Results tagged ‘ Mets ’

2010 MLB Picks

crystal-ball.jpgMy “official” predictions for the 2010 MLB season (before the season gets too far along and starts to affect my judgement!):

AL East

New York

Boston (Wild Card)

Tampa Bay

Baltimore

Toronto

AL Central

Minnesota

Chicago

Kansas City

Detroit

Cleveland

AL West

Los Angeles

Oakland

Texas

Seattle

NL East

Philadelphia

Atlanta (Wild Card)

New York

Florida

Washington

NL Central

St. Louis

Chicago

Milwaukee

Cincinnati

Houston

Pittsburgh

NL West

San Francisco

Los Angeles

Arizona

Colorado

San Diego

AL Champ: New York

NL Champ: Atlanta

World Series Champ: Atlanta Braves

Questions, comments, rants, profanity-laced tirades?!

Gardy

ron-gardenhire-picture.jpgA while back, the balloting for the American League Manager of the Year Award was announced, and (once again) Twins’ skipper Ron Gardenhire was the bridesmaid, this time to Mike Scoscia of the Angels. I was not too steamed at this, to be honest, and here is why: I’ll start with the positive:

I think that Gardy is a very good fit for this Minnesota Twins ballclub. He preaches fundamentals (a must for a young team, which the Twins will always be under the current economic structure of baseball), keeps a cool head (another “lead by example trait for the youngsters), and is just a good guy, plain and simple.  He isn’t a complete nutcase like Ozzie Guillen, and he isn’t too full of himself like, say, a Lou Pineilla.  Since Gardy succeeded a burnt-out Tom Kelly as manager, five division titles (and one near-miss) speak for themselves.

That being said, I didn’t necessarily cry myself to sleep at Gardy not getting Manager of the Year for two particular reasons:

First, is his loyalty to certain players (well, one player in particular):

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Back when T.K. was at the helm, he always said that as long as he was a major league manager, Dick Such would be his pitching coach. The same can now be said for Gardenhire and Nick Punto.  While other players (like Alexi Casilla, for instance) can make one mistake and instantly be demoted to Gardy’s “doghouse”, a place that is easy to languish in for extended periods of time, Punto pretty much gets a free pass.  Though this kind of loyalty is nice in a personable sort of way, I think it gets Gardy in trouble a little bit in terms of on-field potential.  Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the skipper himself was that same type of utility player back in his playing days with the Mets:

 

ron_gardenhire_autograph.jpg2. The other issue is his playoff-managing style.  Instead of “going for the throat”, Gardy tends to manage a playoff game like any other regular season game.  This was evidenced in the ALDS against the Yankees when Francisco Liriano was the first arm out of the pen in a close Game One against the mighty Yanks.  Was he just playing the matchups, or hedging his bet that Frankie could somehow get out of the jam and save the good relievers for later?  I have my suspicions it was the latter.  Of course, later never happened (and often does not in a playoff series).  This was not the first instance of that problem, either.

To re-iterate, though, I think that Ron Gardenhire is the man that the Twins need at the helm right now.  He’s great at teaching the fundamentals of the game to young players, as well as trying to keep them on an even keel and just play the game in front of them.  There’s just a few things that could be improved upon…like not already penciling in Punto as a starting infielder and batting ninth.

The Sad State Of Baseball Economics

mmw_baseball_101608_article.jpgAfter watching my beloved Minnesota Twins got stomped by the New York Yankees in the first round of the playoffs this past season, and then seeing Cleveland-bred C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee pitch the Yanks and Phillies into the World Series, I believe that now is the time for me to comment on the sad economic state of baseball these days.  This has always been a very hot-button topic for me (as I root for the small-market Twins), so I would like to take a few moments to explain why the current system is broken and what can be done to fix it:

Basically, the problem started way back in the 1900s, when both the American and National Leagues were first established.

mathewson-ruth-wagner-cobb-johnson.jpg Instead of free agency, there was something called the reserve clause, which was essentially a legal precedent that baseball used to keep players on one team until their owner decided differently.  The players were treated not too much different from a cattle-range steer, to be bought and sold as commodities.  It wasn’t, by any means, the greatest system in the world (as the only option a player had to fight against an unfair salary, which were very common in those days when most owners made Carl Pohlad look like the Monopoly Guy, was to quit playing altogether), but it did help the competitive balance of the game, allowing all teams (if managed/owned sensibly) to have a shot at competing for a championship.

