Monday, November 22, 2004

Hindsight is a beautiful thing

I wish we had gone with Colemangoojoo.

The Can and I have not posted lately because we are obsessing over our upcoming Diamond Mind Baseball league. Jason's part of it, too, but has subconsciously resigned himself to finishing out of the playoff picture and so is spending his time trying to make Pat Listach feel bad about not ever having developed into more of a ballplayer.

I plan to report on the results of the player auction which will begin after the Thanksgiving holiday. I also plan to expand my thoughts on the 1984 Tigers, and a wealth of other ideas.

All this just because I wanted to say I like Colemangoojoo.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

MVP? Who cares?

Yes, you heard me correctly, who cares? You hear about the voting for the Hall of Fame and one of the things people mention the most is how many MVPs or where the hitter fell in the voting for MVP. Right now there is all of the debate that happens every year about whether or not Player A should have won, or whether Player B got the short shrift. You hear people discuss the meaning of "valuable", although if they explore that meaning, I also think "most" and "player" should be debated as well.

It's also time for Manager of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Gold Gloves and Cy Young. The debate over the meaning of these doesn't extend as far as the debate on "valuable" but there is some contention over the meaning of "rookie". There is also little insight into how the Gold Gloves are selected since the best defensive player rarely wins the award by most objective measures.

Well, my position is that they are all irrelevant. It is just a way to keep baseball in the news between the end of the season and the winter meetings. I mean, wouldn't it make sense to give the manager award to the manager of the team with the most wins? Nah, because he may have had the best players, and the manager with the best players SHOULD win. Why give an award to a first year player? Does it have any later relevance? I mean this blog could have been called "The Hamelin Academy" or "Colemangoogoo" or "Listach and the Banshees" for all the relevance some of the past winners have had.

Nowadays we have a great metric like Win Shares and we can use it to evaluate players' performance in all areas. Why do we need voters to tell us who is the best and brightest when we can see for ourselves? So, without any further ado, here are the top five players and pitchers in each league according to Win Shares. If you want to declare one of them the best, the brightest, the most valuable, the best on a team that got to the playoffs, the player that made the biggest difference on a team or whatever, go ahead. For me, I'll just look at those five and say, wow, they had some pretty impressive seasons.

Top Five AL Win Shares
1. Gary Sheffield 31
2. Alex Rodriquez 30
2. Hideki Matsui 30
2. Miguel Tejada 30
5. Vladimir Guerrero 29

Top Five NL Win Shares
1. Barry Bonds 53
2. Albert Pujols 40
3. Scott Rolen 38
4. Adrian Beltre 37
4. Bobby Abreu 37

Top Five AL Pitcher Win Shares
1. Johan Santana 27
2. Curt Schilling 22
3. Brad Radke 19
3. Mark Buehrle 19
5. Jake Westbrook 17
5. Ryan Drese 17
5. Pedro Martinez 17

Top Five NL Pitcher Win Shares
1. Randy Johnson 25
2. Ben Sheets 21
3. Roger Clemens 20
3. Carl Pavano 20
5. Carlos Zambrano 19
5. Jason Schmidt 19
5. Livan Hernandez 19
5. Roy Oswalt 19

For defensive categories, try this link. I have sorted this database for the highest fielding Win Shares at shortstop for both leagues. (I was really surprised to see how many Derek Jeter had.) You can use it to look and see who has the most fielding Win Shares at every position. Then you can look further into the lists and see where other players total Win Shares are. (Like for me, seeing that Jim Edmonds was sixth in total Win Shares in both leagues.) Trust me, it will be more fun and useful that any votes or awards you will see. If you want to think about the meaning and use of words, read William Safire's weekly column "On Language" in the New York Times Magazine. (Subscription required.)

As for HOF voting, I hope to tackle that next week.

Monday, November 15, 2004

The Myth of Big Markets

Ok, I'll admit that even the title to the blog is a bit misleading. How can I say that there is no correlation with market size and the current salary structure in Major League Baseball? Well, just like the manager is the first to get the blame, so is the size of the market.

Now, I'm not saying that the Yankees don't have a HUGE advantage. In the 2000 census, the New York MSA had over 21 million people listed. Kansas City and Milwaukee, on the other hand, were both under two million, which puts New York at ten times the size of the smallest markets. Even if you factor in a second team in the New York MSA, and that the MSA is divided equally between the Mets and Yankees, it is still five to six times bigger than the smallest markets. Truthfully, that is about the multiple you see between the smallest and largest salaries as the Yankees spend over 180 million dollars and the smallest payroll is just a shade under 30 million. The Yankees are the 800 pound gorilla - they can do whatever they want as they have history, success and a population base. I looked at the past five years and did some averages - wins, salary and attendance. The Yankees were first in every one. However, when you look at average revenue (average attendance over the past five years times the average ticket price) they fall to second. Let's get to the numbers.

