Baseball Toaster Just A Bit Outside
Aaaaand, We're Off!
2006-07-28 09:21
by Erik Siegrist

Trade deadline season officially kicked off today with a head-scratcher of a blockbuster between Texas and Milwaukee.

The Rangers get: Carlos Lee; Nelson Cruz; PTBNL
The Brewers get: Kevin Mench; Laynce Nix; Francisco Cordero

On the surface, the deal makes no sense for either club. Texas adds offense they didn't particularly need, and weakens an already shallow bullpen to do it. Milwaukee trades their most marketable commodity for a not particularly cheap replacement bat and two reclamation projects, and gives up their most major-league-ready Triple-A hitter in the bargain. Neither team seemed to address their needs, unless "getting something for Lee before he becomes a free agent while paying lip service to the idea of staying in the Wild Card hunt" counts as a need.

On a pure talent level though, this looks like Doug Melvin got robbed blind. Cruz is two years younger than Mench and could probably do a fair job of replicating his numbers in the big leagues right now, which makes the trade approximately Lee for Nix and Cordero, plus who knows who that PTBNL will end up being. I have a really hard time believing Melvin couldn't have done better for Lee, even if he had to wait until after Alfonso Soriano got dealt to do it.

If Jon Daniels can follow this up with a trade to get some pitching (maybe by flipping Cruz?) the Rangers suddenly look very dangerous in the AL West. But then that would have been the case without this trade.

About the only people who should be smiling about this one are Kenny Williams and Brian Cashman, as it kept Lee out of the Twins' hands.

Not Dead Yet!
2006-07-25 08:38
by Erik Siegrist

Hi folks. It's amazing how quickly three months can flow by when it hurts to bend your elbows...

At any rate, in celebration of the fact that I'm getting back into the swing of things, I thought I'd catch up on the playoff races by taking a look at some of the teams who are still hanging around the fringes of them.

* * * * *

As Alfonso Soriano trade talks reach critical mass, it's looking more and more like he's destined to finish the season in the AL Central. The division-leading Tigers emerged as the front-runner for his services, which prompted White Sox GM Kenny Williams to stick his nose in and try to jack the price up for his main competition.

The team that could most use Soriano, however, has faded from view after some early rumblings that they were in the hunt, and might find themselves fading in Chicago and Detroit's rear-view mirror entirely if they don't make a move before the deadline.

The Twins are a curious club to say the least. Their recent track record in developing major league players has kept them competitive, and made them the tools-driven answer to Oakland's 'new school' approach to budget team-building. The Amazing Johan was joined in the rotation this season by the Bulletproof Monk Francisco Liriano, while the bullpen continually churns through useful arms. On the hitting side Justin Morneau finally seems to be healthy and having the season expected of him since he got to the bigs (.309/.357/.592 as of Monday), while Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel both emerged to make contributions.

What the Twins really lack, though, is solid production from their outfield. Cuddyer's been adequate as a right fielder but no more, and Torii Hunter (when not on the DL) has been his usual great glove-OK bat self in center, but left field has been an open wound in the batting order all year long. Shannon Stewart has been more brittle than usual. Rondell White and Lew Ford have both, in different ways, been huge disappointments. Minnesota has been forced to turn to Jason Tyner in recent weeks and as Devil Ray fans know, nothing good can come of relying on Jason Tyner for offense.

This is a team eighth in the AL in runs scored, and second-last in home runs. As a puzzle piece, Soriano is about as perfect a fit as you're likely to find. If any team in baseball has a need for a slugging, toolsy left fielder whose contract comes off the books at season's end, it would be the Twins. And if any season seems like the perfect time to take a chance and go full-tilt for glory it would be this one. No team in the AL seems particularly unbeatable, and with Liriano riding shotgun for Santana the Twins have a one-two punch at the top of their rotation no one else can match. With a decent offense supporting them, Minnesota could conceivably get to the World Series without a win from any other starting pitcher -- and given the state of the rest of their rotation, they might have to.

Even Soriano's one potential weakness, his defense, would be masked playing left field in the Metrodome, with Hunter covering his flank.

So will the Twins make a move for him? Probably not. Terry Ryan has never been one to deal future potential studs for short-term gain, and given what Nationals GM Jim Bowden is rumored to be asking for names like Matt Garza or Anthony Swarzak would almost certainly have to be involved on the Twins side to make the deal happen. The Twins also seem out of the pennant picture, sitting 9 1/2 back of Detroit, meaning their ticket to the playoffs will have to come from a wild card berth (where they currently sit third, two losses behind the White Sox and one behind the Yankees) and increasing the risk that they might fall short even if they make a trade.

Minnesota has no hitting help on the way in the minors though. Not to be overly dramatic, but this could end up being the defining moment of Ryan's stewardship of the team. Will he step up and actually try to win a very winnable American League title?

Or will he do nothing and watch his team come up short once again?

Get Used To It, Kid
2006-04-03 18:33
by Erik Siegrist

Today the Pirates trotted out the following batting order:

Duffy, CF
Wilson, SS
Casey, 1B
Bay, LF
Randa, 3B
Burnitz, RF
Castillo, 2B
Cota, C

The result was a 5-2 loss to the Brewers despite Oliver Perez being in 2004 form... and one official at bat for poor Jason Bay, to go along with three walks.

Now I'm not saying he'll challenge Bonds' single season walk record, but he is on pace for 486 of 'em (*cough*). But really, barring the bases being loaded or something, is anyone going to have any reason to give Bay anything to hit? Ever?

Titanic Spring Roster Battles, Part Two: White Sox Closer
2006-03-27 18:26
by Erik Siegrist

And so it begins... the annual closer controversy in Chicago.

For whatever reason, the White Sox go through closers the way teenagers go through crushes. Dustin Hermanson notched 34 saves last year, but neither began nor ended the season as the go-to guy at the back of the bullpen; prior to 2005, no White Sox reliever had managed to record even 20 saves since Keith Foulke's 42 in 2001. In between, six different pitchers got double-digit saves in a season for the Sox -- Foulke got 11 in '02 in between stints in Jerry Manuel's doghouse; Antonio Osuna also has 11 that season, while Damaso Marte got 10. Billy Koch opened 2003 with the job, but managed just 11 saves, while Tom Gordon ended up with 12 and Marte (again) had 11. 2004 saw Koch give way to Shingo Takatsu, who led the team with 19, but he spit the bit in 2005 and Hermanson took over, before Hermanson's back woes pushed Bobby Jenks into the job for the stretch run and playoffs.

Jenks was within shouting distance of brilliant in '05 -- including the postseason, he had a 58/18 K/BB ratio in 47 1/3 big league innings -- but so far in spring training he's looked more like the guy the Angels gave up on than the one who appeared in every game of the Sox's World Series sweep. No matter how you try to sugar-coat it, an 8/2 BB/K ratio in eight innings (yes, those numbers are in the right order) is ugly. If Jenks were simply competing for a job, instead of entering the season as the de facto closer, he'd probably already be back in minor league camp, with Ozzie Guillen's fat jokes ringing in his ears.