That all changed in the 1970s when Curt Flood of the St. Louis Cardinals challenged the reserve clause all the way to the Supreme Court.

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Though Flood didn’t actually win his case, he shed so much light on the matter that a free agency sytem was quickly established by MLB. During the 1980s, the system actually worked like it was supposed to…players had better rights, AND the game was still competitive.  But, starting in the mid-1990s, salaries began exploding (along with the economy) and suddenly the system was skewered.  Teams in huge economic markets like New York, Los Angeles, and Boston were able to throw huge wads of cash in the pockets of all the top free agents, all but assuring there services.  Sometimes, in the case of Ted Turner’s Atlanta Braves, all it took was an incredibly rich owner to give a team a distinct advantage.

Those big markets had (and continue to have) such an advantage for a few different reasons: First and foremost is the fact that, just by sheer geography, a team like the Yankees can much more easily fill their ballpark every night than, say, the Twins can out here in Minny.  Also, teams on both coasts have established their own TV networks (YES Network for the Yankees and NESN for the Red Sox), which bring in enormous profits compared to what the Twins get from Fox Sports North.

After about ten years of this broken system, when the same teams started making the playoffs year in and year out, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig established the “luxury tax” system into the game.  Essentially, this is known as the Robin Hood system, as it robs from the rich to give to the poor.

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This has helped a little bit (e.g. the Twins signed Justin Morneau to a long-term deal and have at least a shot at doing the same with Joe Mauer), but it din’t get to the root of the problem, as teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, and Mets can continue to reach into their deep pockets to get the best players.  Essentially, they are saying “luxury tax be damned” and just paying the fine for going over the payroll limit.  This is evidenced very toughly for Twins fans by these two photos:

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johan-santana.jpgThe Twins gave very decent offers to both Torii Hunter and Johan Santana, but couldn’t come close to matching the amount of years the Halos offered Hunter or the sheer dollar amount the Mets dangled in front of Santana.  Another obvious example was the beginning of this season, when the Yankees went out and got C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett, while the biggest moves the Twins made was signing Nick Punto, bringing in R.A. Dickey (what a joke) and getting a Joe Crede whose back was so bad that he essentially a non-factor.  Those “moves” were all we could afford.  Imagine how different the 2009 ALDS might have been if Hunter had been patrolling the outfield instead of Delmon Young, or if Santana had made the Game One start instead of Brian Duensing.

Now, to be fair, there are some criticisms of instituting a salary cap into MLB, but I would like to give my rebuttal to two of them:

1. Why should the Yankees be penalized for running an efficent system?  It seems as if Yankee fans could just criticize Carl Pohlad for being a tightwad all those years and not spending money to improve his team, but that really isn’t a fair criticism.  First of all, George Steinbrenner isn’t really spending much (if any) of his OWN MONEY on the Yankees, instead relying on seemingly endless revenue streams based on his sheer geography.  Without those streams, other owners (like the Pohlad family) would be dipping into their own personal reserves, which would be like you paying for your office supplies/furnishings or me paying for Wal-Mart shelf labels. 

Secondly, then, is that if teams know they can’t spend with the Yankees, then why even try?  The Twins know that, under the current economic system, they are already beaten in trying to sign free agents, so instead we save our money to try and lock up as many of our good players as possible (which, in this age of inflated salaries, is fewer and fewer each season).

2. The second criticism of the the salary cap is that it really isn’t needed, due to the fact that the 1998-2000 championship run of the Yankees was accomplished primarily with home-grown players like Derek Jeter, Jorge Posade, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera.

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That may be true, but funny how those great players STILL WEAR YANKEE PINSTRIPES! Instead of losing those great players to a higher bidder, the Yanks can just keep them.  Plus, whether the free agents work out (Jimmy Key, Paul O’Neill, Johnny Damon, Sabathia, etc.) or flop (Kevin Brown, Chuck Knoblauch, Carl Pavano), the Yanks can just “pay through” and be done with it.  If the Twins make a mistake in signing the wrong player to an expensive contract, it would hamper the organization for a decade.

Thus, until MLB institutes a salary cap like the NFL and NBA (to a certain extent) have in place, the economics of the game will remain skewered towards the large markets, and that severely troubles me.  I consider baseball to be my favorite sport, the one that captivated me as a child and still does to this day, but right now the NFL is gaining ground and fast due to the fact that in the NFL setup, all teams have a chance to be competitive.  It is only through bad ownership (Al Davis, Matt Millen, etc.) that teams completely fail.

