27 January 2006

Pending Pinstripes Yankee Prospect of the Week: Kevin Reese

Kevin Patrick Reese, OF
Born: March 11, 1978
Height: 5-11 Weight: 195
Bats: Left Throws: Left
College: University of San Diego
Drafted: San Diego Padres' 27th round pick in 2000 amateur draft

Kevin Reese, as I mentioned in yesterday's post, was named the 2006 Columbus Clipper of the Year, and now, as an added bonus to his resume, he'll be made the 27 January 2006 Pending Pinstripes Prospect of the Week! I'm sure his family is very proud.
2006 Clipper of the Year and Pending Pinstripes Prospect of the Week Kevin Reese

Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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26 January 2006

Public Announcement: Columbus Clippers' 2006 Winterfest

Today, Thursday, January 26th, is the

Columbus Clippers' 2006 Winterfest.

The Columbus Clippers invite you to meet new manager Dave Miley and Clipper of the Year Kevin Reese at the Arena Grand Theatre.

Reservations are $10 and are Buy One Get One FREE!

There will be a question and answer session for Dave and Kevin beginning at 6:45 PM and will be followed by the new movie Glory Road. Your reservation is good for both the Clipper of the Year Reception and the movie. Complimentary soft drinks and popcorn will be served. All guests must check in at the Clippers table to gain entrance.

Parking is on the Clippers when you park in the Arena Grand Parking Garage. Redeem your parking ticket when you check in at the Clippers table inside the theatre lobby.

The theatre has a limited number of seats, so it is first come first served basis. For reservations call (614-462-5250) or stop by the Clipper ticket office at 1155 West Mound Street. (Technically you should have signed up by Monday, but since I only got this notification via email yesterday, there's not much I could do about that. If there's room, I'm sure they'll still be accomodating.)

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24 January 2006

All-Baseball.collumn: Red Sox Ripe for Return to Rest of League

The Boston Red Sox are reportedly nearing deals for Indians outfielder Coco Crisp and former Marlins shortstop Alex Gonzalez. This Alex Gonzalez is not to be confused with Alex S. Gonzalez, former Toronto, Cubs, Expos and Devil Rays shortstop and thirdbaseman. Actually, come to think of it, you can confuse them all you want. Aside from the fact that the other Alex Gonzalez is about three and a half years older than this one, the two players have almost exactly identical skill sets, which is to say that neither of them can hit his way out of a paper bag.

Coco Crisp, on the other hand, is a pretty solid player.

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

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Boys of Summer National League Team Nickname

To Whom It May Concern:

Whomever has been looking for multiple variants of "Boys of Summer National League Team nickname" for the last two days, the answer is "The Brooklyn Dodgers".

Former Brooklyn beat writer Roger Kahn wrote a book of that title and the nickname, though it originally referred to baseball players in general, came to be associated nostalgically with the Brooklyn club. (The book was published after the team moved to Los Angeles.)

Not that I mind the traffic you're bringing my website, but I thought it might be nice if you just had a direct answer right here.

Hope that helps.


Travis M. Nelson

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20 January 2006

Slow Week for Baseball News...

Is it my imagination, or has this been an exceedingly slow news-week for the baseball world? The following were among the most prominent headlines today and during the past week:

Red Sox Re-Hire Epstein, Position Undetermined

The man who engineered the first Red Sox World Series Title since the end of World War I just walked away from the best job in the business two or three months ago. Everyone sorta figured he'd be back because, really, where could he go that would have been better than what he'd been doing in Boston? Right? So that actually happens, and it's "News".

Alex Rodriguez Decides to Play for U.S. (Again) in WBC

That's right, A-Rod will challenge Hasim Rahman for the World Boxing Council's heavyweight championship. No, wait. That should be the World Baseball Classic. Never mind.

Seriously, though, is anyone really going to watch this? Will anyone really care who wins? And if not, who cares who plays for which team? I mean, Ron Villone will be pitching for Italy, and he was born in New Jersey! At least Nomar Garciaparra can justify playing for Mexico because he was born in California, which is part of Mexico. Isn't it?

Cuba Allowed To Compete in WBC

"...And in this corner, sporting the green fatigue trunks and a cigar, Fidel Castro!!!!" OK, sorry. I'll stop with the boxing jokes. Since the US Treasury Department decided to "allow" Cuba into the WBC, we'll get to see a bunch of AA_level players you've never even heard of competing against some of the best players in the world! Most of them on the Dominican team! Of course, I'm not any sort of fan of Communists, per se, but then neither am I sure the U.S. Treasury Department should have any more jurisdiction over who plays in this thing than, say, the Nevada Boxing Commission. In either case, as I mentioned previously, does anybody really care?

Pete Rose Wants Second Third Another Chance at Hall of Fame; No, Really

That's right. Difficult as it may be to believe, in early January, just after the Hall of Fame announced its induction for 2006, Pete Rose announced that he too would still like to get in somehow. And he even (wait for it...) gave an Exclusive Interview to discuss the issue, in which he mentioned that he was "...shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here." And did he mention that he wrote a book last year?

Dontrelle Willis Wins Warren Spahn Award

Did you even know that there was a Warren Spahn Award? I didn't. I think it goes to the left-handed pitcher with the highest leg-kick, but I can't be sure.

Joe Torre Not Getting Fired

Whew! That's a relief. It's good to know that a guy who's under contract for two more years and hasn't missed the playoffs, well, ever, since he's been the Yankee Skipper, has some job security. Bob Klapisch must have been under heavy pressure from his editor to write something by Friday afternoon. It was either this story, or

"U.S. Department of Transportation Bans Iran From WBC; Iranian President Ahmadinejad Denies Baseball Ever Happened "

Anywho, I sure hope something actually happens next week...

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19 January 2006

Pending Pinstripes Yankee Prospect of the Week: Eric Duncan

See? I told you that you'd be hearing more about Eric Duncan!

