June 25, 2004
Teams: A Critical Guide
Mad About Beltran Edition
NEW YORK YANKEES
Andruw Jones and his $12.5 million to Yankees in the right deal? It sounds crazy, but the Braves are going nowhere, even in a division in which all the teams forgot to show up (echoes of "What if we gave a war and nobody came?"). If offered a choice between Carlos Beltran and Jones, who would you rather have? Beltran and Jones, both center fielders, are precisely the same age, having been born two days apart.
G AB HR AVG OBP SLG Jones 1203 4361 233 .267 .341 .494 Beltran 792 3121 121 .287 .352 .482
Beltran has seemed to blossom while Jones has stood still, but keep in mind that Beltran has been hitting in a park very friendly to hitters, while The Ted has been tougher on Jones. Defensively, Jones is by far the better fielder. Finally, one will become a free agent at the end of the season, while the other is locked in for all eternity… We should probably alter the baseball vocabulary when it comes to pitching and injuries. We normally say, "Kevin Brown will be on the disabled list indefinitely." A better way of putting it might be to say that "Kevin Brown has been activated from the disabled list indefinitely." Actually, you can apply that to everything: relationships, mortality...boy, that's depressing. Better have another donut. GRADE: B+
BOSTON RED SOX
Only 9-11 during June, and losers of four of their last five. The Crimson Hosiery have scored 102 runs this month while allowing 98. Pythagoras-wise, that puts them at just over the break-even point. When a team's runs scored and allowed are in equilibrium, luck starts playing a huge part in the results. None of the players are in a truly abysmal slump, though the original hokey Pokey was hitting about as well as he can, which is the same thing. Fortunately, the return of Garciaparra and Reese's injury allow the original hokey Pokey to ride off into the sunset, or at least the darker corners of the clubhouse, while Mark Bellhorn--the poor man's Adam Dunn of the infield--maintains his position.
There are no real villains on the pitching staff--Bronson Arroyo has four losses in four starts but hasn't pitched badly. Tim Wakefield is the only starter who has really been annihilated, and even he turned things around in his most recent start. July will show June to have been an aberration. GRADE: C
TAMPA BAY DEVIL RAYS
Lou Piniella says that the Rays should build on their momentum, add a useful player or two and try to...well, what? Continue to look like they're trying? Win a Wild Card? Trailing the WC (Wild Card, Water Closet, there ain't much difference) by just five games, the Rays could make a run at first-round elimination respectability. That's not where Lou's head is at, though. With a few players of the kind not available to be purchased in bulk at Costco, Lou said, "We can really keep them [the fans] excited."
With the bulk of the winning streak taking place on the West Coast and in Canada, it will be fascinating to see if the manager is correct and Rays attendance, which has averaged less than 17,000 a game--last in the AL, second-to-last in the majors--will pick up when the team returns home for interleague shenanigans with the Marlins on Friday. Memo to Lou: The first step to keeping the party going is getting B.J. Upton into the lineup, eliminating Geoff Blum in the process (Mr. Lugo moving a few feet to his right). The offensive gains will offset any damage the defense sustains; we hold this truth to be self-evident. GRADE: A+
TORONTO BLUE JAYS
Joe Torre named Carlos Tosca to the coaching staff for the All-Star game, which is a lot like granting a condemned prisoner one last request. Me, I would have picked 22-year-old twins with liberal values and an inclination to be experimental, but perhaps some things are not within Torre's power to grant. Even divine intervention might not save a manager who finds himself six games (loss column) behind the Rays. GRADE: D
The Orioles have not had a pitcher crack the top 10 in strikeouts since Moose Mussina mercenarily mooed his way to millions by moving to Manhattan. Yes, the Yankees play in the Bronx, not Manhattan, but it didn't alliterate. Besides, if the Jets fail to secure their West Side stadium site, you could someday see MM pitching in the Jacob Javits Convention Center.
