Friday, July 28, 2006

Lee Forces Brew Crew to Pull the Plug

Mike Popelka

Carlos Lee rejected a 4-year, $48 million contract offer from the Milwaukee Brewers today, all but forcing the hand of Brewers GM Doug Melvin. The Brewers sent Lee and their best outfield prospect Nelson Cruz to the Rangers for setup man Francisco Cordero, outfielders Laynce Nix and Kevin Mench, and 21 year old pitching prospect Julian Cordero.

Purely in terms of on the field production, I'm not sure how this move makes the Brewers much better. Kevin Mench is not a bad player, but Carlos Lee was the Brewers' best hitter. Lee can run, drive in runs, and hits with a decent average. Mench has power, but his game is not nearly as well rounded as Lee. Francisco Cordero will be inserted into the bullpen immediately upon arrival, but he's been a little shaky this season-- he's blown 9 saves in 15 chances this year and his ERA is dangerously close to five. Nix, once considered a top Rangers prospect, and Julian Cordero will be reporting to the minors.

Despite my initial knee-jerk reaction, I'll be slow to condemn Brewers management on this trade. I ridiculed the Brewers a few years ago when they traded Richie Sexson to the Diamondbacks for a small army of mediocre players, but I looked pretty stupid when that trade worked out well for Milwaukee. Nix and Mench are both fairly young, and it's possible that Francisco Cordero will regain his 2002-2005 form. He certainly can't be much worse than some of the relievers the Brewers are currently using. If Milwaukee had decided to hang on to Lee, all they would have gotten was a compensation draft pick from the team that signed him away instead of the three major-league ready players they received from Texas.

Any trade where a team is forced to deal a player strictly because of salary concerns is upsetting. Even more upsetting is the tired rhetoric superstar players use when the trade deadline comes around. All along Carlos Lee said he wanted to stay in Milwaukee, but when he turned down $12 million a year he effectively showed us he was full of crap.

Brewers fans, you shouldn't be upset at your team's management. They did what they could with a bad situation. Be upset with Carlos Lee giving you false hope, and be upset with the economic system of Major League Baseball for keeping you and the teams in Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and the like from fielding a championship team.

An Exciting Guide to the Hometown Hero Race!


Mike Popelka was unavailable to write today, so staff writer and understudy Lewis T. Buttersby, the hugest baseball fan ever, subbed for him just like Billy used to do for his dad in the hilarious Family Circus comics.

Less than two months to go, baseball fans! No, not the start of the playoffs (duh-- they start in October!), and not the trade deadline (only a few days left!), but the tallying of votes for your favorite franchise's Hometown Hero!

I know you're all very interested in how the voting will be going down, so I thought I'd break down some of the choices. I want everyone who's voting in this contest of monumental importance to really understand who they're voting for. Let's fill the ballot boxes and show Major League Baseball that we love our Hometown Heroes!

Here is my voting guide for Hometown Heroes of the NL Central division:

St. Louis: Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Stan Musial, Albert Pujols, and Ozzie Smith

Don't vote for any of these guys. The best part of voting in the Hometown Heroes contest is that you can write in votes! I'll be writing in Jose Oquendo, because to me he really epitomizes St. Louis baseball. He even played all of the positions one time! If I lived in St. Louis (which I never have) I'd want him to represent my team as a Hometown Hero. He worked hard and it's high time he's recognized for it. Vote Oquendo!

Houston: Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Larry Dierker, Nolan Ryan, Jimmy Wynn

Okay this one's easy-- vote for Nolan Ryan. It's not rocket surgery, people; He's everybody's hero. Remember when he beat up Robin Ventura? Since Texans like to remind other people of how tough they are and how everything's big in Texas, Nolan Ryan is the sure pick. He may not be the biggest pitcher in history, but he's definitely the biggest in my heart!

Milwaukee: Cecil Cooper, Rollie Fingers, Jim Gantner, Paul Molitor, Robin Yount

This one's very tough. You should vote for either Gantner or write in for Gorman Thomas. Both of these guys have parts of Miller Park named for them. Either of these two guys could represent Milwaukee very well, but I feel that Thomas should have the edge. Gantner IS Brewer baseball-- he never led the league in anything (except for the number of times hit by a pitch), he never hit more than 11 home runs, and he was pretty mediocre, just like the Brewers. Thomas on the other hand has a restaurant at Miller Park, and he'll serve you food. Folks from Wisconsin like food (especially sausage!), so he is very popular. Oh, also he has a cool mustache and he's kind of fat like some other guys I know from Wisconsin. Go Gorman! I hope the fans pick you!

Chicago: Fergie Jenkins, Ron Santo, Ryne Sandberg, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams

Okay, the obvious choice is Ernie Banks. He played for the Cubs for a long, long time and never won anything. He was really good, too. I say, though, that we fans should go with someone who really and truly represents the futility of Cubs baseball. My vote goes for Bill Buckner. He was a Cub! One time he missed a grounder and his team lost the World Series because of it! Did you know that?! This to me represents what it's like being a Cub fan-- whenever things are looking pretty good somebody gets hurt or drops a ball or something. Based on this criteria, I guess Leon Durham would be a good vote too, but I feel that Buckner's mustache says "I am Chicago" more so than Leon's big glasses.

Cincinnati: Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, Pete Rose, Frank Robinson

A sportswriter named Bugs Baer once said "Cincinnati is nuts with baseball! They ought to call this place Cincinnutty!" I think you'd have to be "nutty" not to vote for Pete Rose! He's gritty, hard-nosed, and scrappy, and so is Cincinnati!

