30 November 2005

Not (Yet) Panic Time in the Bronx

This is the part where I'm supposed to panic, right?

Over the last week, and especially since the weekend, the major sports news outlets and radio talking heads would have you believe that the Yankees are just sitting idly by the Hot Stove, not doing much besides raising ticket prices, while everyone else leaves them in the dust. Their competitors, both in the tabloids and in the AL East, have been signing free agents and trading for star players on an almost daily basis while all the Yankees have done is, well, raise ticket prices. And overpay Hideki Matsui.

Of course, this is silly. Heck, it's November, for crying out loud. How worried are we supposed to be about the Mets stealing headlines in November? Sure, they got Carlos Delgado, and all it cost them was Mike Jacobs, a major league-ready catcher/firstbaseman, an excellent pitching prospect and an excellent shortstop prospect. And $41 million dollars over the next three years, during the last of which Delgado will be 36 years old.

The Mets also grabbed free agent closer Billy Wagner, who didn't cost them any prospects (only draft picks), but will cost them another $43 million over the next four years, at the end of which he'll be 38. This contract gives him the highest average salary of any reliever in MLB, better compensated than even Mariano Rivera, despite Wagner's history of arm trouble and his lack of postseason success. He's a great relief pitcher, but that's a heckuvalotta money, and the Yankees weren't in the market for a closer anyway. Hard to be too upset about that signing.

More important than headlines, of course, are wins and losses, especially of teams in the Yankees' own division, such as Boston. The Red Sox recently acquired RHP Josh Beckett from the Marlins during Florida's Bi-Annual Fire Sale, sending Anibal Sanchez, Jesus Delgado, Harvey Garcia and SS Hanley Ramirez to the Fish for Beckett, 3B Mike Lowell and relief pitcher Guillermo Mota.

Those four prospects, a shortstop and three pitchers, all 22 years old or younger, are all very good, though Ramirez is the prize in the Cracker Jacks. He put up impressive numbers at three minor league levels in 2004 before cooling off a little in AA Portland in 2005, but he's still expected to be very good. He had hit for high batting averages at every stop until 2005, will take a walk once in a while, and has some speed. Only 21, he should develop some power as he matures, but is probably still a year or two away from the majors right now. The other three prospects, all pitchers, all have good strikeout rates and peripheral numbers in the minors, but only Sanchez has pitched above Class A, with 57.1 innings in Portland this past summer, so none of them is a sure thing by any stretch.

What is a sure thing? Well, Guillermo Mota being a decent-but-unimpressive relief pitcher for another year is pretty close to a guarantee. Josh Beckett having blister problems limiting him to something like 150 or 175 innings is fairly certain as well, though they could be great innings. Rob Neyer points out that Beckett's career road ERA for the last three seasons is over 4.00, and that Fenway Park has a way of being cruel to pitchers, so it's possible that Beckett will not put up such gaudy numbers in Boston when he does pitch.

And Mike Lowell? Well, your guess is as good as mine. He could prove that 2005 was a fluke, take advantage of The Green Monster, and return to the .280/25Hr/100RBI form that got him a $25.5 million, 3-year contract after the 2004 season. Or he could be done, and the Red Sox will waste another 1000 at-bats and $18 million on a washed-up thirdbaseman while a perfectly capable, young and cheap 3B prospect wallows in AAA and/or the Red Sox bench. I guess it could be worse for Kevin Youkilis. I mean, the Sawx did the same thing to Wade Boggs, and he eventually wound up in the Hall of Fame! Plus he got his hair back!

