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Chat: Joe Sheehan

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Welcome to Baseball Prospectus' Thursday October 23, 2003 7:00 PM ET chat session with Joe Sheehan.

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Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus.

Joe Sheehan: 100 minutes to game time, 100 questions to answer. Let's gets started...

Jon (Washington, DC): Leaving aside the acquisitions of Matsui, Contreras, Wells and Sierra, all apparently ordered and/or consummated by the Boss, how would you evaluate Brian Cashman's work in assembling the current Yankees? What needs to be done to reload the Yanks for 2004?

Joe Sheehan: I think the Yankees' focus on international talent and front-line free agents has caused them to miss in the free-talent market. The major-league bullpen, major-league bench, and the reserves at Columbus are all below par, and I think that's a weakness of the current front office.

Whether that falls on Cashman, Newman or Steinbrenner...my take is that it's a little of both.

For 2004, the Yankees have to address the up-the-middle defense. That's THE organizational issue.

misterjohnny (L.A.): Just out of curiosity, how many games have you picked the Yankees to lose this post season?

Joe Sheehan: Three that I can think of, the first games of the ALDS and WS, and Game Four of the ALDS. Tonight makes four, I guess.

Hondo (Abilene, TX): Hello Joe. I was hoping you could speculate on two things. First, who will be in the Yankee rotation in 2004, and second, how will GM Roulette end up? Beane in Seattle, DePodesta in Oakland, Minaya in New York?

Joe Sheehan: I see Mussina, Lieber, Contreras, FA from the top class, and a lower-tier FA. I'd be surprised if Wells, Weaver or Pettitte was on this team a year from now.

GM roulette could get more interesting once Frank McCourt takes hold of the Dodgers. That would be an attractive job.

I see Duquette keeping the job as a bit of a puppet in NY, Port in Seattle, and whoever will work the cheapest in Cincy.

Paul Covert (Lynnwood, WA): What do you consider the primary differentiator (if any) between teams that do well in the postseason and those that don't?

Joe Sheehan: The only certainty I see is that teams whose regular-season strength is their depth lose their advantage in short series. A good fifth starter, good #4-#6 guys in the bullpen, and good bench players just don't have much impact over five or seven games.

So a team that's ten games worse than its opponent might actually be even with them when you just look at the guys who will be playing the playoff games. (Cubs/Braves this year is a good example.)

Guys, a chat tip: shorter questions have a much better chance of getting answered.

Jon (Burlington, VT): Based on ability, salary, experience, and availability, if you were Theo Epstain, who will be playing second base for the Red Sox next season??

Joe Sheehan: Second base is a position where you can almost always find a good, cheap stopgap, be it in the non-tender or free-talent markets.

I think Todd Walker is underrated, and would probably make a run at keeping him for $2MM-$3MM, and being more aggressive about platooning him. Failing that, I'd make a run at Junior Spivey (the Snakes have a thing for Matt Kata).

Mark T. (CT): Does Mariano Rivera just seem like a better pitcher in the postseason or does he possess a quality that allows him to perform better than his regular season numbers would predict? More broadly, do you think some players are "clutch" (in the postseason)? p.s. Great web site!

Joe Sheehan: Rivera is a great pitcher at all times, and his October success, while critical to the Yankees' run, doesn't mean that he's "clutch."

I can't say for certain that nobody in baseball has some special ability to play better in the playoffs. I can say that I haven't seen evidence for that ability, and without that, I'm reluctant to make comments about the character of these people, good or bad, when the evidence for such conclusions isn't there.

Robert (Milwaukee): Who's going to be the winner in the "rip the Brewers off for Sexson" lottery?

Joe Sheehan: Call me crazy, but I'm not convinced the Brewers are going to get ripped off if they trade Sexson. They've actually started building a decent little system.

The Brewers' problem will come down the road; I think their building is going to go fairly well.

They should move Sexson as part of that. A number of contenders could use his bat and glove at first base.

Fozzie (CA): What can the Yankees do to upgrade their defense while still fielding an offense that gets above-average production out of their infield positions? Or do they punt on that?

Joe Sheehan: It's not the end of the world to have a poor defensive player at a key position, especially when they hit as well as the Yankees' trio does (or has).

The problem is all three in the same key positions at the same time. So if the Yankees can address even one of the problems, it would have a significant impact.

I think the best idea is convincing Derek Jeter to move to center field. He's fast, he tracks fly balls/pop-ups well, and his lousy footwork on ground balls wouldn't be an issue. Williams moves to left and Matsui to right, and the Yankees either go after Kazuo Matsui or a stopgap shortstop for 2004.

