Indiana Cashman And The Search For Fossils

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When asked about the Yankees putting out a feeler for Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter wondered, in his typical dark deadpan sense of humor, if they’d also contacted Mike Schmidt.

That got me to thinking of other options for the Yankees in their archaeological dig for dinosaur fossils hoping to unearth a corner infielder. Here are some of the names I came up with and they’re almost as ludicrous as Jones.

Mike Francesa

For a week he’s been pushing for the Yankees to get Justin Morneau from the Twins. Not “pursue,” but “get,” period. Naturally ignorant of the fact that the Twins are in a similar position to the Yankees in that they have to at least put forth the pretense of placing a competent product on the field at the start of the season to sell a few tickets that they’re not going to sell when they’re heading towards another 90+ loss season and that Morneau, if healthy, will have significant value at mid-season, Francesa expects the Twins to just give him up for whatever scraps the Yankees deign to provide simply because they want him.

It’s not going to happen, but during his vetting, perhaps Francesa should pull a Dick Cheney who, while running George W. Bush’s vice presidential search looked into the mirror, saw the epitome of what Bush needed in his vice president and selected himself. Sure, they’d have to get a muumuu for him to wear and he’d have to stand on first base to prevent every runner from beating him to the bag on a groundball, but with the court striking down New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on extra-large sodas, Francesa’s Diet Coke predilection will move forward unabated. When returning to the dugout after a long half-inning, he can scream at the clubhouse kids like a real-life Les Grossman, “DIET COKE!!!!!”

Mo Vaughn

In the tradition of players who didn’t work out for the Mets, Vaughn would fit perfectly into what the Yankees are trying to create. It adds to the intrigue that he’s also a former Red Sock and he hates Bobby Valentine. That he’s probably far past 320 pounds and could barely move when he was still playing is irrelevant. Pinstripes are slimming and maybe no one would notice his girth, plus all the balls hitting him in the stomach because it’s extended so far beyond the plate would send his on-base percentage into the stratosphere.

Keith Law

No, he’s never picked up a baseball and he’s far too thin-skinned to last one day in Yankeeland without crawling into a fetal position and sobbing uncontrollably, but he scammed his way into a front office position with the Blue Jays on the heels of the Moneyball revolution; he parlayed that into a job at ESPN as an “insider expert” by regurgitating terms he’s heard from scouts; and he has an inexplicable following based on his stat savviness and that people think his resume denotes credibility in some sort of circular and wrong “if this, then that” manner.

Maybe he can imitate an athlete just as effectively as he’s aped actual scouts.

Bear in mind that his throwing style will replicate what we see below.

Michael Lewis

I have deep psychological concerns about someone who places a ginormous picture of his own face on the back cover of every one of his books, but that can also be a positive. A level of arrogance that geometric leads a person to believe he’s capable of things he’s universally acknowledged as being incapable of. Look at it this way: people think that because he wrote Moneyball, he knows something about baseball when he doesn’t.

Worst case scenario, he can write a book about his adventures, present it in a twisted (and skillful) fashion so the masses believe it and they’ll make a movie about it. He can be played by Aaron Eckhardt—a man with some athletic skills—and it’ll sell, man!! It’ll sell!!!

If it doesn’t work, the epitome of evil lurks in the shadows of the world as a fugitive and is ready to be blamed for the experiment (disguised as evolution) failing: Art Howe.

Lou Gehrig

Dead for 72 years? Try resting and waiting for his opportunity!!!

Truth be told, how much more absurd is it than thinking Jones will come out of retirement for the “privilege” of playing for the Yankees?

Billy Beane/Brad Pitt

True, Beane was an awful player and Pitt is an actor who played an awful player on film, but if people bought into the “genius” aspect when Beane was simply exploiting analytics that no one else was at the time and has been alternatingly lucky and unlucky in his maneuverings since, maybe putting him in uniform would hypnotize the fans long enough not to realize the Yankees are in deep, deep trouble.

