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October 16, 2008

On the Beat

Comebacks and Throwbacks

by John Perrotto

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BOSTON-Rocco Baldelli says it is not in his nature to complain, mope, or feel sorry for himself. If it was, he would be one miserable human being. "I believe the most important thing in life is to be the best person you can possibly be," Baldelli said. "I always try to keep a positive attitude and try to look on the bright side of things. Everybody has some misfortunate in life. You can't let it get you down. You've got to keep fighting through it."

The Rays outfielder has had his share of misfortune over the past four seasons, after impressing as a potential superstar in 2003 when he broke into the major leagues with a 13-game hitting streak as a 21-year-old, a year after Baseball America had selected him as its minor league player of the year. Three years earlier, Tampa Bay had selected him in the first round of the first-year player draft from Bishop Hendricken High School in Warwick, Rhode Island. Baldelli flashed so much raw ability and moved so gracefully that former Rays owner Vince Naimoli once referred to him as a "young Joe DiMaggio."

Since then, much has happened to Baldelli on his way to becoming a cultural icon, and little of it has been good. His problems began just after the 2004 season, when he ripped apart his left knee while, of all things, playing backyard baseball in with his 7-year-old brother, causing him to miss all of the 2005 season.

He has averaged just over 51 games a year in the three years since. He was not able to play until early June of 2006; he appeared in 92 games while still rehabilitating his knee. He saw action in just 35 games last season because of multiple hamstring strains. The worst news came this year in spring training, when he learned that he had contracted a mitochondrial disorder that was sapping his strength and causing him muscle fatigue. "I probably hit my low point during spring training, when I would go out there and have trouble even taking batting practice or jogging or playing catch," Baldelli said. "That was pretty tough to take, coming from the end of 2006 when I started feeling really good again, to struggling with injuries in 2007, to coming back to spring training and struggling again."

Things are finally turning in Baldelli's favor recently, as his Rays hold a 3-1 lead over the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series and can close out the series with a win tonight at Fenway Park. Though he has played only a bit role for the Rays this season, his story has been one of the best of this October. After all of the injuries and the fear that he might never play again, Baldelli is on the Rays' post-season roster, and his three-run home run in the eighth inning of Game Three of the ALCS punctuated a 9-1 win over the Red Sox this past Monday.

"What Rocco has done just to get back to this point is amazing," Rays right-hander Andy Sonnanstine said. "It was an issue completely out of his control, and I can remember having conversations with him in spring training in which he was thinking about stepping away from the game. That was a pretty tough time for him. He did everything he could, saw as many doctors as he could, to try to figure this situation out, and there were times when it looked like there wasn't an answer. To see him back out on the field is an inspiration to all of us, and really speaks to his determination."

Baldelli and Rays trainer Ron Porterfield visited various doctors across the country in an attempt to determine the root of the problem. While there were low points, Baldelli said he always held out hope that he could resume his career. "I just kept thinking that eventually I would get back because something good would happen," Baldelli said. "I owe a lot to Ron Porterfield. He's spent thousands of hours with me, going to different doctors, working with me to get me back on the field. He's more than a trainer, he's my friend, and he's done a lot of work for me. I take some medication now, and I think that's probably why I am able to play."

Baldelli came off of the disabled list on August 10 for a game against the Mariners in Seattle, and had a .286 EqA while hitting .263/.344/.475 in 90 plate appearances over 28 games in the regular season. He is still not strong enough to play on a regular basis, and Rays manager Joe Maddon uses the right-handed hitter in a platoon with Gabe Gross in right field. Just having Baldelli back in uniform has been one of the biggest highlights of an amazing season for Maddon. "I'm so happy that he has been able to be a part of this season and has the chance to experience this franchise's first postseason," Maddon said. "When you think of the Rays, you think of Rocco Baldelli. He's been one of this franchise's most recognizable players. He has come back and really helped us as a role player. I'd love to see him get back to a point where he can play regularly, because Rocco is very gifted. In fact, he has more gifts than just about any player in the major leagues."

Considering that Baldelli is only 27, it would not be out of the realm of possibility to see him emerge as a star, but even if he spends the rest of his career in a part-time role, Baldelli won't complain. "I'm really enjoying what I'm doing now," Baldelli said. "It's fun coming off of the bench to try to provide a spark when I'm in there. I'm content with what I'm doing now, and if this is how it's supposed to be from here on out, then I can live with that. Hopefully, I'll be able to do more as time goes on, but I'm just thankful to have any chance to play again."