Failing that, finding a center fielder and moving Matsui to right field and Williams to LF would at least solve part of the problem.

Benjamin ((University of Maryland, Baltimore County)): I agree that the Orioles lack a discernible organizational plan, OK? With that said, and considering today's reports out of Boston, is there any reason to think that Little would be a better fit for the O's than Murray, Dipper, et al? Thanks.

Joe Sheehan: I think the Orioles are at a point where they just need a manager who won't get frustrated, and are probably better-suited to a "leader of men" type than a tactician.

I don't think there's much chance that whoever gets the job ever makes the playoffs with the team, so yes, I guess Little wouldn't hurt. It's just not that important a question, given where the franchise is.

Scott (Seattle): How do I convince my wife that spending $40 to read articles about baseball is important?

Joe Sheehan: The way I figure it, if we've convinced our wives to marry us, every single thing we have to convince them of afterwards should be a breeze.

Yeah, that's probably just me.

pjvent (Washington, DC): Joe: You argue that the Yanks need to address up-the-middle defense. While I agree, can't you make the claim that it hasn't hurt them all that much during this post-season?

Joe Sheehan: This isn't unlike the Dusty Baker argument. ("They won the division and got to within one game of the World Series! How can you criticize him?")

The Yankees have done well, but it's in spite of having lousy defense. You always want to improve, and that's the key area in which they need to do so. That the rest of the team has overcome the flaw is no reason not to address it.

I think it's clear that the Yankee defense has hurt them in this postseason. It hasn't hurt them enough to cause them to be eliminated, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't be addressed. (It certainly was a huge factor in their brief stay in last year's postseason.)

Beau (College): Joe- What kinda moves do you see the White Sox making this offseason? Will they let Borchard play in CF? Surely they won't keep Everett in CF. Will resign Colon, release Koch? Will they resign Alomar? Who's going to manage? Can I?

Joe Sheehan: Borchard had a pretty lousy year in Triple-A, and Jeremy Reed is coming up hard behind him. I'm not sure Borchard won't be lapped by Reed come March.

Kenny Williams made a big push to win this year and it didn't happen. How he reloads for 2004--remember that this is still a division you can take with 90 wins--is going to be one of the more interesting stories this winter. I think they'll had a LH-hitting OF and at least one infielder, while revamping the bullpen again.

Seattle Slew (NJ): How soon before Tampa Bay Devil Rays are contenders?

Joe Sheehan: They'll be a good team in 2005.

Contenders? Hey, look at the competition. Three well-run teams, two of the top revenue generators in the game, plus the Orioles, who will be a high-revenue team during their peak periods.

That's a tough crowd. The D-Rays could have some years like the recent Rangers' squads, with .500 talent and a .400 record, just because of the competition.

lukejazz (Madison, WI): Hi Joe. Your comments on Dusty Baker in recent weeks have been refreshing. Do you think the Chicago press corps will ever rid themselves of the Baker sycophancy they've developed or will Baker's numerous flaws receive some notice after the disaster that was the NLCS? Also, is Choi destined for new surroundings or will Jim Hendry get a clue? Thanks for all the great work.

Joe Sheehan: One of the problems surrounding Baker is that, by all accounts, he's a good guy. Baseball and the baseball media likes good guys.

I've been thinking a lot about this, because Baker clearly has had a lot of success in the regular season, but when you look at his decisions, both in the regular season and the postseason, it's hard to defend his record.

In the same way that we know that front-line talent is more important than depth in the postseason, is it possible that certain managerial skills mean more than others. In other words, does Baker's ability as a leader of men, important over six months, pale next to his shortcomings as a strategist and tactician when game decisions have a huge impact on outcomes?

I think it's a notion worth examining. It may be that the baseball role of manager may eventually evolve into something like a college football coach, with one man supervising a team of assistants who make most of the decisions and being the face of the team.

J (Chicago): What's your take on Torre benching Soriano for Game 5?

Joe Sheehan: Ballsy. Correct. It'd be nice if the Yankees had a better backup infielder than Wilson.

Sometimes players need a day off. It just so happens that Soriano's is coming at a time when everyone is watching.

I'm more surprised that Giambi is playing, although he's been dropped to sixth.

harry (poughkeepsie): What is the importance of the "bench coach" in a baseball game? The Boston papers say that the Red Sox will fire their bench coach (Jerry Narrone). Is he going to be the sacrificial lamb?

Joe Sheehan: It *could* be a place to put someone who complements the manager's weaknesses. If you had a very good tactician and paired him with, say, Dusty Baker, that would be interesting. (Baker, who has something of an outsized persona, is probably not the guy for this, but he's an example.)

