I. Thou Shalt Not Try to Contrive Clever Puns on Joba's Name.
No "Joba the Hutt" or "Joba the Heat" or "Joba Fett" or "Gotta Getta Joba" or "Take this Joba and Shove It" or anything of the sort. Enough, already. He's got a nickname. It's "Joba". His real name is Justin. If he wants a better nickname, let him do something in the postseason to earn it.
II. In Case of John Sterling, Thou Shalt See Rule I.
"A great job-a, by Joba"???? "Joba gets the job-a done"???? This is the best you can do?!
III. Thou Shalt Not Mispronounce Joba's Name.
It's JAH-ba. Not JOE-ba.
IV. Thou Shalt Not Continually Refer to the Original "Joba Rules" or "Book of Joba".
These appear to have fallen out of use.
Chamberlain's original handling rules included that he should not be brought in to pitch in the middle of an inning, but he did this on September 19th, relieving Andy Pettitte by striking out Melvin Mora with two outs in the 8th.
In addition, he is supposed to get two days of rest if he pitches two innings, but this rule has apparently been scrapped as well. Having pitched two full innings (30 pitches) on September 21st, he then came in to pitch after only one day of rest, on September 23rd (again with two outs in the 8th, tisk-tisk) and picked up his first Major League Save. This was the day after the Yankees had used 10 different pitchers in a 12-11, extra inning win over Toronto, so they were admittedly a little short handed (armed?) the next afternoon, but let's not pretend like Joe Torre and the Yankees have some priority higher than winning, shall we?
The last of these Rules, that Joba should not be used on consecutive days, is likely to be scrapped some time in the playoffs, wherein many of the games are played on consecutive days, and all are crucial. This is especially likely if Joba threw only a handful of pitches the night before and/or Torre needs him to get Manny Ramirez or Vlad Guererro or David Wright out in a pinch.
Mark my words. The original Joba Rules never outweigh the Steinbrenner Rules, which number exactly one:
1) WIN, OR YOU'RE FIRED.
V. Thou Shalt Not Attribute Joba's Fastball to his Size.
Joba is 6'2" and 230 lbs and can throw a baseball over 100 mph. Billy Wagner is listed at 5'10" and 180 lbs and in his prime, he could throw over 100 mph. I am 6'5", 255 lbs and my fastball would not get pulled over for speeding in a School Zone at 3PM, much less an Interstate. Clearly size has very little to do with it.
VI. Thou Shalt Not Refer to Joba's Native American Heritage as Though it Presented a Significant Roadblock to MLB.
Not to diminish the history of hardships suffered by the Native American people, which have been both real and severe, nor the currently sad state of affairs on many Indian reservations. I should know, as I used to be Native American myself (it's a long story). But the kid throws 100 miles per hour! If you can throw 100 mph with some semblance of accuracy, it doesn't matter if you're descended from Indians or Martians or antelope. It won't matter if your skin is black or red or green or purple or teal with orange stripes and a sort of light yellow hint of plaid. You will get a college scholarship, and if you help the Nebraska Cornballers get into the College World Series, a major league scout will find you.
VII. Thou Shalt Not Pretend That Joba's Being Native American is New to MLB.
Baseball Almanac lists nearly 50 players whom they identify as having some significant portion of Indian ancestry, including Hall of Famers Charles "Chief" Bender and Zach Wheat, All-Stars like Rudy York, "Indian" Bob Johnson, Allie "Superchief" Reynolds and Pepper Martin. In addition, according to baseball-almanac.com, Gene Bearden, Virgil Trucks, Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Willie Stargell & Early Wynn, among others, have some share of Native American blood. As recently as 2005 there was a Native American in MLB, Bobby Madritsch, with the Mariners. Red Sox rookie Jacoby Ellsbury was in the majors as early as June 30th and has been playing regularly (hitting .367!) this September. (Incidentally, Ellsbury, not Joba, is the highest-drafted Native American in history. Many outlets, including the Allen Barra article in WSJ linked above, have erroneously stated the otherwise.)
VIII. Thou Shalt Not Continually Bring Up Joba's Father and His Polio, and His Poverty, and His Divorce, and His Appendix...
