Monthly archives: February 2006
BFR: The Mysterious Case of Zack Greinke
I don't know how closely everyone is following this story, so I'll start at the beginning.
Sunday, Zack Greinke walked out of Royals camp in Surprise, Arizona. According to some sources, Greinke was deeply unenthusiastic at practice on Saturday, and had to be cajoled into participating in team activites. Family members reached by ESPN and the Kansas City Star have declined comment. The only reason manager Buddy Bell and GM Allard Baird will give for Greinke's (excused) absence is "personal matters."
Greinke is the Kansas City version of Jeff Francis, a precocious pitching talent upon whom much of his franchise's future hope rests. Drafted sixth overall in 2002, the righthander rocketed through the minors and made it to the majors in time to pitch 145 innings in 2004. His numbers were extremely promising: 8-11, 3.97 ERA, 1.17 WHIP. Then last year he regressed: 5.80 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in 183 innings. His 17 losses (against five wins) were an American League high. Never much of a strikeout pitcher (5.8 K/9 in '04, 5.3 in '05), Greinke's average allowed jumped from .256 to .309, no doubt thanks in part to a team behind him that ranked dead last in defensive efficiency last year.
So what is Zack Greinke's problem? It's not drugs, is all Allard Baird will say, besides "there is no timetable for his return." Bell: "We're going about it, quite frankly, that Zack is not going to be here in time to get ready for the rotation. We pretty much are preparing for the worst right now. That could change. I don't think it will."
If you were inclined to go looking for "clues" in the scouting material published about Greinke over the years, you would find some eyebrow-raising things. In 2003, the Baseball America Prospect Handbook wrote of Greinke: "a workaholic who studies hitters and figures to succeed with his intellect and command." The 2005 Baseball Prospectus rhapsodizes, "we have seen the future of pitching, and his name is Zack Greinke," and goes on at length about the then-21-year-old's artistry at changing speeds and inventing new pitches to keep hitters off-balance. But suddenly the tone changes in the 2006 Baseball Register: "At times seems bored on the mound." OK, let's take a moment to wildly speculate. Has being stuck with the Royals stolen Zack Greinke's passion for the game?
This would be an alarming precedent indeed, were Greinke's "personal issues" specifically linked to pitching for Kansas City as opposed to just pitching in general. The NFL and NBA certainly see their fair share of athletes dogging it or flat-out refusing to play for certain teams -- see Jim Jackson, Vince Carter, or Terrell Owens. We have even seen just-drafted players manipulate their ways out of undesirable situations, as did Kobe Bryant with Charlotte, or more recently Eli Manning with the Chargers. But baseball, for whatever reason, has been relatively free of this sort of problem, which when you think of it is kind of surprising given how long MLB organizations have control over their drafted players compared to franchises in the other major team sports. Perhaps it's because most pro ballplayers have to spend several years in the minors before they surface in The Show, engendering both loyalty to their organization and appreciation for the opportunity to play for any big league team (even the Royals). Greinke, of course, spent a microscopic amount of time in the minors (180 innings).
Of course, there are a multitude of reasons other than "sick of Kansas City" why Zack Greinke might have chosen to give spring training a miss. For the time being, neither Bell nor Baird nor Greinke himself are talking. If word leaks out that the Royals are looking to trade their putative ace, we'll have a lot more to go on. I wouldn't advise the Rockies to start thinking of an offer package, however, because I highly doubt Greinke would like playing in Coors Field any more than he likes playing in front of the Royals' defense.
The most exciting thing about February, besides my birthday and the daily Barry Bonds press conferences, is all the new baseball annuals arriving in bookstores and newstands. They call it "spring" because hope springs eternal, you know.
So while intellectually I grasp the fact that publishers vary their cover athletes from region to region, while in the Safeway I simply can't resist the opportunity to purchase "national" baseball publications with Todd Helton and Matt Holliday on their covers. Every now and then your seven bucks buys a nice surprise: Street & Smith's likes the Rockies for third in the NL West, ahead of San Diego and Arizona. I could live with that. Athlon Sports has Colorado in fifth again, but I did learn from their Short Hops section that Chris Capuano made 273 pickoff throws last year, good for first in the majors by 95. I need to know these sorts of things. Also: Corey Patterson hit 13 homers in 2005, good for 14 RBIs. Awesome.
The 2006 Baseball America Prospect Handbook is out as well. I personally put more stock into the opinions of the statistical-analysis crowd over at Baseball Prospectus, but that's not to say there's not much that's worthwhile in BA's scout-heavy approach. Indeed, Moneyball isn't about ignoring scouts, but gathering as much information as possible. For players without much of a minor league track record (like the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki), you really need to know what the scouts have to say.
BA has the Rockies' farm system ranked ninth in baseball, down from sixth last year. A drop was more or less inevitable with so many rookies being pressed into service with the big club. "Rookies made more starts (584) and appearances (942) for Colorado than for any other team," the new book notes. Tracy Ringolsby's introduction for the Rockies section makes the same point we've often stressed here, that all of the high-ceilinged players in the Colorado system were in Class A Modesto or below last year. For Colorado to maintain a top 10 ranking despite "losing" no fewer than eight guys from the 2005 Top 30 (Clint Barmes, Jeff Francis, Cory Sullivan, Marcos Carvajal, Brad Hawpe, J.D. Closser, Scott Dohmann, and Garrett Atkins) to the major leagues is pretty heartening.
BA's ranking of the Rockies' current prospect crop tells you pretty much the same thing the statheads say: Ian Stewart and Troy Tulowitzki are going to be pretty good. This doesn't mean Colorado fans shouldn't be on pins and needles about how the current left side of the infield, Atkins and Barmes, manages in 2006. If both young players can shore up their defense, Coors Field ought to continue working its magic on their offensive numbers. It would be sweet to have two established infield trade chips to work with when Ian and Tulo are ready. Or, perhaps, if Barmes somehow maintains the extraordinary jump forward from his minor league performance that he flashed in the first half last year, Clint slides on over to second, where his occasionally wild throwing arm might be less of a liability. Stewart/Tulowitzki/Barmes/Helton would be a pretty smokin' infield, if I do say so myself. And with allowances to the always-present injury caveat, both prospects look at the moment like sooner rather than later major leaguers.
A few other minor observations from the 2006 Prospect Handbook: nine of the last ten BA top-ranked Rockies prospects are still in the Colorado system, which is less impressive than it sounds because Todd Helton is named twice, Choo Freeman twice, and Chin-Hui Tsao no fewer than three times. It seems as if Baseball America has finally given up on Freeman, who at long last falls off of their Top 30 list this year. He's named at the very end of the organizational depth chart at center as a mere afterthought. Freeman will probably be out of the Rockies system after spring training barring a miracle performance in Arizona. It will come as a surprise to no one that neither of the Yankee "prospects" snagged in the Shawn Chacon deal last season, Eduardo Sierra and Ramon Ramirez, made the 2006 Top 30.