Eric Anthony Duncan

Position: 3B
Born: December 7, 1984
Height: 6-1 Weight: 205
Bats: Left Throws: Right
High School: Seton Hall Prep High School (West Orange,NJ)
Drafted: New York Yankees, 1st round (27th overall) of 2003 June draft

Duncan, as I mentioned last week, is the Yankees' #2 prospect, according to Baseball America. The Yanks took him with their first pick in the 2003 draft, right out of Seton Hall Prep, and according to The Baseball Cube, by making it to AA ball he's already advanced farther than anyone else ever drafted from that school. Yep, all six of 'em.

Duncan was immediately sent to the Yankees Gulf Coast (Rookie) League affiliate and hit OK, but nothing special (.278/.348/.400, with only 2 homers in 47 games but 18 walks). They promoted him to Staten Island of the short-season New York-Penn League (Low-A) and he tore the cover off the ball, hitting .373/.413/.695 in his 14 games there. Hard to blame him for wanting to get away from Staten Island as soon as possible. That got him sent to Low-A Battle Creek to start the 2004 season and a solid performance there got him sent to High-A Tampa.

Take a look at his combined line in A-Ball from 2004:

129 461 75 119 43 4 16 83 7 3 69 131 .258 .360 .473

OK, so a .258 batting average doesn’t look all that exciting, and striking out once a game even less so, but he also walked more than once every other game and he piled up 63 hits for extra bases, including 43 doubles. All of this at the tender age of 19! That made him the Yankees’ #1 prospect in Baseball America’s 2004 list, so why is he only #2 this year?

Bad Luck, essentially.

Baseball America indicates that he got off to a slow start at AA Trenton and then, to make matters worse, got hit in the head with a pitch. That generally screwed him up for the rest of the year, but he did hit .362/.423/.734 with 8 homers and 27 RBI in only 23 games to win the MVP of the Arizona Fall League. (NOTE: Another Yankees prospect, recently acquired 2B Kevin Howard, won the AFL batting title with a .409(!) average in 25 games. Howard looks like a fringe prospect at best, and had never hit over .296 in a season of his minor league career, so AFL numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Maybe a whole shaker full of it.)

What’s he got going for him?

Duncan’s still very young, having just turned 21 a month ago. He hits left-handed, always a good fit for Yankee Stadium, and has power that is already above average and developing. His homer totals have gone from 4 to 16 to 19 in his three years of pro ball, and those 19 bombs in 2005 came despite a .235 batting average. He’s also shown some patience, walking at a reasonable rate, which is impressive considering his youth. “He’s coachable and willing to make adjustments,” according to John Manuel of BA.

What’s he got going against him?

His batting stroke generates power, but isn’t particularly short, so he strikes out a lot. Even while piling up those pretty numbers in the Arizona Fall League, he also struck out 29 times in 23 games. Like most young players, he has some trouble with good breaking stuff, part of the reason his numbers suffered at AA Trenton last season.

Defensively, he has two problems:

1) His arm isn’t really strong enough to play the position in the majors (which contibuted to his Eastern League-high 27 errors) and…

…he’a already got the Best Thirdbaseman on the Planet and reigning American League MVP in front of him on the organizational food chain.

Prognosis for 2006:

Given his impressive performance in the Fall, the AFL website speculated that the Yankees may be more willing to push Duncan up to AAA Columbus to start 2006, but I doubt that. Most of the players with whom he competed in November were also AA-level players, and heck, it was only a month. He still seems to have some work to do, both on offense (bringing up that average and bringing down the strikeouts) and on defense (moving across the diamond to first base, a switch he began in Arizona). It makes more sense for the Yanks to allow Duncan to work on both issues in Trenton next year, where he may be a little more comfortable, and where he’ll still be among the younger players in the league (only 21, remember). If he hits like crazy for two or three months and learns First Base quickly they may move him up to AAA, but Rodriguez’s continued excellence and the re-emergence of Jason Giambi as an offensive contributor mean that there’s no rush to get Duncan to the show this year.

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17 January 2006

Trending Upwards: Future Hall of Famers?

Last week the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced the lone inductee of the Cooperstown Class of 2006: Bruce Sutter. Normally, I would use this space to lament the fact that Richard "Goose" Gossage, a relief pitcher roughly half again as good as Sutter was, did not get elected. However, as people with more influence than me, namely ESPN's Rob Neyer and the Goose himself, are already doing that, I suppose I don't need to echo them. The half-dozen or so of you who read my work with any regularity already know what I think about Goose's qualifications, so I won't belabor that point. What's more interesting than my opinion, however, is whether or not Gossage (or Bert Blyleven, or Jack Morris, or Jim Rice, or anyone else for that matter) ever will get the call from Cooperstown.

The truth is that Sutter only made the grade in 2006 for two reasons: For one thing, the rest of the ballot was pretty weak. Nobody on the 2006 list had gotten more than Sutter's 344 votes (66.7%) in 2005, and nobody new with any clout was going to be on the ballot. (Indeed, Orel Hershiser got the most votes of all the first-timers in 2006, with only 58, good for 11.2% of the vote, or roughly 330 votes short of those needed for enshrinement.) The second reason is that there were some pretty substantial media personalities campaigning for him.

If those two items are the main criteria next year, then things are not looking good for Gossage or any of the other holdovers who may have his hopes set on a 2007 induction. In the 2007 election, Cal Ripken, Tony Gwynn and Mark McGwire (not to mention Harold Baines, Jose Canseco, and Bret Saberhagen) will all be eligible for induction for the first time, will probably all be elected easily. That is, barring a "tell-all" book by a source more credible than Jose Canseco that proves that McGwire really did use steroids, Tony Gwynn's 5.5 hole was artificially enlarged and/or Cal Ripken's "streak" was due to hair dye. (Of course, finding a source more credible than Canseco is not such an accomplishment. Stevie Wonder could probably say he saw McGwire take steroids and more people would believe him than believed Jose.)