First, I wanted to look at the most simple analysis - how do salaries rank according to the population of the MSA of the team? I decided to divide up metropolitan areas 50/50 as to the population base that supports the team. Yes, it is a little arbitrary - but I feel it puts those cities more in tune with the smaller MSAs. So, even though Chicago is the third largest MSA and San Francisco is the fifth, they fall into the middle range of population since they have two teams. Since New York and L.A. are so big, even with two teams each, they still tower over the other MSAs. With this change, I found that five (Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Red Sox, Rangers) of the largest average MLB payrolls over the past five years are in the top 10 of the MSA populations. None of the smallest average payrolls were in the top 10 MSAs. In the bottom 10 MSAs, there was 1 of the highest average payrolls (St. Louis) and seven of the lowest (Minnesota, San Diego, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Kansas City and Milwaukee.) (Montreal, per the Canadian 2001 census, has a metropolitan population of 3.4 million, putting them over Phoenix into the middle population range.) So, obviously, there is something here, but I don't think we're seeing the whole picture.

Next, I looked at attendance per population. Of the top 10 MSAs, there were four of the highest attendance amounts (Yankees, Dodgers, Orioles and Astros) and one of the lowest (Tigers). In the bottom ten, there were two of the top ten attendance figures (Colorado, St. Louis) and five of the lowest (Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Milwaukee). There is a lower correlation here, but still there is something.

Then, I looked at average ticket revenue per average payroll. (Average ticket revenue was calculated using the average ticket price for the last five years and multiplying by the average attendance.) Here, if you look at the top 12 average payrolls, you get ten of the highest revenues. If you look at the top 15 average payrolls, you get 14 of the highest revenues. The only exception are the Angels who are thirteenth in average payroll and 20th in revenue. This is where you see the highest correlation - if fans come to the game, and ticket demand is high (taken into account with the average price - e.g. the Red Sox are 11th in attendance due to the confines of their stadium, but with the highest average ticket price, they are first in average revenue) then the team makes money. Now, the attendance doesn't correlate exactly with population, so I decided to look at the major component - winning.

Looking at winning and attendance figures, we see something clearer. The top ten teams as far as average number of wins per year (in order) are the Yankees, A's, Braves, Cardinals, Giants, Mariners, Red Sox, Dodgers, Twins and Astros. (Jon - you'll be happy to know the White Sox are 11th.) Six of these teams are in the top ten in attendance. The Twins are 26th, the Braves are 12th and the A's are 20th. In the bottom ten of average wins, there is one of the highest attendance averages (the Orioles) and six of the lowest (Brewers, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Tampa Bay and Montreal). (I think that you can look at stadiums and expectations as the reasons the A's and Twins are so low, the Orioles are so high and the Braves, for all of their success, are in the middle of the road.)

The thing that everyone cares about though, is how much higher payrolls contribute to wins. I saved this for last. The top ten in average salaries are the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Mets, Braves, Rangers, Arizona, St. Louis, Seattle and Cubs. Six of these teams were in the top 10 in wins (in order, Yankees, Braves, Cardinals, Mariners, Red Sox and Dodgers.) The Diamondbacks were 13th, Cubs 17th, Mets 19th, and Rangers 20th. The bottom ten in average salaries are Cincinnati, San Diego, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Milwaukee, Montreal, Kansas City, Minnesota and Florida. In the bottom ten, two of them were in the top 10 in wins (A's and Twins) and seven were in bottom 10 (Reds, Padres, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Tampa Bay).

There are going to be differences from year to year - right now the Diamondbacks and Rangers are divesting themselves of the bigger contracts as they try to make salaries more in line with revenue. Expectations change so that the amount spent changes. I think looking at five years for the success, the attendance and salaries, it gives a good idea of how the organization works and smooths out the impact of new stadiums and one year pushes.

So - if I may summarize, there is some factor in the size of your market on salaries, but even more important is attendance and ticket demand. People want to go Wrigley and Fenway. People love to follow the Cardinals, Cubs, Red Sox and Yankees. Therefore, you can have higher ticket prices. That means higher ticket revenue. Which leads to higher payrolls. If 14 of the 15 highest payrolls also have the highest revenues - that is a strong correlation. That comes from high attendance and high demand. Those come from history. History comes from winning. (Well, there are other factors, but I would say that is the largest - though stadiums come into play like at Wrigley Field and Camden Yards.) By the way, the 16th highest salary was the 15th largest revenue (Colorado).

