Monday, June 30, 2008

The CC Sabathia Sweepstakes

While there still is no solidified ground as to what address CC Sabathia will be playing his baseball in over the next month, there has been enough press to know that he could be on the move. I wanted to quickly discuss my thoughts of trading for Sabathia. I think that if you are a team that is a World Series contender right now (Cubs, Angels, Red Sox, Rays) then adding Sabathia may have some merit, because he would no doubt put those teams at a decided advantage looking towards October. If it is a marginally competitive team that needs starting pitching (Yankees, Mets, most everyone in the NL East or NL West) then I argue that this trade does not make sense.

Sabathia is more than likely going to become a free agent at the end of the season which will give Cleveland two draft picks in the compensation rounds of the amateur draft because of his status as a Type-A free agent. This means that if Cleveland is going to trade him, they are going to seek a value higher than the two draft picks he would give them if he finishes out the season with the team that was a few outs away from going to the World Series in 2007 and could still turn things around in 2008. Mark Shapiro will absolutely seek a huge package in return and after already declining big money to stay in Cleveland, this is going to be a 3 month rental for a player that will likely cost two or three top prospects, perhaps more if there is a bidding war. If only the Red Sox, Brewers, Rays and Yankees can put together a package good enough for the Indians, it would certainly not make sense to have a small or mid-market team land Sabathia because of the near dead weight loss Sabathia would be on their franchise if he departs at the end of the season. Rays and Brewers people should be positioned to set their teams up long term with depth in the minor leagues and have been committed to that for a couple of years now. If that were to change now, it would be a bad business decision to suddenly jump ship on the plan that has been in place and has shown to be successful. No matter how tempting Sabathia may be to these clubs, stick to the gameplan...please. Let the Red Sox and Yankees decide if they want to spend more.

I believe that Sabathia could be traded, but I do not think that he should be. The price is too high to pay on a rental player of at best, three months. One final note is that Sabathia's list of suitors this offseason is going to be potentially a very long list, a lot longer than the potential trading partners that the Indians currently have. He will be testing the waters of free agency almost undoubtedly.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Explaining Jeff Francoeur's Struggles

In August of 2005, Jeff Francoeur was put on the cover of Sports Illustrated after a torrid start, it was one of the most amazing starts to a career and his month-long streak was far more impressive than what Jay Bruce did in the first week of his big league career. “The Natural” was the title given to him by the popular sports magazine and the baseball community silently gave him the title shared by Charles Dickens’s classic Great Expectations.

Closing in on three years later, Francoeur line is: (.239, 8, 41); inspiring attention in a very different way. I will take my turn at explaining what is up with Francoeur in two ways:

  1. It is important to remember that outside of the first month of his career, Francoeur has not been the type of hitter that Fred McGriff would endorse. He does not work counts well, he is inconsistent with all aspects of the game, yet still the guy has a great deal of potential and I think everyone can see that. Players that do not work counts well generally will be held back from stardom over the course of their careers because they swing at pitches that great hitters lay off. Francoeur has done incredibly well for a player that averages 33 walks per season in 670 plate appearances. This lack of patience is something that would absolutely crush an average player and the fact that he hit .293 last year shows the talent that Francoeur has. This season he looks too slow though, his bat speed and his outfield play make it seem as though there is no quick fix to this issue because he potentially lost agility in the offseason with the weight added to his frame. What has surprised me is that the strikeouts have not shot up above his career averages leading me to believe that there may be something else with him.
  2. I identify Francoeur as an inconsistent hitter that can go months of being hot or cold. Players that endure prolonged streaks strike me as having some makeup problems that can be linked to confidence in themselves and with their swing. Francoeur is from this area and to have people from his home telling him that he is struggling has got to be difficult, plus to have the onus of being “The Natural” can really hurt the development of a twenty-four year old outfielder. It would be very reasonable to imagine how difficult it is to deal with failure after some of the successes that he has enjoyed early on in his career.