Pittsburgh: Roberto Clemente, Ralph Kiner, Bill Mazeroski, Honus Wagner, Willie Stargell

Wow, another tough one. Willie Stargell should probably be the choice here, because he helped the Pirates win a World Series (or should I call it the World Serious?!). Pittsburgh is a tough town, and I don't recall ever hearing a story about someone beating up Willie Stargell for wearing those dorky yellow uniforms with the pillbox cap. You have to be tough to not get beat up for that! I don't know that Stargell will win though, because people from Pittsburgh don't really like baseball. My guess is that Ben Roethlisberger will win.

Well, there it is-- the exciting guide to the exciting race to be a Hometown Hero! I hope you all find this guide useful. Remember people, we need to rock this vote so that our cities are represented well! Get the word out!

Editor's Note: Mike Popelka had absolutely nothing to do with this. He feels that the Hometown Hero contest is a waste of any true baseball fan's precious time. With any luck, there will be no further voting guides to this meaningless contest.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Hostile territory, Billy Bob Thornton and the St. Louis Cardinals

Ben Godar

As a Cardinals fan living in Los Angeles, I'm often forced into unfriendly territory to watch my team. Thankfully, Redbird Nation stretches from coast to coast, so there's always more than a few wearing my colors in Dodger Stadium.

We give each other a smile and a nod as we file past the throngs of mouth-breathing Dodger fans on our way to our seats. Anyone who's worn team apparel into enemy turf knows that it's rarely pleasant. I've had food hurled at me and been greeted more times with "Cardinals suck!" than I can count. Which isn't to say that I've had it so bad. A Giants fan was killed in the parking lot last year.

The point is, it's always a comfort to see another red t-shirt in the sea of beach ball swatting morons. But it's especially comforting when that face is Billy Bob Thornton.

Whenever a celebrity is at the stadium, their face usually winds up on the jumbo tron. Somewhere around the 6th inning of Friday night's game, Billy Bob Thornton appeared on the screen wearing a St. Louis Cardinals cap. The image drew a chorus of boos.

Now folks, that takes balls - and let me tell you why. Nobody, except perhaps our assbag president, is as succeptible to heckling as celebrities. When your typical Dodger fan sees me at the game, all he's got to work with is "Cardinals suck" and maybe "Pujols sucks." But that's only if he's really clever.

Can you imagine the torrent of abuse that could be unleashed on Billy Bob Thornton? He was married to Angelina Jolie and he was in The Alamo. There's about an hour of material right there.

Billy Bob Thornton doesn't need to wear his Cardinals hat to the game. He could just sit quietly and smile and wave when they put him on the big TV. But Billy Bob knows that wearing your team's colors is the RIGHT THING TO DO.

Now compare Billy Bob to Tom Hanks. Sports Weekly reported that Hanks, who calls himself an A's fan and sold concessions at the stadium as a kid, led a Baltimore crowd in a chant of "O-R-I-O-L-E-S" at a recent game ... while they were playing the A's. Nice work, Tom. I'm sure the crowd all loves you and the team all loves you and America all loves you. But where is your heart, sir?

I think we should all resolve to be more like Billy Bob Thornton.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Integration of the Sausage Race


Ladies and Gentlemen, the chorizo has arrived. Often relegated to the “Hispanic” section of grocery stores and denied its rightful place in the pantheon of sausage-like foods, the chorizo will now have a chance to compete with the best—the Italian, Polish, Hot Dog, and Bratwurst Racing Sausages. As of 9:00 pm CDT the announcement had not been made by the Brewers official site, but the sports business columnist at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Don Walker, is already reporting the news.

Apparently, in deference to the wishes of Milwaukee’s local Latino population, the Milwaukee Brewers will add a fifth sausage, the chorizo, to the already potent stable of white American meats that race around the field. “Adorned with a sombrero and decked out in red, green and white,” the new sausage will make his first big-league appearance on Saturday night.

I’ve always cheered for the Italian myself, but with the addition of Chorizo, I have a new underdog to cheer for who fought through racism and oppression to make it to The Show. Milwaukee has thankfully lifted the longstanding unofficial ban on Mexican sausage and now the rest of the world will find out that chorizos can run in extremely top-heavy costumes with the best of them. My fellow Americans, it’s time to toss aside the prejudice that Chorizo is too “spicy” to compete with a Bratwurst, or too squishy to make it past an Italian Sausage. The face of the game is changing, and so are the sausage races.

UPDATE 7/28: The Brewers officially announced this yesterday. My favorite quote, from the head of the Milwaukee Hispanic Chamber of Commerce: "His skin tone is the actual color of chorizo sausage," she said. "It's perfect." Hooray Chorizo!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Heilman again asks to be traded, this time by playing like a bum

Ed McElvain

Last Sunday at Shea Stadium, Aaron Heilman and Chris Burke provided a Little League tutorial on the value of hustle for all of the kids in attendance.

In the 8th inning with a runner on third and two out, Chris Burke hit a little swinging bunt off to the first base side of the pitchers mound, Heilman made an athletic play to snag the ball before it got past him and, with his momentum carrying him towards first base, waved off Carlos Delgado to make the out himself. Meanwhile, as Heilman casually jogged over to step on the bag, Chris Burke was running full speed up the line. Everyone in the park saw it coming. Everyone except Aaron Heilman, apparently.

It was a close play, but as umpire Bruce Froemming signaled Burke safe and Willy Tavarez crossed home plate for another run, the exagerated boos coming from the spectators were not directed at Froemming's call. Heilman gave up on the play, assumed it was an easy out, and was simply out-hustled.

