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September 10, 2010

On the Beat

Going Out with Class

by John Perrotto

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Trevor Hoffman is likely in the final weeks of his career. Though the Brewers reliever says he won't make a decision about retiring until after the season ends, all signs point to the 42-year-old all-time saves leader bringing an end to his 18-year career that began with the expansion Marlins in 1993.

The merits of closers and saves can be debated forever in the statistical analysis community. However, anyone who ever played with Hoffman or has gotten to know him will tell you he is one of the classiest people to put on a uniform.

Hoffman recorded his 600th career save earlier this week. Yet after reaching that milestone, one of the first things Hoffman did during a post-game press conference was to apologize to his teammates and fans for his role in helping drag the Brewers out of contention early in the season when he struggled mightily. He was removed from the closer's role after blowing five of 10 save opportunities and compiling a 13.15 ERA in his first 14 appearances.

Hoffman stayed stuck on 597 saves for three months as rookie John Axford seized the closer's role. Hoffman finally got the three saves he needed when manager Ken Macha began putting him in some easy situations with the hopes of getting him to 600.

"Unfortunately, I was part of the problem this year by not getting my job done early and getting some momentum going," Hoffman said. "I didn't go out and get the job done early. It was more a battle of attrition to get there and have that banner turn over (to No. 600)."

Hoffman never complained when he lost his job. Instead, he embraced the idea of becoming a mentor to Axford as well as serving as an unofficial coach to the rest of the relievers.

Hoffman has proven to be an expensive mentor, though, as he signed a one-year, $7.5 million contract as soon as the 2009 season ended with a $7 million club option for 2011. The move seemed prescient at the time despite Hoffman's advanced age, as he contributed 5.2 Wins Above Replacement Player in 2009. This year, his WARP is -0.8, the first time in his career he has had a negative number.

"He got himself turned around," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. "He never said, 'I need to get to 600.' He's a class act. He wanted to earn it. You lose games all different ways, not just at the end. I don't point a finger at one particular part of the team. He's impacted those young guys in the bullpen like Axford, (Zach) Braddock, and (Kameron) Loe. If he never saved another game, it would be worth having him on the team."

In addition to telling the media that he felt largely responsibilities for the Brewers' poor season, he also apologized to his teammates in a brief team meeting during the aftermath of save No. 600 in which teammates Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, and Todd Coffey carried him off the field at Miller Park. Melvin said he got chills listening to Hoffman briefly address his teammates.

"I'm big into Westerns," Melvin said. "I felt like John Wayne was in the locker room. You don't hear things like very often. He's a great spokesman for the game."

---

The Dodgers, for the record, say they haven't given up. However, by the looks of some of the lineups they have fielded this week, it is pretty clear that they realize they have no chance of making the postseason after falling below .500 at 69-71.

The Dodgers started playing their September call-ups Wednesday when Russell Mitchell started at third base. Trent Oeltjen played center field Thursday night and John Lindsey, a 33-year-old rookie first baseman, is expected to get his first start tonight against the Astros at Houston. The Dodgers have also added a sixth starter in rookie John Ely to buy extra rest for left-hander Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley.

As the Dodgers play out the string, manager Joe Torre admits he is frustrated that he couldn't push his team to a better record.

"I wish that I could have been more help in finding something that would make a difference," Torre said. "That's my job. I know it sounds like I'm playing this role, but you go to sleep every night, you think about what conversation you can have with this guy or that guy."

Torre also says the blame should be placed on him for such a disappointing season after back-to-back trips to the NLCS.

"There's no question," he said. "It wouldn't be fair to anybody if I said, 'This guy isn't doing this, so it's not my fault.' It's my responsibility to help them through bad times and make them better—by conversation. Obviously, I can't show them how to do it. Try to help them through it. It's always been my responsibility."

---

Cito Gaston, who will move into an advisory position to Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopolous at the end of the season, isn't likely to get many, if any, votes for American League Manager of the Year. However, the Blue Jays have a legitimate shot to finish with a winning record. They are 72-68 and need to win 10 of their last 22 games to wind up over .500 after going 75-87 last season.

A winning season would be a nice accomplishment for Gaston considering there were reports late last season that his players were ready to rebel against him because of his supposed lack of communication skills. It turned out those reports were overblown, as were the dire pre-season predictions that the Blue Jays might lose 100 games for the first time since 1979 following the trade of ace pitcher Roy Halladay to the Phillies last winter.

"They've got heart and hustle, and they want to hustle and finish the season good," Gaston said of his players. "The point is to try to finish above .500 if you can. If you can't make it to the playoffs, finish above .500 and take it up for next year and keep going. I think that's the goal we have here."

