Strasburg Ambiguity Mars The Nationals’ Magical Season

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How can anyone involved with the Nationals justify looking into Stephen Strasburg’s face and telling him that while the team is on its way to the playoffs and is a legitimate World Series contender that because of a random number of innings and the edicts of one person’s dictatorial, unchecked authority, he can’t be a part of it?

The number (supposedly 160 innings or thereabouts), so random and capricious with no ironclad guarantee that it’s going to help him stay healthy over the long-term, predicates that Strasburg should resist and use his power over the situation to escape it.

There are so many compelling stories with the Nationals that the looming shutdown of Strasburg is marring all they’ve accomplished and it’s coming down to the self-proclaimed final word, GM Mike Rizzo. Given the number of GMs who’ve been celebrated in recent years and either found themselves fired (Omar Minaya); on the hotseat (Jack Zduriencik, Dan O’Dowd); or seen their reputations shattered (Billy Beane), Rizzo might not even be there in 2015. Manager Davey Johnson and pitching coach Steve McCatty are going along to get along, but Johnson’s style in his prior stops and the atmosphere in which he spent his formative baseball years—the Earl Weaver Orioles of Jim Palmer throwing 300+ innings—do you really think Johnson, at age 69, wants to hold back on the once-in-a-lifetime arm of Strasburg when he might be writing his ticket to the Hall of Fame with another World Series win? A win that could hinge on Strasburg being allowed to pitch? Do you believe that McCatty, who saw his own career demolished by Billy Martin’s and Art Fowler’s abuse, doesn’t understand the limits of a pitcher and when he needs to have the brakes put on? It’s inexplicable to hire qualified people to do their jobs and not let them do them; to have experienced baseball people whose in-the-trenches understanding of the game are dismissed in the interests of self-protection and “I’m not gonna be the one that’s blamed if he gets hurt.”

That’s what Rizzo is doing. It’s got nothing to do with studies or protecting the player; Rizzo is protecting himself. No one else.

The implementation of pitcher workloads has become a circular defense and is a logical fallacy. Because Jordan Zimmerman underwent the same Tommy John surgery as Strasburg and was limited to 160 innings last season, it’s presented as validation for Strasburg’s final number of 160 or so innings. But they’re two different pitchers with two different levels of talent and two different thresholds along with dozens of other variables that aren’t being publicly accounted for in the interests of a short and sweet, salable list of “reasons” to place Strasburg on the sidelines as the kid who has to take his piano lessons while the other kids in the neighborhood out enjoying the sun and playing ball.

No one’s saying to abuse him as the Cubs, chasing a dream and trying to slay ghosts, did to Kerry Wood in 1998. But to just say STOP!!! and be done with it is a different form of abuse.

Strasburg doesn’t want to have his season ended prematurely, but if the Nats get to the playoffs or World Series, he’s not going to be a participant; or if he is, it will be after a month of barely pitching. It’s ludicrous and could also hinder his career rather than save it. Strasburg has to have some recourse. Saying all the right things and being a willing accomplice are separate. If I were Strasburg and his representatives, I’d push back. Agent Scott Boras, no stranger to hardball as a former player and negotiator, knows the terrain of arm-twisting organizations in the interests of his clients. Strasburg and Boras have a large share of the say-so in this situation. The point of power is to use it. If it’s put out publicly that Strasburg won’t sign any long-term deal with the Nationals if they continue to put their constraints on his career, what’s going to happen? Strasburg could refuse to report to the club next season and force his way out of Washington; he could be a test case because the Nats are not operating in his best interests. The blowback of Strasburg tearing at his chains legally and in a public relations blitz would be fierce and Rizzo wouldn’t have a choice but to back down.

The number of great players in sports who have been part of teams that made it to the pinnacle of team achievement or came thisclose but didn’t close the deal are legion. Ernie Banks, Don Mattingly and the new Hall of Famer Ron Santo are three of dozens of examples who would’ve traded years of their careers for a title shot.

Exacerbating this travesty is that the Nationals—or simply Rizzo and Rizzo alone—didn’t take steps such as the 6-man rotation to specifically prevent the need to end Strasburg’s season in September.

It’s easy to suggest that what the Nats have built will be sustainable and they’ll have multiple opportunities to make it back again and again; that with Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman and the young pitching staff, they’ll be contenders for years to come. Facts and history say otherwise. It’s not true that they’re absolutely going to have chance after chance. Ask Dan Marino if he’s stunned by never having made it back to the Super Bowl after his sophomore season in which he demolished the NFL record books and carried the Dolphins to the NFL’s ultimate game. Then ask him if he’d have sat by quietly if the coaches and front office decided that he’s thrown too many passes after 13 games and they were sitting him down to lengthen his career. You can say it’s not the same thing, but it actually is the same thing. Strasburg is a baseball player; he’s a pitcher. Sometimes, regardless of how they’re handled and babied, they get injured as happened with Strasburg two years ago. Nothing is to be gained by sitting him down with numbers that have no basis in reality. Yet that’s what the Nats are doing and it’s not about protecting anyone other than the GM of the team, which makes it exponentially worse.

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The Yankees’ Grand Delusion

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In today’s NY Times there’s a piece by Benjamin Hoffman discussing the luck of the Mets in achieving their 28-23 record in spite of a -24 run differential and how the Yankees 27-23 record is about right based on their +15 run differential.

Run differential is usually a ridiculous and out-of-context stat from the start and it’s worse in this case. The Mets’ pitching has had games in which they’ve allowed 18 runs; 14 runs twice; 11 and 10 runs. They’ve scored in double-digits once.

The Yankees haven’t allowed double-digits at all and have had three games that they’ve scored a total of 36 runs.

It’s misleading and used as the foundation for the customary argument that the superiorly reinforced Yankees will eventually start dominating baseball and waltz into the playoffs as an odds-on favorite while the Mets will fade out to their customary mediocrity and continue their rebuild.