Harlan Chamberlain used to catch Joba when he was a kid, sitting in his wheelchair (the dad, not Joba) and he finally got to see him pitch in the majors, in person, on September 7th in Kansas City. He struck out a batter and allowed only one hit in two scoreless innings (Joba, not the dad), so he did not disappoint, and his dad must be extremely proud and very excited and gratified for all the hard work they did finally paying off.
But you're killing me, here. Can't we come up with something more cheerful to talk/write about? Can't we just be excited for the kid and the cool things he might do in the postseason? Do we have to be constantly reminded of his dad's condition? And that he had an emergency appendectomy and nearly died last summer? And that his wife left when Joba was 3? What's next? Tornados and smallpox and packs of wild, rabid dogs? It's baseball, folks. It's a game. Leave the family melodrama for another original HBO series or something.
IX. Thou Shalt Not Fawn All Over Joba Like He's The Greatest Pitching Prospect Ever.
Listen, I'm as excited about all the talent oozing out of the Yankee farm system this year as aynbody, but just because he started his career with 16 consecutive scoreless innings (in 12 games), don't think he's going to be unhittable for his whole career. Sure, he's got great stuff, but he did just turn 22, and nobody ever comes up to the majors and cruises through an entire career without a few bumps in the road.
The immortal Victor Cruz started his career in 1978 with Toronto, at age 20, and rattled off 21.1 consecutive scoreless innings. By age 26, he was out of baseball. Erstwhile Yankees prospect Matt Smith came up last year and pitched a dozen scoreless games with New York before being traded to Philadelphia, where he added ten more games to the streak, totaling 18.2 scoreless innings before allowing his first run in the majors. This April, Smith walked 11 and struck out only one batter, allowing 5 runs in 4 innings, before being sent back to the minors, where he pitched until June and then went on the DL.
In total, going back 50 years, 17 different pitchers have started their career with at least a dozen games in which they did not give up a run, and most of them did not even pitch 5 or 6 years in the major leagues. The best of these was Dick Radatz, the briefly great Red Sox reliever from the early 1960's, whose last really good year was his third in the majors. The longest-tenured of these was Bob McClure, a crafty lefty who managed to stick around for 19 seasons but racked up 10 Wins or 10 saves only once each.
Joachin Andujar wisely summarized this peculiarity in one word: Youneverknow.
X. Thou Shalt Not Make Joba a Reliever Next Year.
This one is particularly important, even though it only applies to the Yankees front office and not to, say, anyone who might actually read this. Chamberlain is (if you'll forgive the pun) setting himself up here to be the Closer of the Future. We all know that Mr. Automatic is hardly that anymore, and that the Yankees need to start grooming his replacement. Mo will be 38 next year and can't last forever. But please, please, don't let Joba follow in his footsteps. Granted, you could do a lot worse than to have Mariano Rivera's career. He's 3rd on the Career Saves list, and will likely be at least 2nd by the time he retires. With his frequent 1+ inning use and postseason success, he's as good a bet as any among the modern closers to get a plaque for himself in Cooperstown.
But Joba could be much more than that. As a rule, the Closer is an overrated commodity. The Cleveland Indians are cruising into the postseason with Joe Borowski, who leads the AL with 43 saves but has a 5.15 ERA. Clearly, Saves are not that hard to accomplish.
Last year, the Red Sox installed rookie Jonathan Papelbon as their closer, despite his impressive numbers as a starter in the minors, because they needed one so badly. He was so good at it (a 0.92 ERA, 75 strikeouts and 35 Saves in 68 innings) that he nearly won the Rookie of the Year Award, and now he can't get his job back as a starter, even though they promised it to him after last season.
With Roger Clemens likely to really, really (no seriously, he means it this time) retire after the season, and the uncertain nature of much of their starting rotation after Chien-Ming Wang (Pettitte's got a mutual option, Igawa's sketchy at best, Mussina's old, the rest are young and erratic) they'll need Chamberlain to give them 6 or 7 solid innings every 5 days if they're going to get to the Promised Land. They can't afford to give him 70 innings of work when they need 200 out of him. There isn't enough bonafide talent on the Yankees pitching staff to pick up all that slack.
