Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Wednesday Notes

- Arbitration numbers have been exchanged, and my favorite is that of Joe Blanton. Blanton filed at $10.25 million for 2010, while the Phillies filed at $7.5 million. Excuse me? Only four pitchers ever have filed arbitration numbers at $10 million or higher. Tim Lincecum, Felix Hernandez, Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Zambrano. And now Blanton. Which doesn't belong in that group of five? If I were the Phillies, I wouldn't settle, I'd take it right to arbitration, and my entire argument would consist of saying "Seriously?" and then sitting down.

- Today's Philadelphia Daily News also reports that the Phillies will try out Eric Gagne at some point today. Low risk. If he shows anything, why not?

- Turns out Benjie Molina won't join the Mets, opting instead to return to the Giants. Does Jason Bay catch?

- Joel Piniero remains eminently available and coveted. I don't know why either.

- Ok, I'll lay off Joel now. Enough is enough. How do I really feel? Decent pitcher, ok stuff, needs a good defense behind him and he can be a decent three or a good fourth starter on an NL team. Keeps you in the game, doesn't dominate, but doesn't go out in the second inning either.

- Sounds kinda like Joe Blanton. He of the $10.25 million arbitration request, you may have heard.

- Joe Posnanski's column does an outstanding job of explaining factors beyond steroids that have influenced baseball over the last 15 years or so- and also places the era in a bit of historical context.

- Is it just me, or has the steroid era become far too oversimplified? Much like the political landscape right now (Republicans calling every Democratic program socialist, Democrats blaming every problem in the country on George W. Bush), there is an easy, thoughtless, default answer to any challenge regarding the recent homer-happy era. Steroids. Just like in politics (where there's a big difference between government-assisted and government-run, and George W. hasn't been in office for over a year), the real answers are far more complex and nuanced, and involve varying degrees of incluence from numerous sources. Players such as Carlton Fisk and Jack Clark just sound like angry old-timers, when the reality is that many players of that (and every generation) also would have used steroids had they been involved in that era. Just stop. It's much more refreshing to hear an opinion like Mike Schmidt's, who acknowledges that if he played in that era he would've been tempted to use, and may very well have done so.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Thoughts and Musings For the First Time in '10

- The Marlins, after receiving a scolding from the MLB and the Players Association, have agreed to increase payroll. They've started by signing Josh Johnson to a four-year deal and avoiding arbitration with Dan Uggla for 2010. My thoughts? I still don't believe either of those players will finish out those contracts in South Florida.

- Did I miss something about Joel Piniero? I'm sure he's a nice guy, but do you really trust a guy who had a great walk year with the Cardinals (and Dave Duncan) to continue that success? Does anyone remember Jeff Weaver and Braden Looper? Admittedly, Piniero is better than those guys, but spring training starts in about a month, and teams are looking at this guy as a rotation fixer? I don't think so. He only had 105 strikeouts in 214.1 innings in 2009, which should scare a team looking to give him a long-term deal.

- Now after my Joel Piniero-is-just-a-guy-rant, watch him go 18-2 with a 2.79 ERA and 195 strikeouts in 220 innings this year. If he ever signs.

- Jose Valverde is an upgrade at the closer spot for Detroit. I'm not sure how much, though, as it just seems like everytime I see Valverde, his appearance turns into a high-wire act. Having said that, he's got better stuff than Fernando Rodney, and will give up fewer base runners. But I'm not sure the Tigers should spend $7 million a year for a closer when they've already lost several players because of payroll considerations. Good closers are hard to find, but if you're never ahead in the ninth, they don't do you much good.

- Tom Verducci's latest theory explores which teams got the most production for their money in the first decade of the 21st century.

- It merited far too little attention, but one of baseball's most dominant forces ever hung it up two weeks back with the retirement of Randy Johnson. The 6-10 lefty was so feared that many a lefthanded hitter coincidentally pulled up lame just before they were scheduled to face Johnson, and some (John Kruk, Larry Walker) publicly out and out refused to face him, only to be embarrassed when they did. Johnson was a 10-time All-Star, won five Cy Youngs and retired second on the all-time strikeout list. His best year may have been the strike-shortened 1995 campaign in which he went 18-2 with a 2.48 ERA and struck out 294 in only 214.1, propelling the Mariners all the way back from a big September deficit to overtake the Angels in a one-game playoff. Johnson pitched in relief a few times throughout his playoff career, taking home World Series MVP honors (along with Curt Schilling) in 2001, when he won game seven in relief. Johnson is the most dominating and intimidating pitcher of this generation, and he stacks up well with any pitcher of any generation. He is a first-ballot Hall of Fame lock when he comes up for election in January 2015.