What is the cause of winning? You could say spending has a part (as seen above) but, I would put forth that management is the bigger key. Signing the right players - if you do it for a million or fifteen million - is very important. Without good players, you can't win. If you don't win, people don't come to the stadium. If people don't come to the stadium, you don't bring in revenue. If you don't bring in revenue, you can't sign good players. So, there is some intercorrelation. But, if your team's management makes shrewd moves, they can succeed, albeit with a much smaller margin of error than the 800 pound Steinbrenner. Like the case with managers, don't blame your market size - it is the easy excuse. Take it to your GM - for his drafting, his minor league development and his roster choices. It is a tough job, but that is where the buck should stop.

Talking MVP Blues...

Today, given that this is the week the leagues’ MVP awards will be announced, we are going to tackle the subject of the MVP.

No arguing about what the MVP means, whether it’s the best or literally most valuable to his team; whether bringing fans into the seats counts as value (one of the most prevalent arguments for Butt-Rod in years past).

Nah, today we’re just going to look at the stats and break them down slightly, in my decidedly less-than-theoretic manner.

And I’m here to talk about one player.

Yes, Jesus himself – Johnny Damon. Hear me out on this, because hopefully after reading this, no matter which side of the MVP definition you fall on, you can at least see my point of view.

This year, as the leadoff batter, Damon:

a) had more walks than strikeouts for the first time since 2000 and just the third time in his career;
b) had an on-base percentage of .380 and reached base 267 times, which was third in the league;
c) banged out 20 home runs and slugged .477, the second-highest mark of his career
d) drove in 94 runs.

Yeah, I didn’t talk about defense, because no one does these days – when throwing around names like Gary Sheffield, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz for the MVP, it’s apparent that defense doesn’t play much of a role in determining the most valuable player.

It’s interesting, because Damon had a decidedly down year for him — he made five errors this past season, as many as he’s made in the previous three years combined.

Anyway, looking at Damon’s numbers, I would argue that his season is one of the best all-around seasons for a leadoff hitter in recent memory. I discount the efforts of Nomar and Brady Anderson, because they weren’t typical leadoff hitters – there was no other place to hit them, so lead off they did.

Obviously, Rickey Henderson still is held in high esteem regarding the leadoff position, as well he should. With his combination of power, patience and speed, he was one of the best.

But Damon’s job — as it is for all leadoff hitters — is to set the table for the mashers. I’d say that finishing third in the A.L. in times on base would qualify. Even with the black hole of Bellhorn hitting behind him, Manny Ortez combined for 269 RBIs – and I’d bet about 100 of those came from Damon, who scored 123 runs this year – second-most of his career.

Say what you want about the massive attack put forth by the Red Sox this year. But it all wouldn’t have happened without Damon at the top. It would be nice to see that reflected in the MVP voting this week.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

How the media shape our mistaken beliefs

I'm not sure I really know how, I just see lots of evidence that it's going on.

First, I want to cite a football example. I lost interest in football right after the demise of the USFL. I'm not entirely sure that that was the root cause of my lack of interest because I was also entering the high school years and all the other interests that that entailed. But watching any football game after seeing Jim Kelly and the Flying Midgets of the Houston Gamblers seemed quite boring in comparison.

Things started to change for me last fall. Two years before that I had thought about trying to find a way to be interested in football again and I felt the best way for me to do that was to find a talented young football player to be a fan of and try to enjoy the game through his exploits. My sights initially set on Joey Harrington. When he went to the Detroit Lions I thought that that could be a team I could get behind. Alas, it became obvious to me quickly that Harrington did not have the gifts to be a great quarterback and so my interest never really picked up.

Returning to last fall. Somehow or another I stumble across this fellow Ben Roethlisberger of the University of Miami. Yes, that Miami, not that crummy school in Florida. I actually started watching some of his games on ESPN. I liked him. I made up my mind that I would root for whatever pro team drafted him and even watched the NFL draft to see what team I would be rooting for for the next decade.

Lo and behold, I became greatly excited when my pre-USFL favorite team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, drafted him (I was born in western PA). I have enjoyed his success immensely and have even watched some Steelers football this season.