So, in short, if you follow only one of these new Rules, let it be this one. Let the fans see Joba pitch as much as possible, within reason, and the team will be better for it.
26 September 2007
I. Thou Shalt Not Try to Contrive Clever Puns on Joba's Name.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/26/2007
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/26/2007
20 September 2007
There are probably things less important than whether or not the Yankees manage to wrest first place in the AL East from the clutches of the Boston Red Sox, but right now, I can't think of any.
I predicted back in June that there was no way this could happen, and though I wouldn't mind being proven wrong (it was bound to happen sooner or later) I stil don't expect it.
Don't get me wrong. As a Yankee fan, I would certainly like to see the Yankees continue their impressive streak of Division Titles. This would make ten in a row, if they can pull it off. The Atlanta Braves supposedly have a MLB record 14 in a row, from 1991 to 2005, but in reality, it's only 11 in a row, as they were decidedly not leading anything when the strike hit in 1994. MLB curiously did not name division winners for that year, even though all the other awards, batting and ERA titles, Cy Young and MVPs, etc., were named. Probably because if they had, Atlanta would not be on the list. However, that, and the chance to somehow demoralize the Arch Rival Bostons once again, are about the only reason that this division race is of any interest at all.
And why is that?
Because it really doesn't matter.
The Yankees and the Red Sox will both get into the playoffs, somehow or another. Barring some kind of historical collapse by the Yankees, Red Sox, Anaheim Angels of LAnahfornia, or the Cleveland Indians of Cleveland, there is no way that the four teams currently leaidng the AL divisional and Wild Card races will not all be in the playoffs this year. The reigning AL Champion Detroit Tigers are 7.5 games behind Cleveland and 5.5 games behind New York, so they've got a tough road ahead to catch anybody. The Seattle Mariners, just one game out in the Wild Card race when they beat the Yankees back on Labor Day, are now 6.5 games behind the Bronx Bombers, and 8.5 back in the AL West. In addition, eight of their remaining 11 games are against Cleveland and LAnahfornia, so they're not going to make it either.
Which leaves the Yankees, Sawx, Tribe and Halos.
"But wait," you say, "isn't there some kind of advantage to winning your division?"
There have been 12 World Series played since the onset of the three-division, Wild Card System. With eight teams in the playoffs each year, the odds of winning a Championship should be roughly one-in-eight, if you assume that winning has more to do with luck than skill, once you get into the playoffs (and after the patently mediocre, 83-78 St. Louis Cardinals managed to win it all last year, how can we assume anything else?).
Wild Card teams have made up eight of the 24 teams to play in the Series, including at least one each of the last five years running, and have actually won the Series in 1997, 2002, 2003 and 2004. That's 4-for-12, or 33%, almost three times the natural odds. So it would seem that there's no particular disadvantage to going into the playoffs as the Wild Card. If anything, there's a notable advantage to it, though it would have to be admitted that 12 years is a pretty small sample size.
So, if anything, the Yankees should hope not to win the division. Think about it: Four of the last 12 world championships have been won by Wild Card teams, and four of them have been won by the Yankees. If the Yanks falter a bit, and let Boston keep the division title, they would then be BOTH the Yankees and the Wild Card! That gives them something like a 67% chance of winning it all, right?
Either way, all this made up melodrama about whether or not the Red Sox will cough up the division seems pretty pointless, especially when there are legitimate races for every single division AND the Wild Card over in the NL. San Diego is only one game behind Arizona in the NL West division, and leads the Wild Card by just 2.5 over the Phillies, whoe are just as close to the Mets in the East. In the central, The Cubs lead by a mere game over the Brewers. That's six teams within striking distance of only four playoff spots. Something's gotta give.
Incidentally, for you Rockies fans who think you can still make up that 4.5 game spread in the Wild Card race...think again. All 10 of your remaining games come against division rivals with winning records (LA, San Diego, and Arizona), and six of those 10 are on the road, where the Rox are 33-42. Not gonna happen.