Now is the time for Jeff Francoeur to mature as a hitter and show that he can get through his problems both mentally and with his approach. This has the potential to be a season long slump because it is becoming a combined issue of physical and emotional nature from my opinion. If he breaks out of this slump this season, it will be because he is doing something new as his approach that has been thoroughly exposed in 2008. Great hitters adapt and improve over time; we will see how great Francoeur really is or if we all had greater expectations.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Personal Note

I just wanted to make a quick mention that I have been asked to write for the blog for Atlanta Braves specific content. I am very excited to be able to offer my thoughts regarding player development and what the baseball operations department may be thinking. My first article went up this afternoon with a detailed plan for the Braves as the trade deadline approaches. I will continue to provide content on this site for everything involving Major League Baseball that I have insight or opinions on.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Milwaukee @ Atlanta 6.24

After missing the entire Seattle series and a Ben Sheets masterpiece on Monday, I was really looking forward to some baseball this evening. So it turned out, this may perhaps be the ugliest Major League Baseball game that I have ever witnessed live. A task that I thought would be difficult to beat after some of the losses that the devilish Tampa Bay Rays made possible with the worst bullpen in the modern area. Alas, 5 errors, an ejection of a player that did not seem to be that animated in the first place (he must have used that certain magic word...think Bull Durham -- also, I wonder what that would sound like in Spanish?), a quality start by Dave Bush, and a Greg Norton pinch-hit walk! This will certainly be one of the more memorable games for me.

I am a Dave Bush hater because he always shows signs of brilliance, making him so tempting in fantasy leagues over the last three years, but more often than brilliant he is bombed with extra base hits. To see him beat the Braves and the Blue Jays in his last two starts, while looking so good really tempts me to pick him up while he is hot, but even with his excellent performances (8IP, 2H, 1ER vs. TOR and 7IP, 4H and 1ER vs. ATL) his ERA is still 4.94 and he still shows a keen ability to lose games. I have no idea what it is with this guy, but his 1.23 WHIP does not equate to the 4.94 ERA this year. I will be watching his next start, but it seems as though Bush is the type of pitcher that can look great for a few innings and then have it all fall apart quickly (If so, why not put him in their beleaguered bullpen?).

Finally, Charlie Morton looked pretty good this evening. If it weren't for the 4 errors behind him in the field, and what should have been a fifth on a poorly played ball by Brandon Jones that was ruled a RBI double, Morton could have matched Bush all night. I see that Morton has a very good looking sinking fastball that was 90-94. He commands the strike zone very well with that pitch and will get a lot of outs on the ground as a result. He also has a curveball and a slider that setup strikeouts for Morton. He appears to be around the zone with everything throwing something like 70% of his pitches for strikes this evening. Also, being able to work around 4 errors in the first three innings of the game absolutely showed me something. If the team starts firing on all cylinders, rookies Jo Jo Reyes, Jair Jurrjens and Morton will be key parts to getting to that point once again.

Minaya Update

Yesterday, the New York Mets ownership gave Omar Minaya a vote of confidence in his current role of General Manager. The New York Daily News called this the kiss of death, Mets fans can only hope.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fire the GM

Yesterday Bill Bavasi was fired, a long overdue move in my opinion, from his position as the General Manager of the Seattle Mariners. In his tenure, the Mariners were winners in just one season and he has provided the Mariners with some of the worst contracts in the history of the sport. Richie Sexson, Adrian Beltre, Jarrod Washburn, Miguel Batista and Carlos Silva all are making at least $8 million dollars with Sexson and Beltre closer to the 15 million dollar department. Since signing with the Mariners, each of those players have failed to put together a consistent season. These are their 2008 numbers as of June 17th: Sexson (.218, 9, 23); Beltre (.225, 14, 30); Washburn (2-7, 5.83); Batista (3-8, 6.09); Silva (3-8, 5.79). With that kind of production from somewhere in the area of $50 Million, of course that shows extreme payroll mismanagement and certainly calls for the guillotine. The Mariners need lots of contact and gap hitters for that team to be successful. Bringing in all or nothing sluggers such as Beltre and Sexson into a pitchers park will further expose them as being one dimensional hitters, which Safeco Field has absolutely done to both of them. So I am very pleased from a baseball fans point of view to see Bavasi no longer calling the shots for the Mariners.