What will happen with the Mets remains to be seen, but the Yankees—just like the silly stat of run differential—aren’t exactly what they seem to be when examined as a monolith from 1995 until now. The Yankees’ apologists in the media and deluded fans, under the mistaken belief that because they’ve made the playoffs in 16 of the past 17 years, think that it automatically anoints them that spot. But those teams were different from this one. Mariano Rivera is gone. Alex Rodriguez is a shell of what he was. The starting pitching that once had the veterans David Wells, David Cone, Orlando Hernandez, Mike Mussina and Roger Clemens now has one pitcher who could be mentioned in that group, CC Sabathia, and a series of question marks behind him.

It’s not the same.

Sweeny Murti of WFAN appeared on Kim Jones’s radio show recently and put forth the egomaniacal premise that since the Yankees have won an average of 97 games a season since he’s been covering the team that he expects them to do it again.

What one thing has to do with the other was never addressed.

Mike Francesa pompously and condescendingly (in many ways sounding like the spoiled fans he ridicules) comes up with inane arguments to support the shoddy foundation that since they’ve “always” been there, they’ll be there again. They’ll buy what they need at the trading deadline and off they’ll go.

Listening to this fanciful nonsense a non-baseball fan might think that the Yankees simply win the championship every year as a matter of course and if they don’t there was a glitch or fluke somewhere that prevented it.

They’ve won one championship since 2000. They’re not the dynasty they were in the late-1990s.

Whom are they trading for and what do they have to get these available star players? The Yankees’ main chip, Jesus Montero, was given away to the Mariners along with a useful arm in Hector Noesi to acquire two pitchers—Michael Pineda and Jose Campos—who are both on the disabled list. Of their other “untouchable crown jewels” in the system, Manny Banuelos, is also on the disabled list with a sore elbow and Dellin Betances has walked 46 in 52 innings. They’re not even willing to take on long-term money to get the players they want as they did with Bobby Abreu a few years ago. So what are they doing at the deadline other than making the same types of deals they’ve made in recent years when they got pending free agents Kerry Wood and Lance Berkman?

There’s an aura of “If we keep repeating it, it’ll come true.” The Yankees have the “great” players, but they’re not so great anymore. Salary aside, it’s unfair to hold a soon-to-be 37-year-old A-Rod to a standard of the A-Rod of 2007. It’s lunacy to think that Andy Pettitte is going to be the anchor he was in his prime and that Derek Jeter will keep up his frenetically blazing start to the season.

All of these players are at an age where they should be receding into the background to make way for the new blood; where they should be occasional contributors who can rediscover their greatness in spurts. Yet they’re still keys to the Yankees’ season because the replacements—apart from Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson—haven’t taken the handoff of responsibility.

The competition is hungrier, faster, smarter and has greater organizational depth. The Yankees are contending with the Rays, Angels and Rangers. There are the teams that have struggled amid higher hopes, the Red Sox and Tigers; the Blue Jays are young, talented and have money to spend; the Indians are playing well; the Orioles and White Sox have been surprises.

There’s not an open pass into the post-season anymore and gazing longingly at records and rosters of years gone by while inserting oneself into the narrative as if there’s an unseen connection between the two is a self-important fantasy that’s doomed to failure.

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Elephants, Donkeys and Cubs

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If a sports owner who decided he wanted to contribute money to a political Super PAC (Political Action Committee) that profiled presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney as an unapologetic flip-flopper; someone who’s going to unleash the terrifying United States war machine on any and all countries that he deems as a vague “threat”; plans to cut taxes for the wealthy; take away Medicare, Medicaid and relegate the poor to what amounts to an inescapable cycle of poverty, would the media have reacted so indignantly as it has to the Joe Ricketts story?

I doubt it.

But because the patriarch of the Ricketts family that now owns the Chicago Cubs was interested in starting a Super PAC that was meant to rehash the inflammatory comments made by President Obama’s former pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright, it’s considered an affront and the basis to engulf the politics of Joe Ricketts to his son Tom Ricketts’s attempts—as owner of the Cubs—to secure public financing to refurbish Wrigley Field.

Politics and presidential politics are seeping into baseball. Rather than focusing on the retirement of Kerry Wood, the “miracle” of Bryan LaHair, or what Theo Epstein’s going to do to rebuild the Cubs, the story is off-field issues.

Considering how things are going for the Cubs on the field, maybe that’s not as terrible as it seems.

Because the “big bad billionaire” wanted to use his money in a politically legal way, it’s transferred into his son’s running of the Cubs. There’s no connection. Even if there was, here’s a solution: prevent the public financing of the improvements to Wrigley Field through the political process.

Political tactics are what they are and it’s not outrageous to bring up Obama sitting by when Wright was making these statements about the United States; that political expediency led to his repudiation of what was said and he left the church out of necessity if he wanted to win the presidency.

The dredging of the Wright controversy isn’t on a level with absurd questioning of the validity of the president’s birth certificate or other silly intimations. It may have been settled to the satisfaction of enough people to elect Obama president in 2008, but it could also be used to assuage the fears about Romney’s Mormonism and convince skittish evangelical Christians to get out and vote for Romney.

It’s politics and is expected.

I’m curious if the reaction would be so widespread if it were a liberal owner who was trying to do “good for the masses” with a Super PAC instead of the “greedy, hoarding rich guy” who simply doesn’t want to pay as much in taxes as he is now and is using anything at his disposal to elect a president who’d help him achieve that end.

I doubt it would.

Either way, should this or any political affiliation be associated with the Cubs because there’s no link between Joe Ricketts’s proposed Super PAC and his son’s stewardship of a baseball team.

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Pitcher Injuries and Hindsight

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What’s the solution when a pitcher gets injured, there’s no specific cause and it’s automatically assumed that it was due to the vague term “workload”?

The Phillies have placed righty Vance Worley on the disabled list with elbow inflammation and the desperate search for a reason is beginning. His MRI has shown no structural damage so it’s not a catastrophic injury—Delaware Online.

How does anyone know the cause? And what were they supposed to do about it?

While pitching at Single A in 2009, Worley threw 153 innings at the age of 21.

With Double A, Triple A and a cup of coffee the big leagues in 2010, Worley threw 171 innings at age 22.

In 2011, Worley began the season in Triple A, logged 50 innings and was called up to the big leagues and added 131 innings to make his total 181.

Is this considered abuse?

The Phillies were conscious of Worley’s pitch counts and took care to make sure he wasn’t pushed too far with a general pitch limit between 100 and 110. In a rotation with Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, there were no expectations for Worley to be the ace of the staff. He was able to fade into the background as the fourth or fifth starter and learn his craft without the team’s hopes riding on him.

