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March 25, 2009

On the Beat

Reality Checks

by John Perrotto

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If Bud Selig ever retires as commissioner, he'll be leaving quite the interesting legacy. He is the man who cancelled the postseason during the 1994 players' strike, and he's also responsible for interleague play, the Wild Card, the All-Star Game deciding home-field advantage in the World Series, revenue sharing, and drug testing. Selig also pushed for the World Baseball Classic, and now that two WBCs have been completed, it remains difficult to assess whether that is a good or a bad thing.

The players who have participated in the WBC say that they've enjoyed themselves and have been honored by representing their countries, and ESPN's ratings were higher for this year's version than the inaugural event in 2006. Yet there is a sense that most American fans don't really care about the WBC; they're more concerned with following their favorite teams in spring training, or watching the NCAA basketball tournament in March.

Adding to the American fans' apathy is that the US has not fared well in the WBC. Team USA failed to make it out of the second round in 2006, and then needed to score three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning to beat Puerto Rico and escape the second round this year, before being blasted by Japan 9-4 in the semifinals on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium. In an impromptu press conference during Saturday night's semifinal between Korea and Venezuela, however, Selig steadfastly insisted that the WBC will eventually become a premier event. "Long after I'm gone, this will get to be bigger and bigger and bigger," said the 74-year-old Selig.

Perhaps that will be the case, but it's clear that many major league clubs and American players simply aren't interested. The US roster was so thinned by a lack of talent and injuries that Indians third baseman Mark DeRosa was forced to start at first base in the semifinal loss. Many clubs, though not admitting so publicly, discourage their star players from participating because they fear potential injuries to their major investments. "The clubs hear this all the time, but I'm going to say this to you as directly as I can: This is a time in life where I know how important your individual club is, this is a time to put the best interests of the game ahead of your own provincial self-interest," Selig said. "Everything we have ever tried to do, whether it was the wild cards or whatever, there was always some criticism. I accept it, and I understand that, but the clubs themselves years ago took a vote on this. They agreed that we had to do something internationally, that we needed to go to China, and we decided that this was the vehicle we were going to use to do that. Now we've got to cooperate with that vehicle."

The US will need to take the WBC more seriously and become more competitive before the event can ever become truly significant. The easiest remedy for the United States' problems in the WBC would be to begin spring training earlier. Major League Baseball added a week to camps this season in an effort to be better prepared, but the Americans still could not compete with a Japanese team that began training right after the start of the New Year.

There would seem to be no chance of major league teams allowing their WBC players to begin training in January. It's also highly doubtful that many players would give up that much of their increasingly shorter offseasons. Instead, the US will have to be content playing at a disadvantage, despite being the nation that invented the sport. While the WBC may grow the game internationally, as is Selig's intention, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins knows the event might always be an afterthought with Americans. "It was definitely an international tournament, there was no doubt about that," Rollins said, alluding to the crowd support many of the foreign countries received while playing in the United States. "Regardless, we had a lot of fun, despite being an underdog and knowing we were at somewhat of a disadvantage as far as having time to prepare. It shows the support and passion these other countries have for baseball. In America, we have so many sports that our attention is on, whichever sport is going on at the time. But in other countries, when their team and country is being represented, they stand behind them 100 percent."

Pirates right-hander Ian Snell had a unique perspective on the WBC. He was born and raised in Delaware, but pitched for Puerto Rico because of his father's lineage. "At the WBC, you saw little kids from Venezuela and Puerto Rico yelling and waving little flags," said Snell, who pitched in the first two rounds in San Juan and Miami. "You don't see that same kind of craziness here. People go crazy at football games and basketball games, but never at baseball games. One day I'd just love to see the crowd at a major league game singing and dancing and setting off horns like they did at the WBC. That would be fun."

---

While the Astros have been drawing plenty of notice for their awful spring training performance and their 6-16 record in Grapefruit League play, the Diamondbacks have been nearly as bad in Arizona with a Cactus League mark of 8-15.

The D'backs' poor play has reached the point where manager Bob Melvin called a rare team meeting in March to tell his team to drop the tried-and-true spring excuse that they were 'working on things,' and start playing better baseball. "I think to an extent we've been a little more focused on the things we've been working on," Melvin told Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. "It hasn't been pretty, but I think from this point on we need to tighten those areas up and start focusing on what we've been doing in the games."

