Monthly archives: January 2008
Contemplating Lefty Heaven
A few thoughts on Johan Santana's apparent move to the NY Mets:
1) The Twins accepted a package of prospects that ran, interestingly enough, 3-4-5-6 in the Mets' organizational rankings from last year's Baseball America Prospect Handbook.
2) Much more exciting names were supposed to have been involved in the deals that Minnesota turned their noses up at some weeks ago at the winter meetings. Someone who doesn't follow baseball all that closely might read between the lines and assume some sort of backdoor incentives from the league were involved in getting this deal done and encouraging at least a little reverse movement after the mass exodus of talent from the AL to the NL. But stories all offseason suggested quite strongly that neither Boston nor the Yankees were particularly excited about giving up their best young pitchers (pitchers who themselves may or may not be somewhat overrated due their mere status as the top Yankee and Red Sox farm arms) and indeed were only involved in the bidding to assure that the other didn't land Santana. If all that is so, Mets GM Omar Minaya played his cards correctly by waiting out the big fishes and getting Johan at an everybody-else-in-the-league price, not at a Yankees/Red Sox premium.
3) Assuming Santana passes his physical and starts on Opening Day for the Mets and then proceeds to start every fifth day for New York after that, he will face the Rockies at Coors Field Sunday, May 25th. It is imperative of course that Clint Hurdle arrange his rotation such that Colorado's own star lefty can face off against the current paragon of the form. Jeff Francis vs. Johan Santana pitching a day game? It's the closest thing many of us on earth will ever come to lefty heaven, which is more patient and polite (not to mention 1/8 as crowded) than regular heaven but has a lot of clumsy people, prefers on the whole not to drive a manual transmission, and has a surprising concentration of former pitchers who tend to overindulge on ambrosia and babble madly about fire trucks and/or international banking conspiracies.
The Rockies' Re-Sign Mania
First Matt Holliday (and not to be forgotten, Willy Taveras), now Troy Tulowitzki. Dan O'Dowd is bound and determined not to let any of his core players reach arbitration, and his enthusiasm to spread around the guaranteed money is engendering goodwill and (probably) saving Colorado cash in the long run.
The Tulowitzki deal is the most nationally notable of the three the Rockies have recently made, since at $31 million it dwarfs the old high given to a player with less than two years' experience, the $23.45 million Grady Sizemore received in 2006. Close Colorado baseball observers, however, should find nothing particularly surprising about O'Dowd's decision to lock up Tulowitzki for the rest of his free-agency period. (The only mildly unexpected thing about the deal is the fact that the Rockies have a $15 million option to keep Tulo off the free market for an additional year -- quite a concession for a guy who could well be worth in excess of $20 million a year by that point.) O'Dowd also quickly moved to get Jeff Francis signed to a deal like this when it became clear Francis was going to be a rotation staple. Tulowitzki took less time to establish his bona fides, but there isn't anyone in the know within the Rockies organization or without who doesn't think he's going to be a force to be reckoned with for years if not decades to come.
The more exciting deal is Matt Holliday's, since in accepting a two-year, $23 million deal Holliday is freely giving up some of the leverage he has against the Rockies. If he wanted agent Scott Boras to engineer a trade out of Colorado before he becomes a free agent two offseasons hence, he never would have taken this deal, as it's quite possible he could have blackmailed his new team into tearing up the whole arbitration pay scale and letting him get his massive raise a season early. This deal announces that Holliday is serious about staying in Colorado, and wants to give them every opportunity in the next two years to meet him halfway on a contract extension suitable for the franchise-class player Holliday views himself as. It's quite possible that it will never be worth it to the Rockies to go quite that high, particularly with so much money still owed to Todd Helton (and the forboding example of Helton's quick decline fresh in their memories). But they have a somewhat cost-controlled Holliday under contract for two more seasons and can reassess their position at midseason '08, next offseason, and then again if necessary at midseason '09.
And Willy Taveras and his one skill is worth just slightly under $2 million, with a lot of incentives thrown into the mix. I don't expect Taveras's improbable rate of success in bunting for base hits will continue long into 2008, but if he gets benched, he won't get paid, and I'm glad that his contract structure suggests O'Dowd imagines such a thing as a very real possibility.
"An Off-the-Charts Attitude Star"
Interesting chat moderated by Jayson Stark at ESPN.com (and, it appears, viewable even by non-subscribers to the Worldwide Leader's Insider service): Who ya got, Hanley Ramirez or Troy Tulowitzki? Stark's over-the-top bias towards Tulowitzki might be a nice change of pace for all those of us still cranky about Jimmy Rollins winning all of the Rockies' rightful postseason awards: "The guy in this debate who owns the position we're debating over the next 10 years is Tulowitzki."
Jennings to Texas?
Former Rockies starter (and National League Rookie of the Year) Jason Jennings, according to the Dallas Morning News (whose site I will admit I was only visiting in order to gloat about the Cowboys' loss yesterday), is on the verge of signing with the Texas Rangers. Jennings missed large chunks of 2007 with elbow problems after the Rockies sent him to Houston for Willy Taveras, Jason Hirsh, and Taylor Buchholz. If he's right (and the story above strongly suggests that the only thing preventing Texas from finalizing the deal is Jennings' passing a physical) it's a good pickup for the pitching-poor Rangers, who could use a starter with Jennings' groundball and innings-eating skills.