Here’s the reality: Jones is not coming out of retirement and if he was, it would be for the Braves and not the Yankees. He’s injury-prone and he’s old. He’s also fat. Considering the Yankees decisions over the past few months, he actually fits. But why, in a normal and logical world, would anyone believe that Jones would tarnish his legacy with the Braves to play for the Yankees? Not only did he win his championship in 1995, rendering meaningless the long-used desire on the part of certain players like Roger Clemens to gain that elusive title, but he was with the Braves his entire professional life and the 2013 Braves are far better than the 2013 Yankees. This concept that everyone “wants” to be a Yankee is one of the biggest farcical examples of “world revolves around us” egomania in sports today and was disproven by Cliff Lee and even such journeymen as Nate Schierholtz who decided to go elsewhere.

The Yankees looked into Derrek Lee, who’s a good guy and a good idea if he’s healthy and wants to play, but if he does, he has to get into camp immediately. They signed Ben Francisco, which is a case study of the bargain-basement strategies of the 2013-2014 Yankees with self-evident on field results. They’re desperate and they’re short-handed. As a result, you get nonsense and panic. This is just getting started. It’s only March and there’s a long, long, looooong way to go. It’s getting longer by the day.

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Beware the Rejuvenated Rays’ Castoffs

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The Orioles are said to be considering signing Casey Kotchman.

What they’re going to do with him is a mystery since they just signed Wilson Betemit, have Mark Reynolds and Chris Davis for first and third base. None are defensively adept at any of the positions although Reynolds occasionally makes a spectacular play to make it appear as if he’s better than he is. It’s similar to a weekend in which he’ll hit 6 home runs—many of the “ooh” and “ahh” variety in distance and hangtime to make it appear as if he’s better than he is. Then he reverts to hitting .200 and striking out every 2.6 at bats.

Kotchman is a very good defensive first baseman and had his career year at the plate for the Rays in 2011 with a slash line of .306/.378/.422 and .800 OPS.

That’s what should concern any team making a serious investment in Kotchman.

Considering the lateness of the date and that spring training is approaching along with the availability of better hitters on the market like Derrek Lee, it’s doubtful the Orioles or anyone else is going to overpay for Kotchman, but a team considering a former player for the Rays who had his best season with the Rays needs to examine history and look at the decline of Jason BartlettScott KazmirRafael SorianoAkinori Iwamura and just about every scrounged screapheap salvaged detritus from their patched together bullpen who’s been used for a brief time and dispatched only to revert to the performance that led them to winding up on the scrapheap to begin with. Sometimes, as with Lance Cormier and Carlos Pena, they wind up back with the Rays.

Is Kotchman as good as he was in 2011?

History proves he’s not. Even when he was at his best with the Angels and Braves in 2007-2008, he wasn’t a force at the plate. He was useful if surrounded by a few power bats and has always been a good fielder, but teams tend to want better power production from first base than what Kotchman provided. If they can make up for it in other areas, then fine; but setting a limit on the amount of money they’re willing to pay Kotchman is a wise move.

Was the issue with his eyes that Kotchman referenced in this NY Times piece and its repair the genesis of his struggles in 2009-2010?

Clearly.

But that doesn’t make a Rays’ castoff any more of a guarantee to continue the work he did with the Rays as he reestablished his value. They seem to know which way the wind is about to blow and how to judge a player and determine whether he’s “figured it out” or is enjoying his career years in Tampa. That’s a reason for interested teams to look at these players with a jaundiced eye and wonder if they’re getting the pre-Rays or post-Rays player and if they’ll be overpaying to do it.

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Quality Moves, Under the Radar

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While the Marlins and Angels have garnered the headlines with their spending sprees; the Nationals by their overreaching trade for Gio Gonzalez; the Red Sox with their front office and off-field controversies; and Billy Beane for being Billy Beane and therefore worthy of attention just because, two teams have made drastic improvements amid questions, criticisms, ridicule and camouflage.

The Rockies and Indians are poised to leap into serious contention in 2012 because of said acquisitions and they’ve done it relatively cheaply and without fanfare.

Still needing help with their starting pitching, the Rockies are one of the suitors for the underrated and mean Hiroki Kuroda; if they get him, I’ll like their off-season all the more.