---

Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia has always been a favorite of statistical analysts more than scouts. The 5-foot-9, 180-pounder was the American League Rookie of the Year last season when he had a .291 EqA and 8.1 WARP3, and is considered a strong candidate to win the AL's Most Valuable Player Award this season as he raised his EqA to .306 and WARP3 to 10.4

The two opposing managers in the ALCS can't stop talking about Pedroia. "He's one of the very best players in the game," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "I don't think anyone will dispute that after what he's done in his first two years in the major leagues. He's tremendous."

"He could have played in 1910, 1920, 1930, all the way up to the present day," Maddon said. "I think the term throwback is thrown around pretty loosely these days, but that's truly what he is. One time I saw that show on HBO that did bits and pieces of old films, and there was the Yankees and [manager] Joe McCarthy was talking about one of his players-I can't remember who it was [Ed. note: Joe Gordon]-and he called him over to be interviewed. He asked the guy what he was hitting, and he said, 'I don't know' and he asked the guy what the team's record was and he said, 'I don't know.' Then the guy walked away and McCarthy said, 'That's what I love about him. He just comes to beat you.' That's Dustin Pedroia. He just comes to beat you."

Francona believes that Pedroia uses his small stature as a motivational tool, even though he was a three-time all-Pacific 10 Conference player at Arizona State before being the Red Sox' second-round draft pick in 2004. "His motor is always running, and I'm sure that's because he's been told from a very early age that he couldn't do things and he continues to want to prove that he can," Francona said. "He's gone so far past that, and now he's proven to be one of the best players in baseball."

---

Charlie Manuel has managed the Phillies into their first World Series appearance since 1993 after they beat the Dodgers last night in the NLCS. Manuel has been managing with a heavy heart though, since his 87-year-old mother June Manuel died last Friday on the day of Game Two in Roanoke, Virginia, following a brief illness. Manuel will fly to Virginia for the funeral today, and he admits that while it has been difficult to manage in the NLCS, he never thought about leaving the club in the midst of the postseason. "My mom and I were very close, and I knew that she would definitely want me to finish the season," Manuel said. "There's no way I'd miss her funeral, but at the same time, hopefully this is going to work out. We've come this far, and I just want to be there. This is something you've got to deal with and it's all part of life. You have to definitely be strong and find a way to get through."

Manuel jokingly used to refer to his mother as his assistant manager because she was never short of opinions on how her oldest child should run his team. "I feel like I know my mother would want me in the dugout, because she used to manage a lot for me anyway," Manuel said. "She'd tell me things like, 'You go tell those guys that I said I'm praying for them, and I want them to bear down and really get after it.' And I used to say, 'Yeah, Mom, I'll be sure to tell them.' Sometimes I might get a little upset and say, 'One of these days, I'm going to bring you up here and let you tell them.'"

---

The well-respected Paul Beeston has returned to the Blue Jays' organization to help find a new chief executive officer to replace Paul Godfrey, who will resign in December. Beeston was the first employee hired by the Blue Jays as a start-up operation in 1976, a year before they began play as an expansion team, and he served as their president when they won back-to-back World Series in 1992-93. "I have a great deal of loyalty to the Blue Jays," Beeston said. "They've been a big part of my life, and I've been around them since the beginning. I'm not interested in a full-time job, but I can work full time for two or three months.

Beeston, who was also Major League Baseball's president and chief operating officer from 1997-2002, expects the Blue Jays to have a new CEO in place by the time spring training begins in February. The Jays are coming off an 86-76 season, and Beeston feels they are ready to be contenders in the AL East. He also believes that the Blue Jays should retain general manager J.P. Ricciardi, who has two years remaining on his contract. "I'm a friend of J.P.'s," Beeston said. "He's done a good job. I'm a supporter. When you start with the best pitcher in baseball [Roy Halladay], you can make yourself a contender very quickly. You are over .500. You've got some good baseball people like [manager] Cito Gaston and [coaches] Nick Leyva, Gene Tenace, and Brad Arnsberg. You've got a good group of young pitchers and a good nucleus in the minor leagues. I believe it's a good situation."

---

NL Rumors and Rumblings: The Padres are more serious about trading right-hander Jake Peavy than initially appeared to be the case, as they want to ramp up their youth movement in the offseason. The Braves are expected to make a big pitch for Peavy, who also reportedly would waive his no-trade clause for the Cubs, Astros, Dodgers, and Cardinals. ... The Padres are also trying to re-sign closer Trevor Hoffman before he become a free agent next month. ... The Padres are expected to hire two veteran baseball men for manager Bud Black's staff; Jim Lefebvre as hitting coach, and Ted Simmons as bench coach. ... The Marlins seem certain to trade arbitration-eligible second baseman Dan Uggla, with the Angels and Giants the most likely teams to land him. ... The Giants have also reportedly inquired about Twins left fielder Delmon Young as they look to add another bat to their lineup.