A clear case of a pitcher who was abused in his rookie season was Kerry Wood. In 1998, Wood was a sensation with a blazing fastball and knee-buckling curve. He was consistently left in games to throw 120-130 pitches and led the Cubs to the playoffs—1998 Gamelogs. The weight of carrying a mediocre team resulted in Wood tearing an elbow ligament and needing Tommy John surgery in 1999. It doesn’t take research of stick figures or computer simulations to examine Wood’s history and say that the Cubs overdid it and expedited his injury.

Wood was also a pitcher with mid-to-upper-90s fastball and hard curve with a severe elbow snap to get that nasty break. He might’ve—and probably would’ve—gotten hurt eventually anyway.

With the proliferation of pitching expertise inside and outside of baseball expressing their theories—dutifully detailed on blogs and supposedly reputable websites—a reason for an injury is readily available whether it’s accurate or not. Teams like the Yankees are using medical recommendations to regulate innings and pitch counts in an effort to “develop” their pitchers with the results we see in Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, Michael Pineda and Jose Campos.

Who really knows?

The logical end to stopping a workload-related injury to a pitcher would be to limit the workload. But how? What’s the limit? And what to do if the pitcher is needed and he’s approaching his limit? Is the team or the individual more important? How’s that judged?

Throwing a baseball is damaging and there are a myriad of factors that go into a pitcher staying healthy or getting hurt. It’s a zero-sum game. It’s become impossible to develop a pitcher without hundreds of eyes with multiple theories, a forum and no accountability for the outsiders as they wait to pounce and self-promote. Retrospect and hindsight are easily transferred to “prove” whatever theory one prefers to use with pitchers. The Giants didn’t hinder their young starters with limits and have one of the best pitcher developmental programs in baseball.

It’s when one gets hurt that we hear post-injury criticism. The problem is there’s no defense for the charges when the charges are based on after-the-fact theories that are more convenient than diagnostic.

The only answer is to let the pitchers pitch and use common sense. They’re going to get hurt. It’s in the job description and that will never, ever change.

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National League Fantasy Sleepers

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Let’s look at some fantasy sleepers in the National League.

Mike Minor, LHP—Atlanta Braves

He got a lot of grief for what was perceived to be a “play me or trade me” demand that he start the season in the big leagues in the Braves’ starting rotation.

It wasn’t that kind of demand at all, but that’s how it was taken.

Putting that aside, with Tim Hudson recovering from back surgery Minor is going to have to start the season in the big leagues. He’ll want to get off to a good start to stake his claim in the rotation and validate his assertion that he belongs.

He racks up the strikeouts, hits hits/innings pitched ratio is great and he doesn’t allow a lot of home runs or walks.

John Mayberry Jr., OF/1B—Philadelphia Phillies

Mayberry has never gotten the chance to play regularly from the start of the season onward, but will in 2012.

With Ryan Howard’s return date increasingly uncertain after the procedure to clean up the infection in his surgical wound, there’s even more reason to pick up Mayberry. The Phillies’ situation in left field is in flux and he’ll also play some first base.

He has 25-30 homer potential.

Chase Utley, 2B—Philadelphia Phillies

Looking at his basic stats, it appears as if he’s on the decline due to age and injury.

It’s nonsense.

Utley has hit in notoriously bad luck in the past two seasons. His BAbip was .288 in 2010, .269 in 2011. He stole 14 bases without getting caught after returning from his knee injury. His power numbers were right in line with what he normally produces.

Utley’s going to have a big comeback year.

Chris Coghlan, INF/OF—Miami Marlins

He may have worn out his welcome with the newly star-studded Marlins, as injuries and bickering with the front office have diminished the former NL Rookie of the Year to a forgotten man.

The Marlins don’t have a prototypical centerfielder on the roster (they’re intent on going with Emilio Bonifacio), Coghlan can play the position defensively and his bat can rebound. He’ll get one last shot with the Marlins; otherwise he’s trade bait and is worth the risk in the hopes of a return to what he once was.

Frank Francisco, RHP—New York Mets

He’s not a great closer, but he strikes out over a batter an inning. If you need someone to get you some saves and don’t want to pay for them, he’s going to be cheap.

These are the Mets and fantasy mirrors reality.

Or reality mirrors fantasy.

Or both reflect a nightmare. Or circumstances.

Or all of the above.

Jonathan Lucroy, C—Milwaukee Brewers

Lucroy has a career minor league OPS of .838 and an OBP of .379. He’s hit 20 homers in a season in the minors and hit 12 in the big leagues last season.

He’ll be cheap and there’s major room for improvement.

Alex Presley, OF—Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates’ outfield situation flanking Andrew McCutchen isn’t set. Presley can run and had an .804 OPS in 231 plate appearances in the big leagues last season.

Jeff Samardzija, RHP—Chicago Cubs

The Cubs are going to trade Carlos Marmol at some point and someone—either Samardzija or Kerry Wood—will have to take over as closer. It makes no sense to use Wood at this stage of his career.

Samardzija overcame his control issues for the most part and struck out 87 in 88 innings last season.

Bud Norris, RHP—Houston Astros

Norris isn’t going to win many games for the Astros, but he strikes out close to a batter per inning and has had excellent hits/innings pitched ratios at every level.

David Hernandez, RHP—Arizona Diamondbacks

I don’t trust J.J. Putz to stay healthy and Hernandez saved 11 games in Putz’s absence last season.

Hernandez struck out 77 in 69 innings and allowed 49 hits.

Cory Luebke, LHP—San Diego Padres

Luebke struck out 154 in 139 innings last season and allowed 105 hits.

He began 2011 in the bullpen, but moved to the starting rotation in the second half. He’ll be a full-time starter in 2012.

Jerry Sands, OF—Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers circumstances in left and right field aren’t settled. Juan Rivera is slated to start in left and Andre Ethier is a free agent at the end of the season and is a good bet to be traded.

Sands has posted huge power numbers in the minors—stats—and has the speed to steal 15-20 bases.

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Pitching Coach Pep Boys

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How much of what a pitching coach says to his bosses when analyzing a potential trade target is legitimate and how much is said for their validation and consumption?

