- McCarthyism: Among the last few players cut from the White
Sox’s 25-man roster last week was top prospect Brandon
McCarthy, #23 on Baseball Prospectus’ Top 50 prospects
list, the seventh-ranked pitcher and top White Sock. McCarthy
pitched well in spring training–while we all know that spring
training stats mean very little, a 14/3 K/BB ratio in 18.0 innings was a
good showing for the young right-hander. After pitching well at three
levels last year, there were worries that McCarthy’s sudden rise may be
accompanied by a period of adjustment or an equally precipitous fall.
Exposed to major league hitters after topping out in Double-A last year,
McCarthy assuaged a few of those fears with his spring performance.
There was some talk that McCarthy could be called upon to start the
season in the rotation in Chicago after Mark Buehrle‘s
injured foot looked likely to keep him out for the season’s first month.
With Buehrle’s return, McCarthy’s demotion to the minors was
assured. With only 12 starts above low-A ball to his credit, the rumored
move to Triple-A may seem like another impossible jump for the young
northpaw, but McCarthy has shown little reason to make anyone doubt his impressive
array of skills so far.
In 172 innings last year, the then-20-year old McCarthy struck out
202 batters while walking a mere 30, for a K:BB ratio of 6.7:1 and a K/9 IP
rate of 10.6. The 6’7″ pitcher dominates with a low-90s fastball, solid
curve, and a progressing change-up, but the jump from Double-A to
Triple-A can be difficult on younger players. Going from leagues filled
with players of similar ages and development to a league filled more
often with borderline major leaguers struggling to get back to the show
requires players to get by on more than raw talent. Pitchers throw more
advanced pitches, batters are more patient and powerful, and the
transition between the two levels can be more difficult than other moves
up the ladder. There’s little reason to expect that McCarthy will
struggle after his dominating performance in 2004, but even a slight
regression by a 21-year old pitcher in Triple-A would be great news for White
With questions surrounding the back of the Chicago rotation, McCarthy
could earn himself a call-up before the season is out. Jon
Garland has strung together three seasons of remarkably
consistent yet uninspiring pitching. There are worse things than 200+
innings of just under league-average pitching. The bigger questions
surround Jose Contreras and Orlando
Hernandez, who have proven to be worse than mediocre in both
the talent and health departments. It’s likely that at least one of the
two will falter as the season progresses; with a weak division as
winnable as the AL Central to call home, the temptation to
bring up McCarthy to try to push the Sox over the top may be too great.
The issues of starting McCarthy’s service clock and further exposing
him to the rigors of major league pitching at such a young age will not
be easily answered by a mediocre team in a mediocre division. Even
struggling along at near .500–right around where PECOTA sees them–the White Sox still could be within a couple games of first place in mid-July.
In short, at some point during the summer, the White Sox are going to
be able to convince themselves that the division is winnable; a cynic would say that with
Carl Everett already on the team and Roberto
Alomar retired, their standard trade deadline moves won’t
be available. That leaves McCarthy–a great, young talent who has a chance to be
a great pitcher–to spend the early part of his career on a
below-average team before getting expensive just when his team has a
chance to rebuild into contention down the road. Sound
- Lease to Own: The big news in Oakland is the new ownership group
headed by Los Angeles real estate investor Lewis Wolff. Wolff has done
an impressive job of telling the Oakland fan base exactly what it wants
to hear–that the team will not be moving to San Jose, Portland, or Las
Vegas and that a new ballpark is in the works. How well he follows through on these promises will only be determined by the ongoing process
involving those two issues.
The majority of major baseball parks have opened in the past 16
years, leaving teams like Oakland and parks like the coliseum–recently
described by the Associated Press as “dilapidated”–in the minority.
Removing the 18 new parks since 1991 and those yards that double as
- Angel Stadium – Heavily renovated in 1996-97, it might as well be a
- Busch Stadium – New stadium currently under construction.
- Kauffman Stadium – With the turf removed in 1995 before massive
renovations in 1998, it remains one of the more pleasant places to catch
- McAfee Coliseum
- The Metrodome – Monstrosity or symbol of winning small-revenue team?
- RFK Stadium – New stadium plans in the works…or at least they are
by Washington standards.
- Shea Stadium – Can’t build a new stadium unless the Yanks get one,
too. Thanks for playing, see you in a decade.