The Rockies have a lot to work with in the minor league system, and obviously there's a lot of work left to be done. It's up to Dan O'Dowd to turn the organization's riches at short and third (which also includes Jeff Baker, Chris Nelson, Matt Macri, and Omar Quintanilla still) into a complete viable roster. Another high draft pick in 2006 won't hurt (says here they take a polished college starter, but what do I know). It looks like I'll be burning a lot of gas next summer travelling down to Colorado Springs, where Stewart will almost certainly be plying his trade by midseason, with Tulowitzki potentially soon to follow.
It'll be Jason Jennings on April 3rd for the Rockies, facing the Diamondbacks and (one would assume) Brandon Webb. Jennings is maybe the third or fourth best starter Colorado has, depending on whether Byung-Hyun Kim can consolidate his progress from last year, but he does have the biggest salary and arguably has the most to gain from a "vote of confidence" like the Opening Day assignment. You and I know Aaron Cook is the Rockies rotation arm to watch.
Meanwhile, happy birthday to Victor Hugo, Johnny Cash, Buffalo Bill Cody, Michael Bolton, Grover Cleveland Alexander, Marshall Faulk, J.T. Snow, Drew Goddard, and me.
The Rockies have been bad long enough that what fans remain get the picture. I don't get a lot of questions about why they didn't sign this guy or keep that guy. Colorado fans understand that there's no shortcuts involved in building a contending baseball team. Unless you're the Marlins.
The Tigers don't get it. Boy, do they not get it. If there was a statistical category for not getting it, they would lead the majors. It's one thing to overextend yourself signing veterans to risky long-term deals when you have a core in place that won't be around forever. When the Giants started turning to this strategy, they had enough pieces that it made sense. They've been good more often than not for about a decade, and they went to the seventh game of the World Series this one time. I mean, they're no Yankees or Marlins, but as a Rockies fan I'd take it. The Tigers are operating their franchise as if one good offseason will slingshot them to a championship. They couldn't be more wrong. Detroit is trying so hard not to lose 119 games again that they may not even win 81 for years.
The trouble is, there's a big difference in going from 40 wins to 70 and in going from 70 to 90. It's not that hard to win 70 games. Simple regression to the mean will usually work the trick if you're willing to wait long enough. The Royals won 83 games in 2003 basically by accident. I don't think anyone really thinks that the Nationals were a .500-quality team last season, but if you look there in the 2005 standings, sure enough it says "Washington 81-81." The list of past-their-prime players with whom the Tigers have agreed to multi-year commitments over the past two years boggles the mind. Ivan Rodriguez. Todd Jones. Kenny Rogers. Magglio Ordoñez. Troy Percival. It's one thing to sign an old guy to a long-term deal if you think you've got a genuine shot at making a Serious Run in the first year or two before complete decrepitude sinks in. If Curt Schilling never tosses another postseason inning for the Red Sox, do you think Boston fans will really begrudge him the $26 million he will make in '06 and '07? Not bloody (sock) likely.
But Kenny Rogers is not going to lead the Tigers to the promised land in 2006. They are not one veteran starter away from being a championship club. They're a complete rotation, an entire outfield, a third baseman, a catcher, some bench depth, and four quality bullpen arms away. And that's giving Chris Shelton the benefit of the doubt at first. I realize as a Rockies fan I'm in no position of strength to criticize the quality of other fans' teams. But at least the Rockies, as an organization, realize that they have a long way to go. The Tigers are in deep denial. Colorado gave a minor league deal to Josh Fogg to be a stopgap fifth starter. Detroit gave Kenny Rogers $16 million guaranteed to Push Them Over the Top. Who's kidding whom?
Detroit's biggest problem is that their two theoretical cornerstone superstars, Ordoñez and Rodriguez, have aged really fast. Smarter teams knew this would happen, which is why these guys are now the Tigers' problem. The second big issue is that attempting to will their collection of B-grade rotation prospects into actual major leaguers has not worked out any better for Detroit than it has for Kansas City. Nate Robertson, Mike Maroth, and Jeremy Bonderman were all rushed into big league service, which means it's not too late for any of them to figure some things out. It's also quite possible that Dave Dombrowski and Alan Trammell's mismanagement has ruined all three of their careers. Now Dombrowski and new manager Jim Leyland are dead set on doing the exact same thing to 23-year-old Justin Verlander. When Rogers gets hurt or one of the other four wipes out, they'll move on to top prospect Joel Zumaya. Stop the insanity.
The Tigers refuse to admit to themselves they're rebuilding, and the overreliance on old free agents is feeding back into stupid decisions about prospect development. Lost in the shuffle is the handful of good midcareer players Detroit has. Carlos Guillen, Placido Polanco, and Dmitri Young are all nice players. All three of them should be traded for prospects as soon as it can possibly be managed. After Shelton, Detroit has zero offensive help on the way from its farm system. Throwing away draft picks left and right in order to sign creaky veteran free agents can have that effect. You'd think after getting nothing from Magglio and Percival last season Dombrowski might have learned his lesson, but you'd think wrong. The Jones and Rogers signings are even dumber.
It's almost besides the point to try and predict a record or finish for the Tigers in 2006, because for teams with no chance of contending records are looked to for signs of progress. If the Rockies win 75 games this year, that'll be a nice little accomplishment and pats on the back will be due all 'round. If Detroit wins 75 games in '06, or 84, or 64, who cares, because it'll be the exact same story in 2007. And the year after that...and the year after that.... They're duking it out with Baltimore for the coveted title of Worst Organization in MLB (Kansas City is disqualified as they haven't been actively trying to field a major league team for some time now). I kind of wish they were in our division.
By the way, Detroit is putting a lot of stock in the idea that Jim Leyland's steady hand will restore the franchise's dignity and tradition. Yes, the same Jim Leyland who utterly mailed it in for two-thirds of 1999 as the Rockies' manager. They really don't get it.
Tom Hicks says he expects the Rangers to win the AL West. Of course, this is the same guy who overpaid Alex Rodriguez by $50 million when Scott Boras evidently enticed him into a bidding war against himself, so take it with a grain of foul line chalk. Texas is in the wrong division if they really want to progress this year, seeing as Oakland is a trendy World Series pick and the Angels remain very competitive. Also, there's the pitching.