Here are the Rockies moves so far:

Signed OF/1B Michael Cuddyer to a 3-year, $31.5 million contract.

I went into detail about the match between Cuddyer and the Rockies in an earlier posting. In short, his defense in right field won’t be an issue because of the Rockies pitching staff’s penchant for getting ground balls; his hitting will improve markedly playing in Coors Field; and he might see substantial time at first base with the recent injury history of Todd Helton. He’s a better player than Seth Smith and will hit and hit for power.

Traded RHP Huston Street to the Padres for minor league lefty Nick Schmidt.

The Rockies sent $500,000 to the Padres (for Street’s 2013 buyout) and cleared the rest of his $7.5 million salary.

Street was not reliable as a closer, gave up too many hits and homers and was expensive; the Rockies dumped him and his paycheck and have Rafael Betancourt to close and Matt Lindstrom to back him up.

Schmidt is 25 and still in A ball. This was a money spin for an organizational warm body and it was a smart thing to do.

Traded C Chris Iannetta to the Angels for RHP Tyler Chatwood; signed C Ramon Hernandez to a 2-year, $6.4 million contract.

Iannetta has pop and gets on base, but he was never able to put a stranglehold on the everyday catching job; Chatwood was one of the Angels top pitching prospects who had an up-and-down season in Anaheim. He’s a ground ball pitcher who should do well in Colorado.

Hernandez is fine with being a part-timer, has power and throws well. He’ll be a perfect tutor to young prospect Wilin Rosario.

Traded INF Ty Wigginton to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash; signed 3B/1B/OF Casey Blake to a 1-year, $2 million contract.

Wigginton was a fiery player and hit a few homers, but he’s terrible defensively and limited offensively. They’re paying $2 million of his $4 million salary and signed Blake to a 1-year contract for $2 million—basically they traded Wigginton for Blake and it’s a great trade…if Blake is healthy.

Blake missed most of the 2011 season with multiple injuries and required neck surgery.

His health is the key. He’s versatile and is a good fielder; he has power; and Blake is plainly and simply a professional baseball player who goes unnoticed but is a key component to a winning team—the other players, coaches and managers will tell you how good a player a healthy Blake is.

If they add a Kuroda or Roy Oswalt to go along with the package they got last summer for Ubaldo Jimenez, it equates to a strong top-to-bottom club that has repaired the holes that caused their underwhelming 2011 record of 73-89.

The Indians have done the following:

Acquired RHP Derek Lowe from the Braves for minor league LHP Chris Jones and $10 million.

There’s no defending Lowe’s performance for the Braves, but the Indians got an innings-eater and will only pay $5 million of his $15 million salary. When a durable sinkerballer like Lowe is pitching so poorly, the issue is generally mechanical; if the Indians can fix whatever was preventing him from getting the proper movement on his pitches, he can again be effective; perhaps he just needed a change-of-scenery.

Either way, you can’t go wrong for $5 million. With Jimenez, Justin Masterson, Fausto Carmona and Josh Tomlin, the Indians have a formidable rotation backed up by a strong bullpen.

Re-signed CF Grady Sizemore to a 1-year, $5 million contract after declining his option.

Sizemore was a budding star before microfracture surgery derailed him; he’s worked very hard to come back and it took Carlos Beltran (whom the Indians pursued but lost to the Cardinals) a full season to return to relative normalcy after a bone bruise. Although Beltran didn’t need microfracture surgery, the injuries and recovery times are similar. If Sizemore can be 75-80% of what he was, he’s a bargain.

The Indians finished ninth in the American League in runs scored and are looking for another bat, but with full seasons from Jason Kipnis and Shin-Soo Choo along with some semblance of production from first base (they need to sign someone, perhaps Derrek Lee) and Travis Hafner, they’ll score enough to contend in the winnable AL Central.

The Rockies and Indians need to be watched closely in 2012 because they’re legitimate playoff threats without having spent $300 million as the Angels did or hoodwinking their local government to get a new ballpark as the Marlins did.

They did it with under-the-radar acquisitions, bold and clever.