The Cubs remaining games all come against the soft underbelly of the National League, the Pirates, Marlins and Reds, while the Brew Crew must play Atlanta and San Diego, in addition to St. Louis, who are not completely awful, so the Cubs should hold onto that division. Then again, these are the Cubs.
The Padres have a lot of road games left, where they haven't been great, but they should be able to handle San Francisco (especially if Barry doesn't make it back), Colorado and Milwaukee. Arizona's got the Dodgers, Bucs and Rockies, and their record is almost entirely due to how well they've played in 1-run games (32-18) which has a way of being kind of fickle. Their luck could change at any moment. Don't be too surprised if the Padres take the division from them and they miss the playoffs, with Philly picking up the Wild Card.
Seven of the Phils' remaining 10 games come against the Nationals, and while they don't look like they've got the pitching to get into the playoffs, the Nats don't have the pitching (or offense) to stop them either. They're not likely to catch the Mets though, as New York has no games left against teams that don't suck. They've got 7 left against last-place Florida, with the worst record in the Senior Circuit. They've also got three against Washington and a makeup game against the Cardinals, who, while they don't really suck, are not particularly good either. The Mets also play their last seven games at home, which should help.
So there you have it: If you want to get excited about the pennant races, the National League is the place to look. As for the Junior Circuit? That race was over a week ago, and only an unprecedented collapse by one or more teams will make it any different.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/20/2007
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/20/2007
18 September 2007
I've got three tickets for sale for Saturday's Yankees/Blue Jays game at Yankee Stadium. It's "The Bronx is Burning" DVD Sampler Day, and the game starts at 1:05.
You can buy them on eBay here.
I have another commitment and need to get rid of them, but of course I don't want to take a loss. The $200 minimum bid covers my expenses only, though if I can make a profit, all the better.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/18/2007
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/18/2007
13 September 2007
It must be great to be the commissioner.
Allan H. "Bud" Selig left his position as a team owner to try his hand at running Major League Baseball. He's the very face of the industry, and baseball's self-professed #1 fan. His name has been in the headlines several times recently, and not because he was doing anything inappropriate in a public restroom, either. Which is good.
One such time was when he endorsed the Houston Astros' choice of Cecil Cooper as their interim manager, and encouraged them publicly to make him the permanent successor to Phil Garner, who didn't deserve to be fired in the first place, I must add. Initially I thought this might be a way in for me, that perhaps Selig was looking for more managers who were born on December 20th, in which case, I'm set, you know? But it turns out that Selig thinks that there ought to be more ethnic minorities, especially blacks, holding managerial jobs, though frankly it seems to me more than a little inappropriate that he should be trying to influence a decision like this, especially based on race alone. Maybe MLB has some Afirmative-Action quotas we don't yet know about? In any case, I don't know that jackie Robinson would have approved of this sort of thing, or of the ridiculous tribute Bud started when he allowed 2,347 players to wear Jackie's #42 back on April 15th.
Selig, of course, chimed in important stuff, like when the Braves and the Cubs were both sold earlier this year. He spoke about starting the regular season in 2008 in Japan again. But he also had his name involved or at least implied in much more trivial matters, like whether or not the Red Sox manager is required to wear his jersey while out on the field, and allowing the Orioles and several other teams to play with pink bats to raise breast cancer awareness on Mothers' Day.
There have, of course, been lots of times where Selig's name has come up in a story about steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. He wanted Jason Giambi to meet with investigator George Mitchell. He responded to questions about Gary Matthews' alleged HGH use.
Selig also made a public appearance last month when the Minnesota Twins broke ground on the new stadium they plan to build. Or, more accurately, they plan for the taxpayers of Hennepin County to pay to build, as these will be footing about 75% of the bill, despite the fact that Twinkies' owner Carl Pohlad is one of the richest men in America. He could easily spend the $522 million the ballpark is supposed to cost (though that may increase, especially considering that they don't even own the land they want to build on yet) and still be worth over $2 Billion. Also, he's 92 years old. Didn't anyone ever tell him that he can't take it with him?