One firing that I have been waiting on since last year is that of Omar Minaya's. Instead, Willie Randolph and Rick Petersen were fired as Minaya's scapegoats, each are quality baseball people that I would have sitting on my bench in a second. Randolph has proven himself to be a capable player's manager or bench coach and has an open line of communication with his players and Petersen has brought along some of the best talent with the A's big three and now John Maine with New York. Minaya on the other hand is the opposite, he is responsible for some of the worst trades in MLB history. Remember, before he was the Mets GM, he was responsible for taking the Expos down the road to relocation. In the process he executed the Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew for Grady Sizemore, Lee Stevens, Cliff Lee and Brandon Phillips deal. Then only to turn around and trade Colon that offseason for Orlando Hernandez, Rocky Biddle and Jeff Liefer. So really it was Sizemore, Lee and Phillips for Orlando Hernandez. With the Mets, I can't wait to see what happens with the Lastings Milledge deal in about three years but at the time of that trade, I think everyone across the country was wondering what was going through Minaya's mind. Also, imagine the speed at the top of that lineup with Carlos Gomez and Jose Reyes.
I criticize Minaya's work with the Mets not so much for his trade decisions, but rather for his free agent acquisitions. He has shown the propensity to be highly aggressive in the Latin market. So much so that he has really positioned the Mets to be the team to beat in the Caribbean League each winter, but not so much in the National League. His status as a Latin American himself certainly would help any Major League team in negotiation with top Latin talent, but it seems as though Minaya's strategy has been exclusively marketing the Mets to Latin players, which is not going to be successful with the diverse talent coming in from global markets in modern day baseball. The talent that Minaya has bought for the Mets has really proved to be substandard and aging. When he signed Pedro Martinez to that enormous contract in the 2004-05 offseason, it was almost a given to me that Martinez would give them a couple of good years but it would take an act of god for him to be a key contributor until 2009. It also gets me going that Minaya added Carlos Delgado from the Marlins after his contract accelerated for Mike Jacobs who now is a comparative talent while Delgado struggles to stay over the Mendoza line. The problem as I see it is that Minaya and the Mets have not given their farm system a chance to bare fruit during his tenure, but have invested in experienced Latin players with not a whole lot of life left in their careers as examined previously. Their minor league system was rated 17th overall prior to the Johan Santana trade which saw four of their top prospects go to Minnesota. A move that should drop the Mets down to the bottom of the rung for minor league systems. Check out the list of young players that Minaya has moved during his tenure:
  • Mike Jacobs, 1B (FLA - Showing 35+ HR potential)
  • Henry Owens, RH (FLA - Got some save opportunities until injuries set him back)
  • Matt Lindstrom, RH (FLA - Putting up great numbers in the pen)
  • Gaby Hernandez, RH (A Top Prospect in Florida System)
  • Jeff Keppinger, SS (CIN - Great contact ability, finally getting to play)
  • Xavier Nady, OF (PIT - Developing into a solid all around hitter)
  • Heath Bell, RH (SD - Setup man and future closer for the Padres)
  • Royce Ring, LH (ATL - Has struggled in 2008, but still has dominant reliever upside)
  • Brian Bannister, RH (KC - Cerebral pitcher and ML bloodline, 12-8 with a sub 4.00 ERA in '07)
I did not include the players dealt in the Johan Santana trade, because the Mets had the opportunity to acquire the most scintillating pitcher of the decade and took it. I cannot criticize this, even though I do love some of that talent that the Twins extracted in the deal. Of the players listed above, the only players that were sent to the Mets that remain on their roster are Carlos Delgado and Oliver Perez. Imagine that bullpen with Bell, Lindstrom, Owens and Ring still around and also Perez and Bannister (and Jacobs and Delgado for that matter) don't seem to be that much different in production. What burns me the most and should Mets fans too is that the aforementioned talent had all received some playing time in New York prior to their trades (with the exception of Gaby Hernandez). Their tryouts with the Mets were all fairly successful ventures and while trades are part of the game, Minaya needed to hold on to some of that talent because no young reinforcements are coming.
One thing that has made the Red Sox a championship caliber organization has been their dedication to making the right trade and to sustaining their minor league system. This is precisely what the Mets need to be doing as well. Other mid market and small market teams have been developing young talent and have spent millions of their revenue sharing incomes to know their minor league systems top to bottom and win based on that. I am afraid that the Mets will not be able to do this with Omar Minaya at the helm based on his GM track record with the Expos and Mets.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Griffey with the Rays?

I read on the bottom line that Ken Griffey Jr. was interested in becoming a member of the Rays and has been following their progress this season. As a native of Florida this makes sense -- and for that matter, it should start making sense that the Rays will become a destination of desire many players as Florida is the offseason home for many of the players in the MLB. Griffey Jr. in Tampa Bay? Probably isn't something that the Rays would be too excited about jumping on. Sure he may put a few more fans in the seats and be a great PR guy for two months, but why bring in a aging slugger (albeit one of the best ever) to a team commited to youth. Griffey Jr. at this stage in his career would not be all that much of an upgrade to the talent that the Rays are already putting in the right-field position. With Carlos Pena returning soon, the right-field and designated hitter spots in the lineup would be filled with the following four hitters:

Gabe Gross (.243, 5, 15)

Eric Hinske (.250, 12, 34)

Jonny Gomes (.223, 5, 13)

Cliff Floyd (.268, 5, 18)

That's not great, but here is Griffey's line in one of the MLB's best hitters parks (.248, 7, 30)

To me, that four man rotation that Tampa Bay has employed this season has been fairly productive as an occasional power source in the lower third of the Rays order. It does make sense for the Rays to bring in a big bat if they want to make noise and potentially push to the playoffs for the first time in their history, but if they get that kind of player it would have to be someone that can post a higher average than the group that they have in there right now. I know this is a crazy thing to say with the steriod craze still very much alive, but Barry Bonds makes a lot more sense to me than Ken Griffey Jr. does for the Rays. Bonds would not deplete the Rays #1 minor league system and would probably cost a similar amount. I strongly would urge that the Rays do not deplete their minor league system because in the small market battle, even a couple of players make a big difference in the present and future success of the big league team. I don't hope to see Griffey in a Rays jersey unless the Reds release him and he signs a 400K countract.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The National League West

I wanted to make some brief observations about what appears to be the weakest division in Major League Baseball. In 2005, I became sick that the Padres made the playoffs all the while the Phillies, Marlins and Mets had a better record than the Padres. This year it has become apparent that the NL West may produce another fifth or sixth best National League team. The reason for this I feel is that the NL West has teams that are so evenly matched in their average nature that they seem to beat up on one another each year and struggle against other NL foes. This division is probably the best way to display what true competitive balance would feel like. I have made arguments in the past that perfect competitive balance would be better for small market teams (TB, KC, PIT) and would eventually even out the economic problems in baseball. However, the problem with that, as the NL West displays, is that if everyone has similar talent, the teams are just no fun to watch and would really hurt the sport. Without successful teams like the Cubs, Red Sox or Angels, the MLB would suffer greatly because competitively balanced teams make for anticlimactic ballgames for home fans.
Economic theory has proven that fans will come to games if they feel that there are between 60-65% chance of victory, anything higher or lower would not attract fans because the games would be less interesting to the average fan (Take a look at the attendance and winning % figures for the Red Sox, Cubs and Angels over the past five years). This blog is not intended for the average fan however which is why I bring up the NL West. That division currently provides hometown fans with the possibility of victory well below 60%. Against division rivals, each team should be around a 50% which to me is a thing of beauty. The competition level of NL West games has been fantastic because when they match up against each other, any team could win. This season, I have been watching a lot of NL West games because these teams are all so evenly matched and recommend it to any true baseball fans as well. I do not expect any of these teams to make it far in the playoffs, but they are sure fun to watch play against one another.

NL Summertime Moving Co.

Odalis Perez, RHP/Tim Redding, RHP (Washington Nationals) - Neither of these guys are going to push teams over the top, but they will be more than available as successful reclamation projects for the Nationals staff. If there are teams that desperate for pitching, these guys may help.

Cristian Guzman, SS (Washington Nationals) - Signed primarily for his defense before the 2005 season, Guzman has given the Nationals some serious offensive support this season. It may also be no coincidence that this is the last year of his contract. Guzman should be able to fill a hole, but he is no permanent solution nor is he big impact.

Bronson Arroyo, RHP (Cincinnati Reds) - The Reds may be luke warm about dealing Arroyo because he has put together some good years and the Reds have him re-signed at an unusually reasonable deal. He may go only because a team out there offers a good package for the Reds to move on.

Ken Griffey Jr., OF (Cincinnati Reds) - Griffey has hit #600 and it was in a Reds jersey. There has already been a great deal of speculation as to whether or not the Reds will deal him as his contract expires at the end of the year. Whether or not the Reds are sellers is still up in the air, but if they are, any team should be extremely excited at the prospect of acquiring one of the most popular players in the MLB.

Jason Bay, OF (Pittsburgh Pirates) - Bay may get traded this July, but the Pirates are looking better. They may be only a couple of pitchers short of contention, which is something that organization sorely needs. If Bay is dealt, he will fetch a very high price tag, perhaps larger than any other player I have earmarked as being available.

Brian Fuentes, LHP (Colorado Rockies) - Fuentes has been back and forth between setup and closer over the past few years and would be one of the best relief options for teams looking to shore up their bullpens. Fuentes can be used in either role and would be a great target for a team like the Brewers.