In any case, this is not a move over which any Yankee fan should get her panties in a bunch. If you're going to get upset about something, get upset about the possibility that the Yanks might give Tom Gordon a contract like the ones that Scott Eyre and Bob Howry recently received from the Cubs ($11 or $12 million for three years). Flash is 38 years old now, with a considerably less flashy strikeout rate in 2005 than he had posted the previous two seasons. Furthermore, before the 2003-05 stretch, he had not been completely healthy for even one full season since 1998, the first year Boston used him exclusively as a reliever. He's certainly been very good for the Yankees for the last two seasons, but shelling out something like $15 million for another three years? Wagering that kind of scratch on an unprecedented and completely unlikely stretch of six straight healthy seasons for Gordon seems like a sucker bet to me. Better to take their chances with the much younger Kyle Farnsworth, though the competition will be stiff for him.

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29 November 2005

B.J. Needs the Blue Jays More Than They Need Him

B.J. Ryan was signed to a $47 million, 5-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, who may not blue so hard in the near future. As a Yankee fan, this news was a little disappointng to read, but all the talk about Ryan coming to the Yankees as a setup man was never more than wishful thinking on the part of bored New York sports writers looking for fodder in a slow baseball news month.

Ryan, the erstwhile closer and setup man for the 0rioles (who blue pretty hard in their own right for much of the last decade), saved 36 games for the 4th place Baltimore club in 2005, striking out 100 batters in 70 innings. Jays' G.M. J.P. Riccardi cited the team's 2005 record of 16-31 in one-run games and indicated that he hoped Ryan would help win some of those games.

Ironically, relief pitching was not one of Toronto's major problems last year. Their bullpen was only 20-25, but had a respectable 3.81 ERA, and 35 saves. Their 21 blown saves were among the most in the majors, but many of those came in earlier innings, before a closer would normally have been used. Miguel Batista, Toronto's closer for most of the year, blew 8 saves in 39 chances, seven of which contributed to that 16-31 record, including one which Batista actually held on to win. Ryan blew 5 saves in 39 chances, so even if he cuts the closer's blown save rate in half, all other things remaining equal (which they never do) the Jays only improve from 80-82 to 84-80, hardly playoff contenders, unless Toronto suddenly and mysteriously gets placed in the NL West.

The Jays' real problem was their poor late-inning offense and the lack of a bench. Their .699 OPS in "Close & Late" situations ranked the team 11th in the 14-team AL, and their .710 OPS from the 7th inning on was 10th. Their pinch hitters were the best in the AL, but were also the most-often used, as their starting lineup left a lot to be desired. No regular player hit higher than .291, and nobody had 30 homers, 100 runs or 100 RBI on the entire team. The team as a whole hit only 136 homers, good for 11th in the AL, and they were closer to last than to 10th.

Toronto's not done spending this off-season, supposedly still trying to woo starting pitcher A.J. Burnett north of the border as well. In an effort to turn the Jays into as many J's as possible, Toronto is also thought to be pursuing trades for D.J. Carrasco, A.J. Hinch, D.J. Houlton, J.J. Davis, and J.J. Hardy, and are expected to pick up P.J. Forbes when the Phillies put him on waivers. T.J Mathews and C.J Nitkowski will be signed to minor league deals. P.J. Carlesimo is being brought in as a special assistant to the GM, B.J. Thomas will sing the National Anthem on Opening Day, and O.J. Simpson will throw out the first pitch, after which he will go look for the Real Killers in his SkyBox.

But if you ask me (and if you're still reading, then I guess you did), this is the wrong approach for them. (Not the "J" thing, that was a "J"oke.) They've already got Roy Halladay, 2005 Rookie of the Year candidate Gustavo Chacin, plus Josh Towers, who seems to be coming into his own. The Ryan signing allows Batista to go back to the rotation if they want him to, which gies the team a solid #4 starter, and the fifth spot in the rotation can be comprised of some cobmo of Ted Lilly, Dave Bush, or someone else. What they really need to do is get some hitters, preferably a few who are likely to jog around the bases every once in a while, ifyougetmydrift. No, not B.J. Surhoff, though that would be funny. Taking a chance on a Frank Thomas, Rafael Palmiero or Erubiel Durazo might not be the worst bet in the world. Russ Adams is still young, but bringing in Nomar Garciaparra to play short has a lot of upside. Even outfielders like Preston Wilson and Jeromy Burnitz, though flawed, at least threaten to hit one out occasionally. The risks aren't much greater than that of throwing almost fifty million dollars at a pitcher with two good years on his resume, especially when it's done to address an imagined need rather than a real one.