Roethlisberger is extremely talented, no question. But the media has it all wrong. An MVP candidate? The guy has thrown for 200 yards once! You could find dozens of quarterbacks in the last decade, including many backups, who have posted similar performances over a six game span. Just because he's been the de facto leader for a TEAM who has won every game he has started doesn't make him the MVP. It's foolish.

Returning to baseball, we have seen it twice already in the awards being given out; awards voted on by the same goofy sportswriters who mold how we view things. Khalil Greene not the Rookie of the Year?!?!?! He excelled at the most demanding position in the field while batting extremely well. The Padres were playoff contenders until he broke his finger. The fact that Greene was born in Western PA (Butler) has nothing to do with it.

Because if it had something to do with Pittsburgh, then I'd be all for the Pirates Jason Bay winning the award. Really I have no idea why Bay won. There's no recent historical precedent. The NL winner has been a pitcher in most years. Heck, Rafael Furcal won it in 2000 with numbers similar to Greene's. It's not a small-market thing. Maybe it's religious in nature (Greene is of the Baha'i faith).

It may have to do with a number of sportswriters moving to Canada after the presidential election and wanting to see one of "their own" winning it.

Worse, though, was the NL Cy Young voting, where the best pitcher in the National League was third on his team in voting and garnered only a single third place vote. Why? Because he didn't have enough wins or saves, despite being the absolute best pitcher in the league.

Brad Lidge deserved the Cy Young award. He started the season in a setup role and moved to closer and by the postseason was easily the most important pitcher on the Astros. No one was more dominating over the course of the season. No one understands "holds" and saves are convoluted. Look at Lidge compared to Clemens and Randy Johnson:

Lidge 1.90 8.28 .174 14.93
Johnson 2.60 8.10 .197 10.62
Clemens 2.98 10.44 .217 9.15

Clemens and Johnson are "old men" and not expected to perform at the high levels they did. When and how are people going to realize how to think out of the box and make their own opinions and analyze things when the majority of the media are lemmings and repeat the same mistruths over and over?

When will Jack Morris and Keith Hernandez be inducted into the Hall of Fame? Why didn't Rico Brogna ever win a Gold Glove. How, horror of horrors, can more people think Ripken's games played streak is a greater accomplishment than DiMaggio's hitting streak (as recently depicted in an online poll at the advertisement-laden How could George Bush have been re-elected?

I feel like the one-eyed man in the kingdom of the blind.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

The Cardinals, The Offseason and Me

You've just come off a crushing defeat to the Boston Red Sox and have ten free agents. As Dennis Hopper says, "What do you do? What do you do?" Well, Keanu, don't get on the bus, or even drop off the key - I'm here to set your mind free (and you don't need the red or green pills.)

But, before I start with what to do with the Cardinals FAs, I think I should start building from the bottom, and try to let you see the method to my madness. I am going to assume that the Cardinals are going to be revenue neutral so that they won't spend much more or less than the previous year. Second, I will take into account the fact the Rockies are paying $7.5 million of Larry Walker's contract in 2005 and that the Mets will be paying most of Roger Cedeno's contract leaving the Cardinals on the hook for only $700,000. I will also assume that the guaranteed contracts of Rolen, Pujols, Walker, Edmonds, Suppan and Sanders will all increase by about 9 million dollars over the next year. Carpenter's option pays him 2 million so that goes in the total. Let's add another 2 million for increases for the rest of the roster and the payroll should be around $59 million with 6 spots to fill. (I think my assumptions are pretty realistic without some more research on the contracts structures.) Now, the first move I will suggest will either make my colleagues think I have had my body switched with a space alien named Fizzy or lost my mind.

1. Sign Pokey Reese.

Yeah, I know. No bat. Obviously. However, I would make this the first move of the offseason just so that the Cardinals could take some chances. Last year his salary was one million, so I don't think it would be unreasonable to sign him for 1.25 mil.

2. Sign Ben Grieve.

Oh, I am bringing out the big guns. Whooeee, I am crazy with the money and crazy with power. So, to me one of the big weaknesses of the Cardinals was the lack of any power off the bench. This would give the Cards another left-handed bat for the bench with some pop as well as another outfielder to go with defensive replacement So Taguchi and then they could release Roger Cedeno. Plus, Grieve is only going to be 29 this next year. Last year he made 700k. So, if you pay him a cool million, you would have your fifth outfielder for $1.7 (combining him with the payment that would still need to be made to Roger Cedeno.)

