added another possibility for a lefthanded bullpen arm in Tom Martin, signed to a minor-league deal. I would love to analyze this further but I've honestly never heard of this guy. Also, Sunny Kim and Yorvit Torrelba will be the only Rockies going into salary arbitration. Neither have requested figures that will exactly break the bank. Let's see, Martin...is a 35-year-old who has bounced between Atlanta and Los Angeles the last several years. He was reasonably good for a stretch there but totally cratered in 2005. He's worth a minor league deal. He stands a chance to be better than Jaime Cerda, and he's certainly cheaper than Alan Embree. His stats suggest he's not a straight-up platoon lefty, which would certainly be a nice asset to have.
Well hey, all this and Keiichi Yabu too. Get excited, Denver baseball fans! Yabu's the venerable Japanese righty starter to whom the A's gave a shot in the bullpen last year. He got hit pretty hard last but there's nothing wrong with stockpiling a bunch of cheap old guys in the hope that one or two of them will flash out. It worked pretty well for the bullpen last season. It would be an easy knee-jerk reponse to criticize Dan O'Dowd for spending no real money this offseason, but Yabu's outlook for 2006 is probably no better or worse than Elmer Dessens's or Shawn Estes's, and the monetary risk is way, way less.
The Royals are bad, perhaps hopelessly so, but stories like this one make you feel as if the league still needs them. Yankees players and announcers do not spend their offseasons driving around on a bus signing autographs for the mallfolk of rural Kansas. Joe Posnanski's column about the 2006 Royals Caravan contains a few accounts of unhealthy optimism and a few rotting old chestnuts (see, these kids today, they just don't appreciate the players like they did back in our day, cough hack wheeze) but also a fair amount of legitimate poignancy and a few killer behind-the-scenes anecdotes. Apparently Zack Greinke is the dugout equivalent of Dr. House or Anya from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," with no filter between his mind and his mouth. Jeremy Affeldt really likes heavy artillery. And put one more check in the column that says Kyle Farnsworth is the closest thing in real ball nowadays to Nuke LaLoosh: "'Hey, Kyle,' [Matt] Stairs said. 'Why did you go after Affeldt?' Farnsworth looked back. 'Um, I think I got the wrong guy.'"
Kansas City has a lot of guys who could start on their roster right now but very few who actually should. Scott Elarton and Mark Redman are probably making too much money not to make the rotation. Greinke is still the hope of the franchise. After that you've got a lot of guys who have only earned the designation of "major league starter" because they happen to play for the Royals: Denny Bautista, Mike Wood, Affeldt, Jimmy Gobble, Runelvys Hernandez. Bobby Madritsch, who had a good season for the Mariners year before last, will get a look at midseason when and if he returns from shoulder surgery. As Posnanski says, things ought to get better for the Royals in 2006 because it's hard to see how they could get any worse. Baseball Prospectus had as their stat of the day the bottom five pitching staffs in the AL by VORP -- the Royals were second worst at -26.3. (Tampa Bay took the crown at -32.2.) The third place team, the Rangers, was over 100 points better (88.7). That's not a gap. That's a yawning chasm.
Here's all you need to know about Kansas City in 2006: There's a serious debate going on as to whether Doug Mientkiewicz or Matt Stairs should be the Opening Day starter at first. Well, that and that their mascot's name is apparently "Sluggerrr."
Down and Out in Colorado Springs
The most recent Rockies mailbag over at MLB.com confirms something most of us close Colorado observers already know: there's a pretty significant gap between the young talent already with the major league team and the reinforcements in the minors. AAA Colorado Springs finished last in their division at 66-78 last season, and they probably won't be a great deal better in 2006. The fact is that a lot of guys who could be Sky Sox, from Clint Barmes to Jeff Francis, are needed by the big club right now. All of the Rockies' prospects with upside, whether you're talking about Stewart, U-Ball, Tulo, or Macri, will start this year in AA or below.
Thomas Harding also notes that Choo Freeman is out of minor league options, meaning there is an extremely good chance the outfielder will no longer be in the Colorado organization after spring training. Not a huge loss, but it is something to be aware of going into the Cactus League. If Freeman can produce at all, the team may give him one more chance at the major league level at the expense of the roster spot of someone like Ryan Shealy.
It appears as if there will be more of a Rockies presence on the Canadian team for the World Baseball "Classic" than on the team representing the good ol' US of A. Jeff Francis will start, eh, and Larry Walker will be the hitting coach. As for the Americans, the only Colorado player on the "initial roster" is Brian Fuentes. It's probably for the best that Todd Helton will be easing himself into the 2006 baseball season, and neither Fuentes nor Francis is a particularly strong candidate for catastrophic injury. Of course, there's a very good chance that the "Classic" won't take place at all.