Historically, though, does the advent of two or three super-qualified applicants really detract from another player's candidacy?

Continue reading at All-Baseball.com...

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12 January 2006

Pending Pinstripes Yankee Prospect of the Week: Philip Hughes

Baseball America just released its list of the Top Ten Yankee Prospects last week, so this seems like a good source of material for my own analysis/commentary. The list is as follows:

1. Philip Hughes, rhp
2. Eric Duncan, 3b/1b
3. Jose Tabata, of
4. C.J. Henry
5. Austin Jackson, of
6. Eduardo Nunez, ss
7. Marcos Vechionacci, 3b
8. Christian Garcia, rhp
9. Jeff Marquez, rhp
10. Tyler Clippard, rhp

Most of these guys, excepting perhaps Duncan at #2, will be completely unfamiliar to most of you. Duncan's name came up in trade rumors last summer, which is the only reason you'd have heard of him, but as he is still with the Yankees and is considered their second-best prospect by a pretty substantial source, you'll be hearing a lot more of him soon. Let's look at Hughes first though...

Philip J. Hughes, rhp
Born: June 24, 1986
Height: 6-5 Weight: 220 Bats/Throws: Right
High School: Foothill High School (Santa Ana,CA)
Drafted: NYY 1st round (23rd overall) of 2004 amateur entry draft (June Regular Phase)

W  L   ERA   G   IP    H   R  ER  HR  BB   SO   h9    hr9   w9    k9   whip
9 1 2.07 20 91.3 58 25 21 1 20 101 5.72 0.10 1.97 9.95 0.85

What’s he got going for him?

Hughes reportedly throws a 92-94 mph fastball and can throw even harder if necessary. His curveball is supposedly above average and his slider, which was his best pitch before the Yankees forced him to develop the curve in 2005, bites late and hard. His command of the fastball and solid mechanics have led one Yankees official to refer to him as “Mark Prior lite”, but it should be noted that historically the Yankees tend to hype their own prospects more than anyone else does.

What’s he got going against him?

In a word: History.

Hughes was drafted out of high school last year, which may not bode well for him. A lot of organizations with higher draft picks than the Yankees decided to focus on college pitchers, and with good reason. In the 2004 draft, only 7 of the 28 pitchers selected in the first round were drafted out of high school, and only 3 of the 14 pitchers taken before Hughes were high school pitchers. There is a movement away from the high risk/high reward idealogy associated with drafting pitchers this young.

For example, the last time the Yankees used their first pick to draft a pitcher out of high school was 2002, when they took Brandon Weeden. His stats looked much like those of Mr. Hughes after his first two years in the minors:

W L ERA G IP H R ER HR BB SO h9 hr9 w9 k9 whip
4 4 2.70 23 80.0 60 36 24 1 39 68 6.75 0.11 4.39 7.65 1.24

Admittedly, not quite as good, with slightly worse hit, walk and strikeout rates, but still looking like a decent prospect. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, they thought so too, and they took him (along with Jeff Weaver and Yhency Brazoban) in the trade that sent Kevin Brown to New York. For whatever reason, Brandon regressed considerably and started weedin’ himself out of the Dodgers’ talent harvest, going 9-18 with an ERA around 5.50 in the last two seasons for the Columbus Catfish of the Low-A Sally League.

A better illustration of this might be found by looking at the comparative numbers of draft picks that actually have major league careers from either high school or college. I looked at the 1999 amatuer draft because it was convenient, the Yankees drafted a pitcher in it, and it was long enough ago that anyone who graduated from high school that year is now 25 or so, and probably already in the majors if he ever will be. Here’s what I found:

Total Players Drafted: 51
Pitchers: 36
High School Pitchers: 15
College Pitchers: 21

Of the 15 high school pitchers, only four (27%) have made it to the majors:

Jimmy Gobble (14-14, 5.27 ERA, 254 innings in three MLB seasons)
Jerome Williams (23-22, 3.92 ERA, 383 innings in three MLB seasons)
Casey Daigle (2-3, 7.16 ERA, 49 innings in one MLB season)
Josh Beckett (41-34, 3.46 ERA, 609 innings in five MLB seasons)

Of the 21 college pitchers, 11 (52%) have made it to the majors. They include:

Mike “Mac the Ninth” MacDougal, who has closed most of the few games the Kansas City Royals have won since 2003. He’s got 49 saves and a 3.97 ERA in 170 MLB relief innings.

Jason Jennings (49-43, 5.02 ERA in 729 MLB innings, all with the Rockies), who was the 2002 NL Rookie of the Year.

Brett Myers (42-33, 4.47 ERA in 656 MLB innings). Last year his 3.72 ERA was 20th in the NL and his 208 strikeouts tied him for 3rd place in the Senior Circuit.

Ben Sheets (55-62, 3.83 ERA in 982 MLB innings over five seasons), who has won at least ten games in each of his five seasons in the majors despite not even pitching enough to qualify for the ERA title in 2005 or 2001, and despite pitching for the Brewers. His 2.70 ERA ranked 3rd in the NL in 2004 and his 264 strikeouts were second only to Randy Johnson.

Barry Zito (86-53, 3.50 ERA in 1209 innings over six MLB seasons), who won the 2003 AL Cy Young Award. He’s pitched 213 or more innings in each of the last five seasons, with a better than average ERA each season and a career ERA 29% better than the adjusted league average.

And Matt Ginter, who isn’t much of a pitcher but can play the banjo!