Left fielder Conor Jackson admits that all of the losing has become a little embarrassing, especially after the Diamondbacks held a 4-game lead in the National League West on August 29 last season only to wind up finishing second, two games behind the Dodgers. "You never strap on spikes and a uni to go out there and lose, especially the way we're losing," Jackson said. "We're just playing sloppy. We're making errors, and it's definitely something that's already been addressed. We know we have to pick it up."

---

The Astros continue to have a bad spring, but manager Cecil Cooper's mood is becoming brighter as Opening Day draws near. Cooper admitted last week that he was frustrated by the losing, but he told Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle this week that the Astros should win 90 games in 2009.

Cooper bases his prediction on the fact that a bad spring has no bearing on what will happen during the regular season for a veteran club. "If you've got a bunch of young kids and a young team, and [losing] is happening, then you've got be a little worried," Cooper said. "I mean, really, really worried. Veterans-their focus is on mainly getting ready and pacing themselves to a certain time."

The Astros went 86-75 last season, finishing third in the NL Central, 11 games behind the Cubs. While PECOTA forecasts a 68-94 finish for the Astros this season, first baseman Lance Berkman says that history suggests there will be a different outcome. "Why wouldn't we win 90?," Berkman said. "We won 86 last year. I feel like we have a better team this year. This is the Houston Astros. It just means that we play better than we look on paper."

---

The Rays have gone from long-running joke to an organization that others are trying to imitate. It seems every downtrodden organization, from the Pirates and the Orioles, to the Reds, the Royals, and the Rangers, are all hoping to be the 2009 version of the Rays a year after Tampa Bay went from having the worst record in the major leagues to winning the AL pennant. "Anytime a group does what we did last year-and you could look at the Rockies prior to that and the Tigers prior to that-you're always looking for that kind of hope if you've never been to that particular level before," Rays manager Joe Maddon told Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times. "So I'm sure we're this year's poster child in regard to going from nothing to something pretty good."

Rangers general manager Jon Daniels says the Rays are indeed the standard for all rebuilding mid-market and small-market franchises, as much for their vision as for the actual execution of a systematic plan. "One thing impressive to me about the Rays, and I hope we're able not to replicate it but do it in our way, is that they're very much on the same page in terms of ownership, front office, field staff, development, scouting," Daniels said. "They have a real clear vision and understanding of their identity and what they're about. We've approached it differently in the past, but now we have a very clear vision and understanding of who we are. We know we're not the Angels and the Yankees, and we know what we have to do to be successful."

Rays executive vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman truly believes that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. "It's obviously a great compliment to this entire organization that teams want to emulate bits and pieces of what we did to achieve success," he said.

---

AL Rumors and Rumblings: The Red Sox have focused on trying to acquire Phillies catching prospect Lou Marson, but the asking price is a top young pitcher, either Clay Buchholz or Daniel Bard. ... Outfielder Andruw Jones does not plan to exercise the "out" clause in his minor league contract with the Rangers, though he can win nothing more than a bench job with the major league club. ... The Yankees plan to start Xavier Nady in right field and make Nick Swisher a bench player. ... The Rangers will go with Jarrod Saltalamacchia as their starting catcher and Taylor Teagraden as the backup. ... Endy Chavez is on the verge of beating out Wladimir Balentien to be the Mariners' left fielder. ... The White Sox' center-field situation is somewhat clearer; Brian Anderson will play against left-handed pitchers, but neither Jerry Owens nor Dewayne Wise has claimed the other half of the platoon. ... Scott Lewis appears to have the edge on fellow left-handers Zach Jackson and Aaron Laffey in the Indians' fifth-starter competition. ... Brad Mills, Scott Richmond, and Ricky Romero are competing for two spots in the Blue Jays' rotation.

NL Rumors and Rumblings: While Yu Darvish starred for Japan in the WBC, he is apprehensive about attempting to pitch in the major leagues; he wonders if Americans would accept him since he is Iranian on his father's side. ... The Braves would like to add a young third baseman to become Chipper Jones' eventual successor, and they have a number of trade chips that include pitchers Jeff Bennett, Buddy Carlyle, and Jorge Campillo, infielder Martin Prado, and outfielder Josh Anderson. ... The Astros have strong interest in trading for Rockies utilityman Jeff Baker to play third base. ... The Giants want to sign free-agent left-handed reliever Will Ohman, but they're trying to trade lefty reliever Jack Taschner to clear space on the roster and payroll. ... The Phillies are willing to trade outfielder Geoff Jenkins. ... The Brewers are close to releasing veteran outfielder Trot Nixon. ... Ross Ohlendorf has all but sealed a spot in the Pirates' rotation, leaving Jeff Karstens and Virgil Vasquez in competition to be the fifth starter.