I know that this situation isn’t likely to change anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean that it is right or correct.  Until Bud Selig can take charge of the National Pastime like he should and not just cater to the owners, the Yankees will continue to unfairly dominate the Twins for years and years to come.

Tommy-Boy and Big Papi

Two interesting events in the world of baseball that I would quickly like to touch on:

First, is David “Big Papi” Ortiz…

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As you very well know, Ortiz is currently mired in a slump so long that many people are starting to call it “reality”.  As the stats currently sit, he is hitting a paltry .188 with just one long ball and 21 RBIs in a full 191 at-bats.  I haven’t seen him a whole lot during this horrid stretch, but I guess the word is that he is not catching up to the fastball and, when he does make contact, just pops it up all over the field.

Personally, I hope that Big Papi finds his stroke at some point this season.  When hitting well, he is one of the most exciting players in all of baseball.  I think the thing that Papi has going for him is that, like me, everyone is rooting for him.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a full season of at-bats even if he continues to stink.  There are just too many memories like these… http://mlb.mlb.com/media/player/mp_tpl_3_1.jsp?w=/library/open/moments/bbm_04alcs_gm4_nyybos_350.wmv&vid=7808&pid=gen_video&cid=mlb&v=2 … and many others that allow Ortiz time to turn things around.  I’m rooting for him!

On the other hand, there is Tom Glavine…

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He was recently released by the Atlanta Braves (the team for which he played for most of his career) after finally seeming to get healthy following his injury from last season.  There is much buzz going around that Glavine was given a rough deal, but unlike Ortiz, who is universally liked by his home and national fans, Glavine also has THIS on his record…

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For five seasons, Tommy-Boy “jumped shipped” and pitched for the Braves’ biggest rivals, the New York Mets.  I really don’t remember the details of those negotiations, but I do know that Glavine pitched long enough in the Big Apple to identify with fans their as well.  He re-joined the Braves last season but wasn’t able to stay healthy enough to do any real quality pitching.

Personally, I could care less about what Glavine thinks the Braves “owe” him.  As sports fans have learned from the Brett Favre fiasco year after year, until an athlete retires “for good”, sports, at their core, are still a business.  The Braves didn’t want to waste $1 million on Glavine when he could easily just go out and get injured again, and I don’t question their decision on that one bit.  The same thing happened with the Twins and Harmon Killebrew.  Towards the end of his career, Harmon was clearly fading skills-wise and Twins owner Cal Griffeth practically begged him to retire.  Harmon refused, and thus the Twins traded him to Kansas City were he limped to the quick end of his career.

The Next Timo Perez?

1twin0629gomez.jpgOne of the surprises of the 2009 Minnesota Twins’ season so far has been the reduced playing time of Carlos Gomez.  Whereas last year Gomez seem to be the catalyst of the batting order more times than not, this year he starts about one in every four games or so.  Conspiracy theorists like to point out that perhaps Delmon Young is “stealing” Go-Go’s playing time to maximize his trade potential come mid-season, but I think the fact of the matter is that Young can keep his batting average above .250, while Gomez cannot.

Right now, Gomez (while improving defensively…he is taking much better routes to balls and I haven’t seen him overrun a grounder yet) is completely lost at the plate.  He takes swings that often embarrassing and his pretty much a goner if the pitcher ever gets two strikes on him.

I hope I am wrong in this parallel, but currently Carlos Gomez is falling into the pattern of another young, exciting player who never lived up to his potential:

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During the late 1990s, with the Twins a perenniel cellar-dweller, I jumped on the bandwagon of the New York Mets, partly because I hated their chief rival the Atlanta Braves and partly because I just wanted to cheer for someone in the playoffs!  Thus, during the 2000 playoffs, I remember watching young Timo Perez make a tremendous impact for the Mets.  Timo only played about 20 games for the Mets that entire ’00 season, but he made a big enough impact with his torrid September play that he made the playoff roster.  For that one month and during most of the postseason, Timo was the catalyst for the entire Mets’ lineup, whether it was getting on base, stealing them, or hitting line drives all over the field.  Unfortunately, Perez is probably best remembered for his baserunner blunder that may have cost the Mets a game in the 2000 “Subway” World Series with the Yankees, but he was the kind of player that seemed to have a bright future in New York.