- Finally, is that really the manager of the Phillies?

Thursday, January 14, 2010


It's only the middle of January, and the 2010 Mets already have the look of a team coming apart at the seams. Today's revelation that Carlos Beltran had knee surgery against the wishes of the team's management and will not resume baseball related activities for 12 weeks is the cherry on top. For those of you scoring at home, 12 weeks from now is the end of the first week of the regular season, and it appears likely Beltran will miss some significant time at the season's outset.

This cannot bode well for general manager Omar Minaya, who himself spent much of 2009 cooling off upon standing from his very hot seat. The Mets were ravaged by injuries in 2009 and stumbled to a 70-92 record despite a payroll of $149 million, which was exceeded only by the Yankees.

The Mets made some headlines by signing Jason Bay to patrol left field for the next several seasons, and appear to be on the verge of signing Benjie Molina to play behind the plate. The Mets are also reportedly keeping an eye on Carlos Delgado's progress during winter ball for a possible return to the club.

And? The Mets still stink.

Signing Bay was clearly a priority, given the team's utter lack of production from the corner outfield spots in 2009. And signing Molina would help them, because Henry Blanco and Chris Coste behind the dish everyday isn't going to get it done.

But have the Mets improved themselves significantly? Bay is an odd fit for Citi Field (and was perfectly suited for Fenway Park), and Molina will turn 36 in the middle of the '10 season, having already logged almost 1300 big league games behind the plate between the regular season and playoffs. My initial reaction to the signing of Bay is reflective of my thoughts on the team as a whole: "Well that's nice and all, but unless Bay can catch, play first, second, right, pitch the 7th and 8th and start on the mound three days a week, it doesn't really matter, because they're still not going anywhere."

Which brings us back to Minaya. Why aren't the Mets going anywhere? Well, he's been given ample time and certainly ample resources to build a winner in New York, and he hasn't done so yet. His ridiculous signing of Luis Castillo continues to kill the Mets, as the very capable and very wanting to play in New York Orlando Hudson remains just out of reach to the Mets because they can't rid themselves of Castillo's awful contract. Speaking of awful contracts, Minaya bought into the false hope presented by Oliver Perez and re-singed the erratic lefthander to a big contract prior to the '09 season instead of using that money for Derek Lowe. The result is an undependable, erratic pitcher making way too much money, and the secondary consequence of the Perez signing is that prime free agents like John Lackey must be passed over for the likes of Lackey's former teammate, the hard-throwing and ever-rehabbing Kelvim Escobar.

Not all of the Mets' misery is Minaya's fault. He could not have forseen that J.J. Putz would blow up in his face, and the Mets farm system hasn't produced players nearly as good as the public has been told since Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. (Gregg Jefferies, Paul Wilson, Bill Pulsipher anyone?)

But a lot of the mess does rest squarely with Minaya. His team's most obvious needs are continually ignored, and he's consitently invested and bet on players with shaky injury history, makeup, or both. His team has no killers, no guys that will stand up, grab a bull by the horns and kill it with his bare hands, but he does have plenty of guys that would watch that guy kill a bull only to run out from hiding to dance over the carcass.

And that all falls on Minaya. He's remained the teflon GM forever (he is the baseball genius that traded Lee Stevens, Cliff Lee, Brandon Phillips and Grady Sizemore to get Bartolo Colon to the Expos), but that teflon is about to turn to fly paper if the Mets don't turn it around quick. Carlos Beltran's surgery, and subsequent absence from the lineup to start the season, are not great signs for the Mets or their infamous Mr. Minaya.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Big Mac Comes Clean... So What's Your Problem?

As predicted by many, including myself in this space, on Monday Mark McGwire finally did come clean about his use of steroids and HGH throughout his professional baseball career. McGwire initially issued a statement to the AP on Monday afternoon, then sat down for an hour-long interview with Bob Costas that was broadcast live on the MLB Network later in the evening.

If you listen long enough to discourse about any public figure who has committed a major transgression, you will hear that America is a "forgiving country" or some variation on this theme. So why in the world are so many people so upset that McGwire's confession and apology are not enough?

Very few talking heads are giving the Big Red One a whole lot of credit for the steps he took yesterday, with Joe Posnanski being one notable exception. Why is that?

Mark McGwire is clearly a very shy and private person. He was never especially outgoing with the media and public as a player, and while many castigate him for disappearing after the infamous March 2005 Congressional hearings, let's not forget he had disappeared for the three and a half years after he retired and before he was summoned to Capitol Hill too.

