Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Piazza & The Padres?

Anyone else a bit baffled by this move?

In my view, and one i'm sure shared by others, Piazza was never the best catcher in the world - a good catcher, yes, but not the best - however, his numbers with the bat more than made up for that. Therefore, at his age now, and at his stage in his career, i really did expect him to go to an AL team, where he could DH, and (if required) make the odd appearance behind the plate.

So the Padres move has surprised me a bit! Surely to get the best out of Piazza now, you want him batting, but to do that you will have to either play him as catcher where he isnt the best any more, or (even worse!) stick him at 1st base, where he really didnt hit it off either! The Padres have already said they see him playing a bit of Catcher, a bit of 1st base, and a bit of DH in interleague - seems like they cant really make up their mind either!!
A mistake from both the Padres and Piazza? I think so, but i'd like to hear what others think!

World Baseball 'Classic' = Glorified Spring Training?

I know this has been talked about endlessly of late (and lets face it, there hasn’t been much else baseball-wise to talk about), but I appear to be the only person that’s not interested in this event, and get the feeling that it’s going to fall well short of all the media hype surrounding it. The timing of the classic falls somewhere between the start of spring training and the regular season, so by the time the classic comes about most players will be already in the swing of things and preparing themselves both mentally and physically for the long and demanding season ahead, the last thing they want to do is get injured just before the season starts, let alone get injured playing in an event that’s taking place merely for the media hype and for the men in suits to line their back-pockets with big chunks of coin.

The actual games in the classic for me are going to have a major spring training feel to them, taking place mainly for the fans to get together and see all the superstars on the same field, not about who wins and loses, but about the public having a good time. Any players who get injured whilst playing in this competition are gonna be trouble with the employers who pay their salaries, and if any player gets a serious injury it’s inevitable that the employers will be seeking the compensation and it could cause big rifts between employer and employee.

For any kind of world championship to be seriously successful and long-lasting the sport has to have a world-wide following, baseball doesn’t yet have that and I would say that outside of the USA, and Japan, its merely a minority sport, of which most of the public aren’t even aware of.

All this devalues the whole competition, the media and fans are expecting a closely fought, competitive competition that could be around for years to come. Me, personally, am expecting just another set of training games that are of little or no interest to me. Baseball just isn’t a big enough sport world-wide for this kind of event to take off just yet, if they want to promote the game world-wide, they should take more regular season games out of North America, and more than just a 2-3 game series once a season.

Raising public awareness outside of North America will do more for baseball as a sport in the long-term.

Stuart Smith

Saturday, January 28, 2006

What's The Plan Exactly?

Boston have once again hit the headlines as they have acquired Coco Crisp (love that name) to replace Damon in centrefield and in the lead-off spot. They also recieved David Riske and Josh Bard in the deal.

Now Crisp and Riske are good players and they fill holes that needed addressing (still questions at short, first and the bullpen but its a start) but are those players worth letting go of Kelly Shoppach, the Sox top catching prospect, and Andy Marte, one of the highest rated prospects in all of baseball? Also included was the enigmatic but definately talented Guillermo Mota but that might come down to addition by subtraction as he has had one or two issues with his teams in the past.

To be fair Crisp's OBP over the last couple of years (.344 and .345) isn't far off Johnny Damon's career mark of .353 and at 26 he should be just coming into his prime. We could also go on about how significant an upgrade Boston get in terms of having someone who can actually throw the ball but we shouldn't really over-state Crisp's throwing ability.

David Riske could end up being a steal. At the moment he is likely to step in as one of the principle set-up men ahead of Keith Foulke but if he can't be effective coming back from a year marred by injury, Riske could concievably end up as the closer and we will have to wait and see how he'd respond to that.

Even if Crisp can get his OBP to the happy side of .350 and Riske turns into a 30 save closer (I did say "if") only time will tell if they were worth giving up Shoppach and Marte.

Shoppach has long been groomed as the heir apparent to Jason Varitek and has impressed many with his leadership qualities and recieving skills. Add to that some power potential and you basically have a Jason Varitek clone only without the switch hitting ability. Right now he could easily step into a reserve catcher role should be very useful taking some of the load off of Victor Martinez so they can keep his bat in the line-up more frequently.