3. Sign Valerio de los Santos.

Ok, I will now mention the first Cardinal free agent in this column: Steve Kline. It looks like his relationship with LaRussas has soured and I doubt he will be back. If de los Santos is healthy, he has a BA against of .232 against lefties and could be a valuable second lefty in the bullpen. This would be the biggest stretch in the first three moves, since he is turning 33 and is more than likely on the downward slope of his career. I would want to make it a minor league deal with a chance to make the major league club so as not to risk any money.

4. Use Carpenter, Suppan, Marquis and Ankiel/Haren in the starting rotation.

Truthfully, I have little problem with this being the second through fifth spots in the starting rotation. If it came to desperation time, you could go first through fifth, but that would be putting a lot of pressure on the young pitchers. We would have Adam Wainwright in AAA just in case, but that is another young pitcher to throw in the fire. However, we are saving a lot of money (to be used later), because my next suggestions are good cost saving measures.

5. Promote Al Reyes and Carmen Cali to the bullpen.

Both pitched well in the minors last year - even in the rarefied air of the Pacific Coast League. Admittedly, Cali only pitched twenty innings, but was promoted from the AA in mid-season and had 20 Ks to go with only four walks in those innings. This way you would have as a long reliever Haren or Ankiel (preferably Haren); Cali, de los Santos and Ray King from the left side; Kiko Calero and Reyes from the right with Isringhausen as the closer. So, the Cardinals would be carrying twelve pitchers in this plan. I think eleven would be the perfect number, with fourteen position players, meaning that de los Santos and Reyes should be the ones battling for the last spot. (Reyes will be turning 35, so he is not exactly a prospect - but could be serviceable. Cali will be 27, not a young pup either, but definitely a longer possible path.)

6. Do not resign any of the Cardinals free agents.

Am I crazy? No Edgar? No Matt? No Ray-Ray? Darn tootin. As I've already said, we will be losing Kline. I can't say that I would be unhappy to lose Cal Eldred, Ray Lankford, John Mabry, Tony Womack, Woody Williams, Matt Morris, Mike Matheny or Edgar Renteria. Williams is getting old. Lankford's return was a nice story, but didn't really offer too much after the first couple weeks of the season. Morris will probably cost too much. John Mabry did some nice things but will be 35 at the end of next season. Tony Womack doesn't really offer any offense. Neither does Mike Matheny, though with the catchers on the market, although I am perfectly happy with Yadier Molina, I would resign him for two to three million just to avoid having Cody McKay as the backup. (I am assuming that the Cardinals will not be in the market for Varitek.) So, we get to Edgar Renteria, which leads to my pentultimate point.

7. Sign Nomar Garciaparra.

Yes, he is injury prone. (That is why I made Pokey Reese the first signing. Pokey as the backup is nice. Heck, even as the starting second baseman, he is certainly not much worse than Tony Womack offensively and a much better defensive player. I just think the only good offensive second baseman on the market is Jeff Kent and he is past ripe. Additionally, you can keep Hector Luna as the guy to back up both positions, because I don't think he is ready to play full time.) Now, some of you might be wondering about the ages and the defense. Yes, Nomar is going to be 32. Edgar will be 30. However, last seasons OPS of 728 looks to be about where Edgar should be, while Nomar is up at 842 last season, and has potential to be better. The amount of total chances both had during their last full year is comparable with Nomar only making a few more errors. Edgar had a fielding percentage of .983 this year - Nomar while not really healthy was at .982. Renteria had a range factor of 4.41, Nomar 4.02. (If you look at Reese's last full year - he blows them both out of the water.) I would hope that Nomar's range would increase if he was healthy. Maybe I'm hoping against hope. I would also think that like other malcontents on other teams (Edmonds, Rolen) he could find a home in St. Louis. I would think a three year deal for 30 million would be possible. A little over what Renteria makes now, but I still think it would be a value for the increase in offense.

So, that brings the total to 72 million dollars, or about 10 million more to spend to equal this years salary total. Let's say we add five million to that total to make it about $15 million to go. There is one true possible #1 out there. That is Pedro Martinez. I'm not sure if that would be the best signing, but I think that could be exactly what the rotation needs. That may not be realistic, so I think a Radke, a Milton or a Derek Lowe could all be signed for about $10 million a year in today's market and could also make nice additions to the rotation and be true number ones.

Geez, not only do I have to hear it from Andy, now I am saying that I want three ex-Red Sox players on the Cardinals. If that is not admitting superiority, I don't know what is.