Is it accurate when a coach says, as Rick Peterson reportedly did when the Mets were considering trading Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano, that he could fix Zambrano “in ten minutes”?

Is it the arrogance inherent in so many coaches, managers, executives and players?

Or is it bluster based on reputation?

Needless to say, Peterson did not fix Zambrano in ten minutes. Nor did he fix him in ten months. And he wouldn’t have fixed him in ten years.

On Thursday, the Nationals completed a trade for Athletics lefty Gio Gonzalez.

Gonzalez’s wildness has been well documented and is in black and white for all to see. 183 walks in two years speak for themselves.

Did the Nationals hierarchy discuss Gonzalez with big league pitching coach Steve McCatty? And did he tell them the truth as he saw it or was he influenced by the club’s clear desire to get their hands on Gonzalez at whatever cost?

McCatty famously slammed his hand into the dugout wall when Stephen Strasburg threw that fateful pitch in 2010 in which he tore his elbow in an injury that required Tommy John surgery. I’ve long said that because Strasburg was injured while the Nationals were following organizational edicts and stringent limitations on his innings and pitch counts, no one could be held responsible for the injury; this made it something of a relief when he did get hurt. There was no documented evidence of abuse; no outrageous pitch counts; no “arm-shredding” reputation for anyone.

This in spite of the fact that then-Nats manager Jim Riggleman was the manager in charge when Kerry Wood was overused and abused during the Cubs run toward the playoffs in 1998.

Somehow the onus for Wood and Mark Prior fell two Cubs managers later and Dusty Baker.

It’s about perception.

Will altering Gonzalez’s mechanics give him better control?

Perhaps.

But will doing so make him easier to hit?

Sometimes when a pitcher has funky mechanics and doesn’t know where the ball is going, it contributes to him getting hitters out. Not only does Gonzalez walk a lot of hitters, but he strikes out a lot of hitters as well; and he doesn’t allow many hits or homers.

The funky motion and wildness could be a large portion of that, so making a change that the pitching coach sees as “fixing” him could damage him.

Such was the case with the Pirates when the fired Joe Kerrigan.

Kerrigan was fired, in part, because of the mechanical adjustments he made to former Pirates number 1 draft choice Brad Lincoln.

The main transgressions on the part of Kerrigan were: A) that he was a quirky personality who made his presence felt and imposed on his already weak manager, John Russell; and B) the changes didn’t work.

What did they hire a name pitching coach for if they didn’t want him to do what a name pitching coach does in trying to address issues he may see in a pitcher’s mechanics and approach?

If he didn’t do anything and the pitchers didn’t improve, would he have been fired for that?

Of course.

Anyone can stand there and do nothing.

For years, Leo Mazzone was seen as the “brains” behind the Braves brilliant starting rotation. Then he went to the Orioles and couldn’t repair their pitchers; he hasn’t been able to get a coaching job since.

Why?

Maybe it’s because you can’t make an Astrovan into a Ferrari; you can’t make Kris Benson and Daniel Cabrera into Greg Maddux and John Smoltz.

Peterson and Tom House have theories, stats, stick figures, computer simulations and innovative techniques to help their charges, but they’re also selling stuff.

It’s hard to take people selling stuff at face value.

In spite of his documented and long history of success, Dave Duncan has never auctioned his services to the highest bidder; he’s never sought a managerial job; he’s shooed away anyone who even approached him with the idea that he manage.

He’s a voice you can trust because he’s not hawking a load of junk.

The others? I have my doubts.

I wouldn’t want a yes-man overseeing any part of my organization; nor would I want someone whose main interest is maintaining a reputation at the expense of doing his job. The attitude I prefer is “don’t ask me a question you don’t want the answer to” and with today’s pitching coaches, I wonder whether they’re of the same mind and working to make their charges better or hiding behind a curtain of agreeable self-protection by interpreting what the front office wants to hear and tailoring their responses to that in order to save themselves.

And that’s not how a team should be run.

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GMs The Second Time Around

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With two big general managing jobs open—the Angels and the Cubs—let’s take a look at recognizable title-winning GMs and how they’ve fared in second and third jobs.

John Schuerholz

Schuerholz won the World Series with the 1985 Royals and moved on to the Braves after the 1990 season because Bobby Cox had gone down on the field and handled both jobs after firing Russ Nixon. It was Cox who drafted Chipper Jones (because Todd Van Poppel insisted he was going to college, then didn’t—he probably should’ve); Kent Mercker; Mike Stanton; Steve Avery; Mark Wohlers; and Ryan Klesko. He also traded Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz.

Schuerholz made the fill-in moves like acquiring Charlie Leibrandt, Rafael Belliard, Otis Nixon, Alejandro Pena and Juan Berenguer; in later years, he signed Greg Maddux and traded for Fred McGriff.

It was, in fact, the predecessor to Cox—John Mullen—who drafted Ron Gant, Mark Lemke, Dave Justice and Tom Glavine.

The idea that Schuerholz “built” the Braves of the 1990s isn’t true. It’s never been true.

Andy MacPhail

MacPhail was never comfortable with spending a load of money. When he was with the Twins, that was the way they did business and he excelled at it building teams on the cheap with a template of the way the Twins played and a manager, Tom Kelly, to implement that.

He put together the Twins 1987 and 1991 championship clubs. MacPhail became the Cubs CEO in 1994 and stayed until 2006. The Cubs made it to the playoffs twice in MacPhail’s tenure and came close to winning that elusive pennant in 2003.

MacPhail’s legacy running the Cubs—fairly or not—is that he was in charge while Kerry Wood and Mark Prior were pushed very, very hard as young pitchers trying to win that championship.

It was a vicious circle. If the Cubs didn’t let them pitch, they wouldn’t have made the playoffs; and since they let them endure heavy workloads at a young age, they flamed out.

MacPhail went to the Orioles in 2007 and the team didn’t improve despite MacPhail seeming to prevail on owner Peter Angelos that his spending on shot veterans wasn’t working; MacPhail’s power was usurped when Buck Showalter was hired to be the manager and his future is uncertain.