For 5 years, $60 million, the Rangers secured the services of starter Kevin Millwood, last seen leading the AL in ERA while winning only nine games for Cleveland. Millwood has his detractors, but all of the teams out there who needed to spend money on pitching, Texas was the one in the direst of straits. Millwood will probably win more than nine games for his new club in 2006. The trouble is, when you look at the big picture for the 2006 Rangers, it's hard to see how anything short of a Cy Young kind of season from Millwood will be enough to make a difference. The 2005 Rangers pitching staff got cuffed around despite a marvelous year from Kenny Rogers (pitchingwise). Rogers was a 41.4 VORP player last year; if not for his suspension, he would have come even closer to Millwood's 50.4. I'm not saying that the Rangers should have made more of an effort to re-sign a 41-year-old Kenny Rogers. It's just that with the Millwood signing, they're paying a lot of money to stand still. That's assuming Millwood even approaches a 50 VORP again. It's much more likely that he doesn't (BP's PECOTA has him at 25.9).
After Rogers, the best pitcher on the Rangers last year was Chris Young. He's gone, traded to San Diego for Adam Eaton. The entire rotation has turned over since April '05. It was Rogers, Young, Chan Ho Park, Pedro Astacio, and Ryan Drese then, it's Millwood, Eaton, Vicente Padilla, Kameron Loe, and Juan Dominguez now. The style is new, but the pain's the same. The big change in the lineup will probably bring more fruitful results. Overrated infielder Alfonso Soriano is out, underrated outfielder Brad Wilkerson is in. When you take defense, park factors, and Soriano's mondo 'tude into account, Wilkerson might be the better player of the two already, but when you look at the overall effect on the Texas lineup -- it was Soriano and Gary Matthews Jr. last year at second and center last year, now it'll be Ian Kinsler and Wilkerson -- this deal was a no-brainer for the Range. (By the way, proposal for a reality show to be produced jointly by MLB and NBATV: Jim Bowden and Isiah Thomas try to do each other's jobs for a month and viewers vote on whether either is managing to do any worse in their new position.)
The Rangers will continue to field a bullpen in 2006 (as a service to all those Oakland Raiders fans who need some way to get their rocks off at the Coliseum during the offseason), but your mileage may vary. Francisco Cordero has enough career saves at this point that as long as his arm stays more or less attached to his body he will be able to extend his career well into his forties. Texas will hope that switching leagues will benefit Akinori Otsuka as it often does junkballing Asian relievers with gimmick deliveries. After that, you have your Brian Shouses, Jon Leicesters, and Joaquin Benoits. If relief pitchers with huge disconnects between their ERA and their peripherals amuse you, take a look at John Wasdin's line from last year: a 2.92 ERA despite giving up five homers and striking out only 28 in 49 1/3 innings. Do you think his BABIP might go up a little bit this year? If you had him as a keeper in your fantasy league, it's time to sell high, but why in the gods' names would you have John Wasdin as a keeper? (If you're a fan of justice, it may please you to know that Wasdin did get well and truly smacked around in his six starts last year, enough to raise his overall ERA to 4.28.)
Well, they really deserve better than a brief concluding paragraph, but I'm assuming you already know the returning stars of the Texas offense (Hank Blalock, Michael Young, Mark Teixeira, David Dellucci) are a great young core. It's true that some of these guys, particularly Blalock, have struggled away from the extreme offensive incubator in Arlington in much the same way that a lot of the fledgling Rockies have done on the road from Coors, but it's a far less epidemic problem for Texas. No single entry in the 2006 Baseball Register made me double-take harder than Rod Barajas's. He hit 21 homers last year! Check his splits: .707 OPS and seven homers at home, .838 and fourteen on the road. I swear that's not a misprint. Anyway, as for Texas, their third-order record was 87-75 last year. That sounds about right.
Why Todd Helton is like Alyson Hannigan
I'm going to get working on the next HAP (I'm doing the Rangers) in a moment here, but I had a thought at the movies today which I wanted to first share.
So I went to see Date Movie. It was terrible. I knew going in that it was going to be terrible. Apparently the word on this has spread, as I was completely alone in the theater today (something which I highly recommend, by the way). So I spread my legs out, bought some Sour Patch Kids, and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I laughed a couple of times, groaned far more, and walked out feeling satisfied that by not dragging anyone without my particular tastes along with me, I hadn't wasted anyone's time but my own.
See, I'm an Alyson Hannigan fan. Maybe "groupie" is a better word. I've seen everything she's ever been in from that one "Roseanne" episode through Dead Man on Campus on into Rip It Off (by the way, a far worse movie than Date Movie). I have many of her "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" action figures. So, as unbelievably lame as Date Movie was (and if the best cameos you can get for your movie are Carmen Electra and Lil' Jon, you know we're talking pretty lame), I got to see my favorite actress walk around in pretty dresses for an hour and a half, and there are worse ways to spend a Wednesday afternoon.
So I got to thinking, driving home, that Aly Hannigan in Date Movie is a lot like Todd Helton the last several years for the Rockies -- you know the show's going to be awful, there's going to be a lot of empty folding seats around you, you're probably not going to like the end result, but watching that one special talent makes it all worthwhile. During the several Colorado games I went to last year when Helton was on the DL, you could feel the drift. Todd is the only player still on the Rockies' roster who is widely represented on the backs of fans' T-shirts, and it made me sad to see all of these little kids with gloves and adjustable hats tightened down to the last two or three plastic nubs pulling on their parents' sleeves and asking, "When is #17 going to be up?"
So you can talk all you want about "payroll flexibility," and maybe you have a point, but I'd be crushed to see the guy go. Of course, maybe watching Helton toil in obscurity is nearly as bad as watching Alyson waste her talent on "How I Met Your Mother." I hope the Rockies get better, and I hope Ms. Hannigan hires a new agent, before Todd, Aly, or I get very much older.
By request of our Research Department (by which I mean, my friend Ali) we move on to the Phillies in our Hastily Assembled Previews series. Ali thinks the Phillies are interesting (and so do I) because they're the swing team in a division with two clubs we think will be pretty good (Atlanta and the Mets) and two that will be pretty bad (Washington and Florida). Last year, everyone in the NL East finished .500 or better, but this is hardly the same Marlins team and the Nationals (if indeed they remain the Nationals) more than likely won't be as lucky as they were last season.
The Phillies, on the other hand, seem to have had nothing but bad luck the last few years. On an annual basis, they seem to underperform both in terms of preseason expectations and in how their work on the field translates into wins and losses. They weren't the unluckiest team in baseball in 2005 in this regard, but they were one of only two teams (the other was Oakland) who "should have" won their division last year based on third-order wins and didn't. Three years in a row I've picked them to win the NL East, and three years in a row they've missed out on the playoffs entirely. Well, that's it. They can find another patsy.