Philling in the blanks

After re-reading what I wrote about the White Sox and what The Can scribed for the Bloody Hose, I have a theory. You can predict the perceived level of competitiveness of a team based on the number of free agents they have. Logically, this makes sense. A competitive team usually is a veteran team. A non-competitive team is often composed of younger players who are not eligible for free agency. Here's a list of the teams with ten or more free agents:

Boston, Yankees, Texas, Arizona, Cubs, Florida, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

With the exception of the debt-laden Diamondbacks, you could feel pretty comfortable about the chances of any of the remaining teams making the postseason next year. Granted, a lot of it has to do with how they cope with those free agents, but all these teams know how to spend money.

How about four or fewer free agents:

White Sox, Cleveland, Detroit, Seattle, Milwaukee, District of Columbia, Pittsburgh.

Which of those teams do you think will make the playoffs next year? If you said Cleveland, I'd congratulate you for your ability to think out of the box but the true answer is none of these.

There's also something to be said about the market size of the teams listed above. For the most part, big-market equals free agents. Little market, no.

That puts us back at the familiar tale, big market teams buy the players to win while small market teams have to develop talent and make the run while they're players are all under contract (a la Twins and A's).

What about the middle market teams that don't fit in either place? If they can mix both aspects, home grown with a few good signings, they can make a run.

The Phillies are one of those mid-level teams. The additions of Thome, Millwood, and Milton were supposed to supplement the Phillies own Abreu, Wolf et al. Didn't work. Now they have a new manager and nine free agents to make decisions on for next season.
A third of these free agents made up the bullpen for the Phillies: Rheal Cormier, Roberto Hernandez, and Todd Jones. They all were modestly effective but they are 37, 39 and 36 years old, respectively. Cormier and Jones have both openly discussed retirement. It would be a surprise to see any of the trio back. Again, though, don't discount the Phillies ability to do something stupid and re-sign them all.

Another trio of Phillies free agents come from the starting rotation. Ouch. Milton, Millwood and Lidle are no longer under contract. I doubt Millwood will be back. He'll want too much and the Phillies aren't thrilled with him because they thought he was ace caliber. Milton might be retained. Lidle will go somewhere where the GM thinks like me. "Lidle always has shown potential. Maybe he'll hit his stride with us". Then you look at his age, "He's 32 already?", and look somewhere else. Lidle makes a good #4 starter. I wouldn't mind seeing him on the Phils since they won't be contending anyway.

Hometown humorist Doug Glanville is a free agent. Doug hit .210. The only reason to have him on a team is because you like him. Baseball-wise, he's done.

Todd Pratt will enter his 43rd year of being a backup catcher in the major league. I hope it's with the Phils. He does everything you could want from a backup catcher.

Lastly, Placido Polanco is a free agent. The Phils have to re-sign him and that frightens me. Like Cory Lidle, he's functional, maybe even pretty good. You don't win championships with him. He is 29 and improving and may surprise me.

Pitching is obviously a concern for the Phillies. Without Milton, you're looking at Wolf, Floyd, Padilla and Myers in the rotation. Milton could replace Myers or Floyd. Still, there's no ace, no single guy to anchor the rotation. If you score runs like the Cardinals, you don't need one. The Phils need one. I don't know that they would make a run at Pavano, the best pitcher available. Radke, Pedro, Lowe. None of these guys are currently a number one.

If I were running the Phils, I would accept that 2005 is not my year, sign Radke and Milton, let Myers regain his talent in the minors, let Wolf be the number four where he belongs for a championship caliber team, wait for Floyd to develop in an Oswaltian fashion into the ace for 2006 and try to find takers for Pat Burrell and get a leftfielder who is more than a pretty boy.

What will really happen, though, is they'll sign Kris Benson and Terry Mulholland in the hopes of winning it this year.

If I had to spend the White Sox dollars

The offseason can be as much fun for a baseball fan as
the regular season, particularly for a non-winning
team. There are the possibilities of acquiring the
players to make a run at a championship next season,
the questions over whether a player will make a
comeback from a poor season or repeat success from the
previous year.

As salaries in professional sports continue to
escalate and financial concerns play as much of a role
in the decisions to sign and retain players, it
becomes a little more difficult to envision the makeup
of your team durign the winter.

I asked my blogging compatriots to do just that,
though, beginning with the players of our favorite
teams who are free agents. While I am a White Sox fan,
I also root for the local Phillies so am looking at
what I would do if I were in the shoes of the
management of these teams.

Before I go into my decision, some caveats. One, I
like young players, especially pitchers. I'm a
potential guy. This is especially so compared to major
league executives who seem to like the "proven
quantity", especially for role players, regardless if
the player in question played for the Houston Colt

Second, I'm not real thrilled with the savvy of the
gentlemen running the front offices of these two
teams. They have a tendency towards making moves that
I would consider illogical. As best possible, I will
try to portray my decisions and express how I think
reality will differ.

