The Bourn Destination

Award Winners, CBA, Draft, Free Agents, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, Movies, MVP, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, World Series

The Bourn Destination isn’t another change to the film adaptations of the Robert Ludlum series of books with protagonist Jason Bourne played by Matt Damon, then the new character, Aaron Cross, played by Jeremy Renner. The spelling is different and Michael Bourn, while having attributes of his own, doesn’t possess the sets of skills, kills and thrills that the fictional Bourne characters do. Locations are being scouted and New York is under consideration, but in the end, it’s not going to happen.

Michael Bourn is more of a background character/sidekick than a headliner. Given that he’s the biggest name available on the free agent market and had his career season in 2012, he’s become a “star” by attrition. The teams that are willing to pay him what agent Scott Boras is asking (said to be $15 million per year for at least five years) are nonexistent.

The prevailing storyline has Bourn and the Mets flirting with one another, but this is contingent on Bourn’s price and contract duration coming down significantly and no other team jumping in at the last minute to take him away from the Mets. I wrote about the Mets and Bourn here. There are arguments for both sides of signing him and walking away, but like the Mets failed pursuit of Vladimir Guerrero in 2004, the interest is legitimate and the determination to get a good deal will preclude them from getting the player.

In the end, the Rangers are the most likely landing spot for Bourn.

The holdup for the Mets is no longer money. It’s the draft pick compensation. The Mets, rightfully, don’t want to trade the 11th pick of the first round of the upcoming draft for Bourn. Some will see this as an excuse not to pay him and that they’re using the public, vulture-like circling around Bourn and Boras as a means to excite the fans while hoping that the dominoes fall in place where the Mets can actually get him cheaply. GM Sandy Alderson is playing poker, putting it out there that the Mets are serious about Bourn and that they can seal the deal on their terms.

Under the Wilpons and then-GM Jim Duquette in 2003-2004, the Mets tried a similar strategy with Guerrero as his market was crashing due to a back injury that made clubs reluctant to guarantee him the five years he wanted. For days it was expected that the Mets would get Guerrero at favorable terms (three years with incentives raising it to five). The Orioles were also in the mix. The media and fans were shocked that the Angels dove in with a guaranteed five-year contract and nabbed Guerrero. It was conveniently ignored that the shy Guerrero wanted zero part of New York and was probably offended that the Mets thought they were going to swoop in and get him at a discount because of a back injury that wound up being a non-issue. Guerrero won the AL MVP in 2004 and finished third, ninth, and third again in the voting for the following three years of the deal.

In retrospect the Mets should have paid Guerrero. With Bourn, they’re pulling the same histrionics for the sake of PR with the end result—not getting the player—being the same as well.

If they want him, they need to go get him without these pretentious shows of cleverness. There isn’t a “we have to get this guy” tone with the Mets in this pursuit and Bourn isn’t that type of player. They’ll take him if he falls into their laps at the right price, but if he’s taking less money than he wants, why sign with the Mets?

The Rangers need a center fielder superior to Craig Gentry and Bourn is the logical choice. They have the money and the draft pick compensation is negligible to the Rangers since they hold the 25th pick and they will have the 34th pick as compensation for losing Josh Hamilton. We’re talking about dropping one pick nine slots before they have another pick to get a player they need to contend in 2013.

The Mets and Rangers are both waiting. But the Mets are waiting for more things—the resolution of the draft pick debate, the price to lower substantially—than the Rangers are. Bourn is from Texas, there’s no individual income tax in Texas, and the Rangers are a better team with a legitimate shot at the World Series. If he’s going to take short money, it will be from the Rangers and not the Mets.

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The Angels Trump the Competition on Hamilton

All Star Game, Award Winners, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, Umpires, World Series

There’s a fine line between decisive and desperate. The Angels used to adhere to a set of principles from which they would not deviate. That changed after Bill Stoneman left as GM. The shift began in earnest when former GM Tony Reagins, all in the same off-season, fired respected scouting director Eddie Bane and after losing out on all their off-season targets—most notably Carl Crawford—made the ridiculous deal for Vernon Wells.

It’s all but impossible to truly pinpoint the cracking of a foundation and when the entire structure is turning dilapidated and in danger of coming down, but the Angels are not the same as they were and the Josh Hamilton signing for 5-years and $125 million is another signal that they’re following the crowd of dysfunction. Rather than doing things their own way with development and understated signings and trades for players who fit into what they’re trying to build, they’ve turned the team into a destination for players who want to get paid.

And that’s not good.

These are the types of signings that Donald Trump would make. Arte Moreno was never like this; he was never the owner who interfered or publicly let his displeasure be known. In the past year, that’s changed. The infection of expectations and demands for return on his money got the whisper campaign rolling during the 2012 season. There’s no longer a cohesive plan, nor is there chemistry. It’s tossing money at the problem, mixing explosive ingredients, shoving people of divergent opinion into a room and telling them to work it out. Somehow.

If this is what the Angels were going to do, they might as well have hired Omar Minaya as the GM over Jerry Dipoto. This is what Minaya was good at—signing big name free agents and charming people. Given where Dipoto cut his baseball front office teeth with clubs that either had a plan to spend wisely and develop (the Red Sox), or worked for clubs that didn’t have a lot of money to spend and were forced to function under constraints (the Rockies and Diamondbacks), I can’t imagine that this is what he had in mind when he took over the Angels. Perhaps he’s holding sway in drafting and development and the fruits of his skills will be seen in 3-5 years as the big league club is rife with stars and young players slowly arrive and contribute, but in 2012-2013 it’s checkbook general managing and pretty much anyone can do it.

Why is Mike Scioscia still the manager of this team? It speaks to the stripping of his power that the Angels have infused his clubhouse with people he can’t force to fall in line, who don’t want to fall in line. Prior to 2012, very rarely was a peep heard about the goings on inside the Angels clubhouse and when it did happen, it was quickly squashed. Sciosica’s clubhouse was unique in that there wasn’t public backbiting via “anonymous” sources; coaches weren’t fired; there weren’t factions and battles between the manager, the GM, and the owner.

Now?

Scioscia likes having a deep starting rotation with innings gobblers who aren’t concerned about their ERAs or won/lost records. Is this—Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Garrett Richards, Tommy Hanson, Joe Blanton—a rotation similar to the Angels of years past? He also liked having a deep and diverse bullpen with a proven closer. Is Ryan Madson a proven closer or is he a cheap alternative who fits in line with Dipoto’s theory of not paying big money for a name reliever when a fill-in-the-blank arm could rack up the saves?