Sandy Alderson

Credited as the “father” of Moneyball, he was a run-of-the-mill GM who won when he had money to spend, a brilliant manager in Tony LaRussa, and an all-world pitching coach Dave Duncan. When the well dried up, the A’s stopped contending and he was relegated to signing veteran players who had nowhere else to go (sort of like Moneyball), but couldn’t play (unlike Moneyball).

Alderson drafted Jason Giambi and Tim Hudson among a couple of others who contributed to the Athletics renaissance and the Billy Beane “genius”.

Moving on to the Padres as CEO in 2005, Alderson created factions in the front office between the stat people and scouting people and appeared more interested in accumulating legitimate, on-the-record credit for himself as a cut of the Moneyball pie than in building a winning team by any means necessary within the budget.

He joined the Mets as GM a year ago. Grade pending.

Pat Gillick

Gillick is in the Hall of Fame. He built the Blue Jays from the ground up, culminating in back-to-back championships in 1992 and 1993.

He’s retired and un-retired multiple times, ran the Orioles under Angelos and spent a ton of money and came close, but continually lost out to the Yankees.

He took over the Mariners and built a powerhouse with Lou Piniella; they came close…but couldn’t get by the Yankees.

He went to the Phillies, built upon the foundation that had been laid by the disrespected former GM Ed Wade and scouting guru Mike Arbuckle and got credit for the 2008 championship.

He says he’s retired, but I’m not buying it even at age 74. The Mariners are the job I’d see him taking if it’s offered and with another bad year from Jack Zduriencik’s crew in 2012, it just might be.

Walt Jocketty

Jocketty won the 2006 World Series and, along with LaRussa, built the Cardinals into an annual contender. He was forced out in a power-struggle between those in the Cardinals from office that wanted to go the Moneyball route and Jocketty’s people that didn’t. One year after the World Series win, he was fired.

At mid-season 2008, he was hired by the Reds and was given credit for the 2010 NL Central championship, but that credit was a bit shaky.

Wayne Krivsky was the GM before Jocketty and traded for Brandon Phillips and Bronson Arroyo.

Dan O’Brien Jr. preceded Krivsky and drafted Jay Bruce and signed Johnny Cueto.

And it was Jim Bowden who drafted Joey Votto.

The common denominator with the names above and the levels of success or failure they achieved had to do with the groundwork that had been placed and, in part, what they did after their arrival.

The Cubs and Angels are both well-stocked for their choices to look very smart, very quickly; but the hiring of a “name” GM doesn’t automatically imply that the success from the prior stop is going to be repeated and that has to be considered with whomever the two teams decide to hire.

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Jim Hendry’s Tenure As Cubs GM—An Evenhanded Analysis

All Star Game, Books, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Trade Rumors, Umpires

I’m not about vitriol nor praise just for the sake of partisan politics. Reactionary analysis is untrustworthy in the positive and negative sense. It’s almost universally based on the last game, week or season. Many times, the media and fans can twist a situation due to selfish interests, a lack of knowledge  or unhappiness with whomever is their target of the moment.

The Cubs fired general manager Jim Hendry yesterday. He will be replaced on an interim basis by assistant GM Randy Bush and owner Tom Ricketts is going to conduct a search, do interviews and has said he wants to hire someone from outside the organization.

What kind of job did Hendry do in his nearly nine years at the helm of one of the most difficult teams in sports—the Cubs?

Let’s take a look.

Trades.

Before anything else, Baseball-Reference saved me hours of digging through Hendry’s various trades with a handy historical record of all trades made between franchises. Check it out.

  • The good:

February 2, 2005: The Chicago Cubs traded Sammy Sosa and cash to the Baltimore Orioles for Dave Crouthers (minors), Mike Fontenot and Jerry Hairston.

Sosa had to go and the Cubs got the useful Fontenot and Hairston for him.

November 25, 2003: The Florida Marlins traded Derrek Lee to the Chicago Cubs for Mike Nannini (minors) and Hee-Seop Choi.

Lee was a leader and had several fine years for the Cubs.

December 4, 2002: The Los Angeles Dodgers traded Mark Grudzielanek and Eric Karros to the Chicago Cubs for Chad Hermansen and Todd Hundley.

Hundley was finished; Grudzielanek and Karros were two experienced veterans who contributed greatly to the 2003 Cubs who came within five outs of a World Series berth.

November 26, 2002: The Milwaukee Brewers traded Paul Bako to the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named later. The Chicago Cubs sent Ryan Gripp (minors) (December 16, 2002) to the Milwaukee Brewers to complete the trade.

Bako made Greg Maddux happy.

December 15, 2003: The Chicago Cubs traded Damian Miller and cash to the Oakland Athletics for Michael Barrett.

Barrett put up solid numbers and set Chicago ablaze with his classic one-punch knockout of A.J. Pierzynski.

July 30, 2009: The Pittsburgh Pirates traded Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow to the Chicago Cubs for Jose Ascanio, Josh Harrison and Kevin Hart.

Hendry robbed the Pirates.

July 23, 2003: The Pittsburgh Pirates traded Kenny Lofton, Aramis Ramirez and cash to the Chicago Cubs for a player to be named later, Matt Bruback (minors) and Jose Hernandez. The Chicago Cubs sent Bobby Hill (August 15, 2003) to the Pittsburgh Pirates to complete the trade.

Two words: Aramis….Ramirez.

December 18, 2009: The Seattle Mariners traded Carlos Silva and cash to the Chicago Cubs for Milton Bradley.

Getting rid of Milton Bradley—even for Silva—deserves credit.

  • The bad.

December 7, 2006: The Cincinnati Reds purchased Josh Hamilton from the Chicago Cubs.

The Cubs had a deal in place with the Reds before the fact to take Hamilton and trade him to the Reds and made a few bucks; needless to say, they should’ve taken a shot on Hamilton, but it’s understandable—given his history—that they didn’t.

December 31, 2008: The Chicago Cubs traded Mark DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians for Chris Archer (minors), John Gaub (minors) and Jeff Stevens.

The Cubs got some solid young talent for DeRosa, but the machinations were misplaced. DeRosa was their unsung hero on and off the field in 2008; manager Lou Piniella didn’t want to trade him; and the trade of DeRosa was made essentially so they could sign Bradley.

