Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Monthly archives: November 2008


The Cold Stove
2008-11-22 17:14
by Mark T.R. Donohue

It's as I feared: the Rockies are once again complete nonentities in the trade-rumor reports and free-agent signing buzz columns on the national websites. It's not that Colorado plans to stand pat after trading their franchise player for a platoon outfielder, a fifth starter whose ERA at Coors may well top 7.00 (the "Chacon Line"), and a damaged-goods closer that they have no intention of keeping. It's just that the various baseball reporting sources out there assume, correctly, that nobody cares what the Rockies are planning. Their roster is essentially a toolbox for the teams that count to pick and choose parts from at whim.

Normally at this time of year there would be a lot of hot air regarding the postseason awards selections, but aside from the Gold Gloves (which are a travesty) the selectors basically got it right this season. It was gutsy, and uncharacteristic, of the voters to pick the actual best pitcher and player in the NL to win the Cy Young and MVP. The AL Cy Young was too obvious to miss, and the Managers of the Year were pretty obvious choices as well (although Chicago fans wish Lou Piniella's playoff preparations were taken into account during the polling). The only award you could really call a reach was Dustin Pedroia's AL MVP nod; Pedroia clearly wasn't the best offensive player in the league nor the one most valuable to his team. He was third in the league in position-player VORP, though, and nobody wants to see A-Rod win any more awards. I feel bad for Carlos Quentin, who probably would have won had he not missed the last month of the season with an injury. As far as the murky definition of MVP goes, he would have been my pick -- the White Sox would have been a completely different team without his contributions.

I saw a few items out there linking the Rockies and the Reds as possible trade partners, which stands to reason. Colorado needs pitching, desperately, and Cincinnati doesn't have any to spare. It does say that they're kicking the tires on Willy Taveras and Yorvit Torrealba in addition to the eminently available Garrett Atkins. I would frankly trade Atkins for nothing just for the opportunity to never have to watch Willy Taveras play again, but this isn't the NBA. If Dan O'Dowd could move Torrealba, who slumped and was passed by on the depth chart by Chris Iannetta, for anything of use that would be a coup. There's always teams looking to overpay for mediocre catching for some reason, even though there must be 800 catchers in the minor leagues capable of hitting .220 and playing decent defense at the big-league level.

I'm really annoyed by Colorado's decision to ask for Huston Street instead of a third prospect in the Matt Holliday deal. A bird in the hand (or, as the case may be, a mid-minors starting prospect with a swing-and-miss pitch) is worth two in the bush, and as some of you may have observed, the market for "proven closers" is grossly overcrowded this offseason. Brian Fuentes is out there, obviously, and so are Kerry Wood, Trevor Hoffman, Francisco Rodriguez, Eric Gagne, Brandon Lyon, Jason Isringhausen, Jorge Julio... quite possibly more players than there are teams out there who don't have a 9th-inning man already and feel compelled to pay through the nose for one. This is why Billy Beane is smarter than your GM and totally deserves his own video game. He took a player he didn't need and didn't want to pay for and made him the Rockies' problem. Rather than parting with any prospects that Oakland really wanted to keep, he sent Dan O'Dowd two guys who aren't going to get any better and one guy whose rapidly diminishing value is further flattened by the glut of free agents out there at his position this year. But maybe Trader Dan can flip Street and Willy T to the Reds for hundreds of thousands of remaindered copies of Pete Rose's tell-all and the exhumed corpses of all of Marge Schott's pet dogs.

There is no perfect economic system for modern pro sport, or if there isn't it hasn't been hit upon yet. The NFL has that thorny issue with its unproven rookies making way more guaranteed money than experienced veterans. The NHL still hasn't reconciled its salary scale with its revenues, leading to a bunch of teams hovering near bankruptcy and an increasing number of European players figuring they might as well go back to the Old World so they can be heckled in more familiar languages. The top-flight pro soccer leagues in Europe are all top-heavy, with three or four dominant clubs and sixteen just hoping to avoid relegation. But even as I'm whining about the Rockies and their disinterest in spending money in an environment where the best-capitalized clubs are always going to have two or three times as much cash to throw around, I'm observing the state of affairs in the NBA and thinking that maybe it's a blessing that MLB hasn't worked out a salary cap yet.

The Knicks traded their two top scorers on the same day this week. This is a team that has been ghastly for almost ten years, and with a new coach committed only to playing the guys who would work hard, they were starting to play a lot better this year. And yet the deals getting rid of Jamal Crawford and Zach Randolph were widely received in New York as masterstrokes. It's not the players they're getting back. Al Harrington is a headcase and one of the few players in the league even less disciplined than Crawford when it comes to jacking up stupid, low-percentage bombs. Tim Thomas was the laziest man in Los Angeles County, coming damn near close to making him the laziest in the world. Now he'll compete for the title of laziest man in Manhattan. Cuttino Mobley is a nice player, but he's an aging, undersized shooting guard. Guards don't post up much in Mike D'Antoni's offense so playing for the Knicks might well neutralize Mobley's chief skill.