Willie Randolph immediately came out of the dugout to remove Heilman from the game. As Heilman shuffled off the field with his shoulders hunched and his head down, 43,000 people (myself included) continued to let him know that there is no excuse for that kind of play. It was not something he will live down easily with the fans in New York.

Coming into this season Aaron Heilman was considered a big part of the Mets' future -- he had proven himself as a set-up man and a reliable option for long relief and spot starts. He wanted to be part of the rotation, but management considered him too valuable in relief to take out of the bullpen. He was vocal in his disappointment, saying he'd rather be traded than continue to work in relief. The Mets basically told him to be patient and perform the role asked of him.

One has to wonder if his erratic and unreliable pitching this year is not the result of his disappointment. Lack of interest in his role is perhaps behind the slips in concentration that result in an ERA up by more than a run over last year and lackadaisical play like last Sunday.

Poor play might get him his ticket out of town, but you have to wonder about the worth of a ballplayer who is only willing to play his best on his own terms.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Angel Hernandez is not Mick Jagger

Ben Godar

Have you ever gone out to the ballpark explicitly to see the umpires? I mean, instead of going to see Pedro Martinez pitch or something like that, have you ever picked up the morning paper and said to the wife, "honey, let's go to tonight's game, Joe West is umping."

It's a rhetorical question, because of course you haven't. But that doesn't stop Angel Hernandez, the worst umpire in the bigs, from walking onto the field night after night like he's the whole damn show.

Hernandez played his Vince McMahon routine again this week. From his position on the third base line, Hernandez ejected Dodgers coach Mariano Duncan, who was in the first base dugout at the time, for supposedly arguing a check-swing call. It was vintage Hernandez, stopping a game in the first inning to eject someone on the other side of the field.

A few moments of chaos ensued as nobody knew who Hernandez ejected or why. When Duncan understandably flipped his shit and tossed his hat on the field, Hernandez picked it up and gave it to a fan.

Can we please get this grandstanding douche off the field, permanently?

And let me make it clear, I'm not one of these guys who constantly bags on the boys in blue. Calling a game is a very imperfect science, but Major League umps come about as close to perfection as we can expect.

Hernandez has certainly blown his share of calls, and one study ranked him among the worst three umpires in consistency, temperament and respect for players. But what really makes this guy a blight on The Game is his repeated, ego-driven acts of madness.

Among the highlights of the Angel Hernandez Ego Tour was a 2001 Cubs game when he ejected former Chicago Bear and pro wrestler Steve McMichael for commenting on a blown call by Hernandez before singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame."

When Jose Lima accused Hernandez of not giving him the same strike zone as the opposing pitcher, Hernandez reportedly replied "you're no John Smoltz." In 1998, Hernandez ridiculously called Michael Tucker safe at the plate in the 11th inning of a Braves/Mets game. But what made it more than just a blown call was that players have reported hearing Hernandez remark earlier that he had "a plane to catch."

Have you ever been at a rock show when the guitar tech, instead of simply testing the levels before the headliner, plays a few Hendrix riffs? That is Angel Hernandez.

If a ball in play hits an umpire, the play continues, because the umpires are just considered part of the field. That's as it should be. The fact that we know Angel Hernandez by name, that we know his history of arrogance - that's a sign that we have a problem.

Blown calls are a part of the game. Angel Hernandez shouldn't be.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Whoa-- A Yankees Fan Who Isn't a Tool!

Mike Popelka

Ladies and gentlemen, I've done it. After years of dead ends, red herring clues, and countless frustrations, I discovered a mythical being only whispered about in legends passed down from generation to generation. You may not believe me, but it's true--I finally met the one Yankees fan I don't want to kick in the balls.

I know, my friends--Yankees fans always deserve a vitriolic tirade wherever and whenever they are encountered. To any decent American, the sight of that ungodly "NY" logo on a dark background should trigger automatic and uncontrollable rage, much like a red cape waving in front of a bull. However, in a dive bar Wednesday night I had an actual conversation with a Yanks fan over a few pitchers of PBR.

This fan (who shall remain unnamed) began by apologizing for the conduct of most Yankees fans. I felt a twinge of sympathy to his cause; I usually have to apologize to others for the behavior of moronic Cubs fans. Another thing he had going for him was that there were no visible Yankees logos anywhere on his person. This kept the "red cape" syndrome from popping up. Last, he was born and raised in New Jersey, just outside of New York City. People who root for a team due to locality are always worth a little more than others, so these three things allowed the man a short time to say his piece and to defend himself.

He claimed that there are plenty of real Yankees fans near New York city who actually know the game of baseball. Real fans, he said, could tell you off the top of their heads that Don Mattingly is tied for #83 on the all time doubles list with Dick Bartell (I didn't want to get into the debate of how overrated Mattingly is so I let this one pass). The problem with all Yanks rooters is that their memory is too short. He sadly explained the plight of trying to be true while surrounded by buttholes that believe A-Rod should be batting 1.000 and hitting 92 homers. Yes, he agreed, A-Rod is overpaid, but the man is still one of the best players in baseball. Real Yankees fans wouldn't boo A-Rod for grounding out to second if he hit a game winning home run the night before.

Conversation continued, and he definitely showed rare insight for a fan of the most despicable team in the major leagues. He almost wiped out all of the sympathy I had for him with his answer to my question, "Why are you a Yankees fan?"

His answer: "In 1985, my sister decided to be a Mets fan. So, of course, I had to choose the Yankees."