McGwire became the first player out of hundreds or thousands who used steroids during the * era to do what he did, which was admit it, apologize for it and do so on live television, unrehearsed. Ken Caminiti was quoted in a magazine. Andy Pettitte, Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez made no such admissions until they were caught. We all may have had suspicions about McGwire, we may have "known," but we did not know until yesterday. And we found out not because his chemist's office was raided or because his trainer got busted. We found out because he told us.

I watched McGwire's entire interview with Bob Costas, my wife even bringing dinner to me on the couch so I could remain and watch. In that hour, I saw a contrite man, one who was visibly broken on live national television because of sorrow and regret about decisions he had made years prior. I saw a man who took the extraordinary step of calling Roger Maris' widow to apologize for what he'd done, and wore the burden of a man who knew he had disappointed and let down millions.

So why are many media types, and fans at large, treating him like he's trying one of the diversionary tactics we've seen from many other accused, be it outright lying, denial of what you were taking or 'knowing usage', or my personal favorite, forgetting how to speak a language you are known to be fluent in. McGwire did none of this. He took sole responsibility for what he did, casting no blaming arrows or pointed fingers at anyone but himself.

There were parts of the interview that didn't track. He said he didn't want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Lou Ferrigno, but we all kind of thought he did in the '90s. He said no one knew about his use until Monday morning, but also said that Rep. Tom Davis, Chairman of the Congressional Committee McGwire had testitifed in front of, did in fact know that McGwire used and wanted to testify as such. McGwire appeared nervous, as seen in his several mistakes in syntax and conjugation. But this was live TV, a real apology, and there was no script.

I think part of the reason (maybe the main reason) that he's under fire today is because he would not say that the drugs had enhanced his performance. And you know what? He probably believes that. To be an athlete at that level, to be at the very top of the heap among the very best players in the world carries with it a certain degree of self-confidence that must border on arrogance, if not plunge right in. Find me one elite athlete who doesn't think like that. Michael Jordan? Tiger Woods? I don't think so. The mindset is part of what makes them great. If McGwire believes he would have been as great as he was without the drugs, and he said otherwise, doesn't that make him a fraud? Would we rather have a phony that sounds like we want him to than someone who is sincere and truthful? I wouldn't.

The other element that bothers me about media and fans alike complaining about McGwire's apology is that we are all complicit in this wrong, and we all participated in it. Did Tom Verducci, Ken Rosenthal or Tim Kurkjian or a host of others in the media think something was going on in the game back in 1998? Yes they did. And what did they do about it? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Not a thing. So for them to have the audacity to sit on TV and criticize McGwire for how he apologed is absurd. The baseball media have no moral high ground to criticize McGwire for using steroids when they were complicit in it, and they certainly have no high ground to criticize his apology. When is the media going to apologize for laughing at jokes about syringes and expanding hat sizes back acne? When is the media going to take responsibility for what it didn't do and pay the price for it, the same way McGwire and others have?

And who else is just as guilty and stained by this era? You and I are. I remember being in high school on September 8th, 1998, watching the Cardinals- Cubs game in my family room as McGwire drove a Steve Trachsel pitch over the left field fence for his 62nd home run. A Phillies fan, I didn't care at all who won the game, but as the ball cleared the fence at Busch Stadium, I leapt up from the couch jubilantly at the sight of baseball history. Even as a teenager I had suspiscions about McGwire and Sosa, and several others throughout baseball. And you know what. I didn't care. The events were too big, the games were too fun, and hey, how could I really know for sure.

If you were a baseball fan in 1998 and you say you didn't have similar feelings to mine, there's a word for that: lying. You loved the home run race, you thought something might be off, and you didn't care. No one did.

And so as Mark McGwire, the one time *home run champ and real-life embodiment of Paul Bunyan, wept for a national audience, I felt a little bit of his pain. Because I knew I helped contribute, even if only very, very slightly, to putting him in that seat on that night.

And you did too.

Don't you dare criticize the apology for a wrong you helped commit.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Hall Calls Hawk

Ok, I lied about the Phillies... But I will get to that soon. The BBWAA announced the results of its annual Hall of Fame voting this afternoon, with Andre Dawson the only candidate earning the requisite 75% of the votes required for induction in 2010.

If you read my earlier Hall of Fame post, you'll find that I voted for five men in a mock election through the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, none of whom is Andre Dawson.

By all accounts, 'The Hawk' is a good man, and certainly a worthy candidate for the Hall. He did not make my ballot, but he didn't make a lot of other either. And I'm certainly not bitter about Dawson being elected, even though I didn't support his candidacy.