Anywho, that was a considerable digression, and only one of dozens of drafts, but you get the point: High school pitchers taken in the first round tend not to make it to the majors as frequently as college pitchers do, and once there, they don’t have the same success. College pitchers are older when drafted, have less “growing” left to do, know their bodies better, and have faced tougher competition, which makes them more polished. We can see some of these issues in Hughes already. Baseball America’s scouting report on him indicates that “the biggest hurdle he must overcome with regard to his health is getting to know his body better“. He has already been injured several times, with shoulder and elbow tendinitis, a tired arm and a stubbbed toe, at different times, all of which helped limit him to those 91 innings over two years. This may not be a bad thing, as young pitchers who throw a lot of innings have a tendencty to get seriously hurt. Perhaps it’s better to bring him a long slowly. Of course, young pitchers who get into bar fights tend to get hurt, too, so maybe it’s best to keep Hughes at the ballpark as much as possible.

One thing the Yankees’ organization did to help keep him healthy was to prevent him from using his slider. More important, this also forced him to develop his curveball, which has become a plus pitch when thrown hard enough. The Phillies did this with Brett Myers, banning his curveball to get him to work on his fastball and change-up, and it worked.

Prognosis for 2006:

Hughes is expected to start 2006 in High-A Tampa, but if his curve, slider and low-to-mid 90’s heater are all working, he’ll move up through the rankings quickly. John Manuel of Baseball America says, “…he should be in the mix for a rotation spot in New York in 2007—as long as he stays off the disabled list.” But I would add another caveat to that statement: As long as he doesn’t get traded, either. The Yankees have not drafted and signed a first-round pitcher who actually started more than one game for the major league club since…are you ready for this? Bill Burbach. You’ve never heard of him because he got drafted in 1966 and spent parts of three seasons with the Yankees from 1969-71 and then hung up his spikes for good. More often than not, Yankee draftees become prospects and then promptly become trade bait, as per Eric Milton and Scott MacGregor. So unless the Yankees are running away with the AL East division next July, look for Hughes to be dealt somewhere for pitching help. You heard it here first.

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10 January 2006

All.Baseball.collumn: The 2006 Hall of Fame Ballot

If Travis Nelson had a Hall of Fame Ballot…

In the Yard:

ALBERT BELLE: Belle will have a lot more trouble convincing the baseball writers of his Cooperstown worthiness than he does convincing me, mostly because he never threw a baseball atone of my co-workers. Belle was nothing if not surly, but that shouldn’t factor into whether or not he gets a plaque in the national Baseball Hall of Fame. He was consistently one of the best hitters in the league for a decade and he should have gotten more support in the MVP voting. He was every bit as good as Frank Thomas in 1994 and Juan Gonzalez in 1996, and he was better than Mo Vaughn (or anyone else, for that matter) in 1995, but lost votes due to his contentious nature and fiery relationship with the news media. A degenerative hip condition ended his career at age 33, but Kirby Puckett suffered the same fate due to glaucoma, and the BBWAA let him in on his first attempt.

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

For other opinions on the 2006 Hall of Fame Ballot, including David Pinto of Baseballmusings.com, San Diego Padres broadcaster Bob Scanlan and Bob Rosen of the Elias Sports Bureau (an actual BBWAA member and HoF voter), check out The Writers on Eric Mirlis' website, The Mirl...

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06 January 2006

Pending Pinstripes Prospect of the Week: Colter Bean

Colter Bean (Randall Colter Bean)
Position: P
Born: January 16, 1977
Height: 6-6 Weight: 255
Bats: Right Throws: Right
College: Auburn University
Drafted: Signed as undrafted free agent by New York Yankees in 2000

Colter Bean was added to the Yankees' major league roster in September 2005, during which he pitched only one game, two innings, allowing one hit and one run. He struck out two and walked two. That's just about as small a sample size as you can get, so it doesn't help us much. His minor league numbers, encompassing stints with six different teams over three levels in six seasons, should be more telling.

Level W L ERA G IP IP/G H/9 HR/9 W/9 K/9 WHIP
A 10 3 2.39 99 131.67 1.33 5.81 0.21 3.62 13.12 1.05
AA 0 3 4.96 16 16.33 1.02 9.37 1.10 4.96 9.92 1.59
AAA 17 12 2.70 168 223.33 1.33 7.01 0.52 3.59 10.52 1.18
Total 27 18 2.69 283 371.33 1.31 6.69 0.43 3.66 11.42 1.15

I’ve broken down his stats at each level, and as you can see he spent only about 16 innings at AA (over three seasons) so it’s probably best to mostly ignore that small sample as well. I have provided his rate numbers for Hits, Home Runs, Walks, and strikeouts per nine innings, as well as WHIP (Walks + Hits per Inning Pitched) and Innings per Game. I’m going to try to post at least one analysis like this every week, and I expect that this is the basic formula I’ll use, though for starting pitchers, I may include other complete games or something else.

What’s he got going for him?

Bean is a big dude, 6′6″, 255 lbs, but he doesn't throw hard. He relies on a funky sidearm delivery, and though his fastball gets up to about 87 mph once in a while, most of his offerings are in the 76-78 mph range. Despite the lack of velocit, his strikeout rates have been consistently high throughout his career, never dipping below one per inning for any whole season. His hit rates have generally been good, usually floating around seven per nine innings, which keeps his WHIP (baserunners per inning) right around 1.1, which is quite good. He’s never allowed many homers, with only 18 total given up in almost 400 minor league innings.

What’s he got going against him?

Colter will be 29 years old in a couple of weeks, which is pretty old to be calling him a “prospect” but he’s certainly got talent. The organization has not been high on him until recently, as his 2005 numbers at Columbus don’t look much different from his 2003 or 2004 numbers, and they didn’t bring him up then. He walks a good number of batters, 3 or 4 per nine innings in the minors, and of course major league hitters not named “Neifi Perez” generally tend to be more patient than those at AAA. Bean has been used exclusively as a relief pitcher in the minors (and he only started two games in his entire college career at Auburn) and has only been asked to get about four outs per game on average, so this is his lot. Statistically speaking, minor league closers don’t usually graduate into effective major league closers, but perhaps Bean has a shot as a setup man.