At this point, nobody has bought the naming rights to the new Twins Ballpark, but that's likely to change, if only because everyone else's new stadium seems to be at least partially funded with such a sale. Also, any monies the Twins would normally have contributed to the revenue sharing plan will be mitigated by those they spend on building the new stadium, so they will receive money from the revenue sharing agreement without actually sharing much (if any) of their own revenue.
If Pohlad wanted to, he could probably get PepsiAmericas Inc., in which he also owns controlling interest, to buy the naming rights to the ballpark, and then write that off as a business expense for the bottling company, saving himself several million more dollars. But I digress...
The irony here is that not too long ago, Selig and Pohlad were conspiring to get rid of the Twins entirely. Back in 2001, arguing that the Minnesotas couldn't possibly compete with that lousy, old, non-descript ballpark, Selig and the other owners threatened to contract the Twins, to basically disband the team, and pay owner Carl Pohlad a hefty sum for his trouble. This, of course, was a nonsensical and thinly-veiled extortion threat to try to get Minnesota taxpayers and, more important, lawmakers, to pony up the funds for a new ballpark.
It worked. So well, in fact, that Selig and Pohlad were both be there for the photo-op and to talk up how this new stadium will help them be competitive with the other teams in their division, all of whom either laready have a relatively new park or will have one soon.
Never mind the fact that the Minnesota Twins don't compete for fans with the Tigers, Indians, Royals or White Sox. The closest of those cities is over 350 miles away.
Never mind the fact that the Twins have won their division four times in the five full years since Contraction was first threatened, and had a winning record (83-79) in the other season, and might end up with a winning record this year as well (they're only two games under .500 right now).
Never mind the fact that their players have won two Cy Young Awards and an MVP trophy in that time.
Never mind the fact that Twins attendance has increased from 1.7 million in 2001 to 2.3 million last year and are on a pace for even more than that in 2007.
Never mind that their 2007 average home attendance rank (7th out of the 14 AL teams) places them ahead of Texas (8th), Baltimore (11th) and Division rival Cleveland (10th), all of whom already have new stadiums in which to play.
And all of this is true long before they'll get the new stadium they supposedly need so badly. Nevertheless, Selig, according to the AP, had the nerve to say,
"They couldn't survive in the Dome. The revenue streams just weren't there. It was as simple as that, and I think mostly people up here understood. From time to time there were a couple that didn't, but it's too nice a day for me to go back to that."
Well, clearly they survived pretty well in the last several years. I think that the people who understood what Selig means were basically Carl Pohlad and the other Twins shareholders, if there are any. They wer ethe ones who wanted this new stadium, because they are the ones who stand to gain from its presence in Minneapolis and the fact that the county taxpayers are mostly paying for it. Andrew Zimbalist and others have demonstrated that there really are no significant, long-term benefits to the taxpayers that would justify shelling out the kind of money required to build a sports stadium.
Selig at least admitted,
"This is a day that we've looked forward to for a long, long time. [...] I don't mind telling you personally I've looked forward to this."
Well, of course he's looked forward to it. He's not paying for it. Selig doesn't live in Minnesota, so not a dime of his own money will go toward helping Carl Pohlad to make more money he can leave to his children when he dies. And yet Selig will get to check off the building of the new Twins stadium as something of an accomplishment of his tenure as Commissioner, along with the building of the new stadiums in Cleveland, Detroit, Texas, Seattle, Chicago (AL), Baltimore, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Houston, San Diego, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and San Francisco, plus soon-to-be-built parks in Washington, Miami, northern California, and two in New York.
Stadiums in Boston, LAnahfornia, Toronto and Kansas City have all either been recently renovated or are in the process now, though some of these just pertained to getting rid of the AstroTurf. Given that expansion teams Arizona, Tampa, and Colorado all had stadiums built for them in the last 15 years, that leaves only the Dodgers and Cubs who will not have either a new stadium or a newly renovated one by the end of this decade. That is a whole lot of feathers in Bud's cap, but even more of an accomplishment is that many of these stadiums are being largely paid for by the taxpayers themselves, who are shelling out their own money for the privelige of paying higher ticket and concession prices when the new places open.
What a country!