Lastly, I want to be realistic. I'm not going to say
the White Sox should sign Beltre and Nomar and
Renteria and then trade Nomar for Randy Johnson.

Without further ado....

The White Sox. The White Sox in their movement toward
youth have themselves in a nice situation as far as
contracts go this winter. Only four players are free
agents. Sandy and Roberto Alomar, Magglio Ordonez and
Jose Valentin.

My thought last winter was that the White Sox should
try and do whatever possible to try and keep Maggs for
years to come. After the knee injury, I'm not so sure.
While one of the premier players in the American
League, a serious knee injury could have lingering
consequences. Also, Ordonez is thirty years old now
and should be on the decline. He'll be wanting a
multi-year deal for big bucks and I cannot see the
White Sox ponying up the dough. I don't think they

What should they do, though? Assuming Frank Thomas is
healthy, he'll be the DH which means Carl Everett
plays the field. Him in right and Carlos Lee (despite
all the hard work and improvement he has made in left,
he can be a bit scary at times in the field), this is
not a great defensive outfield. Joe Borchard looked
like he might never be ready for the majors. There's
not many in-house options.

If I felt the White Sox were close to being
competitive in 2005, I'd say go after J.D. Drew. he
would be a great fit offensively and defensively and
would probably be a bit cheaper than Ordonez (and is
two years younger).

The White Sox need pitching help, though, and I can
see the money being spent on pitching.

But wait! What about the other three? The White Sox
would be fools to re-sign either Alomar. I'd say
there's about a 60% chance they will sign one and 20%
chance of both. Why? Because the White Sox (Ken
Williams) does dumb things like that. Likewise with
Valentin. I think the Sox may be through with him but
you never know.

If there is one position player I think the White Sox
have to sign in free agency, it is Cristian Guzman.
Budgetwise and talentwise, he would be a terrific
acquisition. It would help my faith in the team
immensely if they were to sign him. Despite his low
OBP, I think he brings a lot to a team.

There is potentially the revenge factor to consider as well with Guzman getting to go against his former teammates in Minnesota. I tend to discount that as a reason but you never know.

So in a nutshell, don't resign anybody and use the money to get Guzman and a pitcher.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Red Sox offseason moves

You know, I first started feeling old when Playmates and All-Stars were younger than I was. Now, general managers are younger than me. Wow, how your perspective changes with age.

Since I was always taught to listen to my elders, perhaps Theo Epstein will read this and act accordingly. After all, this is what the Red Sox need to do this offseason:

1) Re-sign Jason Varitek: This one is a no-brainer. Yeah, he's pretty solid offensively for a catcher, perhaps in the top two in the AL. But it's how he handles the staff that matters. This pitching staff runs the gamut of personalities, from prima donna Pedro, to superstar Schilling, to blue-collar Wakefield (OK, so Varitek doesn't catch Wakefield, but I'm on a roll here) to head-case Lowe. Leadership in the locker-room can't really be understated -- Varitek is the rock, the guiding light, the glue that holds the band of merry idiots together. Alternate Plan should Varitek leave: Do whatever it takes to sign Mike Matheny.

2) Offer Pedro $10-12 million for three years: If he takes it, great. If he wants a longer deal or more money, let Steinbrenner or Arte Moreno overpay for him. Pedro is still a very, very good pitcher -- but he's no longer the No. 1, especially on the Red Sox, and he shouldn't be paid as much. Yeah, he looked good in the postseason, but a good start in the Series doesn't erase four horrendous starts to end the regular season. Which brings us to...

3) Pay for Derek Lowe's ticket out of town: Yeah, I really liked Lowe - even more now that he won three postseason series clinchers. Liked the 21 wins, the 2.27 ERA, the no-hitter, the 42 saves. Can't stand the up-and-down nature. After the Yankees shelled him in the Stadium in the regular season, I said he would never, ever beat the Yankees again. Thank goodness I was wrong. But who feels confident when this guy is pitching anymore? Can't say with any conviction that I do.

Alternate plan for re-tooling the pitching staff: Get Carl Pavano, throw in the incentive of making his parents dry-cleaning business the official laundry of the Red Sox. Yeah, he's done it for just one+ years, but he's 28 years old (I think), wants to go back to Boston, and will have more run support and better defense than he's ever imagined in Montreal or Florida. Then, go sign Matt Clement or Eric Milton. Brad Radke would be a nice option, too -- especially in that park. Throws ground balls, works fast, throws strikes and is in the Tim Wakefield mold mentally. All business.