And they’re going to pay off.

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I’ll be a guest tomorrow with former MLB player Les Norman on his baseball show Breakin’ the Norm on the ESPN affiliate 810 WHB in Kansas City. I’ll link the appearance and post it here.

Spread the word!

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Pirates Need To Accentuate The Positives

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The same qualities that Pirates manager Clint Hurdle used to get his club to overachieve into late July and be buyers rather than sellers is what he’ll need to use to keep the club focused and positive as they’ve hit this horrific stretch of losing 10 straight and 11 of 12.

An easy explanation to their current woes is the emotional hit they took by first losing that 19-inning marathon to the Braves on a horrifically blown call at the plate and then losing in 10 innings the next night.

Would the subsequent games have gone differently had they won those games?

No one can answer the question of momentum and whether they would’ve ignored the all-encompassing—some would say inevitably negative—aspects of being the Pirates.

Did they run into hot teams? Did their pitching, fielding, hitting fail them? Was it a combination?

I don’t know.

Hurdle’s main attribute as a manager is that he doesn’t take crap.

That’s it.

And it worked for the Pirates until recently. There was no logical statistical explanation for their success other than a superlative bullpen of scrapheap pickups; a good defense; and parity among the National League.

It caught up to them just as people were getting excited over the possibility of a playoff race in Pittsburgh for the first time since Barry Bonds played for them and was thin enough to pass for a background dancer at a New Edition concert.

They did make some aggressive—but smartly conservative—moves for Derrek Lee and Ryan Ludwick. They surrendered a negligible prospect, Aaron Baker, for Lee; a player to be named later or cash (which means they gave up nothing) for Ludwick.

I’d said that the Pirates should go for the deep strike and try to win now when the opportunity presented itself without giving up prospects they’d regret losing. They tried, failed and played it safe with Lee and Ludwick. It was the intelligent thing to do.

The key for the 2011 Pirates is how they rebound. If Hurdle can coax them to finish at or above .500, that could be a key to their future; toward recruiting free agents who want to go to Pittsburgh as a choice rather than a last resort.

Hurdle has a sense of when to flip the post-game spread and light into his players and when to give a pep talk to uplift the club. Now’s the time for the pep talk.

As the bandwagon empties, it’s more important now than ever in the efforts to change the culture of a dying franchise. Hurdle’s done a great job of that so far and it’s up to him to accentuate the positives.

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The Dugout’s Not Alright For Fightin’

Media, Players, Spring Training, Uncategorized

It’s spring training and the Cubs are in mid-season, dysfunctional form as Carlos Silva, irritated with the shoddy defense that sabotaged his start—perceived as a slightly important one because he’s fighting for a rotation spot—got into a dugout scuffle with third baseman Aramis Ramirez.

Comparisons were immediately made to the Carlos ZambranoDerrek Lee near fight last June. It was that incident that appeared to be the true beginning of the end for Lou Piniella‘s managerial tenure; the one thing that made him say, “that’s it, I can’t deal with this anymore”.

It’s a bit of a stretch to equate one with the other.

Zambrano is an emotional volcano; he and the Cubs were in the midst of a disastrous season and it was known that big changes were on the horizon; frustration had mounted to a point where such a confrontation was inevitable.

The Silva-Ramirez dust up stemmed from a generally mild-mannered pitcher who needs his defense to help him as much as possible not getting said assistance and losing his composure due to pressure of fighting—literally—for his role in the rotation.

Manager Mike Quade was impressive in his interim stint last season especially in tamping down the lackadaisical play and silliness that had grown prevalent in Piniella’s waning days.

This was nothing to get upset over in terms of it actually happening. It’s better that players are passionate and caring enough that they get so immersed in a game—in spring training!—that they react so powerfully to fight about it in public.

The public part is where my issue would be.

Teammates get into scuffles probably 50 times over the course of a season and my rules (if such a thing can be governed) regarding this would be: A) don’t do it where there are cameras present; B) make sure it’s over a baseball-related issue; and C) get all the bad blood out and shake hands afterward.

Fighting in the dugout creates this.