Todd Helton, 1B (Colorado Rockies) - It is so disappointing to see the Rockies fall to the lows that they have hit. The NL West does not appear to have a dominant team in it again, so the Rockies could once again get hot and take the division as was somewhat expected this offseason. If this does not happen, look for the Rockies to engage in serious conversations about trading Helton to free up some cash. If this does happen, the Rockies may be able to retain Matt Holliday. Helton's skills have diminished a bit, the power is not coming back, but he is one of the best hitters of my generation. Plus leadership skills will help any interested clubs.

Greg Maddux, RHP (San Diego Padres) - Wouldn't it be beautiful to see Maddux back in Atlanta to potentially finish his career. The only problem is that Atlanta is not Petco Park and his numbers may suffer a bit, but he is still the competitor he was 15 years ago. I would imagine that Maddux would welcome a chance to win again and would waive his limited no-trade clause to be in the playoffs.

Brian Giles, OF (San Diego Padres) - The aging slugger is really just a contact hitter at this point. He has lost nearly all of his home run power, but he can still hit the ball well. He strikes me as a Larry Walker type addition for the Cardinals a couple of years ago in 2004. The Padres definitley would benefit from moving Giles and what remains on his contract and there are some teams that could use him as a 2 or 7 hitter.

Randy Winn, OF (San Francisco Giants) - Winn is one of the more underrated players having played his career out in Tampa Bay, Seattle and San Francisco. He has good range, a good contact ability and has above average speed and average power. Winn would be a good pickup for any team that needs the extra boost in the outfield. I would not call him a big impact player, but he would make a difference on most teams.

Monday, June 9, 2008

AL Summertime Moving Co.

As the first-year player draft has now come and gone, the front offices throughout the major leagues are decking the halls and beefing up telephone bills, in preparation of shopping for Christmas in July. On Friday, June 6th, the Dodgers acquired Angel Berroa to signify the unofficial start of trade season. The non-waiver trade deadline is fast approaching at 4:00PM on July 31st and I have started to take a look at players that should be available for one of the most exciting times of the year. The following is a list of players that should be prepared to start searching for a new home:

Chris Carter, 1B (Boston Red Sox) - Carter got his first taste of the bigs this past week and went 2-3 before being sent back down to Pawtucket (AAA - BOS). This is a guy that is 25 years old and has Kevin Youkilis and Sean Casey in front of him. Carter has the promise to be a pretty decent hitter and reminds me of David Murphy with lots of contact and gap power but not a whole lot of home run power. He is ready and if I am a team who needs to fill a hole at first, I am looking at Carter for a cheap two-month audition. (KC? TOR? TEX? WAS? NYM? SF?)

AJ Burnett, RHP (Toronto Blue Jays) - Burnett will most likely become a free agent at the end of the season, terminating his contract in search of another big deal and a way out of Toronto. With that, I fully expect Burnett's name to come up in July if the Jays remain a .500 team. Burnett has great stuff but many have always questioned the makeup. He should fetch some top prospects despite an ERA currently just below 5.00.

Lyle Overbay, 1B (Toronto Blue Jays) - Overbay has had a tough stretch in Toronto, if he is traded it will be to be as a bat off the bench for someone. He is a gap hitter who has made less contact since moving to Toronto. There may be some interest from Texas or the Mets. He will get on base so he could make a great bat from the bench for many NL contenders. If the Marlins feel like adding salary, he would be a great compliment to Mike Jacobs power and would give them an OBP guy.

Chad Bradford, RHP/Jamie Walker, LHP (Baltimore Orioles) - These are a couple of veteran relievers that would help many clubs in their stretch run. The Orioles would be smart to drop one or both of these guys and continue to get value for some of their talent.

Brian Roberts, 2B (Baltimore Orioles) - After all of the conversations with the Chicago Cubs earlier in the year about Roberts he did not go anywhere because Baltimore was not going to settle for a package that did not make sense for them. He would be a big impact player at the top of the lineup for any team with contact and speed. If he goes, Andy MacPhail will get the O's top value.

Paul Byrd, RHP (Cleveland Indians) - The alleged HGH user is in his last year of a three year contract with the Indians and has reinvented himself with his unique retro delivery. Byrd makes sense in the National League for his veteran presence and he has postseason experience. If Mark Shapiro doesn't see the Indians making a run back to the playoffs, Byrd makes a lot of sense in Atlanta.