Frankly, baseball could have picked a better year for the debut of its new international dog and pony show. The WB"C" is rather uncomfortably sandwiched between two worldwide team sports competitions that carry with them piles of history, considerable national pride on the line, and a high level of intensity of play -- the Olympic hockey tournament and soccer's World Cup. Those tourneys have athletes at the top of their game laying it all on the line for their countries of origin. The "C" seems destined, if it takes place at all, to closely resemble the second week of the Grapefruit League with guys on pitch counts throwing batting practice fastballs for three innings at a time to hitters who will jog out fly balls if they bother to run at all. But at least there's pointless merchandise to be bought.
Friedman Gets Off the Schneid
One minor Rockies news item before we move on to the Devil Rays-Dodgers trade: Aaron Cook has signed a new two-year contract, one of those arbitration-avoidance specials. Maybe I underestimate the sophistication of the current arbitration rewards system, but I imagine that Colorado has an advantage when it comes to negotiating these sorts of deals with pitchers who remain under their control, since Coors wrecks their basic stat lines. Certainly Cook and Brian Fuentes will be colossal bargains for the next two seasons.
We've noted before that new Tampa Bay GM Andrew Friedman has been maligned in some circles for emulating the tight-fisted negotiating stance of his illustrious predecessor, Chuck LaMar. This is another reason why the swap of Danys Baez and Lance Carter for Edwin Jackson and Chuck Tiffany is a big net positive for the D-Rays. Not only has Friedman landed two very promising candidates to be major league starters, but he's demonstrated to the league at large that he is willing to deal. Carter's just not very good and Baez had one foot out the door already, so it's not as if he's giving much up. The only question is whether more value still could have been exacted for Baez than a former superprospect coming off of two bad years and a very promising lefty with a long way to go.
Well, like the Phish song goes, maybe so, maybe not. Friedman was quoted by Peter Gammons this week (in an ESPN Insider piece) as flat-out admitting, "We cannot buy starting pitchers in the current free-agent market.... To compete we have to find pitching, and trading good players for young pitching is more difficult than imaginable." It's possible that Tampa Bay could have leveraged Baez for a slightly better overall parcel of prospects, but highly doubtful that he could have gotten two potential starters. After the trade the Rays are looking at a front five of Scott Kazmir, Seth McClung, Jackson, Doug Waechter, and Casey Fossum, which is borderline respectable, and only one of those guys (Fossum) is older than I am. Tiffany has a decent chance to be better than all of them. Certainly the bullpen will take a hit, but there's no more ridiculous luxury in baseball than a highly-paid closer on a 70-win team. They're still talking about a Julio Lugo-for-Andy Marte deal, too.
The Devil Rays may not be a whole lot better in 2006, but if they keep stockpiling young pitching talent to complement their hitting prospects, they could totally leave the Orioles in the dust in 2007. Not sure how far beyond fourth place they'll go if the Blue Jays, Yankees, and Red Sox keep spending like Emily Gilmore on a bender.
BFR: Follow the Money!
There's an amusing story on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer site (aside: what exactly is an "intelligencer?") regarding a discrepancy between the Mariners' reported 2005 payroll and that listed in the AP story many of you may have viewed labelled "2005 Baseball Final Payrolls." The M's did indeed spend just a hair short of one hundred million dollars when you take into account all of the the guys they traded or released but still had to pay.
Art Thiel writes that Seattle management was "sufficiently aggravated that Tuesday it reluctantly released the club's complete player payroll." One look at these figures and you can see why they were hesitant. The '05 Mariners paid Bret Boone $9.107 million, Adrian Beltre $10 million, and Joel Pineiro $4.2 million. For their trouble they received VORPs from those guys of 4.4, 15.1, and 4.4. And those were the guys that played! How about $3.35 mil to buy out Scott Spiezio's contract? And $3.59 mil to pay Jeff Cirillo to play for the Padres? Tack on another $3.4 million for this perfecta of released players: Aaron Sele, Pat Borders, and Wiki Gonzalez. Wowzers.
It Comes as No Surprise
It's been a slow offseason for the Rockies, but this latest non-story takes the cake. According to the Denver Post, Todd Helton played hurt for much of last year. Well, duh.
Also: A Pollyanna-ish piece about Pittsburgh's big offseason moves from SI.com. Best line: "Casey, Randa, and Burnitz have proven to be pretty good and the Pirates, clearly, are better because of their signings." Stop! You're killing me!