Andy Marte could step in straight away and fill a gaping hole at third base where neither Aaron Boone or Casey Blake have provided a consistent presence in the line-up. Marte had 20 homers and 74 RBI as a 22 year old in AAA last season although his 24 game call up to Atlanta has lead some to wonder if he might still need another year in the minors.

Not only does Marte fill a need at third but experts believe he has the potential to be the middle of the order righty bat that could split Hafner and Martinez in the Indian line-up which would certainly help them bridge the gap to the White Sox in the Central.

So what is the plan for the Red Sox? They have sacrificed something for the future for what I can only guess is what they see as what they need now. But when a team like Boston, whose goal is always to win the World Series, thinks that way you have to ask the qusetion, is this a deal that will help them to achieve that?

I have a tough time seeing Coco Crisp and David Riske as being guys to lead you to the promised land. Only time will tell.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

About Bloody Time!!

Its official, the Cubans will be allowed to compete in the World Baseball Classic this Spring. It might have taken the US Treasury Department over a month to reconsider and the fact that while all the multi-millionaire players playing for other nations will be payed God only knows how much, the Cubans have to settle for $100 food money but at least they're there.

Now if we can only convince Hideki Matsui that some might consider it an honour to represent ones country, Alex Rodriguez to just shut up and play and all the players to generally put out 100% once the tourney starts then we might have the historic event they're trying to convince us we're about to see.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

10 Free Agents Still Out There Who Could Help Your Team

10 Felix Heredia - The six fingered man might not have had a good season since '03 but if you put his last two years down to the 'New York spotlight effect' then someone might be able to land themselves a handy lefty reliever for a song.

9 Felix Rodriguez - It seems like he's been around forever but he'll be 34 this year and while last year wasn't too inspiring, it could easily prove to be a blip.

8 Willie Harris - A steady lefty bat, great speed and defensive versatility. How could he not help someone?

7 Terrence Long - Able to play anywhere in the outfield and play them well. Add to that decent speed and a good disciplined lefty stroke that has seen him hit double digits in homers consistently. I still think he'd be a great fit in Yankee Stadium.

6 Erubiel Durazo - He doesn't have the power to be a full time player but his .381 career OBP isn't too shabby. He would offer a good bat off the bench, bit of extra depth but how much money would he ask for?

5 Shigetoshi Hasegawa - Why is it when good players have one great year and then go back to being good that people think that they're not good anymore? In my book he's still one of the better middle relievers around.

4 Scott Hatteberg - Personally I think he is greatly overrated but you can't deny he makes pitchers work. Plays a solid first base and can be an emergency catcher and should be a very good pinch hitter.

3 Alex Gonzalez (the one who played for Florida) - Quality, quality glove man. He could help solidify any infield. Sure he strikes out way too much and a career .291 OBP is rubbish but you don't win World Series without good defence.

2 Wade Miller - He's been hit with the injury bug but he is undoubtedly a great pitcher when healthy and someone will take a chance on him. If he can stay healthy he's easily good for 15 wins...if he can stay healthy.

1 Bengie Molina - If I were to put together my top team of ballplayers right now, Bengie Molina would be my pick to catch. Absolutely outstanding defensively and good for double digits in home runs at the bottom of the order. I can't think of many teams who wouldn't recieve an upgrade behind the dish if he were signed but then I could gush about this guy ages.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

A few points...

A few things i wanted to say...

Firstly, I have to totally agree with Richard...it's great to see A-Rod getting back into the WBC. The more stars play in this tourney, the more credibility it has, and the more likely we are to see this repeated as a regular event - that can only be good for the worldwide image of the game

Secondly, anyone else wondering what is going on with the Astros and Bagwell? If he doesn't play again, it is said that the Astros can pick up around $15M from insurance ... in an era of dwindling player loyalty, are the Astros giving Bagwell too long to get back? Should they bring this situation to a head now, and get that $15M to be used elsewhere in the payroll rather that wait and hope they might get Bagwell back sometime during the season?

Thirdly, i'd be interested to hear how people keep up to date with the game during the winter? Personally, i usually keep up to date via MLB.com, and by checking out the five forums, Baseball Fan site, etc ... however, i'm quite into MLB Radio's podcasts - just download the archives, and pop them onto your mp3 player ... excellent!

A-Rod does a 360, will compete in WBC

Well I knew that A-Rod was full of tricks and he never ceases to amaze me both at the plate and in the hot corner but I honestly didn't think he would pull this one off.