People are talking about it; asking questions; making allegations and snide comments about the Cubs being the same mess they’ve been in past years. It’s March 3rd; it’s a little early to utter broad-based, definitive determinations for any club.

If the fight is about baseball, then fine; if it’s over a girl or salary or immature boys being immature boys, then I have a problem with that and it can’t happen anywhere.

As long as there’s an understanding and mutual respect after the fact, then this isn’t a bad thing. It’s better to have players getting their feelings out in the open—even if it’s physical—than to have the linger, fester and create factions.

The Cubs would’ve been better off if it had happened out of the public eye, but in the grand scheme it’s no big thing.

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Silent And Achy

Hot Stove
  • As opposed to “silent and deadly”…

Teams have made acquisitions that aren’t earth-shattering; nor are they the final piece in a championship puzzle; but as a means-to-an-end, they’re not all that bad when put into full context.

In short, they’re like a pinch or a pinprick—it hurts, but not a lot and if you have a bunch of them, you slowly start to feel the effects.

Let’s have a look.

Don’t laugh.

Orioles sign 1B Derrek Lee to a 1-year contract; RHP Kevin Gregg to a 2-year contract; acquire SS J.J. Hardy and 3B Mark Reynolds in trades.

No, the Orioles have no chance of competing in the American League East; in fact, they have little chance—Buck Showalter or not—to escape the cellar in the division; but these acquisitions at low cost will make the team viable again.

The combination of Showalter’s regime, discipline and organization and the leadership of Lee and Reynolds will make the clubhouse more agreeable.

Gregg is what he is; he has trouble throwing strikes and gives up too many homers, but for the most part, he’ll get the saves; they’ll be of the heart-stopping variety, but he’ll close the games out. Mostly.

Showalter prefers having lesser name closers so he doesn’t have to answer questions about why he doesn’t adhere to the “he’s the guy no matter what” nonsense that managers use as their security blanket to absolve themselves from thinking in the ninth inning.

Both Mike Gonzalez and Gregg will be competent at the back of the bullpen and, worst case scenario, they have trade value as the season moves along.

I’m a fan of neither Hardy nor Reynolds, but considering what they’re replacing, both are giant steps up and the Orioles didn’t give up much to get either.

You can’t reel in the big fish until there’s stability; the new manager and players will bring that stability to a once-storied franchise that has been rudderless for far too long.

Mets sign LHP Chris Capuano and RHP Taylor Buchholz to 1-year contracts.

The Mets are desperate for pitching and while this can be seen as flinging darts at a dartboard while wearing a blindfold, it’s a win-win with both pitchers.

Capuano went 18-12 in 2005 and 11-12 in 2006. In both years, he pitched pretty much identically. He pitched similarly through July in 2007 and then started getting raked all over the lot.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2008, he missed the entire 2008-2009 seasons and pitched respectably in 2010 as a starter and reliever; he was very good in the minors on the way back up to the bigs.

If the Mets can get something close to what Capuano was from 2005 through the first half of 2007, they’ll be thrilled.

Buchholz also had Tommy John surgery and it cost him the entire 2009 season; he pitched briefly for the Rockies and Blue Jays in 2010. While he was mediocre as a starting pitcher with the Astros in 2006, he found his niche as a reliever with the Rockies in 2008.

The epitome of the failed starter who makes his way as a relief pitcher, Buchholz was excellent in 63 games for the Rockies that year. He’s got a good fastball and a great curveball; his stuff appeared to translate better going once through the lineup; he’s on a non-guaranteed contract and is a fine representative of how to properly build a bullpen by finding scraps, signing them cheaply, using them, maximizing them and dispatching them when they grow too pricey.

These are both good signings.

Blue Jays sign RHP Octavio Dotel to a 1-year contract.

Dotel’s about as good (or bad) as Kevin Gregg; the Blue Jays got 37 saves from Gregg last year and now they’re taking a similar approach by signing Dotel.

Dotel gives up too many homers, but his strikeout numbers are still better than one-per-inning and, again in the worst case scenario, someone always seems to want him in a trade to bolster their bullpen late in the season; hypothetically the Blue Jays could get something for him if he’s pitching well.