Generally, though, a bench coach tends to be a guy the manager is tight with and wants to have around for various reasons. They're easily let go with little impact on the team.

Will (Omaha): Joe, I noticed that your nomenclature for Bernie Williams has changed. Has he been resurrected (thus no longer a corpse) or merely re-animated as undead?

Joe Sheehan: It actually went on longer than it should have. There's a line that separates "funny" and "mean-spirited." I crossed that with the repeated usage. Kudos to one reader who pointed that out.

It had nothing to do with Williams' improved hitting, although as a Yankee fan who has been a big fan of Williams since the early 1990s, that's been nice to see as well.

Adam (Philadelphia): Has BP Premium been a success? Will this site continue as a subscription site in the future (for premium content), or is something else in store for 2004?

Joe Sheehan: A success well beyond even our optimistic expectations, Adam. We're already taking subscriptions for 2004 and 2005, and we look forward to providing great baseball content--and carrying Huckabay, too--for years to come.

Ted (Fairbanks, AK): Huckaby once said on the radio that the most important thing a manager can do is keep his players healthy and focused over the long season. Isn't Grady's and Dusty's misadventures in the postseason proof otherwise?

Joe Sheehan: I think Gary's point was geared towards the regular season. You don't hire a manager for the postseason (unless you're in the NHL), because you have to get there first.

Clearly, though, it's possible to be a leader of men, to do the things that get a team to the postseason, and yet have flaws that become magnified in short series.

Lightning round...

William O'Brien (Las Vegas): Actually, Giambi isn't playing, according to Espn. Do you see the A's making any aggressive moves to find a bat? Chavez is great, but he's just one guy and quite inconsistant.

Joe Sheehan: William is correct...I was going off what I saw on SportsCenter just before the chat started. Good move by Torre.

I think the idea that A's have to rethink everything they do is ridiculous. However, one flaw I see in them is that their best position players really aren't that great.

Chavez and Tejada are both impatient and make highly questionable decisions at the plate. Neither has superior power, and in Chavez's case, one of them can be completely taken out of games by left-handers.

Tejada won't be back, but if Eric Chavez is the A's best position player next year, that's a problem.

J (Chicago): You're Jim Hendry. What moves would you make to improve the Cubs? There's talk that the Tribune company will increase the payroll by $10 million.

Joe Sheehan: OBP, OBP, OBP. They should again be good at run prevention. Add in some OBP guys for the offense and they'd be hard to beat.

I honestly don't think they can do it, though, not with the 2004 commitments to Alou, Ramirez and Gonzalez.

The Cubs actually have an edge in that their high-strikeout staff and the small outfield at Wrigley probably allows them to suffer some bad defense in the pursuit of OBP. They need to leverage that while they can.

James Golden (Chicago): What should the Braves do in '04 to prevent their long anticipated demise?

Joe Sheehan: Has there been a long-anticipated demise? I've been forecasting that for the Yankees forever, but the Braves have done a very good job of turning over the roster while remaining successful.

The Braves have to avoid the temptation to overpay their older free agents, such as Javy Lopez, and continue bringing up arms through the system. Avoiding major mistakes like Paul Byrd and giving away a #2 starter wouldn't hurt.

Curious George (Washington, DC): Order of AL West finish next year?

Joe Sheehan:
It *is* October 23...

A's
Rangers
Mariners
Angels

wmcdonal56 (South Bend IN): Soriano? Future? Better... Worse?

Joe Sheehan: He got his K/UIBB ratio down to 4-1, which is still poor but wouldn't make him a historic anomaly. I think he's tough to predict. It's hard to argue with the Juan Samuel comparisons, and it's also hard to not see the chance that he pulls a Sammy Sosa.

My guess is that he backslides for another year or two, say to the .260/.320/.480 range than has a couple of MVP-level seasons.

World Leader with IQ of 73 (Washington, DC): When do the Expos go to DC, and who ends up owning them?

Joe Sheehan: 2005, and the owner will be someone not currently on the radar.

Shamah (Washington, DC): Where do you see David Wells ending up next season?

Joe Sheehan: Arizona, but that's a WAG.

Joe (NJ): Joe--Where do you see Vlad Guerrero winding up?

Joe Sheehan: Montreal. I don't think he wants to leave, and he's a key piece to the franchise value.

If they let him go, the notion that MLB is just holding on for contraction takes on greater credence.

Joe Sheehan: Enjoy the game, folks...thanks for all the great questions!


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