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21 November 2005

Early Offseason Ramblings...

It's a little early in the off-season to start complaining about the way the "market" is going, but there have been a few deals already, and already I'm confused. Lee Sinins sends out daily "Around The Majors" emails on the happenings of MLB, including signings, trades, notable game feats (when there are games), and even birthdays. Friday's list contained some curious entries...

1) The Cubs signed free agent P Scott Eyre to a 3 year, $11 million contract. There are incentives in the deal that could be worth an extra $2.4 million and the 3rd year is a player option.

Is this what a decent lefty reliever is going for these days? Almost $4 million a year, and more if he meets incentives? Eyre's OK, I suppose, but he's got a 4.52 career ERA in 480+ innings spanning eight seasons. He set career highs with 86 appearances and 68 relief innings, and a career low with a 2.63 ERA, the first time in his career that it's been under 3.32. He'll be 34 years old in May, and isn't likely to get any better than he was last year. In fact, his numbers are likely to look notably worse in 2006 both because of normal regression from the career year he enjoyed in '05 and because of the difference between pitching in SBC Park (a moderate to severe pitcher's park) and Wrigley Field (a slight to moderate hitter's park).

Eyre hasn't shown a particular left/right platoon split in the last two seasons, though there was a severe split before that, and he's still used as a LOOGY because of it, with 39 of those 86 appearances having been for two outs or fewer. Like I said, he's decent, "OK" as it were, but committing almost $12 million dollars for a guy who has exactly one season in his 8-year career you could objectively call "good" does not seem like an idea that's, well, good.

But I'll tell you this much: When I have a son (no time soon, Mom, sorry) I'm going to duct-tape his right arm to his torso and make him do everything lefty. None of this "finding out naturally" what his disposition is. He's going to be a lefty, dammit, and he's going to throw 90mph if I have to stand behind him with a wind machine to make it happen. He's going to have 2-3 decent years in a major league bullpen, and then he, his mother and I, along with any other siblings he may have are going to take the contract the Cubs or Yankees give him and buy an island in the South Pacific on which to retire. So there.

2) The Pirates re-signed CF Jason Bay to a 4 year, $18.25 million contract.

Sinin's RCAA (Runs Created Above Average) measure shows that Bay had marks of +18 and +59 in 2004 and 2005, respectively. His 2004 campaign (.282/26Hr/82RBI) earned him Rookie of the Year honors for the first time in Pirates history, and this year's numbers (.306/32/101, plus 44 doubles, 21 steals, 110 runs and 95 walks) made him one of the half-dozen or so best players in the National League, even if MVP voters didn't give him enough respect. At only 26 years old, Bay should be entering his prime as a hitter, and if the Pirates had anyone in the lineup around him at all, a guy like this could win an MVP award. Well, maybe if Albert Pujols got traded to an AL team.

And for the rights to those four years, which in all likelihood will turn out to be the best of Bay's (hopefully) long, distinguished career, the Pittsburgh franchise has shelled out approximately what Jeff Bagwell made in 2004 alone.

It would be amusing to write about how much smarter this deal is than, say, the ones that some team not too long ago gave to Pat Meares (5 years, $16 million) and Kevin Young (4 yrs, $24 million), for example. Good thing the Pirates aren't that stupid, right? Of course, it wouldn't be that instructive to do that, since those players were signed in the late 1990's, in a different economic climate and all that crap. Just amusing.

Any way you slice it, this is a tremendous deal for the Pirates, who have a franchise player, a potentially perrenial MVP-candidate, signed for LAIM money. League-Average Innings Munchers like Mark Redman and Kris Benson made that kind of money last year, about $5 million, but those guys are rotation fodder. This one's a star.