The 2006 Phillies are already to be credited for making the best out of two bad situations. The first, the deeply unconstructive Jim Thome/Ryan Howard first base logjam, was of their own making. They're going to end up paying quite a bit of Thome's salary with the White Sox for the next three years, but Howard will remain inexpensive through that period and in Aaron Rowand the Phils even managed to finesse a fairly useful player out of the transaction. They'll probably be seeing more of Rowand the .270 hitter than Rowand the .310 hitter, but he knows his way around center field and he has World Series Mystique now. World Series Mystique! The other bit of hard luck for Philadelphia, the underwhelming available offseason free agent talent, affected everybody. But as an upper-middle class team with a veteran core, the Phillies really took it on the chin. They didn't need to go on a spending spree to rival the Mets' to stay in contention in the division; they only needed to make a few canny, reasonably priced signings here and there. Trouble was, in this market nobody ended up signing for a reasonable price. You can't really blame them for not matching New York's offer to Billy Wagner. Nor can you fault them for not overpaying for the likes of Kevin Millwood, A.J. Burnett, or Jarrod Washburn to shore up their rotation. However, with the Mets wielding a double-barreled combination of young talent and fat stacks of money and Atlanta's run of divison titles possessing a near-supernatural inertia, Philadelphia's reward for a rational offseason will more than likely be a third-place finish.
Which is not to say they don't have some nice pieces. Rowand, Pat Burrell, and the strangely unloved Bobby Abreu make for a pretty nice outfield. Pretty much any serious Phillies fan can give you a thick manila folder's worth of anecdotal evidence that Abreu is useless in the clutch, not the player his numbers would have you think he is, or some such, but I'll tell you what. I'll give you every outfielder on the Rockies' 40-man for him right now. I'll even throw in every Colorado representative to the South Korean WB"C" team in there at no extra charge. I'm sure there's 200 major-league average innings of pitching in there somewhere. C'mon, it's Bobby Abreu. What so offends you people about a career .923 OPS? It's true that Abreu had a crummy second half last year, but I imagine he's a safe bet to bounce back. (The fantasy baseball community seems to agree with me, as I haven't seen Abreu taken later than 10th overall in a single mock draft. But if you'd rather have Matt Holliday, please let me know, or better still, let Dan O'Dowd know.)
On the infield you've got Howard at first and Chase Utley at second, which is very nice. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins is no superstar, but his once-outlandish contract extension seems less so now. At third, David Bell was so horrible last year he almost has to be better. They need him to be, because they haven't got a whole lot of other options. If either Abraham Nuñez or Alex S. Gonzalez starts a significant number of games for Philadelphia anywhere in the infield, baby, it's bad news. Things are more interesting turning to the rotation, where things are wide open enough for any of several young guys to win a job in spring training. Brett Myers, Jon Lieber, and Cory Lidle are the "established" guys. Randy Wolf is rehabbing from TJ and could provide a boost in the second half if they can patch things together until then. Gavin Floyd and Ryan Franklin, two guys that scouts used to love and statheads have always been skeptical about, will be in the preseason mix. Ryan Madson looks to transition successfully from middle relief to a starter's spot. Longer shots include Robinson Tejeda, Eude Brito, and Ricardo Rodriguez. If you have no idea who any of those guys are, you shouldn't feel ashamed about it.
Joe Torre rode Tom Gordon hard the last two years, and after the Phillies reluctantly let Wagner walk Gordon is now the Philadelphia closer. If you had to pick one 38-year-old reliever to sign to a three-year deal this is your guy, but...well, there's no roster requirements like that in the National League, as I understand it. It's hard to fault Philadelphia for panicking after losing Wagner to free agency, Ugie Urbina to Venezuelan prison, and Madson to the rotation. So what's left? Well, you should already know that no good can come of sentences in season previews that begin "If Arthur Rhodes and Rheal Cormier can pull it together...." The hope is that some guys will genuinely win the fourth and fifth starters' roles in spring training rather than backing into them, and the Tejeda and Madson roles from last season will be filled by either the actual Tejeda and Madson or their equivalents. Urbina and Wagner take with them a lot of strikeouts from the bullpen, and in a park as homer-friendly as Citizens Bank, that's most ungroovy.
So the offense will be good (and if Bell and Mike Lieberthal have comeback years, great), the rotation will be okay (maybe), and the bullpen will be pretty dreadful. Sounds to me like a recipe for .500 territory, assuming the evil eye the Marlins have had over this club has gone the way of Florida's major league talent. In any event, they're not winning the division. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on you...more. But fool me three times, I'm picking the Mets. So there.
Welcome to what I'm calling my Hastily Assembled Previews series, a swing around the world of major league baseball in more or less random order. I had a ton of fun writing about the non-Colorado teams of the National League West, and don't see why fans of the many other teams out there should miss out on my opinions. These do usually end up being a bit time-consuming, so there's a chance I might not make it around to everybody by the time interesting things start happening to the Rockies again. Then again, I have been a Rockies fan for some time now, and can easily count all of the truly interesting things that have happened to them without exhausting my allotted supply of fingers. So, onward!
We're starting with the Toronto Blue Jays, because I have a burning question involving them that I have yet to hear a satisfactory answer for: if the organization knew well in advance of this offseason that their payroll would be going up dramatically starting in 2006, why did they end up with the rather lukewarm haul of B.J. Ryan, A.J. Burnett, Troy Glaus, and Ben Molina? There's this other guy I think could have helped them:
This Other Guy is Carlos Delgado, who up until last year had spent his entire career as a Blue Jay. He signed an exceptionally back-loaded deal with the Marlins last year and is now the property of the New York Mets, who owe him $48 million. Now, I don't claim to understand baseball finances, but wouldn't it have been at all possible for Toronto to give Delgado the same deal the Marlins gave him, pay him $4 million in 2005, then ramp up his annual pay starting this season? Who doesn't think that Carlos Delgado at around $50 million is a better deal and a surer thing than B.J. Ryan or A.J. Burnett at the same price? Even throwing out the whole "years of loyal service" thing, this doesn't make a lot of sense to me. You can't tell me Delgado honestly wanted to go play in that empty, depressing Greater Miami barn. He was ushered out. But why? Delgado's not young, but he's not particularly old either. And they do have the DH rule in the Blue Jays' league. Very strange.
It's odd also that Toronto chose to spend most of its free agent money on pitching, as their pitching was OK last year even with Roy Halladay missing a chunk of time (6th in AL ERA). Their offense (9th in AL OPS) needed a little more work, one would think. Putting aside the statistics for a second, my impression of last year's Blue Jays team was that while they had average or better hitters at most every position, they were desperately lacking a real menacing offensive leader, a guy whose mere presence affected the rest of the lineup top to bottom. In short, a Carlos Delgado. They traded for Troy Glaus, which is very well assuming he's healthy and can play third credibly, and Lyle Overbay, a nice player who seems kind of like more of the same (although he's a better defender than Shea Hillenbrand or Eric Hinske). Perhaps the additions of Ryan and Burnett make Toronto's pitching so much better that they can afford to continue forward with a middle-of-the-pack offense. Perhaps not.