And Alan Embree, briefly linked to the Rockies, signed with San Diego.
Misery and Third Basemen
I don't know how I missed this earlier seeing as how much time I spend daily on ESPN.com, but here's Jim Caple's MLB "Misery Index." The Rockies place 14th, which seems about right. Since Colorado has never really had a good team, it's hard to argue that its fans have been let down too much. A 7.0 for "Recent Despair" seems a little low though. The whole Clint Barmes deer meat debacle ought to be worth an extra point and a half all by itself. The one thing we had going for us in 2005 and poof, there it went. 8.0 for "Misery Outlook" seems right on though.
I wrote this whole thing about Eric Chavez's Hall of Fame chances in response to a friend's message board posting, and I spent so much time on it I figure I might as well air it out here as well. The third base situation is a good microcosm of the Baseball Hall of Fame's overall struggle to define itself. "We have to keep the standards for induction high," fans say. But they aren't high. Or sometimes they are. Then they change the rules to try and fix some obvious problem or another and cause several more. I'm not visiting until they put Ron Santo in. Anyway, here's what I wrote:
I love Chavy and he's one of my favorite players in all of baseball. But the Hall of Fame is downright weird when it comes to third basemen, and it's not really guys like Scott Rolen and Chipper Jones Chavez has to compete with.
Here's the third basemen presently in the Hall: Home Run Baker, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Jimmy Collins, George Kell, Fred Lindstrom, Eddie Mathews, Brooks Robinson, Mike Schmidt, and Pie Traynor. That's it, that's the list.
Frank Baker didn't play very long and doesn't have terrifying career totals: 1,838 hits, 96 homers (no, really), 987 RBIs. He's remembered basically for leading the American League in homers four years in a row during the dead ball era (with a high of 12). Obviously he played in a completely different era and you can't really compare him with any of the players of today. Mostly he's in because he had a great nickname.
Wade Boggs is the most recent inductee. Sadly, to me he'll most be remembered for being the guy who forced the HOF to change their hat policy, as he tried to sell the rights to the cap on his Hall of Fame bust to the Devil Rays. Boggs is somewhat overrated, as he had no power whatsoever, but he did have 3,010 career hits and a .328 overall average. The batting average, obviously, will be hard for any of the current guys to match. Unless Miguel Cabrera turns back into a third baseman.
George Brett was one of the all-time greats. He had 3,154 hits and quite memorably chased .400 in 1980. He won an MVP and led the Royals to their only championship. He also threw the best justified hissy fit in the annals of the game. None of the current great third baseman are anywhere near his class. (One misplaced shortstop is, but we'll get to him later.)
Jimmy Collins is another one of those weird HOF picks from the very early years of baseball. He had 1,999 career hits and led the NL in homers once, in 1898. Like Baker, the modern guys aren't competing with him.
George Kell had a good, not great career in the '40s and '50s. He had 2,054 career hits, led the AL in hitting once, and had a couple of doubles crowns. The Veterans' Committee put him in undeservedly in '83 because, well, he played with a lot of its members. Any one of a number of current players will end up with better numbers, but for some reason, they will be compared to Brett and Mike Schmidt, not Kell, Collins, or Baker.
Fred Lindstrom is another Veterans' Committee blunder. 1,747 career hits, 103 homers, led the league in one thing -- hits -- exactly once. Pretty much everyone who was a regular for the New York Giants in the '20s is in the Hall due to favoritism on the part of the Committee in the '60s and '70s. (Lindstrom went in in '76.)
Eddie Mathews is another story. He hit 512 homers, mostly for the Milwaukee Braves, and looks even better to modern analysts thanks to his fondness for drawing walks (four times led the NL). Rafael Palmeiro may buck this trend, but usually anybody with 500 homers is a lock for the Hall.
Brooks Robinson is widely acclaimed as the greatest defensive third baseman who ever lived (rightfully or not, his glove is often credited with singlehandedly winning the 1970 World Series for the Orioles), and he came pretty close to 3,000 hits as well (2,848). He played in fifteen straight All-Star games from 1960 to 1974. It bodes well for Chavez that Robinson got in despite an unimpressive career batting average (.267). He did play forever (23 seasons) and for the same team the whole way, which helps.