Gaston also reached a personal goal this week when he notched his 900th career victory.

"That's quite something for me," Gaston said. "I'm proud of that. You can't do it without the players, though."

---

The Red Sox' playoff hopes for 2010 are slim, as they are nine games behind the Yankees in the AL East and 6 ½ games in back of the Rays in the AL wild-card chase. Thus, the Red Sox are already looking ahead to 2011 in some regards, including offering a two-year contract extension to catcher Victor Martinez this week.

Martinez has a .283 True Average, not a bad figure considering he got off to a terrible start and has also battled injuries. However, he is looking for a contract longer than two years.

"That's a business part of the game," Martinez told WEEI.com. "They're trying to do one thing, and we'll see what happens. I don't really have to do it. They came with something, and that might just be where the negotiations start. But I don't see myself signing a two-year deal. I'm young enough. I work hard and I give it all."

Meanwhile, it appears the Red Sox will pick up designated hitter David Ortiz's $12.5 million club option for next season. Ortiz has had a solid comeback year with a .303 TAv and 29 home runs following a start and after slipping to .266 last season.

"He's an important part of what we do," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "I don't think we've ever tried to hide that fact.  t was tough in April because he was struggling so much. When you have a designated hitter that is your full-time designated hitter, they need to be a huge force in your lineup, just as David has been."

---

MLB Rumors & Rumblings: Reports that the Nationals have decided not to re-sign first baseman Adam Dunn as a free agent because of his poor defense are odd, to say the least, when you consider they turned down the opportunity to deal him to the White Sox for starter Edwin Jackson at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. … It is all but a given that the Rays won't re-sign left fielder Carl Crawford, who would like to get off the Tropicana Field turf, and the Yankees and Angels are overwhelming favorites to sign him. … Left fielder Pat Burrell wants to re-sign with the Giants for 2011 but it does not appear that he fits in their plans beyond this season. … The Tigers plan to go with Alex Avila as their starting catcher next season and will allow Gerald Laird to leave as a free agent in the offseason. … The Indians will be pulling hard for South Korea to win the Asian Games in November because a victory will likely mean that right fielder Shin-Soo Choo will be excused by the government from a two-year military obligation that could start as early as next year.

---

Astros center fielder Michael Bourn: "He's starting to understand himself as a hitter. He doesn't try to muscle up on pitches anymore and he makes the pitcher come to him instead of swinging at everything. He has become a very effective leadoff hitter."

Padres outfielder Chris Denorfia: "The Padres have gotten a lot of mileage out of him but he's just stretched as an everyday player. That being said, he's a good No. 4 outfielder because he's solid defensively and he knows how to work the count and get on base."

Cardinals right fielder Matt Holliday: "There were always questions about him when he was with the Rockies because he played at Coors Field but he's proven this season, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he can be an effective hitter in any environment. He waits for his pitch and he can hit all types of pitching. He can catch up with the best of fastballs and he also can crush off-speed stuff. The Cardinals took a lot of heat for giving him the big contract last winter but he's been worth it so far."

Nationals center fielder Nyjer Morgan: "He's getting the reputation of being a dirty player and a bad guy but that's just not true. I think what you've seen in the last few weeks is a frustrated player who hasn't been to duplicate what he did last year."

Blue Jays right-hander Brandon Morrow: "He had a breakthrough year but he can get better. If he can throw more first-pitch strikes, he's going to be really tough because then he can start using that wipeout slider even more to put hitters away."

Angels outfielder Reggie Willits: "He's one of the most disciplined hitters you'll find but what keeps him from being an everyday player is that he can't hit the curveball. That's his fatal flaw."

---

Three series to watch with probable pitching matchups and all times Eastern:

Cardinals (73-65) at Braves (80-61), Friday-Sunday September 10-12
Chris Carpenter vs. Mike Minor, 7:35 p.m.; Jake Westbrook vs. Tommy Hanson, 4:10 p.m.; Tim Hudson vs. Kyle Lohse, 8:05 p.m.

Giants (78-62) at Padres (79-59), Friday-Sunday September 9-12
Jonathan Sanchez vs. Clayton Richard, 10:05 p.m.; Madison Bumgarner vs. Tim Stauffer, 4:10 p.m.; Tim Lincecum vs. Mat Latos, 4:05 p.m.

Yankees (87-53) at Rangers (77-63), Friday-Sunday September 10-12
Javier Vazquez vs. C.J. Wilson, 8:05 p.m.; A.J. Burnett vs. Tommy Hunter, 8:05 p.m.; Dustin Moseley vs. Cliff Lee, 3:05 p.m.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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