A team trying to win a championship can’t be trading versatile veteran leaders to restock the farm system and then sign a Milton Bradley.

January 6, 2009: The Chicago Cubs traded Jason Marquis to the Colorado Rockies for Luis Vizcaino.

You know what you’re getting from Maquis and that’s okay; you also know what you’re getting from Vizcaino and that’s not okay.

November 13, 2008: The Florida Marlins traded Kevin Gregg to the Chicago Cubs for Jose Ceda.

Ceda’s done nothing for the Marlins despite ridiculous minor league strikeout numbers and a wicked slider; if the Cubs were getting Gregg as a set-up man for Carlos Marmol, then fine, but they weren’t. They got him to close. Gregg was and is entirely untrustworthy as a closer.

I understood the logic by letting Marmol do the heavy lifting before the ninth and to let Gregg rack up the overrated save stat, but it didn’t work. It was a bad idea. Marmol should’ve closed from the beginning of the season; he wound up taking over late in the season when it was already too late.

December 7, 2005: The Florida Marlins traded Juan Pierre to the Chicago Cubs for Sergio Mitre, Ricky Nolasco and Renyel Pinto.

Yeah. This was not a good trade.

July 31, 2006: The Chicago Cubs traded Greg Maddux to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Cesar Izturis.

They were dealing Maddux because he was a free agent at the end of the year, but it should be illegal to trade Greg Maddux for Cesar Izturis in any case.

January 5, 2008: The Chicago Cubs traded Angel Pagan to the New York Mets for Corey Coles (minors) and Ryan Meyers (minors).

The Cubs could’ve used Pagan.

February 2, 2009: The Chicago Cubs traded Michael Wuertz to the Oakland Athletics for Richie Robnett (minors) and Justin Sellers.

Wuertz was highly underrated.

  • Either/or; neither/nor.

July 31, 2004: As part of a 4-team trade: The Boston Red Sox sent Nomar Garciaparra and Matt Murton to the Chicago Cubs. The Minnesota Twins sent Doug Mientkiewicz to the Boston Red Sox. The Montreal Expos sent Orlando Cabrera to the Boston Red Sox. The Chicago Cubs sent Francis Beltran, Alex Gonzalez and Brendan Harris to the Montreal Expos. The Chicago Cubs sent Justin Jones (minors) to the Minnesota Twins.

This was a gutsy move on all ends and could’ve worked big time for the Cubs had they not faded at the end of the season and missed the playoffs. Nomar played well for them over those last two months.

January 8, 2011: The Chicago Cubs traded Chris Archer (minors), Hak-Ju Lee (minors), Robinson Chirinos, Sam Fuld and Brandon Guyer to the Tampa Bay Rays for Zach Rosscup (minors), Matt Garza and Fernando Perez.

The Cubs gave up a lot to get Garza; Garza’s pitched well this year and in some bad luck. He’ll be with the Cubs through 2013 unless he’s traded; they’ll be able to recoup their prospects if they do that.

July 31, 2010: The Chicago Cubs traded Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot and cash to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Brett Wallach (minors), Kyle Smit (minors) and Blake DeWitt.

DeWitt has use; they got some young talent for Lilly and Theriot.

***

Contracts.

This will include both free agent signing and extensions given to players already with the Cubs.

OF Moises Alou—3-years, $25 million.

Alou was excellent in his time with the Cubs.

RHP Greg Maddux—3-years, $24 million.

Maddux was his durable, consistent self in his return to the organization that drafted him.

RHP Ryan Dempster—free agent for $300,000 after being released by the Reds in 2003; signed a 4-year, $52 million contract after 2008.

Dempster was used as a closer and was mediocre; he moved into the starting rotation in 2008 and was masterful. He’s a good, consistent starter who’s delivered more than could ever have been expected.

RHP Bob Howry, 3-years, $12 million.

Howry was durable and mostly good.

INF/OF Mark DeRosa—3-years, $13 million.

It appeared to be a classic overspend on DeRosa, but as stated earlier, he was the key player in their 2008 run to the best record in the National League.

OF Alfonso Soriano—8-years, $136 million.

A disaster. Plain and simple.

LHP Ted Lilly—4-years, $40 million.

Lilly was a good pitcher for the Cubs.

OF Jim Edmonds—signed in May 2008 after being released by the Padres.

Edmonds looked shot for the Padres, got to the Cubs and rejuvenated his career with 19 homers in 85 games.

OF Kosuke Fukudome—4-years, $48 million.

Fukudome was an underappreciated all-around player with pop and a good eye.

OF Milton Bradley—3-years, $30 million.

Bradley had a great year with the Rangers in 2008 on and off the field; there were no problems whatsoever. Was it reasonable to think he’d continue that trend with the expectations the Cubs had after their 2008 flameout and Bradley’s status as the “missing piece”?

No.

OF Marlon Byrd—3-years, $15 million.

Byrd’s been everything the Cubs expected on and off the field.

1B Carlos Pena—1-year, $10 million.

They knew what they were getting. Homers, walks and a .200 batting average.

3B Aramis Ramirez—5-years, $75 million with 2012 option for $16 million with a $2 million buyout.

Ramirez has been one of the best and most underrated third basemen in baseball for years; he’s also been an intensely loyal Cub.

RHP Carlos Zambrano—5-years, $91.5 million with 2013 vesting option.

Of course it looks horrific now, but when Zambrano signed the contract, he was 26; in the middle of an 18-win, 2007 season; had pitched over 200 innings for 5 straight years; looked like he was a rising star because he was a rising star; and he could hit.

Why wouldn’t you lock up a pitcher with Zambrano’s talent at that age?

Who knew he was going to freak out the way he has? Signing him up until he was 31 or 32—through his prime, healthy years—made complete sense. There were no problematic behaviors; no major attitude issues to note or be concerned about.

It hasn’t worked. Hendry’s not to blame for Zambrano.

***

Drafting and development.

In 2003 the Cubs drafted Sean Marshall, Jake Fox, Casey McGehee, and Sam Fuld. They took Tim Lincecum out of high school in the 48th round.

They picked someone named Ryan Harvey with the sixth pick in the 1st round that year directly in front of Nick Markakis; Chad Billingsley was taken by the Dodgers at 24.