Putting together a pitching staff means mixing known quantities and calculated risks. As much as we all dislike "Proven Veterans" here at BP, when you're rotating a staff of no-names it helps to have at least one starting pitcher whose performance can be projected with reasonable certainty. It's why the Braves of 1990 acquired Charlie Liebrandt, and presumably why the O's signed Sidney Ponson after finally, finally sending him away. That was a miscalculation which deprived this runaway train of its emergency breaks. Then again, with the rotation's ERA over 6.00, Walter Johnson wouldn't have helped. GRADE: F
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
The year before the Twins (then hanging out in Washington as the Senators) were ready to give Harmon Killebrew, power-hitting monster, a regular job, their starting third baseman was Eddie Yost. Yost had been a Senator since he was 17 years old, reaching the majors in 1944 due to wartime manpower shortages. He had been Washington's regular third baseman since 1947. He was a valuable hitter, the Walking Man, good for a .400 OBP in most seasons. Just 31, he had value left, but Washington dealt him to Detroit to make room for Harmon. It was time. There are few occasions when the baseball gods present a team with a chance to get younger, cheaper, and better all at the same time. A team ignores such chances at its own peril. To mix metaphors, when the handwriting is on the wall, you'd better gleefully slaughter your sacred cows and get the Chosen One to the majors. The Twins are winning because they're pitching extremely well right now, but sooner or later the way they assign playing time is going to bite them on their twin cities. GRADE: C
CHICAGO WHITE SOX Currently leading the American League in batting average, slugging percentage, and runs scored, while ranking a close third in OBP, but pitching remains conceptual. If any team should be going aggressively after starting pitching it's these fellows. As for the bullpen, deleting Billy Koch was only half a solution. Triple-A Charlotte is floating guys you might not want to see again like Courtney Duncan and Ryan Kohlmeier, so help is going to come from outside or not at all. Just 8-12 in June. GRADE: D
With some players, the great leap forward is for real. With veterans like Ronnie Belliard, they're going to revert--it's just a question of when. Belliard hit like Eddie Collins during the tax season, then turned right back into Ronnie Belliard (this week's three home runs somewhat redeeming what had been a flaccid June). Is it ever too early to trade a player on a hot streak? "Hey, Yankees! We've got a second baseman hitting .450 and it's FOR REAL. We'll give him to you for next to nothing--just two pitchers and $1.5 million. Whaddya say?" The quintessential example of this, and also the most pathetic, was pulled by the Mets in 1962. Third baseman Don Zimmer opened the season in a 0-for-32 slump. Two days after he finally got a hit, Zimmer was traded to Cincinnati--"While he was hot."
Voting Rank EQA 1. Pudge-Rod .326 2. Jorge Posada .317 3. Jason Varitek .302 4. Javy Lopez .290 5. Vic Martinez .319
Whether the kid makes it or not, he's going to be an asset to the Indians for a long time.
The Indians lead the AL in OBP and sit three games over .500 this month, but they're two starting pitchers and an entire bullpen away from being real--and that's if you believe in Jake Westbrook. GRADE: B
Signing Carlos Guillen was a necessary gamble. He may not spend the rest of the year hitting the way he is now--very good at home, holy terror on the road--and the rest of his career may well resemble the lackluster sub-holy trinity numbers that came before. But lackluster is still better than Royce Clayton, and assuming the Tigers get some non-Pinocchio players (real boys) at the positions where one expects to find bats, Guillen won't have to be Honus Wagner anyway, just reasonable. While this may be taken as a sign the Felids won't be running after Nomar or Orlando Cabrera this off-season, it also keeps them out of the Neifi Perez/Rey Sanchez/Clayton bargain bin. That's something. GRADE: B
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Since Allard Baird made it quite clear that what he wanted for his prize outfielder was a catcher and a third baseman, it's intriguing to think about some of the players the Royals could have asked for if the right teams were interested in meeting his price.