Also, in the American League, he won't have to run the bases.
Other Sports Update
Stuff is starting to come in the mail from the Rockies about spring training tickets and regular season renewals, and I could not be more excited (especially due to the fact that said renewal will be rather significantly discounted from last year thanks to all the tickets to playoff games I paid for in September that didn't end up getting played). I suspect the Rockies have a good chance of having a better fundamental season than they did in 2007 and winning rather fewer games, but nonetheless they can no longer be discounted as a contender and fewer of the games I go to in '08 will be played in front of empty houses. Knock on wood.
Since the Rockies' offseason plan of not. doing. anything. is proceeding in perfect order, let's today take a look at some of the inferior sports being played during those months placed on the calendar only to remind us by negative example of how vital to life March through October are.
I'm watching the NFL playoffs somewhat fitfully and I was wrong on at least one count: There will end up being more than two interesting games in the AFC playoffs (which are the de facto NFL championship), and perhaps as many as four, since to me watching New England crush a San Diego team with injuries to its three best offensive players into a fine powder will be interesting. It must be said though that both of the games Jacksonville was involved in this January were very entertaining and today's Chargers-Colts contest was a keeper too (hit of the year by Marlon McCree to keep Reggie Wayne from converting a first down on the Colts' last drive). So I underestimated the number of good playoff games by at least one.
But the NFC... oh my goodness. This conference makes the NBA's East look mighty. Dallas was 13-3? They're terrible! I just watched their entire secondary whiff on an Amani Toomer catch-and-run touchdown. Eli Manning and Tony Romo are the best quarterbacks the conference has to offer after Brett Favre, who should have retired five seasons ago? Weak. I feel like the lone voice in the wilderness screaming as I do at a league that continues to grow in popularity year after year while the quality of play has descended to the point where you might as well be watching NAIA ball. Oh, well. Contrarianism is kind of my stock in trade anyway.
The NBA, on the other hand, is going through a renaissance, not that anybody except we few diehards appreciates it. You just have to throw your hands up on the double standards that exist between the MLB and NFL (where is the steroid controversy in the National Football League? You're telling me none of those guys are using human growth hormone?) and the NBA and the NFL ("I don't watch the NBA because all the players are thugs, but I love the NFL... uhh, you can't see cornrows under a helmet"). There sure are a lot of teams playing attractive five-man basketball in the NBA this season, from the Celtics (where the sheer force of Kevin Garnett's personality has led to Paul Pierce and Ray Allen playing actual defense for the first time in their careers) to the Trail Blazers (LaMarcus Aldridge is exactly like Rasheed Wallace except for the threes and the crazy) to the Warriors (who are just an absolute gas to watch run their offense, even if a small nagging voice keeps telling me they would win more games if they slowed it down and posted up Andris Biedrins).
What's more, the good teams from the last few years -- Detroit, San Antonio, Dallas -- are still good, only biding their time for some playoff series that are going to be very hotly contested indeed. Sure, the regular season is too long, but a weird thing has happened -- because there are so many new teams that consider themselves contenders without the old contenders apart from Miami necessarily having given up their thrones, hardly a week goes by without at least two or three games on the schedule that are grudge matches. Detroit and Boston legitimately seem to dislike each other, Dallas obviously has its issues with the Warriors, Phoenix and the Lakers always get up to play, and even though it's been one-sided to this point, there isn't a Nuggets fan in Denver who won't expound at length about their abiding distaste for Tim Duncan and the Spurs.
Unfortunately, the NBA team I still root for is completely terrible and needs to be blown the heck apart. I watched the Bulls get blown out by the Atlanta Hawks this morning and I can't help but feel like everybody except Luol Deng needs to go -- watching Joe Johnson swish threes over helpless six-feet-nothing guys like Kirk Hinrich, Chris Duhon, and Ben Gordon is not my idea of a pleasant Sunday. Not to mention any time one of the Bulls' mighty-mite guards got into the lane the inevitable result two seconds later was the resounding SMACK of a Josh Smith block moving very rapidly away from the basket. It seems like a deal with the point guard-starved Cavaliers is made to order, but unfortunately there isn't a single guy on the Cavs' roster available for trade whose contract isn't hilariously awful.
Update: I totally spaced on the news item that I began this entire post in order to mention. The Hawks, who beat Chicago so soundly earlier today, have to replay the last 51.9 seconds of a game they won December 19th against Miami because the official scorer in that game accidentally disqualified Shaquille O'Neal with his fifth foul instead of his sixth. Unfortunately (if you like crazy sports logistical stuff like the classic Expos-Marlins series in Chicago), Atlanta had another home game left on the schedule against Miami so they'll just make up the lost minute right before their other game starts. It would be hilarious if the whole Heat team had to make a trip to Atlanta just to play less than a minute of basketball. Too bad the Philips Center scorer couldn't have flaked in a game against a Western Conference team.