So if Jenks is about to go the way of Koch and Takatsu, who's in line to take over? Hermanson would be the logical choice, but his back problems have resurfaced, and he's receiving a series of epidurals just to try and get him back on the mound. Cliff Politte has been tried as a closer before, most recently in Toronto, with somewhat nighmarish results (11 home runs allowed in under 50 innings in 2003).

Logically the next candidate would be Neal Cotts, who has inherited Marte's role as top bullpen lefty, and whose career splits feature a better line against righties (.213/.333/.340) than against lefties (.238/.324/.395). But logic rarely has much to do with who closes in Chicago. Foulke getting pushed out the door, for instance, was just dumb. Takatsu, a soft-tosser from Japan, being unhittable one year and useless the next made no sense on the surface. And Jenks putting it all together, even if briefly, was the craziest twist yet. So assuming the logical candidate will get the job in Chicago, or keep it if he does, is assuming way too much.

Among the slightly silly candidates to fall into some saves this year is Brandon McCarthy. The Sox top (remaining) pitching prospect was supposed to have a swing man role this season until Hermanson came up gimpy, at which point the club started talking about using him in a short relief role. It's just a small step from pitching the seventh inning to pitching the ninth, at least when you're a highly touted arm.

Speaking of highly touted arms, Matt Thornton was a first-round pick once upon a time (well, 1998). Sox pitching coach Don Cooper has been trying to get him for a couple of years now, on the assumption that he can fix the mechanical problems that are scuttling his control and holding him back. Cooper wasn't pitching coach the last time the team tried something like this in 2002, with another ex-Mariner -- Damaso Marte. That one worked out pretty well, though, and Cooper's track record with the likes of Jon Garland indicates he knows his stuff, so it's possible Thornton will bust out in the 'pen just like Marte did.

If you want a really wacky pick, though, how about Sean Tracey? He's essentially a home-grown version of Jenks -- a kid with great stuff (a hard, sinking fastball and a slider are his best pitches) who's struggled to put things together. He's now 25, and while he doesn't quite have the jaw-dropping stuff Jenks does, he's also never been tried in the bullpen before either. If pitching in relief adds a bit of control and a couple mph to his mid-90s heat...

Hey, it's the White Sox. Anything can happen.

Joe Girardi, Master of Understatement
2006-03-25 11:22
by Erik Siegrist

I was going to follow up Part One of 'Titanic Spring Roster Battles' by mentioning that Jason Stokes got hurt (his groin, not his wrist -- probably one of the few times a player is glad he strained his groin) and that Mike Jacobs had just about won the job by default as a result, but this quote says it so much better.

New Marlins manager Joe Girardi, on Jacobs, via their team page on

"He showed for a month last year that he was a guy who can hit some home runs. If you hit home runs, you obviously are going to put up big numbers. He had 11 in a month -- basically, in 100 at-bats. If you project that out, that would be real nice for any club."

66-odd home runs in a season would be "real nice"... I'd hate to see what he'd say if someone breaks Bonds' single season record. "Swell"? Maybe he'd really push the envelope and bust out a "Terrific".

Of course maybe the problem is that Girardi was a catcher, so when he says "project that out" he's thinking you only get 300 or so at bats in a year. These days, 33 home runs probably doesn't rate more than a "real nice".

Titanic Spring Roster Battles, Part One: Marlins First Base
2006-03-14 06:01
by Erik Siegrist

One of my favorite parts of spring training is watching roster battles unfold, whether it's for a spot at the heart of the club or for the privilege of being the last guy in the bullpen. Trying to discern who's doing well, not just by studying the entrails of spring stats but also by reading between the lines of what the team's brain trust tells the media about each player can give a fascinating glimpse into how major league organizations operate.

There are always plenty of battles to follow, but the one that's caught my eye right now wasn't even supposed to be a battle when camp started. Mike Jacobs, one of the keys to the Carlos Delgado deal, was expected to slide right in at first base for the Marlins, replacing the guy he got traded for. Jacobs' brief but impressive stint with the Mets in 2005, and power potential in a lineup starved for slugging, made him all but a lock to man first and hit behind Miggy Cabrera for the Fish. At worst there was a chance he might end up platooning with Josh Willingham if Willingham couldn't cut it defensively behind the plate or in left field.

Fortunately, nobody told Jason Stokes he had no job to compete for... likely because they were afraid he'd hurt his wrist picking up the phone to take the call.

If Stokes were a pitcher instead of a hitter, he'd be a TINSTAAPP poster boy. He busted out with 27 home runs and a .341/.421/.645 line at Kane County in 2002, but played in just 97 games due to a late-season injury. He managed 121 games in 2003 at High-A Jupiter, and 106 games for Double-A Carolina in 2004, but the wrist problems kept flaring up and he wasn't able to come close to those numbers, either in BA or SLG. His prospect status hit a wall last season, as he played in just 13 games for Triple-A Albuquerque.

Stokes had offseason surgery to fix both the wrist problem and a thumb injury that developed last year, and came to camp saying he was 100%. Well, so far in camp he's been about 150%, hitting .345/.355/.655 with half his hits going for extra bases. Jacobs, meanwhile, is hitting just .267 with a couple of doubles.

Aside from health, Stokes' other big flaw in the minors was erratic plate discipline, something it looks like he still needs to work on. His pattern was to start out slowly at a new level before gradually improving that aspect of his game though, so his 1/8 BB/K ratio in the spring isn't necessarily a deal-breaker. If he keeps launching the ball, the Marlins will almost be forced to find a spot for him.

Which is where the really interesting part comes into play. On Monday the team announced they were going to try Stokes in left field for a bit, reviving an experiment with him that they'd abandoned back in 2001. Stokes isn't much more than adequate around the bag at first, so it's hard to imagine he'll be able to cope in the outfield (especially in a big park like Florida's) but if he does make the adjustment the cascade effect on the rest of the roster would be huge. Josh Willingham would suddenly have nowhere else to go if he can't cut it behind the plate; Eric Reed, the best defender, would suddenly have to be considered the favorite to win the center field job (or the pressure to make a trade for the likes of Joey Gathright would get ramped up).

More likely, though, Stokes will prove to be a fine first baseman in left field, the experiment will get abandoned, and the Marlins will be faced with a tough choice between Stokes and Jacobs. Both have options left, so either one could go make some noise in hitter-friendly Albuquerque to start 2006. Florida might decide no decision is the best decision too. Jacobs is a lefty and Stokes a righty, so a platoon is always possible.

Of course the left field experiment might clear up the situation in another way -- Stokes' original wrist injury in 2002 came when diving for a ball...

How this plays out will say a lot about how the Marlins "think". Are they going to give the edge to Jacobs, one of the kids acquired in the Great Purge, even if he gets outplayed? Will Joe Girardi find creative ways to get his young sluggers in the lineup on a regular basis if they both make the club, or will he be a set 'em and forget 'em type manager when it comes to his lineup card?