But Selig was conspicuously absent when Barry Bonds tied and then broke Hank Aaron's career home run mark last month. Back in February, Selig had said,
"I've said it before and I'll say it again: If and when Barry Bonds breaks that record, it will be handled in the same way every other record in baseball that has been broken has been handled."
Which made the situation about as clear as mud.
Selig, for example, was present back in 1998 when Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris' single-season record, and everyone remembers that. People remember that Bowie Kuhn was there to see Aaron tie babe Ruth in 1974, even though he missed the record-setter in Atlanta, and they remember that Pete Rose's 4,192nd hit was witnessed by Peter Ueberroth in 1985, but they also remember that Selig did not make it to milestones like Roger Clemens' (or Tom Glavine's or Greg Maddux's) 300th win, or Craig Biggio's 3,000th hit, though it seems to me that i remember him being there when Tony Gwynn hit his 3,000th, but that might just be something I dreamed.
Nobody thinks that the Commissioner has nothing better to do than fly aorund the country watching players set milestones. The line's got to be drawn somewhere, and any time the event in question is something that a few dozen peopl have done (like winning 300 games or amassing 3,000 hits) I don't think there should even be a discussion, but 756 homers? Nobody had ever done that before, just like nobody had ever his 62 homers in a season before, and the Commish ought to have been there to congratulate him for it. Even if he thinks that Barry Bonds is nothing mre than a cleverly designed android, who's only this good because he's absolutely 100% synthetic, he still deserves to be congratulated in person for doing something nobody had ever done before. Innocent until proven guilty, you know?
But Selig, in an effort to save face for himself as he continues to construct his legacy, made himself scarce at that time last month. For good measure, he didn't attend the game when Trevor Hoffman's 479th Save was recorded either, if only so he could have some kind of precedent to which to point when asked about Bonds. Selig ssurely realizes that if Bonds is someday proven guilty of taking steroids or something, that he would look bad shaking hands and congratulating him in that picture, and if he's never convicted of anything, well, the great majority of public opinion is enough of a deterrent. And even if Bonds' name is somehow cleared, Selig can always point to scheduling commitments and other conflicts that kept him away at the time.
In short, he shows up where it serves him to do so: At a groundbreaking ceremony, chiming in against steroids or for Civil Rights, that kind of thing. But where he should be, where he by all rights ought to be, for good or bad, he's nowhere to be found. He could have made a great living in politics...
...but of course the money's here in the private sector.
08 September 2007
Well, it's about damn time.
Pittsburgh Pirates General Manager David Littlefield was fired yesterday. He had held the job since mid-July of 2001, and though it was hoped that he would help to turn around a franchise that had not had a winning season since 1992, reality turned out to be quite a bit harsher than hope.
Littlefield's predecessor, Cam Bonifay, had essentially run the franchise into the ground by mid 2001, or long before that if you asked most Pirates fans, and Littlefield was expected to "turn things around", "build from within", "develop young talent", "win some games"...very little of which actually happened. Littlefield entered the job in 2001 with the deck already stacked against him. He had the albatross contracts of not one or two, but several aging, underproductive, overpaid players to deal with. Kevin Young, Pat Meares, Derek Bell, Todd Ritchie...and he got little or nothing for most of these guys in trade or free agency compensation.
Hard to blame him too much for that, given how worthless these players generally were, and Bell and Meares were done after 2001 anyway, but even the trades he made didn't seem to make much sense at the time. One of his first moves, at the 2001 trading deadline, was to get rid of John Vander Wal, a 35-year old backup OF/1B forced into a starting job and making almost $2 million the Pirates couldn't afford to pay him, and Jason Schmidt, who was a decent starting pitcher about to become expensve as a free agent. These two went to the Giants for Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong. Schmidt, of course, promptly became one of the best pitchers in the National League, whereas Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong continued to be, well, Armando Rios and Ryan Vogelsong.
Terry Mulholland, an aging, replacement level relief pitcher having a decent season, was sent to the Dodgers for Mike Fetters, an aging, replacement level relief pitcher having a lousy year, plus a non-prospect. Mike Williams, another such commodity, was sent to Houston for Tony McKnight, who was young and cheap but got overworked and never again pitched in the majors after 2001. Williams, it should be noted, was brought back as a free agent in 2002, making twice as much money as he had in 2001, and was again traded in mid-2003, this time to the Phillies. Granted, he had an ERA of 6.27 at the time, but all they got for him was a minor leaguer named Frank Brooks, who had an occasional cup of coffee in the majors but never got to stick around long enough to finish his danish.