Poor guy. He made one bad decision for a silly reason and it will haunt him for the rest of his life. His reactionary choice of a team to root for will cause him to be taunted and jeered at wherever he goes. This is the appropriate penance for his action of 21 years ago.

Despite choosing the Yankees to root for, I like the guy. So Yankees fans, let this be a lesson to you. If you want to convince other baseball fans that you're for real, be humble, be knowledgeable, and always pay for the beer. This will drastically reduce the number of times you get kicked in the balls.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Mets, Blue Jays, torment


Dr. Uetz
I have to admit that I'm beginning to get worried about the Mets; or more so the Mets fans who are about to begin emerging from the woodwork. They'll be harder to handle than the Braves fans I encounter.

It's hell to deal with the bandwagoneers. But they are a fact of life. And we true fans find ourselves defending the truth of our allegiance to idiots and snake oil salesmen. Soon I'll be forced into dropping names like Doug Sisk, Danny Heep, Rusty Staub, Ed Kranepool . . . you understand. It's part of life when you are lucky enough to live and die with a team that's hot. I can only imagine what Tigers fans are going through.

So I'm preparing myself mentally for the hoots and hollers of the world's newest Mets fans, who just last year were White Sox fans, and Red Sox fans the year before, and I'm sure they reveled in the long history of the Marlins at one point, too.

What about Toronto? Well, once again I'm pissed at The Des Moines Register - the world's least informative sports page - Today's transaction list included a mention of Toronto designating Shea Hillenbrand for assignment. The Register included one other sentence about this. One. Seriously, one of the league leaders in hitting is designated for assignment and that's all the coverage we get? Of course this is the same paper that gave us "Casey Watch." THat's right, every day we got to see how native Iowan Casey Blake was doing; that is, of course, until he went into a slump.

On that note, I do believe it's time for a cocktail. Go Mets!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Carlos Lee: To Trade or Not to Trade

Josh Flickinger

As the playoff race heats up and the July 31 trade deadline nears, the Milwaukee Brewers have a very important decision to make. What will they do with their All-Star LF Carlos Lee?

Lee is in the final year of his contract, and has been a dependable run-producing stalwart in the Milwaukee lineup since he was acquired from the White Sox for Scott Podsednik before the 2005 season. He stands to garner a large payday following the season, as the market for sluggers like him appears to be around 4-5 years at around 12 million per season. He’s 30 years old, and below-average in left. As always with these types of decisions, a lot of factors will play into which way Brewers general manager Doug Melvin goes.

When you talk about a team like the Brewers, payroll has to be a primary concern. At this point, the Brewers have a $56 million dollar payroll. They have 34 million already committed for 2007, including $17 million for pitcher Ben Sheets and outfielder Geoff Jenkins alone. Add in sizable raises in arbitration for All-Star Chris Capuano and uber-utility man Billy Hall, and you are creeping up to 2006 levels already.

Brewers owner Mark Attanasio has already said he expects the payroll to increase for 2007, but it certainly doesn’t figure to approach the $65-70 million mark. Figure in Lee for 12 million, and you’re talking about 29 million, or a little less that half of the projected payroll, for three players.

The other factor is organizational depth. The Brewers are very high on Corey Hart, Lee’s potential replacement. Since being drafted in the 11th round in 2000, all Hart has done is hit. He was an All-Star at each level, and garnered MVP honors in the AA Southern League in 2003. He hit .296 in the minors, showed good plate discipline, decent power, and good speed. He bounced around for a while in the field, playing some 3rd base, moving across the diamond to first, before finally settling in the outfield. In limited playing time this season, Hart has hit .333 in 48 AB’s, and performed decently in CF and RF when given the chance.

The other thing to consider, of course, is what the Brewers could do with the money that would have been allocated to Lee. What does $12 million get you these days? Melvin could use that cash to get a premium starting pitcher, a few relievers, or some depth among the position players.

Attanasio and Melvin have both indicated that it would be foolish to trade Lee if the Brewers are still in the race come the end of July. By the looks of it, they certainly will be within five games or so of the Wild Card as the date looms. A trade would be a disaster in that case for credibility among long-suffering Brewers fans, who have seen this act before. Greg Vaughn, Gary Sheffield, Richie Sexson (that worked well) are just a few of the big-time players the Brewers have had to let go because they couldn’t pay them. While Lee will probably not be a Brewer next season, to trade him while within striking distance of their first playoff birth since 1982 is simply not an option.

If I were in Doug Melvin’s shoes, I would take the two compensation picks that Lee will garner them when he signs with another team this winter and let him walk. With this year’s free agent pool being very shallow, Lee very easily could be the subject of a bidding war between teams like the Yankees, Cubs and Angels, all of whom could afford him. The Brewers simply can’t compete with that.

While Lee has said he would love to come back to Milwaukee, he’s certainly not going to give the Crew any hometown discount, nor should he. I believe that Lee would probably be worth his cash for the first year or two of his deal, but also think that in 2008, you’d be sitting with a $12 million dollar, .260-23-80 albatross who is mostly embarrassing in LF. If you’re the Yanks, you deal with it. You could also stick him at DH, thereby cutting your dilemma in half. The Brewers simply won’t have that luxury, especially with the contracts of youngsters like Hall, Weeks, and Fielder getting larger by the season.

Letting Carlos Lee walk in free agency is not a sign of the Brewers giving up, or throwing in the towel. It’s the responsible fiscal decision. It’s then up to Doug Melvin to make good use of the resources available, and Corey Hart to take advantage of the opportunity allotted him. Those two things will go a long way in determining just how bright the future of the Brewers is.