Prognosis for 2006:

With two other hard-throwing righties, Octavio “Don’t Ask” Dotel and Kyle “What do You Think This” Farnsworth, in the Yankees’ bullpen, Bean won’t likely see a lot of nail-biting action in the 7th and 8th innings, but he could get his feet wet with some mop up duty. I for one would love to see him succeed, but the reality is that he’ll probably have some growing pains and bounce back and forth between Columbus and the majors a lot this year. That walk rate makes me especially nervous. Bean may have been able to fool the novices in the International League, but the likes of David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez will simply wait for their pitch and clobber it if Bean makes a mistake over the plate. He’s going to need to improve that walk rate to have a major league career.

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02 January 2006

All-Baseball.collumn: Bronx Bombers Bolster Bullpen

The New York Yankees recently announced the signing of right-handed relief pitcher Octavio Dotel to a one-year, $2 million contract. Dotel had been with the Oakland A's but had Tommy John surgery in May on his pitching elbow and missed the remiander of the 2005 season. Dotel is not expected to be ready to join the team until May at the earliest, given that the usual rehabilitation timeframe for such a procedure is about one year. The Dotel signing, which was known about weeks ago but just became official recently, marks the completion of a completely revamped relief corps for the Yankees, who are looking to improve on an area the team considered a weakness in recent years.

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

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28 December 2005

All-Baseball.collumn: Pirates of Pennants?

The Pittsburgh Pirates have not had a winning season since 1992, when they took the last of three consecutive NL East titles, under the leadership of Jim Leyland. Since then, their "best" season was a 79-83, second place finish, five games behind the Houston Astros, who won a very weak NL Central Division in 1997. But as the great Mr. Zimmerman said (Bob, not Heinie), "the times, they are a-changin'..."

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

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New Blog: Pending Pinstripes

To your left, you'll see the newest link to this blog, the logo for Pending Pinstripes, a blog about the New York Yankees' minor league teams and players, authored by Yours Truly.

The following is the first original essay for said blog, a simple breakdown of five players the Yanks added to their 40-man roster in November:

The New York Yankees added several players to their 40-man roster in November: RHP T.J. Beam, RHP Matt DeSalvo, RHP Jeffrey Karstens, LHP Matt Smith, and OF Kevin Thompson. Let's take a look at each of these individually, using their statistics as reported at thebaseballcube.com

Read the rest at Pending Pinstripes...

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20 December 2005

The December 20th All-Birthday Team

Baseball-Reference.com is a wonderful website. They've got stats for every major leaguer who's ever played, plus managers, and notable personalities from the Hall of Fame, like Negro Leaguers, Executives and even some umpires. They've got the pages for players, teams, franchises and leagues throughout history, even short-lived entities like the Players' League and the American Association. They've got an Oracle of Baseball, which will give you a Six-Degrees of Kevin Bacon type of connection between any two players in history, say, Kevin Barker and Count Sensenderfer, for example.

But one of the coolest things they have is the Birthday Page, wherein you can find every major league player in history who shares your birthday. This being my birthday, I thought I would share with you my All-Birthday Team. These are (in my estimation) the best seasons from players born on my birthday, December 20th, compiled into a team, so that I have sufficient innings and plate appearances to play a 162-game schedule.

Note: OPS+ and ERA+ are the league and park adjusted OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging) and ERA for that season, so you have an idea of what the numbers really mean in context. The .349 batting average Spud Davis put up in 1933, during the offense-crazed Depression Years, does not mean nearly as much as the .352 Cecil Cooper hit in 1980, a relatively down offensive time. Their adjusted OPS numbers (55% better than average compared to "only" 34% better) help to compensate for that. Anywho, this is what I came up with:

Starting Lineup PA Avg OBP SLG R HR RBI SB OPS+
C G. Hartnett (1930) 578 .339 .404 .630 84 37 122 0 144
1B C. Cooper (1980) 678 .352 .387 .539 96 25 122 17 155
2B J. Williams (1899) 689 .355 .417 .532 126 9 116 26 159
3B D. Wright (2005) 657 .306 .388 .523 99 27 102 17 138
OF O. Gamble (1977) 470 .297 .386 .588 75 31 83 1 162
OF H. Stovey (1889) 634 .308 .393 .525 152 19 119 63 161
OF D. DeJesus (2005) 523 .293 .359 .445 69 9 56 5 114
DH A. Huff (2003) 706 .311 .367 .555 91 34 107 2 139

This is a pretty darn good team. Or at least a starting lineup.

I'll probably hit 2B Jimmy Williams (not to be confused with Jimy Williams, erstwhile manager of the Red Sox and Astros), as he has the highest OBP. Though it may seem like he didn't hit for power, those nine homers tied him for 3rd in the NL in 1899, Williams' rookie season. Harry Stovey will hit in the #2 spot, as he gets on base and has plenty of speed, with 63 steals, which were good for 10th in the American Association in 1889, tied with Hall of Famer Bid McPhee and Tommy "Foghorn" Tucker, but well behind league leader "Sliding" Billy Hamilton's 111 base swipes. Unfortunately Hamilton was born in February, so he can't help us. (Stovey also led the 1889 AA in Slugging %, Homers, Total Bases, Extra Base Hits, Runs, RBI and was among the league leaders in several other categories that year, one of the last for the American Association, which folded after 1891.

Cecil Cooper will bat third, keeping the precious little speed we've got together. Hall of Fame catcher Gabby Hartnett bats cleanup. No argument there, I trust. DH Aubrey Huff and 3B David Wright bat 5th and 6th, respectively, giving us a right-left-right stagger in the heart of the lineup. (This way the June 26th team can't bring in Mike Myers to shut us down in a big inning.)