Also, those guys are pitchers, and this one's a left-fielder, so it makes sense to compare him to other left fielders signed in 2005, not shortstops in 1999 or pitchers in 2004, right? Well, lucky for us, we've got one of those: Hideki Matsui.

Matsui, who plays left field for the Yankees rather than the Pirates, and who did not win a Rookie of the Year award in 2003, when he was one, was signed to a 4-year $53 million contract, just two days before the Jason Bay deal. Unfortunately for Bay, his agent apparently never reads the newspaper, or he would have known that he could get a hell of a lot more than $4.5 million a year for his client's services. Not that Bay is likely to ever need help from PaydayLoans, but still. Fire that agent quickly, I say.

2004 25 18 .282 .358 .550 .907 26 82 4
2005 26 59 .306 .402 .559 .961 32 101 21

2003 29 5 .287 .353 .435 .788 16 106 2
2004 30 44 .298 .390 .522 .912 31 108 3
2005 31 26 .305 .367 .496 .863 23 116 2

Matsui gets on base less often, hits for less power, doesn't steal bases, and is four years older than Bay. The two have been worth roughly the same number of runs above average for the last two years combined (79 to 72 RCAA, according to Sinins, 72 to 62 Batting RAA, according to Baseball Prospectus) but the trend is up for Bay, and down for Matsui. In addition, Jason racked up those runs in 40 fewer games than Matsui. They play the same defensive position, and Matsui is at best Bay's equal, probably a little worse with the leather, according to most objective fielding measures.

And yet, for two reasons and two reasons only, Matsui will make almost three times Bay's salary for each of the next four years.

1) He played for nine years with the Yomiuri Giants in Japan, a league with a skill level somewhere between AA and AAA in the American minor leagues, but to which the American mass media gives far too much credit.

B) He plays for the Yankees, who apparently can't find enough matches to set fire to all the money they want to spend next year.

Don't get me wrong. Matsui's a good player, but he was probably as good as he'll ever be in the last two years, and the Yankees paid through the nose for the right to make sure he doesn't go to some rival team and end up beating them.

3) The Blue Jays have reportedly offered free agent P A.J. Burnett a 5 year, about $50 million contract, with another team also offering a 5 year contract and 2 others expected to do so within the week.

Burnett strikes me as exactly the sort of pitcher who is bound to disappoint whichever team signs him, at least at that price. He's 28, with only two seasons in his 7-year career in which he's pitched 200 innings or more, and he's never pitched more than 210. His career adjusted ERA is only about 10% better than the league average, which isn't bad, but hardly seems like a good way to spend about $10 million dollars each year of the next half-decade. He's never won more than 12 games in a season, and has questionable control, walking about 3 batters per nine innings. Much of his "success" is owed to his home ballpark, Pro Player Stadium, which holds run scoring down by about 5% as compared to the rest of the NL. Burnett is 28-17 with a 3.20 ERA at home throughout his career, but only 21-33 with a 4.26 ERA elsewhere. Add to this the fact that he's only been healthy for two of the last four seasons, and you've got a $50 million recipe for disaster.

4) According to the Newark Star Ledger, Yankees P Carl Pavano wants to be traded.

Speaking of disappointing ex-Marlin free agent pitchers...

6) According to the Newark Star Ledger, if the Yankees are able to trade Pavano or find a team that likes losing so much that they will take Jaret Wright, then they could be interested in free agent P Jarrod Washburn.

Washburn has had the reverse of Burnett's problem, with an ERA between 1 and 2 whole runs higher on the road than at home for four of the last five seasons. Going to some other venue, especially one that's traditionally kind to lefties like Yankee Stadium, might do him good, but please, not for $10 million/year, OK? Of course this would require one of the Yankees' two stiffs getting traded, which isn't likely to happen. Their trade-values are probably as low as they ever will be, so it would behoove the Yankees to hold onto them for at least another year and hope they get helathy and bounce back a little.