AL Rumors and Rumblings: Add Red Sox assistant GM Jed Hoyer to the growing list of executives who are not going to interview for the Mariners' GM job. Indians assistant GM Chris Antonetti and Athletics assistant GM David Forst also turned down the Mariners. Seattle was also denied permission to talk with Tigers assistant GM Al Avila and White Sox assistant GM Rick Hahn. Brewers GM Doug Melvin could emerge as a frontrunner if his talks for a contract extension do not go smoothly. ... Bobby Valentine would like to come back to the United States after managing the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Japanese Pacific League for the past six seasons, and he figures to get strong consideration for the Mariners' opening. ... The Yankees want to fix their starting pitching via free agency, and hope they can sign two of three from among Brewers left-hander CC Sabathia, Blue Jays right-hander A.J. Burnett, and Dodgers right-hander Derek Lowe. ... The Yankees have interest in bringing Willie Randolph back to their staff as bench coach. If Randolph is hired, bench coach Rob Thompson would shift to third-base coach to replace the fired Bobby Meachem. ... The Indians are trying to re-sign infielder Jamey Carroll at a salary lower than his $3 million club option for next season.

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

18 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Aaron Moreno
(314)

I wonder how long the Rays and Baldelli himself thought he was clinically depressed instead of suffering from a mitochondrial disorder. I certainly wouldn't blame them for thinking it.

Oct 16, 2008 10:25 AM
rating: 0
 
John from Bel Air

"The Marlins seem certain to trade arbitration-eligible second baseman Dan Uggla, with the Angels and Giants the most likely teams to land him"

How could the Giants possibly land Uggla? Sabean would probably have to deal a combination atleast two out of the three of Angel Villalona, Tim Alderson, and Madison Bumgarner (There is no chance Buster Posey would dealt). I know that many thought the prospects the Marlins landed in the Cabrera/Willis deal were underwhelming but I just can't believe the Giants have anywhere near enough to get Uggla.

Trading for Delmon Young seems more up Sabean's alley. Trade some blue chip prospects for an overrated player. That could end up like the 2003 Pierzynski deal all over again.

Oct 16, 2008 10:27 AM
rating: 0
 
BigOwe

Sanchez and Lewis would get it done. In fact, that seems like too much. It's really not hard to come up with a number of possibilities.

Oct 16, 2008 10:35 AM
rating: 0
 
leez34

Yeah, I think you're really overvaluing Uggla. Maybe Sanchez and Ishikawa, but that also seems like too much.

Oct 16, 2008 11:15 AM
rating: 0
 
Drew Miller

Except that Sabean might well overvalue Uggla. Thinking of Randy Winn and Aaron Rowand off the top of my head...

Oct 16, 2008 11:20 AM
rating: 0
 
John from Bel Air

The Marlins would trade 3 years of Dan Uggla, who is one of the top 10 second basemen in baseball, for 3 years of a mediocre left fielder and a pitcher who has posted ERAs of above 5 the last two seasons? No way that happens. The front office may be constrained by cost controls but they aren't fools. I doubt they trade away Uggla without getting some real value in return.

Oct 16, 2008 11:24 AM
rating: 0
 
BigOwe

I suggest you take a look at this chart:
http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pfk_WuYpfdux2FC_hs6ROEQ&gid=1
Lewis scores higher than Soriano and Matt Kemp in overall value - are they mediocre as well? - and Jonathan Sanchez was equivalent to Ted Lilly, a fairly well-regarded lefty. And this doesn't even begin to look at upside, where both Lewis and Sanchez have more potential for improvements than Uggla.
Uggla is a star, for sure, but he's also got his faults in the field. The Giants need the kind of sock he brings to the plate, but I would hope they wouldn't give up this much.

Oct 16, 2008 11:54 AM
rating: 0
 
John from Bel Air

I suggest you check both Fred Lewis and Dan Uggla's birth dates:
Dan Uggla entered this world on March 11, 1980
Fred Lewis was born on December 9, 1980

So my question to you is how Fred Lewis has more "upside" when he is less than 9 months younger than Uggla? Going by Vorp, Fred Lewis is the 16th best major league LF behind such all time greats as Jack Cust and David Dejesus. Even if you account for defense, no system has Fred Lewis better than middle of the pack in left field in what has been his best year in the majors. Also your google chart has Brian Giles listed as more valuable this year than Matt Holliday.

Jonathon Sanchez is 25 years old. While I will give you the fact that Sanchez does have decent peripherals he isn't Ted Lilly. According to your chart he is also better than Tim Hudson. Some numbers:

Name ERA+ Vorp
Hudson 130 37
Lilly 110 35.3
Sanchez 86 11.1

Sanchez is nowhere near as good as Tim Hudson or Ted Lilly were last season.