What I do hope, though, is that Dawson's election gives us a bit of perspective on players who played in the 1980's and early 90's whose numbers don't like quite as good next to the offensive explosion of the late 90's and 2000's. Barry Larkin and Tim Raines, I'm talking about you, and to a lesser extent, Dale Murphy.

In any event, congrats to Andre Dawson as the lone player elected to the Hall of Fame in 2010 by the BBWAA.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The 2010 Phillies: Roy Halladay in; Cliff Lee Out

For my first post in the new year, I thought it would make sense to look at what the entity that will occupy more of my baseball time than any other, the Philadelphia Phillies, will look like in 2010. They've had an eventful offseason thus far to be sure. But is that a good thing?

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. took the reigns from Pat Gillick right after the 2008 season. Gillick is a longtime baseball man who was known to grow complacent with his teams, especially in-season, and thus earned the moniker 'Stand Pat.' This is one nickname that is unlikely to ever stick to Amaro.

Coming off a World Series title in 2008, Amaro let the longest tenured Phillie in Pat Burrell, the man who led the parade down Broad Street, walk away in free agency, opting for an older and lefthanded hitting Raul Ibanez. While some derided the move at the time, 2009 clearly showed Amaro to be in the right, getting much more production from Ibanez than Burrell gave Tampa Bay for roughly the equivalent salary of what Burrell would have commanded in Philadelphia.

While Burrell might have been a popular player with the Phillies, he was nowhere near as important to the team's success as Cliff Lee was in 2009. Lee was dominant in all three rounds of the playoffs, and won both of the Phillies triumphs in the World Series against the Yankees. So what did Amaro do? He traded his best pitcher away and brought in what is perhaps the best pitcher in baseball.

And I loved it. I loved it for no other reason than it took tremendous onions for Ruben Amaro to pull off a deal like this one. Maybe even a double order, if you'll engage my inner Bill Raftery. I loved it because Amaro saw a chance to make his already good team even better for the next four years. And I loved that it put the Phillies in the headlines in December, long after most of the ink on the 2009 season had been dried.

There was much consternation in the land at the Phillies losing Lee, and I understand that. There are a few factors at play here. First, Lee was the last thing any of us saw, so naturally a lot of people will associate that performance with Lee and grow a sentamentality to him. Secondly, the ace swap was actually two separate deals, with the Phillies giving up prospects to get Halladay and then trading Lee to get reasonably close prospects back. Many in the area squawked that the Phils should have kept Lee and Halladay, budget or not. At $140 million, the payroll is what it is. Those who tell you just hold onto Lee say 'well it's only $150 million then.' Ok, so then it's only $160 million, $185 million, or a government bailout of Wall Street. It's also pretty easy to say when its not your $140 million.

The other payroll point I've made to fans is this... do you like Ryan Howard? Shane Victorino? Jayson Werth? Cole Hamels? Well, they're not going to be here if all of your money is tied up in two pitchers.

Assuming the team could not financially afford to keep both pitchers long term, trading for Halladay and signing him for three more years is better than having Lee for one, and then watching helplessley as the Yankees throw the GDP of Luxembourg at him and he signs there as a free agent. I don't want to hear about getting draft picks to replace the lost prospects either. Hamels was drafted in 2002 and debuted in 2006. Utley was drafted in 2000 and became a full-time starter in '05. That doesn't help a team ready to win now and for the next 2-4 years.

Beyond all of these considerations, there is this... Roy Halladay is better than Cliff Lee. Period. End of story. For his career, Doc Halladay has a better ERA, winning percentage, ERA+, WHIP, and H/9 IP than Lee. Halladay has led the league in innings three times, and led in complete games five times. Lee's only significant league-leading statistic was ERA in his Cy Young winning 2008 season. Halladay has a Cy Young, too.

And don't forget, Halladay's numbers have been compiled pitching in the American League East, where in his career, Halladay has made the most starts against (in order) the Red Sox (41), the Yankees (37) and Rays (34). Lee's most common opponenets are the Royals (22), White Sox (21), and Tigers (20). Halladay's most frequent opponents represented the AL in the World Series seven times this decade, with Lee's representing the AL twice. (The only holdout being the 2002 Angels).

I'm not trying to disparage Cliff Lee. Not at all. He was phenomenal for the Phillies, and was a huge piece of them winning their second straight pennant for the first time ever. But let's be furrealfurreal (said "for real for real") for a second. Roy Halladay is better than Cliff Lee.

And because of that, the 2010 Phillies are set up to be better than the 2009 edition.

Coming up in my next post, I will examine the rest of the Phils' moves so far this offseason...