If I had to guess I'd say Jacobs will win the battle, simply because it would give Girardi a nicely symmetrical L/R/L/R option in the heart of his order, assuming Jeremy Hermida hits second ahead of Cabrera with Willingham slotting in fifth. But a lot can happen in the last two weeks of the spring.

The Glass is Half-Full, Dammit
2006-02-24 06:45
by Erik Siegrist

An email exchange with legendary South American film star Bruno Puntz-Jones dredged up one of those stray thoughts I have every once in a while. You know the ones... they seem completely brilliant for about two seconds, and then a minute later you can't even remember what they were... insert THC joke here.

Anyway, Bruno asked about the chances of Cristian Guzman having a rebound season. The Washington Post paints a rosy picture of him early in the spring, even going so far as to trot out a Field of Dreams nod for him, and not of the "Guzman hits like a little girl choking on a piece of hot dog" variety. Laser eye surgery? Check. Reporting to camp trim and in great shape? Check. Motivated, with a steely glint in his eye? Check. Obligatory reference to the only decent few weeks he had in 2005, which just happened to come at the end of the year? Check.

Bruno's question reminded me of one of those tiny little epiphanies of mine. Why is it that baseball observers seem more inclined to give players the benefit of the doubt after a breakout season than they do after a breakdown season? If you're willing to look on the bright side of a positive career outlier, and think that maybe it's the start of a new plateau instead of just a spike, shouldn't you also be the kind of person who looks at a negative career outlier and sees just a valley, and not a chasm?

I realize it's not a question, really, of "optimism" vs. "pessimism" -- more of a "what have you done for me lately?" effect, combined with a bit of bandwagonitis -- but maybe it should be. Edgar Renteria went out and had a career year in 2003, and too many people (myself included) fell all over themselves declaring that he'd put it all together and joined the shortstopping elite. We're seeing some of the same thing this preseason, to an extent, with Felipe Lopez. But where's that kind of love and faith for the Guzmans of the world? Who's willing to stand out on that limb and say, "Hey, the kid just had a bad year. He'll be back!"

Of course in Guzman's case, "back" would be to a .270/.300/.380 line, less some park effect erosion, so maybe he isn't the best example to be using. Let's take a look instead at someone else who's been, if not quite written off, is at least being viewed with more-than-healthy skepticism. Just to reinforce my point in the cheapest way possible, I'll play the 'Player A' / 'Player B' game.

Player A

First big league season: .825 OPS
Second big league season: .823 OPS
Third big league season: .920 OPS
Fourth big league season: .713 OPS

Player B

First big league season: .676 OPS
Second big league season: .839 OPS
Third big league season: .773 OPS
Fourth big league season: .602 OPS

OK, so the two players really have nothing in common. It's a stupid game, I'm pulling the plug. Player A is Pat Burrell, and Player B is Corey Patterson. My point though, such as it is, is that both Burrell and (especially) Patterson had/are getting more than would seem to be their fair share of people declaring them to be bums, when "regression to the mean" in its rawest form suggests they'll come back just fine.

Perchance Dreamers
2006-02-19 15:15
by Erik Siegrist

Before spring training kicks into full gear, I want to get down my early-early-early predictions for who 2006's out-of-nowhere surprise players will be. The great thing about playing this sort of game, of course, is that it's a no-lose proposition. If you guess wrong, well, these guys were bums anyway and no one really expected them to do much. If you hit on one or two, however... ah, why then your prognosticative genius will ring down like the clearest of bells throughout the ages. Or at least whenever you bring it up at your fantasy auction.

Generally speaking, surprise players fall into three categories: prospects people have all but given up on for one reason or another (John Patterson is a decent example from last season); the guy who's produced in the minors but never really gotten a break in the bigs (Emil Brown, for instance); and, in the immortal words of Sherwood Schwartz, "the rest" -- the players who just schlumped around the majors for a while without doing much of anything, before 'inexplicably' putting it all together (see: Loaiza, Esteban, 2003).

Please note the following: The scientific method was not used in the creation of this list. Numbers were studiously not crunched; rosters given no more than the most cursory of glances to look for obvious job openings. These are pure, unadulterated hunches.

National League

Eddie Gaillard, Flo -- 'Round about this time last year, Gaillard was a super-sneaky closer sleeper among rotisserati. He had a solid arsenal of stuff and had signed with the Rockies, a team in need of a bullpen stopper, after a number of successful seasons closing in Japan. Unfortunately he battled through a few nagging injuries in spring training (nothing too serious, just things that kept him off the mound and unable to make a strong impression) and the door opened for Brian Fuentes to eventually seize the job.

Well, here it is 2006, and Gaillard is once again in camp with a team needing a closer, only this one plays in an environment that's a little friendlier to pitchers. And he only has to beat out Joe Borowski, Matt Herges and about eighty-seven unproven kids to win a key role in the Florida bullpen. That's not exactly the Nasty Boyz he's trying to break in with there. He has to stay healthy first, of course, but if he shows anything at all who knows what could happen? This year's Marlins will have nothing to lose by giving him a chance.

Ben Hendrickson, Mil -- Once upon a time, Hendrickson was part of a group of Brewers prospects with Ben Sheets and Nick Neugebauer who were expected to bring a golden age of strikeouts to Miller Park's mound. As Mets and A's fans (among so many others) could have told them, things never work out that well. Neugebauer blew out his arm and is out of baseball entirely, while Sheets has actually turned out pretty well, although he too has had problems staying completely healthy. Hendrickson's case is trickier. He's had no real career-threatening injuries, but regressed badly in his performance last season, nearly dropping off the prospect radar in the process. He still has that wicked curveball though, and if he ever figures out how to use it he could easily re-emerge as a potentially dominant major league pitcher. My gut is telling me he'll be closing for the Brewers in the second half this season, and could evolve into a Tom Gordon/Gregg Olson-style late inning reliever, but Milwaukee isn't exactly loaded in the rotation either so that path is still open to him too. If he can put things together.

J.R. House, Hou -- Whaaaa... ? Yes, House is back after his one-season stint as West Virginia's backup QB, and after Fox stole his name for a hit show. He's surrounded by a blizzard of question marks (can he throw a baseball well enough to stick behind the plate? How rusty is his swing? Etc.) but if he answers most or all of them, the Astros might be the perfect organization for him. Brad Ausmus turns 73 this year and can't hold together much longer, and there isn't an obvious heir apparent in the system behind the plate. If House can't hack it anymore as a catcher, though, first base is equally devoid of upper-minor prospects to replace Jeff Bagwell. House did hit fairly well in his last crack at Triple-A with Pittsburgh, so really all he has to do to win a job is prove he's more useful than someone like Luke Scott. If he can still function as a catcher at all, that shouldn't be a tough bar to clear.