7) According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Braves 3B Chipper Jones has agreed to a contract restructuring, contingent on him passing a physical.

So let me get this straight: Chipper Jones is doing the Braves a favor by restructuring his contract, and the team is still requiring that he gets a physical to ratify the deal? His existing deal pays him something like $15 or $18 million for each of the next three years and doesn't require him to have any physical other than the one he had when he originally sined it, but now they've got to make sure he's healthy enough to lower his salary by $5 million? Not sure I get that, but then I'm not a baseball player.

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15 November 2005

Book Review: The Sports Junkie's Book of Trivia, Terms & Lingo, by Harvey Frommer

Frommer's latest work, The Sports Junkies Book of Trivia, Terms, and Lingo, provides a resource to solve a problem I didn't know I faced. That problem is to find the origin and/or meaning of various sports terms, many of which have become so commonplace that most of us no longer have any idea of their sources. Frommer's book endeavors to fill that informational void, though I think with only moderate success.

Certainly, there can be no question that the book contains a lot of information. Frommer evidently combined two of his previous works to make this book, and it shows: An inch-thick paperback with dozens of terms on most pages. Like any dictionary, encyclopedia or other reference book, this one simply cannot be read straight-through, and I'm sure that Frommer did not intend anyone to do so. Just the "important" part of the book, i.e. the Baseball section, contains hundreds of terms, and even if you could read them all, you'd never be able to commit them all to memory. It is, however, a useful book if you want to know to whom a certain player's nickname belongs (like, "The Octopus", for example), or what a term means (i.e. that a lazy, fly ball is called a "can of corn"), or when a team's name changed (Like the Yankees, who used to be the Highlanders, who used to be the Baltimore Orioles) and so on.

Frommer covers all the "major" sports, like football, basketball, golf and hockey as well, but there is also a lot of space taken up on less traditional games. Archery, badminton, figure skating, volleyball, bocce, fencing, tiddlywinks...you name it, he's probably got some terms for you. He goes into more depth with certain terms and nicknames that he deems worthy of said attention, for certainly we should talk about "The Great Bambino" more than say, "Nails", or some arcane fly-fishing term, and that's fine.

Personally, I'm not all that interested in any of the terminology pertaining to cricket or curling, or anything other than baseball, for that matter, but then I'm something of a freak in that regard. I can understand that some people do like sports other than America's Pastime, so the ever-diplomatic Frommer makes sure he's got something for everybody.

I do have two minor problems with the book, but neither is really a reason not to buy it. Problem #1 is that the book isn't really complete. Frommer is from New York, even though he lives in New Hampshire now and teaches at Dartmouth, and his heavy New York bias shows. He has lots of terms and nicknames for players and teams from New York, but doesn't give the same in-depth treatment to say, Detroit, Houston, or Anaheim, for example. Hard to blame him for that, since it would be impossible to really cover every possible term and nickname, and Frommer never says that his list is exhaustive, but it's still something to consider. A book of nicknames that includes the ever-popular "Tanglefoot Lou" as one of Hall of Famer Lou Gehrig's nicknames and leaves out much more interesting fare like "Bear Tracks" and "Death to Flying Things", cannot be considered complete.

A related, but somewhat different issue (call it problem "1a"), is that the book does not really explain the origins of certain terms and names. Frommer tells you everybody who ever had the nickname "Moose" in professional baseball, for example, and sometimes the reasons for the nicknames, but does not often explain the origin of a term, such as why a high, lazy, fly ball is called a "can of corn" or where the term "rhubarb" (a heated on-field argument) comes from. This book could have been to baseball what "Red Herrings and White Elephants" is to the English language, but it's not. That would have been my personal preference, but it would have been an enormous amount of research work, and not everybody has the thirst for esoterica from which I suffer, so I can understand why Frommer did not follow this path.

