Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Monthly archives: December 2008


Embers and Embree
2008-12-10 15:00
by Mark T.R. Donohue

The Rockies have signed 39-year-old Alan Embree to a one-year deal. Embree's a below-average situational reliever who has managed to bounce around for 16 seasons because he's left-handed. "Financial terms were not disclosed," as they say, but it's probably somewhere between $1.5 and $3 million. He made $3 million and change last season for the A's, for whom he posted a 4.96 ERA. I checked to see how his platoon splits worked out, because those are usually the details where the devils hide with regards to matchup relievers. Embree did face a lot of righthanders last season -- about twice as many as he did lefties -- and he continued to do well when facing lefty swingers, holding them to a .304 OBP. But he gave up a worrying eight home runs, including four to lefties.

The overall point is, for what this below-average veteran will make, the Rockies could bring in five random left-handed Rule 5 picks and minor-league free agents and with alert management shake out a better performance from the group of them. If you're not going to spend $20 million on a player who's clearly exceptional like Matt Holliday, why bother spending $3 million on a guy who's self-evidently below average? Or, more to the point, why not spend another million or two (per year) on Joe Beimel, who gets both lefties and righties out and didn't allow a home run for the entirety of the 2008 season?

The Rockies are trapped in a no-man's land, between the teams like the Marlins and the Rays who don't spend any money at all and the Yankees, who are about to sign C.C. Sabathia to a seven-year deal of which at least two and a half seasons will be spent on the disabled list. The teams that simply don't spend any money on free agents are weirdly free -- they can simply play the players that are good, and discard the ones who stink, since nobody's earning any money anyway. The Rockies continue to feel obligated to spend a very slight amount of money to make it look like they haven't given up. But why bother? The lesson of the last few years in free agency has been that you either want to be at the very top of the pyramid, swinging the eight-figure deals for the Guerrero, Beltran, Man-Ram types, or you want to just give the whole thing a pass and seek alternate means of loading the 40-man with warm bodies.

The Rockies easily could have kept Jeremy Affeldt for not all that much more than they gave Embree and Luis Vizcaino, or they could have gone after Beimel. Sure, the stories about all-time free agent busts seldom if ever include backup catchers or situational relievers. But teams with a budget like the Rockies are hurt more by all these little $2 million, $3 million deals for players who aren't worth more than the league minimum than a team with essentially infinite resources is damaged by $100 million write-offs. The Yankees can still compete while paying Carl Pavano not to play. O'Dowd and ownership seem completely alien to the concept of marginal value. Does Alan Embree help the Rockies contend in 2009? Absolutely not! That's not to say they can't have another fluke good season, but they could just as soon have it with no lefties in the bullpen.

Is the Veteran's Committee trying to kill Ron Santo? Knock it off already and put the man in. Every time the Hall of Fame changes the rules, which it does every other election, it makes the process more absurd and unfair. Asking a bunch of vain, bitter, fiercely territorial old codgers who mostly hate baseball now (since the players nowadays are super-rich and they aren't) to act as gatekeepers for their own club is asinine. My dad asked if I wanted to go on a road trip to the Hall of Fame when I was ten years old. I told him absolutely not, not until they put Ron Santo in. We've still never been, and we're still waiting. Now I'm not so much worried about Santo dying before being honored as I am my dad.

The news today that the BBWAA has extended voting privileges to a handful of prestigious web writers (Law, Neyer, Carroll, Kahrl) is not, as it may appear at first glance, a sign that the Hall is easing into the 20th (note not 21st) century. It's merely a recognition of the fact that the newspaper industry is dying, and if policy remained as it was, most of the current voters would soon be disqualified. This year has marked a stampede-like trend from the traditional press to the web, as writers like J.A. Adande, Sam Smith, and Jay Mariotti have all seen the writing on the wall and left the smudgy newsprint behind. I'm not happy to see the sports page in its death throes, since it was always my dream as a little kid to be a left-hand Page 1 sports columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Now when I have kids, they may not encounter a newspaper their entire lives. It is what it is. I'm not going to fight it too hard, because I'm saving my resources for the even more important and possibly even not impossible campaign to save books.