David Kelton, Atl -- My noisy gut is insisting that some ex-Cub outfield semi-prospect will finally break through in the majors this year. Unfortunately it can't decide which one it will be. Kelton, to me, is in the best situation. The Braves don't have a set third starting OF next to Andruw Jones and Jeff Francouer yet, and are an organization that will be more forgiving of Kelton's potential OBP issues than some others might be. He'll have to make a big impression in camp, but if he does he could finally get the chance in the majors he never got in Wrigley.

Brett Tomko, LAD -- Oh heck, why not. Tomko has put more grey hair on pitching coaches heads' than any other hurler of his generation. Dodger Stadium can be a magic place for pitchers though, and every once in a while someone will find what they lost out on that mound, or even something they never had before. Remember Nomo's revival in his second stint in blue, after years in the wilderness? There's no reason (other than the obvious 10,000 reasons that go along with him being Brett Tomko) it can't happen again here.

Honorable Mentions -- Dewon Brazelton, SD (too obvious); Ramon Ortiz, Was (sometimes, no ballpark in the world can help you); Jack Wilson, Pit (this year's Felipe Lopez?)

American League

Esteban German, KC -- The whole "solid vets as place holders while we spin our wheels organizationally" thing just never seems to work out. I have a bad feeling about the Grudzy, Minky and Reggie signings; I don't think the Royals are going to get more than 700-800 plate appearances from the lot of them. If Grudzielanek does indeed go down, German is nicely situated to get his first crack at a full-time gig in the majors. Kansas City has already been down this road with Brown. German's upper minor league track record is really pretty darn good, and there's no discernible reason why he can't get the job done in the bigs. The best part here is that the Royals don't have a great 2B prospect behind him, and German is still young enough to build a nice career for himself if he can just get that first foot in the door.

D'Angelo Jimenez, Tex -- Right now, wunderkind prospect Ian Kinsler is the projected favorite to win the second base job for the Rangers, but how perfect would the irony be if Jimenez ended up being the one who took over for Alfonso Soriano instead? Jimenez is probably on his last chance to earn a big league paycheck here, so he's got all the motivation in the world to not just produce but be a model citizen for Buck Showalter. And if he does get the job, his ability to take a walk and get on base will be very useful among all the big bats in the Rangers lineup.

Joe Kennedy, Oak -- Tampa Bay, to Colorado, to Oakland. I hope Kennedy appreciates what he's got right now. The A's rotation seems pretty set, aside from Rich Harden's injury concerns, and Kennedy is just one of many candidates to step in if a hole does open up, so he'll have some work to do in camp to establish himself as the clear "sixth starter". I think he's up to it though; his numbers last year were the best he's put up since his first season in the bigs, before he got dragged down by the psychic toll of being a Devil Ray and Rockie. It's almost like he hit the reset button on his career in 2005; now he has a chance going forward of achieving at least some fraction of the success people envisioned for him in the first place.

Orber Moreno, Bal -- For a while, I weaned myself off irrational attachments to "closers of the future". They almost never pan out, after all, and are just immensely frustrating to follow. Then, the worst thing possible happened; Rafael Betancourt got to the majors and started doing well. You see, Betancourt was the very first prospect I "discovered" for myself. Back when I first started paying attention to the minors, I noticed this kid in the Red Sox system who posted the single most insane K/BB ratio I'd ever seen in my life (52/2 in 32 innings for Low-A Michigan back in '97). I was hooked; surely, no matter how poor the competion was, anyone who could do something like that had a bright future in the bigs. Thus started my addiction to closers of the future; Betancourt, Henriquez, Matt Anderson, it didn't matter, I took a shine to them all, and got my heart broken every single time. Moreno was one of my favorites though. He had everything going for him as the future Kansas City closer (heavy, hard fastball, nasty breaking stuff)... everything, that is, except health. I'd managed to put him out of my mind when he resurfaced in the Mets system in '04, but with the example of Betancourt (doing well in the Indians 'pen) sitting there in front of me, all the old feelings came rushing back and I started rooting for him to keep it up and push aside the clearly inadequate Braden Looper.

Inevitably, Moreno got hurt. Again. Now here he is once more, off the operating table and on a mound, and have I learned my lesson? Of course not. Chris Ray hasn't established anything yet, dammit. There's still time, Orber! You can do it!

Tim Redding, ChW -- After working miracles with Jon Garland last season, White Sox pitching coach Don Copper will have a similar project on his hands in Redding, a pitcher whose numbers have always fallen far short of what scouts expected from his stuff. Like Garland pre-2005, Redding has been too hittable and not dominant enough throughout his career. Cooper's approach isn't going to change the latter, but if Redding buys into the program in the spring and carves out a role for himself on the big league roster, the Sox's infield defense should take care of the former just as they did for Garland. It all depends on getting onto the Sox staff in the first place though, which might require a Jose Contreras trade, a move that would push Brandon McCarthy into the rotation and open up the long man spot in the 'pen.

Honorable Mentions -- Jason DuBois, Cle (see Kelton); Scott Dunn, LAA (the Angels pull a useful reliever out of thin air every year, so if it's not Dunn it'll be Dustin Moseley or Chris Bootcheck or...); Jesse Foppert, Sea and/or Clint Nageotte, Sea (the attention and pressure will all be on Felix)

How's My Drafting? Dial 1-800...
2006-02-10 07:36
by Erik Siegrist

Tuesday officially kicked off fantasy baseball season for me, as I too participated in Sportsline's NL-only 5x5 expert (or "expert", if you prefer) league, carrying the banner for This isn't just a mock draft -- with people I actually know involved, including Will and Elias' Rob Tracy, there are some hard-core bragging rights on the line.

I also wound up with my most loathed of drafting spots, the second overall pick. Why most loathed? Well, aside from the makeup of the NL talent pool for 2006 (there's Pujols, and then a bunch of guys in a clump behind him) making most of the first round a wash in terms of the caliber of player you get, I also hate going so long without being able to draft anyone. Getting stuck down at one end of the snake or the other invariably means you are forced to take guys you want a little earlier than they're probably worth, because otherwise you get to watch someone else take them in the 20 or so picks that come off the board (it's a 12 team league) before your turn comes around again.

Here's who I ended up nabbing, with comments as necessary:

#2 David Wright (3B NYM)

My first dilemma was sorting through that mass behind Pujols. Abreu was the first guy I thought of, but I quickly moved away from him. I just have a feeling he's going to start sliding this year -- not in batting average, which will probably rebound back to his usual .300 or so, but in steals. Bobby's in his 30s now, and at the age where the 'speed' part of the power/speed combo starts to go. I could have played it safe with a Derrek Lee or Andruw Jones, but I wasn't comfortable with either -- in both cases, last year's stat line has regression to the mean written all over it. That left me looking at two young studs whose best days should still be ahead of them, starting in 2006: Miguel Cabrera, and David Wright.

Cabrera offered a better track record, and position flexibility (OF and 3B). On the down side, the offense around him has been gutted, and he's got no proven major league hitters to either drive him in, or get on base for him to drive in. Hermida, Jacobs, Willingham etc. could end up being very good, but Cabrera could just as easily hit 40 home runs, and only get 90 RBI. That's a lot of risk for the #2 pick.