But analysis like that is completely beside the point in the cap-crazy world of the NBA. None of those players' per-game averages matter in the least. The only math that counts is how much money in expiring salaries they carry. New York is punting, openly and apparently with full fan approval, on this season and the next so that they might have the chance to sign LeBron James in 2010. Well, what if he stays in Cleveland? Then what do the Knicks do? Overpay Chris Bosh? No way Amare Stoudemire leaves Phoenix or Dirk Nowitzki leaves Dallas. The rules are set up so that the incumbent team can give their free agents more money and more years. And what kind of core are the Knicks going to have in 2010? Sure, you can look at the Celtics and say being able to add Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen took them from worst to first. But Paul Pierce was already there, and so were useful rotation players like Leon Powe, Kendrick Perkins, and Rajon Rondo. Is LeBron really going to want to play in New York so bad that he'll suit up every night with Nate Robinson, Wilson Chandler, and Chris Duhon?

No, the NBA is set up so that you have to draft your superstars, which is why it's so nice to watch the Bulls play these days even though they're terrible. Derrick Rose is so good. I have a mad man-crush. The way he goes down the lane crashing into guys without having his trajectory or his control of the ball affected in the least is impressive, particularly for a guy who's probably six-one and a half. His jump shot is way better than I remember it being in the NCAA tournament and he's a beast on the fast break. His fourth quarter last night against Golden State was scintillating -- he was scoring on drives, from the foul line, on pull-up jumpers, on catch-and-shoot threes. It's too bad he plays on the same team as Larry Hughes, because all of the joy you get from watching Rose play the game gets sucked right out when Hughes comes in. Between the blowout loss to Portland and the win in Golden State, I didn't see Hughes ever once look at a teammate after receiving the ball on offense. His eyes lock right on the basket like the white whale. Thankfully Rose is getting about twice as many minutes as Hughes so the Bulls are two-thirds fun to watch.

Coming back around to baseball, I think the NBA's lesson for our game is that unintended consequences abound when you start tinkering with payroll caps. In a way, there's something positive about how in the NBA a super-rich team has to take big risks and take its lumps for a few years in order to position itself best to take advantage of its resources. If there was a hard cap in the MLB, the Yankees would be even more screwed than the Knicks, with the incredibly high dollar amount of worthless or near-worthless free agent contracts they've handed out in the last five years. But things have sort of corrected themselves. When was the last time the Yankees won the World Series? It's been a while. And, I think everyone but the most passionate Yankee-hater would admit, it's best for baseball for the Yankees to be in the playoffs most years, so long as they don't win every year. And that's exactly what's happened, as New York's spendthrift contracts have held them back just enough so that we've seen some knockout races in the AL East. Which is great. I don't think anyone's advocating that every team in baseball should spend the exact same amount on their major-league rosters each year. The problem I have is with teams like Pittsburgh and the Rockies using the lack of a salary cap as an excuse to not spend money at all. It's ridiculous to say you can't compete with a $60 million payroll when the Rays just went to the Series with a $40 million one.

The dirty secret: The owners of poor teams don't want a salary cap. Not in the slightest. That might compel them to invest the eight-figure revenue sharing checks they get every year in their product on the field instead of pocketing it. You, the taxpayers, built them billion-dollar stadiums so they could have the right to charge you thirty bucks a ticket and eight dollars a beer to watch AAA players.

I hate you, Rockies ownership.

Quite a Haul
2008-11-11 16:32
by Mark T.R. Donohue

So we have a better idea now of the players the Rockies will receive from Oakland in the Matt Holliday trade, although not a complete one. There are physicals still to come and there is also a chance that Dan O'Dowd may flip the only guy with a big-league profile, reliever Huston Street, for further prospects. Street's presence in the trade saves it from being a complete disaster for Colorado, particularly if they're able to move him before his pitching elbow falls off. Some early rumors suggested that the Rockies were going to get Greg Smith, Brett Anderson, and Carlos Gonzalez, all three of whom were acquired by Oakland in the same deal with Arizona last offseason. That sends up a red flag since any time a young player spends only a year in Oakland's system and then gets flipped there's usually something wrong with them. The A's don't waste cheap talent.

Street is a better get than Anderson (the Rockies do receive Smith and Gonzalez) because even though his health situation has deteriorated he's still perceived as a plus closer. Brian Fuentes was significantly better last year, with a way higher K rate and half the homers. But the Rockies don't care about being good, they care about being cheap, and Street has two more years until free agency. Thus, he has at least half a season in him before he becomes too expensive for the Monforts. Street is a high-fastball pitcher and could be a catastrophe at Coors Field, particularly if bad early results lead to him overthrowing and hurting himself. I think the odds of his ever even wearing a Rockies uniform are somewhat less than fifty-fifty.