As for the lineup and defense, Scioscia likes having a versatile batting order that can steal bases, play small ball, and hit the occasional homer—they never had the MVP-level basher with the accompanying diva tendencies on any of his clubs. The one mega-star the Angels had in recent years was Vladimir Guerrero and hearing his voice is similar to finding a Leprechaun—there are rumors of it without proof.

In short, is this a team that Scioscia would like to manage? Is he the man to sit back and let things be waiting for the home runs to come? With the evident fissures that led to the firing of Scioscia’s longtime hitting coach Mickey Hatcher as an object of sacrifice in May after Albert Pujols got off to an atrocious start, does Dipoto want Scioscia and does Scioscia want to run a team constructed like this?

Who, apart from Mike Trout, can run and is it worth it for anyone to risk stealing bases when the middle of the lineup consists of Pujols, Hamilton, Mark Trumbo, Kendrys Morales and the rest of the would-be wrecking crew? And forget about two more of Scioscia’s fetishes: bunting and squeezing.

It’s not wrong to say that the Angels’ old-school National League-style play that Scioscia learned under Tommy Lasorda isn’t the strategy to follow today, especially in the AL West, but since that has been established with their trying 2012 season, why didn’t Moreno, Dipoto and Scioscia agree that it would be best if they were to part ways and find a new manager?

Not one organization has everyone on the same page, but the Angels were the best at keeping their purpose above personal differences and, if there were personal differences, they didn’t include the theoretical and harm the team dynamic. That’s no longer the case.

When the owner was hands off and is now hands on; when the GM would prefer to draft, develop and make wise signings that fit into his budget and preferred on-field strategy; and the manager wants to play like it’s 1968, don’t you see where the clashes of philosophy will occur? It’s not a criticism or an admission of failure to realize that certain people can’t work together, but that’s where the Angels are with Dipoto and Scioscia and, rather than make a change, they’re going forward and tossing more money at the problem, simultaneously putting an even bigger, more expensive child under Scioscia’s care in Hamilton.

They’re a haphazard, “let’s do this because it looks good” club diametrically opposed to what their GM, manager, and owner supposedly believe. It’s clear they didn’t learn a year ago that spending sprees, shiny acquisitions, and maneuvers that draw accolades and gasps don’t necessarily mean they’ll work.

Hamilton is a great talent, but putting him in Southern California is a mistake; giving him $125 million is a mistake; and altering the club in so drastic a fashion on the field while not making required changes to the field staff is a mistake.

We’re witnessing the decline and crash of the Angels and they set the charges for the pending implosion all by themselves with the errors they continue to make. Hamilton is the latest one.

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Off Season Winners In Retrospect

All Star Game, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Let’s look at the teams whose off-season moves are paying off so far in 2012.

Tampa Bay Rays:

Acquired:  Jose Molina, Hideki Matsui, Luke Scott, Carlos Pena, Fernando Rodney

Subtracted: Johnny Damon, Kelly Shoppach, Casey Kotchman, Juan Cruz, John Jaso

The Rays did what the Rays always do. They cut out the players that were getting too expensive or had been signed as a short-term veteran stopgaps and replaced them with youngsters or other veteran stopgaps.

Molina hasn’t hit; Pena is doing what Pena does with a low batting average, good on base percentage and power; Rodney has been brilliant. None of the players they dispatched—Damon, Shoppach, Kotchman, Cruz, Jaso—have been missed or are doing much with their new teams.

Baltimore Orioles

Acquired: GM Dan Duquette, Jason Hammel, Wei-Yin Chen, Matt Lindstrom, Wilson Betemit

Subtracted: GM Andy MacPhail, Jeremy Guthrie, Luke Scott, Vladimir Guerrero

The Orioles have played over their heads but Dan Duquette got rid of Guthrie and acquired Hammel and Lindstrom who are under team control and have pitched well. Chen has been very good.

Chicago White Sox

Acquired: Manager Robin Ventura, Kosuke Fukudome

Subtracted: Manager Ozzie Guillen, Mark Buehrle, Sergio Santos, Carlos Quentin, Juan Pierre

Getting rid of the volcanic and tiresome personality of Guillen and replacing it with the laid back Ventura has been exactly what the White Sox needed. They cleared salary by getting rid of veterans Buehrle, Quentin and Pierre. They’re not as good as they look right now, but the AL Central is wide open and they have enough starting pitching to stay in the hunt. They underachieved horribly in recent years under Guillen and are overachieving now under Ventura.

Texas Rangers

Acquired Yu Darvish, Joe Nathan

Subtracted: C.J. Wilson, Darren Oliver, Endy Chavez, Matt Treanor

Darvish has been as brilliant as I expected. Nathan is having a good season. They haven’t missed Wilson on or off the field.

Seattle Mariners

Acquired: Jesus Montero, Hector Noesi, John Jaso

Subtracted: Michael Pineda, Josh Lueke, David Aardsma, Jose Campos

For Michael Pineda (disabled list), Jose Campos (hot prospect and on the disabled list), the Mariners got a top hitting prospect in Jesus Montero who’s still finding his way and showing flashes of immense power and a young starting pitcher who’s also learning his craft in the big leagues in Noesi. They got rid of the troublesome Lueke for Jaso who’s been contributing big hits of late.

Oakland Athletics

Acquired: Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick, Collin Cowgill, Bartolo Colon, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Cook, Jarrod Parker, Tom Milone, Seth Smith, Kila Ka’aihue, Manny Ramirez

Subtracted: Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez, Andrew Bailey, David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Ryan Sweeney

Reddick has 14 home runs and is heading for the All Star Game. Cespedes was a silly signing for a team like the A’s, but there’s no denying his talent. We’ll see what Manny does and the young pitchers Millone and Parker are high-end arms.

Washington Nationals

Acquired: Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Ryan Perry, Mark DeRosa, Brad Lidge

Subtracted: Ivan Rodriguez, Todd Coffey, Jonny Gomes

Gonzalez has been terrific across the board and might deserve to start the All Star Game. Jackson has been consistent despite not accumulating wins.

Miami Marlins

Acquired: Manager Ozzie Guillen, Carlos Zambrano, Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle

Subtracted: Javier Vazquez, Chris Volstad, Clay Hensley, Burke Badenhop

Zambrano showed up in shape, has kept his temper in check and is showing why the Cubs gave him that contract in the first place (the majority of which they’re paying for him to pitch for the Marlins). Reyes is getting hot and Buehrle is a leader off the field and innings-eater on it. Bell’s been a disaster, but it pitching better lately.

Guillen was hired to draw attention and he did so negatively when he started trouble almost immediately with his idiotic comments praising Fidel Castro. Jeffrey Loria is under investigation for the stadium deal and looked silly using Muhammad Ali as a human shield to protect himself from getting booed at the regular season opener of the new stadium, but apart from Bell they’re getting what they paid for for the most part.