Mike Schmidt I'm sure you know about. Bill James rates him the greatest all-around third baseman of all time, and I don't think it's subject to much debate. (By the way, James' Top Ten is: 1. Schmidt, 2. Brett, 3. Mathews, 4. Boggs, 5. Baker, 6. Ron Santo, 7. Robinson, 8. Paul Molitor [who's in but doesn't really have a career position, he played 791 games at third but 1,174 as a DH], 9. Stan Hack, 10. Darrell Evans. Santo isn't in but should be, Hack and Evans [400 career homers but only a .248 career average] never will be.) I don't really think I have to prove Schmidt's case, but: 548 homers. There you have it. From 1979 to 1987 he was arguably the best player in all baseball; the OPS section of his Total Baseball entry is practically all in boldface.
Last but not least, Pie Traynor. Pretty good player, another selection from the era when third base was a position from which you didn't expect much offense. 2,416 career hits, nice defensive stats, never led the league in anything except for triples (once). He's better than Lindstrom or Kell.
The trouble is, because there's so few third basemen in the Hall of Fame and several of them are obvious mistakes, people think automatically of Schmidt, Robinson, Mathews, and Brett when they think "Hall of Fame third baseman." This is silly. Ron Santo should have been in 20 years ago, but still languishes on the outside looking in. Santo, by the way, won five (straight) Gold Gloves and finished with 2,254 hits and 342 homers. If he gets in, which most people seem to think he will eventually, that lowers the bar considerably for the best of today's players.
The 2006 Bill James Handbook (an invaluable resource, by the way) has career projections for current players:
If he hits that many homers, he's in, period. He's going to win a whole boatload of Gold Gloves before the final reckoning as well. A-Rod's position shift kind of hurts him when it comes to All-Star appearances, but through no fault of his own.
Even if you ignore the Coors Effect, which the voters won't, no way. Does anybody really think of Vinny Castilla of one of the most feared hitters of his era?
An interesting case. If he plays out the rest of his days as a third baseman and hits 500 homers, he's in for sure. But I don't know how much longer he'll last until he gets most of his playing time at first or DH. With that average and the back half of his career played at the non-defensive priority positions, he may be one of many guys from the steroid era with 500 homers who doesn't get in.
Probably the surest thing this side of A-Rod. He has played part of his career in the outfield and likely will go back there or to first before too long, but that probably won't hurt him. If he does end up staying at third for most of the rest of his career, that could hurt Chavez's chances slightly.
He probably has the best defensive reputation in the majors besides Chavez. On the other hand, he has been hurt a lot -- if his career totals fall 200 hits and 50 homers short of the projections, he's got no chance. If those numbers hold up, he's probably the cutoff guy -- he, Jones, and Chavez make it, no one beneath 2,400 hits and 400 homers from this period does.
And the surest of sure things:
Who knows how long he'll stay a third baseman (probably a pretty long time, given Jeter's job security in New York and the longevity of both their contracts) but there's no other 30-year-old in the game who's more of a lock than A-Rod. Thankfully, Rodriguez is SO good that it's not likely his outrageous numbers will raise the bar further for other aspiring Hall of Fame third basemen.
This all leaves out rings, of course. Glaus and Jones have them. A-Rod will probably get one one of these days, not that he needs it. If the Rolen/Pujols Cardinals win two or three World Series titles and the Chavez A's never play in one, that could be a stumbling block, but expecting every HOF third sacker to win multiple MVPs and championships or hit 500 home runs is unrealistic (and as we've seen, not true). Says here A-Rod and Jones are first-balloters, Chavez and Rolen make it within two or three tries. Another guy too young for projections, but with The Look: David Wright of the Mets. Check this guy out, he's the real deal.
Thoughts on the Roster
It occurred to me this evening as I was trying to think of something interesting to say about Eli Marrero that with a few exceptions, we more or less know who will be on the Rockies' Opening Day roster as of right now, January 10th. That's pretty unusual. Having committed themselves to an austerity campaign, Rockies management won't be acquiring anyone from here on out who won't have to play their way on to the big club. One upside of the rash of injuries last season, if you choose to look at it that way, is that Dan O'Dowd has a pretty fair handle on the major league abilities (or lack thereof) of more or less everyone on the 40-man. Unlike last season, there aren't any jobs up for grabs, and O'Dowd has chosen to spend what little discretionary funds he has at his disposal on relievers rather than "proven veteran" atrocities like Dustan Mohr and Desi Relaford. At the outset of 2005 the Rockies took a sort of spaghetti approach (throwing young arms up against the wall and observing what stuck) to filling out their bullpen; it failed. I don't exactly have high hopes for Jose Mesa, but having established guys with established usage patterns like Brian Fuentes, Ray King, Mike DeJean, and even David Cortes ought to keep Colorado from falling out of the NL West race by May 1st again. Ought to.