In 2004 they drafted Fuld again and Micah Owings. They didn’t have a 1st round pick.

The only Cubs draftee from 2005 to make it to the big leagues is a pitcher named Donald Veal. Their 1st round pick was a lefty pitcher named Mark Pawelek; later in the 1st round, Garza, Clay Buchholz and Jed Lowrie were taken.

In 2006 they drafted Tyler Colvin in the 1st round and Jeff Samardzija in the 5th. Kyle Drabek, Joba Chamberlain, Ian Kennedy, Chris Coghlan, Daniel Bard and Chris Perez were taken later in the 1st round.

That year, they signed Starlin Castro as an amateur free agent from the Dominican Republic.

In 2007 they had the third pick in the 1st round and selected a third baseman named Josh Vitters; Vitters is struggling in Double A. In that draft, they took Darwin Barney, Brandon Guyer and Andrew Cashner.

Matt Wieters, Matt Dominguez, Madison Bumgarner and Jason Heyward were taken later in the 1st round.

They drafted Cashner again in 2008, this time in the 1st round. Not much of note was taken after him in the 1st.

The success/failure or 2009-2011 has yet to be determined.

***

Managers.

Hendry hired Dusty Baker after the 2002 season after Baker’s bitter divorce from the pennant-winning Giants.

When you hire Baker, you know what you’re getting. He’s probably going to win; he’s going to push his starting pitchers hard; he’ll rely on his veterans and players he likes. There’s been a long-running debate as to whom is responsible for the injury-wracked careers of Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.

Wood was battered as a rookie by Jim Riggleman. This is fact.

As for Prior, by now I’d say it’s clear that even if there’d been a set of usage guidelines to stop him from throwing 120-130 pitches on a regular basis, he still would’ve gotten hurt. You can lay the responsibility on Hendry or Baker if you like, but I disagree with it.

There was the choice of worrying about tomorrow tomorrow or trying to win when there was an opening; the Cubs went for it and almost made it. Baker came close to getting the Cubs over the threshold to the World Series and it didn’t happen.

After Baker, the Cubs hired Lou Piniella.

After his negative experience and allegations of being lied to about how much money would be spent when he managed the Devil Rays, Piniella wanted to win; he wanted to win immediately; and he wanted veteran players to do it.

The Cubs under Hendry gave him what he wanted and he, like Baker, almost won. In fact, had Piniella chosen to start Lilly over Dempster in game 1 of the 2008 NLDS, he might have. It was a tactical blunder on the part of the manager that gave the Dodgers the first game of the series and the momentum to sweep. Lilly didn’t pitch in the series.

Piniella is a frontrunner and when things are going good, he’s fine; but he was unable to get through to Bradley (and openly said he hadn’t wanted to trade DeRosa). It was Piniella’s mistake to entrust the closer’s role to Gregg. By 2010, the manager was halfway out the door and quit in August.

Mike Quade earned the managing job with a solid showing after taking over for Piniella. He was selected over the more popular choice, former Cubs hero Ryne Sandberg. Quade has had disciplinary trouble with Zambrano and the team is a dysfunctional mess as evidenced by the firing of Hendry. He can’t be blamed for the majority of this season and it’s hard to imagine Sandberg having done much better.

***

Records.

The Cubs records and results went as follows under Hendry’s reign:

2003: 88-74, 1st place; lost in NLCS to Florida Marlins 4 games to 3.

2004: 89-73, 3rd place.

2005: 79-83, 4th place.

2006: 66-96, 6th place.

2007: 85-77, 1st place; lost in NLDS to Arizona Diamondbacks 3 games to 0.

2008: 97-64, 1st place; lost in NLDS to Los Angeles Dodgers 3 games to 0.

2009: 83-78, 2nd place.

2010: 75-87, 5th place.

2011: 54-70; 5th place.

***

The final analysis.

I found it absurd how Hendry was vilified for a large number of things that weren’t his fault; that people were reacting to his dismissal as if the Cubs had won that ever-elusive pennant and/or World Series.

Perhaps firings are all they have to celebrate.

Like most GMs, Hendry made some great moves; he made some nothing moves; and he made some terrible moves. While the Cubs were right in deciding to find a new direction for the franchise with a different GM, Hendry is a respectable and competent baseball man who in no way deserved the treatment he received from the public and media upon losing his job.

The Cubs came close to winning with Hendry in charge.

Considering it’s the Cubs, it’s all one can reasonably ask.

The new GM will get a brief honeymoon, but odds are he’s going to eventually end up in the same position as Jim Hendry was in. Will he come as close? By 2016, we’ll know the answer.

Or we won’t.

It is the Cubs after all.

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Relief Hungry Teams Should Call The Cubs About Carlos Marmol

Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players, Trade Rumors

The Cubs are going nowhere and looking to dump any and all big contracts that won’t be of assistance to them when they begin to turn things around.

They have some good young talent and aren’t as far away from that end with a new cast of characters as the Cub-bashers would have you believe. But they have to get rid of some big salaries first.

Ryan Dempster, Carlos Pena, Aramis Ramirez, Kosuke Fukudome, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano all fall into this category.

No one is taking Alfonso Soriano.

But if the Cubs are truly looking to get multiple pieces for one player, they can forget that plan with the above-mentioned names. In order to do that, they need to look at their valuable and controllable assets and consider trading them.

Their most marketable asset might be closer Carlos Marmol.

Last night he reverted into his frightening displays wildness as he blew the game against the Marlins. But that gack aside, Marmol still has major strikeout numbers (52 in 42 innings pitched); his walk numbers are about what they’ve usually been for his career (26); he’s only allowed 2 homers; and his ERA has been bloated by two atrocious games, one in late May against the Astros and last night.

He’s been undone a great deal by the Cubs porous infield defense, an issue that would be repaired if a team like the Phillies or Rangers made a move on him because both play excellent infield defense. The Cardinals can use him too, but I think we can count out the idea of the Cubs sending anyone to the Cardinals unless they get truly desperate, the Cardinals get stupid, or both.

The Phillies are going to need a closer after this season. It’s hard to imagine them rolling the dice with their star-studded starting rotation and using Michael Stutes in the role; Antonio Bastardo is still new to closing; Brad Lidge has a contract option that isn’t going to be picked up. Trading for Marmol is better than signing Jonathan Papelbon because he’s cheaper and probably more effective.