On paper it's a pretty nice rotation -- Halladay, of course, plus Burnett, Gustavo Chacin, Ted Lilly, and Josh Towers. Short of Oakland and Chicago there's not much better in the American League, and certainly the Jays have fewer questions in that department than their most immediate competitors in New York and Boston. When you look at the names in their bullpen, it's somewhat clear why they broke the bank for Ryan, but dig into the numbers and guys like Justin Speier, Jason Frasor, Vinnie Chulk, Pete Walker, and even Scott Schoeneweis (whom I always confuse with erstwhile Promise Ring bassist Scott Schoenbeck) all had very solid seasons in 2005. Indeed, the bullpen regular with the worst numbers last year was closer Miguel Batista, now off to start for Arizona. Ryan's not bad, but Toronto wouldn't be a lot worse off with Speier as the top guy, and they'd be way better off with Speier and Delgado, just to beat that dead horse a little further.
I understand that it was a lousy free agent class, and you have to overpay guys to get them to come to Toronto what with the exchange rate and the eyesore uniforms and everything, but with the money the Jays spent fans will be expecting them to get a lot better. Safely over .500 but not seriously in playoff contention will not serve. Then there's the odd, late Molina addition -- Greg Zaun has been better than serviceable in Toronto, for no money, for two years now. They can't DH three guys a game, but for Hinske, Hillenbrand, and probably Glaus, that's the most natural position. They have no power at the outfield corners or at first with Overbay. It's a nice little team, but do you really want to pick in the AL East against the Yankees, whom (as the performance last year of Shawn Chacon clearly evidenced) have Satan on their side? Not so much.
Troy E. Sees the Writing on the Wall...Or, Better Still, the Internet
Post Rockies beatman Troy Renck on the realities of 2006: "Rockies fans, at least those who write regularly and run blogs, aren't clearing their schedules for October. They are predicting about 73 to 76 wins. They get it."
We sure do, Troy. Welcome to the club.
How 'Bout Them Pitchers and Catchers?
Spring training is upon is. About time, huh? I took a few days off to stretch and watch Olympic hockey (and also, my rock outfit had a show in Denver on Thursday, many thanks to the twelve people in attendance). Due to popular demand, I'm going to see what there is to write about the many other teams in baseball over the next few weeks. Maybe I'll get around to YOUR team.
Shuttle service to Rockies games has been reduced due to decreased usage. This is too bad, I suppose. Public transportation in Denver isn't much to write home about, but there's nothing quite like the atmosphere on an El train running to Wrigley Field or a MUNI car on its way to Pac Bell Park. I hope in 2008 or whenever the long-rumored light rail expansion gets done the Rockies will be good enough to develop their own version of that scene.
Scouting the Division: Los Angeles
There are three things you need for lasting contention in the bigs, and the Dodgers have two of them: a talent-laden farm system and money to spend. The one thing they lacked last year is the most crucial, which is established young building blocks at the major-league level. The signing of Rafael Furcal goes a long way towards addressing that. He's young, he runs, he flashes the leather, and he fills a position of need. Cesar Izturis and his career .295 OBP might not be shown the door in the most elegant way possible, but Furcal is a huge improvement. He might not be worth $13 million a year -- he's no Miguel Tejada -- but the Dodgers had an ugly year in 2005 and they can afford to overpay.
The organization's biggest problem is twitchy, meddling ownership that overreacted violently to a freaky run of bad luck last season. Sometimes teams have bad years. Firing a general manager after two years, one division title and one fourth place finish (second place, if you go by the adjusted standings) is bad business. The Los Angeles franchise is the most structurally sound, top to bottom, in the NL West, and the only thing that can ruin it is continued chaos in the front office. Ned Colletti is certainly qualified to run a major league baseball franchise, but so was Paul DePodesta. Some of Colletti's early moves have reeked of ownership mandates. Perhaps Milton Bradley had to go. But was it entirely necessary to send off the eminently useful Antonio Perez with him to grease the wheels? It's true that the Dodgers have blue-chip pitching prospects coming out of their ears, and Edwin Jackson's star had much faded in the past two seasons. But if Jackson was deemed expendable, couldn't more reward be squeezed out of him than an overrated "proven closer" and a replacement-level relief-pitching warm body? And why on earth was Chuck Tiffany thrown in to the Baez-Carter deal? The younger, cheaper pair of arms could probably pitch just as well in relief for the Dodgers this year as Danys Baez and Lance Carter will, only they're starters and therefore will produce vastly more value on the cheap for the Devil Rays.
Not that all of the pressure on Colletti to make Dodgertown 2006 a brave new world has been a bad thing. Los Angeles was really bad at third base last year. Bill Mueller is a reasonable veteran solution at an affordable price. (But let's all take a second to mourn the passing of Clint Nakamura. It's pretty rare to see a guy in the major leagues who just flat-out can't play. It happens all the time in the NBA, which is yet another reason to trumpet baseball's superiority. But Clint...wow. He will be missed.) For a team in a major market, in a bad division, with a few bucks to spend, signing Nomar Garciaparra for one year, six million is an acceptable risk. The Dodgers' efforts to prop themselves up with short-term veteran solutions for the next year or two have it all over the similar attempts of Colletti's former employers in San Francisco. The difference is Los Angeles is signing younger guys to shorter deals. Either Colletti did a better job reading the market than his old boss Brian Sabean or the sunnier weather in Southern California was irresistible to Garciaparra, Mueller, Brett Tomko, and Kenny Lofton.
The team's lineup isn't going to blow anyone away. Jeff Kent has aged remarkably gracefully. If he ends up having to move to first, that could cause all sorts of problems for the Dodgers but with Izturis out for the beginning of the season Kent will start at his accustomed position. Grady Little isn't likely to do any favors for the leftovers from the previous Moneyball-influenced regime, meaning Hee Seop Choi and Olmedo Saenz will soon be looking for work elsewhere. The outfield after the inevitable J.D. Drew injury will look pretty bleak, although they have cut down dramatically on guys named "Jason." I'm fairly bullish on the front three guys in their rotation, Derek Lowe, Brad Penny, and Odalis Perez. They're none of them aces but I could see this team successfully following the mold of the '04 Cardinals, simply having five really solid starters. Worse things could happen to Los Angeles than Tomko and Jae Seo not panning out as the four and five guys. They've got crazy options on the farm, although no real urgency to rush the Broxtons and Billingsleys. As for the bullpen, I have three words for you: healthy Eric Gagne.
The Diamondbacks have strangely blocked almost every one of their dynamite position prospects. The Padres have utterly failed to improve upon their paltry '05 offense. The Giants are a house of cards all resting upon 41-year-old knees as a foundation. The Rockies...well, I love them to death, but they're still just Todd Helton and a bunch of guys. Los Angeles is an extremely safe pick for 2006 NL West champs, although their lack of a dominant starter probably dooms them to a short postseason shelf life. If anything, Colletti's moves have been a net push -- maybe I'll begrudge him a couple of extra wins for the Furcal signing. Best case scenario, Eric Gagne and J.D. Drew are in robust good health for the balance of the year and the Dodgers win between 85 and 89 games...and the division, comfortably.