Oscar Gamble and his Afro hit #7, even though he actually has the highest adjusted OPS on the team. Unfortunately he only got 470 plate appearances, and I don't want to have Jim Norris or Jack Manning batting cleanup 200 times, you know? David DeJesus hits 8th and whomever we get to play short will bat last. Alternatively, if we end up in the NL, Huff plays the outfield in place of DeJesus, who goes back to the bench. Speaking of which...

    Bench                PA   Avg   OBP   SLG    R   HR  RBI   SB  OPS+         
C B. Rickey (1906) 226 .284 .345 .393 22 3 24 4 135
IF P. Baumann (1915) 260 .292 .380 .388 30 2 28 9 130
IF A. Ojeda (2001) 162 .201 .269 .271 16 1 12 1 43
OF J. Norris (1977) 517 .270 .360 .364 59 2 37 26 101
OF J. Manning (1876) 295 .264 .281 .330 52 2 25 0 101
Team Total 6395 .309 .376 .499 971 201 953 171 137

This isn't a terrible bench, as Manning and Norris both had reasonably productive seasons as outfielders, with Norris likely serving as a pinch runner for Hartnett or Huff if we need to eek out a late run. Paddy Baumann played a lot of 2b and 3B in his career as a backup, and hit pretty well in 1915, if not the rest of his life. Augie Ojeda, the only below-average hitter on the team, only makes it because he has exactly the same birthday as me. Branch Rickey will become the first Player/Manager/General Manager in history, making trades from the bench. And speaking of trades...

    Trade bait         PA    Avg   OBP   SLG   R  HR  RBI  SB  OPS+
C B. Henline (1922) 481 .316 .380 .479 57 14 64 2 112
C S. Davis (1933) 540 .349 .395 .473 51 9 65 2 134
IF F. Merkle (1911) 604 .283 .342 .431 80 12 84 49 113

December 20th is blessed with an abundance of catching talent, but no shortstops worth their weight in lead. Not only do we have Hartnett and Rickey, but Butch Henline and Spud Davis were both good or very good at some point in their careers, and there's always a team that needs catching. Maybe I can get the July 23rd Team to trade me Pee Wee Reese or Nomar Garciaparra for Spud Davis. Heck, they could have Henline straight-up for a 1924 vintage Hod Ford. At least I'd have something worth running out there every day. Somebody has to bat 9th, right?

The pitching was not quite as easy to fill out, and whomever we don't trade for shortstop help is going to have to net us a solid reliever or two.

       Rotation            W   L  Sv  ERA     IP     BB   SO  ERA+ 
SP G. Pipgras (1928) 24 13 3 3.38 300.7 103 139 111
SP J. DeLeon (1989) 16 12 0 3.05 244.7 80 201 119
SP B. Laskey (1982) 13 12 0 3.14 189.3 43 88 115
SP J. Manning (1876) 18 5 5 2.14 197.3 32 24 105

Yes, that's the same Jack Manning who's also a backup outfielder, and I made a point to pick a season in which he was worthwhile as both a hitter and a pitcher.

       Bullpen             W   L  Sv  ERA     IP     BB   SO  ERA+
SP P. Moskau (1980) 9 7 2 4.01 152.7 41 94 89
RP M. Valdes (1997) 4 4 2 3.13 95.0 39 54 135
RP V. Colbert (1971) 7 6 2 3.97 142.7 71 74 97
SP/RP D. Pfister (1962) 4 14 1 4.54 196.3 106 123 92
Team Total 95 73 15 3.39 1518.7 515 797 108

In truth, most of these guys are swing men or long relievers. There isn't a single guy born on December 20th who's got more than a handful of saves in any season of his career. Maybe I can get the November 28th team to part with Dave Righetti, since they have Robb Nen, after all. With Wes Westrum and Heinie Peitz (poor kid...) on the team, they don't really need catching, but Fred Merkle could do a nice job at first base for them.

Well, enough with this exercise in silliness, but if you've got a birthday team that
can beat mine, or better yet, if you have a shortstop or a closer to offer, let me know.

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19 December 2005

All-Baseball.com: A Royal Mess

I saw a headline Friday that piqued my curiosity:

Elarton, Grudzielanek among Royals additions

This made me wonder if it were possible that there may have been some other players in the major leagues with the same last names as Scott Elarton and Mark Grudzielanek, even though I am aware of the statistical improbability of even one of the latter existing. I thought, what possible reason could a team like the Royals, who in 2005 managed to accomplish the nearly-unprecedented feat of losing more than the 104 games they had lost in 2004, have for wanting a mediocre player in his mid-30's and a starting pitcher who's hurt and/or bad more often than he's healthy and good?

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

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15 December 2005

Javy Yourself a Merry Little Christmas

The Arizona Republic and the Chicago Tribune reported yesterday that the Chicago White Sox have made a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks for Javier Vazquez. The Pale Hose are sending RHP Orlando Hernandez, relief pitcher Luis Vizcaino, and outfield prospect Chris Young to the Snakes in exchange for Vazquez and cash, who has two years of remaining on the 4-year contract he signed with the Yankees in the winter of 2003, but who announced in November that he wanted to be traded to an East Coast team. No word on when Illinois is trading Chicago to a state on the East Coast.

There are quite a few perspectives on this move, most of which make the White Sox look like geniouses. One view says that they got a very good, front-line starter and gave up only a replaceable relief pitcher, a swing man with a cool nickname who might be 57 years old for all we know, and an outfielder with a lot of potential, which is another way of saying that he hasn't done anything important yet. Looks good for the ChiSox.

Another view says that the White Sox added a LAIM pitcher making about $12 million per year to a rotation that already had four, maybe five guys who are better than him. And spending an extra $12 million in salary to

A) only marginally improve the team in a category in which you are already head-and-shoulders above the competition and

2) keep young and talented starter Brandon McCarthy in the bullpen for another two years...