San Francisco Giants

Acquired: Melky Cabrera, Angel Pagan, Clay Hensley, Gregor Blanco

Subtracted: Carlos Beltran, Jonathan Sanchez, Andres Torres, Ramon Ramirez, Pat Burrell, Cody Ross

Cabrera’s not going to maintain this pace, but he’s still a good player and they got him for Sanchez who’s been hurt and had worn out his welcome with the Giants. Pagan is batting .314 with 10 stolen bases and has contributed several big hits to go along with his usual array of space cadet maneuvers. Blanco and Hensley have been solid, cheap pickups off the scrapheap.

Arizona Diamondbacks

Acquired: Trevor Cahill, Jason Kubel, Craig Breslow

Subtracted: Micah Owings, Ryan Cook, Collin Cowgill, Jarrod Parker

The Diamondbacks are struggling because they’re not getting the same above-and-beyond performances from the players that carried them to a stunning division title in 2011. That doesn’t diminish the work that Cahill, Kubel and Breslow have done. If the Diamondbacks don’t right the ship, it won’t be because of the players they acquired over the winter.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Acquired: Chris Capuano, Jerry Hairston Jr., Mark Ellis, Aaron Harang, Matt Treanor

Subtracted: Jon Garland, Jonathan Broxton, Jamey Carroll, Hiroki Kuroda, Casey Blake, Rod Barajas, Vicente Padilla

Capuano is pitching about 20 miles over his head; Hairston is hitting about 20 miles over his head; Ellis and Harang are respected, under-the-radar veterans.

The Dodgers didn’t spend a lot of money this past winter, but are getting far more than they paid for.

Off season losers and incompletes will be in forthcoming postings.

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Mets Can’t Get Too Clever With Reyes

All Star Game, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MLB Trade Deadline, Players, Prospects, Trade Rumors

This is not turning into an “all Jose Reyes, all the time” deal, but there’s much to talk about with the Mets shortstop currently back in his part-time office, the disabled list.

ESPN’s Jayson Stark discusses Reyes’s fluid situation of free agency with the latest injury factored into the equation.

Here are the main quotes:

The buzz in the business is that the Mets were prepared to offer him $100 million over five years. Maybe that would have gotten it done, hamstring pops or no hamstring pops.

But now you could see those guaranteed years shrinking — to four years, maybe even to three, with options that would vest a fifth year if he can just stay off the DL.

***

But there’s another side to this argument. For one thing, the Mets can’t drop the years and dollars too low — because it would draw other clubs into the auction.

Stark brings up the paucity of big money teams that will pursue Reyes and the overall market in his posting.

I’m not thinking about Adrian Beltre or Albert Pujols or any of the clubs Stark mentions as possibly being in or out on Reyes.

I’m thinking back to Vladimir Guerrero and the Mets in 2003.

At age 28, Guerrero was a free agent with an injury that was worrisome—more worrisome in fact than Reyes’s hamstring because it was Guerrero’s back.

The Mets were interested in Guerrero and amid rumors that there was no market for him they tried to sign him to a short-term contract at a relatively cheap price with incentives ($30 million guaranteed over 3-years).

The Yankees were also supposedly considering Guerrero (and GM Brian Cashman was said to prefer Guerrero), but owner George Steinbrenner signed Gary Sheffield.

Guerrero was floating free into January of 2004—unprecedented for a player of his talents at that age, back injury or not.

The rumors were rampant that the Mets were about to net the slugger…until the Angels struck—as is their wont—like lightning. Without warning, they signed Guerrero to a 5-year, $70 million deal and the Mets were sitting on their hands, wondering what happened.

The New York Times reported that there was a Players Association investigation into who leaked Guerrero’s medical records to the Mets—medical records that turned out to be wrong in the severity or Guerrero’s back woes.

Guerrero wound up bolstering his Hall of Fame credentials with the Angels; was a perennial MVP candidate and All-Star; and a leader in the clubhouse and on the field.

Were the Mets afraid of Guerrero’s medical prognosis? Were they being cheap? Were they hesitant when they should’ve been aggressive?

All of the above?

Considering the way the Mets were being run in those days and their “solution” to missing out on Guerrero was to sign Karim Garcia and Shane Spencer, it’s probably that they were being cheap. And being the Mets.

Luckily Mel Hall wasn’t around.

The only reasonable answer is that the Mets got greedy and thought they were the only team in on Guerrero.

They missed out on him because of it.

Truth be told, Guerrero doesn’t like speaking to the press in English and would’ve wanted no part of living and playing in New York; he had little interest in being the front-and-center leader of a team that wasn’t particularly good and was better off in a stable atmosphere like that with the Angels.

How does this relate to Reyes?

If the Mets think that no one is going to jump in and offer Reyes a lot of money despite the hamstring problems, them they’re putting themselves in a Guerrero-like circumstance where they’ll lose him for the wrong reasons.

If the club comes to the conclusion that Reyes is only worth X amount of dollars and Y number of years, sticks to it and he leaves, so be it; if they lose him because they were lowballing him, the Sandy Alderson regime will be making the same mistake the Jim Duquette regime did—and that’s not what the Wilpons (and MLB itself) had in mind when the Mets hired Alderson.

It would be a mistake.

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Under The Radar Available(?)

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

The obvious names are out there and available via trade. You’ve got the pending free agents for struggling teams (Casey Blake, Vladimir Guerrero); those that clubs are desperate to dump (Francisco Rodriguez, Chone Figgins); and some that are having good years but, for one reason or another, are on the trade block (Jason Isringhausen, Michael Bourn).

But here are some under-the-radar names about whom clubs should inquire just to see if they’re potential targets.

I may not have the “whispers” of Ken Rosenthal; the “genius” of Billy Beane; the “numerous insiders that I may or may not have conjured out of thin air” like Joel Sherman; and I may not be a “thin-skinned and smarmy” baby like Jon Heyman, but I can tell which way the wind is blowing.

Bear in mind that when the Diamondbacks got off to an atrocious start in early 2010, I said teams should start calling about Dan Haren.

No one else was saying it and, lo and behold, Haren was traded at mid-season.

So let’s have a look at some names I’d call and ask about.

Just to see.

Logan Morrison, OF—Marlins

The Marlins will listen on and trade anyone. They’ve spoken to, warned, threatened and benched Morrison, but he’s not listening. He’s young and he can mash, but since they’re playing the tough-love game with Jack McKeon, maybe a shockwave would be sent through the clubhouse by trading their mouthy, tweety young star.