Scouting the Division: San Francisco
From a writer's perspective, it's hard not to be a little aggravated by the Giants. They've been playing the same tune now for years -- acquire whatever veteran talent is necessary to maintain the vestiges of competitiveness around god who walks as man (emphasis on "walks") Barry Bonds. The story's played out, for sure. But if you were in Brian Sabean's place, what would you do different? Bonds certainly isn't the sort to exercise patience during a youth movement, and the fanbase would never forgive letting Mr. 700 drift off to finish his career with the Yankees. So San Francisco edges ever closer to fielding an entire eight-man starting lineup of 40-year-olds while their rivals to the south and east dream warmly of the day when Barry and his 800+ jacks ride off into the sunset leaving the Giants mired in the mother of all rebuilding plans. Teams in Las Vegas and/or Portland may well appear in the World Series before San Francisco returns. By the way, the Giants haven't won it all since 1954. There's been a wave lately of teams breaking long championship droughts, but the Indians and even the Cubs have much better odds of continuing that trend.
The National League got a preview of what the post-Barry Giants will look like last year when his elbow-armoredness spent all but 14 games off the field with knee issues. The 2005 San Francisco team was old, slow, boring, and not very good. They went 75-87 and virtually all of the major stories associated with the team were off the field -- notably, some local radio yahoo stupidly chose to couch a legitimate criticism of the team in racial terms, and of course Bonds's ever-lengthening absence became a circus act, with the Giants' front office, ESPN's personal Bonds reporter, and the man himself all regularly contradicting each other. Like most of the rest of the division, the lack of a real winner in the NL West ended up stunting the team's long-term planning. There wasn't much point in bringing back Bonds in September, but the Giants did anyway. There was opportunity aplenty for the team to somehow figure out its mess of a farm system, but Sabean continued his long-running policy of alternately jerking around young pitchers and trading them for useless baubles. I've been hearing about the Giants' amazing minor-league pitching since 1998; they've yet to develop a single money starter. Maybe this year, Matt Cain will be the guy. Excuse me for being skeptical. Noah Lowry, Brad Hennessey, and Kevin Correia will vie for back-of-the-rotation starts behind the declining Jason Schmidt and new acquisition Matt Morris, who ought to benefit from the deep alleys of Whatever They're Calling It Now Park. Rockies fans should be rooting for minor league free agent signing Jamey Wright to make the rotation, so that Colorado might actually win a few games he starts.
It's easy to rip on San Francisco's offense for being old, but a lot of these guys have held up pretty well for their age. Players in their late thirties are always inherent injury risks, but there are worse bets around than Omar Vizquel, Ray Durham, and Moises Alou. Mike Matheny had a career year at 34 last season, hitting double-digit home runs for the first time in his life. They're a regular bunch of silver foxes, these Giants, and this Bonds guy has held up pretty well too. It's the slightly younger Giants regulars who really let them down last year. San Francisco's top five hitters by VORP last year were the four graybeards (Vizquel, Alou, Matheny, Durham) plus Randy Winn, who conveniently had the best 58 games of his career after coming over in a trade from Seattle. The number six guy was Noah Lowry. Starting pitcher Noah Lowry. Guys who had lower VORPs than Lowry last year and return to the Giants for 2006 include Pedro Feliz, Jason Ellison, Lance "Name Value" Niekro, Todd Linden..and Barry Bonds, although he only had 52 at-bats to Lowry's 75. Point is, it's not all the old guys who are dragging the Giants down, it's the twentysomethings and younger thirtysomethings. And San Francisco has some pretty good-hitting pitchers...Hennessey slugged .410, while we're on the subject.
So who's going to lift the offense this year, besides His Surliness? Steve Finley? No. Todd Greene? No. Mark Sweeney? Well, maybe a little. Their bullpen was middle-of-the-pack last year, but that was before Steve Kline and Tim Worrell came aboard. Woo! Steve Kline and Tim Worrell! Armando Benitez missed nearly as much time as Bonds last year but the enthusiasm over his return has been somewhat more muted. I can't imagine why. Let's face it: you can break down any aspect of their team for as long as you want, but 2006 for the Giants will be no different than any other year. If Barry Bonds has one of his completely absurd Barry Bonds years, has an OBP of like .650 or something, they can win the NL West. I think the Dodgers, who aren't resting all of their hopes upon one guy, are a smarter bet for the division title. However, if I were them I would quietly be encouraging Jeff Kent to challenge Bonds to a ultimate fighting match (to be shown as the undercard for the World Baseball "Classic" final). Even if Barry only plays 120 games, even if he walks 400 times, even if he experiences a mysterious power drain this season, you still have to fear and respect him.
Scouting the Division: Arizona
It's hard to read what 2006 might have in store for the Diamondbacks. If Arizona ever committed to going full-bore youth movement as Colorado has done, a string of division titles might be in the offing. Their talent is just that good. John Sickels rates five of their hitters in the top 20 on his Top 50 Position Player Prospects list in The Baseball Prospect Book 2006. Arizona has benefited tremendously from the unwillingness of the many teams drafting above them to commit huge dollar figures to signing bonuses. Hello, Justin Upton and Stephen Drew. 2003's first round netted them both Conor Jackson and Carlos Quentin. They added top White Sox farmhand Chris Young in the Javier Vasquez trade. That's five guys who will rake, for cheap, for years to come. That's a good place to be.
Arizona's behavior in the two offseasons since a disastrous 51-111 2004 haven't really befitted a team preparing to build a run around a bunch of 22- and 23-year-olds. In the trades of Randy Johnson and Troy Glaus, Arizona elected to bring aboard players who could provide immediate, if low-ceilinged, help while passing up higher-risk, higher-reward players. The cost of respectability in 2005 could end up being championships in '08 and '09. The team hasn't acted intelligently when it comes to assembling a rotation to support their fresh-faced mashers. None of the guys they've picked up in trades the last two years are long-term solutions: Brad Halsey, Miguel Batista, El Duque. The deal for Johnny Estrada evidences the same lack of logical thinking. Estrada seems like a recent arrival on the major league scene, but he's nearly 30. Orlando Hudson, same problem.
Arizona has talked the good talk about putting a superior defense behind Brandon Webb and his all-world sinker, but I'm not sure what their plan is for their other four starters. Halsey, Russ Ortiz, and Orlando Hernandez are going to get plugged. The hope is that Claudio Vargas builds on his okay '05 or Dustin Nippert, their one pitching prospect to go with all the maulers, puts it together this year. Realistically, even with the 1970 Orioles infield behind him, Webb is more of a number three guy than a true ace, and it may well be that he's gotten as good as he's going to get. In 2001 this franchise won a World Series on the backs of two ridiculously dominant starting pitchers. The mid-decade model will have to find a different formula.