Problem #B, one that may be less of an issue for my readers than it was for me, is that most of this book is re-hashed from other stuff Frommer has written. Indeed, the publisher's website indicates that it is a combination of two other books Frommer wrote, both over a quarter of a century ago, Sports Lingo and Sports Roots. Certainly, there is some newer information in it, but if you've read any of Frommer's 37+ other books, or his website, then you've read a lot of this before. Or at least I have.

On the other hand, with all that info in one place, it's still a handy reference tool, and can be recommended on that basis alone.

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14 November 2005

PRESS RELEASE: The Sports Junkies Book of Trivia, Terms, and Lingo, by Harvey Frommer

What They Are, Where They Came From, and How They Are Used

by Harvey Frommer
$16.95, c. Taylor Trade Publishing (October, 2005)


Move over SportsCenter, now there is a a new source for sports catch phrases, nicknames and jargon. The Sports Junkies Book of Trivia, Terms, and Lingo (October 2005, Taylor Trade Publishing) is the definitive book on the language of sports by celebrated sports author and journalist Harvey Frommer.

The prolific Frommer successfully fuses the common with the exotic, the arcane with the ordinary, the old with the new, and the poignant with the matter of fact. Admittedly, sports language comes and goes with the times, growing each year, changing in its attempts to describe the ever expanding world of athletics. In that vein, many of the words and terms defined here have become all but extinct in today's vernacular, while others have become incorporated into the mainstream like "Say it ain't so, Joe?"

Broken down by sport, Sports Junkies expounds a mind boggling number of entries in the sports vocabulary originating from clubhouses, media, rulebooks, and the bleachers. For any sports fan who ever wondered, where did that come from as they listened intently to play by play, tried to learn a new game, or to coach a kid in sports - -the descriptions here will not only define the words and terms, but give accurate historical relevance and acumen to each.

This book is a must have for any ESPN addicted, season ticket-holding, sports trivia buff that thought they knew it all. (Or a great tool for the sports journalist craving slang for a story or broadcast.)


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07 November 2005

Padres-Nats Trade Analysis: San Diego Will Soon Regret

This is probably a lot more in-depth analysis than a trade like like this deserves, but if there's one thing I'm not, it's concise. Hairy and concise. OK, two things. If there's two things I'm not, they're hairy and concise. And short...three things I'm not: Concise, hairy, and short...and perceptive. Four things!

OK, enough with the Spanish Inquisition (didn't expect that, did you?)

On to the analysis:

The recent trade of Padres pitcher Brian Lawrence and cash to the Washington Nationals for the corpse of 3B Vinny Castilla seems an odd way to try to upgrade an offense that ranked 27th out of 30 MLB teams in run scoring in 2005. Initially I thought that Lawrence might turn out to be a steal for the Nationals, since RFK Stadium played like such a severe pitchers' park in 2005 (Baseball-Reference.com reports a pitching park factor of 94, meaning that RFK decreased run scoring by 6%, compared to the league average). However, upon further research I discovered that Petco Park in San Diego actually played even more to pitchers' favor than RFK did, with a park factor of 91! Even Dodger Stadium, generally considered the best pitchers' park in history, has never gotten a rating lower than that for a given year.

So what does this mean? Well, it's not terribly encouraging for the Nationals, at least in terms of Brian Lawrence suddenly returning to the form of 2001/2002. At that time he had a better-than average ERA and about 6.5 strikeouts per nine innings in his first 325 or so innings in the majors, at the age of 26. Now three years later, his strikeout rate dropped to a career low of 5/9IP in 2005, his ERA rose to 4.83, 20% worse than the park and league-adjusted average, and he went 7-15 for a team that won its division, though it just narrowly escaped finishing the season with a losing record. Some of that was due to the fifth-worst run support in the National League, but his "expected" win-loss record was just 10-15, according to Baseball Prospectus, still not very good.

