Monthly archives: December 2005
Doing the Denial Twist
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?
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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...
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
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.
Catch As Catch Can
While I work on a longer piece about the Marlins' offseason moves to date, I thought I'd cruise by the transactions page to see if any interesting patterns were emerging from the chaos.
- The Milton Bradley trade I won't comment on, except to point out that it somewhat ironically looks like exactly the sort of trade poor DePo got raked over the coals for making -- an established major leaguer in exchange for a Double-A prospect with roughly the same career timetable as the other jewels of the Dodger system. Ken and Jon have the A's and Dodgers angles ably covered otherwise.
- It's nice to see Nationals permanently-temporary GM Jim Bowden turning over a new leaf. Instead of acquiring every toolsy, skill-deficient outfielder he can find, he's now acquiring toolsy, skill-deficient players at other positions in order to convert them into outfielders. The cassandras who looked at Alfonso Soriano and cried "Juan Samuel! Juan Samuel!" when he first came up must be feeling a little better about themselves right about now.
Bowden gave up too much for Soriano of course; even if you're of the opinion that Soriano's a better offensive player than Brad Wilkerson, he'll not so much better as to make up for what he loses in defense, plus the change the Nets included in the deal (Terrmel Sledge, a useful fourth outfielder, and Washington's top healthy pitching prospect) to get it done. But Bowden's never been afraid to trade away both quantity and quality in exchange for marquee value.
The weirder roster news out of DC is Bowden's sudden fetish for backup catchers. He added no less than five of them to the system on Tuesday: nominal catcher/utility hitter Robert Fick, signed to a one year deal; and Mike DiFelice, Alberto Castillo, Wiki Gonzalez and former Marlins organizational soldier Brandon Harper, all signed to minor league deals, presumably with spring NRIs attached.
Between them DiFelice, Castillo and Gonzalez have played for 386 different professional baseball clubs (or thereabouts). Presumably, other than Fick, they're all fighting for the same job in spring training too, that of caddying for Brian Schneider -- MLB is missing a golden opportunity for some good publicity if they don't turn that titanic struggle into a reality TV show. "Meet Joe Backstop", perhaps? "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" is already taken unfortunately, although it would also be a bit inaccurate since last season's winner, Gary Bennett, is only making $800,000 with the Cardinals in 2006.
- Another team stockpiling catchers plays just down the turnpike in Baltimore. The O's inked Ramon Hernandez to a four-year contract, disgruntling their previous free agent catcher signing Javy Lopez, who's still got one year left on his deal. I'm not sure what Javy's problem is here -- regular DHing would seem to be a good way to stay healthier, put up decent numbers and sign another big contract -- unless he was just feeling left out because most of the other big-name Oriole hitters were expressing their displeasure with Hernandez's inability to pitch.
- A depressingly uninteresting pattern is the money being thrown at left-handed middle relievers. Let's not even get into whether they're worth multi-million dollar contracts; instead, let's pre-suppose that the ability to get out left-handed sluggers in crucial situations is indeed a priceless talent, and see who got ripped off the worst anyway.
The Cubs will pay Scott Eyre $11 million over two years, primarily to get out the likes of Jim Edmonds (the biggest left-handed threat in their division). Lefties put up a .182/.277/.242 line against Eyre last year; a somewhat less friendly .200/.241/.390 against him in 2004; and hit .219/.280/.271 off him in 2003. That's a pretty solid track record for a specialist, and if he can get Edmonds out in a September nailbiter to put the Cubs in the playoffs, I doubt any Cubs fan will begrudge him his salary.
The Cards will pay Ricardo Rincon $2.9 million over two years, primarily to get out... uhh... Adam Dunn? Prince Fielder? Barry Bonds in the NLCS? The NL Central is surprisingly light in left-handed power. At any rate, lefties hit .250/.316/.398 off Rincon in '05, .200/.247/.278 off him in '04, and .200/.267/.275 off him in '03. If 2005 was a blip and not a trend, the Cards made out well here, comparatively speaking. Well, compared to Eyre anyway.
The Nationals will pay Joey Eischen $1.3 million for one year, primarily to get out guys like Carlos Delgado and Ryan Howard. Lefties hit Eischen at .250/.325/.375, .167/.310/.333, and .255/.305/.429 clips over the last three seasons. Maybe it's a good thing Frank Robinson has a reputation for creative use of his bullpen.
So which team's the loser? All three. The Angels went out and got JC Romero (heading in the second year of a two-year, $1 million contract, with a club option for a third), who held lefties to .198/.308/.267, .261/.341/.351 and .214/.333/.291 marks over the last three seasons, in exchange for a speedy Low-A second basemen they didn't need -- a prospect comparable to the draft picks the Cubs and Cards will lose (Eischen was a re-sign by the Nats). Walks aside, Romero is just as adept at not allowing lefties to get big hits as Eyre or Rincon, and the Angels -- who face the likes of Eric Chavez and Mark Teixeira on a regular basis -- probably needed a LOOGY-type more than the Cubs, Cards or Nats did. Paying him a fraction of what the older guys will make is just a bonus.
The moral of the story, as always, is that nothing puts the 'fun' in 'fungible' like free agent lefty relievers.
Insert Clever Title Here
Starting a blog from scratch is an awkward endeavor. A formal introduction to phantom readers out there, somewhere, in the aether, always feels a bit silly, but just diving in and posting without first establishing who you are and (if necessary) why you are here is just plain rude. I mean really. Who am I to come barging onto your monitor uninvited, haranguing you about the latest blunders by your favorite team's GM, or why everyone seems to be looking at Issue X all cock-eyed? How arrogant am I to think I'd know better than experts and professionals? And am I at least entertainingly arrogant about it, or am I just some blowhard with a keyboard and a chip-encrusted shoulder?
I'll answer those questions for you soon enough. Promise.
Firing Wide of the Mainstream Since 2005.
About the Toaster
Baseball Toaster was unplugged on February 4, 2009.