The infield starters are Todd Helton, Luis Gonzalez, Clint Barmes and Garrett Atkins. It appears as if Josh Wilson has been acquired specifically to let Omar Quintanilla play every day at AAA Colorado Springs, so barring a spring collapse by the former or explosion by the latter, pencil Wilson in as the primary infield backup. He is certainly cheaper than Desi Relaford. Much depends on whether his crash course in outfield play has proceeded smoothly, but Ryan Shealy has too good of a bat to leave in the minors all year. If it turns out he can't play the outfield, look for the Rockies to try showcasing Shealy during interleague play so they can move him at midseason. Of course, Todd Helton could always get hurt again. Wouldn't that be something.
Gone from the outfield picture are Mohr and Larry Bigbie; that leaves last September's starters, Matt Holliday, Cory Sullivan, and Brad Hawpe plus Jorge Piedra, Marrero, and maybe Shealy. Piedra and Shealy are pretty good hitters (and one or the other is a bad Hawpe spring away from starting). Marrero isn't, but he only signed a minor-league deal and with any luck will be primarily an emergency catcher in 2006. The other guys on the 40-man are Choo Freeman, who has had his chances, and Jeff Salazar, who hasn't. For some reason, like virtually every other outfield prospect in the Rockies system who isn't a converted first baseman, both of these guys hit like centerfielders but can't quite play center field. There's some sort of weird organizational oversight going on there.
Then you got your catchers: Yorvit Torrelba and Danny Ardoin. Neither has the breakout potential J.D. Closser briefly hinted at year before last, but both can throw guys out trying to steal. In a ballpark that coaxes extra-base hits as readily as Coors, is this really so important? Important enough to basically sacrifice any chance of seeing a composite OBP above .300 from the catcher position? There are some people who simply love Ardoin's defense, but he's going to play less in favor of Torrealba, who might actually be an even worse hitter. Come back, Charles Johnson, all is forgiven.
Starting pitchers. Aaron Cook, Byung-Hyun Kim, Jason Jennings, Jeff Francis, and a fifth starter to be selected from Sunny Kim, Zach Day, and (what the hey) Mike Esposito. That's not so bad. Really, that's not bad at all. You don't really know what it's like to be a Rockies fan until news of Byung-Hyun Kim's re-signing brings you to the verge of tears. If Sunny stays healthy and can provide a steady 5 1/3 each outing, this will make for the greatest starting rotation in franchise history. At the very least, they're not fielding a rotation like last year's where 60% of the time, you didn't even want to turn on the game because you knew they had no chance. Jamey Wright's going? That's an L. Joe Kennedy? That's an L. Shawn Chacon? Well, through no fault of his own, an L. Chac actually pitched terribly well last year for the Rockies. But if he was starting, you knew they were going to lose. Cook is the first guy Colorado has ever had who gives you that sure-W feeling home or away. Francis at Coors, pretty close. Jennings? Well...he was Rookie of the Year that one time. And who knows, if it snows in April in Denver again this year, I could set an unprecedented record for Most Consecutive Years Attending Doubleheaders Where Both Games Were Started By Guys Named Kim at 2.
Last but not least (meaningfully), we have a bullpen of Fuentes, DeJean, Mesa, King, Cortes, some permutation of system guys Scott Dohmann, Ryan Speier, and forgotten man Chin-Hui Tsao, and a lefty to be named later, maybe Jaime Cerda. Maybe Alan Embree! In the likely event that Zach Day gets beaten out by S. Kim for the fifth starter's job, I imagine he goes to the Springs assuming he has options left. (An ugly reminder: We traded Preston Wilson, Shawn Chacon, Joe Kennedy, and Jay Witasick last season and this year we have half of Ray King to show for it. Although half of Ray King is still a lot of ballplayer.)
So, were I to venture a guess, I'd say:
Well, only three months and change until we can see how right I am. If anything makes an impression casting a quick eye over this group, it's that the pitching should be another baby step better, and the team's a little more prepared for injuries in the outfield, if not the infield (besides the Helton/Shealy logjam). If Barmes, Atkins, or Gonzalez goes down, the alternatives are not pretty. Piedra and Salazar are not terrible, and while Marrero is nothing to get excited about, he slugs a little and he's genuinely versatile defensively. Some outfield names from last season's scorecards: Restovich, Byrnes, Relaford(?), Gonzalez(??), Bigbie. Well, and Preston Wilson, but we don't need him. You'll see.
One More Obscure Reason Why I Love This Team
It's not that Todd Helton, apparently, does a dead-on impersonation of Alan Embree's windup. It's that the article about the Rockies' possible interest in the free-agent lefty implies that that's as good a reason as any to sign the guy. Here I always thought of Helton as kind of a straight man type. I wonder if Todd's Embree is as good as Mark Grace's Mike Fetters.