Secret Agent Canseco

Ben Godar

You couldn't script it any better than this. Jose Canseco, international man of mystery, reportedly asked to work as an investigator with baseball's ongoing steroid probe. According to Canseco's attorney, who was undoubtedly wearing a leisure suit and chain-smoking menthols, "Until someone like Jose is part of the investigation as an investigator, they aren't going to get much cooperation."

Yes folks, nothing will make baseball's steroid users open up like Jose Canseco asking "so, dude, have you ever taken 'roids? Oh, and would you mind talking into my comically oversized lapel?"

Or perhaps Canseco planned to go undercover. You know, just another freakishly muscular guy hanging around the clubhouse. "Hey guys, come meet my new friend with the greasy hair and unrelenting curiosity about the steroid investigation."

I'm sure Jose pictured himself jetting around the globe to exotic locations, sipping martinis and dazzling women with his shriveled genitals. And can you blame the guy?

These aren't exactly the salad days for Jose. He's currently playing for the Long Beach Armada in some of the finest Little League parks of Southern California. He joined the Armada after being cut by the perenial powerhouse San Diego Surf Dogs. And Canseco may be on the move again, recently telling the manager of the Fullerton Flyers that he should have signed with them because they're seven miles closer to his home.

Outside Baseball contributor Travis White saw Jose and sidekick Ozzie at an arcade in Sherman Oaks last weekend, flexing their muscles for all the 14-year-old girls. Just think of the attention he would have garnered if he was also a secret agent.

Advice to Odalis

Ed McElvain

Last night Odalis Perez, the former ace of the Dodger staff now languishing as the last option in the bullpen, gave up a game winning home run to Albert Pujols in the 14th inning.

His postgame comments weren't the expected, "I missed with my change up, Pujols is a great hitter, I just have to shake this one off and get them next time." According to MLB.com, these were his postgame remarks:
"If I'm at this level, it's because I can pitch at this level, not for people to ignore me. I'm too good for that. I don't know who it's coming from, why I'm in this situation. If I did something wrong, tell me what it is. I'm treated like trash and I don't want to be in this situation. What did I do to these people? Why am I treated like this? I don't have the answer. I want people to tell me the truth."

He went on some more about how his son asks him why he doesn't pitch so much anymore and how it makes him cry and bla bla bla, wah wah wah, look at the big baby.

Well, Odalis, this is an easy one. Here's what you need to do: stop pitching like a bum. And even when you do, suck it up and take it like a man. If you're too good for this, prove it. Because to me, you look like a flash-in-the-pan on his way out of baseball.

If I was paying $24 million dollars to a guy so he could pitch like dogshit and then cry about how it's somebody else's fault, I probably wouldn't put him into many games, either. But, if that guy started taking advantage of the few opportunities given to him, I'd start to have more confidence in him and work him into more and better situations.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Breaking down the Reds/Nats trade

Edward McElvain

A lot of us scoffed when the Reds opened up the season by trading talented, young power hitter Wily Mo Pena to Boston for Bronson Arroyo, a man whose pitching talent just barely overshadows his status as a alt. rock icon. Well, as it turns out, that has been a pretty good trade for the Reds so far. Arroyo was an All Star in his NL return and WMP has spent a good chunk of the year on the DL.

Today the Reds and Nationals announced an 8-man deal wherein Cincinnati unloads two more of their young, talented hitters and a bullpen prospect for a proven young set-up man, a couple pitching prospects, a middle infield prospect, and an aging defensive specialist shortstop.

Here's what the Reds get:
Gary Majewski - durable, young set up man, nice ERA and WHIP.
Bill Bray - relief prospect projected by some as a potential closer, getting his first taste of the majors, has looked pretty good so far.
Royce Clayton - once one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, now in his 17 th Major League season, he doesn't have the range he once did and his bat is still weak.
Brendan Harris - middle infield prospect will turn 26 in August, projects as an above average major league hitter if he can improve his defense enough to get there.
Daryl Thompson - 21 year old pitcher getting his first professional experience in the Rookie leagues this year, you'd have to be a scout to know much about him.

Here's what the Nationals get:
Austin Kearns - the golden boy of the Reds farm system has been a little injury prone since coming up in 2002, but he's been impressive whenever he's able to play and is on pace for a .275-30-100 season in his first chance to play everyday (thanks to that WMP trade and an injury-free campaign, thusfar).
Felip Lopez - established himself last year as one of the best hitting shortstop in the either league, off the pace a little this year, but still has a very nice power-speed combo.
Ryan Wagner - was a highly-touted closer-in-the-making before stinking up the place every chance he's gotten in the majors the last couple years, had some shoulder problems last year and has been getting shelled in AAA this year.

So who got the better end of this trade?

In the short term, the Nationals just really improved their team as long as they can find someone to step up and replace Majewski. They play in a pitcher's park, so it's likely they can find some less talented arms to fill the role. They get two very nice bats to put around Soriano and take some of the pressure off of Nick Johnson and Ryan Zimmerman.

In the short term, this trade weakens Cincinnati's offense considerably, but shores up their thin bullpen. It's likely that Great American Ballpark's hitter-friendly dimensions will help Royce Clayton find some of the offense that he left in Colorado's thin air, but I doubt very much that he's going to produce on par with Felipe Lopez. Chris Denorfia, who has good speed and hits for average but with little pop, will likely be called upon to replace Kearns.

In the long term, if Bray turns out to be as good as people think (i.e. not the next Ryan Wagner), if Majewski continues to develop as a dominant setup man, and if Brendan Harris figures out how to play defense, maybe the Reds come out looking really good in a couple of years, especially if Thompson turns out to be a major league calibre pitcher. But there's a lot of ifs there.