The Rangers could use him as a set-up man for the rest of the season and be free to move Neftali Feliz into the rotation next year secure in the fact that they have someone proven to take over in the role.

Marmol’s signed through 2013 and any team acquiring him would be on the hook for slightly over $17 million. For a proven closer at age 28, that’s great value for a strikeout machine.

The Cubs are ready to do business. If they’re willing to listen on Marmol, teams should make a bid.

It’d take a lot to get him, but he’s highly underrated and could very well be worth it in 2011 and beyond.

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Trade Targets For National League Contenders

All Star Game, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Players

Let’s have a look at the National League contenders, what they need to improve and whom they should target.

The word “contender” is defined by teams that I think are contenders based on current position and whether they can make a legitimate run towards the playoffs. Being over .500 or overachieving based on pre-season predictions (my own included) are not factored in.

Philadelphia Phillies

What they need: Bullpen help; a versatile defender/bat, preferably right-handed.

There are the popular bullpen names like Heath Bell. Bell’s going to get traded. Kerry Wood, Grant Balfour, Mike Gonzalez, Jon Rauch and Hong-Chih Kuo could be had; the Mets wouldn’t hesitate to trade Francisco Rodriguez anywhere and they’d give him away.

They’ll get bullpen help from somewhere.

For a bat, if Casey Blake is healthy he’s a veteran righty bat who can play multiple positions; he’s got a team option for $6 million with a $1.25 million buyout at the end of the year and might be rejuvenated by a shot at a ring.

Atlanta Braves

What they need: A bat.

Chipper Jones is out for at least a month after knee surgery and center field has been a toxic wasteland.

The A’s are going to clear out the house so that makes Coco Crisp, Josh Willingham and David DeJesus available. The aforementioned Blake could be acquired cheaply; they could go after Carlos Beltran who would undoubtedly love to go to the Braves.

The Padres’ Chase Headley plays third and has played the outfield before. Aramis Ramirez has said he’s not waiving his no-trade clause, but I’m not buying it. Why wouldn’t a veteran player want to go to the Braves?

The question with Beltran is whether he can play center field for a couple of months or if the Braves felt comfortable shifting Jason Heyward over from right for the remainder of the season.

Maybe they should re-acquire Jeff Francoeur. Not because he’d help but: A) he’d fit neatly into hitting coach Larry Parrish‘s aggressive!!! approach; and B) it’d be funny!!

Milwaukee Brewers

What they need: A good fielding shortstop; a lefty for the bullpen; an extra outfielder who can play center field.

There was talk about J.J. Hardy being reacquired, but he wants to stay with the Orioles.

Jason Bartlett would be perfect.

Carlos Gomez isn’t going to hit. That’s clear. Michael Bourn is available. Crisp could be had for very little.

Would they make a move on Beltran? GM Doug Melvin has been super-aggressive in the past and with Prince Fielder halfway out the door as a free agent and their brilliant starting pitching, the Brewers have to win now.

Brian Fuentes as a lefty specialist is an idea even though his splits in 2011 are ghastly against lefties. Sean Burnett and Kuo are options.

St. Louis Cardinals

What they need: Pitching.

They need a starter and could use bullpen help.

The Cardinals are in a bit of a box as to what they can do both practically and financially. They don’t have many prospects to deal for a Ricky Nolasco or Anibal Sanchez of the Marlins; nor do they have the money to fit Ted Lilly or Wandy Rodriguez into their long-term payroll.

If they felt confident that K-Rod wouldn’t reach his 2012 incentive based on appearances, they could get him for almost nothing.

They’d probably be better off leaving the rotation as is rather than do something stupid; I’d go after a Balfour, Fuentes or Bell.

Pittsburgh Pirates

What they need: A power bat.

If I’m the Pirates, I say screw it and go for it. Now.

The division is winnable, they’ve hung around with pitching and defense, but can’t hit.

Would Aramis Ramirez be willing to go back to Pittsburgh? How about Kosuke Fukudome? Beltran? Willingham? Hunter Pence? Luke Scott? Carlos Quentin?

Throw the bomb, Pirates. Why not?

Cincinnati Reds

What they need: Starting pitching a shortstop bat.

They need to watch the Marlins to see if they’re going to sell. Nolasco and Sanchez would help the Reds drastically. The Cubs’ Ryan Dempster has a $14 million player option that will undoubtedly scare off the majority of the league.

Rafael Furcal has a $12 million club option and a limited no-trade to certain teams. Ask about Hanley Ramirez. The Marlins might’ve had it with him and be willing to drop a bomb in the clubhouse for a lot of pieces.

San Francisco Giants

What they need: A bat. Any bat.

They’re linked with Beltran, but this concept of it being fait accompli that he’s going to San Francisco is stupid.

The Giants were supposedly after Jose Reyes, Reyes is on the disabled list and not getting traded.

How about Hanley Ramirez? They have the prospects to get him and he’s signed.

They could use a catcher, but there aren’t any available. One thing I was thinking the other day was if the Rockies fade, why not ask about Chris Iannetta?

Arizona Diamondbacks

What they need: A first base bat; bullpen help.

They could trade for Aramis Ramirez and shift Ryan Roberts to first base.

I don’t think Carlos Pena is as useful as others do with his feast or famine style; they released Russell Branyan who does pretty much the same things that Pena does.

Bell, Wood, Fuentes, Balfour—the usual bullpen suspects should be considered.

Here’s an interesting thought: K-Rod. It’d be a role reversal from the grand plan of the Mets in 2009 with J.J. Putz as the set-up man and K-Rod as the closer and they wouldn’t have to worry about the contract kicker if K-Rod is setting up for Putz.

Colorado Rockies

What they need: A starting pitcher.

Once they’re healthy, the Rockies will hit enough and the bullpen is okay.

Their starting rotation has been hurt badly in losing Jorge de la Rosa. It’s doubtful they have the money for Wandy Rodriguez or Lilly, but if the Marlins sell, Nolasco and Sanchez are targets. Jason Marquis isn’t any better than what the Rockies currently have, but he’s a functioning arm—for what that’s worth.

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