Now maybe 2005 was just a fluke. Maybe Lawrence goes home for the winter, takes a long, hard look at his numbers in 2005 and decides that he's going to do something to improve in 2006. Maybe he finds out that he's been traded, and in an effort to show the Pads' front office what fools they were for doing so, he teaches himself another pitch or gets in better shape or something to bounce back next year. Historically speaking lots have players have done exactly that. Heck, he is only 29 years old, and a lot of pitchers don't really find their niche until their early 30's. Lawrence's biggest problem continues to be lefties, who have punished him to the tune of an .821 OPS for the last three seasons, while righties have combined for a .692 OPS. A changeup or screwball would probably take care of that, but saying that and doing it are two very different enterprises.

More likely, Lawrence follows a more traditional career path for a RHP with good control and an underwhelming fastball: He racks up LAIM (League-Average Innings Muncher) numbers for a few years, becoming a solid contributor in the back of someone's rotation, and then has trouble finding a major league job by the time he's 35. Maybe he has some good luck with a low opponent batting average balls in play and/or good run support from his teammates one season and he wins 18 games. (In this scenario, the Yankees promptly trade three really solid prospects for him and/or sign him to a 4-year, $45 million contract, and Lawrence pitches badly and then gets injured in his first season in pinstripes, but that's just a guess.) But realistically, the chances of Brian Lawrence become a perrenial 200-inning, 15-win, 3.75 ERA type of guy are pretty slim.

Nevertheless, the chances of Brian Lawrence doing something like that in Washington next season are infinitely higher than the chances of Vinny Castilla coming back to life and hitting like a major-league third baseman again. Castilla had perhaps the worst fortune of any hitter in history last year in terms of team-movement. He left the hitter's paradise of Colorado, where he had managed to lead the Senior Circuit in RBI in 2004 despite hitting just .271 (.218 in road games), for Washington's RFK Stadium. At the time of his signing with the Nats, nobody knew how RFK would play, but there wasn't anywhere to go but down from the Mile High City.

And down he went. He hit .253 with 12 homers and 66 RBI while batting 4th, 5th or 6th most of the season. His walk rate, amazingly, stayed almost exactly the same as 2004, but everything else went into the toilet. Castilla apparently had some kind of knee tendinitis problem this year, which didn't help, but even if he had gotten some kind of knee braces online, getting only 11 at-bats at Coors Field instead of 250 of them was his biggest problem. Vinny didn't really hit on the road either in 2005, with a .683 OPS that was notably lower than his already-poor .765 at home. Vinny is going to an even worse park for hitters than RFK, will be 39 before the All-Star Break next year, and will probably lose his job before he gets to celebrate that birthday. You can certainly see why the Nationals would want to get rid of him, especially with a phenom like Ryan Zimmerman waiting in the wings, but how they managed to get some money thrown into the deal is beyond me.

Speaking of young thirdbasemen, the Pads were justifiably disappointed with Sean Burroughs, whose one-time, power-hitting, MVP-winning dad (Jeff) seemingly did not teach his son to hit for any power. Now 24 years old, with three years in the majors, Sean's already awful slugging percentage plummeted to .302 in 2005, at which point the Pads traded for Joe Randa and gave young Sean a Time-Out in the Pacific Coast League to think about what he'd done. Burroughs got about half of the total plate appearances by Padres' 3Bs in 2005, with most of the rest going to Joe Randa and Geoff Blum. Blum had hit poorly in spot-duty for the Pads until he was traded to the White Sox, for whom he hit even worse, with the noted exception of a go-ahead home run in the longest postseason game ever played. Randa had been with the Cincinnati Reds, where he was hitting .289/.356/.491 with 13 homers in 92 games, owing largely to the fact that my grandmother could hit home runs in the Great American Bandbox. But when traded to San Diego, he once again began hitting like, well, Joe Randa. In a sink hole.