Real news...real news...well, there isn't any. As a recent MLB.com mailbag indicates, the big questions about Colorado in '06 is where guys like Ryan Shealy, Omar Quintanilla, and Jorge Piedra are going to find playing time. Not exactly the sort of thing likely to cause sleepless nights.
That's it for this post, since I promised myself I wasn't going to pile on the Orioles any further.
Assorted Loose Brainwaves
You can only break down the 2006 Rockies so many times before realizing they're basically the same team as last year. ESPN's chart of the National League's starting lineups bears this out. (Interesting note: For a while, they had Jose Mesa listed as the Colorado closer. This is the sort of thing you have to deal with all the time out here in baseball's flyover country. It's been fixed, at least.) There's only so much you can say about potential additions like Willie Harris and Eli Marrero. So, might be slow for a while. You've been warned.
Meanwhile, the Baltimore Orioles are well on their way to becoming the worst-run organization in baseball. It's one thing entirely to ruin your own franchise, but how many other pro sports teams are also dedicating thousands of lawyer-hours to make sure an entire other team (in this case, the Nationals) will never be competitive either? You've got your Tejada issues. You've got Jeromy Burnitz deciding less guaranteed money in Pittsburgh was a better deal than signing with the O's. And Corey Patterson? You've got to be kidding me. Perhaps they can take Chicago's biggest problem off their hands three years running next season by bringing Dusty Baker on board. That would be pretty funny.
If Major League Baseball was a TV series, you could spin the whole AL East off to its own hour. Here you have your Yankees putting a price tag on spiting Boston. There you have Boston attemtping to fill an entire 25-man roster with corner infielders. Here you have Toronto seemingly borrowing the Diamondbacks' fabled Secret Money Press to conquer the exchange rate. There you have Tampa Bay. Make up your own punchline. I have no idea who the favorite is, and anyone who knows me will tell you that my preseason picks are annual surefire failures, but if Manny is really staying and the bullpen is more concrete than theoretical, I like Boston. No, wait! I like New York! I can't decide.
The White Sox brain trust has said from the start that it will take two or three championships to ever usurp the Cubs' place in Chicago culture, and bully for them that they're going for the gusto. I think they'll miss Aaron Rowand, and I'm not totally sure it wouldn't have been more cost-effective to just re-sign Frank Thomas rather than trade for Jim Thome. Still, you have to love the way Kenny Williams has aggressively moved for outside talent while making sure his own guys (Garland, Konerko) get properly paid. Not many people are talking about the Twins, but they've made some intelligent moves, and the Indians will probably weather the loss of Kevin Millwood. The Tigers are a joke. The Royals are a joke that's not funny anymore.
Surprisingly it's been the A's who have been the most active AL West team this offseason. The Milton Bradley and Esteban Loaiza moves seemed uncharacteristic, but maybe Oakland is tired of just being the favorite team of various nerdy webloggers. The Angels have lost a couple of pitchers and haven't yet found the bat they've needed, but every time I pick against them I end up looking stupid. The Rangers did well for themselves with the Alfonso Soriano deal but their attempts to rebuild a pitching staff on the fly very much resemble a net push. The Mariners, I believe, plan to kidnap the Japanese World Baseball Classic team in March and field them as their Opening Day lineup.
Thoughts on the NL tomorrow. Perhaps.
Update: I spoke too soon. Byung-Hyun Kim is going to re-sign with Colorado, which is reassuring. No numbers on that deal yet, although it's apparently just for one year. More when I hear it.
Spring Training is Nigh!
Well, not very nigh. But tickets are beginning to go on sale, which means it's time for me to plan my near-annual trip down to Arizona to frown at unknowns, consult John Sickels, and frown further. My tentative plans look like this:
We might even manage to cram in a hockey game in there somewhere, finally giving me the chance to don my treasured Phoenix Coyotes knit hat at an actual Coyotes game. If you're making the trek down to Phoenix around that time, look for a tall, thin, bespectacled twentysomething guy and a less tall, less thin, much balder father-type guy sitting together with a stack of prospect books. I'm making an effort to see all the NL West teams and all of my beloved bottom-feeders, as you can see.
I'm sure most of the sports-minded are still contemplating the result of the national championship game, which I dutifully watched but to be truthful did not much enjoy. Can't anybody on the two best teams in college football tackle? Honestly, if USC has five guys who could be starting at running back, shouldn't two or three of them be switched to linebacker or safety? I'm not a big football guy, but this seems weird to me.