Wright hasn't established himself yet the way Cabrera has, but did have two things going for him: steals, and a much better lineup around him. True five-category third basemen are a rarity, and it was hard to pass one up... and so, in the end, I didn't.

#23 Ben Sheets (P MIL)
#26 Ryan Howard (1B PHI)
#47 Ken Griffey (OF CIN)
#50 Brandon Webb (P ARI)

All these picks came when I was at a doctor's appointment that couldn't be re-scheduled, and were auto-picked from the players I had queued up in the draft room. I blame no one but myself for forgetting that Sheets still has some concerns about the torn muscle in his back... in retrospect I should have had Oswalt, the safer choice, ahead of him in my queue.

Howard I'm comfortable with that early -- if he's an overdraft, he's only a slight one, and if he puts up the numbers everyone keeps expecting from Adam Dunn he'll be an outright steal at that spot. Griffey was the best of what was left in the OF, and considering how things went when I got back I'm glad I got him. Webb I took ahead of John Patterson, and deliberately. I think the improvements made in the Arizona defense behind him (specifically the addition of Orlando Hudson) will have a bigger impact than people expect. Look at the numbers Josh Towers and Gustavo Chacin put up for the Blue Jays last year despite their peripherals, then tell me a guy like Webb can't do them one or two better.

#71 Ryan P. Freel (2B CIN)
#74 Matt Cain (P SF)
#95 Brad Hawpe (OF COL)
#98 Brian McCann (C ATL)
#119 Josh Willingham (C FLA)

Freel I grabbed because when I looked around at who came off the board while I was gone both steals, and middle infielders, were getting thin. After that comes four picks of exactly the kind I described above -- players I wanted, who were somewhere in the next couple dozen names on my list, and who I didn't think would be there when it got back to me. Hawpe was the biggest reach, but outfielders had gotten shockingly thin at that point in the draft as well.

I am inordinately happy with my catchers though. I'm usually the guy who punts catcher in these things, so getting two guys who can actually, y'know, hit back there is kinda novel.

#122 Brad Penny (P LA)
#143 Adam Everett (SS HOU)

One thing taking McCann and Willingham cost me, though, is a shortstop. I had my eye on Bill Hall, but figured taking two catchers back to back might set off a positional run. Instead I got to watch Hall go at #120, before the snake turned the corner and got back to me. D'oh! No problem, I thought to myself, I'll just take J.J. Hardy instead. But first I'll shore up my pitching staff, since surely Hardy won't go any earlier than... #130, apparently. Double d'oh.

Enter Adam "at least I'll get a few steals" Everett as my starting SS. Oh boy.

#146 Ryan Madson (P PHI)
#167 Chris Duffy (OF PIT)
#170 Eric Byrnes (OF ARI)
#191 Wilson Betemit (SS ATL)

Betemit, given my needs at that point, is a pick I really like. He can cover both my CI and MI spots, which gave me the flexibility to take some chances later on Hart, Hairston, Izturis, Baker and Miles -- if Betermit is at least decent I don't need more than one or two of those guys to pan out. Positional flexibility is far more valuable in deep drafts than most people realize.

#194 Kip Wells (P PIT)

He could rebound -- hey, why not? At this point in a draft, any starting pitcher with reasonable upside looks pretty darn good.

#215 Corey C. Hart (OF MIL)

He's either be a steal, if he gets 300-400 at bats, or a waste of a pick. I thought I needed to take some chances on offense though.

#218 Damaso Marte (P PIT)

The lack of closers on my roster should be glaring by now, but they always go far too early in 5x5 drafts for me to waste my time with. I'll take my chances on caddies and longshots like Marte, Sanchez, Bruney, and Resop, plus whoever I can grab off the waiver wire, to keep me out of the basement in the saves category.

#239 Scott Hairston (2B? ARI)
#242 Duaner Sanchez (P NYM)
#263 Cesar Izturis (SS LA)

Probably too early, given how long Izturis will still be out for, but the gaping hole in my middle infield was making me nervous.

#266 Brian Bruney (P ARI)
#287 Jeff Baker (2B COL)

I'm shocked I got Baker, quite frankly. Every Rockie who should have reminded folks in the draft that he was still out there (Ian Stewart, Quintanilla, even Jorge Piedra) went between picks #266 and #287. I even commented via sitemail to Rob Tracy that Bruney had been a mistake pick, and would cost me a guy I really wanted. I'm glad I was wrong.

#290 Aaron Miles (2B STL)
#311 Matthew Cepicky (OF FLA)

Another guy I like late. Someone has to play in the outfield for the Marlins, after all.

#314 Jon Rauch (P WAS)
#335 John Mabry (OF CHC)

Hopefully Mabry will be Dusty's designated "veteran who robs deserving kids like Matt Murton of playing time." I mean, you know he'll have one...

#338 Jason J. Ellison (OF SF)
#359 Chris Resop (P FLA)

And someone has to close for the Marlins too.

All in all, comparing it to the other 11 rosters, I think I'm in decent shape -- unlike last year, when I stubbornly refused to take part in an early starting pitching run and wound up with Greg Maddux as my 'ace', this year's roster didn't immediately make me think "Ninth place, here I come!" (I actually finished in seventh, three spots ahead of Will, but who's counting?)

Wonder if Bud's Concerned?
2006-02-04 17:39
by Erik Siegrist

In developments that should have surprised no one, big-name players continue to withdraw from participating in the WBC.

Don't get me wrong -- I think the World Baseball Classic is a fine idea. But, as with most things BaalzeBud touches, the execution doesn't do the idea justice. Pretty much every decision made with regard to the WBC was made with profit, not competition, in mind, and it shows.

Take the decision to hold the tournament in March, before the pitchers are even in game shape. Ludicrous. I've heard arguments that the tourney should have been held after the World Series, too, but that just puts a different kind of pressure on pitchers' arms. No, the logical thing -- if you wanted to make it a true World Cup-style affair -- would have been to skip the All-Star Game this year, expand the break by a couple of weeks and hold the thing mid-season. But I doubt that option was even considered.

(And in typical Selig fashion, they even screwed up the 'safe' schedule they decided upon -- the final games of the WBC will overlap with the first rounds of the NCAA basketball tourney, cutting into the TV audience and revenue streams. Brilliant.)

Anyway, the decision to make it a preseason tourney led of course to the enforced pitch counts, which just highlighted to everyone how much this was simply going to be a product showcase rather than a purely competitive event. And so star players, given a choice between a contrived show of patriotism or getting themselves ready for a World Series chase, are choosing the latter.