The other two guys, from what I hear, are no great shakes. Smith is a lefty with superb control, a much-praised move to first, and no above-average pitches. Guys like that tend to get absolutely torched at Coors, Jeff Francis notwithstanding (although the Channel's pure stuff is pretty underrated). Smith also has an almost 60% flyball rate and strikes out about five per nine. In short, he's a mediocre fifth starter who at Coors will probably give up five or six runs a start and leave the bullpen with four innings of work to do. Just like the back-end starters the Rockies had last year, only... even cheaper! Wow, maybe we can finally afford to get the Dinger costume dry-cleaned between homestands this season.

Carlos Gonzalez is an outfielder considered the big prize in the Haren deal. The A's were terribly excited to see him arrive a winter ago and now they're even more excited to be rid of him. Unlike another D-Back Carlos, Carlos Quentin, Arizona didn't err in letting this guy leave town. He's a platoon lefty who strikes out a ton and doesn't hit for power, although Keith Law likes his defense. He's young, to be sure, but the Rockies still haven't learned their lesson on this -- guys who reach the majors without having fully absorbed the difference between balls and strikes almost never fall upon it late in life. He'll hit more than four homers at Coors Field but with an OBP well south of .300, he'll do far more harm than good.

We'll have to wait and see what the Rockies get for Street, if they choose to move him, before we can really close the book on this deal. Gonzalez is the key, clearly -- Street being two years away from free agency means he has no future in Denver and Smith's best-case scenario is that he pitches so well he gets to become Colorado's first-ever 20-game loser. It's a little unfair to look at the numbers alone and say that Gonzalez isn't any improvement on Spilborghs, Smith, Hawpe, Fowler because those guys have gotten to play at Coors (and Colorado Springs -- 6,035 feet) and Carlos had to play at the Mausoleum. He could get better. If he does, we can look forward to the Rockies trading him in three or four years.

I held off on this yesterday because I wanted to find out what the haul was, but now I know. The Rockies are a pathetic, disgusting joke and I'm annoyed that by proximity I'm going to be forced to follow them for another dreary season. This ownership group has ground the hopes and spirits of baseball fans desperate for a quality squad into the ground, Albert Haynesworth-style. The Nuggets, Avalanche, and Broncos are spending all of their resources to bring star players, successful coaches, and hopefully championships to the city of Denver, a city where for better or worse winners get supported intensely and passionately and losers get ignored. This is the city of Carmelo Anthony, Joe Sakic, Champ Bailey, Milan Hejduk, Jay Cutler, Adam Foote, now Chauncey Billups.

And Greg Smith, Carlos Gonzalez, and (maybe) Huston Street. Bleep you, you cheap bleeping jerks. Thanks for stealing my money and my team.

Rockies to Trade Holliday
2008-11-10 15:37
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I'm still waiting to hear what prospects they're getting back. I highly doubt they'll be "major-league ready," since Oakland studiously divested themselves of most of their remaining assets of that sort last season. Still, I'd rather have A's prospects than most other teams', since they draft and develop pitchers like clockwork and they have a farm system that to its roots respects pitch counts and year-to-year innings increases.

Is Holliday the big star that Oakland will re-sign and build around as they open their new stadium? Or does Billy Beane figure that a year of Matt Holliday and compensation picks is better than whatever he's sending back to Dan O'Dowd?

In any case, Rockies fans should be irate. Particularly since Holliday told the Denver Post a week ago that the major reason he doesn't want to stay with Colorado is because he doesn't believe they can compete reliably. A year after they were in the World Series! If you go from defending NL champs to your best player deserting you over competition concerns in one year, there's something deeply broken with your franchise.

More later, to be sure.

The Only Thing Worse Than a Lousy Postseason Is a Lousy Offseason
2008-11-06 17:14
by Mark T.R. Donohue

Well, so much for baseball in 2008. Anybody else feel ripped off? The fact that the champs clinched in a three-inning pretend game must have left a lot of people besides me seeking closure. I guess I must seek it in my Ken Burns DVD's and those dreams I sometimes have where the Rockies' ownership isn't a bunch of greedy short-sighted morons.

Colorado's quest to replicate exactly its losing AAA Colorado Springs teams of 2005-06 at the major league level continues rapidly as Brian Fuentes has been informed he won't be negotiating with the Rockies for a new contract and Matt Holliday will be dealt soon. "Any pitching we get will likely be projection pitching," Dan O'Dowd tells the Denver Post. So they're trading Holliday, their best player and offensive leader, and getting minor leaguers in return. This is not a competition deal. This is a "we're cheap, and not trying to win" deal.