Much like the Orioles, the Blue Jays are building for the future; they’re a year ahead in their development and the club is teeming with pitching; Dotel’s a stopgap; everyone knows that, but there are worse ones out there; plus he’s cheap.

  • Viewer Mail 1.5.2010:

Dave writes RE the NESN column—2011 Red Sox Will Challenge 1927 Yankees for Title of Greatest Team in Major League History:

Articles like these are actually going to make people root for the underdog Yankees in the AL East. As messed up as that sounds. If the Yankees don’t sign Pettitte, they will even have a lower payroll than Boston. Strange days.

I’m certainly not rooting for the Yankees, but I understand what you’re saying. Much like the Jack Zduriencik double-dealing in the trade for Cliff Lee, there were head shakes at what he did because it was wrong and shrugs because it was the Yankees to whom he did it. Sometimes the lesser of two evils is difficult to distinguish, so it’s best to steer clear and watch it happen with rampant disinterest.

That said, when it came from the Yankees, it was this type of arrogance that provoked Red Sox fans for all those years. This ridiculous column wasn’t coming from the Red Sox themselves, but many of their players—Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Kevin Youkilis, Jonathan Papelbon—aren’t exactly likable and this will fuel the implication of smugness and condescension from the organization.

It’s not the beaten down and abused Red Sox against the Evil Empire anymore.

Joe writes RE the Rangers, Adrian Beltre and Michael Young:

I actually suggested a while back that Young could be moved to first if they were to sign Beltre. Because the reality is, the Rangers 1st baseman were awful last year.  Maybe Chris Davis learns how to hit this year?  Maybe. But letting him figure it all out in the Minors is a better idea, seeing how they can’t really risk him being horrendous while they are fielding a competitive Big League team.  Young is being paid regardless, so they might as well use him somewhere until all those positions are occupied by someone even better than Young is.

I can’t imagine Davis cutting his strikeouts to the point where he can be trusted to get 500 at bats, but he does have power. Mitch Moreland was competent in a part-time role; he’s also hit well in the minors.

I have never understood why people ridicule Young to the degree that they do. He delivers 180-200 hits a year; 60 extra base hits; and is a leader on and off the field. He’s not great defensively, but so what? He can play every infield position for the short-term in case of injury.

He’s making a lot of money ($48 million through 2013); his numbers are way better at home than they are on the road as most Rangers players tend to be, but the difference isn’t glaring as it is with some players.

In the short-term, the team is better with Young and Beltre; if they’re thinking of clearing the Young salary for some pitching, they could conceivably do that as well.

Jane Heller at Confessions of a She-Fan writes RE Jon Miller, Vladimir Guerrero and the Rangers:

I’m gonna miss Jon Miller on Sunday nights. But I digress….Why wouldn’t the Rangers re-sign Vlad? He had such a good year for them and I’d be willing to bet he’s not asking for the moon. Why do they even need Beltre with Young at 3rd?

Guerrero had a great year and he, like Young, showed he could hit at home and on the road; he’s probably not going to settle for a 1-year, incentive-laden deal again after the year he had, at least not to go back to the Rangers. I think you’re right; his leadership and watchful eye over the young Latin players (along with Vlad’s mother doing the cooking) was a major part of their success this year. I’d be reluctant to dismiss that as meaningless especially with such a weak manager in Ron Washington.

Young is a far inferior fielder to Beltre and Beltre would hit in Arlington.

Jeff at Red State Blue State writes RE pro wrestling, Scott Boras and Michael Young:

Oooooooooooooooooh yeah, brother! *Snaps into a Slim Jim*

Ask me if I feel sorry for Michael Young and his $16 million a year. I WISH I had such hard times at the office.

Scratching my head on the Rangers/Beltre thing, for the same reasons you are… I think they’d be better off saving that money til mid-season, to see where they are, and maybe go out and make some noise then.

Michael Kay and Scott Boras doing a pro rasslin’ interview with Jayson Werth strutting around in the background and primping like Ric Flair would get me to watch.