In the 2001-02 off-season, having promised to "build from within" Littlefield apparently decided that the best way to do this was to sign a whole bunch of retread free agent relief pitchers, who would then theoretically be "within" the Pirates organization and therefore count towards that goal. From the end of December 2001 to March of 2002, Littlefield signed Salomon Torres, Mike Williams, Scott Service, Al Reyes, Brian Boehringer, Wayne Gomes, Ron Villone, Joe Roa and Brian Meadows. All of these guys cost them something, and several of them never even pitched for the team before being released, and of those who did, only Torres had pitched effectively over the long term for Pittsburgh, and the others yielded little or nothing in trade.
Even those who could have fetched a marginal prospect were inexplicably allowed to continue pitching for the Bucs and were then lost to free agency, and this was generally true throughout Littlefield's tenure in the Steel City. Julian Tavarez, Matt Stairs, Reggie Sanders, Mike Lincoln, Daryle Ward, Joe Table, Rick White and others were signed as free agents and allowed to leave as free agents, despite demonstrating that they had some value in trade for Pirates teams that were going absolutely nowhere in the last several years.
Not that everyone was allowed to leave as a free agent. There were some trades made, and some of those proved worthwhile, at least for a time. Dave Williams was traded for Sean Casey and cash, and even though Casey was no great shakes, he was soon sent away for a minor league pitcher who might actually have a future, whereas Williams basically fell apart. They sent Rob Mackowiak, a sub-mediocre utility player, to the White Sox for Damaso Marte, who's been a pretty decent relief pitcher for them the last two seasons.
There were a few solid trades. They managed to get Freddy Sanchez and Mike Gonzalez from the Red Sox for two months worth of Jeff Suppan. Gonzalez was a good relief pitcher for them for a few years and then netted them Adam LaRoche in trade, and of course Freddy Sanchez won a batting title and led the NL in doubles last season and has been an All-Star twice. When Brian Giles was getting too expensive, he was traded to San Diego for Oliver Perez and Jason Bay, the 2005 NL Rookie of the year and a two-time All-Star. Those two probably complete the very short list of "good" trades that Littlefield made during his tenure in Pittsburgh.
Craig Wilson, who was declining rapidly in value, was traded to the Yankees for Shawn Chacon, who took his time at it but eventually became a useful pitcher again, while Wilson bounced around and looks washed up at age 30. After the 2001 season, when Todd Ritchie got too expensive, they shipped him and a minor leaguer to the White Sox for Kip Wells, Sean Lowe, and Josh Fogg. Wells was both decent and cheap for two years before injuries and arbitration made him lousy and expensive at the same time, and Fogg, if not particularly good, was neither terrible nor pricey, at least for a while. (Meanwhile, Ritchie promptly fell apart and was out of baseball by the end of 2004.) The Kris Benson trade netted them Jose Batista, their current regular thirdbaseman, Ty Wigginton, who could have been a regular something if they'd given him a shot, and a minor leaguer. Not a bad return for an injury-prone, sub-LAIM pitcher making $6 million in his walk year.
But for every good move, it seems there were about five bad ones. They lost Bronson Arroyo, Dave Ross, Chris Young, Ty Wigginton, Duaner Sanchez, Gary Matthews and others, all of whom have gone on to have notable success elsewhere, either by getting little in trade or by waiving or releasing them outright. Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez and CASH, which the Pirates can hardly spare, were sent to the Cubs for Matt Bruback, Jose Hernandez and Bobby Hill, who was later flipped to the Padres for a non-prospect minor leaguer.