4) Sign Orlando Cabrera for whatever he wants: The reason here is simple - the excuse for not giving him a 6-year deal is because Hanley Ramirez is "just" one or two years away. Yeah, and Hanley Ramirez is 20 years old. Look, I'm all for home-grown talent and developing players and such, but it's been a long time since highly-touted prospects have worked out (can you say Josh Hamilton?) With Cabrera, you know what you are getting -- very good defense, .280, 20 HRs and 75 RBIs. If Hanley is all he's cracked up to be, ship him off for Randy Johnson or something. Alternate plan: Sign Edgar Renteria. Do NOT sign Barry Larkin. I'd even accept Omar Vizquel for a year or two.

5) Go get Troy Glaus: Yeah, Bill Mueller is at 3b. But if he's healthy, Troy Glaus was the player made for Fenway. Above average defense, great work ethic, absolute masher and a fan favorite. Think the Sox had a stacked lineup this year and last? Add Glaus to the mix in place of either Bellhorn or Mueller (who have high trade value after the Series) and watch the fireworks.

Aside from that, things seem pretty normal -- perhaps go get Steve Kline, because he's madder than heck at the Cards and Boston is closer to his Pennsylvania home, and Mike Myers didn't exactly do the job as the lefty; stay away from Beltran - a 10-year deal? c'mon. Yeah, he's a great player and all. That's another one for Steinbrenner to have. Plus, we have no place for him in our outfield. Damon had a fantastic season, Manny is one of the best pure hitters in the game and Trot is the best defensive outfielder we have.

So, the Sox Christmas wish list looks like this: Varitek, Pedro (for a reasonable price), Pavano, Cabrera and Glaus. I think I like it.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Pain don't hurt

OK, so Curt Schilling’s post-season performance ranks right up there with Achilles last stand, or any other fable or parable you want to equate with it.

But why? Well, for me, it’s because he’s a Red Sock, and beat both the Yankees and the Cardinals and brought us to the Promised Land.

But I have to wonder about others’ perception of his outings.

What is society’s fascination with pro athletes (or pro anythings) playing through pain and hurt? People tend to put these sorts of performances on a pedestal of some sort. I always figured that the ability to throw 95-mph darts on the outside corner was reason enough to be elevated to Godhood.

Willis Reed? He limped onto the floor, scored four points in the entire game and people say it’s the greatest performance ever in the NBA until Jordan and his flu came along.

People talk about Jack Youngblood playing on a broken leg. Talk about Ronnie Lott having his pinky chopped off at the knuckle instead of being placed in a splint, just so he could go out and play.

Did they contribute to the success, or lack thereof, of their teams? Perhaps. I certainly thought Schilling was torpedoing any shot the Sox had after his Game 1 outing against the Yankees.

Where is the line between hubris/stupidity and common sense? Hey, if I get drugged up enough, I can forgo any pain as long as it helps me beat McClain in a game of DMB.

But it’s not just limited to athletes. Pete Townsend, while wind-milling some power chords, wracked his pick hand on his whammy bar. Had to have it all taped up and bandaged.

And he kept on playing throughout the duration of the tour. Now, with the egomaniacal, money-centric person that Pete is, I think we can all agree that the only reason he did that was to make more money than the Rolling Stones that year.

But was it a smart decision? Who am I to say? In retrospect, Schilling’s doctors knew what they were doing, at least for the time being, and millions in Red Sox Nation are very appreciative.

I just wonder why the general public is so enamored with playing through pain.

Heck, my kids get little certificates if they make it through the entire school year without missing a day. Same goes for Sunday School at church. Some parents pride themselves on this stuff — in any given rush hour, you’ll find 10 cars with “My child is….” bumper stickers.

Uh, sorry, but if your kid has pinkeye or chicken pox, I sure as hell don’t want him or her anywhere near my kids just so you can get a stupid little sticker.

Same goes for sports – if you are hurt, and my team is in position to make history, I would tend to view you with a little suspicion if you tried to play through the pain just because you think you can.

How many Sox fans thought it was over when Schilling was drilled?

Maybe it’s just a reflection of society’s misguided sense of priorities and appreciation. Yeah, I appreciate what Schilling did. But I also appreciate what Johnny Damon, Bill Mueller and Orlando Cabrera did — and I would argue what they did was almost as unexpected as what Schilling did.