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

Related Content:  The Who,  WBC

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

BP Comment Quick Links

Ben F.

Am I the only one seeing the full article twice?

Mar 25, 2009 09:01 AM
rating: -2
 
Clonod

Am I the only one seeing the full article twice?

Mar 25, 2009 09:15 AM
rating: 12
 
bbmaven

I would be very, very unhappy if the Red Sox traded Buchholz or Bard for Marson. It's way to soon to give up on Buchholz.

Mar 25, 2009 09:05 AM
rating: 0
 
Matu99
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Me too

Mar 25, 2009 09:06 AM
rating: -11
 
Bill N

I can't believe the "US hasn't trained enough and that's why the lost" story is gaining legs. That's pretty insulting to the competitors, especially Japan.

Mar 25, 2009 09:07 AM
rating: 4
 
EnderCN

It is just the simple truth. Even in April half the MLB players don't look ready, they don't get into mid season form until May usually. If the US wants to hope to compete they need to be starting in January just like the asian teams do and well having the best players on the team wouldn't hurt either. (that goes for all of the countries with a large MLB influence and not just the US team).

Mar 25, 2009 09:13 AM
rating: 3
 
Bill N

I think more should be done to separate that from the Japanese team's own storyline. They beat both Cuba and South Korea in addition to the US, that's saying something.

Mar 25, 2009 09:38 AM
rating: 2
 
jlefty

So now the consensus at BP is: if a team beats another team in a single game of baseball, then the winning team is clearly the superior team, and the losing team will have to make drastic changes in order to "compete"?

USA loses to Japan (So does Cuba). Netherlands beats Dominicans. This isn't a 162 game season. Oddities are bound to pop up.

Mar 25, 2009 09:44 AM
rating: 10
 
bflaff

Team USA can't dial up the excuses fast enough. It's disheartening.

Mar 25, 2009 10:55 AM
rating: 1
 
bravejason
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I see the same article twice as well.

Mar 25, 2009 09:09 AM
rating: -6
 
KowboyKoop
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IT'S TWO FOR TUESDAY! ON A WEDNESDAY!! WOWZA!!!

Mar 25, 2009 09:12 AM
rating: -5
 
eighteen

Can I have some of what Cooper and Berkman are smoking?

Ian Snell: "One day I'd just love to see the crowd at a major league game singing and dancing and setting off horns like they did at the WBC." Clinch a playoff berth at home, Snell, and you'll see it.

The Phillies are willing to trade outfielder Geoff Jenkins. Ed Wade is on line 2.

The Brewers are close to releasing veteran outfielder Trot Nixon. Ed Wade is on line 3.

Mar 25, 2009 10:35 AM
rating: 2
 
Schlom

"While Yu Darvish starred for Japan in the WBC, he is apprehensive about attempting to pitch in the major leagues; he wonders if Americans would accept him since he is Iranian on his father's side."

Did you hear that from Scott Boras?

Mar 25, 2009 10:41 AM
rating: -1
 
bdoublegeez

Might I suggest that Ian Snell doesn't see fans going crazy at baseball games due to the team he pitches for?

Mar 25, 2009 10:49 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

Even really enthusiastic US baseball crowds do not compare to Latin baseball crowds- which more closely resemble soccer crowds.

Mar 25, 2009 12:47 PM
rating: 3
 
s0uthsider

Conor Jackson said ""We're just playing sloppy. We're making errors, and it's definitely something that's already been addressed. We know we have to pick it up."

Sounds like the Snakes are picking up right where they left off in September 2008.

Mar 25, 2009 10:50 AM
rating: -1
 
JayhawkBill

Lou Marson's seventh-closest PECOTA comp is George Kottaras. Somehow I don't think that Boston will give up Buchholz or Bard for Kottaras redux.

