Happy Labor Day! Regularly Scheduled Articles Will Resume on Tuesday, September 2.
March 9, 2010
Sold RHP Edwar Ramirez to the Rangers. [3/9]
What, you expected something yummy, Yankees fans? Nothing like greenbacks to keep you in caviar and calvados, and if you're the spiteful type of Bomber booster who wishes ill to every unstriped former Yankee, sending a pitcher to Texas isn't usually the nicest thing to do to him, or his career.
Signed 1B-L Hank Blalock to a split deal for 2010 worth a $925,000 base, with a player opt-out if he fails to make the club. [3/8]
I'm not quite sure why the enthusiasm for all things Hank Blalock persists. It's sort of like still being a John Edwards supporter, or a Milli Vanilli fan, or remaining kaisertreu: the expiration date for these things has surely passed, hasn't it? Blalock's last truly compelling season was in 2004, when he was 23 and a third baseman and healthy; he followed that with two below-average seasons at the plate, then a pair of injury-hampered campaigns, and then last year's disaster. It's the sort of run that makes you wonder if he broke a mirror or something. But nevertheless, here he is, and he did hit 25 more home runs off of major-league pitching last year than you or me, and that has to be worth something, right?
The 25 home runs are nice, of course, except for the price that they came at: a ton of outs, his highest full-season strikeout rate since he was a 21-year-old rookie, with an unintentional walk rate of 4.9 percent. A fly-ball hitter, he set a career high for homers per fly ball—does anybody really think that's going to get better? Having drawn just 24 unintentional walks last season in 495 plate appearances to go with those 25 homers, Blalock's outhomering his walk tally is amusing, but not especially historical—or even all that flattering.
The all-time leader for a combined total of homers and self-generated freebies with more homers than walks in a single season is Sammy Sosa in 1998, when his combo of 66 homers and 59 unintentional walks produced a single-season tally of 125. That beat the previous record set all the way back in... 1997, by Ken Griffey Jr. (56 homers, 53 UBBs), so we might consider that the "extra biscuit for breakfast"-only all-time leader if you're a stickler for such things and presume innocence and all that good stuff. Little did we know (or care), but the Kid had beaten out the achievement of George Foster in 1977 (52 homers, 51 freely-drawn freebies), a feat worthy of the wearer of some of the game's best sideburns ever. Those are the only three men to top 100 bombs plus unintentional walks; fourth place in this particular meaningless statoid is held by Andre Dawson in his MVP season of 1987—49 homers, 25 unintentional walks, which also stands as the highest single-season differential between homers and unintentional walks.
Moreover, this feat has been achieved 205 times, most frequently by Dawson, Juan Gonzalez, and Matt Williams at seven times apiece, Ernie Banks six times, and the original Tony Armas, Orlando Cepeda, and Vladimir Guerrero five times apiece. Vladi's still a going concern, of course, as is Alfonso Soriano, who has four such seasons. That's a lot of Cubs in the mix, of course, but you could almost automatically expect that to be the case somehow, couldn't you? Sure enough, the Cubs have the all-time lead in this kind of high-achiever, getting the benefit of 15 such seasons; the Rangers and Reds are tied for second with 13, so Texas fans can never say Blalock did nothing for the franchise's place in history.
Of course, what all of these guys have in common is that they were basically all better ballplayers than Hank Blalock. In part because of a long and ever-lengthening list of injuries great and small, a lot of excuses have been made for Blalock's seemingly perennial case of decay, but as Marc Normandin noted in a Player Profile three and a half years ago, he was already trying and failing to live up to exaggerated expectations. That was then, and since then he's had two injury-plagued campaigns in which he hit, and one relatively healthy year last season in which he did not. His career home/road splits point to his being just another piece of Texas toast, with outsized promises made for what in the end is basically just big and bland and waiting to get burned: .293/.358/.516 in Arlington, against .245/.300/.414 everywhere else on the planet. That includes the healthy years, the good years, and the two years (of eight) in which he was both healthy and good. That's .245/.300/.414, and this is a man who's been signed to potentially take time at DH because Pat Burrell's been labeled an injury-prone disappointment. Ahem.
Of course, there's always the speculation that he could play third now and again, giving him at least the virtue of positional flexibility instead of being a weak-hitting first baseman or an oxymoronic DH. This would involve testing a surgically repaired shoulder, and that may not be such a good idea, and statistical evaluations of his glove work at the hot corner in 2007 and 2008 are less than kind. Nevertheless, some people pretend Blalock might be able to play there now that his shoulder was fixed up in 2008. So, he might play third base, assuming you asked nicely—a player this fragile, you don't want to bruise his feelings—and perhaps you put him in bubble wrap, just to get around the danger of any bruising whatsoever.
Of course, there's always that big 'if': if Blalock was healthy. Well, sure, if he was healthy, I'm sure he would cure cancer, fly, and toss busloads of villainous investment bankers into the Marianas Trench. You can be sure that the Rays expect less than that, but for his major problems, the surgery to repair his Thoracic Outlet Syndrome was in 2007. If he was going to recover from that, he has already. Last year's litany leans towards early-season hurts, before his bat went into the tank: a quad strain, a neck woe. Once he got better from those things, his batting got worse.
In the end, the real problem with Blalock is that he's not a cipher, he's more like a disco ball. With so many different facets to reflect back whatever it is people shining any light upon him wish to see—injury-hampered could-be, might-be player, or platoon asset (despite hitting a Kingmanesque .239/.294/.471 for Texas vs. RHPs last year), or third baseman, or a one-time top prospect—get past the gaudy maybes or what might have been true at some point, and you're left instead with a core of more tangible ain'ts, because he ain't any of those things any more. That he's signed is less of a story than the sort of deal he had to resort to signing—non-guaranteed, with an opt-out for him to scram and avoid Durham if the Rays perhaps understandably decide that they'd rather have Willy Aybar and Matt Joyce and Sean Rodriguez, and maybe even Dan Johnson, get at-bats if Pat Burrell's still not quite right.
Purchased RHP Edwar Ramirez from the Yankees. [3/9]
When the Yankees elected to punt Ramirez from the 40-man to make room for Chan Ho Park, I briefly went into why Ramirez's capacity for success might be a bit limited (not to mention difficult to translate from his minor-league dominance). That's not to say he couldn't survive as an extra arm at the back end of a Mike Maddux-coached bullpen, but the ballpark's not very forgiving to a pitcher who has to get by with a business lunch-mix on the mound: nibbling plus a sales pitch. And a rubber chicken, but hitters aren't picky when it's on the plate and seems prepped for mashing and mastication. Here's hoping he can fool enough of the people enough of the time to prove his doubters wrong, and show that what gets served in Scranton works just as well in Texas.
Optioned RHPs Mark Rogers and Alex Periard to the minor leagues. [3/8]