I'm actually hoping the pitch count rule embarrasses Selig to the point that they do this thing right the next time they hold it (if they do). Imagine this scenario: it's the final game showdown between the US and Japan, tied 0-0. Roger Clemens is on the hill, having thrown 4 2/3 perfect innings to start the game. The crew chief signals to Buck Martinez. "Sorry, Buck, Roger's reached his pitch limit. You'll have to replace him." Martinez calls for the 'pen while Clemens fumes on the mound. The crowd at a packed Astrodome rises in unison to protest. "LET! HIM! PITCH! LET! HIM! PITCH!"

OK, maybe not. But right now, the only real reason I have to watch is to see some Cuban players before they get to the majors, so I'll hang onto my little fantasy for the moment.

Two Bits
2006-01-29 04:54
by Erik Siegrist

It slipped by everyone here but Bob and his eagle eyes, but Joe Girardi and the Marlins announced a major policy change this past week: from now on, Florida players will be clean-shaven. Girardi, of course, picked up this idea while coaching for the Yankees, notorious whisker-haters that they are.

I wanted to laugh when I read the article, but something held me back. And now, a few days later, I realize what it is: Girardi's right. He's a frickin' genius, really, if you'll pardon my French.

Now of course the policy is silly. While it's true that a majority of World Series winners throughout MLB history have been clean-shaven, the statistical case supporting it's efficacy is still a bit weak. But that's the genius part -- the 2006 Marlins season is not going to be about winning a World Series. It's going to be about taking an extremely young, extremely inexperienced bunch of kids and turning them into major leaguers.

Essentially, Girardi's most important job right now is to teach this huge next wave of Florida prospects how to be professionals. And if a silly policy like this (and, I'd suspect, related policies about dress codes on team flights and such) is what it takes to remind them every morning as they reach for a razor, "Hey, I'm a major leaguer now. I've got to focus," then that job is well on the way to being done before those kids even get to the ballpark.

* * * * *

While we're on the subject, has anyone else noticed the gaping hole in the Marlins offseason acquisition plan?

Here's yet another list of the prospecty-type kids they traded for:

Travis Bowyer, RP
Gaby Hernandez, SP
Mike Jacobs, 1B
Sergio Mitre, P
Ricky Nolasco, SP
Yusmeiro Petit, SP
Reynel Pinto, SP
Hanley Ramirez, SS
Anibal Sanchez, SP
Scott Tyler, SP

And here's some of the spare parts they picked up as well:

Alfredo Amegaza, INF
Joe Borowski, RP
Matt Cepicky, OF
Wes Helms, INF
Mike Megrew, P
Miguel Olivo, C
Pokey Reese, INF
Dan Uggla, INF

Notice anything missing? Like, people who can catch a fly ball?

As it currently stands, the Marlins are going to go into spring training with exactly one outfield position set -- the one occupied by Jeremy Hermida and his whopping 41 at bats of big league experience. Worse, they only have three other outfielders on their 40-man roster:

- Reggie Abercrombie, whose raw tools have yet to get him above Double-A at the age of 24, or even give him some real success at that level
- Chris Aguila, now 26, who has just 123 major league at bats himself, and will get his best (only?) chance this spring to prove he's not a minor league lifer
- Eric Reed, a poor man's Juan Pierre who stole 40 bases between Double-A and Triple-A, but who also managed just a .335 OBP at Albuquerque last season

In other words, Cepicky -- a 28-year-old who's posted mediocre numbers at Triple-A in the Nats/Expos system the last few years -- is almost a shoo-in for a job if he has two decent weeks this March.

It seems like a really curious omission. GM Larry Beinfest moved quickly to make sure his infield was covered in the short term -- even if Ramirez proves not to be ready for the majors this spring Reese, Amezaga and the like would seem capable of holding down the fort while he develops -- but in the outfield he didn't even see fit to pick up adequate insurance policies for the prospects he didn't trade for. (Don't tell me he couldn't have gotten a Brandon Moss or the like included in the Beckett deal if he'd asked.)

And it's not like they've been developing their own, either. Florida's recent pitching-heavy draft philosophy has produced exactly one 'name' outfield prospect, last year's second-round pick Kris Harvey who hit .300/.320/.479 after signing... in short season Rookie ball.

Personally, I've thought Beinfest was one of the more under-rated GMs in the game the last few years. He's not afraid to take risks, not afraid to think outside the box, not afraid to look stupid if he thinks a deal is the right one for his team, and he has a ring to show he know's what he's doing. But this kind of oversight is just inexplicable. Bad as the Marlins are going to be on the field in 2006, at least with the infield and the pitching staff a plan appears to be in place, and the team's (theoretical) future nucleus ready to be developed.

In the outfield, they've got Hermida, Zilch and Nada. And Nada's big numbers in the Mexican Pacific League aside, he just doesn't seem like any kind of answer.

Cuckoo For... Well, Something
2006-01-27 06:27
by Erik Siegrist

I apologize for the long silence -- health concerns laid me out for a few weeks, and I'm slowly recovering. To make matters worse, that recovery involves large quantities of a nasty thing called prednisone, which means I won't even be able to pass the drug test if I get the call to join the provisional US roster for the WBC. (Heck, if Matt Holliday can get on there...)

At any rate, I'm back in the saddle now.

* * * * *

As we get closer to opening the black box on Schroedinger's Deal and collapsing the quantum wave on the Coco Crisp trade, I've started to wonder... just what has Mark Shapiro been up to this offseason?

- He lost Kevin Millwood, but did an adequate job of replacing him with Paul Byrd and Jason Johnson.

- He made what I consider to be the one of the best "small" signing of the winter, nabbing Eduardo Perez. Ben Broussard had a fluky-great year against lefties in '04 (.362/.429/.652 with three home runs in 69 at bats) but has otherwise flailed away ineffectively against them in his career and needed a platoon partner at first -- Shapiro went out and got the best one possible.

At this point, the Indians moves look like the kind of moves you'd expect from a club with a young, talented core who just missed the playoffs, as they've added to the veteran supporting cast without disrupting that core. But then there's Coco...

The proposed Crisp deal (and the supposed related acquisition of Jason Michaels) would have been a seemingly abrupt 180 from that course, a full-on, Smokey and the Bandit-style bootlegger's special. Talent-wise, the deal made/makes sense -- the Indians have no third baseman of the future, and plenty of outfielders on the way up, so trading Crisp for Andy Marte works organizationally. But unless at least one of those outfielders (Jason DuBois? Brad Snyder? Jason Cooper? Ben Francisco? Franklin Gutierrez?) breaks out this spring, subtracting Crisp -- a hitter who should be entering his power prime, and who showed a classic doubles spike in '05 that could easily translate into a home run spike in '06 -- from the lineup leaves an outfield of Grady Sizemore, Casey "Captain Fungible" Blake and a bunch of question marks.

Heck, even the side swap of catchers in the Red Sox trade (Josh Bard for Kelly Shoppach) takes away a very good defensive backup for Victor Martinez and replaces him with, well, a poor man's version of Martinez -- again, seemingly not a move designed to get the Indians closer to a 2006 World Series. So what gives?