The 2006 Diamondbacks have some strengths on their roster, but in some ways they resemble an apartment one person is beginning to move into before the previous tenant has completely cleared out. Luis Gonzalez and Shawn Green will almost certainly not be playing for Arizona when next they appear in the postseason. Since both of those guys have some value, why exactly are they still here? Players like Tony Clark, Craig Counsell, and Damion Easley are less premium examples of the same problem. Well, except for Easley, he pretty much just sucks. In any case Arizona shouldn't make the same mistake they made last year of staying the course at midseason when they were on pace for 75 wins -- and a division title. If anyone comes calling offering them young arms for Green or Gonzalez, they've got to do it.
As far as this coming season is concerned, there's one thing I haven't mentioned yet that pretty much dooms the D-Backs to another nondescript year. Their bullpen was awful last year (dead last, and comfortably so, in the majors in ERA and OPS allowed). To address this they've done: nothing. Well, they signed Terry Mulholland, Kevin Jarvis, and Jason Grimsley and traded for Luis Vizcaino. So, like I said: nothing. Jose Valverde was pretty good last year; he'll be the closer. After that they're hoping Brandon Lyon and homegrown guys Brian Bruney, Brandon Medders, and Greg Aquino get a lot better very quickly. It's true that there's not a lot of sense behind spending a lot of money on free agent relievers when your team is not realistically a contender. Then again, I watched in horror as the Rockies' entire season basically went down the tubes as an all-youth movement bullpen blew game after game in April and May of last year. It might be wise for morale's sake to install Miguel Batista as the setup man and hope to find a hidden gem somewhere to use as another starter.
Scouting the Division: San Diego
When the only Rockies news worth reporting is the acquisition of Jamey Carroll, it's time to look elsewhere for post topics. With spring training well and truly nigh, we might as well begin taking a closer look at what for lack of a better word we'll call the competition in the NL West. Today we're doing the Padres, because, well, I say so.
(Regarding Carroll: He will have no impact, unless someone gets hurt and he actually plays, in which case Jamey will make Rockies fans long for the golden age of Aaron Miles. It would be pretty scary if Carroll somehow impresses Clint Hurdle to the degree that it costs a healthy Luis Gonzalez playing time, but c'mon. It's Jamey Carroll. Hurdle's not that dumb. Is he?)
OK, the Padres. As you may have heard, they won the division with an 82-80 record last season, giving newspaper columnists nationwide the easiest 800 words they wrote all year. They were then summarily stomped by St. Louis in a division series less watched than "M*A*S*H" reruns in many major markets. The division champs weren't even as good as their record. The good ol' Pythagorean equation had them at 76-86. They were 29-20 in one-run games, a stat perhaps aided by their team strength, a deep and versatile bullpen. The Padres were third in the majors in innings pitched by the bullpen and 6th in ERA. That's pretty unusual -- the first and second place teams in innings pitched were Kansas City (22nd in bullpen ERA) and Texas (26th). The presence of a bullpen that was both busy and good allowed San Diego to scrape into the postseason with a middle-of-the-pack rotation (17th in the majors in starters' ERA) and a poor offense (23rd in OPS).
The sea air at Petco Park plus deeper-than-average power alleys indeed suppress offense. But San Diego fans have to be getting as tired of hearing that as an excuse for everything that ails the franchise as Colorado supporters are of the altitude thing. Fact is that the Padres just had a poor bunch of hitters last season. It's true that they were an abysmal .255/.330/.377 at home. They were also .259/.336/.404 on the road, and they got to play at Coors and Bank One nine times apiece. That's not very good.
So who's coming to save them? Mike Piazza and Mike Cameron. Piazza is not quite washed up at the plate but near-useless defensively, while Cameron continues his tour of the most unfriendly hitters' parks in the majors. They re-signed Brian Giles and Trevor Hoffman, as they probably had to, but curiously they let much of their bullpen depth get away as Akinori Otsuka (trade) and Chris Hammond (free agent) will not return. Their rotation isn't going to soak up any of those lost innings, as after Jake Peavy and reliably average Chris Young it goes Shawn Estes, Chan Ho Park, Woody Williams. Unintentional hilarity alert: this padres.com mailbag includes the clause "If Woody Williams, Shawn Estes, and Chan Ho Park shine...." Well, what then? Will the lion lie down with the lamb? Will a snake swallow its own tail? I don't think we need to worry about what might happen, because all of those guys are terrible.
The Padres are to be praised for keeping the free agents they couldn't afford to lose (excluding Ramon Hernandez, who was wildly overpaid by the Orioles) and adding a nice smorgasbord of bench depth (Mark Bellhorn, Geoff Blum, Termel Sledge) but that all overlooks the fact that they're still desperately lacking at several major starting positions. What's sad is not that they've acquired Vinny Castilla to play third, but that barring catastrophe he will almost certainly be an improvement upon what they ran out there last year. They're not getting power from left field (Dave Roberts) or first base (Ryan Klesko) so they're really counting on Piazza, Cameron, and Khalil Greene to step it up in that department. Says here they will be disappointed. There were few more mystifying deals this offseason than the trade of useful, affordable two-way player Mark Loretta for designated knuckleball chaser Doug Mirabelli. Sorry, San Diego, Tim Wakefield was not included in the deal.
It's true that championship banners fly forever, but the Padres' 2005 NL West title seems as if it will be as memorable as their 1998 World Series appearance. (Remember that? It really happened!) But for injuries the Dodgers and Giants would have passed them up last year, and those clubs seem to have moved slightly forward this offseason while San Diego has taken a step back with both its starters and relievers, and has done nothing to bolster an already impotent offense. Nice bench, though. It's not out of the question that San Diego will repeat as division champs in 2006, but if they do so it will follow much the same script as last year -- San Francisco and Los Angeles end up waylaid by the DL and eighty wins and change is good enough for the crown. The Padres' long-term future is murky, as the Dodgers, the Diamondbacks, and even the Rockies have way more talent in the pipeline. They're better prepared than some of their divisional brethren to absorb a major injury here and there, but that's only because they're already starting replacement-level guys all over the lineup. If Peavy or Giles goes down, things will get real ugly real quickly.
The Fogg Comes
Josh Fogg signs a minor-league deal with a chance to win the fifth starter spot. He probably won't. Fogg, as we've discussed, isn't good. He certainly violates the Better Than Mike Esposito principle. That's not at issue as the guys he really needs to worry about are Zach Day and Sunny Kim. At this juncture I would say the early leader is Kim, seeing as he alone among the three has in fact pitched well, if ephemerally so, for the Rockies. Fogg is not particularly good at inducing ground balls, tends to give up lots of homers, and doesn't strike people out. I mean, at least Jamey Wright had a great pickoff move. I'm not sure what this guy brings to the table.