...does not seem wise. Therefore, we can interpret the White Sox actions in one of three ways.

1) Maybe they don't think that their starting pitching really was all that good, or more accurately, would be that good in 2006, without Vazquez. Maybe they think that Jose Contreras' miracle season was a fluke, and he'll go back to serving up gopherballs at the rate of about one every seven innings. Or they think that Garland's miracle season, in which he somehow cut his walk rate nearly in half, will prove to be a fluke, and he'll go back to being LAIM or worse. Maybe they just can't imagine that they'll get 32 starts or more out of all four of those guys again.

B) Maybe they don't think Brandon McCarthy's really all that good. Sure, at the tender age of 22 he's already proven himself at every level of the minors. He struck out 536 batters in 470 innings while walking only 92 while rocketing through six minor league teams in three and a half years. Sure, he looks like the most talented pitcher to come through the White Sox system since, well, teammate Mark Buhrle, probably. But maybe they felt like they needed some insurance on that.

C) They're not done making moves. The White Sox traded away their centerfielder in the Jim Thome deal, and Brian N. Anderson (the "N." stands for "Not the pitcher") is the only true centerfielder on the roster. Somehow I doubt that his 13 major league games, during which he hit .176 last year, were enough to inspire Ozzie Gullen that Anderson's ready for a full-time job. Scott Podsednik has played CF, but isn't very good at it despite his speed, and anyway that leaves left field open for...Joe Borchard??? Talented? Perhaps. Experienced? Not really. He's hit .191 in just over 100 major league games spread out over four seasons, striking out almost once every three at-bats, so I'm not certain he's the answer either.

Anywho, my money's on option #C, which means that the White Sox will probably use their surplus of starting pitching to acquire an outfielder with some pop. So someone, most likely Garland, is probably on his way out the door, though the rumors have it that he'll be traded for pitching prospects, not a major-league outfielder. Chicago was relatively weak offensively last year, only 9th out of 14 AL teams in runs scored, and they'd be wise to do more than add an aging, oft-injured 1B/DH

to the roster if they want to improve in that category and repeat as AL Central champs. Heck, they had one of those last year, and it didn't do them much good.

In any case, this doesn't seem to have been a move designed for success in October so much as it was for the regular season. Historically, teams with five really good starters (few though they may be) haven't necessarily fared better in the playoffs, when one or two of those starters is relegated to the bench and/or long-relief.

Just ask the Braves.

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12 December 2005

Johnny Damon: The Seven Year Itch

Here we are, in mid-December already, and the best free agent hitter available this winter is, well, still available. Admittedly, this is a pretty weak free agent class, but being the best of a mediocre lot is still better than being mediocre in a good lot, at least for the player. Johnny Damon, centerfielder, leadoff hitter, idiot, and spokesman for shaving products, can fill all those holes for any team who's willing to pony up a seven year deal in the neighborhood of $84 million, according to Damon's agent, Scott Boras.

Boras has been quoted making comparisons of Johnny Damon (at this point in his career) to Bernie Williams in the winter of 1998-99, when he signed a 7-year deal with the Yankees for $87.5 million, an average of $12.5 million per year, and that was before former Braves' leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal signed for $13 million per season with the Dodgers. Boras has argued that Damon '05 and Bernie '98 are very similar, and therefore worthy of similar deals, that the Yankees certainly could have been a successful team without him, but not as successful as they have been with him.

This assertion begs two questions, and no, one of them isn't "Is Scott Boras nuts??!?":

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

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10 December 2005

Pending Pinstripes: Swag from the Tony Womack Trade

The New York Yankees traded IF/OF/OM Tony Womack to the Cincinnati Reds for two minor leaguers on Thursday. The Reds sent 24-year old 2B Kevin Howard, who had played at AA Chatanooga in 2005, and 24-year old OF Ben Himes, who spent the 2005 season in Class A Dayton of the Midwest League.

We know why the Yankees made this trade: They needed to get rid of Womack, who played poor defense at three or four positions in 2005 and didn't hit a lick. (Lee Sinins says that Womack had the 5th worst OPS vs. the league average in Yankees History for a player with at least 100 at-bats). Womack's numbers will probably look a little nicer next year because the Great American Bandbox is pretty kind to hitters and because there's really nowhere to go but up from a year in which you hit .249/.276/.280, but he probably won't help the Reds much more than he helped the Yankees, in reality. This move clears about $2 million from the Yankees' payroll (i.e. about 1%) and more importantly, frees up a roster spot so they can let someone like Kevin Reese or Mike Vento get a few at-bats in the Show, not that either of those guys was ever likely to become the heir to Bernie Williams' CF job.

But what kind of talent did the Yanks get for Womack?

Find out at Pending Pinstripes...

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09 December 2005

Busy Day Week at the MLB Winter Meetings…

What the Heck Are They Thinking in San Diego???

The San Diego Padres have reportedly traded starting 2B Mark Loretta to the Boston Red Sox for backup catcher Doug Mirabelli, who had been the backup catcher for Boston and personal caddy for knuckleballer Tim Wakefield for four years. He’s got a little more pop than most backup catchers, but that’s like saying that Kate Moss is a little thinner than most supermodels. Relatively speaking, they’re all pretty close together on that bell curve. Mirabelli is not going to be able to replace Ramon Hernandez, who signed with the Orioles for four years and $27.25 million.

The real curiosity here is on the Padres' side. Loretta had hit .334 with 76 RBI in 2004 before a thumb injury slowed his production in 2005. It’s probably not reasonable to expect him to hit like Tony Gwynn again in 2006, but his batting average and OBP were right in the 50th percentile of Baseball Prospectus' projections for him in 2005. His power dropped way off, which makes sense in light of his thumb injury, but if he’s healthy (and if the Sox traded for him, I imagine he must be) then he should have been a pretty solid player at the Keystone next year. Why they'd want to trade a guy like that, when Josh Barfield hasn't even played a game in the majors, Eric Young has probably played one of his last, and Bobby Hill is never going to be an everyday second-sacker, is beyond me.