What worries me is that rather than the move of "legit" writers to the blogosphere raising the dubious ethical and factual level of web sportswriting, the traditional press in its death throes is sinking to the level of the obscenity-screaming comment boards. We have few if any great young sportswriters who treat their craft like a duty; rather we have a lot of self-promoters who pay attention only to what they want to and decrease rather than illuminate understanding of the games they cover. You can't believe anything that you read because everything is spun; sports are become politics, where no one has any idea what's going on at any given time because the illusion of an impartial, objective perspective has been obliterated.

But they still have elections and they still play the games. Lest we forget.

Holding Pattern Continues
2008-12-07 17:02
by Mark T.R. Donohue

It's hard to really knock the slow start to the hot stove season from the perspective of a Rockies fan, since they really would have been better off keeping Matt Holliday for another year and that's the only really high-wattage deal that's gone down thus far. I've been dutifully checking the rumor sites, but Colorado is now back in its familiar position from years past, waiting for the teams that count to sort out where the valuable players go. In January, Dan O'Dowd will inevitably sign some "name" veteran pitchers who were incongruously in Triple-A, in Mexico, or retired last season. And the wild ride to 70 wins will begin.

I saw an item somewhere regarding Minnesota's interest in Huston Street, potentially for major prospect bust Delmon Young. The Twins foolishly let Matt Garza go for Young last preseason and would like at least partially to reverse their mistake. Street would bolster a bullpen that's always a team strength and he wouldn't be counted on to close games. As for Young, he apparently can't hit at the major league level, but he doesn't cost a lot, and that is the Rockies' one and only priority.

Former Dodgers lefty Joe Beimel would be a natural fit as a replacement for Brian Fuentes, but it appears that the Rockies aren't going to step up and sign him, being unable to compete with that filthy Cincinnati lucre. Aaron Heilman, a frustration for the Mets in the past few seasons, might be another possible return in a Street deal. Heilman wants to start, but is far more effective in long relief. I don't know how well moving from Shea to Coors would sort out his problems there.

The Bears won today, but the game wasn't on TV in Denver. Probably a blessing, given how irritating their performance in the Sunday-nighter against the Vikings was last week. I can't tell whether they're a talented team, atrociously coached, or they're just a lousy, badly-coached team in a weak division. Their play-calling on offense and defense boggles the mind. I have to imagine that the incompetence of the coaches decreases the accountability of the players, leading to plays like the busted-coverage 99-yard touchdown pass last week. Still, it's weird as a football fan grinding your teeth and gritting your knuckles each weeking hoping that your team won't make the playoffs. Another few seasons of Lovie Smith and his "Cover 0" defense would be... slightly less depressing than another several seasons of Hurdle/O'Dowd in Denver.

At least the Nuggets look pretty good. Did you read any of George Karl's comments about two weeks after Iverson left? The ones about it being nice to have a ballhandler in the game who actually runs plays when the coach calls them? I was against the Iverson experiment from the beginning and I feel quite excellently vindicated by Denver's improved play with Chauncey Billups and the Pistons' so-so record with A.I. I can't stand guys who don't play defense and shoot every time they get the ball. It's hard to believe that the Nuggets have lost Marcus Camby and Iverson and are significantly better without them, but the lack of Camby seems to impress accountability on the perimeter defenders. Nene has been unbelievable, too.

The example of Iverson, a player skilled at one thing and one thing only -- scoring lots and lots of points -- reminds me of the statistical tyranny that still keeps us from fully appreciating all our pro sports. So what if he can score thirty points a game playing 45 minutes and jacking up 30 shots? He doesn't make his team win, unless you assemble an entire group of offensive rebounders around him to collect his misses, like the '01 Sixers. Iverson will surely be an NBA Hall of Famer, but his legacy will be a bunch of cities relieved when he finally leaves.

Speaking of Hall of Famers, Greg Maddux yes, Mike Mussina no. Mussina won a ton of games playing for terrific teams but at no point in his career was he ever perceived as one of the dominant starters in the game.