Of these seven, two will be replaced before the decade is out, two
are fine places to catch a ballgame, and one is hopelessly tied to both
another team and big city politics, leaving only Minnesota and Oakland
as targets for new parks. Bug Selig’s New Park Extravaganza has thus
been focusing its efforts solely on those two sites as a result. Several
previous park proposals to keep the A’s in Oakland have fizzled out in
the past for various reasons, but Wolff has mentioned those magical
words: “private funding”. While he’s not about to pull a Peter McGowan–pay
for the entire park on his own and draw the ire of his former
fraternity brother Selig–it appears for the time being that the Oakland
public might not be in the same situation as the populace in the
The leading proposal at the moment is one in which the new ballpark
is built in the Coliseum parking lot, and thus adjacent to the Oakland
Arena, home of the Golden State Warriors and the occasional Paul
McCartney concert inconveniently timed with Opening Day. Further
development is planned around the coliseum area, but building another
park in the parking lot not only raises questions about construction
hassles, but also still leaves a ballpark far from any of the
fashionable “downtown revival” areas in the East Bay that have been part
of most of the new parks built.
Plans for a new park aside, the other major result of the new
ownership affects General Manager Billy Beane. Not only did Beane sign a
contract extension through 2012 (his previous extension would have
expired in 2008), he also purchased an ownership stake of just under 5% in
the club, a move nearly without precedent. Beane’s new ownership stake
in the club will only further enhance his ties to Oakland, an organization
he declined to leave for riches in Boston two years ago. Beane’s
ownership stake signifies an investment in the club he’s built into one
of baseball’s great success stories and the move increases the chances
of keeping him in Oakland through his new 2012 extension. Beane’s
success over the last decade has proven his ability to maintain success
on a low budget; keeping him involved in the construction of the
Oakland team is certainly good news for an A’s team that receives its
fair share of bad press from MLB. While the payroll might not increase
immediately as a result of the changes, Beane fans in Athletics Nation have reason to
- Angel Stadium – Heavily renovated in 1996-97, it might as well be a
Trade Winds: The Phillies welcomed the former Expos back to
the states with an 8-4 victory over the Washington Nationals yesterday
afternoon in Philadelphia. Led by none other than new center fielder
Kenny Lofton and his three-run homer, the Phils’
offense managed to overcome Jon Lieber surrendering 10
hits over 5.2 innings. While it’s all about the W, yesterday’s game
encapsulated the major questions about the 2005 Phillies: Can the
rotation keep things respectable long enough to hand things off to the bullpen?
With Vicente Padilla on the DL to start the season,
the Phils rotation now stands as Lieber, Brett Myers,
Randy Wolf, Cory Lidle, and
Gavin Floyd. Spring training stats mean little, but
Lidle, Myers, and Floyd struggled badly in March. Myers and Floyd
combined to walk 22 men in 42.1 innings while Lidle allowed 32 hits and
21 earned runs in 23.1 innings. While some of Lidle’s performance can be
blamed on the porous defenses often found in spring games, Myers’ and
Floyd’s wildness certainly inspire little confidence.
Padilla is due back April 17, but with six starting pitchers ready to
chip in lots of league-average innings, the rotation isn’t likely to be
settled until mid-season. Floyd has proven himself in the minors and
while a little seasoning at Triple-A may be in order, if Myers continues
his struggles from 2004, the Phillies might not be willing to wait.
Throw in Lidle and his 5.56 ERA in Toronto and Cincinnati in 2003-04 and
Padilla’s continued injury questions, and what is now a position of
depth may soon become a hole that needs filling.
The good news from the spring is that many of the key offensive
players looked excellent and put up impressive numbers to boot. Most
impressively, Pat Burrell calmed injury fears from his
sprained wrist on which he elected not to have surgery. Clubbing a team-high six home runs, Burrell complemented his power with a .344 average and
three doubles. Tying him for the team lead in spring home runs was Chase Utley, the proclaimed starter at second base for
2005. Instead, the Phillies chose to start righty-swinging Placido
Polanco against right-hander Livan
Hernandez in the season opener yesterday. Despite the long
winter of starting proclamations, comments from Phillies officials have
started to include the word platoon when discussing the situation.
Both Utley and Polanco are highly capable second basemen, a position
sorely in need of solid offensive contributors elsewhere in the league.
Polanco’s presence seemed fortuitous when David Bell was
injured early in spring training, but Bell’s healthy return and Utley’s
emergence makes Polanco’s talent redundant. Great bench players are nice
to have, but quality starting pitchers can contribute much more.
The Phillies need some insurance in the rotation; they have an extra
infielder who can hit. Forgive us if the solution seems obvious. Toss in
Ryan Howard and his albeit laughable demands for a
trade and the Phillies could easily put together a nice package of
talent in exchange for a starter elsewhere, potentially a front-line one.
Trade speculation isn’t something that we like to engage in here at
Baseball Prospectus, but the Phillies foresaw this situation, having tried to deal Polanco in the off-season.
With a roster constructed to win now, there’s no reason for the team not to
pursue deals along these lines. They’re going to dissatisfied with
portions of their rotation this season and the sooner the Phillies make
a move to minimize that weakness, the better their chances of breaking
the Braves’ stranglehold on the division will be.
Now if they can just find a team with enough pitching depth to part with a top-of-the-rotation arm, near the start of the season to boot. This may take a while.