Carlos Guillen, UTL (Detroit Tigers) - This is one of my favorite players in the majors, this guy really has learned how to hit the baseball since leaving Seattle. If the Tigers were to remain stagnant, it would make sense for them to move some of their big contracts and get younger. Guillen is probably their most marketable player that they can make available assuming Verlander and Cabrera are not going anywhere. If Dave Dombrowski decides to trade Guillen he should be able to receive a king's ransom in return for a player that can be put all around the diamond.

Gil Meche, RHP (Kansas City Royals) - The Royals would be smart to move Meche if they can find someone to take on his contract. Meche had a great 2007 season, but 2008 has been more realistic for him. GM Dayton Moore may be able to find someone that is interested in his stuff. If they keep him around, it would be because the Royals feel that they are in position to make a meteoric rise in 2009, much like the Rays of this season (I believe this to be very possible).

Livan Hernandez, RHP (Minnesota Twins) - Hernandez is always available at the trading deadline because he has a rubber arm and has big game experience. I am skeptical of his age, listed at 33, but he is certainly still a serviceable pitcher and will be a coveted pitcher if made available.

Angels Outfielders (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) - This is a team with a ton of depth in the outfield. Much like with Chris Carter, there is no place for either Juan Rivera or Reggie Willits on this team because the talent is so deep. Depending on a teams needs, Rivera has power and Willits has great speed and contact ability. Without consistent at-bats, neither has been able to do much this year. Either player would be a great option as a third outfielder.

Miguel Batista, RHP (Seattle Mariners) - This is a pitcher that can perform in either the bullpen or in the rotation. He should absolutely be available with Seattle's terrible start to the year. Batista has a pretty big contract, Seattle would most likely have to put some cash in with many deals.

Richie Sexson, 1B (Seattle Mariners) - Unless there is another Bill Bavasi out there, someone dumb enough to think Sexson is a talented player, there will be no market for the one-dimensional slugger. He is very available.

Adrian Beltre, 3B (Seattle Mariners) - Beltre is still only 29 years old and really has been showing some good power this season with the Mariners. I personally believe if Beltre was in a lineup with good protection behind him, he has .280/35/110 potential. He did hit 48 homers in 2004 with Los Angeles, but Seattle's spacious stadium has really hurt his production numbers. He would make a lot of sense for Philadelphia, his presence would make that lineup the toast of the National League.

Vincente Padilla, RHP (Texas Rangers) - Padilla is having a very good season and has always been hit or miss. The Rangers should be aggressively trying to get rid of his contract. GM Jon Daniels may be tempted to keep him around though if the Rangers remain competitive.

These players are all big contract players, but none are really big impact players. Adrian Beltre, Carlos Guillen and AJ Burnett could be relatively large additions if they are made available. Unfortunately, the last two years have had very mild trade deadlines with few impact trades. This trade season promises to be similar, with so few teams listed as "sellers," those that are sellers will be reaching for the stars on their trade demands.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Florida Marlins Analysis

After watching the Florida Marlins in living color over the past four days, I feel fairly confident when I say that they are in for some rough days over the next couple of months. There is absolutely talent on this team. Note that Dan Uggla and Hanley Ramirez are all-stars and they have a top end of the rotation starter in Scott Olsen.

From my viewpoint, this team has been kept afloat from the unlikely success of many players. Jorge Cantu, Luis Gonzalez and just about every single pitcher on their staff. The Marlins are a group of recycled veteran castoffs that have gelled incredibly well for the first two months of the 2008 season. The reason why I feel that this team is about to nose dive to fourth place is simply that they cannot expect all of these players to continue their unusual success all at the same time. Also, when you look at what internal support they have coming to them there are a couple of talented young pitchers returning from serious arm problems (Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez), which can always go either way, more recycled pitchers and Josh Willingham may not be returning at all this season.

The Marlins Triple-A affiliate, the Albuquerque Isotopes (don't even get me started about how bad of an idea it is for a team with such a bad fan base to have its next best talent in NEW MEXICO!!! I mean the travel costs alone should be enough to get the cheapest owner in baseball to want to play the AAA team in Dolphin Stadium when the Marlins aren't playing in front of 5,000 people -- Give them a new stadium, my ass!) have outfielder John Gall playing some great baseball, third-baseman Dallas McPherson is an instant power source, but a liability with every other facet of his game and prospect Gaby Hernandez who isn't putting up great numbers. Essentially, the well has run pretty near to dry for these reclamation projects that GM Mike Hill has brought in, particularly on the pitching end of things.