They’d get a lot for him.

Chase Headley, 3B—Padres

He plays a hard-to-fill position, switch hits, is arbitration-eligible and doesn’t appear as if he’s ever going to hit for much power—at least in San Diego’s cavernous park.

The Padres aren’t going anywhere this year; Headley would bring back a couple of good prospects.

Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP—Rockies

He’s signed cheaply through 2014. The Rockies are in a winnable division and are within striking distance of first place; their trade for Mark Ellis indicates they’re still going for it despite being 4 games under .500.

But what happens in three weeks if they’re still floundering? Jimenez would bring back multiple, high-end prospects.

Brandon Phillips, 2B—Reds

He’s got a $12 million, 2012 club option (that becomes mutual if he’s traded), the Reds can score enough without him and are desperate for pitching. They’re under .500, but are still only 4 games out of first.

Gordon Beckham, INF—White Sox

It’s going on a year-and-a-half with Beckham struggling at the plate and the White Sox are always ready and willing to do something drastic. They seem to be getting annoyed with him. Annoyed enough to trade him.

These names aren’t out in the public consciousness because the media “insiders” don’t mention them; nor have they been planted by the clubs to gauge public reaction for the possibility of trading them.

All are worth a call because unless you ask the question, you don’t know what answer you’ll get.

Sometimes, the answer is yes.

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Testimony And Bluster

Books, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Spring Training

Why is the government wasting everyone’s time and, more importantly, money with this farce?

It’s as if they feel as though they’ve gone this far and they have to see it through. Thus far from what we’ve heard, a conviction is unlikely; and if there is a conviction, the time Bonds has to serve will be nearly non-existent, he’ll be in a medium-to-low security prison (if he gets any time at all), and the streets are not going to be one iota safer with Bonds locked away.

It’s a farce.

And that’s before getting to the testimony.

Taped conversations that no one can understand with only the name “Barry” mentioned?

A former Bonds employee testifying because he was worried about Barry’s health and stating that trainer Greg Anderson emerged from Bonds’s bedroom holding a syringe?

This is the evidence?

I’m not of the mind to disbelieve someone because they may have an axe to grind—it doesn’t mean they’re a liar—but the former employee, Steve Hoskins, doesn’t sound particularly credible. Then there’s the following bit snipped from this NY Times Story:

In 2000, he (Hoskins) saw Anderson — who is in prison after refusing to testify — leaving Bonds’s bedroom at spring training with a syringe in his hand. Every spring training from 2000 to 2003, Hoskins said, he saw Bonds and Anderson disappear into that room together for several minutes.

So?

That proves what?

For all Hoskins knows, Anderson—a serious bodybuilder—was shooting the drugs into himself. And that’s assuming they were drugs. He doesn’t know what was in this supposed syringe, what Anderson did with it or where he shot it. He could’ve shot it into the toilet. Who knows what was going on in that bedroom?

They could’ve been dancing a tango and using the syringe to hide their penchant for male-on-male mincing and prancing.

I’m being snarky, but it’s true.

You can begin with random assumptions concerning Bonds’s bodily growth, increased power on the field and the circumstantial evidence that he was using steroids—of course he was—but this is the government’s case?

Soon we’re going to hear from Bonds’s former mistress testifying about Bonds’s physical transformation and shrunken testicles; the implication is that these factors are indicative of steroid use.

They are, but this too is shaky at best.

As I said in a posting weeks ago, Barry Bonds didn’t need drugs to behave like a jerk to wives, girlfriends, minions, teammates, “friends” and family members.

This case is going nowhere; it doesn’t sound like they have a case. It sounds like they’re trying to use Bonds’s less than likable persona as a hammer to toss a load of garbage into a pile and, in some potluck mishmash, make it palatable.

But it’s not.

Don’t they have other things to do?

Really?

And he’s going to get acquitted.

Watch.

  • Buck’s blasts of Force Lightning:

I’ve long suspected Buck Showalter of being a Dark Lord of the Sith (like me) and his recently revealed comments about Derek Jeter and Theo Epstein have done little to dissuade me from this belief.

In an interview in Men’s Journal (yet to be published and discussed here on NorthJersey.com by Bob Klapisch), Showalter said of Jeter: “Well, he’s always jumping back from balls just off the plate. I know how many calls that team gets – and yes, he [ticks] me off.”

Of Epstein: “I’d like to see how smart Theo Epstein is with the Tampa Bay payroll,” he said. “You got Carl Crawford ’cause you paid more than anyone else, and that’s what makes you smarter? That’s why I like whipping their butt. It’s great, knowing those guys with the $205 million payroll are saying, ‘How the hell are they beating us?’ ”

Derek Jeter has long angered opponents by maintaining that aboveboard veneer while simultaneously doing anything and everything to beat them on the field; underneath that mask of class lies a vicious cobra who’ll do whatever he can to win a game—there’s nothing wrong with that, but Showalter’s not wrong in his statement either; inside baseball people know this, but few people are willing to fight the losing battle of taking on Jeter.

The 800-pound gorilla with Theo Epstein has always been what he’d do if he didn’t have access to a lot of money to spend his way out of mistakes.

The Red Sox have conveniently tossed money around when necessary; this practice is evidenced by their activities in 2007 and this past winter; conveniently, both spending sprees occurred after missed playoff seasons and placated an agitated and somewhat spoiled fan base.

Epstein and Brian Cashman are smart enough to cobble a moderately successful franchise within payroll constraints, but it certainly has helped them to have the cash to fling at holes rather than scrimp, scramble and hit the jackpot as the Marlins and Rays have done year-after-year.

On another note from the column, Klapisch “projects” the Orioles to win 80 games.

Where he gets that number is anyone’s guess.

In the AL East with the Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays and Rays, how are they getting to 80 wins? And their inter-league games include series with the Reds, Cardinals and Braves.

80 wins?

They’re not getting to 70; forget 80.

But regardless of Showalter’s bluster, this season isn’t about wins and losses for the Orioles; it’s about the continuation of the cultural shift he began during the final two months of last season; the attitude adjustment will be exacerbated by the presence of Vladimir Guerrero. It won’t translate into many more wins this season, but it’s a building block.

Showalter’s Orioles are trapped in a nightmarish division with a young and still-transitioning roster—what’s he got to lose by going for the deep strike and antagonizing the divisional powerhouses?

Nothing.

It’s an attention-getter, but not much more than that because he’s smart enough to know—and keep to himself—the fate of his club this season.

Not all blasts of Force Lightning are designed to destroy their opponents in the first strike; occasionally they’re a means to an end with the long term goal coming in the distant future.