Rockies Add a Giles
Given that it's no longer 2004, it's hard to work up much excitement for the Rockies' minor-league deal with Marcus Giles. This is a story worth reading for the remarkable lack of enthusiasm displayed by all parties; Troy Renck all but dismisses Giles' chances of making the big-league club in passing and the player's agent is quoted as saying "Of all the opportunities he had, and there weren't many, this was the best one." This is his agent! Flat-out admitting nobody wanted the guy! So much for that career.
More interesting to a Rockies fan, if you're reading between the lines, is the way the organization's official position on the second base vacancy has shifted. After the World Series the buzz was that Ian Stewart was going to be able to make the shift no problem, but now Rockies personnel are buzzing loudly to anyone with a credential that Jayson Nix is ready and indeed has been their guy all along. Look how much of Nix's media-guide bio Renck recycles into his article. Yep, he's the new anointed one. It worked wonders for Jeff Francis and Troy Tulowitzki, not so much for Chin-Hui Tsao (he'll be in Kansas City's camp this spring, true believers) and Chris Iannetta (thus far). At the very least, it won't be Neifi Perez or Jamey Carroll starting on Opening Day at second and to me that feels like progress.
The Modern Eight-Man Rotation
In Japan, where teams always have one day off a week, teams carry six-man rotations and each guy pitches once every seven days. Over here, where days off come every other week, guys mostly pitch every five days... until some of them inevitably get hurt and reinforcements are called in from the bullpen, the minors, or the waiver wire.
The Rockies have had worse-than-average luck when it comes to needing to replace starters in the last three seasons, but at the very least they seem to have a general manager who understands that five starting pitchers isn't even close to being enough. Last season was an extreme example, as 60% of the Rockies' working rotation washed out (all within a few weeks of each other) and the team, as you may remember, got better, thanks to rookies Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales and the amazing, ongoing job of jury-rigging Clint Hurdle managed to pull off in the fifth starter's spot. In case you managed to overlook it: On August 12th, 2007, Tim Harikkala started a game for the Rockies. And they won it.
So if Colorado manages to get through the entire 2008 without any repeat Harikkala performances, you'd have to say they'd solidified the rotation. Mark Redman, who's almost certainly better than Tim Harikkala, played a bit part on last year's team and is competing to play a larger role this season. Kip Wells, who also has a name you might remember, doesn't have a guaranteed contract like Redman, but if he dazzles them down in Tucson, he could be in the April rotation. With the exception of Josh Fogg, with whom the Rockies reasonably could not have expected to catch lightning in a bottle for three seasons running, all of the starters who finished last year are still under contract -- Morales, Jimenez, Aaron Cook, and Jeff Francis. Also returning is Jason Hirsh, who missed the second half with a non-pitching injury. Hirsh had his leg broken by a J.J. Hardy comebacker in August during a game I attended. The story at the time was how Hirsh stayed in after the incident -- Hardy was the second batter of the game -- and pitched six scoreless innings. That was both the highlight and the lowlight of Jason's season, since I don't recall him ever pitching nearly as well on two non-broken legs.
(It is funny to read what I wrote about the injury on August 8th, 2007: "Who's to say the Rockies can't weather the loss of two of their first-choice starters? Ubaldo Jimenez is already better than Hirsh and maybe Franklin Morales will replicate Lopez's surprising early-season performance." Wow, just you wait, past me! Jimenez was indeed much, much better than Hirsh, and while Morales was erratic it was the bullpen that did a heroic job making up for the loss of the innings-munching Lopez.)
So, as for this year, you have Francis, Cook, and Jimenez. No questions there. I imagine that everyone involved with the Rockies would greatly prefer that Morales throws well enough in the spring to keep his spot in the rotation; his major-league service clock has already begun ticking and besides, he's left-handed. Hirsh is a bit of a question mark. He's a flyball pitcher and a fastball-curve guy to boot; at Coors Field, that skill combination usually leads to guys getting dragged from the mound in a straitjacket. What's more he has not only Wells and Redman but also now Josh Towers, a vaguely interesting name, with whom to compete. Towers had a lot of hits drop in against him last year but his peripherals look OK... he had a higher strikeout rate and lower walk rate than both Hirsh and Morales last year. I'm a little surprised he couldn't find a team willing to give him a firmer promise of a starting role, to tell you the truth, but maybe Towers is self-aware enough to know his future is as a super swingman. Dan O'Dowd certainly envisions him as both starting and relieving. I hope that the Towers acquisition doesn't cause Taylor Buchholz to get lost in the shuffle; the forgotten third man from the Willy Taveras-and-Jason Hirsh-for-Jason Jennings trade put in some excellent long relief work down the stretch last year (inspiring a few of us Rockies fans to ask why Buchholz wasn't getting even a sniff at a start... dude, one more time, Tim Harikkala).
So your starting depth chart looks like this:
And that's not so bad. Scratch one or even two of those names from the top five (save the Channel, whom I suspect few Colorado fans even realize the full value of last year) and you're still right there with the other teams in the division besides San Diego, if a little less top-heavy and bottom-slack. And on the off-chance that the Rockies aren't deluged with pitching injuries (which would be a first at least since I've been living in Colorado), they could be really good.
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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