Maybe some numbers will provide a clue:


Those are the 2005 OBPs for the Indians, from Travis Hafner down to Aaron Boone. Crisp is square in the middle of that list, at .345. As a team Cleveland's .334 OBP was third in the AL, but it was a big drop-off after the top two (Boston at .357, and the Yankees at 355). In runs scored, again, their rank was solid (4th in the AL) but just average when you look at the actual totals (Texas finished third at 5.34 runs/game, while Cleveland scored 4.88 runs/game; the Indians were closer to the 11th-place Tigers than the Rangers).

Jason Michaels' 2005 OBP? .399.

The Indians have plenty of players who can hit double-digit home runs. In fact, every member of their current projected 2006 lineup hit at least 16 home runs last season. What they lack is guys who can consistently get on base for those home run hitters. Michaels isn't proven as an every-day starter, but even as a 400 plate appearance guy he'd be a big help to Hafner and Martinez's RBI totals out of the #2 hole.

At this point it all seems to be moot, of course, as Crisp is probably staying put. But as a young, cheap player on the verge of getting expensive, he's clearly the guy Shapiro would like to move.

If there's an ironic twist here, it's that Shapiro had a guy in Triple-A in 2005 who could have filled exactly the role Michaels would have filled for the Indians in 2006... John Rodriguez. But Rodriguez had no pedigree, and hit .247 through 46 games in Buffalo, before being shipped off to the Cards and "suddenly" catching fire.

Shapiro may have a clear vision of where he wants his team to go, but hindsight is always 20/20.

Doing the Denial Twist
2005-12-28 08:11
by Erik Siegrist

I was listening to music on my brand new iPod Nano the other day (I clearly got the right one -- after loading it up, the first thing it played on shuffle was Stonehenge by Spinal Tap) when My Doorbell by the White Stripes began playing, and it occurred to me that while most people believe the song, and Get Behind Me Satan as a whole, are about Jack White's break-up with Renee Zellweger, the song is really about something completely different -- namely, the upcoming Baseball Hall of Fame elections.

Oh sure, you're scoffing now, but before I analyze the lyrics ask yourself this: Is anyone really going to be so broken up by losing Renee Zellweger that they'd write more than a postcard about it?


But here, take a look for yourself:

I'm thinkin' about my doorbell, when you gonna ring it?
When you gonna ring it?
Yeah, I'm thinkin' about my doorbell, when you gonna ring it?
When you gonna ring it?
Yeah, I'm thinkin' about my doorbell, when you gonna ring it?
When you gonna ring it?
Yeah, I been thinkin' about my doorbell
Oh, well

Clearly Jack is singing from the point of view of the Hall itself, as it wonders who the next players to step up and 'ring (its) doorbell' and get inducted are going to be.

Well, women and children need kisses
Not the men in my life, I know

"Women and children" refers to the voting baseball writers, who unlike "the men in my life" (those already inducted) need coddling and approval ("kisses"). This isn't the first shot White fires at the voters.

And I been callin' a Mister a Missus
I respect the art of the show

This seems to be a defense of some recent inductees that have drawn criticism -- Robin Yount (with his ambiguously-gendered first name), and stellar defenders Bill Mazeroski and Ozzie Smith ("the art of the show", or perhaps "the art of the Show.") White is saying that there is room for all types of players inside the Hall.

Take back what you said, little girl
And while you're at it, take yourself back too
'Cause I'm tired of sittin' here, waitin'
Wondering what you're gonna do now, what you're gonna do about it

A stinging indictment of those writers bemoaning the lack of "obvious" candidates on this year's ballot.

After another chorus, we hit the bridge:

You don't seem to come around
Push your finger and make a sound

Here White is referring to how stingy the voting body seems to have become in the last decade or so, although to be fair the writers elected just as many players from 1996-2005 as they did 1986-1995. Still, when players like Ryne Sandberg barely cross the 75% line, and others like Bert Blyleven can't build any momentum, something does seem amiss.

You don't seem to come around
Knock, knock, did you knock it down?

White takes a moment to mourn the loss of all the old ballparks, such as Tiger Stadium in his hometown of Detroit, that have been 'knocked down' and lost to the march of profit... err, progress.

Make a sound, and I'll make you feel right
Right at home, yeah
Yeah, right at home, yeah

White, through the Hall, asks only that the voters "make a sound" (vote) so that the Hall can welcome new, deserving players and make them "feel... right at home."

You know you got me waitin' in pain
But how come it's so easy to you?

Another zinger, directed at those voters who don't seem to take their responsibilities seriously enough.

You don't strike me as the type to be callous
But your words seem so obtuse

The key here is the play on words with 'strike' -- this is clearly a reference to Blyleven, the retired pitcher with the most career strikeouts, and a challenge to those writers who have to jump through so many verbal and logistical hoops to deny Blyleven's obvious qualifications. White isn't saying that these voters are bad ("callous") people, just that they have become too entrenched in their opinions and invested too much of their ego in the argument, and that they need to take a step back.

But then again, I know you feel guilty
And you tell me you want me again
But I don't need any of your pity
I got plenty of my own friends, they're all above me

A reminder not to dwell on the mistaken votes of the past but to move forward, capped by a touching tribute to those Hall of Famers who have passed on.

Back through the chorus to a slightly different bridge:

They don't seem to come around
Push the finger and make a sound

The first of White's predictions: the writers won't "come around", and neither of the big-name closers on the ballot (Goose Gossage and Bruce Sutter) will "push the finger" (or rather, push Rollie Fingers) and get elected.

They don't seem to come around
Paint it green, they'll knock it down

Jim Rice, also, will not join the long list of Red Sox sluggers who 'knocked down' the Green Monster with their bat and gained entry to the Hall.

Make a sound, and I'll make you feel right
Right at home
Right at home
I'm thinkin' about my doorbell, when you gonna ring it?
When you gonna ring it?...

So, if the song is correct, none of this year's main candidates -- Blyleven, Rice, Sutter, Gossage, even Dawson (there may be a demo version of the song out there referencing a hawk; it's something worth investigating) -- will get elected by the writers, probably prompting a round of soul-searching among the voting body.

Who knew that Jack White was such a die-hard baseball fan?

Thinking of a Master Plan
2005-12-24 11:48
by Erik Siegrist

As a contrast to Kenny Williams, let's look at one of the other big players this winter -- that of Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi.

Usually you can tell what a GM has in mind when he has a busy offseason. He'll concentrate on bolstering the pitching staff, or filling specific holes, or adding a big bat. You can see some semblance of a plan in the moves he makes.

With the Blue Jays' offseason though, the only plan seems to be "Spend money." Granted, this was a team with multiple holes, but so far Ricciardi's moves have lacked (buzz word alert! buzz word alert!) any semblance of synergy.