With the Orioles, the contending future is off in the distance; but at least it’s realistic with Showalter as the manager. That’s a giant step from where they were.

****

I published a full excerpt of my book a week ago here.

The book is available now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.

Now it’s also out on Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.


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And When I Slam Down The Hammer…

Spring Training

…can you feel it in your heart?

Much appreciation for the title to the patron saint of the misérables, Morrissey.

Being it’s simultaneously Valentine’s Day and the opening of spring training camps all over baseball, it’s time for me to do what I do best—yank the hearts out of the collective chests of overly-enthusiastic (in some cases delusional; in some cases addled) fans and media members, give them a brutal dose of reality and show them their still beating hearts before they hit the ground.

As teams outlooks evolve, there will undoubtedly be others added to this list to shatter their myths, but pitchers and catchers have just reported; the spring is still young!!

Give it time.

The “gurus” don’t have all the answers:

Dave Duncan is quite possibly the best pitching coach ever and he’s had his failures. Rick Ankiel and Todd Van Poppel come immediately to mind. Both had their own issues that couldn’t be solved by a simple tweak here and there. Ankiel was a time bomb and even though Tony La Russa and Duncan played a part in the expedited explosion in the 2000 playoffs, it was going to happen regardless; Van Poppel’s stuff wasn’t that good.

Duncan’s work with so many pitchers gives him the cachet to be anointed as the best at what he does, but it’s not as if he never misses.

Larry Rothschild is being doled similar accolades as a pitching coach now; the Yankees are pinning their hopes on him “straightening out” A.J. Burnett more than anyone else.

Here’s a flash: no matter how well Burnett and Rothschild “connected” when they met after Rothschild was hired, the only person who can straighten out Burnett is Burnett; and if you think that the pitcher Burnett has been since he arrived in the big leagues—oft-injured; running the gamut between unhittable and awful with little in-between deviation—is “fixed” because of a new pitching coach, forget it.

The pitching coach can only do so much and one has to wonder how much front office interference he was willing to accept when he took the job. It’s not Rothschild’s decision as to how many innings Phil Hughes and Ivan Nova are going to pitch; it’s GM Brian Cashman and his charts, graphs and medical reports used as a basis to “protect” their young arms that will determine how they’re deployed. Rothschild will have a say, but Cashman has become so wood-headed and invested in the organizational edicts and adherence to numbers that he’s got the last word.

Presumably an old-school pitching coach like Rothschild wouldn’t be totally on board with it, but sometimes one has to go along to get along.

Rick Peterson’s status as a “fixer” wore out with the Mets and was inconsistent with the Brewers; Leo Mazzone—supposedly the architect of the great Braves staffs in the 1990s—can’t find a job. You can list the names and question their results because the only way you know whether something worked is when it actually does work.

If Burnett pitches well, Rothschild will get the credit; if he doesn’t, who gets the blame? It won’t be the pitching coach because the history with Burnett is right there in black and white—he is what he is whether he wins 18 games or goes 12-16.

Place the responsibility where it belongs—on the individual—and we won’t know until we know.

A means to an end:

Orioles fans who are excited over their improved lineup and the full-season presence of Buck Showalter had better understand that: A) they don’t have enough pitching to compete; B) the division they’re in is an utter nightmare; and C) while Vladimir Guerrero‘s contribution to the team will reverberate for years to come, it won’t help them much in 2011.

Showalter’s history of turning his clubs around in his second year on the job aside, you can’t deny the facts.

Much like a hitter can make a “productive out” with a sacrifice fly or ground ball to the right side of the infield to advance a baserunner, the Orioles can have a productive season despite losing 95 games.

If the young players are taught to respect the game and play it in a fundamentally sound, team-oriented fashion, this will be something to build on in years to come when they are ready to take that next step.

Guerrero, with his leadership and positive attitude, can greatly assist in this as a conduit between the manager and the players on how they should comport themselves on and off the field.

The talk from the likes of Keith Law that Guerrero is “in the toaster” if not already “toast” is all well and good (and I don’t agree with it), but the team would lose 95 games without him; they’re probably going to lose 95 games with him.

That’s irrelevant in the long-term. If some of the younger players learn something about winning from Guerrero and it helps them in 2014, then it was a worthwhile signing.

Albert Pujols is not going to the Cubs:

MLB Trade Rumors has this rundown of the increasingly contentious Pujols negotiations here.

Joel Sherman of the NY Post chimes in that an executive told him that Pujols could go to the Cubs.

Did Sherman write that thing on a napkin at Michael Kay’s wedding? Stuffed with plentiful portions of chicken parm? Shocked by the fact that someone is marrying Michael Kay without a shotgun to her head?

It’s almost to the point that the only time Sherman writes something intelligent is when he’s repeating something I’d said days earlier.

Here’s a flash: Albert Pujols is not going to the Cubs.

No way.

No how.

This would be tantamount to Derek Jeter going to the Mets or Willie Mays to the Dodgers.

Money aside, Pujols would never be able to return to St. Louis. Ever.

The betrayal would be so profound; so ingrained that even the instinctively supportive Cardinals fans—for whom memories of their stars are part of the organizational fabric and inherent to the rapport between club and fan—would turn on him.

The Cubs?

Really?

If—if—things go terribly for the Cardinals and Pujols, there are much more appealing options for him and for fans of the Cardinals. The Dodgers, if they get their ownership straightened out; the Mets, if they get their ownership straightened out; the Angels; the Tigers; the Nationals—all are more agreeable locales for Pujols to land than the Cardinals most despised rivals, the Cubs.

Plus if you add in the histories of the respective franchises and how many times the Cubs have made that one move that was supposed to spur them to break the hex that has relegated them to a running joke for 100 years, not even Pujols can cure them.

If he wants to get paid above anything else, I suppose that it’s possible; but isn’t the team-oriented concept why Pujols is so respected whereas Alex Rodriguez was always seen as a mercenary who was only interested in himself?

There never appeared to be a pretense with Pujols; but now that the media is running with the stories of how poorly the negotiations are going; that the club and player are far apart; that there won’t be any talks after the player-imposed deadline and a refusal to allow any talk of a mid-season trade, it’s spiraling out of control.

I still believe, ultimately, he’ll stay with the Cardinals; but if he leaves it won’t be for the Cubs.

If your heart is still safe in your chest, beating as normally because your team wasn’t included in this missive, rest assured I may have something coming very, very soon to drive the electric current of Force Lightning through your entire body.

It’s spring training.

And I’m getting ready for the season too.

Sunday Lightning 2.6.2011

Hot Stove
  • Sans Pujols:

If this MLB Trade Rumors posting is to be believed, the Cardinals and Albert Pujols are not going to come to an agreement on a contract extension to preclude his free agency at the end of the season.