One final reason why the Marlins have been winning and will not continue to do so. They have a lot of power in Uggla, Ramirez, Mike Jacobs and even Cody Ross but nobody is on base when they hit home runs. Between all of those hitters they have 52 homers and 122 RBI's, that is 2.34 RBI's per home run. This is a statistic that nobody probably cares about, but I believe the power numbers of power hitters are another way to display deficient team on-base ability. Guess what? The Marlins team OBP is .323 and the OBP of their opponents is .338. Even at the average, that is probably 50-75 more runs in the season and 5-8 more wins. Seeing as it seems they have overcome this deficiency so far, thus I tend to bet that the scale will balance itself the remainder of the season.

The Florida Marlins have been a great surprise once again, but this time I do not expect for them to have the opportunity to win another World Series and defy logic and economics once more.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

How is Greg Norton STILL in the Majors...Braves Management is Just Smarter than I am

In my very limited work experience in Major League Baseball, there has been one common thread on the field...Greg Norton (Rays '07; Braves '08). I remember Norton from when I first started watching the MLB in the late 1990's as being a young White Sox player who had some potential as a corner infielder who was taken high in the draft. Maybe even the basic splits of .280/25/80. Unfortunately that never really worked out for Norton and in 2004 when he was with the Tigers and hit beneath the "Mendoza line" on one of the leagues worst teams and played 2005 in AAA Charlotte (White Sox), I thought he was finished. Yet, in 2006, Norton received second life and put together a pretty decent season with the Tampa Bay Rays. I attribute that turnaround to a far improved pitch selection. He set career highs in every single offensive major offensive category that season, with the greatest surprise being an improved ability to get on base. It is not often when thirty something players re-invent themselves at the plate to bump their OBP nearly 40 points over their career average and that is very impressive for Norton. Even with his improved offensive tools, he really has struggled on defense at just about every position except first-base (.919 career Fielding % at Third-Base) and Joe Maddon decided to start playing him in the outfield to spell Delmon Young or Carl Crawford last season...ugly. Let's think about the deficiencies of corner outfielders, they are slower and do not have as good of an arm as centerfielders. This enthusiastically describes Norton, however his range and arm are so bad in the outfield these days that today I saw him miss catches on two balls that I estimate would have been made by an average corner outfielder and have seen with great repetition, throws on one hop to the cutoff man. Oh and he fell down catching a line drive, but hey...he laughed it off (so did I while Braves fans cheered - Ignorance is bliss I suppose).

All of that bashing aside, I may just be able to see what has made John Schuerholz (err...Frank Wren now) and Bobby Cox so successful over the years. Last season with the Tampa Bay Rays, Norton hung around all season and "boasted" numbers of .243/4/23 (but with a .358 OBP). Those are figures that would set Norton up to be a pretty respectable National League bench guy -- ALA, the perfect guy to bring in to pinch hit for the pitcher in the 6th or 7th. He knows how to work a walk and his numbers show that again this year. Despite a .182 average with the Braves at the end of the June 3rd game, Norton has a .345 on-base percentage. That is ideal for a bat off the bench in the National League, especially since his batting average should come back up again.

Perhaps it was because I was sitting down the third-base line and watching Norton closely on defense the past two games that I became appalled beyond belief that the Braves were running this guy out there, but it's not his defense that he is on the team for. I will have to continue to remind myself that Norton is in the outfield right now because Matt Diaz and Mark Kotsay went down with injuries in the same week leaving the team with Josh Anderson and Norton as options in left-field. It will not be pretty for the Braves, but for Norton bashers such as my former self, remind yourselves that he is in town for pinch-hitting duties only.

Also, his flare for the dramatic has given the Braves three wins where Norton has driven home the go-ahead run. Well, if that doesn't scream excellent pinch-hitting potential...nothing does.

Thanks for sweating the small stuff with me.

Monday, June 2, 2008

All Star Game Voting

Even the casual baseball fan has read so many times over the years just how terrible the fan voting system is to determine who starts the all star team. This year, the proposition of seeing each league start 4-5 players from the same team is truly a nightmare for those not living in Boston or Chicago. This just continues to show the disparity between large and small market franchises, I mean really, I'd like to see the Vegas odds on the next time a Kansas City Royal player will make the team on the fan vote.