The Pads also re-signed Trevor Hoffmann to a 2-year, $13.5 million deal, which isn't bad for the Padres in light of what B.J Ryan, Mariano Rivera and some other closers are making these days, but he's already 38 and I wonder how much gas he really has left in the tank. Too many teams over-value the role of a closer, wasting 10% of their payroll or more on a position that could be ably filled by a lot of guys making not much more than the major league minimum.

They also traded 3B Sean Burroughs to Tampa Bay for RHP Dewon Brazleton, who's got a great arm, a career ERA of 5.98, and not much else. Of course, Burroughs doesn't seem like he's got much of a future in the major leagues either, so this was a, "Hey, why not?" type of trade for both clubs.

What the Heck Are They Thinking in Texas/Washington???

The Nationals traded 1B/OF Brad Wilkerson, OF Termel Sledge and minor league pitcher Armando Galarraga to Texas for 2B Alfonso Soriano, the second time Soriano's been traded in three years. Nats' GM Jim Bowden purportedly has a fetish for "toolsy" players, and Soriano is nothing if not toolsy, but it seems to me that if you're going to acquire such guys, the time to do it is when they're 22 or younger and fresh out of the Dominican Republic, not when they've been playing organized baseball for a decade and still can't hit a curveball. Even with the horrendous strikeout and walk rates, Soriano's speed and power easily rank him in the top third of major league secondbasemen. Unfortunately, Washington has already got a secondbaseman, Jose Vidro, who's signed for 3 more years and is owed $23 million.
Evidently one of them is going to have to be traded, as neither seems willing to change positions.

For that matter, what are the Rangers thinking? They don't have a major-league ready 2B right now, but they were up to their armpits in corner IF/OF guys even before the trades for Wilkerson and Sledge, so there must be another trade in the works that we just don't yet see. Stay tuned...

I Know What the Heck They're Thinking in Pittsburgh...

The Pirates have made a flurry of moves in the last few days as well, trading LHP Dave Williams for erstwhile Reds' 1B Sean Casey, trading utility IF Rob Mackowiak to the Chicago White Sox for LHP Damaso Marte, and trading LHP Mark Redman to the Royals for pitcher Jonah Bayliss and minor league pitcher Chad Blackwell.

Williams has never been healthy enough to pitch 160 innings in any season of his career, and given the presence of Zach Duke, Pat Maholm and Oliver Perez (a health concern as well) on the roster, Williams was expendable. They didn't really need a firstbaseman making $8 million who doesn't hit for power, but he can't possibly be worse than the dreck they've run out at the position for the last few years, so you can at least understand the desperation aspect of the move.

Redman, too, was expendable, as he's really only reliable for 180-200 innings of league-average work, most of the time, the quintissential LAIM (League Average Innings Mincher). His one "good" season, 2003, was largely due to the friendliness of Pro Player Stadium to pitchers (2.88 ERA at home, 4.27 on the road). The Pirates, not expected to be contenders in 2006 (or 2007, or 2008...) shoudl be letting the younger, cheaper guys pitch in that rotation so they can see what kind of talent they've got, rather than reaffirming the "adequacy" of guys like Redman for 4 or 5 million dollars a season. This move makes a little more sense, especially because Bayliss has some potential and could help them in the bullpen in a year or two.

Mackowiak had come up through the Pittsburgh system in his five-year stint with the Pirates had played every position except pitcher, catcher and shortstop. His career .742 OPS at age 29 suggests that he'll never be a starter at any position, but that he can be a useful utility man, especially against right-handed pitching (only .681 career OPS against southpaws). With only one year left before free agency, the Pirates wisely got rid of him for a more useful (if no less expensive) player.

Damaso Marte has bounced back and forth between the roles of setup man, closer, and clubhouse scapegoat when the White Sox went into their September swoon this year, but is a very good reliever. He has a career ERA of 3.20 and 323 strikeouts in 304 innings pitched. Like most southpaws, he's more effective against lefties (.200 career batting average against), but is no slouch against righties either (.240) so there's no need to use him as a LOOGY. The Pirates just lost their closer, Joe Table, to the Rockies, other than whom nobody on the team had more than three saves last year, so they may be intending to give that job to Marte. UNder contract for next year at $2.25 million with $3 million club options ofr 2007 and 2008, this deal could turn out to be a steal.

Kudos to the Pirates for getting someone in the front office who seems to know what he's doing. The Cam Bonifay Era in the Iron City lasted way too long.

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06 December 2005

All-Baseball.collumn: Rafael Furcal a Bargain at $39 Million

I have been given the opportunity to expose myself to more readers, and even though there are ladies present, I have decided to take that opportunity. My work has been syndicated on 360thePitch.com, which was recently bought out by Most Valuable Network, which also owns All-Baseball.com, home to such great blogs as Cub Reporter and Ducksnorts, to name a few. I will continue my blog here, but I will have a weekly column on All-Baseball.com now as well, a link to which will appear here on Boy of Summer. Just like Sunday Teddy Lyons, I'll be the go-to guy once a week for the All-Baseball.com team, except that Teddy was a switch hitter and I like girls. I will also have my own blog about the Yankees minor leagues on MVN.com, but this has not yet happened. Anywho, without further ado...

Free agent shortstop Rafael Furcal has reportedly signed (or is on the cusp of signing) a 3-year, $39 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In doing so, the Dodgers immediately picked up one of the best free agent bargains in recent memory, and the best shortstop in the National League. Stick around and I’ll explain why.

Read the rest at All-Baseball.com...

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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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