As the “what-if?” nature of a possible Pujols departure takes a tangible feel, rather than dismissively suggest that Pujols won’t leave the Cardinals under any circumstances, perhaps it’s time to look at what the Cardinals could and should do if he indeed does refuse to sign for one penny less that he feels he’s worth.

When the Derek Jeter contract situation began drawing attention a year ago, I repeatedly said that Jeter was never going to leave the Yankees. In part due to his status; in part due to the money the Yankees had available; and because he had nowhere else to go, there was no chance of Jeter wearing a different big league uniform as a player. It was not happening.

With Pujols, it’s different. Jeter’s contentious negotiations with the Yankees took place at an advanced age (36) and coming off a subpar year; Pujols is still the best hitter in the game and is listed (believe it or not) at 31.

Despite repeated references to it as a baseline, I truly believe that the Alex Rodriguez contract is not what Pujols and his people are using as a comparative tool. I think that the biggest obstacle to Pujols re-upping with the Cardinals isn’t whether he surpasses A-Rod’s contract, but that he gets a substantial amount more money than Ryan Howard, Troy Tulowitzki, Mark Teixeira and C.C. Sabathia received.

It was the Howard contract that blew up any chance of an accommodation from the Pujols camp to give the Cardinals a hometown discount.

The Phillies and Cardinals spend money to win, but they’re not the Yankees or Red Sox. The Phillies have pushed their payroll to the breaking point to put together an All Star team, but they can’t get close to the Yankees in financial power.

Howard’s contract extension was a disaster for the Cardinals on many levels. While the Cardinals can make the argument that one thing has nothing to do with another; that the Phillies decision to give Howard $145 million guaranteed doesn’t equate to Pujols getting a similarly insane deal.

Naturally Pujols would say that if the Cardinals don’t want to compensate him, then he’ll be more than happy to bring his services elsewhere.

In the past, that would’ve been seen as a negotiating tactic with Pujols not wanting nor intending to leave the Cardinals. But what if it’s not a negotiating tactic? What if the declaration that he’s not going to talk about the contract once spring training stars is real; that he’s going to play this year with the Cardinals—refuse all overtures to accept a trade—and explore his free agency next winter?

The Cardinals presumably could pay Pujols what he’s asking for if they decided to have a first baseman earning $30 million, Matt Holliday earning $17 million, Adam Wainwright getting a longer term extension and 22 other players making league minimum.

But things could go another way.

What if the Cardinals looked at the fallout from paying Pujols an average of $30 million a year until he’s 41 and said, “We’ll spend that money on several other areas and move forward without Albert.”?

It would be a tough transition, but that’s a lot of freed up money in a somewhat depressed market. Increasingly players who in the past would get long term guaranteed contracts somewhere (Orlando Hudson for example) are left scrambling. It’s hard to imagine manager Tony La Russa wanting any part of a Pujols-less Cardinals team; Chris Carpenter has a contract option for 2012.

While they’ve avoided the notion of what they’re going to do without La Russa, he’s not young anymore and with a mutual contract option for 2012, he’s taking it year-to-year. If they lost Pujols, they’d have a rough time contending for awhile because they’d also probably lose La Russa; then it would make sense to exercise the Carpenter option and trade him.

There comes a time when the diminishing returns make the easier route—keeping Pujols—the wrong thing to do. Are the Cardinals going to spend that money for a player who, despite his greatness, will probably be a defensive liability 5 years in? As much as people perceive him to be an indestructible, unstoppable force, he’s a human being and will decline; but the Cardinals are still going to be paying a 37-41-year-old Pujols like they’re paying the 31-year-old Pujols.

What if they have to decide they can’t mortgage the entire franchise for years based on the short-term relief of avoiding the pain of him leaving?

If Pujols is insistent on being financially recognized as well as feted for being this era’s Joe DiMaggio, then he might have to do it in a different uniform.

It would be a hit to his aesthetic, but aesthetic doesn’t get deposited into the bank account and if that’s what he’s looking for, it’s not going to be in St. Louis.

  • Means to an end with the same short-term end:

The Orioles are going to be a better team in 2011.

They’re not going to be the laughingstock venue where players go to either wring an extra year or two out of their careers or collect that last fat paycheck from a desperate franchise eager to overpay to get someone, anyone to join their purgatory.

With the signing of Vladimir Guerrero they’ve added to their offense by removing Felix Pie from the everyday lineup in left field. Luke Scott will play left; Guerrero will DH. The lineup is solid now with the additions of Guerrero, Mark Reynolds and J.J. Hardy joining Scott, Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters.

The bullpen has been revamped with Kevin Gregg joining Mike Gonzalez as the righty-lefty closers; they signed Justin Duchscherer to a short-term, incentive-laden, low base salary contract in the hopes that he can stay healthy.

It’s probably a false hope given the repeated problems Duchscherer has had with his entire body and mind, but why not?

The presence of the newcomers will send the Buck Showalter message to the troops that the team is going to play and behave appropriately win or lose. The days of the Baltimore severance scholarships ended when Showalter walked into the clubhouse.

This is all well and good, but will the results on the field be all that much different than they would be without the new players?

No.

The American League East is a nightmare. The Red Sox, Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays all boast superior rosters to the Orioles, specifically on the mound. Because of that, any hope that the truly improved Orioles will show a marked improvement in the standings are unrealistic at best.

Showalter will pump the team up with the assertion that they’re not taking a backseat to anyone in the division and if they play up to their capabilities with fundamentally sound baseball, anything is possible; but the reality is that they’re too short-handed to win more than 70 games.

That doesn’t mean that the new players won’t help Showalter achieve his ends in years to come—they’ll set an example and contribute to that future; the fact is that when the Orioles are ready to take that next step, Guerrero’s spirit will be present, but his physical body in an Orioles uniform won’t.

  • Would the Angels take K-Rod back?

Here’s a thought: how about the Angels send a prohibitive contract like Scott Kazmir to the Mets for Francisco Rodriguez?

Obviously K-Rod’s off-field issues would scare off many teams; then his contract would petrify the rest, but the Angels are a viable landing spot on several levels.

K-Rod was there for seven years and, as far as we know, behaved himself. The Angels tend to dispatch players who aren’t solid citizens, so K-Rod’s temper only got the better of him once he came to the Mets. Manager Mike Scioscia knows him and how to handle him.