Mar 25, 2009 12:17 PM
rating: 0
 
Robert Flaxman

Can't believe Selig calls teams not wanting to let their eight-figure-salaried players get injured in an unrelated competition "provincial self-interest." You're not the one spending $17 million a year on CC Sabathia, Bud. Why would the Yankees want him pitching if they can avoid it?

Mar 25, 2009 12:39 PM
rating: 2
 
warmsox

As long as Darvish performed well it wouldn't matter what his background is. And in some cases it might be a good thing so that ignorant people that might hold that against him in the first place could see that Iranians are by and large like everyone else.

Mar 25, 2009 15:08 PM
rating: 5
 
wonkothesane1

It sucks that anyone would think this about America. I'm not saying that they are right or wrong about thinking it. I just think it sucks that we are thought of that way.

Mar 25, 2009 16:33 PM
rating: 3
 
BMoreGreen

Agreed. But am heartened that we are a dynamic species and that this experiment called The U.S.of A. has prepared us to move forward, individually and collectively. We can evolve from policies proven not only to fail in their stated ambitions, but to cost more than could possibly be accounted.

Mar 28, 2009 08:42 AM
rating: 0
 
jmyovino

A suggestion for the WBC. How about having the reigning World Series Champions appear as the USA squad. You could starting spring training one week early (like this year), shorten the WBC schedule by eliminating a couple of "off days" and play it over the last two weeks of spring training. The team would be allowed to add 2 pithchers, 2 infielders and 2 outfielders from a list of volunteers.
This would provide the manager with the flexibility to use the players as he mormally would over the last few games of spring training (playing most starters 6 inning) but with the advantage of having a quality sub. A plus side to this, for the organization at least, is the players left off would have plenty of palying time back at spring training to compete for those few remaining roster spots.

Mar 25, 2009 18:33 PM
rating: 2
 
amazin_mess
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Another suggestion for the WBC:

GO AWAY

Mar 25, 2009 19:12 PM
rating: -4
 
jmyovino

One more thing on the WBC.

Players on the World Series roster have to play for the USA, not their home countries.

Mar 25, 2009 18:40 PM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

"The clubs themselves years ago took a vote on this," said Selig. "They agreed that we had to do something internationally, that we needed to go to China, and we decided that this was the vehicle we were going to use to do that. Now we've got to cooperate with that vehicle."

And how exactly was cancelling the '94 Series and calling an All-Star Game a tie "cooperating" with the vehicle that is baseball?

Mar 25, 2009 19:20 PM
rating: 0
 
WCE

Note to Yu Darvish - no one cares about TJ Houshmanzadeh in the NFL, no one will care about his origins either. I suppose if he started his career criticizing the USA or espousing religious violence against the USA, that would change things.

As it is, I think the guy would be a star in MLB, and if ever discovered by tween girls here, even more popular than that. He literally looks like the "cute guy" anime character, in addition to having filthy stuff.

Mar 25, 2009 20:45 PM
rating: 3
 
sbnirish77

"It seems every downtrodden organization, from the Pirates and the Orioles, to the Reds, the Royals, and the Rangers, are all hoping to be the 2009 version of the Rays a year after Tampa Bay went from having the worst record in the major leagues to winning the AL pennant."

Well I hope the fans of those teams are ready to be God-awful for ten years to accumalate the necessary draft picks.

Hardly a worthwhile model,

Mar 27, 2009 20:26 PM
rating: 0
 
69wildcat

The Pirates, to name one team, have been God-awful for more than the last 10 years, have accumulated the necessary draft picks and have, for the most part, not done anything worthwhile with them. It is one thing to be consistently bad and "earn" the right to high draft picks. It is another thing entirely to know what to do with said picks and not use them on players that top out at AAA.

Mar 27, 2009 21:26 PM
rating: 0
 
BMoreGreen

Fans of the Orioles would love to forget the past decade plus of mediocre to poor performances and bask in the glow of a playoff run. Fortunately, to this point in his tenure, Andy MacPhail has had control of the wheel and is turning the ship around through shrewd trades and a revitalized scouting staff.

MacPhail's leadership blends well with Dave Trembley's tilt toward defense and speed with good pitching and a couple of big bats as a winning formula. It seems like an old philosophy, revamped by the new Rays, gaining traction again. Maybe baseball is inherently cyclical and the natural shift away from the recent power years continues and flourishes.

Mar 28, 2009 09:13 AM
rating: 0
 
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