However, a telling sign was the two hits that Perez collected the ENTIRE World Series.  Thus, it was obviously that pitchers were finally figuring out how to get him out, and it was time for him to make the most crucial adjustment that a batter ever makes (that first one after pitchers find a weakness).  He never did.  He played a few more seasons with the Mets (one decent), then became a journeyman, popping up in Chicago with the Pale Hose most recently, I believe.  However, he was never able to regain that flash of talent he showed late in the 2000 season.

Like I said, I hope this isn’t true, but right now Gomez is following that same path.  Gomez single-handedly won games for the Twins early last season, but by the end of said season he had been replaced by Denard Span as leadoff hitter and was striking out at an enormous rate.  The pitchers finally figured him out, much like they did to Timo Perez, and he has yet (as far as I can see) to make the adjustment to start getting hits again.

The ray of hope I see for Gomez, though, is that he really hasn’t gotten enough playing time yet this season to show his current talent level.  Whereas Timo Perez got many years to try and recapture that once-attained talent, Gomez has primarily been riding the pine in his second season as a Twin.  It is a sticky situation, as the Twins like Cuddyer and Span in the lineup but also have high hopes (and Garza/Bartlett) invested in him.  It will be interesting to see how the entire situation pans out.

MLB Predictions: 2009

1908Cubs.jpgEach year, usually after receiving the Sports Illustrated Baseball Preview issue, I make a complete set of MLB picks.  It’s always fun to look back at them and see how right/wrong (wrong far outnumbering the right!) I was at the end of the season.  Here they are for ’09:

AL East:

Boston

Tampa Bay (Wild Card)

New York

Toronto

Baltimore

AL Central:

Minnesota

Chicago

Kansas City

Cleveland

Detroit

AL West:

Los Angeles

Texas

Seattle

Oakland

NL East:

Philadelphia

New York (Wild Card)

Florida

Atlanta

Washington

NL Central:

Chicago

Milwaukee

St. Louis

Cincinnati

Houston

Pittsburgh

NL West:

Los Angeles

Arizona

San Francisco

Colorado

San Diego

AL Champion: Boston

NL Champion: Chicago

World Series Champion: Chicago

So, after 100 long seasons of waiting, I think this is the year that the Cubbies will finally win the big one.  I just think that their pitching is too good not to make a deep playoff run.

Double Homecomings

 
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Tom Glavine back to the Atlanta Braves: After pitching the first 16 years of his career with the Braves, then five years spent with the rival Mets, Tom Glavine was back in a Braves uniform last season.  However, his great homecoming story was cut short by an elbow injury that required surgery, after which many thought he would hang ‘em up.  However, it was announced today that he is coming back to the Braves for one (presumably final) season.  Hey, as long as he can still paint that outside corner, he can still win 10 games.

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Ken Griffey Jr. back to the Seattle Mariners: After spending his first 11 star-studded seasons in a Mariner uniform, KGJ left for his hometown of Cincinnati for eight years, where injuries plagued his performance to the point where he became a shell of his former greatness.  During the mid-1990s, when I was just getting into the Minnesota Twins and baseball in general, my favorite single player was Griffey (sorry Ron Coomer, you just didn’t cut it for me…!).  I loved the mammoth dingers he would crush and the confident (bordering on cocky, but he could back it up) way he carried himself.  Thus, although he’ll likely never hit as many as 35 homers in a single season again, it will be fun to see that bat-waggling, uppercut swing back in Seattle (although it will be a little wierd not observing it in the Kingdome!).

A Typical Twins Signing

Ayala.jpgBesides signing Matt Guerrier to a one-year contract, the Twins also added reliever Luis Ayala, who spent portions of last season with the Washington Nationals and the New York Mets.  Ayala will get $1.3 million for one season.

I don’t know a whole lot about this Ayala (although that should be pretty self-explanatory considering he played for the Expos/Nats franchise most of his career), but I don’t like his 2008 stats: 2-10, 75 IP, 5.71 ERA.  However, I also noticed that Luis has had some very solid past seasons (’02-’05) with the Expos/Nats, posting sub-3.00 ERAs.

This is a typical Twins move in that Ayala is a guy who nobody is beating down the door for, so his price is pretty low.  If he pitches well, that would be great, but he’s also just as important to create some competition for the setup man role in Spring Training.  Ayala, Matt Guerrier, and Jose Mijares will now all be battling for the “exclusive rights” to work the eighth inning when the Twins have the lead, and competition for jobs is something the Twins have always liked to put a priority on (especially with their young players).