What are the Pirates doing? Seriously, what's the plan here? While some may choose to read the Jeromy Burnitz 180 story as a further sign of the mounting disarray in Baltimore, it's no clearer what exactly Dave Littlefield is on about in Steel City.
In the current economic environment, the only way the Pirates are going to be able to contend is by convincing a lot of homegrown players to stick around for less money than they could get elsewhere. This is the angle the Brewers have been working with the re-signings of guys like Ben Sheets and Geoff Jenkins. What's great about "hometown discount" signings is not only do they save you money, but they also for the particularly ruthless grant excellent trading chips. If Jenkins was signed to a deal that more closely reflected the market, he'd be an albatross for Milwaukee (or more likely, someone like the Mets or Dodgers) but as it is, he's a valuable commodity even though he's underperformed expectations over the last couple of seasons. The Pirates have two guys they most definitely don't want to let go: more urgently, Jason Bay, and in the long run, Zach Duke. If everything breaks right for Pittsburgh, Duke and Bay (along with unheralded lefty strikeout machine Mike Gonzalez) could be the core of an NL Central champ in, say, 2010. There's no way Sean Casey and Jeromy Burnitz will be along for the ride.
By trading for Casey and signing Burnitz, the Pirates are wasting money that they could either save to offer Bay and Duke in a few years or spend on drafting guys actually worthy of their high-level picks. By adding expensive but basically worthless veterans, the only thing Littlefield is accomplishing is annoying cheap but OK homegrown players like Craig Wilson and the already-departed Rob Mackowiak. That can't be making a good impression on Jason Bay and Zach Duke. Maybe in the extreme short-term it looks good for the Pirates to appear to be loading up (and how about those Sammy Sosa rumors?), but they still have to play the games. There's no way Casey and Burnitz, particularly considering the non-chopped liver-ness of the guys they're ostensibly replacing, make Pittsburgh any more than two or three games better. If even that. With all the dumb moves Seattle, Kansas City, and Pittsburgh have made this offseason, the Rockies' near-complete inactivity looks better every week.
Meanwhile in St. Petersburg, the Devil Rays are treading lightly around the trade proposals that will make or break their offseason. Whether as part of the much-discussed colossal Manny Ramirez deal or straight up, Tampa Bay seems locked in on getting Aaron Heilman from the Mets for Danys Baez. Less probable, but still being mentioned, is the possibility of getting Andy Marte from Boston for Joey Gathright and/or Julio Lugo. The Rays are bad, particularly pitchingwise, and need to aim high. A Baez-for-Heilman deal might not be a score on the level of the Victor Zambrano-Scott Kazmir trade, but it'd be a step in the right direction. I like Heilman a lot, particularly as a starter. It's hard to imagine the Red Sox dealing a prospect as heralded as Marte for the likes of Lugo or Gathright, but the bizarre Boston offseason, which has seen them stockpiling dozens of corner infielders while leaving nothing up the middle, may force their hand. There's no reason for Tampa Bay to rush things -- Lugo and Baez barring injury will still be just as saleable at the trade deadline.
Oh, yeah, Preston Wilson signed with the Astros. Yawn. If there's a better place for Wilson to pull balls down the leftfield line than Coors Field, it's Minute Maid Park in Houston. But playing for the feckless Phil Garner, he has a good chance at a 20-20 year -- 20 homers, 20 caught stealings. It's kind of a unique deal, only one guaranteed year but a three-year option. It says here Wilson will play just well enough in 2006 to get his option picked up, then promptly get hurt in May of the second year.
Another Reason to Be Optimistic
It would be facile to say whichever team improves the most in the NL West next year will be the one that avoids injury. Every team in baseball deals with injuries, and when your division features mostly teams built around players in their late thirties and J.D. Drew to boot, the observation goes from unoriginal to laughably obvious. The Rockies, however, were a really young team last year, yet lost seemingly every imaginable major contributor to injury at one point or another. This probably won't happen again. Right?
Todd Helton was actually out from July 26th to August 10th, but his play for the entire first half was uncharacteristic. Helton slugged .373 in April and .389 in June. The reported injury was a muscle strain, but something had to have been bothering him for months. Colorado actually fared rather well (8-6) while he was gone, thanks to Ryan Shealy, who had a .344/.429/.492 line in 61 '05 at-bats as a first baseman. Conveniently, the one position where the Rockies have excellent depth is the one filled by an All-Star whose contract runs to the end of time. Early reports say Shealy looks great in left field, though. If the 2006 Rockies are going to threaten .500 or contend for a playoff spot (which in their division amounts to the same thing), they need a full season of the Todd Helton of yore. Either that, or they need Helton to sit more often if he can't play every game at 100%, because Shealy is ready. At the very least they can DH Todd some when the interleague away games come around.