Jason Kendall is now generally thought of as a waste of a roster spot, but in the winter of 2004, he was a 30-year old catcher with a career .306/.387/.418 batting line who stole bases and played good defense. Nevertheless, all Littlefield got for him, due mostly to his exhorbitant contract, was Mark Redman, Arthur Rhodes, and some money, though probably not as much as he sent along with Kendall. A year later, Redman was flipped for a couple of prospects you've probably never heard of and Rhodes was traded for Matt Lawton. And Lawton, when he was having a decent year that should have netted them some kind of prospect at the trading deadline, only got them Jody Gerut, an injury-prone retread from the Cleveland organization.
The last several years have seen the Pirates employ a maddeningly long list of has-beens and won't-be-anymores, like Jeromy Burnitz, Sean Casey, Joe Randa, Jose Hernandez, Daryle Ward, Benito Santiago, Mark Redman, Joe Table, Chris Stynes, Raul Mondesi, Jeff Reboulet, Reggie Sanders, Matt Stairs, Pokey Reese, and Jeff D'Amico, just to name a few. For a team that was supposed to "let the kids play" that's an awful lot of guys on the wrong side of 30, some on the wrong side of 35.
Even the players the Pirates developed themselves have turned out to be disappointments. The Pat Meares signing, which, to be fair, was not Littlefield's work, was widely ridiculed at the time, and I'm sure Littlefield was glad to be rid of him when his contract expired at the end of the 2001 season. But his successor, Jack Wilson, has been at if for seven seasons, is making more money than Mears ever did, and his #1 comparable player, according to Bill James' Similarity Scores, is (wait for it...) Pat Meares.
The current roster, with a few exceptions, does not have a lot of bright spots. Freddy Sanchez can hit for average, but has no power or speed and is not a good defensive 2B. Jason Bay is an excellent talent having an off year. It gets pretty thin after that. Xavier Nady and Adam LaRoche would be effective role players on a championship team, but are little more than stop-gaps on this one. Chris Duffy is already 27 and has proven that he can steal bases but can't get onto them in the first place. Nate McLouth may be in the same boat, except that he's only 25. Jose Bautista has aver 1000 major league plate appearances and a career .241/.329/.398 batting line. He's 26, and might get better, but will probably never be an All-Star. Catcher Ronny Paulino hit .310 last year but had a below average OPS because he doesn't walk and has no power. Jack Wilson ain't gonna get any better than he is right now, which is pretty bad to begin with.
What they do have is a trio of cheap and solid young starting pitchers. Tom Gorzellany, Ian Snell and Paul Maholm could form the core of a rotation that's both win- and cost- effective for years to come, and Matt Capps can close the few games they'll actually win for something close to the major league minimum for at least another year or two. They'll all get more expensive as they enter arbitration, but should still be manageable for a while, especially with all the money the Pirates must get from revenue sharing. That's a lot more than some teams can say. Young catcher/OF Ryan Doumit might be something special, but at 26, it's time to start proving it. After that's it's mostly question marks.
The top tiers of their farm system , with a few exception, don't have many pitchers who strike batters out with much consistency, which does not bode well for thir long-term success. Keith Law and others have outlined already how Littlefield's failure to effectively stock the farm system was ultimately his undoing, so I won't rehash all of that in this space, but there are two quick ways of looking at the situation to get a sense of how dismal his efforts have been.
1) The best players the Pirates have drafted on Littlefield's watch are Maholm and Gorzellany (1st and 2nd round, 2003), and maybe Matt Capps (7th round, 2002). In the meantime, they could have had Prince Fielder, Scott Kazmir, BJ Upton, Joe Blanton, Cole Hamels, Nick Swisher, Matt Cain, Jeremy Guthrie, Jeff Francoeur, Jeff Francis, David Bush, Jesse Crain, Brian McCann and/or lots of others who've had more success in the majors than the best the Pirates have to show for their trouble. And those names are all just from the 2002 draft.
B) The Pirates #1 draft pick in 2002, Brian Bullington, is struggling to get to and stay in the majors. His minor league record is unimpressive at best. He walks too many and strikes out too few and has trouble staying healthy...and he's starting for the Pirates on Tuesday.
In short, it's been a long, strange trip with Littlefield at the helm for the Bucs, but most Pirates fans are probably glad to see someone else get a chance to Captain this once proud ship.
Posted by Travis M. Nelson at 9/08/2007