For instance: Ricciardi dropped about a hundred million dollars in contracts on two pitchers. Regardless of what you think of the size of those deals, A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan are both clear upgrades for the Blue Jays staff. But let's look at some numbers:

Halladay - 2.60, 6.86
Burnett - 2.42, 8.53
Towers - 1.23, 4.83
Chacin - 0.99, 5.37
Lilly - 0.92, 6.84

Ryan - 1.23, 12.80

AL Average - 1.59, 6.16

The first number is 2005 groundball/flyball ratio; the second is K/9 rate. What jumps out at me is that the new guys don't rely much on their defense, instead getting plenty of outs on their own. The rest of the rotation, however, are still pitchers who need some (or in the case of Josh Towers and Gustavo Chacin, a lot of) help from the guys behind them. The two big guns at the top of the rotation are also fairly extreme ground ball pitchers.

This is a picture of a team for which defense, and infield defense, is fairly important.

Ricciardi followed up those signings by bringing in Lyle Overbay, a first baseman who should be a solid offensive upgrade at first base on Shea Hillenbrand, but also a huge defensive upgrade (albeit at a relatively unimportant spot). That's a move with some synergy -- helping out the new pitching with a small defensive boost.

This week, however, Ricciardi followed that up with a deal (still awaiting approval) to send Orlando Hudson and Miguel Batista to Arizona for Troy Glaus.

Hudson is of course the reigning AL Gold Glover at second base, and one of those unusual players who got the award because he's actually really good. Just to pick one defensive stat at random, Clay Davenport has had him worth 27, 16 and 17 runs above average the last three years. His replacement would probably be Aaron Hill, who put up decent numbers in limited work at 2B last season but is unproven.

Glaus, meanwhile, hasn't posted a positive RAA at third base since 2002, and would be a downgrade with the glove from Corey Koskie. So to support the $100 million in pitching contracts they've already shelled out, the Jays make a trade that adds more salary and weakens them defensively at two infield positions, thus undermining the value of the money they've already spent.

Of course I'm not looking at the impact of Glaus on the Jays' offense, which should be significant. And the Jays could always DH Glaus, leave Koskie at third and deal Shea Hillenbrand, assuming Glaus takes kindly to the idea.

I'm just saying that as a series of moves, the Jays aren't so much having pieces fall into place as throwing pieces in the box and shaking it up, hoping to see something they like when they take off the lid.

(And like the Marlins did with Carlos Delgado, the Jays have given themselves an out if they don't like what they see -- Ryan and Burnett both have heavily backloaded deals. Another third place finish in the AL East will likely result in an offseason just as busy as this one, but with the talent flowing in a different direction...)

Your 2006 Executive of the Year Is...
2005-12-15 18:42
by Erik Siegrist

I have long been a critic of Kenny Williams as a general manager. Whereas Scott over at the Juice saw a glass that was half-full when it came to his abilities, I saw a glass that was half-empty and with a hole at the bottom. From the Todd Ritchie trade to his continual misuse of resources (signing outmaker extrordinaire Royce Clayton and exiling Jose Valentin to third base because he made a few too many errors, thereby also burying Joe Crede in the minors longer than necessary...), Kenny Boy seemed in way over his head to me. He "got lucky" occasionally (Damaso Marte being Exhibit 'A'), but from what I could see the bad far outweighed the good.

Then, last year, everything clicked for the White Sox. Garland and Contreras developed; the defense gelled; a couple of bullpen guys had career years; Dye, Everett and Thomas combined for 1200 plate appearances; and voila, Chicago had a ticker tape parade. I will still give pitching coach Don Cooper far more credit for the title than Williams, but there was no denying that his moves for the most part worked. He was, it seems, learning from his past mistakes.

Now for most GMs, winning a title means that the time for learning is over. They've already reached the top of the heap -- what more do they need to do? Laurels are so comfortable too. If they weren't meant to be rested on, why were they invented?

Kenny Williams is clearly not most GMs.

In the most frantic MLB offseason in recent memory, Williams -- rather than coasting through, playing it 'safe' and bringing back the core of the champs intact -- has been one of the busiest movers and shakers, making two big moves and one smaller one, all of which look like clear wins for the White Sox, and all of which prove that Williams is still willing to learn and improve:

1) The Thome trade was a risky one, in the sense that Thome has health issues and that the Sox could lose some defense in center field. But Thome was one of two players on the market who fit the team's biggest need (left-handed power), and came with a cheaper price tag both in talent and dollars than the other potential solution, Carlos Delgado, fetched. If Brian Anderson proves to be what his minor league track record hints at (namely, Aaron Rowand Version 2.0), then one of those risks is dealt with. And while Gio Gonzalez is a tough prospect to lose, he is still a 20 year old kid with just one dominant season under his belt, who has yet to face the high minors acid test.

The old Kenny Williams traded guys like Gonzalez for nearly replacement level players like Ritchie; the new Kenny Williams gets Thome instead.

2) Damaso Marte was one of Williams' most successful acquisitions, so you'd think there would be some emotional investment in keeping him. Instead, after two seasons in which he started to show signs of breaking down (fluctuating HR and K rates, and some arm trouble), Marte gets flipped back to the club he was stolen from in exchange for extremely useful supersub-type guy Rob Mackowiak.

The old Kenny Williams traded for guys like Billy Koch because they threw hard; the new Kenny Williams trades away guys who throw hard before their flaws catch up to them and erode their value.

3) The third deal is the capper for me. It won't be official until all parties have passed their physicals (and given the involvement of Orlando Hernandez, that's no sure thing) but Tuesday night's swap of El Duque, Luis Vizcaino and Chris Young for Javy Vazquez was pure genius, especially when you consider that, like Thome, the Sox won't be footing the bill for his entire contract.

Vazquez's profile is similar to Freddy Garcia's -- a younger pitcher with some good seasons on his resume, whose value slipped a bit due to a couple of tough years. Vazquez brings far more to the table than Garcia did though when the Sox acquired him:

Garcia '03: 6.44 K/9; 2.03 K/BB; 1.39 HR/9
Vazquez '05: 8.01 K/9; 4.17 K/BB; 1.46 HR/9

When you consider that it cost the Red Sox two of their best prospects to get Josh Beckett (another under-30 potential ace who hasn't quite put it all together), while it only cost the White Sox one top prospect, one swingman of indeterminate age and a 5.12 ERA in 2005, and one reliever whose strikeout rate has declined for two straight years, the trade just looks that much better.

The old Kenny Williams targeted pitchers coming off career years, and at the peak of their perceived value; the new Kenny Williams targets talented arms whose perceived value has dropped.

In just a few weeks (the best weeks of his professional life, performance-wise) Williams has added power hitting, rotation depth and bench strength to a championship roster, in exchange for nothing more than bullpen depth and prospects. With the powers in the AL East looking more and more vulnerable, Williams seems to have set his sights on a bigger prize than just a ring -- he's looking for a dynasty.

A lot can, and likely will, go wrong to keep him from that goal over the next 10 months, and it's entirely possible the loss of Gonzalez and Young could come back to haunt him. But that won't change the fact that Williams has put himself at least into the conversation, along with the likes of Schuerholz and Beane, when it comes time to discuss the best GMs in the game.