Clint Barmes, the bright shining star of Dan O'Dowd's youth movement, predictably was lost to injury June 6th and did not return until September. (Well, the part about falling down the stairs carrying venison was unpredictable. But the injury itself, a broken collarbone, you totally saw coming.) While it would be ridiculous to say Barmes would have maintained his line as of June (.329/.371/.516) for the entire season, take a look at the guys who filled his shoes. Desi Relaford got most of the starts in Barmes' absence and rang up a .149/.237/.223 line. After the Jay Witasick/Joe Kennedy trade, Omar Quintanilla was .230/.281/.248 as a shortstop. Luis Gonzalez hit well at short (.328/.359/.443) but thanks to the Aaron Miles injury, he was needed over at second. The Anderson Machado and Eddy Garabito experiments mercifully went nowhere. According to BP, the Rockies lost a 17.3 VORP guy in Barmes and replaced him with a -3.3 (Relaford) and a -7.0 (Quintanilla). That's a big swing.
Not all injuries to starters are bad things. Aaron Miles went out from May 26th to June 28th with a rib injury and immediately made the Rockies better in his absence (until Barmes got hurt, anyway). This finally opened the door for Gonzalez, who should have had the position in the first place. As a second baseman Luis hit .289/.333/.411 to Miles' .289/.311/.359 and in total VORP it was Gonzalez 14.4, Miles 1.5 even with Miles having 38 more at-bats. Oddly, both Garabito and Relaford hit much better as second basemen than they did as shortstops. Chalk it up to small sample size and leave it at that.
Are we done? Not hardly! Matt Holliday broke a finger and was out June 10th to July 19th. Holliday's VORP: 37.4. His replacements were Dustan Mohr (1.8) and Cory Sullivan (12.7). Brad Hawpe pulled a hamstring and was out from July 10th to September 2nd, giving yet still more playing time to the hopeless Mohr. Also briefly in the mix were Eric Byrnes (-3.1 VORP for Colorado) and Larry Bigbie (-3.9). Very quietly, Jorge Piedra made a strong claim for the fourth outfielder's job; his total season line was .313/.371/.563, good for an eighth-among-Rockies-hitters 12.0 VORP. Piedra was actually better on the season than Hawpe (8.0). Unfortunately, they both bat lefty so there's no chance of platooning them. I've suggested before that it might not be a bad idea to give Piedra, who can play a bit of center, some starts there on the road, where Cory Sullivan's defensive skills are less useful and his lack of pop is more exposed. The best news for Clint Hurdle is that Mohr, Byrnes, and Bigbie are all long gone.
The pitching staff is harder to assess. Jason Jennings missed a lot of time, and Chin-Hui Tsao missed practically the whole season, but neither was much of a loss. Aaron Cook's recovery from a preexisting condition delayed his 2005 debut until the end of July. It would have been nice to have Cook and his power sinker around for the whole year. It was the really the offense that took it on the chin from the injury bug in 2005, as the Rockies' pitching staff honestly didn't have much to lose. The core of the bullpen (Brian Fuentes, Mike DeJean, David Cortes, Jay Witasick until he got traded) stayed healthy, but annoyingly, so did Jamey Wright.
Sometimes teams lose because they're very young, and sometimes teams lose because too many guys get hurt, but I imagine it's fairly uncommon for both to happen to one franchise in one calendar year. If Colorado "shocks the world" in 2006 by winning 80 games, it won't be due to the additions of Ray King and Yorvit Torrealba, it'll be because guys like Holliday, Barmes, Hawpe, and (especially) Helton managed to stay on the field.
Time's Invariable Passing
FRED: Oh, God! I'm between Ed Witten and Brian Greene?
(from "Supersymmetry," "Angel" episode 4ADH05, originally aired 11/3/02)
This just happens to be what I was watching as the clock turned over into 2006. What's funny about this (besides Amy Acker's pronunciation of "Garciaparra") is here it is three years later and Sammy and Nomar are, well, hardly Ed Witten and Brian Greene. Who would have imagined that the two baseball stars big enough to cross over into the consciousness of the non-baseball-aware "Angel" writing staff would be marginalized even in the minds of the hardcore by New Year's Day 2006? Seriously, when you heard Sammy Sosa might become a Pirate, what other reaction could you have other than mixed hilarity and pity? Baseball is much like life. Everything is mutable. Happy new year.
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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