For the Nationals, they have two more young, talented bats to try to build around, even if they aren't able to hang onto the mercurial Soriano after this year. If the change of scenery turns Wagner around, all the better. What's interesting is that the National's GM Jim Bowden, who as Reds GM until last year was at the helm when each of these three came up through the Reds system. Apparently, he likes these guys.

I'm giving the Reds a B- for this trade, as I feel they took the first, easiest thing offered to them. A little harder work and they surely could have gotten more for Kearns and Lopez. I'll give the Nationals an A-, they show they know their pitcher-friendly home turf and their club's needs and gave up a promising closer prospect to fill gaping holes in their lineup.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Wright as rain

Dr. Uetz
Well the All-Star game has passed us. I must admit, I was looking forward to it with all the anticipation of a man heading to a Kenny G concert. Seriously, since the inception of interleague play, the mid summer classic has held all the appeal of a Democratic Party fundraiser featuring the comedy of Sinbad. But it still beats any other all-star game.

And the saving grace for me this year was that it turned out to be a well pitched game (except for the top of the 9th). It was nice to see David Wright hit a home run. It couldn't happen to a nicer kid. Really. Have you ever seen an interview with David Wright? You just know he watch Bull Durham and soaked it all in. He probably recites the Great Monologue to himself as he cruises the Long Island Expressway. He's a class act. And so was Crash Davis.

So the AL won again and gets home field advantage in the World Series. Congrats. I'm happy for you. But now that the game is over and we begin our trek down the backside of the season, I feel compelled to make a few predictions for what remains of the 2006 season. Not because I've been aching to look into my crystal ball, but because it's Wednesday and I committed to a deadline.

1. Will Dusty Baker still be wearing Cubby Blue come October? Does it really matter?No it doesn't. And he won't. The next manager? Steve Stone.

2. Mets, Cardinals and Dodgers in the playoffs. Wildcard? Can't tell. Crystal ball is clouded by Makers Mark residue from last night.

3. Scott Kazmir will win the Cy Young so that I can continue to boil in my disgust over the trade that sent him away from Shea.

4. Bud Selig will be eaten by a pack of wild dogs in the remote wilderness of Western Canada. It will be known as the day God returned baseball to the fans.

Amen and good luck to you and your team, unless that team is in the NL East and is not the Mets.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

I Never Thought I'd Say This, But I'm Excited to See a Game on TBS

Just prior to turning on the All-Star game for background filler I came across the news of a change in the broadcast networks for the baseball playoffs. Apparently, it was just decided today that TBS will air the first round, with FOX picking up the All-Star Game, World Series, and one LCS. According to this announcement, the other LCS—which would rotate from NL to AL—is still up for grabs.

Although this isn’t quite the seismic change in playoff coverage that I’d hoped for, it does raise some issues. First of all, I hope to God FOX’s stranglehold on baseball is starting to loosen a little. From Tim McCarver’s man-crush for Derek Jeter to the utterly forgettable Jeanne Zelasko/Kevin Kennedy pre-game team, to the obscene amount of graphics that not only block most of the picture but also make sounds as well, FOX has let me down. But perhaps the most unforgivable part of FOX telecasts are the constant and unnecessary close-ups that are supposed to show stock emotions. Pitcher in a jam? Close up of pitcher sweating. Team down by a run at the end of the game? Close up of fan with hands folded on top of the railing.

So what’s the solution? Another network…any network. Yes, yes, I know, TBS isn’t the answer we were looking for. And it is only for the first round (and possibly one LCS), not the entire playoffs. But there’s hope that someday during the playoffs I can choose my own emotions during a game rather than have them given to me by rehearsed and clichéd camera shots. I just hope TBS finds new announcers for the games, particularly one whose name doesn’t start with “Skip” and end with “Caray.” May I enter for consideration Mr. Smooth Talker himself, Bob Costas? Sure he’s employed by another network, but it’s worth TBS’ time to shoot high instead of going with their normal crews. And leave the close ups to FOX.

Edit: Oh my God, did anyone catch that “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” segment when Vladimir Guerrero came up to bat? And I thought the animated ball that “explains to the kids” what a curveball does was horrible.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Baseball Fans vs. Charles Humphrey

Mike Popelka

Baseball lost boatloads of fans in the mid 1990's. An avid follower of the game up until that time, I found that beer, girls, and the '94 strike diverted much of my attention from the game. Whether steroid fueled or not, the 1998 baseball season won me back along with many of my friends. Our rediscovered excitement for professional baseball manifested itself in the formation of the Paradise City League, an online fantasy baseball league.

Some folks play fantasy baseball to win money. We, however, play for bragging rights and a homemade trophy consisting of Simpsons figurines and Guns n Roses in-jokes. Unfortunately online fantasy baseball has a chance of being categorized as a form of gambling if the efforts of Colorado lawyer Charles Humphrey are successful. Humphrey recently filed a complaint to the New Jersey courts claiming that fantasy sports are a form of gambling and therefore illegal in many states. Getting the court to agree with Humphrey's definition of what constitutes gambling is crucial to his case.

Defining gambling is tricky, though. Generally a game of chance is considered gambling, but a game of skill is not. Humphrey's argument is that fantasy sports are more chance than skill. The problem with any sport, including the fantasy kind, is that they are games of both chance and skill. Yes, if Jeff Kent injures himself "washing his truck" that's really bad luck for his real life team and his fantasy team. On the contrary, if someone discovered the hot rookie or fireballing closer no one else in the league knew about, that's good research--or skill. I feel that my fantasy team does so poorly mostly because of bad executive decisions. Sure, sometimes my whole lineup is injured, but that's what I get when I choose to ignore the research and draft Ken Griffey Jr. year after year.