It’s not quite Brandon Lyon or Eric Gagne, but we’ll see how Ayala pans out.

Another Hilarous Winter Meetings

Each time around the major league baseball winter meetings, there seems to be a rather hilarious article “hot off the wire” detailing the “big signing” of the Minnesota Twins in the wake of the really big boys already changing hands.  This year didn’t fail to disappoint…

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First, record-setting closer Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez moved from the Angels to the Mets by signing a three-year, $37 million deal.  With Billy Wagner rehabbing an injury and perhaps on the downslope of his career anyway, the Mets figured they needed a dominant closer and thus went out and got the best.

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Then, just a few days later, C.C. Sabathia moved from the Brewers to the Yankees (who else, really?!) for seven years and $161 million, the largest contract ever for a pitcher.  The bad news: He really could stabilize the Yanks’ starting rotation.  The good news: We (the Twins) may only have to face him 1-2 a season TOPS…hooray!!

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Finally, the inevitable “big move” came from the Minnesota Twins, as they announced the signing of “Little” Nick Punto to a two-year, $8.5 million contract.  Ooh, the cash is really flowing now!  Start printing those World Series tickets…”Little Nicky” is back.

In all honesty, though, Punto was actually a pretty good signing for the small-market Twins, as he is the best defenseman (at any position) in the league and, as long as he can keep his batting average above .260 or so, isn’t a huge drag on the lineup with the speed and bunting ability he brings to the table.

World Series Failing? Let Rivalries Develop

1_61_fenway320.jpgThis week, while reading an article in Sports Illustrated magazine, I came across a rather lengthy article (although I cannot recall by whom) discussing how the World Series needs to re-establish its place as the crown-jewel of the baseball season, as in recent seasons (most dramatically this year) the event has lost huge viewership numbers, even losing to the NBA Finals in some seasons.  The author of the article layed out a few solutions to the problem, such as starting games earlier (so kids and working adults can watch them), speeding up pitching changes, and doing something to take bad weather out of the equation (like mandating that all new parks be built with a retractable roof).  However, I had a much different response to that article that I wanted to share on this blog…

To me, the drop in World Series luster in the recent years has, ironically, been caused by baseball’s biggest accomplishment…parity (eight different teams have played in the World Series the past four years).  Think back to when the World Series was a premiere event…it was because the New York Yankees were dominating and everyone either loved them or loved to hate them.  Realistically, the Yankees’ last playoff hurrah was in 2004 (when the Red Sox made their improbable comeback)…since then, the World Series just hasn’t been the same in terms of viewership (the Sox got a boost from beating the Yanks, of course).

So, at least in my mind, the best way to return to a star-studded World Series again is to let a big-market team dominate the playing field again.  However, I am terribly opposed to that sort of economic structure (despite the excitement it brings to the playoffs, as who didn’t have a rooting interest in the Yankees either way over the past decade?!), so here is what I think is the next best solution…let the natural MLB rivalries develop.

Historically, the ALCS and NLCS series’ have often been more dramatic as the World Series just due to the fact that both teams (being in the same league) know each other so well.  During the late 1990s and early 2000s, such rivalries as Cardinals-Astros, Braves-Mets, Yankees-Red Sox, and even Yankees-Rangers (for Texas’ first-round futility against the Bombers) really fueled the postseason structure, creating steam for a big World Series matchup.  Because, even though the WS does not, by definition, precipitate geographic rivalries, it can be made more exciting by teams that just came off a thrilling victory.  Growing up, I was always very anti-Yankees and anti-Braves (because I despised the advantages of large market teams over “my” Twins), but that “hatred” of those teams made me watch them all the more just to see them get beat!  I think the same principle could apply to MLB today, but we just have to let a few rivalries play out.

For example, Red Sox-Rays (as pictured above) could be big for years to come, while White Sox-Twins also has potential  In the NL, the Phillies and Dodgers may “get up” for each other after that spirited NLCS, while the Cubs and Cardinals are always at each other’s throats.  Plus, who knows where new rivalries will emerge.  Just last year, no one would have ever thought Sox-Rays would turn interesting, but look what happened.  From my experience with the AL Central, the Twins and Royals have quite a rivalry, but it will only gain attention if the Royals win a few more games (Yikes!).

Thus, I don’t think that there is a “quick fix” to restoring luster to the World Series.  I would love to see games start earlier and pitching changes go a bit quicker, but that alone will not restore interest…only teams, players, and the rivalries between them.

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