Also take into account that by trading one of their star players the Marlins are definitely building for the future (which they always seem to be doing). Fred Lewis already has 3 years MLB service time and Sanchez has 2 years. They will be looking for prospects or players nowhere near arbitration , neither of which apply to Lewis and Sanchez.

Oct 16, 2008 12:42 PM
rating: 0
 
John from Bel Air

In case the numbers for pitchers are unreadable do to being to close. Hudson had an ERA+ of 130 and a Vorp of 37, Lilly had an ERA+ of 110 and a Vorp of 35.3, and Sanchez had an ERA+ of 86 and a Vorp of 11.1.

Oct 16, 2008 12:44 PM
rating: 0
 
BigOwe

When I talked about "upside" - and maybe it's the wrong word - I'm simply saying that while Uggla has most likely reached close to his peak level, Lewis and Sanchez have likely not. Yes, Lewis and Uggla are near the same age, but the former has played one season as an everyday big leaguer, and the latter has played three. Lewis' EQA of .281 last year was exactly what Uggla's was in his first full season. I expect that it will get better. Perhaps he will not ever reach Uggla's levels of offensive performance, but as you say (without defense) he is already "middle of the pack".
I'm also not so sure that the Marlins are necessarily "building for the future". In fact, it would seem to me that they will need to placate the fanbase somewhat if they want to cut costs, and trading for major-league ready talent is the way to do this. What they realized is that they couldn't just club their way to the postseason, so they intend to retool with more defensively sound players (and presumably, more good pitching). Uggla's not only arb-eligible this year, but will be due a ton of cash. Unless Lewis puts up Uggla-like numbers this year, they would save a full year and (when Freddy is eligible in '10), a load of cash as well.
As for Sanchez, you're right: he was no Lilly this year. However, he projects as a #3 (or possibly a #2), which is exactly what Lilly is, and his peak is definitely ahead of him.
BTW: I really like both Jack Cust and David Dejesus.

Oct 16, 2008 14:01 PM
rating: -1
 
BillJohnson

Peavy's list of potential trade targets is interesting. Would San Diego be tempted by anything that St. Louis could offer that didn't include Colby Rasmus?

Oct 16, 2008 11:33 AM
rating: 0
 
Evan
(47)

Any chance the Mariners will take all these refusals to interview with them as some sort of lesson?

Oct 16, 2008 11:54 AM
rating: 0
 
Schlom

Does any team other than the Braves on that list match up with the Padres for Peavy? Since Towers will want a better package than either Haren or Bedard (as his perceived value is higher) is Hanson and Heyward enough? I wonder if the Padres would do Peavy and Greene (needs to be traded) for Heyward, Hanson and Escobar or is that not enough?

Oct 16, 2008 11:54 AM
rating: 0
 
Gabo

I'm surprised the Yankees don't make a move for Peavy. They could send Cano, Melky Cabrera and Ian Kennedy for Peavy (and maybe a set up guy). That would save them tons of money during free agency and it would allow them to focus on signing Tiexera, who should have a higher priority.

Or does that deal not make any sense for the Padres?

Oct 16, 2008 13:56 PM
rating: 0
 
Schlom

Absolutely not. The Padres aren't going to take "crap" from other teams for a Top 5 starting pitcher. They don't have to trade him so unless they get a good return, they'll hang on to him. Judging by Towers' trade record I would think it would take a comparable package to what the A's got for Dan Haren -- two top 25 overall prospects, plus two of the team's Top 10 prospects, plus two other useful players. I don't Cano and two fringe starters is quite enough.

Oct 16, 2008 16:48 PM
rating: 0
 
John from Bel Air

I don't think the Padres would do it. Cano does has value due to his potential and the fact that his contract is relatively reasonable. However, I think the Padres are looking to go younger here with a deal that gives more prospects with potential than players with immediate value. Whoever, if it even happens, does land Peavy would have him until 2012 with an option for 2013 at what is probably around market rate, possibly at a bit of a discount even. I think this deal is going to be more like the Dan Haren trade or when Texas traded Tiexera to the Braves. I bet Heyward and Hanson would be part of the Braves offer with probably a few more prospects. Is Jordan Schafer considered untouchable by the Braves? If he were part of the deal I bet that would grease the skids, so to speak.

Oct 16, 2008 14:26 PM
rating: 0
 
dodgerken222
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

I would like to know what right this moron socialist Obama has to delay the start of a World Series game just because he has so much money that he can't find enough time to brainwash the public.

Oct 16, 2008 15:34 PM
rating: -8
 
krissbeth

Talk to the capitalists that sold him the show and used their leverage on the plutocracy of MLB to get them to do delay it for... 8 whole minutes. My lord, dude, chill out. They made an open offer to the McCain campaign to do the same thing.

Oct 16, 2008 17:18 PM
rating: 2
 
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