The reasons for this lawsuit boil down to one thing: financial gain for the plaintiff (Humphrey himself). Section 2A 40-6 of a New Jersey gambling law will allow Humphrey to take one-half of all the profits of online fantasy baseball companies if courts determine online sports to be illegal. The other half, interestingly enough, would go to the state of New Jersey. Each party would get millions and millions of dollars in this settlement. I know, I know-- if Humphrey is a Colorado lawyer, why is he filing suit in New Jersey? That's where the money is, as he all but admits in a recent story on NPR's All Things Considered.

Humphrey's lawsuit has the potential to set an unwelcome precedent. If fantasy sports are considered gambling, then we'll have to push other things under the umbrella of illicit gaming. No more golf tournaments with a $40 entry fee and prize money for the winners-- the worst golfer could have a lucky day and beat some guys with better skills. Forget about paying money to participate in a Dungeons and Dragons tournament, either. Rolling the dice to see if your knight cuts up an elf is totally based on chance, and therefore illegal gambling.

I am afraid that both the fantasy leagues where participants pay for statistics services and leagues where huge cash prizes can be won will be lumped together despite their inherent differences. I play fantasy baseball because it's fun, it helps me follow baseball, it gives me something to argue about with my friends, and it gives me reasons to watch Diamondbacks/Pirates games. My intentions are about as far away from gambling as can be, yet I'm in danger of losing my hobby.

I really hope that Humphrey never sees a penny from this lawsuit, especially since, according to his official complaint, "Charles E. Humphrey. . . has not engaged in any of the gambling activities described herein." He apparently doesn't even play fantasy baseball. If he wins his lawsuit, I hope that all he receives is a bunch of homemade trophies from fantasy sports aficionados. Well, he can split them with the government anyway.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Who cares if Craig Biggio gets 3,000 hits?

Ben Godar

If you've watched the Houston Astros even once this season, no doubt you've seen this: Craig Biggio strides to the plate, wearing a ridiculous elbow pad and the filthiest helmet in baseball. Even filthier than Orlando Cabrera's.

As Biggio digs his back heel into the box, and the graphic tells us he’s batting .270 something, the boys in the booth invariably ponder whether or not this is a Hall of Fame player. That subject leads directly to whether or not this catcher-turned-infielder-turned-outfielder-turned-infielder will reach 3,000 hits.

And that leads me to wonder what the hell difference 3,000 hits makes.

3,000 hits, 400 home runs, 200 wins – these milestones provide a great measuring stick to look back across the eras. But as we watch a guy limping towards one of these numbers, they seem downright irrelevant.

Craig Biggio isn’t exactly limping, but if you’re waiting around for him to get 120 or so more hits, you've kind of missed the boat. Biggio went to seven straight All-Star games, ending in 1998. He won three straight Gold Gloves as a second baseman, ending in 1997. He stole 50 bases and batted .325 … in 1998.

For the last six or seven years, he's been a serviceable Major League player. No more, no less. At 40 years old, there’s nothing wrong with that. But why should his legacy be cemented or discarded in the next year, when the significant part of his career was over six years ago?

It's not called the Hall of Longevity, and big statistical totals don’t tell the tale of greatness. I for one am not a fan of inductees like Eddie Murray, in grudging acknowledgment of their statistical production.

I'm not sure if Biggio as Hall worthy or not. But his greatest assets are his all-around game and virtually unparalleled versatility. Those are things that aren’t measured by statistics, so who cares how many hits he piles on in his twilight years?

Patience, Milwaukee

Ed McElvain

There is a lot of deserved excitement in Milwaukee about the young Brewers. There is talk of postseason baseball in Milwaukee for the first time in over a decade. As a Brewer booster myself, I hate to be the poo-pooing voice of reason, but...well, color me brown. Being in the playoff hunt this year actually makes it more difficult for this team to keep their development goals for contending in 2007-2008.

The major topic when it comes to the 2006 Brewers ability to compete is how injury-decimated the pitching staff is. Still, with excited voices fans say, "but we'll have Tomo Ohka back after the All Star Break!" and "we might get Ben Sheets back by the trade deadline!" Um...huh?

Tomo Ohka was a great addition to this team. By all accounts he is a great guy to have in the clubhouse -- he keeps the players and staff loose and the fans love him. Plus he's a decent pitcher, a pretty solid 5th starter, but if we're pinning playoff hopes on him...well, this team is not ready for FOX.

The Ben Sheets prospect is full of ifs -- it will be a major boost if he is healthy and strong enough to pitch more than two consecutive starts, if he's back to his old self, if he can come back at all. Given the whispers about Sheets' poor diet and lack of commitment to keeping himself in shape, I have my doubts that we'll ever see the Ben Sheets of 2004 again.

Even if Sheets is back to form and Ohka does solidify the bottom of the rotation, the near future is full of difficult decisions for GM Doug Melvin. The biggest delima is that no one seems to know if Carlos Lee is signable for Milwaukee after he becomes a free agent at the end of the season. He says he wants to stay in Milwaukee, "but...." As a small market team, the Brewers probably can't afford his "but." Unfortunately, the Brewers playoff hopes this season and their development for next year hinge on that "but."