Spring training is pretty well nigh, meaning the local media is taking a few seconds from salivating over the possibility of Terrell Owens as a Bronco to dis the Rockies. You've heard it all before. There is one amusing factual error in Jim Armstrong's Post piece however. "No other owner would have kept his GM around for six straight last- or next-to-last-place finishes," he writes. Dude, haven't you ever heard the legend of Chuck LaMar?
Extensions and Retrenchings
Clint Hurdle and Dan O'Dowd have each had their contracts extended through the end of 2007. This is not really big news because in the current baseball ecology, allowing a management figure to begin the final year of a deal without an extension is equivalent to firing them. I don't know why this is. I have trouble enough convincing people to pay me for work I have already done, let alone work I may or may not theoretically do in the future. Baseball's a funny game.
I overheard ESPN's Buster Olney speaking to local radio this morning. I respect Olney, but he's an East Coast guy through and through, and his thoughts on the Rockies were startlingly unoriginal. It's impossible to develop pitchers at altitude? Says who? Worse yet was Olney's suggestion that Colorado resurrect the "beer league softball" model of several years back, with leaden sluggers at every position and a pitching staff expected only to get out of the way of liners roaring back towards the mound. Sigh. This is the sort of thing we've been trying to stamp out, but it sounds as if the message is not spreading. The Rockies have to play half their games on the road. They win at home already. To win on the road, they need at least the rudiments of competitive pitching. Let's move on.
Our spiritual brothers at Bucs Dugout and Royals Review have an in-depth comparison up of those two bottom feeders. For my part, I think the Rockies as presently operated compare favorably to the Kansas City and Pittsburgh franchises. First, they're not spending tens of millions of dollars on replacement-level veterans who won't improve them any, and second, they play in a division lacking any obviously superior clubs. But there are many similarities. The Rockies, Royals, and Pirates all have owners who swear up and down that they can't possibly make a profit while raising payroll any higher. Each team has a baby-faced starter upon whom they're resting the future of the franchise -- Jeff Francis, Zach Duke, Zack Greinke. Each has a classy genuine All-Star talent who must look with bemusement upon the detritus surrounding him in the locker room -- Todd Helton, Jason Bay, Mike Sweeney. And all these teams have seemingly smarter-than-average fanbases who harbor no illusions about their favorite teams' chances of contending (ever), yet cling to them with inexplicable tenacity. Wow, I just gritted my teeth so tightly I think I popped a blood vessel. Onward, Men of Purple.
My Two Cents on the Super Bowl
I'm pretty useless when it comes to picking football games. Come to think of it, I'm pretty useless at baseball prognostication as well, and I spend about a hundred times more energy on baseball than I do on football. This is a weird Super Bowl, too. I don't have a rooting interest. I could be annoyed at Pittsburgh for beating the Bears in the regular season, but they also did me a huge favor by eliminating the Broncos in the playoffs. It's true that Shaun Alexander led me to a regular season title in my fantasy football league, but it's also true that I lost in the first round of the playoffs when some guy named Adalius Thomas randomly had a 17-point game. On a Monday night! (This was our first year of drafting and playing individual defensive players, something I can't really complain about as it was just as much my defense as Alexander that led to my 11-3 regular season showing. Yes, I totally knew Mike Vrabel was going to start catching touchdown passes every week.)
The Steelers kind of have a reverse lock thing working here. I haven't really read or heard a convincing argument for a Seahawks victory yet, but I haven't been looking that hard. I only watched one Seattle game all the way through the whole year, and that was that game against the Giants at home that New York had won about five times only Jay Feely (my fantasy kicker, by the way) kept missing game-winners. Pittsburgh on the other hand I've seen several times. They game-planned extremely well against the overpursuing Bears defense by running about two screen passes per set of downs. Their defense sure looked good against Indianapolis and Denver.
My gut feeling is that this game is a mismatch and the experts know it, only they hope by repeating over and over again that "it'll be a great game" this will somehow become true. Frankly the recent run of closely contested Super Bowls has been ruining the delicious irony of the most-watched annual American team sports event being year-in year-out one of the very worst actual displays of competition. Pittsburgh 34, Seattle 20 maybe?
I'm Moving; The Rockies, Not So Much
Even a move to a new room in the same building is a pain. Knee pain, endless repeating halls, back pain, no Internet for two days, annoying cable guy coming to make the Internet come back...but enough about my problems.
Ryan Speier is probably out for the year. Bad news for Speier, good news for Scott Dohmann. Baseball Prospectus's free notebook has rolled around to the Rockies once again. You've heard it all before here, but there is further statistical evidence of Danny Ardoin's defensive dominance if you care to look at it.
Sunny Kim lost his arbitration hearing and Yorvit Torrealba, as expected, signed a one-year deal to avoid a hearing of his own. Neither guy is making even a million dollars so you don't need to worry about the exact figures.
Finally, Royce Clayton is now the Nationals' problem. Oh man, can you imagine a Cristian Guzman/Clayton double play combination? That would be the best thing ever.
Optimism is Depressing
Tracy Ringolsby is pretty much always willing to buy whatever the Rockies are selling, but he doesn't always get to do it for a national site. Ringolsby's piece for CBS SportsLine this week is called "Rockies do nothing -- and that has made all the difference."
The strongest argument for the Rockies contending in 2006 is the old standby: none of the other teams in their division are much good either. The rest of Ringolsby's article strains credibility. Describing Danny Ardoin's 2.4 VORP last year as "an unexpected lift" is a stretch. Listing Garrett Atkins and Matt Holliday's raw stats from last year without noting their violent home/road splits is a bit disingenuous as well. Aaron Cook's budding stardom is something I hope the rest of the baseball world will pick up on in 2006. But Cook, Jeff Francis, and Jason Jennings do not yet have the credentials to be described as a "Big Three." They're not really even a Medium Three.
Tracy saves the worst exaggeration for last: "What is really scary for the rest of the NL West [is that] many of the Rockies' top prospects haven't arrived yet." Well, that's true of most teams. "Prospects" by definition have not arrived. Trouble is, the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks have vastly better farm systems than Colorado, and as we've noted, all of the Rockies' real promising young players are two levels or more away from the majors. While it's true that the franchise has had a very quiet offseason, they were fairly active in the trade market during the summer of 2005, and received essentially nothing of value for their troubles. Apparently no one wants to read an honest appraisal of an already bad team's further missteps, preferring pie-in-the-sky provocations like Ringolsby's. Well, we're always here to set the record straight.
A Post piece clarifies the extent of the team's interest in Josh Fogg. Also of note herein: Sunny Kim today becomes only the second player in team history to actually enter arbitration. Yorvit Torrealba could become the third next week, but precedent certainly suggests that Dan O'Dowd will get him signed before then.
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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