So, here's the tale of the tape:

          AGE    BA   OBP   SLG   OPS
Pads 3Bs 30 .254 .318 .366 .684
Castilla 38 .253 .319 .403 .722

Wow. Huge upgrade there, eh?

That "30" is a weighted average of the ages of Padres' thirdbasemen in 2005, quite a bit younger than Castilla. Vinny also missed about 20 games this season, and at his age, unlike the rest of his statistics, that number is more likely to go up than down.

Padres' GM Kevin "Ivory" Towers continues to show how out of touch with reality he is, as evidenced by the following quotes:

"In the 10 years I've been a general manager, I was tired of Vinny hitting home runs against us, either in Colorado or Washington. He's always been a Padres nemesis, not only from the offensive standpoint, but from a defensive standpoint. This guy, I think, is one of the best defensive third basemen in the game."

Towers is right about the nemesis thing, sorta. Castilla has 33 career homers against San Diego, more than any other team, but most of that came in the old days, when Vinny was a Rockie, and could hit a little. But he hit only .234 against San Diego pitchers in 2004 (though he did have 5 homers in 16 games) and only .250 with one homer in 2005. You know, Bernie Williams has hit pretty well against Tampa Bay in his career, and you don't see the knuckleheads who run the Devil Rays going out of their way to pick him up, do you? (On the other hand, it is only November...)

Regarding his fielding reputation, that seems to be justified. Even with his gimpy knee(s?), Castilla has been a pretty good defensive third baseman, with Baseball Prospectus' fielding runs above average and runs above replacement comparable to Mike Lowell, who won the 2005 NL Gold Glove at the Hot Corner.

Here's another Towers quote:

As we found out the last couple of years, right-handed power plays in Petco...

Well, that's not too tough to check. In 2005, Padres righties (excluding the pitchers) hit .269/.322/.396 at Petco Park, and .251/.307/.399 away from home. The slugging percentages are nearly identical, and the batting averave and OBP numbers aren't much different, so I'm not sure from whence he's getting this idea. Maybe Towers was thinking of 2004, right?

Wrong. In 2004, there actually was a notable split, but it went the opposite way. Padres' righties hit .255/.332/.405 at home, and .303/.357/.478 on the road, about a 100-point difference in OPS. Petco Park has yet to show a favorable disposition toward any kind of hitter, as far as I can tell.

So, in short, the Padres got hosed on this deal, even if Lawrence doesn't do any better for the Nationals next year than he did in 2005. Towers made several mistakes, including trading Lawrence when his value was lowest, after a 15-loss season that had as much to do with the way his teammates failed to hit as it did with his own performance.

Towers also made the mistake of rushing into this deal, desperate to fill a hole he could have plugged with a free agent for no more than Castilla is making. Bill Mueller can probably be had for something akin to the $2.5 million he made in 2005, is 34, rather than 38, and wouldn't be hurt as much by Petco as someone like Castilla, since he doesn't hit for much power anyway. Heck, a journeyman like Russ Johnson or Earl Snyder could probably put up numbers comparable to Castilla's for a quarter the price, maybe less, depending on how much dough the Nationals got with Lawrence.

Towers is also likely about to lose Brian Giles and Ramon Hernandez as well. Although Giles was vastly overpaid, he was also the best hitter on the team, and will be missed in the lineup, if not the payroll office. Their pitching is taking a huge hit as well, as the departures of Lawrence and free agent Pedro Astacio leave them with a rotation of Jake Peavy, Woody Williams, Adam Eaton and Chan Ho Park, all of whom have huge injury questions, and none of whom, except Peavey, is very good. Rookies Chris Oxspring and Clay Hensley are likely to get some playing time once Eaton, Williams and/or Park sustains his Inevitable Annual Injury, and they'll probably sign a lower-level free agent as an insurance policy, but this staff hardly has the markings of a repeat division winner.

This is the kind of move than can get a GM fired, and I'll be very surprised if Towers still has the job a year from now, especially if he makes another move that turns out badly.

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