If the Brewers trade Carlos Lee, there will be legitimate questions about why a team only a handful of games back gave up. But if they keep him they risk losing a chance to improve the team even while losing their best player. A trip to the postseason would soften the blow, but it would still prolong the development of a team that really is very close to being a serious contender. Even if the pitching staff is healthy in the 2nd half, the Brew Crew's playoff chances this year are dicey at best. They are not in a position to be a buyer at deadline time, but they'll be up against clubs who are.

It's a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't scenario. Either way, the Brewers have a good thing building and it would be shameful to let it peak now. They're so close, but they're not quite there yet. Brewer fans need to be patient, enjoy this season but keep our eyes on the bigger prize...next year.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Sorry!


As I head to an Independence Day BBQ and as we near the middle of the season, let me leave you with a few items. I like to think of mid-season as a kind of cleansing process. So, without further ado, some apologies to certain individuals are in order:

Nomar Garciaparra – I’m sorry that leading the league in batting average does not get you a spot on the All-Star team. Every year pundits decide who was screwed the most by a convoluted all-star balloting process complete with ballot-stuffing that rivals the efforts of Boss Tweed. Honestly, even if snubs are a part of the game and I rarely pay much attention to the All-Star Game anyway, to leave statistically the best hitter off the roster is troubling. And Garciaparra wasn’t the worst snub, which leads me to…

Francisco Liriano – I’m sorry that being one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball right now does not give you the chance to go to the All-Star game and break up the Yankees/Red Sox/ESPN circle jerk. A 1.99 E.R.A. and no spot? At least there’s the one representative from each team rule, or God forbid someone like Mark Redman (5.59 E.R.A.) would miss a trip to the festivities.

Minnesota Twins – I’m sorry that winning 19 of your last 20 games did little to change the AL Central standings. Still stuck in third place, and still 11 games back. Don’t you wish you could beat up on NL Central teams every week?

Houston Astros fans – I’m sorry that you thought that the arrival of Clemens was akin to the Second Coming. Instead of lights-out pitching and winning baseball, you hopefully are starting to realize that your team isn’t all that good, and pitchers such as Clemens can only do so much (Didn’t you guys learn anything from last year? How many times was Houston shut out when Clemens pitched?).

Mrs. Brett Myers – I’m sorry your husband is an asshole and a wife-beater. In addition, it doesn’t exactly help that his team is completely retarded as well.

Ozzie Guillen – I’m sorry that you’re batshit crazy and will be out of a job in two years. I’m so sick of the “That’s Ozzie being Ozzie” line. I don’t care how much “energy” or “character” he brings to the White Sox—the guy is a complete idiot and will eventually be found out once he manages a crappy team. You want to know why the White Sox are winning so many games, Mr. Hawk Harrelson? It’s a good team. Shut up about the “intangibles” that Guillen brings to the clubhouse, and talk about the game you’re supposed to be announcing.

Pirates fans – I feel sorry for you guys. But as a Cubs fan, it’s always refreshing to know the Pirates will always be there to cushion a fall in the standings.

Ann E. Ladd – I’m sorry Bob Uecker doesn’t love you. He may call your relationship "intense," but that's not a positive thing. And I’m sorry you’re batshit crazy, too.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Misled by the 1980s


Mike Popelka

Ahh, 80's baseball; elastic-lined pants, Astroturf, bushy facial hair and cocaine. 80's baseball gave us some memorable World Series moments as well as the sweet taste of lots and lots of stolen bases. As any true baseball fan would readily admit, a well timed steal is one of the most exciting things to happen in a game. Sadly, stolen base numbers are down and home runs are up. Many of us that came of age in the 1980s believe today's station to station, slugging style of play is closer to slow pitch softball than to "real" baseball. Unfortunately statistics prove we are wrong. Although power numbers are up, steal attempts per game are higher now than in two of the five previous decades. It's hard to admit my friends, but the style of baseball we watched as kids was an aberration.

I recently partook in some actual research concerning National League (aka THE League) stolen base statistics on the Baseball Reference website. Adding steals and caught stealing numbers for each year and then dividing them by the number of total games played, I calculated a stolen base attempt per game average (SBA/G) for the decades ’51-59*, ’60-’69, ’70-79, ’80-89, ’90-99, and finally the half decade of ’00-05.*

The highest SBA/G was 1.65 in, of course, the 1980s. This should come as no surprise to us. In the 80s, Tim Raines, Rickey Henderson and Vince Coleman were jointly responsible for 1,893 steals.

Juxtapose this with the 3,502 stolen bases the entire league stole in the 50s. Baseball literature tends to glamorize the baseball of the 1950s, but in reality the slow, plodding style of play would bore most of us to tears. The 50s had a remarkably low SBA/G of only .53. This means that both teams combined for an average of only half a steal attempt in games during this decade. Is it possible for Earl Weaver to have managed every game of every team during the 50s? Apparently.

The total SBA/G for each decade is:
1951-59-- .53
1960-69-- .70
1970-79-- .96
1980-89—1.65
1990-99—1.12
2000-05-- .80

Yes folks, it’s time we come to grips with the facts. 80’s baseball was exciting, fun, and fast, but it wasn’t the norm. Baseball statistics tend to move in cycles, though, so there’s still a good chance that someday soon we’ll be able to cheer on a 100+ steals man again. Let’s just hope that we don’t have to sit through a decade without basepath action before we get there.

*There were no caught stealing stats available for 1950 on Baseball Reference, and I’m too lazy to seek out alternate sources of data for a blog post.
*I realize that Bill James probably already knows about this. I also realize that statistical analysis of stolen bases is most likely readily available elsewhere. I had fun playing with the numbers myself anyway. Math is fun!