02 August 2004

Bad Spellers' Sad Lexicon

Looks like I spoke, er, wrote a little too soon.

Not three days ago I lamented the dearth of "big-name" players potentially changing teams this July. Well, how's this for a name:

No-mah. Posted by Hello

Nomar Garciaparra has as recognizeable a name as anyone in professional baseball, perhaps all of sports. Of course, given that his name is in fact an anagram of his father's name (Ramon), and it's pretty unlikely that much of anyone else has such a name, unless they were named for him, in which case they're probably only six years old at the most, and therefore not yet in the major leagues. It's not quite as cool as Steve Carlton, about whom Mike Schmidt (I think) said, "When you call a pitcher 'Lefty' and everybody in both leagues knows who you're talking about, he must be pretty good." But it's still cool.

Anyway, Nomah's a Chicago Cub now. That seems weird.

In one of the weirdest trades in recent memory, the Red Sox sent Garciaparra to the Cubbies along with a single-A outfielder named Matt Murton (.301 with decent power and patience in the Florida State League). The Cubs sent Alex Gonzalez (hitting .217 in 37 games in the NL this year) to Montreal, along with a young pitcher named Frances Beltran and a young, stop-gap type infielder named Brendan Harris, who has, as far as I can tell, nine career at-bats at any level above AA. Montreal, for thier part, send shortstop Orlando Cabrera to Boston. The Cubs also sent a single-A pitcher named Justin Jones to Minnesota, and in return, the Twinkies sent Doug Mientkiewicz to the Red Sox. No cash explicitly changed hands, as far as I know.

Breaking this down into more easily comprehensible terms:

The Red Sox ridded themselves of a highly paid player they could not re-sign, in Nomah, and a minor league outfielder who may or may not become a major league outfielder in three or four years. They received a shortstop with a good defensive rep, who has hit well in the past, but currently stinks very much bad with the bat, in Cabrera. They also got a firstbaseman who's good with the glove, but, as firstbasemen go, putrid with the bat, in Mientkiewicz.

This is supposed to make sense because Nomar was a "clubhouse cancer" or something, and they couldn't resign him anyway, but Cabrera's also a free agent at the end of the year, and they probably shouldn't re-sign him, given that he kinda stinks. So I'm not sure they gained anything there. They purportedly needed the defensive help, but taking projections from Lee Sinins' Around the Majors reports, it looks to me like Nomar is worth about ten more offensive runs than Cabrera over the last two months of the season, and I'd have a hard time imagining that the difference between Cabrera's and Garciaparra's defense would be ten whole runs in the opposite direction, so that part of the equation is basically a wash, at best.

Picking up Mientkiewicz is supposed to help on defense as well, which they can apparently afford since David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon, and others can mostly carry the offensive load, but playing Mientkiewicz at first base means fewer at-bats for Kevin Millar and, by extension, Gabe Kapler and Trot Nixon, when he's healthy. Both of those guys are generally good hitters, better than Mientkiewicz and as I've said before, it's tough to make up for lost offensive runs with defense, especially at firsat base, where offense is cheap, and defense is all but irrelevant.

[*It should also be noted that the Red Sox picked up outfielder Dave Roberts from the Dodgers, in a separate trade. Roberts has no power, and doesn't walk much, but runs like the wind. (33 steals this year in LA, caught ONCE.) Theo Epstein is smart enough and well-enough versed in sabremetrics to know that you don't start the guy with more speed in CF over the guy with the 150+ point OPS advantage (Johnny Damon) on a daily basis, so I expect that Roberts will mostly be used as a pinch runner and perhaps a defensive replacement for Ramirez or someone. ]

From the Twins' standpoint, they've given up a firstbaseman making three million bucks who hit like a journeyman middle infielder and they got a pitching prospect, which, while not actually existing, is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. It's also less expensive than paying signing bonuses to the draft picks they have gotten in return for Mientkiewicz when he left as a free agent after the season. Sadly, they had a chance to turn Mientkiewicz into Kris Benson, who, while not fooling anyone into thinking he'll ever be the player you'd expect from a #1 overall draft choice, is also exactly the #3-type starter the Twins need, instead of the three #5 starters they do have. Instead, Benson is rounding out the Mets assemblage of #3 starters, along with Steve Trachsel and Victor "JUUUUSSSTTT...A bit outside" Zambrano. You'd think these two teams could help each other out a little!

From the Expos standpoint, well, they got rid of a player who was clearly, vocally unhappy in Montreal, making SIX MILLION DOLLARS, or $1.5 mil per homer, and they got another shortstop making almost six million dollars, and hitting even worse. And some prospects. Hopefully the new owners will like prospects, because that all that's likely to be left by the time the team is sold.

And from the Cubs' view, they got Nomah! He's at least a ten-run upgrade on the Alex Gonzalez/Ramon Martinez platoon, offensively, and he makes that lineup all the tougher to juggle, not to mention, to pitch against successfully. They lost an overrated, overpaid, sub-mediocrity having a bad season, and a couple of prospects who may or may not turn into serviceable major leaguers, but whom nobody expects to be stars, yet. But they gained two months of a superstar shortstop, and now the Cubs have to be the favorite to win the Wild Card. A lineup whose worst-hitting regular is Corey Patterson (.757 OPS, 11 homers, 15 steals) literally has no weaknesses. And the rotation has mark Prior and Kerry (knock on)Wood back healthy, to go with Carlos Zambrano, Matt Clement and some guy with four Cy Young Awards and nearly 300 career wins.

They have a lot of catching up to do if they want to win their division, so don't bet on that. The Wild card, however, is well within reach, as they're currently only a game behind the Padres for the Wild Card lead. With the two teams out of the Padres, Dodgers and Giants who don't win the NL West division beating up on each other down the stretch, and the Phils yanking defeat from the jaws of otherwise certain victory on a daily basis these days, it would seem that the Cubs have got a great shot at making it into the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1907-08.

Somehow I don't think "Garciaparra-to-Grudzielanek-to-Lee" lends itself to poetry quite as well as "Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance," but let's try it anyway:

This is the longest of possible plays:
Trio of bear Cubs, and ethnic, I'd say,
Garciaparra and Grudzielanek and Lee.
Ruthlessly alternating consonants and vowels,
Lineup card looks like something from my bowels-
Bad spellers might as well throw in the towel:

I hope they're better baseball players than I am a poet.

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