For those of you who don't know A-Rod has now changed his mind and decided to compete for the USA in March's World Baseball Classic.

Those of you who read my and Cidermonster's earlier posts will know how much of a fantastic decision we think this is. Love him or hate him A-Rod is without doubt one of the premier players in the game and his status will bring a boost to the reputation of the tournament and some added attraction for the fans.

It is vital that the top stars compete in this tournament in order to raise its profile and I hope that other top stars will follow in his footsteps and think about changing their mind too.

Take note Hideki Matsui!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Taking a Gamble - Sosa, Piazza and the Big Hurt

The Hot Stove has been somewhat tepid lately and I don't expect any rise in temperature in the coming few weeks.

The only thing that keeps me heading back to MLB.com at the moment is my eagerness to know what is going to happen to the big three names that are left on the free agent list, if indeed anything happens to them at all.

I refer, of course, to Mike Piazza, Sammy Sosa and the Big Hurt Frank Thomas. I have sat eagle-eyed at the computer screen waiting for some news of who is going to take the gamble on these three. And believe me it is some gamble to take, let's go over the trio.

Last year Sosa picked up a cool $17,875,000 to underperform as an Oriole. He was unable to live up to his hard-hitting reputation and hit just 14 long balls and 45 RBIs in a disappointing season.
Due to his increasing age and decreasing skills I don't think he would add much pop to many line ups. To be honest I don't think Sosa has much to offer any team in any position. He no longer holds the attributes that made him so valuable. He strikes out consistently, is not a dependable hitter and has only average fielding skills. I think at this point in time, Sosa is probably the least valuable of the big three.
The only team that seem to want to take their chance on Sosa so far is the Nationals whose GM Jim Bowden said he was interested in the aging slugger. The move would see Sosa shift from right field to left but I don't think it would be a good move for Washington.

Minnesota have popped up as the likely candidates to sign the two-time MVP as they have made it clear they are looking for a DH. The Twins were also said to be interested in Piazza but have since rebuked those claims so a deal with Thomas looks more likely.
Unlike Sosa the big question mark hanging over Thomas is not his ability. He is still a consistent hitter of the ball and can still scare pitchers with his power. The major concern about Thomas has to be his health. Last season Thomas underwent ankle surgery the results of which are likely to render him a liability on the bases. That is a major drawback and, although I am a huge White Sox fan, I can only put him as the second most valuable of the three.

I think that Mike Piazza still has a lot to offer in the MLB. He is experienced and past his best but he could fill a DH roll nicely and the rest from being a full time catcher may improve his form at the plate.
His form as of late has been far from fantastic but he would make a nice reserve catcher and a steady bat. The Angels have caught wind of this and have already expressed their need for a part-time catcher and DH and right-handed power hitter.
For my money Piazza is the best of the three and I think his influence and experience will make as big a difference to the team he signs for as his performance at the plate.

Of course after reviewing the three it is clear that they all have their drawbacks. The big question is whether the teams interested in these players would rather field a rookie, who can only get better, than take a chance on these ageing superstars. Only time will tell.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Sutter Enshrined

Well the newest member of the Hall of Fame has been announced and it’s the very first person to be elected to the Hall who played his entire career as a reliever but the question remains does a 2.83 ERA and 300 saves warrant being nominated to Cooperstown? Especially when Lee Smith is on the outside looking in with 478 saves and a 3.03 ERA.

The thing I worry about is that the likes of Smith, Sutter and guys like Goose Gossage and Tom Henke, who were all guys who were amongst the best closers of their era but in an era when the closer role was still being defined, are soon going to have their achievements dwarfed by the new wave of closers in this age where the bullpen has never been more important. Will we look at Bruce Sutter and then think about how he got in when someone like Bobby Jenks didn‘t?

I do feel that Sutter should have eventually been inducted as the inventor of the splitter but isn’t that a matter for the Veterans Committee to decide upon?

However, there are two pitchers on this years ballot who really should have been given the chance to be inducted in this lean year (for the record I think Andre Dawson and Jim Rice should be put in eventually but I can see the reasons why they maybe shouldn’t). First up is Jack Morris who should be put in simply for being involved in the epic game 7 in the ‘91 World Series but when you have 254 career wins including three 20 win seasons and are generally the ace of many a championship team then surely that’s just gravy. He might not be a leap out and grab you candidate (a 3.90 ERA isn’t particularly wow), people with far worse moustaches have been enshrined.