But thanks for your money, Rockies fans!

At least Willy Taveras is likely to go as well. He's been named in connection with the White Sox, which makes sense. There aren't many teams in the majors that witlessly prioritize smallball more than Clint Hurdle and the Rockies, but the White Sox are one of them. It's completely ridiculous for both teams to be worried about taking the extra base when one plays in thin air and the other has a stadium with a jetstream to left-center. But in any event, please take Willy, Ozzie and Kenny. For anything. For free, even. Ryan Spilborghs is going to go play center in Mexico this winter, with an eye on his assuming the full-time job. Spilborghs is a tremendous asset to have on the bench as a pinch-hitter and fourth outfielder, but he'd be stretched as an everyday centerfielder. The Rockies won't pay the going rate for legitimate two-way centerfielders, and perish the thought they ever trade for someone making more than the veterans' minimum. So it's going to be Seth Smith, Brad Hawpe, and Spilborghs. Go, SkySox!

I don't mean to knock the Rockies' player development system incessantly. Obviously it's better than it's ever been after almost a decade of neglect and mismanagement. However, a great player development system with no commitment to achieving lasting results on the major league level is worth... well, one lucky playoff appearance every fifteen years or so, depending on your division. Colorado now has seemingly no interest in either holding on to talent like Holliday and Fuentes or looking outside the farm system to fill in the holes the farm can't handle on its own, like second base and center field. The only guys the Rockies will take a look at are failed starters and middle relievers, the day-old donuts of the free agent market. And they can't even get that right -- Luis Vizcaino was a complete waste of money.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers are preparing to give Manny Ramirez more guaranteed money than the entire Rockies payroll will make this year and next year combined. Funny situation there in Los Angeles. Normally, a team trying to keep a free agent tries to lowball him -- the "hometown discount," although that doesn't really apply to Manny since he was only there for a few months. But even so the practice is usually to put some kind of qualifying number out there, maybe 60-70% of what the player and agent are demanding, and see if any other team steps up to blow that away. That's what Milwaukee seems to be doing with C.C. Sabathia, throwing out a 5-year, $100 million deal that sounds generous but might be two fewer guaranteed years and some $50 million less than Sabathia's asking figure. L.A. however isn't fooling around. There's a lot of pressure on them to keep Ramirez in town, since it was his play after the trade that was perceived to have launched the Dodgers all the way to the NLCS. That's not the whole story (Rafael Furcal and the bullpen helped a lot too), but this is a bit of a reversal from what we usually see because it's the incumbent team that has the real pressure on them to perhaps break discipline and massively exceed their budget. I'm only really interested in this from an academic point of view, since the Dodgers are going to be be ten games (at least) better than the Rockies even without Manny next year.

I've been watching a lot of basketball lately. I'm quite thrilled the Nuggets traded Allen Iverson for Chauncey Billups; it remains to be seen whether the exchange of one disinterested defensive player for one very good one will rub off on the rest of the team. Nene has looked good in the early going, which is good news for fans of one-named Brazilians. We'll see if Billups can get Carmelo Anthony (now with grown-up hair!) more looks at the rim instead of long jumpers. As for the Bulls, Vinny Del Negro is massively overmatched as a first-time coach, especially with the roster Chicago has with no true center and a bunch of standstill shooting guards. Their offense will likely lead the league in 24-second violations. But at the very least, Derrick Rose is the real deal. He was instantly their best player the moment he put on a Bulls uniform and as soon as Chicago sorts out the mess of mismatched talent around him, he's going to be an All-Star. He can shoot, he can drive, and he's too strong to taken advantage of on defense. He needs more scoring big men to develop fully as a playmaking point guard, since right now at 6'3" he's the most reliable option the Bulls have in the paint. It's hard to screen-and-roll with yourself, and if Tyrus Thomas takes one more 20-foot jump shot all season it'll be one too many.

The other NBA team I've been watching a lot of is the Warriors, who are always interesting. With Baron Davis gone and a more conventional scoring guard in Corey Maggette signed to replace him, they really ought to start running something like a conventional offense. Particularly considering that minute for minute post-up center Andris Biedrins is the best offensive player they have (his free-throw shooting has even advanced to the point where you don't have to cover your eyes every time he gets the ball at the line). If the Warriors slowed things down they'd get more from Biedrins and Maggette, and they'd be better placed to take advantage of their length and athleticism on defense. But this is a Don Nelson team, and it's just not going to happen. They're going to continue letting Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington jack up threes from halfcourt, and when Monta Ellis gets back, things will just get worse. Biedrins might not get another play called for him all year. I don't think that Nelson's insistence on playing his way is the difference between Golden State making the playoffs and missing out; in the Western Conference the Warriors are a fortysomething-win team either way and that ain't cutting it.

Almost forgot: The Gold Gloves are a joke. Still.