Kazmir’s contract guarantees him $14.5 million with a $12 million salary for 2011, a $13.5 million club option for 2012, and a $2.5 million buyout. Kazmir’s been injury-prone and hasn’t pitched well, but the switch to the National League and the financial carrot might spur him to fulfill his potential. It’d be entertaining if, seven years after the Mets made that ill-fated trade of Kazmir for Victor Zambrano, Kazmir returned to the organization.

K-Rod’s contract guarantees him $15 million with the $11.5 million this season and a $3.5 million buyout. There’s a kicker worth $17.5 million that activates if he finishes 54 games this season. The Angels would want K-Rod to finish that many games, so the contract would essentially be guaranteed. We’re talking about the Angels adding a net of $14.5 million. It’s not a small amount of money, but they just added Vernon Wells‘s contract without batting an eye and have a ton of money coming off the books after this season.

They’re trying to win now and would be better suited to do that with K-Rod replacing Fernando Rodney as the closer and a cheaper (and presumably better) starter than Kazmir.

What would the Mets do for a closer? The new front office led by Sandy Alderson has tended to prefer having a plug-in closer or someone they found on the scrapheap rather than flashy name recognition and commensurate salary; the Mets aren’t contending this year anyway, so it makes sense to find someone to accumulate the saves—Bobby Parnell for example—than to pay K-Rod and run the risk of him either achieving his contract option or filing a grievance because the Mets sat him down rather than let him approach the required number of games finished.

I’d look into it.

Mania

Hot Stove

The speed with which we get information today can be a good or bad thing. Many times it’s positive as in cases of Amber Alerts and dangerous occurrences; other times it’s not. From the premature reports of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’s death to the comparatively trivial injury to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in which he was accused of giving up and begging out of the NFC Championship on Sunday when he was really hurt, people’s lives and reputations are affected.

It’s reactionary and ill-thought out.

Now we’re seeing the same thing with the Los Angeles Angels and their so-called “desperation” trade for Vernon Wells.

In the immediate aftermath of the deal’s announcement, I too was bewildered at why any team would want to take Wells’s contract from the Blue Jays with negligible relief (said to be $5 million) on the remaining $86 million guaranteed. That the Angels gave up two productive and cheap pieces in Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera made it all the more confusing.

But then I looked at it more deeply.

The trade, after cursory internet reaction, was awful. When examined closely, it made a certain amount of sense. Now, after studying the Angels; their situation; their division; their needs; and what Wells and subsequent additions will provide, it could get them back into the playoffs.

The Angels faded out last season for three reasons: a lack of scoring; injuries; and a bad bullpen.

If the Angels make one more acquisition to bolster the lineup, the scoring problem will be mitigated. The negatives of Wells—apart from his salary—are known and accurate: he’s streaky, doesn’t get on base and is overrated defensively. But for the Angels, he fits into what they want to do.

Affording them the option of not having to rely on a 24-year-old Peter Bourjos to save their season, they can play Wells in center field if necessary. This would free them to do a couple of things. They’re pursuing Scott Podsednik or Vladimir Guerrero.

The Podsednik talk elicits ridicule in stat zombie circles, but isn’t a terrible idea at all. He can still run and play solid defense in left; with a career .340 on base percentage, he’d give RBI chances to the bats behind him. Plus he’d be cheap.

I’d go after Guerrero before Podsednik. Guerrero’s rejuvenation in Texas was not due simply to him being in a hitter’s heaven of a ballpark at home; I think he was healthy again. Guerrero hit well on the road last season and if he returned to Anaheim and provided 25 homers and 90-100 RBI—not absurd requests—the Angels offensive woes at DH are solved.

In addition to that, who can tell how much Guerrero’s absence as a father figure to Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis contributed to their poor seasons? If Aybar and Izturis hit somewhere close to the way they did in 2009, the Angels will have far more scoring opportunities.

The offensive woes were evident in greater detail after Kendry Morales‘s season-ending ankle injury. Right there, the Angels went from having a power hitting first baseman and a rightfully part-time power hitting catcher in Napoli to having Napoli playing every day at first base and the no-hit Jeff Mathis catching.

Losing the big power threat affects everything. Napoli was admirable in an unfamiliar role, but it meant that he was playing every day; that Mathis was playing regularly; and that Bobby Abreu was relied on more than was feasible given his age.

Certain players are better off not playing every day because once they play every day, they’re exposed. This is what happened to Napoli playing first base in place of Morales.

With Wells in and Napoli and Rivera out, the Angels not only have another power bat in their lineup, they’re free to address other needs at either DH or left field.

The Angels troubles were exacerbated by Howie Kendrick‘s poor year accompanying the down seasons from Aybar, Izturis and Abreu. Was Kendrick exposed like Napoli after he was forced to play every day following the free agent departure of Chone Figgins? Considering his career in the majors and minors, I’d say no; he’s been a .300 hitter at every level.

Abreu, despite his age, has been too good for too long to have another down year like he had in 2010. Being left alone in the lineup didn’t help Abreu either. The lineup’s better, Abreu will be better.

So let’s say Abreu gets back to 20 homers, and a .370 on base percentage; that Wells hits 25 homers and drives in 90; that Morales bats .300, has 25 homers and 100 RBI; that they get either Guerrero or Podsednik; that Kendrick, Aybar and Izturis have better seasons—don’t you see how much that will improve their offense?

In addition to losing Morales, the injuries to Joel Pineiro and Scott Kazmir sabotaged the Angels badly in 2010. Pineiro was on his way to a fine season before a strained oblique landed him on the disabled list. Kazmir hadn’t pitched all that well, but he provided innings at the back of the rotation.

Amid all the stories of the failed pursuits this winter—most notably Carl Crawford and Adrian Beltre—it’s forgotten that the Angels made a significant mid-season upgrade in their starting rotation when they got Dan Haren from the Diamondbacks. Replacing the hittable Joe Saunders with Haren gives the Angels two top-tier starters fronting their rotation with Jered Weaver and Haren; right behind them is another very good pitcher, Ervin Santana; then you have Pineiro and Kazmir.

That’s one of the top rotations in baseball.

The bullpen?

Even if you don’t trust Fernando Rodney as closer, they acquired lefties Scott Downs and Hisanori Takahashi. Downs—durable, underrated and able to get out hitters from both sides of the plate—will help a lot. Takahashi was invaluable to the Mets in a variety of roles from starter to long reliever to set up man to closer. He’s fearless and the Angels are presumably going to use him in a similar way as the Mets did. There were many games that Takahashi entered with the Mets trailing by multiple runs; he quieted things down and gave the club time to chip away. The work he did as a closer was impressive.

The Angels have a slight hole behind the plate with the departure of Napoli, but they do have a prospect in Hank Conger to share time with Mathis and Bobby Wilson. Conger has hit at every minor league level—minor league stats.