The second in my mind really is a slam dunk candidate. 287 wins (25th most in MLB history) and 3701 K’s (5th best all time) leaves me wondering just how Bert Blyleven isn’t in the Hall? I mean come on!! He’s up there on so many of the lists that count and there aren’t many contemporaries from the same era who can say that.

Anyway, Sutter is in and well done to him but now this years vote is over we can look forward to next years ballot with some of the greats up for election like Harold Baines, Mark McGwire and Cal Ripken and the truly legendary Tony Gwynn (will he break the 95% mark?). Apparently hotels in Cooperstown have been taking reservations for the past five years in preparation for that.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

A Few Minor Tid Bits

A couple of things have caught my eye around the minors in the last week.

The big story of course is that after a year of negotiation the Arizona Diamondbacks have signed last years number one overall pick Justin Upton. He will recieve a record signing bonus reported to be $6.1m and instantly will become one of the most prized minor league players around.

A genuine five tool player, and the younger brother of fellow blue chip prospect B.J. 'E6' Upton, he already has tremendous speed and his plate presence is remarkable for someone so young and Arizona will give him every opportunity to advance quickly through the system although how they handle both he and fellow first round pick (in 2004) Stephen Drew awaits to be seen.

Elsewhere the Angels conveyor belt of young talent looks to continue as the club has rewarded their top draft pick from last year, Jered Weaver, and Brandon Wood, who backed up his awesome year in the minors with a similarly brutish performance in the Arizona Fall League, with invites to Spring Training with the big club.

While Orlando Cabrera's presence might lead to Wood being given more time to season at Salt Lake, Weaver certainly has a good chance at breaking into the rotation with the departure of Jarrod Washburn to Seattle.

Monday, January 02, 2006

10 Things to Look Forward to in The New Year

10 The World Baseball Classic - Would be higher up the list but without Cuba and the start of people making excuses not to play are taking the luster off it.

9 The remodelled AL East - With Tampa looking to have a bolstered offence, Toronto making waves in the free agent market and the usual New York spending binge, things could be very interesting.

8 Delmon Young - Jeez if you don't know what I'm talking about then you don't read this blog enough!

7 What are the Red Sox going to do to catch up with the shifting powers in the AL East?

6 There will be an almighty dogfight between the Indians and ChiSox in the AL Central.

5 Start the sweepstake now! Who will breakdown first, the Dodger outfield or the Red Sox rotation?

4 The Brewers have the makings of a very exciting team and I'm already pegging them for the NL Central.

3 A strong class of first and second year pitchers looking to establish themselves including Felix Hernandez, Zach Duke, Francisco Liriano and Matt Cain.

2 The resolution of the Tejada and Manny merry-go-round.

1 Barry Bonds on the march to 755 and beyond.

Club vs Country vs the WBC

Following on from reading Richard's great post, felt I would give my view also:

The biggest comparison I can make is with the Football World Cup (that's real football folks, not the US one!) Even though in recent years, the salaries have rocketed, club football seems to have become more important, and tournaments like the Champion's League have flourished, it is still regarded as the pinnacle of a football player's career to represent his country in the World Cup, in fact, there will always be players who despite having had a great club career, will always rue the fact that they never got to play in a world cup (I'm thinking Ryan Giggs for example)

Therefore, I have to admit that given the talent NOT competing in the WBC, it doesn't really fill me with too much optimism for the future of the event. As Richard said, this is the inaugural event ... what an honour to be involved with it and represent your country. For the WBC to succeed, it need to capture the imagination of the public (and a global public at that) and the only way to do that is to have all the major talent involved. It needs to be seen as THE major baseball tournament, not just a rehab recovery tournament (Bonds?) or a long spring training work out for bit-part players. Hopefully MLB will learn from this first one, and will try it again, but I just don't know whether this will ever succeed if the players don't take the right attitude towards it - after all, if Ronaldhino and Rooney don't turn up in Germany because they don't want to risk their club careers, it will kinda taint the football World Cup, yeah?

My other concern is that even with the correct player attitude, maybe a whole month added onto a season for the WBC is a bit much, especially if you are a player on a team expected to make it into the post season ... maybe MLB could look at slightly shortening the season slightly during a WBC year, although I'm not sure how easy that would be!

Sunday, January 01, 2006