There is an issue to be discussed with all-star voting that hardly ever gets discussed. The issue is with players that deserve to be on the ballot that are not even listed. Worse still, there are several players on the ballot that have either lost their jobs (Jayson Nix, Ben Broussard doesn't even play for the Rangers anymore), been injured (Nomar Garciaparra, Howie Kendrick) or my favorite, those playing so poorly that they don't even deserve to be in the Major Leagues(Andruw Jones!!!). I present one potential solutions to the mess that is the All-Star Ballot:

Each of the thirty Major League Baseball teams have to constantly change their rosters to respond to injuries or poor performance, what says that the All-Star ballot can't do the same thing. This plan would essentially cause the paper ballots to stop being produced and have players who have started 10-15 games at a position to be eligible for voting (much like fantasy baseball). In a "green" society this makes perfect sense, I see more ballots stuffed in urinals or in containers formerly holding beer. The MLB would remove the paper cost and this voting system would encourage fans to vote intelligently online as opposed to punching out players from their favorite teams and then whichever name sounds the best in the other league. This option certainly appeals to me as it offers a solution to both the stacking and ballot issues. If paper ballots are an avenue that can be phazed out slowly, every two weeks, MLB could send a box of ballots to teams so that fans who want to use the paper ballots just need to speak with ushers for their section. This could create more fan interaction with the team and the product of baseball. The costs will shoot back up again for All-Star Game preparation if that is the case though.

With all of that discussion I present my choices for the All-Star Game as of June 2nd:

Pos, Player Name (AL Team)/Player Name (NL Team)

C, Joe Mauer (MIN)/Brian McCann (ATL)
1B, Justin Morneau (MIN)/Lance Berkman (HOU)
2B, Ian Kinsler (TEX)/Chase Utley (PHI)
3B, Alex Rodriguez (NYY)/Chipper Jones (ATL)
SS, Derek Jeter (NYY)/Hanley Ramirez (FLA)
OF1, Josh Hamilton (TEX)/Ryan Braun (MIL)
OF2, Carlos Quentin (CHW)/Ryan Ludwick (STL)
OF3, Manny Ramirez (BOS)/Kosuke Fukudome (CHC)
DH, Hideki Matsui (NYY)

Go Rays!

For the summer months of 2oo7, I spent 31 wonderful nights at a nearly empty Tropicana Field watching the Devil Rays lose their way to the worst record in Major League Baseball. For two and a half months I made it to the bigs to work with the team's marketing department. During which time, in addition to combating one of the leagues worst products we had to learn how to market a team with troubled youthful prospect Elijah Dukes, who had been asked never to return to the Durham Bulls (The Rays AAA affiliate), threatened to kill his wife and children via text message and impregnated a teenage girl who (get this) was under Dukes' grandmothers' foster care. Yikes! This was a franchise in disarray, and it became increasingly difficult to convince fans that the product was indeed on its way up with Dukes creating such a PR nightmare and the bullpen on its way to setting records for haplessness.

A year later on June 1st, it appears as though the Rays have dropped the Devil and the losing association of their entire team history. The Rays have finally arrived and are being taken seriously by baseball fans across the country. This is an organization that exudes confidence in 2008 thanks largely to the psyche created by everyone in their front office. Joe Maddon has done an excellent job making the team believe and everyone in that front office should be commended in getting the public to believe through their hard work explaining that the young talent has arrived. On the final day of May, the Rays packed in 36,000 fans to Tropicana Field against the White Sox, a figure that I find staggering having worked there last season. Aside from the Kansas City Royals, the attendance for when the White Sox were in St. Petersburg felt to be the lowest of the summer. It seemed as though the team struggled to draw 10,000 fans to the games and to have 36,000 on Saturday and nearly 25,000 on Sunday really shows that some fans are buying into the teams’ success. Barring injury, the 2008 Rays should keep things interesting the rest of the way and keep having fans come to through the turnstiles.

Let’s quickly discuss the numbers involved. The Rays are thirteen games above .500 and lead the American League East with a payroll of roughly $43.5 million dollars (29th Overall – Ahead of only the Florida Marlins). You would have to just about triple that figure to reach the Red Sox payroll (133 Million) and multiply their payroll nearly five times to surpass the Yankees payroll (207 Million). Even the mid-market Toronto Blue Jays are more than doubling their payroll (97 Million), which examines just how small 43.5 million dollars is compared to what other teams are shelling out just within the American League East. The Rays have dedicated their money to their minor league system and are the model franchise for what to do with revenue sharing money as the relative amount of revenue sharing dollars project to significantly decrease to small market teams as a result of the 2007 Collective Bargaining Agreement. Kudos to the Rays front office as they have made 2008 interesting, challenging every economic factor facing small market teams head on.

Congratulations to the Rays on making it through May in first-place. Now we will see if they have what it takes to become the Cinderella story of the year.