Manager Mike Scioscia—a tough as nails, defensive-minded catcher as a player—likes his catchers to be able to handle the pitching staff first and foremost. If Conger can do that, he’s an under-the-radar Rookie of the Year candidate.

I’d shut my eyes and play Conger.

As for their competition in the AL West, is it so crazy to think the Angels could emerge from the three team scrum with the Rangers and Athletics?

The Rangers can really hit, but have questions in their starting rotation; their bullpen won’t be as good as it was last season; and their manager Ron Washington is a walking strategic gaffe waiting to happen. They’re the American League champs and will be so until they’re knocked off the perch, but they’re beatable.

The Athletics are a trendy pick (again) because of the aggressive acquisitions of David DeJesus, Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui in the their lineup; Brian Fuentes and Grant Balfour for the bullpen. But their starting rotation is very, very young; young pitchers tend to fluctuate in performance as they’re establishing themselves. It’s not an automatic that Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Braden will repeat their work from last season.

There’s an eagerness to leap back onto the Billy Beane bandwagon—an overeagerness based on the desire to “prove” Moneyball as having been accurate in advance of the movie even though there’s no connection to what Beane did this winter to Moneyball the book or film.

But I digress. I’ll swing that hammer when the time comes.

Are the Angels, with their success over the past decade, suddenly fodder for ridicule? Isn’t it possible that they calculated the pros and cons of taking Wells’s contract for Napoli and Rivera and decided it was worth it?

Regarding the money, what’s a reasonable amount to pay for the top earners on a club? How much of a percentage is doable? For the Blue Jays, with an $80 million payroll, Wells’s onerous deal, with $23 million coming to him this season, had to go; for the Angels, with a $120 million payroll and substantial money coming off the books after this season, it’s not crazy to handle Wells’s deal without complaint. How much is a viable percentage for a team’s big money players in relation to the club’s payroll? For the Blue Jays, Wells didn’t make sense; for the Angels, he does.

The key for the Angels in 2011 is that they score enough runs to support that starting rotation. With Wells and one more offensive player added, they’ll have achieved that end. In the final analysis, that’s all that really matters in making them a legitimate playoff contender again; and no matter what print and online criticism they receive, they are contenders again because of the acquisition of Vernon Wells.

The Remainders

Hot Stove

As spring training approaches, the Rays weekend signings of Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez diminishes the number of remaining free agent “names” available in star power and financial obligation.

But that doesn’t mean these names can’t help.

In certain cases, their presence could make the difference between a playoff spot and going home for the winter.

Let’s have a look at some of the recognizable players and where they could and/or should wind up landing.

Vladimir Guerrero—DH/very part-time OF

Guerrero proved he can still hit last season and it wasn’t a creation of Rangers Ballpark because his numbers were similar at home and on the road—link.

What does he want? Is he looking for more than a 1-year deal? Does he want to go to a specific place?

He’s hindered in that he can’t play the outfield anymore, eliminating the entire National League.

He could go back to the Rangers if they decide they don’t want to play David Murphy every day; don’t trust Chris Davis or Mitch Moreland at first base and shift Michael Young there; or are concerned about Josh Hamilton‘s injury history. But these are not guaranteed at bats and Guerrero proved he still deserves to play regularly.

It’s a comparable situation with the Angels as they appear intent on at least giving Peter Bourjos the chance to play center field every day with newly acquired Vernon Wells in left and Bobby Abreu as the DH. Guerrero is still a fit if they determine that they’d be better overall with Wells in center, Abreu in left and Guerrero as the DH.

I understand why the Orioles would consider Guerrero because of his still productive bat and that he’d be a great influence on the young players like Adam Jones and Felix Pie. One would assume Vlad’s mother would be accompanying him wherever he goes; it can’t be discounted how important that influence and home cooking was to both the Angels and Rangers young Latin players.

But do the Orioles need Guerrero and, at this stage in his career, does he want to be a pure babysitter for a team that has literally no chance at contention? Manager Buck Showalter would love to have Guerrero as a conduit to the players, but to me, it’s not the right fit.

That doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

The Blue Jays could use his bat and maybe—maybe—Guerrero could get through the thick skulls of Edwin Encarnacion and Yunel Escobar.

The best place for Guerrero could be the Tigers. They don’t have a pure DH; it would be a short-term deal so they wouldn’t have to be concerned about clogging up the DH slot for Miguel Cabrera/Victor Martinez and they’re a legitimate contender.

Most importantly, it wouldn’t be because of off-field leadership; they’d be getting Guerrero to try and win now. And they can.

Joe Beimel—LHP/Ron Mahay—LHP

Contending teams are missing an opportunity with Beimel or Mahay. Every year they’re floating around looking for work as a lefty specialists and are generally the last ones out there, signing right before spring training.

Inexpensive and wise for clubs who are smart enough to foresee the future, they’re necessary.

The Yankees have three lefties in their bullpen with Pedro Feliciano, Boone Logan and Damaso Marte, but Marte is a question as to whether he’s going to be healthy. If the Yankees truly intend to go with a bullpen-based pitching staff, get what they can out of the starters after C.C. Sabathia and mix-and-match depending on the situation, they’re going to need all the arms they can get and an extra lefty could mean the difference between making the playoffs and not. Joe Girardi’s bullpen machinations aren’t trustworthy and if he’s entering the season with it in mind to micro-manage on his micro-managing, it could be a problem.

The Red Sox are going to be coming at them with Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz and J.D. Drew—the Yankees are going to need the extra left-handed arms.

The Phillies also only have J.C. Romero, Antonio Bastardo and Mike Zagurski as lefties—none of whom is going to scare anyone. they do have Dan Meyer in camp, but Meyer is historically better against righties than lefties.

Looking ahead to possible post-season matchups with the Braves and Red Sox isn’t paranoia, it’s forward thinking and another reliable lefty is going to be a necessity.

It’s not that Beimel or Mahay are frightening, but they’re good at the role of lefty specialist.

Jorge Cantu—1B/3B

If I thought he could still play second base, I’d say the Mets should have a look at Cantu, but I doubt he can.

Cantu didn’t hit for the Rangers after they got him from the Marlins, but he has a habit of disappearing for a year or two and coming back with a big year. He fights through at bats and has good power. If he’s looking for a starting job, he’s going to have trouble finding one, but if he wants a backup role, the Phillies and Yankees could both use him. If he hits, he might be the Angels best option at third base on a cheap deal.

Teams will sorely regret missing a playoff spot or championship because they scrimped and saved where they didn’t have to. Lefty specialist, power bat off the bench and on/off field positive influence are valuable; with the above players, they’re not costly either.