As for Houston, the Astros could have tried to serve up Morgan Ensberg and John "Bring 'Em Back Alive" Buck without Jedi Master Beane's intervention, but at 28 Ensberg's not a prospect, and he's in the midst of a horrible season that points to a significant injury. As for Buck, he's having his first good year since 2001.
So what did they get for the man that I am going to pretend the world is calling "The New Joe DiMaggio?" A third baseman who can hit but may or may not be acceptable at the position, a catching prospect whose record is suspect, and a pitcher with little ability to make batters miss the ball. Now we rebuild, again. GRADE: C-
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
For years, Randy Lerch has been my personal symbol of inept pitching, a lefty who survived for 11 seasons despite never even dipping his big toe into the pool of competency. Over the course of his career, Lerch was over 100 runs worse than the average cat. Yet, on July 10, 1982, Lerch pitched a complete game shutout against a Kansas City Royals lineup that included Willie Wilson, Hal McRae, George Brett, and Amos Otis. As Poison sang, every rose has its thorn, every dog has its day, every bagel has its hole, or something like that. We're talking, of course, about R.A. Dickey's May 2 victory over the Red Sox.
The Rangers are suddenly owners of the second-best record in the American League. One of the teams least likely to take a walk, the pennant effort would be better served by acquiring a batter with an OBP than by the addition of another pitcher. The latter wouldn't hurt, but the staff's general decency has been obscured by one depressing home/road split. GRADE: B-
Acquiring Octavio Dotel from Houston/cash from the Royals: Beane-o gave up a solid hitting prospect in Mark Teahen (reviews on defense are mixed) and a non-strikeout pitcher in Mike Wood. If you're going to give up a pitcher, that's the kind you want to give away; pitchers that get by on control and guile in the minors often find they're not so clever when they hit the bigs. A long adjustment period ensues. In a home run era, it takes a very special pitcher to get by without strikeouts, because so many batted balls become souvenirs. In return for these players, Beane got, at best, an answer to his closer problems and at worst a very solid setup guy. Given that the pen has murdered Oakland this year and the AL West is wide open, this move could have a decisive impact on the race. Essentially, this trade is Teahen for Dotel and cash. The A's got a good deal under the circumstances. GRADE: A+
Raul Mondesi proved to be temporary, like an infection easily cleared up with a dose of penicillin. With Tim Salmon returned from the land of the dead with Eurydice at his side, Mondesi went (to the DL, which is the third-best solution after "Europe" and "Battle Creek, Michigan to be milled into corn flakes"), Anderson returned, Guillen and Guerrero flapped proudly in the breeze, and all was as it should be in this great land of ours. God bless America! Wait...Erstad is back. Viva Canada?
Meanwhile, Jeff DaVanon's playing time disappeared with the return of the natives, which is not so wise given his .401 OBP. We at BP specialize in combining numbers with catchy acronyms, and we call what DaVanon is doing a .310 EqA and a 16.2 VORP. And he has his own brand of yogurt, or will soon. We pause here to recall the magical day at Yankee Stadium at which fans pelted the players with thousands of Reggie Bars. If only they had been throwing Reggie Yogurt... Since DaVanon hit the pine, the Angels are 4-6. GRADE: C-
With few players who are going to be around during the next M's pennant run--pretty much Ichiro and no one else--Bavasi shouldn't hesitate to back up the truck and get what little he can for some of the over-the-hill gang, all of whom, it should be noted, will get a little boost in production once they get out of the Rainy Confines of Corporate Park/Seattle (caveat emptor: the opposite is true for the pitchers). Jamie Moyer pitching for a pennant winner would be a great thing to see. The Mariners are 10-10 this month, principally because they beat up on the Expos and Pirates. For shame, taking candy from orphans and mental patients. GRADE: C
THE NATIONAL LEAGUE FOLLOWS ON SATURDAY. CAN BATMAN AND ROBIN ESCAPE?